Empire of the Ring

Chapter 18
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Chapter 18: The Secret of the Ring and the Leather Shoes (2)

Edward of US CIA was delighted to hear that Youngho signed a large land leasing agreement with the Azerbaijan government. It was Edward’s achievement as well because he had assigned Youngho as a field agent in Baku.

When Youngho said he would visit Turkey, Edward asked to meet in there.

Mustafa greeted Youngho at the airport.

“Mustafa, you shouldn’t have come. You are a busy man. I could just take a taxi.”

“I couldn’t just sit and wait knowing that you are coming.”

“Brother, I’m here to buy grape plants and farm equipment. Can you get me connections?”

“This time you are buying grape plants and farm equipment? What’s next?”

“Hahaha. Yeah, I had to do this to gain trust.”

“I’m afraid that you might turn into a double spy.”

Youngho felt weird. Sometimes, he felt like he was doing a double spy’s job.

“Come on brother Mustafa, what would a CIA agent gain from Azerbaijan, unless it’s Turkey?”

Saying that, Youngho placed a piece of paper in Mustafa’s hand. After checking what it was, Mustafa frowned and stared at Youngho as if he did an idle job.

“The orphanage insisted to issue this because they wanted to express their gratefulness. I couldn’t do anything when they kept insisting.”

“I didn’t want to receive this kind of certificate. The fact that I could be of help of the orphans in my country is more than enough.”

Although he was saying that, he looked proud.

With Mustafa’s help, Youngho could complete all the purchases of plants and equipment in four days. He bought Muscat of Alexandria grape plant variety that were widely cultivated in dry central Asia and Southern Europe.

They bore large sized grape fruits that are harvested from September through October. They could grow well in dry lands. He bought three-year-old plants that can be cultivated now at a price of 1 for 400 won, he bought 200,000 of them. The price was cheap since it was such a large-scale grape plantation area.

Ten Automated grape pickers, ten multipurpose cargo bikes, and other extra equipment cost him almost 200 million won. He placed plants and equipment in a container and sent them to Baku through Poti Sea Port. They were not taxed. The taxes were specially exempted because Youngho was the first foreign investor of Azerbaijan’s farming industry.

In order to have produces by next fall, Youngho would have to work for the whole summer diligently planting the seedlings. Farming also would cost him 200 million worth of wages, which was equivalent to most of the savings from businesses in Baku. Because he was reimbursed for his police family donation from CIA, he was able to manage that without taking the money received as a lobby.

Youngho’s position was secured in Baku, now that he had a title of a farm investor. Because the officials were in favor of Youngho, no one would dare to take advantage from him.

When Youngho finished buying all of the necessaries, Edward visited him to his hotel room. He wanted to hear every conversation that Youngho had with Baku’s high officials, so Youngho told him everything descriptively.

Such details seemed like nothing to Youngho but for an elite information agent like Edward, every single detail was something that he could infer information from.

From the conversation with Kamal the head of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Edward implied that there might be a dispute soon. With a serious look on his face, Edward said that he needed to visit the headquarter office of Europe.

He asked Youngho if he could wait for him for five more days, staying and touring in Istanbul for the meantime. Youngho, who planned to go find the girl from the flea market, gladly agreed to his request.

***

Luckily, the next day was Sunday, so Youngho went to Ortakoy flea market where he met the girl.

There was a young man selling accessories at the spot where the girl sold her belongings on a cloth on the ground.

Youngho had learned Turkish for the past two months but he still had hard time to communicate with people. He could barely greet people and say simple words.

He used body language and English with Turkish to explain what he was looking for and the young man took him to an old merchant who had been doing his business in the market for the longest. Like he did to the young man, Youngho tried his best to explain why he was there but the old merchant did not seem to get him.

Youngho could not figure out from the merchant’s face, if he was just avoiding to answer him or because he did not know who the girl was.

For the next hour, Youngho looked around asking for the girl’s whereabouts. As if he felt bad for Youngho’s situation, a young man who could speak English asked.

“Why are you looking for that girl?”

“Oh! I just want to help her situation.”

