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 Cairo Deception: Chapter 3

There were five of them in total. They were sitting at the bar, directly opposite Jack, and across the room. 

Ali Abber, a notorious Cairo gangster, and four of his henchmen. They were sitting on bar stools, with their backs to Jack. Jack could see their faces in the mirror behind the bar.

Ali Abber was sitting to the left of his men. Jack had never had the displeasure of making Ali’s acquaintance, but he knew him by reputation. Many people in Cairo knew Ali Abber by reputation. 

Ali Abber was short and stocky, in his early thirties. His black hair was close-cut and thick. Ali’s face was bisected by a long diagonal scar that ran from just below his right eye, to the left corner of his chin. The scar was said to be the product of a childhood knife fight. According to the stories, Ali Abber had been a boy of twelve at the time of the fight, and his opponent had been a grown man. Ali Abber had gotten the scar, but Ali had gutted the grown man. 

Or so the stories went. Jack saw no reason to doubt them.  

Jack had not seen Ali and his men enter the bar. It seemed to him, though, that they had appeared there directly in his wake.

A coincidence, to be sure, but not the only one. Jack feared that he had been deliberately betrayed. 

It had all started with a quarrel with Tahmid, the man he had hired to serve as his digging assistant, guide, and interpreter. Jack had dismissed Tahmid after finding the garnet. He had no further need of the Egyptian man’s services, after all.

Jack had given Tahmid a bonus when he terminated his employment. The bonus was more than Jack could afford, given the meager cash reserves that he had brought to Egypt with him. 

“Is that all, boss?” Tahmid had asked. 

When Jack had asked him what he meant by that, Tahmid had replied, “What I mean, boss, is that you’re a rich man now.” Jack had been less than discreet about what he was digging for out in the desert. As a result, Tahmid had some grasp of the garnet’s worth.

Jack had reminded Tahmid that he wouldn’t be rich until he returned to the United States and found a buyer for the garnet. This was true. He couldn’t give Tahmid cash that he didn’t have. 

His assistant had walked away, but he was clearly unconvinced by Jack’s explanation.

And then just yesterday, Jack had seen his erstwhile assistant, Tahmid, in the bazaar district, talking to this same Ali Abber who was now sitting at the bar. 

Jack had watched, out of sight of the two men, as Ali had slipped Tahmid a handful of Egyptian pounds.

The exchange was technically none of Jack’s business. He had no claim on Tahmid—especially now that Tahmid was no longer in his employ. If Tahmid now wanted to work for one of the most notorious hoodlums in Cairo, that was his business. 

It was, however, an odd coincidence: Ali Abber and his men showing up at this bar—a bar that Jack was known to frequent—the day after he had seen the disgruntled Tahmid talking to Ali.

Jack was pretty certain that Ali and his men had not been in Rossi’s Bar when he’d entered. They had come in after him.

As if they had been following him.

Jack reminded himself that the garnet wasn’t the only significant object that he had on his person tonight. Also in one of the interior pockets of his jacket was a Model 1911 45-caliber pistol. The M1911 had a seven-round cartridge. 

One round for each man at the bar, with two rounds to spare.

Jack was no stranger to rough-and-tumble dealings among men. He had served in the U.S. Army during peacetime. He had been in his share of scraps—especially during his boyhood in Indiana. 

But he had never killed a man before. And he didn’t want to start tonight, not if he could help it.

Moreover, any sort of gunfight in a bar would set in motion consequences that Jack could not predict or control. Even in the Wild West that was Cairo. To simply remove the weapon from his jacket, and display it in a threatening manner, would bring consequences. Most men in Cairo were armed, in one way or another. But there were rules about such things. And one rule was: You didn’t brandish semiautomatic handguns in a crowded bar.

Then another coincidence occurred. Ali Abber turned around on his barstool. He was about to make eye contact with Jack—or so Jack thought—when:

“Hey, you! get out of here!” yelled a voice very close to Jack’s ear. 

