The Consultant, Chapter 5, Part 6

“I think you’ve had excitement enough for today,” Jung-Ho said. “Let’s get on to more mundane matters.”

There was the slightest smirk on Jung-Ho’s face. Although Barry did not appear to be under any direct threat for the moment, today he had awakened in a prison cell in the worst country on earth. He had been beaten, threatened with death, and forced to witness the executions of innocent people. 

Surely this little pipsqueak doesn’t think that what I’ve gone through today is funny, Barry wondered. 

“What mundane matters?” Barry asked.

“I’m talking about your living accommodations, of course. Follow me.”

Jung-Ho stood, and exited the little meeting room. Barry followed, Sgt. Park glaring at him the whole time. They made two right turns, and came to a corridor that had a long row of closed wooden doors on both sides. There were numbers on the doors.

These are like, apartments, Barry thought. Or dorm rooms.

Jung-Ho walked down to the approximate middle of the hall. He indicated the door to his right.

“This is yours Barry. Room number two-two-six.”

Barry followed Jung-ho. (There was nothing else for him to do, after all.) He stood in the hallway, Sgt. Park scowling, as Jung-Ho turned the doorknob and pushed the door open. 

“Have a look,” Jung-Ho said, walking in ahead of Barry. 

Barry did. The room, currently lit by the gray North Korean sunlight, looked like the North Koreans’ best attempt at reproducing a college dorm room. 

The room was much smaller than the master bedroom of his condo in Schaumburg, Illinois. But it was about the same size as the bedroom he had made due with as a kid, in his parents’ home in their Chicago neighborhood of Franklin Park. 

There was a bed—a cot, really—in one corner of the room. It was covered with several blankets, with a small, thin pillow at the top. 

There was no bureau or chest of drawers. But there were three built-in shelves on one side of the room. The shelves had been loaded with what looked like about a week’s worth of clothes, all copies of the drab clothing he had been given in the prison, after the forced washing. At the near end of the middle shelf Barry could see toiletries: a toothbrush and soap, and a men’s shaving kit. 

Jung-Ho walked across the room, and opened a door that Barry had only just now noticed. 

“You will have your own lavatory and shower, too, Barry. The commode and the sink both work. The water may not be hot enough for your liking, but it’s not ice-cold, either, most of the time.”

Jung-Ho walked over to the room’s only window. 

“From here you have a view of much of the camp. On a good day, you can see all the way to the Taedong River.”

“My vacation in North Korea,” Barry said.

“I think you will find, Barry, that your life will go much better here if you try to make the best of things. I know this isn’t what you had planned. But you are here now, you are not leaving, and your only real option is to work with us. In return, you will be treated fairly, and given an opportunity to contribute to the development of the DPRK.”

“What choice do I have?” Barry said.

But of course, Jung-Ho ignored the question.

“There is an older woman who will take care of your laundry once per week, and do some light cleaning. Her name is Ha-yoon. She does not speak any English, but you should have little need to talk to her.”

“I’m sure that will be the least of my problems.”

“You will eat your meals in the canteen. To get there, you exit the way we came in, and take a right. It’s the big building in the center of the adjacent compound. To the right of the exit.”

Jung-Ho pointed to the clock, an old mechanical type, above the door.

“Dinner is served between six o’clock and six-thirty. Would you like me to come back at dinnertime to show you the way?” 

“I think I can find it,” Barry said. He had had enough of Jung-Ho’s company for one day.

“Very well. You are permitted to move more or less freely within the main area of the camp that has been allocated for our foreign friends. There are only a few rules and restrictions. You are to stay away from the fences, and you are not permitted to enter the dorm room of another foreign guest.”

In other words, Barry realized, they don’t want anyone here trying to escape, or gathering privately to plot an escape plan.

“I think I can abide by that,” Barry said. 

“All right. You don’t have to worry about alarm clocks here. Everyone is awakened by loudspeaker at five a.m. A light breakfast is served in the canteen between five-thirty and six. At six-thirty tomorrow morning I will be here to pick you up, and take you to your first day of work at the DPRK Tour Agency.” 

Jung-Ho left him after that, and he mercifully took Sgt. Park with him. 

Barry sat on his cot and assessed his surroundings. 

It was all pretty spartan, by North American, Western European, or Japanese standards. But it was livable. Barry had never been in the U.S. Army, but he imagined that these conditions were not far from what a new enlistee might have in boot camp. 

These accommodations, basic as they were, were no doubt better than what the average citizen of this country had. Jung-Ho had been truthful about that much.

