Wallace was the first one to unfreeze himself from the spot. He glanced at his watch briefly and at the surrounding before making a move. He proceeded to his car like he planned minutes ago.
“All right, everyone,” He said, calling for attention. “Last chance to back out.”
“No way,” Qiao Qiao said in a determined voice.
“Then let’s do it.”
“Wait,” Simon said, putting out his hand.
The others turned to him.
“You think we’ll get in trouble?”
“I took the cameras out myself,” Wallace said. “No one’s here right now since most of the stores here close early on Sundays.”
“If you don’t want to do it, then you don’t have to,” Jacky said. “We wouldn’t want to pressure anyone into it.”
“We could try other ways than this…” Simon said, gesturing his hand. “I mean…”
“S, don’t force yourself into it,” Wallace said.
“Sorry, guys,” Simon said, looking apologetic enough. “It’s just that…”
“It’s all right.”
Simon nodded. “But if there’s any other way, just call me and I’ll…”
“We’ll let you know when we think up of a better plan, okay?”
Simon nodded again.
They watched him leave just like the others.
“Okay, guys,” Wallace began again. “This time, no more interruptions.”
“Get this going before we get caught,” Qiao Qiao said.
Wallace finally opened his car trunk successfully this time around. He began to pass them each a bag. They each took a peek inside to see its contents.
“What if we invite in the real thing?” Chen Yi asked suddenly, surprising everyone.
Wallace shut his trunk before turning to Chen Yi.
“There are no such things as ghosts,” Ehlo said before Wallace could say it.
“Sure, lie to yourself,” Chen Yi mumbled.
“If you’re scared of it, we can take care of it,” Wallace reminded him of the number of people they had.
Before Chen Yi could say anything, Qiao Qiao turned to give him her famous glare.
“I didn’t say I’m backing down,” Chen Yi said.
“Let’s get this going,” Jacky interfered, repeating Wallace’s words from earlier.
“Is the alarm system on?” Ehlo asked as they were approaching the shop’s entrance again.
“No,” Wallace said. “Here’s the deal, you guys go inside. I’ll stick around here and take care of the front. In case someone comes, I’ll just tell them that we heard something and it might be a rat or whatever.”
The others nodded.
“And someone stays here with me or they’ll think we need all of you to check for rats.”
“I’ll do it,” Ehlo muttered.
“Who was the one not afraid of ghosts?” Chen Yi whispered as he walked by Ehlo.
“I didn’t say I was afraid, I’m just saying it would be better if I stay here,” Ehlo shot back, not whispering at all.
“What are you guys talking about?” Qiao Qiao asked, giving them strange looks.
“Nothing,” Chen Yi mumbled, stationing himself by the door, waiting for Wallace to open it.
“Okay,” Wallace said, finally unlocking the door.
“I’ll stay here as well,” Angela said. “I don’t know this place anyway.”
Ehlo stared at Angela.
“What?” Angela asked.
“You know there are no ghosts here, right?” Ehlo reminded her.
“I’m keeping an eye on you,” Angela said, giving him a look.
Ehlo smiled. “Sure.”
“Guys, let’s get this going,” Wallace reminded them all–yet again.
As planned, Wallace stayed outside with Ehlo and Angela while the rest of them went inside to plant the evidence. However, the three of them weren’t that free from tasks either. They had to place some of the small objects around the front to create the effect for the overall atmosphere. After about half an hour of working, the others came back outside to regroup with the three out front.
“What do you think?” Qiao Qiao asked, turning to Wallace.
Wallace scanned the surrounding inside quickly yet cautiously. He must admit that he was impressed with their subtle planting of evidence everywhere. However, he knew the others could do it. It was just a simple trick. He turned back to the others once more before turning to Ehlo and Angela.
“What do you think, Huang?” Wallace asked, repeating Qiao Qiao’s question from a minute ago.
“Why are you pushing the decision to him?” Qiao Qiao asked, wrinkling her face.
“You’re scaring him, sis,” Jacky jumped in, attempting to rescue Wallace from the situation.
“I say let’s scatter before we look any more suspicious than we already are,” Chen Yi suggested, reminding them all of the danger of possible exposure.
“That’s right,” Angela joined in. “It’s bizarre enough that we’re following his plan already.”
