The Prophet  

After the change in management at the Queen Bee, he made no more prophecies.  
On account of the curious rule implemented by the new owner.  
It seemed to cause him great pain, not being able to make his prophecies.  

Na U-hyon had a unique hobby that set him apart from the other regulars at the basement bar known as the Queen Bee. He was able to predict the future, of people and world events, with remarkable accuracy. It was a rare hobby and an admirable talent.  
"This girl won't last long. Just wait and see. It won't be long before she moves on..."  
He often predicted what the waitresses would do, things they themselves had never even imagined. It wasn't uncommon for a girl to disappear without a trace a few days later, although she hadn't seemed to put the slightest stock in what he had said.  
If he said someone would go, that person went; if he said someone would come, inevitably the individual appeared. If he said there was going to be an accident at a certain time and place, invariably that accident occurred, and if he said something good was going to happen to someone, it always did.  
"You shouldn't have sent him out today."  
One day, quite out of the blue, he warned the mistress about sending one of the boys on an errand.  
A world title match between two famous local boxers was to be broadcast live that night. The mistress, afraid they might run short of beer, had asked the new boy, Yang, who happened to have arrived early for work that day, to go out for some more.  
"Haven't they delivered it yet?"  
"Yes, but it looks like we might run short tonight. Why don't you go over on your bike and pick up two more cases? You know where it is."  
"Never should have bought that bike."  
Yang didn't seem particularly enthusiastic about the errand.  
Na must have heard what Yang had said as he walked down the stairs into the bar. He stopped at the threshold and repeated the phrase, as if he was getting a feeling about something.  
"Never should have bought that bike..."  
He peered into Yang's face as the boy pushed his bicycle reluctantly out the door.  
"That boy's going to have a bad accident if he takes that bike out today."  
The mistress felt an ominous foreboding. During the two years she had been managing the bar, she had seen that miserable little man's seemingly frivolous prophecies proved accurate on many occasions.  
"Yang, forget it," she called out, but it was already too late.  
"That's okay. I'll go. So what if I have an accident! The worse that can happen is I get killed. I was born under an unlucky star anyway."  
And with that, Yang left on his bicycle.  
There was nothing the mistress could do. She glanced at Na as if to say it wasn't her responsibility. But Na simply shook his head as he stared off in the direction Yang had disappeared. He looked concerned, as if he couldn't rid himself of his strange foreboding.  
Still, there was nothing the mistress could do. Better to ignore his prophecy, she thought.  
Good Lord! As if everything always turns out the way he says! Since when is a fortune teller always right?  
 "Come on in," she said. "Quite hot for early summer, isn't it?"  
She guided Na through the door as if nothing had happened. He followed her in silence. And then, before the sun had set, he began drinking, all alone, as if awaiting the outcome of his prophecy.  
The news reached the Queen Bee before Na had a chance to begin his second bottle of beer.  
"This is Officer Kim from Songsam Station. Can I speak to Madam O?"  
The girl at the cash register handed the receiver to the mistress immediately.  
"Madam O? This is Officer Kim from Songsam Station... I'm at the intersection by the gas station. I'm calling from a pay phone. You'd better get over here right away. Your waiter, number 9, Yang Ha-mun. Right, he was picking up some beer on his bike. Well, he's been run over by a bus."  
It was exactly twelve minutes since Yang had left the bar.  
Na's prophecies were so accurate, it was almost as if people obeyed them in order to make them come true. And because they were so accurate, everyone dreaded them.  
They seemed to think that if Na made a prediction, they had to obey. What's more, they acted as if his predictions had some kind of hypnotic power that left them no choice but to bear out what he said.  
Na's prophecies differed from those of professional fortune tellers in a number of ways. Not only did he predict routine affairs, such as price fluctuations and the results of sporting events, as do the professionals, but he also covered everything from natural disasters, such as droughts and floods, to the comings and goings of human beings, even their illnesses and deaths.  
What really set his prophecies apart from those of conventional fortune tellers was his extraordinary power to predict people's destinies, their thoughts and actions, the outcomes of their relationships, their fortunes, good and bad. From that point of view, he was a kind of philosopher of human destiny. However, there was another difference between Na and the fortune tellers one finds around town: he offered no prescription to prepare a person for the fate he predicted. He simply made his prophecies, but never suggested any way to avert them, unlike ordinary fortune tellers or face-readers, who prescribe talismans or charms. In that sense, he was very much an evil magician.  
That is why no one welcomed his prophecies.  
"Miss Chong, how old are you?... Right, I thought so. The time has come. If I were you, I'd buy a round of drinks on a day like this. Your father's going to come up from the country to see you tomorrow. He wants to marry you off. I can tell from the look on your face."  
Na didn't always make prophecies of doom. On occasion he brought people good fortune and happiness. But they didn't welcome those predictions either, because they felt as if it was his prophecies that were responsible for their good fortune and happiness. And because they were afraid that one day they would have to pay the price for their good fortune by submitting to his ominous predictions.  
Na didn't concern himself with the reactions of those around him, however.  
"You shouldn't have come to work today. You're going to get into a scuffle with someone," he would say, or "No point in watching the soccer match tonight. It'll be a breeze. But we're going to lose in the semifinals day after tomorrow."  
Whether in an offhand tone or an anxious voice, Na was forever demonstrating his inscrutable prophetic powers to the waitresses and the mistress, or to the regulars with whom he was familiar.  
It was nearly three years since he had bought a two-story slab house less than a bus stop away from the Queen Bee. He had been a regular ever since, although he never seemed to have a real job.  
Actually, hardly anything was known of his private life or the source of his prophetic abilities. None of the former mistresses of the Queen Bee or the waitresses, or even the other regulars who had drunk with him over the years, knew anything about him.  
They say he once studied in a Buddhist temple.  
No one knew how the rumor had started, but every once in a while someone would mention something about Na having once been a monk. No one could say for sure whether it was true or not. They simply saw some vague connection between the rumor and his prophetic abilities. Among the other uncorroborated elements of Na's life was the talk that he had once been a writer. It was said he had decided to give up the monastic life and return to the secular world because of his desire to write, but again, this had never been proved.  
Na paid no attention to these stories, and so there was no way of confirming them. What's more, none of the regulars was inclined to pry into someone else's personal affairs.  
One thing was clear, however. Once or twice a month he went rock-collecting in the countryside. He would dress in work clothes, put on his backpack and be off, not to return for three or four days, or sometimes a week.  
No one ever saw him leave (probably because he always left at daybreak), but it was obvious from his appearance upon his return that the purpose of his trips was rock-collecting. After a few days' absence from the Queen Bee, Na would invariably be spotted returning, exhausted from his journey with nothing in his backpack except a couple of curious-looking rocks at best. On many occasions, he struggled home as if under a massive burden, but with little more than his own exhausted body. When he had no rocks, he came straight to the Queen Bee, backpack and all. His fatigue then was all the more obvious.  
From the number of trips he had taken, you might have thought his house would be buried under a pile of rocks by now. However, no one at the Queen Bee knew how many rocks he had actually collected or what he did with them. Na rarely spoke of the rocks, nor had anyone ever visited his home to find out. As a result, it was only natural that few people understood why he was so devoted to his rock-collecting. Apart from that hobby, Na U-hyon's life was shrouded in ambiguity.  
It was in that ambiguous state that he had been frequenting the bar for the past two or three years. He had never seemed particularly concerned about expenses, although he had no job to speak of. Perhaps someone in his family was supporting him. Except for his trips, he spent all 365 days of the year at the bar and always seemed to have plenty of cash.  
Perhaps you could call it another of his hobbies, but Na understood the personal lives of the bar staff better than any of the other regulars.  
Miss Lee, you ought to pay more attention to your sick father! You should go see him at least once a week! or Miss Shin, today's your birthday, isn't it? Here, I bought a little cake for you.  
He never hung on the girls or made indecent advances, nor did they ever confide in him, and yet he always knew everything about them. If a waitress quit to return to the countryside, he would give her money for the trip, and sometimes he even offered to help a younger brother find work. It didn't matter what they thought of his prophecies.  
That was the way Na was, but for all his humanitarianism, he still made those mysteriously accurate prophecies.  
His prophesying formed the core of his existence.  
However, after the arrival of Madam Hong, the new owner of the Queen Bee, he abruptly stopped making predictions. Actually, it would be more accurate to say he stopped after Madam Hong implemented that curious rule of hers.  

One day last spring.  
Madam Hong took over the bar, no doubt because the Queen Bee's previous management had not been satisfactory. However, it wasn't a matter of her simply being employed to manage the bar. Rather, she was the new owner. She seemed to have not only the drive of an independent businesswoman, but also the insight and determination needed to run the bar on her own.  
"Apparently she attended college for a couple of years. That's where she fell in love with some guy. They got married right away, but after a few months he asked her for a divorce. She said 'Fine,' something about having no use for the likes of him... And that was the end of it."  
There was no telling where the customers came up with their information, but from the first night Madam Hong appeared at the bar, her past occasioned a great deal of discussion.  
"But do you know why she gave in so easily? The answer's in what she said: 'I have no use for the likes of you.' Apparently she's really into you-know-what and he simply wasn't up to it. Heh, heh, heh. I mean, what use would she have for a man who couldn't satisfy her, right? He was lucky to get out while he was alive and breathing!"  
Everyone assumed she had given up on the idea of remarriage and started working in bars because no one man could satisfy her.  
"They say she never stays at one bar more than a few months. Fortunately she's over thirty now. Otherwise, we'd be burying a few stiffs around here too, ha, ha, ha..."  
Whether it was her educational background or colorful marital history, the rumors about Madam Hong seemed to enhance her reputation as a proprietress with a mission.  
And after an evening observing business at the bar, she began to reveal her true determination and insight.  
"This won't do. It simply can't go on like this..."  
