Chapter 57: A-Tao’s Date
Jiang Zhengkai wore a large loose-fitting bathrobe as he hurried about nervously in the kitchen. Meanwhile, A-Jiao gently leaned on the kitchen’s door frame as she watched the man she loved busily trying to put together tonight’s dinner. She liked this feeling, the feeling of warmth and comfort of being in a family, one she hasn’t felt for a long time.
“So, what do you think? Not bad, right?” asked Jiang Zhengkai as he gave A-Jiao a freshly-cooked dish, before he hurried back to the kitchen to prepare the next one.
“Eh,” said A-Jiao as she took the dish and walked over to the dining table. “It’s so-so, barely edible.”
“What! You call this barely edible?” exclaimed Jiang Zhengkai. He popped his head out of the kitchen and glanced at A-Jiao sitting by the dining table. “Hey, no eating on the sly!” A-Jiao had just used her long skinny fingers to pick up a vegetable stalk and was about to put it in her mouth when Jiang Zhengkai saw her.
Seeing her secret plan had been discovered, A-Jiao smiled sheepishly and said, “Hehe, I’m not eating on the sly. I’m just sampling the food, that’s all. Honey, you really are an excellent police officer. I can’t believe you caught me before I even got started.”
“I am, aren’t I?” replied Jiang Zhengkai as he popped his head back into the kitchen. “Now seriously, how is my cooking? Does it agree with your palate?”
“Yes, it’s delicious! I give it a 100!” A-Jiao cutely replied as she nodded her head while standing next to the dining table. Unfortunately, Jiang Zhengkai was back in the kitchen and could not see her adorable expression. However, being able to hear the woman he loved give him a genuine compliment was all that he needed.
When times are happy and sweet, it makes people feel as if time were flying by. Today was A-Jiao’s birthday; the happiest birthday she had had since turning 20. This was also the happiest day that Jiang Zhengkai had ever experience ever since Su Jing had passed away. It seemed like Heaven had smiled upon them. However, what Heaven grants, it can also take away.
After dinner, Jiang Zhengkai and A-Jiao cleaned up the dirty dishes and then sat on the bed, embracing each other while watching TV. But right at that moment, Jiang Zhengkai’s cell phone rang. Almost by instinct, he leapt out of bed and grabbed the cell phone from the nightstand. “Hello, this is Jiang Zhengkai!” he urgently said.
“Inspector… Inspector Jiang! We’ve had another murder. I think you’d better get down here to the alley!” Lu Xiaoqiang said over the phone.
“Alright, I’ll be right there!” replied Jiang Zhengkai before he hung up. He turned around and looked into A-Jiao’s plaintive eyes. “Ziyuan… Honey, I–”
“Hehe, go!” Seeing from Jiang Zhengkai’s expression that he cared for her very much, A-Jiao managed to squeeze out a smile. “Just be careful, and don’t stay too late!” She got up to grab his uniform.
Jiang Zhengkai looked gratefully at A-Jiao as she left. He was becoming more and more emotionally attached to her. He felt as if this woman understood him better than any woman, any person, out there. I have to love her with all my heart for as long as I live!
A-Jiao walked Jiang Zhengkai to the door, when a sense of unease began to creep into her heart. She stared at him and nervously asked, “Can I go with you? I don’t know… ai…” She sighed softly. She knew another one of her sisters must have died. She wasn’t able to overhear the entire telephone conversation, but she did pick out the word “alley.”
“No, thank you. Just stay here. Don’t you go running around. I’ll be back as soon as I’m done,” Jiang Zhengkai replied without a shadow of a doubt.
“Alright then. You be careful now!” implored A-Jiao as she saw Jiang Zhengkai off at the door. After she shut the door, she just stood there and listened to his footsteps growing fainter and fainter. She didn’t walk over to the window to watch Jiang Zhengkai walking away, because she knew he would be back. She just wanted to stand behind the closed door for a while, since she also knew that if she saw him leave, she would break down in tears.
Just at that moment, there was a knock on the door. At the same time, a familiar voice came from the other side. “Sister Jiao, this is A-Meng. Are you there?”
“I’m here!” A-Jiao could tell it was A-Meng’s voice, so she immediately wiped away her tears and regained her composure. She turned around and opened the door. “A-Meng, why are you here so late?”
“Sister Jiao, I…” When A-Meng saw A-Jiao, he lowered his head slightly. “Sorry, Sister Jiao! I told Brother Tao about you and the pig– I mean… Officer Jiang. Brother Tao knows about the two of you, and… and… he’s very angry.”
