Woo Bin was browsing through a dossier, when Yi Jeong entered the lounge that night and he was so deeply concentrated that he just absent-mindedly waved at him, before going back to read.
“Where are Ji Hoo and Jun Pyo?” Yi Jeong asked.
“Ji Hoo is at the hospital, he exchanged shifts with someone. Jun Pyo and Jan Di were trapped by his mother into another dinner with I don’t know who and, before you ask, Jae Kyung is with her parents tonight.” Woo Bin never lifted his gaze from the pages he was reading, his eyes still devouring every word.
“Another attempt at introducing a potential husband?” Yi Jeong arched an eyebrow.
“When are you going to tell her what you feel? She will end up choosing someone else one of these days, you know.”
The mafia prince raised his gaze and the look in his eyes told Yi Jeong he’d better stop talking about it.
“What are you reading?” He asked then, wisely changing the subject.
“It’s a report I received just thirty minutes ago. It’s about that filthy club we went three days ago.”
“The Seventh Heaven?”
“Yes.” Woo Bin nodded, closing the dossier. “And it’s not good news.”
Yi Jeong went to the bar retrieving a bottle of red wine and then he poured a glass for Woo Bin and one for himself, sitting down. Although he could share the disgust at prostitution with Woo Bin, in his opinion his friend was too much obsessed with it. It’s not he could completely eradicate it, prostitution meant money and there was almost nothing he could do about it.
Not for the first time, Yi Jeong wondered how could a man like Woo Bin have two completely different faces, one so black and one so white: the loyal friend, the funny buddy, the tortured man in love with a woman and determined to never tell her and the mafia prince, a man capable of dealing with smuggling,
corruption, threats, drugs and, Yi Jeong was almost certain of it, even murder.
“The owner is Gong Su Pyo and that is bad news per se.” Woo Bin started explaining and Yi Jeong focused his attention on him again. “The Gong family is our direct rival, they basically rule Busan, like we rule Seoul and they are like the main organization when it comes to korean prostitution, because we never got involved in that kind of business. Our clans always tried to stay away from each other because if we start a war it won’t be good neither for business nor for the number of people who would die in it. They aren’t still as big as we are, but they are trying to become a force to reckon with. Gong Su Pyo is the heir of the Gong family, much like I am with mine. What is he doing in Seoul? Is he here to defy us?”
Woo Bin threw the dossier on the table, frustrated.
“And what if he is? I’m sure he knows your family won’t be pleased to find him here.”
“That’s no big deal, because I’ll kick him out. I just have to find a way to force him to close the club.”
“Open up another one just near? We already did that some years ago. And by the way, you still owe me some percentage from there.”
“Yeah, yeah…” the mafia prince waved his hand “Whatever.”
“Business is business, brother.” Yi Jeong smiled at him with irony.
“Anyway, another club right there wouldn’t work out.” Woo Bin skirted the issue. “I would never stoop so low as to sell women and that’s what Seventh Heaven is famous for. This Gong Su Pyo had the same club in Busan and it’s still working, but now he transferred here, and he brought some significant people with him. Do you remember the last girl we saw?”
Yi Jeong nodded. “Totally.”
“You’re drooling bro. Dry it up.” Woo Bin smirked. “That girl is the main attraction of the club. She started working there in Busan some years ago, and she became the best in no time. Everybody calls her the Butterfly Queen. Her basic price is so high that the other girls in the club barely reach it with their highest bids.”
“I see. The rich customers all go for her and the less rich ones settle for her colleagues.”
“She’s drowning the Seventh Heaven with money. She’s their major income. If I could find a way to steal that girl away, the club would loose its main source of money.”
“This wouldn’t stop that Su Pyo guy.” Yi Jeong remarked sipping his wine.
“No it wouldn’t.” Woo Bin agreed smiling. “But it would piss him off. And maybe he would understand that Seoul is not the right town for his business.”
“So.” Yi Jeong put his glass back on the table. “Who is this Butterfly Queen? Have you tried to investigate on her?”
“I did, like with every other girl in that damn club.”
The mafia prince stood up, pacing back and forth, his eyes not looking at anything in particular. “She started working there six years ago first as a waitress, then as a dancer, then as a prostitute. She stepped up rather quickly and soon became what they call their Queen. She’s also Gong Su Pyo favourite and this is probably the reason nobody wants to talk about her. We don’t know her name, where she comes from, if she has a family, nothing. She’s protected.”
Woo Bin stopped and suddenly froze on the spot. His eyes narrowed and he slowly turned to Yi Jeong who stood up too, stepping back.
