Chapter 7

Several days later, Jacky and Joanne were browsing through the bar doing their usual checkup routines. They also noticed Roy sitting in his usual corner monitoring them closely yet pretending to enjoy himself with some friends. He was with some friends but they knew better. They also know one other difference: Vic was no longer coming by at times to give them trouble. They felt strange about it but didn’t want to pursue the matter further. At least that meant less to worry for their case. Though it did not mean they did not have to face other problems. And no, it wasn’t the tails Mr. Zeng pinned on Jacky since Jacky moved to the bar. But it came in a different nature. A more personal matter. It interestingly also had to do with Jacky. He was locking the doors when he received the message on his cell phone. It read: Nana’s sick. But I got it under control. Will tell you more later.

“What’s wrong?” Joanne asked, walking up to him.

He stashed his cell phone into his pocket real quick and turned to face her. “Nothing.”

Joanne stared at him with one of her stern looks. “You’re seriously going to do that?”

“Uh…” And he didn’t even know why he was stuttering.

She crossed her hands and waited for his answer. The only missing thing was her tapping one of her foot to indicate superiority over him.

“My grandma’s sick and someone at the town just sent me a message about it,” Jacky finally replied.

Joanne’s stern expression turned off then. She even stepped forward with a worried expression on her face. “You have to go back home and see for yourself, right?”

Jacky looked around the room–like there was anyone else there to eavesdrop. “I want to, but…”

“I’ll go with you,” Joanne jumped in, not giving him a chance to put it off. Or it was more like she knew too well why he was worried.

“But…what about this place?”

Joanne had on her amused smile then–despite the situation. She suddenly wasn’t so used to him all caring and considerate. So she learned that he was more humane than most people around her. Yet she didn’t realize the gap was so huge.

“You know I could make up an excuse to leave and Dad could just get Nelson to manage this place for me while I’m gone,” Joanne said at last.

“Wouldn’t he get suspicious?”

She flashed on another amused smile. But it was different than the previous one. “I’m reckless, remember? I don’t need a reason for my actions.”

“But what would my excuse be for leaving?”

“Just because I want you to go with me.”

Jacky couldn’t argue with that. He knew she was using her tainted reputation to help him.

*****

Vic spent several unfruitful days at Hualien in the heat. Sure, the sky was clear blue and the atmosphere was quite promising. But his intention wasn’t to come and enjoy the view. He had even insisted on bringing Cyndi along but Cyndi turned him down. It had less to do with work and more with Sara that Vic felt unease. Imagine the day when his wife turned down a vacation with him. It wasn’t exactly a vacation but a week off to a possible paradise? And that just added to his list of despising Sara altogether. If he hadn’t shown enough disgust toward her already.

Just when Vic was about to give up and head back to the hotel, he spotted a dirt road leading into the other side of town. Having nothing to do anyway, he made his way toward that path, wanting to explore since he had never been there. After fifteen minutes of senseless walking and admiring the views, he pulled off his sunglasses and rested under a tree. He was fanning himself with his free hand and inspecting his surrounding, wondering how far into this place he should go when he spotted a familiar couple. They were turning around the bend toward his right. He observed cautiously from his spot, putting on his sunglasses again and smiling at his luck. Not to mention the creepy coincidence. The couple wasn’t spending some quality time together though, but they were leading an elderly lady toward an unknown direction. The guy was guiding the elderly lady with his hands gingerly on her elbow as the elder lady was holding the girl’s left hand.

At one point, they turned back to look at Vic. Not really looking at Vic but more like the surroundings. Vic was lucky he wasn’t spotted because he had dove behind a tree nearby. He was more than glad the surroundings were covered with natural habitats. Following the three for five more minutes and Vic got his answer. The couple probably took the elderly lady out for a walk and was finally returning to their house. By that time, Vic found another natural structure to spy on the three. He had, of course, made sure he wasn’t behaving out of context with the rest of the civilization since there were different people traveling through this route as well.

“Nana,” The girl spoke up from the inside. “You just sit here and rest while I go prepare this.”

“Fan Gang,” The elderly lady called out then. “Why are you letting our guest work?”

