Chapter 45: Xiaomei’s Brother
After Lu Xiaoqiang left, Jiang Zhengkai sat there and let out a long sigh of relief. It was a small world after all. The rookie Lu Xiaoqiang just happened to be the brother of the very first murder victim, Lu Xiaomei, aka A-Mei. Jiang Zhengkai sat there and thought for a while, but he eventually decided to consult the commander of the sub-bureau, Wu Jun.
After Wu Jun finished listening to Jiang Zhengkai’s explanation of the situation, he sat there and frowned, obviously anxious about the problem this presented. “Zhengkai, this Lu Xiaoqiang was hand-picked by Commissioner Yao.” Wu Jun paused to rub his hands together. “But from what you’ve just told me, he is indeed not the right choice to be your assistant right now. Damn, this really puts us in a bind.”
“Could we discuss this with Commissioner Yao, perhaps get Lu Xiaoqiang transferred to another department?” probed Jiang Zhengkai. “I’m just afraid this is going to be too much of a blow to him.”
“The Commissioner is at the provincial capital for a conference,” Wu Jun replied. “He arranged to have Lu Xiaoqiang sent here before he left, and he specifically told us to take good care of the rookie.”
“But with the way things are now…” Jiang Zhengkai didn’t know how to continue. “Ai! He’s just a kid!”
“He’s not that young.” Wu Jun glanced at Jiang Zhengkai. “Besides, when you were his age, you were already a veteran cop.” He sighed. “How about this? You tell him the truth and see how he reacts. We’ll reassess based on his reaction.”
“Alright, Commander. I understand,” Jiang Zhengkai nodded. Lu Xiaoqiang wouldn’t be the first police officer to experience a tragedy in the family, although his situation was more delicate than most. First of all, he was about to find out on his first day on the job that his sister was dead. Second, he was also going to find out that his sister had been supporting their family by being a prostitute. Jiang Zhengkai really didn’t know if Lu Xiaoqiang would be able to accept those facts.
When it was almost time to leave work, Lu Xiaoqiang hurried back to the sub-bureau from the municipal HQ. First he went back to his shared desk with Liu Na to organize the minutes he took of the meeting. He then excitedly brought the minutes to Jiang Zhengkai’s office. “Inspector Jiang, here are the meeting minutes I took.”
“Hehe, you’ve got really good handwriting, young man!” Jiang Zhengkai complemented Lu Xiaoqiang as he flipped through the minutes. “Hey, you got anything going on tonight?”
“No,” Lu Xiaoqiang straightforwardly replied.
“Perfect!” Jiang Zhengkai set down the meeting minutes on his desk and said, “Let’s go! I’m taking you out to dinner tonight!”
“Inspector Jiang, I…” Lu Xiaoqiang originally thought Jiang Zhengkai was going to take him on an assignment. He hardly expected Jiang Zhengkai to take him out to dinner instead.
“What’s with the hesitation? Come on, let’s get going!” Jiang Zhengkai said frankly as he patted Lu Xiaoqiang on the shoulder. “I don’t usually take people out to dinner. Hurry up before I change my mind!”
“Umm… let me buy you dinner instead!” Lu Xiaoqiang said somewhat uncomfortably.
“Haha, you got any money?” Jiang Zhengkai laughed at Lu Xiaoqiang. “Don’t worry about it. You can buy me dinner once you get your first paycheck.” He landed a hard punch squarely on Lu Xiaoqiang’s chest. “Let’s go!”
“Okay!” Even though Jiang Zhengkai’s punch almost caused Lu Xiaoqiang to tip over, he nevertheless felt like they had suddenly grown a lot closer. Inspector Jiang… he’s really a good big brother! Lu Xiaoqiang couldn’t help but feel that way.
The two men arrived at a small mom-and-pop restaurant. Jiang Zhengkai knew he would be drinking tonight, so he naturally didn’t drive. He picked a secluded table and then motioned for Lu Xiaoqiang to join him.
“What do you normally like to eat?” Jiang Zhengkai casually asked as he tossed the menu over to Lu Xiaoqiang.
“I’m good with anything, Inspector Jiang,” Lu Xiaoqiang responded with a smile. “I’m not a picky eater.”
“Good! How about meat skewers and beer then?” Jiang Zhengkai didn’t bother looking at the menu. He knew a small hole-in-the-wall joint like this specialized in home-cooked dishes and didn’t have anything fancy like sea cucumbers or abalone. “Give us ten meat skewers, shredded potatoes, and hot-and-sour soup. Oh, make sure to put plenty of hot chili powder on the meat skewers. And give each of us two pitchers of beer.”
Before long, the waiter brought out Jiang Zhengkai’s meat skewers, side dishes, and beer. The two of them ate and made small talk for over half an hour. When Jiang Zhengkai saw that the pitchers were near empty, he called over the waiter and ordered another two pitchers.
“Xiaoqiang, why did you choose to become a police officer?” Even though Jiang Zhengkai was starting to slur his words, his mind was still quite clear. He poured another glass for Lu Xiaoqiang before filling up his glass as well.
“Inspector Jiang, to tell you the truth, it’s because the police academy is tuition-free, and I even get a stipend,” Lu Xiaoqiang answered honestly.
