The fallout after the auction was a major fest for the media all around. Because after that day, two things happened shortly after. Both Da Fa and Serpentine Enterprise filed for bankruptcy. The second part? Da Fa was also implicated in sending a mole over to steal information from Bai Lian Hua. There was footage found at the scene and solid evidence that made the case a close and shut one. Or so the media had made it out to be.
Those of them who were there for the auction knew about Serpentine Enterprise’s outcome already. However, they didn’t know that Da Fa had lost so badly it had forced them into bankruptcy. It wasn’t just a normal bankruptcy that sometimes companies go through as a temporary solution and then somehow downsizing their structure to save the business in the long run. It was all out.
What was more, because of what happened with two of the major companies going bankrupt, there was a major shift within the industry—just like how Ricky Chang had predicted. That was also another topic for the media to debate, whether it was major news stations or small-sized local newspapers. Because of how both Sunrise and North Star Corporation pulled out early during the bidding war, they were considered smart by the media, stating that this was a battleground laid out by Bai Lian Hua to trap all competition. Some papers even boldly stated that Bai Lian Hua was finally pulling its weight and trying to refocus its attention locally. Several news sources even drew up a new list of the current top ten, which Bai Lian Hua was still ruling them at the first spot. Sunrise had moved to the second spot, because of the double bankruptcy filing knocking the other two companies out. Other companies had also benefited greatly from what happened. Wan Da, North Star Corporation, Winston & Co., and Tian Cheng all moved up as well, only lagging behind Sunrise. The exception was Feng Sheng, moving up to the seventh spot because of what happened to Ba Fang and the rest of the fallout.
After all that was said and done, though, the biggest winner wasn’t Bai Lian Hua nor Sunrise. Because in executing his revenge plot, Ambrose had exposed his identity as the real owner of Bai Lian Hua thus losing leverage for future ventures. He received half of the attention of the news cycle for several days. So, the true winner of domino effect was actually the media. Like Ehlo said, it had been quiet after the rumors died down regarding their participation in the so-called secret party at Tony’s. So, this was a major break for them. This could run on for over a month because of the nature of the impact that would cause within the industry.
On Saturday, some of them accompanied Joanne to Tang Feng’s grave. As they approached the spot, though, they saw Ambrose standing in front of the tombstone with Penny. Penny saw them first because she was turning at an angle while Ambrose had his full his attention on Tang Feng’s tombstone. They halted at a distance, just staring and not knowing what to say. The others were waiting for Joanne to react. The last time they were there, there was a major confrontation that had ripped everyone apart. So, they didn’t want it to be a repeat. It wasn’t like they were going to confront Ambrose of anything, considering how what he did was his business. Yet, what happened in the last several days was still a shock to most of them. They were still processing. But it was as if Ambrose understood—and it was like he knew they were there without even turning to look, because he soon turned to face them. His expression was still serious yet less threatening.
“How about we find a place to talk after this?” Ambrose suggested.
They all nodded without needing any other verification from one another. Ambrose stepped to one side so the others could approach and have their time at the tombstone.
About fifteen minutes later, they were all standing across the street. It was far enough.
“You all must be thinking how cruel I am,” Ambrose began, his eyes particularly on Wallace. “Considering how much I went through to bring both of those companies down.”
“No,” Wallace returned. “We were just surprised.”
“You know you tossed out a lot of information, right?” Ehlo reminded Ambrose. “And thanks to the media, it’s even more confusing than before.”
Ambrose had on a bitter smile. “If they hadn’t launched the first attack, I wouldn’t have retaliated in such a way.”
“We were there when you confronted that man,” Andy said, not mentioning Spencer Lee’s name on purpose. “But why go after Da Fa? It doesn’t make sense. I mean, okay, he caused the majority of our reputations to go to dust. But I thought you agreed that he was a dangerous man. Why take that risk?”
Ambrose smiled. “You will know more in the next few days.”
“You promised to talk, man,” Ehlo jumped in.
Ambrose had on his serious expression again. “Here’s something I need you to promise not to tell anyone. I mean it this time. Because it’s really a matter of life or death.”
Ehlo and Wallace exchanged a look again.
“What is it?” Jacky asked in everyone’s place.
“You have to promise first,” Ambrose insisted.
It seemed like the others were still waiting for Wallace to react. He was indeed their leader.
“Will’s not really dead, is he?” Wallace finally said several seconds later.
“What?” Ehlo exclaimed.
Ambrose smiled then. “I knew you were the clever one.”
