Making a Move (5)
Kim Hak-Cheol nervously asked, “What's our next move, sir”
His conversation partner tilted his head slightly.
“What do you mean”
“I mean Yeong-Gi, sir.
What should we do about him If that f*cker wakes up and blabs his mouth, wouldn't we be all royally screwed, sir”
“Royally screwed, you say” The man, Noh Su-Bong, looked unexpectedly relaxed compared to Kim Hak-Cheol and his deathly-pale face.
“Don't worry, that f*cker ain't waking up.”
“H-how do you know that, sir”
“Do you even know when that brat left the barrack, Hak-Cheol” Noh Su-Bong smirked deeply.
“Tell me, do you really think a dude found unconscious and not breathing one hour after leaving his barrack will be alright after he was revived through some miracle At best, he’ll become a vegetable, man.”
“Sir, I'm still worried.”
“Hah. You're worried for nothing.” Noh Su-Bong smirked and stared intensely at Kim Hak-Cheol before tapping the latter on the head.
“Hey, did you forget who my father is”
I've already made preparations.”
Kim Hak-Cheol sheepishly looked up.
“Sir, can I really trust you on this one”
Noh Su-Bong cocked an eyebrow.
“What the hell Look at you, Hak-Cheol, talking back to me and all”
“M-my apologies, Sergeant Noh.
It's just that I'm...
really nervous, sir.”
You ain't gonna survive for long in this world without balls of steel, Hak-Cheol.” Noh Su-Bong cackled insidiously.
“I've already made the call last night.”
“Isn't it obvious Otherwise, how can we be outside and smoking like this”
“Truth be told, I was surprised by that as well.” Kim Hak-Cheol scratched his cheek.
“This whole investigation nonsense is just a formality.
What will they gain by investigating some bastard who won't ever wake up And think about his home environment for a second, too.
If we insist he tried to off himself out of crippling depression, what can those investigators do to us It's not like we left any visible injuries on him, anyway.”
“That is true.” Kim Hak-Cheol slowly nodded.
Noh Su-Bong explained animatedly, “F*cking hell.
Think about it; this is good for us.
We've been beating his ass up real good until last month, right Imagine what would have happened if we got discovered then! It's actually great that the idiot managed to hold on for this long. Hah. If that bastard had kicked the bucket earlier, he might have dragged us down with him, too.”
“By the way, Sergeant Noh...”
“What should we do about the others”
Noh Su-Bong tilted his head and asked back in confusion.
Those who know already know what has been going on.”
“What do they know Dude, they don’t know anything.”
Sir, The kids in our squad, and the ones in the next building, all know that we…”
Noh Su-Bong tutted in disapproval and stared as if Kim Ha-Cheol was a pathetic coward.
“Do you really think I haven't considered that already”
What would they gain by blabbing their mouths Some kind of cheap righteousness Don't make me laugh.
Nothing is better than cold hard cash falling into your lap.
Know what I mean, Hak-Cheol”
“I do, sir.”
“Nothing happened in this place.
And you don't know anything either.
Got that So, don't walk around with that nervous face of yours, dumbass.
Make sure that not just the investigators but even the other squads won’t get a whiff from your actions.” Noh Su-Bong narrowed his eyes and aggressively poked at Kim Hak-Cheol's chest.
I'll definitely remember it.”
“Besides, as far as I can tell, the problem is you, not the other idiots cottoning onto what's happening around here.
Even a blind can see that your face is shouting, 'Aigoo, I'm guilty, arrest me, officer~'. Stop that sh*t.”
“Y-yes, sir.” Kim Hak-Cheol kept nodding like a doll.
“Urgh, what the f*ck.
Do I really have to go through this sh*t because of that stupid f*ck Let's be honest here, did we do something wrong to deserve this”
Kim Hak-Cheol finally stopped nodding and shook his head instead.
We haven't done anything.”
“Some dumb sh*t ends up in our squad and causes all sorts of mayhem for us, and now, we almost got screwed over by that fool trying to kill himself.
Good thing it happened during the middle of the night, giving me time to make my preparations.
Imagine if people realized he disappeared in the morning! Man, we would have been in big trouble if that happened. Uh-whew.” Noh Su-Bong spat out the cigarette in his mouth and stubbed it out.
“I already spoke to my old man and asked him to deal with this situation.
So, you keep your mouth shut and stay under the radar for the time being.
You and I don't have to wait long till our discharge, so we can just sit tight and let it blow over.
Even the brass won't raise a fuss as long as there is no evidence of physical abuse or harsh treatment.”
“Is that true, sir” Kim Hak-Cheol asked back while looking surprised.
The vultures in the media will descend on the military after they hear about an incident like this.
Obviously, the brass wouldn't want things to go out of control like that.”
Kim Hak-Cheol nodded again.
Still, I can't help but be nervous, sir.”
“Hah, this dumbass.
