​​         Chinese Stories in English   

A Clever Arrest
Author: Zhong Chongmin

1
          Royce jumped off as the train slowed to a stop at Liverpool Station. The young man was feeling enormously proud of himself. He had just graduated from the Police Academy and had been assigned to the Halewood Police Department.
          A small, thin man with a huge mole on his chin squeezed in front of Royce. Royce grabbed the man abruptly and exclaimed, “Hey! Jim! Never thought I’d run into you here!” The man turned to face Royce and saw his brand new police uniform. A look of panic involuntarily flitted across his face. “Sorry, Officer,” he stammered, “do we know each other?”
          “It’s me, Royce!” Seeing his old friend again was a pleasant surprise and Royce was enjoying the moment. “Last year I asked someone to look you up for me, but nobody knew where you were….”
          Jim eventually recognized Royce and his nervous expression warmed a bit. He wasn’t as happy as Royce, though.
          “Remember when we were kids, I always wanted to be a copper? Look, I’m on my way to report in!” Royce stood proud and straight, showing his new uniform to his good friend. “I’m happy for you,” Jim said politely, but he looked deeply worried.
          “Back then you most wanted to be a mechanical engineer, as I recall. Did it work out for you?” Royce asked with a laugh. Jim’s eyes shifted around the crowd of people moving through the station. “I wasn’t as lucky as you,” he said, seeming preoccupied. “I’m just an ordinary mechanic now.”
          “Hey, that’s all right, don’t give up hope. Truth is,” Royce said quickly, to comfort his friend, “you can be successful no matter what your job is.” Jim looked down at his watch and said, “I’ve got something I have to do. We’ll get together some other time.” Royce quickly asked how he could contact him, and Jim hurriedly wrote a phone number on Royce’s hand. Then, lowering his head, he pushed off into the crowd and quickly disappeared.
          Royce picked his suitcase up from the ground and was about to start walking when he heard a woman’s shriek not too far away. Royce rushed up and asked what had happened. “Oh, my wallet’s gone!” the woman said angrily. Then, as though she’d just thought of something, she exclaimed, “That’s right, a man with a black mole on his chin was beside me just now and then turned away. He must have stolen it!”
          Jim? How could that be? “You must be mistaken. He’s a friend of mine, a good man.” Royce was quick to speak up on behalf of Jim. At the same time he took out his cell phone and dialed the number Jim had just given him. To his surprise, it was an invalid number.
          The woman went with Royce to the police station. Officer Benjamin, the Duty Officer, listened to their story. He pounded on his keyboard, click, click, clack, and brought up some materials. Pointing at a picture, he asked, “Is this the man?”
           “Yes, that’s him!” the woman yelled, and Royce’s heart sank. The man in the picture really was Jim, but the description said clearly: habitual thief, jailed five times.
          “This guy was released a few days ago,” Benjamin said. “It’s quite possible he’s the one who did it, but there’s no proof, so we can’t bring him in.”
          “This can’t be right. The Jim I know is a straight arrow! How could he be the thief?” Royce couldn’t accept the facts. “People change,” Benjamin said disapprovingly.
          “No, absolutely impossible! Jim once risked his life to save mine.” Royce stubbornly shook his head. Benjamin shrugged his shoulders. “I heard he got jilted. It was a terrible blow to him. It changed him and he never got over it.”
          The proof was right in front of his eyes, and there was no way Royce could ignore it. The honest and upright Jim that he had once known really had changed. Royce felt extremely dismayed but at the same time promised himself: I’m going to help Jim, get him back on the right track.

