Authors: Qiu Xiaolong
Eastern Sea Café, a survivor from the days of the Cultural Revolution, looked shabby, overshadowed by the new buildings that surrounded it. There he sat down and had his third cup of coffee of the afternoon while he composed a text to himself.
Teng had reason to hate Zhou, possibly enough reason for Teng to retaliate. While Teng might not have been at the meeting, people from his company were there and could have seen the pack of cigarettes. So the Internet frenzy started by the photo of the pack of 95 Supreme Majesty could well have been Teng’s revenge.
But what about after the downfall of Zhou?
The chief inspector didn’t think that after Zhou was disgraced, there was any motive-or, at least, not enough for Teng to murder Zhou at the well-guarded hotel. It was technically possible, since Teng was connected to the triads. If Teng really wanted to get rid of Zhou, however, it would’ve been easier before Zhou was shuangguied.
Chen saved the text, finished the coffee, and dialed the number for Jiang as he walked out of the café.
Chen managed to convey the simple message that it was too early to draw any conclusions regarding Zhou’s death. He didn’t say anything specific about the news in
and Jiang knew better than to talk about it. Chen did not say much else, except to make sure that Jiang would remain at the hotel for the day.
Chen cut across to Jiujiang Road, where he hailed a taxi at the back of the Amanda Hotel. About five minutes later, he arrived at the office of the Housing Development Committee, which was in the Shanghai City Government Building near People’s Square. He didn’t have to take a cab for such a short distance, but a man walking up to the City Government Building might be taken by the security guards as another troublesome “complainer.”
He got past security and headed straight to the office of Deputy Director Dang of the Housing Development Committee.
On Detective Wei’s list of possible benefiters, Dang was at the top. Dang was also at the fateful meeting, seated next to Zhou at the rostrum, capable of seeing the cigarettes at close range. It was a common scenario in Party power struggles: the number two succeeded the number one after the latter fell from grace.
So Dang had motive, but he also had an alibi: Dang had been at a hotel in the county of Qingpu for a business meeting, where he then spent the night, at least according to the hotel register. Still, Qingpu was not far-he could have sneaked out after dark, if he’d known which hotel Zhou was in, or he could have hired a professional.
Passing Zhou’s office, which was still locked with an official seal, Chen came to Dang’s, which was right next door.
Dang was a tall, robust man in his early forties with beady eyes, bushy brows, and a ruddy complexion. He greeted Chen affably, then, after an exchange of a few polite words, came to the point.
“You’re not an outsider, Comrade Chief Inspector Chen, so I won’t give you the official response. Zhou meant well. It’s easy for people to complain about the housing bubble, but once the bubble bursts, the economy will collapse. So when Zhou saw signs of instability in the market, he tried to forestall them. Unfortunately, he underestimated the pent-up frustrations of those who couldn’t afford housing. In a pack of cigarettes, they found a convenient outlet for their anger. We certainly can’t rule out the possibility that some people used this as an opportunity to smear our Party’s image.”
“Yes, we are looking into all the possibilities,” Chen responded, almost mechanically.
“I don’t know about Zhou’s other problems under shuanggui investigation. If all that was exposed on the Internet was real, then it served him right. In the office, Zhou alone had the final say, making most decisions without discussing them with any of us,” Dang said casually, picking up Chen’s card. “Oh, you’re deputy Party secretary. Then you know how things can be. A lot happens in the office without my knowledge. As far as the pack of 95 Supreme Majesty is concerned, however, that was just Zhou’s luck. You’ll have to find the root of the trouble, Chief Inspector Chen. It wasn’t anything directed against Zhou personally, but against the Party instead. We can’t allow those people on the Internet to go rampaging like that anymore.”
Chen nodded. Such a demand from Dang made sense. The Internet couldn’t go on uncontrolled like that: the next target could be Dang.
“Now, I have a question about the actual photo, Dang. Do you have any idea who took it?”
