The city hall was just next door to the court house. The stone building loomed over her resonating a wealth of authority. Up the slate white steps and Namjoo entered a glossy foyer. Lady of Justice smack right in the middle of the big room. A single elevator. Doors everywhere.
A stand in the middle listed floors and jurisdictions. Picking one that sounded similar enough to a prosecutor’s quarters, Namjoo took the elevator up to the third floor. A dark blue carpet rolled out in front of her. Here was just as quiet as the foyer where even her heartbeat seemed to echo off the walls. On the bright side, she spotted a semi-circular desk.
The woman behind had graying hair. Wore cat-eyed glasses and lipstick which was the only makeup she had on. A flick of the eyes at her then onto the monitor, keyboards clicking at the rate of 100 words per second.
In a voice that spoke of too many weary days and a lack of interest, “What can I do for you, honey?”
“I’m looking for someone,” Namjoo said. “He’s a prosecutor uh…Kim Jongin.”
“Wrong department. Outside, door on the left.”
“Oh…” Nodding an apology Namjoo backtracked and peeked into a room bearing a similar setup except the desk was not semi-circular. It was topped with all the usual office tools: phone, computer, cup of pens, a filing rack, sheafs of paper and binders seen everywhere else. This time the lady was nicer and younger, thankfully.
Namjoo repeated herself.
“You just missed him,” the secretary sounded apologetic. “Can I leave a message for him?”
“Yes, yes, please,” Namjoo perked up. Snagging a provided pen and notepad she scribbled her phone number. “Please tell him it’s urgent.”
Then she left. That evening as she lay on the couch no phone call came through.
“Prosecutor,” Secretary Ma called out when he walked into the office.
Strolling over Jongin started going through the numerous white envelopes sitting on the filing rack. “Did something come in for me?”
He wasn’t expecting any legal forms or letter from police liaison or the defendant’s side. Hell, the trial was nearly over.
“Actually, a young girl came in a few hours earlier and left you a note.” Secretary Ma passed over an orange notepad. No name just a phone number. “She said it’s urgent.”
“I’ll take a look.” Jongin grabbed the note and retreated to his tight office.
A couple of deep green chairs were positioned before his rich maple desk equipped with computer, a corded black phone listing all buttons relating to divisions in the courthouse, organized stacks of papers on the tabletop, a layer of thick binders, a yellow highlighter that had rolled off to the side, and three fountain pens. In the corner of the room a metal filing cabinet contained confidential information of clients and court scripts he’d requested. The key to the cabinet rested inside the very briefcase he carried around.
Putting down the orange note he dropped into his white swivel chair. A sigh that weighed of too many restless nights, anxiety, and stress punctuated the air. Rubbing his face, another sigh, he grabbed his mouse, woke his sleeping computer up, and went to his e-mails.
He could say that before jumping into this line of work, Jongin had been most excited about the concept of putting bad guys that did bad things behind bars. The feeling of victory that came with after a job well done would be a breath of fresh air. The greatness he looked forward to. He would be remembered as the stronghold, the speaker of justice, the savior.
This was his first trial. A drunken man spurred into a whirl of rage had gone after his ex-girlfriend’s husband, assaulted, stabbed him to death. Ex-girlfriend did not want to press charges, but her dead husband’s family felt otherwise. There was no strained relationship. In fact, the duo, as Jongin learned, got along fairly well. They’d broken off on rather good terms, maintained a healthy friendship. It was a mistake the notion claimed. But the trial was ugly.
The defendant’s ailing mother – 90 years of age – frail and weak, thin and so small Jongin may have crushed her with a squeeze of his hands, cried gut wrenching tears every time the trial assembled. But Jongin did not have to use physical force to kill the weeping mother.
Even the ex-girlfriend spilt tears like a river escaping a dam; , hiccupping, covering her conflict torn face. When the jury passed a verdict of 20 years max. Which should have preceded over all broken hearts, but for some reason, it did not.
Jongin should not feel bad, but he did. The defendant was just 25-years-old. A whole life ahead of him. Fresh out of college. When Jongin met him, his eyes were bloodshot red, his hands trembled, those wide and attractive shoulders that once bore the burden of his life, now slumped and heavy. The young man had been sweating fear in the dank room they’d met in. Now he’d be locked inside four walls, pacing back and forth in his tiny cell with a rock-hard bed for the rest of the oncoming days, months, years. He would never be able to meet a pretty girl, marry her, run with her out of the church and drive off with her in a luxury car. By the time he was 45 he would have missed the taste of a fulfilling career, the sweetness of cradling a wailing newborn, the warmth of his wife’s embrace, the tingling happiness felt by a child’s erratic giggle.
Jongin thought about these things when he left court today.
The crime should be justified. It was over. Yet it hung over him sadly. And maybe this was what a first case was like. Do something wrong, you lose something meaningful.
Tonight, he would shake it off and start tomorrow anew. Besides, there were other small cases waiting for him to handle. Like a pissed off neighbor suing the man next door. A man who’d sped past a red light in a chase from the police and crashed into another car. An angry wife who wanted to bring her friend to court for insurance fraud.
Packing up he bid the secretary a good night and headed on home. Dinner was in the process when he walked in.
“Jongin!” Nagyeom cheerily called out.
“Hey.” He nonchalantly greeted sitting at the table an hour after washing up. Fried chicken was ready, he was starving, and more than ready to get this over with.
“You were in the paper today,” his sister-in-law announced.
“Oh?” Sahyeon’s eyes grew big. A shredded drumstick dangled in front of his mouth. Haughtily laughing, he exclaimed, “You’re finally famous!”
“So, how was the trial?” It was his father. He received a nudge from his wife.
“Twenty years.” He replied.
“Twenty?” Jeonghun repeated appalled. “Boy, that is a long time for a stabbing.”
“Homicide is still a homicide,” Nagyeom chanted. “He got what he deserved. Good job, Jongin. Thanks to you his family can finally move on.”
Jongin said nothing but stuffed himself. No need to add that neither side had walked away truly happy. In some dirty way, both lives – the defendant, the victim – were lost forever. An outsider did not sympathize with the wrongdoer. The public did not see through an opaque picture. Just saw it as it is.
You were wrong or you were right.
Clearing , his mother changed the topic to lighten the mood. “Uncle Heojin called today. He’s been keeping tabs on you and says he’s really proud. He can’t wait to meet you.”
“Are we all invited to the dinner party?” his uncle perked up.
“He says we should go.” His mother answered, slight eyes moving in the direction of his father as if seeking his confirmation.
“I’m not sure if I’m interested, but give uncle my greetings.” Jongin said.
“Are you crazy?” Sahyeon lightly scorned. “This is like…a meeting with the president! Well, of course, it’s not, definitely, but all these people you’d never run in