2
          But before Royce could get away to go find Jim, a major case came up in the area under the station’s jurisdiction. Mrs. Winters of the Rose Garden Villas called the station saying that her jewelry, worth a million pounds, had just been stolen!
          Royce and his fellow officers went to the Rose Garden at top speed. They found the gardener, John, kneeling in front of Mrs. Winters, weeping softly. When she saw the police, Mrs. Winters pointed at John and shrieked, “It was him! When I came back just now I found him running out of the bedroom, looking all flustered. And my jewels were all gone!”
          “No, Ma’am,” John explained, his whole body trembling, “I didn’t go in your bedroom at all. I just heard a noise and came upstairs for a look.”
          “Humph, your wife just had a kid and your family must be hurting for money, so you hatched this plot against me,” Mrs. Winters accused. John was so nervous that he couldn’t stop shaking his head, and his face was covered with tears. But no matter how hard he tried to explain, Mrs. Winters was convinced that he was the thief.
          But Royce and the other officers didn’t find any jewels on John’s person when they searched him. Mrs. Winters figured there must have been someone outside helping him, because the bedroom window was wide open. The police couldn’t find any footprints on the window sill, but in the flowerbed just under the window there was a row of deep “foot prints” – without shoe impressions. Quite possibly it had happened just as Mrs. Winters surmised and the prints were left by John’s accomplice, but the guy had covered his shoes with something so as not to leave any clues.
          But Benjamin felt sorry for John. He whispered to Royce that, based on his understanding of John’s conduct after all these years, he didn’t believe John could have done this thing. “That woman’s devilish husband got his start by making high-interest loans. Their money’s evil, stained with blood. She exploits John like crazy,” Benjamin continued indignantly. “He works like a dog for her, for next to nothing, and now he’s supporting a family of six.”
          With no other evidence, for the time being the police could only put John down as the prime suspect and take him back to the station for questioning. But hard work pays off: They found a postman who had been passing by that street just as the incident occurred and who gave them a valuable lead. He said he had seen a man sneaking around under the window at Rose Garden Villa. But what the postman said next put the damper on a pleasant thought that had just come into Royce’s mind: “I don’t remember very clearly exactly what he looked like, but he had an extremely noticeable black mole on his chin.”
          Royce’s heart contracted abruptly when he heard that. All of a sudden Jim’s face floated up before his eyes….
          After going down many blind alleys, Royce finally found out where Jim was. To his dismay the old-fashioned wood door was locked, so he bent down and looked through the greasy window. It was pitch-black inside and he couldn’t see a thing.
          “Uh, Officer, to what do I owe this illustrious visit to my humble abode?” The sarcastic voice came from behind him. Royce turned around and saw Jim walking unsteadily toward him, smelling of alcohol.
          Royce cut to the chase. “Where were you yesterday morning between 10:00 and 11:00?” he asked. “Mrs. Winters at Rose Garden lost a million Pounds worth of jewelry and someone saw you near the scene at the time.”
          “Oh? Just because I’m a petty thief you’re going to hang it on me whenever someone loses something? Well, good, arrest me.” Jim stuck his face in Royce’s and spoke defiantly, his breath heavy with alcohol. Faced with Jim’s brazenness, Royce was at a loss.

3
          Jim had drunk so much that it was the next afternoon before he crawled bewildered out of bed. He opened the refrigerator and looked for something to eat to soothe the pangs of hunger. There was nothing but beer in the fridge. Jim hung his head and cursed, then swayed out the door.
          Jim was so hungry he could eat anything. At last a car parked beside the road caught his eye. The car’s owner must have been in a hurry to run some errand and had forgotten to lock the door. Jim looked around and didn’t see anyone, so he reached out, opened the door and snatched up a black wallet from inside. To his surprise, just as he turned around he bumped into someone. When he looked up he exploded with anger. Damn it! It was Royce!
     The look in Royce’s blue eyes wasn’t the excitement of a hunter who’s just caught his prey. Rather, he stared at Jim with unspeakable sorrow and said, slowly, “John’s dead! He hung himself. He couldn’t bear the injustice of it, so he chose death!”
          Jim’s heart dropped with a thud….
          “I asked around. The owner of Willy’s Pub says you were there drinking all morning that day,” Royce said. “I was wrong to accuse you.”
           “Yeah, I told you I had nothing to do with it, but you wouldn’t believe me.” Jim sighed softly, then laughed bitterly and exclaimed, “The thing is, when all is said and done, I’m still a thief.”
          Royce stuffed a card into Jim’s hand. “I’ve been in touch with Henry at Bevin’s Auto Repair,” he said. “He’s willing to give you a job.” Jim gave him a blank stare. “Who’d want a piece of garbage like me,” he said sardonically.
          “Henry’s an ex-con, too. He’s quite willing to help anyone who wants to go straight.” Royce’s eyes burned into Jim. “The Jim I knew was someone who really understood self-esteem and self-respect. And he was someone I respected as well, an example I learned a lot from.”
          Jim’s expression started to soften, but he still didn’t say anything….
          Royce spent the next few days constantly hoping to get a call from Henry. He wanted to hear that Jim had reported in for work. But day after day went by with no word from Henry at all. Finally Royce couldn’t stand it any longer and went looking for Jim. He discovered that Jim had checked out of his room three days previously and left without saying a word! And someone had seen him getting on a train to London!
          Jim’s strange behavior raised a lot of misgivings in Royce’s mind. He had a vague feeling that something bad was going to happen. With doubts in his mind, he questioned all the servers at Willy’s Pub closely one more time, to check their stories. He found out one shocking circumstance: Jim really hadn’t been in the bub the entire morning on the day of the crime. He had gone to the rest room and been away for forty to fifty minutes! This gave him enough time to complete the theft.
          Does that mean he’d been tricked after all!? Was Jim the culprit, who’s now gotten away and taken the “spoils of war” with him? Royce was angry and resentful, and even more hurt that Jim hadn’t lived up to his expectations. But he still harbored a fantasy that, just maybe, Jim had gone away temporarily to take care of some other important business. He never found that explanation convincing, though.
          Before long something else happened that made Royce believe even more resolutely in his conjectures. A fund was set up anonymously from London for the education of John’s five children. There was enough money to give them a proper education all the way through to adulthood. This was obviously an expression of atonement which Jim had chosen to alleviate his guilty conscience. Only, what would he choose to do next?
          Time slowly passed, one day, two days… fifteen days, and still no news of Jim. It looked like he really had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for a moment of earthly pleasures. Royce’s heart hit bottom and he lost all hope for Jim.

