The Consultant: Chapter 55

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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. 

Chapter 56

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.

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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. 

Somehow…

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

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

Table of contents

The Consultant: Chapter 46

It was late at night, and Barry was suddenly awake.

There was a bright glare shining in Barry’s eyes. Someone had turned on the overhead lights in his quarters.

That someone was Sgt. Park. The big lout was hovering over him, his nose inches from Barry’s nose. Barry could smell the foul odor of his breath.

“What?” Barry said. 

Without warning, Sgt. Park lifted Barry from his cot. He shouted something in his face.

Barry somehow managed to get his feet underneath him. Then he saw that Sgt. Park had not come alone. Jung-Ho was with him. 

Barry looked at the clock. (They had provided him with the clock, only because they needed him to be ready at certain times, to conform to their routines.) And now it was well after midnight.

“What is this?” Barry asked Jung-Ho. 

“You have been summoned to an audience with Commander Cho,” Jung-Ho said, “concerning a very grave matter.”

Everything about his life in recent days had been a very grave matter—from his perspective. But if this was suddenly a grave matter from their perspective, that could mean only one thing.

They had found out about the email. Or there had been some repercussions from it.

Sgt. Park frogmarched Barry down the hall and down the stairs, past Jung-Ho’s office. They entered a room that was completely unfamiliar to him, though it reminded him of the prison building where he had spent his very first hours in North Korea.

Sgt. Park shoved Barry into the middle of the room. 

The walls of the room were bare, painted a dull grey. The floor, Barry saw, was painted dark maroon. There was a drain in the middle of the floor.

Commander Cho—that angry old man who apparently blamed Barry for the death of his father in the Korean War—was seated on a stool in one corner of the room. He gave Barry a baleful look. 

Up yours, Commander, Barry thought. He looked back at Commander Cho without saying anything. 

There were also three uniformed guards, clustered near another corner. They were all carrying sidearms and truncheons. There was a bucket of ice water at their feet, too. 

Most disturbing of all, there was a cable suspended from the ceiling. The cable was attached to a pulley, and a length of cable that was obviously a cord for pulling. At the other end of the cable was something that looked like a harness. 

Sgt. Park started toward Barry. He had seen enough spy and prisoner-of-war movies to figure out what they were planning next. They planned to put him in that harness, and dangle him from the ceiling.

Like hell they will, he thought. Barry tensed himself for a fight, as futile as that fight would be. 

“Barry,” Jung-Ho said in a quiet, almost gentle voice. “You are in great trouble right now. This will go much worse for you if you resist.”

Barry didn’t care. But another two of the guards came up behind him and pinned his arms behind his back. Sgt. Park manhandled Barry into the harness, which bound his arms to his body. After he secured Barry with the heavy rubber harness’s straps and buckles, he nodded to the group of three guards.

He heard the sound of the cable moving through the pulley. Then he felt a sharp tug of the harness. 

Then his body was lifted off the floor. 

Just like in the movies. 

“Oof!” Barry called out. The harness was not built for comfort, of course. The device dug into his skin, distributed his weight at agonizing angles. 

Barry looked down. His feet were about two feet off the floor. 

“What is this?” Barry said to Jung-Ho. A great deal of effort was required for him to speak. “What is this about?”

Commander Cho shouted something. 

“Silence!” Jung-Ho shouted in English.

Sgt. Park stepped forward with his truncheon raised. Without any hesitation whatsoever, he whacked Barry across the abdomen. 

Barry cried out in agony. Then Jung-Ho spoke. 

“Commander Cho demands to know if you have had any contact with the outside world, in particular with other imperialists.”

They know, Barry thought. They know that I got word out. 

But the odds were good that they didn’t know everything. They had some inkling of what Barry had done. There had indeed been some repercussions from his email message.

There had been some word from the American government. The State Department, perhaps. Or maybe the American president had mentioned him on Twitter. 

But they didn’t necessarily know that Barry had accessed his Hotmail account using Mr. Lee’s computer, and sent out an electronic SOS to his children, ex-wife, and Joyce’s second husband. They were conducting this interrogation because they knew that he had done something…but they didn’t know exactly what he had done. 

