The Replacement Missionaries

It was a drizzling afternoon after a weekend spelling bee. Allen and Jasper walked down the main street in Suwon without umbrellas. They trotted through a crosswalk and a tiny white Tico almost hit them. Ticos were everywhere because they were so cheap. It sped around in the wrong lane instead of trying to brake.

“Moron!” yelled Jasper.

“If he’d hit one of us that would’ve been the end of that car.”

“Teacher got hit before you got here.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, but not so bad. I’ve seen two little kids get hit by cars in market.”

“No way!”

“Yeah, but they got right up and didn’t even cry. Just looked confused ’cause all the adults were making a fuss.”

The Koreans they passed were staring at them because they were foreigners. And because Allen was handsome and Jasper was well known in town by reputation and hair cut.

“You know one time time Dexter and Angelo got completely thrashed and they moved a parked Tico off the road, like a hundred yards, and set it behind one of the the little stationery places behind the school.”

“What? Was the thing in neutral?”

“No, man. They picked it up, one end at a time, and seesawed down the street. Swear to God. The guy couldn’t find his car and ended up filing a stolen vehicle. Turned out he was a student so we heard all about it. Took the cops a week to find it. The police station is also behind the school.”

“That’s terrible.”

“Oh, you got no sense of humor, Allen.”

They saw two white guys in the distance on the same road. They were standing, talking with people, under big black umbrellas. Their white shirts and dark ties telegraphed their identity: Mormons, doing their two years of missionary for the advancement of their church. Korea was full of pairs of young men doing such evangelical work. There were almost as many JWs but most of them were Korean.

“I hate that,” said Allen.

“So?” said Jasper.

“There were practically no Christians in Korea before we were born and now it’s like fifty percent or something.”

“Buddha, Christ, Kung-fu-tse, mountain temple monkeys, what’s the difference?”

“It ain’t right. Reflects badly on me. They think we’re all God loving moonies.”

“Hey, that’s outta line. The reverend Moon is Korean.”

“You know what I mean. My adult students are shocked when I tell them I’m an atheist.”

“What’d’you want me to do about it, Allen? I thought we were gonna get drunk and have fun. Not get drunk and complain.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’ll shut it.”

They ran upstairs to a Hoff they liked called Jazz. On the place’s speakers Korean pop was imitating Billboard’s Top Ten from various decades.

They ordered soju because they were there to get drunk. They ordered lemon soju because they weren’t in a hurry to do it. The straight stuff was hard to take. They ordered a bunch of food too because they’d been tied up for six grueling hours timing and judging 150 Korean kids spelling the same 300 words over and over.

The lemon flavored Korean vodka came well before the food. It was in a clear glass pitcher the shape of a naked woman’s bust.

Allen studied the pitcher and asked, “What’s the worst thing you ever wanted to do?”

“I did it. How about you?”

“Ah, what was yours?”

“Why did you come to Korea?”

“Hey. What the hell?” said Allen, hurt, “You know why and you know I don’t ever want to talk about it or her. Okay?”

“Well, the worst thing I ever did is why I came to Korea and all the soju in Suwon couldn’t spill it ’cause I don’t wanna talk about it anymore than you do.”

“But you know mine. You know the whole damn story. It’s not fair.”

“Look man, you know how everybody’s got a couple of secrets, skeletons in the closet, if you will?”

“Uh-huh. And?”

“Mine are real.”

“Uh, okay.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. Why do you ask anyway?”

“Oh, I just had this really disturbing dream.”

“Cool. I love analysis.”

“Don’t you start.”

“What was it?” asked Jasper.

“I’ve got a couple of students who are, shall we say, budding.”

“Cheers!” said Jasper and threw back his entire glass of soju. The waiter brought them their ahnju then. It came on two large plates. One of snails in chile sauce and vegetables. The other was o-jinga, a whole jerked cuttlefish. Allen took chopsticks to the snails. Jasper started tearing up the dried squid into manageable strips. He pulled the beak off first. He just about broke a tooth on one the first time he ate it.

