“Hello?” I say as the call connects.
“Why is it so hard to contact you?” says Ho-un’s frustrated voice on the other end.
I had about ten missed calls from him; he must have been pretty desperate to contact me.
“I was a little busy,” I reply.
“I thought you said you’re unemployed,” Ho-un says.
“Are you looking down on unemployed people? Unemployed people are busy with their own things.”
“Whatever. His name is Lee Yeong-tae, right? A day laborer at a factory in his mid-thirties. Resides somewhere in the Su-an area. Married, no children. His wife has a category 3 intellectual disability.”
This is the Spaniel’s personal information that I gave to Ho-un. I did my best to scrape that information together from memory, but listening to it read out like that, it’s pretty damn incomplete.
To think that Ho-un found him so quickly despite that. As expected from a genius hacker. No wonder he managed to leak the private sex tape of a National Assembly member.
“I know you paid me three million, but you really have no shame. I’m pretty proud that I managed to find him. Do you know that Su-an District has a population of 500,000?” he says.
“Yes, yes. You’re incredible. You’re gonna make it big, Ho-un,” I tell him.
He hadn’t forgotten to praise himself. They say that if you plant a bean, a beanstalk grows; he really is no different from the Ho-un that I know.
“First, I looked for all the women who are receiving disability allowances at each region’s neighborhood office. From there, I narrowed it down to the people who matched the age range, then I found the ones whose husband’s name is Lee Yeong-tae,” Ho-un explains.
Wow. He used his head a little, didn’t he? It’s definitely easier to track down his wife, who has more distinguishing characteristics.
“You did well,” I say.
“There were about five matching results. I think it’ll be faster for you to check which one is the one you’re looking for yourself from this point.”
“Okay. Send me the pictures.”
“Yeah, yeah. Once you find him, my job is done.”
“Alright. And one more thing, Ho-un.”
“What is it?”
“Once you graduate, don’t do this kind of work. Get a job. You’ve got the ability, so you’ll be welcomed no matter where you go.”
Ho-un laughs. “It’s funny to hear that from the one who just paid me for this job.”
“You ungrateful rascal. I’m just looking out for you,” I say.
There’s no way a guy who can earn millions or even tens of millions from a single job will be satisfied with a company salary. This kid knows himself too well.
I hang up, take out a cigarette, and put it in my mouth.
Go Min-guk, who is lying on the floor as comfortably as if it were a bed in a five-star hotel room, groans.
This is why alcohol is your enemy.
My cell phone’s shutter clicks as I take photos of his face from multiple angles. His ugly face, his dried saliva and the food particles on his clothes are appalling to look at.
Go Min-guk’s secretary shows up.
“Oh my god. Young Master!” he says.
With Chief Kim’s help, the secretary puts Go Min-guk on his back.
Wow, everyone is really going through a lot.
My phone vibrates. Ho-un has sent the photos. I scroll through them slowly and stop on the fourth photo.
Dim, unfocused eyes and crooked facial features. A memory that remained as a fading stain in my mind suddenly becomes fresh and vivid.
I’ve found you, Su-an Spaniel.
“Young Master, we have seen the second-born Young Master off. We should take our leave as well,” says Chief Kim.
“Good work,” I say.
I get into the car and fall deep into thought.
If I report the Spaniel, he will definitely be arrested. After all, his DNA is in the database of the National Forensic Service, waiting for its owner like Cinderella’s glass slipper.
And then they’ll question me, of course. Asking me how the hell I knew he was the Spaniel. I can’t exactly tell them, ‘I’m from the future,’ can I?
The report has to be made under circumstances that the police will understand. That’s the only way I can get the reward money and bonus points towards my exam. With that being the case, catching him in the act would be best.
That’s going to come with all sorts of dangers, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a way.
“Are you feeling unwell?” Chief Kim asks, seeming concerned by the frown on my face.
“Huh? No. I’m alright,” I say.
“Did you get hurt earlier?”
“Earlier?” I repeat. “Oh.”
He’s talking about my fight with Go Min-guk. I didn’t even get hit once, though.
I give Chief Kim a smile and shake my head, and he returns a giddy-looking expression.
“You saw that, didn’t you? I’ve never seen the second-born Young Master in such a state,” Chief Kim says.
