Chen Mi had cut all ties with Chen Quanhan due to the trauma of her past, and she was unwilling to cooperate with the police in their investigation. Fang Yuanhang and several other detectives instantly began to view her as a suspect.
"Impossible. It can't be Chen Mi," Ming Shu said. "Let's say Chen Mi killed Chen Quanhan. How, then, would we explain Luo Xiangfu's death? There's no connection between Chen Quanhan and Luo Xiangfu except their interest in street photography. Are you saying Chen Mi killed her father, then killed a stranger who just so happened to share the same hobby? Do you believe that's logical?
"There can't have been two killers, either. There are many similarities in the two cases, and there seems to be a single thread which runs through this series of events. Chen Quanhan's remains were only discovered recently, which also eliminates the possibility of a copycat killer."
"As a child, Chen Mi was severely abused by Chen Quanhan. But she has a beautiful family now," Yi Fei said. He had just returned to the Serious Crimes Division after putting together a report on Chen Mi's family. "Chen Mi currently has two children, a boy and a girl. The older is eight years old, the younger is six. Business is great at the restaurant she runs. She's moved on from her past.
"If she killed Chen Quanhan, she would destroy the happiness she's built with this family. Furthermore, Chen Quanhan was murdered in mid-April. Chen Mi and her family went abroad on vacation on April 7th, and they didn't return until April 25th. Even if she had a motive for murder, she didn't have the means. We need to stick with our original line of thinking—that the killer is targeting street photographers."
Ming Shu nodded. "Correct."
Fang Yuanhang was still thinking about the grisly old scars on Chen Mi's back. "Chen Mi has more reason than anyone to hate Chen Quanhan," he said. "Chen Quanhan abused her. But Chen Mi let that go. She moved on without seeking revenge. She hasn't sought justice through the law, either. She just severed all ties with Chen Quanhan. Did Chen Quanhan's killer have even more of a reason to hate him than Chen Mi?"
"You can't compare them like that," Ming Shu said. "Everyone is different. Everyone has different limits."
Saying this, Ming Shu suddenly thought of Chen Mi's husband.
When Chen Mi had been brought in for questioning, her husband, a man in his thirties, had waited out in the hallway the whole time. As soon as Chen Mi exited the interrogation room, he had rushed up and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, whispering reassurances in her ear.
Sometimes, what determined whether a person sought revenge wasn't how deeply they had been hurt. It was determined by whether or not they had the means and opportunity to heal.
Chen Mi bore scars that had yet to disappear. Scars that, perhaps, would never disappear. But the wounds on her heart had already been healed by her husband.
That was why she had the courage to show the scars on her back.
That was why she was able to choose to forget, but not forgive, Chen Quanhan.
The killer was nothing like her.
Chen Quanhan and Luo Xiangfu may not have intentionally hurt the murderer. They may not have even interacted with her in any significant way. But due to delusions of victimhood or other reasons, their killer had felt compelled to take their lives.
Ming Shu stood out on the balcony alone, reviewing and refining their profile of the killer.
She had severe psychological issues which had gone unaddressed for a very long time.
She had no close family or friends. Whenever anything happened, she bore the burden alone.
She was under a great deal of pressure.
Left unchecked, she would become more and more twisted.
She wasn't good at understanding the feelings of others.
Could she have been autistic?
No, it wasn't likely.
What lay at the root of her psychological problems?
Ming Shu pressed down on the spot between his brows over and over again as he thought back to what he and Xiao Yu'an had talked about. The killer was likely someone who had lived in the city for a long time, someone with a well-respected job, someone who frequently came into contact with many people…
Was it her job that gave her so much pressure?
"Captain Ming!" Xu Chun called out from inside. "We found tons of letters at Chen Quanhan's place. You wanna take a look?"
There were a total of seventy-nine letters. None of them had been mailed. None of them even had stamps.
In those letters, Chen Quanhan recounted each and every one of his crimes against Chen Mi. He listed every incident of his abuse, and at the end of each letter, he wrote, "Little Mi, your father is so sorry for what he did to you."
