“Quite simply, security is what we do.” Ki-Bum Park flashed a smile to all those gathered about the conference room. “It is what our family does, for generations now, and we take great pride in this fact. Obviously, we’ve expanded our services since Joseon Era.” He adjust his glasses, giving the group a moment to chuckle. “Full service security with everything from personnel to integrated systems to IT to old fashion vaults.”
He paced around the outside of the room, gaze shifting out the floor-to-ceiling window that looked out over the Gangnam District in Seoul. Family, one that supports one another, one that steps in for one another, even when one is nursing a hangover and is subsequently unable to make it to a sales meeting with a new client so calls him in instead…
“Each system is unique, catering to the needs of the individual customer.” He adjusted the wire-rim glasses upon his nose once more pausing two beats. Even if each system were unique, the pitch was always the same.
He may not be part of the actual marketing team, but he was well versed in their byline, being the grandson of the CEO and heir to Samjoku Securities. His grooming to take over the Family one day had begun when he was barely ten years old, and that meant he needed to understand the nuances of how the Family business worked.
Like these sales meetings.
He gave it to the count of three, then turn about, clasping the tablet with both hands at the small of his back and flashing a warm smile to the board members. “You wouldn’t want to use the same system as, say, a hospital down the street, now would you?” he mused. “That just wouldn’t make any kind of sense. Different customers have different needs, and we cater to that.” His pocket vibrated, letting him know someone was trying to get in touch. One hand slid into his pocket, and he risked a glance down to see just who would be calling – everyone at the office knew he was at a meeting, and they would only interrupt if it was important.
Which, depending upon the Family member in question, could vary in definition.
He frowned as he saw Dong-Gu’s name pop up on the screen. With the time, school would have only just let out not too long ago, and though his younger cousin always had Ki-Bum’s number, the boy rarely used it – it really had to be an emergency.
Or Jo had done something again. How could a girl in the States who none of them had ever met constantly cause this much trouble? They had even sent a Pack member to keep an eye on her!
He brought the tablet forward, swiping quickly through the screens before tapping on the one he had been looking for as he continued around the room towards the door. “This is a virtual walk thru of what we have in mind for your firm, and it corresponds with the proposal you each have before you.” And as the music began to play over the speakers, he slipped from the room, pressing the button on his headset. “Tell me she didn’t end up in the hospital again.”
“Jo? Of course not.” As Dong-Gu knew precisely who he was talking about so he answer wasn’t quite as obvious as he made it sound. “We’ve had a breakout.”
Just as Ki-Bum was starting to relax, too. “Please tell me you’re not talking about Downstairs,” he breathed.
Their home had started, almost a hundred years ago, as a shack on the edge of a mountain outside of town with a hidden cellar beneath to store things that should be kept from prying eye. This sometimes included Pack members, but more often than not, meant artifacts of power the Family had come across, and sometimes, supernatural creatures hiding from humanity.
Today, there were seven floors beneath the estate, each floor holding more than a dozen small rooms, and each of those rooms with a number of artifacts within. These items came from all over Asia, a few from as far south as Australia and as far west as India and even a few from certain parts of Russia. Some of those artifacts seemed relatively mundane, but sometime, somewhere, someone had managed to hurt if not kill with it, hence it being added to the collection.
Which is why the Family went into security to begin with.
It started with their own home, and as they perfected the systems, they realized this was something they could do to bring in any extra money. Though sometimes, it was exploiting the weakness in other systems which brought the artifacts to them to begin with, and through that act, they better determined ways to solidify security in their own home.
Then sell those improvements to others as well as acted as bodyguards for many of the high-ranking nobles, including a number of kings through the ages.
Most in the Family did not have all the benefits of being full-Pack, but they didn’t have the drawbacks, either. They were faster, stronger, and tended to live longer than regular humans, be harder to kill and heal faster.
And normal people didn’t have that same fight-or-flight instinct when it came to the rest of them.
It didn’t hurt that they were so damn pretty – every last one of them. That certainly helped their Family survive through the ages.
Enter the Industrial Revolution, and they had even more options.
And when computers came into the picture? That was when their business really started taking off. All the better to protect the rest of the world from the artifacts in their basement.
“Would I be calling you for anything else?”
Part of being what they were – those who were Pack like Dong-Gu as well as those who were Family like Ki-Bum – was the responsibility to protect all the normal people out there against the stuff of nightmares. Ghosts, demons, monsters – it was all real, and their Family had been hunting down those creatures which would prey on humanity. Many were destroyed outright, but that was not always a feasible option for a myriad of reasons. Those beings which could not be otherwise killed, upon defeat, were often imprisoned in artifacts, which were also stored in the maze beneath the estate.
This could be part of why, while their family had been known to be soldiers, guards, and mercenaries, but they had just as many shamans.
“I’m starting to wish it had been Jo,” Ki-Bum sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Nothing. Do you know what got out?”
