Chapter 15: New Leads
The noon sun pierced the windows and spread its light all over the hospital room. A-Jiao stretched out as she lay on her hospital bed. Only then did she feel fully awake. Or perhaps she woke up because she was hungry?
“That damned cop!” she muttered. With great difficulty, she got out of bed and went to the bathroom. However, she felt a bit uncomfortable today. Her neck felt sore, and her body was fatigued. Jiang Zhengkai’s strength had been much too great for A-Jiao to handle in her state. She wasn’t up for such shenanigans just yet.
“That idiot left his bag here again.” While she was eating, A-Jiao saw that Jiang Zhengkai’s messenger bag remained on the windowsill, exactly where it had been the night before. “Is he really that old?” she wondered as she looked at his bag. “From how he looks, I’d say he’s no more than twenty-seven or twenty-eight?” Alas, love makes one blind, or perhaps men just age slower than women. Regardless, to her, Jiang Zhengkai definitely did not look like a middle-aged man thirty-five years of age.
After she finished her meal, A-Jiao neatly placed her bowl and chopsticks on the small dining table. She then gently walked over to the window to pick up Jiang Zhengkai’s bag. There was no need for her to wash her own dishes, nor did she have to worry about not having anything to eat. The hospital took care of everything. Someone would bring her meals, and then someone else would take away her dishes. Boy did it feel good to be served!
She grabbed Jiang Zhengkai’s bag and painstakingly returned to her hospital bed. “Son of a bitch, he really did mess me up,” she muttered as she got back onto the bed. Her body really did feel quite uncomfortable, but when she saw the bag in her hands, it quickly raised her spirits again.
“I’m going to take a nice long look and see what he’s been hiding in here!” She opened the bag carefully, as if Jiang Zhengkai would catch her if she moved any faster. “Hmm… a bunch of useless junk.” She rummaged through the bag several times, but all she saw were things Jiang Zhengkai used for his work. None of these things attracted her attention. What she was looking for was information about his age.
“Haha, look here! Man, I’m good!” A-Jiao chuckled when she found a hidden inner pocket inside the bag, where she finally discovered Jiang Zhengkai’s photo ID. “He really is an old uncle! I can’t believe he’s already thirty-five!” She held the bag in one hand and his ID in the other while staring blankly into the distance as she sat on the bed. Her mouth pouted, and her eyes began to wander aimlessly. Learning such a thing had clearly soured her mood. “Hey, I wonder what his wife looks like,” she thought, an evil grin appearing on her face. “She must be fat like a pig and ugly like a hippo!” As she held that thought, A-Jiao placed the ID back in the pocket where she found it and carelessly tossed his bag next to her pillow. She then lay down and continued sleeping.
“Sergeant Zhang, what do you know about the woman who died last night?” Jiang Zhengkai asked as soon as he arrived in Zhang Nan’s office.
“Inspector Jiang, are you talking about A-Xiu?” Zhang Nan very politely looked at Jiang Zhengkai, who was sitting across his desk. He thought for a moment before hesitantly replying, “She used to work in the alley. I guess you could call her an old-time prostitute. However, after our colleagues at the sub-bureau’s vice squad brought her in for questioning roughly two years ago, she never appeared in the alley again… until just a few days ago.” It appeared that Sergeant Zhang’s account matched that of A-Shun’s. Both were telling the truth.
Jiang Zhengkai smiled despite himself as he listened to Zhang Nan’s account. “I see.” He then casually asked, “ Sergeant Zhang, how do you know she hasn’t been working in the alley for the last two years?”
“Well…” Faced with such a question, Zhang Nan was at a loss for words and didn’t know how to respond. He did, however, glance at the open door. The two of them should’ve been the only ones there. Even though Wei Xin normally followed Jiang Zhengkai around, he had sent her to the station archive room to search for more documents.
“Relax, there’s no one else here. If it isn’t a big deal, then feel free to tell me.” Seeing the awkward expression on Zhang Nan’s face, Jiang Zhengkai waved his hand and said, “But if you really don’t feel comfortable talking about it, then forget I asked anything. Don’t worry about it, it’s just a prostitute.”
“Hah. Well, Inspector Jiang, since you put it that way, I really don’t have much of a option but to tell you, do I?” Having been backed into a corner, Zhang Nan had no choice but to spill the beans. “You used to be walk the beat too, so you know how tough life as a beat cop can be. So the station collected a certain amount of ‘contributions’ from the pimps in the alley, and in exchange we allowed them to go about their business… but only when it came to prostitution! They weren’t allowed to engage in any other nefarious activities in our area of responsibility.”
