Jo Gyu-Min smiled brightly.
“Congratulations on your discharge, Mister Jin-Ho.”
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow and stared back.
“You were waiting for me”
I certainly cannot afford to miss a day like today, after all!”
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled helplessly at that reply.
Since he couldn't see Jo Gyu-Min by the usual spot in front of the guardhouse, he figured the loyal secretary hadn't come today, but that turned out to be a false assumption.
Jo Gyu-Min had parked his car at the foot of the mountain road leading out of the Charlie artillery base and was waiting patiently for his passenger's arrival.
Kang Jin-Ho looked around the vicinity.
“Why were you waiting for me here, Mister Gyu-Min”
“The feelings you get during your discharge are worth savoring, I believe.
I still haven't forgotten the emotions I felt while walking out of the base one last time and heading to the nearest bus stop, you see.
To let you fully appreciate your feelings, I've deliberately waited for you a little further away than usual, Mister Jin-Ho.”
Kang Jin-Ho wasn't sure whether to file this under Jo Gyu-Min being considerate or being too mindful of unnecessary things.
Jo Gyu-Min gestured toward his car.
“Please, get in.”
Kang Jin-Ho and Ju Yeong-Gi climbed into Jo Gyu-Min's vehicle.
Not too long afterward, the car sped past the Civilian Control Line.
Jo Gyu-Min glanced at his passengers through the mirror.
“Once more, congratulations on successfully ending your enlistment, gentlemen.”
“Thank you,” Kang Jin-Ho nodded slightly.
“It feels weird, doesn't it Like an odd mixture of emotions”
‘Should I feel that way’
Kang Jin-Ho slightly tilted his head.
He didn't feel anything in particular, but the story seemed a little different for Ju Yeong-Gi as he quickly agreed with Jo Gyu-Min.
“Yes, a little bit.”
“Every guy feels that way on their way home, Mister Yeong-Gi.
It's weird, makes you worried, but it also feels liberating, and at the same time, you feel sad, too.”
“...Are you talking from your own experience, Mister Gyu-Min”
“Of course…” Jo Gyu-Min chuckled and shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, it's not a big deal at the end of the day.
People don't really change just because they served in the army, you know.
I'm sure you'll realize that soon enough, though.”
Ju Yeong-Gi sighed.
“I wonder if that's a good thing or not...”
Jo Gyu-Min asked another question as he steered the car, “Where should I drop you off, Mister Yeong-Gi Or were you two planning to enjoy breakfast together”
Ju Yeong-Gi shook his head.
“I think I need to go see my little brother first.”
I'll take you to Seongsim, then.”
When Ju Yeong-Gi sneaked a glance in his way, Kang Jin-Ho coolly nodded.
He should be heading straight home, but the Seongsim Orphanage wasn't too far away, anyway.
Briefly stopping there shouldn't be a problem.
“My bad for troubling you like this…” Ju Yeong-Gi sheepishly scratched the back of his head.
“Not at all,” Jo Gyu-Min smiled warmly.
Ju Yeong-Gi was very polite when talking to Jo Gyu-Min.
It was unsurprising, as he knew that Jo Gyu-Min had taken good care of him and his family.
The car drove on relentlessly, and it eventually arrived at the Seongsim Orphanage.
“Take care of yourself, Yeong-Gi,” Kang Jin-Ho said his goodbye first as Ju Yeong-Gi climbed outside the car.
That prompted Ju Yeong-Gi to ask back, slightly taken aback.
“Uh You aren't coming with me”
I should see my family first.”
“Oh, you're right.
I'm gonna head back to my hometown after popping in the orphanage for a bit, so let's meet up some other time.”
“Okay, got it.”
“Don't forget to answer your phone! I'm warning you!”
“...Yes, I got it.” Kang Jin-Ho groaned softly while waving his hand.
Ju Yeong-Gi waved back and began walking toward the orphanage.
Jo Gyu-Min turned the car around and drove away, then muttered to Kang Jin-Ho, “He's an outgoing fella, isn't he”
He's born that way.”
Jo Gyu-Min nodded.
“What a relief, then.”
“I agree.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded alongside as well.
It would have been unsurprising to suffer from long-lasting trauma after experiencing what Ju Yeong-Gi had gone through.
Thankfully, though, it seemed all the concerted counseling and physical care had paid off, and Ju Yeong-Gi managed to regain his former spark of life.
Of course, it could only be on the outside.
However, things would surely get better for him as he continued to live his life.
No matter how painful a wound was, given enough time, a scab would eventually form, followed by the growth of new flesh.
Kang Jin-Ho muttered, “He will have to learn to live with his scars.
It is his burden, after all.”
“Indeed…” Jo Gyu-Min nodded in agreement.
Kang Jin-Ho had done everything he could for Ju Yeong-Gi.
Still, there was one thing Jo Gyu-Min wasn't sure about in this equation.
Did Kang Jin-Ho consider Ju Yeong-Gi as one of his people If he thought that was the case, then he would show his endless generosity without expecting anything in return.
That was just how Kang Jin-Ho was, after all.