Wallace locked the door without caring for contradictions or additional inputs from others. He made sure everything looked as if it had been untouched since Alyssa locked the door before she left them all. When he turned to the others again, he could see them getting ready to leave.
“I guess let’s go home and wait, huh?” Ehlo said suddenly, stating the obvious.
The others nodded.
“When is the first showing, Qiao?” Wallace asked, turning to her.
“Tomorrow morning,” Qiao Qiao informed him. “Exactly at 8.”
“Why would anyone wake up that early to see someplace?” Chen Yi asked, wrinkling his face in disbelief.
“Some people would, okay? Especially those who are serious about finding a place for their business.” She turned to Wallace with a worried expression. “Will this person buy our story?”
“He will run home to his mommy,” Wallace promised her with much confidence.
“Stop exaggerating, Mr. Huo,” Cyndi said, giving him a doubtful look. “The reason why we actually participated in this little plan is because we want to reassure ourselves.”
“Are you saying we won’t succeed, Miss Wang?”
“I’m just saying you guys better think up of a great plan soon.”
“No big deal,” Ehlo bluffed. “I’ll think of one in two shakes.”
“Then why can’t you prevent this from happening?” Angela asked, eyeing him cautiously–with her hands crossed.
“Um…that’s something else.”
“All right,” Jacky said. “Let’s go, everyone.”
“Are the others meeting us here or no?” Wallace asked.
Before Jacky could come up with an answer, they saw Bianca and Ming Dao walk up to them.
“You guys…” Wallace said, gesturing his right hand.
The others turned in that direction and saw their friends coming toward them.
“Hey!” Qiao Qiao greeted the two cheerfully–contradicting to her hostile tone from earlier.
“Why are you guys together?” Jacky asked, scanning the two carefully.
“I picked Ming Dao up earlier so we could go to this one place together before it closed,” Bianca said.
“Oh,” The others said absentmindedly, nodding their heads at the same time.
“So, are we good to go?” Ming Dao asked, looking around.
“Yes,” Wallace said. “We were going until we saw you guys.”
“All right then,” Johnny said. “Let’s go.”
The group finally left, at last, separating into small groups and parting their ways without another word.
Somehow, Wallace turned around to look at the shop one last time before pulling out of the spot. He knew that he was ready for tomorrow’s scheme–no matter how juvenile it might be. A game was just a game after all–if only they could think up of a better one along the way.
The next day arrived casually just like any day at Orchids Agency. However, the only difference was that it was just standing lonely in the early morning’s sun with its vacancy greeting passerby instead of joining the usual chaotic atmosphere along with the surrounding neighbors, trying to open up for another day of business.
If one would pay cautious attention to the three people standing to the far left of the empty facility, one would be very suspicious of the three’s behaviors. The three would blend right in with the chaotic atmosphere since the early morning’s mist had caused some chills among the place. It would be obvious to be covering up. But if one were to look more carefully, the three’s behaviors were distractingly obvious to be coincidental.
“Are you sure it’s today?” The guy in the middle asked.
“Of course, I’m sure,” The girl replied with much hostility.
“Here?” The other guy asked.
“Of course, it’s here!” The girl shouted, exasperated that her two companions would not believe her.
“We’re just trying to make sure, Qiao,” The guy in the middle said in a soothing tone. “Chen Yi and I didn’t mean to doubt you.”
“Not to mention we risk being late to come here,” Chen Yi pointed out before turning to the guy in the middle. “Wallace, are you sure this would work? What if they’re coming together? We won’t have a chance to talk.”
Yes, they were none other than Wallace, Qiao Qiao, and Chen Yi. Since Wallace still had free time and because Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao were the only ones near enough to help him so the three were chosen to deal with the possible owner for that morning. Another obvious reason would be Qiao Qiao’s impatience. She would not let the opportunity slide to grip some information on the progress. What better way than to be right at the scene and witness the whole incident?
“We’ll just have to rely on luck this time,” Wallace said, taking a quick glance at his watch.
“Is that him?” Chen Yi asked, pointing with his right index finger.
“If he approaches the shop, then that might be him…”
Qiao Qiao let out a sigh a minute later since the guy who just approached the store was just checking out his reflection on the glass surface.
“Fifteen minutes and we’ll have to call it quits,” Wallace said.
“A failed plan?” Qiao Qiao asked, disappointed.
Wallace nodded. “But not necessarily. We might luck out with the others.”
