MADNESS OF THE HEART

Chapter 9: Hunting Evil (Part Nine)

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"Yeah, I'm the one who got them to delete those posts. But what's the point of asking me about that?" Luo Xiaolong demanded. Since undeniable evidence of his drug use had come to light, he had grown more and more gloomy and agitated. "My old man stirred up such a huge mess, and he didn't even think he'd done anything wrong! He just laid low for a few days, then picked up his camera and went out shooting hot chicks again. Me and my ma were the only ones who felt ashamed!"

Ming Shu tapped the table lightly. His expression was unchanging and unreadable. "All you need to do is tell us everything you know. Don't leave anything out."

Luo Xiaolong tensed, as though suddenly coming to a realization. "Does this have something to do with the old man being killed?"

"You're not in a position to be asking any questions right now," Ming Shu said. Although he was young, when he donned such a cold expression, he exuded the overpowering essence of an elite police detective. "The only thing you should be concerned about right now is cooperating with our investigation."

Luo Xiaolong's neck shrank into his shoulders. He swiftly evaded Ming Shu's gaze. Nearly three minutes passed before he finally forced himself to speak again.

"I was out of town when it all went down. It was a friend who sent me the link," he said. "I was scared shitless. If that old man got doxxed, he isn't the only one who would be affected. I'd never recover if our whole family's information got plastered all over the internet.

"So I called in every favor from every contact I had, and I even spent a ton of money, just to scrub out that story and bury those posts. Obviously, it was impossible to get rid of all the posts, but the few that were left were scattered all over the place. Plus, the story wasn't hot for all that long, so the 'manhunt' never happened."

"After you had the posts deleted," Ming Shu said, "did you tell Luo Xiangfu?"

"Of course I told him!" Luo Xiaolong snapped. "He wasn't fucking sorry about it at all. He even said that I was overreacting and that it was just some insignificant issue!"

"Did he ever talk to you about the details of what happened the day he was recorded?"

"Let me think about that…" Luo Xiaolong shook his head after a moment and sighed. "Honestly, what kind of details could there be? He just went after that woman because he thought she looked cute with her kid, and they were wearing matching mother-daughter outfits. He had to have their picture, wouldn't take no for an answer.

"My mom says this isn't the first time something like this has happened, either. I mean, think about it. My old man was just some old geezer. Loads of people probably didn't want him taking their picture, but just couldn't be bothered to argue with him.

"The incident from that video that went viral only blew up because he just happened to run into someone who really didn't want him to take her picture. And there was that kid of hers, bawling like a baby. That was what drew in a bunch of spectators who started recording and put him online."

The officer in charge of recording that session was a woman. She silently shook her head with disapproval, wearing a displeased look as she listened to what Luo Xiaolong had to say.

Ming Shu asked a few more questions, but Luo Xiaolong couldn't tell him anything useful.

"That old man couldn't have been killed over something like this," he insisted. "Right? Right? It wasn't that big of a deal!"

"Then what do you think could have driven someone to kill your father?" Ming Shu countered.

Luo Xiaolong had no answer for that. His gaze darted left and right again, and he shiftily rubbed his hands together as well. "Then… then you guys should get that woman in here and interrogate her! If she really was the one who killed my old man, then I… I want her to be punished by the law!"

"Now you want to play the part of the filial son?" Ming Shu flashed a cold, unforgiving smile. "Where was your filial piety when you came to ask Luo Xiangfu for money? When you pushed him and hit him?"

Instantly, Luo Xiaolong's expression contorted and twisted into an ugly mask.

Ming Shu only spared him one final glance before turning and leaving the room.

After spending so many years in law enforcement, Ming Shu had encountered people like Luo Xiaolong far too many times. It couldn't be said that people like Luo Xiaolong didn't possess a single shred of filial piety. But it was too little, too late. What little respect he held for his father was disingenuous, to say the least.

It was all a self-serving fabrication.

Ming Shu did sometimes think that he himself didn't have much of a filial heart either.

The experience of being a respectful, filial son to a loving, caring father was something Ming Shu had never really had in his youth. Growing up, the people who had always been there for him weren't his mother and father. Instead, he grew up surrounded by the neighboring Xiao family's big brothers and sisters.

