Finally, I’m back home.
Dong-Yul moved into his apartment, or rather, he was carried into it. He couldn’t operate under his own strength.
A whole crew was waiting for him, having gotten there well before he did. Through squinted eyes, Dong-Yul saw how they had shuffled around the furniture to better accommodate the crowd and then some. Chairs and coffee tables and designer pieces were placed into corners above him, and people were walking along the ceiling to get out of his way as he was led through.
Everything had been flipped upside down. No, wait. It was just him.
It was bright, as if it hurt to see. Before letting his eyes close, Dong-Yul tried scanning for a place he could be set down. It was hard, though, considering that everything was reorientated and it just plain hurt to try. His vision swam.
Dong-Yul gave up, letting his eyes drift, closed. He’d let whoever had him take point in that.
It really fucking hurt.
With the way he was being carried, Dong-Yul could tell that they were doing their level best to not make it such a bumpy trip. But, even with the tiniest of movements, a cut would get pressed into, or his clothes would brush against a scrape, or a wound opening a pinch more, he’d flinch at how much it all hurt…
It really fucking hurt.
The pain was enveloping, making his whole body feel like it was throbbing, feel like it was somewhere else. It was so bad that Dong-Yul could almost distance himself from it, a sensation so deep that it dulled the senses, in an abstract way. Like being submerged underwater. Hard to feel wet when the water was everywhere.
Almost, though. Pain had a funny way of giving reminders. But Dong-Yul wasn’t laughing. Couldn’t.
Like being in a dream.
Crossing the living room, Dong-Yul practically floated as he was taken somewhere to rest. He slowed, and people worked with his momentum to slide him into a-
Dong-Yul’s eyes cracked open. Bright. He groaned, loud.
There it was. That reminder.
His back was propped up against soft cushions, but throbbing and stinging made it feel anything but. The aches hammered at his body and mind. Until it consumed his focus.
It took genuine and concentrated effort to get himself out of the headspace, to think of anything else that wasn’t the hurt, that wasn’t the cuts and scrapes and aches and bruises and pangs. Considering how upfront they all were, it was a challenge.
Dong-Yul recognized that voice.
He wanted to make himself comfortable, but he didn’t have it in him to move. Comfort was too far a shore to reach. Off in the distance, into the horizon.
“It’s shit, Jackie,” Dong-Yul said, hoarse. “I feel like- ow, shit.”
Dong-Yul fell back, and the regret was immediate. His back had taken a pretty serious hit, when Styx had flipped him and slammed him down onto the hard surface of a table. Second only to his face. That motherfucker had really gone to town, there. Even now, just an hour or so later, he could still hear the squelching.
How many stitches? How many painkillers did Styx’s men hook him up on? His entire body flared, but a stilling effect would wash over him in occasion. It took the edge off, and while it was only by a margin, it was a godsend compared to tackling the full brunt of it all. He only wished that they had given him more, because the little bit of relief he was desperately clinging onto wouldn’t last forever.
But, for now, he could manage, he could deal. And he was able to communicate without it killing him.
It was a start.
“You’re at your place, in case you weren’t aware. Tried to gather as many of us as I can, but there’s only so much space, and there is a lot of us.”
If Dong-Yul could smile, he would have. But the sentiment was there.
“Army,” he said.
“Just focus on getting some rest right now, Donnie. If we try to discuss anything now you might not remember it in the morning.”
“Just… catch me up then.”
Through the throbbing and faded sensations, Dong-Yul heard Jackie grouse at him. Dong-Yul had known Jackie long enough to decipher the different mumbles and non-words that would come out of him on occasion. Though, it would be more accurate a claim that Jackie knew Dong-Yul for even longer. He was one of Bruce’s best friends.
Bruce and Jackie went back, way back, to even before they were born. Their respective parents having met when they first moved into the city, the country. Immigrated. The parents had become good friends over the years, and when they had their own children around the same time, it was only natural that those kids would get along well. By the time Donnie had moved up from crawling to walking, Jackie was already like another older brother to him. A brought from another mother tongue.
Now, Jackie was the only family Dong-Yul had left.
In a gang, connections mattered, and real, tangible ones could make all the difference. Life and death. Dong-Yul knew not to put so much strain on this, particular one. It was like walking on a tightrope. A delicate balance, and all it took was a hard enough push to send him down, that connection slipping far and away, then gone.
Dong-Yul could feel that tension now. Wobbly. He was pushing it.
“How’s everyone?” he asked, pushing the words through puffy cheeks. He screwed his eyes open.
Not just Jackie. Other concerned faces stared him down, too.
Making another sound, Jackie took his eyes off Dong-Yul, his gaze going around the room looking at the other faces. Some words were exchanged, Dong-Yul saw Jackie’s mouth move, but the words just missed his hears. The pounding aches overtook the sounds.
The words continued to be exchanged, Jackie nodding and shaking his head, then directing himself back to Dong-Yul.
“We’ve got a lot of people that managed to come up here, but we also got a lot of those who can’t. We got fucked, Donnie, this night didn’t at all go how you, we, planned it.”
It was Dong-Yul’s turn to grouse. Words were hard.
Tonight. They had plans for tonight. And, if there was one thing Dong-Yul hated the most, it was when things didn’t go according to plan.