According to the dates on the letters, the first had been written four years ago. The most recent was dated April 9th. In that letter, he wrote that he hoped Chen Mi would bring her family to visit him. He wrote that he would leave his house and all his worldly possessions to Chen Mi and her children.
"Chen Quanhan didn't mail these because he lacked the courage to face Chen Mi," Ming Shu said after skimming through the letters. "In his heart, he knew. He knew Chen Mi would never forgive him."
Fang Yuanhang thought of his own parents and instinctively felt moved. "Chief, let me deliver the letters to Chen Mi."
"No, don't be hasty," Ming Shu said. "Let's set Chen Mi aside for now. We can deal with the letters after we solve this case."
The investigations into the murders of Luo Xiangfu and Chen Quanhan proceeded in tandem. The Serious Crimes Division crowded into the biggest conference room in the Criminal Investigation Bureau and began to analyze everything they knew. No one told Xiao Yu'an of the meeting, and it began without him.
Halfway through the meeting, the door at the back of the conference room was lightly pushed open. No one looked up, so no one—not even Ming Shu—noticed their boss slipping in.
Xiao Yu'an quietly made his way to one corner of the room. He pulled out an unoccupied chair and took a seat. Fang Yuanhang, in the seat next to him, turned around and widened his eyes. "Xiao…"
At that time, Ming Shu was talking. Xiao Yu'an lifted a hand and pressed his index finger to his lips, indicating for Fang Yuanhang to keep quiet.
Fang Yuanhang understood and hurriedly settled down in his seat.
But the big boss was sitting right next to him. It was hard for a rookie detective to not get worked up about that. He fidgeted with Xiao Yu'an right there in his peripheral vision, and after a while Fang Yuanhang noticed Ming Shu—who hadn't looked over during his presentation—repeatedly glancing his way.
Fang Yuanhang snuck a glance back at Xiao Yu'an, figuring Ming Shu had probably noticed Xiao Yu'an's presence.
Ming Shu had, in fact, noticed some movement in the corner of the room as soon as Xiao Yu'an gestured for Fang Yuanhang to be quiet.
The meeting was exhausting. They reviewed all the evidence they had collected so far. Everyone put their heads together to try to think of a new theory or find a new lead, but no one could guarantee any results.
Many evidence analysis meetings went just like this. A pack of detectives squeezed into a conference room and discussed a case without end. Some smoked, some chewed gum. The conference room usually filled up with smoke in no time at all.
That was why Ming Shu hadn't wanted Xiao Yu'an to come. Xiao Yu'an didn't like the smell of smoke, and if they didn't make a breakthrough in the case, calling Xiao Yu'an here would simply be a waste of his time.
Xiao Yu'an had once said it himself. He was in charge of more than just the Serious Crimes Division.
At the time of Xiao Yu'an's arrival, a few people had already started smoking. Ming Shu suddenly stopped his review of the evidence and moved over to a window. It had already been cracked open by a sliver, but now Ming Shu pushed it wide open. Turning back to his teammates who were already smoking like chimneys, he said, "Put out your cigarettes."
Xiao Man blinked. "Huh?"
"Don't 'huh' me," Ming Shu said. "Think of your health. From now on, there'll be no smoking in meetings. If you absolutely need a cigarette, go out onto the balcony and come back after you finish."
Everyone in the Serious Crimes Division deeply respected Ming Shu. If that order had come from any other captain or squad leader in the Bureau, a few of the people in the room might have just taken their cigarettes and left. But since the words had come from Ming Shu, all the smokers in the room quietly stubbed out their cigarettes and continued to discuss the case.
"Chen Quanhan used his cell phone for the last time on Apri 12th, at 8:13 in the evening. It was a takeout delivery service that called him," said Zhou Yuan. "He ordered noodles with pickled cabbage. Furthermore, we've already checked all communications to his phone for the three months prior to his murder. He only received calls and texts from takeout services and delivery services. The only other communications he received were system notifications or scams.
"We also looked into his internet browsing history. He wasn't like Luo Xiangfu. Luo Xiangfu's interest in street photography was purely aesthetic. He basically didn't share his photos with anyone online. Chen Quanhan, on the other hand, sold his photos to a site called 'Pure Beauty'. He made around two thousand yuan per month."
