Chapter 32: Julien Thirty-one
TL: QuantumC, Editor: MochiMochi
Following a loud squeaking sound, the door to the interrogation room opened. In came two expressionless police officers. They pressed on Zhao’s shoulders and pushed him back into his chair. A pair of shiny handcuffs clicked his “expensive” wrists together. The metal cuffs and his metal watch band seemed weirdly in harmony.
Delicate, cold, and sharp.
Observing from outside, Fei Du suddenly commented, while squinting his eyes: “You guys make great handcuffs, you know? Do I get a pair as a souvenir?”
Tao Ran didn’t get him at first: “What do you need handcuffs for?”
Fei Du turned and looked at him, then decided to shut up, as if realizing that he went a bit too far. He replied with a simple, yet loaded, curving of his peach blossom eyes.
Tao Ran, the obtuse straight guy whose life was filled with housing loans and overtime work, took quite some time to comprehend what Fei Du was talking about. Vice Captain Tao found it difficult to appreciate the wild and indulgent lifestyle of these “bourgeoisies”. This one in front of him in particular seemed quite like a piece of pollutant at the moment, so he lectured with utmost righteousness: “One more word of this nonsense and you’re out of here.”
With an awkward dry cough, Fei Du sat upright, put away his inner Don Juan, and kept his mouth shut.
The icy cold handcuffs made Zhao Haochang shiver. When he found his voice again, he vainly argued: “Wait, what house…”
Luo Wenzhou coldly stopped him right there: “Do you deny ownership of the property? Lawyer Zhao, this wouldn’t be in line with the security camera footage at Feng Qing Winery.”
Zhao Haochang finally lost control of his facial expression. His uneasiness surfaced, the handcuffs clattering in panic.
Luo Wenzhou took the time to enjoy his new expression, then gently added: “Besides, who told you that we didn’t locate He Zhongyi after he left the bus station at Wenchang Road?”
“Murder, moving the body, misleading the police, framing others, even encouraging and facilitating the suicide of an innocent woman — Zhao Haochang, we now have plenty of evidence to show that you are responsible for all of these. Do you have anything else to say?” Luo Wenzhou suddenly paused and glanced at Zhao Haochang, wearing a belittling smirk of a privileged high-born. Then, he plunged a dagger of words right into Zhao Haochang’s heart:
“After all these years of hard work, just when you thought you were this close to making it, one wrong step and you are all the way at the bottom again. This time, as a murderer too. ‘Whatever will be will be’. What can I say, Zhao Fengnian? I pity you.”
Zhao Haochang reacted with a hysterical cry, as if someone had pushed a needle into his chest: “What kind of evidence is that? Did you have it on camera that I killed someone? Hah? Did you find my fingerprint or my DNA on that damn phone? Zhang Donglai’s fingerprint was clearly on that tie – isn’t that the absolute evidence, stronger than all of the rest? Why come after me? Just because that Zhang Donglai is a relative of your Police Chief? Because he’s got money? Come on – faking evidence and framing the innocents, isn’t that what you cops do best? Who knows if that cell-phone…”
Zhao Haochang’s loud accusation halted as he suddenly realized, and understood the mockery and the slight pity in Luo Wenzhou’s eyes. Something exploded in his head, and he felt all of his blood leaving it and rushing to the end of his stiff limbs.
Luo Wenzhou rested his elbows on the desk, leaning slightly forward and looking straight into Zhao Haochang’s bloodshot eyes: “Zhang Donglai’s fingerprints were clearly on the tie? Lawyer Zhao, you are so much better than our forensics. Because measuring and testing with their equipment takes forever, yet here you are, ‘knowing’ it from just ‘guessing’.”
Zhao Haochang was stunned silent. Cold sweat dripped down from his greasy hair. When the cold air from the AC flew by, he shuddered uncontrollably.
Luo Wenzhou sneered. As if a cat that’s done enough torturing with its prey, he lost interest in Zhao Haochang. Pushing the chair in, he stood up and nodded casually at the two officers guarding the room: “The suspect — we can call you that now, right? Lawyer Zhao — the corpus delicti of murder by this suspect is established. The rest of the details should be pretty straightforward. You guys go ahead. I’m not wasting more time with him.”
Luo Wenzhou started walking out. At that time, Zhao Haochang suddenly banged his handcuffs together loudly and started struggling against the guards. He shouted: “Wait! I…it was justifiable defense!”
