Chapter 31: Julien Thirty
TL: QuantumC, Editor: MochiMochi
First Published on Ainushi.
Unlike the sleep-deprived Officer Tao or the hospital ex-con Captain Luo, Director Fei was dressed fancy enough for an award ceremony.
The man had managed to change once again. This time it was still a semi-formal outfit, abstinent and inviting at the same time. His long hair was perfectly groomed to flatten and fluff where it should; his metal-framed non-prescription glasses – a signature pick of the gentleman beasts – were back on; even his cologne changed.
Like the other officers, Fei Du stayed up almost the entirety of last night looking for Wang Xiujuan. Some said he accompanied her at the interrogation this morning too. God knows how he found the time to groom himself.
Granted that Luo Wenzhou has never doubted his own rank on the world’s handsomeness index, under such a stark contrast, he still had a hard time suppressing the urge to knock down this peacock in front of him with a punch – especially when this peacock was clearly glancing at him maliciously through those glasses.
Luo Wenzhou cleared his throat and managed to switch his tone abruptly from an angry embarrassment to a candid sincerity.
He said, in all seriousness: “Our men found Zhao Haochang’s secret dungeon and found some things in the basement. It was quite close to what you suspected. I have to say, with all my respect Mr. Fei, that you are truly a pro. A professional psychopath for twenty years.”
Tao Ran squeezed out some words between his teeth, as if he was having a toothache: “I feel a little awkward right now… if you guys know what I mean…”
Helplessly abashed by his own man, the poor Captain Luo continued sourly: “So, what are you here for again? Don’t you have a company to run? Or is it bankrupt already?”
“I’m just helping out He Zhongyi’s mom. Here to check on the progress of the investigation.” Fei Du answered, while knocking on his watch, “And, since you seem to be suffering from Alzheimer’s, let me give you a friendly reminder: it is now 6 pm on a Saturday evening. Both the day and the time should ring a bell that it is clearly out of working hours.”
Luo Wenzhou: “…”
“Ge,” Fei Du turned to Tao Ran, “Even if you are working overtime voluntarily, somebody should at least honor it with gratitude. Isn’t it the most basic form of manners for a man? A boss who forgets weekends and holidays is a piece of garbage – a close second to one who forgets paychecks – you’re lucky that you don’t get your paycheck from this guy.”
The city gate was on fire, and Tao Ran was the only fish in the moat — Fish Tao calmly put out the battle fire that was splashed on him, and said: “…Let’s talk about Lang Qiao’s new discovery.”
Lang Qiao felt goosebumps on her scalp. Standing next to the cleaning closet, she unprecedentedly rubbed her face with unwashed hands.
The basement was decorated like an old library. Wooden shelves stood from the floor to the ceiling. Each level was divided into compartments, and each cell held a transparent glass jar. The jars were filled with a variety of things, each with a tag and labeled with a date and an event.
A stream of cold, musty, and eccentric smell engulfed her. Lang Qiao felt that her hair was standing on end.
For a split second, she thought that the jars were the ones used for specimen samples in a laboratory.
But what unnerved her the most wasn’t those gigantic shelves. It was the floor lamp in the middle of the room.
The body of the lamp was shaped like a tree, with a very weird design – the bottom was a crooked tree trunk that was broken from the middle. The hollow trunk was filled with light bulbs and once the lamp was turned on, light flew from the broken “scar” of the trunk. All of the branches were barren and covered with small pieces of light tubes. From afar, it looked like the tree was on fire.
The investigation crew were jotting down the contents of the tags and the jars.
Zhao Haochang was very organized. From left to right, the jars were arranged in strict chronological order. The earliest one was marked “college”. From the recorded time it looked like it was the day that Zhao Haochang – Zhao Fengnian – got on the train to leave the H Province to go to college.
To be fair, going to college was indeed something special to remember. However, normal people would most likely keep their admission letter as a commemoration. Zhao Haochang, on the other hand, kept a sausage.
When the police took it down, the sausage – long past its best-eaten-before date – was still neatly wrapped in its original packaging.
His strange collections went beyond this. Many items were collected during his college years, such as cotton socks, bracer, usb drive, and many other insignificant gadgets. The collections and their tags were very confusing and befuddling to an outsider.
