Chapter 1: Prologue
나를 버리고 가시는 님은
십리도 못가서 발병난다
My love, you are leaving me
Your feet will be sore before you go ten ri.
- From the Korean folk song, “Arirang”
Congdol Beach, Baengnyong Island
The setting sun casts a golden glow over the crystal clear waters of Congdol Beach, lending an ethereal glow over the beautiful, rocky, landscape. The beach is almost deserted, save for the two figures standing on the pebbly shore, wrapped in thick coats to protect themselves against the brisk March winds.
Young Hak-Joo stared at the calm waters lapping against the shore, while his three year-old daughter, Jin-heo, ran delightedly away from the waves, her loud giggles echoing throughout the empty beach. Hak-Joo likes Congdol Beach, cherishing the privacy and isolation of the location. The frigid March temperature would have been enough to drive away any tourists at that time of year; but Congdol Beach, despite its magnificent views and virgin beaches, has other reasons to deter visitors from its many charms.
Baengnyong Island, where the beach is located, is the westernmost point of the Republic of Korea, and located near the Northern Limit Line; the maritime demarcation point that separates the Republic in the south, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north. The island’s proximity to the North, at just over 17 kilometers, and the fact that the island is not the easiest to travel to, has discouraged any kind of development and expansion that other seaside, resort towns in the South have all fallen into. Hak-Joo thought that he prefers it that way, and he has taken his yearly pilgrimage to the beach; first as a young man when he was stationed at the island’s military outpost for his mandatory military service as part of the 6th Marine Brigade, and then with his wife after, until her death almost three years ago.
He felt a sudden stab of sadness at the thought of his wife, who died at childbirth at the young age of 26. He looked at his daughter, whose birth had given him unbearable sorrow, but also overwhelming joy, and thanked the heavens that she had taken after her mother in looks. Jin-heo called out to him from the shoreline, delightedly showing him yet another bean-shaped rock that litters the beach, chattering in her garbled and incomprehensible three year-old speak. He smiled at her, showing his appreciation, and then closed his eyes in distress as she turned away.
What’s going to happen to her? Hak-Joo thought in misery as he remembered the phone call he received from his doctor in Seoul several days ago. He had been a wreck ever since; switching from anger, depression, and now panic at the thought of his young daughter. He was so lost in his melancholy that he failed to notice that darkness had fallen on the beach, and opened his eyes only when he heard the startled yelp of his daughter. He looked at the spot where he had last seen her, and then around him, but found her nowhere. He called out her name, running to the rocks and boulders that surrounded the beach, thinking that she may have gone there and hurt herself.
He heard a slight noise behind him. And as he turned, he saw a blur of black, followed by complete and utter darkness.
LONDON – Present Day
Han Yeo Jin stood awkwardly to the side, doing her very best not to stare and ogle at the famous and distinguished group of people surrounding her. She is currently standing in the Elgar Room, inside the famed Royal Albert Hall, feeling severely underdressed and unimportant as a parade of beautiful and well-known personages stood milling about. She heard a chuckle, and turned to the person standing beside her.
“Your eyes are about to pop out of their sockets,” said Song Hye Jun amusedly, and laughed gently as Han Yeo Jin gave another loud gasp when she spied another famous person.
Han Yeo Jin turned to the diminutive, older woman beside her. Song Hye Jun, or as she is formally known, Her Excellency Song Hye Jun, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Han Yeo Jin had been based in London for the past few months, having been sent across different cities in Europe to train and work with various European law enforcement agencies as part of her position with the Foreign Affairs Bureau in the National Police. Han Yeo Jin had been assigned as a police liaison in the embassy while she trained with Scotland Yard; a position she was sure was pushed by the ambassador after discovering that Han Yeo Jin was stationed in London. She was initially uncomfortable with the notion of somebody pulling any strings for her, but she understood that the ambassador’s actions stemmed from a genuine affection for her, and the desire to keep her close while she is in London. Ambassador Song is one of her parents’ oldest and closest friends, and she had been a fixture in Han Yeo Jin’s life throughout childhood and young adulthood. Their families have always been very close that Han Yeo Jin considers her as an aunt, and she knew that the ambassador sees her more as a daughter, having none of her own and only having been blessed with a son.
“Ambassador, you didn’t tell me all these people are coming here. I’m not dressed for this!” Han Yeo Jin whispered to her anxiously, nervously smoothing her simple black dress and wishing that she had worn more make-up, as she watched a member of the British royal family mingle with the crowd.
Ambassador Song chuckled at her. “Who cares what they think, they’re not important. And call me auntie, we’re not at work,” she told Han Yeo Jin. “Besides, we’re not here for them. We’re here for the music.”
The music, as the ambassador pointed out, refers to Kim Ji-Hyun, the worldwide phenomenon and cello prodigy from North Korea. Her talents are known globally, earning her the name ‘Pride of the North’, a title personally bestowed upon her by the DPRK’s Supreme Leader himself. She had performed all over the world, and this evening, she is set to perform at a sold-out concert in the historic Royal Albert Hall. But this afternoon, a small audience had been granted an intimate performance by the great cellist, and Ambassador Song had managed to get an invite and brought Han Yeo Jin along with her.
A hush suddenly fell across the room, and Han Yeo Jin finally beheld the Pride of the North herself, and thought that she was not at all what she was expecting, especially given her superstar status. She watched as a quiet, pretty girl who looked younger than her 23 years walked into the room. She looked timid, even meek, surrounded by a retinue of stern and forbidding-looking minders. She looked uncomfortable with all the attention focused on her, and kept her eyes trained on her shoes, which Han Yeo Jin noticed was an ugly, utilitarian thing of black leather that matched the drab, shapeless dress she is wearing that is common in the North, and does not suit the young lady at all. They all took their seats as the Artistic Director of the Hall introduced Kim Ji-Hyun, and Han Yeo Jin smiled fondly at the palpable excitement of the ambassador beside her, whom she knew is a great fan of the cellist.
The music started, and as Kim Ji-Hyun began to play, Han Yeo Jin stared, transfixed, at the cellist’s transformation. Gone was the timid looking girl of minutes ago, replaced by a woman at the throes of equal passion and agony, her face changed from shy prettiness to a magnificent, almost seductive, beauty. She felt the audience’s excitement and knew that they, like her, have also been enthralled by the vision in front of them, as the prodigy’s fingers masterfully stroke the strings of the cello, and the soaring music transported every person who heard it.
Han Yeo Jin suddenly recognized the familiar, first notes of Bach’s Cello Suite No.1, and a memory of another performance, in another city, playing the same piece, came to her. It was in Paris, at the church of Saint-Chapelle, on a trip she took not too long ago. She had gotten tickets for the special classical music performance inside the beautiful church, and she remembered worrying that perhaps it was not a good idea after all. What if he does not like music? What if he gets bored and fall asleep? What if the sound of the cello is bad for his ears and he has a tinnitus attack? She looked worriedly at the man sitting beside her, and saw his face fixed in intense concentration; the same look he has when he finds a break in a case, or when he finally gets to eat after skipping a meal, or sometimes when he looks at her. She remembered asking him quietly if he likes it, and recalled feeling apprehensive when he did not answer right away, and just continued looking at the stage. When he finally did turn to her, she saw that he has her favorite half-smile on his lips, and told her, ‘Yes, it is so much better than your singing.’ She had snorted loudly in laughter upon hearing that, earning her the reproving looks of the people around them. Prick, she had called him then, and covered her mouth to stifle her loud giggles, as he continued to look at her, his lips quivering in a smile.
Han Yeo Jin sat-up, startled, at the sound of loud clapping around her. She realized that the performance has ended, and she had been too distracted with the memories of the trip she took two months ago with a certain prosecutor to notice. She stood up, and clapped enthusiastically along with everyone else, shaking her head slightly, as if to shake the memories away from her mind and into the present. She looked over at Ambassador Song, and noticed the tears still wet on her cheeks, and realized that the performance had affected her greatly.
“I’m going to ask if I can get her autograph,” said Ambassador Song. Han Yeo Jin laughed, as the formidable ambassador approached Kim Ji-Hyun like an excited and nervous school-girl. She watched as the poor, young cellist reverted back to her former, shy self, now surrounded by an adoring, illustrious group of fans who are also asking for photos and autographs, under the watchful gazes of her northern minders. She smiled when it was finally Ambassador Song’s turn, as she shyly handed Kim Ji-Hyun her programme for an autograph. The cellist scribbled something hastily inside the booklet, closed it, then handed it back to the ambassador, quickly squeezing her hands as she did so. Ambassador Song thanked her profusely and started walking back to where Han Yeo Jin was standing, and she noticed that the ambassador suddenly faltered in her step as she looked inside the programme booklet, then recovered, her smile frozen.
“Did you get your autograph?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“Yes I did,” the ambassador said in a quivering voice, and Han Yeo Jin finally noticed the unnatural looking smile on her face. She frowned, and was about to say something when the ambassador cut her off.
“Don’t say anything. I’m going to show you something, and you can’t react visibly. Just keep smiling,” said Ambassador Song quietly, the smile still plastered on her lips, but her eyes conveying the urgency of the situation.
Han Yeo Jin nodded, and smiled awkwardly, following the ambassador’s lead. She opened the programme and showed it to Han Yeo Jin, as if to show off the autograph. Han Yeo Jin read what Kim Ji-Hyun wrote, and it took all of her training to keep the fake smile on her face and affect an expression of great admiration, instead of the trepidation she really feels.
For inside the programme booklet, the Pride of the North wrote, in English: ‘I WISH TO DEFECT.’
“I need to call the NIS, and the Blue House,” Ambassador Song said to Han Yeo Jin as soon as her office doors were closed.
They are inside number 4 Palace Gate, the South Korean consulate and the London residence of the Ambassador. They had left immediately after the performance, striving to appear normal and unhurried, and maintained silence as they walked the short distance from the Royal Albert Hall to the consulate, with Han Yeo Jin on alert to ensure that they are not being followed.
“I’m calling Agent Choi to return to London,” Han Yeo Jin said while Ambassador Song nodded. Agent Choi is the NIS agent assigned to the diplomatic mission in London, but is currently in Birmingham for work. She heard the agent pick up, and uttered a single code-word that denotes an emergency, but will be meaningless to anyone else who may be listening in. The agent understood and gave an ETA of two hours.
Han Yeo Jin listened as Ambassador Song used the secure line to contact Seoul. She understood the gravity of the situation, as Kim Ji-Hyun is no ordinary defector, and she is quite possibly the most high-profile defector in recent memory, maybe even ever. The last, high profile case happened in Italy, when a high-ranking DPRK diplomat defected to the South in 2018. And before that in 2016, the DPRK Ambassador to the UK also defected to the South, and has now become a National Assembly member. But these two cases, however politically important, did not have the same impact and name-recognition as Kim Ji-Hyun. Here was a woman that is well-known throughout the world, and is admired, even revered, in the North. Her defection will send shock waves throughout that country, and such an act would be seen as a personal insult to their supposedly god-like Supreme Leader, who had personally christened her with her now-famous moniker, and had bestowed heaps of awards and honors on her. Han Yeo Jin shuddered to think what repercussions await the young cellist if they discovered her intent to defect. And if successful, what form of retaliation will the South face from the North for stealing their national treasure, certain that their neighbors would perceive it as such.
Han Yeo Jin watched as the ambassador finished her calls, and sat down tiredly on her chair. She looked at her worriedly, knowing that the ambassador has been having health problems lately. This was the main reason she had recently announced her retirement, and was actually in the process of handing over her role to a new ambassador, who was set to start next week.
“Do you need your medicine, auntie?” she asked her gently.
Ambassador Song smiled at her. “No, I’m fine. Really I am,” she said in response to Han Yeo Jin’s concerned look. “And I need to be alert, and my medicine makes me sleepy.”
“How did they take it?” asked Han Yeo Jin, referring to Seoul.
The Ambassador blew out a breath. “They’re excited, but also, I think, frightened. God only knows what the North will do if we’re successful,” she said frankly, thinking along the same lines as Han Yeo Jin. “Nevertheless, they’ve gone on full alert mode. The next step is to set a plan to extract her. Our window of opportunity is limited; the North contingency leaves London tonight after her performance. We need to find a way to get her out, undetected, in the next few hours.
“We’ll wait for Agent Choi and his team to arrive from Birmingham. The NIS has already started crafting a plan,” continued Ambassador Song. “But we need someone on the ground now to surveil the Hall, and await instructions from the NIS in case they need information that can only be gathered from the physical location.”
“I’ll do it,” said Han Yeo Jin. “I’ll head over there now.”
Ambassador Song sighed. “Good,” she said, then took Han Yeo Jin’s hands. “I’m sorry about this, Yeo Jin-a. I had hoped that the embassy assignment will be a quiet time for you. And I promised your mother I would look after you.”
“I’ll be fine, auntie. Don’t worry about me,” Han Yeo Jin said, squeezing her hands. “And we don’t have to tell my mother. I’m more scared of her than I am of the North.”
Ambassador Song laughed, and watched worriedly as Han Yeo Jin left for her assignment.
Kim Ji-Hyun locked the door quietly inside the green room of the Royal Albert Hall. Her minders knew not to disturb her when she is practicing before a live performance, and she counted on that fact because today, she is about to attempt the most terrifying thing she has ever done in her entire, young life. Because today, she will finally be free, or die trying.
She had been planning her escape for months now; ever since Moscow, where she had performed three months ago. After one of her performances, her minders had told her that her best friend and best friend’s fiancé have escaped the North, but have both died in China while attempting to flee. Kim Ji-Hyun was heartbroken; Pyo Yong Ae was her closest confidante and dearest friend, and she was the only one left in her life she considered family, her parents having died years before and being an only child. She finally understood why her friend had been acting strangely prior to her Moscow trip, and how she had embraced her so tightly during their last meeting. She understood too why her friend chose to keep it a secret from her, as Yong Ae had known that she will be interrogated by the notorious and dreaded North Korean Security Service about the defection, and Kim Ji-Hyun knew that her friend did not tell her anything in order to protect her.
It’s my turn now, thought Kim Ji-Hyun, and let the memories of her best friend wash over her, to give her strength. If Yong Ae had found the courage to fight for her freedom, then so could she.
She took out her MP3 player; a luxury for any North Korean, but was given to her by the government due to her special status as a cultural asset. She plugged it to the speaker, and began playing a solo by Rostropovich. Now, her minders will think that she is still inside, practicing, while she made her escape. She took out the long coat that she stole earlier in the week from a stagehand while she practiced in the auditorium, along with a scarf and face mask and a small bag with her personal belongings. She moved towards a small door on the wall, hidden behind a chest of drawers. One of the nice ladies who worked in the Hall had given her a quick tour of the under-stage area of the Royal Albert, as she was surprised to find that the green room and the usual backstage area were all, in fact, underground. The tour guide had told her that the green room she currently occupies has a hidden entrance and exit, for the VIPs and celebrities who performed in the Hall to come and go while avoiding the crowds. And that even though the secret passage is no longer in use, it is still there, the entrance hidden behind the furniture. She was grateful that she had learned English during her travels well enough to understand the guide, and that her minders were less proficient in the language and did not fully understand what the tour guide was saying. She had found the entrance yesterday during practice, and managed to pry open the door, and saw that it led to a dark corridor and hopefully, to the exit that the tour guide explained is just outside the loading docks. She hoped too that the South Korean ambassador had understood her message, and is now preparing to assist her on her escape. She knew that the ambassador had read her note, as she surreptitiously watched her earlier today, when she showed the programme to the tall, pretty lady who was with her.
She took off the small, red lapel pin that featured the portraits of the Eternal Leaders of the DPRK, leaving them in the room along with the rest of her things, and put on the stolen, long coat over her clothes. She opened the hidden door and took a deep breath. She has 20 minutes, maybe less.
Watch over me, Yong Ae, she prayed, and walked determinedly into the darkness.
Han Yeo Jin sat on a park bench in Kensington Gardens, a few steps away from the Albert Memorial and directly across the street from the Hall. She had changed from her dress into sensible attire and footwear, her face partly hidden by a baseball cap. She watched the building from across the street, paying close attention to the comings and goings of the people, and studied any possible points of entry and exit of the building that may be useful for an extraction. Agent Choi and his team is still in transit from Birmingham to London, and is expected to join her in the next hour. Her phone rang and she answered, and heard the Ambassador’s voice, checking in with her.
“Nothing unusual,” said Han Yeo Jin, just as she noticed a figure across the street, walking hurriedly away from the Hall and heading west. She frowned, trying to ascertain the person’s features, but was hampered by the face mask and scarf that the person was wearing. She knew that the figure was a woman, her coat too big for her thin frame. And her clearly nervous demeanor, and the way she was anxiously looking over her shoulders, had alerted Han Yeo Jin. That was when she noticed her shoes; ugly and utilitarian, thought Han Yeo Jin excitedly, and quickly jumped off the park bench and hastily ended the call, and then jumped over the low fence of the park and onto the street. She suddenly heard shouts and the sounds of rushing feet coming from the direction of the Hall, as she quickly but calmly crossed the street, so as not to draw attention to herself. She looked to her left towards the building, and then quickly turned away, but she had seen what she needed to see to confirm her suspicion. The minders from the North, running around in panic, in search of someone; and that someone is directly in front of Han Yeo Jin, looking very conspicuous in her nervous haste to escape. And Han Yeo Jin prayed that she would be able to intercept her target in time before the young woman does something reckless, like run, and draw attention to herself.
Kim Ji-Hyun heard the loud shouts of men behind her, and felt a rising panic that threaten to overwhelm her. No please, I’m so close, she thought desperately. She was supposed to have more time before they found her missing, and she would have reached, or at least been close enough, to the South Korean consulate that is located only a few streets from the Hall, before they discovered her escape. She heard the voices again, and in her panic, thought that they sounded closer now. She decided then that she had no choice but to run, and as she readied herself, she suddenly felt strong hands gripping both of her arms, trapping her against her captor’s side. Too late, she thought despairingly, and was about to scream for help when she heard the unexpected sound of a woman’s calm and reassuring voice. Her captor, speaking to her in Korean. Korean with a southern accent, she thought breathlessly, and thought that perhaps that all has not been lost.
“Stay calm. My name is Han Yeo Jin, and the ambassador sent me.” Han Yeo Jin told her softly, and tried to make her voice as calm and as soothing as possible, as she felt the cellist’s entire body beside her trembling in fear. “Just walk normally with me. Don’t rush, and don’t look behind you. Just look straight ahead. I’ll get us out of here.”
Han Yeo Jin felt the young woman nod her head jerkily, as she tried to think of a way to get them quickly off the street, before the security team from the north reached their location. She looked around her, and saw the number 52 bus fast approaching from behind them. Han Yeo Jin quickly directed her charge towards the bus stop a few steps away, shielding her body from view with hers, then hailed the incoming bus.
The doors opened and Han Yeo Jin hastily ushered Kim Ji-Hyun inside, and paid the fare with her Oyster card. And as Han Yeo Jin directed the younger woman to a seat away from the window, she risked a quick glance outside as the bus pulled away. The minders have reached the spot where they had been, and Han Yeo Jin breathed a sigh of relief that they had gotten away just in time. But she did not let herself relax; there are only two stops to reach Palace Gate, and she feared that the northern guards could still catch up with them.
“We’re almost there,” she told a still-shaking Kim Ji Hyun. She pulled the cellist to her feet as she saw their stop coming up, and tried to look behind her to ascertain the minders’ location, but could not see anything from her angle. The bus rolled to a stop, and Han Yeo Jin almost half carried the younger woman off the bus and into the street. She risked a quick glance behind her, and saw one of the minders running towards their direction, still a distance away. She walked quickly, almost pushing her charge.
“Get ready to run,” Han Yeo Jin told Kim Ji Hyun, and heard only a faint whimper in response. As they turned left into Palace Gate and out of sight from the main road, Han Yeo Jin broke into a run, pulling the cellist’s hand with her. She saw the consulate finally coming into view, and ran faster, and did not stop until she reached the door and pulled Kim Ji Hyun inside, and then locked the doors. She heard the Ambassador’s voice in the entrance foyer, surprised to see Han Yeo Jin.
“Yeo Jin-a! Thank god, I’ve been trying to call you! Why did you hang up all of sudd-.” The ambassador stopped abruptly, finally noticing that Han Yeo Jin was not alone, and exclaimed in shock when the cellist took off her mask.
Han Yeo Jin turned to Kim Ji Hyun, and smiled at the visibly overawed young woman.
“Miss Kim, welcome to the Republic of Korea.”
Jun Ji An limped tiredly towards her apartment building, her 35-year old body inexplicably sore from another stressful day at work, even though she had spent the entire day sitting in front of a computer in her job as an IT consultant. She sighed tiredly, and thought about calling in sick tomorrow, and spend all day in her couch watching re-runs of her favorite drama. She was debating whether to cook or order in for dinner, knowing full well what she will do, being too tired to even walk the few steps to her apartment, when she suddenly heard the familiar notes of a song that she has not heard sung for quite some time.
“… Arirang, arirang, arariyo...You are going over Arirang hill…”
Jun Ji An straightened, her entire body humming with sudden vigilance, her mind now on full alert. Gone was the tiredness she felt only seconds before, replaced by a sharp awareness of her surroundings, a soldier ready for battle. She looked towards the source of the sound, and saw an old lady, garbed in shabby attire, selling gimbap in the corner, her voice gravelly from old age as she serenaded the street with the haunting melody of the folk song. The elderly gimbap-seller smiled at her approach.
“One, please,” Jun Ji An said, handing her money.
The gimbap-seller smiled kindly at her and took the money, and handed her the gimbap and change, the coins tinkling in her hands.
“Thank you, halmeoni,” she said, and pocketed the change.
“Bless you, child,” Jun Ji An heard the gimbap seller say as she turned away.
She walked unhurriedly towards her apartment, the limp now gone, her calm demeanor belying the frenzy of thoughts that raced in her mind. She locked the doors as soon as she walked inside her apartment, then drew all the blinds and turned the television on full volume, as she had been trained to do. She sat down and took out the coins that the halmeoni had given her for change, and her hands trembled when she found what she was looking for.
“…the astounding saga of the missing cello prodigy from the North, who disappeared almost a week ago, before her sold out performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London…”
The news coverage distracted Jun Ji An from her contemplation. She turned her attention to the TV screen, and listened as the anchor reported on the story that has captivated the entire peninsula, and indeed the world, ever since news broke of the famous cellist’s disappearance.
“…there have been a number of rumors as to her current whereabouts and reports of alleged sightings since her disappearance, with many believing that she may have escaped and defected to the South. The NIS and the Blue House have refused to comment on her disappearance, as well as the government of the DPRK, which further fueled speculations of a defection. Kim Ji-Hyun was born and raised in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and has captivated the world with her extraordinary talents with the cello, which she began playing at the age of five. She rose to fame after her now-famous performance at the renowned Juilliard School in New York at only eight years-old, and many considers her a living master in the field of…”
She turned away from the TV and looked at the coins in her hand, and picked out the one she needed. The one that serves as a call to action. A signal to arms, and what she had prepared for almost all her life.
The 1 DPRK won coin, which to a casual observer, looked similar to the coins used in the South. Except this one was emblazoned with the Great Leader’s Tower of Juche.
I am activated, thought Jun Ji An, her eyes blazing with purpose.
Inside a great house situated in an affluent neighborhood, a few miles away from Jun Ji An’s firmly lower-middle class district, sat a man watching the same news coverage on his TV screen. He had just received a message that had distressed him greatly. A message that he had hoped to never receive, and one that he knew could unravel everything that he had worked for his entire life. He dialed a number from a cellphone that he kept in secret, and heard the line pick up.
“It’s Galahad,” he said, using the name he used many years ago, during the time this all started. They all have their code names; to protect their identities, and the secret, that is known only to them.
Galahad heard only silence from the other line. He is certain that Gawain had been startled with his use of their code names. And he knew, like him, that Gawain had hoped to never hear the name again, for it surely could only mean one thing— that they must resurrect the past, and the terrible secret buried deep within it. A secret they had all agreed to take to their graves, and one they had fervently hoped to never confront again.
“Somebody knows about Excalibur,” Galahad continued, using the code word they bestowed on the events that happened many years ago.
“Who?” asked Gawain tremulously, finally able to speak.
Galahad looked at the television, which was still covering the news about the missing cellist.
“The defector,” Galahad said, and heard Gawain’s sharp intake of breath on the other line. “We need to gather the other knights.”
“I understand,” Gawain said after a beat, despair evident in his voice. Galahad terminated the call, and turned his attention back to the news.
The dead never remain silent, he thought despondently, and closed his eyes in misery.
He took a deep breath, then opened his eyes fully. And in that short moment, the misery had been replaced with purpose, knowing what he must do next.
“What do you think of it?”
Han Yeo Jin turned expectantly to Hwang Si Mok, who stood beside her, his brows furrowed in concentration, as he stared intently at Liberty Leading the People, one of the more famous paintings housed inside the Louvre, where they are currently at.
“I like it,” he said succinctly.
Han Yeo Jin rolled her eyes. “Be specific. What do you like about it?”
Hwang Si Mok looked at her, and sighed, then looked at the painting again.
“It’s excellent craftmanship,” he started, and Han Yeo Jin nodded at him encouragingly. “It looks very sturdy, and the carvings in the corners are very intricate and well done.”
Han Yeo Jin frowned, and looked at the painting in puzzlement.
“What are you talking about?” she asked, confused. “What carvings?”
Han Yeo Jin looked at him in disbelief. “You have a masterpiece of art before you and you’re talking about the frame?”
“It’s very well done,” said Hwang Si Mok defensively, pointing to the frame.
“Oh my god,” Han Yeo Jin said, unsure whether she wanted to laugh or pound him in the head. “I meant the painting!”
“Oh,” Hwang Si Mok said, and looked at the painting again. “The woman’s breasts are out.”
“Why did I even bring you here?”
“I like the floors though. When you look at it from a certain angle, it looks like people are floating.”
Floors and frames, Han Yeo Jin thought, doing her best not to laugh, and gave a long-suffering sigh instead. But to his credit, he had endured almost two hours of her dragging him throughout the vast galleries of the museum, and listened uncomplainingly while she rhapsodized about the works of art that he has no appreciation, nor comprehension, of. And for that, he deserves his reward.
“Fine. Let’s go eat cake,” said Han Yeo Jin, and laughed at a visibly relieved Hwang Si Mok.
Kim Ji-Hyun is dreaming.
It was the same dream that she had had ever since she was a little girl, and one that always came, she later realized, whenever she felt troubled or unsettled. Despite its trigger, she had always found the dream soothing and comforting. The sounds of a violin, exquisitely playing Beethoven’s Spring sonata, and a woman’s gentle laughter, heard over the melody. She knew that the same childhood dream was the reason she first took up the cello. She had wanted a violin, like the woman from her dream, but her parents gave her a cello instead. She remembered being surprised at hearing the sound the instrument made for the very first time; low and deep, and sounded like her father when he yawned loudly. She felt disappointed that her instrument did not sound at all like the one played by the woman in her dream. But as she began to learn it, she discovered that it could make many sounds after all; sounds that are at once beautiful and uplifting, and poignantly haunting at the same time. She became determined to master the instrument after that, which at the tender age of five, was bigger than her. She wanted to play as skillfully as the woman in her dream, and it was why Beethoven’s Spring sonata was the very first piece that she had learned.
She never could remember the woman’s face when she woke up, only the feeling of calm and peace that the dream always invoked in her. It is the same feeling she gets now whenever she was in the company of Ambassador Song and Superintendent Han. The ambassador, who reminded her of her beloved late mother, and the policewoman, whom she admires greatly and looked up to with something akin to hero-worship. In her mind, Han Yeo Jin would forever be known as her savior; fearless and valiant, and the person she owed her life and freedom to. She was grateful that the both of them had agreed to remain with her as she stayed within the secure walls of an NIS safehouse, after being transported quickly, and discreetly, out of London and into Seoul by Superintendent Han and the competent agents of the NIS.
She stirred in her sleep, her dream suddenly disturbed by a noise; too quiet for common ears to hear, but not to her trained musician ones. She blinked her eyes open sleepily, and saw a dark, ominous shape looming over her. She opened her mouth to scream, and suddenly found it covered by an unpleasant-smelling cloth. She struggled, trying to escape, but the figure above held her down with a strength that outmatched hers. She felt herself suddenly becoming weak, and battled unsuccessfully against the sleepiness that was quickly overpowering her. Still, she fought, and cried, at the realization that she had come so far only to be slain in the place that she had thought of as sanctuary. And her last thoughts were of the woman in her dreams, before unconsciousness finally overcame her.
SEOUL - 3 days later
Detective Jang Geon forced himself to look at the dead body in front of him. He swallowed convulsively, forcing the bile back down his throat, then took a deep breath, reminding himself that he is an experienced detective, and it will not do to embarrass himself in front of everyone by casting up his breakfast.
He is standing inside an abandoned warehouse, located in the seedier part of Yongsan. The squad received a call early that morning from one of the patrolmen stationed in that neighborhood; a junk trader had discovered a dead body in one of the many derelict warehouses that dotted the area, and all signs pointed to murder.
“What makes you think its murder?” Jang Geon remembered asking the patrolman.
“Just… come,” the officer responded shakily, and Jang Geon heard the sounds of someone retching in the background, whom he found out later was the other officer that was first on the scene.
Looking at the corpse now, Jang Geon did not blame the patrolman for his reaction. Detective Seo Sang Won, his fellow detective from the Yongsan Violent Crimes Unit, and who arrived at the scene with him, took one look at the body and immediately volunteered himself for canvassing and questioning duties. They have seen their fair share of dead bodies before that it barely fazes them anymore; and in their line of work, the bodies were almost always left in a horrible state. But there are still those cases that disturbed even the toughest and most experienced detectives; and this is one of those cases.
The body appears to be that of a female. Except they were not able to identify the victim, as whomever had murdered her had hacked her head off, along with both of her hands, and not cleanly either. Bone fragments and muscle sinew protruded from the grotesque stumps, and violent, cut marks on what is left of the neck suggested that the killer had tried to chop it off multiple times with the use of a blunt instrument. He saw similar marks on both the victim’s wrists that also ended in bloody stumps. He shuddered involuntarily, and prayed that the victim had already been dead before the monster mutilated her body.
“Did you find any identification on her?” asked Captain Choi Yoon-Soo, their team leader, a disturbed expression on his face as he examined the corpse.
“No IDs. No wallet either,” said Jang Geon. “Seo Sang Won is looking for any CCTVs around the area that could have possibly captured her.”
“What kind of a sick bastard would do this?” Captain Choi asked, his tone angry. “Why cut off her head and both of her hands?”
“Could be a ritual killing,” guessed Jang Geon. “Or perhaps the killer didn’t want her identified. Removing her face and hands meant no facial recognition and fingerprints.”
“The body, or what’s left of it, appears to be that of a younger female,” said Captain Choi, crouching down closer to the body to get a better look. “Maybe mid to late 30s? The clothes look to be of good quality too, so she was most likely not from this neighborhood.”
Jang Geon nodded his head in agreement. His phone rang at that moment, and he listened as Seo Sang Won gave him an update.
“Sang Won found CCTV footage from a store not far from here. It captured our victim, and the murderer,” he told Captain Choi excitedly, already running towards the exit, his captain following closely behind.
The three of them stood huddled together in a tiny room in the back of a general store not far from the crime scene. The owner had installed a CCTV camera outside of his store, and they are now watching the footage it had captured from the previous night. The camera was an older model, and the video feed is quite grainy and poor. But it showed their victim, running through the dark and narrow alley between the store and an abandoned building, followed shortly by a male figure wearing dark clothing. The video only showed the two briefly from behind, as both ran deeper into the alley and towards the direction of the abandoned warehouse where the victim’s body was found.
“Stop,” ordered Jang Geon. “Rewind it to the part where we see her.”
Seo Sang Won pressed rewind. Jang Geon watched the woman and thought, not for the first time, that there was something familiar about her. Tall, and on the skinny side, and athletic by the way she moved. He could not make out her face due to the low quality of the video and the angle of which it was taken. And the fact that the victim was also wearing a dark baseball cap pulled low, obscuring half of her profile.
“There!” he said, noticing something. “Rewind to the part where she was beside the dumpster. Did you see that?”
The three of them leaned in closer and squinted at the screen. Seo Sang Won gasped.
“She threw something in there! In the dumpster!” he said excitedly. Jang Geon nodded.
“Sang Won get the tapes. Let’s go!” said Captain Choi. It appears that their victim had hastily tossed something into the dumpster while she was fleeing, and he hoped that whatever it was that she had left behind will lead to them to her, and her killer’s, identities.
“You see anything yet?” asked Captain Choi.
“Not yet. And it’s smelly in here, Captain,” complained Seo Sang Won, who at that moment was inside the large dumpster, rummaging through rubbish and refuse, searching for whatever it was that their victim had thrown away.
“What if the killer took it? Or somebody else?” asked Jang Geon worriedly.
“We’ll have to watch the video again. See if someone else beat us to it,” said Captain Choi.
“I found something!” shouted Seo Sang Won from inside the dumpster. Jang Geon and Captain Choi quickly jumped up and perched themselves on the side of the dumpster, while Sang Won held out something in his hands, a look of triumph on his face.
“It’s a wallet purse,” he said eagerly, unzipping the small bag.
“What’s inside?” asked Jang Geon.
“Money, some coins. And an ID! Its…” he stopped, and they both watched as the color drained from the detective’s face as he yelled a distraught “No!” and then threw the purse away, as if his hands have been burned by it, a look of terror and distress on his face.
“What?! What is it?!” asked Jang Geon, and hurriedly climbed inside the dumpster himself. He took the purse, and looked inside, and saw the ID.
Not an ID, he thought, a police badge, the familiar, blue KNPA lanyard sticking out distinctively. He turned over the badge, his heart beating furiously, and then just sat heavily on the pile of filthy garbage, feeling as if his heart had been ripped from his chest. He heard Captain Choi shouting at him, worried that his detectives appeared to have both gone into a state of shock. And with shaking hands, he held out the badge for Captain Choi to see.
The badge that had his friend’s youthful face in it, and the name Han Yeo Jin, Superintendent underneath it.
“…reporting at the NIS, after the press conference by Deputy Director Lee Eun Kyo on the status of Kim Ji Hyun. It was three days ago when it was finally revealed that the famed cellist did, in fact, defect to the South, after confirmed reports surfaced of her attempted assassination inside an NIS safehouse that left her in critical condition, with her survival remaining uncertain. Also injured is the former Ambassador to Great Britain, Song Hye Jun, who was staying with Kim Ji Hyun at the safehouse. Ambassador Song suffered serious knife wounds and remains in the hospital, but is expected to recover. The NIS provided no further information on the suspects of the attempted murder of the cellist and the assault on the ambassador, and it remains unclear how the suspects were able to infiltrate such a tightly-guarded location. The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had likewise issued a strong statement condemning the assassination attempt, and accused the South of kidnapping the Pride of the North, whom they also claimed perpetrated her attempted murder. The Blue House is yet to issue a response to the North’s shocking statement, with many commenting that the stunning failure of the NIS to protect such a high profile defector will not bode well for the ruling party’s chances on the upcoming elections…”
“I bet it’s the North,” said Investigator Kim Ho Sub, his eyes glued to the television showing the news coverage.
“You don’t know that for sure! It could be someone else,” said Assisting Officer Choi Young beside him, similarly engrossed in the real life drama currently unfolding before them.
“Who else could it be?” exclaimed Investigator Kim. “They’re angry that she defected, so they tried to kill her!”
“It could be a stalker. It said online said she has loads of them, because she’s famous.”
“What kind of stalker is specially trained to break into an NIS safehouse?” said Kim Ho Sub, looking at her incredulously. “If that’s the case, then they should have just hired those people guarding BTS! I’m sure they have tons of stalkers too. Those young girls are scary!”
“Yeah, and maybe they would have done a better job than the NIS…”
“Don’t you two have work to do?”
They both turned as Prosecutor Seo Dong Jae walked into the office occupied by the National Security, Election & Labor Division, at the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, where they all currently work. He looked at the two half-admonishingly, but also turned to watch the TV screen.
“They say who did it yet?” he asked.
“No, but I think it’s the North. Miss Choi thinks it’s a crazy stalker,” said Kim Ho Sub.
“Who do you think it is?” asked Seo Dong Jae, turning towards the other man in the room sitting quietly at his desk, engrossed in his work.
Prosecutor Hwang Si Mok looked up from the pile of documents he had been reading, and glanced at the TV screen. He shrugged, uninterested.
“There is not enough evidence for me to form an opinion.”
Seo Dong Jae snorted in amusement. Typical Si Mok, he thought, watching as the other prosecutor turn his attention back to his work.
It was almost three months ago that the two prosecutors were transferred from the Criminal Division to the National Security, Election and Labor Division by Deputy Prosecutor General Oh Joo Seung. The past year had been a time of great change amongst the major law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the country; with the Police, Prosecution and the NIS battling to keep or seize authority and jurisdiction from one another, and with all three agencies oftentimes serving as pawns in a political game played by politicians and parties to curry favor from their constituents for the upcoming elections. The changes caused outrage from the institutions who suddenly found their powers and scope significantly diminished, as well as a mad scramble on the ones who suddenly found themselves given more authority and responsibility, and who oftentimes discovered that they were ill-prepared and unequipped to fill the vacuum left behind by their predecessors.
It was because of this that Deputy Prosecutor General Oh had assigned Hwang Si Mok and Seo Dong Jae to their new division. He had predicted that the prosecution, police and national security reforms will be politicized and weaponized by both the ruling and opposition parties to gain political points over one another for the impending elections. He anticipated too that national security matters, especially those relating to the North, would be the primary agenda and campaign platform of the election, with the conservative and liberal parties taking diametrically opposing sides of the argument.
Hwang Si Mok remembered being surprised at the sudden re-assignment, and of hearing his superior’s reasoning behind it. With the elections coming up, and with the changes happening between the police and the NIS, these national security cases will be on the forefront, and I guarantee that all the political parties will try to use it to their own advantage. I need the person investigating these cases to be able to wade through all the politics and the bullshit, and get to the truth. And to do that, that person needs to be indifferent to politicians, and impervious to shit.
Hwang Si Mok had accepted the assignment. He liked the Criminal Division, but he also welcomed the challenge of a new position, and new responsibilities. He did not tell his senior that he did not really concern himself with the reasoning behind the decision to transfer him, whether it was to the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, or to a provincial outpost like Wonju. He is a prosecutor; and he will do his job and perform his duties wherever they choose to place him in. But he did ask his boss to grant him one request; and that is to also transfer Investigator Kim and Assisting Officer Choi to his team. His request was not motivated by any sort of attachment with the two, but by the fact that he had worked with them before and had found them the least objectionable amongst all the other investigators and assistants he had worked with in the past, and would rather not have to interact with new people and start all over again.
Similarly, Seo Dong Jae was also surprised, but pleasantly so, that the Deputy Prosecutor General had chosen him for the new division. He knew that their boss still has misgivings about him, due to his admittedly less-than honorable past. He knew he is yet to earn his stripes, but he was resolved to continue down the path that had given him a sense of pride, and of peace, that he had not felt for a very long time. He accepted the position happily, even after Deputy Prosecutor General Oh told him the main reason behind his decision. I need you to watch Prosecutor Hwang’s back, and make sure he does not get himself in trouble with the wrong people.
He remembered defending Si-Mok then, and told their senior that Hwang Si Mok is a highly intelligent and capable prosecutor, who would know better than to stir up trouble unnecessarily and on purpose.
“I didn’t mean he would do it on purpose,” the Deputy Prosecutor General told him exasperatedly. “I mean when he opens his mouth. He does tend to make people want to punch that stoic face of his sometimes.”
Seo Dong Jae did see his point then, and remembered nodding in resigned acceptance of that fact. Even Seo Dong Jae would feel that urge occasionally, and especially of late, as it seemed Hwang Si Mok had reverted to his former self. The Hwang Si Mok of B.H.Y.J, as he referred to it in his mind. Before Han Yeo Jin. The intrepid policewoman had been a good influence on Hwang Si Mok, and he feared that her continued absence had caused the prosecutor to regress to his former ways of stony and emotionless detachment, treating everyone around him with cold civility, almost to the point of callousness. He had hoped that the vacation he took a couple of months ago would refresh and reinvigorate him. But if anything, he feared that it might have triggered his relapse, as he had noticed the change in him shortly after his return. Nonetheless, Seo Dong Jae had promised Han Yeo Jin that he would look after Si Mok in her absence, and it is a responsibility he took seriously. Even if he felt like punching him sometimes, just to invoke any sort of expression from that infuriatingly blank face.
