When police detectives painstakingly unraveled an investigation thread by thread, the process was much like unraveling the silk of a cocoon. And from inside that cocoon, from time to time, a pair of eyes would look back at the detectives trying to peer inside.
By the time Ming Shu arrived at the offices of Xin Xiang, Yu Caixin had already left.
Cao Xiang, the company's other associate and Yu Caixin's business partner, was rather shocked to see the detectives at their office. In their line of business, Cao Xiang and Yu Caixin occasionally worked with the local police. But it was the first time Cao Xiang had been approached by detectives from the Criminal Investigation Bureau.
"You guys are looking for Caixin? She just left to meet with a client," Cao Xiang said warily. "Has something happened to Caixin?"
"Which client?" Ming Shu asked. "Where are they meeting?"
At just that time, through his headset, Ming Shu received a report from one of the technical investigators: "Yu Caixin is driving down West Shuichuan Road. Her destination may be her home in the Xi District's Aiqin Waterfront neighborhood."
Cao Xiang had hastily summoned Yu Caixin's assistant, Little Yu, and asked, "Did Yu-zong say which client she was going out to meet?"
Little Yu answered, somewhat haltingly, "Yu-zong had an appointment with Manager Hou from Xinzhou Realty…"
"Xinzhou Realty's headquarters are in Nan District, on Longzhu Boulevard," Ming Shu said. "Is that where Yu Caixin is going?"
Little Yu nodded frantically and glanced at Cao Xiang. "Yu-zong took me to a meeting with them last week, but the details of our business deal have yet to be finalized. She went out there today to talk about those details."
Longzhu Boulevard in Nan District. The Aiqin Waterfront neighborhood in Xi District. Two completely different locations in two completely different directions.
Yu Caixin hadn't gone to visit a prospective client at all. She'd rushed home after learning the police had inquired about her at Starlight Clinic.
Was there something in her home she needed to dispose of?
"May I take a look around Yu Caixin's office?" Ming Shu asked.
Cao Xiang seemed extremely hesitant to agree.
The detectives had arrived so suddenly, without any advance notice whatsoever. There were sensitive matters that he hadn't gotten a chance to… take care of.
Ming Shu took one look at him and knew right away that this headhunting firm was hiding a great many secrets.
But there was no need for the Serious Crimes Division to handle those matters. They could simply turn over any clues they discovered to the relevant departments back at the Bureau.
"I'm not here to investigate your company today. Please relax," Ming Shu said straightforwardly. "Where is Yu Caixin's office?"
Yu Caixin and Cao Xiang were business partners in name only. They had been engaged in countless arguments since founding their company, Xin Xiang. They were fiercely competitive with each other, and though they kept up appearances of peace for their employees, they took on cold and calculating attitudes towards each other in private.
Cao Xiang had no idea what Yu Caixin had done to bring the police down on them, and Yu Caixin had slipped out of the office without giving him any word of warning. He was extremely displeased, and felt it was only fair that he instructed Little Yu to lead the detectives to Yu Caixin's office.
"Director Xiao, I'm in Yu Caixin's office right now," Ming Shu said. He'd called Xiao Yu'an while he walked. "She probably knows we're looking into her. She said she went to see a client, but she's actually rushing home right now. I suspect she's planning to dispose of some key evidence."
"That's good. If she didn't respond to our approach at all, I would have started to fear our investigation was heading down the wrong path," Xiao Yu'an said calmly. "Our people have already reached the Aiqin Waterfront neighborhood. We'll be bringing her in soon."
By the time he hung up, Ming Shu's heart had calmed.
Yu Caixin's office was extremely neat, perfectly matching her personality. Ming Shu swept his gaze through the room; his gaze landed on the bookshelf.
"Isn't this Entombed Heart's book?" Fang Yuanhang asked. He hurriedly put on his gloves and picked up the book. "'Some people deserve to die.' This is the book Lu Kun was reading when he went berserk! Holy shit, so Yu Caixin and Lu Kun and Li Hongmei had all read the same book? Our earliest theory was right!"
