It seemed like they were in for a weekend of uneventful activities. It was something that they welcomed more than anything. Especially what happened since last Sunday. The upside was that they got invited to Johnny’s place for a little gathering. Yes, Johnny was back and wanted to catch up.

“All of that happened while I was gone?” Johnny asked after everyone present had taken turns to fill him on the ups and downs of their lives.

They all nodded in unison.

“That sure tops all our past dramas, huh?” Ehlo joked.

“Considering how most of the past dramas were self-inflicted,” Chris mumbled.

Ehlo overheard that since he was standing nearby. He turned to Chris with much hostility. “You don’t have to be here, you know? I told you already, you’re officially kicked out of the group.”

“Not married to Jan yet,” Chris returned. “I’m still in for now.”

“What are you two talking about?” Margaret asked, eyeing both suspiciously. She knew too well she shouldn’t take either one of their words into account. Yet this new level of trolling had turned into something completely different. She focused on Chris when she realized Ehlo wasn’t going to clue her in on their latest disagreement. “Why are you joking about your marriage?”

Chris had on his shining smile—like nothing was the matter. “Who says I’m joking? I’m so marrying Jan in the future.”

“Who’s Jan?”

“He wants to marry into a wealthy family,” Ehlo snapped.

Chris wasn’t offended at Ehlo for implying that he was a gold-digger. “I’m willing to make the sacrifice by socializing with those snobs just to please the love of my life. But I don’t think I need to worry about that. She’s the black sheep of the family after all, right? That means she doesn’t get along with them or probably doesn’t care to go to those fancy gatherings. So, I don’t need to get out those annoying suits to mingle with those insufferable snobs anyway.”

Margaret was even more confused at this point. “What? When did you start dating? How come I didn’t know? I thought we’re friends.”

Chris had switched on his obnoxious smile by now. “No friend is more important than my dearest love.”

Ehlo pointed at Chris and then left the scene after that. He wasn’t leaving the house, but he was heading toward the kitchen.

“What was that all about?” Margaret tried again, seeing that Ehlo was already gone.

Chris turned off his smile then. “He has been going on for a whole week about Jan and Jun and some outrageous conspiracy theory, I had to use that to counter his attack, hello.”

Margaret sighed out in relief then. “Oh, for a second, I thought you got yourself into one of those random flings again.”

Chris gave her a strange look. “You kept track of all my past relationships? Just because they’re short doesn’t mean they’re flings.”

Margaret looked away, her face had turned a tad pink. “Whatever. I’m going to grab something to eat.”

Chris was still eyeing Margaret with suspicious eyes.

The rest of the gathering continued in a somewhat rather monotone vibe. Yet they didn’t complain. Because they, indeed, had enough of dramas to last for a lifetime as of recent.

*****

Until the Sunday newspaper hit them smack in the face with the new development in several areas. Some of them were once again gathered at East Shore Café to hang out. Angela, Andy, Achel, and Nic had gone inside to get their orders while the rest of them were spread out at different tables again. Wallace was seen reading a newspaper while Ehlo was playing on his phone. They were still recovering from the gathering at Johnny’s and hadn’t really said much since they sat down.

“Will Chung, a well-known private investigator for over twenty years’ body found near the sea area last Sunday,” Wallace read aloud several minutes later into the article, wrinkling his face as he read. “According to Detective Chen’s team, there’s a new development in the case. A certain item was found on Mr. Chung’s body that was confirmed to not be his. It is believed to belong to the killer.”

Ehlo stopped playing on his phone and looked at Wallace. “What item? Did they say?”

Wallace shook his head. “I think it’s bait, which would make sense if they don’t disclose anything more than that.”

“What did you hear?” Ehlo asked, eyeing Wallace cautiously.

Considering how Wallace was seen leaving the party at one point with Yvonne by several parties at the gathering, they weren’t surprised that Ehlo had latched onto that particular incident to extract more information.

Wallace smiled upon seeing Ehlo’s expression. “Nice try, Huang. Not happening.”

Ehlo had on his innocent look. “What?”

Before Wallace could say anything, the other four came back with food.

“What are you guys talking about again?” Angela asked. “Stirring up more dramas?”

Angela had looked at Ehlo as she said the last part, which Ehlo scoffed—like he was really offended that not even his wife backed him up. The others were actually laughing.

“Why are you blaming me for stuff happening around here?” Ehlo asked, gesturing randomly around them. “What about them?”

“Because I know you,” Angela said as she settled down next to him.

The others laughed again as Ehlo’s annoyed look intensified. They were waiting for a comeback. Yet all their phones beeped at the same time again. It was like that one time when they were all at Bryant’s and a major news piece flashed across their phones.

“For the love of…” Ehlo began as he retrieved his phone to silence it. Yet he paused when his mind connected the dots to what his eyes were seeing seconds before.

“Ba Fang (八方) no longer on the top ten list,” Wallace read as Ehlo was struggling to unlock his phone. “Their company has declared bankruptcy after five months of struggling to stay afloat. Renowned analyst Ricky Chang is once again correct in his prediction. In fact, the only time Ricky Chang was wrong was regarding the acquisition of Unex. In regard to the future of Ba Fang, several major companies had expressed interest in acquiring the company, including Tony Sun of Sunrise. An anonymous source mentioned that Bai Lian Hua (百蓮花) was also interested in this acquisition. We will continue to update on this story as new development occurs.”

“Is this going to be yearly thing with these companies tanking?” Ehlo asked, sighing out as he searched for another news source to verify the information. “I’ll bet you anything Tony’s not going to jump in so recklessly like last time.”

 “You might want to check with the man himself before you throw anything into this bet of yours, Huang,” Wallace said.

“Why?”

“Because…” Wallace returned, holding up his phone.

