The Sketch Artist


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Chapter 75: What Remains

Lunar New Year was approaching and the streets were decorated with lanterns and colored streamers, and joyous new year songs were played in all the shops and supermarkets. The normally banal melodies seemed to shine with the festive occasion, and peoples’ defire to shop intensified due to the lofty atmosphere. The normally cheerless marketplace was beginning to thrum with a hard-to-come-by vitality. Among the never-ending stream of people, a casual-looking man sporting a briefcase strode into a boutique. He was greeted by a smiling, enthusiastic staff member, and in no time at all she had helped him select a style of overcoat and led him to a sofa to relax while she went and got his size from the backroom.

When the girl went into the backroom, the man wiped the sweat off his brow vigorously, his face looking tired and gloomy. He got up and went out, leaving his briefcase at the foot of the sofa. The shop staff didn’t notice, as he was like all the other happy-go-lucky customers going in and out. It seemed like a normal day like any other, but she didn’t know what was about to happen in the outside world…

Gu Shi waited outside the investigation team office for half an hour. She leaned against the wall, standing there blankly, pretending to look at her phone as if she were waiting for her boss to finish what he was doing, paying no attention to her coworkers who came and went, throwing her odd looks.

The door was unlocked, but from where she stood she could hear every word clearly. She heard Zhang Chi talking in a rare, obsequious tone, his face looking worse and worse.

“Do you know I’m gonna have to think of a way to explain this to the boss? Who do you think you are, Zhuge Liang, that we they have to come see you three times and request in earnest before you’ll say yet?” Captain Liu suppressed the anger from his voice. The minister had sought Zhang Chi that day, wanting to talk things over, but everyone knew this was way of showing respect to Zhang Chi. The People’s Police often like a brick; they didn’t have much right to choose for themselves. Zhang Chi, of course, was no exception.

“I’ve caused you trouble; It’s my fault.” Zhang Chi said calmly.

“Don’t give me that,” Captain Liu growled. “Are you trying to get me in trouble? Tell me, your parents are out of the country, you’re not getting married or tied down to family, so why can’t you move to a city where you can grow?”

Gu Shi held her phone tightly outside the door and put her head down and inched closer to the door.

Zhang Chi spoke up after a long silence. “I have an sentimental attachment to this city. I’ve been to Beijing, but I just can’t get used to it there. When I go there I just get sick.”

So that was his excuse. Gu Shi pursed her lips, feeling a bit suffocated.

“However, don’t worry, boss. Though I can’t go to the ministry, I can do the work. The work is all the same no matter where I am. I can go out on assignment and work overtime to help provide clues to crack cases, and I can train others as well. I promise to hold nothing back and use all my experience to train the other sketch artists in other cities.” Zhang Chi was proposing an alternative plan but held fast to wanting to stay with his present unit.

“Do you know our Old Wang, the forensic medical expert?” Captain Liu asked. “Several years ago, the Ministry of Public Security took a liking to him and offered him a job and wanted to transfer him to headquarters to focus on training. He talked it over with his fiancée, but her parents were vehemently opposed, saying they wouldn’t approve of the marriage if he went, and so he didn’t. You know what became of him afterward. He’s led a common life and never had such an opportunity again. When he retires he’ll probably still be an ordinary policeman with a nominal position.”

“Everyone has a different value system. As long as you can do your job well and have a clear conscience, there’s nothing to regret.”

Captain Liu could do nothing. This guy’s plan was too large. They had talked it out for over an hour, praising, criticizing, analyzing the pros and cons, and making all kinds of promises. He just could not be swayed, and he refused to say the real reason he wanted to stay here. Just what was he trying to do?

A phone call broke the stalemate. Captain Liu answered. “Oh, Zhang Chi, he’s here in my office. I’ll get him.”

Zhang Chi took the phone and just repeated “Mm”, “Alright”, “Understood”, then handed the phone back, then nearly burst through the door on his way out, startling Gu Shi. He looked at her body language and knew what she had been doing. He didn’t seem surprised as he hurried along. He turned to her. “Can we talk in my office?”

She followed him to his office. Ever since Little Wu was gone, Chen Ting had been working more out in the field, leaving pretty much just Zhang Chi there by himself in the office. There were freedom, but it was also a bit lonely, especially Little Wu’s empty desk. There was an unspoken agreement among everyone not to move his things, as if he never left and would be back again the next day, laughing it up as always.

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The first thing Zhang Chi said after shutting the door was, “I guess you heard what we talked about? And you’re gonna ask me why I didn’t say the real reason I didn’t want to leave.”

“So what do you want to tell me?”

“A lot of things. Things I have no way to explain to you clearly.”

“Including the first batch of apprentices the higher-ups dispatched to you who will be sticking close to you for the next month while you are relieved of your other duties to teach them?” Gu Shi was constantly clicking a pen as she spoke. She was the first to see the student data as she was receiving a fax when the fax from the Ministry of Public Security came through. It was her who gave it to the office staff.

Most of the students on the roster were young, pretty lady officers from different academies across the provinces. The whole country was starting criminal composite sketch artist training programs and Zhang Chi was to be one of the instructors.

