Yeo-jin blinked, then blinked again. “Wow, that receptionist wasn’t kidding.”
“Is that all you have to say?” snapped the voice next to her. “Even the dormitories are more luxurious than this. This is — this is a broom closet.”
It was with laudable self-control that Yeo-jin refrained from stomping down hard on the well-dressed foot beside hers. Instead, she swiveled on her heel and bowed deeply, low enough that the hood of her jacket swung back over her head and sent a spray of water into the air. Judging by the outraged squawking somewhere above her, the residual water droplets landed with Olympic precision on their intended target. “My sincerest apologies that I couldn’t book us a five-star hotel, Prosecutor Seo,” she said solemnly, voice dripping with old-fashioned cadences. “Please forgive me.”
When she straightened up, Seo Dong-jae was patting his face dry with a handkerchief, glaring at her from behind the silken fabric. “I never said five-star,” he muttered in a tone that might have passed as chastened in anyone else.
“If it’s too troublesome, there’s always space in the car,” came a third voice.
“Prosecutor Hwang!” Yeo-jin turned around to find the third member of their party approaching them from the end of the hall, a bundle of blankets under one arm and a plastic bag in the other. “We were worried you might have gotten lost in the snow on your way back. Were you able to find the convenience store?”
“Yes,” he said, holding up the bag before continuing through the door.
“Sleep in the car?” Dong-jae repeated to his back. “In the middle of a snowstorm?” He looked so horrified that Yeo-jin had to choke back a peal of laughter as she shouldered past him into the room.
Yeo-jin threw herself into the backseat seat and yanked the door shut behind her, shivering as she rubbed her hands together. She couldn’t have spent more than a few minutes outside, but her fingers were already clumsy blocks of ice that could barely uncurl, much less unlock her phone.
“Here,” Si-mok said from the passenger seat, holding out his hand. Nodding gratefully, Yeo-jin dropped the phone into his waiting palm and scooted closer to the heating vent, pressing her fingers against the slits.
“So?” Dong-jae asked, swiveling around in the driver’s seat. One arm hung off the back while his other hand rested on his thigh, fingers drumming restlessly. “What did they say?”
Yeo-jin took her time answering. If these two were so content to let her freeze her butt off every time they stopped to ask about room availability while they stayed behind to enjoy the warmth of Dong-jae’s newly repaired heater, they could very well enjoy it long enough for her fingers to turn flesh-colored again. She had no intention of letting the heat stop for even a single moment — not until she could speak without biting her tongue off, at least. “The r-r-roads out are all cl-closed, and s-s-since this storm w-was so unex-expect — aish, c-can’t you t-t-turn this up any higher?”
“That’s the highest it goes.” He frowned, but whether it was in apology or impatience, she couldn’t tell. Not that she had much experience with his apologetic face — even though she should by now, considering how many apologies he still owed her. Of course, the best apology was changed behavior, as the saying went, and though it still rankled whenever she remembered he’d never said the actual words, she couldn’t deny how much his behavior had changed since they’d first met. Whether this courtesy extended to all her colleagues on the police force or just her, she didn’t know, but as long as he kept the heater on full blast, she didn’t particularly care. “Since it was so unexpected?” he prompted.
She pressed her shaking fingertips together until they went bloodless; her left index finger took three whole seconds longer to regain its color than her right. That was concerning, wasn’t it? Was that concerning? “All th-their rooms are f-f-full,” she managed to say. She ran the experiment again; this time it only took two seconds longer. Still concerning, but encouraging.
With a frustrated groan, Dong-jae swiveled back around and thumped the steering wheel. “Great, that’s the fourth place we’ve asked.”
“They must have gotten a lot of last-minute bookings because of this storm,” Si-mok said. He passed Yeo-jin her unlocked phone, which she accepted with grateful and mostly-defrosted fingers. “It wasn’t as bad in the afternoon. If we’d left while it was still daylight, we probably would’ve been at the head of the crowd.”
