Of all of the things that Taehyung had thought that he would regret hearing he had not thought that it would be this. Logically he should have been scared by a lot more other words, the typical ones and the more obscure. Something along the lines of “you have cancer” was one, “don’t scream and I won’t you hurt you” was another. A rather strong fear of his, and he supposed that it was for a great many others, was hearing the words “we tried our best to save him but sadly, your father is dead, Mr. Kim”.
But “you’re up”? Why, it was just two simple words and yet he felt the unmistakable sensation of dread course through him.
It had been quite some time since he had felt the sensation, likely around the time that he had taken his force entrance exam. Taehyung could recall sitting at the desk, fresh out of high school with a pen in hand and a series of sheets in front of him; sheets that would determine him being allowed into the force or not. For some older teens that had been his age, it had been college entrance exams they had been sitting; filled with dread. But for him it had been the force entrance exam, because a failure to pass would have ruined his future aspirations. That was why he had been so scared back then.
Right now his stomach felt the exact same too. It was in the way that his stomach clenched hard, as if seized hold of tightly by a fist. Working in sync with his stomach his throat and also seemed to have restricted to the width of a straw. Taehyung’s skin had been rather warm from the heating inside the department office floor and yet it was now decidedly chill. Was he going to break out into a sweat? He wasn’t sure but he felt just like he might. A cold clammy sweat that could only be described as terror sweat.
Yet Namjoon was looking at him like nothing of great importance had just happened. Why, he might as well have asked if he would log into the database and change an entry for him, judging from the rather calm look on his face. Taehyung studied the files in the crook of his elbow as he shifted to sit against his desk. Namjoon didn’t pull up a chair and act professional. He just leaned back to sit on his desk, the edges digging into the backs of his thighs and the seat of his black trousers brushing against the wood. He placed the files down beside his laptop and then he just folded his arms over his chest and looked down at him.
Taehyung rapidly figured out why he had picked to sit on his desk rather than on the other side. The position allowed him to look powerful, in control. He had to look up at him and thus it made him look like he was below him. Right now he felt like he was, felt like he was on his knees rather than seated at his desk. It was the effect of his shadow falling over his laptop and his gaze burning down at him.
God, he felt like an ant in front of him right now. A teeny tiny insignificant ant in the shadow of a massive boot heel just waiting to be stomped on.
“I’m sorry?” Taehyung asked him, lifting his eyebrows at him in a gesture he hoped looked confused and not condescending. The last thing he wanted to do was look disrespectful towards him. Even if he wasn’t technically his superior he couldn’t piss him off. Not now, after everything.
“I told you,” Namjoon said without even blinking. “You’re up.”
Taehyung studied his face for a moment and then glanced at his laptop. He had been sorting through a series of intercepted emails in the hopes that he would find an error in any of them. That someone would fuck up and use a word strong enough for them to have reason to get an arrest warrant. A word that wasn’t coverage for something else. Something like “skin” or “goodies” or any other fucking word lifted from a dictionary. Why not just be honest and say “meth” or “prostitution ring” or plain old cold blooded “murder”? Why did they have to be so goddamn tricky and make his job harder? Yet here he was after five hours of constant scanning and nothing.
Taehyung couldn’t possibly get an arrest warrant without physical proof. If he had intercepted emails then he needed to have enough solid information to result in a successful prosecution. No, an email made up of random shit that could mean anything certainly wouldn’t withstand a trial. But how could their team arrest anyone when there was never any evidence? Sometimes Taehyung felt like he was hitting his head against his screen over and over. It would likely yield better results for their team than their current method.
“How many times have I told you to not call me boss?” Namjoon said. It was easy for him to say that, as if it was just a simple drop in formalities and nothing more. The fact that he could pluck him right out of his office job and decide to dump him into the centre of a massive sting operation showed that he was clearly something a little more than a coworker. He wasn’t entirely certain that dropping the title would change a thing. “What is it? Talk to me, you look a little…” Taehyung dragged his eyes away from his laptop screen to look at him again. He saw slightly furrowed brows, not a sign of anger but possibly one of displeasure. “Taken aback by that news.”
“With all due respect, uh, Namjoon, I’ve been working this department here for less than a year,” Taehyung explained, as if he wasn’t aware of this fact. “I’m hardly the most knowledgeable of all of our team so I don’t-”
“Who told you you weren’t the most knowledgeable?” he asked, cleverly derailing the point that he was trying to make. Taehyung just mumbled something under his breath as he stared at his desk. Not too far from Namjoon’s files was his coffee mug, the dregs now likely freezing cold and as thick and dark as tar. There was a small lunchbox from a café just down the street open in front of him but he had lost his appetite suddenly. In the light from the window the remainders of the rice looked gelatinous and the kimchi looked sloppy and wet, like vomit.
The currently empty department room fell silent save for the sound of the clock and he hated it. He wished that someone else was in the room too, Sungah or even Hoseok. That would make the atmosphere less heavy and suffocating for sure, and right now Taehyung felt like breathing was a difficult task. Namjoon took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. Taehyung just gnawed on his lower lip rather than say another word.
Namjoon was his superior right now but only in experience. Namjoon was his boss because he had had the best experience to take charge of their rather select small team. He wasn’t much higher in rank or even greatly higher in age. But his father was a Chief Inspector and Taehyung knew what that meant. It meant that Namjoon was already well above his station in terms of respect and influence. If he told him that he had to do something, Taehyung had to do it. He could vocalise his want to not, could even request a referral but it would never get out of this department. Right now Taehyung had to stay on Namjoon’s good side even if he didn’t want to do this.
“We’ve been working together for how long, Taehyung?”
“Seven months,” he replied without looking up at him, eyes focused on the slight chip in the rim of his coffee mug instead.
