Jacky, Ehlo, and Wallace got to the police station an hour later. Jacky had canceled on his co-worker. Or more like he just delayed the meeting a little longer, claiming he needed to take care of some personal things. It wasn’t far from lying. When they arrived, they spotted Angela and Sonia nearby. It looked like the girls just arrived as well. They could almost feel the irony of the situation since they’d been there in the past, except it was without Jacky the last time–and Johnny was there with them. Yet the situation wasn’t far from different because it also had to do with Jacky and Sonia.
“Hey,” Jacky greeted the girls, sounding too casual. Like he didn’t know them or something.
Before they could exchange any more words, Wallace spotted Chen Yi’s car pulling into one of the spots across the street. It was indeed almost like last time.
“We heard about the news,” Chen Yi said as soon as he was by them.
“This has got to be the biggest joke of the century, right?” Qiao Qiao jumped in.
“You’re exaggerating,” Yan Yan shot her pal down.
“All right, better go in,” Jacky said, reminding them why they were there.
The others simmered down as Jacky, Ehlo, and Wallace led the way into the station. They made sure not to speak up as Jacky got them through the security clearance. From there, they headed straight for Detective Chen’s office. When they arrived, Detective Chen was at his desk, writing on a clipboard. The others stayed outside while Jacky stepped in and talked to the man.
“It has been a long time,” Detective Chen said after acknowledging their presence.
Jacky nodded. “I know it’s inappropriate, but we want to go see that fortune-teller.”
Detective Chen looked at the party outside as well before turning to Jacky. “Is this going to turn into some sideshow?”
Jacky shook his head. “It’s not about the curiosity, sir. I…we…it’s complicated. But we might have gotten conned as well and…”
“If I let you in, that means I have to let the others in as well.”
“I know, sir, but it’s just that we have to ask him something…because…”
Detective Chen took another look at the anxious group outside his door. They all had on the worried expression, not the usual nosy ones he’d often seen. He sighed out, knowing he crossed the line himself. He turned to Jacky again. “All right, but only half an hour and only three people can go in. I will have to be there.”
Jacky reached out and shook Detective Chen’s hand. “Thank you so much, sir.”
Detective Chen sat down at his desk again. “I need to finish this up. You can decide who you want to take with you.”
Jacky nodded, stepping into the hallway again. He gestured his thumb into the office. “You heard him.”
The others exchanged looks among themselves.
“I’ll stay,” Qiao Qiao said, knowing the matter wasn’t directly concerning her.
“Me too,” Yan Yan followed. “We’ll wait outside.”
“The same for me and Xiao Yu,” Chen Yi said, taking Achel’s hand into his.
Now that they got four down and out of the way, the others stared at one another once again. Angela glimpsed at Sonia’s anxious state before turning to Ehlo.
“Sonia and I will stay and wait outside too,” Angela said at last. “You guys go.”
Jacky nodded, stepping forward and taking Sonia’s hand into his. “It’s going to be okay. Regardless of what he said, it won’t change our relationship. I’m sure Mom already learned from what happened with Jo and all. She doesn’t care if we’re a match or not anymore. What matters is our feelings for each other.”
Sonia nodded, her worried expression still on yet she managed a smile for Jacky’s sake.
“All right,” Detective Chen said, stepping out of his office at that time. “Let’s go.”
Jacky let go of Sonia’s hand after giving her hand another supportive squeeze. The last he could see was Angela leading Sonia down the hall with the others in toll. Ehlo and Wallace were following Jacky and Detective Chen in silence as Detective Chen gave out directions to them.
“I’m sorry to make you curve the rule,” Jacky said as they stopped in front of the gate that led into the temporary cells.
Detective Chen shook his head. “Think of it this way, maybe he’ll talk when he sees you three.”
Jacky smiled. “Perhaps.”
They entered then. Detective Chen gave some directions to on-duty officers and continued down the hall to the cell at the end where the fortune-teller was held. Detective Chen kept a distance from them as they approached the cell. The fortune-teller was surprised to see them–yet he recovered quickly.
“I never expected a visit from you three,” The fortune-teller said, his lips curving into an amused smile.