Wallace shrugged. “It wasn’t that hard to figure out, really. I’ve been reading the papers and cross referencing them to various sources. Even if it took some time to sort out all those icings that the media tossed in for sensational purposes, it just didn’t make sense. The only conclusion that would make sense is Will isn’t really dead.”
Ambrose nodded. “Yes, but we relied heavily on the media to create chaos to lure the killer out. That’s why I need you all to keep this secret. It’s not just for the time being either, but in the future as well. As long as Da Fa still have some pull in this world, we can’t let out this secret.”
“He means you, Ehlo,” Wallace translated.
“Shut up, man,” Ehlo returned.
Ambrose wasn’t amused. He was still looking at them with his serious expression.
“We promise,” Jacky said, knowing Ambrose needed their words.
Everyone had on their serious expression again and nodded along with Jacky’s words.
“The other person who knows about this is Tony,” Ambrose said. “Because I needed his help with some of the details.”
They nodded again.
The next day, Jacky had an early start and didn’t meet up with some of the others at East Shore Café for their breakfast and/or lunch gathering. He had to go to the airport. Jan’s flight was on its way and he wanted to make sure he was there with time to spare. Yes, Jan had told him about her return and set up a time to meet up. Yet she didn’t volunteer him for the person in charge of picking her up or anything. He volunteered himself, considering how they had to meet up later anyway. He said it would save her family a trip. It didn’t take too much convincing since she didn’t want to call Jun—or so she mentioned at one point. It was a subject Jacky had been avoiding—although he had been secretly texting Jan via her own phone. It was none of his business really, but his curiosity had caused him to worry even more. It was something that was hard to pull away once one was involved. He barely managed to keep it from the others. If Ehlo knew, he would be all over that. So, the only thing Jacky could do was keep it under wrap and acted like nothing was going on. It helped that there was so much going on around them lately. And that he was now living alone. If he was still at the old house and if Ehlo could just swing by occasionally, he would have been exposed already.
“So, finally, huh?” Jan said the moment she met him at the gate.
Jacky smiled, feeling strange that they were finally talking face to face. It wasn’t like they didn’t talk face to face before. But that time, he was almost killed, and she didn’t exactly stay to clarify matters.
“Let’s get out of here before we do some sort of exchange,” Jan said when Jacky didn’t say anything. “You know, crowd.”
Jacky took that time to help her with her luggage.
“I can do it,” Jan said, still not letting go.
Jacky smiled again. “It’s just courtesy. Besides, you said it yourself, crowd.”
Jan shrugged and let go. “Whatever you want.”
They made it safely out of the airport and into a parking structure before either of them said anything. It was really strange because Jacky could always strike up a conversation with anyone. Small talk wasn’t his weakness. Why couldn’t he just say something? Just anything to fill time?
“So, how have you been?” Jan asked. “You know, with all the craziness surrounding the top ten.”
“What?” Jacky asked, confused. He wasn’t really paying attention. He was still lost in thoughts.
“I read some local news while I was still overseas,” Jan clarified. “There seemed to be a major shift going on.”
“Oh,” Jacky said, finally understanding the nature of the conversation. “Was that why you changed your mind and came back early? All these changes didn’t happen when you were last here. But things have been brewing for a while now.”
Jan shrugged. “No, it was a coincidence. Mark wanted to return home after his graduation, so I didn’t see the point in staying longer.”
“Mark?” Jacky asked, still trying to catch up with Jan’s subject changing rate.
“Mark Lee,” Jan answered. “He’s a friend of…”
Before Jan could finish, Jacky had grabbed a hold of her arm. They had stopped walking and Jacky was staring her down. He felt like he was going to throw up. Was this one of those times that Ehlo was right? Despite his paranoia and conspiracy theories?
“Mark Lee has been hiding in the States all these years?” Jacky asked, his voice beyond hostile.
Jan wasn’t threatened by Jacky’s demeanor though. She stared right back at him with an unwavering attitude. “He’s not hiding. I mean he’s there for his studies. I mean if anyone wants to find him, they just have to look up his social media accounts, or maybe school records, really.”
“Spencer Lee’s son has been studying in the States all these years?” Jacky asked again. As if he needed any more confirmation. Like he was still shocked that he missed that. Or more like Will had missed that when doing the investigation for him.
“No,” Jan said. “I don’t know the name of Spencer Lee’s son. I don’t think I read it in the news cycle in recent years. But the Mark Lee I’m talking about is my fiancé’s brother’s classmate. Both of them graduated recently and invited me to attend. That was why I was out of the country. Any other questions, Officer?”
