MADNESS OF THE HEART

Chapter 71: Endless (Part Thirty-One)

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Wang Ying's reaction already proved that Wu Zhen had tried to 'indoctrinate' others while working on turning Sha Chun into his 'successor'. He had simply chosen Sha Chun in the end, perhaps because he'd deemed Wang Ying an unsuitable successor.

"You met Wu Zhen while filming a short video for your school," Yi Fei said. "You guys were the ones to reach out to Lightflow Media, right? There are so many little film and TV companies these days. Why did you reach out to Lightflow?"

Wang Ying seemed more and more nervous. "I… I don't know why you guys are interested in me."

Yi Fei paused for a few seconds, gazing determinedly into Wang Ying's eyes. "Because Wu Zhen is involved in a criminal case, and you're someone who once came into contact with him. We have to ask you for your cooperation."

Wang Ying exhaled sharply. "Can I ask what kind of criminal case it is?"

"At this stage in our investigation, we're unable to disclose any details," Yi Fei said. "Miss Wang, you don't need to be afraid. We're just looking for you to answer my questions to the best of your ability. Think about your words, and don't lie."

Wang Ying hurriedly shook her head. "How could I possibly lie to a police officer!"

Yi Fei smiled. "Relax. Please answer my previous question first. Why did you choose Lightflow Media out of all the small media companies available to you?"

"I was in charge of that project," Wang Ying said. "Truth be told, it was supposed to be a joint effort between the school and student union, but I pretty much made all the arrangements by myself."

Wang Ying gazed at the table in front of her while she spoke. Many people instinctively did that when speaking to detectives.

"Can I take that to mean you did all the work on this project?" Yi Fei asked. "Why? Also, were there many people who knew you were busy with this all on your own?"

Wang Ying sighed. "It's because, ever since my first year of college, people have just been using me to do all the hard work. I'm not a naturally gifted person. The only outstanding thing about me is my diligence."

"And my next question, please," Yi Fei prompted.

"Everyone in the student union knew that I was working on this alone," Wang Ying said. "Other people who know me probably knew about it too. This isn't some sort of secret. And I chose Lightflow Media because I saw their flyer on our student bulletin board."

"Flyer?"

"Mm," Wang Ying confirmed. "Every campus has a bulletin board where you can put up notifications about upcoming tests, study abroad opportunities, student activities, and so on. I take a look every day. After the student union tasked me with this project, I was just in the middle of thinking about what media company to work with when I saw Lightflow's flyer."

"A media company would advertise at a university of medicine?" Yi Fei asked.

Wang Ying paused for a moment, stunned. "Oh, you're right. I don't think I've ever seen other fliers like it before."

"So you chose Lightflow Media just because of that flyer?" Yi Fei asked.

"I was actually feeling some choice paralysis. There were too many options. So when that flyer appeared, I figured maybe it was fate," Wang Ying said. "And they weren't like other media companies. They specialized in short promotional videos for universities."

Yi Fei suddenly frowned.

Lightflow Media specialized in short promotional videos for universities?

That wasn't true at all!

Lightflow Media had always been focused on television drama scripts and web series scripts. When had they ever put their focus on campus promo videos?

Wang Ying shrank into her shoulders and uneasily asked, "Did I say something wrong? I… I'm not lying."

"Did you save the flyer you saw?" Yi Fei asked.

Wang Ying shook her head. "I tossed it a long time ago, but I took a picture."

Yi Fei took Wang Ying's cell phone when she offered it to him. He instantly sent the photo in question to his own phone, as well as Ming Shu's, before taking a close look at the image.

The flyer was perfectly geared towards a university crowd. It emphasized the company's many years of experience working with grade schools, universities, and vocational schools to create many, many high-quality promotional videos.

And the flyer didn't say a single word about Lightflow Media's real focus in business.

When Yi Fei saw Wu Zhen's name, he whispered to himself, "This is…"

On the flyer, Wu Zhen was actually listed as the chief screenwriter at Lightflow Media.

Wang Ying nervously rubbed her hands together. "I figured choosing this company would be better than choosing another company that didn't focus primarily on working with schools. So I took the flyer and went to Lightflow Media, and I asked to speak to Wu-laoshi."

Although they'd yet to verify it, Yi Fei was already certain that this flyer had been forged by a third party.

"Did you show this flyer to the people at Lightflow?" Yi Fei asked. "What were their reactions?"

"I didn't show them the flyer directly," Wang Ying said, "but I did throw the flyer away when I was at Lightflow's offices. The staff members probably saw it. As for their reactions… I don't know."

Yi Fei nodded, then continued, "You and Wu Zhen were in frequent contact while working on this project, right? When did he start talking to you about 'hard work' being worthless? How far did your discussions on that subject progress?"

