Chapter 29 Julien Twenty-Eight
TL: QuantumC Editor: Isalee
First Published on Ainushi
Lang Qiao had never left the city before, except for the “learn-on-the-farm” trips in elementary school. So she didn’t get Mother He’s point right away: “Wait, do you mean … that the tree caught on fire, fell on their roof, lit and room and … killed everyone? So the whole family shared one room?”
“Their house was not in good condition.” Mother He explained softly, “You see… our village is poor. I remembered … it was not until after Zhongyi was born that people started revamping their houses with bricks. In their family, since the father couldn’t work to provide and there were many children, they barely made ends meet. How could they find the money to fix up the house? They could only stay in the old house. In winter, the snow had to be cleaned from the roof as quickly as possible, or else it would crush the roof.”
“After all those hard years of supporting the eldest son for his schooling, he finally graduated from college. The old couple felt very relieved, saying to neighbors that the son had found a job in the city, a well-paid job, and now the family could depend on him. They could finally build a new house, and the siblings could have a future too. At the time of the accident, they just finished tearing down the girls’ bedroom, so the girls slept on the floor in their parents’ room. When the burning tree fell, it broke the beam and killed the old couple instantly. One of the younger girls was trapped, and the older one – deaf and scared – only knew to keep pulling her sister but ended up losing her own life. The youngest one – barely two years old – had no chance either.”
Lang Qiao was aghast. While scribbling down the details on the notebook, she asked: “Right when they were rebuilding the house…Zhao Haochang at the time –– Zhao Fengnian –– where was he? In Yancheng City?”
Mother He pondered for a while: “No. I think he was back in the village at the time to help with the construction … But he was not home that day. He went to the nearby town to visit his teacher or something like that. Alas…if only he were there… The whole family was either young or handicapped. If only there were a healthy grown-up on scene, the tragedy could have been avoided.”
The appalling story gave Lang Qiao goosebumps: “But… How did they know that the fool did it?”
“The fool was there, holding a box of matches. When others arrived, they saw him lighting up the leaves in the yard and having fun as if the house was not burning right in front of his eyes. When they asked him if he did it, he giggled and nodded.”
“What happened next? What happened to him?”
“What else? That was the end of it. For a fool who knew nothing, who could’ve held him accountable? His parents were both gone, and his siblings all saw him as a burden. His sister-in-law made sure that everyone knew they had no money and assumed no responsibility over the fool. She asked them to execute him for all she cared. Even the town sheriff sent officers over to help with the case, but when they saw that the suspect was a fool, there wasn’t much that could be done. They only took some pictures and left.”
Lang Qiao exclaimed: “What bullshit! When minors or legally incompetent people commit a crime, the guardian is surely responsible for civil compensation!”
Mother He was completely lost and a bit intimidated by the charged and sharp-tempered police officer.
Lang Qiao and Mother He stared at each other in an awkward pause. Suddenly realizing that she had said something inappropriate, Lang Qiao blushed and lost her train of thought.
Right then, Fei Du, who had been silent the whole time, salvaged the conversation: “Do you remember what kind of a person this Zhao Fengnian was? Was he close with Zhongyi?”
“I don’t remember much. The eldest of the Zhao family was the most achieved young man of the whole village. Zhongyi and the other younger kids all looked up to him. I guess the older boy didn’t really care much about his admirers. He seldom spent time with them, and often found excuses to stay away. Regardless, they liked to hang out by his side. They called him ‘brother Fengnian’.” As if stirred by the memory, Mother He’s eyes were wet. Someone handed over a paper towel. She took it, and casually wiped away the tears. “The boy was quite well-mannered. When he was home, he always stayed in the room to read. Sometimes he helped out on the family farm. When running into other villagers, he usually greeted them politely, and then fell silent. He was never very wordy.”
Fei Du nodded ponderingly: “Later, this Zhao Fengnian never went back again.”
“No one knows where he went. Who would have guessed that he had changed his name in the city? He changed so much…” At this time, Mother He suddenly gasped. Her eyes slowly widened as if just waking from a dream: “It was the Zhao boy who drove me away yesterday? But… I didn’t notice a thing! He… How come he didn’t mention anything to me? Does he have anything to do with my son’s case?”
Fei Du sighed. Leaning forward, he spoke with a soft but calm voice: “They are still investigating. Could you tell them why you decided to go with him yesterday? What did he say to you?”