4
          When Royce put his resignation into Chief Kotter’s hand, the fiftyish Chief was completely mystified. “I think well of you, Royce. From your performance recently, I believe you’d’ve had a great future here.”
          “I’ve dreamed of being a police officer since I was a little kid,” Royce said sincerely. “I really don’t want to give it up. But Jim saved my life once, and now it’s my duty to pull him out from the depths of evil.”
        “It’s not easy to save a soul that’s fallen by the wayside. You need to think this through,” Kotter urged him. “Don’t lose everything else for the sake of this one thing.” But Royce had already made up his mind, and the Chief had no choice but approve his resignation.
          Royce went on his own to London, but where should he go to look for Jim in the endless sea of people? In accordance with the procedures he had used in prior cases, Royce took Jim’s picture around to question people at jewelry stores. After half a month, the clerk in an unimpressive little jeweler’s looked at the picture and said, “I seem to have seen this man!”
          Royce was excited and asked the fellow to describe the circumstances. The clerk thought carefully for a long time, then said uncertainly, “This guy had a big black mole on his chin, that’s why I remember him. It seems like he didn’t want to buy or sell anything, just ask about the value of some jewels.”
          “What kind of jewels?” Royce asked, quickly getting to the heart of the matter. The clerk shook his head apologetically. “It’s been so long,” he said, “I really can’t remember.” Royce was quite disappointed, but at least he’d proven something. Jim was in London with jewelry he wanted to get rid of.
          Seeing that he probably wouldn’t be able to find Jim right away, Royce decided to get a job to cover his living expenses while he continued to look. His classes at the Police Academy and several months experience as a cop wouldn’t be much help in finding a position. He ended up only getting a job as a security guard in a hotel. And he often requested the night shift, which no one else wanted, to give himself more time to look for Jim.
          After he got settled in, Royce spent a big part of his first month’s salary to place a missing person’s announcement in the Times, a newspaper with a large circulation in London. He used an attention-grabbing headline and wrote: Looking for Jim, My Good Friend from Liverpool, Royce!
          Royce got an unexpected phone call on the third day after the announcement was published. He “helloed” several times but the caller didn’t say a word. With his heart pounding Royce hollered, “I know it’s you, Jim! You know, I gave up my job just to come here and find you, because the Jim I care about is a person who knows when he’s wrong and can change….” But before he could finish speaking the caller suddenly hung up the phone, and didn’t call again after that.
          Royce had a friend in the Police Department trace the call for him and found out it came from a public phone booth on Hawker Avenue. Afterwards, whenever he had the time, he would go to Hawker Avenue and walk aimlessly around the area, hoping to find Jim’s trail.
          Just like that, seven years had passed by.
           Royce had done so well at his job that he had been promoted to Guard Captain. And he made a habit of sending Jim a message every month through the announcements section of the Times, continually exhorting him to be a good man. He believed Jim saw them.
          One day something went wrong with the hotel’s Lincoln limo. At the time the manager couldn’t spare anyone to take care of it, so he asked Royce to drive the limo to a repair shop and get it fixed. From one street away, Royce unexpectedly saw a familiar figure walk out of the repair shop and get into a Ford parked outside the door.
          Is that really Jim? Royce was so excited that his heart wouldn’t stop beating wildly. He yelled “Jim” several times, but the car sped off and disappeared around a corner.
          Royce was almost certain that Jim had heard him yelling but chose to run away. He turned around and rushed into the repair shop. He grabbed a young apprentice standing by the door and asked him urgently, “Who was that guy who just drove off?”
          The apprentice was scared and it took him a few seconds to react. “Oh, you mean Jack,” he replied. “He runs a repair shop that we do business with. He’s an expert mechanic himself, and sometimes if our mechanics have a problem they can’t solve, they ask him for help.”
          Jack? It seems the son-of-a-gun had changed his name to avoid detection. “Where does he live?”
          “I’m not sure, but I know his shop’s address.” The apprentice picked up a piece of paper as he spoke, and wrote the address down. Royce mumbled a thank you and ran out the door. He stuck out his arm and hailed a cab, and headed straight for Jim’s repair shop.
          Royce didn’t see Jim when he got to the shop, but he got his home address from an employee. He immediately went there, without stopping to rest, but again he was a step too late. The guard at the community said he’d seen Jim driving home, but just a few minutes ago he’d driven off again, taking several suitcases with him.
          Royce cursed under his breath. It looked like Jim was planning to leave London. But where would he go this time?

