On Standby (3)
What on earth was this kid talking about? He would not allow Chairman Hwang Jeong-Hu to come anywhere near the base?
The Division Commander was left utterly dumbstruck as two revelations hit him.
One was with this young man's clear display of displeasure as if the division commander's offer to take care of him would dirty his soul or some such.
That left a big shock in the division commander's mind, but the second part was even more shocking to him.
Private 2nd Class Kang Jin-Ho casually talked about the giant of the financial world, Chairman Hwang, as if that man was an uncle from the neighborhood.
The Division Commander cautiously asked, “Just how close are you to Chairman Hwang?”
“We're simply acquaintances,” said Kang Jin-Ho.
'That can't be true!'
The Division Commander grimaced slightly.
One didn't have to be a genius to imagine that Chairman Hwang wouldn't be the type to laze around on his bed the whole day.
As a matter of fact, he might be one of the busiest individuals in the whole of South Korea.
Someone like that wouldn't go out of his way to make time and look after some fresh-faced youngster.
The Division Commander came to the chairman's defense.
Chairman Hwang is not expecting us to give you special treatment.
No, he simply asked us to ensure that, at the very least, you're not subjected to any unreasonable nonsense.
You should know better than anyone that Chairman Hwang isn't that type of a person, don't you?”
Kang Jin-Ho shook his head.
“Sir, that is a special privilege.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Shouldn't others also be spared from unreasonable nonsense, sir?”
“I heard that it's all a part of the military culture.
Of course, if something's wrong, it should be corrected.
If something is unfair, one has to protest against it.
I'm not saying I'll silently yield to unfair and unreasonable abuse, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho stopped talking there and coughed to clear his throat.
Why did it feel like he hadn't talked this much in such a long time? “I'm certain that almost no one joins the army while expecting to receive special treatment, sir.
We all know things will get unfair, but we still accept our enlistment since we believe it's our duty.
In that case, it's unfair for everyone that I'll be the only one to receive special treatment.”
“Tsk, tsk…” The Division Commander tutted loudly.
“You seem to be underestimating the army somewhat, young man.
Of course, most people finish their service without running into any incidents.
However, there are also those rare occasions where your own strength can't help you at all.”
“Even if such a thing happens, sir, it's a matter I must deal with,” Kang Jin-Ho replied firmly, his expression remaining resolute.
“Even if I encounter an incident beyond the scope of my power to handle, the ones who need to resolve it must be the military's command structure and myself, sir.
Getting outside help is going against the established military custom.”
“Mm…” The Division Commander rubbed his chin.
Kang Jin-Ho got up.
“Whether it's Chairman Hwang or someone just as influential, they don't have the right to twist and distort the sacred duty every South Korean soldier has to deal with.
I've spoken to the chairman before on this topic, but it seems my message hadn't gotten through to him.
In that case, I'll have to speak to him again and make myself clearer.
As such, sir, I'd like you to stop paying attention to me.”
With that, Kang Jin-Ho promptly walked out of the office.
“T-That damn kid!” The Battalion Commander's face turned bright red.
Even if you were putting forth a sound argument, you still shouldn't be standing tall and unyielding in front of a division commander.
Not only was such an attitude disrespectful toward higher-ranked officers, but it disrespected the elderly, too.
“How dare he!”
The Division Commander raised his hand.
“Uh-huh! I said, enough.” The Division Commander tutted again and pulled out a cigarette for himself, forcing the Battalion Commander to stop panting like a raging bull and shut his mouth.
No one has the right to distort that sacred duty, huh…” Suddenly, the Division Commander broke out in a fit of laughter.
“Hahaha. What a daring kid.”
“Sir, he's just too insolent.”
In this case, it's daring, not insolence.
“You use the term insolence only when the other party is in the wrong.
I mean, let's be honest here.
What we tried to do here was do a favor for Chairman Hwang, no?” the Division Commander asked with a sly grin.
Aren't we simply thinking of looking after that kid a little more than usual due to his personal connection?”
“That, right there.
That is what I mean by doing a favor.”
The Battalion Commander clamped his mouth shut.
The Division commander continued, “Other soldiers aren't getting any special treatment because they don't have any connections to people like me.
Is it not the case? Now that is unfair, wouldn't you say? After all, they aren't getting the same opportunities.”
The Battalion Commander slowly nodded in agreement.
