“You Lee scum know no decency, do you?”
“Did Jung think he could send in a rat without our knowing? And that we wouldn’t do anything about it?” Donghyuk Lee sat defiant at his table, a warm gust rushing in through the now broken window of Puck’s Tavern, smashed by an errant ashtray from the hand of his adversary.
“Thought you would have accepted him as one of your own. Don’t rats congregate in packs?” retorted the stocky man standing across from him.
What an ugly man, Donghyuk, nickname Haechan, thought to himself as he locked eyes with the man who had intruded upon his sanctum. Under his icy gaze, laid seething rage; the audacity of this nobody to come and confront him on the Jung’s behalf for shutting up one of their moles. “I think it’s preferable to be a rat than one of Jung’s yappy lap dogs. You saw what we did to your buddy, do you think a busted window would be intimidating to me? All bark, no bite. But what else should I expect from a coward like Yunho? He doesn’t know how to hire good help.”
“Mr. Jung is honorable, unlike Jaejoong. Though he did one honorable thing: taking in his whore of a sister’s bastard son.”
In an instant Haechan was out of his chair, gun drawn, seeing red and ready to kill the man, oblivious to the bystanders on the street filming everything on their phones.
“Freeze! Drop the weapon Mr. Lee,” ordered the police officer who just arrived on scene. “There are plenty of witnesses here, this will not end well for you.” Haechan smirked, he knew this was a bluff. This officer was on the Lee payroll, they would press no charges. But it wouldn’t be helpful to the Lee image to have one of its members murder someone in broad daylight. He complied and lowered his weapon. “Thank you, Mr. Lee. Now I will need to confiscate every phone for evidence and collect witness statements,” the officer said as he went around the assembled crowd taking each phone. The officers deleted all the footage and returned the phones. A police report was completed, but no charges were brought. They will overlook this incident, like so many before. The Lees will pay for the window and something extra for the owner’s trouble. It will be as if this little spat never happened. However, Haechan would not forget this slight.
“You need to rein your men in, Yunho. Another stunt like what happened yesterday, and you’ll force my hand,” warned the voice of Changmin Shim, mayor of Verona, “I ran and won on a campaign promising to bring order to the streets of this fair city. You all cannot continue to bust windows and wave guns around in broad daylight.”
“According to the police report, my men did not break the window. And was it not Jaejoong’s hot-headed nephew who drew the gun on my men?” Yunho Jung challenged.
“Your men provoked him by insulting him,” the mayor replied over the phone.
“My men went there to hold the Lees accountable for what they did to the man in one of our hospitals recovering from several fractures to the face and a few cracked ribs, after enduring hours of torture. How about you put a call into your police force about that—”
“Why didn’t you put in a call to the police about that? You have plenty of people over there you could have called on. But if you want to assign blame, you can look in the mirror because you are the one who put that poor man up for corporate espionage,” Changmin quipped back, “you are no innocent in all of this Yunho, so we can stop this right here.” The mayor had known the business man for years and knew how deep his hatred for Jaejoong Lee ran. This conversation would never end as there would always be something a Lee had done that justified whatever a Jung did in return.
“Who said anything about espionage?” asked Yunho, feigning incredulity.
“I have my sources, just as you do,” responded Changmin. “I have given Jaejoong the same warning I’m giving you. If you want to carry on this feud and hate each other for eternity, be my guest. But do not take this city down with it or you will leave me no choice but to make sure you both lose everything.”
Yunho had no response but his silence.
“You need to learn to let what happened go. This fighting will one day cost you more than it is worth,” the mayor said as he hung up.
Yunho Jung, head of the Montague Corporation, looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows of his office, across the skyline toward the headquarters of the rival Capulet Group. Mayor Shim’s words brought it all up again, the heartbreak, the betrayal, the rage. He pushed it all down before turning to address his right-hand man, Shindong. “What morons do you have working for you that would do something so stupid as to have a public confrontation in the middle of the day with witnesses around?”
“I instructed them to confront that little punk publicly, to expose how the Lees do business. Now all those witnesses will know that they tortured a man and put him in the hospital,” Shindong said, defending his course of action.