After the doors closed that first evening Madam Hong gathered the employees together and in the haughty and authoritarian tone of a mob kingpin she made an announcement.  
"Before taking over this establishment, I had heard quite a bit about the clientele. But after seeing the way things operate here, I see no reason why business should be so poor. Look at all the customers we serve, and the kind of people they are. The problem isn't location or clientele, it's simply a matter of poor management."  
In other words, she had decided to change the way things were run at the bar.  
She didn't say why she thought the previous management had failed, nor did she offer specific plans for changing the way the bar was managed. All she did was insist upon unconditional trust and obedience to her new approach.  
"I'm not going to talk about my plans for the bar yet. But I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I won't be sending any of you away, and I don't plan on hiring anyone new. If some of you choose to leave, there's nothing I can do about it, but all who wish to stay may do so-on one condition. You'll have to follow the new rules. To work here, you must accept and respect my rules-no exceptions. After all, every one of you is here for the money. I won't do anything to harm you..."  
It was clear she hadn't yet decided exactly how she was going to change things at the Queen Bee.  
It didn't take her long to find a way, though. And a truly amazing way at that.  
It was Chang, owner of the Ch'onil Stationery and Toy Shop, who helped her find it.  
The afternoon following her arrival at the Queen Bee, Madam Hong happened to pass Chang's shop as he was waiting on some children. He was wearing a goblin mask. An extraordinary thought flashed through Madam Hong's mind at the sight of the man's face hidden by a child's paper mask. She stopped and peered at him with a purposeful expression. Inside the shop hung rows of various masks.  
"Mr. Chang," Madam Hong asked as she stepped inside. "Do you always wear a mask at work?"  
The two had met the night before.  
"Ah, it's Madam Hong."  
Chang pushed the mask onto his forehead, and his smiling face appeared below the angry goblin's visage.  
"Of course! Most of my customers are kids."  
"But aren't they afraid?" she asked, as purposefully as before.  
"Afraid? Not at all. They think it's fun. It's the only way I can get to know them."  
Madam Hong nodded in silence.  
And a moment later she swept up every last one of the masks and returned to the bar.  
She ordered all the employees to wear them, starting that very night.  
"Remember, I'm not doing this for fun. This is part of the plan I told you about."  
She went on to explain the rules and how the masks were to be worn.  
"First, you are each to wear a mask from ten o'clock on. You may wear it before ten if you like, but after ten, you are forbidden to serve customers without it. And of course no one is allowed to sit at a customer's table without a mask. As you can see, they don't cover the mouth, so you shouldn't have any trouble serving. To put it on, you simply tie these two strings around the back of your head. Each mask has eyeholes so there shouldn't be any problems. Just put it on like this."  
Madam Hong put on one of the masks.  
"Second, you are not to put on or take off your mask in the bar itself. Never let anyone see you doing this. At ten, you are all to go into the dressing room and put on your masks. Then you may serve your customers.  
"Third, at the table you must offer the customer a mask to wear as well. No customer is to drink without one. If a customer refuses-and I doubt this will happen-you don't have to serve him alcohol. Also, I would prefer that you not watch the customers putting on their masks. Once the customer agrees to wear a mask, simply explain how it goes on. But never watch him doing it. And once it's on, try to make sure it stays on until he leaves. And of course you should never watch a customer remove his mask and return to his normal face. You may wonder about this, and it may not appeal to you, but as I've said, it's simply part of my new plan. Since no harm's involved, to you or to me, I want you to follow these rules starting tonight."  
That was all she said. She allowed no questions and so there was no way of knowing what she had in mind.  
Whatever her intentions, the new strategy was a resounding success. From that day forward, every last one of the girls' faces was transformed into a sinister mask at the stroke of ten.  
At first, the customers were bewildered by what seemed an outrageous prank. Apprehension shrouded the bar, as if it had been transformed into a goblins' den. But they didn't seem put off.  
We know nothing. We're just doing what Madam Hong told us.  
I don't mind wearing a mask. I feel much more comfortable serving you this way.  
The masks could not answer their customers' questions.  
And the customers found no fault with the masks either. In fact, they seemed to find them amusing.  
I've got it! It's obvious-"undercover" drinking!  
That Madam Hong is one hell of a woman! No mask-no liquor. That's what she's saying, isn't she? She's really something!  
The customers enjoyed the masks and pretended to understand what Madam Hong was up to. It didn't take them long to grow accustomed to the new rules, and when the girls asked them to wear a mask, they were happy to oblige.  
Why not? If one side hides their faces, so should the other side-it's only natural. How could a mask and a face sit at the same table?  
A great idea! This ugly mug of mine is always causing trouble. From now on, none of us are who we were before. From now on, it's goblins partying with goblins.  
Once both sides began wearing masks, everyone grew more intimate and acted more naturally.  
A few customers, new to the bar, complained it was humiliating.  
"What is this, some kind of joke? No drinking without a mask? What are you trying to do, turn your customers into goblins?"  
But Madam Hong, who appeared before her guests in a ferocious mask, didn't seem the least bit embarrassed.  
"Oh, sir, you know we have only the best of intentions. I simply established this rule to help our guests enjoy themselves a bit more."  
"Rule, what rule? A rule that all your customers have to turn into devils?"  
"And what's wrong with that? Wouldn't you like to play the devil here at the Queen Bee, just for a short time?"  
"Ah, you mean have a face like a devil but be a man from the waist down?"  
"Sir! Shame on you," Madam Hong laughed.  
She showed no sign of backing down.  
Madam Hong, I feel like a completely different man... I'm so much more at ease when I drink now. Actually, the problem was, we all live too close together. We know one another too well. I've always felt kind of funny leaving a tip for the girls here.  
No one can blame you for anything you do in a mask. It's all the mask's fault, not yours.  
Some of the regulars teased Madam Hong, but she simply responded in her ambiguous way, intent on maintaining her rules.  
"Thank you for being so understanding... It's really quite amusing, isn't it? After all, the important thing is pleasing our guests."  
And so from that first night on, not a single customer was forced to leave the Queen Bee for refusing to wear a mask.  
Madam Hong's plan was a success. More than that, it was welcomed with open arms.  
From that day on, the bar turned into a masked society at the stroke of ten. And in time, everyone at the Queen Bee accepted the rule of the masks after that hour. Nearly all the regular customers were from the neighborhood. Perhaps that was why they had always felt uneasy coming to the bar too early in the evening.  
This was true not only of pharmacist Kim, who rented a shop in the same building as the Queen Bee, but also U from the gym across the street, Han, owner of the electronic store, and even Chang, the stationer. In fact, if there was an exception, it was Na U-hyon, who had never seemed to care what anyone thought.  
Now their time had been set.  
The local regulars had always dominated the bar after ten anyway, and now that hour had been set as the time for masks. They all waited for the clock to strike ten, because things were more comfortable then. At ten o'clock, they went to the Queen Bee and put on their masks. Soon the bar was filled with regulars, each wearing his mask and secretly hoping that the masking hour would be pushed up to nine o'clock.  
The masks eventually created their own order, and a second rule was established: everyone came to have his or her own mask. At first they simply wore what Madam Hong gave them. But after a few days, it was clear that the waitresses were choosing for themselves, and it wasn't long before they each had her own.  
Madam Hong returned to the stationery shop. Chang had a new shipment of masks. And not just goblin masks. There were other kinds as well.  
"These are authentic traditional masks. The goblin masks are simply kids' toys."  
Madam Hong's eyebrows twitched like ant feelers as Chang showed her the new shipment.  
"This is the Young Bride, and this one is called the Aristocrat. This nasty fellow with the boils on his face is the Lecherous Monk, and the one with the sleepy eyes is called Blinkie."  
The masks were quite different from the pressed paper goblin and animal masks Madam Hong had bought before. First of all, it was obvious they had been made by hand with great care. Some were decorated with beards of rabbit fur; others were brilliantly painted. Some even had hats made of dog hide.  
"See the sneaky look on this fellow's face. And that one over there: she has the lecherous air of a whorehouse madam."  
A curious smile crossed Madam Hong's lips. Once more she bought up the entire shipment of masks, and each waitress chose her own.  
Madam Hong ordered still more masks from Chang, and when they arrived a new rule was established: each waitress was to have her own mask, and Madam Hong insisted that each regular have his own as well.  
Of course, the girls wore female masks and the men male masks.  
The Queen Bee became a festival of masks after ten o'clock. Neither the customers nor the waitresses needed to worry about their real faces anymore.  
The Lecherous Monk, the Aristocrat, the Jap Whore, the Young Singer... Someone had learned the original name for each mask, and the waitresses and the customers referred to each other by those titles. It was as if they had chosen to submit to the history of their masks, and gradually they came to resemble them.  
How now, my little bitch, you're looking so pouty and willing tonight.  
What's wrong with that? I may not look like much, but I can light a fire in a man who's limp from a life in a Buddhist monastery.  
If you're so good, how about lighting my fire tonight?  
My pleasure. I can make a dead tree flower, so I won't have any trouble with a healthy stud like you, sir. Still plenty of life left in you, isn't there?  
Such was the spicy conversation exchanged at every table in the bar. The dauntless aristocrat's mask made its owner all the more risque, and the customer in the good-natured libertine's mask played his role to the hilt.  
The girls were no different. The more voluptuous the mask, the more voluptuous the girl; the more debauched the mask, the more debauched its owner.  
The customers and waitresses communicated through their masks and acted as their masks would. They came to know and remember each other by their masks.  
And so another bizarre custom was established in the bar.  
A clear distinction was made between the time people wore the masks and the time they did not. Without their masks, no one spoke of what had happened while they were on. It was almost as if they didn't want to leave a trace, either in memories or in words, of what had happened. They felt comfortable that way. The clearer the distinction, the more pleasurable and free the night world of the masks became.  
Whatever happened at the bar while they wore their masks, no one ever spoke of it the following morning. When they met on the street, they were ordinary neighbors, simply passing the time of day. The local regulars acted that way among themselves and with the waitresses when they met them on the street.  