“He said…that he helps others in court cases for a living, and that a colleague with the last name “Liu” happened to be that rich man’s Lawy…Lau… –– the man at the police station last night.”
“Yes, lawyer. He said that Lawyer Liu had the evidence. Because of his conscience, he secretly gave the evidence to the police. However, it is all for naught because the murderer has lots of connections. The police wouldn’t dare to intervene. My son would die for nothing. He was sure of it…. I was very worried and asked him what to do. He said, in this world, you have to be willing to sacrifice everything to get justice –––”
When Lang Qiao’s call came in, Tao Ran was the acting interim chauffeur for Captain Luo who lived by the motto of “never leave the frontline due to minor wounds”. They were driving towards the West Yan University of Political Science and Law.
“I had someone dig through the files. Zhao Haochang couldn’t afford rent elsewhere when he was a fresh-grad. He lived in the Huashi Western district for almost a year. This explains why he was so familiar with that neighborhood. I also double checked with Lawyer Liu. He said that Zhao was indeed very interested in Zhang Donglai’s case. Before Zhang was discharged, Zhao followed the case very closely –– even more so than Zhang Ting.” Lang Qiao paused to catch her breath, then continued: “And Lawyer Liu confirmed that since the “tie incident” could make or break his whole career, he mentioned it to no one else besides the police, not even to his own wife. There is no way that Zhao Haochang would’ve known about it.”
Tao Ran’s cell-phone was on the speaker mode. Luo Wenzhou interjected: “He could argue that all rich men are the same. Or just say that he made up stories to fool Wang Xiujuan. ‘Sacrifice everything’ doesn’t necessarily mean suicide. He could say that he only meant to encourage her to cry her grievances in front of the crowd to draw more attention ––– it’s too wishy-washy. Do you have anything more solid?”
“Not yet. But his family tragedy was quite weird too, especially his quietness about it. If it happened to any ordinary villager, I could understand why the case might go unnoticed. But Zhao Haochang was already a lawyer himself when it happened. Could he really let it slide like that? He seems to be an expert at using the media and manipulating public opinion to his advantage.”
“File a report ASAP. Follow the required procedures and get me the files of the Zhao family case from the town’s police bureau.” Luo Wenzhou speculated, then said: “Can we track the cell phone that he gave He Zhongyi?”
Lang Qiao sighed: “Negative. It was an unregistered parallel good.”
Luo Wenzhou added: “How about that 10 grand?”
An indolent voice wafted over from beside Lang Qiao: “In some convoluted merging cases, the ‘trusted’ legal consultants usually get paid extra –– these types of under-the-table income sometimes take the form of plain cash. You won’t be able to track it.”
Luo Wenzhou: “…”
To be fair, It was only an objective comment. But coming from that someone, it sounded very much like a provocation.
Luo Wenzhou: “So, what genius inputs do we have from Sir Fei?”
A long silence. Just when Luo Wenzhou concluded that Fei Du only brought it up as a casual annoyance since it seemed like something he’d do, Fei spoke again: “I called Zhang Donglai this morning to ask whether he remembered his tie. Turns out he didn’t even realize that the tie had gone missing until I mentioned it. Took him quite some time to recall it. On the day of the Cheng Guang party, he was at work during the day. In the evening, he changed in his office for the party and left his daytime outfit there. A tie is too bulky to fit in the suit pocket. If it got lost during the change, then my previous deduction may be wrong –– at the time when Zhao Haochang took the tie, he might’ve not known that He Zhongyi was waiting for him outside the Mansion. Neither would he have known that he was about to kill a man with this tie. Therefore, his intentions for taking it is worth studying.”
“You mean, he simply wanted to steal.”
“With his income level, such an insignificant accessory shouldn’t be worth stealing,” said Fei Du, “Perhaps it was for a personal collection.”
Luo Wenzhou shivered: “…collection…of things from Zhang Donglai?”
“If I remember correctly, that was the first time that Zhang Donglai took him to a social occasion like the Cheng Guang party outside of work,” said Fei Du. “From He Zhongyi’s mom’s impression, this man seems to be an introvert. Perhaps he had special ways to commemorate important life events. Perhaps it’s a lead that’s worth following for you guys?”