“They also know that we spy on our competitors and would blame us for putting that man in that position in the first place. We cannot afford to have the public turn against us with scandals like this. They’ll stop buying our products and our stock will continue to fall. If I can’t eat, you don’t eat, got it?” Yunho asked sternly.
“Relax, Yunho. Changmin is like any other politician: all talk, no follow through. It’ll blow over,” replied Shindong.
“You better hope it does. If the public starts calling for an investigation into our dealings, Changmin will have to follow through. And that’s the last thing you and I need.” Yunho looked up to see his wife, Yoona, standing in the doorway of his office. “Ah, Yoona, what a surprise. Shindong and I were just hashing out an important matter, but we’re finished here.”
“Yes, let me get back to work. Yoona, you look lovely as always,” Shindong said as he left.
“Thank you, Shindong,” Yoona said with a polite smile. She made her way over to the wet bar in the corner of the office where Yunho had shelves of neatly arranged liquor bottles and a wine case.
“Did you bring our son with you?” Yunho asked
“No, I cannot get a hold of him. I don’t know what the problem is,” Yoona sighed as she poured two glasses of wine from the bar. “Looks like you may need this,” she said, handing her husband the glass before taking a seat in one of the black leather chairs across from him, “I asked Mark to contact him and find out why he’s been neglecting his responsibilities here and staying away from home. He always manages to get Jaehyun to talk to him.”
“My patience with his attitude is running out. Whatever has him out of sorts, he needs to get over it,” Yunho said as he took a gulp of wine, “this is not the time for him to act like a lovesick schoolboy.”
“Yesterday I saw you on the Avenue
They got your face on the boards, baby
People fallin' in love with the way you move
They wanna give you awards”
“Oh, do they now?!”
Jaehyun shoots up startled as his best friend, Ten, comes up pulling out one of his earbuds. He had been singing out loud to himself, eyes closed, laying on the beach. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Your mom sent us to look for you to find out why you ain’t been returning her calls foo’ ,” Ten answered.
“Auntie Yoona’s concerned you haven’t been home, and Uncle Yunho is becoming annoyed that you’ve been MIA at work,” Mark added.
“How did you guys know to find me here?” the Jung heir asked. For the last three days Jaehyun had secluded himself in Sycamore Grove, his private beach retreat tucked away on the seaside cliffs a couple hours outside the city. His hair was disheveled, his skin dewy with sweat and flushed red from the heat of the sun beaming down, and the couple bottles of beer he drank. He was a mess.
“You always come up here to get away from what’s bothering you, even though your pasty ass can’t tan,” Ten answered as he plopped himself down next to Jaehyun, putting the other earbud into his ear to hear what his friend was listening to. “So what’s the problem this time?”
“Fate,” Jaehyun responded as he fell backward to stare up towards the sky, clutching handfuls of the coarse sand, letting each grain slip through his delicate fingers. “It’s cruel how it always seems to get the best of me. I guess I will be alone forever. I should become a monk.”
“Ugh, you’re so dramatic ,” Ten sighed, rolling his eyes, “who is this mysterious person who fate is cock blocking?”
“It’s not important,” Jaehyun said.
“Yes, it is if you’ve been out here crying on the beach for three days,” his cousin Mark pressed, “come on you can be honest with us, who is it, what’s wrong?”
“It’s Gongmyung,” Jaehyun confessed.
Ten gave a side-eyed glance, “Gongmyung Kim? The playboy? Does he even pay you the time of day?”
“Yes… well at least he did. And the playboy thing is just a front he puts on.”
Ten rolled his eyes. “I’m checking out of this conversation,” he announced as he put Jaehyun’s earbuds in both ears, laid back and closed his eyes.
“Forget him, tell me what the deal is between you two,” Mark said. Mark had been Jaehyun’s confidante since his mother and father took Mark in after his parents died in a car accident. He always had an open and non-judgmental attitude that made it easier for Jaehyun to open to him, rather than Ten.
“Well we ran into each other at the bar and had drinks together. That’s when I learned he was a relation of the Lees,” Jaehyun began.
“Yikes, that’s a problem,” Mark responded.