I should be glad, really. This is a sign that the wheels are in motion. My government is going to free me. I’m going home!

If I survive this room, that is. If that bastard Cho doesn’t order me shot, or worse. 

“I haven’t been in contact with anyone outside the camp or the tour agency,” Barry said, laboring for breath. (The harness made breathing extremely difficult.) “How could I have?”

Jung-Ho translated Barry’s response into Korean. 

Another command from Cho. Suddenly the tension of the cable suspending Barry in the air went completely slack. 

Barry was falling—a dead weight in free fall.

He barely had time to brace his legs. Two feet wasn’t a huge distance, in the big scheme of things; but it was plenty far enough to be dropped in such a manner.

He felt pain in his knees and ankles. He landed on the floor feet-first, but he immediately lost his balance and toppled over. The harness prevented him from using his arms to balance himself—or his hands to break his fall. His right shoulder struck the maroon-painted concrete. His head knocked the floor.

Barry looked up just in time to see one of the guards holding a bucket of ice water. He looked at Barry, taking his aim.

Barry didn’t have time to brace himself for the sudden, freezing wet cold. The ice water stung his face and chest, filled his eyes and nostrils. Every muscle in his body cramped up.

The guard who had thrown the water on him dropped the empty bucket. He pulled a truncheon from his belt and smacked Barry in the middle of the back. 

Barry cried out in pain. 

Now Jung-Ho walked up and stood beside him. He heard Commander Cho say something in Korean, in that high-pitched, phlegmy voice of his.

“Commander Cho says that you are lying!” Jung-Ho said. “He says that you have communicated with your imperialist handlers, using some duplicitous method. Your only chance is to confess your crimes and beg for your life. Otherwise, you will be shot in this instant!”

Barry rolled over and looked up at Jung-Ho.

“Tell your commander that he can fucking shoot me if wants! I don’t care anymore! You people are crazy!”

Barry had expected an even worse beating to commence after that. They might even make good on their threats—and his dares—that he be shot. 

For now, though, all they were doing was talking among themselves. Commander Cho was haranguing Jung-Ho in Korean. The guards were watching Barry, eager for some excuse to use their truncheons on him. 

Finally the conversation was over. He heard the sound of Commander Cho pushing his stool back, standing up. 

The three guards filed out. Sgt. Park knelt and roughly disentangled Barry from the harness. 

Sgt. Park pushed him onto his back. Barry looked up into the glowering face of  Sgt. Park, and the clearly disappointed frown of Jung-Ho. Although Jung-Ho lacked Commander Cho’s knee-jerk hatred of foreigners—and pure, unbridled rage—he was obviously disappointed in Barry.

He just wasn’t sure what Barry had done, exactly. 

Good. 

“Get up,” Jung-Ho said.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll find out shortly.”

Whatever they had planned for him tonight, it wasn’t over, of course.

Chapter 47

Table of contents

The Consultant: Chapter 45

Per Ericksson was the Swedish Ambassador in Pyongyang. He now found himself in a meeting with Mr. Won, his chief contact at the North Korean Foreign Ministry. 

They were in a meeting room at the ministry. Like many government offices in the capital, it was tolerably furnished and decorated. While here, it was almost possible to believe that North Korea was a normal country. 

Mr. Won was about forty-five years old. He wore a western-style three-piece suit. A starched white oxford shirt, and a dark red tie.

And a pin bearing the portrait of Kim Jong-un, inside the shape of a tiny red flag. 

Per Ericksson did not trust Mr. Won. You didn’t trust anyone in the North Korean government—not under any circumstances.

“Thank you for meeting with me on short notice,” Ericksson said. 

When he met with Mr. Won, he always came to the ministry. That was the way it was done in Pyongyang, Ericksson’s predecessor had informed him. You traveled to see your North Korean contacts. They didn’t travel to see you. Everything in this country was a matter of appearance and face. 

“That is quite all right,” Mr. Won said.

