Chapter 32: “Hunter”
He hung up the phone and went quickly to the adjacent office where he found Zhang Chi drenched in sweat, lifting dumbbells and looking at himself in a full-size mirror.
Little Wu stepped in front of the mirror. “Don’t admire your muscles, we’ve got work. Change and let’s go.”
They drove across Shanghai and in an hour arrived at a villa district in the suburbs. When housekeeper opened the door and saw police standing there she let them in at once. The master of the house was stood up from the dining table and greeted them when they came in.
“I heard it was you who saved my daughter last month. I’ve not had the chance to thank you. Who would have thought that now…” His expression was grave, not at all flustered as he calmly asked them to take a seat.
“It was our female section chief who saved your daughter,” Zhang Chi said. She’s out on a case today. How are things going with you all now?”
“Yesterday morning I took my daughter to the metro station. I didn’t see any difference in her. But that evening she never showed up when I went to pick her up. The person in charge at her work unit said she never showed up for work that day. I called her cell phone, but she had turned it off.”
Little Wu scanned the room out of habit. Before they came here he had heard the father was an entrepreneur and the mother was a senior manager. It was a well-off middle class family.
The father was in his fifties, with no beer belly like men his age often had. He wore wood-frame glasses and his clothes had no brand name logos, but from the quality it was clear they cost several thousand yuan. He had a calm face, except he looked weighed down by anxiety every time he checked his phone. He looked like a business man who had weathered a lot.
Zhang Chi took off his police cap and put it on the table, and sat down. “Did she have any more mood swings after the incident last time? Did she tell you what it was all about?”
“That girl has a lot of pride and demands a lot of herself. We wanted to find an opportunity to talk about it after she came back, but the timing didn’t seem right. We just let her take some time off school. You all know how it is. Her business would be spread all over the school, with all kinds of rumors.” The girl’s mother handed them each a sports drink, her face full of anxiety, and she too sat down.
“However, yesterday her phone suddenly turned on and the messages I had sent her earlier all showed as read. And she sent us this sudden message. Take a look.” The father handed Zhang Chi his phone.
“My boyfriend lost gambling on basketball. I was his guarantor. Now he’s disappeared. I’ll take responsibility for my own affairs.” There were just those those four sentences.
“From what we know of her, she’s pretty introverted, and doesn’t go out much. In her spare time she’s always working temp jobs or studying German in preparation for her next year when she plans to go to Germany for her PhD. She has no time or energy for a relationship.”
“She never talks about her friends,” the mother filled in. “She has a best friend, who I went to ask when I couldn’t find my daughter.”
“What’s even more strange is yesterday someone else used her WeChat and sent us voice call.”
“When was the call and what did they say?” Zhang Chi wrote in his notebook.
The mother opened the voice recorder on her iPad. It was a recording of her speaking with a man. The call had come in at 12:30 at night and lasted half an hour. They talked back and forth, but not matter how much the mother pleaded or reasoned, the person on the other end didn’t acquiesce or give in, only praising the daughter as having a “sense of responsibility”, then threatening that “someone must pay for the mistake”. The point of their talk was that the man could guarantee her daughter’s safety in exchange for five million RMB deposited in an appointed account.
When it got to that point the mother pressed pause, wrote something down on a strip of paper, and handed it to Zhang Chi. “This is the account number. It’s not a small amount. He said it all had to be in his account by the end of the month. He said that at the beginning so I didn’t have time to record it.”
Zhang Chi took the strip of paper, transcribed it carefully in his notebook, and motioned for her to continue the recording.
“Otherwise…” His tone was cruel, cutting off suddenly. He didn’t finish the sentence, but he was very aggressive. “I know you all have already reported to the police. That won’t be of any benefit to your daughter. If you want her to remain safe then do what I said. Remember, I have ways to monitor your every move. Don’t think you’re clever and try something you will regret for the rest of your lives.”
“I’ll remember everything you said. I’ll do my best to meet your demands. But at least let me say a few words to my daughter. You can’t let us lose both her and the money.” The mother had remained extremely calm throughout the discussion, but it seemed couldn’t take the sudden blow and lost control.
He refused her point-blank. “You don’t get to make demands of me. You just follow orders. At this time tomorrow I’ll send you her regards on her behalf.” Then he hung up.
“Officers, right now we’re really… You would understand if you were parents.” The mother’s eyes were filled with tears. She hung her head and said no more.
The father was getting impatient with her. “What’s the use in saying all that? Officers, we sent news of our daughter missing to our friends group, and attached a photo of her and my cell phone number. If there are any leads you will be the first to know.” He didn’t look good, worry and anxiety suppressed under his calm exterior.