“What if this person will just buy it here and now?”
“They need to take care of the paperwork first. We can interfere before that.”
Qiao Qiao let out another sigh.
“Here’s another one,” Chen Yi informed them.
They stayed quiet after that, monitoring the guy carefully with their radar eyes. When they were finally sure that the guy was there to wait for Qiao Qiao’s mother, they walked up to him. Wallace was the one to approach him while Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao were tagging behind. Luckily, they’d already covered up and looked different from their usual image in case any one of the neighbors could recognize them. However, they did not have to worry since most of the neighbors were done with the opening tasks and were already in their shops, doing their duties. No one was loitering outside the sidewalk to catch them.
“Good morning, sir,” Wallace greeted the guy in sportswear. “Are you waiting for Mrs. Tseng?”
“Yes, I am,” The guy replied. “Are you her assistant?”
The guy looked doubtful because of their casual wear but he still maintained a polite smile and waited for Wallace’s response.
“I’m actually a concerned citizen,” Wallace said. “I know I’m such a busybody to walk up to you like this and tell you this, but…”
“Are you trying to convince me not to take this place?” The guy asked, cutting Wallace off. “I’m telling you what, honest businessmen would do it the correct way by negotiating for the price, not threaten other competitors.”
As Wallace was waiting for the guy to finish, Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao exchanged an expression that said something along the line of “Honest businessmen?” and was wondering if the guy meant that as a joke or not. They almost burst out laughing but were able to control themselves in time, realizing the situation they were in.
“I’m not a competitor,” Wallace clarified. “In fact, I’m just someone who could not bear to see you get tricked into buying this unlucky place.”
“Then why are you using this low tactic to convince me not to buy this place?” The guy asked, his hostility increasing.
“Can you see the little small pieces of yellow paper around the entrance?”
The guy actually turned toward that direction to check. He displayed a surprised expression after seeing them. He must have noticed them for the first time since he turned back to Wallace with a curious expression instead of the hostile one from before.
“It is to wear off the ghosts,” Wallace continued in a hollow voice. “Unbelievable, but this place is actually haunted, that’s why their employees keep leaving until the owner could not take it anymore and close it up, hoping to sell it to someone else. They’re actually looking for someone who is outside of this town so that person would not be aware of this matter.”
“It’s too early to tell ghost stories, don’t you think?” The guy asked, resuming his stern expression.
“Hey, I thought there is no one here yet,” Qiao Qiao said suddenly.
The others turned around to see her pointing at the glass. They all walked over to see what was going on. They saw a white silhouette gliding around the back area inside. When Wallace was by Qiao Qiao’s side, she grabbed his hand and turned to him all pale.
“Do you think we invited the real thing by talking about it?” Qiao Qiao asked, increasing her pressure on Wallace’s hand.
“Don’t be silly,” Wallace said. “Didn’t you hear him say that they don’t appear in the morning?”
“But it’s so dark in there…” Qiao Qiao said, her voice trailing off from fright.
“Did you see it right?” Chen Yi asked, craning his neck and trying to take a better look inside.
“I saw what I saw,” Qiao Qiao said shakily.
“Oh…look!” Chen Yi exclaimed again, his fingers tapping on the glass.
This time, they could see a white silhouette gliding by with their own eyes. Wallace could feel his hand about to become squash from Qiao Qiao’s grip tightening by the minute. He tried to undo Qiao Qiao’s fingers on his hand while comforting her at the same time.
“That has to be some trick of the light, right?” Chen Yi asked, his voice still unconvinced.
“It’s not,” Qiao Qiao said in a low tone. “It’s…”
“Qiao, calm down,” Wallace soothed. “As I was saying, sir…”
Wallace stopped because he could not see the other guy anywhere near them anymore. He turned around in every direction to check. He even signaled to the others to help him find the guy.
“He’s gone?” Chen Yi asked.
“Looks like it,” Wallace said, seeing the empty spot where the guy’s car was parked earlier.
“We did it!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed, jumping up at the same time.
“Let’s get out of here before your mom spots us,” Wallace reminded them.
They walked down the street after making sure they were covered up real good again–this time, with Qiao Qiao in the middle.
“That was something,” Qiao Qiao said, her voice excited.
“Your acting was good,” Wallace complimented.
Upon hearing that, Qiao Qiao stopped walking and turned to Wallace.
