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First pages

▪ Prologue ▪

The slender young woman looked up when jail guards opened her cell door. One of them tossed a set of clothes at her.

“What’s this for?” she asked, holding up a simple gray blouse. With it was a pair of matching cotton trousers and cheap rubber slippers for her feet. “I wear this for my trial? What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

“Take that filthy whore’s dress off before we take it off you!” a guard demanded.

“Fine.” She unstrapped the heeled shoes from her feet and set them aside. Standing barefoot on the grubby floor, she pulled the sleeveless sundress over her head. Grabbing the blouse, she gave it a sniff. “This isn’t clean.”

“Doesn’t matter. You won’t be wearing it long.”

She finished dressing. “At least I’m finally getting my trial. I’ve been waiting since yesterday for something to happen.”

“Shut up,” the guard said as she clamped rusted shackles on the young woman’s wrists and ankles, linking them to a chain that wrapped around the girl’s waist.

“I keep telling you guys, I’m not a prostitute.”

She was given a shove toward the cell door. Her gait restricted by the chains and shackles, she fell to the floor. Shouting an obscenity while struggling to get up, she was lifted by the arms to her feet again.

“At least let me talk to a lawyer or government official before the trial!”

“Your trial is done. You were found guilty of all charges.”

“What? I can straighten this out! Ask my family, my parents. They’ll vouch for me. They’ll tell you I’m not a prostitute!”

“They’ve been talked to.”

“So, you understand. The judges understand the mix-up, right?”

“They understand you are guilty of several crimes, all of which you will soon be punished for, along with other criminals.”

Carrying the girl’s dress and shoes, the other guard opened the rear entrance of the police station house. She’d been held there since the afternoon before when she was arrested for prostitution, supposedly soliciting outside the apartment she lived in with her parents. Unexpectedly for her, a trial had been held but without her in attendance. With a guilty verdict hanging over her like a dark cloud, she squinted against the bright sunlight. A van was waiting, the back door of it hanging open.

“Punished? I’ve done nothing wrong. Where are my parents? I demand to speak to them!”

“You will see them soon enough. Then your parents will be sent to a training camp where their minds and bodies will be retrained to better support juche, the proper way of life here in our Homeland.”

“Training camp? Why are they being sent there?” the girl asked, watching as her chains were secured to metal hoops inside the van to prevent her escape. She had heard rumors of such camps, prisons where people suffered endless abuse through hard work and pitiful living standards. Supposedly, they existed less for training or education and more for punishment and isolation. Apparently, the places existed. “They’ve done nothing wrong!”

“They too had their trials and were found guilty by association with a criminal who performed acts deleterious to the good of our nation. Our beloved Supreme Leader has decided your family needs to be trained to become better citizens.”

“My parents are factory workers. Seven days a week, they toil in that factory, making the things our nation needs. What better citizen is there than them?”

“Ones who don’t raise a whore.”

The whole thing was ridiculous. Once she got to where her punishment was to start, she would explain to whoever was in charge the grand mix-up that led to her arrest. She had simply bought a new dress and went outside for her boyfriend to take a photo of her. It was all-white, to be her wedding dress. Maybe a little short for that purpose, she’d already bought more fabric to sew to the bottom and to make sleeves. It was when she and her boyfriend embraced and kissed outside that brought the trouble. Who knew one of her own neighbors would call the police and complain about something so trivial as an outdoor kiss with the young man she was to marry in a few days?

She sat in silence as they drove along, figuring that any argument with guards in the van would only make matters worse for her. Instead, she thought of how to approach the problem, and developed her argument. When the van backed around and parked, she was glad she would finally have a chance to explain.

The back door of the van opened, allowing sunlight to stream in. Again, she squinted against the brightness as she was pulled out and dropped to the ground. Struggling to her feet and waddling forward, she saw several other vans parked there. Just before her was the entrance to a tunnel into a vast structure, a place she recognized as the new national sports stadium.

“Why are we here?” she asked, confused. “Where are my parents? Where is my boyfriend?”

