An uncomfortable tingling in his feet nudged him back into the present and the task that he had intended to start when he sat down. He had been so deeply contemplating the events triggered by the article that he had been oblivious to the fact that his feet were getting numb in their elevated position atop the coffee table. He lowered them to the floor and rubbed them for a few seconds to restore circulation, and then spread the contents of the folders out on the table so he could peruse them for any evidence that would support the claims of the mystery informant.
The only evidence that would support the paper’s claims would be committee member lists, meeting schedules or call logs. But if there was any bribery conducted, it would have been in cash and often labeled campaign contributions so there would not be any evidence kept in the folders anyway. And the results of his review supported his supposition. The documentation was all legitimate cost breakdowns, progress reports and performance testing records related to the WRA project.
He started to dial Zhang to report his findings but stopped as a CD fell out of one of the folders. Fearing what he might find but unable to resist the temptation of discovering what lay hidden on the disc, he rushed over to his computer to read it. Relieved, but somehow a little disappointed, the content was a streamlined commercial video summary of the project, obviously constructed to point out the value of Yin-Yang Electronics as a preferred government contractor.
He was now ready to call Zhang to convey his findings and query him as to what kind of clue he was specifically looking for. He took a moment to formulate some subtle dialogue he could use to obfuscate their conversation from anybody listening on a phone tap and still have his questions understood by the congressman.
“Congressman Yen. Good evening. I called to let you know that the package arrived but I don’t think the product is what you wanted. Exactly what had you intended to order?”
“I am looking for compact recording equipment and in particular some good tapes. Keep looking for me and call me if you find the right product.”
Huai-Yuan hung up now totally understanding that Zhang was looking for any recorded evidence. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the keys he had gotten from Yin-Liu and debated whether or not he should return to Qian’s house tonight by himself to conduct a more thorough search.
For the moment he put that decision aside, letting his thoughts wander back to his first interview with Qian and how ultimately, in a convoluted way, it embroiled him in this unsavory scandal. It had been about seven years since then that he had been struggling to work his way firmly into Qian’s inner circle and just as he had gained his unquestioned trust, Qian had died; no justice!
He had just returned to Taiwan after completing his Masters degree in computer science at Berkeley and decided to apply for the position of personal assistant to the CEO of Yin-Yang Electronics. He was ecstatic when he received the invitation to report for the interview with Qian but was also so nervous that he could barely sleep at night.
He had tried to imagine the interview in his mind but none of the visions he conjured up prepared him for that first meeting. The power projected by Qian’s visage was stunning and somewhat intimidating. His towering figure and solid build exuded an aura of indomitability. His narrow piercing eyes in combination with his thin lips gave him a stern demeanor; perhaps even cold and heartless.
His clothing was obviously of the best quality money could buy and his jewelry and accessories were all of the same caliber as his Rolex watch. And yet, one sensed that he was not putting on airs but that he simply enjoyed the feel of the richness that his success in business afforded him. The only incongruity to this splendid countenance was the overpowering body odor. Like most powerful business men, he was much to busy to consider what others might think of him and focused all his attention on expediting his agendas and achieving results.
Despite his initial trepidation, he somehow managed to regain enough composure to complete the interview to the satisfaction of Qian. In fact, he was inwardly congratulating himself for an exceptional performance. After Qian confirmed the offer to join Yin-Yang Electronics as their newest employee, he shook hands, left the interview room and started down the hall where he met Yang Jin-Chen just leaving his office.
Yang was not aware that Qian was hiring a new assistant and mistook Huai for a manufacturer’s representative soliciting business with the company. He stopped and chatted amiably with him for a few minutes to understand the purpose of his presence. Of course, this did not escape the watchful eye of Qian and unknown to Huai this innocent conversation would eventually draw him deeply into the ongoing conflict between the senior partners.
He felt secure in his new job and optimistic about his future. Yin-Yang Electronics was already considered to be one of the industry leaders and because of Qian’s innovative approach to product design, they released a steady stream of exceptional products into the market place yielding an unbroken string of record profit quarters. Qian’s value to the company dramatically increased proportionally to the increase of the stock value much to the chagrin of Yang who felt that he was being marginalized, even though he was a full partner in the company. On the other hand, he had to admit to himself that his net worth had greatly increased in parallel with the stock prices.
Every employee knew that Qian was definitely the driving force of the company and a large number of employees were vying for a position under his division in order to advance their careers. They knew that working on Qian’s team would give them easy entry into any company in the city should they ever find themselves in a position of being unemployed. As the best of the best gravitated toward this bright star, many more new products were conceived by this new eager brain trust and profits continued to soar.
Qian always kept a watchful eye on his operations and never entrusted any of the business documentation to anyone outside of his immediate team. He kept all the division financial, proposal and product patent documents locked away as a safeguard against corporate espionage.
