Endless Night || Heartless City Sequel
Chapter Ten – Escalation
Little Joo-mi always looked forward to Children’s Day, the one day when Mommy and Daddy would take time off from their busy work schedule to indulge in an afternoon full of play and laughter. Under her parents’ watchful eyes, Joo-mi clapped her hands in delight as she took in the park, filled with the bright colors of carefree children frolicking. Her long hair bounced against her new favorite dress, a gift she’d received that very morning. The bubbling laughter of other kids tugged at her and she ran forward, confident her parents would be watching her. There was an abundance of events going on; she spotted a sign for a petting zoo before being swept away by the sound of a band playing in the distance. Her tummy rumbled; food was now the most important thing. She spotted a small booth with a row of children lining up to it. Her eyes made a beeline for what was being offered: candy.
Although the line was long, it was moving quickly. Joo-mi saw her parents talking to another family while keeping their eyes on her. Soon she was at the front of the line, digging into her pockets to produce a small bill – her precious allowance. There was a pretty lady manning the booth, Joo-mi thought she might secretly be a princess. Joo-mi immediately decided that she wanted to look just like her when she grew up. She shyly held out the bill to the lady.
“The candy’s free! It’s Children’s Day after all.” The lady said, smiling as she folded Joo-mi’s fingers closed over her allowance and presenting her with a brightly wrapped piece of candy. “Go ahead, eat it!” Joo-mi obediently popped the candy in her mouth, eyes closing slightly at the burst of sweetness that filled her mouth, a grin of happiness appearing. Belatedly Joo-mi remembered her manners. ”Thank you!” burst out of her mouth before she dashed away.
She ran back to her parents, who scolded her for spoiling her lunch. She tugged at her parents’ hands, pointing towards the petting zoo, her laughter ringing out to join the other children’s laughter.
The tension was thick enough to cut through with a knife; the atmosphere palpable as it wrapped around the room’s occupants. Lee Woo-ha hadn’t called regarding any new cases recently; no new overdose victims had been discovered in two weeks. Paksa Adeul knew that sometimes a lack of news was bad news in itself. This was the calm before the storm. But since all of his leads had turned up empty, he found himself in the difficult position of having to wait for his unseen opponent to make the next move.
His phone rang out. Paksa picked up, noting that Soo’s phone was also ringing.
“There’s been an incident. Turn on the TV.”
That was all the notice he was given. Paksa put down his phone and aimed the remote towards the television. It took him a few seconds to sort out the chaotic scene he was presented with.
“…the children are being affected by an unknown affliction… there’s an outbreak… those that aren’t falling unconscious are exhibitng strange behavior. We’ve had reports of children acting aggressively towards family, other children, even themselves. Ambulances are rushing victims and children to the hospital… Witnesses report they heard children screaming before suddenly lashing out. These incidents all started around the same time, which leads to suspicions that this may have been a deliberate attack. The police are looking into this matter and have guaranteed they will find the person or persons responsible for this act.”
Paksa turned away from the television, his eyes dark.
“Soo, get in touch with your police contact. We need to know what they have discovered and who they’re fingering as a suspect. Get CCTV copies, something must have been captured. Keep in close contact with Woo-ha as well, We need to know immediately whether or not this incident was caused by tainted drugs.”
He addressed the next part of his speech to his lieutenants,
“Tainted drugs or not, if the media discovers the cause behind this is drugs, there will be a city-wide hunt to find anyone connected to drugs and link them to this incident. Immediately halt everything, all sales, all transactions. Do not return clients calls, it may be a trap. Our first priority is to find the source of the tainted drugs. Revisit any leads, no matter how insignificant or vague they may seem. The public will be out for blood now. If we’re not very careful…”
Paksa didn’t need to finish. Everyone knew what was at stake in this deadly race.
Dr. Lee Woo-ha looked up from the stainless steel table, hands carefully drawing the sheet over the small, cold body that lay on it.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“You were expecting me.”
Woo-ha nodded, making sure the child was properly covered before reaching beside him and handing over a folder. Paksa let his eyes rest on its cover before shaking his head, leaving the contents in Woo-ha’s hand, “Just tell me.”
“This is a high profile case. Chances are that the hospital is going to bring in outside experts to handle the findings. I may not be of any help in the future, and there’s only so much investigating I can do before I rouse suspicions. However, my preliminary reports confirm your suspicions.”
Paksa nodded. Woo-ha knew that Paksa himself understood none of them could afford any weakness. This was an attack with one purpose – to cause public outrage. The public would demand a suspect and the police would sacrifice anyone to avoid risking the censure of the public. The constant media coverage was driving them into a frenzy. It was almost as if…
He voiced his suspicions to Paksa, who nodded in affirmation. “The same group that caused the incident is also driving the media. There were an unsually large number of news vans at the site, too many for coverage of a typical festival day. Whoever caused this wants this case on everyone’s mind. It’s only a matter of time before they pinpoint the cause, and the police are going to hunt down every drug dealer in the city. They need to pin this on someone, fast.”
“What are you going to do?” Woo-ha asked.
“Find someone to sacrifice.”
“There.” Soo paused the tape from the CCTV of the park. He’d had an exceedingly difficult time obtaining it from his contact. Twenty-eight children had been drugged, with eight dead, and the remainder under hospital surveillance. He and Paksa were scanning the hours of footage, searching for any hints. Paksa was pointing to a winding ribbon of children that stretched from a small booth.