Even he would be pissed off after witnessing other battalion commanders with similar work experience under their belts getting promoted before him simply because of their personal connections.
The Division Commander rubbed his chin some more.
It's no easy thing to resolutely refuse a chance to enjoy a comfy military life without lifting a finger.
Especially when you aren't the one requesting it but someone else.”
“I agree, sir.”
“But now, not only did that young man refuse us, he even lectured us too.
However, he's right.
No one should be allowed to dictate and manipulate the sacred duty to defend our homeland.
That's something a Korean citizen should never do.” The Division Commander lit his cigarette and puffed deeply as a grin floated on his lips.
“Funny, I don't feel so bad even after a youngster dared to lecture me.
Ever since I reached this position, everyone has been asking me to look favorably after them.
But to think a private of all people would actually tell me to mind my business.”
The Battalion Commander cautiously piped up.
“Sir, I still think he has crossed the line.
I've never seen a private that rude before.”
“That's probably why Chairman Hwang asked us to keep an eye out for him.
That kid, he's so unyielding that he might break in half one day.” The division commander chuckled; his aged eyes drew Kang Jin-Ho’s silhouette in the empty air just before exiting the office.
A few of the division commander's seniors were like that.
They didn't know the meaning of compromise or how to bow down.
They were simply fixated on walking on the right path.
That was why they were broken, brought down, and eliminated.
The Division Commander began thinking that he only managed to climb up to this position because he wasn't as dignified or righteous as they were.
And that he was crafty enough to dodge the headwinds.
A certain bitter taste of remorse suddenly filled his mouth.
He shook his head, then sighed.
Don't give Private Kang Jin-Ho any special treatment.”
“…Will it be fine, sir?”
“It's what he wants.
So, let's humor him.”
“However, we already know about him, so it won't be easy…” The Battalion Commander massaged his temples.
That pained expression reminded the Division Commander of the sad position of soldiers tied down by external pressures.
If Chairman Hwang willed it, getting rid of a division commander wouldn't even be a thing.
In that case, what would it be like with a measly battalion commander with the rank of lieutenant colonel? Even a stray breath from the chairman might result in his head flying off.
The Division Commander took another puff of his cigarette.
“I'll deal with that, so don't worry about it.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Chairman Hwang is still scheduled to visit your base once a month.
We'll have to speak to him, then.
Besides, that kid said he'd be talking to the chairman on his own, too.”
“Sir, a youngster being so rude might only earn the chairman's ire.”
“There's nothing we can do about that, though! Cross your fingers and hope that doesn't happen.” The Division Commander tutted loudly.
“Wait, Kang Jin-Ho!” Ha Jin-Nam cried out after chasing Kang Jin-Ho outside the office.
He was freaking out.
“Hey, you crazy son of a gun! How dare you just walk out of an office with the division commander in it! Do you want to see your battery commander's head fly off that badly?!”
Kang Jin-Ho faltered.
“I didn't think about that, sir.
“…For now, be on standby here.” Ha Jin-Nam issued an order in a firm voice, but he had no idea what to do.
He might have scolded Kang Jin-Ho just now, but his mind just couldn't get rid of the image of Chairman Hwang Jeong-Hu's domineering shadow looming over the private from behind.
That was why he just couldn't bring himself to punish Kang Jin-Ho.
However, he couldn't let this conduct slide without any repercussions, either.
What flustered Ha Jin-Nam more was the deafening silence coming from the battalion commander's office.
In a situation like this, they had no choice but to wait until the Battalion Commander came out of the office.
“Sir, may I make a phone call?” Kang Jin-Ho asked while pointing at a distant phone booth in the corridor.
“Mm?!” Ha Jin-Nam suddenly felt scared.
Judging from what had been said back in the office, this punk seemed to be thinking of calling Chairman Hwang right now and nagging the living hell out of him.
If that happened… how was Ha Jin-Nam supposed to deal with the fallout?!
He quickly shook his head.
“N-no, you can't.
You will be on standby for the time being!”
I only need a minute.”
“When a battery commander orders you to be on standby, you abide by it!”
“Understood, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho didn't argue back any further and obediently stood at attention.
Ha Jin-Nam sneakily breathed a sigh of relief.
'I guess he's not completely ignorant of the ranks, then…'
Now that he knew of Chairman Hwang's involvement, Ha Jin-Nam wouldn't be able to do anything even if Kang Jin-Ho acted a bit cheekily to him.
