By the time Wu Tong emerged from the bedroom, she had already changed into a cotton t-shirt and a pair of trousers that she wore at home. Ming Shu straightened up just as he heard Meng Xue say, "Tontong, you haven't showered yet! Didn't you tell us we shouldn't ever change into our home clothes before showering?"
Ming Shu returned to the living room and looked at Wu Tong with immense interest.
"That wasn't me, Li Tianyue said that. You're just misremembering," Wu Tong claimed. She threw a cushion at Meng Xue.
"Really?" Meng Xue caught and hugged the cushion. "Could I really be remembering wrong?"
"Of course you are." Wu Tong glanced towards Ming Shu. "I'm not that finicky."
Ming Shu crossed the room and made his way over to Wu Tong's bedroom door. He didn't enter right away, but he did notice the little rectangular rug by the door.
Wu Tong hurried over to his side and cocked her head curiously. Her long and wavy hair hung over her chest. "Go ahead and ask me whatever you want to ask, I guess. But I already told you before, I was just a receptionist at 'Jianjia Bailu'. I didn't really know much about anything."
Meng Xue gave the two of them a suspicious look. She must have felt that something was iffy about the whole situation, because she ultimately picked up her phone and retreated to her own room, locking the door.
Ming Shu returned to the couch and took a seat. "Do you usually come straight home after work?"
"Mm." Wu Tong nodded. "I didn't work a regular nine-to-five job at 'Jianjia Bailu'. Shi-zong's assistant and I would alternate shifts, and I always got the early shift. After work, I wouldn't really have anywhere to go, so I would just go home."
"And them?" Ming Shu asked.
Wu Tong didn't quite understand. "Which 'them'? The teachers at 'Jianjia Bailu'?"
"Your two roommates," Ming Shu clarified.
"Oh, they wouldn't necessarily be home. We're all in the service industry, so we all work different shifts. But the two of them are usually pretty busy in the evenings. On weekdays, manicure and hair salons are both really busy at night."
"Which is to say, you're often the only one at home at night?" Ming Shu asked.
Wu Tong blinked and hesitated for a few seconds. "Yes, that's right. Does that have something to do with your investigation?"
Ming Shu smiled, but he didn't offer an explanation before he continued, "You were the receptionist. Did you ever notice Sha Chun getting especially close to anyone?"
"Let me think about that." Wu Tong lifted her gaze to the ceiling and pursed her lips. "Liu Mei, I guess. Sha Chun was always leaving with Liu Mei."
"What about men?"
"Men? Then… just Ling Xuzhi, I guess. Mr. Wen was also pretty good to her."
Ming Shu's voice rose with interest. "You're sure?"
Wu Tong tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "I'm sure, yeah."
"What about Wu Zhen?" Ming Shu asked. "Sha Chun wasn't on good terms with Wu Zhen?"
"I don't remember that far back," Wu Tong answered with a blank look on her face.
"Ah, that's right," Ming Shu continued. "There was also Yu Xiaocheng."
"Hm… I didn't ever see Sha Chun and Yu Xiaocheng together all that much," Wu Tong said.
Sha Chun had been Wu Zhen's 'target', and Yu Xiaocheng had been Sha Chun's 'target'. They must have interacted quite a lot at 'Jianjia Bailu', and yet in Wu Tong's eyes, the ones who were closest to Sha Chun were Ling Xuzhi and Wen He.
Wu Tong must have been hiding something.
Ming Shu skimmed through all the clues in his mind, then abruptly changed the subject. "What do you usually do after you get home?"
"I watch dramas and anime, and I play video games," Wu Tong said. "Or I might do some chores, like the laundry and stuff."
Suddenly, Ming Shu changed the subject once again. "Were you on good terms with Sha Chun?"
Wu Tong's pupils constricted. "I was on pretty good terms with all the teachers."
"Because I have to communicate their schedules to them, of course." Wu Tong took the initiative now to take out her cell phone and open her chat logs with Sha Chun. "Sometimes, there would be changes to their schedules. I would be the one responsible for notifying them."
Ming Shu took her phone when she offered it to him. He skimmed through the logs and saw that all the chat records were quite mundane. Everything was about work.
Sha Chun's responses were always rather curt and concise, while Wu Tong peppered her side of the conversation with plenty of reaction memes.
Ming Shu handed the phone back to Wu Tong. "What kind of dramas and anime do you watch?"
Wu Tong's expression gradually took on a hint of aggrievement. "Sir, do you consider me a suspect?"
Ming Shu didn't bother denying it. "Everyone with a connection to 'Jianjia Bailu' is a potential suspect."
