Dilettante – Chapter 4

Translator: Dany
Editor: Shy

 

June 22, 9:17:28

She arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, earlier than scheduled.

Hana had on a hat and was rearranging her luggage before getting off the plane. As the only first-class passenger flying to Cambodia, the flight attendants waited until she was ready, flashing her a look of concern while telling her to be careful as the security was not good.

As a result of traveling around the world, she knew that only a few countries had better security than Korea. Especially when traveling to southeastern Asian countries, it wasn’t unreasonable for them to be nervous in the first place.

“Have a good trip. I hope to see you again on your return flight home.”

The moment I set foot here, I knew I wouldn’t be returning alone. Hana thought as she stepped forward.

She boarded a flight to Cambodia with neither data nor any conjectures. What she did on the plane was learn the basics of Khmer and study the map. Along with trying to make out what Dui was blurting that morning and constructing them into proper sentences.

‘Noo… na. …I can’t …say. Not now. That’s why, telling you… be careful. …That bastard …not dead. …Don’t look for me. I won’t die.’

No matter how much I thought about it, it was weird. The stranger it seemed the more I doubted it.

Dui didn’t contact Hana so he could inform her about his location. It was the opposite. He knew when she heard the news of his death, she would come looking for him like this and try to stop it.

But why is that?

How did Dui know that his associates were planning to kill him?

‘Lee Dui, you really… Did you do something you shouldn’t have?’

‘And now you’re now trying to figure it out on your own?’

Hana shook her head. Her thoughts grew heavy as there are way too many speculations in her head. She breathed in the terribly hot air and kneaded her stiff neck.

Even Choi Taejun, who is his best friend and his lifeline, doesn’t know that Dui is alive. Dui did not inform Taejun of his survival and warned me to be careful.

‘Then who could it be?’

She didn’t hear it exactly because the signal wasn’t good, but it was definitely a foreign name. Two, to be precise.

Hana blended among other groups of tourists and completed her visa application. Since she preferred to not stand out, she made eye contact with people she didn’t even know and smiled brightly.

The immigration officer handed her passport and issuance card. Then he waved his hand while greeting her with a smile and said in English, “Have an unforgettable trip.”

An unforgettable trip…

Hana turned around, feeling a sigh about to escape from between her lips.

At last, she had reached Cambodia.

Dui’s last known location.

 

* * * * * * *

 

In front of Phnom Penh International Airport Gate 2, Hana checked the time and her expression stiffened. It had already been thirty-five minutes past nine in the evening.

The inside of the airport was crowded with travelers trying to leave for Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is located. Although there were some Koreans heard from time to time, they all seemed to be ordinary tourists and none of them appear to be working for the National Intelligence Agency.

Hana looked up at the sky, then down at the road through the large front window.

The atmosphere was not much different from other southeastern Asian countries. Perhaps due to the classic tropical climate, the breeze from the air conditioner felt humid.

I guess I’ve been living comfortably in Korea for a while now. I can’t believe I thought this felt uncomfortable.

“Hana, Lee Hana!”

As she turned toward the direction of the someone shouting her name, Hana saw Choi Taejun in a checkered shirt jumping up and down.

“Sorry I was late. Man, it’s scorching hot. I had a collision with a motorcycle on my way here. Is this the only luggage you have?

Hana stared at Choi Taejun’s hand and decided to drag the carrier herself.

“The car?”

He was too calm, nothing like the person who was bawling his eyes out earlier. Now he was chatting away happily and fanning himself.

“Get in the tuk-tuk. I’m off work today so I don’t have a car.”

Taejun stuffed his hands in his pocket, looked back and gave a faint smile. Unlike a little while ago, she could feel the pain and sadness in his bitter smile.

Taejun skillfully bargained with the driver and loaded her luggage in the trunk.

“I didn’t think you’d really come… Why the sudden visit?

As soon as Hana got into the car, instead of answering, she took out a tablet and opened google maps.

“What are the coordinates of the last place… Dui was seen.”

