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Xinghuan Entertainment. Modeling Department.
Liu Mei was an entry-level model; she didn't have a dedicated manager, and she definitely didn't have an assistant. Sometimes she would find her own jobs, and sometimes she would wait for her agency to assign her new gigs. The person at Xinghuan Entertainment who interacted with her the most was Yu Dalong—a newbie manager who was even younger on Fang Yuanhang.
This name, Yu Dalong, was extremely imposing. In order to live up to their parents' obvious hopes, a person with that name would have to grow to be at least 1.9 meters in height. They would need a firm body of rippling muscles. They would have to be the type that could knock out someone's teeth with just one punch.
Before laying eyes on Yu Dalong, Fang Yuanhang had even deliberately straightened his back and squared his shoulders.
He was a detective of the Serious Crimes Division. Even if he couldn't match this formidable-sounding entertainment agency manager in stature, he at least couldn't lose out in terms of attitude.
Yu Dalong wasn't some muscly man who stood at an imposing height of 1.9 meters. He was just a little dude who barely reached 1.7 meters.
As soon as he heard the police were looking for him, Yu Dalong dropped what he was doing and galloped over. He was dressed in a very enticing manner. His face was small and pale, and he wore a flashy gold stud earring. His pants were extremely form-fitting, wrapped tightly around his stick-thin legs. He breezed over to Fang Yuanhang, twisting and swaying his hips as he walked.
Fang Yuanhang's first thought was that this person looked a bit familiar.
His second thought was that this guy was definitely a little fruit!
And his third thought was, Wait! Isn't this the gay kid who shouted 'stallion waist' at Mao'nian Skycity?
Running into him again here of all places!
Yu Dalong didn't recognize Fang Yuanhang as a 'familiar' person until he drew close. He instantly hit the brakes and dramatically threw a hand over his mouth when recognition did strike. "Aiya, aren't you that…"
"I'm not that 'stallion waist', thank you," Fang Yuanhang said.
"But you're a handsome ge too!" Maybe it was simply his nature, or maybe he had been influenced by the entertainment industry—whatever the reason, Yu Dalong wasn't the slightest bit shy in front of a police detective who was showing off his badge. He smiled like a blossoming flower and continued, "So you were a police officer! Aiyaya, I love that!"
Inexplicably receiving a confession all of a sudden, and from a gay guy at that, had Fang Yuanhang breaking out in goosebumps. He kept a very professional air about him and said, "You're in charge of the model Liu Mei, right? I can't get in touch with her, and we haven't been able to find her at her home. Do you know where she's gone?"
"You're looking for Liu Mei? Ai, I'm also looking for Liu Mei!" Yu Dalong suddenly furrowed his brow and pouted. "That damned woman. I'm stressed to death because of her!"
The corners of Fang Yuanhang's lips twitched. Yu Dalong had been so giddy just a moment ago. How could he claim to be 'stressed to death'?
"You haven't been able to contact her?"
"She's always like this!" Yu Dalong stomped his foot and hmphed like a little girl. He started flapping his lips and quickly rattled out an explanation.
Fang Yuanhang got the idea in just a few short moments.
Liu Mei had signed with Xinghuan Entertainment three years ago. At that time, Yu Dalong was still in school. In a crowd of random people, Liu Mei could be considered tall and beautiful. But at an entertainment agency, she simply wasn't much to look at. Although models 'just' put on tailored clothes and wore a face of exquisite makeup to pose in front of cameras, it wasn't a job that could be done without some professional skills and talents.
Liu Mei was only outstanding in that she was tall. Her eyes didn't have any soul in them, and she wasn't skilled enough. She wasn't hard-working, either. She hadn't put any real effort into her job. And so, even after three years at Xinghuan Entertainment, she hadn't been able to start earning more than a beginner. She wasn't all that different from an ordinary person.
Liu Mei didn't seem to care about any of that, though. Her private life was a bit of a mess; people suspected she was being kept as a sugar baby. In any case, she didn't seem to care about the bit of money she made at work.
As for why she didn't simply resign, no one had an answer.
Yu Dalong had joined the agency in the first half of that year, and he didn't represent too many models. Han-jie, the manager previously in charge of Liu Mei, had thrown her to Yu Dalong as a burden for him to carry.