Madam Hong's masks established a peculiar new order to the Queen Bee. They soon became the custom, without any further interference from her.  
If anyone was displeased, it was Na U-hyon. For some reason, he didn't welcome the new order as the others had. This was clear from his face and actions, though he said nothing.  
Na, of course, wore a mask when he drank, just like the others. He didn't openly complain about the girls' masks, nor was he ever asked to leave for refusing to wear one himself.  
However, he didn't grow attached to a particular mask the way the others had. He didn't have his own mask, couldn't even remember which one he'd worn the day before.  
"They're all the same to me. Just give me whatever's left. All I care about is drinking."  
Na was forever confounding his regular waitress, Miss Shim. He couldn't even remember her mask. He obviously disliked the whole idea. And it was just as obvious he felt ill at ease. But he never said a thing about the masks, even while surrounded by them. In the past, he would have provoked an argument about something like that. But now, he didn't say a word. That was all the more disturbing.  
That he had stopped making prophecies was the best proof of how uncomfortable he felt. This didn't necessarily mean he had given up his predictions altogether, though. Rather, his silence could have been a sign of an even more frightening prophecy. Or perhaps he was uncomfortable because he was withholding his prophecies.  
Following Madam Hong's arrival, Na stopped going rock-collecting. Indeed, he came to the Queen Bee more frequently than ever. But he always seemed ill at ease, like someone anxiously awaiting something.  
It was obvious he was holding back a prophecy. This was what pained him so, what made him so very uncomfortable.  

One afternoon Madam Hong summoned the manager to her office to discuss a new problem.  
"Mr. Min, you must know our customers inside and out by now."  
"Of course. This is my fourth year at the Queen Bee. I'm an old-timer around here," Min responded with a modest bow.  
"Then why don't you sit down? I have something to ask you."  
She offered Min a cigarette and got straight to the point.  
"Tell me, what do you think of the customers from around here?"  
"What do I think of them?" Min didn't seem to understand what she was getting at.  
"Well... They really appreciate the way you're changing things. The customers and the waitresses have always known too much about each other, since most of them live around here. There's never been any sense of ceremony between them and so..."  
Madam Hong shook her head slowly.  
"That's not what I mean. I want to know what you think about them-what kind of people they are, not what they think of the bar."  
Min produced a toothy smile, as if he finally understood.  
"Ah, the customers from around here are, as you've probably already noticed, they're all nice, ordinary people. And none of them are so hard up that they can't afford a drink."  
Madam Hong shook her head once more.  
"I realize that. I want to know more about them as individuals."  
"Well, of course! It makes perfect sense. If you want to sell drinks, you've got to know your drinkers. It's obvious who you should pay attention to. Starting with Kim from the Paekyang Pharmacy."  
Min went on to give a detailed description of each of the neighborhood regulars, beginning with the pharmacist whose drugstore was located in the same building as the Queen Bee.  

Kim had graduated from a private university down in the Cholla region. He was a sharp fellow who opened his pharmacy about ten years ago when rumor had it the area would be declared a redevelopment district. He had grown rich and acquired a five-story building downtown. His relationship with the girls was good enough, his tips average, but the previous owners had been concerned that he allowed the girls to buy medicine on credit.  
Next was Director Han, owner of U-il Electronics. Han was a good-natured young man who referred to himself as the "Director" of his small shop at the intersection, about a block from the bar. Han enjoyed drinking and always brought a friend. He was a generous tipper and easygoing, but after one of the waitresses fell for him and got pregnant he changed his ways considerably.  
Young U Tok-ju was an apprentice at the Tongdo Gymnasium on the fifth floor of the Sambo Building across the street. He was brusque and inarticulate for his age. Apparently he made a living sparring with boxers from the U.S. Eighth Army and squandered his daily earnings drinking at the Queen Bee. He always drank alone, never leaving a tip or having a girl by his side. He tended to drink himself senseless, then stare at the ceiling or wail like a beast as he pounded his head against the table.  
Chang, proprietor of the Ch'onil Stationery and Toy Shop, was the neediest of the neighborhood regulars; without a school nearby, business was light. He was a sort of neighborhood clown, catering to the local kids in his paper mask. Not only did he wear and sell masks, he seemed almost obsessed with traditional masks and knew a great deal about them. His wife kept him on a short leash, so he couldn't visit the bar as he pleased. Nevertheless, he seemed to have a knack for charming the waitresses.  
The prophet Na U-hyon was an unknown quantity-something of a good-for-nothing who spent nearly all his time at the Queen Bee when he wasn't on his monthly rock-collecting expeditions. He was quite generous with his tips and sometimes treated the waitresses to dinner or provided them with bus fare. They knew little of him, but he, on the other hand, could see everything, even their darkest secrets...  
Madam Hong was engrossed in Min's descriptions. When he came to Na U-hyon, she interrupted, as if prompted by a sudden thought.  
"You mean that amateur fortune teller who's so good at telling the future?"  
"You already know him, I see. Not surprising, I suppose-he's the most unusual of the bunch, by far. And then there's-"  
Madam Hong appeared to know about Na already, but again she cut Min short. The mention of Na U-hyon seemed to bother her for some reason.  
"Just a minute. The others can wait. Tell me about this fortune teller... Can he really see into the future?"  
"And then some. You'd think he had supernatural powers. If he says a bird is going to fall from the sky, it folds its wings and falls. He may not look like much, but he sure seems to know what he's saying."  
"Really? Has he made any predictions lately?"  
"I haven't heard anything recently. Why? Have you?"  
"No, I don't think he's made any since I arrived."  
"Really? Maybe not. But if I were you, I wouldn't go out of my way looking for one. They generally aren't very lucky."  
"To be sure..."  
Madam Hong was silent a moment, but the silence couldn't hide her doubts.  
"What is it? Is there something about him that bothers you?" Min asked.  
"No, no. Why should there be? Of course not..." Madam Hong sidestepped Min's question, but still couldn't hide her misgivings.  
"Well, that's enough for now. They're all local people so we shouldn't have to worry about anything. There is one thing I'd like to ask you, though: Please make sure the girls don't charge anything else at the pharmacy. I don't want them feeling obliged to Kim because of a measly medicine bill."  
Min remained silent, listening earnestly.  
"Very well, you may go back to your work now."  
Min left the room.  
Madam Hong shook her head.  
It's all because of him. It's got to be him.  
It was so strange, how well everything seemed to be going at the bar. The former owners may have mismanaged, but there was nothing wrong with the Queen Bee as far as clientele, location, or facilities were concerned.  
Indeed, if there was a problem, it was the lack of ceremony between the local regulars and the waitresses. However, the mask idea seemed to have solved that immediately. In fact, the masks had been much more effective than she had expected.  
Perhaps her encounter with the masks in front of the stationery shop had somehow been predestined by the masks themselves. Everything had gone smoothly since she brought them to the bar.  
The customers and employees cheerfully abided by the rules for using the masks, and the waitresses went about their work with fresh enthusiasm now that their tips were better. Liquor sales increased by the day. The customers were developing a comfortable new order among their masks, which now had strict control of the bar. People were identified by their masks, and acted through them. The more they trusted their masks, the freer the girls felt. They hiked their skirts at the merest whim, whether asked to or not, and they yielded all too readily to their partners' insulting demands. But when they removed their masks, they were ordinary neighbors again. Confusing one's real face with one's mask was strictly taboo. Throughout the day the regulars eagerly awaited the freedom of the masks-if only to have more time under their rule. Finally, at the stroke of ten, they were transformed. That was the unwritten law of the Queen Bee.  
Such was the peculiar magic of the masks.  
"It's simply a matter of technique," Madam Hong gloated. "It's strange how submissive people can be."  
Now that the Queen Bee was on track, she felt she had simply to consolidate her rule by improving her technique.  
But this incipient satisfaction with her own abilities and the atmosphere at the bar met with an ominous premonition. Was someone going to betray her and the new order at the Queen Bee? Was someone trying to undermine her and destroy the atmosphere there?  
It was a strange foreboding of betrayal.  
Why this outlandish premonition all of a sudden? No one had done a thing to bother her. There'd been no indication that the bar's etiquette was being ignored. On the contrary, everything was just as she had hoped.  
This is what happens when there's nothing else to worry about.  
She tried to convince herself her anxieties were unfounded. But this thought offered little consolation. Her misgivings, however unfounded, grew with each passing day. The more compliant the waitresses and customers, the more they accepted the new etiquette of the Queen Bee, the more anxious she became. But she just couldn't pinpoint the origins of her premonition.  
Vaguely hoping to decipher her misgivings, hoping it was simply her imagination at work, she had called in Min that afternoon. But she had hoped in vain. For according to Min, that disquieting fortune teller Na had suddenly stopped making his prophecies. Now she understood.  
It's all because of him.  
But why? He had made no prophecies since her arrival. She had an ominous premonition of betrayal. Were the two related? The moment she heard Na's name pass from the manager's lips, the moment Min said Na had stopped making prophecies, her instincts were set in motion. The dismal image of the prophet wrenched open her soul; she felt his stubborn stare bearing down on her. The moment she saw him she felt as if an eerie curse had fallen upon her.  
What a terrible face!  
Listening to Min, she had cursed the face again and again. There was no need to look further. Na had put her on edge from the very start-the way he peered into other people's futures with such presumption, the way he used his unnatural powers to prevent them from escaping his unwelcome prophecies, the way he always seemed on guard, face taut with anxiety. Thinking about it now, she realized that Na was the only regular who had ignored the rules of the masks. He had never decided on a mask,and he refused to turn the masks to his advantage the way the other customers did.  
And on top of that, he quits making prophecies as soon as I show up!  
Even his silence seemed ominous. It was as if the anxiety on his face was caused by his failure to make prophecies.  
