Blaring red and white lights and the constant scream of the police siren were common characteristics of the smoky “slums” surrounding the metropolitan areas.
Over the years, commercial buildings and shopping malls had sprung up on the available land, with the government pushing projects that would fuel the nation’s economy, into a few conglomerated areas where the functioning modern world would flourish within high-rise office buildings and company skyscrapers.
Culture and business thrived, transforming the once empty landscape into a maze of bustling success.
But with the push and grow of business areas, the recess and failures of its domain was left behind. Pushed between the cracks of the richer society and obscured by the rising towers of wealth, the crumbling squatter homes of drug addicts and pimps survived, feeding on the left-overs of a money-oriented world.
Fired-up youths who ran away from their clean-cut suburban homes and controlling parents, in dreams of big bucks amongst the neon signs and massive shopping malls with screaming billboards – they were the bums and druggies of the deteriorating Hanshan District. Their rebellion decorated the dull cement of squat, ugly buildings teeming with vermin, in fading graffiti as they wandered the streets with hollowed eyes, scrounging for cash to buy heroin to cloud up their crushed dreams.
Bony prostitutes stalked the dim alleyways in puffs of cigarette smoke and weed. Their cheap, counterfeit boots kicked up phony ads and crushed cans of beer, as well as the occasional contaminated needle.
Some addicts were desperate enough to pick up those needles and doom themselves to a life with AIDS, the prevalent disease throughout the Hanshan District. Nothing guaranteed a clean needle in this area with an income that either came from petty theft or most likely, welfare. Whores were quite possibly the second highest prosperous folk in the district, next to their pimp boyfriends. They were the ones with enough dirty cash to buy a clean new box of cigarettes.
The sound of glass breaking often filled the air, escalating at a frequent rate towards sunset. Theft was so common that the police simply breezed through shops and protocol, listening with deaf ears to the angered and weary shopkeeper that had enough to keep the vicinity under his name, but not enough to move out of the hell-hole. What could the police do anyway? In the next few minutes, the stolen goods – a pocketed banana or orange, or a few cans of soup, and small appliances, would be peddled in the network of black marketing. And the culprits would disappear into the concrete jungle of gangs.
Dead bodies showed up every week. There could not have been one street corner that wasn’t associated with a murder. Most of the victims were John or Jane Does, with no family, connections, or proof of their life’s existence except for their corpses which were hauled away to unmarked graves for the unnamed and unidentified.
The mob gangs kept as low-profile as possible, but if they did have to kill someone, they tried to do it as cleanly as clean could be defined by the filth that teemed in the Hanshan District. That meant dumping the body into the nearby filled sewer where bodies often floated up to the green, murky surfaces.
So there wasn’t much the police could do about murder if their victims had no history. Or if the murderers would simply never be found.
The only thing they could do was take care of the cases where the victims had succeeded enough to start being citizens in the common society – but not before they had their lives extinguished in the chaos of their violent surroundings.
Such was a case like this one which called the police to on a summer night in what was close to living Hell.
Officer Park Yoochun sat in the driver’s seat of the police car, his long legs awkwardly digging a corner next to the accelerator. The air inside the vehicle was hot and growing slightly unbearable with every ticking minute, and Yoochun wondered if he would dare key the ignition to turn the air-conditioner on and relieve himself with the cool air, but he thought less of it, not wanting to suffer a likely repirmand from his unsympathetic employer.
Yoochun constantly shuffled on the leather seat, the sweat on his back snaking underneath the gap of his vest and pants, soaking his T-shirt and making small squelching noises on the chair. It had to be at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside despite the strong gales of wind, which were only circulating the muggy, humid air around in fact.
A thick file bursting with papers and photographs was lying on Yoochun’s shifting lap, and he struggled to keep it from falling on to the floor with his sweaty hands. The voluminous manila folder contained records of all the crimes – at least the ones that were reported to the police – in the District, that he had grabbed in response to a curt, abrupt order from his boss during his evening coffee break in the police headquarters.
