Ever since he learned from Yu Dalong that Ming Shu wasn't straight, Fang Yuanhang had developed a radar that felt completely foreign to him. When he wasn't thinking about the case, what he thought about most was—
Just who is my chief's other half?
His chief was so busy all the time. And when Ming Shu got busy with a case, he would eat and sleep at the Bureau. The amount of time he had to spend on dating was sure to be pitifully small.
So Fang Yuanhang figured there was a very good chance that his chief's partner wasn't someone outside the force.
Ming Shu must have found someone at the workplace; he was like a rabbit nibbling the grass outside his own den!
Just now, Xiao Yu'an had called for Ming Shu to 'freeze'. And Ming Shu had squeaked to a stop.
This should have been a normal, ordinary thing. When a superior called for an underling to stop, how could the underling keep running?
If this had happened in the past, Fang Yuanhang wouldn't even have spared them a second glance. But now, his first thought was, Has Chief always been this obedient? This well-behaved?
And that 'freeze' from Director Xiao also sounded a little unusual. It sounded a bit like an order, but also a bit like a joke. And it didn't sound like a genuine command at all. It was almost like… he was teasing Ming Shu?
Fang Yuanhang's chief had also stopped very quickly, and the 'what's up' that he uttered hadn't sounded like something a subordinate would say to their boss at all. It was more like…
Fang Yuanhang slapped his own forehead and thought to himself, No! I can't think like that, I'll really get messed up if I do!
He'd already eliminated Director Xiao from the pool of suspects last time. Director Xiao was such a steadfast and noble person. Could he really be Fang Yuanhang's mentor's wife?
Xiao Yu'an said a few words to Ming Shu, which Fang Yuanhang didn't catch. Ming Shu's voice was a little louder; he said he was in a rush to see Xiao Man. And with that, Xiao Yu'an let him go.
Fang Yuanhang hid behind a corner for ages, then came to a sudden realization—it was like a brand new world had opened before him.
Who said his chief's other half had to be a wife?
Ming Shu, naturally, had no idea that this storm was brewing in the tumultuous sea of his rookie's mind. As soon as he reached the trace investigation department, he hurriedly asked, "Results?"
"It's dog blood," Xiao Man said, placing a blood sample analysis report in front of Ming Shu. "Wu Tong said she killed chickens on that balcony, and Meng Xue confirmed that Wu Tong liked killing chickens out there. But in truth, Wu Tong has also killed a dog on the balcony."
It was already quite suspicious for a girl to enjoy killing chickens.
If it wasn't just chickens… if she'd also killed a dog… then the situation would naturally become much more complex.
Liang Lu had said that Wu Tong was his distant relative, and that she hadn't seen her in many years. The last time they met, Wu Tong had still been a small child. In that case, Wu Tong's personality and experiences would be something that Liang Lu and Liang Lu's parents knew absolutely nothing about.
It was very possible that the current Wu Tong was no longer the Wu Tong who Liang Lu had known.
Xu Chun had taken a few other members of the field work team and rushed out to Hexiang County, where Wu Tong had grown up. They were still on the road, and they'd yet to send back any news.
In the interrogation room, Ming Shu pulled out a chair and took a seat across from Wu Tong. He calmly studied her for a few minutes before he started to speak.
"On the night of August 24th, why did you go to Jiu High? Jiu High isn't situated between your home and 'Jianjia Bailu'. In fact, it's quite a ways away. You told me earlier that, after work, you like to go home to watch dramas and anime, or do laundry and housework. Wu Tong, your behavior on that day was very unusual."
A tablet sitting on the interrogation table played a piece of surveillance footage that had been enhanced and refined. In that clip, Wu Tong was dressed in a different style than usual—her hair was pulled back into a low ponytail; she wore a baseball cap, a black t-shirt, dark blue jeans, and black sneakers; and she carried a dark brown backpack on her back.
The brim of that baseball cap was pulled down very low over Wu Tong's eyes, but it was clear she didn't know there was a surveillance camera near her. Just as she passed the camera, she looked up and furtively glanced left and right. The camera perfectly captured the look of anxiety and alertness on her face.