That was when Jacky finally let go of Jan’s arm. “Sorry, I…”
Jan shook her head. “Not the first time someone treated me like a criminal.”
After saying that, Jan continued on. She even took back the luggage that Jacky was hauling along earlier. Jacky finally pulled out of his trance and chased after Jan.
“Where are you going?” Jacky asked. “My car’s that way.”
“I think it’s better that I haul a Taxi,” Jan said, her expression passive.
“It was a misunderstanding,” Jacky rushed to explain. “I mean…”
Jan shook her head. “No, I shouldn’t assume we could get along just because you were polite with your offer.” She extended her hand at that time. “My phone?”
Jacky gestured in the direction to his right. “It’s in my car.”
Jan nodded and finally followed him to his car. They walked the rest of the way in silence. When they arrived at Jacky’s car, Jacky unlocked it and took out her phone and returned it to her.
“Thanks,” Jan said before turning to leave.
“Hey,” Jacky called out, stepping in front of her.
Jan had on this passive look yet didn’t say anything. She was waiting for him to react. After all, he was the one who stopped her.
“I…” Jacky managed.
Jan didn’t wait for Jacky to try and recollect his thoughts. She just left without saying another word. Then somehow, possibly ten minutes later, Jacky realized that she must have called her fiancé to pick her up hence not needing his help anymore. He then scolded himself for being fierce with her. If he were confronted like that, he would get mad too. How could he blame her?
His justification didn’t help ease his mind at all. Jan’s hurt expression haunted Jacky all the way back to East Shore Café. Apparently, the others had some things to do so they had postponed the meeting to that afternoon. So Jacky returned just in time for the meeting. Well, he was about twenty minutes late, but he made it.
“So, what I’m trying to say is,” Chris was saying as Jacky settled down at a seat between Chris and Wallace. “I might have to go home for a while. You know, just to show that I’m a good older brother that actually cares about his little brother’s well-being. After all, Mark did just graduate from college. That’s a major achievement, right?”
“What?” Jacky asked then, realizing what Chris just said. Then he realized something else. “Your brother, Mark Lee, just graduated from college?”
“That was what he just said,” Ehlo said, turning to Jacky with a suspicious expression on his face.
“Yes,” Chris answered Jacky, ignoring Ehlo’s comment on purpose. “Are you all right? You don’t look so good. Did something go wrong with that meeting?”
“Oh,” Ehlo muttered, finally understanding the situation. “I told you that Jan is trouble.”
Jacky ignored Ehlo’s side swipe also. “She mentioned a Mark Lee who just graduated,” Jacky said. “I reacted when I heard that name and misunderstood that it was Spencer Lee’s son. I…”
Chris’ face brightened up upon learning of the new detail. “She knows my brother?”
“You guys are in the same circle?” Ehlo jumped in again. “Like really? It’s really that small of a world?”
Jacky’s eyes moved back and forth. He was trying to recall all the details of the conversation. His mind had been swirling since he left the airport. “She said her fiancé has a brother. I think she said Mark’s friends with him.”
Chris took it into his hands to search through his phone at that time. “I knew there was a good reason for me to organize my albums.”
“You mean you finally could justify your OCD?” Ehlo jabbed.
Chris ignored Ehlo once again and searched through the album that he labeled “Mark’s Epic Overseas Adventure.”
“Anything?” Ehlo asked about a minute later, his voice anxious.
“No, hold on,” Chris said. “I think it’s in the other album. The one with his friends.” He paused to switch album. “Okay, here it is. Group pictures.”
The other three leaned closer to him to get a better look.
“Oh my god, how could I miss it?” Chris exclaimed seconds later. “They’re in my photo collection all along.”
The other three could see that Jan and the guy they saw on her phone screen previously were in some pictures with Chris’ brother. Chris had pointed out his brother to them before he started the search. It wasn’t hard to tell since Mark resembled Chris, just a little younger and no beard and/or mustache. Someone else who was constantly in the pictures was a guy around Mark’s age. They guessed that it was Jan’s fiancé’s brother.
“This was five years ago,” Wallace noted as he saw some of the timestamp on it. “You have any recent photos?”
Chris took back control of his phone and started searching again as the others sat back in their seats, each lost in his own thoughts.
“I don’t see the fiancé in any newer pictures,” Chris said.
“You know what?” Ehlo said. “We should call your brother.”
“Come on, man, that’s the only way to be sure of any of the details.”
Chris knew it was three against one, even if the other two hadn’t spoken up. So he took that time to dial his brother. “Hello?”
