I arrived at the three-way intersection at 2302, taking up a position not where I was supposed to be, but where I could best control what was to come.

The next two hours passed quickly; waiting in a place where mortal peril looms is active waiting. I’m scanning. I’m listening. I’m smelling the air. I’m like an ambush predator.

I reviewed my next actions—the words I had to say to Colonel Kwan, the words he needed to say to me, the emblem I had to reveal, and the emblem Kwan would show to me.

Once verified, I would need to evaluate his condition for movement. What if he’s injured? What if he’s pursued? What if his English sucks? What if he’s ignorant of stealth movement techniques?

I reviewed it all. When 0100—our appointed meeting time—hit, I was not surprised by the sudden passage of time.

I went to high alert. Listening now with fierce concentration. Willing my eyes to be like an eagle’s. Forcing my body to be attentive to any changes to the environment around me.

When he didn’t show, I went through my contingencies again.

Finishing, I re-checked my watch at 0157.

There was still plenty of time.

Back at Anacostia-Bolling, Deacon told me that Kwan needed to be almost exactly on time for this to work. I wondered if he might have been right.

I had built in two hours of leeway—time I could burn and still make it out with Colonel Kwan. But after 0300, it was going to be tight. I needed to get to the South Korean side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone before 0618, sunrise. Once there, I could camouflage us and rest or sleep in relatively safely through the day. When nightfall came again, I could get us out.

By myself, I could get to the South Korean side in two hours and fifteen minutes—not due to the distance, but due to the time consumed by the two mandatory fence line breaches. With Kwan along, I wanted every bit of that three-plus hours.

I wondered about my drop-dead time. Should it change? I asked myself. Do I dare push it later?


What if, I wondered, I roll at 0300 and later find out he showed up at 0305? What will Deacon say? What about the fucking mission?

I can’t push the time, I decided. I can’t. There’d be no way to get out of North Korea. I can’t travel almost five kilometers over uneven terrain that included two fucking breaches, minefields, and DPRK patrols. I can’t do it babysitting a North Korean colonel. Impossible.

And I can’t wait out another day.

If Kwan has been caught, I acknowledged, then in all likelihood, I’m compromised. DPRK interrogators will coerce the meeting location out of him, and their elite troops will come down upon me in force.

I punch out at 0300, I told myself. That’s it.

At 0232, twenty-eight minutes from drop-dead time, I heard the sound of a person. Footfalls on gravel. Distance 200 meters, give or take. My heart surged. Every sense, dulled somewhat from the overlong wait, sprang back into high readiness.

That cannot, I thought, be him. He would not be so stupid as to make that much noise.

I powered up my NVGs and lowered them over my eyes, scanning west down the road.


I switched them to infrared.


I raised them from my eyes and listened.

Yes, footfalls.

Closer. 180 meters. Just around the bend. A single person.

It has to be a civilian, right? I asked myself. But at 0230?

I didn’t know what to think. I lowered the NVGs and saw him.

Short, skinny. My first thought was this was a civilian woman, but I quickly dispelled that, remembering the briefing on malnutrition. But, do DPRK Colonels—Colonels!—not get enough food to eat, too?

Maybe, I decided, he’s just a little colonel.

But his gait struck me as odd.

His attire was definitely not that of a member of the military. He wore a loose black shirt on top of loose black pants that didn’t quite reach his ankles. His shoes looked almost like slippers—black, sleek, and not at all rugged. On his head, he wore one of those wide conical bamboo coolie hats, and it also was black, pulled low to hide his face.

I scanned the east-west road and the other road north. Nothing. Powering down the NVGs, I worked to restore my own night vision while listening intently for any other sound besides those damned footsteps.

At about 120 meters, my eyes darted up at a change.

“Fuckin’-a,” I mouthed.

The colonel was jogging. Crunch-crunch-crunch-crunch.

Was someone else coming? A vehicle behind him?

I drew up my CQB rifle, looked, and listened. Nothing else out there but him.

What in the fuck kind of colonel is this? I asked myself.

Deacon hadn’t known. There was no record of a Colonel Kwan. No photograph, either, but the DPRK contact had told our people that the information Kwan had would be invaluable. Deacon warned me about a trap—for me, for the Colonel, or for the source that arranged the defection with our people.

Kwan was about 80 meters from the T intersection when I went stock-still. Didn’t move a muscle. Didn’t breathe. Didn’t blink.

I could see him now. Not clearly, but well enough. He was jogging towards the intersection, and this was no man’s running form.

