The next day.
It’s a drowsy afternoon. The neighborhood that the Spaniel lives in is quiet. The adults have left for work, and the children went to school early in the morning.
Of course, Lee Yeong-tae is one of them. The only one at his house now is his wife, who suffers from an intellectual disability.
I push my cap low over my face and sling a toolbag over my shoulder. I clear my throat and ring the doorbell.
There’s a long pause, followed by the sound of a middle-aged woman’s voice.
“Who is it?”
She’s not speaking very clearly; it’s as if she’s just woken up.
I smile brightly towards the doorbell. “Hello. I’m from the welfare center,” I say.
“What’s the matter?” the woman asks.
“We’re providing free housing inspections for welfare recipients. Have you not heard from us?”
“I haven’t heard anything about that.”
“It will be very quick. If I go back now, I would have to make another visit later.”
There’s no way she would have heard from anyone. I’m making all of this up, after all.
I make a very troubled expression and scratch my chin.
“We’re also offering free fruit to the houses we’re inspecting, so I’ve brought some with me,” I add.
“Just a minute.”
With a rattle, the gate opens.
I confirmed the Spaniel leaving with my own eyes, but I’m cautious as I step onto the property.
The front door opens and a woman in pajamas comes out. She’s wearing a baggy T-shirt and floral-patterned pants. Her face is oily and filled with freckles.
The moment she sees me, she holds out her hand.
“Where is the fruit?” she asks.
“Here,” I say, handing her the mango set that I bought at the fruit store earlier.
It’s the smallest set that was available; there are only five mangoes in total.
The woman makes no effort to hide her disappointment. “Is this all?”
“Our budget is very tight,” I reply.
“It’s so little. I could eat all of this by myself.”
She has an intellectual disability, but you wouldn’t notice unless you paid attention. Her speech has maybe a small lisp at most, and her behavior seems just a little rude and disinterested.
With great effort, I stop myself from grimacing and maintain my smile. “Excuse me, Ma’am. I’d like to go in and perform my inspection.”
“Go ahead,” the woman replies.
The house consists of just the kitchen and one main room, laid out in such a way that the toilet is visible as soon as I enter.
The woman hurries into the room with the mangoes and a knife. She begins to peel them one by one as she watches television.
“Please excuse me for intruding,” I say as I hastily poke at the visible electrical sockets with a lineman’s voltage detector typically used by property managers.
It doesn’t look like the woman has any interest in what I’m doing. That’s a relief. It would be problematic if she were to watch me too closely.
I take out the concealable microphone from my tool bag and attach it to the side of the door so that it fits between the door and its frame.
I then quietly open the shoe closet. There are five or six pairs of men’s shoes inside. I take only the ones that aren’t covered in dust and flip them over to check the soles.
This is it! There’s one pair of shoes that have the gaps in the soles filled in with glue. These are the shoes the guy wears when he’s carrying out his crimes.
I attach the tracking device to the bottom of one of the soles so that it won’t be noticeable when he’s wearing them and then close my toolbag.
“I’m finished, Ma’am,” I say.
“Already? That was quick,” says the woman.
“That’s because the house is being well-maintained.”
This is exaggerated flattery. The house is filthy, with dust and grime everywhere.
The woman, whose mouth is covered with mango juice, gives me a nod. “Close the door when you go,” she says.
“Yes, Ma’am. Thank you for your time.”
I take off my hat the moment I get out of the house.
The preparations are complete, so all there’s left to do is to wait until Lee Yeong-tae makes a move.
One week later.
My alarm clock goes off as it always does, at 5:30am.
With my eyes still only half-open, I turn the alarm off.
It’s before sunrise, so it’s as dark as night outside.
I quickly throw on some clothes and slowly make my way downstairs.
“Why are you awake so early?” a voice says without warning.
I shout out in alarm. “You gave me a fright!” I say to Chief Kim, who is glaring at me from the sofa with his arms crossed. “Why aren’t you still asleep?”
“I was the first to ask. Where is it that you are going every morning?” he questions.
“I told you, I have various bits of work to do.”
“You leave before the sun comes up and come back after it’s gone down.”
“Shh. Please be more quiet. You might wake people.”
