CHAPTER 4 : Booster Shot
“He has not the slightest idea,” insisted Mercy Yoo.
Across town, in the expensively faux art deco-style HQ building of the Hu Foundation, she sat directly opposite Mr. Kintsugi Joon-woo, the boss of her boss’s boss.
She had arrived that morning feeling inordinately guilty for having deceived Doogle. With her immediate superior, Mr. Jong Min-Jun, off on sick leave, she had gone into the office of her section boss, Mr. Park, and told him what she had seen. He had immediately concluded that it was a matter for Mr. Kintsugi.
Despite Kintsugi’s elevated status, Mercy felt confident within herself, quite unintimidated. She was by nature self-assured, but she knew that her unwavering composure on this specific occasion was, at least to some extent, because of her outrageously expensive Dsquared2 denim Roxy Heart trouser suit, paired with a comparatively cheap smart red blouse and a pair of stylishly understated flats – also from a mass market budget range. It was an outfit she could barely afford on her salary, and she had changed into it as soon as she arrived at work because, despite knowing how utterly irrational it was, wearing it made her feel stronger.
It had taken most of the day to get to speak directly to Kintsugi, but she was certain he would want to hear what she had to say about Doogle.
Now, with the afternoon almost gone, she stared at Kintsugi’s blandly handsome features across a desk whose hard, shiny black surface reflected both of their faces. It seemed to Mercy that whenever Mr. Kintsugi spoke, he was talking at her dark reflection rather than directly to her face.
“How can you be certain?” asked Mr. Kintsugi.
“We’ve lived together for almost five years,” she countered, confidently. “I know him almost like I know myself. I know how he thinks, how he speaks, how he reacts.”
All right,” said Mr. Kintsugi. “You have done the right thing to come and report this to me. We do need, as has been explained to you, to be kept abreast of any unusual medical developments in yourself or your acquaintances.” His communicator beeped but he immediately switched it to mute and ignored it. “Tell me this, Miss Yoo, what do you think has happened to him?”
Mercy thought about it for a couple of heartbeats before replying. “I wish I knew. It looks like some sort of severe infection, some kind of infestation.”
Mr. Kintsugi lapsed into silence for a few moments. “Let us say, for the moment, that I accept that your partner has no idea of what is happening to him.” He stopped and raised his gaze to directly meet her’s. “Might he nevertheless perhaps suspect that you have been the source of his infestation?”
She was totally thrown by the question. “Me?” She unconsciously tugged at the cuff of her red blouse, pulling it out from the bottom of her jacket sleeve. Her confidence had taken a substantial knock because Mr. Kintsugi’s question seemed so outlandish.
“Yes, you, Miss Yoo,” replied Mr. Kintsugi, clearly relishing the sound of the words.
“But how? But … but ….”
“Your most recent booster shot,” he began, smiling as thin as distilled water and narrowing his eyelids. “It appears that it may have done rather more than simply protect you from last year’s virus mutation.”
“What are you saying?”
“It’s terribly, terribly complicated.”
Mercy’s mind was now racing. Kintsugi’s words were making her re-evaluate the purpose of certain ‘beyond top secret’ information to which she had become privy about a month and a half earlier. At the time she had felt privileged, as a relatively junior Hu Foundation exec, to have been trusted with what was clearly highly sensitive intel, but now she was starting to wonder if the organisation had been playing her for a fool.
Mr. Kintsugi was looking uncomfortable, as if he was uncertain of what he could say next. When he finally spoke, he sounded hesitant. It was a tone she had never heard in his voice on any previous occasion. “It cannot have escaped your notice,” he said, “that your immediate superior, Mr. Jong Min-Jun, has not returned to the Foundation, since he became, ah, unwell some time ago.”
Mercy felt a shiver crawling up through her spine. “He has the flu, yes?” she asked, knowing that she must be wrong.
“He does not have the flu,” stated Mr. Kintsugi, pronouncing each word slowly and clearly. “He does not have anything at all.”
Mr. Kintsugi shook his head slowly and deliberately before continuing. “Nothing. We learned, to our corporate horror, not long before we removed him from his post, that Mr. Jong had been undertaking acts of industrial sabotage against the Foundation on behalf of another company.”
“Sabotage?” She was having difficulty taking in everything Mr. Kintsugi was saying. She had worked with Mr. Jong for longer even than she had known Doogle. She liked Mr. Jong, admired his deterministic attitude to life, had even flirted with him occasionally. Now, though, she was remembering how she had also from time to time wondered why he had never responded to her smiles and her not-so-subtle inquiries about his relationship status. She had concluded, eventually, that he might be be gay, or perhaps just exceptionally shy, and so she contented herself with settling in to a productive working relationship with him. Now, in an instant, she was having to re-think everything. “No,” she said. “Not Mr. Jong.”
Mr. Kintsugi was still slowly shaking his head. “Yes. Mr. Jong.”
“Yes.” insisted Mr. Kintsugi.
Mercy was rapidly realising that what she was being told about Mr. Jong must in some way relate to what Mr. Kintsugi had said earlier about her being the source of Doogle’s infestation.
Now she was desperate to know the rest of the details, but while she waited for Mr. Kintsugi to start explaining, she couldn’t stop herself from thinking back over a needlessly expensive, unfeasibly long, alfresco lunch on a gloriously sunny afternoon at the swanky Cliff House restaurant, overlooking Ocean Beach on the San Francisco peninsula’s Northern coastline.
That had been where Mr. Jong’s boss, Mr. Park, had divulged to her the ‘beyond top secret’ intel which had forced her to lie to Doogle.