“Jiang asked me the same question,” Dang responded with a sigh. “During the meeting, several of us were sitting with Zhou next to the podium. It would have been out of the question for any one of us to disturb the meeting by taking pictures. There were many other people sitting in the conference hall who could have taken photos, though. So the short answer is that we don’t know. We do know, however, that Zhou himself e-mailed the picture to his secretary, Fang, who wrote the press release and sent it with the picture. It’s possible that Zhou had someone taking the pictures with his own camera, and then downloaded them onto his own computer. If it had been e-mailed to Zhou from somebody else, Jiang would have discovered the sender when they searched his computer.”
Chen nodded, noting the subtle subject change from “I” to “we” in Dang’s explanation, without making any comment. Still, Dang had basically confirmed Wei’s account.
“Needless to say, none of us here had access to his computer before the scandal broke,” Dang went on. “Then Jiang’s team took it away, along with all the CDs and disks in his office.”
“Is it possible that Zhou had several e-mail accounts, some of them unknown? Or perhaps he deleted some e-mails or files?”
“That’s possible, but I don’t see how. Jiang’s people wouldn’t have discovered that. They are computer experts. If Zhou had received the picture from somebody else, they would have ferreted that out one way or another.”
“So his secretary sent the text out to the media along with the picture per his instruction.”
“That’s correct,” Dang said, then added, “as far as I know.”
“Is that a rule-that all press releases and attachments have to be approved by this office?”
“Anything about the housing market can be extremely sensitive. A careless remark from someone in our office can cause panic among the sellers and buyers. That’s why a rule was instituted: for an important speech like Zhou’s, Zhou himself would review the text, and sometimes the pictures as well, before his secretary sent them out to the media.”
“Can I talk to her-the secretary, I mean?”
“Fang’s not in today. She called in sick early this morning. Jiang talked to her, though, and she told him that she merely sent out the things Zhou gave her, and only under his specific instruction. She’s just a little secretary.”
“A little secretary,” Chen repeated reflectively. The term could mean a mistress-usually much younger-serving under the guise of being a secretary. There was nothing about that in Wei’s folder. Chen didn’t push. Dang didn’t elaborate. Still, Chen asked for her name, address, and phone number before he took leave of Dang.
Back out in the People’s Square, Chen saw a group of elderly people exercising to loud music blaring from a CD player. It was a song that was familiar to him, played often during the Cultural Revolution. “Generation after generation, we will always remember the great deeds Chairman Mao has done for us.”
It was one of the rediscovered “red songs,” popular again because of the dramatic change in the political environment. But for these people, it was perhaps just a melody they could energetically dance to.
Chen hailed a taxi back to his own office, feeling exhausted.
It wasn’t until five past nine that evening that Chen got back home.
The hours spent in front of his office computer had yielded little. He was worn-out, and his muscles were sore, as at the beginning stages of the flu. He rubbed his eyes, yet felt far from sleepy.
He opened his notebook to the page he’d been working on, which had a list of details, like a jumble of dots awaiting connection to point in possible directions. But he couldn’t see how to connect those dots.
Chen hadn’t learned anything new from the interview with Dang that afternoon, though it was possible that Dang was involved in some way that no one was aware of.
What puzzled Chen wasn’t the fact that Zhou himself gave the picture to his secretary for the press release but rather who had taken the picture and how Zhou had obtained it.
There was no record of anyone sending him the picture after the meeting. Jiang had checked Zhou’s computer, as Dang had just confirmed.
Zhou might have downloaded the picture from a camera, his or somebody else’s. Apparently nothing found on his camera either confirmed that possibility or ruled it out.
A more plausible scenario was that the picture came from a camera that belonged to somebody else. But if so, who could have put it onto Zhou’s computer-or given Zhou a camera or something else for Zhou to save the picture on the computer himself?
The people in the Housing Development Committee. Dang in the office next door, and others on the same committee. Possibly the secretary, or the “little secretary” too.
