Chapter 6: Lingering Doubt
Zhang Chi didn’t give Gu Zhichang an answer within the one-month timeframe. His reason was that this was a major decision. Changing departments was no big deal, but he needed some time to test whether or not his special ability could really be put to use. He hoped both sides could make a decision after he had completed a few more assignments, which would also show his sinceere consideration toward Gu Zhichang’s proposal.
His response was unexpectedly mature and Gu Zhichang agreed with a laugh and a smile. He really had not misjudged the kid. After decades in the force he had developed a sharp eye for people. He had seen many capable people who appeared to be average on the surface, but he had not seen many like Zhang Chi, with his hippie manner and artisan spirit.
But Zhang Chi didn’t expect the rigid Gu Zhichang would give him a new assignment so quickly. First thing in the morning he saw Chen Ting standing in his office waiting for him. Zhang Chi followed him obediently. “Things go on like this the political section will expel me for sure. And you know we’re understaffed here, always borrowing people from other departments and not returning them. Though the supervisors complain, they also know it’s a rare chance to get another of theirs in the core department. But you guys are the opposite. Isn’t that putting me in an awkward position?”
“No kidding, you’ve no way out. Might as well join us like the boss wishes.”
Gu Zhichang was just pointing at the blackboard while explaining the character relationships. He saw them and asked them to sit in the front.
The case took place in an upscale nursing home. Every apartment had its own door for going in and out. The one who reported the case was one of the resident caretakers by the name of Zeng. She said it happened Saturday evening after the children had visited and she was just getting busy drawing water to wash the old woman, her daily routine. It was about seven or eight o’clock when someone knocked on the door claiming to be the water heater repairman. She knew that they would sometimes come at this hour to make repairs, and figured the children had reported that the water was not hot enough, so she opened the door to let him in.
But the repairman waited for her to turn around to resume her work before knocking her unconscious. When she came to, a stack of money on the old man’s nightstand was gone, about ninety thousand bucks. Half a year’s room and board fee, as well as her monthly salary. Zeng explained that because the children were busy with work they couldn’t visit regularly and certainly couldn’t come to pay the bills each time, and since she had been caring for the old woman for five or six years already, the old woman’s children had her pay the bills for them.
“Right now our diffculty is the actual time of the crime is not known, and there were no other witnesses besides Miss Zeng. The suspect was wearing a poncho and the video feeds did not capture his build or distinguishing facial features. The on-duty security guard said there were a lot of people coming and going, plus all the takeout and delivery people were wearing rain gear and looked pretty much the same, so no one left a strong impression.”
“The old woman was not injured, right?” Chen Ting asked. “She must have seen the suspect.”
“Fortunately, the old woman reacted too slowly and didn’t scream, and the suspect’s only goal was money so he just grabbed the cash and didn’t harm her. The old woman suffers from dementia as well, so even if she saw the suspect she would just contradict herself.”
“So, Miss Zeng is the only one who saw the suspect close up.”
Zhang Chi had been silent, but now he said, “Mr. Gu, can you let me talk with Miss Zeng?”
Zhang Chi had barely finished speaking when the whispers began amongst the others assembled there. The vibe in the room suddenly became delicate. Zhang Chi quickly realized that volunteering like that was overstepping his authority, but he couldn’t unsay it, so he just sat quietly and waited for Gu Zhichang’s order.
“What are you all whispering about? If you have something to say come up here and say it, don’t just keep it a secret.” Seeing Gu Zhichang with that rarely-seen stern look on his face, no one dared make any further reproaches.
“Has the victim and her children’s social connections been checked yet? Has it been determined whether it was a forced entry or not? Have statistics of similar cases been compared yet? Have you interviewed people who live in the vicintiy of the crime? Whatever the task is, our objective is the same. I notice the extent of everyone’s contributions. All right, dismissed. Get to work.”
Zhang Chi was used to lengthy articles and long meetings. He wasn’t used to a quick, brief one like this. Gu Zhichang nodded to him and he packed up his things and prepared to leave. He only had to grab his prepared sketches and he followed close behind.
When they got to the nursing home the supervisor led them to the apartment where the crime had occurred. Miss Zeng promptly opened the door and looked at them dumbly when she saw them dressed in civilian clothes. They flashed their police identification and entered the room.
Gu Zhichang introduced Zhang Chi to Miss Zeng and then left to conduct some interviews outside. After many years of service, even though he was already a police chief, if you forgot about his qualifications and record of service and his age, the thing that people respected the most was that he was always actively pursuing a lead, and did more than the other investigators. Because of this, every time there was some dispute they would always look to him. The prestigious Gu Zhichang was the criminal investigation team’s “uncrowned king”. Before authority he never lied, and before his colleagues he never prattled on idly. Even his superiors yielded to him a bit. Everyone knew that more and more young people were eager for success and profit, and more and more oldsters were in a hurry to get promoted to a nominal position before they retired, but there were few like Gu Zhichang who cared not about fame or wealth and who promoted his juniors. Having his back was the same as having one’s own. He was like everyone’s final protective screen.
Gu Zhichang had been busying himself outside for a little over half an hour when he got a call from Zhang Chi.
“You sketched quickly today, Little Zhang, did it go well?”
“Mr. Gu, there might be a small problem. I’ll tell you when you get here.”
“Is the sketch finished?”
“Should be done soon, about half an hour or so. I can finalize it directly. It’s not the sketch that’s the problem…”
Gu Zhichang heard his voice lower and things became quiet. He must have been calling discreetly from a room by himself. He realized it wasn’t convenient to talk there and told him not to hurry, to finish the sketch first then tell him, and to go back separately and they would consult with each other when they got back.
On the road back to the office, Gu Zhichang was puzzled. What could be the problem? Zhang Chi always made people worry he was a mixed bag, too straightforward and uninhibited, but today he had held his tongue, hemming and hawing. Surely the sketch hadn’t been too difficult, and the others had not been so friendly today. Had he gotten cold feet?