Chapter 27: Days on a Long Journey
Human beings have a tendency to consider things on high to be holy and sanctified, which is why we worship people and things that are so high above us as to be out of reach. This is also why people like to use the word “high” to positively describe an individual’s characteristics, hence terms like high-born, high-class, and high-fashion. According to that logic, the holiest place in the world should be Mt. Everest, even though the air is thin there and the temperature quite cold.
The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, located at the foot of the Drolmari Mountain in Shigatse, Tibet, hosted the annual Buddha Festival. Millions of Buddhist pilgrims congregated here with their holy hada cloths in hand. They came here on this holy day to offer these clothes to their holy Buddha. Then they prayed for protection from evil and peace for all mankind.
“Zema, kherang ga rey choe doe duk?” warmly greeted a middle-aged Tibetan lady. (Translation: “Girl, what would you like to eat?”)
“Umm… khapse! Ani ma… I mean, ma’am,” A-Jiao awkwardly replied in broken Tibetan.
“Hehe, you’re a Han girl, aren’t you?” laughed the lady at A-Jiao’s attempt at speaking Tibetan. Dressed in traditional Tibetan garb, A-Jiao certainly could pass for a real Tibetan girl. (Translator’s note: the Han are the dominant ethnicity in China and are usually what foreigners think of when they describe someone as “Chinese,” although strictly speaking, such usage is incorrect as the term “Chinese” does not denote an ethnicity, but rather a nationality that is composed of fifty-six distinct ethnicities including the Han.)
“Yes, ma’am, I’m Han. Could you bring me some khapse, a plate of mixed cow tongue, and a cup of milk tea?” A-Jiao happily placed her order with a smile on her face.
“Wait a moment. I’ll bring out your order shortly.” The Tibetan lady yelled something incomprehensible to the kitchen and then proceeded to serve other customers. Shigatse was always busiest during the Buddha Festival. The streets were filled with an unending stream of people. If you didn’t take the time to notice the unique Tibetan architecture, you could easily mistake this place for one of China’s many megacities.
Shortly thereafter, a waiter brought out A-Jiao’s food. She looked at the chili powder on the table and immediately felt it beckoning to her taste buds. However, when she grabbed a hold of the chili powder shaker, she could hear Dr. Wang whispering in her ears. “A-Jiao, make sure to get plenty of rest after you’ve been discharged. And don’t eat any spicy food.” She vigorously shook her head, as if she to shake Dr. Wang’s voice out, but just as soon as Dr. Wang had left, another face appeared. “No way! You body can’t handle spicy food right now!”
“Damn cop!” A-Jiao cursed with pouted lips, but she did pull her hand away from the shaker. Ai, I wonder what that Uncle Policeman is up to these days…
Today was Wei Xin’s turn to stand night watch in the alley again. She came by Jiang Zhengkai’s office to see if he had any specific instructions for the evening, and then departed for the alley. Thanks to the efforts of the police, and the fact that no new murders had occurred recently, this secluded little alley showed signs of a gradual recovery.
The alley pimp A-Shun was fully cooperating with the police, so he knew which of the girls worked for him and which ones were undercover police officers. He was given free reign by the police to handle his business in the alley, which meant that if one of his girls came across a particularly troublesome john, he would have to step in and set him straight. This wasn’t especially difficult for A-Shun. After all, his purpose in this alley was to provide security. He liked to think of himself as a kind of “law enforcement officer” in his own way.
Those documents Jiang Zhengkai had requested on A-Jiao had all come back. The post office was able to verify that the recipient of A-Jiao’s wire transfer was indeed Lu Xiaomei’s family in Sichuan. The only difference was that Xiaomei normally wired 2,000 yuan to her family, while A-Jiao wired them 3,000 yuan.
After several twists and turns, the Housing Bureau was able to track down the ownership history of A-Jiao’s condo. The owner of the condo was a woman by the name of Lin Fangyun, but she’d committed suicide two years ago. Before that, the condo had belonged to a man named Ren Pengfei. According to sources that knew him, he appeared to have emigrated abroad. Sometimes, the truth is only a small step away, yet taking that step may require all the effort you can muster.