This was a woman. I hadn’t a doubt.

At 50 meters, it was all confirmed—breasts. They rocked up and down with each stride. Largish ones, too, for such a tiny frame.

Fuck me, I thought. Fuck me, a fucking civilian? Here? At two fucking thirty in the morning?

I remained still, and a new idea occurred to me: the reason Colonel Kwan hasn’t shown up yet is because of this civilian woman. He’s waiting for her to pass before coming to meet me.

It made perfect sense. All the noise from the gravel? Kwan heard it and tucked himself away.

Just some shitty luck, I decided.

I blew a silent sigh and waited for her to pass, watching closely.

At 20 meters from the intersection, she slowed to a walk and passed me.

Young, I realized. She’s young. Her gait—a kind of springiness in it—clued me in. Late teens or early twenties was my guess. But what the hell was she doing coming to my fucking intersection?

Looking primarily along the roads east, west, and north, she scanned a complete circle. Then she crossed toward the northeast corner of the T and stopped there.

I checked my watch. 0239. Shit.

She turned her back to me, looking into the thick tree line that began about eight meters from the road.

By my estimate, this girl was standing on exactly the proper grid coordinates for my meet with Kwan. She was looking directly into the copse where, quite naturally, I might have hidden—perhaps exactly where Kwan was expecting me to be waiting for him.

This is not possible, I thought.

Could Kwan be wearing a disguise? Disguised as a woman?

No, I said to myself. That’s no disguise. I know how girls run. I know how tits shake.

A further train of ideas began leaping into my mind.

She couldn’t be an assassin sent to kill Kwan and me. No fucking way they send someone that incompetent. Plus, I couldn’t see any weapons on her.

I considered the idea that this was a lookout for Kwan—someone he trusted but was willing to sacrifice in the event it was a trap. Kind of a shitty move, if true.

Then, I wondered if it might be a relative. His daughter? His wife? I could see an old colonel being “gifted” with a large-breasted young wife by the fucked up DPRK regime. Did Kwan expect me to exfiltrate her, too? A last-minute change of plans? I hoped the fuck not.

After that, it occurred to me that this might just be the coincidence it appeared. Scanning the intersection, I realized it was a fairly obvious meeting place. The trees close to the street on two of the three sides provided good cover, and there weren’t a hell of a lot of decent roads around.

Maybe, I thought, she was here to meet a boyfriend. A sneak out hook-up. I could see that happening. Her old man didn’t like the kid; it was a bad match. “I forbid you to see that boy!” But they found a way. Made sense, though it didn’t help matters. She needed to get the fuck out of here and ASAP. Be just my fucking luck if the meet-up time was set for 0300.

I watched her.

All black, I reminded myself. She’s wearing all black. It definitely suggested covert action. It didn’t seem to be normal work or leisure attire. So, she was being sneaky, but she was making all kinds of noise and walking on the road. Didn’t make any sense.

My watch read 0244.

She left the road, stepping into the low brush and making her way into the trees. Stopping just short of the darkness inside, she bent forward as if peering into the shadows. Left and right she scanned.

She whispered something. I couldn’t hear the distinct syllables.

Boyfriend’s name, maybe?

She carefully walked along the tree line north a few steps, her eyes directed into the foliage. She went further up the hill. At about 10 meters, she turned back. Back at the intersection, she turned east, repeating her scan into the trees.

Then she came back. At the corner, she backed into the shadows and sat.

No, I mouthed. No. No. No.


I turned on my NVGs and drew them over my eyes.

She was sitting just inside the shadows of the foliage, her arms wrapped around her knees.

I knew what I needed to do. I closed my eyes and shook my head.

Sighing noiselessly, I powered down my NVGs and lifted them from my eyes. Then, as quietly as possible, I unslung my CQBR.

Checking the silencer first, I switched it from safe to semi-auto and gently urged the forward assist, fully seating the 5.56mm round. I powered up the night scope and settled into a perfect seated firing position.

This was a 30 meter shot with a 10.5 inch barreled rifle—a walk in the park against an unmoving target in any conditions—day, night, rain, snow, fucking tornado. I would not miss a head shot.

I raised the rifle to my eyes and checked my sight. I had her. Just a slow, steady squeeze when my breathing was right.

A knife of guilt sliced at my heart before I could fire. This was not the kind of work I wanted—killing some innocent North Korean girl?