Per Ericksson and Won always spoke English. Won had received part of his education in Switzerland—just like Kim Jong-un, Won was fond of saying.

“This matter is…a little difficult,” Ericksson began.

Mr. Won smiled solicitously, and gestured for him to continue.

Might as well just come out with it, Ericksson thought. 

“The Americans would like your assurances that you aren’t—holding any of their citizens against their will.”

Mr. Won gave him an expression that simultaneously conveyed hurt feelings, bewilderment, and innocence. Another thing about the North Koreans: They regularly engaged in all manner of foul deeds, but when challenged, they always managed to portray themselves as the victims of some vast global conspiracy.

“I’m not sure I understand you,” Mr. Won said. “Would you mind repeating that?”

Eriksson consulted his notes, recalled his conversation with Magdalena Lindhagen from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

How much was he allowed to reveal? According to Lindhagen, he was not to say anything that would put the captive American in greater danger than was already the case. He was therefore unable to mention Barry Lawson specifically. 

“The Americans want to make sure that your government has not taken any of its citizens against their will—not only within the DPRK, but from locations in other countries, as well. Such as…South Korea or Japan.”

Won feigned shock. “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would never do such a thing.”

Won knew all about the Yang Suk Foreign Friends Camp. As far as anyone in the outside world knew, the camp was a reception center for visitors sponsored by the sympathetic governments of Iran, Vietnam, Russia, and China. What was this impudent foreign imperialist, Ericksson, getting at?

“I can assure you, Mr. Eriksson, that my government is holding no Americans in captivity at the moment.” After pausing for a moment, he added, “And we have never held any Americans—except those who disobeyed the laws of the DPRK. This is not that kind of country.”

“Of course not,” Eriksson said, doing his best to keep the sarcasm from his voice. 

“I repeat: We are holding no Americans in custody. Now, is there anything else you wish to discuss today?” 

“No,” Ericksson said, feeling utterly defeated. 

“Very well, then.” Mr. Won made a show of looking at his Swiss-made watch. “If that is the case, then I’m afraid I’ll have to cut our meeting short today. My schedule is double-booked at the moment, you see.”

“Of course,” Ericksson said, standing up from the meeting table. “Thank you for your time today.”

Mr. Won responded with a tight smile and a nod.

As he left the meeting room and made his way out of the North Korean Foreign Ministry building, it occurred to Ericksson that Mr. Won’s schedule was always double-booked, and the man habitually cut his meetings short. 

Chapter 46

Table of contents

The Consultant: Chapter 44

Magdalena Lindhagen had a bad feeling about her imminent meeting with Steve Brennick, the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. 

At the age forty-three, Magdalena had enjoyed a successful career in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign affairs, rising to the level of sub-director. The window in her four-story office, in downtown Stockholm, looked out on one of the ocean waterways that ran through the center of the city. Stockholm, the Swedish capital, was built upon a series of islands in an archipelago at the edge of the Baltic Sea. 

But with promotions came additional responsibilities, including some that were more onerous than others. At the lower levels of the ministry, most of her work had involved interactions with fellow Swedes, or with diplomats from other Scandinavian countries. Now, at the sub-director level, she had to interface with the Americans, including Steve Brennick. 

Dealing with Americans was always an unpredictable business. But it was especially so now, given the current occupant of the White House, who seemed to go out of his way to rankle his European allies. 

“And my parents thought that Reagan was a cowboy,” Magdalena was known to say. 

In Magelena’s view, the only group of people more troublesome than the Americans were the Russians. Thankfully, another sub-director was charged with fielding requests from the Russian embassy. 

With all of this on her mind, she rose and gave Steve Brennick her most pleasant smile when he walked into her office. 

“Ambassador Brennick,” she said, in near perfect English. Most Swedes of the professional class spoke at least passable English. But Magdalena Lindhagen had studied for two years in the United Kingdom during her twenties. “So good to see you.”

Magdalena invited Brennick to sit. More pleasantries were exchanged, and finally Brennick got to the point. The Americans needed help in regard to what Brennick termed “a delicate matter”. 