"Chen Quanhan is retired. He used to work for a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant, and he received 3,400 yuan per month as his pension," Xiao Man said, shaking his head. "In addition to his income from selling his photographs, he could have easily moved away from Puouxin Street and into a better neighborhood.
"Puouxin Street is slated for demolition. There isn't a single public surveillance camera in the neighborhood. That's going to make it much harder for us to track his movements."
Puouxin Street was part of the neighborhood near the southern gate of the old amusement park. Years ago, there had been whispers of its impending demolition. But the owners of that neighborhood and the owners of the dilapidated amusement park were locked in a fierce struggle over the land, so the neighborhood had escaped demolition thus far. Even so, very few people still lived there.
It would have been incredibly easy for the killer to lure Chen Quanhan to the amusement park and kill him there. Much easier than it would have been to lure Luo Xiangfu to the same location.
"There's just one thing I can't figure out," Yi Fei said. "According to Zhan Huanxiong, Luo Xiangfu went to the amusement park of his own accord and waited for the killer there. He was drunk when he arrived. We can probably assume Chen Quanhan did the same. So, how did the killer manage to lure them there?"
"The killer had to have spoken to them, in person," Ming Shu said. "She knew where to meet them, and she knew where no cameras would see her. The killer is someone who's very familiar with Xi District, especially with the area around the old amusement park."
"That's still too vague," Yi Fei said, gravely serious. "Assuming she spoke to them in person, what did she say to them to compel them to show up at the amusement park while drunk?"
Another member of the team ventured, "She could have been a very attractive woman?"
Ming Shu immediately thought of the other type of person Xiao Yu'an had noticed at Huayun Center.
It was already evident that both crimes were related to street photography. But there were still two distinct possibilities for the killer's exact motive. The first possibility was the one they'd conceived of first—that the killer was someone who hated street photographers and had perhaps been harassed by middle-aged hobbyists in the past. The other possibility was that the killer had been ignored by street photographers for too long, arousing in her heart a twisted desire to seek vengeance and kill.
If the former possibility proved true, it was very possible that the killer was extraordinarily beautiful. At least outwardly. But if the latter option was the killer's true motive…
Ming Shu lowered his head and thought as hard as he could, but he was unable to come up with an idea of how this type of person—one who had always been ignored by street photographers—could have coerced her victims into meeting her at the amusement park.
For just a second, he lifted his head and glanced into the corner where Xiao Yu'an sat.
And at just that moment, Xiao Yu'an cleared his throat. "Let's start by considering the 'intersection'."
Everyone in the room turned in the direction of his voice, all a little astonished to find him sitting among them.
"When did you get here?"
"Director Xiao has been here for a while already," Ming Shu said, gesturing for everyone to settle down. "Besides a few popular street photography spots in Xi District, Luo Xiangfu and Chen Quanhan both frequently visited Huayun Center. We can consider that the most significant 'intersection' of their lives."
"The killer might also frequent Huayun Center," Xiao Yu'an said.
"Huayun Center is like poison these days," Xiao Man suddenly blurted out. "The book cafe murders happened there. If that was also where the killer set her sights on Luo Xiangfu and Chen Quanhan, then…"
"We can pull all the surveillance footage from Huayun Center," Zhou Yuan said.
"The killer is familiar with Xi District and Huayun Center. It's possible she lives in Xi District and works at Huayun Center," Xiao Yu'an said. "We had been influenced by the cases of Lu Kun and Li Hongmei. We'd started believing this killer was also driven by thoughts of 'justice'. But that may not be the case."
"Right," Ming Shu said. He picked up where Xiao Yu'an left off and told the room of the other possibility. The possibility of a killer who had committed her crimes as a way of venting her frustration over being ignored, again and again.
All members of the Serious Crimes Division had encountered bizarre cases and incomprehensible motives in their time at the Bureau. So they were able to easily take this theory in stride.
Everyone continued debating the details of the case. Fang Yuanhang was the only one whose mind had started to drift off. He was distracted by thoughts that there was some sort of… tacit understanding between Director Xiao and his own Captain Ming.