Dong-jae squinted at his colleague, mouth drawn in a thin line. “What exactly are you trying to imply here?”
Si-mok blinked at him. “Nothing.”
“You know, passive-aggressive isn’t a good look on you.”
“Passive-aggressive? Me?” Si-mok blinked again, which only seemed to further aggravate him.
“Hold on, she gave me the address of another place,” Yeo-jin interrupted, holding up her phone. A new destination lit up the navigation screen. “It’s a bit farther down, but they might still have some rooms. Not many people would go this far out of the way in this weather.”
“We should hurry, then, before they fill up as well.” Si-mok turned to stare pointedly at Dong-jae, who rolled his eyes and revved the engine.
“Look,” he said as they backed out of the parking lot onto the main road, “it took a lot of convincing to get inside that building, okay, never mind the chairman’s office. If you’d been there, you would understand. And it’s not up to me how long those meetings last anyway. It’s a miracle this phone didn’t run out of battery, honestly.” The phone in question nearly fell from its perch as the road beneath them shifted from well-worn tar to uneven mounds of snow and rock. “Besides, getting the full recording was important, wasn’t it? We’ll definitely be able to catch him with this.”
“Have you listened to it yet?” Si-mok asked, peering out the window. Between the late hour and thick snow, even the treeline next to them was barely visible. “Does it say anything new?”
Dong-jae glared at him. “I’ve been a bit busy playing chauffeur to my ungrateful junior and his police officer friend.”
“Yes, thank you for that, Mr. Chauffeur,” Yeo-jin said. “Turn left up ahead.”
“There is no left — this? This isn’t — are you sure this is a real road?”
“It’s what the map says.”
“Well, your map has been known to — oh. That’s not it over there, is it? That dingy little shack?”
Yeo-jin leaned forward to squint through the windshield. Through the film of condensation clinging to the inner surface and the flurries of snow buffeting outside, she could just make out the small building at the end of the road, lit up by the headlights. “Dingy” was a little harsh, she thought as they pulled to a stop by the wooden entrance, but it was certainly nothing to write home about.
“All right, here’s what we’ll do,” said Dong-jae, killing the engine. “The inspector and I will go inside and convince them to give us whatever spare rooms they have. We won’t take no for an answer. You take the car back to that convenience store we passed earlier and ask if they’ve seen anyone matching the assemblyman’s son’s description come through here lately. And pick up some dinner while you’re at it, I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
Si-mok nodded and held out his hand expectantly. “The keys,” he said, when nothing happened.
“Oh, right.” Dong-jae handed over the small bundle of keys with no small amount of reluctance. “Be careful with it, the road is very icy.”
“And this car is very expensive.”
“All right,” Dong-jae said, rubbing his hands on his thighs. “Okay, on the count of three, we’ll open the doors. Everyone ready? Good. Okay, one, two, thre — FUCK that’s cold!”
“None at all?” Yeo-jin did her best impression of a kicked, hypothermic puppy as she leaned against the desk. “Really?”
“I’m very sorry,” the receptionist said again. Her jet black bangs hung low over her eyes as she bowed her head. “We’ve had an unprecedented amount of bookings today, likely due to the —”
“Storm, yes, we’ve heard.” Dong-jae heaved a sigh, drumming his fingers along the desk. “Listen,” he said in a low voice, bending closer. Instinctively, Yeo-jin and the receptionist leaned in as well. “This is actually part of an ongoing investigation. I’m a prosecutor,” he added, fishing out his lanyard, “and this is my colleague.” Yeo-jin helpfully flashed hers. “We’ll have a third colleague joining us later, so if you have any rooms at all, it would help us immensely.” His voice dropped to a whisper as he leaned even closer. “This case is of utmost importance, Miss —” he glanced at her nametag, “— Yoon, is it? May I call you Ms. Yoon?”
