Chapter 18 – Cold War

A week later, Ricky Chang returned from a business trip. He seemed to miss all of the drama surrounding what happened. Yet the damage was already done. In the papers that Jan signed, it also included the part where Victoria or anyone within Wan Da could never bother anyone of the people named in the terms any longer. It was a lifetime agreement. It was a way out for all of them.

Jan, like she promised, was no longer at Uncle Ben and Aunt June’s place either. She returned that day, helped them a little, and followed them home to get her stuff before bidding her farewell. Whatever that was said during that meeting with the four of them in the Chang mansion wasn’t disclosed except for what was mentioned by Wallace to the others later. Whatever that was said during that meeting probably had to do with Jacky’s disappearance as well. Since then, Ehlo and Wallace’s cold war had reached another level. It got to the point where Ehlo had outright told the others that he did want to hear about Wallace anymore. If they wanted to be around him, that was.

In other development, Mark was finally taking leave, considering how he couldn’t find Jan anyway. He had a feeling she was elsewhere, and he would locate her one day. On the day he left, Chris and Margaret went to send him off.

Yes, Margaret was back. Or at least no longer in hiding. She had recovered a little after the rejection from Chris. She had mentioned that she wasn’t giving up. And that his fling was going to end soon. She had hope. And she made it clear. Chris had also told her that she had no hope, but she wasn’t having any of that. She wanted to wait. Regardless, somehow, they were talking to each other again.

“You didn’t need to send me off,” Mark said, his hostility apparent. “It’s not like anyone I care about is here.”

“Hey, Little Bro,” Chris said, clapping Mark’s shoulder. “You don’t mean that. I know you’re upset, but…”

“You know, out of all of you, only Ehlo’s cares, the rest of you are just being fake. So, just stop.”

“Hey that’s unfair,” Margaret said. “It’s Jan’s choice. Besides, what Wallace said is right, it was their family conflict all along and we just got roped into it.”

Mark scoffed. “There is no ‘we’, okay? Where were you when anything important around here happened? You’re just my brother’s new fling.”

“Hey!” Chris yelled out. “That’s enough, Mark. I know you’re upset, but you shouldn’t be targeting people who have nothing to do with this.”

Mark had on an amused smile. “You know what? Why am I fighting this anyway? You two deserve each other.”

After saying that, Mark turned to leave.

“Hey!” Chris yelled.

But Mark had gotten on the bus already. He didn’t care to look back even once.

*****

In the first week of October, Wallace came to talk to Ehlo at Cynthia’s shop. They’d been skirting around each other since that day at the Chang mansion. Yet Wallace had had enough.

“What do you want me to do, Huang?” Wallace asked. “That you would acknowledge my existence again.”

Cynthia, Andy, Achel, and Joanne were also there yet they were just there to get the day started. Joanne was on her way out yet had stopped when Wallace entered.

“I don’t know, Huo,” Ehlo said, looking up from his phone. “Maybe act like an actual human-being instead of seeking self-preservation when there are problems around the horizon?”

“Ehlo,” Joanne called out. “Don’t you think it’s getting a little too much? It has been months now.”

“So?” He turned to Wallace again. “You want me to acknowledge your existence again? Fine, tank Wan Da.”

“What?” Everyone else asked at that the same time. Everyone else except for Wallace, that was. He was staring at Ehlo in wonderment.

“You want my acknowledgment? Tank Wan Da and without Ambrose or Tony’s help.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Joanne said, wrinkling her face.

“Wan Da’s number 3 now,” Andy followed. “How could anyone tank them without Ambrose or Tony’s help?”

Ehlo smiled. “You know what’s more powerful than money?”

Andy wrinkled his face. “More money?”

Ehlo shook his head. “No.”

He took that time to head to the sink and clean his cup and putting it on the rack to dry before leaving.

“He’s kidding, right?” Andy asked, scanning the remaining parties’ faces.

“Apparently not,” Joanne said, her worried expression on.

Wallace left after that as well. It was like he was really thinking about what Ehlo said.

