Sync or swim

Sync or swim

Part 24 of our serial

June 29, 2012
June 22, 2012
June 15, 2012
June 08, 2012
June 01, 2012
May 25, 2012
May 25, 2012
May 18, 2012
May 11, 2012
May 04, 2012

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Sync or swim_L
Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen/SCMP
Ethan gasped as the hood slipped from the head of his long-time pursuer, revealing that person to be ... No, not a thug hired by the ruthless property developer looking to oust grandad from his shop, nor someone connected to the hackers that had attacked the shamefacebook site. Neither was it his old enemy from the housing estate, Tam Wai-hung, or the jealous Kieran O'Shea. In fact it was none of Ethan's prime suspects.

"Maya!" he exclaimed, in jaw-dropping astonishment.

His girlfriend grinned sheepishly then gestured at the grip he had on her arm. Still stunned, Ethan turned to see a passerby staring at them. He instantly let go.

"You've been following me?" he hissed, aware that the passerby was now pointing them out to a friend.

"How else was I going to find out what you were up to?"

Ethan shook his head in exasperation at her logic.

"Who said ..." he began, before something struck him. "Hold on ... if you're following me, why were you here before I was?"

"Because, through following you, I found out how the developer that ..." she gestured to the shop front across the road, "property agent is working for, has been attempting to drive your grandad and his neighbours out. I've been trying to get evidence to show the police. And talking of ..."

While Maya had noticed the uniformed figure who had joined the group of onlookers, by now Ethan was oblivious to his surroundings.

"That's why you took photos when Mr Wong was injured at grandad's shop?" he demanded.

She nodded. "But I still haven't come up with anything." She grimaced. "Look, I am sorry for following you. But I wanted to help, and I knew you'd made a promise to keep everything secret ..."

"So I should be grateful to have a stalker?" he asked wryly.

"No ... but you should probably put your arm around me," she said with a big smile and a little nod towards the approaching policeman. "I'm guessing our audience thinks you were trying to rob me."

Despite his confusion, it took Ethan less than a nanosecond to wrap his arm around her shoulders.

"But I still don't understand where Sam and his sister fit into all this," she confided as they sauntered off up the road.

The next morning, Sam and Jenny, without whom Ethan could never have created shamefacebook, were waiting for him by the lockers. As Sam looked at his watch, Jenny sighed impatiently.

Along with rapidly growing profits, the huge increase in the volume of traffic to the site was also bringing technical problems. Not wishing to risk a reputation-damaging outage, they'd arranged to meet at 8am to discuss solutions.

But it was not until 8.25 that an apologetic Ethan finally arrived - and even then he was not alone. Exasperated, Jenny rolled her eyes. "Hi, Maya. Bye, Maya."

"Jenny ..." Ethan began, before Maya interrupted.

"No, it's alright, I'll leave you to it," she told them. "And for what it's worth, I think your site's great."

Sam and Jenny stared at her for a moment before turning to Ethan. "She knows?" Sam demanded.

To avoid Ethan's seriously ill mother finding out that it wasn't only schoolwork taking up her son's time, the trio had sworn to keep their labours on the site secret.

Ethan nodded. "But we can trust her completely."

Jenny sneered. "You think?"

"No. I know."

Jenny reflected. "Yeah, well, an airhead and a goldfish do have roughly the same memory span."

Maya turned to Ethan and Sam. "Wow, and I'd heard robots were getting more sophisticated."

Before Jenny could hit back, they were interrupted.

"So, Maya, you've finally signed up with the geeks."

They turned to find Gilbert Chan smirking at his twin sister Charlotte.

"To you two," Maya responded, "a geek is anyone who's figured out how to use a pencil sharpener."

That evening, Ethan ate with his mother. Seeing her health improve with every passing day mitigated much of the guilt he felt for deceiving her about the source of the family's income. And he had just received more good news.

When grandad returned home grim-faced, Ethan shepherded him into the kitchen to share it.

"Gung gung," he whispered. "You can tell Mum to forget about looking for work - Sam texted me that there's HK$25,000 heading into the shamefacebook account!"

His grandfather forced a smile. "That's good news."

His lack of enthusiasm wasn't lost on Ethan. "What's the matter? Mr Wong's coming home from hospital tomorrow, isn't he?"

Grandad nodded sadly. "And I've got to tell him the two remaining tenants in our building have tired of all the vandalism and harassment and decided to move out."

Now Ethan strained for some positivity. "Don't worry, the owners will get new tenants in no time."

Grandad looked at him. "You think so?"

Three days later, Maya was sitting at a dai pai dong, drinking lai cha and holding hands with an agitated Ethan.

"The thing is, no one's interested in renting the empty flats," he explained. "And now the agent has offered the owners a higher price."

"So?" Maya reasoned. "You told me the developers need to have bought up 80 per cent of the properties to force the rest to sell. They'd still need one more."

Her logic, however, seemed to do little to lighten Ethan's mood. But she pressed on. "If Mr Wong owns not only his shop but a flat in the building as well, and if your grandad is sure that the owner of the shop he's renting would never sell out, then they're safe, aren't they?"

"But that's not the way grandad sees it," he insisted. "If only we could have found something to link the developers to the crimes ..."

Maya got up. "Come on, I may have missed something."

Maya's mother greeted them in the living room of her palatial Kowloon Tong home. "Ethan! At last a chance to have a proper chat with Maya's boyfriend."

This time it was Maya's turn to blush. "Mum, the interrogation will have to wait." And with that, she grabbed Ethan's hand and dragged him off to the study.

There they started to work their way through the photos Maya had taken at grandad's shop. However, even after examining each of them in forensic detail, they could still find nothing incriminating.

In frustration, Ethan shoved the mouse away, unintentionally opening another folder.

"What's this?" Ethan asked leaning in towards the screen.

"Shots I took at the property agents."

Ethan clicked and zoomed on a photo of a besuited group of men inside the office. Suddenly he was sitting bolt upright. "What the ..."

"Have you found something?" Maya asked, squinting at the image.

"No ... someone." He stabbed the screen with his finger. "That's Gilbert and Charlotte Chan's dad!"

To be continued next week

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