"I swear this is the most exciting case I've been a part of since joining the division!" Fang Yuanhang exclaimed. Like most junior detectives who still lacked experience, he was overly enthusiastic about homicide cases. "Everyone involved has such a complicated, dramatic past. Li Hongmei, isn't her childhood too tragic? Where did those 'outsiders' come from? How could they just casually kill some people, then disappear for more than ten years?"
"The important part isn't that they were outsiders. We need to be thinking about the local police at the time of those murders," Yi Fei said. "There are still too many holes in the story of the Li father and son's deaths. We definitely aren't seeing the whole picture yet. Calm down a little and go over that old investigation report again."
It was rare for Fang Yuanhang to be scolded by their mild-mannered vice captain. Rather than calming down, receiving a stern lecture from Yi Fei only made him more excited.
There were two types of graduates from the University of Public Security. One was Fang Yuanhang's type. They were the sort to get excited over homicide cases. The bigger the case, the better. Those were the cases they loved to chase.
The second type was the exact opposite of Fang Yuanhang. They couldn't handle murder cases at all. They couldn't stand the sight of a dead body or the stench of corpse rot. When investigating a murder scene, they would cower as far away as possible.
Fang Yuanhang's current state was one many detectives had experienced. In his early twenties, Ming Shu had been a hot-blooded youth as well. He buried himself in work, thinking only of cracking cases and chasing down suspects, without any concern for his own health and well-being.
It got to the point that, after he solved a case, he would often be caught in a horribly unsightly state by Xiao Yu'an.
Ming Shu's appearance wasn't lacking in any way. He was born with naturally attractive features that would give Lu Yanzhou of the Special Police Force a run for his money. The two of them were widely known throughout the police force as 'the handsome duo'. As Fang Yuanhang often said, the two of them could easily form a group and make a living in the entertainment industry.
But Ming Shu's handsomeness wasn't the same as Lu Yanzhou's 'handsome straight guy' look. Ming Shu was meticulous about taking care of himself, namely his looks, and he liked to show off once in a while.
An example of a notable difference between the two of them:
When they passed a mirror, Lu Yanzhou was the type who wouldn't even glance at his own reflection. Ming Shu, on the other hand, would give himself a good look. Several good looks, sometimes.
But as soon as Ming Shu had a case on his hands, everything changed.
Once, shortly after Ming Shu joined the Bureau, Xiao Yu'an had taken a personal trip to Dongye City to visit him. When Xiao Yu'an arrived, Ming Shu was in a… state. His hair was greasy and stringy, his skin was drying out, and he hadn't even shaved in several days. Upon closer inspection, and a sniff, one could even smell the sweat on his skin.
Xiao Yu'an had just laughed.
Ming Shu was mortified. He couldn't be seen in such a state, but he could only cover his own eyes with his hands and shout, "Ge, don't look! You didn't see anything! And you can't remember anything you did see!"
God only knows how hard Ming Shu had chased after Xiao Yu'an all throughout their childhood, and he had finally won Xiao Yu'an over. How could he show himself in such a horrid state to Xiao Yu'an now?
Back then, they weren't as settled down as they were now. Ming Shu still felt like a new boyfriend, trying to impress his lover.
Xiao Yu'an had taken Ming Shu's wrists and pulled his hands away from his eyes. He saw the panicked look in Ming Shu's eyes, and the red flush of embarrassment staining his cheeks. Smiling, Xiao Yu'an said, "You do smell a bit. Kinda stinky."
"I—" Ming Shu cut himself off and wailed. "Ge, stop! Don't say that!"
"But since it's for a case, I understand," Xiao Yu'an said. "My little Ming Shu is a very good, responsible detective."
Ming Shu pouted, but his chest was swelling with warmth and affection.
He had spent the past month working himself to the bone, racing through a dozen different cities, townships, and villages in pursuit of a mass murderer. After successfully bringing the perpetrator to justice, Ming Shu had already felt a sense of accomplishment. Now, he was being praised by his older lover who had suddenly appeared before him.
That feeling of accomplishment doubled several times over, until his heart felt ready to burst out of his chest.
"Go take a bath," Xiao Yu'an said, giving Ming Shu's cheek a pinch. "Shave off that beard once you're finished."
"Will you shave it for me?" Ming Shu asked with a cheeky grin.
Xiao Yu'an smiled. "I'll shave it for you."