*****

By mid-October, there was indeed some type of shift. Whether it was Wallace’s doing or not, it was debatable. Because it came in the name of paparazzi. There were several articles published about Wan Da’s fishy business deals and also the various members of Wan Da. Interestingly enough, some of them came out to be true—or had some kind of merit, because it had attracted the local authority’s attention. That also led to the stock of Wan Da tanking and even more rumors traveling around the industry.

One day at the end of October when Ehlo was at East Shore Café working on a proposal for his latest project, Ricky Chang appeared in front of him. He seemed unfazed as the opposite party sat down in front of him. Like he got nothing to lose.

“Don’t you think it’s time to stop this game of yours?” Ricky Chang asked when Ehlo didn’t say or acknowledge his presence.

Ehlo gathered his documents together and placed it into a large envelope before addressing Ricky Chang. “How does it feel like to be powerless? Or should I say helpless about matters? It’s not like those things published weren’t true. If they weren’t, would the authorities waste their time? You know, I don’t know why you’re so upset. You should be thanking me for getting rid of all those dead weight in your company. Isn’t that what your precious daughter like to say? Dead weight? Talking about her though, she’s the main character of the next article. Just wait for Monday.”

“Is this revenge for Tian Cheng?”

Ehlo smirked. “You think this is about Jacky? No, your precious daughter made it about him. But me? I got bigger fishes to fry. If I get rid of you, I would be doing everyone else a favor.”

“You know when you play the paparazzi game, you won’t walk away with it untouched.”

Ehlo scoffed. “So what? Even if I get exposed for being the source that brought down Wan Da, I got nothing to lose.”

“For a married man, you sure are behaving reckless.”

Ehlo smiled, an amused one this time. “You think you could threaten me? I’ll have you know, in the clause, I’m untouchable. Oh, you remember Jan? Your other daughter who has no use to your company and you only pretend to give her lodging, so you could appear to be a model father while she gets the black sheep of the family title. Nice, right?”

Ehlo got up at that time and made an attempt to leave.

“What happened with Tian Cheng, I didn’t want it to happen either. I already talked to Victoria. It won’t happen in the future ever again. As for Janice, you don’t know what’s happening in my family. I believe you don’t have the right to interfere with what’s happening in my household, just like I don’t interfere with yours.”

Ehlo scoffed again. “Funny that you say it won’t happen ever again. You know why it won’t happen again? It’s because it’s covered in the clause. Try harder. And as for Jan, you want to say what’s happening to her is made up by Jun, Mark, and the rest of her friends? That Victoria is actually the victim? Why am I interfering? As a person that is actually a human being on this earth, I want to do a little cleaning up. You don’t like being exposed? Don’t be such a scumbag then.”

After saying that, Ehlo finally left.

*****

By November, not only was the article on Victoria published but also a small clip of Ricky Chang threatening Ehlo was also released. Of course, some parts of the clip were edited out to protect Ehlo’s identity, but the rest were kept. It once again tanked the stocks and sent everyone into a panic. The next person who came to talk to Ehlo at the end of that week wasn’t anyone from Wan Da, but Wallace.

“You’re playing with fire, Huang,” Wallace said the minute he entered the house.

Ehlo was in the back cleaning out the grill and getting ready to cover it up. Angela was the one who let Wallace in.

“So?” Ehlo returned. “You’re mad for them?”

“I’m concerned for you.”

“I told you, you didn’t want to make the first move, so don’t blame me for doing it first.”

“You’re being reckless, Huang. Aren’t you thinking of Angela at all?”

Ehlo smirked. “So now you’re concerned for Angela? Or is that a threat? Are you working with Ricky Chang now?”

“I told you, Ricky Chang is a dangerous man.”

“Got it, very famous, very dangerous. Already heard it plenty of times, still standing.”

“You think just because of that clause, he won’t touch you? What if he uses some other type of network to get to you? That wouldn’t violate the clause at all.”

“Your point?”

Wallace followed Ehlo into the house at that time. Angela was making some kind of drink. Ehlo had reached into a cabinet to pull out some glasses for her.