It should have been easy. In the recent weeks, Dong-Yul had been getting more and more reports about a new gang in town, one that had risen from the ashes of The Chariot, having come back from near death as the Ghosts. They were gaining momentum, fast, with a lot of eyes on them, even international ones. There were rumors that some Eastern European mobs had been meeting with them for… something. No one knew for sure. Possible joint ventures, vying for their territory? Whatever the case, this reborn gang, Los Colmillos, the Fangs, had momentum, and people were wanting to hitch a ride up.
Dong-Yul didn’t want that opportunity slip by. He wanted to ride that wave.
It should have been easy. He knew Lawrence, maybe they weren’t brothers, but they were acquainted well enough. They had met back when they were still nobodies in their respective gangs, and they had bonded over that. Somewhat. A slight connection, but it was enough that the Kung Fools could go to the Ghosts when they were selling goods for cheap. To help out a friend in need, so the favor could be returned later.
This world was one of dogs, vicious animals that would tear the other to shreds to stay on top. Donnie was never one of the top dogs, but Dong-Yul would be, in place of his older brother. He had his own fangs to use, in the form of his recent swell of volunteers. He didn’t know what Lawrence’s secret was, but he didn’t have the numbers, not like Dong-Yul.
It should have been easy.
He thought he had them, Los Colmillos, cornered when he led Lawrence and his girl to the club in order to pay back his debt and float the idea of working together. It was all a lie, of course, a trap to capture Lawrence and use him as leverage to take that momentum by force. The girl would have been for more leverage, another way to twist Lawrence’s arm, to force him into complying.
Dong-Yul had no idea that the night would go down like this.
“Some of our… volunteers didn’t make it.”
Dong-Yul might as well have gotten another hit to the face. The same type of pain, but it struck another part of him. Something more raw.
He must have reacted in some noticeable way, because Jackie went right to correcting himself.
“No, no one died, but a lot of them did get fucked up. Some might not be able to stand, ever again. Or breathe properly without some kind of machine. It’s not pretty. Oh, and I’m okay, thanks for asking.”
Dong-Yul wanted to make a quip, that he didn’t look pretty, too. But this wasn’t the time for jokes.
“It got ugly down there, Donnie. We were just sitting there, in the basement lounge, I was waiting for you signal, when the lights were cut without warning. Then, it all went to hell.”
Another metaphorical hit to the face. Through the haze of his drug-addled memory, Dong-Yul could recall his disposition earlier in the night. The confidence, the swag. Having Jess and Yuri at his side, helping him give off the air of the cool gangster. Like Bruce.
Then, the fact that, while he was up in the restaurant above the club, acting suave while his boys, his last remaining real connection, were being terrorized below his feet, all without him knowing any better…
More hits to the face.
I should have known something was up when that girl left the table.
It was all Dong-Yul managed to get out. He could sense that the drugs would be wearing out. Not now, and not for a several more hours, but they would. Whatever he had over the counter wouldn’t be enough. Wouldn’t be strong enough.
When those wore off, he would be Donnie again.
Couldn’t have that, didn’t want that.
He needed something to hold on to.
“I saw her, down there. With Lawrence, and Styx. Someone else too, but I can’t remember it very well. I know they were short.”
Jackie was frozen as Dong-Yul spoke, as if he was shocked to hear him go for that long. Maybe he was. It took a bit longer for Jackie to respond.
“That… I know who you’re talking about. And don’t push yourself too much, Donnie. You’ll regret it.”
Dong-Yul grumbled the thought.
Jackie picked up on it. He smiled, slight, in a way that made Dong-Yul think he was pitying him. That look.
“Her,” Dong-Yul said, stressing the word. “I think it’s her. The Bluemoon.”
The room was already packed with people, anxious in atmosphere. The mere mention of the name screwed everything that much tighter. People huddled closer, more faces looking down on Dong-Yul. Breaths were held.
Dong-Yul released his.
“I mean, she has to be. She, ow, that girl Lawrence brought with her. They had something, agh, planned against us from the start. A counterattack.”
“But it was hectic down there, I couldn’t see shit for a while. But, yeah, I think you’re right.”
As if to punctuate his conviction, Dong-Yul nodded, despite his body. If it weren’t for the drugs, he wouldn’t be able to move at all.
“Then, that woman, I think… I think her name was Wendy, but I don’t remember her last name. She’s the Bluemoon, or V, or whatever that other freak announced itself as. She’s their secret weapon. No… doubt about it.”
Silence came in like an unwanted visitor. And Dong-Yul didn’t want anyone he couldn’t trust in here with him.
“Doesn’t anyone here get it? We have that, now. We know. We tried to take them out, they tried to stop us, but Styx got in the way of that, because we were the bigger threat. Over them, her. And now we know their secret weapon and its name. Don’t you see? It’s leverage.”
With his words, Dong-Yul tried to kick silence out the door. But, after a time, it found its way back in.
He closed his eyes, slow, letting himself float there for a moment, before opening them again.
Jackie answered that thought.
“Not that I don’t believe you, Donnie, but… I want to believe you. But what’s your proof?”
“Proof? What else do you need? I saw her, she was right there! She, I…”
Various memories started coming through the haze.
