- The Plotters
Tr. Sora Kim-Russell 2010422pp.
The old man must have been in high spirits, because he filled Reseng’s cup with whiskey until it was nearly overflowing then filled his own and raised a toast. They downed their cups in one gulp. The old man picked up the skewer and fished a couple of potatoes from the hot ashes. After taking a bite of one, he pronounced it delicious and gave the other to Reseng. Reseng brushed off the ashes and took a bite. “That is delicious,” he said.
“There’s nothing better than a roasted potato on a cold, winter’s day.”
“Potatoes always remind me of someone...” His face reddened by the alcohol and the glow of the fire, Reseng caught himself as he started to babble.
“I’m guessing this story doesn’t have a happy ending,” the old man said.
“Is that someone alive or dead?”
“Long dead. I was in Africa at the time when we got this emergency alert in the middle of the night. We jumped in a truck and headed over. It turned out that a rebel soldier who’d escaped camp had taken an old woman hostage. He was just a kid—still had his baby fat. Must’ve been fifteen, maybe fourteen? From what I saw, he was worked up and scared out of his wits, but not an actual threat. The old woman kept repeating something to him. Meanwhile, he was pointing an AK-47 at her head with one hand and cramming a potato into his mouth with the other. We all knew he wasn’t going to do anything. But just then the order came over the walkie-talkie to take him out. Someone pulled the trigger. We ran over to take a closer look. Half of the kid’s head was blown away, and in his mouth was the mashed up potato that he never got the chance to swallow.”
“Oh my, he must’ve been starving.”
“It felt so strange to look into the mouth of an African boy with half his head missing. What would’ve happened if we’d waited just ten more seconds? All I could think was, if we had waited, he would’ve gotten to swallow the potato before he died.”
“Not like anything would’ve changed for that poor boy if he had swallowed it.”
“No, of course not. But it still felt weird to think about that chewed up potato in his mouth.” Reseng’s voice wavered.
The old man finished the rest of his whiskey and poked around in the ashes with the skewer to see if there were any more potatoes. He found one in the corner and offered it to Reseng, who gazed blankly at it and politely declined. The old man looked at the potato; his face darkened and he tossed it back into the ashes.
“I’ve got another bottle of whiskey. What do you say?” the old man asked.
Reseng thought about it for a moment and said, “Your call.”