Endless Night || Heartless City Sequel
Chapter Six – Confrontation
Soo stood frozen in position, acutely aware of the gun pointed at his back. He started to turn before the click of the gun being loaded made him stop. He was beginning to feel distinctly disadvantaged.
“I didn’t say turn around. I said we needed to talk.” Soo-min said as she kept her gun trained on Soo. When she had seen his shoulders tense, she instinctively knew that that he was preparing to make a move at her. Physically, she was no match for his larger physique, so she had every intention of using her gun to even the playing field. By sheer luck earlier, she’d looked up from mixing cocktails just in time to recognize Soo heading towards the exit. From the way he was weaving quickly through the crowd, Soo-min intuitively guessed that he had spotted her and was retreating. Without a word to Shin, she had practically sprinted from her position in pursuit. She didn’t intend to really shoot Soo; she just wanted to intimidate him sufficiently to get the upper hand, though if he tried anything, she didn’t have any reservations about shooting him in the leg or the arm. She looked at the phone in Soo’s hand that was still raised to his ear. The person on the other line had to be someone higher on the food chain, perhaps his boss. Soo was probably under orders to come to the club again, and if she was lucky, that person on the other line might lead to her to her kidnappers and the drugs.
“Drop the phone.” She commanded. Soo was half-facing her, and at her order he slowly rotated to face her. The clenching of his jaw and the tightening of the tendons in his neck betrayed his anger at the situation.
“Don’t make me repeat myself again. I will shoot you in the leg before you can take me down. No matter how fast you are, you aren’t faster than a bullet.” Soo-min emphasized her words by pointing the gun at Soo’s leg. “I’m not going to let you disappear again like you and your associate did the other night. I can’t believe I let you trick me.” Soo started to open his mouth in indignation before closing it at the look on Soo-min’s face. “I’m an excellent shot. I won’t miss.”
Staring angrily at Soo-min, Soo slowly lowered his arm and dropped the phone. It hit the ground with a soft clack.
“Face the wall. Now.”
He moved towards the wall and pressed against it, hands splayed in anger against the stone surface.
“You’re making a big mistake —”
“Shut up.” Soo-min gritted as she picked up the phone, gun still trained on Soo’s back. Putting the phone to her ear, she was about to speak when the person on the other line spoke first.
“Soo?” A terribly familiar voice reached her ears.
Soo-min’s mind went blank, as if a small bomb had exploded in her brain and disintegrated everything in its wake. The shock of it ripped through her body and momentarily incapacitated her. The ground beneath seemed to disappear and she was spinning, spinning wildly in a void, in a world that was no longer familiar to her.
“Shi…Hyun?” The name slipped out of her lips unwittingly.
In the long silence that followed, the voice echoed and reverberated within Soo-min’s mind. For a horrible moment, she wasn’t sure if she had mistakenly heard the voice or if the drugs had altered her brain so much that she was beginning to hallucinate in real life. Her emotions were in a tail-spin, wreaking havoc as they whipped inside her and her mental capabilities seemed to have disappeared. She was so gripped by shock that she had taken her eyes off Soo, completely forgotten about him actually. The gun in her hand wavered as tremors rolled down her arm.
Seizing his opportunity in Soo-min’s distraction, Soo whipped around from the wall and rushed towards her. Startled back to reality, Soo-min managed to get off a shot that whizzed by his arm before the entirety of his infuriated mass hit her. He grabbed hold of her hand, brutally twisting it so that she was forced to drop the gun lest he broke her wrist. Soo-min countered by slamming the phone into his face. Soo’s jaw knocked back from the blow, but he retained his grip on her wrist and used it to wrench her arm back. Soo-min drove an elbow into his stomach, determined to get out of his grasp. Her control of the situation had gone to zero within a few minutes.
Soo saw red. His jaw throbbed from the blow the girl had just given him. Despite her petite appearance, she packed quite a punch. He was going to have a nasty bruise there tomorrow. But what he was more furious about was that she’d shot at him. If he had been moving any slower, then the bullet would have hit him. Jin-sook’s little sister or not, she was done. He shoved Soo-min against the wall, hard, and picked up the phone. Paksa was still on the line. Soo didn’t know how much of the exchange he had heard.
