A residence spanning over a thousand square meters, located in the heart of Seoul. It has a well-maintained garden and antique-like stone tiles. The house is softly lit from the outside.
To think that such a house, the likes of which I’ve only ever seen on TV, is now my house.
Chief Kim and I open the front door and enter together.
My eyes are greeted by an interior that radiates sophistication.
I also see Go Dae-man, who is sitting on a sofa, reading a book.
“You are late,” he says.
“You have not retired to your chamber yet?” Chief Kim says in surprise, bowing.
It is rare for Go Dae-man to still be awake past midnight. He maintains his routine immaculately, so his sleep pattern is very regular.
Go Dae-man puts his book down and adjusts the position of his glasses on his face. He looks tired, but his eyes still show his sharp intelligence.
“Where have you been?” he questions.
“Just taking care of some things here and there,” I reply.
“What happened to your face and clothes?”
Hmm. How should I answer this one? Do I tell him that I had a run-in with the Spaniel?
As I hesitate, Go Dae-man clicks his tongue and puts an envelope on the table in front of him.
It’s an invitation card, decorated beautifully with gold leaf. It reads: ‘The honorable presence of Mr. Go Ji-hun is requested at the informal party celebrating the foundation of Gunbaek Construction.’
“You said that you will not live as you did before, so you will earn your keep,” Go Dae-man says.
“You’re telling me to attend this?” I ask.
“It will be beneficial.”
“For who? For me? Or the Gogwang Group?”
“Where is the meaning in that question? You are the Gogwang Group, and the Gogwang Group is you.”
“I’m not interested. I have two older brothers for that, don’t I?”
“If you break your obligations, you will have no freedom. Your card is not the only privilege that you have previously enjoyed.”
Wow. That’s low. It’s a half-threat, warning me that he can cut off my access to things other than my card.
Seeing as I’ve already spent 5,000,000 won, I can’t say much, though.
“People don’t realize what they had until they lose it all,” Go Dae-man says, repeating the very words I said to him the first time I met him. “But once they have, it is already too late.”
“What are you trying to say?” I ask.
I can’t read his face. His expression is stern and yet soft at the same time.
Go Dae-man closes his book and stands up. “Consider this advice from Dad. Make the correct choice before it is too late,” he says.
“… Do you not want me to become a police officer?” I ask.
Chief Kim’s eyes open wide; it’s the first time he’s hearing of this.
I can’t figure out why Go Dae-man is opposing me. Is it because I want to be a mere officer rather than something like a prosecutor? Is it because his son has come to his senses but doesn’t want to join the company? Or…?
“Is it because you think I will break down again?” I ask.
Go Dae-man pushes his glasses up and stares at me.
Go Ji-hun would never have been able to read his father’s thoughts. But as a forty-year-old third-party, I can see that Go Dae-man is worried in some way.
I smile softly and observe the changes in Go Dae-man’s expression. It’s as if there’s a raging ocean storm swirling in his eyes. As if he’s suddenly been overwhelmed.
But as expected, he quickly crafts a thin smile. “How humiliating would it be for a son of the head of the Gogwang Group to fail at something such as being a mere public servant?” he says.
As I thought, he’s stubborn. He’s thrown a punch and shot down my suggestion.
“If I become someone you can be proud of, someone who isn’t a disgrace to the Gogwang Group…” I say.
I carefully examine Go Dae-man’s expression before finishing my sentence.
“Please grant me one request.”
“… It is getting late,” Go Dae-man says.
With his book in hand, he disappears into his bedroom.
Given his nature, the fact that he did not give a certain answer essentially means that he has agreed.
I sigh with relief and go up towards my room on the second floor.
As if today wasn’t busy enough without this conversation. I’m so damn tired.
Chief Kim shuffles up the stairs.
“It seems that the president is very concerned about you, Young Master,” he whispers quietly.
“That’s good to know,” I say.
“He stayed up late to wait for you. He even gave you advice.”
“Forget it. Make sure you remember too, Chief Kim. I’m not going to the party. There’s a mountain of things I need to do.”
