The voice that drifted out from behind him wasn't one that Long Tianhao recognized right away, but he felt he'd heard it somewhere before. Long Tianhao stopped in the middle of climbing over the railing. Soon afterwards, he turned towards the sound of that voice.
Ming Shu had sprinted all the way up to the top of the building, but he controlled his breathing well as he spoke. He was barely short of breath at all.
He stretched a hand out to Long Tianhao. "Come here!"
Long Tianhao had seen Ming Shu at the Serious Crimes Division. Now, with both eyes reddened, he shouted, "What are you doing here?"
Ming Shu cautiously approached Long Tianhao. "If I hadn't come, weren't you going to jump from there?"
"I…" Long Tianhao's mood wasn't stable. His left hand was still clutching the railing. He instinctively retorted, "I wasn't thinking about jumping!"
"Then let go!" Ming Shu called out sharply. "Come over here!"
Long Tianhao didn't release the railing. He continued to grip it tightly, pursing his lips several times in quick succession.
It was obvious that he was afraid.
But this wasn't the fear of an ordinary person facing a police officer. It was the fear of a young man who'd deemed himself worthless and inferior, facing an outstanding man who seemed better than him in every way.
Ming Shu didn't suppress his own aura of intimidation. He only drew closer, step by step. "This is an old building. The railings are all rusted. Don't you love your left hand? Why would you use it to cling to that railing?"
Hearing that, Long Tianhao instinctively released the railing and lifted his precious hand. He looked down, finding that his palm was indeed stained by streaks of dark red rust.
The rust was almost like blood, forming a map of deep and shallow trails across his hand.
Ming Shu seized this opportunity. He flew forward in a flash. Before Long Tianhao could react, Ming Shu had pulled him far away from the railing.
Long Tianhao struggled fiercely, but Ming Shu was a head taller than him, and they were no match at all when it came to physical strength. Once Ming Shu had Long Tianhao in his grasp, there was no way Long Tianhao could break free.
Xing Mu, who'd rushed over with Ming Shu, looked like his heart was about to leap out of his throat. "Captain, what do we do now?"
Ming Shu marched Long Tianhao back into the rental apartment. After tightly shutting all the windows and doors, he noticed the wound on Long Tianhao's finger and asked, "Do you have any rubbing alcohol or iodine here?"
Long Tianhao sat on the couch with his head hanging low. He didn't respond.
Xing Mu took out a small box that he carried everywhere with him. "Captain, I have some disinfectant balls here."
Ming Shu remembered now. Xing Mu was the sort of ge who always kept alcohol-soaked cotton balls and a sanitizing spray on him, just in case.
"Wash your hands, take care of it yourself," Ming Shu said, tossing the little box to Long Tianhao. Then he started to look around the room.
The room was simply furnished. The most valuable item was the computer. The tables and floors were all relatively clean. There weren't mountains of takeout containers and snack bags, which would often be found in the homes of reclusive video game addicts.
A photo frame was lying facedown on the desk. Ming Shu picked it up. The Long Tianhao in the photo was even younger than he was now. He looked to be full of energy. He was wearing a team uniform and flashing the camera a double thumbs up and a brilliant smile.
After washing his hands, Long Tianhao came back and instantly lunged over to snatch back the photo frame. He clutched it tightly in his hands at first, then put it facedown on the table again. "Don't look."
"This was from when you first started playing professionally?" Ming Shu asked.
Long Tianhao silently stuck a cotton ball to the bleeding cut on his finger. The rubbing alcohol on the swab would certainly hurt when it came into contact with a fresh wound that had broken skin, but Long Tianhao's expression remained wooden. He didn't show any reaction when applying the disinfectant. He didn't even furrow his brow, as though he couldn't feel the pain.
Did he have a naturally high pain tolerance?
Or had he already gotten used to pain?
Ming Shu studied him for a while, then took a seat in Long Tianhao's gaming chair. When he thought of the fact that this person had nearly just jumped off a building to commit suicide, he inevitably felt troubled. "Go on, tell me. Why were you going to jump? You were that desperate not to talk?"