“Paksa,” He fought to catch his breath, “I don’t know what’s going on, but that girl, Jin-sook’s little sister, just tried to shoot me. I don’t care how close she and Jin-sook were. If she attacks me again, I’m going to knock her out and leave her here.”
“You do that,” Soo-min spat as she struggled against Soo’s arm, “and the first thing that I’ll do is file a report stating that Kim Hyun-soo is not dead, and is affiliated with a suspect wanted in connection to the kidnapping of a police officer. Your profile also lists you as a suspect with a number of past cases. I’m sure that the police will have many, many questions for you. Good luck trying to remain a ‘dead’ man.”
“Forget what I just said. I’m just going to shoot her.”
“Soo!” Paksa’s voice rang through the phone so loudly that both Soo-min and Soo heard it, momentarily stopping their struggle.
“Back down.” Paksa ordered, the hardness in his voice overriding Soo’s automatic protest. Soo and Soo-min both stared at the phone, waiting.
“Pass the phone to the girl.”
Paksa stared unseeingly out the window, past the glitter of city lights reflecting off the glass. The phone lay limply in his hand, a contrast to how tightly he’d been gripping it moments earlier. After sizing up how the situation between Soo and Soo-min was rapidly heading towards bloodshed, he made the only decision that wouldn’t result in either party unconscious, exposed, or in a body bag.
Although every fiber of his being fiercely objected, he’d arranged for them all to meet after he made both Soo and Soo-min agree to a temporary ceasefire. When Soo passed the phone to Soo-min, her voice was shaky, but did not betray any of the emotions he heard when she first uttered his name. Paksa kept his own words brief as he requested a face-to-face meeting. He ordered a car to pick up Soo-min – he didn’t completely trust either one of them to keep the truce. After all, he had heard the anger crackling in Soo’s voice.
After five years, he was going to come face-to-face with a girl who had essentially disappeared into his past. He had turned his back on her and that choice had been final. He was not one to constantly revisit his decisions. Glancing down, he realized he was wearing an outfit almost identical to the one he wore the last time he’d seen her.
He watched her smile in quite peacefulness as she walked towards the orphanage wearing her hard-earned police uniform. He was struck by deja-vu as he remembered Kyung-mi walking towards the orphanage doors years ago in the very same uniform. He watched silently for a long time before uttering a single ‘congratulations’ and turning away.
Now he was about to see Soo-min with the knowledge that despite his efforts, the shadows he lived in had once again snaked out and sunk their fangs into her. Closing his eyes, he allowed himself to savor the stillness. Then his eyes snapped back open and he forcefully straightened his jacket. When he looked at himself in the glass, his face had rearranged itself into its customary emotionless mask. There was no trace of Jung Shi-hyun in the reflection that looked back at him, only the harsh gaze of Paksa Adeul.
Soo-min watched through the car window as the route grew more and more familiar. Her chest tightened when she realized their intended destination. The car pulled into the parking garage that contained Paksa Adeul’s former “home”. Soo-min had not stepped foot within its walls since she discovered the truth behind his “death.” Up until that moment, she’d visited the place so often that the oil from her fingertips had left faint smudges on the walls from the countless times she ran fingers along them.
Her fingers were now curled into her palms so tightly that they were about to break skin. When she stepped into that place, she would be facing memories, ghosts, and the living with her armor in tatters. She forced herself to repeat the mantra: If you don’t feel, then you can’t be hurt.
The car pulled up into the parking spot. Soo had already arrived, and he was leaning against his car with his arms folded across his chest. Soo-min could feel his anger and dislike of her. He only kept himself in check because of Paksa’s orders. Let’s see what your next move is.
“Leave the gun.” Soo pushed himself from the car and walked towards her. Soo-min gave him an incredulous look. “Not with me,” he said, rolling his eyes. “You’re certifiably crazy if you think I’m going to let you carry a gun in my presence, truce or not.” He jerked his head towards her driver, “He’ll take care of it. You’re not getting another step closer until you hand over the gun.” Soo-min opened her mouth, then decided against whatever she was going to say, and passed her gun to her driver. He deposited it into the dashboard. Soo-min took a step forwards but Soo’s raised hand stalled her.
