Chapter 5: Yet Another Murder
Two murders in as many weeks had caused the once busy back-alley red light district to become quite deserted. As a result, A-Jiao and her sisters became very concerned with the case’s progress. Likewise, Inspector Jiang Zhengkai had decided not to formally charge any of them for the crime of prostitution, nor had he handed over investigation of their prostitution ring to his colleagues in the vice squad for continued investigation. He knew the murders were somehow related to this business of prostitution, so he wasn’t going to let another investigation interfere with his case until he had everything sorted out.
For now, Jiang Zhengkai had temporarily rented out an apartment directly across from the building where A-Jiao and her sisters worked. He assigned two police officers to stand round-the-clock watch there over the third-floor room in the opposite building. It was the room right above where A-Hua had died. It was also the room which Li Chunhai had pointed out had a “happiness” sticker on the door and a lantern hanging on the wall. Per his direct order, neither the district vice squad nor the local police station had stepped up patrols in this alley after the latest murder. One could even say that police patrols had actually become more relaxed than before. Therefore, after a brief lull, the number of women in the alley had gradually picked up once again.
It was thanks to this calm that color had once again returned to A-Jiao’s cheeks. After all, she was still a young woman. Despite her fatigue from overwork and the physical torment she’d received from Zhang Weidong and Li Chunhai, all she’d needed was some rest before returning to full form.
By now, it had been more or less a full month since Xiaomei’s death. At noon, A-Jiao came out of her home, went to the post office, and then headed straight for her workplace.
“A-Hui! How are you?” A-Jiao asked politely as she saw her sister A-Hui, who was already standing in the alley. “How’s business these days?”
“Don’t even mention it! I’m walking around with my heart in my throat,” replied A-Hui. “This place is practically a graveyard.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” A-Jiao said as she glanced at the building. She then discontentedly said, “Those bastards A-Shun and A-Tie, all they do is take our money. Why can’t they tell the boss to find us a different place to work?”
“It’s hard to do our line of work in other parts of town,” A-Hui said while shaking her head. “You haven’t heard, since you’ve taken time off the last couple of days. All the other red light districts have been shut down by the police. Our alley is the only place the cops aren’t cracking down on.” A-Hui was right. Ever since the two murders, the vice squad had intensified operations against red light districts in the city. It was practically impossible to do business in any place other than this alley. Actually, vice was purposely shutting down rival prostitution centers in hopes of quickly restoring activities in this alley, so as to help Jiang Zhengkai crack the case faster.
“Really?” A-Jiao asked with a look of disdain. “I guess the cops have been pretty good to us!” She lazily leaned against a wall. “It really does look like there are a lot of new sisters around.”
“They all came from other parts of town. Everyone is just trying to earn a living,” A-Hui said as she glanced around the alley. She looked back at A-Jiao and said, “A-Jiao, how come you didn’t make up your face before coming to work today?”
“I’m not going to put on makeup from now on,” A-Jiao said while shaking her head. “Not only is it time consuming, but it’s also really easy for clients to mess it up. Besides, I’m still young, so being makeup-free doesn’t make much difference.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I guess you can do that when you’ve got a pretty face,” replied A-Hui.
Just then, a man passed in front of them. A-Jiao immediately pressed her body next to his and quickly led him by the arm into the building. Not long after, A-Hui accompanied an older man into the building as well. It looked like business was recovering quite nicely in this small alley.
At dusk, Jiang Zhengkai personally went to the rental unit located across from the brothel building. He had secretly installed a security camera in the third-story room with the hanging lantern. That way, he could engage in 24-hour non-stop surveillance of everything that went on in that room.
As night fell, more and more women appeared in the alley. They converged on this area from other red light districts across the city. Under the cover of darkness, the number of men passing by this narrow place gradually increased as well. Some of them appeared to be in a rush, while others seemed to stroll casually along. But without exception, every one of them discreetly looked out of the corners of their eyes at all of the women standing in the alley. When a man saw one he liked, he would gently walk over to her and then disappear into the night.