A set of laughter was heard from inside then. Vic moved to a better spot by a window in the back somewhat hidden by some plants. He had then witnessed the other three in what was supposed to be the living room. And yes, the couple inside was Jacky and Joanne. The brief laughter was from Joanne and Vic was waiting for her to speak up again.

“Nana, I insist,” Joanne said, her voice full of determination. “Or do you not trust my culinary skills?”

The elderly woman smiled also, understanding too well that Joanne was joking. “Of course not.”

“Nana, you just recovered,” Jacky reminded the elderly lady. “You shouldn’t exert yourself.”

Joanne had moved into the kitchen to prove her culinary capabilities while Jacky placed a glass of water in front of the elderly lady. Vic had to dodge out of the way when Jacky walked by the window. That gave him a little more time to think about matters. Vic wasn’t too used to seeing both Jacky and Joanne wearing regular clothes–aside from that one time he saw them with Sara. But it wasn’t too unreasonable since they were visiting Jacky’s grandmother, so they wouldn’t want to frighten her. Yet it was too strange to see them both so tamed like that. Even if he told himself many times that people like them knew more about disguising themselves and masquerading under some pretentious identity than anyone. But he was still unsure about their behaviors. He realized Brianna was right. He was too drawn into finding out more about these two than the actual work of exposing Old Zeng and the man’s secret operations.

Observing the three for another fifteen minutes more and Vic was out of there. He no longer cared if they spotted him after he left their front yard, which they hadn’t. Because he finally got his answer. It didn’t matter. He had more pressing matters to uncover.

*****

Vic had no idea both Seth and Brianna were waiting for him at the bus stop when he got off. He was lugging his bag over his shoulder when he spotted both standing there. When he was closer, he could see their anxiousness more clearly.

“What’s up?” He asked casually, having been affected by the locals of Hualien these past days.

“Big news,” Seth told him as they were walking back to Seth’s car.

Vic had left his car for Cyndi so of course Seth had to pick him up and drive him home.

“You won’t believe what Justin found out,” Brianna continued in that mysterious tone that was driving Vic insane.

“What’s the big deal?” Vic asked, placing his luggage into Seth’s trunk.

“Sara is lying about her breakup with Jacky,” Seth answered as they buckled up.

“What?” Vic asked, surprised–and turned to Seth for an explanation.

“Justin was just curious about Sara’s temperamental episodes these past weeks,” Brianna took over–since Seth was focusing on driving. She stopped to roll her eyes. “It was Justin’s words, not mine. Anyway, he was just looking after your wife’s well-being since Cyndi kept getting dragged out to entertain her and you know how your wife’s not going to turn Sara down, right? Since Sara doesn’t have any friends here aside from Cyndi.”

“And?” Vic prompted, getting impatient again. He had turned slightly to look at Brianna and was waiting for this “beat around the bush” to end.

“Justin pulled Sara’s records and found out much more than he wanted to know.”

Vic repressed an eye roll. “Such as?”

“Well, we don’t know for sure if Sara got back with him or not,” Seth spoke up again. “But Justin pulled Sara’s phone records and found her still keeping in contact with him even though they were supposed to be mad at each other.”

“And especially all those times when Sara was bawling her eyes out to your wife and complaining about her miserable life,” Brianna added.

Vic wrinkled his face, thinking. “I have two guesses.”

Seth risked a glance toward Vic’s direction before focusing on the road again. “Which are?”

“They’re either crazy and like to play those kinds of games with one another. Or…”

“What?” Brianna asked, her voice anxious.

“Someone’s playing the begging game and I don’t think it’s Jacky.”

“But the thing is Justin decided to follow Sara again. And this time, more cautious because he had a feeling she was trying to lose him on purpose the first time around.”

“It doesn’t matter really,” Vic said, relaxing again. “I think you’re right about me getting carried away with tagging those three and poking my nose into their businesses. I’m going to focus on finding those stashed weapons from now on.”

“Your trip unfruitful?” Seth guessed, risking another glance Vic’s way.

Vic shook his head. “On the contrary.”

“Meaning?”

“At first, I was wandering around for nothing because I got misled by the fake address on file.”

“No grandma?”

“There is a grandma, but at a different location. I don’t know why someone would put fake information out there like that. But I ran into Jacky and Joanne while I was just walking around at those more deserted area of town.”