“Oh no no no, don’t even think about it.” The potter was still backing off. “Whatever you have in mind, I won’t do it.”
“I can’t act directly.” Woo Bin was speaking slowly now, still thinking. “My father forbade it when I told him what was going on.”
“Why did he forbid it? I thought he would be angry at the Gong family intrusion.”
“He is. He just wants to wait a bit more for them to lay their cards on the table before striking.”
“Well.” Yi Jeong clinged to that slight hope. “If your father doesn’t want you to do anything, you can’t disobey.”
Woo Bin smirked and Yi Jeong stepped back once more. Nothing could scare him like the mafia prince when he wanted something done because usually he forced him to be his accomplice and, from the kindergarten onwards, Yi Jeong had always been the one who payed for his friend’s crazy ideas.
“I won’t disobey! I won’t do anything.” Woo Bin’s face was so angelic it was disgusting. “You, on the other hand…”
“I, on the other hand… won’t do anything either!”
“Oh come on, bro! I need some more information about this Butterfly Queen! You just have to buy her tonight and ask her!”
Yi Jeong looked at him incredulous and blinked. Twice. “Excuse me?”
“It’s very simple.” Woo Bin resumed his pacing, trying to recollect his ideas. “You buy the girl. You bring her to a hotel room, where nobody can spy on you. Oh, make sure she doesn’t have some camera or microphone among her belongings. Not really likely, but still one can’t be cautious enough. Where was I?”
“In the hotel room.” Yi Jeong replied with a flat tone.
“Oh yes. When you are sure nobody is listening, you ask her if she really likes doing what she does and you offer her an alternative: money and the protection of the biggest clan in Korea if she leaves Seventh Heaven. And then, I come get the girl, Gong Su Pyo understands he must leave Seoul if he doesn’t want to loose even his pants and everybody lives happily ever after. Easy!”
Woo Bin turned to look at his friend, his wolvish smile still flashing and Yi Jeong shook his head. It finally happened, he thought, after more than twenty years, Jun Pyo succeeded in corrupting his best friend.
“Let’s see if I got that right.” Yi Jeong then said, clenching his teeth. “You want me to buy the girl. You want me to convince her to leave the club and put herself under the Song family protection. You want me to deliberately tread on the second most powerful korean mafia family’s toes and just hope she will accept? What if she refuses? What if she blabs everything to this Gong Su Pyo? He could try to kill me!”
“Of course I would protect you, nobody would touch you! And why should she refuse?” Woo Bin asked and Yi Jeong just groaned, running his fingers through his hair.
“Maybe because she works there since six years? Maybe because she’s happy doing what she does?”
“Don’t be ridicolous now. No woman can be happy selling herself that way, it’s one of the most degrading things one can do. Stripping is one thing, dancing another one, but being a prostitute isn’t something you do because you choose to.”
Woo Bin’s voice was serious now and Yi Jeong sighed.
“You really want to kill me.”
“I want that club burnt down. And I can’t do anything because my father watches me. You must help me.”
“Woo Bin, I’m sorry.” Yi Jeong’s lips stretched in a thin line and his eyes hardened. “If you don’t have your father approval, that means your family won’t back you up. You wouldn’t be allowed to protect the girl nor me. The Gong clan would take her back in no time, maybe even kill her, not to mention what they would do to me.”
“They wouldn’t dare do anything to you!” the other one remarked. “You’re So Yi Jeong!”
“Yes, like they would have never come to Seoul too, right? But they are here. Obviously they aren’t afraid of an internal war and that means they wouldn’t be afraid of my status as well. Not to mention the whole Korea knows who the F4 are. You’re one of them and I’m your friend. If I step in for you, that would be the perfect war declaration.”
The mafia prince looked at him for some moment, then cursed softly under his breath and lowered his head.
“You’re right. You would risk too much. I shouldn’t have asked you.”
Yi Jeong patted on his shoulder and smiled. “I know this is important for you, but you can’t act on istinct. Think things through and you will come up with a good plan.”
Seeing the still troubled expression on his best friend face, he grabbed his coat and gestured him to follow.
“Come on, now… do you still remember we’re invited to a private party tonight?”
“Choi Ja Hoon’s party, right?” He wasn’t so willing to go. “I don’t even remember who he was in Shinhwa.”
“Who cares? We’re invited and you need the distraction.” Yi Jeong tried to convince him. “You know that right? The best ideas always come…”
“… When you’re not thinking about them.” Woo Bin surrendered and grabbed his coat. “Maybe you’re right, I won’t solve anything here for now. Let’s go have some fun!”
