Karine Couillard had been the administrative and counseling section representative at the Canadian Embassy in South Korea for two years when Adam Zedman walked into her life. She had a variety of responsibilities, one of which included dealing with trainwrecks, those lowly Canadians, as she saw it, who had done something so incomprehensibly stupid and then expected their government to bail them out. Fortunately for these same people, Karine was great at what she did, and so often saved them from withering away in jail cells an ocean away from their families. People around the office would joke that Karine had bigger balls than the ambassador. Colleagues and embassy staffers called her the trainwrecker.
The afternoon Adam Zedman sauntered into the embassy’s foyer, Karine was busy putting together a plea for the courts to have leniency on a teacher who had recently been arrested and charged with drug possession. This was the only part of the job that made Karine feel she had made a mistake joining the Diplomatic Corps. The Canadian men she dealt with, and it was inevitably males whom she assisted in these situations, were often charged with crimes that made her skin crawl: drug trafficking, rape, aggravated assault, and, occasionally, murder. From her standpoint, she was always helping the wrong people.
“Ms. Couillard,” the receptionist, Jenny Kim, said. “You better come out and talk to someone.” Karine was cradling the phone between her ear and shoulder, typing up something on her computer when the call came.
“I’ll be right out,” she replied, knowing that request all too well by now.
She strode out from the second of two vault-like doors and asked the man what she could do for him. She didn’t introduce herself or extend a hand to shake. She was already in trainwrecker mode.
The person who stood in front of her was a tall, lanky young man. He wore a white T-shirt that he had not bothered to tuck into his ripped blue jeans. Even from a few feet away she could detect the faint trace of alcohol on his breath. “Thank freakin’ God it’s someone who can speak English,” the man said after jumping off the red couch. “I’m so bloody tired of dealing with Koreans who can barely put together a single sentence in English at my own bloody embassy.”
This immediately triggered an angry reaction from Karine. She had gone through 18 months of language training in Ottawa upon passing the Foreign Service examination, and knew firsthand how disparate the languages of Korean and English were. Adding to Karine’s irritation was the man’s behaviour. He was wiry, unable to stand still. If not for the past two years’ experience, she probably would have yelled at him by now and taken the risk of being reprimanded by her supervisor.
“What can I do for you, sir?” Karine said bluntly as she folded her arms. With her heels on, she was the same height as the man, so said this while looking him straight in the eye.
The man looked away. “Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but I need to speak with someone who’s gonna understand exactly what I say. I’m sure your English is okay, but what I need is a native English speaker.”
Karine bottled the indignation building inside her. “I am fluent in English,” she said, conscious of her slight accent for the first time in ages. “And I suggest you take a different tone before I ask you to leave the premises, sir.”
“Fine. But I need some answers.” Karine looked down and instinctively started tapping a foot. “Actually, I need some legal advice,” the man went on.
“Let me guess,” Karine replied at once. “You were fired from your hagwon and now you want to sue them for wrongful dismissal.”
“Look, my taxes pay your friggin’ salary, okay? I’m just as god damn Canadian as you are, you know.”