"When I reviewed the surveillance footage from 'Jianjia Bailu', I noticed you never wore dark colors like this," Ming Shu continued. "And on the 24th, you were wearing a sky blue dress at work. It was very similar to what you were wearing when I first visited 'Jianjia Bailu'. Why is it that, just two hours later, you changed out of your dress and into a dark t-shirt and jeans?"
Ever since the street surveillance footage started to play, Wu Tong's innocent and naive look had completely disappeared from her face.
Slowly, Ming Shu continued, "That backpack of yours. What was in there?"
Wu Tong stared blankly at Ming Shu. "Everyone has their own private life. Why can't I go to Jiu High? Is that the sort of place where idle people can't go?"
"Dropping the act?" Ming Shu suddenly asked.
Wu Tong froze. Her lips parted, and a hint of the bright light of innocence slowly crept back into her eyes.
"I thought you didn't want to act anymore, but it seems you really are a good actor. As soon as I reminded you of your mask, your eyes fell into character again," Ming Shu mused. "Of course you're allowed to go to Jiu High. But what I want to know is why you suddenly changed your clothes before going to Jiu High."
"Do I have to answer that?" Wu Tong didn't seem to be filled with an overabundance of confidence. Her gaze, almost subconsciously, slid towards the tablet again.
It was obvious that she hadn't expected to be caught on camera.
That proved Wu Tong had intentionally tried to evade the public surveillance cameras that day. It was just that she hadn't noticed the camera tucked away in one corner.
"You do," Ming Shu said.
Wu Tong bit her lower lip. A few seconds later, her eyes filled up with tears.
But how could those tears possibly fool Ming Shu?
"Jiu High is the best high school in Dongye City. I… I wanted to go take a look." Wu Tong's voice was very soft, and her words were broken up by the occasional sob. "My family is poor, and I'm not very accomplished. My grades have always been average, so I couldn't keep going to school. I actually… actually really want to go to school."
Just as Fang Yuanhang had been able to tell that Liu Mei had no genuine interest in learning a traditional instrument, Ming Shu could tell that Wu Tong's claim to 'really want to go to school' was a lie.
"After I got to Dongye City, I realized everyone was more educated than me. All the teachers at 'Jianjia Bailu', and all the students who were already working adults… they'd all graduated from college," Wu Tong said with her head hanging low. "People like me… even when it comes to housing, I can only rent a place with girls who work at nail or hair salons."
"You don't think much of your roommates?" Ming Shu asked.
Wu Tong fiercely shook her head. "It's not like I look down on them. I'm the same as them, after all. What right do I have to look down on them? But people always try to climb to greater heights, so of course I aspire to be like people who are well-educated.
"I went to Jiu High because I… I wanted to see what those high achievers were like," Wu Tong moped. "But I didn't dare wear my own clothes. I was afraid that…"
"You have a lot of emotional baggage," Ming Shu said. "You didn't want anyone to recognize you. By going to Jiu High, you could imagine that you were one of those high achievers. You could imagine you belonged among them."
Wu Tong hurriedly nodded. "Yes!"
Ming Shu smiled coldly. "Going along with my story so easily? Wu Tong, according to your own logic, do you think your story checks out?"
Wu Tong was thoroughly baffled.
"Going to Jiu High to 'see the high achievers'? What kind of nonsense is that? Your reactions are quite quick, but your ability to make up a convincing story needs a lot of work," Ming Shu said. "Yu Xiaocheng is one of those high achievers from Jiu High, but you didn't reach out to him at 'Jianjia Bailu'. You went out of your way to visit Jiu High yourself. Does that make sense? Doesn't that exhaust you?"
"He won't do," Wu Tong said.
"Oh? Why?" Ming Shu challenged. "Yu Xiaocheng isn't just a student at Jiu High. He's a humanities student on the advanced track. And you say he 'won't do'?"
"He just works hard, that's all. He doesn't have any natural…" Wu Tong suddenly stopped.
"He doesn't have any natural talent," Ming Shu slowly finished on her behalf. Then, he continued, "You're a receptionist. You work the front desk. Why do you know so much about what Sha Chun discussed with one of her students in their private lessons? Wu Tong, don't you think you know too much?"
Wu Tong held her breath. A cold sweat started to drip down her throat.
