《Fatal Weakness》CHAPTER ONE: Who Am I?
A corpse specimen processing factory in the suburbs of Qingdao, Shandong province.
"Mr. Yang, thank you for coming. May I ask how you know about our factory?" the receptionist asks Yang Wenfeng, smiling professionally.
"I saw the corpse specimen exhibit held in
"Ah, yes, our boss made over a million
"Where do you get the corpses?" Yang Wenfeng interrupts.
"They're all shipped from overseas."
"Ahh, so...do you have any as tall as me?" Yang Wenfeng probes.
The receptionist lady gives Yang Wenfeng a startled look, then laughs. "You thought all Germans were so big? Actually, many corpses aren't much bigger than yourself. The corpses are shipped here soaking in chemicals and our technicians apply a special chemical treatment, a process which takes about nine months all together, until the corpses are properly plastinated. That's why the body specimens are twenty-five percent shorter than when the corpses were alive.
Yang Wenfeng nods as they pass the words 'Workshop One' written in blue on the wall. The lady says, "here is where we open the containers containing corpses, most of which are sent from Germany; we pull out the freezing corpses, clean out their insides, and move the corpses to soak in an airtight box of chemicals. This chemical formula was invented by our boss."
"Just like the formula for the Coca-Cola you drink every day, the patent is kept top-secret all over the world. The corpses soak here for six months and then are moved to Workshop Two for air-drying treatment, mainly to prevent decay. After they are finished here, corpses come out as tight as a Jinhua Ham, resilient and semi-permanent, they won't deteriorate no matter how hot or cold it is."
"They're all the more like Jinhua hams in that even if you put them in the supermarket, they don't attract any flies, barely organic. The next procedure takes place in Workshop Three, where all work is carried out by technicians who have received at least six months of training directly from our boss. Their task is to pay special care to the post-treatment corpses in creating the various poses as specified by our clients. Some are made to appear as though leaping for a ball; others just hold guns, like soldiers to be plopped down on a battlefield ready to fight. Others are positioned for use in eighteen different sexual positions, and then there are those which if placed in a library, you would just think was someone stilly reading a book."
"Finally, we apply another special technique to place these corpses in a rich variety of poses. At present, only our boss possesses this technique. And not only are these poses fixed, no matter how strong you might be, you won't be able to alter them. Our body specimens have one more special characteristic: with the special care paid to ensure that muscles and facial features appear realistic, the lifelike laughing, angry, sorrowful and happy faces our body specimens are given don't change even after fifty years."
"Other factories are laying workers off," scoffs Yang Wenfeng, "but you're still hiring. Looks like business isn't bad."
"We can't keep up with demand," the reception lady says, unable to keep down her pride. "At the start, only experimental medical laboratories and medical schools that would buy them to be used as teaching materials. Later many companies started placing orders, and now even individuals like to buy them as decorations for their homes or offices..."
"Is it only foreigners who buy them?" asks Yang Wenfeng.
"No, not only. Lately some Chinese companies have started buying from us. The reason our boss wanted to set up his biggest factory here in
"I...I'd like to buy a sitting corpse, like it was driving."
"Interesting. Although, our clients have ordered every kind of pose there is. I think Mr. Yang must be a car collector, no? I don't see any problem with that. Fifty thousand
"No, I need it this week. I'll throw in an extra twenty thousand to speed things up," Yang Wenfeng says, eyes darting around.
The lady thinks for a few seconds, pulls out her computer out and pretends to check it. She raises her head and lets out a breath. "You're in luck, Mr. Yang. It so happens that we have one body right now in a sitting pose. We just need to add a few touches, lift his arms up and then we're ready to go. So I think we've got a deal. Once you've paid you can go back to
"Thank you!" Yang Wenfeng says, ending the conversation, just wanting to leave.
《Fatal Weakness》CHAPTER ONE: Who Am I?
I've been living here for over two years, and I've never heard anyone be so persistent in knocking on my door. In two years, in fact, I can't remember anyone ever knocking on my door. Not counting the landlord Old Bo, of course, when he comes for rent. Even if I pay it on time, every now and then he finds an excuse to come in and check out the room.