Chen glanced at his watch, felt the beginnings of a throbbing headache in addition to the muscle pain, and dialed Wei’s number.
“I’ve thought about that, Chief,” Wei responded readily, “I’ve talked to the secretary-her full name is Fang Fang. I’ve also done some research on her.”
Wei then launched into a detailed narrative about Fang, checking his notes from time to time. Listening, Chen could also hear the occasional rustle of Wei turning pages.
“Fang started working for Zhou about two years ago. Quite different from the conventional little secretary, she’s middle-aged, already in her early thirties, and a bit too thin to be really considered attractive. An official of Zhou’s rank could easily have hired one prettier and younger. There were stories around the office that Zhou went out of his way to give the position to her. It was considered a fantastic position, secure and well paid, not to mention all of the possible gray money, and more than a hundred candidates applied. Zhou, giving his reasons for choosing her, said he hired her because Fang studied in England for three years, majored in communication, and spoke English well, which would be important in her work for the city of Shanghai, a major international city. Fang was very grateful for the position, having failed to find a job in England after she graduated and having remained unemployed for more than a year after she came back to Shanghai. At the Housing Development Committee, she was soon promoted to the position of director’s assistant, responsible for all the clerical work, including the press releases. On that particular occasion, Zhou reviewed the material before turning it over to her. She declared that she didn’t pay any special attention to either the text or the attached picture. It was merely part of her daily routine, and the photo didn’t stand out. After all, Zhou smoked that particular brand most of the time. As for the other corruption charges, she didn’t know anything. Zhou never really discussed those deals or decisions with her. So far, Jiang and his team don’t consider her a likely suspect, but they seem to have put a lot of pressure on her to speak out against Zhou.
“As for that Monday night, Fang was at home with her parents. They had a relative from Anhui visiting, so her alibi’s solid,” Wei concluded after checking his notes again. “Now she’s really worried about her job. It’s only a matter of time before she gets sacked. Dang will definitely not keep her in such a crucial position.”
It was a long conversation. Chen wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. Detective Wei had done a good, thorough job, and like Jiang, he didn’t see Fang as a likely suspect. She had no motive.
Chen wondered whether it would be worthwhile for him to interview Fang. What the
journalist had said earlier in the day came back to him, echoing ironically in his mind as he sat in the solitary stillness of his room:
There’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Zhou’s death could be anything other than suicide
It was supposed to be a direct quote from Chief Inspector Chen, who hadn’t said anything close to that. Still, it didn’t appear to be that far from the truth. At least, not at the moment.
He got up to pour himself a small cup of whiskey, from a bottle he had brought back from the United States as a souvenir. He hoped that it would somehow reenergize him a bit, but he wasn’t a drinker. He took just one small sip and began coughing almost uncontrollably.
Another wasted day. He realized, looking back, that Lianping’s mention of poetry in her phone call was perhaps the only bright spot in a dismal day. That, however, was a fleeting moment: most of the conversation had been about his “statement” about the investigation.
He felt fatigued. A couplet by Du Fu came to mind: My temples frost-streaked through adversities, / Too worn out even to drink from the shoddy wine cup.
In his college years, Chen hadn’t liked Du Fu, who seemed to be too much of a Confucianist poet, telling rather showing, too serious and always worrying about the woes of the country in grandiose lines.
Time really flies. How long had it been since Chen started working as a policeman after graduation? At first, however reluctant to be a cop, he was still idealistic. What about now? Perhaps existentialist at best, like a mythological figure in an ever-repeating process of rolling a boulder uphill, only to watch it roll down. His reveries were interrupted by another call, this one from Detective Yu, who never hesitated to phone, despite the late hour.
“Look out, Chief. Internal Security has come into the picture.”
“The ones who police the police. Why are they now involved?”
“Well, you would know better than me.”
The fact was that Chen didn’t know, having been away from the bureau for most of the afternoon. Still, the appearance of Internal Security meant things had become too sensitive for the police bureau, or too sinister.