That Saturday, Ehlo was making something with his blender when the doorbell rang.
“Two guesses,” He said as Angela went to get the door.
“Ehlo,” Angela called out seconds later, panicked.
Ehlo turned off the blender and looked up to see Ricky Chang at the door.
“Funny how you’re showing up at random places now,” Ehlo said, approaching the door. He gestured for Angela to step back.
“Shi Rong,” Ricky Chang called, his voice patience and sad. “You must have heard Victoria resigned already.”
“Oh?” Ehlo returned, like it was the first time he heard of the news. It wasn’t. “Did you say resign?”
Ricky Chang nodded.
“Did I tell her to resign?”
Ricky Chang had another one of his stunned looks at that point. “But you…”
“I said confess, not resign. You need to be better at your listening skills, Chairman Chang. Now, could you not come here and bother my family?”
He shut the door right in Ricky Chang’s face after that.
“Ehlo,” Angela said, her worried look on. “You think that’s wise?”
Ehlo shrugged. “Why should I care if he stands there forever?”
“He’ll live, it’s not going to rain today.” He had on his cunning smile then. “Besides, who could say they shut the door in Ricky Chang’s face before? I’m one of the rare ones.”
“Try the only one.”
Angela shook her head. “I don’t know why I’m going along with this.”
Ehlo shrugged. “Because you secretly like to live on the edge.”
Angela shook her head again and headed back to the kitchen. Ehlo followed her and they continued to prep whatever it was they were prepping before.
By Monday, words had it that Wan Da was drowning. Another article was published at the same time regarding Wan Da that suggested that Wan Da used materials from the black market.
“This is getting out of control,” Andy said as he was reading the newspaper.
“I have no control over that article,” Ehlo said. “They write whatever they want.”
“Am I supposed to believe you have nothing to do with that?”
Ehlo shrugged. “Believe what you want, I guess. Like it matters.”
“If I wasn’t so worried that you might get Xiao Han killed, I’m actually impressed,” Chris said.
Ehlo rolled his eyes. “No one is getting killed here. We’re not shooting some gangster movie.”
“If you don’t have the backing of a gang, how could you survive this long in the game?”
Chris displayed his confused expression. “What?”
“You don’t know what psychology is?”
“Okay, Huang, this is my last offer,” Wallace said, walking in at that time.
“Put it on the table,” Ehlo said, washing his coffee cup out.
“You two talking to each other again?” Chris asked.
Andy wasn’t saying anything, yet he stopped reading the newspaper and was looking up at them as well. He and Chris were waiting for an answer from either party.
“Tony wanted stuff done,” Ehlo said. “I can be professional.”
Ehlo hung his cup on the rack before walking over to the table. He sat down at the seat on Andy’s right before leafing through the folder Wallace just placed there. Of course, he made sure to keep it at a level where Andy couldn’t read.
“Not bad,” Ehlo said, shutting the folder about five minutes later. “But I can up you one.”
After saying that, Ehlo actually pulled out a pen from one of his pockets and started to mark on the various points of the documents. He got up after that and handed the folder back to Wallace before leaving.
Wallace sighed out when Ehlo was already out of sight.
“I thought he said he can be professional,” Chris said, walking over to Wallace.
“Yeah, he wasn’t crowned the King of Pettiness for nothing,” Wallace said, letting out another sigh.
Andy stopped eating at that time and looked up at the other two. “What? He was crowned that? By whom?”
“He crowned himself when we were in high school.”
“What was the record time that you guys were mad at each other though?”
“What?” Chris asked in disbelief.
“Yeah, but it had a lot to do with all of us than just me and him.”
“Did it have to do with Jacky the last time?”
“Who’s going to bet them breaking the record this time?” Andy asked, raising his spoon at that time. He had actually started eating cereal awhile back, so that was why he had a spoon in his hand at that point.
“As much as I find this fascinating, I sure hope not,” Chris said.
Wallace said a few more words to the other two before exiting the break room. He had somehow stepped out in time to see Ehlo outside talking to someone. It looked intense.
“What’s going on here?” Wallace asked, making sure to raise his voice as he got closer to the other two.
“None of your business, Huo,” Ehlo said, turning to Wallace with an annoyed expression. “I can handle this.”
“You have until this afternoon to withdraw any additional attacks toward Wan Da,” That person who Ehlo was talking to said. “If not, the consequences are severe.”