"Where are the clothes you wore in this surveillance footage?" Ming Shu asked.
Wu Tong didn't say a word.
"Your destination wasn't Jiu High. It was Yu Xiaocheng's home near Jiu High, correct?" Ming Shu continued.
Still, Wu Tong remained silent.
"You won't talk. Alright," Ming Shu said. "You're very good at acting, but since I've already seen through your act, it's only a matter of time until I find the evidence."
Abruptly, Wu Tong's cheeks spasmed a few times.
"You killed a dog on the balcony of your home?" Ming Shu continued.
Wu Tong firmly fixed her gaze on Ming Shu. She pursed her lips very, very tightly.
"Let's find the evidence first," Ming Shu said. Upon emerging from the interrogation room, he'd instantly called a meeting with the team he'd put together to look into 'Jianjia Bailu'. "There are lots of holes in Wu Tong's story. Right now, the most important thing is finding the evidence of her crime."
The surveillance system at Wu Tong's apartment wasn't exactly robust. Determining her whereabouts on the night of August 23rd was no easy matter.
Her apartment had three bedrooms, and she and her roommates had different work and rest times. Besides the occasional meal that they would cook and eat together, Wu Tong, Xue Meng, and Li Tianyue mostly lived their own lives and went about their own business. When they closed their bedroom doors, it was difficult for one to know whether the other two were home or not.
Meng Xue had a cheerful disposition; she wasn't much of a schemer. Of the three women, she was the one who liked to hang out in the communal living room the most.
"I don't like staying in my room. The window in my bedroom isn't a real window, it leads to the balcony. When the other girls are out there hanging up their laundry, they can see into my room. That makes me uncomfortable, so I prefer staying in the living room," Meng Xue said. "Tongtong doesn't spend much time in the living room. When I get home from my evening shift, she's basically always holed up in her own bedroom."
"I don't see much of her at all," Li Tianyue answered upon being asked about Wu Tong. Her face was rather mean, and her tone was extremely cold as well. "You guys are asking the wrong person. I don't know anything about what she does when she's out, and I don't care."
Ming Shu studied Li Tianyue for a while, then asked, "Are you the same as Meng Xue? You usually work night shifts?"
"Aren't you investigating Wu Tong?" Li Tianyue retorted. "Why are you asking about me?"
"Because your answer could very well become the foundation of my investigation," Ming Shu stated sincerely. His tone and expression were both earnest.
A hint of surprise surfaced on Li Tianyue's cold face.
Because of her mean-looking face, Li Tianyue didn't have the easiest time in the service industry. She had to work much harder than many other people, and despite her hard work, many customers would refuse to be serviced by her simply because she 'didn't look like a nice person'.
After being given the cold shoulder so many times, Li Tianyue grew numb to that sort of treatment. She could hardly remember a time when someone would look her directly in the eye, and it was even rarer for someone to look at her as earnestly as Ming Shu was looking at her now. No one had ever spoken to her so sincerely or told her that her words could have so much weight in something like a police investigation.
"Did Wu Tong ever do anything that you found unusual?" Ming Shu asked. "Rather, let me phrase that a different way—did any of her actions ever concern you?"
"She…" Li Tianyue furrowed her brow. "She liked to kill chickens."
Ming Shu nodded encouragingly. "It is indeed out of the ordinary for a girl her age to enjoy killing chickens."
Hearing that, Li Tianyue shook her head. "No, it's not just that. She goes into this… state when she kills them. It's a little frightening."
"Frightening in what way?"
"She seems to get really worked up, really excited." Li Tianyue lifted both her hands as she spoke, as though to imitate Wu Tong's actions. "I'm from a farming village too, I've killed a lot of chickens, ducks, and fish. I've seen my parents kill them too. I feel like the way you butcher a chicken, normally… isn't the way she did it at all."
"What was different about her method?" Ming Shu asked.
Li Tianyue drew in a sharp breath. A darker look passed over her mean face. "I felt like she was killing them for fun. Not just butchering them as a chore."
"Have you guys ever raised a dog?" Ming Shu continued.
Li Tianyue shook her head.
They'd never had a dog in the house, but there was a spatter of dog blood on the balcony.
