Chapter 79: The Case Heads in a New Direction
It rained all night, but it finally stopped the next morning. Perhaps the weather gods were worried that this city’s residents might be late for work? Jiang Zhengkai dropped A-Jiao off at the preschool and then hurried over to his own office. Last night’s discovery proved to be a major milestone on the road to cracking this case. A-Xiu, whom everyone had believed to be dead this entire time, wasn’t actually dead. In fact, she had just become the number one suspect in these serial murders.
Jiang Zhengkai sat on the chair behind his desk. He took out A-Jiao’s portraits and looked them over from top to bottom one more time. Because they had now confirmed that A-Xiu wasn’t dead, there was no reason for Jiang Zhengkai to continue staring at A-Xiu’s portrait. It was entire possible that this not-quite-dead woman was using some kind of advanced technology, like optoelectronics, to duplicate her likeness and then release that duplicate image at the right time to frighten others.
A-Mei, A-Hua, A-Li… all the way to A-Xue, Jiang Zhengkai speedily picked out their portraits from A-Jiao’s collection. He also added A-Xiu’s portrait to the mix, for a total of exactly seven portraits. Other than the fourth female victim, Yin Zhumei, he had in his possession the portraits of all the female victims. Jiang Zhengkai stood up and was about to walk to the whiteboard on the side of his office. He was going to sort out one more time the relationship between these eight victims.
Just then, an astonishing thought suddenly flashed across his mind. He opened his mouth and muttered to himself, “Seven? How could it be seven?” As he spoke, he lowered his head and recounted the portraits in his hands. He wasn’t mistaken, there were indeed seven of them! Hadn’t A-Di only recently arrived in this city? Why would she be part of A-Jiao’s portraits? Or did she arrive earlier than the police had originally thought?
He lingered on this thought and then looked at his watch. It was just past 9 o’clock, so A-Jiao should have already started teaching her class, which meant there was no way for Jiang Zhengkai to call her. He thought about it some more, then peered outside his office. Finally, he decided to summon Lu Xiaoqiang.
“Xiaoqiang, what do you have going on this morning?” Jiang Zhengkai hastily asked as soon as Lu Xiaoqiang stepped foot into his office.
“Nothing urgent,” replied Lu Xiaoqiang. “I’m just working on a couple of recent drunk and disorderly cases.”
“Excellent!” nodded Jiang Zhengkai, “Hand those cases over to Liu Na. I need you to go meet with Zhang Nan and then bring me back as much information as he has on A-Di’s background. I want to know if she has ever worked in the alley before, and whether or not we missed something when looking into her background.”
“Yes, Inspector Jiang!” acknowledged Lu Xiaoqiang as he sharply made an about-face and left the office.
Jiang Zhengkai was alone in his office once more. He looked at the portraits again with a sense of astonishment. He then wrote all eight of the victims’ names on his whiteboard. Finally, as if he were guided by some higher power, he wrote in between these eight names “A-Jiao.” Besides the fourth murder victim, all seven others had some relation to A-Jiao. Was it possible that A-Jiao was also familiar with the fourth murder victim Yin Zhumei, or was at least somehow acquainted with her?
Jiang Zhengkai furrowed his brow at he contemplated these thoughts. Coincidence! It must be a coincidence! He tried hard to tell himself that. He immediately wiped away A-Jiao’s name and replaced it with the words “drug trafficking.” Yes, the death of these individuals may well have something to do with the drug ring! As for A-Jiao, she and the Bald Wolf… Jiang Zhengkai’s train of thought returned to A-Jiao, but the thought of her relationship with the Bald Wolf actually comforted him somewhat. Yes, A-Jiao knew these victims, but that might be because of her relationship with the Bald Wolf. At this point, Jiang Zhengkai forced himself to remove A-Jiao from the list of suspects. He firmly believed that A-Jiao could not have been involved in these murders.
Jiang Zhengkai stood silently in front of the whiteboard for a long time. He made new markings underneath each name. First he crossed out the first victim’s name, A-Mei, because he didn’t think A-Mei would participate in drug trafficking. However, the identity of the male victim who’d died with her was still a mystery to this very day. Therefore, Jiang Zhengkai drew a circle where this unknown male victim’s name should be. In other words, Jiang Zhengkai believed this man was very likely involved in the drug trade.