Luo Wenzhou looked back at him with a dropped jaw. He suddenly realized that the so-called elegance and grace were nothing but thin paper, breakable with a single light poke. Without the paper mask, a discomfited soul was exposed, wallowing in a muddy pool of self-pity. Ironically, when Tao Ran’s team was handling the group fight incident last week, the illiterate head of the mob said exactly the same thing in his defense. Looks like when pushed to their extremes, the bright and shiny lawyer Zhao Haochang wasn’t much better than the school guard Yu Lei, who knew practically nothing about the law.
“Did I hear you wrong?” Luo Wenzhou slightly leaned back, “Lawyer Zhao, you, a professional lawyer, an elite in your profession, call this ‘justifiable self-defense’? Did the bat-swing you gave He Zhongyi actually land on your own head?”
Zhao Haochang’s face looked very ugly. He glared at Luo Wenzhou with malicious enmity, and squeezed out some words from between his teeth: “He Zhongyi was involved in drug-dealing. He kept pestering me, and I didn’t know what else to do. I had no other way.“
“He Zhongyi was involved in drug-dealing?” Luo Wenzhou’s voice sank, “How do you know?”
Zhao Haochang couldn’t stop shaking. He put his cuffed hands back on his lap. His hands were so tightly fisted that the nails could almost pierce through his palm. But he seemed to feel none of it: “I have evidence. I have evidence! I know you are looking into Chen Yuan’s case. I am the key witness! I can cooperate, but you have to promise me leniency on my case.”
Luo Wenzhou glanced at the security camera. Through the lenses and the screen, his glance met those of Fei Du on the outside.
Fei Du’s arms were crossed in front of him. Looking interested, he leaned forward and muttered something.
Tao Ran: “What?”
“He thought he had the upper hand at first. Then quickly he was hit hard on his weak spot. Panicked and enraged, he accidentally gave you guys something that he shouldn’t have. One careless move and he forfeited the whole game. Yet he was quick to reassess the situation, patch up his testimony, and figure out what you guys wanted that he had, turning it to his advantage again.” Fei Du murmured, “It reminds me of the centipede in the swamp.”
The centipede goes on wriggling even after it’s dead.
Luo Wenzhou sat back in front of Zhao Haochang: “Go on.”
Zhao took a deep breath: “I need your promise. And a clean towel and a cup of coffee.”
In the interrogation room, clashes of wits and trickeries happen, and everything is fair game. Luo Wenzhou weighed the situation and concluded that his “promise” wasn’t really worth a dime. So he nodded generously: “Deal.”
A moment later, a delicate bone china tray was sent in, with well-arranged wet towels, paper napkins, and a cup of aromatic hot coffee. There was even some fancy coffee treats and a rose wet with morning dew. Luo Wenzhou could just tell from the smell of it that it was the doing of that douchebag Fei.
The recorder and the guards looked at each other and sighed silently — they didn’t even get this kind of treatment when working overtime during the Spring Festival!
Zhao Haochang’s face looked slightly less grim. Through the flower he seemed to have regained some of his dignity. That dignity allowed him to keep his back straight and talk like a human.
“At the end of last year, I attended a meeting in the East Huashi District, as a legal consultant. We were planning on drinking that day, so I did not drive. As I was looking for a cab after the meeting, I found that I had been followed.” Zhao Haochang took his time to enjoy the refreshment. After a sip of the coffee, he slowly let out a long breath, and closed his eyes. “The Mandheling blend? It’s a bit too strong.”
“Was it He Zhongyi who was following you?”
“Yes. He recognized me, and asked for money from me.” Zhao Haochang’s voice became steady again. His flimsy eyes regained confidence and he looked back at Luo Wenzhou: “It was a blackmail. 100 thousand.”
Luo Wenzhou measured Zhao up — a pretty face, a strongly built body, coupled with the skin of an elite. It’s not like he’d be forced into anything by the frail boy He Zhongyi. “And you gave it to him?” He asked.
“I gave it to him. You guys should be able to track it.” Zhao Haochang’s mouth pursed. After a whole night in the ‘little-dark-room’(1), his pale face and dark circles around the eyes made those eye sockets look even more sunken and gloomy. “Both of my parents were handicapped. Including me, they had four children. Two of them had disabilities. They couldn’t support me through middle school. I stopped taking any money from them since then. I collected cicada sloughs, I carried baggage for others with my back, I TAed for the teachers. I even went into the mountains in the middle of the night to pick mushrooms and berries to sell them in the morning market… I did all kinds of things, all to support myself through schooling. One day I am going to succeed.”
“But do you know how the villagers talked about me? They said that we were the ‘dumb’ family. After I finished high school and got into college, those people finally started kissing up to us. Our house was then crowded with admirers. They came and went, all trying to introduce their dumb daughters or sisters to me.”
