Chapter Seven: God Rolled the Dice
Four Months ago – Pyongyang, North Korea
Jun Ho was only six-years old and this was his first train ride. Daddy couldn’t come, but Mommy said they were going all the way to Russia.
Soo Mi took her only child by his hand as the train pulled into Pyongyang station. It would take eight days to reach Moscow and anything could go wrong in that time. She showed the forged identity papers to the conductor. It was unlikely her husband would suspect they’d attempt to escape this way.
Her son was so excited as they took their seats. He giggled when the train started moving. They would never see North Korea again. Her long assignment as a sleeper agent was over. She was taking her precious boy and North Korea’s astonishing nuclear secrets back to the west with her.
Her husband, a Major in the Korean People’s Army, would search for them in vain, or so she prayed. If they were caught before reaching safety, given what she knew, both Soo Mi and her little boy would be killed immediately. The North Korean military couldn’t risk the information getting out in the open. That’s why it was so important for Jun Ho and her to reach home.
Today – London
In 1963, a John le Carré novel was published called The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and later made into a movie starring Richard Burton. The novel had not been on Krista Bernham’s book shelf and the only reason Ian Dennis thought of it was the messages that flashed on his computer screen. He had sent out a coded query that anything having to with North Korea, nuclear weapons, high level assassinations, Kim Jong-um, and related topics trigger an alert that would be routed to him. Since this was, for the most part, internal information, he wasn’t fed details, but he was given a contact so he could further inquire.
This morning, he received two associated alerts. The first was a months old news story from a local news agency in Pyongyang stating that the wife and young son of a Major in the Korean People’s Army had gone missing and foul play was suspected. The only reason this even reached him was that agents from various western powers including the UK covertly transmitted such information from North Korea to outside relays in the unlikely event the data might prove useful.
The first alert wouldn’t have been alone, but the second one, from an internal source, made all the difference. A deep sleeper agent was coming in from the cold with her son who had just turned seven. She had been assigned to North Korea and had been married to an Army Major. No details except she managed to get out through Russia and then central Europe before being clandestinely escorted back to England. She was currently being debriefed. Nothing about her or her child was in Krista’s files so she either missed it, thought it irrelevant (neither seemed likely to Ian), or at least one of the three supposedly empty corrupted files hadn’t originally been empty.
This time God’s “roll of the dice” was in his favor. Ian knew the section chief in charge of the sleeper. He and Andy had trained together when they were first recruited. He owed Ian a favor, a big one.
“Time to pay up, Andy.”
“Not a fucking chance, Ian.” Andy Furst agreed to see his old friend in his office but had no intention of letting him within a kilometer of his sleeper. “Hell, there’s only three people in my section including me who are even authorized to speak to her. You sure as hell don’t qualify.”
“Oh come on, Andy. I just want to know if she has any intel that relates to the Krista Bernham case. I’ve already told you about the North Korea connection.”
“The fact that the bloated little ‘Rocket Man’ had his half-brother killed has no relevancy at all as to why the sleeper was in deep cover for the past decade.”
“She was married to an Army Major who provided top-level security for their nuclear program and I think that does have relevancy to my case.” Ian couldn’t tell Andy exactly how since all he had to go on was a fiction novel and the hints of a professional assassin, neither of which would be considered reliable, but he was playing a hunch.
“No. Nada. Read my lips. It’s not happening, Ian.” Dennis was standing in front of Andy’s desk while the section chief, jacket clumsily drapped the chair behind him, sleeves rolled up, was pushing himself up above his desktop by his fists. He looked angry. He meant business. He was in charge of the sleeper. But whatever information she had or they thought she had must have been something more than just the number of missiles Kim Jong-un had in his arsenal or their nominal explosive yield.
“She’s not here, is she, Andy? You have her in a safe house somewhere.”
“That’s classified Ian, and you’ve just pushed the limits of our friendship too far. Get out of my office.”
“You’re afraid. What she knows is so secret, so dangerous, you can’t let anyone near her, not just me.”