You're not very bright, are you”
“Have you ever heard about soldiers committing suicide in the news”
I don't think I have ever heard of that.”
“But then, do you know how many soldiers died in the last five years”
around one hundred Since we're talking about the span of five years and all.”
“You moron.” Noh Su-Bong cackled.
“It's almost five hundred.
And three hundred of those killed themselves while serving.”
“Is that true, sir!”
“Which means sixty soldiers off themselves in a year...
However, have you ever seen any news of soldiers committing suicide on TV or online”
Never.” Kim Hak-Cheol shook his head.
“So, let me ask you this.
Why do you think those losers killed themselves Did they suddenly get dissatisfied with life in the middle of training and decide that suicide would be better”
That couldn't be it, obviously.
There had to be a reason for someone to contemplate taking their own life.
Committing suicide after life in the military had gotten to them There had to be a deeper reason than that.
“Let's be real here, Hak-Cheol.” Noh Su-Bong leaned in closer and spoke in an ominous voice.
“Look deeper into any of those cases, and plenty of idiots will end up in prison.
However, none of them had ever seen the inside of a jail cell.
Am I wrong I'm telling you, we can simply say that fool’s mind was too weak, and that's why he tried to kill himself.
By then, we'll be in the clear!”
“Ah...” Kim Hak-Cheol nodded as he took on a contemplative expression.
If what Noh Su-Bong said was true, perhaps this situation might blow over without too much problem.
Noh Su-Bong continued where he left off, “This whole thing will be seen as a suicide attempt.
And that idiot will become a part of the statistics, just another one of the sixty soldiers who kill themselves in a year.
But then, someone thinks it's because of abuse by seniors That's gonna start one hell of a sh*tstorm, man.
The media will jump on it like a pack of crazed wild dogs, and the ensuing fallout will royally wreck the army HQ.
That's why the brass will be hell-bent on 'proving' that this was merely a suicide attempt.”
“Now that you mention it...” Kim Hak-Cheol's complexion brightened.
He and Noh Su-Bong were basically the culprits behind this whole thing, yet they were outside, leisurely smoking away.
This situation made little to no sense.
Logically speaking, the members of the 1st Squad should be seen as persons of interest during the initial part of the investigations, and they should be under intense monitoring.
Even if the investigators still hadn't fully uncovered the dynamics and relationships within the squad itself.
“I'm telling you, Hak-Cheol! Those meatheads shouldn’t be thinking of treating this case as an incident of physical abuse.
The higher-ups had always insisted for years that the scars and injuries of a dead victim had been the result of their suicide.
Do you really think they'll suddenly start investigating Yeong-Gi's matter as a case of abuse now”
I don't think so.” Kim Hak-Cheol began to smile a little.
“That's why you can relax.
We ain't living in Hell Joseon if the brass suddenly develops a conscience and starts investigating every little thing they find.
Don't forget, the most corrupt place in Hell Joseon is its army.
So, don't worry about a thing, and trust me, your hyung.
Just keep your mouth shut, that's all.”
I do believe in you, Sergeant Noh!”
Noh Su-Bong broke out in a fit of cackles before tapping Kim Hak-Cheol on the shoulder.
Do you know what is the best way to survive in Hell Joseon”
“Is it by having quick wits, sir”
“Hah, this brat! You and your sense of humor.” Noh Su-Bong grinned while pulling out a fresh cigarette.
He lit it up and inhaled its smoke first before continuing from where he left off, “Listen, you dumbass.
The best way to survive Hell Joseon is to become a devil.
Don't you know that devils live in hell”
While saying that, Noh Su-Bong's gaze grew icy-cold, sending chills down Kim Hak-Cheol's spine.
“What's wrong You scared” Noh Su-Bong lightly patted Kim Hak-Cheol's cheek.
“Don't shrivel up like that, you dumbass.
You'll experience far worse bullsh*t than this plenty of times in civilian society, after all.
All you have to do is stick real close to me, that's all.”
I'm already doing that.”
“Ah. That's true, isn't it” Noh Su-Bong smirked deeply before tossing the half-smoked cigarette to the ground.
After stubbing it out, he seemed to have remembered something.
“Ah, that's right.”
“You stashed away everything that bastard Yeong-Gi had written, right”
I figured throwing them away might get us in trouble, so I hid them somewhere safe, sir.” Kim Hak-Cheol nodded proudly.
Noh Su-Bong's glare grew cold again.
Wait until the coast is clear, then burn them all.”
Let's get out of here.
It's almost chow time, anyway.
Did you hear what's on the menu today”
“Unfortunately, sir, it’s the crap stew.”
Let’s go and tell the PX boys to open their shop right now.”
“Sounds like a good idea, sir.”
The two men cackled while walking back inside their building.
Unfortunately for them, they had failed to notice a pair of cold eyes silently glaring at them from the darkness cast by the building's shadow.