“Excuse me?” Ehlo returned. “What are you going to do? Publish an article on me? Like describing how meticulous my projects can be? Are you sure the readers can handle it before they fall asleep? Oh, I forgot. It won’t make it to the press because even the editor will fall asleep before getting to the end of the first sentence.”
“We have some very damaging videos of you,” The other person said.
Wallace was about to speak up but Ehlo put a hand up to stop him. His eyes were still on that other person. “So, you mean those types of scandalous tapes? You want to play this game? That also means somehow you had your people violate my rights by spying on me. That could also mean some legal actions, your boss ready for this? Also, what makes you think I don’t have those on my side? Who do you think the public would be more interested in? Mine? Or Victoria’s? Tell Ricky Chang to try harder.”
“I didn’t say I was a part of Wan Da.”
“I started to play the paparazzi game before you could count, kid, keep trying.”
After saying that, Ehlo patted the other person on the shoulder real quick before leaving.
“Hey, I think he’s serious,” Wallace said, chasing after Ehlo.
“Yeah, he’s not going to go that way unless he wants Victoria to sink to the point of no return. You think I have more to lose or Victoria if something like that is released?”
“I told you you’re playing with fire. He would go after you with some random person that has nothing to do with Wan Da. Then he could say he never broke that clause.”
Ehlo smiled. “Funny that you fell for it, Huo. He was bluffing the whole time and so was I. Also, he’s not from Wan Da. That was the only truth he spoke the whole time.”
As Ehlo was unlocking his car though, Wallace saw someone walked by and escorted the reporter who was talking to Ehlo away. Then he turned to Ehlo again—who was now getting into his car.
“What is JT doing around here?” Wallace asked.
Ehlo shrugged. “How should I know? Isn’t he your wife’s friend? Why don’t you go and ask her?”
Just like that, Ehlo closed the door and gestured for Wallace to step back before he drove away. He was mad, not homicidal. He wouldn’t want Wallace dead. Yet.
Wallace did indeed go to talk to Yvonne about seeing JT at such a convenient time when Ehlo actually needed backup. However, it seemed like a dead end. Because Yvonne wasn’t able to convince JT to disclose much to her either. According to Yvonne—after she got off the phone with JT, that was—JT was just driving by and saw the reporter acting suspicious, so he decided to haul the reporter to the side to ask some questions. JT claimed it was cop instinct and he just needed to check that reporter out.
“Something’s going on here,” Yvonne said. “JT’s concealing information on purpose.”
Wallace wrinkled his face. “Do you think it has something to do with Ehlo?”
Yvonne looked like she was thinking it over. “It might just be a coincidence, I mean with Ehlo being around there. Maybe, just maybe, the cops know that Ehlo’s the leak for all of those random information Wan Da. The cops have been able to use some of that information to hook some of those managers. So, maybe, JT’s one of the people tagging Ehlo to find more leads. They do not know that Ehlo’s out of control right now, so they’re grasping at anything to see where it leads them.”
“So Ehlo accidentally stumbled into getting his own bodyguards?”
Yvonne shrugged. “You expect me to believe Ehlo’s in on it too?”
Wallace had to laugh at that. “You’re right. He’s already past his patience to play this long game with Wan Da. I expect it to wrap up soon. I mean, he got Victoria to resign already.”
Yvonne nodded. “I sure hope so. I’m really worried for Angela, but you know what happened the last time I tried to talk to her.”
“They’re really united this time; we can’t get through them.”
“Not until Ehlo’s done with his game, at least.”
By Friday, all gossips finally stopped. Because there was a breaking news segment around 5 A.M.
“Victoria Chang, ex-general manager of Wan Da was seen not long ago in front of the police station. Could she be connected to the case of ex-manager Dion Chen? Does she have information regarding the case? Is she cooperating with the authorities? Or is she another player in the group who had already been named?”
The answer? Victoria Chang was actually the leader of the group. She had come to confess. That was the sole reason why there were no more articles attacking Wan Da come early morning. At least not on purpose. Because the articles that published in the early parts of the morning were also in regard to Wan Da. However, it was about how most were shocked about Victoria’s involvement. The black-market rumors turned out to be true after all. Victoria, along with six other highly ranked employees of various companies, had been manipulating the markets by raking materials from the black markets. They were covering each other hence not getting exposed after all these years. The authorities had been trying to get some kind of confession or some inside information for years yet weren’t successful. They had some proof of one individual person being involved but could never get any additional solid evidence to link every one of the named individuals together. However, Ehlo’s paparazzi game had helped immensely with moving everything forward.
