(Originally posted 13 July 2014 on tumblr)
Young-do went alone to visit Pyo Sook-ja. Vice President Kwon had volunteered to go with him, but Young-do had declined the offer. Rachel’s advice had stuck with him—he needed Sook-ja to see him as a valid option on his own merits, not as a man so young and inexperienced he needed his hand held by his vice president for something as simple as a casual visit. While it might be easier to get people’s backing if they thought Sang-joong had Young-do under his control, he still didn’t trust that such an illusion couldn’t become real.
Pyo Sook-ja’s house was in the same neighborhood that Young-do grew up in. There was no way to get there without passing by Dong-wook’s home, and Young-do silently renewed his promise that neither he nor his mother would ever return there.
The driver parked the car outside the gates, and Young-do got out of the car on his own. He allowed the driver to hand him the gift basket he had purchased since that gave Young-do time to adjust his sleeves and smooth out the front of his suit jacket. Sook-ja was a prickly old woman, and it was easy for anything less than perfection to spark her ire, especially if she was doing poorly. With how sick she had become over the course of the year, she was always doing poorly.
Young-do was quickly ushered into the Pyo manor. It was a sprawling estate, older and larger than the house he had grown up in, but the inside had been carefully updated to keep current with the latest in modern luxuries and style. If he had to guess, it wasn’t Sook-ja’s work—it was probably her granddaughter’s.
They were both waiting for him in the parlor. Sook-ja was in her wheelchair, and the cannula that went from her nose to an oxygen tank was all the evidence Young-do needed that she was having one of her bad days. When he had been a child, Sook-ja had intimidated him with her cane, fierce gaze, and sharp tongue. Anyone who could snap at or argue with Dong-wook was someone Young-do wasn’t eager to cross. Now he towered over her, and macular degeneration had stolen the piercing quality of her eyes. A nurse stood quietly behind her at all times.
Sook-ja’s ailing health hadn’t affected who she was at her core, and Young-do had barely handed his token gift to her granddaughter, Ryu Ha-sun, before her wavering voice cut through the empty pleasantries. “What do you want from me, Choi Young-do?”
Ha-sun quickly passed the gift basket off to a nearby maid, who scurried away with the offering. “We should offer him something to eat before you interrogate him, Grandmother.” A smile tugged at her lips when she met Young-do’s eyes.
Ha-sun was a blandly pretty woman with short, dark hair and a round face. Even though they both had attended Jeguk High and were in the same year, Young-do didn’t know very much about her. She had been fairly quiet and easily faded into the background more often than not. The wealth she was to inherit as Sook-ja’s only living relative wasn’t tied to any one company; her grandmother had sold the family business empire long ago and invested the wealth in dozens of domestic and foreign companies. Sook-ja sat on the board of three other Korean companies and was a significant shareholder in everything from Mega Entertainment to Seungri Law Firm. The diversification had helped her preserve her wealth despite the many financial downturns over her lifetime.
Young-do kept his expression pleasant. “I’ve always admired your straightforwardness. I’m here to thank you for your support on the Barecelona project.”
“You already sent me a gift,” Sook-ja countered, “and I couldn’t enjoy any of it. I probably can’t have whatever you brought now, either. Don’t be so careless with the details, Choi Young-do.”
Ha-sun actually smiled then, but her voice was neutral as she explained, “Grandmother is on a much stricter diet nowadays.”
“I’m going to die soon anyway, so how much does it really matter whether or not I eat what I like? I should fire Doctor Moon and find someone else who will actually listen to what I want.”
“We’ll talk about it when you don’t have a guest, Grandmother.”
That reminder was enough to get Sook-ja focused again. “I agreed to the Barcelona bid because it was a good business decision, not because I have any affection for you.”
“I know. I also know that you have even less affection for my father.”
In the silence that followed, Young-do could hear the soft hiss of the oxygen tank. Sook-ja was scowling; Ha-sun’s face had gone carefully blank after a brief flash of surprise.
“What does Choi Dong-wook have to do with your visit?” Sook-ja asked after a few moments.
Young-do leaned forward slightly, hoping that an earnest appearance would help conceal his partial honesty. “I have reason to believe that my father is going to try to wrest control of Zeus away from me. Vice President Kwon and I are attempting to prevent that from happening.”
“What could he do from prison?”
“I’m not sure. But I only have nominal control over his voting rights. There are some votes I legally cannot take without consulting him or vote contrary to his wishes, and he can, at any time, appoint someone else to exercise those rights for him instead. Without his shares, I’ll lose my automatic seat on the board, and whoever he gives those rights to will take it instead.”
Sook-ja tapped her fingers on the arm of her wheelchair as she thought. Young-do said nothing else. Any further pushing would only endanger himself and the secret of Dong-wook’s upcoming release from prison. If news of that got out, it would throw all of his plans into chaos. He needed to get people on his side before that happened.
But it was Ha-sun, not her grandmother, who asked the next question. “What are you proposing?”
“A vote to strip my father of his position as president. We can’t sell his shares to reduce his stake in the company, and I can’t vote to oust him with his own shares. That’s almost 17% of the vote for his side already.”
“And you need two-thirds to agree to remove him.” Sook-ja scowled at Young-do’s surprise. She pointed one trembling finger at him. “I considered trying to get rid of your father the moment he turned himself in to the prosecutors. I couldn’t get the support then. Most of the major shareholders thought the stock price would plummet even further if we did, and there was disagreement over who should be president in his place.”