Wendy choking on food, leaving the table, Styx coming up to interrupt the dinner, and his plans. Forced to… hold hands with Lawrence, of all things, and being sent down to the basement lounge to find-
The Bluemoon, V, or whatever she decided to call herself. She was there. In the mask and hood and everything. His men scrambling all over the wet floor, broken and battered and bruised.
She was there. Wendy. V. That had to be her.
But, proof. What else did he have besides a hunch?
“Just trust me,” Dong-Yul said, with confidence than before. Sounding like Donnie.
“That’s a big accusation to throw out there,” Jackie said, matching him in faith. Or lack thereof. “Do you want a witch hunt? Because that’s how you get a witch hunt. Cast that girl to the fire without evidence, and you’re no better than everyone who participated in those riots and attacked those that look-”
“Don’t fucking finish that sentence.”
His whole body had been flaring up, and now he was on fire.
“Don’t put me in with them, I’m not like that. I’m just-”
“Doing the exact same thing? I’m not against the concept of what you’re proposing, Donnie, but you need to think this through. If you’re working on a feeling, and that feeling is compounded by stress and adrenaline and a plethora of painkillers that no one here knows the exact mixture of, then you’re not in the right mind to make any decisions, not for some time, anyway.”
That was a lot of words. Dong-Yul didn’t like the sound of them.
“What are you saying?” he questioned.
Jackie breathed and backed away, his face dipping out of Dong-Yul’s view. The space where he used to be got filled by others.
Dong-Yul tried to gather strength in his body, but couldn’t. Could barely form fists with his hands.
He bit his tongue, pushing himself more. He bit his tongue harder, until it felt as though his teeth would cut through, but he didn’t care. The drugs dulled the feeling, allowing him to push that much more.
Pressing his hands into the leather, Dong-Yul pushed his body up, leaning against the cushions. He didn’t even raise himself by that much, but his head felt light, a wave of nausea coming over him. It took every bit of his concentration to not make more of a mess of himself, in front of everyone.
Searching past the faces, he saw Jess and Yuri. They had that same look. Pity. He used his anger to ignore them. Hard.
He found Jackie, sitting across the living room, in one of the older, more expensive pieces of furniture in the apartment. It was here before Dong-Yul moved in, after Bruce no longer needed the place.
Donnie had debated on whether or not he’d get rid of all that stuff. He compromised, getting rid of less important items, like toothbrushes or old clothes, and keeping what at least held some sentimental value. Like the chair that Jackie was in right now.
I should have thrown it out with everything else.
With his eyes back on Jackie, Dong-Yul let him explain himself.
“We’re not in a good position to do anything crazy. Not anymore. And with you needing to rest, I’m…”
“I was never good at this leadership thing, that was more Bruce’s talent, and I wasn’t going to get in your way when you stepped up, but, I can take over while you recover, if you want.”
More words. More, did Dong-Yul not like the sounds of them.
“No, I do not want that.”
“It was more of me putting my foot down than a suggestion, really. I don’t want you doing anything rash because you think we have something to prove.”
“We do. Now isn’t the time to lie down and do nothing, or we risk killing any hype we-”
Dong-Yul’s eyes went wide, a pang in his back.
Jackie got a word in before Dong-Yul had a chance to.
“Maybe you missed what Styx told us, but I didn’t. We’re done. This war you want, to pit us against them, you against the world? Styx already put a stop to that.”
Dong-Yul recalled something along the lines of that, but he refused to believe it.
“We go deeper into the shadows,” he said, “Where not even Styx can see. People are still coming to us, they won’t stop coming to us and we can-”
Every face turned from Dong-Yul to Jackie.
Out of the chair, Jackie was standing, now. Dong-Yul was finally able to take him in, full view.
His vision was still blurry, but he knew that man’s outline. Tall, broad shoulders, a physique that Donnie could never match, and Dong-Yul would never get near, despite his efforts.
Wearing half of a uniform, Jackie had his blazer off, hanging on the armrest of the chair, his shirt unbuttoned halfway down. The lights inside were set to low, probably to spare Dong-Yul’s eyes, but he could see how Jackie’s skin glistened. He had been sweating, working to carry Dong-Yul’s limp body up to the apartment, and that was after being thrown into a fight with the Bluemoon herself, the sprinkler system working against him as part of her sabotage.
He was still standing, and Dong-Yul was still Donnie.
“Just, no,” Jackie said. “That’s not what we need right now, that’s not what this city needs. We can’t, shouldn’t, fight fire with fire, that just leaves everyone burned. That includes us.”
“Water,” Dong-Yul said, feeling like he was floating, again.
“We flood them out with our numbers. Everyone who’s been antagonizing us since this whole thing started. We’re a growing tide, Jackie, you can’t just plug a hole and hope we go away. It won’t work like this.”
Jackie shook his head.
“Then, it’s going to have to. Until you’ve recovered and you’re in the right mindset, Hóngshuǐ is on ice.”
No one moved. It was like they didn’t even hear him.
Dong-Yul mustered all the remaining strength he had, and spat it out at them.
“Everyone get the fuck out!”
A long stretch of time passed before it settled that everyone meant everyone.
