Our House: Chapter 3

“And here we have the basement,” Jarvis said, leading the way downstairs. “Watch your step.”

They stepped gingerly down the basement staircase, their eyes taking time to adjust to the darkness. This was the last stop on the grand tour. Clint and Jennifer had by now been through the entire first and second floor, and made a circuit around the front lawn and back yard. The last of these revealed unexpected surprises: a deluxe tool shed that warmed Clint to the house considerably, and several rows of hedges in the back yard. These would provide both privacy and a natural enclosure in which Connor could play.

“Basements are usually the least exciting part of any house,” Jarvis said. “But the basement is important to some people. I’m sorry to say that if you were hoping for a basement-level recreation room or entertainment space, you’ll be disappointed.”

“The floor is dirt!” Clint said, once they were all down the stairs. This was true: Jennifer looked down at her feet to see a floor not of concrete, as she had expected, but hard-packed earth. The rest of the basement was equally basic from what she could see: The bare walls were unpainted brick. The only illumination provided down here came from a few widely spaced light bulbs. She looked up at the ceiling, and saw nothing but shadows and bare rafters.

“It is a dirt floor,” Jarvis said, confirming Clint’s observation. “Keep in mind that this house was built right before the U.S. entered World War II—in 1940. Dirt basements are more or less unheard of in any house built since the 1960s, and rare even before that in Ohio. There are usually too many drainage problems to allow for that in this part of the country. Dirt basements are more common in New England, where the soil is rocky and rainfall levels are lower. But even there, it’s mostly something that you see in older homes.”

“So this turns to mud when it rains?” Clint asked.

“No, not at all,” Jarvis said. “You’ll recall that we had a heavy rain earlier this week, and look at this floor.” The realtor kicked the floor with the toe of his penny loafer. “Dry as a bone. This house was built at the top of a hill, so the water all runs downhill, away from the basement. If you take a look at the walls, you’ll see that there is no evidence of water damage. But that’s something that the house inspector will be able to confirm for you. That is—if you decide to make an offer on this house.”

“Oh, I think we’ll definitely be making an offer,” Jennifer said. She was now way past the seduction stage. She had fallen in love with the house at 1120 Dunham Drive. While touring the upstairs bedrooms, a series of movies had been playing out in Jennifer’s imagination: She saw them moving in just in time for the new school year. Then she saw the house as the scene for key life events: their tenth wedding anniversary, Connor’s first day of high school—maybe even their retirement. Why not? The house gave them room to grow. This would, she believed, be the home into which Connor’s younger siblings would be born.

“I don’t know, Jen,” Clint said. “This dirt floor.”

“You heard what Tom said. This floor has been here since 1940 and the house’s foundation hasn’t washed away in the rain. I’m sure that the basement will still be dry in 2040.”

“Mrs. Huber,” Jarvis said with a laugh. “With your ability to see the possibilities in a house, you really ought to consider a career in real estate.”

“I see the possibilities in this house, anyway.”

“Well, let’s give the basement a good amateur inspection, anyway,” Jarvis suggested. “I don’t see you using this area for much more than storage—at least not in the short run. You could eventually put a concrete floor in, if you wanted. That wouldn’t be cheap, but it could be done.”

Jarvis gave them an unexciting tour of the basement. Jennifer noted that Clint was inspecting the walls for water damage. She was delighted to see that he found none. There were not even any damp spots on the dirt floor. As Jarvis had put it, the floor was “dry as a bone”. 

The only odd or unexpected sight in the basement was the little room in the rear corner—the corner farthest away from the stairs. It was not really a separate room, strictly speaking, but a makeshift enclosure of wood paneling. The room was about the size of a large walk-in closet.

“What’s this?” Clint asked, heading toward the little room.

“Oh, that’s a little storage space that Mr. Vennekamp built at some point. Wait a moment, let me go with you. I’ve got a penlight.”

Jennifer followed Jarvis over to the storage room. Clint was already standing in the room’s darkened doorway. 

Clint stepped aside so that Jarvis could enter with the penlight. What the penlight revealed was a mostly empty storage room. The tiny beam of light shone on a small pile of bricks, some boards leant up against the room’s single brick wall, and some old cans of paint. The floor was mostly covered by several decaying pallets. 

“Not much to look at in here,” Jarvis said. “It might come in handy for storage purposes, though. Or you might want to tear it down. Either way.” 

They also examined the water heater, and Jennifer was relieved to find that it had been installed a mere three years ago. The house was certainly old, but most of its key elements were either in good shape or recently updated. 

“Well,” Jarvis said, as he led them back upstairs, “what do you think?”

This time Clint preempted Jennifer. “I think we need to talk between ourselves—the two of us—and get back to you.”

Chapter 4

Table of contents

Our House: Chapter 2

Tom Jarvis guided Jennifer and Clint into the main area of the first floor, where the living room, the kitchen, and the dining room all intersected. Every room on the first floor had cathedral ceilings; and the kitchen looked to have been updated within the last ten years. 

Whereas Jennifer was transfixed by the interior details of the home, Clint gravitated immediately to the sliding glass double doors at the rear of the kitchen.

Mildly disappointed, Jennifer briefly studied Clint’s tall, lanky frame. His body was silhouetted against the sunlit glare as he cast aimless glances around the shrubs, the trees, and the ivy garden that dominated the back yard. 

Her husband—the son of a union machinist—had spent his entire childhood in the same postwar-era tract home. Since their marriage, the two of them had lived in one rented condo and two apartments. Clint knew next to nothing about real estate. That much she could have lived with. What bothered her was that he did not seem very interested in learning. They had toured more than a dozen houses so far, and Clint had yet to ask what her attorney father would call, “a reasonably intelligent question”. 

Jennifer ran her hand across the marble countertop in the kitchen. “The first floor, at least, is awesome,” she announced, mildly embarrassed for inadvertently reverting to a childhood word. The present owners of the house, the Vennekamps, were tasteful decorators. And of course, the house had been immaculately cleaned for showings. 

“Want to take a look at the fireplace?” Tom Jarvis asked from the living room. Jennifer nodded, then walked past her husband and tapped him on the back. Clint turned around suddenly, giving her a blank expression that made her think of their six-year-old son, Connor. But he dutifully followed her.

Jarvis flipped a switch on the wall, and a little artificial flame shot up within the fake logs inside the fireplace. “Gas burning,” Jarvis said. “It can get a little expensive if you use it a lot, but it’s a lot cleaner than the original wood-burning setup. And what’s more, you don’t have to chop any firewood.”