Ehlo took Wallace’s phone from him and read the headline. “Tony Sun had confirmed his interest in acquiring Ba Fang. He also made a promise to keep all employees on board, unless they express their interests elsewhere.” Ehlo looked up toward Wallace again and returned Wallace’s phone to him. “That’s not Tony’s words. This is some suspicious article’s words.”

Wallace smiled, knowing Ehlo’s stubbornness too well.

Some of them had already started eating since they learned of the news. They didn’t input because they either didn’t care or didn’t feel the need to contribute. So after that little brief exchange between Ehlo and Wallace, the atmosphere returned to its silence before the guys spoke up.

“Hey, what happened to Jacky?” Andy asked several minutes later, looking at his watch out of habit. “I thought you said he was coming.”

Ehlo shrugged. “He told me was on his way like half an hour back.”

“Maybe he and Sonia…”

“Don’t start…”

Andy looked at Ehlo at that time—since he went back to messing with his phone after asking Ehlo the question. “What?”

“I hate to break it to you, but they’re way over now. I don’t think anyone of us should bring it up to tease them ever again.”

That was when everyone else stopped eating and turned to Ehlo—including Angela.

“Coming from you?” Wallace asked the question in everyone’s place.

Ehlo sighed out and put his fork down again, giving them his full attention. “Look, it’s not like I want to give up on Jacky’s happiness either, but come on, it’s not like we can control these things. And Sonia? It’s an unsaid thing that we shouldn’t interfere. Didn’t you guys tell me to knock it off? Now you’re unhappy about it?”

“Not unhappy,” Andy said. “I’m just surprised you’re able to let it go.”

Ehlo gave Andy a sharp glare. “Am I that insufferable?”

“More like stubborn,” Wallace clarified.

Ehlo resumed eating again. “Whatever.”

As if to rescue Ehlo from the others’ piling comments, Jacky showed up at that time. He wasn’t with Sonia—like some had thought.

“Hey, man!” Ehlo hollered, getting up from his seat. He even took it up to another level by walking toward Jacky at that time. “What took you so long?”

“I got summoned to the police station halfway here,” Jacky said. “So I had to check it out.”

“You didn’t bother texting us or anything.”

Jacky shrugged. “I didn’t realize it would take that long.”

“What happened then?”

“Detective Chen wanted to give me Jan’s phone.”

“What?”

That was Andy—and not Ehlo. Ehlo had halted in his steps and had turned to the others by the tables areas and had exchanged a troubling look with them.

Jacky shrugged and walked toward one of the empty tables to sit down. It was the one next to Ehlo and Wallace’s table. “I don’t know why either. But Detective Chen said Jan wanted me to keep it for her until she comes back.”

“What happened to giving them to her family members?” Ehlo asked, having finally recovered and returned to his seat already.

“Ricky Chang’s out of the country right now for some business trip. He won’t be back until next week. She told them to just give it to me.”

“Why didn’t they just wait for Ricky Chang to come back then?”

Jacky shrugged. “I don’t know. It wouldn’t hurt to keep it for her anyway. She’ll be back in two weeks.”

“I thought she said four months.”

“Funny that you remembered, Huang,” Wallace mocked.

“Are you kidding me?” Andy jumped in. “He remembers everything about her so he could spy, hello.”

Ehlo turned to Andy with much annoyance again. “Thanks, Backstabber.”

“You want anything to eat?” Angela asked then, ignoring the others’ side argument on purpose.

Jacky shook his head. “It’s okay. I need to get back and work on next week’s segments anyway.”

“You’re not staying?” Ehlo asked.

“It’s not like we weren’t at Johnny’s yesterday, you know.”

“He’s bored,” Wallace sabotaged. “He needs a new project.” He paused, his mischievous smile making its appearance again. “Or more like he wants to get into Jan’s phone.”

Ehlo scoffed. “Whatever, man.”

Wallace nodded, but his mischievous smile was still on. “Said the man who has been coming up with at least fifty ways to connect Jan to the so-called schemes he conjured up since last week.”

Jacky shook his head and got up at that time. He made sure to bid the others goodbye before heading out. As for the rest of them, they managed to eat and engaged in other topics that wasn’t bordering on the intense area. Chris and Margaret never made it the meeting. According to the one of the texts, Margaret went to visit Bianca and ended up babysitting, which she loved, so Johnny and Bianca could go on a date. Chris? He was scouting something with Eddie and Derek.

*****

The next day, Wallace had to hold a meeting with Cynthia and the others at East Shore Café. Considering how the shop was now destroyed and the investigation was going on. Although the scene was finally released, they still had a lot of renovation to go through before they could operate normally again. Ehlo was also there. It was because his service was once again needed.

“If I didn’t know better, I thought you hired someone to do it,” Andy joked when their meeting was over and the others had been dismissed already.

“Haha,” Ehlo returned, not amused at all. “Why don’t you say it louder?”

“Seriously, it’s like you’re trying to create job security for yourself.”

Wallace checked his phone for messages as the other two argued it out whoever was right—or other unrelated subjects.

“Another bidding war,” Wallace told the others as he scrolled through the newsfeed.

“What?” Ehlo asked, turning to Wallace at that time.

“Another bidding war coming up next month,” Wallace replied. “Bai Lian Hua, Sunrise, Serpentine Enterprise, Da Fa, and North Star Corporation are all in. Tian Cheng and Winston & Co. decided not to join in.”

“What about Wan Da and Feng Sheng?”

“If I were Ricky Chang, I would sit this one out too.”

“And Feng Sheng?”

“They probably do not want to compete with Sunrise.”

“How come you said Sunrise and not Bai Lian Hua? They’re number one after all.”

Wallace smiled. “Because Morgan knows who is behind Sunrise.”

“Ba Fang is number 9, why would those big company want them though?” Andy asked. “It’s not like they’re that big like Unex before it tanked.”

