Chapter 82: A Woman Called A-Ping
“Are you okay?” asked Lu Xiaoqiang as he ran over and squatted next to the woman who had just fallen. “Are you hurt?”
“No…” the woman shook her head. She propped herself up on her arms into a half-prone position, cowering in fear. “Don’t… don’t kill me, please… I don’t know anything…”
“Hehe! So I look like a killer to you, eh?” Lu Xiaoqiang shook his head and laughed. “Well then, tell me what I want to know about A-Di, and I won’t kill you!”
“Heh!” Once the woman heard Lu Xiaoqiang’s tone of voice, an awkward smile appeared on her face. She grumpily shouted at Lu Xiaoqiang, “You’re not a killer, so why I should I tell you? Come help me up. This floor’s freezing!” Clearly, her fear of Lu Xiaoqiang had vanished. Deep down, she felt that Lu Xiaoqiang wasn’t someone who would do her harm.
“Alright!” acknowledged Lu Xiaoqiang as he helped the woman up. She used Lu Xiaoqiang’s strength to pull herself up and then leaned against him. She batted her eyelashes and curiously asked Lu Xiaoqiang, “So, big boy, who was A-Di to you anyway? Was she your old lover, or did she owe you money?”
“Old lover? Owe me money?” Lu Xiaoqiang asked in surprise.
“What, neither of those?” asked the woman as she glanced at him. “If it’s neither, then why do you want to find her? Am I not good enough?”
“You?” He could understand all the words she was saying, but he still couldn’t help feeling confused. As a 25-year-old young man, Lu Xiaoqiang had obviously had some interaction with women of his age, but his profession and regimented life at the academy meant he didn’t really understand women and relationships that well.
“That’s right,” the woman nodded earnestly. “Whatever she can do, I can do, too. And I wouldn’t do it any worse than her!”
“Oh!” Even if Lu Xiaoqiang were a dolt, he would’ve understood what the woman was getting at after that last bit. This woman must’ve thought he was one of A-Di’s regulars, and so she was trying so hard to sell herself. But there was something more. Lu Xiaoqiang also felt that this woman had just a touch of romantic interest in him. Prostitutes were human, too, and it was not unusual for them to develop feelings for their regular customers. Finding a long-term boyfriend was something that these women in the alley longed for as well. After a few years walking the streets, they stopped chasing money and started chasing love.
“How would you reward me if I told you what I knew about A-Di?” asked the woman as she leaned even closer to Lu Xiaoqiang. She was practically on top of him at this point.
“I…” Lu Xiaoqiang hesitated. He then pulled out his police badge from his pocket and said, “Sorry, I’m a cop.” He didn’t want to reveal his identity, but he knew that if he didn’t tell the woman the truth, then things were going to get a whole lot more complicated tonight.
“A cop?” The woman looked at the badge in Lu Xiaoqiang’s hand and, sure enough, stopped dead in her tracks. She stood there blankly for a bit. Lu Xiaoqiang was clearly a cop, something she hadn’t foreseen. “Are you… are you going to arrest me?” she asked as she raised her head and looked at him with a certain amount of terror in her eyes. Before Lu Xiaoqiang could answer, however, she laughed. “No, you won’t arrest me! But you’re a cop, and I’m a hooker, so why should I help you?”
“So… you don’t want to avenge your fallen sisters?” Lu Xiaoqiang had originally wanted to ask, “Don’t you want to have a stable job?” But that would have clearly been a nonsensical thing to ask. What did cracking this case have to do with getting these women legal and stable jobs?
“Ai! Sit down.” The woman eased away from Lu Xiaoqiang’s face and sat down on the bed. When she walked past him, she didn’t so much as glance at him, as if to say she’d had no real interest in him from the start. When Lu Xiaoqiang saw the woman sitting down, he decided to sit down right next to her.
“If I tell you about A-Di, will you really give me that money?” asked the woman as she picked up the two hundred yuan bill that Lu Xiaoqiang had tossed onto the bed. She played with it in her hands.
“Yes,” Lu Xiaoqiang resolutely answered.
“This really is the Information Age,” the woman laughed at her self-deprecating joke. “It looks like selling information is a lot more lucrative than selling sex these days!”
“Hehe,” Lu Xiaoqiang chuckled before sighing. He didn’t know how to respond to what the woman just said. After all, he had just graduated from the police academy, so it wasn’t like he had a lot of experience dealing with women. However, if he weren’t a rookie cop, he wouldn’t have come to the alley and done this crazy thing either.