Several days later.
I’m watching the night cityscape drift by slowly through the window of a cruise ship. I pull at the suffocating tie around my neck.
“Why throw away a good thing that’s been so well-prepared?” Chief Kim says with a small smile, as if reading my mind.
I thought he was looking elsewhere, but he was watching me out of the corners of his eyes. He’s quite incredible in a lot of ways.
“You look very sharp today,” he says.
“Yes, yes. Thank you,” I say.
With my hair tidily combed over, I look handsome, like a foreign model.
A sharp nose and eyes that capture the gaze. A perfectly fitting suit.
Go Ji-hun lived every day looking at this face. No matter what anyone says, it’s a good life.
The lighting on the ship is quite dark overall, but I can feel the surrounding gazes directed towards me.
“It’s freezing outside. We’ll freeze to death, having a party on a boat,” I say.
“But it’s warm inside,” says Chief Kim.
Shit. Money is the root of all evil. As someone who is financially dependent on the president, I had no choice but to attend the party. It seems that I have to tread carefully around him until I become a police officer… No, at least until I catch the Spaniel.
“The night view is nice, though,” I say.
I can see the Dangjeong Bridge through the window. The tall reinforced concrete arches stretch upwards, its lights shining like the stars that decorate the night sky. This is considered to be the most wonderful bridge built by Gunbaek Construction.
‘All bridges across oceans were built by Gunbaek Construction.’ This ‘fact’ circulated as a joke, but it’s partially true. That’s how crazy an influence the company has in Korea.
Chief Kim leans his head towards me and points somewhere with his chin. “Do you see, over there? The one with the ribbon.”
There’s a woman with a large ribbon on her waist, drinking champagne.
“That’s the youngest daughter of the head of the Jayeong Group. She has recently graduated from university, and there are talks of marriage between her and the second-born Young Master,” Chief Kim says.
“Which makes her my future sister-in-law,” I say.
“As long as there are no unexpected complications.”
Unexpected complications seem likely. If I remember correctly, Go Min-guk marries a lawyer from a family of prosecutors.
“And the one with the gold-rimmed glasses is the second son of the Airit Company. The one with the blue necktie is the nephew of the president of Su-eon Pharmaceuticals. The oldest son of the CEO of Uguk Life Insurance and his wife are here, too,” Chief Kim continues.
I take a look around as I listen to his descriptions. This really is a world of stars.
“But they’re all young,” I remark.
All of them are young adults; there’s not a single white hair to be seen. The oldest along them is probably the oldest son of Uguk Life Insurance’s CEO, accompanied by his wife.
“Well observed. Today’s party is essentially an announcement of who is going to be the next head of Gunbaek Construction. After all, they have appointed a fresh, green, young man as the head of their entry into the shipping industry,” says Chief Kim.
“You’re saying that they’ve gathered us here to meet each other ahead of the actual succession?” I say.
“Yes,” Chief Kim nods. “The second-born Young Master should be here somewhere as well.”
“What about the oldest?” I ask.
“The first-born Young Master,” Chief Kim says pointedly, “is still in China because his business trip is running behind schedule.”
I clear my throat. “I mean, my oldest hyeong-nim,” I correct myself.
So, this is a gathering of the people who will lead Korea in the next generation. The formalities were prepared, but the event wasn’t made publicly known. It’s a party held for building relations.
The lights turn off, and lights turn on over a stage instead. A well-dressed man in a suit takes the mic.
His face looks like he’s in his mid-thirties. He has a smooth and tidy overall appearance. His narrow eyes are attractive, but they also look a little cold.
“Hello, everyone. I’m Nam Sae-ha, an executive director at Gunbaek Construction and head of Gunbaek Shipping,” he says.
Nam Sae-ha. The second son of the president of Gunbaek Construction.
He graduated from an elite overseas university and immediately joined Gunbaek Construction. This caused controversy and accusations of nepotism, but he was recognized as a capable individual for his work ethic and drive for success. There were rumors that one of his friends from university was the connection that allowed Gunbaek Construction to get a commission to build a bridge for the Arabic royal family.