Long Tianhao finished cleaning his wound and tossed the cotton ball into the trash. He glared up at Ming Shu and mumbled, "Whether or not I want to live… how is that any of your business?"
Xing Mu wanted to scold the young man, but he was also afraid Ming Shu would think he was butting in and saying too much. He only whispered under his breath, "You're so young. Even if you feel trapped, you can't just jump…"
Ming Shu steepled his fingers. "You wanted to put an end to everything because your hand injury is too difficult to heal."
The backs of Long Tianhao's hands tensed visibly. "It's none of your business!"
"You took guzheng lessons from Sha Chun," Ming Shu said. "You believed practicing the guzheng would help fix your hands…"
"Stop! Stop talking!" Long Tianhao roared.
But Ming Shu only continued, "Was that something you thought of yourself? Or did someone else give you that advice?"
Long Tianhao had already balled his left hand into a fist. The tension caused the cut on his finger to open even more. Fresh blood trickled down his finger, sliding over the back of his hand.
Xing Mu was afraid this man would attack Ming Shu.
"Can't I learn to play the guzheng just because I want to?" Long Tianhao shot back with his face twisted into an ugly expression.
Ming Shu stood from the gaming chair and looked down at Long Tianhao. "Don't try that shit with me."
Long Tianhao froze. The dark look of hostility on his own face collapsed under the pressure.
"You retired last year. That wasn't because you were getting too old. It was because of your serious hand injury," Ming Shu continued, spitting out each word clearly and emphatically. "But you haven't actually given up. You've been proactively seeking a cure all this time. You've tried everything. You held out hope that you would find a way to recover and return to your beloved battlefield."
Long Tianhao opened his mouth, but didn't make a sound. His left hand started to tremble.
"By June of this year, you'd tried every form of conventional medicine and traditional medicine. Guangye Hospital's Dr. Lei helped you heal from a state in which you couldn't even bend the fingers of your left hand, to a state in which you could live an ordinary life. But that was far from enough to satisfy your demands," Ming Shu said. "You realized you might never be able to fully heal, so you spiraled into despair.
"At that point, someone told you playing the guzheng could hasten your recovery. You wanted to grasp at that lifeline, even if it was only a flimsy lifeline made of straw. That person also told you about 'Jianjia Bailu' and Sha Chun, who taught there. That person told you Sha Chun was an outstanding guzheng player."
A wet sheen suddenly appeared in Long Tianhao's bloodshot eyes.
He didn't deny any of it.
"You still had immense hope and ambition. You thought you would really be able to cure your hand," Ming Shu continued. "So, on the day of your birthday, you told your fans to wait for you."
Long Tianhao lightly shook his head. He mumbled, ambiguously, "I didn't know…"
Ming Shu didn't let up yet. "But after a few classes, you discovered that your hand wasn't showing any signs of improvement. Not only that, you realized Sha Chun wasn't as impressive as you'd been led to believe—she was just like you. Unremarkable in her field of choice."
Long Tianhao abruptly stood up.
Coldly, Ming Shu suddenly declared, "Sha Chun felt the two of you were the 'same kind'. You killed Sha Chun."
To anyone who didn't know the details, these two sentences would have sounded like separate matters altogether. There was no distinct thread of cause and effect between them.
But to those who did know, they would understand. To anyone who was a domino in this sequence, the connection would be clear.
Long Tianhao's reaction to these allegations would be critical.
"You… what did you say?" Long Tianhao's pupils constricted, and his mouth hung open in confusion.
He was three steps away from Ming Shu, and Ming Shu's aura was imposingly cold. The sliver of collarbone exposed by Long Tianhao's t-shirt rose and fell when he swallowed. Half a minute later, he shook his head and said, "I didn't kill anyone. I only threatened her."
"Sit." Ming Shu's tone made the word sound almost like a command. "I'm going to ask you a few questions. I would advise you not to try to fool me with false answers."