“I know I’m lacking in many areas,” Young-do said. He wasn’t very good at being humble, but he did know how to lower his voice respectfully. “But I’m not a high school student anymore.”
It was always difficult to say no to Bo-na, especially when Eun-sang didn’t actually want to say no. Mega Entertainment was throwing its annual party next week, and everyone even remotely connected to the company was invited to attend: Hallyu stars, idols, directors, and others. That, Bo-na had insisted for the last six years, included Cha Eun-sang, who was the best friend not only to one of the major shareholders, but also that major shareholder’s future husband.
(The one time Chan-young had heard Bo-na describe him that way, he had blushed so fiercely his ears had turned pink. Eun-sang didn’t tease him about the blush—she teased him about the self-satisfied little grin he wore afterwards, whenever Bo-na looked at him.)
No friend of Lee Bo-na’s was going to be caught wearing the same outfit to multiple events, let alone an outfit that wasn’t fit for the red carpet. Especially not a friend who hadn’t been treated very kindly by netizens over her dating and break up with one Kim Tan.
“Turn around, let me see the back,” Bo-na ordered.
Eun-sang spun around obligingly. The sleeveless A-line gown wasn’t her normal style, but even she could see why Bo-na had picked it out for her out of the racks of sponsored clothing that Mega Entertainment had collected for the party for its stars. It had a sheer chiffon layer, dyed a dark green, over a rich cream lining. Depending on how the dress caught the light, the dress was anything from emerald to forest green. It left her shoulders, arms, and more than a little of her cleavage bare.
“Do you have a strapless bra?”
“How old is it?”
Eun-sang laughed. “I just got it back in March. Remember the pink dress I wore to your birthday party?”
“Right! That should work. You can turn around.” Bo-na had her arms folded across her chest as she surveyed Eun-sang yet again. “What do you think?”
“I’ll probably freeze to death, but I like it.”
“I love it,” Eun-sang said, and she added, “You’ve got great taste,” because she knew precisely what her friend wanted to hear.
“You do. Have you decided what you’re going to wear?”
“I found the most amazing dress when I was in Paris last month.” That was all it took, and in no time Bo-na had her phone out and was pulling up pictures of the dress she had bought specifically to wear for her company’s event. She had pictures of the suit she had chosen for Chan-young as well. Eun-sang made sure to say several times just how great the outfits would look together and was rewarded every time with one of Bo-na’s madly-in-love-with-Chan-young grins.
“I’ll make sure to tell Tan and Hyo-shin sunbae they can’t wear green,” Bo-na said as she put her phone away. “We don’t want a repeat of last year’s ridiculousness.”
Eun-sang winced. She and Tan had both coincidentally worn the same shade of blue to that Mega Entertainment party, and the internet had immediately exploded all over them, even though they hadn’t even walked into the party together. Bo-na had spent the rest of the week threatening tabloid reporters’ careers, and Won had almost sued one particular gossip website in order to get everything settled down.
Eun-sang had been forced to skip more than one of her classes until enough of the photographers gave up camping outside her house that she could risk putting on her sneakers and running through them to the bus stop.
“Tan might not be able to make it. He and Won are headed to Hong Kong tomorrow morning.” Eun-sang quickly explained Tan’s work emergency, though she left out what the majority of their conversation had actually been about. “I’ll make sure to tell sunbae, too.”
It would at least give her an excuse to check up on him. She had sent Hyo-shin one careful text, and, as anticipated, hadn’t gotten a response. Either his phone really was off, or he wasn’t in the mood to respond to her.
Vice President Kwon called just as the driver pulled away from the Pyo estate. “How did it go?”
“She didn’t outright agree,” Young-do said. He didn’t try to curb the frustration in his voice. “Pyo Sook-ja is stubborn, and she isn’t the type to fall in line just because someone asks her to. She wants more time to weigh her options. Ryu Ha-sun seemed slightly more favorable.”
Though what options Sook-ja thought she had, Young-do didn’t know. Time was his enemy. Eun-sang and by extension, YBS, knew about his father’s impending release. He doubted it would remain a secret until the day Dong-wook was free. He needed to oust his father as soon as possible, before Dong-wook could muster support for himself—if he wasn’t moving already.
“Perhaps you ought to work on her, then. Sook-ja listens to her granddaughter’s advice.”
“She will want something in exchange for her vote, regardless of whether or not she heeds Ha-sun’s persuasion.” There wasn’t much that Young-do could offer on his own without weakening his own position, and that grated on him. “I’ll think of something. Maybe there’s a deal we can broker with another company she had holdings in.”
“I’ll inform you if I run across anything.”
“Thank you. I’ve got a round of golf with Min Seung-hyun next, and dinner scheduled with Baek Jong-shik tonight. I’m working on scheduling some things for tomorrow.”
“Let me know if you need my help.” Sang-joong paused briefly. “Sir, Prosecutor Im contacted me again this morning. He wants to know if you’re interested in…purchasing additional investigative services.”
Young-do glanced out the window as they passed by the Choi estate. “I’m not. Things have progressed too far in the Ministry of Justice for it to matter much to us who started it. I doubt we could stop it. All that matters is that he is getting out soon. Once we have handled our short-term crisis, we can look further down the road.”
Eun-sang would want to know who was behind it and why they had done it.
He shook that thought away. She hadn’t texted him again since Thursday—and he had been firm then about her doing her own work. He wasn’t about to contradict himself on that point just a few days later, even if it would give him another reason to exchange messages with her.
Young-do’s future depended on these preemptive moves. He had to attack first, and anything else was a distraction.