“Well, anyway, they’re only like twelve, see? But they are clearly hitting puberty younger than they used to around here. And I had a sexual, not sex, dream about one of them.”

“So what?”

“It’s just weird in class now. I know these girls have a big crush on me anyway. They’re always trying to lean up against me when I’m checking their homework and everything. But now I don’t want to be anywhere near them. The dream really freaked me out.”

“Having a perverted thought is not the same as being a pervert any more than thinking about killing someone makes you a killer.”

“See I’m freaked out by how much I enjoyed this dream.”

“Are you gonna relieve her of the burden of her hymen or otherwise fondle this young girl?”

“Of course not!”

“Then enjoy the dream and don’t worry about it. It’s natural, you moron. Old enough to bleed, old enough breed.”

“Oh, man, shut up. I hate it when you talk that way.”

“I’m such a pig?”

“Yeah, you really are and it doesn’t help.”

“I’m just saying it’s natural to have impulses. It’s human to control them. There. That better?”

“Yeah,” Allen conceded.

“Nobody likes a nice guy, you know? That’s the best way to turn those little chin-gus of yours off. Just be nice.”

“Ah, leave it alone, Jasper.”

They finished their food and soju. They were pretty drunk. The finished a liter between them. It was a good solid warm drunk. They decided it could be kept on an even keel all night if managed correctly. So they would switch bars, with a nice walk around town for some eye-shopping first.

Allen was paying when Jasper said, “Hey, you wanna steal an oosan from Busan?”

There was an umbrella stand. It was even labeled, “Usan.” It was full of various lengths and colors, and one of them had a ski mask resting over the handle.

“Oh, man,” Allen said.

“What, what, what?”

Allen reached down into the umbrella stand. His hand came up with the ski mask. He stuffed it in his jacket pocket and ducked out the door.

“What are you doing, you moron?” demanded Jasper.

“I got an idea. Let’s go. Hurry!” And he bolted down the stairs. Jasper came stutter stepping after him, trying not to fall.

When he got to the street Allen was standing in the middle of traffic jerking his head around looking for something.

“What!?” Jasper yelled.

Allen ran to the other side of the street and continued down toward the bus terminal. Jasper followed along the other side. He would stare back at the young adults who watched him coming. He spoke lewd Korean phrases to the girls he would pass. Things like, “Hong Kong gasumnida?” Did you go to Hong Kong? A Korean idiom for orgasm they probably weren’t old enough to know but giggled at anyway.

“Come ’ere!” yelled Allen. Jasper waited for the light but ran to him as soon as it turned.

Allen jerked his head over his shoulder. The two missionary boys were there, fifty yards off. They were standing under umbrellas. They had a couple of Koreans engaged in conversation. They each had a black briefcase set on the dry concrete behind them.

Allen pulled Jasper into the alleyway and started to walk the long way around to the boys. “What are we doing?” said Jasper, clearly having fun and not really needing an answer.

Allen put on the ski mask. It was black with three holes for the mouth and eyes.

“Oh, you psycho. I’m not gonna let you hold those guys up.”

Allen said, “Go talk to them. Keep them talking and focused in the other direction, you understand?”

“What’re you gonna do? Pull down their pants and cornhole ’em?”

“Just do what I say,” he said with a cartoon villain’s intonation.

Jasper went out of the alley toward to the Mormons.

“Hey! Jack?” he said scrutinizing the face of one of the boys, “Oh, man,” he called rushing up to see them. He thrust his arm out and started pumping hands with the two. The fazed pair looked to each other for an explanation but Jasper wouldn’t let them find one. “It’s so good to see you. I didn’t know you were in Suwon. Why didn’t you guys call? I would’ve taken you out on the town. There’s some great chahng-nyo places right around the corner. Come on, let’s go get some macoli and talk about old times in Salt Lake.”

