TSA Chapter 73

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Chapter 73: Hazy

The next day, before Zhang Chi set out, he had the squad car mechanic go over all the cars and check for explosives. The culprit had shown his displeasure at being challenged, but Zhang Chi acted like he hadn’t noticed. In fact, he was not at ease at all.

He couldn’t tell the mechanic that the case had not yet been solved and that they had unexpectedly obtained a bloody severed finger the day before. HE didn’t like explaining things, plus he didn’t have time to explain. He had to save time for the road. That finger, or rather that piece of human tissue, was like a silent declaration to the criminal sketch artist, with a an air of burning one’s bridges about it. A surprise attack was hard to defend against. When he was out on the road, Zhang Chi would have to do his best to avoid his usual routes and would rather take the freeway and wait patiently. His life was secondary, but he couldn’t fall again until his mission was complete.

The higher-ups were constantly worried about the progress of the explosion case, and the investigators were kept busy out in the field every day. However, the dead ends far outnumbered the the details they were sure of. Zhang Chi seemed to have a lump in the pit of his stomach he couldn’t spit out or dissolve. As the road opened up he stepped on the gas and turned on the police siren and sped along.

This was the seventh day since Gu Zhichang had left them.

Zhang Chi sent his first sketch back to the bureau, then slowly headed back. For this composite sketch he had met with a particularly talkative boss. This was a double-edged sword as far as Zhang Chi was concerned. The boss might give a detailed description that was objective and accurate, or he might exaggerate and embellish and lead to a sketch that obscures the core features. Zhang Chi listened to him patiently and drew five sketches with his electronic stylus. It took him longer to draw his sketches because he was being overly cautious. During those two hours he momentarily forgot that the person emerging on his sketchboard might be Teacher’s murderer. HE took it as creating a piece of art and did his best to draw an accurate portrait.

Until finally the food stall owner cried out from beside him and clapped his hands. “That’s just like him. With that drawing let me congratulate you early in catching the murderer soon. I heard those two cops died tragically, and one of them was close to retirement. No wonder the house registration officer here told us it wasn’t easy being a cop these days, that being able to retire peacefully was a blessing. Now it seems he wasn’t exaggerating.”

Zhang Chi just then realized his sketchboard now contained the face of the man who murdered his teacher. When he called in to report to the police and heard them relaying the address, was he laughing to himself? When the cop car arrived in a hurry, was he happy as if his quarry had been caught in a snare? When he heard the explosion and saw Gu Zhichang fly out and the bloodbath left afterward, did he feel completely satisfied and stimulated? Those bastards!

One his way back he ran into weekend rush hour traffic. The roads were packed. Zhang Chi’s squad car was stuck in the middle of it all, not moving. He congratulated himself on sending his sketch back to the station right away. That way it could be disseminated quickly so they could look for the suspect before the deadline.

His phone rang. He pressed the button and heard Captain Liu’s urgent voice. “Little Zhang, Where are you?”

“Driving. In a traffic jam at the moment.”

“I see. Turn around. I’ll send you an address. You’re on the way. We found the suspect.”

This was really unexpected. Normally it would be a happy occasion for the sketch to be effective so quickly, but Captain Liu didn’t sound happy at all. Countless possibilities zoomed past Zhang Chi like a swarm of winged insects. Just what was going on?

Traffic going the other way was not crowded at all, and in about ten minutes Zhang Chi was back around food stall. The address Captain Liu had given him was a bit familiar. It was a small road parallel to the one near the explosion and the food stall. To be precise, it was at the boundary between the city and the outskirts at a lodging for outside laborers.

At the end of the road was a mountain of garbage. Scavengers took the foam, plastics, and cardboard boxes they had collected that day and tied them up in bundles with rope and set them there temporarily. Of course it was disorderly and stank, plus a few abandoned vans with flat tires filled with daily necessities set aside for later. Some people often used the vans as their personal storeroom.

Zhang Chi frowned and pulled over to the side and got out. He walked inside and saw Captain Liu’s anxious expression as the latter walked out of the deep recesses of the garbage pile with some difficulty. “Captain Liu, you were looking for me?”

“We found him. Go in and have a look.”

He had seen this kind of scene and heard that tone before. He took a deep breath and said lightly, “Alright.” He walked on in, his mind a blank. He wasn’t sure what he was going to see, but he was sure it was not going to be what he imagined.

After only a few steps he saw Chen Ting who was squatting down and standing up, holding his camera and snapping photos. Zhang Chi’s heard sank a bit.

Looked like the man he had sketched was no longer among the living.

“Who discovered the body?” Zhang Chi passed under the police tape and looked down at the twisted, somewhat funny-looking man. He looked like a discarded doll cast aside deep in this mountain of garbage.

A collection worker reported it. A local community cop received the sketch and went to the man’s home to find him. His family said they had not seen him since that morning and didn’t know where he had gone. The family was just here and identified the body. This is definitely the suspect.”

Zhang Chi felt a chill run up his back. First was the missing finger, then the corpse in broad daylight. These pernicious cases that had rarely been seen the last ten years where now occurring more and more frequently in this jurisdiction, and directly at their branch. What would they face next? Who was this hidden enemy targeting, or threatening? Or to put it another way, who was this person trying to eliminate?

If the target was either Gu Zhichang or Little Wu then the goal had already been achieved. If it was just for fear that a fellow member would talk or be identified by the sketch, then the cost of eliminating the proof and the degree of viciousness enacted against one’s one gang member was really too extreme. The question was, was there a third possibility?

He noticed the eyes of the corpse were slightly opened. The proud, straight posture of the food stall boss appeared before his eyes. “I received the assignment and told the locals, don’t fear. Our public security is taking this case very seriously. There’s a portrait sketch. I recognized the murderer right away, he can’t escape. Our safety is guaranteed.” Then he thought of what Instructor Fan had said to him. “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.”

Zhang Chi opened his notebook and unfolded the printout of the on-duty schedule and looked for the duty roster for the day the crime was committed. To his astonishment, his name was listed there. Gu Zhichang had taken his shift for him!

He suddenly felt his throat was dry. He heard his own voice leave his mouth mechanically. “I need to find his prison buddy right away.”

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