One by one, Dong-Yul saw the faces as they disappeared, out the door, leaving him alone. Jess and Yuri lagged behind, but they left, taking their pity with them.
Good, he didn’t need it. He didn’t need this.
Dong-Yul looked, and saw that Jackie was still standing there.
“What did I say?” Dong-Yul asked.
Jackie shook his head again.
“What did Bruce say? I promised him I’d look after you. I’m not leaving. Sorry, Donnie.”
Another slap across the face. Dong-Yul fell back down, into the couch. He didn’t care how much it’d hurt.
Regret. It did hurt.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
This wasn’t fair.
Dong-Yul was supposed to be the one to dole out the pain, the hurt. There was a reason why he forced himself to step up after Bruce passed. Forced himself and the gang to change. Donnie was weak, he wouldn’t have been capable of leading. Dong-Yul, though, he would.
That was the image he wanted to project. The mask he wanted to become. The dyed hair, the streetwear, the flexing, the strength.
He looked at Jackie again. He remembered how Jess and Yuri looked at him.
So, why does everyone keeping looking past all that?
Dong-Yul watched as Jackie moved, approaching him. Delicate, Jackie landed a hand on a shoulder. More stings.
Cold, like ice.
Time wasn’t the all-encompassing healer it was advertised to be. If anything, it had made everything worse.
Dong-Yul could stand, now. He had that at least. That still put him at sixty percent of what his ‘normal’ should be, and it would take even longer before he could get to that point.
The stitches made his face a little puffy, the bandages that patched his body together made him feel like a mummy. If he took a moment to rest, he was afraid that he’d drift off to another, far deeper slumber.
No. There was too much to do. He had to make up for lost time.
Dong-Yul looked across the room, and addressed the new recruits.
“Everyone, thank you for being here today, for deciding to-”
“For deciding to finally stand against those who-”
Dong-Yul coughed. His whole body shook.
“Against… against those who have tried to silence us and keep us down. We will-”
Dong-Yul coughed. His whole body shook. He tried to suppress a groan and he couldn’t.
He had wanted to express his frustration, he had written it all down. And he couldn’t even deliver the words with the gravitas they deserved, and he couldn’t even express the frustration he had with himself.
These over the counter knockoffs. These drugs weren’t good enough.
Whatever Styx had given him, he needed more. Couldn’t get through this assembly without them.
He would have to try, though. No other choice.
Dong-Yul tried again, his words coming out in a sputter.
“We will show… agh, show the world that we…”
He had to stop before he started shaking again. Convulsing.
“What Dong-Yul wants to say is, he appreciates you coming to us when you needed help, and we’ll be sure to make you useful.”
Dong-Yul felt hands placing themselves on his shoulder, pressing him down. Jackie.
With little energy to protest, he found the chair in front of him and sat. Falling into it, really.
He grunted as he sat down, as though he was an old man.
Looking across the room again, he gauged the reactions of the new recruits. There weren’t many in here, ten of them, but this was only the first round of the new batch. There were plenty more to go. He had wanted to address them as close to individually as he could, to make a deeper bond, to show that he cared about their struggle. It would take longer, but in turn, they’d fight for him that much harder.
There were looks of concern, worry. Maybe even pity.
Dong-Yul, above anything else, knew that appearances mattered. They could be used as a symbol, to shape how others perceived it when viewed. From hope, to even fear. Dong-Yul, from his name to his face, wanted to be a symbol.
And Styx had taken that away from him.
He did what he could. He dyed his hair another color. He wore a black face mask, which was a decent fashion statement by itself. It covered most of the stitches and the puffiness around the face and cheeks. His full fit, with each individual piece of clothing a grail item to another person’s closet, covered all of the bandages and wrappings that coiled around his body. He didn’t like what he saw in the mirror, a beaten, bruised version of the symbol he had in mind. Even a dent in symbols could mean a huge difference, given the abstract nature of it all. Dong-Yul wondered what the dents meant to the recruits.
“You,” he said, looking at one in particular.
The recruit tensed, Dong-Yul could tell by how his shoulders went up.
“Your name, Justin, was it?”
The recruit, Justin, nodded. A kid, no older than a high school senior, most likely. Vietnamese. Thin, more lanky than he was a soldier.
But, he’d do. He could make it work.
“What brought you here today? To me?”
Dong-Yul had to be careful to not strain himself again. He spoke slow, deliberate.
Justin answered, “Um, everything, really. Figured I had enough. Getting shit from random strangers, threats on me and my family, even my-”
Justin choked, sounding strained at the end.
“Your?” Dong-Yul offered.
Justin looked pained that he had to continue.
“My girl, or she was. Not threats, though, actions. And I’m tired of people getting away with shit.”
There it was. The wound. The thing he needed to press into to turn that hurt into something more.
“What’s her name?”
Justin flinched. He didn’t answer.
“What was your girl’s name?”
He heard Jackie, to his right. A whisper.
“What are you doing?”
Dong-Yul didn’t answer him, he just waited for his own from Justin.
Don’t make me ask again, he willed.
Then, Justin did answer.
“Emily,” Dong-Yul repeated. Slow, he brought his head down, slight, almost a bow.
He wouldn’t ask for the specifics, but he would request something else.