Long Tianhao was a bit confused, but he really did sit back down when he heard that order. His whole body seemed to have frozen over with frost, and he quietly said, "I never thought about killing anyone. The only one who deserves to die is me. Sometimes I can't control my temper, but I wouldn't kill anyone, I… even if I killed myself, I wouldn't kill someone else."
Xing Mu walked up to Ming Shu and suppressed his voice to a whisper as he said, "Captain, this person could be suffering from clinical depression."
Ming Shu hummed his acknowledgement and asked, "While you took lessons from Sha Chun, did you ever talk to her about your professional history? About your experiences in your career?"
"She asked me why I wanted to learn to play the guzheng." Long Tianhao fixed his gaze on a round stain on the floorboards. His eyes seemed to fill up with a sort of haze. "I didn't tell her at first, I only said I used to be an esports player. She said she could tell, just by looking at my hands, that I was a very hardworking person."
"And she was also a hardworking person," Ming Shu said.
Long Tianhao looked surprised. "How did you know that?"
Ming Shu didn't answer. "Being 'hardworking' brought the two of you closer. You stopped hiding, and you opened your heart to Sha Chun."
Long Tianhao gave Ming Shu a dubious look, then finally said, "I told her about my injury, and I told her about the struggles I faced during my years as a professional esports player. Besides Dr. Lei, I… I never told anyone else about these things. At the time, I thought Sha Chun would be able to understand me."
"What did she say to you after that?" Ming Shu asked.
Long Tianhao didn't understand. "What do you mean? About what?"
"A plan," Ming Shu prompted.
Long Tianhao furrowed his brows with an even deeper confusion. After a moment, he shook his head. "I don't understand."
The atmosphere in the room seemed to stagnate into a bizarre state once more. Ming Shu said, "Since you and Sha Chun were on fairly good terms, why did you show so much animosity when speaking of her last time?"
"I didn't feel any animosity towards her, I just…" Long Tianhao's look grew more gloomy. "I just can't control my mood. After taking some guzheng lessons, not only did my hand not get better, it would often start to hurt. The pain was excruciating, and the swelling came back. I understood, then. No one could save my hand. It was already ruined. Dr. Lei couldn't help me, and Sha Chun couldn't help me."
Ming Shu paced a few times in front of Long Tianhao, then finally asked a critical question. "You definitely didn't decide on your own, all of a sudden, that the guzheng could help cure your left hand. Someone misled you. They led you down the wrong path when you were frantically searching for any solution. Who was this person?"
Long Tianhao didn't deny the existence of such a person, but he shook his head and said, "Not anyone I knew."
"If you don't know them, that's fine," Ming Shu said. "When and where did you encounter them?"
This time, Long Tianhao remained silent for a long moment.
"Is it very hard to talk about this?" Ming Shu asked.
"I couldn't control myself. I once did a very bad thing," Long Tianhao finally said. He nervously rubbed both his hands over his thighs.
"You mean threatening Dr. Lei?" Ming Shu asked.
Long Tianhao hastily lifted his gaze. "You already know?"
"The person who misled you found you after you caused a commotion at the hospital?"
Long Tianhao said he actually knew that Dr. Lei had done everything in his power already. Compared to his condition before his treatment, his hand truly had gotten much better. If it hadn't been for Dr. Lei, Long Tianhao probably couldn't even have signed a contract as a streamer.
But that was far from enough for him!
His left hand would never be the way it was before his injury. Dr. Lei had told him in no uncertain terms that it was impossible for him to play professionally again.
"I didn't know who I could blame. It seemed no one had done anything wrong. I thought about it and thought about it, and in the end realized I could only blame myself."
Long Tianhao gradually became choked up with emotion. He looked towards Ming Shu and continued, "But what did I do wrong?"
That voice was filled with despair and helplessness. Those feelings of misery permeated every word.
Ming Shu let out a very light sigh.