Killing chickens for pleasure. Not as a chore.
Ming Shu had already come to understand Wu Tong's actions.
Wu Tong's innocence was a mask; underneath, she was a fierce and violent person. She killed chickens, she killed dogs. Perhaps that was to satisfy her desire to kill. Or perhaps it was simply practice before the real deal.
"I'm going to ask you a key question now. Please think back carefully," Ming Shu said. "On August 23rd, were you at work or did you have a day off?"
Li Tianyue thought for a long while. "I need to take a look at my phone. I have notes on my schedule there."
Ming Shu gave her time to check.
"I was at work. The night shift," Li Tianyue answered after looking through her notes. "I was off the next day."
"What time do you usually get home after the night shift?" Ming Shu asked.
"Around two in the morning," Li Tianyue said.
"Was Wu Tong at home?"
Li Tianyue suddenly furrowed her brow. "Let me think some more."
Ming Shu crossed his arms and patiently waited for Li Tianyue's answer.
"Here's the thing. You asked me earlier if I found anything concerning about Wu Tong's behavior. When we started talking about killing chickens, I forgot something," Li Tianyue started, after a long moment. "Wu Tong works a day shift, but she goes to sleep really late at night. Whenever I get home late at night, I see light coming out from the crack between her bedroom door and the floor."
Li Tianyue paused again, then continued, "On August 23rd, there was no light coming out from under her door."
Ming Shu leaned forward with interest. "Why do you remember that so clearly?"
"Because a customer gave me a hard time that day, and my manager berated me afterwards too," Li Tianyue said, meeting Ming Shu's gaze. "After I got home, I couldn't fall asleep at all. I started drinking alone in the living room. Originally, I was a bit afraid Wu Tong would suddenly come out of her room and see me in that state. But then I noticed the light from under her door was off."
No light. That could only mean one of two things—
Wu Tong hadn't been home that night, or Wu Tong had fallen asleep.
Li Tianyue had the answer to that. According to her, Wu Tong hadn't been home; she didn't return until early in the morning on the 24th.
"Are you absolutely certain she didn't return until the morning?" Ming Shu asked.
"I'm sure, because I didn't go back to my room that day," Li Tianyue said. "I fell asleep on the couch. I heard the front door in the morning and saw her walk in, wearing some really dark clothes."
"She walked in right in front of you, just like that?" Ming Shu asked. "Did you guys say anything to each other?"
"She didn't know I was awake," Li Tianyue said. "I only glanced at her."
Ming Shu immediately pulled up the surveillance footage from around Jiu High. "Was this what she was wearing?"
Li Tianyue watched it for a while. "I don't know?"
"I didn't get a really clear look. I just glanced over when she entered the room. I could see that her clothes were dark-toned, but I didn't see exactly what she was wearing."
"If Li Tianyue had been lying, she most likely would have said that the outfit in the surveillance footage was the outfit Wu Tong had been wearing that day," Ming Shu said. "With the way things are now, we can consider Li Tianyue a key witness. But we still don't have enough evidence."
"We couldn't find those clothes or the backpack Wu Tong was carrying near Jiu High when we searched her apartment. She must have thrown it all away with her murder weapon," Xiao Man said. "I just came back from visiting the tech investigators. Zhou Yuan told me to tell you that he's already retrieved all the data from Wu Tong's cell phone.
"Wu Tong didn't watch dramas and cartoons. She watched violent, bloody videos. Her search history proves that she did tons of research into how to kill someone and hide the body. Captain Ming, Wu Tong is the killer. There's no way for her to escape now."
Just as the atmosphere was growing heavier, someone shouted from outside, "Serious Crimes Division, your takeout is here!"
Ming Shu drew himself out of his thoughts and instantly called out to the room, "Someone go downstairs and pick up the takeout."
Xiao Man perked up, curious. "Little Ming is treating us? What is it this time?"
Ming Shu slapped Xiao Man on the back. "Who said you could call me 'Little Ming'?"
"Lu Yanzhou can call you that, Captain Yi can call you that, but I can't?" Xiao Man complained. "Are you looking down on the trace evidence team?"
