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A Thousand Faces by Sosan. A man with determined eyes is holding a script, ready to perform.

A Thousand Faces

3

Chapter 3

82

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“What do you mean you want to die?”

 

Ilnam’s eyes widened in surprise. Had he said something wrong? Or had something happened to his son without his knowledge? He had already felt uneasy about the recent changes in Junwoo’s behavior, but he had never seen this coming.

 

“I think that’s the only way out,” Junwoo said.

 

“Way out? Junwoo, you’re only fifteen!”

 

“I know. But I can’t live like this anymore.”

 

Ilnam blinked, unable to believe what he was hearing.

 

“I want to try that ‘different path,’ Dad.”

 

At Junwoo’s words, Ilnam’s expression changed from shock to understanding. He was talking about faking his death. Disappearing.

 

“Is there no other option?” Ilnam asked.

 

“You know I can’t just pack my bags and leave.”

 

Ilnam couldn’t argue with that. This was the only way they could deceive Junhwan.

 

He set down his spoon and swallowed the reality before him. He wasn’t sure what had changed his son’s mind, but regardless, this was something he had been hoping to hear for a long time.

 

“Is there something you’ve been wanting to do?” Ilnam asked.

 

“I’m not sure yet. I’ll get to that later.”

 

“Gotcha.” Ilnam didn’t know why, but he felt a tinge of sadness. “Are you saying you’ll leave the gang forever?”

 

“Well, I dunno. Maybe I’ll have to.”

 

Ilnam nodded, taking a deep breath.

 

“What about you, Dad?”

 

“What about me?”

 

“Come with me.”

 

“With you?”

 

Leaving this life wasn’t something Ilnam had ever considered before. There was a part of him that was swayed by Junwoo’s words. Had the reason he had stayed all this time been for his son alone?

 

For a moment, Ilnam imagined a life with his son someplace far away from here.

 

But… his daydream dissolved quickly. He had always lived like this. To Ilnam, even an ordinary existence seemed like a grand dream. He had to face reality.

 

“I leave as well, and there’s a high chance of getting caught. You know it’s risky enough with just you heading off, don’t you?”

 

“I know,” Junwoo mumbled.

 

“Right now, you need to focus on your plan.”

 

Junwoo felt a bit saddened. It had been an impulsive suggestion, but he couldn’t leave Ilnam like this.

 

But he knew his father too well. The man could be as stubborn as a mule, and he would refuse to budge if he thought doing so would harm his son, even in the slightest.

 

It would be difficult now. Taking Ilnam with him might need to be postponed for a while.

 

And besides, his father was right; he needed to concentrate on his next steps. Once they were completed successfully, maybe then it would be possible.

 

“Thank you for raising me, Dad,” Junwoo said, reaching over the table as if it were a final farewell. They clasped hands. “Try not to drink too much.”

 

Ilnam turned his head away, his expression sorrowful. A moment later, a determined look rose on his face. “It won’t be easy alone.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I know you’re smart… but you’re still too young to handle everything on your own.”

 

“Are you saying you’ll help?”

 

“Maybe. But first, you’ve got to tell me what you’re planning.”

 

“No, Dad. You shouldn’t have to worry about this.”

 

Ilnam looked hurt. “You think it’s going to be easy? You really don’t trust me, huh?”

 

Junwoo was torn. He didn’t particularly want to involve his father. Even if things went south, at least Junwoo could find a way out; he couldn’t say the same for Ilnam.

 

However, looking at Ilnam’s crestfallen face, Junwoo couldn’t refuse. Maybe it was due to the guilt he always carried. Junwoo owed him.

 

After some consideration, he gave in, offering a small smile. He would give his father what he wanted.

 

“Alright, Dad. I might need your help for the aftermath.”

 

Ilnam’s face brightened. “Thanks, son! Anything else you want me to help you with?”

 

“That’s it. Thank you, Dad.”

 

Junwoo’s bright expression befitted his fifteen years. Right now, he wanted to be Ilnam’s teenage son, not the regressed Junwoo Han.

 

It was a rare, genuine moment of gratitude from Junwoo, and the joy was evident on Ilnam’s face. But his expression was also tinged with sorrow. If he had any regrets, it would solely be that he wouldn’t be able to see his son anymore.

 

Junwoo smiled, concealing his conflicted feelings. Could he be a good son and serve himself at the same time? After years of observing his selfish father, he had his doubts.

 

***

 

Junwoo returned to the house, his escape plan all set. Somehow, it was already past midnight.

 

“I’m back. Anyone home?”

 

In the dim light of the evening, a figure sat on the couch.

 

“I thought I made myself clear. Come straight home once it’s done.”

 

It was Junhwan Jung, the man with all the power and influence within the gang. He seemed to effortlessly dictate Junwoo’s and the others’ lives, as if his control was the most natural thing in the world.

 

“Did you stop to watch a movie on your way back?”

 

Junwoo said nothing.

 

“I told you. Keep a low profile. Stay quiet even at school until the job’s done.”

 

An undercover transfer student.

 

Fifteen-year-old Junwoo was attending school at that time. His fathers had been involved in an ongoing operation for the past few months.

 

This time, the target was the principal, and his father needed a plausible excuse to make frequent visits to the school.

