Wu Tong confessed to the crime and described her process. Her motives were more or less what Ming Shu had predicted, but there were some differences in the details.
Wu Tong didn't remember much from her life before she was abducted at the age of four. She only remembered that her original name had been Xiao Chun, and that her parents had been named Xiao Hu and Long Lianglian. Her original home had been a little village in the northeast, called Hongning Village.
The years when the real Wu Tong had been alive were the worst years of Xiao Chun's life. Xiao Chun was chained up outside and fed along with the family's pigs and dogs. Whenever Wu Tong fell ill, Xiao Chun would be hung upside down and tortured.
Whenever she gazed at Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia from that upside down world, she would feel as though she could see a vile, distorted light of hatred emanating from their teary eyes.
More than once, she thought of the day she would be able to kill Wu Tong. After that, she would kill Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia, and the fortune teller as well.
These people were all worse than pigs and dogs. They all deserved to go to hell.
But Xiao Chun had been too little. Her arms and legs and even throat were all chained. She was incapable of carrying out her revenge.
Before she could grow up, the real Wu Tong died.
Wu Shoulian and his wife were heartbroken. Xiao Chun once heard Wang Aixia say that her daughter was dead, so there was no point in keeping a 'shadow' any longer. Wang Aixia said that it would be better to have that shadow 'go down' to be with Tongtong.
Xiao Chun didn't want to die. She would have done anything in her power to escape. In the end, it was the fortune teller—who'd inflicted this life of suffering upon her—who saved her life, by saying she and Wu Tong now shared 'one soul'.
In that instant, Xiao Chun became Wu Tong.
Because she shared 'one soul' with Wu Tong, Xiao Chun was cared for by Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia.
She was no longer forced to wear heavy chains, and she certainly wasn't beaten or fed animal fodder anymore. She even got her own room inside the house.
Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia started to call her 'Tongtong'. They bought her beautiful clothing from the city, and they took her to amusement parks to play. She was able to eat things she'd never eaten before, like Western food. She was read stories like Cinderella.
Sometimes, even Xiao Chun lost sight of reality and believed she was truly the real Wu Tong.
But whenever she laid eyes on those old, rusted chains, the clock in her mind would strike midnight—just like it did for Cinderella. Xiao Chun would once again remember all the evil and torment she'd endured.
She was Xiao Chun. The abducted, abused Xiao Chun. Not Wu Tong! Not the sweet, obedient child of the Wu family!
She put those chains away in a box and hid them under the bed in her own room. Almost every day, she took them out to look at them. Every time she saw them, her hatred for this inhumane family grew.
The real Wu Tong had never gone to school; she was too sick. But Xiao Chun was able to go. One year, when she was in elementary school, she visited Dongye City with Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia over Chinese New Year's. During that visit, they met some of their distant relatives in the city.
Xiao Chun remembered that city, which flourished so brilliantly that it seemed almost like a different world. She also remembered the name of a wealthy jiejie among those distant relatives—Liang Lu.
Once she grew up, Xiao Chun became the most beautiful girl in all of Wancui Village. Her smile was extremely sweet, her eyes were bright and clear, and she looked extraordinarily innocent and pure.
Wang Aixia wholeheartedly believed this girl was her daughter Wu Tong. That wisp of Tongtong's soul was well and truly alive in this girl, because only Tongtong could possess such a sweet and innocent smile.
Xiao Chun had grown adept at maintaining a disguise long ago. She played the part of Wu Tong perfectly, like she had grown up completely mired in the role.
The only thing that puzzled people about Xiao Chun was that she seemed to love working out her arms. She liked doing chin-ups with the boys, and she'd even bought a set of dumbbells to use at home.
Wang Aixia had once asked, "Tongtong, what are you doing?"
"Mama," Xiao Chun answered, smiling. "I'm just working on my figure."
Wang Aixia had the faint notion that working on one's figure should have entailed more than just arm exercises, but she didn't pursue that line of questioning any further.