"Dr. Lei said it was because I used my hand too much when I was very young, and then I wouldn't follow the doctor's orders. That led to my left hand falling into an irreparable state." Long Tianhao smiled bitterly as he shook his head. "But my talents were limited, unlike those prodigies. If I hadn't practiced like my life depended on it when I was in my teens, how could I have made it in this field? If I completely gave up on gaming while I received treatment, how could I have picked my career back up? There are so many newcomers to the industry who are prodigies. Besides working hard, how else can I compete with them? I…"
Long Tianhao suddenly stopped. He lifted his trembling left hand to wipe at his unshed tears. Then, after letting out a sigh, he continued, "Actually, working hard is pointless too. I trained until my hand became like this, and I still haven't made a name for myself, have I? I never managed to get into the major leagues. I stayed in the lower tiers my whole career.
"I'm a disgrace to my parents. The fact that my life has come to this point is all my own fault."
They were getting off topic now, but Ming Shu didn't interrupt to remind Long Tianhao.
After a few minutes, Long Tianhao took a long breath. "But I was afraid to admit it. I was afraid to blame myself. I had to find someone else to take the blame. I had to pin the guilt on someone else. If I didn't do that, how could I convince myself that I deserved to continue living?"
"And the person you blamed was Dr. Lei," Ming Shu said.
Long Tianhao covered the upper half of his face and somberly nodded. "I caused a huge commotion in his consultation room and blamed him for everything. I cussed him out for being a quack, I blamed him for being unable to cure my injury. I blamed him for ruining my future… afterwards, security guards came and pushed up into the wall. It was only then that I came to my senses.
"I thought they would call the police, but they only made me swear never to cause trouble in a hospital again. Then they let me go."
The main campus of Dongye City's University of Medicine was only a block away from Guangye Hospital.
When Long Tianhao left the hospital, he'd had nowhere to go. He wandered around blindly, ultimately ending up on the campus of the University of Medicine.
"I didn't have much money left at that point. I was thinking I may as well die. The campus was great. It was so peaceful and tranquil. Everyone there was running towards their promising future. I sat on a bench and watched them. I decided that, once I'd seen enough, I would go die," Long Tianhao said. "But then someone came up to me and sat with me for a while. He told me practicing the guzheng could improve my condition and alleviate the symptoms of tenosynovitis in the hand. He gave me a pamphlet, telling me to go to 'Jianjia Bailu' and ask for the teacher called Sha Chun."
A pamphlet for 'Jianjia Bailu'.
Yu Xiaocheng had also gone to 'Jianjia Bailu' after receiving a promotional pamphlet!
"Do you still have the pamphlet?" Ming Shu asked.
Long Tianhao shook his head. "After registering for classes, I threw it away."
Xing Mu, who hadn't spoken up until then, suddenly couldn't stop himself from interjecting, "Why were you so willing to believe a stranger?"
Long Tianhao looked at his left hand and softly answered, "I would believe anyone who had a way of fixing my hand."
After a short pause, Long Tianhao added, "And he… was a university professor."
Xing Mu didn't understand. "So what if he was a professor?"
But Ming Shu did understand.
Long Tianhao looked rather reckless and brash on the outside, but he was actually quite pure and simple. He'd never attended much school; as a teen, he'd already thrown himself fully into his pursuit of a career in esports. He must have felt an almost instinctual sort of admiration for highly educated people. He must have believed that people like university professors and doctors were inherently trustworthy.
"He said he was a professor?" Ming Shu asked.
Long Tianhao looked like he'd been stumped by that question.
Ming Shu furrowed his brow. "He didn't actually say he was a university professor?"
"I thought he was." Long Tianhao was starting to look a bit panicked. "He was at the University of Medicine. He looked to be in his fifties or so. Very dignified. Gray hair, glasses. He spoke so calmly and fluidly. If he wasn't a professor, what else could he have been?"
A greater sense of understanding started to rise in Ming Shu's heart. "Then let me ask you, did you ever see that person again?"
Long Tianhao shook his head.
Ming Shu reached out a hand. "Give me your left hand."
