It was raining again. It was like it ought to. Because it needed to. The atmosphere and the blood-covered roads had to be cleansed. The dripping pattern had become part of their routines these past days. They were waiting the rain out. It was days after Cyndi recovered her memories. She finally let Jiro take care of her again. Her outburst and breakdown did not guarantee Jiro’s spot at all. She had sent them to exile for the past few days. The rain had accompanied them as they were recovering–both physically and emotionally.
While Jiro was in Cyndi’s room, eating with her, the others were out by the den. They were watching the rain. Calvin and Joanne were taking turns changing one another’s cloth. The others were also nearby–scattered out at different spots. Chun was the only one missing. He had not associated himself with them since they were released. He only stayed awhile to watch the events unfolded between Jiro and Cyndi. That was it.
“When will this rain stop?” Angela asked, sighing out. She had been leaning on the rail, staring out.
“What difference does it make?” Joanne asked back. It was her turn to change the cloth on Calvin’s arm.
Angela sighed out again.
“Are you going to leave when it stops raining then?” Sharon asked. She did not sound mean. She hadn’t been snapping at them since they were released. For very strange reasons.
Angela hesitated, still staring at the rain.
“You don’t want to?” Joanne pressed, her attention still on her task.
“Will your father let me?”
“Unless you’re here on other business, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Our fathers were just worried that you guys would be the target because you were seen with us, so we had to take you along,” Sharon explained.
Joanne and Sharon exchanged a look as they waited for Angela’s answer. What was with her?
“What about you, Sophia jie?” Joanne asked, turning to Sophia.
Jacky and Sophia were sitting somewhat near one another. They weren’t really talking but their expressions said otherwise. It was like they were silently communicating with one another. Or were they fearing of speaking up? They hadn’t talked to each other since the other day. After Jacky found out about the past. Though he had planned to ask her when they got out of there.
“I don’t know,” Sophia replied. “I’m getting attached to being around everyone…for some reason.”
“You’re saying you’re treating us like family?” Sharon asked, surprised.
Sophia shook her head. “I’m not sure what to call it either.”
“Maybe you haven’t been around people for a while so….”
“You could always stay with us,” Joanne jumped in, not wanting to part with Sophia either.
Sophia turned to look at Joanne, her expression tired. “Should I?”
“Stay as long as you like.”
“Why are you kids sitting out in the rain?” Mr. Tseng’s voice entered the room.
They turned to see Mr. Tseng walking out to the den.
“We’re not sitting under the rain,” Joanne justified. “Not really. The roof’s protecting us from it. And of course, the bulletproof glasses.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Mr. Tseng said.
“We’re getting some fresh air.”
Jacky had gotten up. “Boss…”
“Go ahead and stay with them,” Mr. Tseng said. “I’m just checking in on her.”
“Ba…” Joanne called out. “How’s it going with the conference?”
Yes, the three sworn brothers had been in a conference after the other two managed to calm Mr. Wang down. They were deciding the future of the gang.
“As long as Luther’s out there, we can’t guarantee anything,” Mr. Tseng replied, sighing out. He turned to Angela and Sophia. “I’m sorry to say you two still have to stay with us for a while.”
Sophia nodded, understanding the situation. Angela was about to say something, but she suppressed it.
“I heard Qiao Qiao say…” Mr. Tseng continued, his voice not so confident. “We cost your job.”
Joanne turned to Sophia. “I’m sorry, I had to say it.”
Sophia shook her head, answering both at the same time. “Everything has already passed.”
Mr. Tseng still had on his serious look. “Whatever you need us to help you with in the future, we’ll never hesitate.”
“I don’t need anything. Your gang is already willing to take me in at such a time.”
“I know!” Joanne jumped in. “How about we marry Jacky ge off to her?”
Sophia had her head down, not knowing what to say. Though she had experienced a lot of things in her life, mostly bitter, she was not able to reply to Joanne’s blunt words either. Jacky was also looking at some point around the room.
“Qiao Qiao!” Mr. Tseng chided her, knowing too well his daughter was up to no good again. “Stop making others uncomfortable.”
“I’m serious,” Joanne justified herself. “How else are we going to repay Sophia jie for what she’d done for us?”
“I didn’t help much,” Sophia said, finally lifting her head up again.