5
          It wasn’t until the second day afterwards that Royce learned, with help from his friend at the Police Station, that Jim had left the city by way of the W.S. Bridge and gone north on the M1. Royce was angry and regretful. He felt that he had scared Jim off by yelling out his name when he saw him.
          And yet Royce hung on to a thread of hope. Jim still had a business in London, after all, and he just might sneak back sometime to deal with it. But after half a month Royce was shocked to learn: Jim’s garage had been sold at a bargain price three days previously! And the entire deal had been handled by a Law Office in Manchester with full consignment powers. Jim himself hadn’t come to London at all.
          At least Royce had learned one thing of value: Jim was in Manchester! This time he didn’t hesitate at all. He turned in his resignation to the hotel and got on a train for Manchester….
          Just as he had done in London, Royce found himself a job, then placed a “missing person’s announcement” in a Manchester newspaper.
          This time, Royce’s search lasted fully ten years. He covered almost all of Manchester, going to every car repair shop. In that time he found some tiny clues that Jim had left behind, he was never able to lock down his specific whereabouts. He never got discouraged, though. He believed resolutely that all the things he had done were not in vain, and that he would certainly see Jim again.
           During his second year in Manchester, Royce met a wonderful girl named Kelly. She was very moved that Royce had given up a career with such excellent prospects in order to help a friend, and was willing to accompany him for the rest of the search. So they got married and a year later they had a son, Phillip. Phillip was already six years old by the time Royce next met up with Jim.
          What Royce hadn’t expected was that Jim wasn’t living a life of luxury. Rather, he was driving a garbage truck, and was picking up and emptying garbage cans that families had left out by the side of the road. He was concentrating so much on his work that he didn’t see Royce until he walked up and surprised him.
          The two men looked at each other silently for a long time, a number of complicated emotions cluttering their minds. At last Royce was the first to speak. “You know I’ve been looking for you all along?” he asked, his voice extremely hard and rough.
          Jim laughed bitterly. “You wrote me a letter every month in the newspaper, telling me to be a good person. How could I dare to disappoint such good will?”
          “Well… Mrs. Winters’ Jewels….”
          “Oh, my Lord! If I had all those jewels, would I be doing this?” Jim made a brush-off gesture. This didn’t do away with Royce’s doubts, however. He half-jokingly said, “The money you sent to John’s five kids, didn’t you get that in exchange for a diamond ring or a platinum necklace?” Jim laughed with the same nonchalant attitude. “Maybe I did,” he countered, “But who’s to say, maybe the lady grew a conscience and sold off some of her own jewelry?” Royce shook his head helplessly. “Man,” he scowled, “you really are a stubborn bloke.”
          After Jim finished his day’s work, the two of them went to a small pub to talk about old times. They were both filled with regrets. But Jim kept his mouth shut about the million-Pound jewels. Royce, on the other hand, would keep trying to talk about it at every opportunity. At every turn in the conversation he would try catch Jim off guard. “Old fellow,” he’d ask, “can you tell me where you hid those jewels? I can put in a good word for you in court, to request a lighter sentence.”
           But each time Jim would laugh slyly and say, “Don’t waste your breath, Royce. Don’t even dream about finding the answer to that question, not in this life.
          Although Jim promised Royce over and over that he wouldn’t try to hide from him this time, he broke the promise. A month later, when Royce went to look him up again, he found that Jim had flown the coop.