“Angela, can you reason with him?” Wallace asked, looking at an unfazed Angela who was just doing her usual tasks like nothing was happening. Not even the argument between the two guys.

Angela finally looked at Wallace. “What do you want me to say? That I’m siding with you? That I think we shouldn’t go after Ricky Chang? That we should move on with our lives?”

“But he…”

“He’s endangering my life? If you feel like we’re in danger, then you could just step back, you know, like what you did to Jan.”

Wallace’s frustration had been apparent since he entered the house. Yet it had taken to a new height when he realized Angela had been converted too. What gave? Because since the beginning of his conflict with Ehlo, most of them had kept it neutral or try to mend the situation by suggesting different events that would bring the two together again. Huang and Huo at odds? For more than a day? Or two? It had been months now. It was impossible that they hadn’t reconciled yet. Now? Even Angela was on board?

“Angela, you know why I had to do it,” Wallace said.

“Just because we didn’t know her long, you think it’s best to cut our losses and let her go?” Angela returned. She was no longer working on the drinks. “Is she dead weight, Wallace? Is she?”

“Why are you both like this?”

“Yeah, we’ve been replaced by robots and that’s our only command now,” Ehlo said, giving Wallace a full glare. “Like Angela said, if you don’t like it, you can just step away. You wouldn’t want to endanger your wife by socializing with us, right?”

Wallace turned to Angela again yet saw that she had resumed her tasks. He looked at Ehlo one last time before leaving the house. He made sure to slam the door.

*****

On the following Monday, Victoria finally came to see Ehlo. He was once again at East Shore Café working on some proposal.

“So, what grants me such an honor to have you in front of my presence, Your Royal Highness?” Ehlo said as soon as she showed up.

“What have I ever done to you?” Victoria asked, her hands on her hips.

“You know Jacky?”

“What?”

“You know Jacky?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“I haven’t seen him in three months,” Ehlo said. “We all know it’s thanks to someone.”

“You’re blaming me for his father’s terrible business sense?”

Ehlo scoffed. “We all know what you did, Victoria. Don’t need to backpaddle.”

Victoria had turned another shade of red. “What do you want with me?”

“Confess.”

“What?”

“Confess.”

“What are you saying? You’re not making sense.”

Ehlo smiled, an amused one. “Oh, so now the general manager of Wan Da is acting dumb? I find it hard to believe.”

“You’re really unreasonable.”

Ehlo had been checking his phone the whole time, not even looking at Victoria. Not since she arrived. Now, he placed his phone down and stared right at her. “Am I? How do you like it when you’re being manipulated? Or how powerless you are? Don’t like it? Don’t do it to others. It’s that simple.”

Victoria’s hands finally returned to her sides. “Is this about Jan?”

“Oh? Did I mention Jan?”

“What could this be about?”

“I already told you. You want me to stop, confess. It’s that simple.”

“You’re asking for the impossible.”

“How hard is it to just walk in there and confess? Oh, you can’t get someone else to take the fall for you if you do that, right?”

After that, Ehlo got up and left.

*****

When mid-November came around, the rumors regarding Wan Da got even more extreme. It was no longer about the business front but had bordered toward gossip zone. Because one of the rumors that surfaced was about how Victoria wasn’t really Ricky Chang’s daughter. The fact that even some of the parties within the industry believed it—or showing signs that they thought it might be legit—made things even worse. And when things were worse, that also meant stocks were tanking again. It was like it was never going to let up for them.

“Come to think of it,” Uncle Ben said one afternoon when Chris stopped by with Joanne, Andy, and Achel. “I never heard anything about Victoria until after Jan’s brother went missing.”

Chris had to laugh at that time. “Come on, Uncle Ben, we all hate Victoria, but let’s not humor those gossip magazines.”

“I’m not lying. I never heard anything about her before that.”

“It was thirty years ago, Uncle Ben,” Andy said. “Everyone forgets the details here and there.”

Chris nodded in agreement. “I mean, Ricky Chang isn’t crazy enough to have some outsiders manage his business all these years, can he?”

