Early summer nights in Taipei were always still and humid. The newly hatched bugs hovered in oscillating swarms around the street lights, and just above the grass in the bushes outside beneath Shan-Wei’s bedroom window. They made an incessant ticking noise as they flew into the screen trying to find a small hole that would provide them ingress into the lighted room on the other side.
Inside, Shan-Wei was playing an online computer game. The desk lamp was the only light in the room and the reflection of the light from his face superimposed his vacant expression over the battling avatars dancing about the screen.
A vibrating buzz on the desk startled him for a second. He grabbed his cell phone to see who was sending him a message at this hour of the night. A message from the Secretary of Economy Yun-Sheng read, “10:30 on video call”. He returned an OK, loaded his video chat program and went back to his game.
A little over two minutes later an incoming call request interrupted his game and when he clicked to accept the call, the angry face of Yun-Sheng appeared on the display shouting. “What the hell have you been doing? Have you found the tape yet?”
“Hey, no need to get pissed off! I have looked everywhere in the office and in Qian’s house and haven’t even seen a hint of any tape. I my opinion, it doesn’t exist!”
“What? Are you trying to fuck with me? If you keep the tape from me and try to threaten me, I’ll destroy you!”
“I really wouldn’t even dare think of extorting you. Believe me!”
“Then explain to me why Qian died shortly after I asked you to look for the tape.”
“You can eat whatever you want but you can’t say anything you want. If you make random insinuations like that, I could end up going to jail. It was purely a coincidence.”
“Really? A coincidence? I ask you to find a tape that Qian was using to threaten me and a couple of days later he dies in a car accident. Explain that.”
“I don’t have the courage to kill anybody let alone my uncle. I looked for the tape everywhere in the company but couldn’t find it so I decided to go to Qian’s house and search there. I was fearful that he might come home from the office early and catch me so, I put some GHB in his coffee to knock him out. I figured he’d just pass out in his office and sleep it off but he decided to rush off to some meeting and it was too late to turn back. You wonder if I murdered him? He never goes anywhere without his assistant. Lin Huai-Yuan should be a more plausible suspect than me!”
“So, did you leak the information to the press? They wouldn’t have any way of knowing about it unless somebody talked. You and I were the only ones alive that knew about the tape and I sure didn’t talk to anyone.”
“How can you accuse me like that? You know how clever the reporters are. They get hold of the tiniest clue and they just blow everything out of proportion just to sell papers with their fantasies. They couldn’t pass up the chance to turn Qian’s death into a scandal. Anyway, you’re smart and you are an expert in dealing with the press. My uncle has just died and I am busy with the company affairs. Any evidence he had went to the grave with him. Why are you so persistent in looking for that tape? If they can’t produce any evidence to back up their story, just sue them for slander. Don’t worry, everything will work out OK. ”
Lin Yun-Sheng was swayed by Shan-Wei’s eloquent speech, at least for the moment, but his thoughts were not totally organized yet. “All right, I guess I believe you but, if I hear any more news mentioned about the pumping station contract, I’ll be coming for you!” At that, he disconnected the video chat abruptly.
In his own mind, Shan-Wei not only disavowed any responsibility for Qian’s death but actually believed that he had caused his own death through neglect of his filial duties. Even though his uncle had arranged through Yang for him to join the company, he was only given a menial job as a clerk assistant to one of Yang’s brown-nosing yes men in purchasing. He often despaired over the seemingly impossible goal of joining the elite product development group working under his uncle. After all, he reasoned, their family was actually a share holder in the company and Qian should have treated him better even though there holdings were very small. He brooded over this injustice almost on a daily basis.
In an attempt to accelerate his rise though the ranks, Shan-Wei often visited Huai-Yuan, Qian’s personal assistant, to see if he could possibly form some kind of alliance with him or at the least, pick up some hints that might help him achieve his goal. But Huai, although respectful and socially amenable, always remained aloof. In fact he often projected an air of suspicion by the way he stared at him. Shan-Wei finally concluded that Huai would be the ultimate obstacle to his aspirations of joining the ranks of management. On top of, that everybody treated him like a spy due to his relationship to the chairman and were reluctant to fraternize with him.