He grew up relying on Xiao Yu'an.

As an only child, his family consisted of his parents and grandparents. And when he was younger, he was somewhat frail and prone to falling ill. Oftentimes, all it took for him to catch a cold was the changing seasons. His paternal grandparents were both military veterans. They were cold, harsh, and strict, and they saw Ming Shu's frequent illnesses as a sign of weakness, but nothing serious to be concerned about.

So when he caught a cold, Ming Shu always hid it and bore it alone for as long as he could. When he finally couldn't bear it anymore, he would sneak out and climb through Xiao Yu'an's window next door.

"Gege," he would always complain. "I'm about to die."

To this day, Ming Shu still clearly remembered the expression that would come over Xiao Yu'an's face. It was a look of shock, distress, and helplessness.

Then Xiao Yu'an would embrace him, pick him up, and take him to the hospital.

Back then, Xiao Yu'an had still been rather slim, compared to the broad-shouldered figure he had grown into. But Ming Shu, for the rest of his life, wouldn't forget the warmth he found in that embrace.

It wasn't just that he idolized Xiao Yu'an and remembered those moments as better and more profound than they actually were. Ming Shu's parents truly hadn't ever paid much attention to him, and Ming Shu had grown up without placing much value in his blood ties.

That was why, when he had been seventeen or eighteen, it was easy to choose between his family and Xiao Yu'an. He would have followed in Xiao Yu'an's footsteps even if it meant being disowned and losing touch with his family for good.

Although he was on better terms with his parents now, their relationship couldn't be described as the happy and harmonious sort of relationship found in many other families. Between Ming Shu and his parents, their policy was more or less to not interfere in each other's lives.

The person who stood by him through his childhood and early adulthood, the one who would walk the same path as him for the rest of their lives—that was Xiao Yu'an.

Ming Shu breathed in as he abruptly came back to his senses. He could hear Yi Fei calling out for him from somewhere not too far away.

The woman in the yellow dress, from the viral video of Luo Xiangfu, had been brought in to the Serious Crimes Division.

 

The woman's name was Wen Yao, and she was twenty-seven years old. She was a single mother who worked in a private nursing home, and her daughter was four years old.

The fieldwork team that had brought her in wanted to take her into an interrogation room. But Ming Shu took one look at her and saw how nervous and frightened she seemed. He invited her out to the balcony instead, offering her a seat under the umbrella shading the patio table and placing a bottle of iced lemonade down in front of her.

"Thank you," Wen Yao said, with a guarded expression in her eyes. She wrapped both hands around the bottle of lemonade, but she didn't immediately untwist the cap.

"The reason we called you in today," Ming Shu began, affecting a warm and gentle tone, "is to understand what happened to you and your daughter last August, when you encountered that forceful street photographer."

It was a tone he was very used to adopting. One he copied from Xiao Yu'an.

Despite that tone, Wen Yao instantly became more tense and anxious. But sitting before her was a handsome, warm, and seemingly gentle detective. Gradually, she began to regain her calm.

"That happened such a long time ago," she said, "and I didn't report it to the police. Why are you investigating this now?"

The case of the body discovered at the old amusement park hadn't been disclosed to the general public, and naturally the identity of the deceased had been kept a secret as well. If Wen Yao didn't have anything to do with this case, then it was only natural that she wouldn't know the man who had harassed her last year was already dead.

Ming Shu only nodded without directly answering her question. "Do you still remember the incident when you were stopped by that old man?"

Wen Yao subconsciously tensed her fingers around the bottle in her hands. "Of course I remember, I was disgusted. If I had been alone, I might have just let him take my picture. But my daughter was with me, and I don't want my daughter to appear in the lens of that kind of person!"

"'That' kind of person?" Ming Shu prompted.

"Detective," Wen Yao suddenly began, "do you think all elderly people automatically deserve to be loved and respected? What about the vile and poisonous type of elderly person?"

Ming Shu leaned back in his chair and answered, patiently, "I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter."

"I won't deny there are kind and noble seniors in this world," she said. "But there are even more senior citizens who are disgusting, shallow, insatiable beasts!"

Wen Yao grew more visibly agitated as she spoke. After spitting out just these few words, she had already broken out in goosebumps.

