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Athena's Vengeance

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Shim Su Ryeon can’t shake the feeling that someone’s been watching her all day.

 

Indeed, a few hundred sets of eyes are glued to her face as she gives a lecture on illicit practices in crime finance. The hall is unusually packed, even non-law students have come to audit her class. It gives her hope to see young people interested in serving justice, especially in an institution that many privileged people attend. Being a prosecutor is a thankless, and at times perilous profession, not a safe choice for rich kids. That’s why her class attendance matters. As she continues her talk, she glances around the audience and thinks they made the right career choice, hard as it may be.

 

Her eyes linger for a second more at a certain student. Him again. Despite his obvious efforts to cover himself up -leather jacket, dark beanie pushing his hair to his eyes, the occasional sunglasses- nothing can hide the rampant interest in his eyes. He seems to be taking every word she says and filing it in his memory, putting pieces to an imaginary puzzle. At times, he scribbles notes on a legal pad without looking away from her. As if he doesn’t want to miss a single expression of her face.

 

He seems slightly older than the other students, more determined. Su Ryeon thinks he’ll be a great match for criminals when he graduates.

 

“And that concludes the class today, we start the Internal Corruption segment on Monday. Office hours are the same and you may make a consultation regarding the subject of your final paper. Have a restful weekend, I want you all ready for battle next week”.

 

-

 

She stills feels she’s been watched. She’s walking from the main auditorium to the campus entrance near where she’s parked. It’s a long way on heels, balancing three heavy law textbooks and her leather handbag. The class completed, student questions answered, she can’t wait to go to her office and start the real part of her work.

 

For now, she enjoys walking across campus while the sun’s last breath casts a warm glow on the greenery surrounding her. She smells the air, filled with the aroma of flowers she doesn’t recognize. It’s as the world stops for a moment, and she’s not a mother with secrets, a lawyer with a dark agenda, a woman on a bloody mission. As her tan heels click on the ground, she’s only a person trying to make the world better, unburdened by the weight of reality.

 

“Professor Shim!”, she hears a voice and footsteps coming from behind her. She turns elegantly and comes face to face with a certain mysterious student. He’s taller than he seemed now that he’s standing next to her. The dark Rayban sunglasses now give their place to darker eyes. His firm body is angled towards her. “I wanted your opinion on something, if you have some time”. He looks at her expectantly.

 

“You’re in my L2 class, correct? I’m heading out now, Mr...”

 

“I’m Logan” He introduces himself informally, like people do in the States. She briefly wonders if he knows she studied in Columbia and that’s why he’s not correcting his American greeting. “I only have a question about Criminal Law III, regarding the topic you breached today. I have a special interest.” His tone is sincere. “Please”.

 

“All right, Logan. You can walk with me. Tell me what can I help you with. I introduced numerous topics in today’s lecture.” She starts walking and he follows adjusting his stride to match hers.

 

He immediately spots the books she’s struggling to carry. “Let me” he offers motioning to them.

 

“You don’t have to”. At his pleading expression, she accepts and thanks him. As he takes the lot from her, his fingers meet hers and for a moment, they are connected. A feather-like touch timestamps their fate.

 

Su Ryeon averts her eyes and he continues. “You talked about how in cases of crimes against minors, they push for maximum sentence of everyone related. That as prosecutors we also have to punish the people who benefited too, by tracing the financial relations of crime syndicates and wealthy recipients. But what if the benefitted party was later made aware of the crime?”

 

“That’s a question I don’t get often, I admit.” She starts explaining. “Most people only care about the first line of criminals, but the real criminals are also those who finance them. I can’t answer universally, as you know punishment is dependent on several factors, but I can assert this: any entity who is not directly connected to the syndicate through clear, provable financial transactions is very hard to be brought to justice. That doesn’t mean we should limit the search for evidence, but a jury focuses more on who did the crime, than who the crime was done for”.

 

He is nodding along. “I understand. But what do you think? Not what the jury or the judge will think. You, as my professor and as a renown prosecutor”.

 

It’s not meant as compliment, but people recognizing her work makes Su Ryeon proud.

 

“I believe it’s paramount to eradicate the structures of wealth that use the street crime to propagate their fortune and shield their families from their unspeakable crimes. I believe that the moment you find out a crime has been committed around you, it becomes your responsibility to bring it to justice. Even if this means going against your loved ones. Even if it means standing up to family. The price for justice can be crushing, but we should pay it”.

 

Logan stays still beside her, then looks at her in wonder and resumes walking.

 

“Is that the answer you were searching for?” Su Ryeon asks when he’s silently contemplating her words.

 

“This is the answer I was unconsciously dreading”. He purses his lips. “Are you implying that once we acknowledge a serious but not always prosecutable breach of the law, we should seek justice in other, more efficient ways?” He asks, his interest evident.

