Chapter 67: The Last Lunch
Zhang Chi didn’t know how he muddled through that day. He felt like crying but had no tears.
He passed by Gu Zhichang’s office before he got off work and habitually thought to go inside and chat with him. Not long ago it had been his daily routine. They never scheduled it, it was just understood between them, and they never ran out of things to talk about. Several times Captain Liu walked in to talk with Gu Zhichang about work to see the two of them chatting happily with each other. Captain Liu always admired them with a look that said “Your apprentice is like your heart; you’re closer to him than if he was your own son” because his own son at home was in a rebellious phase and was distant from him.
The last conversation Zhang Chi remembered between them was amid the hubbub as they left the cafeteria. It was noon of the day the annual batch of new police cadet graduate list came out. The new recruits had come into the cafeteria in groups with expressions of yearning and curiosity, and the room was suddenly overflowing with youthful exuberance.
Gu Zhichang sighed. “Another batch. I should leave and get rid of this uniform.”
Gu Zhichang was smiling, and at the time Zhang Chi did not realize the pathos it contained. He joked, “Once you leave, who will watch after me?”
“If you still need someone to watch after you after a year then I have not done my job as your teacher.” He put a marinated duck leg on Zhang Chi’s plate. “You yong people have high metabolisms. Eat more.”
That day they talked about ordinary, trifling matters aside from a few private views about a case. Gu Zhichang was like that, always able to make use of every little bit of time to cite several case precedents that made Zhang Chi think, then used his business tone to put forth his own experiences.
Gu Zhichang always seemed calm when faced with a difficult, hard-to-reach case. “The more tortuous the path and the more suspects eliminated, the closer you get to the truth. Don’t ever tell yourself it’s ‘unsolvable’.”
“What if it really becomes a cold case?”
“There’s only abandoned cases, not unsolvable ones. You have to remember that according to our nation’s laws, once a case has been filed, there’s no statute of limitations for the suspect.”
Zhang Chi felt by the look on Gu Zhichang’s face when he spoke that Gu Zhichang was far from “retiring”. Behind his cloudy eyes burned the fire of a young man. Zhang Chi hoped he could maintain that same energy when he was Gu Zhichang’s age. But he knew such optimism was only Gu Zhichang encouraging him. After all, in reality, given the police force, the justice system, and the difficulty of cases, cold cases were something no one wanted to see but always had to deal with anyway.
It was time to get off work for the day but Zhang Chi stayed seated frozen in front of his computer. Little Wu’s seat was empty. The special investigations team was given unprecedented importance; in a short amount of time the investigation experts sent from the Ministry of Public Security, the technicians sent from city council, and the tech investigators from the branch office had scoured the crime scene, but aside from a few vague, scraped footprints, and an old, shabby, and torn glove, there was very little valuable material evidence. Zhang Chi didn’t have to ask; he could see it on the team members’ faces. The only thing he cared about right now was this case. Would it become a cold case? Was the police car chosen to be bombed selected at random or was it a targeted attack?
Gu Zhichang didn’t talk much usually, but he went on and on about work and had imparted many tidbits of wisdom to Zhang Chi about public security investigation work. “The foundation for your work must be solid. You must be willing to expend the effort. At first you might not know where to start, but good preparation will pay off later. You never know what clues you need. The range of suspects will emerge by itself if you have a solid foundation.”
It had now been twenty-seven hours since the explosion. The police tape at the crime scene had been removed, but it was naturally protected due to the secluded location. Zhang Chi decided to go have a look for himself. Captain Liu saw Zhang Chi walk through the doors like a zombie and was uneasy, so he quickly went after him.
When he learned where Zhang Chi wanted to go, Captain Liu knew he couldn’t stop him, but he couldn’t bear to let Zhang Chi hold onto too much hope. “That place has been combed through and overturned by three groups of specialists and assistants, and the only useful thing they found was a paper napkin, a trampled cigarette but, and a few old and used-up batteries. You should head on home and conserve your energy. Given the special investigation team’s plan of action, focused work is better.”
Zhang Chi nodded woodenly, his eyes redrimmed.
Captain Liu had never seen him so despondent. “If your teacher were still here he would not want to see you looking like this.” His chest tightened when he thought of his old comrade-in-arms. A lump formed in his throat. “Your teacher probably never told you, but I think, given how highly he regarded you, he must have hoped you would take over his duty and look after Gu Shi. Little Zhang, you have to be strong. Don’t let your teacher feel that he misjudged you.”
Zhang Chi’s eyes slowly stopped on Captain Liu’s face as if they were confirming the source of the voice instead of listening to the message. After a few seconds he seemed to snap out of it and nodded firmly. “Captain Liu, I know what you’re saying. I won’t let Teacher down.”
What Captain Liu didn’t know was that, although Zhang Chi was not a professional investigator, he had still been influenced by them and had a definite goal. Just like Gu Zhichang had taught him, before he set out he had collected research on explosives their components, and had collected photos from the investigation and the explosive ingredients from the inspection office and had eliminated the previously found batteries. Now he was looking for something new.
Though he didn’t know what that something existed or not.
The road was close to the outskirts of town, the road condition typical of those linking town and country. There was a short, abandoned commercial building facing the street on one side, the windows shut tightly, some without glass. The metal doors were locked and rusted over. There was an air conditioner support on the outer wall that could be used to climb up to a high vantage point, but it was completely exposed and would not be an ideal spot to commit a crime.
On the other side was expansive, deserted farmland, the weeds as tall as a person. If the suspect wanted to get as close as possible he could hide there. He could hide in his car, but the license plate might be spotted, though there was mabe had been no other choice.
Zhang Chi followed along ground zero of the explosion, and estimated a limited scope. According to remote control devices available on the market or materials that one could use to make one oneself, this was the farthest out it could have been.
It would be dark soon. Zhang Chi paid no attention to the mud and insects in the weeds. He wore gloves and concentrated on inspecting every inch. It was quiet out, the only sound a distant dog barking and the intermittent chirps of insects. All the streetlamps suddenly lit up and Zhang Chi shut off the flashlight on his phone. It was still dim. He had just removed his gloves and got ready to pull his phone back out when a bright light suddenly shone from overhead and he saw the elongated shadows of himself and another man on the road.