Chapter 4

Table of contents

The Cairo Deception: Chapter 2

A new life would be possible because of the object that he now carried in one of the interior pockets of his jacket: the Garnet of Hatshepsut. 

Shortly after arriving in Cairo, Jack had procured an old map from one John Millhouse, a British professor of Egyptian antiquities. The map indicated the approximate location of the garnet. 

“The garnet is worth a fortune,” John Millhouse had told him, as Jack handed over the money for the map. “Finding it will not be easy, but not many people know about it. If you find it first, you’ll be a rich man. You’ll be set for the rest of your life, in fact.”

And two days ago, Jack had finally found the garnet. 

In order to find the garnet, Jack had endured hours in the sun, the dangers of the desert, and the constant grumblings of his Egyptian assistant, Tahmid. 

But now, finally, the garnet was his.

Hatshepsut, Jack had learned, had been one of ancient Egypt’s lady pharaohs. She had lived about 3,500 years ago. 

Jack had only the barest knowledge of ancient Egyptology. But once he was back in the United States, he promised himself, he would learn more about Hatshepsut. He owed that long-dead lady a lot. Or he would owe her a lot—once he sold the gem. 

The garnet was a large red stone, with Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into its bottom, flat face. 

It was a beautiful gemstone. The most beautiful gemstone that Jack had ever seen.

But Jack had no intention of holding on to it. He had already tied up most of his affairs in Cairo. Tomorrow—or the next day, at the latest—he would leave the Egyptian capital and catch a train to the port city of Alexandria. From there he would catch a steamer to New York. 

In New York he would find a buyer for the garnet. There were dealers of rare gemstones in New York. Many of them would want to purchase a stone like the Garnet of Hatshepsut.

Jack had already determined that while he would not allow himself to become greedy, he would not be taken advantage of, either. A bidding war among the New York dealers of rare gems would not be out of the question. 

After he had sold the garnet, he would take his bank draft payment to the nearest branch of a major bank. 

He would put the bulk of his earnings into a new savings account, of course. He would permit himself a single indulgence, however. 

He would visit one of the many car dealerships in New York. There he would purchase a brand-new Ford automobile—perhaps a DeLuxe Roadster or Fordor. 

Or, for that matter, why not a brand-new DeSoto Airstream? Before leaving for Egypt six months ago, Jack had seen one of the 1936 DeSoto Airstreams in Indianapolis. The newest DeSotos were really something. 

Whichever car he decided upon, he would pay cash. He imagined the look on the salesman’s face, the smell of his new car’s leather upholstery. 

Over the past two days he had replayed the scene many times.

Then he would drive to Franklin, Indiana, where he would begin the rest of his life. 

But before he did all that, he had to get the Garnet of Hatshepsut safely out of Egypt. And he was now concerned that a group of men might be specifically intent on taking it from him.

Men who were presently in this bar. 

Chapter 3

Table of contents

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The Cairo Deception: Chapter 1

Jack McCallum thought: I am in one of the most dangerous bars in Cairo, and I have a fortune in my pocket. 

Of course, all of the bars in Cairo were dangerous, or most of them, anyway. Now, late on a Saturday night, Rossi’s Bar was filled with prostitutes, gamblers, and any number of men who would gladly slit your throat for a few Egyptian pounds.

The item that Jack had in the pocket of his leather jacket might be worth several hundred thousand dollars or more. 

Who knew?—It might even fetch a million. 

Jack sat alone at a small table in a corner of the darkened bar. He was nursing a glass of bourbon. A Lucky Strike cigarette slowly burned in the ashtray before him.

Rossi’s Bar was billed as an Italian bar, though the owner, Jack happened to know, had no particular affiliation with Italy. On the far wall, there was a cheesy mural of men wearing striped shirts and broad-rimmed hats, pushing gondolas through the canals of Venice. On another wall, the flag of Italy. 

