D Minus Chapter 21

Author: nicotine

The lights went out. Hearing the sound of the door closing, Hajin opened his eyes after a while, letting out a helpless laugh. Now he knew. Meeting him was the last gift from God who gave him death.

So that Park Hajin lives

So that Park Hajin lives

So that Park Hajin can live healthily

So that Park Hajin can live long

So that Park Hajin won’t be sick

Please let Park Hajin win this fight

That night, yellow ribbons hanging from the leaves of a large rubber tree in the living room grew one by one as the days passed. Jonghwa, who took out a bunch of ribbons from his pocket, showed his teeth and smiled innocently. It was the ‘wish tree’ of only the two of them he made.

―According to the Gangwon-do Provincial Police Agency, the police announced that they conducted an emergency seizure and search of a brothel near Seojeon-ri Station around 3 a.m. this morning. At the scene, a 48-year-old pimp, Mr. A, and about a dozen of his associates were urgently arrested on charges of violating the Act on the Punishment of Acts such as arranging prostitution…

―The brothel demolition operation was successful. In March of this year, the police secured a USB containing information on the pimp and key figures in the brothel located near Seojeon-ri Station through whistleblower A. It is even more shocking when it is revealed that most of the sex workers have been sold for debt…Meanwhile, the police are working hard to protect the identity of whistleblower A…

It was early winter when Hajin realized that the work of Jonghwa had come to fruition.

Hajin, who woke up early in the morning, first watered the flower pots and then cleaned up after a long time. He folded a wet tissue and wiped the dust from the window frame, then exhaled heavily. Even if he overdid it a little, his stamina would quickly run out. If Jonghwa had seen it, he would have yelled at him and said what kind of cleaning a sick person had to do. Remembering Jonghwa, who left the house early in the morning, saying he had work, Hajin smiled lightly.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

Ha-jin, who carefully wiped the leaves of a rubber tree with countless yellow ribbons hanging on it, opened her rabbit’s eyes. It’s because someone knocked on the front door. The shape definitely reminded me of her first meeting with Jonghwa. Could she possibly be stabbed by her sword again and unable to open her door? Ha-jin, whose face hardened at the worry that filled her head for a moment, headed for the front door as if running.

“Hello?”

Fortunately, the person who appeared through the wide-open front door was not Jonghwa. Behind the man in a black leather jacket, a man in shiny padding peeked out his face. The owner of the voice was the second man.

“Is this Shin Jonghwa’s house?”

The padded man asked. While Hajin, unable to grasp the situation, stupidly rolled his eyes, a man in a jacket rummaged through his pockets and took out something.

Gangwon Provincial Police Agency Inspector Han Sewon.

“Oh…”

“Sorry for coming all of a sudden. My name is Inspector Han Sewon.”

A golden eagle, a picture of a man, and an affiliation were embedded in the rectangular civil service card. Suddenly, Hajin remembered that in the news the police were working hard to protect the identity of Mr. A, the whistleblower in the brothel arrest operation.

“I’m looking for Shin Jonghwa.”

Hajin, taken aback by the unexpected guests, couldn’t reply and just stared at the civil service card shaking in the man’s hand. When no response came back, they faced each other as if embarrassed.

“I’m looking for Shin Jonghwa. He is important to us.”

The man in the jacket said politely. Hajin, who finally came to his senses, ran the back of his hand down his cheek, which had become stiff from the cold wind.

“Looks like you’ve come to the wrong place.”

“Yes?”

“There is no one like that.”

“Ah…I know you must be wary. I fully understand the situation. We also came to protect Shin Jonghwa. Shin Jonghwa is in a very dangerous situation right now.”

As if the man was persuading Hajin, he spoke softly. Hajin crossed his hands and wrapped his elbow around him, narrowing his forehead and shaking his head.

“Well, I know what you mean, but this is not his house.”

“Sir, we need your cooperation. We know everything, so why are you being like this?”

The voice of the man in the jacket cut the edge. The other man sighed in frustration. Blocking the front door, Hajin shook his head firmly once again. The flushed cheeks looked quite stubborn.

“Why would I lie to the police? I really don’t know anyone like that.”

“Do you live alone?”

“No. with a friend.”

“Who is your friend?”

“Should I even say that? Even if you’re a police officer, you’re bothering someone who has nothing to do with it.”

When Hajin became nervous, the man who had been barraging him shut his mouth and made eye contact with his accompaniment. Hajin covered the nape of her neck with the palm of his hand as if tired, and continued her words.

“Sorry. I don’t have much time left to live. I’m on a deadline.”

Hajin was not the type to talk about himself to people he met for the first time.

“Ah…is that so?”

“Yes, I’m a little sensitive because I’m not feeling well. Sorry.”

“No. It’s understandable.”

