Chapter 31: Uncle Cai’s Concern
The next day, when Jiang Zhengkai came to visit Wei Xin again, he was surprised to see that her mood had improved considerably. She was talking and eating again, although she still didn’t want to talk about her abduction. It looked like A-Jiao had been able to heal her damaged soul, but not open her walled-off mind. The walls around those repressed memories were quite high, and the only person who could tear them down was a man who, unfortunately, did not have a place in his heart for her. He only had one woman in his heart, and that woman was a prostitute.
Since Wei Xin’s emotional condition had improved, Jiang Zhengkai no longer planned to visit her everyday at the hospital. However, Wei Xin also betrayed her oath of office as a police officer, which was keeping her promise to A-Jiao that she would keep their meeting a secret from Jiang Zhengkai. Sometimes, the person you are looking for could be so very close, yet also so far away.
Whenever A-Jiao had free time these days, she would go to A-Tao’s internet cafe and help him run the place. She also set aside some time to find herself a new job. The new A-Jiao had new life goals, which meant that she was no longer nostalgic about her past life. A-Tao never asked her where she had been all those days. In his eyes, A-Jiao was perfect no matter what she did. He didn’t care what her chosen profession was; he only cared that she was happy. Besides, it wasn’t like he was an upstanding citizen himself, so what more could he ask of a woman who had once saved his life?
Time heals all wounds. Under Dr. Wang’s expert treatment, Wei Xin’s body quickly recovered. Unlike A-Jiao, her injuries, while severe, were the result of one incident, not sustained over a prolonged period of time. Therefore, she stayed in the hospital for only about half a month before she went back to work.
“Wei, just take it easy at work, alright? Let Liu Na do all the heavy lifting,” Jiang Zhengkai told Wei Xin on her first day back at the sub-bureau. “From now on, you’ll spend most of your time doing desk work. Let your other colleagues go out into the field.”
“No, thank you, Inspector Jiang. I can handle myself,” Wei Xin responded with red cheeks.
“No need to rush. Give yourself some more time to recover,” Jiang Zhengkai said smilingly before returning to his office.
Wei Xin sat helplessly back at her desk. She didn’t know if she was imagining things or not, but she had a feeling that her colleagues had all been looking at her weirdly ever since she returned. That feeling was especially acute whenever she ran into officers from the local station who came to the sub-bureau for business, or when she went to the municipal headquarters for a meeting. She just couldn’t shake the feeling that her colleagues were talking about her behind her back. This feeling had caused her quite a lot of stress, to the point that it was adversely impacting her sleep. After a while, the only way she could fall asleep was by taking sleeping pills.
That sick, twisted murderer seemed to have given Yao Tianyu some face for the time being. The alley had gotten a lot calmer in recent days, and the seventh murder still hadn’t occurred. However, both Yao Tianyu and Jiang Zhengkai knew that just because a new murder hadn’t happened yet didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen at all. Perhaps the killer was waiting for the right time to strike.
Inside the alley, the police continued with their sting operation. However, after Wei Xin’s attack, Yao Tianyu ordered the implementation of much stricter safeguards for the officers operating in the alley. The surveillance room must be manned at all times, no matter what was happening outside. Also, no female police officers were allowed to travel alone in the alley; they had to be escorted by at least one other police officer. Yao Tianyu did not want a repeat of what had happened to Wei Xin.
Jiang Zhengkai continued to struggle between the twin vortexes of work and emotion. The more he wanted to find A-Jiao, the harder it was for him to locate her. Right now, he didn’t just want to find her because he had feelings for her, he also wanted to find her because she might hold the key to cracking the case. Furthermore, everyone around him knew that she had returned, but nobody had bothered to tell him.
That evening, as usual, Jiang Zhengkai parked his car outside Uncle Cai’s noodle shop. “Uncle Cai, a large bowl of hand-cut noodles with an extra portion of fermented paste!” Jiang Zhengkai yelled loudly towards the kitchen as soon as he walked in.
“Got it! Coming right up!” came Uncle Cai’s voice from the kitchen. “I want you to try something new that I’ve cooked up too.”
About ten minutes later, Uncle Cai came out holding a serving tray. On it was a large bowl of hand-cut noodles, a small bowl of paste, and a portion of strange-looking frozen pastries. “Here, try some of these!” Uncle Cai said happily as he placed the strange-looking food in front of Jiang Zhengkai. “I bet you’ve never had anything like it before.”
“Yeah, you’re definitely right about that, Uncle Cai. What is it?” Jiang Zhengkai picked up one of the frozen pastries and put it in his mouth. It tasted a little sweet, but also a little salty, and was completely delicious! He couldn’t help but ask, “Where did you get this stuff?”