“And what might that be?” Magdelena said, maintaining her smile. 

“It so happens that a citizen of ours is presently being held against his will in North Korea,” Brennick said. 

“I see,” Lindhagen said evenly. She knew, from past experience, that anything involving North Korea and the Americans had to be handled with care. The North Koreans were completely irrational, with their Stalinist state religion, and their wild-eyed nuclear threats. And as for the Americans—well, they were a little better. But the Americans were still loose cannons who preferred to shoot first (or threaten to shoot) and ask questions later. 

They weren’t like Europeans in general, and certainly not like Swedes.

“What is this American’s name?” Lindhagen asked. “I—I haven’t heard anything in the news about an American being imprisoned in North Korea.”

“His name is Barry Lawson. Male, age forty-seven, of Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Lawson wasn’t imprisoned while traveling in North Korea. He wasn’t anywhere on the Korean Peninsula, in fact. That’s what makes this case so…unusual. It seems that Mr. Lawson was kidnapped by the North Koreans while on a business trip in Japan, and subsequently taken to North Korea, where he is now being held captive.”

“Oh,” Lindhagen said. She had, indeed, never heard of a case like this before. “And how did you become aware of this? Have the North Koreans issued a statement? A list of conditions to be met for his release, perhaps?”

“No,” Brennick said. “The North Koreans haven’t said anything. In fact, we strongly suspect that when and if confronted about Mr. Lawson’s whereabouts, the Pyongyang government will go into denial mode—which they typically do when confronted about anything they don’t want to talk about, especially if it involves their bad behavior.”

“That makes things more difficult,” Magdalena said, “if we can’t even get the North Koreans to admit that they have your citizen.”

“We hope that you can convince them that we know he’s there, that we’re not going to let the matter go…even with the upcoming summit meeting.”

“That would be far easier with direct evidence,” Magdalena said.

Brennick told Magdalena how Barry Lawson had sent an email from North Korea. 

“So do you know for sure that he was even the one who sent the email?” Magdalena said, when Brennick had finished the story.

“We know that his Hotmail account was accessed from a computer in Pyongyang. We also know that a message was sent from that address, to the email addresses of a very specific group of his relations. That message, furthermore, contained some very specific details about him being held in a facility called the Yang Suk Foreign Friends Camp. We have no record of that specific facility; but it correlates with what we know about past North Korean behavior. They’ve kidnapped Japanese and South Korean nationals over the years, and held them in captivity…for decades, in some cases.” 

“So you have a copy of this Mr…”

“Lawson.”

“So do you have a copy of this Mr. Lawson’s email for us to present to the North Koreans?”

“Ah, yes,” Brennick said. “It’s a little complicated. The subtext of Mr. Lawson’s email suggests that he gained access to the Internet, and thereby, his email account, through subterfuge. He used one of the North Koreans’ computers when they weren’t looking, in other words. He obviously did this without their permission. If his captors found out what he did, they would likely enact…punitive measures. We must therefore be very careful in that regard. Barry Lawson is already in enough danger as it is.”

Magdalena considered the full sum of what Brennick had just said. Then she turned his words around on him. 

“Just so we’re clear, Mr. Brennick: You are asking my government to demand that the North Korean government release an American whom you believe to be held captive there. An American whom you believe the North Koreans abducted from Japan. However, we are unable to provide direct evidence of that American’s presence in North Korea. We are also unable to cite that American’s name?”

“It is…a delicate matter at the moment,” Brennick said, “with the upcoming summit, and all.”

Magdalena Lindhagen leaned back in her chair. “Very well, Mr. Brennick. I will instruct our people in Pyongyang to do what they can, posthaste, under the conditions you have stipulated.”

“That is all we can reasonably ask,” Brennick said. 

“I’ll let you know as soon as I hear something,” she said.

Chapter 45

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The Consultant: Chapter 40

As promised,  Mike called Big Jim Royer right away. Although it was early evening in Washington, Big Jim was still in his office. 

