Release the hounds…the game has begun.
Chapter 5: Of (Re)unions and Shakespearian Inquiries (What’s in a Name?)
“Hello, journalist!” Hyoyeon greeted brightly, tipping her tour guide cap in a mock salute.
Sooyoung did a double take and then grinned back. “Oh, it’s you. Hello again.”
Sooyoung turned towards the youngest woman in the room, the only one dressed in a suit and standing ramrod straight even as another—“IM YOONA”, the nametag reported—leaned on her, an arm draped around her shoulder.
“You’re the reporter from yesterday,” Juhyun said.
Recognition dawned on Sooyoung a few moments later. “Ah, you’re that intern at the Assembly, right?”
“Former,” Juhyun corrected with a glower, and Sooyoung resisted the urge to take a step back.
Yuri frowned. “Wait. You’re not interning at all anymore, Seohyun?”
The younger girl gave a small, dejected shake of her head. Sunny spared her from having to explain another time by speaking up instead. “So Yuri suddenly got kicked out of the hospital at the same time that you happened to lose your job. Isn’t that a bit weird?”
“The same hospital that was treating most of the victims of the bombing earlier this afternoon,” Jessica added.
“The bombing that I got a tip about, but it ended up being a false lead.” Sooyoung turned to Tiffany and gave a sheepish smile. “Sorry about that, Fany—I lost my phone as well as the time. I’ll buy you dinner?”
Tiffany said nothing, expression dark, glaring at Sooyoung until the latter began to shift uncomfortably in the doorway. Then she ran forward and knocked the wind out of the taller girl as she wrapped the other in a tight hug. “I’m glad you’re safe,” she mumbled into Sooyoung’s shoulder.
Sooyoung returned the hug with a smile, patting Tiffany’s back with one hand. “Missed you too, Fany.”
“If I may interrupt the tearful reunion for a brief moment,” Taeyeon piped up. “I’m just wondering if anyone else is thinking what I’m thinking.”
“What’re you thinking, unnie?” Yoona prompted.
“Good question, Yoong,” Taeyeon replied cheerfully, “so I’ll answer.” She cleared her throat. “You three,” she pointed at the girls sitting in the waiting room chairs, “and I assume Tiffany and Yoona as well, are working on things Park Jeongsu related. And you,” she turned her gaze to Sooyoung, “are the only reporter who thought of chasing down Seohyun. That means you’re somehow involved in this whole National Assembly mess too, correct?”
“The one thing in the world I want to be is involved,” Sooyoung lamented, “but it seems like all I have are dead ends.” She stopped, realizing whom Taeyeon had included in her previous statement. “Wait. You…?” She looked at Hyoyeon, who gave her a cheery wave in response.
“What Sunny said earlier about everything being weird also seems to be true, even if it was a complete shot in the dark,” Taeyeon continued. “And I think Tiffany might be able to explain the connection, yes? Unless Sooyoung wasn’t the friend in inexplicable hypothetical danger just now.” She tilted her head, looking at Tiffany expectantly.
She figured it out. Tiffany bit her lip, deep in thought as she looked around the room. Eight people, and half of them were working with Jessica anyway, it seemed. I can keep tabs on eight if things get out of hand. She exhaled, deciding on the best way to begin. “There’s…been a lot of sketchy stuff going on around Seoul lately. Some of them make the headlines, like the Park scandal or the market bombing today. Others stay under the radar, like arms dealings or even human trafficking. But they all have the same source.”
“Hold on.” Sooyoung held up a hand. “Fany, all that stuff is bad, but every city has to deal with it. You can’t say that just for Seoul, they all happen to have the same root and if we can eliminate that, all of our problems will be solved.”
Tiffany nodded. “I know. This kind of stuff happens everywhere, all the time, and it’s impossible to trace back to every single cause. Except here, at this time, I can tell you that there is a single entity responsible for the things I just listed.”
“What, like some sort of terrorist group?” Sunny asked.
Tiffany shrugged. “To be honest, I don’t know. And that’s the problem.”
Sooyoung shook her head. “Wait, wait, I’m still lost. Fany, how in the world can you know any of this?”
“Well…” Tiffany cleared her throat.
“Your friend is a hacker,” Jessica interrupted bluntly.
Sooyoung blinked. “A what?”
“Now might be a good time to remind everyone of the what’s-said-in-this-room-stays-in-this-room policy I’ve got,” Taeyeon commented. “Violators will be subject to Yoona’s Battleship pranks.”
Yoona pouted. “For the last time, I didn’t cheat, unnie. You’re just bad.”
“So, I might not exactly have that accounting job you thought I did.” Tiffany laughed nervously under Sooyoung’s disbelieving stare. “You know what? Just forget about that dinner, okay? We can call it even.”