“Now you’re an expert?” Uncle Ben asked. “You kids think I’m crazy? I still remember what happened like it was yesterday.”

Chris shook his head and went back to eating. Uncle Ben soon got called from one of the new customers arriving and wanting to order, so they were spared of his tales. Yet the four of them couldn’t help but feel amused about that as well. Uncle Ben usually did not engage in gossip. So that was a new for them.

*****

The last week of November became a crucial mark for most businesses—if it wasn’t already, considering how most places had already propped up a plan for the next year. Especially big companies. What about Wan Da? They should already be done with their projections, right? They were already way ahead of the game several months back. But thanks to Ehlo’s paparazzi game, their plan had gone out the window. The only leverage they got left was their elaborate networks and connections that had kept them afloat. They reaped on those not believing in rumors, thinking that it was just a phase. That someone was out to target them because they were indeed a successful company. But also, that person who targeted them wasn’t going to last for long. Because it was all a childish game to gain attention. Yet when November hit and the rumors weren’t dying down, companies began to hesitate, especially after that rumor about Victoria.

What was Wan Da’s final attempt at damage control to prevent their investors from leaving? Ehlo got another visit from Ricky Chang. It was once again at East Shore Café, but it wasn’t because Ricky Chang suddenly showed up out of nowhere like the first time he approached Ehlo. He actually made an appointment. Ehlo only agreed to a meeting at a public place. Ricky Chang had no choice but to agree. It was possibly their last chance to convince Ehlo. Yet Ehlo had the upper hand because he had arrived first and even ordered coffee for Ricky Chang.

“So, coffee?” Ehlo asked, gesturing toward the container that was at the opposite of his spot.

Ricky Chang sat down and actually made a move to open the lid and take a sip.

“Nice,” Ehlo said. “How fearless that you didn’t even care if I put poison in it.”

“You…” One of Ricky Chang’s men yelled out.

Ehlo stared at that person. “Nice that you brought someone else around this time. Kind of uneven, you know. But may I remind you that you want me here?”

Ricky Chang gestured for the other guy to leave.

“But, Boss…” The other guy said. “He’s really cunning.”

“So, you’re saying your boss is incapable of taking care of himself?” Ehlo asked, taking a casual sip out of his coffee cup.

“Go,” Ricky Chang urged as the other guy wanted to say something else.

The guy was still huffing and puffing yet left as ordered.

“So, here we are again,” Ehlo said. “Nice weather, isn’t it?”

It was overcast and the wind was on the rise. But it wasn’t like Ricky Chang was there to enjoy a day with the family or something.

“I hope you’re not recording us today,” Ricky Chang said, getting right to the point.

“Insurance,” Ehlo said, shrugging.

“What do you want, Ehlo? What do you really want with me?”

Ehlo shrugged again. “You know, I don’t remember why I’m doing this anymore. But according to some people, I’m playing with fire. Might as well let it burn everything down, right? We’re all going to die one day anyway, why not take some risks? I might go down, but I took down Wan Da, a big deal to a lot of people, with me.”

“What would make you stop all of this silly game of yours?”

Ehlo took another sip out of his coffee cup. “Oh, you want me to give you a list of what to do? Victoria didn’t share notes with you?”

“You can’t expect Victoria to just resign. It would just cause even more chaos within the company.”

Ehlo shrugged again. “I don’t know, not my company.”

“Your father also has a big company, what would you think if someone messes with it? Someone who doesn’t acknowledge how hard it was to build such a company?”

“What was Victoria’s motive in entering that deal in the first place? Did you even care? You said you weren’t going to enter that auction in the first place. You can thank your precious daughter for what’s happening now. I thought I told you that last time.”

“We’re not getting anywhere with this roundabout talk. Just tell me what you want.”

Ehlo finally placed his coffee cup down on the table. He reached for his phone and did some tapping. “You love lists, so of course, you don’t care anything else aside from that. Human feelings, those inconveniences of life, right?”