Allen had sidled up behind them during the talk. He reached down and grabbed their briefcases. He tried to back away without being noticed but one of the boys saw his diffused shadow out of the corner of his eye.

“Hey,” he said.

Allen took off running.

“Whoah,” said Jasper to them, “Do you know that guy?”

The two Mormons looked to each other for decisive insight. None was immediately forthcoming. They started to run after Allen but he had a good start. Their umbrellas made it quite difficult to run and they only stopped to fold them up when they followed Allen through a tight entry to the main market place.

Allen ducked into an alley and ran through the market on the other side. It was crowded and he had to thread through carefully to keep from bludgeoning old ladies with the briefcases. He pulled off the ski mask, banging himself in the mouth with the briefcase while doing it. He ducked up another tiny side road just wide enough for the Tico that was driving through.

Allen looked behind him, thinking to go back, but he didn’t want to give up his lead. No way was the driver going to back down the alley for him. He ran over the car in three steps: hood, roof, roof.

He heard the cute little horn and the driver’s muffled yells as he tried to get out to chase Allen. The alley wasn’t wide enough for him to open his door, though.

At the end of the alley there was a Korean teenager Allen recognized from school. He was one of Dexter’s students. Like most Korean teens he was excited to meet any foreigner.

He grabbed Allen’s arm since he couldn’t shake hands and said, “Oh! Hello! How are you? What’s your name?”

“Great!” Allen replied, “Here!” He dropped the briefcases and handed the boy the ski mask. He took it, confused.

Allen said, “Put it on.”

The boy didn’t understand so Allen mimed it. The boy, eager to please or play, did it. Allen pointed out to the road he’d come from. When the boy turned to look Allen grabbed the briefcases and ran the other way.

The two Mormons came around the corner a few moments later. They saw the boy in the mask and grabbed him. He didn’t struggle and the Mormons were a little shocked by their own physical attitude so they let him go. He pulled off the mask and looked imploringly at them.

The two began to interrogate him and scan the alley for their briefcases.

Allen came back around the main road. Jasper was still there. Allen called him and they ran to another nearby bar.

Inside they got a booth and examined the briefcases. Each had a combination lock built into it.

“What do you think?” asked Jasper, “Six, six, six? Shall I call for a screwdriver or do you want to do some code busting?”

“No wait!” said Allen, “Don’t move it. My guess is these guys are simpletons, right? I think they just move the whole bunch in case they forget the combination. Try it. Spin all three one at a time in the same direction, right.”

They tried that. It worked on Jasper’s. Allen only took another twenty seconds to get his open, trying permutations of single digit difference from the original.

“Slick,” said Jasper, “Bet these guys wind up in government jobs.”

“CIA cryptographers, no doubt. What do we have?”

“Wait,” he said. The waitress was there. “Drinks. How drunk are you still?”

“Not anywhere as drunk as I could be.”

“Here here.”

Allen said to her, “Lemon soju juseyo. Maewoo byong,” he said with his hands miming a pitcher, “Chon shee-shee.”

She giggled and said, “Ne,” writing down the order while she walked off.

Jasper said, “Your grammar is terrible.”

“Hey, she understood.”

“She understood the one thousand CC part. The most bottle?” asked Jasper sarcastically.

“Biggest pitcher. Same thing, you pedantic dick. If it works, it works.”

“Hey. Which one’a those guys hit you?”

“What?” said Allen, a little stupidly, with his jaw slack.

“Your mouth man.”

Allen felt his lip, it was swollen and split, there was some brown dried blood on his chin. He rubbed it off.

“Oh, yeah. Stupid briefcase,” He said, stabbing a chopstick at it. They got their pitcher then and started knocking back drinks.

“Gunpe,” toasted Allen.

“It’s gahngpe, you idiot. Gunpe means gangster.”

“Get off it, you dick.”

Jasper sorted through his case, “Okay, Bibles…”

“Those aren’t Bibles. They’re Books a’Mormon,” said Allen.