Her apologetic expression shifted to confusion when Sooyoung just chuckled and patted her head. “Geez, Fany, should’ve told me sooner. Think of all the info I would’ve had then! I could’ve run the entire newspaper by myself.”
“Tiffany’s good at what she does,” Jessica said matter-of-factly, “but even she can’t figure out who exactly is behind all of this.”
“I can always trace it back to a certain point,” Tiffany agreed, “but then I lose it. So I’m absolutely certain that it’s one person, or maybe one group of people, but I still don’t know who. That’s why I asked Jessi for help.”
“Park Jeongsu is somehow involved in all of this, even if it’s on a lower level,” Jessica explained. “That much is clear. The next step would be to somehow use him to get more information on whoever’s actually behind it all.”
Sooyoung nodded. “You guys had the same idea as me, actually. I knew there was something more to his story, so I was digging around on my own. I’m sorry.” She gave Juhyun an apologetic bow.
“Don’t tell me that that’s what you were doing at the National Assembly today,” Hyoyeon said, amused.
“I would’ve succeeded if someone hadn’t found the sudden need to tell me where the restroom was,” Sooyoung retorted.
Hyoyeon shook her head. “Upstairs is a maze. I don’t lead many tours up there, and we don’t go in very far, but I can already see that it’s gonna be a problem. Which is where you,” she pointed at Juhyun, “will come in very handy.”
“Ah.” Tiffany brightened. “I was going to search up the floor plans for the building, but this’ll be much simpler. All we need is a layout of the place. Do you think you can come up with one?”
“I’ll pay you,” Jessica added helpfully.
Juhyun considered the offer for a few seconds before nodding once. “I can do it.” She turned to Yoona. “Paper, unnie?”
“So what are you guys planning then?” Sooyoung pressed. “Breaking into Park Jeongsu’s office?”
“Ding! We have a winner!” Hyoyeon gave her a thumbs-up. “Hyoyeon, Yoona, and Sunny at your service.”
Sooyoung nodded. “Count me in, too.” She cut off the tour guide’s beginning objections. “I’ve been chasing after this since the scandal first broke out. There’s no way I’m sitting on the sidelines now.”
“Actually, I think you’ve had enough excitement for one day,” Tiffany said firmly, gripping Sooyoung’s sleeve. “You don’t know who or what they might run into, if anything at all, but better to be safe than sorry.”
Sooyoung turned to look at her friend. “How did you know about the bomb and everything, anyway? Don’t tell me you hacked into my phone,” she teased. Then she paused. “You didn’t, right?”
“Of course not,” Tiffany replied, indignant. “I heard you say the address and remembered that warehouse being the base of an arms dealer who specializes in cell-phone-activated explosives. I assume you got a text or call telling you about this lead, which means they already have your number, so they basically have your phone. You never answer when you’re following up on something like this, so I just texted and then got so freaked out trying to figure out how to save you I had to come to Taeyeon to sort things out.”
“It’s probably good if you stay back,” Sunny pointed out. “Seems like you almost got yourself blown up today, and the person was targeting you specifically. I’d keep an eye out from here on.” Tiffany’s grip on her friend’s wrist tightened and Sooyoung sighed loudly through her nose, but made no move to leave.
“Done,” Juhyun announced, holding up her sheet.
Hyoyeon whistled. “Wow, that was fast.”
“That’s our Seohyun for you.” Yoona grinned proudly, taking the map and ruffling the younger girl’s hair despite the latter’s protests.
“I shouldn’t be surprised,” Hyoyeon agreed. “She’s quite efficient when it comes to arranging tours of upstairs. Seohyun, is it now, instead of Seo Juhyun? Rolls off the tongue easier, I have to say.” Hyoyeon nodded in approval. “Seohyun it is!”
Juhyun sighed and gave Yoona an exasperated look. “Unnie.”
Yoona responded with a cheerful shrug. “Seems like it’s catching on. What to do?”
“You guys still have time to get this done by tonight,” Jessica lifted a hand to cover her yawn. “Do it.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Hyoyeon chirped, jumping up, and Sunny stood as well. “One batch of corrupt government official secrets, coming right up.”
Yuri grunted. “Look at them, off to go do things. I hate just sitting around like this.”
“You do have your own practice to run,” Taeyeon reminded her. “Don’t take getting kicked out of one of the best hospitals in Seoul so personally.”
“When you put it like that, how can I not take it personally?” Yuri demanded as Taeyeon snickered.
“Take it easy, Yuri,” Sunny called over her shoulder as she followed Hyoyeon and Yoona out of the office. The pitch of her voice suddenly heightened as she turned and smiled. “I still need someone to take care of me, okay?” The door closed, but her unexpected brightness lingered, leaving the rest in a stunned silence, although not an unpleasant one.
