Chapter 25: Taboo
Lunch break was half over when Gu Zhichang received a phone call. He signaled to the group of investigators with him. Two of the more astute detectives wiped their sweat off and headed out of the gym. Gu Shi was dripping with sweat and had no time to shower and change, so she too went out in her tight-fitting workout clothes. Everyone went straight for the police cruisers parked at the entrance. Those who didn’t know thought the Tianjin team had come to the bureau to visit.
“Where’s Zhang Chi? Go get him, tell him to bring his ‘tools.’”
“He ought to be taking a nap. He always naps at lunchtime rather than eating.”
“Nap? I’ll go wake him up.” Gu Shi was filled with anger. Everyone was waiting to depart, the case not yet settled, everyone on edge, and here he was, the only one relaxed and taking it easy, still able to doze off during lunch.
A round of cheers erupted by the cars as the group anticipated Zhang Chi’s plight. “Good, we’ll wait here. Big sis is formidable, go haul him out here!”
“Easy now, talk nicely.” Gu Zhichang got out of the car and watched her as she left. He lit a cigarette, frowning.
He and his daughter normally followed a parallel course. Aside from the health issue they didn’t interfere with each other. But ever since he had accepted his disciple, his daughter seemed to be brimming with resentment, and had been really irritable. Such a headache. That guy was clearly interested in his daughter, and she had a high EQ, so how did they become so contentious, like oil and water? He really didn’t get it.
Not even five minutes later Zhang Chi appeared leading the way before them, holding up a portrait sketch and looking lethargic. “Who said I was napping? You think I drew this with my eyes closed, messing around like some drunken boxing expert?”
Gu Shi came out behind him, looking angry. “You all go on ahead, I have to take a trip to the hospital. Little Wu said that girl’s condition is stable so I’m going over there to see. There’s still some data and information to collect. If it leads to anything I’ll report it at once.”
Gu Zhichang was stumped by Zhang Chi’s words, but his daughter’s cleared things up. He jerked his chin up at Zhang Chi. “Get in the car, we’ll talk about it on the way there.”
Turns out the clue had already arrived as everyone was rushing out of the gym. Zhang Chi had obtained the information firsthand. During the investigation there was a temp courier at the deceased’s building who had been locked up at another branch in connection with a different robbery case.
Unfortunately, when they went to confirm his identity the computer system at the hotel he was staying at was down, and his face was not clear in the security camera footage. The detective found the clerk who was on duty at the time, but she only remembered the person registering his information; she couldn’t remember anything else clearly, as there were some discrepancies with the report of the registrant’s distinguishing features.
Zhang Chi conquered his grogginess and asked the unit to call up the video surveillance tape through their internal system, as well as the customer service contact information. He scrolled through it, looking for the right timestamp, but there was not much time so he just called the hotel up directly and asked for the key information to help the unit find the right timestamp. They also sent a computer repairman over to the hotel to fix their system and restore the database.
“Think back carefully. When you checked the suspect in he was carrying a briefcase and wearing a white shirt with two breast pockets. He felt around in one of the pockets for a while, then spread his hands out in despair.”
“I really don’t remember. I was on the phone at the time and didn’t notice.” Zhang Chi looked at the video footage and found the clerk had not been lying.
“There were a lot of calls at that time, but only three people working the desk, and your computers had been down the whole day. The registration form you were using was almost filled up. If I’m not wrong, the person’s registration information ought to be on the bottom third of the page.”
“His credentials ought to be one of the numbers in that range, but I can’t say for sure.”
“Can you say what range of numbers that is?”
“Yes. He came after supper. Based on the time and the position on the form you indicated, I can say it’s one of these four numbers.”
Zhang Chi was wide awake now. He asked her to hang up and then pulled the photographs for those four registrants and send them to her phone for her to identify.
“Look again carefully. Don’t just look at their outward appearance, pay attention to the shape of the face and his expression. Notice any particular resemblance in any of them?”
“I can’t remember clearly. The third one looks a bit familiar, but the hair is different.”
“Don’t worry about the hair. Focus on his expression.”
“His expression does look familiar.”
Zhang Chi scrutinized the i.d. photo. “How sure are you, on a scale of one to ten?”
“What are the biggest differences between the person you saw and the person in the photograph?”
“The hair is wrong. The person I saw had short hair, but the man in the photo has a part in the middle. It’s a very differnt feeling. And there were a lot of scars on his face. Looked like recent wounds. That left the deepest impression.”
“Anything else? Think again carefully.”
“The man was thinner than in this photo, and his face wasn’t as round. His face seemed longer, and he looked more sullen than in the photo, and there was an ominous glint in his eyes. He looked fierce, like someone you wouldn’t want to provoke.”
Zhang Chi listened and quickly made a sketch on his board. “Give me a few minutes and I will send you another picture to identify.”
With the i.d. photo as a foundation, combined with the better description, Zhang Chi’s pencil flowed over the page, his strokes sometimes light, sometimes smooth and flowing, his pencil like a butterfly flitting among the flowers, drifting about here and there without any fixed structure, but not overflowing off the canvas by even half a centimeter.
When Gu Shi showed up to get him he had just finished confirming the sketch with the clerk and had handed it in to the unit. On Zhang Chi’s command they had given Gu Zhichang a second call, never mentioning that Zhang Chi was involved. Because he had specifically said that he would personally report it to the boss.
Zhang Chi knew that in his haste to complete the job he had violated a taboo in directly conducting the work himself, finishing most of it already while leaving the boss in the dark.
Insisting he had wanted it to be a surprise was not as good as saying he didn’t know the rules. Detectives were often left with no choice within the system. They had to solve cases quickly, which often meant breaking some unwritten rule to get something done. But good results didn’t justify breaking convention. It’s not that he didn’t understand this, he just so happened to completely forget it then.
He was just taking the portrait sketch and going to atone for his misdeeds, hurrying out with that one thought on his mind, when he collided head-on with Gu Shi. Her face was already flushed from working out, but now it was even redder.
Zhang Chi quickly apologized and asked for her assistance in dealing with the situation, explaining to her everything that had just happened. The red in Gu Shi’s face dissipated a little. When they got downstairs she gave him the only help she could. “Just rely on the deep student-teacher relationship you have with my dad, and the accuracy of your portrait sketch!”