As soon as Wang Aixia turned away, the smile on Xiao Chun's face vanished. Her dark, deadened eyes narrowed at Wang Aixia's back, and she silently thought—
Of course, it's so I can strangle you and Wu Shoulian to death.
Around Chinese New Year's of that year, Xiao Chun decided to act.
Before that moment, she had allowed her plans to ferment for a long while. She'd laid down all the groundwork. For example, she had claimed she wanted to go to the big city to further mature herself, now that she'd come of age. With that excuse, she'd convinced Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia to make a few calls to Liang Lu's parents.
After that, she convinced Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia to move to the city with her, to keep their 'daughter' company.
Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia had lived in Wancui Village their whole lives. Although they had visited the city, they couldn't easily adjust to the idea of living there permanently. Xiao Chun quickly changed her request. She asked that they only accompany her to the city for a while, so that she could get used to the pace of life there. After that, they could leave her there and return to Wancui Village.
This request was very reasonable; naturally, Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia didn't refuse.
Xiao Chun instantly started spreading word through the village that the whole Wu family would be moving to the city to join their rich relatives there. Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia also spoke to many villagers about going to the city with their daughter after Chinese New Year's.
Truths were mixed into the lies, and lies were mixed into the truth. Wu Shoulian was the type who liked to show off, so when people asked if he would really be going to the big city to rely on support from rich relatives, he didn't deny it.
By the time Xiao Chun invited the whole village over for a dinner party, every single villager believed that the Wu family was bound for an easy, happy life in the city.
And at that time, Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia had already been strangled to death by Xiao Chun.
On Chinese New Year's, the sound of firecrackers filled up the village. It was endless. Everyone was going door to door to visit their relatives; nobody really had time to worry about what was going on with their neighbors. Xiao Chun drugged the wine Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia served that night. After the two of them passed out, she strangled them to death with her old chains, one after the other.
Wu Shoulian regained consciousness at the final, critical moment. He struggled fiercely, kicking over the dining table with a bang during the confrontation.
But it did no good. Outside, the sound of firecrackers was deafening. No one knew that a tragedy was taking place inside the Wu family's house.
Once she was sure her two victims were dead, Xiao Chun tossed aside the chains and viciously dismembered the corpses in the living room.
She cut the flesh off the corpses' legs, then tossed the rest of the body parts into bags that she had prepared in advance.
After hiding the bodies, Xiao Chun went home, cleaned the floors, and lit some incense to cover up the heavy stench of blood.
Then, she did the most blood-curdling thing—she stewed and minced the flesh of her victims' legs and used them as one of the ingredients in the dishes she prepared for the dinner party.
A portion of the villagers didn't attend the dinner party because they were out of town, visiting relatives. The villagers who did attend generally didn't stay long, because they had their own celebrations to get back to.
Xiao Chun greeted and chatted with her guests while occasionally calling out 'Mom' or 'Dad'. Throughout the entire party, no one actually saw Wu Shoulian or Wang Aixia.
But Xiao Chun's ploy had already worked. Everyone believed that Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia were present, and that they were simply too busy to greet all their guests.
Later that night, Xiao Chun hummed a tune under her breath while she cleaned up the mess.
She'd added the minced meat to nearly every dish. Just about every villager who attended the party had tasted that meat.
They deserved it.
Years ago, when she had first been abducted and brought to Wancui Village, no one called the police. When she was beaten half to death by a fortune teller, no one came to her rescue. Later, when she lost her identity and became Wu Tong, all the villagers pretended to be fooled by the act—they all took her as the real Wu Tong.
If just one person had stepped up to help her, she could have avoided all the tragedy that befell her.
However, no one spoke up in her defense. All these villagers acted like cold, uncaring spectators, watching her tragedy unfold from afar.
Didn't they deserve to be punished?
And wasn't eating human flesh a fitting punishment?
Xiao Chun was very smart. She knew that people might have realized something was off if she'd sliced or simply diced that meat. But once it was minced, no one would be able to tell the difference. When she broke it down to the point where it was almost a liquid, when she added it as a component in other dishes, no one would realize that the bite of meat they'd just swallowed was human flesh.