They wanted to keep him cowed, but they were also perceptive enough to realize that a native of the US—of any normal country, really—would only do so much under conditions of constant abject terror and extreme privation. 

They wanted him to perform at a high level, with the full knowledge that any sign of defiance would be met with immediate, brutal retribution. 

The carrot and the stick. 

The carrot was a combination of food and housing that most North Koreans would kill for. 

And the stick?

Well, that was obvious, wasn’t it? They had shown him the stick back in the courtyard of that repurposed Japanese prison. 

And someday, they would be done with him. Then he would meet the same fate as those prisoners on the firing line. 

They would put a bullet in his head, and bury him in a pit somewhere. Or toss his corpse in an incinerator. Barry knew that North Korea was a desperately poor country that had virtually no conventional economy. But the one thing the country made in abundance was corpses. 

Barry thought about his plans to eat lunch with Tessa and Ryan this Saturday. It was safe to say that given his current circumstances, that lunch date wasn’t going to happen.

What would his family think when they realized that he hadn’t returned from Japan? Because he had screwed up his marriage, he had already been a far from ideal father for Ryan and Tessa. 

And now this.

I want to kill them, Barry thought, picturing Jung-Ho’s smug smirks, and Sgt. Park’s boorish grimaces. 

I’m going to escape from here, he silently assured himself. I don’t know how yet. But I’m going to get out of here. If I have to die trying.

Chapter 5, Part 7

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The Consultant: Chapter 4, Part 4

Perhaps twelve or fifteen prisoners—all of them Korean, apparently—were lined up against a wall. Four more Korean guards were watching them with scowling faces. 

Three of the guards carried AK-47s. The fourth guard, who might have been an officer, carried a pistol like the one that had been used to threaten Barry.

The prisoners were a mix of age and gender. The youngest of them was a woman who appeared to be in her twenties. The oldest was a man who looked old enough to be a great grandfather.

Sgt. Park and the guard who had helped jostle Barry outside now shoved him to the nearer end of the line, and against the wall.  

Barry had some idea what was going to happen here. He shouted, “Wait!” and tried to resist. The big Korean, Sgt. Park, smacked Barry with his open palm. 

It was only a glancing blow across Barry’s head. But after being struck by the truncheon in a similar manner, his head was already ringing. He also now realized that he was famished and dehydrated…Not to mention the shock of waking up from a drug-induced slumber in North Korea. 

Add now this: They were pushing him toward what looked like preparations for a mass execution. Toward the target line.

Stunned, Barry had little choice but to let himself be pushed. He looked down, and saw one of his two hundred-dollar loafers sink briefly into the muck of the courtyard. 

This couldn’t be real.

But it was real, impossible though it seemed.

They shoved him again. 

Sgt. Park and his helper finally pushed Barry into the place they wanted him. Barry turned around and saw a crumbling brick wall that was punctured with obvious bullet holes. There were also dark stains that could only have been dried blood.

The smell out here was wretched. A mixture of the oozy mud beneath their feet, and the reek of the prisoners’ long unwashed bodies.

His own unwashed body. 

Barry glanced over and saw Jung-Ho, waiting and watching impassively. He was at the very edge of the courtyard. He had not stepped out into the mud. 

Opposite the wall, Barry could see the four Korean guards talking among themselves. The sky was a white-grey, the air warm and fetid. From a flagpole in the center of the courtyard hung a North Korean flag. 

Barry could hear some of the prisoners beside him begin to whimper and sob as the guard with the pistol approached the line. 

The guard with the pistol now stood at the end of the line farthest from Barry. 

Barry looked around: There was nowhere to run. In every direction, was a brick wall, a North Korean with a gun, or both.

Barry had a sudden realization: He would be dead within a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

Chapter 4, Part 5

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The Consultant: Chapter 4, Part 3

The guard grabbed Barry by his shirt collar. The other big Korean—the one whom Jung-Ho had identified as Sgt. Park—squeezed into the cell to help manhandle Barry.

They picked him up. Sgt. Park slammed a fist into Barry’s abdomen. Barry would have vomited, if there had been anything in his stomach. 

The guard slipped a little plastic tie around Barry’s wrists.

Jung-Ho shouted something else in Korean. Then Sgt. Park and the unnamed guard pushed Barry out of the cell. 

“Stop!” Barry shouted. “I want to speak to the Swedish embassy!”

No one answered him.

Now he found himself in a long corridor with stone walls. The kind of decor one would expect in the hallway of a prison in North Korea. 

