Chapter 11: “Weak Evidence”
The special investigation team director didn’t call Gu Zhichang to explain things, so it was natural he wouldn’t know. The entire special investigation team was under high-level security clearance. When the meeting began everyone’s cell phone was confiscated and was replaced with a cell phone that only had texting functionality. The conference room’s signal had already been completely blocked, and the whole floor had been marked as the special investigation team’s area. No data, news, or other material was allowed to be taken out.
Everyone on the special investigations team had been provided accommodations, and they had to report their whereabouts during their eight hours of off-time. Even those who lived in Beijing were barred from going home to their families. They had been “closed off” and the organization informed their families. The tight working regulations and rules were like thick, dark thunderclouds smothering them. After a bit they plucked up and wished for the case to be resolved soon so they could be done with this job, which seemed glorious, but in reality was really confining.
Zhang Chi thought about the WeChat messages he hadn’t returned before the meeting started. One was from He Meng asking him, “Are you busy?”, followed by a picture of two tickets to an art gallery exhibition of Käthe Kollwitz, whom he had long-admired. Normally he would have accepted her courtesy. He had hesitated a few seconds before entering the conference room, but he didn’t feel like explaining so he just turned the screen off.
By the time the meeting was over he had already forgotten about that. What was on his mind now was how to better understand the witness’ testimony and make the characteristics into details to reveal the person’s true image. His first thought was he wished he had read more on the subject. Zhang Chi knew full well that even when drawing a person who was right before him, if even one tiny bit was off it could make a huge difference. You might get the form right, but lack the right expression, the right spirit, making the sketch and the man look like two completely different people. Even more so when dealing with vague, abstract words, you end up with a sketch of some imagined enemy!
Zhang Chi wanted to call Chen Ting, but given his current working conditions he obviously couldn’t divide his attention. Especially now that he he knew the witness was a five-year-old boy, everything else was pushed to the back of his mind.
An office like this, with such tight security and adults in police uniform all over would be a lot of pressure for a small child. But there was nothing he could do about the place or the people’s dress.
Would the child’s memory be accurate or not, would the child’s ability to explain himself be effective or not, would his judgment be precise… Zhang Chi wasn’t sure. There were too many unknowm factors he could think of. He slowly set up his easel and carefully arranged his pencils and source materials, frequently glancing outside the door. But none of the two or three people who hurried past were the little boy. He only briefly made contact with the suspicious eyes of the team director. He composed himself and figured he might as well begin sketching something.
Once he picked up his pencil his mind became completely at ease. He didn’t need to think or recollect. Each line of the sketch had long ago been etched in his mind. He was only duplicating it once more. Less than ten minutes later he had a lifelike sketch of a woman. He looked at the portrait and smiled quietly. Just then a policeman led a woman and a child into the room.
The young policeman was just craning his neck to look over, curious, when Zhang Chi quickly took down the sketch. The officer smiled knowingly and made the introductions. The woman was the proprietress’ younger sister. At the time of the incident she was looking after her kid so she didn’t notice the customers in the shop. Because both families’ shops were closeby, she had brought her kid with her that day to the store to play with the other store’s kid.
“The copy shop proprietress didn’t clearly see the suspect’s face either?” Zhang Chi asked the officer quietly.
He shrugged. “According to what she said, she was busy with other customers and didn’t pay attention to the suspect’s appearance. Also, there’s no camera inside the shop and the one on the street was broken.”
“By the way, everyone is so busy, have there been any new developments?”
Seeing the officer was about his age, he thought to seize the moment to ask so that he might better understand his role in this investigation. The officer was about to speak when the director walked by with his hands behind his back, his eyebrows pinched together. You could smell his anxiety permeating the air.
The officer didn’t say anything, but from the wry look on his face Zhang Chi could tell the case was very short on leads. Now it seemed that except for his “last ditch effort”, the results of the investigation and the video recording trails left behind had left solving the case seem hopeless, like finding a needle in a haystack!
After they had left, Zhang Chi asked the woman to sit to the side, the boy watching him cautiously. Zhang Chi didn’t look at him, busy doing something with some paper. Curious, the boy leaned closer. He was delighted when he sat the policeman making two paper airplanes, and happily joined in playing with them. After a few turns an innocent smile returned to the boy’s face. He was no longer like he had been before, like a scared deer ready to bolt. His mother looked on affectionately as they played.
Once the mood was about right, Zhang Chi began asking the boy to recall what people he had encountered that day in the shop. He asked this because the boy was not yet in the right frame of mind and so might easily mix up the customers who had been in the shop.
“There were a lot of adults and children in the shop that day,” the boy said sweetly. “It was really noisy. I didn’t have any place to play with my airplane. Some people were making copies with Aunt, some were at the computers printing stuff. Oh, and some people were even talking on the phone by the fax machine.”
“Wow, so small yet you even know what a fax machine is. That’s really good. So tell your uncle, what did the fax machine look like?”
He felt a bit more confident listening to the child’s stammering, childish descriptions. He asked again and learned the boy had only seen one man using the phone on the fax machine, and he had used it for a while. That was enough to determine the suspect. After further questioning he learned that during that span of time there was only that one man who matched the description the boy gave. Zhang Chi was cheering inside.
“How tall was that man?” Zhang Chi asked.
The boy looked at him, confused.
He had to change tactics. After asking how far away the boy had been from the fax machine, he got up and stood about the same distance away and motioned while talking. “Was the man at the fax machine taller than me, or shorter?”
The child tilted his head, thinking carefully. “About the same,” he said earnestly.
Zhang Chi asked him some more questions and the child answered them about the same, his face still serious and sincere. It had already been thirty minutes, but not one mark had been sketched on the paper.