“Then your sister…” Jiang Zhengkai raised his head and looked up Lu Xiaoqiang as he spoke.
“It’s expensive living in Beijing.” Lu Xiaoqiang lowered his head in embarrassment. “So I still need some help from her every month to make ends meet.”
“I see. Well, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Drink!” Jiang Zhengkai exhorted Lu Xiaoqiang. “Yeah, it’s not easy being family. It’s even harder being a cop’s family member.”
“What do you mean, Inspector? Did I… did I say something wrong?” Lu Xiaoqiang nervously asked when he saw Jiang Zhengkai’s expression had become more serious.
“Hehe, don’t worry, it’s not anything you said,” Jiang Zhengkai downed his glass of beer and smiled at Lu Xiaoqiang. “You know that being a cop, especially a detective or a narc, brings a certain amount of risk to one’s family members, right?”
“Yes, I understand,” Lu Xiaoqiang crisply replied. “Since I chose this profession, I’ve made mental preparations for the things that could happen.” However, as soon as he finished, his confidence waned a bit. After all, the lives of loved ones aren’t something to be taken lightly.
“Good man! You’ve got strong conviction, just like me when I was your age!” Jiang Zhengkai chuckled at him. “Here, pour me another one.” Hearing Jiang Zhengkai’s order, Lu Xiaoqiang wasted no time in filling up his glass. “If your loved one died because of a case you were working on, you wouldn’t be sad?” Jiang Zhengkai was obviously not drunk, as he began to verbally probe Lu Xiaoqiang.
“No, I wouldn’t be,” Lu Xiaoqiang mechanically shook his head, but he knew in his heart that it was a lie. Jiang Zhengkai wasn’t fooled either.
“That’s good,” Jiang Zhengkai said to the ceiling. “Having a loved one leave this world because of a case we’re working on is a very painful thing. It makes us regret forever some of the choices we’ve made. My wife, my daughter, five years ago…” Jiang Zhengkai let the alcohol tear down his inhibitions and told Lu Xiaoqiang his personal tragedy.
“Inspector Jiang, I…” Lu Xiaoqiang felt very uneasy after hearing Jiang Zhengkai’s story. He didn’t know why Jiang Zhengkai wanted to tell him these things, but he clearly felt Jiang Zhengkai’s inner pain. Perhaps this was the first time he seriously thought about the pain the death of a loved one would bring.
“Hehe, it’s not important anymore. It’s all in the past now.” Jiang Zhengkai glanced at Lu Xiaoqiang and then raised his glass again. “Remember, if our loved ones died for us, they would want us to keep on living!”
“Right, Inspector Jiang.” Lu Xiaoqiang was originally thinking of things to say to comfort him, but it turned out that it was Jiang Zhengkai’s words that had comforted him. “You’re absolutely right! If I ever face a similar situation in the future, I’ll know what to do.”
“Hehe, that’s good,” Jiang Zhengkai smilingly replied as he looked at Lu Xiaoqiang. “So, you said you have a sister in this city?”
“Yes, Inspector.” When Lu Xiaoqiang heard Jiang Zhengkai mention his sister, he suddenly grew more energetic. After all, the previous conversation topic was a bit too heavy and depressing.
“Alright, tell me about your sister then,” Jiang Zhengkai said as he laid back in his chair, obviously succumbing to the effects of alcohol intoxication. However, the young man sitting in front of him did not seem the least bit drunk. Those Sichuanese can really hold their liquor, Jiang Zhengkai secretly complained.
“Ai!” Lu Xiaoqiang sighed before he even began. “My father died when we were young, and my mom’s health has been pretty bad for a while. I’m the eldest in our family, and my sister Lu Xiaomei is number two. We also have a younger brother and a younger sister, so our family has always been poor. My sister wasn’t able to attend school. She grew up making money herding sheep or pulling weeds. A few years ago, she heard from friends from a neighboring village that she could make big bucks in the city, so she followed them here. From that time onwards, she never returned home, but she would wire back money every month.” At this point, Lu Xiaoqiang downed the remaining beer in his glass. “I know she worked hard for this money.”
“You’re right about that!” Jiang Zhengkai’s body was swaying back and forth as he poured out another one for Lu Xiaoqiang. “Good to see that you’ve got a conscience and know how hard your sister has worked!” By now, his speech was becoming noticeably slurred.
“Hehe, that’s why I asked to be assigned here after my graduation,” Lu Xiaoqiang smiled in response. “I must take care of my sister and help her support our family. In the future, when we’ve made enough money, I’m going to have our mother, little brother, and little sister all come live with us in the city. Then we’ll be one big happy family again!”
“Good man!” Jiang Zhengkai smiled back at him before falling back in his chair. He scrounged up a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. He was hoping the nicotine in his cigarette could help him sober up a bit. This Sichuanese boy could really drink!
“Oh, Inspector Jiang, I have something to ask you. Do you know the address on the envelope?” Lu Xiaoqiang asked as he looked at Jiang Zhengkai with hope and expectation.
Jiang Zhengkai didn’t speak; he only nodded his head. He then breathed out a long plume of cigarette smoke. With the aid of the cigarette stimulating effect, he finally mustered the energy to say, “If I told you your sister had already passed, would you believe me?”