“Oh!” A-Jiao calmly replied. She didn’t believe A-Tao had any right to pry into her personal life. She was only A-Tao’s make-believe sister, not his wife or lover, so he had no power to decide who she went on a date with or who she fell in love with. Of course, she wouldn’t actually say those exact words to A-Tao.
“So… Brother Tao wants you to go see him… now…” A-Meng’s face was beet red as he finally blurted out the purpose of this visit, which was to take A-Jiao to see A-Tao.
“Alright, got it. Come in!” A-Jiao politely let A-Meng into her house and then closed the door behind him. “I need to change my clothes. Wait here for me,” said A-Jiao as she walked into the bedroom and shut the door.
A-Meng very obediently waited in front of the bedroom door. He didn’t walk around in her house, nor did he meddle or inquire about A-Jiao’s actions.
Inside her bedroom, A-Jiao changed into what she thought was an appropriate set of clothes. Instead of a skirt, she put on khaki pants, and instead of high heels, she wore a pair of flat-bottom oxford boots. Just as she finished changing and was about to leave the bedroom, a sense of dread suddenly came over her. She made an about-face and walked over to her vanity, where she removed a pair of ornately-adorned daggers from a hidden compartment and slid one into each of her boots. She then shifted the daggers around inside her boots until they were fully invisible from the outside, before finally leaving her bedroom.
“I’m done here. Let’s go!” A-Jiao said to the waiting A-Meng as she picked up her clutch and carried it on her arm.
“Alright, Sister Jiao,” A-Meng replied, obedient as ever. In A-Meng’s mind, whenever he was around A-Tao or A-Jiao, his role was to act the loyal servant. This was just like how A-Tao, aka Xue “the Bald Wolf” Guangliang, had acted when he’d been working under Xue Wanchun.
Under escort by A-Meng, A-Jiao very quickly arrived at A-Tao’s internet cafe. “Where’s Brother Tao?” A-Jiao asked bluntly as she glanced at A-Long sitting behind the front counter.
Seeing it was A-Jiao, A-Long immediately stood up and respectfully answered, “Sister Jiao, Brother Tao is upstairs. He left specific instructions that you should go upstairs and see him alone.”
“Alright!” A-Jiao walked around the front counter and followed the stairs up. The second floor contained the internet cafe’s office, as well as living quarters for A-Tao and his gang.
A-Jiao walked up to A-Tao’s bedroom and gently knocked on the door. “Brother! Are you there? This is A-Jiao.”
“I’m here!” A-Tao’s indolent voice boomed from inside the room. Then came footsteps, followed by an opening door.
“Ahem! Ahem!” A-Jiao choked on the thick cloud of smoke that drifted out from inside the bedroom as the door opened. “Why are you smoking so much, Bro? You want to catch lung cancer or something?” A-Jiao stood in front of the door with hands akimbo, a pair of beautiful almond-shaped eyes staring holes into A-Tao’s skull.
“Hehe! Don’t get mad. I’m just feeling a bit down.” A-Tao looked at the expression on A-Jiao’s face and then reached out his hand to gently pinch her cheek. “Baby sister, you’re about to get married! Nobody is going to look after your poor brother anymore.”
“Ha! I’ll take good care of you, even if I am married,” said A-Jiao as she batted away A-Tao’s hand and waved her fist in front of his face.
“Alright, alright, alright!” exclaimed A-Tao as he raised his hands above his head in feigned surrender. He then lowered his head, but immediately snapped it back up and looked at A-Jiao with squinted eyes. “Baby sister, you’re the only one who can take good care of me.”
“Alright, spit it out already! Why am I here?” Seeing A-Tao’s facial expression, A-Jiao couldn’t help but laugh. It appeared that she had “over-prepared” for this encounter. A-Tao was still the same old A-Tao, that lovable big brother who loved and cared for her.
“Today is my baby sister’s twenty-third birthday! How could I not help you celebrate?” A-Tao put down his hands and then casually leaned on the doorframe. At that moment, he noticed A-Jiao looked a bit different than usual. He silently laughed to himself. Like brother, like sister, he thought. He knew A-Jiao had come here expecting a fight. Even though A-Jiao’s hand-to-hand combat skills were no match for his, A-Tao nevertheless expected her to have a few tricks up her sleeves.
“Sounds good to me! Where do you want to go to celebrate?” A-Jiao readily accepted the invitation and bluntly asked A-Tao.
“Let’s go!” said A-Tao as he held his arm out in invitation. “I made a reservation at the same upscale restaurant where we had the party last time, but this time it’s only a table for two. I want the celebration to be just between the two of us.”
“Works for me!” Having heard A-Tao’s plans, A-Jiao obediently walked over to A-Tao and held his arm. Together, the two of them descended the staircase.