Chapter 72: Informant
Instructor Fan disregarded the glares from others around him, his face seeming to say “This is my place, what I say goes” as he blew out a smoke ring and told Zhang Chi, “My prices here are not high, and I keep long business hours. People from all walks of life come through here. My ears are sharp. I notice unfamiliar people in here all the time, and I have some guys who keep an ear out for me as well. Whenever they hear something fishy or unusual they tell me, and it’s led to many clues I’ve been able to give to Old Gu.”
Zhang Chi had not expected this. Instructor Fan had lost his family from doing things like this, but now he was an informant. Aside from the fact that he had no ties to anyone and was absolutely fearless, he was also completely trusted by Gu Zhichang.
“Didn’t you break that murder case from somewheres else? A few days before Old Gu’s accident I happened to overhear a customer say that the person they arrested was his prison buddy.”
“How did they communicate?”
“Who knows how they contacted each other normally, but anyway they all know who goes in and who gets out of jail. They’re well-informed.”
“What else did that person say?”
“That gang of thugs for sure feel that the most dangerous place is the safest, this place being so close to the station. But they’re crafty scoundrels. They often use code words, but I understand it all. He said he heard the cop named Zhang at this station was an expert composite sketch artist who had put a lot of their brothers in the slammer. So it seemed whatever they did from now on they’d have to make sure to leave no witnesses alive or else they would not be able to get away because he would be able to sketch them.”
Zhang Chi set his chopsticks down and gave a black look. “So vicious. Did they mention my teacher?”
“They seemed to know all about the patterns of your work and your life, but aside from their most recent misdeeds they only ever mentioned you. They really never mentioned Old Gu, and I think they were not aware he was your teacher.”
“Did Teacher know about this?”
“I used to have one way communication with Old Gu about this kind of work. I told him all about it. It was said for a long time he…” Instructor Fan suddenly remembered Gu Zhichang was gone and he heaved a sigh and took a large swig of his beer.
“Your teacher was a good man and should not have ended up like this. But one can often not escape this kind of fate.” Instructor Fan told Zhang Chi this as he was seeing him out. Zhang Chi knew Fan was thinking of his own wife and daughter.
Fan was usually a good drinker, but today he got drunk and talked more than usual. His eyes looked a bit muddy. Gu Zhichang seemed to be a kind of energy. Now that he was gone, Instructor Fan was overcome by sorrow and in a single night seemed to have aged considerably.
On the way back to the office, Zhang Chi thought blankly about what he had said, and when he got back to the office he looked through the on-duty list. It had been crazily busy lately. Even the normal shift schedules were all out of whack and not written down clearly. Before he left for an assignment, Zhang Chi would ask Teacher to switch shifts, and after he was ready to come back he would slowly make it up. Now there was no one to switch with. The thought sent a wave of grief surging through him.
He reached the exit as Captain Liu and Little Wang from the special investigation team screeched to a halt outside. They saw Zhang Chi and put down the car window and called to him, “Little Zhang, the situation’s changed. You go on in and wait for the news.”
Captain Liu’s expression was indistinct in the dim light of night. He couldn’t say whether it was an excited expression or a disappointed one. Zhang Chi went back to the office and fidgeted in his seat. Did this new situation have to do with “new clues” or a “new suspect” or a “new case”? Captain Liu had been vague. He flipped through some case files and drank a cup of coffee and figured they’d had enough time to come up, so he went straight to the elevator to wait for them.
He heard Captain Liu’s foul mouth before the elevator doors opened. When he saw Zhang Chi, Captain Liu motioned for him to follow him to his office, and he had Little Wang show Zhang Chi a photograph. Zhang Chi was nonplussed when he saw it. What kind of photo was this? It was a clear photo of a severed finger, one that had been cut off by someone, but the person who had done it had clearly not been resolute enough in his actions. The person must have hesitated for a long time before deciding to do it, as the cut was not clean and the person must have lost a lot of blood as the finger was completely pale, as if it were fake.
Zhang Chi had an ominous feeling. He looked up and looked at the two of them questioningly. When he did he saw that Captain Liu had a stormy look, his face full of rage that had no outlet. Little Wang said helplessly, “Yes, that’s the finger that corresponds to the fingerprints you found. An hour before someone reported to the nearest hospital saying they had found a severed finger. Security footage only managed to capture a man wearing a safety helmet. His hand was bandaged, and he threw a bag on the counter and left. He didn’t see a doctor or leave any information. The security footage couldn’t follow him so we don’t know where he came from or where he was headed.”
“So the clue is cut off, then?” Zhang Chi did his best to hide his disappointment.
Little Wang nodded helplessly. “One’s fingers are precious. If he could regard himself so ruthlessly, he must really regard us police even more ruthlessly. It’s really unnerving. We can’t guarantee there won’t be some other action in the future.”
“Don’t lose heart, there’s still other news.” Captain Liu, silent until now, finally spoke. “I just learned that the technicians discovered some material in the dirt at an old abandoned factory in the area that has the same composition as the explosive used at the crime scene. The boss of a small food stall nearby had some recollection of a man in a safety helmet, said the man had come by a few times to use the phone.”
“Good. Give me the address and I’ll head over there right away.” Zhang Chi started to head out reflexively.
Captain Liu glanced at him. “Don’t get too hasty. At this time of day the man’s tired memory might lead to errors. I’ve arranged to meet with the boss of the food stall at nine in the morning. You should get some rest first. Your teacher always told you your health is your most precious asset.” He suddenly shut up after that. Little Wang felt the vibes in the room were off and didn’t dare breathe a word. He just looked at their expressions.
Zhang Chi stood there rigidly, his eyes no longer containing the quick-witted luster they normally had, like he was staring blankly, or recalling something from the past, a rare look of dimness for him. Captain Liu put out his cigarette and sighed. Then he said lightly, “Little Zhang, I’m sorry. I know this is a hard time for everyone, and no one wants to damage their health. I spoke without thinking, but I didn’t mean anything by it. Don’t take it to heart.”
Zhang Chi nodded mechanically, already thinking about the next day. Safety helmet. That was a clear distinguishing feature. That in itself would be a big help. However, the shape of one’s face would appear a bit different when one is wearing a safety helmet, but how exactly would it distort one’s appearance? He needed to get a helmet and let several people try it on to get a better idea. He must quickly arrange to do this in front of the food stall boss tomorrow morning. He was already turning over in his mind the shapes of faces of his coworkers, putting together a list of people to experiment with the helmet on.