"Cut your crap!" Ming Shu shooed him towards the stairs. "Go pick up the milk tea. First come, first serve. Stragglers don't get any."
"Milk tea, huh?" Xiao Man was satisfied by that answer. He'd been mired in the case for so long; he was just thinking of grabbing something to recharge. He hurriedly jogged downstairs, but only succeeded in claiming a cup of strawberry peach tea.
Upon running back upstairs, Xiao Man demanded, "What the hell? Didn't you say we were getting milk tea?"
"Isn't that milk tea?" Ming Shu asked.
"Where's the boba? Why are there strawberries and peach bits?"
Ming Shu waved a hand dismissively. "It's all the same."
"How can you call this milk tea when there's no boba?" Xiao Man complained with a disgusted look on his face. "And it's all… pink."
"As long as it tastes good, it's fine." Ming Shu genuinely thought the strawberry peach tea was pretty tasty. He'd gotten a cup for himself while investigating Wu Tong at 'Hua Rong', and he'd gotten hooked after that first taste. He'd spent quite a lot of his own money to get an order for his team, and these guys didn't even appreciate it.
Xiao Man loved boba milk tea. He just couldn't get used to this sort of fruity tea, but there were others who did appreciate it.
Others like Fang Yuanhang.
Upon hearing his chief had ordered milk tea, Fang Yuanhang rushed over just in time to see Ming Shu sipping from a cup of strawberry peach tea.
Fang Yuanhang stared.
Liking strawberry peach tea…
That confirmed it! He really was gay!
Ming Shu called Fang Yuanhang over and praised him for his recent work, then asked him a few questions about the Chu Can case.
"Don't worry, Director Xiao is keeping a close eye on that case," Fang Yuanhang reassured. "We'll definitely bring the truth to light!"
"Don't get carried away," Ming Shu warned. He was still thinking about the woman who Xu Yin had spoken of. "You have to confirm how many victims Chu Can has claimed. Since we've already confirmed he has that kind of perversion, we have to be aware that Zhou Xi might not be his only victim."
Fang Yuanhang nodded. "I know!"
"Go on, then." Ming Shu huffed a laugh. "I still can't tear myself away from this investigation to help you out. I can only send you off with a cup of milk tea."
It would have been one thing if Ming Shu hadn't brought up the milk tea. But now Fang Yuanhang's eyelids twitched, and he blurted out, "Ai, Chief…"
"Hm?" Ming Shu lifted his head. "You need something else?"
"I just want to have a little heart-to-heart with you," Fang Yuanhang said. But he quickly added, "Not now, though."
Ming Shu obviously knew what his own rookie was like. Fang Yuanhang spoke of this like it was an incredibly serious matter, but Ming Shu could tell right away that a blatant thirst for gossip was written all over Fang Yuanhang's face.
He laughed and swore, "Get the hell out of here and go focus on your case. If you've got wounds on your heart, go talk to Lin Jiao."
Fang Yuanhang grabbed a cup of strawberry peach tea and beat a hasty retreat. Ming Shu settled back into thinking about the case, quietly mulling over the details before hitting a snag—
He realized he'd only heard from Xiao Man earlier. Not Zhou Yuan.
Zhou Yuan was an introvert, and he usually spoke very little. But when he made some discoveries in a case, he would always personally report them to Ming Shu.
Why had Xiao Man been the one to bring the news this time?
That wasn't normal.
Many of the officers in the Serious Crimes Division complained that they didn't want to drink anything that was so sweet and pink, but their bodies told the truth. All the drinks were claimed within a matter of minutes. Luckily, not everyone was in the office at the same time. Otherwise there wouldn't have been enough to go around.
Ming Shu picked up the last cup and made his way over to the technical investigation team's offices.
Zhou Yuan was sitting in front of his computer, but his hands weren't on the keyboard.
His shoulders were slightly hunched, and his hands lay on his legs. His bloodshot eyes were still fixed on the monitor which showed string after string of indecipherable code. From behind, he looked extremely thin and frail.
People often associated that sort of frailty with helplessness, and pitifulness.
Ming Shu stood behind Zhou Yuan for a while. Zhou Yuan didn't notice him at all.