As a complete newbie, Yu Dalong could find a stone in a pit of manure and consider it a diamond. He diligently worked to polish Liu Mei up. He got her all the jobs he could, and whenever she was out of his sight, he got in touch to ask if she was working hard and keeping an eye on her figure.
Sometimes, Liu Mei wouldn't answer her phone. Once, her lack of communicativeness had even cost her a job.
Yu Dalong had fought countless times with Liu Mei about this matter. They'd fought so often that Yu Dalong couldn't be bothered to care about her anymore. He knew that when she didn't answer her phone, it wasn't because something had happened. It was purely because she was too lazy and didn't want to work, or because she was incapacitated after overindulging in something or another.
"Just look. I called her this many times." Yu Dalong presented his cell phone to Fang Yuanhang. He'd planned on having Fang Yuanhang scroll through his call logs, but Fang Yuanhang instantly took note of his wallpaper.
The little fruit was kind of narcissistic. His wallpaper was a selfie that could be considered pretty cute.
This fleeting thought of 'cute' shot through Fang Yuanhang like a bolt of lightning. He couldn't stop asking himself, I'm an iron-hard straight guy, how could I possibly think a gay guy who wiggles his butt all over the place is cute?
"I'll never, ever put her in touch with any more clients!" Yu Dalong declared. He was getting angrier and angrier as he spoke. "People like her, who just muddle through life and wait to die, don't deserve work! All the effort I put into her was a complete and utter waste! She'd better not count on me finding her new jobs or sending her takeout in the future. She can just live and die on her own!"
"You sent her takeout?" Fang Yuanhang echoed. His expression tightened. "You know where she is?"
When Fang Yuanhang visited Liu Mei's rental, no one had been there. Otherwise, he wouldn't have rushed over to Xinghuan Entertainment.
Could Yu Dalong have meant another place? Was it possible that Liu Mei had another residence?
"She's definitely at Baixuan Guiyuan!" Yu Dalong said with absolute certainty. "Last time, when she bunked off work, I called and texted like crazy, but she wouldn't answer. I told her I would snitch to the higher-ups and get her bonus cut, or get her fired entirely! She finally answered in the end. I thought she'd turned over a new leaf. I thought she was ready to work!
"But I never imagined she actually called because she wanted me to order a 'light' meal for her and have it sent to Baixuan Guiyuan! She said she was sick and wanted someone to be at her side! I mean for fuck's sake, sir—do you know about Baixuan Guiyuan? It's a luxury community. That damned woman is definitely being 'kept' by that old baldie!"
Fang Yuanhang didn't waste time saying anything else. He instantly dragged Yu Dalong into the car with him.
Most ordinary people would feel nervous or uneasy when suddenly 'apprehended' by the police. Yu Dalong was gifted with a natural sort of adaptability. Not only was he not anxious, he seemed pretty excited about being dragged along. He slapped his own chest and said, "Ah, sir! You really made the right choice in coming to me! Besides me, no one at Xinghuan knows that Liu Mei has a place at Baixuan Guiyuan!"
It was hard to determine an explanation for Yu Dalong's burst of energy and enthusiasm. Maybe he was overly excited about getting involved in a police case for the first time, or maybe he had his eye on Fang Yuanhang.
Once they got on the road, Fang Yuanhang instantly called Ming Shu. He was pretty much done reporting the situation to Ming Shu before he remembered to turn to Yu Dalong and correct, "Oh, and don't call me 'sir'. Doesn't that make your skin crawl?"
"Why would it make my skin crawl? That's a very handsome form of address, you know. What would you like me to call you instead? Mr. Police Officer?" Yu Dalong wasn't having any of that. "That's so basic, I wouldn't be able to bring myself to say it. But I could call you Detective-gege instead."
Fang Yuanhang fell silent.
Yu Dalong giggled. "No? Does that make you shy? Then I'll just stick to 'sir'. Detective-gege isn't all that suitable, anyway. What if you're younger1 than me?"
No matter how he thought about it, Fang Yuanhang couldn't help but feel like it was immensely weird to compare this sort of thing with a little fruit. Although the other party clearly didn't have any impure intentions, 'what if you're younger than me' could so easily be misconstrued as 'what if you're smaller than me'... and a comparison like that, coming from Yu Dalong's mouth, was just downright strange.
"Call me by my name!" Fang Yuanhang protested.
"I won't!" Yu Dalong argued. "It's either 'sir' or 'Detective-gege'!"
"Oh, just shut up!" Fang Yuanhang roared back.
"Then you have to make me a promise."
"I want to see the 'stallion waist' gege!" Yu Dalong's face was practically glowing with anticipation. His eyes were just about filling up with stars.
"What?" Fang Yuanhang nearly slammed on the brakes. "Do you know who he is? You would dare flirt with him? He's our Serious Crimes Division's…"
Without waiting for Fang Yuanhang to finish, Yu Dalong interrupted, "I know, I know, he's the same as me, duh. I just want to see the 'stallion waist' gege again, it's not like I'm going to do anything to him. Just think of it as me meeting my idol! Okay, Detective-gege?"
"Idol? Same?" Fortunately, Fang Yuanhang was a police detective. His mental fortitude was countless times stronger than that of an ordinary person. Otherwise, he might have rear-ended the car in front of him at that moment.
"You didn't know?" Yu Dalong jumped, eyes widening. After a few seconds of silence, he shrank back against the window on his side of the car. "Aiya! I'm sorry! I misspoke. So the 'stallion waist' gege isn't out of the closet, huh? Who are you to him? I thought you knew!"
Those words were filled with so much new information that Fang Yuanhang fell into a deep silence.
His wise and valiant chief, their Serious Crimes Division's powerful and straight-shooting captain… was the 'same' as this little fruit?
The 'same' in the general sense, or the 'same' in a more specific sense?
The 'same' as in… also a fruit? Or the 'same' as in… also a bottom?
Fang Yuanhang was straight, but he didn't have zero gay friends, so he was extremely open-minded when it came to sexuality. He never looked down on anyone for being gay, and sometimes when the impulse struck him, he even joked around with his straight friends and played gay chicken.
But he'd never imagined his chief could be gay!
The occupational habits of a police detective suddenly flared up. Fang Yuanhang couldn't help but think… if this little fruit's words were true, then who was his chief with?
Lu Yanzhou from the Special Police Force? Or Captain Yi?
Zhou Yuan seemed like the most probable choice. He looked a bit weak and frail, after all. Like he needed someone to take care of him.
Xing-laoshi was also possible. Rumor had it Xing-laoshi used to treat Ming Shu super well, and they only grew distant later on. Could that have been to deflect suspicion?
There was also Liang Zhao. And Xiao Man. And Xu Chun!
Fang Yuanhang could hardly rein in his thoughts. In just a short span of time, a long series of names and faces rolled through the sea of his mind. Until finally, his thoughts settled on Xiao Yu'an's face.
Director Xiao was impossible. How could Director Xiao be his chief's man?
"God!" Yu Dalong exclaimed. "I'm so sorry to the 'stallion waist' gege! I didn't say anything!"
Fang Yuanhang's young mind had been stirred up by this huge pot of gossip. His thoughts were firing this way and that like cannonballs. Yu Dalong's outburst suddenly snapped Fang Yuanhang back to his senses. He told himself the case was still looming before them. He had to calm down, calm down, calm down!
Fang Yuanhang took a deep breath and said, "Right. You didn't say anything. I don't know anything."
Yu Dalong pursed his lips and kept his mouth shut. "Mhm!"
Fang Yuanhang thought about it some more, then added, "Once we wrap up this case, you explain things to me one more time."
Yu Dalong fell silent.
You policemen… you're so… so gossipy!
Baixuan Guiyuan was situated in Nan District. Yu Dalong had exaggerated. Although it was a nice residential neighborhood, and fairly well-known, it couldn't be considered a 'luxury' community in Dongye City anymore.
Because it was just too old.
Many years ago, when the real estate industry was just starting to boom, Baixuan Guiyuan had indeed been the most famous little community in all of Dongye City. Everyone who lived there was either rich or an important political figure. But in the last decade or so, Dongye City had undergone rapid development. Residential communities that were more expensive, more modern, and simply better than Baixuan Guiyuan had popped up one after another.
Only people born and raised in Dongye City, like Yu Dalong, would still habitually refer to Baixuan Guiyuan as a 'luxury' neighborhood.
Fang Yuanhang parked outside the community and ran inside with Yu Dalong.
Yu Dalong was panting by the time they reached the door to Room 73 in Building C. He pounded on the door and shouted, "Liu Mei, you open up! I know you're in there! Open the door, open the door, open the door! If you don't open the door right now, I'll call the police!"
The policeman named Fang Yuanhang watched on in silence.
A flurry of footsteps sounded out from inside. Fang Yuanhang reacted very quickly; he ducked to the side and hid in the peephole's blind spot.
The sound of a turning lock rang out, and soon the door swung open.
Liu Mei was wrapped up tightly in a set of pajamas. Her hair was a disheveled mess, and her face was swollen. She looked tired, helpless. She looked at Yu Dalong and said, "I'm sorry."
"Sorry my ass!" Yu Dalong bellowed. "Do you want to work or not?!"
Liu Mei sighed. "I…"
Before her words fell, Fang Yuanhang appeared in a flash. He sprang out from his hiding spot and slammed a hand against the door, keeping it held open.
Liu Mei's face instantly paled. In a panic, she demanded, "How could you be here?!"
"Why can't I be here?!" Fang Yuanhang retorted. Without sparing any tenderness, he barged into the apartment. Yu Dalong was a weak-looking little thing, but he also swiftly darted in and slammed the door shut behind himself.
"You guys…" Liu Mei helplessly stood in place, reaching out to hold onto the wall like she couldn't support herself on her own two feet.
She was wearing silk pajamas—long-sleeved shirt, long pants. The buttons were done up to the very top. But the texture of the fabric was too smooth. As soon as she lifted a hand to the wall, her sleeve slid down and revealed a fresh, livid red mark around her wrist.
Fang Yuanhang could tell in an instant—that was a wound from a whip!
And the swelling in Liu Mei's face had definitely been caused by a slap.
Upon closer inspection, it was evident that Liu Mei also had a wound on her lips.
"Meimei!" Yu Dalong yelped. "It was that man, wasn't it?!"
Liu Mei finally lost all her strength. She suddenly slumped against the wall and slid down to the ground.
Dongye City's University of Medicine. Guangye Hospital. Jiulin Psychology Clinic.
The 'mystery man' pulling strings behind the scenes didn't necessarily work at all three of these places. But he definitely had a strong understanding of them all.
The 'university professor' Long Tianhao had encountered and the person who'd sent a child to give a pamphlet to Wen He was most likely the same 'mystery man'. Lots of surveillance cameras dotted the campus of the University of Medicine, and there was no shortage of cameras around the Jiulin Psychology Clinic.
But after sweeping through all the footage twice, the technical investigators found nothing of use.
This person wasn't only cautious about hiding their presence; they were also very familiar with the layout of the cameras at the University of Medicine and the Jiulin Psychology Clinic.
Wen He's therapist, Luo Yi, was in his thirties. His age was inconsistent with that of the 'university professor'. Based on Wen He's current condition, Dr. Luo didn't show any signs of trying to harm Wen He. Throughout his treatment, Wen He's condition had gradually improved. He was on his way out from the dark.
But psychologists were in an extremely unique position of power. An outstanding psychologist could not only pull a patient out from hell; they could drag a patient into hell as well.
It all depended on the doctor's inclinations.
After Ming Shu and Yi Fei discussed it, Yi Fei instantly went to look into Luo Yi and the general situation at the Jiulin Psychology Clinic. Meanwhile, Ming Shu sent a team to canvas Dongye City's University of Medicine.
When Yi Fei arrived at Jiulin, Wen He was just on his way out of Luo Yi's office. Wen He had only interacted with Ming Shu previously; he didn't recognize Yi Fei. And Yi Fei wasn't dressed in uniform. When he brushed past Wen He, he received a polite and friendly nod from the man.
"If you're here to get an understanding of Wen He, then I can tell you my treatment has been very effective on him," Luo Yi said when Yi Fei stepped in to begin asking his questions.
Luo Yi looked exactly like what Yi Fei would expect a psychologist to look like—steady and dignified, with a tone of voice that inspired confidence in others.
"But it seems you aren't here to get an understanding of Wen He. Rather, you're here to better understand me," Luo Yi continued, smiling. "Being noticed by the Bureau… I imagine that's not a very good thing for me. I originally planned on offering you some tea, but now I only feel like offering you some hot water."
Yi Fei glanced at the drinking glass on the desk, then studied Luo Yi with keen interest.
This man was handling a meeting with the police very calmly and skillfully. He behaved no differently than he probably would with a patient.
Before laying eyes on Luo Yi, Yi Fei had already learned that Luo Yi was the most renowned doctor at Jiulin. Many patients came to Jiulin after hearing of Luo Yi, and many more were specifically referred to Jiulin by other psychologists from other clinics.