One day a seemingly trivial incident, later in retrospect, became the seminal juncture that triggered the chain of events culminating if Qian’s death. Shan-Wei was sitting at his computer perusing the invoice summary report for the week when Johnson’s phone in the next cubicle began to ring. After the second unanswered ring, he walked into the vacant cube and picked up the phone just after it rang for the third time; partly because the company policy dictated that no phone should ring more than three times but mostly because the harsh ring tone jangled his nerves.
On the other end of the line a voice panting and out of breath was shouting. “Hey Johnson?”
“He’s not at his desk. Who is this?”
“Xiao-Wu from the production line. Tell him to call me on extension 543 immediately when he gets back. This is urgent!”
Shan-Wei put a note on Johnson’s monitor and went back to his desk smiling to himself. Hmm, 543 the cultural jargon for something useless. How appropriate. In a few minutes, Johnson returned and called the production line as requested.
“This is Johnson, what do you want? ... Ah ... I know the situation but I just ordered the parts two days ago, don’t hassle me. I thought you had enough parts to carry you over ... yeah, it seems the parts from Qun-Ce have had a high defect rate since they lowered their pricing to match Jing-Mi ... It won’t do any good for me to look at the production line. All I can do is try to expedite the parts delivery. My hands are tied because Yang insists we order our parts from Qun-Ce ... What, a two week delay? Isn’t that order for Azumaen Corporation? ...That will kill us. We signed a contract with them that specifies very heavy penalties for late delivery. When marketing hears about this they will be livid. I have to take this to my boss and I’ll get back to you later.”
Bad news always travels fast and by the time Johnson got to Yang’s office a large group of agitated colleagues had gathered there, yelling and all trying to talk at once. But soon Yang had them calmed down by assuring that he would resolve the problem quickly. Most accepted his reassurances because he had a reputation for having many important contacts in the industry and for getting seemingly impossible things done expeditiously. He made a few phone calls and then left with the procurement manager and Johnson to pick up the emergency parts order.
Shan-Wei was not exactly sure what the issues were in Yang’s division, but he had heard enough rumors to suspect that there was some sort of scandalous activity going on within the company that, if exposed, might help in gain favor with his uncle. He started digging into the purchasing data for the past year for the two companies listed as approved vendors for Yin-Yang Electronics; Qun-Ce and Jing-Mi. He noticed that Yin-Yang had been buying parts from Qun-Ce even though their bid was substantially higher than the alternate supplier so he decided to set up a meeting with Liu Zi-Qiang (Leo Zuh-Cheeang) from Jing-Mi to get to the bottom of the irregularity.
About a month later he was waiting in the coffee shop cafe for his appointment with Liu Zi-Qiang. He had selected this particular secluded rendezvous to avoid raising any suspicion that might have negative repercussions for either of them. A well dressed gentleman in a business suit walked through the door and approached him.
“Are you Yin Shan-Wei?”
“Yes, and you must be Liu Zi-Qiang.”
“Yes. You may call me Zi-Qiang. I was a bit surprised by your call. I am normally contacted by Mr. Johnson. Is he still with your firm?”
“Ah, yes, of course. Oh, here, we forgot to exchange business cards. Do you want to get something to drink?”
Zi-Qiang went to the counter to get a cup of coffee and returned to the table, still a little confused.
“What is it you wish to discuss Mr. Yin?”
“Please call me Shan-Wei. I’ll get right to the point. Are you familiar with a company called Qun-Ce?” Zi-Qiang nodded. “We have been using them as a preferred supplier for a few years but recently we have been having quality issues with their components. Have you heard any scuttlebutt from other companies in the industry regarding this kind of problem?”
“Qun-Ce is quite a large supplier and one of our main competitors. Their quality should be quite acceptable for even Yin-Yang’s rigid specifications. I haven’t heard anything to the contrary.”
Shan-Wei sensed that Zi-Qiang was a little wary and his response guarded so he decided to change his approach.