Although technical investigators primarily worked on technical aspects of a case, they were still criminal detectives. They couldn't be lacking when it came to awareness of their surroundings.
Something was clearly weighing on Zhou Yuan's heart.
Ming Shu cleared his throat and set the strawberry peach tea down on the desk.
Zhou Yuan jolted with shock, instantly leaping out of his seat. "Ming… Captain Ming."
Ming Shu met Zhou Yuan's gaze and more or less understood what was happening here.
Fang Yuanhang had told Ming Shu a while ago that Little Zhou-laoshi had been influenced by Yu Xiaocheng's situation. He'd been in a bit of a poor mood since then.
Zhou Yuan was an extremely diligent person. It was plain as day that he had been a very hard-working child.
The sort of reasoning that Yu Xiaocheng and Sha Chun had been mired in was especially prone to influencing diligent people who lacked natural talent.
Ming Shu had never considered Zhou Yuan to be someone who lacked natural talent. No one who worked for the Serious Crimes Division could be considered average. Zhou Yuan and the other members of the technical investigation team had had a hand in every single important case the Serious Crimes Division had solved in recent years.
But Zhou Yuan had high expectations for himself. He was never satisfied. He considered himself inadequate in many regards.
That was normal, too.
Zhou Yuan was gifted, but he wasn't a genius. Ming Shu had seen real geniuses who worked in technical investigation—such as Liu Zhiqin from the Bureau in Luocheng. If one were to compare Zhou Yuan to Liu Zhiqin, then Zhou Yuan would certainly appear to be an ordinary person.
Recently, cases had been coming at them nonstop. The pressure on Zhou Yuan was extremely intense. That pressure, combined with Yu Xiaocheng's influence, had thrown Zhou Yuan into this sudden depressive state.
Once he understood the reason, Ming Shu patted Zhou Yuan's shoulder and said, "You're seriously awesome, my little Zhou'er."
Zhou Yuan froze. "Wh… what?"
"Wu Tong appearing in the vicinity of Jiu High on the 24th. That's a vital piece of evidence that you found," Ming Shu said. "Isn't that awesome?"
"That's nothing," Zhou Yuan muttered. "The surveillance footage was right there. It just took me some time to look through it all. With enough time, anyone could have found it. It's not like I did any…"
"That's your valuable contribution," Ming Shu interrupted sternly. "What, you think only big breaks made through strokes of genius count as contributions? You think contributions made through hard work and diligence don't matter?"
Zhou Yuan's eyes wavered slightly. "I…"
"You're already extremely impressive. Don't put too much pressure on yourself," Ming Shu said. "You were also the one who recovered all that data that had been deleted from Wu Tong's phone. And yet you had Xiao Man tell me?"
Zhou Yuan lowered his gaze. "That's all I'm capable of."
"That's already enough," Ming Shu said. "Of course, if you could do more, I certainly wouldn't stop you."
"Liu Zhiqin from Luocheng…" Zhou Yuan trailed off. Technical departments from various agencies often worked together, and the Bureau in Dongye City had worked many cases with the Bureau in Luocheng. It was only natural that Zhou Yuan knew Liu Zhiqin.
"Don't bring him up!" Ming Shu ordered. "He used to mess with me in special ops."
Zhou Yuan didn't believe that for a second.
"That internet security course he taught was my worst subject," Ming Shu continued. Taking Zhou Yuan's mood into consideration, he spilled a bit about his own beef with Liu Zhiqin. "Compared to Liu Zhiqin, I like our Little Zhou-laoshi a lot more."
Zhou Yuan finally let out a smile.
"Don't dwell on it too much," Ming Shu said. "People… you know, the more a person thinks they can't do something, the more that way of thinking pervades their life. As the captain of the Serious Crimes Division, I'm telling you that you're an outstanding member of my team. If you deny your own talents, you're denying my judgment as your captain at the same time."
Zhou Yuan took a deep breath and nodded. "I understand."
"Get back to work," Ming Shu said. "If you find anything else, don't send Xiao Man to tell me. Tell me yourself. Got it?"
Upon emerging from Zhou Yuan's office, Ming Shu received a call from Xu Chun.
"Captain Ming, we learned something from the people of Wancui Village. The real Wu Tong is already dead!"