Maybe he's doing it on purpose. But after holding back like this, he might come up with a really terrible prophecy...  
Madam Hong was at a loss. Na may have been the cause of her misgivings, but she had no way of knowing how or why he might betray her.  
Nor could she understand why she feared the prophet's silence. She didn't even know what she was trying to protect.  
There was no explaining her irrational hatred for him.  
In any event, Madam Hong's premonition was growing firmer. Her survival instincts told her to act against Na, to protect herself from that mysterious premonition.  
The following day she began to study Na's every move.  
Of course, her approach was even more insightful than before. She never attacked him head-on. She concentrated on bolstering the order that ruled the Queen Bee; she would hamstring Na within that order. This seemed the most effective way to deal with a man who revealed none of the overt signs of betrayal. At times this roundabout approach was quite effective in dealing with his treachery.  
One day, one of the waitresses made the mistake of walking through the bar without her mask-and it was after ten!  
"You're forgetting!" Madam Hong said.  
The girl rushed back into the dressing room to get her mask.  
An enigmatic smile passed over the lips visible below Madam Hong's mask.  
"Take it off!" commanded Madam Hong's mask. It resembled a dragon, or the demons carved in traditional roof tiles. The waitress, Miss Chon, wore a sulky young whore's mask. Every mask in the bar was turned toward the two women.  
"Please forgive me!"  
"Take it off!"  
The small mask implored, Madam Hong's hardened and cut. The expressionless masks battled with their voices. The other masks followed the confrontation in subdued silence.  
"Give me another chance!" the waitress's mask pleaded in a terrified voice.  
Madam Hong's tone grew colder still. "Take it off!" She slowly turned to survey the bar as if she were waiting for the girl to obey. For an instant, her gaze rested on Na, sitting in the far corner.  
At last the waitress removed her mask. Madam Hong thrust out her hand and took it. Then she picked up a box of matches from the table in front of her.  
"You no longer have a face! If you can't work without your mask, then leave!" Madam Hong's mask announced in a low voice as she struck a match and touched it to the mask. She lifted the burning mask into the air. A dozen masks undulated silently in the dancing light of the flame.  
Madam Hong searched the masks for Na U-hyon. The eyes of his mask were fixed on the waitress.  
Miss Chon buried her face in her hands and broke into sobs. Under the ponderous stare of the wordless masks, she turned abruptly and ran from the bar. The stares followed her into the darkness.  
All except Madam Hong's. Her eyes remained on Na. Beneath her mask, the enigmatic smile played across her lips once more. Of course, none of the other masks could see it, for her mask did not smile.  
Madam Hong's demonstration was a great success.  
She never forgave the waitress. Miss Chon returned the following day to ask forgiveness, but she was not assigned a new mask. The girl looked miserable serving without one, and the customers seemed ill at ease around her. After a few painful days without a mask, Miss Chon gave up and left the Queen Bee for good.  
Madam Hong had put fear into the rest of the waitresses. And at times even the customers seemed afraid they too might lose their masks to her.  
Don't you like the way we run this place? You must tell me if you don't. We'll do whatever you like. she would taunt. Or:  
Oh no, you mustn't do that! If you're not careful, I'll take your face away!  
Sometimes she said such things in passing. The customers shuddered at the very sound of her voice.  
Her warnings were the most appropriate and convenient means of protecting the customs of the bar. Madam Hong created a perfect order in the Queen Bee, ruling with a dignity that bordered on arrogance. Even her expressionless mask had a certain relentless dignity to it. And the absence of expressions on the other masks seemed proof of their absolute obedience.  
For some reason, though, Madam Hong still did not feel right.  
Na U-hyon was helpless now, hamstrung by her wiles. He didn't oppose her openly. The Queen Bee was all hers now. And yet she could not rid herself of that ominous premonition. She was plagued by a leery feeling: a traitor was going to disturb her kingdom. The tighter she bound Na U-hyon and the more the bar surrendered to her rule, the more concerned she became about Na's presence and the order of the Queen Bee.  
Then one day Madam Hong discovered a hidden virtue in one of her faithful regulars.  
U Tok-ju, the boxer from the Tongdo Gym, trudged into the bar one evening in a particularly bad condition. His lips and eyelids were hideously swollen; it was obvious he had taken a terrible beating. Never had he returned from the American base with such serious injuries. They were clearly not the result of an ordinary practice session. All boxers get into a scuffle now and again, but U was hardly the type for fistfights. He was a gentle fellow, docile to the point of appearing oafish. Despite his massive build and sluggish speech, he seemed to have neither the temper nor the drive of an athlete. It was difficult to imagine him getting angry or taking a swing at anyone. What's more, he was supposed to be quite cowardly.  
"Those assholes! I could nail those ugly gorillas with one hand tied behind my back!"  
The waitresses felt sorry for him. Every time they had a free moment or two, they went over to freshen his drink, but boxing was all he ever spoke of. Apparently he was terrified of the big black soldiers he had to spar with on the American base.  
"Imagine what it's like! Having to stand there like some lousy punching bag while those niggers come after you snorting like a bunch of wild boars. It doesn't matter if you have a good punch. You're just supposed to stand there and take it. Try taking a punch from one of those gorillas! It's unbelievable! All I can do is pray they don't stick me with one of the really big suckers!"  
"Oh, you're just a big scaredy cat!"  
The waitresses teased him. He was too slow to understand their banter, and besides it was unseemly for a big fellow like that to make such a fuss.  
Madam Hong had to smile each time she saw him. It was a modern version of The Tale of Hungbo, she thought, the unfortunate Hungbo hiring himself out to take other people's beatings.  
His was a ridiculous occupation.  
On that particular day, Madam Hong couldn't hold back her laughter when she saw the so-called boxer's face.  
But there is no telling about people. Suddenly Madam Hong's attitude toward U changed. Perhaps she was touched by the loyalty of this man who, despite his injuries, waited until the hour of the masks before he came to the bar. As soon as she saw him sitting there drinking alone with that villainous mask on his face, she felt a sudden sympathy for him, as if he were a small child. When she walked over to offer him a word of comfort, she was overcome by a truly strange thought.  
"I can't go to work anymore..." Madam Hong had asked him where he had received that terrible beating, but U just stared at the ceiling and went on with his story.  
"I flattened that nigger today. The one named Henderson. The bastard was trying to kill me..."  
Henderson had been particularly rough on him-the gorilla wouldn't let up. And U simply couldn't put up with it that day.  
"No chance to ask for a break-any longer and he would've killed me-I could tell from the look in his eyes..."  
However, it wasn't Henderson who had given U those bruises. It was the American's nigger buddies who came running at the sound of his screams.  
After that halting description, U flailed his fists at the air, infuriated that he hadn't simply destroyed his antagonist.  
Finally he broke down, throwing himself onto the table and wailing like a beast.  
U's broad shoulders trembled like those of a whimpering child. Madame Hong felt pity and loneliness at the sight of the defeated giant.  
"Oh, my big baby."  
Madam Hong's hand slid up his trembling back. Almost imperceptibly her lips approached his ear as he lay across the table.  
"Sit up and stop crying. Tonight you can drink from my breast. A boy has to drink a woman's milk to become a man."  
And in fact Madam Hong gave U Tok-ju her breast in a nearby hotel after the bar had closed. Eyes still damp, hungry like a child starving for its mother's milk, he craved after her breast. But he was a docile babe. He nursed with a placid air. He was an infant who knew nothing but milk.  
"You've had your milk, so now it's time you became a man."  
It was only then that he became a man, although he seemed a bit frightened. And this time too he was a most docile and obedient man.  
Madam Hong ordered him to become many different men, and he performed most earnestly. To the very end he performed with remarkable loyalty and restraint.  
Madam Hong was moved. His loyal obedience and restraint were his most valuable qualities, his greatest virtues.  
"Starting tomorrow, you needn't worry about a thing. You don't have to go back to the boxing club."  
She had decided to keep him by her side.  
"If it's all right with you, I'd like you to work at the Queen Bee. All you have to do is be there, drinking, like you already do. And from time to time you can take care of the guys who bother me or interfere with business..."  
"Has someone been bothering you? They lay one hand on you and I'll beat the shit out of them."  
U Tok-ju accepted her offer, just as she had expected.  

Eventually Na U-hyon began making his prophecies again.  
One night he stole over to the table of Kim the pharmacist, and pronounced in a pained voice:  
"Madam Hong is going to cause a murder."  
Kim's glass remained poised in midair. He seemed agitated by the abrupt prophecy.  
"Murder? Why would she do that?"  
"Because she has to become the true queen of the Queen Bee." Na answered in an even more pained tone.  
But the pharmacist could not understand what he was driving at.  
"Become the queen bee? What's that supposed to mean?" His tone spoke of bewilderment, his voice was anxious, but the crimson smile never left his aristocrat's mask.  
"It means we're going to become her slaves. She wants to be queen so we'll all be her slaves."  
Na's true face was hidden behind the leper's mask he was wearing. The two unchanging masks, one with its lusty smile and the other with its horrible scars, parried back and forth.  
"What are you talking about? She's going to kill somebody so she can be our queen?"  
"She's already started."  
"So why does she need to murder anyone?"  
"Because the murder means her domination is complete. There's no better way of ruling. The murder will be her way of proving herself. Then she'll really be the queen bee."  
"So the murder will be a sign that she's our queen?"  
"More than a sign. It'll be the proof."  
"Who's the victim going to be?"  
"One of the masks, naturally."  
"So Madam Hong's going to become our queen by murdering someone-one of her regular customers no less! This is unbelievable!"  
Kim remained skeptical.  
Na, however, refused to back down from his prophecy. That same night he met with Han, from the electronic shop, and Chang the stationer and told them his prediction.  
