"We haven’t completely cleared you of suspicion, but you can be assured we will try our best to prove your innocence," Xiaotao gave her word.
"As long as you don’t charge me for something I didn’t do!” Mr. Ding acquiesced. “I can do whatever you need me to! But here’s the thing–a few days in jail won’t look good for me so I hope the police can write a letter proving my innocence to my department when this is all over."
Xiaotao nodded, to which Mr. Ding reciprocated with words of gratitude.
In fact, there were many cautious and conscientious people like Mr. Ding who felt as if the sky would fall if they lost their iron rice bowl. Therefore, the first thing he did upon learning of his wife's death wasn’t to wail over the corpse, but to dispose of the receipts that might have been detrimental to himself.
After this new development had blown over, it was already past 5:00 pm. Xiaotao and Bingxin planned to visit Dali after work. I joked, "Xiaotao, have you ever imagined getting off work with Bingxin-meimei?"
"Never!" Xiaotao laughed, "I don't think I can ever get off on time."
Bingxin sighed, "Life would be perfect if I can grab dinner and spend time with Song Yang-gege after work every day!"
"Keep dreaming, Ms Sun!" Xiaotao sniggered.
At the store, business was booming after work hours. Except for some men accompanying their girlfriends, the store was basically full of women.
"Business is so good!” exclaimed Xiaotao. “I think I might start the same business once I retire from the force."
I pointed to Luo Youyou at the counter and said, "That's Dali's girlfriend!"
Bingxin covered her mouth, "Wow, what a cutie! She looks like a high school student. Is she a minor?"
"Of course not!" I said.
Dali was so busy that even I felt guilty. I proposed we find a restaurant to have dinner, my treat, of course.
Xiaotao interjected, "Let's have a look at your place first!" Bingxin raised her hands in favor.
I brought them to our apartment, feeling slightly embarrassed upon entering the living room. "The place is a little messy… Um..."
To my pleasant surprise, the apartment was clean and tidy, probably thanks to Luo Youyou. The little girl was very diligent indeed.
"If this is too messy, your future wife must have it hard," teased Xiaotao.
"It doesn't matter, I don't mind!" Bingxin immediately retorted.
"You shameless girl!" Xiaotao chided.
Dali had prepared a bunk bed which reminded me very much of our dormitory, though I hadn’t tested the bed yet. Bingxin plopped onto the bed with both arms open wide, "It feels like I’m back in school."
"The bed is so soft and comfortable!” Bingxin rolled around. “Song Yang-gege, can I sleep in your bed?"
Unsure of what to say, I waved my hand. "Go ahead!"
Bingxin took off her coat and shoes while Xiaotao stood there, reprimanding, "Young lady, don't you know girls shouldn’t enter boys’ rooms?"
Bingxin covered herself with the blanket and spat her tongue, "Bite me!"
"Do you think I’m scared?!" Xiaotao huffed.
Xiaotao removed her coat and shoes as well, sitting astride Bingxin as she tickled her sides. Bingxin giggled uncontrollably and begged for mercy. The girls were so rowdy they almost tore down the bed.
"Should I order takeout?" I suggested.
"Up to you!" The two were too immersed in roughhousing to pay me any attention.
It was my first time ordering takeout from this area, so I took a considerable amount of time selecting a restaurant. By the time I turned around, the girls were asleep, lying side by side in bed, taking deep, even breaths. It seemed the long day had taken its toll on them.
Looking at this harmonious scene, I couldn’t resist a warm smile.
A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. I presumed it was the delivery man but it turned out to be Dali. "Dude, why are you back so early?” he asked curiously. “Oh my God!"
Dali cast a look of surprise on the two girls in my bed and then looked me up and down. "Did I miss anything?”
"Get your mind out of the gutter!" I yelled.
"What a beautiful picture this is!” Dali grinned. “Let’s snap a photo of it as a reminder."
"No way!" I stopped him.
"I didn’t know you were so possessive!" cried Dali.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you–that was the motto I lived by. The constant threats from Lao Yao with my topless photo left a deep impression on me. I didn’t want anyone to feel the same violation of privacy.
Soon our food arrived, so I woke the girls and the four of us sat down to eat dinner together. Later in the evening, Dali brought us and Luo Youyou to a nearby karaoke lounge to sing the night away. After their short nap, Xiaotao and Bingxin were energetic and raring to go, both providing much entertainment. Xiaotao perfectly imitated a popular female singer while Bingxin serenaded us with a few of her favorites, such as "Ruling the World" and "Koi Song,” which were astonishing to hear.
Under their instigations, I too sang a song. But with my limited repertoire, I settled for an embarrassing rendition of Jay Chou's new song "Waiting for You."
We had a whale of a time and before we left, Dali had somehow pieced together a weird ensemble–a pair of sunglasses and a toothpick between his lips. He stuffed a bag into Xiaotao’s hands. "Officer Huang, this is a little token from me!"
Then, it was Bingxin's turn to receive her share which was more sanitary napkins.
Xiaotao nodded, "You’re a good kid. Thanks for the gift. If you have any problems in the future, please come to me."
"See you tomorrow!" I said.
The girls waved from the car, "See you tomorrow." And with that, Xiaotao left with Bingxin.
"It's not so often we get together and have fun,” sighed Dali. “Dude, how does it feel without me being your assistant?"
"It's not so bad,” I joked. “My work efficiency has increased all of a sudden!"
"Really? So it turns out that I’ve been holding you back all along." Dali looked forlorn.
I patted him on the shoulder, "I'm just kidding! Without you, I’ll have to learn to take better care of myself!"
"That you must!” Dali concurred. “Alright then, I'll send Youyou back first!"
I went back to our shared apartment alone, suddenly conscious of the fact that this wasn’t our familiar school dormitory. Without my boisterous roommates, the place was a little lonely, rather cold and cheerless. I wondered how long the acclimatization to my new situation would take.
Early next morning, I arrived at the station just in time for the case discussion. Most officers were still unaware about the changes in the case. After hearing our new clues and deductions, many were quite surprised.
Xiaotao turned to me and said, "Song Yang was the first to identify the suspicious aspects of the case. When we went to reexamine the crime scene yesterday, the clues we found completely convinced me of his speculations! We’ve come to a preliminary conclusion that there is someone else behind the murder so we must reopen investigations and expand our scope."
"What are you thinking?" asked an officer.
"For now, we must investigate Mr. and Mrs. Ding’s interpersonal relationships to see if they have any enemies. Additionally, we will analyze from all angles. This also means speaking to more witnesses in the community to check for suspicious persons over the past week."
"Is there a specific direction we should look into?"
When Xiaotao threw the question at me, a thought suddenly crossed my mind. "Check the vacant unit opposite the crime scene! Look for witnesses in Building 4 and ask if they saw a man exit the building after 8:10 on the night of the crime."
Then, I gave a brief description of the man. Although I wasn’t certain of his height and appearance, I was positive his gait and habitual patterns were very similar to Mr. Ding’s!Previous Chapter Next Chapter