Is this why living overseas is such a good thing? Where the hell did he go to make friends with an Arabic prince?
Through this commission, Gunbaek Construction made great progress in the Middle East, and Nam Sae-ha rose through the ranks very rapidly. There were many different opinions about him within the company, but he was a man who produced tremendous results.
“There are some faces that I have not seen for a long time, and others that I have not seen before at all,” Nam Sae-ha continues. “Thank you all for coming here today. It is thanks to you that I feel that Korea and Gunbaek are prospering.”
A few laughs come from here and there in the audience.
Nam Sae-ha raises a glass of wine in his right hand. The people watching him from below raise theirs.
Chief Kim raises his own glass and gives me a nod.
Yeah, yeah. I know. I’ll play along.
I lightly raise my glass.
Nam Sae-ha looks around, then gives a satisfied smile. “To our nation, the Republic of Korea.”
“To the Republic of Korea!” the audience repeats, and the clinking of glasses rings out.
As expected, Chief Kim tips his glass towards me. I smile and touch my glass to his.
Finally, music starts playing and waiters begin walking around with food and glasses of beverages.
I don’t know whether it’s because they’re all young or because they all know each other, but I feel like there is a sturdy wall being built between me and everyone else. Not that I want to be included in the first place.
I lean against the corner of the room and look around the party venue, listening to Chief Kim tell me about the people.
“Do you see that man and woman over there? They were dating and then broke up, but then their siblings married each other, so they are family now.”
“What a dysfunctional family.”
“The one over there recently divorced after his past affair with an actress was revealed, and the one over here blew his half of the stocks that he inherited. The leadership of his company was taken from him by his younger brother.”
I thought this was a world of stars, but looking at how they’re living, I can see that they’ve got as much on their plate as ordinary people, if not more.
Chief Kim takes his cell phone out of his inner pocket.
“Young Master. Please stay here for a moment,” he says.
“Where are you going?” I ask.
Chief Kim runs out without replying to my question. Maybe it’s a personal call. His girlfriend, perhaps?
I just stand there awkwardly, sipping my drink.
Suddenly, I spot a face that I recognize. Go Min-guk, the second son of the president of the Gogwang Group.
Cunning-looking eyes, small features, and slightly thinning hair. He strangely resembles Ms. Lee Mi-sook, but not really in a good way .
It looks like he’s spotted me; he makes a surprised-looking frown – as if wondering what I’m doing here.
I know we’re only half-brothers, but isn’t this treatment a little cold towards someone who basically died and came back to life?
I just give a small nod and then look elsewhere.
Hmm. It seems that my familial relations are completely dogshit.
But it seems that Go Min-guk finds my reaction to his behavior offensive.
“Go Ji-hun. Come over here,” he says.
He’s beckoning me over.
I sigh. I feel tired already.
The people around Go Min-guk stop their conversations and look at me.
Realizing that I have no intention of moving from where I am, he leads his colleagues over to me.
“None of you have ever met him, have you? He’s my younger brother, Go Ji-hun,” he says.
“Mr. Min-guk’s brother? He’s so good-looking that I thought he was a model,” says one of the women.
“His face is tiring to look at,” says one of the men.
The women are showing some interest in me, but the men are openly wary. It’s probably because of my appearance. In a world where people only meet in the same closed groups, men who are as good-looking as me are very rare.
Among the group is Go Min-guk’s fiancée, the youngest daughter of the head of the Jayeong Group. I think her name was Park Hwa-seon?
“Yes, that’s right. Well then, I’ll excuse myself now,” I say as I try to leave.
But Go Min-guk grabs my arm. “Where are you going? Crawling back to the corner of your room?”
What is this son of a bitch thinking?
The atmosphere is awkward and unpleasant.
I try to shake his hand off, but a woman from the group grabs my arm as well, though for a different reason. Her alluring gaze is undoubtedly trying to entice me to stay.
“Alright, then. Who knows when I’ll get the chance to see you again?” I say.