“Same animal. New World, Old World. Monkeys one and all.”

“Oh! Bingo. Name tag, anyone?” Jasper pulled one out. Allen dug around his briefcase for one for himself.

“What’s your name?” asked Allen, pinning his tag on his shirt.

“Tom Kauffman. I thought that was a Jewish name. You?”

“Joseph Young.”

“Oh, you got the good one,” whined Jasper, “That’s like Mormon aristocracy.”

“Well, here then, crybaby,” Allen said, trading.

“Think we can sell these passports?”

“In Croatia sure. Who’s gonna pass for Joseph Young in Korea?”

“Busan’s crawling with Russians. We sell ’em there I bet.”

“Well, let’s get on a bus. It’s only six hours or so.”

Allen came up with some paper out of his briefcase. “Oh, oh-oh-oh!”

“What, what, what?” asked Jasper.

“Dear mom,” Allen began reading in the voice of a young boy, “I’m in Korea. We got our assignments and a little training in Seoul for two weeks. Now I’m in Suwon! It’s very primitive here. A real test sometimes. I miss home and I love you so much, mom! Boy do I miss your cooking. The food here is pretty awful. But Koreans are such nice people. They’re the ginchiest. That part is not like I thought at all. I thought I could never love a girl who wasn’t white but I’m learning to touch myself without guilt…”

Allen continued reading the entire letter, throwing in false sentences here and there. Jasper snorted and kept trying to grab the letter to see what Allen was making up and what was really written.

“You’re the devil,” said Jasper, “Everybody thinks you’re this nice guy. They all say all kinds of nasty stuff about me, but you, get a drink or two in you and you make me seem a Latter Day Saint.”

“Go screw, you New York punk.”

“I’m serious, you’re the devil.”

“Oh, oh, I’m glad you said that. I got an idea,” said Allen, giggling.

“What’s that?”

“We’ll go to hell.”

“That’s your idea?” Jasper asked like a concerned parent.

“No, if we do my idea, we’ll go to hell.”

That’s the funniest thing you’ve ever said.”

“All right then,” Allen said and proceeded to explain over their third pitcher of soju.

They made the street. It was night. The street was bright and busy with shoppers and roaming bands of teens just getting out of high school classes for the day. The girls all wore navy-blue skirts and the boys wore dress shirts and loosened ties.

Jasper stood in the middle of the road with a Book of Mormon in hand. He grabbed the first Korean gentleman who came by. He was about forty.

“Excuse me,” said Jasper, “Yes, annyong hasseyo, agashee."

“Oh,” said the man, pleased to hear the greeting and the respectful term, “Annyong hasseyo.”

Allen said, “Could we please talk with you about our personal lord and savior, the devil, for just a minute?”

“I beg your pardon?” said the Korean. It was the standard English reply when something was not understood. It was the only one in the books so it was ubiquitous.

Jasper asked Allen, “How do you say ‘devil worship’ in Korean?”

“Oh, wait I know devil. Ahngma.”

“That’s Chinese for redhead, you idiot.”

“How do you know? You don’t know any Chinese.”

“Oh, forget it,” he said and turned back to the Korean. “Do you know Jesus? Yaesu?”

“Yes,” said the man, “I am a Christian.”

“Jesus bad. Devil good,” said Jasper which cracked up Allen no end, though he fought it. He could barely stand.

Jasper continued, “Jesus saves the Japanese not the Koreans. Jesus bad. Soju good. Judas popo hejo. Do you hear? Judas kiss me for I am Quai-chang Caine. Angmo imneeda! Thank you, amen. Annyong heegaeseyo! Go with cheese, my woman from Tokyo. Don’t eat that! Chogut moke-jee-ma! Bonk, bonk on the head, Jesus! Shalom!”

The bewildered Korean shuffled off leaving Allen lying on the ground laughing and trying not to piss himself, panting, “Oh, my good Christ, stop it! Stop!”