Just look at U and you can see what her dream is-a kingdom all her own. It scares me. Look how loyal he is. All of a sudden he's her slave. And she's given him a bear's mask. She's going to turn him into a real bear! He's becoming exactly what she wants him to be! But it's not her fault. It's ours. Because from the very beginning, we were all too happy to bend to her and now she relishes in it. She wants to savor our obedience. That's what she wants: absolute obedience. That's why there's going to be a murder in the end...  
As always, Na offered no method for preventing what he had predicted. The regulars at the Queen Bee couldn't help but be afraid. But then it seemed so far-fetched-Madam Hong wanting to be the queen bee!? Who was she supposed to be after? Besides, as long as she continued to please her customers, what difference did it make if she was queen and they her slaves? They enjoyed the way she operated, so why shouldn't they obey her?  
The customers didn't fear Madam Hong's intent. Nor did they fear what Na said about her becoming queen. However, Na's prediction of murder was a problem. No one would have believed it if someone else had said it. After all, the supposed motive was hardly convincing, and there hadn't been the slightest sign that the act would really take place.  
Nevertheless, one simply couldn't ignore Na's prophecies. There was no avoiding them. No wonder the customers at the bar were so anxious.  
Perhaps it was Madam Hong's magical charm, or maybe it was Na's predictions and their inevitable power of suggestion, but none of the regulars dared try to escape the prophecy. They couldn't stop coming to the bar nor could they deny Madam Hong's masks. Like frogs mesmerized by a viper's venomous stare, they were frightened, helpless under the hypnotic powers of Madam Hong and Na.  
They awaited the murder, powerless and ill at ease.  
Na grew more anxious by the day. After resuming his prophesying, he attended the Queen Bee with even greater diligence. He was watching how things progressed. It was almost as if he was trying to make his prophecy come true.  
And with time, the actions and words of Madam Hong began to reveal some rather disconcerting signs. Perhaps things would turn out as Na had predicted.  
The taciturn U never left her side. It was around that time that Madam Hong began to stroll through the bar with a short leather whip. She used the whip to order U around. You might have thought she was a bear trainer.  
"Watch out! Careful now!" she cried each time she saw him. And as she passed, she would snap the whip at his masked face. Those warnings and the crack of her whip filled the bar with an inexplicable tension. It wasn't clear what U was supposed to be careful of. In fact, there was nothing for either of them to be careful of. At times, it seemed as if she was simply saying it for fun. But her repeated exhortations evoked a strange ambience in the bar, as if Madam Hong and U were both in some kind of danger, as if they were both victims. And if they were the victims, then there had to be an assailant-but who? That they couldn't find one made the customers all the more anxious. Perhaps they were collectively the assailant. Perhaps they had no other choice.  
"Watch out! Careful now!" To the customers, her warnings to U sounded like a menacing threat.  
And then she would whip U across the face. Watch out! Careful now! It was clear that the lashings irritated U. But he never showed the slightest hint of rebellion. Each time she flailed her whip, U almost instinctively shot a hostile glance around the room.  
Naturally Madame Hong's warnings unnerved the other customers as well. With each warning, a bolt of wariness and hostility flashed between U and the others. The warnings and lashings stirred an intense anxiety in U, and in turn a similar anxiety in the customers of the Queen Bee.  
Madam Hong continued to act as if it were all a game. U's anxiety didn't concern her nor did the other customers' apprehension. She laughed as if it was a silly farce. Sometimes she gave a customer a playful slap in the face with her whip, like an old whorehouse madam still desperate to act the flirt.  
"Watch out!" she would say with a hearty laugh. "Careful now! The whip is calling you. It understands people. And once it gets hold of you, it has no mercy!"  
She chattered on in the incoherent gibberish of a shaman, lashing wildly at the customers around her. Then all of a sudden she produced that flirtatious laugh, as if it were all a silly farce.  
This too provoked fear in the hearts of the customers. She reigned over them as she laughed.  
The customers at the Queen Bee did not know what to do. They couldn't leave. They couldn't revolt against Madam Hong's seamless rule nor could they protect themselves from U. And to dispense with the masks and return to the bar's old ways was inconceivable. For in doing so they would end up like the waitress so cruelly punished by Madam Hong. No one dared rise up against the way of the masks. No one dared challenge the order of Madam Hong's absolute reign. That would have been a contemptuous act of adventurism.  
Impotent and submissive, they waited for the murder.  
A few more anxious days passed.  
But still no murder.  
"Watch out! Careful now!" Madam Hong's warnings increased with each passing day, and her imposing dignity grew more absolute with the fear and mood of brutality caused by her playful lashings.  
Then one evening:  
"Watch out! Careful now!" Madam Hong laughed playfully as she lashed U's face with her leather whip. Her laughter that evening held a special cruelness.  
Normally she would stop after one or two blows. But now she lashed U's face over and over. Each time U turned his head to avoid the whip. Her incessant blows and the curious smile that played on her lips evoked a strange feeling of bloodthirstiness and terror.  
At first, the customers thought she was doing it in fun, as always, but soon they began to shudder at her cruelty. It was as if the whip were lashing their own faces as well.  
Finally, the whip ripped the mask from U's face. But Madam Hong kept beating him. Soon the whip was covered with blood. A scream, like the cry of an animal, began to slip from U's lips, but strangely, he endured her abuse. He made no attempt to escape, except to turn his head aside, nor did he show any sign of resistance. It was the same for the other customers. No one dared interfere with Madam Hong's cruel game. No one even tried to stand up and leave or avert their eyes.  
They were already shackled by fear. They could only tremble in awe of her laughing eyes, which seemed to be searching for something. They waited anxiously for something to happen, enveloped in an uneasy premonition of brutal tragedy. U had to put an end to her abuse sooner or later. He had to revenge himself. The game had gone beyond the boundaries of common sense, so it was only natural that its conclusion should be equally cruel.  
Through U, the customers sensed the terror of death. They waited in fear for an explosion of revenge.  
But the mysterious thing was U's murderous obedience. He was an animal on a leash. His face torn and bloody, U showed no inclination to stop the blows.  
Finally, he collapsed at her feet.  
It was a horrible, brutal game-a demonstration of complete and overwhelming domination.  
Only when U collapsed did the others breath a sigh of relief. There had been no murder.  
That didn't mean the problem was solved, though. Na U-hyon's prophecy was still alive.  
Later that night, a detective from the local police station walked in the door of the Queen Bee.  

"Let me repeat myself: It's the sort of thing that could happen there."  
Madam Hong responded in a collected tone to Detective Kang's persistent questioning.  
Kang shook his head. Something fishy's going on here, he thought.  
"Do you mean murder?" Kang asked.  
"I didn't say murder."  
"But the informant said that there was going to be a murder in the bar last night. He said your conduct was brutal enough to conjure up suspicions of a real murder."  
Madam Hong shook her head in silence.  
Frustrated, Kang went on:  
"All right. Let's say you didn't plan to kill him. Then what was the motive behind your ruthless behavior? Do you have a grudge against him?"  
"No motive, and no grudge for that matter. It's simply an arrangement between the two of us."  
"An arrangement? An arrangement where you get to beat him and he has to lie back and take it? Is that why he didn't try to get away? But why would anyone make an arrangement like that?"  
Madam Hong remained calm.  
"I'm afraid you wouldn't understand, even if I explained. I'm not sure of it myself. As I said before, it's the sort of thing that could happen there..."  
"It could happen... There... So what are the masks for? Why do all your customers wear masks?"  
"That's one of the ways of our establishment."  
"How did it get started?"  
"It's good for business."  
"Are you the one who started it?"  
"But how are the masks good for business?"  
"They make people feel more comfortable."  
"You can't possibly understand if you haven't worn a mask."  
"Are you suggesting I try it?"  
"If you really want to know what it's like."  
"The informant said you're using the masks to become queen of the Queen Bee."  
Madame Hong did not respond to this.  
"Do you know who the informant is?" Kang continued.  
"It's Na U-hyon, the fortune teller."  
"Do you have any idea how he was able to predict what was going to happen last night?"  
"He's a fortune teller."  
"Is he always right?"  
"Most of the time..."  
"And still you did it, even though you knew he'd already figured it out?"  
"He'd made prophecies about me before, and last night someone told me what he had said."  
"What was his prophecy?"  
"It was just as you said: that I was going to become queen of the bar... And that I was going to kill someone."  
"Are you saying you wanted to make his prophecy come true?"  
"As I told you before, I wasn't thinking of murder."  
"What do you mean?"  
"I can't explain it now. All I can say is that we have an arrangement, and that's the sort of thing that could happen there."  
"Can you explain the masks?"  
"No, not here."  
"Why not?"  
"Because in the bar, the mask becomes one's identity."  
"How did you hit upon the idea of the masks in the first place?"  
"I saw them as I passed the stationery shop one day."  
"The stationery shop sells a lot of stuff."  
"Mr. Chang, the owner, was wearing a mask that day."  
"Do you hate U Tok-ju?"  
"What about the fortune teller, Na U-hyon?"  
"I don't think I hate him either."  
"Then, what do you think about his predictions? Do you think there really will be a murder?"  
"That's not for me to say. It's his prediction. Besides, there wasn't any murder last night, was there?"  
"So tell me, what do you think about what he said-about you becoming the real queen of the bar? Is that your true intention?"  
Madam Hong did not answer.  
"All right. I'll call you back later."  
And with that, Kang sent her on her way. Next he called U Tok-ju. U looked like a monster, his face covered with bandages. Kang cut straight to the heart of the matter.  
"According to our informant, Madam Hong planned to kill you last night."  
U shook his head. His attitude was even more ambiguous than that of Madam Hong.  
"That's impossible. I can't believe she would try to kill me."  
"Why not?"  
"She's always playing around with her whip that way, but she's never hurt me."  
"Do you have some kind of arrangement?"  
U didn't answer.  
"Madam Hong said you two have an arrangement-a kind of agreement where she hits you and you get hit."  
"It's not like we've ever actually talked about it. I can take her beatings."  
"But last night she beat you until you passed out."  