Yes, it had been roughly seven months since he had been taken from his usual desk job, sorting out database records and typical violations to be placed in the narcotics and illegal substances department. Taehyung himself still wasn’t entirely sure how he had gone from rather low level enforcement to the current high level he was at. This was more than updating databases and keeping files in order. Taehyung had more or less overhauled the entire system that they had had before he had been put in place. Too many paper files full of useless shit, not enough instant and accessible material on hand. Maybe that was why Namjoon had plucked him out of the team, but there was one major problem.
Taehyung had no practical experience in the field. He had partaken in small street and car patrols when he had been a rookie. Two years down the line he was no longer considered one, but Taehyung still felt like a rookie. The kind of officer that had never made an arrest was the kind that did not get sent into the largest gang in the country as an undercover spy.
“Seven months,” Namjoon repeated as he shifted on the desk slightly. Taehyung lifted his gaze to see that he was looking across the department; across the rather small office floor. It reminded Taehyung of a classroom somewhat, the long rectangle shape and the several tables inside, the cork boards here and there covered in pinned up photographs and sheets of text. It felt like they should really have a larger department but apparently that was unnecessary. “In that time I’ve seen you go from making simple database entries to making links between data accounts that have led to convictions.”
“Only once or twice I didn’t-”
“Thirteen convictions and five pending trial,” Namjoon interrupted. “That’s more than once or twice. How would we have ever arrested Crazy Choi if you hadn’t connected that single call he made to Do Hyungwon? Huh? Not me. I didn’t even imagine that Choi would be stupid enough to agree to meeting someone by call, yet you remembered. You remembered the location and that got a confession from Do.”
“Hmm…” Taehyung made a noise as he nibbled on his lower lip.
“Crazy Choi was the most prolific arrest this department has made in ten years Taehyung. All ‘cos of you.” Namjoon touched his shoulder briefly at this, as if to drive the point home. “That’s something. We’ll go back to this later but let me explain. We’ve got reason to believe that you might just be the guy we need for this Taehyung.” He shifted to reach over and lift one of the files off the desk. Namjoon opened it up and glanced at something inside, eyes running over something that could have been a photograph or a sheet of paper. Taehyung just stared at him and tried to not wriggle in his seat in discomfort. “You know The Boy, right?”
Namjoon was asking a pointless question and they both knew this. Of course Taehyung knew The Boy, he had been tracking and compiling cross-references of the gang for months now. Taehyung knew names and faces, ages and occupations. He practically knew their designer suit of choice from the amount of time he spent looking at photographs and recordings of the near hundred men that belonged to the empire. So when Namjoon asked him if he knew The Boy he knew that he did.
“What about him?”
“Been seen a lot recently, I’m talking daily. Hoseok got quite a few choice shots of him.” Namjoon must have been looking at one such shot. “You know how rare it is to see him. So what does that mean?”
Taehyung also knew that Namjoon was aware of the fact that he knew this too. It was pretty obvious how he had gone from an invisible force to suddenly being seen everywhere. His time to step on the chessboard was approaching; there was a new player in the game. He didn’t say any of this of course, because he didn’t need to. His silence was all that Namjoon needed to hear. After a few seconds Namjoon looked up at him, lifting an eyebrow as he did. The movement was languid and yet authoritative and so Taehyung lifted a hand and held it up to him. Asking for the file. The other man handed it to him and so he turned it around and checked the photograph.
As expected Hoseok had once again proven his skills at being in the right place at the right time. That not only applied to his delivery of arrest warrants, or his perfectly timed raids that always snared a few rats in their nets. Hoseok also had the greatest lucky streak that Taehyung had ever seen. He knew that his coworker had enrolled in military duties right after high school, and from there he had used the experience in being placed in the department. If Taehyung was the mastermind behind the computer screen then Hoseok was the mastermind of working on the streets. And it was that lucky streak of his that had resulted in these shots.
The photograph in front of him had been taken from either a sidewalk or inside a building, perhaps a café. Though there were multiple bodies it was clear where the focus was supposed to be. It was supposed to be on the young man stepping right out of the suit store to cross the sidewalk and enter the Mercedes-Benz S-Class limousine. Black suit, fitted and designer. Didn’t need to be an expert to see that. Taehyung had no doubt that the waistcoat alone likely cost his monthly pay packet and his wages weren’t exactly low. In the shot The Boy was reaching up to undo a jacket button, the one right in the centre. His attention was elsewhere, looking at a man to his left rather than in the direction of the car.
Taehyung flicked to the second and sure enough there was a closer shot. This time his face was more than a profile. His black hair was swept back off his brow neatly to reveal a rather conflicting visage. Looking at his face Taehyung saw neither a boy nor a man but something trapped between. Eighteen he might have been, but he had yet to lose the lingering vestiges of his teenage years. His features seemed too large to be called mature from his large eyes (deer eyes Taehyung thought for some reason before pushing the thought away) to his prominent nose, to that tight little pout of a mouth of his. Despite his features being masculine, his strong eyebrows and nose, his height and frame, Taehyung couldn’t shake his initial feeling upon studying him.
He was an adult child. He was trapped between two worlds. The young man on the photograph had a spoilt look on his face - it was in his mouth, that pout. Yet the way he held his shoulders showed that he was also authoritative.
The third and final shot was so crisp and clear that he could see the most minute details on his face. The rather deep scar on his left cheek that wasn’t noticeable in the further shots was now unmissable. Taehyung could practically count his eyelashes, soft pretty little curls of black. He was glancing down the street, brow lightly furrowed as he squinted from the strong sunlight.
“Sungah’s gonna be pissed Hoseok beat her to these,” Taehyung joked as he looked up at Namjoon. “These are fantastic shots. Probably the best ones we’ve got of him.”
