Side Story 19
The last side story: Twelve years later (1)
Within the ranks of the Central Region Precinct’s Violent Crimes Unit, there was this one detective nicknamed the ‘Phantom’.
The newbie detective joining the squad this year after passing the promotion exam, Lee Seh-Hwan, often heard this rumour while he was walking the beat as a patrolman.
The arrest rate of 200 percent!
The rumour went that, in front of this ‘Phantom’ capable of solving not just the cases in his own docket, but even the cold cases of the past, every single violent criminal or bloodthirsty thug would become a very well-behaved sheep in an instant.
To the officers patrolling these streets, this detective remained an object of pure respect, a real bonafide legendary figure.
Seriously now, the rumour even went on to say that, although he was eligible for a promotion, he wished to devote himself fully to fieldwork and refused to move up the career ladder. How hardcore was that?
‘Anyone with some sense in them would definitely never refuse a promotion, obviously.’
In any case – even if only half of the rumours making the rounds turned out to be true, then the mystery cop was sure to be one hell of an investigator.
His fellow patrol officers were deeply envious of Lee Seh-Hwan joining the Violent Crimes Unit. Little did they know, he was currently swallowing back his nervous saliva while scanning the squad’s office, wondering who this legendary detective from the rumours could be.
As befitting a group of detectives that clashed against seasoned criminals every day, they all carried manly, no-nonsense countenances. They began shooting sharp, probing glares in the direction of an unknown visitor to their ranks.
It’d not be all that awkward to call any one of these fine officers ‘Phantom’, indeed.
‘The light in their eyes are so….’
Lee Seh-Hwan gradually shrunk back from the powerful glares of the veterans and began inwardly worrying about whether he’d survive for long in this place or not.
“Ehh…. Are you that newbie joining us from today onwards?”
A voice came from behind without any prior warning whatsoever and Lee Seh-Hwan jumped up in fright. He hurriedly turned around and performed an excellent salute.
“Ah, ah… no need to be that tense. We’re all one family now, right?”
The voice belonged to a middle-aged man carrying two paper cups filled with coffee standing right behind Lee Seh-Hwan. He kindly offered one of the cups to the still-nervous rookie.
“Here, it’s on me.”
“T-thank you very much!!”
Lee Seh-Hwan bowed deeply and received the coffee.
Instantly, he was greeted by the reassuring warmth that was kind of like a phone call from his family he dearly wished to see again after living alone for a long time.
Maybe that small first mouthful of the hot coffee helped him to relax?
Lee Seh-Hwan continued to sip on the hot beverage while cautiously studying the overall atmosphere of the surroundings, before asking the Senior who gifted him the drink.
“Excuse me… I went to speak to the Squad Captain, and he informed me that I’d be working together with Seong Detective-nim from here on, I was wondering…”
“Ahh, that ‘Phantom’ is your partner?”
It took almost everything Lee Seh-Hwan had to stop the coffee from spraying out of his mouth and nostrils.
“Well, we came up with that nickname for the guy because he’s supernaturally quick, you see? Dunno when it happened, but that name got stuck somehow and even the folks in other units began calling him that. I’m sure you’ve heard of him too, right?”
“Y-yes, I have….”
Lee Seh-Hwan hurriedly nodded his head several times. A meaningful smirk suddenly crept up on the senior’s face.
“The thing is, that coffee I gave you? It’s meant for him.”
The senior detective turned around to escape to the corridor, but then he stopped and pointed to the far end with his chin, a grin now firmly etched on his face.
“Speak of the devil. There he comes.”
Unable to suppress his curiosity, Lee Seh-Hwan also quickly came out to the corridor himself and shifted his gaze in the direction where the senior was staring at.
That was when he discovered a certain man unhurriedly strolling towards his direction from the end of the corridor.
‘That man is the legendary….’
Without a doubt, that man didn’t seem to be in a hurry, yet he was already standing before Lee Seh-Hwan even before the rookie could fully regain his wits.
What an overwhelmingly intense pressure he emitted.
Lee Seh-Hwan was about average in height for a Korean male, but he had to physically look up at his new partner, the senior detective nicknamed ‘Phantom’, who was at least a head taller than himself. Almost instantly, the poor newbie felt stifled and it became hard to breathe from this inexplicable pressure emitted by the man in front of him.
‘The Phantom of the Central Region….’
The reason why this detective was saddled with such a nickname wasn’t simply because of his preternatural swiftness, oh no. Lee Seh-Hwan was sure of this fact after finally encountering the person in question.
