Chapter 73: Fantasy or Reality
By the time Jiang Zhengkai finished his shower and walked out of the bathroom, A-Jiao had already fallen asleep, sprawled out on her paintings. She slept very soundly, with a soft rhythmic snore from her nose. Jiang Zhengkai walked over to her and gently lifted her hair; it was starting to grow longer. Then he lowered his head to gently kiss her on the cheek, before he picked her up and moved her to the bed. At that moment, A-Jiao muttered in her sleep, “Stop messing around, I’ve got work to do…”
When Jiang Zhengkai heard what she said, a slight smile appeared on his face. He didn’t respond to her, because he knew she was just sleep talking. Even if he had responded, she wouldn’t have heard him. He placed A-Jiao on the bed and started to turn back to see what she’d written on the paintings, but A-Jiao actually turned around and hugged him tightly. She continued to say softly in her sleep, “Hold me, Honey.”
Jiang Zhengkai stopped at the sound of her plea, and he lay down contentedly next to A-Jiao. He then carefully looked at her young, beautiful face. He liked watching A-Jiao sleep. He didn’t know why, he just knew he liked the way she looked when she was asleep. He wasn’t sure how long it was before he fell asleep as well. Did A-Jiao had some special power that allowed Jiang Zhengkai to forget about his work when she was with him? Or was it perhaps that A-Jiao truly was what mattered most to him?
By the time Jiang Zhengkai opened his eyes the next morning, A-Jiao was already wide awake. “Hi Honey, are you awake?” A-Jiao turned around and looked at him when she heard his movements on the bed. “Sorry, I didn’t get a chance to finish writing the descriptions on the paintings.”
“Hehe, don’t worry about it!” Jiang Zhengkai replied. “Sleep some more. I’m not in a rush.”
“That won’t do!” A-Jiao shook her head. “If my Honey wants something done, I’m going to do it right away!” She turned around and started writing on the portraits. “You’re the one who should keep sleeping, Honey.”
“Have it your way!” replied Jiang Zhengkai. However, instead of lying back down, he sat up on the bed. He wasn’t a lazy person. If A-Jiao was working, especially working on something for him, he couldn’t simply lie down and go back to sleep. He soon stood up and made the bed. Meanwhile, A-Jiao sat in front of her vanity, clearly concentrating heavily on something. When whatever it was finally came to her, she wrote something on the painting. Jiang Zhengkai looked at her for a while, before deciding not to bother her while she worked. He quietly went to the bathroom to brush his teeth, and then went to the kitchen to cook breakfast.
After breakfast, Jiang Zhengkai drove A-Jiao to the preschool. Per his usual routine, he watched her disappear into the schoolhouse before leaving. Today, however, he had a thick roll of paintings in his hand, now with A-Jiao’s added captions. She’d spent the entire morning writing the descriptions that he’d requested on the paintings.
Jiang Zhengkai took the portraits back to his office. He carefully placed them on his desk and then went to find Mu Mingyuan at the Material Evidence Division. He wanted to borrow an easel on which to place the paintings. He didn’t really need to be so careful with these oil paintings, but he felt like he had to, because A-Jiao had spent a lot of time and effort to provide the information he’d wanted. Therefore, he took great care to ensure that these portraits wouldn’t get a single scratch while under his care.
When he finished getting the easel, Jiang Zhengkai clipped the portraits to it before sitting down in his chair. He focused intently on each and every portrait. Between A-Jiao’s drawings and her descriptions, he felt as if he knew the life story of each of the women in the portraits.
After lunch, Lu Xiaoqiang wandered into Jiang Zhengkai’s office. “Inspector Jiang, A-Ju’s autopsy report just came back. According to the results of the autopsy, the coroner concluded that the cause of death was drug overdose.”
“Oh, I see,” acknowledged Jiang Zhengkai with a slight nod of his head; he otherwise remained there motionless. “Oh, right, Xiaoqiang! Give Zhang Nan a call. I want him to place A-Shun in solitary confinement. But tell him to make sure A-Shun is safe.”
Obviously, Jiang Zhengkai spent a good portion of the morning thinking about what to do with A-Shun. According to standard procedure, he should instruct Zhang Nan to transfer custody of A-Shun to the sub-bureau. When Jiang Zhengkai discovered that A-Xiu had looked just like the woman he saw underneath the bed the night of A-Xiu’s death, he already had reason enough to request the transfer, even if the reasoning was based on something of a fantastical vision. The reason why he didn’t request the transfer is because he still believed A-Xiu’s case had some connection with the vice squad. But what exactly was her relationship with the vice squad? This was something that Jiang Zhengkai had to consider in his calculations. If he transferred custody of A-Shun right now, he might unwittingly instigate a conflict within the police bureau, which might jeopardize A-Shun’s safety or adversely affect the case. At the end of the day, Jiang Zhengkai no longer trusted everyone inside the police bureau. Based on the above reasoning, although Zhang Nan’s station didn’t have as many resources as the sub-bureau, it was definitely more low-key and therefore safer.
