(Originally posted 3 Aug 2014 on tumblr)
Rachel took her time re-applying her makeup in the VVIP dressing room. Her mother had left almost twenty minutes ago—she had other plans that Rachel didn’t ask about—but they had parted on good terms. Esther’s criticism had been cold and exact, her questions sharp and merciless while Rachel explained her plans for a new clothing line for RS International.
When she was younger, Rachel would have taken the criticisms personally, as if they were a reflection on her own worth instead of a reaction to her work. Esther was not like her ex-husband. She knew precisely which tools were at her disposal, and she used them to their greatest effect. Her standards were high, not just because Rachel was her only heir, but because she knew what her daughter was capable of, and she wasn’t going to tolerate substandard results. Rachel had heard Esther make snide remarks her whole life about how too many members of Korea’s elite were raising their children to be soft and weak, relying too much on lower levels of management or talented subordinates to take up the slack instead of forcing their children to rise to the occasion. Especially New Money, who had no comprehension of just how difficult it was to retain, let alone continually increase, wealth from one generation to the next.
Esther had eliminated one of Professor Kosugi’s students after seeing only a few of his projects—one of the current designers had just gotten approval for a line with a very similar style—but she had agreed with Rachel about the potential of the other two.
You have a good eye, her mother had said. Esther didn’t always offer that particular bit of praise, but whenever she did, Rachel cradled it close. Revise your proposal, and I’ll let you present it to the executives. It will be up to them whether or not to greenlight your project as an addition to a current brand or as an entirely new line.
Rachel had only cleared the first hurdle. After getting the approval of the highest levels of management, she would still need to see if either student really was worth recruiting and handpick a team—
She finished putting on her lipstick and smiled, satisfied at her appearance. Four hours of getting pampered, plus the break they had for a light lunch, did magnificent things to her overall mood and complexion. It had even distracted her for a while from the fact that she still hadn’t gotten a single text from Lee Hyo-shin. To be fair, she hadn’t texted him since yesterday, and even if he did have time to respond to her, she’d rather spend the rest of the day revising her proposal.
The spa attendants bowed to her on her way out; her driver already had the car ready and warmed-up for her thanks to the attendants’ forewarning. October was coming to a close, and the temperature had dropped more than she had been ready for. Maybe she should go shopping after work on Monday to get a thicker coat. It was getting too cold during the day for her current one.
Rachel told her driver to take her home, and then she pulled her phone out of her purse so she could write down her mother’s critiques while she still remembered them. The display lit up, and with it came several notifications: one missed call from Young-do and several texts from Myung-soo.
Do you know what’s going on with Young-do’s dad? Young-do tells you way more than he tells me. That jerk ran off before he could explain.
Do you think it’s okay if I leave his mom? She’s all weird and quiet and I kind of don’t want to bother her right now.
Why does no one ever respond to my texts? I’m not writing them just to entertain myself!
Never mind, I just caught the attorney general’s press conference. Shit.
Hallelujah, the maid showed up. I’m going to go home and see if my parents know anything that wasn’t on the tv. Tell Young-do if you talk to him first, okay?
Rachel didn’t bother responding. Instead, she pulled up her browser and went in search of the attorney general’s press conference. It wasn’t hard to find—and neither were pictures of Young-do as he pushed through the crowd of reporters waiting for him at Zeus Hotel.
The video itself was short. There was very little of Hyo-shin in his father, though their taste in suits and fondness for expensive wristwatches were the same. Lee Chan-hyuk walked up to a podium with the Ministry of Justice’s seal on the wall behind it, and when he began to speak, it was clear that he was angry.
Rachel scoffed at the righteous, indignant tone the attorney general adopted as he railed against unknown, disaffected members of the ministry who had not only leaked information to the press but had done so deceptively. His condemnation of the “irresponsible” reporting from the press was even harsher. The attorney general spun a version of events that cast him and the ministry as victims who had been forced to make distasteful, compromising decisions.
Lee Chan-hyuk didn’t let anyone ask questions at the end of the speech. He simply walked away as if he couldn’t hear the reporters shouting after him. The video ended.
