Chapter 46: News of Xiaomei’s Death
As soon as the words left Jiang Zhengkai’s mouth, the air in the room suddenly seemed to grow thick. Lu Xiaoqiang stared blankly at Jiang Zhengkai, all the while still holding his pint glass. His expression was one of doubt and disbelief, but the firmness of Jiang Zhengkai’s eyes did not allow for even an iota of doubt. Finally, Lu Xiaoqiang chose to down what remained of his beer and set the empty glass down on the table. He fixed his gaze at Jiang Zhengkai and asked, “When did it happen, Inspector Jiang?”
“About four months ago,” Jiang Zhengkai recalled, “Starting four months ago, a series of murders occurred at the address on that envelope. Your sister was the first victim.”
“Hehe! That’s… that’s impossible!” Lu Xiaoqiang said as he shook his head, “I just called my mom at noon today. She said she just received my sister’s wire of 3,000 yuan. She also entrusted me to find my sister and tell her not to wire us so much money from now on.”
“You’re saying your sister’s account is still wiring money home?” As he spoke, Jiang Zhengkai felt himself becoming more spirited, and his tongue was quickly returning to normal, “The wires have continued non-stop during the last four months?”
“That’s right!” Lu Xiaoqiang answered with certainty, “They never stopped.” As soon as he finished, however, a dark gloom once again appeared on his face. He nervously picked up the empty glass and said, “Inspector… Inspector Jiang, my mom did say she… she hasn’t received any letters from my sister for… for four months now.”
“Yeah, the writer of those letters died three months ago,” Jiang Zhengkai calmly told Lu Xiaoqiang, “He died in the same way as your sister.”
“Really?” Lu Xiaoqiang’s body began to visibly tremble, “But… but my sister’s… money.” His sentences were also becoming somewhat incoherent.
“According to my investigation, the wires were sent by one of your sister’s friends,” Jiang Zhengkai answered truthfully. He very much regretted acquiescing to A-Jiao’s request back then. If A-Mei’s family knew about what happened to A-Mei earlier, then perhaps A-Jiao wouldn’t have been hurt herself.
“Is… is that true?” Lu Xiaoqiang helplessly held his head in his hands, but he did manage to keep his composure. After all, Jiang Zhengkai had been hinting at his sister’s death for almost the entire night now.
“Yes,” Jiang Zhengkai firmly answered, “I had agreed to help her keep your sister’s death a secret, but I didn’t know she would continue wiring your family money.”
“The friend of my sister’s you’re referring to,” Lu Xiaoqiang asked as he raised his head from the depths of misery, “Is… is her name A-Jiao?”
“How do know that? Do you know A-Jiao?” Jiang Zhengkai asked Lu Xiaoqiang in surprise.
“Yes. Earlier this year, my sister sent a photograph with one of her letters,” Lu Xiaoqiang nodded his head and said, “In the picture was her and another young woman. She wrote in her letter that the woman next to her was called A-Jiao and that she was her best friend.”
“Did she tell you anything else about A-Jiao?” Jiang Zhengkai leaned on the dining table and nervously asked.
“She only said that A-Jiao was a native of this city and that she treated my sister very well,” Lu Xiaoqiang recollected, “Oh, and she also said A-Jiao was a great painter!”
“A great painter, huh?” Jiang Zhengkai asked rhetorically as he sat up in his chair. An image of Ren Ziyuan immediately popped into his mind.
“That’s right! I was on leave from the academy and just happened to be at home when that letter arrived, so I was there to read it,” Lu Xiaoqiang assuredly replied. “I specifically remembered her saying that this woman treated her very well and painted very well!” he repeated.
“Hey,” Jiang Zhengkai said as he leaned back into his chair again. Right now, he was thinking in his mind how A-Jiao and Ren Ziyuan shared yet another common trait, namely both of them knew how to paint. “Do you still remember what that woman looked like?” asked Jiang Zhengkai as he put out a cigarette.
Lu Xiaoqiang shook his head in response, but he thought about it some more and continued, “But… I should have that picture stored in my QQ account. I remember taking a picture of that photo with my cell phone.” (Translator’s note: QQ is a popular Chinese instant messaging app, kind of like WhatsApp.)
“Very good! If you have time, find that picture. It could help me with my case,” said Jiang Zhengkai as he continuously nodded his head.
“My sister… is my sister really gone?” Lu Xiaoqiang asked Jiang Zhengkai one more time. He was obviously still in denial about his sister’s death.
Jiang Zhengkai responded by raising his hand to stop Lu Xiaoqiang before saying, “Come on, let’s go back to the sub-bureau!” He could tell from Lu Xiaoqiang’s face that if he didn’t get to the bottom of this tonight, Lu Xiaoqiang would be up all night wondering if his sister was still alive. Just then, Jiang Zhengkai’s cell phone rang. He called over the waiter for their check as he looked at his cell phone’s caller ID: it was Ren Ziyuan.