“Isn’t it lunch time yet?” Seo Dong Jae asked Hwang Si Mok. “Why don’t you take a break, and we can all go out to eat.”
Hwang Si Mok shook his head. “I need to finish this,” he told Seo Dong Jae without looking up from his papers. “I need to give it to Prosecutor Lee for the illegal migrants case. He goes to court tomorrow.”
Seo Dong Jae shook his head at him in exasperation. He was about to try and convince him again when Hwang Si Mok’s phone rang. His ears perked up when he heard Detective Jang Geon’s name.
“Apologies, Detective Jang, can you repeat that please?” asked Hwang Si Mok, the documents in front of him forgotten, all his attention now focused on Detective Jang.
“It’s about Han Yeo Jin. We found…” said Jang Geon, trailing off, unsure of how to tell him what they found. “Just come, Prosecutor Hwang. Please.”
Hwang Si Mok was already putting on his coat. “To Yongsan?” he asked.
“No. To the morgue,” said Jang Geon, and heard the sounds of running footsteps coming from the other line.
Hwang Si Mok arrived at the morgue, accompanied by a worried Seo Dong Jae, who is still not entirely sure what is happening. All Seo Dong Jae was able to get out of Hwang Si Mok was that the Yongsan squad had mentioned that the case they are investigating has a connection to Han Yeo Jin, which he found odd as she is still currently in London. But the troubled look in Hwang Si-Mok’s face after Detective Jang’s call is enough for Seo Dong Jae to also drop everything he was doing and accompany him, and the fact that their destination is the morgue added to his unease.
They walked quickly down the corridor, the smell of formaldehyde and other scents that Seo Dong Jae would rather not think about getting stronger as they neared the double doors at the end, where Captain Choi, Jang Geon and Seo Sang Won stood waiting. Hwang Si Mok saw the intense worry in all of the three detective’s faces, and felt his own heart began to race.
“What happened?” he asked, addressing the group from Yongsan. Jang Geon spoke first.
“We found a body this morning, in Yongsan. Female, around mid to late 30s. She was murdered,” said Jang Geon, his voice shaking. “We couldn’t identify her at first because of the state of the body. But we found this near the crime scene.” He took out an evidence bag from his pocket and handed it to Prosecutor Hwang.
Hwang Si Mok took the clear evidence bag, and saw that it contained Superintendent Han’s police badge. He heard Prosecutor Seo’s loud gasp beside him, as he continued to stare at the familiar photo on the front of the badge, surprised that his hands had suddenly began to tremble. He wanted to ask Detective Jang a question, but was similarly surprised to find that he seemed unable to open his mouth and utter any sound. He was therefore relieved to hear Prosecutor Seo voiced the question that he himself had wanted to ask.
“Wait. You think that the murder victim is Han Yeo Jin because you found this near the crime scene?!” he asked, his voice raised in incredulity. “But that can’t be! She’s in London!”
“No, she is not.”
Hwang Si Mok and Seo Dong Jae turned at the sound of the voice, and saw another man coming out from the double doors at the end of the hall.
“She’s not in London. She’s here, in Seoul, and had been for more than a week,” said Director No Won Hae, the Director of the National Investigation Headquarters and Han Yeo Jin’s boss, his expression grave.
“I’ve lost contact with her yesterday, and I haven’t been able to reach her since. That’s why when Captain Choi called me this morning to ask about Superintendent Han, I came straightaway.”
“You think the body in the morgue is her? Why?” asked Hwang Si Mok, finally finding his voice.
“The height and age are about the same as Han Yeo Jin,” said Captain Choi. “The blood type matches too. Type O.”
“What about her face? Her fingerprints?” demanded Seo Dong Jae.
Director No exhaled heavily. “We can’t use those methods to identify her,” he said, then regarded them with a heavy look. “Come see for yourselves. But I should warn you, it is quite disturbing.”
They entered the double doors and stepped into the morgue. Against the far wall are rows of cold lockers where bodies are placed, awaiting identification or autopsy. They followed Director No to a steel table in the middle of the room, where a body was laid out, covered by a white sheet. Hwang Si Mok stood over the body, and reached out to grasp the sheet. He slowly pulled it off, down to the shoulders, and quickly realized why the police have been unable to use the face to identify the victim. He heard a low moan behind him, and knew even without looking, that Prosecutor Seo had made the sound.
“The hands are like that too,” said Jang Geon. “The killer cut both of them off, so we can’t use fingerprints.”
Hwang Si Mok took a deep breath. Behind him, he heard Prosecutor Seo muttering ‘no’ over and over again, the other prosecutor’s head bowed and both hands resting on his knees, his eyes shut tightly, unable to stomach the gruesome sight, and the horrible possibility of who the body might belong to. Hwang Si Mok grasped the sheet again and completely uncovered the body this time. The other men quickly averted their eyes, in deference to the victim’s modesty and, even though no one wanted to believe it, the unthinkable chance that the body in front of them is their friend and colleague. All except Hwang Si Mok, who looked at the body in intense scrutiny, scanning every inch of exposed skin.
“It’s not her,” said Hwang Si Mok, his voice strong with conviction.
The other men quickly pivoted to look at him. Surprise, and hope, in their eyes.
“How do you know?” asked Seo Dong Jae.
“Are you sure?” asked Jang Geon at the same time.
“Positive. It’s not her,” said Hwang Si Mok, ignoring Prosecutor Seo’s question, and covered the body again. “I’m sure the DNA analysis will confirm it, once you find something that belongs to Superintendent Han and get a sample off of it, and compare it against the victim’s DNA. But I am certain that this woman is not the superintendent.”
Director No nodded, his face significantly more animated. “We already got a sample, and it is being urgently analyzed now. But this is really good news, to say the least.”
Hwang Si Mok turned to Director No. “Director No, can you fill us in on what Superintendent Han is doing in Seoul?”
Director No sighed. “Yes, Prosecutor Hwang. I suppose I owe all of you an explanation.”
The men stood huddled closely together outside the building, all of them eager to escape the morgue with its cloying stench of death, as Director No proceeded to tell them his story.
“I’m sure all of you have heard about Kim Ji Hyun, since it’s been all over the news,” he started. The men around him nodded. “Well, Superintendent Han was right in the middle of it. She was the one who helped her escape in London and into Seoul with the NIS.”
“Han Yeo Jin helped her defect?” asked an astonished Seo Dong Jae. Director No nodded.
“Yes. And she stayed with her, along with Ambassador Song, at the NIS safehouse. She was also there the night of the attack. Kim Ji Hyun would have died that night, if it weren’t for Ambassador Song looking in on her and stumbling upon the intruder in the middle of murdering the poor girl. That’s why she was stabbed too; she tried to stop the killer. Han Yeo Jin was down the hall and heard the noise, and saw the killer escaping. She almost got him too; shot him in the arm as he ran. But he got away.
“I met her and Ambassador Song at the hospital the next day. The ambassador was seriously injured, but she was conscious and sensible. Han Yeo Jin wanted to investigate the attack, and so did I. But the NIS stepped in.” Director No took a deep breath, and tried to remain calm as he remembered the events of that morning in the hospital, and the infuriating interaction with the agents of the National Intelligence Service and the agent-in-charge, Deputy Director Lee Eun-Kyo.
He remembered how the Deputy Director swept into the ambassador’s room, followed closely by his agents, and preceded to immediately order the nurse, who had been assisting the ambassador, out of the room. His high-handed attitude had irked Han Yeo Jin, and his refusal to share any information on the case had incensed them both, and ultimately culminated into an argument on Police and NIS jurisdiction.
“This is a matter of national security,” said the Deputy Director.
“This was an attempted homicide and an assault with a deadly weapon! That makes it a police matter!” argued Han Yeo Jin.
“An attempted homicide and assault that was possibly and very likely perpetrated by hostile foreign agents.”
“You don’t know that for certain.”
“And you don’t know for certain that it is not. The crime happened on NIS property, to an NIS asset, including the assault of an ambassador and an NIS agent,” said Deputy Director Lee mulishly. “You seem to think that the new law transferring national security investigative rights to the Police has given you authority over this case, but that law does not take effect until 3 years from now. Until then, national security matters remain firmly under NIS jurisdiction. This is our case, and I will not have the police interfering and disrupting our investigation.”
“He said that?!” asked Captain Choi indignantly, after Director No finished recounting his story. Director No nodded.
“What an absolute asshole,” muttered Jang Geon.
Director No smiled. “That’s exactly what Superintendent Han said.”
“I take it that Superintendent Han investigated anyway,” said Hwang Si Mok. “That’s why she had been under the radar these past few days. The two of you are working together, investigating the case in secret.”
The other men all looked at Director No expectantly at Hwang Si Mok’s pronouncement, and waited for his confirmation.
“Yes, Prosecutor Hwang. But that is not the entire story,” said Director No, and turned to the other men with him.
“Gentlemen, you must excuse my reticence, but there are certain details that I cannot disclose to you at this juncture, or I will be guilty of breaking the National Security Act,” said Director No apologetically, but also firmly. He turned to the detectives from Yongsan.
“Captain Choi, we still do not know why the murder victim had Superintendent Han’s personal items. For now, I would ask that your team find out the victim’s identity, and investigate any connection she may have with the superintendent. I would also ask that the investigation be done by the three of you only. For now, at least. Until we know more, I would like this to be handled quietly, and only by people that I and Superintendent Han trust. I’ll speak to your chief,” said Director No.
The men from Yongsan nodded their understanding. “It’ll just be the three of us for now,” said Captain Choi. “I’ll contact you directly to report any progress.”
“Thank you, Captain,” said Director No, as the men of Yongsan left to do their assignment. He looked over at the two prosecutors, and at Prosecutor Hwang, whose stony silence indicated that he will not be satisfied until he heard the full story.
“Prosecutor Hwang, if I tell you to stand down, would you listen?”
“No sir,” Hwang Si Mok responded quickly, his direct and honest response causing Director No to smile in amusement despite of himself. The Director looked at the other prosecutor, and Seo Dong Jae understood that he may need to step back from this for now, even though he would like nothing more than to help Han Yeo Jin. He nodded at Director No in understanding, and told himself that the best way to make himself useful to Yeo Jin right now is to take over Hwang Si Mok’s workload, so that he would be free to help her.
“I’ll take over your cases for now, shall I?” Seo Dong Jae asked Hwang Si Mok.
“Thank you, Prosecutor Seo,” said Hwang Si Mok, surprising Seo Dong Jae. And as he walked away, he had the amusing thought that Han Yeo Jin’s positive influence over Hwang Si Mok may have gotten stronger now that she is in the country, if the other prosecutor had started to remember his manners again. Like a planet rotating around the sun, growing colder as it revolved farther away, and warmer as it drew closer. Hwang Si Mok is the planet, and Han Yeo Jin is the sun, thought Seo Dong Jae, smiling at the notion.
Director No watched as Prosecutor Seo left, leaving him alone with Prosecutor Hwang. He had expected that the prosecutor will not be satisfied until he had ascertained that Superintendent Han had not come into any harm. He will admit that he still does not fully understand the connection between the two, only that an inexplicable bond exists between them that seem to encompass a strictly work relationship. And he found it very interesting the way Prosecutor Hwang seem to instantly know and recognize that the body in the morgue was not Superintendent Han’s. He will also admit that he needed help finding the superintendent, as he had grown worried about her continued lack of contact. And that if anyone could find her, it would be the prosecutor, knowing that he will not stop until he knows that she is safe.
“I won’t tell you what Superintendent Han is looking into…”
“But sir…” Hwang Si Mok started to protest, but stopped at Director No’s raised hand.
“I won’t tell you, Prosecutor Hwang. I’ll let the source tell you directly,” Director No said. “Come with me.”
“Where are we going, sir?” asked Hwang Si Mok, following the other man.
“To the hospital. To speak to the source.”
Inside a house in Mapo, a man stood over the sink, furiously scrubbing his clothes. Water spilled over the rim, sloshing onto the floor, its pink hue staining the white tiled bathroom floor.
Last night’s job was a lot messier than he had anticipated. It would have been easier, and cleaner, if he had the right tools. But he did not count on the woman being a lot quicker, and craftier, than he had expected her to be. He should have though, he admitted to himself; after all, the woman was a professional, trained in the art of espionage, like he was. It had taken him a while to track her down, and he had to use his connections from his former life to finally discover her location. A well placed bribe, and numerous threats, to a man nick-named the Hyena, had done the trick. It should have been easy enough to capture her target, kill her, and dispose of the body in a secluded location; but the woman had sensed his presence, and had fled instead to an area that made it impossible for him to discreetly dispose of her body. And so, he was forced to improvise, and had made it impossible for the police to discover her identity even if they did find her remains.
He looked in the mirror, and at the cut in his cheek. The woman fought like a hellcat, and had managed to injure him during the struggle. But in the end, she was no match for him. He did regret killing her before she was able to give him what he needed. He realized too late that the woman had intended it that way; she knew she was about to die, and had provoked him into ending her life quickly, instead of being subjected to a long and painful torture to force her to surrender what he had wanted from her. His boss is not going to be happy when he finds out that he did not secure the evidence. But he might have another way of obtaining it, and is already planning a trip there tonight as soon as darkness falls.
His phone suddenly rang, and he knew that it is his boss calling. He took a deep breath, and answered.
“Did you find the woman?” the man who calls himself Percival asked.
“Yes, sir,” he answered. “I’ve taken care of her. The police will not be able to identify the body, even if they do find it.”
“That’s good to hear, Agent Yu,” Percival said. “And the evidence?”
Agent Yu paused. “I wasn’t able to get it, sir,” he admitted, and heard only silence from the other line. “She did not have it on her, and I was not able to get it out of her before she died. But I may know where it is,” he added quickly. “I couldn’t go there last night because there wasn’t enough time after I disposed of her. I’ll go there tonight.”
“Do that, Agent Yu. And make sure you get it this time,” said Percival, and ended the call.
Agent Yu stared at the phone in his hands. He knew there could be no mistakes this time, as the people he works for are not the sort who tolerated any errors. He was about to make his preparations for tonight when his phone rang again. He looked at the number and frowned, wondering why the person is calling him now after all these years. He answered, and his frown deepened as he listened to the caller. By the end of it, he wanted to throw his phone against the wall. This was another problem they do not need right now, he thought angrily. He took a deep breath, and knew he had to tell his boss what had happened. He dreaded the call, but he must alert his employers that someone else is digging up the past, and that someone else may be closing in on their secret.
“DNA results are in. It’s not Superintendent Han,” said Director No to Hwang Si Mok, a look of great relief on his face. Hwang Si Mok nodded. He already knew that it was not the superintendent, but was glad to hear it definitively confirmed by a DNA test regardless. He saw Director No looking at him oddly, and knew what the other man was about to ask.
“How did you know it wasn’t Han Yeo Jin?” asked the Director, confirming Hwang Si Mok’s thoughts.
Hwang Si Mok shrugged. “I just know, sir,” he said vaguely, refusing to elaborate.
Director No nodded, and let it go. He realized now that he might have been a tad indelicate for posing the question, as he did not need to know why Prosecutor Hwang was able to ascertain the victim was not Superintendent Han after looking at the corpse’s naked body, and what it had implied.
“This way,” he said to Prosecutor Hwang to cover for the sudden awkwardness, “we’re almost there.”
The two of them are in the hospital, on their way to the secure ward, where Kim Ji Hyun and Ambassador Song are currently receiving treatment. Hwang Si Mok was told by Director No that the young cellist is still in a coma, due to the severity of the injuries she had sustained from the attack. They were there to speak to Ambassador Song, whom Director No said have information that might help him discover Superintendent Han’s current whereabouts.
As they neared the doors, Hwang Si Mok saw a considerable number of NIS agents, in their dark, somber suits, stationed in the hallway and in front of the doors of Ambassador Song and Kim Ji Hyun’s rooms. He saw too a group of uniformed police officers spread throughout the ward.
“I also had police posted 24/7 to guard Ambassador Song and Kim Ji Hyun. The NIS did not like it, but they were overruled by the Ambassador, who insisted on it,” said Director No, and in a quieter voice added, “at Superintendent Han and mine’s advice.”
“Why is that, sir?” Hwang Si Mok asked.
“You’re about to find out,” said Director No.
They reached the doors leading to Ambassador Song’s room, where they were stopped by an NIS agent who was guarding the doors.
“This is Hwang Si Mok, a friend of mine and the ambassador’s. He’s here for a visit,” said Director No, and gave Hwang Si Mok a meaningful look. Hwang Si Mok followed his lead, knowing that the Director had a good reason to hide the fact that he is from the Prosecution.
“This is Agent Ju Ja Hong, from the NIS,” said Director No, introducing the younger NIS agent, who bowed at Hwang Si Mok. The NIS agent opened the door, and both entered the room.
Ambassador Song turned from her bed as they entered. Hwang Si Mok took a moment to study the woman; small and thin, in her early 70s, with a kind face and sharp, intelligent eyes that studied him as he approached. Superintendent Han had spoken fondly of the ambassador, and he knew that the two of them have a close relationship. The ambassador had her left arm in a sling, a result of the violent attack that she had suffered recently. She smiled warmly at Director No, who asked how she was doing.
“A lot better now, thank you, Director No,” she answered, then turned to look at Hwang Si Mok. Director No introduced the prosecutor.
“Ah, the famous Prosecutor Hwang,” she said, smiling kindly at Hwang Si Mok. “Yeo Jin talked about you.”
“Superintendent Han and I worked together on several cases in the past,” Hwang Si Mok said, then hesitated. “She’s a friend,” he added, and realized that he had never actually called the superintendent as such to another person, and thought about how strange it felt saying the words, unable to even remember the last time he referred to another person as a friend.
Ambassador Song nodded. “Have you heard from Yeo Jin yet?” she asked Director No, and noticed his worried look. “Has something happened to her?” she asked, her voice raised in alarm and concern.
Director No shook his head. “No ma’am, nothing like that,” said Director No, trying to calm the visibly distressed older woman. “I did not mean to upset you, please accept my apologies.”
Ambassador Song shook her head. “I’m fine, Director No. I may be old and weak but I’m a lot tougher than I look. Just tell me what happened to Yeo Jin.”
Director No sighed. “I’ve not heard from her yet. But there is no reason to think that she is in trouble,” he paused, choosing his next words carefully. “But this morning, we found a body near Yongsan. And somehow, the victim had with her Han Yeo Jin’s wallet and badge.
“We don’t know how the victim managed to get ahold of Han Yeo Jin’s items, or the victim’s connection with her. At this point, we also do not know the victim’s identity,” Director No said, deliberately omitting any mention of the grisly state of the murder victim’s body. “That’s why Prosecutor Hwang is here; he’s going to try and track down Superintendent Han. And to do that, he needs to know what you told Han Yeo Jin and myself.”
Ambassador Song looked intently at Hwang Si Mok, and he knew that the Ambassador was taking his measure, and assessing whether he could be trusted. She finally nodded, coming to a decision.
“I know Yeo Jin trusts you, so I will as well, Prosecutor Hwang,” she said. “But like I told Yeo Jin and Director No, this must be kept only amongst ourselves for now.”
Hwang Si Mok nodded. “Yes, Ambassador Song, I understand,” he said, and listened as the ambassador told her story.
“Han Yeo Jin and I stayed with Kim Ji Hyun at the NIS safehouse for about a week after she defected. She asked if Yeo Jin and I could be with her while she was in hiding; the poor girl was so anxious and nervous, and I think she just needed someone to talk to that she was comfortable with. So, of course, we agreed, and during that time, she opened up to me.
“One night, she told me in confidence that she has information, secret information, about a scientist who was working in the North. She said the information is something that both countries will not want disclosed. She didn’t tell me the details, but she told me enough to know that it is something that could be potentially explosive if revealed.”
Hwang Si Mok leaned in closer, listening raptly to the ambassador. “What was it? Who was the scientist?” he asked.
“His name is Young Hak Joo. He’s a North Korean scientist, and he was reported to have died 20 years ago in a boating accident with his three year-old daughter. In Baengnyong Island,” said Ambassador Song. Hwang Si Mok looked at her sharply, and she nodded, pleased that he understood.
“That’s right, Prosecutor Hwang. He was from the South.”
“She didn’t tell me anything after that,” said Ambassador Song. “And if I was being honest, I was relieved that she didn’t. I’m not entirely comfortable even knowing this much.”
“Did she tell anyone else?” asked Hwang Si Mok.
“I don’t know,” the ambassador said, shaking her head. “I’m not sure if she told the NIS. They were interviewing her almost daily during that time. It’s standard procedure for all defections.”
Hwang Si Mok sat silently, processing the information he had heard. He looked at Ambassador Song, and finally understood why she had wanted to keep this information hidden, and why Superintendent Han felt compelled to investigate on her own.
“You think this information that she has was the reason someone tried to kill her?” Hwang Si Mok asked. The ambassador nodded.
“You said that according to Kim Ji Hyun, this information is something that both countries would not want revealed,” said Hwang Si Mok. Ambassador Song nodded again, looking uncomfortable now.
“Both countries,” said Hwang Si Mok, repeating the words Kim Ji Hyun had used, and what it implied. “You think one of our own could have done this?”
“I don’t want to think that, Prosecutor Hwang,” said Ambassador Song. “The thought alone is monstrous to me. That someone from our side could have done this.”
“But you have to think about it objectively, Prosecutor Hwang,” said Director No. “Kim Ji Hyun may have disclosed the information to the NIS, and then she was almost killed right after. That safehouse was supposed to be heavily guarded and secure yet somehow, someone was able to get in, undetected.”
“That’s why you have your own men guarding them both,” Hwang Si Mok told Director No, referring to the police outside. Director No nodded. “And why Superintendent Han is investigating in secret. You suspect that someone from our own government, may be even the NIS, is involved.”
“I want nothing more than to be proven wrong, Prosecutor Hwang,” said Ambassador Song. “Perhaps it was the North that did this, or some other unknown parties that we don’t yet know about.
“But I cannot take that chance,” said Ambassador Song, her eyes burning in intensity. “Someone tried to kill that poor, innocent girl. And I will not put her life in danger again.”
Hwang Si Mok thought about what the Ambassador said. He could not even begin to fathom the ramifications such an atrocious act would cause if proven true. Whatever it was that the young woman knew, Hwang Si Mok thought that it must be big and dangerous enough for these people to kill someone as high-profile as her, and in such a bold and brazen manner.
“Do you have any idea where Superintendent Han may have gone?” asked Hwang Si Mok.
“She was going to track down Young Hak Joo, the scientist,” said Director No. “Find out where he lived and question any acquaintances he may have had.”
Hwang Si Mok nodded. “Do you know where Superintendent Han is staying in Seoul? She can’t have returned to the safe house, as it’s a crime scene now. Does she still have her apartment in Namsan?”
“No, she’s not at the safehouse nor her apartment. She told me it is still being leased out. I told her to stay at my house in Seoul for now,” said Ambassador Song. “I had both mine and her things sent over there from the safe house when they took me to the hospital.”
Hwang Si Mok nodded, an idea occurring to him. Just then, the doors burst open, and in walked a stern looking man in a dark suit, followed by Agent Ju and another agent. The man looked at the three of them, and then at Hwang Si Mok, his dark eyes fixing in on him. Director No stood, and started to introduce Hwang Si Mok.
“Deputy Director Lee, this is…”
“I know who he is,” interrupted Deputy Director Lee rudely. “Prosecutor Hwang Si Mok of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, National Intelligence and Elections Division.”
Hwang Si Mok bowed to him politely in acknowledgement. Deputy Director Lee continued to stare at him intently, his face betraying no emotions.
“The Prosecution has no business here,” said Deputy Director Lee bluntly.
“I’m not here on business, sir,” said Hwang Si Mok. “I’m here to visit the ambassador.”
“That’s right, Deputy Director Lee,” said Ambassador Song, quickly picking up on Hwang Si Mok’s lie. “Hwang Si Mok and I met a couple of months ago, in London. He came to visit me and Han Yeo Jin. He is a friend, and my guest.” Ambassador Song emphasized the last word, her expression hardening, indirectly cautioning Deputy Director Lee to mind his manners.
Deputy Director Lee gave her a slight bow, and Hwang Si Mok saw his expression soften a bit, although his eyes remain watchful. As a former ambassador, she is still the highest ranking person in the room, and it is clear to him now that she is not afraid to pull rank when needed. Hwang Si Mok was impressed with how quickly, and convincingly, the ambassador had lied that they had met in London. Being a career diplomat, he knew that she must be used to thinking quickly on her feet, and embellishing the truth when needed. Although he did wonder whether the ambassador knew that he was in London a couple of months ago to visit Superintendent Han.
“If you don’t mind Ambassador Song, but there are a few things I need to discuss with you,” said Deputy Director Lee. “In private,” he added, looking pointedly at Director No and Hwang Si Mok.
Ambassador Song sighed. “Very well,” she said unenthusiastically, and turned to Director No and Hwang Si Mok. “Thank you for the visit, Director No and Prosecutor Hwang, I’m sure we’ll talk again soon.”
The two men bowed to her in farewell, and walked towards the door. Hwang Si Mok heard the ambassador called out to him as he was leaving.
“Oh, and Si Mok, make sure you come by my house for dinner with me and Yeo Jin, after I am discharged,” she smiled at him, and Hwang Si Mok thought that the informal address was a nice touch to their little charade. He bowed to her again, and felt Deputy Director Lee’s eyes following him as he left.
Lee Yeon Jae tried to contain her yawn as she watched yet another demonstration of a new tech that her company is developing. She looked furtively around her, at the assembly of men clad in white lab coats and dark suits, and hoped that no one had noticed. The engineer who was doing the demonstration enthusiastically explained to her, in very technical terms, how the machine in front of her is a marvel of engineering. All Lee Yeon Jae was able to understand from the incomprehensible technical speak is that the machine in front of her does something that makes another thing go faster.
She is currently conducting her quarterly visit and inspection of Hanjo Aeronautics, one of the many subsidiaries that she oversees as CEO and Chairwoman of Hanjo Corporation. She knew that she should take a greater interest in what the scientists and executives have presented her during the tour; after all, Hanjo Aeronautics is one of their most profitable branches, owing to the very lucrative government and military contracts that her father had secured decades ago. But technical and mechanical subjects are not her area of expertise, nor interest, and she would much rather be in her office poring through financial statements than listen to an explanation of how to make rockets not explode mid-flight.
“Let’s move on to R and D.”
Lee Yeon Jae looked over at Kang Ji Hoon, who had issued the order, and smiled at her Chief Technology Officer. Kang Ji Hoon had been in the company for almost a decade, and was hired by her father to oversee Hanjo Aeronautics, after leaving a long and illustrious career in government. She had decided to let him continue on as CTO and Executive Vice President when she took over as CEO and Chairwoman, knowing that the older man will continue to capably manage the subsidiary.
“I apologize Mrs. Lee. Our scientists sometimes forget that not all of us have advanced degrees in physics, and they do tend to get carried away when they talk about their projects,” Kang Ji Hoon said to her quietly, smiling sympathetically.
“That’s quite alright Chief Kang, I should make a greater effort to understand all of these,” she said, gesturing around her. “Even if the details are a bit too complicated to understand sometimes.”
“You don’t have to Mrs. Lee, that’s why you have me. I’ll listen to all the boring stuff, so you don’t have to,” said Kang Ji Hoon. Lee Yeon Jae smiled.
They reached the R and D department, where a dozen or so employees are lined up to meet her. The manager introduced the scientists and researchers, and Lee Yeon Jae tried to remember all their names and positions as she politely greeted them.
“Dr. Kim, I heard one of our physicists was nominated for a Nobel a few years ago,” said Lee Yeon Jae, who was given that information by Chief Kang. “I never had the chance to meet him. Is he here today?”
Dr. Kim suddenly looked uncomfortable at Lee Yeon Jae’s question. “Ummm…actually, no, he’s not here today, Chairwoman Lee. He’s, ah…off sick,” he stuttered.
A commotion coming from the back of the room suddenly broke out, and Lee Yeon Jae saw a hand waving frantically in the air over the top of the crowd of employees, and heard someone shouting ‘I’m here! I’m here!’ She heard Dr. Kim groan audibly, and watched in wonder as a thin, tall man with crooked glasses and a mop of thick, unruly hair suddenly burst through the crowd and stood directly in front of her.
Lee Yeon Jae looked at Dr. Kim bemusedly, and saw the other man’s face pinched in alarm and disapproval.
“Chairwoman Lee, this is Dr. Song Gang Du,” Dr. Kim said, reluctantly introducing the younger man. “He’s one of our senior physicists, and a Nobel Prize nominee.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Dr. Song, and congratulations on your nomination,” said Lee Yeon Jae, smiling politely at the strange man.
“You don’t look like a CEO,” Dr. Song said bluntly. Dr. Kim moaned as if in pain, as silence descended on the crowd of watching employees at Dr. Song’s inappropriate comment.
Lee Yeon Jae stood taken aback by the physicist’s direct and odd behavior. She recovered herself, and asked, “what do I look like, then?”
“Like one of those women from the face cream commercials. You’re very pretty. Most CEOs are balding, old farts.”
Lee Yeon Jae did her best to not burst out in laughter at Dr. Song’s brazen comment. She was not sure whether she should be insulted at the remark. But the physicist had said it so earnestly, with an almost child-like innocence, that she knew instinctively he had not meant it as an offense. She looked at Dr. Song, amusement dancing in her eyes, while Dr. Kim issued a steady stream of apologies beside her, the poor man looking like he was about to have a conniption.
“I’ll take that as a compliment, Dr. Song,” said Lee Yeon Jae smiling at the physicist, thoroughly enjoying the amusing exchange. She said her farewells to the employees and made her way out of R and D, followed by Chief Kang and the other executives.
“I should apologize for Dr. Song as well,” said Chief Kang, a smile playing on his lips. “He’s a genius, and one of the best in the world. But he’s a little…different,” he said, settling on the politically correct word.
“No need to apologize, Chief Kang,” said Lee Yeon Jae, still smiling. “It was a nice change from all the lectures I had to sit through all day. I found it quite diverting.”
She glanced behind her, and saw the odd physicist still standing there, waving at her with a goofy smile on his face, ignoring the ferocious tirade a red-faced Dr. Kim directed at him.
Lee Yeon Jae did not hold back the laughter that escaped her this time, and thought that this was the first time in a long time that she truly enjoyed herself while at work.
Hwang Si Mok stepped out of his car and surveyed the residential neighborhood around him, located in one of the more affluent areas of Seoul. He looked at the row of large houses, hidden behind high gates and tall walls, and found the one that belonged to Ambassador Song.
Hwang Si Mok had driven directly from the hospital to the house, eager to begin his search of Superintendent Han and investigate her connection with the unknown murder victim. They knew that the victim had somehow obtained Superintendent Han’s wallet purse that contained her badge, and it is this point that Hwang Si Mok decided to start his investigation from. He knew that the unknown woman was unlikely to have purloined the wallet purse from Superintendent Han’s person directly, as it would have been too difficult and risky to steal something off a highly trained police officer. Therefore, Hwang Si Mok thought that it is more likely that their murder victim had stolen the superintendent’s property while it was stored somewhere; and according to Ambassador Song, Superintendent Han’s luggage and bags were taken from the safehouse to her own house the morning after the attack. Their unknown victim would have had plenty of time to break into the ambassador’s house to steal the wallet purse while they were at the hospital, and it would not have been too challenging given the fact that the house only has rudimentary security and just the lone housekeeper on site.
Hwang Si Mok rang the bell on the gate, and looked at the security camera mounted high in the corner. A few moments later, he heard a voice from the other side, warily asking who he was.
“My name is Prosecutor Hwang Si Mok. I’m here to have a look around the house.” The gate opened and he saw a middle aged woman peering at him cautiously. He showed her his ID, and the housekeeper ushered him in, a look of relief on her face.
“Yes, the ambassador had called to tell me that you were coming Prosecutor Hwang,” she said while hastily locking the gate. “I’m sorry for the precautions, but the press had been coming around here, trying to get in and asking questions about the ambassador.”
“Has anyone else come by, other than the press?” Hwang Si Mok asked.
“The police were here yesterday to help disperse the media vans that were camped outside, but they left shortly after the vans left. It’s been quiet since then, thank goodness,” said the housekeeper. “Oh, and Ms. Han came by early this morning as well.”
Hwang Si Mok turned around quickly to look at the housekeeper. “Superintendent Han was here?” he asked.
“Yes,” she responded, momentarily taken aback at Hwang Si Mok’s sudden intensity. “But she was only here briefly. She said she was only picking up a few things, then left shortly after.”
“Did she tell you where she was going?”
The housekeeper shook her head. “No. But she took a small bag with her. I had assumed she was going to the hospital to stay with the ambassador,” she said. “She seemed a bit anxious. She was in a hurry too, wouldn’t even stay for breakfast. I’m worried about her,” the housekeeper finished, a look of concern on her face.
Hwang Si Mok nodded distractedly. So, the superintendent was here, he thought, but had now gone off again to locations unknown. Hwang Si Mok breathed a sigh of relief; at least, he now knew that she was safe and well, at least as of that morning. He turned to the housekeeper and asked, “can you take me to where Superintendent Han’s bags are stored?”
“It’s in the guest bedroom,” the housekeeper said, and showed him to the room. Hwang Si Mok bowed politely to her as she left, and then made his way to the pile of luggage stored in the corner of the room. He saw that they were unlocked, her clothes and things still stowed inside. He felt uncomfortable going through her personal items, and felt as if he was intruding in her privacy. He was about to close the heavy luggage when he saw her sketchbook peeking out from underneath her folded clothes. The same one he had given her last year, before she left for Europe. He knew he should not look, but felt an almost irresistible urge to do so anyway, and before he could stop himself, had opened the leather bound book and was flipping through the pages.
He found a dozen or so pages filled with her drawings; landscapes, buildings, and faces of people she had met in her travels. He smiled at the drawing of the Yongsan detective squad dressed as superheroes, and another one of a smiling weasel dressed in a familiar three-piece suit. He flipped to another page and paused, and stared as his own face looked back at him.
She had drawn him again, with the Venetian landscape in the background. He remembered that day; they had been sitting outside a café on Piazza San Marco, sharing a late afternoon drink after an entire day of sightseeing. He recalled feeling tired, but pleasantly so, after walking all day. He marveled at Superintendent Han’s stamina, who seem to possess an unlimited amount of energy, and whom he had to bribe with dessert and wine just so he could sit down and rest his aching feet. He saw her take out the sketchbook, her hands flying through the page, her brows knitted in concentration.
“What are you drawing?” he asked.
“Those columns,” she answered distractedly. “They’re pretty.”
Hwang Si Mok looked behind him, at the tall, granite columns of San Teodoro and San Marco, standing sentry over the entire Piazza.
“You know, they used to execute criminals between those two columns,” he said, pointing at the structure. “There’s a superstition that passing between them brings bad luck. That’s why locals still do not pass the space between them.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at him aghast. “Now you tell me?! You took a picture of me posing between them! Am I going to have bad luck from now on?!”
He shrugged. “It’s just a superstition. I’m sure it’s not real.”
Han Yeo Jin glared at him. “You better hope not because if it is, then I am passing on the curse to you too,” she said vindictively, then turned her attention back to her sketch. He smiled, and sipped his wine contentedly, as he watched her draw.
Hwang Si Mok shook his head to stop the sudden onslaught of memories. He cannot afford any distractions right now, he thought, and he had resolved to not think about those two weeks with the superintendent if he could help it. He closed the sketchbook and put it back inside the luggage, then shut it closed, as if the act would also shut the memories from his mind. He walked out of the bedroom and went in search of the housekeeper, and found her cleaning in the living room.
“Did you notice anything unusual these past few nights? Any strange people lurking about, or any missing items?” Hwang Si Mok asked the housekeeper.
The housekeeper shook her head. “Not that I’ve noticed,” she said, “aside from the press, I did not see anyone else.” She paused suddenly, as if remembering something. “Oh, but this morning, I noticed that the security cameras are not working. I had to call the company that installed them. They’re still down, and won’t be fixed until they come later today.”
“Can you show me please?” he asked, his suspicion that their unknown murder victim had broken into the house getting stronger by the minute. The housekeeper showed him to a small panty off the kitchen, where he saw a small monitor installed on the wall.
“This was the last video footage before it went down,” said the housekeeper, showing Hwang Si Mok the footage. “We only have the one camera, at the gate.”
Hwang Si Mok looked at the timestamp, which showed 11:18 PM from last night. The smooth, high walls that encircled the property would have been too difficult for a person to scale; but the wooden gate at the entrance would have been easier to manage, and he thought that this would have been the ideal spot for anyone to enter and exit unseen, but not before disabling the security camera placed near the gate. He made his way outside, towards the gate, and looked at the security camera mounted high in the corner. He traced the wire leading from it, and saw that it had been cut clean, confirming his theory that their thief and murder victim had most likely broken into the house by climbing over the gate, after disabling the security camera. He walked out into the empty, quiet street and stood in the middle, looking around him. He knew that the wealthy and powerful residents of this neighborhood would have ensured that their enclave is well-protected and secured, and he hoped that CCTV cameras have been installed by the city to monitor the public street and roads of the surrounding area. Then he saw it, fixed atop one of the light poles down the street; a CCTV camera pointing towards the direction of the Ambassador’s house. He pulled out his phone and dialed Detective Jang’s number.
“Detective Jang, I need your help to pull CCTV footage near Ambassador Song’s house. I’ll send you the address and the time frame,” Hwang Si Mok said.
“Ambassador Song’s house? Why?” asked Jang Geon.
“I think our murder victim broke into the house last night. Superintendent Han’s things are in the house, and she might have stolen her wallet purse from there,” he replied. “We may be able to ID her if you find footage of her or her vehicle.”
At Yongsan precinct, Jang Geon jumped up from his desk and grabbed Seo Sang Won, the phone still in his ear.
“We’re heading to traffic control now, send us the time and location,” he said, already running to the car.
Jang Geon and Seo Sang Won watched the footage of the dark, deserted street of Ambassador Song’s house. They have been watching the CCTV footage for a few minutes now at the traffic control command center, with the time stamp of the video feed showing a little after 11:40, but have yet to see any signs of unusual activity.
“Are you sure you have the right time?” asked Seo Sang Won.
“Prosecutor Hwang said that 11:18 PM was the timestamp of the last footage from the security camera, so it should have been around that time,” he said, frowning at the screen.
“I don’t see anything,” said Seo Sang Won. A few moments later, a dark figure suddenly came into view, walking quickly away from the ambassador’s house.
“Whoa! Where did she come from?” exclaimed Seo Sang Won. “We didn’t even see her go in or out of the house!”
“She must be a professional,” Jang Geon said ominously. The three of them had refused to speculate as to the identity of their unknown victim, but Jang Geon knew that all of them were thinking the same thing, especially in light of what Director No had told them that morning, and what Han Yeo Jin had gotten herself mixed up with in London. And watching this woman expertly break into a house unseen, Jang Geon can only think of two likely possibilities as to what this woman did for a living; either she is a professional criminal, or a trained covert operative. A spy, Jang Geon thought, who broke into an ambassador’s house, and who could have well broken into an NIS safehouse as well.
“Track her!” Jang Geon ordered the traffic control officer. “Get footage from the other CCTV cameras on that street!” It took some time, and a brief moment of panic when they thought they had lost her, but they managed to find the footage of her getting into a parked car a few streets away from the ambassador’s house.
“Pause right there, and zoom in” said Jang Geon, and stared at the screen as they finally beheld the face of their victim. The video was dark, and a little blurry, but her features were distinct, nonetheless.
“She looks like her,” said Seo Sang Won quietly. “Han Yeo Jin.”
Jang Geon stared at the face of the woman, who did indeed look very similar to their friend. This woman has the same, short hairstyle that Han Yeo Jin wore when she started at Yongsan; the height, build and even the way they walked are the same. Except that this woman’s face is thinner, more angular, and not quite as unique or memorable as Han Yeo Jin’s. They finally have a face now, he thought, and more importantly, they have the license plates of her car.
“Let’s run a trace of those plates, see if we get a hit,” he told Seo Sang Won, who already had his laptop out to do just that.
“Found the car,” said Seo Sang Won. “It’s registered under the name of Jun Ji An, residing near Yeouido.” He pulled up the car registration, along with a recent photo.
“That’s her,” said Jang Geon excitedly, and took his cellphone out.
“Prosecutor Hwang, we found her. I’m sending you the address.”
