Mercenary Black Mamba - Chapter 619
“A nation with no desire or ability to fight back!” Yi Dae-deok muttered out loud without even realizing it.
He felt a chill run down his skin, as if ice-cold water was poured on him. That’s right, Korea relied totally on the U.S.A. for both military and intelligence gathering. The country’s president even gave up on nuclear and missile development just to get his coup d’état acknowledged. The current regime’s situation was no different from King Gojong’s time, who had set up an office right next to the American embassy.
And the National Security Agency was no better either—as it handed all local information over to the CIA under the pretext of Korean-American cooperation. So even if American soldiers were found guilty for assaulting—or worse murdering—Korean civilians, the country would still choose to give up the right to prosecute these criminals.
Yi Dae-deok’s face burned in shame. “Forgive me for my rudeness. From now on, there won’t be anything that will go against your wishes or cause you any inconveniences, sir. And if there’s anything I can help you with, I will gladly come to your aid.”
Yi Dae-deok’s tone had turned a lot more courteous. But it wasn’t because he found out that Bak Mu-ssang occupied a minister-level position in France. Despite his verbal denial, Mu Ssang’s worries for his mother nation could still be sensed in his words.
“No, don’t. It’ll be much more straightforward if we just act like cows and chickens. Why would I dance around with a double-edged sword called the Nat-Sec, anyway?
“This country will never catch up to Japan if it insists on sticking to the current system, where the only way a soldier can get promoted to general is by not causing any problems or where a civil servant will only get their promotion and guaranteed retirement by not doing anything that will make him stick out like a sore thumb.
“While Korea wastes its days struggling with internal strife, China has started to race ahead of us by sticking to Deng Xiaoping’s black-cat-white-cat theory. Shouldn’t you know by now, that trying to block the eyes and ears of the citizens will only come back to bite you in the end?
“The actual threats are not lying within our country, but rather outside our borders. You should be swimming in the wider seas by now, so how long do you plan to continue acting like pawns for those in power?” Mu Ssang spoke in a resigned sigh and then turned around to leave.
“Advisor, sir. I know this isn’t the right place, but do you mind if we talk a little while longer?” Yi Dae-deok asked desperately.
Bak Mu-ssang belonged to a group in charge of defending France’s national security. His every word on national security is like gold dust, opening Yi Dae-deok’s eyes to reality. He wanted to listen to him more if he could help it, even if it were just one more word.
“I can’t even take care of my own affairs, yet I waste your time with my unsolicited opinions,” said Mu Ssang, before leaving the pavilion without a single goodbye.
Yi Dae-deok couldn’t even bring himself to stop Mu Ssang and simply sat there dazedly, staring at the retreating back of the latter.
A cold wind brushed past Yi Dae-deok’s sweat-soaked clothes, sending chills down his skin. However, he found it easier to breathe now. Earlier, when they were sitting close by, Yi Dae-deok’s skin continued to prick and sting, while his breathing felt tight and difficult.
“Once this country is ready to fight back, I shall help you get the anti-aircraft defense system. The higher-ups are probably thinking about selling their souls just to cling on to America, but that’s a waste of time. Receiving an empty shell without the actual software needed to run it will just further reaffirm this country’s subordination. It’s about time we stop being so devoted to America when it comes to self-defense.”
Even though Mu Ssang’s figure had grown distant, his voice still rang clearly inside of Yi Dae-deok’s ears.
“Heok?!” Yi Dae-deok jumped to his feet in surprise. The anti-aircraft defense system is the main topic of discussion for the conference that will take place in Namsan later on. Chills ran down his entire body.
“Although this will be dealt with in time, I still advise you to go and ransack Higashi Honganji’s mission in Busan’s Haeundae as well as Seomyeon’s so-called Daejeong welfare center. You will find all sorts of parasites there. I’ve heard that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and I’m somewhat relieved that our current regime still has an honest civil servant willing to tough it out.”
Mu Ssang’s shadow vanished into the darkness.
And then, the sound of a bike’s exhaust grew distant.
“So cool. He is truly a cool man’s man!” Yi Dae-deok muttered to himself.
He felt pathetic trying to head-hunt and lord over such a man. It was akin to a garden snake trying to swallow a wild boar. His eyes drifted as they took in the sight of all the holes on the bench as well as the damage done to the pavilion’s pillar.