Huai guessed that was the reason that even though he had been hired as special assistant, his duties were mostly relegated to menial tasks such as running errands, buying and delivering special gifts and chauffeuring Qian from one appointment to the next. The one exception was his assignment to keep minutes of all the meetings; not a very impressive or challenging task for a graduate from an elite engineering university. He felt frustrated and could not imagine how he would break through the barricade planted in his path to a successful career.
He recalled one particular meeting when Yang had hung around until everybody had left the room. He was leaning back in the plush leather conference room chair with his hands clasped behind his head and his legs open. Huai had an inkling that he wanted to talk to him privately but not being sure, didn’t want to risk offending such a powerful man by speaking out of turn. After a brief awkward moment of silence, Yang spoke up much to Huai’s relief. “It’s about time for lunch. Will you join me?”
“Yes, thank you. I would really enjoy dining with you!” He couldn’t help wondering about the purpose of the lunch meeting. Unlike Qian, whose demeanor was easily interpreted and immediately put people on their guard, Yang was square jawed and bald and when he smiled, he gave the impression that he was in a Buddha-like state of bliss. It was impossible to discern whether he was really a docile sheep or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But, he decided that he had nothing to lose by accepting the invitation and playing out whatever scenario Yang had in mind. The least that would come of it would be hopefully a free meal that most likely he could not have afforded on his salary.
By now, Huai had gotten a firm grasp of the lay of the land. Yin Mo-Qian was in charge of product design and development, project proposals and vendor contract negotiations while Yang was in charge of production, purchasing, material control and shipping. On the surface, this looked like a perfect arrangement but it was obvious that, even though they were equal partners, Qian definitely had the reins of the company firmly in his grip. Although disgruntled, for the most part Yang kept his emotions in check and the two of them had figured out a way to peacefully coexist, at least outwardly, for the good of the company.
Huai had been unconsciously tagging along while puzzling over the ulterior motive he might have for taking him to lunch, when Yang stopped abruptly and snapped him back to reality. They arrived at their destination; a very expensive Japanese ramen and sushi restaurant. He immediately noticed the absence of typical white collar office workers like himself in the restaurant and surmised that the scant amount of time allowed to them for their lunch break and their meager salaries were the reasons for this. In fact, the restaurant was nearly empty. Well suited for conducting a very private conversation.
The decor was elegant traditional Japanese. They passed through a pair of automatic floor to ceiling glass doors from the lobby to the reception area. Just inside was a miniature garden with a fountain cascading into a small pond containing many different colored koy swimming lazily around polished stepping stones that had to be traversed to get to the reception desk. In the background, a Shakuhachi bamboo flute was playing ethereal Geisha music. Huai closed his eyes for a moment and imagined exotic dancing geishas in kimonos floating around him. It was rare occasion for him to experience such a relaxing leisurely mood.
The furniture in the dining area was simple, consisting of square wooden chairs and wooden tables with strips of black glass embedded in the tops. In the far corner were booths, each with seating for two and sheer Zen curtains hanging behind each seat. The receptionist led them to the most secluded of the booths without even asking where they would like to sit. Obviously Yang was a frequent visitor here and an important customer held in high regard in order to be seated as if he owned that particular booth. The waiter brought them a pot of Sencha tea with the menus and Yang ordered immediately without even looking.
“We’ll have the Emperor’s Palace Special for two.” He wanted to dispatch with the waiters as quickly as possible so he could concentrate on his intended conversation. “It’s my treat today Huai. We don’t get a chance to dine together often so I ordered the best meal they have.”
He responded in the Chinese social tradition, feigning embarrassment and expressing deep gratitude; a practice designed to save face for both parties. “I really shouldn’t let you pay but I gratefully accept your generous offer. How are the production lines running these days?” Of course he already knew the answer but, out of politeness, he was obliged to initiate some line of conversation that would reveal something complimentary about his benefactor.
“All the lines are running at full capacity and we’re meeting our production quotas but all my departments are under extreme pressure. Purchasing is having a hard time getting enough product to meet our lead time requirements so, our customers are complaining because our product delivery dates are not as punctual as they would like. The whole problem could be solved if we could keep more stock on hand but Qian insists we operate under the Just in Time (JIT) production raw goods model to reduce in-process inventory. The problem is that if every business operates this way, when one company fails then every company in the supply chain is impacted in a domino effect.”
“Oh? What about setting up second source companies for critical production materials?”
“I want to secure Li Jing Semiconductor as an alternate vendor but Qian won’t allow it. I don’t know what the CEO, Mr. Liu, has done to offend Qian but when I ask him for approval he always refuses for some bullshit reasons; like poor quality, bad equipment, inadequate production capacity etc. Obvious excuses justifying awarding contracts to his favorite vendors. And he is constantly demanding that purchasing reduce the cost of production inventory. If you want a healthy horse, you have to feed it. You only get what you pay for. It’s so frustrating to be the manager of a division without the power to perform my job effectively!”