“Best ones the department’s gotten since he was about…eleven,” Namjoon agreed with a nod as Taehyung looked back at the photograph.
Yes, the young man on the photograph was the same even when he looked so very different. Gone was the short height and sloping small shoulders, the youthful innocence. No more long hair and teeth in need of braces. He had grown up from the database photographs that they had of him. Taehyung knew that he would look very different from his middle school photographs too. He had certainly grown up well, and so had he.
“Looks nothing like that dried up fucker,” Taehyung remarked as he looked at the shot. “Mrs. Jeon must be a looker and a half.”
“Don’t have a fucking clue, I’ve never seen her. Jeon keeps them sheltered remembered.” Namjoon reached down to pull the file from his hands. Taehyung spared a quick final glance at the photograph before it was out of sight once more. “But not anymore. No, Jeon Jungkook is finally hitting the streets like the heir that he is.”
“And we got the best shot of him possible. Goddamn, Hoseok won’t shut up about this for months.”
“We think that he’s getting groomed to take over, and that means right now we’ve got a way in. Times are gonna be turbulent for them with power and influence shifting everywhere,” Namjoon explained as he placed the file down and folded his arms over his chest. “That’s where you come in.”
“Yes, it is,” the other man agreed with a vigorous nod. “See, we’ve got reason to believe that they’re going to start…investing in some new meat. There’s going to be a purge, that much we know. Like with all power shifts, the old’s going to make way for the new.” Namjoon paused for a moment as if collecting his thoughts. “We got a tip off an informant. They’re bringing in boys, not old men, not middle-aged men. We’re talking young blood. You need to bring in a new generation for an empire to last.”
“OK, so why me? Why not this informant? Why can’t they do it?”
“Two simple reasons. One,” Namjoon held a hand up and a single finger, “they’re too old and they have tender connections right now. We need them to stay exactly where they are, rather than go deeper.” He lifted his second finger, making the peace sign at him. “Two, they’re our ticket into the gang. That’s why we need you Taehyung. We need someone that can’t possibly be linked back to the department.”
“But you’re smarter, y’know what to do if-”
“Shit Taehyung I might be smart but so are you, your aptitude tests were off the chart. I know because I checked the records. Yes I’m smart, that’s why I need to stay back here, in the base camp. You have think of this situation in a certain way. Don’t use your ace card when you can pull a joker.” Namjoon reached over and tapped him on the side of his head. “You’re smart. Very smart. You’re also a damn good bluffer.”
“Bluffing about kiddie shit is easy Namjoon,” Taehyung retorted, an almost whine in his voice as did, “that’s not kiddie shit. If I say the wrong thing I can lose my head, and I like my head. It’s a nice head if I can brag about it.”
“I’m in too deep Taehyung. This department has affected me, I can’t go undercover. I’d blow the operation up. Sungah can’t, she’s female so she can’t even attempt to join. Hoseok can’t. He’s just like me, he’s like a soldier, not a spy. He does his job great, but he’s not right for this one. Daesu’s too old, Youngjae couldn’t look anymore like a fucking cop if he tried.”
Taehyung realised that he had named all of the team already except for him. They were only a small group of officers, for the only time they needed numbers was during raids. That was when the armed units stepped in, following Hoseok’s guidance. Other than that there were just six officers on the current squad and it would be pitiful if not reflective of the rather low level of drug activity in the region. There were more convictions for buyers of drugs than for sellers, and certainly not producers. No, most of the drugs floating around were imported shit from North Korea, China, The Philippines and more.
When it was so hard to find dealers and producers it wasn’t like there was a demand for officers in the field.
“Taehyung, this is the best shot we will get at infiltrating Haedogje Pa. It’s been an entire generation, we’ve been waiting forever.”
“I know, I know,” Taehyung muttered. “I know it’s the best but…me?” Namjoon held his gaze without blinking, refusing to back down. “I don’t even have any practical experience. What the fuck am I supposed to do?”
“You will undergo some training Taehyung,” he explained, shifting on the table as he did. “How to work a firearm mostly, but other stuff too. You’re not going into it naked. You’ll be prepared. We’ve got nearly three months to prepare ourselves for this. By the time we get you inside you will know every single thing about the fucking Haedogje Pa you will ever need to know.”
“I already know all about ‘em,” Taehyung said, edging close to an argumentative retort. “I know everything that I need to know. I don’t need to know anymore.”
“Not everything, not yet,” Namjoon said as he shifted to get off his desk. “The only way to know everything about Haedogje Pa,” he said as he placed a hand on his shoulder, “is to join Haedogje Pa.”
Taehyung didn’t follow him with his eyes as he left the department office. He was too busy staring at the files left on his desk to do so. They were just sitting there, so very much like Pandora’s Box waiting for him to open them and look inside. Namjoon just knew that he couldn’t ignore them, because he would just have to check the files to see the information. To see if it was correct and that there wasn’t the slightest piece of error. That was why he had left the files there, to tempt him. Taehyung wanted to go back to his laptop, to scanning the countless other emails and pretending that none of this had happened but he knew that he couldn’t.
There was no way of backing out of this. He was cornered and he shouldn’t even try.
Taehyung sighed and pushed the lunchbox aside so that he could pull the files closer to him instead. He opened the thin manilla one and slipped the photographs out, spreading them across the desk. The glossy surfaces reflected sunlight back at him. Then he opened his desk drawer and pulled a rather tattered notebook free, covered in scrawls of ink with torn and folded pages. Right now the other files could wait. Taehyung wanted to do his own investigation first; starting with identifying as many men in the photographs with Jungkook as he could. Then he would try and figure out what exactly that might mean.
