Chapter 70: The Deceased A-Ju
Unearthing A-Ju’s remains went off without a hitch. Under A-Shun’s direction, the police search party led by Jiang Zhengkai and Zhang Nan very quickly dug up A-Ju’s remains from a brook near the alley. As for the cause of death, whether it was a drug overdose like A-Shun said or some other reason, a final determination could only be made after a full autopsy by the medical examiner.
“Jiang, did you want me to detain A-Shun, or…” Zhang Nan asked as he saw the officers under his command placing A-Ju’s remains in a police cruiser.
“Keep him detained at your station,” replied Jiang Zhengkai after thinking about the question for a while. “Do you think A-Shun killed A-Ju?” he asked as he turned his head to look at Zhang Nan.
Zhang Nan looked back at him, pursed his lips, then shook his head. “Heh, I’ve been asking myself that same question as well.”
Jiang Zhengkai watched Zhang Nan, who was wearing a gloomy smile on his face. “I believe when it comes to this question, A-Shun was telling the truth.” He sighed. “Ai! Poor woman.”
“Don’t think about it so much, Jiang,” said Zhang Nan as he patted Jiang Zhengkai’s shoulder. “If it’s not drugs that kills these women, it’s something else. That pretty much comes with the territory when you engage in that line of work.” Zhang Nan then asked, “What do you want to do with A-Shun?” Concealing a dead body was indeed a crime, but it wasn’t a serious one. As a pimp, disposing of dead prostitutes’ bodies was a common occurrence for A-Shun. If it weren’t for the string of murders in this alley, nobody would’ve cared about a few dead prostitutes.
“Him?” asked Jiang Zhengkai as he turned his head and looked at Zhang Nan again. “Just make him sweat for a few days at the station. Oh, but Zhang, don’t let anyone from the alley have contact with him, and also don’t let any of our officers talk to him about anything related to her,” said Jiang Zhengkai as he used his mouth to point to the police cruiser carrying A-Ju’s remains.
“Understood,” acknowledged Zhang Nan. Jiang Zhengkai wanted to use this opportunity to pry more secrets out of A-Shun.
After the two returned to the station, Jiang Zhengkai had A-Sha brought out for questioning again. She appeared to be in a much better mood than last time. Gratitude far outweighed fear when it came to her feelings towards Jiang Zhengkai. She was also a lot more proactive in answering his questions.
“A-Sha, let me ask you something. During the night of last month’s murder, how many women were working in the same building as you and A-Xue?” asked Jiang Zhengkai as he twirled a pen in his hand. He had previously asked a whole bunch of useless questions before finally getting around to asking this one.
“How many women?” A-Sha repeated, obviously trying to recall the situation that night. “Officer, I think there were three. Yes, three! After that night, I never saw the other girl again. She was probably scared off by what happened that night.”
“Really?” Jian Zhengkai stopped twirling the pen and stared at A-Sha. “Did you know her?”
“Yes, I do!” A-Sha quickly answered. “Her name is A-Ju. She was skinny like a twig. She wasn’t like us. She did drugs, and she came from another part of the country.”
“Is that so?” Jiang Zhengkai leaned back in his chair as he heard A-Sha’s recollection. “Could there be another reason that she didn’t return to the alley? Maybe she died?”
“She died?” muttered A-Sha. “If she’s dead, then I guess there’s not way she’s coming back. However, if she were dead, then A-Shun and A-Tie would definitely know about it.”
“Hehe, why is that? Why would those two men know if she died?” Jiang Zhengkai purposefully chuckled in response to A-Sha’s statement and then looked at her with a seemingly baffled expression on his face. Cops weren’t always straight-faced. Sometimes, by making it look like they were letting their guard down, they might have a better chance to connect with and ultimately extract more information from a suspect or a witness.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Seeing how relaxed Jiang Zhengkai was, A-Sha also let her guard down. “They’re responsible for handling all the girls who die on the job. Plus, we pay the two of them rent, so who would skip work after we’ve already paid the rent?”
“Paying rent?” Jiang Zhengkai listened to A-Sha and continued to smile. “What do you mean by paying rent?”
“You don’t think they let us use those rooms for free, do you?” Seeing how Jiang Zhengkai was being very polite to her, A-Sha naturally felt very relaxed. Plus, it was rare for a man to want to engage in polite conversation with her, so she understandably became a little chatty. “We have to pay rent to A-Shun every month, and we also have to give him a portion of our earnings as protection money.” Still not content with what she said, A-Sha decided to add, “Officer, you said A-Ju died, right? That actually makes sense! Now that I think of it, the day the murder occurred, A-Shun had just collected rent money from us. Who would pay rent for the month and then not come to work?”