“Perhaps I should have been a little more direct. I have compared the pricing and capacity for both companies. Even though Jing-Mi offers the best pricing, Qun-Ce has always been selected to supply our components. I don’t understand that. Is their product so much better than yours or doesn’t Jing-Mi care about getting our business?”
“Of course we have no quality issues and we also may have submitted the lowest pricing structure but we have no control over whom Yin-Yang buys their parts from. I asked Johnson why we didn’t get any orders from you and he told me that Qun-Ce offered better pricing. But now you tell me that we submitted the lowest bid. I don’t understand why he lied to me.”
Shan-Wei noticed the scowl on Zi-Qiang’s face and felt like he was finally getting his point across. “Do you think that possibly your president doesn’t get along with our president?”
“I don’t think so. I know that they play golf together quite often and seem to be very close friends.”
“Yin-Yang is quite a large company and has two very talented partners. But, they don’t always agree on how to manage the company. Inevitably the teeth will bite the lip! You know who our chairman is don’t you?” Shan-Wei made a pointed glance at his business card on the table and smiled knowingly.
“Yin Shawn-Wei... Oh! ... You are ...” Recognizing the surname, Zi-Qiang carefully picked up the card from the table and cradled it in his hand as if he had just found a valuable treasure.
“Zi-Qiang, if you want to get orders from Yin-Yang, just be sure to keep our conversation confidential and keep your ears open for news about any questionable business deals related to Qun-Ce. If you hear anything, call me directly and I will see what I can do to help you out.”
A little over a week later, Shan-Wei got a call from Zi-Qiang with some shocking information that he couldn’t wait to tell his uncle. He raced up to Qian’s office and closed the door behind him.
“Shan-Wei, why are you in such a hurry?” Qian glanced up at him momentarily and then continued on with his paper work.
“Uncle, I found out about some corrupt secret business dealings that I have to report to you!”
Qian gave him a sharp scolding glance. “When you are in the company, address me as president or chairman, never Uncle. Don’t forget next time.” Then, in a perfunctory manner he motioned him to continue. “So, what is so important that you have to interrupt my busy day?”
Shan-Wei was so intimidated by his uncle’s scolding and disinterested manner that he could only muster a timid stutter. “Y-y-you remember the incident last month when the defective parts from Qun-Ce nearly delayed the product shipment to Japan?”
“You mean the order for Azumaen Corporation?” Shan-Wei nodded. “Yang has already dealt with that. No big deal”
“Well, maybe not in the way you think. I looked into the vendor quotes and purchases for the entire last year and even though Jing-Mi was the low bidder, we continued to place our orders with Qun-Ce. That is until the annual review meeting last year when we put pressure on them to reduce their prices. They reluctantly complied but only after we agreed to purchase their remaining stock at the previous higher pricing. Then, when the new batch of lower priced parts arrived, QC found defects in at least three major components. I think that is unusual don’t you?” He waited anxiously to see what effect this had on Qian.
“So, what are you implying?”
Shan-Wei was surprised at the nonchalant response to his news which was far from his expectations. So he decided to drop the bomb shell. “It’s rumored in the industry that Yang is taking kickbacks from Qun-Ce in return for single sourcing our component orders to them even though they are the highest bidder. The inflated price we pay goes into Yang’s pocket in the form of kickbacks. I thought you would be concerned that your partner has been embezzling profits from your company.” Now he could see that he definitely had Qian’s attention.
“Oh? ...That’s a pretty bold accusation to make. What is your source of information?”
“A little while ago the manager of procurement at Qun-Ce was terminated because he wouldn’t agree to his boss’s illicit business practices. Now he works for Guang-Tong, our main competitor, and ironically is now also a customer of Qun-Ce. Of course he felt that he was wrongfully terminated and retaliated against his former boss by naming all the managers from different companies that received kickbacks of up to 10% from Qun-Ce. Undoubtedly the management at Qun-Ce is scurrying around like ants in a hot pan trying to stem the tide of these deleterious rumors. I’m sure that Yang has already been alerted by Qun-Ce but he certainly wouldn’t have mentioned any of this to you!”