As soon as he changed his attitude and apologized, the man’s expression brightened. Hajin, who was breathing heavily, hit his chest a couple of times with his fist.

“Sorry, but I think I need to rest a little. I can’t overdo it.”

“Ah…”

Hajin meant them to go away for now, but the uninvited guests passed the time by exchanging glances as if they had no intention of doing so. Hajin, closed his eyes and let out a sigh, pointing his chin at the inside of the house.

“If you don’t believe me, come in and check it out.”

“Excuse me then. Shin Jonghwa is so important to us.”

“Please.”

“Thank you for your cooperation.”

Hajin meekly took a step back. The two men greeted the empty house with a loud “Excuse me” and took off their shoes. Hajin’s hand as he closed the front door visibly trembled. There was no police ID like that. It was elaborately made, but Hajin, who had been a teacher until recently, could clearly distinguish it. Those people who came to look for Jonghwa were not the police.

“Park Hajin?”

“Yes.”

Hajin hid her trembling hands in her pockets. The man in the jacket looked around Hajin’s room, and the man in the padded jacket looked around the living room. A man who looked at a rubber tree with a yellow ribbon on it for a long time called his acquaintance.

“Isn’t this written by Jonghwa?”

“What are you talking about? That bastard is fucking illiterate.”

“Oh right.”

The wish ribbon helped. Hajin listened to their conversation with his extremely sensitive hearing. The last place the two of them looked around the house suspiciously was Jonghwa’s room.

Hajin’s heart was beating so fast that he was afraid it would stop. Today, his life must have been reduced by about a week. Hajin quickly shook his head and thought of the traces of Jonghwa left in the room, but fortunately, nothing came to mind. It was because there were very few things he had brought with him in the first place.

“You can just look around here. I didn’t think you could snoop around like that”

The tone of Hajin’s voice trembled a little, but the men who were going through Jonghwa’s closet didn’t seem to notice. Hajin, who was nervous that even a small clue that could help to identify Jonghwa would be found, became nervous as the two stayed longer, and stopped them.

“Ah, sorry.”

“Please stop. I’m not feeling well, so I’m going to rest.”

“All right.”

The men who thought they would be able to endure longer stood up obediently. Hajin’s teeth were chattering, but he desperately pretended nothing was wrong. Hajin’s heart, which came out into the living room behind the two of them, thumped to her belly button.

Park Hajin, Shin Jonghwa

Hajin completely forgot about the whiteboard on the wall in the corner of the living room. A few days ago, he remembered the image of Jonghwa who triumphantly wrote down his name, saying that he didn’t get it wrong anymore. In an instant, Hajin’s surroundings became dark. He saw nothing and heard nothing. It was just his heart beating like crazy.

“Can I get you a drink?”

It was the first thing to grab attention. When Hajin opened the front door and came in, there was a whiteboard behind his back, and there were different words written on it. If they turned their heads, there was a whiteboard with Jonghwa’s name written on it. Hajin, who was angry at them and urged them to leave, smiled kindly as if he had never done that. This time, the trembling voice was a bit obvious.

“You’re having a hard time. Please have a drink before you leave.”

Hajin deliberately waved his hands excessively. He pointed to the table with his hand and said, “Please sit down.” The man in the jacket narrowed his eyes. The more Hajin was like this, the more he had to keep his senses straight, but for some, he was drowning in wariness and fear, and could not play his role properly.

“…Please have a drink.”

Hajin’s voice was muffled as if he was crying. Standing in front of the whiteboard, Hajin smiled awkwardly and pointed to the table once again. The other man seemed bewildered and looked at Hajin and the kitchen. He was afraid that they would hear his heart beating.

“Thank you.”

Fortunately, they didn’t seem to notice. The padded man first turned towards the kitchen. When the man in the jacket turned his back, Hajin intended to quickly erase the words.

“Hey.”

But the man, who introduced himself as ‘Officer Han Se-won’, did not budge from his seat. The loud beating of my heart was no longer audible.

“Hey.”

“…Yes?”

Han Se-won looked directly at Ha-jin and said,

“You knew.”

The twisted mouth rose upward. The man who had been sitting on the table chair also returned to his place. Facing them, Hajin’s hands visibly shook. It wasn’t strange that his legs gave out and he collapsed like this.

“Move your head.”

The sound of footsteps approaching me was horrifying.

“Ah!”

The man grabbed Hajin’s hair and threw him to the floor. When the name of Jonghwa written on the whiteboard that he was desperately hiding was revealed, laughter erupted from them.

“Hey. Where is Shin Jonghwa?”

A bloody aura flowed from them after their pretense was over. Hajin, who hit his head against the wall, let out a quick breath and shook her head wildly.

“What is it? Are you his lover?”