“Oh really?” asked Jiang Zhengkai. “So A-Ju paid, too?”
“Yes, she paid. We all paid,” nodded A-Sha. “All three of us paid at the same time. Who in our line of business would dare owe money to pimps? Plus, the only place for girls to… work these days is in the alley, so who in their right mind wouldn’t pay?” It looked like the sustained suppression of the sex trade across the city had led to intense competition among prostitutes.
“How does A-Shun normally treat you ladies?” asked Jiang Zhengkai. He motioned for Lu Xiaoqiang to provide A-Sha with a glass of water. Her statement at least ruled out the possibility that A-Shun had killed A-Ju over protection money.
“A-Shun? He’s not a bad guy,” answered A-Sha as she took the water that Lu Xiaoqiang handed her. She looked at Jiang Zhengkai gratefully before continuing, “He looks like a tough guy, but he actually treats the girls in the alley pretty well. He doesn’t bother you as long as you don’t owe him rent, and he usually doesn’t lay his hands on us girls.”
“What about A-Ju then?” Jiang Zhengkai continued.
“Her? If it weren’t for the fact that A-Shun took pity on her, she wouldn’t even have the opportunity to work in the alley!” A-Sha answered matter-of-factly. “That girl was a drug fiend! She would’ve died from an overdose sooner or later!” she added, as if she felt she hadn’t explain the situation fully enough.
“Okay,” acknowledged Jiang Zhengkai once A-Sha finished speaking. “Alright, you can go rest now.” He then signalled to the female officers to escort A-Sha out. “Well, let’s go say goodbye to Zhang. We’ve got to get going as well,” he said as he looked at his watch, which showed that it was almost six o’clock. But curiously enough, A-Jiao hadn’t called him yet.
“Inspector Jiang, do you need to pick up Miss Ren now?” Lu Xiaoqiang asked with a smile on his face as he finished cleaning up the interrogation table. “Go ahead! Don’t worry about all this stuff here. I’ll make sure to take all of it back to the sub-bureau.”
“Well… thank you for the hard work!” Jiang Zhengkai smiled awkwardly at Lu Xiaoqiang. He didn’t like that his love life was interfering with his professional life. As a lifelong workaholic, some attitudes were hard to adjust.
Once they exited the police station, Jiang Zhengkai bid farewell to Lu Xiaoqiang. He then strolled his way to A-Jiao’s preschool. After walking for about fifty meters, he took out his cell phone and called her.
“Hi, Honey, how are you?” she said over the phone. From the sound of her voice, it appeared that she was in good spirits, so it was unlikely that she was mad at him.
“Good, how was your day?” Jiang Zhengkai felt much more at ease once heard A-Jiao’s voice. Even though a 35-year-old man might not be as romantic as a younger man, he did understand how to appreciate women more. “How come you didn’t call me today?”
“You want me to call you everyday?” asked A-Jiao as she cackled with laughter. “Tell me honestly, did you miss me today?”
“I… didn’t!” Jiang Zhengkai paused for a moment before giving a decisive answer.
“I see! Hmph! Tell me, who did you miss if you weren’t missing me!” A-Jiao’s voice grew noticeably louder over the phone. Jiang Zhengkai knew that A-Jiao wasn’t actually angry, just pretending to be. Besides, that was exactly the reaction Jiang Zhengkai was hoping to elicit.
“Alright, alright, I was missing you!” Jiang Zhengkai smiled as he relented. “Where are you right now?”
“Why don’t you find out for yourself? I’ll give you a hint: I’m not at the preschool.” A-Jiao didn’t wait for his guess and immediately hung up.
“Not at the preschool…” Jiang Zhengkai repeated to himself. He cocked his head and smiled. A-Jiao might think she was clever, but he knew her all too well. At this hour, if she wasn’t at the preschool, then the only other place she could be was Uncle Cai’s noodle shop. A-Jiao wasn’t a compulsive wanderer; quite the opposite, she was somewhat of a homebody. There were only about a handful of places that she liked to go. In Jiang Zhengkai’s eyes, ever since the two of them had started dating, the three places where she spent most of her time were the preschool, her home, and Uncle Cai’s noodle shop.
At this point, Jiang Zhengkai started in great big strides towards Uncle Cai’s noodle shop. He knew his lovely A-Jiao would be waiting there for him.