“Done for the day?” Jiao asked Cui Jing, who had just walked in with a pile of books in her hands. Jiao herself was just about to leave too.
“Yeah! Man, I'm tapped out!” exclaimed Cui Jing as she winked at Jiao before heading towards her desk. “And where are you going, Ziyuan? To your beloved art studio?”
“Yup!” nodded Jiao. “Where else would I go?” She tilted her head and wittily looked at Cui Jing before adding, “Don't tell me you want me to come to the piano studio with you to practice piano.”
“Hehe, no,” replied Cui Jing as she rolled her eyes. “I'm not one for grinding away my fingers all the time. If you want to go by yourself, be my guest. Here are the keys.” She tossed the keys to the piano studio towards Jiao.
“Hey, what's with the att.i.tude?” Jiao complained as she caught the keys. “What's with you these days? Did you undergo some traumatic experience or something? You don't even want to go buy handbags or cosmetics anymore.”
“Who, me?” asked Cui Jing as she pointed at her chest with an astonished look. “No way you're talking about me. I'm a good girl, I am!” She then stretched out her hand and wagged her finger at Jiao while she stood next to her desk. “Don't you ruin my reputation as a proper lady!”
“Ha! Dream on!” retorted Jiao as she shoved the piano studio keys into Cui Jing's outstretched hand. “Thanks for the invitation, but I'll pa.s.s. I'll leave you alone to sing mushy songs with your lover.” She turned and stepped out the teacher's office.
“Oh, Ziyuan! I'm so hurt!” Cui Jing cried out in feigned pain. “Why aren't you here to pick me up yet, Hubby?”
When she saw Jiao had already left the office, Cui Jing turned her head and quietly stared at the apartment building across the street. By now, she knew that Meng lived in that very building; she just didn't know which floor or which unit. Even though Meng liked Cui Jing, he still wasn't willing to divulge his true ident.i.ty to her. After all, in Meng's eyes, there was no place in a pure princess's life for a street gangster like him, even though his princess had once been a rich playboy's eye candy.
Jiao sat down inside her art studio and started painting in silence. After a while, she stopped to look outside her window. Painting by herself used to be her favorite part of the day. However, there were a lot of things on her mind these days, so she was finding it difficult to concentrate on painting.
Did Sister Xiu really die from her drug trafficking activities? Was she really inadvertently killed by her fellow alley prost.i.tutes? Who's been killing them off to avenge Sister Xiu? Jiao's mind couldn't help but drift back to the alley serial murder case. It sounded plausible when Jiang Zhengkai told her that Xiu had been dealing drugs. After all, Xiu loved money, so it wouldn't be difficult to believe she would do anything to get her hands on more of it. Likewise, most of the other prost.i.tutes in the alley loved money, too. But were they really willing to kill Xiu over it? Could there be some other motive? And just who was willing to seek revenge for Xiu and kill all those people? These were questions that Jiao couldn't find an answer to by herself. Even though she was a very intelligent person, she'd spent her whole life without that gnawing hunger for money, so she couldn't understand the fear and terror of not having it or why some people would kill for it.
What can I do to help my boyfriend? Jiao sat there thinking to herself. Really, this was the question that she cared about the most. But even after turning it over in her mind for a long time, she still couldn't come up with the answer. Jiao was no cop, so she didn't know how to use a police officer's way of thinking when approaching difficult questions. She could only use a woman's intuition, or more accurately, a wife's or girlfriend's way of thinking when considering these issues.
I'm so conflicted! Finally, Jiao picked up the paintbrush and started casually splattering paint on the canvas. Although she'd had deep affection for Xiu, that affection was the result of Xiu saving Jiao's life when she was at her most desperate hour. In actuality, the two spent very little time together: only three short months. But those who partic.i.p.ated in Xiu's killing were women who had interacted with Jiao for the better part of two years, and some of them, like Hua and Hui, were quite friendly towards her. If I were able to convince the killer that Sister Xiu's death was an accident, would that perhaps save the lives of the surviving women? The paintbrush in Jiao's hand paused, leaving a growing blot of paint on the canvas.
