The Consultant: Chapter 61

Barry had originally thought—hoped—that Marvin Hayes would join the other players on the court. He had some ideas regarding how he might get close to him under those circumstances. 

But if he never left the immediate vicinity of Kim Jong-un, it would be a hopeless task. Barry knew that he would never be allowed to get anywhere near the North Korean head of state. 

As the exhibition seemed to be drawing to a logical close, Barry was on the verge of giving up hope. His thoughts had already turned—to ways of destroying the note in his pocket. The note was nothing but a liability if he never got the chance to give it to Hayes.

Then something happened. The North Korean Harlem Globetrotters stopped playing. They stood in the middle of the basketball court, and faced Kim Jong-un and his guest of honor in the reviewing stand.

The stands went silent. Whatever this moment was, Barry had the sense that it had been planned, choreographed in advance.

A lackey in a military uniform brought a microphone to Kim Jong-un. The Supreme Leader smiled benevolently at his famous American guest. 

Then he spoke into the microphone.

“What?” Barry asked in a whisper, as he listened to the inscrutable Korean.

Jung-Ho looked back at him irritably. “The Supreme Leader has invited Marvin Hayes to take the floor. To demonstrate his basketball skills.”

Up in the reviewing stand, Kim’s words were translated for Marvin Hayes. Had Hayes known this was coming? Barry didn’t know and he didn’t care.

Hayes wasn’t wearing a three-piece suit; but he wasn’t exactly wearing basketball clothes, either. The ex-NBA star was dressed in what must be the normal street attire of a man in his position: a white shirt silk shirt open at the collar, and khaki pants.

Nevertheless, when a bloodthirsty dictator invites you to play basketball, what else can you say—but yes?

Marvin Hayes made a show of refusing out of modesty. But Kim kept smiling and motioning for him to take the floor. Out on the floor, meanwhile, the North Korean basketball players gazed up their leader and his guest, in joyful anticipation of Hayes joining them.

At length Hayes stood, and descended the short staircase of the reviewing stand. He stepped out onto the basketball court.

There was a cheer from the grandstands, just short of a standing ovation, as Hayes took the court.

Hayes was past his prime, not dressed for the occasion, and not warmed up. Nevertheless, he made an admirable presentation on the hardwood, shooting, dribbling, and passing the ball with the North Korean players.

Barry wondered how this display would be received by the rest of the world. Surely CNN and other international media outlets were aware of Hayes’s presence here. What would the spin be: that Marvin Hayes was coddling a dictator with blood on his hands, going so far as to perform for him on command? Or would the media portray Hayes an aspiring peacemaker?

Barry didn’t know, and he had other, more immediate concerns.

The exhibition once again appeared to be drawing to a close—for real this time. The action on the court stopped. Hayes and the Korean players stood in a line in the middle of the basketball court, and bowed in unison to Kim Jong-un, who acknowledged them with a smug grin and a wave.

Now Marvin Hayes followed the Korean players off the basketball court, through the doorway by which they had entered.

Just as Barry had hoped. Hayes, Barry surmised, was going into the locker room—to freshen up, maybe even to take a shower. 

This was his chance, if he had a chance at all.

Barry stood up from his seat on the metal bench. 

Jung-Ho looked up from the screen of his phone and said, “Where do you think you’re going?”

Chapter 62

Table of contents

The Consultant: Chapter 60

Marvin Hayes, now well into middle age, would not be playing basketball. As the guest of honor, his role was to sit beside Kim Jong-un in a reviewing stand at the front of the vast room. 

Before sitting down, the two men exchanged a ceremonial handshake, and then a brief embrace. Marvin Hayes towered over Kim Jong-un. While the two men shook hands, they were flanked by four North Korean generals, all of whom beamed at the their leader. 

Kim Jong Un looked harmless enough, as he smiled an embraced Marvin Hayes. Barry could not forget for an instant, however, that he was the head of the whole terrible North Korean state. 