Ming Shu took the book from Fang Yuanhang and flipped through the pages. A strange, indecipherable feeling rose in his heart.
"The murderer took photographs of Luo Xiangfu before killing him," Fang Yuanhang said. He circled around the big desk in the room and reached for Yu Caixin's laptop. "Chief, do you think those photos could be stashed on this machine?"
"Hey, stop that!" Little Yu burst out. She rushed forward and scooped up the laptop, holding it away from Fang Yuanhang. "You can't just open Yu-zong's laptop. Our… our confidential business records are in here!"
"We're investigating a case!" Fang Yuanhang retorted sharply.
"But…" Little Yu's forehead was growing shiny with sweat. "But this laptop is really important."
"It's fine," Ming Shu said. "We don't need to check the laptop for now."
"Chief!" Fang Yuanhang protested.
"Yu Caixin abandoned this office and rushed home. That means her secrets aren't here. They're at her home in the Aiqin Waterfront neighborhood," Ming Shu said. "And her secrets will become our evidence. Think about it. If there was something she didn't want us to see on this laptop, why wouldn't she have taken it with her?"
Fang Yuanhang had already snatched back the laptop from Little Yu. He hefted it in his hand a few times. "Huh, and this is really light."
Ming Shu flipped to the last page of the book in his hands and looked over at the other books on the shelf again. Turning to Fang Yuanhang, he asked, "Don't you think this book is too new?"
"Is it new?" Fang Yuanhang gave the book a closer look. "I don't really read that many books…"
"Here." Ming Shu pointed to the spine of the book. "Paperbacks that have been heavily used, and read, will show clear signs of wear in the spine."
"So Yu Caixin bought the book," Fang Yuanhang said. "But she didn't read it?"
Ming Shu thought about it for a long moment before he gave an ambiguous answer: "Hard to say."
Criminal Investigation Bureau. Serious Crimes Division.
Yu Caixin was still dressed in an exceptionally professional business suit. Her suit skirt had been swapped for trousers that day.
The heels of her high heels clicked crispy in the corridor outside the interrogation rooms. She held herself primly and with confidence. It didn't look like she had been brought in for an interrogation at all; she looked like she was on her way to meet an important client.
The door to the interrogation room opened. Inside, Ming Shu turned and met Yu Caixin's gaze.
In her eyes, he didn't detect the slightest trace of surprise.
"Hello again," Ming Shu greeted, pointing to the chair opposite him. "Please have a seat, Miss Yu."
"You wanted to see me… about the Shu Han book cafe case?" Yu Caixin asked. She smelled only faintly of perfume, which didn't match the cobbler's description of a woman whose perfume was strong and easily detectable.
"I went to look for you at your office today," Ming Shu said. "Unfortunately, your business partner and your assistant informed me you were visiting a client in Nan District."
Yu Caixin smiled. "I needed an excuse to go home and deal with some personal matters."
Ming Shu smiled as well. "Are you admitting to this because you 'happened' to run into my colleagues on your way to your home?"
Yu Caixin drew a breath. "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean."
"Employees do often use field work and out-of-office appointments as excuses to go home for personal reasons," Ming Shu said. He fixed his gaze on Yu Caixin. "But you, the boss, also need to resort to such measures?"
"You seem to have some misunderstandings about my work," Yu Caixin corrected, unflustered. "It's more like I'm self-employed. I work hard to earn my salary. I'm not the sort of big executive boss you're imagining."
"Then let's call it a misunderstanding," Ming Shu said. "Miss Yu, what personal matters did you need to take care of on this impromptu trip home?"
Yu Caixin hesitated for a few seconds. "Does that have something to do with the reason you called me here?"
"It does," Ming Shu stated matter-of-factly.
"I forgot to bring my daily medication with me to work," Yu Caixin said. "I had to go home to get it."
"There are several pharmacies right below your office," Ming Shu said. "It's a thirty-minute drive from Huayun Center to your home, and that's without traffic. Why didn't you simply buy a dosage of the medication you needed?"