“You remember Emily, and you hold on to that feeling of losing her. Take that loss, that anger, and you turn it to the rest of the world. Make them feel what they did to you, so they can understand their injustice. Do you understand?”
Another whisper. Dong-Yul raised his hand. So sore.
“Do you understand?”
Repeating himself, but every syllable was delivered with care and intent.
He watched the gears spin in Justin’s head.
Satisfied, Dong-Yul turned to the other recruits around him.
“Same goes to you, too. Find your Emily, let that anger fuel you, and direct it to where I point. If you can do that, then we won’t have any problems.”
The recruits, Justin included, all responded in unison.”
They took their leave at that last word, filing out of the door at the corner of the space.
The backroom of a bar and casino, specializing in Chinese cuisine. Jackie’s father once owned the place. Past tense.
The space was well furnished and expensive, in both price and actual appearance. Kept in a low light by paper lanterns, red and orange light reflected into soft hues off the wood and gold that lined corners and edges. A chic, modern twist on something more ceremonial, Jackie’s additions on top of what his family had built before him.
“What are you doing?” Jackie asked, as they watched the last of them leave, the door closing behind them.
Dong-Yul leaned forward, resting his arms on the table in front of him. Green, with a wooden border around it. A table for mahjong.
“You know what I’m doing. You’re just questioning it because you don’t like it.”
“I know what I’m doing. You don’t want me to touch the Fangs for now? Fine. But there’s no rule against getting more people to join us. I just won’t make a show of things. Which is why I’m introducing myself to them in this way. It’s not efficient, but it pads out enough time to get another plan going, one Styx won’t be privy to.”
“You’re an idiot if you think Styx won’t know about this. That’s why I-”
“I know ‘that’s why you,’” Dong-Yul said, mocking. “I just don’t want to hear it. I’m the leader of this gang, it’s my decision and it’s final.”
Another grumble from Jackie. And he just said that he didn’t want to hear it.
“Bruce wouldn’t have done this.”
Dong-Yul would have slammed his fists on the table, if he had the strength.
“Yes he would have. He was, before…”
He trailed off, letting the sentence die out. It reminded him of how he saw his brother go.
“Not like this. Not this aggressive.”
Dong-Yul settled for a light tap on the table.
“Bruce isn’t here. I’m just picking up the slack and running with it. Your input is appreciated, bro, but I’d rather not get another word about this from you.”
One more sound from Jackie, this time a breath. Dong-Yul knew the meaning.
The door opened before either of them could get another word in.
A fat, Vietnamese man entered. With a very visible look of dread on his face.
Dong-Yul frowned, even though he was wearing a mask.
“Sunny, what’s wrong?”
Sunny, the lead security for the bar, was a wide man, so it took until he was completely out of the doorway before Dong-Yul could see who followed him in.
A cold, prickling feeling crept up the back of his neck. Hair standing on ends. The pain of his entire body flaring up in anticipation, in fear.
No, not you. Not again.
It was like he hadn’t changed in the week Dong-Yul saw him last. The leather jacket, the skinny jeans, all black. The wild look in his eye, like a feral animal. That anything could happen with a snap.
Dong-Yul did not, under any conceivable circumstance, want that snap.
The contrast between the two men was as wide as Sunny’s build. Where one man was built more like a ball of pure muscle, the other was more lean and cut. One was pale, the other much less so. Though, Sunny had a good reason to have much color in his face, at the moment.
Styx wasted no time in making himself comfortable.
“Man man man, I just can’t keep doing this! Always running around, always so busy!”
He slapped Sunny’s back, and Sunny leapt, yelped. Dong-Yul had never seen him be like this.
Not that he blamed him.
Styx then walked around Sunny, his finger tracing from his back to his shoulder, sliding off as he walked across the room, leaving him there, frozen. Sunny looked like he wanted to crawl out of his skin.
“And you, my friend, suffer from the same ailment.”
A disconcerting quiet lingered, threatening to stick around for more. Did Styx want him to respond?
“And… what is that?” Dong-Yul said, wary.
Styx smiled, baring teeth, and Dong-Yul felt a freeze run through him.
“Stubbornness?” Jackie repeated. His way of interjecting himself into the conversation. His way of trying to deflect Styx’s attention, his way of protecting Dong-Yul.
Dong-Yul didn’t think he’d need it. Donnie might, though.
Styx kept his eyes forward, at Donnie. Like a hawk.
“Everyone has something they’re stubborn about, a vice they can’t quit. People are… single-minded, like that. Try to tear it out of a man, and they go batshit. And if you do manage to take it away, and cut off all ways to reconnect, you get…”
Styx inhaled, deep, eyes closed, lifting his head so he was facing the ceiling, then Sunny behind him. He kept tilting his head back, until it looked like he was about to fall.
Then, he snapped.
Styx threw his head forward, like an even more hardcore version of a headbang. He exhaled, but it sounded more like a scream.
“Disorder,” Styx said, smiling.
Dong-Yul didn’t know what to make of anything.
He didn’t have any exits, Sunny was supposed to be guarding the only entrance into this room. And if Styx’s Ferrymen were right outside…
Donnie prayed for his life.
Styx tilted his head.
“You look swell,” he said, twisting that smile again.
Dong-Yul’s face throbbed.
