A Case of Two Cities
The fourth book in the Inspector Chen series, 2006
AN ANONYMOUS PHONE CALL came to the Fujian Police Bureau at 1:15 a.m. on that early May night.
“Come to Inebriating Money and Intoxicating Gold immediately. Room 135. You will find front page stuff for the FujianStar.”
Sergeant Lou Xiangdong, the cop who answered the phone, had heard of the place before. It was a so-called karaoke center, but really known for its karaoke-covered sexual service among the corrupt officials and businessmen. The Fujian Star was a local tabloid newspaper founded in the mid-nineties. The telephone call delivered an unmistakable message: there was something scandalous going on in that room.
But Lou felt sleepy and grumpy. He had chosen to work on this late shift for the night subsidy. A bachelor reaching his mid-thirties, he had just met a lovely girl, with whom he was going to have dim sum the next morning, and a week’s subsidy would probably cover the expense. He had been dreaming of golden bamboo steamers, of the mini shrimp buns and crab dumplings, her crispy laughter rippling in a tiny cup of Dragon Well tea, and her white fingers tearing the green lotus leaf off the sticky rice chicken for him…
The police bureau received this sort of anonymous call occasionally, but most of them were false alarms. With corruption spreading like an uncontrollable plague all over the country and the gap between the poor and the rich increasing, people reacted out of their frustration. Consequently, when cops hurried out to those notorious entertainment places, more often than not they found decent businesses there, the K girls-karaoke girls allegedly hired to sing along with companionless clients-dressed demurely, as if still buttoned up with the puritan codes of Mao’s time. People knew too well, however, what they really performed, totally unbuttoned, behind the closed doors of private K rooms.
But Lou was not so sure about the calls being false alarms or practical jokes. Infamous resorts like Inebriating Money and Intoxicating Gold were known to be associated with high-ranking officials in the city government, with insider tips readily available to them. That was probably why the police raids had ended up fetching water with a bamboo basket-total failures.
Despite this, the sergeant made up his mind to go. The informer sounded urgent, with a specific room number too, and like other low-level cops, Lou was concerned about the corruption getting out of control in “ China ’s brand of socialism.” He did not mention anything to his colleagues, and he took an office cell phone and set out in a jeep.
Ten minutes later, he walked into the club. In the large entrance hall of Inebriating Money and Intoxicating Gold, he saw a stage at one side, with a bevy of girls strutting around in bikinis, and in the mist, a willowy girl in transparent gauze with cloudlike trails danced barefoot to lambent music, which floated out of the imitation Dunhuang murals behind. Off the stage, a line of K girls waited in their black mini slips and transparent slippers. One of them rose and flurried toward Lou, reaching out her skinny, pasty arms like clipped chicken wings. It reminded him of a brothel scene in an old movie. From the private rooms along the somberly lit corridor, he heard a chorus of moaning and groaning. Two or three clients in the hall were moving among the K girls like fish in the water, bargaining with a muscular night manager in a black Tang costume.
Lou turned to the night manager, who started an introduction, grinning though a ring of his cigarette smoke.
“My name is Pang. We are pleased to offer you our service. Puncturing the clock costs a hundred yuan. For a rich and successful man like you, you will definitely need more. Puncturing the clock three times, I would say. Not including the amount for puncturing the hole. For the whole night, you can enjoy a wholesale discount. You may discuss the details with the girl you choose. Take a look at Meimei. So beautiful, so talented. She can play your jade flute into a soul-ravishing song.”
Pang must have taken Lou for a new client. Puncturing the clock probably meant half an hour or an hour, Lou supposed, but he did not have to guess about “puncturing the hole” or “playing the jade flute.”
Lou took out his badge. “Take me to Room 135.”
Startled like a wakened sleepwalker, Pang tried in vain to convince the cop that no one was there. When they arrived at the room in question, the door was locked, with no light coming out of it. At Lou’s insistence, the night manager took out a key, opened the door, and turned on the light.
The light outlined a sordid scene. On a sofa bed lay two naked bodies, their legs still entwined like fried dough sticks. A middle-aged man with gray-streaked hair and long hairy limbs slept next to a young girl, thin, ill-developed, perhaps only seventeen or eighteen, with slack breasts and a broad patch of black hair over her groin. The room stank of sex and other suspicious odors. The glaring light failed to wake them up.
Walking over to the bed with a frown, Lou shoved the man on the shoulder. When the man showed no sign of response, Lou leaned down and was shocked to find him dead. The girl slept on, a luscious smile playing on her lips, her hand resting on his cold belly.
A more stunning discovery came to Lou. The dead man was none other than Detective Hua Ting, the head of the special case squad of the Fujian Police. Impulsively, Lou grabbed a blanket to cover the body before he pulled back the dead man’s eyelid-a bloodshot eye stared back at him with an unfathomable message. The corneas were not exactly opaque, which suggested that the death was recent. He turned to pick up Hua’s clothing, which was scattered on the ground, and felt something bulging in the pants pocket. It was a pack of cigarettes, Flying Horse.
Across the room, the girl finally stirred and awoke. Opening her eyes, she appeared terrified. She jumped up, fell down, and tossed her head from side to side, her naked body twitching like a rice-paddy eel. Lou then realized that he should take pictures of the crime scene.
“Don’t move,” he shouted, holding the camera while she broke into a hysterical fit of screaming and squirming. The pictures might truly be stuff for the FujianStar. He would never do that, though. Hua had been one of his trainers upon his entrance into the police.
“The eighteenth level down in hell, rats and snakes,” she sobbed, like she was still struggling in a nightmare, her eyes vacant. “Old Third, I want to cut your damned bird to a thousand pieces. A small sip, like a teardrop. Never seen him. Never known him.”
Getting anything coherent from her was out of the question. Lou had to call the bureau. This was a scandalous case, and the bureau might be anxious to control the damage to its public image, especially since corrupt cops had started to appear on Chinese TV series. No one seemed to be immune, incorrigible, in the age of Inebriating Money and Intoxicating Gold, even a veteran officer like Hua. Lou decided to make a phone call to the bureau head, Ren Jiaye. It was a long call, and Lou came to an abrupt stop toward the end of his report.
“What’s wrong?” Ren asked.
Something disturbed him. Lou recalled the case assigned to Hua- “ China ’s number one corruption case,” as described in the People’s Daily. It was an investigation of Xing Xing, a high-ranking Fujian Party cadre and business tycoon with an empire of smuggling operations under him, run through his connections at all government levels. To be exact, it was an investigation of the corrupt officials connected with Xing since Xing had fled the country. But it was only a hunch of the moment, Lou thought, and he did not mention it to the bureau head.
Finishing his report, Lou hung up with the bureau and dug out Hua’s home number. He hesitated. He started pacing about the room, the girl sobbing like a broken electronic flute, and Pang still standing like a terra cotta figure in a Tang tomb.