“It’s just another food stall. Tons of those are set up during festival days. Besides, if the drugs had come from a food stall then adults would be affected as well, not just children.”
“It’s not a food stall. Look at what the children are holding – that’s candy.” Paksa leaned forwards, eyes trained on the small figures, “Not a whole bag either, they’re only being given a small amount, just the amount needed.”
He pulled out his phone and called Woo-ha.
“Check if the stomach contents of the children contains traces of candy.” He ordered.
“Paksa… one of our buyers just got picked up in a police raid. They didn’t find any of our drugs but with the public screaming for blood, there’s going to be a thorough investigation…” Soo said, putting down his phone.
Paksa didn’t acknowledge the statement. His eye shifted back to the tape. “Stop,” he focused on the front of the line of children and pointed at a figure, “Look.”
“That’s a woman giving out candy?” Soo said, puzzled.
“That’s not any normal stand attendee. She doesn’t look like a regular booth seller. There’s something off about her. She’s a bit too put together for that job. Keep scanning the tapes, see if you can discover anything about the booth and her. Where she came from, when she set up the booth, and if anyone helped her.” With those orders he left the room.
Shi-hyun needed to visit an old friend.
“Shi-hyun! I didn’t expect to see you again so soon!” Jin-sook exclaimed in surprise as she pulled him into a hug. She peered behind him, “You didn’t bring Soo?”
“I kept him away this time so you wouldn’t torture him again.” Paksa answered.
“Don’t deny me my fun.” Jin-sook smirked and her eye sparkled with mirth, but the laughter quickly faded from her face as she took in the strain and tension in Shi-hyun’s demeanor. “This isn’t a social call is it?”
“Not today. Sorry, noona.” Paksa didn’t want to involve Jin-sook, but given the recent events, he needed information more desperately than ever. He harbored suspicions that Soo-min was involved with much more than she was letting on. Her demeanor at their last meeting was definitely off. At this point, he had to pursue all possible avenues, leave no stone unturned, to get to the bottom of things.
“Shi-hyun?” Jin-sook inquired as she offered him a chilled drink. He produced the card for Vanity that he’d found in Kwang-Sung’s office and handed it over to Jin-sook.
“Have you heard anything about this place called Vanity? Or of someone called The Madame? Or Mi-young?”
At this point, he was shooting in the dark but Jin-sook had connections into a part of the world that he didn’t and maybe, maybe she might know something, or know someone who might know something. Jin-sook ran a finger over the card’s embossing, considering it.
“Is this a flower here? It looks like a lily. I’m not completely sure, but I’ve heard of a group called ‘The Lilies’. This might be their calling card.”
“Lilies? What kind of group is that?
Jin-sook tilted her head quizzically, “Strange. A…mutual acquaintance from the past asked me about ‘The Lilies’ a few weeks ago, and now here you are wanting to know the same thing. The timing is a bit unsettling, considering the source.”
Shi-hyun’s alcohol glass froze halfway to his lips. He fiercely clamped down on his alarm and shock and forced himself to meet Jin-sook’s penetrating and suspicious gaze with feigned nonchalance.
“Really?” He injected a note of casualness into his voice, “What a strange coincidence. What did you say?”
“The Lilies are an urban myth that I’ve heard about here and there throughout the years, but nothing has been confirmed about them. Actually, I don’t even know for sure if they really go by ‘Lilies”, I’ve heard other names used as well. The rumors go that they’re supposed to be really, really “elite” escorts for the wealthy and powerful. Of course like all good urban legends, the stories about them are unsavory. The more people pay for you, the more they expect from the service. The Lilies were not only infamous for being good at what they do, but also for providing more “unconventional” services as well, things that normal escorts wouldn’t do. Apparently, nothing was out of bounds for them.”
Shi-hyun was struggling to now remain impassive despite the nausea steadily growing inside him. He felt a cold sweat break down his spine as JIn-sook continued.
“They said that you could identify Lilies by a tattoo they had up on their thigh. It was a mark, branding them almost like cattle. Of course no one goes peeking up a lady’s skirt so it wasn’t exactly easy to verify the rumor. Again, this is all hearsay I’m telling you.”
Jin-sook’s presence faded into the background as Shi-hyun tried to absorb the implications of what she had just told him.
Why are you wincing? And you were walking a bit stiffly. Did someone attack you?
I cut myself shaving. I haven’t been sleeping well.
The sudden memory of their last meeting ran through his mind. He remembered how Soo-min had some ‘injury’ on her inner thigh. At the time he didn’t think much of it, too focused on other things. But now, he knew with a terrible near-certainty what exactly that injury was. An awful, gut-wrenching horror and cold fury rushed through him. He was deaf to Jin-sook’s concerned voice asking him what was wrong.
The glass suddenly shattered violently in Shi-hyun’s grip. He barely registered the biting pain as blood dripped down his fingers and Jin-sook’s startled yelp.
Yoon Soo-min, what the hell have you done?
Author’s Note: I never intended for Paksa to remain in the dark for too long, and Chapter 11 will start with the anticipated confrontation. Thanks to new beta-reader QueenC! And thanks as always to lilahozi for doing the final round of editing! I will do my best to post Chapter 11 up in a timely manner, but even though I’ve planned out a particular scene from the very conception stages of this story, I’m still working on getting all of the nuances down.