Yi Dae-deok suddenly realized that Nowon-dong’s Pungguk Capital and the Daejeong welfare center were Bak Mu-ssang’s handiwork. Upon realizing this, he was able to understand several bits of evidence that seemed incomprehensible before.
There is a limit to one’s stupidity, and his willingness to shove his own head inside a crocodile’s open jaw. Yi Dae-deok found himself utterly pathetic for raising so much fuss earlier over a simple lack of honorifics while in front of a such an individual.
“You want us to call you once the country has found the desire and the means to fight back? Just… who are you?”
Despite the cold winds, Yi Dae-deok didn’t want to leave the pavilion just yet. It might have been shocking to find out about Bak Mu-ssang being a standing member of France’s National Security Council, but that only made Mu Ssang’s actual identity even more mysterious.
Yi Dae-deok felt envious of France, for being able to recognize Bak Mu-ssang’s true worth and for giving this man a position of such power.
An agent on standby walked up and urged Yi Dae-deok. “President, sir. We need to get going now. We don’t have much time.”
“Hey, you. Do you think that stupid conference is important to me?! Call the Busan branch and tell them to start a secret investigation on Higashi Honganji’s mission and its Daejeong welfare center. No, wait. Never mind, I’ll go there myself. Summon all the field agents available right now,” Yi Dae-deok roared.
“Young Master! What brings you here in the middle of the week?” Sister Yang quickly rushed out of the temple’s kitchen with a bright smile to welcome Mu Ssang. She used to worry about the honorifics and seemed to have finally settled on “Young Master” now.
“I wanted to see my Master, you see.” Mu Ssang grinned back at her while handing over a bundle of goodies. He had collected wild herbs and reishi mushrooms while roaming the Palgong and Yu Hak mountains. And while on his way here, he also bought some Korean beef bones and tenderloins for good measure.
“Oh, my goodness! Such valuable ingredients, Young Master!”
“Oh, no. It’s nothing much. Older sister, it must be tough trying to serve a cantankerous old man in the middle of a deserted mountain like this. Does the daily life here get too lonesome?”
“No, not at all, Young Master. It’s much nicer to have the Grand Monk with me in the temple. And that young foreigner gentleman comes to visit often too. He’s even more handsome than Hollywood actors, you know? And the day flies by so quickly while I spend time with the mountain animals that come to the temple.”
The handsome and young foreign gentleman was, of course, Kamdoong. That man looked like Omar Sharif and Alain Delon combined. So it’s no surprise that Kamdoong is exceedingly handsome to behold.
A great tit flew down and landed near Sister Yang. She scooped up a handful of millet from the wooden bowl and scattered it on the ground. What a peaceful sight this was.
“Hahaha. My Master has become a little kid, while you’ve become a proper Buddhist nun, sister.”
“Hey, you punk! Since you’re here, you should hurry up and come in already! What’s up with all this chit-chat!” A sharp roar came from the temple’s sanctum.
“Oopsie!” Sister Yang smiled and quickly ran into the temple’s kitchen.
“Yes, yes. I’m coming!” Mu Ssang stepped into the temple’s sanctum.
“Hey, you. I’ve been hearing that you got yourself swept up in useless matters lately. Is that true?”
Even before Mu Ssang could offer his greetings to Lord Buddha, an unpleasant question came hitting him first.
‘Eiiing, Kamdoong, you moron. You blabbed your mouth, didn’t you?’
“…Ouch!” Mu Ssang cried out in pain. A chestnut that was resting on the Buddhist altar suddenly flew out and smacked him, before returning to its original position.
“You dummy! Didn’t I tell you that things will find their right path even if you leave them alone? So why did you go around poking at things?”
“W-well, the cops and the Nat-Sec idiots started interfering with my life, so…”
“Would you listen to this idiot? Are you some common rank-and-file soldier who mess around with children? If you have too much time on your hands, why don’t you be like Kamdoong and clean the sanctum and sweep the front yard instead?”
“You do have a point there, Master,” Mu Ssang readily admitted. These events would’ve shaken up an ordinary person’s life to the core, but to Mu Ssang, these were minor matters that wouldn’t affect him all that much.
