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A Clue With a Double Meaning
About the Author: J. R. Lindermuth is a retired newspaper reporter/editor and currently serves as librarian of his county historical society. He is the author of 15 novels and his stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He lived and worked for a period in South Korea and this story is one of a number inspired by that experience.

“You were friends?”

Though he might not have considered me a suspect, it was obvious the police officer found our relationship interesting in view of Young Jun’s murder.

I didn’t blame him for being suspicious. This soon after the war, many Koreans distrusted foreigners. His mocking tone told me he found it difficult to believe a Catholic priest and a shaman might find common ground. Yet, strange as it seemed, Young Jun and I had become close in recent months.

“Yes. It was what we had in common, not our differences that brought us close.” I could see the officer didn’t understand. I sought to explain. “The church sends its servants where it sees need. That isn’t always the most convenient for us.”

We were disturbed then as my housekeeper entered with a tray and the tea I’d requested when the officer arrived. A young girl, pretty despite a tendency to chubbiness, she moved quietly on stocking feet, head bowed as she served us. “I’m a man of the city,” I said after she’d departed. “I’m not really comfortable in a rural setting like this place. Oh, I don’t want to come off sounding like a snob, but I’ve had some trouble adjusting to life here among these simple farming people.”

The officer grinned, showing a gold tooth. “From what I’ve heard, the people seem to like you.” He took a sip of tea, then broke off a tendril of the dried squid Eun-cha had brought as a snack to go with our drinks.

“They’re very polite.”

“Yes. One of our faults in dealing with foreigners.” Chewing squid, he paused to ask before lighting a cigarette, “Do you mind?” I gave consent and he stretched a hand between us, offering the pack. Eighty-eight. Two strong for my taste. I shook my head.

Not certain I’d understood his previous comment, I said, “You speak good English.”

He shrugged. “For a country boy. I was a KATUSA,” he added, referring to the Korean Army troops attached to U.S. military commands. “Your Korean isn’t bad either.” He exhaled a stream of smoke.

“Thanks to Young’s help. He was one of the few in the village fluent in English. That’s how our relationship began. He volunteered to help with my Korean studies in exchange for tutelage in English. In fact, he was already fluent.”

“How long did you know one another?”

“About a year. It began with our language studies. We soon found other interests in common. We met often for meals, to talk, to play Baduk.”

My adversary scrunched up his forehead. “What did you talk about?”

“Everything. Religion, life, the differences in our cultures.”

“He was interested in your religion?”

“Probably not as much as I in his. My interest was whetted shortly after I came here when he conducted a three-day séance. I heard many stories about his work and became curious. I tried for several days to get someone to introduce us. At first people said he declined my requests to meet. Then, unexpectedly, I received an invitation to visit.”

Though he was rich enough to have taken up residence in Seoul, Young Jun had continued living in this village where he was born. In view of the stories I’d heard, it was hard to believe this pudgy young man with a high-pitched voice and effeminate manner was the most famous shaman in all South Korea. He’d been apprenticed to a mudang, a female shaman, in his early teens and, though now in his thirties, looked half his age. By that time his peregrinations back and forth across the peninsula and as far away as Pusan had made him both famous and wealthy.

The policeman frowned. “Too many of our people still waste their money on this superstition.” He slurped tea, apparently in an effort to cleanse his mouth of the bad taste inspired by the thought. “Did you get on with this baksu right away?”

“Not really. He greeted me formally and invited me to share a cup of tea with him on the matang. As we sipped our tea and smoked, he asked why I wished to meet him. I didn’t blame him for being suspicious. It took awhile before we found common ground.”

“And what was that—aside from language.”

“Language eased the way. Equally important was the discovery we shared an interest in the mysteries of life.”

“And—did you solve any of those mysteries?”

“No. But we generally enjoyed the discussions.”

“You found the body?”

This story appears in our MAR 2016 Issue
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Reader Discussion

John: As with all your other stories I've read, this one is excellent. Aside from the mystery itself, I enjoyed the background facts woven in. Either you've been there, or your research is thorough. Thanks for a great read!
By Nancy Sweetland

John: Enjoyed trip down memory lane this story took me on. Tangshin nun hankuk mal chal hessumnida.
By Charles Kip Meyerhoff

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