“Who had December?” Ehlo asked, looking at the others at Cynthia’s shop that morning. He had a glass of some type of liquid in his hands. He had taken a sip after asking the previous question.
Andy shook his head. “I had never.”
Ehlo turned to Andy, his glass pointing toward Andy. “You lacked so much faith in me?”
“Try having no faith at all.”
“I’m going to have to expel you out of our clan, kid.”
“What are we celebrating today?” Wallace asked, walking in at that time.
“Celebrating Victoria’s demise,” Chris answered, clinking his glass with Ehlo’s before emptying it. “I still prefer alcohol though, but I guess I can’t complain.”
“There’s no ‘we’, Huo,” Ehlo said. “Last time I checked, you said I would get burned. Still standing.”
“Now that the cops aren’t tagging you anymore, you think Ricky Chang’s going to let you off?” Wallace asked. “He’s going to honor that clause from Jan?”
Ehlo smiled, his cunning one. “Immatures.”
Ehlo turned to pour himself another glass of apple cider as Angela walked in.
“Ehlo,” Wallace called out, his voice serious. “You’re not taking this seriously at all. You more than prove that you can stay mad for the longest time, but this isn’t a joke.”
Ehlo turned his attention to Wallace after pouring a glass for Angela. “Did I ever say it was a joke?”
“Angela,” Wallace said. “Come on, when are you going to listen to me?”
“Maybe you should’ve listened to Ehlo,” Angela returned.
Wallace tossed his hands up in the air and went to lean by the sink instead of trying to squeeze into their circle at the table.
“Ehlo ge!” Achel called out at that time.
“What?” Ehlo returned, looking toward the door.
“Ricky Chang, he…”
Wallace straightened up and pointed at the door. “See?”
Achel had stepped aside since Ricky Chang had reached their area. Andy had also reached out to haul Achel over to his side of the room. Most of them had backed away from the entrance, except for Ehlo, Angela, and Wallace. Wallace had walked over to where Ricky Chang was standing, ready to do damage control.
“Ah, Chairman Chang,” Ehlo said, his voice casual. “What a surprise.”
“What have you done?” Ricky Chang asked, surveying his surroundings, and everyone present. “You’re celebrating your sister’s arrest?”
“Sister?” Andy asked, confused.
“Do you hate me that much that you’re willing to run Wan Da to the ground just like that?”
Ehlo shrugged. “I didn’t know that was my sister, you know, really shady background. Last I checked, I only have one sister, the one you abandoned, remember?”
If everyone was confused before, they were even more confused by now. It was just that they didn’t want to speak up to interrupt whatever was going on. Possibly the only one who didn’t seem to display traces of confusion was Angela, but she looked worried.
“Chairman Chang,” Wallace said, stepping closer to the other two. “I think there has been some kind of misunderstanding.”
Ricky Chang turned to Wallace, like he just saw Wallace for the first time in his life.
“He doesn’t know anything,” Ehlo said. “You don’t have to look at him.”
Ricky Chang returned his eyes to Ehlo. “Shi Rong, are you done with punishing me?”
Ehlo smiled. “I didn’t know you were suffering.”
“I admit that I didn’t search for you with all my effort, but at that time…”
Ehlo raised a hand up to stop Ricky Chang from continuing. “No need to visit the past anymore. Unless you can undo everything, don’t tell me.”
“Shi Rong, you can punish me, but don’t take it out on Victoria. What have you told her to make her go and confess to a crime she didn’t commit?”
Ehlo had on an amused smile. “You think I could persuade her to go and confess just like that? If I had such power, I would’ve avoided her from tanking Tian Cheng.”
“You’re not happy that I stopped? You want me to continue?”
“I know you’re mad, that’s why I let you release some steam, but when it comes to legal matters, you can’t play with the authorities like that.”
“You think Victoria is innocent?”
“Why would she be involved in such an activity?”
“How should I know? I’m not a criminal, so I don’t have a mind of one. You should go ask her yourself.”
Ehlo put his glass down on the table at that point. “I gave you plenty of chances. You decided not to take it, now you’re acting like you’re the victim. You know that your company’s situation would recover soon, right? Unlike my situation.”
“What do you want me to do to save Victoria?”
