Chapter 18: The Hot Pot City Incident
“Alright, let’s eat!” Jiang Zhengkai said, as the waiter brought over everything they had ordered. He began adjusting the hot pot’s temperature. “What did you want to eat first? Shrimp balls or sliced pork?”
“I want the shrimp balls!” As the sight of the food on the table, A-Jiao’s mood immediately improved. After all, she had grown very tired of hospital food, so having something different for a change was a welcome delight.
“Know anybody who’s still in touch with A-Xiu these days?” Jiang Zhengkai asked in a seemingly casual manner, as he picked up a cooked shrimp ball and placed it on A-Jiao’s plate.
“Nope. Yum! This is delicious!” A-Jiao replied matter-of-factly. “Turnover is very high in our line of work, so who knows where people go once they leave the alley.”
“Then how come you’ve stayed in that alley for two years?” asked Jiang Zhengkai with a smirk, before putting more pork in the pot.
“Me?” A-Jiao hesitated for a second before smiling. “Because I’m stupid. And broke. And I have to housesit for that former client of mine.”
“I see,” Jiang Zhengkai acknowledged. However, he’d always thought there was something odd about that house. What kind of person would leave such a large, nicely furnished condo in the hands of a prostitute?
“If you want to know about what goes on in the alley, you’d be better off asking A-Shun or A-Tie,” A-Jiao continued as she shoved more food into her mouth. “They’ve been in that alley for years. Plus, all of the sisters working there give them protection money, so if something goes down in that alley, they’d definitely know about it.”
“Yeah, that makes sense,” Jiang Zhengkai responded while placing more food on A-Jiao’s plate. You’re definitely right about one thing, girl: A-Shun definitely knew something, and that’s why he told me to talk to you.
“Why aren’t you eating?” A-Jiao said, looking up at him. “Don’t you like hot pot?”
“No, it’s not that. I do like hot pot,” Jiang Zhengkai chuckled. “But I didn’t order the things I like today.”
“Really? Why?” A-Jiao asked.
“Yes, really. Actually, I like spicy food, too,” Jiang Zhengkai replied before taking a sip of water. He still had to drive back tonight, so he hadn’t ordered any alcohol.
“Excellent!” A-Jiao clapped her hands. “Haha, serves you right! This’ll teach you to not let me eat what I want!” An expression of vindictive happiness was written all across her face. Even though the food on the table wasn’t exactly her favorite, that still didn’t affect her appetite. She ate a lot of food that night; so much food, in fact, that it felt as if there was literally no room left for anything else in her stomach.
“I’m so full!” A-Jiao boasted as she ate up the last bit of food on the table.
“I’ll go grab the check, and then we’re going back to the hospital, okay?” Jiang Zhengkai asked her with a smile.
“Sounds good, but I… need to use the restroom.” A-Jiao didn’t know when it started, but she was feeling a bit shy. Perhaps it had started with the “ten yuan per touch, you want your change” episode?
“You want me to go with you?” Jiang Zhengkai asked with a laugh. He knew it would be quite difficult for A-Jiao to walk the distance to the restaurant restroom all by herself.
“Okay!” A-Jiao stretched out her arm towards him. Apparently, she rather enjoyed being carried by Jiang Zhengkai.
Jiang Zhengkai very diligently carried her to the restroom entrance. This hot pot restaurant was fairly large in size, so it had two dedicated single-sex restrooms instead of one or two unisex restrooms like you would find in a smaller establishment.
“You’re not coming in with me?” A-Jiao asked with pouted lips as she found her footing on the floor beneath her.
“The police wouldn’t let me,” joked Jiang Zhengkai. He had already gotten used to all of A-Jiao’s inappropriate questions and comments. In fact, he would’ve thought something was wrong with her if she didn’t say something inappropriate. “I’m going to go pay for our dinner. I’ll be right back. Don’t go wandering off after you’re done!”
“Okay, got it!” replied A-Jiao. The two of them parted ways in front of the women’s restroom.
Jiang Zhengkai paid for their meal at the counter and returned to the restroom entrance. He waited there for quite a while, but he didn’t see A-Jiao come out. None of the women who went in or out in the meantime seemed any different from normal. Therefore, even though Jiang Zhengkai felt a bit anxious, he didn’t think something out of the ordinary had happened in the restroom. After all, A-Jiao’s body was still recovering, so it made sense for her to be slower than normal. However, once half an hour had passed, he started to worry in earnest.