Mike hadn’t lost sight of the fact that among everyone gathered here tonight, he was the one with the least personal stakes. Barry was his ex-wife’s husband, after all. He therefore put his call with Big Jim on his iPhone’s speaker, so everyone else could listen in. 

Mike quickly ran through the situation. Big Jim didn’t sound particularly surprised. “Those North Koreans are wily bastards,” the congressman said. 

Big Jim added that he was on several committees and subcommittees that were involved in the touch-and-go of U.S.-North Korean relations. He had also conferred with the president about the matter. Big Jim Royer was one of the few Democratic congresspersons who got along well with the current occupant of the White House, a Republican who had tetchy relations even with many members of his own party. 

“So what we’re hoping, Uncle Jim,” Mike said, “is that you might be able to bring this situation to a head. Call the North Koreans out on the carpet, so to speak.” 

“Uh-huh,” Big Jim said noncommittally. “Let me see what I can do about that. “How about we talk again tomorrow—same time. I’ll need some time to shake the bushes.”

“Of course. Thanks, Uncle Jim. Goodnight.”

Mike terminated the call. Tessa, Joyce—and even Ryan—were staring anxiously at him. Spencer McGill was staring at Tessa. Mike could tell that Spencer was not particularly distressed by Barry’s disappearance, except for how it impacted his relationship with Tessa.

“That’s all we can do for now,” he told everyone in the room with him. “Let’s give my uncle a chance to do his thing.”

“I’ve got some news,” Jim said, when Mike called him the next day. This conversation, too, took place on speakerphone, with all of Barry’s family assembled. “I have some good news and some bad news.” 

“Give us the good news first, please,” Tessa said.

“Uh-huh. Well, the good news it that your government takes this matter very seriously. North Korea simply can’t  be allowed to take our citizens at will.”

“They’re going to do something about it, then?” Tessa prodded. “Something decisive, that will get my father back immediately?”

“Well, you see, there, miss, that’s where the bad news comes in.”

“I was afraid of that,” Tessa said.

“Things are a little sensitive right now,” Big Jim went on, “where North Korea is concerned. You’re aware that the current administration is attempting a breakthrough in relations.”

“So what?” Tessa interjected. “They’ve taken my father hostage.”

“I realize that,” Big Jim said. “And your government wants to see your father returned, posthaste. But there are also those who will be wary of making any overt gesture that might offend Pyongyang—”

“‘Offend’ the North Koreans?” Tessa asked, flabbergasted. 

“What I’m saying,” Big Jim said, “is that the efforts to free Barry will take place through back channels.”

“Back channels?” Tessa said. “I was kind of hoping they would send in the U.S. Marines. Or maybe lob a missile on the private residence of that fat little leader of theirs—Kim Jong what-his-name.” 

Big Jim let out a patient but exasperated sigh on the other of the call. 

“I’m sorry, young lady, but after twenty-eight years in Congress, I know how the government works. And that simply isn’t going to happen. Furthermore, everything involving North Korea is complicated by the fact that we have no ordinary diplomatic relations with them, no embassy personnel in Pyongyang.”

“So my dad is just screwed, is what you’re saying?”

“No. Not at all. We do have some friends in the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang. The Swedes are the default intermediary when a Western government that doesn’t have a presence in Pyongyang wants to communicate with the North Koreans. The American embassy in Sweden is going to ask the Swedish government to prod the North Koreans. The Swedish embassy in Pyongyang will let them know that we know what is going on. They’ll do what they can to convince the North Koreans that it would be in their best interest to release your father, immediately.”

“‘Do what they can?’” Tessa said. “‘Convince the North Koreans?’ I don’t get it, Congressman Royer. North Korea is some little pissant country, and they’ve taken my father—an American citizen—against his will. Why can’t our government do something more forceful?”

Mike gave Tessa a cautionary look. Big Jim Royer was a man who regularly conferred with the President of the United States in the Oval Office. He wasn’t used to being interrogated by a twenty-two year-old. 

On the other hand, though, Tessa was more strong-willed than the average twenty-two year-old. And she did have a point. 