One only had to look at Park Yu-Min's case to see that.
Jo Gyu-Min decided to get some clarification on the matter.
“Mister Jin-Ho, will you be meeting up with Miser Yeong-Gi again”
Kang Jin-Ho hesitated slightly before answering, “If fate wills it, then yes.
I'm sure we'll meet again.”
Jo Gyu-Min silently nodded.
Still not fully accepted yet, is that it'
If Kang Jin-Ho had displayed as much interest in Ju Yeong-Gi's life as he had done in Park Yu-Min's life, Jo Gyu-Min would also have to do the same.
Judging from that reply, though, it seemed Kang Jin-Ho's level of interest hadn't broken past that threshold just yet.
'Still, I better keep an eye on this.'
Out of all the relationships formed throughout their life, the one formed during military service was the easiest to lose track of and grow distant from.
The military was different from regular civilian society, after all.
The glares of modern society would inevitably dilute the bond formed inside a closed-off place like the army.
It was only a matter of time.
I'll take you to your home, Mister Jin-Ho.”
“Thank you,” Kang Jin-Ho expressed his gratitude, then glanced outside the window.
Even though the city should be the same whether he was on leave or was going home as a civilian, it somehow came across as different in his view.
“Oh my goodness! Jin-Ho, you're home!” Kang Jin-Ho's mother, Baek Hyeon-Jeong, tightly held her son's hands as he entered through the front door.
“You're here so early! Didn't we tell you we'd be fetching you later in the day”
Kang Jin-Ho smiled and shook his head.
“I didn't see the need, Mother.
It was merely me getting discharged, after all.”
You went through a lot, son.
I'm proud of you.” Baek Hyeon-Jeong wiped her tears away in happiness.
However, Kang Jin-Ho wasn't sure of what to feel about this situation.
To him, it was like he had been on a camping trip for two years or so.
Judging from his mother's reaction, though, that didn't seem to be the case from other people's perspectives.
Bake Hyeon-Jeong pulled her son close and patted him on the back.
“You must be hungry, Jin-Ho.”
“...Yes, Mother,” Kang Jin-Ho quietly replied.
Actually, he wasn't all that hungry, but even he knew the smart thing to do right now was to just shut up and accept the food.
Although he would come to regret this decision soon enough.
“...Mother, are we having a party”
“Mm What do you mean”
Kang Jin-Ho shuddered in fright as he stared at all the food laid out on the dining table.
After looking at the amount, he had to conclude that his mother had to have slaughtered an ox to prepare all this food.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong replied while laying down the cutlery, “He's off to work, of course.”
“Then, uh, what about Eun-Yeong, mother”
“Your sister's also at work.”
What about you, Mother Are you joining me”
I already had breakfast not too long ago.”
Kang Jin-Ho could only nod away helplessly.
In other words, all this overflowing amount of food on the table was meant for him.
He now had to eat all this by himself!
Maybe, Baek Hyeong-Jeong had picked up Kang Jin-Ho from some farm Because this amount of food surely couldn't have been for human consumption.
Even a pig would have a hard time trying to finish all this food!
Baek Hyeon-Jeong lovingly patted her son on the back.
“Eat lots, my child.
You must've missed my cooking so much in the army.”
Kang Jin-Ho could only form a cramped smile.
'My apologies, Mother.
But your son has a terrible sense of taste and can't even differentiate between the military food and your cooking.'
Of course, Kang Jin-Ho knew he could never utter those words out loud if he wanted to keep breathing.
Before he took his place near the dining table, though, he promptly got ready to leave the house again.
Baek Hyeon-Jeong looked at him in surprise.
“Where are you going, son The food will get cold, you know”
“I'm going to the corner store for a bit, Mother.”
“Mm What are you thinking of buying there”
I'll be back soon.” Kang Jin-Ho quickly exited the house and stood on the pavement while holding his head.
“...I wonder if convenience stores also sell medication for indigestion”
Even if Kang Jin-Ho's digestive system had been strengthened by cultivation, there was still a limit to everything.
In times like this, he should rely on the wisdom of modern medical science.
Hwang Jeong-Hu spoke in a calm voice, “So, Gyu-Min.
There was no problem taking Jin-Ho home, right”
“Yes, Chairman.” Jo Gyu-Min nodded while standing straight.
Hwang Jeong-Hu sitting behind his desk smiled contentedly.
Finally, he's discharged.”
“Sir, it's so strange.
When you're in the army, time doesn't seem to move on at all, but when you're outside, the time you have spent in the army seems so short, sir.
It feels like Mister Jin-Ho's enlistment happened only yesterday, so it's rather strange to see him being discharged so soon.”
“You shouldn't say that in front of Jin-Ho, Gyu-Min.”
I think it'll be fine since it's Mister Jin-Ho we're talking about.”
Hahaha.” Hwang Jeong-Hu chuckled after realizing that he also thought the same as Jo Gyu-Min.
Well, Kang Jin-Ho was not exactly known for being sentimental, after all! “Mm. With this, the issue with the military has been dealt with.
