A/N: Flashbacks are in italics. This chapter is in Yi Jeong's POV. The next chapter will be in Ga Eul's POV.
"Um, Yi Jeong Sunbae...Sunbae...Sunbae, can we...can we slow down a little bit?" Yi Jeong paused kissing his pretty coworker's neck long enough to step back and take a good look at her face.
In his experience, 'slow down' meant 'having second thoughts.' And the way she said it—uncertainly, like she didn't quite know herself what she did and didn't want to do—well, that didn't bode too well for his plans for the evening.
He'd known this was a bad idea.
"It's just that, um," Ga Eul stuttered. "I-I-I mean, I just...you see, it's..." She cast her eyes about her apartment kitchen. After meeting for drinks on their day off, they'd ended up at her place, doing...what they had been doing.
"Well, go ahead, Detective Chu. Spit it out." He tried to give her a friendly smile, but she wouldn't look him in the eye.
"I..." She stared down at his stomach from her perch on the counter. A minute ago, her legs had been wrapped around his waist, but now they dangled lifelessly from the countertop. She'd started picking at her nails, which was her signature nervous tell.
She'd make a hopeless criminal in an interrogation; they wouldn't need to use a lie detector.
"You're worried about Kang finding out?" he guessed. "Don't. How could she possibly know what we're doing on our off day? Our department is understaffed as it is. I doubt they have the bandwidth to needlessly surveil their own people."
Ga Eul shook her head. She swallowed and gripped the sides of the counter, leaving her nails alone.
"Um, it's just that it's...my first time...doing this sort of thing."
"This sort of thing? Ah, you mean with a coworker?"
"Uh, not exactly. What I mean to say is...I've never had a-actual sex."
Okay, he hadn't expected that.
She was twenty-eight, if he remembered correctly. Only one year younger than him.
Though she was also a workaholic, fiercely devoted to her career. And utterly oblivious to his attempts at flirtation early in their acquaintance.
He didn't recall her ever dating anyone.
"You're a virgin?" he clarified.
"Um, yes. I just, I didn't have much time before." She waved her hands in an apologetic manner.
"Oh...Uh, well, if you don't really want to do this, it's fine." He took a small step back. "It's fine if you, you know, want to wait and do it with someone important. I understand."
"No, no, no." She waved her hands again, frantically. "I want to. I just...Could we maybe go slower?"
He leaned back against the refrigerator and studied her earnest face. He'd had an almost boyish infatuation with Chu Ga Eul ever since she'd first started working in his department. Though honestly good girls were not his type, and she was a goody-two-shoes if there ever was one.
Right now, she seemed sincere but also a bit naive.
She'd once told him she believed in soulmates.
What if she woke up in the morning and wished she'd waited on that guy, whoever he was?
The annoying voice in his head that liked to tell him he didn't deserve someone like her also told him that this was a very, very bad idea, but what came out of his mouth was: "Yeah, we can...do whatever you want."
Sleeping with Ga Eul was supposed to be a one-time thing. Just to get it out of his system.
Sure, it was a dangerous thing to do—her being his partner and all—but Yi Jeong couldn't deny he liked living on the edge.
And, honestly, when he'd first kissed her, part of him hadn't expected her to kiss him back. He certainly hadn't expected her to invite him back to her apartment, but once he was there, well, how could he resist?
But sex had turned into cuddling—she asked, and he couldn't deny her—which turned into a second time which turned into a third which turned into his socks littering the floor of her apartment and two toothbrushes in the bathroom of his apartment.
Twenty-eight years. She'd waited all that time to find her soulmate—surely there must have been other opportunities—and then she'd decided to do that with him. Ga Eul was the sort that thought everything through down to the very last detail; she wasn't like him; she wasn't impulsive or irresponsible.
Which meant at some point, if only in her subconscious, she had thought about doing that sort of thing with him and had deemed the action, for whatever reason, acceptable.
She approved of him, and he had no idea why.