6
          As pigheaded as ever, Royce found a way to trace Jim to Birmingham. He immediately took his wife and son and moved there. More than thirty years passed by, and the wheel came full circle….
          Royce had retired by the time he found Jim for the last time. He shook Jim’s hand and, his voice full of emotion, said, “Now, old chap, you can spill the secret you’ve guarded for thirty years. The statute of limitations has passed, so you don’t have to worry about being punished by the law.” Jim looked at him helplessly and shook his head. “Can’t you just let me be, then?” he sighed. “I told you a long time ago, I don’t have the jewels.”
          “You obstinate old cuss, do you really want to carry this unforgivable sin with you when you go before God? Think about John, who was harried to death because of you,” Royce exclaimed indignantly. “Is your conscience really at peace?” But Jim didn’t back down at all. “Ah, my lad, you’re the obstinate one, not me. It’s been over thirty years and you still aren’t willing to let me be.” The two men stared at each other, and finally parted in anger. Royce slammed the door on his way out.
          Jim was gone again the next day, of course. Royce was disappointed and frustrated. “I’m really old,” he told his wife. “I no longer have the strength to go look for him again. I think my whole life has been a failure, not being able to get Jim to admit his guilt.”
          So this time Royce didn’t try to track down Jim’s whereabouts. He decided to live out his golden years together with his wife in peace. Because he’d spent such an unsettled life, he was afflicted with several chronic illnesses.
          After he turned seventy, he began to feel that his health was steadily deteriorating. He knew he’d up and die someday soon, but he still harbored an unrealized hope, that before he died he’d hear Jim admit guilt in his own words and thus save his soul. That winter Royce was taken ill.
          The doctors ceased their efforts to save him after several days in Intensive Care. As Royce lay in bed, incoherent, his vision unfocused, gurgling his last few breaths, he was still unwilling to go. His wife knew that Jim’s memory still hung heavily on him, but by now it had been almost twenty years since they’d last met. With tears in her eyes, Kelly leaned forward and whispered in his ear, “Don’t think of Jim, go in peace.” Just as she said it the door burst open with a bang and an old man with white hair and a beard stumbled into the room.
          “Didn’t you say you were going to live to be a hundred, you old codger?” Jim, who’d never cried in front of anyone in his entire life, threw himself down in front of the bed and started bawling like a baby.
          Royce seemed to recover consciousness a bit at the sound of crying, and his eyes turned toward Jim. “Truth is I didn’t go anywhere these twenty years,” Jim said. “I’ve been living here in the same city as you, and every once in a while I’d come around to take a peek at you. I don’t come for a few days and all of a sudden you….”  As he spoke his voice dissolved into sobs.
          Royce’s lips opened and closed as though he were struggling to say something. Jim promptly put his ear to Royce’s mouth and, after a bit, he lifted his head with a look of utter astonishment on his face. “You can’t put it behind you,” he said in disbelief, “even on your deathbed?” Royce stared at him with a pleading look in his eyes.
          Jim paused for a moment, his heart pounding, and then stamped his foot. “All right,” he said, “I’ll come clean. I snuck into the Rose Garden that day looking to get my hands on some spending money, and I chanced upon something really astonishing. Mrs. Winters took her jewelry out of her safe and put it under a floorboard. Then she messed up the room and hollered that she’s seen a thief. I figured she was going to cheat some insurance company out of a big payout. I was afraid to come forward, though, because I was a thief and no one would believe me. Mrs. Winters could easily stick me with the rap. When John died I felt really bad for him, so I waited for a chance and snuck into the Rose Garden again and stole those jewels. Later I went to London and sold them off. I sent most of the money to John’s family. I didn’t figure you’d chase after me to London, you old fool, and not only that, that you’d give up the police career you loved for me. That really made me ashamed, so I gave the money to charity. That’s what really happened, so do you feel better now? … Ha! What do you say to that….” Jim said the story all at once, tears streaming continuously down his cheeks.
          But Royce just breathed a long sigh and closed his eyes, a gratified smile on his face.


来源:《上海故事》2011年2月
http://www.storychina.cn/frmStoryCollection_Detail.aspx?ID=29322


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