(Originally posted 4 May 2014 on tumblr)
The day after Eun-sang turned in a writing assignment was rapidly becoming her least favorite day at work. Senior writer Nam Yoo-mi was one of the best broadcast writers in the industry, and she handled her juniors just as she treated her interviewees: lots of cutting comments, hard questions, and uncompromising demands. The politest nickname Yoo-mi had was Shark. She had made Eun-sang write seven different drafts of her first assignment, and the last one she had pronounced “adequate.”
That faint praise stung, but it hadn’t stung as much as when Eun-sang watched the broadcast and realized that Yoo-mi had been telling the truth. In comparison to Yoo-mi’s work, Eun-sang’s work had only been adequate.
For this fourth assignment, Eun-sang’s goal was to cut the number of drafts down to six and to only cry once at home and not at all in the bathroom at work. It was an ambitious goal for a Tuesday morning, but she got into the station on time and as mentally prepared as she could be to have yesterday’s draft ripped to shreds in front of her. With any luck, enough of her department would be busy running around for research or interviews today that she wouldn’t have much of an audience.
But Writer Nam wasn’t at her desk when Eun-sang arrived. Neither was Writer Ji or PD Yoon. The only other full member of their team, VJ Han, had his headphones on and was busy on his computer. He didn’t even pause what he was doing—his eyes were fixed on his screen—when he announced, “They’re all in conference room 103. I think the Shark’s found some new blood.”
Eun-sang stripped off her coat and threw it and her purse onto her chair to deal with later. “Why aren’t you there?”
“The afternoon news needs last-minute help with some footage. Besides, you all will just end up telling me where to point my camera anyway. Better hurry—they’ve been in there nearly fifteen minutes already.”
Eun-sang’s stomach dropped. She rushed to the conference room after a muttered thanks, cringing all the way. It didn’t matter that she was technically on time for work. She was the junior team member and the last to show up for an important, impromptu meeting. When she got to the conference room, she took a moment to collect herself before she knocked and cautiously opened the door.
“It’s about time you showed up,” Yoo-mi said the instant their eyes met. She was sitting directly across from the door as if she had deliberately placed herself there to see Eun-sang’s arrival first and challenge the lateness of it.
There were papers strewn across the large table, all of them liberally coated with ink, highlighters, and sticky notes. The chaos on the table was in stark contrast to Yoo-mi herself, whose clothing and hair always screamed a calculated professionalism. Today her long, black hair had been swept back into a classy bun, and she wore navy slacks and a pale silver blouse. The only jewelry she ever wore were earrings, and today’s set was a set of simple pearl studs. She looked like a normal late-thirties salary woman, but Eun-sang hadn’t believed that façade since her first interview.
Yoo-mi was leaning almost too far back in her chair, and she had a pen spinning between the fingers of one hand, a pose and gesture Eun-sang had quickly learned to recognize as signaling a dangerous time to interrupt. There was nothing to be done now. Eun-sang greeted everyone, apologized for her tardiness, and took the seat next to Writer Ji.
At least Writer Ji smiled a little at her when she came in. Eun-sang had a sneaking suspicion one of the main reasons he was so nice to her was that he was grateful to finally have a writer underneath him in the department for Yoo-mi to focus her attention on. He was five years older than Eun-sang, but he had spent three of those as Yoo-mi’s junior. At first glance, he didn’t seem to be a man with the sort of steely resolve it would take to survive that long—he was all elbows and knees and remarkably insubstantial-looking—but he had.
He was also extremely conscientious of the small details. In the moment Yoo-mi turned her attention back to PD Yoon, he slid a spare pencil over to Eun-sang, and it was only then that she realized she hadn’t even brought that much to the meeting. She mouthed a thank you at him, and was grateful that Yoo-mi hadn’t noticed.
“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Yoo-mi said. “It falls well within the topic we initially got approval for—the focus has only shifted a little.”
PD Yoon waved his hand at the papers. “You’ve gone from the unfair plight of immigrants in the legal system to a possible conspiracy to manipulate said system. In what reality does that qualify as little?”