“Hello, Ziyuan!” Jiang Zhengkai answered. Right now, Ren Ziyuan was already his nominal stand-in girlfriend, so of course he couldn’t call her Miss Ren anymore.
“Yeah, it’s me. What are you doing, Officer Jiang?” A-Jiao’s voice happily carried over the phone, “I’m working late tonight, and I don’t know if anyone is going to pick me up yet.”
“Oh, you’re working late?” Jiang Zhengkai replied in surprise, “You’ve got another tutoring class tonight?”
“Yup! You don’t give me any of your money, so I guess I’ll just have to make more money myself,” A-Jiao half complained and half joked, “How about you fork over your entire paycheck from now on?”
“Hehe! I haven’t even agreed to marry you yet,” Jiang Zhengkai laughed at A-Jiao’s response. He then said, “I can’t drive tonight, but I can call a Didi. I can come get you first, but I’ve got to stop by the sub-bureau before I send you home. Is that alright with you?” (Translator’s Note: Didi is China’s version of Uber/Lyft.)
“Ok, fine!” A-Jiao was noticeably disappointed, “I’m not a criminal, so why are you taking me to the police station? But whatever, it’s fine, I’ll go.”
“Hehe, ok, stop joking around now. I’m with a colleague,” Jiang Zhengkai replied in between laughs, “Alright! See you in a bit!” A-Jiao then hung up on the other side of the line.
“Inspector Jiang, was that your girlfriend?” Even though Lu Xiaoqiang was feeling pretty low right now, he nevertheless felt like he had to concern himself with Jiang Zhengkai’s mood. After all, he was Jiang Zhengkai’s subordinate.
“Yes, it was,” Jiang Zhengkai nodded, “Perhaps, you… never mind. We’ll talk about it later!” He had wanted to say, perhaps she might seem very familiar to you, but then he remembered Lu Xiaoqiang had only seen a photograph of A-Jiao, so he probably won’t remember what she looked like.
Jiang Zhengkai picked up a waiting A-Jiao at the preschool’s front door. The three of them then went back to the sub-bureau together. Inside the car, Jiang Zhengkai had already mutually introduced A-Jiao and Lu Xiaoqiang. However, he purposely chose not to disclose the fact that Lu Xiaoqiang was A-Mei’s brother. His ulterior motive for bringing A-Jiao to the sub-bureau tonight was to see A-Jiao’s reaction when she was hit with the double-whammy of seeing A-Mei’s corpse and finding out Lu Xiaoqiang’s relationship with A-Mei.
The three of them got out in front of the sub-bureau’s main entrance. Jiang Zhengkai didn’t return to his office. Instead, he took both Lu Xiaoqiang and A-Jiao to the sub-bureau’s morgue. The morgue was located in a separate building on the sub-bureau’s premises. When the morgue’s police guards saw that the two strangers were being accompanied by Jiang Zhengkai, they obviously did not try and stop them. In fact, they even helped bring out A-Mei’s corpse for inspection.
When Lu Xiaoqiang saw A-Mei’s corpse, the young man finally lost control of his emotions and broke down crying in front of her skin-covered skeleton. Even though there was no way to tell by the naked eye that this pile of skin and bones was once A-Mei, it was nevertheless clear that Lu Xiaoqiang had finally accepted the fact that his sister had passed away. When he saw the skeleton and realized how painfully she had left this world, he could longer avoid the pain in his own heart.
When A-Jiao saw A-Mei’s skeleton, she, too, felt a pain in her heart. However, she was not scared by what she saw. This was where she was different from ordinary women. This was not the first time A-Jiao had seen A-Mei’s corpse, nor was it the first time she had seen a dead body. These scenes no longer brought her any fear. However, A-Jiao was also an extremely intelligent woman. The moment Jiang Zhengkai brought her into the morgue, she already knew what she had to do. Every prostitute was a world-class actress.
Jiang Zhengkai held A-Jiao and could feel her trembling slightly in his embrace. He didn’t know if A-Jiao’s trembles were due to fear or sorrow. However, A-Jiao also buried her face in Jiang Zhengkai’s chest and did not give A-Mei’s skeleton a second glance. Jiang Zhengkai thought that maybe it was because she was scared. A normal woman seeing a dead body for the first time would definitely feel mentally distressed, so A-Jiao’s behavior right now was within the realm of normalcy.
Jiang Zhengkai gently lifted A-Jiao’s face and said, “Ziyuan, how about let’s go outside now. Let’s leave A-Mei’s brother with A-Mei for a while.” At that moment, Jiang Zhengkai noticed A-Jiao had closed both her eyes, and her face had become somewhat pale. These attributes led Jiang Zhengkai to conclude that A-Jiao was reacting normally. She was simply afraid, not sad or surprised.
“Ok!” A-Jiao replied in a quivering voice. She then buried her face in Jiang Zhengkai’s chest once more. As a result, Jiang Zhengkai had to hold her until the two of them had completely exited the morgue.