The Sketch Artist Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: Silent Night

In the blink of an eye, everyone was silent. They seemed to be adapting to the sudden darkness. Two seconds later there was a heavy sigh, followed by a loud voice. “Clear, clear, no danger. Everyone relax.”

Gu Shi slipped through a crack between two big men and blinked, quickly becoming accustomed to the dark. Faint light shone from outside the room. She soon saw a large figure on the farthest balcony six feet away, a swinging figure. The figure was hanging high up, making the silence all around them eerie.

Someone pulled a bench over vigorously and climbed up and quickly loosened the rope. Two other investigators grabbed the suspect and laid him gently on the floor. One of them felt his neck for a pulse, then promptly stood up and shook his head helplessly.

Gu Shi spotted a suicide note on the corner of a table, six pages of large, scribbled characters, each one seemingly written with a quivering hand. Although it was obvious the murderer had decided to commit suicide after seeing the composite sketch instead of waiting for death, she still put on gloves and slipped the suicide note into an evidence bag and prepared to collect fingerprints for verification.

That day the murderer had leisurely bought a six-pack of beer, a box of beef in chili sauce and half a “three yellow” chicken, and prepared to go back home intending to watch the game, drink some beer, and relax a bit. As usual he used his cell phone flashlight to illuminate the dark hallway and was shocked so much he nearly lost his footing on the steps, and overturned the food in the plastic bag he was carrying.

“Who pasted my picture up in the hallway?” He couldn’t believe it, and stealthily crept back out to the entrance and looked out. His photograph had been pasted at almost every building’s entrance. He was frightened and took the steps two at a time, racing back to his apartment, not forgetting to rip the photo down.

Back home, he inspected the photo. It was actually a sketched portrait that looked almost exactly like him, with the words “Wanted” written at the top. He knew in an instant he was done for. He figured he would definitely get the death penalty. He had heard from a friend inside that the process from arrest to execution was a long one. He decided it was better to get it over with, that suicide was the less painful route. And so in the blink of an eye, what had been his celebratory meal after each “harvest” now had become his last supper.

His grand, calculated success had fizzled out, all because of some person’s portrait sketch. Gu Shi could not accept that. She really couldn’t understand why her father would rather trust a non-professional newcomer rather that trust her invesigation skills. To her, a portrait sketch couldn’t replace traditional criminal investigation techniques, and definitely couldn’t rival the accuracy and science of trace analysis. If a sketch provided the lead for investigation, then science was the basis for solving and guaranteeing the case. This time was just luck, like a blind cat finding a dead mouse.

The culprit had actually committed suicide before they could make the arrest! And he was responsible for three homicide cases, one of them which had occurred in another place. The suicide note explained it all. The news from Gu Zhichang was a surprise to Zhang Chi.

“Kid, you’ve become famous overnight. You helped us achieve a great feat. I didn’t misjudge you.” Gu Zhichang personally called Zhang Chi to congratulate him, his delight showing.

“I was lucky, that’s all. I like when the hero saves the beauty, and I have a stronger rapport with pretty ladies, so it was a good cooperation, which made my sketch more accurate. If the victim had been someone else my pencil would likely not have been so effective.”

Gu Zhichang laughed heartily. Zhang Chi was also in a good mood and laughed then as well, the two making a nice duet.

After they’d had a good laugh Gu Zhichang became serious. “Little Zhang, in light of your performance on this special case, I’ve decided to apply you for a third-class merit. It will be counted for our department. I’ve already asked your supervisor for instructions.”

“Mr. Gu, you’re too kind. I really didn’t do much, there’s no need to make a big fuss.”

“No, we need to make it more high profile to let everyone know our internal public security system has such a special talent like you. A talented person cannot be overlooked. As a matter of fact, I want to go even further. I hope you will consider joining our criminal investigation team.”

“Oh?”

“First, I wanted to consult with you about it. I hope you will seriously consider it. I know that a lot of young people yearn for the post you have with the political section, but in my experience, it won’t help you that much. I know in your heart you want to be a real police officer. In this line of work the career advancement is slow and the work is more intense, and it’s a step lower than the political section office. But the physical training it offers for a young person is obvious, and you will really be able to do some good work.”

Zhang Chi’s face became serious as he listened earnestly. Gu Zhichang had seen through his heart. What man wouldn’t hope to become a famous police officer by solving a case?

My daughter Gu Shi said that most women are assigned directly to posts with the office staff or at a ticket window when they first begin work. When she started she asked me and I advised her to work in the field and participate in arrest operations.”

“You weren’t worried it would be dangerous for a girl? Later, when she has a family won’t it be difficult?”

