MADNESS OF THE HEART

Chapter 8: Hunting Evil (Part Eight)

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Faced with a positive drug test, Luo Xiaolong had no choice but to admit what he had been doing on the day Luo Xiangfu was murdered. After leaving the Riverside Club, he had gone to the hot springs inn near Bei District, where he had met up with some girls and smoked some methamphetamine.

"I couldn't tell you that!" he protested defensively. "I'm not the sort of person that can mess with a place like that. If they find out I snitched on them to the cops, I… me and my mom, they would kill us both!"

Drug-related cases weren't typically handled by the Serious Crimes Division. Upon receiving Luo Xiaolong's drug test results, Ming Shu immediately called Lu Yanzhou and sent the case over to the Special Police Force.

"So it was that out-of-town place," Lu Yanzhou mused. "We've had our eyes on that inn for a while. How'd it come to your attention over in Serious Crimes?"

"You're saying there's something suspicious about this place?" Ming Shu asked.

"It's just got a bit of a reputation. A lot of the guys that have come out of there lately have been small-time gangsters," Lu Yanzhou grumbled. "We haven't moved in on them yet because we're waiting for the masterminds to stick their necks out. Even if we grab the guys who manage things on the surface, we'll only be squashing the roaches we can see. The real problem is buried deeper."

"Then, you guys…"

"Hm?"

Ming Shu sighed. "Forget it. Continue with your investigation first, and let me know if you need anything. Even if I can't spare any men from Serious Crimes, we might be able to link you up with our other divisions."

"Alright, you get back to work." Lu Yanzhou was obviously smiling brightly now. "Once you solve your case, treat me to BBQ."

"Why isn't it you treating me?"

"Ah, what's there to quibble about between you and me? There's no need to make such a distinction. You're mine, so what's yours is mine. Your money is mine, your BBQ kebabs are mine."

Ming Shu was silent.

Lu Yanzhou was straight. And he was pretty handsome for a straight guy. Ming Shu often caught himself thinking that he really just didn't understand the way the mind of a handsome straight guy worked.

They always spouted this sort of 'you're mine' and 'what's yours is mine' nonsense. Not even Xiao Yu'an had said such things to Ming Shu before.

Ming Shu tried to imagine it was Xiao Yu'an saying those lines to him, and goosebumps instantly broke out all over his skin.

It was then that the technical investigation team sent over the news that they'd already received the surveillance footage from cameras near the inn where Luo Xiaolong said he'd been. Ming Shu quickly shook himself back to his senses and rushed off to meet them.

The surveillance footage proved that Luo Xiaolong had ventured into the outskirts of Bei District at 4:32 in the afternoon on July 2nd. He remained there until 7:57 on the morning on the 3rd, which gave him an airtight alibi for the time of Luo Xiangfu's murder.

The killer was still out there.

 

While Kang Yu and Luo Xiaolong were questioned, Luo Xiangfu's business connections had been thoroughly interrogated as well. One of them owed Luo Xiangfu money, and one of them had a rather murky, ambiguous relationship with Kang Yu. But none of them had the means to commit the crime, nor did any evidence point towards them as the killer.

Wang Xiong, a wholesale tea leaves merchant, had sloping eyebrows and a bitter, haggard expression when he reported, "Last year, Old Luo painted a piece for me. At the time, we agreed on a price of six hundred thousand. I had the money ready, but the people from the Painting and Calligraphy Association told me there was no way Old Luo's work was worth that much!

"I only run a small business here, you know. Six hundred thousand yuan isn't an insignificant price, but I would have gladly paid if the art was worth it. But Old Luo was just swindling me! The people from his association told me all about how he has no talent and just uses the association's name to open doors and find clients. When I confronted Old Luo about it, he even admitted to it."

"So you never paid?" Ming Shu asked.

"I gave him fifty thousand!" Wang Xiong lifted a hand with all five fingers raised. "I looked into it. His art is only worth that much, and I won't pay a single yuan more!"

After saying this, Wang Xiong let out a heavy breath and shook his head. "But if I had known something was going to happen to Old Luo, I would have paid the rest. Forget the remaining five hundred and fifty thousand. I would have paid seven hundred grand, or eight hundred grand, just so you people wouldn't come around suspecting me!"