“What?” Wallace asked, urging Qiao Qiao to continue walking.
She tried to pull herself together and continued on again. “Do you guys think we should offer some incense at that place or…”
“Are you serious?” Chen Yi asked, laughing out loud.
“But I saw…”
“It’s great effects, right?”
Qiao Qiao turned to her left to see Chen Yi grinning widely. She wrinkled her face at him. He knew she was impatient so he pulled out a stick from his coat pocket, handing it to her.
“What is it?” Qiao Qiao asked, inspecting the device.
“It’s a glow in the dark device,” Chen Yi explained. “If I plant the other device in the room, I can manipulate it with this one to let it glow with the effects I set up on it beforehand. Great stuff or what?”
“So it was you!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed, hitting him with the stick.
“Watch it!” Chen Yi yelled out, grabbing the stick from Qiao Qiao’s hand. “We can’t replace it in time if you break it.”
“We didn’t inform you beforehand so it would be more realistic,” Wallace interfered.
Qiao Qiao turned to Wallace. “So you knew about it?”
“I told him to set it up, of course, I know about it. I saw it at his house last night so I thought it would be a neat addition.”
“If we let you know beforehand, the outcome wouldn’t be this good,” Chen Yi pointed out. “After all, Qiao, who could scare you? Let’s just say it wouldn’t be as real, okay? Think of it as for the better good.”
“Hmp,” Qiao Qiao let out.
“Come on, Qiao,” Wallace urged. “You almost broke my arm anyway. Wouldn’t that be enough of revenge?”
“Since it’s for Orchids, I’ll let you both off,” Qiao Qiao said finally.
Wallace and Chen Yi exchanged a smile behind Qiao Qiao’s back as they turned the corner to retrieve their cars.
For the following days, the group continued in that same underhanded plan, taking turns to keep others out of the shop with that same bizarre story that Wallace had weaved with the very first potential buyer. Of course, they had to make sure to keep the story the same but the skit different as not to cause others to be suspicious about the whole matter. It was not one of Huang and Huo’s best works but it would have to do for the time being. Wallace and Cyndi were still on the search for their new jobs.
Although Wallace had vowed victory was within his reach last weekend but life had taken its toll on him. He realized he had been too comfortable with his recently lost occupation. He needed to train himself better for the upcoming interviews. Cyndi, seemed to be in more luck than her significant other, landed herself a job around the end of that week–merely by luck–or possibly because of a good heart. She helped a lady by paying a bus fare for her when the lady had lost her purse somehow. It was not totally a solid job since she was only entering the initial period before she could be officially hired. However, Cyndi was glad to have something to occupy her time all the same.
By the end of that week, they were gathered at Jacky, Ehlo, Johnny, and Wallace’s place again to discuss matters.
“Anyone have any other brilliant plan?” Angela asked, looking around the room.
“For some reason, I’m drawing a blank,” Ehlo muttered, leaning toward Angela on the sofa. “Must be fatigue from my latest project. I’m telling you that guy has his eyes for my girlfriend so he’s trying to kill me off with all this workload.”
“You’re getting a promotion and you’re complaining?” Angela asked. “And stop badmouthing Luke. You’re just paranoid.”
“You believe him more than me?” Ehlo asked, turning to Angela with his hurt look.
“Stop being dramatic.”
“Stop being lovey-dovey, you two,” Bianca said. “We just ate lunch.”
Angela sent Bianca a dagger look while Ehlo sat straight up again instead of leaning onto Angela’s shoulder.
“What are we going to do now?” Jacky asked. “I’m getting tired of this childish game.”
“Have a good talk with Auntie Zhao,” Tony suggested.
“That’s like convincing…” Ehlo began.
“She’s not that unreasonable,” Tony said, cutting Ehlo off.
“Easy for you to say.”
“I agree with Tony,” Wallace said.
The others turned to him.
“We have to come up with a good plan to convince her,” Wallace continued. “Maybe something like a good presentation with the proof of what we do. We should break through the rumors first before trying to convince her to let Alyssa come back.” He extended his right hand out to display a brown folder. “I’ve been working on it this past week. But we need a good representative to present it to her.”
“I have some stuff too,” Tony said, showing them a tan folder. “But it’s more on a business side. She will see how profitable it is to do it.”
