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Authors: Qiu Xiaolong

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BOOK: Enigma of China
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“Interesting. Usually providing photos would be the job of a newspaper photographer.”

“Zhou cared about his public image and made a point of personally selecting which picture would be given to the media.”

“But someone had to take the pictures. For instance, a journalist.”

“That’s what confused me. According to Jiang, he checked through Zhou’s e-mail files but didn’t find one that indicated from whom Zhou had received that picture.”

“He might have deleted the e-mail and the file. But Jiang’s people are pros. If it was on his computer, they would have found out one way or another.”

“I think so too,” Wei said. “Of course, looking at possible motives could point us in a different direction. In that speech, Zhou mentioned a particular company that was trying to bring down real estate prices in an irresponsible way. Zhou didn’t name any names, but people knew which company he was referring to. It was Green Earth. Before the 95 Supreme Majesty scandal broke, Teng Jialiang, the general manager of Green Earth, was under a lot of pressure.”

“That might be something, Detective Wei. Did you check him out?”

“I did. Teng was cooperative, and he gave me quite a few details on the background of Zhou’s speech. Since last year, the Beijing authorities have been talking about needing to curb the housing prices for the sake of harmony in our socialist society. Teng thought reducing prices a little would be seen as a well-meant gesture and, at the same time, increase his company’s market share. But out of the blue, Zhou targeted Green Earth as a troublemaker who was damaging market stability. Teng was in a tight spot. While other developers saw him as a greedy suck-up looking to curry favor with the Beijing authorities, the city government actually pressured him to back off.”

“Well, I remember reading in the
People’s Daily
just last week that it’s a top priority to ensure that ordinary people are able to buy property.”

“Teng put it well. The
People’s Daily
is in Beijing, but Zhou represented the interests of the Shanghai government. What’s more, there’s also a personal reason Zhou had for targeting him.”

“A personal reason?”

“Teng’s project is located not far from one being developed by Zhou’s cousin, or under his cousin’s name. So Teng’s proposal to reduce prices posed a threat to the profitability of Zhou’s or his family’s project.”

“Does Teng have an alibi?”

“He wasn’t in Shanghai that night, but he’s well connected, both in the white way and the black way.”

“I see,” Chen said. The white way referred to the aboveground-or legal-connections, and the black way to the criminal, such as triads or gangsters. Chen understood why Wei brought up the two ways here. “But Zhou was already shuangguied. Do you think Teng would take such a risk as to kill him at the hotel?”

“You have a point,” Wei said, then took a gulp of his coffee, “Oh, it’s damned bitter.”

Apparently Wei wasn’t used to coffee. Chen waited, saying nothing, and taking a deliberate sip of his own coffee.

“Now, regarding the circumstances of Zhou’s death at the hotel: there are puzzling aspects about it. Oh, I almost forgot-I managed to talk to the hotel attendant without letting Jiang know. Here’s the record of that interview. The attendant’s name is Jun.”

Wei pulled a mini recorder out of his pocket, set it down, and pushed a button. He raised his coffee cup without taking another sip.

WEI: Please try to remember in detail what you did, saw, and heard that night, Jun. It could be very important to our work.

JUN: I’m a just a hotel attendant. I’ve already told everything I know to your people.

WEI: Well, let’s go over it one more time.

JUN: I was on the night shift, from six p.m. to six a.m. Usually, it’s not busy after midnight, so I can take a nap, and occasionally I can nap up until morning. All last week, there were only three guests staying on the third floor, so there wasn’t much for me to do.

WEI: In other words, of the six rooms, only three were occupied.

JUN: Yes. That was due to a special arrangement with the hotel. We didn’t ask questions. Among other things, we were told that the guest in room 302 was to have every meal delivered. The other two were just like other guests. They might eat in the dining hall in building A, but they could also order room service.

WEI: Now tell me what happened Monday night.

JUN: Well, around six fifteen I delivered dinner to room 302. It was fried Yangzhou rice and the soup of the day.

WEI: Did you go into the room?

JUN: No, not exactly. I knocked on the door; he opened it and took the tray from me.

WEI: Did you notice anything unusual about him?

