Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
April 28, 12:05 p.m.
Justin stifled a sigh and glanced at Hong, who was sitting across from him on the earth green sofa, nervously sipping a cup of tea. His hands were shaking, causing the cup to rattle against the saucer. Hong looked at Justin, frowned, and, almost dropping the cup and saucer to the carpet, placed them on the coffee table between the two men.
“What’s wrong?” Hong asked as the corners of his eyes crinkled.
“Something came up, and I need to meet my partner.” Justin put his phone away as he stood up. He had just finished talking to Carrie. “Wait here. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“I thought we were going to talk.”
“We will. But this matter takes priority. Don’t go anywhere. And order me a cup of coffee.” Justin smiled, trying to calm down Hong.
He studied Justin’s face for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, okay.”
Justin jogged through the sunlit lobby with limestone walls. He got into one of the elevators and impatiently tapped the panel. His mind was in overdrive as he considered various scenarios about how to dispose of the body.
The elevator doors opened, and Justin darted through the corridor until he found the right room. He stood very near to the door then said in a low voice just above a whisper, “Carrie, it’s me.”
“Watch your step,” Carrie said from inside then slowly opened the door.
Justin noticed a few small stains on the beige carpet two feet away from the door. Shin’s body was lying on his back two steps away. Carrie had placed towels and a housecoat around his body and his head to soak up the blood.
“How are you doing?” Justin asked as he checked on her.
“I’m fine.” Carrie massaged the sides of her neck. “Unhappy about having to kill him, but he left me no other choice.”
“What happened here?” Justin said.
Carrie gave him the abbreviated version. “I had to shoot him,” she said as she ended her story.
Justin nodded. “I understand. Do you think anyone heard the shots?”
Carrie shook her head. “I had my suppressor on. Not many people are in their rooms at this time of day, and someone would have knocked on the door if they heard the commotion or his screams.”
“All right.” Justin walked to the nearest twin bed, then to the large window. It overlooked the Sheikh Zayed Road—the main artery of Dubai—and the impressive Burj Khalifa Tower, the centerpiece of downtown and the tallest skyscraper in the world, standing at over 2,716.5 feet high. The likelihood of anyone’s noticing the struggle from the business towers across the street was probably nil, because of the reflective, mirror-like exterior surface of the windows. The traffic noise from the sixteen lanes of Sheikh Zayed Road did not penetrate the thick windows, and Justin wondered if the call to prayer at 5:00 a.m. would be loud enough to wake the hotel guests. He turned around and said, “Assuming there are no witnesses, our first priority is to clean up this place and get rid of the body. We’ll need disinfectants to scrub the blood off the carpet and wipe away all stains. I’ll buy us gloves, bags, a container and other cleaning supplies.”
“And the largest heavy-duty duffel bag to move the corpse,” Carrie said in a low voice.
“We’ll also have to book this room for three or four more days, to make sure we’re all far away from this place and have completed our mission before the cleaning crew realizes what took place in this room.”
“Yes. What about Hong?”
Justin shrugged. “I don’t—”
A gentle knock on the door interrupted him. Then they heard Hong’s voice speaking in a language they did not understand. Justin assumed it was Korean.
He sidestepped the body as he walked to the door. He opened it a hair and looked at Hong, who returned a look of surprise mixed with shock.
“What . . . You shouldn’t be here,” Hong said and tried to enter the room.
“Be careful where you step,” Justin replied and slowly opened the door while pointing down at the floor.
Hong took a couple of seconds to realize what had happened and the gravity of the situation as he stared speechless at Shin’s dead body. He opened his mouth but no words came out as he paced around the room, waving his arms in the air. Then he sat on the edge of one of the twin beds and put his head between his hands.
“You . . . you killed him. You killed him,” he said in a quavering voice.
“It was self-defense.” Carrie pointed at Shin’s pistol lying near his body.
Hong did not look up. “I am . . . I am a dead man, like him.”
He stared at the body for a long moment, then looked at Justin. Tears had filled his eyes and the wrinkles on his face had doubled.
“No, you’re not,” Justin said and walked over to Hong. He sat near him on the bed. “This is okay. We’re going to fix this.”
“How? How is this okay? Shin is dead and nothing can bring him back to life. If I go back home tomorrow without him, the secret police will arrest me and my family and we’ll end up in the prison camps. They’ll torture us and we’ll . . .” Hong’s voice trailed off as tears began to stream down his face.
Justin stood up. He went to the minibar across the bed and filled a glass with a generous portion of whisky. He took the bottle with him and handed the glass to Hong. “Drink this.”
Hong looked up and shook his head.
“It will calm your nerves.” Justin held it a few inches away from Hong’s face.
Hong held the glass with both his trembling hands and took a small sip. He made a face as if he was swallowing a bitter pill.
“Take a good long swig,” Justin said.
Hong brought the glass to his mouth and drank another small sip.
“This is what we’re going to do.” Justin stood in front of Hong. “As soon as you’ve calmed down, you’ll call home and talk to your supervisors at the Yongbyon Center. Then they’ll have you talk to people from the Ministry of State Security.”
Hong frowned and shook his head. “No, no, no, no, no,” he said and almost spilled half of his glass.
Justin held him by his arms with a strong grip. “Hong, listen up and it will make sense. You’re going to tell the MSS that Shin defected to the Americans. He asked you to join him, but you refused. You love your country and that’s why you’re calling home to report him.”
Hong’s jaw dropped. “But he did not defect. You killed him.”
Justin sighed. “True, but you cannot tell that to the MSS. Remember that Shin suspected you were going to betray your country, and he was not going to think twice before killing you with his own hands. But now he’s gone.” Justin pointed at the body to emphasize his words. “And you are safe.”
Hong said nothing and swallowed the rest of the whisky.
Justin reached over and refilled the glass. “The MSS is aware of Shin’s suspicions of you. Maybe they expected Shin to call them and report on you tonight or tomorrow before your return flight. If you call them now, they may conclude that Shin made up the entire story to draw away attention from his own plans of defection. And especially since you’re reporting it and you’re planning to return home even without Shin, it will cement your cover story and remove any doubts that you were ever going to leave.”
Hong gave a small nod. “Because if I had such plans I would have run away with Shin and never returned home,” he said slowly, unsure if those were the right words.
“Yes,” Carrie said. She leaned against the curved desk with a large flat-screen television set on top of it. “Exactly. You’re proving to them you’re a patriot.”
Justin said, “And once you’re inside North Korea, you’ll prepare your family for the trip out of the country. Hong, this is good. Now we don’t have to look over our shoulders, but we can plan and prepare our next steps.”
Hong shook his head and more tears flowed from his eyes. “I’m . . . I’m so scared for my family. If the secret police as much as suspect I’m lying to them, I will be killed. And my family, my wife and my kids too.”
“Hong, you have to help us help them,” Justin said in a warm but firm voice. “You’re all they have, and you’re the only one who can help them escape the daily misery and the nightmares of their lives.”
He wanted to add that Hong had no other options. If he chose to tell the truth, the regime would most likely believe he had orchestrated or at least not prevented Shin’s death. Especially considering that Shin had already harbored suspicions about Hong’s loyalty toward his country.
Hong’s head swung back and forth as his body rocked involuntarily. His left foot was tapping nervously on the floor. His eyes were still dark and undecided, and his face was covered in tears. “I’m . . . I guess I don’t have another way out.” He studied the dead body for a moment, then looked at Justin. “Okay, tell me what I need to do.”