Most strait-laced types avoided him like the plague. Or looked down their noses at him. But Ga Eul had always treated him as a friend, even when he made jabs at her about her obvious lack of a life.
He guessed he was her life now, which could have been a terrifying thought but instead brought a smile to his face as he parked his motorcycle behind her economical sedan. She still sat inside her vehicle, rummaging through her purse.
He'd been aimless before her, but she was the force of nature he grounded himself in. He'd never met another detective with as much passion for the job as her. People always joked that he, the son of the former police chief, would follow in his father's footsteps one day, but if anyone deserved a position like that, it was Ga Eul.
Approaching Ga Eul's car, he knocked on the window, and her head snapped up. When she saw it was him, relief visibly washed over her face.
She opened her car door.
"Yi Jeong, did I leave my badge on the kitchen counter? Do you remember?" She kept her voice low even though there wasn't anyone close enough to hear.
"You mean this?" He held up the item in question, and she snatched it out of his hand faster than he could blink.
She cleared her throat.
"Mm, thank you. Here's your coffee." She handed him one of the two thermoses she had brought with her.
"You know, you might have noticed that badge," he advised as she got out of the car, "if you had calmed down long enough to take a sip of coffee—"
"Well, never mind about that," Ga Eul whispered. "We're late. And can you talk any louder?"
"How late can we be?" Yi Jeong spoke softer but kept his tone light. "The person's not getting any more dead," he remarked as they made their way down the street to the barricade surrounding the gated entrance of Ha Jae Kyung's sprawling residence.
"What?" They halted some distance from the barricade, and Yi Jeong took a scalding sip of the coffee Ga Eul had handed him.
"You know, sometimes I really wonder why you're in this line of work. You could do with a little more respect for the deceased," Ga Eul chided.
He opened his mouth to reply, but Ga Eul was already making her way past the barricade and greeting one of the officers outside the gates to the Ha mansion.
Tucked away in northern Seoul's forested mountains, this was not a house of the newly rich but a testament to the towering business Ha Jae Kyung's grandfather had built and her father had expanded into the international enterprise it was at present. Constructed from a rich dark wood in the traditional Korean architechtural style, the house scoffed at the flashy but comparatively plebeian high-rises of Gangnam down below.
From what Yi Jeong remembered in the news, Ha Jae Kyung had retained the house for her personal use after her grandparents passed away, while her parents remained in the U.S. handling business overseas. As they entered the front iron gate, Yi Jeong noticed plentiful shrubbery and flowered plants stretching around to the back of the house to what he assumed was an impressive backyard garden, given the large fenced-in area.
Once the two of them had been cleared to go in, they were led by one of the officers swiftly back to the study, where the body of Lee Chen lay on her stomach, the crusted blood on the edge of an office desk explaining the gash on her forehead and the dried pool of blood on the Persian rug beneath her head. The housekeeper had discovered her that morning when she opened the study up for routine cleaning.
"You think someone pushed her?" Yi Jeong asked.
"Well, there don't seem to be any defensive wounds," someone from forensics, Han Jae Min, explained. "No signs of a struggle. And you'd think a person like her would put up a fight. She was Miss Ha's personal bodyguard. Once we get the autopsy report back we'll know for sure. But it's possible that she simply fell and died from the head trauma."
Ga Eul frowned.
"Is there anything missing from the study? Maybe there was a break-in?" she asked.
"There's no sign of forced entry," one of the early responding officers informed them. "The alarm never went off, and there's nothing missing that Miss Ha can tell. She has been rather upset, though. She said she'd be in the sitting room when you're ready to speak with her."
"Okay, thank you." Ga Eul nodded. She took a turn about the room while Yi Jeong knelt down to more closely examine the body itself. Lee Chen was in her nightclothes—a loose fitting set of red and white striped pajamas—and the forensics examiner was right. He didn't see any wounds on her other than the gash on her head, and she wasn't lying in a position that looked unnatural or staged. Perhaps she'd tripped and fallen as suggested? It was possible, if unlikely. A person in Miss Ha's position would have any number of enemies, and her personal bodyguard would be the first line of defense someone would have to break through in order to get her or whatever they might be after in the house or the study. Well, that and the burglar alarm, which, while armed, had remained silent throughout the night.