“Did I just tell you? There’s nothing you can do at this point. You missed all the deadlines. You’re done.”
“If you could only choose one, me or Victoria, who would you choose? Spoiler alert: If you choose me, I can help you save Victoria, but you’ll have to reveal your real relationship with her to the public. If you choose Victoria, Wan Da can sink with the both of you.”
“Ehlo…” Wallace finally interfered. He thought if he just stood nearby and listened, he would get an idea of the conversation in general. Yet the more he listened, the more confused he got.
Ehlo raised a hand up to stop Wallace once again, still looking at Ricky Chang. “What will it be, Chairman Chang?”
“If you’re willing to accept my apology, I will gladly prepare for your return,” Ricky Chang said. “But about Victoria’s past.”
“No,” Ehlo said. “You proved to me from the start, you do not want to pick me. You only wanted to save Victoria. In fact, from the start, you never believed a word I said. You were just playing a part. Because your lack of emotions had betrayed you. I knew from the start but didn’t want to expose you yet. Since it has come to this moment, I’ll tell you what, you’re right, I’m not Zhang Shi Rong. You would be crazy if you hadn’t verified the information on your own. But your lack of sincerity had showed me that you didn’t want to try. Your son was never that important to you. Why would I be surprised, considering how you treated Jan? Or were they both adopted and only Victoria is your daughter?”
“You…” Ricky Chang said, taking another step forward. “Huang Yu Rong, you won, what do you want me to do to let Victoria go?”
Ehlo smiled. “Your lack of memory makes me wonder how you could become famous in the first place or could still maintain some kind of footing in the industry until now. Didn’t I already tell you?”
Ehlo nodded. “Yes, but the game is to find both Jan and Jacky. If they happen be at one place, you earned yourself some bonus points—without even lifting a finger. Would you believe it? You love that, wouldn’t you? If you find them and convince them to come back here, I’ll tell you how to mend the situation. When I say ‘convince’, I mean talk to them, not threaten them or pressure them in any way. Also, if they somehow come back on their own, it doesn’t count. You have to be the one convincing them to come back.”
“You’re asking for the impossible.”
“It’s not impossible. The trial isn’t until March of next year. It could get moved back for all we know. If you could find those two by then, I’ll mend the situation for you. If not, call it that Victoria is finally facing consequences of her actions.”
“But she’s innocent.”
Ehlo scoffed. “Only you could believe that.”
Ricky Chang turned to leave then.
“And Chairman Chang,” Ehlo called.
Ricky Chang turned to face Ehlo again.
“Remember that clause. If you don’t, there will be consequences, but it won’t be just Wan Da that’s going to be tanking.”
Ehlo waved as a gesture to send Ricky Chang off at that point, so he finally turned to leave.
“That was totally normal,” Andy said when they were absolutely sure that Ricky Chang had left the shop and had driven away already. He went to check and report back to them himself.
“Ehlo, what in the world is going on here?” Wallace followed. He was about to lose it if Ricky Chang wasn’t living yet. He needed answers.
Ehlo didn’t answer yet had pulled his cell phone out. He dialed someone’s number before placing it over his ear. “You got that one? Okay. Thanks, JT.”
“JT?” Wallace said, shocked. “You had JT around the whole time?”
Ehlo nodded. “He has been following me since Day 1 of the plan.”
“Since Victoria already confessed, I feel no point in concealing this from you all.” He looked around the room real quick before continuing. “That day when I told Chen Yi and Qiao to walk home? JT was actually across the streets. He was hiding in his unmarked car. He followed me and asked me if I wanted to help with something. Considering how he kept seeing me at the Chang mansion. I asked you, Huo, you just didn’t want to join me. You can’t blame me for hiding it from you.”
“What you’re saying is, you’ve been in conspiracy with the cops this whole time?” Andy asked.
“It’s called cooperating with the authorities,” Ehlo said. “And yes, do you think without their backup, I could conceal my identity that long after so many articles released?”
“So Angela knew about this?” Wallace asked, turning to Angela.
Angela nodded. “Sure.”
Wallace looked at Ehlo again. “The cops told you to lie about your identity of being Ricky Chang’s long-lost son?”
“You’re trying to say I’m cruel, right? Go ahead, Huo. It was my idea alone, not the cops.”
The others could see the intensity between the two.