 

Hearing Junhwan’s voice made memories of that time flash by. After school, his only escape was retreating to the video store to watch movies. And another, and another. It was his only refuge from the dull routine of pretending to be a student.

 

“I’m sorry,” Junwoo said. He was about to head to his room when Junhwan’s words caught him.

 

“I need to prepare something.”

 

Junwoo stopped.

 

Come to think of it, there was only one reason Junhwan would stay up waiting for him at this hour. They had a new job.

 

Junhwan used to pressure Junwoo, nagging about his movie-watching. Eventually, Junwoo had meekly complied, ultimately distancing himself from the one thing he loved most.

 

“The school will be cleaned up shortly.”

 

At fifteen, going to school should have been a normal thing. Yet, under the gang’s influence, even the most typical teenage experiences felt like forbidden luxuries.

 

“You haven’t done anything stupid like make friends, have you?”

 

“No, nothing like that.”

 

“Remember, you’ve got nowhere to go.”

 

Junwoo’s mind was made up. The discomfort and dread that had been tormenting him over the thought of leaving his fathers slowly faded.

 

Growing up, Junwoo had believed every word his father said, not seeing that Junhwan viewed him merely as a means to an end. He didn’t realize he was being brainwashed for this man’s personal gain.

 

Maybe that was why he kept Junwoo isolated from the outside world.

 

Junhwan tossed a file onto the dining table. “The plan for next week.”

 

Junwoo picked it up.

 

A fake drug deal. He would be dressed in his school uniform to avoid police detection.

 

“This looks big,” Junwoo said.

 

“I think you’re ready for this kind of thing now. It’s important stuff.”

 

“It’s risky.”

 

Junhwan smiled. “Everything we do involves risk.”

 

Junwoo mulled over the word. So now they were giving drugs to a fifteen-year-old kid and calling it a collective effort. This could end up dangerous—fatal, even—if things went wrong.

 

Junwoo feigned disinterest as he leafed through the file, then stopped midway.

 

The plan involved smuggling brokers and alternative shipping routes—a classic Junhwan tactic, complete with backup plans and quick getaways. It seemed he had already liaised with both the brokers and the gang.

 

That number stopped Junwoo cold. There was no mention of his name at all. The plan was to abandon ship at the first sign of trouble.

 

He let out a bitter laugh. His hand unconsciously clenched into a fist, the paper crumpling under the pressure. Little fifteen-year-old Junwoo had never considered these things. He felt like an idiot for never seeing it.

 

But right now, Junwoo needed to appear as his usual self—the gullible son, unaware that his love for acting was being exploited for crime. He couldn’t let on that he wasn’t the same person. And Junhwan couldn’t suspect his escape plan.

 

There was a brief silence.

 

“What’s wrong? Scared?” Junhwan asked in a flat, indifferent tone.

 

No matter what Junwoo said, it probably won’t change the outcome. He thought back to what Ilnam had once said to him when they were alone. It had been when they were preparing for a con, and his voice had been unusually serious.

 

“Listen carefully, Junwoo. If anything goes wrong, you are not our son. We never knew each other. Got it?”

 

Junwoo hadn’t realized then, but that had been Ilnam’s way of protecting him.

 

“No,” Junwoo said, gripping the file. “Of course not. I’ve never been scared.”

 

“So you think you can do it?”

 

“Yes. I can.”

 

Junwoo had lost count of the times he had said that to himself. He had to succeed in every assignment.

 

But not this time. He wouldn’t be played by Junhwan any longer.

 

Junhwan got up from his seat and approached with measured steps. He placed his hands on Junwoo’s shoulders, gripping them tightly. In the dim light, Junhwan’s gaze bore into him, searching.

 

Something flickered in Junhwan’s eyes—faint desires and dreams he had never fulfilled during his lifetime.

 

For a brief moment, their gazes met.

 

Junwoo’s eyes were calm, without the slightest tremor.

 

“Never forget that you are my son,” Junhwan said.

 

“I won’t.”

 

“Excellent. That’s what I want to hear.” Junhwan looked satisfied. He turned around, adding, “Now study up and prepare.”

 

“Okay. Thank you, Dad.”

 

***

 

Day one of the school trip to Jeju Island.

 

Junwoo was a loner at school. Growing up surrounded by scammer fathers, he had never had the chance to polish his social skills.

 

For young Junwoo, school was boring. He didn’t deliberately cause trouble, but he didn’t conform either. He just wandered the grounds, going wherever his feet took him.

 

Troublemaker, weirdo, nuisance, a boy without roots. Such labels followed Junwoo around.

 

An image like that proved unexpectedly useful now.

 

The bus was full with chattering students, but Junwoo still heard his flip phone vibrate above the noise.

 

-Did you get there safely, son?

 

It was a text from Ilnam. Junwoo tapped on the keyboard.

 

-Yes. No problems so far.

 

-It’s your first trip. Enjoy it. I’ve never been to Jeju myself!

 

Junwoo briefly glanced at Ilnam’s last message. For a moment, it felt like they were a normal, rich family. But even that would probably end after today.

 

He folded the phone with a clack and turned his gaze to the window. The expansive sea stretched beyond the passing greenery. Junwoo checked the sky; clouds were gathering overhead.

 

No change in plan.

 

Listening to the kids complaining about the bad weather, Junwoo sighed.

 

Tonight, he had an important job to do.

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