Jasper stood holding the Book of Mormon in outstretched arms scanning the gathering crowd for people to embrace. He shouted like Nixon singing opera, “Save the o-jinga, you Mongolian mutts! Save the o-jinnnng-a!”

Jasper started to dance a jig. In between steps he kicked Allen. He was laughing too hard to even sit up.

“Get up, yankee dog,” Jasper yelled, “Ship-seki! So-ra, yankee! Jaweehasseyo Kim Young Sam daemunae! So-ra, byung-shin migook saram! How dare you laugh in the face of the great Satan? Michin sapal dagi! Devil good!”

His Korean swearing brought perfectly mixed gasps of horror and amusement from the crowd. Jasper was alternately yelling about masturbating over the President of Korea and calling Allen everything from a crazy American son of ten bitches to a cross-eyed retard. As a group, the Koreans were leaning toward laughter. It wasn’t the vocabulary—though Jasper’s American accent and grammar were funny—it was the slapstick.

Jasper suddenly stopped kicking Allen in the rear and said, “Oh, no. Sinners!”

The two Mormon boys were down at the end of the street trying to see around the crowding Koreans.

“Sinners!”

Jasper threw the Book of Mormon to the nearest teenage girl. He grabbed one of the briefcases and said to Allen, “Cheese it, man. Sinners, twelve o’clock.”

Jasper ran. Allen was confused and trying to sit up. The Mormons came through the crowd. Allen’s eyes bulged. He grabbed the other briefcase and staggered to his feet after Jasper.

“Whoo-hoo!”

“Come on, come on, come on.”

The Mormons caught sight of the briefcase in Allen’s hand and started to pursue. They were catching up quickly because the two teachers were so drunk they could barely run. Allen was still laughing and that didn’t much aid his getaway.

They made their way through the market, slaloming stalls of produce, hot chestnuts, insect larvae, snails, and bread. As they passed a fish store Jasper skidded to a halt. There was a huge tank of live o-jinga. There were at least seventy of the fat cuttlefish. Jasper dunked the briefcase in the tank and said, “Swim, be free!”

Allen went past him then. He came back and grabbed Jasper’s arm and led him toward the main road.

One of the Mormons stopped at the cuttlefish tank to fish his briefcase out and get yelled at in Korean.

At the main road Allen threw the other briefcase in the back of a huge blue Rhino truck. It was carrying four tremendous pink hogs.

The Mormon had just about caught up with them. He chased the truck instead. The boys stopped running and leaned on their knees panting, laughing, coughing, and trying not to throw up.

The Mormon lost the truck immediately. It sped away south down the highway out of town. He turned to the boys with a murderous glare.

“Peace, man,” said Allen throwing up a “V” with two fingers on each hand like it was going out of style.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” demanded the Mormon as he walked to them.

“Didn’t you get the communique? We’re the replacement missionaries,” said Jasper.

Allen fell flat on his side laughing again. “Oh, we’re going to hell for this,” he said with half the words lost because he spoke them while inhaling.

The boy walked over to Jasper and balled up his fist. Jasper, sobering quickly, got ready to duck a punch.

The boy hit him in the shoulder. And that was enough for Jasper. He started to laugh as hard as Allen. He folded over. The Mormon hit him in the shoulder again, angrily, as hard as he could manage. It knocked Jasper over but only made him more hysterical.

“Don’t hurt me, man,” said Jasper in a begging tone.

“Anybody get the license plate on that truck?” said Allen. He was wheezing from the laughter. He could barely suck enough breath in to keep from passing out.

The other boy arrived with his dripping briefcase. He stood by his friend watching the two on the ground. They hurled questions at them but they got no useful responses.

Allen and Jasper picked each other up and started to walk home arm in arm—the style among young Korean men—still wearing the boys’ name tags.

They dwindled to a chuckle and were keeping quiet so they wouldn’t start again. The Mormon boys followed them and then trailed off, so bewildered and rattled that they couldn’t think of anything to say to each other.


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