Asleep Are the Dogs: Chapter 13

July 12, 2013 in Asleep Are the Dogs, moonrise31 by moonrise31

Sometimes, even when a dog bares his teeth, he looks like he’s smiling.

Chapter 13: Of Childhood Riddles and the Beginning of the End

Taeyeon slowed down as soon as the market ruins came into view. Most of the rubble had been cleared out over the past week, leaving behind only the desolate skeletons of once lively buildings. Already drenched in darkness, the Dongdaemun remains seemed even more ghastly in the pale moonlight, casting deep black shadows at Taeyeon’s feet. Catching her breath, she glanced around. “If I were Ahn,” she said to herself, “where would I set up to turn all the lights off?”

She ducked under the yellow caution tape without a second thought, almost tripping over a charred plank as she did so. Pursing her lips, she straightened and maneuvered even further into the marketplace. Each of her footsteps echoed loudly in the silence, but she had given up trying to be stealthy a long time ago.

Finally, she stopped in front of the only building that had survived the explosion. “The Dongdaemun Miracle,” she murmured to herself, remembering what the news reporters had been calling it. Formerly a small pet store, it had escaped the blast with only blackened walls and shattered windows. No one inside, humans and animals alike, had emerged with anything more than a few scratches. Taeyeon stepped over the threshold, silently hoping that the same fate would extend to her as well.

Click.

Taeyeon immediately froze, glancing down at the floorboards. A hissed curse escaped her lips.

“I think you’ll be alright. Just don’t move.”

Pressure trigger, she remembered Sunny calling it once before. Taeyeon looked up, immediately recognizing the man stepping out of the shadows. She managed a smile. “We keep bumping into each other, don’t we, Tisong-ssi.”

“Indeed,” Ahn agreed, leaning against a stack of now empty cages. “To be honest, I’d hoped Lieutenant Lee would be coming. It would certainly add a new flavor to the entire bomb-defusing situation.”

“I’m about the same height, so I’ll have to do,” Taeyeon replied through gritted teeth, resisting the incredibly strong urge to shift her feet just a millimeter or two. Why is he standing so close? Is the blast radius really this small, or is he that confident in my ability to stay still?

Ahn nodded. “I suppose so.” He slipped his hands into his pockets. “So, Doctor Kim. How’re you doing?”

“I could be better,” Taeyeon answered drily. She raised her eyebrows. “But don’t you have a blackout to be maintaining? I won’t be going anywhere soon, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Ahn chuckled. “Whether Tiffany-ssi cracks my program or not is no longer my concern. Although, since she hasn’t figured it out after this long, I have to admit that I’m losing faith.”

Taeyeon’s slightly strained expression broke into a determined grin. “I’ll gladly take your faith and add it to my already expansive amount, then. Underestimating Hwang Tiffany is quite possibly the worst decision you’ve ever made, and that’s saying something.”

“I suppose we’ll see,” Ahn countered, shrugging. “In any case, Doctor Kim, it seems like it’s only you and me on this final level.” He smiled suddenly, and Taeyeon was thrown off by how bright and innocent and genuine it seemed. “So shall we end this?”

“I’m open to suggestions,” she said carefully. “And I think you already have something in mind, yes?”

He tilted his head back and laughed a little. “Right again, Doctor Kim. You’re pretty sharp. Okay, my proposal is this.” He held up a finger. “One question. Your answer. I like it, you win. But if I don’t like it,” he slipped a remote from his pocket and laid it on his open palm. “Boom. Catch my drift?”

Taeyeon eyed the device in his hand. “New model, is it? You really do have too much time on your hands.”

“Boredom does things, Doctor Kim,” Ahn replied with a grin. “So what do you say?”

“I’m hardly in the position to say no,” Taeyeon observed. “And I’m a bit disappointed that all my hard work towards statue impersonation will be for nothing if you don’t like the words I have. But alright, Tisong-ssi.” She met his stare. “Hit me with your best shot.”