The receptionist — Ms. Yoon — blushed and glanced away, clearing her throat. “You may,” she said, slightly breathless — at this, Yeo-jin rolled her eyes, while Dong-jae winked at her — “and I appreciate your situation, I really do,” she continued, voice regaining its strength, “but I’m afraid we definitely don’t have enough rooms for three people. I’m terribly sorry.”
“What about just one?” At Dong-jae’s scandalized stare, Yeo-jin rolled her eyes again. She wondered how many times she would have to roll her eyes in a single evening. “We’ll make do with what we can.”
Ms. Yoon was better able to conceal her shock, but her eyes were still wide as she turned to look at Yeo-jin. “In that case, we might have one room, but it’s . . .”
“Anything helps,” Yeo-jin insisted, staring at her imploringly. “We just need somewhere to weather out this storm.”
Ms. Yoon held her gaze for a moment longer before looking away, her shoulders slumping. “All right,” she conceded, “but I’ll need to check first.” She dialed a number and tucked the phone beneath her ear as she typed something into the computer. “Hello, this is — yes, sorry to bother you, I was just calling to ask if that room has been cleaned up yet? No, the other one. The one from . . . the investigation,” she finished quietly, glancing at them as she shielded the mouthpiece with her hand. Yeo-jin felt her eyebrows rise.
“I don’t know how I feel about sleeping at a former crime scene,” Dong-jae muttered, tilting his head toward her.
“How about sleeping in a blizzard?” she bit back in a whisper.
He nodded thoughtfully and leaned away.
“Wonderful, thank you very much.” Hanging up, Ms. Yoon turned back to them and said, “We do have one room available, but it’s — small. Very small. One bed and a desk, with an attached bathroom. Would that be all right?”
“Yes, that’s fine, thank you so much!” Yeo-jin beamed at her before digging out her phone to text Si-mok the good news.
“I’ll have someone send up some spare blankets for your colleagues,” she said apologetically, passing them a pair of room keys. “Room 119, just upstairs and down the hall to the right, past the second set of doors. We, um, won't charge you for the extra guests.”
“Wonderful, thank you,” Yeo-jin said, handing the second key to Dong-jae. “You’re paying, right?”
“Don’t ‘what’ me, this was your idea in the first place. Prosecutor Hwang and I went to all the trouble of leaving our own cars at home and coming here with you to throw people off our trail. If anyone checks, it would be weirder to see your car driving up here but a room booked under one of our names.”
His mouth twisted to the side as he reached inside his coat for his wallet. “I can’t believe we won’t even get reimbursed,” he groused, sliding a credit card over to the receptionist.
“And you’ll be checking out tomorrow morning, is that correct?”
“Yes,” nodded Yeo-jin.
“If the roads are open by then,” Dong-jae clarified. “We can add extra days if we’re still stuck tomorrow, right?”
“Of course! That room doesn’t have any bookings in advance, so it’s yours as long as you want it.”
“Excellent,” he said, smiling warmly at her. “We’ll take it for tonight, then, and reassess in the morning.”
“Wonderful,” said Ms. Yoon, her cheeks dusted pink. “That’s room 119 for one night. If there’s anything else we can do to make your stay more comfortable, please don’t hesitate to let us know. I’m very sorry again for the inconvenience.”
“Not at all, you’ve been a tremendous help!” Yeo-jin said, beaming at her. "We’re the ones showing up here last minute. Thank you again!” Pocketing her room key, Yeo-jin grabbed her bag and headed toward the stairwell, Dong-jae following close behind.
Dinner was a quick affair of tangerines and cold sandwiches — or it would have been, if not for Dong-jae’s insistence on a warm meal.
“You’ve never done this before?” he remarked, wrapping the third sandwich in a conservative swath of toilet paper before placing it atop the radiator beneath the window. “Your dorm life must have been very uneventful.”
“It ends up the same way in your stomach,” said Si-mok. He gazed at the row of toilet paper-wrapped sandwiches with a slight frown, poking the nearest one with his index finger. “Does it really matter if it’s warm or cold?”