"I don't understand how that happened myself."  
"You don't?"  
"It's because I'm not wearing my mask now. This may sound strange, but at times I don't understand my own actions when I'm wearing my mask. And afterwards, I can't remember what's happened."  
"But it must have hurt when she was beating you?"  
"It must have."  
"Then why didn't you try to get away?"  
"Perhaps I wasn't able to."  
"Was that because of the masks too?"  
"As I told you before, that may have been why."  
"The masks again. It always comes back to the masks, doesn't it? Well then, do you know Na U-hyon, the prophet?"  
"He said Madam Hong was going to become your queen, and she was the one who made you people wear masks."  
"I know. But I don't care if Madam Hong becomes our queen."  
"What do you mean?"  
"Madam Hong makes us feel comfortable."  
"But if she becomes your queen, that means you're her slaves."  
"It doesn't matter. After all, we believe in her."  
"Well then, let me ask you this: Na U-hyon has predicted that there will soon be a killing in the Queen Bee. Were you aware of this?"  
"When did you find out about it?"  
"Last night, just before it happened."  
"Did you believe that his prophecy would come true?"  
"I thought it was possible."  
"Isn't it possible that Na meant you and Madam Hong? He said that once Madam Hong became queen she would commit murder to prove herself. Maybe she was really trying to kill you last night."  
"I wouldn't have worried, even if she did plan to kill me."  
"You mean you'd be willing to die if that's what she wanted?"  
"No, on the contrary-if she had really tried to kill me, I would have killed her first."  
Kang fell silent. He sat engrossed in thought for some time, then began questioning U about his past.  
"You used to work as a sparring partner at the American army base, didn't you?"  
"That's right."  
"Why did you quit?"  
"Well, I nailed this bastard named Henderson. You see, a sparring partner isn't supposed to knock down his opponent."  
"So why did you do it?"  
"The bastard was trying to kill me."  
"Were you afraid?"  
"I think so."  
"Is that why you tried to kill him first?"  
"Have you ever thought someone was trying to kill you before?"  
"Once in a while... but not really."  
"What about last night when Madam Hong was beating you? What if she had really meant to kill you?"  
"I would have killed her first. But I don't think she wanted to kill me."  
"Despite Na's prediction?"  
"That had nothing to do with me."  
"The others said you looked frightened. They thought you might turn on her."  
"I don't remember."  
"You mean, it was still bearable at that point?"  
"I don't remember."  
"All right. That's enough for now. I'll call you back later."  
Next Kang called in Chang to learn the story behind the masks.  
"Were you aware there was to be a murder at the Queen Bee?"  
Kang wanted Chang's thoughts on Na's prophecy, but Chang, like the two others before him, was extremely vague.  
"Yes, I've heard about it. Na predicted it."  
"And did you think it was going to come true last night?"  
"I guess I thought it might."  
"In your opinion, did Madam Hong really plan to kill U Tok-ju?"  
"I can't really say. Who she planned to kill, I mean."  
"But you just said you expected a murder to take place?"  
"But that doesn't necessarily mean that I expected Madam Hong to kill U. It simply means that the smell of murder was in the air. Actually, we were more afraid of U."  
"You mean you thought he might kill Madam Hong?"  
"There's no way of knowing who U might have killed, but it definitely wasn't Madam Hong."  
"But according to Na, Madam Hong was the one who was going to commit the murder..."  
"At any rate, Na's prediction didn't come true last night. There wasn't any murder."  
"What about the future?"  
"I don't know. But if last night had anything to do with Na's prediction, then it backfired."  
"Do you mean there won't be a murder?"  
"I hope not. And I hope Na turns out to be a liar."  
"But what about the prediction that Madam Hong will become your queen?"  
"It doesn't really matter to me. We're not afraid of her. We're afraid of that business about the murder. Na was using it to intimidate us."  
"And you don't mind becoming her slaves?"  
"As long as no one's killed. You see, she puts us at ease."  
"Because of the masks? Could you explain the masks to me? Madam Hong said she got the idea when she saw you wearing one at your shop."  
"It's not my responsibility."  
"Why were you wearing a mask?"  
"Because the children like it."  
"Did you like masks before all this happened?"  
"Like masks? Why should I like masks? That's absurd."  
His denial seemed forced. Kang stared at him for a moment, then resumed his questions.  
"If you didn't like them, then you must have disliked them."  
"Disliked them? No, not at all."  
"No, you really detested the masks."  
"I just told you I didn't."  
"Think back very carefully. We could ask Na U-hyon to make a prophecy about you. He's been very cooperative," Kang said leisurely.  
Chang kept a thoughtful silence for a moment, then hesitantly began to divulge the truth.  
"Well actually, I do remember something from a long time ago."  
"When I was a child, my mother loved masks."  
"How so?"  
"She was widowed after just two years of marriage. She raised me all by herself."  
"But what about the masks?"  
"Every night after dinner, she would draw strange masks on pieces of newspaper, then late at night she went out into the village. I didn't know what she was doing till much later. She went from house to house frightening people. During the day she was always polite and kept her distance from others, but at night she played that outrageous game. She was so well-mannered and reserved the following day, no one could say anything. She was a puzzle to the villagers but one day I discovered her secret."  
"Her secret?"  
"The masks transformed her."  
"One autumn night when the moon was especially bright, I woke up and found her gone. I ran out into the moonlight. Our house was at the entrance to the village. I ran up the path into the village, and I heard her coming down the hill. I didn't know what to do, so I hid by the side of the path and waited. Down the path she came. I thought she'd skip past me joyfully, but it was strange-she seemed lonely and discouraged. At the bottom of the hill, she stopped in her tracks and looked up at the moon. That's when I realized she was crying. As the moonlight fell on her face, it looked as if her mask was crying. I know, the idea of a mask crying... But it's true. Anyway, that's when I discovered my mother's secret. I couldn't express it in so many words, but some things a child understands in his heart."  
Chang was perspiring.  
"Then your memories of that mask must not be so horrible."  
"No, not really. But they aren't particularly pleasant either. You see, when my mother grew tired of her game with the masks, she abandoned me and remarried. Good or bad, my memories have nothing to do with the masks I sell at my shop."  
"If your memories were bad, you wouldn't have chosen to sell masks, much less wear them while you work..."  
"I see. Apparently your mother's masks still hold some power over you. Just as they did over her. Perhaps that's what you want. Yes, that's obviously what you want."  
"There's no law against that, is there? You can think whatever you like."  
"Of course there's no law against it. I simply want to know the story behind the masks."  
"Then I have nothing more to say."  
Chang rose and looked at the detective-a silent request for permission to leave. Kang sent him out, and called Na U-hyon.  
"How were you able to predict what was going to happen last night?"  
Kang was baffled by the whole affair. There was no substance to it. There hadn't really been a murder, nor had any of the witnesses revealed anything of importance. If not for Na's complaint, there would be no reason to bother all these people. He could hardly hang a case on something as flimsy as a prophecy.  
Kang felt ridiculous because he couldn't seem to wash his hands of the affair. A strange odor hovered around him, invisible and inexplicable. He felt as if his curiosity had taken over for his sense of duty.  
Whatever it was, he had to talk to Na one more time.  
Kang decided to go over the whole story again, from start to finish. Na, however, proceeded to confuse him all the more.  
"As I told you before, people say I am able to predict the future.  
"So I hear. But where did you get that ability? What did you say you do for a living?"  
"At one time I was a writer."  
"Why did you give it up?"  
"Because every time I wrote a story, it came true."  
"You were already making predictions through your stories?"  
"They say you often go away on rock collection trips. Is there any relation between your rock-collecting and your prophecies?"  
"There's no basis for such conjecture."  
"You just like rocks-is that it? Any special reason?"  
"A person who has never liked rocks couldn't possibly understand. People who like rocks can sense the passage of time in them. What I mean to say is the time embodied in a stone is unchanging, and that which does not change is truth. In a way, a rock reflects life's truth."  
"So a rock has life?"  
"Don't try to understand things you can't understand. If you can't sense it, you can't understand it."  
"I simply want to understand where your predictions come from."  
"You can't understand that either. A prophecy can't be explained. I don't explain it-that's why it's a prophecy."  
"That means you could explain it."  
"I'm simply trying to be honest. Honesty cannot be explained."  
"You're much too sure of yourself. But last night, you were mistaken. There was no murder after all."  
"We can't be sure of that yet."  
It was clear from Na's tone that he didn't want to admit his failure.  
"But last night you said there was going to be a murder."  
"Well, there wasn't-not last night, anyway."  
"You said Madam Hong would commit the murder, but last night the other customers were frightened of U Tok-ju, not her. They said he was more likely to kill than she was. That's where you were wrong."  
"Just because U Tok-ju might kill someone doesn't mean Madam Hong can't."  
"But U could have killed her."  
"That's precisely why I warned you about her. I predicted Madam Hong would cause a murder. That means she could be the victim herself. The problem is she knows that. That's why she wasn't killed. And U couldn't kill her either."  
"Why not?"  
"Because he's her slave."  
"Are you saying U is going to be her sacrifice?"  
"No," Na answered, shaking his head. "A master would never kill an obedient slave."  
"Then who is it? Who's killing who? You don't know either, do you?"  
"It's hard to say. Madam Hong is obviously after some kind of proof, but a ruler never gets his own hands bloody."  
"Then who's going to be Madam Hong's sacrifice?"  
"Don't ask me. Ask her. It's for her to decide."  
"What about you? Do you really think there's going to be a murder?"  
"As long as Madam Hong wants to become queen."  
"Even if the others don't care? They don't think she's trying to turn them into slaves. They said they don't mind becoming her slaves since she puts them at ease."  
Na listened in silence.  
"It's your prediction of murder they're afraid of. You said she would commit murder to prove the customers were her slaves. If that's so, then a murder would be nothing more than the proof of the prophecy, not its purpose. Right? They're afraid of the proof, not the purpose. But if they already enjoy being enslaved, they don't need any proof. There's no need for proof and so no reason for a murder."  
