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Always on My Mind

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VIII.

The thought had crossed his mind more than once even before they had entered the building that Pyramid was being strangely cooperative. For an organization that had plenty to lose if a scandal broke out that they were being investigated, it was too good to be true that they agreed to this “interview” as readily as they had. Early on he had expected them to drag their feet and play out the pretence of being cooperative. He had also expected a sucker punch under the veil of acquiescence but this was wholly on another level. His fists, conveniently hidden from plain sight under the table, gradually clenched into a ball which he tightened. He wouldn’t have minded throwing a punch of his own to wipe the look of smug defiance on the team leader’s face.

Erica Shin. Kang Dan. My future sister-in-law. A dead ringer for the woman I was going to marry. 

Joon-hwi surveyed the woman in front of him with an inquisitorial eye. Her straight long black hair and thickly made up face gave him no clues as to her feelings. Whatever surprise she might have felt at their unexpected encounter, it didn’t register on her features immediately or afterwards. Was she expecting this? He couldn’t tell. Her entire demeanour was a picture of perfect self-control. She had the familiar appearance of the woman he loved but nothing of her effusive warmth. Did she know that he would be coming? Needless to say he had many questions for her. But the implications of what was foremost in his mind made him uneasy. 

What the hell is she doing here? What is she playing at?

Inwardly he was simmering with frustration. He had a million and one questions for her and yet this was scarcely the time or the place to ask them. Circumstances dictated that he play a different role at this time.

During the long minutes while the tension was filling the room, with all eyes on her, Erica Shin inhumanly maintained her composure and she looked at her superior coolly. “You sent for me, sir?”

To her, Han Joon-hwi seemed like a footnote… not the least bit relevant. 

“What are you trying to pull here, Mr Song?” Joon-hwi knew better than to reward his opponents with a reaction that they were hoping for.

“What do you mean?”

“Look here, while I’m not so naive as to expect complete cooperation from the company, I was expecting some cooperation and not some kind of childish stunt. It’s really beneath a competent lawyer like yourself to resort to something like this.”

Joon-hwi crossed his arms and looked at Lawyer Song expectantly. The smirk was the best retaliatory posture he could take. 

Detective Kim who was shooting quizzical looks at the key players in a staged production felt himself relegated to the role of observer.

“Prosecutor Han, what are you talking about?” Song Min-gi was well-aware of Prosecutor Han’s abilities but secretly he was impressed that the younger man caught on quickly.

“Do I really have to spell it out? Are you testing her or testing me? Maybe it’s both.” Joon-hwi nodded. “Killing two birds with a stone. Nice.”

“I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Prosecutor Han. Ms Shin is an employee of this company and a member of this team. She has every right to be here.”

“The entrance is good. I’ll give you that.” Joon-hwi’s lips broadened into a grin but the intensity around his eyes deepened. “But aren’t you a bit past these sorts of silly mind games? Maybe you should leave that to the courtroom.”

A murmur of protest rippled through the room.

“Han pro…”

“It’s okay, Detective Kim.” Joon-hwi stood up and straightened his suit in preparation to leave. “I will take up Mr Song’s kind offer to take a tour of the research and development facilities. I am sure Ms Shin will do a fine job even though she’s a highly qualified legal practitioner and can better utilise her time than to act as a tour guide to two nosy law enforcement officers.”

Their eyes met briefly and Erica Shin nodded. Her ability to give nothing away from her face was fiendish. She had no other response for Joon-hwi but turned her attention to her superior who nodded his assent.

“This way please, Prosecutor Han.”


 

“So this is the fearless troublemaking Prosecutor Han Joon-hwi I’ve heard so much about.”

The CEO of Pyramid Park Seok-hyeong was reclining on a sofa in a rather expansive office studying the tablet in his hand. It was one of the perks of his position — getting other people to do the heavy lifting while he stood behind the scenes pulling the strings.

“Yes.”

“He seems so… boyishly ordinary… Like a member of a boy band. A little good-looking maybe but nothing to write home about.”

“There’s a saying about books and covers, remember? You shouldn’t underestimate him.”

“Why? Because he made our company pay a fine a few years ago? That was nothing.”

“Because… as you’ve just witnessed… he can’t be fooled and he definitely can’t be bought.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Every man has his price.”