The good thing in being a celebrity was that you never run out of things to do. F4 learnt that when they were still children and even now that they were twenty-six, the rule still applied. Every night they were invited to a different party and, although they very rarely partecipated, unless it was a special occasion or the guests were too important to be ignored, their presence was always a great honour for the party holder.
The bad side was of course that they had so many invitations they sometimes forgot what the party reason was.
If they had remembered that Choi Ja Hoon’s party was a bachelor party, they would have never showed up. A only men party that consisted in alcohol and stupid stories about the groom to be?
“Let’s give them ten minutes more, then we’ll run. I’m sorry Woo Bin, I completely forgot what this was about.” he whispered apologetically to his friend, while drinking a champagne glass.
“No problem bro, I’ll get back at you later.” the mafia prince replied through his teeth, just when the already drunk guests of the house started screaming and clapping.
The music volume raised and the guys formed a circle still clapping and laughing. The poor Choi Ja Hoon was in the middle and was eyeing anxiously the door that was slowly opening up, revealing a gorgeous woman wrapped in a soft pink dress and her face covered by an elaborate mask.
“Impossible…” Woo Bin uttered, recognizing the girl that had already started her performance at the expenses of the stunned groom.
“Look who’s there…” Yi Jeong commented with an ironic smile. “It’s really true then. If Mohammed doesn’t go to the mountain…”
The Butterfly Queen was dancing in the middle of the circle, obviously embarassing the boy near her who was trying his best to not touch her, much to his friends dismay.
“Come on!” they were screaming. “We bought her for the night! She’s all yours buddy! Remember, last night then you’re chained forever!”
But since the poor Choi Ja Hoon so obviously wanted to stay faithful to his fiancee, one of his friends
stepped out of the crew, grabbing the dancer by an arm.
“I bet you don’t know what to do! Your wife will have a very bad surprise tomorrow!” he laughed, completely drunk. “Watch closely, I’ll show you!”
And hell broke loose. Like a pack of wolves, the circle closed around the girl and the F2 heard a frightened scream, followed by the tearing of her dress fabric.
Woo Bin and Yi Jeong bolted at the same moment, opening their way in the drunken crowd kicking anybody who dared opposing them.
The girl was on the ground and the guy was frantically ripping her clothes off, ignoring her pleas, while the other guests were just laughing and clapping.
Woo Bin rushed on the guy, grabbing him by the shoulders and punching him in the face while Yi Jeong rescued the weeping girl.
“Are you beasts or men?” the potter shouted, covering the Butterfly Queen with his jacket. “Back off immediately, or I’ll kill you with my own hands!”
Helping the girl to stand up, he felt a deep satisfaction in seeing the wannabe-rapist on the ground with a broken nose and then Woo Bin was at his side again, opening the way to the door the girl had come from.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” Choi Ja Hoon was screaming, opening the door for them. “I didn’t know what they were planning, I never requested for a woman!”
“Just keep your crazy friends out of here.” Woo Bin shouted back. “If anybody dares approaching her again, I swear I’ll kill him!”
No reply was heard, but the door closed behind them and Yi Jeong guided the girl to sit on one of the couches of the big living room they were in.
“Are you ok?” he asked, trying to understand if she was bruised.
When she didn’t answer, he tentatively raised a hand to her mask, but the girl turned her head.
“I just want to see if some of them punched you.” he said with his best soothing voice. “I won’t hurt you.”
“Don’t. Please.” she whispered when his fingers touched her mask, but Yi Jeong didn’t stop.
That girl had charmed him since the first time he had seen her at the Seventh Heaven and now she was so near him, her delicate frame shaking in shock, tears staining what he could see of her cheeks, her dress torn, revealing her golden skin.
The butterfly mask raised higher and the girl closed her eyes, hiding her face in her hands.
“Let me see.” Yi Jeong whispered, gently enclosing her hands in his while Woo Bin was near them, checking that nobody could enter the room.
Inch by inch, he uncovered her face, murmuring soothing words and then he made her raise her gaze, finally meeting her eyes, full of tears.
And time stopped. Suddenly he wasn’t there anymore, but on a sunny beach, many years ago and that very girl was smiling at his side, holding his hand.
“Ga Eul yang?” he asked, not believing his own eyes.
“Yi Jeong sunbae…” she lowered her gaze again, hiding her face in her hands. “I’m so sorry…”
And she bursted into desperate tears.