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A Thousand Faces Chapter 1

Updated: Dec 21, 2023


In the heart of downtown Seoul, at a busy intersection, 

the 9 o’clock news displayed on a large screen nestled between high-rise buildings. 

  

Breaking News Alert: The identity of the notorious scammer who deceived the entire nation has finally been discovered. The swindler, exposed through an anonymous tip, has been confirmed as an unregistered 35-year-old male. Currently, the police are swiftly conducting an investigation. 

  

A man with disheveled hair partially covering his face was prominently displayed on the screen.  

  

In the bustling crowd, Han Junwoo, his hat pulled low, slowly lifted his head. 

  

“Why does it have to be that picture?”  

  

Junwoo blankly stared at the screen. He clicked his tongue in clear annoyance. 

  

“I never expected to become a national sensation like this.  

  

‘I’m exhausted. I think I’ll go home and relax.’” 

  

In the distance, the police station came into sight. Junwoo stretched, casually slid his hand into his pocket, and effortlessly blended into the crowd. 

  

*** 

  

30 years ago. 

  

“Hey, kid, did something shiny just roll over here?” 

  

It was Go Ilnam, a member of the most notorious scam ring in Korea known as Boogeymen. 

  

He’s in big trouble right now. 

  

It was a parent event held at a daycare famous for enrolling only children from chaebol families. 

  

Go Ilnam sneaked in with a plan. He managed to swap a real diamond ring with a fake one at the event where a specific parent was present.  

  

However, a problem arose at that moment.  

  

The ring accidentally dropped and rolled toward a child. 

  

“Spill it. Did you pick it up?” 

  

However, the child in front remained tight-lipped, wearing a face that seemed oblivious. 

  

Under continued questioning, the child huddled further, lowering his head with an expression of fear. 

  

Already irritated by the fact that this little kid had been staring at him intently since earlier, Ilnam couldn’t shake off the suspicion. 

  

“I don’t know... I didn’t see anything.” 

  

The kid had this totally unfair expression of innocence on his face. 

Shortly after, as if expressing confusion about why this was happening to him, the kid started squirming. 

  

It wasn’t just a typical child’s lie; it went beyond a mere attempt to avoid trouble. 

  

It seemed like this kid genuinely didn’t know anything.  

  

It wasn’t as if he was caught red-handed with the ring, and it was pretty perplexing. 

  

“Where on earth did it go...” 

  

Ilnam scratched his head. He meticulously continued searching the surroundings again. 

  

The commotion grew louder nearby.  

  

People were gradually gathering one by one. 

  

Among them, some parents might be hurrying over to comfort the teary-eyed kids from afar.  

  

Ilnam had to make a swift exit; it could cause trouble if this kid spilled the beans that he was searching for something. 

  

At that moment, Ilnam turned his body towards the door.  

  

The teacher who was approaching, having found a child sobbing in the distance, tilted his head. 

  

“Who are you to be crying here? You’re not my student...” 

  

This kid is not a student here. 

  

Ilnam, who had momentarily stopped walking, turned around. 

  

“Dad..?” 

  

The teacher, who perceived him as the child’s father, blinked as if asking him to explain the situation. 

  

That was the moment. 

  

“Dad!” 

  

Huh? Dad? Me? 

  

“I was wrong. Please don’t abandon me.” 

  

The child was clearly speaking to Ilnam.  

  

Am I abandoning you? Ilnam’s mind came to a standstill.  

  

Parents’ attention began to focus on the pitiful scene. 

  

The child suddenly began to cry even louder. 

  

“I’m sorry, take me with you. I’ll listen to Dad now. I won’t ask for toys anymore, I promise.”  

  

The child didn’t divert his pitiful gaze from Ilnam.  

  

If this continued, he’d end up tagged as a heartless father who left his young son just because he couldn’t buy him a toy. 

  

Ilnam quickly backtracked and lifted the child into his arms.  

  

“Hehe. When did Dad say he was leaving you? If my son wants a toy, I’ll get it for him. Let’s go.”  

  

Striding away from the scene, Ilnam wondered what he was doing now. Playing the role of a father wasn’t part of the plan. Nevertheless, it could have been really risky if he had waited any longer.  

  

As he reached a spot far from the daycare, Ilnam set the child down.  

  

“Who are you?” 

  

“What do you mean?” 