“Honey, I've got to go visit the hospital tonight,” Jiang Zhengkai called her to report. “Are you okay to go home by yourself?”
“Of course! I'm not a three-year-old child,” Jiao told him. “When will you be back? I get worried when you're out late at night.”
“I should be back before midnight,” Jiang Zhengkai perfunctorily answered. He didn't actually know when he would be back. After all, Lian wasn't exactly of sound mind. Although Jiang Zhengkai had taken all the necessary precautions, he couldn't ensure that something unexpected wouldn't occur.
“That late?” asked Jiao, as she placed the non-business end of her paintbrush in her mouth. “Can I… go with you?”
“You want to go, too?” Jiang Zhengkai hesitated for a second when he heard Jiao's request. Even though the Battle of the Warehouse had revealed the nature of Jiao's relations.h.i. p with Jiang Zhengkai to all those police officers that took part in the operation, the only two people on the police force who knew about Jiao's true ident.i.ty were Jiang Zhengkai himself and Lu Xiaoqiang. None of the other officers knew that Ren Ziyuan and Jiao were one and the same. In their eyes, the woman who had been kidnapped was a preschool teacher who happened to be dating Jiang Zhengkai. They only knew her as Ren Ziyuan, not as Jiao.
“So… is that a no?” asked Jiao. Her voice sounded downcast, obviously disappointed that she wouldn't be able to spend time with Jiang Zhengkai tonight. She couldn't explain why she wanted to be with him; she just knew that she wanted to.
“Umm… alright, fine!” In the end, Jiang Zhengkai decided to grant Jiao's request. He'd been distracted thinking how Lian might react if Jiao suddenly appeared. But at the end of the day, he didn't want Jiao to go home alone either. Ever since Jiao had been abducted by Sui Zhongyi, Jiang Zhengkai cared even more for her safety. If it were possible, he'd want to keep Jiao in his sights every minute of every day.
“Really? Honey, you're the best!” Jiao squealed happily.
“But you have to promise me that you will do everything I say. You can't have an att.i.tude, okay?” Jiang Zhengkai uneasily emphasized.
“Okay, okay!” Jiao nodded repeatedly at her cell phone. “I'll do whatever you say, Honey, as long as I can be with you.”
“That's good!” Jiang Zhengkai continued. “Alright then, I'll head over in just a sec. Can you leave work early today? I'd like to head over to the hospital early, if possible.”
“Sure, no problem!” Jiao continued to nod. “I don't have any afternoon cla.s.ses. We are just about ready for summer vacation, so I'm good to go!”
“Great! I'll call you when I get there,” said Jiang Zhengkai before he hung up.
Jiao knew that “a sec” was much closer to “a long while” for Jiang Zhengkai, so she didn't hurry to gather her belongings. Rather, she continued to sit in front of her easel and finish up her painting. But by now, Jiao was in a much better mood, so her paintbrush flew across the canvas at record speed.
On the other end, Jiang Zhengkai put down his cell phone and picked up his office phone to call Liu Na, who was still on watch at the hospital. He asked her if everything had been prepared and ready to go there. Then he reviewed Lian's case file one more time. Only after he had finished with all of his preparatory work did Jiang Zhengkai finally leave his office.
“Xiaoqiang, grab your things. We're heading over to the hospital,” said Jiang Zhengkai as he tapped his napping subordinate.
“Yes, Inspector Jiang!” acknowledged Lu Xiaoqiang in between yawns, before he rose from his desk chair. Looked like he'd pulled an all-nighter trying to apprehend Hui.
“I'll drive. We'll go pick up Ziyuan first. You can sleep in the car,” said Jiang Zhengkai as he and Lu Xiaoqiang walked out of the sub-bureau together.