Jennifer nodded, her attention drawn away from the fireplace to the pictures and knickknacks on the adjacent shelves. During the touring of prospective houses, she had often found herself inexplicably curious about the little details of the resident families’ lives. There was something vaguely improper and voyeuristic about this impulse, of course; but it was probably harmless. It wasn’t like she was opening people’s private closets and drawers; she was only noticing what they had displayed in the open for the house showings.

Her gaze fell upon a framed photograph: a family of four posing for a studio portrait. This was Jennifer Huber’s first look at the Vennekamps.

“That would be them,” Tom Jarvis said in response to the unspoken question, “the current owners. Richard and Deborah Vennekamp. And their children, David and Marcia.”

“You were saying during the ride over,” Jennifer said, continuing to study the portrait, “that there was some disagreement between the couple about selling the home. At least that’s what I understood you to say. But the house is very clearly on the market. So what’s the story there?”

“The story,” said Tom Jarvis, “is that Richard Vennekamp is too sick to maintain the yard and he wants to move into someplace smaller.” 

“What’s wrong with him?” Clint asked.

“Pancreatic cancer,” Jarvis said. “And no, I’m not sure if it’s the kind that can be cured. What I do know is that Richard Vennekamp is no longer the man you see in that picture.”

The Richard Vennekamp in the portrait was, indeed, the picture of early middle-age male vitality. He was stocky with blond hair. His tight smile asserted a kind of quiet, calm masculinity. 

“Richard Vennekamp had his own contracting business,” Jarvis went on. “He made out well during the construction boom, before the big real estate crash a few years back. But that all ended when he got sick. He had to sell off what was left of his business; and now he’s got to sell off this house, too.”

“That’s horrible,” Clint said.

“It is,” Jennifer agreed. Her enthusiasm for the house was now tempered by a vague sense of guilt. This nice home inside the Mydale school district was such a bargain because Richard Vennekamp was a sick—possibly dying—man, and the house was priced to sell. 

Still, if the house had to be sold, then somebody had to buy it. And why shouldn’t that somebody be Clint and Jennifer Huber?

“Plus there’s the fact that the Vennekamps’ children have long since moved out,” Jarvis continued. “The empty nest thing. David and Marcia would be well into their thirties by now. Possibly older.”

If that was the case, then this portrait of the Vennekamps was rather old. The David and Marcia Vennekamp in the portrait were both teenagers. 

David Vennekamp was a moderately overweight, awkward-looking youth with thick-rimmed glasses. He must have combed his hair for the picture; but he still looked like he had just gotten out of bed. David seemed sullen, and his smile for the camera looked both coached and forced. 

Marcia, meanwhile, was a mousy, diminutive teenage girl whose shyness was unmistakable, even in this old family portrait. She stared wide-eyed at the camera through glasses that were thankfully not as thick as her brother’s. Her smile was tight-lipped, as if she did not want to reveal her teeth. Jennifer wondered if the girl had been wearing braces.

Two teenage misfits, Jennifer thought, not uncharitably. She had thankfully never had to worry about “fitting in” during her high school or college years. But nor had she ever been one of the “mean girl” types who take a perverse delight in tormenting the David and Marcia Vennekamps of the world. 

“That doesn’t explain the conflict,” Jennifer said. “I mean, we’re both very sorry to hear about Richard Vennekamp, but—”

“The problem,” Jarvis said, “is that Deborah Vennekamp doesn’t want to sell the house. Don’t ask me to explain exactly why. It seems that Mrs. Vennekamp has a sentimental attachment to this house. An excessive attachment, you might say.”

Jennifer could understand a sentimental attachment to a place where one had raised children, lived as a married couple, and passed through other milestone stages. She could understand it to a point. 

However, the fact was that it made sense for the Vennekamps to downsize now, for all the reasons that Jarvis had enumerated. This was a big sprawling house that had been built for a growing family—not a pair of older empty-nesters. Deborah Vennekamp would surely get over her attachment to the house, once she and Mr. Vennekamp had relocated to a place that was more manageable and better suited to their needs. 

“But the house is for sale,” Jennifer said. “Just like every other house that we’ve looked at.”

“Yes it is,” Jarvis replied. “But I can’t promise for how long that will be the case. Deborah Vennekamp is very strong-willed.”

Jennifer looked at the Deborah Vennekamp in the portrait. A thin woman with conservatively styled light-brown hair, she didn’t look very strong-willed. In fact, Jennifer rather suspected that Marcia had acquired her obvious timidity from her mother.  

“Then we’ll need to make an offer on the house as soon as possible.” She noted the immediately raised eyebrows of both Clint and Jarvis. “Provided that everything else checks out, of course. Come on, let’s take a look at the rest of the house.”

Chapter 3

Table of contents

Our House: Chapter 1

To thirty-four-year-old Jennifer Huber, the house at 1120 Dunham Drive seemed pretty close to perfect. If only, she would later think, there had been something wrong with it—something that would have sent her and her husband Clint running, never to return. 

That wasn’t the way things worked out, though. On a sun-scorched Saturday afternoon in mid-July, the house at 1120 Dunham Drive drew the Hubers in. Or at least the house drew Jennifer in.

The seduction began in earnest in the realtor’s car, as Jennifer, Clint, and Tom Jarvis (the realtor) pulled into the driveway.

“It’s a Tudor!” Jennifer exclaimed.

“And what would that be?” Clint asked.

“This style of home,” Jennifer replied. “This is what they call a Tudor style home.”

Jennifer had a fairly extensive knowledge of residential architecture, and she had studied the house’s spec sheet on the Internet the previous night. So she already knew that this would be a Tudor-style home. Her surprise had been feigned: It had simply been a gambit to prod Clint into showing some more enthusiasm about what they were doing today.

“You’ve got to admit, hon: It looks good from the road.”

“It’s a good-looking house,” Clint allowed.

Built in 1940, the house had a look that was simultaneously homey and classic: It had steeply pitched gables (a prerequisite of the neo-Tudor style), decorative half-timbering on the exterior walls, and brick inlays around the ground-floor windows. 

“Let’s have a look-see,” Tom Jarvis said, turning off the engine of his Lexus and opening the front driver’s side door. Jennifer didn’t wait for either Jarvis or Clint.  As soon as the vehicle was parked, she was out of the overly air-conditioned back seat and racing ahead of the two men.