“It’s more complicated than that,” Big Jim explained patiently. “North Korea is indeed a third-rate country in some ways. In most ways, in fact. But North Korea is also a nuclear-armed country, and the president is trying to improve our relations with them. As much as everyone wants to see your father come home, there is a bigger picture here, too.”

“I see,” Tessa said. Her tone made very clear that she didn’t see. 

“Let the system do it’s thing,” Big Jim said. “I assure you, everything that can practically be done to free Barry Lawson will be done. And I’ll be personally keeping my eye on this situation.” 

“That’s all we can ask for, Uncle Jim,” Mike said, bringing the conversation to a close before Tessa could say much of anything else.

Chapter 41

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The Consultant: Chapter 38

That afternoon, when Jung-Ho came to pick him up, Barry’s handler seemed in an almost jolly mood. 

Barry had the feeling that the North Koreans were pleased with him. In recent days, he had toned down his sarcastic barbs—even in the presence of Jung-Ho. Barry said as little as possible during the ride home.

That evening after dinner, Jung-Ho intercepted him on his way back from the canteen, waving him into his office. 

Barry stood before Jung-Ho’s desk, uncertain of what might be coming next. Had his email already been discovered? Was Jung-Ho going to gloat before sending him to a firing squad?

His determination to escape notwithstanding, Barry couldn’t stop thinking about his experience in that muddy courtyard, the nonchalance with which the pistol-bearing officer had murdered innocent people. 

Jung-Ho smiled. “You have been making progress, Barry.”

At first Barry said nothing. He wanted to convince them that they had him cowed, that he had given up hope of escape. But Jung-Ho’s praise required a response. 

“My work at the tour agency has been going well, I would say.”

“I would agree. Mr. Ki has good things to say about you.”

Barry resisted the urge to respond with sarcasm. 

“I’ll take that as welcome news.”

Jung-Ho leaned back in his chair before going on: “By the standards of the DPRK, you have an easy job. I know you Americans believe that workers in socialist economies don’t work hard. That might have been true, to a degree, in the Soviet Union or elsewhere in the Soviet Bloc. It certainly isn’t true in the DPRK. Some of our agricultural and industrial workers have to work fifteen to sixteen hours per day.”

And still you have one of the poorest countries on earth? Barry thought, but did not say. He had long since given up on any attempt to engage Jung-Ho in earnest debate. All that mattered now was escape. 

“I have a little surprise for you, Barry,” he said.

“Oh?” Barry said guardedly. What might that be? He wondered. Another mass execution?

“Your surprise is waiting for you up in your room.”

Jung-Ho stood up from behind the desk. Barry thought he detected the beginnings of real grin breaking out on Jung-Ho’s face. But then Barry saw him suppress it. “Come. I will show you.”

Barry was at a loss. Had they installed a jacuzzi in the little room where they kept him? A waterbed, perhaps? Waterbeds were twenty years out of style in the United States. That meant they were about due to become the newest thing in North Korea.

Barry followed Jung-Ho up to his room. Jung-Ho went ahead of him. When Jung-Ho pushed open the door, Barry was indeed surprised. Jung-Ho had not been bluffing, after all. 

A young Korean woman was sitting on Barry’s cot. She was wearing a dark red, knee-length  dress.

She looked at Barry, and then looked at the floor.

“What?” Barry asked. But he thought he already knew what Jung-Ho had in mind. 

“She is your surprise,” Jung-Ho said. “Your reward for cooperating. For working for the good of the DPRK.”

“You don’t mean…”

“You don’t have to pretend that you aren’t interested,” Jung-Ho said. He smiled. “Remember, after all, how we liberated you. With Mi-kyung.”

“Speaking of Mi-kyung,” Barry said. He didn’t want to talk about the woman sitting on the cot. “Who—what—is she, really? Mi-kyung, I mean.  I’ve seen her here at the camp.”

Jung-Ho paused before answering. “I suppose it will do no harm to tell you. Mi-kyung is an officer in a branch of the DPRK intelligence service, that is responsible for securing assets from abroad.” 

Well, Barry thought, at least I was fooled by a real professional. 