Yoochun had driven of course, accustomed to being the chaperone of his demanding boss, while being a constantly updated, human information database to brief details when needed for clarification. They were on their way to a fresh murder site, and though Yoochun was relatively new in headquarters, it was certainly not his first case. His boss had a habit of taking on as many cases as possible, especially if they were situated around the gang-torn streets. In a way, Yoochun had more experience in investigations, than any other newbie in his station.
A tap resonated against the window of the car on Yoochun’s side and Yoochun automatically jolted to attention, unlocking the car doors and secretly breathing in relief as a temporary gust of wind blew into the vehicle, turning the sweat on his neck cold.
His boss got in and gestured for Yoochun to start the car.
Detective Kim Jaejoong had stopped their patrol car on the way to the site they were headed to, in order to reprimand a suspicious group of young teenage boys with oversized torn jeans ready to drop to their ankles, shaved heads, tattoos, and bandanas. In a normal team, Yoochun as his partner would have waited by anxiously watching, but over the few months of his employment under Jaejoong, he had learnt that his specific superior’s safety was the least of his worries.
Kim Jaejoong was a force that few would reckon with, once he revealed his true nature beneath his strikingly good looks and almost feminine features. That much Yoochun had learnt on his first patrol with Jaejoong, where Yoochun sustained a knife wound for being, as Jaejoong had snapped at him a “liability”, after Jaejoong had single-handedly crippled all five of the attackers and kicked the wind out of their ribs. The only thing Yoochun had done positive was get himself wounded, which had given them excuse to arrest the men for assaulting and injuring an officer.
Since then, whenever their car pulled over to the cigarette-littered sidewalks, Yoochun stayed inside, only coming out to handcuff the contained criminal underneath the crush of Jaejoong’s boot to be hauled back to headquarters.
Their patrol car brought in the most criminals on an almost daily basis. Most cops would have preferred to leave the illegal drug dealers and weapons dealers alone, but Jaejoong was determined to bring every one of them to justice. It was as if he would never be satisfied until he had cleaned up the entire District.
But no matter how many times he stopped one person from the circulation of violence, the breed would continue to grow out of the filthy alleyways echoing with the sounds of gunshots. As far as Yoochun predicted, Jaejoong would never stop hearing the sound of the police siren.
And as his assistant, neither would he.
“Damn punks,” Jaejoong let out darkly. “They were thinking of shooting up a shop just for the heck of it. Thank God we stopped by and warned them otherwise.”
Yoochun nodded and gave a little silent thanks himself, imagining the intimidation in his boss’s eyes that those boys would remember tonight, and how icy and cutting Jaejoong’s voice could be when he was giving a warning. And if things had gotten messy, it wouldn’t have been a good thing to show up at their crime scene with a couple of delinquents in the back seat with handcuffs. For both those juveniles and their police station’s sakes.
“Step on it. Kangta’s not going to want us late to process the scene.”
Yoochun mumbled a yes and stepped on the accelerator a little more, speeding them towards their destination – a seedy motel in the heart of the District, where a triple murder had just been committed.
They passed by uneven rows of short, gray buildings. The outside walls of the run-down facilities were lined with rusted pipes, like cracked veins on dirty, tattooed skin, and water stains running from cracked or spray-painted-in windows. In the darkness unfaithfully lit by spluttering lampposts which grew darker every passing night, the effect given was of running mascara and the stains of tears on a weary face.
Garbage and the occasional carcass of a small sewer animal lying on its back, were tossed up by the speeding wheels of the patrol car and blown into the overfilled drains on the sides of the road. Yoochun snuck a peak at his boss and caught the wrinkle of distaste on his expression at the blur of decaying scenery. He couldn’t help but think of how the picture of Kim Jaejoong sullenly brooding in the passenger seat, with the side of his face resting on his palm – it all missed the accessory of a cigarette entwined in his pale hands.