“That wasn’t a deal breaker for me but it complicated things because we could never be seen together. But sneaking around is hot, so I didn’t mind,” Jaehyun continued, “the real problem is that we never did more than talk and kiss a couple of times. Some nonsense about saving himself and celibacy.”
“So, you disappear for three days because you didn’t get laid?” Mark asked skeptically.
“It’s deeper than that,” Jaehyun rose up exasperated, “we have this connection, I’ve never desired someone so much, wanted to give my all, and get nothing back. He’s stringing me along, but I can’t stop thinking about him and wanting to hear his voice, see his face. It’s just impossible.”
“Maybe you should get out more and meet some other people? I mean, that dude isn’t all that,” Mark consoled.
“No one can compare to him.”
“I’m sure there has to be a few other people on this planet that could,” Mark assured. He turned to jostle Ten. “Hey Ten, aren’t you on the guest list for that fundraising gala the Capulet Foundation is throwing tonight?”
“Yeah why?” Ten asked but already knowing the answer smiled devilishly and asked, “you want to crash, cause a little trouble?”
“No, we can’t cause any problems with the Lees now,” Mark said warning Ten, “this is just a good opportunity to show our dear Jaehyun here that there are other, better fish out there in the sea. Gongmyung is most definitely on the guest list and will be there, but so will all the other eligible hotties in the city—well the ones not named Jung—anyway, you’ll see Jaehyun.”
“I don’t want to go. Just let me wallow here,” Jaehyun whined in protest.
“No, you’re coming back with us. If you aren’t at the office another day, your dad will go ballistic. And you can’t just hideout here forever,” Mark protested, “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up. Ten, round up the boys. We’re doing it big tonight lads.”
“As you can see, our new Hecate software is more than just a search engine or personal assistant. Its predictive abilities through its accurate probability functions will help with decision making from predicting appliance lifetime expectancy to stock market investments. It could even predict political outcomes or who will win the next World Cup,” the charismatic raven-haired beauty said from the head of the board room, “this technology partnered with the reliability and quality of your phones and PCs, together MacBeth Technologies and the Capulet Group can grow and reach new heights.”
Sooyoung Park knows the secret to closing a deal is all in the presentation. It is not the content, but the way it is packaged that will get the prospect to bite and she knows the Lees love everything they are seeing. It also helps that this promising technology will bring in the money. Hecate predicted all of this so far.
“Well I’m sold,” said chairman Lee Jaejoong from the opposite end of the table, “all that remain is the negotiation regarding MacBeth joining into the Capulet fold, but I believe that this deal will move ahead smoothly. We can adjourn here, as I’ve heard there is a huge event happening in town we all need to prepare for.” Everyone laughs as they pack up and usher out the room.
“Thank you again Mr. Lee, on the behalf of my parents we are looking forward to this partnership,” Ms. Park said as she shook the chairman’s hand.
His wife, Tiffany, comes up to join them. “It was a lovely presentation, from a lovely lady,” she complimented the young tech heiress. “If I had a daughter, I would want her to mature into a woman just like you.”
“Oh, Mrs. Lee I am flattered. I wish the men out here could see what you see. It is so hard for a woman to have a strong career and find a husband,” Sooyoung laughs.
“Please tell me you will attend the gala tonight? I know an eligible, handsomel bachelor who would love a strong young woman,” Tiffany asked. Jaejoong laughed to himself at his wife’s desperation in having their son, Taeyong, married off. However, he was also keen on making this match happen. Having one of the fastest growing and most innovative tech companies tied to their fold not just by a business contract, but a marriage contract as well would secure CG’s dominance and ensure their wealth and prosperity for generations to come. Ms. Park (also known as Joy to those in her circle for her bubbly and vivacious personality) had quite the streak of bad luck romances and was herself desperate to marry. Taeyong would present the only obstacle.
“I will be in attendance Mrs. Lee,” Joy responded.
“Wonderful, I will introduce you to my son Taeyong. I am sure you two will kick it off,” Tiffany said hands clasp, beaming her radiant smile, “we will see you tonight!”
Joy gathered her things and left the board room. “Now you just have to get our son on board with your matchmaking and hope he doesn’t scare the poor girl off,” Jaejoong said to his eager wife.