“If you want to attend a wedding, convince Uncle Wang to let Jiro and Cyndi get married again,” Sharon spoke up.
The others realized she was right.
Joanne turned to her father. “Ba…”
“I don’t know about that,” Mr. Tseng admitted. “It’s a miracle that he’s letting Jiro and Cyndi interact again.”
“But it wasn’t Jiro’s fault with what happened in the past,” Joanne reasoned.
“That’s right,” Sharon seconded.
Mr. Tseng scratched his chin, tugging at his beard. “I don’t know. You know Old Wang.”
“Could you please convince him?” Joanne asked. It was not a princess’ request or an attempt to put her father in a hard spot. She was practically begging.
“You and Dad always have a way with Uncle Wang, right?” Sharon urged, her expression was as pleading.
The others were as anxious, yet they did not know how to react.
“All right,” Mr. Tseng said. “I’ll try my best.”
“Yay!” Joanne jumped up from her place, pulling Sharon along with her. “I could get my dress out again.”
“But we might have to wait since we need to put up a memorial service for the others…”
“You’re the best!” Joanne yelled out her appreciation for her father.
“Take good care of her,” Mr. Tseng said, looking at Calvin–and not Jacky. “Her future is in your hands now.”
Joanne and Sharon stopped dancing. Calvin got up from his place, confused.
“Sir…” Calvin managed.
The rest of the group was exchanging looks among themselves while they waited for Mr. Tseng to speak up again.
“You all think I’m blind?” Mr. Tseng inquired, his attention still on Calvin.
The others shook their heads, still staying silent.
“You two have been carrying on since these past few days,” Mr. Tseng said, eyeing his daughter and Calvin. “I didn’t want to say anything because of Old Wang but now that things have been cleared already, it would be a shame if you two don’t get together, right?”
“Ba!” Joanne said, feeling uneasy suddenly. Indeed, only her father could control her or make her nervous.
Mr. Tseng ignored his daughter. “So what do you say, Calvin?” He paused, waiting for Calvin but Calvin was still silent. “My daughter not good enough for you?”
“Uh…no, sir,” Calvin stuttered, feeling panicky. “I mean…uh…”
Joanne’s face scrunched up again. “Well, I for one object to this bizarre proposal.” She crossed her hands together.
If Calvin was in a panic before, he looked worse at the moment.
“On what grounds?” Mr. Tseng asked. “I thought you like him.”
“He said that I’m being childish, spoiled, and…” Joanne rattled off, using her fingers to list the reasons.
“But…but…” Calvin stuttered. “I didn’t say those things.”
Joanne turned to face him. “Yes, you did.”
“Now you’re childish,” Sharon blurted out, shaking her head. “Knock it off and get together already.”
“Not until he agrees to my terms,” Joanne said, refusing to give Calvin a break.
“What do you want him to do then?” Sharon asked. “Climb some mountain? Jump down some ocean?” She faked a yawn. “Been done before.”
“He has to listen to me from now on. Can’t bully me and…”
Sharon was already on the ground, laughing away. Angela had to thumb her on the back because she had choked. It was almost too strange that Sharon did not mind having Angela’s help. She even leaned on Angela for support. When she regained herself, she began laughing again.
Joanne’s face scrunched up once more. “Very funny.”
“Who are you kidding?” Sharon asked, trying to stop laughing. “He’s already trained to take our orders.”
“He doesn’t seem to know it.”
“I oblige,” Calvin spoke up suddenly.
Joanne turned and pointed at him. “You have to keep to your end. If not…”
“Got it, Miss Joanne,” Calvin said, traces of playfulness crept into his voice.
They thought she was going to lean in and hug Calvin, but she turned and hugged her father instead. “Ba, you’re the best!”
“Flattery won’t get you everywhere,” Mr. Tseng said, patting his daughter on the shoulder.
“It did get me somewhere,” Joanne returned, not backing down.
“All right,” Mr. Tseng said to everyone in general after he and his daughter separated. “You don’t have to act all formal when Old Hsiao and I are around but watch out for Old Wang. Until we could convince him to get the wedding going.”
“Is it a double wedding?” Sharon asked. She was obviously eyeing Calvin and Joanne.
Joanne sneered, ready to strike.
“Hey!” Sharon said, returning the attack. “I’m helping you here.”