Ming Shu studied her carefully as she rubbed her hands over the gooseflesh dotting her arms.

"I've run into so many old men just like that one who accosted me. They all have the same disgusting look in their eyes. It's enough to make me want to throw up!" Wen Yao continued. "Do you think old people lose their perverse desires? No, definitely not! It's just their bodies that get old, everything else…"

As she continued her tirade, Wen Yao's cheeks became flushed with anger. "It's because their bodies have grown old and frail that they start to gawk at young women with even viler, lewder looks in their eyes! This type of person… I've really met way, way too many of them!"

Ming Shu recalled that Wen Yao worked as a nurse in a retirement home. It seemed being in close contact with the elderly every day had already instilled an irreversible sense of loathing within her.

"When these people grow old, they become monsters." Wen Yao took a deep breath to calm herself, then continued, "Let me be blunt. I hate all those old people who spend their days photographing girls on the street. They make themselves sound all noble, always talking about 'pursuing beauty' and 'capturing beauty' with their cameras.

"Did I consent to being captured? Pursued? Honestly! What kind of beast does that sort of thing? Whenever they see a fashionably dressed woman, they shamelessly approach her and insist on taking her picture. And if the woman says no, they block her way and insist even harder. And you can't push them aside, they're old!

"So, you tell me. If this isn't harassment, what is?"

The bottle of lemonade had long since been abandoned on the table, still unopened. Ming Shu picked it up, unscrewed the cap, and set the bottle back down in front of Wen Yao.

"Thank you," Wen Yao said. She was still breathing hard, her chest rising and falling visibly.

"You're welcome." Ming Shu flashed a gentlemanly smile. "When you had a dispute with that old man, did you think the confrontation would be posted online?"

Wen Yao was silent for a long moment. Then she pursed her lips before letting her mouth curl into a smug smile. "I knew it would be."

"Oh?"

"It was on purpose," she said. Perhaps it was because the detective sitting in front of her seemed so charming and reliable, but for whatever reason, Wen Yao immediately let the whole truth spill forth. "Honestly, it wouldn't have been hard to get away from that man. And it wasn't the first time I was approached by someone like that. Usually, I would just walk away.

"But the day before that encounter, I was already about to snap. This man at the nursing home, also in his sixties or so, had been super inappropriate with me. He kept looking at me with those lecherous eyes. He forced me to feed him his pills, and he even made me go out to the garden with him and strike all sorts of disgusting poses so he could take my picture.

"We're a private nursing home, and the thing we pride ourselves on is good service, so I… I couldn't refuse. If I refused, he would lodge a complaint with my supervisor. Just last month, another nurse had a complaint filed against her, and she was suspended without pay.

"I'm not like her. I'm a single mother. I can't afford to miss a paycheck."

Ming Shu frowned, lightly furrowing his brows.

"The day after that old man harassed me at work," Wen Yao continued, "I had a day off, so I took my daughter out to shop for new clothes. That was when I ran into that old street photographer. When he pointed his camera at my baby girl, I just exploded. I couldn't hold in my anger anymore. It was like my rage that had been building and building finally found an outlet."

Wen Yao took a deep breath. "At the time, there were a lot of people around us. I knew if I just made a fuss and screamed a little, those people would all rush over to take pictures and videos. Then they'd put them online. So I shielded my daughter and called for help while arguing with the old man.

"But that old man didn't give up even then! He just kept saying how cute my daughter was and insisting he just had to take our picture."

"All the pushing and pulling between you and the old man," Ming Shu said. "That was all recorded."

"That's right! All of it!" Wen Yao's pupils seemed to dance in the light, flickering with another fierce burst of anger. "Really soon after that, I saw posts about me and that old man online. Everyone agreed the old man was at fault. Some of them were… maybe even too disrespectful, but it wasn't long before the posts were all deleted."

"Were you upset about that? The posts being deleted?" Ming Shu asked.

"Upset?" Wen Yao shook her head. "I was already satisfied. If the posts hadn't been deleted back then, people might have incited a 'manhunt' for that old geezer. If you don't mind my saying so, detective, you might not understand what the internet is like."

Ming Shu nodded for her to continue, indicating he did indeed require a more detailed explanation.