“Thinking about it makes my heart pound again,” I say.
Chief Kim gives a small laugh. “He won’t be able to show his face anywhere for a while. It feels good.”
“… Are you feeling alright, Chief?”
His left cheek is slightly swollen as proof of the punch that he took for me.
Chief Kim waggles his eyebrows at me as if to say that there’s nothing wrong. “You have no work tomorrow, so get a good night’s rest,” he says.
“Ah, there’s somewhere I need to go. You can stay at home, Chief,” I tell him.
“Where are you going?”
“Yongsan. I have some things to buy.”
Autumn rain is falling on the street. There are quite a few shopping districts that have closed up early. The stores mostly deal in electronics, so on days like this, they use the rain as an excuse to stop business. That’s how the back streets of Yongsan are.
Maybe because it’s a space for elderly people, the liveliness typically seen in marketplaces is absent here.
I slowly make my way through the streets with an umbrella over my head.
There are two old men sitting on a bench, drinking makgeolli.1
“Excuse me, sirs,” I say, calling out to them.
“Yeah?” one of them responds.
“I heard that there’s a Chief Ju around here.”
I haven’t been told anything of the sort, but the old men don’t show any signs of surprise. They just continue chewing their yellow, well-cooked pajeon.2
“Mr. Ju? There’s a few Mr. Jus around here,” one of them says.
“I must be getting old, my memory’s terrible these days,” says the other.
“Really? Me too.”
“Time really flies.”
As I expected, they know the neighborhood well.
I smile and take out my wallet.
These cheeky old bastards won’t have to worry about feeding themselves for the rest of their lives.
I put down four checks next to their makgeolli.
The old men smile, revealing their yellow front teeth.
“Seeing as you’re so quick to get your money out, it seems that you came prepared.”
I laugh. “It’s a good day to be drinking makgeolli. Use this to buy yourself some more drinks.”
“Chief Ju is on the third floor of the third building if you go into that street,” one of the old men tells me.
“He’ll probably still be in the store if you go now,” the other adds.
“Thank you,” I say.
I head in the direction that the old men pointed me in.
Alias: The old man of Yongsan. A boss who is famous among certain ‘professionals.’
On the outside, he deals in security electronics, but in secret, he deals in equipment used to breach security systems. He’s a merchant who sells both spears that can penetrate through any defense and shields that can’t be penetrated by any attack.
I open the old iron door. At the top of the steep staircase behind it, there’s another door.
I press the button on the heavily worn-out intercom machine. I hear a beeping sound twice, and then it stops.
“Hello? Chief? Are you there?” I say.
There’s no response.
There’s a tiny camera above the button I pressed, and the light is blinking. He’s using this to get a look at my face.
I bow to the lens and smile. “Hello, Chief.”
I understand. A man he doesn’t know has turned up on his doorstep without notice. As a man working in this field, his life depends on being cautious.
But I have some magic words that can open this door.
“I’m a friend of Ha-seong’s,” I say.
There’s a pause, and then a response.
“What do I call Ha-seong?”
There’s a click, and the door opens.
Ha-seong is one of my prison family members. A legendary thief who would steal anything other than a woman’s heart. I would repeatedly correct him to say that it isn’t that he wouldn’t steal a woman’s heart, but that he couldn’t.
Goods are stacked against the wall up to the ceiling, and the room is lit by just a single yellow bulb. Ha-seong wasn’t exaggerating when he told me that they had almost everything you could imagine. The room is packed with items that are clearly not ordinary.
“You’re Ha-seong’s friend, you say?” says Chief Ju, who is a dwarf, as he looks up at me from a hunched-over position in his seat.
“Hello,” I say.
“It’s my first time seeing a handsome friend of his.”
Chief Ju looks at me through thick glasses that make his eyes look tiny in comparison to the magnified ridge of his nose.
He reminds me of dwarves of folklore that watch over houses.
“You and Ha-seong look very much alike, just as I heard,” I say.
“Don’t insult me straight to my face,” he sighs.
“And you are funny, just as I heard.”
“Hmph. What nonsense.”
Chief Ju isn’t Ha-seong’s real father. He’s the second son of his third cousin’s grandfather’s younger brother. In other words, they may as well be unrelated.