“Alright, my name is A-Ping,” declared the woman as she glanced at Lu Xiaoqiang, almost as if to tell him that he’d better not forget it. “Well, I’d say you found the right person. I came with A-Di from the provincial capital. They’ve been cracking down on prostitution there as well, and it was getting too hard to make a living there, which is why we came over here.”
“Really?” asked Lu Xiaoqiang, laughing noncommittally again. “Looks like life’s hard wherever you go.”
“Ai! It wasn’t until after the two of us came here from the provincial capital that we realized that this city is haunted!” A-Ping said slowly as she lowered her head and stared at the floor. “And no matter where we went, besides this alley, every place was being cracked down harder than anywhere in the provincial capital!”
“Haunted?” Lu Xiaoqiang couldn’t help being amused at the idea. Although he came from a poor rural family, he wasn’t someone who believed in ghosts and superstition.
“That’s right! How else do you explain how all of these people died and you cops haven’t been able to find the killer?” A-Ping said with a wry laugh as she looked at Lu Xiaoqiang. She was obviously not afraid of Lu Xiaoqiang just because he was a cop. Actually, she was right. Cop or not, Lu Xiaoqiang was only a man, and she’d seen plenty of men over the course of her career. Underneath their clothes, there were all the same, and they all came to her to satisfy their primal urges. However, Lu Xiaoqiang was perhaps the first man she’d met after becoming a prostitute who’d come to her for emotional support.
“Fine, you have a point there,” acquiesced Lu Xiaoqiang, as he knew there was no way he could argue with her. If he were to insist that it was a human being who’d killed all those prostitutes, then it would be as if he were admitting that he was worthless as a police officer. Even the most hopeless of men would not easily admit such a thing, much less a man as self-assured as Lu Xiaoqiang.
“Both A-Di and I are from Guangxi,” A-Ping continued when she saw Lu Xiaoqiang wasn’t going to rebut what she’d said. “My home village is very poor. It’s close to the border with Vietnam. When we first came here from our village, we started out as waitresses, but we just weren’t making enough money to support ourselves, so… we eventually decided to change jobs.”
“Really?” asked Lu Xiaoqiang, listening to A-Ping’s endless complaints. He knew she wasn’t making things up, because she’d given too many details for just a cover story. The problem was, the things she was saying were wholly unrelated to A-Di’s death and the case in general.
“Yes, really! What, you think we were born to do this job?” At this point, a hint of anger flitted across her face, but it disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared, and her expression returned to its former serene self. “Alright, what else do you want to know?” Clearly, chatting with Lu Xiaoqiang had greatly relaxed her state of mind.
“Then, did you and A-Di go directly to the provincial capital, or did you come by here first?” Lu Xiaoqiang asked bluntly.
“We went straight to the provincial capital,” A-Ping answered without hesitation, although she did pause for a second after she spoke. “You asked if we had ever come to this city of yours, right?”
“Yes,” Lu Xiaoqiang nodded.
“I haven’t been here before,” said A-Ping. She then bit her lips and thought hard. “But… I think A-Di might have been here around two or three years ago.”
“She might have?” Hearing that caused Lu Xiaoqiang’s heart to skip a beat, but he hoped A-Ping could tell him some more.
“Yup!” A-Ping nodded. “Based on what I remember, I think she mentioned this place to me before. Also, she seemed like she didn’t want to come here this time around.”
“Really? How many of you came together?” Lu Xiaoqiang continued asking.
“About five or six,” A-Pig replied. “But after A-Di died, all of the other girls left this place. The rest of them all came together, and I came with A-Di, so I decided to stay.”
“What do you mean by ‘together?'” Lu Xiaoqiang was a bit confused. Hadn’t all of the women come together?
“Oh, they were from one village, and the two of us were from another village,” A-Ping laughed. “When we’re out here, those of us from the same village have to stick together and take care of each other. If I had known that she would die here, I never would’ve talked her into coming with me.” At this point, A-Ping’s eyes began to get watery as she gently rubbed her face.
Lu Xiaoqiang understood why A-Ping felt the way she did, so he changed the subject. “Do you know why A-Di didn’t want to come here?”
“No, I don’t,” A-Ping shook her head. “How would I? She never told me. But, I think I heard her say once that she had a sister here.”
“Alright, thank you!” Lu Xiaoqiang had learned everything he needed to know.
He stood up and was about to bid A-Ping farewell when she stood up as well and asked, “The money…”
“It’s yours!” said Lu Xiaoqiang with another laugh.
He turned around and was about to leave the room when A-Ping suddenly ran up and gave him a back hug. “Could… could you hold me for a while?”