novel

novel

THE WAR CAME early one morning in June of 1950, and by the time the North Koreans occupied

our capital city, Seoul, we had already left our uni-

versity, where we were instructors in the History of

Human Civilization. I joined the Korean Army, and

Park volunteered for the Marine Corps—^the proud combat outfit that suited his temperament. In a short

time—^because junior cheers died very fast in the early phase erf the war—^we were trained and battle- tested, and we both became officers. We survived, but we were both wounded. The shrapnel of a mortar

shell had grazed my right knee during the defense of

Taegu, and a sniper had shot Park in his left arm in

the mopping-up opoation in Seoul after the Inchon

landing. We both spent some time in the hospital, were both promised medals, and were returned

promptly to our respective duties.

11

 

 

12

Park, who was then a first lieutenant, went back

to combat duty somewhere on the eastern front, but

I did not rejoin my antitank company. Someone in

the Army accidentally discovered that I had been a

university instructor and decided to transfer me to an

intelligence unit. When I came out of the hospital in

Pusan, I was sent to Seoul, where I was put in charge

of a section in the Army PoUtical Intelligence, and

was made captain, temporarily, in due conformity with

the table of organization.

In the second week of October, the United Nations

Forces captured Pyongyang, the capital city of the

North Koreans. We moved our headquarters to that city and estabhshed ourselves in a four-storied gray

marble building. My oflBce, which was on the third floor, looked across the street at what remained of

the Central Presbyterian Church. This was a strange

coincidence. It was Park’s father’s church; he had

been its minister for nearly twenty years.

I knew very little about him; although Park was a

close friend of mine, he had seldom talked to me

about his father. Which was to be expected. His father

had disowned him and, in turn. Park had denounced

his father. Mr. Park was, according to his disowned

son, “a man of fanatical faith,” who had “harassed”

him “day and night with his self-righteousness, with

his exaggerated faith, and his obsession with his

 

 

13

equally obsessive God.” On the other hand, Park had

become an atheist after his return from a university

in Tokyo, and abandoned the Christian faith in which

he had been brought up. I suspected that he would

not have denounced his father had not Mr. Park told

his congregation, one Sunday morning from his pulpit,

that his son had gone over to the Devil and that he

had asked the Lord His forgiveness for severing all

earthly ties with his son. That was about ten years

before the war.

Park was aware that his father was missing from

Pyongyang; I had informed him of the disturbing news

soon after I moved to the city, and I had done so in

an unsettled frame of mind. I had come to Pyongyang

in a good mood; for the first few weeks I was in a state

of buoyancy, partly because of the exciting novelty

of finding myself in an enemy city that our victorious

army occupied, and partly because of the irresistible

enthusiasm and affection with which the people of the

city greeted all of us, their liberators. Many of my

fellow officers were natives of Pyongyang and, in the

midst of that delightful emotional chaos following

the liberation, they were able to stage melodramatic yet

heartwarming scenes of reunion with their families,

relatives, and friends, or for that matter, with anyone

whose face they recognized.

I had no acquaintances in the city, and som.etimes

 

 

14

I felt vaguely envious of these oflBcers. It was at such

times that I felt an urge to go to see Park’s father,

though I told myself I had not the slight6st excuse for

doing so. I thought of many reasonable ways in which

I might call on him, yet when I imagined myself actu-

ally knocking on the door of his home and introducing

myself as a good friend of his son’s, I could not help

feeling a pecuUar sort of fright. Then I found out that

the Communist secret poUce had arrested him shortly

before the war; and when Army Intelligence let it be

known officially that “an unspecified number of North

Korean Christian ministers” was reported missing and

that the Army “beUeved them to have been kidnapped

by the Reds,” I even felt relieved—shamefacedly, of course. So I wrote to Park about it at great length,

but his reply contained nothing but irrelevant matters

—just as I expected—things about his command, about his men, and even about his future plans, but

not a word about his father.