Jaejoong looked like a smoker to Yoochun, though he’d heard that he had been at some point, but had since then gotten off the habit. With the crap that Jaejoong handled everyday on the job, Yoochun wondered how hard it could have been for Jaejoong to kick the nicotine reliance – though, knowing his boss’ personality over the last few months, Jaejoong was capable of doing anything if he set his mind to it for even a small percentage of will.
They finally reached the location of the dispatch call, pulling into the parking lot of the Cabana 7, identified by an outrageously large pink neon signboard above its tacky resort. The screaming sign, blinking on and off, was in bad taste to the utterly plain building, clashing with the whitewashed walls and unclipped bushes that were being strangled by a platoon of weeds.
A spindly, black wire fence enclosed the perimeter of the small parking lot outside of the motel, in which 2 other patrol cars with their red and white lights flashing, were already parked unevenly, almost perpendicular to the parking lines. Yoochun pulled the car into a parking slot, neatly, already used to Jaejoong’s almost obsessive insistence on keeping tidy.
“That’s what parking lines are for. Just because we have to get into the scene and we have some authority doesn’t mean we have to forget common courtesy and the ethics of driving,” Jaejoong had said on their first case, lecturing Yoochun for hours afterwards on parking tactics.
Jaejoong and Yoochun got out of the car and stepped into the humid landscape, making their way across the parking lot. As they reached the gum-splattered walkway towards the grimy entrance, Yoochun somehow got the thick file in his arms sorted out, clamping it to his chest and waited for Jaejoong’s cue.
“What’s the situation?”
“Uh…” Yoochun gambled with the word, knowing that Jaejoong disliked waiting. He was already displaying his incompetence by letting a few papers slide out of the folder, catching at them frantically while the sweat continued to run down his neck. He finally found the records he was looking for.
“… According to the dispatch call, we have three victims, one adult female and two children – a boy and a girl. The records here show that this isn’t the first murder this motel has had, but then again I guess it wouldn’t be a surprise if every motel in this area had at least two or more crimes committed.”
Yoochun attempted to assuage the last sentence of personal statement with a nervous laugh, at which Jaejoong answered with a steely gaze, withholding silence.
“Anyway…” Yoochun coughed nervously, continuing. “There were no witnesses. The manager and most of the guests heard the screaming and gunshots following. Stephanie from the lab is already in there, processing the scene.”
As they approached the front door, they were met by another officer who immediately let them through. Jaejoong gave a curt nod of acknowledgment and strode across the dull lobby, without giving so much of a glance at the scratched answering desk and ripped wallpaper. They’d been here before on previous cases, but not for such a serious murder case like this one.
Yoochun noticed that the blood stains from an old case they’d investigated from a brutal stabbing in the lobby, had not been cleaned up – a dark brown splatter crusting the filthy blue carpet. He shivered and quickened his pace to follow Jaejoong, who was already half-way up the staircase to the 2nd floor. One of the elevators was eternally out of order, and the other one was not to be trusted, given that it shuddered as if undergoing a small earthquake at every stop, and its lights constantly flickered. The buttons didn’t work unless if you punched the life out of them and hopefully didn’t get gum on your fingertips at the same time.
Upstairs, avoiding a fat roach skittering away from somebody’s greasy litter, they pushed their way through a tiny mob of sleepy-eyed guests in their rumpled bedroom robes or cheap dollar store shirts and boxers, and a few police officers. A sallow-faced lady with curlers stuck in her frazzled hair argued with a young officer, complaining about the noise and ruckus the police were making at this time of the night.
“Ma’am, I understand this is a great inconvenience to you and the other guests, but we are investigating a murder case here. Can I please ask you to return to your room?” The officer reasoned.
Yoochun caught Jaejoong’s roll of the eyes as they walked down the hallway. They reached the yellow crime scene tape, which was lifted up for them by 2 officers.
Superintendent Kim Dong Wan stood outside the open doorway to Room 217, with his arms crossed. Yoochun felt his stomach drop a little bit. Great.
