Chapter 25: A-Tie’s Confession
Just when Jiang Zhengkai was about to give up, his desk telephone rang again. “Jiang, it’s Zhang,” said Zhang Nan over the phone. “I have a new lead here. This morning, the post office delivered a letter to Zhu Yuping’s residence. It was sent from Sichuan Province. The letter has already been intercepted by our colleagues patrolling the neighborhood.”
“Really? A letter from Sichuan?” Jiang Zhengkai repeated. He didn’t think it was that strange for Zhu Yuping to have a friend or relative in Sichuan.
“Correct, except the letter wasn’t directly addressed to Zhu Yuping,” Zhang Nan continued. “The envelope was addressed to Lu Xiaomei, care of Zhu Yuping.”
“Lu Xiaomei?” The importance of that name soon dawned on him. “Wait, is that the female victim in the first case, Xiaomei?” That’s right, Sichuan! Xiaomei was Sichuanese! A-Jiao had told him that. Furthermore, he recalled seeing the name Lu Xiaomei in Xiaomei’s case file.
“That’s right, Jiang,” Zhang Nan replied. “I’ve already read the letter. It’s just an ordinary letter from her family. However, there was one thing in the letter that I found interesting. The letter said that her mother’s health had significantly improved and that her older brother was going to graduate this year, so Xiaomei could stop sending her monthly remittances home. It also said that Xiaomei sent home too much money last month, that her family had no need for that much money. Oh, and the letter ended by telling her to take care of herself or something along those lines.”
“Someone sent money to Xiaomei’s family after she died?” an astonished Jiang Zhengkai asked. Xiaomei had died more than two months ago, so she obviously couldn’t have sent the money. But if it wasn’t her, then who could it have been? Just then, a familiar voice echoed in his mind…
“Can you take me to the post office?”
“I’m going to wire my parents some money. They’re waiting to use it.”
“No peeping while I type in my PIN!”
A-Jiao? Xiaomei? Could it be that A-Jiao was Xiaomei? Or did A-Jiao send money on behalf of Xiaomei? If Jiang Zhengkai had to choose, he naturally would have chosen to believe the latter, but common sense dictated that he chose the former. After all, A-Jiao was a prostitute, a woman who sold her body for money. Was it possible that her sentimentality outweighed her greed, so much so that she sent her hard-earned money to another woman’s family? No, it didn’t make sense. Then did that mean that the first victim was in fact A-Jiao as opposed to Xiaomei?
“Zhang, what about A-Jiao? Do you have any more documents on her?” Jiang Zhengkai paused his train of thought to ask Zhang Nan.
“A-Jiao?” Zhang Nan asked before falling silent for a moment. “Wasn’t she the witness to the first two cases? To tell you the truth, I really don’t know that much about her. She’s not a regular who works everyday.”
“Oh? There are part-timers even in that profession?” Jiang Zhengkai chuckled. Were there prostitutes who only worked Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and took off Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays?
“About that, yeah, there actually are,” Zhang Nan laughingly replied. “In any case, I’ll go back and get some more information from A-Shun.”
“Alright. After you’ve obtained more information, call me immediately,” Jiang Zhengkai said before hanging up the phone. However, he suddenly felt A-Jiao standing right in front of him, hands on her hips, indignantly saying, “I’ll work whenever I feel like working! You don’t control me, you damn cop!”
“Inspector Jiang, did you need me to do anything over by Ju’an Road tonight?” Wei Xin popped in and asked. She was wearing civilian attire, since according to the duty roster, it was her turn to stand watch in the alley tonight.
“Oh, no, thank you,” Jiang Zhengkai shook his head. He added, “Oh, but one more thing. If you see A-Shun tonight, remember to ask him if he knows where A-Jiao is. Also, it’ll be cold tonight, so make sure to wear some more clothes.” Jiang Zhengkai took a look at what Wei Xin was wearing, which wasn’t a whole lot. Since she was playing the part of a prostitute, it made sense that she was dressed for the part. You wouldn’t expect her to walk the streets in her police uniform, would you?
“Do I look pretty?” Wei Xin asked. She took no heed of what Jiang Zhengkai had said to her, and was instead worried about her overall appearance.
“Yeah, not bad,” Jiang Zhengkai helplessly answered.
“Good! Next time I take you out to dinner, I’ll make sure to dress like this,” teased Wei Xin before she whipped her head around and ran out of the room. “Don’t stay too late, Inspector Jiang!”
Jiang Zhengkai sat there and sighed. He understood what Wei Xin was trying to get at, but there was no place in his heart for Wei Xin. If there were only two women left in this world, and he had to choose between Wei Xin and A-Jiao, then he would choose the latter, not because A-Jiao was better than Wei Xin, but rather because every soul had scars hidden deep within it.
As night descended, Jiang Zhengkai parked his car near the vicinity of Uncle Cai’s noodle shop. He walked into the noodle shop, found himself a table, and hollered, “Uncle Cai! One large bowl of hand-cut noodles! And make sure to give me some extra paste, too!”