Unless Kang Jin-Ho was an idiot, he should know this, too.
Yet, he remained respectful toward Ha Jin-Nam, his superior officer.
Ha Jin-Nam wiped a bit of sweat off his forehead and cautiously asked, “Jin-Ho, are you related to Chairman Hwang Jeong-Hu in some way?”
I'm not related to him.”
“Come on, man.
Be honest with me.
I won't tell anyone, I promise.”
I'm telling you the truth.”
“…Really? Then, why is he trying to look after you so bad?”
“It must be because we are somewhat privately acquainted, sir.”
“Is that so?”
Should Ha Jin-Nam believe this or not? Did he have a choice? He did take a gander at Kang Jin-Ho's data before, and there definitely was no blood relationship between the chairman and the private.
Judging from Hwang Jeong-Hu's actions, though? It would be wrong to assume there was no relationship between the two.
“…They are taking way too long.” Ha Jin-Nam glanced at the doorway to the battalion commander's office and sighed deeply.
Why was it still closed? “Hey, Jin-Ho.
Were you thinking of phoning Chairman Hwang?”
Kang Jin-Ho nodded affirmatively.
“…Even if I stop you now, you'll still call him after returning to our base, right?”
Fine! Make the call.
Get back here immediately when you're finished, got that?”
“Understood, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho saluted Ha Jin-Nam, then walked over to the phone booth.
Ha Jin-Nam watched him walk away while shuddering involuntarily.
'Just why did this have to happen in my corps…!'
Why was a storyline from a TV drama playing out in his backyard? Ha Jin-Nam could only grumble unhappily.
His dream wasn't anything grand—just operating his corps well enough to get his first promotion, that was all! This whole situation felt like…
It felt like he was sailing the high seas only to encounter rough waters.
He hoped for it to be just a spot of bad weather, only for a bloody Kraken to burst through the bottom of the ship!
“Gee whiz. I'm not even Captain Jack Sparrow, you know…” Ha Jin-Nam spat out a groan, then glanced at Kang Jin-Ho holding the phone's receiver.
'I wonder, what is he saying to Chairman Hwang?'
Even if Kang Jin-Ho was a soldier, Ha Jin-Nam was fully aware that an officer eavesdropping on a private phone call was unacceptable behavior.
However, his curiosity was getting the better of him.
A newbie who could directly get in touch with Chairman Hwang Jeong-Hu? How could Ha Jin-Nam not be curious about the contents of their conversation? Moreover, he could glean some kind of hint about the actual relationship between Kang Jin-Ho and Chairman Hwang.
That could be a massive help to both the Battalion Commander and the Division Commander.
'…Should I just listen for a bit?'
Ha Jin-Nam lightly chewed his lips.
While telling himself that he was simply being loyal to his senior officers and definitely not trying to satisfy his own curiosity, Ha Jin-Nam sneaked closer to the phone booth.
He made sure to approach from behind Kang Jin-Ho so that he couldn't be seen.
He also kept his steps as silent as possible.
Once he was close enough, Ha Jin-Nam tried to listen in.
'Mm? What is he talking about?'
He couldn't quite hear what Kang Jin-Ho was saying on the phone, so he got even closer.
I told you, didn't I?”
Finally, Ha Jin-Nam could hear Kang Jin-Ho's hushed voice.
Ha Jin-Nam concentrated a bit more and finally heard their conversation a bit clearer.
Since 'Chairman' was brought up, Kang Jin-Ho must be talking to Hwang Jeong-Hu on the phone.
'I guess he does know Chairman Hwang, then?'
Ha Jin-Nam found it so weird that a person he had only ever seen on TV was speaking to a soldier over the phone right in front of his eyes.
This situation still seemed surreal, and he couldn't quite decide what to make of it.
Ha Jin-Nam ever so slightly drifted into a land of dreamy haze, but what Kang Jin-Ho said next snapped him wide awake.
“That's why I told you the last time, sir.
I do not need anything from you.
If the same thing happens again, I'm not going to take it lying down.
Let me make myself clear.
Stop interfering with my military life, sir.
This is not up for discussion.”
The realization of reality brutally crashed into Ha Jin-Nam.
He clutched at his chest where his heart was as his knees buckled and gave in.
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