Ming Shu uttered a cold, humorless laugh. "After paying the fifty thousand, did you have any further contact with Luo Xiangfu?"

"Not for a long time," Wang Xiong said. "He even admitted he was in the wrong, and he still wanted to keep doing this business of selling paintings and calligraphy, so he didn't want to get on my bad side. And I didn't see any point in badmouthing him about his lack of talent, either. But then he suddenly called me a month ago and told me to pay another five hundred thousand, or if I couldn't manage that much, then three hundred thousand would also be okay."

Ming Shu didn't need to think about it for long to realize that the timing of Luo Xiangfu demanding more money matched up perfectly with Luo Xiaolong asking him for a loan.

It was starting to look like Luo Xiangfu wasn't unwilling to lend money to his son. Rather, he simply didn't have the cash to loan.

"I was pissed as soon as I got that call! Everything was settled between us. What right did Old Luo have to suddenly ask me to pay more?" Wang Xiong demanded. He seemed to get especially worked up while talking about matters of money. "He called me twice to ask for money, and one time he even came to see me in person. He was causing a commotion, and I had my security guards escort him out, but I warned him I would tell everyone the truth about his work if he came and bothered me again.

"Detective, you have to believe me. I don't have even the teensiest, tiniest crumb of a connection to his death!"

Before he dismissed the man, Ming Shu asked one final question: "Who told you Luo Xiangfu's art wasn't worth six hundred thousand?"

Wang Xiong blinked, visibly confused. "Is that important?"

"Of course," Ming Shu said, smiling. "Everything said here is a crucial piece of human evidence. If you're unable to provide an answer to this question, I'll have reason to believe you haven't been honest with me."

"I'm not lying about anything!" Wang Xiong insisted hurriedly. "It was their vice president, the one called Yin Qingdong. It was Luo Xiangfu who introduced me to him at first."

"So it was Yin Qingdong…" Xu Chun, the leader of the field team squad, mused as they left the interrogation room. "If he didn't have such a solid alibi, I would be suspecting him by now. He acts like he was Luo Xiangfu's friend, but dirties his name and reputation behind his back."

"Seems like Luo Xiangfu using the association's name to sell his own work really made Yin Qingdong see red. It's hard to tell what truly lies in a person's heart," Ming Shu said as he moved forward in long strides. "What about Cui Hou?"

Cui Hou was also a businessman who'd often bought paintings from Luo Xiangfu. He ran a restaurant, and it seemed he and Luo Xiangfu had been quite close. Not only did Cui Hou buy paintings from Luo Xiangfu for himself, he referred several other customers to Luo Xiangfu as well.

Luo Xiangfu may not have ever known it, but this honest-looking man had been entangled with Kang Yu for quite a long time.

"Cui Hou admitted to having an affair with Kang Yu, but he refused to admit any guilt in the murder of Luo Xiangfu," Xu Chun reported. "He's been out of the city on business for a while, and we confirmed that when we looked into his communication and travel records. He's been ruled out as a suspect."

"Just what kind of person was Luo Xiangfu, really?" Ming Shu suddenly asked.

Xu Chun hummed inquisitively.

"His wife betrayed him, and his son only cares about his money. The few friends he had were the kind to stab him in the back, and the person who helped him with his business was having an affair with his wife," Ming Shu said. "In Luo Xiangfu's life, there wasn't a single person who honestly cared about him. In death, there's no one to mourn him."

A sad, despondent look suddenly came over Xu Chun. "You don't think I'll be like that when I'm old, do you?"

Ignoring that, Ming Shu remained focused on the serious questions filling up his thoughts. "The thing is, none of these people were the murderer. Who else wanted Luo Xiangfu dead, more than any of them?"

This was undoubtedly a question that wouldn't be answered anytime soon.

 

Ming Shu returned to his office, craving a cigarette. But when he opened his desk drawer, he found that the cigarettes and lighter he'd placed there were missing.

He looked up and swept his gaze around the room.