“What brings you here so late in the day, though? Is there something on your mind?”
“My Baekbu  is terminally ill, Master. I feel troubled as to what to do.”
“Eii, you dummy. You’ve already made up your mind about it, so why are you asking this old monk for an answer!”
“Ehhh? But I haven’t made up my mind at all though.”
“Why would you come and seek out this smelly old monk if you still hadn’t made up your mind? You just wanted some kind of affirmation from me, and that’s why you’re here.”
Mu Ssang was stunned. His Master had hit the nail right on the head. He had actually decided not to do anything about Baekbu’s illness, but his heart couldn’t find peace until now, as if his family’s blood was tugging at his conscience.
“Master, even though my heart’s already made up, delusions and my obstinacy have hidden the truth from me.”
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“Hahaha. It’s rather cringing to see my disciple pretending to be an enlightened monk, isn’t it? You’re so shabby that this old monk can’t even close his eyes and rest until now. I still have to work my butt off for you!”
“Master!” Mu Ssang embraced his Master’s figure, which was as thin as dead branches. “You have to live for a long time and stop your shabby disciple from doing dumb things, Master.”
“You dummy, you’re giving me the creeps. But my disciple is one of the wealthiest men alive, so I’m going to stick around as long as I can to have some fun at your expense. First things first, though, change that old TV to a colored one, okay? Sister Yang says she doesn’t like that old black-and-white TV.”
“Ehehehe~. You shouldn’t use the sister as your excuse, Master. You probably wanted to see some hot young things in full color, right? Don’t worry, Master. I knew you’d ask for something like that, so I’ve already ordered a wide-screen TV. Some people should show up tomorrow to install it, Master,” Mu Ssang cackled.
“Hmm, hmm. That’s good, then.” Monk Dae-woo coughed to hide the awkwardness.
‘I see that our dear Grand Monk is having fun now that Young Master is here.’
“Everyone, I’ve prepared food at the main room.” Sister Yang opened the sanctum’s door and alerted the two men of mealtime.
“Uh-huh! Why would I be happy to have some punk who dare make fun of his dear Master hanging around!” Monk Dae-woo shook his head.
“My dear old Master is simply finding solace by watching over an immature young punk. Hahaha!” Mu Ssang cackled again. Since his mother still hasn’t been found, his Master is the only person in the world whom Mu Ssang could find comfort with.
“Eigoo~. Whether it’s the Grand Monk or the Young Master, you two are the same when saying incomprehensible things. In any case, let us hurry,” Sister Yang urged.
“Mu-ah. Are you planning to interfere more with matters of this mundane world?”
“No, Master. From this disciple’s perspective, the world still isn’t satisfactory, but it’s steadily marching toward the correct direction. So far, it doesn’t seem necessary for me to jump in and cause a scene.”
“I am pleased to hear that. I guess you’ve grown up, my disciple.”
“Ehehe, well, your disciple is certainly good with metal things, that’s true! I’m good with guns and also handy with knives!”
A Buddhist rosary hanging on the wall came flying and smacked Mu Ssang before returning to its original place.
“Ouch!” Mu Ssang got punished for being too cheeky.
“Fetters of infatuation, is it? Mu-ah, where is your heart lingering on currently?” Monk Dae-woo asked out of the blue.
Mu Ssang couldn’t reply right away. Instead, he considered his homes in Jip-eun Dari, Novatopia, and Eungsim-je. All three places didn’t fit the “fetters of infatuation” mentioned by Master.
“Go where your heart is leading you. Namu Amida Butsu!” Monk Dae-woo said some riddle before closing his eyes. Mu Ssang bowed before his Master and then quietly retreated.
“Go where my heart is leading me…?”
Mu Ssang reflected on what could be considered as fetters of infatuation in his life. His Master was an enlightened monk and not the type to say random nonsense. Since the Master’s advice was to go where the heart was leading him, Mu Ssang needed to figure out where it is.
The remaining fetters of infatuation for him would be his mother and Hae-young.
Nupchi is putting in all effort to find any traces of Mu Ssang’s mother right now, which meant the other unresolved fetter would be Hae-young. Even though he said he had severed the chain connecting his heart to hers, the love between a couple wasn’t some cheap emotion that could be severed so easily. It wasn’t like smoking that you could just quit, but more of something to endure.