“In what reality does this not qualify as a potential ratings blockbuster?”
“If it’s true.”
“So why don’t you let me find that out?”
“I’m not trying to stop you. I’m just pointing out that a story like this is going to take a lot of time and effort, and we need to have something for broadcast two Sundays from now.” PD Yoon took off his glasses so he could pinch the bridge of his nose. “An investigative piece like this could take weeks. Months, even. Besides what you have here, do you have any other research?”
“Not yet. I just started putting some pieces together last night.”
Eun-sang glanced down at the table again and marveled at the work spread out in front of her. All of this was the work of one night? Had Yoo-mi even slept? She didn’t look as if she had pulled an all-nighter. Then again, this wouldn’t be the first time Yoo-mi had more in common with a force of nature than a person.
“It’s not enough to base an entire show on, especially not when all you have right now are rumors, hunches, and the start of a timeline.” He put his glasses back on and shot Yoo-mi a pointed look when she straightened up indignantly in her chair. “No, I’m not trying to censor you, and I doubt President Park will, either. So long as you have solid evidence, he’ll support you, like always. I’ll ask to meet with him this week so this doesn’t take him by surprise down the line. Until this story starts to gain traction, we’ll keep it off the schedule, but you can keep working on it—provided this doesn’t interfere with the items that already have a broadcast date.”
Yoo-mi didn’t smile often, but this moment was clearly enough of a victory that it deserved one. “Don’t worry.”
“Yet I always end up with ulcers when you’re like this.” PD Yoon got to his feet. “You three figure out how you’re going to handle this. Yoo-mi, get me copies of everything you have this morning so I can walk President Park through them as soon as he has an opening.”
“You’ll have them by ten.” Once he was gone, Yoo-mi turned her attention to her two junior writers. What she said next caught Eun-sang by surprise. “Writer Ji, you and I will need to figure out how to split up Cha’s work for her segment for next Sunday’s broadcast. Her draft from yesterday will have to be ripped apart to find anything useful, but it will be an acceptable jumping off point for us.”
Writer Ji simply nodded, as if he had expected that announcement. “I’ll read through it this morning.”
“Writer Cha, I’m going to put you to work on this.” Yoo-mi finally stopped twirling her pen so she could jab the nearest piece of paper with it. “Transcribe it and get it to me by nine-thirty so I can look through it before I send it to PD Yoon.”
Eun-sang’s stomach sank even further. Had her draft really been so terrible that she was being pulled from that assignment to work on a project that had no concrete air date? She curled her fingers around her borrowed pencil and fought to keep a neutral expression.
But some of the confusion and uncertainty must have flashed across her face, because Yoo-mi eyed her for a long moment before speaking. “I think it will become abundantly clear why you’re the best person for this assignment once you’re finished with this. I’m not sidelining you with busy work. The day I’m tempted to do that is the day I fire you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Eun-sang said in a clear, steady voice. It was almost a relief to hear that because it was proof that Yoo-mi found her worth keeping around. It wasn’t praise, but it was a small acknowledgment of her skill, and that was almost as precious.
When Yoo-mi dismissed her, Eun-sang gathered up all of the notes and took them back to her desk.
It didn’t take long for Eun-sang to figure out why Yoo-mi thought this new assignment was something she was well-suited for. Yoo-mi hadn’t stumbled upon just any conspiracy—it was one that potentially involved the country’s elite: politicians, public servants, military commanders, and more.
Eun-sang’s past relationship with Kim Tan had never been brought up by either of her bosses during the two interviews she had been given for this position, which had been a refreshing rarity. Even two years after their breakup, people still connected her to Tan, typically in the days immediately following some tabloid piece about spotting him within ten meters of a wealthy, single heiress. Eun-sang was typically thrown in as a footnote in those articles: Will Heiress A accept Kim Tan’s affection, or will she let him go like that one peasant did?
