Chapter 14: Furious
He had been in the capital for nearly two weeks. Early Thursday morning Zhang Chi handed in his one and only finished composite sketch to the director and requested permission to leave and return to Shanghai. The sketch was not a portrait of the suspect, but a portrait of an adorable child.
The director was silent for some time. Zhang Chi knew that during these many days the director’s confidence in him had gone from very little to almost none. He just weakly held out the sketch and politely told the director that no matter how skeptical he was, he still had to give it to an investigator for follow-up.
He didn’t say anything else because he had already decided to go back. For one, he had already done all he could. There was no point in remaining there. Secondly, the political affairs section was already complaining about the amount of time he had been away on loan, and he had heard that Gu Zhichang was doing his best to fight to get him into the organization. He was secretly looking forward to a decision, and a definitive one would be great.
He didn’t hold out much hope for what outcome it might be. He had only been with his unit for less than two years, and he knew that in this system, the core department was higher than the other departments. Whatever they said the other departments had to yield to. It was an unwritten rule. At the same time, on the surface the leaders of the operations room and the political affairs section were an amiable team, but in private they disliked each other, one complaining the other didn’t know what they were doing while the other looked down on the other’s team, somewhat like sales and marketing teams that competed with each other and belittled each other. They would only earn the respect of one another after a long period of contention. And “stealing people” was one of the standards by which they were measured. To put it nicely, they were eagerly seeking talented people. Or if you looked at it the other way, even if the person was useless they still didn’t want to let someone else have them, lest it be seen as a show of weakness.
How could Gu Zhichang, a blue-collar policeman from a lower department, manage to go against the rules of the entire organizational structure?
Friday afternoon, after the long and tedious police chief meeting ended, everyone grabbed their notebooks and headed straight to the bathroom. Between meetings, several chain smokers were in the hallway feeding their craving, when some busybody saw Gu Shi and quietly told her to hurry and get Gu Zhichang back. If he was late again he might be “skinned” immediately.
“Skinned” was what policemen called getting fired or dismissed. Gu Shi was shocked, but she controlled herself until their meeting was over, then she went straight to Gu Zhichang’s office. The door was closed and locked, so she had no choice but to go back to her own office, only then realizing her father had left earlier. What had he gone to do?
About an hour or so after the meeting the glass door leading to the elevator was pushed opened heavily, followed by the sound of violent footsteps. They were short and frequent. The final sound was the muffled thunder of a door slamming shut, which rattled all the office doors along that corridor.
It was Gu Zhichang’s office, but even Gu Shi couldn’t distinguish her father’s footsteps. She got up quickly and followed him in, closed the door and turned around. “Don’t you know you have high blood pressure? What are you so worked up about?”
Gu Zhichang put down his notebook and turned away from the door, facing the big metal cabinets against the wall with his hands on his hips. He took a deep breath, then turned around slowly when he heard a voice. When he saw it was his precious daughter, the irritation on his face dissolved and he motioned for her to sit down.
“Don’t even start. If you want to wax eloquent about work, go find someone else.” Gu Shi stood before him indignantly. “What’s gotten into you? What if you ruptured a blood vessel, you want the organization to have to take care of you?”
Gu Zhichang gave a wry smile and shook his head. “Just like your mother, nagging me all the way down to the office. I should have set a clear line from the beginning and sent you to another department.”
“It’s exactly because mom isn’t here that you ought to take better care of yourself for my sake. Why do you want to make me worry?” Gu Shi was so upset she sounded like she was about to cry, a rare thing for her. During that hour or so her mind had gone through all sorts of possibilities, and now her worry had turned to anger and resentment.
Gu Zhichang had not “sought” his supervisor for his own sake. He had gone before the head of the political affairs section and laid out many arguments, hoping to get Zhang Chi, the talented investigator with lots of potential, under his command. The political affairs director listened amiably, then spoke a few conventional words about strengthening the investigators’ training, before finally saying his section was understaffed and that Zhang Chi had no outstanding accomplishments as his reasons for refusing the request. Gu Zhichang, who had never asked for anything, was beside himself with anger. He never imagined he would come away empty-handed, and his voice grew along with his anger. The soft-spoken director did not get angry or scold him; he simply lowered his head and pretended to read a document, ignoring him.
He immediately went and got the criminal investigations deputy director and dragged him off to go with him to find the head political commissar. “What kind of accomplishment counts as an accomplishment? He solved three homicide cases in succession and earned a third-class merit which you personally approved. Are these not accomplishments? What department isn’t understaffed? And if you want to talk about that, our police force is really understaffed. You’ve seen our investigators; their children can barely recognize their fathers for all the overtime they have to work. What difference does it make if the political affairs section loses one publicist if it means we can solve a homicide case? Rather than making him put down his sketch pencil, why not let him put down his glorious camera and let the young man do some real work. Isn’t that better?”