Across the street the church bell clanged. I opened

the window. From the white-blue November sky of

North Korea, a cold gust swept down the debris-ridden

slope, whipping up here and there dazzling snow

flurries, smashing against the ugly, bullet-riddled

buildings of Pyongyang. People who had been digging

in the ruins of their homes stopped working. They

 

 

15

straightened up and looked toward the top of the slope,

at the remains of the nearly demolished Central

Church, and then at the gray carcass of a cross-topped

bell tower where the bell was clanging. They gazed

at one another as though they understood the esoteric

message of the bell. Some old women knelt down on

the ground, and the old men removed their dogskin

hats and bowed their bare heads.

The beU was quiet now. The people were back at

their labor, working as silently and stubbornly as they

had day after day. Ever since I arrived in the city, I

had been watching these people. Occasionally, I saw

them drag out of the debris some shapeless remains of

their household goods or, sometimes, a dead body,

which they would quietly carry away on a hand-pushed

cart. Then they would continue digging in the crum-

bled mess of brick, boards, and chunks of concrete.

I closed the window and returned to my desk. The

potbellied, rusty, coal stove in the far comer of the

room gave off plenty of heat, but I shivered as I

settled down in my chair. It was as if a cold hand had stroked my nape as stealthily as the tip of a soft, soft

brush.

Park’s father was dead; I had just learned of his

death from my commanding oflBcer.

 

 

1

l^l^^H^li^li^l^^l^li^l^l^;^ 2

COLONEL CHANG, the Chief of Army Political Intelligence, had summoned me to his oflBce on the

fourth floor. Seated in his swivel chair behind his desk

under a dusty chandeUer, he did not show any sign

of recognition when I stood before him. His subor-

dinates were accustomed to the way he kept them

waiting in his presence, sometimes for as long as five

minutes. He was a stout man in his late forties, with a

head as bald and shiny as a Buddhist monk’s, and with

a bulbous nose that dominated his straw-colored small

face. He began rocking back and forth in his chair,

and peered at me through his glasses.

The junior ofiicers at headquarters were not in-

clined to take Colonel Chang too seriously, though

they admitted he was a baflaing character. Since it was

standard procedure in an intelligence unit not to keep

in the personnel file the record of its commanding

16

 

 

17

oflBcer, his past was obscure. Those who despised him

said he had been a sergeant in the Japanese Army

during the war in the Pacific; those who disliked him

said he had been a notorious soldier of fortune in

China; and those who did not care one way or the

other said he was just one of those professional mili-

tary men. No one seemed to know precisely how he

happened to be enjoying the rank of a full colonel in

such a young army as ours, though everyone assumed

he was longing for a star.

At last he motioned me to take a seat and, bringing

his swaying chair to a stop, said gravely, “I want you

to start an investigation of the missing ministers.”

“I beg your pardon, sir?” I said, to cover my sur-

prise.

His thin lips curled. “You recall those Christian

ministers who were reported missing. We’ve had a

big break. Our CIC was able to round up a few Reds

who had something to do with the missing men.” He

rummaged through the clutter of papers on his desk.

“They were all shot the day the war started.”

“A mass execution!”

Casting me an indignant look, he said, raising his

voice, “I call it mass murder.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, there’s a problem. The findings of the CIC

 

 

18

are conflicting. We are not so sure about the exact number murdered.”

“Then they didn’t shoot all of them.”

“No, no, I am not saying that. However, one source

of information claims there were fourteen, the other

says twelve. Unfortunately, both sources of informa-

tion are no longer available. We seem to have an im- petuous CIC.”

“You mean the prisoners were killed?”

Colonel Chang ignored my concern. “Now if we

are to assume there were fourteen ministers and all of

them were shot, and if we can’t round up any other

sources of information, well then, it means there are

no witnesses. All we can say is that fourteen were

murdered.”

“But, if I may say so, sir,” I said, “we can’t say they

were murdered, or how many. We can only say that an undetermined nurqbers of ministers disappeared.”

“I am glad you said that, Captain. I knew you would

come around to it, and that’s why I want you to work

on the problem. The Chief of Army Intelligence just

called to tell me that it belongs in the area of political

intelligence, and I can hardly disagree with him.”