This sort of thing had happened once before. His cigarettes went missing, and in the place where they used to be, there was a pack of marshmallows left behind.

He never ate that sort of thing. Gross and sticky. That was what he thought of marshmallows.

When he had taken the marshmallows and asked around, Ming Shu discovered the culprit was Fang Yuanhang.

Back then, Fang Yuanhang had still been a trainee. He was brimming over with youthful adolescence. He had earnestly tried to convince Ming Shu, sincerely telling him, Chief, smoking is bad for your health, and our office is a public area. It's better if you don't smoke.

Ming Shu had gotten his cigarettes back after that. He didn't quit, but he did smoke a little less.

More than a year had passed since then, and Fang Yuanhang himself had started to smoke. So, when Ming Shu found his cigarettes missing from his drawer, he was sure the 'thief' couldn't be Fang Yuanhang this time.

He gave it some thought, then pushed the drawer shut.

In the entire Criminal Investigation Bureau, the only person who would have any sort of opinion about Ming Shu smoking was Xiao Yu'an.

Sometimes, Ming Shu almost thought it was strange. He and Xiao Yu'an had grown up together, and he had pursued Xiao Yu'an for nearly his whole life. Back in his early teens, he had even tried to imitate everything Xiao Yu'an did. But as they got older and truly grew up, he and Xiao Yu'an had grown into very different people.

Xiao Yu'an was extremely self-disciplined. He never smoked or drank heavily, and seemed almost like a robot on the inside. On the outside, he had a demeanor that made him seem mysterious yet calm and easy-going.

Ming Shu had tried his best to be just like Xiao Yu'an, but he simply didn't have that much self-control.

When he was tired, he wanted to smoke. When he was unhappy, he wanted to drink. There were times when he was jubilantly happy, and times when he was crushingly sad. Though, when he was in a poor mood, spending some time at Xiao Yu'an's side never failed to make everything better.

Long ago, he had once flung himself into Xiao Yu'an's arms and bemoaned, "Ge, what do I have to do to be more like you?"

Strong and calm and eternally unwavering, like you.

Xiao Yu'an had only stroked a hand through Ming Shu's half-damp hair, pressed a kiss to the top of his head, and rumbled in a deep and rich voice, with a caring smile, "You're perfect the way you are."

Ming Shu looked up, puzzled. "It's not good enough to be the way I am. I want to be like you."

Xiao Yu'an gave him another kiss, this time at the corner of his eye. He murmured, softly, "You are not a copy of me."

Ming Shu said nothing to that. There was a vague feeling of loss and defeat echoing through him.

"You are my lover," Xiao Yu'an said.

That memory carried with it a surge of heat. Ming Shu ducked his head, trying to hide the unbidden smile that tugged at the corners of his lips.

At the door, Fang Yuanhang called out, "Chief, are you looking for smokes? I've got some on my desk."

Ming Shu shook his head. "Where's Yi Fei? Send him over here."

 

An overflowing ashtray sat on a wooden table on the balcony of the fifth floor. Whoever had smoked there hadn't emptied it out.

"How's the investigation into the street photography angle going?" Ming Shu asked.

As soon as they'd learned of Luo Xiangfu's hobby of taking photographs of beautiful women, Ming Shu had dispatched two teams. One was to look into his traditional connections—his wife, his friends, his colleagues. The other group was to focus on investigating Luo Xiangfu's life as a photographer.

Investigating Luo Xiangfu's traditional connections was obviously more important, but so far those roads had all led to dead ends. The chances that his photography hobby would hold the key to solving the case were slim, but it was perfectly possible that this was where the missing puzzle pieces lay.

"Luo Xiangfu started to get into street photography two years ago," Yi Fei began. "He mainly frequented the abandoned amusement park where his body was found. A lot of the people who go there are dressed in modern and eccentric styles.

"He spent a lot of time in the courtyards of popular shopping malls, too. Lots of fashionable young women flock to those areas, and many of them enjoy having their pictures taken. Have you ever seen the people who stake out those places all day, just to take pictures of beautiful women?"