Barry remembered hearing that Kim had even ordered the assassination of his own half brother, Kim Jong-nam. Jong-nam, an international playboy who had fallen out of favor with the senior North Korean leadership, had been vacationing in Kuala Lumpur when two female assassins had sprayed him with VX nerve gas. 

A wonderful man this Marvin Hayes has befriended, Barry thought. 

For a movement he felt a twinge of resentment—outright anger—at the retired basketball player. He knew, however, that this was self-indulgent.

For better or for worse, he needed Marvin Hayes.

If he could get to him.

At length, the basketball exhibition began. Barry was surprised to see that the North Korean state actually maintained a troupe resembling a basketball team. From an entrance on the far side of the auditorium, a group of men dressed in blue and red basketball uniforms filed onto the hardwood. 

The North Korean version of the Harlem Globetrotters, Barry thought. 

There were about twenty of them, altogether. They were all tall, though none of them was quite as broad-shouldered and physically imposing at Sgt. Park. 

They didn’t play a game of basketball. Much like the Harlem Globetrotters whom they seem to be imitating, the  North Korean athletes engaged in acts of acrobatic dribbling, passing, and dunking the ball into the two basketball hoops at either end of the room.

Barry glanced over at Jung-Ho and noticed that he was distracted. Jung-Ho was staring intently at the screen of a smartphone. He was typing a text message. 

Barry knew that some of the staff at the tour agency possessed cell phones. But this was the first time he had seen Jung-Ho with one of the devices. 

I could stand up and walk out of here, Barry thought, and he wouldn’t even notice.

That might be true. Barry knew, however, that he wouldn’t get far, even if he managed to escape the walls of the sports complex—which was unlikely enough.

“Are you learning anything?” Jung-Ho said, without looking up from the screen of his phone. 

“Yes,” Barry said, without hesitation.

“That’s progress, I suppose.” Jung-Ho still didn’t look up from his phone. 

Barry looked up at the reviewing stand, where Marvin Hayes was still chatting with Kim Jong-un. Sort of. A young woman—obviously an interpreter—sat directly behind them. 

But the conversation seemed to be proceeding smoothly enough. Both men were smiling and laughing, and Kim pointed proudly at the North Korean players. Hayes, for his part, nodded appreciatively.

It occurred to Barry that he had seen both men on television numerous times. He never would have imagined seeing either man in person—and certainly not under these circumstances. 

Barry had a handwritten note in his pocket. He had scrawled the note with a pen and a scrap of paper he had pilfered from the tour agency. The note was another version of the message he had sent to his family. 

To simply possess the note—to have written it—was to risk death.

The note might get him killed; and it might set him free.

This might turn out to be the most important night of his life. 

At present, though, there was a major obstacle to the only plan he had.

Chapter 61

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Molly Ringwald, and the art of not being a one-trick pony

In late 1987/early 1988, I was a student at the University of Cincinnati. 

During that period, the movie Fresh Horses, starring Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald, was under production in Cincinnati. 

Cincinnati, in case you don’t know, is no Honolulu or San Francisco. If you aren’t from the Midwest, you could easily confuse Cincinnati with Pittsburgh or Cleveland. So the shooting of the Ringwald/McCarthy movie was kind of a big deal, at the time.

I (almost) met Molly Ringwald

The UC campus was one of the locations where the movie was shot. One day I was in the campus’s university center, and whom did I see from a distance? 

Molly Ringwald

Wow. 

I would like to tell the reader that I walked up to Ms. Ringwald and impressed her with my witty conversation. (And after more than 30 years, who could prove me a liar, really?) 

But no, I didn’t meet Molly Ringwald. And though I’d seen all of her movies up to that point, I didn’t get around to seeing Fresh Horses until…

Just last week, actually. 

Better late than never

That’s right. Fresh Horses hasn’t played at the cinema since Ronald Reagan was president. The movie is included with my Amazon Prime subscription. I watched it on my laptop computer a few days ago. 

