The next day, the two bodyguards took turns going in and out of the bathroom in the house more than ten times.
“Aigoo… These big guys, like bulls, play such pranks together? There’s an old saying that the most ignorant people make bets on eating.”
The housekeeper clicked her tongue but still prepared chicken porridge for dinner before leaving.
As night fell, the slightly worn-out faces of the two bodyguards, Hee-won and Sunwoo gathered together to eat the chicken porridge.
“The second round isn’t over. It’s just a temporary ceasefire. We’ll compete next time. You’re not scared, right?”
“Of course not.”
“Marines don’t retreat.”
While eating the chicken porridge with trembling faces, the three of them boasted and exchanged compliments.
“We enjoyed the meal. We’ll take our leave now.”
As soon as the meal was over, the two bodyguards stood up. It seemed like they were concerned about Taeju, who had returned from his business trip last night.
“I’ll go too.”
Hee-won checked the time and started packing his bag.
“Hee-won, are you going because you might run into Taeju again?”
“Well… that’s one of the reasons. Why?”
“Why does Taeju-ssi dislike it when I meet other people?”
Is it because he’s worried that something might go wrong if I go outside? Or are they just unnecessary words?
Hee-won put down his bag again and went to the freezer, taking out two grape-flavored twists and sitting next to her.
“It’s not because of you, it’s just that Dan Taeju himself isn’t really interested in people. Except for work, that is. He would probably just pass by even if a cow tap-danced in front of him.”
She faintly smiled at Hee-won’s joke and murmured to herself.
“That’s probably true. I’m just being foolish, feeling down on my own and overthinking things.”
While she had come to the city and learned everything step by step, understanding the human heart was something she couldn’t learn anywhere. And among them, Taeju was the most difficult to read.
Hee-won unwrapped the packaging, put it in his mouth, and playfully stuck his tongue out towards her.
“Look at me. My tongue is really blue.”
Seeing Hee-won sticking out his cat-like pointed tongue and smiling, Sunwoo couldn’t help but smile along.
It was comforting to have him soothe her in his own way without prying too much.
After Hee-won left, the house felt empty and lonely. While filling the bathtub with water, Sunwoo heard some noise from outside, so she quickly went out.
“Is it Taeju-ssi?”
She had been waiting for the lights to turn on on the first floor, but she didn’t hear any signs of movement. It seemed to be the sound of the windows rattling in the wind. While taking a bath and drying her hair, she continued to listen for any sounds coming from the first floor, but it became pathetic, and she ended up laughing alone.
It was too late for him to come home now.
She crawled into bed and fiddled with her phone before falling asleep. It was already past midnight.
In her drowsiness, Sunwoo woke up as she felt a faint presence and a solid sensation on the bed. A large shadow was right in front of her.
There was always a sense of unease in her heart. Even when she laughed, ate, or at any time, the underlying unease surged like waves. That’s why when she was embraced by Taeju’s strong arms, she felt an overwhelming sense of security.
His voice and scent brought her such relief that tears welled up. It was a comfort that she could rely on no matter how much she leaned on him.
“Why are you so late?”
I’ve been waiting. In her drowsiness, Sunwoo murmured as she buried herself in his embrace.
The place looked more like a gallery than a restaurant. Or maybe even a psychiatric ward.
In the middle of the hall, there was a stone decoration that caught the flowing water from above, and the corridor was a completely white space from floor to ceiling, without any windows. The sense of the shop owner who designed this place for dining was astonishing.
“The guest has arrived.”
As they opened the door and entered, Kwon Kyung-sun greeted them with a face that looked like she was wearing a mask. She had her usual long hair tied up and was wearing a suit.
She had lived her whole life like a robot under the control of Park Eui-rye.
“The chairman is waiting for you.”
How dare he make the chairman wait? Unlike the leisurely Park Eui-rye, he was busy with work and came on time. He passed by, chuckling, knowing full well why her own mother was in prison.
“Long time no see, Secretary Kwon. Looks like something good is happening these days. You look good.”
The surface of Kwon’s scowling face twitched and contorted. Park Eui-rye, who had come first and was sitting at the table, looked at him and clicked her tongue lightly.
“You’re so mean, sit down.”
“It’s been a while.”
Formally bowing, Taeju sat down in front of Eui-rye. Soon after, servers in modified hanbok came in from outside and placed the food on the table one by one.
“Is Korean cuisine alright? I ordered it without asking. The salmon rice in the pot here is delicious.”
At first glance, Park Eui-rye looked like an ordinary, kind old woman. Of course, no one would dare underestimate her.
“You’ve been quite busy lately, it seems.”
“I have no choice but to just do it.”
As he half-rose and politely refilled Eui-rye’s glass, the old woman took the bottle and filled her own glass. The clear, clean soju filled the glass.