“Well, you’ve been a businessman too long Mr Park that you don’t know that other kinds of people out there exist. People who don’t follow the same drum beat as the minions in this building who follow your beck and call.”

“This is Korea. Everyone beats to the sound of money. You’re too naive.”

“How naive can I be? I work for you, don’t I?”

“And don’t you ever forget that.” The way Park Seok-hyeong said that sounded less like a reminder and more like a threat.

“I don’t.” The younger man smoothed back his hair calmly. He was used to these sorts of outbursts from the CEO who had a habit of throwing his weight around. “But just because you have seeming unlimited resources at your fingertips, you shouldn’t be too confident either.”

“He’s just one prosecutor…”

“Who has managed to follow the trail up to your doorstep.”

“It wasn’t as if it was entirely unexpected. That’s why I pay you the big bucks, Yang Dae-shik.”

“To clean up after your mess. Not exactly the brilliant career that I had envisioned when I graduated from SNU.”

“What’s with all this moaning? You didn’t exactly put up much of a protest seven years ago when I hired you.”

“I’m just doing my job… advising you… CEO Park Seok-hyeong. As you so delicately reminded me before, I get paid good money to protect your interests. Let me remind you of this then: This kid has won every single major indictment since leaving law school. He has been one of Hankuk Law School’s bright lights. The top student of his cohort. Entered law school after passing the second round of the judicial exam. Solved his uncle’s murder and brought down an assemblyman… all again in his first year. He’s still friends with Professor Yang Jong-hoon.”

“You’re making me more and more curious about this kid.” Park Seok-hyeong mused. “I’d like to meet him.” 

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“That’s for me to judge. Anyway your job is to advise… I make the final call.”

“Fine. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”


 

“Kang Dan. A word, if I may.”

Joon-hwi had been waiting at the nearest bus stop which many of the low level employees used regularly. 

“Prosecutor Han, what can I do for you? I don’t have much time to spare. I’m meeting someone in a few minutes.”

“I won’t take up too much of your time, Ms Kang.”

“It’s fine. I was expecting it when I saw you. It’s about Sol, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Mostly.

“To be honest, I can’t tell you much. I haven’t heard from her either.”

“Nothing?”

“Not a thing. Not an email or a text message. Not a squeak.”

“Did you never think that was strange? For her to just disappear like that.”

“I did. Especially not letting anyone know what she was doing.”

“Did you talk to her before her disappearance?”

“I did. A week or two before.”

“Did she say anything that seemed out of the extraordinary?”

“No, nothing. She was really happy and excited. We talked about you. I was just as surprised as anyone that she was gone like that.”

Joon-hwi’s heart sank. It made no sense. Her mother, her sister… me. Not a word.

“I keep thinking and wondering if it’s something I said or did.”

Erica Shin was surprisingly quick to reassure him. “You shouldn’t think that. She loves you very much. I could tell.”

“She told me that you couldn’t come to the wedding. She was so disappointed. It made me think that it was because I put too much pressure on her.”

“That’s not the impression she gave me. She was really happy.”

For the first time in his interaction with Kang Dan, Joon-hwi felt some kind of emotion radiating from her. Kang Dan aka Erica Shin was not entirely made of steel. apparently There was a heart beating somewhere beneath the detached demeanour.  It gave him the distinct feeling that she might know more than she was letting on. But without more to go on he couldn’t exactly accuse her of holding back or lying.

“I hate not knowing if she's alive or dead.”

“It’s the worse part. My intuition tells me she's alive. We're twins. I would know.”

Joon-hwi took some comfort in that belief. It's something. But he was also burning with curiosity about the presence of Ms Shin in South Korea so coincidentally as he's probing Pyramid.

“There’s something else I don’t understand, Ms Kang. Why Pyramid? In a such a low level position. I’m sure you can do much better with your qualifications and experience.”

“Because Pyramid can give me something no other company can.”

“And that is…”

Before Kang Dan could say another word, an attractive man seemed to appear from nowhere

“Hi Babe, sorry I’m late. Traffic’s the pits.”

They both embraced. “No problem, hon. I was just talking to Prosecutor Han here.”

“Hi, I’m Nick Cho. I’ve heard about you. I’m Erica’s boyfriend.”

“I’m Han Joon-hwi.”