Fresh Horses turned out to be a very good movie. This is the setup: Matt Larkin (Andrew McCarthy), is an up-and-coming engineering student at the University of Cincinnati. He has a brilliant career ahead of him, and he’s engaged to marry a girl from a wealthy family.

Then one day Larkin crosses the Ohio River, and meets Jewel (Molly Ringwald), a troubled young woman from the backwoods of Kentucky. 

Matt immediately falls for Jewel. He impulsively breaks up with his fiancée. But Jewel is trouble, and the relationship requires Matt to challenge his basic values. 

I’m not going to tell you how the movie ends. Suffice it to say that the film concludes with a rare feat in drama: an emotional gut-punch that doesn’t involve someone dying. 

The secret to Molly Ringwald’s success

Most of all, though, I was impressed with Molly Ringwald’s performance in the film. This got me wondering: Why is Molly Ringwald such a good actor? What is it about her?

It’s true that looks confer an advantage in show business. Watch Fresh Horses (or any other Molly Ringwald movie from her 1980s/1990s heyday) and you’ll certainly see an attractive young woman. 

But Molly Ringwald was never OMG, look-at-her, five-alarm beautiful. She has always been attractive, but attractive people are a dime-a-dozen in Hollywood. 

Molly Ringwald is a great actor because she can become so many diverse characters, without any of those characters overlapping.

Here’s what I mean: In Fresh Horses, Molly Ringwald made me believe that she was Jewel, an uneducated teenage girl from Kentucky, in the late twentieth century. 

In The Breakfast Club, she was just as convincing as Claire Standish, a snooty, popular girl from a privileged background. 

There is no trace of Claire Standish in Ringwald’s interpretation of Jewel, or vice versa. 

I also saw Molly Ringwald as Frannie Goldsmith, in the 1994 television adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand

By that time, I had read The Stand at least twice. (I’ve been a Stephen King fan for decades.) And of course, I was already very familiar with Molly Ringwald. 

Nevertheless, Ringwald made me believe that she was Frannie Goldsmith. When I read The Stand for the third time a few years ago, guess who I saw in my mind’s eye as Frannie Goldsmith? 

That’s right: Molly Ringwald. 

The versatile vs. the one-trick ponies

There are plenty of actors who are quite successful, yet lack this versatility. 

Jason Statham, for example, is the exact same character in every movie. It doesn’t matter if Statham is the hero or the villain. He does one personality: the brooding, confrontational tough guy.

Humphrey Bogart was a successful actor for years, until his untimely death in 1957. But watch his movies, and he’s usually the same guy. Only one of his performances—that of Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny—really stands out as unique.

It’s been said that John Wayne never played the villain. Maybe that’s because John Wayne couldn’t play the villain. Watch the Duke’s movies: You won’t see much variation in his on-screen personality from film to film.

Sean Penn is annoying as a private individual, but he’s highly versatile as an actor. I first saw him as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), his breakout role. He was completely convincing as a Southern California surfer dude from the early 1980s. 

But Penn is just as convincing as the sadistic Sgt. Tony Meserve in Casualties of War (1989), or as a convicted murderer in Dead Man Walking (1995).

I’ve seen some of his movies multiple times. None of Penn’s performances overlap. 

Sean Penn (whatever his private flaws), is versatile as an artist. He’s no one-trick pony. 

Acting isn’t the only realm of the arts where there is a division between one-trick ponies and more versatile creators. 

The Rolling Stones have now been making music for well over fifty years. There is certainly a market for what they do. But it all sounds the same.

I was never much of a Madonna fan, but she’s been around since I was in high school. Growing up, I couldn’t help but be exposed to her music.

Listen to Madonna’s music over the years, and you’ll note that her style continually changes. Her music of the mid-1980s is nothing like what she was doing by the late 1990s, or the mid-2000s.

I would wager that this is what has given Madonna (another artist who is annoying as a private individual) such a long career. Listen to her entire oeuvre, and you’re going to find at least one or two songs that you like. 