“It’s the principle of the thing,” Dong-jae insisted. He felt each sandwich with the back of his hand before flipping them over one by one. “On a night like this, we should be having hot food in a cozy room with dry clothes.”
“Well, the room is definitely cozy,” Yeo-jin muttered under her breath. Even after moving the bed up against the wall, there was barely enough space on the floor to set down one of the spare blankets, never mind both. Any extra space at the foot of the bed was taken up by the desk, which was more of a wooden panel bolted into the wall, and the creaky swivel chair. Beside it was the door to the bathroom, a tiny square alcove with cracked, off-white tiles and peeling yellow paint.
“It’s too bad we didn’t know about the kettle beforehand, or we could’ve told you to bring some cup ramyeon instead,” Dong-jae said as he flipped the sandwiches for a third time. “This is the perfect weather for it.”
Yeo-jin stared uncertainly at their dinner. “Those won’t catch fire or anything, right? They’ve been sitting there a while.”
“No, the heat conductivity of toilet paper leaves much to be desired, I’m afraid. Speaking of which, I don’t think these will be getting much warmer. Any preferences?”
Yeo-jin grabbed the one in the middle, leaving the two prosecutors to take the ones nearest them. “Wow,” she said around a mouthful of sandwich, “this is actually kind of warm. I’m impressed.”
“Of course,” Dong-jae scoffed, carefully unwrapping his sandwich. “I’m not some kind of amateur.”
Si-mok didn’t comment on the sandwich or Dong-jae’s allegedly extensive experience with unconventional heating methods. Instead, he reached into his backpack with his free hand and pulled out his tablet, opening the cover. Yeo-jin scooted closer and watched as he pulled up a video file showing the interior of the convenience store.
“The owner didn’t remember anyone in particular matching the son’s description,” Si-mok explained, “but she gave me the recent CCTV footage. Since this is the last stop for a while, if he was heading toward the vacation home, he may have come through here.”
“And with this storm, if he did pass through here, even if someone found out we were on his trail, it would be too late! He’ll be stranded there!” Yeo-jin grinned and smacked him on the shoulder, for which he rewarded her with a stare not unlike an affronted owl. It only made her cackle harder. “Goodness, your skin is very sensitive! You should be used to that by now. Can you even feel it through that thick coat of yours?”
“You sure are enjoying yourself, aren’t you?” Dong-jae tore off a large piece of sandwich and chewed it aggressively. “Have you forgotten that we’re stranded too?”
Yeo-jin elected to ignore this comment, instead curling over the screen to look for any sign of a suspicious mop of curly hair. Seeing he would get no response, Dong-jae sighed and took another large bite of his sandwich.
Several minutes later, Yeo-jin bolted upright. “Ah! There! That’s him, isn’t it?” Her finger hovered over the pixelated image of a young man hunched by the refrigerators in the back, his unruly curls not quite hidden by the hood of his jacket. “That was just a couple of hours ago,” she said triumphantly.
“He must have been headed to the vacation home after all,” Si-mok said as he put away the tablet. “He probably made it just before the roads closed.” With his tablet safely stowed, he finally started on his sandwich, which had probably regressed to its pre-radiator temperature.
“Terrific, he’s trapped like a mouse.” Yeo-jin’s jaw parted in an enormous yawn as she stretched her arms out. “Well, if that’s everything, I’m going to go wash up and then head to bed. How are we sleeping?”
“Hang on,” Dong-jae said, frowning, “we haven’t listened to the recording of the meeting yet.”
“Do we need to?” Yeo-jin glanced at Si-mok out of the corner of her eye. He was chewing his sandwich with single-minded attention. “We already know where he is.”
“Do we?” Dong-jae’s voice took on a conspiratorial tone as he leaned toward them. “He might have been taking a simple drive through the mountains like any other tourist. Or he may have come this way to throw us off his trail, and doubled back as soon as he reached here.”
“After the scare we gave him at his office? He went into hiding; there’s no doubt about that.”