"No, Madam Hong needs the proof. That's what she wants."  
"But they're not afraid of the murder anymore. Because your prediction last night was wrong."  
"But there will be a murder."  
"That's what you hope."  
"She's going to be queen in the end."  
"If you're so certain, don't you have some way of preventing it from happening?"  
"All I know is, there's going to be a murder."  
"It sounds like you really want that murder to take place."  
"Whether I want it or not, there's going to be a murder."  
"Brother! I feel like I've stumbled into a haunted house!"  
Kang stared at Na in disbelief.  
"It may feel like a haunted house, but you mustn't take what happens in the Queen Bee as some kind of joke." Strangely enough, it was Na who pushed ahead now. "That sort of thing could easily happen down there."  
"Do you really believe that?" Kang asked in a pleading tone. "What's so special about that place? Why do you people blame everything on that bar? 'It could easily happen down there.' What's so special about the Queen Bee?"  
"The Queen Bee is where Madam Hong wants to be queen. And where people wear a mask while they drink."  
"What do the masks mean? Why is everyone blaming the masks?"  
"Masks are an expedient in a way, a custom used to standardize the expression of mans's instinctual desires. In the West they have their masked balls, and in Korea we have our traditional masked dance... Masks permit us to express our most hideous instinctual desires. It's a kind of devious wisdom."  
"Is that why the waitresses' skirts have gotten so short, and they aren't embarrassed to go without underwear?"  
"Yes, because the masks hide their faces. They can conceal their identity that way."  
"Well then, let me ask you this: How come no one can remember what happens when they're wearing a mask? Why won't anyone talk about what happens?"  
"It's not that we can't remember. We simply don't want to. It makes us feel uncomfortable."  
"So, you could remember if you wanted to?"  
"You'd understand if you tried wearing a mask. Perhaps if you had them wear their mask, they would remember what it is you want to know."  
"Are you suggesting I wear one too? You want me to wear one of your goblin's masks?"  
"Try it. Maybe it will help you make sense of the goblins' mischief."  

No longer did Madam Hong worry about Kang. There was no need to guard against him. Nor did Kang concern himself with the murder. He had become one of the Queen Bee's model customers.  
"I simply can't understand it. I didn't believe that stupid report from the very beginning, but imagine me a regular customer here! I'm bewitched! Madam Hong has me under her spell!"  
Kang went to the Queen Bee whenever he had a chance, and like the others he always wore a mask while he drank.  
He first wore a mask when he went to interrogate Madam Hong for the second time. He asked for one and after requesting that Madam Hong wear hers he began his questioning.  
"Perhaps you're right. Maybe I was waiting for U to explode. But he held out for so long. I thought I'd go crazy."  
Finally Madam Hong confessed how she really felt.  
Then the detective questioned U Tok-ju and the other witnesses once more.  
"I probably would have killed someone. Before they killed me... I felt like I was going to die. But I can't really remember... who was trying to kill me... Still I don't think it was Madam Hong."  
U Tok-ju sounded almost as if he were possessed.  
After Kang left, Madam Hong regretted what she had said. It was all because of the power of those damned masks. She would never have said anything otherwise. It had been the same with U.  
But then something surprising happened. The following evening Kang returned to the Queen Bee.  
"Madam Hong, I'd like to try drinking with a mask on."  
"Why? Are you finished with your investigation?"  
Madam Hong couldn't help but suspect his motives. But her suspicions were groundless.  
"I'm not sure. If you like, I can call you in for more questioning. But I think I've had enough. I don't have the slightest idea what's going on. After listening to what you said yesterday it all seemed so clear, but when I got back to my office everything was a mishmash again. I mean, here at the bar it all seemed quite plausible. So I want to try drinking with a mask."  
At first he acted as if he was wearing the mask for professional reasons, but soon he was a regular like all the others. And each time he saw Madam Hong he would repeat the same harmless complaints.  
"I don't understand it. I simply can't. Madam Hong, you've got me under your spell. But what can I do? I like it this way..."  
One night Madam Hong tested her relentless power over U Tok-ju in front of Kang. Under the somber orange light that played over the bar, Madam Hong gave U's face a frightening lashing, and U suffered her heartless blows with horrifying patience.  
A strange look of emotion and admiration passed over Kang's face as he watched the monstrous game.  
Madam Hong didn't need to worry about the detective anymore.  
"Mr. Kang, there are so many things you don't understand. It must be very uncomfortable for you to live like that. It's a good thing you can enjoy a drink or two like this. Don't you agree?" Madam Hong reassured the detective.  
"Of course, of course. I feel wonderful every time I see you," Kang answered warmly. He enjoyed the ways of the Queen Bee.  
Madam Hong was satisfied.  
The change in Detective Kang had quite an influence on the other customers. It added to the comfort they already felt.  
There could be no murder at the Queen Bee.  
Kang was the proof of that. He would never tolerate the slightest hint of conspiracy. His presence at the bar was the best proof of the failure of Na's prophecy. They knew there had been no murder at the Queen Bee on the day Na filed his complaint with the police. They weren't afraid of his prophecies anymore. There was no murder nor were there any new indications that one would be committed.  
The customers were at ease. At ease and comfortable with Madam Hong's rules and the ways of the masks.  
"Watch out! Careful now!"  
Business improved at the Queen Bee as Madam Hong strolled around the bar flailing her whip. The weather was warmer, but she had started wearing long leather boots and a short, flashy skirt. Beneath the somber orange light of the bar, the authority of her devil's mask grew all the more imposing.  
Na U-hyon's prophecies were no more than a ridiculous joke now.  
Still, Madam Hong was uneasy.  
She felt nervous every time she encountered Na.  
He was powerless now. His prophecies could not deter the waitresses nor did they put Detective Kang on his guard. There was no need for Madam Hong to beat U Tok-ju any longer.  
And yet she felt as if something wasn't quite right.  
Perhaps that was why a trace of uncertainty flashed across her face from time to time as she strolled around the bar, brandishing her whip.  
"Watch out! Careful now!" she would cry, absently cocking her head as she slapped her palm with the whip. Her vacant gaze proved she was still anxious about something, and as time passed, she seemed to wear that look more frequently.  
One day as she crossed the room, slapping her palm with the whip as always, a voice from one of the tables near the front of the bar brought her to a halt:  
"What are you thinking about so intently, Madam Hong?"  
She snapped to attention. It was U Tok-ju's bear mask.  
Perhaps she hadn't been paying enough attention to him. He had taken to leaving her side more frequently of late, getting drunk alone at his own table, ignoring what she said.  
That night he acted like one of the other regulars.  
"Don't tell me something's still bothering you? You can relax now. You're the queen, and we're your slaves. Don't you agree, ladies and gentlemen?" U boomed, looking around the bar. The other customers responded with a boisterous chorus of shouts and applause.  
The strange thing was Madam Hong's attitude.  
She didn't react to U's words or to the customers' shouts. She simply glanced cautiously around the bar, then returned to the cash register.  
"They've become such louts!" she hissed.  
She was in a foul humor. She felt insulted. It was the first time they had actually called her the queen, and yet it made her feel even more uncomfortable. Had she really dreamt of becoming queen? Now that the customers acknowledged her as such, she felt a strange sense of failure, like a monarch cruelly driven from her throne. It was as if they were conspiring to free themselves by calling her queen.  
Is it because there was no murder?  
That night, for the first time in a long while, Madam Hong slept with U.  
She did it to confirm what she had been thinking.  
Once again, however, Madam Hong was astonished.  
The change in U surpassed anything she could have imagined.  
In the past, Madam Hong had always made U submit to her. He would patiently transform himself into five or six different men at her demand. But this time the tables were turned.  
"I am serving my queen."  
U sounded like he was obeying her as always, and yet he wanted to command her now.  
"Try becoming another woman. The more women you become, the more pleasure you'll have."  
U ordered her to become five or six different women.  
He said he was doing it to serve her.  
It was only then that Madam Hong thought of her leather whip.  
And from the following day, she began lashing U's face once again, more fiercely, more brutally than ever.  
It wasn't long before U was his faithful and submissive self again.  
But she didn't stop.  
"Watch out! Careful now!"  
"You heard what he said, didn't you?"  
Madam Hong had a new habit: she reminded U of Na's prophecy whenever she had the chance. Her tone was blatant, threatening.  
"Do you know what they're saying? They're saying I'm going to kill you. How's that make you feel? Na's never wrong. Do you think I'll really kill you?"  
She tried to irritate him.  
"I'm so worried about you. His prophecy is ominous, no matter how you look at it. Do you think you can beat it? There might really be a murder. His predictions are always correct. But I'm not going to kill you... So maybe there's someone else... Maybe it's Na himself. After all he's the one who made the prophecy."  
She tried to wash away her anxiety about U by implicating Na.  
U jerked his head from side to side like an enraged animal. He couldn't hide his uneasiness.  
"No, he'd never do that. If he did, I'd get him first."  
"I hope you're right. There's something so ominous about him. His prophecies, I mean. Do you really think you can handle him? I mean if he really wants to kill you. But I guess there's no need to get too worried. I'll simply have to help you."  
Madam Hong kept focusing U's attention in Na's direction, and she kept demanding his complete submission with her words and whip.  
U was perfectly obedient and her regular customers were no different from the night before.  
Still Madam Hong was uneasy. She flailed her whip all the more nervously.  
She was driven by her anxiety.  
And then one night...  
Madam Hong finally discovered the cause of her uneasiness.  
She was walking through the bar, flailing her whip when all of a sudden she had the eerie feeling that someone was watching her.  
She stopped and looked around, tapping the whip against the palm of her hand.  
She was right.  
A pair of round eyes were staring at her from a mask seated at a dark corner table.  
