Sync or swim

Sync or swim

Part 11 of our dramatic 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


Sync or swim_L
Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen/SCMP
With the lift broken down between floors, Ethan realised he was trapped in a two-metre square space with a violent thug who had a grudge against him.

After jabbing every button on the control panel to no effect, Wai-hung punched the alarm.

Ethan struggled to keep his voice steady. "That ... doesn't work."

Wai-hung spun around, fury burning in his eyes. "What?"

While Wai-hung always seethed with anger, today he seemed even more volatile than usual. "It doesn't work," Ethan repeated quietly.

With a howl of rage, Wai-hung slammed his fist against the panel.

The yell was muffled and the direction it came from unclear. Sam stopped. "What was that," he asked.

Jenny was too hot and tired from climbing the deserted stairwell in Ethan's block to be interested. "Someone being murdered?"

"Jenny, you're not going to have that attitude at Ethan's, are you?"

For Jenny, it was bad enough coming here when the lift was working. But now ... "By the time we get there, I won't have a pulse, never mind an attitude," she complained.

Ethan's ancient mobile never received a signal in the lift. However, the state-of-the-art smartphone Wai-hung pulled from his pocket should have worked fine. But ... "Out of juice!" he howled, hurling it to the floor where it shattered into pieces.

Already sweating profusely, Wai-hung was now beginning to shake. Was it claustrophobia?

"Help!" Wai-hung yelled, a clear note of desperation in his voice.

Grandad opened the door to the siblings, both flushed and out of breath. He looked at his watch. "I hope you didn't hurry to get here," he said, leading them into the living room, "because you're late anyway."

Jenny stopped and put her hands on her hips. "We're only late because of your stupid ..."

Sam clamped his hand over her mouth. "Hi Mr Tai. Is Ethan here?"

Grandad shook his head. "He's probably got his head stuck in all your computer nonsense."

"Computer nonsense!" Jenny snapped. "Do you know what it takes to code a website?"

"I know you can't sell something to people who don't know there's something to buy. I told Siu-man he's got to sort out his advertising."

"What're you talking about?" Jenny demanded.

Grandad looked at her for a moment then sniffed the air. "Wah, they're done." He hurried into the kitchen, leaving Jenny staring at her brother in disbelief.

In the lift, Wai-hung suddenly winced and clutched his stomach.

"Have you got anything?" he demanded, through gritted teeth.

"Anything ... like what?" Ethan asked, bemused.

Wai-hung didn't answer but instead lunged to grab Ethan's bag. Ethan watched, horrified, as Wai-hung tipped it upside down.

Sam sat checking his mobile - but there was still no reply from Ethan.

"I'm sorry," Jenny protested, "but what can Ethan's grandfather possibly contribute to a web business?"

"I've told you," Sam said wearily. "We're all too young. We need him to represent us at business meetings."

Jenny snorted. "Yeah, I can see the vest-and-flip-flop look catching on in the boardrooms of Central."

Grandad didn't let on he'd heard this as he entered carrying a plate of deep-fried pastries. He put them down in front of the siblings.

"What are these, Mr Tai?" Sam asked.

"Glutinous rice covered with sesame seeds," said Grandad heading back to the kitchen. "I made them for Siu-man."

Sam picked up a pastry and took a bite. "Be polite, just try one," he told Jenny, pushing the plate towards her. Reluctantly, she took one and, grimacing, followed suit. Slowly, however, her face relaxed. "This tastes just like ..."

Sam finished her sentence.

"... the ones Grandma use to make."

Jenny shrugged and popped the rest of the pastry into her mouth. "So where is Ethan?" she said, reaching for another.

Wai-hung held up Ethan's laptop. Despite his distress, he was stunned. "How did you ..."

Ethan was cornered in every sense. He knew he had to lie to protect Yiu-hon, who had returned the computer to him. "I know you stole it. But what you didn't know is it's got a tracking device in it."

"Yeah, right. So where did you track it to?"

"A mall in Shek Kip Mei."

The look of doubt that passed across Wai-hung's face was quickly replaced by a grimace of pain. Releasing the laptop to Ethan's grasp, he began to search desperately in the pockets and corners of Ethan's school bag. "No, Paracetamol, or anything?" he fumed, throwing the bag to the floor.

Suddenly it hit Ethan what was wrong with Wai-hung.

"I'm going to take that computer back and you're not going to say anything," Wai-hung hissed. Unable to ease his own pain, he wanted someone else to suffer also. "Or do you want me to show you why Yiu-hon does whatever I say?"

Grandad entered the living room and looked from the empty plate to Jenny chewing on the last pastry. "No wonder you get so sweaty just walking down the street."

"I got sw..." Jenny corrected herself, "... a little warm, because the lift in this dump isn't working and we had to walk up the stairs."

Grandad chuckled to himself. He did enjoy winding this girl up. Then he stopped. "The lift's broken and Ethan's not here ... But it was working when I came in an hour ago ... So ..."

"Oh, yeah, and the yelling we heard ..." Jenny began, catching on a little late. Grandad and Sam were already halfway out the door.

Ethan now realised he was, in fact, trapped in a two-metre square space with a violent thug who was suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Through waves of fear he tried to think clearly.

"After you'd stolen ...," Ethan tapped the laptop he clutched to his chest, "... this, you were captured on its camera. I've got hard evidence - and it's stored somewhere else."

Wai-hung eyed him suspiciously. "You're lying."

"Call my bluff then. But I don't think you'd want the police to see it."

"You know you'd also be sending your old pal Yiu-hon back to jail?"

Ethan steeled himself for another lie. "If that's what it takes ..."

Wai-hung gathered his strength and straightened up, fists clenched.

Ethan's mind raced. He had one final bluff left. "And I've just filmed you on my phone, a snivelling, shaking wreck. Do you really want to see that posted on YouTube?"

Of course, Ethan's phone didn't have a camera - it barely had a keypad and screen. But Wai-hung was beyond reason. He bellowed as he launched himself at a terrified Ethan. As Ethan braced himself for the assault, the lift jolted into life.

Standing with the engineer, Grandad, Sam and Jenny watched as the lift doors slowly opened.

To be continued next week


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