  

“Why am I your Dad?” 

  

“You did the same, Mister.” 

  

“I did? What did I do?” 

  

“You were lying. Back there, I saw everything.” 

  

Ilnam was baffled. Just a moment ago, the child had acted as if he knew nothing. But this little one had been reading him from the start. 

  

“Is the game over now?” 

  

“Game?” 

  

“The one we were playing, Mister. It was fun. Everyone fell for it, didn’t they?” 

  

“That’s it? After making me work so hard, he just wants to play? Is he trying to make a fool of me?” Ilnam was astonished.  

  

“Alright, the game is over. So, go.”  

  

Ilnam’s mind was still preoccupied with the whereabouts of the ring. How was he going to get back in there?  

  

The child made a sullen face as Ilnam waved his hand away as if to say he was annoyed.  

  

“Darn it. I wanted to play more. But at least I won.” 

  

The child opened his fist in front of him. There, lying in his palm, was the diamond ring that Ilnam had been searching for so long.  

  

“You...” 

  

Ilnam took the ring in his hand, feeling dazed. What was this? He felt something was off, just as the child had said.  

  

“Where’s your home?”  

  

“I don’t have one.”  

  

“What? Then, where’s your mom?”  

  

“I don’t have one either.” 

  

The child pursed his lips and looked up at Ilnam with an innocent face. His tone was as if to say, “Do I really need those?” Ilnam was starting to get curious about this child. 

  

“So, where have you been staying all this time?” 

  

“Oh, that? I’m living just like you, Mister. I don’t have a place to call home.” 

  

“He’s living the same way I do?” 

  

That meant he had been living every day, hiding in such a place.  

  

Was that possible? But it also made sense, considering what Ilnam saw today. 

  

Besides, is he treating this as a game? Ilnam was suddenly scared of the child in front of him. What would happen to this child when he grows up? 

  

“Are you scared of me too, Mister?” 

  

The child looked a little downcast.  

  

What expression was I making just now?  

  

Ilnam felt like he had done something wrong. 

  

Does he always attract this kind of attention wherever he goes? If he leaves now, this kid will just end up going through the same stuff in some other place. 

  

Did he pity the kid, or was his head just all scrambled from dealing with weird stuff before? Ilnam blurted out on the spur of the moment. 

  

“Will you come with me?”  

  

It was the day when Junwoo gained four scammer fathers. 

  

*** 

  

Junwoo was feeling grumpy. 

  

Since he came to this house, he hasn’t had anything fun to play with. 

  

The fathers, who had been fooled once or twice by the child’s audacity, quickly gave in. Junwoo was getting bored. 

  

The moment Junwoo first encountered movies, his face lit up with excitement. 

  

“What are those people doing?” 

  

“You know the games you like to play? That’s what they are doing. Well, I mean, they’re just acting.” 

  

“Is that the game we used to play?”  

  

“Yes.” 

  

Ilnam explained it like that. Since that day, Junwoo spent his days watching movies. 

  

Junwoo’s love for movies was immense. He was so obsessed that he would sit in front of the TV all day long, watching every movie he could find, regardless of genre.  

  

Even when the gang was plotting in the living room, Junwoo didn’t give them a second glance. The countless scenes and performances of the actors in the movies captured his heart. Plus, he remembered all the scenes and lines he had seen at that young age. It was not something that could be achieved by effort.  

  

Later, he even started to imitate movie scenes in thin air. Junwoo, who was exchanging lines alone in the corner of the living room, soon made a sullen face.  

  

Junwoo desperately craved a companion. 

  

Among the gang, Jang Jun-hwan began to watch Junwoo more and more closely. It didn’t seem like just a child following the people on TV out of curiosity. That kid definitely had a talent for acting. 

  

Jang Jun-hwan thought, “That kid might be useful.” 

  

“He’s a genius, right?”  

  

“What?”  

  

“You said that the day you brought him in. That he’s a genius.”  

  

“Yeah...I guess so.” 

  

Ilnam couldn’t help but notice Jun-hwan’s intentions. Ilnam felt uncomfortable as Jun-hwan began to take an interest in Junwoo, whom he had previously ignored.  

  

Has he already grown attached to him? I didn’t bring him here for this. 

  

Still, there was nothing he could do. Jun-hwan had agreed to take him in for a while because he felt sorry for him. It was clear that he would be kicked out if he became useless.  

