Sgt. Park took charge of him from there. To Barry’s minor relief, they did not go back the way they had come. Barry was spared another glimpse of that horrific courtyard—the execution ground.
Sgt. Park jostled him down a series of hallways. They came to another door. There was another guard there who let them pass.
Then they were out in the harsh gray daylight of North Korea again. Beneath his feet was hard-packed earth and gravel. In the distance rose a craggy mountain covered with coniferous Asian trees. Barry knew that the trees were alternately called Japanese pines in Japan, and Korean pines in Korea.
Immediately in front of him, a black SUV was idling, a uniformed guard behind the wheel. Barry didn’t recognize the brand of the SUV. The engine was running; but something didn’t sound quite right about it. There was a metallic clattering that wouldn’t have been present in a car made by Toyota, General Motors—or any vehicle manufactured and sold in the West.
Did they make motor vehicles in North Korea? He had no idea.
Sgt. Park opened the back passenger side door.
“Get in,” Jung-Ho said, matter-of-factly.
He hadn’t noticed Jung-Ho until now. Jung-Ho was standing there, finishing up a cigarette. He had been waiting here, apparently, while Sgt. Park and the other guard were giving Barry the cold water treatment.
“Where are we going?”
“Just get into the vehicle,” Jung-Ho said. “I’ll explain along the way. There is nothing to worry about. If we were going to simply kill you, we would have done so by now.”
There was a certain logic to that. Barry had no idea where they might be taking him in the SUV. He was willing to bet that their destination would be no worse than this prison, though.
He got in, and Sgt. Kim squeezed in beside him. The big man had a pungent odor in the space of the back seat. Jung-Ho ground out his cigarette and slipped into the front seat beside the driver.
They passed through a high gate, rolled open by guards toting AK-47s. Barry wondered about the other prisoners in the courtyard. Probably all of them were dead by now.
As that horrible place receded in the distance, Barry risked a look back. The building complex behind them was large and blocky. It looked very old.
Jung-Ho saw him looking, and said. “That place we’ve just left: It’s a state correctional facility.”
“Really?” Barry fired back. “It seemed more like a death camp to me.”
Jung-Ho ignored Barry’s comment. “Originally it was a prison built by the Japanese. They occupied our country for thirty-five years, from nineteen-ten to nineteen forty-five. Did you know that?”
“Yes.” Barry was vaguely aware of Korea’s history of Japanese colonization, and how the country had been divided at the end of World War II, into a Soviet-influenced zone in the North, and an American-influenced zone in the South. He knew that North Korea had invaded South Korea in 1950, prompting the intervention of United Nations forces on South Korea’s behalf.
Communist China later sent troops to fight for the North. The Soviet Union sent the North pilots and material aid.
After a bloody, three-year conflict, the war ended with a stalemate and an armistice, which paused active hostilities. But no peace treaty was ever signed. North and South Korea were still technically at war.
“That is mostly what the Japanese left behind,” Jung-Ho said. “Prisons.”
They were out on a two-lane highway now, and Barry got his first real look at North Korea. The country was barren. Barry had read somewhere that much of the Korean Peninsula had been effectively defoliated by the Korean War. But that had been nearly seventy years ago.
Barry also recalled news reports about the North Korean famine of more recent years. South Korea was a prosperous country where few people went hungry. But here, in North Korea, where the regime mismanaged what it did not expropriate, there was never enough food. Barry vaguely remembered hearing that ordinary North Koreans sometimes stripped the bark off trees, scouring the landscape for anything that might provide a few extra calories.
As the SUV carried them down the two-lane highway, Barry noted that there were no other vehicles on the road.
Another thing about North Korea, he supposed: Few people here owned cars.
About twenty minutes later, they rounded another bend, and entered a flat plain. In the distance to one side, Barry could make out a large river.
“That is the Taedong River,” Jung-Ho said. “It runs through the capital city of Pyongyang.”
This is like a guided tour through hell, Barry thought.
Shortly after that, they came upon another facility that might have been a prison, might have been something else. The SUV began to slow down.
This must be their destination.
This facility did not look quite as ominous as the repurposed Japanese prison from which they had just come. It was, however, far from welcoming. The entire place was surrounded by a high chain-link fence, topped with coiled concertina wire. Inside the fence barrier, Barry could make out numerous buildings. Most of them appeared to be no more than two stories in height.
As the SUV approached the main gate, Barry could also see guard towers placed at regular intervals. In the tower closest to the road, a uniformed North Korean guard stood watching them. He had an AK-47 slung over one shoulder.
“What—what is this place?” Barry asked.
“This is the Yang-suk Foreign Friends Camp,” Jung-Ho said.
“A ‘friends camp’,” Barry repeated. In this country words had no connection to reality. North Korea was the most oppressive dictatorship on earth, and yet the country was called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. A barbed wire facility with armed guards was a “foreign friends camp”.
But why were they taking him here?
Beside the main entrance, there was a North Korean flag atop a flagpole. As if Barry needed to dispel any lingering doubts that he really was in North Korea.
There was an armed guard at ground-level, manning the gate. When the SUV approached the gate, recognition registered on the guard’s face. Jung-Ho and Sgt. Park were well known here, obviously.
The gate slid open, and the SUV rolled inside. Jung-Ho turned around and looked at Barry.
“This,” Jung-Ho said, “is your new home.”
The SUV carried them to a concrete slab building not far inside the camp. The building looked like something out of East Germany or the former Soviet Union: drab, gray, and blocklike, without style or ornamentation.
The driver brought the vehicle to a halt. Jung-Ho and Sgt. Park exited the vehicle. Barry got out when Sgt. Park grunted at him and made an imperious hand gesture.
Following Jung-Ho’s instructions, while ever-aware of Sgt. Park’s presence, Barry passed through a doorway. There was a flight of stairs immediately to their left.
Sgt. Park hustled him up the stairs, poking him with the tip of his truncheon all the way. Jung-Ho followed behind. The stairwell was dimly lit and filled with the smells of dust and mildew.
Barry was going up the stairs as fast as he could. But Park kept jabbing him from behind.
Barry whirled and faced the big Korean. Then he spoke to Jung-Ho.
“Tell that big bastard that I’m doing what you want. I’m cooperating. So he can quick poking me with that club of his, already.”
In another second, Barry thought, this big bastard is going to thrash me.
Jung-Ho looked at Barry, then at Sgt. Park. He seemed to be weighing a decision. Finally, Jung-Ho spoke to Park in Korean. Park snarled at Barry, but he put the truncheon back on his belt.
“I admire your courage, Barry,” Jung-Ho said. “But if I had not been here to intervene, Sergeant Park would have beaten you senseless—possibly even to death. This is not America, where ordinary people can challenge public officials. Now, please continue up the stairs.”
Barry continued to climb the stairs without further comment.
Barry understood that what was going on here was a kind of good-cop, bad-cop routine. They were brutalizing him, but in measured doses, with some ultimate objective in mind.
Clearly, they had not kidnapped him in Osaka and brought him here just to kill him, or even just to “beat him senseless”—to use Jung-Ho’s words.
They had some purpose in mind.
The question was: What was that purpose?