In that empty house, Xiao Chun sat alone for half the night.
She had carried out her revenge, and that left her feeling immensely relieved. When she laid eyes on those old, rusted chains again, she didn't feel as much pain as she used to.
Once she left this place and made her way to Dongye City, she would begin her life anew.
In the morning, Xiao Chun closed up the door to the Wu family's house. She took only a few pieces of luggage with her, and she rode Wu Shoulian's pedicab out to the county train station.
She left the mutilated bodies of Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia behind in Wancui Village. And she left her old chains there as well.
She thought she was finally free.
But the cold, harsh reality was that she was no longer capable of living an ordinary life.
She had grown too used to wearing a disguise, and the twisted hatred in her heart hadn't gone away with the deaths of Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia. Xiao Chun still thirsted for blood, for slaughter. It was only when she claimed a life that she could truly feel alive.
She blamed this on the fact that she hadn't been able to kill the one who'd caused all her suffering—the real Wu Tong.
By day, she was the sweet and innocent receptionist at 'Jianjia Bailu'. By night, she butchered live chickens and fish at her apartment, eventually graduating to slaughtering stray dogs from the neighborhood as well.
Her sweetness wasn't only capable of deceiving human beings. She could even trick dogs into following her home.
Every night, Li Tianyue had seen a light coming out from beneath Xiao Chun's door. That light came from Xiao Chun's cell phone, which she used to watch videos of brutal killings from all around the world.
Finally, Xiao Chun stumbled upon Sha Chun's secret. She realized she finally had the opportunity to kill a person again.
Killing chickens and dogs was a far cry away from the satisfaction of killing a person.
"You said I only decided to kill Sha Chun because she was like Wu Tong. That's not actually true. Wu Tong was only a few years old when she died. I don't know what she would have been like if she'd gotten the chance to grow up." Xiao Chun let out a dry laugh and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "But if she'd really gotten that chance to grow up, I probably would have been tortured to death a long time ago.
"I killed Sha Chun simply because I had the opportunity to kill her, and because she wanted to die. As long as Yu Xiaocheng hid Sha Chun's hands like he agreed to, you people wouldn't have been able to find me."
"You deceived everyone in Wancui Village," Ming Shu said, "and you wanted to replicate your 'success' in Dongye City?"
Xiao Chun lightly shook her head with a helpless expression. "You police are truly very impressive. Yu Xiaocheng was the perfect suspect. He was every bit like the killer, and yet you wouldn't believe he was the one."
"It's as you said. Yu Xiaocheng was 'like' the killer," Ming Shu said. "Only 'like'. How could he be the real killer, in that case?"
Xiao Chun flashed a miserable smile, then suddenly said, "I actually helped Sha Chun by killing her."
"How exactly did you find out what was going on between Sha Chun and Yu Xiaocheng?" Ming Shu asked.
"I put a bug in Sha Chun's classroom," Xiao Chun said. "But it wasn't actually because of Yu Xiaocheng. It was because of Wu Zhen."
A few months ago, Xiao Chun had noticed that Wu Zhen and Sha Chun seemed to have a relationship that was a little different from any of Sha Chun's other workplace relationships. They seemed a little closer, a little more intimate.
But Xiao Chun just couldn't figure it out. Wu Zhen was an old man; how had he gained Sha Chun's favor?
Out of sheer curiosity, Xiao Chun had sneakily installed a bug in Sha Chun's classroom. For a receptionist like her, this was an incredibly easy task to complete without arousing anyone's suspicion.
By using that bug, she spied and learned of the secret Sha Chun and Wu Zhen shared. Then she learned of Sha Chun sharing that secret with Yu Xiaocheng. Ultimately, she heard that Yu Xiaocheng hadn't given in to Sha Chun's attempts to convince him to join her in this game of death—he'd refused her.
"So you appeared before Sha Chun," Ming Shu said.