“You seriously let us down big time,” Ehlo began. “Like we believe these stuffs, but you seriously tainted the reputation for those real ones out there. Those very rare genuine ones. But I guess those real ones don’t go around making money like this and even deceiving a temple like that. They’re probably at some secluded place like some movies portrayed, right? To think that you even preached about the truth of it all.”
“You and that girl got together, didn’t you?” The fortune-teller probed.
Ehlo scoffed. “Any person with sharp eyes could see we have a thing for one another. We don’t need you to tell us to get together or not.”
“If you don’t believe I’m innocent, then why are you all coming here today?”
“Good question. We thought you were really innocent at first and it was just some big misunderstanding, but seeing your face now, we know you’re guilty.”
“That’s not up to you to say.”
Ehlo let out another amused laugh. “No wonder you couldn’t even tell the difference between the faces and the birthdates.”
The fortune-teller smiled also. “You just had no idea.”
“So you decided to stop playing the ‘innocent card’?”
The fortune-teller didn’t respond this time, knowing Detective Chen was nearby.
“Just tell me one thing,” Jacky spoke up finally.
The fortune-teller turned toward Jacky then, his smile turned off–because of Jacky’s sharp glare.
“Why did you help us that day when there was nothing in it for you?”
The fortune-teller was about to laugh again yet he seemed to be threatened by Jacky’s hostility. He cleared his throat before replying. “Because…” He risked a glimpse toward Detective Chen. “Your friend paid me.”
Those last few words were said in almost a whisper that all three guys had to step forward a bit to hear him since he didn’t want Detective Chen to hear. Yet it got across quite clear, shocking them into silence. They recovered a minute later, turning to look at one another.
“We can’t believe you just like that,” Wallace said, his voice full of reason and calmness. “Since you’re in here now, you just want to pull one of those moves to sink someone else as well.”
“If you all seriously don’t believe me, then why come?” The fortune-teller asked back.
“Which friend?” Jacky asked, his dark moods showing to its extreme.
“The girl who walked out with you and your mom that day,” The fortune-teller whispered.
Ehlo had on his alarmed expression merged in with realization. “Valerie?”
The fortune-teller nodded.
“That’s ridiculous,” Wallace objected, wanting to play the voice of reason once more.
The fortune-teller seemed to be on a roll by now, not caring if he was risking his silence rights. It was as if he thought if he provided them with more answers thus helping them, then they would end up putting in some good words for him in the end. “She approached me the afternoon before your two friends came to ask about the birthdates, saying that if I help reverse Jo’s words, then…”
Jacky was still shaking his head in disbelief.
“The reason why Jo couldn’t speak up to defend herself though some of the details got twisted was because she also paid me. If she had said what Valerie said wasn’t true, she had to back herself up. But the truth also works against her.”
“What do you mean?” Ehlo asked, stealing a glance at Jacky and Wallace, wondering if they’d figured it out yet.
“Jo paid me to lie about the birthdates and had it switch so she would appear more mature. I made up the part about having to pick up my kid at school.”
Ehlo snapped his fingers. “That’s right. The news said that he lives at the temple so he can’t really have the whole family there, right?”
The fortune-teller smiled. “Now you see I’m not lying to you, so if you could just put in a few…”
“So that means Val paid you to corner Jo?” Jacky asked–though he knew the fortune-teller already said that.
“She said it’s the only way to make me more credible. If you guys knew I took money before, then that means I couldn’t be trusted so she had another script for me. She also added in the part about you two being soulmates so it would earn more points with your mom. After all, it made sense because Jo already made that up previously, it was just a matter of manipulating the plot the other way. I needed the money and didn’t see any harm since that Jo girl did lie so…”
“That’s double-crossing,” Ehlo pointed out. “You took Jo’s money too, you know.”
The fortune-teller shrugged.
Ehlo exchanged a look with Jacky and Wallace again. “Let’s get out of here. We’re wasting our time with this guy.”
“Just a minute,” Wallace said. “I always want to say this.”
Ehlo turned to him with an annoyed expression. “What?”