“Er-lang(1), you still there? Apply for a permit to search Zhao Haochang’s home.” Luo Wenzhou was quick about the decision, and he hung up the phone right after Lang Qiao said yes. He then turned to Tao Ran and remarked: “The one who burnt his whole family was a fool; the one who strangled his fellow homeboy was Zhang Donglai –– not much better than a fool. Looks like our wondrous Lawyer Zhao has lived his whole life under the looming shadow of morons.”
Tao Ran’s lips moved, but didn’t speak.
Luo Wenzhou: “Vice Captain Tao, speak what is in your mind.”
“Nothing.” Tao Ran hesitated, “It’s not about this case per se…I was just…I had a very weird thought.”
“Bring it on. You won’t scare your captain.”
Tao Ran turned to exchange a look with him at the stoplight: “Say, what if there is someone who already knew who did it before we even solve the case?”
“Cut the crap.” Luo Wenzhou said, “Like you wouldn’t know it when you’ve killed a man? You’d need to have the police’s acknowledgement?”
Tao Ran asked: “But besides the murderer?”
Luo Wenzhou was thrown off-guard: “Tao Ran, what are you trying to say?”
At that time, the light turned green and the driver behind started honking at them. Tao Ran pursed his lips and pressed on the gas.
“Forget it.” He said, “I was just rambling. Sounds like the stories, I know ––– That’s the graduate college of the West Yan Uni of Poli-Sci-and-Law up ahead, right?”
“Yep.” Luo Wenzhou took out a folder, “Let me give Cui Ying a call first.”
The girl’s headshot, department, and phone number were all in the file. Right when Luo Wenzhou finished dialing, they saw a couple young people walk out from the back entrance of the graduate college building. One of the girls took out her cell phone from the purse and hesitated as if not sure whether or not to take an unfamiliar call.
Tao Ran peeked at the students, then took another look at the photo he had. He suddenly nudged Luo Wenzhou: “Look, is that the girl you’re looking for?”
As he spoke, the girl picked up the phone. A skeptical voice came out of Luo Wenzhou’s speaker simultaneously: “Hello?”
“It is her.” Luo Wenzhou jumped out of the car and raised his voice, “Hey, Cui Ying! Over here! To your right –––”
Her friends saw Cui Ying getting hit on by a handsome stranger on the street and started boo-hooting her jokingly. Baffled, the girl turned around. However, as soon as her eyes landed on the police license plate, her face paled. In the next second, she bolted out of there.
“What was that?” Luo Wenzhou asked Tao Ran as they chased the girl down: “A girl sees you and immediately gets scared away. Oh well Captain Tao…looks like you are going to be single forever.”
Tao Ran clenched his teeth: “You were the scary one!”
Luo Wenzhou had no plans for finding the lady of his life anyways, so apparently he didn’t care about being “the scary one” to ladies at all. The two made a great team – one chased from behind while the other cut her off from the front. Just as they were about the get her, the girl suddenly jumped onto the main road. A taxi whooshed by and honked at her sharply.
Luckily, Tao Ran quickly grabbed her back collar and yanked her back. The taxi barely missed her, while the wind stirred up by the whooping car blew up her long hair all over the place.
The poor taxi driver rolled down his window and yelled at them angrily. Tao Ran’s breath was still stuck in his chest so he could only wave back to express his apologies.
Twenty minutes later, Tao Ran and Luo Wenzhou took Cui Ying to a neat and tidy bubble tea place.
“Is this place okay? You picked it yourself. We’re next to the busiest street here. One shout and half the city will come to your rescue. You can text your friends and family too — tell them where you are now.” Luo Wenzhou threw his police badge on the table tartly: “My ID number is here. Feel free to take pictures and upload it to your Weibo — don’t include my picture though. Pixelate it out or photoshop me, or something.”
Cui Ying: “…”
Tao Ran ordered some drinks. To ease her mind, he didn’t touch the drinks at all but let the waiter placed them directly in front of her on the table. He then asked: “Why run away?”
Cui Ying looked down and remained silent.
“Are you afraid of police cars…or the police?” Tao Ran asked gently. Seeing that she did not reply, Tao Rao lowered his voice and said: “Perhaps this is good news to you: the Chief of the Huashi District Bureau, Wang Hongliang, was arrested last night.”
Cui Ying was obviously surprised. She finally looked up.