“Ohh, hey man. Going out on a call?”
“Nah, it’s nothing much, really. By the way, is he our new recruit?”
“That’s right, he is. His name is Lee Seh-Hwan.”
Jin-Woo bowed his head slightly to greet the senior detective standing next to Lee Seh-Hwan. He then spun the newbie around to face the other direction and placed his hand on the completely-frozen junior’s shoulder.
“Then, I shall go ahead and train the rookie.”
The senior detective with the face of a good-natured uncle continued to grin as if he found something quite amusing. He nodded his head to say yes.
“Sure, sure. Go ahead. Have a good day.”
Almost as soon as the greeting with the senior was over, Jin-Woo dragged the rookie cop he was now entrusted with to outside of the building.
‘H-he can’t be p*ssed off about me having drunk his coffee, right?’
When that line of thought popped up in his head, Lee Seh-Hwan ended up hurriedly asking a question.
“S-senior-nim?! W-where are we going?”
Rather than an answer, though, he got a question as a reply, instead.
“Why did you become a police officer?”
“Oh, that…. I….”
Lee Seh-Hwan hesitated for a bit before remembering his original dream, the goal, that he had forgotten about while working as a beat cop wrestling with drunkards and other idiots for the past few years.
“I wanted to catch the bad guys….”
Even though they were exchanging questions and answers, Jin-Woo didn’t slow down his steps that continued to lead the rookie to their unknown destination. And he finally let go of the flustered newbie once they reached the end goal.
“We are going to a place where we can do exactly that.”
Lee Seh-Hwan raised his head, and Jin-Woo formed his now-trademark smile.
It was a smile that eased the minds of all those who saw it. Jin-Woo looked at the shorter rookie with such a smile on his face before continuing on.
“That’s why I became a cop too, you see.”
Just those words alone, and Lee Seh-Hwan’s heart began pounding quite violently.
How could one’s heart not throb in moments like this as long as one was a police officer worth his or her salt?
Lee Seh-Hwan heard the question with only one possible answer and replied with an excited face.
“Of course, Senior-nim!!”
Completely pooped out from chasing after criminals the whole day, Lee Seh-Hwan collapsed on top of his new desk and fell asleep. Jin-Woo was planning to dump the write-up of the testimonies of all the suspects they apprehended today to the rookie, but now….
He stopped jotting down on the report paper and quietly studied Lee Seh-Hwan, utterly lost to the distant lands of sweet slumber.
‘He said he had the experience of catching an armed robber bare-handed, didn’t he? Yup, it is fun training a rookie like this guy.’
A smile naturally crept up on his face now that a rather excellent seedling had joined his Unit.
After seeing a smile blooming on Jin-Woo’s face, the suspect sitting on the opposite side of the desk mistakenly believed that the atmosphere had become rather friendly and formed a sly smile of his own.
That only elicited a hardened scowl from Jin-Woo, though.
“….And why the hell are you smiling?”
“I, I’m sorry.”
“Okay, then. Next up is….”
Just as Jin-Woo’s fingers touched the keyboard once more….
[My liege, may I suggest that such miscellaneous tasks be left to us, your loyal soldiers….]
….He heard the voice of Igrit coming from his shadow.
Indeed, it’d be convenient to utilise his soldiers.
Forget about training the rookies to arrest the suspects, he could just unleash his near-ten million soldiers and have them catch the bad guys. That would clean up the entirety of the Republic of Korea in no time at all.
However, what was he supposed to do about the extreme unrest and the fear from the public at large that would no doubt follow soon afterwards?
A suitable balance needed to be kept, regardless of what the job was.
That was why Jin-Woo did his best to control his powers, so as to minimise the impact against the society at large. And so, as the administrative work on these petty criminals was coming to an end….
….Although, the rookie still hadn’t been able to extricate himself from the land of dreams yet.
Jin-Woo heard the voices coming from the corner of the office and ended up paying attention to the contents of the conversation.
“Detective-nim, please listen to me. Jin-Yi isn’t a girl who’d willingly take her own life.”
“Look, miss. I understand how you feel. But, I already explained to you in detail, didn’t I? All the evidence points to….”
“Please, please take a look at these texts messages! Do they look like something sent by a person planning to commit suicide three hours later??”
Maybe it was because of the fact that the deceased’s name sounded similar to his own sister’s?
For a while now, Jin-Woo’s mind kept wandering towards the conversation between those two people that didn’t seem to be going anywhere fast.