Wallace didn’t answer Ehlo but turned to face the fortune-teller, his victory smile on. “Thanks for your cooperation in the investigation.”
They heard a snapping sound. It was then that Wallace took out an old recorder from one of his jackets’ inside pockets. So that snapping sound seconds ago was Wallace turning the recorder off.
“That’s cheating!” The fortune-teller yelled, abandoning the volume control altogether. “You’re deceiving me!”
“We didn’t force it out of you in some inhumane way,” Ehlo said, smiling also. “You just kept talking because you wanted to convince us.”
The fortune-teller turned to look at Jacky, wondering if Jacky had known. But Jacky didn’t display any traces of knowledge, just an extremely troubled look. He didn’t say anything else, just turning and walking away–toward Detective Chen waiting for them in front of a nearby cell. Ehlo and Wallace knew not to push it anymore so they turned to leave also.
“I hope you found your answer,” Detective Chen said when he locked the gate in front again–after they exited.
Jacky nodded absentmindedly, his mind elsewhere.
Detective Chen turned to Ehlo and Wallace for an explanation.
“He’s just..uh…troubled,” Ehlo managed. “But look on the bright side, we have a present for you, sir.”
Detective Chen looked doubtful but waited anyway. Wallace gave Detective Chen the recorder in his hand.
“I don’t know if you can use it, sir,” Ehlo continued. “But we didn’t use any force or anything. He just told us.”
“Which also means,” Wallace picked up where Ehlo left off. “We have to go home and dig out some of the old video clips and deliver it to you.”
“What about?” Detective Chen asked, puzzled.
“After you hear the clip, you will understand, sir,” Ehlo answered, sighing out. “Lucky we didn’t edit those old video clips. If we had put some effects for fun, then it would end up being useless.”
Detective Chen was still clueless, but he knew from their expressions that they were still trying to put the pieces together themselves so he didn’t pursue further. He would get back to them later–like after he listened to the audio clip.
When Jacky, Ehlo, and Wallace stepped out of the station, they found the others standing by Jacky’s car.
“Well?” Angela asked when the guys joined them.
“I told you to never trust that Valerie,” Ehlo replied, getting straight to the point.
Angela wrinkled her face. “What are you talking about?”
“Miss Tao,” Ehlo said, dragging out the words on purpose–possibly for dramatic effects. “Miss Tao…she paid the fortune-teller to lie.”
“What?” Angela exclaimed, still not believing it.
Sonia’s face was more troubled than before. “That means…” Her lips were quivering at the moment. “She…” She couldn’t finish but forced herself to. “What will Auntie say to all of these?”
Jacky stepped toward Sonia, placing a hand around her shoulders. “Don’t worry. I told you already. Mom won’t care about that anymore. It’s just that…”
“What?” Angela urged, her nerves on its last edge also. She turned to Ehlo again when Jacky didn’t say anything, except sighing out. “If you guys are putting us on with some sick joke, then it’s not funny.”
Ehlo stepped forward to place a reassuring hand on Angela’s shoulder also. “I wish we were joking. But now we have to help with the investigation as well.” He sighed out also. “I wish we have a copy of that clip for you guys. But we already turned it over to Detective Chen.”
“Who do you think I am?” Wallace spoke up suddenly, getting out his phone.
“Wallace Huo always has a backup plan,” Angela answered, smiling at the old joke.
Ehlo let go of Angela’s shoulder and stepped forward, giving Wallace’s shoulder a shove. “You’re a sly fox, Huo.”
Wallace smiled. “I thought it would be best to give the regular recorder to Detective Chen because it would be hard to say we tainted with it. With this, I didn’t stop recording until we left Detective Chen.”
“Let’s get out of here before we listen to it again,” Jacky said, pointing his finger subtly at the station.
Ehlo and Wallace nodded, understanding the circumstances.
Their regrouping location was East Shore Café, their usual gathering place. But they would never expect to meet up because of some ghosts of the past deciding to visit them all. When they were all present at one of the tables outside–and far away from the general crowd, Wallace brought his cell phone out again, playing the audio clip for them all. They managed to stay silent while listening–with only gasping sounds coming from Angela and Achel from time to time.