She was given a shove forward in silence. Half-dragged by her guards, half-waddling because of the shackles, she passed through the tunnel until emerging into the stadium. Inside were thousands of people in the lowest portions of the stands, sitting in silence. Chairs were set up on the ground level of the playing field, the grass now brown and yellow from the long, dry summer. Other than dead grass that stood straight up, the stadium looked pristine, as though it had never been used for sports. People in green military uniforms filled those chairs and watched intently as she was led past them to the far end of the field.

“Why are we here?” she asked again, only getting shoved forward.

When the girl glanced at the faces of the spectators in the chairs, she saw the most easily recognized face of the nation, that of their Supreme Leader. He didn’t smile, he didn’t grimace; his eyes merely looked back over his chubby cheeks.

“Why is he here?” she asked, beginning to panic even more.

She got a slap in the back of the head. “Don’t you look at him! Keep your eyes down!”

Chancing a glance at where they were going, she saw half a dozen men shackled to posts near one end of the field about where soccer goals would be. Stacks of hay bales were behind them. They were dressed in simple white shirts and dark trousers, they heads hanging down.

“What’s going on here?” she demanded, struggling against the chains and shackles. “Why am I here?”

When she stopped walking, she was dragged to a vacant post, where her guards applied new restraints to her. The men tied to posts near her lifted their heads and watched.

She strained against the leather straps that were securing her to the post. “Stop doing this! Let me go!”

For that, she got a crack across the face. “Complain all you want, but your punishment starts now.”

“Stop this! Punishment for what? I did nothing wrong!”

“Little girl, none of us did,” the man strapped to the post next to her said. His voice was as weary as the expression on his face.

“There’s no way out of this,” another of the men said. “It’s time to face our destiny.”

The stadium PA system crackled and squealed to life, with a soft but masculine voice coming on once the electronic noise abated. She recognized it right off as the leader of the nation from hearing him speak on television. Looking in his direction, she saw him holding a wired microphone.

He turned to face the crowd in the stands and greeted them. They went wild, standing and cheering, thrusting their hands and arms forward, applauding maniacally. When someone waved them to settle, the man holding the microphone began speaking.

The Supreme Leader of North Korea explained how each of them had committed crimes against the people of the nation, crimes that were unforgiveable. They would be examples of the severity of punishment of criminals. He listed the crimes they had committed, but never mentioned a name of any of the so-called criminals. Some had tried to defect, others had been labeled as spies, and one practiced perverse behaviors that undermined the public health and well-being of her community. She guessed that to be her.

She looked down at the far end of the playing field to see as many men in basic military uniforms as there convicts tied to posts. In front of each was a large machine gun, a long belt of ammunition hanging from one side. She watched as one gunner wiped sweat from his face.

Shirts were torn from each man and a target crudely spray-painted on their chests. When it came time for her clothing to be pulled free, a man and woman were brought out to face her. They were both in tears.

“Mother! Father! Tell them they are wrong!”

A guard lifted his rifle and butted her in the head, shutting her up. Shaking her head for a moment, she opened her eyes to see a guard motion to her father to do something.

“I’m sorry, my daughter,” he muttered, barely getting the words out between gasping sobs. He reached for her simple blouse and tore it from her body.

“Father…” she said, struggling against her restraints again.

He did the same with her bra, leaving her nude from the waist up before stepping back.

She looked down at him when he fell to the ground, sobbing and begging the guards. “Father…”

Her mother was pushed forward to face her, also close to breaking down.

“This is what happens to whores in our beautiful, beloved nation,” the Supreme Leader announced over the PA system.

The mother was given a heavy pair of scissors by a guard.

“Daughter, I’m sorry. I told you about wearing that dress outside, not to do it.” She reached a hand for the girl’s long hair.

“Mother, what are you doing? Why are you and Father doing this to me?”

The mother cut a handful of hair from her daughter’s head and let it fall.

The PA system squealed to life. “Just like standards of conduct, we have standards of grooming and appearance in our beloved nation,” the Supreme Leader announced.

