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    Upon hearing those words, Eun Gil-sang looked at Yu So-ak.

    He wanted to ask if it was okay for Yeo Chang-ui, who was present, to hear this.

    Yu So-ak nodded in response to his gaze.

    “I will speak on your behalf.”

    “Yes, I will listen attentively.”

    “The truth is, the transaction payment for Lotus Flower Pavilion has been overdue for eleven months.”

    “……”

    ***

    Listening to the words of Chief Yu, I recalled the future I had experienced.

    When something happens, the one who benefits the most is often the culprit.

    Among the three suspects narrowed down at that time, one was Lotus Flower Pavilion.

    In fact, I knew back then that Lotus Flower Pavilion had been defaulting on a significant payment for nearly a year.

    And I even knew the reason.

    But at this moment, I couldn’t reveal that I knew, so I pretended to be unaware and asked.

    “What? They haven’t paid the transaction payment for nearly a year? But why haven’t you reported this to the authorities?”

    “That’s because of this contract.”

    Chief Yu spread out a document labeled [Lotus Flower Pavilion] and showed the contract tied within.

    “Please look at this clause.”

    I looked where Chief Yu was pointing.

    [If Lotus Flower Pavilion fails to pay the goods payment to Eunhae Merchant Group for more than a year, the ownership of Lotus Flower Pavilion will be transferred to Eunhae Merchant Group the day after the last payment due date.]

    This was precisely why Eunhae Merchant Group had been watching Lotus Flower Pavilion default on the goods payment for nearly a year.

    However, in the future I experienced, Eunhae Merchant Group did not receive the ownership of Lotus Flower Pavilion.

    Nor did they receive the overdue payment for the goods.

    Because the ledger and the contract were burned, leaving no evidence of the transaction.

    This way, I’ve come to know for certain the culprit, which was only a suspicion in the future.

    “But Chief Yu.”

    “Yes, Young Master.”

    “Has Lotus Flower Pavilion been in decline lately? To the extent that they’ve defaulted on payments for nearly a year?”

    “Hardly. It’s still one of the five major brothels in Hubei Province.”

    “Then…?”

    “I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t paid the transaction amount all this time, but thanks to Officer A-seung, I now know.”

    “…?”

    “They were running an illegal business. It seems they’re short on money because it’s not bringing in much revenue.”

    “I see.”

    My father sighed deeply.

    “But what should we do about this situation? Even if we report it to the authorities, no actual fire has occurred, and it won’t be easy to find evidence that someone else ordered Officer A-seung to do it…”

    My father’s words were accurate.

    But that’s something I can’t accept.

    Those bastards.

    If they wanted to get rid of it, why burn all the documents there, making it impossible to identify the suspects, instead of just destroying these papers?

    The loss we saw at that time was enormous.

    We suffered the trouble and the financial loss.

    And when we asked for at least half of the overdue payments, they mocked us, saying, “Have we ever made a transaction? I don’t remember.”

    That almost made my father and Chief Yu collapse, holding the back of their necks.

    Moreover, they even had the audacity to lecture us, saying, ‘Shouldn’t you have managed it better?’

    Ah, thinking about that time makes my blood pressure rise.

    I need to calm down.

    Anyway, I couldn’t just let it go.

    Though there may be no harm now, in the future I experienced, our Eunhae Merchant Group was the one who suffered the consequences.

    As long as I remember, it couldn’t just become something that never happened.

    Then, a thought suddenly crossed my mind.

    There’s a chance that Lotus Flower Pavilion could entirely become part of our Eunhae Merchant Group.

    In such a situation, could they have relied solely on this?

    Impossible.

    Then, the last payment due date caught my eye.

    In five days.

    I asked cautiously.

    “I’ve observed Officer A-seung to be a very cautious person. No one could have imagined he would set a fire. So, why would he choose today, of all days, to do so?”

    Chief Go responded to my query.

    “Officer A-seung explained that. He was instructed to set the fire by today at the latest.”

    I understood the implication of Chief Go’s words.

    “Does that mean, if this attempt failed, they planned to resort to another method? To allow themselves time to prepare an alternative approach.”

    “Ah…”

    “To avoid paying, they resorted to this, but would they settle the overdue payment and resolve the issue if this failed? And if they had the money, they wouldn’t have fallen behind in the first place.”