Wang Ying had just started to calm down. When she heard those questions, she tensed up again. "I don't really remember when he started. Wu-laoshi brought it up many times. He kept talking about how he could tell I was diligent. Then he started talking about himself and his own experiences in life, and about how hard work was pointless for mediocre people…"

"My guess," Yi Fei said, "would be that his words really disrupted your mood."

"Yes." Wang Ying lowered her head again. "I'd already thought that I was no good. I truly can't match up to most of my classmates. When Wu-laoshi said all that, I found myself thinking I would be better off dead."

Yi Fei considered this for a long moment before finally addressing the main point. "Did Wu Zhen mention his death plans to you?"

Wang Ying's eyes instantly widened. "What? Death plans?"

Yi Fei took another long while to study Wang Ying. "He just kept telling you that mediocre people who worked hard were hopeless. Is that right?"

"Yes. After we finished filming the project, we didn't stay in touch." Wang Ying suddenly seemed to realize something. "Did… did Wu-laoshi want to… to kill me?"

Yi Fei took some time to reassure her, then continued, "What kind of people can put flyers up on your school's bulletin board?"

"Students working part-time, teachers and administrative staff… usually not people from private businesses," Wang Ying said. "It's the same at most universities."

"When you came in contact with Wu Zhen," Yi Fei said, "did you ever get a strange feeling?"

Wang Ying clearly didn't understand. "What kind of strange feeling?"

"For example, the sensation that someone was following you, observing you," Yi Fei said. "Young women are sometimes very observant and sensitive, right?"

"Oh, that's what you meant…" Wang Ying thought very hard for a while. "Earlier this year, I really did feel like someone was watching me. But I didn't know who. It could have just been a delusion."

"Was it when you were on campus?"

"Yes."

 

After leaving Dongye City's University of Medicine, Yi Fei headed straight for Lightflow Media and showed the flyer to Ou Xianghe—the head of the screenwriting department, and Wu Zhen's old boss.

"We've never run these flyers," Ou Xianghe said, though he didn't look surprised by the sight of the photo Yi Fei showed him. "But I've seen this flyer before. Wu Zhen printed it himself."

"Are you sure?" Yi Fei asked.

Ou Xianghe blinked and froze for a moment, then retorted, "If he didn't print them himself, who could have printed them? Wu Zhen started shifting gears at work last year, right? He started focusing on promotional videos for schools, government agencies, businesses, and so on. If he wanted to make some quick cash, it wouldn't have been strange for him to make up this sort of thing and distribute these flyers at a university."

Whether or not this was strange, Yi Fei knew they had to be cautious not to paint with a broad brush. This sort of thing may have been normal for other screenwriters who worked at Lightflow Media. But when it came to Wu Zhen, it was the farthest thing from normal.

Wu Zhen had been in the middle of influencing Sha Chun into becoming his 'successor'. How could he have had time to distribute flyers at a university, and why would he have cared about making a quick buck?

The only person who could have distributed these flyers was the man hiding in the shadows. And the reason was that man had discovered Wang Ying, a viable 'seed'.

Once Yi Fei had his facts straight, he instantly called Ming Shu.

 

Ming Shu was currently standing outside a not-too-new, not-too-old residential building in Dong District. He gazed up at a shoddy signboard, which read—Fatty Li's.

Young people trickled about in the area, milling into the building while chatting about whether they wanted to buy one pound or half a pound that day. People constantly filtered out of the building as well, carrying plastic bags.

And the words 'Fatty Li's' were written on all those bags.

Fatty Li's specialized in pig intestines, and of all the food in the world, the one that Ming Shu really couldn't stomach was pig intestines. He scrunched up his face, then started to make his way upstairs.

Less than two months ago, Fatty Li's had opened up on the second floor of that building. They were doing pretty well. Not only had they made a name for themselves in that neighborhood, they were popular enough that foodies from other districts would drive by as well.

A man in his thirties, wearing an apron, was toiling away in the kitchen. Another guy, a kid who didn't look like he was even twenty yet, was taking orders and collecting payment.

Ming Shu studied the man in the kitchen. Judging by his outfit and demeanor, he was no longer recognizable as an outstanding salesman with an office job.

But he was still extremely diligent.

This man in the kitchen was none other than Luo Ganfeng.

Luo Ganfeng had gone missing earlier that year. But an investigation showed that he hadn't actually left Dongye City. He'd simply rented an old residence and started a business of selling take-out pig intestines and other stewed dishes.

Customers all assumed the boss of the place had the surname Li, and they all called him 'Li-ge' or 'Little Li'.

Luo Ganfeng seemed to be in a pretty good state. He wasn't as Manager Luo, back at his old workplace, had described. And he wasn't at all like Wu Zhen and Sha Chun.

His eyes were filled with life and vigor.

Ming Shu waited for the wave of business to slow before he approached Luo Ganfeng and flashed his badge.

