Chapter 6: Smoker at an Internet Cafe
Since Jiang Zhengkai was busy responding to the latest murder, he was unaware that in the building across the street, there was another pair of eyes intently gazing at him, and those eyes belonged to A-Jiao.
When A-Jiao had heard the scream, she and her client had both crawled across the bed to the window and looked at the other side of the alley. “Hey beautiful, I think the sound came from Building Number 3,” said the client. He'd propped himself up with both hands on the windowsill and intently observed the opposite side.
“Oh yeah?” A-Jiao had replied noncommittally. However, she'd gone along with what her client said and focused her attention on Building Number 3. “I can’t see anything!” She'd looked at the windows across the alley, then had proceeded to raise her arms and stretch out her body. It was as she was stretching that she noticed that Jiang Zhengkai was in the building directly across the alley from them. She suddenly felt a wave of nervousness. What is he doing here? She thought to herself as she unconsciously tugged at her clothing so as to better cover her chest. Was he here to spy on me?
“I think it’s the building right next door to that one.” The client didn’t notice A-Jiao's reaction and continued to prop himself by the windowsill next to A-Jiao’s bed. “Look! Someone’s running up the stairs!”
“That’s enough, handsome!” A-Jiao’s voice suddenly became very cold. “Maybe you should go over there if you really want to get a good look!” A-Jiao told her client. She then tapped the windowpane with her finger. “See there? Those are cops. You should leave, /now/.”
When the client heard her words, his face immediately grew tense. Following the direction of A-Jiao’s pointing finger, he too saw Jiang Zhengkai standing on a balcony across the alley. Of course, as a normally law-abiding citizen, he wouldn’t know who Jiang Zhengkai was. Still, he was still pretty grateful towards A-Jiao. “You want me to get you outta here?” he asked.
“Get me out of here? Haha, when did I become a damsel in distress?” A-Jiao chuckled. She was actually quite beautiful when she smiled. Her client was in fact quite captivated by her.
“Let’s get outta here together. You’ll be in deep trouble too if the cops catch you!” he said.
“Thank you, my white knight!” A-Jiao said as she placed her arm around his neck. She then give her client a gentle kiss on the cheek. “But why don’t you take care of yourself for now? If you really want to help me, then come back here often and see me again.” Towards the end of the last sentence, her voice became soft and dainty once again. What more could a woman selling her body ask of a man who was buying it? Perhaps it was the most appropriate and reasonable request a woman in her position could have made.
Since there was another murder, it was a foregone conclusion that the rest of the night was a bust. Other than sleeping, there was really nothing else these women could do tonight. After all, there were no other spots in the city where a woman could safely conduct such business. This alley had become the one safe harbor for prostitutes, and yet there was still another murder tonight. The alley was crawling with cops, so no one in their right mind would be turning tricks at this hour. Could be any girl really be stupid enough to tug on the sleeves of a uniformed police officer and ask, “Hey, wanna play? I’ll give you half off!”?
The next morning, Jiang Zhengkai was summoned to the municipal police commissioner’s office. Commissioner Yao Tianyu was the highest ranking police officer in the city. He also happened to be Jiang Zhengkai’s mentor, instructor, and former supervisor. Still, that didn’t save Jiang Zhengkai from getting the ass-chewing of a lifetime.
“Inspector Jiang, are we going back to the sub-bureau or to the crime scene?” asked Wei Xin when she saw Jiang Zhengkai walking out of police headquarters.
“Where should we go?” Jiang Zhengkai thought out loud as he fiercely rubbed his chin. “Let’s... go back to the sub-bureau first. We need to carefully deliberate over the details of this case,” Jiang Zhengkai said in a grave voice. The two of them got into a police cruiser and drove towards the sub-bureau.
At around noon, A-Jiao woke up and proceeded to pull the curtains wide open. She looked out the window and made a long stretch. “Ah yes, yet another day!” she muttered to herself. As she stood in front of her loft windows, she began her daily calisthenic routine.
A-Jiao lived in a house that had belonged to her mother while she had still been alive. Her father had emigrated abroad, but he sent her a sizable check every month for her living expenses. Thus, A-Jiao was different from most women engaged in her profession. She wasn’t poor and wasn’t in need of money. She consciously chose to be a prostitute, mainly to get back at her ex-boyfriend, but also to fill a void in her heart.