Rachel pulled up her contacts list and almost called Young-do, but a different idea gave her pause. Myung-soo had gone to pester his parents, which wasn’t a bad idea, but Rachel had Lee Hyo-shin’s phone number. Even though he was probably still on set, he might be able to give her some kind of insight into what would be going on right now in the attorney general’s office. She could call him first and then call Young-do with whatever she had learned. Even though Hyo-shin hadn’t responded to her texts yet, it was worth trying.
She found his number on her phone and called. The phone only rang twice before the other end picked up. “Sunbae—”
But it wasn’t Hyo-shin that answered.
“We’re sorry,” said a robotic voice. “The number you have reached is no longer in service. Please check the number and try—”
Rachel hung up immediately, as if she could keep this from being true by refusing to listen to the entire automated message. Maybe she had saved his number in her phone incorrectly, somehow, even though Hyo-shin had put it in her phone himself. Even though he had called her from that same number on Friday when they had both been on set.
She pulled up her call log and scrolled back to Friday morning. It was easy to find: one incoming call from the number she had just tried to reach.
Hyo-shin had changed his number and hadn’t told her. Again.
Only this time, she hadn’t been trying to call him out of some misplaced hope that he would offer her some advice over what to do with the heart Jang Shi-hyun had broken. It had been ridiculous back then to think he might be interested in talking to her after years of no communication. There hadn’t been anything real between them then.
But now—this was different. Rachel remembered the way he had grinned when she claimed he still owed her lunch, the way he couldn’t take his eyes off of her as he walked over, his laugh when she left the rest of the energy drinks in his care. She had thought…
Clearly, she had thought wrong.
Rachel closed her eyes briefly and consciously relaxed her shoulders and hands. When she opened her eyes, she had wrapped her hurt in a thick layer of anger and disgust. It was her fault for forgetting that Lee Hyo-shin flirted with almost everyone he met and never took anything further than that.
She should never have thought she would be different.
Eun-sang replayed the most important clips from the attorney general’s press conference one more time. His forceful words drowned out the chaos of her office, at least for a moment.
“—deceptively. It is clear that whoever leaked this information to the press has done so in order to deliberately shake the citizens’ faith in the Ministry of Justice. It is true that all fifteen people listed are currently under consideration for early release, but they are only fifteen out of over three hundred people whose cases we are reviewing. These names were given to the press in order to stir up a media frenzy, and the press’s irresponsible reporting—”
She fast-forwarded to the next part. “—wanted to do. The National Assembly’s inability to secure more funding last year for our overcrowded, underfunded prison system has brought the Ministry of Justice to this point. If we had the resources to do so, we would keep every criminal locked up until their sentences were fulfilled. But justice was forced to make distasteful, compromising decisions due to political incompetence—”
Eun-sang took off her headphones so she could massage her temples. She hadn’t expected to be woken up by Nam Yoo-mi calling her and shouting about SBS stealing their story out from under them and how Eun-sang had to get to the station right now. It had been a miracle she had remembered to put on a bra and brush her teeth, and luckily she kept spare hair ties in her desk so she could pull her hair back into a messy bun once she was more coherent.
No one knew how SBS had stumbled upon this story, but at least it seemed that stumbling was all that they had done. Yoo-mi had worked some of her contacts from her SBS days, and while it had taken a fascinating combination of sweet-talking, calling in old favors, and outright intimidation, she had found out that SBS’s source was none other than Prosecutor Im Joon-hyuk. He had sold that list of names to a hungry up-and-coming reporter late Saturday night.
(“You were right about the names,” Yoo-mi had said as soon as Eun-sang arrived. The pleasant surprise at receiving that praise was enough to wipe away the last of her drowsiness. “All fifteen of them.”)
But the list of names seemed to be the entirety of what they knew, or else they would have gone for the bigger story. Any real reporter or writer would have started with the conspiracy instead of the names, if they had any evidence of it, which meant that Prosecutor Im had definitely been a dead end. It was a good thing she had given up on him after Young-do refused to say if anyone else had met with the prosecutor.