“Someone’s still under surveillance,” Joanne said, her voice all business again.
“Fine then. How should I know?”
The girls had stopped fighting already. Mr. Tseng left them after that.
“What are we going to do now?” Joanne asked, settling down between Calvin and Sharon.
“Plan for your wedding,” Sharon said, her teasing smile on.
“You seriously want me to teach you a lesson?” Joanne asked.
“If you dare…”
Joanne already did. Sharon did not finish. It was all tickling this time. The others shook their heads. They settled down to watch the rain after Sharon finally apologized to Joanne. Each of them lost in thoughts once again.
That night when the others were already asleep, Angela was sitting alone in the den. She had claimed she needed some time alone after dinner and had been watching the rain since.
“Need advice?” Sophia’s voice reached her ears suddenly.
Angela turned around to see Sophia stepping in. She had shut the door earlier, wanting ultimate silence. Yet it did not make any difference anymore. Everyone had gone to sleep. It was only her and the night. And now Sophia.
“I’m confused,” Angela admitted when Sophia settled down at a chair next to her.
They watched the night in silence for a bit.
“There’s nothing to think about really,” Sophia said after a minute. “Either stay here or leave.”
Angela turned to look at Sophia. She did not know how to make of the words.
“If you choose to leave, then that means you’re choosing your duty over this friendship,” Sophia clarified. “If you could call it friendship. But once you’ve chosen, don’t regret it.”
Angela had on her shocked look. “You knew?”
Sophia nodded. “I heard the gunshots when we were fighting that day. It was definitely police firearms and not some random gun you picked up from the compartment we found.”
“But the others…”
“They couldn’t tell because there were so much going on and unless you’re a cop, you can’t tell exactly.”
Angela sighed out. “I thought I was doing good when I agreed to take on this job, but it has gotten me more confused than ever.”
“That’s the hard part about being undercover. You can’t shrug off the authenticity of how well the others treat you.”
“Have you ever been undercover before?”
Sophia shook her head. “I was mostly training and doing some regular duties before being assigned to that big case.”
Angela sighed out again. “Being with them every day, seeing everyone so united, even if they were causing one bloodshed after another, but…”
“That’s why you kept wanting to convert them?”
Angela nodded. “I knew I upset Chun because of how ignorant I sounded but…it was an attempt to…” She paused, letting out another sigh. “I understand everything fully. I just can’t bear to see them all behind bars after we move in.”
Sophia smiled–despite the situation. “It seems like you’ve already chosen.”
Angela turned to Sophia again. “Would it be right?”
“It’s not about being right or wrong by society’s standard. It is about how you feel.”
Some silence passed between them again.
“The most important thing is…” Sophia spoke up again. “Have you turned in anything to your team yet?”
Angela shook her head. “I can’t bring myself to do it.”
Sophia smiled. “Good.”
As the girls moved onto another subject, a shadow was seen walking away from the sliding door. It seemed like someone had been listening in.
Two days later, the rain finally stopped. Sophia was seen walking toward the conference room. The three men were still discussing their strategies to lure out Luther–the opposing gang leader.
“You can’t go in, Miss,” One of the guards at the door told Sophia.
“I’ll take the blame,” Sophia said, pushing past him.
“Miss!” The guard yelled out in alarm.
Too late, she already pushed the door open.
“What is the meaning of this, Miss Chou?” Mr. Wang demanded, standing up from his seat.
Dubbed as a conference room, it was just a regular study. Nothing was threatening about it, except for perhaps the men who had been occupying it these past days.
“You’ve been saying that if I need anything, you would do your best to help, is that still true?” Sophia asked, looking at Mr. Tseng.
Mr. Hsiao and Mr. Wang turned to look at Mr. Tseng.
“That’s right,” Mr. Tseng said, not looking at the other two for consultation. “Anything that is within our capabilities that is.”
“It is within your capabilities,” Sophia continued, her eyes still focusing on Mr. Tseng only.
“I want all three of you to withdraw from the gang and live a normal life again.”
“That’s absurd!” Mr. Wang exclaimed, banging his hand on the table in front of him.
Sophia wasn’t the least bit scared of Mr. Wang’s sudden temper rising. She still had her eyes on Mr. Tseng. “You said anything.”
“That is within our capabilities,” Mr. Tseng reminded her.
