Yu Kang-ho decided very young that there were no advantages to being poor. Growing up in the slums of Pusan, he had learned quickly to fend for himself. His father was an inveterate drunk who seldom worked, and his mother spent most nights with any available man.
The first job Kang had was as a portable metals thief. Since he did not attend school, his days were free to scurry around Pusan liberating anything made of metal that could be removed from its owner’s premises. In the afternoon he would cash in his take at a scrap metal broker, being careful to rotate his treasure to different buyers around the city so they would think, if they thought at all about such things, that he’d taken a week or two to collect his latest horde.
After a year of this, Kang decided that he needed a less stressful way of making a buck. Wandering the streets for a few days in search of a new vocation, he stumbled upon an old man sleeping off a morning soju session. The drunkard’s bicycle leaned against the wall, and attached to the bike were a couple of fishing poles and a tackle bag.
The idea of going into the fishing business popped into his head. He could see himself sitting on the docks, tossing a hook into the water, then napping while the fish flew into his sack. Then he’d sell his catch, as did other boys, to shops and restaurants around town. The owners of these businesses, of course, all attended the morning fish auctions down on the waterfront, but none of them was averse to purchasing fish directly from the children, because they could get a better price. Kang knew these bloodsuckers loved to buy from kids. These kids were poor, like Kang, so it was easy for these predatory merchants to lowball them.
Armed with his new fishing equipment, and with his new bike, Kang pedaled down to the seaside early the following morning. Combing through the butchering slop the fish sellers tossed out their back doors into the alley gutters, he collected enough remnants to use as bait.
Once he arrived at the docks, however, he saw a problem. Even though it was two in the morning, there were many people, mostly children that he could make out in the dark, already fishing.
Kang pedaled along looking for a less crowded place. After fifteen minutes or so he did in fact come upon a stretch of dock that was inhabited by only one person. Kang rode toward him slowly. From the rear he looked like he must be an older boy, large enough in the dark to pass for a full-grown man, even.
Kang got off his bike, laid it down quietly, and approached the person from the side. The closer he came, the more familiar the man-boy seemed.
Suddenly he looked around at Kang. “Hey,” he said, “get the fuck outta here. Nobody fishes here. Just me.”
Kang smiled; he recognized the boy – it was a boy. “Sun, it’s me, Yu Kang-ho.”
The older boy took a match out of his pocket. “Come here,” he said.
Kang walked over and sat beside Sun. The older boy lit the match and held it up to Kang’s face. He smiled. “You asshole. What the fuck are you doing down here at this time of night? Give up on the scrap metal business?”
Kang laughed. “Ah, that’s too much work for a little kid like me. I need something easier, something I can do sitting on my big fat ass, just like you.”
The two laughed. They had both been born and raised in the same row of shacks. When Sun was ten, his family had moved. He and Kang, although the latter was two years younger, had been fast friends. They had learned early how to get in, and out, of trouble.
“So how is it that you got this whole place to yourself?” Kang asked. “Seems like everybody in Pusan’s out here fishing.”
“Well,” said Sun, “there were a lot of people fishing here when me and my folks moved in a couple blocks back up there, but once I realized that I wanted to fish close to home, I cleared the area out.”
Kang laughed. “Kill any of them?”
“Almost. A few of them I fucked up pretty bad. The rest got the idea. One day I came here and surprise, I could sit right down and fish for a change. No need for knocking heads.”
Kang had always admired Sun’s physicality. If anybody gave Kang a hard time, all he had to do was call Sun. Sun would beat the shit out of the trouble-maker. End of story. It was like having a personal bodyguard on-call.
“So, uh, am I going to have to fight you if I want to sit here and fish with you?” Kang asked.
Sun laughed and lit two cigarettes. “If you catch more fish than I do, I might have to drown you.”
Kang took the cigarette. “Hey, I’m the one who taught you how to swim, Sun. We’ll see who drowns first.”
Patting Kang on the back, Sun said, “My friend, I never thought I’d see you again. I’m glad you’re here.”
After that, the two would meet and fish every morning, just after midnight. Kang caught on quickly, and before too long, they were catching roughly the same number of fish.
In the same strong-armed manner he’d cleared the dock area, so had Sun cultivated a monopoly on a select few vendors who were kind enough to offer a bit higher price for his catch. Once these buyers knew that Kang was Sun’s buddy, they would offer him the same higher price. It was good to have a friend who was so well connected.
After a few months, Kang began to think about the state of his business affairs. The price of fish offered by these vendors, he surmised, was, of course, higher than the average, but it seemed to him problematic that both he and Sun should get the present rate, since they were the sole suppliers. What if, he wondered, the supply were to shrink? Would these buyers pay even a bit more.
The next morning, he and Sun arrived at the usual early hour. Sun prepared his lines and hooks as usual, but Kang only sat and watched him. Sun noticed this. “Kang, why aren’t you getting ready to fish?”
Kang looked out at the dark water. “Sun, I was thinking, what if we offered fewer fish to sell. With the supply going down, wouldn’t they have to offer more money?”
