Yu Byung-ki was no sentimentalist. He’d grown up cooling and hardening into a block of ice.
His grandfather had arrived in 1903, a member the first wave of Korean Nationals to arrive in Hawai’i. For some Koreans, this would have been a memorable event, worthy of celebration, a point of pride, but history meant little to Yu. He could see the old man’s name and photo in history books, but all he saw was an old man standing with old men who were now dead.
What mattered most to the reigning Korean mob boss was continuing to reign, and that meant living in the moment and planning for what lay ahead. Recalling the past or dwelling on what might have been was for fools who lacked the kind of hunger that feeds greatness. Greed and power drove him, the less so having them, the more so what could be done to have more of both.
His father had parlayed his grandfather’s natural leadership ability within the local Korean community into a financial hui that spread its wings and dove into the void that would be filled with gambling and prostitution.
Having established himself as the head of this Korean business group, Yu’s father had retired to Korea and phenomenal luxury known by only a fortunate few in his motherland. Had Korea still been ruled by a monarchy, Yu’s father would have been well-qualified to fill the position of King.
Old man Yu had left his Kahala mansion to Yu. Yu, preferring the cool, the rain, and the green of Manoa Valley, had turned over the beach home to his son, Jason.
Together with his son, he was jockeying for position in the newly emerging heroin market. The future was bright, as it often is for the most highly qualified criminals.
Yu arrived just behind the men who had brought his son’s body home to his Manoa home. After the body had been carried into the house and laid on the enormous koa table in the front entrance hall, Yu told them to park Yamamoto’s car in the garage for the time being, then dismissed them.
When he was finally alone, Yu very carefully unwrapped the shower curtain from around his son’s body. The sight of blood did not phase Yu; he’d personally shed so much of it in his 50 odd years that he was numb to any manifestation of gore.
Still, no matter how hard a man’s heart may be, there is something about seeing your only child dead before you, and not just dead, but beaten so badly. Yu wondered about the pain his son might have felt before he died. Had he suffered as much as Yu had hoped to make Sergeant Yamamoto to suffer as Yu carved him up?
Yu closed his son’s eyes, leaned heavily against the table. For the first time in as many years as he could recall, he cried. For a moment. That was all he allowed himself. He was glad his wife was out of the country, visiting her relatives in Japan, and that she had taken her two girls with her. Yu could not think of the two as his own daughters. He did not think of them at all.
As far as he was concerned, he would always have only one child. For the time being, he wished to be alone with that child.
The telephone rang. It took several moments before Yu heard it. He thought about letting it go. But it could be business.
He walked heavily into his den, sat down at his desk, and picked up the receiver. “Yoboseyo.” His voice was hoarse. Cracked.
“Mr. Yu?” The voice sounded tentative.
“Who is this?”
“Mr. Yu, my name is Po,” came the voice on the other end. “I have worked with you before.”
Yu racked his brain. Po. The name did not register. “How?” he asked. “When?”
“I have sold you rare coins before.”
Ah yes, Po, the restaurant owner. Yes, he had purchased coins from the old man before. “Yes,” he said. “I know you.” He rubbed at his eyes. Saw his son’s eyes. Glassy, cold, unseeing. “What is it. Why are you calling me?”
“I was wondering, sir, if you might also collect stamps.”
Yu thought for a second, his mind too much wrapped up in his son. “Stamps, yes. Yes, I do collect stamps. Why?”
“I have come into a collection of what I believe to be very good stamps. I was wondering if you might be interested in looking at them?”
Yu thought for a moment. He’d always been a coin collector, but he’d begun collecting stamps as well when his son, somewhere around age eight or nine had become interested in them. Jason had long ago lost interest in the hobby, but Yu had not. Continuing to collect them was important to him.
“Stamps, yes, rare ones. I would. I would be interested.” He pictured his son sitting at the dining room table, the two of them, talking about countries the stamps had come from, how one day they would visit all those countries together.
“May I bring them by your house tomorrow?” Po inquired.
“No, not here,” Yu said. “Somewhere else. Do you still have a warehouse in Kaka’ako?”
“Ah yes, yes, my warehouse,” Po said. “Would tomorrow evening be good for you?”
Yu did not hear the question. He was looking over his desktop. Where was their folder of stamps? Suddenly this topic became very important to Yu.
The voice repeated, “Tomorrow evening, sir, would this be good.”
Yu wanted to end the call. “I’ll see you there. Six o’clock.” He hung up.
Where was their folder of stamps? He put down the receiver, and looked over his desk again, eyeing each paper, each book, each folder.
Yu got up and walked quickly around the room, scanning the various bookcases and cabinets. Normally the folder of rare stamps sat either on or within easy reach on his desk. He would look through it from time to time.
Yu walked around the room again, his heart beating faster, his mind sifting . . .
And then he stopped dead. So the old man had a rare stamp collection to sell him, did he? This was suddenly very curious.
Yu walked to the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of Mak Geo Lli, returning to his desk and pouring himself a large bowl of the slightly sweet rice wine. His love for this wine from Jeonju Province was something he had inherited from his father.
He was on his second bowl when the phone rang. “Yoboseyo?”
“Mr. Yu. sir, it is Po again.”
Yu waited, saying nothing. So the old man had a collection of rare stamps to sell him, huh?
“Sir, my apologies for bothering you again. It seems,” Po’s voice hesitated. “What has happened is that . . . a dog . . . at the moment I find that the stamps have gone out of my hands . . . but I believe this is only a temporary situation. I am . . . I still plan to have them for you at six tomorrow, but . . . may I call you at five to let you know I again have them? I would not want to waste your time . . . would not want you to come look at stamps that I d not have. May I call you?”
“These stamps,” Yu said, “I very much want to see these stamps. Call me at five.” Again he ended the call abruptly.
The wine and this old man’s curious stamp collection had Yu’s adrenaline pumping again. He dialed The Follies. Han, his right hand muscle, answered the phone.
“Boss, are you all right, boss? Your son –”
“Richard,” Yu said, cutting him off. “I need you and Seo tomorrow afternoon. Meet me here at five-thirty.”
“Yes, sir, is this about Jason?” Han said.
“Never mind, just be –”
“Boss, Sniffen, he’s here, drunk.”
A bolt of anger ran through Yu. He’d only hired his half-breed nephew as a numbers runner because his sister had begged him to give the little punk a job. He saw nothing much in the kid’s future. Sometimes he wondered if the little shit were skimming.
“So?” Yu said.
“You know how he gets when he drinks. Well, he’s shooting off his mouth about how he’s scored some kind of expensive collection of stamps. I know (snip)
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