When Barry awoke this time, it was without dreams.
He didn’t know how many hours had passed. But he remembered everything: the deception at the hotel bar, the long walk through the streets of Osaka, the abduction.
That ship, where they had tied him up and placed him on the floor like so much cargo.
But where was he now?
The first thing he noticed was that his wrists and ankles were no longer bound.
The second thing he noticed was that he was lying on a hard, wooden bench.
He smelled something rank. It was his own body. He was still wearing the clothes he had worn to dinner with Sato and Nagase.
How long ago had that been?
He opened his eyes and saw the unpainted stone walls of a tiny room. There were no windows, but there was a bare light bulb overhead. It emitted about half the normal amount of light from a bulb that size.
Barry sat up on the bench. He placed his feet on the floor.
The floor was solid. Unpainted, pitted concrete.
A cell. A prison cell, specifically. He was no longer aboard the ship, then. Whatever this place was, it was land-based.
There was a door immediately opposite him. An iron-plated door with a small window. The window was covered by a latticework of steel mesh.
Barry heard a key turn in the lock of the door.
If it’s Keiko—Mi-kyung—again, I’m going to give her a big surprise, Barry thought.
The door creaked open. It wasn’t Mi-kyung. Not Mr. Kim, either.
The man was wearing a dark green uniform and a green, billed cap. In the center of his cap was a coat-of-arms. This consisted of a red star enclosed within a brass circle.
Barry had watched plenty of CNN over the years. He recognized the red star and the uniform.
The man standing before him was some kind of an officer of North Korea.
But that was impossible—
No, it wasn’t impossible. He had been in Japan. What separated Japan and the Korean Peninsula?
Nothing but the Sea of Japan.
The uniformed man closed the door behind him. He barked something at Barry in Korean.
“I—I don’t understand,” Barry said.
The guard was holding a solid, cylindrical object in his hand. A truncheon.
Without warning, the guard brought the truncheon down on Barry’s left shoulder.
A piercing, stinging blow.
Barry cried out in pain.
Barry was shocked by the pain and the sudden violence. He was exhausted; and he was suffering from extreme disorientation. He hadn’t yet gotten his arms around his new circumstances.
But there was no way he was going to sit here and take a beating.
Barry launched himself at the guard. He swung his right fist. But the guard slammed the truncheon into the soft part of Barry’s forearm.
The guard swung the truncheon yet again. Barry saw it coming for his head. He ducked, and the truncheon grazed off his forehead.
A burst of bright, brilliant pain. Barry went down. He saw stars before his eyes.
He also saw that he had enraged the guard.
Now the guard was reaching for the sidearm on his belt.
The guard unholstered a small pistol. It was a semiautomatic of some kind. Barry was no expert on firearms, but he would have guessed it to be Chinese- or Russian-made.
The guard pointed the pistol at Barry’s face. Barry looked into the black hole of its muzzle.
The door creaked open again. Someone else was entering the tiny cell. Barry heard the sound, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the muzzle of that pistol.
“Barry Lawson,” said a male voice in fluent English. “I am so glad to see you have arrived.”
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?”
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.”