“It looks like somebody really wants a house,” she heard Jarvis say conspiratorially to Clint. 

Who wouldn’t want a new house? Jennifer thought. That’s the sort of thing we work for, after all.

That thought reminded her of the job she hated and the secret that kept her bound there. She pushed these thoughts away. Today was a happy occasion. She wasn’t going to think about her job at Ohio Excel Logistics. Not on a Saturday afternoon like this.

“Check this out,” Jennifer said, pulling her husband Clint by the hand. “Japanese maples.”

The front garden did indeed have three Japanese maples, plus several small pine trees and a whole lot of ivy. It was the sort of landscaping that took years to develop—either that, or a whole lot of money. 

“Connor would like the yard,” Jennifer observed as Tom Jarvis bent down and retrieved the key from the lockbox on the front door.

“He probably would,” Clint replied.

“And best of all, it’s in the Mydale school district.”

Their son, Connor, was going to be a first-grader in a mere two months. The public schools in Mydale were regarded as the best in the Cincinnati area.

And then there was the most important thing about the house—the factor that made this a real possibility: The asking price of the home at 1120 Dunham Drive was within the Hubers’ range. Most of the homes in Mydale were a lot pricier. 

By now Jarvis had unlocked the door. He smiled and held the door open for them.

Jarvis smiled again as Jennifer walked by and looked down. He wasn’t overly obvious about it, but the realtor had clearly taken the opportunity to check her body out. 

It wasn’t the first such glance that she had noticed from the real estate agent. Nor was it all in her imagination. Clint had remarked the other day that Jarvis had taken so many liberties with his eyes during their real estate office meetings and home viewing excursions, that he owed them an additional ten percent off the asking price of whatever house they eventually settled on.  

She asked Clint if it made him jealous—Jarvis looking at her that way. Clint had scoffed in reply: Jarvis was an old guy, basically harmless.

Jarvis was indeed older than them, maybe in his mid- to late-forties. He was balding and could have dropped ten pounds; but he still carried himself with the swagger of an ex-jock. Jarvis had probably been a “hound” back in the day; and his manner strongly suggested that he still considered himself a claimant to that title.

As Jennifer walked into the cool house and out of the midsummer heat, Jarvis closed the door and briefly loomed over her. He finally looked away, but not before allowing himself a furtive glance down her blouse. 

Okay, that one was a bit much, she thought, but did not say.

Since roughly the age of thirteen, Jennifer had noticed that a large number of men noticed her. That seemed to go along with being thin, blonde, and reasonably pretty. Most of the time it wasn’t a big deal; and for a period of her life it had been undeniably flattering.

But she had been married for most of a decade. She was a mom now; and she was devoted to Clint. 

Or at least she thought she was. Would a woman who was totally devoted to her husband and son get herself into the jam she was in at work? 

Is there something wrong with me? she wondered. Do I give off the wrong signals?

Her unpleasant thoughts were pushed aside by the interior of the house. The front hall was high-ceilinged and spacious. Their footsteps echoed on the hardwood floor. Unlike many older houses, this house wasn’t dark and dingy. Quite the opposite, in fact, the windows of the downstairs flooded the first floor with natural light. 

“I think I love this house.” Jennifer declared, setting aside what she knew to be her habitual skepticism about being sold anything at all. Clint, who was standing beside her, gave her a curious look. 

Then the realtor said what Clint must have been thinking:

“Well, Mrs. Huber, you’ve only just seen the front yard and the front hallway. But that’s a good start.”   

It’s like he doesn’t want me to get my hopes up, she thought. They had toured numerous homes with Tom Jarvis—most of them homes that Jennifer and Clint had preselected through exhaustive, late-night Internet searches. Practically none of those homes had given her instantly warm and fuzzy feelings. 

But this one did. And Jarvis wasn’t exactly right about her having seen only the front yard and the front hallway. Having spotted this house online and grasped its potential, Jennifer had poured over the available photographs of its interior and landscaping. Jennifer had bookmarked the home’s portfolio in Internet Explorer, and had returned to it numerous times, in fact.

On the drive over from the realty office, Tom Jarvis had said that the situation surrounding this house was “complicated”. He had started to explain; but apparently the act of giving an explanation was complicated, too.

“For now lets just keep our options open,” he’d said. But what exactly did that mean? Was Tom Jarvis planning to ultimately steer them toward another house? Maybe a turkey of a house that could only be unloaded on a naïve young couple making their first home purchase?

Well, she thought, the unknown motives of a self-serving and mildly lecherous real estate agent were not going to dissuade her if this house turned out to be as perfect as it seemed. Real estate agents were always working their angles, she’d heard. None of them, she had been warned by friends, were to be trusted. 

She didn’t want to make a negative generalization about an entire profession. Still, she and Clint would have to be careful. The Internet was filled with horror stories about dishonest and prevaricating real estate agents. Tom Jarvis knew they were first-time homebuyers. That might lead him to the conclusion that they could be easily led.

One thing was undeniable: For some reason, Tom Jarvis didn’t want them to purchase this house.

Chapter 2

Table of contents

The Consultant: Chapter 53

That same evening, Anne found herself summoned to Jung-Ho’s office again. 

This was somewhat unusual. Jung-Ho called her in at regular intervals, but the intervals were usually longer than this. 

Their last meeting, the meeting involving the tea and lemon cake, had been just last week.

There was no tea and no cake today. Nor did Jung-Ho beat around the bush. 

“There is going to be a change in the DPRK,” Jung-Ho said. “And I am going to be a part of it.”

“I—I don’t understand,” Anne said. 

What could possibly be changing in North Korea? she immediately wondered. The only possibility Anne could see was the death of Kim Jong-un. And although Kim Jong-un was obese and rumored to be in poor health, he was very young, as heads-of-state went. 

If he had died, she would have heard something. 

“Can I trust you?” Jung-Ho said at length. 

“Of—of course you can,” Anne said. 

Jung-Ho sighed. “You know, Anne: I actually believe that I can trust you. That is one thing about you: You have an impeccable sense of honor. Your sense of honor is too high, in fact. That is why you have remained outside my bed for so long, despite me practically pleading for your company there.”

“It has not been because I don’t think your bed would be pleasant,” Anne lied. 

“I know. But you are in mourning. Do you think you can ever overcome the memory of your dead beloved? What was his name, again?”

“Kevin,” Anne said, glancing at the floor. “Kevin Kang.”