Yu Caixin smiled and shook her head. "My medicine is prescribed by my doctor. I can't buy it at a pharmacy."
"Oh? What medicine do you take?"
Yu Caixin looked a little embarrassed. It was a few seconds before she answered, "Diane-35."
"A prescription oral contraceptive," Ming Shu said.
"I use it to treat a hormone imbalance," Yu Caixin said. "Not as birth control."
"This medicine is actually available for purchase in pharmacies," Ming Shu said.
"Really?" Yu Caixin's eyebrows jumped up. "I didn't know that."
Ming Shu fell silent for a moment. His darkened gaze searched Yu Caixin's expression.
This unexpected, prolonged silence seemed to make her somewhat restless.
"I don't understand," she started. "The awful incident at the Shu Han book cafe was so long ago. Even if you had something else to ask me about that day, you shouldn't be taking this sort of attitude with me."
"What kind of attitude do you think I'm taking with you?" Ming Shu asked.
It seemed Yu Caixin hadn't expected Ming Shu to ask a question like that. Her eyebrows, finely sculpted by her procedure at Starlight Clinic, furrowed with consternation.
"Hm?" Ming Shu prompted. "What kind of attitude have I taken?"
Yu Caixin grew more and more uncomfortable, until she finally let out a nervous laugh, as though scolding herself for feeling unwarranted unease. "The way you're talking to me makes me think I've been implicated in something unpleasant. You… you're a criminal detective, aren't you?"
"I do, in fact, suspect you have a connection to 'something unpleasant'," Ming Shu said. "To be more precise, I should say two somethings."
Yu Caixin's fingers subconsciously twitched twice. The movement was extremely subtle, but even the subtlest movements couldn't escape Ming Shu's piercing gaze.
"The book cafe…"
Ming Shu cut her off before she could continue. "We aren't here to talk about the book cafe today."
A picture perfect flash of dissatisfaction crossed Yu Caixin's face. "If this meeting has nothing to do with the book cafe, then I don't believe there's any reason for me to be here. I cooperated with your investigation for the sake of those children who were hurt and scared. I still have a lot of work to do, so I would ask you not to waste my time."
After saying that, Yu Caixin stood up.
Ming Shu stood as well. He was actually quite a lot taller than Yu Caixin, but with her in high heels, they were almost of a height.
According to Zhan Huanxiong's eyewitness testimony, the killer was between 1.62 and 1.65 meters in height. As a former spy, Zhan Huanxiong had a honed eye for these things. Unless he'd deliberately skewed the truth, his estimate could be trusted to be accurate.
Yu Caixin looked to be over 1.7 meters in height, but once her heels were removed from the equation, she was only 1.63 meters or so.
"Apologies, but we can't let you leave yet." Ming Shu lifted an arm, blocking Yu Caixin's path without making physical contact with her. But the aura that suddenly burst forth from him was enough to make Yu Caixin take a step back.
Yu Caixin's eyes widened by a fraction of an inch. "You…!"
"I suspect you're involved in two other murder cases," Ming Shu said, smiling serenely. "That's why we've invited you to speak to us at the Serious Crimes Division today."
Ming Shu placed a special emphasis on the name of his division, pronouncing each of the three words crisply and clearly. Yu Caixin's eyes widened instantly, showing flashes of confusion and astonishment before going blank.
It was a different look from the dissatisfaction that had come over her earlier. But these expressions were also perfectly formed.
It was as though Yu Caixin had rehearsed for this moment countless times.
"Have a seat. Let's chat." Ming Shu jerked his chin at the chair Yu Caixin had abandoned. He waited for her to sit back down before he asked, "Luo Xiangfu and Chen Quanhan. Do you recognize these names?"
"No," Yu Caixin answered right away.
Ming Shu raised his eyebrows. "That fast? You don't need to think about it for a minute?"