Ehlo shook his head. “Kids.”

Andy looked offended. “What? Come on.”

“It’s not the size of the company. It’s more like they’re trying to show who’s a bigger threat to one another. Like hey, this small company over here? I don’t need it, but it’s pocket change to me so I’m going to get it anyway.”

“You think Tony would like it that you’re talking about him in that way?”

“Tony’s in for the entertainment actually.”

“Yesterday you said that you didn’t think Tony wouldn’t enter.”

Ehlo ignored Andy and turned to Wallace. “What are we going to do after this?”

Wallace shrugged. “Lunch? Since we’re here anyway.”

“It’s like ten in the morning, man. I barely got done with my coffee.”

Wallace shrugged again. “Then do whatever you want. It’s not like we’re going anywhere near the shop anytime soon anyway.”

“Actually, I need to go this afternoon to do some measurements”

“Okay then, good luck.”

“You’re not coming with me?”

“Seriously? It’s not like you haven’t worked on the shop before. You still have your backup key?”

Ehlo nodded.

“I’m going to meet up with Yvonne in a bit.”

“Okay then.”

After the authorities released the shop, they had managed to get some people together to help with covering up the place in some temporary frame to protect it from the weather and other possible incidents. Aside from that, they had taken all inventory items and stored it in the backroom, which was safely locked away at that point. Cynthia had decided to hold classes elsewhere for the time being and Wallace had offered to help the remaining employees with job transition. Considering how things turned out, Wallace didn’t blame them too much for wanting to leave. It was indeed an unexpected and scary incident. The craziest thing that happened at the shop was the constant rumors, so they didn’t expect actual physical harm. Even if they weren’t there at that time, but thanks for the news coverage, things had blown up to another level. The least harmful piece was some wild theory about revenge. The most far-fetch story? Gang-related drive by incident. So yes, the shop was really suffering in several accounts. It was like the universe wanted to send Wallace a message that he barely got affected by the previous rumors cycle. So now, he was up.

*****

When Friday rolled by again, Joanne was seen walking to Uncle Ben’s like once upon a time. As interestingly as it got, Matthew was also seen at the stall eating like he’d never left. Or more like returned to his old life. As Joanne halted in shock, Matthew looked up to see her standing there.

“Déjà vu?” Matthew asked, gesturing for her to join him.

Joanne regained herself as she stepped toward his table. She sat down across from him and waited for him to continue.

“I wasn’t supposed to stop by here,” Matthew explained. “But I couldn’t help after a meeting.”

“That explains the suit,” Joanne said, offering him a light smile.

Matthew smiled. “The downside of owning a shop.”

“I think Wallace’s the only one that likes to wear ‘em,” Joanne quipped.

Matthew smiled again. “Yeah. I think he sleeps in ‘em.”

Joanne laughed, feeling like it was indeed a blast from the past.

“So…” Matthew said, tapping his chopsticks on his noodles bowl. “Life?”

Joanne felt it was exactly like that one time they ran into each other. The only difference was there was no Jacky and Sam to tease her about it either. Interestingly, the subject matter of concern this time was also the same one.

“You think I’m unfair to Bryant?” Joanne asked finally.

Although Matthew hadn’t been around much these past several years, he had learned the details from Andy. Yes, Andy had somehow ended up being the person in charge of updating most of the people who were out of loops regarding the most of them who lived around town. Well, at least for those who wanted the updates, that was. Joanne, of course, knew about this too—and she had no problem with Andy passing around the information. After all, Matthew was part of their extended group before some of them left—whether to start a family or returned to their previous life. In Matthew’s case, it was both. And the reason why she wanted to ask him was because he was an outsider for the most part of hers and Bryant’s encounters. Possibly, he could shed light into it, unlike the rest of them who were too close to the whole situation to be unbiased.

“I don’t know,” Matthew answered after halting his eating again. “Do you mean regarding Tang Feng’s accident or that he lied to you?”

“The latter.”

Matthew shrugged. “I don’t want to tell you what you should do. Neither should anyone else try to influence you. You have to figure this out for yourself.”

Joanne sighed out, feeling frustrated. She wasn’t frustrated at Matthew. She knew he was right. Yet it didn’t make this any less frustrating.

“Do you ever think that there’s a possibility in the future though?”

Joanne wrinkled her face. “I don’t know.”

“You’re still in the upset phase, you can’t make a decision at this point.”

“I don’t know what to do to get past that though.”

“Maybe go talk to him?”

“But I promised Janine I wouldn’t make it difficult for him.”

“Correction: you only told Janine that you had Ehlo’s word of not interfering. It doesn’t mean you can’t go talk to him yourself.”

Joanne looked down at the table surface again, like she was thinking it over. Matthew took that time to resume eating.

“It seemed like he wanted to talk to me that day at the shop,” Joanne said after a few minutes of silence. “But I just didn’t want to hear it.”

“If he’s finally willing to talk, maybe you should see what he has to say. And maybe after the talk, you would know your answer.”

“Maybe.”

After that, Joanne got up and left. Yet Matthew wasn’t offended that she didn’t say a word or two of farewells. He just smiled, knowing it was going to be all right.

*****

Ehlo arrived home in time to see that Wallace and Yvonne were also there watching TV with Chris. No Margaret.

“Hey, you guys watching news?” Ehlo asked, walking over to them and settling down at a spot next to Wallace.

“It’s going down faster than we thought,” Chris said, not really answering Ehlo’s question.

Ehlo scanned their faces for answers. “What?”

“The bidding war.”

“What’s happening? Don’t tell me it’s over already. I don’t think I’m that out of the loops with the news cycle, even if I’ve been helping Huo with the renovation.”

“No,” Wallace answered this time. “It got moved up to next week instead of next month.”