“Kevin Kang,” Jung-Ho said, nodding. 

Anne recoiled. There was something vaguely obscene about hearing Kevin’s name spoken by Jung-Ho. Jung-Ho shouldn’t even know his name.

“Five years is a long time,” Jung-Ho said.

Anne did not reply. What could she say to that, really?

“Anyway,” Jung-Ho said, “as I’ve just indicated to you, today we have a larger matter to discuss. You are probably aware that not everyone here is satisfied with…our national leadership?”

Anne was taken aback. What Jung-Ho was saying—if she understood him correctly—as nothing short of shocking.

“I…suppose so,” she replied neutrally.

“Well,” Jung-Ho said, “it’s true. We all hate the foreign imperialists—the Americans, and their lackeys in the South, of course. That will never change. But not everyone agrees that the DPRK should be led exclusively by a single man, by a single family. Do you understand what I am saying?”

“I—I think so,” Anne said. “You mean—?”

Jung-Ho held up a hand to silence her. “I cannot answer specific questions, in part because I do not know the answers to all of them. Suffice it to say that a new order is coming. My father will be one of the men leading it, which means that my station will change, as well.”

“I…I think I understand,” Anne said. But did she, really?

Jung-Ho smiled, self-contentedly. “Do you, Anne? Oh, please don’t take offense. You know that I respect your intelligence. But I wonder: Can an outsider ever really understand the way things work here? This is a very dangerous game. According to my father, three generals were recently shot on suspicion of treason. The government has kept the information secret. They don’t want the rebellion to spread.”

Anne had to contain her gasp. Yes, Jung-Ho had just used the Korean word for rebellion. In the DPRK, rebellion would be a very dangerous game, indeed. Jung-Ho was right about that much.

“May I ask why you’re telling me this?” Anne said. Then she thought: Barry Lawson wouldn’t have asked that question. He would have simply listened, and pocketed the information.

But Anne knew that she and Barry Lawson were cut from fundamentally different cloths.

“I am telling you this,” Jung-Ho said, “because it can fit everything into place for us. All of our plans.”

She didn’t need to ask what plans Jung-Ho was referring to. Nor was she foolish enough to point out that those were Jung-Ho’s plans, not hers. 

“Don’t you understand, Anne? There is going to be a new order in the DPRK. And I will be near the center of it. What that means is, you don’t have to be w prisoner here anymore. You can be…my wife.”

Had Jung-Ho just proposed marriage to her? Yes, he had—in so many words. 

That was, to Anne, somehow even more alarming than his more mercenary proposal—that she simply become his lover. 

She had to dissuade him from this line of thinking, posthaste. 

“But—how will I be accepted? The DPRK is not America, after all.”

“Anne,” Jung-Ho said, with apparent patience. “You speak our language perfectly. With almost no accent. You understand Korean culture. You can fit in here as well as anyone else.” 

“But still,” Anne insisted. “There will be many who will feel that you should take a Korean woman as your wife.”

“With my father as one of the men in power, you will be accepted,” Jung-Ho said peremptorily. “You will be accepted, or those who refuse to accept you will be up against a wall.”

Up against a wall. Once again, Anne thought of Barry Lawson. It was just as the tall Chicagoan had said: Deadly violence—the firing squad—was their solution to everything, wasn’t it?

Jung-Ho let out a sigh. “I wonder, Anne: Are you truly concerned about how you would be accepted, or is this simply yet another way of your putting me off?”

He cut her off as she was about to object. “Never mind: Don’t bother answering. Tonight, anyway, I have more significant matters than you to think over. I am going to be an important man in the DPRK, Anne. I am offering you a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I strongly suggest that you take it…that you do not make me  wait much longer.”

Y.Y Mariner

After Anne Henry had left, Jung-Ho wondered if he had made a grave mistake. 

He had just revealed a secret that could result in the instant executions of himself, of his father, and many other men. 

And why had he done that? In order to impress a silly American woman. 

You fool, he thought to himself. How could you have been so stupid?

Then he reconsidered. Was Anne really in a position to harm him? Maybe not.

Anne spoke the Korean language, but her movements were carefully monitored. There was no one she could tell, realistically speaking. No one in power. 

And if she did show signs of betraying him, he would take immediate steps to eliminate her.

She wouldn’t even have to go that far, so far as Jung-Ho was concerned. 

Because of Anne Henry, he had repeatedly humbled himself. He recalled all the times that Anne had sat in the chair across from his desk, and he had made like a lovesick American schoolboy.

Now he was on the verge of becoming one of the most powerful men in the DPRK, and she was still resisting him. 

Perhaps she delighted in his obeisance. Perhaps she saw him as a proxy for the entire DPRK, which she would never forgive for the murder of her fiancé.

But there was a limit to his patience. If Anne Henry didn’t come around soon—very soon—she would pay for all the trouble and humiliation she had put him through.

She would pay with her life. 

He was no longer a man to be trifled with. 

Chapter 54

Table of contents

On rewatching teen movies as an adult

Last night I watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) for the second time. I had not seen the movie since around the time it came out, when I was in high school myself

Where the artifacts of youth culture are concerned, your mileage may vary, thirty-six years on. There are song lyrics that I thought were perfectly brilliant in 1985, that I cringe when I listen to today. 

It’s also worthwhile to remember that youth culture is ephemeral and constantly changing. I never really got a grasp on the youth culture of the Millennials (the oldest of which were born around 1982), and I am, of course, clueless about Generation Z. 

But I was clueless about much of what the Baby Boomers got excited about, too. I remember, in the early 1980s, hearing then forty-something Baby Boomers rave about the film, The Big Chill (1983). I finally got around to watching The Big Chill a few years ago, when I was a forty-something myself.

Suffice it to say, I was unimpressed. The Big Chill was intended to speak to the concerns of Baby Boomers, circa 1980-something, as they entered mid-adulthood and looked back on their youthful glory days of the 1960s. But the movie didn’t speak to me, as a middle-age adult in 2015 or so.

St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) is a teen movie from my own teenage years that I never got around to watching back in the 1980s. Everyone gushed about the movie in 1985, as I recall. 

I finally watched St. Elmo’s Fire as an adult a few years ago. I found the film stilted, boring, and self-indulgent. 

But the movie obviously appealed to someone, at some point. St. Elmo’s Fire made almost $30 million in profit—a lot of money in the mid-1980s. (A lot of money now, for that matter.)