Jack wondered how much more time would pass before the bar’s theme and decor would have to be changed. Italy was a loaded topic in Egypt. Three years ago, in 1935, Italy had invaded the nearby country of Ethiopia, or Abyssinia. 

Egypt still enjoyed some protection, as a result of its relationship with the British Empire; but the Egyptians were rightly worried about Italian ambitions in North Africa. The Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, openly compared himself to the emperors of ancient Rome. Mussolini expressed a desire to recreate the Roman Empire in the twentieth century.

The world was a troubled place, Jack knew, as it entered the tenth month of 1938. The nations of Europe were all nervous about not only the ambitions of Mussolini, but also those of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. 

In the Far East, the Japanese were waging a war of aggression in China. Last December, Japanese forces had entered the Chinese city of Nanking, where they had murdered tens of thousands of Chinese civilians in cold blood. Japanese soldiers had also violated untold numbers of women and girls. 

Journalists were calling the incident “the Rape of Nanking”. Jack had read perhaps a dozen newspaper articles about the atrocities in China. They were hair-raising and saddening. 

I would like to save the world, Jack thought. But first I’m going to go home to Franklin, Indiana. I’m going to pay off my parents’ debts. Then I’m going to set myself up with a farm, or maybe a business. 

I’ll have enough money to save part of the world, Jack thought, if that’s what I want to do. And I’ll have plenty of time. I’m only twenty-five years old, after all. 

If I can get out of Cairo all right—and then out of Egypt—I’ll be set for life.

Chapter 2

Table of contents

The Consultant: Chapter 54

They were at dinner the following night, when Barry realized that his spirits were at an all-time low since he had come to terms with his new situation. 

The North Koreans had not broken his spirit—not yet. But the execution of the young woman, and the changes at the tour agency, had made an already intolerable situation even more intolerable.   

Tanaka had left the canteen early tonight, pleading gastrointestinal issues. So it was just Barry and Anne.

Given the probable hygiene standards in North Korea, it was a wonder, Barry thought, that all of them weren’t doubled over a commode, all the time.

“How are things going with at the tour agency?” Anne asked.

Barry shrugged. He didn’t want to go into it—the death of the young woman, the probable deaths of Mr. Lee and Mr. Ki.  

“You look like you’ve been through something,” Anne persisted. “Some kind of trauma. I mean above and beyond the ordinary trauma of being here.”

“I made a move,” Barry said. “Something that might have gotten us out of here. It didn’t work out.”

“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“Not now,” he said. “Maybe another time.”

He realized that now he was the one keeping secrets, even though he had insisted that they need to work together. But he couldn’t get past what he had seen: the young woman’s murder…And after Jung-Ho had lied to and manipulated him.

Damn you, Jung-Ho, Barry thought. Someday, I’ll see you up against a wall.

But he knew that this would never happen. How could it? He was completely powerless here. 

“Are you done eating?” Anne asked. 

Barry looked down at his empty plate. Dinner tonight was the same as always: rice, vegetables, a bit of meat. Weak tea. 

“Yes. Let’s get out of here.”

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They were walking across the compound, when Anne asked him for news of their own country. Oddly enough, this was the first time the topic had come up.

“We don’t get much news in here,” Anne said. “We catch some tidbits from the state-run media. That’s about it. So Donald Trump is really president?”

“Yes,” Barry said. “Donald Trump is really president.”

“Is he popular?”

Barry smiled at the question. He suspected that he and Anne might have different political leanings. “That’s a matter of opinion. Politics. Let’s hope that we’re both able to vote in the next U.S. election…whomever we each vote for.”

“Speaking of which,” Anne said, “Jung-Ho told me something about the politics of this country.”

“You and Jung-Ho have private conversations?” Barry said. “Sounds cozy.”

Then Anne told Barry how Jung-Ho had been trying for several years to seduce her.

Although he held his tongue, Barry must have appeared skeptical of Anne’s explanation. 

“I string him along,” Anne said. “That’s all. Do you really think that I could…be with him? After what they did to Kevin?”