Yuri broke the quiet, scoffing at the sudden display of aegyo and turning to Taeyeon. “Hey, you never got to finish what you were saying, with your whole ‘is anyone else thinking what I’m thinking’ speech.”
“I didn’t need to.” The therapist grinned. “You guys all got what I was going for, right?”
“Of course,” Juhyun said immediately.
Sooyoung smirked. “Heard you loud and clear.”
“Agreed,” Tiffany chimed in, wide smile back in place.
“Right as always, Taeng.” Yuri, who had paused to contemplate for a moment, shook her head with a grin.
“Yeah,” Jessica replied, leaning back in her chair and closing her eyes. “Let’s work together.”
“Geez, how big is this place?” Yoona demanded as they rounded another corner.
“Not big enough if you don’t keep your voice down,” Sunny hissed, looking behind them as she did so.
“Oh, relax.” Hyoyeon waved nonchalantly with one hand as she held up the map with the other. “Seohyun marked which offices will be open at this time. The whole wing is clear, so Yoong can complain as loudly as she wants.”
“I still don’t get how you guys manage to do half the things you do without getting caught,” Sunny muttered as Yoona turned to make a face at her.
“ ’Cause the other half of the time, we want to get caught,” Hyoyeon replied with a wink.
Yoona bounced forward and then stopped further down the hallway. “It’s this one, right?”
“Yup.” Hyoyeon nodded after she and Sunny caught up. “Do your thing.”
Yoona was already working at the lock, grin widening around the flashlight in her mouth when the door clicked and swung open on soundless hinges. “Easy.”
“That’s what has me worried,” Sunny commented as the three slipped in.
“Don’t need to be,” Hyoyeon replied as she reached over to turn Sunny’s flashlight off. “As long as we don’t get seen from the outside.”
Yoona made her way to the window and drew the blinds, the wooden slats clacking against each other as they shut. “Okay, we should be fine now.”
Sunny switched her flashlight on again and swept the beam around the room once. “So what are we looking for, exactly?”
“Paper, mostly,” Hyoyeon replied as she leafed through a text she’d pulled out from the bookshelf. “Anything that Tiffany couldn’t get her hands on through the computer. Which isn’t much, I have to say.”
Yoona opened a drawer in the desk and began feeling along the bottom. “I wish they hadn’t confiscated all the evidence related to the whole drug lord thing. That was probably our best bet.”
“So you’re saying that him getting arrested and facing jail time for his corruption is a bad thing,” Sunny deadpanned.
“Basically.” Yoona shrugged as she knelt down to examine the underside of the desk. “Sneaking around is much easier when you don’t have to deal with police-type people running around with their own agendas.”
“I think Sunny feels like we’re the ones in the wrong here,” Hyoyeon chuckled before sliding the book back in place. “Why’d you accept the job, then?”
Sunny opened her mouth to reply, but stopped when a soft click echoed in the room.
“Whoops,” Yoona said.
Hyoyeon frowned. “That sounded like—”
“A bomb trigger,” Sunny finished, making her way to the desk. “Yoona, don’t move.”
“That wasn’t exactly the next thing on my to-do list, but thanks for confirming,” Yoona shot back halfheartedly, now frozen in a half-crouched position, left hand still wrapped around the latch of a hidden panel on the inside of the desk.
Sunny settled down next to her and examined the wood carefully. “Since we haven’t blown up yet, it’s probably a pressure trigger. If you can keep that same amount or more, we can still open this and then I can defuse it.”
“Thank goodness we’ve got someone from the military bomb squad here.” Hyoyeon leaned over from the other side of the desk to look down at the other two. “Nice going, Yoong.”
“Thanks, I try,” Yoona replied through gritted teeth as she slid the panel open as steadily as she could. She raised her eyebrows when a blinking device came into view. “Work your magic, please?”
“This doesn’t seem too bad,” Sunny assured her, giving the visible wires a onceover. “I just need to cut the right one and it’ll be over.”
“Red or green?” Hyoyeon joked, although her anxious eyes were glued to the wire cutters that Sunny had pulled out of her bag.
“Red,” Sunny answered promptly, snipping her selected strand.
Yoona instinctively winced, squeezing her eyes shut and turning away. When she realized that all three of them were still in one piece, she looked up first at Hyoyeon, who was staring at the deactivated bomb.
Yoona returned her attention to the device, now with a message scrolling across its screen. “ ‘Well done, First Lieutenant Lee’,” she read aloud just as the last word disappeared.
Sunny remained silent, gaze locked on the name that followed.