But that’s probably what I’m expected to do here, I thought. That’s probably what Colonel Kwan is waiting for. Kill her, he’s somewhere urging me. Shoot her!

I wondered what Deacon would tell me to do. He wouldn’t tell me to go talk to her, that’s for damn sure. I didn’t speak Korean. She was just some country girl, didn’t speak any fucking English.

The minute I walk out of these trees, she fucking screams, I thought. Fucking screams.

And even if she didn’t, even if she let the giant foreign warrior approach, hiss a bunch of gibberish, and shoo her off—even then, she would race home and tell someone.


Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!

There was no time to maneuver east out of sight, cross the damned road, and come in behind her where I could cover her mouth before she cried out.

I roll at 0300. That’s it. That’s my fucking time. 0300.

Shoot her now, I said to myself, and I give Kwan five minutes to get his ass over here.

I raised the rifle and sighted into her head.

My index finger alighted on the trigger.

My breathing relaxed.

She looked up, and with each of my breaths, I watched the crosshairs gently rise and fall—from her forehead down to her nose.

Forehead—nose. Forehead—nose.

Now. Now. NOW.

I drew my finger out and pointed it straight forward.

I can’t do this, I thought. I can’t kill this girl.

Movement arrested my attention; she rose to her feet.

She walked toward the intersection, scanning along each of the roads.

“Go,” I mouthed in silence. “Go home.”

She began crossing the street.


Crossing south, to my side.

She stepped off the road maybe 30 feet east of me.

I lowered the rifle and checked the time—0256.

Stepping gingerly through the low brush, she made it to the tree line and began a slow walk west, toward me.

I carefully set my rifle down and drew my knife.

I pushed myself from a seated to a crouched position, ready to explode upon her.

She leaned into the darkness—peering, searching. Then, she stepped closer.

Closer. Five meters.

Cover her mouth, I thought. Get the knife in her eye so she can see it. Then, I’ll muzzle her, tie her up, and put her somewhere safe. Come daylight, she’ll be seen and I’ll be long gone, Kwan or no Kwan.

Less than 2 meters.

One more step, girl, and you’re mine.

Her eyes went right over me, across and back. She squinted and scanned. Her right foot rose and planted.

Close enough, I decided. Without a sound, I sprang at her.

At the same moment, I heard her whisper, “Olion i-boibnida.”

My hand covered her next utterance, a scream.

Her body froze against me. I felt her every muscle tense, but I never raised the knife.

She had spoken the recognition passphrase.

Astonished, I whispered, “Nano bodna.”

Her body relaxed, and I uncovered her mouth and drew her into the shadows and down to the ground. Gripping her by the shoulders gently, but firmly, I asked, “Where is Colonel Kwan?”

She looked confused. She said, “Daelyeong Kwan?”

I knew that Daelyeong meant Colonel in Korean. “Yes. Daelyeong Kwan—Colonel Kwan, where is he?”

“Ye. Kwan. Cow-no Kwan,” she said.

“Yes. Where is he?” I pointed left, right, forward, and back. I shrugged my shoulders. “Where is Colonel Kwan?”

She said, “Cow-no Kwan I.” She pointed at herself.

I blinked, staring at her. Shaking my head, I asked, “You? You are Kwan?”

“I Cow-no Kwan. Cow-no Kwan Min-Ji,” she responded, nodding and removing her hat to display her face as if that would help.

I let go of her shoulders and sat back on my heels.

A moment later, I raised my index finger. Unbuttoning my shirt pocket, I drew out a 100 won South Korean coin and showed it to her.

She took off her shoe, reached into it, and pulled out a coin, handing it to me.

I took it and examined it. One won. North Korean.


This girl was Colonel Kwan.


No time to fuck around. I needed to get away from the road and somewhere Kwan and I could stop and make the adjustments and preparations for the big move.

I said, “Follow me. Quiet.” I held my finger to my lips.

She nodded and reached for my hand.

I gave it to her and led her south into the trees and up the hill.

She stepped where I stepped. She was careful, but the hand-holding was slowing us down.

As we moved, I considered her situation. A fucking colonel? A kid probably ten years younger than me? Maybe more. Incredible to me, but in North Korea? I could believe it.

Having seen videos of the regime’s enormous parades through downtown Pyongyang, having seen company after company of female units doing that silly goose-step, I supposed it was possible.

She was connected. Maybe her father was some kind of Field Marshal or General. A big politician, maybe.