His smile widened. “That’s the spirit. Very well, Doctor Kim. Here it is.” He tilted his head to one side, casually fiddling with the remote as he did so. “You might be familiar with the puzzle some children are fond of passing around: It’s thunderstorming outside. You run into a house for shelter, but the power is out. Inside, you get to choose from a set of doors, any of which will then lead you to a set of rooms, and then all of a sudden, a stranger appears and tells you to choose a method of death: the electric chair, or get ripped apart by a pack of wild dogs.”

“The electric chair,” Taeyeon said immediately. “Since the power is out, you’re safe.”

“Good, you’ve heard of it.” Ahn spread his arms out. “But it’s too simple, don’t you think? So I’ve changed it up a little, just for you. Let’s say you’re running around Seoul, but the power is out. Your friends are all in different corners of the city chasing down dead ends, and you alone have found the stranger you all are looking for. But you’ve got no phone, no lifelines, and now, two ways to die. So what’ll it be? Being blown apart by a battery-operated bomb,” he tossed the remote and caught it again, a hard glint in his eye. “Or get ripped apart by a pack of wild dogs?”

Taeyeon raised her eyebrows. “You don’t mean to tell me that you’ve kidnapped a bunch of dogs just for this moment.”

“They’re down in the basement,” Ahn replied readily. “Take a step and see for yourself, if you’d like.” He smirked.

“What I’d like is to think that you’ve become quite the comedian,” Taeyeon retorted, staying firmly in place. She knew that she was only imagining the heat of the bomb under her feet, but her awareness of what her brain was dreaming up still didn’t make her feel any better. “I’ve got a few questions of my own before I answer yours, though. Honor a dying girl’s last wishes, would you?”

Ahn gave her a mock bow. “It would be my pleasure.”

“My phone. Where everyone else is. How do you know that?” Taeyeon demanded. As soon as she’d realized that Tiffany had never returned her cell, she had been faced with a decision: turn back and tell the two women still outside her office, or continue on completely alone and hope the others would catch on later. Now, she was feverishly hoping that she’d made the right choice.

“Ah.” Ahn pulled out his own phone and glanced at the screen. “You have our friend Sooyoung-ssi to thank for that. She may have lost her old phone, but she kept the same number. I’ve been following your group chat regularly—it’s quite entertaining, I have to say.”

“We’re always just something to amuse you, aren’t we?” Taeyeon scoffed, hiding her worry. If he didn’t seem concerned, that meant that the others hadn’t figured out where she was yet. Come on, come on. “Just because you’re bored doesn’t give you the excuse to take nothing seriously.”

He lifted his shoulders, noncommittal. “No one’s really taken me very seriously, you know. You people are the first, and for that, I sincerely thank you.” He dipped his head in another bow. “The most fun I’ve had in years.”

Taeyeon couldn’t resist rolling her eyes. “Good to know.”  Her mind was still racing. What answer is there to give?

Ahn seemed to sense that her thoughts were elsewhere. “Well?” He prodded. “I believe you owe me some words.”

“Only if you’ll take them,” Taeyeon shot back. What does he want? I know what he wants. Right? I know how he thinks. I can see it. So why can’t I—

“Kim Taeyeon, I am going to absolutely kill you.”

She whipped her head around as far as she dared, gaping at Tiffany, who was standing in the doorway. Jessica leaned into view from the left. “And after she’s done with you, I’d like a turn,” she added, her stare drilling into Taeyeon’s skull.

“Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of saving her?” Sunny’s voice asked, followed by a blonde head popping up from behind Tiffany’s shoulder. “In either case, don’t move a step closer, guys, or none of us will be alive to kill her later.”

“Quit shoving, Hyo-unnie,” Yoona complained as she stumbled into Taeyeon’s line of sight.

“Yuri pushed me,” Hyoyeon protested, bumping into Tiffany as she did so.

