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

Table of contents