Hot metal shrieked as the Blue Train express from Pusan braked its way into the vast yard of Seoul-yok, the downtown Seoul Railroad Station. Someone barked an order. Two squads of khaki-clad Korean National Policemen fanned out along the cement platform, prowling like shadows through roiling clouds of vapor.
“Whoever this guy is,” Ernie told me, “G.I. or not, he’s about to be introduced to a whole world of butt- kick.”
My name is George Sueno. I’m an investigator for the Criminal Investigation Division of the 8th United States Army in Seoul, Republic of Korea. My partner, Ernie Bascom, and I stood with our backs against brick, waiting in this overcast afternoon for the arrival of a train that, according to railroad authorities, held tragedy. The Blue Train engineer radioed ahead that a female passenger in car number three had been threatened with a knife and raped. She was found by one of the stewardesses cowering in the lavatory, too incoherent to give much information, but claiming that the perpetrator had been a kocheingi. A big-nose. In other words, a foreigner.
In the early seventies, what with 700,000 fire-breathing Communist soldiers on the far side of the DMZ just thirty miles north of here, there weren’t many tourists in the Republic of Korea. Nor were there many European businessmen, and only a smattering of diplomats. The foreigners most likely to be using the Blue Train on this Monday morning were Miguks. Americans. And those Americans were most likely to be among the 50,000 or so G.I. s who fell under the jurisdiction of the 8th United States Army. Therefore, the call had been made by the Korean National Police to us, the agents of 8th Army CID.
Exactly who this guy was, we didn’t know. All we knew for sure was that the crime had been committed sometime after the Blue Train pulled out of Taejon. Between there and here, no stops. The Blue Line takes about four hours and fifty minutes, total, to travel the almost 400 kilometers from Pusan to Seoul, with only two brief layovers, the first at the East Taegu Station and the second at Taejon. At each scheduled stop, the train pauses for less than five minutes. After leaving Taejon, whoever perpetrated this crime would’ve had no way to get off the train. Therefore, we were assuming, as were all these Korean cops, that he was still aboard. Lieutenant Shin, the officer in charge of the KNP detail, told me that the engineer had further explained that the victim was a young mother with two children in tow. Apparently, she’d left her son and her daughter in their seats while she used the bathroom. That’s where she’d been assaulted. The rapist forced his way into the small bathroom behind her and threatened her with a knife, slicing the flesh of her throat superficially. The blood and the blade had convinced her to comply with what he demanded. Everything he demanded.
The cops in Lieutenant Shin’s detail already knew that a woman with children had been assaulted by someone they assumed to be an American G.I. They weren’t happy about such a non-Confucian crime being committed in broad daylight in a public place, and they allowed their anger to show when they glared at Ernie and at me, as if we were somehow responsible.
Steam puffed from the sides of the train. With a huge sigh, the big engine shut down. Usually, even before the wheels stopped rolling, people would already be hopping off metal steps, hurrying to beat the crowd filtering toward the front gate of the main station. Today, eerily, nobody moved. If I hadn’t been able to make out seated silhouettes through the fog-smudged windows, I would’ve thought it was a train full of ghosts.
Lieutenant Shin barked more orders, and two cops took up positions at the ends of each passenger car. Other cops covered the opposite side of the train. Thus surrounded, all possibility of escape was eliminated.
Behind us, on the overhead ramparts, a crowd gathered, people waiting for other trains. Some of the civilians murmured loudly about Miguk-nom, base American louts. Somehow they’d gotten wind of what had happened.
Accompanied by Lieutenant Shin, Ernie and I climbed aboard the first passenger car. The head conductor, wearing a high-collared black coat and a pillbox hat, was already waiting. He was a craggy-faced man, middle-aged, with his feet planted shoulder-width apart as if from years of pacing up and down rocking central aisles.
“She’s in car three,” he said in Korean. I translated for Ernie. “The children are confused,” he continued. “They know something happened to their mother, something bad, but they don’t know what.”
“Has the perpetrator been identified?” Lieutenant Shin asked.
“No. All she told the stewardess was that he’s a kocheingi.” He glanced toward Ernie and me. I nodded for him to continue. “She’s in her seat, huddled with her children. So far, she refuses to move.”
“Take us,” Lieutenant Shin told him.
We followed the conductor down the center aisle. As we did so, row after row of Asian faces turned up to us, some of them frightened, more of them angry. I heard epithets whispered, a few familiar, a few I’d never heard before.
“Tough crowd,” Ernie mumbled behind me.
As we passed from car to car, Ernie and I checked the bathrooms, just to make sure no one was hiding in them. No one was. They were small, locked from the inside, and under normal circumstances barely large enough to hold one person.
Finally we entered car three and stopped. A gaggle of grandmothers, clad in traditional Korean dresses, surrounded two of the seats. As we approached, they turned their heads and, one by one, faces soured. Wrinkled eyes evaluated me, finding me in some way disgusting, flashing disapproval-at me, and at the crime that had been perpetrated on this Blue Train from Pusan.
It wasn’t me, I wanted to shout. Although I’ve been falsely accused before, and I know the sick feeling in the gut, I’ve never in my life threatened anyone with a knife-nor have I raped anyone. I stifled the urge to scream at these women: I’m a cop, not a rapist! Ernie fidgeted behind me. Americans are generally welcome in Korea. It wasn’t often that we faced such hatred, but we were feeling it now-down to our bones.
Lieutenant Shin stepped forward, breaking the silence. With a rustle of silk, angry grandmothers stepped away.
The victim was a petite woman, five foot two or three, maybe just slightly over a hundred pounds. She sat huddled with her two children, the boy about four, the girl about six. She wouldn’t look up. Lieutenant Shin spoke to her softly.
“Are you hurt badly?” he asked.
She didn’t answer.
“Can you show me where you’re cut?”
The children stared at us with wide, worried eyes. When the woman still wouldn’t answer, Lieutenant Shin reached out and touched her arm. Like a startled spider, she flinched, curling herself into a tiny ball. The children clung more tightly to their mother and started to cry. That’s when I saw it. Blood. On the side of her neck. The wound hadn’t been completely stanched. The blood trickled slowly down the side of her small neck, staining the round collar of her dress, pooling against bone.
The grandmothers had had enough. They pushed themselves between Lieutenant Shin and the woman, shooing him away.
He refused to back off. The authority of the elderly in a Confucian society like Korea is great, but not greater than the law. Still, the presence of two kocheingis was making his job more difficult. He motioned with his eyes for Ernie and me to continue on ahead of him toward the rear of the car. We did, passing another surly group of passengers craning their necks to see what was going on.
According to the conductor, the bathroom at the back of the car was where the crime had been committed. A nervous stewardess in a stylish blue skirt, white blouse, and matching blue cap explained in Korean that more than an hour ago she’d received complaints from other passengers that someone was in the bathroom and wouldn’t come out. The stewardess investigated, pounded on the door, and finally coaxed whoever was inside to open up. She found the victim crouched on the floor, dress ripped, blood seeping from a slice on the side of her neck, covering her face with splayed fingers. The stewardess immediately reported the incident to the head conductor. Together they bandaged the wound and, after much coaxing, managed to escort the devastated woman out of the