Chapter 58: Putting Their Cards on the Table
Jiang Zhengkai arrived at the crime scene in the alley. By now, the scene was all too familiar: a man and a woman frozen in place in the middle of sexual intercourse. He went through his normal routine of examining the skeletons on the bed, followed by checking underneath the bed and the units immediately above and below where the murder occurred. Just like before, there was nothing unusual, and there were no leads.
“The murder today occurred earlier than the other ones,” said Jiang Zhengkai as he looked down at his wristwatch. He turned to Zhang Nan, who was standing beside him. “Zhang, the woman was…”
“A prostitute called A-Xue,” Zhang Nan answered. “Some of the other women saw her entering this room.”
“I see,” Jiang Zhengkai nodded. “And the man?”
“Zhao Shuhai, taxi driver,” Zhang Nan replied.
“Heh, you’re unusually efficient today,” Jiang Zhengkai quipped. Police officers are people, too, and dealing with corpses day in and day out somewhat desensitizes them to the sight of dead bodies. TV shows are the only place where one always finds perpetually grim-faced police officers.
“Yeah, I guess,” Zhang Nan chuckled helplessly in response. “Well, it looks like things are going to get crazy again. The Old Man is already on his way. He’ll be here any second.”
“Ah!” replied Jiang Zhengkai, as he rubbed his nose and wiped the smirk off his face. Shooting the breeze with fellow officers was one things, but it was better to at least pretend to be serious in front of Yao Tianyu.
“Inspector Jiang, what do you want us to do?” Lu Xiaoqiang hurriedly chimed in when he saw Jiang Zhengkai and Zhang Nan had wrapped up their conversation. Rookies always took their jobs way too seriously, but that was understandable and to be expected.
“Oh, I almost forgot. This guy is…” Jiang Zhengkai glanced over at Lu Xiaoqiang and was just about to give Zhang Nan a detailed introduction, but then decided against telling him that Lu Xiaoqiang was A-Mei’s older brother. “Well, he’s a fresh graduate from the police academy and has taken Wei Xin’s place as my assistant. His name is Lu Xiaoqiang.”
“How are you, young man?” asked Zhang Nan. Even though Lu Xiaoqiang had been standing watch in the alley’s surveillance center for the last several days, Zhang Nan didn’t actually know about the specifics of Lu Xiaoqiang’s professional life. He only knew that Lu Xiaoqiang had been assigned by the sub-bureau’s investigative task force. That’s what happens when one has lost jurisdiction over the alley’s surveillance center.
“Very well! I see you’re all here. So what’s the situation inside?” a sonorous voice boomed in from outside the room. Yao Tianyu had arrived.
* * *
Inside a private room in the restaurant, a waiter brought out a beautifully-decorated birthday cake on a cart and placed it on top of the table. “Sir, the food and wine you ordered have all been served. Enjoy your meal,” said the waiter as he bowed to A-Tao.
“Excellent!” exclaimed A-Tao as he tossed the waiter a 100-yuan bill. “Do not let anyone in here without my permission. I want to spend some alone time with my baby sister.”
“Yes, sir!” said the waiter as he took the money and bowed one more time before exiting the room. A-Tao was somewhat of a regular at this restaurant. Even though the staff here didn’t openly talk about it, they nevertheless had some knowledge of A-Tao’s personal background, although they never would’ve guessed that A-Tao was in fact “The Bald Wolf.”
“Thank you, big brother!” A-Jiao said sweetly as she looked at the cake on the table just as the waiter was leaving the room.
“Alright, baby girl,” said A-Tao as he lightly rubbed his bald head with his hand. He looked at A-Jiao with a gentle gaze as he said, “Happy birthday! Now make a wish.”
“Okay!” A-Jiao nodded repeatedly. “Why don’t you do it with me, big brother?”
“Hehe, I’m not much of a romantic,” said A-Tao as he leaned back into his chair and viewed A-Jiao’s movements through squinted eyes. A-Jiao didn’t press the issue, and instead earnestly closed her eyes, clasped her hands together, and silently made a wish in front of her birthday cake.
Seeing that A-Jiao had finished making her wish, A-Tao raised his wine glass and waited for A-Jiao to clink her glass to his. “Come on, baby girl! Happy birthday to you!”
“Thank you, big brother! Happy birthday to me!” A-Jiao said with a big smile as she raised her own glass and gently tapped it against A-Tao’s. They then pulled their glasses back and put them to their lips. A-Tao naturally downed his wine in one large gulp, while A-Jiao took a small symbolic sip.
Three glasses later, A-Tao put down his wine glass, sat back in his chair, and asked A-Jiao, “Baby Sister, I heard from A-Meng that you’ve fallen for that pig Jiang Zhengkai?”
“Yup!” Hearing A-Tao’s question, A-Jiao bit her lips, but decided to answer in the affirmative anyway. “That’s right, brother. I love him.” She spoke very resolutely, without a hint of hesitation. At the same time, she braced her left leg against one of the chair legs so as to allow her to more easily reach the dagger hidden in her left boot.