Ehlo had on his disbelief look. “What’s their hurry?”

Chris shrugged. “We’re waiting for the news segment now.”

“Breaking news,” A news anchor announced at that time. “We have new development Will Chung’s case. A break-in at the lab occurred this afternoon as well as the morgue. Local authorities are now calling out to citizens to contact them at this hotline if they have any information regarding this suspect.”

They could see a picture flashed onto the screen and then the news anchor started to read the number out loud. Afterward, it was another recap of how the Will Chung case has been developing, which wasn’t much because Detective Chen and his team haven’t been really feeding the press any other information since the item that could possibly belong to the killer.

“When we return, Connie will bring you our local business news.”

“Lovely,” Ehlo said, leaning back on the sofa. “Someone’s really not that great at the whole murder business.”

“What are you talking about?” Chris asked, turning to Ehlo. “That person didn’t get caught though.”

“It’s so sloppy that the police managed to capture his image, hello.”

“It’s a grainy image at best.”

“It’s bait,” Wallace said, repeating a phrase he once used but in regard to the missing item incident.

“Whatever, man,” Ehlo returned and got up from his place. He went into the kitchen to get some food before returning to listen in on the business segment.

“Today, Ba Fang released a statement saying that they will hold the auction next Wednesday, instead of having it next month like they previously announced. They couldn’t be reached for comments. However, according to an anonymous source, it was believed that they’d been pressured by two companies into fast-tracking the auction.”

“Really? It’s live news and they’re mentioning some anonymous source?” Chris asked, gesturing toward the TV.

Ehlo had on his amused look. “That shows you know nothing about our media’s current state.”

After some additional assessments from Connie, the segment ended, and they continued with the sports coverage. That was also when Wallace and Yvonne got up from their seats.

“We’re heading out,” Wallace said, gesturing to the door.

“Not staying for dinner?” Angela asked, coming out from the bedrooms area at that time.

“Not tonight,” Wallace returned.

Angela nodded. “Take care then.”

Wallace and Yvonne nodded as Ehlo moved to get the door. He didn’t have to yet he needed to get something from his car.

“Weird day, huh?” Ehlo asked the two as he was making his way to the car.

“Weird month,” Wallace returned.

“Or year even.”

Wallace nodded, knowing it was true.

*****

Monday came around again to a new set of strangeness. If it could be called that. In some ways, it was predictable, considering how an important auction was going to be held for what could be called another power struggle among some major companies within the industry. However, in some ways, it seemed like a desperation on the media’s part in general just to latch onto something because of lack of scandalous stories to report on of recent.

“Bai Lian Hua, a major contender in next week’s bidding war just released a statement that they’re not backing down after a leak of company information,” Ehlo read as the others were getting ready for work. “They will be undergoing an internal investigation in the meantime to determine the damage. According to an anonymous source, Da Fa had planted a mole inside Bai Lian Hua for a while now to infiltrate its structures. This is not uncommon within such a ruthless industry. However, these acts have not been the focus of industry tactics in a long time. Could this bidding war be so important, even surpassing Unex’s bidding war that caused several companies to act out of their usual pattern? According to Ricky Chang, there’s going to be a major shift in the industry after this bidding war. Since it is confirmed that Bai Lian Hua would participate based on their released statement, Ricky Chang had also boldly predicted that Bai Lian Hua will emerge as the winner. After his ‘miss’ last time with Unex’s prediction, how accurate is he this time? The reason why people are doubtful of the winner is numerous. Although Bai Lian Hua had moved to the first spot after Unex’s surprise bankruptcy declaration last year, they had always been known to set their sights on bigger projects and focusing their resources on international companies. What brought this on?”

“More gossips,” Wallace said as he commented when he came to pick Ehlo up.

It was one of those days that Angela needed the car, so Wallace had volunteered to come and pick Ehlo up. Since they had another meeting anyway, it made sense. What was even stranger was how Chris had also tagged along with them since he had nowhere to go and wanted to help if possible. Wallace didn’t object. In fact, Wallace had suggested that Chris helped Cynthia with some classes since some people had abandoned ship after the shop’s latest fiasco. Cynthia, of course, had agreed when they talked several days ago, so they were waiting for Chris to respond.

What about Margaret? Apparently, Margaret mentioned some kind of family drama that was about to unfold, and she needed to get home as soon as possible to stop the inevitable. It was one of the rare times—or possibly the first time—that Margaret mentioned about her own family. She never really wanted to talk about them, so they didn’t push it, considering how most of them had some kind of family drama that they didn’t want to mention either. When asked if she needed backup or if Chris was going to leave with her, she had made it clear that she didn’t want Chris there. Chris, contrary to his overly positive personality at times, didn’t care to contribute to the matter or speak up to defend himself. That had stumped Ehlo and Wallace even more. When pressed, Margaret had disclosed that Chris didn’t get along with her family and had somehow offended them in the past, so they never liked him. That, of course, was another surprise for them. Because despite mixed opinions about Chris at first—courtesy of Ehlo, the majority of them knew that everyone who met Chris ended up loving him. He had this charming aura about him that even the paparazzi didn’t dare to slander him. As for Uncle Zhe, according to recounts from the others from time to time since some of them met Chris, he had actually treated Chris really well since he knew Chris was dating Angela. Their fallout only happened after the two broke up. So, this was seriously news to them that anyone in this world would actually hate Chris or be intolerant of him. So, in the end, some of them—along with Chris—had gone to the airport and sent Margaret off. She had to take the red-eye out for the emergency but it had to be done. That happened over the weekend and Margaret had left last night.

“What do you expect, Huo?” Ehlo returned as he buckled up. “They haven’t had any source of entertainment for a while now.”

“So, Bai Lian Hua, huh?” Chris chimed in. “Who’s the owner? Do we know?”