If anyone on their team could predict the future of Haedogje Pa then it was him. That was why Namjoon had left him the files and had picked him as their spy. He had figured that much out on his own.
Taehyung sighed and turned to look at the photographs on his desk. No one on the shots looked back at him, all caught looking down the streets or at watches; fingers pressed to earpieces so that he could see black wires curling down and out of sight into shirt and suit jackets. No one stood out to him on this particular outing. There was a high chance that they were just hired thugs and nothing more; bodyguards for the baby heir in their midst. Taehyung dragged his eyes away from a bald-headed man to look at Jungkook: at The Boy. He tapped his pen against the notebook as he stared at him.
A new player on the chessboard, not a pawn but rather a king. Jungkook was limited right now, unable to move around much or control vast swathes of his empire yet. No, that still remained in the hands of his father; who was now something close to the queen. The most powerful but not the most important. Well, Taehyung knew his chess and that meant that he was going to be a rook.
There was much work to be had and he knew something else too.
He was going to need more coffee.
Taehyung knew about Haedogje Pa. He was sure that anyone working in the force would, along with those in government sectors and the judicial system. They were often referred to as a cancer, a malignant cancer that lingered and would never go away. They were something above every other gang in the country because they had long surpassed what could be counted as a “gang”. No petty street wars or power struggles. Haedogje Pa were an empire to be precise: the largest and most ruthlessly monitored empire in the entire of Seoul. Everyone knew about them, but no one could do a thing to rid them from existence.
The motto of Haedogje Pa was this: you’ve got the poison, we’ve got the antidote.
The poison applied to a great many things. The gang dealt in a rich profusion of drugs: marijuana and prescription medication like Valium and Xanax were the soft shit; Yeba, methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine were the more in demand, the hardcore shit. But drugs weren’t the only things, though they certainly were a powerful foundation. Taehyung knew that the empire had been founded on drugs smuggled from American military camps into the general population. That meant that they were very important in regards to the culture of the empire.
A second staple and by no means last specialty of Haedogje Pa was countrywide prostitution. Taehyung didn’t like calling it that because that seemed to state that the gang dealt in sex workers, when in reality he knew that they were sex slaves. To call the women and men working the circuits willing was so far from the truth it was rather shocking. They were either drug-addicts, immigrants, runaway kids or desperate. With all of those factors put into play it wasn’t about workers anymore, but rather more people trapped under their control. First the addicts, then the slaves. There were underground strip clubs, brothels, dens filled with the kind of shit that Taehyung could only imagine. Sungah had worked on busting open prostitution rings before moving onto the vice desk, and he had heard stories. Stories that he had wished he never had.
They were more vices that interlaced under these two: gambling, pornography, extortion and other shit. These were just as important even if they seemed to be lesser, because they were just another pillar of strength that kept the gang standing strong and unbreakable. Looking for a chink in the armor was something that took years of work, and more often than not there was never enough time or strength to break through. Taehyung wasn’t stupid. He knew that an empire wasn’t just built on smarts and money alone. It required power and influence, along with protection. He knew that Haedogje Pa had links to all kinds of powers in the country. There would be politicians, chaebols and CEOs, judges and more all willing to help keep the business flowing and the risks low. They were Seoul’s biggest open secret, and not a thing could be done without information.
When he had joined the desk for narcotics and illegal substances he had found out about Haedogje Pa very quickly. Even now it was impossible to not see their name popping up everywhere that he looked. There wasn’t a day spent at his laptop that he didn’t come across the gang at least ten times. With them controlling the criminal underground in Seoul it made perfect sense. Yet Taehyung had discovered something when he had starting delving deeper into the databases. Taehyung had discovered his rather tremendous ability to recall names and faces, and chunks of information that he had never truly done so before. He had learnt the high-ranking members well enough to be almost a relative of theirs, and he could connect them all up like a web. It wasn’t just a single aspect that he could memorise, but rather entire hierarchical systems. Taehyung had never realised how fantastic his visual memory was, and it was sorting through the files and updating databases that had allowed him to show the team just how useful he really was. He wasn’t just a desk jockey, trapped behind a table with a laptop and a pot of coffee. He was so much more than that.
It had shocked Namjoon to the point of dumb silence when he had first given a name of a prolific member in regards to a conversation that he had overheard. The other young man and Youngjae had been puzzling over a rather sloppy hit on a dealer that had been called Oh, standing in front of a cork board just across the department room as they had tried to figure it all out. Taehyung had heard them trying to figure out who the fuck would have killed their own dealer when the name “Choi Wooyoung” had spilled out of his lips without a second’s hesitation. It had made perfect sense to him, seen as he had been listening to a recording just an hour earlier dated a month prior in which the man had vocalised concerns about a loss of profits in a district. The exact same district that Oh had worked before his untimely death. From there Namjoon and Youngjae had connected the dots, but they had needed the initial push in the right direction to do so.
That had been the first time that Taehyung had used his memory to assist in the process of lining up suspects for arrest. It had not been the last. He didn’t know why but he had just stored knowledge about Haedogje Pa away and he could utilise it without needing to reference the databases in most situations. Sungah had once referred to him as a university lecturer, an expert at Haedogje Pa knowledge. Daesu had told him that he needed to get a life.
It was that very skill of his that had gotten him caught right in Namjoon’s sights of course. If one were to send an undercover agent into the fray, what better one to pick than one that knew names and faces and allegiances almost as if they were already in the gang?
That was why he had been pulled out of desk duty and instead thrust into a series of terrifying and rigorous mandates to get him prepared. That was why, just a week from now, he was going to be dragged into Haedogje Pa. It was also why he was he sitting in a café with their informant halfway across the capital rather than at his office desk.