Yes, even me. 

With the Rolling Stones, on the other hand, you either love them or hate them. Because the Rolling Stones never changed.

Writers can be divided into one-trick ponies and the more versatile, too. Dan Brown burst out of the gate in the early 2000s, with his Robert Langdon series. Angels & Demons (2000) and The Da Vinci Code (2003) blended conspiracy thriller tropes with a skepticism about Christian (and especially Roman Catholic) traditions.

But Dan Brown is a literary one-trick pony, if ever there was one. 

Since 2010, his publication dates have been growing farther apart, and his books have been losing fans rather than gaining them. USA Today called Brown’s Origin (2018) “only a fitfully entertaining religious rehash of his greatest hits”. For once, I agree with the mainstream media.

This doesn’t detract from Dan Brown’s success with the original Robert Langdon books. People will be reading The Da Vinci Code for years to come. 

But will they be reading books that Brown writes in the 2020s? I have my doubts about that.

The downsides of versatility 

On the other hand, sometimes an artist evolves, and his long-term fans don’t like the result. Case-in-point: Stephen King.

In the 1970s, and throughout most of the 1980s, Stephen King wrote taut, tightly structured novels. Most of these books were supernatural horror, but not all of them were. (There is barely a hint of the supernatural in Misery (1986). In Firestarter (1980) and The Dead Zone (1979), the supernatural is secondary to what are essentially standard thriller plots.) 

I became a fan of Stephen King during this period. I loved his early books: The Shining, Cujo, ‘Salem’s Lot, etc. 

Then Stephen King’s style changed—or evolved. I first noticed the change with It (1986). King began writing books that were much longer, and (in my view, at least), much less focused. 

As a result, I’m much less enthusiastic about the books Stephen King has written in recent years: 11/22/63, Duma Key, The Outsider. I found Lisey’s Story to be an outright slog. And I couldn’t even finish Cell or Under the Dome

Do be blunt about it: For around twenty years, I’ve been following Stephen King in a pro forma sort of way, hoping that he will go back to writing the kinds of books that he wrote during the first fifteen years of his career. 

I would really like another ‘Salem’s Lot or The Shining. King wrote a sequel to the latter, Doctor Sleep, in 2013. But for this reader, at least, the old magic simply wasn’t there.

Versatility, then, is a knife that cuts both ways. Artists can loose most of their audiences when they make shifts that are too abrupt.

During the early 1980s, the rock band Styx (under the influence of lead singer Dennis DeYoung) went in artistic directions that were simply too experimental for music aimed at teenagers. To make matters worse, the members of the group couldn’t decide if they wanted to do romantic ballads or straight-up rock music. Every album seemed to go in a radically different direction. 

This caused Styx to fall in the charts. The band also went on hiatus throughout the latter half of the 1980s, while Dennis DeYoung pursued several solo projects that didn’t quite fit the musical market of that era.

Nunn Bush

But the long game belongs to…

For the most part, though, I would bet on the versatile rather than the one-trick ponies. 

Back to Molly Ringwald. In All These Small Moments (2018) Ringwald plays a middle age wife and mother, going through various midlife crises.

She doesn’t suffer from the common curse of the child actor: the inability to transition into more mature adult roles. Ringwald is just as convincing in this role as she was in the characters she depicted in the 1980s and 1990s—that of teenage and twentysomething young women. 

Molly Ringwald’s days of playing teenage girls in coming-of-age films are long over; but she’ll probably be a successful actor for as long as she wants to keep doing what she does. Few people can achieve that in acting. 

Will there still be a market for Jason Statham movies in twenty years, on the other hand? Or for Jason Statham as a working actor? 

I have my doubts about that one, too.

Skip ‘Revenge’

I hate to pan a Kevin Costner movie. But Revenge (1990) just didn’t live up to my expectations.

This is the setup: A jet pilot and Vietnam vet (Kevin Costner) retires and travels to Mexico, where he is the guest of an old (and much older) friend, Mendez (Anthony Quinn).