Hwang Si Mok sped towards Yeouido, to the address given to him by Detective Jang. He was closer to the location than the detective squad, who had informed him was also en route. He was not sure what he’d find there, but hoped that it would give him a clue as to the superintendent’s current whereabouts. Discovering that Superintendent Han was alive and well that morning had given him some relief, but that relief is short lived if he does not find her soon. He is yet to learn the connection between the two women; and why the murder victim, who they now believe is named Jun Ji An, stole the superintendent’s personal items. And at the moment, his greatest fear is that the whoever had murdered their victim may also target Superintendent Han— because his instincts are telling him that Jun Ji An’s vicious murder, the defection and attempted murder of Kim Ji Hyun, and the mysterious scientist are all linked; and Superintendent Han is right in the middle of it.
He finally reached the address, and parked his car across the street from the apartment building where Jun Ji An lived. It had started to rain, and he pulled his jacket tighter as he walked quickly towards the building, passing an old lady on the street selling gimbap.
Jun Ji An’s unit was on the ground floor, facing an open courtyard. There were no lights on the grounds, and the outside walkway that led into the units was lit only by a lone, flickering lightbulb by the stairwell in the far corner of the building, leaving most of the space in darkness. He found the right door, and was about to turn the knob when he noticed the door already ajar. He paused, wondering if he should wait for the detective squad. His curiosity overrode his caution, and he silently and carefully pushed the door open wider, and stepped inside.
It was dark inside the apartment, with the only source of light coming from the slightly open door behind him. He looked around, and as his eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light, saw that the entire place had been ransacked. The furniture had been either moved, broken or overturned, and various household items and documents littered the floor. He navigated his way carefully through the clutter, and saw the same state of disarray in the kitchen, with all the cabinets and drawers left open and their contents discarded on the floor, as if someone had been looking for something. He made his way to the bedroom, and stopped abruptly when he heard the unmistakable sound of a floorboard creaking under a person’s weight. He tensed, realizing he was not alone inside the apartment, and walked quietly towards the slightly open the door of the bedroom. He heard another sound, of a window being opened, and realized that the intruder did not make any effort to mask the sound. He knew that could only mean one thing; that the intruder knew that he was there, and is now attempting to escape through the bedroom window. He ran to the bedroom, and got there just in time to see the intruder disappear through it. He ran to the window, and saw the figure of a man, running through the alley behind the apartment complex. He hoisted himself through the window and jumped down onto the alley, and quickly followed in pursuit of the intruder.
The man ran deeper into the dark alley, zigzagging down narrow lanes that led away from the residential area and into a more deserted and derelict part of the neighborhood. He did not know how far they have run from the apartment complex, but he finally saw up ahead a tall, chain linked fence that cut the alley off from the other side and into a dead end. He saw the man stop in front of the fence, and Hwang Si Mok ran faster, intent on capturing his target, when the man suddenly turned around, and pointed a gun directly at him.
Hwang Si Mok stopped abruptly at the sight of the gun. He looked at the man, his face hidden by a dark baseball cap and face mask, the eyes the only part that is visible. The cold, ruthless eyes who stared calmly at him, their murderous intent clear; and at that moment, Hwang Si Mok realized that he had made a fatal error. The intruder, whom he had thought was trying to escape him, was in fact, luring him deeper into a dark and isolated location, away from the apartment and to a place where there will be no witnesses to his murder. He took a deep breath and looked calmly at his executioner, and found that he felt no fear in what is about to come, and was surprised to find his thoughts suddenly filled with the memories of a room in Provence, and the scent of lavender permeating the air.
He heard the loud sound of a gunshot, and felt himself hit the ground hard. He lay there, disoriented, and realized that someone had tackled him from behind, saving him from the bullet fired by his would-be killer. He tried to get up, but his savior had pressed him down on the ground again, and then pushed him behind a big, metal dumpster, as the intruder fired off more rounds in their direction, the bullets only hitting the dumpster and providing cover for them both. Silence suddenly descended in the alley, and he realized that the intruder may have finally ran out of bullets. He watched as his savior beside him took out a gun, and run out from the cover of the dumpster and fired a succession of shots at the other man, who had managed to scale the chain link fence. He landed on the other side, and then quickly sprinted deeper into the dark alley, and made his escape.
Hwang Si Mok cautiously emerged from his hiding place behind the dumpster, and looked at the person in front of him, but could not make out the face as it was covered by a hooded raincoat. He could only guess that it must be someone from Yongsan, and he was glad that they had come just in time to save him. The person slowly turned towards him, and Hwang Si Mok forgot to breathe, forgot everything, as he finally beheld the face of his savior.
“That was very foolish of you, Prosecutor Hwang,” said Han Yeo Jin, frowning disapprovingly at him.
Han Yeo Jin holstered her gun, then looked at Prosecutor Hwang, who at the moment was staring at her intently, his usual inscrutable expression firmly in place. She still has not recovered from the abject terror she experienced upon witnessing the man point the gun at him, knowing that unlike any of the other criminals they have faced before, the unknown shooter was a professional killer, and his intent was to shoot to kill.
She took a deep breath to steady herself, as a silent war waged inside of her, equally wanting to embrace the man before her and never let go, but also smack him on his thick skull for stupidly going after a killer without any weapons or back up. She did neither, and used anger instead to cover the myriad of conflicting emotions that desperately wanted to come out of her, too frightened to let him see anything else other than that safe and familiar emotion.
“Why did you go after him alone?” she asked, her voice raised in her ire. “You don’t even have any weapons on you to defend yourself. He would have killed you in an instant!”
Silence. Han Yeo Jin looked at Prosecutor Hwang, who just stood there staring at her mutely, looking as if he had suffered from a tremendous shock. She frowned, concern overriding her anger, and quickly walked towards him to ascertain his state.
“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” she asked urgently, guilty now that she had reprimanded him first before making sure he was unharmed. She looked him over anxiously, her worried eyes roaming his body for any signs of injury, touching his chest and arms as if inspecting him for any wounds.
The superintendent’s touch was like a jolt of electricity on his system, and Hwang Si Mok snapped out of the stupor that he had been in since he saw her standing there with her gun in the middle of the dark alley, like an avenging angel who had come to save him. He had been unable to speak after, as his brain had refused to do anything other than drink in the sight of her, and incapable of doing anything else for fear that she might disappear again if he made even the slightest motion.
“I’m fine,” he told her, finally managing to speak. “I’m not hurt.”
Han Yeo Jin closed her eyes in great relief, and expelled the breath she did not know she had been holding. She looked at him, some of her anger returning.
“Why did you come here alone?” Han Yeo Jin asked again.
“I was looking for you.”
Han Yeo Jin gazed at him, her anger fading at the simple answer, replaced now with unexpected sadness. She realized that she is still clutching Prosecutor Hwang’s coat in her fists, their heads close together and their bodies almost touching. She forced her fingers to let go, but found herself gripping them tighter instead, and looked miserably at him, afraid that she is about to do the one thing she had promised herself to never do again.
“Prosecutor Hwang! Prosecutor Hwang! Where are you?!”
Han Yeo Jin heard a cacophony of raised voices heading towards their direction, and quickly relinquished her hold on Prosecutor Hwang, grateful and relieved at the timely interruption. She averted her eyes from him, afraid of what he might see if he looked, and turned to the direction of the voices, and broke into a wide smile when she saw her Yongsan squad running towards them.
“Prosecutor Hwang! Are you okay? We heard gunsho-” Jang Geon suddenly halted in his tracks when he saw the person beside Prosecutor Hwang, causing Seo Sang Won and Captain Choi, who was directly behind him in the alley, to collide into him.
“Han Yeo Jin?” Jang Geon said in amazement, then ran towards his friend, engulfing her in a tight embrace. He heard Seo Sang Won’s happy exclamation behind him, and felt the other detective’s arms encircling both him and Han Yeo Jin.
Han Yeo Jin smiled happily at Jang Geon and Seo Sang Won, and at Captain Choi who was standing a few steps away, and whose entire face had inexplicably gone red.
“Thank god you’re okay!” said Jang Geon.
“We thought you died!” exclaimed Seo Sang Won.
“DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU’VE PUT US THROUGH?!” bellowed Captain Choi.
Han Yeo Jin looked at the three of them in confusion, baffled at their comments and at Captain Choi’s angry outburst.
“What do you mean you thought I died? And Captain, why are you yelling at me?” she asked, but grew more confused at the ensuing exchange, as the three men tried to speak at the same time in their haste to explain what had happened, with Captain Choi still angrily shouting over everybody.
“…found a body. No head and hands. She looked like you from the video…”
“…and then we found your purse and badge with her. We thought she was you. And then your boss…”
“…BLOOD PRESSURE THROUGH THE ROOF! AND A HEADLESS CORPSE LIKE A GODDAMN HORROR MOVIE! I WAS WORRIED SICK!”
Han Yeo Jin shook her head at the three, more confused now than ever, and looked desperately to Prosecutor Hwang for help.
“We found a body this morning. Murder victim, her head and hands have been severed, so we could not identify her right away. Then we discovered that she had your wallet purse with your badge in it. We thought that the victim was you, because she had your personal items, and the age and height were about the same, and Director No had confirmed that you were in Seoul and not in London, as we initially thought.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at Prosecutor Hwang in astonishment, fully understanding now the Yongsan’s squad strange and frantic reaction upon seeing her. She was about to ask more questions when they heard loud sirens coming from the main road. She looked towards the direction of the sound, and saw the ominous sight of smoke rising up into the dark sky.
“The apartment…” she said, dread filling her stomach.
“It’s on fire,” said Hwang Si Mok, already running towards the apartment building, with the superintendent and the Yongsan detectives following swiftly behind.
The group arrived as the fire fighters were in the middle of putting out the blaze in the apartment building. Han Yeo Jin tried to get a closer look, and saw that the fire was contained within a single unit on the ground floor. She knew right away, even without seeing the apartment number, that it is the same unit that the unknown man and Prosecutor Hwang went to earlier this evening. She looked at Prosecutor Hwang, who was watching her instead of the fire, and walked towards him.
“Earlier this evening, I followed the shooter to this apartment building. I saw him enter that apartment,” Han Yeo Jin said, pointing to the unit that was on fire. “Then moments later, I saw you entering the same one. Who owns this apartment?” she asked.
“Her name was Jun Ji An,” said Hwang Si Mok. “She is the murder victim.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at him in surprise, then at the burning apartment, her brain trying to process the information.
“Looks like you and I have a lot of catching up to do, Prosecutor Hwang,” Han Yeo Jin said, her expression grim.
“The fire fighters said we can’t go in yet. They have to make sure the structure is sound first,” said Captain Choi to the group. “We have to come back tomorrow after they’ve done their inspection, as it’s already late in the evening.”
Hwang Si Mok, Han Yeo Jin and the three Yongsan detectives stood together outside of the apartment building, watching as the fire fighters clear the area of their equipment. They were able to contain the fire within Jun Ji An’s unit only, and the residents have now been told that they can return to their own homes. Han Yeo Jin was relieved to hear that no one was hurt from the incident, and that the fire did not spread to the rest of the apartment complex.
“Do they know what caused the fire?” asked Jang Geon.
Captain Choi shook his head. “The Fire Marshall didn’t say for sure. But he guessed it might be deliberate; he said he could tell by the way the fire spread and where it started. Like some sort of accelerant was used.”
“We have to look at the CCTV footage, and question the other residents, in case somebody saw something,” said Han Yeo Jin.
Captain Choi nodded. “We’ll do that tomorrow. Do you think the man you were chasing, the shooter, started the fire?”
Hwang Si Mok shook his head. “It is highly unlikely. The shooter would have fled as far as possible from here, knowing that we’re on to him. It is more likely that he had an accomplice, or someone else had caused the fire.” He looked at the Yongsan squad, and asked, “did the patrol unit find any traces of the shooter?”
“No, they didn’t” said Seo Sang Won. “They just radioed. No signs of any male in the area fitting the description. We’ll canvass the neighborhood more thoroughly tomorrow morning. We’ll also check the CCTVs.”
“CSU just finished processing the alley. They’ll analyze the samples and bullet casings and will let us know what they find,” Jang Geon added, then turned to Han Yeo Jin. “His car is gone too. It wasn’t on the spot you told us he had parked.”
Captain Choi went to Han Yeo Jin, taking out an evidence bag from his coat pocket.
“Here,” he said, handing the evidence bag to her. “It’s your wallet purse and badge. The one that Jun Ji An took from Ambassador Song’s house. You can have it back.”
Han Yeo Jin accepted the bag, when a more urgent thought entered her mind. “She broke into the ambassador’s house and stole my things?” she asked worriedly.
Hwang Si Mok told her about the events of that morning, and how he had correctly deduced that she had stolen Superintendent Han’s purse and badge while it was stored inside the house, and how they were able to discover Jun Ji An’s identity from the CCTV footage that captured her as she fled the scene.
“I already arranged with Director No to have a patrol car stationed outside of the ambassador’s house,” said Hwang Si Mok. “They are there now. The security company had also installed new cameras.”
Han Yeo Jin nodded at him gratefully. “Then I suggest we regroup tomorrow morning at the precinct. There’s not much we can do for tonight” she said, addressing the group. “I know you have a lot of questions for me, and I can fill you in then.”
The Yongsan detectives nodded at her in agreement. Captain Choi turned to her, his eyes imploring.
“Han Yeo Jin, can you please, for the love of god, stay out of trouble? Just for tonight? I need to get a good night’s sleep after you almost gave me a heart attack today.”
“I second that,” muttered Jang Geon, with Seo Sang Won nodding fervently beside him.
Han Yeo Jin went to Captain Choi, and embraced him tightly. “I will, Captain, and I’m sorry about your blood pressure,” she told him sheepishly.
Captain Choi grunted in acknowledgement, then patted her awkwardly in the back. “Anyway, welcome back,” he said, smiling at her, then turned to Hwang Si Mok.
“Prosecutor Hwang, can you go with her please? Make sure she gets safely home.”
Hwang Si Mok nodded. “I will. Superintendent Han and I have much to discuss anyway.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at Prosecutor Hwang, hesitating for a moment, then finally nodded. “Let’s get going then,” she said, sounding more confident than she felt.
A few yards away, hidden in plain sight, the old woman watched the group closely; and unbeknownst to them, had witnessed their entire conversation. She focused on the woman, the one called Superintendent Han, as she left with the serious-faced prosecutor.
She’s the key, thought the woman, and then hobbled slowly away, humming the tune of an old folk song, and the faint smell of gasoline lingering in her wake.
“Which one would you like?” Han Yeo Jin asked Hwang Si Mok, pointing at the delectable assortment of gelato on display in front of them. They are in one of the many gelaterias in Florence, and she had suggested that they take a break from their sight-seeing to sample the delicious treat.
Hwang Si Mok looked at the colorful display of desserts in front of him, and shrugged.
“I don’t know. I’ve never had gelato.”
“Okay, what flavor ice cream do you like, then?”
“I don’t remember,” said Hwang Si Mok. “I haven’t had one since I was 12 years old. My parents didn’t buy them for me anymore after my operation, and I never had one again after that.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at him in surprise, and felt her heart clench a little at the thought of the sad, lonely boy who was deprived of even the simple pleasures that any young child should have had. She swallowed at the sudden lump in her throat, and moved towards the counter to order, more to hide the glistening in her eyes than anything else.
“I got you the Amalfi lemon,” she said, handing the cup to him. “I think you’ll like it.”
They sat on a table outside, the bright sun warm under the early autumn sky. Han Yeo Jin ate her chocolate gelato, and watched as Hwang Si Mok took his first taste of the treat, and eagerly observed his reaction.
“Do you like it?” she asked, but did not get an answer as Hwang Si Mok continued to shove spoonful after spoonful of gelato into his mouth in quick succession. He stopped suddenly, his face screwing in a painful grimace, and clutched his head with his hand as if in pain. Han Yeo Jin quickly put down her gelato and rushed to his side, holding his face in her own hands, frightened that he’s having one of his episodes.
“Si Mok! What is it? Is it your ears? Are you having an attack?” she asked anxiously, and frantically tried to remember the emergency number for Italy in case she needed to call for an ambulance. She watched as Hwang Si Mok slowly opened his eyes, his face gradually returning to normal.
“Brain freeze,” he said, then continued to eat his gelato as if nothing happened.
Han Yeo Jin looked at him in bewilderment, then laughed uproariously, both in amusement and relief. “Stop eating it so quickly!” she said, smiling. “I take it you like gelato, then?”
Hwang Si Mok nodded heartily. “I want to try more flavors. Let’s go to the next shop.”
They spent the entire afternoon going to every gelato shop they passed, with Hwang Si Mok trying a different flavor from each one. Han Yeo Jin had stopped feeling sorry for his lousy, ice cream-less childhood after their ninth shop, and watched in astonishment as he finished another cup.
“Listen, I know it’s been over 20 years since you had ice cream, but this is getting ridiculous. You’re going to have diabetes after this.”
“I have to sample the different flavors to know which one is my favorite.”
“And which one is it?”
“The Amalfi Lemon.”
Han Yeo Jin sighed loudly. “That’s the first one you had!”
“Yes. It’s my favorite,” said Hwang Si Mok, and smiled as Han Yeo Jin shook her head at him in exasperation. He did like that one, not just because Han Yeo Jin chose it for him, but also because he liked the taste of it; sweet, but with a tangy kick that perfectly complemented each other. The taste had reminded him of sunshine, and the feeling of warmth and happiness; very much like the person who had given it to him.
Awkward silence filled the car as Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok drove through the rain-soaked streets of Seoul. Han Yeo Jin fidgeted in the front seat, and tried to think of a way to break the uncomfortable silence, and hated the fact that she felt compelled to do so in the first place.
It never used to be that way between them. Their relationship had always felt so natural and easy that prolonged silences never felt uncomfortable. She remembered their first car ride together; how she got into his car without even waiting for his invitation or permission, and how he had immediately handed her his robes and bags, and she automatically accepting them to place in the backseat. As if he already knew and expected her to be there beside him, the action so familiar as though it was a dance they had performed many times before, both of them already attuned to one another.
Han Yeo Jin closed her eyes, a great sadness washing over her at the memories of how they used to be, before she had foolishly, and irrevocably, destroyed it. She took a deep breath, and reminded herself that regret and self-pity have no place in their current situation. They have a job to do; and she have years ahead of her to wallow in the pain that was of her own making.
“You can drop me off at the ambassador’s house,” she said to Prosecutor Hwang. “I have some of my stuff at a motel, but I can pick them up tomorrow.”
“You changed your hair again.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at Prosecutor Hwang, surprised at his sudden and unexpected comment. She smiled at him, and uttered her usual response.
“Does it look weird?” she asked, looking at him in amusement, and saw him smile at her question.
“It’s really short,” he said. “But it suits you.”
She laughed gently, grateful for his comment that had broken the ice between them. She sighed, feeling lighter now than she had been moments before.
“We’re here,” said Hwang Si Mok.
Han Yeo Jin looked at him questioningly. She had thought that he was dropping her off at the ambassador’s house, but it appears that he had driven her somewhere else instead. She looked out of the car window, and that was when she saw it; the familiar, orange tent in the distance, and the smell of broth wafting in the air. She looked at Prosecutor Hwang in surprise, and found him looking at her with an inscrutable look on his face.
“It’s our place,” she said to him in wonder. “It’s still open.”
Hwang Si Mok nodded. It did not escape his notice that the Superintendent had been ill at ease during the entire car ride, the silence hanging heavy between them with the subject that both refused to broach, but is unquestionably in both of their minds. With his limited social skills, he knew that he will not be able to settle her unease, and might in fact, make the situation worst if he attempted to. He resigned himself to the strained silence, which was why he was surprised when he suddenly blurted out his comment about her hair. He said it without even thinking, and regretted it as soon as he had uttered it, afraid that it might make Superintendent Han more uncomfortable. He was greatly relieved when he saw her smile instead, and responded to him in her signature and familiar playfulness. It was then that he had the idea to take her to the pop-up bar, and hoped that their old, familiar spot would help alleviate her discomfort. But if he was being truthful, he had also wanted to take her there to see her finally take her usual spot across the table from him, as he had imagined countless of times ever since she left.
“Yes, it is,” said Hwang Si Mok. “They serve grilled meat now too. And tteokbok—"
Hwang Si Mok was not able to finish his sentence, after Superintendent Han immediately jumped out of the car at the mention of grilled meat and tteokbokki. He smiled as he watched her hurriedly walk to the pop-up bar, grateful that he could still count on the superintendent to be bribed with her favorite food.
“Don’t they have tteokbokki in London?” Hwang Si Mok asked Superintendent Han, after watching her eat three servings of the dish all on her own.
“Not like this,” Han Yeo Jin said, her mouth still full. “I really missed the food back home while I was abroad. And this place too,” she said, gesturing at the pop up bar. And being here with you, she thought, but did not say, as that sentiment is kept only to herself.
“It seems you have been busy while in London,” said Hwang Si Mok. He watched as Superintendent Han carefully put her chopsticks down, and then looked at him intently, her expression unreadable.
“I understand if you can’t tell me,” he said. “I know that some of the details need to be kept confidential.”
“It’s okay. I want to tell you,” said Han Yeo Jin. She paused, then added softly, “there’s no one else I trust more than you.”
Hwang Si Mok looked at Superintendent Han, then nodded silently, not trusting himself enough to speak after hearing her words. He sat back and listened intently as the Superintendent relayed her story.
“Kim Ji Hyun informed Ambassador Song and I of her intent to defect during a private performance that we attended at the Royal Albert Hall. I was there when she escaped the concert venue, and I was the one who helped her get to the consulate,” Han Yeo Jin began. She then told Prosecutor Hwang the details of their harrowing escape from her northern minders, and how they hid the cellist inside the consulate as they waited for the NIS to arrive. Han Yeo Jin remembered the tension inside 4 Palace Gate, especially after she looked out of the window and saw several unmarked cars parked on the street, and knew with certainty that it was the North watching the property from inside those vehicles. She knew that the northerners only suspected that Kim Ji Hyun was inside the consulate. They were unable to obtain any solid proof because Han Yeo Jin had called her colleagues and contacts at Scotland Yard and the Met to ask them to stall the DPRK government’s request to hand over the CCTV footage of the street and roads that cover the Royal Albert and 4 Palace Gate. She was grateful that they agreed to her request, but she knew that they cannot delay indefinitely, as there were wider implications to be considered that could affect the diplomatic relations between Britain and the DPRK. When the NIS team did finally arrive from Birmingham, they immediately set to work to get Kim Ji Hyun out of the country. It involved using Ambassador Song as a decoy, and making it seem as if she is travelling with the cellist with a convoy of NIS and police escorts, on their way to the Embassy of the Republic of Korea located at Buckingham Gate. The conspicuous security of the Ambassador’s entourage had caused the watching DPRK security team to follow the ambassador, and lured them away from the consulate, as they had hoped. Meanwhile, Han Yeo Jin, Kim Ji Hyun and two NIS agents were left behind at 4 Palace Gate, who then slipped away using the back exit and onto the quiet, residential street behind the consulate. They then covertly travelled the short distance, on foot, to the nearby Embassy of the Netherlands; where a car, arranged between Ambassador Song and the Dutch ambassador, was waiting to take them to Luton airport, where a private plane is on stand-by to fly them to Seoul.
“We managed to get Kim Ji Hyun safely on to the private jet, and landed in Seoul with no issues. We took her directly to the NIS safehouse. I stayed with her there, and so did the ambassador, after she arrived from London a few days later,” finished Han Yeo Jin. “I was supposed to go back to London, but Kim Ji Hyun had asked me to stay with her. She was very scared, and nervous, at the thought of being left alone in that house.”
“Wasn’t the NIS with her?” asked Hwang Si Mok.
Han Yeo Jin nodded. “Yes, but I think they also made her anxious. Not because they did anything wrong,” she quickly clarified. “They were very polite and professional when they interviewed her. But I think it was more due to the fact that her life as she knew it was gone. Everything felt foreign to her, and it can’t have been easy being trapped inside that house, especially without having anyone to confide to. I think that’s why she gravitated towards the ambassador and I; because we were the ones who were with her from the beginning, and she felt more comfortable with us than with the NIS agents staying in the house with her.”
“It seems to me that Kim Ji Hyun has grown fond of you,” said Hwang Si Mok. “And vice versa.”
“I do like her,” Han Yeo Jin said. “I think she’s quite remarkable, and stronger that she thinks she is. She’s very young, and in many ways, almost like a child. Her minders were very strict, so she was kept isolated from the outside world and other people, even when she travelled for her performances. Both her parents have died, and she only had the one friend; and that friend recently died while also trying to defect. She told us that it was that friend, Pyo Yong Ae, that pushed her towards her own defection. She said she wanted to live as a free woman; and that’s what she and Pyo Yong Ae have wished for above all else, so she owed it to her to at least try, as her friend had.”
Han Yeo Jin paused, her face suddenly turning sad. “She thought she was finally free, only to have her throat slit while she lay sleeping in a place that was supposed to be safe, surrounded by people who were supposed to protect her,” said Han Yeo Jin, tears gathering in her eyes. “We failed her. She trusted us with her life, and now, we don’t even know if she’ll ever wake up. And even if she does, will she be the same, after her injury?”
“You mustn’t blame yourself for what happened to her. If it weren’t for you and Ambassador Song, the suspect would have certainly killed Kim Ji Hyun,” said Hwang Si Mok. “Can you tell me what happened that night?” he asked, and saw Superintendent Han hesitate.
“I can, but I would rather tell you when Ambassador Song is with us,” said Han Yeo Jin. “It would be better if you hear the full story all at once. And there are details that only the ambassador can tell you, because she was in the room before me. She is being discharged tomorrow, so we can talk to her together.”
Hwang Si Mok nodded his acceptance. “Can you tell me what happened after? Where did you go, and how did you come to be at Jun Ji An’s apartment building?”
“After the incident, the NIS completely took over the case. Director No came to the hospital. He was the only one who knew that I was in Seoul, and about Kim Ji Hyun’s defection. He and I tried to talk to Deputy Director Lee about the case, but Deputy Director Lee shut us down immediately,” she said, and Hwang Si Mok saw her face turning red in remembered anger.
“Director No told me what had happened between yourselves and Deputy Director Lee,” said Hwang Si Mok. “I met him at the hospital earlier today, when I visited Ambassador Song with Director No. He was the same with me; he thought I was there to investigate Kim Ji Hyun’s attempted murder, and tried to warn me away from the case, and told me that I don’t have jurisdiction. He was not aware that I was there because of Jun Ji An’s murder, and that I was looking for you, and I saw no reason to enlighten him of that fact. Ambassador Song also told me about what the cellist said to her in confidence, and how you are investigating that information, because both of you suspect that someone may have tried to kill Kim Ji Hyun because of that same information.”
“The scientist,” murmured Han Yeo Jin. “Young Hak Joo.”
Hwang Si Mok nodded. “Were you able to find anything on him?”
“Yes,” said Han Yeo Jin, “but not as much as I had hoped. It’s been over 20 years, so the trail has gone cold; but I was able to find the house in Seoul where he lived with his family. I went there this afternoon to see if I could find out anything about him. I talked to his neighbors, but none of them remembered him, except for the owner of the general store across the street from his house, and only because his store had been there for almost 30 years. He told me that he only remembered the scientist vaguely. He did tell me he lived with his young daughter there, and that his wife had died at childbirth.”
“So, nothing particularly useful, then?” asked Hwang Si Mok. Superintendent Han leaned closer to him, and spoke in hushed tones.
“Not from questioning the neighbors, no. But shortly after I left Young Hak Joo’s house, someone started tailing me,” Han Yeo Jin said.
“I thought that perhaps I was imagining it, so I took a more indirect route, and sure enough, the black SUV was still there behind me, following at a discreet distance. I made a couple of stops, just to see if the SUV will drive off, but it was still there, on my tail, when I got back on the road. So, I decided to check in at a motel, and made it seem I was calling it a day. I went up the room to stash my things, went back down, and left using the back exit. I found a spot on the street to watch the SUV surreptitiously, which was parked across the road from the motel. I was hoping to see the driver, but whomever it was stayed in the car, and the windows were heavily tinted so I couldn’t see them. Anyway, the SUV drove off after a few minutes of waiting, and I jumped on a cab to follow it, and it took me to Jun Ji An’s apartment building. I watched as the driver, our shooter, broke into Jun Ji An’s unit. I was about to follow him inside when I suddenly saw you, entering the same apartment.”
“So, the unknown shooter was following you earlier in the day, before he went to Jun Ji An’s apartment?” Hwang Si Mok asked, to which the Superintendent nodded. “When did you notice you were being followed?”
Han Yeo Jin smiled in approval, glad that Prosecutor Hwang quickly understood what she was getting at, without her having to spell it out for him. But then, she thought, it had always been that way between them. The confusing jumble of information suddenly become seamlessly connected when they look at them together; each effortlessly picking up the other’s train of thought as if it had been their own, as if the scene that played in their own minds were projected clearly for the other one to watch.
“I thought about that too,” said Han Yeo Jin eagerly. “I only saw the tail shortly after I left Young Hak Joo’s house. I wasn’t being followed earlier that day, or any time before that.”
“You’re saying our shooter followed you because you were asking questions about the scientist?” asked Hwang Si Mok. “You think he knows about Young Hak Joo too?”
Han Yeo Jin nodded. “And the shooter is our link between the scientist and the murder victim. Somehow, the two are connected.”
“A North Korean scientist from the South who was reported to have died 20 years ago, and a South Korean woman who died last night,” said Hwang Si Mok almost distractedly, his brows furrowed as he tried to connect the two.
“But did he really die twenty years ago?” asked Han Yeo Jin, looking intently at Prosecutor Hwang, then added gravely, “and was she really from the South?”
Hwang Si Mok looked at Superintendent Han carefully, acutely aware that they are now treading into an area that both have not walked before, and possibly venturing over the boundaries of their own jurisdiction and authority. His mind wandered back to the security footage of Jun Ji An, expertly breaking into Ambassador Song’s house that the CCTV did not even capture her until she was almost a street away from the house. He knew exactly what the superintendent was thinking, and he understood why she did not directly say what she suspected Jun Ji An of being. A spy from the North, he thought, operating inside the South, embedded deep into their society and masquerading as an ordinary citizen. A sleeper agent, he thought, recalling the term for it. He had heard stories about such things, but have never encountered one in real life.
“Do you think that Jun Ji An may have been involved in the incident at the safehouse?”
“The assassin was male, that I’m sure of,” said Han Yeo Jin. “That man in the alley…” she trailed off, her eyes tightly shut, as if trying to remember something.
“What is it?” asked Hwang Si Mok.
“I’m almost positive that it was the same man that broke into the safehouse and tried to kill Kim Ji Hyun and the ambassador.”
“Are you sure?”
“I can’t be absolutely certain because his face was covered. But those eyes, I’ll never forget them. The man in the safehouse and our shooter had the same look in their eyes,” said Han Yeo Jin. She remembered the moment she burst through the door of Kim Ji Hyun’s room that night, and found the man about to plunge the knife into the ambassador’s chest, and the moment she glimpsed the eyes of a killer, before he ran away to make his escape.
“If Jun Ji An was involved in the safehouse incident, then she may have been an accomplice.” She frowned. “But if she was part of it, why was she killed? And why did she steal my stuff?”
“We need to find out more about Jun Ji An,” said Hwang Si Mok.
“And what ties them all together,” said Han Yeo Jin. “Kim Ji Hyun, Young Hak Joo, the unknown shooter, and Jun Ji An.”
They were suddenly interrupted by the owner of the pop up bar, who told them both that they need to close down for the night.
“I didn’t realize it was so late,” said Han Yeo Jin in surprise, looking at her watch.
“I’ll drive you to the ambassador’s house,” said Hwang Si Mok, ignoring Superintendent Han’s protests that she can take a cab instead.
The two of them reverted back to silence as they drove towards the ambassador’s house. But unlike the strained silence from before, this one felt more natural, and similar to what they used to share, as both quietly pondered the case. Han Yeo Jin marveled at how easily they fell back to their old rhythm while they discussed the investigation at the pop up bar, and how, for a brief moment, she was able to forget what had happened between them during the past few months. She was grateful that they were able to put all personal feelings aside and work together as before. But she knew that she should have expected nothing less from Prosecutor Hwang, who had always been a pillar of professionalism, and whom, unlike her, would never let anything as mundane as feelings affect a case. She sighed, and looked towards the prosecutor now, who looked lost in his own thoughts as she was.
“I’m sorry,” Han Yeo Jin said quietly to him.
Hwang Si Mok was startled out of his reverie upon hearing Superintendent Han’s apology. He looked at her quickly, noting her doleful look, and frowned.
“What for?” he asked, genuinely confused.
“For dragging you into this,” replied Han Yeo Jin. “For making you worry today, and for having you almost killed tonight.”
“You did not drag me into anything. You didn’t even tell me you were back in Seoul, let alone working on this case.”
“I’m sorry about that too. I wanted to tell you I was back, but couldn’t because of the reason surrounding it. I would have told you, eventually.”
“Would you have?”
Han Yeo Jin looked at Prosecutor Hwang, at his piercing gaze that conveyed all that was left unspoken between them. She thought about her response, and the veracity of it, knowing that she owed Prosecutor Hwang the truth.
“Yes,” she said honestly, her voice full of conviction. “Of course, I would have.”
Hwang Si Mok nodded, convinced. “Looks like we’re working together again, Superintendent Han,” he said, then looked over at the superintendent, and saw that she was busy rummaging for something in her coat pocket. She took out whatever it was and placed them on the dashboard, and saw that they were pieces of candy.
“Let’s catch that prick no matter what.”
Hwang Si Mok smiled, recalling that Superintendent Han did and said the same thing during their first case. He could still remember that moment clearly, as he had felt oddly happy when he heard her say those words.
‘Let’s catch that prick no matter what. So that we can make sure one of those two people can keep his job.’
He realized only later what it was that had evoked those feelings in him. It was her use of the plural, ‘us’ and ‘we’— as if they were already a unit, and he knew that was the moment when he finally admitted to himself that perhaps he would not mind very much working with the sprightly inspector. She, who had doggedly pursued and questioned him about his case, and who had looked at him with those big, earnest eyes and asked him outright if he was a murderer. She was a curiosity to him; the policewoman who had obstinately followed him, instead of avoided him, like most people did.
He looked at her now, and saw amusement dancing in her eyes, and before he could stop himself, said, “it’s good to have you back, Superintendent Han.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at Prosecutor Hwang, surprised at his statement. She realized in wonder that this might be the first time that she had ever heard him spontaneously express anything akin to sentiment, and it took her a moment to recover from the sudden declaration. When she finally did recover, she turned to him fully, and responded.
“It’s good to be back,” Han Yeo Jin said earnestly, smiling at him fondly.
Han Yeo Jin opened her eyes blearily, then closed it again, trying to catch a few more minutes of slumber. She spent the entire night wide awake, unable to sleep, as her brain tried to process the events of the day. She tried to make sense of all that they have discovered about the case, concocting theories of what they could mean, but thoughts about a certain prosecutor kept intruding in her mind that distracted her from her goal. When she finally was able to doze off, her last thoughts were of him, causing yet another night’s sleep that was anything but restful.
She opened her eyes again, more alert this time, as her sleep-addled brain finally registered that she was woken up by the shrill ringing of her cellphone. She grabbed it from her nightstand, and saw Captain Choi on the caller ID, and knew right away that something had happened to cause the captain to call at such an early hour.
“Captain? What happened?” she asked urgently.
“The NIS is here!” Han Yeo Jin heard Captain Choi shout on the phone. “They found out about Jun Ji An and they’re taking over the case! Get to Yongsan now!”
Shit, thought Han Yeo Jin, and hurriedly jumped out of bed. “I’m coming now,” she said, then paused. “Call Prosecutor Hwang too,” she added, “and don’t let them leave until I get there!”
Han Yeo Jin arrived at Yongsan precinct and rushed towards Violent Crimes, her former unit, and saw the area already surrounded by NIS agents, who were briskly gathering the documents and evidence bags from the case and placing them into the bright blue boxes embossed with the NIS logo. She saw the Yongsan squad on the side, glaring at the agents, while Captain Choi and the Station Chief conversed with Deputy Director Lee, who only stood in stony faced silence, observing his agents. She gritted her teeth in anger, about to march up to the Deputy Director, when she heard a voice behind her.
“It was bound to happen sooner or later. We couldn’t have kept this a secret from the NIS for much longer.”
Han Yeo Jin turned to Prosecutor Hwang, who had said the words, and replied angrily. “I’m not going to let them take this case from us.”
“Of course not,” Hwang Si Mok said soothingly. “I won’t let that happen either.”
Han Yeo Jin nodded, slightly pacified by Prosecutor Hwang’s words and presence, and was considerably calmer when she approached Deputy Director Lee, but only just. She saw Agent Ri, the Deputy Director’s number two, noticed her presence first and alerted his boss. Deputy Director Lee turned towards her approach, and she matched the glare that the older man gave her, refusing to be intimated.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked without preamble.
Deputy Director Lee frowned at the question. “I should ask you the same thing, Superintendent Han,” he countered. “You’ve been keeping things from us.”
“Doesn’t feel good, does it?” Han Yeo Jin retorted. “Being kept in the dark.” She saw the NIS man glower at her, and knew that the barb had hit its mark. Two can play at this game, she thought, and the NIS deserved to have a taste of their own medicine. If they want to play the jurisdiction game, then so can the police. She watched as the Deputy Director turn his glare towards Prosecutor Hwang, who had been standing quietly beside her.
“I should have known you were up to something when I saw you yesterday, Prosecutor Hwang. I told you, the Prosecution has no business here,” said Deputy Director Lee menacingly.
“This is a murder investigation, and it is well within the Prosecution’s mandate” said Hwang Si Mok, then frowned, as if in confusion. “I guess the better question would be is what the NIS is doing here, trying to take over a simple murder investigation.”
“You know full well this is not just a simple murder investigation,” spat out the Deputy Director.
“Is it not?” asked Han Yeo Jin, and saw the Deputy Director’s eyes flicker, and she knew that he regretted his outburst, as he had inadvertently tipped of his hand and let them know the importance of this case to the NIS. “I don’t know why the NIS is interested in this case, but I do know that there are certain information about it that are not on those,” she said tipping her head on the case files and notes that the agents are busily putting into the blue boxes. “And if you want them, then you’re going have to get it from me, and Prosecutor Hwang.”
Deputy Director Lee scowled at them, but both she and Prosecutor Hwang held their ground, and matched the Deputy Director’s furious stare with their own unyielding ones. She and Prosecutor Hwang already suspected that Jun Jin An’s murder is related to Kim Ji Hyun’s attempted assassination, and Han Yeo Jin is not above using what they know about the murder case as leverage to force their way into the NIS investigation. She knew that the NIS is under tremendous pressure to quickly provide answers on such a high-profile case, especially with the elections approaching. The Deputy Director knew it too, if his fierce expression was any indication; and that Han Yeo Jin and Prosecutor Hwang held the upper hand, and he may have to lose this battle of wills if he wanted to get the information that he needed.
“Fine,” Deputy Director Lee said between gritted teeth, angrily relenting. “Come to the NIS now. We’ll talk there,” he said, then walked away, followed by Agent Ri and the rest of the agents, carrying the blue boxes that contain the details of the murder investigation.
Han Yeo Jin watched the group depart. She turned to Prosecutor Hwang, then sighed heavily.
“Well, that got our feet in the door, at least,” she said.
“That’s all we need,” said Hwang Si Mok. “We’ll figure out the rest when we get there.”
She nodded, and turned to the three Yongsan detectives, who had joined their discussion.
“Did you tell them anything?” Han Yeo Jin asked Captain Choi.
“Only the information that are already in the case notes,” said Captain Choi. “But they knew about the shooter because it was on the CSU files, and the fact that Jun Ji An had your badge.”
Han Yeo Jin nodded. “Call Director No, and tell him what happened,” she said to Captain Choi, then walked towards the exit with Prosecutor Hwang.
“Where are you two going?” asked Jang Geon.
“The NIS,” Han Yeo Jin said grimly. “This is our case, and we’re not going to let them take it.”
Hwang Si Mok looked curiously around the room as he and Superintendent Han waited for the NIS to join them. They have been waiting for several minutes now, and placed in what is obviously an interrogation room, with the two-way mirror and various audio and video gadgets in place. He glanced at the superintendent beside him, who was the picture of calm as she waited quietly with her arms crossed. But underneath the still façade, Hwang Si Mok could feel her seething with fury at the indignation of being made to wait, and the additional indignity of having been placed in an interrogation room, as if they were common criminals. He knew that the NIS had done so in an attempt to intimidate them, and to make it clear that they hold all the advantage now that he and Superintendent Han are on their turf. He found the NIS’ power move childish and utterly unnecessary— not to mention unwise, as all it had done is to further infuriate the superintendent, whom he knew is a force to be reckoned with when crossed.