“Ge? Why are you calling me again? I thought you said you’re on your way back? Don’t tell me you’re here already.”
Chris chuckled then. “For a college graduate, you sure are naïve, Little Bro.”
Chris chuckled again. “All right, not teasing you anymore. I have some questions for you.”
“Put him on speaker,” Ehlo urged.
Chris gave Ehlo a look but Ehlo gestured with his hand wildly. Chris found it odd but did as told anyway. It wasn’t like there was any major secret involved anyway. Besides, it would save him some time with needing to recount Mark’s words to them later.
“Okay,” Chris said. “I need you to be honest with me.”
“Great, you’re using your serious voice. What is it this time, Officer?”
“Where did you learn that sarcasm from anyway?”
“He has a brother like you, his sarcasm is justified,” Ehlo jumped in.
“Really, man?” Chris returned, looking at Ehlo with his annoyed expression.
“Who are you talking to?” Mark asked from the other side.
“My friends,” Chris answered.
“You’re putting me on trial in front of your friends?”
“It’s not a trial,” Chris said, his voice defensive. “Just needing some answers here. It’ll be quick.”
“Great, a quick interrogation then.”
Chris clutched his head at that time, like he was having flashbacks. Indeed, Ehlo might be right after all with their siblings’ disagreements or resentment. Chris took a deep breath real quick before speaking up again. “Anyway, I just looked over some old pictures and realized we might know the same people.”
“You mean your traveling friends?” Mark asked. “Last time I checked; I don’t know any of them.”
“No, not them,” Chris said. “I meant Jan.”
“Jan jie? You know her? How? When?”
“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later. But I need some information real fast.”
“What happened to her fiancé? I didn’t see him in the newer pictures.”
“Albert? He passed away five years ago already.”
That was when all four of them exchanged looks among themselves. Ehlo had on his shocked expression. Jacky didn’t realize he was shaking until Wallace clapped his shoulder.
“You must not be close to her if you don’t know that Albert passed away already,” Mark’s voice continued on from the other side. “You know that’s an important detail, right?”
“Uh…” Chris managed, still lost for words. “We just met recently and then she made that trip out of the country. Now we know it was for your graduation.”
“Which you didn’t even bother showing up,” Mark reminded Chris, his voice snarky.
“Not important anyway. It was really boring, but Seth invited Jan so that was why she came.”
“Albert’s brother, my friend.”
“Right.” Then Chris seemed to recover a little more. “Wait, why did she talk like he’s still alive. She still refers to him as her fiancé.”
“She didn’t have closure. She never moved on. Could you blame her? Who are you, the Chief of Mourning Deadline?”
“Chief of Mourning Deadline?” Ehlo mumbled. “That’s actually pretty good.”
“Glad that you’re amused by someone’s death, jerk.”
“Hey, Mark,” Chris jumped in. “There’s no need for name-calling.”
“He started it.”
“You met your match, Huang,” Wallace said, smiling then.
That was also when Jacky got up from his seat.
“Where are you going, man?” Ehlo asked, getting up also.
“Jan’s not answering,” Jacky said. “I need to go find her.”
Ehlo looked even more confused. “What?”
“I told you we had a misunderstanding earlier,” Jacky said, gesturing his hand. “She walked away before I could take her home. I assumed she was going to call her fiancé to pick her up. I didn’t know he…”
“What? You left her at the airport all by herself? What kind of monster are you? I thought you at least dropped her off before you came here.”
“Really, Huang?” Wallace interfered, getting up also. “You’re the one to talk. You don’t even like her in the first place.”
“That’s not the point. You don’t just leave someone at the airport like that.”
“Guys!” Chris jumped in, yelling above their voices. “The most important thing right now is to find her, not argue.”
“You guys left Jan jie at the airport all alone?” Mark managed to get in.
“I didn’t, okay?” Ehlo defended himself. “It was Jacky.”
“We don’t know if she’s still at the airport though,” Wallace said. He turned to Jacky then. “You just said she’s not picking up. Maybe she’s still mad at you and didn’t want to pick up.”
Chris turned to his phone then. “Mark, can you call her real quick?”
“I was going to hang up on you idiots anyway,” Mark snapped.
Chris didn’t have time to retort since their connection got cut after Mark’s response.
“Sit down, man,” Ehlo scolded Jacky as they waited for Mark to call them back.
They had to wait about twenty minutes before Mark called Chris back.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” Mark said as soon as Chris placed him on speaker like before. “If anyone of you ever leave her at the airport again, I’m going to personally come over and pulverize you.”
