Today's Reading

Lu is secretly smitten with her. So, he suspects, are the four men playing drinking games.

And a sizable percentage of the male population in Raven Valley Township.

Yanyan carries the bottles over. One of the young men plucks at her sleeve and asks her to join them. She brushes him off, same as she did Lu. All four of them stare at her wolfishly as she walks away.

Lu finds this irritating, but understandable. He, too, cannot help but stare wolfishly at Yanyan.

His cell phone rings. It's the paichusuo—the local Public Security Bureau station.

The PSB, in the People's Republic, is analogous to a Western police department, with branches at the provincial, county, municipal, and local levels. PSB officers are responsible for crime prevention and investigation, traffic and fire control, public safety, household registration, and keeping tabs on foreigners and visitors.

In Raven Valley, a modestly sized township about seventy kilometers from Harbin City, the station is staffed by a chief, a deputy chief—that's Lu's official role—a sergeant, and a handful of constables.

But Lu is not on duty tonight. So why is the paichusuo calling him?

He answers. "Lu Fei."

"Inspector!" Lu recognizes the voice on the end of the line. Constable Huang, aged twenty-one, excitable disposition, dumb as a wheelbarrow full of pig shit.

"What is it, Constable? It's my night off."

"I know, Inspector, but there's been a...a..."

"Go on," Lu says.

Huang whispers. "A murder."

Lu sits up a little straighter. "Why are you whispering?"

"I don't know."

"Did you call the chief?"

Lu means Chief Liang, his direct superior.

"He didn't answer his phone," Huang says.

Lu looks at his watch. It's a little past nine. A bit early for the chief to be in his cups, but not inconceivable.

"Where?" Lu says.

"Where didn't he answer?" Huang asks.

"No, Constable. Where is the scene of the..." He is suddenly aware of the men at the other table listening in. "Incident?"

"Oh. Yang residence. Kangjian Lane."

That is on the outskirts of town. Lu is familiar with the area but doesn't personally know any Yangs who live there. "Is there a suspect in custody?"

"No suspects yet."

"Okay. I'm at the Red Lotus bar. Have someone come get me."

He hangs up. The young men are looking at him. "What's going on?" one of them asks. "Something exciting?"

"No," Lu says. He does not elaborate. He swallows the last of the wine and considers pouring another round, but decides against it. He puts money on the table and stoppers the earthenware jar. "Sister Yan, please keep this jar safe until such time I am free to renew its acquaintance."

"Of course, Inspector."

Lu shrugs into his coat and pulls a hat over his ears. He goes to the front door and slips on a pair of gloves while he waits. When the patrol car arrives, he gives Yanyan a quick wave and heads out into the cold.

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