Empire of the Ring

Chapter 23
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Chapter 23: Another Family (1)

Youngho was at a used car dealer shop.

Now that he regularly visited Istanbul for his business, it was uncomfortable not having a car. If he had a car in here, he could use it to drive the siblings to school and eventually teach Fatima how to drive.

With Mustafa’s help, he bought a year old small compact car from European L brand.

Youngho enrolled Fatima in a driving school first. In Istanbul, you could take written and driving tests after completing a five-week school program. He also wanted to take the siblings back to school. Fatima had dropped out of school when she was a sophomore in high school. Szechenyi was in 7th grade and Zeynep was in 3rd grade when they stopped going to school.

Youngho registered them in an American school in Istanbul called, George Marshall and while waiting to go to school, he hired a tutor for them to study English. Even though the siblings were not qualified to be enrolled in that school, Youngho could register them with the help of Edward the CIA agent.

After sending all the grape plants and farm equipments to Baku, Youngho delayed his stay to spend more time with the siblings. Gerhardt, his secretary, and the other officials in Baku would take care of the shipment for him.

The siblings got excited since Youngho was with them. They always nagged him to go out for a drive when Fatima came back from the driving school. They enjoyed the car ride which they could not afford since they were raised from a poor family.

Thankfully, he was able to drive around complex roads of Istanbul with the help from a GPS and Fatima’s coach. The siblings became more brighter daily as they started to forget about the horrible past memories in the slum area.

Especially Zeynep who liked to follow around Youngho like a real big brother. She was a huge comfort to Youngho who was getting burned out from living far away from his homeland.

Youngho was not sure if it was one of the effects of the rings or if it’s because of the siblings were smart, but the siblings learned English extremely quickly. Zeynep, the youngest one, was the brightest among the three. She spoke English at 7-8 year-olds’ level and could have conversations with Youngho. She surprised him when she even learned some Korean words.

Youngho was getting ready to go back to Baku for he could not leave his stores for too long.

Zeynep who did not want to say goodbye started crying. The siblings who had the best days of their lives with Youngho, loved to be with him.

When their parents were alive, even though they were happy, they were extremely poor. They could not fully enjoy close relationship as a family since they were busy to get by each day. Now when Youngho, who gave and gave freely to them, said he was leaving, they were scared that they might lose him.

“Oppa, can’t we just live together?”

Zeynep asked with tears. When she hugged him like she would never be able to see him again, Youngho almost cried.

These children now trust me and rely on me, thought Youngho.

Youngho, who was searching for ways to treat them better, could leave after convincing her that he will take her to Baku next time.

***

Karajan did an amazing job as a manager of direct stores while Youngho was gone. Gerhardt also had been doing well in the farm development site ever since Youngho told him that he will assign him as a director of the farm development business.

However, the problem was the officials sent by the government as an encouragement of the farm development business. Even though they were here to help, they were still officials, not his employees. Youngho treated them every night with dinners and drinks. He was exhausted.

When treating them, he tried his best to maintain close relationship. As a way to thank their hard work, he showered them with nice gifts like porcelain goods and clothes that their wives would like. Because of Youngho’s efforts, they started to treat him like a friend rather than a foreign investor.

***

Youngho left to Nagorno-Karabakh after spending ten days in Baku. He needed to see his friends and also had a meeting with Edward. Because the CIA had made him a fake passport as a US diplomat, Youngho was able to go in and out of the two countries without any trouble.

“Lee Youngho, I almost forgot your name. What’s making you so busy these days?”

“You know, I need to make money to feed you all.”

“Oh you are? Then I forgive you. I have no shame, buy us drinks tonight!”

Park Jongil brightened the mood.

“No doubt man. Should we go downtown or should we unpack my bag?”

Jongil knew what Youngho was talking about.

“Did you bring raki, Youngho?”

“Yeah my man. I knew you would be missing this since Istanbul.”

As Youngho took out bottles of raki, his friends all gathered with excitement.

“Do you have any frozen fish fillets? If you do, we’ve got to grill it. Raki goes well with grilled fish.”

Then Park Jongil suddenly shouted as Cha Insoo opened the bottle and poured the drink in a cup.

“Dude! You need to dilute it with water. That’s 52% alcohol.”

“Man, I’m stronger than you. I can handle this much alcohol.”

They had an alcohol party that day. They drank 10 bottles of raki with five people. It was about 750ml* for each person. They carelessly got drunk because the next day was a Sunday, on which they did not have to work. They went to sleep after singing together on the karaoke machine that they ordered from Korea.

In the morning, the gang started to wake up one by one drawn by the smell of ramen that Youngho was cooking in the kitchen. They gathered and ate it with kimchi to soothe their stomach from the hangover.

“Youngho, we decided to become raki lovers now,” said Cho Chulhwan, who still looked a little drunk.

“This alcohol, it’s expensive dude. It’s more than 30,000 won. Just stick to wine or cognac.”

When Youngho made complaints, Chulhwan cut him off.

“Man, I haven’t felt like this in a long time. This is a great alcohol. I command you to deliver 20 bottles of raki each time you visit here. You wouldn’t disobey the general of training’s command, Lee sailor?”

“I barely brought ten bottles because they were heavy, but now 20?”

“I will alter my command. You can bring 10 bottles, got it?”

The gang was cluttered from the effect of the hangover from the day before.

Even though the job of drill instructor was not easy, Youngho’s friends still kept their atmosphere upbeat looking on the bright side. Because they were comrades who trained together from Korea, they had special bond with each other. Now that they worked and lived in a foreign country together, they were even closer. Looking at his friends all treating each other like brothers, Youngho’s heart was heavy. He was worried about them getting pulled into a possible local battle in near future.

In the next day afternoon, Youngho met Edward in his small branch office in Stepanakert.

“Lee, we need to buy more combat ration, backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, and other extra items. We need to prepare step by step now in order to get ready for the possible situation in a year.”

Surprised, Youngho cautiously asked, “How many quantities do you want to order?”

“10,000 for each personal gears and combat ration for 100,000 portions.”

“And the price would be the same as the first order?”

“Yes. Your products were proven to be excellent with good pricing.”

“Combat ration is something I can order as an agent but the mountain climbing equipment, I should order it through Chunho Merchant. There will be some extra fees.”

“Lee, this is an official purchase. Of course Chunho Merchant should get paid for their part.”

“Alright, I’ll make an order for the mountain climbing gears right away. As for the combat ration, I will split the order and deliver them in three parts to be safe. So, should I ship them to Poti Sea Port?”

“Yeah, please go ahead and do that for us. I’m careless because I have you. You make it so easy for us to buy mass equipment.”

“Ed, I’m proud that I can be of help for keeping the peace.”

Putting up his thumb, Edward smiled at Youngho’s remark.

“You are the most amazing guy I’ve ever met.”

Edward’s remark was toward Youngho, who was helping the poor siblings in Istanbul because he asked his help about the siblings’ school enrollment. Edward was impressed by Youngho’s selfless heart.

Thinking he should learn to say cool things like Edward, Youngho was flattered by his compliment.

Somehow Youngho received a big order again. He was eager to tell this to his friend and sister in Seoul headquarters.

*750ml- about 25 ounces

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