“Do you by any chance, like her?”

The man and people around him looked at him as if he was seeking the love of his life. Since Youngho wanted to keep the secret of the ring and shoes to himself, he just decided to go along with their imagination.

“Well, yeah. I’m embarrassed but she’s been on my mind ever since I left for home. I’m a Korean. I do business in Baku, so I visit here often. I thought I could meet her again if I come here.”

“Oh! Kan kardeş*.”

Suddenly his face brightened with joy and hugged Youngho, saying why he did not say that he was a Korean earlier. Youngho explained that he did not like her as a woman but like a little sister and he wanted to give some help.

The man complimented Youngho’s compassion repeating, “Kan kardeş.”

Then he suggested that if Youngho buy an item from him, he would take his time and look for the girl for Youngho. He pointed to a leather bag and suggested $50 as a price. It was obvious the man was trying to sell his item but Youngho paid him to give a benefit of doubt.

After looking at Youngho who had not even tried to bargain with him, he gave back $20.

“I feel sorry looking at your face. $30 is enough. I will look for the girl.”

“Thank you. If you find the girl, I will reward you.”

At Youngho’s words, he quickly started packing his belongings to go look for the girl immediately.

“I will find the girl and give you the information about her in three days. How much are you going to pay me?”

At his genuine attitude, Youngho suggested $2000 but the man said he would need at least $3000 to mobilize other men to search for the girl. Youngho agreed on the price. He thought it would not be a waste even if he paid $10,000 if he could find the girl.

Youngho gave him his business card and the hotel phone number. The man introduced himself as Sharim.

If Mustafa knew about how much Youngho agreed on paying Sharim, he would have flipped out but Youngho did not want to tell him that he was looking for the girl, so Mustafa would not find out about this.

***

Istanbul was a big city with a population of 13 million. It was three times bigger than Seoul and had more people living in. Searching for a person here was like looking for a needle in the sand desert.

For the next three days, Youngho stayed in his room learning Turkish from an interpreter introduced by the hotel. The interpreter flattered him saying that his language is improving a lot but for Youngho who lived in Azerbaijan for a year, it was not too difficult to learn Turkish. The two languages were very similar that people from the two nations would communicate with each other without any interpreters.

After three days, Sharim called Youngho, letting him know that he found where the girl was. Sharim told Youngho that the girl lived in a slum area that foreigners did not dare to go alone and offered him to go together.

Youngho thought for a moment and agreed to go together, saying that he could pay for the ride. Now, Sharim would bring his car in three hours.

Youngho could not trust Sharim just yet. He did not bring his Beretta, so he did not have any weapon to protect himself. Of course, Youngho was a trained guy but what if Sharim and his friends ganged upon him? Youngho immediately went to a store near the hotel and bought five Turkish traditional flip knives.

Many Turks would carry flip knives for peeling and cutting fruits not as weapons but they were very sturdy. Youngho hid two of them seamlessly in each of the leather shoes and put one in his trouser pocket. He decided to wear the leather shoes he brought to show to the girl, just in case.

Thinking that he would be fine, Youngho did not tell Mustafa about going to the slum area. He did not worry too much because Istanbul was a safe place full of travelers walking around even at nights. Before leaving the hotel, he put all the valuables in the hotel safe bringing his passport and $1,000 only with him.

Sharim’s car just entered Balat where poor people lived. Long time ago, it used to be a Jewish town but now it was a main slum are in Istanbul.

Youngho saw that the walls of many buildings with torn walls and faded paints. The place smelled a peculiar stale of slums.

Sharim and Youngho walked along a narrow winding alley for a while. They stopped at a house that had a brick wall painted in pink, a roof covered with asphalt, and a red door with scratches all over it. The color combination was so disturbing that he did not know where to put his eyes.

When they knocked, two guys came out from the door. As Youngho stepped back, Sharim comforted Youngho, saying they were his friends.

“Mr. Lee, This is the place where the girl you are looking for lives. You can go in there. She is waiting for you.”

Youngho, calming down his pounding heart, asked them to call her out as a way to be courteous. Nervously, he waited for her outside.

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