The knocking sound picks up again, this time it's more hurried. I snap out of my daze. The sun has already moved up past my feet and is shining on my butt; judging from the path the summer sun takes here in my small bachelor pad, I guess it's already past ten o'clock. I stay as still as a log, squinting, lying on the bed, thinking about waiting until the person outside my door loses patience, or decides nobody's at home and gives up. The knocking starts again, and I give in first. I climb up, pull the towel off the chair beside my bed and wrap it around my waist, opening the door with a bare chest. When I open the door I see Landlord Bo trying to jam the key in the hole with shaking hands. From the looks of it, he's been trying for a while. Before I even have time to get angry, I see standing behind him two middle-aged men, one tall, one short. The old landlord backs off to one side, and the short, fat one of the two strangers flashes his ID in front of my face; before I have time to react, he says, "we're the police. You are Yang Wenfeng, is that correct?"
I nod my head, carefully sizing up the fat cop. Fat cop's face shows exhaustion; he's wearing a t-shirt so dirty it's not clear what color it once was. His dark gray pants are wrinkled. The one with him is much taller, and looks fast and tough, standing there staring at me with a dark look in his eyes.
"Change your clothes. You're coming with us to the station to help with an investigation!"
I'm thinking they've been waiting out here so long they probably have no more patience left. He was probably planning on saying, 'please come with us down to the station, assist us with an investigation into a case.'
I ask them to wait outside for a moment while I go in to get some clothes on. The two cops look at each other, then the tall one sticks his head over my shoulder to check out my room, only to see there's no way for me to escape out the window, fitted with security bars, and they both nod. As I'm getting dressed, I make some noises they'll hear from the other side of the door. I'm thinking, if they can't hear any noise coming from the room, they'll probably get nervous. If the cops get nervous, I'll get nervous too.
Sitting in the back of the cop car, nobody speaks on the way there. When we arrive at the Huiqiao branch of the
"You don't seem very surprised. Do you spend a lot of time in police stations?" the fat cop asks, watching me with a strange expression.
"I've been to take care of my temporary residence permit and hukou, but it's my first time to come in like this in one of your cars."
"Do you know what we've brought you here to do?"
"Didn't you say you wanted my help in an investigation?"
"Right!" The fat cop looks a little silly. "So you know what case it is?"
I shake my head.
"You just say if you know or not. From now on when we ask you questions, you answer. No more shaking or nodding your head," the tall cop says, sternly. He stops for a second, and like on cue, the fat cop says, "he's Section Chief Zhang. My name is Li. We're from homicide." Without waiting for him to finish, Section Chief Zhang adds: "He's Section Chief Li."
"Section chiefs Zhang and Li, good day to you." Now that I know their names, I feel I should be a little more formal, more polite, but I tone it down as I introduce myself. After hearing them say "homicide", I don't feel so much like talking. Wiry Section Chief Li's face is defined, edges and corners, a little boyish; the only facial fault he has is a pair of triangular eyes. Fatty Section Chief Li's body shape is rather undefined, round like a ball from head to toe, no corners at all, just a thick double chin. He doesn't look the least bit like a public security fighter.
While I check them out for a while, they exchange glances. It seems they've decided Zhang will lead the interrogation.
Chief Zhang clears his throat. "Do you know Xie Wanrong?"
I ask him to repeat the name. Xie Wanrong. I think I've heard this name before, but I do a quick search through my memory and can't seem to place this name to any of the women in my head. I pretend like I'm trying hard to remember, when actually there aren't many women in my memory whose last names I know. Most of the faces are of women I've seen in movies, on TV, at the mall or on the street, the ones that caught my eye. But they have no names. I don't want the police sirs to think I'm not trying to answer them, but I'm almost forty, I don't want them to be able to tell there's not much about women up in my brain. Finally, I tell them with no shortage of regret, "I don't know her, or at least I can't remember now."
"You sure about that? Keep thinking."
Again, I go through the motions of thinking and, shaking my head, tell them I definitely don't know any women by that name.
The two section chiefs glance at each other, then they both stare at me. The look on Chief Zhang's face changes to one of happiness, and even the somber, serious-faced Chief Li shows a faint smile. "Well that makes things better," Chief Li says, standing up, walking once around the room, then sitting down again. Chief Zhang takes a big, long, sip of water. I feel the atmosphere in the room change along with their moods, clearing up. I feel a bit confused and wait until they sit down before I mumble, "I don't know what you mean. Better how?"
