Chapter 28: Denunciation
She suddenly noticed the two police officers sitting in front of her, one old, one young. The older one had a kind face, but it was not smiling at the moment. He stared straight at her, the contrast with his kind face creating a lot of tension that made her feel uneasy.
The younger one wore a continuous smile, but what was he smiling at? The smile was sympathetic, admiring. Did he have some trick up his sleeve? She couldn’t tell, couldn’t guess. She was drawn to the young cop’s handsome, headstrong face. Under different circumstances she’d probably take initiative in doing some things with him that young men liked to do. For some reason she believed he was especially passionate and capable in that area.
“What are you thinking about? My boss asked you a question. Pay attention!” Xiao Shilin was abruptly snapped out of her reverie. The young officer had raised his voice, tapping his pencil on the table and looking at her in irritation.
Gu Zhichang nodded slightly and Zhang Chi repeated the question. “Some neighbors reported that the Friday a week before the crime you had an argument with your grandmother. Why were you two fighting?” He really didn’t know what was wrong with this kid right now. Able to daydream in the middle of an interrogation, the corners of her mouth turned up in a smile. Had it all been too much for her so that she couldn’t control her nerves?
Xiao Shilin collected herself. She seemed to be thinking back carefully to the events of that day. Her response was calm. “That day I was at a play. I wasn’t at home.”
“In other words, you didn’t have an argument with your grandmother?” Gu Zhichang said, looking at his papers.
“My impression is no. She always looks after my brother and I. I can’t guarantee that we never had an argument.”
“What play did you see that day?” Zhang Chi asked with great interest, ready to look up the info on his phone.
“Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land, the one with Yuan Quan,” she said without hesitation.
“You went by yourself?” Gu Zhichang asked, accepting Zhang Chi’s phone and looking at the info before handing it back.
“Mm, my friend said she had to go home so I went by myself.”
“Did you buy a discount ticket?” Zhang Chi asked casually, looking at his phone. “Do you still have it?” Discount tickets required you to show your i.d. at the counter when you made your purchase. It was first come, first serve and the box office would have a record he could check.
Xiao Shilin was stumped for a second. “What’s a discount ticket? I usually throw those away once it’s over. I don’t collect them.”
Since she flat-out stated the name of the play she definitely was familiar with its story. If she bought a regular ticket then there was no way to verify whether she saw the play on that day or not, and if she took a taxi straight home then the residential security cameras would not be powerful enough to get a clear shot of her face after nine o’clock at night, only an indistinguishable outline. These three roads just like that had become dead ends. The girl’s face was innocent, perfectly calm and collected. She really was not an ordinary middle school girl.
“I need you to confirm something for me,” Gu Zhichang said suddenly. “How many weeks pregnant are you?”
The ever calm and collected Xiao Shilin’s face suddenly fell slightly, and she averted her eyes and pursed her lips. She didn’t answer.
Gu Zhichang and Zhang Chi exchanged glances. “Let’s not talk about that right now,” Zhang Chi continued. “I’m a fan of the theater myself, and wouldn’t you know it, I bought a discount ticket that day to see the same play.”
Xiao Shilin raised her head and looked at him, puzzled.
“My friend said Yuan Quan tripped over a stage prop during the second act and almost fell down. That’s something you don’t see everyday. Too bad I was in the restroom and didn’t see it. Do you remember which part of the story that was?”
“I must have been looking at a friend group on Wechat and didn’t notice.”
“Did you watch the entire play?”
“Of course I did.”
“The actors in that play were very diligent,” Zhang Chi said curiously. “It’s rare to see an encore at the end of a play. I left early so I didn’t see it. What did the actors say?”
“They just gave their thanks, and said how difficult rehearsals were. You didn’t miss anything.”
Gu Zhichang had kept mostly silent, but his breathing was getting heavier. Zhang Chi knew that because Gu had been in the force for many years he had had more opportunity than most to experience man’s evil and perplexity. Everytime like this he was in his most contradictory mental state.
They had talked long on this issue. He believed people were inherently bad, while Gu revered the idea that people were inherently good. But Gu Zhichang had to admit he had never had the courage or ability to touch on the extremes of evil and calllousness. Once you stepped into the shadows of human nature the bottom seemed to naturally drop out of everything, like a black hole, fathomless, swallowing all human feeling and conscience, harming everyone connected, inocents included.
“As policemen we have to uncover these brutal truths, and begin to suspect the people we never ought to be able to suspect, and arrest people who should have enjoyed a better life instead of having their journey as a good person cut short.” Gu had clearly looked pained, but Zhang Chi had not had any strong feelings on it then, and didn’t have a sympathetic response.