He was tempted to challenge her. But then he thought: Hadn’t he played nice with Jung-Ho, too, in order to angle himself into an advantageous position?

“No,” Barry said. “I suppose not. Anyway, what did he tell you?”

“Jung-Ho seems to think that there’s going to be some shakeup in the top leadership of North Korea,” Anne said. “He claims to have some involvement in it. Keep this yourself, of course, please.”

“Sure,” Barry said. “Of course.”

He was singularly unimpressed by Anne’s news. His only objective was to get out of North Korea. He didn’t care who ran this place. 

He also didn’t see a path whereby any change in the country’s leadership would bring about their freedom. The entire regime was so lawless. What were the odds of their being freed by a new man, or a new cabal, in power? 

Probably close to zero, Barry thought.  

Chapter 55

Table of contents

Blood Flats: Chapter 13

For Lee the sound of helicopters would forever have an association with Iraq, But the helicopter was no Marine Corps bird. This was a Kentucky State Police helicopter. It was making wide circles across the fields and forests, following a general trajectory down the highway.

Perhaps Phelps had not pursued him into woods, after all. The sheriff had chosen to work smart rather than hard. Lee could appreciate the reasoning of his adversary. The sheriff would have looked more heroic if he had engaged in a foot chase. But that would have ultimately been fruitless. Lee was both younger and fitter. He had had a head start on the lawman. Phelps had no doubt taken these factors into account. He was thinking strategically rather than emotionally.

And now Lee had to control his own emotions if he intended to keep his life and his freedom. 

There would be two men—possibly three—circling above him in the helicopter. He imagined them looking down on him through a pair of binoculars. Yes, that’s the man, they would be saying. He’s the one who killed those two people in that trailer.

If he fled across the field into the woods, he would draw the helicopter down upon him. A lone man racing across an empty field would not go unnoticed from their vantage point. They would descend upon him and call in more units and drive him into a noose.

Nor could he go back the way he came. And yet, he would draw attention if he merely walked down the highway. 

A short ways down the road was a feed and agricultural supply store. Surely the general citizenry would not be alerted of his fugitive status yet. He could go in there and mill about for five or ten minutes, pretending to be another shopper. By that time the helicopter would be gone.  

The aircraft made another circle in the general area above him. Had he already caught their attention? 

He began to walk toward the agricultural supply store, his steps as deliberate and natural as he could manage them. There was a sign in the parking lot that advertised special pricing on herbicides. Another sign declared a deal on a device that captured carpenter bees. 

Lee was within a few yards of the parking lot when he realized that the .45 was still jammed in his belt. 

A pickup truck rolled past him from behind, slowed, and idled into the parking space near the front entrance of the store. What a damn fool he had been; the gun would have been in clearly visible from the front seat of the truck. Lee was lucky if the driver had not seen it, in fact; hopefully he had not been paying attention.

A sunburned man clad in jeans, a stained tee shirt, and John Deere cap climbed out of the parked pickup truck and walked through the front entrance of the supply store without giving Lee so much as a glance. He had been lucky; but he had to do something about the gun before another vehicle drove past.

The sound of the helicopter’s engine seemed to grow louder as it roared overhead again. He risked a brief glance at the sky: The chopper was moving away from him now, though he knew it would circle back, sweeping the area in a series of wide, gradually shifting arcs.

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There was a culvert at the edge of the parking lot. Lee did his best to ascertain that no one was watching him. Then reached behind his back and removed the gun from his belt. He knelt and pretended to tie one of his boot strings. He slid the gun into the mouth of the drainage pipe, and pushed it far enough into the corrugated steel opening so that no one would notice it. 

Then he stood up. The police helicopter was growing louder again. Hopefully the men above him had not noticed the lone figure stooping to push an object into a drainage pipe. 

Lee crammed his hands into his pockets and walked toward the main entrance of the store. Two other shoppers walked past him, exiting the store: one with a bag of seed slung over his shoulder, another carrying a newly purchased shovel and hoe. Neither man was familiar. 