"Sha Chun was already a mess at that time. She wanted someone to help her end her life as soon as possible," Xiao Chun said. "Of course, I was the most suitable candidate."
After helping Wu Zhen 'commit suicide', Sha Chun lived every day in fear. She couldn't wait to find her 'successor'. However, the person she had hoped would help her—Yu Xiaocheng—ultimately turned her down and chose to continue preparing for his college entrance exams.
Xiao Chun took advantage of that situation and slipped into the role Yu Xiaocheng had refused to fill. She coaxed and threatened Sha Chun, promising to fulfill her wishes of manufacturing a death scene like Wu Zhen's while also making her swear to force Yu Xiaocheng to hide her severed hands at Jiu High.
On August 23rd, Xiao Chun rushed to the Performing Arts Association after getting off work. She hid out in a place she had scouted in advance. When Sha Chun finished her own performance and arrived late in the night, she was arriving for a date with death.
Xiao Chun strangled Sha Chun to death with a rope, just like she'd used her old chains to strangle Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia.
Sha Chun's instincts kicked in before her death. She struggled reflexively, which gave Xiao Chun immense pleasure.
It allowed Xiao Chun to think, This is it! This is what killing Wu Tong should have been like!
"Ah, that's right. I wanted to tell you one more thing," Xiao Chun said. "Sha Chun didn't kill Wu Zhen. Wu Zhen really did commit suicide."
"Did Sha Chun tell you that?" Ming Shu asked.
Xiao Chun nodded. "I believe her. You guys can believe it or not, it doesn't matter to me. They're both dead now. There's no way to prove anything."
Throughout the whole interrogation and confession, Xiao Chun didn't show a single shred of guilt or remorse.
"I killed a total of three people," she said. "Are you telling me Wu Shoulian and Wang Aixia didn't deserve to die? That fortune teller should have died too. It's just too bad I couldn't find him.
"As for Sha Chun…" Xiao Chun fell silent for a moment. "I admit that I killed her to satisfy my own thirst for blood. But can you really say that I wasn't helping her? If I hadn't been there, what would she have done? Her life was so bitter, and she had already lost the will to live. That coward Yu Xiaocheng wouldn't help her.
"I did kill her, but I also saved her."
Ming Shu stood up. "That's irrelevant."
Xiao Chun froze, then asked, "Ming-xiansheng, you'll help me find my real parents, won't you? You agreed."
With his name finally cleared, Yu Xiaocheng broke down and cried. While sobbing, he babbled, "It really wasn't me! I didn't kill anyone!"
Zhou Yuan had ordered a cup of the strawberry peach tea that Ming Shu ordered for the division last time. He placed it in front of Yu Xiaocheng.
Yu Xiaocheng's face was tear-streaked. He looked up with obvious confusion.
"My name is Zhou Yuan. I'm a technical investigator with the Serious Crimes Division," Zhou Yuan said. He wasn't very good at talking to people, but he had forced himself to personally meet Yu Xiaocheng face-to-face. "When I was in school, I was just like you. I worked very hard, but I wasn't gifted. To get the same test scores as me, other kids only had to pay attention in class. After class, they could play basketball or soccer, or do whatever they pleased. But I had to dedicate all that time to studying."
Yu Xiaocheng's mouth fell open in a stunned silence.
"The first time I took my college entrance exams, I failed. I felt so lost. I felt like I was completely useless. No matter how hard I tried, I would never be as good as my classmates who got into prestigious schools. I thought, 'What's the point in repeating a year?'
"But if I didn't repeat a year, I wouldn't have gotten a chance to go to college at all." Zhou Yuan's voice trembled faintly as he spoke. These words were clearly full of emotion, as though they carried him back to those years that were full of struggles and self-doubt. "I still wanted to go to college, so I chose to repeat my third year of high school. When I repeated that year, my homeroom teacher was a math teacher—she changed me."
Yu Xiaocheng leaned forward ever-so-slightly. It was obvious from his posture that he was listening intently.
