In Training (9)
Kang Jin-Ho saluted first at First Sergeant Choi walking up to him.
First Sergeant Choi replied with a textbook salute as well, “At ease.”
He then grinned warmly while watching Kang Jin-Ho's posture loosen up just a little.
“Were you going for a smoke?”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded.
“Then, join me for a smoke over yonder.”
The duo walked to the back of a building, well out of people's view.
First Sergeant Choi pulled out a cigarette and offered it to Kang Jin-Ho.
It's a military-issue cigarette, so you might not like its taste, but complaining about stuff like that now is a bit weird, right?”
“Yes, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho didn't argue and obediently accepted the cigarette.
It had been a while since he last smoked.
The last time was at the start of the boot camp when an assistant instructor offered him one outside the living quarters.
Since then, he hadn't touched one.
“Y'know, sharing smokes like this with recruits used to be one of the few fun things to do around here.
But the regulations have become less forgiving these days.
If anyone catches me giving you a smoke, even I will get a royal roasting.
You better be grateful since I'm risking my neck here, recruit.”
Kang Jin-Ho stiffly replied, “Thank you, sir.”
“Hey, I was just joking, alright?” First Sergeant Choi laughed affably while lighting up Kang Jin-Ho's cigarette.
“You saved my life, after all.
Of course, I ain't scared of giving you a smoke.
They want to fire me over this? I don't care.
What if you really get dismissed over this?”
“Well, my wife will kill me, that's for sure.
However, I'd rather die as a soldier. Kuh… Now that I think about it, I would've been remembered as a national hero and a patriot had I died back then.”
Kang Jin-Ho asked in an uncertain voice, “Sir, was that a joke as well?”
You think I was being serious?” First Sergeant Choi tutted before lightly patting Kang Jin-Ho on the shoulder.
“It must've been hard for you, recruit.”
It was fine.”
“This batch of recruits was unusually accident-prone, wasn't it? Without you, things could've been real bad for everyone.”
“I haven't done much, sir,” Kang Jin-Ho replied flatly while deeply inhaling the cigarette smoke.
After taking a couple more puffs, Choi asked him curiously, “Other recruits had their family members present during the graduation, but I didn't see yours.
Didn't anyone from your family show up?”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded while replying, “Yes, sir.
I told them not to come today.”
“It's not like they were coming here to take me home for my vacation, and they would be seeing me only for a brief time, sir.
I didn't think it was worth the trouble to come all the way here for that.
It's not that easy to get here, and my family needs to travel from afar, so I figured it'll be fine to catch up with them during my leave, sir.
The hundred-day leave is not too far from now, after all.”
That hundred days won't pass by as quickly as you think.”
Kang Jin-Ho grinned awkwardly without saying anything.
“Hah, what a boring kid.” Choi patted Kang Jin-Ho on the shoulder again.
The First Sergeant had been constantly observing Kang Jin-Ho ever since that grenade incident.
Since Kang Jin-Ho was a man of few words and had silently performed his duties all the time, Choi wondered if this recruit was a bit too dense or something like that.
But after seeing such an awkward-looking smile on Kang Jin-Ho's face, it seemed that it wasn’t the case.
Maybe he was just the silent type, then?
First Sergeant Choi sucked in another lungful of smoke.
“Hey, Kang Jin-Ho.”
“Recruit No.100, Kang Jin-Ho, sir.”
“The corps and this training center are two totally different places.
Know what I mean?”
Choi slowly nodded.
I'll choose to believe that you'll be great at whatever you do.
However, the army isn't a place where you can survive by simply sticking to your duties.
Obviously, you'll have to do them, but you must always consider your relationships with the others around you, too.”
“Yessir,” Kang Jin-Ho briefly replied.
First Sergeant Choi dearly hoped that Kang Jin-Ho really understood what he was talking about here.
Even though Choi was pretty sure that what he feared wouldn't happen in reality.
'Still, it's gonna get tough for him…'
Kids like Kang Jin-Ho were the types who couldn’t fit in well with the rest of the corps.
This was why Choi was worried.
Meanwhile, he had to wonder if Kang Jin-Ho would find life in the corps unbearable.
Well, it was none other than Kang Jin-Ho, after all.
“In any case, you…” Just as First Sergeant Choi tried to say something else, an assistant instructor peeked his head around the corner of the building.
He spotted Choi, then saluted.
What is it?”
“Third Platoon Commander, Kang Jin-Ho has been summoned to the Battalion Commander's office, sir.”
“Really?” First Sergeant Choi's expression hardened slightly.
The graduation and the award ceremony were already over and done with, so why was the Battalion Commander summoning a recruit now? “Hmm. Did the Battalion Commander personally summon this recruit?”
The assistant instructor shook his head.
“I do not know the details, sir.”
Kang Jin-Ho,” said Choi as he looked back.
“Recruit No.100, Kang Jin-Ho, sir.”
“Hurry and get going.
Something must've happened since the Battalion Commander's office is looking for you.”
“Understood, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho saluted, then followed the assistant instructor to the Battalion Commander's office.