The automatic glass door slid open and Lee stepped into the air-conditioned interior. The floors were bare concrete and the main area of the store was a maze of pallets: Many of the items that farmers bought were packaged in bulky sacks, bundles, and buckets. The pallets were stacked waist-high or shoulder-high. Along the outer perimeter of the main room were shelves of smaller items: hand tools and containers of insecticide, work gloves and spare parts for farm equipment.

At the back of the customer area was a television mounted near the ceiling on a steel frame. A group of three men and one woman were gathered around the set.

I need to kill about five or ten minutes in here, Lee thought. Just enough time for the police helicopter to move on. Lee prayed that none of the shoppers would recognize him. Of course, he had many friends and acquaintances in the county, and his picture had recently been in the paper following his return from Iraq.

Lee buried his face in a newspaper-sized promotional circular that was lying on an adjacent stack of boxes. The boxes contained a chemical fertilizer that was—according to the words printed on the cardboard—specially formulated for use on soybeans. The circular had been printed by the Burpee seed company. 

He pretended to divide his attention between the circular and the television set. This strategy, he decided, would make him less noticeable than a deliberate and obvious effort at seclusion. He stood just outside the gaggle of shoppers watching the television.

The broadcast was a news magazine talk show of some sort. The show’s host was interviewing a middle-aged, bearded author. When the camera panned on the interview subject, the man’s name and source of distinction were identified by electronically generated letters:  “Brett St. Croix, author of The Death Factory: How the U.S. Military Turns American Youths into Killers”  

The interview had apparently been underway for a while, and St. Croix was in the middle making a particular argument. 

“Militant Islam is nothing more than a reaction against Western interventionism!” St. Croix declared. The camera angle shifted from the author and the host to the studio audience. The author’s comments elicited a few groans from the crowd—but these groans were drowned out by a larger volume of cheers. “And we shouldn’t be intervening in the Middle East!”

Lee was in no mood for politics at the moment; but he found himself, ironically, welcoming the distraction from his more immediate predicament.

By God, I agree with you, Lee thought, repeating the author’s last statement in his own mind. Though for an entirely different set of reasons.

Hawkins County was red-blooded patriot territory; but Lee knew that the war in Iraq had been less than popular in many quarters of the country at large. He had seen the protesters on television and on the Internet. In fact, he had watched more than a few news reports of these protests while in Iraq. There was a television in the rec room of the fortified compound that had been his home in Iraq. On more than one occasion, he had subjected himself to the irony of these televised protests against the war, only hours or minutes before the Marine Corps subjected him to the real thing.  

The protesters don’t get it, Lee thought. Even when they are right, they are right by accident. 

There were perspectives on militant Islam and great power intervention that the media mostly chose to ignore. Lee remembered one particular Iraqi village that he and his fellow marines had entered during an anti-insurgent sweep. They had found no al-Qaeda in the village; but they had found something else that made Lee question the ultimate success and meaning of the U.S. mission in Iraq. 

In the center of the village a group of men had been gathered around the body of teenaged girl. Her arms were bound around her waist. To Lee’s horror, the girl had been buried up to her waist in the sand so that the men could more easily pelt her to death with rocks. 

The girl had already been dead by the time the marines arrived. The village men were in the last stages of their rock-throwing. A few members of Lee’s squad had fired in the air to make them stop. The marine interpreter had shouted at the male villagers, demanding an explanation. 

There was much shouting, and more than a few threats hurled in both directions. Gradually the story came together. The sixteen-year-old girl had been married off to a man three times her age. Her father had wanted a choice patch of land that belonged to the prospective groom, who already had two middle-aged wives and four children who were older than his new bride.

Apparently the young girl had been quite beautiful, and she had attracted many admirers. Trouble had arisen when the girl’s husband had decided that she was too flirtatious with a young man in the village. Nothing had ever been proven; but there were damning accusations. The young man had fled one night in terror. The girl had remained to face the summary justice of the Quran. Her father and her estranged husband were among the men who had thrown the stones.