Another strike against the petty thievery angle then. At least thievery from the outside. They'd need to look into the rest of the staff.
"Detective So, look at this," Ga Eul called out to him from the far side of the room, where she stood by the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
He walked over. With one gloved hand, she held out a tacky keychain decorated with the head of a chicken and the slogan 'Hot and Fresh!' in Korean characters.
"Where was it?"
"It was lying on the floor under this little table. Doesn't much look like a keychain the CEO of JK Group would have."
"She's in the other room. I can go question her if you want to keep looking around." Between the two of them, they'd found that she was more adept at noticing visual details, while his strength lay more in extracting information from people. Though Ga Eul often joked that must be due to him 'sweet-talking all those women' in the past.
At present, Ga Eul nodded, distracted by a curtain that had been pulled ever-so-slightly askew.
Yi Jeong found Ha Jae Kyung hunched over a box of tissues in her own red and white striped pajamas, a matching pair to the one Lee Chen had on, and a fluffy white robe. The open, spacious 'sitting room' in the rear of the house featured floor to ceiling glass windows that overlooked—as he had anticipated—the picturesque garden in the backyard, the centerpiece of which was a fountain and a koi pond.
"Miss Ha Jae Kyung?" The lady in question looked up as he tentatively approached and offered her a sympathetic but serious expression. "I'm so sorry for your loss. My name is Detective So. I'll be working on Miss Lee Chen's case. I know this must be a difficult time, but I'd just like to ask you a few questions if you don't mind."
"Oh." Miss Ha dabbed at her face with a tissue. Her eyes were splotchy and red from crying. "I'm so sorry I look like this. I haven't...I haven't had a chance to change clothes yet." She stood up slowly, as though she might fall over from the exertion.
"It's fine, it's perfectly fine," he answered kindly. "Shall we sit?" He gestured to the couch she'd been sitting on, and she nodded and sank back down into the cushions. He took a seat in the arm chair opposite her and pulled his notebook from his jacket pocket.
"Um, would you like anything to drink? Coffee? Water? My housekeeper would be happy to—"
"Oh, no. Nothing, thank you." He gave her a friendly smile. "I would like to speak with you in private though," Yi Jeong added. "If your housekeeper could step out of the room for a moment."
"Oh, of course."
Miss Ha made a few gestures in sign language, and her housekeeper excused herself from the room. She'd been standing over by the other entrance to the room, keeping silent vigil over Miss Ha.
Yi Jeong observed, "Ah, is Miss Park—"
"She's deaf," Miss Ha explained, pulling another tissue out of the box. "She's been t-teaching me some sign language." She blotted her eyes. He noted that the tissue came away stained with mascara, though it didn't look as though she'd made any effort to get dressed that morning.
He filed that observation away for later.
"I see. Could you tell me a bit more about her and the rest of your staff?"
"Park Hee Jin has been with me for several years now." Then she added, in an adamant manner, "She's a very good housekeeper and an honest person."
"Of course, I'm sure she is." Yi Jeong nodded. "I understand your bodyguard lived with you full-time. Is that the case with Miss Park as well?"
"Yes, it's just her and Chen. And myself. Oh, and...and recently Miss Park's daughter—her name's Park Hae Soo—came to stay with us. She graduated from university a few months ago, so she's been assisting her mother until she finds a permanent job."
Yi Jeong jotted the daughter's name down alongside her mother's.
"Can you take me through what all of you were doing last night and this morning, to the best of your knowledge?"