“Right,” Lim said as he opened the manilla file and started spreading the photographs out across the table. Over the slightly tacky coffee rings and scattering of loose sugar particles. “Let’s try this one last time, huh?”
Taehyung had never met Lim prior to this arrangement. Being an informant he had needed to stay well away from the department at all times, which was why Taehyung now owned a brand new phone and a whole new set of falsified credentials to his name. Upon first meeting him he had been surprised for he hadn’t looked like what he had expected. Taehyung had expected a rather grizzled middle-aged man, tough and sinewy in a street weathered kind of way. He had not expected a rather chubby man with stubble on his jowls and hair that was too long and slightly unkempt. But despite this he saw signs on him that showed that he had worked his job well. First of all his rather flat pug-like face showed a nose with a crooked bridge from multiple breakages, and his stubble couldn’t fully disguise the scar on his cheekbone either.
But it wasn’t just his face. Lim showed himself in a manner that bled confidence and influence. His suit was designer, the heavy Rolex wristwatch sneaking out from the cuffs whenever he reached over to retrieve something a sign of his bank account. He breathed slow and evenly. He even blinked as if on a perfectly timed cue. It showed fantastic control and Taehyung had found himself consciously copying him during their meetings. Lim was an informant, a spy in other words. He lived and breathed the Haedogje lifestyle and he didn’t break character once. Even during their meetings he was a gangster, not a police officer. At first Taehyung had been quite simply terrified by his brusque and blunt nature. One time he had made a mistake the man had grabbed one of the knives from their table and had stabbed it right at him. “That’s it, you’re dead,” Lim had spat and he had thrown himself back in the chair and had toppled over to land in a mess on the floor.
All he had done was state that Park Woobin was a dealer in methamphetamine. No, that was Park Wooyoung. Park Woobin had links to strip clubs and was most certainly not a name to be dropped in casual company lest he wanted to piss a great many men off.
Every time that Taehyung had made a mistake he had done something like that. A stab at his hand or chest with a rather blunt butter knife, the press of something against his knee that might just have been a gun from under the table. Lim had trained him to be so scared of fucking up a street name or the standardised charge for marijuana that Taehyung had learnt that thinking before replying was a safer option. Replies didn’t need to be blurted out like answers to a high school quiz. He could take three seconds to get a correct answer and keep his cool, rather than get it wrong and potentially lose his head.
It wasn’t about being perfect, Lim had told him. It was about knowing the information mostly for his own gain. The more he knew, the stronger he was. That was why he was being tutored like this. Knowledge is power, and every member of Haedogje Pa had power.
“Some of this is pretty easy,” Lim explained, settling the pages down like a teller dealing cards. “You’ve met one or two of ‘em before. If you dunno ‘em then this time I won’t pretend to stab you, I’ll fucking stick you like a roast pig kid.”
“The support’s appreciated like always,” Taehyung muttered as he watched him finish spreading the photographs out.
Lim hadn’t just taught him how to handle the pressure of quick thinking, he had also ensured that he been seen in his company around other low ranking members. Taehyung couldn’t just show up one day out of the blue. He had needed to be eased into it all. His wardrobe was no longer filled with casual clothing and the handful of shirts and black trousers that he needed for his desk duty. No, all of that had been replaced in favour of suits. Not designer, not yet, but better quality and well-fitted. He needed to look the part, in both fashion and how he held himself. Taehyung had spent many evenings in front of a mirror pulling at his shirt cuffs and just trying to look like he belonged in a suit; like it was a second skin to him. It was hard but he had reached a point in which he now felt a little more confident in himself.
Mostly that was because he had stood in the same room as several other gangsters other than Lim and he was still breathing now.
Those meetings had been absolute hell for him. Taehyung had spent the first three convinced that he would fuck up and say the wrong thing. Even when he hadn’t been the centre of attention he had been terrified. He was there to stand by Lim’s side, often like a silent witness to the deals that were agreed to. So far he had witnessed bribery for a local government election, the forced removal of a rather enthusiastic D.A., and illegal property development. That was Lim’s field of entry into Haedogje Pa, and it meant that Taehyung had needed to stay very alert in the small meetings. Always in public but in locations that he had known that the gang owned. Coffee stores that were always filled with men in suits and women that looked like escorts, restaurants with bouncers on the doors. He had once even been dragged to an underground strip club to sit in a back room for a deal. The bass had pounded loud enough for him to feel it like a heartbeat. As if the deal hadn’t been stressful enough, the sight of naked women and men writhing around poles and on polished counters hadn’t helped alleviate the sensation.
But it had paid off in his favour for he had caught the eye of a member. A very important member. The man was called Nam, first name currently unknown to him. But he had seen him in the presence of The Boy and that meant something. Nam had addressed him like he would an underling, but he had addressed him nonetheless. The man had wanted to know from Lim what exactly he had been in the meeting for. So Lim had explained that he was a tribute to Haedogje Pa, a new willing recruit. From behind his shades Nam had studied him intently, all business deals at hand suddenly forgotten about in favour of him.
Then the man had turned to one of his lackeys with a grin on his face and Taehyung had heard him say: “he would love him, huh? Look at that face”. Taehyung had yet to figure out who exactly he had meant by that.
Yes, the meetings over the near three month period had been rather hellish. His fears of fucking up had been unfounded. He hadn’t, but he had often ended up retching over a toilet bowl shortly after they had finished for his relief had finally caused his nausea to take over.
“Right, give it to me kid,” Lim said as he sat back in his chair and lifted both arms up. He swept them out in a casual gesture, a “show me what you can do” kind of thing. So Taehyung leaned over the photographs and he took a second to run his eyes over them.
“Nam,” he said, stabbing his forefinger down.
“Who’s he? C’mon, quicker.”