Luo Ganfeng's reaction was rather thought-provoking. He was calm, yet seemed a little anxious. And in that anxiety, there was a hint of something that seemed like relief. It was like he'd already psychologically prepared himself for the police to walk through his door one day.

"You seem to know why I'm here," Ming Shu said.

"Because of Wu Zhen." Luo Ganfeng took a bottle of iced honey tea out of the refrigerator and set it in front of Ming Shu. "He's dead, isn't he?"

Ming Shu met Luo Ganfeng's gaze. After a moment, he said, "It seems I've got the right person. Wu Zhen considered you to be the same 'kind' of person as him. He hoped you would help him carry out his plans for his death, and he hoped to pass the baton to you so that you would find your own 'successor'—he told you all of that?"

Luo Ganfeng's cheeks spasmed lightly. "You already have a really clear understanding of what happened."

"But I still need your help," Ming Shu said.

There were no customers in the shop now, and the boy who worked in the front was scrubbing the stoves and counters in the kitchen.

Luo Ganfeng turned and called out, "Little Jun, you go outside for a while. Close the door for me on your way out."

"Ge, you're closing up?" Little Jun asked.

"Just for now," Luo Ganfeng said.

Little Jun seemed very polite and obedient. He didn't ask anything else before changing out of his work clothes and heading out the door.

"My little brother," Luo Ganfeng explained. "My only relative."

Ming Shu nodded and laid a recording device on the table.

Luo Ganfeng glanced at it. "Wu Zhen and I met while working on a promotional film. I wasn't in a very good state of mind back then, when it came to my work. And it just so happened that we needed to film a short video featuring our staff members and their daily lives. My manager wanted to give me a chance to adjust my condition, so I was assigned to that project."

"Manager Luo told me," Ming Shu said. "Were you the one who reached out to Wu Zhen on your own?"

"Yes," Luo Ganfeng said. "I'm not highly educated or cultured, I don't know anything about writing or filming. I just did a search online and checked out Lightflow Media, as well as various other companies like it. In the end, I chose to go with Lightflow."

"Why?" Ming Shu asked.

"Wu Zhen's age made me feel he was very reliable," Luo Ganfeng said. "All the other companies I visited introduced me to people in their early twenties."

"During your selection process," Ming Shu continued, "you didn't receive any external influence?"

Luo Ganfeng looked confused all of a sudden. After a few seconds, he shook his head. "I made all the choices and arrangements on my own."

Ming Shu scribbled down a few notes. His notebook was practically like a divine text, filled with writing that was only legible to him.

Luo Ganfeng's situation and Yu Xiaocheng's situation were somewhat similar. Their choices hadn't been influenced by the man in the shadows. Or, if they had been influenced, they didn't realize it.

"Is there a problem?" Luo Ganfeng asked.

"No," Ming Shu said. "Please continue."

"Since I didn't know anything about filmmaking, I communicated with Wu Zhen quite often. Later on in our acquaintanceship, I confided in him about some of my hardships at work," Luo Ganfeng said. "I told him that I felt like I lacked natural talent, and that I felt overwhelmed by everything I needed to do. Stuff like that."

"From that point on, your relationship began to change subtly," Ming Shu ventured. "Wu Zhen gradually began to imply to you that the two of you were the same."

As though reliving an especially unpleasant experience, Luo Ganfeng scrubbed his hands over his face. "I was already suffering back then, because of my mediocrity. I could completely relate to what Wu Zhen was telling me. At the time, I felt like there was no meaning to life. I'd already lost at the starting line. No matter how hard I tried, it would be useless."

After a moment of silence passed in the room, Ming Shu said, "When you felt you were at your lowest, Wu Zhen told you his plans?"

Luo Ganfeng took a deep breath. "Do you mind if I smoke a cigarette?"

"Do as you please."

Luo Ganfeng lit a cigarette and smoked half of it before he said, "He invited me to join him in his plans. He told me that I could kill him, then follow in his footsteps and find someone like us who would kill me. He said this was the last revolt of mediocre people like us, who have been looked down on by society our whole lives."

By the time he finished speaking, Luo Ganfeng's voice had started to tremble.

Ming Shu pushed the unopened bottle of honey tea over to him.

Luo Ganfeng unscrewed the bottle and gulped down most of it in one go.

"Take your time," Ming Shu said.

Luo Ganfeng nodded. "I was shocked, at the time. But I also felt like I was… really swayed by him. I almost agreed."

"Almost?"

"I thought of my little brother. Little Jun, that is." When he spoke of his brother, Luo Ganfeng's eyes filled up with a thread of tenderness. "Little Jun's health had always been pretty poor. If I left this world, who would take care of him? I still wanted to try, I still wanted to fight. I felt like I could at least make enough to pay for his medical bills, and to save up in case of an emergency, to save his life."