"We just feel this case is finally starting to take shape."
"Because I don't know this woman?"
"No. Because you're lying!" Chief Li cuts in. "And we don't like it when our suspects lie. But, the more you keep trying to cover up your lies, the better it is for us." As he speaks, he pulls a large photo out from the folder and slowly lays it down, covering the table. I can already tell from the blurred edges of this black and white photo that it's a picture of Rong'er lying down on the bed. She always puts on these kinds of provocative poses for me on the bed, with half of her jet black hair spread on the pillow, the other half draped over her snow-white neck down to her plump breasts, one leg slightly raised, suggestively revealing the sexy g-string she wears. Nine times out of ten, this is enough to make me jiz. These things flash through my brain. The photo has already been placed in front of me, and I realize it was taken by police at the scene. Rong'er's mouth is firmly shut, but her eyes are open wide. My heart contracts for an instant and I look away from the empty eyes in the photo.
"What, you know her? Her sisters found her lying on the bed this morning, dead."
"Rong'er! I know her, I just saw her yesterday." I don't want to see the photo anymore, but I can tell those empty eyes are still watching me.
"And yet you just said you don't know her. Need I remind you, you're lying!" Chief Li's voice suddenly bears a solemn tone. "The one thing you should tell the truth on, and you lie about it! This is what I mean by better."
Chief Zhang watches me silently, then grabs the chance to clarify: "to save everybody's time, you might as well just come clean and tell us. What's your connection to Wanrong's death? Or you can just tell us, did you kill Xie Wanrong?"
I force myself to look back at the photo of Rong'er lying still, and accept that she really is dead. "Did someone kill her? Or did she kill herself?"
"You should be answering questions, not asking them." Chief Zhang puts on an angry air. "We're still waiting for a final verification, but guessing from what we already know, she was murdered. You see how she was put in this pose after her death? People who commit suicide can't do this themselves as they're dying. You ready to start answering questions now?"
"I can't remember her name, I've always called her Rong'er. She likes it when I call her that, and I like it too."
"Rong'er? I see." The two officers look disbelieving, and disappointed. "So tell us, how did she die?"
"Chief Li, Chief Zhang, it should be you telling me that. I don't know anything, really!" I say with urgency. Then I get to thinking, about how much learning about Rong'er's death here and now is helping ease my sorrow. As I defend myself to these two cops, so accustomed to seeing people die, I have to be careful what I say; otherwise, the news of Rong'er's death would have had me crying my eyes out by now.
To save everyone's time, I tell the police that Rong'er is from western
I tell the two Chiefs everything I know. Chief Zhang is a little fascinated to hear it all, but Chief Li is obviously impatient. I think Chief Zhang might have read a few Louis Cha novels, but someone as serious as Chief Li never would. I talk for half an hour, until Chief Li can't take it anymore and cuts me off.
"I think, from listening to what you've been saying, that we can conclude that if Rong'er were unable to find her shining knight Guo Qing true love, that she would feel life were meaningless. Are you suggesting that she might have killed herself?"
"That’s what I'm trying to say—no, I mean, I'm not saying she might have killed herself or whether it was a suicide. That's for you police to decide." And with this, I'm on guard against Chief Li for the first time since coming to the station: "Didn't I already tell you? When people use the name Rong'er, it means they're in love with each other."
"Oh you were in love with each other, were you?" Chief Li looks me over carefully for a bit, then eyes the photo on the table. I feel very uncomfortable. I'm thirty-seven; the photo of Rong'er is her at twenty-two. Rong'er will always be twenty-two, but I'll keep getting older year after year.
"This is some love!" sighs Chief Li after listening closely to my story. "Does she have a steady job?"
"She's a hooker, I don't know if that counts as a steady job or not," I say dryly.
The enchanted and yearning look on Chief Zhang's face suddenly solidifies, responding instantly: "we know what she does. This morning we went through her room, and yet the only address and telephone numbers she had were yours. We found your photo, your address and your clothes stuffed in each of her drawers. I think she must have...loved you?"