“I was attacked by hungry ghost as soon as I got home, and I think something’s in the pond in the courtyard. Call the Old Lady – I can’t put this thing back without them.”
Ki-Bum was already opening another tab on the tablet. “She’s in Busan,” he murmured distantly. “If it’s a lot, we’ll make sure she gets home. Jae-Wook should be wrapping up at the dojo. I’ll call him.”
“I’m not sure which room this thing came out of or even how old it is.” Dong-Gu sighed. “I don’t know how many got out, hyung.” He sounded so very tired.
A few more taps. “Not a problem, Dong-Gu-ya, I’ll get a few of the shamans, and-”
“Wait,” the younger man growled the word, and all stilled on that side. “I smell…” he trailed off. “Someone’s down he-”
Ki-Bum yanked the phone out of his pocket, but it showed the call still connected. “Dong-Gu.” Nothing. “Dong-Gu!” he hissed his cousin’s name again. “Answer me, dam-”
A man spoke into the phone, only a few short phrases in a language he didn’t understand – Russian from the sound of it.
“What have you done to my cousin?” he asked, switching to English. It was considered the universal language, wasn’t it? It was worth a shot.
“Ah, English!” crowed the man, clearly delighted to hear a dialect he recognized. “Your cousin? He’s fine. Bit of nap, that’s all. He’ll wake in a week or two.” He chuckled, the sound cheerful. A woman in the background snapped something, again in Russian, and the man sighed into the line.
“Do you have any idea who you are messing with?” Ki-Bum pitched his voice low. “Replace anything you took, and walk away without hurt-”
The man hung up.
Nothing like being cut off mid-threat. Ki-Bum closed his eyes, drawing a deep breath. It didn’t matter – none of that mattered right now. There were so many bigger things to deal with. He called the office. “Dong-Gu’s in trouble, and we’ve had break-in at the estate. And a breakout.”
“I saw the shift in schedule,” the woman – Taehee – said over the line, and he could hear the clack of keys.
“Get Jae-Wook over there immediately. Call Grandmother back, and have Jihoon on standby. Starting calling back the rest of the Pack once those three have been taken care of.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. The best benefit of having a Family-run company? You didn’t have to beat around the bush when you were working on a paranormal case. “That done, call all the shamans we have in the area. I don’t know what or how many things got out.”
He was starting to pace, sliding the phone back into his pocket so he could hold the table tmore comfortably as he spoke, flipping between the screens. “Gather the wall footage from around the estate as well as the Downstairs. Especially the Downstairs. We need the stats from the sensors down there, too. We aren’t dealing with anything mundane.”
He could hear the pounding of keys as he issued the orders. “On it,” Taehee simply said. No argument, no questions – simply doing what needed to be done. “Do I need to reschedule Daebok Designs?”
And while he really, desperately wanted to say ‘yes’ to that, he knew he couldn’t. “No, I’ll wrap up here, then head over. Let the Pack do the initial sweep, but have Family on standby. Once we get the all-clear from them, we’ll need to go in and start the clean-up.”
He paused half a beat, considering his schedule. “Clear tomorrow, though, just in case.” He had no idea how big this was really going to be, but better safe than sorry…
The soft click of a few more buttons. “Understood.”
Ki-Bum signed off, tapping his ear piece. Taking a few moments, he straightened his fitted jacket, making sure everything was again just-so before he put his smile back on his face. “My apologies for that,” he offered as he opened the door to the boardroom. “Now, where were we?”
* * * * *
For six hours, they had been searching the streets for any sign of the paranormal in whatever shape it might take. Each team had four members in it, at least one with shamanistic capabilities.
For six hours, they had been cataloging the Downstairs, room by room. Just because a room on the fifth floor had been wrecked didn’t mean that was the only room touched. They were professionals, afterall.
For six hours, they had been trying to wake Dong-Gu up, but nothing.
They had found him on the second floor down, sprawled there, still in his school uniform. Jihoon had examined him, but could find no visible wounds. No one in the Pack could reach his mind, and considering how closely connected they all were, being able to sense feelings from one another.
When Grandmother had arrived from Busan, even she could not reach his mind, and she was the most experienced of them all. If his consciousness was hidden from her, their foe was more formidable than Ki-Bum had given them credit for.
Which is why there were four teams who were specifically searching for the pair who had broken into the place. Those teams contained one Pack member apiece, just to be safe.
Dong-Gu was on the floor in the main room, Jihoon sitting on his chest. The couch being opened, that’s where Ki-Bum chose to recline, flipping through the videos that he had sent on his tablet. He wore the headset to match the security teams wore, listening to the chatter. Thus far, a handful of ghosts had been re-captured as well as a couple of lesser demons. Fortunately, the Blooded could handle that, though there were Pack out there with them on the hunt.
“So, how was work?” Jihoon abruptly asked, breaking the silence with his cheerful voice.