Her body was her meal ticket, so after finishing her exercises, A-Jiao turned on the TV, put on her slippers, went into the kitchen, and started preparing a nutritious breakfast. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it lunch, but no matter, A-Jiao’s “mornings” usually started at noon, so it was breakfast to her. The TV was broadcasting news about the murder last night. When A-Jiao heard, she hurried over to the TV from the kitchen. As a twenty-first century practitioner of her special profession, being well-informed of the latest news was crucial. Not only could the latest information determine the success of one's business, it could also determine the length of one's life.
“Inside a residential building, a young man and a young woman died under bizarre circumstances. The police state that they are still investigating the cause of death. This station will continue to report the latest updates on this homicide as they come in...”
A-Jiao stood in front of the TV and attentively watched the entire news segment. Although the news did not specify the exact location of the crime, anyone familiar with the neighborhood could tell from the background scenery that it was the alley where A-Jiao worked. “Well, looks like I won’t be working again tonight,” she said to herself. A-Jiao let out a yawn and walked back to the kitchen, where she scooped up the hard-boiled egg she had just been cooking onto a plate before turning off the stove. /I guess I’ll find an internet cafe where I can surf the net later./ She finished her thought before taking her plate to the dining table where she ate her breakfast.
Browsing, working, eating, shopping, sleeping: that pretty much summed up the entirety of A-Jiao’s existence. Other than her work, which seemed rather disreputable to normal people, the other aspects of her life were no different than a normal woman of her age. One could even say that in many ways, she was more innocent than many of her peers. She didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, didn’t snort cocaine, and didn’t shoot heroin.
After breakfast, A-Jiao dressed like your typical girl-next-door and walked out of her house. Based on her experience, there was no way she could go out working tonight, so she decided to go to an internet cafe instead. Perhaps she could seduce a college student, or perhaps she would meet a pervert online looking for a one-night stand with a naive little girl. Hey, you never know.
The air in the internet cafe was stale as usual. She hated the smell of cigarettes. She always felt the life being choked out of her whenever she breathed in cigarette smoke. However, she didn’t understand why there were so many people in the internet cafe today. When the man next to her lit his third cigarette in a row, A-Jiao’s anger finally boiled over.
“You son of a bitch! Can you not read?” A-Jiao asked angrily as she forcefully struck the man over the head with her purse. “Can't you read what's written on the sign here? It says ‘No Smoking’. Or are you Japanese or something?”
The sight of such a beautiful and sexy woman yelling at him scared the man half to death. Very few women would have the courage to openly scold a stranger in public, unless the woman wasn’t quite normal in some way. But then, A-Jiao wasn’t a normal woman, she was a prostitute. If a woman wasn’t afraid to give her body to strangers, then what exactly would she be afraid of?
“What’s going on?” the owner of the internet cafe asked as he came over. One normally wouldn’t expect a hole-in-the-wall establishment like this one to have any sort of professional management, but that was also why A-Jiao liked the place. It was small, it was cheap, and it was full of out-of-town migrant workers, which meant it was a good place to pick up potential clients.
“This motherfucker is smoking in here!” A-Jiao exclaimed as she pointed at the male stranger. “A-Tao, you need to kick him out of here!”
“I see,” the internet cafe owner known as A-Tao muttered to himself as he rubbed his bald head. He then slapped the man’s shoulder and said, “Hey bro, the law says you can’t smoke inside public businesses, but I can usually look the other way.” He stopped, coughed up a thick wad of mucus, spit it out onto the floor, and then ground it with his foot. Then he clenched his right hand into a fist and used his thumb to point at A-Jiao while also rocking his body back and forth. “However, this internet cafe does have a house rule: nobody is allowed to smoke in the presence of Miss A-Jiao. So I think it would be best if you left, right now.”
Upon hearing the owner say A-Jiao’s name, seven or eight young men suddenly got up out of their seats. Some of them had ponytails, while others were covered in tattoos. But all of them said, “Who’s the smoker? Where is he? Let’s kill him!”
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