Sync or swim

Sync or swim

Part 30 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
The policemen spun Ethan and Yiu-hon around to face the wall before patting them down.

"What are you looking for?" Ethan asked, beginning to get his head around what was happening.

"What do you think?" one officer snapped, as he went through Yiu-hon's pockets and came up with the roll of cash Ethan had given him.

"They're looking for ..." But Yiu-hon's weary explanation was cut short by a shove in the back and a barked order to "Shut it".

Completing his search, the officer turned to his colleague and shook his head. "Delivering later, are you?" he demanded. Yiu-hon said nothing.

"Why did you give him this money?" A poke in the ribs served as a prompt to Ethan.

"He's an old friend and he needed it," he responded resentfully.

"To buy your drugs?"

"What?"

"Don't play the innocent, posh boy."

Ethan looked down - he was still wearing his uniform. At St Jude's International School, he felt like an interloper from the world of Hong Kong's public housing estates. However, here on the streets he was royalty compared to someone like Yiu-hon, long since known and noted by the authorities.

Later when the policemen had handed back their ID cards and left, Yiu-man apologised to Ethan. "Hopefully you'll never have to get used to that."

Ethan spent a sleepless night, unable to shrug off the feeling he had been caught up in something more than a random stop and search. The next morning at school Ethan recounted the incident to Maya, Sam and Jenny.

Maya shook her head. "I can't believe it."

"Yeah, I know," Ethan agreed. "There was something weird about the whole thing."

"There certainly was," Jenny agreed. "Why on Earth were you giving money to the boy who stole your laptop?"

Maya looked from Jenny to Ethan. "What?"

"This Yiu-hon stole Ethan's laptop last year," Jenny explained.

"He didn't steal it," Ethan explained to Maya. "He returned it."

"He's a convicted criminal ... who says he returned it." Jenny's voice dripped with scepticism.

Ethan began to get annoyed. "He was a reluctant member of the gang who stole it."

Sam winced. "He has spent time in a Young Offenders Institute, though, hasn't he?"

Jenny smiled sweetly. "But I suppose that was the gang's fault as well."

Ethan struggled to control his rage. "And I thought an expensive education was supposed to broaden the mind." He shook his head. "Yeah, it's easy to sneer and accuse if you've got a stable home and pots of money. But when you were 10, you weren't living with a compulsive gambler of a father, longing for a mother who had disappeared the year before, and wondering where the money for your next meal was going to come from. Yiu-hon's a clever boy who just never had the chances I had."

When Maya looked at her boyfriend in the silence that followed, something burned a little brighter in her eyes.

Yet it wasn't a concern for the injustices that had been inflicted on Yiu-hon that provoked Ethan's sense of unease. He knew they didn't often see police officers on the Ki Lung estate these days, not since local gang leader Wai-hung had moved away.

That evening, Ethan asked if Maya would mind if they called in at his grandad's shop on their way to the cinema.

They found him still glowing with the pride of finally owning the premises he had worked in since he'd been a teenager - and delighting in the fact he had thereby thwarted property developer Chan's efforts to drive out all the residents of the building.

"Gung gung, have you noticed anything strange around here lately?" Ethan asked, as they sipped the tea he had made.

Grandad laughed at the notion. "You mean, besides someone like Maya wanting to go out with you?"

As they headed up the street, Maya stole a glance at Ethan. He'd seemed morose and preoccupied the whole day; maybe being stopped and searched had been more of a shock for him than she'd imagined. She took his arm and gave him a playful nudge. "OK, now let's just relax and have some fun."However, the events of the following morning doomed Maya's efforts to raise his spirits.

"What evidence?" a bewildered Ethan demanded, as he sat in the Head's office for the second day running. "And who gave it to you?"

"Look, Ethan, I'm asking you the questions," she replied, leaning back into her well-upholstered chair.

"But I haven't done anything wrong! There were no drugs. The police didn't find any drugs. I was just trying to help out an old friend."

She looked at him askance. "Whatever the reason, the police were questioning you. And I'm afraid the Board of Governors will not look kindly on you associating with criminals. This is going to do you no favours when your scholarship runs out in a few weeks."

"But don't you think it's all a bit suspicious?" he persisted.

"Sad, definitely. Suspicious? I don't know." At the lockers, Ethan presented Maya, Sam and Jenny with the theory that had been crystallising in his mind.

"You really think Chan's trying to drive you out of St Jude's?" Maya asked when he'd finished.

Ethan was adamant. "Yes!"

Sam tried to reason. "OK, I can see why, after your grandad blocked his deal, Chan might not want to pay for your scholarship anymore, but why bother with you beyond that? He doesn't know about shamefacebook. He doesn't know the cash to pay for the shop came from the site."

Ethan was about to respond when fellow students Gilbert and Charlotte Chan, the twin offspring of the developer, passed. Although they seemed oblivious or indifferent to his presence, Ethan put his fingers to his lips until they were gone.

Jenny rolled her eyes. "Maybe the police were onto something, Ethan. Delusions of grandeur, paranoia ... you're exhibiting some classic druggie symptoms."

He slammed his locker door shut. "Ha, ha."

"Ethan, maybe you need a bit of a break," Maya suggested. "While we were all away on our holidays, you were working on the website. You must be exhausted.

"So you think I'm paranoid, too?" he snapped, before storming off.

As Chan idly studied the photograph, a copy of which had already been sent to the headmistress of St Jude's, something suddenly struck him. That was quite a bundle of cash the police had found on Ethan's criminal buddy ... but where on Earth had Ethan got it from?

Now realising that, all along, he might have been looking in the wrong place for the source of the cash used to buy the shop, Chan went to the door of his office.

The blare of some inane cartoon show echoed from the TV room. "Gilbert! Charlotte!" he bellowed. "I've got a job for you."

To be continued next week

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