For the second murder, Jiang Zhengkai circled A-Hua’s name, but crossed out Yin Tao’s. According to witness statements made immediately after the murder, it was determined that Yin Tao’s death was an accident, so he was eliminated as a possible drug dealer.
For the third murder, A-Li’s name was circled, while Liu Nanquan’s name was marked with a question mark. Jiang Zhengkai didn’t think it was likely that an out-of-town worker would be involved in drug trafficking. After all, A-Xiu’s drug ring comprised of streeting dealing by her fellow prostitutes, not using them as drug mules.
For the fourth name, he naturally circled A-Xiu’s name, along with a spot where the male victim’s name should be, since the police had no way to identify him either.
For the fifth murder, Jiang Zhengkai thought for a while. He ultimately decided to draw a question mark next to Yin Zhumei’s name while crossing out Zhu Yuping’s name. Jiang Zhengkai figured that, as a nurse, Yin Zhumei would have had access to prescription opioids as well as drug syringes. She may have been useful to the women in the alley. On the other hand, her husband Zhu Yuping had just been a simple teacher. Therefore, the likelihood of his involvement was low, so he was eliminated as a suspect in the drug ring.
For the sixth murder, Jiang Zhengkai dwelled on A-Di’s name for some time before finally putting a circle around it. Clearly, he felt that A-Di’s background was suspect, and he had doubts about her cover story. Why would A-Jiao recognize her if she had arrived after A-Jiao had left? But Jiang Zhengkai drew a line through Cao Shucong’s name. As a salesman who frequented brothels, it was unlikely he would waste his time and resources on drugs.
For the seventh murder, both A-Lian and her fake-ID-carrying john’s names were circled. Jiang Zhengkai then underlined A-Lian’s name as well, because unlike the other victims, A-Lian wasn’t dead. Jiang Zhengkai wondered if there was some way to stimulate some kind of a coherent response from this clinically-insane woman.
Finally, for the eighth and last murder, A-Xue’s name was of course circled, because she had known A-Xiu and because she’d witnessed the seventh murder. As for Zhao Shuhai, his name had a question mark next to it. Being a taxi driver was a sensitive profession as far as the police were concerned. It was possible that he was helping these women transport drugs or potential buyers. This was something worth investigating.
After he had completely marked up his whiteboard, Jiang Zhengkai found that other than the first female victim, A-Mei, all the other female victims, whether deceased or insane, could be suspected of trafficking drugs. He thought about it some more as his attention returned to A-Mei’s name. He eventually decided to change the strikethrough there to a question mark. He felt like his initial doubts about A-Mei’s involvement in the drug ring had been made somewhat arbitrarily. After all, A-Mei had stayed in the alley for three years, and it was very likely that she had known A-Xiu. Furthermore, she’d had to shoulder her family’s considerable financial burdens, so if she’d known she could make a lot of money very quickly from dealing drugs, then it was highly unlikely that she could have resisted the temptation of easy money.
After this small exercise, Jiang Zhengkai took a step back and looked at all of these names. Practically all of the women on the board had either the opportunity or the motive to be involved in the drug trade. As a result, the hypothesis that this case had something to do with drug trafficking was becoming increasingly tenable.
The most pressing issue right now, other than tracking down the formerly thought-to-be-deceased A-Xiu, was to confirm the identities of the three unknown male victims in this case. However, since this case was connected with drug trafficking, perhaps he should have the bureau contract the provincial police department or even the Ministry of Public Security to do a search in their databases for drug traffickers and their associates who had suddenly gone missing in the last few months. Perhaps such a search could turn up the names of their unknown male victims. Then again, that was easier said than done. China is a huge country with thousands, if not millions, of people involved in the drug trade, so finding actionable leads from such a huge trove of information was akin to find a needle in a haystack. Plus, how could you be sure that these three dead men would be in a police database in the first place?
Nevertheless, Jiang Zhengkai believed he should approach this case from a drug trafficking angle. Anyway, he thought it was a worth a shot. Perhaps approaching it from this angle might yet yield some unexpected windfalls. The original approach of treating this case as a serial homicide had been a dead end. If he couldn’t find an angle with which to make a breakthrough, then he’d never be able to crack this case.
At this point, Jiang Zhengkai copied what he’d drawn on the whiteboard down onto his notepad and proceeded to wipe the whiteboard clean. He then took out and brought with him all the documents he had on these three unknown male victims and left for the narcotics division office.