“Ai! Why can’t you like literally anyone else? Why him?” As A-Tao spoke, it seemed as if his spirit had taken a serious beating, and his mood immediately darkened. He lowered his head and shrugged his shoulders before gently rubbing his bald head. When he looked up at A-Jiao again, he said to her, “Sister, do you really love him?”
“Yes!” A-Jiao crisply answered. Her left hand was already reaching for the dagger as she braced her right leg against a chair leg as well. Clearly, she was preparing for a second strike if the first didn’t find its mark.
“Ai…” A-Tao sighed once again. He cocked his head back and looked at the ceiling. “Karma! This is all karma!” After he finished his exhortation, he leveled his gaze back at A-Jiao. “Jiao, do you still remember that time I told you I had a mortal enemy?”
“Yes!” A-Jiao nodded repeatedly, still readying herself to attack.
“Ai! That enemy is Jiang Zhengkai!” A-Tao had no choice but to tell A-Jiao, “Five years ago, I killed his wife and child, so why of all people did you have to choose him?” He turned his head to one side and looked out the window with sorrow in his eyes. “If you had to choose between your big brother and Jiang Zhengkai, would you still choose him?”
“Brother… you… I…” A-Jiao was speechless. She pulled her hands away from her boots as tears began to well up in her eyes.
“Come! Drink!” When A-Tao saw A-Jiao’s sad expression, he couldn’t help but feel pity. “Let’s not talk about this anymore. Let’s drink instead! I can’t stand you crying, you know that,” said A-Tao as he held his wine glass with one hand and pointed at A-Jiao with the other.
“Wait… no!” said A-Jiao with pursed lips, clearly not wanting to let this go. “I want you to promise you won’t hurt Jiang Zhengkai!”
“Me?” asked A-Tao as he returned the glass to the table. “It’s not about whether or not I will hurt him, it’s whether or not he will come for me. Do you understand now, baby sister?” He paused for a second and earnestly looked at A-Jiao. “As long as he doesn’t try to come and get me, I promise I won’t get in the way of you two.”
“I’m going to hold you to that!” said A-Jiao. She still pursed her lips, but a smile nevertheless appeared on her face. She raised her glass and said, “How about another round, Brother?”
“Hehe, yes, let’s drink!” When he saw A-Jiao raising her glass, A-Tao once again picked up his glass off the table and clinked it against A-Jiao’s. A-Tao didn’t know just what kind of power A-Jiao had over him; he just knew he could never refuse her. Sometimes he wondered: if Xue Wanchun were still alive, and he had to choose between Xue Wanchun or A-Jiao, would he choose the latter over the former?
A-Jiao saw A-Tao’s eyes glazing over, so she uneasily asked, “Big brother, what are you thinking about? Not planning on going back on your word already, are you?”
“Hehe, never!” A-Tao heartily laughed at A-Jiao’s concern. “I have always been a man of my word, but only when it comes to my baby sister. Come, drink some more!”
Just then, A-Jiao’s cell phone started vibrating. She took her phone out from her clutch and looked at the incoming number: it was Jiang Zhengkai. She knew he must have called because he’d returned home and saw that she was gone. She didn’t know if she should answer this call right now. Just as she was hesitating, A-Tao quipped from across the table, “Is it that cop boyfriend of yours? Go ahead and answer, I won’t mind.”
“Suit yourself!” acknowledged A-Jiao as she answered the phone.
“Ziyuan, where did you go? Why aren’t you at home?” Jiang Zhengkai asked over the phone. His voice carried with it a sense of urgency and anxiety.
“I… I’m with my brother right now,” A-Jiao glanced at A-Tao and ambiguously answered. “He called me out to celebrate my birthday.”
“Oh, I see.” Hearing that she was safe, Jiang Zhengkai immediately calmed down. “Well, don’t stay out too late. Do you want me to come pick you up?”
“No need. My brother will take me home,” A-Jiao promptly declined. She didn’t want these two mortal enemies coming face-to-face with one another.
“Alright then, stay safe!” advised Jiang Zhengkai before he hung up.
A-Tao saw A-Jiao hang up, so he waved his hand at her and chuckled, “Go, go! Just go already! I guess you’ve found your happiness, baby sister. I wish you the best.” After he finished, he refilled his glass and then raised it again. “Baby sister, I’m sure the two of you will end up together. Regardless of what happens to me, you have to thank me, haha!”
“Brother, you’re saying crazy drunk things again,” A-Jiao said disapprovingly.
“Haha! If I hadn’t killed Jiang Zhengkai’s wife and kid, he wouldn’t have the opportunity to fall in love with you, would he? Haha!” A-Jiao continued with his hearty laughs. “Come, baby sister, let’s drink to your happiness!” Afterwards, he chugged the entire glass and slammed it down onto the table. “Go! I’ll have A-Meng escort you back home!”