"She told me that everyone is different, everyone is a unique individual. Everyone has their own strengths, and everyone necessarily has their own weaknesses as well. It doesn't help anyone when you compare your weaknesses to someone else's strengths," Zhou Yuan continued. "I said, 'But my grades are bad.' And my teacher said, 'Whether your grades are bad or not depends on who you're measuring yourself against. You're in the top class of the top high school in the district. If your grades are average here, does that truly mean they're bad?'"
Yu Xiaocheng finally spoke. "I… I'm also in the top class at the top high school in the city."
Zhou Yuan nodded. "That's why I said we're very similar. That year, my teacher would occasionally find time to chat with me and encourage me. She helped me think about my direction in life. When I applied for college again, she told me I had a strong sense of justice and was particularly diligent and attentive. She said she thought I would make a great police officer in the future."
Softly, Yu Xiaocheng murmured, "So you…"
"So I really became a police officer," Zhou Yuan said. "I'm not gifted at all. I can't hold a candle to the geniuses who work in technical investigation, but I can make myself useful. My hard work and diligence weren't wasted. In this case that you were brought in for, I was the one who found a piece of key evidence—one of the pieces used to clear your name."
Yu Xiaocheng drew in a sharp breath. His eyes widened to the size of saucers.
"Do you understand?" Zhou Yuan asked. "You should never be ashamed of working hard or being diligent. You're just temporarily lost, stuck in a rut. You haven't found your direction yet."
After saying that, Zhou Yuan stood up and pointed to the strawberry peach tea on the table. "You're still young. There's lots of time to change. By not giving up on yourself even when Sha Chun tried to convince you to end everything, you've already shown your courage.
"Yu Xiaocheng, you can continue to be brave. Just like…"
Zhou Yuan lowered his head. His voice grew softer as he continued, "Just like me, when I repeated a year."
Yu Xiaocheng accepted the strawberry peach tea. "Why are you treating me to this drink?"
Zhou Yuan smiled. "I may be older than you, but there are times when I fall into self-doubt too. The last time I started to doubt my own abilities again, my gifted and hard-working and diligent leader brought me a cup of this. And he told me I was an indispensable member of his team."
Yu Xiaocheng's hands trembled. For the first time, he felt a ray of hope flooding his murky future with light.
"I'm not as smart as my leader, so I can only try to emulate him and encourage you," Zhou Yuan said warmly. "Work hard, Yu Xiaocheng. Don't let down that brave, diligent version of yourself."
The manufacturing plant Chu Can had spoken of was located near the border of Nan District. Some of the employees there confirmed that they'd seen Chu Can at the factory, but it had been such a long time ago that the surveillance footage from that time had already been erased. There was no way to prove whether or not Zhou Xi's body had really 'disappeared' at that plant.
Fang Yuanhang recalled Ming Shu's warning and advice—Chu Can had 'that' kind of fetish, which meant Zhou Xi might not have been his only victim. But no matter how they interrogated Chu Can, the man refused to admit to any wrongdoing besides killing Zhou Xi and abusing Liu Mei.
Furthermore, all the evidence pointed to Chu Can acting alone in all his crimes. There was nothing that implicated the Chu Group, and there was nothing that implicated Chu Qing's secretary Shui Xun.
Sha Chun's case had come to a close, but the mysterious person setting up the 'dominoes' behind the scene still remained at large.
Ming Shu was finally able to make a rare trip home. He changed into his pajamas and flopped down on the couch, listening to the sound of running water from the bathroom while he thought about the unresolved threads in these cases.
When Xiao Yu'an emerged from the bathroom in a bathrobe, Ming Shu returned to his senses.
Xiao Yu'an looked over, carrying a towel. "Hm?"
Ming Shu knelt on the couch and stretched out both arms. "Ge, I'll blow dry your hair for you."
Xiao Yu'an drew near. His body was still wrapped up in the scent of steam and a light, refreshing body wash. He caught Ming Shu's chin and gently pinched it between his fingers, smiling as he said, "Why do I feel like this posture of yours isn't meant for helping me dry my hair? It looks more like… you're asking to be held?"