The Corpse Hopped at Midnight: Part Two

Continuing where I left off in Part One.

The investigation continues...

DI Cheung, Baak-Long and his sergeant, Lam, Zi-Coeng, are trying to solve the murder of a young publishing house employee. Is it the victim's ex-girlfriend? Her current boyfriend? Or could it be the mysterious woman that none of the victim's friends or family have ever met? Who is she? And where has she disappeared to? So many questions that just lead to more questions. Then there's the victim's corpse suddenly coming back to life...wait, what?

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11. Chapter Fourteen

Miss Lau wasn’t able to meet me right away since I was calling close to the evening, so we arranged to meet near a children’s playground between West Ridge School and the police station after she finished work the next day.

I doubted that I would learn anything new about the case staring at the whiteboard and case file that Lam and I were slowly putting together.  Therefore, so all I could do was go home for a hot meal and a good night’s sleep.

It was going to be a quiet night by myself.  Chun-To had gone out to dinner with a few old school friends while Cheng-Lei was sleeping over at his best friend’s home.

The next morning, I was back into work.  And of course, the files I requested hadn’t arrived yet.  Lam and I spent most of the day catching up on paperwork until it was time for my meeting with Miss Lau.

 

I arrived first at the park, sat down on the bench.

I looked at the apparatus painted with bright colours that were now faded and peeling.  I used to take my son to parks like this on my day off.  The memories brought a smile to my face.

It wasn’t long before I heard the “clump, clump” sound of her heeled boots on the pavement.  I turned my head to see Miss Lau walking up to the bench.  Today she was dressed in a red wool overcoat over black trousers with a blue, green and red tartan patterned scarf wrapped around her neck.  Her boots were black and two-inches high.

Hó ma, Cheung taam-zeong,’ she said.

‘Lau loh-si,’ I nodded.

‘May I ask what this is about?’ she asked as she sat down on the other end of the bench furthest away from me.

‘It’s come to my attention that you are aware of…the other world.’

‘Yes,’ she nodded.  ‘Ngāan-Chong told me that you knew him.  As a fox, I mean.’

‘Did he also tell you that the case now appears to involve a geong si.’

Geong-si?’  She was visibly shocked.

I nodded. ‘What do you know of them?’

‘Only what I’ve read in folk tales.  Mainly from “Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio”.  Unfortunately I don’t remember the title of the story itself.’

I knew which story she meant.  I would have to read it again to refresh my memory.  ‘Well, it seems that the woman you saw him with was a geong si.’

‘She was?’

I nodded.  ‘I was wandering if you knew where and how he would have become involved with one.’

Miss Lau huffed out a breath.  ‘I don’t know how he would have met one.  I only really found out about the…supernatural after we broke up.’  She paused.  ‘Although I’ve been aware that there were…other things out in the world since I was fifteen.’

‘Really?’

She nodded.  ‘It started as just moving shadows that I would see out of the corner of my eye.  Easily dismissable.  But soon the shadows started to solidify into that I recognised from pictures in books about old English folk tales.  I tried pretending that I couldn’t see them, thinking that if I ignored them, they would just leave me along.  Didn’t always work.’

I could not imagine how terrifying that must have been to a young teenaged girl.  A tightness entered my chest.  I had not intended to remind her of things that she would rather forget. Perhaps a change of subject would be best.  ‘I did a background check on you.’

‘Isn’t that against regulations?’ Miss Lau asked, frowning. 

‘Not strictly speaking when it’s part of an investigation, especially when you’re a suspect or a person of interest.’

‘I see.’

‘You were born and brought up in Britain, excelling in English-related subjects when you were at school, then you enrolled in Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth in which you gained a Second Class Honour Degree.  You took an online course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language when you joined the Teaching English in China agency, at the end of which you were awarded a teaching certificate.  Your first teaching job was in Shenzhen, and now you’re a teacher at West Ridge School.’

She smiled.  ‘It’s funny.  Teaching was not something I imagined myself doing when I was growing up.  Ever.  In fact, I would say to anyone who would listen that I was just not suited for teaching.’

I suppose not everyone was as lucky as I was to find the job that they wanted right away.  And despite the pitfalls and the long gruelling hours, I love my job.  But her relationship with the fox still bothered me.

‘I have to ask, why are you with a fox? Surely it would be better for you if you were in a relationship with someone who was not so…different.’

‘With all due respect, sir, it’s not really a choice for me.’

I raised an eyebrow at her.  Surely a pretty girl like her could find a nice human boy to settle down with.

‘Since I was fifteen I could see things that other people can’t.  It scared the hell out of me because I didn’t know how or why I could see them, or what I was seeing.  I thought I was just going crazy and I would try to pretend that I didn’t see anything. I suppose I hoped that it would just go away.  But it never did.’  She paused and turned her head to face me.  ‘You can choose not to be a part of that world, Inspector.  But that’s not a luxury than I have.’

I reluctantly nodded.  Finding out about that world was frightening enough, but being able to see it when those creatures didn’t wish to be seen as they really are?  And it started at fifteen!  It was a wonder that was sane at all.

‘How does the fox fit into it?’ I asked.

‘He was a friend of a friend.  After I broke up with Yeung, my friend invited me to a house party to cheer me up,’ she brgan.  ‘I didn’t particularly want to, but my friend is very persistent.  I met Ngāan-Chong there.’

‘Did he try to seduce you?’  I felt I had to ask, given that was what wulèi-jing were like even if it was mainly the females.

She shook her head.  ‘No, I told him quite clearly that I’d just got out of a relationship.  He understood that I wasn’t ready for another relationship at that point and became a friend who clearly had romantic designs on me.’

I would bet he did.

‘If it makes you feel better, I did take it badly when I found out that he was a wulèi-jing.’

That did make me feel just a bit better.  ‘Just out of curiosity, who was the friend that introduced you to… Yueh sin-saang?’ I asked.

‘His name is Peter Fairchild.  We went to school together in England,’ I replied.  As a matter of fact he was best friends with my first boyfriend, Jon McGregor.  Peter was also the one who suggested I go into teaching.  He had taught English at a Buddhist temple for a year and thought I might enjoy it.’

A very good friend; his own friendship with the fox not withstanding.

‘Speaking of friends, I think Yeung’s friends will most likely know more,’ she said.  ‘I’m sorry but I don’t think I can be of much help.’

Just then a “ding” sound.  Miss Lau dug into her coat and brought out her phone and started fiddling with the touch screen.

‘Well, thank you for your time.’ 

Miss Lau spared me a nod before looking back down at her phone.  I stood up and started to walk away, but then I thought of something.  I turned back to her.  ‘By the way.’

She looked up from her phone.

‘I read some of the stories you posted online’ I told her. ‘You should seriously consider getting them published.  You are a very talented writer.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

I gave her a sincere smile before turning away again and making my way back to the police station.  I hoped that she took my comment seriously.

 

 

Cultural Note

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio is a collection of wonder tales written by Pu Songling during the late Ming to early Qing dynasty.  The story that Lau, Sou-Zing mentioned is one of the more well known tales of geong si; titled "Living Dead" in English.  One of the better English translations of Strange Tales was published by Penguin Classics, and translated by John Minford.

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