For reasons unknown to Joon-hwi, watching the way the newcomer wrap his arm around Kang Dan’s waist caused him to feel violently ill. Worse still, it felt as if someone was stabbing his heart with knitting needles. He had a perverse desire for the ground beneath him to open up, swallow the other man and gnaw on his bones for eternity. It was an extreme reaction to a seemingly innocuous gesture but perhaps the family resemblance was too much for him to stomach. He chalked it up to being a case of instant deja vu and he’d felt that way only twice before. Each time his normally well-hidden aggressive tendencies would threaten to emerge and a bizarre desire to give someone a good beating would rear its ugly head. One time it was when an attractive returning student was hitting on Sol aggressively. She seemed entirely indifferent about the other fellow’s agenda but seeing them together a number of times nearly drove him raving mad. The other time that he could remember was when she was working on a contract law project with that imbecile Im So-han. It took him all the willpower in the world to stop himself from murdering the offending classmate in broad daylight.

There was nothing about Nick Cho the man that he could object to, as far as he could tell even if he spoke with an accent he couldn’t place. Nick Cho seemed affable enough even if he was responsible for cutting short an important conversation. Why wouldn’t Kang Dan be dating someone? It made sense. He chided himself for letting his imagination run wild.

He resigned himself to the fact that the conversation would have to be continued at another time. The timing of her appearance at Pyramid was curious. It was definitely an avenue that held possibilities.

“Babe, we should head off soon. I have a 8 o’clock reservation at your favourite place. It’ll take us at least 40 minutes to get there in this crazy traffic.”

Nick Cho seemed annoyingly eager to leave but Joon-hwi had no reason he could think of to keep them.

“I should let you both go,” Joon-hwi conceded reluctantly. He had all kinds of questions for Kang Dan and not all of them related to her sister. But it was obvious that he had no reason to delay them and more importantly he could potentially be making things difficult for Kang Dan. “Ms Shin, I don’t want to be a nuisance but I hope we can talk more later.”

“Sure. Of course. But I don’t know how much I can help you. I’ve told you all I know. Besides I’m really low on the Pyramid food chain. I’ve only been there for six months.”

“I’m sure I’ll think of something.” 

What did she mean by the statement that only Pyramid can give her what she wants?


 

“Do you think he noticed?”

“If he did, he didn’t show it.”

“I was wondering if he would blow your cover.”

“I doubt that. He caught on pretty quickly in the boardroom. I’d say he suspects something but he won’t give me away to Pyramid. Whatever he thinks I’m up to.”

“I don’t think he likes me that much.” Nick was chuckling as he recalled the look in the other man’s eyes. “Not that I blame him.”

“Really? He seemed calm and indifferent.”

“Indifferent? Absolutely not. It’s a guy thing. I can tell. He doesn’t trust me. With you anyway. ”

“Can’t say I blame him.”

“Hey, that’s no way to talk about your partner of 3 years!”


 

“We went to her apartment and back to her practice but she’s nowhere to be found, Chief.”

“Put out a bulletin on Dr Jeon and get the coast guard as well as the airport police involved as well.”

“You think she’s doing a runner?”

“It doesn’t hurt to cover all the bases.“

“She doesn’t seem to me to be the type to run. Not after all the work she’s put in.”

“What are you thinking Han pro? I’m inclined to agree. She is probably hiding out somewhere in Seoul.”

“With the help of Pyramid, no doubt.” 

“Let’s just say that your hypothesis is right and Dr Jeon is involved with Pyramid on some crazy ass experiment to help with PTSD sufferers. She’s a scientist. She’s not going to take off at the first sign of trouble. She’s emotionally invested in this project. This isn’t just a job for her. She’s spent years trying to help PTSD patients with conventional treatments and it must be frustrating that there are no breakthroughs even with all the drugs currently available on the market. Year in year out, she sees the same men and women who are struggling to get their lives together. So she contacts her old boss Pyramid and join hands with them to develop a new form of treatment based on the latest thinking in the area of memory loss.”

“You’re making her sound like a saint.”

“A saint? No. But a zealot… perhaps.”

“She would certainly know where to go to recruit candidates for a clinical trial.”

“We’ve spoken to various PTSD support groups and Dr Jeon was often a guest speaker in many of them. They all speak warmly of her. They describe her as being kind and caring. Certainly not any kind of mad scientist.”

"I never thought she was a Dr Mengele. She was someone who cared."

“Dr Menge… who? Who’s that?”