The mother kept cutting hair until most of it had been sheared away, now lying in a soft pile at the girl’s feet. As soon as that was done, the scissors were wrested from her hand and the mother and father were led away.

Watching through tears as they departed, the girl shouted farewells to them.

“I’ll see you soon!” was the last thing she called out.

“No you won’t,” a guard said, laughing as he walked away.

“Now, we finish the punishment,” came another announcement on the PA system.

The wind blew through the stadium. The sun was bright, hot on the girl’s bare breasts and on the skin where her scalp was exposed in patches. Looking down, she watched as wisps of her hair tumbled through the dead grass as the wind pushed it along. Her white dress and shoes were there as well. She felt a tear run down her cheek.

An odd sensation drifted through her as she looked at the white dress. Nothing else mattered right then except keeping it clean for her wedding in a few days. She wanted to be a pretty bride for her groom. But confusion was setting in, clouds forming in her mind. “Please pick up my dress. That’s for my wedding. I don’t want grass stains on it,” she said quietly and slowly.

Guards laughed. “It’s for my wedding!” one mockingly said in a falsetto voice.

“Why is this happening?”

She heard the crack of gunfire.

▪ Chapter One ▪

DOSSIER: Jang, Seung-ju

Aliases: Kim, Catrina (Cat); Moon, Soo-mi

Age: 52

Gender at Birth: Female

Race: Asian

Place of Birth: Pyongyang, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Eyes: Dark brown

Hair: Black

Height: 5’5”

Weight: 140#

Identifying Marks, Tattoos, Scars: None

Extent of Education: Pyongyang University; DPRK military university

Occupation: Head of Ministry of Information; covert intelligence officer

Languages Spoken: Korean, English

***

The meeting room walls were dull seafoam green, the paint chipped and peeling from the soft plaster. A red and blue striped flag stood in the middle of one wall, with over-sized portraits of the two previous national leaders on either side. Dull red curtains framed the windows, the gold fringe along the edges dulled by time. Sunlight streamed in, illuminating the cloud of gray cigarette smoke and dust hanging in the stale air. A long table reached from one end of the room to the other, male and female officers in green uniforms seated along both sides. Reflecting in the polished wooden surface were outlines of their faces, revealing blurred edges and contorted shapes. Standing at the ready were two service attendants with food and drink carts, armed with insulated pitchers of hot water to replenish heavy tumblers of loose-leaf tea.

“We need to find a spy,” Comrade Jang said.

“I agree,” Comrade Muk said, one of the senior officials in the meeting. He was also the number four man in the government. He removed his large officer’s hat and set it next to his tumbler of tea, exposing a head covered with a stiff, silver forest. His uniform was that of a career military man, belying his no-nonsense approach to solving national problems like the one that was before them that day. With one last puff on his cigarette, he stubbed it out in a tin ashtray, washing the fumes down with tea. “It’s the only way we’ll keep face.”

“It won’t be easy,” Jang, the woman at the head of the table said, also dressed in a green uniform. The North Korean version of a stylized space satellite decorated the epaulets on her jacket, a top-ranking official from the Ministry of Information. She kept her hat on, seated low as if it didn’t fit well, her dull black hair cropped into a blunt edge just above her shoulders. It was one of the new mandatory hairstyles for all North Korean women, the one most commonly found on women in the government. Her face wore the years of struggle, but her hands were supple from government work and city living. “I’ve wanted to develop better foreign reconnaissance activities exactly for this reason. None of you has ever listened to me, but here we are once again.”

“We don’t have the expertise for something like this, Comrade Jang,” another officer said. Comrade Seok also wore the satellite image on his uniform, but held a lower rank than Jang. “It’s not as if we can just produce a foreigner and turn them into a spy.”

“Why not?” someone at the table asked.

“It’s not as if foreigners flock here as tourists.”

“They don’t feel welcome.”

“Because they are not,” Muk said, quite matter of factly.