“Tough talk, kid,” Ehlo said. “But we’ll see if you can carry it through.”
“Not the time,” Wallace interrupted their argument. “How is she?”
“She’s home now,” Mark responded, his voice still hostile. “I had to call her house number. That bitch picked up. We got into an argument, so it took a little longer to get an answer.”
“Hey,” Chris jumped in. “Where did you learn that?”
“Come on, we all know everyone swears and uses foul language,” Ehlo said. “No need to pretend those things don’t exist.”
“So, she’s home safely now,” Wallace repeated, ignoring the side comments from various parties.
“Yeah,” Mark said. “She’s sleeping. The maid said her phone was off. She’ll be fine, no thanks to you people.”
“So I’m guessing the maid isn’t the bitch you mentioned,” Ehlo pried.
“No, of course not. She’s a sweet old lady.” A pause. “Anyway, I have to go. You all better be careful. Don’t bully her anymore.”
Before anyone of them could speak up to defend themselves, Mark hung up.
“Okay then,” Ehlo said after about a minute or two later. “That went well.” He tossed his hands up in the air for dramatic effect. “So, we didn’t really learn anything. But got even more questions. This is just great.”
“Maybe we should go talk to Jun,” Wallace suggested.
Ehlo scoffed. “You hear that kid? Hello, they sound exactly the same. The same terrible attitude. You want us to talk to him?”
“He actually came to the shop that one time to check on us. He’s not heartless. I think he just got carried away with whatever it was that was haunting him.”
“Now we’re talking about ghosts?”
Wallace gave Ehlo a look. “Really?”
“If we’re not talking about ghosts, then you’re starting to sound like some old man with his philosophical talk.”
“If we’re not going to talk to Jun, what do you suggest we do then?”
The four of them exchanged uncertain looks again.
Possibly around the same time that Jacky arrived at East Shore Café to meet up with the other three guys, Joanne was seen elsewhere waiting for someone. She was there a good fifteen minutes before that someone showed up. It was Bryant.
“Hey,” Bryant greeted her, his voice passive yet his eyes showed traces of worry.
“Hey,” Joanne returned, gesturing for him to sit down at the spot next to her.
They were at a park and she was sitting at one of those cemented structures, not the tables used for picnics or whatever else.
“I know last time we didn’t really have a chance to talk,” Joanne said as she turned slightly to her left to look at Bryant. “I think it’s better that we don’t have an audience.”
Bryant nodded, understanding too well. He couldn’t help but smile despite the situation. A lot had happened these past few days that he didn’t know how to process it all either. Seeing his stepfather again had brought forth a set of emotions he thought he no longer had. So he appreciated that Joanne had steered away from the drama in general. Because he indeed didn’t know what to do or how to react. He thought he had outgrown that fear already. Yet that meeting had proved to be untrue. He wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed that Joanne had to rescue him out of the situations either. Because all he felt while being there in the same room as his stepfather was paralyzed. It was like an out of the body experience that he often saw on TV yet wasn’t sure if he should believe such things existed.
“Thank you for that day,” Bryant finally spoke up. “I…I was…I mean, I should have been the one shielding you from him, but I…”
Joanne shook her head. “You don’t have to apologize.” She reached a hand over to grab onto his. “You’re not him. You need to stop blaming yourself for what happened.”
Before Bryant could continue though, they noticed someone walking up to them. When they looked up, Bryant had the shocked expression on his face.
“Mom,” Bryant called out, standing from his spot out of habit.
Joanne got up as well and stared at the other party. The older woman was dressed very elegant and exuded her wealthy background quite well.
“It’s good that I finally found you,” The older woman said. “Spencer told me that he saw you with Ambrose Hsu and the other young masters of Winston & Co. and Tian Cheng.”
“I was just there to see the auction,” Bryant said, his expression tense.
“Tell me, did you have anything to do with Ambrose Hsu’s schemes?”
Bryant shook his head. “No.”
The older woman smiled then. “That’s good then. Maybe you can talk to him and convince him to help your father’s business.”
“He’s not my father,” Bryant said, his expression determined.
“Bryant,” The older woman said, taking a step forward and grabbing onto his hand. “You can’t still be upset about what happened in the past. It has been a long time already. You have to help Spencer get past this. It affects all of us.”
Bryant undid his mother’s hand on him and took a step backward. He forgot that there was no more space to step and almost crashed into the structure behind them. Yet Joanne reached out in time to steady him. And she made it clear to continue holding onto his hand.