But through this distant connection, when Ha-seong lost his parents in an accident and his relatives were contacted, Chief Ju’s house is where he ended up.
Given the environment he grew up in, Ha-seong spent his time playing around by opening safes ever since he was young.
Chief Ju examines me from head to toe. “Alright. Doesn’t seem like you’re here to beg me for food. What’s your business with me?” he asks.
“I want to buy some products,” I reply.
“What kind of products?”
“A tracking device and a concealable microphone.”
“Jeez. Like two peas in a pod, aren’t you,” Chief Ju says, clicking his tongue.
But still, he opens his storage closet and places some devices of a variety of sizes on his desk. They range from the size of an old-school laptop to the palm of a hand.
“Do you have anything smaller?” I ask.
“How much smaller?”
“Something that can be put on someone’s clothes.”
“Look here. Do you have any idea how much that’d cost you?” Chief Ju growls, curling his lips.
I take out an envelope that I’ve prepared beforehand and hand it to him.
His small hands begin counting the money inside.
One large check, two, three…
Chief Ju leers at me suspiciously. “You’re not a friend of Ha-seong’s, are you?”
“I am,” I assure him.
“He doesn’t make friends with rich people. He’s too busy stealing from them.”
“We became close when I had nothing to my name.”
I give Chief Ju a sly smile.
His expression doesn’t get any less suspicious, but he moves his wheelchair across the room and opens the safe on the other side. A few moments later, he tips a bunch of machines the size of rice grains into my palm.
To someone who isn’t familiar with such devices, like myself, they are quite amazing. How can electrical components be assembled inside such a tiny space?
It looks like the old man of Yongsan’s reputation didn’t just appear out of nowhere.
“You need to be within 100 meters of the microphone if you want to listen, and the tracking device needs to be linked to your cell phone,” Chief Ju tells me.
“Does it provide me with an exact address?” I ask.
“That one is only accurate within a radius of 30 meters. If you want more accuracy, use a bigger one,” Chief Ju says.
“No, I can’t use a bigger one,” I tell him. “And there’s one more thing.”
“A stun gun. One that’s nice and strong, but less than 60,000 volts.”
“You crazy bastard,” Chief Ju snorts.
Despite those last words, he has everything I need.
I pay what I owe him and pack the goods carefully. They are going to be put to very good use. I’ll need them, since I have no colleagues to rely on and no stamina of my own.
“By the way, do you know what that rascal Ha-seong is up to?” Chief Ju asks casually, as if not really interested.
Ha-seong is always moving from place to place, so it seems that Chief Ju hasn’t seen him for a while.
I rack my brains to try and think of what Ha-seong would be doing right about now.
Hmm, I have no idea.
“Who knows. I’m sure he’s robbing some rich family somewhere,” I say.
“I’m worried that he might be locked up,” Chief Ju sighs.
He feels something similar to guilt towards Ha-seong. He thinks that things would have been very different if Ha-seong had grown up in an ordinary household. That Ha-seong learned to be a thief because he grew up in this environment.
Naturally, this is all stuff that I heard all when I was in prison. But despite Chief Ju’s worries, Ha-seong was a kid who was very satisfied with his life. Or rather, satisfied with his work. It’s a calling that fits his talents and interests perfectly.
“Don’t worry about that. He’ll be roaming free for another ten years at least,” I assure Chief Ju.
“What are you talking about?” he asks suspiciously.
“I can see a little of the future. He won’t go to jail for a while longer.”
That might change if we cross paths at some point, though.
“I was wondering what you meant, but you’re just talking nonsense, huh,” Chief Ju sighs.
“It’s your birthday soon, isn’t it? You should be seeing him soon,” I tell him.
Ha-seong is a good son; he never fails to show up at Chief Ju’s on his birthday.
A small smile creeps onto Chief Ju’s tightly-shut lips. “You really are Ha-seong’s friend,” he says.
I give a small laugh. “Goodbye. I’ll visit you again.”
“You’re not welcome, you bastard,” Chief Ju grunts.
I leave the store and come out of the shopping district. The pouring rain is steadily getting heavier.
It’s time to give my body a workout.
I get on a bus that’s headed towards the Su-an Spaniel’s house.
1Makgeolli is a kind of Korean rice wine.
2Pajeon are Korean green onion pancakes.