Luo Wenzhou knocked on the table: “Come on, be reasonable, Miss. Fix your glasses and look closely: have you ever seen such good-looking crooks? If I wanted money I’d simply use this face, alright? No need to risk breaking the law at all…”
“Don’t listen to his gibberish.” Tao Ran said, “Miss, I don’t know how we can earn your trust …”
Cui Ying interrupted softly: “Was Huang arrested also?”
Luo Wenzhou and Tao Ran exchanged a look.
She knew something indeed!
“Huang Jinglian.” Luo Wenzhou quit joking around. He found the picture of Huang’s arrest from his phone to show her, and continued: “He was arrested for drug dealing, misfeasance, and murder. I took him in myself last night. I’m wearing an honorable ‘fourragere’ for it on my back still…”
Cui Ying felt like saying something, but in the end she kept her mouth shut. She looked at the duo in doubt, trying hard to use her limited life experience to judge whether these two really caught Wang Hongliang, or if they were just faking it to fish information from her.
She couldn’t even tell if Luo Wenzhou’s police badge was real or fake.
“Miss,” said Tao Ran, “Do you know Chen Zhen personally? He is Chen Yuan’s brother. Last night, Chen Zhen was murdered. We arrested the murderer, but in order to hold the people behind it accountable, we need more evidence. Are you really going to let the bad guys go free?”
Cui Ying bit her lip hard. After hesitating for a long time, she finally said: “I…I’m not sure. I need to ask my professor.”
“Why ask someone else?”
“Because…he has it.”
Tao Ran was taken by surprise. He asked: “What is it that he has? Did Chen Yuan give you something to keep for her?”
Luo Wenzhou elbowed him underneath the table.
Luo Wenzhou gestured a “please” at Cui Ying: “Sure. Feel free to make the call now.”
Cui Ying took out her cell phone and found “Professor Zhao” in her address book. She dialed twice, but then said in surprise: “He is not picking up…”
Of course not. The man had been squatting in the ‘little dark room’ (2) since last night.
In all seriousness, Luo Wenzhou took out a notebook: “How about this: you can give us your professor’s contact number, and we can go talk to him directly.”
Cui Ying hesitated again.
“Two weeks before Chen Yuan’s passing, she called you. We really need to know what she said to you during that call. In any case, we already have the time frame for the event so it’s easy to find out which “Professor Zhao” you contacted around that time. But we came to you first, merely to save some trouble.” Luo Wenzhou added, “Help us or not, it’s your call. Doesn’t make much difference to us … you have already been quite helpful actually.”
Cui Ying was visibly panicking. She seemed convinced.
“His name is Zhao Haochang. He is actually our alumni. For one of the lab classes, he was invited to be our mentor. I was his student for three months,” the naive girl confessed. Then she gave them a string of numbers: “This is his contact number.”
Luo Wenzhou studied her expressions for a while, then suddenly said: “If I remember correctly, Chen Yuan did not continue with graduate school after college. Instead, she went directly to work. I’m guessing that Professor Zhao probably doesn’t know her personally?”
Cui Ying didn’t realize that he was setting her up. She shook her head: “No, he doesn’t know her.”
“I see…so she gave you something very important, a matter of life and death for her, really. She can’t let others find it. Even her twin brother didn’t know anything about it.” Luo Wenzhou said, “You were terrified by what you saw. You didn’t know what to do with the thing, so you went to someone you trusted and gave it to him — something like that?”
Cui Ying looked embarrassed. She didn’t reply.
Luo Wenzhou: “Such a deep-trusting relationship. This professor of yours must be really good-looking I assume?”
Cui Ying blushed.
On the one hand, it was some cop that she barely knew, while on the other, it was her crush. It was easy to imagine what her reaction would be if they told her that Zhao Haochang had been arrested.
Luo Wenzhou secretly sighed in relief for having kept Zhao’s arrest from her. “But what next? Do I have to seduce her to get the info?” he thought.
He looked at the nervous girl. Suddenly, an idea flashed into his mind—
(1). Er-lang: a nickname that Luo Wenzhou made up for Lang Qiao. The “Er” means “two”. “Lang” because it’s her last name. Er-lang together means “second son”. There is a famous Er-lang in the Chinese mythology who is a three-eyed god warrior (full name “Er-lang Shen”, i.e. the Er-lang god). I’m not sure if the author meant to reference it here.
(2). ‘Little dark room’: the interrogation room