“Hey,” says Go Min-guk, calling out to a waiter. “Bring one more drink over here.”
“Still, he looks nothing like Min-guk. He’s really good-looking,” remarks one of his friends disinterestedly.
The atmosphere turns cold. It’s objectively clear that Go Min-guk has inherited all of the worst genes of his family. This is a fact that everyone knows, but nobody has said it out loud.
He’s getting hit by life from all directions. I’m sure he has a lot of his own problems.
“Where did you go for university?” another friend asks me in an attempt to break the tension.
Go Min-guk’s friends should know full well what kind of lifestyle I’ve been living, though.
“He’s only got a high school education. A general equivalency diploma at that,” Go Min-guk says with a laugh before I can reply.
“What? Why?” asks his friend.
“I’d like to know that myself. Maybe he’s given up on life or something.”
“He holed himself up in the corner of his room and wasted his time away like a vegetable.”
Everyone here either studied overseas or graduated from prestigious universities.
For one short moment, I feel their gazes on me, filled with disgust.
I’m an illegitimate third child with a mere high school education. Even with the halo of the Gogwang Group’s business over my head, I appear considerably inferior among these people.
In any case, Go Min-guk is quite the bastard. I’ve heard a few things about him as well, and he wants to bring up university education? Pretty shameless from a guy who only got into his university after having a building built for them.
“Is one’s educational background really that important these days?” says the woman from the Jayeong Group, raising her wine glass towards me. “Life expectancy is high these days. You have to live while doing the things you want to do.”
Someone gives a small laugh. “You’re absolutely right. We’re still young, after all.”
“Speaking of which, you’re graduating soon, aren’t you, Ms. Hwa-seon?” says someone else.
The topic of conversation has shifted in an instant.
Park Hwa-seon, the youngest daughter of the president of the Jayeong Group. I guess she was chosen as a daughter-in-law candidate because she has an innocent appearance, is graduating from a prestigious university, and is well-mannered.
Go Min-guk, you son of a bitch. You’ve managed to get a woman who’s way too good for you.
The topic of conversation gradually broadens.
“I met the director at the last general shareholders’ meeting, and…”
“I’m talking about the French wine business. There’s a really fine one called Lemans Cronet…”
“I heard about that too. Oh yeah, our company is…”
Blah blah blah economy, blah blah blah world. They’re talking about how their businesses are going. Most of them gained their positions through nepotism, and yet they’re bragging as if their companies belong to them.
Their conversations go into one of my ears and out the other as I enjoy my drink and snacks. These delicacies that I don’t even know the name of melt in my mouth before I can swallow them.
“You heard that, didn’t you, disabled person?” Go Min-guk suddenly says in my direction.
The topic of conversation has shifted to a corporate regulation that is going into effect this year. It’s an ambitious bill proposed by the new government to gain public popularity. It stipulates mandatory hiring of disabled people, welfare recipients, and veterans.
“In any case, this is why it’s such a pain when the government changes.”
“We can’t just mess around after investing so much money.”
“I mean, even if we elect people who have lived overseas before, companies are barely running.”
“Still, it’s not bad for improving companies’ public images.”
“We can improve company image as much as we want with other methods.”
“If we have to pay expenses either way, wouldn’t it be better to hire them?”
All of them are expressing their thoughts and chewing out the government’s new bill.
As for me, well, it doesn’t concern me.
But not saying anything actually causes another shot to be fired my way.
“Mr. Ji-hun hasn’t said anything for a while. Is he the quiet type?” one of Go Min-guk’s friends asks.
“He’d have to know something first if he wanted to speak,” says Go Min-guk.
His friend laughs. “It’s not like we’re speaking a foreign language, Min-guk.”
“This son of a bitch doesn’t even understand Korean,” Go Min-guk smirks.
His closer friends giggle.
You’re not a child. What are you doing? In front of your fiancée, no less.
I surreptitiously put down my glass and look around.
Where is Chief Kim and what is he doing? I still don’t see him.
I think it’s about time for me to go. But before I do, I have to wrap up this conversation with these rude dimwits, don’t I?