“The knife too.” Soo motioned towards Soo-min, “You didn’t think I noticed it?” Soo-min gritted her teeth before bending down and pulling out a small blade that had been strapped to her ankle.
“How do I know you’re not carrying?” She sharply directed her words at Soo as she reluctantly handed the knife to the driver.
“You don’t.” Soo said, smirking condescendingly, “But,” he raised his voice to stop her protest, “I’m not the one who shot without warning, and I am the one who saved you from being most certainly being raped and killed by that lowlife the other night.”
“That means nothing here. How do I know that you’re not covering for him, still?” Soo-min spat out, feeling her checked anger spilling forth as she leveled suspicious eyes at him.
Soo took a step closer, outrage and fury splashed across his face. “I’m only going to say this once,” Soo-min took an involuntary step back at the viciousness laced in his voice. “There are lines I will not cross. Even after you shot at me, if I was to see you being assaulted again, I’d knock the man out.”
“How does that change anything? You lied and took off with a man who attempted to assault me,” Soo-min shot back. “What did you think I was going to assume?”
“Christ woman, you think I –” Soo snapped his jaw shut. “We’re wasting time,” He said, turning his back on her and walking towards the entrance stairs. “But now, you don’t just owe me a thank you,” his next words bounced against the walls, “you owe me one.”
With that parting shot, he disappeared into the darkness.
Two sets of approaching footsteps in tandem alerted Paksa Adeul to their owners’ arrival. He arrived at the location a while earlier, in order to re-acquaint himself with the former “home” he hadn’t laid eyes on in five years. The unpleasant memories associated with the dank space pressed down heavily against him.
He saw Soo first when his First Lieutenant entered and passed him. He sported a patch of redness along his lower cheek and jawline. So that explains some of the sounds that I heard. Soo simply glared at him and stayed silent. He’s pissed. I’ll deal with him later. There were more pressing matters on hand. Paksa turned his ears towards the next arrival. His ears picked up on the purposefulness in the footsteps, and also the hesitancy indicated by the slight pause between each step.
In a way, Soo-min was grateful that it was Shi-hyun’s back that she was first presented with. For all her determination to keep a check on her emotions, she wasn’t sure she would’ve been able to keep that promise if she had to meet his eyes first. As she watched, Paksa Adeul turned around, and finally, after all the years Soo-min faced the ghost of her past. He looked older, harder, colder. He looked…untouchable. There were faint lines around his eyes that had not been there before, and all traces of boyishness had disappeared from his face. Soo-min’s eyes traced the contours of his face, lingering over the high cheekbones, the line of his jaw, and the curve of his lips. Her eyes drew up to his and despite herself, she mentally flinched at the darkness she saw there. There was no trace of laughter or softness in those black depths. Whatever tendrils of happiness she felt at finally seeing him, alive, quickly died away.
Paksa watched impassively as Soo-min’s eyes traveled over his features. He took note of the myriad of emotions that flickered through her eyes. He noticed that the fragility that once lingered about her was now tempered with steeliness. When he’d last seen her, she still carried the blush of youth that sparkled in her eyes. Now, all that childlike exuberance was gone, stifled. She was dressed in colors he’d never seen her wear before: a blouse the color of rubies so dark it looked black, paired with black pants. Her previous trademark high heels were absent; she had traded those for boots. She seemed much smaller now, and muted, like a shadow of her old, lively self. Looking into her eyes, he could see the shadows of the demons that haunted her. And, he realized, startled, she was not surprised to see him. She had known that he was alive. Paksa thought back to the past conversations he had with Jin-sook over the years. Jin-sook never once brought up Soo-min to him, but he was sure that Jin-sook would have said something if she knew his secret was compromised. Which means Jin-sook isn’t aware that Soo-min knows.
He broke the silence.
“You’re not surprised to see me.”
Soo-min’s eyes flashed, “No.” She stated flatly.
“How?” Paksa asked. Despite himself, he was curious. It was unsettling that she knew the truth for so long.
