“Young Master, we have arrived,” Chief Kim tells me.
I gaze out the window at the familiar scenery.
There are a bunch of buildings that look like they’re going to collapse any second, all packed together. Cars are parked in a disorderly fashion on the side of the street, and trash is scattered around under the streetlights.
It’s just as I remember it.
“I heard that the Dongsu neighborhood will undergo redevelopment too,” Chief Kim says.
The Dongsu neighborhood. This is the neighborhood I lived in before I went to prison… though there were no talks of it being redeveloped when I lived here. I suppose something changed in the year or so that I wasn’t here.
“The Sangsu neighborhood right next to it is so successful, after all,” Chief Kim explains. “I’m always hearing about it.”
In the distance, I can see towering buildings stretching towards the sky. They’re next to the Dongsu neighborhood, but it’s like they’re part of a completely different world. The studio apartment that Hae-soo lived in was in the Sansgu neighborhood too.
“Where are we going now?” Chief Kim asks.
“I’m going alone. Have a coffee or something while you wait for me,” I tell him.
It seems that Chief Kim has been instructed by President Go Dae-man to not leave me on my own.
I wave a cell phone at him as a gesture that he shouldn’t worry, since I’ll contact him if anything happens. It’s Chief Kim’s second phone, which I’ve borrowed. I’ve decided to put it to good use for the next short while.
“I’ll be back in an hour,” I say.
“You must pick up the phone if I call,” Chief Kim reminds me.
I go to close the car door, but then stop. “Oh yeah, Chief Kim. Do you like pizza?”
“I love it.”
“Then lend me 30,000 won.”
Chief Kim softly bites his lip and opens his wallet.
As if to really prove that I’m the son of a conglomerate’s president, all of the checks I discovered in a bundle in my drawer were for 1,000,000 won each.
This was one of the ways in which Go Dae-man attempted to stimulate his son when he holed himself up in his room. A way to tell him to do something, to try anything he wanted. But none of this woke Go Ji-hun from that state.
Wait, doesn’t that mean that he should be supporting his son now? It seems that I’m incapable of understanding what goes on in the mind of the head of a huge enterprise.
Well, my plan is fine for making emergency funds anyway.
“I’m a salaried worker,” says Chief Kim.
“Don’t worry, I’ll pay you back double,” I tell him.
“Just make sure to come back on time.”
I grin as I close the car door.
I walk through the alleys and find a familiar sign. ‘Moreore1 Pizza House,’ it reads.
This is the place I worked at from when I was a high school student until I went to prison. The windows are stained and messy, and all sorts of junk is strewn around inside. If someone who didn’t know this place were to look at it, they’d think it was closed down.
“This place hasn’t changed either,” I murmur to myself.
There’s no motorbike outside the store. The part-timer is out on delivery.
Feeling nervous, I open the door. What do I do if there’s another me here? Even if I were to explain the situation, he wouldn’t believe me.
“Welcome,” says the chubby man sitting at the counter.
The absolute refusal to get off his seat, even when a customer comes in. It’s definitely the owner I know, my former boss.
He looks a lot fatter than the last time I saw him.
“What d’you want?” he asks.
His rude tone hasn’t changed, either.
I don’t feel any fear towards the young, curt owner of this place… despite having been unable to say a word back when he shamelessly cut my wages.
Looking back at it now, I was so young and just didn’t know how the world worked. I mean, there were plenty of other places I could have gotten a job. The world was a small and dangerous place for an orphan like me.
“One Special Pizza, please,” I say.
I hand over three crisp, new notes.
The owner glances at my face as he takes the money.
It’s your first time seeing a face this handsome, isn’t it? It was my first time too.
“Hey boss. I have a question,” I say.
“Do you know Bae Min-soo?”
“Bae Min-soo, you say?” the owner repeats, looking confused.
“He’s a young man who used to deliver on a motorbike here,” I say.
“What are you talking about? We’ve only ever had one delivery driver on our motorbike.”
“Here he comes now.”
Through the window, I can see that a motorbike has been parked outside. Its driver, a young man with a naïve-looking face, stares at the floor as he enters the store.
“Hey! Why were you so late!” the owner shouts.
“I’m sorry,” the young man apologizes.
“You piece of shit. The order was cancelled because of you.”
These are the words the owner said so often, as if they were his favorite phrase. The business is actually not doing very well, and he’s just venting his anger.
The young man gives an embarrassed smile and disappears into the back of the store.
“Seriously, the only thing he knows how to do is ride a motorbike, and he can’t even do that properly,” he grumbles to himself, despite the fact that his voice is certainly audible even from further inside.
Looking at the situation, it seems that my past self isn’t here, though I’ve been replaced by someone similar.
“Then do you know about the Hae-soo murder case?” I ask the owner.
“There’s not a single person in the Dongsu neighborhood who doesn’t,” he replies.
Park Han-dong. All of his circumstances are the same as mine, except that he was a delivery boy for a Chinese takeaway place. I’m sure he lives near the area.