“I didn’t push anyone,” Yuri objected indignantly, and out of the corner of her eye, Taeyeon saw the taller girl move into view through the open window. “Seohyun’s been too busy dragging me this way.”

“Crowding is going to lead to someone falling, and Sunny-unnie said that would be a bad idea,” Seohyun reminded them.

“Listen to this kid, please,” Sooyoung yelled from the back. “Now move and let me see.”

“You guys,” Taeyeon finally managed to say. “How—?”

“Stop going off by yourself all the time,” Tiffany interrupted fiercely, arms crossed. “For such an amazing therapist, you’re terrible when it comes to evaluating yourself. This is coming from me, so take note of it: you are not alone.

The words struck Taeyeon so hard that she almost took a full step back. She couldn’t explain exactly what had overwhelmed her all of a sudden, rendering her incapable of saying anything, but one look at each of the eight other women was all she needed to know that they knew. She felt a smile tugging at her lips, so she let a wide grin spread as far as it would go.

“Look,” Hyoyeon laughed. “Tisong-ssi’s doing a good impression of Yoong’s flounder face, isn’t he?”

Nine pairs of eyes now stared at Ahn, who struggled to recover from his astonishment. “But— you’re supposed to be—”

“You thought you had us, didn’t you?” Sooyoung grinned, waving her cellphone smugly. “You really thought Fany would overlook the fact that you knew my number? I had it changed as soon as I got my new phone, but we kept the old one just for you.”

“We fed you mostly the same information,” Tiffany continued. “Nothing really important was being shared until tonight, and we couldn’t have you catching on too soon, now could we? I started sending you false texts as soon as we realized where Taeyeon had gone.”

“Surprise,” Yoona finished with a smirk.

Taeyeon turned and met Ahn’s somewhat bewildered gaze with her own unwavering stare. “Tisong-ssi? My answer. I have it now.”

He managed to shake himself out of his stupor long enough to look at her. “Yes, Doctor Kim?”

“I’m gonna go with the third choice,” Taeyeon said firmly. “My friends come and save me, outwit the stranger, and return the lights to Seoul.” She paused. “And we’ll save the dogs too, if they really are in the basement.”

Ahn stared at her for a few seconds before slowly shaking his head. “There aren’t any dogs, I’m afraid,” he revealed with a rueful smile. “Not any that need saving, anyway. I have nothing else to say, Doctor Kim.” He put his hands back in his pockets. “You’ve won.”

“Taeyeon, don’t move!” Sunny reminded her, and the eldest barely stopped herself from collapsing on the floor. “Ahn, disarm the bomb now,” Sunny demanded.

“No worries, Lieutenant,” Ahn assured her, and Taeyeon was caught off guard again by how boyish and happy his smile suddenly seemed. “The game’s over for me alone. I lost.” His hand was out of his pocket again, fingers curled around the remote.

He pressed the button.

Get BACK,” Sunny screamed, diving forward as she shoved the others behind her. “TAEYEON!”

The therapist felt herself jerking backwards, landing on Sunny as they both tumbled out of the building. The explosion rattled Taeyeon’s teeth and banged against her eardrums, leaving her head ringing in the thick silence that followed.

Seohyun was one of the first ones up, stumbling to her feet with some difficulty as she brushed off her clothes. She turned and saw the ruins of the Dongdaemun Miracle, finally toppled by the original bomber’s second creation. Then she noticed Tiffany sitting cross-legged, busily tapping away at her laptop even as the dust continued to settle.

She made her way over to the other girl. “What’re you doing, unnie?”

Tiffany finished typing and looked up with a grin, lifting a soot-covered arm to point. “Look, Seohyun-ah. We did it.”

The other girls were beginning to pick themselves up, and with the pleasant hum of their murmurs in the background, Seohyun followed Tiffany’s finger, feeling her own smile grow as quickly as the lights of Seoul began to flicker back on, one by one.