Chapter 62: Warm Harbor
The planes were tiny dots as they slowly glided up and off the runway one after another. Zhang Chi and Gu Shi sat next to each other, holding cups of coffee as they sat in the airport lounge outside the boarding gate. They were watching the planes take off outside the glass window, lost in thought. The airport was brightly lit and moonlight shimmered outside. This was a rare moment of leisure in their busy line of work.
Zhang Chi liked the feeling of guessing while he waited. The complicated details of the case still made him fidgety, but it wasn’t so scary now as it had been when he knew nothing of the case. His job was a lot like piloting an aircraft. No matter what type of plane or how many passengers, this final goal was always to safely reach the destination according to a set of fixed principles.
They didn’t check their luggage. He hadn’t expected that Gu Shi would pick the same twenty-inch size suitcase, large enough for the personal effects of someone who will be gone for an unknown number of days. She really was a simple, unsophisticated girl. Her phone was out of juice so she wanted to get her charger from her luggage. She had Zhang Chi hold her coffee.
Her hardshell suitcase was not pink, nor adorned with flowery stickers, but checkered in black and gray, a typical stripped down style. Everything inside was neatly put away in pockets. But after Gu Shi rummaged around in there she couldn’t close it again. She unzipped the extra capacity zipper and pressed down hard on the suitcase, but to no avail.
“Let me try.” Zhang Chi handed the coffee to her. She looked at him doubtfully, but figured she might as well let him try.
Zhang Chi rolled up his sleeves and squatted and turned the suitcase to the side so others can’t see and spread out a newspaper beside it and began taking things out of the suitcase.
Gu Shi was shocked and got up to stop him. “What are you doing?”
He looked back at her with an even expression. “Relax, I’m not looking at your things. But if I don’t take them out how can I rearrange everything? Arranging is an art. Just watch and you’ll see.”
He neatly arranged everything by level of fragility and size, putting everything in its proper category and packing it into the suitcase. Then, despite Gu Shi’s protests, he took her jacket and clothes and rolled them into cylinders and fit them into every available crack. In less than two minutes everything was neatly packed away and it closed easily.
“Relax. By the time you’re ready to wear them your clothes won’t be wrinkled.”
“Who taught you this?”
“You think I shouldn’t be doing this kind of effeminate things?”
Gu Shi sipped her coffee and blinked. “It’s just not what I expected.”
“When you’re by yourself you have to pack everything yourself. However, it looks like my skills still have some use. I can help you in the future.”
Gu Shi smiled faintly. Seeing her relaxed and happy, he had a thought. “Oh, I almost forgot something.”
“I don’t think so. I watched you pack it all myself.”
He took a plastic bag from his suitcase and handed it to her. She opened it and inside was a bar of dark chocolate made from 70% cocoa, a pair of new anti-fog swim goggles, a simple mobile phone, and a bottle of “pepper spray”.
Gu Shi couldn’t help but laugh. “You think I need a karate black belt as well?”
Zhang Chi put the phone and pepper spray back into the plastic bag and helped her pack these things into her backpack. “The phone is loaded with a phone card, and the emergency number on it is my number.”
Gu Shi blushed slightly, but she still spoke firmly, “We’re in contact with a lot of seedy people, but that doesn’t mean there will be bad people everywhere we go.”
“I don’t care. Since I won’t be there this is the only way I can ensure your safety.”
What he didn’t tell her, as his stomach rumbled, was that he only looked after these minor details for the person he considered his woman, forgoing sweet words, thinking hard about every little detail.
Fortunately, that aloof person from before was gone; now there was only the lady copy before he was fighting shoulder to shoulder with. Her bashful and touched smile made him think back to the night before when he didn’t eat supper so he would have time to go to the import supermarket and cellphone store to get those things. All that trouble he went through was his sweet way of supporting her.
By the time they boarded and took their seats it was already 10:30 at night. As soon as she was on the plane she took her blanket and pillow from her bag and quickly prepared to sleep. Over two hours later the plane began its descent. The landing gear touched down with a bump and she was jolted awake. She tilted her face and looked into Zhang Chi’s big, spirited eyes. His hand lifted a corner of her blanket and locked his fingers with hers.
Gu Shi was stupefied, but she didn’t throw his hand off. He tucked the blanket around her shoulders and naturally, lightly tilted her head onto his shoulder and whispered over the top of her head, “Go on and sleep. I’ll wake you when we get there.”
Gu Shi could only shut her eyes, but she couldn’t go back to sleep. In her daze, his warm face seemed to be leaning against her neck. If someone saw them they would think they were ordinary lovers. Only she knew that she was able to put up with these movements. Zhang Chi had waited a long time to get this close to her.
Everything felt warm and reliable, everything she had longed for but never dared imagine. It was just that, six months before she never would have guessed it would be the man with the earring she had once despised.
The long distance bus shuttled through the inky black night. The only sound was snoring. Zhang Chi leaned against the window. He didn’t feel like sleeping at all. The scenery outside was bleak and unfamiliar, the bus breaking through ever darker and darker territory as if bound for hell, the entire cabin seemed to be absorbed in darkness like a sponge soaking up ink; the crowded suburbs and small towns looked especially desolate.
The loneliness didn’t envelop Zhang Chi. He turned on his phone and swiped through the pictures and video he had just quietly taken. Gu Shi’s expression was so peaceful; she seemed to be wearing a faint, sweet smile. This was enough to strengthen him from head to toe over the next several days.
He handed over an answer sheet he was satisfied with, and she accepted it with pleasure. Was it really that simple?”
He knew it was like handling a case. The truth was far, far away from the first answer, often going round and round in circles until it was lodged carelessly in a corner for some hard-looking person to find. He didn’t know if it was close to what he had expected, but what he was understood was that layer of black ice covering Gu Shi was quietly melting, and melting ice water was sweet and cool, lubricating her heart that had been lonely and closed off for a long time, allowing her to come to life once again, no longer shutting the door to him like she had before.
The bus arrived as he was thinking about it. The person receiving him from public security was a thin keen-witted middle-aged man. He was at a loss at first when he first saw Zhang Chi, but he quickly came to and went over to him and helped him with his luggage, then shook his hand tightly. “You must be Zhang Chi, the criminal investigations expert from Zhenghai City. I’m Ji Liang from the criminal investigations team. I’ve heard all about you and finally have a chance to meet you. You’re younger than I expected!”
Zhang Chi looked around. There was no one else around and he already knew the person handling him was Ji Liang. He was touched and said, “Hello, Captain Ji. Sorry to make you come out here late at night to pick me up.”
“It’s no trouble. There’s wasn’t enough time, otherwise the team would all be lining the street to welcome you. Everyone is all ready. In consideration for the days of battle ahead I let them all go back. You’ve been through a lot, coming from so far away to our little corner of the world. Let’s go back first so you can rest. We will talk about work stuff tomorrow.” Ji Liang put Zhang Chi’s suitcase in the trunk of a Santana police car, stepped on the gas, and they were off.