“But you are a founding partner! Why can’t you speak to him? You meet every day. You should be able figure out a solution in ten minutes.”
Yang was impressed by how circumspect Huai was for a young person; a very unusual and refreshing contrast to the typical attitude of today’s young generation. “Some things can’t be discussed between us. I have worked side by side with Qian since the beginning of our company and I know him pretty well. Through the years his product ideas have made the shareholders very rich and as long as this trend continues, no shareholder is going to listen to me whine about philosophical differences on how to effectively run the production line. I just have to keep my mouth shut and deal with it.”
“Unfortunately, I am new in the company and have very little influence over anything. I don’t think there is anyway for me to help you.” It seemed as though Yang was asking for some sort of advice but Huai had no idea what it might be so he thought it best that he reply with a polite refusal; and actually, what he had said was true.
They paused their conversation while the waiters served the appetizers of asparagus, steamed yam, sweet shrimp sashimi and mushroom soup. They seemed like two people marooned in a strange world, with no understanding of the native language. But unlike the stranded wayfarer, they really didn’t care. When the waiters had left, Yang stuffed his mouth with sashimi and mumbled something unintelligible but he didn’t speak clearly until he had swallowed. “I know your position in the company is difficult and doesn’t make any sense to you. I guess looking back, it’s really all my fault that Qian has isolated you from any significant participation in the business.”
Huai was taking a spoonful of soup but stopped halfway to his mouth upon hearing Yang’s admission. He stared intently at Yang waiting for an explanation but just then the main course of buttered scallops, grilled mackerel, sushi and cabbage rolls arrived. “Eat before the food gets cold! I will explain all this to you when we have finished.” He enjoyed watching Huai’s shocked reaction and nervous anxiousness to find out an answer to the mystery behind his comment.
Huai somehow sensed that he would have to wait for Yang to be satiated before he would get his answer, so he struggled to wait patiently. After his last bite, Yang took a drink of tea and sloshed it around in his mouth to wash away some of residual grease from the rich food and then asked the waiter for a tooth pick. He then leaned back in his chair and carefully picked his teeth as if it were a sensual ritual rather than an act of necessity.
It reminded him of a TV drama about the Emperor Qian-Long during the Qing dynasty sitting opulently in his throne while his minions knelt before him, silver in hand, waiting for him to grant their requests. Huai supposed that they would have waited for him to finish shitting if necessary to get a favor from him. Finally the emperor shouted out to them in a disgusted tone, “What do you want from me?” That snapped him out of his imaginary castle in ancient China back to the topic at hand.
“Director Yang, can you explain the reason why you think you are responsible for my languishing career at Yin-Yang?”
“Don’t call me Director, we can speak like brothers. OK?” His sincere nod was reassuring to Huai and gave him confidence that he would come to understand a great deal about Yin-Yang and his future there. “On the day of your interview when I met you in the hall, I sensed that you had exceptional talents and thought you would make an excellent employee. I later mentioned my impression of you to Qian and recommended strongly that he hire you. But, I’m afraid that he mistook my support for you was an attempt to get a confederate of mine to infiltrate his team. So all these months he has stripped all the important duties of a special assistant from you and limited you to only simple duties that could not expose him to betrayal. Unfortunately for you, Qian and I are sharply divided on some issues and do not have a level of trust and cooperation that partners should have. It seems that everyone in the company is forced to choose sides.”
Suddenly, all the suspicion and self doubt were dispelled and Huai was somewhat relieved to realize that he was simply a victim of circumstance. “Qian will never trust you in the future as long as he perceives you to be one of my allies. Your future in the company will never progress unless ...”
“Unless what?” Huai leaned forward, concentrating with his full attention, waiting to finally get the solution that would help him to jump start his stalled career. Yang also leaned in and whispered, “Qian and I are both businessmen and we are all alike. The only thing we trust is money because it will not betray you. If you can show him how to make money, he will trust you and give you a more important role in the business.”
Huai couldn’t help laughing out loud. If he could help Qian make money to regain his trust then why not just make the money for himself and save all the trouble of trying to please someone else. He glanced over at Yang and saw how displeased he was with his laughter. Thinking himself a bit rude, he was quick to explain his reaction. “Brother, don’t take offense. I just laughed at myself when I imagined trying to show Qian how to make money under my current position in the company. I am not allowed to get involved in any important decisions let alone expect him to Listen to any of my ...”
Yang suddenly assumed an almost arrogant posture and cut him off impatiently. “By yourself? Of course not! But with my power and my contacts it won’t be a problem. In the next few days, I want to introduce you to some people that you can use to achieve your objective.”
Huai had no idea of the extent of Yang’s connections. Legislators, government officials, businessmen, professors and many others involved in nefarious endeavors. He was in awe of the resources exclusively at Yang’s disposal and that none of them were known by or accessible to Qian.