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A day later, Jung-Ho—partly to his own surprise, partly not—found himself telling another woman about the impending coup.
What’s wrong with me? he wondered.
But he knew what was wrong with him: He was already in his early thirties, and he had no woman—none he could call his own, at least.
Not that he had never been with a woman. He had told Barry Lawson that there was no prostitution in the DPRK. And that was an honest assessment, so far as a Westerner like Barry Lawson would understand the term.
During the reigns of of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, there had been rumors of the Kippumjo, the “Pleasure Brigade”. These were—if you believed the rumors—hand-selected 14- to 20-year-old virgins. They were trained in the arts of pleasure, and then dispatched to the service of high-ranking party officials. At the age of twenty-five, members of the Kippumjo were shuffled into arranged marriages.
About 2,000 Pleasure Brigade girls were said to have existed, until the Kippumjo was disbanded, shortly after the death of Kim Jong-il.
Jung-Ho had never been near the level of power that would enable access to the Kippumjo—if it ever existed at all, that was. He had once considered asking his father about the rumors. Colonel Tak would be in a position to know.
But that would necessitate another, more uncomfortable question: Had his father ever partaken of such pleasures? Jung-Ho cringed at the very notion. There were some things that a son did not want to know about his father.
There were other, more unsavory options, short of the quasi-mythic Kippumjo. There were young women in the DPRK who sold themselves near train stations, often for only a few won.
But the laws against participating in or patronizing such commerce were strict, and the punishments harsh. Jung-Ho tried to avoid such desperate measures. He had patronized the train station women on a handful of occasions, in order to dispel the constant aching in his loins. But the experience always left him nervous and unsatisfied.
Unless you were at the very heights of power, the only real way to secure safe, constant access to a woman’s body in the DPRK was to marry. And stuck here in the Yang Suk Foreign Friends camp, Jung-Ho had met few marriage prospects. For this reason alone, he was often bitter that he had not been assigned to a post in one of the DPRK’s urban areas.
The most desirable woman in his midst—other than the impossibly resistant Anne Henry—was Mi-kyung.
Jung-Ho was not surprised that Barry Lawson had fallen for her ruse in the restaurant of the Ichiryu Hotel in Osaka. (Jung-Ho had helped plan the entire thing, after all.) Stronger men than Barry Lawson would have succumbed to Mi-kyung under those circumstances.
Even now, sitting in the visitor’s chair of his little office, Mi-kyung was maddeningly desirable. Even in her uniform, with her long, lustrous black hair pulled back into a bun.
“You said you wanted to talk to me?” Mi-kyung asked.
Her manner was polite, but not overly friendly. Jung-Ho had long sensed that Mi-kyung was less than fond of him. She probably sensed his desire. Was it that palpable?
Yes, perhaps it was.
Jung-Ho silently cursed Anne Henry.
“Yes,” Jung-Ho said at length. “Forgive my boldness, but I have always felt that the two of us have achieved…a level of trust.”
For a moment Mi-kyung said nothing. But he would get her talking. Jung-Ho was almost certain that he saw into the mind of Mi-kyung. She was smarter than most—and certainly smarter than that idiot, Commander Cho.
“I suppose so,” Mi-kyung said. “We are comrades, of more or less the same rank.”
Jung-Ho realized that he was about lay all his cards on the table, and thereby make himself completely vulnerable. He would have to make sure that it was worth the risk.
Mi-kyung, he knew, had—or once had—a lover in Russia. North Korea and Russia were on friendly terms, as they had been during the Soviet era. Mi-kyung had met her Russian boyfriend through liaison work she did with the Russian foreign intelligence service, the SVR RF.
But how serious was it? Did this man have a claim on her?
There was only one way to find out. He had to ask.
“That boyfriend of yours,” Jung-Ho said abruptly. “What is his name?”
“You mean Yuri,” Mi-kyung said.
“Yes, the Russian.”
Mi-kyung bristled. She sat up against the back of the chair.
“Why all of this interest in my personal life?”
Why? Jung-Ho wanted to shout. He was now thirty-two years old. It was time for him to get married, and have children, hopefully at least one son.
He still believed that Anne Henry could be persuaded—if grudgingly. But a wise man, Jung-Ho knew, always leaves himself at least one backup plan.
Without being too obvious, Jung-Ho studied the swell of Mi-kyung’s breasts inside her uniform.
She would not be a bad second choice.
She might even be a good first choice.
“No reason,” Jung-Ho replied.
“I somehow doubt that. But if you must know: Yuri and I haven’t seen each other in months. He’s been transferred to Syria; and my work is unlikely to take me to Russia again in the foreseeable future. So I believe that our relationship is concluded. In the end, it will be nothing more than a ‘fling’, as the decadent imperialists would say.”
Good! Jung-Ho thought triumphantly. Now, on to the next point.
“You despise Commander Cho, is that not true?”
This question, too, had been abrupt—and Jung-Ho had intended it that way. He wanted to gage her reaction.
“You’re taking us in a very dangerous direction, Jung-Ho. For all you know, I’m Commander Cho’s spy. For all you know, I’ll report you within the hour, and you’ll be kneeling in a cell, with a pistol against your head.”
“Perhaps,” Jung-Ho allowed. “But I think not. I think, moreover, that you’re far more intelligent than you let on.”
Mi-kyung looked directly into his eyes. “You flatter me, Comrade Tak.”
“No,” Jung-Ho said. “Not flattery. Just an honest assessment.”
“So,” Mi-kyung said. “I somehow have the feeling that you have something to tell me.”
Jung-Ho paused to consider. So far, he had engaged in mildly treasonous talk, but it was nothing that he couldn’t easily deny. If he told her about the conspiracy, then he would be irrevocably at risk. Mi-kyung was not Anne Henry. Whereas Anne Henry was isolated from authority in the DPRK, Mi-kyung could walk into Commander Cho’s office and report him at any time.
Jung-Ho’s eyes wandered again to the swell of her breasts inside her uniform.
He could always wait. There was no real reason to tell her now, to lay all of his cards on the table. If the coup succeeded, then he could use his newfound power to win her over.
There was no hurry.
But then again, the coup would create many newly powerful men in the new DPRK, wouldn’t it? Mi-kyung would reward trust and loyalty, he reasoned. She would remember the man who had first thought of her.
“Yes,” Jung-Ho said. “I do have something to tell you.”
She raised her eyebrows. “So tell me. Or don’t tell me. It’s up to you. But I have no time or patience for games.”
“All right, then…”
Jung-Ho proceeded to tell her the basics of the coup plot. He only slightly exaggerated his role in the plan. It was important for her to grasp that his status would change, though…That he would be elevated.
When he was finished, he let out a sigh and asked her, “What do you think?”
To his relief, she smiled. “It sounds to me like you are going to be an important man, Jung-Ho.”
Jung-Ho could not fully contain his glee. He felt a smile break out on his face. “I will do my duty for my country. No more, no less.”
“Very well, Jung-Ho. And when you do your duty, you will remember your old friends, correct?”
“Of course,” Jung-Ho said.
“I had better get back to my post,” Mi-kyung said, standing. “Commander Cho keeps me constantly in his view.”
She rolled her eyes significantly as she said this. Jung-Ho wondered: Did that scrawny little monkey have aspirations of bedding Mi-kyung?
At his age, would he even be able to get it up?
Mi-kyung turned toward the door. “We’ll talk more, you and I,” she said.