“This is outrageous,” Angela concluded after the clip finished playing. “How crazy could she get?”
“This is why we don’t share stuff with her just out of the blues,” Ehlo inputted, sipping on his iced tea.
Angela turned to him. “Are you saying it’s my fault?”
Ehlo reached over and took her hand into his. “I’m not playing the blame game here, but I’m just saying you’re too trusting.”
Angela knew from Ehlo’s serious look that he didn’t mean it–and that he was just worried for her, so she nodded.
“So what are we going to do now?” Qiao Qiao asked, her anxious look on.
“Just like I told Detective Chen,” Wallace said. “Find that clip from Huang and Huo’s production and give it to him. Maybe it will help. At least regarding the story about Valerie and all.”
“He needs to get Valerie to verify statements, right?” Yan Yan jumped in.
Ehlo nodded. “Definitely. That means we need to give him her information in the States.”
“And they need to get Jo’s statements too,” Wallace pointed out.
“No wonder she looked like she knew something but was holding it back,” Angela said. “It’s just like what that guy said, it works against her either way so she didn’t clarify the details.”
“Lucky you gave her a way out that day, dear fiancée,” Ehlo said, squeezing Angela’s hand. “If not, she would be vowing revenge up and down.”
Angela gave Ehlo a look for the ‘fiancée’ comment. But she went right on anyway. “All I know is after we take care of this thing, we wash our hands off of all this nonsense.”
Ehlo shrugged, smiling. “Hey, at least he got it right with us, right?”
Angela gave him another sharp glare. “Anyone with sharp eyes could see that we have something going on between us.”
“Hey! I said the same thing earlier, or were you imprinting that phrase in your mind since you heard it? So you’re using it now.”
Angela ignored him then, turning to Jacky and Sonia instead. “Regardless of what Valerie did, she helped you two anyway, right?”
“Try damage control now,” Ehlo reminded her.
“You might want to curve back your sarcasm, Huang,” Wallace spoke up again.
Ehlo turned to Wallace for clarification.
Wallace had on his mischievous smile while putting his phone away. “Your bro-in-law is going to call on you soon.”
Ehlo scoffed. “Like I need to be all fake to get his approval.”
“It’s not about being fake or not, it’s about manners.”
Ehlo had on his confidence look. “I got plenty of that. I don’t want to brag, but even if my future father and mother-in-law are here, I would score quite high on their scale too.”
Wallace shook his head, not believing it. “You’re really something, Huang.”
“Wait…” Angela said, her hand extended.
“What?” Ehlo asked, turning to her.
Angela turned to Wallace. “You met up with Nic?”
Wallace nodded. “He came to the shop yesterday and talked to Chen Yi. We went to lunch afterward.”
Angela saw Ehlo still staring at her cautiously. She knew she needed to elaborate. “Nic said he wanted to settle in before announcing his presence.”
“This is like calling on an emperor,” Ehlo joked. “No wait, my father-in-law is the emperor, he’s the prince.”
Wallace shook his head out of disbelief again. “The man’s not even here and someone’s scoring points already.”
Ehlo smiled also, not offended at all. “Gotta brush up on the technique, right?”
Just then, Jacky’s cell phone beeped. He let go of Sonia’s hand and retrieved it from his pocket. Instead of picking up the call, he turned to the others. “It’s Valerie.”
“Nice timing,” Ehlo mumbled.
The others nodded, getting it.
“Hey Val,” Jacky greeted casually into the phone.
The others were quite impatience with the usual “Uhuh” or “Okay” yet they didn’t dare to interfere.
“Well?” Ehlo demanded as soon as Jacky hung up.
“What do we know?” Jacky asked back. “She’s in town for the next few weeks again. For leisure, this time. Like for real.”
“Should we inform Detective Chen then?”
Jacky nodded. “After we hand over that video clip.”
As if on mutual agreement, all of them sighed out at the same time, except Sonia. She seemed to be troubled still–regardless of how much Jacky and the others were reassuring her previously.