The detective, now fed up by this ‘heckling’ ended up responding in an ill-tempered manner.
“Look here, miss! From the get-go, most suicides aren’t planned out in advance but are done in the spur of the momen….”
“Do you mind if I take a look at the case?”
The detective flinched nastily when Jin-Woo approached him without any presence whatsoever.
Detectives were supposed to be able to suss out whether a person was guilty of a crime or not just by locking gazes with a suspect in the blink of an eye.
Such detectives couldn’t detect his approach, so it was a small wonder that Jin-Woo was saddled with the nickname of ‘Phantom’.
“Uhm, Detective Seong….?”
The detective formed a troubled expression while looking at Jin-Woo, before shifting his gaze forward, only to spot the expression on the deceased’s friend now gaining a ray of hope.
The detective instantly realised that things might get a bit complicated for himself, so he quietly asked Jin-Woo to step outside the office for a moment.
He handed over the related case files and pulled out a cigarette after they got there.
“Detective Seong…. I hope you aren’t going to put me under the spot here.”
Jin-Woo didn’t pay any attention to the plea of his Senior and scanned through the files, only for his expression to harden to a scary degree.
The detective was about to light his cigarette up, but after sensing the aura oozing out from Jin-Woo, ended up taking a step back in surprise.
‘He’s like a different person when he’s concentrating like this.’
The senior detective deeply sucked in the smoke puffed out from the lit cigarette as if to calm his trembling nerves.
The female victim was found inside her bathtub, having died of massive blood loss from a large cut wound on her wrist. The knife used to cut her wrist was recovered inside the bathroom, and perhaps unsurprisingly, only her fingerprints were found on the weapon, no one else’s.
The file also said that, even though the deceased displayed a bright personality outwardly, she actually suffered from depression.
Not many other investigators would come up with a different hypothesis after looking at all the facts available in this case.
Jin-Woo returned the case file back to the detective assigned to the case.
“I don’t see anything amiss.”
“R-right. You think so, too?”
The detective received the files back with a somewhat happy-looking expression.
With a hardened face, the senior asked back while thinking, ‘Could he be…?’
“I shall confirm it myself, just in case.”
The Phantom had sniffed a trail, it seemed.
While looking at Jin-Woo’s back as he walked over to the friend of the deceased waiting anxiously over there, the Senior detective roughly scratched the back of his head and complained in his head.
‘Doesn’t that guy ever get tired or something?’
The friend of the deceased, her gaze currently fixed to the ground, quickly raised her head after hearing Jin-Woo’s voice.
“I’m Detective Seong Jin-Woo. Can we talk for a moment?”
The friend nodded her head, her current grim expression seemingly a blend of new-found hope and sorrow.
Inside a quiet, empty and owner-less home, a black shadow suddenly rose up. It was Jin-Woo.
He found himself in an apartment which was slightly too large for a woman to live alone. Her warmth from the time she was still alive could be felt from several corners of this apartment unit.
The current time was late at night.
The surroundings were pitch-black, but there was no need to turn on the lights because this was the same as broad daylight to Jin-Woo’s eyes.
He entered the bathroom, the place where she met her final moments. The thick smell of blood yet to be cleaned stung his nose. Jin-Woo stood before the bathtub and silently studied the very spot where the deceased prepared herself to die.
Seeing all the spilt blood, it was as if he could sense the pain of the woman.
However, he could only imagine what that pain was like, not actually feel the pain itself. What the deceased was feeling when she chose death, how painful it was as she lay here dying….
Those left behind would never know them.
Generally speaking, that was.
Jin-Woo crouched slightly and studied the blood splatters before recalling the last text message she sent to her friend. It was filled with her anticipation about the upcoming meeting with her friend.
Just like what the friend had said, that message didn’t seem to be sent by someone getting ready to take her own life.
Most likely, the friend wanted to believe that she’d not choose to die without saying a single goodbye to her closest friend.
For sure, the ones left behind would never know what the dead wanted to say to them. Ordinarily, that would be true. Ordinarily.
However, Jin-Woo possessed a way to hear the voice of the dead.
‘I needed the actual remains in the past, but now….’
Jin-Woo issued his command, and the blackened, coagulated blood reverted back to a crimson liquid and began trickling again. The blood splatter that remained as nothing more than grisly reminders gathered together to form a deep pit of boiling blood.
As if it was alive, the mass of blood continued to seethe and tumble as it grew larger and larger.
The Shadow Sovereign, the King of the Dead, then issued the absolute order that couldn’t be refused at the remains of the deceased.