There was nothing about the girl that looked flirtatious or beautiful now, with half of her torso buried in the sand, her hair matted with blood, her face a mass of contusions.  

Is this the society that we are fighting to preserve? Lee had thought, as he looked at the smashed concavity that had once been the nose of the young girl. Is this what I am risking my life for?  

Standing in the feed store now, Lee recalled the dark, violent impulse that had seized him in that moment, as he had looked from the crushed, swollen face of the teenage girl to the sullen faces of her male executioners. He had wanted to gun down all of those men who had thrown the stones, to slaughter them in a righteous fury of the Old Testament variety. In the end he had restrained himself; but there had been moments since then when he had wished he had killed them—every last one of them. 

These reminiscences came to an abrupt stop when there was a sudden change in the programming. The talk show was interrupted by a news bulletin. 

Lee didn’t wait to hear if the news broadcaster mentioned his name, or to see if they flashed a photo of him across the screen. No doubt that would come with time. He turned as soon as soon as he heard the words “multiple shootings” and the name of the trailer park. 

On the way out he bumped into a man who looked familiar. He greeted Lee with a smile. “Say aren’t you?” he began—for this man had not seen the images on the television. 

Lee nodded and brushed past him, then out the main entrance of the store. He scanned the sky: there was no helicopter in the burnt blue haze, and its sound was gone as well. 

He knelt by the culvert and quickly pulled the gun from the drainage pipe. He shoved it into his belt and stepped onto the two-lane highway. There was the screech of brakes, and a horn blared. Lee leapt aside as the driver of an old Ford Mustang shook his fist and accelerated again. Watch where the hell you’re going he shouted, mouthing the words through his windshield as Lee, more than a little dazed, silently stared back at him.

Chapter 14

Table of contents

Blood Flats: Chapter 12

Back into the woods again. Lee had no idea where he was going now—except that he was still traveling south. It would be about noon: He allowed himself a brief glance upward and saw that the sunlight filtering through the tree leaves was intense, burning the outlines of branches into negative images across his retinas. 

Perhaps he had made a mistake in leaving Tradd’s gun where the young father could find it. Tradd might be tracking a short distance behind him even now, as the law was surely tracking him.

He passed a deer blind that was suspended about a foot off the ground. There would be no hunters in June but the deer blind spooked him nonetheless: It reminded him of a machine gun pillbox on four wooden legs: He imagined Sheriff Phelps taking aim at him, sliding a rifle out from the wooden structure’s firing slit. 

Was the image a premonition? Was that how this was all going to end? A bird darted across a shaft of sunlight in the middle of the trail and Lee started, expecting Tradd or Sheriff Phelps or perhaps someone else.

Calm down, he told himself. You have to think. You have to get your wits about you.

Lee also found that he was haunted by the parting look that the boy, Zack, had given him. He pictured the young boy telling his grandchildren about the incident someday, the way that old-timers sometimes told stories about chance encounters with famous outlaws from the 1920s. He knew that he was no John Dillinger or Baby Face Nelson; and at this exact hour much of the county still regarded him as a war hero. But that collective opinion of him would surely change—just as Tradd’s opinion of him had shifted in the flicker of an instant. The false accusations and the circumstantial evidence would be enough to damn him in most people’s minds.

Whatever Lee’s true motivations, whatever the truth of what had happened in the trailer, the young father would recall only one fact: that Lee had held a gun on him and, by extension, his family. And when the law learned of the incident it would only add to the weight of his apparent guilt. He was going to end up dead or behind bars—and probably dead—through a series of his own miscalculations and plain bad luck.

The trail descended and rose again and the woods abruptly ended. Beyond the woods was not the uncut meadow or cultivated field that he might have expected, but a stripped landscape of dirt and uprooted trees. The land had been cleared in a wide semicircle, and the uncomfortable fantasy of being an outlaw in the woods gave way to an even more uncomfortable reality: He was an outlaw in the open daylight.