Oh, and Mendez just happens to be a Mexican gangster. 

And the hero falls in love with Mendez’s comely young wife (Madeline Stowe). 

Of course, the lovers are discovered.

And what do Mexican gangsters do when their wives are unfaithful? Nasty stuff.

That’s the first of half of this rather long (too long, really) movie. The second half of the film is vaguely reminiscent of The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s a revenge plot, as the hero embarks on a rather convoluted quest to exact retribution. 

For the guys, there are lots of nude shots of Madeline Stowe. (I hate to be crude, but that’s really the only good thing I can see here.)

Costner, Stowe, and Quinn all put in competent performances. But they were working with a bad script. The story structure here is flawed. Revenge felt like two movies stitched haphazardly together. 

Not everyone agrees with me, of course, though. You can watch Revenge on Amazon, and decide for yourself. (The film actually has a rather high rating average.)

Amazon Prime day, early Amazon homepages

The mega-retailer Amazon.com is gearing up for Prime Day.  

Prime Day will actually be two days: July 15th and 16th.

Among the notable aspects of this year’s Prime Day is that Amazon will be deeply discounting its internal line of products, like the Amazon Echo.

I’m old enough to remember when Amazon was just this trendy online bookstore. The early homepage didn’t look much different from other homepages of that era: the sort of thing that anyone with decent HTML skills could have made at the time.

In the intervening years, Amazon has become a juggernaut, of course. But you wouldn’t have guessed it at the time.

Today Amazon will even deliver your groceries….(See banner link below.)

The Consultant (Updates)

Just imagine…

You go home from a bar in Japan with the wrong woman.

Strange men waylay and drug you.

You wake up in North Korea.

The North Korean regime has a “mission” for you.

You’re in big, big trouble…

 

This is The Consultant. Barry Lawson is an ordinary American who is targeted by North Korean agents for a “special purpose”.

The Consultant is a new FREE serial that I’m publishing here on Edward Trimnell Books. 

Click here to read the latest installment of The Consultant, plus any past installments that you’ve missed!

Do you like fast-paced thrillers by authors like Vince Flynn, Tom Clancy, and James Patterson?

You’ll love The Consultant.

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Zoe Miller, Ghost Hunter: Chapter 1

Zoe Miller is a twenty-six year old ghost hunter in Southern Ohio. Join her as she tracks down cryptids and malevolent spirits.

The phantom—or whatever is was—rose up in the middle of the gravel road. 

It began as nothing more than a small pillar of smoke. At first, Zoe Miller thought it was a trick of the orange summer twilight… An indistinct cloud of haze, possibly a swarm of gnats, or a cloud of dust swirled up by the wind— even though the July evening was still and thick.

Then the thing took shape. Over the space of a few seconds, it swelled to a height of seven or eight feet, and resolved itself into a vaguely humanoid shape. But it still had the body of unnatural smoke. 

The wraith had a head, with two slitted black holes that approximated eyes. A rictus of a mouth twisted downward in a grimace. 

The thing stretched its arms out across the road. What might have been fingers moved at the end of each appendage. 

The overall gesture that it communicated was to bar the way, as if it did not want Zoe to complete her drive. 

Zoe Miller slammed on the brakes of her aging Honda Accord. 

The creature leaned over the hood of the car. 

Although the downturned mouth moved, it made no sound that Zoe could discern. Up here, on the curvy, ascending access road to the Pioneers’ Cemetery, there was no other traffic. All Zoe could hear was the sound of her car’s air conditioning rattling. That, and the humming of its efficient Japanese engine.

Zoe Miller held her breath. At the age of twenty-six, she had been seriously ghost hunting for about five years. But she had never seen anything quite like this. 

She leaned back against the seat, and waited, to see what would happen next. 

And then, the spook was gone. It’s body broke up into a million tiny wisps, and it dissolved into the haze of the dying day’s humidity.  

Chapter 2

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