"Miss Park was here all day and all night. You know, just doing her regular housekeeping things. I don't think her daughter came home last night. She left yesterday evening, and I never saw her come back in. She hasn't been here this morning either. But that's nothing unusual. She likes to stay out pretty late. Or sometimes all night. And Chen was...well, I saw her right before I went to sleep. She...came to say goodnight, like she always does." Jae Kyung cupped her hand over her mouth. More tears leaked out of her eyes.
Yi Jeong waited for a few moments while she recomposed herself.
The tissue box was almost empty. He glanced around the room and spotted another box sitting on an end table. He grabbed it and brought it over to her.
"Thank you," she mumbled softly as she took it.
"Do you think you could tell me a bit about your relationship with Miss Lee? It seems that you two were close."
"Well, she's been my bodyguard since I was in, um, high school. Just over a decade." Miss Ha sniffled. "I didn't have many friends back then, but she was...she was my friend." She choked over the words.
"I see." Yi Jeong kept his tone gentle. "And how did she come to work for you?"
"Um, well"—Miss Ha took a deep breath and straightened up; for a second he could see her in a business meeting—"my parents hired her to look after me. This is when we still lived in the States, actually, but they were planning on moving me back here. An arranged marriage that didn't happen." She gestured vaguely to some disembodied groom. "But then I ended up loving it here, so I stayed, and Chen stayed with me."
"Ah, I understand. And—"
"She spoke five languages," Jae Kyung interrupted. "She spoke Korean, English, Japanese, Mandarin, and Taiwanese. A lot of people don't know how incredibly smart she was. They only saw her for her fighting skills. But she took care of her family a lot when she was younger. She has a younger sister that she put through college."
"And her parents, she took care of them also?"
"Oh, well, her mother passed away when Chen was...hmm, twelve, I believe...and her father was a bit...unreliable, I guess is the best word for it. He's still alive. He owns a chicken shop. They don't really...I mean, they didn't really speak much."
"Ah." Yi Jeong held up the keychain Ga Eul had discovered. "Does this look like something Chen had?"
Miss Ha frowned.
"I've never seen it before. But that does look like the chicken shop logo."
"The chicken shop owned by her father?"
"Yes. I know the shop he owns. I can give you that information. Here, let me just pull it up on my phone—where's my phone?—and write it down." Miss Ha rummaged through her purse that had been sitting on the coffee table, eventually producing her cell phone and retrieving the information. Yi Jeong wrote it down in his notebook for later.
He handed Miss Ha another tissue.
"Did Miss Lee have other relatives or friends that she kept in contact with?"
"Other than her sister, not that I know of. But she was a very private person, even with me...Oh, I suppose her sister needs to be notified. Oh god, I didn't even think of that." She clapped her palm to her mouth again.
"Chen's phone!" she exclaimed. "Her number should be in Chen's phone. She talks to...talked to her...on Saturdays."
"Don't worry. We'll be sure to contact her."
He scanned back over what she'd told him so far.
"Thank you. Could you also take me through what you did yesterday leading up to this morning?"
"Well, I just got back from..." Miss Ha trailed off, then shook her head. "I'm sorry. I can't remember the name of the country. It's..."
"Take your time."
Miss Ha pressed a hand to her forehead.
"Um, it was um...Japan. Yes, Japan. Chen went with me. We were gone for a week, and we flew back here yesterday morning, and then I was, um, we were both at my office until three or four yesterday afternoon, I think. Then we came home. Ate dinner, you know, usual nighttime routine, and I was tired, so I went to bed...I'm sorry, it's just the whole thing is a blur right now. I keep seeing Chen lying there, wondering how this could happen in my own house. In my own damn house." She balled her hands into fists.
"Around what time would you say you went to bed?" Yi Jeong asked gently.
Miss Ha took a deep breath, seeming to pull herself back from the edge of an emotional abyss.
"Um...Like I said, I was tired, so I think it was around ten."
"And what time did you wake up in the morning? Do you remember?"
"Uh...maybe seven. I'm not sure."
"And when you woke up in the morning, what happened?"
