Chapter 60: Unrequited Love
Zhang Chi’s birthday party on Sunday was one of two good things happening at once. In addition, the criminal immediately recognized himself from Zhang Chi’s sketch, and thought he could get a reduced sentence if he turned himself in. No one needed to work overtime right now, so they enjoyed a relaxing meal and went to the next leg of the night: they had already booked a KTV room. The older ones like Captain Liu and Gu Zhichang excused themselves, citing the need to rest, and took their leave.
Everyone knew it was because they didn’t want their presence to spoil the fun and make the younger people hold back. Instructor Fan was a special case, however. He always hung out with the youngsters. He stood with Little Wu before the big KTV screen, insisting on giving everyone a moving performance as a birthday present for Zhang Chi.
Instructor Fan took the microphone nad mimicked a criminal suspect, holding his throat and choking through his fake sobs, “I knew this day would come, just not so soon. I’m not mentally prepared…”
Little Wu motioned like he was holding up a sketch. “See, isn’t that you? You want to say it or you want us to? You seemed so powerful and strong when you were murdering.”
Instructor Fan sidled up to Little Wu and looked, then covered his mouth in shock. “A, When… when did you draw me?”
Their performance was animated, Instructor Fan’s huge frame in stark contrast to his thin voice and everyone’s relaxed mood made them bust out laughing. Even Gu Shi couldn’t help but laugh, her hand pressed to the scar where she was wounded.
The door to the room slowly opened behind them and He Meng’s slim figure was blocked by the two of them. Gu Shi, ever observant, pushed Zhang Chi and then everyone noticed He Meng’s presence. Little Wu and Instructor Fan stopped and waited for the host to greet his guest. The atmosphere in the room cooled a little.
He Meng saw everyone was decked in the same police attire and set down the cake, an apologetic look on her face as she made to leave. “I didn’t know you were meeting with your coworkers today. Sorry for disturbing you. I just came to say happy birthday and I’ll be off.”
Zhang Chi thanked her politely, but didn’t urge her to stay.
Little Wu, who didn’t know the inside story, came forward. “Don’t go, stay, come give our birthday boy some face. Everyone is welcome here, the more the merrier. Sing a song before you go.”
He Meng eyed Gu Shi in the corner. Gu Shi gave her a friendly smile and moved to make room for her and beckoned her over. Zhang Chi glanced at them but said nothing, and let everyone begin choosing songs. He Meng could only walk over uneasily and sit down.
Around this time there were rumors at the office that Zhang Chi would soon be transferred to the Ministry of Public Security and his house was already selected. They said the political section had already recommended him for meritorious service, it only needed to be announced. They also said that his father had a business associate who was an old army buddy, now a high official… In a word, praise and criticism were mixed; people had different opinions about it. Zhang Chi just laughed it off whenever he heard it.
Gu Zhichang once regarded him with new respect, and said, “Your temperament is good. When I was your age I was full of piss and vinegar. If I had heard rumors and slander like that about me I would have went off.”
Zhang Chi shrugged. “Those who know me or respect me won’t make such wild talk in the first place. All the negative criticism seems to be coming from those who are mere acquaintances. I can’t change their minds, and I won’t let their negativity affect me.”
And so it was. That day, Zhang Chi had only invited those he knew well. They would end up chatting about the cases anyway, which would be inconvenient for outsiders. And the most important reason was that ever since he had entered public security he had had to break appointments because of work or overtime, so those outside his circle of friends drifted apart.
His old classmate He Meng, though, had come because she remembered his birthday. Zhang Chi had told her not to do anything as it wasn’t a big deal, not worth wasting money on. She still insisted on giving him a cake.
Gu Shi sat properly beside He Meng and could feel the graceful bearing of this former school beauty queen. Her fragrance wafted over, at first a clean, elegant aroma, with attractive afternotes. Even though she was a woman, Gu Shi was still taken aback by her charm. Her elegant, lovely profile was vivid and exquisite.
In another corner the single cops’ eyes were drawn to her, especially Little Wu, who very much wanted to trade seats with Gu Shi. Gu Shi noticed He Meng’s eyes suppressing their worshipful gaze, but kept furtively looking at someone, but that someone had no idea he was being watched as his loving gaze passed over He Meng and landed on her!
Even the slow-witted Chen Ting noticed it. He asked Instructor Fan, “Is Zhang Chi pursuing Gu Shi?”
Instructor Fan shot back, “He’s not the only one, am I right?”
Chen Ting’s face flushed, but no one noticed in the dim light of the room.
Instructor Fan excused himself, saying her had to get his shop ready for the next day, and took his leave. Zhang Chi put his arm around his shoulder as he led Fan out. When they were alone, Fan turned and asked, “So, are you prepared to make your selection?”
“I kinda have no choice, you know? I can’t simply do things in a slapdash manner and keep a foothold in two boats at once. But I don’t know.”
Instructor Fan nodded. “All the same, girls are sensitive. You have to give them a way out and let someone help you take their attention away. Otherwise you might come away emptyhanded.
Zhang Chi nodded gratefully. When he got back to the KTV room he found He Meng beginning to drink heavily, and skillfully. He lost no time motioning Little Wu to stop her, but she was having none of it and said she wanted to sing a duet with Zhang Chi, who felt helpless and gave Gu Shi a look. Gu Shi frowned, her expression seeming to say, “Stop dawdling, go on and sing.” So he went and chose a song, looking for “Hiroshima, My Love”. He Meng was clearly drunk. She finished singing the song with tears in her eyes and sat in a corner and drank by herself with a mind to get herself wasted.
“Tomorrow is a work day so we should leave early so everyone can go home and rest,” Zhang Chi said after everyone had had a round singing.
Everyone looked at each other, then at He Meng. Her eyes were squinted, her hand propping up her chin, her speech a bit slurred. “He hasn’t made his wish, and no one’s eaten any cake. How can you call this a birthday? I made it myself, isn’t anyone going to try it?”
Background music swirled around the room as everyone lively handed out pieces of cake and praised He Meng’s baking. The whole time she just stared at Zhang Chi. He felt the situation was beginning to get out of hand.
“Little Wu, can you take my classmate home in a bit?” Zhang Chi said.
“No problem. I’ll get her home safely.”
He Meng suddenly stood and staggered around the table and stumbled into Zhang Chi and wrapped her arms around him like a creeping vine. “Can you take me home? I only want you.”
Zhang Chi signaled to Little Wu and pushed her away and handed her over to Little Wu who helped support her because she could barely stand up. “Little Wu is the only one here who didn’t drink. I can’t drive. You all go on first. Safety first.”
He Meng, helped along by Little Wu, turned back when they reached the KTV room door. “You won’t regret not choosing me, will you?”
Zhang Chi was taken aback. He looked at her camly. “Fellow classmate, all I can say is thank you. We will forever be just friends.”
He Meng stood there blankly for a moment, wiping her tears. She put her arms on Zhang Chi’s shoulders and hugged him lightly, then leaned her head on Little Wu’s shoulder and left with him without looking back.
Some of the others in the room went to the restroom while others were still engrossed with singing. Zhang Chi sighed. When he turned to look at Gu Shi she was reclined on the couch watching him with her bright, piercing eyes. He didn’t hesitate, but went right over to her.