“Some guy named Stanley Wu. And no, we don’t know him. Unless anyone met him before but didn’t tell me about it.”

“We usually don’t attend those events anyway,” Wallace continued, glimpsing at the rearview mirror real quick as he made a turn. “Jacky might know him since he does a lot of those segments for the local station.”

“So, I guess not everyone knows everyone else within this high-society circle?”

“Why do you want to know anyway?” Ehlo asked, turning to give Chris a cautious look before facing front again. “I thought you said they’re an insufferable bunch.”

Chris shrugged. “I’m just trying to understand this so-called bidding war. I don’t know why they made such a big deal over this company that’s supposed to be so small. I meant according to those newspapers.”

“I told you already, it’s about power play because of the current economic situation. Whoever survives this current tide will emerge invincible in the next ten years.”

“Now you sound like Ricky Chang,” Wallace teased as he made another turn.

“Hey, I didn’t make up the rules, it’s just how it is,” Ehlo said after taking a sip of his coffee cup. “I can’t help it if I come to the same conclusion with the man himself.”

“He’s basically bragging about his genius level analytical skills now,” Wallace translated for Chris.

“Whatever, man. You’re just jealous of me.”

“Back at you, Huang.”

“And why are you going in this direction? You know you just passed our destination, right?”

“We’re being followed.”

“What?” Ehlo and Chris exclaimed at the same time and turned in every other way, trying to get a better view.

“Yellow car, two cars behind us.”

“Are they going to run over us like how they did before?” Chris asked, panicking.

“I want to see them try.”

“What are you doing, Huo?” Ehlo asked, turning to Wallace at that time, his expression worried. “Don’t tell me…”

Wallace smiled, not answering Ehlo. “Hang on to something.”

“What?” Chris asked, having turned forward as well, looking at Wallace for an answer.

“Just do what he says,” Ehlo said.

Chris didn’t have time to ask. Because Wallace had used a gap in the intersection to swirl left. He didn’t stop there. He ended up swirling right into another lane before turning into a side street. Honks and brakes were heard all around them as Wallace dodged out of the main streets. When he returned to one of the main streets again, he switched direction once more before returning to their original route.

“What the hell was that?” Chris exclaimed when Wallace finally slowed down again.

“It’s called reckless driving,” Ehlo answered. “Not something he would do in normal circumstances.”

“Ehlo, when I get out, keep driving,” Wallace said then.

“What?” Ehlo asked, scanning their surrounding again.

“It’s not just that car.” Wallace used his left hand to unbuckle his seatbelt then. It was a risky move, but he had to do it. “Get ready. They’re coming.”

After that, Wallace pulled to one side and let himself out. Ehlo had already taken off his seatbelt at the same time as Wallace so he immediately jumped over to the driver’s seat. However, he didn’t make a move. He was waiting for some movements. He could see Wallace gesturing for him to go. Ehlo turned around in time to see the car they just lost awhile back closing in. He finally swerved out of the spot before they were blocked in.

“Call the cops,” Ehlo told Chris.

Chris could see what was going on too. But he was still fumbling with his phone. Ehlo’s driving wasn’t any better than Wallace. “We’re just going to leave Wallace there?”

“He can take care of himself.”

Chris turned around to check on Wallace as someone finally picked up from the other side. “Yes, I would like to report a…”

Chris stopped because someone had told him to wait. Although he did try to say he couldn’t wait, he was put on hold again. It was also then that he saw Wallace fighting off some masked men. He was so shocked by the situation that he didn’t realize the person on the phone had come back. He quickly rattled something into the phone and their location before hanging up. But he still turned his attention back to Wallace. He wasn’t able to see much anymore since they were driving farther and farther away from the scene. However, from what he could make out, Wallace was still fighting. It wasn’t until they heard sirens that Ehlo finally did a U-Turn. He parked several spots from earlier. Wallace was no longer fighting but he was seen using his belt to tie someone up. It seemed like the rest had fled the scene already. By the time the cops arrived, Ehlo and Chris stepped out of the car. It wasn’t like they wanted to stay inside, but Wallace had signaled for them to stay.

It took them another half an hour or so before were free to go. Ehlo was still driving. Wallace had opened the compartment in front to get out a first aid kit. He had some scratches on his arms, but he was all right for the most part. They didn’t say anything until Ehlo merged safely into traffic again.

“When in the world did you learn to fight like that?” Chris asked, still looking at Wallace in awe.

“Who did you think teach Qiao her martial arts skills?” Wallace returned, not answering Chris’ question directly.

Chris was even more surprised. “I thought she learned it in school.”

“Now you know,” Ehlo said.

And that seemed like the end of the conversation, because neither Ehlo nor Wallace spoke up. So Chris took the hint to stay quiet as well.

*****

Wednesday, the day of the grand auction—or so the media had gone all out to build such an image for them all via news cycle, some of them actually attended. It was a live and open event, so the general public was able to attend. Because of their flexible schedules at work, they were able to come and see for themselves. Considering how Tony was one of the top contenders.

“This has to got to live up to it,” Ehlo said as they were making their way to their seats.

They actually arrived a little earlier, so the crowd was scattered at this point. The room was spacious and glamorous. They took the third and fourth row on the left side with Chris at end of the third row, then Angela, Ehlo, Wallace, Yvonne, and Cynthia all together. Then some people had somehow merged in with some of the group, so the second group took the fourth row with Andy at the end of the left side, then Achel, Joanne, and Jacky. Somehow, it worked out because it gave Ehlo the advantage of being able to talk to some of his usual co-conspirators at the same time.

“We got here just in time, huh?” Ehlo said, scanning the crowd that was getting larger by the second.

“Definitely,” Jacky agreed, looking toward the door also. That was when he grabbed onto Joanne’s hand.