First Sergeant Choi took another long puff of his cigarette while observing Kang Jin-Ho's back in the distance.
'I'm sure he'll be alright.'
A tough military life was awaiting that kid, but Choi believed that Kang Jin-Ho could do it.
“Sir, Recruit Kang Jin-Ho has arrived.”
Let him in,” the Battalion Commander replied to the announcement coming from beyond the office door.
Kang Jin-Ho smartly stepped through the open doorway and saluted.
“Recruit No.100, Kang Jin-Ho, sir.
I heard that you've been looking for me, sir.”
“Yeah, I was…”
Kang Jin-Ho lowered his hand while frowning a little.
That was because he had noticed a familiar face sitting on the office's couch.
“What are you doing here, Chairman?”
“Huh, really now?” Hwang Jeong-Hu made a dismayed face at Kang Jin-Ho's less-than-welcoming reaction, before lightly signaling to the Battalion Commander sitting across him.
The Battalion Commander nodded.
“Then, I hope you two can catch up.”
“Thank you,” said Hwang Jeong-Hu.
He waited until the Battalion Commander was out of the office, then pointed at the empty spot in front of him.
“What are you doing? Take a seat.”
Kang Jin-Ho wordlessly walked over and settled down on the couch.
Hwang Jeong-Hu pointed to the cup of coffee on the table next.
“Please, have a drink.”
Kang Jin-Ho picked up the cup and took a brief sip before putting it down again.
“What brings you here, Chairman?”
“What do you mean, what? Fella, it's been over a month already.
Don't you know that I've been dying of anxiety waiting for you?”
Kang Jin-Ho's eyes widened.
“It's no good to have such a cavalier attitude just because it's not your life, fella.”
I was preoccupied.”
“I'm the one in need, so obviously I should come seeking you out first, but…
To think that you have forgotten about me already.
It seems I meant very little to you,” Hwang Jeong-Hu replied while making a wounded face.
Kang Jin-Ho ended up chuckling at that.
Still, he was happy to see a familiar face after a while.
“Chairman, is it okay for you to be here?”
“They let me in when I said I wanted to speak to my grandson.”
“Even though we aren't even related?” Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow.
“People won't go out of their way to investigate when I'm involved, fella.”
“Having power is good, but this seems like an abuse of it, Chairman.”
“Haha. Please look the other way just this once.” Hwang Jeong-Hu chuckled jovially.
His life was on the line here, so he wasn't in the mood to respect the law or care about the morals of the situation.
“It'll be fine since I'll be making a sizable donation to the military later.”
Kang Jin-Ho leaned back against the couch while crossing his arms.
“Isn't that what people call a bribe?”
“When you line up the pockets of the generals and officers, that's bribery.
If the common soldiers get the benefit, then that's definitely a donation.
Don't worry, I've placed enough countermeasures, so no one should be ballsy enough to steal from me.”
“Hmm…” Kang Jin-Ho rubbed his chin.
Spending one's money for a good cause wasn't a bad thing.
“Still, it wouldn't have been easy for you…”
“Who do you think I am, fella?”
Kang Jin-Ho couldn't help but nod in agreement at that rhetorical question.
He didn't know all the ins and outs of South Korea's political and financial worlds but he could still estimate the amount of power Hwang Jeong-Hu wielded.
Not many people in Korea would be bold enough to defy Hwang Jeong-Hu when the world referred to him as the giant of his generation.
Hwang Jeong-Hu sipped his coffee before clearing up the situation.
“Actually, I have some acquaintances in the army.
Truth be told, I didn't need to make a donation to be allowed in here, but I thought that might sour your mood somewhat.
So, I decided to take some hits ahead of time.”
“Chairman, I'm not in a sour mood.”
“That's good to hear, then.” Hwang Jeong-Hu chuckled loudly.
Shouldn't we get started?”
“Of course.” Kang Jin-Ho got up and walked behind Hwang Jeong-Hu's couch.
He then placed his palm on the Chairman's head.
“Huph!” Hwang Jeong-Hu sucked in a deep breath as if he was slightly nervous.
It didn’t matter whether the chairman had done that intentionally or not, as internal energy still seeped out of Kang Jin-Ho's palm and entered Hwang Jeong-Hu's head, then it began circulating within his skull.
Hwang Jeong-Hu moaned in pain as the sensation of his head blanking out nearly overwhelmed him.
Thankfully, the pain was temporary.
Soon, his head felt refreshed, reinvigorated.
Once Kang Jin-Ho removed his hand and walked back to his seat, Hwang Jeong-Hu took out a cigarette and put it in his mouth.
“With this, I'll be fine for another month, yes?”
Hwang Jeong-Hu lit his cigarette.
“I feel this every time we do this, but… Hmm. I'm still unsure whether to thank or resent you.”
“I've told you this before, but your condition can't be fully healed, Chairman.”
“I shall choose to believe that,” said Hwang Jeong-Hu while deliberately letting his doubts known.
Even so, Kang Jin-Ho didn't try to defend himself.
Trusting someone was up to the individual, after all.