The tuk-tuk had yet to depart. Taejun clicked his tongue and zoomed in on the tablet Hana had pulled out. “75km up north from here, towards Siem Reap. It’s an ordinary residential area.”

The tuk-tuk started moving. There was a slight breeze, but it was still hot. Once Hana bookmarked the location on the map, she turned her head away from Choi Taejun.

Placing his elbows on his knees, Taejun clasped his hands together, lowered his head, and then squeezing his eyes shut.

“Hana, I know it’s hard to accept… You…. You don’t have to do this.”

“What am I doing?”

“You’re trying to figure out Dui’s death. Don’t do that. I’ll feel troubled, you know.”

“Where are we going right now?” Hana ignored his words and changed the subject.

Taejun sat up and rubbed his face before pulled out a cigarette. Then he put it between his lips but didn’t light it.

“The place where Dui stayed. I thought you might want to see it.”

Rather than answering, Hana took a deep breath and shut her eyes. The flip phone she had in her bag kept crossing her mind. She had examined it earlier while waiting for Taejun and noticed that it was a modified and had automatic roaming on it. Therefore, if she received a call again, they would be able to talk longer this time.

Hana nodded and clenched her fists inconspicuously to not draw any more attention to herself.

The weather was already miserable with the high humidity, but she also had to deal with even higher temperatures, which stayed at an average of 38°C. (100.4°F) Since it had been like this in the morning, there was a huge chance that the temperature reach over 40°C (104°F) by noon.

“We’re almost there. Watch out for motorcycles, I don’t wanna see a pickpocket’s wrist fly away,” Taejun said jokingly, Hana sighed and shook her head.

“Did you prepare what I told you to?”

“Huh?”

“The information related to Dui, I asked you to have it prepared before my arrival.”

“Lee Hana.”

“I want to know everything about the last mission he was on, the opponents he faced, the type of drugs Lee Dui stole, the clothes and shoes he wore at the time of suicide, the means of transport he took, and everything else without leaving a single detail out. Didn’t you prepare it?”

“Let’s get in first, it’s too hot to talk outside.”

Choi Taejun spoke coldly as he got out of the tuk-tuk, running his hands through his already disheveled hair. Hana followed him while looking around at her surroundings.

After received 5 dollars from Taejun, the driver smiled brightly, revealing his white teeth. Then he became expressionless once again and started the tuk-tuk.

Hana tilted her head back as she gazed at the six-story building.

It was a small apartment complex with a slated roof, which is very common in Cambodia. It reminded her of one of the apartment buildings, that were built in small towns in Korea during the 60s.

Hana followed Taejun into the building, which had a peculiar smell of spices throughout.

Dui’s apartment was on the second floor.

Hana stood in front of a picture frame placed on top of a shoe rack. Even though she knew he was alive, she still choked up when she saw the picture.

The picture was taken of them together on a ship. Dui wore a navy uniform while she wore an army uniform.

She didn’t know how many times this picture had been circulated on the internet. People used to say that they were blessed with good looks and were like two siblings in the military, but that was the one thing they hated hearing the most.

Taejun glanced at Hana as she was standing in the hallway and pulled the curtains, the room was instantly illuminated by the sunlight. Knitting her eyebrows, she finally entered the room and observed the neat and tidy surroundings.

“That’s right, Dui was…”

“That guy was clean freak, he never had even a speck of dust on himself,” Taejun finished as he handed Hana a key.

It was a key to Dui’s apartment.

“Stay here for a while. Take some time to calm yourself, and organize your thoughts as well… Perhaps that would make you feel better?”

Hana slipped the key in her pocket and calmly walked into the kitchen, opening the door to the refrigerator.

Inside, there were only drinks, including beer, Dui’s favorite the sparkling water brand, makgeolli² and soju³, which would be hard to find here.

“It looks like Lee Dui really was here.”

“I might’ve believed he had an accident while on a mission. However, why would Dui take a job only to betray the organization?”

Hana gave a quick look over the contents of the fridge and turned to Taejun, who was sitting on a sofa.