The concerns of teenagers, at least when seen through the prism of adulthood, are trivial, insular, and self-obsessed. Older adults are often criticized for their rigidity and resistance to change—and often with good reason. But no one is quite as parochial as the typical suburban teenager, who believes that his or her little peer group comprises the entire universe. 

I suppose this is why teen movies often seem trivial, too. If you make a movie about a teenager doing something really important, then it exceeds the teen movie genre. Since the teen movie genre was launched (in the late 1950s), the teen movie has always been about hooking up, fitting in, and bucking the restraints of adult authority. Not since World War II have young people, as a generational cohort, done anything truly worthwhile; and this is reflected in the movies made about them and for them, ever since the Eisenhower era.

That all said, there are a handful of teen movies from the 1980s that I believe do stand the test of time. One of these is The Breakfast Club (1985); and another is Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). 

I’ve now rewatched both of these movies as an adult. And I’ll likely review them both in detail here, at a later date. For now, though, I will simply assert that both The Breakfast Club and Fast Times at Ridgemont High continue to be enjoyable because both are exercises in the principles of good storytelling, with relatable characters, skillful pacing, and plenty of conflict. 

And yes: Both The Breakfast Club and Fast Times at Ridgemont High are ultimately about the trivial concerns of teenagers: hooking up, fitting in, and straining against adult authority. But good storytelling is good storytelling. And not every good story has to involve a global conflict, a bank heist, or an alien invasion. 

Even the trivial can become solid story material…when the story is told in the right way. 

The Consultant: Chapter 52

Jung-Ho was surprised when his father summoned him for another meeting at the tea house, barely a week after their previous meeting. 

“The time is near,” Colonel Tak said, pouring tea for his son. “Within a matter of weeks—days, perhaps—our faction will be ready to make its decisive move.”

Seated on the floor. Jung-Ho bowed his head to his father and accepted the tea. 

He knew that the implementation the plan would require him to take immense personal risks. There was no such thing as a coup without risks—to everyone involved, at every level.

He had thought that he would have more time. 

“There have already been casualties on our side,” Colonel Tak said. “Three generals—all good men—were arrested just last week. They were charged with treason against that waddling pig who calls himself the Supreme Leader. All three of them were killed.”

“Really?” Jung-Ho said. He tried to control the sudden shaking in his hands as he sipped his tea. “I hadn’t heard—there was nothing about it in the state-run media.”

“No,” Colonel Tak agreed. “There won’t be anything about it in the imperialist media, either…at least for a while. The government is quashing the story.”

“Why?” Jung-Ho asked.

The government had rarely made a secret of executing top officials for treason. About five years ago, shortly after Kim Jong-un took power, a senior general named Jang Song-thaek had been publicly arrested a politburo meeting. Jang was subsequently executed. The state media had declared that Jang was “human scum” and “worse than a dog.”

Jang Song-thaek, moreover, had not been just any high-ranking general. He had been the uncle of Kim Jong-un. Jang had been married to Kim Il-sung’s only daughter, Kim Kyong-hui.

“Because they are afraid, obviously,” Colonel Tak said. “They don’t want to allow rumors to circulate, rumors that could potentially add fuel to the rebellion.”

“Who knows about it, then?” Jung-Ho asked.

Colonel Tak paused to ponder the question. Then he said: “A small number would know. Like that Commander Cho, for example. He is highly thought of in Pyongyang. He has a reputation of being a blind toady of the Kim Jong-un. Word is, Commander Cho will be a general before much longer.”

Unless my father’s plan succeeds, Jung-Ho thought. 

“What will happen?” Jung-Ho asked, “After the plan is put in place?”

“There will be an inevitable bloodletting,” Tak said. “Supporters of the fat whelp presently control many branches of the government. They will have to be neutralized. Eliminated. They must be rooted out like the cancer that they are.”

“Of course,” Jung-Ho said. He imagined Commander Cho, an ardent supporter of the Supreme Leader, with his back against a brick wall, preparing to meet his death by firing squad.

Yes, Commander, Jung Ho thought. You’ll be among the first to die, if I have any say in the matter. Maybe you’ll even meet that long-dead father of yours, whom you constantly prattle about. 

“Will you be prepared for this?” Colonel Tak asked.

“Without reservation,” Jung-Ho said, imagining the fear in Commander Cho’s face when he stared into the muzzles of the firing squad. “It is unfortunate, but there is no way around it. Not if the fatherland is to be reformed and revitalized.”

In addition to the tea, Colonel Tak had also prepared a bottle of yakju rice wine for today’s meeting. He poured two small cups, one for Jung-Ho, and one for himself. 

“To the fatherland!” Colonel Tak said.

“To the fatherland!” Jung-Ho agreed, raising his glass of yakju.

Chapter 53

Table of contents

The Consultant: Chapter 51

Sonny Kim, aka Se-jun the fishmonger, stood up from the platform that overlooked the slow-moving stream of muddy water. He knew that the stream eventually emptied into the mighty Taedong River, which flowed through the heart of Pyongyang. 

There were plenty of fish in the Taedong. But the only thing this muddy tributary was really good for was carp, and the occasional catfish. 

He turned around and passed through the doorway of his dwelling. As he looked around the interior of the ramshackle hut, Sonny allowed himself a rare and brief flight of fancy: What would his high school classmates back in Pittsburgh think, if they knew where he was and what he was doing? 

Some of them, no doubt, would be surprised…Others, maybe not so much. Sonny had stood out as a bit of a maverick, even then. 

Sonny Kim was a first-generation American. His parents had emigrated from Seoul to Pittsburgh, two years before Sonny was born. From his earliest days of childhood, Sonny had sensed that he belonged in the culture of his adopted homeland, rather than the culture of his parents.

Sonny’s parents had insisted that he attend Saturday Korean language school. For the purposes of his speaking and oral comprehension skills, at least, this would have been unnecessary. His parents always spoke Korean at home. But the Korean Saturday school also required work in Korean writing and reading comprehension.

The Saturday Korean school required a lot of homework. And this was homework in addition to the homework he received at his American public school. It was almost like going to school in the United States and South Korea at the same time.

Sonny hated it. He repeatedly begged his parents to allow him to drop out of the Korean school. They repeatedly refused his requests.

The next series of conflicts arose after Sonny began to distinguish himself as an athlete, during his junior high years.

South Korean culture was not exactly opposed to physical fitness and athletic prowess. There was, however, a definite priority placed on school work over athletics. Excitement over football, basketball, and baseball was for frivolous Americans. But Sonny considered himself more of a frivolous American than a proper Korean.