“You are suggesting that it may be good material

for propaganda,” I said. “A grave case of religious

persecution by the Conmiunists. Of international sig-

nificance, if I may add, sir, particularly in America.

 

 

19

In short, we may be able to exhibit to the entire world

the Korean chapter in the history of Christian mar-

tyrdom.”

“All right, all right. I am not suggesting anything,**

Colonel Chang said impatiently. “Now, let me return

to the problem. It’s a simple matter of arithmetic. If

we assume there were originally fourteen ministers,

and if we take into account the claim that only twelve

were shot, then it is possible two have survived, is it

not?”

“Of course.”

“As you know, it is impossible for us, at this early

stage, to check every single living Christian minister

in North Korea. But the curious thing is that there

are two in Pyongyang, right this minute, who were

imprisoned by the Reds. Actually they were still in

prison when we took the city. It is an interesting

coincidence, don’t you think, however hypothetical it

may be?”

Something in his manner—perhaps it was the sud- den, quick gleam in his eyes, or the way he tilted his

bald head—impressed me that he knew more about the two ministers than he was willing to tell me.

“Well, what do you think of this possibility?” he

asked.

“Hypothetical, as you say, sir,” I repUed.

He was pleased with my response. “Good. Now, I

 

 

20

want you to go and see these ministers. Shin and Hann,

and tell them about our problem. Be tactful about it,

because I don’t want to create the impression that

I am handling Christians roughly. Christians in this

country are quite influential these days,” he said with

a faint smile. Then, after a pause, he continued with

an undisguised tone of acidity. “Ever>’one seems to be

Christian nowadays; it seems fashionable to be one.

From the President to cabinet ministers, generals,

colonels, all the way down to privates. Why, even the

Army has to have Christian chaplains, just to please

the American advisors. Ah, well, you can see my dif-

ficult position.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I am not suggesting that these men had anything

to do with the murder, or that they were originally

included in the murder plan. Also, I have no intention

whatsoever of implying that I am suspicious of the

circumstances relating to their fortunate survival,

although it may be highly desirable for me to be so;

that is, from the point of view of an objective intelli-

gence analysis. Their fortunate survival, Captain Lee,

please note my word. Anyway, oflBcially speaking, I

am merely asking you to see them and inquire, yes,

inquire politely, if they would be kind enough to en-

lighten us concerning the exact number involved in

 

 

21

this mass murder; that is, if they know anything about

it at all, you understand?”

I felt confused, but I said, “Yes, I fully understand.”

He seemed delighted. “Good. That’s what I like

about you. Civihans seem to have a keener sensibiUty

in affairs of extreme deUcacy,” he said, smiling. “Oh,

incidentally, one of them, Hann, I believe, is presum-

ably crazy.”

“You mean—he is not well?” The colonel darted a sardonic glance at me. “For-

give my indeUcacy, Captain Lee,” he said. Then he

stood up, grabbed a pad of paper from the desk, and

strode over to the window. “That is all,” he fairly

shouted.

The church bell clanged.

Colonel Chang swore. “I can’t stand that bell!

Clanking, clanking day and night! Intolerable!”

“Sir,” I said, “the minister of that church . . .”

He cut me short. “He’s dead.”

 

 

^;^^l^;^^^^^^^;^l^ 3

I WAS WAITING for my driver to bring the jeep to the sentry box outside headquarters. Whenever a

whistling gust whipped past the box, spraying a sil-

very mist of pulverized snow, I could hear the bell

clanging, clanging over the slope, and I could visual-

ize Colonel Chang banging on his desk, swearing as

he glared out of the window. I asked the sentry to tell

my driver to wait for me, and walked toward the

church.

There had been an alley off the street between

houses and shops leading up the slope to the church.

Nothing was left standing now. Houses had been

smashed to bits in the bombardment, and their ruins

buried the alley; a wooden board that said Cameras,

soiled and cracked, hung lopsided from the remains

of a shattered shop. A trolley car crawled along the street, clanking, flashing cold, blue sparks. An Army

22

 

 

23

jeep drove past, its loudspeaker blaring out an unintel-

ligible message. Loose wires were lashing at a pros-

trated lamppost.

