At first Jung-Ho said nothing, so Barry rephrased and qualified the question.
“What do you people want from me? I have some money, but it’s all back in the United States. And it isn’t very much money—at least it wouldn’t be much to a national government—not even yours. You people probably spent more money getting me here than I could possibly give you. I suppose you could pressure the American government for some concessions in return for my release, but the current American administration isn’t exactly known for its love of compromise.”
“I already told you, Barry, we don’t want money from you. Nor do we want to use you as a…bargaining chip.”
“I’m confused then,” Barry said. “Very confused.”
“The Democratic People’s Republic is surrounded by enemies. There are many nations on earth that want to see our downfall. Nevertheless, our Supreme Leader works tirelessly for our peaceful development.”
Barry wanted to interrupt. He knew, however, that the North Koreans took their national propaganda as a kind of catechism. They were worse than religious fanatics.
Let him get to the point, Barry thought. He will eventually.
“Our country therefore liberates the labor of certain foreigners with specialized skills,” Jung-Ho said, “to use for a higher purpose.”
Now Barry sensed a connection to his presence here—sort of.
“You mean that you kidnap foreigners and force them to work for your government?”
“We don’t kidnap them, Barry. We liberate them. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the most perfect, most wonderful nation on earth. For seventy years, we have been blessed to receive the guidance of the Kims. Kim il-Sung, our Eternal Leader, Kim Jong-il, our Great Leader, and Kim Jung-un, our present, Supreme Leader.”
“All fine and good, Jung-Ho,” Barry said. “But what could you people possibly want from me? I’m not a nuclear physicist or a germ warfare biologist. I’ve never been in the military. Hell, I wasn’t even in the Boy Scouts.”
“We didn’t liberate you to work on our weapons systems, Barry. You’re here because of your work as a marketing consultant.”
“You’re kidding me.” Barry said.
“Oh, I assure you, Barry: This is no joke. That much, at least, we should be able to agree on.”
Barry sat there, looking at Jung-Ho incredulously.
“Why?” he asked. “You don’t even have a market economy here. Everything in North Korea is done on a command-and-control basis. Like the USSR or China used to be, about thirty or forty years ago. What could you people possibly want with a marketing consultant? You don’t even do any marketing.”
“You are partially right,” Jung-Ho said. “Internally, our country is free of the wasteful competition that characterizes capitalist economies. But the rest of the world is not as developed or enlightened as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We are therefore forced to deal with the outside world…on their own terms. Most of all, we have a need for hard currency.”
“But you have nothing to sell,” Barry said, sounding harsh—and not caring. “You don’t even make enough food and goods for your own people. And you think you’re going to somehow compete in the international marketplace? With what? That shoddy SUV we rode here in?”
“That,” Jung-Ho said, “is in the future. We are aware of our present limitations. As I said, our country has been set back by the aggressions of the American imperialists and their running dog lackeys.”
Barry grunted impatiently. He was sick of this game. He felt a sudden urge to lunge across the table, and strangle Jung-Ho with his bare hands.
And then Sgt. Park would shoot him. No—for now, at least, he had to keep this man talking—had to figure out what they wanted from him.
“I still don’t understand what you want from me, Jung-Ho. Please go on.”
“We cannot yet sell cars and computers and refrigerators on the international market,” Jung-Ho said. “But even the Americans have not taken our beautiful country away from us. One of the sectors that the Supreme Leader is most interested in developing is tourism. And that, Barry Lawson, is why you are here. You are going to create a plan for marketing the DPRK as the world’s premier tourist destination.”
Despite the already overwhelming nature of the present circumstances, Barry found himself, well…flabbergasted.
Was this guy kidding? Barry wondered. In the back of his mind, he dared to hope that all of this might be some grand practical joke, perhaps staged by Nagase and Sato, or some of his buddies back home in Chicago.
But he knew with certainty that this was all deadly real. The firing line in the courtyard had proven that.
Nevertheless, this struck Barry as pure fantasy.
“Jung-Ho,” Barry said, as gently as he could. That will never work. Your country is an international pariah—an outcast. Americans can’t even come here.”
Jung-Ho made a short, bitter laugh in reply. “You Americans always assume that your country is the center of the world. Many people from many countries visit the DPRK every year. We want more foreign visitors. And we understand that in order to achieve this, we must learn how to market our country abroad. This is where you come in, Barry Lawson.”
“Even I can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear,” Barry said.
The idiom apparently went over Jung-Ho’s head. He gave Barry a puzzled look.
“That might be difficult, Jung-Ho,” Barry said. “That’s what I’m saying.” Then he added: “Even if I was inclined to help you.”
Jung-Ho shook his head. “Not so difficult. Our country has an abundance of natural resources. On the border between China and the DPRK is a crater lake called Heaven Lake. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world, Barry. Have you ever heard of it?”
“No,” Barry admitted. “I haven’t.” Barry knew nothing of the geography of North Korea—save that it was north of South Korea, and that the capital city was Pyongyang.
“You haven’t heard of it because we haven’t yet succeeded in telling the people of the world about all that we have to share: Not just our natural treasures, but also the glorious national buildings and monuments that have been constructed under the leadership of our Eternal Leader, our Great Leader, and our Supreme Leader.”
Barry shook his head. They had kidnapped him from Japan—for this?
Barry knew better than to protest further. In his mind, he was already playing the long game. These people wanted something from him. For the time being, that was keeping him alive.
“In exchange for your cooperation,” Jung-Ho said, “you will live a comfortable life here. Much better than almost all of the North Korea population.”
I was living just fine before I came here, Barry thought, but did not say. He knew that little could be gained by goading his captors.
“There are other foreigners here,” Jung-Ho continued. His tone suggested that he really did want to sell the whole idea to Barry. “You will be able to mix freely with them at certain times. There are rules here, but this is not a prison camp. This is a camp for foreign friends of the DPRK, who are here voluntarily.”
“‘Voluntarily’?” Barry said. “And if I walked out the front gate?”
“You cannot walk out the front gate,” Jung-Ho said. “As you saw when we entered, it is locked, and there is a guard there—for your safety.”
“Suppose I find a way.”
“In that case, Barry, you would be subject to punishment. As I said, there are rules here.”