“You got it!” Uncle Cai hollered in response as he walked over to wipe down the table. “How come you’ve been coming by yourself recently? Where did that girl A-Jiao go?”
“She’s traveling,” Jiang Zhengkai responded vaguely. Except for those days when he had to work overtime, he had been coming to Uncle Cai’s every night since A-Jiao had been discharged from the hospital. Sometimes it was to eat a bowl of noodles; other times it was to exchange some chit-chat with Uncle Cai. It was a routine that he had settled into, just like how he would park his car in front of Ju’an Estates and smoke a cigarette before going home for the night. There, he waited hopefully for the light in A-Jiao’s home to suddenly turn on. Here, he desperately yearned for a woman to walk in and yell, “Uncle Cai! A bowl of hand-cut noodles!”
After leaving Uncle Cai’s, he drove his car to Ju’an Estates as usual. However, he stayed there for a very long time this night, because his work during the day irritated him greatly. Right before he’d left the office, he had notified his colleagues at External Affairs to go to the post office and track down the recipient of A-Jiao’s wire transfer. He hoped that by tracking down the wire transfer’s destination, he would be able to find out more information about A-Jiao or Xiaomei.
However, he didn’t care if the woman who lived here was really called A-Jiao or Xiaomei. All he knew was that couldn’t let go of that woman, even though she was a prostitute.
The next morning, Jiang Zhengkai didn’t go to work at the sub-bureau. He first drove to the alley, where he picked up the pimp A-Tie and brought him to the Ju’an Road Police Station for questioning.
Inside the interrogation room, Jiang Zhengkai asked him, “A-Tie, where did A-Shun go these last couple of days?”
“Oh! Yeah, he took a couple of days off. His kid’s sick,” A-Tie replied.
“Then what about A-Jiao? What do you know about her?” Jiang Zhengkai continued his questioning.
“A-Jiao? She hasn’t been around for a while now,” A-Tie answered. “She’s not a bad person, but she does have a bad temper and likes to beat people. Other than that, I’ve got nothing.”
“Bad temper and likes to beat people, huh?” Considering his interactions with A-Jiao, Jiang Zhengkai was inclined to agree. “Then, what about Xiaomei?”
“She was a clever kid,” A-Tie sighed at Jiang Zhengkai’s mention of Xiaomei. “She came out to work on the streets because her family needed money. Of all the women in the alley, she was the most hardworking one.”
“Then let me ask you, what was her relationship with Zhu Yuping?”
“I don’t think they had a relationship,” A-Tie candidly replied. “What would the two of them have had to do with one another anyway? Oh, I remember now! Xiaomei often asked Zhu Yuping to help her write letters home because she was functionally illiterate.”
“And what about A-Jiao?” Jiang Zhengkai changed the subject.
“A-Jiao? She’s beautiful, liked to surf the internet, seemed like she was well-educated. She didn’t really hang out with the other girls when she wasn’t working,” described A-Tie before pausing for a moment. “She had a pretty good relationship with Xiaomei, actually. Mostly because she didn’t bully Xiaomei.”
“Was Xiaomei was frequently bullied by others?” Jiang Zhengkai asked, focusing all of his attention on A-Tie’s eyes.
“Yeah, she was young, and she was small. Even though she had been working in the alley for two or three years, the other women still liked to take their anger out on her. I mean, these women are treated like sex toys by men on a daily basis, so of course there’s a lot of pent-up anger and frustration,” A-Tie said matter-of-factly. “Half a year ago, A-Jiao took Xiaomei under her wing, and the other girls in the alley stopped bullying her, because whoever picked on Xiaomei would be paid back with interest by A-Jiao.”
“Paid back?” Jiang Zhengkai gently tapped the table. “How would she pay them back?”
“Hehe, normally A-Jiao’s a pretty nice person, but if you fucked with her, she could turn into a real nasty bitch. Plus, she has backup, so no one in the alley wanted to mess with her,” A-Tie responded with a smile on his face. “We’re obviously not going to pay anyone back by calling the police.”
“Then who was it that died in the first murder?” Jiang Zhengkai suddenly asked with feigned casualness. He already knew what A-Tie meant by “backup”; A-Jiao must have had ties to the Triads.
“Xiaomei, wasn’t it?” A-Tie answered in astonishment. “Wait, are you saying it wasn’t her?”
“What was Xiaomei’s real name?” Jiang Zhengkai asked, ignoring A-Tie’s question.
“Real name? Nobody cares what your real name is in our line of profession,” A-Tie scratched his head. “I think Xiaomei was Sichuanese and had the last name Lu. I think I remember A-Shun mentioning it once.”
“And how often did A-Jiao work?” Jiang Zhengkai asked his last question.
“Her? She worked when she felt like it,” A-Tie replied. “She didn’t actually care all that much about money, which made her different from the other women in the alley. After Xiaomei died, she worked harder for a while, but look at how she just up and disappeared for more than a month now.”