(Originally posted 9 Nov 2014 on tumblr)
Even though Sang-joong had ultimately been displeased with the decision to turn down Ha-sun, he still spent the rest of Wednesday afternoon and evening strategizing with Young-do about how they could win over the board and the stockholders without her and her grandmother’s support. In an exercise of caution, Young-do had not yet told Ha-sun or Sook-ja, just in case he couldn’t come up with a feasible plan.
Kyung-ran had joined them as well—after all, with the small crowd of reporters still lurking outside Secret Garden, waiting for her to return and reopen the café so they could ambush her, it wasn’t as if she was going to oblige them when things were still turbulent in the media. While most of the public’s attention was firmly on the Hong family’s manufactured outrage, indignation, and brand new suit against YBS, a not-insignificant portion of the media was still sniffing around the other unintended beneficiaries of the Hongs’ manipulation.
It did mean, for once, that Kyung-ran had accepted Young-do’s offer of monetary assistance under the guise of a consultation fee. Young-do knew the only reason she had accepted was that she had reassured Dal-ja that she would continue to pay wages as normal while the café was shut down. When his mother had balked at the amount Young-do had wanted to pay her, he had simply reminded her that she was the only one he could trust to look out for his interests without another agenda, and that was worth every won he gave her.
By the time Thursday morning rolled around, Young-do was starting to feel hopeful that he could have a fighting chance against his father without an engagement. It would take much longer and cost a great deal in terms of calling in favors, contracts, and promises, but it would leave him unattached and able to use his bachelorhood as an enticement for some of the other people he wished to persuade. Young-do, Kyung-ran, and Sang-joong were reviewing one of Lee Sang-hyun’s property listings in Pyeongchang-gun when Zeus Hotel’s chief of security walked into the office.
The man wasn’t as tall as Young-do and was far bulkier, but there was no mistaking his greater mass for anything but muscle. His suit was carefully tailored so it wouldn’t interfere with his range of movement while still looking sharp and professional. His bow was equally professional, as was his neutral expression when he addressed Young-do. “Sir. One of the members of the cleaning crew found this in the lobby earlier this morning. There are things on it you need to see.” He held out a small, nondescript USB thumb drive.
His chief of security wasn’t a man for dramatics or dire pronouncements, and he typically handled things without bothering Young-do or Sang-joong. The fact that he had escalated it straight to Young-do meant that it wasn’t something he could handle on his own.
Young-do rose from his chair to accept the thumb drive and headed for the computer at his desk. Everyone followed him, though only Kyung-ran (looking troubled) and Sang-joong (frowning) stepped around to the other side of his desk to watch over his shoulders. Young-do opened the drive.
It was filled with video files, numbered sequentially. The preview screens were all black. Young-do clicked on the first file. The first few seconds of video were just a black screen, and then the white words that flashed across the screen knocked the breath out of him:
Park Min-ki, March 2010
He didn’t hit the pause button fast enough, and the video transitioned to footage of him slamming Min-ki into a bank of lockers so hard the boy rebounded and fell to the floor, out of the frame.
Young-do closed the file. Guilt and shame had his heart racing, but fear left him feeling weak and cold. He couldn’t bring himself to turn around and see his mother’s face, terrified of what he would see there.
Sang-joong said nothing.
There were only nineteen video files, Young-do noticed with a sick sort of relief, knowing full well just how many more there could be. The twentieth file was a simple text document. Young-do opened it:
Hello, Choi Young-do. I was clearing off an old computer and came across some videos of you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. I thought they’d make a nice diversion for you considering how busy you must be lately. When I get another thumb drive, I’ll send you more.
That was it. No demands, no overt threats, but there was no mistaking this as anything other than blackmail. Someone had deliberately dropped this in the hotel for his people to find. If this was leaked to the public—
If even one of these videos made it to the public, he could be in as much danger as his father of being ousted. He had been depending on the members of the board and the major stakeholders as seeing him as a less controversial choice than his father. An engagement with Ha-sun might not even be able to save him if all of Korea found out how despicable he had been when he was younger.
The bitter, self-loathing part of him acknowledged that he deserved whatever derision they would heap upon him for it.
“Have you found out who left this behind?” Sang-joong asked, and the question jolted Young-do enough out of his panic that he could focus on the present again.
The chief of security bowed his head. “No, sir. I have my team going through the lobby footage right now, but it will take time.”
If they could even figure out who had left it. The thumb drive was small enough it could have been discretely dropped by almost anyone. Hundreds of people passed through the flagship Zeus Hotel every day, either as guests or patrons of one of the restaurants in the upper floors. Depending on the angles of the security cameras, identification might be a completely impossible task.
“Are all of the videos of Young-do…”
Even though Kyung-ran hadn’t been able to finish her question, the chief of security gave her a sharp nod. “Yes, ma’am. The videos are dated from March 2010 through February 2011. They all appear to have been taken by phone, based on their quality and their unsteadiness. One of his classmates or a staff member must have taken them.”
“Keep searching,” Sang-joong said. “Be sure to investigate the person who found it. Thoroughly.”
The chief of security bowed again and hurried out of the room to do as ordered. Sang-joong grabbed Young-do’s office phone and dialed a number. When the person on the other end picked up, he said, “Bring the list of Young-do’s victims to the office. Now.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from Kyung-ran at the word victims.