Ki-Bum paused for half a beat before flitting to the next page. He had been reviewing the sensor readouts for the past hour, and was nowhere closer to finding the people who had broken in. And now, with those light, teasing words, he felt his stomach twist, and he knew – just knew – the other man had been quiet for too long. Apparently, he was his chosen target. “Good, good, hyung-nim,” he answered after a beat. “How was the clinic?”
“Meh,” he brushed off the question. “How was Daebok?”
He risked a glance up over the rims of his glasses, arching a brow at the older man. “Did you get Min-Suk so drunk last night that he couldn’t do the presentation?”
His older cousin looked him, his round face cracking with a wide grin, all white teeth and dimples. “Now what could I possibly get out of doing something like that?” he gasped in mock-shock.
Ki-Bum sighed to himself. The radio crackled in his ear, and he flipped to another tab. “Quadrant 2-B clear,” he repeated aloud as he notated it on his tablet. “Continue to 3-B. Gamma Team, how are the sewers looking so far?” he paused, making a note of the response before muting his com and shifting to the footage. “I’m sure I would have no idea,” he murmured to the other.
There was a glint to the man’s eyes, something that promised that mischief was afoot. Of all the Pack, this cousin was the least trusted, and as that grin grew, he was reminded why. While broader than any of the others in the Pack, he was also the smallest in stature. He played up on his size, thus people tended to miss the brawn. Their first impression was how ‘cute’ he was.
And with the pink hair, they were just as likely to not believe he was a physician who ran his own clinic. Considering he was still sitting on his current patient’s chest, one could be forgiven for not believing such things. Jihoon had perfected the art of appearing lackadaisical.
“You know, maybe you should-” he started, but whatever he had been building up to was cut off as Dong-Gu groaned, his lashes fluttering.
The tablet was tossed aside, and Ki-Bum leaned forward, resting forearms on his knees. He tapped his headset again. “Dong-Gu’s awake. Will report back after-”
The movements were so fast but suddenly, Jihoon was on his back, Dong-Gu rearing up over him with a snarl. A little part of Ki-Bum silently cheered the reprieve, but there were bigger problems if Dong-Gu had gone feral.
And here he was, alone in the house with only Jihoon to protect him.
Dong-Gu was crouched, head bowed. Being Family, he rarely felt the Beast which sent most normal humans scurrying for cover from the Pack, but with this? Now? He shuddered, but even that he forced down. Even Jihoon was holding very, very still, as if afraid what would happen if he drew attention to himself. The boy’s hair covered his features, making it near impossible to fully read the situation.
Ki-Bum hoped the labored breathing was a sign he was trying to control himself.
A hand jerked out in his direction, causing him to jump, but it was palm up, expectant. He could only blink at it when Dong-Gu gave his hand an emphatic shake. “Phone,” he growled.
Ki-Bum blinked owlishly, adjusting his now-crooked glasses. “I beg your-”
“Phone. Now.” His cousin looked up through the fall of his hair, the Beast shining through, making his eyes gleam gold.
“Give. Him. The. Phone,” Jihoon hissed, tilting his head. “I’m kinda in a bad position for you to be negotiating.”
But it was kind of the perfect position. Ki-Bum held the phone to his chest as he settled back comfortably on the couch, holding the phone protectively with both hands against his chest. “Why?”
The deeper brown was bleeding back into those eyes, his breathing regulating, but it didn’t stop the frown on his younger relations face. “Why?” he repeated as if the question never occurred to him as needing an answer.
“Who are you going to call?”
“Ghostbusters,” whispered Jihoon, who was promptly ignored.
Dong-Gu settled back on his haunches, running both hands back through his hair. “Jo,” he admitted at long last.
Ah, there it was! “How the hell does she have anything to do with what happened here?” he couldn’t keep the incredulity from his voice as he poised the question.
There was a flush of color, and the younger man looked away. “She’s, uh… she’s hurt.”
Relief flooded his body, and Ki-Bum even managed a low chuckle. “Just who were you going to call?”
“Nicholas,” Dong-Gu snapped, looking back. “He’s supposed to be protecting her, and she walks in, all…. All…” he flailed, falling back onto his duff as he tried to find the words, but failed. “He’s not doing his job!” he snapped at last.
Jihoon crept backwards, closer to Ki-Bum’s feet, but kept both eyes on the boy. “I think you should let him call her,” the doctor drawled out, draping an arm over his knees. If it was any other Pack member, the gesture could be deemed protective, but all things considering…
“Nicholas doesn’t speak Korean, Japanese, or Mandarin,” Ki-Bum said instead. “Have you been practicing your English?” As the blush darkened, he issued a heavy, dramatic sigh. “I thought not. Perhaps we should consider a tutor,” he mused as he made a show of dialing the number.
Dong-Gu perked up, his full, undivided attention focused on the exaggerated movements, but it was Jihoon who snatched the phone away, tossing it to the younger boy in a smooth movement just as it began to ring. The physician grinned up at him. “Don’t tease the boy. He’s had a rough day.”
Ki-Bum could only sigh, adjusting his glasses again. “I’m pretty sure it’s only about to get worse…”