“I would be lying if I said I had no misgivings. But, we’re a police family. The duty of a police officer is to abandon peace and stability, give up holidays, and even risk safety and one’s own life in order to be able to diligently do one’s job. If one only seeks the routine of work, doesn’t work overtime, and never experiences danger, well that’s just not a true police officer in my eyes.”

“You’re right. That’s the kind of spirit a police officer must have.”

“Look at Gu Shi now. She does her work swift and decisively. No task is considered special, and she has advanced much quicker than her other female colleagues because she has more practice and experience. You can’t do all this with an office job. Don’t get me wrong, I only say this behind her back. Normally I never praise her, but she’s a good kid.”

“Like father, like daughter. I’ve noticed it too. Gu Shi’s temperament is a bit different. She’s a police officer through and through.”

“If Gu Shi, a girl, can get these kinds of results, don’t you want to steel yourself a bit, so your special ability can really be put to use? Let me put it brusquely. Do you want to have a bright, fresh, smooth and steady career in an office, and then retire with a stack of sketches you drew to help people make wedding dresses, as a police officer who’s never cracked a single case?”

Zhang Chi was nonplussed. He had heard before that Gu Zhichang spoke freely before his superiors. He admired the attitudes of people who made it this long without ever wearing a white collar. “Mr. Gu, I understand what you mean. I will think it over and give you an answer.”

“Good. I’ll give you a deadline: one month. You can tell me in person on the day you receive your award for meritorious service. It’s no use trying to force it. Whatever you decide, I’ve said what I wanted to say. I will support your decision.”

Because of Gu Zhichang’s phone call, Zhang Chi had only half-written his financial news report and activity plan. Now he didn’t want to continue it. He just kept thinking about what Gu had said. After scheduling a round of ping pong with friends his mood had perked up and he shouldered his backpack, ready to head out. Just as he was about to lock the door he heard the tone from his WeChat. It was an exterior photo of his office building. He checked the sender, but it was an unfamiliar username. Probably a girl by the looks of it.

Likely another secret admirer of his. Ordinarily, when someone unfamiliar added him he would accept. Or to put it more precisely, he didn’t have the approval function set up on his WeChat, so no one was rejected. He didn’t pay it any mind and put his phone back in his bag. He put on his headphones and stepped briskly out of the elevator. He almost ran into someone when he pushed open the glass doors.

“What are you doing here?” Zhang Chi took off his headphones and looked around. How did you get in without an entrance card?”

He Meng smiled warmly. “Old classmate, we couldn’t talk last time. I got out of the hospital today and came here to ask you to dinner, and to ask you a favor.”

At first Zhang Chi wanted to think of a reason to say no, but he saw her smile, her fair skin weakly pale, her tall, slim body not able to hide her fatigue. She had just recovered from a serious injury. He knew it was not a short drive from the hospital to here, and he felt he was being unjustly rewarded. Plus, having a meal with a classmate was no big deal, let alone the prettiest girl in school, so he accepted her good intentions.

But those good intentions didn’t stop. The next day at noon he was about to go out to eat with friends because he was tired of eating alone, when a neat-uniformed food delivery person called him back. A five-person Cantonese dish order had been bestowed for them all to enjoy by He Meng, who had attentively remembered the number of people in his office. Even the desserts every day were different. On the third day, Zhang Chi called her up and asked her to stop squandering her money, but she politely refused. Her reason was she had already set aside a month’s worth, so the next month’s meals were for the policemen’s hard overtime work.

His coworkers sampled Yuenyeung coffee with tea and assorted roast cold cuts. They couldn’t help but tease him. “Overtime meal? It’s not hard for us, but it will be hard for you, Zhang Chi, so just hurry up and accept her food.”

Zhang Chi laughed without comment, but what appeared now was a smiling face he had not seen before. He didn’t understand what it was about Gu Shi that attracted him. If it was a pretty face or curvy body then He Meng was in no way inferior; if it was education or family background then her and He Meng each had something to recommend her. One was an elegant, independent artist, a young curator. The other was a trace analysis expert with an heroic bearing, a young police chief. He was unable to compare their strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps the greatest difference between them was that for him, Gu Shi was more of an unknown world.

He couldn’t read her expressions, and he could comprehend even less of the mental realm behind those expressions. He Meng was a glittering, translucent crystal, flawless, delicately wrought and fragile, which made people feel tenderness toward her and no one could bear to harm her. Gu Shi was more like an uncut piece of jade wrapped in a hard stone. No one could see through her hard exterior to see where the unpolished jade was, her true self. Everyone thought she was strong and self-reliant. Seemed like only Zhang Chi could see the frail and lonely place within her innermost soul.

 


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