The Consultant: Chapter 10

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.

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. 

And now this: His captors 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 where they wanted him. Barry turned around and saw a crumbling brick wall that was punctured with 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’ unwashed bodies.

His own unwashed body. 

Barry glanced over and saw Jung-Ho, waiting and watching impassively. Jung-Ho 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.

The guard with the pistol shouted something in Korean. Barry watched in disbelief as he placed the muzzle of the pistol against the head of the first prisoner—a middle-aged woman.

There was a loud crack, and Barry saw the pistol buck in the guard’s outstretched hand. 

The female prisoner fell to the ground. A section of her head was missing. Her blood was gushing out onto the mud. 

A few seconds ago she had been alive. Alive in this hellhole, yes—but alive. 

And now she was dead. 

Just like that.  

Before Barry had even absorbed this horror, the guard with the pistol moved on to the next prisoner: the great grandfather.

The old man looked stoically ahead, not looking at the officer.

The guard held out the gun and the gun went BOOM! again. 

The top of the old man’s head seemed to have been sheared off. He toppled forward into the mud. 

The next prisoner was a youngish woman. Under different circumstances, she would have been pretty. But now she was crying, babbling hysterically in Korean. A line of mucus ran down from one nostril. 

She fell to her knees. Barry couldn’t understand her words, of course, but he understood their import well enough: She was still very young, and she was begging for her life.

The gun went off yet again. 

The top of the woman’s head collapsed inward, in an explosion of blood, and her body fell forward. 

Now there were three dead bodies, their heads ruined by that terrible weapon that the guard wielded with such cold efficiency.

Life and death means nothing to these people, Barry thought. 

They’re going to kill me.

They aren’t kidding around. 

It’s really going to happen.

Unless…

Barry hated himself for what he had just decided to do, but he was still determined to go through with it.

The guard with the pistol probably didn’t speak a word of English. Moreover, he was obviously not in a listening mood. He was in a shooting and killing mood.

Barry looked in the other direction. He saw Jung-Ho, still standing at the edge of the courtyard, the massive Sgt. Park at his side. 

Barry broke out of the line and ran in the direction of Jung-Ho.  

What was the worst that could happen? They would shoot him?

Jung-Ho watched him approach, but he did not react.

A short distance from the edge of the courtyard, Barry tripped and fell in the mud. With his hands bound, he had no way to break the fall. He struggled to his knees, aware that the front of his body was entirely caked with mud. 

“Okay!” he pleaded. “You win! You want me to perform a task for you? Serve your Supreme Leader? I’ll do it!

Even as Barry spoke these words, he loathed himself anew for his desperation, this voluntary surrender of his dignity.

Without looking directly at Barry, Jung-Ho said something in Korean.

Sgt. Park stepped forward, into the muddy courtyard, and lifted Barry off the ground. The big Korean yelled something incomprehensible at him. 

“I—I don’t understand,” Barry said, as he struggled to his feet.

Sgt. Park punched Barry in the stomach. He doubled over, and fell back into the mud.  

Barry heard Jung-Ho say something else in Korean. Sgt. Park lifted him up again—but this time he spared him the punch. 

It didn’t matter. Barry’s stomach felt like it had been struck by a cannonball. But that pain was minor, compared to his terror of that guard with the pistol— the one who liked to shoot unarmed prisoners in the head. 

Jung-Ho looked past Barry, and summoned another guard. Barry turned and saw the guard running, double-time, in their direction. He was a young guy, looked like a new enlistee. 

Barry heard the pistol crack again. More cries of anguish. Behind him the killing continued.

What is wrong with these people? Barry thought. But he knew that he had other, more immediate problems of his own.

The young guard stood at attention before Jung-Ho, as Jung-Ho issued a set of instructions in staccato Korean.

“You will go with this guard and Sgt. Park,” said Jung-Ho in English, his words obviously intended for Barry.

“What?” Barry said. “Where are they taking me?”

Then a new prospect occurred to Barry: Maybe the North Koreans had an even more horrific means of killing him in mind—something worse than being shot in the head with a pistol.

Perhaps this nightmare was about to get even worse—if that were even possible.

Barry had a dreadful feeling that it was possible.

Jung-Ho walked away without answering him.

 

End of excerpt

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