“This is within your capabilities.”
Mr. Wang turned to Mr. Tseng. “How could you make such a bargain with her? Even if she saved us.”
“Why don’t you come up with something else, Sophia?” Mr. Hsiao said, his voice less serious than Mr. Wang.
“No,” Sophia said without a blink. “Do you think I’m doing this to sabotage you all?”
“You’re not helping the situation we’re in right now,” Mr. Wang said. “Do you know how serious things are at this point?”
“Do you know how much this is going to affect your children’s future?”
Mr. Wang scoffed. “Here we go. A typical ex-cop lecturing us about life.”
“I’m not lecturing. I’m not in a position to lecture anyone of you.” She paused. “But I have to interfere this time.”
“Sophia,” Mr. Hsiao attempted again.
“You know what it would be like if you still carry on like this?” Sophia asked, her eyes on Mr. Wang now, ignoring Mr. Hsiao completely. “It doesn’t matter how you want to justify your actions or say you don’t have a choice but we all have one. Even if you win this time, but what about the future when some other gang decides to try their luck here? What will happen when you’re all gone and leave it up to the girls?”
“They’re not a bunch of weaklings like you think,” Mr. Wang gritted his teeth, feeling offended.
“I know they’re not. I’ve seen them in action. I’ve also seen them enjoying every single precious moment of their lives without complaint. Not a single complaint. But have you ever thought about how they will hold up? Being able to right now doesn’t mean you’ll always be unbeatable. I’m not telling you what is right or wrong here but how you feel about all this. Do you seriously think your gang will still stay firm for how many years that is to come?”
“You have no right to speak up for them.”
Sophia nodded. “Fair. But do you know that the cops are moving in?”
“What?” Mr. Hsiao and Mr. Tseng blurted out at once.
Sophia was unfazed by their reaction. “How about spending some time behind the bars then? You probably feel like you got nothing to lose if you hold out some more and then take out Luther. Then you would still feel a sense of victory if you were arrested. Something to brag about in prison. But what about your children? And the men who followed you all these years?”
It was then that all three men exchanged glances among themselves. Sophia waited.
“What is in this for you, Miss Chou?” Mr. Wang asked, still not acknowledging Sophia in informal terms.
“If you still do not care about my words,” Sophia continued, ignoring Mr. Wang’s apparent hostility. “Let’s take a gamble.”
“What gamble?” Mr. Hsiao asked.
“If I can catch Luther for you, you will have to give up this type of life. If not, then I’ll pay with my life.”
Mr. Tseng gasped. For a man who had seen a lot for all the years in his life, he was stunned into numbness.
“Why take such a big gamble?” Mr. Hsiao asked.
“Because…I’ve ended my professional career fifteen years ago,” Sophia said, her voice still not wavering. “I might as well end my life if I can’t achieve anything this time around.”
“That’s not a good reason.”
“Just one word, yes or no?”
The three men exchanged more glances among themselves.
“Yes or no?” Sophia repeated.
Murmurs were exchanged. Mr. Tseng was shaking his head about something. Then Mr. Hsiao was whispering about something else. Finally, Mr. Wang turned to Sophia with his expression unmoved.
“You better keep to your words,” He said, pointing at her.
“I should be saying that,” Sophia delivered.
She turned and left after that, not caring if the three men were still staring after her, pondering what she was up to.
When Sophia entered the main hall, Chun stopped her.
“Why did you do it?” Chun asked, a puzzled look on his face. “You have no reason to help us.”
“I’m not helping you,” Sophia returned. “I’m helping my conscience.”
With that, she stepped out of Chun’s path and continued to the den where the others were waiting for her.
Several days later, they were told to gather in the main hall. The news was announced. No, it was a deal. A deal of death. The others turned to look for Sophia but she was already gone.
“How could you agree to that?” Cyndi questioned her father. “You really hated her that much?”
“You must remember that she was the one challenging me, not the other way around,” Mr. Wang replied, his voice stern and all business–as he was in the past, no longer holding the cheerful, easygoing exterior during the days when Cyndi had lost her memory.
“But…” Joanne objected, her eyes looking toward Jacky. “That would mean if we find Luther before her, then…”
“She approached us,” Mr. Wang repeated.
Joanne turned to her father. Her eyes were searching for answers. Like if he had anything to do with the final decision.