“It has to look legitimate,” said the man seated at the middle of the table. He had more hardware on his jacket than any of them, putting him in charge of the meeting. As he spoke, all eyes shifted to Comrade Song, Assistant Secretary of the Peoples’ Assembly and Vice Leader of the Worker’s Party, the number four man in North Korean leadership. “Right now, the Motherland faces a crisis. We need credibility in the eyes of the world. Even the Chinese and Russians have turned their backs to us. Finding a spy from the west would advance our national agenda. Juche First, as our Supreme Leader reminds us.”

“Being able to competently launch a ballistic missile would advance our agenda.”

“No. We can launch them, but having them hit a target smaller than an ocean is our problem.”

“Enough with the missiles. We have nothing to put in the tips, so the program is pointless anyway. Once we can procure enhanced…what’s it called?”

“Plutonium.”

“Yes, that. Then we can engage in true saber rattling. Until then, we must focus on advancing our national agenda and pride in others ways.”

“But we do have enriched plutonium,” a junior officer argued. “Our problem is managing it without having an accident.”

“And finding a way to ignite the stuff at the right time.”

“Which means?” Song asked.

“Set it off too early and we blow ourselves up. Wait too long and it has limited effect on the target. Combining that technology with ICBM delivery technology is what’s been holding us back for so long in becoming a true global nuclear power.”

“Is this meeting about ICBMs or about finding a spy?” Jang asked, trying to real in the meeting topic. It was asked with a sharp note of honesty, unusual for their meetings. “All this discussion about national agenda is just that--talk.”

“Comrade Jang has a point. Since she’s the one who called this meeting, let’s stick to her topic.”

Jang took over again. “I have to admit, I’m reluctant to allow the production of a new spy, considering the most recent ones have been utter failures. We duped ourselves into believing a simple missionary could be turned into an international spy.”

“The American cowards refuse to cooperate in confessing they are indeed spies, here to overthrow our government. Religious missionaries? No one buys that hogwash.”

“Even so, the State Security Department continues to enforce our law that Christianity is illegal, and that anyone even discussing it are relocated for socialist revolution ideology education and training. That is what creates the conflict, making it impossible for us to turn a Christian into a spy. They are sent off so quickly, I have no way to prepare a case of espionage against them,” Jang said. “And through guilt by association, the people they were in contact with are sent away also. How am I supposed to find a foreign spy if we relocated them for ideological training?”

One of the men shifted uneasily in his chair until he interrupted. “Our agenda is to bring the message of socialism to every corner of the planet! It is our beloved leader’s agenda, and therefore it is ours, also! We need to put our shoulders to the wheel and push forward.”

“Push forward to what?” a junior officer at the far end of the table asked. It was his first attendance of such an important meeting in the Great Peoples’ Hall meeting room. His uniform barely fit, over-sized by at least twenty pounds. His chest was bare of awards or decorations, but for one simple medallion given to all military family members of the Supreme Leader, even as distant as he was. All eyes shifted to him as he continued to speak out of turn. “Our national identity is a real problem. This is not a time for more mottos. Spouting high-minded messages during this crisis will solve nothing.”

Gray-haired Comrade Muk glared at the junior officer and nodded at the door. The slender young man quietly scooted back his chair, grabbed his hat, and left the room, his serious face offering rapid-fire nods the whole way out.

“Anybody else share the same concerns as Comrade Ryong?” asked Song, the officer in charge of the meeting.

The Supreme Leader of the nation was not present for the meeting. Instead, he was on an inspection tour of the nation’s pride and joy, a factory charged with building North Korea’s first long range intercontinental nuclear missile, the KN-14. Everyone knew that without his expertise and guidance, the task would never come to fruition. Along with him was the number three man in the nation, Comrade Park. The business of running the government went on, though, in that meeting room. The meeting had been called in a hurry simply for the opportunity to hold the meeting while Park was preoccupied.

