Because he couldn’t afford the airfare to Wanhei, Sung-min Kwon walked and hitched rides when he could. All told, the journey took him nearly a week. When he arrived, he was unsure of the best way to approach this very powerful man who lived in what was deemed an impenetrable fortress.
A truck driver dropped him in the heart of the city, and Sung was hungry. He was also thirsty, and given his budget, a beer took precedence. Stepping into a darkened bar, he took a stool at the counter and waited for the bartender to notice him.
As he sat there, Sung became aware of a group of men talking and drinking in the back of the bar. Listening closely, he realized that they were talking about Yu Kang-ho, the powerful man himself, the one who had been expecting his father to come to stay with him after his escape from Honolulu.
The bartender asked Sung what he wanted.
“A beer please, but can I ask you, who are those men back there?”
The bartender gave Sung a long look. “Why are you asking, son?”
Sung bristled a bit at the designation of ‘son,” but he held his temper in check.
“I hear them talking about the man, Yu King-ho, whom I’ve traveled from Seoul to see.”
“To see?” exclaimed the bartender. “What about?”
Sung wondered at the attitude of the bartender. It was as if he were an overly protective father, or maybe a jealous lover.
He wanted to tell the man that it wasn’t any of his damn business, but Sung said calmly, “My father, Wang Sung-min, had been invited to live with Mister Yu. Unfortunately, my father died before he could come here to Wanhei. I wanted very much to meet the man who had offered my father such kind hospitality.”
The bartender gave Sung another long, appraising look. “Hold on,” he said, and he walked down the bar and over to the table where the men were sitting.
Sung watched as the bartender spoke to one of the men, all the while pointing at the young man. Finally, the man stood up and came over to the bar.
Taking a seat by Sung, the man said, “You’re looking for Yu Kang-ho, is that correct?”
“Yes,” said Sung, “I am Kwon Sung-min, and my father was Wang Sung-min.” And so he told the story again of wanting to meet the man who had been so kind to his father.
“All right then, come with me,” said the man, standing and gesturing for Sung to follow.
Sung did, and the man walked back to the table with the others. The man confirmed for them what the bartender had told them all, then said, “I’m going to take him back. I’ll see you all later.”
Again he gestured for Sung to follow. The two went out the back door. Before getting into the car, the man patted Sung down.
“What are these?” the man asked, taking the two knives from Sung’s pocket.
Sung explained that they were the throwing knives his father had left him.
“Are you any good with them?”
“Yes,” was all Sung said.
The man looked him in the eye, then cracked a barely perceptible smile. “That’s good,” he said, “but I’ll hold them for the time being.”
Over the entire ride, the man was silent. He didn’t even offer his name. Somehow, however, Sung trusted him, believed that the man was taking him to see Kang Yu.
The drive was longer than Sung had imagined. They went out of the city and into the suburban countryside. Eventually, they began to climb up into the mountains.
The first sign Sung had that he was probably in the right place was when the man slowed for a barrier across the road. There were stone buildings on both sides and a good dozen armed men stood guard over the entrance.
One of the men waved, and the barrier was lifted. Again they drove on, but more and more armed men were seen standing along the roadside.
All of a sudden, through the trees, Sung saw an enormous structure rise to meet them. It was the largest mansion Sung had ever seen. Stunned by the sight, he realized for certain that he had arrived at the compound of a very powerful and wealthy man.
But he had not arrived.
The man said, gesturing to the enormous structure, “This is home for the single men, like a barracks.”
They drove by and around the mansion, and Sung’s breath stopped. If the first place had been enormous, what he saw now took his breath away.
It was as if the kingdom of Korea had established a new seat of government, and this was the king’s new palace. The entire place was packed with armed men milling around.
“Here we are,” said the man, pulling into a large parking lot.
Sung got out and followed the man toward the front entrance. The man was greeted by everyone they encountered, but Sung could tell they were all sizing him up as he followed.
Two men stood to either side of the huge entrance door. It was as if they were palace guards. They actually saluted the man, and one stepped over and opened the door for him.
The man walked forward and Sung followed. The interior amazed him. This man had money, no doubt about it. Art of all kinds was everywhere. There were huge chandeliers and what seemed like acres of sofas and other plush seating.
Two stairways swept up either side of the room, and Sung followed the man to the one on the left.
“Have a seat here,” the man said.
Sung sat as the man strode up the stairs. While he sat there, he watched servants scurrying here and there. The whole scene astonished the young man from Seoul.
After fifteen minutes or so, the man came back down the stairs and stopped halfway. “Come,” he said.
Sung jumped and ran up the stairs behind him.
“Here,” the man said, gesturing down a hallway that went off to the left.
Sung had to practically double-time it behind the man and his forceful stride.
The man stopped before an door carved with dragons and gave a single loud rap.
“Come,” came a voice from inside.
The man opened the door and gestured for Sung to go in first. The room, which Sung took to be an office, was equal to the grandeur of the first floor. An old man sat behind a huge mahogany desk. He stood and came around the front as Sung approached him.
The elderly man stood looking at Sung. Sung stopped a respectful distance from him and bowed, then waited.
Finally, the old man said, “Sung-min Kwon, I am Kang Yu. So you are the son of the man who killed Lieutenant David Chan.”