Surprised, Joanne turned to Jacky. But she didn’t have to ask. Jacky released her hand as abruptly as his tug had been. They could all see Derek walking in with Bryant. Derek had actually waved to them and smiled. Some of them waved back or nodded or smiled. Other than that, they didn’t say anything. Considering the crowd, it was hard to. Bryant? He just nodded at them briefly in acknowledgment. They did see a lingering stare toward Joanne’s way but the two didn’t seem to give an indication of some strong reactions either way. So they left it at that. Bryant and Derek actually took some seats toward one of the right rows.

About five minutes into the commotion with everyone scrambling to find seats, they saw CW enter. It made sense, considering how his father was among the few companies that entered the bidding war after all. He would want to see the outcome. Yet, they hadn’t seen him since that day of the fallout at Tony’s, so it was a little strange to see his presence there. He actually saw them and nodded their way briefly before finding a seat. Ehlo and Wallace had exchanged a look briefly before continuing some side conversations with their neighbors.

Among the arrivals that morning, what actually surprised everyone in general—and not just their group—was Ambrose showing up with Penny. It was around the time that the auctioneer called for attention and announced the start of the auction. The majority of the people who had anything to do with the auction itself—aka the companies who showed interest in Ba Fang—were already seated at a long table in front next to the auctioneer’s podium. It was not a traditional auction, so all the key players were seated in front facing them instead of among the audience like usual. So, yes, indeed it was a major surprise that caused another wave of disorder to wash across the room. Yet it was like Ambrose wanted the attention on him, so he had walked slowly on purpose, basking in the attention and the whispering within the crowd. Penny was as calm and composed as she walked alongside Ambrose, her smile shining. It was like they were equally proud of their own presence at this particular event.

“So, this is normal,” Ehlo commented among the chaos surrounding them.

Jacky nodded but didn’t say anything. He was waiting for further development. The reason why Ehlo was able to see Jacky nod was because he had turned slightly around to check on the crowd in general as Ambrose and Penny made their way to the front.

“So, he shows up late on purpose just for the attention?” Chris asked, gesturing toward Ambrose and Penny’s direction.

Angela shrugged, not knowing what to make of it either.

“What else?” Ehlo returned around the same time as Angela’s shrug.

It seemed like even the auctioneer didn’t know what was going on either. Because he looked as confused as the rest of them when Ambrose approached the front table—after seeing that Penny had settled at an empty spot conveniently at the front row. The commotion finally died down when the auctioneer pulled himself together and used his gavel to call for attention.

“Although this is a public event, but the auction still has a deadline as far as submissions,” The auctioneer said in a calm voice. “Mr. Hsu, could you please find a seat and not make it more difficult for us?”

As the auctioneer was saying those words though, they could see that Ambrose had briefly gestured toward the long table. They didn’t know what was going on at first or who he was signaling toward. Yet they soon understood when Stanley Wu got up from his seat.

“Because of the importance of today’s event,” Ambrose said as Stanley had step away from his spot. “I’ll personally oversee the outcome of my company’s future.”

Gasps were heard everywhere as Ambrose slowly approached the spot Stanley had abandoned seconds before. They could see that Ambrose had clapped Stanley’s shoulder as the two passed by each other and Stanley handed Ambrose a folder.

“Mr. Hsu…” The auctioneer attempted to get Ambrose’s attention—and somewhat trying to control the crowd once again. “What you’re saying is…”

Ambrose was very much aware of the current situation. Just based on the crowd’s reaction, it was enough to delay the auction several more hours if it wasn’t under control. He turned to address the audience at that time. “Everyone, please calm down. I will answer questions after the auction. What I could say now, though, is that what you’re all suspecting is true. I am the actual owner of Bai Lian Hua. Stanley here is just overseeing the operations of the company for me. However, he has done a wonderful job after all these years. I think he deserves all the credit given to him by the public thus far, don’t you think?”

More commotions. However, Ambrose once again spoke up, not threatened by the sea of faces and the questions being posed by various sources.

“I repeat, there will be time for some questions after this auction. So please give Mr. Song your full attention and respect like he deserves.”

After saying that, Ambrose turned toward the long table with the same shocked expressions greeting him that he had received from the audience. He wasn’t affected by it though. He just continued on his way, circling around and then eventually sitting down at the spot that was meant for Bai Lian Hua’s chairperson. It was the spot between Tony and Spencer Lee. Tony had extended his hand out to Ambrose after Ambrose had placed the folder in his hand down on the table already.

“Welcome to the big table,” Tony teased, his smile equally amusing.

Ambrose shook Tony’s hand and shared an equally conspiratorially smile.

“Now,” Mr. Song said, banging on his gavel again. “Now that everything’s sorted out, I hope that we could proceed with today’s auction.”

The crowd finally quieted down. Yet, that was when Tony got up from his place.

“Actually, I changed my mind,” Tony said then, cutting Mr. Song off.

The audience went wild again, and the gavel was heard incessantly once again. It was like no one wanted to give Mr. Song a break, so his patience was running low hence the pattern of his banging becoming even more anxious.

“Mr. Sun,” Mr. Song finally said after two more minutes of chaos around the room.

“The rule said all parties could withdraw at any time,” Tony said. “I didn’t violate it.”

“That’s correct, Mrs. Sun,” Mr. Song verified. “However, you have to pay a penalty fee for withdrawing.”

Tony nodded. “I understand.”

“We’ll take care of it after the auction.”

“Of course.”

After saying that, Tony turned to Ambrose with a smile and a clap on the shoulder before heading toward the front row where Penny was and sat down next to her. It was like he had the whole thing rehearsed so his walk was consistent yet precise. His pace being a lot faster than Ambrose made it a little less hectic for Mr. Song. Based on his expression, Mr. Song, of course, still did not like that little interruption. However, it seemed like he appreciated the little effort that Tony made.