As they were talking Zhang Chi noticed the father’s cell phone vibrate several times, but the father didn’t look at the screen before turning it off.
“Not much reliable news over the phone?”
The father shook his head helplessly. “All bored people. There hasn’t been any substantial information yet.”
“Any change to the bank account?”
“See, you forgot mention that important information,” the mother said, pointing at him.
“After we lost contact with her yesterday I checked the account. Our daughter’s debit card was used once about two weeks ago to make a transfer.”
“What was that money used for?”
“That card was for her to use in preparation for going overseas to study. It was part of that.”
“The money is a minor matter. What we’re concerned about at the moment is why was she kidnapped, who kidnapped her, and where are they?”
“We can’t guess the specific situation right now, but we will do our best.” That answer obviously wouldn’t satisfy anyone. The father said something noncommittal, then turned around and made a call to some mystery person seeking outside help.
They didn’t mind the father’s attitude. During the first step in handling a case family members often have high hopes for public security, but at the same time hold a skeptical wait and see attitude.
Zhang Chi hadn’t been on the team long, but he felt it was a common occurrence. When people faced a crisis they were often excessively anxious, concerned and flustered. It was reasonable. They would repeatedly evaluate and choose what they thought in the end was most beneficial. They could only wait until everything was settled to know whether that choice had been correct or not.
He felt that if the family members could just divert their attention and not always ask details about the case to the point of impeding the investigation, and instead take a more passive stance, that would be great. Zhang Chi and Little Wu made use of that time to ask the mother more about the situation. But she didn’t know the answer to any question they asked her, be it the people or things their daughter was interested in, or who her friends were, or what she liked to do in her spare time, or where she often went. Don’t even mention the busy father. They had to take their leave and prepare to interview concerned parties.
“Ah, did you notice something strange?” They were getting in the police cruiser. Little Wu opened the door. “Criminal investigation is concerned about the ‘strange’ things. She was supposed to work overtime, yet stayed out all night. I find that a bit strange.”
Zhang Chi started the car. “Yep. There’s something odd about this situation. But it’s hard to say. Maybe she just keeps her job secret, lest the debt collectors come looking for her. Truth mixed with lies. Wait and see when we investigate.”
The team was so busy they were a complete mess, but the next day Gu Shi had to attend a month of promotion training. She didn’t want to leave now, but she had already signed up for it and she couldn’t change the time.
She had to report there at 8:30 in the morning on a weekday. Usually the day before her colleague would take her there, meaning that person had to get up early. They all usually worked overtime so she could understand that to detectives sleep was always rare, so the captain forgot to bring it up, and so she didn’t plan to mention it either.
After the meeting Zhang Chi found her and volunteered to take her. Gu Shi hesitated, but Zhang Chi smiled. “You’d be helping me as well cause when do I have time to go to visit the police academy? Remember last time when the commander had me draw that sketch? I want to earnestly hand it to him personally.”
Gu Shi thought it over. Her mouth was tactful, but she didn’t smile. “All right. Then I’ll trouble you to take me.”
The next day Zhang Chi was early, sitting in the car in front of the garage waiting for her. He saw her lugging a twenty-nine inch silver suitcase and walking over in high spirits. He opened the car door and got out and helped her.
“I packed a lot,” Gu Shi warned him. “It’s pretty heavy.”
“No worries, if I pull my back I ought to get workman’s comp since this counts as on duty.” Zhang Chi lifted the suitcase with one hand and supported it with the other as he carefully put it in the trunk. “You packed a whole month’s worth in here? Don’t you plan to come back on the weekends?”
Gu Shi didn’t answer him, but handed him a paper bag. He looked opened it and looked inside. It was fresh-baked bread and warm milk. How considerate. He smiled faintly and accepted it.
They sped along smoothly, Zhang Chi feeling indescribably happy and easy. It was just the two of them, with him driving, Gu Shi sitting in the passenger seat. This was a new experience for him, though not unfamiliar. He had imagined this scene many times. Due to their previous few unhappy chats, their silence was almost a “ceasefire”, Zhang Chi concentrating on driving while Gu Shi sat with her eyes slightly shut, dozing off. Neither felt awkward.
Early in the morning on the road out of town it was mostly semi trucks and cement mixers. A flashy car like a police cruiser was a rare sight.
Some time later Zhang Chi was thinking of breaking the silence when a dump truck in front of him suddenly slowed down. Fortunately, he had been keeping a safe distance and wasn’t tailgating. He stepped on the brakes, like being startled awake from a good dream.