“Qiao-er,” A nimble colleague asked, as he climbed up the ladder to take out the jars on the upper shelves, “Do you really think these junks are useful? — A small tea cup for Kungfu Tea, and the tag says “internship”… Wait, what the heck is that?”
He picked up the next jar and studied it closely: “The tag says “liberation. The commemorative item is…a… mop cloth?”
Lang Qiao looked up, her pupils suddenly constricted: “Give it to me!”
With gloved hands, she carefully took down the glass jar. Her heart tumbled, and her body trembled in the damp and cold basement — it was a dirty oversleeve covered in grease. Under the light of the floor lamp, the dated grease glimmered. Looking closely, the original pattern of the fabric could still be discerned.
She remembered, from the scanned photographs of the arson sent over by the town’s police, that the mentally retarded suspect only wore one oversleeve!
“Little Lang,” someone called for her from the right-most shelf, “Come and see this!”
It was Saturday evening. Zhao Haochang had already spent some unbearable twenty hours in the Bureau.
Even for the most well-groomed and well-mannered man, one sleepless stressful night was enough to tarnish that face with stubbles and sebum.
The night was hard on him, but Zhao Haochang still maintained his dignified sitting posture and expressionless face. Seeing Luo Wenzhou enter the room, he even raised his chin arrogantly.
“Hello, Lawyer Zhao. Let me first get two things out of the way. Firstly, we haven’t reached 24 hours of custody yet, so there is still some time for the two of us to chat. Secondly, no one stopped you from calling a lawyer, and no one abused you with any cruel interrogation methods, right? Well, if you insist that our cafeteria’s abhorrent meal has scarred your appetite or your stomach, I have nothing to say to that – we absolutely do not have the kind of budget to call for restaurant take-outs. Regarding these two points, does Lawyer Zhao have any objections?”
Luo Wenzhou hasn’t even sat down yet when he’s already taken over Zhao Haochang’s prepared speech.
Zhao Haochang’s eyelids twitched, as if instigated by Luo’s attitude. He hid the irritation, and pretended that he couldn’t care less: “You look familiar… I’m sorry, who are you?”
Luo Wenzhou was a bit surprised. But instead of being provoked, he was amused. Chuckling, he fixed his seat and replied lightheartedly: “Who, me? Why don’t you take a guess. You look very smart.”
Zhao Haochang had been sitting there for so long that his whole body was stiff, including the corner of his mouth – it should have delivered a well rehearsed smirk but instead it just twitched awkwardly: “No need. It’s not like our paths would cross again.”
Luo Wenzhou spun the pen in his hand and said: “You broke into the Twin Towers in the East Huashi District, loosened the safety fence on the roof of the A tower. That almost led to…”
Before he finished, Zhao Haochang cut him off impatiently: “I’ve said it so many times – I did not know that someone was going to jump off the building at that spot, on that evening. If you charge me for messing with public property and causing public safety hazard — fine, I admit to it. I apologize. I could write confession letters. I will pay the fines. Sir, not everyone gets to bask in taxpayer money. Some of us have to work, and the pressure from living can get very high. Sometimes, just to relax, I might have crossed the line a little. I will learn from this incident and never do it again in the future. Okay? Thank you! Could you please not repeat the same words to me each time a new person comes in this room?”
Luo Wenzhou let him finish his long speech, and replied with a smile: “Man, in all of my working years, I’ve seldom seen a suspect as cocky as Lawyer Zhao.”
Zhao Haochang replied coldly: “Sir what’s-his-name, please be careful with your wording. On what grounds are you calling me a ‘suspect’?”
Luo Wenzhou retracted the smile and crossed his arms: “I do have a couple of things that I’d like to ask Lawyer Zhao.”
Zhao Haochang paused. He measured Luo’s body language, then “generously” nodded and gestured a “please” at Luo Wenzhou.
“First off, the lady who almost fell from the building yesterday saw your picture, and recognized you as “Zhao Fengnian”, from the same village as her. Do you agree?”