    At my words, not only Chief Yu but also my father and the others widened their eyes.

    “That makes sense.”

    The leader of Chamber of Commerce Circulation, Head Yeon, said.

    “They’ll probably stop at nothing next time.”

    “What should we do then…?”

    A moment of silence followed.

    That’s when I stepped in.

    “Father. May I make a suggestion?”

    “What is it?”

    “We should set fire to Chamber of Wealth Management.”

    “Set a fire…?”

    Both my father and Chief Yu asked in disbelief.

    “What are you saying? To set a fire with our own hands!”

    “Hohoho!”

    Laughter filled the room.

    “Our youngest master has come up with an excellent strategy.”

    It was the leader of the Chamber of Commerce Circulation, Head Yeon.

    Her eyes sparkled as she continued.

    “It’s a strategy of ‘Using the fake to confuse the real'[1], isn’t it?”

    “Yes, Head Yeon. We need to obscure the truth with falsehood.”

    “I need an explanation.”

    At the request of the leader of the Chamber of Generational Prosperity, Head Jeok, I carefully explained the strategy of ‘Using the fake to confuse the real’ I had proposed.

    As I explained, smiles formed on everyone’s lips, and their eyes gleamed with excitement.

    “And ultimately, we’ll take over the Lotus Flower Pavilion.”

    By plotting such an act, Lotus Flower Pavilion has already forsaken righteousness.

    There’s no mercy for those who abandon righteousness.

    Baek Bok, the master of Lotus Flower Pavilion, was the son of the previous master.

    However, the general consensus was that the previous master had raised his son poorly.

    Baek Bok was arrogant and wilful, likely because he had no elders or advisors around him to correct his behavior or offer wise counsel.

    Everyone around him only flattered him.

    As a result, Lotus Flower Pavilion’s finances steadily worsened.

    Earning money is hard, but spending it is easy.

    This led to Baek Bok thinking nothing of extravagant expenditures, until one day, the financial manager of Lotus Flower Pavilion delivered shocking news.

    “What? We’re out of money?”

    “Yes, Master.”

    “What nonsense is that?”

    “It’s truly dangerous now. We need to pay the wages of the servants and maids, and the payment for the goods to Eunhae Merchant Group… We really need to cut back on spending.”

    “Cut back on spending? That’s impossible!”

    “But, Master.”

    “I’m the master of Lotus Flower Pavilion! The master of one of the five major brothels in Hubei Province!”

    Though the financial manager wondered what reducing expenses had to do with his pride, he kept silent.

    Any protest might result in punishment.

    “Isn’t there money we owe to Eunhae Merchant Group? Try delaying that.”

    Delaying the payment for the goods didn’t solve the problem, however.

    One month passed, then two, with the payments continually deferred.

    During this time, Baek Bok heard at a gambling den he frequented that the owner was looking for someone to take over.

    “Actually, this place does bring in a decent income… but due to some personal circumstances, I’m considering selling it.”

    Baek Bok noticed that the place was always bustling with people.

    The mention of profit intrigued Baek Bok, and with the thought of earning money, he immediately acquired the gambling den on the spot.

    However, there was something he hadn’t considered.

    The gambling den was an illegal business.

    The person who had transferred the den to him had skipped out on bribes that needed to be paid to higher-ups, causing him to fall out of favor and prepare to flee.

    Not long after Baek Bok took over, officials showed up, and he found himself begrudgingly offering bribes.

    The money given as bribes soon surpassed the income from the gambling den, and even the revenues from Lotus Flower Pavilion had to be tapped into.

    Then, a month ago, the manager delivered shocking news to him.

    “Pavilion Master, Lotus Flower Pavilion will have a new owner next month.”

    “What? What kind of nonsense is that?”

    At Baek Bok’s response, the manager sighed and presented a contract to him.

    “It seems you don’t remember. Please look at this.”

    Baek Bok read the clause the manager was pointing to.

    [If Lotus Flower Pavilion fails to pay the goods payment to Eunhae Merchant Group for more than a year, the ownership of Lotus Flower Pavilion will be transferred to Eunhae Merchant Group the day after the last payment due date.]

    He asked the manager.

    “How many months have we been in arrears?”