People who were in a fragile state of mind were most susceptible to going crazy. But when there was an important person in their life, it was often enough to bring them back to their senses.

Ming Shu couldn't help but feel a wave of sorrow at that thought. Wu Zhen and Sha Chun had been two of the loneliest people in Dongye City. They hadn't had an important companion in a long time. If they'd had someone they valued, someone who valued them in return, they might not have taken that final step.

"I resigned, for a few reasons," Luo Ganfeng continued. "For one thing, I was feeling too much pressure from my job. I couldn't take it anymore. I wanted a change of pace. But the more important reason was that I didn't want to see Wu Zhen again.

"He'd already told me all his plans. If I suddenly backed out, he definitely wouldn't have let me off the hook."

Ming Shu swept his gaze across the room. "You weren't afraid he would find you after you opened this store?"

"I didn't open the shop right away," Luo Ganfeng said. He lit another cigarette. "Dongye City is so big, and I named this place 'Fatty Li's', not 'Fatty Luo's'. And he wasn't a cop. How could he have found me so easily? Besides, I didn't have all that much saved up. If I didn't start working and earning money, Little Jun and I wouldn't have been able to make ends meet."

Ming Shu met Luo Ganfeng's gaze. "There was another reason you felt safe enough to open this shop. You actually knew, didn't you, that Wu Zhen would die before long."

Luo Ganfeng's eyelids trembled.

"No need to be surprised," Ming Shu said. "You've been waiting for the police all this time. That means you must have already predicted that Wu Zhen had died."

Luo Ganfeng let out a bitter laugh. "He was desperate. If he couldn't find me, he would have found someone else. There would always be someone else who would fulfill his wish. Just like he fulfilled that professor's wish."

"Wait!" Ming Shu interrupted. "What professor?"

"The person Wu Zhen helped kill," Luo Ganfeng said. "In order to convince me back then, Wu Zhen used that professor as an example. He told me, 'Being a professor is an esteemed thing, isn't it? And yet Professor Qin still chose to die. If even Professor Qin realized hard work was futile, then what hope do we mediocre people have? Why should we struggle?'"

Ming Shu's breath quickened. "Did Wu Zhen ever say which college Professor Qin belonged to? Did he ever say when he killed this professor?"

Luo Ganfeng was surprised by the intensity of Ming Shu's reaction. He tensed for a moment and uttered, "Ah…"

"My apologies." Ming Shu calmed himself and steadied his tone. "What is this Professor Qin's full name? Where did he teach? When did he die?"

Luo Ganfeng finished the rest of the honey tea, then answered, "Qin Guoxing. He taught at Dongye City's University of Medicine. Wu Zhen didn't tell me exactly when this professor 'committed suicide', but based on what Wu Zhen did tell me, I would guess it was around Chinese New Year's this year."

Qin Guoxing. University of Medicine. This was undoubtedly an extremely important lead.

 

Ming Shu didn't realize he had a missed call until he returned to his car. He instantly called Yi Fei back.

"I'm almost certain now that the person manipulating things from the shadows is related to the University of Medicine," Yi Fei said, after recounting his chat with Wang Ying. "He's way too familiar with the university, and he knew a lot about Wang Ying. If an outsider came and went from the university numerous times, they would be bound to draw attention.

"But if he were a member of the faculty or administrative staff, he could come and go as he pleased. He could observe people. All without drawing attention to himself. He was the one who presented Wang Ying to Wu Zhen as an 'option', just like he presented Long Tianhao and Wen He to Sha Chun!"

Ming Shu didn't respond right away.

"Little Ming?" Yi Fei prompted. "You there?"

"Here," Ming Shu answered. "The 'domino' that fell before Wu Zhen may have been a professor at the University of Medicine."

"What?" Yi Fei's shock was obvious.

"You think that's really strange too, right?" Ming Shu hadn't started up his car yet. "If a professor at the University of Medicine died earlier this year, if it at least seemed like a homicide on the surface, wouldn't we have been investigating the case? Even if no one knew he'd died, wouldn't he have been reported missing? A professor going missing isn't any small, ordinary matter."

"But we haven't heard a peep from the university," Yi Fei mused.

"One rational explanation is that the professor is still alive and well. Wu Zhen only thought he died," Ming Shu said. "My guess is that this may very well be the person in the shadows. Wu Zhen and Sha Chun were both his 'experiments'!"

 

As soon as a target was identified, the investigation progressed much more swiftly.

But unexpectedly, there was no professor named Qin Guoxing at Dongye City's University of Medicine.

Ming Shu instantly thought of a new approach. "Check the characters with the same pronunciation!"

With that, they received an even greater shock. There had once been a pharmacology lecturer at the University of Medicine, named Qin Guoxing—with the first and third characters of his name written differently from what Luo Ganfeng had reported.

But this Qin Guoxing had died nine years ago.

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