“Josef Mengele. Doctor Josef Mengele. Nickname: Angel of Death. A notorious Nazi scientist who performed fatal experiments on prisoners at the death camp in Auschwitz. during the second world war. When the war was over the famous Nuremberg trials exposed the horrifying facts that Mengele and other researchers tortured, mutilated, sterilised and murdered children, twins, dwarfs and people with disabilities.”

“Sounds like a horror movie.”

“It was worse than a horror flick. But since you brought that up there was a fictional book based on Josef Mengele published in the 1970s called The Boys from Brazil. It was later made in to a film.

“As a result of the Nuremberg trials, the Nuremberg Code was drafted in 1947 to determine the parameters of research on humans which includes 10 principles or standards focused on patient consent and autonomy. In 1964, the Declaration of Helsinki reinforced the need for informed consent in all research based on fundamental human rights principles. It’s quite explicit.

“Pyramid and Dr Jeon must know that the voluntary consent of human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, overreaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision.”

“So what’s the point of the law lesson lesson, Han pro?”

Joon-hwi took out Yang Dae-shik’s dissertation “Clinical Trials and the Pharmaceutical Industry: Debates Relating to Alteration of Informed Consent.” from his case and stood it up on the table for everyone to see.

“It may all boil down to these two words: informed consent.”

“Do you mean to say that if the victims agreed to it, the whole thing could be quite legal?”

Joon-hwi fell silent. There was something troubling him.

The entire room erupted. 

“You’re not saying that people signed themselves up to be murdered, are you?"

“It’s just Han pro’s theory.”

“But it makes sense especially considering Yang Dae-shik’s involvement in all of this.”

“It also depends on what they agreed to.”

“That’s why my father always say you should never sign anything before having a lawyer take a good look at it first.”


 

“Have you had any luck?”

“Not in the slightest, Sis. Besides, I’m being watched like a hawk.”

“We knew that would be the case. There’s no rush. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Heard you saw Han Joon-hwi today. How did that go down?”

“It was always only a matter of time we crossed paths so no great surprise there but… I’m sure he suspects something.”

"You don’t have to do this, you know. I’m a lot better now and Pyramid was supposed to be my mission.” 

The other woman shook her head and smiled. “You’re still a little wobbly and prone to migraines. Besides I wanted in and I’ve been on this mission for 18 months now.  It’s no time to bail. The mighty Kang Sol is no a quitter.”

“But three years. Your future, your life with Han Joon-hwi… all of that. It bugs me every time. I should have insisted after you came back from Africa. The price you paid. No one should have to…”

“It’s true. No one should have to make the sacrifices. But someone has to. This is the world we live in. Might as well be me. It’s Pyramid. They’re a menace and a law to themselves. I’m only sorry that I had to make Joon-hwi wait. Seeing him today… I just… I wish. It was like when he lost his uncle. That’s the part I hate the most.”

“I’m surprised…”

“That he hasn’t moved on?”

Kang Dan nodded circumspectly.

“Have I ever told you that Han Joon-hwi confessed to me and then proposed a week later?”

“Really?”

“He’s absurd right? He was so sure I would never turn him down.”

“He was right apparently.”

“Yeah. As always the smug rascal.” Sol paused for a moment before saying, “And I liked him too much and was too terrified he’d change his mind to play hard to get.”

“It’s not like you to play hard to get anyway, is it?”

“Probably not. I really really like him though. I was so happy that he liked me too. I was so happy he wanted me that much. I was deliriously happy and so afraid at the same time. To be loved by anyone is amazing. But to be loved by Han Joon-hwi the smartest guy in the room who always knew exactly what he wanted — that was like winning the billion dollar lottery and more.

“To be honest I did this for him as much as anything else. The chance to do something he couldn’t.”


 

The Spanish style villa on the outskirts of Incheon was a hive of activity inside and in the yard. A passer-by might have mistaken the procession of vehicles on the road side as evidence for a party in progress save for the fact that the guest list included a parade of KCSI and law enforcement personnel were at the scene all geared up, scouring the scene with a fine tooth comb, bustling about taking photographs and samples in every nook and cranny of the domicile. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the deceased was a person of interest in a high profile serial homicide, her death would have largely gone unnoticed.

“Prosecutor Han, you’ve arrived.”

“What have we got, Doctor?”

“Looks like a suicide. Here’s the note. It makes for interesting reading.”