Heads were shaken in negative agreement with Comrade Song. No one liked to rock the boat; it was tipsy enough in these last few years. White Swan luxury brand cigarettes were lit and smoked in silence. Attendants went around the table quietly refreshing tumblers of tea with hot water from pitchers, the steaming water filtering through small cotton socks over the spouts to catch rust and metal chips. While half of the group smoked, the others drank tea in personal contemplation of the nation’s latest headache: Comrade Park Bong-chol.

Park had spent most of his life in the military, working his way up the ladder from field soldier, to junior officer, into command levels, finally reaching top national leadership. He had given up much of his personal life during those decades, not even allowing his family to get in the way of his political success. Because of those sacrifices, and his devotion to the workers of the nation, he was allowed the benefits deserved of all veterans of the socialist struggle.

In recent months, he had turned a corner, though. What had once been a strong-jawed approach to solving problems had become relaxed, even soft in the eyes of some people. The hard decisions were often put off in trade for a day of relaxation in a leadership retreat. Everyone in that meeting room knew what went on in his favorite retreat, and who with. It had become an obsession with him, to get his daily “relaxation”, something that was still being kept secret from their Supreme Leader. How much longer they could cover for him was anyone’s guess.

“You know, maybe Comrade Park’s recent unusual behavior isn’t so bad, even explainable,” Seok said. “He’s getting on in years, and men his age tend to get randy. He and his wife never did get along after…”

“Since their one and only child disappeared, never to be heard from again?” Jang asked. “How many years ago was that?”

“Eleven. Then not long after that came the tragedy with his wife,” Seok answered. “The official explanation is that the daughter was captured by spies from the South and is still being held in a prison, enduring daily torture. We must continue to support that message.”

“And the daughter of Comrade Park can endure any torture the South may inflict!”

“Being perpetrated by the devil Americans!”

Excitement peppered the room.

“And such is the torment that Park lives with every day,” someone said with feigned pity in their voice. “No small wonder he takes to the simple comforts in life.”

“Which is why we need a spy for him to discover, to elevate his credibility, even before it comes into question. His trip today with our Supreme Leader is the beginning of that effort. Next will be his discovery of a spy,” Jang said, slapping the table with the palm of her hand. She was getting aggravated over the ever-changing topic of the meeting.

Comrade Song had heard enough. “The fact of the matter is Comrade Park must be suffering from bigger problems. That is what is affecting his behavior. Once those are solved, he’ll be fine. Our Supreme Leader will once again be able to lean the weight of leadership upon Park’s powerful shoulders. Hopefully, their trip to the factory today is the beginning of his resurgence to his previous strength.”

“One thing is for certain,” Seok said. “We can’t let him continue his one-man parade of fools here in the capital city.”

“Nobody is being foolish,” Muk said. The room settled again once he began speaking. “The point of this meeting is to decide on what’s best and how to proceed in accomplishing that. We’ve tried creating spies for him to discover, but have failed. I’m afraid of the consequences if he continues to lose face with our Supreme Leader.”

Jang folded her arms over her chest and set her teeth.

“Any other ideas besides execution?” Song asked.

“It has come to that?” Comrade Jang asked meekly.

“Of course it has, unless we can find a spy to blame all these problems on!” Jang said. “Make it known in the media that Comrade Park has discovered a spy in our midst and single-handedly prevented the collapse of the nation’s government. The entire country will hold their breath while waiting for the news of the imprisonment of a western spy. The Supreme Leader will hold a parade. Workers will be given a half-day holiday. Feasts will be held in every village. Then and only then, Park will step back into his leadership role with his head held high.”

“He has always remained strong, always a top leader, always the core of strength!”

“That’s right. And his aide will not make the discovery, but only to assist in the capture.”

“Yes, that’s right. And not even to assist, but just to slap on the manacles of justice.”

“Not a man but a woman,” Jang said. “Yes, a woman spy would make it even more dramatic.”

“Woman?” Comrade Song, the man in charge of the meeting, laughed and took a drag from his White Swan, following that with a drink of warm green tea. His habit was to speak slowly, even while under pressure. “What good would that bring? Any imperialist dog will suffice. Then, the Worker’s Party of the Great People’s Republic will once again put its shoulders to the wheel of progress!”