“Leave Jacky out of this,” Mr. Tseng spoke up suddenly. “If he happens to get to Luther first, we can count it as Sophia’s.”
Mr. Wang turned to Mr. Tseng at that time, surprised by the negotiation. “What is the meaning of this?”
“She didn’t shoot him,” Mr. Tseng reminded them all. “I don’t think it would be unreasonable to count it like that.”
“I think we shouldn’t even make that silly deal at all!” Joanne yelled out with much injusticeness.
“Qiao Qiao!” Mr. Tseng yelled, his anger apparent. Not because she was out of line. Not in his book. But he knew she would get Mr. Wang riled up again. He turned to Mr. Hsiao after giving her a sharp look. “What do you think?”
“I agree,” Mr. Hsiao responded.
Joanne scowled. “Then I want to help Sophia jie as well.”
“You can’t run around putting yourself in danger,” Mr. Tseng warned her.
“Like our life is any less safe,” Joanne argued, her stubbornness cranking up several more notches. “She didn’t shoot me either. So it’s only fair that I stick by her side.”
“Me too,” Sharon seconded, surprising the others.
“Sharon!” Mr. Hsiao yelled out.
“I’m serious! I don’t want to owe her anything.” She turned to Cyndi. “Are you with us or not?”
“Sharon, you’re out of line!” Mr. Wang bellowed. “She’s my daughter.”
“Sharon!” Mr. Hsiao scolded his daughter. “Don’t force anyone into doing anything they don’t want to.”
Though it was an attempt to scold his daughter, everyone knew there was an underlying meaning.
Mr. Hsiao turned to his guards after that. “Your choice.”
“I’m with Sharon,” Chun spoke up first.
It was the same as saying he had agreed with Mr. Hsiao’s words. Calvin nodded in agreement. They were waiting for Jiro.
“I think we have enough people,” Joanne jumped in. She wasn’t being sarcastic–for once. She knew it was harder because of the link Jiro and Cyndi shared.
“I’m in,” Jiro said, not caring to look at anyone for second opinions.
The others turned to Cyndi at last.
“No pressures,” Mr. Hsiao reminded them all.
“If she chooses to forget it, then she could always come and plead to us,” Mr. Wang said, indicating that he was expecting Sophia to withdraw her silly request at any time.
They were told they could disperse after that.
“Where’s Angela?” Joanne asked, looking around.
“She was here earlier,” Sharon said.
“She must have snuck out,” Chun said, looking around the hall.
“What are we going to do now?”
“Go find Sophia jie,” Joanne replied, making her way down the hall that led to the den.
“Where could she be?” Calvin asked, following Joanne’s lead.
“Check her room first.”
“She’s not there,” Jacky said.
Joanne turned to him. “You knew about this, didn’t you?”
Jacky shook his head. He wished he had known. “If I’ve known, I would never let her do it.”
“Why is she so dumb?” Sharon asked, sounding furious. “For someone so passive…”
“She doesn’t need to do this,” Chun repeated his words from yesterday. “What conscience? It’s not her fault we’re leading this life.”
“What are you talking about?” Joanne asked, turning to him.
“I was there yesterday when I overheard her making the deal with the boss.”
“What? And you didn’t tell us?”
“Don’t waste any more time,” Cyndi jumped in, impatient. “We have to find Sophia.”
They exited through the door in the den and went outside to the woods.
“Don’t go far,” Chun warned the others.
“Old Man,” Sharon mumbled, though she was tagging along with him–since she did not want him to get in trouble with her father.
“Luther is not some guy down the street, okay?”
“There are no streets around here,” Sharon argued.
“You know what I mean.”
“Sophia!” They began to call in different directions.
Sophia was standing at the edge of the bamboo forest, looking out at the water. Her face as passive as ever. She did not care to acknowledge the wind that was picking up speed nor the sun shifting its ray.
“Jing Jing!” Jacky’s voice called out from somewhere behind her.
She finally turned around and acknowledged him. He looked worried. He must have known already. She waited until he was closer.
“Why did you do it?” Jacky asked, stopping several inches from her.
She smiled. “For the fame.”
He shook his head. “You don’t need that.”
“How would you know? You only met me recently.”
“If you only cared for fame, then why would you risk your job for us?”