As soon as he heard the words “Zhao Fengnian”, Zhao Haochang’s breath became visibly heavier. His pale face was as cold and solemn as a brick. His poisonous eyes darted at Luo Wenzhou.
Luo Wenzhou wasn’t affected at all. He glanced at the files banally, and said: “According to her testimony, we did a little research about Lawyer Zhao’s background. Accordingly, you were born in a remote village of the T city, H Province. Your old legal name was “Zhao Fengnian”. Both of your parents were farmers, and both were handicapped. You have three younger siblings. Quite a rough upbringing.”
The more Luo Wenzhou continued, the colder Zhao Haochang’s face turned.
Right then, Luo Wenzhou looked up from the files into Zhao’s eyes, and sighed: “Looks like Lawyer Zhao really fought hard to get where you are now. I guess your village doesn’t normally have any college graduates, right? Not to mention the Ivy-leagues. And yet look at you, already wearing the skin of an elite. Oh, and I don’t really hear any accent from your speech — Do you speak Chinglish at home too?”
Zhao Haochang’s hands started shaking uncontrollably, as if he was ready to punch Luo Wenzhou into the ground.
“And, I forgot this, sorry, “ Luo Wenzhou kept rubbing it in, “I heard that you haven’t gone back to your hometown for a long time. Now that’s not very nice, Lawyer Zhao. Your village brothers supported your education for all those years. How can one forget that?”
Zhao Haochang pounded on the table so hard that it buried Luo Wenzhou’s voice. He tried to stand up, his bottom already leaving the chair and his whole body leaning forward as though he was a beast ready to attack. But a couple breaths later, Zhao Haochang somehow managed to tame his rage, and sat back down.
“Really? What a coincidence. I don’t really know.” Zhao Haochang answered, each word coming out with screeches through his teeth, “I left home for so many years, and I don’t quite remember those people, the villagers. And also, Sir, I supported myself through college by loans and scholarships. I paid for my own train tickets. No one “supported” my education. As for when, or if, I visit my hometown, that is none of your business.”
Luo Wenzhou: “Upholding the moral standards of society is part of our duty as well.”
Zhao Haochang’s mouth inched up: “Hah, so you guys are like the fancy version of the ethics committee. No wonder why so many big cases ended up in the file drawer.”
“Thanks for your criticism.” Luo Wenzhou saw that he had successfully infuriated the target. Shrugging indifferently, he suddenly switched topics: “Speaking of big cases, I happen to have one here that I’d love to hear your thoughts on.”
He pulled out a photo from the files and placed it in front of Zhao Haochang: “This girl’s name is Chen Yuan. She died a couple months ago of drug overdose. She went to the same college as you.”
The enraged Zhao Haochang was taken aback by the sudden change in topic. He answered dryly: “That’s too bad.”
“There is more. Two weeks before her death, she contacted a college classmate named Cui Ying, and handed her some important evidence which could accuse the Chief Officer of the Huashi Sub-Bureau of participating in drug-dealing.” Luo Wenzhou stared into Zhao’s eyes and continued: “We just went to visit this girl. She gave us the evidence, and also mentioned you.”
Zhao Haochang’s pupils twitched. On his knees, his fists tightened, as if quickly sorting through things to look for what he had missed.
Luo Wenzhou: “Cui Ying said that she told you Chen Yuan’s story, and you stopped her from reporting it to the police. Is that true?”
“Yes.” Zhao Haochang quickly found the best strategy. He sat upright and replied: “I did see that video recording. It was appalling. But where can I report it to? Sir, even when I’m sitting right here in front of you, I don’t know whether you are a wolf in sheep’s clothing or not. What if you are from the same pack of scum as those cops? Why would I report it and get myself in trouble? We are just ordinary citizens with very limited resources. All we could do is to protect ourselves. What is wrong with that?”
“Nothing.” Luo wenzhou said, then asked, “So what did you do after hearing it?”
“I went to check out that place on the video. “ Zhao Haochang said, “But I dared not linger for long. Because once when I drove by, I was noticed by some iffy drug-dealers. They stared at my car for a long time. At that time I realized how dangerous it was. So I urged Cui Ying not to tell anyone else and not to report it to the police. We pretended that it never happened.”