At ten o’clock that night, A-Jiao appeared and took a client into the room with the hanging lantern. At that moment, Jiang Zhengkai was sitting upright while carefully observing their every movement on the surveillance monitor. Perhaps being a voyeur wasn’t exactly ethical, but it would be ethical if done out of operational necessity, right?
Jiang Zhengkai saw a young man in his twenties, tall and skinny. Obviously A-Jiao’s type. She led him to the bed where the two of them sat together and made small talk for a while. Afterwards, A-Jiao started taking off her clothes. The young man followed her lead and started undressing as well. A-Jiao then found a condom and placed it on her young client’s manhood. The two quietly said a few words to one another before A-Jiao had the young man lie down on the bed. She then placed her body on top of his. The two lingered for a while longer and exchanged a few more words. Then their two bodies became entangled with one another, and the two began that most primitive of activities.
Jiang Zhengkai was viewing the surveillance monitor while simultaneously sipping his tea. He felt as if his body was having a physical reaction to what he was seeing. He had participated in surveillance activities for similar cases in the past, but he had never experienced any kind of reaction to those women before. Today, however, for some reason, his body was clearly aroused by that woman A-Jiao.
In the room across the alley, the young man finished rather quickly. The whole affair took no more than three minutes. “What a despicable woman!” Jiang Zhengkai angrily muttered to himself. Three minutes of work netted her a hundred yuan. With a rate like that, she was making more money than a police officer’s salary. Perhaps this is the real reason why brothels such as this one can never truly be wiped out. For those women without real marketable skills, this might be the only way for them to earn some real money.
Just then, a woman’s scream pierced the stillness of the night. Jiang Zhengkai looked at the monitor in front of him. A-Jiao and the young man must have heard the scream as well, for they both ran to the window to see what was going on. Jiang Zhengkai stormed out onto the balcony, tightly gripping his radio. “Where did that sound come from?” he asked.
“Inspector Jiang, it came from Building Number 3.” Over the radio, he could hear rapid footsteps along with the officer’s reply. “We are making our way up the building right now. It sounded like it came from the third floor!”
“Building Number 3…” Jiang Zhengkai took a look at the building across from him. That should be Building Number 6, and Building Number 3 should be the one right next to where he was. As soon as he realized that, he immediately turned his head to the building next door. The windows on the third floor were all completely shut. None of them had the slightest indication of being opened. He then looked up at Building Number 3’s rooftop. It looked absolutely empty, so it was unlikely someone escaped from that way either. He soon noticed a light turning on in a room on the third floor. It looks like his fellow officers had already arrived on scene.
“Inspector Jiang! Two individuals, a man and a woman. The situation appears identical to the previous two cases,” an officer reported over the radio.
Jiang Zhengkai wasn’t in a hurry to leave the balcony. Instead, he stared intently at the building next door, but still wasn’t able to catch a glimpse of the long-awaited suspect on either the rooftop or at the building entrance. He spent the better part of an hour staring. Finally, the radio crackled once again. “Inspector Jiang, are you going to come take a look over here? If not, we’re going to clear out.”
“Hold on! I’ll be right over.” Jiang Zhengkai finally snapped out of his daze and gave a few simple orders to the two officers beside him. He quickly left the room and ran towards the building next door.
It was an all too familiar scene: the skin-wrapped skeletons of a man and a woman fixed in a sexual pose on the bed. Again, there were were no signs of a struggle nor any blood splatters, except this time Jiang Zhengkai saw clearly that no one had left the room either by way of the windows or through the ground floor entrance.
“Hmph!” After he finished reviewing the scene, Jiang Zhengkai let out a long sigh of relief, as if something that had weighed heavily on his mind had suddenly been lifted. He didn’t know why he felt this way. Then suddenly, an image popped into this mind, that of a naked A-Jiao. Perhaps he was rejoicing from the fact that this woman was no longer implicated in the murders? The more he thought about it, however, the more laughable that explanation became.
What did the innocence of a prostitute have anything to do with him? Furthermore, her profession dictated that she could never be truly innocent.