“Thank you for coming today. Honestly, I thought you would refuse.”
“If the chairman calls, who in South Korea would refuse? Even if I have prior engagements, I’ll cancel them and come.”
“It’s not appropriate to exchange greetings in an unsuitable manner.”
Saying that, Park Eui-rye smiled kindly.
Taeju had gone to Rain Avenue a few days ago to meet Lee Sang-cheol. He was curious about how he would react if he shook him up. It wasn’t that he hadn’t considered using Lee Sunwoo as bait to trap him, depending on the situation.
But the real danger was not someone as simple as Lee Sang-cheol, but his own father or Park Eui-rye.
“Our households, at this point, can be considered destined to be connected. Don’t you think so? When was that? The first time I saw you was during your father’s trial, right?”
He was fourteen years old at the time.
His father, Dan Ki-hwan, had kept his mouth shut despite having countless secrets, both for the sake of future plans and because he knew that if he spoke recklessly, he could be killed without anyone knowing, and that anxiety was even greater, he thought.
Park Eui-rye was someone who usually didn’t go in and out of other people’s houses, but she appeared at that trial.
She must have wanted to see what her father would say.
“I was tempted to take you with me. You had quite a good look in your eyes, young one.”
“Is that so?”
As a guard dog in the household?
“I thought there would be no occasion for the child under my guard to grow up, but you’ve grown up so well. My eyes were not mistaken. I admire your bravery.”
“If I’m a dog under your guard, why wouldn’t the opposite be true?”
Park Eui-rye’s wrinkled eyes narrowed. Like a snake-like old woman. Taeju smiled at the old woman and turned his head to take a sip of her drink.
“Do you drink without suspicion, not knowing what I put in that drink?”
“If it were Lee Sang-cheol, maybe, but would the chairman drink something so simple? It’s insulting to you.”
He picked up a piece of raw fish with his chopsticks and put it in his mouth. If someone were to see them from a distance, they would appear to be two people sitting face to face, enjoying a meal in a friendly manner.
“What can I do if it’s lacking? When I was young, I had many ambitions and desires, but now that I’ve gotten older, I realize that all that’s left is family. So I should bring that child with me.”
Park Eui-rye casually threw out the words as if it were nothing.
“Stop everything and send her to me.”
He picked up the second piece of raw fish.
“If someone hears, they might think it’s about your granddaughter who went abroad to study. That won’t do.”
Park Eui-rye’s face was filled with surprise and bewilderment as if she had never heard the words “you can’t” in her entire life. Of course, even that might have been intentional.
“Yes, I made a contract.”
“With the chairman’s lovely granddaughter.”
Park Eui-rye let out a short laugh with a metallic tone mixed in her hoarse voice.
“What kind of contract?”
“If anyone dares to lay a finger on her, I’ll kill them all. Maybe it’s because she’s been trapped on that f*cking island her whole life, but she’s quite fearful.”
Park Eui-rye had a faint smile on her face throughout the meal, but beneath those thick wrinkles, greed was deeply embedded.
The old woman wiped her lips with a neat, white towel after finishing her meal. Then, she opened the golden case placed beside her and took out a cigarette, placing it in her mouth.
“Do you smoke?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Young people live such boring lives.”
Park Eui-rye leisurely sucked on the cigarette, slowly exhaling the smoke into the air as if there was no hurry.
“A contract, you see, can have conditions that change depending on the circumstances. Just like what your father received from me.”
“Is that so?”
“Well, both you and I are businessmen, aren’t we?”
The decorated goldfish, adorned with gold flakes, remained untouched except for a single bite.
Park Eui-rye brushed off the ashes onto the plate.
“Goods always end up going to the one who desires them the most.”
Park Eui-rye was comparing her own granddaughter to an object. Well, he himself thought that way and brought Lee Sunwoo out as a bargaining chip. So now she probably thinks that he has her in his possession as a threat.
“Those poor people on Umyeon Island, just a few words of threat would have made them scared and obedient to your commands. What was the reason for putting that child on trial? Wasn’t it for me to see? So, I’m the one who will give it.”
Park Eui-rye had always received reports from Kwon Kyung-sun about the things Taeju had done. She had no doubt about what kind of person he was.
“So, what do you plan to give me?”
A man who would sell anything that could be sold, even things that couldn’t be sold, and would do anything for money. A man who wouldn’t hesitate to do anything if it was profitable for him.
“I will give you what you desire most.”
“Well, I don’t particularly have anything I want to take from you, Chairman.”
“Are you sure?”
The old woman’s pupils, staring at him intently, shimmered like glass marbles.
“I’m thinking of giving you Sunwoo.”
Ah, what a cunning old woman.
His expression subtly changed at the unexpected words. Watching him closely, Park Eui-rye crushed the cigarette on the goldfish meat and laughed with a muffled sound, as if the broth was boiling.