The way Chief Zhang draws the word 'love' out makes it sound strange. I guess he's probably holding himself back. I can understand; in this metropolis
"I think she might have been in love with me, no less than I was with her." I'm speaking from the heart, "I can tell you, you're wasting your time. I had nothing to do with her death. After I saw her yesterday, I went home in the evening. You can see we only live a few blocks from each other." I pause when I see the two of them have gone silent, then continue, "Chief Li, Chief Zhang, I've said everything there is to say. Can I leave now?"
They ask me to wait for a bit, and go out, returning after about fifteen minutes. Chief Zhang says to me, "today was a good start, I hope we can continue to cooperate." He then tells me they're worried that because I have no job and my hukou has expired, that if they let me leave, I'll disappear into thin air, never to be seen by them again. I'm the key suspect in this important 'murder case', so he asks me with an advisory tone: "would you be able to stay here for a few days? Let us work the truth out before you go?"
Shocked, I stare. Thinking of what little law I know, I don't know what to say. Chief Li, it seems, can sense this, and explains, "this isn't like being arrested, it's only in consideration of your unique circumstances. We hope you'll stay here and work with us in solving this case. We've gone through the deceased's possessions and have yet to find out if she has any family. I think you also want the killer found as soon as possible, am I right? For the duration of your stay here, we'd take care of the cost of food. You'd be living in a cell, but the door won't be locked. We'll explain to the guards that you're free to leave any time you choose. Although, we hope you understand; if the deceased has in fact been murdered, you would be our most likely suspect. You're also our only lead, so if you do decide to go, we'll be keeping you under surveillance twenty-four hours a day. You know, even the police have limits on spending; as a common citizen, don't you think you should do what's in your power to make a little contribution to the work of the police and social order?"
I'm stunned by what I hear, that I might actually want to contribute to social orde in this special way/. I think of one news story I've seen recently, that over five hundred police throughout the country die on the job each year, and over half of those are from overfatigue. I know that some cops are rotten, but by and large most of them approach their jobs responsibly. I nod.
Chief Zhang gives an excited smile, then says nervously, "if you agree, just sign your name and we can begin."
I look at him as I ask, "do I need a lawyer?"
"What talk is this? We haven't arrested you. Do you want a lawyer? Again, didn't you say you haven't murdered anyone? So what do you need a lawyer for?"
Despite all their courtesy, I can sense how serious this is. If I really wanted to leave, they couldn't stop me. But then again, it wouldn't take them long to get a warrant, and I bet they won't be too courteous then. If this goes badly, I'll still have being arrested in connection with a murder case on my record. Though I don't even know what's going on with the case right now. Stay here and I'll have food and a place to sleep and shit, so I might as well cooperate with them for a few days. I tell them I'll cooperate, and they appear to relax.
"I think, Mr. Yang, that you'll probably want to wash your clothes and what have you. I tell you what, if you agree, I'll take you by your place tonight when I get off work; it'll save you the trip, seeing that all our police cars are all out on duty right now."
I silently hand him the key to my apartment. I get that they've put so much towards solving this case. Everything's done so formally at the police station these days; just getting a warrant takes a day or two of paperwork. I know they're just offering to take me to get some clothes so they can check around my apartment. Except for two or three porn videos from
I hadn't planned on staying here for over three weeks. After the first week, when I began to lose patience and wanted to leave, the two Chiefs had by then already gathered sufficient evidence to formally arrest me. And so I stayed in that detention cell, only now the door was being locked up tight by somebody else, someone outside the door.
The first week in that cell went by not a whole lot differently than if I'd been back in my small apartment. Rong'er's autopsy was on the waiting list, so until they could prove it was homicide, they had no way to carry on in their investigation. But Chiefs Li and Zhang still found time to come chat with me for an hour or two each day. The topic of our discussion over that week didn't change, that being exploring the question 'who I am'. I told them that with top marks, I was able to get into
Most of the time the two Chiefs wouldn't interrupt, just listened attentively as I went on. When Chief Zhang heard I'd gone to Peking and
And thus I eased up, freely recalling up my past, often surprising myself with just how rich my life has been. Tiring as it was, a week had gone by but I had yet to cry. Twice Chief Zhang tried to comfort me like a father: "cry if you need to. Most people don't get through the first week here without crying, and it might even be better if you do."