Wu Tong looked even more aggrieved at that. She lowered her head a little and lightly clasped her hands together. "But… but you're suspecting the wrong person. I'm just a girl. How could I do something like this?"
Ming Shu stood up and called Xiao Man. Right in front of Wu Tong, he asked the trace evidence analysis team to come out to his location with their reconnaissance gear.
Wu Tong stared at Ming Shu in shock, as though she couldn't understand why this sudden turn had come about.
"Are you scared?" Ming Shu asked.
Wu Tong instantly shook her head upon hearing those words. But, after a moment, she seemed to change her mind and nodded timidly. "What exactly are you trying to do?"
When Xiao Man and another member of the trace evidence team arrived, Meng Xue cracked open her bedroom door and stuck her head out.
Xiao Man was thoroughly confused when he saw Wu Tong. Turning to Ming Shu, he asked, "Captain Ming, what's going on here?"
Ming Shu walked back out to the balcony and jerked his chin at the inconspicuous bloodstain on the wall. "Take a sample and bring it back. Find out what it is."
Wu Tong stood by the coffee table. Her eyes suddenly grew darkly fierce.
"You guys…" It was Meng Xue who walked out to join them. "What are you guys doing here?"
Ming Shu looked back at Wu Tong once more. By then, Wu Tong's expression had already returned to 'normal'. It was like she'd been a different person just a second ago.
"Do you know what this is?" Ming Shu asked Meng Xue.
The walls of the old building weren't anything close to white. They had browned with age, and the bloodstain wasn't very large. The stain was located rather low on the wall as well; ordinary people wouldn't be likely to notice it. And based on the color alone, it didn't necessarily resemble a bloodstain. It could have been taken for a patch of mold.
Ming Shu was only eighty percent certain that it was blood because of the pattern of the spray.
Meng Xue studied the stain for a long while before shaking her head with obvious confusion. "Dunno."
When it came to trace evidence analysis, Xiao Man was much more experienced than Ming Shu. He instantly confirmed, "It's definitely blood. But we can't yet determine what kind of blood it is."
That was enough to scare Meng Xue out of her wits. Ming Shu heard her draw in a sharp breath.
But before long, Meng Xue slapped a hand to her chest and exclaimed, "That nearly scared me to death! Tongtong, why didn't you clean up properly after you killed that chicken?"
"Chicken?" Ming Shu turned back to look at Wu Tong again.
Wu Tong walked over to Meng Xue and said, "I worked hard to butcher the chicken. Shouldn't you guys take care of the clean-up? And you're blaming me…"
Her aggrievement had returned. Ming Shu gave her a cursory glance before he asked, "You guys butcher your own chickens here?"
"Tongtong is the one that kills them," Meng Xue said. "Me and Tianyue can't do it, but Tongtong can."
Wu Tong smiled awkwardly.
Since finding her at 'Hua Rong' earlier that afternoon, Ming Shu had noticed many subtle changes in Wu Tong's expression. They were such small changes that most people might not have noticed them, but Ming Shu took stock of each and every one in his mind.
Wu Tong's mask of foolish and naive innocence was starting to fall apart.
"I wouldn't have been able to tell just by looking at you," Ming Shu said. "You know how to butcher chickens?"
"I'm not a city person like you guys," Wu Tong said. "I come from a little county, out in the country. Back home, we all butchered our own chickens and ducks."
"Supermarkets and grocery stores offer butchery services, free of charge," Ming Shu said. "Why do you bring them home to kill them yourself?"
Wu Tong's reactions were becoming more and more unnatural. "I… I'm just used to it."
"Right," Meng Xue chimed in from next to her. "Tongtong really likes to butcher chickens, anyway."
Xiao Man lifted his head. "She likes to?"
A sweet and naive girl like that… enjoyed killing chickens?
That was just a little too bizarre. Even a trace evidence investigator who wasn't too perceptive of the finer details of an investigation could sense that something about this was out of the ordinary.
At that moment, Ming Shu's cell phone started to ring.
"Captain Ming, per your instructions, I've loaded up the private and public surveillance footage from around Jiu High on August 24th," Zhou Yuan said. "One of the cameras caught sight of Wu Tong at 8:03 PM."
Ming Shu hung up and turned to Wu Tong. "Let's pay a visit to the Bureau."
The apartment at Baixuan Guiyuan was one of the properties Chu Can owned.
Although he was the flesh and blood son of the head of the Chu Group, Chu Can didn't live in the lap of luxury as many might have imagined. His deceased mother, Qi Can, had been a nurse at a private hospital. She had been a beautiful woman, and Chu Linxiong—who had a taste for maidenly women—had set his sights on her. She soon became pregnant with Chu Can.