“Bryant can’t help you because he doesn’t know Ambrose,” Joanne said. “Even if he knows him, he won’t help you either. Maybe it’s about time your husband learns the lesson that he failed to teach his own precious son.”
It was like the older woman finally acknowledged Joanne’s existence. She stared at Joanne a while before speaking up. “You’re that girl who the magazines talked about. Tian Cheng’s young master new girlfriend.”
“No,” Joanne said. “Jacky ge is my brother. It’s not like I have to clarify it to you. But if you had taken less time reading gossip magazines and more time on your precious son, he might not turn into a murderer.”
“You!” The older woman yelled out, her face a mixture of embarrassment and anger.
It was also then that the older woman reacted, extended her hand to slap Joanne. It was too fast. Yet she had underestimated the situation. Because two things happened within seconds. First, it was Bryant attempting to use himself as shield. The second thing that happened was Joanne yanking Bryant back while using her right hand to catch the other party’s hand.
“You have no right to get mad or hit me,” Joanne said before letting go of the party’s hand with a fierce yank.
“Bryant, who is this uncouth girl?” The older woman exclaimed, turning to Bryant for answers.
“She’s…” Bryant managed, not knowing what to say about their relationship either.
Joanne still had her attention on the older woman. “Remember the accident of six years ago? The one you just told Bryant that he shouldn’t be mad about.”
The older woman turned to Joanne again. “What does it have to do with my family’s situation?”
Joanne had on a condescending smirk at that point. That smirk could be seen on Jacky’s face at times or possibly Wallace if he was that mad. “Tang Feng, the person your precious son hit? That was my boyfriend. Your precious son already killed the person I once loved. I’m not going to let you destroy the other man I love as well.”
Upon hearing those words, not only was the older woman surprised, but Bryant was also displaying traces of bewilderment. He tightened his grip on Joanne’s hand then. Before, he just let her hold his hand without any reaction. Now, he knew he needed to react. He had also turned to look at her. “Qiao…”
Joanne nodded at him then, even sending him a smile to ensure him that she meant it.
That was also the moment that the older woman fled the scene. They turned in time to see her rushing back to a car. The driver had been waiting for her. The car immediately took off after that. They watched as it disappeared into the sea of cars before turning to each other again.
“So…” Bryant began.
“I was going to tell you about my decision earlier,” Joanne said. “But I guess she sped up our conversation a bit.”
Bryant looked down at their linked hands at that time and then looked up at her smiling face again.
“Unless you don’t want to,” Joanne said, loosening her grip on his hand.
That was when Bryant stepped forward to close their distance. He hugged her to him, knowing if he let her go this time around, there was never going to be another chance.
“I missed you so much,” Bryant finally managed to get out.
Joanne returned the hug, her smile as bright as ever. “I know you did.”
Bryant smiled also, finally feeling like some semblance of normality was returning to his life.
Monday’s news cycle pushed the already chaotic state to another level. Because Ehlo barely dropped Angela off at KFT that the news hit. Or more like he was hit by the news. He had turned the radio off previously since he didn’t want to be bombarded with news so early in the morning. Not to mention how he rather talked to Angela than listen to some vague news source. Now that he was alone, he thought he might as well chance it.
“Breaking news,” The DJ’s voice came on. “We just received words that Da Fa’s general manager, Justin Liu, has just been arrested for his involvement in Unex’s embezzlement activities. Authorities said they received a tip from an anonymous source that led them to the reopening of the Unex’s embezzlement case thus leading to the new arrest.”
“Are you kidding me?” Ehlo mumbled to himself.
He made a turn before tuning in again. Yet the DJ proceed to analyze the extent of the effect that it would have on the market in general, so he lost interest. He turned the knob again to change stations. Maybe listening to Jacky’s voice might do it? After all, a bunch of mushy talk could cancel out that negative energy. If he was superstitious, that was, which he seriously found hard to ignore because of their recent ability to attract bad news.
“So, of course, a reasonable person would say that…” Ray’s voice came on at that time.
“What?” Ehlo asked the general atmosphere around him. He was about to reach for his phone but decided against it. It was kind of far. He didn’t want to risk it. He forced himself to wait for the upcoming red light before retrieving it. He then had to turn the radio down before dialing. He was in mid-dial before the light turned again. “Call Sha Gua Dan (傻瓜蛋).”
It took two tries before someone picked up. And not because the command system refused to work either.
“Where have you been, man?” Ehlo asked, his voice confronting.
“I was inside the station,” Jacky returned, his voice calm, not annoyed because Ehlo’s tone was a little too high. “Why?”