The man knelt in front of Hajin and asked while making eye contact with him. Hajin, who closed his mouth tightly, lowered his head, pretending not to hear, but was quickly caught in the man’s hand who lifted his chin. The man who mischievously tapped Hajin on the cheek with the back of his rough hand struck him with all his might. In an instant, red handprints appeared on his soft, white skin. Tears welled up in Hajin’s wide-eyed eyes.

“Hey. You can’t turn mum on us. I’m afraid I’ll have to tear off all your limbs and feed them to the dog.”

The man in the padding went one step further. When he grabbed the shoulder blade of Hajin, who was so skinny, and applied pressure, Hajin heard a crackling sound. Hajin, who gritted his teeth and held back his pained groans, quickly shook his head. He had to find a way out. It was said that even if someone entered the tiger’s den, they could survive as long as they were confident. Fear consumed all his reason, but he maintained his nerves even as his teeth were chattering.

“Get some knives from the kitchen. If you don’t talk, I will rip your mouth.”

A raged conversation ensued. Hajin, who opened his eyes, took a position with his hands on the floor. The man in the jacket raised his eyebrows. Hajin deliberately shook his hand.

“Sorry for lying. It’s because I don’t have money right now. I am a victim too. I really don’t know. I lent him money because he said he would pay it back, but I didn’t know that he would run away like this. I don’t know how much he borrowed from you, but if he borrowed anything in my name, I’ll pay it back. Don’t hit me, I might really die…”

Words poured out like a waterfall. Tears dangled from his eyelids and fell to the floor. Of course, those were false tears. Hajin wasn’t very confident when it came to acting, but there was nothing he couldn’t do because he was in an extreme situation. The two men exchanged glances and shrugged. They might hit him this time. Hajin held his trembling hands tightly and cried harder.

“Jonghwa…He said he needed hospital bills, so I gave him the money. I’ll pay you back soon. I can give it to you because I have insurance. 300 million. I’ll pay you back with that. So don’t hit me.”

They were considering it little by little. It was pretty plausible. The man standing behind him touched Hajin’s thin hair and asked.

“Where is Shin Jonghwa?”

“I don’t know. I’m going crazy…I think he borrowed money here and there in my name. He hasn’t been home for over a month. He doesn’t have a cell phone, so I can’t contact him, so I’m going crazy…Debtors keep coming… So I lied, I’m sorry.”

The longer Hajin spoke, the calmer his voice became. It shouldn’t be like this. Hajin covered her face with her palms and cried out loud. Seeing that the two men, who had acted as if they were about to tear me apart at any moment, became quiet, it seemed that the lie had worked to some extent. Hajin’s violently beating heart hurt, but he held it in by biting her lip. Jonghwa should come as late as possible. The bigger emotion than fear that covered all the nerves was concern for Jonghwa.

“What if it’s a lie?”

“It’s not really a lie. Bankbook, I can show you my bankbook. There is a bank in front of here. If you go with me, there is a record of how much money I took out. In cash. Oh, so Shin Jonghwa said he didn’t have a bankbook. I don’t know why, but he asked for a loan in cash. Ah, now that I think about it, I should have been suspicious of him since then…”

Hajin’s drenched voice trembled with the anger and betrayal he felt toward Jonghwa. At this point, he had a funny idea that he should try acting.

“I don’t think it’s a lie. Jonghwa can’t make a bank account because that bastard doesn’t have a family register.”

The padded man was agitated. However, he did not take it easy with the man who introduced himself as Han Sewon. He narrowed his eyes still suspiciously and looked around the house. When they were shaken, Hajin had to push to succeed. Hajin calmed her beating heart and asked with a surprised expression.

“…He doesn’t have a family register?”

“Uh…What to do…”

Hajin’s eyes fluttered here and there. He bit her pale lips, avoiding the eyes of the men staring at me, then continued his words as if pleading.

“Excuse me…If you find Shin Jonghwa, can you let me know? I also need money…Then I’ll give you double the money he borrowed. I’m not lying. All you have to do is find Shin Jonghwa.”

Hajin’s sobs had completely stopped. Hajin looked up at the man with her eyes mixed with fear of the intruders and false anger towards Jonghwa. The man narrowed his eyes and straightened his bent knees after a while. The only thing close to the floor was Hajin. A sigh of relief escaped him soundlessly.

“Call me when that bastard comes in.”

“Yes?”

“If you hide or lie, I will kill you.”

A man in a jacket wrote their contact information on the whiteboard. As if he had succeeded in deceiving them, they would stop paying attention to Hajin. Hajin shouldn’t be relieved yet. If he was going to cheat, he had to do it perfectly. If he didn’t, he would get stabbed in the back. Hajin, who had been staring blankly at their back as they walked towards the front door, summoned up the courage to scream at them.

“Hey…!”