“I saw the new boys out there. Good meat, they really hold themselves well in a fight.”
This was the absolute worst time Styx could have showed up.
Styx lifted his hands. A placating gesture.
“Relax, you already know the proper meaning of a beatdown. I’m just here to mediate.”
That didn’t answer what he did to the new recruits, and Dong-Yul was already too afraid to ask.
Dong-Yul lifted an eyebrow, instead.
“Mediate? I didn’t know you were capable of keeping the peace.”
Stupid. Wasn’t thinking.
Last time I questioned this psychopath he nearly killed me.
With his hands still raised, he shrugged.
“I’m capable of anything. I just said goodbye to solace not too long ago. Disorder.”
Any possible meaning was lost on Dong-Yul.
Styx put his hands down, looking at Sunny. Dong-Yul gave an order before Styx could force his own command.
“You can leave, Sunny, it’s okay.”
Sunny was a decent friend, a good man. Dong-Yul had never seen him move so fast.
Before he could clear out, though, he was stopped at the door by another person.
She was well-dressed, in a suit, her blonde hair tied up into a bun. She looked more in place in a boardroom, meeting with executives, than she was being here, in a den with gangsters. She was as prim as she was proper.
Sunny jumped out of the way, letting her get through, he ran to his escape, the door closing behind him.
The woman started walking as everyone’s eyes fell on her. With an elegance and grace that also contrasted with Styx’s wild, unpredictable nature.
“I hate to be kept waiting,” the woman said, eyeing Styx as she passed him, stopping right at the front of the table.
“Take pity on a grieving old man,” Styx said.
“I’m not here to be concerned about your personal life.”
“It was both, this time. Business and personal.”
“Not my concern, Styx.”
“Ah, but in this case, it is half of it.”
“Excuse me, but who are you?”
The woman directed herself back to Dong-Yul. Adjusting several items she had in her arms, she also adjusted her glasses.
“You can call me Mrs. Carter.”
With that, Mrs. Carter took another step to the table, taking the seat across Dong-Yul. She set her belongings down. A tablet, and a binder full of documents. Styx moved as well, taking the seat to his right.
“May I?” Styx asked.
It wasn’t like he could say no. Dong-Yul nodded.
“Mahjong,” Styx said, settling in. “Been a while since I played, but my Mandarin is rusty.”
“It takes at least three to play, four is ideal,” Jackie said, still standing at Dong-Yul’s side. “And I’m not in the mood for games.”
“Same,” Mrs. Carter said, looking straight at Dong-Yul. She didn’t at all sound or look delighted to be here.
“Another game, then,” Styx offered instead, grinning.
Mrs. Carter breathed, audible for it to have meaning. She fixed her glasses.
“I’d like to start, now.”
Styx gestured. “By all means.”
Dong-Yul turned to Jackie, tilting his head, indicating towards the table.
Reluctant, he could tell, but Jackie complied. He sat.
Dong-Yul turned back to the other two.
“What’s,” he started, flinching at a sudden spike in pain. “What’s this about?”
“A lot of things,” Styx said. “About you, me, the entire city. If we want, we make this to be about the whole world.
Dong-Yul couldn’t help but feel like he was being played for a fool.
“Let’s keep the focus to what’s in this room,” Mrs. Carter said, sounding tired. “And please, Styx, allow me to speak.”
She was treating him like a unruly kid. The fact that someone could even get away with that…
Who is this woman?
Mrs. Carter finally got to speak, but she was tapping at her tablet, swiping, while addressing Dong-Yul.”
“I represent Mister, and I’m here to provide a proposal that was just recently drafted, with my input and… his.”
She glanced at Styx.
This woman represented Mister.
Excitement and fear coursed through Dong-Yul.
“Mister, and Mrs. Carter,” Jackie said, “Am I supposed to ignore a possible connection there?”
“The proposal, as it stands, is a simple one, but I find that it will prove to be a good opportunity for you and the Kung Fools.”
The way she said that name, she sounded disgusted.
“Hóngshuǐ, now,” Dong-Yul said. He couldn’t help but correct her. “We’re under new management.”
“Yes. So I’ve heard.”
“So what’s this proposal then?”
Tapping the tablet one more time, Mrs. Carter moved her attention over to the binder, turning it around and sliding it across the table. Dong-Yul caught it.
Opening it, he skimmed through the documents. Plain English, but with the sudden arrival of Styx, this woman, the mention of Mister, and the general amount of pain and stress he was under, it was hard to focus on any particular word and its meaning.
“Explain the general idea,” Dong-Yul said. He lifted his eyes to meet Mrs. Carter’s glasses. A glare had caught the lenses. “Please.”
“Mister is offering to back you in the growth and general operation of your gang, Hóngshuǐ.”
Stunned. Dong-Yul and Jackie exchanged looks.
“Mister?” Dong-Yul repeated.
“In exchange for your resources and capabilities, you will work for him.”
“Congratulations,” Styx said. “You want a sponsor? You can’t ask for a better one.”
Dong-Yul couldn’t believe a word they were saying. Not because he thought they were lying. Styx’s presence, in a way, officiated the offer. He wasn’t sure about Mrs. Carter, but she seemed serious enough.