The medical examiner handed Joon-hwi a large ziplock bag containing a piece of paper with writing on it.

“A confession?”

“Seems like it.”

“Time of death?” 

“The post-mortem will tell us more But preliminary findings suggest some time this morning.”

“No chance of foul play?”

“Hard to say. Judging from the cocktail on the nightstand, let’s just say that suicide is a real possibility.”

"What did she take?”

“Barbiturates. Very old school.”

“Any marks on the body?’

“None so far. I’ll let you know if I find anything during the autopsy.”

Joon-hwi stared at the body with a the eye of a sceptic. There was reason to be suspicious. Was it only a week ago that he saw the fractious psychiatrist? She was very much alive then. How quickly her fortunes turned. Suicide? It would never have occurred to him. But then becoming a murder suspect in a serial killing case could send some people round the bend. Still she didn’t seem the type. It was eerie though looking at her lifeless form. Compared to how combative she had been previously in her office, the pale figure emanated a spectral aura. Was it guilt that brought her to this point? Fear perhaps… when the realisation hit home that they were closing in on her. All kinds of possibilities were enacted in Joon-hwi’s mind. While pondering over the final thoughts of the psychiatrist, he remembered that he was still holding onto the suicide note.  

“I only wanted to help. I had no intention to kill anyone. Watching my patients suffering day in day out. It was too much after a while so I decided to help them. I didn’t mean to cause trouble. I just wanted them to be at peace. They wanted to be at peace. They begged me for help and I did the best I could. I am sorry that the treatment didn’t work but I had the best intentions. Please forgive me. I meant well.”

“Seems scant with the details, don’t you think?” Joon-hwi heard the voice of Detective Kim behind him. “About the treatment."

“Detective Kim, you’re here. True. It doesn’t say exactly what she did. Which is convenient. You don’t think she wrote this?”

“She wrote it alright. But under what circumstances?”

“Under duress. I guess that’s possible. Who found her?”

Detective Kim cocked his head towards the left. “The day help. She’s over there. Detective Oh’s taking her statement.”

The two men strolled across the living room to listen in on the interview.

“She was depressed and came down here to get away from the stress of work. That’s what she said. But I could tell that she was not her usual self. Her appetite wasn’t that good. She barely ate anything.”

“What did she do while she was here?”

“She sat outside mostly. On the deck chair. Read. Drank a lot the last few days.”

“Did anything unusual happen? Did you notice anything? Did she have any visitors?”

“Visitors no. But she was on the phone now and again.”

“Do you know who she was talking to?”

“No idea. But it seemed like it was someone from work.”

“What were they talking about?”

“I wasn’t really listening to be honest. But she was arguing with the other person quite a lot towards the last few days.”

“You sure you didn’t hear anything?”

“I’m not sure. But I thought I heard her say that she wasn’t going to take responsibility for everything. It got quite heated. She was louder than usual. Yesterday I heard her mention something about Na-ri.”

“Who’s Na-ri?”

“Beats me. I didn't know Dr Jeon that well and she comes down here only once or twice a year. Like a lot of the wealthy folk that own houses here. I mainly do the cleaning and the washing. Sometimes I do a bit of cooking if they request it.”

“You’re a local?”

“More or less. I live about 10km away.”

“Has Dr Jeon ever been down here with anyone on other occasions? Friends? A boyfriend? Colleagues?”

“Not usually. It’s a place she comes to get away from the city. But a few years ago she was here with a man. I don’t think he was a boyfriend though. He was only here for official business. As far as I know she’s never been married.”

“Do you remember what this man looks like?”

“Not really. It’s at least 4 years ago. But I remember feeling intimidated by him. He had on a very expensive Italian suit as well. That I remember. It’s one of those things you pick up working these jobs. The habits of the rich. Some of them like to show off their wealth. Some of them pay well though.”

“Did Dr Jeon pay well?”

“She slips in a little bit of extra now and again. She seemed a nice lady all up but very private. Standoffish but not arrogant.”


 

“Do you think she was the scapegoat? Made to fall on her own sword, that sort of thing.”

“Possibly. There’s no way she could have carried the entire racket on her own.”

“I expect the note is meant to make us believe that too. A last protest. The where, when and how are conveniently absent.”

“She went out kicking and screaming undoubtedly.”

“I wonder what they had on her. That she was forced to do this.”