In the rubble, people were still digging, and when

I started up the slope, a few of them stopped working

and looked at me. An old man followed me, keeping

several paces behind, but when I came close to the

front of the church, he came abreast of me. We ex- changed perfunctory bows. He wore a black coat,

but he had no gloves, and he rubbed his hands to-

gether, blinking in the sun and in the wind that nifSed

his white hair.

The Central Church was rather small and was built

of red bricks. A flight of stone steps led up to two dirty marble columns, above which was the bell tower, with

a golden cross on its top. The exterior of the tower was

torn open and the black iron beU could be seen hang-

ing precariously inside, its rope swaying loosely in

the wind. Beyond the columns, two white doors, now

dusty and broken, stood wide open, one of them wob-

bling on its loose hinges as though it would collapse

at any moment. Through the open doors the interior

of the church was dimly visible. Either a bomb or an

artillery shell had blasted the middle section; the pews

had been tossed about, twisted and smashed, though

the altar had been left intact.

A shrieking wind swirled about us for a moment.

 

 

24

The bell clanged. I looked up at the tower and saw

the rope violently jerking, to and fro, up and down.

I turned to the old man, who shrugged his shoulders.

“What’s the matter with the bell?” I asked him.

“The bell?” he muttered, squinting his blinking

eyes.

“Don’t you have anyone to take care of it?”

“Why, I don’t see anything wrong with the bell, do

you?” he said, rubbing his eyes. “Nobody touches it.

The wind comes and rings the bell.”

“Why don’t you church people do something about

it?”

“You can’t get up there. The stairway is almost

gone, and it’s too dangerous to use a ladder. The

tower may crumble at any moment.”

“But I still think you ought to do something about

it.”

“We’re waiting,” the old man mumbled. “We’re all

waiting for our minister to come back to us. Any day

now, because we’re wirming the war, they say. When

he comes back, maybe he can do something about the

church”—slowly he focused his bleary eyes on mine —”and maybe he can do something about the bell, too. Who knows?”

“You know what happened to him, don’t you?” I

said.

“No, we don’t,” he said. “Yes, we do, but we aren’t

 

 

25

sure, nobody is sure, what’s happened to him. He was

taken away by the Communists some time before the

war broke out, and that’s the last thing we’ve seen of

him. ‘Don’t worry,’ we tell each other, ‘he will come

back.’ Any day now. Yes, any day now. He will come

back.”

I hastily echoed his sentiments. “Yes, any day now.”

I moved a few steps closer to the threshold of the

devastated church. It was then that I saw someone

inside. Though the pews were strewn about and the

debris from the broken roof was piled over them, the

rear white wall with its small, shattered stained-glass

window was still there beyond the altar. The left bal-

cony had fallen halfway down, and was hanging

loosely, almost touching the front edge of the altar.

It was there, directly beneath the twisted balcony,

that I saw the prostrate gray figure of a man, with his

bare hands stretched out over his head, clutching at

the edge of the barren altar. I looked at the old man

beside me, but he only shrugged his shoulders and

pointed a finger to his shaking head. “A madman,”

he whispered. “I don’t know who he is.”

“Well, you’d better tell him, I mean tell someone

to stop him from getting in there. He may kill himself.”

“He comes around here once in a while,” the old

man said. “I talked to him once. He just stared at me

—you know the way they look at you—almost fright-

 

 

26

ened me. You know what he said? *I come here to

pray.* That’s what he said. Well, he didn’t sound like

a madman to me. So I let him do whatever he pleased.*’

Then, suddenly, the man came out of the church,

saw us standing there, and leaped back inside, turning

to peer at us suspiciously through the doorway. I

stepped forward. The old man grabbed my ann,

whispering, “No, no.” But I could not restrain myself

from shouting, “Listen! You’d better come out of

there. It’s dangerous. You may kill yourself there!”

To my astonishment, he cried, “Go away!” There

was a pause and he said, “Go away!” once more and

disappeared.