“Could that be where my heart is leading me?”
The letter Mrs. Deok-san handed over to him some time ago came back into Mu Ssang’s mind, details faintly coming back to him… He recalled the location was where his parents had their first encounter, while their son went to the same location on a break-up trip.
Mu Ssang dazedly looked up at the signboard of the Chungmu passenger ship terminal.
His father met his mother right here. ‘Didn’t father say something about falling in love at first sight to a 19-year-old girl in a soft, pink Mudang dress, as she danced away during the ritual for abundant harvest? He chased after her for one and a half years until finally winning her over.’
A father found his love here, while the son had to say goodbye to his love in this place. The memories of their steamy break-up sex in that Bijin-do B&B made Mu Ssang dizzy momentarily.
A passenger ship blared its horn as it left port. This is the same dock where Mu Ssang and Hae-young got on a boat headed to Bijin-do island six years ago.
And now, here he was, standing on these docks again, while she was someplace far away. The sea route information board leaning at a crooked angle remained the same after all these years. Even the sea gulls flying leisurely overhead hadn’t changed. And yet, only the people had changed.
Mu Ssang can picture Hae-young fighting off loneliness inside an empty apartel located in the street near Paseo Nuevo while bathed in yellow sodium lights. The words she wrote about wanting to speak to someone while rummaging through her notebook only to realize that she had no one to call hit Mu Ssang in the heart really hard.
This was no one’s fault, but the pressure from society that had led them here. Mu Ssang completely wrecked the lives of Prosecutor Kim Dal-su and Sergeant Jang Chi-soo, as they were the main culprits behind his break-up with Hae-young.
Back then, he cried bucketload of tears like some idiot while listening to the song “If the Ocean Was a Land.” But he could summon the Falcon right now and cross the Pacific.
But what would he do upon reaching there? Time is relative. Six years to young people would be akin to six decades to older adults.
He loved Edel and Jin-soon. And obviously, Hae-young wouldn’t still be clutching onto her pillows longingly after all this time. The sweet and happy memories flashed past his mind like a revolving lantern.
The heart could be cunning sometimes. He acted like a big man while saying goodbye to her, yet it was all just a ruse. Fragments of memories, as sharp as broken ceramic pieces, dug into his heart, causing blood to slowly trickle down.
His view was momentarily blinded by bright lights, which belong to the navigation lamps of the fishing boats returning to port. Mu Ssang just noticed that it was already evening. After buying a ticket to Bijin-do island at the ship’s terminal, he wandered the docks for the next two hours.
Unable to leave the docks, he decided to go to a nearby motel to turn in for the night.
By the time he regained his wits, he found himself standing in front of the motel called Yil-Seong-Jang, where he and Hae-young had stayed in all those years ago. Six years had robbed the letter “L” from the signboard, turning the place from Yil-Seong-Jang to Yi-Seong-Jang. But just like how Bak Mu-ssang was the invincible Eastern Swordsman, there was no doubt that this was the same motel from before.
It was said that Kim Yu-sin’s favorite horse took its drunk owner to Cheon Gwan-nyeo’s home. The invincible Eastern Swordsman wasn’t some dumb animal, yet his wild wandering still unconsciously led him to the steps of Yil-Seong-Jang.
Mu Ssang tossed and turned throughout the night, as glimpses of his past and the sounds of waves continued to haunt him. He only finally fell asleep in the early morning. He could have blocked out the noises of the crashing waves, but there was nothing he could do about the voices messing around in his head.
The dull ringing of a phone woke him up. When Mu Ssang picked up the intercom, his hearing was tormented by an old lady’s phlegmy voice.
-Guest, it’s already midnight. Are you going to leave or stay for another day?
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He chuckled. Even the unfriendly tone of the landlady was also the same as six years ago. Nothing seemed to have changed, which brought him this unexplainable sense of relief.
“I’m going!” Mu Ssang replied curtly and slammed the receiver down, the same way he did six years ago. Of course, everything changes over time, but some things will remain the same. And that is why the world is such an exciting place.
 Father’s older brother.
 TL: A pun on “growing up/maturing” and “metal things” was lost during translation.