Empire of the Ring

Chapter 5
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Chapter 5: An Offer Received After a Beating (3)

As soon as Youngho picked up the phone, he could hear the person on the other side of the line gushing out curses.

“You b*stard! Where on earth have you been? You didn’t show up in your room and didn’t even pick up your phone?!”

“Dude, where are your manners talking to your ‘hyung’?”

“Whatever man. Were you trying to slowly drain my life?”

Cho Sangchun was flipping out. It was understandable since Youngho vanished for several days, so he must have been worried sick.

“Hey, I have two pieces of news for you; one good, one bad. What do you want to hear first?”

“You think I’m that gullible to get tricked in the same way again? Hold on, I will let you talk to Yunsuh.”

“Save it for later, I want to talk about business first. I got an order. I don’t know how much it will be but this should be quite good.”

“Are you serious? You got an order?”

His tone quickly changed, not sounding like he almost wanted to kill me just moments ago. It was proof that he had been dying to get orders. Youngho had been out here for almost a month without getting anywhere, after all.

“Yes, son. I finally got you something.”

“Oh Youngho, my man! I gotta bow to you. So, what are the items?”

“Not sure yet, but wait until tomorrow. They’ll tell me about order items and quantities, and I’m sure about this one.”

“But why haven’t you contacted us?”

“It’s all mountains and hills here. I couldn’t get any signal on the phone.”

“Man, I didn’t know your situation. We thought you were just having itchy feet again.”

“And why do I call you my best friend again? Well, get Yunsuh on the phone.”

There was some noise from the other end of the line before Youngho heard a sharp voice say,

“You are such a d*ck. Are you trying to kill me?”

“Yunsuh, before taking it out on me, please listen to me.”

“Just come back. Now. I don’t care about any orders.”

“Ha ha, Lee Yunsuh, I can’t just do that. I finally got a deal, should I just leave this? This ‘oppa*’ will stay here a little longer. That’ll be better than going back to Korea just to get attacked by you.”

“....”

“Yunsuh, leave the fax machine on. I’ve got to go.”

He hung up while Yunsuh was yelling because he knew his little sister could go on and on for hours once she started. Also, he might almost tear up if he talked to her more.

***

The next day, Youngho had a visitor at his hotel room. It was Margos, the militia commander.

“Mr. Lee, is it possible to order nonelectronic items as well?”

“I can get any products from Korea, but I mostly trade in security systems and electronics.”

“We’d like to get backpacks, sleeping bags, and some mountain-climbing equipment as well.”

Items like these could be found anywhere in Korea. Wasn’t Korea a country that could sell a million products in the blink of an eye?

“Yes, it is possible. I will bring the best quality products for you.”

“All right. I have the items and quantities listed here. Please take a look.”

Yougho’s eyes got bigger as he looked through the item quantities.

“What, are you purchasing all of them all together?”

“That is just the first order. If we like the products, we will buy other things too.”

Youngho’s eyes became even bigger as the corners of his mouth lifted. The purchase order he received today was telling him that he just hit the jackpot.

Of course, this was nothing for large traders, but at Chunho Merchant, this one was their biggest order ever.

Chunho Merchant was named after a combination of names: from his friend Cho Sangchun’s ‘chun,’ and his name, Lee Youngho’s ‘ho.’

It was a huge amount that Youngho wouldn’t have ever dreamed of dealing with in the past, no matter how much hard work he put behind it.

The electronics they wanted to order comprised 200 laptops, 100 29″ color TVs, and some security cameras, though older generations. It was not a problem, since he could get them if they searched through the YongSan Electronics Market.

The rest of the items made his jaw drop. Backpacks, sleeping bags, cookwares, burners, one-person tents, etc.—but they wanted 10,000 of each.

He could buy electronics easily since there are plenty at YongSan Electronics Market, but mountain-climbing gears were not items he commonly handled. He did not even have any connections with suppliers.

The biggest problem was that Nagorno-Karabakh was not internationally recognized as a republic. Instead, it was recognized as a territory of Azerbaijan. There are no suppliers that would sell their products trusting the letter of credit (LC) issued in here. Who would send their products to such a dangerous, disputed region?

Youngho wanted to take the deal, but the quantities were not something that Chunho Merchant could handle.

Surprised, Margos asked with a frown on his face, “Mr. Lee, is there anything bothering you?”

“Mr. Margos, using an LC under the name of Nagorno-Karabakh will not be trusted. It’s more likely because of the large quantities. Also, I don’t have many connections for items like these that we don’t trade usually.”

“Well... it is because our land is not recognized as a member of the global society. This is not an official business, so we will not use the name of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

His voice wasn’t too excited, but he didn’t seem that much disappointed.

“I regret to say this, but this is just too much.”

“I will ask for help from the US CIA. We can find a way. We’d like to buy these without being known to others and Mr. Lee’s company is just the right fit for that.”

At “US CIA,” Youngho came to his senses. There was a silver lining promising that this business would be successful.

“By any chance, are you providing these mountain-climbing equipment to the militia?”

“That is correct. We need equipment that is remarkably thermal and durable for missions in mountainous areas, and I was recommended Korean products, which are said to be excellent.”

Although disposable, those were basic necessities for the militia, so he would have to get those unseen. If the government of Azerbaijan found out about this, they would suspect that the militia was trying to accumulate their strength. Therefore, it was crucial for them to get those in quiet.

Youngho, who was pondering for a little while, asked, “Where do I send the items?”

“To Yerevan.”