“That’s a thermographic camera,” he said to Superintendent Han, pointing at the device in the corner of the room.
“Huh?” asked Han Yeo Jin, momentarily distracted. She had been silently sitting for the past few minutes, ever since they were herded unceremoniously into the interrogation room, her anger building at every second they were made to wait. She had spent the past few minutes trying to force herself to go to her happy place, lest she start cursing the agents whom she knew were watching them from the 2-way mirror at this very moment. She turned to Prosecutor Hwang, whose comment had distracted her from her happy place, which was just her punching the living daylights out of Deputy Director Lee.
“A thermographic camera,” Hwang Si Mok repeated. “When a person lies, there’s an increase in the temperature around the nasal area and the orbital muscle around the corner of the eye. It’s called the Pinocchio effect.”
“Do they really call it that?” Han Yeo Jin asked, fascinated despite of their situation.
Hwang Si Mok nodded. “There are a lot of hi-tech gadgets in this interrogation room. Perhaps you can ask for the same thing,” he said, turning to the superintendent. “For when the Police take the NIS counterintelligence jobs.”
Han Yeo Jin pursed her lips, trying mightily to contain her laughter. She looked at Prosecutor Hwang, amusement dancing in her eyes, and saw him return it with a slight smile. Han Yeo Jin knew exactly what he was doing, as he had sensed how upset she was at their current situation, and knew that he had uttered his comment to distract her, and to taunt the watching NIS agents by poking at the still-fresh wound of their recent loss of power to the KNPA.
“Maybe I will,” she said in delighted agreement, then turned to look directly at the two-way mirror. “But you know, a good cop doesn’t need a fancy camera to tell if someone is lying.” She smiled at the mirror, then turned to Prosecutor Hwang, and cheekily added, “we’re taking over some of the Prosecution’s responsibilities too as part of the new law. What should I ask for that then?”
Han Yeo Jin’s loud bark of laughter echoed across the room. She looked at Prosecutor Hwang, her shoulders still shaking in mirth, and found his own smile in return. She was still chortling when the door finally opened to admit Deputy Director Lee, followed closely by Agent Ri. She saw the Deputy Director frown at them, and felt immense satisfaction at the thought that he had heard their entire conversation, and that his foolish attempt to fluster them did not have the desired effect.
Deputy Director Lee sat across from them at the table, with Agent Ri standing behind him, and stared directly at Han Yeo Jin.
“What’s your connection with Jun Ji An?” he asked directly, his unblinking eyes focused on her.
“None,” answered Han Yeo Jin. “I’ve never heard of her until Prosecutor Hwang and the Yongsan squad told me about her.”
“Then why does she have your purse and badge?” countered the Deputy Director.
“That’s what I’m trying to find out too,” replied Han Yeo Jin.
“You expect me to believe that she would break into an ambassador’s house just to steal your purse? And that the two of you have never met?”
“I don’t care what you believe, Deputy Director Lee, but it’s the truth. And if you don’t believe me, why don’t you ask your agents over there,” said Han Yeo Jin, gesturing over at the two-way mirror, “if my nose is doing that Pinocchio thing with the thermal camera.”
Deputy Director Lee scowled at her. “Where were you the night she broke into Ambassador Song’s house? I thought you were staying there.”
“I was staying at a motel, near the hospital” said Han Yeo Jin. “I wanted to be close to the ambassador and Kim Ji Hyun.” She looked at the Deputy Director, and asked, “why are you investigating this murder case?”
“We’re the ones asking the questions, Superintendent Han,” snapped Deputy Director Lee.
“No, you’re not,” retorted Han Yeo Jin. “We’re from the Police and the Prosecution; and this is not an interrogation, and we are not suspects.”
The Deputy Director did not respond to this, and only stared ominously at Han Yeo Jin.
“He thinks you are,” Hwang Si Mok said to Superintendent Han. He finally figured out Deputy Director Lee’s angle, and why he had been so insistent that the superintendent and Jun Ji An knew each other. “He thinks you killed Jun Ji An, or ordered to have her killed.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at Prosecutor Hwang in shock, taken-aback by his comment. She looked at Deputy Director Lee, and asked indignantly, “why would you think that?”
Deputy Director Lee maintained his stoic silence, prompting Hwang Si Mok to answer instead.
“As revenge for what was done to Kim Ji Hyun and Ambassador Song,” said Hwang Si Mok. “Because the NIS believes that Jun Ji An was involved in what happened that night at the NIS safehouse.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at Prosecutor Hwang. They had suspected the same; that Jun Ji An may have been involved in the safehouse assault, perhaps as an accomplice. They have yet to find proof of this as the NIS had refused to share any details to the police regarding that night. She had been trying to think of a way to get this information from them, and realized they now have that opportunity, even if it came at the expense of her being suspected of murder.
“Is that true?” Han Yeo Jin asked Deputy Director Lee. “Was Jun Ji An involved with what happened that night?
“I’m sure you already know that, Superintendent Han,” said Deputy Director Lee.
Han Yeo Jin rolled her eyes in frustration. “How could have I known that? You shut me and Director No out of the case, remember? And anyway, the person who attacked Kim Ji Hyun and the ambassador was male. I saw him as he was escaping, when I shot him,” said Han Yeo Jin. “Unless, Jun Ji An was an accomplice?” she asked, staring intently at Deputy Director Lee. “That would be the only reason you’re so interested in her, and why you would think I could have something to do with her death.”
The NIS man remained tight-lipped, refusing to answer Han Yeo Jin’s questions. She sighed, reigning in her impatience.
“The only way I could have known that Jun Ji An was involved is if somebody from the NIS had given me that information,” she said, looking at Deputy Director Lee carefully. “Do you honestly believe that one of your men would have done that? Ignored your orders and leaked that information to me?”
Han Yeo Jin knew she had him there. Either he continues to look at her as a suspect and admit that one of his own men had betrayed his confidence, or believe that she is innocent, and confirm her and Prosecutor Hwang’s suspicion that Jun Ji An was connected to the events of that night.
“Agent Ri saw a car fleeing the safehouse vicinity immediately after the attack on Ambassador Song and Kim Ji Hyun,” Deputy Director Lee said, finally relenting. “It took a while for us to track down the vehicle as we did not have the license plates. By the time we traced it back to Jun Ji An, she was already dead.”
Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok looked at each other meaningfully, their theory finally confirmed. Deputy Director Lee leaned over the table, and stared pointedly at them.
“It’s your turn. Tell us what you know about the murder, and the murder victim,” the Deputy Director said.
“How we found Jun Ji An’s home is already in the case files,” said Hwang Si Mok. “I called Superintendent Han that evening to come to the apartment with me, and I arrived first. But someone got there before me, and by the time I entered the apartment, it had already been ransacked. The intruder then ran away, and I followed.”
The lie about how Superintendent Han came to be at Jun Ji An’s home slipped easily out of Hwang Si Mok’s lips. It was fortunate that she was not able to brief the Yongsan squad on how she found Jun Ji An’s apartment, therefore that information was not on the case notes. He and the superintendent had decided to omit any details that may lead the NIS to the scientist, Young Hak Joo, until they are certain that it is safe to do so.
“When I arrived, Prosecutor Hwang was already in pursuit of the intruder. We cornered him in an alley, but he had a gun, and shot at us. I also managed to fire a few shots at him, but he escaped.”
“Did you recognize the shooter?” asked Deputy Director Lee.
Han Yeo Jin shook her head. “He had his head and face covered. But I could tell he was a professional,” said Han Yeo Jin, and looked directly at the Deputy Director and Agent Ri, who was also at the safehouse the night of the attack. “He reminded me of the man who tried to kill Kim Ji Hyun. I can’t be absolutely certain they’re the same person as both of their faces were covered, but the shooter’s height and size, and the way he moved, was similar to the assailant at the safehouse.”
“The Yongsan squad mentioned that they have CCTV footage that captured Jun Ji An’s killer,” said Hwang Si Mok. “Superintendent Han and I have not had the chance to look at it before the NIS took it. We can look at it now to see if the murderer and the shooter might be the same person.”
“The case is now being handled by the NIS,” said Deputy Director Lee abruptly. “It is no longer any concern of the Police or the Prosecution.”
“That’s idiotic!” Han Yeo Jin shouted, completely losing her temper now at the Deputy Director’s pig-headedness. “We can help you identify this man and you won’t let us!”
“The CCTV footage only showed Jun Ji An’s killer from behind and only for a few seconds, so I doubt you would be able to tell us anything useful,” Deputy Director Lee fired back, his own voice rising. “And watch your tone, Superintendent.”
Han Yeo Jin ignored his warning, her anger not allowing her to back down against the Deputy Director.
“If you insist on maintaining this turf war against the Police and the Prosecution, then you might find yourself on the losing side, Deputy Director Lee,” said Han Yeo Jin. “You only have Jun Ji An’s vehicle to connect her to your case, but I’m guessing you don’t have proof that places her directly at the scene, otherwise you would have found her a lot quicker. Meanwhile, the Police and Prosecution is investigating her murder, and criminal cases is firmly within our jurisdiction.”
“In other words, Jun Ji An is only a person of interest in a national security case handled by the NIS. Whereas she is a murder victim in a criminal case handled by the Police and the Prosecution,” said Hwang Si Mok. “I’m sure that the Chief of Police and the Prosecutor General will agree that we have a stronger argument than the NIS of who owns this case, and I doubt you would want the bureaucratic wrangling that will certainly follow if you kept on excluding us, rather than letting us work with you. After all, we know you are under a lot of pressure from the government to solve this case quickly, with the elections coming up.”
Deputy Director Lee stood up suddenly, his face red in anger at Hwang Si Mok’s indirect threat to tie up the case in bureaucratic red tape. He readied himself for the Deputy Director’s inevitable explosion, but he will never know what the other man would have said, as he was cut-off by the door of the interrogation room suddenly opening, admitting a somber-looking older man in. Hwang Si Mok watched as Agent Ri suddenly stood in attention and bowed deeply to him, while the Deputy Director reverted to his usual stoic expression, and executed a curt bow to the other man. The older man looked intently at him and Superintendent Han, and to his surprise, gave a slight smile.
“There’s no need for that, Prosecutor Hwang and Superintendent Han,” he said, his tone genial, but the authority in them was unmistakable, “I’m sure we can find a way to work together.” He looked at Deputy Director Lee, whose face remained passive, his clenched fists the only sign of his simmering anger.
“Firstly, let me introduce myself,” he said, turning to them both. “I am Cho Jae Sun, the Director of the NIS.”
Cho Jae Sun took his seat at the head of the table. Hwang Si Mok thought that he might have done this deliberately, choosing instead to sit in the middle rather than across from them with Deputy Director Lee, as if to place himself in a more conciliatory position.
“Before we get started, I would like to ask you first, Superintendent Han,” Director Cho said, turning to Han Yeo Jin, “how is Ambassador Song?”
Han Yeo Jin looked at Director Cho in surprise. She was not expecting the question, and was still wary after the tense exchange with Deputy Director Lee.
“She’s doing a lot better, sir,” she answered politely. “She’s being discharged today.”
Director Cho smiled. “That’s good to hear. The ambassador and I knew each other from years ago. It’s unfortunate that I was not able to visit her myself while she was in the hospital. I have been very busy, as you can imagine.”
Han Yeo Jin only nodded at this, unsure how to respond to his statement.
“You are correct Prosecutor Hwang, that Jun Ji An is a person of interest to the NIS. But she is not just a person of interest relating to the assault of the ambassador and Kim Ji Hyun. In fact, we suspect her of being so much more,” said Director Cho. He paused, looking closely at Hwang Si Mok and Han Yeo Jin. “I’m sure, being experienced investigators such as yourselves, that you arrived at the same suspicions.”
“You think she’s an agent of the North,” said Hwang Si Mok, looking carefully at the NIS Chief.
Director Cho nodded. “This is why Deputy Director Lee had taken over the case, and why he did not fully disclose of the reason. The circumstances of her case had to be cloaked under the dictates of the National Security Act.”
“Do you have proof that she was a spy?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“We have yet to obtain irrefutable proof of that, but all signs point towards that fact,” admitted Director Cho. “Now, it seems that we are at an impasse; each of our organizations want ownership over Jun Ji An’s case, and all have strong arguments to justify jurisdiction.
“It is true that the NIS is under a lot of pressure to solve this case,” the NIS Chief continued, “but it’s not just the election, or the intense public scrutiny that is driving us. Somebody tried to kill Kim Ji Hyun and Ambassador Song while they were under our care and protection, and we are going to find out why and who was responsible. And I, and my agents, will not let anyone get in our way.”
Director Cho looked ominously at both Hwang Si Mok and Han Yeo Jin at his grim pronouncement, the gracious persona of only moments ago now gone. But as quickly as it appeared, the NIS Chief’s menacing visage vanished and was once again replaced by his previous neutral expression.
“But I believe that all of us are working towards the same goal, which is to find the truth behind Jun Ji An and her murder, and who was responsible for the assault on Kim Ji Hyun and the ambassador. So, instead of wasting our time and energy with bureaucratic in-fighting, why don’t we share the burden of this investigation?”
“But sir—” Deputy Director Lee immediately protested, but stopped when his superior raised his hand to silence his objections.
“The Police and Prosecution will investigate Jun Ji An’s murder, and her murder only. The NIS will continue to investigate the safehouse incident, as well Jun Ji An’s possible ties to the North,” Director Cho said, and then leaned close to Hwang Si Mok and Han Yeo Jin, looking at them directly. “And the Police and Prosecution must share any information to the NIS regarding your investigation, and must be prepared to hand over the entire case to the NIS if evidence is found linking Jun Ji An to a hostile state.”
“It goes both ways, Director Cho,” said Han Yeo Jin. “We will share all information we could find that will be relevant to the NIS investigation, but you must do the same with the information you discover that is relevant to ours.”
Director Cho stared at Han Yeo Jin in silent contemplation after her comment, then finally nodded. “Fair enough, Superintendent Han,” he said, then stood up, signaling the end of their meeting. He paused, and looked at them both seriously.
“I’ve read both of your files, Superintendent Han and Prosecutor Hwang, and from what I have read, I could tell that you are both excellent investigators,” the NIS Director said. “However, I doubt that any of your past cases could have resulted to worsening diplomatic ties between another country at best, and nuclear war at worst. I need the two of you to be very aware of that fact, because the outcome of your investigation could have far-reaching consequences that neither of you could even begin to contemplate. Tread carefully.”
With those ominous parting words, the NIS Director left the room, followed by Deputy Director Lee and Agent Ri. Hwang Si Mok and Han Yeo Jin looked at each other interestedly, silently affirming to the other what they had witnessed; for both had not missed the look of deep contempt that the Deputy Director leveled at his superior.
“So, we were right; Jun Ji An was involved in the safehouse incident,” said Han Yeo Jin. They were inside Prosecutor Hwang’s car, unpacking the very interesting discussion they just had with the NIS.
“Possibly,” said Hwang Si Mok, “like you said, her car was there, but no proof that she actually was.”
“If she was, we know she did not carry out the attack because the suspect was male, so she could have been an accomplice, possibly the getaway driver,” said Han Yeo Jin, then turned to look at Prosecutor Hwang excitedly. “Maybe that was why she was killed! Because she knew the identity of the suspect.”
“You think she was killed to get rid of any possible witnesses?” asked Hwang Si Mok, and saw Superintendent Han nodding. “But why would they do that if she was a northern agent? She would have maintained her silence, because it was her job to do so.”
“That’s only assuming that the North perpetrated the attack,” said Han Yeo Jin, “and assuming that she really was a North Korean spy. And we don’t have solid proof of either.” She sighed, suddenly exhausted. “There are so many aspects of this case that doesn’t make sense to me. All we have are conjectures, and no evidence,” she said, rubbing her eyes tiredly.
Hwang Si Mok looked worriedly at Superintendent Han, noting the bags under her eyes and her pale complexion. He knew she had been working non-stop since the night of the safehouse incident, and likely have not had any proper rest since London. He tried to think of a way to express his concern about her without being oversolicitous, as it might make the superintendent uncomfortable, and gently suggest to her that she may need to take a brief respite from the case.
“You look tired,” he blurted out, and wanted to curse his damn affliction for his bluntness and inept attempt at sympathy. He looked over at Superintendent Han, and was relieved to see her smiling slightly.
“I’m fine,” Han Yeo Jin said. “I just didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
“Thinking about the case?”
“Among other things,” mumbled Han Yeo Jin.
They were interrupted by the sudden ringing of Hwang Si Mok’s phone. He answered, and heard his boss’ voice on the other line.
“I heard you were at the NIS,” said Chief Oh, “is Superintendent Han with you?”
“Yes sir, she’s with me,” he answered, looking at the superintendent.
“Good,” said Chief Oh. “Come to the office, and bring Superintendent Han with you. Director No is here as well.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, hanging up, and turned the car around.
“Where are we going?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office. Chief Oh summoned us, Director No is with him too.”
“Oh, that’s right, you work there now,” Han Yeo Jin said, and saw Prosecutor Hwang looking at her quizzically. “Seo Dong Jae told me,” she explained.
Hwang Si Mok nodded. He knew that Prosecutor Seo had regular chats with Superintendent Han while she was abroad. He knew because Prosecutor Seo would always give him a blow-by-blow account of their conversations, even though he never asked him to. But he did not mind, and admitted that he rather liked hearing how she was faring, unable to ask her himself.
“Are you in trouble?” asked Han Yeo Jin worriedly.
“For what?” Hwang Si Mok asked.
“For taking on this case,” said Han Yeo Jin. “You have a new position now, and I shouldn’t have gotten you involved.”
Hwang Si Mok glanced quickly at the Superintendent, noting her glum look, her head bowed in guilt.
“I’m on the National Security and Elections Division now, so if anything, this is right up my alley,” he replied, hoping to ease her anxiety. “And I would have been involved regardless.”
“Because it’s a national security case?” Han Yeo Jin asked.
“Because of you,” Hwang Si Mok replied, keeping his eyes straight ahead. “I want to help you, and I know you would have done the same for me.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at him then, and felt the familiar surge of conflicting emotions that threatened to overwhelm her every time she looked at the man beside her. She took a deep breath, and clasped both of her hands tightly together until she felt her nails digging painfully into her flesh, and only relaxed when the feeling had finally subsided.
“Thank you, Prosecutor Hwang,” she said softly, glad that she was able to utter the safe response without her voice shaking in emotion.
“You’re welcome, Superintendent Han.”
They spent the rest of the car ride in silence, both lost in their own thoughts as Hwang Si Mok drove towards the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, his knuckles white the entire drive as he tightly gripped the steering wheel.
Han Yeo Jin regarded the massive entrance hall of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office. She had been in this building only once before, and it was an occasion that she did not care to remember. It was during their investigation of the death of Park Gwang Su, the lawyer who died during an ethically questionable gathering attended by powerful members of the Police and Prosecution, and whose true cause of death was covered up by her former chief, Choi Bit, and Prosecutor Hwang’s former boss, Woo Tae-Ha. She remembered being summoned with Prosecutor Hwang to this very office by Chief Woo, who then attempted to blackmail her and Prosecutor Hwang into silence by threatening to destroy her career. Needless to say, the attempt at blackmail by the odious former chief did not work, and their investigation ultimately resulted to the resignation of Chief Choi, and the termination of Woo Tae-Ha. It had only been less than two years ago since those events took place, but Han Yeo Jin felt like a lifetime had already passed since she had stepped foot in this place.
“Han Yeo Jin! Han Yeo Jin!
Her silent contemplation was suddenly interrupted by someone loudly shouting her name across the lobby. She looked around her, trying to find the voice, and finally saw Prosecutor Seo Dong Jae running towards her and Prosecutor Hwang, a huge smile on his face and his arms excitedly waving at her. Han Yeo Jin smiled, genuinely happy to see her one-time nemesis, occasional antagonist, and now constant friend. She laughed when Seo Dong Jae engulfed her in a tight embrace, returning his warm effusions with her own. She stepped back, then just stared, dumbfounded, at his face.
“What the hell is that?” she blurted, frowning at him.
“What?” Seo Dong Jae asked, confused.
“That thing between your nose and lips,” Han Yeo Jin said, pointing to the offending thing.
“Oh, you mean my mustache?” Seo Dong Jae said, smiling as he patted it. “Do you like it?”
“No. It looks terrible.”
“I can’t believe I missed you,” said Seo Dong Jae, shaking his head at Han Yeo Jin.
“Why did you do that to your face? You look like a sinister lecher.”
“What about you? Why did you do that to your hair? It’s too short. You look like a 12 year-old boy,” retorted Seo Dong Jae, now pointing at her hair.
Han Yeo Jin patted her hair self-consciously. “Prosecutor Hwang said it looked fine,” she mumbled, glaring at Seo Dong Jae.
“That’s because Hwang Si Mok thinks you look fine in anything. He’s biased because he lik—”
“We should go up to Chief Oh’s office now, I’m sure they’re already waiting for us,” Hwang Si Mok said, interrupting Prosecutor Seo before he could finish his sentence.
Seo Dong Jae nodded, and pursed his lips in amusement at the red spreading across Han Yeo Jin’s face.
“Yes, let’s head up. Director No is there as well, and we’re all eager to hear what happened,” said Seo Dong Jae, walking towards the elevators. They entered a car, and he pressed the button to Deputy Prosecutor General Oh’s office, and suddenly felt a warm hand clutching his own. He looked down, and saw it was Han Yeo Jin’s.
“I’m fine now,” said Seo Dong Jae, referring to his former crippling claustrophobia, and smiled fondly at her. It had been Han Yeo Jin who had who had first held his hand as he rode down the elevator at Hanjo, and that moment had been the breakthrough that ultimately helped him overcome his debilitating fear of enclosed spaces.
“I know,” said Han Yeo Jin, grinning up at him. “And by the way, I missed you too.”
Hwang Si Mok watched the interaction between Superintendent Han and Prosecutor Seo, surprised at the sudden stab of envy. Not because he was jealous of Prosecutor Seo, as he knew the Superintendent’s regard for him is purely platonic; but rather, of the easy affection between the two, and how comfortable they were able to express their friendliness towards each other. He sighed, and for the first time wished that he was more like Prosecutor Seo; open, amiable and charming, as he watched him chat affably with Superintendent Han, occasionally patting his silly mustache. He was glad, however, to see the superintendent relaxed and happy since he had seen her, and felt grateful to Prosecutor Seo for making her smile.
They reached the floor and entered the office. Inside was Oh Joo Seung, the former Chief Prosecutor of the Western Seoul Prosecution and now Deputy Prosecutor General, joined by Director No. Han Yeo Jin bowed to her boss, and to Chief Oh.
“I’m glad to see you well, Superintendent Han,” said Director No, smiling at her. “You gave us quite a turn. I don’t think Captain Choi’s blood pressure had fully recovered.”
Han Yeo Jin bowed again in apology. “I’m sorry for making you worry, sir.”
“The important thing is that your safe,” said Director No, patting her in the arm.
“It’s good to see you again, Superintendent Han,” said Chief Oh, regarding her kindly. “I know you and Prosecutor Hwang have a lot to catch us up on. Why don’t we begin?” he said, gesturing towards the comfortable leather chairs.
“I have told Chief Oh and Prosecutor Seo about what Kim Ji Hyun told Ambassador Song,” said Director No, looking at Han Yeo Jin. “I think it’s important for them to know about the scientist, Young Hak Joo.
“I agree, sir,” said Han Yeo Jin. She and Prosecutor Hwang were already going to inform Seo Dong Jae anyway, and she knew that Chief Oh can be relied on to keep a secret, especially after their last case, and she knew that Prosecutor Hwang trusts his superior as much as she trusts hers.
Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok walked the group through everything that has happened, and what they have discovered so far— Han Yeo Jin’s investigation of the scientist, the night of the shooting and fire at Jun Ji An’s apartment, and the earlier meeting with the NIS. When they finished, the other men sat back, quietly contemplating what they have heard. Director No spoke first.
“Well done to both of you for getting the case back from the NIS,” said Director No. “But I must say, I’m a bit surprised that they relented.”
“Deputy Director Lee didn’t want to,” said Han Yeo Jin. “It was only after Director Cho stepped in and agreed to let us investigate Jun Ji An’s murder that he finally conceded.” She paused, and looked at Prosecutor Hwang. “Prosecutor Hwang and I noticed that there may be some tension between Director Cho and Deputy Director Lee.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Chief Oh. “A lot of the old guard at the NIS did not take it well when the Blue House appointed him as the NIS Chief.”
“Why is that sir?” asked Seo Dong Jae.
“Because he did not have experience in the Intelligence arena. He was also regarded by many as being too soft towards the North, and was only appointed in the position as yet another move to appease the DPRK by the Blue House, especially after the NIS’ powers had been significantly curbed during his tenure,” said Chief Oh.
“I know Cho Jae Sun, not personally but by reputation,” continued Chief Oh. “He was the Blue House Chief of Staff in the early 2000s, and was instrumental in the success of the 2001 North-South Summit, and was the chief architect of many of its policies. Many people in our country, and the world, agreed that the summit was the most significant step taken towards unification, and it had earned his boss acclaim from world leaders, even a Nobel Peace Prize. But not everyone agreed that the policies enacted after that summit was in the best interest of the South, and many believed that the North only exploited the South’s aid and generosity, while offering little to nothing in return. A lot of people, not just the hard liners in our own government, thought that the progressive policies from that summit gave legitimacy to the DPRK, and directly resulted to the North as we know it now; a country who took billions of our aid money and used them to subjugate their own people, and fund their alarmingly expanding nuclear weapons program.”
“Many in the NIS is opposed the reforms that Director Cho and the Blue House had enacted, the biggest of which is the transfer of counterintelligence responsibilities to the police,” said Director No.
“Those reforms were put in place because of all the scandals that the NIS have been involved in,” said Hwang Si Mok, referring to the notorious history of the NIS, and its track record of corruption and abuse of power, the most recent of which was in 2012, when it was discovered that the NIS had engineered online misinformation and attacks to influence public opinion in favor of the then-sitting president ahead of the elections.
“Yes, that was the main reason, but they still maintain that the reforms only weaken the South’s intelligence capabilities to fight the North,” said Director No, then smiled humorlessly. “They don’t have a very high opinion of the Police, nor with our counterintelligence capabilities.”
“You have your work cut out for you there, Director No,” sympathized Chief Oh. “But for now, let’s bring our focus back to the case; how do you propose we begin?” he asked, looking at the group.
“I’ve already gathered some background information on Young Hak Joo,” said Director No, taking out a folder. “This was from 20 years ago, so some of these will be difficult to track and validate. But look at his former employer,” he said, handing the documents to Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok. Han Yeo Jin’s eyes widened as she read it.
“Hanjo,” she said, looking at Prosecutor Hwang and Seo Dong Jae in surprise.
Director No nodded. “Hanjo Aeronautics to be exact. He has a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, as well as advance degrees in physics. I don’t know the significance of that information, but it’s interesting that Hanjo is once again involved, however peripherally.”
“We can start there, see if there are still employees there that remembers him, maybe find out what he was working on?” said Han Yeo Jin, looking at Prosecutor Hwang.
“Might be too risky,” said Hwang Si Mok. “We already suspect that someone knew you’re looking into Young Hak Joo after you were followed that day. It may not be a good idea to make them aware that we are still pursuing this, or lead them to Hanjo.”
“I’ll do it.”
All eyes turned towards Seo Dong Jae at his pronouncement. He took a deep breath, and made his case. “No one knows that I’m working this case with you. Also, I have a personal relationship with Lee Yeon Jae— I can ask her if we can question the employees about Young Hak Joo,” he said. He watched as Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok looked at each other, silently communicating in the way that always fascinated him because of how they seem able to hold an entire conversation without uttering a single sound; and annoyed at the same time, because he always felt excluded.
“I’m not going to tell her why, and I’ll make it sound like I’m only trying to close off a cold case from years ago,” Seo Dong Jae continued, looking at them imploringly, then at Chief Oh. “I can do this. I want to help,” he added earnestly, and saw his chief finally nod.
“If Prosecutor Hwang and Superintendent Han agrees, then I do not have an issue with it,” Chief Oh said.
“Then it’s settled,” said Hwang Si Mok. “Prosecutor Seo will talk to Lee Yeon Jae.”
Seo Dong Jae breathed a silent sigh of relief, glad that he could contribute to the case.
“What’s happening here?” said Chief Oh, looking at the muted television screen, which currently showed a man swarmed by the press, speaking enthusiastically to the cameras. Chief Oh reached for the remote and unmuted the sound, and they all watched as the man directed a passionate tirade against both the government and the NIS.
“…gross incompetence of the Blue House and the NIS, who had allowed this reprehensible attack on a beloved artist, and one of our own ambassadors! What’s even more shameful is that they have not said one word about the perpetrators of the attack, when everyone already knows who the culprit is! It is the North! But the Blue House will never admit it, because they are more worried about angering the DPRK than protecting our own citizens!”
“Who is he?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“Assemblyman Park Kang Ho,” said Hwang Si Mok. “He’s the Deputy Speaker, and the opposition candidate for President.”
“Ah,” said Han Yeo Jin. She had heard of the assemblyman, as she had tried to keep up with news from home whilst overseas, but was not familiar with his face. “He’s very…passionate,” she said, as she watched the assemblyman’s face turn progressively redder with each scathing comment he directed at the President and the NIS.
“… and when I am elected President, I shall make the security of this country, and the security of each of our own citizens, my primary responsibility! And I will work with my party, and my fellow members of the Assembly, and vow to all of you that we will capture the people responsible for this atrocious crime. And make no mistake, we shall make them pay, and we shall let them see the might and power of our great Republic!”
“It’s a bit reckless, don’t you think? Accusing the North of causing the attack when there’s no proof of it yet?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
Chief Oh laughed humorlessly. “It’s a calculated political move,” he said, shaking his head. “The approval ratings dropped for the President ever since the Kim Ji Hyun incident, and many people agree with Assemblyman Park that the North was responsible. The opposition had made national security the centerpiece of their campaign, and the attack on Kim Ji Hyun just handed them the perfect cause to condemn the current government, who many criticize as being too lenient towards the North. This is a political win for the opposition, and they are taking advantage of the current national sentiment to garner more votes.” He paused, and look at both Hwang Si Mok and Han Yeo Jin, his face serious.
“I’m sure both of you understand the enormity and sensitivity of this case, and the possibility that what you find might be beyond the bounds of both the Police and Prosecution,” said Chief Oh. “If you find evidence of the North being responsible for Jun Ji An’s murder, or the safehouse incident, then you must tell myself and Director No at once, so that we can engage the right people. Because if that is the case, then the matter needs to be handled by people well above all our pay grade.”
“And if it’s not the North?” asked Hwang Si Mok. “What if this leads us to something else entirely?”
“Then you follow the evidence, wherever it may lead,” said Director No, his expression somber.
Lancelot took the ringing phone out of his jacket pocket, and waved the group of people out of his office. The call was made to his secret cellphone, and he knew that the conversation he was about to have is not fit for public ears. He answered only after his staff had left, and the office door was shut.
“The NIS found out about Jun Ji An,” Percival said as soon as he answered. “They tried to take over the case from the Police and Prosecution.”
“Tried?” Lancelot asked.
“There were objections from the Police and Prosecution, so the NIS had to allow them to continue working it,” said Percival. “They were told to report their progress to the NIS.”
“I see,” said Lancelot. “Who from the Police and Prosecution?”
“Prosecutor Hwang Si Mok and Superintendent Han Yeo Jin,” said Percival. “Han Yeo Jin is the same police officer from the safehouse.”
Lancelot gritted his teeth. “And the same one who went to the scientist’s house?”
“Yes,” replied Percival.
“Tell Agent Yu to keep a close watch on her, and the prosecutor,” he said. “And we need to keep an eye on the NIS too.”
“Agreed,” said Percival. “What do we do about the superintendent? The defector might have told her something,” he said, and paused. “Or Jun Ji An. She told the NIS she has no connection with Jun Ji An, but she could be lying.”
“We need to find out what she knows first,” said Lancelot.
“And if she knows something?”
“Then Agent Yu will know what to do,” said Lancelot grimly, and terminated the call.
Cho Jae Sun frowned at the television screen in his office as Assemblyman Park Kang Ho went on a full rant in front of the press, deriding everyone from the President, the ruling party and the NIS, and spewing unfounded accusations against the DPRK.
Foolish man, he thought angrily. Park Kang Ho had been getting a lot of attention from the press lately, not just because he was the opposition Presidential candidate, but also because of his vocal criticism of the President and the NIS since the Kim Ji Hyun incident. His incendiary rhetoric and own brand of nationalism have become widely popular amongst the general public, and had caused his popularity ratings to surge. But the attack on Kim Jim Ji Hyun had created a cause-célèbre for the assemblyman, and he had given the public a popular target to pin the blame on by pointing the finger at the DPRK. It was a brilliant strategy for him, as it had positioned him as the tough-as-nails candidate, crusading against corruption, and unafraid to antagonize their perennial adversary the North, who many still see as the greatest threat to their country. The strategy emphasized his stark difference with the President, who had always exercised restraint and caution in his interactions with the DPRK, and whose policy of engagement had often been criticized as weak, even spineless, when dealing with the ever-growing threat of a nuclear North. Cho Jae Sun has great admiration for the President, and had known him since they were both young men, marching in the pro-democracy protests of the 80s. It was their long-standing friendship that caused the President to pluck him out of semi-retirement and placed in the position of NIS Director, and gave him the unenviable task of overhauling an organization with a track record teemed with corruption, bloodshed and abuse of power. His appointment was met with approval by the general public, who was supportive of reigning in the powers of the powerful spy agency. But within the NIS, his appointment was met with suspicion, even derision, and he knew that he is seen by many as an interloper who is nothing more than a hatchet man sent in by the Blue House.
A knock suddenly sounded at the door, and in walked Deputy Director Lee, his face showing the anger that he knew he had been holding in ever since their meeting with Superintendent Han and Prosecutor Hwang. He gave a tired sigh, resigned to the inevitable confrontation. He and the Deputy Director had clashed right from the start of his tenure and he knew, even though his deputy had never said it outright, that the other man does not particularly like nor respect him.
Deputy Director Lee stood in front of Chief Cho’s desk and affected a slight bow. He looked at the TV screen that was still showing Assemblyman Park’s press conference, and frowned.
“He should not be saying those things,” Deputy Director Lee said, after a particularly provocative speech by the assemblyman against the North, accusing them again on the cellist’s attack.
“For once Deputy Director Lee, I agree with you,” said Cho Jae Sun. “Not only is it foolish, it is dangerous as well. It is never a good idea to unnecessarily antagonize the DPRK, as we have proven many times in the past. But the assemblyman needed to pander for votes, and the NIS and the North are easy targets.”
“Should we say something, sir?” Deputy Director Lee asked.
Chief Cho nodded. “Yes, but it should not come from the NIS. I’ll ask the Blue House to make a statement instead, and we can give them the talking points. I’m sure the President’s staff are chomping at the bit to counter Assemblyman Park’s accusations and attacks against them.”
Deputy Director Lee nodded. “I’m here because I need to talk to you about the police and prosecution being allowed to investigate Jun Ji An,” he said, looking at his chief gravely. “I think it’s a mistake, sir.”
“I’m sure you do, Deputy Director Lee, but given the present circumstances, I assessed that it was the right course of action,” Cho Jae Sun replied calmly.
“They could undermine our own investigation,” continued Deputy Director Lee, “or leak sensitive information to the press that could compromise national security. They’re not exactly experienced with handling sensitive intelligence materials.”
“The Police will be taking over counterintelligence duties from the NIS very soon, and this will be a good exercise for them to prove their worth.”
“Now is not the time for a training exercise,” countered the Deputy Director, his voice slightly raised, “and this is not the case for it.”
Cho Jae Sun sighed, and looked at the younger man intently. “They were going to do it anyway, with or without the NIS’ permission,” he said. “I’m sure you have studied the files on Prosecutor Hwang and Superintendent Han, and the cases they have worked on in the past. You know as well as I, Deputy Director Lee, that they were never going to let this go.
“At least this way, we still have a semblance of control over their investigation,” continued Director Cho, “and we can keep tabs on their discoveries.”
“Only if they choose to share information with us,” said Deputy Director Lee.
“Which they will do, if they know what’s good for them,” said Director Cho. “They’re not stupid. They know we can take this away from them just by invoking national security. And I will take this away from them, if at any time I deem they are not fully cooperating; that I can promise you, Deputy Director Lee.” He looked at the other man, who looked as if he wanted to say more, but changed his mind at the last second, and gave a slight bow instead and left the room.
Outside the office, Deputy Director Lee clenched his fists, frustrated at the outcome of the meeting. He saw Agent Ri waiting dutifully in the hallway, and beckoned him over.
“What’s the status of Kim Ji Hyun?” he asked the agent.
“I spoke to the doctors this morning. No change, sir,” replied Agent Ri.
Deputy Director Lee nodded, and looked around the hallway, ascertaining that they were alone. “Increase security at the hospital, and make sure you use our own men,” he said, looking meaningfully at Agent Ri.
“And another thing, keep a close eye on Prosecutor Hwang and Superintendent Han. Make sure we know where they are going, and what they are up to.”
“Yes, sir,” said Agent Ri.
Lee Eun Kyo watched as the young agent hurried away to perform his orders, then looked at the closed door of the NIS Director’s office, his expression grim.
“I got an appointment with Lee Yeon Jae tomorrow morning,” said Seo Dong Jae, who had just finished the call with her executive assistant.
“Good work,” said Han Yeo Jin. “Ask her if we could interview the employees directly, just the ones that knew Young Hak Joo.”
“Will do,” said Seo Dong Jae, and looked out the car window. The three of them are inside Hwang Si Mok’s car, driving to Ambassador Song’s house. She had been discharged that morning, and they are on their way to interview her so that she and Han Yeo Jin could relay the full story of what happened at the safehouse the night of the attack.
“This is a nice neighborhood,” said Seo Dong Jae, admiring the big houses. “Does the ambassador live here with her family?”
“No, she lives alone,” said Han Yeo Jin. “Her husband and son have both passed away.”
“That’s sad,” said Seo Dong Jae sympathetically. “You’re close to her, right?”
“Yes, I am,” replied Han Yeo Jin. “She’s a family friend, but she’s more like an aunt to me. Here we are,” she said, pointing to the house on the left.
They got out of the car made and made their way to the gate. Han Yeo Jin punched the code, while Hwang Si Mok looked around, noticing the parked patrol car a few yards from the house and the newly installed security cameras.
“I’m glad to see the new cameras have been installed, and that the police are watching the place.”
“Yes, I checked the equipment myself, and Director No insisted that a squad car watch the ambassador’s house until the investigation is over,” Han Yeo Jin said.
They entered the house and was greeted by the housekeeper, who informed them that the ambassador was in the sitting room. They made their way there, and saw the ambassador sitting with another woman, having tea. Hwang Si Mok stared at the other woman, who looked vaguely familiar, her face still beautiful and elegant even in age. The ambassador greeted them warmly as they approached, and Hwang Si Mok’s sense of familiarity of the other woman heightened when she smiled at them, certain that she had seen that smile before.
Hwang Si Mok looked at Superintendent Han beside him, whose eyes and mouth were wide in surprise as she stared at the other woman. He turned his gaze to the woman again, and finally realized why she seemed so familiar.
The superintendent’s mother, whose face is similar to her daughter’s, and whose smile is just as lovely. He watched as Superintendent Han approach her, and noticed that even their frames are similar, both tall and willowy, as mother and daughter embraced each other.
“What are you doing here?” Han Yeo Jin asked, still not over the surprise of seeing her mother there.
“To visit your auntie, of course,” she said, smiling affectionately at her. “And you. I haven’t seen you in a while.” She paused, and looked over Han Yeo Jin’s shoulders, at the two men standing there. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friends?”
Han Yeo Jin suddenly remembered that they were not alone, and looked at the two prosecutors standing there, one with a wide smile on his face, and the other, with polite curiosity. She cleared her throat awkwardly, and made a mental note to grill the ambassador later on why she did not mention that her mother was there, when she called earlier to tell her that she was coming to visit with Prosecutor Hwang and Seo Dong Jae.
“Um, yes of course,” Han Yeo Jin said self-consciously. “This is Sun Nam Joo, my mother,” she said as the two men bowed to her. “Mother, this is Seo Dong Jae and Hwang Si Mok. They’re prosecutors, and my colleagues.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Mrs. Sun,” said Seo Dong Jae cheerfully. “You and Han Yeo Jin could be sisters.”
Sun Nam Joo and Ambassador Song chuckled at the compliment. Han Yeo Jin scowled.