“Get the fuck out or I’ll have you dragged out by your balls.” Andy was red-faced and sweating. One of the reasons he was in administration is that he couldn’t deal with the pressure in the field beyond a certain point, that and because he was a shitty poker player. That’s how you could tell who could keep cool under pressure. Make the game stakes high enough and then start watching who could bluff you with a pair of deuces, and who folded when they were holding an straight flush.
“Fine, Andy.” Ian maintained his poker face. “You win. I’ll get out of your hair now…oh, what you’ve got left of it.”
Andy cracked a smile for the first time since Ian walked in. Both men were of an age when they were rapidly balding, but Andy could have been a poster boy for a cover magazine on Catholic monks, the Friar Tuck kind.
“Sorry to give you such a hard time, Ian.” Andy offered his hand and Ian took it. “Just that…well, you know…hush hush and all that.”
“Yes, sure. I completely understand.”
“Fancy coming round our flat for dinner next Friday? Helen’s whipping up something new. Been into Indian cuisine of late.”
“I’d love to Andy but I’ll have to see how my own work turns out. If not, rain check?”
“Always, Ian. Say hello to the missus and…” Andy remembered the divorce a second too late.
“I will, Andy. We do still talk.”
“Best to Evie and the kids, then.”
“I’ll let you know about dinner as soon as I get my schedule sorted.”
“Good enough then.”
During the conversation, Ian had been working his way toward the door. Now he opened it, nodded back at Andy, and walked out. He briefly smiled at Andy’s assistant Harriet as he exited the outer office. She looked impassive, even bored, but she was one of the most dangerous people he’d ever met. She was rather matronly now, but in her younger days, she was one of MI6’s top three assassins. Even today, she never missed on the target range and she had those cold, dead eyes, like a shark’s.
She kept a .455 Webley, an antique but in perfect condition, in a holster fixed to the underside of her desk and whenever anyone entered or exited, her right hand was gripping it. Andy was lucky to get her when she retired from the field. With her in his outer office, he was one of the best protected chiefs in the building if not all of London.
Later, when Ian checked the official records for Andy’s division, he found the unexpected. He just looked to be thorough because he knew that any information on the sleeper would be restricted. What he found instead was absolutely no record at all. Either it had been entered and then deleted or never formally entered in the first place. Both actions required the Director’s personal authorization, so whatever the sleeper knew went all the way to the top.
That made Ian think of the mysterious computer expert, Krista’s handler. He’d been chasing down leads for weeks trying to find him or her but with limited success. The handler was here, SIS main headquarters which meant they were in the database somewhere. Investigating one’s own was frowned upon and there was a specialized unit that investigated suspected moles and double-agents. However, even though classified, Ian could access the personnel files. He had required that access some years ago whilst assigned to perform the periodic background checks and updates of long-term coverts. It had been revoked when he moved to another position, but he hated to lose his connection to any useful resource, so he created his own backdoor.
All he had to do was look for someone who had received travel pay, flight pay, and reimbursement vouchers all around the date the handler would have been in Mauritius. He found himself in the records of course, and then he found the other. The dates mapped perfectly.
This chapter is shorter than many of the other ones, but it ends at a good point, so I think I’ll keep the suspense up by not continuing for now. Some of you may recognize the scene set at the North Korean train station. It originally appeared in my flash fiction piece Jun Ho’s First Train Ride first published late last August in response to the What Pegman Saw photo writing challenge when the pegman took us to North Korea. I used the image posted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields on her blog in response to that prompt (without first reading her story).I was captivated by the idea of traveling by rail in North Korea. I found out that there is a train that travels back and forth between Pyongyang and Moscow by way of Irkutsk.
As I am continuing to write my mystery, revealing a bit more here and a bit more there, I thought it was a waste to not include a tale I crafted just a few months ago that has a great deal to do with Ian Dennis’s current mystery.
Here’s the table of contents so far:
I hope you are all having fun reading this (and even if you aren’t, I still want to hear from you). The climax is in the next chapter: Another Shot.