“No, you weren’t. I just heard Ray’s voice during your segment. Angela just barely came on now.”
“Police station, not radio station.”
“What?” Ehlo ended up parking into a spot before grabbing his phone. “Why?”
“They found some new evidence and they needed me to confirm.”
“I can’t say yet.”
“Ugh, not this secretive talk again.”
“It’s not like I want to keep some secret. Detective Chen told me not to blab for now. It’s important.”
Ehlo hung up after that, feeling like there was no need to pester Jacky. It wasn’t until after he hung up that he remembered he wanted to talk to Jacky about the latest development with Unex’s old case. Yet he decided it could wait. He proceeded to his first business meeting of the day.
That night, another piece of news hit. It was when Wallace was over at Ehlo’s place to do some planning.
“Turn the volume up,” Ehlo told Chris since he and Wallace were sitting at the island in the kitchen.
“Yes, sir,” Chris joked as he reached for the remote.
Ehlo and Wallace had actually gotten up from their spots and approached the TV as Ehlo yelled out his command for Chris. And for once, Ehlo didn’t return Chris’ comment with some snarky remark. He tuned into the news segment.
“Justin Liu, Da Fa’s general manager, who was arrested early this morning is now believed to be involved with another case,” The news anchor said.
Ehlo and Wallace exchanged a look as the scene shifted away from the anchor’s desk to a footage of Justin Liu’s arrest that morning.
“The authorities arrested several men two hours ago. Two of the men had cooperated and gave their statements, identifying Justin Liu as the mastermind.”
“Is this news or gossip hour?” Chris complained, gesturing toward the screen.
Ehlo and Wallace didn’t say anything. They waited for the news anchor to do the usual gymnastic with the descriptions. The footage had shifted to two locations—one right in front of East Shore Café and the other in front of Wallace’s shop. Ehlo and Wallace did another exchange of looks.
“The two car accidents dubbed as possibly foul play had finally showed some evidence in that direction,” The news anchor continued.
Ehlo took that time to go fetch his phone, checking for more reliable sources. Yes, it was actually the local news station, at this rate, he was better off with other sources for verification.
“Here,” Ehlo said as Chris turned the volume down again. “It said that Justin Liu ordered these men to rig the cars and caused accidents around town. The targets were obviously Jacky and Wallace.”
“The authorities actually disclosed the actual targets?” Chris asked, his voice doubtful of Ehlo’s recount.
Ehlo handed his phone to Chris. “Yeah.”
Chris took it from Ehlo and read it in silence as Wallace thought things over.
“What else?” Wallace asked several minutes later.
They’d all been silent. The news update was still going on in the background.
“If it concerns you, someone should call you soon, right?” Ehlo said, sounding unsure, considering how the news already broke.
“Or they’re waiting for something else,” Wallace said, looking at Ehlo again.
Wallace shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Chris returned Ehlo’s phone to him as the three of them were lost in thoughts again.
Wallace’s answered came the following day. It was around lunch time. Ehlo and Wallace were once again at East Shore Café. They just wrapped up another meeting regarding the shop. Cynthia had left to take care of some matters. Achel had followed her to help while Andy decided to stay to brainstorm some new ideas with Chris. So that was why they were also there when the other two found out what happened.
“Hey, here’s your answer,” Ehlo said after he returned with a fresh cup of coffee for himself. He had also bought a newspaper and tossed it toward Wallace. “You’re on front page along with Jacky.”
Wallace’s reflex had kicked in, so he was able to catch it. As he smoothed the newspaper, Andy and Chris stopped working on their project and looked toward Wallace. Ehlo had settled down in his seat again as he stirred his coffee, his expression amused.
“Justin Liu’s sudden confession, the end of line for the chase,” Wallace read the headline.
“Terrible headline,” Andy said, cringing as he said that.
Ehlo nodded, still able to smile. “Exactly why I bought it.”
“You collect terrible headlines now?”
“Guys,” Chris interfered, anxious to hear about the so-called “confession” from Justin Liu—if that was indeed true as the article had made it out to be.
Ehlo and Andy quieted down—although Ehlo had gone back to stirring his coffee after taking a sip.
“After a night of intensity, Justin Liu had finally confessed of his role as the mastermind in the multiple car sabotages around town,” Wallace resumed reading. “According to Detective Chen, Justin Liu had some business with the late PI Will Chung. Liu admitted in sending out several of his men to interrogate Will Chung for information. He never intended to kill Will Chung. That, he said, was an accident. His men had brought back a small notebook, which contained the names of both Jacky Chu and Wallace Huo—who Liu believed might have been the clients who hired Will Chung to spy on him. That was why he ordered the attacks as warning for both. Before he could continue with his plan, he was arrested for his involvement with Unex’s embezzlement case.”