“That was then, this is now. Times changed, things changed.”
“Mr. Wang said if you choose to withdraw the deal, you could come and talk to him. You don’t have to do this.”
Sophia’s expression had intensified to show her stern one–an expression she rarely wore. At least not in front of them. “I might be a lot of things, but I’m not someone who would go back on my words.”
“Jing Jing.” His voice was begging.
Her expression softened. She had on a smile again. “My only regret is ruining Jiro and Cyndi’s chance with the wedding.”
“Boss will take care of it.” He was talking about Mr. Tseng. The only person he would attach the title ‘Boss’ to.
He took another step forward and grabbed onto her hand. “That’s why he let me help you.”
She shrugged his hand off lightly. “He’s not supposed to do that. He’s putting your life on the line.”
“My life is already on the line whether it’s about the deal or not.”
He reached for hand again, but she recoiled.
She took a step back. “You know that Sharon likes you?”
He nodded. “But I didn’t choose her.”
“I can’t do that to her.”
“I thought you wouldn’t care how others judge you.”
“Even if it’s not like that, my life is already marked with a deadline.”
“So is mine.”
She shook her head, not giving in.
“How about we make a deal? If you win with finding Luther, then you have to give me a chance.”
Some silence passed between them as Sophia observed his face.
“What’s the point?” She asked.
“Let’s say that we win and get to proceed with our lives like how we wish. Where would I go? You have to give me some hope.”
Sophia turned away from him, facing the water ahead once more. Her tears finally flowed down her cheeks. He took a step forward and embraced her from behind.
“Promise me,” He persisted.
Sophia finally nodded.
“Sophia jie!” They heard Joanne’s voice calling out at that time.
Jacky let go of Sophia while she brushed her tears away with the back of her shirt sleeves. They turned around to see Calvin and Joanne making their way toward them.
“Why do you have to do it?” Joanne asked, not realizing she had said the exact words Jacky uttered upon finding Sophia.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t wait until after Jiro and Cyndi’s wedding,” Sophia said, dodging the real reason for Joanne’s inquiry on purpose.
“You know it’s not the reason why I asked.”
“It’s already a done deal. It doesn’t matter how much we talk about it now.”
Joanne was about to pursue the matter to the end, but she stopped herself. She just met Sophia recently, but she understood Sophia. In a way, Sophia was like Jacky. They never wanted to explain. It was always the sense of needing to do something. She cleared her throat and gathered her courage again. “You’re right. All we have to do now is hunt for Luther. We have to get there before Uncle Wang’s men.”
“What are you talking about?” Sophia had on her alarmed expression. She turned to Jacky. “I thought you said…”
“Jiro, Chun, and I volunteered ourselves to help you,” Calvin answered.
“Why? You’re making this more complicated.”
“Treat us like your friends then,” Chun said from somewhere.
They turned to see him and Sharon walking toward them.
“I found it!” Angela’s voice rang out at that time also. She stopped herself when she saw everyone was there.
“So you ran out here to get some sticks?” Sharon asked, eyeing the bamboo sticks in Angela’s hands.
“I was helping her,” Angela defended herself.
“You’ve finally made your decision then?” Chun asked, looking at Angela. It was the first time since they were released that he addressed her directly.
Angela wrinkled her face. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re going to cover up for us instead of reporting back to your supervisor.”
The sticks in Angela’s hands slipped from her grip and hit the ground. She turned to Sophia.
“I didn’t tell him,” Sophia said. She turned to Chun. “How did you know?”
“I was standing at the door when you two were talking that night,” Chun replied.
“What are you guys talking about?” Joanne asked, looking from one to the other. “What supervisor?”
“She’s a cop.”
Sharon gasped but regained herself quickly. “I knew she was up to something!”
“You can’t tell the others,” Sophia said. “No one will believe that she won’t harm us and she’ll be locked up again.”
“If she makes a move, we could always overpower her, right?”
“The most important thing right now is to get off this island before you’re all caught.”
“That’s the real reason why you drove the deal forward?” Calvin asked, turning to Sophia.
Sophia did not answer but it was too obvious. Jiro and Cyndi arrived at the site and heard the last part. They finally understood. They all had a deadline. It wasn’t just Sophia.
© Sunday, January 30th, 2011
Posted: Saturday, February 26th, 2011