Excerpt: Sharp Shooter Seoul

Kei navigated the entire entry process from the Incheon airport to the train platform to get us to Seoul Station. The train arrived. The doors opened and I was about to rush on, like a Tokyoite, when Kei blocked me with an arm across my chest.

“Wait,” Kei rasped through the pollution mask and pointed.

From the platform on the other side of the train, the doors opened and a veritable army of older ladies dressed in pink aprons, masks, and caps swarmed onto the train. The lady in the car right in front of us punched a button inside the door and all of the seats rose and rotated to face the other direction. Our pink grandma warrior proceeded to dust and wipe down the train car at an extremely vigorous pace, ending with mopping the goddamn floor, then rolling her cart out. The entire transition took maybe three minutes.

The doors opened in front of us.

“The previously-immaculate train is now even more immaculate,” I said. “Can we board?”

“It’s the wrong train,” Kei said.

“Oh.”

The next train didn’t have the robotic seats and the fancy ladies to straighten it up. It was no less clean, a gleaming LED-lit white everywhere except the (still clean) floors, which were gray. It was like being inside a cell phone store.

I was sad the announcements were only in Korean and English. No crutch for me, then.

The train took off. A few seconds in, a super hot man appeared through the windows like an apparition. It was some kind of advertisement on the inside walls of the tunnel. He smiled and waved at us, held up a cell phone and winked, then proceeded to run alongside the train, holding the phone out to us like we should definitely buy it.

I gawked.

Kei’s cheeks bunched up and eyes shone, a sure sign a smile was happening behind the mask and filter. My beloved asthmatic. “Japan doesn’t do that in the subway tunnels.”

“Is he digital?” I asked.

“Stickers.”

My jaw dropped. “Someone put up thousands of stickers on the inside wall, like a flip book?”

Kei nodded.

I gazed at the hot man running alongside for the entirety of the tunnel, convinced I would buy whatever cell phone he wanted me to if he were to actually ask. Ask in Japanese, that is. I could survive with my English, but Kei was the one of us with Korean language experience, and I was a fish out of water. As the train slowed down, he stopped running and waved goodbye, then froze in his final pose, looking down at his phone, as the train came to a stop.

Kei tapped my shoulder to snap me out of it. We stepped off the train.

“I thought you were going to stay on that train just to watch him run with you all the way back to the airport,” Kei snipped.

I nudged Kei’s shoulder. “You’re the only one for me.”

I earned nothing but a shake of the head. “Got your phone turned off?”

“It’s in pieces in my bag.”

“Mine too.”

We wove our way above ground at the massive Seoul Train Station, trying to find the second-east exit that would lead us to our hotel. Kei’s filter was due for a change in about an hour, so we wanted to establish our home base first before anything else. As this was our first international mission, our police chief at Tokyo headquarters had arranged for us to meet the chief of police in Seoul. The Seoul chief would be able to tell us about the district where we suspected Mikabe, a pedophilic, Japanese illegal filmmaker, to reside. Though we planned for maximum collaboration, we also weren’t taking any chances, and thus had fabricated passports arranged for undercover police. Kei had already relayed to our Seoul police contact that we would need Korean cell phones for any communication that needed to take place inside the country. This was all very new and stressful, but it was a solid beginning in expanding our apprehension of Japanese nationals who used trafficked people in films. This was a huge opportunity for us.

Kei squeezed my hand anytime we needed to make a turn amid the crowds. We were both native Japanese speakers, but Kei had also studied Korean and Chinese in college, and being half-American, could also speak English. My genius partner. Though I was glad Kei was getting to use the language skills from our tiny college in Tohoku, I was desperately searching for any Japanese language signboards, or at least unsimplified Chinese kanji characters so that I could read where we were going. There was English, of course, but that had never been my strong suit, and the Korean Hangul was as good as gibberish to me, though Kei had certainly tried teaching me on the flight from Tokyo.

“You’ve got our documents?” Kei asked as we neared an exit.

“Everything’s in my bag,” I said. We’d obtained all the necessary documents to be issued firearms by the Seoul police. If they didn’t like our paperwork, then Kei and I would do some sightseeing on our boss’s dime and head back home. There was no way I was going after Mikabe without the heaviest weapons my police badge could get me.

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