“But in my junior year, my youngest brother was born. He was the long anticipated second son of the family. But same as my second sister, he was born dumb and deaf, with handicaped intelligence. It was a nightmare. Since then, we became the ‘dumb’ family once again. It is genetic. My children in the future could be like that too, do you understand? My career is taking off. I even have a girlfriend now. I love her very much. I can’t let those rats in the gutter talk nonsense in front of her. So I had to do as he asked, and give him the money.”
Luo Wenzhou took out a cigarette from the case, and put it between his lips. Behind a light sheer of white smoke, he studied Zhao Haochang: “Rats in the gutter?”
Zhao Haochang was shameless and gutsy indeed. Even then, he didn’t falter, and looked right into Luo Wenzhous eyes: “Captain Luo, you are a Yan-cheng local, am I right? Then you must have no idea how hard it is to live alone in those group renting apartments in the West district. I never dared to go out with my classmates. I was always working my head off to get the scholarships. After graduation I was working my head off to earn money to send home. My parents didn’t know what my life was like. All they knew was to ask for more. Because of my little brother’s condition, they even planned to have another one, despite being almost 50, and they planned to give that kid to me. The gossip and pressure they got from the villagers ended up on my shoulder.”
“My family, yes, it was almost sucking me dry. Yet I had no complaints. I wanted them to have a good life in the countryside. I even went home to help them with refurbishing the house. God knows, I only left the town for one night, and when I came back, the house was burnt to the ground from a silly accident, and my parents, my siblings…all gone. None survived….I was devastated. And then, guess what? Rumor had it that I had something to do with that fire!”
Getting to the point.
Luo Wenzhou asked emotionlessly: “Oh. Then did you? Have anything to do with it?”
Zhao Haochang’s mouth tensed. He was indignant: “Listen to yourself! What kind of brute are you?”
Luo Wenzhou crossed one leg while impassively staring at Zhao Haochang, until finally, at the brink of Zhao’s collapse, Luo finally flicked the cigarette ashes and smiled lightly: “Alright, you are pure and innocent, with a heart-wrenching backstory. Now tell me more about He Zhongyi.”
“I buried my past. I buried my name. I left my hometown for good, and thought that I was finally free from that maddening slum. Who knew that after barely a couple years of good life, that piece of sh*t He Zhongyi would’ve found me again. He said that it wasn’t the first time that he had seen me, that he had even seen my girlfriend. He threatened that if I didn’t give him the money, he’d tell Zhang Ting about my genetic weaknesses and my family history. He’d tell her the truth about that fire.” As he talked about it, Zhao Haochang could no longer keep his calmness. His anger and hatred boiled up to the surface and drowned the smell of the coffee, swamping the room like something palpable and concrete. “They have already destroyed the first half of my life and now they are coming for the rest of it. All of my hard work, my dreams, and my hope would turn into bubbles once these disgusting worms crawl over. Why?”
Luo Wenzhou: “So you decided to kill him?”
“I didn’t.” Zhao Haochang’s chest moved up and down as he panted heavily, “I only wanted to handle it quietly. I even gave him 100 thousand dollars, only to ask him not to mention me in front of others. But it was not enough for him. He came back to me, again and again…I was prepared to be his cash cow for the long term. I even bought a new cell phone number just to contact him.”
“Then I was invited by my old advisor to lead a field-study class at my old university. There I met Cui Ying, an easygoing and timid student. She trusted me, and asked my opinion on everything. One day she called me, panicking, and tried to tell me something important. I sensed that something wasn’t right, so I stopped her right there. I told her not to say it over the phone, and asked to meet her at… a private location.”
“She showed you Chen Yuan’s video.”
“I was shocked. But to protect Cui Ying, I asked her not to tell anyone. That night, I was sleepless. Following my conscience, I decided to go to the West district – since I’m very familiar with it – to see if the evidence held up. “ Zhao Haochang’s voice was down to a whisper: “I saw…I saw He Zhongyi and another gangly young man hanging out together. I stayed there until dusk, and spotted that other youngster sneaking out to the block of Guanjing West Road. It was one of the drug dealing sites mentioned in Chen Yuan’s letter – he was an addict!”
From this depiction, it seemed like Ma Xiaowei.
As if trying to calm himself, Zhao Haochang drank a mouthful of the coffee: “That addict took the drugs home – I followed him all the way and saw him going back ‘home’. He turned on the light, and shadows were cast on the curtain. That He Zhongyi was sharing the drug with him! Then he broke his words and went to bother Zhang Ting despite the money. I caught him right at the scene.”
“The time that Zhang Donglai beat him up while you stood and watched?”