“Supplier of skin. Gets girls and boys from Laos, prepubescent. Doesn’t deal in adults. Owner of Blue in Gangnam-gu. The club is an investment, all cash earned goes in his pocket and not to Haedogje Pa. That’s why Choi Sooyoung,” Taehyung tapped another photograph, “has a fucking chip on his shoulder.”
“‘Cos Choi thinks himself a philanthropist. He circulates earnings in Dobong-gu for homeless shelters. Choi preaches that Haedogje Pa should look like guardians in their respective districts: care for the people and they’ll keep you in the profit zone. Nam doesn’t give a shit. They’ve been at each other’s throats for months now. You’ll never see ‘em together.”
“What does Choi Sooyoung do?”
“Hypocritical fucker runs scams.” Taehyung moved his hand to hit another photograph, fingers bouncing off the end of the man’s chin. “Bae Goohee.”
“Slimey-looking fucker. Gimme facts.”
“Arms dealer. Deals in handguns mostly, but can procure assault weapons when needed. Chinese mostly, mass-produced. Gets the rare shipment from Russia but mostly it’s China or Vietnam.” Lim was nodding at him now, showing that he approved of what he was hearing. “Bae’s a tough fucker. You don’t cross him. He’s well-respected and you don’t even look him in the eyes you just get on your knees.”
“That motherfucker didn’t even blink when he cut me up,” Lim muttered. Taehyung paused for a second to stare at the man before shifting in his seat.
“Bae’s got the strongest connections to The Boy-”
“No, don’t call him that. That’s wrong it’s too…” Lim waved his wrist around rather than grab for a knife like usual. “Call him by his proper title or you could piss him off. Don’t matter what others call him, call him Master.”
“…To Master Jeon,” Taehyung continued. “He’s gonna stay in power ‘cos he’s got too much power. Can’t get rid of him, he’s a threat.”
“So the others, they’re just pawns, huh?”
“No, not all of ‘em. Him,” he tapped the final photograph, “Kim Jinwoo. Pretty boy. He’s the son of Jeon’s old partner Kim Jintae. Owns The Gold Monkey Casino in Singapore. That’s probably one of the strongest pillars of oversea influence that Haedogje Pa have at their disposal. He’s been palled up with Master Jeon since childhood but…”
“Word coming from the pawns is that Master Jeon and Kim don’t play nice with each other. Something to do with religion. Kim’s a born again what’re they called…bible fucker, and he doesn’t like Jeon’s bad behaviour.”
“If only we knew what he gets up to,” Lim said as he folded his arms on the table. “But he’s still too secretive.”
“That’s where I step in,” Taehyung said, not meaning to sound cocky but unable to stop the words from spilling free.
“Kim, I got one thing to say to you,” Lim said, expression hardening as he did. Taehyung had to resist the pressing urge to gulp. After a few seconds of silence the man burst out laughing and he nearly jumped in surprise. “You’re a crazy kid but I like that. You’d have to be fucking crazy to agree to doing this.”
Learning the ins and outs of Haedogje Pa wasn’t the only thing that Taehyung had had to undertake over the last three months. He had been forced to join a gym by Hoseok, who was also in charge of disciplining him. The other officer had had a rather rushed period trying to get him into the physical and mental state that would make it seem like he had finished serving his military duty not too long before working for Lim. That was a strength according to the informant, for military duty showed that he was a man that would follow orders. Taehyung had spent the entire time wishing that he would show them all that he hadn’t been made for the task. But after a month he had found himself starting to get very much used to the hell that Hoseok had put him through. To say that he enjoyed it was a lie but he at least now felt like he was in a better condition to tackle the challenge.
But Hoseok had not just been in charge of drilling him into the right mold. No, the other officer had been given the responsibility of teaching him how to use a firearm. Just like how Namjoon had told him he would receive training he had. It was a skill that Taehyung had expected but had been almost hoping that he wouldn’t have to learn. He knew that Haedogje Pa men carried heat, not all but the important ones did. He needed to have knowledge on using them too, even if the sight of the gun had scared him when Hoseok had first placed it in his hand. But he was starting to understand and accept firearms a lot better now.
Taehyung realised that his initial fear of the weapon had been incorrect for it had been a fear of the unknown. After handling a pistol, after learning to take it apart and clean it, to snap the safety back and how to replace magazines, he had discovered that he had been wrong in his fear. It wasn’t the gun he should be scared of, but rather the man wielding it.
Haedogje Pa were not like Hoseok however, and getting used to the sight of a gun in his hand was not the same as it would be in reality. Taehyung would see them in holsters, tucked into the waistbands of trousers. He could see guns placed on tables like cutlery. If he saw one being drawn he was pretty certain that it would result in death, and that meant that he didn’t ever want to be on the the receiving end of the barrel.
Much like how Lim had to grill him over and over to ensure that he remembered vital names and faces, Hoseok also had to make him go over the mechanisms of a gun every single time they entered the shooting range. Not a police one but rather a private range owned by a security company. Taehyung already knew all about the parts, he had been dissembling and reassembling the practice guns nearly every day for three months now. Yet Hoseok still had to do it, because it was standard procedure. Taehyung knew that constant handling of a gun would eventually result in muscle memory. He would be able to work the safety and reload with nothing more than a quick glance and deft movements of his fingers. Hoseok had timed him and he now had reloading down to three seconds if he had a magazine close to hand. But that still felt like too long to Taehyung. He spent those three seconds holding his breath and imagining how many other bullets could fly in that time.
The firing range was currently empty save for them. They were standing in the booth as far from the entrance as they could get. The booths were separated from the range by a long stretch of several feet, each booth separated from the next by a slight wall of concrete. On the ceiling of the range there were pulleys and they were controlled by a button on the wall, and at the far end of the range there was a paper target.
