Chapter 75: A Woman’s Side Business
As soon as Lu Xiaoqiang and Guo Wei escorted A-Shun out of the interrogation room and went to retrieve A-Sha, Zhang Nan apologized profusely to Jiang Zhengkai. “Jiang, I… really… ai! I’m sorry about what happened.”
“Don’t worry about it!” laughed Jiang Zhengkai as he shook his head. “Wei Xin had already concluded that the victim was A-Xiu before you even took the case.” Thank goodness for A-Jiao: if it weren’t for her portraits, no one would have even questioned whether the victim wasn’t really A-Xiu. The only problem was, they hadn’t actually determined whether the victim was A-Xiu or not. After all, it hadn’t been the actual A-Xiu that Jiang Zhengkai had seen, but just an emaciated skeleton wrapped in a layer of skin. Who would believe that A-Xiu had turned into a skeleton, had appeared before Jiang Zhengkai, and had then disappeared immediately afterwards?
Right then, the door to the interrogation room opened. A-Sha arrived, flanked by Lu Xiaoqiang and Guo Wei. “Hello, Inspector Jiang,” A-Sha timidly greeted him as she walked through. She looked at Zhang Nan and hurriedly added, “Hello, Sergeant Zhang.”
“Don’t be nervous. Here, sit,” said Jiang Zhengkai as he sat up in his chair and gestured for A-Sha to sit down across from him. “I called you here just to have an friendly chat, mostly to have you help me identify some people.”
“Thank you, Inspector Jiang,” A-Sha said as she took her seat. “Anything you need to know. I’ll tell you everything!” A woman like A-Sha desperately needed affirmation from others, even if that affirmation came in the form of a simple gesture for her to be seated by a police officer.
“Alright, A-Sha. Could you tell me who this is?” asked Jiang Zhengkai as he held up the piece of cardboard with a woman’s portrait attached.
“Xiaomei!” answered A-Sha as she looked at the portrait.
“How about this one?” he asked as he held up another portrait.
“A-Xiu!” A-Sha replied crisply.
“And her?” he asked as he remained expressionless and held up another portrait.
“Hehe, that’s me.” A-Sha looked at the portrait and started giggling.
“Really?” Jiang Zhengkai said, looking embarrassment as though he’d made a mistake. He turned around and looked at the portrait. Of course, this was no mistake; it was all part of his act. He knew A-Sha was a shy person, so in order to get her to open up, he had to create a more relaxed atmosphere.
“And her?” he asked as he showed her his last portrait.
“That’s Xue’er!” When A-Sha saw that last portrait, her voice trembled slightly. Obviously, the sight of A-Xue made her uneasy.
“Alright, don’t be nervous. Relax,” said Jiang Zhengkai as he put down the cardboard and once again placed A-Xiu’s portrait on it. “We’re not going to talk about A-Xue today. We’re going to talk about something else. Who did you say this woman was?”
“A-Xiu!” responded A-Sha as she wiped away tears. “Yes, it’s her. I recognize that face.”
“Hehe, how could you be so sure that’s A-Xiu?” Jiang Zhengkai again pretended to be surprised as he looked at the portrait and then looked back at A-Sha. “Could it be someone who looks a lot like A-Xiu?”
“No way!” A-Sha shook her head. “This portrait is to… how do you say? Ah yes, uncanny! Yes, the portrait bears an uncanny resemblance to A-Xiu, especially that expression! No one else I know has that type of expression.”
“Ah, I see,” Jiang Zhengkai nodded. It looked like there really were artists who could bring people to life with their brushes! He put the cardboard back onto the table, raised his head, and warmly said, “Then let’s talk about A-Xiu. How well do you know her?”
“Her?” asked A-Sha as she delved deep into her memories. “She was a good person!” So far, it seemed like A-Jiao and A-Sha agreed on that much. A-Sha collected her thoughts and said, “A-Xiu didn’t have any faults other than loving money, but even so, she wasn’t greedy. If there was money to be made, she would always share the opportunities with the other sisters in the alley. I guess that’s why everyone liked her.”
“Is that so?” Jiang Zhengkai asked. Such interesting women there were in this alley. Even though they were all prostitutes, each had her own story and her own personality. If one put aside their profession for a moment, they actually weren’t bad women at all.