“You’re late,” Dong Wan stared straight into Jaejoong’s eyes. Yoochun tried not to remind himself that he was blatantly ignored. “The dispatch was well over 30 minutes ago, and here you are now. The team can’t wait for you to get over here if they have a scene to process, and ideally…”
The straight-suited superintendent gestured to the hallway of bickering motel guests. “… We’d like to finish up as fast, and as efficiently as possible to give these people some peace of mind.”
Jaejoong stared straight back without batting an eyelid, and Yoochun silently prayed for some civil answer to their superior.
“Sorry sir. We got held up in a little incident along the way.” Jaejoong calmly let out, and Yoochun held his breath.
Dong Wan and Jaejoong stood face-to-face, sizing each other up in a momentary silence. Finally, Dong Wan stepped to the side and motioned to the entrance.
“Just don’t let it happen again. Now get in there and work this case.”
Jaejoong didn’t hesitate on the last order while Yoochun muttered a hundred apologies on behalf of his employer while bowing profusely like an idiot to Dong Wan, who simply ignored him.
It was nice for Yoochun to know that he wasn’t really worth much in the hierarchy of the police force except he was seen as the equivalent of air, unless if Jaejoong needed to use him like a slave in the workplace.
Room 217 was a standard one-bedroom unit, with the same sickly pale green wall paint that was chipping and patterned with the shoeprints of previous occupants. A dirty picture of a potted plant in a dull black frame was placed not so subtlety over a massive crack in the wall on the east side of the bed. The cheap, rickety furniture had the suspicious markings of what might have been the claws of small animals.
Yoochun tip-toed over crumpled soda cans and used tissues, wondering if upsetting the position of any of them would count as destroying the crime scene and its evidence. The main picture of the crime scene though, was lying in the middle of the room, right next to the bed.
Three bloodied bodies lay side-by-side, the blood flow from their cold wounds already stopped at the extent of a massive conjoined puddle of scarlet, staining the beige, filthy carpeting. Yoochun could just see the wide-open eyes of the adult body, partially obscured by a female lab worker.
Stephanie Kim stood up, at the same time depositing something small and metallic clamped between her pair of lab tweezers into a plastic evidence bag. Yoochun tried not to notice how her black police uniform shirt barely concealed her slim, curvaceous mid-riff and the glimpse of a sparkling stone on her slightly tanned belly. He also tried not to remember how she’d shot down his romantic advances in the police station in front of just about every officer in the facility, so that he was talked about and teased for days.
She looked up as Jaejoong and Yoochun entered, sealed the plastic bag and stepped to the side.
“We’ve got 3 gunshot victims here,” She showed the bullet casing in the evidence bag to Jaejoong who took it, examined it for a split second, and then handed it back. “From the looks of it, they were shot with a 9-millimeter gun. I found this casing right next to the bodies, but I found two other casings next to the closet.”
Stephanie pointed to the slightly molding corner of the bedroom where the closet was situated. Its doors hung open.
“There’s a… no, there are two blood trails leading from the closet to the bodies.” Jaejoong examined.
“Yes,” Stephanie nodded. “I’m thinking that the other two victims were shot there and the killer dragged them over next to the adult.”
“Why would he go through so much trouble?”
Jaejoong circled the three bodies, placed together like triplets. The two children were laid on either side of the adult female. Yoochun scribbled furiously in his notebook and kept out of the way.
“Who are they?”
“The lady’s name is Kang Sung Ah. I found her wallet on the bureau. ID and cash were still there.”
“The killer wasn’t interested in a robbery…” Jaejoong crouched down and surveyed the ghosted, pale face of the woman, petrified in her death expression. “… It seems like this was personal.”
“It could be. Ex-boyfriend… Domestic violence… I had the woman’s information sent back to the office to be run. We’re getting her contacts and possible living address, friends, family members, and anyone else related to her in some way.”