“It’s that simple?” Andy asked, his voice reeking of frustration. “Will died for nothing?”
Ehlo and Wallace exchanged an expression at that time. Ehlo took another sip out of his coffee cup before nodding.
“Life, huh?” Ehlo said after a moment of silence.
“But at least they found the killer, right?” Wallace followed. “I mean they are so many cases out there that never got solved.”
Chris actually raised his coffee cup at that time. “To Will?”
The other three took that moment to cling their cups to Chris’s. They knew too well Will wasn’t dead. Yet they had already promised Ambrose. It was for Will’s safety—regardless of outcome. After all, it wasn’t a total lie. Will was attacked and the police managed to find the culprit.
“So, we don’t have to worry about all these attacks anymore?” Chris asked after they drank a sip as a gesture—and not emptying out their cups.
Ehlo and Wallace exchanged a look again.
“Maybe just be careful a little longer,” Wallace said. “I meant until they had the trial and all. This is just what the authorities are willing to release to the public. We won’t know for sure until the trail’s over.”
Chris nodded. “Got it.”
Ehlo had on his troubled look at that time, contrary to his taunting expression from earlier. “With all this madness going on, you think CW’s going to go crazy?”
Because the others saw Ehlo’s serious expression, they knew he was genuinely concerned.
Wallace shrugged. “Maybe.”
And that was the last that they mentioned anything relating to Da Fa since after that comment, Wallace received a call. He had to leave for the police station. The other three ended up sticking around to focus on their own work until late into the afternoon.
On the way home, Ehlo stopped by Sonia’s place as the sun was setting. It was indeed strange. So it made sense that Sonia had on her surprised expression when she opened the door. Yet she didn’t say anything. She just offered him a smile and waited for him to speak up.
“You mind if we have a talk outside?” Ehlo asked.
Sonia still had on her puzzled expression. “Right here?”
Ehlo suddenly felt foolish. He took a quick glance around the front porch before giving Sonia his full attention again. “How about backyard?”
Sonia nodded before stepping back to let Ehlo in. He left his shoes by the door and donned the slippers Sonia had out for guests as she locked the door again. Then she led him through the hallway and all the way toward the back door. As they stepped outside, he had to smile.
“Nice garden,” Ehlo commented.
“I’m sure you’re not here to admire it.”
Ehlo smiled again. “Not today.”
“What did you want to talk about?”
Ehlo gestured toward the bench next to the door. She nodded, knowing he was asking for permission.
“So, um…” Ehlo struggled as Sonia sat down at the other side of the bench.
“If there’s anything wrong, you could just say it,” Sonia urged. She couldn’t help but smile then. “Since when did you need permission to speak your mind?”
Ehlo smiled also, feeling he deserved that. Yet he knew Sonia was kidding. He cleared his throat once before staring at Sonia with his serious expression. “I know it’s not my place, but have you talked to CW since…um…that day?”
Sonia knew Ehlo meant with what happened to Da Fa. Her serious expression had made its appearance also. She shook her head, admitting her cowardliness, knowing she didn’t need to hide it from Ehlo. “I wanted to go, but I don’t know what to say.”
“If you want to get back with him, you should say that,” Ehlo said.
Sonia turned to Ehlo with a surprised expression. She had looked toward a flowerpot soaking in the last ray of sun. Now, she had to turn to him, thinking that she must have misheard him. “I thought you said…”
Ehlo still had on his sad expression. “Sonia, we all know the last meeting was just a major troll fest for the majority of us. It was just getting back at him. Even though what we said was true, that we cared about your well-being. But in the end, it’s up to you. I thought it was good that you decided to step back and take a break from one another. But it was always up to you, Miss Sui, no one else. Besides…”
Sonia had on her nervous expression. “Besides?”
It was then that Ehlo’s mischievous expression made its appearance once again. “If you two do decide to get back together, you’re now ten times richer than them, considering how they just filed for bankruptcy and all. Your future in-laws can’t look down on you anymore.”
Sonia had to laugh at that. She even reached a hand out to hit him. Ehlo wasn’t offended though. They ended up laughing harder—despite the seriousness of the conversation previously. It was their laughing episode that had dissipated the intensity that was in the atmosphere.
© Thursday, October 8th, 2020
Posted: Friday, January 22nd, 2021