It was Na U-hyon. At first, a shudder of fear ran through her when she saw the arrogant, challenging look in the snake-like eyes peering out of the holes in the mask.  
Of course, it's him.  
Madam Hong collected herself and walked slowly in Na's direction.  
His eyes remained fixed on her.  
As she drew closer, a frightening venom seemed to pour from his stare.  
His eyes looked as though he couldn't control the pain of his hatred for her. And yet they were also full of a deep hopelessness, a kind of appeal.  
"I've gone through hell because of you. But now, you're finished," Madam Hong murmured to herself. Hiding an indecipherable smile inside her mask, she sat down across from Na, as if drawn by his stare.  
But Na did not avert his eyes.  
Something like complicity flashed through Madam Hong. She hadn't expected this.  
Aha. He's begging for something. Well, tell me-what is it?  
She began to feel uneasy once more.  
"Tell me, do you still believe your prediction will come true?"  
Na blinked at the question. But his response was a complete surprise. All he did was nod silently.  
"How? You're finished. There wasn't any murder."  
"Not yet, but there will be."  
His eyes remained fixed on her. His look made her dizzy. But she clenched her teeth and pushed on:  
"Oh really? Well, I guess you're right. After all, the world hasn't ended yet, but if a murder is going to take place, you'll have to change your prophecy."  
Why? his fixed eyes seemed to ask.  
"Your prophecy is a lie. You said I was going to commit murder, didn't you? But that's not what you really want. You hope I'll be the victim of a murder. I know. You wanted to get rid of me by provoking U, right?"  
Why you?  
"Because you're the one who hated the idea of me becoming queen the most."  
"But now it's time you changed your prophecy. Be honest. Tell me what you want."  
"Do you really want me to change my prophecy?" Na asked quietly.  
"Yes, since I'm not going to kill anyone!"  
Madam Hong had lost her composure.  
"If I change my prophecy, it'll bother you more than it'll bother me."  
"I know what your prophecy is."  
"But you still want to be our queen, don't you?"  
"In any case, I'm not going to kill anyone. It won't turn out as you hope."  
"But you have to have proof to be queen. Only then will people truly serve you. Without proof, they'll betray you again..."  
A look of horrendous pain, like that of a man facing death, flickered across Na's face as he spoke. But when Madam Hong stubbornly held her ground, Na slowly began to break away from his pain.  
A vague smile came to his eyes at last. Madam Hong felt a shiver run through her body.  
"I can change my prophecy. But you wouldn't want me to. If I don't change it, there will be a murder, and then you will finally be queen..."  
Their eyes locked in silent battle. An anguished hope and an invisible struggle passed between them. Madam Hong could see a peculiar complicity in Na's eyes but she did not understand what it meant.  

Na U-hyon spent his days in misery. His anguish was all the worse now that Madam Hong was determined to become queen-she made no attempt to hide it.  
Still, Na did not regret his decision.  
Besides there was nothing else he could have done.  
His was a curious destiny.  
Perhaps his prophecy had been too definite.  
No one even thought of believing him now. All they wanted from him was proof. He had no choice. The prophecy had to be realized somehow. His conspiracy with Madam Hong was inevitable.  
He was grateful that she was willing to comply. Clearly she had decided not to force Na to change his prophecy, because now she too needed proof. That's why she had consented to the conspiracy.  
It wasn't her fault. They had made her that way. In any case, she knew what she was supposed to do.  
Madam Hong began darting back and forth again. She flailed her whip like an executioner dancing before he delivers the fatal blow.  
Watch out! I said be careful! Remember Na's prediction. He's still wants to harm someone. He's still predicting a murder. U's the one he's after, but I won't do anything to hurt him! Watch out for Na's prediction!  
Madam Hong hovered around U Tok-ju, waving the whip in his face. Even from afar, one could easily imagine what she was whispering to him.  
Her leather boots, the shiny skirt and her long, white calves were infused with an icy authority.  
"Watch out! Careful now!"  
The anxious look in her eyes as she passed Na's table was caused by her determination that he not modify his prophecy.  
The customers trusted her as always. They seemed light-hearted and at ease. Without proof, they had no reason to abandon their pleasure. They did not believe Na's prophecy. They had completely forgotten about the predicted murder.  
Na U-hyon made no more prophecies. There was no need for him to make the same one again. All he needed to do was provide proof.  
Na had no regrets. His task was simply a bit more painful and difficult.  
And he was frighteningly alone.  
Once again he seemed to be learning the loneliness of the prophet. No one believed his prophecies. No one made them come true.  
Perhaps that was lucky. Na finally realized that there must be many unfortunate prophets who knew the truth but could not speak it. He was different. He was seeing his prophecy through to the end. He was able to prove it himself.  
His method was the cause of his loneliness.  
At times a prophet has to contradict the truth in order to protect it. This makes the prophet all the more lonely and unhappy for he cannot prove his ability or wisdom, or even try to prove them. He has no choice but to submit to his unhappy fate and die a tragic prophet. There may be many gifted prophets who have died in complete obscurity, victims of that fatal betrayal.  
Na U-hyon was not such a remarkable prophet. He wasn't particularly skilled nor had he ever contradicted the truth in order to join the ranks of the wisest prophets. And he wasn't afraid of not being remembered as a great prophet. He simply tried to be an honest one. There lay the cause of his loneliness. Ultimately, his loneliness was born of his inability to contradict his own truth.  
He had no choice, however. It wasn't the prophet's task to realize his own prophecy. That was the job of the person about whom the prophecy had been made. And so Na's prophecy awaited completion by the customers at the Queen Bee.  
The truth of Na's prophecy had to be revealed through its completion. All that Na could do was hope his prophecy would be realized among the customers.  
Madam Hong still waited.  
Careful now! Watch out!  
The knife dance revolved around him. Painful as it was, Na could only wait.  
Meanwhile, one by one he brought his rocks to the bar. Without the slightest regret, he distributed them among the regulars. He was gradually ridding himself of his pain.  
This red stone is from Tanyang. It doesn't look like anything in particular, but actually rocks that resemble something tend to be inferior. Each rock should have its own unique character. If it looks like something else, then it lacks its own form.  
Na offered a short explanation of each rock he handed out. He gradually overcame his frightening pain, as if he were slicing away knots of life one by one.  
This rock's color is kind of uneven. I left it out in my garden for three years, but that didn't change it at all. I learned something from that. It was stupid to think a few years of rain and wind would change the color of something that's existed for tens of thousands of years. A rock doesn't get its color from the human eye. Whether we like it or not, each rock's color is its own.  
The customers at the Queen Bee could not understand why Na was handing out the rocks he had guarded so secretly, indeed, as carefully as his own life.  
"I've decided it's time for me to learn to give," he explained. "I didn't know how to give before. I simply took. Now it's my turn to give."  
The neighbors from the Queen Bee each received one or two rocks. If they wanted, they could have had three or four. The waiters and the waitresses, the pharmacist Kim, and Han from the electronics shop, the stationer Chang-Na gave rocks to all of them. And each day found him more relaxed.  
One day, Na handed a rock to Madam Hong.  
"This is my last rock. It's also the rock of my life-the kind of rock a collector waits his entire life to find. It embodies the collector's most profound love for life. I discovered it two summers ago in the T'aebaek Mountains. It took me a week to find it and then I had to carry it down on my back in the blazing sun. This is my last rock. I'm giving it to you."  
After he finished his speech, Na seemed at peace, as if he had been released from all of his life's debts.  
Madam Hong did not respond. She simply stared remotely into Na's face. Then she nodded two or three times as if she finally understood what Na was feeling.  

That night Madam Hong called U Tok-ju to her hotel room.  
"You must leave me now." Her tone was firm. "Starting tomorrow, Na U-hyon will be coming to see me."  
U said not a word. Perhaps there was nothing he could do now that Madam Hong had made her decision. On the other hand, he seemed to be ignoring everything she was saying. In any case, he asked no questions.  
Suspicious of his reaction, Madam Hong went on.  
"This is to be our last night together. Do you understand? Starting tomorrow, you're not to come anymore. I'd prefer it if you stopped coming to the Queen Bee altogether."  
Still, U did not react. Madam Hong left it at that.  
In a way, it seemed as if they had both made up their minds in advance.  
The following evening U was still at the bar.  
Madam Hong said nothing. She acted as if they had planned it that way. She flailed her whip in his face as always, wandering back and forth, absorbed in her own thoughts, oblivious to what was around her.  
It was obvious she was waiting for something. She paced back and forth, but her eyes never left the entrance to the bar.  
It wasn't long before she called U up to the cash register, abruptly, as if she could wait no longer. Beating him about the face with her whip, she ordered him from the bar in an icy tone.  
"Get out of here!"  
U did not react. He accepted her blows in silence, like an enormous beast.  
Behind her mask, Madam Hong's eyes suddenly flashed with a ferocious light. She began beating U's face with even more hysterical force.  
"Get out of here! I told you to leave!"  
It seemed her blows would never stop.  
Gradually, a look of terror began to gather in U's eyes. As Madam Hong's abuse grew more severe, the look of terror suddenly turned to a bloodthirsty glint. It was a kind of small flame.  
Madam Hong's blows were a billows reviving the flame. She continued to beat him, her teeth clenched tightly.  
U remained still. His teeth clenched too, he endured her blows. And then the flame blazed up before her eyes, ready to engulf her at any moment.  
Now it was Madam Hong's face that filled with terror.  
She was already a slave to the flame. She couldn't stop. She couldn't let the fire die.  
Finally, U's enormous shadow slowly began moving in her direction.  
She closed her eyes and waited.  
But nothing happened.  
She opened her eyes. And then she saw.  
Na U-hyon was standing by the entrance to the bar.  
His mask was gone.  
His face looked calmer, more serene than ever before.  
Then she saw something else. The bearlike frame of U Tok-ju stepping perilously close to the serene Na U-hyon.  

Translated by Julie Pickering