The palace curator slipped the gently folded silk drawing into a quart size plastic bag and zipped it shut. Then, he slipped the bag into a slightly larger carpeted bag filled with small boxes of ginseng imported from a San Francisco organic farming operation.
Closing the bag, he sat it on the shelf with other items were waiting to be loaded onto trucks for transport to the port at Nampo later tonight. He hurried out of the loading dock, up a set of four steps and into the hallway that connected that loading dock to the servants’ area of the palace. The Eternal Leader had suddenly authorized the release of the trawler an hour ago. And, to the curator’s immense shock, and relief, the operator had been released unharmed. NK had however ordered the shipment of drawings and paintings continued to be detained without further explanation. In time, I will find and get the rest to safety.
Meanwhile, on the top floor of the palace, in the room the the Eternal Leader termed his trophy room, a meeting had ended between the Eternal Leader, the minister of defense, his daughter — the wife of the Eternal Leader, and two other advisers. The Eternal Leader had summoned them all so that they could hear his plan for the next execution. The victim — the good doctor, having arrived an hour ago. He was now in a holding cell in the basement of the palace.
The room was not the usual one with trophies on shelves. In fact, no trophies were housed in there. Not because the Eternal Leader had never received a trophy during his education in London. He had won several in fact in chess, debate, and various academic competitions. The trophies had been siezed by his father upon his son’s return and melted down. Now the room was NK’s room of celebration, and remembrance of everyone whose displeasure had earned them death. On three of the four walls of the ten by ten room were a row of twelve by fourteen framed oil paintings. These paintings, completed by the curator, had captured the executed’s state of mind, minutes before their death. One, a rabid professor of Confucian ideals had been caught in angry protestations, condemning the Eternal Leader to hell even cooking oil was poured on his hands and then lit. Two had been in silent stoic meditation. The rest–begging, pleading, sniveling cowards. This characterization included the two at the end, before the empty frame awaiting the good doctor’s final portraiture. The two? NK’s former fiancee and her uncle.
The minister of defense grabbed his daughter’s jacketed elbow, forcing her to stop. Ahead of them, the Eternal Leader left the room, talking with an adviser, angrily gesturing with his hand as the rest of his entourage silently followed them. The minister leaned in close so that his voice would not carry down the hall. Minutes before, she had come within a few words of expressing displeasure with NK. That could not happen, if she wanted to remain. His daughter though was a tad headstrong, particularly when she was in one of her jealous snits, like now. With an edge in his voice, he whispered, “Daughter, dislike all you want but,” he stabbed a finger in the direction of NK who was about to turn the corner, “not within his presence.”
She wrenched her elbow out of her father’s grip. “He is looking to set me aside, find another. I will not…you cannot let him do that.” She turned to face her father, a mirthless tight-lipped smile on her face. “Or have the wisps of age,” her fingers mimicked desperately grasping at tendrils of wisps, “clouded over your judgment. He still wants a westerner. You said that if I consented to be his wife, he would forget about that.” Her left hand brushed the slim navy suit skirt. “I wear these clothes and shoes.” She kicked off of the matching navy pumps where it sailed behind her father and landed up against the wall underneath the empty frame. “I hear the mocking laughs behind my back, that I betray our heritage by wearing these things. I am made out to be his fool!”
The minister closed his hands around hers, holding them and looked into his daughter’s large brown eyes. If she kept on talking like this, someone would hear, report her to the Eternal Leader. She was right though. For a husband, she had what amounted to a man with a teenager’s immature tempter and who secretly idolized the West and craved their goods. NK’s time had come before he was ready. The party had not listened to their minister of defense, so taken were they with the charismatic NK. He had said all the right things, sworn that the party would be restored to its former grandeur, to be a rival of China’s. Then he had did an about face and courted the military, strengthening it, requiring that the party’s leadership serve the military’s interests ahead of its own.
“Keep him happy. Our time will come. This fascination with the woman will come to nothing. He is only taken with her.” The minister ran a hand over his daughter’s close cropped brown hair, wincing that the style was currently fashionable one in London. When the styles changed there, NK required her to change hers. “Because she looks like you.” He smiled as she appeared to be mollified. He sighed. If only the Eternal Leader’s moods was as easily changed. “NK will take something too far, anger America, one time too many. Then they will act.” He released his daughter’s hands and brushed off the front of his blue shirt jacket with one of his hands. “UN will force them. Soon he will be taken by the ICC for trial.”
Her eyes twinkled in delight as she rubbed her hands together. “Then, Pnu Kung can come home, marry me, and take his place as leader.”
Back in his studio, located two floors above the dock, in an out-of-the-way cubbyhole between the second of four pantries and an empty unfinished storage room, the palace curator checked the hypodermic needle and gauged the amount of solution in the barrel. It was half full so he started over, this time filling the barrel to three-quarters. He capped the needle with the clear top and pocketed the needle. Then, he closed the bottom right drawer of the wooden table and locked it. Before doing so, he noticed that he only four needles left. He would have to get more as undoubtedly the Eternal Leader would execute more than four more people in the future. Picking up his sketch pad, several pencils and erasers, he left to make the trip down to the good doctor’s cell. A shiver ran up the curator’s painting arm as he envisioned the doctor, lying on the cold cement of the tiny cell, naked and tied up, unaware of what awaited him. If he was lucky, he would never know. The curator would be alone with the doctor. He was always alone with the victims. He could not sketch if he was being watched by guards or other curiosity seekers. This would allow the curator to inject the mercy-giving poison into the doctor without anyone being the wiser. As he made his way down the hall, past several unused rooms, unfinished when money had ran out, he patted the pocket of his coat, finding the barrel of the needle with his fingers, praying not only for the doctor’s soul, but his own.