“Good job.” Jaejoong gave a militant nod to Stephanie. Yoochun felt as useless as the lop-sided frame of the potted plant attempting to obscure the flaw in the walls.
“I think these two kids could be hers.” Stephanie gestured to the bodies.
Yoochun felt a pang of sadness and a sick wave of nausea wash over him, which he fought to control as he looked upon the two dead children. A bullet hole gaped through the lavender sweater of the little girl, soaking it with her blood. She could have been about 9 to 11 years old.
The little boy looked to be even younger, his head titled slightly towards the woman placed between him and the girl. His eyes were closed, and Yoochun was glad he didn’t have to see the lifelessness in them.
Jaejoong crouched down again in front of the bodies, and for a moment, Yoochun saw him betray his feelings for a while. His brow furrowed and he closed his eyes, then opened them again, and the expression was gone as quickly as it had been revealed. Yoochun understood. As cold as his boss could seem, Jaejoong was the most involved with the investigations in murders, more than any other person in the police station or crime lab.
“Sung Ah was shot at close range.” Jaejoong said. Stephanie looked up from where she was photographing the inside of the closet where the two blood trails started.
“Shouldn’t we wait for the ballistics lab to determine that?” Stephanie cocked her head to the side.
“Ballistics would find it just exactly as I said.” Jaejoong lifted his right hand and pointed his middle and index finger, imitating the shape of a gun. He held his makeshift weapon perpendicular to the bloody bullet-hole in the woman’s chest, aiming at the wound.
“When the muzzle is held close to the skin, there should be charring from the hot gases of the blast. Entrance wound is larger than the bullet. Have you checked her back yet?”
“I haven’t moved the bodies at all. Nobody has.”
“Then we don’t know if there’s an exit wound. Judging from the size of the wound, I’m guessing the blast was powerful enough to cause a through-and-through.”
Jaejoong stood up and turned around. He stepped around the bodies and lifted his hand, extending his two fingers and moving them in front of him till he pointed at the wall across from him.
Yoochun looked. At first, he didn’t see anything until Jaejoong reached the wall.
The dirty curtain almost covered the miniscule crater in the wall, made by a blunt, metal bullet, just barely hitting the side of the cloth. Jaejoong motioned for Stephanie, who quickly stooped down to the open lab kit on the floor and grabbed a clean pair of elastic gloves. Jaejoong took one and fitted it on to his hand.
Jaejoong waited for Stephanie to photograph the embedded bullet before he pinched the end of the stub between his thumb and index finger, then carefully pulled at it, wriggling it slightly as it slowly eased out. Stephanie held a new clear plastic bag open for Jaejoong to drop the bullet into.
“I didn’t find any bullets in the closet. Just the casings, remember?” Stephanie offered, after sealing the plastic bag and dropping it into a yellow envelope. “They must be in…” She trailed off, her gaze turning to the still forms of the dead children.
Jaejoong moved away from the wall and walked towards the closet. Yoochun followed him and stood a small distance away.
Two small red, uneven pools stained the carpeted floor inside the tiny walk-in closet. Jaejoong crouched down and squatted in front of the stains, crossing his arms on top of his knees.
“He left the children lying here after he shot them. At least, for a while.”
“Yes. The bleeding indicates it.”
Jaejoong said nothing for a while, lowering his chin to rest on his arms.
“They were watching him kill her.”
Yoochun’s pen paused in mid-scribble on his notebook.
“Yoochun, do you see this?” Jaejoong pointed to the open doors of the closet. There were thin blinds in the door. Yoochun watched as Jaejoong pulled the door closer to his face and scooted down to peer through the narrow spaces.
“The children were hiding here. They could see everything happen outside in the bedroom. And the killer found them.”
Yoochun looked at the two children lying at the woman’s sides in blood. He heard Jaejoong curse under his breath and turned to see his boss pick up what appeared to be a mangled doll from a shadowed corner of the closet.