The next week flew by at an agonizing pace as they were waiting for Valerie to come back. Wallace had already handed the video clip over to Detective Chen and also passed the information over about Valerie coming to town soon. The only thing they had to do now was to wait. But that was the hardest thing for them all. While that was in place, Ehlo finally got to meet Nic. It happened one day he came to Uncle Zhe’s shop to help Angela again. Nic was also helping Uncle Zhe with the management. They seemed to get along fine–and Ehlo wasn’t bluffing about his ability to win Nic over. However, all of that positive news had to be pushed aside when it was the day they came to the airport to pick Valerie up. They knew it was possibly the only chance they had to confront Valerie before the police got to her. Though it was agreed upon that they would confront Valerie together, but that became a bit inconvenient because of their work schedule. Aside from Qiao Qiao, the rest had to get creative about it. Luckily, Valerie’s flight wasn’t due until late afternoon on Friday so they had plenty of time to come. Besides Qiao Qiao, the ones who made it to the airport included Jacky, Sonia, Ehlo, Angela, and Wallace. Since it didn’t concern Cyndi as much, Wallace didn’t want to trouble her–though he did tell her the nature of the story. She claimed she was also busy so it was all right that he updated her later.
“I feel so honored with all of you here waiting for me like this,” Valerie said upon seeing the six of them lining up in front of her.
“You got a place to crash yet?” Ehlo asked, getting straight to the point–like he had been doing a lot lately.
“I’m staying with my aunt like last time,” Valerie replied, suddenly detecting trouble from their expressions.
“The one near East Shore Café?” Ehlo continued with the question, his voice passive.
“Good, convenient enough for us to go there.”
“I’m guessing you want to take me out for a reunion gathering, right?”
“You could say that.”
Wallace stepped forward and helped Valerie with one of her luggage while Jacky took the other. They headed out of the airport maintaining a conversation only touching safe topics–for the time being. It wasn’t until they allowed Valerie to drop off her belongings at her aunt’s place and freshened up that they dropped their façade altogether. On the way to East Shore Café, they stayed silent and only spoke when they finally ordered and the waiter was out of there.
“So…what’s the big deal here?” Valerie asked, knowing too well something was wrong then.
The others still stayed silent. Only Wallace took out his cell phone and replayed the clip. Valerie’s smile had faded upon realizing what was happening. She had turned quite pale by the time the clip finished playing. The others were staring at her with both disbelief and disapproval.
“What do you expect me to do?” Valerie asked, her voice containing traces of a protest. “It was a bit underhanded but I helped you guys, didn’t I?”
“And now we have to clean up the mess,” Ehlo said, his voice passive yet his expression said that he wasn’t even half pleased.
“Huh, you people and your wanting to do the right thing. You know what? Jo deserved it, okay? After what she put you guys through. I had to do something after Angela called me that afternoon telling me what Jo had done.”
“You actually stooped to her level by doing what you did.”
“I was just teaching her a lesson.”
“A likely excuse.”
“You’re judging me now?”
Ehlo shook his head. “I just can’t believe it. My fiancée trusted you, that was why she told you. She didn’t ask you to do it.”
Valerie’s anger was present–even more present than previously. “I wasn’t blaming her, okay? I just said I wanted to help you.”
“There are lots of ways to help.”
“Don’t attack Valerie,” Sonia interfered. “She did it for us. She thought what she did was the right thing. If I were her, I might have attempted that too.”
Qiao Qiao turned to Sonia, seeing her devastated yet Qiao Qiao had to say it. “You don’t have to feel guilty for what others did. We all have choices.”
“We’re not blaming you,” Jacky said finally, looking at Valerie. “We just wanted to run some things across with you, wanting the truth version, not that fortune-teller’s words.”
Valerie scanned everyone’s faces before turning to Jacky again. “What he said is true.”
“We’re not here to condemn you, Valerie,” Wallace took over for Jacky. “Detective Chen knows you’re involved in one of those scam scenes, so he’s going to contact you in the next few days for your help. It’s best that you cooperate fully with him and the others.”
“Did they get to Jo yet?”
Wallace shook his head. “We don’t know. It’s confidential. We just know he will contact you because he asked us about you after learning more.”
The others remained silent after that, not knowing what to say. Valerie knew they were feeling uncomfortable, not knowing where to start–or how to continue.