Dong-jae scowled, crumpling up the toilet paper in his hand and tossing it into the waste bin under the desk. It bounced on the edge, but after teetering on the rim for a precarious second, it made it in. “Look, let’s just listen, all right? We’re not doing anything else anyway.”
Si-mok chewed carefully before swallowing. “We’re eating,” he said.
“You’re eating. I finished ages ago.”
“While we were looking through the security footage, you mean,” Yeo-jin amended.
“I would have helped,” he said indignantly. “I wanted to, but you two looked so comfortable huddled in your corner over there that I didn’t want to interrupt. Besides,” he added in a tone just shy of petulant, “if you really wanted my help, you could have moved over to let me actually see the screen.”
Yeo-jin glanced around at their surroundings. At some point, Si-mok had shifted along the bed toward the headboard, pressing himself against it, while Yeo-jin had taken up the space immediately beside him. With the both of them hunched over the tablet as they’d been, it would’ve been impossible for anyone else to get a clear look at it. “Oh,” she said sheepishly. “Sorry.”
Dong-jae waved her off. “It doesn’t matter. We found him, at any rate. Now we just need to confirm where he was headed — and that the chairman knows about it. As it so happens,” he smirked, holding up his phone, “I believe we have just the thing.”
Once they’d gleaned all they could from the recordings — the chairman knew what his benefactor’s son had done, yes, and had offered his own villa as a hideout — the discussion of sleeping arrangements began in earnest.
“No, really, I don’t mind!” Yeo-jin said. “You both were the ones driving, one of you should take the bed. Besides, I like sleeping on the floor.”
“I would happily take the bed,” Dong-jae said, splaying his hand over his chest, “but unfortunately it’s incompatible with my height.”
“You should take the bed, Inspector Han. Prosecutor Seo can take the floor.”
“And where will you sleep?” asked Dong-jae, raising an eyebrow.
Si-mok nodded toward the desk. “I’ll take the chair.”
“I’m not convinced that chair can support people,” Yeo-jin said. “And it’s not good for your back to sleep on a desk that low. Your posture is already horrible, we can’t let it get any worse. Oh!” she exclaimed, struck by a bolt of inspiration. “What if we sleep sideways?”
Dong-jae stared at her, furrowing his brows. “What?”
“Well, not sideways, but — I don't take up much space, right? So I can just curl up at the head of the bed. Sideways. Then if one of you rests your upper body on the bottom half of the bed, you can lay your legs on the chair, and the other person can take the floor. It’s perfect!”
The two prosecutors shared a look that Yeo-jin chose not to see, but they switched the lights off nonetheless. As promised, she curled up in as tight a ball as she could manage at the top of the bed, facing the headboard as she pulled the blanket up over her arm. A few feet farther down, Si-mok lay on his side with his arms beneath his head as his legs balanced on the fraying swivel chair. Beneath them, Dong-jae rested like an entombed king, arms folded across his chest as he stared up at the ceiling.
The silence held for several long minutes. Then: “This isn’t going to work.” An agitated sigh rose from the floor as Dong-jae rolled over and buried his face in one of the pillows. “Maybe I’ll take the car after all.”
“Don’t even think about it,” Yeo-jin said, sitting up. Her knees popped as she straightened her legs out, and she sighed in relief as she stretched her arms above her head and cracked her spine. “What would we tell your poor wife when you freeze to death?”
“I’m sure you could come up with something.”
As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she spotted Si-mok still curled on his side, though now he was facing her. “If neither of you plan on sleeping either, shall we go over the other files again?” he asked. The poor chair looked awfully small for his legs. “We may have missed something important in our rush to get here.”
Yeo-jin glanced ruefully at her pillow, which, though thin, had done its best to cushion her head from the hard mattress. “I suppose we may as well. I don’t think we’ll be getting any sleep like this.”
Dong-jae heaved a bone-deep sigh and got to his feet, flicking on the lights. “I’ll get my laptop.”