Chapter 100: A-Jiao’s Abduction
The dumpling joint was unusually busy tonight. By the time Jiang Zhengkai got the dumplings and left, it was already 8:20PM. He had the waiter place the dumplings in a plastic container and then called A-Jiao on his cell phone as he left the restaurant.
“Honey, I might be a bit late. I just left the dumpling place,” Jiang Zhengkai said intimately over the phone. He couldn’t remember when he’d developed the habit of calling A-Jiao “Honey.”
“Alright, Honey!” A-Jiao replied in an equally intimate manner. “Be careful on the road. No need to hurry. I’m not done here yet. I’ll meet you at the preschool’s front door.”
“Okay, be safe!” said Jiang Zhengkai before he hung up. Since he’d already told A-Jiao he’d be late picking her up, he didn’t need to hurry back. Besides, it was the summer, so he wasn’t worried that the dumplings he’d just picked up would get cold quickly. He was more worried that walking too quickly would cause the dumplings to smash against one another and break apart.
A-Jiao sent off the last of the children at the preschool and then looked through the art studio’s windows before she left to wait for Jiang Zhengkai in front of the preschool’s main entrance. It was a relatively cool evening for a summer day. A soft breeze blew past and carried off some of the summer’s heat with it. A-Jiao rather enjoyed standing amidst the crisp evening breeze, which she found to be rather relaxing.
A minivan suddenly drove up to where A-Jiao was standing, as a man peeked his head out and politely asked her, “Hey beautiful, can you tell me how to get to Ju’an Road?”
“Hi!” A-Jiao looked at the stranger and used her finger to point in the direction the minivan had just come from. “You already passed it! Make a u-turn and then turn left.”
“Really?” the man asked, a surprised look on his face. “But somebody just told us it was this way.” As he spoke, he got out of the minivan and took out a map for A-Jiao to see. “See, Ju’an Road is here, and we’re…”
“Oh, we’re right here,” said A-Jiao as she pointed at their location on the map. “You should turn around and drive back to where you just came from–” Before she could finish, two more men suddenly burst out out of the minivan and rushed her from behind. One of them covered A-Jiao’s mouth while another grabbed her hand. Meanwhile, the man who had been asking for directions just a second ago restrained her arms. The three of them lifted A-Jiao up and shoved her into the minivan. They quickly closed the van’s sliding door behind them before speeding off into the night.
“Stop!” Jiang Zhengkai had arrived at the preschool just in time to witness everything that had transpired. He threw down the box of dumplings and chased after the minivan. After about a dozen meters, he heard a “BAM” sound. It appeared that the minivan had run into something, so it quickly backed up before the driver slammed on the gas, causing an ear-piercing screech as the minivan’s rubber wheels left thick black skids on the asphalt road. The vehicle drove onto the curb and sped off.
Where the minivan had been just a second earlier, a muscular young man stood up off of the ground. In his hand were one of the minivan’s windshield wipers and rear-view mirror. “Fuck! And they say Chinese cars are shit. Well, it looks like Japanese cars aren’t any fucking better.”
“Are you injured?” Jiang Zhengkai asked out of concern as he ran up to the young man. The minivan was already out of sight, so it was now impossible for the two of them to chase it down. The van clearly had an experienced getaway driver behind the wheel. The young man’s sudden appearance in front of the vehicle would have scared the wits out of an ordinary driver.
“I’m fine,” the young man replied as he shot Jiang Zhengkai a glance. “But damn, I can’t believe they snatched Sister Jiao.” As he spoke, an expression of unease and remorse crept onto his face. “Officer… Officer Jiang, are you… are you alright?”
“I’m fine as well,” responded Jiang Zhengkai, rapidly searching his memory for this young man’s image. Oh, right, he’s A-Meng! He’d appeared that other night too, when A-Jiao was being harassed by Li Hongbin. Now here he was again… was it just another coincidence? At the thought of that, Jiang Zhengkai couldn’t help but look at A-Meng again. His appearance last time could’ve been a fluke, but there was no way his appearance tonight was anything less than intentional. A shocking realization suddenly flashed through Jiang Zhengkai’s mind. Was it possible that he had been under A-Meng’s surveillance since at least their last encounter, and he’d had no clue that it was happening?
“Since that’s the case, then I guess I’ll be going,” said A-Meng. He glanced one more time in the direction in which the minivan had drove off, before he started walking in the opposite direction.