Jo Gyu-Min noticed Hwang Jeong-Hu's probing gaze and sighed softly.
Noh Yeong-Deok still hasn't made any moves yet.”
Understandable.” Hwang Jeong-Hu slowly nodded while rubbing his chin.
I don't understand.
Why hasn't he done anything even though his son ended up in that state If it were me, I would never let the culprit run away scot-free, sir.”
Hwang Jeong-Ju tutted loudly and stared disapprovingly at Jo Gyu-Min, forcing the latter to cower and lower his head.
Then again, Jo Gyu-Min was still in his thirties.
Hoping he would have similar views on worldly matters as Hwang Jeong-Hu would be asking for too much.
Hwang Jeong-Hu groaned and began his explanation, “Do you know what kind of people politicians are, Gyu-Min”
“Let me tell you this right off the bat.
They are the most cunning, duplicitous folks in entire South Korea.”
That wasn't much of a surprise, even to Jo Gyu-Min.
However, what the chairman said in his follow-up was surprising.
“While watching TV, don't you sometimes get surprised by how smart some entertainers could be Even though they didn’t look that smart, to begin with”
“Sir Ah, yes.
“In that case, have you ever wondered why folks entering the political world with some amazing career behind them suddenly start acting like total idiots”
“...I, uh, no, sir.
Hwang Jeong-Hu tutted loudly again.
“You see, politicians know how to bide their time.
While sharpening their knives behind their backs, they put on a friendly facade and patiently wait for the opportune moment.
And Noh Yeong-Deok is a third-term National Assemblyman.
He's even seen as a likely candidate for his party's future leader.
Do you think someone like him can't even control his emotions and that he would throw a hissy fit because his son met with some misfortune”
Jo Gyu-Min's expression stiffened as he listened.
Hwang Jeong-Hu leaned against his chair, his finger noisily tapping on his desk.
“I'm sure he’s already done with all the necessary investigation.
And right now, he's patiently waiting.
Waiting for a chance to use this situation to its full advantage.
To a monster who had survived the battlefield called politics, even his family matters are nothing more than another hand he could play.
That's how enticingly sweet political power is, Gyu-Min.”
If Hwang Jeong-Hu's thoughts were correct, then what a chill-inducing attitude that was.
Noh Yeong-Deok's son had ended up being locked up in an asylum, yet he wanted to use that situation as a political card he could use Could normal civilians even be capable of even coming up with such a thing
Jo Gyu-Min heard plenty of times before that one had to become the most cunning snake of them all to survive the political world.
Even then, he still found this course of action beyond his comprehension.
Politicians never forget.
As I said, they simply bide their time.
If Noh Yeong-Deok has decided that it's time to act, then you will be subjected to sharper and more intense assault than anything you can even imagine, Gyu-Min.”
Jo Gyu-Min nodded in a daze.
No matter how thorough the investigation, uncovering a solid connection between Kang Jin-Ho and Noh Su-Bong should be pretty difficult.
However, one should never say never in this world.
In fact, the worst enemy Kang Jin-Ho would ever experience could be born if things didn't work out in his favor.
“By the way, Chairman, I...
Please forgive me, but may I ask you a question”
“Assuming the worst, Noh Yeong-Deok might find out about Mister Jin-Ho and target him for retaliation.
In that case, he could also target Jaegyeong, sir.
If that happens, how should I respond”
Hwang Jeong-Hu's eyes became withdrawn, contemplative.
He didn't say anything and simply lit a cigarette to take a lengthy puff.
He smoked for a little while before finally answering, “The political world is a scary place.”
“However, Jaegyeong isn't a pushover either.
If anyone dares to target us, they will have to deal with aftermaths just as severe.
I have accumulated enough power to do that, after all.”
Jo Gyu-Min wordlessly nodded in agreement.
However, that wasn't the answer he wanted to hear.
No, what he wanted to hear from Hwang Jeong-Hu was whether Kang Jin-Ho's existence was valuable enough or not to risk the future of Jaegyeong itself.
Fortunately, Hwang Jeong-Hu soon answered that question as well, “Right now, right at this moment, nothing is more important than Kang Jin-Ho for Jaegyeong's continued existence.
If they want to tangle with us with knives drawn, then well, we'll have to get ready to fight, too.”
Jo Gyu-Min didn't care about the reason for this decision.
All he cared about was that the future course of action was finally set.
An unreadable smile slowly floated up on Hwang Jeong-Hu's lips.
“Would that young man need our help in the first place, I wonder”
Hwang Jeong-Hu simply closed his eyes.
He didn't try to resolve Jo Gyu-Min's confusion.
'It'll be best for you to let go of any thoughts of revenge, Assemblyman Noh Yeong-Deok.'
Hwang Jeong-Hu didn't believe that Noh Yeong-Deok's schemes would hurt Kang Jin-Ho.
What concerned him, however, was Kang Jin-Ho's response.
How would that young man respond after someone as insidious as Noh Yeong-Deok provoked him
'I hope it's not the case of lighting a match near a powder keg...'
Hwang Jeong-Hu quietly groaned under his breath.