“That’s nice of you to say Prosecutor Seo, though I’m not sure I’d agree,” Sun Nam Joo said, looking fondly at Han Yeo Jin, who stood squirming beside her, then turned her gaze to the other prosecutor.
“Prosecutor Hwang, I’ve heard a lot of things about you,” Sun Nam Joo said, smiling at him. “It’s good to finally meet you.”
“Likewise, ma’am,” Hwang Si Mok replied politely, and wondered if the superintendent had talked about him to her mother.
“We’re sorry to interrupt your tea, but we actually came to talk to Ambassador Song,” said Han Yeo Jin. “I would like for Prosecutor Hwang and Prosecutor Seo to hear about what happened that night at the safehouse.”
“Of course, come join us for tea” said Ambassador Song, ushering them to the seating area.
Han Yeo Jin looked at her mother. “Mom…” she started.
“Your mother can stay. I already told her much of it anyway,” said Ambassador Song.
“Ambassador, you know that that is confidential,” said Han Yeo Jin in gentle admonishment.
“Your mother had kept state secrets more sensitive than that, young lady,” she said distractedly as she poured tea for all of them. “And call me auntie, we’re not at work.”
Han Yeo Jin sighed and looked at her mother resignedly, who only smiled in amusement in return.
“So,” said Ambassador Song when they were all settled, “where would you like me to begin?”
“Why don’t you start at the moment before you entered Kim Ji Hyun’s room?” said Han Yeo Jin. The ambassador nodded.
“Alright,” said Ambassador Song. She took a deep breath, and let her mind remember the horrible events of that night.
“It was very late, around two o’clock in the morning. I couldn’t sleep because my stomach had been paining me, so I got up to fetch a glass of water. My room was beside Kim Ji Hyun, while Yeo Jin’s was at the end of the hall. I decided to check in on Kim Ji Hyun; I always do, because she has nightmares sometimes and I wanted to see if she was alright. It was very dark in the room when I entered, and I couldn’t see very clearly because I did not have my glasses on. But as I went in further, I noticed a man lying unconscious on the floor near the bed, and I realized that it was one of the NIS agents. That was when I noticed another man, standing over Kim Ji Hyun, holding a knife. I didn’t think; I just lunged at him, trying to get him and the knife, away from the girl. I screamed for help too, and tried to go for the knife in his hands. But he was much stronger than I was, and he stabbed me on my shoulders. He was going to stab me again but then the doors suddenly burst open, and I knew it was Yeo Jin. He pushed me away and I fell to the floor, and then I heard gunshots, but I couldn’t really see anything. That was all I could remember because I passed out shortly after.”
Han Yeo Jin gripped Ambassador Song’s trembling hand once she had finished her story. She looked at the two prosecutors, who had been listening in rapt attention during the ambassador’s recitation, and took over the story.
“I was asleep in my bed, but woke up suddenly; I’m not exactly sure why I woke up, and I was about to go back to sleep when I heard auntie screaming for help. I leapt out of bed, grabbed my gun, and ran to Kim Ji Hyun’s room. When I got there, I saw the suspect about to stab auntie again; but then he saw me, and he pushed her away and ran to the doors leading out onto the terrace. We were on the second floor, but Kim Ji Hyun’s bedroom opens out into a terrace that has stairs leading down to the gardens. I followed him out to the terrace, but he was very fast, and he had already managed to leap down into the gardens and was already running towards the dense woods that encircled the property. I had the higher ground, so I shot him from the terrace as he was running away. I knew I hit him on his left arm, but he kept running. I fired again but missed this time because he was too far away. By then the other agents have been alerted, and I saw Agent Ri pursuing him, running after him towards the woods. I ran back into the room to Kim Ji Hyun’s bedside. That was when I saw the blood; so much of it, running down her neck and soaking the sheets. The bastard had slit her throat. I put pressure on the wound, but I felt the blood still gushing into my hands. I told the other agents, who have finally come into the room, to call for an ambulance. I saw auntie on the floor, also bleeding, but I couldn’t go to her because I had to keep my hands on Kim Ji Hyun’s neck, to staunch the bleeding. When the paramedics had finally arrived, I didn’t know if Kim Ji Hyun was still alive. They rushed her and auntie to the hospital. I went with them.”
Han Yeo Jin finished her account of that night, and exhaled the breath she did not know she had been holding. She looked down and saw her mother’s hand grasping her own, a look of concern on the face that was very much like her own.
“You did well, Yeo Jin,” she told Han Yeo Jin in a shaky voice.
Han Yeo Jin shook her head. “No, I was too late. If I had gotten into the room a lot quicker, I could have prevented Kim Ji Hyun or auntie getting hurt, or at least captured the culprit,” she said, her head bowed in shame.
“Stop that now,” said Ambassador Song sternly, looking at Han Yeo Jin in reproach. “If you hadn’t come when you had, he would have stabbed me again and finished the job! And your quick thinking saved that poor girl. She would have bled out on that bed if you had not done what you did.”
“She’s right, Superintendent Han. You saved two lives that night, and managed to injure the suspect as well. You did more than anyone could have done in that situation,” said Hwang Si Mok. He saw the Superintendent finally raise her head, her bright eyes staring at him gratefully.
“More than the NIS have done, that’s for sure,” added Seo Dong Jae.
“If you don’t mind, I would like to ask some questions,” said Hwang Si Mok. Superintendent Han and the Ambassador nodded.
“Ambassador Song mentioned that there was already an agent in the room when she entered, but he was unconscious. Who was he and what happened to him?”
“That was Agent Ju,” said Han Yeo Jin. “You may remember him; he was at Yongsan when they took the case materials.”
Hwang Si Mok remembered the agent, as he was the same one that was guarding the Ambassador’s room when he and Director No visited her at the hospital.
“I remember him,” said Hwang Si Mok. “Why was he in the room?”
“From what I’ve been told, he was making his nightly rounds inside the house, when he heard a noise inside Kim Ji Hyun’s room, so he went in to investigate. The suspect sneaked up on him, and knocked him on the head.”
“Did he see the suspect?”
Han Yeo Jin shook her head. “No. He said the suspect sneaked up on him from behind, so he didn’t see him.”
“Weren’t there guards and security cameras in the safehouse?” asked Seo Dong Jae.
“Yes, there were. I know that NIS policy dictates that there should always be at least six agents on duty at any given time; 2 stationed outside and patrolling the grounds, 2 inside, and 2 more in the control room inside the house that monitors the cameras. There was also a dozen or so guards stationed outside and around the perimeter of the property. Shift change is every 7 hours.”
“That’s a lot of security,” said Hwang Si Mok. “So how was the culprit able to get inside the safehouse?”
“I don’t know,” replied Han Yeo Jin, sighing in frustration. “The NIS immediately closed ranks and shut me and Director No out completely. They wouldn’t tell us how the suspect was able to get in and how he was able to escape. I only knew about Agent Ju because I was able to talk to him at the hospital, when he was brought in with the Ambassador and Kim Ji Hyun.”
“They wouldn’t tell me anything either,” said Ambassador Song. “Every time I asked Director Lee about the details of that night, he just deflects with ‘we’re following multiple leads at the moment’.” She shook her head in annoyance, and was beset by a sudden attack of dizziness. She grasped her head, the teacup in her hands clattering noisily on the table as she quickly put it down.
“Unnie, are you alright?” Sun Nam Joo asked the Ambassador concernedly, and hastened to her side.
“I’m fine, no need to worry,” Ambassador Song said, batting their concerns away. “Just a bit of a dizzy spell, the doctors said I might get them. But I think it might be time to change my bandages. Nam Joo, can you help me?” she asked.
“Of course,” Sun Nam Joo replied, and assisted the ambassador from the sitting room.
“She’s quite tough, your auntie,” said Seo Dong Jae once the two had left.
“Yes she is,” said Han Yeo Jin, a worried frown on her face. “She’s been ill the past few months, and the incident at the safehouse had left her weaker. I’m worried about her.”
“It’s good that you and your mom are here to help her though,” said Seo Dong Jae. “By the way, your mother seems very nice. And so elegant. And she looks good for her age too, still beautiful and quite fit.”
“Please stop talking about my mother,” said Han Yeo Jin, glaring at him.
“I’m just saying. You could look as classy and chic as her, if you made an effort.”
“I swear to god…”
“The ambassador seems quite an accomplished woman,” said Hwang Si Mok, hastily interrupting before the two began bickering again. He pointed to the dozen or so framed pictures of the ambassador posing beside notable figures; politicians, heads of state and other important personages. His attention was arrested by a framed photo of four people, smiling at the camera. He picked it up and stared at the face of a younger ambassador, who must have been in her forties at the time the photo was taken. The other was obviously Mrs. Sun, who must have been around the same age as the Superintendent, and the spitting image of her. They were accompanied by two men, with one of them looking vaguely familiar.
“That’s the ambassador, with my mom and dad,” said Han Yeo Jin who had joined him, pointing at her parents. Hwang Si Mok stared at the Superintendent’s father, a bespectacled man with a kind face and an easy smile. “Not sure who the other man is.”
Hwang Si Mok looked at the other man again, and felt certain that he had seen him before, but cannot recall when or where. His thoughts were interrupted with the arrival of Ambassador Song and Mrs. Sun, with the ambassador looking a lot better than she had moments before.
“It’s almost dinnertime,” Ambassador Song said. “You will join us for dinner, won’t you?”
“Prosecutor Hwang and Prosecutor Seo might have plans,” Han Yeo Jin said quickly.
“I don’t,” said Seo Dong Jae cheerfully.
“What about your wife and kids?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“I’m sure they’re fine,” he replied flippantly, smiling at her. “We would be happy to stay for dinner, isn’t that right, Hwang Si Mok?” he asked, nudging the other man.
“Yes, thank you ambassador,” said Hwang Si Mok, looking at the superintendent, who was clearly uncomfortable with the entire situation.
The ambassador clapped her hands gleefully. “Wonderful,” she said, and ushered them to the dining room.
There was a veritable feast laid out on the dinner table, and Hwang Si Mok eagerly dove into his food, realizing how hungry he was after missing lunch. The table was awash with lively conversation, with Prosecutor Seo dominating the discussion with amusing anecdotes, charming the two older women. He looked across the table towards Superintendent Han, who was seated beside her mother and directly across from him, and watched as she piled her plate full of food, barely aware of the conversation around her as she hungrily consumed her dinner.
“Unnie, why did you prepare so much food?” asked Sun Nam Joo, gesturing at the enormous spread.
“It’s not every day I get to see you and Yeo Jin together, so I wanted to have a bit of a celebration. And I knew that we were having company tonight,” she said from the head of the table, gesturing to the two prosecutors. “And besides, half of these is probably just for Yeo Jin,” she said, looking at the younger woman fondly, who at the moment was too busy gorging on said food to pay attention.
“I gathered you’re married with kids, Prosecutor Seo?” Sun Nam Joo asked.
“Yes, ma’am. 2 boys; one’s in high school and the other one is still in grade school,” Seo Dong Jae replied, smiling proudly.
“That’s nice. I bet they’re quite a handful,” said Sun Nam Joo, then turned her gaze to the other man. “What about you, Prosecutor Hwang? Are you married?”
“No, Mrs. Sun, I’m single,” replied Hwang Si Mok.
“Ah. And do you and Yeo Jin work together a lot?”
Han Yeo Jin paused her frantic feeding to look at her mother, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. Her mother did not look at her and continued to gaze at Prosecutor Hwang, the familiar glint in her eye warning Han Yeo Jin what the woman was up to.
“We’ve worked a few cases in the past,” said Hwang Si Mok.
“They work together all the time. They’re partners,” Seo Dong Jae eagerly interjected, gesturing at Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok. “They work so well together, sometimes I think that they can read each other’s minds.”
“Hmm…interesting,” said Sun Nam Joo. Han Yeo Jin watched her mother carefully, ready for the inevitable inappropriate comment. She silently sighed in relief when her mother only resumed eating, and gladly turned her attention back to her food.
“Yeo Jin is single too.”
“Very subtle mother,” said Han Yeo Jin, mentally kicking herself for foolishly thinking that the sneaky woman would let the matter go so easily.
“I’m just stating facts.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at Prosecutor Hwang, worried about his reaction to her mother’s blatant scheming, but his face retained its usual expressionless mask. She looked at Seo Dong Jae, whose stupid mustache was quivering with suppressed laughter, and tried to hide her scarlet face behind her bowl of rice.
Ambassador Song tried to contain her chuckle, and took pity on a clearly mortified Han Yeo Jin, and changed the topic.
“Yeo Jin, are you still trying to find a place to live? I told you that you can stay with me for as long as you want.”
“I don’t want to impose, auntie,” Han Yeo Jin said quickly, grateful at the change of subject.
“Don’t be silly. You know I love having you here,” Ambassador Song replied.
“Maybe you could stay with Hwang Si Mok again.”
All eyes turned towards Seo Dong Jae at his comment. He knew he shouldn’t have said anything, but his mischievous side could not resist the temptation, especially now that he had found an ally in the form of Mrs. Sun. He watched as the two older women looked at Hwang Si Mok in undisguised curiosity, their eyes flicking between him and Han Yeo Jin like ping pong balls played at breakneck speed. He looked at Hwang Si Mok, who seemed annoyingly unconcerned by the sudden focus on him. He turned instead to Han Yeo Jin, and had to restrain himself from visibly flinching at the furious gaze directed at him, her fury-filled eyes and flared nostrils promising painful retribution for him later.
“You two…lived together?” asked Sun Nam Joo in wonder.
“It’s not what you think mother…”
“Superintendent Han stayed with me for several days last year because I had been injured,” explained Hwang Si Mok. “I needed assistance because of my injury, and she was kind enough to offer her help.”
The two older women nodded, but still maintained their curious gazes. Ambassador Song smiled at Han Yeo Jin, and said, “that was very nice of you Yeo Jin, helping out Prosecutor Hwang like that.”
“He’s a friend, of course I offered to help,” said Han Yeo Jin, and gave Prosecutor Hwang a grateful look for his succinct explanation.
“And how was it, living with Yeo Jin?” Sun Nam Joo asked Prosecutor Hwang.
“It was fine,” Hwang Si Mok replied neatly. He paused, and added, almost complainingly, “she sings in the shower.”
Sun Nam Joo visibly grimaced. “Yeo Jin has many talents. Singing is not one of them.”
“Thank you, mother.”
“Absolutely horrendous,” Sun Nam Joo said, shaking her head.
Everyone laughed. Han Yeo Jin glared at Prosecutor Hwang, whose upturned lips indicated that he was thoroughly amused by the conversation.
“It wasn’t that bad,” said Ambassador Song, smiling at Han Yeo Jin, “I remember Michael enjoying it.” She turned to the two prosecutors. “Michael is my son. His name was Jung Wan, but we called him by his English name, Michael.”
“That’s because your Michael was the sweetest boy that ever lived, and he didn’t want to hurt Yeo Jin’s feelings,” said Sun Nam Joo, smiling fondly at the memory. “Yeo Jin was totally smitten with him.”
Hwang Si Mok’s attention was diverted by this information, especially upon spying the soft look that passed over Superintendent Han at the mention of the Ambassador’s son. He frowned, and felt foolish for begrudging the now-deceased Michael for still invoking tender feelings on the Superintendent part.
“Are you staying in Seoul, mother?” Han Yeo Jin asked.
“Yes, just for a couple of days. I have some business in the city anyway, and I would like to spend more time with you and your auntie,” she replied. “Don’t worry, I know you’re busy with your case, so I promise not to get in the way. Your auntie and I have a lot to catch up on anyway.”
“Your mother is driving me tomorrow to the hospital to visit Kim Ji Hyun,” said the Ambassador.
“Shouldn’t you stay home and rest, auntie? The doctors said that you have to take it easy for a few days,” said Han Yeo Jin, frowning in concern.
“I’m fine,” the ambassador replied, waving her concerns away. “I can’t leave that poor girl alone in the hospital. And someone has to be there, in case she wakes up.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at her mother in worry. Her mother patted her hand and said, “I’ll be with her the entire time.” She nodded, somewhat reassured.
They finished their dinner and the two prosecutors bid their farewell to Ambassador Song and Mrs. Sun. Han Yeo Jin walked them out to the gate.
“Call me and Prosecutor Hwang after your meeting with Lee Yeon Jae. I’d like to know how it went,” Han Yeo Jin told Seo Dong Jae.
“I will,” Seo Dong Jae replied. “What are you and Hwang Si Mok doing tomorrow?”
“I have to go to the National Investigation HQ,” said Han Yeo Jin. “Director No asked me to come. After that, I have to go to Yongsan; the NIS had returned some of the case materials, and I would like to go over them with the team.”
“I have to go meet the Minister of Justice tomorrow with Chief Oh.”
Seo Dong Jae and Han Yeo Jin both turned towards Hwang Si Mok, their expressions surprised.
“The Minister of Justice? Why?” asked Seo Dong Jae.
“I don’t know. I just got a text from the Deputy Prosecutor General that we have both been summoned to the Minister’s office. I can only assume it’s about the case,” answered Hwang Si Mok.
“You’ll call me after?” Han Yeo Jin asked Prosecutor Hwang, her brows knitted in worry.
“Of course,” Hwang Si Mok replied, a knowing look passing between them.
Han Yeo Jin nodded. “Seo Dong Jae, can I speak with you for a moment?” she asked, turning towards Seo Dong Jae. “In private,” she added ominously.
Seo Dong Jae, suspecting what Han Yeo Jin wanted to talk to him about, turned nervously to Hwang Si Mok. “Si Mok can stay,” he said quickly, “there are no secrets between us.”
“No, Prosecutor Hwang can go. Good night, Prosecutor Hwang,” said Han Yeo Jin, her eyes glinting in anticipation.
“Good night, Superintendent Han,” said Hwang Si Mok. He turned to leave, ignoring Prosecutor Seo’s desperate pleas for him to stay. He was not about to deprive the superintendent a highly satisfying revenge; and if he was being honest, Prosecutor Seo had it coming.
He waited patiently in his car for Superintendent Han and Prosecutor Seo to finish their ‘discussion’. A few moments later, he saw the other prosecutor walking towards his car. He entered the passenger side, rubbing his left arm, his face set in a painful grimace.
“What happened to your arm?”
“Nothing. Let’s just go,” Seo Dong Jae mumbled sullenly, still rubbing his arm.
“I’ll get ice on that right away if I were you, or else you’ll have a bruise tomorrow. Superintendent Han packs a mean punch,” said Hwang Si Mok, and smiled in satisfaction at the other man’s discomfort.
“Prick,” muttered Seo Dong Jae grumpily.
Hwang Si Mok looked around curiously at the reception area of the Minister of Justice offices, where he and Deputy Prosecutor General Oh currently sat waiting, after being summoned by the Minister for an early morning meeting. Hwang Si Mok had never met the Minister, who oversees the entire Prosecution Service, and knew only what had been written about him on articles in the papers and the internet. The current minister, Gong Sung Tae, had been in the position for three years, when he was appointed by the Blue House to fill the vacant cabinet position after the former minister died. Prior to his stint at the Ministry of Justice, he was an Assemblyman representing one of the Seoul districts; and briefly after that, as the Minister of Unification, overseeing the agency promoting Korean reunification. His chief, who knew the minister personally, had described him to Hwang Si Mok as an elderly statesman, who had been in politics since his days as a youth activist who fought against the dictatorship, and a staunch supporter of the President and his progressive policies that had shaped his agenda towards the North when he oversaw the Ministry of Unification. Hwang Si Mok suspected that Minister Gong was aware that their investigation may have ties to the North, and felt a vested interest on their case owing to his previous tenure as Minister of Unification. His thoughts were interrupted by the secretary’s announcement that the Minister is ready to see them, and he and his chief entered the inner office together.
Hwang Si Mok bowed to the minister, whom he saw is a man in his early sixties, whose hunched and frail frame was negated by the strong, booming voice he emitted when he spoke. Hwang Si Mok and Chief Oh sat down on the leather chairs, and waited for the Minister to speak first.
“I received an interesting call from Director Cho yesterday,” Minister Gong started, referring to the NIS Chief. “It seems that one of my prosecutors is investigating a case with the police that may have ties with the North.”
“Yes, sir,” said Chief Oh, and proceeded to state the details of the Jun Ji An murder investigation to the minister.
Hwang Si Mok let his chief speak on his behalf, knowing that his superior will not divulge any information regarding the missing scientist, as previously agreed between them. Hwang Si Mok silently observed the minister during Chief Oh’s report, and watched as the older man sighed heavily after the chief finished.
“Has it been confirmed that she was a northern agent?” asked Minister Gong.
“Nothing definitive yet sir, otherwise the NIS would not have allowed us to take this case back,” replied Chief Oh.
Minister Gong nodded, and looked at Hwang Si Mok.
“I heard good things about you, Prosecutor Hwang, and looked over some of your previous cases too. You have a knack for going after powerful people, and discovering things they do not want discovered,” said Minister Gong, his eyes focused intently on Hwang Si Mok.
“That’s my job sir,” said Hwang Si Mok succinctly. “It just happened to involve powerful people. I only went to wherever the evidence led me.”
“And what would you do, Prosecutor Hwang, if the evidence led you to the fact that Jun Ji An was a spy from the North? Or that she may have a hand on what happened with Kim Ji Hyun and the safehouse incident?”
Hwang Si Mok looked at the Minister of Justice, whose unblinking gaze remained on him, and gave the response given to him by Chief Oh and Director No. “If that was the case, then we will report it directly to Deputy Prosecutor General Oh and Director No of the National Police, as we have been instructed.”
Minister Gong nodded, satisfied with his answer. “I know it may go against your instincts, Prosecutor Hwang, to leave a case open, and let someone else continue the investigation” said Minister Gong. “But this case may go beyond a simple murder, and matters will need to be handled delicately if it involves the DPRK. As much as we want to have a satisfying conclusion to this investigation, I find that that is rarely the case when our northern brethren are in the picture.
“Our relationship with the North is a fraught one, and the government must always walk a tightrope between force and appeasement when dealing with them, lest it upsets the fragile peace between the two nations. Sometimes, we have to think of the greater good,” Minister Gong finished.
Hwang Si Mok’s curiosity was aroused by the Minister’s words. He looked at him, and asked, “and what is the greater good, sir?”
Minister Gong looked at him fully, and said, “Peace in the peninsula, and then eventually, and hopefully, unification.”
Hwang Si Mok was unsure how to respond to his statement, and only nodded in acknowledgement.
“Is there anything else you have not told me about your case?” asked Minister Gong.
Hwang Si Mok looked at the Minister, his naturally emotionless face firmly in place as he gazed at the other man. He saw Minister Gong studying him intently, and found it curious that he would ask the question, as if he had suspected that he and Chief Oh had withheld information from him.
“No sir, Chief Oh had relayed it in full,” lied Hwang Si Mok, his voice steady.
“We will, of course, keep you updated with our progress,” added Chief Oh.
Minister Gong paused to look at them both, then finally nodded, accepting their responses. He stood up, signaling the end of the meeting, and Hwang Si Mok and Chief Oh bowed to him in farewell. He paused at the door when he heard the minister called out to him as he was leaving.
“Remember what I said, Prosecutor Hwang. What we do, should all be for the greater good.”
Hwang Si Mok gave a slight bow in response to his statement. The Minister watched him as he left, his unwavering gaze never leaving him.
Seo Dong Jae accepted the cup of tea from Lee Yeon Jae, bowing his head in thanks. They are sitting in her office at Hanjo headquarters, where he plans to ask the CEO and Chairwoman to authorize them to interview Hanjo employees that may have a connection with the scientist, Young Hak Joo. It had been a while since the two of them spoke, and the first few minutes were spent in pleasant and casual conversation. Seo Dong Jae’s relationship with the formidable executive had not always been on such friendly terms, but their last case had been a turning point for the both of them. It was during that time that he, Hwang Si Mok and Han Yeo Jin had investigated and convicted Lee Yeon Jae’s half-brother, Lee Sung Jae, of the crimes he had committed as President of Hanjo Engineering, and in connection with the crimes committed by the villainous, former councilman Seo Tae Gu. Lee Yeon Jae had provided valuable assistance to their investigation, and had also given them decades worth of information exposing the unethical, and sometimes illegal, practices of her late father, Lee Yeon Beom, the former Chairman of Hanjo. It was that act that had finally broken the legacy of corruption left behind by her father, and what steered Lee Yeon Jae towards the path of redemption; and it was Seo Dong Jae, who had recognized a kindred spirit in her, who helped steer her towards that path.
Seo Dong Jae put his cup down and took a breath, readying himself. “Thank you again for seeing me on such short notice, Mrs. Lee. I know you’re a busy woman,” he said.
“Not at all, Seo Dong Jae,” smiled Lee Yeon Jae. “It’s good to catch up with you again. But you mentioned on the phone that there is something you need to discuss with me.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Seo Dong Jae replied. “I need your help with a case I’m investigating.”
“A case?” she asked curiously.
“A missing persons case, to be exact. Some new evidence surfaced regarding a case from twenty years ago, so the case was reopened. I’m trying to track down relatives and close acquaintances of the missing person, but it’s proving to be difficult since so much time had passed,” said Seo Dong Jae.
“I’m not sure how I can help,” said Lee Yeo Jae, frowning in confusion.
“The missing person worked for Hanjo Aeronautics before he disappeared.”
Lee Yeon Jae straightened. “He worked for us?”
Seo Dong Jae nodded. “Yes ma’am. I wanted to ask if it’s possible to interview any employees that worked with him while he was at Hanjo, and see if they remember him at all, and any information leading up to the day of his disappearance.”
“What is the name of the employee?”
“Young Hak Joo,” replied Seo Dong Jae. “He disappeared during a family holiday, along with his three-year old daughter.”
“How dreadful,” said Lee Yeo Jae sincerely. “I don’t recall that name, but then again, that was before I was in the company. I also don’t know if you can find anyone still there that remembers him; twenty years is a long time.”
“I understand Mrs. Lee, but I have to pursue all avenues available at the very least, if it helps us discover what happened to Dr. Young and his daughter,” said Seo Dong Jae. He watched as Lee Yeon Jae took a moment to quietly contemplate his request, and breathed a silent sigh of relief when she finally nodded.
“Very well,” Lee Yeon Jae said. “I’ll have my secretary contact the department heads, and they’ll let us know if any of Young Hak Joo’s former colleagues are still there. If there are, then you may speak with them.”
Seo Dong Jae bowed his head to Lee Yeon Jae in gratitude. “Thank you very much Mrs. Lee, I really appreciate your help in this,” he said. “If you don’t mind, I would also like to ask if you can keep this confidential for now, as it is still an ongoing investigation.”
“I will, but in return, I would also ask that you keep me informed. He was a former employee, after all,” said Lee Yeon Jae.
“Of course, ma’am,” said Seo Dong Jae, and felt a tiny twinge of guilt at his words. It was not exactly a lie, as he would be more than happy to inform her, but only if they can prove that Hanjo is not connected. He smiled at Lee Yeo Jae, hiding his disquiet, and sincerely wished that Hanjo is not involved, and hoped that he does not bring more trouble at her doorstep.
They were interrupted by a sudden knock on the doors, followed by the entrance of Mrs. Lee’s secretary.
“Chief Kang is here for your meeting, ma’am,” said the secretary.
Seo Dong Jae stood up, getting ready to leave. “Thank you again for the tea, Mrs. Lee, and for your help,” he said, bowing to her.
“Thank you for coming, Seo Dong Jae. Let’s do this again sometime,” she said, smiling at him.
Seo Dong Jae nodded, and turned to leave. He saw an older man enter the office, followed by another man who looked to be his assistant. He bowed to the man on his way out, and received a slight bow in acknowledgement, the other man’s eyes curiously following him as he left the office.
“May I ask who that was?” Chief Kang asked Lee Yeon Jae.
“A friend of mine, and my late husband’s,” Lee Yeon Jae replied. “It was a social visit.”
Lee Yeon Jae could see that Chief Kang wanted to ask her more questions; but he smiled instead, and proceeded to dive into their agenda. She found herself hardly listening to what Chief Kang was saying, her mind still on the discussion she had with Seo Dong Jae. She was glad to be of help to him, as she owed the prosecutor a debt of gratitude for what he has done for her in the past. But as she gazed distractedly at the financial statements that her CTO presented to her, Lee Yeon Jae cannot help the inexplicable feeling of deep unease that had started to bloom at the pit of her stomach.
Han Yeo Jin entered the building of the newly-formed National Investigations Headquarters in Seoul. The new entity, which was formed as part of the comprehensive changes in the law that allowed both the re-distribution of investigation authority from the Prosecution, and transferred counterintelligence and domestic intelligence collection from the NIS, to the Police. The new unit was modeled after the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, placing the responsibility of criminal investigation and domestic intelligence and counter-intelligence firmly with the police. She knew that the new law sparked outrage from the institutions who found themselves suddenly stripped of power, and controversy from the general public, who worried that too much power has now been given to the police. Because she had been overseas, Han Yeo Jin had been somewhat insulated from all the uproar and chaos that erupted immediately after the new law was passed; and she knew that many of her colleagues had clamored to be transferred to the new, elite unit. She was proud though, when she heard that Director No had been chosen to lead the newly formed group, but also cannot help feeling sorry for him, knowing the massive work and tremendous pressure that came with his new position.
She entered his office, and saw him busily taking out items from a moving box to place on his desk.
“This is a nice upgrade from your old office, sir,” said Han Yeo Jin, admiring the larger office with its new equipment.
Director No smiled. “It’s not bad,” he said, “although I do miss the coffee at HQ. I know it was bad, but I’ve gotten used to it.”
“I haven’t had the chance to congratulate you on your new position,” said Han Yeo Jin. “It’s quite an accomplishment, leading this new unit. Congratulations, sir.”
“Thank you,” smiled Director No. “Although, I must admit, I feel like kicking myself sometimes for accepting it. I feel like I’ve aged ten years since I took this job.”
“I can imagine. It must be difficult, with all the work and expectations that comes with it,” said Han Yeo Jin. “But I can’t think of anyone else who can do this better than you can, sir. They chose the right person for the job, in my opinion.”
“Speaking of the right person for the job, how would you like to come work for me?”
Han Yeo Jin turned to her Director, surprised at his statement. “I already work for you, sir,” she said.
“I don’t mean at the FAB— you know I have to transition out of that unit by the end of this month. I meant here, at the National Investigation HQ.
“I know you’ve only started at the Foreign Affairs Bureau,” Director No continued when he saw Han Yeo Jin hesitate, “but I could use your skills and training here. I need good people to lead my team, and there are only a handful of police officers that I can trust to do the job. You don’t have to give me an answer right away, think about it and come back to me.”
Han Yeo Jin took a breath, slightly overwhelmed at the sudden offer. She nodded, and said, “I will, sir.”
“For now, I’ve temporarily assigned you to National Investigation while you work on this case,” said Director No. “This will be the first major case that the team will handle.”
“The team, sir?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“Yes. I’m putting together a team for you to assist with the investigation. It’s a small team, and young too; they would need you and your experience to lead them.”
Han Yeo Jin bit her lip. She appreciated Director No giving her additional help, but she would much rather work with people she already knew and trust, especially with a case such as the one they are investigating.
“I was actually thinking of working with the Yongsan detectives on this case sir. I know them already, and more importantly, I trust them.”
Director No sighed. “I know that the detectives at Yongsan are excellent at their jobs, and I know that you trust them implicitly,” said Director No. “But this case requires people with specialized skill-sets that the Yongsan detectives may not be fully trained on. We’re using technology so advanced that even I am not fully proficient with it. We’re using new investigative methods that requires advanced understanding of the tools we use to gather and analyze evidence.
“This is the big leagues now, Superintendent Han, and whether you like it or not, a lot of eyes are going to be on this case. This is our first real test that we can handle our new responsibilities. I don’t have to tell you that what we might be dealing with here is not just a regular murder case, and you might not just be chasing a regular murderer. You might be chasing a murderer that has the full power and resources of a hostile nation behind them. And for that, you’re going to need all, and the right, help that you can get.”
“I understand sir, and I agree,” said Han Yeo Jin. “But no matter how advanced the technology gets, nothing can replace good, old-fashioned detective work. We still need good investigators on the ground; because their well-honed instincts, their network of informants and years of working in the field cannot be replicated by any machine. Like you said sir, we need all, and the right, people working on this case.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at her boss nervously after her bold statement. Director No seemed to consider what she said, and finally nodded.
“Very well Superintendent Han, I take your point,” Director No said to Han Yeo Jin’s relief. “Let me know who you have in mind, and I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you, sir,” Han Yeo Jin said gratefully. She hesitated, and broached the questions she really wanted to ask. “And the Prosecution, sir? Am I allowed to work with them?”
“You mean work with Prosecutor Hwang? Even if I said no, would that stop the two of you?”
“Probably not, I have to be honest,” muttered Han Yeo Jin almost sheepishly. “Sorry, sir.”
Director No shook his head at her honest answer, then chuckled in amusement. “Prosecutor Hwang and Chief Oh is already involved anyway so I see no issues with it,” he said. “Come back here tomorrow, and meet your new team.”
“Yes sir,” said Han Yeo Jin, and left the Director’s office after the meeting. She walked through the halls distractedly, contemplating the tantalizing, and daunting, offer of a new position in the National Investigation HQ. She knew that she should be grateful that she was practically handed a position that most of her colleagues would have killed for; a position that would assuredly fast-track her career and place her as one of the pioneers of the new, landmark unit within the Police. But despite of all the advantages it presented, there is one factor that made Han Yeo Jin hesitate, and she hated herself for that hesitation, knowing that it stemmed from pure self-indulgence, and shameful cowardice. For Han Yeo Jin knew that working for the National Investigation will force her to once again cross paths with Prosecutor Hwang, whose new position within the Prosecution required him to handle national security cases; the same cases that she will oversee under the new unit. She sighed heavily, and let the self-loathing that had been her constant companion ever since that night in Provence wash over her, knowing full-well that she deserved the torture.
Her phone suddenly rang, and Han Yeo Jin answered, grateful for the distraction. She listened as Seo Dong Jae informed her of his meeting with Lee Yeon Jae, and told her that he had received the list of names of the people that knew Young Hak Joo.
“That was quick work,” said Han Yeo Jin in surprise.
“That’s because there’s only one name on the list,” said Seo Dong Jae. “A physicist by the name of Song Gang Doo; apparently he and Young Hak Joo worked together quite closely twenty years ago, and he agreed to talk to us today, during his lunch break. We’re heading over there now, I’ll text you the address.”
“Yes, I called Hwang Si Mok already, he’s on his way,” said Seo Dong Jae. “There’s something you should know though; the man I talked to, Dr. Kim, the supervisor, warned me about Song Gang Doo.”
Han Yeo Jin frowned. “Warned you about what?”
“He said that Dr. Song is a bit…eccentric.”
“Well, he called him a weirdo and a nutcase. I told him not to worry, we’re used to it because we have one of those too.”
Han Yeo Jin frowned in confusion, then realized who Seo Dong Jae was referring to, and said in outrage, “Prosecutor Hwang is not a weirdo and a nutcase!”
“How do you know I was talking about Hwang Si Mok? You’re the one who said his name, not me” said Seo Dong Jae in amusement, and chuckled when she heard Han Yeo Jin mutter an irritated ‘idiot’, before abruptly hanging up.
Han Yeo Jin stared at the scientist, Song Gang Doo, who was sitting across from her at the table at a café near the Hanjo Aerospace facility. She was joined by Prosecutor Hwang and Seo Dong Jae, who was looking at the physicist with nonplussed expressions, bewildered at the man’s strange behavior.
It was apparent to the three right from the start that Song Gang Doo was different, and his conduct had instantly explained Dr. Kim’s description of the physicist, however politically incorrect the terms he used were. His behavior was indicative of someone on the spectrum, as many geniuses of history were. They began by introducing themselves, at which the physicist reacted only by staring at them in wide-eyed silence for a full, awkward minute, and then finally responded with a string of blunt, inappropriate observations that would have offended any normal person. He started off by telling Seo Dong Jae that he would have been handsome if his mustache did not make him look like a pervert, provoking a sudden snort of laughter from Han Yeo Jin, who promptly covered her mouth to suppress her giggles, and a massive scowl from Seo Dong Jae. He then turned his attention to Han Yeo Jin, and told her that she has the most fascinating face he had ever seen, his eyes staring at her in innocent wonder, prompting a bemused ‘thank you’ from the superintendent and another scowl, this time on Hwang Si Mok’s part. He did not have anything to say to Hwang Si Mok, and only stared at the prosecutor warily, like a child would at an adult who might tell him off at any moment, intimidated at the intense barrenness he saw in his expression. His relative youth had surprised them too, as they were expecting someone older, thinking that he was a contemporary of Young Hak Joo, if the two had worked together twenty years ago.
“That’s because I started working at Hanjo Aeronautics when I was 18,” said Song Gang Doo, after Han Yeo Jin had commented on his youth. “It was right after I got my PhD. I was offered a research position at SNU, but Hanjo offered me a boat-load of money and my own lab, so I took Hanjo’s offer instead,” he finished bluntly.
“You got your PhD at 18?” Seo Dong Jae asked incredulously.
“Yep. Youngest ever in Korea,” Song Gang Doo said matter-of-factly. It would have sounded like a brag coming from anyone else, but Song Gang Doo had delivered the statement in the same blunt and direct manner that he employed when speaking in general.
“May we ask what it is that you work with, primarily?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“I work with aircrafts. It’s too complicated for you to understand if I try to explain it,” Song Gang Doo replied frankly.
Han Yeo Jin smiled. It would have been easy to take offense from the seemingly insulting comment, but she understood that the physicist did not mean it as such, and knew that he answered only in the brutally honest manner that was his custom.
“Then perhaps you can dumb it down for the non-geniuses here at the table?” Han Yeo Jin asked him amusedly.
Song Gang Doo’s expression softened at Han Yeo Jin’s smile. He shyly returned the smile, and said, “I make aircrafts invisible.”
Seo Dong Jae’s eyes widened. “You mean, like Wonder Woman’s jet?” he asked in awe.
Song Gang Doo looked at him disdainfully. “No, not like Wonder Woman’s jet,” he said in disgust. “That’s dumb.”
Seo Dong Jae bristled at the comment, while Han Yeo Jin tried to contain her smile at the prosecutor’s outraged expression.
“He meant stealth technology,” said Hwang Si Mok. “Invisible on radar.”
Song Gang Doo looked at Hwang Si Mok, a flicker of approval in his eyes. “That’s right,” he said, looking curiously at Hwang Si Mok.
“Is that what you and Young Hak Joo were working on?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“No, Young Hak Joo was working in a different department.”
“Which department was that?”
“Missile development. He was a rocket engineer.”
Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok looked at each other, their somber expressions confirming that they are both thinking along the same lines. All they knew about Young Hak Joo prior to today was that he was a scientist and a physicist; but the confirmation that he was a rocket engineer, with a specialty in missile technology, allude to a more sinister, and dangerous, reason behind his mysterious disappearance.
Hwang Si Mok nodded subtly at Superintendent Han, silently concurring for her to lead the questioning, as Song Gang Doo seem to respond more positively towards her than he does with the other two prosecutors.
“Dr. Song, can you tell me what Young Hak Joo was working on?” Han Yeo Jin asked.
Song Gang Doo’s demeanor instantly changed upon hearing her question. He grew agitated, shaking his head jerkily, his eyes nervously flitting around the café as if trying to find an exit.
“No, no, no I can’t tell you that. You have no clearance. It’s against the rules. I’ll get in trouble. No, no, no…”
Han Yeo Jin instantly realized her error, and remembered that some people with Song Gang Doo’s condition sometimes possess an almost obsessive need to follow rules and order, and may react negatively when challenged. She pivoted, and attempted to calm the distraught physicist.
“It’s alright, you don’t have to tell me, I don’t want you to break the rules either. We can talk about something else,” said Han Yeo Jin softly, and gently patted his hand. The physical contact had somewhat calmed the physicist, and he finally nodded at her, his eyes remaining wary.
“Can we talk about your relationship with Young Hak Joo instead? Were the two of you close?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“Yes, we were very close,” Song Gang Doo said eagerly, warming to the topic. “He was my best friend,” he said proudly, then suddenly grew subdued, his expression turning sad. “My only friend, actually.”
“I don’t make friends easily, because of the way I am,” Song Gang Doo continued. “People think I’m rude, and strange and not very pleasant to be with because I never know what to say or how to act around others. In my head, I always think that what I was doing or saying was right, but it comes out very poorly, and people get angry. I know they call me names behind my back; weirdo, freak, praying mantis.”
Seo Dong Jae, who had increasingly grown sorrier for the physicist during his recitation, frowned in confusion at the last insult. “Praying mantis?” he asked.