His face was buried in his hands, wallowing in misery and guilt. At least it didn’t seem like Taejun was lying. Maybe he really did believe that Dui was dead.

“Choi Taejun… You said Dui had two suicide bombs on him?” Hana asked while taking out a barley drink with a Korean label.

“…Yeah. I saw it with my own eyes.”

Taejun clasped his hands together and placed his chin on top. Then he looked up at her with narrowed eyes before continuing his explanation.

“I was assigned to chase down the source of a new drug called KA-947A. It has very distinct properties than other hallucinogenic substances. There was a big chance that it could be mistaken as a pharmaceutical drug if there was even one mishap, so I kept a close eye on it. But then I received a contract with Dui’s name on it.”

Hana leaned against the refrigerator and nodded her head, signaling that he could continue.

“I asked him what he was doing and why was he moving on his own. I thought that maybe he started the investigation on his own. But… that wasn’t the case. He wasn’t investigating, he was dealing.”

Taejun sighed heavily and continued with a shaky voice.

“I didn’t want to believe it. I was trying to convince that bastard otherwise, I thought he’d finally come to his senses too. That bastard, he was such a nice and sincere guy… but I think that was what triggered them. They placed bombs on Dui’s body and sent people out of the building. And before support even arrived, it exploded.”

Taejun’s face was full of anguish as he recalled the memory.

To sum up his words, he didn’t witness Dui death personally, but Taejun was certain of his death considering the circumstances.

Hana drank from her glass and set her luggage on the table.

“Good. What you have just told me, I’ll believe it. Now, give me the date, time, investigation log, and everything else I listed before.”

Taejun licked his lips and shot up from the sofa.

“It’s a state secret! I can’t do anything about it!”

“I am a bereaved family. I have the right to know the details of his death.”

“Hah, you’re crazy. It’s still a confidential document! Even then, I have to received permission from a superior.”

Opening the bag on the table with a slight smile, Hana pulled out some clothes. She proceeded to plug her laptop into an electrical outlet and found Dui’s internet cable.”

Taejun was startled at Hana’s sudden actions.

“Lee Hana… didn’t you just say that you believe me? Dui is dead now.”

Hana was hesitant to pull out the files stored at the bottom of the suitcase.

Dui didn’t want anyone to learn about his survival. If he was calling for rescue, he would’ve called headquarters.

She was uncertain as of now, but if she was suspicious of anything, it would definitely be that place.

“Taejun-ah, I believe you. But I want to check the details of Dui’s death with my own eyes. So, please bring the information. Or maybe, I should go to IDC:A myself?”

“Do you know why the organization is being pushed over? No matter how many times you try, you can’t do it!” Taejun, who had started to contemplate things, shouted.

Hana closed the suitcase instead of taking out the files. Hatred seeped from his eyes as he glared at the photos and notes on the wall and the small map model.

“Is that what you really think? Choi Taejun… I’ve been receiving job offers from the organization you’re talking about for the past two years. Do you know why I kept refusing them? Because Dui wanted to work for them.”

“What?”

“I got a call a month ago. If I join IDC:A, they’ll give me any position that I want. What do you think? Should I take their offer? Do you want me to join the organization and get in your hair? Or do you need some time to think about what will happen? I think you already know what it will be like, don’t you?”

“Ah, seriously! Lee Hana!”

Taejun was so frustrated that he slapped his chest and stomped his feet.

If Hana joined the organization, Taejun would not be able to get a promotion for the next three years. Also, he would be reprimanded and blamed as the person in charge of this case.

In the battle between power and authority, Taejun would never be able to beat it by himself.

“So, if you don’t want to be fucked over, move. I won’t say it a third time. I’ll check the details with my own eyes whether or not Dui is dead. That’s what I came here for.”

!¡!

1. tuk-tuk – a three wheeled vehicle that does not tilt. Most often seen in developing countries.
2. makgeolli – a Korean alcoholic beverage. It is a milky and off-white rice wine.
3. soju – another Korean alcoholic beverage. Clear in color and is one of the most consumed types of alcohol in Korea.

 

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