“Zhang Donglai beat him up. He didn’t dare to fight back, no. But his eyes were on me the whole time.” Zhao Haochang grunted, “He was plotting revenge. I knew it. I was scared. Afterwards, I went to him and yielded, again. I gave him what he wanted.”
“That cell phone.” Said Luo Wenzhou.
“He mentioned it to me many times, saying that others were using it and how he wished he could too.”
Bored, Luo Wenzhou swung a pen between his fingers, then knocked on the desk with it: “Okay. Granted that he went to Zhang Ting. But from a silhouette on the curtain, you jumped right to him doing drugs. Do you have X-ray eyes…”
“I told you that I have evidence!” Zhao Haochang forcefully cut him off, “I placed two screw-head mini cameras in the Golden-Triangle Space.”
Both Luo Wenzhou in the interrogation room and Tao Ran and the team outside were surprised — No one noticed any camera when screening the scene!
“Of course, not on the scene. Or else those garbages would have found it long ago.” Zhao Haochang seemed to have guessed what Luo was thinking. With a disdainful look, he said, “The backalleys in the West district are complex and intertwined. Roads get blocked where you’d least expect them to; secretive places can be completely exposed – as long as you find the right angle. I put one of the cameras on the window beam of He Zhongyi’s apartment, and the other one on the roof of a nearby public lavatory.”
The recorder on the side was jotting like crazy trying to take down all the information.
Luo Wenzhou: “Did you get anything?”
“I got their transactions in the Golden Triangle Space a couple times. Sometimes there were only the drug dealers. Sometimes you crooked cops were patrolling right by them, being their scouting dogs.”
Luo Wenzhou asked immediately: “The camera footage, where is it?”
“There is a safe box underneath the floor lamp in my basement. Be my guest.” Zhao Houchang answered generously, “Once you’re done you’ll know that I’m only telling the truth. He Zhongyi was very careful. Usually he asked his friend to be at the front. But on the evening of the 20th, my cameras caught him using the phone that I gave him to sell drugs — you should be able to track a text message going to his phone. It was an instruction for a temporary location change.”
Luo Wenzhou looked at him in a strange way. Then, suddenly he asked: “On He Zhongyi’s forehead there was a piece of paper, with the word “money” written on it. The paper was torn from a craft paper bag, the one that He took when he went to see you that night. Was it you?”
“Yes.” Zhao Haochang answered while raising his brow: “He followed me, all the way to the Chengguang Mansion, and asked to see me to talk about the money — there were 20 thousand dollars in that bag. Captain Luo, let me ask you: besides selling drugs, how the hell could a poor country boy from out of town manage to get 20 thousand dollars?”
Luo Wenzhou didn’t know what to say.
“Let me ask you again: How would you feel when a drug addict who had been blackmailing you suddenly showed up and gave you back your money? Would you gladly take it, thinking that he had washed his hands clean? Of course he was covetting something more from you! With the 20 thousands, he’s hoping to get 200 thousands out of your pocket! These greedy slumdogs – what else do they know beside money?” Zhao Haochang’s sunken eyes were like two deep wells, trapping the lights and spitting out nothing but cold, empty darkness, “I only wanted to protect myself. I strangled one evil soul, you’re welcome! Sir, when you lot of termites and wasted scum lie around and do nothing, who could blame me for taking action in your stead?”
“Well said, Lawyer Zhao. Thank you for the lesson.” Luo Wenzhou nodded peacefully, “Can you let us know the passcode to your safe? We need to verify the details for He Zhongyi’s crime.”
The officer on the side handed him pen and paper. With a cold smirk on his face, Zhao Haochang jotted down the code without hesitation.
Luo Wenzhou texted the number to Lang Qiao at Feng Qing Winery immediately. Five minutes later, he received Langqiao’s confirmation.
“Thank you.” Luo Wenzhou stood up, and smiled while he said: “Lawyer Zhao, I have two more things to share with you. Mind if I take a couple more minutes of your time?”
Zhao Haochang now had to raise his head to look up at him.
“First,” Luo Weizhou raise one finger, “He Zhongyi’s forensic report shows that he had never touched drugs. About that cell-phone, the witnesses’ testimony had made it clear: it was stolen by his roommate.”
Zhao Haochang frowned, and opened his lips to try to argue. But Luo Wenzhou raised another finger.
“Second, if you were really so sneaky and brilliant as you claimed to be, to have placed cameras out of He Zhongyi’s apartment, why not place one in his room? Film him, 24/7, so you can be sure whether he was doing drugs, or selling them?”
Zhao Haochang was taken aback.