“I heard that the criminal was a delivery boy for a Chinese takeaway place. Which one?” I ask.
“That place? Out of business. They tried to keep doing business in the neighborhood, but it was a little rough,” the owner says.
Originally, it was this pizza place that was supposed to go out of business.
It seems that the owner is happy to have a conversation with a customer for the first time in a while, seeing as he keeps readily answering my questions.
“I heard he grew up with just his two siblings,” the owner continues.
“You can really tell when someone’s grown up with no parents. Our delivery boy’s an orphan as well, and he’s missing a screw or two, you see.”
I sink into a shocked silence as the owner deftly packages the pizza.
He wasn’t a good person in my previous life either, but now that I look at him from a third-party perspective, I can see that he’s actually human trash.
Through the frosted window, I can see the young man’s head tilted downwards as he looks at the ground.
Did I always look like that? So miserable and tired? I could have done my best to cheer up a bit, but I never knew at the time.
I take the neatly-packaged pizza.
“Excuse me,” I say loudly towards the back room. “You there, inside.”
“Yes?” the young man responds.
“Could you please come out here for a moment?”
The young man comes out, wearing a bewildered expression.
“Your boss never pays you on time does he?” I say.
“What?” the boy says blankly.
“He cuts your hourly wage by more than half, too.”
“Look here. What the hell are you saying!” the owner says angrily.
“He even tells you to pay for the motorbike’s repair costs, right?” I go on.
The young man’s eyes are wide open, as if to ask, ‘How do you know all that?’
Meanwhile, the owner’s face has turned bright red, as if someone just shoved him into an oven.
“I’ve been through all of this before, so I can tell you that people like this don’t change very easily,” I say to the young man.
“Are you out of your mind!” the owner bellows at me before turning to the young man. “Hey, Cheol-yong. This someone you know?”
“N-no,” the young man says hastily.
“There are plenty of other places you can work, so quit this job, go out and look for another one,” I say, and I take two checks out of my wallet and hand them to the young man.
2,000,000 won. With the amount I was paid back then, this is three months’ worth… and even that cheap pay was subject to the owner’s wage cuts.
“Use this to pay for your living expenses for the next little while as you look for another job,” I tell the young man.
“Uh… Uh… Thank you,” he says, giving a furtive glance at the owner as he takes the checks.
If only I was visited by such fortune in the past.
On a sleepless night in prison, I once had a conversation with my prison family. About whether the ‘fortune’ that people received once in their lives would ever visit us. About what we could have possibly done so wrong in our previous lives for our current lives to be like this.
Though we chuckled, we had mixed feelings and wished that there would be one moment – just one – that could change our lives.
“Make sure to buy yourself some pizza when you feel like it. Don’t starve yourself,” I say to the young man with a smile as I leave the store.
I don’t know what choices he’ll make from this point, but I hope he finds a good opportunity somewhere. Looking back at the past, I know just how much of an impact each little choice has.
“That’s an expense I wasn’t expecting to pay,” I murmur to myself as I look through my wallet for no particular reason.
It’s not a big deal. It’s money left over from my budget anyway. If I really need money, I’ll just sell the expensive objects in my room.
Still, life really can be changed completely by a single event. I’ve gone from living in prison and not even being able to afford a biscuit to handing out checks like they’re nothing.
I start walking in the direction of the road where Chief Kim is.
But a moment later, I hear what sounds like a dying scream. A short one that stops very suddenly, as if it were nothing but an auditory hallucination.
I look around me, but I see nothing. The red houses are packed closely together, but they’re surprisingly quiet.
“Is there something wrong?” I call out.
I walk around the alleyways, looking for the source of the scream. The yellow street lights flicker.
Hmm. Was I just hearing things?
I look at my watch and see that the one hour limit Chief Kim and I agreed on is approaching.
The moment I turn to leave, I hear a suppressed groan of pain.
I have a strange feeling about this.
The half-open window of one house catches my eye. The windows of every other house have been shut to keep out the chilly night air.
Feeling suspicious, I approach the house.
“Hello?” I say loudly as I ring the doorbell.
But I don’t hear any voices or movement, even though I feel like someone is present.
Looking closer, isn’t the front door open?
I open the door, but hesitate.
“Bae Min-soo. Get a hold of yourself,” I whisper to myself.
Twenty years ago, I became a criminal for doing exactly this. Why do I never learn?
Just as I think better of it and decide to leave, I hear it.
“Help… me,” a woman’s sobbing voice says.
I’m absolutely certain I heard it. It’s not an auditory hallucination or a figment of my imagination.
After just one more moment of hesitation, I kick the rusty iron door, sending it flying open with a loud, creaking noise.
I leave the pizza hanging from the handrail of the stairs outside, pick up a nearby broom and enter the house.
I’ve spent half my life living with criminal bastards, but I’m scared.
“Hello?” I call out.
Now that I think about it, I’m not the Bae Min-soo who was locked up in prison. I’m the weak-bodied Go Ji-hun who spent his life holed up in his room.