“What are you, a high school student, Young Master?”
Chief Kim blinks several times. His eyes are bloodshot. It looks like he’s stayed up all night rather than having woken up early. He’s really making the most of his day.
“Do you have any idea how uncomfortable it is for me to be stuck in the house alone without you here?” Chief Kim continues.
“I told you to think of it as taking some time off. You could get a hotel room,” I suggest.
“That isn’t what I mean.”
“Then what do you mean?”
“I mean that I feel like I’m being put on standby for 24 hours a day.”
He means to say that he’s worried about what I might be doing. Does he think I’m Go Min-guk, making a mess of things wherever I go?
Damn it. A man who’s never rested before wouldn’t know how to rest.
I look at Chief Kim and put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m doing good things, so please don’t worry.”
“See you later, then.”
With that, I hastily stuff my feet into my shoes and run out the door, slamming it shut behind me. If I get held up any longer, I’ll miss Lee Yeong-tae leaving for work.
After a week of observing him, I’ve learned that his life isn’t just monotonous; it’s downright tedious.
He wakes up at 6 in the morning. I see his haggard silhouette at 6:30. His workplace is a shirt manufacturing factory that’s half an hour away by bus. He works from 8 in the morning to 8 at night, and then he returns straight home. He appears to be a textbook example of a diligent worker who is always either at work or at home, but… he can’t fool me.
I got a strange feeling when I was tailing him on his commute to and from work. He doesn’t take the shortest route. He gets off the bus a few stations early or a few stations late. He walks around the streets – as if taking a stroll – before heading to work.
He should be dead tired from working, and yet he spends an hour every day just walking around some neighborhoods? If it were anyone else, I’d have no idea why he’d do that, but there’s only one reason for the Spaniel.
He’s seeking out his next victim.
The problem is, it’s very hard to tail him on public transport during rush hour. There were several times when I lost track of him. But today, I’m definitely going to stay on him no matter what!
But something’s strange. I can’t hear anything coming from my earphones. He should be getting ready to leave at around this time.
I hear someone mumbling in their sleep. And then –
“Go back to sleep. You said you have the day off today.”
“I just woke up for some reason.”
“What about your wrist? How’s it feeling?”
Shit. He has the day off today? I was wondering why he was working for a week straight.
I lean against a telephone pole and scratch my head.
I guess I’ll have to find a nearby internet cafe. That’s the best place to keep quietly to myself with my earphones in my ears for a day. I might have to stay all night until he leaves for work the next day, after all.
I lean back against the chair in the internet cafe and stare blankly at the white screen. Maybe I’m a little tired? My eyes are starting to close…
I’m woken up by the sound of people snickering at me.
“Hey, check that guy out. I’ve never seen anyone snoring in an internet cafe before,” one voice whispers.
“Sounds like my dad,” another laughs quietly.
I’m so out of it that I have no idea how long I was asleep. It looks like I’ve accumulated a fair amount of fatigue over the past week.
I can still hear sounds from inside the house through my earphones. Is that what’s known as ASMR? Listening to it makes me sleepy.
I wipe the saliva off my chin and begin tossing and turning in my chair.
I could only hear the sounds of a television from my earphones earlier, but various other forms of background noise are audible now.
The rustling sound of a blanket being folded. The sound of running water coming from a shower. The sound of bowls clattering. It seems that Lee Yeong-tae is getting ready to go out somewhere.
“That’s funny. Why is he calling you out at this time of night?” says his wife’s voice.
“Can’t be helped. It’s a guy I see every day, though,” says Lee Yeong-tae.
“Don’t stay out too late. You have work again tomorrow.”
“Alright. I’ll give you a call if I need anything, so go ahead and go to bed first.”
I’m still half-asleep, but I can hear their voices clearly.
But in the next moment, my phone vibrates. I look at the screen to see a logo that I’ve never seen before, and then a map pops up.
“Holy shit!” I murmur to myself.
My drowsiness is blown away in an instant.
This is a notification that the tracking device I put on the sole of one of Lee Yeong-tae’s shoes is moving. Not the ones he always wears, but the ones that have the gaps in the soles filled in with glue.