“Yeah!” A-Sha immediately started going on and on about how A-Xiu was back in the day. So far as Jiang Zhengkai could tell, many of these stories were nothing more than teaching the women in the alley some techniques on how foolish men and their money could soon be parted. However, for the women in the alley, these tips were crucial indeed for their ability to make ends meet. As A-Sha kept talking, Jiang Zhengkai started to think about that night when he’d surveilled A-Jiao. He thought about the “100 yuan every three minutes” story. He couldn’t help but feel like laughing. Now he knew that it was A-Xiu who’d taught her that! It looked like A-Xiu had shared all of the experience she’d accumulated over the years to her fellow sisters. However, Jiang Zhengkai was nevertheless deeply grateful to A-Xiu. If it weren’t for her, then A-Jiao may well have ended up in a ditch somewhere.
“Ahem!” Seeing how the woman across from him had no intention of stopping her rambling, Jiang Zhengkai could only force a cough to cut her off. “So, other than her unique expression, do you have any other way to identity A-Xiu?”
“Let me think…” A-Sha moved her head back and forth and thought for a while. “I haven’t really thought about that.” She looked apologetically at Jiang Zhengkai. “Ai! If A-Xue were still alive, perhaps she would know…”
“Oh? Was A-Xue very close to A-Xiu?” Jiang Zhengkai pounced on that chance remark; it was exactly the sort of lead he was chasing.
“That’s right!” A-Sha replied. “A-Xue and A-Xiu were besties. They had a great relationship, just like the one I had with A-Xue.”
“Really?” Jiang Zhengkai continued asking. “Had there been any recent contact between A-Xue and A-Xiu?”
“Not that I know of,” A-Sha shook her head. “A-Xiu left the alley two years ago and never came back. I heard she hit it big somewhere else.”
“Hit it big? Like, she made a lot of money?” Jiang Zhengkai picked up the portrait off the table, looking at it in a very casual manner.
“Well…” A-Sha looked at Jiang Zhengkai and then at Zhang Nan. She then bowed her head in silence. She knew she had said too much. This was a secret that she should not have brought up.
“Tell us, how did she get rich?” asked Jiang Zhengkai as he placed the portrait back down onto the table. His eyes continued to radiate gentleness and warmth. “Don’t worry! I won’t tell the other women.” He pointed at Lu Xiaoqiang and Guo Wei. “Hey, you two wait outside the door. Don’t come back until I tell you to do so!”
As she waited for Lu Xiaoqiang and Guo Wei to leave the room, A-Sha couldn’t stop pulling on the stockings around her knees. She was extremely conflicted inside, uncertain whether she should tell everything she knew to Jiang Zhengkai.
“Alright, you can relax now,” he said. A-Sha still looked somewhat uneasy, so he pointed at Zhang Nan and said, “Did you want me to send Sergeant Zhang away as well, so we can discuss this in private?”
“No! That’s not necessary.” A-Sha stopped pulling on her stocking and waved her hand at Jiang Zhengkai. “I’ll tell you what I know, but it’s all just rumors and stuff that I’ve heard. I don’t have any personal knowledge…” She glanced at Zhang Nan and then lowered her head before saying, “I heard from A-Xue that A-Xiu know how to get her hands on heroin…”
“Are you saying she dealt drugs?” asked Jiang Zhengkai. He glanced at Zhang Nan before directly asking her, “Was A-Xue in on it, too?”
“That…” muttered A-Sha as her head remained lowered. “That’s just something A-Xue had told me. I never personally saw anything, and I never saw A-Xue handle any of that stuff.” As she spoke, she finally lifted her head and looked pleadingly at Jiang Zhengkai. “Inspector Jiang! I’m only telling you this because I trust you! Otherwise, I wouldn’t have told you!” Her voice quivered slightly as if she were about to cry.
“It’s alright, don’t worry,” Jiang Zhengkai reassured her. “Like I said, we’re just having a casual conversation, right? Nothing you say today is on the record.” Nothing she says today is on the record? Really? If that were the case, then why would you even be questioning her? But then again, these were the same tricks that men often played on women all the time. Some men used them to trick women out of money, some used them to trick women into sex. Jiang Zhengkai was just using this one to trick this woman into providing credible leads!
“Inspector Jiang… I… I heard they sold drugs for a while…” said A-Sha as her body trembled. “Then… one of their customers died of an overdose, so… so A-Xiu was taken away by the police, and… and after that, she left the alley. Besides that, I don’t know anything else, Inspector Jiang!”