  

Ilnam could only hope that his judgment that Junwoo being a genius was wrong. 

  

One day, Jun-hwan approached Junwoo, who was staying late in front of the TV. 

  

“Do you want to do that thing?”  

  

“What?”  

  

“Do you want to give it a try?” 

  

That was a proposal to put young Junwoo, who knew nothing, into the game. Junwoo’s eyes lit up.  

  

“Really?”  

  

Suddenly, Junwoo, who had been motionless for hours, jumped up from the floor.  

  

“Yes, I will do it! I can do it well!”  

  

Junwoo had been listless ever since he came to this house.  

  

This was the first time he had looked so excited.  

  

And so, Junwoo’s first scam began. 

  

*** 

  

Junwoo’s first mission was to distract the target’s attention for a short time while his gang did the job.  

  

“The lost child.”  

 His first role. 

  

Junwoo slowly recalled the scene from the movie he had watched a few days ago at dawn. The scene of a minor character who had been searching for his missing parents all day long, weeping uncontrollably.  

  

Although it was a scene that appeared briefly in the background, Junwoo could recall all of the minor character’s few scenes in his head.  

  

Junwoo frantically ran his hands through his hair. Finally, he pulled the target’s collar.  

  

“Sir.” 

  

The target turned around. The young child, who was about his waist height, looked confused and anxious.  

  

“My mom...” 

  

As he said those words, Junwoo’s eyes, which had been quivering, began to fill with tears. 

  

How long had he been running? His hair was a mess, his shoes were half off, and he started to cry as soon as he said the word “mom.” It was clear that he was a child who had been searching for his lost parents all day and had finally come to an adult for help.  

  

The target set down his briefcase and crouched down in front of the child, looking him in the eye.  

  

And so, the first job was finished successfully. 

  

“I did the right thing, right? That man was totally fooled by me. And he even gave me this.”  

  

Junwoo was buzzing with excitement. In his hand, he clutched two crumpled 50,000 won bills.  

  

Chang Jun-hwan mused, “This kid is a born con artist.” 

  

“What’s next for me?” 

  

From that day on, Junwoo became more and more involved in scams.  

  

Junwoo’s hard work paid off. He succeeded in every scam.  

  

At that time, Junwoo had no idea where his talent would take him.  

  

*** 

  

Something felt wrong as soon as he opened the door.  

  

The gang exchanged glances at Junwoo’s arrival.  

  

The atmosphere was tense. 

  

“What? What’s up?” 

  

The gang was squirming and avoiding eye contact. Even Jang Jun-hwan, who had never been like that before, avoided Junwoo’s gaze. 

  

Junwoo had a hunch. 

  

“No way… is that?”  

  

“Junwoo, that’s…” 

  

He could see it in Ilnam’s face, the look of someone who had given up hope.  

  

These things had to happen.  

  

“I tried to stop you the whole time...”  

  

“I told you never to touch that! Why can’t you understand what I’m saying?” 

  

Junwoo felt so angry he could have exploded.  

  

He had always played along, pretending he was his father. He had done everything he could to make money for him. But it was all for nothing.  

  

Junwoo squeezed his eyes shut, trying to control his rage. It was over. 

  

Junwoo was a natural.  

  

Soon, all the games were centered around him.  

  

If Junwoo couldn’t see a solution, the game was off. 

  

It was a given. Junwoo’s decisions were always on the mark. The gang wasn’t unaware of that.  

  

That was something that should have been left alone.  

  

“A billion dollars! How could you just give that up? I was counting on this to be my ticket out of here. I didn’t think it would end like this.”  

  

Jang Jun-hwan, his face flushed with anger, started shouting. 

  

“Junwoo, come on. Is there anything we can do? You’re the smart one here. What do you think?”  

  

Another father, his eyes vacant, spoke. At his words, the fathers, who had been despairing, began to see a glimmer of hope. 

  

Ilnam should have known. It was Junwoo again. They never wanted this kid. They just wanted his talent. 

  

Junwoo felt a chill run down his spine.  

  

What am I even hoping for? I know there’s nothing else I can do.  

  

“There’s no such thing, so just give up. It’s all over.” 

  

“It has to be. It should exist.” 

  

“Just give up,” 

  

“If we go in again this time, we’re all screwed.” 