By the time the second week began, I'd already been formally arrested. Obviously, my introduction to 'who I am' hadn't worked; what those police believe in is evidence. Rong'er had been dissected, which came as some relief; when you die you should be put to rest, but Rong'er was put in that pose on the bed, not an easy thing for me to see.
Monday morning Chiefs Zhang and Li came to interrogate me together. The second he came through the door, Chief Zhang told me the results of the autopsy. The analysis showed that although medication was the cause of death, there were no signs the deceased had been forced to swallow anything. Yet there remained two points for which the possibility of murder could still not be ruled out. The first was that the drug which led to the deceased's death was an American product currently unavailable within
As I listened to Chief Zhang explaining all this, I noticed Chief Li had a thick book in his hands. When I saw the book's title, I felt myself break out in a cold sweat. As far as I could tell, that 500-page criminal psychology textbook could only have two uses: one, to be placed on my head followed by heavy blows, creating a minor concussion that would make me lose control, the kind of concussion that makes people tell the truth and the whole truth. This tactic leaves no visible bruising, and is in complete accordance with new police regulations prohibiting the abuse of suspects. Though, in view of my having graduated from Peking University and studied in America, possibly returning with an overseas background, not to mention the public anger arising from the fact that one university student named Sun from Hubei was just beaten to death in one detention center, I ruled that possibility out. Not that it would be much better if they used this book as reference when interrogating me. The two Chiefs sat down and Li took off his shoes, placing the thick, heavy book on the floor and his feet on top it. I quietly let out a deep breath.
"Mr. Yang, last week you basically told us everything about who you are but, in our experience, ninety percent of criminal suspects do exactly the same. That's why, over this past week, we still haven't figured out who you are, who you really are. We're wondering, from now on, when we question you, will you really tell us who you actually are? We'd like you to answer every single one of our questions truthfully. You've spent time in
I let my head drop, and for the next week there were interrogations every day, such a difference from the first week. I couldn't keep telling them who I think I am, and had to answer each of their questions in consideration of who they think I really am.
"You and Xie Wanrong weren't married, and she's a prostitute. Are you admitting that you pay for sex?" Chief Li asked. "Of course, you have no girlfriend. People always need to take care of their biological needs, this we understand, but paying for sex is illegal."
I had no choice but to explain myself. I said I stay with Rong'er not to take care of my biological needs, but the psychological ones. We'd known each other for two years. You could say it was love at first sight, but she's a hooker, and a high-class, high-cost dancehall hooker at that. Our relationship had nothing to do with money or sex, we’ve never even had sex. She would always talk about her plan, to save up a big stash of money and then stop selling herself, and I decided to wait for that day...
"Wait, wait, what did you just say? You're not telling us that the two of you have never had sex, are you?" Chief Zhang almost jumped up he was so taken aback.
I told them that if they’re using the same definition of sexual relations that former American president
"So you're saying, Mr. Yang, that you have a hooker girlfriend but that you never have sex? Then how do you satisfy yourself?"
I had no choice but to explain even more: I'm already middle-aged, right? And I've been everywhere, seen it all. I don't have my own family or stable sex partners. My sex is like food: I eat when I'm hungry, that's just what I'm used to. Rong'er and I weren't as weird and innocent as you're thinking. Our plan was to wait two more years, and then we'd be together. In any case, I’d wait for the few days each month when it wasn't convenient for Rong'er to take in any clients, and I’d spent those nights with her. It was during these few days that she'd wear her sexiest underwear, just like the one she's wearing in your photo, and she'd act out all the seductive poses of our sex fantasies, and that was enough for me to get off. Of course, sometimes Rong'er would use her mouth and hands to take care of me, and that's just how it was. You must think I'm pretty low, eh? Police comrades?
The second week, with the Chiefs' coaxing, I finally realized I'm not as proud of having once worn that red neck flag as I thought, proudly showing off my awards to mom and dad. It seemed like I was finally starting to get to know myself, conquering myself. By the beginning of the third week, I felt like I'd been stripped naked and made to stand in front of them. I didn't just stop seeing myself as an angel, but even started to believe it was entirely possible that I could kill someone, or that I already had.