I might have dashed mto the church after him,

had not my companion held onto my arm, begging

me to leave him alone. Then I heard the man laugh-

ing, and I was . . . yes . . . dumbfounded when his

laughter was followed, a moment later, by a wail like

that of a hungry, abandoned baby, a piercing cry that

mingled with the clanging of the bell. I told the old

man to inform the proper authority, though I had

not the vaguest notion as to who the proper authority

might be. He paid me no mind, and when I left he

was on his knees in the dirty snow.

I hurried across the street back to the sentry box,

dismissed my driver, and drove oflE.

 

 

^;i^;^^;j^;^;i^^^;^;^^;^ 4

THE SOLITARY HOUSE stood at the top of a hill

that commanded a wintry view of the city of Pyong-

yang and the Taedong River. I drove up the winding

road that ended halfway up the hill, parked the jeep

and walked the rest of the way. A gravel path, almost hidden in the snow, led to the front of the two-storied

gray house through shrubs, stubby, crooked pine

trees, and a dilapidated garden cluttered with piles

of dirty snow. A small balcony with iron rails was supported by two short pillars of gray stone.

I knocked on the white front door, which was finally

opened by an old woman, who let me into a dim

hallway. She peered at me warily, wiping her chapped

hands with her apron. She told me that Mr. Shin was

not at home for he usually spent his day at his church

downtown, that he was busy, very busy, and that I

could leave my message with her. She was blocking

27

 

 

28

my way, as it were, firmly planting herself in front

of me in the hushed hallway.

I asked her, then, if I could see Mr. Hann. “How

did you know he is here?” she said, surprised, and

even frightened, I thought.

“Are you from the police?”

I told her I was not, that I was an army oflBcer.

But why did she ask me if I was from the police? She

ignored my question.

“Anyway, he isn’t feeling well. I ought to know,”

she said. “I am his nurse.”

So I ventured to ask her if she minded my paying

my respects to him.

She gasped in protest.

“I promise you that I shan’t take too much time,”

I said.

“Well, he isn’t home either,’* came the prompt reply.

“But you told me he is ill.”

“He isn’t a sick man. He can go out for a walk,

can’t he?” she said as though she were pleading.

I looked at her closely, but her eyes did not meet

mine. I decided to leave. I told her I hoped I might

have the pleasure of meeting the ministers some other

day. She gave me an appreciative glance and asked

me who I was. Would I care to leave any message?

When I said no, she seemed relieved and asked me

where I was from. Was I a Christian? I said I was

 

 

29

not, but I had gone, when I was small, to the Sunday

school of a neighborhood church in Seoul. I told her

that I was sorry I had disturbed her, and I turned to

go away. But as I touched the cold, brass doorknob,

I found myself impulsively swinging around, facing

her. “What would you say if I told you I saw Mr.

Hann this morning at the Central Church?”

‘*No!” she said. “Not there!”

**Yes!” I was about to tell her what I had seen when

I heard someone on the stairway. I collected myself

and looked up.

A man garbed in a black robe stopped halfway down the stairs, waiting for the nurse to withdraw,

his dark eyes looking down at me. Then he came

straight to me.

“Mr. Shin?” I said.

“Yes. Forgive me. I could not help overhearing.

You wanted to see me?”

I took off my helmet and introduced myself.

As soon as we were seated in a bare, dusty room

there was no furniture other than a few brown wooden

chairs, nor any sign of heat—^he said quietly, “You say you have seen Mr. Hann?”

“Do you think I might have seen him?” I said,

feeling ill at ease.

“It is possible.” Mr. Shin drew his garment tightly

 

 

30

around him. His Adam’s apple twitched as he ad-

justed his long neck to the robe. There was a hollow

look in his unshaven face, and his large, feverish eyes

gazed steadily into mine. “Yes, it is possible.”

