“No!” Angeline shouted at the phone, shaking it. The screen went dark and for a moment she thought the video feed had been cut off. The sounds of dogs barking and growling and the anguished cries of men stopped her. Collapsing on the floor halfway out of the bedroom, she sobbed as the cries grew worse for a few moments, then stopped. The sounds of ripping and tearing continued unabated.
“Brandon, Coke and I have seen the video, Mr. President,” Billy said, still horrified at the thought of dogs tearing at human flesh. The video had suddenly started just as they were about to reconvene for the meeting about Carla.
“Angeline?” President Early asked, sitting down at the head of the table in the situation room. He indicated with a nod for the Secretary of State, Mark Vinson, to pull up on the middle of the three large screens the diplomatic cable received from North Korea via China.
As the Secretary of State did, the president’s chief of staff engaged another phone dialing an extension, asking for the call to the Chinese ambassador to be put through. He hung up the receiver and waited. Thirty seconds later, a white light flashed, indicating the incoming call. He picked up the receiver, spoke two words, pressed the hold button and hung up the receiver. Vinson leaned over to the president, muted the phone the president was on and quickly said, “Ambassador on the line.”
President Early and his chief of staff exchanged a few words. He unmuted the button as his chief of staff exited the room.
“I don’t know—” Billy stopped, interrupted by a text Coke had received from his butler. “Mr. President, she has.” He handed the phone back to Coke. “She is in a state of distress as I presume you can understand why.”
The president waited a moment before responding. “I do. Moments before the video was received here, Mark Vinson had received a cable from Pyongyang. It is a request that Angeline act as an intermediary between Pyongyang, the trawler, Seoul, the Chinese government, and Met.”
Billy laughed mirthlessly. “I believe the video will convince her not to but what is that Pyongyang wants exactly?”
President Early indicated with a nod of his head for Vinson to explain further.
“Billy, this is Mark Vinson. The cable says to facilitate the trawler’s release through the DMZ and that of the drawings. There are now 3 apparently.”
“Three?” Billy asked, checking with Brandon and Coke to see if they had heard of this.
“Yes. The third was found in a locked box in the engine compartment of the trawler.” Vinson adjusted his black blazer and rubbed a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. “I sympathize with Angeline. Mac was a valued member of the press contingent here as you know, but under the circumstances I recommended to the president that Angeline consider the request before we respond to Pyongyang. It might be the only way to save the operator’s life and…”
“…she might be able to learn more about the drawings, to help with the investigation, I take it?” Brandon asked, identifying himself afterwards. He hit the moot button on the phone, just before Billy slammed his hands on the office windows. Coke was only marginally better than Billy, though Brandon knew that Coke would vent once the president was out of ear shot. Seeing that Billy had stopped, Brandon released the button. “Because of her close connection with the Eternal Leader?”
Vinson and the president looked at each other, Early confirming that silently. “If anyone is able, yes.”
Outside the horse park, as a messenger hurried toward him, the Eternal Leader gestured to the guide that was leading his horse to stop. The curator received the envelope and offered it to the Eternal Leader who ripped the note out of its envelope. He smiled, imagining Thailand’s prime minister feasting on the thought that protesters were destroying ballot boxes of an election called to unseat her. Although he had played no part nor financed the operation, the protest would certainly not hurt help his butterfly plan. The prime minister had already proven herself useful by tightening the grip on muzzling the Singapore press in their efforts to denounce him as well as ignoring the UN embargo on shipping of specialty teas and suede leather purses to Pyongyang. “Tell our friends in Bangkok efforts in stymieing the corrupting evils of democracy won’t go unrewarded. We look forward to hearing about continued successes on Election Day.”
The curator took the message back from the Eternal Leader, bowed, and started to back away when the Eternal Leader stopped him.
“A message to our special friend.” The Eternal Leader stopped, considering what he would say. The curator cautiously looked up, hearing the pause. The Eternal Leader sat back in the saddle. “Tell him to assuage the tender heart that all is…” He gestured toward the curator, trying to find the right word.
“…well?” the curator asked in suggestion.
“Yes, yes. None is as it is.”
“Get him cleaned up and clean clothes,” the supervising guard ordered to the two guards who hauled a limp Mac back to his cell. “Take care no more injuries. Eternal Leader…”
They were in the basement of the addition to the palace where official enemies were jailed. Mac knew from rumors that this was to isolate him from anyone that might could help him. The cells were not on any map, so in effect, he did not exist. An official enemy? At least I’ve moved up in the world. Still a citizen of North Korea, Mac had seen his status of an ordinary citizen transform, sometimes for the better, and lately for the worse when he became a correspondent in the White House press pool. During the father’s reign, there had not been many occasions to visit his family, as the result of him having been barred from entry for years at a time, simply for speaking out on the terrors perpetuated by past regimes. His mother had died during one of these periods. He had learned of her death from a visit with his father three months ago. His father had assured him that his brother and sister, both younger than he, were doing fine, that no harm had come to any of them. The last time he had seen them was two nights before Angeline had been expelled from the country.
Mac kept from tensing as the guard on the left dropped his arm, pretending to be unconscious. He certainly had a right to be, after being thrown into the bed of a truck like a sack of flour. When the lights had gone out in the arena, he had issued a silent prayer to Buddha for well-being in the afterlife. Halfway in the middle of this, he had been dragged and thrown in the bed of truck. At first, he had braced for the first bite, thinking that he had been thrown in the cage with the dogs. After hearing the baying of the dogs decreasing, he realized that he had been saved but for what? Torture? To stand trial for his condemnation of the Eternal Leader’s actions? He would have rather died in the arena.