A sort of tacit understanding that implied… a secret.
Xiao Yu'an spoke up again: "I don't know if you've all noticed already, but Luo Xiangfu was killed not long after the murders at the book cafe."
Ming Shu gave that some thought. "Coincidence?"
"Then what if it isn't a coincidence?" Xiao Yu'an prompted. "Could the killer have been stimulated or provoked by the murders at the book cafe? Could this killer have been inspired, by those murders, to label their own crimes as 'justified' and 'righteous'?"
"…who stood the greatest chance of being influenced by those murders?" Ming Shu murmured, mostly to himself.
The eyewitnesses? The people who had been inside the book cafe at the time of the murders?
If that was true, then it would support their theory that the killer frequented Huayun Center.
"The killer's actions are somewhat contradictory. She wants to hide her tracks in order to continue committing her crimes, but she also left us clues of her existence," Xiao Yu'an said. "She knows we're investigating the Luo and Chen cases now. For a while, it's likely she'll only observe our movements and track her next victim. She won't strike again, not yet. This is our chance."
After running through the evidence again and again, the pieces were finally starting to come together.
Among the city's street photography enthusiasts, there were seventy-five middle-aged men with similar family situations to Luo Xiangfu and Chen Quanhan. Among those seventy-five mne, there were six who frequented Huayun Center and various photography spots in Xi District.
One of those six men was the one who had taken Chen Quanhan's photo—Hui Chengxian.
There was a very good chance that these six men had already entered the killer's field of vision.
Notably, Hui Chengxian was unlike Luo Xiangfu and Chen Quanhan in one critical way. He didn't go after people he wanted to photograph in a way that would arouse anger and disgust.
Ming Shu personally canvassed the neighborhood around Puouxin Street, speaking to all of Chen Quanhan's neighbors. Finally, he gained an important piece of information from a cobbler who worked at the end of the block—
Once, a tall woman in a long dress had appeared in front of Chen Quanhan's house.
"I can't remember what she looked like," the cobbler said. "I just remember her long, yellow dress and the scent of her perfume. Phew! The women who live in this shithole sure don't know how to dress up as nice as her. She left a deep impression on me, and I thought it was pretty strange."
"What was strange about it?" Ming Shu asked.
"Hm… I don't know how to describe it," the cobbler said after a long pause. "I guess I just thought, well, why'd she get dressed up so nice to come to a place like this?"
An answer slowly rose in Ming Shu's heart—
Because she came to coerce Chen Quanhan into going to the old amusement park to await his death!
The afternoon sun was fierce. Ming Shu rushed through the sweltering heat and made his way back to the Criminal Investigation Bureau, charging straight towards Xiao Yu'an's office. He forgot to even knock before pushing open the door.
Two sets of eyes turned towards him at the same time. It was only then that Ming Shu realized Director Li was in Xiao Yu'an's office as well.
It was a good thing Ming Shu hadn't just barged in shouting 'ge'.
Ming Shu hastily adjusted his stance and tone. Smiling, he greeted, "Director Li, you have business with Director Xiao?"
"Captain Ming, you're becoming more and more of a ruffian," Director Li joked. "Entering without so much as a knock? Is this how you usually enter Director Xiao's office?"
"No, no. I always knock," Ming Shu said. "Today's just special. I nearly died of heatstroke out there under the afternoon sun, so I had to rush over here to mooch some AC off Director Xiao."
A large wet patch had soaked through the front of his police uniform, and his face and neck were both gleaming with sweat. His excuse was quite convincing.
"It's fine to mooch some air conditioning," Director Li said. "But knocking is still a must. Show some discipline."
Ming Shu instantly stepped outside, closed the door, and knocked twice. "Director Xiao, it's Ming Shu."
"Come in," Xiao Yu'an said, his tone as calm and unaffected as usual.
Ming Shu could be whiny and clingy, but when he needed to get serious, he got serious. Standing in the door to Xiao Yu'an's office, he was practically a poster child for the perfect elite police detective.
Director Li got up. "You two need to discuss a case, right? I'll take my leave first. The higher ups want to commend you for solving the Entombed Heart case. Ride this wave and quickly solve the Luo Xiangfu and Chen Quanhan cases as well."
"Roger!" Ming Shu answered, standing at attention.
Director Li sighed. It seemed he wanted to say something else, but in the end he only shook his head and stepped out of Xiao Yu'an's office.
As soon as the door closed again, Ming Shu hastily thumbed open the top two buttons of his shirt and ran over to stand under the air conditioner. "Ge, what did Director Li need you for? It didn't have anything to do with Entombed Heart, did it?"
The higher ups had already set up a task force to continue investigating the scope of Entombed Heart's influence. The police force of Dongye City played the largest role in capturing Entombed Heart, but Ming Shu didn't think Director Li would have come to Xiao Yu'an's office just to talk to him about that.
There must have been something else.
"Don't stand there," Xiao Yu'an said. "You'll put yourself at risk of face paralysis."
Ming Shu reached up and tilted the blades of the air conditioner down a bit. Then he turned around and lifted the collar of his shirt, letting the cool air wash over his back. "It's hot as hell. I'm dying. It's fine if I don't let it blow on my face, right?"
Xiao Yu'an picked up the remote on his desk and turned the air conditioner off entirely.
Ming Shu stared.
"Come here." Xiao Yu'an pointed to the chair next to him. "If you move away from the vent, I'll turn it back on."
"Unreasonable Boss Xiao," Ming Shu grumbled. He craved the cold, but Xiao Yu'an held all the power over the air conditioner now. Ming Shu had no choice but to say a mournful farewell to the air conditioner before slinking over to sit next to the desk.
Xiao Yu'an turned the air conditioner back on.
Ming Shu grabbed one of the files on the desk and started to fan himself. "You still haven't told me what Director Li wanted."
"We were talking about Liang Zhao," Xiao Yu'an said.
"Liang Zhao?" Ming Shu was surprised, but at the same time felt it sort of made sense. "Did Director Li want something for Liang Zhao?"
Before Xiao Yu'an came to the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Liang Zhao had been Director Li's most capable man. Director Li often allowed Liang Zhao to handle important tasks and cases. Everyone at the Bureau knew Liang Zhao was the promising rookie Director Li had personally trained up.
About a month ago, Liang Zhao was still one of the most notable people at the Criminal Investigation Bureau. Although he was still called Captain Zhao, and not Director Zhao, he was the de facto second-in-command at the Bureau.
Xiao Yu'an's arrival changed everything.
The all-important Serious Crimes Division, Task Force One, and Task Force Two all fell under Xiao Yu'an's command. With Xiao Yu'an's support, the Serious Crimes Division quickly cracked a long-forgotten case in Xia Ben Village and caught the notorious Entombed Heart.
It wasn't hard to guess how Liang Zhao felt these days.
Director Li was perfectly aware of Liang Zhao's strengths and weaknesses. He knew Liang Zhao wasn't up for bigger jobs, and that was precisely why Xiao Yu'an had been brought in.
But Xiao Yu'an's presence was too overwhelming. Liang Zhao grew increasingly gloomy and dissatisfied. Director Li likely thought this type of dynamic wasn't conducive to maintaining a peaceful working environment.
"He's just concerned with maintaining a balance," Xiao Yu'an said. "Don't worry. I can handle myself."
Of course, Ming Shu believed in him. After taking a breather, he began to recount the recent progress in their open cases.
Xiao Yu'an listened carefully, to the end, before he said, "Good work."
Ming Shu suddenly noticed that a video was paused on Xiao Yu'an's desktop monitor. Xiao Yu'an must have been watching something when Director Li came looking for him.
Ming Shu leaned in to get a better look, practically stretching out over Xiao Yu'an's body. "Ge, what are you watching?"
Xiao Yu'an brought an arm up to support Ming Shu, keeping him from tipping over. He reached out with his other hand and tilted the monitor. "The surveillance footage of Lu Kun's crime."
Instead of sticking close to Xiao Yu'an, as he normally might have done, Ming Shu instantly leapt to his feet. "What did you find?"
Xiao Yu'an unpaused the video and said, "When you subdued Lu Kun, did you feel there was something off about the woman who stepped forward to protect the children?"