"My work puts me in contact with a lot of people, and it's important for me to remember every connection," Yu Caixin said. "It's vital for me to have a good memory in order to do well in my line of work. If I can't even remember the names of the candidates I meet with, how am I supposed to market them to promising companies?"
"What if they weren't your candidates?" Ming Shu asked. "What if they were… street photographers who frequented Huayun Center? Xin Xiang's offices are located right across the street from Huayun Center. You must have noticed those street photographers who chase around handsome men and beautiful women."
"Ah, you mean them." A confident smile returned to Yu Caixin's lips. "A lot of them have asked me to be their model."
"Oh?" Ming Shu asked. "Starting from when?"
Yu Caixin's expression froze for a split second. "Starting… starting from when?"
"Forgive me for not making myself clear," Ming Shu said. "What I want to know is when you started receiving attention from street photography enthusiasts. Before you had plastic surgery at Starlight Clinic? Or after?"
Yu Caixin's expression froze once more. A rebellious flash, one she couldn't fully suppress, crossed her eyes.
It was as though something were threatening to erupt from beneath her perfect mask.
Ming Shu didn't continue right away. He focused his full attention on studying her.
Receiving attention. Not receiving attention. This was clearly a sensitive subject for Yu Caixin. Her perfect mask, although finely crafted, cracked when this button was pushed.
Because to her, not receiving attention was the most unbearable curse.
Ming Shu laid two photographs on the table. One of Luo Xiangfu, one of Chen Quanhan. "On July 2nd of this year, and in mid-April of this year, these two men were murdered by the same person. The killer was a woman, and before their deaths, these two men had often spent time at Huayun Center, looking for beautiful women to photograph."
Though she'd briefly lost control of her expression, Yu Caixin had already donned her perfect mask once more. She swept her gaze across the photographs and said, "I don't recognize them."
"Is that so?" Ming Shu tapped Chen Quanhan's photo with his index finger. "But this one's friend, another photographer, remembers you."
Yu Caixin's expression remained unchanged, but her slender neck visibly tensed.
"He remembers seeing you at Huayun Center. The you from before your plastic surgery operations," Ming Shu said. He met and held Yu Caixin's gaze. Slowly, but fiercely, he continued, "You had just left the Xin Xiang offices. You crossed the street to Huayun Center and walked past Chen Quanhan and his friend several times. I'd like to know… what were you thinking at that time?"
Yu Caixin averted her gaze. "I don't remember."
"You don't remember what you were thinking?" Ming Shu asked. "Or you don't remember seeing Chen Quanhan?"
"Your suspicion of me is completely unfounded." Yi Caixin's eyes were cold when she met Ming Shu's gaze again. "May I ask a question? What makes you people think I have anything to do with this case? I don't understand what you're talking about. Street photography, plastic surgery. What do these things have to do with anything? How does that add up to you suspecting me of something?"
Suddenly, Ming Shu recited, "'She isn't attractive. There's nothing special about her at all. Don't take her picture.'"
When Yu Caixin heard those words, her pupils tightened. Her breathing faltered, then quickened.
"You remember these words," Ming Shu said. "You claim you don't remember Chen Quanhan, but you still remember the words he spoke in front of you."
Yu Caixin shook her head. "I've never heard these things before."
"But your reaction has already given me a different answer," Ming Shu said. "People are born with the ability to lie and deceive. As an executive at a headhunting firm, you know better than most how people can twist the truth with their words. A person's words can carry truth or deception, and at times we must look to their first and their most instinctual reaction to see into the innermost depths of their heart."
After more than ten seconds, Yu Caixin suddenly laughed out loud. "I'm still really curious. Why would you suspect me? I don't have anything to do with these two people. I don't even know their names. At most, I may have encountered them at Huayun Center before. How could I kill them?
"Is what you said just now your basis for suspecting me? Let me remind you of something. I protected a child from a killer without any fear for my own safety, and you saw this with your own eyes. I detest criminals. How could I be a criminal myself?"
"Ah, so she went with the good old, 'I hate criminals, so how could I be one.' Entombed Heart also loathed people he perceived as evil, but he was more vile than any of them," Yi Fei said over the phone. "Little Ming, we've already completed our search here at the Aiqin Waterfront neighborhood. So far, we haven't found anything of note.
"But Yu Caixin's emergency trip home is definitely suspicious. Her claim that she needed to get her medicine just doesn't check out. The property manager here has a deep impression of her. Apparently, Yu Caixin always left home early and came home late. She never came back in the middle of the day."
"Don't pick up Lu Lanzhou's bad habits," Ming Shu scolded. "Do we have the surveillance footage from July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd?"
"We pulled it up," Yi Fei said. "But Yu Caixin got home late every day. It's hard to get any useful information from this footage."
"The surveillance footage and security logs we pulled from the Xin Xiang offices tell us Yu Caixin left at noon on July 2nd," Ming Shu said. "We can see from her phone records that she called seven clients that day, but we still can't determine exactly what she did that afternoon and evening."
"Which is to say, she doesn't have an alibi," Yi Fei said. He thought for a moment before continuing, "She's had plenty of time to get rid of the murder weapon and the clothes she wore while committing the crime. But those photos she took… even if she deleted them, there'll be traces left behind."
"Bring all the electronics in Yu Caixin's home to the Bureau," Ming Shu said. "Don't leave anything behind, not even an SD card. Have Zhou Yuan look through it all."
The technical investigation team worked late into the night, running restorations on all the electronics pulled from Yu Caixin's home. But no photos of Luo Xiangfu or Chen Quanhan turned up.
"I'm innocent," Yu Caixin declared loftily. She raised her chin with victory gleaming in her eyes. "I didn't kill anyone. Do you know why you can't find any evidence? It's because the evidence only exists in your imagination."
Yi Fei and Zhou Yuan were the ones facing Yu Caixin now. Ming Shu watched from a monitor in another room.
If he had only suspected Yu Caixin before, he was sure of it now. Yu Caixin was the killer.
The murderer had severe psychological problems. The murderer had claimed multiple victims and left a trail of clues for the police.
When she learned the police had yet to find any damning evidence, Yu Caixin could no longer contain the twisted arrogance that surged into her eyes. She looked down at the detectives in front of her with open scorn and disdain, as though knowing there was nothing they could do to her without evidence of her crimes.
The same expression had once crossed Hou Cheng's face.
"Yu Caixin may have destroyed most of the evidence that could incriminate her, but she wouldn't have destroyed the photos," Xiao Yu'an said. "Those images of Chen Quanhan and Luo Xiangfu before their deaths are her 'trophies'."
"Where would she hide her 'trophies'?" Ming Shu propped his chin up on his fist and began to pace. "There's something else that's strange to me. Why did Yu Caixin go home? I thought she rushed back to destroy some things she didn't want us to see, but Yi Fei says there's no evidence of her doing anything like that. She told us she went home to pick up some medicine, but I don't buy that either. It isn't like her to forget something like that."
"When we profiled the killer, we decided she was 'clean' in her methods," Xiao Yu'an said. "Do you remember that? We said she wouldn't do anything unnecessary."
Ming Shu nodded. "We compared her to Hou Cheng."
"Besides the photos, Yu Caixin has probably disposed of all other evidence long ago. Her trip home feels unnecessary," Xiao Yu'an said. "That isn't in keeping with her 'clean' methods."
Ming Shu frowned and thought hard before he suddenly exclaimed, "She's trying to mislead us!"
"Yes," Xiao Yu'an confirmed. "She went home in an odd way, which caused us to focus on her home. That, in turn, caused us to ignore everything else."
Ming Shu took a deep breath to steady himself. "If she didn't go home to hide the photos, then where the hell are the photos?"
At just that moment, Xiao Yu'an's cell phone began to ring.
"Who is it?" Ming Shu asked.
"News from Yu Caixin's hometown," Xiao Yu'an said. "It looks like the background check has yielded some results."