“Does Tony know?” Ehlo whispered to Wallace as Mr. Song banged on his gavel yet again to call for attention.

Wallace shrugged as everyone else quieted down again.

“All right,” Mr. Song said. “Now that there are no other objections, let’s get started.”

“Someone interrupt again,” Ehlo whispered to Wallace as the room was already quiet.

Wallace smiled but didn’t say anything.

Unfortunately for Ehlo, no one else interrupted again. So, the entertainment value went down several notches as the auction finally began at long last.

“Of the five companies that entered a bid, Sunrise was the highest bidder,” Mr. Song said. “However, because Mr. Sun just withdrew from this auction, the current leading company is Serpentine Enterprise.”

“He sure knows how to name his company, huh?” Ehlo whispered to Wallace again.

The others who were nearby could see Wallace’s tense expression, yet they didn’t say anything. Ehlo was actually trying to diffuse the situation, hence making that joke.

Meanwhile, the auction continued on with the other companies calling out their new numbers. Ambrose, unlike his earlier flashy arrival, remained quiet as the other three companies battle it out. It wasn’t until half an hour later that Ambrose finally placed a bid. And the whole half an hour wasn’t spent on bids, because somehow along the way, both Da Fa and Serpentine Enterprise had ended up in some side battle about technicalities. That was about fifteen minutes ago. North Star Corporation ended up withdrawing around the twenty-minute mark. After Ambrose entered a bid, several things happened within seconds of one another. The thing that set the chain of events was the majority of their phones ended up beeping. Ehlo had been playing with his and was only half paying attention by that time, so he didn’t need to get it out to silence it. Instead of silencing it and ignoring it like usual, though, he swiped to check on the news. As some others around them were checking, the noise level in the room went up again.

“How could it be?” Someone murmured nearby.

“V-Sen’s stock went down a thousand points,” Ehlo exclaimed. “How insane is that?”

“Who are they?” Chris asked from the other side.

“They design technology machinery,” Ehlo said casually, not caring if that sounded confusing. “Words have it that they could enter top ten soon. It looks like it’s not happening today.”

“Order!” Mr. Song yelled out again.

“Our company need a break to check on internal operations before we decide if we should proceed with this,” Spencer Lee said, standing up from his seat.

Although CW’s dad did not say anything, but his face had also shown signs of uncertainty. In fact, both men had turned ashen by then. It was like they rehearsed it. Only Ambrose remained relaxed, though, the majority within the industry knew him to be the composed type, not letting anything affect him regardless.

“All right,” Mr. Song said, glimpsing at his watch real quick. “Because of the new development, we will break for fifteen minutes.”

“How about an hour?” CW’s dad asked then, getting up as well.

Mr. Song scanned the room real quick before nodding. “All right, since it’s almost lunch time anyway, an hour then.”

After saying that, Mr. Song banged the gavel one last time to dismiss everyone.

“Well, that went well,” Ehlo said, getting up from his spot as well. “The way I see it, they might as well call it off.”

Although their group got up, but they hadn’t exited yet. They were waiting for the majority to clear out before they made their move. Unlike how they thought Ambrose would join them, he left with Penny and Tony instead. Tony had waved to them and had signaled a phone. Possibly to indicate he would contact them later. As for Bryant and Derek, they had hung back like some of the others to wait for the room to clear. They had guessed that Derek was the one who persuaded Bryant to stay behind. Before either Bryant or Derek could approach them, though, they saw CW stepping out of one of the aisles and making his way toward the front area. He was heading toward his dad’s direction. It looked he wanted to check in with the man.

“Whatever,” Ehlo mumbled as they were finally able to leave. “I guess we’re not seeing a dime of that money, huh?”

Wallace still wasn’t responding. While he was studying Spencer Lee talking on the phone, the others were walking around him. Yvonne had taken a hold of Wallace’s hand, squeezing it, but didn’t say anything. That was also when Joanne walked up to a distracted Bryant and grabbed a hold of his hand. Bryant was indeed surprised and turned to look at her.

“Let’s get out of here,” She said as she led him out of there.

That was also when Ehlo and Derek exchanged a look between the two of them. They would have expected for either Joanne or Wallace to lung at Spencer Lee right there and then. Considering how the day was going so far, one more dramatic event happening wasn’t too out of it. In fact, Ehlo and Jacky had already been on standby for either one of those situations happening. Yet this new development had caused them to reanalyze.

“Come on, man,” Ehlo finally said, stepping forward and dragging Wallace along by the shoulder. “I’m ready for lunch.”

*****

An hour later, they all returned to the location for the second act. Even half of the media. They guessed that the other half had sent their teams to return to write the recent development. Although Ehlo had expressed that he didn’t want to return, but Wallace had insisted on following the events till the end. So, they all returned. What was even stranger—but possibly not too strange—was seeing Joanne and Bryant together again. However, that had worked in Derek’s favor since he was more than happy to join their group once again. Even if they hadn’t been hostile toward one another, but because of the lingering ongoing intensity between Joanne and Bryant that made it uncomfortable for most to interact with one another. At most, they were polite. Now? It was much easier seeing how Joanne was no longer hostile toward Bryant. In fact, since they returned, Joanne had been holding onto Bryant’s hand while they listened to the next part. Jacky had moved to the next seat over for obvious reasons. Derek was now sitting on Jacky’s right.

“All right, everyone,” Mr. Song called for order again up front.

The crowd simmered down eventually as Mr. Song banged on his gavel several more times.

“Because of what happened regarding V-Sen’s stock plummeting earlier,” Mr. Song continued. “Many companies have been affected by it. That also includes the ones who are now participating in this auction. Therefore, I hereby declare that this auction is now over.”