The third week was spent in a muddle of self-abuse and deeper self-questioning. I barely had a chance to speak. Ever since the two police comrades had helped me realize 'who I really am' in the second week, they hadn't let up since. I vaguely remember them taking turns growling the same questions at me, more of a 'let us tell you who you really are'.
I finally understood that the person who understands me the most on this earth isn't myself. By far it's these two police chiefs. If last week I was standing naked before them, then this week it's my soul that's been stripped before their eyes. By the time this week ended, I was already perfectly clear as to what trash I am. Every time the interrogations would end, I felt like I'd slipped into a coma.
"Mr. Yang, did you kill Xie Wanrong?" On Friday before he went home, Chief Zhang had suddenly shouted this at me, and suddenly everything went deadly still. Crazed, I looked from Chief Zhang's burning red eyes to Chief Li's triangles. It's a pity these two see through me so much more clearly than I do myself, and tragic that they still get to go home for the weekend. I feel like confessing, ending this all, but something in my blurred consciousness reminds me that if I confess, it'll only be the beginning, not the end. So, I told them to let me think it over for the weekend, and promised that come Monday I'd tell them the truth.
All of Saturday I refused to eat. I told them it wasn't a hunger strike, but because my mind was so messed up that starving seemed the only way I could sober up. That evening, as I lay on the wooden bed, I felt like bawling my eyes out. I sometimes used to cry in secret before, and the next day I would always feel back to normal. But this time I couldn't seem to get the tears out, which made me all the more nervous. Had I already given myself up completely to despair?
When they turned the lights out, I laid there with my eyes closed, letting my mind wander. I thought back to years before of one picture from a war in Africa: a kid all skin and bone kneels beside her mother, long having starved to death, and my mood went extremely heavy. I thought next of the SARS sufferers, separated from their loved ones by a window as they lay dying. Saying goodbye to loved ones through such a thin sheet of glass is so much more unbearable than living without them after they're gone. At this thought, my eyes began to moisten, but I was still unable to let it out. With this, my thoughts turned to the tragic scene of Sun Zhigang, to whom I’m connected only in that we’re from the same province, who was kicked to death in a police detention center. Brother Sun was the same age I was when I came alone to Guangzhou; thinking of people kicking Sun around like a football and, like myself at that age, how full of hope he still must have been, my tears finally began pouring out. Then I thought of myself, lying all alone on a hard wooden bed inside a police station cell, not sure how I wound up there, how things would end, or what the future would hold, and then I finally broke down and sobbed. Before I knew it, I was completely soaked in tears.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"How'd you know I was in the police station?" I ask Director Zhou after we've already sat down at the tasteful, tranquil coffee shop inside the five-star China Hotel.
"I went to the apartment at the address you'd given us and saw the mailbox was crammed full of letters, some of which had even fallen on the floor. I picked them up and saw they were bills."
"Of course they were bills. Nobody would write me. Nobody writes letters these days anyway," I say, woodenly.
"The problem was, I saw that most of the bills were overdue. 'Hah, I thought. Would our little Yang go and stop paying his utilities bills? He must be in trouble.'" Director Zhou says this humorlessly; as he's speaking I almost start laughing, but don't. He must have noticed my expression, and asks with concern, "they didn't torture you in the police station, did they?"
"No, it's not cool to force confessions through corporal punishment and torture these days." For three weeks I was in there, sitting when I wasn't lying down, that's why my back's all stiff now. I say, "actually, the police comrades don't really like all that, it's just sometimes they're in a hurry to solve a case, with pressure coming down from above and all. Not to mention, a faster confession from a suspect not only saves on state spending, but sometimes even saves a life.
"They told me they had you in there for three weeks, but no matter what tactic they used, you just wouldn't crack. On the surface it looked like you were going along with their interrogations, but then time after time you let them down. They couldn't help but admit, you're the toughest suspect they've come across in years...heh, heh." Director Zhou, seeing me furrow my eyebrows and saying nothing, asks with a serious tone of voice, "I'm asking, did they torture you or not?!"
"They didn't. Under national law, torture isn't allowed; the cops are very clear on that."
"Well good, good." Director Zhou relaxes, adds some sugar to his coffee. "So you're saying, you didn't confess to anything?"
"Nothing. Though I think I was about to; I wouldn't have lasted for much longer!" I take a sip of my bubble tea, and for a moment I feel at ease. To tell the truth, when I was inside, I sure missed these tough little pellets it's become so popular to put in milk tea over the past few years.