“Mom,” Sonny had said, “I don’t want to play piano. I want to play football.”

They had fought about the piano lessons and football, and plenty of other things, too. Sonny further horrified his mother a few years later, when he dropped out of college during his freshman year at Penn State to join the U.S. Army. 

They were pleased when he later obtained his college degree on the Army’s dime. They grudgingly acknowledged his accomplishment of earning a spot in the elite United States Army Special Forces. 

They would have much preferred, though, that he had become a doctor or an engineer instead.  

Sonny had been a disappointment to his parents in many ways. Although his relations with them had since recovered, he suspected that they still resented his youthful recalcitrance. He couldn’t entirely blame them.

Putting the past aside, Sonny turned his attention to matters of the more immediate present and future. There was plenty to think about.

Especially after yesterday. 

The message about the American being held captive in the Yang Suk Foreign Friends Camp.

Wal-Mart.com USA, LLC

As the fishmonger Se-jun, he had few personal possessions. He had as many clothes as could be placed in a single small laundry bag. He had some old fishing tackle. A knife and a mess kit. 

He had some other miscellaneous possessions, most of which no one would ever want—even in North Korea. 

One of these possessions was a device that looked like a wind-up music box. The technology whizzes back in the States had designed the music box to look like something made in North Korea, a long time ago, circa 1980. The music box bore the portrait of Kim Il-sung, this country’s Eternal Leader, on its face. On the lid was the reproduction of a painting of North Korean peasants laboring happily in fields that overflowed with grain (all thanks to the munificence and wise leadership of Kim Il-sung, of course). 

When you wound up the music box, it even played the melody of a revolutionary song that had been popular during the 1970s. The lyrics went something like, “Comrade Kim Il-sung is our blessed leader, blah, blah…”

But the music box was actually a device that Sonny used to send and receive coded messages between himself and the United States Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The DIA operated out of a building located on the banks of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, just outside Washington, D.C. 

And just yesterday, he had a received a doozy of a message. A sudden and impromptu assignment. It reeked of high-level Congressional involvement, something that the DIA resented, but was powerless to resist. 

Sonny still wasn’t sure how he was going to accomplish what they wanted him to do. 

They had given him a nearly impossible mission. He was to make contact with an American locked away in the Yang-Suk Foreign Friends Camp. He was to bring about this American’s escape. 


And he was to do so without further exacerbating the already tense relations between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

The DIA didn’t stipulate, however, that he would have to preserve his cover until the very end of this assignment. That might prove impossible, anyway. 

He sensed that his days as Se-jun, eccentric fishmonger of the Tae-Tal village, were limited.

Chapter 52

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The Maze: Chapter 9

“That concludes our presentation,” Amanda said to the room full of lawyers, and to Hugh, of course. “Are there any questions?”

Hugh was certain that there would be questions, and he would make sure to field these unless Amanda intervened. With Evan leading off and Amanda finishing the presentation, he had been little more than ornamentation thus far today.

Hugh had offered to take over when Evan unexpectedly left the room; but Amanda had insisted on taking over herself. This was her way of demonstrating that she could come through in a crisis, and indeed she had. Hugh had to hand it to her: She had done an admirable job of recovering the big pitch from the very jaws of disaster, speaking extemporaneously based on the PowerPoint slides that Evan had prepared. 

One of the lawyers—or rather, the accountant who worked for the lawyers—raised his hand.

“Could you explain again about how the outstanding accounts receivables will be updated?” he asked.

Hugh grunted discreetly to let Amanda know that he would take the question. “Certainly,” he said. “When you go to the main screen, you’ll find a little icon with an image of a dollar sign and a left-facing arrow. All you have to do is double-click that, and you’ll see a complete list of all the outstanding accounts receivables. You can print out the report, of course; and you can narrow your parameters using the drop-down fields at the top of that screen—based on date, vendor, or the amount of the invoice.”

“And this is updated regularly, I take it?” the accountant asked.

“The user interface report updates against the database every eight hours,” Hugh replied. “So yes, we can say that it’s updated regularly.”

The accountant nodded thoughtfully, apparently satisfied with Hugh’s explanation. Hugh was happy to see that the meeting was going well, after all. But the other half of his mind was focused on Evan, who had been gone from the meeting for far too long. He thought about going after the younger man, who had no doubt forgotten the warnings issued to him earlier this morning. 

Hugh felt an undeniable weight of responsibility here: If Evan had failed to take the warnings seriously, then he was at least partially at fault, wasn’t he? He had not given Evan much to go on. 

Hugh realized that he had been extremely vague about the potential dangers lurking in this building. But on the other hand, he could not really be certain about what he had seen during his previous visit to Lakeview Towers. The memory still gave him an uneasy, insecure feeling, as if the ground had shifted beneath him.

It might have been an optical illusion, a trick of the light—that security guard who was not quite a security guard, the one who had approached him in the corridor just outside the suite rented by Rich, Litchfield, and Baker. At first Hugh had thought nothing of the security guard’s presence, until he had taken a close look at the guard’s face: Then he had seen that it wasn’t a person at all, but some sort of a mannequin—a robot, in fact. 

And then one of the lawyers had suddenly stepped out of the firm’s suite. Opening the door and standing in the doorway, he said that he wanted to catch Hugh to ask one final question.

Hugh had turned to talk to the lawyer. When he’d turned back around, after answering the lawyer’s question, the creepy security guard had been gone. 

So maybe it had been nothing. Maybe. Nevertheless, Lakeview Towers made him feel uneasy. There was something odd about this building—some quality that didn’t belong in a modern office complex. Lakeview Towers had been built no more than ten years ago. Yet there was something much older here—a presence that Hugh could sense, but could not articulate. It might have been nothing more than his imagination, he told himself. Still, there were too many vast, open spaces here, and too few people. Something simply wasn’t right. Hugh just didn’t know what that something was.

If my heart were better, Hugh thought. If my heart were better I would come here one day—perhaps even on my own time—and walk the halls of Lakeview Towers. (A fifteen-year employee of Merlesoft, Hugh had plenty of vacation time, and too little to do on his vacation days.) I would get to the bottom of whatever is here. Or I would satisfy myself that nothing was here; I would be able to say with confidence that the mannequin-like security guard had been a trick of the light, a rare but harmless illusion of some sort.