“You can’t sleep with Mi-kyung,” Jung-Ho added, with a trace of a laugh. “But you can sleep with this woman.” He gestured again to the woman on the cot, who was still looking at the floor.

“I…” Barry said.

“You don’t find her attractive?” Jung-Ho prodded.

Barry looked at the woman. Yes, she was attractive. But that wasn’t the point.

“She’s attractive,” Barry said, “Yes.”

Barry was taken completely aback. Never in his life had someone attempted to give him a woman, as one might give some material object. 

“Who is she?” Barry asked. 

“You don’t need to worry about who she is. She’s not a prostitute, if that’s what you’re thinking. We don’t have those in the DPRK. You don’t need to worry about getting any diseases from her.”

“That’s not was I thinking,” Barry said. But those were good questions, now that Jung-Ho had brought them up.

“Let’s just say that her family has had certain…political difficulties. This is one step toward her redeeming herself.”

“So sleeping with me is like…a punishment?” Barry said.

“You needn’t think of it that way, Barry. Of course, if you don’t like her, I’m sure we can think of another way for her to redeem herself. A way that really will be like a punishment.”

Barry’s mind flashed back again to the scene in the courtyard. Everything these people did—no matter what the superficial pretense—had a threat lurking beneath it. And now the threat was directed toward this young woman. 

“No—” Barry said, “I mean—yes. She’s very attractive. You just caught me by surprise, was all.”

Jung-Ho gave Barry a broad grin. The smile made Barry want to punch him in the face. 

“I knew you would like her!”

“Does she speak English?” Barry asked. 

He felt a little awkward—not to mention condescending—talking about the woman in the third person, as if she wasn’t present. But everything about this exchange was bizarre.  

“I don’t think so,” Jung-Ho said. “But I don’t think the two of you will be needing much in the way of language.” He winked at Barry; and once again, Barry had a sudden, almost uncontrollable urge to strike him. “Those things really don’t differ much from country to country, culture to culture. Do they?”

“I suppose not.”

Barry realized that for the umpteenth time, the North Koreans had him trapped between two equally unpalatable alternatives. Barry had never even paid for the services of a willing prostitute. Now he was going to have sex with a woman who would meet some horrible fate if he failed to do the deed.

So he was going to make love to her. Or was he? In truth, he hadn’t completely decided yet. Right now, all he knew for certain was that he wanted to be rid of Jung-Ho. 

“Thank you, Jung-Ho,” he said. “This is very thoughtful.”

“I’ll go back to my office now.”

With that Jung-Ho walked away, leaving Barry alone with the woman sitting on his bed.

Barry closed the door behind him and walked over to the woman. 

She looked up at him  with guarded eyes. Barry couldn’t read her expression. She was obviously nervous. But what did she want him to do?

“Hello,” Barry said. “My name is Barry.”

She made no response. 

Barry sat on his cot next to the woman.

“Do you understand English?” he said. 

No response.

“English?” He pantomimed talking with his hand. 

She shook her head. Of course things weren’t going to be that easy, were they? 

“If you don’t want to,” Barry said, “then you don’t have to. I can tell Jung-Ho that I had a fine time. I don’t have to tell him—”

She leaned across the bed and kissed him. 

“You don’t have to—” Barry said again. 

She interrupted him with another kiss. Her hand was on his leg. 

Then it is was in his lap. 

Barry responded. She kissed him again.

This time, he kissed her back. 

Barry knew that what he was doing was wrong on some level. In the course of his life, he had taken numerous women to bed. But never under circumstances such as this.

He hated Jung-Ho with every fiber of his being.

Yet he continued to kiss the young woman, to respond to her hands on his body.

And then his hands were on her body. 

The situation took on a life of its own. Barry still couldn’t escape the sense that he was committing a grave error, that he was making himself complicit with the machinations of this country’s horrible government.

But what was the alternative, really?

Despite his exhaustion, his dismay at the circumstances, he found his body responding in all the usual ways.

When it was over, he drew her to him in the narrow space of the cot. Barry once again surprised himself by falling asleep.