“Perhaps, you think it’s cruel,” Angela said, looking at Wallace. “But Ehlo didn’t pin anything on Victoria. What she did was her own doing.”
“That’s not the point,” Wallace said, sighing out. “We can’t play with people’s feelings like that.”
“Oh, is it the same thing as how you manipulated Jacky and Jan’s lives?” Ehlo asked, his hostility back on.
Wallace let out a long sigh. “Are you ever going to let that one go? I made a bad choice, okay? How many times do you want me to say it?”
“You even told me that we were pulled into their family drama, like you didn’t care for Jan at all after what she did for Tian Cheng.”
“I wasn’t wrong about that.”
“In order for it to be their family conflict, Jan had to be at least involved in it. But did she? It was Victoria’s way to rope Jacky in. You know it, I know it. But you chose to brush it off like it was Jan’s fault that it happened.”
“I didn’t mean…”
Ehlo shook his head. “You can’t backpaddle on this one, Huo.”
Ehlo placed his glass back on the table. He had picked it up after Ricky Chang left, but now had to abandon it again.
“If Jacky ever comes back, you can call it even. But if he doesn’t, it’s done.”
Ehlo left after that.
Wallace was walking around alone on his birthday. It was actually the same street that had a diner they once celebrated Jacky’s birthday. They had swapped it with Tang Feng, yet it wasn’t much different. He could almost hear the laughter they shared that time. Ehlo had picked on several of them relentless, claiming the maturity card. Although that was far from the truth, some of them went along with it. Or at least no one could outtalk Ehlo. There was no point anyway.
Wallace smiled as he stood in front of the shop, wishing that he could take back the past. Because he really couldn’t predict what would come out of it. How could he? He miscalculated. Because he had overreached his role as a friend. He was way too overprotective of them. He realized Ehlo was right. Ricky Chang might or might not deserve the deceit, but Jan definitely didn’t deserve the hostility—regardless of who her father was.
“Hey, are you going to enter?” Someone behind him said. “If not, don’t block the way.”
Wallace stepped out of the way and muttered an apology to the other party. Yvonne had insisted on celebrating with him. He knew she meant well. That was the only reason why he even stepped foot outside that day at all.
“Surprise!” A crowd yelled as Wallace entered.
“Gotcha, didn’t I?” Ehlo asked, stepping toward a very stunned Wallace and placing a hat on his head. He even took it up to another notch by swinging his hands around Wallace’s shoulders. “I told you I would get you one of these years.”
“It was really good,” Andy said, smiling. “Qiao and I walked by him and even scolded him, but he didn’t even recognize us.”
Wallace finally realized that the two people who were bundling up in their oversized coat for no apparent reason was actually Joanne and Andy. Sure, it was cold. But he didn’t know why they had to cover their faces with scarfs too.
“How do you like it, huh?” Ehlo asked, finally pulling away from Wallace and looking at him for answers.
Wallace smiled. “You got me good, Huang.”
Ehlo had on his proud look then. “Told you I could pull it off.”
“So, you weren’t really mad at me this whole time? Like the past four months?”
“Of course, I was,” Ehlo said. “But only at first. Later, I realize I could work this into my grand plan, nice, right?”
“Come on, man, it’s not like someone died.”
“Huang Yu Rong!” Everyone else yelled.
“Okay, okay,” Ehlo said, putting his hands up to shield himself from their wraths. He turned to Wallace again after the others already quieted down. “I thought I teach you a lesson about hiding stuff from us when I only vaguely asked you about joining me in bringing down Wan Da. But you know what? Lucky for you because guess who came back?”
Wallace wasn’t paying attention. He was still overwhelmed by what was going on. When Ehlo brought that up, he finally took time to scan the crowd carefully. There to the left corner was Jacky and Jan. They were smiling like the rest of the group. So it must have turned out all right?
Wallace turned to Ehlo then. “How?”
Ehlo gestured toward the tables nearby. “Sit down, man. We have a lot to catch up on.”
Wallace didn’t mind Ehlo’s bossy nature this time. He sat down next to Yvonne as the others gathered around and situated themselves.
“First off,” Ehlo said. “Cake.”
Ehlo gestured his hand and someone toward the back had turned off the lights.
Wallace didn’t know what to wish for. Yet he felt his wish had already come true. Because what more could he ask for? This was a second chance. And he was going to take it.
© Sunday, November 15th, 2020
Posted: Tuesday, January 2nd, 2021