If not for my heart… That was exactly the excuse that he had been using ever since his twenty-first birthday, after his father had died at the age of fifty-two, from what Hugh now thought of as “the family heart condition”. The cardiologist had informed Hugh that he had inherited the same life-limiting cardiac defect. 

“Your odds of suffering a fatal myocardial infarction will increase by a certain percentage each year after the age of thirty-five,” the physician had told him. Naturally, the doctor had been unable to give Hugh any more specific indication of the odds. But his paternal grandfather had lived until the age of fifty-four—two years longer than his father had lived—so it seemed that the family medical curse was shortening their lives progressively with each generation. 

In an attempt to end on a positive note, the physician had told Hugh that with the proper diet and light, controlled exercise, he might be able to live a “reasonably long” life. But what did that mean? Fifty-three? Forty-nine? Hugh was already forty-five years old, and he knew that he would almost certainly be dead within the next decade. 

The attorneys had a few more questions, which he again answered, and then finally the meeting was over. Evan had still not returned to the meeting. 

During the post-meeting banter with the Rich, Litchfield, and Baker folks, Hugh was distant, lost in his own speculations: Had Evan encountered that security guard—the mannequin or the robot, or whatever it was?

And he reminded himself that “it” might have been nothing more than a normal security guard, who had appeared to be something abnormal due to a trick of the light. What was that old rule he had learned years ago—the one known as Occam’s razor? “The simplest hypothesis is most likely to be the true one.” Or something like that. The simplest explanation was that his eyes had played a trick on him that day. Without incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, there was no reason to let his imagination take off on a flight of fancy.

Hugh and Amanda gathered up the equipment that they had brought in with them, including Evan’s laptop and the projector, both of which Evan had transported in. Amanda offered to carry both of these additional items; but Hugh insisted that they divide the extra load between them. He made a point of carrying the projector himself, which was heavier and bulkier than the laptop.

Amanda knew the basic story regarding his heart condition, and she had always gone out of her way to be deferential about it. But sometimes this embarrassed Hugh, her kind intentions notwithstanding. I’m not that fragile, he thought. And even if I am—well, I’d rather go down fighting, carrying my share, versus allowing someone else to shoulder my burdens for me.

On the way out, Hugh made a final visual sweep of the table and noted the key fob for the pool car Camry. Prior to beginning the meeting, Evan had removed it from his pocket and had nervously passed it from one hand to the other. He had set it down on the tabletop just before starting his presentation. Hugh snatched up the key fob: they wouldn’t get far without it.

At the doorway between the law firm’s suite and the hallway, Barry Litchfield was waiting for them. “Give us a few days to discuss this internally,” he said. “We’ll be in touch by the middle of next week.” Hugh perceived this as normal: Even when sales presentations went well, even when all of the i’s were dotted and all of the t’s were crossed, clients still needed time to arrive at a decision. That was the way bureaucratic organizations worked. Some salespersons allowed themselves to be driven batty over this; but Hugh had always regarded the waiting game as just another inescapable step of the sales process.

“I hope your colleague is all right,” Barry said. This was the first explicit reference that anyone had made to Evan’s sudden departure since he had left the room. “It would be a shame if he were sick—or anything.”

Hugh thought he detected a subtle shift in Barry’s facial expression when he uttered that last word, although it might have been nothing more than his imagination. Does Barry believe that there is something wrong with this office complex? he wondered. Does this lawyer know more than he is letting on? Barry was, by Hugh’s estimate, an intelligent, perceptive man. If there was something amiss at Lakeview Towers, it wouldn’t escape the lawyer’s notice.

“I’m sure he’ll be okay,” Amanda said. “Thank you again for your time. Thanks to all of you. It was a pleasure.”

Barry Litchfield held the door open for them. “Of course. Thank you again for coming.”

With that Hugh and Amanda found themselves alone in the deserted hallway. Amanda turned to Hugh.

“Do you think Evan is okay?” She looked up and down the length of the deserted corridor. “Or did a lion get him?”

Hugh reflected that this was an odd remark from the hardboiled, all-business Amanda. She and Evan weren’t exactly on the best of terms; but her remark reflected genuine concern about the younger man’s safety. Does Amanda sense something odd about this place, or is that just my imagination, too?

She gave Hugh a quick, terse laugh when he failed to respond. “Hey, Hugh, I was just kidding.” She started walking toward the lobby. “Come on. Let’s get this stuff to the car.”

“Of course,” Hugh recovered, following her. “And I’m sure Evan is fine. He probably just decided that for him to make a second entry into the meeting would be more disruptive than simply staying away; and he was probably right. After all, you and I did fine. I’m sure we’ll find him waiting for us in the lobby.”

Chapter 10

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The Consultant: Chapter 50

Nineteen year-old Min-Hyuk practically hated his existence in the North Korean village of Tae-Tal. 

The village was located more than twenty miles outside Pyongyang. But it might as well have been a hundred. Nothing of note ever happened here. There were few opportunities, few girls, few young men Min-hyuk’s age. Most of the villagers were old—at least his parents’ age.

But Min-hyuk especially despised Se-jun, the senile old fishmonger who lived in the little hut that was cantilevered over the shallow, slow-moving river at the edge of the village. 

The fishmonger seemed to symbolize everything that was barren and backward about Tae-tal. 

Barren and backward, just like Se-jun’s mind.

Min-hyuk was standing adjacent to Se-jun’s hut. Se-jun was sitting on the edge of his rickety wooden porch, his feet dangling over the muddy water. He was cutting the heads off his fish, and scraping out their innards.

Se-jun was dressed in rags. Unshaven, he wore a long beard. The hair atop his head, too, was long and unkempt. 

How old was Se-jun? Thirty-five or forty years old, Min-hyuk would have guessed. But Se-jun had the mind of a child.

Lately Min-hyuk had developed a habit of taunting the fishmonger. He knew that Se-jun lacked the wits to properly defend himself, but he made an irresistible target. 

“Hey Se-jun!” Min-hyuk said. “Is it true that you talk to the fish?”

The fishmonger glared at him.

“Go away!” Se-jun growled. 

Min-Hyuk took a step closer. 

“Is it true, Se-jun, that your father was a goat and your mother was a baboon?”

Min-hyuk doubled over in laughter, much pleased with the ingenuity of his own humor. 

Now the Se-jun laid his bloody fish down on the surface of his back porch, and pointed his knife at Min-hyuk.

“Go away! Or I’ll rip off your ears and feed them to the pigs!”

