Chapter 70: The Past
Later that day, long past lunchtime, Zhang Chi rubbed his sore eyes and looked into the distance. Traffic scrolled by outside the window, a takeout delivery man weaving through them, reminding ZHang Chi that he hadn’t eaten anything all day.
The pile of case files on his desk Captain Liu had sent to him were stacked about half as tall as he was, all material from cases Gu Zhichang had handled over the last six months. Zhang Chi didn’t want to let anyone else go through them for him lest they miss some key clue. But it would take him all night to go through all these himself.
He had just got up and got a cup of instant noodles from his drawer when he got a WeChat message from Gu Shi. “Come over when you have time.”
First thing he did when he saw the message was reply, “I’m on my way”. Then he locked the files in a metal filing cabinet and left. He really missed her. He hadn’t seen her in several days. He pushed down his worries; whatever it was probably wasn’t concerning her. This was the first time Gu Shi had invited him over to her house. He had a feeling she had been silently following the explosion case and wanted to tell him something to give him a new train of thought or clue.
He arrived at her apartment about fifteen minutes later. He parked and left the residential area and bought some food at a little shop that sold imported food from Taiwan, then turned the corner and went to a Western food store and bought a carton of milk and two boxes of sweets, then strode toward Gu Shi’s place.
Gu Shi opened the door and was not surprised to see him holding two bags. She invited him in and offered him a seat on the sofa in the living room. He wasn’t in a hurry to sit down and instead asked where the kitchen was, and after she led him in he put away his groceries and made a point to tell her the milk he bought was fresh milk, so it had a shorter expiration date so she should drink it quickly, that the dates and nuts would be good for her so she should eat a few here and there and hang in there. Gu Shi looked quite downcast. All she did was nod silently.
Zhang Chi finally sat down and took in the apartment. It was about how he imagined it would be. It wasn’t big, but the white tones and Northern European style made it seem spacious, matched well with the oil painting blue and cherry pink decorations, making the room feel warm and refined. The large table in the open kitchen had already become an altar of sorts; A large black and white photo of Gu Zhichang was on display there. A lump formed in Zhang Chi’s throat. He went over and stood before the photo in silent tribute for five minutes, bowed deeply to his mentor, and said to himself, “Teacher, I will find out the truth for you.”
A pot of fruit tea was being warmed on the tea table, using slow heat, the candlelight throwing Gu Shi’s slightly ruddy complexion into relief. Zhang Chi had expected her to look pale as a ghost, so he finally breathed a sigh of relief. “How are the arrangements coming along?” he asked. Even though the department was handling the arrangements, the important matters still had to be coordinated with and handled by Gu Zhichang’s family.
“Fine. The funeral is next week.” Gu Shi’s voice was still feeble. Zhang Chi put his arm around her shoulder lightly, and she leaned limply against his neck. The TV looked like it had been on for a while, perhaps as background noise or for a bit of lighting.
Gu Shi suddenly turned to him slightly. “I invited you over today to tell you something you always wanted to know.”
Zhang Chi didn’t know why she was saying this, but he thought of all the times he had asked her, directly or indirectly about her ”secrets no one knows”. It was most likely about that, but what did that have to do with Gu Zhichang’s death and was it really more important than investigating what really happened to him?
Her eyes were swollen and she looked to be holding back, as if she were trying to make herself come to a decision. She was silent for a long time. Zhang Chi waited for her patiently and sipped tea, pretending to watch TV as he quietly waited for her to speak.
“Some time agon my laptop broke down.” Her opening remarks only confused Zhang Chi further, so he could only wait for her to continue. “I work with all kinds of different instruments for work, but when it comes to fixing things I’m really useless. Dad happened to have a friend who was a genius with computers, so I asked him take my laptop to his friend to fix it for me.
“I got my laptop back quickly and could use it like normal. But I discovered a file with my name on it had been looked at. That man’s repair shop had a lot of business and normally professionals, out of professional integrity, wouldn’t just go snooping through customers’ files, plus this was a policeman’s daughter’s file, yet there were traces left that even a layman would be able to detect.”
“So, you think the repairman looked through an encrypted file?”
Gu Shi heaved a long sigh. “I didn’t notice anything at first because the file was still encrypted. But later on I noticed father was acting a bit strange. You know how he always smiled, like nothing ever got to him, like he didn’t hold anything inside.”
“When are you talking about? I don’t remember him ever acting different.”
“Of course you wouldn’t notice any difference, but after all I’m with him all the time and understand him better. He just became reticent around me, and gloomy and downcast, then later he came home late from work, but I don’t know what he was doing there because as I understood it, there were no cases then that would have required him to work overtime.” She got out her phone and showed him some dates she had typed into her notebook on her phone. “Later I suddenly thought that maybe he started to seem worried after looking through my encrypted file.”
“Was the file just day to day stuff or did it concern something specific?”
“It was actually a diary. I would write in there as a way to reduce stress, so everything I wrote in there was unhappy stuff, things that were bothering me, or even nightmares I had had. Once I wrote it down I felt a lot better about those things, but anyone else who read it might feel the opposite.”
“So, it contained secrets you never told your father?”
“Yes.” She paused, her face flushed. She took a deep breath and said, “When I was about ten or so, I was home alone one day when I heard someone knock at the door. Said he had come to look at the gas meter, but once he entered I realized he wasn’t a maintenance man. He locked the door and threatened me not to scream, then covered my mouth and took off his pants… I never told anyone, but afterwards I started having nightmares. Every time I had one I would write about it in detail in my diary. It was just a dream, but every time it was a recounting of what had happened that day and descriptions of what I had felt.”
Zhang Chi held her head in his hands and wiped away her tears. “There was no case filed back then, but do you still remember what he looked like?”