“See this? What’s this?” Hoseok asked as he gestured at the sliding mechanism set just above the trigger on the side of the barrel. On the counter beside them were several magazines of blanks and cleaning equipment. Taehyung studied the gun for a moment before looking back up at him.
“Thumb safety-” and before he could even ask him the next question he added, “if it’s down by the nuzzle the safety’s on. If it’s pulled back towards the well it’s off. Also there should be a slight flash of red inside the safety mechanism, but like I’d have time to fucking check.”
“Funny,” Hoseok said with a smirk. “Should I be scared by how unfazed you are by guns now? Or concerned?”
“I’m still fucking terrified of ‘em,” Taehyung argued as he looked at the gun. “But target practice is one thing, shooting at actual people is another. You can’t teach me that. You can’t teach me how to not be affected by that.”
“Well, I can tell you that I’ve shot people before. Disabling shots not killing shots, but it still feels bad Tae, ‘cos it’s supposed to feel bad. What you need to remember is that you’re being taught this for self-defense. If you’ve gotta shoot someone, then you gotta.” Hoseok slipped the safety back on the unloaded gun. “They’re not gonna stop. It’s you or them.”
“You think I’ll even get my hands on a gun?” Taehyung asked as he reached over to pull the gun out of his hands. Hoseok watched him fiddling with it, snapping back the magazine lock so that he could slip another round of blanks into the bottom. The magazine slipped in with a crisp click. “You think they’re gonna trust me enough to give me a gun?”
“I think you’re gonna get as close to The Boy as possible and you’re gonna get one,” Hoseok explained, arms folded over his chest. “You’re not gonna be allowed in certain buildings without them. The closer you get to the top, the more dangerous shit gets. All of his men, the ones you see him with. They’re carrying. They have fucking permits to carry, security personnel. Can’t stop them, but I know. I can tell by the way they walk, the way they carry themselves. Armpit holsters.”
“You and Namjoon, fuck, all of you think I’m gonna get close to him. What if I don’t, huh? What if fall at the first fucking hurdle?”
“You’re not gonna fall, Tae, stop acting like a fucking pussy,” Hoseok muttered as he reached up and pulled the headphones back in place. Taehyung glanced over at him for a moment and he saw that this expression was entirely serious. He wasn’t laughing, or joking. No, looking at him it was easy enough to believe that he was telling him the truth. If only he could believe it. “Aim for kill shots this time, OK?!”
“Yeah, sure thing,” he said as he reached up and fixed the headphones in place too. It was strange, the sudden muffled hearing, but even that could only bring the sound down to a reasonable level and not block it out fully. Then he slipped the thumb safety back and lifted the pistol. Beside him Hoseok slipped a new sheet of target paper onto the hook and then pressed a button on the wall. The machine kicked in with a faint vibrating sound as it carried the target back to the designated distance and then it stopped in place; just waiting to become a bullseye.
Taehyung took a deep breath just like he had advised and let it out slowly before pulling the trigger. The gun jumped in his hand just like always, the dull bang of the recoil. But he was certain that he was getting better now. Maybe that was foolish optimism but he was certain that he was. After all, he managed to keep his arms straight and steady with each pull of the trigger and he no longer had an aching shoulder when the practice was finished. That had to mean that he was improving somehow.
When there was nothing more than a dry click to signal that the magazine was empty he lowered his arm and breathed again. Then he reached up to pull the headphones free whist Hoseok pressed the button so that he could collect the sheet. Taehyung placed the gun down on the counter and flexed his fingers.
“Let’s see…” Hoseok pulled the sheet free and held it up. They could see clean through the bullet holes. “Stomach, two shots. Crippling, maybe enough to drop a man for the count but we need to work on that. Chest shot, good, right through the middle.” Taehyung gnawed on the lip as he eyed the one around the shoulder, knowing that that was a mistake. “Clip close enough to an artery and it’ll be fine but shoulder shots are for disarming, not killing.” Hoseok stopped talking and they both stared at the perfect holes in the target’s head. “Both excellent shots but remember-”
“Headshots are hard, moving targets, small area,” Taehyung said, repeating his words back to him like an elementary school kid.
“Exactly, so we need to fix those stomach shots,” Hoseok said as he placed the ruined sheet down. “I want to see at least five shots in the chest before we finish today.”
“Shit,” Taehyung moaned as the other man collected a new target sheet and stuck it on the hook. “Hoseok, do Haedogje Pa a favour and just kill me now instead.”
It was a day before he was set to leave with Lim for the hoped date of infiltration when Taehyung found himself outside of Namjoon’s apartment room door. He didn’t know why exactly he was standing in the slight hallway area, staring at the security system on the wall rather than pressing the button to let himself in. Something at the back of his mind told him that it was too late for this. The time on the system told him that it was nearly 11pm and yet here he was, frozen to the spot. He should just turn around and leave but he couldn’t. Taehyung knew the reason why he couldn’t and it was quite simply this.
He was terrified and he couldn’t possibly face the idea of travelling across the capital to enter Haedogje Pa territory without getting to speak to Namjoon at least one last time. That was why he was standing here with his hand hovering above the buzzer and his brain filled with frantic thoughts. He felt the most pressing urge to gnaw on his lip and before he could do so he pressed his finger down on the button.
“Namjoon, it’s me, Tae,” he said, leaning forward to talk into the system. “I need to talk.”
Taehyung let go of the button and leaned back, letting his breath out in a heavy sigh as he did. He reached up with his free hand to rub at his eyes with his rolled up fingers. He was tired, so very tired. The entire morning had been spent in the gym and the early afternoon in a meeting. Taehyung had seen Nam again, that annoying fuck, and had once again heard the man talking about him openly as if he were an object. He hadn’t liked it, it had made him feel uncomfortable but his words seemed to hint that he might just have a fighting chance at this after all. The rest of the afternoon he had been memorising last minute information and he had practiced at the target range alone because Hoseok had been coordinating a raid.