Qi Can had been smart and beautiful, and she'd known all about being discreet about private matters. She thought that, one day, she would be able to join the esteemed Chu family. Even if that wasn't possible, she thought she would at least be able to get her son Chu Can acknowledged by that side of the family. Binding Chu Linxiong to herself was one of the reasons she'd named her son Chu Can.
However, Chu Linxiong didn't see her as anything important at all. He gave her two houses and a credit card to spend as she pleased, then set out in search of his next maiden.
Chu Can grew up without ever experiencing a shred of paternal love, and his mother was constantly in a gloomy state. Compared to his peers, he grew up without much affection at all. Of course, he was raised in a much more lavish environment than ordinary people, and he received an excellent education as well. But his personality and character became more and more twisted as he aged.
Some years ago, Qi Can became increasingly depressed. All the houses and cars that Chu Linxiong had given her fell into Chu Can's hands. The apartment at Baixuan Guiyuan was one such residence.
That little neighborhood had already been considered old and rundown for a long time; truly wealthy people no longer lived there. Chu Can scorned that place. He only visited for a night or a few nights when he wanted to mess around with Liu Mei. Once he was done with her, he would immediately leave without any care for whether she lived or died.
In Chu Can's eyes, Liu Mei was just an idiot. She was terrified of the Chu family's power, and she would let Chu Can do whatever he pleased.
Chu Can wasn't the slightest bit afraid that Liu Mei would go to the police. That woman had already been thoroughly broken down by him. She was more like a dog than any real dog.
After toying with Liu Mei for a few days, Chu Can remembered that the day after tomorrow would be his older brother Chu Qing's birthday. He decided to call in a few of his 'advisors' to help him come up with an idea of what to give as a gift.
These so-called 'advisors' were actually just other illegitimate children like Chu Can. None of them had proper jobs. They all relied on the Chu family to support them. Their status would never rise much, but it wouldn't fall very far either. They all lived freely, like a swarm of plump maggots that had been hand-fed their whole lives.
Chu Can genuinely hated Chu Linxiong's other sons, but he also genuinely wanted to curry favor with his older brothers. In recent years, Chu Linxiong's four legitimate sons had been fighting fiercely over their place in the family. Chu Qing was the one who was rising above the others, and Chu Can had long since allied himself with Chu Qing. Now that Chu Qing was having a birthday, Chu Can would naturally have to put some real thought into how to pay his respects.
But after arranging a meeting with his 'advisors', Chu Can barely made it out the door before he was stopped by Nan District's police, in the parking garage of his own home.
"Do you know who I am?" Chu Can demanded. In his earlier years, he'd dabbled in street racing and illegal drugs. More recently, he'd added wrongful imprisonment and murder to his list of crimes. And he could act with impunity, all because he stood in the shadow of Chu Qing's tree. He knew that Chu Qing could easily solve all his problems, or simply have them swept under the rug.
When facing the police, Chu Can had always taken a high and mighty attitude.
"We know." Fang Yuanhang stepped out of a police car and immediately flashed his badge. "Chu Can, son of the entrepreneur Chu Linxiong."
Chu Can's pupils shrank. His arrogant attitude didn't waver. "If you know, then fuck off!"
In terms of physique alone, Chu Can was more or less on par with the police standing before him. Before his obnoxious words even fully fell, he lifted his right hand and tried to push away this young detective standing in front of him.
But Fang Yuanhang certainly wasn't anything like the police Chu Can had dealt with in the past.
As soon as Chu Can lifted a hand, Fang Yuanhang lashed out with an elbow. In the ensuing instant, he wrenched Chu Can's hands together and swiftly slapped a pair of handcuffs on his wrists.
"The fuck you think you're doing!" Chu Can bellowed. He'd never been treated in such a way before. "Fang Yuanhang, yeah? You don't want your fucking job anymore? You'd dare go after me? You know my brother is…"
"Shut up!" Fang Yuanhang marched Chu Can over to the police car. "I don't care who you are, and I don't care who your brother is. You've been implicated in a missing person case. It's my responsibility to investigate you!"
Chu Can was rendered speechless by those enraged words. He sat dumbly in the police car for a few seconds. By then, Fang Yuanhang had already slammed the door shut with a bang.
Two police cars pulled out from that parking lot. When they passed Nan District's police precinct, they didn't show signs of stopping at all.