“Hehe, hold on a second!” Uncle Cai saw that it was raining outside, so he said, “Young man, it’s raining right now. How about joining me for a few drinks tonight?”
“Uncle Cai, I have to drive home later,” Jiang Zhengkai reluctantly declined.
“Ai, I’ll give you some money for a cab,” Uncle Cai said. Seeing Jiang Zhengkai’s reluctance, he added, “It hardly ever rains here, so think of it as the two of us drinking to the rain gods.”
“Fine, let’s do it! But you’re going to have to let me sleep here tonight if I pass out, alright?” Since Uncle Cai wasn’t going to take no for an answer, Jiang Zhengkai accepted the offer.
“No problem! Okay, you wait right here,” Uncle Cai told Jiang Zhengkai as he ran into the kitchen and took out a case of beer. He then proceeded to close up the shop. “Now we can drink in peace.”
“Hehe, are you able to handle this busy noodle shop all by yourself?” Jiang Zhengkai asked as Uncle Cai handed him a bottle of beer. “What do you think about me coming here to work for you?”
“That’s a great idea! You’ve got yourself a deal!” laughed Uncle Cai. After downing a few beers, Uncle Cai suddenly turned to Jiang Zhengkai and asked, “Say, Jiang, what do you think of A-Jiao?”
Jiang Zhengkai hesitated for a moment before answering. “A-Jiao? She’s a good girl.”
“Then do you have any… feelings for her?” Uncle Cai asked mysteriously after taking another gulp of his beer.
“Hehe, well…” Jiang Zhengkai smiled. He didn’t know how to respond to Uncle Cai. If he said no, he wasn’t even sure if he himself would believe it, much less Uncle Cai. But if he said yes, there was the little problem of him being a cop and A-Jiao being a prostitute. Was it possible for the two of them to ever have a normal romantic relationship?
“Come on, it’s a yes or no question! Either you have feelings for her or you don’t! You don’t need to think about it that hard,” exclaimed Uncle Cai. He narrowed his eyes at Jiang Zhengkai. “Boy, this is the only time you haven’t been frank with me.”
“Then… I guess I do,” Jiang Zhengkai finally admitted, before chugging the rest of his beer.
“Haha, that’s more like it!” Uncle Cai said as he passed Jiang Zhengkai another beer. “Now come and drink some more liquid courage!”
“But the problem is, even if I have feelings for her, it doesn’t do me any good if she’s not around.” Jiang Zhengkai’s tolerance for alcohol wasn’t great, and chugging that first bottle of beer was already making him a bit light-headed.
“I was wondering why the two of you haven’t been coming here together!” Uncle Cai spoke and drank at the same time. “Here, try some of these,” he said as he pushed the plate of frozen pastries in Jiang Zhengkai’s direction again.
“They’re delicious,” Jiang Zhengkai said by reflex.
“Then in that case, I’m going to tell you a secret.” Uncle Cai leaned in close to Jiang Zhengkai and whispered, “A-Jiao’s back.”
“She’s back?” Jiang Zhengkai immediately regained his composure. “How long has she been back, Uncle Cai?”
“For a while now,” Uncle Cai replied. “But that little girl wouldn’t let me tell you.”
“Really?” Jiang Zhengkai asked as he stared blankly at Uncle Cai.
“Yes! She was one that gave me this recipe, and I tried making it based on the instructions she gave me,” Uncle Cai said with a smile. “It’s called khapse.”
“So, Uncle Cai, do you know where she’s staying now?” Jiang Zhengkai had originally wanted to ask both where she was staying and what she was doing, but ultimately decided against asking the second part.
“Where she’s staying? I honestly don’t know. She never told me,” Uncle Cai shook his head. “But I did tell her how often you come here.”
“And what did she say?” Jiang Zhengkai eagerly asked.
“She said you would never like her in that way,” Uncle Cai sighed. “The two of you are both good kids, so why can’t you get together?”
“We can!” Jiang Zhengkai was so excited when he said these words that he literally jumped out of his chair, as if to tell the world how much conviction he put in them.
“That’s good. Now sit back down and drink some more,” Uncle Cai gestured for Jiang Zhengkai to sit down in his chair.
As for what Uncle Cai said after that, Jiang Zhengkai had no recollection whatsoever. All he remembered was a million different thoughts swimming through his mind. He also remembered continuing to drink with Uncle Cai until the point where he passed out on the table and fell asleep. But he couldn’t remember what he might have said to Uncle Cai after he’d gotten drunk. He sincerely hoped he hadn’t given away A-Jiao’s secret.
After he sobered up, this question continually weighed on his mind. He later asked Uncle Cai several times in a roundabout way, but each time Uncle Cai told him that he was a quiet drunk and that he didn’t say much before passing out. Only after such repeated assurances by Uncle Cai did Jiang Zhengkai finally feel at ease.