“Because I’m tall and skinny and have huge eyes,” Song Gang Doo explained. “That one hurt my feelings a bit.”
Seo Dong Jae looked at the physicist, and admitted that his bony structure and eyes made even bigger by the thick glasses he wore does give him a passing resemblance to the insect. “I don’t see it,” he lied. He turned to look at Han Yeo Jin, whose expression had predictably softened with kind sympathy, no doubt caused by her innate compassion, and likely because the man sitting across from her reminded her of the man sitting beside her, who at the moment was sitting in stony silence, his face betraying no emotions.
“But Young Hak Joo was different. He was always kind to me, and befriended me when no one else would. He understood that I couldn’t help the way that I am, and accepted me, quirks and all,” said Song Gang Doo. “We shared a lot of interests too, like sci fi movies and books, and we used to have a lot of fun talking about them. We even have nicknames for each other; I was Spock and he was Kirk, and we would call each other that in private.”
Han Yeo Jin nodded knowingly, while the two prosecutors frowned in confusion. “It’s from Star Trek. Kirk was the Captain and Spock was the Vulcan science officer,” she explained, and was met only with blank looks from the two.
“Never mind,” she sighed, and turned to Song Gang Doo to ask another question. “Did you know his daughter too?”
“Yes, Jin Heo. She was my goddaughter,” Song Gang Doo said sadly. “I was so proud when Young Hak Joo made me her godfather. She was the most beautiful little girl, just like her mom. Her mom died too, giving birth to her.” He reached into his jacket pocket and took out his wallet, and removed an old picture within its folds.
“That’s Young Hak Joo, and his daughter, Jin Heo,” he said, handing the three of them the photo. “That was taken a few months before they…you know,” Song Gang Doo said tremulously, unable to finish his sentence.
Han Yeo Jin saw a smiling man in his late thirties, holding a cute, beaming toddler in his arms. She looked intently at the photo, as if to find any clues there that would help them discover their fate. Where did you go? Did you defect to the North with your daughter? Or did something else happened to you? But the photo yielded no answers to her questions, and she asked Song Gang Doo instead if they can make a copy of it.
“You can keep that, I have the negatives,” said the physicist.
Han Yeo Jin thanked him, and resumed her questioning. “Did you notice anything unusual on the days leading up to their disappearance? Any changes in Young Hak Joo’s behavior, his routine, or anything out of the ordinary?” she asked.
“No, nothing that immediately stood out,” Song Gang Doo replied. He paused, and added, “but I remember that he took a day off work before their annual trip to Bangnyeong Island. He said it was for a doctor’s appointment, and I remember that he seemed a bit down when he came back to work. He was quieter, and a bit distracted.”
“Did he tell you why?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
Song Gang Doo shook his head. “No, I sent him a coded email asking him if he was okay. Young Hak Joo and I created a code to encrypt our messages to each other so that no one but us could read them,” he explained, “but he didn’t even reply to it.”
Han Yeo Jin nodded, and stared intently at the physicist. She expected that her next question might upset him, but knew that it needed to be asked.
“Dr. Song, you haven’t asked us why we’re asking questions about Young Hak Joo and his daughter, and I find that rather interesting. After all, the case was closed twenty years ago and they were pronounced dead due to accidental drowning,” said Han Yeo Jin. “Why is that?”
Song Gang Doo suddenly began fidgeting in his seat, his eyes blinking rapidly behind his thick glasses, and nervous sweat ran down his face at Han Yeo Jin’s close scrutiny.
“I don’t know…maybe you found new information about their disappearance?” Song Gang Doo said uneasily. “I was told to come here to talk to you, so I did. I only did as I was told!” he said, defensive now.
“Do you believe your friend and your goddaughter are still alive?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
Young Hak Joo did not answer straightaway, and bowed his head in contemplation instead. When he did raise his eyes to look at Han Yeo Jin, she immediately recognized the truth in his response.
“The facts seem to suggest that it is unlikely, given the length of time that had passed,” said Song Gang Doo bluntly. “But, I do know that Young Hak Joo was an experienced seaman, and he knew the land and waters around the island because he served there during his mandatory military service. He never would have gone out with his precious daughter if he knew the seas were rough that day. He never would have put her in jeopardy like that.”
“Do you think it’s possible that Young Hak Joo may have fled the country?” asked Hwang Si Mok.
Song Gang Doo looked at Hwang Si Mok in astonishment, startled at the question. “Fled to where?”
Hwang Si Mok saw something flicker in the physicist’s eyes, and it took him a moment to recognize what it was. Fear, mixed with something that he could only characterize as hope, mingled in Song Gang Doo’s expression. He found the physicist’s contradicting emotions interesting, and he thought he might know why. Fear, because he also suspects that they may have gone to the North, and is afraid that his friend will be branded as a traitor. And hope, because traitor or not, at least his friend and goddaughter may still be alive.
“Hyung would never do such a thing, and especially not with his daughter!” said Song Gang Doo vehemently. “He would never go to the North voluntarily.”
Hwang Si Mok looked intently at Song Gang Doo, then nodded, accepting his response.
“Is there anything else you haven’t told us that might be pertinent to our investigation?” Han Yeo Jin asked.
“No,” Song Gang Doo said quickly, swallowing nervously and unable to meet her eyes.
It doesn’t take a detective to know that Song Gang Doo was lying, but Han Yeo Jin knew that it will be unwise to press him now, as he might react unpredictably if forced. Besides, she thought, they may need to question him again, and it won’t do to antagonize him now if they need him to cooperate later. She took out her card instead, and gave it to the physicist.
“Please call me if you think of anything else, Dr. Song,” said Han Yeo Jin, handing him her card.
Song Gang Doo looked at the card, then nodded. “I will, Superintendent Han.”
Song Gang Doo watched as the two prosecutors and policewoman depart. He gave a huge sigh of relief, immensely glad that the interview is over. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his face and neck, and hoped that they did not notice the copious amount of sweat dripping from his person when he was forced to utter a lie. Song Gang Doo hates lying; not because of any moral or ethical reasons, but because his biological make up recoils at the very thought of it, that the act made him physically ill. It is the same reason why he is incapable of speaking other than in the unfiltered candidness and brutally honest manner that characterized his condition. He took deep breaths, battling against the nausea, and reassured himself that they seemed to have bought his lie. He opened his eyes when the sickening feeling had faded, and glanced around the café nervously before taking out his cellphone.
He navigated to his email app, and opened a hidden folder that contained only one email message. The email, which only showed incomprehensible characters and symbols that are unreadable to the untrained eye. The email that had given him both terror and hope, and had concealed from the very nice and very pretty Superintendent Han when she asked him her last question. He read the decoded and unfinished message, and felt the same confusion and fear engulf him now as it did a month ago, when he received it.
Help Pyo Yong Ae. Do not trust H--
“So, Song Gang Doo is definitely hiding something.”
Hwang Si Mok nodded at Superintendent Han’s statement. They stood in the parking lot near the café, discussing their interview with the physicist. Song Gang Doo was so obviously untrained and uncomfortable with lying that he almost felt sorry for the ordeal they were putting him through.
“Yeah, for a second there I thought he was about to be sick,” chuckled Seo Dong Jae. “What a strange man.”
“We’ll give him a few days, then we’ll need to interview him again,” said Hwang Si Mok, and turned to Superintendent Han. “He seemed to be more comfortable with you, so I think its best if you’re the one to talk to him.”
“It’s because he likes Han Yeo Jin,” said Seo Dong in amusement. He paused thoughtfully, and turned to Han Yeo Jin curiously. “How come you always attract weirdos and psychopaths?”
“What?!” Han Yeo Jin said indignantly.
“Well, there’s Song Gang Doo, and there was Seo Tae Gu and also…” Seo Dong Jae stopped abruptly, his eyes darting quickly to the third man on his list. He glanced at Han Yeo Jin, and recoiled at the furious gaze she leveled at him. “Nothing…never mind,” he quickly stammered, and took a few steps away from Han Yeo Jin, placing Hwang Si Mok between him and her, and out of punching range.
“I think we need to go to Jun Ji An’s apartment, see what we can find there,” said Hwang Si Mok.
Han Yeo Jin looked at Prosecutor Hwang, worried that he might have caught Seo Dong Jae’s veiled and inappropriate reference. But the man seemed to be oblivious to the awkward exchange, and she quickly agreed to his suggestion, while throwing a warning look at the mustachioed moron.
“I think that’s a good idea,” said Han Yeo Jin. “Let’s go.”
Agent Yu watched the two prosecutors and policewoman confer with each other at the parking lot near the café where they had the interview with Song Gang Doo. He was sitting inside his SUV, undetected, giving an update over the phone to his boss.
“They just finished the meeting with Dr. Song. I was unable to get any closer to hear what they spoke with him about because I couldn’t risk being recognized,” said Agent Yu.
On the other end, Percival gripped his phone tighter, both angry and afraid at this latest development.
“They’re leaving, sir,” said Agent Yu. “Should I follow them?”
“No,” said Percival. “Follow the doctor instead.”
Lancelot took out his ringing phone out of his coat pocket. He saw who was calling, and immediately ducked into an empty room to answer the call.
“We have a problem,” Lancelot heard Percival say as soon as he picked up.
“What happened?” Lancelot asked.
“The prosecution and the police just interviewed Song Gang Doo,” said Percival. “What if they know about Young Hak Joo?”
Lancelot heard the panic in Percival’s voice, and endeavored to keep the dread he felt from his own voice to calm the other man down.
“If they knew already, then the Police and the NIS would’ve taken us by now.”
“But they’re on the right track! Song Gang Doo is the only connection left with Young Hak Joo and they interviewed him! Even if they don’t know yet, it may only be a matter of time!”
“Calm yourself Percival,” Lancelot sternly rebuked the other man. He heard Percival’s ragged breathing over the phone, and sneered contemptuously at the show of weakness.
“Did Agent Yu hear what they discussed?” asked Lancelot, keeping his tone calm and measured for Percival’s benefit.
“No, he couldn’t risk being seen. I ordered him to follow the doctor after the meeting,” said Percival, his voice calmer now.
“Good,” said Lancelot. “I assume you know what to do with the good doctor?”
“Yes, I’ll take care of it” said Percival, confident now. “What about the police and prosecution investigation?”
“I have a plan,” said Lancelot. “I think it’s about time we apply pressure on everyone, and get the public working for us.”
“What about the other knights? Should we tell them?”
“No,” said Lancelot commandingly. “I don’t think Galahad and Gawain will appreciate this course of action.”
“What are you going to do?”
Lancelot smiled. “Turn on the evening news, my friend. And you’ll see.”
Hwang Si Mok and Han Yeo Jin arrived at Jun Ji An’s apartment building. The two of them had decided to begin looking into their murder victim’s background, while Seo Dong Jae remain at the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office.
“Looks like the NIS are also here to go over her apartment” said Hwang Si Mok spying a dozen or so agents working the crime scene.
The two of them approached the area cordoned off by NIS tape, and was stopped by a stoned faced Agent Ri, who intercepted them before they can enter the area. Han Yeo Jin frowned at him, knowing that the agent is fully aware of who she is and why they were there.
“Prosecutor Hwang and I are here to walk the crime scene,” Han Yeo Jin told Agent Ri.
“I’m sorry Superintendent Han, but our agents are already working the scene. And you and Prosecutor Hwang have not been given authority to enter.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Han Yeo Jin indignantly. “You know full well that this case was handed back to the police and prosecution. That’s our murder victim’s apartment and therefore we have full authority to examine it.”
“I was given orders not to let anyone but the NIS enter.”
“Orders from whom? Deputy Director Lee?” asked Han Yeo Jin, her voice raised and her hands curling into fists in her anger. “Last time I checked, a Deputy Director doesn’t outrank the head of the NIS, who gave us full authority over this case!”
The other agents in the area had paused in their work to watch the confrontation. Agent Ri’s eyes momentarily flickered in uncertainty, but remained firmly standing his ground.
“Be careful, Agent Ri, or we’re going to start thinking that you and Deputy Director Lee have something to hide,” said Han Yeo Jin heatedly. “Otherwise, I can’t think of a reason why you would defy your Director’s orders.”
Agent Ri’s face reddened at Han Yeo Jin’s words. “What are you insinuating, Superintendent Han?”
“I’m not insinuating anymore,” said Han Yeo Jin, stepping closer to the agent that they stood almost toe-to-toe. “Your Deputy Director keeps putting obstacles in our investigation. I thought at first it’s just the typical dick-swinging over jurisdiction, but now I’m wondering if it’s because he’s afraid that we might find something that he doesn’t want found.”
“You’re out of line, Superintendent Han,” said Agent Ri, his former stony façade now broken with his own anger.
“Is she? We’re not the ones here committing insubordination,” said Hwang Si Mok, and match Agent Ri’s angry look with his own stoic one. He placed a calming hand on the Superintendent’s arm, as he recognized that Agent Ri will not wield his ground, and he knew that Superintendent Han was on the brink of completely losing her temper. He felt her fist slightly unclench at his touch, and watched as she took a step back and then wordlessly walked away, her anger still apparent in her brisk stride.
“We’ll be back,” Hwang Si Mok told Agent Ri, and followed the superintendent.
Hwang Si Mok watched as Superintendent Han furiously stabbed at the bowl of noodles in front of her, muttering angry words under her breath as she continued to attack her food with her chopsticks. He saw the owner of the pop up bar turned away from the TV at the counter to look concernedly at the superintendent, and thought that he should distract her before she broke the bowl with her incessant assault. He poured her a shot of soju, and then tentatively slid it on the table towards her.
Han Yeo Jin’s livid cursing of Deputy Director Lee and Agent Ri was momentarily distracted when she saw a glass of soju suddenly appear before her. She looked up, and saw Prosecutor Hwang pushing the glass towards her warily, like a man carefully approaching a ticking time bomb that was set to blow at any moment. She sighed wearily and took the offering, and downed the shot with one swallow.
“Sorry,” said Han Yeo Jin, her eyes downcast.
“For losing control,” said Han Yeo Jin. “With Agent Ri this afternoon. And right now, with this bowl of noodles.”
“I thought you handled yourself very well with Agent Ri,” assured Hwang Si Mok. “Your anger was very much justified, and you could have done more than hit him with just your words, but instead you’ve done something better.”
“What’s that?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“Made him afraid,” said Hwang Si Mok. “You made him realize that he and his Deputy Director may have overplayed their hands. And their persistence to hinder our investigation only accomplished what they may have been trying to avoid in the first place; that the police and prosecution will suspect that the NIS is hiding something relating to Jun Ji An.”
Han Yeo Jin paused, a thought occurring to her. “You know, according to Deputy Director Lee, it was actually Agent Ri who claimed to have seen Jun Ji An’s car fleeing that night. He was the one who ran after the suspect into the woods, and the only one who saw the car as it drove away. It was his eyewitness report that tied Jun Ji An to the safehouse incident.”
“Do you think he was telling the truth about what he saw that night?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Han Yeo Jin. “If he lied about it, then I could think of only one reason why he would do that.”
“To point the finger at Jun Ji An,” said Hwang Si Mok. “If she really was a northern agent, then she would be a convenient and believable suspect to pin the crimes on. If he lied about seeing her car that night, then it is because they want to turn her into a scapegoat; either to make it seem as if the NIS had solved the case, or to conceal the real identities of the people responsible.”
Han Yeo Jin nodded. “We still haven’t found proof that she was working for the North. But if I was being honest, I would consider the possibility more than likely, from what we have seen so far,” she said. “Anyway, I would need to escalate this matter to Director No. They can’t ban us from our crime scene.”
“I won’t be surprised if the crime scene becomes available to us as early as tomorrow. I’m almost certain that Deputy Director Lee acted against the orders of his boss, who gave us authority on the case over his objections.”
“Deputy Director Lee,” sneered Han Yeo Jin, her eyes narrowing. “Did you know he used to be police?”
Hwang Si Mok cocked his head curiously. “No, I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah,” said Han Yeo Jin. “He resigned, and there was controversy surrounding his departure. He was investigated for bribery and corruption, but no charges were brought against him. He left instead, and ended up joining the NIS after.”
Hwang Si Mok contemplated this, and filed the information for later consideration. “What did you think about Dr. Song’s interview?” he asked, pivoting the discussion.
“I thought it was enlightening,” said Han Yeo Jin. “I’ve wondered what’s so important about Young Hak Joo, and why the secret about him might have been worth killing Kim Ji Hyun over. Now we know,” said Han Yeo Jin, looking at Prosecutor Hwang. “And you’re thinking the same thing too.”
“He was a missile technology expert,” said Hwang Si Mok. “If Young Hak Joo did not, in fact, die twenty years ago as officially reported, but had instead ended up in the North somehow, working for the dreaded DPRK weapons program, then the implications could be staggering.”
Han Yeo Jin nodded. “A scientist, born, bred and trained in the South, helping the enemy develop the very same weapons that could wipe our country off the map. It may explain why Kim Ji Hyun told the ambassador that she knew a secret that both nations would not want disclosed,” she said. “Imagine how the people would react if they found out. They’ll be outraged that our government had allowed this to happen, and the enmity towards the North will worsen.”
“We need to review the investigation about Young Hak Joo and his daughter’s disappearance, see if we can find something there. I’m sure the paperwork is at the Prosecution’s archives.”
“I’ll do the same with the Police records too, and get the NI HQ team to retrieve it.”
“National Investigation?” asked Hwang Si Mok, diverted by this information. “Not Yongsan? Are you with NI HQ now?”
“Just for this case,” said Han Yeo Jin, “Director No temporarily assigned me there.” She hesitated, debating whether to mention the job offer. She decided to tell him; not just because she had missed being able to confide in him, but to also see his reaction at the prospect of working closely with her for the foreseeable future, if she does decide to take the job.
“Director No offered me a position with National Investigation,” she said tentatively. “I’ll have a team of my own, and I’ll be overseeing them.” Han Yeo Jin looked at Prosecutor Hwang, her searching eyes fixed intently on his face, waiting tensely for his reaction. She saw his eyes flicker with something that she could not identify, before his expression quickly reverted to the usual impassiveness that she had grown to love, and hate, at the same time.
“Are you going to accept it?”
“I don’t know yet.”
Han Yeo Jin sighed, suddenly exhausted. She looked at him fully, letting the mask of detachment that she had been wearing ever since she saw him again fall off completely, too weary with constantly disguising what she truly felt.
“You know why,” she said softly, and let the chips fall where they may. She wasn’t sure what reaction she would get from Hwang Si Mok, but she thought that anything would have been better than the emptiness she saw in his face, and the silence that rang painfully between them after her pronouncement. She saw his eyes suddenly flicker to look at something behind her, and sudden anger filled her at the thought that she was being dismissed; until she heard what had distracted him, and she pivoted around quickly to also look at the small tv behind her, and the news coverage that was playing on it.
“Ahjumma, can you turn the volume up, please?” Han Yeo Jin urgently asked the owner of the pop-up bar, as she and Prosecutor Hwang watched in astonishment.
“…unconfirmed reports that the body of a murder victim found earlier this week at Yongsan was that of a suspected North Korean spy, and that the victim was one of the perpetrators in the attempted murder of famed cellist Kim Ji Hyun, as well as the assault on Ambassador Song Hye Jun. The unnamed source claimed that a dark blue car was seen fleeing the NIS safehouse where Kim Ji Hyun was staying shortly after the attack. The car was said to belong to the unknown murder victim, who was killed days after the incident at the NIS safehouse. No word from the NIS or the Police as to the identity of the murder victim, or their ties to the DPRK, as well as the identities of the murder suspects…”
“I knew it was those damn North Koreans!”
“The Blue House better do something this time! We can’t let them get away with this!”
Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok watched as the other patrons of the pop up bar all joined in a chorus of outrage upon hearing the sensational piece of breaking news. The place was suddenly awash with lively conversation and energetic debate, with one common theme apparent among the raised voices; that the North is to blame, and that swift and painful retribution must be had. Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok stared at each other, their expressions anxious at what was clearly an unauthorized leak on their case, which had now been broadcasted for the whole country to hear. Han Yeo Jin’s cellphone buzzed, signaling an incoming call, and she answered quickly when she saw it was her director.
“Yes sir, I’m watching the news too,” said Han Yeo Jin in response to Director No’s question. “I’m with him,” she said, looking at Prosecutor Hwang, “we’re coming now.”
Hwang Si Mok felt his phone vibrate with an incoming message just as Superintendent Han finished her call. He read the message from Chief Oh and looked at the superintendent.
“We’ve been summoned…” said Han Yeo Jin.
“I know, to the NIS,” said Hwang Si Mok, already up and running to his car, with the superintendent swiftly following.
“Who do you think leaked it?” asked Han Yeo Jin as soon as she was buckled in.
“I don’t know,” said Hwang Si Mok, rapidly maneuvering his car into traffic. “Perhaps the better question is why they leaked the information.”
“Did you see how the people reacted?” asked Han Yeo Jin, her brows furrowed in worry. “I imagine the response will be the same throughout the country. There will be protests in the streets, all railing against the North. And the DPRK will react as they always have when they feel they are being attacked by the South; with a disproportionate response, and take things a step too far.”
“Perhaps that was the intention,” said Hwang Si Mok. “Perhaps whoever leaked it wanted the people to think that the North was to blame.”
“Then they are playing a very dangerous game,” Han Yeo Jin said grimly. “What could be gained by pitting our two countries against each other?”
Hwang Si Mok thought about what the superintendent said. He knew that the stakes have now been raised, and all the warnings they have heard before about their case creating conflict with the North have now become a real danger, when before it was only a dreaded possibility. He looked at the superintendent beside him, and her anxious visage indicated that she was thinking along the same lines as he was. But despite the impending catastrophe they might be facing, his mind could not help but wander back to the earlier conversation he had with her. At that moment when he was on the brink of telling her what he had struggled with for the past few months, but was hindered with articulating it by his cursed affliction, and then distracted by the real world upheaval that had suddenly befallen them.
He knew that now is not the time to confront it, as both their time and energies must now be dedicated fully on their investigation. But just like their case, Hwang Si Mok knew that the stakes in his personal life have never been higher. And just like their case, he knew that he cannot afford to make any mistakes. As with the fate of their country may now be on the line, so too is his heart, and any hopes he may have of a life worth living.
Hwang Si Mok and Han Yeo Jin was escorted by Agent Ju to Director Cho’s office at the NIS. The sounds of raised voices can be heard as they neared the room. They looked at each other, bracing themselves, as Agent Ju opened the door, and they entered at the sight of five men all trying to speak over one another. Director Cho, Deputy Director Lee, Director No, Deputy Prosecutor General Oh and Assemblyman Park Kang Ho were all in the room, with the assemblyman shouting the loudest over the others.
“Why was I not informed about this North Korean spy!” shouted Assemblyman Park. “I am the Chairman of the National Assembly Intelligence Committee and this should have been reported to my office, and instead I had to hear it on the evening news along with everyone else!”
“All we have our circumstantial evidence,” argued Director Cho. “We did not inform your office because we cannot make any allegations to that effect without any solid proof! We could not risk any possibility of that information leaking because it could pose a danger with our relationship with the DPRK.”
“But it leaked anyway!” countered the assemblyman. “How are you going to explain that?”
“I’ve said all along that we should not have involved the Police and the Prosecution in this investigation,” said Deputy Director Lee, throwing both Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok a dirty look. “If this was contained within the NIS then the leak wouldn’t have happened.”
The statement immediately prompted vehement objections on Director No and Chief Oh’s part, both arguing that there is no proof that the leak came from the police and prosecution.
“You can’t be sure that the leak came from us!” shouted Director No.
“You cannot accuse us without evidence!” added Chief Oh.
“The leak did not come from the police or prosecution, that is a fact.”
All eyes turned to Hwang Si Mok at his absolute statement. He saw the assemblyman looking him over curiously, while Deputy Director Lee regarded him with sneering skepticism.
“And what makes you so certain of that?” asked Director Cho.
“Because of what was said on the news,” said Han Yeo Jin, as all eyes now pivoted to her. “You’ve all seen it; they specifically mentioned a blue car. That information was never shared to the police and prosecution, and we have no knowledge of what else happened that night save for what I saw in Kim Ji Hyun’s room.” Han Yeo Jin turned to Deputy Director Lee, her eyes steely and her tone ruthless. “We knew none of this because as you recall, Deputy Director Lee, you shut us out of the NIS investigation, and refused to share any details with us, and even went so far as to ban us from the murder victim’s home to complete our investigation.”
“In short, only the NIS knew about the blue car,” said Hwang Si Mok, and went in for the kill. “Therefore, the leak could have only come from one place.”
Both Director Cho and Deputy Director Lee was silent after hearing the condemning evidence that clearly pointed to the NIS as the source of the leak. Hwang Si Mok watched as Deputy Director Lee looked at his boss, his face red in either anger or humiliation, or both, at what was clearly an embarrassing and unacceptable lapse in the NIS’ security. This prompted a laugh from Assemblyman Park, the sound humorless and almost cruel, and laced in disbelief at the NIS’ blunder.
“Well that’s rich! Accusing the police and prosecution when in fact the leak came from your own house!” said the assemblyman, addressing Director Cho and Deputy Director Lee. “The NIS have certainly fallen in standards since last I was here. This was not the way I ran things when I was chief!”
Hwang Si Mok suddenly remembered that the assemblyman was the NIS Director years ago. He watched as Director Cho stiffened at the scathing comment, and addressed Assemblyman Park in a voice rigid with anger.
“You can rest assure, Assemblyman Park, that I will find who was responsible for this, and make it clear to them what the consequences are for this betrayal,” said Director Cho, his ominous look directed at the assemblyman.
Everyone was silent as they watched the tense exchange between the two. The assemblyman scoffed.
“Well, it’s a little too late for that! The cat is out of the bag, and the people are already up in arms demanding revenge against the North for what was done to Kim Ji Hyun and the ambassador. You see it now on the internet and social media, and not just in Korea, but the entire world; everyone is angry, and there are protests already being organized throughout the country! The people don’t want to see another one of the Blue House’s ‘sunshine policy’ responses this time,” said Assemblyman Park, shaking his head. “No, the people want blood; so, the NIS and the President better have a plan to handle the fallout from this. The DPRK had already refused the Blue House’s request for any forms of dialogue, and god only knows how they will choose to escalate this time.”
His speech was met with silence from all the people present in the room, as all contemplated the uncomfortable truth of his words. Han Yeo Jin thought that Assemblyman Park made a good show of anger and outrage at this turn of events. But she did not fail to notice the relish in the assemblyman’s tone when he had made his impassioned speech; after all, the events of tonight were a windfall to his presidential campaign, as it had been him who had made the North the villain in the Kim Ji Hyun saga right from the start. The leak was as good for him as it was bad for the current President, and she is certain that the assemblyman will milk this disaster of all the votes it could get him for the upcoming elections.
“I have to leave,” said the assemblyman abruptly. “There is an emergency session at the National Assembly early tomorrow morning regarding this matter. And don’t be surprised if the NIS is summoned to answer questions from the committee,” he said grimly, and left.
“We’ll take our leave as well, but before we go,” said Director No, his gaze directed at Director Cho and Deputy Director Lee, “I want the NIS to stop impeding access to Jun Ji An’s apartment. Superintendent Han and Prosecutor Hwang will return to the crime scene tomorrow, and we expect full cooperation from the NIS.”
Director Cho leveled a hard look at his deputy director, who had the grace to avoid his stare, confirming to Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok that his junior acted against his orders.
“You’ll have it, Director No,” said the NIS Director, as the group from the police and prosecution made their departures. “Deputy Director Lee, please remain.”
Deputy Director Lee dutifully stayed behind as the police and prosecution left. His chief turned to him, his eyes blazing with anger, and asked him a question as soon as the doors shut.
“Who leaked it?” Director Cho asked harshly.
“I don’t know yet, sir. But we will find them,” said Deputy Director Lee, his own anger barely contained in his voice.
“Look at that hypocrite,” said Director Cho in disgust. He was looking out the window, at Assemblyman Park who was currently holding court with the crowd of reporters and TV cameras that were waiting in front of the NIS building, no doubt bashing the NIS and the President once again. “He acted as though he was upset about what happened, but he was barely able to contain his glee while he stood there berating us.”
“Should we issue a statement, sir?” asked Deputy Director Lee.
“Yes, we should, but after I confer with the President,” said the director. Deputy Director Lee bowed, then turned to leave, when Director Cho addressed him again.
“And Deputy Director Lee; I need you to stop antagonizing the police and prosecution,” Director Cho said firmly, directing a stern look at the other man. Deputy Director Lee clenched his fists, but did not say anything, and only acknowledged with a curt bow.
“And another thing,” the director continued. “Why did you place additional security at the hospital? I already have men assigned to guard Kim Ji Hyun.” Director Cho saw his deputy director hesitate, before responding to him.
“I felt that additional protection was warranted, because she is a high-profile target, and her assailant remained at large.” Deputy Director Lee looked at his chief, who was looking at him with an inscrutable expression, and saw him finally nod at his explanation.
“Very well, Deputy Director Lee. You may go.”
Deputy Director Lee bowed again, and left the room. He saw Agent Ri dutifully waiting for him outside, and motioned for him to follow him to his office.
“Do you have any updates on the safehouse CCTV feed yet?” he asked the agent as soon as his office doors were closed.
“No, sir,” said Agent Ri. “It’s still with the techs at video forensics. They’re still analyzing it.”
“What’s taking them so long?” said Deputy Director Lee, annoyed at the delay.
“I don’t know sir,” said Agent Ri, and hesitated. “The technician assigned to analyze the feed didn’t want to give me an update. He said that he was ordered by the director to only report the progress to him, and no one else.”
“What?!” barked the deputy director angrily. He banged his fist at the desk, then turned to Agent Ri, his voice shaking in both fury, and fear, at this development.
“You need to intercept whatever information that tech has before it goes to the director,” he told Agent Ri gravely. “It is imperative that we get that information first before anyone else does. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir, I understand,” said Agent Ri determinedly.
Deputy Director Lee stared out the window in his office as the younger agent left, his mind deeply disturbed at the events that are currently unfolding. He took out his phone, and debated whether the time has come to speak to him.
Not yet, he thought, replacing the phone in his jacket pocket. But soon.
“What are we doing here?” asked Seo Sang Won, gazing apprehensively around him.
“Beats me. I know as much as you,” said Jang Geon. “Captain?” he asked, turning to his team leader.
“All I know is that the chief asked us to report here. I got nothing else,” said Captain Choi.
The three of them currently sat waiting in what looked to be the interrogation room at the National Investigations Headquarters. The vague orders, and the fact that the three of them were placed in such a room, compounded their unease, and they almost jumped when the doors finally opened to admit Director No.
“Gentlemen,” began Director No, smiling in welcome. “I apologize for keeping you waiting, and for making you wait here,” he said, gazing around the room. “We’re still in the process of moving into our offices so there’s not a lot of empty rooms for use. You must be wondering why you’re all here.”
“Yes, sir,” said Captain Choi hesitantly. “Our chief didn’t give us a lot of information.”
Director No nodded. “You’re here because the three of you are being dispatched to work for NI HQ for the Jun Ji An investigation. Come meet your new team.”
The three men looked at each other in disbelief, and upon the realization that they will be working for the new and elite unit, gazed at each other in excitement. But they barely had time to process the delightful news as they hastened to follow Director No, to where their new team awaits.
Han Yeo Jin stood in front of the National Investigations HQ, and stared at the large wooden plaque at the entrance doors, proclaiming the name of the new police entity. This could be my new office, she thought, her pulse suddenly quickening, and she realized that the idea of working for NI HQ both excited and thrilled her. The prospect of working there permanently was more tantalizing than she cared to admit, and if she was being honest with herself, she knew that she would have jumped at the opportunity presented by Director No, if her circumstances were different.
“That’s a nice plaque.”
Han Yeo Jin gave a little jump, startled out of her reverie by a deep voice behind her. She turned around, and saw Prosecutor Hwang standing there, staring at her.
“God, you’re like a cat. Don’t sneak up on me like that,” Han Yeo Jin said, her hand in her heart.
“Sorry,” said Hwang Si Mok, looking at the superintendent intently. She had been so lost in her own thoughts that she did not even notice his approach, or the fact that he had been watching her for several minutes as she stood in front of the building, a wistful expression on her face.
“Isn’t Seo Dong Jae with you?” Han Yeo Jin asked, just as the man appeared, running through the parking lot towards them.
“There you are,” said Han Yeo Jin. “Still got the mustache, I see.”
“Will you stop it already?” said Seo Dong Jae exasperatedly, patting the facial hair. “And I don’t care what you say. My wife likes it.”
“Does she though?” Han Yeo Jin asked skeptically, smiling condescendingly at him.
Seo Dong Jae glared at her, then looked at the NI HQ building. “Is this where you’re working now?” he asked, then brightened suddenly. “Wait. If you’re with National investigations, then that means we could be working cases together in the future!” he said, smiling eagerly at her.
Han Yeo Jin turned away, suddenly uncomfortable. “It’s just for this case for now. It’s only temporary,” she said. “Anyway, we should head up and meet the team.” Seo Dong Jae noticed her unease, curious as to the cause of her sudden awkwardness. He turned to Hwang Si Mok, and found it curiouser the way the other man was studying her intently, his brows furrowed in a deep frown. He chose to let it go for now, and silently followed both into the building.
Han Yeo Jin opened the double doors that led into a large office, the space filled with cubicles at the center of the room and an array of large monitors mounted on the wall. She looked appreciatively at the brand new computers and state-of-the-art equipment, impressed with what she saw.
“Well, this is certainly an improvement over Yongsan precinct,” said Seo Dong Jae, admiring the set-up.
“I don’t know, it’s all very nice and fancy, but Yongsan has its charms too,” said Han Yeo Jin, suddenly missing the whiteboard at her old precinct, as she spied its electronic counterpart tucked away in the corner.
“Oh good, you’re here,” said Director No, noticing their arrival, and addressed the group of six people huddled together. “Everyone, meet your new team leader, Superintendent Han Yeo Jin. She will be overseeing this case and leading the investigation. With her are Prosecutor Seo Dong Jae and Prosecutor Hwang Si Mok from the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecution will be working alongside with the police on this case.”
Han Yeo Jin smiled at the group, and her smile widened when she saw her three Yongsan detectives, all beaming widely at her, and looking very excited. She saw too Detective Choi Kang Il, her former colleague at the Intelligence Division and whom she used to refer to as Prick 1, the nickname she bestowed on him in her head because he was a massive prick to her, until recently when he unexpectedly gave her a full apology for his behavior. He bowed to her, and she returned his tentative smile, letting bygones be bygones, and turned to the two new members of her team.
“You already know the Yongsan squad and Detective Choi. Let me introduce Lieutenant Na So Yeon, the IT expert on the team, and Lieutenant Go Chang Sik, our field investigator and researcher.”
The two bowed deeply, wide smiles set firmly in their eager, young faces. Very young, thought Han Yeo Jin, and wondered if the director plucked them straight after graduating from the academy. Lt. Na looked like she could still be in high school, and Lt. Go did not look that much older either. She felt her heart suddenly clench, and realized that the youthful and enthusiastic Lt. Go reminded her of Soon Chang, a fellow police officer who tragically lost his life in the line of duty during their last case. Han Yeo Jin thought that he would have also been a perfect addition to her team, and how he would have loved working with the gadgets and new tech that NI HQ has to offer. She sighed, and shook herself out of the gloomy thought as Director No approached her.
“I know what you’re thinking, they’re very young,” smiled Director No. “But they are extremely capable. Lt. Na is a computer genius, and graduated top of her class at the academy. And Lt. Go can track and find anything using all the tools you see here. Detective Choi is an outstanding investigator, and very eager to prove himself to you. And of course, you already know what the Yongsan squad is capable of. You have an excellent team here.”
“Thank you, sir,” Han Yeo Jin said sincerely. “And thank you for getting the Yongsan squad to work on this case with us.”
“I had to give the Yongsan station chief five officers in return for those three,” said Director No, shaking his head. “He kept complaining about being short staffed. Anyway, I’ll leave you to take over from here. I have to go to a meeting with Chief Oh.”
“Where’s the meeting, sir?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“The Blue House,” Director No said grimly, addressing the three of them. “We have to brief the President and his staff about the case, after the leak yesterday. They’re on full damage control now, and working hard to de-escalate tensions with the DPRK.”
“I saw that the NIS issued a statement this morning, and so did the North,” said Hwang Si Mok. The NIS held a press conference addressing the news that broke out the night before, emphasizing that no conclusive evidence has been found proving that Jun Ji An was a northern spy, and calling for the public and press to stop spreading any unfounded speculations to that effect, and exercise restraint. As expected, the DPRK government had also issued a statement denouncing the accusations of the attempted assassination of Kim Ji Hyun, and issued a dire warning of ‘calamitous consequences, should the South continue spewing abominable lies against our great country’.
“Yes, and a fat lot of good that press conference did,” Director No said disgruntledly. “If anything, all it did was further fuel anger. Now, the people are mad at both the North and the NIS, and the Blue House by extension, because they think that they’re incompetent, and too afraid of the North to act,” he said, sighing in frustration. He turned to Han Yeo Jin. “How is Kim Ji Hyun, by the way?”
“No change, sir,” replied Han Yeo Jin. “Ambassador Song had been staying with her almost 24/7, looking after her.” She had been worried that the effort of taking care of Kim Ji Hyun might be too much for her auntie, who was still recuperating from her long illness and recent stabbing. But the ambassador could not be convinced to stay home and rest, and Han Yeo Jin was grateful when her mother volunteered to stay with the ambassador, to ensure that she was not straining herself too much.
Director No nodded. “Keep me informed if anything changes,” he told Han Yeo Jin, and left the office.
Han Yeo Jin turned to face her new team, the two prosecutors standing beside her on each side.
“Let’s get started.”
Han Yeo Jin projected Jun Ji An’s photo on the electronic whiteboard, then turned to address her team.
“Jun Ji An, our murder victim,” she began. “Her body was found last week at Yongsan, the head and hands severed, and have not been recovered to date. Our main goal, is to find her murderer.” She turned now to the big screen behind her, showing a still image of the killer from behind.
“This was taken from a CCTV of a store not too far from where her body was found. The footage showed Jun Ji An and her murderer moments before she was killed,” continued Han Yeo Jin to the rapt attention of her team. “As you can see, none of the suspect’s features are visible. There was also no physical evidence left on the scene of the crime; no DNA, no fibers, and nothing that could lead us to the identity of her killer. Whomever did this to her was a professional, and made sure that no traces were left behind.”
“If that were the case, then how do we even begin trying to find this guy?” asked Jang Geon. “Where do we start?”
“We have a lead,” said Han Yeo Jin. She looked at Prosecutor Hwang, who nodded at her supportively, and continued.
“What I am about to say next is highly classified, and must not leave this room, or disclosed and discussed with anyone not part of this team. This information has not been shared with any other law enforcement agencies, and only a limited and select group of people have been privy to it. I need each of you to understand the importance of keeping this information a secret, because any leak might endanger the life of its source, in addition to serious national security repercussions.” Han Yeo Jin looked at the somber faces of her team, who all nodded at her solemnly, silently assuring her of their commitment. She walked towards the whiteboard, and added the photos of Kim Ji Hyun and Young Hak Joo.
“Some of you already know that I assisted in the defection of Kim Ji Hyun in London, and was with her at the NIS safehouse during her attempted murder,” said Han Yeo Jin. The Yongsan detectives nodded, but the rest of her team looked astonished at this revelation, unaware that she was involved. “Prior to her assault, Kim Ji Hyun revealed to Ambassador Song that she was in possession of secret information that could be dangerous to both the North and the South. We believe it was this same information that almost got her killed.
“The information relates to a North Korean scientist,” said Han Yeo Jin, pointing to the photo of Young Hak Joo. “He disappeared with his three-year old daughter almost twenty years ago in Bangnyeong Island, and both were declared dead because their bodies were never found.”
“Wait a minute,” interrupted Captain Choi, looking highly confused. “Bangnyeong Island? But that’s…” he trailed off, his eyes widening as he realized the implications.
“Yes, Captain. Young Hak Joo was a South Korean. He disappeared and was presumed dead in the South twenty years ago, and resurfaced in the North. He worked for Hanjo Aeronautics prior to his disappearance,” said Han Yeo Jin. “As a missiles expert.”
“Holy shit,” blurted Seo Sang Won, his disturbed expression mirrored by the rest of the team upon hearing the shocking, and highly unsettling, revelation.
“I’m sure you’re all wondering what all of this has to do with Jun Ji An’s murder, and how this will help us discover the identity of her murderer,” continued Han Yeo Jin.