“Who do you think that Na-ri the day helper mentioned is?”

“Not her elderly mother. She has a brother living in the US with his family and it’s not him.”

“That reminds me of something. I have something for you, Han pro. Can we talk outside?”

Joon-hwi nodded to show that he was agreeable to the proposition and the two men headed outdoors away from the noise and the possibility eyes of curious bystanders.

“Han pro, I did a bit of digging on Erica Shin.”

“Detective Kim, I don’t want to get you into any trouble. You shouldn’t have…”

Detective Kim raised his hand. “It’s okay. It’s not that big a deal. I had an idea the other day after seeing her. Besides, there’s no point in not using connections if one has them.”

“But you shouldn’t waste it on my personal stuff.”

“Don’t worry, I did it to satisfy my own curiosity too. I'm friendly with a guy at Interpol in the US. He owes me and he came up with the goods. It’s all on this USB drive. The short version is this: Erica Shin has been very busy… the last 3 years… on missions for various law enforcement agencies.”

Kim Ju-hyuk quietly slipped the flash drive into Joon-hwi’s jacket pocket.

“On missions? What does that mean?”

“Although they refuse to confirm anything, she’s likely to have been on assignment with the NIS and probably the FBI. All I know is that she has been on the move the past 3 years. The US, Somalia, Ethiopia, Guam, Philippines. You name it, she’s probably been there.”

“What has she been doing?”

“The mission files are on that drive that I just gave you. But it seems like she’s been chasing Pyramid’s tail for a while.”


 

It was unusual to get a call from Byeol at any time but at 11 pm that had to be a cause for concern.

“Brother. I have a bad feeling about this. ”

“Byeol! What’s wrong?”

“There was a weird looking man hanging around outside our place before. And now there’s another one.”

Joon-hwi’s entire body tensed up and he was alert.

“Remember what I told you to do last time?”

“Call the cops, hide in the toilet and lock the door.”

“Good girl.”

“I’m really scared.”

“It’s okay. I’ll be there soon.”

At the very least Byeol bought everyone a bit of time. There was reason to hope for the best. Joon-hwi jumped back into his vehicle and drove like a mad man as far as it was possible to through city traffic. But fortunately it was 11 pm and he managed to weave his way out of it without breaking the law and alarming fellow travellers. 

As he swung round a familiar corner the tyres screeched as he slammed on the breaks in haste. He stopped the vehicle as close as he could to his destination and ran as fast as he was capable of doing so. He cursed his own lack of fitness and mentally reproached himself that his neglect of these basics would be everyone’s undoing. It was the result of a harassed mind playing and replaying the worst case scenario.

He needn’t have worried. What he saw when he got there struck him agape. Joon-hwi’s legs came to an abrupt standstill. A fight had broken out before his late arrival. A woman was engaged in a fairly even hand-to-hand contest with a small band of particularly well-dressed combatants. Her movements were too fast for him to make out the details of her features. She was dodging blows coming her way with an agile deftness and managing to land well-timed blows at each opponent in turn. For the awestruck observer it was fantastically balletic and Joon-hwi was so mesmerised by the sight that he momentarily forgot why he was there. As he gained a more detailed perspective on the entire scenario, he discerned a casually-dressed man who looked vaguely familiar had been in the background supporting her. Joon-hwi had his eye on him just in time to see him throw around house kick at his opponent and execute an elbow strike which saw his opponent crash land onto the ground. Whoever these two were, they were clearly not strangers to these sorts of confrontations.

As he moved closer into the light, it suddenly dawned on Joon-hwi who the man was. Nick Cho — Erica Shin’s so-called boyfriend and colleague. Joon-hwi quickly deduced that the woman right in the middle of the fray was Erica Shin, who’d presumably come to her sister’s rescue in timely fashion.

Joon-hwi heaved a sigh of relief. He hadn’t given a lot of thought to how he would handle any kind of brawl that was in the offing but he was assured at least that the two most vulnerable people in that spectacle of mayhem were being protected.

It also confirmed everything he’d heard and read in the Interpol reports about the plucky Erica Shin. She was a field operative working for a joint FBI-NIS undercover task force dealing with organised crime.

Lost in his thoughts about recent developments, Joon-hwi had momentarily thrown caution to the wind. Before he could react to the unseen threat that was closing in on him from behind, he fell victim to the end of a pistol grip and lost consciousness.