"Um, Miss Park came into my room—I was still in bed—she was hysterical. She said that Chen was knocked out on the floor in the study. So I ran down here, and...and she was lying there."
"Lying in the study?"
Miss Ha nodded.
"And what position was she lying in?"
"She was lying on her stomach by the desk. She had a...a gash on her forehead. There was blood on the carpet from where the wound had bled out. I did grab her at first because I wasn't sure if she was still alive or not. But I...but after I realized she didn't have a pulse, we didn't move her. Um, Miss Park came and...and made me let go of her."
"And what happened after that?"
"Well, I...I called the police. A-and then we just waited for the police. We just waited." The last sentence came out in a whisper. She wasn't maintaining eye contact with Yi Jeong anymore. "I'm sorry. I just. I can't. I can't remember any more right now."
Sensing it was probably best to let her process the situation for a while before asking her anything further—she seemed to still be in shock, and understandably so—Yi Jeong closed his notebook and replied, "It's all right. I think we've got plenty of information to start with, and I appreciate your time. If you remember anything else, anything at all, especially if it was unusual, please let us know. I'll give you my card, and we'll be in touch."
"Oh. Thank you," she said, her fingers trembling as she accepted the card he held out to her. "I'll be sure to call if I remember anything." Miss Ha shook her head and ran her fingers through her disheveled hair. "Look at me. I can't even help her now that she's dead. And she always took such good care of me. She wasn't just my bodyguard. She was my best friend." She snapped her head up and looked straight at Yi Jeong with red-rimmed eyes. "You have to find the person who did this. You have to treat this like she's my family. Understand?"
"Hey." Ga Eul found Yi Jeong in the living room after he finished interviewing Ha Jae Kyung. "The housekeeper was asleep all night, and obviously she wouldn't have heard anything even if she wasn't. This morning, she didn't notice anything unusual in the house until she went into the study itself."
"Any word on the daughter?"
"Her mother's trying to reach her, but she hasn't responded yet. I told Miss Park we need to speak with her daughter down at the precinct once she makes contact."
"All right. Anything in Chen's room?"
"Not a lot." Ga Eul sighed. "She looks like a very minimalist person. A few changes of clothes. Some personal care items. That's it. We're taking her laptop and her cellphone for examination. But it's just so odd, isn't it?"
"She was ready for bed, so why would she be in the study? Unless there was someone else there. But if someone attacked her, then why are there no defensive wounds? She looks like someone who'd be hard to sneak up on, right?"
"Let's not get too ahead of ourselves. Let's wait for the autopsy. I'm sure whatever happened will reveal itself. Maybe she tripped and fell like Han Jae Min suggested."
"That still doesn't explain what she was doing in the room. The housekeeper says she locks the room at night. She locked it last night."
Yi Jeong made to interrupt, but Ga Eul held up her finger.
"Chen has a key to the study. But there's no key on her body. We found her keys in her room. So it's clear she didn't intend to go in there, and yet she ended up there."
Yi Jeong frowned.
"Who else has a copy of the key?"
"Ha Jae Kyung and Park Hee Jin."
"And the daughter?"
"No. And Park Hee Jin says she sleeps with her keys. She had them on her when she woke up this morning."
"Ah, speaking of keys, Miss Ha did say she doesn't recognize the keychain, but it may be from the chicken shop Miss Lee's father owns."
"So it's possible it belonged to Miss Lee?"
"Uh, yeah, it's possible. In any event, we should go over to the chicken place and talk to the father. Apparently, he lives above the restaurant."
"We have the security tapes too. That should show us something."
"Let's take a look at the study one more time. Maybe there's something we missed."
A/N: If anyone's interested, I am on Instagram at jodimarie2910 . This month I will be doing a special Q & A with Yi Jeong & Ga Eul. Two questions about their relationship a day for the entire month of February. One regular question in the morning, one spicy question in the afternoon. (If anyone has questions they want answered, feel free to message me those, and I will try to include them.)