Seth had on his disbelief expression at that moment. “That freaky?”

Vic nodded, not even believing it himself. So he didn’t blame Seth for not being convinced by his words.

“Wait…” Brianna interfered.

“What?” Vic and Seth asked at the same time–with Seth risking a glance her way and Vic turning slightly toward her again.

“When did you see them?”

“Just several days ago,” Vic answered.

“Several?”

“Three days ago.”

“According to the phone records, Sara messaged Jacky six days ago about Nana being sick.”

That got Vic’s interest. “So she’s mad at him and yelling at him for making up stuffs about his past but still look after his grandma? That doesn’t make sense. I didn’t see her there though.”

“Or they really did get back together after he explained everything to her.”

“If we could decode all those other messages, we might know for sure. But Vic already said he’s not meddling into their business anymore so does it matter?”

“What messages?” Vic asked, turning to Seth this time.

“Most of their messages to one another are coded in a certain way, not those slangs that people use nowadays to save time either. We tried several combinations and sort of gave up since we were supposed to focus on Old Zeng, remember?”

“Why in the world do they need to talk in coded messages though?”

Seth narrowed his eyebrows together. “Most couples have their own language?”

“Still doesn’t make sense. Why is the one about Nana not coded?”

“It’s an emergency so Sara didn’t feel the need to be cute?”

Vic ran his hand through his hair, thinking things over. “Still doesn’t make sense. Something’s definitely wrong here.”

“I thought you gave up on their dramas?”

Vic shook his head. “I can still figure out the other thing while I spy on them some more.”

“Justin’s spying on Sara now, which is already enough people wasting their time, man. Let it go.”

Vic knew Seth had misunderstood him big time. Because of his recent loathing of Sara, both Seth and Brianna had assumed that his sudden curiosity in Jacky and the other two girls’ dramas was due to the fact that he wanted to get back at Sara. Yet Vic knew there was something else within all those formulaic daily soaps they witnessed right in front of them.

“It’s not just about that,” Vic said. “It’s not that plain and simple. It’s not just about them. But about the reason why he needed to hide Nana’s address.”

“If I was involved in those illegal activities, I would toss out some fake info to confuse my possible foes too,” Seth reasoned.

“But why does he have so much power to manipulate Hualien’s authorities into changing such info?”

“You’re right,” Brianna agreed, her eyes sparkling with new interest. “Even if he could hide it from some possible enemy, how could he hide it from the local authorities? You can’t change those types of info when it’s registered at the record offices already.”

“And if he’s so powerful, why does he need to work for Old Zeng?”

“He’s a double agent,” Seth guessed.

Vic had to laugh at that. “Good one, but are we talking spy movies now?”

“What? Come on now, it’s not impossible that he’s being sent in by someone to spy on Old Zeng.”

“Not impossible but kind of….I don’t know…fictional.” Then Vic thought of something else. “Wait.”

“What?”

“What other things did you guys find out about Sara? I meant she doesn’t have any relatives or friends in town, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

Seth had ignored Vic’s other question on purpose.

“She and Jacky could be working together if your guess is right,” Vic said, pointing at Seth for emphasis.

“So now you’re buying the spy theory?”

“It’s something to go on and would explain their continued contact with each other though Sara was bawling over her lost in the game called love.”

“Now that you said it, Sara’s trying too hard to convince us that she got dumped,” Brianna pointed out.

“Or she just wants more attention on her,” Seth reminded them of the obvious.

“We’re going around in circles with our guesses,” Vic jumped in again. “Better dig some more dirt with both to see if they’re spies to rule out Seth’s theory. And I’ll try to search that old mansion again later.”

Seth nodded, understanding too well what happened last time that interrupted Vic’s search.

As if to end their discussion, Seth pulled into Vic’s driveway. They were careful not to startle Cyndi since she was making her way out of Vic’s car at that very moment. She spotted them and stood to the side to wait for them. Vic smiled and waved at her as Seth parked. He was so glad to find no Sara around this time. It wasn’t a bad welcome home gift. In fact, it was perfect. Because all he needed was to see Sara’s pretentious presence at his house any longer. No, their house–his and Cyndi’s.

© Friday, February 10th, 2012

Posted: Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

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