“That’s not important.” Zhang Chi looked out the window, holding his tongue.

To Gu Shi his expression seemed to reveal more than more he tried to hide it.

“Then you tell me, what is important to you?” Her voice was still calm as water, but he could detect something large and ominous underneath.

How was he supposed to tell her, tell her “I don’t care about honors or positions; I don’t care about posts or work assignments, that what he believed in was using his own special skills and knowledge and courage give the law the proper respect it deserves”? Or say that “When faced with a vicious, hidden villain, the deep love he felt with for his comrade-in-arms in that critical moment of life or death was meaningless”? These words came from the heart, but they sounded elegant and stately and highfalutin. He couldn’t say it, and she ought to know it already in her heart.

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A phone vibrated and Gu Shi subconsciously looked at it and motioned that it was his. Zhang Chi snapped out of it. It really was a message for him. He turned on his phone. It was a new, forwarded video. On the screen was a scene of the street from security footage from the place he was newly assigned to. People shuttled back and forth along the street at the entrance to the market. Not two minutes later there was a muffled sound, followed by a loud sound and all the glass in the windows along the street shattered and thick smoke spilled out from a broken second-storey window. People were screaming from near and far, streaming out of every exit all around and pushing into each other as they fled.

He watched the video, expressionless, turning the volume all the way down. From the corner of his eye he saw Gu Shi’s unhappy eyes sweep over him silently and he hit fast forward.

A man appeared on the screen with tears running down his panic-stricken face. He held a woman who was covered in blood as he staggered out of the crowd, nearly falling to his knees at the market entrance. Zhang Chi’s chest tightened. He recalled a man in the crowd who looked out of place with the rest of the happy-go-lucky shoppers and his face clouded over. Zhang Chi seemed to see in the camera himself holding Gu Shi as she was on the verge of death, laying helplessly and hopelessly on the entrance steps, and he felt cold sweat all over.

Zhang Chi was not all there, but his throat suddenly constricted. “About the question you just asked me, what I wanted to say was that, a lot of times an adult’s feelings cannot just go along with what one wishes. Like me right now. I obviously want to continue being together with you, but I have to part with you temporarily. That would be the best for both of us.”

Gu Shi looked at him in disbelief, as if she didn’t even recognize him as she listened to his words mechanically spilling from his mouth. “It’s better to just get it over with rather than prolong the agony. Fortunately, we just started, and you can see how busy it is, both of us working in the investigation team. I can’t take good care of you. Most of the time when you need me to be with you I will be away on assignment, working overtime. I’m not qualified to be your boyfriend. You deserve someone better.”

He watched her get up slowly, clearly trying to hold back tears. But he couldn’t stop himself from saying those hypocritical words just now. But only he knew that this was the best thing for Gu Shi. If they were really fated to be together then they could continue in the future.

“So, the reason you didn’t say to me in front of Captain Liu back there was because you had already decided?” Gu Shi looked him right in the eyes, which were already the cold eyes she used to look at him with before. He had almost forgotten that look.

Zhang Chi took it and said nothing back in response.

Gu Shi bit her lip and talked faster, her eyes welling up. “There’s no need for you to feel responsible for anything. It’s not that complicated. We’re just coworkers. You and I never started, so what’s this talk of ending?”

Her words had the intended effect. Zhang Chi was floored, rooted to the spot. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. After a long time he said, “I have to report to Heze City right away. There’s an explosion case there connected to the one we had here. I’ll probably be gone at least two weeks. So then, I’ll be on my way.” He wanted to give her a big hug, but she didn’t come over to him. Her word “coworker” came back to him and he hung his hands down limply and looked at Gu Shi helplessly and then left quickly.

Zhang Chi finished up his case work on the computer, depressed, then put the notebook he always carried with him and his sketch paper in a suitcase in the corner of the office. As he was leaving the station he turned toward Gu Shi’s office window, but it was empty, as if the building was deserted. Just like his heart. He couldn’t hold back the hot tears that spilled from his eyes. He had a feeling that Gu Shi was in a corner watching him quietly. He couldn’t bear to look back again for fear that if he did his heart, which had sacrificed their relationship to protect her, would waver.

She would probably never know that he was doing as he had promised Teacher, that he would always, in his own way, secretly watch her and guard her and guarantee her safety. Even though his own heart had been riddled with wounds from her disappointed gaze and distant expression.

>At that moment, Gu Shi had really wanted to slap him in the face, but his eyes had harbored a clear, yet ineffable secret. She would rather believe his excuse, but she could not let go of her pride. His insincere words were like a runaway horse, barging out and scattering his good intentions.

Now she was hiding behind the window curtain in her office. This corner was concealed and safe. She could see the station entrance clearly, but outsiders would have no idea she was there. She waved to Zhang Chi as he looked back at her and bid him farewell. She was only aware of an extreme pain in her heart.

The two closest people to her in the world had left her.

She waved and waved. Then she squatted down. She didn’t know if this goodbye was temporary or if it was a goodbye for good. She could only cover her face in the corner and weep.


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