  

A helpless laugh escaped from his lips. He finally understood. The man wanted to erase everything.  

  

“You think you can just bail on us? We’re all going to die if you don’t help!”  

  

“It’s come to this, threats. This is unbelievable. Even if he’s not thinking straight, this is…”  

  

When did it start? As the game got bigger, the fathers became more and more money-hungry. It was really sickening to see them still making money after this mess. 

  

Junwoo paused for a moment. He could quickly get out of this and put a few of the scammers behind bars. 

  

“Junwoo, please…! You’re our son. You have to save your fathers. Please?” 

  

But it wasn’t going to be easy.  

  

His father’s hand was shaking as it gripped his shoulder. A last hope for his son in the hopeless despair.  

  

When he looked at the face in front of him, he couldn’t speak. 

  

Still, he’s my father.  

  

Even if they saw me as just a lucky criminal tool.  

  

The fact that he took in an orphan with nowhere to go didn’t change. 

  

“Sigh...” 

  

Junwoo had stepped outside for some fresh air. 

  

Swoosh 

  

Suddenly, someone put an arm around his shoulder.  

  

He turned around to see Ilnam, who had been watching the situation, with a sad expression on his face. 

  

“Don’t stress yourself out too much, Junwoo. It’s time to hang it up.”  

  

The minute he saw Ilnam’s face, he knew what he had decided.  

  

From the moment he first got into this business, Ilnam had always been anxious about himself. Junwoo knew that.  

  

Ilnam didn’t want to be this big. 

  

Ilnam had a criminal record, so he would have to spend the rest of his life in prison if he was caught again.  

  

He also had a number of health problems, and he was barely holding on, even with prescription painkillers. 

  

Junwoo couldn’t help but imagine Ilnam slowly dying in pain on the cold floor of a prison.  

  

“If I were to go in...” 

  

I’ve been so sick of scams for a long time. I started this path without a clue what I was getting myself into. 

  

Junwoo’s world was a stage, and he was the director. He pulled the strings, and everyone else danced to his tune. Yeah. Honestly, he didn’t realize that he was enjoying it himself. 

  

I don’t know when it started, but I’ve been feeling this sense of unease in my chest. Is this really the right thing?  

  

Regret 

  

It was a pointless emotion. 

  

I knew there was no going back, so I didn’t even bother looking back. I was still a criminal, no matter what. I believed I was destined to live this way forever, just like I had been. 

  

I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m so sick of my fathers, who are always chasing their own selfish desires, and of this life of always having to sneak around. 

  

I was so fed up that I could only think of one thing: I wanted to quit everything. 

  

Junwoo decided to make the best of it. He had given it his all.  

  

“Might as well take a break while I’m at it.”  

  

Junwoo’s face was all over Seoul within a day. No one had any idea that he was behind it. His last con was a success.  

  

I have one minor regret. 

  

“I can’t believe they used that photo. I would have taken it out if I had known it would be such a big deal.” 

  

*** 

  

Junwoo felt the full force of his popularity as soon as he was locked up. His fame had already spread to the other prisoners, and they were all curious about him. Some of them started to pick on him, and he eventually ended up in solitary confinement.  

  

Junwoo flopped down on his back and stared up at the blank ceiling. He couldn’t help but laugh.  

  

The cold, quiet solitude of the cell felt unexpectedly comforting. I couldn’t help but wonder what I was running away from to end up here.  

  

“I’m just...” 

  

Junwoo reflected on the day he first entered the game. The thrill of being given his first role when he was still a novice.  

  

The exhilaration of having the world at your fingertips.  

  

He was a master of the game. He had played countless people for fools, and it was all his own doing.  

  

Junwoo felt like he was living in a movie. He believed that was the only way he could make sense of his life. It was the only thing he had left after being abandoned on the streets.  

  

Reality is a harsh mistress. No matter how much he wished it were otherwise, Junwoo was just a con artist and a criminal. He had been living in a delusion and was starting to realize it. What more could he have hoped for?  

  

Junwoo let out a long sigh.  

  

If this is what I must do to atone for my sins, then so be it. I could use a rest from all this, anyway.  

  

“What’s done is done...” 

  

As Junwoo followed his thoughts, he suddenly felt an unbearable sleepiness.” 

  

His surroundings gradually darkened, and his eyes closed softly. 

  

Junwoo drifted off into a light slumber.



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