The Sketch Artist Chapter 1

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Chapter 1: First Encounter

There was practically no spring or autumn in Shanghai, colloquially called the Demon Capital. One always felt the days passed like the day-to-day rhythm of the city: not to the point of being slapdash, but at least somewhat hurried.

First day of spring, the trees lining the main boulevards were just spitting out tender buds, the light green leaves not yet equal to the deep green of the previous year, pedestrians already finding it hard to endure the bursts of heat emanating from their bodies. Jackets one after another were draped over arms, long sleeves rolled up to the elbow, and the elderly hobbling down the lanes had already removed their ever-present wool-knit vests that seemed to have long ago grown onto their bodies.

This weather was even worse for the people’s police. They had not even been wearing their longsleeved uniforms for two weeks when the temperature suddenly shot up to thirty degrees. But this season’s uniforms were not made of 100% cotton, so they didn’t breathe, and they weren’t snug, which made it very uncomfortable.

Gu Shi was aware of this from her WeChat work group. She had her head buried in her computer knocking out a report when her phone vibrated, an internal memo informing the entire bureau that starting tomorrow they should change to their short-sleeved summer on-duty clothes. She immediately pinned the news in her calendar memorandum, put down her phone, and resumed her rapidfire typing, her slender, soft white fingers dancing in a flurry, making people suspect she wasn’t writing a report, but instead copying a document.

Several co-workers who had just been out in the field entered, laughing and talking. They had clearly missed lunch because they carried disposable boxed lunches, and behind them a stubble-bearded, beer-bellied guy hauled a large serving tray filled with various common side dishes. The office was at once suffused with the thick aroma of oily, saucy food. When they noticed Gu Shi was in the room they suddenly stopped talking, the atmosphere suddenly different.

“Everyone likes beauty. I’m a simple MAN, I get it, I get it. We just don’t have guts, and we get to see Chief Gu all the time, otherwise who wouldn’t take the opportunity when no one was staring at that policewoman’s photo to steal a few glances.”

He was pointing at the “star of the month” on the board on the wall in the hallway where Gu Shi’s photo had been hanging for more than half a year. Her facial features had a hard-to-place, vaguely foreign feeling, probably because of her ethnic Hui ancestry. Her upward slanting eyes seemed to be able to penetrate one’s innermost being, callous with a bit of cold elegance seeping through, plainly holding everyone a thousand miles distant. Her deep, remote expression also gave one the illusion of tenderness and love.

The reason why her photo had been up for half a year was because of the heavy workload in the department, and the fact that there was no one specifically assigned to take care of it, so often it would happen that once it was posted it would stay there and wouldn’t be changed. Even so, the men didn’t seem to tire of appreciating it. Every time they walked by they couldn’t help but cast a glance at Gu Shi’s photo. It had already become habit.

One of them quickly resumed the topic of conversation. “I don’t know which department this guy is from, but he doesn’t look familiar. I think I’ve seen him on a different floor before, holding a camera, shooting here and there. Like he was conducting some research.”

“Yeah, that unfamiliar guy with the camera. He must be from Institutional Affairs, coming around while we’re working hard and missing meals to lower himself to our common level to prove he’s one of the people.”

Gu Shi only slightly turned to the men and nodded by way of greeting, not taking up the conversation, her keyboard still clacking away. They quickly fell silent and turned and went next door to the small conference room, closed the door, and ate.

The slightly fat man was the owner of a restaurant at the bureau entrance, Fan Yong. Everyone often ate at his place when working overtime. His prices were fair and he had several specialty dishes, not inferior to a privately-owned restaurant. Everyone was used to his food, and he was optimistic and jovial, and the old soldiers-turned people’s policemen would often praise him: “In our unit it was often said that one good cookhouse squad is as good as three PLA political instructors. You’re our Instructor Fan.”

Whenever Fan Yong came he wanted everyone to eat healthy and with hearty appetites, so he would forgo disposable boxed lunches and instead come in carrying a big tray of food, one time even alerting the deputy bureau chief. Gu Shi was blamed for this matter, but she didn’t get angry with them, only warned them mildly. From then on they would hurry through a side door to the main building via a small path and then use the fire exit to the second floor; the window curtains along the street would remain drawn.

“Those who didn’t know would think we were eating public funds instead of paying out of our own pockets, and it was just Old Fan taking pity on us and treating us well.” Co-workers in the department would complain, and they learned from someone else that Gu Shi had received criticism for this and they felt really guilty. They obeyed the orders of the young deputy section chief in charge of human affairs and did their best not to cause her trouble.

They say it was “tender feelings toward women”, but actually the reason for their good behavior was not because of her youth or good looks, but because of her professionalism and dedication. She was not a smooth talker, yet in the brief span of three years she was twice commended, once a third-class merit. The honor of other outstanding party members and outstanding league cadres even more became mere inessential embellishments, and at the same time she was the bureau’s youngest deputy section chief and shooting instructor. Everyone admired her professional qualifications in trace analysis and her outstanding shooting, and when they saw her overworked, yet in high spirits, they could only sigh that “it’s good to be young”.

Fan Yong set down his meal tray and quietly sat and watched TV. The detectives ate quickly, but even saying it like that was being polite; they wolfed it down. Only when the unhurried Gu Shi entered would they try to show some restraint, but in less than five minutes they had finished like an autumn gale sweeping away fallen leaves. But Fan Yong, a former soldier, was used to this, so he didn’t return to his shop, but waited there to clean up after them.

They were only half-finished eating when Gu Shi knocked on the door and entered. She waved her phone and shook her head. “Someone come with me, hurry, it seems to be the same culprit. We’ve got someone laid up in ICU.”

Gu Shi grabbed her equipment bag and hurriedly passed through the corridor. The policeman staring at the photograph was still there, a camera bag sure enough hanging around his neck. When she brushed past him the scent of his cologne followed, and his leather Givenchy shoes were quite conspicuous, but the most amazing thing was Gu Shi noticed the large, striking earring he wore, which could have been diamond or cubic zirconia.

“The quality of recruits nowadays is getting worse and worse. Really a lot of nerve,” Gu Shi thought scornfully. Despite the camera blocking half of him, she could still see he was handsome. She had a photographic memory, and in a disdainful instant had his earringed profile planted firmly in her mind.

 


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