“Can’t say the offer intrigues me.” Dong-Yul looked from Styx, then back to the papers in the binder. “Though, I wonder how much room I have in this deal. Is there even an option to refuse?”
“You can, though it would make this your second biggest mistake.”
“The first was refusing to listen to me the first time.”
Styx grinned, and Dong-Yul understood. He had no room, unless he wanted to reopen stitches and break more skin.
“Okay,” Dong-Yul said. “What’re the particulars of this… sponsorship?”
Mrs. Carter swiped at her tablet again.
“You have recently been reaping the benefits of the political uproar in the city, the increased violence against Asian Americans have brought many of their youth to you, either for protection or willingness to strike back against those that wronged them through no fault of their own. Your numbers have swelled, and continues to swell, which is always impressive, but it isn’t sustainable.”
“It isn’t. How do you expect to pay all your new people, or provide the protection, the reason they joined in the first place? You had a decent sized territory before, but it won’t be enough to properly accommodate everybody. You would need growth in those other departments in order to catch up, but, I suspect you haven’t been growing fast enough?”
She was right. For a time since the first wave of new recruits, Dong-Yul had a worry in the back of his mind, on how he’d take care of everyone that went to him. They hadn’t been hurting before, save for the loss of Bruce, but they had never been making much in the way of waves under his tutelage, and when the tides started to turn and rise, Dong-Yul had to cut some corners where he could, like shaking hands with Lawrence, while hiding a knife behind his back with the other.
But, that wouldn’t be sufficient enough. The logistics weren’t there. As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t provide for everyone. People like Justin.
“And you’re saying that Mister will give me that growth in those departments?”
“He is able and willing,” Mrs. Carter said. “Warehouses, equipment, cars. Weapons. We still have plenty thanks to an acquisition made last year, in the fall.”
“The wheels turn and turn,” Styx said.
“Mister will invest in your proper growth,” Mrs. Carter said. “Giving you assets to turn you into a better one.”
Dong-Yul flipped through another page, the words hardly registering to him. What he read, what he heard.
“Why?” he questioned. “Why the sudden interest?”
Too good to be true.
“That’s not for me to say. I wouldn’t delve into the particulars, in that regard. Accept the terms, and let him round out the edges for you.”
“May I meet him, ask him myself?”
“You may not.”
Mrs. Carter answered a touch too quickly.
Dong-Yul closed the book. He looked up at the woman.
“What’s the catch, then?”
He knew there had to be one.
Mrs. Carter took her time in answering.
“It’s spelled out in more detail in that binder, but, in accepting the vested interest of Mister, you will have to put a freeze in any and all movements toward enacting a retaliation against the forces that brought you those swelled numbers in the first place.”
Her wording made Dong-Yul take a moment to parse everything. He didn’t get what she meant at first.
Jackie caught on a second before he could.
“You want us to stop building our army.”
Dong-Yul tapped the table, his body flaring up again. Pain.
“No,” Mrs. Carter said. “The opposite, in fact. As it stands, Hóngshuǐ is an asset, one Mister would like to put in his pocket for the future. He would just like if you didn’t dry yourself up before that time comes.”
There. The catch. Dong-Yul knew there’d be one.
“You want me to sell my revolution?”
It was Mrs. Carter’s turn to raise an eyebrow.
“Just don’t cause any fires where we don’t need them.”
“Not fires, a tsunami. Because you know that it’s going to flood, hard, and you want to buy as much property as you can so you can claim the insurance.”
The woman smiled. Pity again. If Dong-Yul had the strength, he’d tear her lips off her face.
“I assure you that will not be the case. It’s a simple stipulation.”
Dong-Yul was done.
“Then I refuse Mister’s sponsorship.”
“No, no Jackie. These people, they don’t understand why I’m doing this, and I don’t think you even know, now. Every goddamn day, I get stories from Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese people telling me all the shit they go through now because of a select few.”
The select few. Harrian Wong. Blank Face, V. Wendy.
Dong-Yul continued, saying, “They’re tired, Mrs. Carter, Styx, there’s a restless undercurrent that’s bubbling, and it won’t be long before things overtake. I’m not sorry Styx, but I’m ready to accept the consequences of my second biggest mistake.”
Styx lifted himself, brief, to adjust his chair to better face Dong-Yul. For a second, his heart leapt, thinking that Styx was about to snap.
“Hate to break it to you, buddy, but this revolution of yours? It was never going to work. Not really.”
Dong-Yul stared at him, hard.
“You and Bruce, Jackie, Justin. You all have your differences, your different cultures that define you. And they’re very well defined and unique in their own way. And each of you, I know, take pride in that.”
Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese.
“Your point,” Dong-Yul said.
“Maybe you band together on this one thing, the pressure from the other, because they all think you all look the same, that those differences aren’t there. Say you do win, this war of yours goes the way you want. Then what? Do you truly think you’ll stay as one group forever? All of you know you really aren’t, there is no amalgamation. Eventually, those differences become borders, and your sovereign nation becomes split.”
Dong-Yul breathed, measured.
Asian people and cultures weren’t one entity, it didn’t work like that. It was tricky. Dong-Yul knew that, recognized it. But, he didn’t like hearing it being spelled out for him. Having Styx poke holes, enough that it might make the whole plan sink.