“You WERE a smart one, Lawyer Zhao.” Luo Wenzhou chortled, “Catching a hard-headed asshole like yourself, who refused to shed any tears before seeing the coffin, was really the bright spot of my week. Truly, I think all the hours spent working overtime was worth it. As for my promise…well, as a fellow asshole, let me put it this way: I only ever keep my promises to my wife. And you…save it.”
Luo Wenzhou didn’t bother to see the reaction on Zhao’s phony face. He directly walked out of the interrogation room.
Tao Ran didn’t catch it right away: “Wait, what does he mean?”
“From the footage, it is possible to trace back where the camera was placed.” Fei Du’s eyes were still fixed on the collapsing Zhao Haochang. He said in a low voice: “He didn’t give a damn about whether He Zhongyi was innocent or truly involved in drugs. From the time when He Zhongyi had contacted him repeatedly, Zhao Haochang had made up his mind that the kid shall not live.”
Tao Ran’s eyes widened: “You mean, he sent those camera footage to Wang Hongliang!”
“I don’t know how He Zhongyi escaped Wang’s purging yet. But it does seem like something Zhao Haochang would do.” As he answered, Fei Du saw Luo Wenzhou walking towards them from afar, a coat draped over his shoulder and a lazy cigarette between his lips. Fei Du turned and nodded at Tao Ran: “Ge, since I don’t care about the rest of the details, I’ll leave you to it. Peace.”
He adjusted his glasses, and sauntered out. As he walked past Luo Wenzhou, he curiously looked at the latter’s stiff posture, and asked in full respect: “You seem to be suffering from lumbar muscle strain, my Captain. Please take good care of your body at this age, alright?”
Luo Wenzhou: “…”
He was half provoked but half amused. It seemed that today’s Fei Du was more cheerful and lighthearted than usual — perhaps because the sodden old scar was carved open and cut out today. It may be painful, it may be gruesome, but it was at least a chance at true recovery.
“A question for you.” Luo Wenzhou said, “Do you think Zhao Haochang killed his whole family?”
Fei Du was not going to cooperate in a regular friendly conversation, obviously. He mocked: “My my, captain! So after a whole day of fancy tactics, you still haven’t tricked him into confessing who killed the Zhao family?”
Luo Wenzhou’s back was hurting like crazy. He had a hard time standing up straight, so he took the liberty to press on Fei Du’s shoulder and used him as a human walking stick: “I actually have doubts about it. Although our Little Qiao said that he kept one of the arsonary’s sleeve covers, meaning he had to be present at the time, I still think he was at most just standing there and allowing it to happen. Generally, law-breaking takes time and practice. A newbie is not likely to have the gut, or the wit, to plan the murder of his whole family.”
Fei Du stiffened.
Luo Wenzhou shrugged: “No offense. I’m not hinting at you at all. I’ve already apologized.”
Fei Du spoke impassively: “You caught my hair.”
As he spoke, he turned to the side to avoid Luo Wenzhou’s paws, and dusted his shoulder with disgust. Airily, he walked away.
“Captain Luo!” An officer rushed over, “Huang Jinglian was completely dismayed by the evidence, and gave us everything about Wang Hongliang’s business.”
Luo Wenzhou turned around abruptly.
“And about Chen Yuan’s case, according to Huang Jinglian, they received a package containing a video on their drug trafficking. They suspected that there were some traitors from inside, so they immediately started purging and quickly found the hidden camera on Chen Yuan. That’s why they…”
Luo Wenzhou was surprised.
Perhaps Zhao Haochang’s cameras were hidden too well that Huang Jinglian’s people completely missed them. Or perhaps Huang Jinglian was too confident to even think that someone would use fixed hidden cameras and wait for them to find out, so their first reaction was to strip the people. The poor girl ended up dead in He Zhongyi’s place.
But in the end, the simple minded boy who was too blunt to read people’s faces didn’t escape from the mouth of the swamp either.
“Continue with the interrogation.” Luo Wenzhou carefully tried to stretch, “Find out where the text message to He on the evening of the 20th came from.”
The officer trotted away.
Luo Wenzhou stayed where he was, deep in his thoughts. Suddenly, he smelled something light yet tantalizing, gracing the tip of his nose and then drilling down to somewhere deep. It was a woody cologne with a lingering finish, making his heart tickle.
Luo Wenzhou looked around to search for the source. Finally, he raised his fingers to his nose – it turned out to be from touching Fei Du’s shoulder.
“Tut-tut, “ Luo Wenzhou disappointedly rubbed his fingers together. As soon as he found the origin of the scent, his heart stopped tickling and his nose stopped indulging, “Why oh why…what a waste of my hormones.”
(1). ‘Little dark room’: the interrogation room