"What would you have to confess?" Director Zhou almost sprays coffee out his nose. "I mean, would you confess to murdering that woman?"
"Maybe, but I didn't kill her, you know."
"Uh-huh. I had no idea police interrogation techniques had improved so quickly these last few years. They actually almost made you confess." Director Zhou smiles again, "that's good to see."
"After the first week inside, there were a few times when I thought about just confessing. I stopped wondering if it were possible that I might kill someone, or if I already had. Though I hadn't in fact killed anyone, I didn't just have motive to, but in my heart and in my bones I felt it completely possible that I was a murderer. Thinking about it now, it seems impossible. Tell me, Director Zhou, what do make of all this?"
Director Zhou took a long look at me and shook his head. "Little Yang, the highest level of interrogation techniques will make anyone confess to whatever the interrogator wants them to, whether it's a crime they actually committed or not."
My mouth hangs open with shock, and I look at Director Zhou's benevolent face with disbelief. I know that just after Liberation, there was a time when Director Zhou worked in counter-espionage and reconnaissance. From his appearance today, I have no way of imagining what he was like back then, but someone at the Department once told me that at the time, Director Zhou was a master interrogator. Back in the early days of Liberation, well-trained Taiwanese spies suffered through the stormy Taiwan Strait and when they finally got to shore, snuck into Beijing. After they were caught, it took less than an hour of sitting in front of Director Zhou for them the break down and confess everything. Thinking of this, my curiosity peaks and I lift my body up out of the deep, soft sofa, and probe: "Director Zhou, you're saying that if one just acquires the highest levels of interrogation technique, you believe they can make anyone confess? Even those who didn't commit any crime?"
"Not bad, kid." Director Zhou takes a sip of coffee, his voice clearly lowered. "As long as they're human, they'll have weaknesses. Those doing the interrogating just need to seek out the suspects' weakness, then everything is solved."
But Director Zhou doesn't look the least bit like he's got 'everything solved'. He finishes his sentence, lowers his head and continues drinking his coffee. I don't speak either, just look away from Director Zhou and let myself fall back down into the sofa. I'm not fully convinced by what Director Zhou has just said; or rather, I haven't yet fully absorbed it. Like, some people's weaknesses are hidden deep down, so deep they themselves don't know they have such a weakness. Then there's the weaknesses some people appear to have but aren't fatal. Then again, some people, like me, toil through life with no desires or needs. Aside from death, I don't know what other 'fatal' weakness I might have. There's one more kind of person, though, the kind who aren't the least bit afraid to die; even if you get hold of their fatal weakness, what's the use?
There's a depressed feel in the air, and minutes later Director Zhou raises his head, saying silently, "everyone has a weakness." I notice his eyes are a bit moist from the coffee, and I guess he must be thinking back to his Cultural Revolution days. According to the rumors back at the Ministry, back in the day, the rebels figured out Director Zhou's fatal weakness, killing one mother and son. They say at the time the kid was only three. I don't know all the exact details, but nor do I want Director Zhou to be thinking about this, so I change the subject.
"But if the suspect hasn't even committed a crime and still confesses, what good is that for the interrogator? How can they crack the case?"
"Such is the high art of interrogation," Director Zhou says, drifting back out of his memory, "grabbing hold of the suspect's fatal weakness, and using means of mental or physical torture until the suspect comes close to crumbling. This is when suspects break, and spill everything out. Those who have done this will tell you, in most cases, so they can escape sooner, even the innocent will confess; sometimes they'll even exaggerate, or describe things down to the last detail.
"Director Zhou, I don't believe it. You call this the high art of interrogation?" I can't even hide that I'm puzzled and displeased.
"Just let me finish. Reaching this step requires a high level of learning in interrogation, especially when use of physical torture and anesthetic drugs isn't allowed; to reach this stage, the interrogator needs to grasp two points: one is the suspect's fatal weakness; the second is to have a certain knowledge of psychology, and no lack of either. Getting the suspect's oral confession is only the first step; the next step is what's crucial in breaking the case, that being knowing which parts of the suspect's oral confession are real, and which parts are false."