Shan-Wei paused for a moment and then, with great confidence, continued on in a gloating tone. “I estimate that for the past year Yang collected about $1.5 million in kickbacks from Qun-Ce alone and who knows how much he collected from other vendors operating the same scams. Then, on top of that, he collected a substantial year-end bonus from Yin-Yang. That’s like skinning the sheep twice! What a blood sucker!” He inwardly congratulated himself on making an indisputable case against Yang and was ecstatic in anticipation of great praise from his uncle. He imagined himself to be like a spy returning from an assignment with critical secret information and could barely suppress his excitement.
Qian stood pensively staring straight ahead without saying a word but still somehow managing to maintain a dignified presence. He finally surfaced from his deep thought and became aware that Shan-Wei was still in the office, apparently waiting for some praise from him for a job well done. It made him feel like the man whose friend told him that his wife was found in bed with the neighbor and expected a reward for doing so. “How many people know about this?”
“I don’t know exactly but, you know how fast this kind of scandalous news travels in the industrial community.”
“This is something I will take care of confidentially within the company. Don’t tell this to anyone else and If you hear it from someone, vehemently refute it.”
Shan-Wei was disappointed and turned to leave when Qian stopped him and patted him on the shoulder. “You did a good job! With effort like that, no company will treat you badly.”
Shortly after, the manager from purchasing was terminated and Yang took over acting in his place until a replacement could be named. Shan-Wei assumed that he would be chosen to fill the position as a reward and that Qian would make the announcement momentarily. But, his hopes for a stepping stone to launch his career were soon squelched when both Qian and Yang escorted the new purchasing manager on a welcoming plant tour. It was obvious that the new manager and Qian were acquainted on a close personal level and Qian projected a strongly implied impression that he now had an ally in the Yang’s domain to keep operations on the straight and narrow.
It turned out that the new manager, Zhuo Min-Xiong (Zhuhwa Meen-Sheong), and Qian were best friends in high school and in college. He had graduated with a business major specializing in cost accounting and was hired by a major American firm managing their over seas factories in China and South East Asia. There was not any doubt in anybody’s mind that he was more than qualified for the position.
The events surrounding these changes were shocking to most and were the topic of much back room discussion. Most everyone took a wait-and-see attitude as it was too soon to assess which partner they should align with for maximum gain. Shan-Wei ceased to be a person of interest to them even though he was relative of Chairman Yin Mo-Qian.
This was a brutal slap in the face for Shan-Wei. Every time he recalled his uncle’s reassuring words, “No company will treat you badly” he felt utterly betrayed and deeply angered. His prospects for advancement in the company looked grim and his family’s stake in the company should have insured that he could have gotten a better position than his current dead end clerical job. He realized that it was futile to expect any support from his uncle or anyone else at Yin-Yang and decided to abandon that pursuit and act on his own; mercilessly if necessary. So, one night he purposely stayed late until the office was vacant and planted a bug in Qian’s office.
After eavesdropping for a few days without noting anything of significance, he finally overheard a phone conversation between Qian and Minister Lin Yun-Sheng that caught his attention.
“Minister, we have been collaborating together for quite some time now but if we are to continue, there are some rules that need to be followed to avoid any misunderstanding. The last time I was with you at the guest house, I mentioned a figure to you. That is all that Yin-Yang can afford to donate so I hope you can accept our offer. I don’t think you want me to lay all my chips on the table. The outcome of that would not be good for you! This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed this issue. If Yin-Yang can’t make a profit from the Government projects then there is no point in paying you for preferential treatment. Don’t worry, if we make a good profit, we will treat you well. Let’s meet tomorrow and work out the final agreement. I don’ think it is wise to discuss any further details in my office.”
Shan-Wei wasn’t exactly sure what he had witnessed but he sensed that it wasn’t exactly above board. He decided to give it some serious thought in the next few days to figure out what they were discussing and how he could use it in the future for his own benefit.