“Hold it right there!” Jiang Zhengkai yelled as he stood behind A-Meng “You…” Jiang Zhengkai suddenly felt at a loss for words. What was he going to ask A-Meng anyway? Was he going to ask if A-Meng knew who it was that had just abducted A-Jiao? Or was he going to ask who had sent him to spy on A-Jiao? Jiang Zhengkai’s mind suddenly went blank, before he finally found a question that he could ask. “Were you able to see the minivan’s license plate?”
“That van didn’t have any plates!” A-Meng responded from where he stood; he didn’t bother to turn around. “Don’t worry, Officer Jiang! I promise you, Sister Jiao will return unharmed. Otherwise, Brother Tao will smash every bone in their bodies!” Afterwards, A-Meng’s figure quickly disappeared into the night.
Jiang Zhengkai stood there alone. In his thirty-five years on this earth, he had never felt so helpless and desperate as he did tonight. The woman he loved had been taken from him by strange men, right in front of his eyes, and he’d been powerless to stop them. At that moment, nothing existed in his world anymore. He only felt emptiness all around him. The nearby buildings, streets, trees, even the moon and stars in the sky all turned into darkness, and he was at the center of it all. He felt the darkness continuing to spread out and devour everything in his world, just like how it was devouring his soul.
BEEP! SCREECH! Jiang Zhengkai barely processed the loud sound of a car’s horn and screeching tires. “What the hell, man! Are you asking to get your ass run over?” A driver peeked his head out the window of his car and angrily yelled at a stupefied Jiang Zhengkai, as the latter continued to stand motionless in the middle of the street.
* * *
While Jiang Zhengkai was getting harangued by that random driver, A-Meng was being pinned to the ground by a man who was even stronger than he was. His assailant roared at him with a booming voice filled with rage, broken only by panting gasps for breath. “You useless motherfucker! Who abducted A-Jiao? Worthless son of a bitch!” As he was cursing A-Meng, the man’s combat boots stomped against A-Meng’s torso again and again.
Lying on the ground, A-Meng didn’t complain and didn’t protest. He willingly subjected his body to the punishment being inflicted upon it by his superior. He knew that had it not been for the fact that he’d gone to buy Cui Jing some dumplings, he would’ve been there for A-Jiao when those men had come for her. If he had not acted upon his feelings towards Cui Jing, then perhaps A-Jiao wouldn’t have been abducted .
“Say something, goddamnit!” the man yelled as he pulled A-Meng off of the ground. He viciously kicked A-Meng in the clavicle, which sent him flying across the room. “You worthless sack of shit!” cursed the man, watching as A-Meng’s body hit the wall and slowly slid down towards the floor. Then he kicked open the door to his room and hollered at those below, “All of you motherfuckers, listen up! From this moment forward, you have one job and one job only: find A-Jiao. If you motherfuckers aren’t able to do that job, then don’t bother coming back alive!”
Upon hearing his angry barks, all of the internet cafe’s patrons got up and fled. Who in their right mind would stick around at a time like this? Likewise, his minions also fled from the internet cafe, although their reason for fleeing was quite different from that of the cafe’s patrons. The latter fled to their homes, but the former fled to the streets and hastily began their mission to find the abducted A-Jiao.
* * *
Lu Xiaoqiang and Zhang Nan finaly found Jiang Zhengkai about half an hour later. By the time they’d arrived, Jiang Zhengkai had already sat down on the curb. Besides Lu Xiaoqiang and Zhang Nan, there were about a dozen other police officers in front of him. Evidently, Jiang Zhengkai had called the police about A-Jiao’s abduction.
“Inspector… Inspector Jiang…”
Lu Xiaoqiang and Zhang Nan called out Jiang Zhengkai’s name a few times, but when they saw that he was on the verge of an emotional collapse, they decided not to bother him any further. Finally, Zhang Nan reluctantly opened his mouth and said, “Don’t worry, Jiang! We’ll find her.” They then went on their way to assist in the police investigation of the crime scene.
Jiang Zhengkai continued sitting there as if he were a frozen block of ice. He acted as if he hadn’t actually heard what Zhang Nan had said. Meanwhile, tears started silently streaming down his face. Why? Why would someone want to abduct A-Jiao? Is happiness really that hard to come by for me? I already had happiness in the palm of my hand, yet somehow it still managed to slip through my fingers.