I make like I understand, but I really don't; you know, books have been written about everything on the planet, but there's no book that teaches you how to force a confession!
"At this point, the interrogator must be clear; the suspect's confession was forced out, some of it will be untrue. Because they're about to break down, it's easy to tell the difference between the truth and their lies. It's always easier at this point for the interrogator to tell the difference than at the beginning, when suspects will put on an air of speaking from the heart. Take you, for example, if you'd really murdered Rong'er, you'd have confessed to giving her some drug or another and described how you committed the crime. But these details would only have been known to the police after a careful autopsy. If the details you gave had matched what the police have, then the chance that you made them up would have been one in a million. This would have proven beyond a doubt that you are guilty! But there's another scenario, where in an attempt to free yourself sooner, you start lying through your teeth. Like when you said you fed her some sleeping pills, because you thought that's how most people kill themselves. Or like when you admitted to having had a sexual relationship with her, these things of course could be found out by the police through an autopsy. But when you're about to break down, whether you're lying or telling the truth, it's all done unconsciously. That's why interrogators with grasp over the highest level of interrogation techniques can determine the veracity of confessions made on the brink of emotional collapse.
"Brutal!" I can't help but sigh.
"Of course, this kind of interrogation isn't suited for most criminal cases. I'm talking about cases of national security, of espionage or terror cases that pose serious risk to public safety." Stopping for a sec, with a serious look, Director Zhou shakes his head. "It's just too bad that so many interrogators make the mistake of using these interrogation tactics. They get suspects to confess while in a state of mental disarray and think they've completed their task and can report back to their superiors, when really they haven't reached step two. Who knows how many false convictions confessions forced under torture have resulted in."
I think out loud, "nearly forty years old and I have no idea what my own fatal weakness is, or else I could have prevented all this. See, I'm a person who worries so much about even letting his bills go unpaid that you could tell from looking at them that something must have happened to me, yet—"
"Little Yang, it wasn't from your overdue bills that I knew you were in trouble," Director Zhou softly cuts in, "I phoned you before I came, then phoned your parents' home—"
"My parents?" I ask nervously, "they don't know where I've been."
"Right, they didn't know where you were, and they told me you hadn't been home to see them for two weeks straight, hadn't called either. So I knew something must have happened to you."
"I tense up at the mention of my aged parents, but try my best to keep my cool in front of Director Zhou. Deep down, though, I know that no matter how cool an exterior I try and keep my nervousness behind, hiding it from Director Zhou's sharp eyes will just be in vain. I'm lucky Director Zhou is there for me, just like a father. As I rush towards forty, he's the only person who can call me Little Yang and still leave me feeling warm; with him, there's no need to hide everything.
"Little Yang, I'll try and hurry up with what I have to say, you ought to be getting home," Director Yang says, staring at his coffee as he speaks. He's already on his third cup, and a lazy aroma rises up from the coffee and spreads through the air. "Of all the young people I know, you're the one I like the most. When you first left the Ministry of State Security, I lost track of you for a while. Though, I respect you, especially your choices. You weren't paid that much working for us, and your parents weren't used to Beijing's climate. You came to Guangzhou to look for work, so I had no way to help you out; luckily you get paid a lot more than you did in Beijing, that at least makes me feel better. Only that I hated to see you leave, I feel you would have made one extremely outstanding intelligence agent."
I'm a bit moved, my eyes a bit watery. These last few years since I got out of the game and came to Guangzhou, I haven't done too badly for myself, but I've always felt something wasn't right. Just take what Director Zhou said; none of the bosses I've worked for over these past few years have ever given me this kind of praise. They've all did their best to give free rein to my abilities and were never been stingy in raising my pay, but they still almost never gave me compliments. I think mostly they we're afraid I'd get too proud, or that complimenting me would lead to me recognizing my own worth, and demanding higher wages. Of course, not long after the boss praised them, some staff did take off for better jobs.
"Little Yang, I didn't come just to see you, there's another thing, I wonder if you can help," Director Zhou says quietly, quickly, clearly, "you could say it's an assignment..."
 Jinhua Hams:
 50,000 HKD is nearly 6,300 USD
 Huiqiao: a neighborhood in the Southern Chinese city of
 a residency permit issued in the People's Republic of
 Chinese martial arts novelist: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinyong