The social impact of Lu Kun's killing spree was immense. With two young lives claimed in such a horrific manner, the people who heard the news gossiped endlessly about it. Fear and panic were widespread.
Last year in Luocheng, the nearest metropolis to Dongye City, a small community suffered a similarly gruesome crime. In a single night, numerous senior citizens had had their throats slit.
The news spread rapidly, and rumors surrounding the case popped up just as quickly. Some speculated that these victims were seniors who enjoyed dancing outdoors in the community plaza, playing their music loudly and disturbing the peace of the younger generation who didn't share such hobbies. These rumors said that behavior, in the end, was what had drawn a killer's blade to these senior citizens' throats.
As soon as those rumors started to circulate, the group of seniors who enjoyed dancing at the plaza disbanded. Even the few brave souls who dared to return to the plaza to dance began to either play their music quietly, on the lowest volume setting, or through headphones.
Something similar was now happening in Dongye City. Instead of the elderly, the change was one that came over young parents and their children.
In previous years, summer break had always heralded an invasion of noisy children in all sorts of public places. Book shops, restaurants, and other such spaces were plagued by loud and energetic kids. Some of the employees at these businesses even compared these children to a locust swarm.
This year, however, articles about the two children murdered by Lu Kun had spread like wildfire. Many parents feared for their children's lives and strictly forbade their kids from causing a ruckus in public spaces. They couldn't help but think other sick and twisted murderers like Lu Kun could be out there, hiding in plain sight.
Children being noisy in public spaces had simply been a fact of life until now. When this change came about, a TV station in Dongye City took the opportunity to film a series of interviews. They went to coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores, and so on to survey the patrons.
When asked if they had ever been disrupted by loud children in public before, every single adult that was interviewed said they had. But when the reporter asked if they had ever confronted the parents of these children, only three in ten adults said they had. The other seventy percent of respondents simply smiled wearily and shook their heads.
"Kids don't understand, and these days young parents all spoil their kids," they said. "There's no point in reminding them to be quiet. You just have to ignore it and put up with it."
Among the thirty percent of people surveyed who said they did talk to the parents in these situations, most of them also confirmed that it was useless in the end. Reminding the parents usually did nothing, and could even lead to physical confrontations with the more aggressive parents.
One woman who was interviewed said she had once frequented the community library while studying for a test. But she was constantly surrounded by noisy children. She tried to speak to their parents about it once, but nothing changed. In the end, she'd had to rent a private space in an office building just to have a place to study.
"The parents of these kids are all adults, and they aren't stupid," she said to the reporter. "They know when their kids are being noisy. If they were good people, they would tell their kids to be quiet the first time they made a commotion in a public place. And if their kids didn't calm down, they would immediately take their kids somewhere else.
"The parents who do nothing are the ones who just don't care. They only care about their kids having fun, even if it means everyone around them suffers a disturbance. When it's this kind of parent, talking to them and asking them to quiet down their kids won't do anything.
"There's a saying, you know. 'You can't wake up a person who's only pretending to be asleep.' These parents are the same way. They act like they don't know their kids are misbehaving, but it's just an act. They know."
The interview with this woman was eventually broadcast, and it resonated with many viewers. They thought she had hit the nail on the head and correctly pointed out the real problem behind these noisy children.
But this was far from the most scathing response the reporter heard from a participant in the TV station's survey.
Two interviewees outright said they had also once wanted to kill the children who wouldn't stop screaming inside a book cafe.
"You seriously can't imagine how fucking awful it is to hear those kids screaming all day," one participant said. "Pardon my language, but these kids who make noise in quiet public areas and the parents of these kids all deserve to die! They don't feel any guilt over tearing apart our peace and quiet, so why shouldn't we be allowed to tear them apart, too?"
Of course, this kind of answer couldn't be included in the broadcast. But it revealed that there was indeed a minority that felt such intense hatred towards noisy kids.
The buzz around Lu Kun's crime continued to grow, until it seemed just about everyone had an opinion on the case. Most people believed Lu Kun's actions were heinous and unjustifiable, but a small percentage of people genuinely believed Lu Kun had done a good thing in removing those nuisances from the world.
Despite the complicated landscape of public opinion surrounding the incident, the police case regarding the attack was clear-cut and simple. There were countless eyewitnesses, and the crime was caught on surveillance cameras as well. Lu Kun had even confessed to the crime.
After his initial interrogation, two professionals had conducted psychological evaluations of Lu Kun and determined that he did not suffer from any psychological ailments. They confirmed that rumors of Lu Kun having 'multiple personalities', which had become a popular theory among the public, were false. A thorough physical examination also concluded that Lu Kun was not under the influence of any drugs at the time of his crime.
The officers at the Bei District precinct were more than capable of handling such a simple case on their own. There was no need for them to escalate it to the Criminal Investigation Bureau. At least, that was what everyone had thought.
Just when it seemed like the case was closed, Lu Kun suddenly changed his tune. He began to insist he was innocent, claiming he had been brainwashed and compelled to kill.
The entire criminal justice system had been shaken up just last year, when a violent cult committed a string of murders in Luocheng. In that case, the cult leader had used hypnosis to compel his followers to kill. Many victims were claimed, and even some members of the police force fell prey to the hypnosis. To this very day, it was unknown whether Han Qu, the captain of Luocheng's Special Forces team at the time who had become involved with the cult, was dead or alive.
After that, an unspoken rule was adopted by the force in Dongye City. All cases involving psychological manipulation, no matter how outlandish or unlikely the claim, were to be handled by the Bureau.
When Lu Kun suddenly claimed to have been brainwashed, Wang Hao—Vice Captain of the Bei District precinct—flew into a rage. But he had no choice but to hand the case over to the Bureau.
Just a few days ago, when he had encountered Ming Shu, Wang Hao had proudly boasted that Ming Shu had no business meddling in the Lu Kun case. Wang Hao had declared there was no way in hell he would give the case to the Bureau unless his higher-ups ordered it.
He had spoken with the utmost confidence at that time, and there was no doubt in his mind that he would be the one to resolve the Lu Kun case. He never imagined that Lu Kun would rescind his confession.
As soon as Lu Kun started to speak of psychological manipulation, the captain of the Bei District precinct had Lu Kun transferred to the Criminal Investigation Bureau.
Needless to say, as soon as Lu Kun was placed in the Bureau's custody, his case belonged to the Serious Crimes Division. And that, naturally, pissed Wang Hao off more than anything.
Wang Hao had never liked Ming Shu. In his eyes, Ming Shu was just a fancy, frivolous, and useless sissy. All looks, no substance. Wang Hao had always had his suspicions that Ming Shu got to where he was today through his pretty face, not his capabilities as a detective.
The entire Serious Crimes Division spoke of Ming Shu like he was some god-sent genius, but Wang Hao had always remained unconvinced. As a result, he didn't get along with any man in that division. He always claimed that the guys from Serious Crimes desperately wanted to work with him, and that he turned them down every time.
As he watched Lu Kun being transferred away, he swore under his breath and spat in a fit of rage.
The night the Serious Crimes Division received the Lu Kun case, Ming Shu didn't sleep a wink. He worked through the night, only taking a break when Xiao Yu'an snuck in to bring him something to eat. The adrenaline of taking on such a major case kept Ming Shu going, but there was still an undercurrent of fatigue running through him from the long hours of work.
Lu Kun sat in the interrogation room, both hands cuffed together. He was in a weak and miserable state compared to the violent ferocity he had displayed when committing his crime at the Shu Han book cafe. A scraggly beard had started to grow on his chin, and his skin had an unhealthy yellow tinge to it. His lips were dry and cracked, and his eyes were bloodshot.
"You claim you were compelled to commit this crime," Ming Shu stated. His cold, unfeeling gaze bored into Lu Kun's eyes as he spoke. Unblinking, unflinching. "Compelled by whom? Compelled in what way?"
When he had first started making claims of compulsion back at the Bei District precinct, Lu Kun had howled and raged nonsensically like a caged beast. He'd had a crazed look in his eyes, laughing and crying at the same time, hollering about how he had been wronged. He had acted every bit like a lunatic, and even Wang Hao hadn't been able to calm him down.
But when he was being stared down by Ming Shu, with that ice cold expression, Lu Kun completely deflated. All the fight had gone out of him. He could only twist his hands nervously, opening and closing his mouth silently, as though wishing to speak but unable to find the words to defend himself.
Ming Shu tapped his index finger on the table. His eyes never left Lu Kun's face for even a second. Icily, he continued, "Look around. This isn't the Bei District precinct. This is the Criminal Investigation Bureau, where we specialize in dealing with people like you."
Lu Kun stiffened involuntarily. He drew up his shoulders, tensed his throat, and clenched his jaw.
"I'll ask you one more time," Ming Shu stated. "Who compelled you? And how?"
Half a minute later, Lu Kun finally shuddered and muttered, "En… Entombed Heart."
But his words were nearly unintelligible. Ming Shu couldn't make them out and frowned. "Into? Into what?"
Fang Yuanhang, who had been sitting just to the side, suddenly straightened up with alertness in his eyes. "Entombed Heart? E-N-T-O-M-B-E-D, H-E-A-R-T?"
A burst of energy flooded into Lu Kun's eyes as well. He seemed like a parasite, coming back to life after latching on to a new source of nourishment.
"Yes!" he exclaimed. "Entombed Heart! She's the one who did this me!"
Ming Shu turned to Fang Yuanhang. "You know who that is?"
"Chief, you don't read novels at all?" Fang Yuanhang asked. "Entombed Heart is the pen name of the most popular suspense author on the market these days! Everything they write sells like crazy!"
"Suspense novels?" Ming Shu echoed.
It was true that he didn't read novels. For one thing, he was born without a single literary cell in his body. He just couldn't find any enjoyment in reading for pleasure. Every time he picked up a book, he started dozing off after a few pages. For another thing, he didn't have any time to read novels. If he wasn't working a case, he was undergoing training to better prepare himself for future cases.
"She was the one… the one who compelled me. I wasn't… I wasn't like this before," Lu Kun mumbled brokenly. "She incited me to kill! If not for her, I never would have become this way!"
Ming Shu studied Lu Kun for another moment. Slowly, he was starting to understand. "When you say 'compelled' and 'incited'... you're talking about these novels by Entombed Heart?"
Lu Kun frantically nodded his head like a hungry chicken pecking at rice. "Entombed Heart said there are people who deserve to die! If the law can't punish them, then we must be the ones to pick up a weapon and do the deed!"
Ming Shu couldn't help but let out a heavy sigh. "Have you met this… Entombed Heart?"
"Chief," Fang Yuanhang interjected. "Entombed Heart is just a pen name. As far as I know, the author is extremely secretive. They've never shown their face. No one knows if they're a man or woman. No one even knows if they live in this country."
"Entombed Heart is a woman!" Lu Kun insisted with fervor. "It's only because I listened to her that I killed someone!"
"Hey, hey, hey!" Fang Yuanhang protested with a derisive snort. "They're just novels, you know? You got sucked in way too deep."
Ming Shu looked up and cast a sideways glance at Lu Kun before reaching out and patting Fang Yuanhang on the shoulder, giving him the signal to take over the interrogation from there.
The supposed 'compulsion' was clearly a figment of the suspect's imagination. There was nothing Ming Shu could do with that information.
Lu Kun's behavior was… interesting, in a way. After confessing, he suddenly rescinded his statement and tried to implicate some suspense author. There were various ways to deal with something like this. If Ming Shu didn't have any other cases on his plate, he would have stayed and listened to Lu Kun's attempts to convince them from start to finish.
But, right now, there was no time to waste. There was another convoluted case that needed Ming Shu's attention.
The second amusement park victim was Luo Xiangfu, sixty-two years old. He used to teach language arts in the town south of Dongye City in his youth, and back then he'd had a hobby of drawing on chalkboards. Prior to his death, he had been a member of the city's Painting and Calligraphy Association. He lived with his wife, Kang Yu, in an old and shabby apartment in Xi District.
The couple had one son, who was currently working far away from home.
In late June, Kang Yu had gone on a trip with her friends. She returned home on July 4th to discover Luo Xiangfu wasn't at home and couldn't be reached by phone. In fact, starting from two days before her return, Luo Xiangfu hadn't answered any of her calls. Kang Yu looked everywhere for Luo Xiangfu and asked everyone he knew if they had seen him, and they all answered that they hadn't seen the man in the past few days.
Deeply worried something had happened to her husband, Kang Yu had contacted the police right away.
Based on the dates and information on his missing persons report, there was no doubt that Luo Xiangfu was the man who had been buried under rubble at the amusement park.
In any homicide investigation, confirming the victim's identity was a crucial step. The vast majority of homicide victims are killed by acquaintances, whether for reasons of money, power, or revenge.
Now that the victim had been identified, the most important thing for Ming Shu to do was to carefully interview all of Luo Xiangfu's close acquaintances.
After Kang Yu identified the body, she displayed an unnaturally calm expression. For ten minutes, she sat in the interrogation room without uttering a single word. Until finally, her eyes showed a hint of emotion.
Ming Shu didn't try to start a conversation with her right away. He asked for someone to bring her a cup of water, then sat with her in silence for a while.
The police station local to Kang Yu's home had sent over the video recording of the statement she gave when she reported Luo Xiangfu missing. In the video, Kang Yu didn't seem to be especially anxious or worried when giving her report. She looked rather calm and collected, and she straightforwardly listed a few places her husband might have gone.
And in the end, she had sighed softly and murmured that it was possible her husband had already been harmed or killed.
The cop who took her statement was used to seeing people get worked up and overly emotional when reporting a loved one missing, and therefore Kang Yu had left a deep impression with her way of remaining calm throughout the whole process of making the report. When sending along the video footage of Kang Yu's report, the officer noted, "That lady was a little strange. Usually when a family member goes missing, even the people who try to act calm can't stay calm for long. But her? It was like she had been waiting for this day to come."
When Ming Shu watched and rewatched the footage, he agreed. There was something about Kang Yu's behavior that needed to be investigated.
All around the country, murder cases involving married couples were a common occurrence. There were even bad relationships that lasted twenty or thirty years, only to end in tragedy when one party finally snapped.
But when Luo Xiangfu was murdered, Kang Yu wasn't anywhere near Dongye City. The surveillance cameras from her hotel room in Luocheng, and the surveillance cameras on the streets near her hotel, could all prove she was out of town at the time.
Kang Yu had a perfect alibi.
"When you reported your husband missing, you said there was a chance he had already been harmed or killed," Ming Shu stated, recounting her words from the missing person report. "Who do you believe he may have been killed by?"
Kang Yu made a soft sound of surprise. "I…"
"There's no need to be nervous," Ming Shu said slowly, reassuringly. "I'm simply asking because you brought up the possibility of Luo Xiangfu being harmed. I would assume that means you have a guess as to who may have wanted to harm him."
After a long moment, Kang Yu shook her head. "There was nothing wrong with Old Luo. He wasn't going senile, so I didn't think he would have just left home and gotten lost on his own. The worst case scenario would be that someone hurt him, killed him. But I don't have any clue who would want to do such a thing."
Ming Shu was completely and utterly unconvinced by that explanation. He propped his chin up on one hand. "Tell me what happened the last time you saw Luo Xiangfu."
"Originally, I wasn't planning to take a trip," Kang Yu said. She picked up a napkin from the table and dabbed it against the corner of her eye, but the napkin came away dry; she quickly balled it up in her hand.
"So why did you change your mind?" Ming Shu prompted.
Kang Yu sighed. Her mouth twisted with a wry, bitter smile. "Old Luo was getting older, and his ears were going bad. Whatever I say to him, he doesn't hear it. We had to get used to speaking very loudly to each other, and… in truth, that was exhausting for me.
"Last month, some of his association friends came for a visit at our home. I made some snacks for them and called Old Luo to come take them out to the table. But he couldn't hear me, so I yelled louder and louder. As soon as he came over, he threw a fit at me. Then, after his friends left, we had a huge fight. The way he saw it, I embarrassed him by shouting in front of his friends."
It was only at that point that real tears formed in Kang Yu's eyes. Maybe she was finally able to squeeze out some fake ones, or maybe she felt genuinely heartbroken over her loss.
"These last few years, we've fought countless times because of his poor hearing," she continued. "A few days after that fight, my friends invited me on a trip to Luocheng. I didn't want to spend every day stewing at home with Old Luo, so I decided to go and paid the tour fee.
"On the day I was about to leave, Old Luo didn't say anything to me. But he got up early in the morning and stewed a pot of chicken and duck feet for me. He even made some cold noodles. And he left a note, telling me to bring everything along on my trip to eat on the train.
"When I saw all that, I was ready to forgive him." Kang Yu spoke more and more slowly as her story unfolded. "I called him a few times while I was away, and I really wanted us to make up. I was planning to make a big, hearty meal for him when I got back. I never thought… he would be gone."
After a beat of silence, Ming Shu said, "Your feelings for Luo Xiangfu don't seem to run very deep."
Kang Yu jerked her head up abruptly, her eyes flashing.
For a woman in her sixties, Kang Yu looked quite good. Though her skin was starting to sag in some places, she had a nice, healthy complexion. If she had claimed to be less than fifty years old, there were some who certainly would have believed her.
"I…" Kang Yu met Ming Shu's gaze for a split second before sharply looking away. "We were together for more than thirty years. How could our feelings be anything but deep?"
"But based on your expressions and reactions, you don't seem to be in mourning," Ming Shu stated. His tone was perfectly unchanging, steady and even, to the point that it could send chills down one's spine.
"Are you accusing me of killing my husband? How is that possible?" Kang Yu leaned forward suddenly, her eyebrows raised up high. "I'm not that kind of person. Why would I kill him?"
Ming Shu shook his head. "My question wasn't asked to accuse you of anything," he said. "Luo Xiangfu was murdered, and his body was disposed of without leaving us many clues. You are his closest relative. For our investigation, we have to communicate with you and see if we can unearth a solid lead in this case. Do you understand?"
Kang Yu stared at him for a moment, silent and seemingly stunned. Then she finally nodded, giving just a small, nervous dip of her head.
When Ming Shu looked at someone, when he really looked at them, there was an indescribable sort of charisma to his gaze. When he combined that look with the soothing, calming tone of voice that he'd learned from Xiao Yu'an, he could easily cause his conversational partners to surrender to his whims.
"I'll need to visit your home," Ming Shu said. "Let's chat in greater detail on the way."
Kang Yu looked conflicted, but she nodded in the end. "Okay."
The building where Luo Xiangfu had lived stood in front of a street that hosted a farmer's market. Foot traffic in the area was heavy, but the apartment complex wasn't looked after by a professional property management company. The three gates to the community stood unlocked and open all day. Only a few old aunties and uncles from the neighborhood committee took turns watching the gates.
But these gate 'guards' were only guards in name. While they were on watch, the uncles played chess and the auntices played mahjong. None of them truly cared if any strangers came and went from their little neighborhood. Random motorcycle and moped riders would often take a shortcut through the community. Sometimes, even a small pick-up truck driver would cut through the neighborhood. Once in a while, one of the aunties would tell off the driver for being so reckless, but none of the drivers ever cared or stopped.
