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Chapter 909. Crank Up 2
Mari’s story was long. She talked about herself and her past: what kind of student she was, what kind of household she was raised in, as well as how she felt when she started working as a prost.i.tute. He carefully listened to the story he wasn’t the least curious about while nodding and sometimes responding to her. He could not afford to have her stop talking after he finally got her to talk.
Mari was just like the stereotypical prost.i.tute women Dongwook had met a few times before. Due to circ.u.mstances, she could not do anything about, she ended up finding shelter at a prost.i.tute business and started earning money. He buried deep his meaningless question about whether there was truly nothing she could do. Instead, he asked a few questions to change the direction of the conversation that he barely got started.
“So that’s how you met that man. I’m sure you must have relied on each other a lot.”
“I was foolish. He was a really good man, but I didn’t realize anything until I was in this state. He helped me adapt in j.a.pan, and I was foolish enough not to notice.”
“Was he a decent man?”
“If I look back, he shouldn’t have met someone like me. If it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t have run into any trouble either. We were short on money at that time, so we ended up making a big mistake.”
“As far as I know, you two became like this because you tried to bring something to Korea.”
“It was a photo.”
Mari hesitated for a bit before replying that it was a photo of her lying in a bed with an old man.
“He was one of our customers. We didn’t accept just anyone. Unlike when we were working in Korea, we had a set schedule when we were working in j.a.pan. As long as we could keep that schedule, we were free to do whatever we wanted to do in the meantime. That didn’t mean that we were playing around all the time. We learned a lot of things. Before every customer came, we would learn about that person’s preferences, hobbies, what movies they recently watched, and what their interests are.”
“So you were something like high-cla.s.s prost.i.tutes?”
“I guess you can call it that. Thinking about it now, I did have something like pride for my job. We didn’t simply just sell our bodies, we even exchanged high-cla.s.s conversations. Though, it’s all bulls.h.i.+t.”
“So you didn’t know what your customers actually did for a living?”
“We don’t talk about it properly, but having a conversation gives you a general idea. A businessman, a man who writes, an extremely powerful man. Honestly, an ordinary person is hard pressed to know their faces unless they are famous politicians or bigshots in an industry. Above all, the people we call ‘royal family’ were catered to by the unnis above me, so it was hard to see their faces.”
Mari puffed a cigarette. Dongwook also took this opportunity to smoke.
“What happened to the photo?”
“It was taken. Phones, email accounts, everything.”
“You don’t have any backups, do you?”
“I gave them everything, because I felt like they would really kill me if I didn’t. Oppa was getting beaten up right in front of my eyes, so I didn’t dare lie. They said that they would stuff us into a barrel of concrete and throw us into the sea if they found anything wrong later, so how am I supposed to think about anything else?”
“Well done. You might have gotten into big trouble if you had other thoughts. There’s nothing more important than life.”
“They were crazy. I’m sure they must’ve killed people before. Some people had strange accents, and it’s terrifying even when I think about it now. Some of them sounded like Korean-Chinese men, or just Chinese men.”
Dongwook nodded. Ever since this country declared war against crime, men who punched for a living mostly died out. In an ecosystem where the police had a full understanding of the local gangs, it was hard for those gangs to survive through violence. However, there were bound to be occasions where force was necessary, and the alternative that rose was foreigners who smuggled themselves in, especially, the Korean-Chinese people.
“You made a good decision by coming to Korea right away. We’re in a country where CCTVs are everywhere, so it’s hard to kill someone without anyone knowing.”
Killing itself was easy though, but he didn’t say it because it wasn’t necessary. Mari puffed out some smoke before rubbing the cigarette out. Her hands were shaking as she stuffed the cigarette b.u.t.t into an empty can.
“I’m not sure how reliable I may sound, but I’m going to prioritize protecting your safety when I do this work. If you want, I can ask the police to provide you protection.”
“Mister, there were high-ranked policemen among the people I’ve faced. I can’t confirm this, but they definitely felt like that.”
“Of course, I don’t have any power at all, so I can’t protect you. But the person I know has great power.”
“Then that person with great power should do this himself. Why is he doing all this through you?”
“As you know, those higher-ups don’t move so easily. Above all, if they do move, they might run into difficulties, so people like me run the front lines. Even the most influential people are the same in the regard that they only have one body.”
Mari stroked up her hair before leaning against the wall. It seemed like she was feeling complex. It didn’t seem false when she said that she cared about her man. When she talked about her past, she didn’t say a word about her family, but she talked in pretty high detail about her boyfriend. Dongwook could easily tell that her words contained affection towards him.
“Whether it’s you, or that man, you should begin anew. You can’t live in hiding like this forever.”