Jiang Zhengkai looked at the two documents in his hands. He shook his head in frustration. There was still no way to confirm A-Jiao’s identity, although he could confirm from these documents that A-Jiao was not the same person as Xiaomei. He was able to pull up Xiaomei’s personal records from her hometown, and after A-Shun and others identified Xiaomei from a copy of her photo ID, they concluded that it was indeed Xiaomei who had died in the first murder.
However, these two documents made Jiang Zhengkai feel somewhat gratified and excited. First of all, they showed that even though A-Jiao worked in an unseemly profession, she was not a bad woman at heart. She had wired money to Xiaomei’s family, that much was already certain. And she also technically hadn’t lied when she’d said that the condo’s former owner had moved abroad. Nevertheless, that did beg the question of why she’d hidden the truth about the current owner’s suicide. What was her relationship with Lin Fangyun? Had she been Lin Fangyun’s live-in maid? No, that’s not it, since she’s most likely a native. Then was she Lin Fangyun’s relative, or even her daughter? But Lin Fangyun’s personal records showed that she’d never married. Furthermore, her personal records showed that her parents had died during the Cultural Revolution, which meant she had no surviving next of kin.
Thus, A-Jiao’s true identity was still a mystery.
In the middle of the night, Wei Xin and a few of her female colleagues stood on the street corner. A group of real prostitutes stood a few steps away. Tonight was an especially cold night, so her colleagues were soon whisked away by their husbands, leaving Wei Xin all by herself in this alley.
Wei Xin let out a yawn. She pictured Jiang Zhengkai coming by this alley this very instant, walking up to her, and softly saying, “Come on, let’s go inside.” She imagined she would definitely nod in delight, and then the two of them would walk inside one of the buildings. At the thought of this imagined scenario, her face turned bright red.
Still, this really was a cold night. Wei Xin stood there for a while longer, but soon felt the need to use the bathroom. Using the bathroom in one of the apartment units rented by the sub-bureau might be a bit awkward, since those married police couples were probably all getting busy right now. She couldn’t really blame them, as they were in fact engaged in the official performance of their duties; after all, the one thing they knew about the killer was that this person only attacked couples engaged in sexual intercourse. But being in the same apartment with people having sex was surely going to make her feel embarrassed, so she eventually decided to use the public restroom located in one of the apartment buildings’ courtyards. Before she left her spot, she found the nearest surveillance camera and traced out the letters “WC” with her finger. On the other side of the surveillance camera were several pairs of eyes nervously watching her every movement. Those eyes, of course, belonged to Zhang Nan’s police surveillance team.
Wei Xin’s high heel shoes made a tap, tap noise as she walked across the pavement towards the public restroom. Just as she was about to enter, a woman’s scream pierced the evening sky…
“We’ve got another homicide!” The officers in the surveillance room, the undercover officers in the alley, and the officers who had been getting busy in bed just a second ago all reacted to this latest incident. They all rushed to the balcony, to the alley, and to grab their pants. “Quick! It came from the sixth floor of Building 7!” someone yelled into the night. The police all immediately rushed towards Building 7.
The numerous prostitutes and johns in the alley all froze as they watched in amazement the scene unfolding before them. So this quiet little alley wasn’t so quiet after all. At that moment, a person hid in the shadows and quietly observed everything from afar. He was located right across from the street corner where Wei Xin had been standing.
Wei Xin was probably the last police officer to react to this latest emergency. Perhaps standing too long in the cold weather had given her an upset stomach. By the time she ran out of the courtyard in her high heels, all of her colleagues had rushed into the building where the scream had come from. She looked at the boisterous scene on the other side of the alley before stepping into the alley herself, but by the time she entered it, a shadow was already waiting for her there.
Bang! A heavy object struck Wei Xin’s head as a large hand simultaneously covered her mouth. Wei Xin’s body went limp, and she immediately lost consciousness. But unlike that time with A-Jiao, this shadow assailant didn’t plan on finishing off Wei Xin right here right now. Instead, he stuffed a gag into her mouth and tied her hands with rope. Then he placed a large burlap sack over her head and pulled it down so it covered her entire body.
The shadow assailant vigilantly looked in all directions, and when he was certain that nobody had seen him, he picked up the burlap sack with Wei Xin inside and carried it over his shoulder. He walked towards a cycle rickshaw parked at the entrance of the alley.