Being so renowned at such a young age… Luo Yi surely had some innate skill or talent.
Yi Fei couldn't help but compare him to Sha Chun and the others.
It was obvious that Luo Yi was the type of person that Sha Chun desperately wanted to become, and he was the type of person she could never become.
"Do you have any impression of this person?" Yi Fei asked, presenting the sketch of the 'university professor' to Luo Yi. The sketch had been created based on Long Tianhao's description of the man he remembered. It was the police's only piece of evidence that this 'mystery man' existed, and it could very well be a meaningless piece of evidence.
This 'mystery man' was exceptionally cunning. It was very possible that he had disguised himself with makeup before approaching Long Tianhao. Plus, Long Tianhao's memories were surely imperfect. There was a good chance that this sketch didn't look anything like the real person they were looking for.
But Yi Fei only had that sketch to show Luo Yi.
Whether or not Luo Yi could offer them a clue based on the sketch was secondary. The most important thing was his initial reaction upon being shown a sketch.
Luo Yi casually glanced at the sketch, then smiled again. "Mr. Yi, you are personally incapable of determining whether or not this sketch is accurate. What is the point in asking me whether or not I recognize this person? You want to observe my reaction, correct?"
Yi Fei's smile dropped off his face.
"I don't recognize the person in the sketch. I've never seen him," Luo Yi said, suddenly becoming serious. "But the person 'hiding' behind the sketch—if I'm not mistaken, that should be the person you police are currently pursuing. Maybe I have seen that person. Maybe it's someone I know very well. You must have come to me because you've found some thread of a connection between me and this person you're looking for. But based on this sketch alone, I'm afraid I have no way of helping your investigation."
Criminal detectives were suspicious creatures by nature. The more sincere and honest Luo Yi seemed, the more suspicious Yi Fei became. If he couldn't find any holes in the face Luo Yi presented him, he would have to look around and find a seam in the surrounding details of his story.
Luo Yi had graduated from the top university in the capital. Afterwards, he'd continued to study and work abroad. He returned to the country four years ago and secured employment at the Jiulin Psychology Clinic.
Due to the special relationship between Jiulin and the University of Medicine, Luo Yi was often invited to speak on the subject of psychology to students of that university. He frequently came and went from the campus, and he was on good terms with all the faculty there.
Was there any possibility that Luo Yi had disguised himself as a man in his fifties before appearing in front of Long Tianhao?
Could Luo Yi have used their counseling sessions to manipulate Wen He into interfering with the police investigation?
When Yi Fei showed Long Tianhao a photo of Luo Yi, Long Tianhao shook his head and said, "The person I saw definitely wasn't him."
New question. Could Luo Yi have manipulated Long Tianhao's memory?
The answer was still yes.
Ming Shu was in the car when he took Yi Fei's call. They spent a long while going through the details of Yi Fei's investigation. After hanging up, Ming Shu cleared his mind for a moment.
Yi Fei and the rest of the team were following this thread at the University of Medicine while Ming Shu himself was continuing to chase the 'Jianjia Bailu' thread.
'Jianjia Bailu' had already shut down. Shi Hanshan had been forced to refund the tuition the students had paid; her latest business endeavor was another failure. She and the other two investors of 'Jianjia Bailu' didn't have a motive to commit these crimes. That was something that had already been determined earlier in the investigation.
As for the stalker Ling Xuzhi, he was still incapable of providing a solid alibi. But the police also couldn't find any solid proof of his guilt.
Ming Shu leaned back in the driver's seat and ran through the personnel of 'Jianjia Bailu' over and over again in his mind.
That fake 'domino' Sha Chun found had deceived her. Their intentions had been impure; they used her death to frame Yu Xiaocheng. They knew everything about the relationship between Sha Chun and Yu Xiaocheng. They'd heard the conversations between Sha Chun and Yu Xiaocheng. They knew Sha Chun and Yu Xiaocheng were intertwined.
Who was in the best position to easily discover all that?
For just an instant, a figure drifted through Ming Shu's mind.
Wu Tong. That seemingly sweet and naive receptionist at 'Jianjia Bailu', who seemed to have more free time than anyone else.
1. What Yu Dalong says here is 比我小, and in this context, 小 means 'younger', so the meaning is 'younger than me'. But 小 can also mean 'small', so out of context, this could also mean 'smaller than me'.