“How about you convince her?” Ehlo asked, looking at Tony. “You have a bigger influence than the rest of us combined.” He turned to the others. “Guys?”
Jacky nodded, agreeing with Ehlo.
“What about Wallace?” Qiao Qiao asked, feeling the need to be loyal to her long-time friend.
“I can’t,” Wallace said. “She might think I’m just making everything look good to defend our place and trying to get my job back.”
“That’s right,” Jacky said. “Tony’s the best candidate among us.”
“When should it be then?” Ehlo asked.
“I asked Mom to schedule a dinner date with her next week,” Tony said. “It might be a good time to bring it up during one of those family gatherings.”
“So that’s set, huh?”
“When is the meeting?” Wallace asked.
“In the meantime…”
“Yes, we have to drive away those potential buyers again,” Chen Yi said tiredly.
“Busy week next week?” Wallace asked, turning to Qiao Qiao.
“There are several,” Qiao Qiao replied. “Three for Monday. Lucky they’re not doing anything this weekend. We have some time to relax.”
“Only some of us are involved in each one,” Esther pointed out.
“You wouldn’t know how nerve-racking it is each time,” Qiao Qiao confessed. “I worry that the story begins to sound dull and they wouldn’t believe us.”
“I’m surprised we’re able to stop them left and right this past week,” Wallace said. “How can they believe such nonsense?”
“You’ll never know,” Chen Yi said. “Let’s say luck is on our side.”
“Or we’re good,” Ehlo chimed in. “By the way, anyone wants to go somewhere to hang out?”
“No!” The others replied crisply–with Tony as an exception.
“We’re too tired,” Qiao Qiao said, leaning onto Jacky’s shoulder for support.
As if by coincidence, Chen Yi also leaned onto Achel’s shoulder at that time, trying to rest his head also. He smiled suddenly, realizing their similar actions. But he shrugged it off by looking up at the ceiling. Jacky spotted the little change but decided to ignore it. Though he did not forget to put a protective hand around Qiao Qiao.
“I seriously hope that we won’t have to do this after Wednesday night,” Bianca said suddenly.
“Had enough?” Jacky asked.
“It’s just too silly.”
“All right, let’s scatter,” Wallace said suddenly, standing up at the same time.
“I have to go call Sonia anyway,” Jacky said, getting up also.
Qiao Qiao had removed her head from his shoulder, of course.
“What should we do then?” Ehlo asked, turning to Angela.
“I need to go back to the shop and help Uncle Zhe,” Angela said.
“I’ll tag along and help.”
“I thought you’re tired and need all the rest you can get.”
“Come on now.”
“Okay then. Don’t blame me if you’re burnt out later.”
While they were leaving, Johnny and Bianca were leaving as well. The only ones who were still in the living room were Ming Dao, Qiao Qiao, Chen Yi, and Achel. Jacky had gone to his room to call Sonia while Wallace was in his room, getting ready to meet Cyndi. Tony and Esther were actually in the kitchen, getting something from the fridge.
“What should we do now?” Chen Yi asked.
“Want to go catch a movie?” Qiao Qiao asked the others.
“I thought you said you’re tired.”
“It’s just a movie.”
“Don’t make me us carry you back to the car.”
Qiao Qiao gave him her famous glare.
“I think he means well,” Ming Dao said, attempting to ease the situation and avoid another senseless argument between the two.
“If you’re going to catch a movie, we want to go too,” Esther said, coming back into the living room with Tony.
“That’s great then,” Qiao Qiao said before turning back to Chen Yi. “See? They support me.”
Chen Yi ignored Qiao Qiao, grabbing Achel’s hand to go. Achel gave Qiao Qiao a nervous smile as they passed by Ming Dao and Qiao Qiao.
“All right, everyone,” Qiao Qiao said. “Let’s go.”
“We all know,” Chen Yi said from the door. “You don’t need to give us every single piece of instruction to get us going.”
“Stop picking fights with me!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed, frustrated.
“Calm down, girl. I’m kidding.”
“Don’t let him get to you, Qiao,” Esther said. “You know how he is.”
“Are you my friend or not?” Chen Yi asked, turning back to look at Esther.
“You have Xiao Yu,” Esther reminded him with a teasing smile.
Chen Yi gave her a look before dragging Achel with him to retrieve his car.
The others followed him, locking the door behind them.
© Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
Re-posted: Saturday, February 12th, 2011