He coughed—a dry, racking cough that convxilsed his thin frame. “I have been worried about him,” he

said. “He went out last night and hasn’t come home

yet. This is the first time he has stayed out so long.**

“Didn’t you look for him?’*

“We couldn’t go out last night. There is a curfew,

as you know. Unfortunately, I am ordered to be in

bed by my doctor, and I couldn’t send the nurse out

for fear she might lose her way. So I have been waiting

for the janitor of my church, who comes here once

a day, but he hasn’t come yet. I am only hoping that

Mr. Hann hasn’t troubled the authorities and that he

will come home any minute.**

“The nurse told me he is ill,’* I said. “Is he seriously

ill?”

Mr. Shin did not reply.

“Is there anything I can do?” I did not know why

I said it.

“Why should you care for us?” he asked, frowning

sUghtly. “We hardly know you.”

“Why should you be surprised?’*

“Aren’t you here to . . . how shall I put it … to

interrogate me?”

 

 

31

I did not like the tone with which he deliberately

stressed the word, interrogate. “No,” I said.

“But you are from InteUigence.”

‘•Yes, but I am not an interrogator.”

“Sorry. I did not mean to offend you,” he muttered,

stirring in his chair. “What do you know about me?”

“Not very much and that only superficially.”

His pale Ups formed a semblance of a smile. “Well?”

“You are forty-seven years old, and Mr. Hann,

twenty-eight. You were both arrested by the Com-

munist secret police on June eighteenth, seven days

before the war started; and on the same day, other

Christian ministers were also arrested.” I told bim

what I had been briefed on by CIC. “You were about

to be shot when our Infantry arrived, and you were

set free from prison.”

“Are you a professional inteUigence man?” he

asked. “If so, I don’t mind telling you that I disdain

your profession.”

I told him about my academic career, to which I

would return as soon as the war was over.

‘*You interest me,” he said. “But I suppose you

want to find out something from me, whatever it may

be?” He crossed his arms over his chest, hunching his

shoulders as he coughed.

“We are concerned about the other ministers,” I

said. “I assume you know they were kidnapped by the

 

 

32

Communists.” I paused and studied his face, which

remained expressionless. “1 can tell you that the Army

knows that much. There is no evidence about the

kidnapping, even about the fact—well, we established it as the fact—that they were arrested. We would like to know why they were arrested in the first place.”

“Need there be any special reason for the Com-

munists to arrest Christians?”

“Were you with them?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“When you were arrested you were all together,

weren’t you?” I suggested boldly. “As a group?”

“Yes,” came the unhesitant reply, to my surprise. “Then you must know what happened to the

others.”

“No, I don’t.”

“But you were with them.”

“Yes. You want to know why we were separated.”

He looked up at the white, cracked ceiling, from which

dangled a naked hght bulb, then back at me again. •That I wouldn’t know.”

“We know that you and Mr. Hann were moved to the prison on June twenty-fifth, the day the Commu- nists invaded the South,” I said. “Why did they move just the two of you?”

“You are interrogating me, aren’t you?”

“No. I am merely interested to know what has hap- pened to the other ministers.”

 

 

33

“Why through me?” he said wearily. “You know-

that we were separated. Then how do you expect me

to tell you anything about them?”

“I thought perhaps you might be able to tell us

something about their fate.”

“Don’t you know enough about it already?” he said,

looking at me sternly.

“Kidnapped?”

“That’s right.”

“Do you believe it?” I raised my voice. “That they

were really kidnapped and that they may be aUve

somewhere?”

“Do you?” he said.

“No,” I confessed. “No, I don’t.”

“Neither do I.”

“Then you beUeve they were executed?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“I don’t know.”

“How many ministers?”

“There were fourteen of us.”

“Then two survived?”

“And I suppose you want to know why we two were

not shot?”

I waited for his reply; but I was hardly prepared

for what he declared a moment later:

“It was through divine intervention.”

I remained silent.

 

 

34

“You don’t believe in God, do you?” he said, and

lowered his eyes.

“No.”

‘Then call it luck,” he said resignedly.

Mr. Shin asked me if I had driven to the house, and

if so, would I mind giving him a ride into the city.

“Would you be kind enough to take me to the Cen-

tral Church? I don’t want to impose on you, but I

would appreciate it.”

He left me to get his coat, and came back wearing

a black overcoat and carrying a gray one on his arm.

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