At that moment, a middle-aged female janitor happened to pass by with mop in hand. He immediately approached her and asked, “Ma’am, are you about to clean the restroom?”
“Yes, but this is the women’s restroom!” the janitor answered with an incredulous look.
“Yes… I know,” Jiang Zhengkai smiled awkwardly. “I was thinking…” He paused for a second before continuing, “It’s like this, Ma’am: my girlfriend isn’t feeling well, and she’s been in there for a while. Could you do me a favor and see if she’s alright?”
“Oh, so that’s it.” The janitor smiled. “It looks like you care a lot about your woman, huh? Alright, young man, you wait here. I’ll go take a look.”
But even as they were talking, there was a scream from the women’s restroom. As soon as he heard it, Jiang Zhengkai darted back towards the restroom door while unconsciously placing his hand on his gun holster.
“What’s going on in there?” he yelled at the women’s restroom door. He was a police officer, not a criminal, which meant he couldn’t just blatantly barge into the women’s restroom.
“Blood! So much blood!” exclaimed a woman inside.
“I’m coming in!” yelled Jiang Zhengkai as he charged into the women’s restroom. Indeed, a trail of dark blood streamed out of one of the restroom stalls. One woman was so nervous she had already backed into a corner. Jiang Zhengkai had instinctively drawn his gun. He raised his hand to block the female janitor from entering the restroom. “Ma’am, you got a key?” he asked her as he scanned all four corners of the restroom.
“Yes! H-here you go.” She handed him a key. “It’s… it’s the master key.”
Jiang Zhengkai took the key and motioned for her not to enter. He then slowly walked forward and gestured for the rest of the women to exit the restroom as well. He leaned against the door of the restroom stall the blood was flowing out of, while looking back towards the entrance. Good; if there’s something behind this stall door, the only person it can hurt is me. He carefully slid the key into the lock and opened the stall door, where he found A-Jiao leaning against the wall and slumped to the ground. Blood continued to flow from her lower body. He nervously pointed his gun all around the restroom, but when he found no one else present, decided that there was no threat.
“A-Jiao! Quick, someone call an ambulance!” Jiang Zhengkai yelled at the restroom entrance. Seeing there was no immediate danger, he holstered his gun and lifted A-Jiao in his arms.
Very quickly, an ambulance and a police cruiser converged on the front entrance of Hot Pot City. Apparently, one of the women in the restroom had already called the police. Seeing Jiang Zhengkai, who wasn’t in uniform, pulling out a loaded firearm was quite a traumatic experience for these average citizens.
“What’s going on here, Inspector Jiang?” asked the uniformed police officer who had arrived on-scene. As a local beat cop, he obviously recognized the district’s investigative task force commander.
“It’s nothing,” Jiang Zhengkai replied, standing next to A-Jiao’s stretcher. “She’s an important witness. I took her out to dinner hoping she could shed some light on a case I’m working on. She fainted in the restroom as we were about to leave.”
“And you drew your weapon?” the uniformed officer asked Jiang Zhengkai.
“Yes. She’s related to a string of recent homicides in this area,” Jiang Zhengkai replied.
“Alright, take care then, Inspector Jiang.” The uniformed officer finished his questioning and politely left Jiang Zhengkai’s side. Even though Jiang Zhengkai was present at the scene, the responding police officer still had to write an official report. After all, a firearm was brandished in his area of responsibility, so he had to explain clearly to his superiors exactly what had happened if he still wanted a career in the police force.
Together with Jiang Zhengkai, A-Jiao was sent back to the hospital where she had been staying. Shortly after her arrival, her attending physician, Dr. Wang, hurried over and took her into surgery.
Jiang Zhengkai waited impatiently outside the operating room. A half hour later, Dr. Wang emerged from surgery. Jiang Zhengkai immediately got up and walked over to her. “How is she, Dr. Wang?” he asked.
“Come to my office, Inspector Jiang,” responded Dr. Wang. Even though the expression on her face seemed somewhat strange, her tone of voice was calm and measured. Jiang Zhengkai suddenly felt a huge burden being lifted. He knew A-Jiao’s life was not in danger.