Yerevan was a capital city of Armenia. Because it was a landlocked state with no seas touching it, the items should be delivered through Georgia. Although Turkey, which was friendly to Korea, was close to Armenia, the border had been closed since the two countries were not in good terms. Youngho had a hunch that their money was from the CIA.

If the US Intelligence Agency were in the middle, he wanted to take an adventure. This meant that the CIA was also investing in Armenia by helping out the militia in Nagorno-Karabakh, which was a pro-Russian country.

Obviously, they couldn’t just import US products. They have to choose some unknown merchandiser like Youngho to leave no evidence.

Youngho was not sure if the US was looking after Armenia for religious reasons, or because of the Armenian influence in the US congress, but there was no reason for Youngho to reject this offer.

Most of Armenian citizens were Apostolic. Easily said, they were Christians.

And more than 90% of the population in this region were Armenians. In 1994, Armenians seized this region from Azerbaijan and had since connected other autonomous districts and roads that were broken. Somehow, the US was working on this land, and a great opportunity presented itself to Youngho.

Youngho was debating whether he should return to Korea. The large quantities seemed overwhelming for his friend Cho Sangchun and his little sister Yunsuh to manage. Sitting in his hotel room, he reached out to the phone.

Just in time, Yunsuh answered, “Is that you?”

“Yeah. Yunsuh, did you check the fax?”

“Is this a real order? We can’t take this much, oppa.”

“I will go back to Korea for now. The Armenian side decided that they will open their LC from the Deutsche Bank.”

“Wow, Deutsche Bank is more than enough. Just hang in there. Sangchun and I will take care of it for now.”

“You’re carrying a life, you can’t overdo it.”

“....”

“Is Sangchun in the office now?”

“Yes. He’s been having a hectic day since reading the fax. He has been making phone calls and just disappeared.”

“Where is he at, leaving his wife alone?”

“Don’t talk about my husband that way, I won’t take that.”

“Tell Sangchun that the LC is from the Deutsche Bank. That will make him feel better.”

“Okay, oppa. Don’t worry. Just take care of yourself.”

“All right, let’s talk again tomorrow.”

***

That night, two people visited Youngho as he was about to fall asleep. It was Margos, the militia commander, and a good-looking white man in his thirties.

“Mr. Lee, I had someone to introduce so I came at this time. This is Edward from the US CIA.”

“I am Lee Youngho, nice to meet you.”

“Edward here. I already know you from your profile given by the Korean chapter. I am sorry that we couldn’t help when you were undergoing some trouble here.”

He was sincerely apologizing. The US CIA wouldn’t have any excuse whatsoever since the militia that they were looking after had abducted and tormented a citizen of their allied nation.

“I thought I was about to be killed. Why couldn’t you help earlier?”

“I had just gone to Georgia for work. I contacted the Korean chapter and checked your profile. You’re from a special forces unit.”

“....”

“We can figure that out easily from the Korean chapter.”

Youngho was not going to deny that since they knew about him already.

“I was in the Navy Special Forces. After the training period, I served only for nine months and got discharged. I’ve already forgotten all the training I went through. I’m just like a normal person now.”

As if he was making an excuse, Youngho gave a long speech. It didn’t feel right being asked about his experience in the Navy, so he told them that his body was not like what it was when he was in the Navy.

“Our government is very interested in Korean special forces. There are not a lot of people now who has undergone their intensive training.”

He was interested in Youngho’s background in the special forces. There was no need for him to come see Youngho, who was just a merchandiser.

“You are not trying to drag me in, are you?”

“Do you think I am that kind of person? You’re imagining too much.”

“I’m just kidding, Mr. Edward.”

“Please call me Ed. We will see each other often from now on.”

What are you talking about? I just joined because you’re having a party with money from the CIA.

Youngho would never say that out loud since he did not want to break the deal which he got in exchange for his beating.

“I feel like I’m doing business with the US CIA instead of the Armenian militia.”

Edward suddenly hid the amusement from his face and said, “It is not our intention to favor or help a specific ethnic group or country. We just give advice. But we do not support the ideas of mass killing caused by ethnic differences.”

He said it backhandedly, but he meant that the US was helping Armenians.

“I am a person who is disgusted by people who take life lightly.”

Youngho’s view was somewhat different regarding the dispute between the two nations. As far as he knew, the dispute was escalating not only because of the powerful nation’s, Azerbaijan’s oppression, but also because of Armenia drawing in Russia’s influence in-between.

“I contacted the Korean chapter for this time. If you are in trouble, don’t hesitate to go ask for help.”

“Thank you, but I feel uncomfortable. I’m receiving too much for nothing.”

“Don’t worry about it, Lee. This is our gift for your troubles, all because of my people.”

‘My people.’ Youngho pondered about what Edward had just said.

“Let me introduce myself again. I was born in an Armenian-American family. Aside from my CIA work in here, this is my home country as well.”

Youngho would have suspected him if this guy said that the CIA was intervening to stop the clash between two ethnicities with different religions, but he just identified himself as an Armenian. Youngho was somewhat relieved by his words. For even a CIA agent like him, it would matter to have a helper on their side. At least he wouldn’t throw Youngho aside after his usefulness expired.

The whole world knew that the US CIA was an organization that would involve itself in another country’s affairs; and if needed, they would even change its government because their top priority was their own interests. One might even say that their value of existence was greater when these kinds of disputes happened.

Youngho was willing to deal with anybody in exchange for a beating. However, getting in-between an ethnic dispute might rip him off, but he was determined to take that risk.

Even a CIA agent was telling him that he was Armenian-blooded.

Let’s see how far I can go. An unyielding spirit was rising from the inside.

*oppa – a Korean word for ‘older brother,’ used by a younger female to an elder male

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