The Last Honest Cops
Detective Sergeant Wong Lihan was one of the last honest cops in Shanghai. His home stood in mute testimony to that fact.
There was no carpet. The wooden floors were exposed and battered, the varnish long faded to a dull brown, and here and there were small pits and blackened stubs. The bland green walls were empty, save for a single black-and-white wedding portrait of a younger Wong in a Western suit and a woman in a flattering cheongsam. A ceiling fan rotated slowly overhead, fighting a losing battle against the sweltering Shanghai summer. The one luxury was a home radio, standing lifelessly in a corner.
The man himself sat across the living room table on an ancient wooden chair, dressed in his best: a pressed white shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbow, and flat gray pants. The stiff collar failed to conceal the bandage wrapped around his throat.
Wong smiled, grunted, and nodded.
Mrs Wong hovered over her husband’s shoulder. She was still the charming woman depicted in the portrait, but deep lines carved through her face and her eyes were hooded with sorrow.
“He says it’s good to see you too.”
“Still can’t talk?” Lee asked.
“Mm,” Wong said.
“The doctor said he should rest his voice,” his wife added.
“A month, at least,” she said.
“Just a month? He could go a year without talking if he had to.”
A baleful expression crossed the detective’s face. His wife giggled, covering her mouth with her hand, and for a second the years abandoned her.
“You’ve got a wicked tongue,” she exclaimed.
“Hazards of the job.”
Shaking her head, she asked, “Would you like a drink? We have coffee, tea…”
“Tea would be fine.”
She padded to the kitchen, humming as she went. The second she was out of earshot, Lee leaned in.
“I’m sure you didn’t send for me because you wanted the company,” Lee said.
“I thought so.”
Wong gestured at Lee’s belly and raised an eyebrow. What was left of Lee’s innards quivered involuntarily.
A month ago, Lee and Wong followed the trail of the enigmatic Ouyang Li Yan, better known as the Shanghai Songbird—and a Japanese spy. The final encounter at her nightclub ended in bullets and blood. She had shot Lee in the gut and Wong in the throat. Lee, in turn, had shot her in the face.
“The doctors had to remove a few inches from my large intestine,” Lee said. “I needed a colostomy bag for a while, but they removed it five days ago.”
Wong’s head bounced up and down. Mrs Wong returned with a cup of steaming tea. As Lee sipped at it, Wong removed a packet of cigarettes from his breast pocket. He tapped the packet open, slipped a coffin nail into his mouth, and held it out to Lee.
“Thanks,” Lee said, taking a smoke.
Mrs Wong frowned mightily.
“You shouldn’t smoke at home. It stinks.”
Wong spread his arms out, as if saying, See what I have to put up with?
Lee chuckled. As his wife retreated, Wong produced a matchbook from a pants pocket. The men struck a match each and lit up. The cigarette tasted like a burning tire, but Lee wasn’t in a position to complain.
“What do you need my help with?” Lee asked.
Wong pushed a notebook over the table. There was a fountain pen clipped to the cover, wedged into a spot one-third of the way through. Flipping the book open, Lee saw pages crammed with blue ink ideograms scrawled in a heavy hand, occasionally crossed out and overwritten.
Before we pursued the Shanghai Songbird, my men and I were tracking a black market arms dealer named Shen Jianhao. He purchases weapons and ammunition from policemen and soldiers, and re-sells them to the triads. He was as slippery as a snake, but he has finally resurfaced.
My men have made contact with Shen through his cut-outs, and have arranged a transaction. One of my men will meet Shen to sell him guns and bullets. We want your help to arrest him.
Many constables of the Shanghai Municipal Police supplemented their wages by selling their ammunition and confiscated weapons to black marketeers. The same guns and bullets that would later be fired at gangsters and their brother officers. Lee had lost track of the number of cops he and Wong had arrested alongside illegal arms dealers, back in the days when Lee still had a badge.
Lee leaned back. Sucked in a cloud of smoke deep into his lungs. Felt the heat gather in his chest. Expelled a long gray stream into the air.
Without the ability to speak, Wong couldn’t communicate with his men. He needed someone who could speak for him, someone he could trust.
But Lee wasn’t a cop. Not any more.
Wong took a short puff on his cigarette and raised an eyebrow. Lee pretended to re-read Wong’s response. Out the corner of his eye, Lee saw Wong scratching at his bandage. A perfectly natural act.
Lee knew it wasn’t.
Wong had been shot while helping Lee with a personal errand. Lee had to take responsibility.
But without his pride, a man is nothing.
“Normally, people pay me for jobs,” Lee said.
Wong coughed. A deep hacking cough that was one-part pain, one-part disbelief, one-part amusement. It was laughter.
“I mean it,” Lee said.
Wong dug into his pants pocket and removed his wallet. Digging around, he removed an object and tossed it across the table. Lee caught it in mid-air and held it up to the light.
It was a copper coin, one of the new coins issued last year. A one-fen coin, worth one-hundredth of a yuan.
“Payment received,” Lee said.
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