“Ehlo…”

Ehlo could see that Ricky Chang was on the edge now. But he didn’t care. “Here it is. Number one, find Jacky. Number two, find Jan. Number three…”

“That’s impossible,” Ricky Chang said. “I wouldn’t know where they are.”

“Did you bother to look for Jan in the past three months?”

“Thanks to you, the company has been in chaos.”

“What about before then? Did you bother looking? Nothing was happening after that, you know.”

“I need more time, you need to stop the attacks. I need to reassure the investors and…”

Ehlo got up then. “Time? It’s actually really easy. You can trace Jacky’s packages to find out where he is exactly, you know. He keeps sending Producer Lin his segments, so Producer Lin is your best chance. If you find Jacky first, I’ll give you two days’ worth of cushion. You have until the end of the week to find him.”

“If you know where to find him, then why are you asking me to do it?”

“Oh? I didn’t know I was supposed to look for him. Whoever drove him away should be the one finding him, right?”

“I didn’t…”

“Oh? You didn’t. But you have no problem cleaning things up for your precious daughter. I thought you wouldn’t mind doing that too.”

“I thought we were going to have a real talk today.”

Ehlo shrugged again. “You think talking about the people who matter in my life is not relevant? Okay, fine. Go ahead and tank. I’ll chip in something for the go away party with your investors.”

“Aside from the other two demands, what else do you want?”

Ehlo looked like he was thinking it over. Then he looked like he just remembered something. He smiled then. “Oh yeah, almost forgot, did Victoria confess yet?”

Ricky Chang had on his confused look. “Confess to what?”

“No? I guess that’s a shame. Maybe she should do that. I’ll let you breathe for a week if she confesses.”

“You’re really unreasonable.”

“You didn’t know that when you decided to talk to me?”

“Pettiness isn’t going to get you far in life.”

Ehlo smiled and shook his head. “Not working, Chairman Chang. You calling me names is just going to fuel my energy even more. You don’t even know how proud I am of my title. Did you know I was crowned ‘King of Pettiness’ in high school? No? because that didn’t happen. I actually crowned myself. So, keep trying.” He paused. “Or you know, there could be a more reasonable explanation to all of these events happening.”

“What?”

Ehlo scanned the perimeter real quick before turning to Ricky Chang. He just did that for dramatic purposes since there wasn’t anyone else within sight. He even took it a step further by leaning into Ricky Chang and whispered the next few words.

“I’m your missing son, Zhang Shi Rong (張世榮). And I’m back for revenge.”

After saying that, Ehlo took a step back, leaving Ricky Chang stunned.

“How soon you forgot me just after the authorities declared me dead,” Ehlo continued. “What did you do after that? You brought Victoria in and tossed Jan aside. My poor sister, not understanding why no one cares for her anymore. What was worse? You sent her away when you realized she was making friends outside. Did you know she was hanging out with her missing brother during those two years? If you at least tried to step outside of your royal palace, you would’ve found me. But no, you decided to move on. Because people move on, right? Just like how you and Victoria tried to force that concept on my deceased brother-in-law, right? Now I wonder if you actually orchestrated Albert’s death. That was why Victoria didn’t let Jan near Albert before he died. You showing up late at the hospital was just a convenient excuse. Nothing more than a distraction from the truth.” Another pause. “You know how I was still alive? The Huangs were coming back in town from their vacation and found me by the roadside and took me to the hospital. I got hit by a car when I was trying to run away. Because of blood loss and head trauma, I forgot most of what happened already. But you know what’s funny? Memory is a tricky thing. It turned out I could remember if there are events in my life that could trigger it. And you know what was the trigger? Coming into contact with my sister again.”

Ehlo left for real after that.

Ricky Chang was still standing there, numbed and stunned. It was like the first real reaction in his life. Or possibly since his wife died and his son went missing.  

The result of that unfruitful meeting? Victoria finally resigned as general manager of Wan Da by the end of the week. That indeed was a dramatic mark for the business industry in general to wrap up November.  

© Saturday, November 14th, 2020

Posted: Monday, February 1st, 2021

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