Having seen those women goose-stepping, I also knew that, strange as it seemed, those women all seemed to have big tits—at least, the visible ones in the outer ranks did. Colonel Kwan Min-Ji fit the type.

Then I wondered if she was one of those—what do you call them?—comfort women.

Even in the darkness, I could tell she was attractive.

Maybe she was some general’s personal babe. That, also, would explain an insanely high rank for an eighteen or twenty-year-old.

I stopped us halfway up the hill and we knelt. I spent a minute listening intently. Kwan kept quiet.

Satisfied, I pointed to myself and whispered, “Skipper.”

“Ski-pell,” she responded.

“Skipper,” I tried again.


“Good enough.”

She pointed to herself, saying, “Min-Ji”

I nodded. Then, I bowed slightly and extended my right hand, supporting my right forearm, as I was taught, with my left hand.

She bowed and did the same.

We shook hands. Hers was tiny but strong. She smiled nervously.

“Can you speak English?”

“Spee Ying-wish? Ye, spee sung Ying-wish.”

Her words were heavily accented and barely intelligible.

“Were you being followed?” I asked. The answer was more than likely “no.” She had, after all, been waiting at the intersection for almost 30 minutes, but I needed to ask, just in case.

“Fwo-lo?” she responded, shaking her head slightly.

I nodded. “Followed. Is anyone following you?”

She was utterly confused.

I cursed to myself, remembering how Deacon told me the source said Kwan could “get by in English.” Bullshit.

I slung the rifle behind my back. Using my fingers, I tried to show her what I meant. One person walking, I pointed to her. Another person behind her, following.

She seemed to understand.

“Anyone follow you?”

“No fwo-lo.”

“Okay,” I whispered.

Now for a harder question. I pointed to my watch. “When,” I said, “will they know you’re gone?” I pointed randomly out, out there, saying “They. Others.” Then, I mimicked searching and looking. “Look for you,” I said, pointing at her. Finally, I pointed to my watch. “When? They look for you when?”

She didn’t get it.

I knelt and used twigs and pine needles. One for her. One for me. A bunch for the searchers. I pretended to be looking and searching with the sticks. I pointed at my watch. “When are they coming? When will they follow?”

Her eyes widened in recognition. She spoke utter gibberish to me for a few seconds. I was about to stop her, but suddenly she pointed to my watch and began counting—very poorly—in English. Her little finger touched each number. “Won-Doo-Nee-Fie-Fow-Sees-Seppen-Yay-Nie?” She glanced up at me.

I nodded. “Yes. Numbers,” I said, even though it sounded like she mixed up four and five. “But what time?” I asked, poking my watch.

She pointed at the seven, saying, “Seppen?”

“Seven. That’s seven.”


“Bad guys come looking at seven?” I asked, re-enacting the pine-needle troop search on the ground.

She nodded. “Fwo-lo seffen.”

“Okay,” I muttered, considering how that time would impact my plan.

She said, “Ho-kay.”

I glanced at her nervous smile and decided I needed to start by getting her ready to move out. I pulled out my pack and drew out a canteen for her.

She took it and watched me drink. She followed. Handing it back to me, I set it on the ground beside her.

I took out three energy bars, handing them to her. I mimicked eating.

She shook her head, handing them back.

I placed them beside the canteen, and then I drew out a small utility belt with two pouches on the front and an empty canteen pouch in the back. I stuffed the bars in one pouch and her canteen in its slot.

Gently holding out my hand toward her as if to say, “It’s okay. Don’t worry,” I shuffled on my knees towards her and wrapped the utility belt around her waist.

It was way too loose around her. I had set it for the Colonel I imagined—small, but a male. For her waist, it would need further adjustment.

She whispered, “Ah!” and took the belt from me. Her fingers worked the little clasps, and she began adjusting it herself.

So, not totally incompetent, I thought. That helps.

While she worked on the belt I drew out a light neoprene outfit.

Her black clothes would be great camouflage if we only moved in the shadows at night. Black was perfect for that. But, under moonlight or in the open-air day or night, there were much better colors than black.

This neoprene stuff was perfect. Deep camouflage—dark and medium browns mixed in with dark and medium greens with a few light tan accents here and there. It also was very stretchy—it would almost, but not quite, be loose on her little frame.

Plus, this stuff had the added benefits of being a good warming layer, defeating infrared, reversing into a civilian exercise-type outfit, and it had little buttoning loops built-in all over it to add elements that would break up her silhouette. For that purpose, I had brought several bits of camouflage netting which I then pulled out of the bag.