That instantly set Long Tianhao on high alert. "What are you going to do?"
"What are you afraid of?" Ming Shu retorted.
Long Tianhao hesitated for a long moment before stretching out his left hand. Ming Shu quickly took it in his own, and Long Tianhao instantly tensed.
"Hurts?" Ming Shu asked.
"Not exactly," Long Tianhao whispered. "The most intense pain has already passed."
Ming Shu took Long Tianhao back to the Serious Crimes Division and immediately had a sketch artist draw up a portrait based on Long Tianhao's description of the man he'd met. Ming Shu also had the tech investigators pull up security footage from the University of Medicine on that date.
When Yu Xiaocheng was shown the sketched portrait, he looked bewildered. "I don't have any impression of this person."
Sketches based on eyewitness accounts were often quite different from what the subject looked like in real life, unless the subject had an extremely unique appearance. Ming Shu hadn't expected Yu Xiaocheng to recognize the person based on the sketch.
He asked, "You said you chose 'Jianjia Bailu' because you received a lot of fliers and pamphlets, and 'Jianjia Bailu' was the one closest to where you lived?"
Yu Xiaocheng nodded. "Yes."
"Who gave you the pamphlets?"
"I can't remember anymore. They were all college students, I guess. Doing part-time work."
"Before and after going to 'Jianjia Bailu', did you ever notice a man in his fifties who gave off the impression of being a college professor?"
Yu Xiaocheng thought for a long while, then shook his head. "No. Is that the person who killed Sha Chun? You guys have found a lead?"
Ming Shu furrowed his brow. "So you went to 'Jianjia Bailu' purely by coincidence…"
That wasn't actually a question, but Yu Xiaocheng took it as one. He answered, "Yes. If there had been any workshops closer to me, I might not have gone to 'Jianjia Bailu' at all. I really didn't do anything, please believe me!"
"I don't know him," Liu Mei also answered, upon seeing the portrait. Compared to Yu Xiaocheng's, her reaction was much more mild. She only shot Fang Yuanhang an impatient glare, showing her dissatisfaction with being disturbed in her daily life yet again.
"You don't know him?" Fang Yuanhang echoed. "Based on your answer, I noticed one detail—you said you don't know him. Not that you have no impression of him."
Liu Mei was stunned for a second. Her surprise was obvious as she said, "You misunderstood me. I've never seen this person before!"
"Then let me ask one more question," Fang Yuanhang said. He felt like he had already developed an immunity towards beautiful people like her. Even when facing such a gorgeous woman, his heart was unmoved. All he wanted was to pry her mouth open and dig out the truth that would help them solve this case. "You didn't explain clearly before. Dongye City has many workshops that advertise the guzheng as their specialty. There are several courses in Dong District alone. Why did you choose 'Jianjia Bailu'?"
Liu Mei lowered her head. Her pointed chin nearly melted into the shadows.
"There really wasn't any special reason," she answered a minute later. Liu Mei avoided Fang Yuanhang's gaze, and her words were somewhat mumbled and indistinct. "You people know I took lessons elsewhere as well. I just enjoy traditional arts and culture. It was at a good place, the lessons were at a good time, and the cost was reasonable. So I went."
Sha Chun's other students were also brought in for questioning, one by one.
Wang Dan and Liang Xiyue, the youngest ones who didn't have the physical ability to commit the crime, had both been sent to 'Jianjia Bailu' by their mothers; they took whichever classes their mothers decided they would take. Both Wang Dan's mother and Liang Xiyue's mother gave the same reasons for choosing 'Jianjia Bailu'. It seemed like a nice enough establishment, and they had been drawn in by the pamphlets that advertised one of their instructors as a 'star professional guzheng player from the Performing Arts Association'.
He Junchao and He Xiuting, the cousins, were in essentially the same situation as Wang Dan and Liang Xiyue.
The investigation continued. They dug here and there, until Ming Shu finally found an important lead to corroborate his own reasoning.
That lead came from Wen He, who had been out of the country at the time of Sha Chun's death.