The room went wild again. Ehlo and Wallace exchanged a look again. Some of them were able to see the relieved expression on Spencer Lee and CW’s father faces at that moment. It was like they were no longer feeling the pressure from it all. Ambrose’s expression was still neutral.

“Everyone, please,” Mr. Song said, banging on his gavel once more. “Please let me finish.”

“What else is worth saying at this point?” Someone yelled from the crowd.

That person, although impolite, was right. There was nothing else to do except for confusion and chaos. And then finally leaving the room in disappointment because there was no longer a show. However, Mr. Song didn’t give up. He banged on his gavel, trying to maintain control. It was like the crowd finally got the message, so they quieted down again.

“Since the auction can’t continue because of financial issues,” Mr. Song said. “The company previously known as Ba Fang will now belong to Bai Lian Hua.”

Ehlo and Wallace weren’t the only two standing up at that point. The majority of the people were. That included Spencer Lee and CW’s father. They were beyond shocked that they didn’t realize the flashes from various cameras were going off because of their reactions. Ambrose, having been calm for so long, finally got up and looked at both parties on either of his sides. He finally displayed a taunting smirk. He whispered something to them briefly before turning to face front again, letting them stand in stunned silence as the camera flashed on.

It took more than an hour for the crowd to be fully evacuated. They had opted to stick around to wait for Tony and Ambrose. Yet Ambrose didn’t leave when the room was cleared, and Mr. Song had also left. In fact, Spencer Lee was also there. He was sitting in his seat like he had forgotten where he was and why he was there. Ambrose had settled down again when the room was in the process of clearing out. Since the majority already left, he finally got up and walked toward them.

“Wait,” Spencer Lee called out at that time. It was like he finally pulled out of his trance.

Ambrose stopped and turned back to look at the other party. He didn’t say anything.

“Why?” Spencer Lee asked, like he was still in disbelief. “I trusted you. Why did you give me the wrong tip?”

Ambrose had on his cunning smile. “Old Lee, you should know the corporate war is as brutal as a real war. You think sending your niece over to entice me is going to work? Trying to tempt me with beauty isn’t going to work. Or haven’t you heard that I’m a married man? There are a lot of rumors going on about me within this industry, but the most obvious thing about me is my marital status. You should have known better. If you hadn’t pulled that lowly tactic, I wouldn’t have gone all the way.”

“So, you wanted to punish me for disrespecting your wife?”

Ambrose smiled, a cold one. “Six years and three months ago, there was a car accident not far from here. The victim was hit and killed by a drunk driver. The sentence would be very extreme because the driver was also using drugs. However, the chargers were suddenly dismissed, and the case vanished without a trace. Local authorities did not have the power to override the commands from upstairs. Guess who was the person responsible for such actions?”

That was when Spencer Lee got up from his seat and gripped the table’s edge for strength. It was like he couldn’t believe it. Then he finally saw Bryant for the first time standing at a distance. His bewildered look turned into anger.

“Bryant, you’re part of this?” Spencer Lee asked, pointed an accusing finger at Bryant.

Bryant had looked down at that point. Joanne had tightened a grip on Bryant’s hand, her expression beyond mad.

“Leave Bryant out of this,” Joanne said, her voice cold yet leveled. “You’ve done enough ruining his life.”

After saying that, she yanked Bryant’s hand and led him out of there—just like previously. That was also when Andy signaled to Ehlo before heading out with Achel and Derek as well. They wanted to make sure the other two were all right.

“You should have let your son serve the sentence,” Ambrose said, forcing Spencer Lee’s attention on him again. “It would teach him a lesson, even if it doesn’t bring a dead person back. But you chose to cover it up. You chose to let him live in this world full of unrealistic expectations that he would never face consequences for his actions. So, here we are now.”

“I can accept business is business,” Spencer Lee said. His composure had returned to its normality like how they saw him at the beginning of the auction. It was like he finally understood the whole story, hence regaining himself. “I will admit defeat on that front. But what has it got to do with you how I run things in my household?”

Ambrose had on a smirk then. He wasn’t amused. Far from it. It was an expression reflecting of condescension. “You never cared to investigate who your son hit, did you? You just wanted to make everything vanish and then move on with your lives. His name was Tang Feng, the previous owner of Feng Sheng.”

Spencer Lee’s expression returned to its shocked state. “Mark, he…”

Ambrose nodded. “Yes, your son had unknowingly helped you eliminate a powerful business opponent. If Tang Feng were alive today, Feng Sheng would have been in the top five.”

Spencer Lee shook his head, still in disbelief of all the details unfolding. “What does that have to do with you? Why did you target me?”

Ambrose looked at Spencer Lee with his cold, deep eyes. “Tang Feng was my best friend.”

Spencer Lee gasped then, finally realizing what was going on. This was a revenge plot, a grudge match, not just some typical business world battle.

Ambrose continued on as Spencer Lee soak over that new piece of information. “Not many people within the industry know that. Not even the people who knew us personally would know that either. Because thanks to those paparazzi, the rumors kept twisting and turning to the point that it was hard to distinguish between truth and reality. But I want you to know and I want everyone in this room to know, this is what you get for killing my best friend and thinking you can get away with it.”

After saying that, Ambrose left without another word, sending chills throughout everyone who was present. Penny was the only one who moved and caught up with Ambrose. She hooked her hands through his left, and they continued on without acknowledging anyone else present. As for the rest of them, they were exchanging looks among one another. Even Wallace wasn’t looking so fierce either. Because he was also in shock like most of them. Indeed, they didn’t know that Ambrose and Tang Feng were best friends. And Ambrose’s revenge plot was indeed brutal. At least, it wasn’t something they would imagine happening around them. Sure, they heard of various rumors about some companies’ tactics. Yet this?

© Monday, September 21st, 2020

Posted: Thursday, January 21st, 2021

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