“It doesn’t matter.” Soo-min’s tone silenced any further pursuit of the matter, “Kim Hyun-soo carried off a person that I need to speak to. I want to know where he is.”
“You’re talking about your potential rapist and murderer?” Soo looked at Soo-min in disbelief. Although Paksa never ever talked about any female in his life, Soo had to drag meager details about Jin-sook out of him, Soo hadn’t forgotten the violence Paksa had unleashed on that guard. “What do you want with him? If it’s punishment that you’re seeking then—” He stopped when Paksa threw a swift look at him.
“It’s none of your concern.” Soo-min responded, watching the silent interaction between Paksa and Soo, “I need to ask him questions. Where is he?”
“That’s none of your concern.” Soo shot back.
“You–” she paused, looking back and forth from Paksa to Soo. “You know something about that man, don’t you? Which means…”
“There’s nothing for you to pursue,” Paksa finally said. “He’s been taken care of.”
“What do you mean ‘He’s been taken care of?’”
“Fine.” She thought, gnashing her teeth in frustration. Three could play this game. “If I don’t start getting answers soon, I’m going straight to the police and announcing that the famous Paksa Adeul, wanted in connection to Chairman Jo’s murder, is alive and well, and that his associate Kim Hyun-soo is also alive and well. You two can deal with the charges against you.” She folded her arms and stared back in challenge at the two men, feeling a small amount of satisfaction at Soo’s startled glance. Paksa’s own expression remained unreadable.
Paksa realized when he was being backed into a corner. He lied smoothly, “A very close friend died of a drug overdose recently. His death was suspicious, and we have reasons to believe that the club is somehow linked to his death. Soo went to look into it.” Paksa felt his jaw involuntarily tighten, “We took him in for questioning, but he didn’t know anything.”
“Have you been able to find anything out from the club?” Soo-min asked. On the surface, Paksa’s explanation sounded reasonable enough, but intuitively she knew that he was outright lying to her. She had also picked up on a slight change in his voice and facial expression when he mentioned her attacker.
“We’ve met with some…difficulties, so we haven’t found anything else about the club yet. Now you know everything there is to know. There’s nothing else for you.” The finality in Paksa’s voice signaled an end to the conversation.
His cool dismissal stung her. He expects me to just obey him like a dog and walk away. Bitterness clogged her throat. How easy it is for him to just turn his back and be done with it…with me. Soo-min knew that there was much more going under that fake cover story, and she also knew that she’d have easier time extracting teeth from the two men than getting the true story out of them. She could try threatening them with exposure, but she knew that sooner or later, her bluff would be called out. The only reason why Paksa was even meeting with her was because he wanted to end her fight with Soo. As she continued looking at Paksa, she suddenly felt a terrible sense of familiarity wash over her. The Shi-hyun in her nightmares had looked at her with the exact same cold, merciless gaze as the real Shi-hyun in front of her now. Her vision wavered and for a split second, she was back in her hallucinations. She shuddered. She’d known it would be extraordinarily hard to see him, but nothing could’ve possibly prepared herself for the reality of him. She ruthlessly clamped down on her feelings, biting her lip to halt the broken sound she could feel pushing against her throat. She needed to regain control of herself. Better yet, she needed to break Shi-hyun’s control.
In a piercing moment of brilliance, Soo-min realized how to tip the game in her favor. She’d completely upend the chessboard and watch as the other players struggled to collect the pieces.
“I have a proposal for you.” She said. She was pleased at how calm her voice sounded. Paksa had started walking past her, towards the exit, and at her words he halted. Soo-min lifted her eyes and looked squarely at him. “You need access to Vanity, right? I can give you that.”
For the first time since she’d laid eyes on Shi-hyun that night, emotion finally cracked through his mask and surprise unmistakably entered his eyes.
Author’s Note: Hands down the hardest chapter to complete. FYI, this is Version 22. Many, many thanks for lilahozi for the numerous hours of editing and discussion regarding characters (and making sure I didn’t accidentally give a character a personality lobotomy). Thanks always as well to Aziraphale, Jess, Akiko.