“Are we ever going to be friends again?” Valerie asked suddenly, staring at them one by one.
“You’ll always be our friend, Valerie,” Wallace answered for them. “It’s just…please do not get yourself into this mess for us again. We don’t want you to take those risks for us. And now it’s up to the police to decide your fate.”
Valerie seemed relieved that they were still accepting her. She nodded at last. After that, the hostility seemed to fade and they moved on to catching up with Valerie’s adventures since the last time. Though they had to wrap it up an hour later because they didn’t want to appear too suspicious–if they were caught by the police. It wasn’t about interacting with the police, but more about not wanting to make it look like they were passing on information to Valerie. It might look even worse for her.
After Jacky dropped Sonia off and said his goodbyes, Angela stopped by. She was supposed to go with Ehlo somewhere but she changed her mind the last minute, telling him she needed to make sure Sonia was all right. He understood and went home, knowing he had his latest project to occupy his time.
“Hey,” Angela said casually after Sonia opened the door for her.
Sonia offered Angela a weak smile before stepping aside to let her in. They made their way to the kitchen in silence. Sonia wanted to make some tea for Angela, but Angela turned her down, insisting on talking first.
“Are you really okay with this?” Angela asked, learning from Ehlo’s ‘getting straight to the point’ method. Or it could have been the other way around.
“What?” Sonia asked back, sitting down behind the counter.
Angela had already settled down in front of the counter. She was now staring at a cupboard behind Sonia. She sighed out and returned her attention to Sonia. “I know it might be too inappropriate but I could come to the Chu mansion with you and explain about what happened and that you didn’t mean to deceive Mrs. Chu–and it was a misunderstanding on your part as well since you didn’t know that man was…”
Sonia shook her head. “I could take care of it. Jacky and I talked it over already on the way home.”
Angela wrinkled her face in confusion. “Then why are you still looking so devastated?”
Sonia played with her nails–something she’d rarely done in the past. “I’m not.”
“Who are you kidding here?”
Sonia looked up at Angela again, abandoning her nails for the time being. “Angela, I know you care for me and all…but…”
Angela sighed out again, trying to stay calm. “Look, I know I’m not as patient or wise as Bianca when handling these things with being supportive and all. But could you at least tell me what’s bothering you?”
Sonia looked torn more than ever, causing Angela to regret her words. Yet Sonia spoke up before she could take it back.
“Angela, it’s not about trusting you or not. It’s…” Sonia stopped and pushed a strand of loose hair aside, tugging it behind her ear.
“What?” Angela’s patience was running low yet she tried hard to keep her voice leveled.
“I’ve been feeling so torn these past weeks. I…”
“About what? Work?” Angela knew it wasn’t that but she had to grab at something. Then it dawned on her. It wasn’t about that fortune-teller because that problem only occurred like a week ago. But she didn’t want to interrupt Sonia either. That didn’t stop her mind from spinning.
Sonia shook her head, narrowing down the list of possibilities a little. “It’s about Jacky and me….”
“What did he do this time?” Angela intended it as a joke more than a confrontation–or some past grudges.
Sonia shook her head again. “He didn’t do anything…it’s just…I…”
Angela bit down on her lower lip, not wanting to push Sonia too hard.
Sonia looked toward some unknown object–or target–behind Angela. It was like she was trying to collect her thoughts. And it was exactly that because she soon gave her attention to Angela again. “I’ve always wondered about what that fortune-teller told us that one day and how much Jacky and I have been through…and it’s like so confusing. But now that we know that fortune-teller is a fake, everything’s so clear to me now. It’s just that it wouldn’t be fair to Jacky.”
At the rate Sonia was going, Angela had already put two and two together a long time ago. Yet she just didn’t want to believe. She stayed silent for this long, holding onto whatever patience she had left. “You’re saying…”
“I want to break up with Jacky.”
Angela jumped up from her seat–literally. “What?!”
Though it was already predictable, she had hoped she was wrong. However, from Sonia’s expression, Sonia was dead serious.
© Thursday, October 27th, 2011
Posted: Sunday, October 30th, 2011