Fact Fiction: A North Korean murder mystery
by Bertha Henson and Lee Chin Wee
HIS left eye was twitching. He didn’t like it; something bad was going to happen. Maybe the two women in Macau were at each other’s throats. It was tough keeping a second wife and a mistress, not to mention wife Number 1 in Beijing. Throats… why was he thinking about throats? He touched his jowly chin. His left eye twitched again. Maybe it was the Malaysian dust. Or the haze.
Finally, he reached KLIA Terminal 2. He swung his legs out of the cab, careful to make sure that nothing had dropped out of his shoulder bag. He had been in KL since Feb 6, which made it a week-long trip. He was really slumming it, compared to his growing up days as a scion of the Kim dynasty. He wasn’t even boarding a premier airline for home; he was flying AirAsia.
Nice schools in Switzerland.
It was great being a grandson of a strongman, donning a military uniform bearing the rank of a marshall at the age of seven. If only he wasn’t a bastard. Not that Ma didn’t try to convince Pa to make her a decent woman. She just gave up after six years of trying. Pa, after all, was worried that Grandpa wouldn’t make him his heir. He needn’t have worried at all…
He pulled his cap close to his face. He was worried about being recognised at the airport by the Japanese media which have been extremely good at tracking down his movements. He supposed it was because he spoke Japanese. He walked into the airport and looked around. So far so good. No one’s accosted him. So why was his eye still twitching? He rubbed it vigorously. When his vision cleared, he caught sight of someone familiar standing near the departure hall doors.
Could he be…? No, he can’t be. He was, as usual, being paranoid. He wasn’t in North Korea or some dangerous place. This was KL. It wasn’t as safe as Singapore, but safe enough.
He checked his North Korean passport which had his name as Kim Chol. Fake passports had always helped him except that one time in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan so that he could be in Disneyland. He shook his head at the memory.
He was then 30. Now, he’s a pudgy 46-year-old with two wives, a mistress and six children, keeping a low profile and, hopefully, off the radar of the rest of his family.
What time was his flight? He looked up at the airport departure board. Oh. Two more hours to kill.
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It seemed like time had stood still since Pa died. From managing accounts for Pa and the family and enjoying a huge allowance, he suddenly became a poor black sheep intended for the slaughterhouse. It was good thinking on his part not to return for Pa’s funeral in December 2011. He had an inkling that his family wouldn’t want him around when Jong Un took over the torch. He was an embarrassment, and technically, as the eldest son, he could be seen as a contender for the throne.
It would have helped Jong Un, who had been anointed Crown Prince the year before, if he was out of the way – for good. He wished he hadn’t told Japan’s TV Asahi that he opposed having his family hold power for another generation. He had also said he had no objections to Jong Un taking over, but people only remembered one phrase and not the other. They didn’t even remember him saying that he didn’t have the aptitude to run the country because he was a “capitalist kid”.
With a shudder, he recalled the death of his cousin in February 1997.
Ri Il Nam was shot dead in front of his apartment lift in Seoul. It was that damned memoir he wrote the year before.
His eye twitched again when he recalled how he himself had been friendly with journalists in the past. A Japanese journalist had published a book of their correspondence even though he had pleaded with him to wait at least three years after Pa’s death. Instead, the book surfaced while Pa’s mourning period of 100 days wasn’t even over!
It wasn’t just Il Nam who had been gunned down. There was what happened to Uncle Jang Sang Thaek as well. You would have thought Jong Un would appreciate having such an experienced loyalist by his side. But no, he had him executed in late 2013 for treason!
Sigh. He had liked Uncle Jang and Aunty Kim Kyung Hee. He also liked their son, Yong Chol, who was the country’s ambassador to Malaysia. Until 2013. His half-brother really knew how to conduct a purge…
The time was 8 am. He made sure his cap was tilted down to shield his face, before starting toward the check-in counter. He glanced briefly over his shoulder – nothing. One could never be too careful. He remembered how, back in 2010, a North Korean agent had tried to kill him by staging a “hit-and-run accident” in China.
Thankfully, his time in Malaysia had gone by without incident. He was in front of an automated check-in terminal, only a few steps from the relative safety of Macau. All he needed to do now was to scan his passport, retrieve his plane tickets and board his flight.
He reached into his jacket pocket.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a young woman- she looked Malaysian, or Indonesian – reach toward him.
Probably someone who doesn’t know how to use the automated check-in terminals. He turned to help.
Her hands did not stop moving. Suddenly, he felt her fingers clamp firmly around his neck, forcing his face upwards. He gasped for breath.
The click-clack of heels slapping against the tiled floor could be heard. Must be someone running over to help me, he thought, as he struggled with his assailant. The sound of running grew louder.
Another woman dressed in a white shirt with some words on it and slim-fitting blue skirt, appeared by his side. A blur of white filled his vision, as he felt her hands grope his face. This time, the hands were oily – slick fingers worked their way over his eyes, nose, mouth. And just as fast as the attackers had struck, they melted back into the crowd without a trace.
This time, both eyes started twitching uncontrollably.
Something had been smeared on his face. And whatever it was, it wasn’t good. He could feel his heart palpitating; slamming against his rib cage.
He stumbled. His eyes stung, almost as if they were blistering. Information counter, he thought. I must get help.
He struggled towards the information counter, gesticulating at the counter staff. He felt himself being led somewhere. The airport clinic maybe? Gasping for air, he could barely make out anything that was going on around him. There was noise; lots of it. A siren.
“Hospital! Membawanya ke hospital!”
He felt himself being lifted up, then placed on an armchair. He felt his heart hammering, erratic but violent. He felt his chest crush down on itself.
His eyes stopped twitching.
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