The case of Zhou Xi's disappearance was being handled by Nan District. Although the Serious Crimes Division had discovered a new lead in the case, it should have been investigated by the precinct in Nan District. Liu Mei had already been transferred to the station in Nan District as well.
But Fang Yuanhang wasn't willing to hand over the case.
That wasn't because he wanted to claim the case for himself. It was simply because the Chu Group's roots ran too deep in Dongye City. If Zhou Xi could disappear without a single trace, that meant someone was definitely pulling the strings behind the scenes. If the case went to the precinct in Nan District, then it would only reach a satisfying conclusion if the Chu Group decided to give up on their illegitimate son Chu Can. But if they decided to protect Chu Can, then an immense pressure would inevitably fall upon the police in Nan District.
The entanglement of interests between the police and the rich, powerful families of Dongye City was hard to decipher. Fang Yuanhang feared this case would evolve in unpredictable ways if it were to leave the hands of the Serious Crimes Division.
Chu Can was arrogant because he knew he had the power to back up his arrogance. Regardless of the legitimacy of his birth, his surname was still Chu.
Before setting out to apprehend Chu Can, Fang Yuanhang had been about to ask Ming Shu for advice on how to handle the case. That was when Xiao Yu'an appeared before him at the Serious Crimes Division's offices. Xiao Yu'an straightforwardly told him that this case was not to be transferred to Nan District; the Criminal Investigation Bureau would handle it personally.
Fang Yuanhang's confidence had instantly gotten a boost.
Chu Can only remained silent and docile in the back of the police car for a short while. He spent the rest of the ride alternatingly declaring that he was Chu Linxiong's son and spewing abuse at the officers in the car. If they weren't in the middle of official business, Fang Yuanhang would have wanted to throw Chu Can onto the ground and drag his face through the gravel.
"I want to call my brother!" Chu Can demanded. "You guys won't show me the respect I deserve? Fine! But you wouldn't dare disrespect Little Chu-zong, would you?"
"I don't know anything Little Chu-zong," Fang Yuanhang answered dismissively. He shot Chu Can a scathing look. "And you stop spewing shit about 'respect' and the Chu family! Do you think the Serious Crimes Division of the Criminal Investigation Bureau is a place where we act on 'feelings'? Huh?
"Let me tell you something, Chu Can. You ran into me, Fang Yuanhang, today. That means you'll definitely have to pay the price for your crimes! I'll fucking see this through to the end if it's the last thing I do!"
The other detectives in that car were all older officers from Nan District who'd investigated no small number of homicide cases. Upon hearing the suspect was a member of the Chu family this time, they all felt a little uneasy. But after seeing the harsh and unrelenting resolve of the Serious Crimes Division, they all let out a breath of relief.
Once the police cars arrived at the Bureau, Chu Can was instantly transferred into one of the Serious Crimes Division's interrogation rooms.
Liu Mei was the key witness in this case, and her injuries had been inflicted by Chu Can. The audio and video recording of her testimony all but proved that Chu Can was Zhou Xi's murderer.
Chu Can had never imagined that his own 'dog' would bite him. He sat in the interrogation room, paralyzed for a long moment. He was shocked speechless. It was only after a moment of silence that he roared, "She framed me! This is entrapment! She was the one who brought Zhou Xi to me! She's the guilty one! I suffer from clinical depression, I can't control my own actions! I don't even know what happened back then!"
"Clinical depression?" The person sitting across from Chu Can was Xiao Yu'an. "Who told you that clinical depression is an excuse for murder?"
When he faced Fang Yuanhang, Chu Can had still been able to muster up the guts to snap back at him. But now he was facing the cold and indomitable Xiao Yu'an, whose calm and severe gaze was steadily fixed on him. In Xiao Yu'an's presence, Chu Can suddenly felt thoroughly shaken up.
Chu Can had been born into the power and influence of the Chu family. No matter how stupid he was, he had the ability to tell who truly held power and authority in their hands.
A cold sweat had broken out across his forehead. His throat bobbed a few times. For the very first time, he began to fear that his big brother might not come to his rescue after all.
"Who is Dr. Luo?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
"Dr. Luo…" Chu Can didn't dare meet Xiao Yu'an's gaze. He lowered his eyes to the table, and his eyes darted shiftily from side to side. "He's my therapist."
"Luo Yi of the Jiulin Psychology Center?" Xiao Yu'an prompted.
Chu Can nodded fiercely. "Yes, yes! Luo Yi, exactly! I really do have a sickness, Dr. Luo can prove it. When I hurt Zhou Xi, I was in a state where I couldn't control my own actions! I'm innocent, really. If Liu Mei hadn't brought that person to me, if she hadn't compelled me to commit a crime, I wouldn't… how could I have hurt an innocent girl?!"
