Chapter 9: To the Capital
“Hey, why don’t you answer the phone?” came a panting complaint from behind him. It was Gu Shi!
All of a sudden Zhang Chi didn’t know what to say; happiness arrived to abruptly. “I don’t have your number,” he said blankly.
Gu Shi’s face was flushed, beads of sweat still glittering on the tip of her nose. Running had made her skin even glossier, and her whole body seemed to be hotter. Zhang Chi really wanted to pull her into his arms.
“Who said anything about my number, I meant you. Gu Zhichang called you, why didn’t you answer?”
“Me? Oh, I didn’t notice.”
“Whatever, here, use mine. Make it easy for him so he doesn’t have to call back.” Gu Shi handed over an iPhone 7 Plus in a transparent case.
Now Zhang Chi understood. It was just like the rumors said about Gu Shi: during work hours the line between her and her father was clearly demarcated. But it seemed that they got along well, somewhat like brother and sister.
“Little Zhang, working hard I see. Sorry to disturb you.” Gu Zhichang still sounded affable and composed over the phone.
“What is it you called me about, Mr. Gu? Just say it.” He looked over at Gu Shi, standing arms akimbo. She blew her bangs out of her face. Was she unhappy or just too hot?
“All right, Little Zhang. I need to trouble you to take a trip to Beijing. There’s a joint case there we’re involved in. Not many clues, and it’s not far from the scene of the crime. The higher-ups at the public security bureau have set a short deadline for solving the case. The person we’ve decided to send to solve it is you. You’ll be responsible for making a composite portrait sketch of the suspect.”
“I’m going by myself?”
“Don’t worry. Later I’ll ask your senior brother to meet up with you and you can go together. A colleague will fill you in on the specifics once you get there.”
“What kind of case is it?”
“It’s a leaked-secret case, something about stealing state secrets. It’s not convenient to talk about specifics over the phone. Hurry there and hurry back. Remember, do your best.”
Zhang Chi hung up and carefully handed the phone back to Gu Shi without touching her hand.
“Hey, where are you going?” she said, calling him back.
“Mr. Gu is sending me on a trip. I’m going back to pack.”
“Okay. Did you take time off with your supervisor?”
“Mr. Gu informs my boss every time. Why do I need to as well?”
Gu Shi wiped her sweat and shook her head. “Gu Zhichang is our boss. Yours is from the political section. You’re still part of the political section. If you just go like that without saying anything, won’t your boss think you don’t think much of them, aren’t respecting them?”
Zhang Chi always hated that organizational protocol the most, but since Gu Shi had reminded him so bluntly, he smiled at her gratefully. But he had no plans to notify them again. What good would another notification be?
Right now his mind was focused solely on the case the ministries and commissions had attached such importance to. He speculated about what the witness would be like, whether the information would be complete or not, and if his portrait sketch would be as off as it had been the last time.
Zhang Chi knew this assignment was different than the ones before. If the last two cases were merely a warm-up before the race, relying on some luck and with room left for explanation, then this time was a live-fire training exercise. Whoever went to Beijing would be representing Shanghai Public Security.
He thought of that face that wrinkled whenever it smiled. Even if he didn’t care about honors or rewards, he didn’t want to let down Gu Zhichang, who stood behind him, quietly praising and supporting him.
Seven-thirty in the morning, people streaming through the waiting hall of Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport. It was starting to get busy. Passengers who had flights delayed or canceled lay flat across the seats, sleeping, while many others dragged luggage with them as they stood in line to get breakfast. Even the airport Starbucks was full. Some, late for check-in, hurried along pulling their baggage, while others stood at the service counters burning with anxiety to get their boarding passes revalidated while the staff put in a leisurely call on the phone, calmly discussing who was responsible. Zhang Chi had no sympathy, even looking at the passengers with something like disgust. Having no concept of time was really a dangerous ailment. Not only did it put yourself in helpless situations, it could also lead to major mistakes.
He heard the repeated call for his flight number, urging people to board. He stood at the gate which was empty now except for the staff, a seventeen-inch diplomat/business suitcase at his feet, frequently checking his phone. The always-punctual Chen Ting was nowhere to be seen. Nor was he responding to WeChat or answering his phone. Just what had happened?
Zhang Chi was about to call Gu Zhichang and ask what was up when Gu Shi’s cold, beautiful, questioning face suddenly appeared in his mind. He hesitated two or three seconds before putting his phone back in his pocket. Back at the academy Chen Ting had been head of their detachment. Organizing events for the instructors, getting in touch with some place, of taking care of some sudden occurrence, all one needed to do was give it to him and you could wash your hands of the matter with confidence. Nowadays, whatever the situation, as his classmate, all he could do was not inadvertently rat on his colleagues. Every other problem Chen Ting would handle himself.
On the plane, Zhang Chi, who had gotten up at four that morning, turned off his phone, leaned back, and closed his eyes. Two weeks before, his unit had organized a physical and he had three or four vials of blood drawn. It didn’t have any particular effect on him then, but its aftereffect was strong now. Weariness came over him much easier. As the plane’s motors began to thunder he quickly fell asleep. By the time he was almost out of the airport he was once again rejuvenated and in high spirits. His phone rang.
Chen Ting sounded a bit different than usual. “You’re already there, huh? Wait at the exit and don’t leave. Someone from the Beijing city council will be along to pick you up. They’ll be holding a sign.”
“Senior Brother, did you miss your flight?”
There was some background noise. Sounded like shouting, crying. He was talking faster than normal as well. “Something important came up and I couldn’t get away. Looks like you’ll have to be on your own for this one. Call me if there’s a problem.”
Zhang Chi didn’t have time to ask for his contact’s phone number or method of communication before Chen Ting hurriedly hung up. He only knew this case was a joint operation with the Beijing Public Security Bureau, and the first meeting was on the third floor conference room of the city council investigation building at two in the afternoon. He didn’t know the specifics of the case, who was in charge, if they knew his name or not, or how many people would be working with him. Anyone would wonder if no one else had been willing to accept this assignment, if the case was a hot potato or not, what role one ought to play in it, and all sorts of other conjectures.
Zhang Chi never thought his first official business trip would be so “random”, but he suddenly found it funny. He put on his headphones and listened to a Maroon 5 song, tapping his foot to the beat, and made his way briskly to the receiving area and carefully looked for his name among the signs.