Jaejoong brushed his long fringe out of his eyes and stood up, clutching the dead girl’s doll in his gloeved fist. His face was grim as he stepped away from the open closet.
“Stephanie, I want you to fingerprint the closet door and the doorknobs in this room. I’m well aware that this is a motel and you’re probably going to get about a hundred sets of different prints, but as soon as our victim’s information runs through and we get some connections and acquaintances, ex-boyfriends, husbands, whatever… We’ll have something to compare with at least.”
The lab technician nodded and fetched her kit.
“We’re going to get this guy.” Jaejoong muttered, loud enough for Yoochun to hear him.
Just as Jaejoong set the doll down and grabbed a clear slip from Stephanie’s kit to print the closet door, Dong Wan walked into the room with his cellphone clamped to his ear and a look of frustration on his face. His eyes fixed upon Jaejoong’s instantly and he cocked his head towards the door, motioning for Jaejoong to follow him outside.
“Sir, can’t this wait?” Jaejoong scowled openly. Dong Wan glared back.
“It’s important, Jaejoong. We need to talk. Now.” Dong Wan said before he mumbled a string of words into the phone in his hand. Jaejoong let out a loud sigh of annoyance and dropped the slip back into the kit.
“Don’t touch anything.” He warned Yoochun icily before he stepped out the door with a dark look on his face. Yoochun shuffled his feet uselessly, peeved that he still wasn’t qualified to process the crime scenes first-hand. Stephanie glanced at Yoochun and then back at her work, quickly dismissing his presence.
Tough love. Yoochun mused and tried not to seem too awkward standing by himself with nothing to do. He distracted himself by staring at the red blood trail, shivered and then tried to focus on something that didn’t remind him that there were two dead children in the room, and possibly their murdered mother.
Moments later, both him and Stephanie heard a flurry of shouts explode outside.
It was Jaejoong who was shouting, his angry words carrying clearly into the room, making Yoochun jump. Stephanie dropped the set of fresh prints she was holding.
“For gods sake, Jaejoong, keep your voice down!” Dong Wan’s voice followed sternly, his pitch slightly lowered than Jaejoong’s.
“What are you and Kangta pulling this time? This is bullshit!”
“It’s not my choice, I told you. If you have a problem, go and tell Kangta to his face when you get there. But this is a case, okay? The point is, we need you over there now.”
“Well I’m assigned to this case here. Don’t they have someone else to do their work?”
“They specifically asked for you. Jaejoong, you have to understand, this is big. And it’s Kangta’s orders.”
“Screw Kangta! So what if some bigshot got killed? Dong Wan, there’s a dead woman inside this motel with two kids shot in their freaking stomachs. Kids, Dong Wan!”
“Listen to me, Jaejoong!” Dong Wan’s words pierced the air. There was a brief pause before he continued.
“Jaejoong… I’m telling you, there’s nothing I can do. Or you can do for that matter. Kangta’s pulled you off this case.”
There was a stunning silence. Yoochun wondered what the motel guests were thinking of the outburst at the moment, and he shuddered to imagine the expression on Jaejoong’s face. The lady outside with curlers in her hair must have been steaming with disapproval.
Time seemed to flow on forever before Jaejoong’s voice broke the uncomfortable quiet atmosphere.
“Y-yes?” Yoochun stooped to retrieve his dropped notebook on the dirty carpet.
Jaejoong stood in the doorway, his face a thundercloud.
“Give me the car keys and follow me. I’m driving.”
Yoochun uttered a prayer for himself.
*Rejoices* Yay first chapter :D I can afford to rest a little now, even though I'm anxious to start writing the next part immediately. And I just had to insert my Shinhwa and CSJH bias <3 And besides, Stephanie's hot, and Dong Wan looks extra sexy in a suit. Not into H.O.T, but Kangta is like, the last of his era still active in SME.
I'm not going to limit cameos to SME artists though -- we all know how much SME sucks, but some of their peoples are so cool. And what's wrong with YG? ;)