I spring to my feet and run out of the internet cafe. The map on my cell phone’s screen is expanding; it looks like he’s gotten in a taxi or something.
I definitely can’t afford to be late. I can’t let another person fall victim to the Spaniel.
“Taxi!” I shout, running into the middle of the road to stop the nearest taxi I can see.
Lee Yeong-tae gets out of the taxi and takes a look at his surroundings. Lately, he’s had the strange feeling that someone is watching him.
He normally enjoys such a strangely exhilarating feeling, but today is a special day. It would be problematic if someone were watching him.
After surveying the area and feeling satisfied to see that there is nobody around, he walks into the alleys as he always does.
He stops in front of a single-storied house. This is the prey that he has put in a great deal of effort over the past few days to find.
‘The same as always,’ he thinks to himself as he sees the half-open window, just as it is every other day.
A piece of white fabric is hanging out of the window. It’s probably underwear owned by the woman who lives here.
Lee Yeong-tae found out that the woman lives alone through mailed items and discarded boxes.
Diet supplements purchased from a shopping website used by young women. Utility bills that don’t total to more than 30,000 won. The credit card balance statements and every other piece of mail are all addressed to one person.
Lee Yeong-tae doesn’t know what her face looks like, but that’s part of the thrill. As long as she’s young and she’s a woman, she already meets more than half the criteria he needs to enjoy himself. And the best thing is that her guard is down, leaving her vulnerable.
Lee Yeong-tae laughs quietly to himself. His body trembles uncontrollably with excitement.
He checks his surroundings one last time, then climbs over the brick wall outside.
A stinging pain suddenly comes from his right wrist, causing him to grimace. He sprained it due to an unfortunate incident that occurred during his previous crime.
‘That son of a bitch,’ he thinks to himself.
A passerby happened to get involved, ruining everything. Thanks to him, Lee Yeong-tae was forced to stay celibate for a while.
But he’s going to make sure to enjoy himself plenty today.
He pushes his head into the window.
“… Challenge! Good evening, ladies and gentlemen…” says the voice of a variety show announcer from a television.
Lee Yeong-tae can see someone, covered completely by a pink blanket. It seems that she fell asleep while watching TV.
His belt buckle clatters as he undoes it, and he puts his hand on the waistband of his trousers. He wants to hold the woman down and insert himself into her as soon as he enters the house.
‘I wonder what kind of a response I’m going to get from this one?’ he wonders in anticipation, smiling to himself.
Hat, mask, gloves, towel, shoes with the gaps in the soles filled in with glue. The box cutter isn’t the same one that he’s been using, but everything is perfect.
He grabs the windowsill and climbs in. He straddles the sleeping woman and seizes her throat. She lets out a small, muffled scream.
“Shh!” Lee Yeong-tae hisses.
He quickly extends the blade of the box cutter, ensuring that she can hear it clicking. It’s the easiest way to make her quickly understand the situation.
“Stay quiet if you don’t want to die.”
The woman sobs quietly. Her voice is a little hoarse, perhaps because she has only just woken up.
Lee Yeong-tae thrusts a hand under the blanket. He feels soft, warm legs and laced underwear. It’s exactly as he imagined.
He covers the woman’s face with the blanket and doesn’t let go. He’s wearing a mask, but it’s safer this way.
Unable to breathe, the woman claws at the blanket that’s covering her face and pulls it away. “Please… Please… Save me…”
“I told you to stay quiet!”
The woman cries out as a thick fist strikes her head.
The Spaniel pulls at her long legs, drawing her closer to his lower body. “Relax, sweetheart,” he says with a smile.
That’s when it happens.
Lee Yeong-tae hears a noise from the place where he entered the house.
“Who in the hell…?!” he shouts, startled as he feels a cold wind entering from behind him.
The shadows created by the TV screen flicker as he makes eye contact with a familiar-looking man.
“Who the hell do you think I am?” says the man.
With that, he climbs over the windowsill and throws himself at the Spaniel.
Lee Yeong-tae is armed with a box cutter, but his mind is unable to process this unexpected situation in time, and he feels a fist landing on his face through his mask.
“I’m an aspiring cop,” says the mysterious man.