The commissar had been a worker before becoming a public servant. He often advised young people to do some blue-collar work if they got the chance so they could polish themselves and accumulate real world experience, so Gu Zhichang’s words reached him. Going through a lot of hassle, losing his temper, complaining, no one had the right to say anything to Gu Zhichang about that. Nowadays, he had to respect someone like Old Gu here who would get angry and slam the desk all for the sake of someone else’s career instead of his own. The commissar shot a phone call to the political affairs director, who was obsequious and carried out his orders at once.
“Dad, haven’t I told you it’s not worth it to go through such hassle for some good-for-nothing?”
Gu Zhichang closed his eyes and smiled, still tired from his narrow victory. He shook his head. “Daughter, you’re just too young. These eyes have read countless people. Have they ever failed me? With a little bit of guidance, this guy will definitely become an outstanding talent in the days to come.”
“If your eyesight ends up offending the entire leadership then you’ll make things difficult for yourself later on.”
“I solve my cases and don’t ask for anything. Who can say anything to me? What about ‘Instructor Fan?’”
Gu Shi was a bit baffled. “Why do you suddenly mention him? Isn’t he that restaurant owner?”
“If I told you the whole story you’d probably think it was something out of Arabian Nights, but Zhang Chi is kind of like him when he was younger.”
Gu Zhichang lit a cigarette and suddenly frowned heavily as he thought back to tose days. Back then, he and one of his buddies graduated together and worked drug enforcement at the public security bureau in their hometown. It was the beginning of their work as detectives. He was thirty, full of piss and vinegar, and looking to make his career when he sought out Little Fan to act as an informant. Little Fan had been more outgoing then than he was now, more than equal to the task, but was often seen as unreliable by his superiors, who urged his buddy to observe Fan more and test him. After repeated warnings from different leaders, his buddy gradually lost confidence in Little Fan and decided to put him through another “test”. But it was during this test to show off his ability that caused Little Fan to lose his wife and newborn child, and blow his own cover.
“I’ll never forget the way he looked when he stood before me. He was like a zombie. No expression, no tears. My thought then was to put him on tight twenty-four hour surveillance. Because I had seen too many people who had died unnaturally, with that hopeless look of someone who has nothing to live for, and he had that same look in his eyes.” From that moment on, Gu Zhichang helped make amends for his buddy, and took on the heavy responsibility of helping Fan make a fresh start in a new city and begin a new life.
“So, you’ve decided to put your trust in Zhang Chi? Why are you so certain this is like before?”
“No, I have learned to look beyond a person’s frivolousness and boorishness to scrutinize their hard work ethic and iron will. Little Fan had it back then, and in the end he made it through his life-threatening ordeal. Zhang Chi also has it. He’ll definitely be able to overcome society’s prejudices.”
Gu Shi was still doubtful. The image ofZhang Chi’s glittering earring seemed to be before her, dazzling her. “For now I will give my blessing that your closed-door disciple will succeed. Otherwise, all your hard work will have been for nothing.”
Gu Zhichang dismissed that with a wave, then the phone rang. It was a Beijing number.
“Director Chen, excuse me, excuse me. Is Little Zhang’s assignment coming along smoothly?”
The loud voice on the phone couldn’t hide its excitement. “No no, you’re too kind, Police Chief Gu. Not only is it going smoothly, he provided us with a breakthrough clue.”
“so then the case will be closed soon?”
“Very soon. The suspect has already been tracked down, all thanks to his portrait sketch. It’s too incredible, I have to admire him. Just leave the follow-up work with the procuratorate to us. The main reason I called is to apologize to Little Zhang. We misjudged him and didn’t treat him well enough.”
“So, he’s already left?”
“Yes, by train this afternoon. He said he had some urgent business and had to hurry back. To be honest, the conditions for this case were too harsh and there was a lot of pressure to solve the case. All thanks to you guys. We’re having our victory celebration, but the guest of honor is not here. We really owe you one.”
“Nonsense, we’re all public security. We’re always rushing off to solve a case. Little Zhang lacks qualifications, but he’s very skilled.”
“You’re very insightful, Police Chief Gu, to get your hands on such a talent. I failed to recognize him, and underestimated him because of his age. This guy is a character. He stuffed the sketch into my hand and said, ‘Now it’s up to you all. You ought to be able to catch the suspect.’ I asked him, ‘Are you sure? Once I stamp it we’ll be putting a lot of the police force into this, and the daily expenses for overtime is not a small amount.’ He nodded to me and left without looking back. I can’t believe he was right.”
Gu Zhichang laughed heartily. “That’s my apprentice!”
Seeing her father beaming as if he himself were being praised, Gu Shi just shook her head helplessly and walked out. He wasn’t even this delighted when she graduated with top honors from the police academy. Her detective father, always eager to find new talent. It was really irritating, but also a bit funny.