Hwang Jeong-Hu continued to speak while taking a puff of his cigarette, “The problem is, I'll have to keep visiting you like this in your new base, too.”
“Jin-Ho, have you ever thought about getting an exemption?”
Kang Jin-Ho resolutely shook his head.
“Don't be like that.
Isn't becoming a conscripted police officer a pretty good alternative? At the very least, being assigned to the Capital Defense Force would mean you get to stay near Seoul.”
I've even sent my kids off to special forces.
In other words, I do not have any desire to shirk the duties my country has given me.
However, you getting into some kind of an accident in the army could mean that not only I, but even Jaegyeong in the midst of its revival will collapse.
I simply cannot let that happen.”
Kang Jin-Ho slowly shook his head.
“Chairman, I won't meet with such accidents in the army.”
“Why are you so obsessed with serving in the army, Jin-Ho?”
“You're mistaken, Chairman.
I've never been obsessed about it.”
Some desperation crept into Hwang Jeong-Hu's voice.
“I simply thought that since this is something everyone does, then serving in the army is a must if I want to live an ordinary life in South Korea.
That’s why I’m here.”
Kang Jin-Ho replied in a firm voice, “Jin-Ho, do you still think you can live an ordinary life?”
“Even if it's not possible, I still have to try.”
“Fuu…” Hwang Jeong-Hu slowly exhaled the cigarette smoke.
He already knew that convincing Kang Jin-Ho was impossible.
This young man wasn't the type to listen, anyway.
“In that case, I don't have a choice but to keep paying you a visit once a month, then.
That's fine with you, I hope?”
There's no choice, after all.
However, I'll make sure to contact you first when I'm out on leave.”
“Please do so. Oh, and take this.”
“Mm?” Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head when Hwang Jeong-Hu pushed forward a bulging envelope.
“What's this, Chairman?”
“It's money, Jin-Ho.”
“Money, you say? Why?”
Hwang Jeong-Hu smiled faintly.
“Thinking that you won't need money during your time in the army is a mistake, fella.
Let me tell you, you won't find a spot in South Korea that hasn't been influenced by capitalism in one way or another.”
“You'll need money once you get to your assigned base.
Your mother hasn't come to see you yet, so I'm assuming you didn't get a chance to receive pocket money,” Hwang Jeong-Hu spoke confidently.
But Kang Jin-Ho simply shook his head and pushed the money envelope back to Hwang Jeong-Hu.
The Chairman could only furrow his brow.
“Jin-Ho, this is literally pocket money for you to use.
Compared to the fee I'm paying you, this amount doesn't even qualify as a pocket change.
Why are you refusing it?”
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled a little.
“That's not it, Chairman.”
“Well, what is it, then?”
“Please deposit it into my account.”
Hwang Jeong-Hu blankly stared back at Kang Jin-Ho.
“Even the military directly deposits the monthly salary into our bank accounts nowadays, Chairman.
With the era being what it is, there's no need for hard cash like this.
I'll give you my account number in case you somehow misplaced it, so please deposit it there.”
“Huh…” Hwang Jeong-Hu remained sitting on the couch with a stupefied face.
Kang Jin-Ho smirked at that, then got up.
I'll be on my way now.
Have a safe journey home, Chairman.”
Hwang Jeong-Hu watched as Kang Jin-Ho exited the office and closed the door behind him.
Only then did a helpless chuckle leak out from the old man's lips.
“Haha. Looks like he got me there.”
He continued to laugh while picking up the cup of lukewarm coffee.
Before he could take a sip, though, the Battalion Commander stepped back into his office.
Is everything okay now?”
“Yes, thank you.” Hwang Jeong-Hu put the cup down and got up.
“Chairman? Are you leaving already, sir?”
“Me staying here will only make you uncomfortable, after all.
Besides, I'm finished with my business here, anyway.”
“Still, how about relaxing for a little while longer, sir?”
“No, I have other businesses to attend to.
Tell Seok-Chan that I'm grateful for today.”
The Division Commander told me he will call you at another time, Chairman.”
“That'll make it easier for me, then,” Hwang Jeong-Hu replied while straightening his jacket.
“By the way, sir…?” the Battalion Commander cautiously asked.
“If you don't mind me asking, what exactly is your relationship with that recruit?” The Battalion Commander's voice was filled with curiosity.
Hwang Jeong-Hu was famous for not giving his kids and grandchildren any special treatment.
Every single one of his offspring had to enlist.
Hell, his grandkids weren't even allowed to join the corporation if they hadn't served yet.
However, being this strict had helped Jaegyeong earn a reputation as the cleanest chaebol when it came to serving the military, and the citizens respected Hwang Jeong-Hu for his determination on the matter.
Yet, someone like that personally came to visit a recruit? How could the Battalion Commander not be surprised?
“Oh, that fella?” Hwang Jeong-Hu broke into another round of laughter as he replied, “That kid is as important as my life.”
Even though he said that quite casually, he had never imagined the level of impact his words today would have down the line.
This is a catchphrase South Korean soldiers say while saluting.
However, this behavior isn't enforced. ☜
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