Young-do couldn’t bring himself to face his mother yet, so he turned his attention to Sang-joong. “You have a list?”
Sang-joong hung up with a little more force than was necessary. He glanced briefly at Kyung-ran—there was a flash of something akin to pity—before focusing back on Young-do. Somehow his calm tone made his next words hit even harder than if there had been any heat behind them. “Your father wasn’t ignorant of the fact that you liked to terrorize the people you thought were beneath you. If I remember correctly, he said it was a ‘safe way’ for you to practice the ruthlessness you would need to run Zeus Hotel. He sent my children to your schools so they could report to him about which students you targeted and what you did to them.”
“How many were there?” Kyung-ran asked in a whisper that made Young-do wish he had never been born.
He had told his mother once that he had not lived a good life while she was gone, but she had never asked what he had meant, and he had never admitted that it was a partial lie. Because his bullying had started years before his mother left him. He remembered the sick pleasure he had gotten from driving away the pretenders who thought they were good enough to mingle with their betters, how he had celebrated whenever he drove one away, how thrilled he had been when he could force them to fold before him. He had enjoyed doing that—all of that—first with Tan at his side and later with two lackeys who didn’t try to argue with him over who gave orders.
Young-do had never wanted his mother to find out. He had never wanted to give her reason to suspect there was part of him that had truly been Choi Dong-wook’s son.
“Fourteen or fifteen, so far as I’m aware. There could be others. Young-do will need to review the list and let us know if anyone escaped my children’s notice.”
There was a knock at the door, and Sang-joong went to answer it.
Young-do stopped breathing when he felt his mother’s hand on her shoulder.
“I am so sorry,” Kyung-ran said, tears in her voice. “I’m sorry I wasn’t a better mother. I’m sorry I didn’t raise you properly.”
He had thought, once, that his heart had broken over Cha Eun-sang, but six years of unrequited love was nothing compared to this moment, hearing his mother place the blame for all his cruelty on herself. His throat was too tight to speak, so he didn’t try. Instead, Young-do stood up and enveloped his mother in a hug. She cried against his chest, little muffled sobs rocking him and driving his guilt and self-loathing even deeper. He had never cried in his office before, but he couldn’t stop the tears that slipped out.
“It’s not your fault,” he whispered fiercely, once he could find the strength for words. “Everything that’s good about me is because of you.”
He did not blame Dong-wook for the evil parts because Young-do knew there many of them he had cultivated on his own.
Sang-joong waited politely and silently at the sitting area until Young-do and Kyung-ran had regained enough of their composure to come join him. He made no comment on what had happened, only handed Young-do a slim, black leather folder.
Young-do opened it and found his past staring back at him in names and dates and money.
“Once you had driven your victims out of school, your father had the legal team reach a settlement with them in exchange for their silence.” Sang-joong said as Young-do turned to the second page. “As you can see, all but two of the people we knew about accepted a settlement. I suggest we begin by investigating the two who did not agree in addition to anyone we missed.”
Young-do shouldn’t have been surprised to see REFUSED in the columns next to Moon Joon-young and Cha Eun-sang.
Rachel did not often get texts from Yoo Kyung-ran, so it was a little alarming to receive one in the middle of her morning at work: Do you have a moment to talk? It’s about Young-do.
There hadn’t been anything in the news about Young-do this morning, not even further speculation about that ridiculous love triangle. Still, Rachel saved the presentation she was revising, told Min-ah she was stepping out for a moment, and sequestered herself in the nearest empty conference room in order to make the call.
“What happened?” she asked when Kyung-ran picked up. “Is Young-do all right?”
Kyung-ran sounded like she had a stuffy nose when she responded. “I’m sorry to bother you, Rachel. Myung-soo wasn’t picking up, and there were a couple questions I was hoping to get the answer to. Were you close to Young-do in middle school and high school?”
“Not really. We didn’t really become friends until our second year of high school. But maybe I can help you anyway. What’s going on?”
Kyung-ran was quiet for a long moment. “We think that someone who went to school with him is trying to blackmail him now. Do you have any idea who might hate him enough to do that?”
“Next time I’ll make sure to have some motive besides a clear conscience for the two of you to ferret out.”
She remembered the cruelty in Hyo-shin’s smile when he had laid Young-do’s secrets bare and Young-do telling her that Hyo-shin had blackmailed him twice before.
Rachel’s fingernails bit into her palm, but the pain did nothing to stem the anger that was building up inside of her. Had Hyo-shin’s decision to change his number and not give her the new one been a tactical decision and not merely a matter of him deciding she wasn’t important enough to him to tell her?
If that was the case, he should have waited one more day before he made his move on Young-do.
“I’m not sure,” she told Kyung-ran. “Let me think about it for a while, and if I come up with anyone, I’ll be sure to let you know.”
Kyung-ran thanked her and hung up. Rachel briefly considered calling Young-do to snarl at him for not talking to him herself but decided he probably had enough troubles of his own to deal with at the moment. She would yell at him later—when she had results.
Once Rachel was certain she could walk through the office with a pleasant expression, she returned to her team’s cubicles.
“Yes, Team Leader?”
“Find out where A Daughter’s Revenge is filming right now.”