"Yeah," Ming Shu answered, nodding. Of course he had seen them. Initially, it was a hobby mostly helmed by young people, but these days it seemed it was often hoards of old, graying men who lurked around shopping centers, waiting to snap photos of pretty women.

There was a woman in the Special Police Force with Lu Yanzhou, called Xiao Yun, who was incredibly beautiful. She had well-defined features and a perfect figure. On one of her rare days off, she had gone to the shopping center in casual dress. There, she had been surrounded by a gaggle of older men, all insisting on snapping her photo.

Although she was wearing her civilian clothes at the time, Xiao Yun had a somewhat peculiar and delicate position in the Special Police Force. She absolutely could not have her photo taken and her image spread around.

The seniors who surrounded her heaped endless praise on her as they pleaded with her to let them take her picture. They refused to take no for an answer, some of them even reaching out to grab Xiao Yun to keep her from leaving. Xiao Yun was, naturally, pissed. But she couldn't carelessly lash out against those men, and instead had quickly hailed a cab and left, never to return to that mall again.

Ming Shu didn't have anything against photographers in general, but he thought that type of behavior was despicable.

"Just this year, there have already been a ton of disputes involving street photographers," Yi Fei said. "Especially cases involving the elderly. When girls say they don't want to have their pictures taken, a lot of younger photographers just accept that answer. But often, the older ones don't take no for an answer."

"Was Luo Xiangfu ever involved in a dispute like that?" Ming Shu asked.

Yi Fei shook his head. "There's no criminal record of it, at least. But that doesn't mean we can say it never happened. Just that it was never reported to us."

"Luo Xiangfu's camera and computer are with the technical investigation team right now, aren't they?" Ming Shu stood up. "I'll go have a look."

The two of them made their way back into the building together. They had barely taken a few steps down the corridor when they heard Zhou Yuan call out, "Captain Ming? Has anyone seen Captain Ming?"

Ming Shu hurried forward a few steps and lifted a hand. "Did you find something?"

Zhou Yuan was visibly excited. "Captain Ming! Last year, in late August, Luo Xiangfu had some problems with a mother and daughter over a street photography incident. Photographs and videos of the incident were uploaded online, and there were people trying to incite a manhunt for the 'old beast'."

Ming Shu furrowed his brows and quickened his pace even more to meet up with Zhou Yuan. "Are there still articles about this online?"

"They were all deleted, but I recovered them." Zhou Yuan grinned, for once looking genuinely proud of himself. It was a rare look on him.

In the recovered articles, there was a video that showed Luo Xiangfu grabbing hold of a young woman wearing a long yellow dress. The woman looked anxious and perhaps frightened. She shielded her daughter in one arm and repeatedly tried to push Luo Xiangfu away with her other hand.

After the tech team had worked their magic on the video, the audio became intelligible. The woman could be heard saying, "I don't want you to take my picture! Get away from me! I'm saying no! I won't let you old perverts photograph my daughter!"

"I just want to take one picture, okay?" Luo Xiangfu was saying. "Your daughter is so cute, too cute. Your matching outfits are very nice!"

The push-and-pull between them went on for over two minutes until the woman was finally able to get away with the help of some passersby. Even after he was left alone, Luo Xiangfu continued to stand in place, looking disappointed but not defeated.

When articles about this incident were published online, they quickly garnered mass outrage.

The elderly don't deserve respect.

Evil people get old, too.

A cancer to society.

Old people like this should die.

These sorts of comments were prolific under those articles. Eventually, when someone proposed the 'manhunt' to track down the old man in the video, the articles were quickly removed.

"Look into the reason these sites deleted the article," Ming Shu said. "And the witnesses, the commenters. Get me their information too!"

Zhou Yuan was extremely efficient. Just half an hour later, he had the answers Ming Shu was looking for.

"These sites deleted the posts after receiving money," he announced, "from Luo Xiaolong!"

 

Author's Notes:

Let me quickly explain. If it's the first time someone smokes or injects methamphetamine, usually after just three days it would no longer be detectable by standard drug tests. But if someone is a long-term user, then urine tests can detect traces of the drug even after one week or longer. And even if those tests are inconclusive, there are other ways such as drug testing using hair follicles that can detect drug use.

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