"When things like this get too heated online, the situation can escalate in the blink of an eye," Wen Yao said. "Stopping it all before anyone is doxxed is a good thing. If people started a 'manhunt' for that old photographer, that would have been illegal. Not only that, I could have been caught up in the whole mess if they revealed my identity as well. I just wanted to vent my frustrations and teach that old man a lesson. There was no need to make it into a bigger thing than it was."

Ming Shu smiled. "A 'manhunt' really would have been too much."

It was only after she had finished telling her whole story, after she had sipped down half the bottle of lemonade, that it occurred to her… she might have said too much.

Many people weren't very good at controlling their words and emotions. When a listener gave them just the right prompts, they tended to spill their guts and blurt out everything on their mind. Only after they'd said their piece did they realize they might have said something unnecessary.

Wen Yao suddenly looked uneasy as she eyed Ming Shu.

Ming Shu, for his part, answered with a faint smile. "Out of your friends and relatives, how many know about this incident?"

Wen Yao gave it some thought. "They all know."

'All' was a broad net to cast. Ming Shu stood up; he had no other questions for the time being. "Thank you for coming out to speak to us today."

Wen Yao let out a breath and stood as well. "I still don't really understand why I was called here. Is it about this 'manhunt' thing?"

Ming Shu gazed into her eyes for several seconds before he shook his head. A small, inscrutable smile tugged at the corners of his lips. "Don't worry. Just a routine check."

 

The investigation had once again hit a dead end. There was no shortage of people with a motive to kill Luo Xiangfu, but they were eliminated as suspects one by one when it was confirmed they didn't have the means or opportunity to commit the crime.

As for the forced street photography incident, the internet had indeed whipped itself into a frenzy over the video of Luo Xiangfu. But a year had passed since then. Forget finding someone from that mob that would want to kill Luo Xiangfu now. It would be a challenge to find a few people who even remembered the incident at all.

"Is Wen Yao in the clear?" Fang Yuanhang asked. "The people who saw the story online might have forgotten about it already, but Wen Yao was directly involved. She wouldn't forget it so easily."

"You've been influenced by the confession she gave," Ming Shu pointed out.

Fang Yuanhang scratched at his head. "She did deliberately incite spectators to photograph and film the incident."

"That's why I said you've been influenced," Ming Shu said. He tossed a tea bag into his cup. "So what if she incited spectators to film? Didn't Luo Xiangfu put her in a difficult position?"

Scrunching up his nose and furrowing his eyebrows, Fang Yuanhang fell into deep thought for a moment. "…that's true."

"Then in that case, she was the victim," Ming Shu said. "Albeit not one that might be considered the 'perfect' victim. But the fact that she influenced onlookers to record the harassment isn't substantial enough to suspect her of murder."

"So she isn't a suspect at all?"

"In my eyes, no. But we can launch a thorough investigation into her close friends."

"Roger that! I'll organize it right away."

"She did say one thing that caught my attention," Ming Shu said, narrowing his eyes. "'When these people grow old, they become monsters.' I wonder if the person who killed Luo Xiangfu felt the same way."

Fang Yuanhang shuddered at the thought. "So you mean, they thought they were ridding the world of evil?"

Ming Shu had just been on his way to get some water for his tea when he heard Xing Mu reluctantly stammer, "Cap… Captain Ming…?"

With a heavy sigh, Ming Shu turned to find Xing Mu at the door. "Xing-ge, how many times have I told you not to call me that? What's up with 'Captain' this and 'Captain' that? Aren't you my grandpappy?"

Ming Shu was, of course, only teasing. But Xing Mu, this grown-ass 1.8 meter man, instantly turned bright red. "I am not your grandfather! You're my…"

"Oh, shut up," Ming Shu interrupted, a cold snap flashing through his eyes.

Xing Mu instantly shut his mouth and looked appropriately cowed and pitiful. "I… I…"

Ming Shu sighed and couldn't bear to torment him anymore. Gentling his tone, he asked, "Xing-ge, what did you need me for?"

"Oh, it's not me who was looking for you," Xing Mu said, instantly straightening and setting aside their personal banter. "It's Director Xiao. I just saw him, and he asked me to tell you he wants to see you."

It was almost imperceptible, but Ming Shu's expression changed just a little. "Got it. I'll go right now."

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