“I began looking into Young Hak Joo shortly after the NIS incident, and tracked down his last known address twenty years ago, in Seoul. I questioned the people in his old neighborhood hoping that some of them might remember him. As soon as I began investigating him, someone started following me. I caught the tail and managed to evade it, and followed him instead. He led me directly to Jun Ji An’s apartment, where I witnessed him breaking in into her unit. It was the same night that Prosecutor Hwang and the Yongsan squad discovered her identity and address, and went there themselves to investigate,” said Han Yeo Jin, looking at Prosecutor Hwang to continue.
“I arrived first at Jun Ji An’s home and interrupted the suspect in the middle of searching her apartment,” said Hwang Si Mok, taking over the superintendent, and replayed the events of that night to the team-- the alley chase, the shooting, their suspect’s escape and the apartment fire that followed after.
“Superintendent Han and I were able to get a good look at the shooter, and despite the mask that covered his face, we both believe that he is the same man that you see there on the CCTV image,” he said, pointing at the screen. “It appears that Jun Ji An’s killer may have gone to her apartment that night to look for something amongst her possession.”
“If our suspect followed Superintendent Han earlier that day because she was investigating Young Hak Joo, does that mean he knows about him too?” asked Detective Choi.
Han Yeo Jin nodded. “Yes. Somehow, Jun Ji An’s murder is connected to the mystery surrounding the scientist; and our suspect is the link that ties them together. That makes Young Hak Joo the only lead that could lead us to him. Therefore, we need to look into the details surrounding the disappearance of Young Hak Joo and his daughter twenty years ago, and discover the secret information about him; we do that, and we find the people involved, including our murder suspect.
“Unfortunately, Kim Ji Hyun was not able to give us any specifics, and based on her current condition, we don’t know if she’ll ever be able to,” said Han Yeo Jin, her voice cracking in emotion at the last sentence. She saw Lt. Na raised her hand tentatively, looking timidly at her. She nodded at the young officer, who swallowed nervously before speaking.
“Is our suspect…also involved in what happened with Kim Ji Hyun at the safehouse?” Lt. Na asked.
The team swiveled to look expectantly at Han Yeo Jin at this question, and she thought that Director No was right about the lieutenant being quick and intelligent, if she was able to connect the dots so swiftly.
“Yes, he is,” confirmed Han Yeo Jin. “I saw the man who tried to kill Kim Ji Hyun and the ambassador that night at the safehouse, and it was the same man I faced in that alley with Prosecutor Hwang.”
Han Yeo Jin observed her team after the revelation. She knew that none of them have ever worked on a case of this scale and importance. Not the Yongsan detectives, whose considerable years of experience were limited only to criminal cases. Not Detective Choi, who spent years tied to a desk at HQ. And not Lt. Na and Lt. Go, both of whom are fresh out of the academy. But as she gazed at their serious faces, all reflecting the same grim determination and implacable resolve in their expressions, Han Yeo Jin knew that this group of people will rise to the challenge, and will go above and beyond the call of duty if needed. She looked at Prosecutor Hwang, and she knew that he was also taking the measure of the group of people in front of them. He nodded, showing her his approval.
“Let’s begin with assignments,” said Han Yeo Jin, back to business. “Lt. Na, I need you to run a trace on the plate number of the vehicle that tailed me from Young Hak Joo’s house. I also need you to scour the database and the web for any information on Young Hak Joo. He may have changed his name when he went to the North, so use facial recognition too. Lt. Go and Detective Choi, I need you to gather all materials on the investigation on Young Hak Joo’s disappearance—police reports, witness statements, and physical evidence. The case is twenty years old so some of them might be difficult to trace,” said Han Yeo Jin, then turned to the Yongsan squad.
“I need the three of you to gather information on Jun Ji An’s background; interview any family, friends and close acquaintances. I need you to also do the same on Young Hak Joo, but quietly; we don’t want to advertise that we are investigating him,” she ordered. “Prosecutor Seo is already looking into the Hanjo connection, so leave that with him for now.”
“Hanjo?” Captain Cho asked interestedly.
“Yes. Young Hak Joo used to work there, and we found a former colleague of his who knew him very well,” said Seo Dong Jae. “Han Yeo Jin, Hwang Si Mok and I already talked to him, but we think he may know more about his disappearance. We’re working on him, but he’s a bit…delicate, so we must be careful,” he finished.
“Prosecutor Hwang and I will go to Jun Ji An’s apartment today, see if we can find any clues there,” said Han Yeo Jin. She watched as her team leapt into action to do their assignments, as Jang Geon approached her and Prosecutor Hwang.
“Well, we’re definitely not in Yongsan anymore,” he told her, as both watched Captain Choi try to write on the smart whiteboard to no effect, and then looked perplexingly at the pen, prompting Lt. Na to rush to his side to teach him how to use it. Jang Geon chuckled.
“I want to make fun of the captain, except I’m on the same boat as him,” said Jang Geon. “A lot of this stuff is too advanced, even for me. Wish Soon Chang was here…” he said, looking forlorn.
“Me too,” said Han Yeo Jin. “And don’t worry about all this stuff. That’s not the reason the three of you were included on this case; it’s because you three are the best investigators in the force. So get out there, and do what you do best.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, smiling at her. “Although, I don’t know why you included Detective Choi. He was a bully to you when you were at HQ,” said Jang Geon, frowning towards the detective, who stood talking to Lt. Go at the other end of the room.
“He was what?” asked Hwang Si Mok sharply, also frowning at Detective Choi.
“Don’t worry about it,” Han Yeo Jin told Prosecutor Hwang. “Besides, he already apologized to me about that. It’s water under the bridge,” she said, but the prosecutor continued to stare at the detective, his eyes narrowed. She heard Seo Dong Jae chuckle.
“Nobody bullies Han Yeo Jin,” said Seo Dong Jae, chortling at the thought. “Anybody who tries gets a black eye or a bullet. And she punches like Bruce Lee; looks like him now too, with that haircut,” he said, pointing at Han Yeo Jin’s hair, to the amusement of the Yongsan detectives.
“I’m going to go to your house, and shave that stupid mustache while you’re sleeping,” threatened Han Yeo Jin, glaring at him. “And your eyebrows too while I’m at it. Let’s go, Prosecutor Hwang,” she said, heading to the doors.
“She’s joking, right?” Seo Dong Jae asked Hwang Si Mok, frowning uncertainly after Han Yeo Jin.
Hwang Si Mok shrugged. “I’d install new locks if I were you,” he said, and followed the superintendent out the door, leaving Prosecutor Seo to fiddle with his phone, probably but most likely searching for the nearest hardware store.
Hwang Si Mok and Han Yeo Jin crossed the street and headed towards Jun Ji An’s apartment complex. It took them longer than expected to arrive at the location due to heavy traffic, as hundreds of protesters gathered to march towards the National Assembly, causing a gridlock on the roads heading towards Yeouido.
“I can’t believe it started already,” said Han Yeo Jin, referring to the protesters. “And the whole thing is only getting bigger. Kim Ji Hyun and the DPRK are all everyone’s talking about on social media and the news; and not just the national outlets, I saw it on CNN and the BBC too.”
“There’s also a rally near the Blue House happening now,” said Hwang Si Mok. “Chief Oh texted me. He had a hard time getting into the complex because of the crowds.”
Han Yeo Jin sighed. “The Blue House better get their act together and calm the public before things get out of hand,” she said.
“Some gimbap for you, miss?”
Han Yeo Jin turned at the sound of the voice, and saw an old lady carrying a basket, a roll of gimbap wrapped in foil in her outstretched hands.
“Would you like to buy a gimbap?” the old lady asked, smiling at Han Yeo Jin.
Han Yeo Jin looked at the gimbap seller, noticing the frayed clothes and worn down shoes, and basket still half full of unsold gimbap, and felt pity towards the old lady. She took out her wallet purse from her bag.
“Two please,” she said, and rummaged for change inside the wallet purse, as the old lady watched her.
“Thank you child,” said the old lady, handing her the two rolls, and slowly shuffled away, humming a familiar tune.
“You didn’t have to get me one,” said Hwang Si Mok.
“These are both for me,” said Han Yeo Jin, looking at Prosecutor Hwang in surprise. “Why, you want one too?” she asked, turning around to call the old lady back, but was surprised to find her already gone.
“No,” said Hwang Si Mok quickly. “I just thought…never mind.”
“I might get hungry later. If we get stuck in traffic again I might get snacky.”
“I get hungry too but whatever,” Hwang Si Mok muttered sullenly.
Han Yeo Jin pursed her lips to keep from giggling. “Fine, I’ll share the other roll with you. I know how you get when you’re hungry,” she said, then slapped him on the back for good measure. She saw Prosecutor Hwang flinch at the contact, then rubbed his back, grimacing in discomfort. This time, Han Yeo Jin could not help the laughter that escaped her, as his face reminded her of the same one he made when she slapped him on the back on the banks of the Han River, and the stairwell during the council.
“Can you please warn me next time you’re doing that?” asked Hwang Si Mok, still rubbing his back.
“So I can move out of range,” said Hwang Si Mok, and smiled at another burst of laughter from the superintendent, and thought that he will gladly sacrifice his back if it meant hearing the beautiful sound.
Han Yeo Jin was still chuckling when they reached Jun Ji An’s unit, police and NIS tapes still lining the perimeter of the property. They ducked under the tapes and stepped inside the apartment, cautiously making their way through the burnt debris and charred furniture that littered the floor, and gazed at the scorched walls and ceiling of the space.
“There’s not much left of value here,” said Jang Geon, emerging from the bedroom, and joined them in what used to be the living room. “Whatever’s left that wasn’t burned was damaged by water. I don’t think we’ll get any salvageable evidence here,” he sighed.
“Anything electronic? Computer, laptop, tablet?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“Yeah, there was a desktop computer and hard drive. The NIS got to it first, and gave it back to us after they finished processing it. Our own techs are going through it as we speak, but I doubt we’ll get anything useful out of it,” replied Jang Geon.
“If there’s something useful in it, the NIS wouldn’t have returned it to us,” said Hwang Si Mok.
“Exactly what I was thinking,” nodded Jang Geon. “We started going through the materials returned by the NIS, but found nothing useful there either. There’s something I find strange though…”
“What is it?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
“There are no photos,” said Jang Geon. “Not on the evidence returned by the NIS nor here,” said Jang Geon, his eyes roaming the apartment. “It’s possible that the fire destroyed them, but we would still usually find traces of it; photo frames, albums. I looked everywhere, and I couldn’t find a single one.”
The absence of photos in Jun Ji An’s apartment struck Hwang Si Mok as suspicious. The lack of any personal memorabilia suggested that Jun Ji An was someone who did not have, or at least did not cultivate, any personal connections; a behavior that is indicative of someone who was highly introverted, or someone whose occupation did not allow them to foster any personal relationships. A spy, for instance, he thought. It was by no means definitive proof that Jun Ji An was a covert operative, as he himself did not have any photos in his own apartment. Until recently, he thought, his mind on the framed photo in his bedroom. A photo that he took in secret, the subject unaware as she walked through the fields of lavender in Provence, the setting sun behind her. The photo that he kept tucked away inside his bedside drawer, and the only physical reminder of the fifteen happiest days of his life.
He shook off the thought, and tried to focus on the case before him, as the superintendent directed a question to Detective Jang.
“Did you find anything on Jun Ji An’s background?”
“Yes, but nothing that immediately stood out as suspicious,” said Jang Geon. “Born and raised in Seoul; she worked in IT for one of the companies in the financial district. No close living relatives— mother and father are both deceased, and she was an only child. We’re still trying to track down if she had any extended family, and look deeper into her background during her school years. We’ll talk to her colleagues at her company too.”
“What about the neighbors, or any friends?” asked Hwang Si Mok.
“The neighbors said she kept mostly to herself. Just the occasional polite greeting, but she didn’t really mingle with any of them. As for friends, we’re still trying to find if she had any.”
“What about the fire? Any leads of who started it?” asked Han Yeo Jin.
Jang Geon shook his head. “No joy there. We interviewed witnesses and looked at the CCTV footage of the surrounding area. The tenants didn’t remember seeing anyone suspicious before the fire, and same with the CCTV footage; it just showed the tenants, some teenagers who lived here, an old lady and other people known in the neighborhood.”
Han Yeo Jin sighed, and turned to look at Prosecutor Hwang, as Jang Geon returned to processing the scene.
“What do you think the shooter was looking for in here?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Hwang Si Mok truthfully. “And I don’t know if he found it, or if the fire destroyed it.”
“Or if the NIS got to it first,” muttered Han Yeo Jin. “There’s one thing that’s been bothering me though,” she said, and continued as Prosecutor Hwang looked at her expectantly. “How did the shooter find out that I visited Young Hak Joo’s house and neighborhood? I was incommunicado the entire time, so I didn’t tell anyone where I was.”
“Perhaps he was already at Young Hak Joo’s neighborhood, and saw you there?” guessed Hwang Si Mok.
“Perhaps,” said Han Yeo Jin thoughtfully. “But I would have sensed if I was being watched, and I don’t recall seeing the SUV parked anywhere nearby at that time,” she said, trying to recall that day. “Or perhaps, someone tipped him off—”
Hwang Si Mok watched as Superintendent Han abruptly stilled, as if beset by a sudden epiphany, then stared in astonishment as she suddenly slapped herself in the forehead, looking very aggrieved.
“Idiot!” Han Yeo Jin exclaimed, angry at herself for not thinking of it sooner. She turned towards Prosecutor Hwang and Jang Geon, who were both looking at her in surprise at her strange behavior, and hastened to explain.
“I think I know how the shooter found out I was investigating Young Hak Joo,” she said breathlessly to Prosecutor Hwang. “We need to go, I’ll explain in the car,” she said quickly, and waved a hasty goodbye to Jang Geon, already rushing towards the door.
Han Yeo Jin stood with Prosecutor Hwang on the street of Young Hak Joo’s former residence. She exhaled in frustration, still mentally kicking herself for missing such a crucial piece of information that was right in front of her. It finally clicked when she voiced her thoughts out loud to Prosecutor Hwang, and realized that there were, in fact, someone who knew she was at Young Hak Joo’s neighborhood, and asking questions about him. The people she interviewed that day, she thought, and any one of them could have tipped off the shooter. But amongst those of whom she had interviewed, there was only one likely candidate for their snitch.
She interviewed three people that day. The first was the owner of the house beside Young Hak Joo; a thirty-something professional who had only lived in the house for a few years and would have been too young to know the scientist. The second one was the house across the street, which was occupied by a foreigner who only recently moved to Seoul. The third one was the general store owner, and the only one who knew and remembered the scientist. Han Yeo Jin recalled the entire interview now, and the moment when the owner offhandedly muttered ‘wonder what he did, seem folks are real interested in him.’ She had thought that the comment was referring to the fact that she was asking questions about the scientist, but she realized now that it could also mean that other people have been interested in Young Hak Joo, and she was not the only one who had questioned the store owner about him.
She entered the store with Prosecutor Hwang. A bell tinkled as she pushed open the door, alerting the man behind the counter, who looked up at their entrance. Han Yeo Jin saw the man’s eyes widened slightly, then darted quickly to the side, telling her that the owner recognized her, and that her sudden appearance had made him nervous.
“Hello Mr. Kim, I’m not sure if you remember me. I’m Superintendent Han Yeo Jin and I was here a few days ago,” said Han Yeo Jin, showing him her ID. The store owner swallowed nervously.
“Oh… yes, I think I remember you,” said Mr. Kim with forced casualness. “You were asking me about someone who used to live in this neighborhood.”
“Young Hak Joo,” said Han Yeo Jin, smiling politely at him.
“That’s right,” said the store owner, relaxing at Han Yeo Jin’s smile. “I remember now.”
I bet you do, you little snitch, thought Han Yeo Jin, and turned to Prosecutor Hwang.
“This is Prosecutor Hwang Si Mok, from the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office,” introduced Han Yeo Jin, while the prosecutor flashed his ID. “Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?” she asked, and watched as the store owner fidgeted uneasily.
“I don’t know… I’m really busy at the moment.”
“There are no customers right now,” said Hwang Si Mok, gesturing at the empty shop.
“It won’t take long, Mr. Kim,” said Han Yeo Jin, smiling reassuringly at him.
“Well, I guess that’s ok,” said Mr. Kim hesitantly, “if we keep it short.”
“Then I’ll go straight to the point,” said Han Yeo Jin. “Who did you tell that I was asking questions about Young Hak Joo?”
The store owner’s reaction at the direct question was enough confirmation that he had blabbed about the interview to someone else. Mr. Kim visibly blanched, his eyes fearfully darting between Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok, both of whom stood looking at him with grave expressions.
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mr. Kim stammered, his shaking voice and guilty expression contradicting his statement. “I didn’t tell anybody.”
“You’re not in trouble yet, Mr. Kim,” said Han Yeo Jin, leaning over the counter, and looked him straight in the eye. “But you will be, if you keep lying to us.”
“Your phone records that day can easily confirm if you told us the truth,” said Hwang Si Mok.
“You’ll need a warrant for that!” exclaimed Mr. Kim indignantly.
“Good thing I have a prosecutor with me,” said Han Yeo Jin. “And we will get that warrant. And when we proved that you lied to us, then we will have to formally charge you.”
“Your actions that day have compromised the investigation, and endangered the lives of several people. It also may have been a breach of the national security act,” said Hwang Si Mok. “That is a very serious charge.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong!” cried the store owner, panicking now.
“But we don’t have to take it that far, if you answer our questions truthfully,” said Han Yeo Jin. “It’s up to you, Mr. Kim.”
“I didn’t have a choice! He was from the government too!”
The store owner’s response stunned both Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok. They remained still, waiting for Mr. Kim to continue, as their minds raced at the implications of the man’s confession.
“It started almost ten years ago,” began Mr. Kim, his voice quivering. “Someone else was asking about Young Hak Joo; a young man. He asked the same questions as you did,” he said, looking at Han Yeo Jin. “Anyway, another man showed up shortly after he came, and demanded to know what we discussed. He then gave me a phone number to call, in case someone else showed up asking questions about Young Hak Joo. He told me to call that number if that ever happens. So I did. I called that number after you came here that day, and told him about you.”
“Who were they, Mr. Kim? Who was the man asking about Young Hak Joo and who was the man from the government?” Han Yeo Jin eagerly asked.
“I’m so sorry, I can’t remember the name of the young man. I swear that’s the truth!” Mr. Kim said fervently, his earnest face showing his sincerity. “He gave me his name and number, but the agent confiscated it, and now I can’t remember it.”
“Agent?” asked Han Yeo Jin, her heart beating fast.
Mr. Kim nodded. “Yes, the man who ordered me to inform on any people asking about Young Hak Joo. All I know is that his name is Agent Yu. And he’s from the NIS.”
“It seems that the NIS already knew about Young Hak Joo,” said Hwang Si Mok. “And if this Agent Yu was the one who followed you that day, and the one who broke into Jun Ji An’s apartment—”
“Then that means he was our shooter. And Jun Ji An’s killer. And the person who tried to kill Kim Ji Hyun and auntie,” said Han Yeo Jin. “And if what Mr. Kim said is true, he is also working for the NIS.”
Hwang Si Mok glanced over at the driver’s side at Superintendent Han, who kept her eyes on the road, her expression troubled.
“I knew when we started this that there was a chance that the NIS was involved with what happened with Kim Ji Hyun. Auntie suspected it, and so did we. But I still hoped that we were wrong,” said Han Yeo Jin, looking almost dejected.
“Because if we were right, then how do we fight the most powerful spy agency in the country?” asked Hwang Si Mok.
“Not just that,” said Han Yeo Jin. “It’s because their actions would have been sanctioned by our own government. And I cannot accept the possibility that our own people could have done this to Kim Ji Hyun and my auntie, just to hide a secret about a scientist who may or may not have defected to the North.”
“We do not know yet if this Agent Yu really was from the NIS,” said Hwang Si Mok. “It’s possible that he lied about his credentials to the store owner just to obtain his cooperation.” He looked at the superintendent, who remained silent at his statement, her eyes fixed on the rearview mirror. “We need to first verify if he truly was from the NIS.”
Hwang Si Mok waited for Superintendent Han to respond, but her attention remained focused on the road, her eyes darting between the rearview mirror and the streets, and her manner unusually tense. He frowned.
“We’re being followed,” said Han Yeo Jin, her entire body now on alert. “Two cars behind. The black SUV.”
Hwang Si Mok glanced at the passenger side mirror, and then at the rear window behind him, trying to get a better look.
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. I was watching out for it. I saw that car follow us shortly after we left Young Hak Joo’s neighborhood. I took a few detours just to be sure, and he’s still there, always two cars behind us,” said Han Yeo Jin, putting on her Bluetooth earpiece.
“Jang Geon, are you still in Yeouido?” Han Yeo Jin asked as soon as Jang Geon picked up.
“Yeah, I just left Jun Ji An’s apartment,” replied Jang Geon. “Why? Where are you?”
“Someone’s following us.” Han Yeo Jin gave Jang Geon their location and the description and plate number of the SUV. “We’re heading towards the National Assembly. We’ll attempt to apprehend the driver, so we’re going to need back-up. Call the Captain and Seo Sang Won too. Hurry, but no sirens when you get close. We don’t want to spook him and have him try and escape again.”
“There are roadblocks up ahead because of the protest,” said Hwang Si Mok.
“I know, and we can’t let him get too close to the protesters. I’ll reroute as soon as Jang Geon gets into position,” said Han Yeo Jin.
They followed the road heading straight to the National Assembly, with Hwang Si Mok keeping a close eye on the SUV behind them, while Han Yeo Jin maintained a steady driving course to avoid suspicion. Her phone suddenly rang, and Hwang Si Mok answered, putting the call on speaker.
“I’m in position,” came Jang Geon’s voice. “I’m right behind him.”
“Good,” said Han Yeo Jin. “I’ll turn left on the next intersection to get us away from the protesters,” said Han Yeo Jin, flipping the turn signal on and merging into the left turn lane. The SUV followed, still maintaining the two car distance. The light turned red, and all three vehicles stopped, waiting for the light to turn green.
A few meters up the road and just past the police roadblock, they could see an assortment of flags and banners waving in the air, the sound of a hundred-strong chanting voices becoming more audible as they drew closer the mass of protesters heading towards the National Assembly.
“What is it?” Han Yeo Jin urgently asked in response to Jang Geon’s curse over the speakerphone.
“I think he made me. He’s looking at me now,” said Jang Geon. He paused, while the two occupants of the car anxiously waited.
“Han Yeo Jin, he knows.”
Hwang Si Mok immediately turned to look at the rear window, and saw the SUV shifting his position.
“He’s making a move!”
Han Yeo Jin saw the left turn light finally turn green, the car in front of theirs pushing forward to make a left at the intersection. She made a decision.
“Hold on tight!”
She gunned her engine, and the car rapidly accelerated in response. But instead of turning left, she spun the wheel a full 180 degrees, the tires squealing in protest at the abrupt U-turn, as a chorus of angry beeping pierced the air around them at the car’s wild maneuvers. She put on the breaks abruptly, her car now on the left lane of the opposite side of the road that was mercifully clear of traffic due to the still-red light behind her; and directly facing the SUV that still sat idling on the left turn lane a few yards from them, the stunned face of its driver clearly visible.
“I see you, you son of a bitch,” said Han Yeo Jin. She rolled down her window, ignoring the furious shouts of the other drivers, and put her sirens on.
They watched as the man behind the wheel of the SUV looked around him in panic, recognizing that he has nowhere to go; with the traffic on his right, Jang Geon behind him and Han Yeo Jin in front of him, ready to give chase at the slightest sign of flight.
“He’s going to make a run for it,” said Hwang Si Mok.
“I know,” said Han Yeo Jin, revving the car, her eyes focused intently on their quarry. “Get ready.”
The SUV suddenly accelerated, and for a split second, appeared to be barreling directly towards them. But the vehicle made a sharp left at the last minute, and they watched as Jang Geon hit the SUV on its rear bumper, causing the larger vehicle to fishtail wildly in the middle of the road. It quickly regained its traction, but instead of turning towards the road, it continued straight, and towards a narrow alley hidden between two buildings.
Hwang Si Mok gripped the door handle tightly and felt his seatbelt tighten as Superintendent Han stomped on the gas to race after SUV. They watched as pedestrians hastily leapt out of the way, as the large vehicle in front of them hurtled down the narrow alley, knocking everything in its path. He turned around in his seat and saw Detective Jang’s car also following them into the alley.
“Prosecutor Hwang, hand me my radio! It’s in the glove compartment,” Han Yeo Jin shouted, as she expertly maneuvered their car through the narrow alley, rapidly gaining on their target up ahead.
Hwang Si Mok quickly did as the superintendent asked, and handed her the radio.
“Dispatch, this is Superintendent Han Yeo Jin! We’re in pursuit of a suspect and need all available units in the Yeouido-National Assembly area!” Han Yeo Jin shouted on the radio, and gave the SUV’s information and their location.
Han Yeo Jin heard dispatch acknowledge her order just as the SUV reached the end of the alley. The vehicle made a right turn towards the main road at break-neck speed, sparking a furious cacophony of squealing breaks and angry shouts of the drivers of the incoming cars who had to swerve and stop abruptly to avoid colliding into the SUV.
“He’s heading towards the National Assembly,” said Hwang Si Mok. “He’s going to where the protesters are.”
“Dispatch, the suspect is headed directly towards the National Assembly! Have patrol set up roadblocks and intercept him before he reached the protesters! Suspect is considered armed and dangerous!”
“He’s going to use the protesters as shield,” said Hwang Si Mok, realization dawning on him.
“We have to stop him before he gets there,” said Han Yeo Jin, stepping on the gas, and felt the engine rumble as the car raced forward, closing the gap between them and the fleeing SUV.
The road suddenly opened, clear of traffic due to the road closures caused by the protests; and they could finally see, directly ahead of them, the huge crowd walking steadily towards the National Assembly complex. Three patrol cars suddenly appeared on the road, zooming towards them, their lights flashing and sirens blaring. They stopped in the middle of the road, positioning their cars to create a barrier to stop the SUV from driving straight into the horde of protesters directly up ahead.
“He’s speeding up!” shouted Han Yeo Jin, as her car struggled to keep up with the SUV in front of them. “He’s going to ram into the patrol cars!” She shouted, as she watched the SUV position itself to drive through the narrow gap between two of the police cars that have been parked nose-to-nose on the road ahead of them.
The SUV crashed violently into the parked patrol cars, their compact bodies no match for the larger, stronger vehicle. And Han Yeo Jin and Hwang Si Mok watched in horror as the SUV kept going, hurtling towards the crowd of unsuspecting masses.
Han Yeo Jin shouted the word, horrified at the impending catastrophe unfolding right before her, and the devastating casualty it will inflict. But the SUV made a sudden stop at the last second, its breaks squealing loudly, mercifully avoiding the protesters. They watched as the driver’s side door flew open and expelled the driver, who quickly ran towards the mob, disappearing within the thick crowd.
Han Yeo Jin stopped the car beside the parked SUV. She grabbed her taser gun from the glove compartment, jumped out of the car, and ran towards the crowd. She saw Prosecutor Hwang already ahead of her, rushing into the horde in pursuit of their suspect. She cursed, and quickly followed suit.
Hwang Si Mok kept his eyes on his quarry, struggling to navigate the thick throng of marching bodies. He heard shouts and curses following in his wake, as he recklessly bumped into people in his haste to apprehend their suspect. He knew the superintendent was following closely behind, but he could not wait for her and risk losing their suspect once again. He saw his target lose his footing and fall to the ground. Their suspect quickly recovered and got to his feet, but the precious few seconds he lost were enough for Hwang Si Mok to catch up with him. He grabbed the other man and finally saw his face, unmasked and up close, just as the crowd pushed against them and they both lost their balance, taking each other down to the ground. They struggled, with Hwang Si Mok blocking the blows inflicted by the other man, and managed to hold him down to the ground. But the crowd around them kept their forward march, and one of them had managed to bump into Hwang Si Mok hard enough to make him loosen his hold on their suspect. The other man took advantage of the sudden freedom, and before Hwang Si Mok could grab him again, was able to take the gun out of his pocket.
The man stilled at the sight of Han Yeo Jin, and looked at the taser gun aimed directly at him. Their suspect still held the gun to his side, with its muzzle pointing to the ground. They stared at each other, and Han Yeo Jin knew that the other man was aware that she had the advantage over him, and that he will not be able to point and shoot his gun at them without Han Yeo Jin tasing him first. She knew she had to act quickly, especially with the crowd of people surrounding them. Han Yeo Jin clenched her jaw, about to pull the trigger.
“GUN! He’s got a gun!”
Frightened shouts reverberated around them. In the ensuing panic, the crowd suddenly scattered in a mad scramble to get away. Han Yeo Jin knew her time had ran out, and was about to shoot when a protester suddenly bumped into her hard from behind, causing her to lose her balance, and her aim. And as she fell, she saw, as if in slow motion, their suspect raise his gun, and pulled the trigger.
Gunshots echoed around them, followed immediately by the panicked shouts of people. Their suspect had fired several shots up in the air, and used the resulting pandemonium to escape into the crush. Han Yeo Jin tried to get up, but the stampede of terrified people kept her down, and she tried to cover her head and body from the surge of stomping feet, desperate to protect herself from being trampled to death. She felt a heavy weight suddenly cover her, and thought that someone had accidentally fallen onto her from the mad rush. Strong arms enfolded her, covering her head and face, and she knew even without looking that it was Hwang Si Mok, who was using his own body to protect her own. She tried to get up, but the body on top of her kept her down, and her own panic threatened to overwhelm her at the thought of his body being subjected to the abuse of a hundred uncaring feet, beating and crushing him in their terrified haste to escape. She shouted his name in desperation, her frantic pleas lost in the chaos surrounding them, as she felt rather than saw the unrelenting force of a panicked mob overwhelm them.
Hwang Si Mok clenched his teeth in pain as he felt a protester’s foot kick painfully at his side. He had rushed to Superintendent Han when he saw the crowd charging towards her, uncaring that their suspect was getting away, and focused only on her figure lying prone on the ground, her body carelessly trampled on by the frightened swarm. He tightened his hold on the superintendent, who was face down on the ground beneath him, and adjusted his arm to better protect her head. He heard her calling his name in distress, and felt her shouts vibrating from her back to his chest. He knew he needed to get her out of there, but was unable to get up with all the mayhem surrounding them, knowing that he might put them in more harm if he attempted it now. He waited, and tightened his hold on Han Yeo Jin with every painful kick and stomp on his body. He raised his head carefully after a few moments, and saw that the crowd had slightly dispersed, and finally saw his opportunity. He tried to lift her to her feet, and she immediately sprang into action and grabbed hold of him, pulling him up, and offered each other support as they struggled out of the chaos around them.
“Han Yeo Jin! Han Yeo Jin!”
They heard Jang Geon’s raised voice above the roar a few seconds before the detective himself emerged from the crowd, followed closely by Captain Choi, Seo Sang Won and several uniformed officers. Jang Geon saw them first, and the group rushed towards the two, their progress hampered by the frenzied mass of protesters.
“He got away,” said Hwang Si Mok, wincing painfully with each step.
“We’ll worry about that later,” said Han Yeo Jin, looking worriedly at Prosecutor Hwang’s injured form. “Right now, we need to get you to a hospital.”
“No, you’re not,” said Han Yeo Jin, as the Yongsan detectives finally reached them. “We need to get Prosecutor Hwang to an ambulance. He’s injured,” Han Yeo Jin told Jang Geon.
“So are you.”
“You are both clearly not fine!” shouted Captain Choi. The detectives and the uniforms closed in around them protectively, helping them escape the crowd, and out to where several ambulances are parked, ready to tend to the injured.
“Captain, the suspect escaped. You need to tell all available officers—”
“We already did that!” shouted Captain Choi, struggling to be heard above the noise. “Jang Geon saw him too and he gave Dispatch the description. All available officers that are not on crowd control are out looking for him right now!”
“Thank you,” said Han Yeo Jin, and tightened her hold around Prosecutor Hwang’s waist. He looked at her, and felt him do the same with the arm around her. And in the safe cocoon of the police officers surrounding them, they held each other as best they could, needing the contact and the comfort after such an intense and harrowing experience, and half-carried each other out of the madness.
Director Lee stood on the narrow dirt road outside the perimeter of the extensive grounds of the NIS safehouse. The property was located just outside of Seoul, close to Mt. Suraksan, situated on top of a hill and surrounded by dense woods on all sides. The location was remote, as most NIS safehouses are, and the house and grounds themselves are heavily guarded and monitored 24/7. The narrow strip of road where he now stood encircled the property, and is not open to public traffic, and was mostly used by the public parks staff and rangers to maintain the government-owned grounds of the surrounding region.
He surveyed the area, and looked up behind him towards the top of the hill, where the house stood behind tall walls. This was where the assassin had fled that night, after he almost killed Kim Ji Hyun and Ambassador Song. He had escaped by scaling the walls of the property, then climbed down the steep ravine and onto the dirt road he is standing on, where a car waited to spirit him away. He looked over to the left, at the spot where they found tire tracks that matched the make and model of Jun Ji An’s car, lending to the theory that she must have waited there for their suspect, and then helped him escape. Agent Ri’s description of the car he saw speeding away that night, in addition to the tire tracks they have discovered, all matched Jun Ji An’s vehicle, and further strengthened the theory of her involvement. She was the get-away driver— and if she was proven to be a northern spy, then it will also prove that the attempted assassination was orchestrated by the DPRK. It was a solid theory, and all they needed to do now is to find their assassin, and evidence that Jun Ji An was working for the North.
So why was she murdered?
Director Lee frowned. The question had been niggling at him ever since they had discovered her identity. Her murder threw a wrench in the neat theory they had concocted; a piece of the puzzle that did not fit anywhere in the picture they were trying to complete. She was a loose end— and Lee Eun Kyo hated loose ends.
He walked towards the edge of the dirt road, and looked down the steep slope of a ravine below, the landscape dotted with trees and thick shrubs. His agents did a check of the area, but did not find anything of note. He knew that the check was a cursory one only, as their attention was focused on the dirt road, and the clear evidence pointing to the fact that their assassin escaped in a car that awaited him there.
He climbed down slowly, the descent tricky but manageable, and made steady progress down the steep incline. He stopped suddenly, spying an area hidden by a large, partially-uprooted tree, its wide, gnarly roots extending out of the side of the ravine and onto a cluster of protruding boulders that provided a natural overhang. He made his way towards the structure, and saw that the natural overhang hid a hole that would have been concealed from the top of the ravine, covered by the tree and the boulders. A hole, he noted, that was large enough to hide a man.
Lee Eun Kyo peered into the hole, its insides covered by brambles and sharp rocks. That was when he saw it, on one of the rocks protruding from the side, and hastily took his cellphone from his jacket pocket to call Agent Ri.
“Come to the dirt road now and climb down the ravine, and bring a DNA kit with you. Quickly,” he ordered.
Agent Ri appeared moments later, the younger agent making quick work of the descent down the steep slope and towards where he was. He handed his boss the DNA kit.
“What is it, sir?” Agent Ri asked, as he watched his senior take out a cotton swab, and then reached into the hole. Director Lee straightened seconds later, and held out the swab.
“Blood,” said Director Lee, his expression grave. His mind went back to the events of that night, recalling that Superintendent Han had shot their assassin, and how they knew for a fact that he had been hit because of the traces of blood they found on the outside walls that was left behind when he had made his escape.
“Have this analyzed and see if it matches the blood we found on the walls of the property,” ordered Director Lee, handing his subordinate the cotton swab.
Agent Ri accepted the swab, his expression disturbed. “But sir, if he hid here, then that means—”
“It means we have been looking at this the wrong way right from the beginning,” Director Lee finished, and turned to the younger agent. “Process the sample yourself, and don’t tell anyone about it, or where we found it.”
“Yes sir,” said Agent Ri dutifully, and hurried away to do his superior’s bidding.
Lee Eun Kyo looked up, towards the dirt road, and knew with certainty that their theory had just been blown to hell.
Hwang Si Mok flinched at the sting of alcohol applied to the cut in his forehead. He heard Superintendent Han mumble a hasty ‘sorry’, as she continued to dab at the wound with the antiseptic, but gentler this time.
“It’s fine,” said Hwang Si Mok, and did his best to remain still with the superintendent sitting so close to him, her face near his and her brows furrowed in concentration as she tended to his wounds.
They were at his apartment, having gone there directly from the hospital. The doctors have performed a thorough check on him, and declared him fit enough to be discharged, having suffered nothing more serious than several bruised ribs and minor wounds on his head and back. The superintendent had insisted on taking him home, and had stopped at a pharmacy on the way to stock up on first aid kits and supplies, and then forcefully deposited him on his couch and proceeded to take care of his wounds before he could even form a protest.
“You don’t have to stay— I can do this myself. You need to tend to your injuries too,” Hwang Si Mok told her.
“I’m fine,” said Han Yeo Jin, still intent on her task.
“You got hurt too.”
“Not as much as you,” said Han Yeo Jin, tearing the packaging from the adhesive gauze, and applying it gently to his forehead. “Because you shielded me with your body and took the brunt of it,” she said softly, lightly patting the dressing in place, and then looked at him intently, her fingers lingering on his face before she turned away.
“It’s lucky you didn’t get seriously injured,” continued Han Yeo Jin, “and it’s also lucky that there were no casualties after what happened today.” She sighed, and hung her head, looking miserable. “I should have taken the shot as soon as I saw him.”
“He had a gun, and there were people nearby,” said Hwang Si Mok. “You don’t know what he would have done. Things could have gone down a lot worse than it did today. He escaped, it’s true— but we have a face now. And it’ll be easier for us to find him again.”
Han Yeo Jin nodded, somewhat comforted by the thought. “I’ll get the composite software to do a facial sketch tomorrow, and have Lt. Na and Go scour the database for a match. I’ll need you to give a description too,” she said.
Hwang Si Mok nodded. “Did Detective Jang find anything in Jun Ji An’s apartment?”
Han Yeo Jin shook her head. “Not yet, but they haven’t finished processing all the evidence,” she said, then frowned. “It bothers me that we still don’t why she broke into the ambassador’s house that night, and why she stole my purse.”
“And how she knew about you in the first place,” said Hwang Si Mok. “Somehow, she knew you were involved with Kim Ji Hyun’s defection, and mostly likely knew that you were with her at the safehouse. That would have been the only reason why she targeted you.”
“The NIS knew about my involvement,” said Han Yeo Jin. “And if Kim Ji Hyun’s assassin really was an NIS agent, and Jun Ji An really was his accomplice, then that’s how she could have found out.”
“Yes, but why wait to steal from you after your things were sent from the safehouse to the ambassador’s house?” asked Hwang Si Mok. “If the NIS really was involved, they could have pilfered your purse while it was in the safehouse. It would have been easier that way.”
“Good point,” said Han Yeo Jin. “And why did she take my wallet purse, of all things. Except for my badge and a few wons, there was nothing of importance there.” She shook her head, feeling a headache coming on after the confusing tangle of information, and the events of that day. She reached into the bag from the pharmacy instead, and took out a roll of bandage, then turned to Prosecutor Hwang.
“Take your shirt off.”
Hwang Si Mok stared at Superintendent Han in surprise, taken aback by the sudden pivot in their conversation, and the bewildering order she uttered. He blinked at her, feeling as though he got kicked in the head again.
“I said take your shirt off,” Han Yeo Jin repeated, more firmly this time. “I need to wrap your torso in these,” she said, holding up the roll of bandage. “The doctor said you need it, or else you’ll be really sore tomorrow.”
Hwang Si Mok swallowed. “I can do it myself.”
“Really? And how are you going to do that? You can’t even move properly.”
“Yes I can.”
“If you can reach over and take this bandage from me, then I’ll let you do it,” Han Yeo Jin said, moving farther away and holding the roll just a little beyond his reach.
“You know I can’t take it from you and not because I can’t reach it. It’s because you’re freakishly strong.”
“That’s right; and if you don’t take your shirt off now, then I’ll do it for you.”
Hwang Si Mok hastily unbuttoned his shirt, daunted by the prospect of Superintendent Han undressing him. He slid the garment off his shoulders, stubbornly doing his best not to flinch at the slight movement, and confirm to the superintendent that she was correct in surmising that he was essentially useless in his current state.
Han Yeo Jin swallowed at the sudden lump in her throat as she stared at the collection of angry red, blue and black bruises covering the expanse of Prosecutor Hwang’s torso, shoulders, back and arms. She turned away quickly, and busied herself with removing the plastic wrappings from the bandage roll with shaking fingers, not wanting him to see how upset his injuries had made her. She remembered the feeling of lying face down beneath him, and how she felt every one of his excruciating winces, and heard each one of his painful grunts as he silently suffered the pain of being battered by a frenzied mob, and how he endured it all in order to protect her. She blinked furiously, her eyes still averted, determined not to let the tears fall.