 

“I’m not suggesting you beat up criminals, Logan”, she answers jokingly. “I’m your law professor! Don’t make me an accessory”. Her eyes dance with mirth. She resumes her position. “I’m saying that we should strive to include justice for all in the law and not bend the law to achieve it. That even though some crimes so far tend to go disproportionately unpunished, if they’re damaging, we ought to try. And it all starts with having a sense of justice inside and treat every case fairly, even the one who affect us more.”

 

Logan looks down and nods. Then he looks around the quiet campus trail and a more interesting question forms.

 

“Is that why you made a comeback to law, Professor? Did you spot a crime affecting you?”

 

She reaches his eyes and wonders how did he guess it. The reason why she resumed prosecuting criminals after 15 years of living as a wealthy and idle housewife. No one knows about Min Sol A, about the ordeal she passed while mourning her and the clues pointing to her husband’s indirectly involvement with the gang she’s been investigating. No one knows the hell she has lived every day since she found out last year. So why is this guy looking at her like that? With a hint of understanding and kindness. As if he’d know.

 

She can’t say all of that, of course.

 

“It was time for me to resume my work. I raised my kids and now I have incentive to clean the world for them.”

 

“You want to set an example”.

 

“I want them to know that having money doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard. Quite the opposite. The more privilege one has, the more they should strive to earn it. By doing things for others”.

 

“No crime reasons, then?” He looks away for a moment, giving her some space.

 

“Not for me, no”. They’re approaching her favourite tree in the end of the path. Its shade often covers couples enjoying simple dates, spontaneous picnics, students reading books and listening to music. All this, it’s a part of a reality she has abandoned. Revenge consumes everything.

 

They keep talking, both trying to figure each other out.

 

“What about you? What’s your special interest in my class that got you to ask such questions?”

 

He appears surprised at her genuine interest but quickly scold his face to a neutral tone.

 

“There was somebody I couldn’t help”, he offers. His expression hides pain and regret and she doesn’t miss it.

 

“Do you feel guilty about it? Even if it wasn’t your fault?”

 

“What makes you think it wasn’t?”

 

She stares at him pointedly.

 

“Even so, I should have known. I should have cared more.” I should have turned my parents to the police, evidence be damned.

 

“Put your guilt into something actionable, then”.

 

“Why do you think I’m taking your class?” He smiles. It turns bitters. “I left an MBA and flew across the globe to be a prosecutor and make things right.”

 

“I’m glad you did”.

 

“Me too”. When he says it, he’s looking at her as if she holds the key to his labyrinth and gave him his freedom.

 

They have entered the car park and she motions to her car in the far left corner. As they approach it unhurriedly, Su Ryeon thinks it’s been a long time since she talked that honestly and freely to someone. Not only about the law, but about herself and why she chose this rode now. Would her husband be that curious and understanding? He’s never been. Would her law associates be supportive if they knew about her revenge plans? They could never learn about them. As does Logan, his easy temperament notwithstanding.

 

“Thank you, you can put these in here”, she says as she unlocks the car.

 

Before he has the chance to do so, the car parked opposite hers suddenly reverses heading fast towards them. They hear wheels screeching. In that second, Su Ryeon freezes. Logan springs to action, grabbing Su Ryeon’s hand with his free one and pushing her gently but surely out of the car’s way. They end up glued together with her back on the wall and him covering her. Seconds pass and none of them breathes. As Su Ryeon wakes up from the momentary shock, she raises her head and finds him looking at her, their distance between them nonexistent. His hand is on her arm and his eyes can’t move from hers. If she was under oath in front of a jury, she would have to admit she sees longing in them. Pure and intense. She wonders what can he see in her eyes.

 

With that thought she gathers herself and gently pushes his still frozen body. He shakes his head and takes a step back, assessing her.

 

“Are you alright? I saw him at the last moment. I’m so sorry, Su Ryeon-ssi. Are you hurt?” Logan asks, forgetting her title amidst his worry.

 

“I am alright.” She says calmly, hiding her erratic heartbeat. “You can let go off me now”. With that, he retracts his hand as if it had been burning close to the sun and puts the books in her car. He opens the door for her.

 

She approaches and before she enters she asks “How are you going home?”

 

Logan smirks and motions to a red and black Ducati, parked a few spaces to their left. Low rise, turbo capabilities, sleek design. She tries to hide her how impressed she is, her own motorcycle hidden in her office parking lot.

 

“Very gangster of you, Mr future prosecutor”, she jokes instead to break the tension.

 

She gently lowers herself to get in the car, his palm staying on top of the door opening to protect her head. She notices. As he closes the door after her, he lower himself to the open window and utters:

 

“We can’t let the criminals have all the fun”

 

Her lips part in surprise but nothing comes out.

 

“Until Monday, Professor”. He bows in goodbye, never leaving her eyes until her car starts moving away.

 

As she drives, she checks her reflection in the mirror and finally smiles.

 

-

 

The figure in the dark SUV watching the exchange from a distance also smiles, though his reasons are much more nefarious.