Chapter 12: Pointers
Sitting off to the side, the mother was getting a bit impatient. “Officer,” she said to Zhang Chi softly, “I want to cooperate with you anyway I can. But I want to tell you, this child is quite playful, and his observation skills are nothing special. You question him earnestly, but he treats it as a game. You can’t take what he says completely seriously. If he says something incorrect, you won’t hold us accountable will you?”
“Well, how is he usually with recognizing faces? Do you know?”
“I know my child’s behavior. You think he is answering you seriously, but if you ask him again in five minutes he might give you a completely different answer. He’s not intentionally lying. It’s just because he’s so young he likely doesn’t know what he is saying, or what he has said. If it delays you solving the case, then we’re really sorry.”
Zhang Chi had nothing to say to that. The child’s mother was terrified and the witness was not an adult. Coming away empty-handed was the worst case scenario. He should have seen it coming!
Only, how would he face the director, who had been doubtful of him from the start? What would he say to Mr. Gu, who was counting on him so much?
That day Zhang Chi returned listlessly to his dorm. He didn’t turn on the TV or look at his phone. As soon as he got into his room he stripped and went to the bathroom. In the mirror he looked especially strong and healthy, with perfect muscles, his skin not too dark and not too light. Strongest was his butt, which stuck out slightly. From the outside one felt his skin and muscles were firm and taut.
But he had no time to admire this figure he always bragged about. He stepped in the shower, in low spirits, and stood blankly under the curtain of water, standing straight, hugging his shoulders. He just wanted to clear his mind and maybe catch a fleeting idea on how to solve the case. He stood there a long time, never feeling so defeated.
What was the matter with him? Zhang Chi realized he had never cared before, but the anxiety of composite sketching was much more than he had expected. But now he didn’t know what path his career should take. Was this like people said, “dying before the expedition had succeeded”?
If it had not been for his Beijing colleagues knocking on his door, enthusiastically inviting him to come join their team cookout, he likely would have punished himself the whole night in the bathroom, pondering, trying to solve this unsolvable mystery. He wearily stood before the door and politely declined, then went to bed and slept heavily.
For the next several days he had nothing to do, no reason to even do any odd jobs. In the past, Zhang Chi would have just up and left, but now he waited… for an opportunity, a clue, a turn of event? He didn’t know what he was waiting for. He just faked it everyday in the office, finding some idle person to shoot the breeze with. Of course, he still had to endure the director’s silent condemnation.
Those who had been in this organization a long time knew there were generally three kinds of idle workers. Similarly, the levels of ease by which a they passed the days differed greatly. The first kind was the person who wanted to slack off. This person would kiss their boss’ ass, taking the boss’ business as their own duty, spending the rest of their time making groundless accusations and ratting people out. They didn’t see their behavior as unethical or low. On the contrary, they felt they were using a balanced way to gain a certain degree of freedom. The diligent workers saw through it, but they could only fume in silence. The second kind was the person others wanted to be idle. Most of these people were former bosses, but due to age or health or some other factor, they either actively or passively withdrew to a nominal position. They embraced the “respected elder” role, and played it up in order to secure themselves in their new position. The current boss would not interfere with this kind of idle worker. And naturally no one else had the right to say anything. They could only quietly accept it. The third kind was the idler who didn’t want to be idle. This person had the hardest time. They were usually young and healthy, talented youths who because of their behavior, circumstances, temperament, factionalism, or teasing were confined to a marginal role. The boss wouldn’t give them important work, and they themselves could not take on a major role. Day after day, until it became second nature, until it became a pattern.
And now, Zhang Chi seemed to be that woeful third-type idler. Away from the unit for so many days with no news from the front, Mr. Gu not even calling him anymore, the nonchalant Zhang Chi felt something was fishy. Why did it seem that he had been banished to the borderlands?
That day, he couldn’t resist sending the restaurant boss “Instructor Fan” a WeChat message indirectly asking how things were at the bureau, sighing with frustration as he typed, “Unfortunately I’ve run into an unsolved mystery. Even a good wife can’t cook without rice. Everyday I’m just sitting on the sidelines.”
Instructor Fan, who everyone called “Little Sage”, quickly replied on WeChat. “Brother, you’re walking into the morning sun and burning your eyes. You can’t walk straight ahead, so might as well take a detour down a small path.”
He read those words over and over while going over in his mind everything the child had said that day, every word the child’s mother had said.
His train of thought was like a dark mass that a bundle of light suddenly shined on. He held onto those phrases tightly, desperately recollecting, and the light drew a little closer, fanning out and spreading over that darkness. Everything was still hazy, yet he also seemed to be able to clearly see his way through.
He suddenly shot up and went to find an investigator in the next office. When Zhang Chi entered the room he saw people standing blankly in twos and threes. Some were smoking. It was a depressing scene of stalemate. Everyone’s eyes locked on him when they saw his bright, cheerful face.
An hour later, he stood before the director’s office desk. The director’s face was engulfed in smoke, only the top of his head visible. He had a crew cut laced with gray hair. “You’re sure this is necessary? Not gonna draw a blank this time?”
Zhang Chi didn’t back down. “Last time the witness’ observation skills and ability to express himself were not up to standard, which resulted in an inability to communicate and obtain effective results. Now, at least this witness has her own reasoning ability and a mature ability to express herself. And the person she watched is someone she’s really interested in. People usually pay more attention to things that interest them, and they remember it better.”
“How did you think of this, and why didn’t you mention this clue before?”
Zhang Chi really wanted to talk back and say, You never asked me. Isn’t this something new I’m pointing out? He was silent for a few seconds, but held his tongue. “I managed to find out that the witness is older with no child, but always wanted a child. When she was still at her old home she majored in childhood education. She really likes children. And from what that boy’s mother said, there was a really cute girl at the shop, looked like a member of the Little Star Art Troupe. Afterward, her son always clung to the little girl.”
“You’ve verified the rest of the information?”
Zhang Chi opened his notebook and checked. “At present, from our colleagues’ investigations, five children appeared at the shop that day. Only two of them were brought by customers. The others were like the boy, neighborhood kids. Of the two unfamiliar kids, one was with his mother after she picked him up. They had stopped to make copies on the way home. The other one was brought by the man at the fax machine. The girl called him ‘Old Uncle’ and had a Beijing accent. Judging by the term of address, he ought to be a relative.”
The director was silent. Only his head moved slightly.
Zhang Chi bent down and put his hands on the desk so that he could look him in the eyes. “So you approve? Then I’ll go get her.”