Luo Wenzhou slightly lowered his voice: “Cui Ying said you once told her… that if you were to kill someone, you’d throw the body at the drug-dealing site in West Huashi District, because the cops would never check it. Is this true?”
The corner of Zhao’s eyes jittered uncontrollably. After a while, he finally took a deep breath and said: “I’ve always been kind to Cui Ying. We have the same advisor in college. I’ve always tried to protect her, and I don’t know why she would say that. It was obviously just a joke. I could have said it, or not – either way, how come a joke could be used as evidence against someone? Last time I checked, we were still living in a modern society, not the Tsing Dynasty’s era of literary terror…”
Before he finished the sentence, Luo Wenzhou cut him off: “Where were you on the evening of May 20th?”
Zhao Haochang replied instantly: “I went to the Cheng Guang Mansion with some friends. Then they drove me to my office to finish some work. I stayed there until close to midnight.”
“Where is your office?”
“We have obtained the security footage from the No. 34 bus. “Luo Wenzhou cut him short again, and pressured: “The victim, He Zhongyi, got off the bus at 9:10 on that evening at Wenchang Road, and was murdered right after. To muddy the water, the murderer moved his body to the West Huashi District, which happened to be a drug-dealing site. Regarding this, do you have anything to say?”
Outside of the interrogation room, Tao Ran whispered: “He was infuriated from the beginning. Then, suddenly learning that Cui Ying had sold him out, he lost control a little bit. Now when Cap’ Luo mentioned the security footage from the No. 34 bus, he visibly panicked.”
Fei Du fixed his glasses: “Ge, are you breaking any rules to let me in like this?”
“It’s fine.” Tao Ran said, “Chief Lu signed the special permission. He is busy interrogating Wang Hongliang right now, otherwise he’d like to meet you in person.”
Fei Du pondered, then concluded that there was really nothing fun about meeting a wrinkled old man in person. With a deprecating shrug, he turned to look at Zhao Haochang.
Zhao Haochang was caught off guard at first, his whole body froze there. However, before long he was back on his feet again. As if realizing something, a smirk emerged on the corner of his mouth.
“He is more irritable than average, and more prone to feeling offended, especially when others attack at his soft spots.” Fei Du shook his head, and said, “But under such circumstances he could still remain calm and rational – what a piece of work. If not for this incident, I’d be willing to hire him as a legal consultant.”
“He got off at Wenchang road.” Zhao Haochang slowly repeated the sentence, “And then? What happened between then and his murder? You have no idea, right?”
Luo Wenzhou’s faked ease gradually faded. His face looked solemn.
“You have nothing.” Zhao Haochange slightly leaned back on the chair, “A piece of joke, a security footage without context, and you wished to trick me into confessing?”
Luo Wenzhou remained silent. The embarrassing silence seeped out from the cramped interrogation room. He seemed at his wit’s end.
Zhao Haochang laughed uncontrollably, as if suddenly “remembering” who the defeated police officer in front of him really was.
“Captain Luo, you guys really need to work harder.” He said, flaunting his diamond-inlaid luxury watch at Luo Wenzhou and tapping on it: “It’s almost 24 hours since my arrest. Looks like you got nothing more to ask. May I be dismissed early? If not, then a bed for me would be nice. I could use some sleep.”
Somehow, Luo Wenzhou found his watch-tapping very irritating. He stared at him wordlessly.
Zhao Haochang found Luo’s expression very amusing. He successfully controlled his rage, but didn’t bother to control his arrogance: “Let me give you some advice. Captain Luo, not everyone will fall for your outdated questioning techniques. Don’t think too much of yourself.”
As he spoke, he stood up, took a stretch, and fixed the collar of his suit very pretentiously.
“Zhao Fengnian, “ Luo Wenzhou finally spoke again, in a very soft tone: “Don’t think too much of yourself. In the basement of the No. 12 Feng Qing Winery in the northwestern suburbs, something is lying awake, waiting for your return.”
Zhao Haochang’s smirk was frozen on his face.
Luo Wenzhou knocked on the table with his index finger: “Can you explain to me why He Zhongyi’s old cell phone appeared at your house?”