"Dr. Luo once made you a promise," Xiao Yu'an continued. "He promised to verify your mental illness if you were detained for a crime?"
"Yes!" Chu Can stated, his expression becoming alert and guarded.
"Then you were deceived by him," Xiao Yu'an said with a smile. "He doesn't have the authority to 'verify' something like that for you."
Chu Can choked on a breath. "Im… impossible!"
"Whether or not it's impossible is something you'll soon learn," Xiao Yu'an said. "I heard from my team members that you asked to contact your brother?"
"My team members are too young, they don't understand these things. They don't know who your brother is. I'll help you contact him."
Xiao Yu'an's demeanor was as calm as a clear spring day, but Chu Can was much more tense now than he'd been when facing Fang Yuanhang. He stammered and stuttered for a long while before finally managing to spit out Chu Qing's name.
Chu Qing and his secretary, Shui Xun, arrived at the Bureau together.
Compared to his half-brother Chu Can, Chu Qing seemed much more dignified and composed. He didn't show any hint of wanting to use his status to pressure the police. He was extremely polite and well-mannered as he apologized for his family member's behavior. He made it perfectly clear that Chu Can was a member of the Chu family, but if Chu Can had truly committed some crime, the Chu Group would have no intentions of shielding him from the police's official investigation.
"Chu Can planned on going to Chu Qing for support, but Chu Qing has already decided to cut Chu Can out of the family?" Fang Yuanhang couldn't do anything to hide his surprise. Right up until Chu Qing arrived at the Bureau, Fang Yuanhang had assumed that this would turn into a fierce battle.
But once he gave it some more thought, he realized that Chu Qing giving up on Chu Can was the inevitable outcome.
This case was already in the hands of the Serious Crimes Division, and Xiao Yu'an had ordered a rigorous investigation into the matter. There was no reason for the Chu family to go out of their way to cover for an illegitimate son.
In a business empire like the Chu Group, there were countless hidden secrets that couldn't be allowed to see the light of day. Families like the Chu family loathed nothing more than being probed. If this investigation into Chu Can persisted for a long time, a light would inevitably shine down on the family's dark secrets.
Fang Yuanhang scratched at his own head.
Although he was young and hot-blooded, he wasn't completely oblivious as to the realities of the world. The Serious Crimes Division currently needed to focus on Sha Chun's case and Wu Zhen's case. Even if there was shady business going on in the Chu family, the Serious Crimes Division couldn't investigate it at that moment.
Upon learning of Chu Qing's intent to abandon him, Chu Can fell into a silent stupor at first. Then he slapped the interrogation table and burst out laughing. "Everyone has abandoned me, is that right? Everyone wants me to die, right? Alright, it's true! I killed Zhou Xi. But if Chu Qing hadn't lent me a hand, how could I have disposed of Zhou Xi's body?!"
"What did you people do?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
These words seemed ordinary enough, but they certainly weren't ordinary when they fell upon Chu Can's ears—Xiao Yu'an had specifically asked about 'you people', and not just 'you'.
That suddenly gave Chu Can a burst of confidence.
"That's right, it was us!" Chu Can declared, growing more and more energetic. "It was Chu Qing's secretary who helped me get rid of the body! We burned it up at a manufacturing plant on the outskirts of the city!"
The field work team instantly rushed out to that manufacturing plant to investigate. Meanwhile, the secretary Shui Xun was questioned.
"I've never had any personal contact with Young Master Chu Can," Shui Xun denied calmly. "I don't know what manufacturing plant he's referring to either. You'll see once you investigate."
Chu Can was like a caged animal now, wildly biting and snapping at everyone. Not only did he try to implicate Chu Qing and Shui Xun, he lashed out at Luo Yi as well. "Luo Yi isn't some innocent saint either! He isn't a good guy!"
Xiao Yu'an was especially interested in this subject. "Why do you believe he's a bad person?"
"I've known since a long time ago that he only got close to me because he wanted to get in with the Chu Group!" Chu Can laughed maniacally. "How could he have known that I was just an 'expendable object'? Hahaha, serves him right!"
When Xiao Yu'an emerged from the interrogation room, he just so happened to see Ming Shu sprinting down the hall.
"Freeze," Xiao Yu'an called out.
Ming Shu hastily hit the brakes. His shoes even squeaked on the ground as he drew to a halt. "Director Xiao, what's up?"
Fang Yuanhang had just come down the stairs at that moment. He spotted the two of them from afar and mused to himself, "Hm?"