“But there’s nothing I can do. I have nothing. No money, no photo, no information. The contact list of customers I had was taken away from me too.”
“Those are important, but what I really want is your help. As long as you are willing to help me, I can use my abilities to the fullest extent. Of course, we won’t be able to just get the results we want. Things might go down a weird path and turn out strange. However, I will do my utmost best as long as you are earnestly working with me.”
“And how do I trust that? You might be just probing me out, whether I’m keeping my secrets as I was warned or not.”
Dongwook put down the cigarette that he had finished smoking.
“You know full well that you have no one but me to trust. You probably don’t have many acquaintances and dare I say, family, in Korea. Only then will your work be smooth.”
Mari nodded faintly.
“In the end, it’s up to you to decide. I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you refuse until the bitter end, I can just go back. It will take some time. What I want is to dig into Hong Janghae, Lee Miyoon, and their contact in j.a.pan, and give them a blow, and if possible, give a blow to the big boss of their group as well. Of course, this might be difficult. But I’ll definitely try my best to cut the tail off the lizard.”
“Just why are you working so hard for this? A sense of justice? Journalist spirit?”
“There you go again forgetting what I said. I told you. It’s for a junior I cherish. My motto in life is to live a docile life, but I can’t just turn a blind eye after she became like that.”
Mari pulled her knees towards her and spoke,
“It’s a girl?”
“Do you like her?”
“I’m not entirely sure about that. She’s more boyish than any man out there.”
“So you do like her. Are you crazy? You’re investigating people who lock people up and beat them half to death just for a reason like that?”
“You mean just like how you’re talking with me for the sake of that man after you went through all those terrible things?”
Mari rubbed her face with both of her hands. She covered her face with her hand and stayed still for a while. Dongwook stayed silent so that she could make up her mind.
“Can you find him?”
Those were the words she said after a long time.
“I should be able to, as long as you are willing to help. If I’m to ask around, I do need to narrow down the region.”
“I’ll be safe, right?”
“You’ll be an important witness. There’s a reason for me to protect you at all costs.”
“I know I’m not in a position to ask for this, but if things go well, umm….”
Mari looked away. Dongwook noticed what she was going to say.
“I’m sure you’ll need some money to start anew. I can’t say how much right now, but you will be able to get your hands on a decent amount of money. My backer, who is also my client, is quite powerful and is watching this matter with interest.”
“But why is that powerful person helping out? You said it was a personal vendetta.”
“To cut it short, those people tried to touch a person under my client’s wing. That seems to have upset him.”
“They didn’t touch that person and just tried to, yet that client is responding this hard?”
“He’s someone with a strong attachment to people under his wing. I also find it fortunate that I work with him.”
Mari nodded after fidgeting. It was a sign of acceptance and a symbol of trust.
“Very well, Miss Mari. In order to gain your trust, I guess I must find your man first.”
“If you do, I’ll do anything. I’ll testify, even if it’s dangerous.”
“Okay. For now, you’ll have to go through your memories. How and where did you get caught after you came back to Korea, and where were you dragged to? Also, you have a photo of the man with you, right? I’m sure the dangerous photos have been confiscated.”
Mari took out a small pa.s.sport photo and a photo she took with him in a park from her wallet. Dongwook took photos of them with his phone.
“Just in case, I’ll keep this photo with me.”
“Then rest up for the day, is what I would say, but the faster we do this, the better, so starting now, tell me everything you encountered since you started working in Korea to when you were in j.a.pan. That’s where I‘m going to start investigating. I’ll find your man and their weakness.”
Dongwook returned to his car and brought back a voice recorder and his laptop. The sun had set, but there was still a lot to do.
* * *
“It’s a pity, but I guess I can’t help it. Then you should come and eat tomorrow.”
Maru closed the pot lid and put it in the refrigerator. He cooked dongtae-tang, but she said she couldn’t come, so he had no choice.
-I’m sorry, even though I said I wanted to eat it.
“Work is more important. Anyway, you don’t sound energetic. Did something happen today at the shoot?”
-The shoot? No, nothing happened.
“Are you sure? Why does it sound like you’re hiding something from me?”
-You’re being way too cautious. I’m completely fine, so don’t worry about me. Oh, I gotta go now, people are calling for me.
It seemed like something had happened after all. The way she said she was ‘completely fine’ got on his nerves. Gaeul didn’t use that expression. I don’t feel tired, I’m not tired – she would usually say these lines. The only time she said she was completely fine with an energetic smile was when she was in hospital after collapsing. He thought about calling her again but decided not to. He might be overthinking, and even if something did happen, Gaeul should have her reasons to hide it.
“Mommy’s not coming today, you lot. You’re sleeping with me,” Maru said to the two dogs staring at him.
 Tang(soup) made with dongtae(frozen pollack)