Ming Shu surveyed the premises for a while. One of his men took a look around and reported that only two of the surveillance cameras in the neighborhood were functional. One was positioned outside the doors of Building 2, and the other was perched above the west gate.
Unfortunately, Luo Xiangfu lived in Building 4.
"Take all the footage from both cameras from the relevant dates," Ming Shu ordered. "Focus on the footage from the camera above the gate."
Hearing that, Kang Yu opened her mouth as though to say something, but she stopped herself short.
Ming Shu looked at her. "Is there something you'd like to say?"
"It's just that…" Kang Yu hesitated for a moment before she continued, "Old Luo would never use the west gate. He always thought that the area around the west gate was too messy and dirty, since it faces the farmer's market. It's impossible for him to show up on that camera."
Ming Shu thought about that for a moment before he said, "It doesn't matter. We have to check."
Building 4. 4th Floor. Apartment Number 4. Home of Kang Yu and Luo Xiangfu.
The trace detection team entered first. Xiao Man stopped at the front door and stared at the number with an obvious look of shock1. He whipped around and gave Ming Shu a wide-eyed look, but Ming Shu simply gestured for him to get inside and get to work.
Inside, there were three bedrooms in addition to the living room. Much to Ming Shu's surprise, he quickly discovered Kang Yu and Luo Xiangfu had been sleeping in separate rooms.
Kang Yu looked embarrassed when Ming Shu took note of that. She explained, "We don't have the same work and sleep schedule."
As Ming Shu took a look around the living room, he couldn't help but think there was something odd about that explanation. It wasn't unusual for middle-aged couples to sleep in separate rooms, but usually the wife would say it was because of her husband's snoring or bad body odor. Kang Yu, however, claimed it was due to their different schedules.
Could a couple that had been together for decades sleep in separate rooms just because of different schedules?
"Did Luo Xiangfu keep a schedule which disrupted your ability to rest?" Ming Shu asked.
"He went to bed very late," Kang Yu said. "He was always fiddling with those pictures of his until the middle of the night."
"Luo Xiangfu enjoyed photography?" Ming Shu had already noticed an impressive, expensive-looking camera in a glass cabinet in the study. With Luo Xiangfu being a member of the Painting and Calligraphy Association, he must have had quite a strong artistic streak if he was interested in photography as well.
But in that moment, Kang Yu's expression darkened and her face twisted up with dissatisfaction and contempt. "Photography? I wouldn't call it photography. Old Luo was always taking useless pictures of ridiculous things."
Ming Shu took an interest in that. "Ridiculous?"
"He only ever took pictures of little girls!" Kang Yu huffed. She was fuming, more upset now than she had been when she learned of Luo Xiangfu's death.
"Captain Ming!" Yi Fei called out from the study, where he was hunched in front of a computer. "Come here for a second."
Upon walking over, the first thing Ming Shu saw was the photo of a beautiful young woman on the computer screen.
"Looks like he was a street photographer," Yi Fei said. He scrolled through the photos rapidly, each click of the mouse bringing up a photo of a different young woman. "There are at least a thousand photos here."
"This was all he did every day!" Kang Yu lamented. "People used to say I married such a good man. He didn't smoke, he didn't drink, and he never used to be ill-tempered. He spent all his free time painting and practicing calligraphy. He was smart, he was cultured.
"But see? Do you see what he'd turned into? There were people who tried to commission him for artwork, people who asked him to appraise their paintings… but he turned them all down! Every single day, he just took that camera of his and went out to take pictures of little girls. He spent all day taking his pictures, and sometimes he even stayed out taking pictures at night. Even when he came home, he didn't sleep. He just stared at those photos!
"Tell me. What kind of man could live like this?"
1. 'Four' is an inauspicious number in Chinese because it's pronounced similarly to the character meaning 'death'.