JUN: No, I wasn’t aware of anything. After that, I went to the other two rooms to turn down the beds. Both of them were in, and both of them told me not to bother. So I returned to my room.

WEI: Then?

JUN: Around ten twenty that evening, I was told to bring a bowl of cross-bridge noodles and a bottle of Budweiser to the guest in room 302.

WEI: Hold on, did you know that it was Zhou who was in room 302?

JUN: No, at the time I had no idea who he was. But guests at the hotel aren’t ordinary people, and we know better than to ask around.

WEI: At the time, had you heard anything about Zhou?

JUN: No. Nothing before that night.

WEI: When you delivered the noodles, did you notice anything unusual about him?

JUN: He looked all right to me. He was smiling, and he didn’t forget to give me a five-yuan tip. According to the hotel regulations, we’re not allowed to accept tips, but if a customer insists, we don’t refuse.

WEI: Did you take the noodles into the room or just to the door?

JUN: I went into the room because it was a bowl of special cross-bridge noodles. We usually spread out all the tiny dishes and sauces on the table and then tell the guest how to add the toppings, though it may not be necessary if the guest has had cross-bridge noodles before.

WEI: So was he alone in the room?

JUN: Yes, I’m positive.

WEI: Did you say anything to him?

JUN: I asked whether he wanted me to open the beer for him, and he nodded.

WEI: Nothing else?

JUN: Nothing-oh, he did pick up a slice of Jinhua ham as soon as I placed the dishes on the table. He said that it was his favorite, and that he would like some more in the next day or two. It’s genuine Jinhua ham that the hotel gets through a special supply channel. A lot of our guests really like it.

WEI: A different question, Jun. You went from picking up the noodles from the kitchen directly to his room?

JUN: Yes, directly to his room. The soup had to be served hot.

WEI: Anything else? Anything that struck you as unusual?

JUN: Nothing I can recall. Once he started to put the toppings into the soup, I left the room. Sorry, but that’s about all I can tell you.

“Not much,” Wei said and pressed the stop button. “Jiang must have talked to the hotel people earlier, but he doesn’t want me to approach any of them without his prior approval. As a result, I had to talk to Jun in a small teahouse on a side street not far from the hotel. At the same time, Jiang keeps asking me to update him on our progress.”

“It’s a game two can play, Wei.” Chen said, “From now on, you don’t have to tell Jiang anything unless he is cooperative. Jiang and Liu were in charge of shuanggui, and we are in charge of the investigation into Zhou’s death. So it’s up to them to tell us what they know about Zhou.”

“Liu has hardly been to the hotel in the last two days. But Jiang is the representative of the city government.”

“If Jiang makes things difficult for you, you may say I told you to report only to me. Tell him it was my special instruction.”

“Thank you, Chief,” Wei said, looking him in the eye. “When you were first promoted, some of us believed that it was because of your educational background, that it was simply a lucky break coinciding with the Party’s new cadre promotion policy. Some also said it was because of that article in
Wenhui Daily
written by your journalist friend-”

Chen gestured to stop Wei from going on. It was true that he had been promoted for a number of reasons not relevant to police work, such as his education and the image he presented to the public, both of which happened to serve the propaganda needs of the Party.

“Lots of things could have been said about me, and some of them were true. For instance, my degree in English had nothing to do with my job with the police bureau. Even today, I still can’t help wondering if I should have pursued a different career. I know it might not be fair for others in the bureau.”

“All I want to say is that I’m glad to work under you, Chief. I’ll consult you about every move I make.”

“Remember,” Chen said, “you’re in charge of the investigation, not I. Whatever move you decide to make, you don’t have to consult me first. You know that proverb; ‘A general fighting at the borders doesn’t have to listen to the emperor sitting far, far away in the capital.’”

“So you mean-”

“You have a free hand. If anything happens, I’ll take responsibility-”

Chen was interrupted by his ringing cell phone.

“Hi, Chief Inspector Chen. It’s Lianping, the journalist from
Wenhui Daily
. Do you remember me? I’ve just read something about you.”

“Of course I remember you. What’s the news, Lianping?”

“Let me read it to you. ‘According to Chief Inspector Chen, so far there’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Zhou’s death could be anything other than suicide.’”