A wave of energy and enthusiasm swept through the room until it stopped at Jang, the woman.

“Still, it would make things easier if we caught a woman spying on our government. Maybe a line worker at the KN-14 missile factory,” Comrade Jang said. She knew better than to buy Song’s nonsense about ‘shoulders to the wheel of the nation’, but wasn’t going to say a word. More than a few of their comrades had been relocated for ideological re-education, something she had no interest in for herself. It wasn’t long ago that another comrade had met his fate at the hands of the executioner. Why killing the man, her lifelong friend, with anti-aircraft fire had to be a public spectacle she didn’t understand. “Finding subversive activity is not something we accomplish on a regular basis. What greater place than at the missile factory? It would be an example to the other line workers, watching as a woman is led out by the State Security Department.”

“The SSD finding a Japanese would be ideal,” Comrade Muk said, scratching the gray scruff on his head with his cigarette hand. A snow flurry of ash and dandruff fluttered to his shoulders. “Shaming them would bring great honor to our shores and joy to our Supreme Leader’s heart.”

“Or someone from the south,” Comrade Jang said. “Might be simplest. The Japanese seem to have no interest in us these days.”

“A devil American!”

“Even fewer of them lately.”

“We need to tread carefully in finding a spy,” Comrade Song said in the return. “We still have diplomatic relations with the Swedes. Somehow, they’ll become a part of this. If we can get them on our side first, we can win. If we wait for diplomacy after the spy is punished, we lose.”

“I’ve discussed this issue with Ambassador Swensen,” Jang said. “He assured me that Sweden would be glad to moderate any potential difficulties surrounding foreign covert operations perpetrated against our homeland.”

“That’s something, anyway,” Comrade Song said. Cigarette smoke snorted from his nostrils like a dragon as he spoke. “I just don’t want to put one of our greatest issues of the day in the hands of incompetents.”

“Neither do we,” Comrade Jang said, suppressing a grin. “What we all want is to bring a sense of dignity to this administration. Right now, we don’t have the trust of the world.”

“It’s the Americans. They are manipulating politics in the region.”

“Yes, that’s right. We must use an American spy to gain the world’s favor again, and to turn the world against America,” said Comrade Muk, joining in the discussion again.

“Fine,” said Comrade Jang. “Where do we find this American spy? It’s not like there are a lot of Americans visiting Pyongyang. We’ve seen to that with our deterrent methods of tourism.”

They sat quietly, smoking White Swans and drinking green tea.

“Isn’t there a marathon race coming up?” Muk asked.

“Surely there have been at least a few Americans to have signed up for it,” Jang said. “I’ll have someone check on registrations.”

“And if the Americans are staying away?”

“If it’s a major international marathon, it’ll be on the circuit of all serious runners,” Muk said.

“Any white devil will do. They will deny they are American and we will expose them as a spy using false papers. The more they deny, the guiltier they’ll look. They all look the same: big noses, cool eyes, and pink skin. The world won’t suspect a thing.”

“Nobody takes us seriously. That’s the problem we’re trying to deal with. Politicians don’t take us seriously. Militaries don’t take us seriously. International business with our two closest allies, Russia and China, don’t take us seriously. And international athletic events like the Olympics don’t take us seriously. That’s why we started the marathon, to capture the attention of the world.”

“And?” Muk asked, with a blue plume of cigarette smoke rising around his head.

“And, nobody takes our marathon race seriously. The only people we attract are third-tier runners. The only reason they want to run in the Pyongyang Marathon is for the notoriety it brings them, to run in such an event in a place so far off the beaten track.”

“That’s not our fault our homeland is unusual to the rest of the world. If they’d open their markets to our quality products, we’d open the gates to our glorious homeland!” one of the younger men announced.

“Oh, shut up,” snarled Muk. “Comrade Jang, just find a gullible American and turn him into a spy.”

“The glory of the socialist Korean people!”