“This might hurt a little. I need to wrap it tightly,” she said, a slight quiver in her voice. She kept her head bowed and drew closer, facing him, and began to unroll the bandage around his chest, her arms encircling him as she wrapped his body with the binding.
Hwang Si Mok tried to remember to breathe as he felt the superintendent’s touch on his bare skin, her breath warming his chest as she gently bound his torso. He let go of the breath he had been holding and inhaled sharply, and smelled the familiar scent that had always reminded him of her, wafting from her hair to his nose. His bathroom had smelled of the fragrant shampoo that she used when they briefly lived together, lingering for days after she had left, and he remembered lamenting the loss when it finally faded. He closed his eyes, the scent triggering an avalanche of memories of the moments in his life when he had felt the most alive; the time when she lived with him, her presence filling his empty apartment with life and laughter. The time when they rode a Vespa in Florence, her hair unbound and blowing in the wind, slapping his face as he held onto her tightly from behind, and him nervously shouting to slow down and only getting giddy laughter in response. The time when they took the train from London to Paris, and she fell asleep with her head on his shoulders. That night in Provence.
“You need to put ice on it too, and take the pills for the pain.”
Hwang Si Mok heard the voice thick with emotion, and saw the hands trembling in distress. She kept her head bowed and her face averted, and feigned distraction by tidying up the first aid kit. It would have been a convincing show of calm composure, but so attuned was he with Han Yeo Jin that he did not need to see her face to know that she had been deeply distraught by the sight of his injuries. He did not need to see her eyes to know that he will find them wet with tears borne of guilt and responsibility for his pain— and anguish, at the thought of what he had suffered, and the unthinkable notion of what could have happened, if they have not been able to escape in time.
He said the words softly, and was surprised to find his own voice affected with emotions he did not think he was capable of outwardly conveying. Still, she did not look at him, and kept her head firmly bowed and her eyes lowered. He took her hands in his, and the gentle gesture finally released her silent tears, the wet droplets falling onto their entwined hands. She slumped forward, and did not stop until her head leaned on his shoulder, and rested there. He laid his cheek on her head, and spoke to her.
“Yeo Jin, please take the job at National Investigation. You deserve it.”
“Is it because of me?
“It’s because of me. It’s because we can’t go back. And it’s because you were right– it was a mistake.”
Han Yeo Jin closed her eyes— relief, and despair, flooding her at finally being able to utter the words out loud. She knew she should move away from Hwang Si Mok; knew that she should keep her distance after her agonizing admission. But being so close to him now had given her the strength to finally face their painful reality. His presence had always provided her comfort and courage; and even now, in the midst of saying goodbye, and in the throes of her heart and soul shattering, she still craved his nearness. Selfishly. Greedily. And she feared that even self-impose distance will not cure her of the affliction. But she knew she had to try—if not for her, then for him. Because in that early dawn morning in Provence, he had given her his truth; and she, in turn, must accept it.
“This is will be our last case together,” Han Yeo Jin interrupted, wanting to get the words out before she lost her resolve.
She straightened, looking at him fully, and regretted it almost immediately when she saw the empty eyes staring back at her. The eyes of a man who had cared for her, and had given her more than he ever gave another human being. But in her greed, she had asked for more— uncaring and willfully denying that it was against the very nature of the man she purported to love, and discovered too late that it was more than what he was capable of giving. But she understood now that it was her failing, and not his. And it was her, who had deluded herself into believing that she had seen something that was not there.
Han Yeo Jin took his face into her hands, and kissed him gently on his cheek.
“Thank you, for everything,” she whispered to him, then let go, and walked out of his apartment.
Hwang Si Mok heard the door shut; the sound muffled by the excruciating ringing in his ears. The ominous sound had appeared as soon as he heard Han Yeo Jin say that this case will be their last; and it had taken all of his willpower to hide all the signs of the terrible pain he was experiencing, and affect an empty expression. The feat would have been impossible for him only months before, and he would have been on the floor, curled up in a ball of agony until the torment passed. But all of that had changed since that day she left him after their fateful trip, when the pain became his constant companion; unrelenting, unpredictable and unending. There has not been a day since they parted that his illness did not beset him, and he was forced to quickly adapt to be able to live any semblance of a normal life. He had learned to recognize the signs quick enough to rush to the nearest empty room whenever he felt it coming on at work, and learned how to push through it long enough to be able to safety pull over the side of the road when it suddenly appeared while driving. He had mastered masking the outward signs as well— when before the pain would have brought him to his knees, he had learned to endure with only a painful grimace; and eventually, the painful grimace was replaced with only a visible trembling of his hands and a tight clenching of the jaw, and a blank expression on his face that did not hint at the torture he was suffering from within. And as he sat there, quietly enduring the excruciating ordeal, he grieved that he had let the moment pass him by, and the chance to finally say what he had wanted to say to Han Yeo Jin that morning in Provence, once again thwarted by his illness.
He reached into his pants pocket, and with trembling fingers, took out a small pouch from within. He had been carrying it since Han Yeo Jin’s return, finding comfort and strength at the feel of it. A talisman— giving him both hope and purpose.
Our final case, he thought, that’s how much time I have. And as he stared at the contents of the small bag, he felt the pain began to abate, replaced with a dauntless determination for what he must do.
Agent Yu adjusted the lenses of the high-power binoculars, and continued his observation of the prosecutor, who sat alone in his apartment. He had been sitting in the dark for the past hour, inside an empty unit of the apartment building directly across the street from Prosecutor Hwang’s building. He needed a safe place to observe them both, knowing that he could no longer follow them after today’s events. He cursed himself for letting that policewoman catch his tail, and cursed her even more for chasing him all over Yeouido, and then almost capturing him during the protest. They have his face now, but at least they don’t have his prints. The SUV he was forced to leave behind was stolen for today’s surveillance, and he had worn gloves the entire time he had used the vehicle. His employers were not happy after his near-capture either, and was similarly angry after he was forced to admit that his face had been seen. He knew he had to leave the country now after his mission, and lay low for a while. Perhaps China, or the North— both locations where it will be easy enough to disappear, and attractive enough for people with enough money and means, which he will have, after this job.
He smirked, recalling the intimate interlude between the prosecutor and the policewoman. He didn’t think the prosecutor had it in him, and he wondered if the policewoman’s bosses knew that she was consorting with someone from the prosecution, knowing that the two institutions have a contentious relationship. He gritted his teeth in anger, remembering how she had tried to shoot him multiple times now— first at the safehouse, then the alley, and then today, at the protest.
He felt the sting of the still-fresh gunshot wound in his left arm, where she had shot him that night after his failed attempt to kill the defector. She’ll pay for that indignity, he thought angrily, and do to her what he did to Jun Ji An. The faces of the two women, so alike in both character and looks, merged in his mind; and he quivered in anticipation at the thought of his axe coming down powerfully on the still breathing neck of Superintendent Han Yeo Jin.
Hwang Si Mok stared in open-mouthed astonishment as Han Yeo Jin drained her fourth pint of Guinness, guzzling the dark liquor down quickly and with gusto. She slammed the glass on the table after she emptied it, then emitted a loud, satisfied sigh, followed by an un-ladylike burp.
“’scuse me,” she said tipsily. “That’s good stuff.”
“Yes, you drank that fairly quickly. Maybe you should slow down a bit, your face is really red.”
Hwang Si Mok looked at Han Yeo Jin, and then at the lively pub around him. They were at O’Neill’s, a pub near the famous Grafton Street in Dublin. The place was packed with both tourists and locals alike, who have flocked to the popular watering hole on a Friday evening— lured by the vast offering of local and imported brews, as well as the live Irish music. Han Yeo Jin had dragged him inside to watch the musical performance, which included a duo of Irish dancers, and whose high kicks and intricate footwork had both fascinated and baffled Hwang Si Mok. He leaned in closer to her, struggling to be heard above the noise of the crowd and loud music, and repeated himself.
“I said your face is really red!”
“I don’t want to go to bed! It’s still early!”
“That’s not what I sa—,” Hwang Si Mok stopped mid-shout, realizing the futility of the exercise, especially now that the band had begun playing a lively tune that seemed to have energized the crowd, with everyone clapping and singing along with the music. He looked on in smiling amusement as Han Yeo Jin clapped enthusiastically along with the crowd, drunkenly and loudly singing in her trademark tone-deaf crooning, uncaring that she did not know the words, or that she was singing them half in English and half in Korean.
“I think you have the wrong lyrics!”
“Did you say you want more drinks??”
“No! I said you have the wrong lyrics!”
“Okay! I’ll get us some more drinks!”
“That’s not what I sa—” Hwang Si Mok shouted, but Han Yeo Jin had already got up to walk over to the bar. He was astounded at how quickly she moved, considering the amount of alcohol she already consumed. He watched as she ordered their drinks, and saw a group of men at the bar eyeing her appreciatively. He did not blame them for their blatant admiration, as Han Yeo Jin is an immensely attractive woman, and the form-fitting jeans and sweater she was wearing showed off her fit body. He frowned as one of the men approached her, smiling at her and striking up a conversation. He got up, about to head over to the bar when he heard her shout ‘No English!’ at the bewildered young man, and then quickly walked back to their table. He smiled, knowing that she spoke perfect English, and remembering that she had told him that she used the same trick to ward off unwanted advances from strange men during her travels. She handed him his beer and quickly drank her own, as he scooted his chair closer to hers, all the while glowering at the man who dared speak to her at the bar, until the interloper finally looked away.
“I love this song!” shouted Han Yeo Jin happily, as the band began to play a new song.
Hwang Si Mok looked at Han Yeo Jin beside him, arrested at the sight of her swaying along with the tune, her eyes closed and her cheeks charmingly tinged with pink from both alcohol and excitement. He smiled, unable to avert his eyes from the beguiling vision, as the band played her favorite song.
She comes in colors everywhere
She combs her hair, she’s like a rainbow
Coming, colors in the air
Everywhere, she comes in colors
He paused in his observation of her, his attention suddenly caught by the lyrics of the song. The song was in English, and he turned to Yeo Jin to ask what the title was.
“She’s a Rainbow, by the Rolling Stones,” she said, looking at him happily. “Do you like it?”
He listened to the song again, and he thought that it might have been written with the woman beside him in mind; the words perfectly capturing his thoughts of her that he is unable to articulate, and the joyful harmony reminiscent of the feeling she induced in him that he cannot express. And for the first time in Hwang Si Mok’s life, he experienced what it felt like to be moved by music; to have the melody evoke an emotion, and the words speak to the soul.
She shoots colors all around
Like a sunset goin’ down
Have you seen a lady fairer?
She comes in colors everywhere
She combs her hair,
She’s like a rainbow
“Yes. I like it very much.”
Han Yeo Jin watched as Hwang Si Mok gifted her a full smile, his grin wide and his eyes dancing with delight. She stared, transfixed, at the rare sight, and returned his smile with one of her own. She sighed happily, resting her head on his shoulder, and took his hand under the table. And Hwang Si Mok, in a haze of alcohol and contentment, squeezed her hand in return, as the music soared in the background, his heart full.
“Are you alright, Yeo Jin? You look tired. Are you getting enough sleep?”
Han Yeo Jin glanced at her mother, who had asked the question, then at the ambassador, who had also turned to her with a worried look at the question. They were at the hospital, on their way to Kim Ji Hyun’s room, for a visit. She had decided to accompany her mother and the ambassador to the hospital, feeling guilty that she had not been to see the cellist since she started working on the case. She felt even guiltier when she admitted that today’s visitation was not purely prompted by the need to see her young friend— as Han Yeo Jin had needed to come to the hospital to confirm a theory about their case that suddenly came to her while she tossed in bed last night.
“I’m fine, mother. No need to worry,” said Han Yeo Jin, refusing to elaborate that her lack of sleep was mostly attributed to the emotional upheaval caused by the previous evening’s encounter at Prosecutor Hwang’s apartment. Her mother did not need to know that her swollen eyes were not a product of overwork, but of the fact that she had spent half the night weeping. Like some silly schoolgirl, crying over a boy, she thought testily, annoyed at herself for indulging in such foolish behavior. She had resolved to put all those thoughts and feelings aside, and focus only on work, and their case— the importance of which demands her full attention and commitment, and whose resolution she owed to the brave young woman she was about to see.
“I still can’t believe you were at that horrible stampede at the protest yesterday,” said Sun Nam Joo, a worried frown directed at Han Yeo Jin. “You and Prosecutor Hwang could have been seriously hurt!”
“I know. But we’re fine now, so please, don’t worry too much,” said Han Yeo Jin. “You too auntie. I don’t want you getting upset either and making yourself ill,” she added, after spying the ambassador’s distressed look.
They reached the double doors of the secure ward, where a lone NIS agent stood guarding the entrance to the restricted area. Han Yeo Jin recognized him as one of the agents that was assigned at the safehouse, and he nodded at their approach, then swiped his key card to the reader, granting them entrance to the ward. They continued down the hallway, towards Kim Ji Hyun’s room, when Han Yeo Jin suddenly noticed that something was amiss. She paused in her step, her heart quickening and her eyes vigilant when she finally realized what it was. The hallway is empty, she thought, now on full alert. No NIS agents, and no police guarding the room.
“Yeo Jin? Is something wrong?” asked Ambassador Song, who had also stopped walking to look quizzically at Han Yeo Jin’s abrupt pause.
“Mom, auntie, get behind me,” Han Yeo Jin urgently ordered the two bewildered women, and unholstered her taser.
“Yeo Jin! What’s happening?” Sun Nam Joo exclaimed, disturbed at the sight of her weapon.
“The guards are gone,” said Han Yeo Jin, walking quickly towards Kim Ji Hyun’s room. “Mom, take auntie and stay here. I’ll go into Kim Ji Hyun’s room.”
Han Yeo Jin heard her mother call out her name anxiously, as she walked quickly towards the room, her weapon raised. She reached the door, and peered through the glass pane, and saw a man inside, alone, standing over Kim Ji Hyun’s bed. She opened the door carefully, silently entering the room, and aimed her taser gun at the man.
“Put your hands up, and turn around.”
Han Yeo Jin issued the command calmly, and saw the man startle at her voice, his hands jerkily moving towards the insides of his jacket.
“I said hands up and turn around! Put your hands where I can see them or I’ll shoot!”
Han Yeo Jin watched as the man complied with her order, and raised his hands. He turned around slowly, and her eyes widened in surprise when she saw who it was.
“What do you think you’re doing?” asked Agent Ri, his tone outraged, and his eyes focused on the taser gun pointed at him.
“I should ask you the same question,” retorted Han Yeo Jin, and kept her weapon aimed at him. “What are you doing here, alone, in Kim Ji Hyun’s room? And where are the rest of the police and NIS guards?”
Han Yeo Jin watched him carefully, and saw the agent swallowing nervously. He looked at her raised taser gun again, and then at her stony expression, and she knew that it had finally dawned on him that she will not hesitate to fire if he does not give her a satisfactory answer.
“Please put your weapon away, Superintendent Han, and let me explain.”
“Explain first— and then I’ll decide if I should put my weapon away,” she fired back, her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
Agent Ri sighed, and nodded resignedly. “Very well,” he began, affecting a soothing voice. “I arrived only a few minutes before you. Aside from Agent Nam guarding the entrance doors, I didn’t see any of the NIS security detail either— they must be in the middle of a shift change. The police weren’t here either, and I don’t know where they are. That’s why I came into the room— I wanted to make sure that Ms. Kim was okay,” he finished, turning slightly towards the direction of the bed. “She’s fine. See for yourself.”
Han Yeo Jin shifted her gaze from Agent Ri to look at Kim Ji Hyun. The young woman lay in her bed, peaceful in sleep, and the steady beeping of the heart rate monitor beside her bed seem to signal that nothing was amiss.
“Did you really think I was going to hurt her?”
Han Yeo Jin turned to the young agent at his question. She had noticed during their stay at the safehouse that Agent Ri seem to always watch Kim Ji Hyun intently. Too intently, she thought, recalling how he would quickly look away when she caught him staring. She observed him now, noting his still raised arms and relaxed stance, as if to deliberately affect a non-threatening air, and decided that he posed no danger to Kim Ji Hyun— for now. She dropped her weapon, her gaze remaining watchful. Agent Ri lowered his hands, still looking at Han Yeo Jin warily.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Agent Ri said. “Did you really think I was going to hurt her?”
“I did answer your question, Agent Ri,” said Han Yeo Jin stonily. “Why did you think I aimed my weapon at you?”
Agent Ri opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by the door suddenly bursting open, admitting Seo Sang Won and three uniformed officers.
“Han Yeo Jin!” Seo Sang Won exclaimed, his own taser gun at the ready, looking at her in alarm. “Did something happen? Is Kim Ji Hun okay?” he asked breathlessly, his eyes darting between her, the bed and Agent Ri. “I just got here for my shift when I saw the ambassador and your mother outside, and they told me you needed help.”
Han Yeo Jin glanced towards the open door, and saw her mother and the ambassador standing in the hallway, looking extremely worried. She nodded at them reassuringly, indicating that all was well, and turned to Seo Sang Won.
“Yes, everything’s fine, Detective Seo— with Kim Ji Hyun, at least,” she said, then looked sternly at the uniformed officers. “Why weren’t any of you at your post?” she asked, her voice ringing with authority. “You were supposed to stay at your stations until another officer relieves you. You were to remain on guard at all times!”
“I’m sorry, Superintendent Han,” said one of the officers, bowing to her apologetically. “We left because we all received emergency orders to proceed immediately to the east entrance.”
“Your orders are to stay with Kim Ji Hyun unless I or Director No tells you otherwise!”
The uniformed officers all looked at each other nervously, clearly uncomfortable. “That’s just it, Superintendent Han,” stammered the officer. “The orders came from Director No. He radioed us to meet him at the east entrance.”
Han Yeo Jin looked at the officer in disbelief. “That’s impossible,” she said incredulously. “Director No is at HQ, meeting with the commissioner. I know that because I was just on the phone with him before I came here.” The officers all looked at her in shock, their faces troubled. “And Director No would never have ordered you to desert your post. How were you even sure that it was him?”
“We were confused at first too, Superintendent Han,” said the officer. “But the caller used Director No’s call sign, so we thought it was him. Whoever it was that issued the order knew the director’s unique code.”
Han Yeo Jin stared at the officer, stunned at this revelation. She was about to speak when she suddenly remembered that Agent Ri was still in the room, listening to their entire conversation. She turned to address him.
“Agent Ri, I will sort this out with my officers. I suggest you do the same with your agents, and find out why they were also not at their posts,” said Han Yeo Jin, and motioned for her mother and auntie, who was waiting out in the hallway, to enter.
Agent Ri looked like he wanted to say something, but changed his mind at the last second, and nodded instead. He walked out of the room, and took out his cellphone as soon as the door was closed, and called his boss.
“Sir,” he said as soon as the line was picked up, “we have a problem.”
He looked at the closed door of Kim Ji Hyun’s room, and saw Superintendent Han watching him through the glass pane, her mistrustful eyes following him as he left.
“Are you saying someone lured our men away from their posts?”
Han Yeo Jin looked at Seo Sang Won, and nodded gravely. “Seems like it,” she said, putting her phone back in her pocket. “I just called Director No, and he confirmed that it was not him. He’d been locked in a meeting since morning with the commissioner and the chiefs.” She turned to the detective. “The director is sending in more officers for guard duty. We’ll also assign a female officer to stay inside the room with Kim Ji Hyun 24/7.”
“It happened again didn’t it? Someone tried to kill her again!” said Ambassador Song, her expression agitated.
“We don’t know that for certain, auntie,” said Han Yeo Jin soothingly, attempting to calm her.
“Why else would someone do this? They made a fake call on the radio to the officers and sent them to the east entrance, because it was the farthest from this wing of the hospital. That would have given enough time for anyone to harm Kim Ji Hyun!”
“Unnie, why don’t you sit down for a moment?” Sun Nam Joo suggested gently, concerned at the older woman’s increasingly distressed manner.
“It was that NIS agent, wasn’t it?” said Ambassador Song accusingly, ignoring her friend’s request. “I saw you pointing your gun at him. You suspect him, don’t you?”
Han Yeo Jin knew she cannot not lie to the ambassador even if she wanted to— her auntie was too intelligent and too practiced in the art of obfuscation as a seasoned diplomat, that she could spot a liar from a mile away. She looked at her mother, and recognized that she too thought the same as her auntie.
The ambassador took both of her hands, squeezing them so tightly that it almost hurt. “Yeo Jin, be careful of the NIS. They’re behind this, I know they are! You cannot trust any of them! Promise me. Promise me you will be careful.”
Han Yeo Jin stared at her auntie, disconcerted at the vehemence and intensity of her request. She nodded. “I promise, auntie,” she said, and looked at her mother, whose face echoed her own deep concern for Han Yeo Jin.
“I can’t leave her now,” said the ambassador, looking at the sleeping form of Kim Ji Hyun. “I have to stay with her all the time from now on. I have to make sure she’s safe.”
“She will be safe, auntie. She’ll have more protection this time. And you have to look after yourself too,” said Han Yeo Jin, but she knew her comment fell on deaf ears when the ambassador only continued to look at Kim Ji Hyun, her mouth set in a mulish line. She changed the topic instead; to distract the ambassador, and to begin the other task she came to the hospital to do.
“Auntie, do you know if anyone else occupied your hospital room after you were discharged?”
“My room?” Ambassador Song asked, surprised at the question. “I don’t think so. As far as I know, it was left empty because it is in the secure ward. None of the rooms in this ward have been occupied other than by me and Kim Ji Hyun, because the NIS did not want anyone else having access.” She frowned quizzically at Han Yeo Jin. “Why do you ask?”
“I’ve been trying to think of a reason why Jun Ji An targeted me by stealing my personal items,” said Han Yeo Jin. “I thought at first that it was perhaps because I was involved in Kim Ji Hyun’s defection, and if she was a northern agent, then maybe she was trying to get information on her location. But that doesn’t make sense because she only targeted me after the attempted assassination, and everyone knew that she was at the safehouse after that incident.”
“So, if they already have the information on Kim Ji Hyun’s whereabouts, then why go after you?” asked Sun Nam Joo.
“Because she was after another kind of information,” said Han Yeo Jin, looking at her mother and auntie. “I think she knew that I was investigating Young Hak Joo. I think she targeted me not because of Kim Ji Hyun, but because of him.”
“But how could she have known that? You didn’t tell anyone about it; and I certainly didn’t, except you and Director No,” asked Ambassador Song.
“Exactly,” said Han Yeo Jin. “You told only me and the director—in your hospital room.”
“You think someone in this hospital may have spied on you? Someone heard the three of you discussing Young Hak Joo?” asked Sun Nam Joo.
Han Yeo Jin shook her head. “No, it was only the three of us in the room at that time, and we made sure there were no eavesdroppers. That leaves us with only one possibility,” said Han Yeo Jin, looking at the ambassador.
“Auntie, I think your hospital room was bugged.”
“What exactly am I looking for again?”
Han Yeo Jin raised her head to look at her mother, who was on all fours beside the hospital bed, searching underneath it for the covert listening device that she suspected might be hidden somewhere in the room. She was in a similar position on the other side of the bed, waving the bug detector that she brought from NI HQ under the bed frame.
“A bug, or any kind of listening device,” replied Han Yeo Jin, crawling on the floor and brandishing the wand. “It could be tiny, so you need to look thoroughly. Basically, search for anything that seems out of place.”
“Well, that’s specific.”
Han Yeo Jin heard her mother mutter from the other side of the bed. Her mother had volunteered to assist her with the task, and she had accepted the help gratefully, thinking that it will be faster with two people searching instead of one.
“Are you even sure that it’s here?”
“No,” admitted Han Yeo Jin. “But I still have to look.”
“How was Jun Ji An able to get in the room to plant the bug in the first place? It would have been right after the safehouse incident so security would have been tight.”
“I don’t know the answer to that either. But if she really was a trained covert operative, she would have found a way. She could have snuck in here, disguised as one of the hospital staff, and placed the device.”
“Are you and Prosecutor Hwang dating?”
Sun Nam Joo asked the question, and heard a loud clang coming from the other side of the bed, followed by a litany of angry cursing. She saw Yeo Jin’s head pop up from the other side, a massive scowl directed at her, and her hand rubbing the back of her head, where she had apparently bumped it against the bed frame after being caught off guard by her question.
“For god’s sake mother,” Han Yeo Jin hissed, rubbing the sore spot on her head.
“Am I not allowed to ask who my daughter is seeing?” retorted Sun Nam Joo, her eyebrow raised at her offspring.
“Not while we are in the middle of a very important task!” Han Yeo Jin replied in frustration. “Can we just focus on the work please?”
“Alright, alright,” Sun Nam Joo said placatingly, and turned her attention back to the task. “Didn’t answer my question though.”
Han Yeo Jin heard her mother’s not-so-quiet mutterings and rolled her eyes, now regretting accepting the prying woman’s offer of help. She exhaled a long suffering sigh when she heard her voice again, getting ready for another bout of intrusive questions about Prosecutor Hwang.
“That thing we’re looking for— what does it look like again?” Han Yeo Jin heard her mother ask.
“It could be anything really— like a tiny box with wires attached to it.”
“You mean like a small, black rectangle thing that has a little antenna sticking out of it?”
“Yes, something like that,” Han Yeo Jin replied distractedly, busy with her own search.
“Oh good, because I think I found it.”
“What?!” exclaimed Han Yeo Jin, and came around the bed hastily to her mother’s side. She found her peering underneath, the flashlight from her cellphone pointed to a spot at the underside of the hospital bed, near the headboard. She joined her mother to examine the spot where the light was pointed, and saw what seemed to be a tiny black box attached to the metal frame. She pulled out her gloves from her pocket and quickly put them on, then reached under the bed to take the device, her excitement mounting when it came off easily.
Han Yeo Jin hovered the bug detector over the device, and heard her mother’s loud gasp when it emitted a series of beeps, the tiny monitor indicating that it had detected electromagnetic signals coming from the device— proof that what she held in her hand was a radio frequency bug.
“Did I find it?” asked Sun Nam Joo.
Han Yeo Jin turned to her mother, smiling proudly at her. “Yes mom, you found it.”
Seo Dong Jae inhaled the fragrant scent wafting from the cup of his very expensive tea, and then took his first sip of the rich brew, his eyes closing in appreciation. He always looked forward to the tea they serve him at Hanjo— Mrs. Lee always uses the best blends available, and Seo Dong Jae can still appreciate the little luxuries in the rare occasions they were offered to him.
He set his cup down, and listened as Mrs. Lee made small talk, nodding and smiling politely when appropriate. He was invited to visit with the Hanjo chief at her office that afternoon, and Seo Dong Jae knew that he was called there for more than just a simple social call, and anticipated that Lee Yeon Jae expected him to provide updates on the Young Hak Joo case. He knew that he must tread carefully with any information he shares with Mrs. Lee; and that even though they have found no evidence of any wrongdoings on Hanjo’s part, the case itself is too sensitive for Seo Dong Jae to impart more information than he has too. For instance, he cannot let Mrs. Lee know that their former employee might have defected to the North, taking with him the knowledge and techniques he had learned on missile technology while employed at Hanjo, and handing that same information to a hostile state. No, he cannot put that worry on Mrs. Lee’s mind— not before they have definitively proven that the former Hanjo scientist did, in fact, defect to the DPRK.
“I appreciate you coming so quickly Seo Dong Jae,” said Lee Yeon Jae, arranging the papers on the table into a stack and putting them aside.
“Not at all, Mrs. Lee,” Seo Dong Jae politely replied, eyeing the stack of documents and financial statements. “But it seems I may have interrupted your work.
Lee Yeon Jae smiled. “And I’m glad you did. Reviewing invoices is not my favorite activity, to be honest,” said Lee Yeon Jae. “I invited you here to ask how about Young Hak Joo. How is the case progressing?”
Here we go, thought Seo Dong Jae, and affected a polite smile in response.
“The case is still open Mrs. Lee. I would like to thank you again for allowing us to interview Dr. Song— he gave us useful information on Dr. Young when he worked with him at Hanjo, as well as his state of mind before he disappeared. At the moment, we’re still trying to track down several of his former acquaintances for an interview, before we close the case,” said Seo Dong Jae, and thought that he did a fair job imparting enough information without delving into any specifics.
Lee Yeo Jae nodded, and smiled. “I’m glad you found Dr. Song’s assistance valuable. I met him before and I know that he is a bit—” she paused, searching for the right word, “unique.”
Seo Dong Jae’s bark of laughter was genuine this time. “That’s a good word to describe him,” he said, as he and Lee Yeon Jae shared a knowing smile. “He did take some getting used to, but he was very cooperative and accommodated all our questions. We may have to interview him again in case we need to corroborate any statements from Young Hak Joo’s former associates.”
“Did you find anything suspicious about his disappearance?”
Seo Dong Jae maintained his neutral expression, not giving any hints as to the sinister nature of their case. “We haven’t found anything suspicious from the police reports and all the information that have been gathered from twenty years ago,” he replied. They were, in fact, unable to find anything suspicious or particularly useful in the reports, and told himself that he technically did not lie to Mrs. Lee when he uttered the response. “But we are still investigating some gaps in his movements during the last several days prior to his disappearance,” he continued, “once we are able to validate those gaps, then we’ll be more confident with closing the case.”
Lee Yeon Jae nodded, accepting the response. “I do hope nothing untoward happened to him, and his daughter,” she said shaking her head in sympathy. “She was so young…”
Seo Dong Jae reached into his pocket, and took out the photo of Young Hak Joo and his daughter that Song Gang Du had given them, and showed it to Mrs. Lee.
“This was Young Hak Joo, and his daughter, Jin Heo,” he said, handing the photo to her. “She was only three years old.”
“That’s…terrible,” said Lee Yeon Jae and returned the photo to Seo Dong Jae. She took a deep breath, endeavoring to keep a calm expression.
“I’m very sorry Prosecutor Seo, but I’m afraid I need to cut our visit short. I have an emergency meeting in half an hour that I need to prepare for.”
Seo Dong Jae stood hastily on his feet, and bowed to the executive in farewell.
“Not at all, Mrs. Lee. Thank you again for having me,” he said to a distracted Lee Yeon Jae, and walked out of her office. He walked casually across the reception area, smiling at the secretaries, and pressed the elevator button.
Seo Dong Jae dropped his relaxed attitude as soon as the elevator doors closed, his mind disturbed after what he just witnessed. For he did not miss the way that Lee Yeon Jae’s face drained of all color upon seeing the photo, or the way her hands trembled as she looked at it. He also did not fail to notice how the formidable executive struggled to keep her composure, and how she had to abruptly cut their meeting short, as if she could no longer sustain the façade of self-possession.
Seo Dong Jae closed his eyes in distress, his brain denying what his gut already knew— that Lee Yeon Jae recognized the people in the photo, and her terrified eyes had told him that Hanjo, once again, is at the heart of everything.
Lee Yeon Jae swallowed the pills quickly and washed it down with a glass of water, the liquid sloshing over the rim and dripping down her chin. She wiped her face with shaking hands, inhaling deeply to calm herself, and waited for the medicine to do its work.
It has been a long time since she had taken the drug— prescribed to her previously to help with her anxiety. She did not have cause to take them anymore, after she was able to free herself from her father’s influence, and her half-brother finally indicted for his crimes. Until now. Until Seo Dong Jae showed her the photo of the scientist and his daughter. The photo of the smiling man with his precious little girl, their happy faces hiding a secret that could destroy everything she had worked for, and send her down a path that she thought she had left behind.
She closed her eyes, her mind taking her back the night when she first saw the photo, almost two decades ago. The night when she came home from another lovely date with Chang Jun, and found her father already in his cups, the bottle of expensive scotch almost empty in front of him. She had seen her father drunk before, but even in inebriation, he always maintained some semblance of control. He once told her that it was one of his best skills— how he can still keep a clear head while everyone around him made a fool of themselves while intoxicated. A very useful skill for any successful businessman, he told her in amusement.
But that night, her father seemed different. Morose, and melancholy— not at all his usual drunk self. She remembered approaching him at his desk, worried at his state, and tried to get him to bed. Her father did not budge and only continued to drink the liquor, while staring at a photo on his desk. She remembered seeing the photo of a young man and a cute little girl, and recalled being curious as to who they were and why her father had their images, and had asked him who they were.
“She looks like you. The little girl. You looked like her when you were young.”
“Okay,” she said perplexedly, looking at her father in concern. “But who are they?”
She remembered her father taking a long time to answer. And when he did finally respond, his words frightened Lee Yeon Jae enough that she never again broached the topic with him; too afraid to know the truth behind the words that were inadvertently spoken under the powerful haze of alcohol.
“Casualties of war. They were casualties of war. And we sent them to their deaths.”
Lee Yeon Jae opened her eyes, the memory of that night still strong and fresh in her mind as if it had only occurred yesterday. She put her hand in her mouth, to keep herself from crying out in despair, desperately denying the terrible truth that her father had secrets still left buried, and whatever is left may prove to be not just her company’s undoing, but her soul’s as well.
“Father, what have you done?” she whispered in misery, and let her tears fall when she realized that there was no one left to comfort her, and no one left to help her.
“So, this is what the prick looks like.”
Han Yeo Jin nodded at Captain Choi, who was glaring at the composite sketch of their suspect, the face projected on the large screen at NI HQ. She turned to the rest of her team, all gathered in front of her, and continued with her briefing.
“This is a facial composite of the man who followed me and Prosecutor Hwang yesterday. We tried to capture him, but he eluded us during the protest at the National Assembly. Lt. Na, I need you to search the database for a match,” she said, turning to the younger woman. She paused, knowing that her next order would be highly controversial. “Start with the NIS employee database— current and former employees.”
“Ma’am?” Lt. Na stopped her frenzied note taking to look inquiringly at Han Yeo Jin, her face showing the same surprised look as the other members of the team. “Did you say the NIS employee database?”
Han Yeo Jin nodded. “That’s right,” she confirmed, looking intently at her team. “We have received information that our suspect could be working for, or have worked for, the NIS.”
Jang Geon blew out a breath. “Are we really investigating the NIS now?”
“We’re investigating a murder suspect— who he works for should not prevent us from completing our investigation,” replied Han Yeo Jin. “Needless to say, this is privileged information that should stay only within our team,” she added, and watched as her team nodded in agreement, apprehension and determination apparent in their faces.
Lt. Na tentatively raised her hand. “It will be difficult to access the entire NIS employee database,” said Lt. Na. “They wouldn’t have the active agents register available, or even the former agents. They have to keep those confidential— even to other law enforcement agencies. If we really want access, we need to get their authorization first.”
“Which we can’t do, since that will be tipping them off— and right now, we cannot trust anyone in that organization until we know for certain who is involved” said Han Yeo Jin, sighing in frustration. “Just do what you can with what you have available, Lt. Na. Use the national register too, if you don’t get any hits with the NIS database.”
“Yes ma’am,” said Lt. Na. “Lt. Go and I are still trying to find a match for any web content on Young Hak Joo. No luck so far, unfortunately, but we still have mountains of data to sift through. It may take a while.”
Han Yeo Jin nodded. “Keep at it,” she said, and turned to Detective Choi. “Detective Choi, I need you to process this for prints,” she ordered, handing him the evidence bag containing the bug from the hospital.
“What is it?” the detective asked.
“It’s a listening device. We found it in Ambassador Song’s hospital room.”
“Somebody bugged the ambassador’s room?” asked Captain Choi incredulously.
“Yes,” Han Yeo Jin replied. “And whoever it was would have heard that that we were investigating Young Hak Joo, since Director No and I talked to the ambassador about him in her hospital room.”
“Do you have any idea who could’ve placed the bug there?” asked Jang Geon.
“Yes— we think it was our murder victim, Jun Ji An. I think that was the reason she targeted me, after she heard through the device that I was investigating the scientist. Detective Seo is at the hospital now, looking through the CCTV footage of the ward while the ambassador stayed there, and to interview the hospital staff,” said Han Yeo Jin, and turned to Jang Geon. “I need you to go there and help him.”
Jang Geon nodded. “This case just keeps getting crazier by the minute,” he said, shaking his head.
The briefing finished, and the team members scattered to perform their assignments. Han Yeo Jin sat at her desk, and rubbed her eyes tiredly. Crazier indeed, she thought, finding the description highly fitting. Despite of all the information they have uncovered, she had to admit that they were no closer to finding the murder suspect, and no closer to discovering the secret behind Young Hak Joo and Jun Ji An, and what ties them together. She looked at the whiteboard, and at the photos of Jun Ji An taped there, and understood why they had mistook her for their murder victim. All except Prosecutor Hwang, whom according to Jang Geon, was the only one who had recognized that their horribly dismembered murder victim was not her. She wondered, not for the first time, how he knew.
Jun Ji An, she thought, focusing on the woman. Their murder victim remains an enigma to them all. The life she lived painted an average, thirty-something woman, living out a normal, if not lonely, existence. But her actions prior to her death suggested that she was anything but— and her death hinted at a more sinister truth that remains obscured.
Han Yeo Jin turned to her computer, and played the CCTV footage that captured Jun Ji An after breaking into the ambassador’s house. She watched the thin figure walking briskly away from the house, and made her way to her car that was parked a few streets away. That was when she saw it— and Han Yeo Jin quickly hit rewind to replay the moment, and then paused the video to examine the image. She leaned in closer to the monitor to study the footage, and realized in wonder what she was seeing.
She looked right at the camera, she realized in amazement, as she stared at the image of Jun Ji An. Their victim purposefully lingered at the spot to look up at the CCTV camera on the street, her eyes staring directly at them, before she got into her car. Han Yeo Jin sat there, confused at what she was seeing. Why did Jun Ji An, who disabled the camera at the gate to hide the fact that she broke into the ambassador’s house, suddenly wanted to make her presence known? And why would someone skilled enough to infiltrate a property unnoticed, park her car at a spot on the street that was within range of the CCTV camera, when she would have known that it could be traced back to her?
She brought up the other video clip; of the one that captured her running away from her murderer. She watched as Jun Ji An hastily tossed her purse into the dumpster as she ran, but saw that she did not look at the camera this time. Han Yeo Jin hurriedly grabbed the file containing the photos of the crime scene, flipping through each one rapidly, until she found the ones that she was looking for. She stared at them; at the photos of the alley between the general store and the dumpster where they found her purse. She studied the photos, and saw the bulky, old-model CCTV camera mounted high on the wall of the general store. The camera was pointed at the alley and the dumpster, and would have been easily visible to anyone coming down that alley.
She leaned back in her chair, dazed, when she realized what her discovery meant.
Jun Ji An threw my purse in the dumpster after seeing the CCTV camera as she fled from her killer, knowing that she will be captured in it. The footage led the police to discover that the purse belonged to me, and then traced it back to the ambassador’s house.
Jun Ji An disabled the camera at the ambassador’s house to make it evident that she broke into the property to steal my purse, forcing the police to use the footage from the CCTV cameras on the street.
Jun Ji An exposed her face and her car to the CCTV cameras on the street, leading the police to her identity.
Jun Ji An left us breadcrumbs to follow. She wanted us to find her. She wanted us to know what she’s done.
She shut her eyes tightly, trying to make sense of Jun Ji An’s actions. Why? Why did you deliberately leave clues for the police? Why did you want the police to find you?
Han Yeo Jin’s eyes flew open, her breath coming out as a gasp as understanding finally dawned. She stared at the paused video in her monitor, at the image of Jun Ji An staring straight at the CCTV camera. She looked at her eyes, and the face that was like her own; and Han Yeo Jin felt as though the dead woman was looking right at her, and finally understood what she had been trying to say, and what she had tried to do as her final act, knowing she was about to meet her end.
“You didn’t want the police to find you. You wanted me to find you,” Han Yeo Jin whispered to the face on the screen. “You stole my purse not to take something from me. You stole it to leave something behind for me to find.”
She took out her purse, and spilled the contents onto her desk. She looked at the assortment of bills and coins that lay scattered, studying each one intently, and saw a coin that seemed similar to the rest, but emblazoned with a design she did not recognize. She picked it up, and saw an image of a tower, with a flag flying in the background inscribed with the words— Down with Imperialism. Tower of Juche Ideology.
She flipped the coin on the other side, and Han Yeo Jin’s hands shook as she read the inscription.
Central Bank of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea - One Won
“Oh my god,” whispered Han Yeo Jin, staring at the North Korean coin in disbelief, certain that this was what was left to her by their murder victim. And she knew, without a doubt, that she finally held in her hand the evidence proving Jun Ji An’s ties to the North.