For a split second the young man seemed inclined to make a sarcastic response. Then he took a closer look into the face of the man sitting by the edge of the canal, cleaning carp. 

There was something wild in the fishmonger’s eyes. 

Not for the first time, Min-Hyuk had the feeling that there was more to Se-jun than he let on. That he was not as dull as he appeared to be.

But that was ridiculous, of course. Anyone could see that Se-jun had the brain of an eight year-old, if that.

True, Se-jun had suddenly appeared here in Tae-Tal three years ago, without much of an explanation. The story was that the government had transferred him here from another village, near the coastal city of Nampo. But there was nothing especially unusual about that. The government moved people around all the time. 

“Go away,” Se-jun repeated. He pantomimed cutting Min-hyuk’s throat, or perhaps his belly, with a lateral wave of the knife.

Something told Min-hyuk that he should heed the warning. 

“Aw, you aren’t worth the effort, Se-jun.” 

With that Min-hyuk turned away from Se-jun. There would be other opportunities to tease the dimwitted fishmonger. He wasn’t going anywhere, after all.

Sonny Kim picked up another fish and watched Min-Hyuk walk away. It seemed that wherever you went in this world, there were guys like that: Young men who believed that by foolishly posturing, by playing the role of the opportunistic bully, they were somehow going to accomplish…something. 

It was the same everywhere, really. Sonny had known jackasses like that back in Pittsburgh, where he’d grown up, and he’d seen plenty of them in North Korea, too.

If Min-hyuk only knew the truth about him, Sonny Kim thought, suppressing a smile. 

Then Min-hyuk might also realize that he was putting himself in more danger than he could possibly know, by paying so much unwanted attention to “Se-jun”. In his guise as the mentally impaired fishmonger, Sonny Kim lived on the edge of the village; he occupied a dwelling that was ratty even by North Korean standards. 

There was a reason for all that: He wanted to avoid attracting attention—and thereby, suspicion.

His artifice of mental deficiency was part of his disguise. Even in a rural village in North Korea, he was at the bottom of the social ladder. No one wanted to talk to Se-jun, unless it was absolutely necessary.

Except for Min-hyuk, of late. The last thing that Sonny Kim wanted to do was to slit the throat of some stupid nineteen year-old kid. But if Min-hyuk put him in danger…

What would he do? Sonny Kim hoped that it would never come to that, hoped that Min-hyuk would soon find some other source of amusement. 

Sonny was well aware of the stakes: The people in the village must never have cause to guess that Se-jun was anything more than what he appeared to be. They must never have cause to guess that he had actually been born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the very heart of their imperialist enemy, the United States. 

Likewise, they had no idea that although Korean had been his first language—the one his mother spoke to him—he also spoke American English with a native, midwestern accent.

The villagers of Tae-tal had no idea that the American government—and not the North Korean government—had placed him here, that he was three years into a five-year, deep undercover assignment. 

Since Se-jun wasn’t right in the head, no one in the village complained that he lived by himself, in a country where almost no one lived apart from others. The rare government officials who happened by the village of Tae-tal also left him alone. A half-crazy fishmonger was no threat to the designs of the Supreme Leader or the regime, after all.

Of course, that was about to change, based on the communication that Sonny Kim had just received from the United States.

Se-jun—aka Sonny Kim—was about to go into active mode.

Chapter 51

Table of contents

The Consultant: Chapter 49

The call came in to Joyce’s and Mike’s landline in Naperville. 

There was no other place for the call to go…Although Barry and Joyce had been divorced for nearly a decade, the Royer household had become the effective headquarters for the campaign to free Barry Lawson from North Korea. 

The caller was a man named Stephen Stoltz. Stoltz was a junior official from the State Department…A very junior official. 

He gave Joyce and Mike a brief report of the State Department’s pro forma efforts to secure Barry’s release. 

“The State Department spoke to the American embassy in Sweden, who spoke to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Swedes spoke to their people in Pyongyang, who spoke to the North Koreans. The North Korean government insists that neither Barry Lawson, nor any other American citizen, is presently in custody in North Korea.”

Both Mike and Joyce asked additional questions, but it was abundantly clear that Stephen Stoltz had little additional information. 

When this became clear, they thanked him for his phone call and hung up.

“Should we even tell Tessa?” 

“No,” Joyce said. “That would only get her fresh on the warpath.”

“I’ll call Big Jim,” Mike said. “And tell him that our government hasn’t been doing enough.” Mike looked at his wife—Barry Lawson’s ex-wife—and added, “because it hasn’t.”

Y.Y Mariner

When Mike told his uncle about what had happened, the congressman was predictably irate. 

“Goddamn Republicans,” Big Jim said. “They don’t want to rock the boat with North Korea, all because of this upcoming summit meeting. As if Kim Jong-un is doing anything but stalling for time. What does the president think? That North Korea is going to turn into Singapore? A tiger doesn’t change its stripes, after all.”

“We don’t have any opinion about the course of U.S.-North Korean relations,” Mike said. “Those are questions beyond our pay grade. All we really care about is seeing Barry Lawson returned to the U.S., unharmed and in a timely manner.” 

“And just to get this straight,” Big Jim said,”this Barry Lawson is your wife’s ex-husband, correct?”

“That’s right, Uncle Jim. Barry Lawson is also the father of my stepchildren, and both of them are extremely distraught about his abduction. As are Joyce and I, as a matter of principle, at least.”

“Of course,” Big Jim said. “Of course.”

“So if there are any other strings you can pull, please do. Because entrusting this to the State Department obviously hasn’t yielded the desired result.”

“Goddamn Republicans,” Big Jim repeated. “By the way, that ex-husband of that wife of yours—is he a Democrat?”

Mike had never discussed politics with Barry Lawson. He was pretty certain, though, that Barry Lawson would lean Republican.

“I can’t say for certain, Uncle Jim. We’ve never gotten to that.”

“Well—it doesn’t matter what he is. He’s an American citizen, and one of my constituents. It makes me sick to think of him locked up in North Korea. Those bastards!” 

 “What can be done?” Mike asked. “We haven’t had much success through diplomatic channels. And I’m assuming that the U.S. government is not willing to declare war on North Korea over one American citizen. You said as much yourself.”

“There are other ways to get things done in North Korea,” Big Jim said. 

“What do you mean?” Mike said.

“Don’t worry about the details,” Big Jim said. “Leave that to me. Just suffice it to say that there are other methods.”

Chapter 50

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