    “Eleven months. We have one month left.”

    At the manager’s words, Baek Bok exploded.

    “Why are you only telling me this now! You @#$%&!”

    “I’ve told you! I’ve told you five times already!”

    “I don’t know! I haven’t heard it!”

    After berating the manager, he went to the gambling den he owned.

    He drowned his sorrows in alcohol and lost himself in gambling once again.

    In the midst of it all, he forgot his grievances about his situation.

    That’s when someone approached him.

    “Nice to meet you. I’m from Dowoon (Peach Blossom Cloud)[2] Merchant Group. I understand you’re in a difficult situation.”

    “Yes, but… what is it?”

    “I’m here to offer a solution to your problem.”

    He responded curtly.

    “What are you talking about… Go ahead, speak.”

    “Eliminate that contract.”

    “How?”

    “Set it on fire.”

    “What?”

    “We will take care of such a dangerous task on your behalf. All you need to do is grant me one favor.”

    It was clear they wouldn’t offer such a service without expecting something in return.

    But Baek Bok had no other choice.

    “What do you want?”

    At his question, the person from Peach Blossom Cloud Merchant Group smiled and continued.

    “It’s nothing difficult. Simply engage in business with us. Additionally, construct a pavilion within Lotus Flower Pavilion for our people to stay. And employ individuals we recommend.”

    The conditions seemed less significant than expected.

    Baek Bok couldn’t help but ask, puzzled.

    “Is that really all you want?”

    “Absolutely. This should pose no loss to you, Master. However, I would appreciate it if you could start the construction in advance.”

    “That’s doable. I’ll order the construction to start immediately. But tell me, if this fails…”

    “That won’t happen.”

    “How can you be so sure?”

    “Because the plan we have isn’t limited to just one approach. If the first attempt fails, we’ll simply employ a different strategy.”

    After a little over a month had passed, pleasing news reached his ears.

    “Did you hear? There was a big fire at Eunhae Merchant Group.”

    “Oh! I heard that too. It was at the Chamber of Wealth Management, right? And they found someone burned beyond recognition inside?”

    “And of all places, it had to be the Chamber of Wealth Management, so all the important documents were burned to ashes.”

    “Now Eunhae Merchant Group is in total disarray. All the contracts with the major brothels in Hubei were destroyed. What are they going to do?”

    “See… That’s why they should manage things properly.”

    Hearing this conversation, Baek Bok smirked to himself.

    The person from Peach Blossom Cloud Merchant Group had done the job well.

    And on that day, an ultimatum arrived from Eunhae Merchant Group.

    But seeing the usual amount section blank, it seemed the rumors about Lotus Flower Pavilion’s ledger being gone were true.

    Baek Bok burst into laughter.

    “Phahahahaha!”

    Determined not to miss this opportunity, he immediately called the manager and ordered,

    “Bring me all the delivery confirmations and contracts we received from Eunhae Merchant Group!”

    The manager brought all the documents and contracts related to their dealings with Eunhae Merchant Group.

    Baek Bok threw them into the yard and set them on fire.

    “P-Pavilion master! What are you doing!”

    Though the manager was shocked, Baek Bok grinned and glared at him.

    “We’ve never done business with Eunhae Merchant Group.”

    “What do you mean…?”

    “You heard and saw it yourself. Eunhae Merchant Group has no way to prove our contract. So, our debt to them is settled. Uwahaha!”

    He thought everything was resolved with that.

    But it was a mistake.

    I was now standing in front of the Lotus Flower Pavilion.

    Originally, my father and the other elders intended to handle this, but I insisted on coming along.

    The five-story pavilion painted in the color of red lotuses was truly elegant and splendid.

    Suddenly, I remembered the events from the future I had experienced.

    1. 以假亂眞 (yǐ jiǎ luàn zhēn) is a Chinese idiom that literally means “to use the fake to confuse the real.” It is often used to describe something that is so realistic that it is difficult to distinguish from the real thing. The idiom can be traced back to the Han Dynasty, when it was used to describe the art of forgery. In the book “Records of the Grand Historian,” the historian Sima Qian wrote about how forgers were able to create fake coins that were so realistic that they could not be distinguished from the real ones.[]
    2. 桃雲[]
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