“How could you take Rona’s side, mom? She’s just a poor girl with no father! And I’m Ju Seok Kyung. How can you defend her to the teacher?” Su Ryeon daughter cries angrily after bursting to her office.
“You’re in the wrong, honey. And deep down you know it. Rona worked so hard to get in. And you cheated in your exams.” Su Ryeon speaks calmly.
“I just copied Seok Hyung’a answers. How else would I pass the test? Why don’t you think of me?”
“I am. And what you did was wrong. I know your dad helped you cheat through your teacher, and I won’t stand by it. We-“
“At least dad helped me! What have you done? All these years you’ve only cared about your sick daughter. Not about how I’m doing. You’re not my mother!”
“Seok Kyunh...” she whispered in pain, but her daughter had already turned around her left her office, slamming the heavy door behind her furiously. Su Ryeon hid her head behind her hands and tried to quiet her crying. After a few minutes, her embroidered handkerchief had erased the evidence of her familiar drama.
She turned to her laptop to continue her research, when a knock interrupted.
“Come in”, she hastily checked for signs of crying in her face. She was an expert in hiding her pain, her husband could never tell if she’d been shedding tears.
A leather jacket clad man entered and Su Ryeon barely hid her surprise. It was her student Logan, or Gu Ho Dong, as he was listed in the university files. The same files she read with the meticulousness of an experienced investigator. Logan was his American name. He transferred from the US to Korea last year, finishing classes from both the 1st and 2nd year of law school, because of transferred credits from his previous degree in economics and his hard work on the course. He was 28, from Korean parents, his grandparents emigrated to the US in 1960. One of the heirs of Lee Corporations, spanning from real estate to entertainment ventures. He had worked under the CEO Emma Lee, his grandmother, with a view to learn and take over someday. Until he quit and came to Korea to enroll in law school. No one knew why. That was all Su Ryeon could find about him, even less about his family. Now the man standing before her could fill the blanks.
“Professor Shim, is this a good time?” he asked as her approaches her desk.
“Of course.” She left an inaudible sniff. “What is it?”
“I enjoyed our conversation last time. What you said helped guiding me to what I want my degree to serve. And for that I want to learn from you. Thus, this is my application for the internship position”. He pulled a sheet of paper from a leather case and approached her desk. He handed it to her confidently.
“You’re aware that it includes open cases, are you? That means long hours, tons of research and studying previous cases. All this on top of your standard curriculum. It’s a lot of work, Logan, and it’s tailored specifically to future prosecutors”.
“So my degree in finance will help with following the money used for these operations. I have thought about it, Mrs Shim, and it’s what I want to do more than anything. I will work hard, give me a chance to prove it”, he pleaded.
“Very well, I will take your application into consideration.” She paused and looked at her screen, the affidavit draft open. “Could you hand me these files on your left?”
“What are you looking for?” He asked as he handed them. He took the state of her office in, the wood tones complimenting the sleek furniture. Files and law books open in front of her, but none of them had any notes or bookmarks, from what he could see.
“Certain names to cross reference”. She adjusted her position in an effort to sit more comfortably. This was heading for a long night.
“Tell me. I can help you.” he offered quickly.
“Don’t you have class? It’ll take a long time”. It was already past five and she had a lot more ground to cover.
“I finished for today”, he lied. “And I want to prove I’m the best person for the job”.
She nodded. “I won’t fill you in on the case completely, as you're not here in any official capacity and attorney client privilege applies. But let me show you what we’re looking for”. She started explaining and motioned him to sit on the chair across from her. She gave him instructions as to the names they were searching, pointing to certain photos on her laptop screen.
For the life of her, she couldn't understand if he was listening. Granted, he had all his attention on her, but his a piercing gaze was so focus on her eyes, as if he was more interested in what she was not saying rather than her words.
"Here is one", she explained. She showed him a transaction that passed through overseas accounts and ended in the bank account of a man related to the Sapiro gang.
"How can we be sure it's shady business? There's no receipt or trace".
"Of course there isn't. They are criminals, not morons." He chuckled. "Look at me" she demanded. "We are searching for connections, not evidence yet. Gangs don't operate like regular businesses, they use their outer members, ones that have a loose association in order to siphon money. Money that becomes almost impossible to trace. Hence, the difficulty in tying the leaders. They always keep their hands clean. I don't want you to think like a detective, I want you to think like a man who desperately tries to hide his footsteps. We underestimate them at our peril, we have to think like them. We can't wait for them to make a mistake, we have to be three steps ahead of their every move".
"You're amazing", the phrase left Logan's mouth before any of them could process it. It hung in the air, lingering in the space between them.
