Chapter 26: Kwon Sung-min Comes to Town

“I’m very sorry, sir, but as I explained to you on the phone, twice now, Miss Yu is unavailable.”

Sung-min Kwon observed the receptionist of the Gi Yu Real Estate Development Corporation with an appraising eye. Her broad shoulders and toned arms caused him to smile as he imagined the possibility of an arm wrestling match with her.
The receptionist’s desk sat in the middle of the room, and her aura made it seem almost as if she blocked any passage to the huge koa double doors that hid Gi Yu from public view.

Interestingly, on both sides of the door to Yu’s office, there were desks for two secretaries, both busily typing away. Sung-min admired their visible athleticism as well. He wondered what type of martial arts training the three women had. One day, he thought, it might be interesting to take on the three. But not today.

Sung-min smiled. “Would you please let Miss Yu know that I came to see her,” he said, bowing slightly and then turning to leave.

“I will repeat it for you, sir, she won’t be available to you.”

Pushing through the glass door, Sung-min located the closest payphone.


“Sir, this is Sung-min. I’ve tried to speak to your granddaughter, but it’s been difficult. It appears she won’t see me.”
Kang Yu exhaled as if the weight of the world had collapsed his lungs. “I’m sorry about this Sung-min. I’ve tried to talk to her into meeting with you, but she does, as you say, refuse. I imagine my granddaughter would prefer none of my egregious stink to rub off on her. This fiercely religious bent of hers on legitimizing our family business has turned her into some kind of a crusading do-gooder. Well, at least have you been able to contact Richard Han and Kyun-woo Choi?”
“Yes, sir, that I have been able to do. Richard has very kindly put me up at his home until I can find a place of my own. I have already done a job for him as well.”

“Ah, very good, you know what they say about idle hands and the devil. So what, pray tell, was this job.”

“The owner of a restaurant in Waikīkī wasn’t paying his monthly dues, so Han asked me to talk to him about that. I was able to collect what the man owed.”

“So not a killing,” said Yu.

“No, sir, not yet.”

“No matter, son,” said Yu. “The opportunity will arise soon enough, I’m sure. Please feel free to keep me informed of your good work.”

After he hung up, Sung-min took the bus from Ala Moana to downtown Honolulu. The city was experiencing enormous growth. Construction cranes rose in the sky everywhere, giving the city the appearance of being picked over by giant metal birds.

“Birds of paradise,” Sung-min mused, stepping off the bus on Hotel Street near the Nu‘uanu Stream. As he walked by the stream toward the ‘office,’ he saw old men playing chess on game boards etched into cement table tops. All that was needed was to bring your chess pieces with you. Small crowds of men huddled around each table, smoking silently while the two opponents contemplated their moves.

At the River Street and Beretania corner, Sung-min looked up toward the construction site of the new Chinese Cultural Plaza in progress. He wondered if there were plans to build a Korean Cultural Plaza as well.

Entering the Kwang Lee Korean restaurant, the unofficial office, Sung-min saw Richard Han and Kyun-woo Choi, whom everyone called Tom or Tommy. It was becoming more common for Koreans to choose English names. Everything was getting modernized, Americanized.

Taking a seat in the booth next to Tommy, Sung-min reported on his non-meeting with Gi Yu and his conversation with Kang Yu.

Han said, “So he was happy to hear about your first good work with us.”

“Yeah,” said Sung-min, “and he wished me many happy returns.”

The three laughed, and Tommy patted Sung-min on the back.

“Well, as luck would have it, we do have another job for you,” said Tommy. “This one’s a little tougher, but we’re confident you can handle it.”

Sung-min listened with great interest. “Oh yes, that’s good, I’m eager for work.”

The two other men laughed. Han said, “Mister Yu told us you’d be a go-getter. We love that attitude of yours.”
“Called you a natural-born killer,” added Tommy.

Sung-min smiled. He was proud of his record back in Korea. The body count, for such a young man, was sizable.

“So please do tell me about this job,” said Sung-min.

Han proceeded to explain that there was a family Kang Yu had brought over many years before. The father and son seemed to be deriving unauthorized income from a source unknown to the Yu clan.

“We think,” said Richard, “they may have it in their heads that some of the drug trade here is up for grabs.” 

Nodding, Sung-min lit a cigarette. “And is this something you want me to talk to them about?”

“Ah, well, you can talk to them if you like,” said Han, “but the bottom line is, the boss wants the father and son to pay him back for their ingratitude. After all, if it weren’t for him, they would never have made it to Hawai‘i. Bottom line, for what they’re doing now, they owe him.”

“I see,” said Sung-min. “So you’re saying they owe him everything.”

“Everything,” echoed Han. Tommy nodded in agreement.

That night, his good deed accomplished, Sung-min lay in bed unable to sleep. As a child, when falling asleep had been difficult, he would rock himself back and forth, his head lolling from side to side, his neck doing most of the work. If this didn’t do the trick, he would rock himself a little more violently, his torso and legs joining in the effort to turn his head from side to side. Ironically, this would do the trick. One minute he’d be rocking, and the next it would be morning. The activity soothed him, and he had continued doing this right up to the present whenever insomnia came knocking.
As he rocked, gently for the moment, he pictured killing the two men earlier in the day. He’d not needed his knives, which was a pity. There was nothing more satisfying to Sung-min than the bloodletting of his blades slicing the life out of a victim. Sometimes he imagined he could taste that blood, the saltiness of a soul soaring from a body.

This job had been easily accomplish. Coming into their home, Sung-min strode to the son and snapped his neck before the other could pull his gun.

Grabbing the Smith & Wesson .38, he’d stalked through the rest of the house. Finally finding the father on the can, he’d shot him once in the head and twice in the chest. Taking the gun with him, he’d tossed it in the Kapālama Canal on his way back to Richard Han’s place.

Smiling happily, Sung-min finally fell into a deep and pleasant sleep.  

As the days passed, his résumé grew. What had been an organization in disarray following the deaths of Byung and Jason Yu, began to resolidify under Ricard Han and Tommy Choi. Of course, this was due in main part to the strong arm and bloody execution of Sung-min Kwon.

Kang Yu could not have been happier. Abandoned by his flesh-and-blood granddaughter, his surrogate son had done for Yu’s criminal enterprise everything he hoped the young man would.

But then, suddenly, Sung-min fell in love, and things began to change.

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