The corridor was almost completely dark. There were bare bulbs spaced at wide intervals in the ceiling. But as was the case in the cell—they didn’t give off much light. 

Barry was jostled around a corner, where he saw a wedge of daylight just ahead of him. A few steps further, and he saw an open doorway, lit up with the obscured sunlight of a cloudy day.

Sgt. Park and the guard kept shoving Barry forward, while Jung-Ho walked calmly alongside them.

Barry shouted more protests. But Jung-Ho would give him no response, and the other two Koreans didn’t even understand him. 

Another shove, and he was outside, in a muddy courtyard enclosed by brick walls.

The courtyard was barren, but not empty. There were two groups of people out here.

One group was wearing rags. They looked like prisoners in a concentration camp, which—Barry supposed—was exactly what they were.

The other group was wearing military uniforms. They had guns. 

Something, Barry could tell, was about to take place in this courtyard—something very bad.

And he was going to be a part of it.

Chapter 4, Part 4

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The Consultant: Chapter 4, Part 2

Barry diverted his attention from the gun in his face, to look in the direction of the door. Where the voice had come from. 

There were actually two men standing there.

One was a bespectacled. youngish man, maybe in his early thirties. Not very tall, slight of build. He was wearing a dark gray tunic. An outfit that Barry had heard called a “Mao suit”. It was common in communist countries, especially in Asia.

The other newcomer was a large Korean man in a military uniform. He wore a peaked cap. This man was a giant, one of the largest men Barry had ever seen, in person. 

The two newcomers stood in the doorway. There simply wasn’t enough room in the cell to accommodate them.

“My name is Jung-Ho,” the man in the dark gray tunic said. He gestured to the giant standing beside him. “And this is Sergeant Park. I’m afraid that Sergeant Park speaks no English.”

The large uniformed Korean glowered at him. For some reason, Barry feared the big man even more than the Korean guard who had just beat him with the truncheon, the one who was now holding a gun on him. 

“Where am I?” Barry demanded—though he already deduced the answer, more or less. 

“You are in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK.”

“You people have kidnapped me and brought me to North Korea?”

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The young man who had introduced himself as Jung-Ho said, “We would prefer to say that we have liberated you. And you have been brought to the DPRK for an important task.”

Jung-Ho said something to the Korean guard holding the pistol. His tone was not angry, but firm and self-assured. The guard gave Barry one final glare, and reholstered his weapon.

That was progress, Barry supposed. But it didn’t even come close to rectifying this situation. 

It was so outlandish, that Barry was almost tempted to believe that this whole thing was a practical joke.

But Barry knew better. This was no joke. As absurd as it was, he was in real trouble here. The worst trouble of his entire life.

“What is this?” Barry asked. What this man was saying made absolutely no sense, whatsoever. “I demand that you take me to the American embassy, right away.”

Jung-Ho sighed. He looked at Barry as if he were a child, or a simpleton who had overlooked something painfully obvious.

“First of all, there is no American embassy in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Officially, a state of war exists between our two countries. Secondly, you are here at the generosity and forbearance of the DPRK, and our Supreme Leader, Comrade Kim Jong-un. We have a job for you. A task that is essential for the development of our country, and the plans of our Supreme Leader.”

This explanation made even less sense to Barry. Why in the world would anyone from North Korea want him taken prisoner?

He recalled stories in the news from recent years, in which some reporter, or that rare American tourist who traveled to North Korea, was imprisoned in the Hermit Kingdom on some trumped-up charge.

Usually what the North Koreans wanted was money. Or a visit from some high-ranking American. Barry seemed to recall that former President Clinton had made a visit to North Korea some years ago in order to secure the release of an imprisoned American reporter.

“This is a scam, right?” Barry said. “You want money, right? Or maybe you want President Clinton to visit. Is that it?”

“No, Barry. I assure that is not what we want.”

“Well, you’re not going to get it,” Barry said, heedless of the man’s denial.  “I’m a nobody. Do you understand? I’m not Laura Ling, or Lisa Ling, or whoever it was that Bill Clinton came here to rescue. Nobody knows who I am, except for my family, and a small circle of my business associates.”

Jung-Ho smiled. The smile infuriated Barry. “Barry Lawson, you sell yourself short. You will remember that our agent produced a magazine with your face on the cover.”

Now Barry understood the larger significance of that encounter with Mr. Kim. But the North Koreans were obviously mistaken. Did they think he was some kind of celebrity or dignitary? Advertising World Weekly was nothing but a trade magazine, with limited circulation. Did the North Koreans even know that?