“Oh, don’t you worry about that. I have a way of getting what I want, and I want to call that girl my daughter-in-law, and will, one day soon. You can count on it,” Tiffany assured her husband with conviction.
Taeyong sat in his studio, brows furrowed, shading in his charcoal sketch. Unlike the other young heirs from prestigious families, Taeyong was more subdued and reclusive. He was an enigma in the elite circle of Verona society as he spent most of youth studying abroad and did not attend many social events outside those hosted by his family, and did not have many friends amongst the playboys and socialites omnipresent in their elite circle. This caused much worry in his parents, particularly his mother, who were very much the opposite and basked in the spotlight. Tiffany worried that her son’s anti-social manner would make it impossible for him to find a suitable wife.
“There you are,” came the voice of Taeyong’s bodyguard and confidante, Jinki, “your mother wants to see you, and you must get ready for the gala soon. She’s in her sitting room.”
“Okay, I’ll be there in a moment,” Taeyong said as he finished his shading and put his charcoal down. He found conversations with his mother exhausting nowadays as they always turned into a conversation about marriage. He made his way from his cottage, across the manicured garden of the estate, and toward the main villa. He nodded politely to the landscapers as he walked around the pool and up the stone steps into the old, grandiose manor. He found his way up the grand staircase and down to the south wing, which which comprised the master suite, to his mother’s sitting room. It was a vivid pink room with large French doors opening to the colonnaded terrace overlooking the ocean from their mansion’s perch on the cliff side. The smell of the saltwater wafted in with the breeze. His mother was looking over her gown she would wear at the gala. “You asked to speak with me mother?” Taeyong asked drawing her attention.
“Ah yes, my baby boy, come here. I have something very important to discuss with you." Her tone overflowed with honey sweetness and delight, the tone she used when she wanted to stir him to indulge her whims.
Ugh, here we go.
“Since you’re finished with schooling and settled back in at home, I think it is time you get out there and well…honey you need friends,” Tiffany said, “you need to mix and mingle and make more public appearances so that people can get to know who you are. This gala is the perfect opportunity, as all the people you should know will be there.”
“Mother, I don’t care much for schmoozing with Father’s business partners. And their children are so shallow and superficial,” Taeyong moaned.
“Do you think I find stock portfolios riveting or enjoy discussing whose curtains didn't match the place settings at the tea they hosted?”
Yes, you love to gossip, Taeyong thought to himself.
“I don’t, but I engage in those conversations anyway because that is what I signed up for when I married your father and agreed to support him in this life and live in this world. You are at the age now where you will need to prepare to follow in your father’s footsteps and fulfill your duties in continuing the family legacy.”
Here it comes.
“You know that your father has been working on a deal to buyout MacBeth Technologies, right?”
“Yes, I’m aware.”
“Well the Parks’ daughter, Sooyoung or Joy—doesn’t that sound like a nice girl? —has been representing them in this deal and she’s lovely- “
“Mother, please, do we have to talk about this now?”
“Don’t interrupt me. Now, she is about your age and she is smart, beautiful, ambitious, charismatic, she can steer you and push you—I know you like that sort of thing—and she’s going to be at the gala tonight.”
“Please don’t tell me that you set me up on a blind date…”
“I just want you two to meet and get to know one another. This could be a good match. I only want the best for you, sweetheart, I wouldn’t just suggest you marry just anyone. She would be a good fit for the family.”
Fit for the family. “Isn’t it a little soon to be discussing marriage?”
“Can you promise me to at least try to get to know her and see where it goes? She may end up not even liking you and it will fizzle out on its own. More than I want a daughter-in-law, I want you to be happily, and sincerely, in love.”
Tiffany looked at Taeyong warmly, and it moved him. He felt the sincerity in her words and a hint of sadness? “Ah don’t look at me like that! Okay…I will try and put my best foot forward when I meet Joy. But I won’t make any promises that I will be ready to propose tonight.”
“Oh, thank you,” Tiffany said as she hugged her beloved son, “I mean it, my greatest dream for you is to be happy. Who knows, there will be a lot of other eligible people there, you may meet someone else you like.”
“Alright, now go get ready. The car will be ready for us at 6.”