“That’s absurd,” he said. “Who gave that irresponsible statement to
Wenhui Daily
?”

“Jiang, of the city government.”

“The investigation hasn’t been concluded. That’s all I can say to you today.”

“Jiang’s statement is vague about that, but it reads as if you have already concluded your investigation.”

“That’s wrong, but thank you so much for calling me, Lianping. We’re still following possible leads. I’ll let you know as soon as we do conclude our investigation.”

“Thank you so much, Chief Inspector Chen. Please don’t forget the poems you promised me for our newspaper. I’m a huge fan of your work.”

The statement released by Jiang wasn’t exactly a surprise to Chen. On the contrary, it was more or less what he had anticipated.

Next to him, Detective Wei was standing up, a grin on his face. “I have to go back to work, Chief Inspector Chen,” Wei said.

Chen was known among his colleagues as a romantic poet and for having had an affair with a
Wenhui
journalist. Wei might have overheard that the caller was from Wenhui and guessed it was that female journalist calling.

But Chen had said what he wanted to say to the journalist. He began thinking about their conversation at the Writers’ Association, and what lines she reminded him of that day, as she came tripping over from the garden path, a blue jay’s wing flashing in the light.

EIGHT

After Wei left, Chen stayed at the café. The chief inspector had to sort through all the bits and pieces of information he had just learned.

He ordered another cup of coffee, which tasted better than expected. The soft sofa seat was comfortable, its tall back providing a sense of privacy, and the window commanded an ever-changing view of the pedestrians out on the street.

Chen sat and stirred the coffee with a small spoon.

Something in the interview of the hotel attendant fluttered across his mind, but the hunch was an elusive one. It was gone like a rice paddy eel before he could grasp it. He knew that Detective Wei might not have told him everything-not directly, at least. If so, it was understandable. High-ranking officials could be involved, lurking in the background, and that would be too much for an ordinary cop like Wei. Especially since he didn’t have any solid evidence or leads at present. But Chen thought he understood what Wei was driving at.

Chen took a small, measured sip of the coffee and mentally reviewed some of the details Wei had mentioned. For one, if a man talked about eating Jinhua ham again in a couple of days, it was hard to conceive of his committing suicide an hour or two later.

The photo that started it all was another puzzle. Could Zhou have taken it himself? If so, he was truly hoist with his own petard.

Detective Wei was determined to move the investigation in a direction that Jiang wouldn’t like. Of that, Chen had no doubts. As Wei’s colleague and consultant to the investigation, Chen was supposed to back him up.

Still, he was in no hurry to confront Jiang.

If the authorities were really anxious to close the case, they could do so with or without Chen’s “endorsement,” let alone Wei’s opinion of their conclusions. A Party member must, first and foremost, act in the interests of the Party, and Chen had to speak or shut up accordingly. But in spite of the statement that had been given to the media, Jiang was still staying at the hotel, allowing the cops to continue investigating, and constantly checking in with them. There was no point in going to the hotel, Chen concluded. If anything, it would be better to try and maneuver around it.

On his way out of the café, Chen bought a hundred-yuan gift card, which he thought he would give Detective Wei for his son.

Near He’nan Road, Chen slowed down at the sight of a towering building still partially covered in scaffolding. Already, several top brands had their logos displayed proudly at the construction site, with a billboard declaring, “Open for business soon.” It was going to be another high-end department store.

For some reason, there weren’t any workers there that afternoon, nor were there machines hustling and bustling around.

Standing by the construction site, Chen pulled out his phone and called Mr. Gu, the chairman of the New World Group. It wasn’t a long talk, but it was long enough to confirm what Wei had told him regarding Teng Jialiang, chairman of the Green Earth Group.

At the end of the conversation, Chen accidentally pressed the wrong button on the phone, which brought up the message function. He thought about writing a text-to himself-detailing the possible clues before he forgot them, but it was awkward to walk and write at the same time. So he looked up and walked over to the Eastern Sea Café, which was a little farther east. In his experience, writing down the random thoughts that passed through his mind sometimes helped him straighten out his thinking.

BOOK: Enigma of China
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