When Barry woke up again, the woman was gone. Her clothes were gone, too.  Jung-Ho, no doubt, had come in and taken her while he was sleeping. 

Barry didn’t kid himself about what he had done: Sex was almost always a selfish act for a man. Nevertheless, he dared to hope that she might benefit from what had passed between them.

He lay back on his cot. 

I never even got her name, Barry thought, as he drifted off to sleep again.

Chapter 39

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The Consultant: Chapter 37

If Mr. Roh made any further issue about Barry’s use of the computer, Barry didn’t hear about it. Mr. Roh did fold his arms and pout while Barry and Mr. Lee made their presentation. 

But he was alone among the North Koreans. Mr. Ki was visibly pleased with the progress they were making in such a short span of days. Mr. Ki smiled and nodded at their ideas for promoting Heaven Lake.

And while Mr. Roh may have been an intimidating character, most of the North Koreans looked to Mr. Ki for guidance.

Barry couldn’t help indulging in a moment of satisfaction at Mr. Roh’s failure to derail or undermine him.

But only a moment. At the end of the day, he reminded himself, none of this mattered. 

A few of the North Koreans seemed like decent human beings beneath all those layers of indoctrination. They weren’t all monsters.

But nor were these people his colleagues or his friends. They were his captors—every one of them. Even as they were captives themselves.

Likewise, Mr. Roh could undo everything he’d been doing here, for all Barry cared—after he had escaped from this hellhole of a country. 

Chapter 38

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The Consultant: Chapter 16

And it might every well come down to dying while trying. Barry had already made that decision.

But in the meantime, he supposed there was no point in denying himself what few pleasures the North Koreans did offer. 

And he had to eat, after all. 

As the six o’clock hour neared, Barry had to admit to himself that he was very hungry and very thirsty. The rice, vegetables, and water they had given him hadn’t been nearly enough. Barry had never been a glutton, but he had always been used to eating three meals per day. And now he was in a country where starvation was almost the norm.

Barry stood up from his cot. He had been trying to come up with a neat, perfectly arranged plan for getting out of here.

There were none. So he had might as well eat dinner, he figured.

He opened the door of his new quarters, and stepped out into the hallway. In many ways, the hall did resemble the hallway of a college dorm, if constructed along cruder, late Soviet Bloc lines. The floor was bare concrete, and there was only one small bulb to light the entire hallway. 

Barry closed the door of his room. He noticed that it didn’t lock. The North Koreans might have given him his own private quarters, but they certainly didn’t intend to give him a locking door by which he might shut them out.

It was all about appearances, wasn’t it?

Something else that seemed odd (even within the context of a situation that was completely odd): Barry was alone in in the hallway.

Barry had expected that now, right before the dinnertime rush, the hallway would be filled with other inmates. In North Korea, Barry figured, everyone would want to get a meal while the getting was good.

The hallway, however, was empty. When Barry had seen the rows of rooms, he had assumed that the building was filled with other foreigners.

Maybe that wasn’t the case.

He stood there for a few moments, waiting for some of the other doors to open.

They didn’t. 

Barry continued to stare at an empty hallway.

And so he headed for the stairs, and the canteen.

When Barry reached the bottom of the stairs, and turned right for the exit, he got another little surprise. 

Immediately to his left he saw Jung-Ho, sitting behind a desk. 

Both Jung-Ho and the desk were inside a small room. The room was not much larger than a storage closet; but it was big enough for the desk, a chair for visitors, and some bookshelves.

This was Jung-Ho’s office, apparently. 

The desk had a door, but Jung-Ho had left the door wide-open.

Maybe that was another reason why the North Koreans had chosen to house him here, in this building. 

The size of the camp suggested that there had to be other dorms. This building might be a facility where they placed new arrivals during their “transitional” period. 

He would be living right above the office of Jung-Ho, where his North Korean handler could keep an eye on him, apparently. 

We’ll see about that, Jung-Ho, Barry thought. Because all the while, I’m going to be keeping an eye on you, too.

Chapter 17

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