“Someone is in there, right?” I call out again.
Something slips onto the other side of the frosted glass of the front door, and stops there.
With the door between us, neither I nor the mysterious shadow move a muscle.
Feeling a sense of taut tension, I extend a hand towards the door’s handle. As soon as I do, the door swings and crashes into my face, causing me to shout out in pain. The man on the other side of the door has made the first move just a moment before I could.
The man, who is wearing a black hat, shoves me out of the way and tries to run out the door. As I fall, I grab his ankle.
He tumbles down the stairs, along with miscellaneous objects that fall down with him. There’s a loud noise as the flowerpots lined up outside shatter on the ground.
“Ugh, that hurts,” I mutter as I stand up, rubbing my stinging chin.
The other man also groans in pain. He seems to have fallen at a bad angle; he’s clutching his right wrist.
A black hat, a black mask, and eyes with double eyelids. A face I’ve seen somewhere before.
“What are you, a thief?” I say to him.
Instead of responding, he throws sharp flowerpot fragments and dirt at me.
As I raise my arms to protect my face, the man flees.
The stairs are a mess. It’s as if a violent storm just swept through. Despite all the noise that’s been made, nobody is showing their faces from inside their houses.
After regaining my senses, I peer into the inside of the dark house.
“Excuse me. Is anyone here?” I call out.
I don’t hear anything.
“I’m coming in! Just letting you know!” I declare.
The kitchen is right next to the entrance, and there’s one small room further inside. A woman is lying face-down on the ground.
“Are you alright?” I ask her, bending down.
The left side of her face is swollen and red, and there’s a little blood flowing down her neck. It looks like she’s been lightly cut by a weapon that was held to her throat. Her clothes are disheveled, but it doesn’t look like she’s suffered anything worse.
I fumble around and take out my phone.
“I’m going to call the police. What’s the address of this place?” I ask the woman.
“I said… don’t call the police,” the woman whispers, taking the phone out of my hand.
Her hands are shaking. What the hell is she saying?
“We need to report this,” I tell her.
There’s a sharp look in the woman’s eyes. They’re wet with tears, but her gaze is full of hostility.
Why are you being like this to me? I’m the one who saved you.
The woman boldly stands up, closes the window, and fastens the latch to lock it.
“This is fine, right? I’m going to lock my door now, so you don’t need to worry about me,” she says defiantly.
What a rude person.
I dust off my hands as I stand up. They’re a mess, covered in dust and scratches from falling over earlier.
It’s not like I’m after riches and fame over this; I don’t know why she’s making such a fuss.
“Yes, lock your door. But I’m still going to let the police know about this. I don’t know what your circumstances are, but if you don’t report it and then there’s another victim, you’ll be responsible as well,” I tell the woman.
She flinches at my words, and tears begin flooding out from her eyes… despite having not cried even when she was being attacked by the mysterious assailant.
“If someone were to see us, they’d think I’m the one who made you cry,” I say.
“I’m sorry. But the police…”
At this point, it’s beyond my understanding, so I’m getting curious. But considering this atmosphere in the room, it doesn’t seem that she’s willing to explain.
I frown and let out a sigh. “Then I’ll just tell them that I saw someone suspicious. That’ll be fine, right?”
“… Thank you,” the woman mutters, putting a hand on my back.
Hmph. I have no idea what circumstances are making her act like this.
I continue dusting my hands off as I leave the house.
There’s a box cutter at the bottom of the stairs. Did that bastard drop it earlier?
“A box cutter. A rusty box cutter…” I mutter to myself.
I suddenly remember the Su-an Spaniel case. His appearance and clothes were similar, and most importantly, this box cutter.
The weapon he used for his crimes was a box cutter.
“Holy shit,” I whisper.
To think that I would encounter the Su-an Spaniel like this!
I quickly run down the stairs, but he’s already vanished like a ghost. The whole alleyway is empty, as if it’s a part of the city that’s just been discarded. There aren’t any people here and definitely no functioning CCTV.
The reason he was inactive for a month was because he was injured!
The crimes will continue once his wrist heals.
I put the box cutter in my pocket and return to the car. Chief Kim is drinking coffee in the driver’s seat.
“It has been a little over an hour,” he says as I get in.
“We’re going to the Su-an Police Department, immediately,” I tell him.
“The police department, all of a sudden?” he repeats, examining me through the back mirror. “What happened to your face? Did you get into a fight?”
“No. Let’s get going. It’s urgent.”
“But Young Master.”
“You said you were going to buy pizza.”
“Forget it. Hurry up and drive.”
Even if I bring this information to the police, the investigation won’t progress much further, because the key to solving this case is knowing the identity of the owner of the DNA collected at the crime scenes.
But I can’t pretend to not know anything when this piece of evidence has been dropped in front of me, and there’s someone I need to meet at the Su-an Police Department while I’m there.
And anyway, the one who will catch the Spaniel is me.
1‘Moreore’ is a spoof of ‘Toreore,’ a Korean chain that offers a wide variety of fast food.