“A trip outside” Charlie Battery Commander Ha Jin-Nam, raised his deeply-frowning face from behind his desk to look up at Kang Jin-Ho.
“You wanna go outside now”
“Yes, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho standing upright with his hands behind his back nodded slowly.
Ha Jin-Nam slowly lowered his head until it was firmly planted on his desk, then groaned loudly.
“Corporal Kang Jin-Ho, sir.”
“You brat, don't you think you're taking this too far! Can't you see our current situation I, your battery commander, am this close to getting dishonorably discharged right now! And everyone else is worried about keeping their necks, yet you wanna go outside the base Aren't you being too inconsiderate here”
“My apologies, sir.”
“Sure, I know you're having a hard time.
And how will I stop you if you're dead-set on leaving However! Even if you have connections and power! Shouldn't you read the room first before using them”
“My apologies, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho repeated the same reply, evidently not interested in providing other excuses.
Ha Jin-Nam spat out an even louder groan.
“...So, where were you thinking of going Home”
“Mm Then, where”
“I'd like to head to the Capital Hospital, sir.”
Ha Jin-Nam was left speechless for a moment as he stared at Kang Jin-Ho.
“...Hey, that's not even going outside for a bit, is it More like deserting the base, you dumbass!”
Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
“Does that mean I should apply for a leave instead, sir”
“Uh-whew, goddamn it! It keeps getting worse, doesn't it!” Ha Jin-Nam's groans didn't want to cease, but his hardened expression had softened noticeably in return.
Fine! Get out of here, you bastard! However, don't get caught, okay If you do get caught, I'm gonna insist that you had deserted.
Get yourself out of trouble by using your connections, whatever; I don't care.”
“My career is already finished, anyway.
Adding desertion to the list won't change anything, right Don't forget everything this hyung has done for you, and you better give me a cushy job when we're both thrown outside the army!”
“I was kidding, you dummy! I'll get a permit for you ready by tomorrow, so get out of here then.
It's Saturday tomorrow as well.”
“Will do, sir.”
“Now, get out of my office, Corporal.”
“Thank you, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho saluted before exiting the battery commander's office.
The air in the corridor felt cold.
However, it was unknown whether that feeling came from the current wintry weather or from the icy atmosphere within the corps.
The next day...
It was still early in the morning, and the rain was falling steadily, yet a sleek black sedan was parked out front of the base.
One of the guards asked his partner, “Hey, man.
You know what's going on here”
“Someone's leaving the base temporarily, sir.
I think that car's here to pick him up.”
“Who's going outside the base now When the base's atmosphere has gone to the dogs”
“I hear it's Corporal Kang Jin-Ho.”
“Ah, that Corporal Kang, eh”
Kang Jin-Ho was seen as an 'exception' among the members of the Charlie artillery corps.
Then again, the soldiers here had eyes and ears.
They could see that the higher-ups were treating Kang Jin-Ho differently and that the visitors coming to see the corporal were extraordinary.
Even a moron would have realized by now that Kang Jin-Ho held a different, more 'special' status than the rest of them.
Even then, no one complained or was dissatisfied with this situation.
That was because everyone knew that Kang Jin-Ho had been working harder than anyone on the base.
He also treated his juniors fairly, meaning there was practically zero pretext to badmouth him.
“He's going outside when it's raining this bad I guess he picked the wrong day, then.”
“Oh Looks like he's here.”
“Yeah, you're right.”
Kang Jin-Ho made his way to the guard post, prompting the guards on duty to salute him.
“Victory.” Kang Jin-Ho quickly saluted them back, then made the formal report to the guard captain on duty before leaving through the gate.
Jo Gyu-Min stepped outside the car and welcomed Kang Jin-Ho.
“How are you feeling, Mister Jin-Ho”
“Let's talk inside the car.”
After climbing inside, Jo Gyu-Min handed over the towel he had prepared earlier.
While wiping away the water on his face, Kang Jin-Ho slightly lowered the window.
“Mister Gyu-Min, please take me to Seongnam.”
“Should I drive to the Capital Hospital”
Please.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
Jo Gyu-Min rummaged through his inner pocket, then pulled out a black cigarette case to present it to Kang Jin-Ho.
“What's this” Kang Jin-Ho narrowed his eyes.
They're new to the market, Mister Jin-Ho.
Have a smoke.”
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly stared at the case for a second, then opened its lid and extracted a cigarette.
It felt like the inside of his head instantly went blank and dull as soon as he lit the cigarette and deeply inhaled the smoke.
“We'll be departing now,” said Jo Gyu-Min as he turned the ignition on.
The car accelerated away, and the acrid cigarette smoke was sucked out of the open gap in the window.
Kang Jin-Ho's expressionless, withdrawn eyes silently stared at the trails of smoke left behind.
“Hell Joseon” is a common slang term in South Korea to denote how hellishly “competitive” it is in the country.
Joseon was a Korean kingdom that existed before the Japanese Occupation. ☜