Lee heard the sounds of the heavy equipment before he saw the men working: A county work crew was adding an extension to Route 257: The new road would pass by the campground where Lee had been an unwelcome guest at the campsite of Tradd and his family.

He sensed that he was walking into a bad situation; but once again going back the way he had come was not an option. Lee walked forward, trying his best to appear nonchalant, hoping that he would be able to make his way without attracting attention. It was a hope that soon proved futile.

“Hey, you can’t cut through here!” the leader of the work crew shouted at Lee above the rumbling of a road grader. He was in his early fifties and he had a considerable paunch. He badly needed a shave and a cigarette dangled from his lips. The crew leader had been talking to the crewman operating the grader when he noticed Lee. The massive yellow machine was about to transform a strip of this bumpy field into a more level surface that would become the next increment of the Route 257 extension. Black smoke belched from the machine’s vertical exhaust pipe.

The crew leader signaled for the crewman operating the road grader to hold on for a moment. He came jiggling over to Lee, shaking his head and muttering beneath his breath—no doubt cursing this fool who didn’t have the sense to stay away from a construction site.

“You can’t cut through here!” the crew leader said. He was close enough for Lee to smell the man’s sweat and the cigarette.

The .45 was tucked in the waistband of Lee’s pants at the small of his back. Lee did not think that any of the county work crew members were close enough to notice the outline of the gun beneath his shirt. But they were pausing their tasks and gawking now, as men engaged in tedious work will do in the presence of any unexpected diversion. 

“I’ll stay away from the equipment,” Lee said. He knew that these words would not placate the man even before they were out of his mouth.

“No, you don’t understand,” the crew leader said. “This is a restricted area. You get hurt here and the county is liable. That would mean my ass and probably my job. I’m not going to lose my job because some fella wants to take a hike through the woods.”

“I’m just passing through,” Lee said.

The operator of the road grader had now killed the engine of his machine and was climbing down from the cab. 

The crew boss removed his cigarette from his mouth, turned his head and spat in the dirt. “I can’t let you through here. Look—we’ve got pits and trip hazards all over the place. This is a dangerous area.”

I’ve witnessed a double murder, for which I’m now on the run, and this guy wants me to concern myself with “trip hazards” Lee thought.

Nevertheless, Lee was now facing a potential confrontation with two men, as the crewman from the road grader was beginning to walk toward him. He was a large man who looked like he had a temper—the sort of guy who regularly engaged in knock-down-drag-out bar fights on Friday nights—just for fun.

“What’s the matter, dude? You hard a hearin’?” the road grader driver called out. “You’re in a restricted area.” 

A few more exchanges of words and there might be a real confrontation, Lee realized. He had the .45 of course, and the crew boss would back down in an instant if he saw it. But that would expose his presence to yet another set of witnesses. And the crewman from the road grader might call Lee’s bluff. Some men were daring and stupid enough to charge a loaded firearm.

“Tell me where I can go,” Lee said.

“Now that’s the spirit,” the crew boss said. “You got two choices: Go back in the direction you came from, or take that road outta here.” He jabbed a thumb toward a gently declining hill at the edge of the construction area. Lee could see pavement through the breaks in the trees.

Since Lee could not retrace his steps in the direction of Tradd, he would have to go down the hill, then. 

He eased his way backward, taking short steps so that he would not take a pratfall and then roll down the hill. The road crew probably interpreted this maneuver as fear of an attack. In reality, this was the only way Lee could keep them from seeing the .45. 

“Show’s over!” the crew boss shouted to his subordinates, seeing that Lee was going. “Back to work!”

Lee walked through a short band of trees and undergrowth and came out on a two-lane highway. His first impulse was to head for the grassy expanse on the opposite side of the road. Another forest lay beyond it. 

Then he heard the thucka-thucka of the helicopter.

Chapter 13

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 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

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