“Take it from me,” Styx said, in a tone that Dong-Yul had never heard before. A normal one. “You all still have your identity. For me? This country took away mine when my ancestors were taken here on ships. I never got to learn about my tribe. That’s why I had to go make my own.”
Dong-Yul hesitated to answer, unsure what to make of anything, at this point.
“You’re building something with them, together, and there’s something to be said about that accomplishment. Just keep in mind that you’re not going to last if you get to where you want with this. Take this sponsorship, and you’re in the big leagues, you’re at the table. Your people get taken care of, and you can continue to grow and help them, too. All we’re asking, is to temper things in exchange, throw some water on the fire.”
Then, Styx shrugged.
“And, when the time comes, and it will, I will personally give you oil.”
Dong-Yul started shaking his head.
“It’s not a bad deal, Donnie,” Jackie said.
“Why? What’s Mister planning?” Dong-Yul asked. “Why does he want us?”
“That’s not for me to tell you,” Mrs. Carter answered. “To be honest, I don’t even know myself. But, knowing him for as long as I have, I can guess he’s doing the same thing you should be doing, gathering up resources. People.”
“He wants to use my army,” Dong-Yul said. “Why? Is it because of V?”
The quiet that followed said so much. So did Styx’s grin.
“She was there. At the club. You, ow, remember, right?”
“Why didn’t you do anything then?”
Styx’s grin went wider. Wilder.
“I did, actually, right after I had you removed from the scene. You aren’t the only cog in this machine.”
“What’d you do?”
“I had a laugh.”
Cryptic. Which was normal for the psychopathic biker.
“I know her name.”
Dong-Yul said it like a threat.
The statement felt like pulling out a gun, a way to escalate. As if he needed leverage to use.
Styx’s expression became more neutral.
“About that,” Mrs. Carter said. “That would be part of the deal we offer. Whatever you think you know, don’t act on it, because it’s the same thing as you going forward with your quote unquote ‘war.’ We don’t need any more trouble, and especially any more with her at the root of it. In summary, you are not to approach V or the Fangs until explicitly ordered by Mister.”
Styx winked at Dong-Yul.
Even though we still have a score to settle.
It was neither a confirmation or denial. Dong-Yul still felt like he was onto something, though.
Again, he exchanged looks with Jackie. His stomach turned.
Almost everything he wanted. Recognition, power, a seat at the table, and a way to prove that he had surpassed his late older brother. But, at the same time, it didn’t feel right, it felt too easy. Cheap. Like he was selling out.
Proof, but not on his terms. A way to ride the wave up, but not his own current.
But, could he really refuse?
“Fine,” Dong-Yul said, “I’ll accept those terms.”
Mrs. Carter smiled. It seemed genuine. “Swell. Then, my work here is done.”
She scooped up her tablet, then got up, fast, and proceeded to cross the room.
“I’ll leave that with you,” Mrs. Carter said, referring to the binder. “I’ll be in touch. Styx or one his Ferrymen will monitor you to make sure you keep your end of the deal.”
“I can do it myself,” Styx said. “Consider it a personal favor.”
“That’s your choice.”
With those words, Mrs. Carter left the room. She was gone.
Styx then rose to stand, but he was slower, more relaxed.
“Ah, finally, I hate meetings. So much busywork.”
Dong-Yul couldn’t find any words. He needed to process this, how he was going to move forward from here. Now that his main goal was officially put on ice.
He heard a crinkling of plastic, and a rattling that fell onto the table.
Looking up, he saw that Styx had tossed a bag. Plastic, transparent.
Bottles atop bottles of pills.
“Consider this a welcoming gift,” Styx said. “Strong shit, I take it you’ll need it as you recover, you’re not quite there yet.”
No thanks to you. Asshole.
“Yeah, sorry about that. I was just feeling it, is all.”
Styx spoke as if he had heard those thoughts. “But there’s plenty more where that came from, if you behave.”
Giving a salute, Styx started to turn, heading out. With his handle on the door, he spoke one more time.
“Bruce would have wet himself, he’d be so proud of you. So don’t screw this up. No need to be stubborn.”
“안녕,” Styx then said, in perfect Hangul, and with a twisted, ugly, cackle, Styx left the room. The sound seemed to echo in Dong-Yul’s head as he stared at the pills. The pain of everything stacked against his body and mind. His spirit.
The pills looked appetizing.
“Hey, Donnie,” Jackie said, after what felt like ten minutes. It probably was. “You okay?”
The question was too easy, the answer obvious.
Donnie was weak, his whole life was spent being protected by the likes of Bruce and Jackie. And the one time Bruce actually needed him, he wasn’t there to protect his older brother. Now, he was gone.
Dong-Yul wasn’t supposed to be weak, he was supposed to be the older brother for everyone else. To look after those that came to him, in these troubled and confusing times. Protect them, teach them to fight for themselves, and hope they’d learn, like how his older brother did before him.
And now, backed into a corner, beaten and bruised and bloodied and scared, he had to take those promises away. He didn’t have the strength to fight back. Not for himself, not for them.
The answer was obvious, the question too easy. No need to say it, hear it out loud.
His eyes were still on the pills.
“Get me some water,” Donnie said.