“I demand that you take me to the American embassy,” Barry repeated.

“I’ve already told you that there is no American embassy in the DPRK.”

 Barry struggled to think, scouring his mind for every bit of information that he had ever gleaned about North Korea.

He seemed to recall that the Swedish embassy served as the intermediary for Americans who found themselves in North Korea, and needed the assistance of a western government.

“Take me to the Swedish embassy, then.” Barry said. 

Now it was as if Barry were the one speaking an incomprehensible language. 

Jung-Ho said something in Korean to the guard with the truncheon—the one who had been ready to shoot him only minutes ago. 

The guard smiled at what Jung-Ho had said—whatever it was. 

“Very well,” Jung-Ho said now in English. “If you are unwilling to accept our generosity, then you are of no use to the DPRK.”

“So what now?” Barry asked.

“Now,” Jung-Ho said, “you die.”

Chapter 4, Part 3

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The Consultant: Chapter 3, Part 2

Fifteen minutes, later, Keiko still hadn’t shown up.

Barry now realized what Keiko had done: She had led him on a wild goose chase, in retaliation for his presumptuousness and his lechery.

She had resented the fact that he, a brash American foreigner, had assumed that he could simply pick up a woman at a hotel bar and spend the night with her.

Who did he think he was?

Of course, Barry realized that plenty of men did that—or they wanted to, at least. Nevertheless, there would be plenty of women who would find such behavior objectionable, even offensive.

Several of Barry’s friends had reported women giving them fake phone numbers at bars. It was way of quickly getting rid of a man who was pushy, or obnoxious, or who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

It was also a way of getting the last laugh. One of Barry’s friends had admitted that when he called the number a woman had given him in a bar, it connected to the division of the Chicago Police Department that specialized in sex crimes.

Why, then, had she sent the glass of champagne? Who knew? Maybe she had planned it from the beginning. Perhaps another American man had broken her heart, and Barry had seemed a convenient proxy for revenge.

Who knew, indeed?

Barry looked at his watch: It was late. But there was still time for him to return to his hotel room, and get most of a full night’s sleep.

He was just starting back to the hotel, when he heard a female voice call out:

“Mister Barry!”

It was Keiko. She was still wearing her evening dress, but she had changed her shoes. Gone were the high heels she had been wearing at the restaurant. Now she was wearing low-soled black shoes that were a cross between sneakers and slippers.

“Sorry I’m late!” she said, rushing up to him.

“I was about to give up on you,” Barry admitted.

“I was always planning to be here,” she insisted.

“And now you’re here,” Barry said. He looked around the darkened street. He didn’t see any sign of a taxi. “I’m afraid we’ll have to go to the front of the hotel, or at least closer in that direction, in order to catch a taxi.”

She looked at him as if he had just made an unspeakably absurd suggestion.

“No, no, Mister Barry. We don’t need to do that.”

“But–didn’t you want to take a taxi?”

“We don’t need a taxi,” she said. “My apartment isn’t very far. Come on! Follow me!”


Keiko started across the dark, empty street before Barry could ask further questions or make any protest.

When she was halfway across, she turned around to find him still standing on the sidewalk.

“Come on, Mister Barry!” she called out. “Don’t you want to make love to me?”

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Chapter 3, Part 3

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New online live (serial) novel project: ‘The Consultant’


I’m launching a new online novel project: The Consultant.

What’s it about?

An American marketing consultant is kidnapped while in Japan, and forced to work for the brutal North Korean regime.

Will he resist the North Koreans? Will he escape?  Will he die in captivity? You’ll have to read to find out.



Where did the idea for this story come from?

The news.

The North Korean government has a history of kidnapping foreigners over the years. Not for political purposes…but for practical ones.

In the 1970s, the North Korean government, on the personal orders of the late Kim Jong il, kidnapped South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her estranged husband, Shin Sang-ok. (Ms. Choi passed away just last year.)

Kim ordered the kidnapping so that Choi and Shin could put their skills to work for the North Korean film industry. They escaped in 1986, when they eluded their North Korean handlers while traveling in Europe.


The North Korean government has also kidnapped many Japanese citizens over the years. In Japan, this is known as the ratchi no mondai 拉致の問題 (“the abduction problem”). The ratchi no mondai always comes up when Japan and North Korea discuss normalizing diplomatic relations.

To the best of my knowledge, no American citizen has ever been kidnapped by North Korean operatives in a similar manner. But it certainly isn’t beyond the realm of possibility…

Start reading here!