Mottoes be damned. Jang Seung-ju had heard enough of the twisting, turning meeting topic. Everything under the socialist sun had been discussed but for the real purpose of either finding or developing a spy. Once the meeting broke and each went their own way, Jang set her eyes on one specific man. She kept a folder under her arm, sure not to misplace it as she hurried after him.

“Comrade Muk, may I have a word with you?” she said, before he could get far.

They walked quickly and stiffly toward the exit door, the leather soles of their shoes slapping against the dull linoleum floor. Once they were outside, Muk stopped and stared Jang down, his usual way of functioning.

“There is something you don’t know about this situation,” she said to him.

“About finding a spy? How hard can that be?”

Jang looked around to see if anybody was close enough to overhear their conversation. She hushed her voice anyway. “Yes. I believe we already have one.”

His glare seemed to brighten. “Speak up. What did you say?”

Jang was beginning to wonder just how much of a mistake it had been to bring up the issue of politics without their great leader present. He was the final decision maker, and any suggestions for change without his approval was viewed with suspicion. “There is already a spy in the nation,” she hissed through thinly parted lips.

“How do you know?”

“I know this because I’m the one who discovered her. Quite by accident, but there she was. There’s a logistical problem, though.”

“Oh, a woman. And now you can’t find her?” Muk asked.

“We know exactly where she is. I have her dossier right here, if you’d like to look at it. For some reason, she has gotten herself a job as a minder working with the marathon organizers.”

“That would be ideal then, yes?”

“Not exactly. You see, there is no better way of putting this,” Jang said, hesitancy in her voice.

“Get on with it, Comrade.”

“The woman is Comrade Park’s daughter. For whatever reason, she has left America and come home. She is using an alias, but we have confirmed her true identity. SSD agents have been following her every movement, and collected fingerprints on several occasions. The woman truly is Park’s daughter.”

“I see. Having our number three man’s defector daughter show up like this can only mean she truly is spying on us. If we expose her, it will bring shame to her father.”

“And to the central government,” Jang added.

“Have her picked up, but wait until she tips her hand. She’ll be conspiring with someone, most likely a marathon contestant attempting to spy on our government. When you do take her in, make sure no one ever discovers her true identity. No, let’s call it her original identity. The most important thing is that nobody else knows about this. We can deal with her in silence, but the conspirator will be labeled as the spy and made an international spectacle.”

“Excellent idea, Comrade,” Jang said.

“How many people know of this?” Muk asked.

“You and me. Not even our Supreme Leader knows. Comrade Park has no idea either, but somewhere along the way, he’ll need to be told what’s going on, and how he’s involved.”

Comrade Muk sighed noisily. “Don’t tell him. He is weak-minded already. Learning his own flesh and blood has turned against the homeland would crush his spirit. It can’t get out that we’re unable to provide security for our own people, especially when it involves leadership. The focus needs to remain on the spy, not Park’s daughter, and how our secret police have succeeded once again. That is the message our people must hear. Otherwise, Park’s daughter can be dealt with quite easily once the time comes.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Mike Avery has lived throughout East Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, making friends and enemies alike. He enjoys hearing the tales of people’s lives, of how they’ve survived hard times and made good on the promises to their families that things would get better. The most compelling stories are from women and children, and the heartbreak that continues to plague their lives in the 21st century. With this as his inspiration, Mike writes suspenseful international intrigue novels.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
The most difficult part was maintaining the emotional energy required to write powerful scenes of women surviving harsh conditions. I conducted numerous interviews and read many first-hand accounts of life in North Korean prison camps, the vast majority of which were heartbreaking.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
There is so much information about the so-called ‘hermit kingdom’ in the media these days, but how much of it is true? Because of so much secrecy, few of the stories we hear in the west have to do with the private lives of citizens in North Korea. I wanted this book to be as much of an exposé as it
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The cover was tricky. I wanted it to be compelling, to convey the feeling that a woman was in trouble, but not be traumatizing to the viewer. To accomplish that, I hid the model’s face as much as I could while still indicating it was a woman with her hands bound. It’s not the message of bondage, but

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