Won was usually good about getting that sort of speculation shut down quickly if only to minimize the fluctuations in Jeguk’s stock price, and he was still fond enough of her that his people usually interfered with any attempts to get Eun-sang dragged back into the tabloids with Tan. Still, every now and then an old article of the two of them would find its way climbing back up in search rankings, and Eun-sang would randomly find strangers whispering and shooting her furtive glances on the bus.
In retrospect, she should have been suspicious of the conspicuous lack of questions about Tan from Yoo-mi in particular. The woman never let a story go.
She typed up all of the handwritten notes, printed out the draft, and walked it over to Yoo-mi’s desk at a quarter after nine. She stood quietly, patiently, while she waited for Yoo-mi to wrap up the conversation she was having on the phone.
“I’ve finished the draft,” Eun-sang said once Yoo-mi hung up. She handed over the papers the instant the other writer held out her hand for them and steeled herself for the next part. “And I understand why you think I might be a good fit for this story, but I—”
Yoo-mi raised an eyebrow.
Eun-sang hesitated, but in the end she plowed ahead anyway. The only thing Yoo-mi hated more in the workplace than excuses was lying, and Eun-sang needed to be absolutely clear about her capabilities when it came to this assignment.
“I don’t have the same network I had as when I was attending Jeguk High or dating Kim Tan. I’ve only kept in close contact with a handful of my classmates from then. Since I broke up with him, I’ve been cut off from a lot of that world because no one was interested in investing time in a woman who wasn’t in the running to be his wife.”
“But you had a network once, and you have some connections still.”
“Some.” Tan was still her best connection in that sense, with Bo-na a close second and Hyo-shin a distant third. Though considering the subject matter at hand, Hyo-shin might be her best option overall.
“I don’t have any. Neither does Writer Ji nor PD Yoon.” Yoo-mi set the draft down on her desk deliberately. “This is as far as my contacts reached. That won’t stop me from pursuing this information to see if there is actually something there or not, but it will be much slower and harder if I have to start from scratch.
“Cha Eun-sang, I’m not expecting you to handle this on your own. What I need from you is to start eliminating all the white noise. You know enough about these people and how this world works to keep me from chasing ghosts. Can you do that?”
Eun-sang considered the question seriously. She had spent four years as Tan’s girlfriend, and during that time she played her part in the occasional political intrigue that Won instigated, overheard hours of analysis about stock prices and investment strategies, watched more than one inheritance war begin or end, and started learning about what it would mean to marry into a family like the Kims.
“I can,” she finally said, and she believed it.
Eun-sang spent the rest of the day neck-deep in research and slotting everything she found into the barebones timeline Yoo-mi had come up with. It would take her all week to compile everything, or so she estimated by the time she decided to take a break for a late lunch. Some members of Korea’s upper crust seemed to enjoy flirting with and breaking the law, and when they did it in spectacular enough fashion that their lawyers or settlement money couldn’t save them, there were dozens of articles chronicling the trainwrecks in minute detail.
But there was one scandal she could slot into place without needing to look up the details online.
That scandal weighed on her mind. By the time Eun-sang finished her food, she decided the best course of action would be to get rid of this piece of white noise as quickly as she could.
Eun-sang went down to the archives, pencil and notebook in hand, and searched around for an empty conference room where she could have a private conversation. She made sure to lock the door just in case and pull the blinds so no one could see inside. It felt a little stupid to take so many precautions, but she owed him that much at least.
If she could even get a hold of him. It had been six years, after all.
She opened and shut the cover on her phone a few times, stalling. “You’re being ridiculous,” she said aloud. “And he’d want to get this over with anyway.”
“You’re doing him a favor by sparing him the Shark’s attention.”
“If you don’t, you’ll get fired.”
Eun-sang let out a long breath and dialed the number.
On the fourth ring, the other end picked up, and a voice she hadn’t heard in years asked, “What is it now?”
There was no mistaking Choi Young-do’s voice, certainly not when he sounded like that.
“Cha Eun-sang. Did I call at a bad time?”
There was a long stretch of silence on the other end, long enough that Eun-sang thought for a moment that he had hung up on her.
“How did you get this number?”
That made her smile, though she was careful to keep that out of her voice. “You told me to memorize it once, remember?”