Now he knew that feeling. So soon after discussing it they were now experiencing it. He really couldn’t believe this girl was not even fifteen years old, yet was already an “expecting mother” who would really murder the grandmother who had single-handedly raised her.
It had come to this, and she was still covering up, pretending, playing the victim as she dealt with them. She was so stubbornly unrepentant. What he had to do was, with the help of Gu Shi and Chen Ting, cooperate with Gu Zhichang in breaking through her mental defenses and strive to make her want to try for a reduced sentence.
“I misremembered. That encore I mentioned earlier was for a different play. I see one just about every week, and just mixed them up.” Zhang Chi chuckled.
Xiao Shilin’s face fell. She was silent, as if she couldn’t think of a good reply.
“I recall that when the play ended there was a two-year-old boy who couldn’t find his mother. They announced it over the PA system to find her. Do you remember that?”
Xiao Shilin hesitated, not looking as confident as she had before. She was slow to respond.
“He asked you yes or no,” Gu Zhichang said.
“Does this have anything to do with why you came here today?” Xiao Shilin asked back.
“Of course it does. It will directly determine whether or not you had a motive to commit the crime.” Gu Zhichang emphasized “commit the crime”.
Xiao Shilin seemed to be going all in with her answer. “I seem to recall that, but I don’t remember clearly.”
“I don’t know if it was that play, but I definitely remember one time hearing a call over the PA looking for someone similar to what you said.”
“A two-year-old child wouldn’t be taken to a play, and there would certainly not be any such call over the PA. Up to now you have not been ready to tell the truth; did you not consider that we came to you because we had evidence?” Gu Zhichang stared at her closely, his eyes shining.
Xiao Shilin was so shocked by his sudden interjection that she trembled. In that instant she finally looked like a fifteen-year-old child, a child who had done something very bad, her eyes brimming with perplexed ignorance and a gleam of dread of an unknown she was not ready for.
At the hospital when he questioned her, Zhang Chi had seen her take an oath, had seen her calm and collected, had seen her detached and fearless.
“Your testimony contradicts that of the witnesses’ testimony we have obtained, and contradicted the material evidence at the scene. You ought to know that saying it yourself is completely different than us saying it for you. Whether or not you get a lighter sentence is based entirely on the manner in which you admit your guilt. No one else can help you. You’re still young. You still have a long road ahead of you.” Gu Zhichang’s words were hard, but well-intentioned.
They had been sitting there so they could help her, help shatter her illusions, help unearth her inner remorse. Even though they didn’t know if it had ever resided in her heart.
“Can I see someone?” Xio Shilin suddenly looked up, her eyes welling with tears.
“We’ll do our best to let you see whomever you wish.”
“I want to see my dad. I want to ask him if he ever misses me?” Xiao Shilin’s tears at last dripped onto the table.
“How long has it been since you saw him?”
“Five years? Seven years? I’m not quite sure. My classmates all say I don’t have a dad. So I don’t want my child to also not have a dad. I don’t want it to happen all over again. It’s too painful.”
“So you asked your grandmother for money to get an abortion?” Zhang Chi said quickly.
Xiao Shilin nodded, her face streaming with tears. “Not only did she refuse to give me money, she called me a slut, said I had defiled myself, said that I had no parents to set a good example. She said a lot of nasty things. No one had ever insulted me like that, even though I’m like an orphan. I just want to know, why didn’t my mom and dad care about us, instead abandoning us to that hateful old woman?”
“Now she is really dead.”
“Death is too good for her! It was me. It was me who cut out her venomous tongue.”
“Again a conflict. You shouldn’t have used such an extreme method to settle it. After all, she raised you.” Gu Zhichang was almost beside himself with emotion.
Xiao Shilin shot her head up, incensed. She spoke loudly, her voice choked with tears. “What do you all know about what I went through? No one who hasn’t gone through what I have could understand me. She thought she just had to feed us and make us study and that’s raising us? Maybe all you adults think that way. She never cared about us. She often said we were a burden for her, making her have to do household chores so that she didn’t have time to play mahjong. If I wanted to go somewhere she was always stingy with money. From the time I was little I never once got to go on a spring or autumn outing. She favored boys and looked down on girls and gave all the meat dishes to my littler brother, and only bought new clothes for him. To her I was just another person to curse, just a target for her to unload her anger on.”
Her tears by now were falling like rain. “I just want my mom and dad. I just want to see if there is still someone in this world who really loves me? Or does no one want me?”