Hajin’s heartbeat was much louder than the footsteps running toward him. Hajin closed his eyes tightly and stretched out his hand. As if the men were dumbfounded, they glared at Hajin, who grabbed them by the sleeve.

“Please, let me know too. I will also contact you when Shin Jonghwa comes in, so if you catch Shin Jonghwa, please contact me. Please…”

The role of the poor creditor who had no way to get the money was played to the T. The man who crumpled his face slapped Hajin’s cheek with all his might. Hajin, who was almost flying, fell to the floor and moaned in pain. It was as if his cheeks were on fire. He was beaten so hard that he was worried that he might have lost a tooth, and his mind was disoriented.

“This bastard doesn’t even know where Jonghwa is.”

Bang. The door was closed. Hajin, who had been holding his cheeks groaned and quickly got up. He pressed close to the front door and peered out through the tiny glass. He had been completely successful in deceiving them. He thought they would at least stay around the house and keep an eye on him, but unexpectedly, their car drove through the neighborhood without stopping once. Being able to see the open road at a glance was an advantage at times like this.

The tension was now relieved. The trembling legs bent forward. Hajin, who sat with his back against the front door, rubbed his burning cheek with the palm of his hand. Hajin wished Jonghwa would come a little later. He would have to pack his things until he came. They could run away right away.

“Hey. I’m here.”

As if his wishes had worked, Jonghwa did not appear until the next night. Hajin, who had not been able to sleep for fear that they would reappear and peered out the window through the curtains, let out a sigh of relief. It was close to midnight. It was also a good time to run away.

“Don’t take off your clothes. We are going out again.”

“What? Now? Where?”

Jonghwa, who took off his coat, hesitated. Hajin, looking outside, threw the large bag he had packed in advance, at him. Accepting it in a daze, he narrowed his brows as if he wasn’t sure what happened.

“Is the car outside?”

“Car? Yeah.”

“Let’s go by car.”

“What are you talking about all of a sudden? Where are we going?”

“I’ll tell you later, so let’s go.”

Hajin was so nervous and afraid that he was suffocating. Hajin grabbed Jonghwa’s wrist and dragged him without a word. They should have run away before they could reappear. Men who had made such terrible threats as tearing their mouths open with a knife or ripping off their limbs and serving them as dog food popped into his mind.

“Let’s take the money first and head for the outskirts.”

“Come…”

Hajin didn’t say anything as he dragged Jonghwa to the front door. It was because Jonghwa, whose face was distorted, grabbed his chin and lifted it. His heart, which had been beating like crazy, stopped for a moment, and then it began to beat faster than ever before. Hajin could see the eyelids of Jonghwa quivering.

“Fuck, why is your face like this?”

“Who did this?”

“Let’s go…”

“Who hit you?”

Jonghwa’s voice, completely subdued, was very unfamiliar. The tears Hajin had been holding back burst out at the sound of that harsh voice. Still, he had no time to delay. Hajin shed tears and pulled Jonghwa by the wrist, but of course, he didn’t budge.

“Was my hyung here?”

“…”

The growling voice resounded again. Hajin shook his head vigorously. They could talk once they left the place. But to his resentment, Jonghwa seemed unwilling to move even a single step until he answered. Hajin was the only one who wanted to leave.

As he turned his head around, Jonghwa saw an 11-digit number written on the whiteboard. He narrowed his eyes and read the number, before twisting his mouth.

“Shin Jonghwa!”

Jonghwa gently removed the hand holding his forearm and headed towards the kitchen with a big stride. Hajin’s eyes widened after following him. In his hand was a black-edged kitchen knife. The cold, sunken eyes seemed to foretell that something big was about to happen.

“Why are you taking that?! Let’s just go! We have to run away!”

Hajin begged earnestly, but he seemed inaudible to him. Jonghwa, whose neck was lined with blue veins, glared at Hajin’s swollen cheek. He must have clenched his teeth, creating an angle at the tip of his chin.

“It’s okay. I will kill him.”

“Haa…”

“I will kill him. Fuck.”

Jonghwa acted as if he had no regard for his own safety. A few slaps on the cheek was no big deal and he only focused on Hajin’s swollen face. He seemed to know his heart because he was sad and his heart ached, but he felt grateful again while Hajin continued to shed tears.

“Just run away with me…”

“You promised to be by my side when I died. Yes?”

Hajin’s voice trembled terribly. Hajin hugged Jong-hwa from behind and buried his face in his back. As Hajin’s body temperature touched him, the chill that had wrapped around his body gradually faded.

Clunk. The cleaver fell from Jonghwa’s hand with a loud sound. Hajin swallowed his cry grabbed Jonghwa’s hand and dragged him. As soon as he opened the front door of the car, he faced the cold wind that came in front of me. Fortunately, Jonghwa followed him without a word.

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nicotine

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