This was it. The three months were finally coming to a climax, and Taehyung was terrified.
After perhaps ten seconds of silence and waiting he heard something on the other side of the door. Footsteps. Then the door was swinging inwards and Namjoon was leaning in the doorway. The man was still wearing his work clothes and it seemed like he had still been working. The shirt was wrinkled and free from his trouser waistband and his black hair looked a little messier than usual.
“You shouldn’t have come here, Taehyung. You should be resting before D-Day,” Namjoon explained as he studied his face.
“I know I know, I’ll go right away I just…I need to talk,” Taehyung replied, dropping his hand to his side and darting his eyes everywhere rather than settle on his face. It took a moment for him to react but then Namjoon was moving out of the way to let him step inside. “It’s about D-Day.”
“I figured as much.”
Taehyung glanced over the apartment room only briefly before deciding to stay standing by the door. He didn’t need to remove his shoes and step inside, he just needed to get all of this weight off his chest right now. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, detecting the unmistakable scent of jajangmyeon from across the wide room. Yes it seemed like Namjoon was still working, eating takeaway food to save himself the trouble of having to prepare the meal.
“Yes?” he asked, also staying by the door seen as he had figured out that he wasn’t moving.
“D’you…d’you think I can do this?” Taehyung asked, trying to not fiddle as he did. “I mean, be honest with me. D’you think I can do this without fucking up? ‘Cos I keep hearing from the team that I can, that I can do this but I dunno. I need to hear it from you man. D’you think I can do it?”
Namjoon didn’t reply straight away, didn’t give him a direct and almost spontaneous response. Taehyung was glad of it, for hearing the words “yes you can” without even the slightest bit of consideration was not a comfort to him. He needed to know that he was really thinking about what he had asked; was weighing up the pros and cons of it all. So when the other man fell silent and didn’t speak Taehyung felt something close to relief. After perhaps a minute of this thick silence Namjoon moved to stand right in front of him.
“What I think,” he said as he placed his hands on his shoulders. His palms were warm and the weight was comforting. “Is that we’ve got one shot at this and you…you’re our only chance at success. I’m not going to tell you that you can do it, because I don’t know that. I don’t want to lie or give some shitty attempt at false comfort. I want to be honest.”
“That’s all I wanna hear,” Taehyung agreed with a nod. “Give it to me straight.”
“I think we couldn’t have picked a better person for the one shot that we’ve got Taehyung. I’ve put my trust in you, and you know I don’t often trust people with such a high level of responsibility. Not because I think they will fuck up, but because would rather take the risks myself. I can’t do that, so that’s why I’ve put all my trust in you.”
“I don’t wanna let the team down,” Taehyung explained in a quiet voice. It wasn’t like he was going to have to live with it after all. No, if he fucked this up he would be dead long before the team even had a clue. But knowing that his fuck up would affect them even long after he was dead was what scared Taehyung the most right now. Death was fucking terrifying, but leaving a legacy of failure behind. No thanks.
“Taehyung, stop thinking about the team. In fact, don’t think about us at all. We’re not a team as of tomorrow. Thinking of the outside world, that’s risky. Right now it’s just you. That’s it, you’re the only thing that matters. Yes?” Taehyung nodded to show that he understood. “Things are going to…to get fucking terrifying for you. I’m not going to lie. I busted a ring once Taehyung, it’s not fun and it’s not easy. You will see things and hear things that will fuck you up. But you’re strong, yes, you can handle the shit.”
“Did you have to do some shit?” he asked him. Namjoon removed his hands from his shoulder and he reached down to his waistband. Taehyung watched him lift his shirt ends up to reveal his lower stomach. He saw the unmistakable rippling mark of scar tissue running from just around his hip bone up on a sharp twist to his side.
“I spent a year in Kowloon,” Namjoon explained, “busting open a supplier of heroin that was trafficking it into the country. I was one of many rookies sent out there. I made it through but I know quite a few that didn’t.” Taehyung stared at the scar and he tried to imagine what could have possibly have caused it. “You can’t really put into words the shit you see. I’m not just talking about death. I’m talking about poverty, desperation, greed, true horrors. I was on heroin.”
Taehyung lifted his gaze so fast that his eyes nearly rolled up into his skull. Heroin? He knew that undercover agents often had to handle the abuses of drugs to ensure they kept up a façade. But heroin? It was enough to make his skin go cold thinking about it. Looking at Namjoon now, he wasn’t look at a fellow officer. He was looking at a veteran. He was looking at a young man that had done service to the country and yet he didn’t have a medal, had no congratulations.
“Yes, that kind of shit messes you up. A part of me feels like I’m never going to be the same again, feels afflicted. But I did something good. To me, that makes what I went through mean something.”
“I did some shit, and you will have to do it too. Because that’s how you survive,” Namjoon said as let go of his shirt ends. “But you should know Taehyung, that no matter what you have to do; you’re still the good guy.”
“The…the good guy?”
“Yes, you’re going to bring them down. You’re not a part of Haedogje Pa. You’re their enemy, and you’re going to destroy them.”
“Can I really stay the good guy if I…if I have to do bad shit Namjoon?” Taehyung asked as he nibbled on his lower lip.
“Do you think I’m a good guy?” Namjoon asked, and so he nodded and told him that he was. “Even after you found out that I had to do things that sometimes haunt me and wake me up at night?”
“Yeah, ‘cos I know you and I know you’re good.”
“Well I know you Taehyung and I know you’re one of the good guys. No matter what happens I know you won’t let that shit destroy you.”