Ming Shu took his time in the bath, enjoying a nice, long soak. Then he enjoyed the time spent leaning against Xiao Yu'an's chest, listening to the soft hum of the electric razor. It was so soothing that his eyes started to droop…
In the blink of an eye, the young detective who would get a bit stinky whenever he buried himself in a complex case had become the captain of the Serious Crimes Division. His determination never faded, but he learned to control his temper. He had matured and become more responsible—at least, he had become more mature and responsible in the presence of his teammates.
Yi Fei was getting to the end of his rope with Fang Yuanhang, calling out, "Captain Ming! Come babysit your underling!"
Ming Shu was just in the middle of reading the old investigation report.
Twelve years ago, Li Hongmei had only been nine. That was when her twenty-year-old brother, Li Liangyou, and her father, Li Guozhong, were brutally beaten to death. Their bodies were dumped on a barren hill outside the village; it was nothing short of a tragedy.
Li Hongmei's paternal grandfather fell gravely ill after receiving the news. Her mother had never been completely stable, and after learning her husband and son had both been violently killed, she lost her mind. She became violent and developed a habit of chasing wild dogs to beat and kick them, only to be bitten to death by those wild dogs in the end.
To this day, twelve years later, the murders of Li Guozhong and Li Liangyou remained an unsolved case.
Xia Ben Village was located in Yuanhai County. The Yuanhai county police had concluded that Li Guozhong and his son had fostered close ties to some out-of-towners before they were murdered. After getting into some dispute with these outsiders, the two men were killed. The outsiders left town as soon as they dumped the bodies, leaving no evidence behind, and none of the villagers had known who they were.
"This report from the Yuanhai police contradicts itself," Ming Shu said. "They say they had no leads, but they knew the Li father and son had close ties to these outsiders, and they knew they had argued with these outsiders. Those are both leads.
"So they had these leads, but they didn't pursue them. That's what turned this simple case into a cold case, still unsolved twelve years later."
"The part about none of the villagers knowing the identities of the outsiders," Yi Fei added. "That doesn't check out either. There's one possibility that comes to mind right away. The outsiders weren't guilty at all. They were framed for someone else's crime."
"A typical example of 'not an unsolvable case, but one that no one wants to solve'." Ming Shu tossed the investigation report aside and sighed. "Xia Ben Village is an impoverished village. The poorer and more old-fashioned a place is, the most unsolved cases they have.
"This case reeks of one where the local police neglected to do their job and protected the real killer by blaming it on some 'outsiders'. They buried the evidence and pushed the case aside, hiding it year after year.
"Cases like this are common in rural villages. Xia Ben Village isn't unique."
"Then who were the Li father and son killed by?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
Ming Shu raised his eyebrows. "You still don't get it? I'm seriously thinking about sending you out to the boonies for a few years to get some experience with these things."
Instantly, Fang Yuanhang shrank back and hid behind Yi Fei's back. "What did I do now?! I really don't know!"
"In places like that," Ming Shu said, "the officials protect each other, or they protect the criminals who can benefit them in some way. The officials aren't anyone important, and the criminals are just petty crooks, but they use what little power they have to oppress the average citizen until those ordinary people can hardly breathe. If you really wanted to crack a case like this, a high-ranking investigation team could solve it in minutes."
Yi Fei nodded, then remorsefully added, "Unfortunately, Xia Ben Village and Yuanhai County aren't under our jurisdiction."
Fang Yuanhang instantly perked up again, bursting with energy once more. "But Li Hongmei was a student of a university in Dongye when she committed her crime and killed three people. We need to chase down every lead that concerns her, and we can use that as our excuse to look into the village! That's what you call pulling up mud when you dig up a turnip!"
Ming Shu's expression shifted slightly. Out of habit, he lifted his right hand and pointed a finger at his chin.
"The influence of the dormitory murder case is huge. The whole country is talking about it right now," Fang Yuanhang said as he took out his phone and swiped vigorously at the screen. "That 'mud' won't stay buried for much longer. News outlets and people on social media are all digging into Li Hongmei's past, trying to find a reason for her actions.
"Look! Xia Ben Village is in Yuanhai County, and right above it is Hailu City. All the news outlets from the city have already sent reporters over to the village. With all these eyes on them, even if the local police don't want to look into that old case, they'll have to investigate it now.
"As long as the case from twelve years ago comes up, the truth about it will surely come to light!"
"Maybe that was her goal all along," Ming Shu mused quietly.
Yi Fei had been Ming Shu's partner for many years. Naturally, he knew what Ming Shu was implying right away. "If that's the case," he said, "then this was one tragedy that led to another."
"Huh?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
"Do you remember Wen Yao?" Ming Shu asked.
Fang Yuanhang nodded. "Of course I remember. She's the one who was harassed by Luo Xiangfu for a picture. Nurse at a retirement home. A single mother, raising a daughter."
"She loathes the elderly who participate in street photography, and hates most old people in general," Ming Shu said. "When Luo Xiangfu stopped her for a photo, she could have thrown him off, but she used her own abilities to seek punishment for him by herself. She used the spectators and her friends to make sure Luo Xiangfu got a lashing online."
"That's right. I originally thought she had something to do with Luo Xiangfu's death," Fang Yuanhang said. "But, Chief, you said she was in the clear. And you were right. We confirmed her alibi."
"Li Hongmei and Wen Yao are the same," Ming Shu said, taking out an evidence bag with the note he'd found in one of Li Hongmei's textbooks. "The main difference is that Li Hongmei's trauma is much more intense, and her retaliation was much more intense as well.
"Wen Yao had not yet fallen completely into despair, but Li Hongme had."
Fang Yuanhang was undeniably young, and he had seen only a very limited number of cases this grisly. As he listened, every little thing seemed to give him a shock.
"I need to talk to Li Hongmei again," Ming Shu said.
Li Hongmei wore a dark and gloomy expression. She didn't look at all like she had the spirit of a youthful university student. Her wooden, expressionless eyes stared straight ahead at Ming Shu, almost like she was looking through him without seeing him at all.
She gave no reaction to his presence until he set a printout of an online news article down on the table in front of her.
On that sheet of paper—
Investigating the Dormitory Killer, Mysterious and Suspicious Origins?
Afterwards, Ming Shu set the note from Li Hongmei's dorm in front of her as well. "If this was your goal," he said, "you've already achieved it. Your family history is now the center of attention. Everyone in the country is asking what kind of family produced the murderer of three university students."
Trembling, Li Hongmei reached out and took the printout. Her eyes finally showed some emotion: a spirited burst of shock. This look of shock soon turned into one of anger, then dread, then finally… joy.
A huge grin had spread across Li Hongmei's face.
But this type of joy had nothing to do with happiness. It was a feeling more akin to the relief that came to a person who, after walking through the dark for years, finally saw a ray of light.
"Ah…" It seemed Li Hongmei had been rendered speechless, only uttering a single, hoarse sound.
As that sound passed her lips, hot tears welled up in her eyes.
"You can take a moment to calm down," Ming Shu said. "Then tell me everything you know. My guess is you've been rehearsing what you want to say for a long time. You won't need any additional time to get your thoughts together.
"Right now, you just need to go through what you've rehearsed one last time. Tell me."
A tense silence permeated the interrogation room. It was a total, all-consuming silence, and yet Ming Shu felt as though he could hear the piercingly shrill notes of a blood-thirsty shriek.
It was the anguished howling of a heart that had been forced to remain bitterly shut for far too long.
"I killed people. Three people. There's no way to pardon that crime, and the whole country is shocked," Li Hongmei began. "The police are finally paying attention to me. The people of this country are finally paying attention to me. Right?"
Ming Shu was silent. Not because there was nothing for him to say, but because he could see the immesently bitter, heartbroken expression that filled her eyes.
Li Hongmei held up one finger. Then a second, then a third. "One person wasn't enough. Two people, well, that might not have been enough either. Three… three would definitely be enough. Before, whenever I would speak, no one would listen. They would shut their ears tight and ignore me. No one cared even when I cried and screamed. No one ever understood me.
"Now, you're finally listening."
At that point, she stopped her speech and began to laugh. "Now, if I don't say anything, you people will beg me to speak."
When Ming Shu looked at her, he got the unshakeable sense that he was looking at an abnormality that had been beaten and bruised by twists and turns of fate.
She had killed three people. Brought tragedy to three families. She would have to pay for her crimes.
But who would pay for the crimes committed against her family?
Who twisted her into this deformed creature she lived as today?Li Hongmei began to speak once more, unhurriedly. "My father and my big brother weren't killed by 'outsiders'. They were honest and kind, they were good people. They never got into a dispute with anyone. They were murdered by Li Shuxian!"