“Understood, Inspector Jiang,” acknowledged Lu Xiaoqiang, before he turned around to leave. However, Jiang Zhengkai called him back. “Xiaoqiang, come over here and take a look at this painting.” As Lu Xiaoqiang was turning around, Jiang Zhengkai placed another portrait on top. He pointed at the portrait and asked Lu Xiaoqiang, “Who does she look like?”
“It’s my sister!” As soon as Lu Xiaoqiang glanced at the portrait, his face displayed an expression of shock. He couldn’t help but open his mouth wide in surprise as these words slipped out of his mouth. “Inspector Jiang! The resemblance is uncanny! Who drew it?”
“I unwittingly found it,” said Jiang Zhengkai as he waved his hand and shifted his gaze to Lu Xiaoqiang. “Alright, go ahead and carry out my orders! Wait… let’s go see Zhang Nan together.”
Lu Xiaoqiang felt like he understood Jiang Zhengkai’s orders, and yet somehow they still didn’t actually make sense. He didn’t understand why Jiang Zhengkai told him to wait, so he decided to go ahead and call Zhang Nan when he saw Jiang Zhengkai’s attention had returned to the portraits. Were those portraits the only things on his mind, or had he perhaps discovered some important leads?
After Lu Xiaoqiang called Zhang Nan, he didn’t return to Jiang Zhengkai’s office to bother him any further. As for Jiang Zhengkai, he sat there and looked like he had no intention to get up anytime soon. It appeared as if Lu Xiaoqiang had correctly interpreted Jiang Zhengkai’s orders: he wanted Lu Xiaoqiang to call Zhang Nan first, but then visit Zhang Nan sometime later, not right now.
When the wall clock struck three, Jiang Zhengkai finally got out of his chair. He plucked a few of the portraits from the easel, rolled them up, and then left his office. “Xiaoqiang, did you make that call yet?” he absentmindedly asked as he stood next to the rookie cop’s desk.
“Yes, Inspector,” Lu Xiaoqiang answered.
“Alright, let’s go!” Jiang Zhengkai pointed his hand at the door. Lu Xiaoqiang immediately got up and followed him out the door as the two of them left the sub-bureau together.
The distance from the sub-bureau to the Ju’an Road Police Station wasn’t far; it normally took about ten minutes to drive there. On the road, Jiang Zhengkai kept furrowing his brows. He was clearly still thinking about whatever was on his mind. It seemed that there was something he had difficulty explaining, and for which he had no answer.
“Hey, what are you doing here, Jiang?” Zhang Nan asked in surprise as the door to his office opened and Lu Xiaoqiang and Jiang Zhengkai both walked in. “Didn’t you already have Lu call me? I’ve already made the arrangements for A-Shun according to your instructions.”
“Oh, hehe! Well, there are some new developments that I wanted to go over with them,” Jiang Zhengkai smiled politely in response to Zhang Nan’s question. “Oh right, Zhang, have your guys work with Xiaoqiang to prepare the interrogation room.”
“Okay!” Zhang Nan knew at once that Jiang Zhengkai wanted to speak to him in private; making Lu Xiaoqiang help prep the interrogation room was just a pretext to send him away. Zhang Nan got up, walked over to the entrance of his office, and called to one of his officers, “Guo Wei, come over here! Go help Lu from the sub-bureau to setup the interrogation room. Inspector Jiang wants to use it later.”
After Lu Xiaoqiang had left, Jiang Zhengkai took out the roll of paintings and spread them out on the coffee table in Zhang Nan’s office. “Zhang, come over here and take a look. See if you recognize them.”
“Alright!” replied Zhang Nan. He walked over to the coffee table, looked at the portraits, and said, “This one is A-Mei… this one is A-Sha… and… yes! This one was the girl with A-Sha, the one who just died, A-Xue!” As Jiang Zhengkai flipped through the portraits, Zhang Nan effortlessly recognized everyone in the portraits as women from the alley. Finally, Jiang Zhengkai took out the last portrait and placed it in front of Zhang Nan. Zhang Nan responded without even thinking very hard, “That’s A-Xiu!”
“That really is A-Xiu?” Jiang Zhengkai calmly looked at Zhang Nan. “You’re sure?”
“I arrested her and questioned her before, so of course I’m sure!” Zhang Nan responded with laughter at Jiang Zhengkai’s question. “She was a tough woman to deal with. When I questioned her… that’s right, she had that exact expression! That woman… she was a tough nut to crack!” Finally, Zhang Nan sighed. “Who drew these? They look so real!”
“So she really is A-Xiu…” Jiang Zhengkai sat back in the sofa. He sighed with seeming relief, but it looked like another burden had fallen on his shoulders all the same. “How could she be A-Xiu?”
“What’s wrong, Jiang?” Zhang Nan looked at Jiang Zhengkai’s expression and realized there was a hidden meaning behind his words. He asked uneasily, “What’s going on?”
“I keep on having this feeling that I saw the woman in this portrait, on the night A-Xiu died,” Jiang Zhengkai said. He turned his head and looked at Zhang Nan, confusion written all over his face.