President Park Se-joo had called PD Yoon not long after Eun-sang arrived at the station and told him that as soon as their team had enough evidence to broadcast a segment on the alleged conspiracy, he would bump programming to make it happen instead of making them wait for their normal Sunday evening slot. Whatever resources they wanted would be available to them.
Now their office and the nearby conference rooms were filled with close to two dozen writers, all of them frantically researching based off of Eun-sang’s timeline, notes, and analysis of the situation. Everyone had copies of her presentation now, and PD Yoon was orchestrating all of it. VJ Han even had his own team that was busy going through archived footage of National Assembly sessions and anything else that one of the writers brought to their attention. Eun-sang half-researched, half-consulted, keeping tabs on what other media outlets were saying and trying her best to keep anyone from chasing ghosts.
(Every major network had pictures or video of Young-do, either outside of his home or outside of Zeus Hotel. He was wearing the same clothing in all of it—athletic clothing, like he has just come from the gym. Why would he go home and then go to the hotel without changing?)
So far, no one seemed to have strung together the true sequence of events: the lobbying for increased mandatory prison sentences under the Illicit Drug Trafficking and Use Enforcement Act, the subsequent ballooning of the prison population, the Ministry of Justice’s failed bid for funding for additional prisons, and the decision to release non-violent, white-collar criminals in order to make room for the more “dangerous” prisoners. All they had to do was figure out who had set all of this in motion.
With the attorney general’s press conference, it was only a matter of time before other networks and news agencies started following the trail back. YBS had to get there first, even if it meant Eun-sang’s team had to get outside help. What would have taken them days, if not weeks, to piece together on their own was coming together in hours with all of their extra resources.
Eun-sang spun around in her chair to see PD Yoon beckoning to her from his desk. She hastily got to her feet and headed over. He looked as harried as she felt, and his desk was scattered with what seemed like reams of papers. A writer from another department hovered at his shoulder, looking impatient.
PD Yoon handed over his company credit card, and she accepted it carefully with both hands. “Order dinner for everyone. It doesn’t matter what it is, so long as it can be delivered.”
She glanced toward the window and only then realized that night had fallen. It must have been a while ago because the sky was dark and the nearby buildings were dotted with neon and fluorescent lights. Where had the time gone? She didn’t know, but the mention of food had her stomach growling.
After thanking the PD, Eun-sang did a quick headcount and retreated to the stairwell where it was quiet enough for her to make a phone call. She picked a nearby restaurant, placed her order (an equal number of bowls of seollongtang, gomtang, and tteokguk), and gave them the credit card number. They promised to be there with everything in 45 minutes.
Eun-sang hung up the phone and took a seat on the stairs. She leaned against the wall, allowing herself a few moments to enjoy the quiet and calm her mind. It was a relief to just be still for a while.
She ended up browsing the internet on her phone and wound up at a speculative article about Young-do and his father. The pictures weren’t very clear—this wasn’t a high quality site—and the words underneath it made her angry on his behalf. It wasn’t fair that people were accusing him of somehow tampering with the Ministry of Justice. The brunt of the speculation was falling on him, and he was getting dragged through the mud because of it.
I didn’t want my boss to drag your name into the headlines if there was no reason for her to do so, she had told him on Tuesday. I remember how much you hated that in high school.
How much did he hate it now?
Eun-sang pulled up their text conversation and sent him a new message: How are you holding up? It was a simple, almost impersonal, question, but she didn’t know what else to say. All of the pictures of him made it obvious that he was angry, at least to her. The way he held his shoulders, the set of his jaw as he refused to interact with the vultures outside his home and the hotel, and even the way he walked through the crowd told her just how agitated he really was.
She didn’t expect him to respond right away, or at all, considering how busy he had to be right now, so it was no small surprise when her phone rang and Choi Young-do was on the caller ID.
Eun-sang didn’t try to think about what this meant. She just accepted the call. “Young-do?”
“I’m not doing well at all,” he said with a cheerfulness that would have been confusing if she hadn’t spent that second year of high school with him. It was more than a little unnerving to hear again. “So I want to call in that favor you owe me.”
“What do you want?”
“Come rescue me, Cha Eun-sang.”