“I see,” Jiang Zhengkai said as he nodded. Of course, what Zhang Nan said wasn’t news to him. He knew every station in the city was more or less on the take. Otherwise, where would everyone’s year-end bonuses come from? As long as such arrangements weren’t completely out of line, and there weren’t any complaints from citizens, the higher-ups tended to look the other way.
“About two years ago, I found that besides engaging in prostitution, the women in the alley were also dealing drugs.” Zhang Nan’s voice lowered even more when he said the last few words, as he stared his superior intently in the eyes.
“Really?” Jiang Zhengkai looked at Zhang Nan in shock. Drug dealing was a serious offense. How could he not know it was going on in his district?
“Yeah, there was a john who died after taking some drugs. Our station started the investigation and worked on the case for a while.” Seeing Jiang Zhengkai really didn’t know anything about the case, Zhang Nan started to relax a bit. “Later, our colleagues over at the sub-bureau’s vice squad took over the case, and we moved to a supporting role. One of the people we questioned was that woman named A-Xiu. She refused to confess to any wrongdoing, and we didn’t have any other incriminating evidence, so the case was dropped.”
“Wait, drug offenses are supposed to be under the jurisdiction of the narcotics squad, not vice. So why was Vice involved in this case?” Jiang Zhengkai asked in surprise. The various squads at the sub-bureau had very clear mandates on what types of cases each handled. Prostitution and gambling went to Vice, drug trafficking went to Narcotics, and arson and homicides went to Jiang Zhengkai.
“Hehe, well, that I don’t know,” Zhang Nan chuckled. “That was something the leadership at the sub-bureau decided on. I’m just a lowly sergeant. Oh wait, I was only a corporal back then, so yeah, that’s not exactly the type of question I was allowed to ask.”
“So who was the station sergeant back then?” Jiang Zhengkai asked casually. Even though the Ju’an Road Police Station had the Yanhua Alley in its area of responsibility, violent crimes in this neighborhood were quite rare, so Jiang Zhengkai never had much exposure to this part of town. As such, he had almost no recollection of who the previous station sergeant was.
“Oh, that was Gao. He got transferred,” Zhang Nan replied. “It’s been almost two years since he transferred.”
“So you’re saying shortly after A-Xiu was questioned, he was transferred?” Jiang Zhengkai pensively asked with a gloomy look on his face.
“Yeah, that sounds about right!” Zhang Nan carefully thought for a moment and said, “I think he was transferred about a month after she was questioned.”
“I don’t recall having a sergeant with the last name Gao in our sub-bureau or any of its subordinate stations,” Jiang Zhengkai raised his head and continued to ask Zhang Nan.
“He was transferred to a position at another sub-bureau,” Zhang Nan replied with a smile. “If he hadn’t been transferred, he would’ve been due for retirement.”
“I see.” Jiang Zhengkai furrowed his brow. “What can you tell me about this Sergeant Gao?”
“Well, he’s an old cop who spent his entire career in the force. He was…” Zhang Nan meticulously described everything he knew about Gao to Jiang Zhengkai. From his recounting, Jiang Zhengkai could tell Zhang Nan had great admiration and respect for Gao. However, with regard to how Gao handled the A-Xiu case, Zhang Nan had more than just slight misgivings. The only things that kept him from openly opposing Gao were Gao’s professional reputation and his own status as a subordinate. Police officers are human beings, too. They aren’t supermen or god-like personas as portrayed in countless crime movies. And as human beings, they are subject to all the worldly pressures faced by everyday people. When it came to making decisions, people made decisions that they subjectively believed to be the most appropriate.
“Inspector Jiang!” Wei Xin called out as she entered the office. “I found the files you wanted.”
“Hehe, here comes the young and the resourceful,” Zhang Nan commented at the sight of Wei Xin. He then turned around to give Jiang Zhengkai a profound look. “Inspector Jiang, you’re not so young anymore though, right?”
“Hehe, yeah, she is definitely young and resourceful. As for me, you needn’t worry too much.” Jiang Zhengkai picked up the first half of Zhang Nan’s comments but tactfully swatted the second half.
“What are you two gentlemen talking about? Am I missing something here?” Wei Xin asked with a confused expression.
“Haha, it’s nothing.” Zhang Nan half-jokingly replied to Wei Xin, “When you’re free, bring your boss over to my place. I’ll tell my wife to cook us a few dishes.”
“I will!” Wei Xin readily promised. “I love eating home-cooked food!”