Sun laughed. “Kang, Kang, that’s not how it works. Remember, they get most of their fish at the auction each morning. What we bring them is extra. A kind of bonus for them because they can pay us much less than daily auction prices.”
Kang lit a cigarette. “But doesn’t that piss you off? These assholes are taking advantage of us. We’re like coolie labor for them. Hey, we’re doing all the work. We’re not their slaves. We should set the price, not them.”
Sun shook his head. “If only that were true, brother. But we’re just snot-nosed punks trying to survive to adulthood. They can treat us any way they damn well please.”
He tossed the first of his lines into the water. Kang sat smoking.
Finally sun cast his last line in the water. “Yo, Kang, get with it, man. You don’t catch any fish, the price those guys will offer is zero.”
He sat down, dangling his legs over the pier. Kang stood up and walked over to his tackle bag. Reaching in he took out his bait knife, then turned and walked back to Sun. Jamming his knee between Sun’s shoulder blades, he pulled back the boy’s head and slit his throat from ear to ear.
Sun had no time to struggle. Kang pushed him over the side. “Hope you don’t drown, brother.”
Walking back to his bike, he took his own poles, set them up, and baited the hooks. One by one he threw the lines out into the water.
After several hours, Kang had accumulated a pretty good sized catch. Disassembling both his old poles and his newly acquired ones, he pedaled, with some difficulty, to one of the restaurants on his route.
“Mr, Seo, good morning. I have a nice batch for you this morning.”
Mr. Seo was one of the kinder men who bought from the boys. True, he also gouged them on price, but he would sometimes give the boys food, even from time to time invite them to come back for a simple meal at the end of the day.
“That’s great, Kang. How about Sun?”
Kang smiled. “I’m sorry to say that Sun had to go away.” He lit a cigarette. “From now on, Mr. Seo, it’ll be just you and me.”
Mr. Seo had been smiling too. As Yu Kang-ho spoke, the old man saw a dark light flicker in the boy’s eyes that sent a chill down his spine. The old man’s smile vanished, replaced by a straight pale face and a hard swallow.
Kang’s face changed. His stare froze the old man’s breath. “I have very much appreciated your kindness to me in the past,” he said. “I want to assure you that even though Sun has left us, I will still be happy to supply you with fish. Of course, I may not be able to bring you quite as many fish as we did when it was the two of us, but as the catch diminishes, well, you know, the price will have to go up a bit, the fish becoming more rare.” He blew out a long stream of smoke. “I’m extremely glad as well, my friend, that you will be so kind as to buy all of my fish from now on.”
Mr. Seo swallowed again with great difficulty. From that moment he became Yu’s best and only customer. He also accepted the honor of feeding and housing the boy.
So it was that Yu Kang-ho killed his first human being at age 15. The immediate benefits demonstrated a promise to him of how bigger and better were coming his way. He slowly branched out into the nearby neighborhoods of Pusan, made strong-armed acquaintance with other small business owners. By the time he turned 18, he was feared by everyone who knew him. And he’d only had to kill two more men who did not know him to make his presence appreciated by all in a respectful manner.
Almost immediately Kang decided to retire from fishing. By 18, he’d grown bored with the squalor of Pusan. By the time he was 20, he had landed in Honolulu Harbor, itching to make a name for himself, to become underworld kingpin of this tropical paradise.
Within four years Yu had amassed incredible wealth by any standard, and it was with mixed feelings that he was forced to return to Pusan to iron out a problematic business connection. That taken care of in short order, and because his wealth now had him orbiting in a new sphere, Yu had been invited to a cocktail party. Here, he met the woman he would marry, Pak Ji-so. Yu was struck by the fearlessness of this oddly cold yet inviting woman. She would make a good partner, he thought. He did not waste time, did not mince words, asked her to marry him the next day. She knew he had a reputation and was dangerous, and that intrigued her. Accordingly, she accompanied Yu to Honolulu as his bride two months later.
As quickly as he rose to the top of the organized crime scene in Honolulu, Yu saw the perfect time had come upon him to turn over his business interests to his son. Yu admired himself immensely for how far he’d come from the slums of Pusan, and now, while he was still in good health, he wanted to spend the rest of his days enjoying his hard-earned money, lolling around his Kahala Beach home and hob-nobbing with all the local celebrities and dignitaries he owned.
This, however, was not his wife’s desire.
Before he knew it, Kang-ho Yu was indeed turning over his thriving gambling, prostitution, and opium smuggling franchises to his son, Byung-hi, but it would be in Pusan that he would have to loll the time away.
Unlike Yu, Ji-so had a huge extended family in Pusan, and she missed them. It was time, she said, that Yu think about her. He’d known she was fearless, and he’d found out through the years that she was also unyielding on almost anything. This fired his desire for her even more, and he agreed to the move.
And so it was that Yu left Hawai’i for a veritable walled-in palace fortress in the wealthiest area of Pusan. He had to laugh. That he, Kang-ho Yu would allow a woman to boss him around. Well, he thought, maybe this was what love was supposed to be.
When the phone roused him from a dreamless sleep one night, Yu had a nasty suspicion that (snip)
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