"I mean, your thought process. It's amazing how your mind works," he continues hopelessly, averting his gaze.
His effort to hide the compliment with another compliment makes her heart do a little skip. She's worked so hard to be acknowledged for her intellect and Logan just nails it. Judging from the heat in his cheeks, he means it completely.
"It takes practice", she deflects. "But thank you". His eyes go back to the screen and she sits up to retrieve another book. "This is why I petitioned for interns, we're in the gathering stage and it's all hands on deck. But only if they can be trusted".
"You don't seem like a person who trusts easily". He doesn't look at her. From the corner of his eye, he can see her stopping in her tracks and sitting slowly on the chair beside his.
"It's hard to trust in this line of work". It's not a lie, but definitely an omission.
"This is not what I meant", he challenges.
She pauses, inspecting his expression. It would be audacious if it was coming from someone else. But she gets the genuine interest in his question. Almost like fascination.
"I would be a fool to trust blindly".
"Any specific reason you're so adamant not to?" He asks expectantly.
"There is". She doesn't elaborate.
A beat of silence passes between them. They are at an impasse, neither willing to take the first step in building trust.
"You're married. Don't you trust your husband?"
No, of course not, is her first thought. He's a liar and a cheater. An entitled coward who takes and takes. A scum who used her daughter to make money and partnered with criminals to do so. Trust was the furthest thing from her mind.
But she couldn't admit all that to her student, clever and perceptive as he may be. She opted for a less dangerous version of the truth.
"Being a prosecutor can be dangerous. You have to keep many things to yourself if you want to succeed and protect your family. So, I don't trust my husband with work stuff. I can't."
"So he doesn't understand every time you have a hard day and how much pressure you're under?" He wonders emphatically. He looks sad as he ponders it. "That must feel lonely".
Her throat constricts as she stares at him unblinkingly. Lonely. A world that encompasses her whole quest for revenge, her reality. A word that came out of Logan's mouth so easily, as if he saw her soul.
"It is", she reveals with an honestly that surprises her. Her hand touches her engagement ring and feels its sharp edges sting her fingers. "But being alone is the price for justice". For revenge, she thinks.
He turns his body completely towards hers, the motion making their knees a hair away from touching. He puts his elbows on his legs to be in her eye level.
"That's too hard for anyone. Not being able to really share your pain".
She feels oddly understood. She's reminded of what he told her last time, about the injustice he's trying to atone for. She doesn't intend to scare him into backtracking, but she can't deny the reality that committing to such a purpose is a road one walks alone.
"Does this have anything to do with why you were crying before I came in?"
Her eyes get wider as she calms her heartbeat that shot up.
"Logan", Her expression turns impassive. "If you're serious about the internship," she pauses to get her intent across, "get back to work".
"Yes, ma'am", he drops it and they continue working silently side by side, neither of them forgetting what has transpired.
"You can go, I have to return to the office now", Su Ryeon tells him after three hours of work. They managed to find another possible link of Sapiro and an aspiring politician. If the gang goes down, they'll take everyone associated with them.
"Is there anything else I could do?"
"Not tonight. Go home, rest. If you get the internship you won't be able to."
"I'm looking forward to working with you".
"I said if", she retorts, albeit knowing he's among her top candidates.
"I'll try my best to impress you, then", he promises with a lopsided grin.
"Goodbye, Logan", she ushers him out diplomatically.
"Goodnight, Professor". He turns to leave and she stands up and moves to the printer.
As soon as he touches the door handle, he pauses. For a second, he is grounded with his back towards her, seemingly contemplating something. Then he turns decisively and reaches her position with a few strong footsteps.
"About what you said before, not being able to trust your partner with everything". He's close enough for her to crane her neck upwards. "If I was with someone I love, I'd share everything with them. Full trust, no secrets. There's nothing off limits when you're with the right person".
The intensity of his words make her stare at him blankly. Her cheeks suddenly warming up and her breath catches. His eyes doesn't move from hers like he's begging her to understand.
Regaining her composure, she brings her hands together on her lap.
"Have a good night, Professor", he offers before turning away, this time closing the door behind him, as silence engulfs her. Questions are hanging in the empty space he leaves behind.
Was that directed at her? Is the interest in his eyes something more? Why does her heart speed up in excitement?
This is not the time for her heart to be on the driver's seat. There's nothing going on with Logan.
She pushes the thought away and opens a new tab. Time to see what her husband has been up to. Not only she'll put him in prison, he'll be the one who leads her to Sapiro. The monitor app in her computer beeps. The cursor is hovering around the icon, afraid of what she'll find. She double clicks decisively.
Somewhere in the city, another laptop screen flashes with her documents. Someone's spying on her criminal files.