Fang Yuanhang had a certain strength. When he needed to be meticulous about something, such as an investigation into a criminal case, he was like a dog with a bone. But he also knew when to be open-minded and let things go, like when he discovered his chief was gay and dating his immediate superior.
Another of his strengths was his desire to see the golden-red ginkgo tree leaves on Mount Qiyue, when most of the leaves were still green.
There was no telling when the Serious Crimes Division would get busy again. Other people could wait until the leaves were truly golden before climbing the mountain, but criminal police detectives couldn't afford to wait.
Luckily, it seemed the fates felt Fang Yuanhang's sincere desire to visit the net-famous Mount Qiyue. Just two days before the Serious Crimes Division members were due to depart on their trip, a cold snap suddenly came over Dongye City. Good news quickly circulated on Weibo—the ginkgo leaves on Mount Qiyue had rapidly turned gold, as far down as the temple halfway up the mountain!
If the leaves around the temple were gold, then visitors could easily imitate the photos taken by the influencer who'd discovered the beautiful scenery. They could pose right in front of the temple and capture it along with the golden leaves.
Fang Yuanhang was elated. The day before their departure, he took a selfie at his desk in the office and sent it to his Moments, telling everyone they would be departing on their autumn trip the next day.
"We haven't left yet, have we?" Ming Shu teased his rookie. "Are you so sure that we'll be able to head out tomorrow?"
"Why would we not be able to?" Fang Yuanhang asked, freezing up with shock. "Are you telling me… that we're getting a new case tonight?"
Ming Shu smiled. "Oi, don't jinx it."
Fang Yuanhang thought, How am I the one jinxing it? I was only saying what you were already thinking in your heart! The real jinx is you!
Ming Shu waved a hand and continued, "Come. As your chief, I'll tell you a story."
Fang Yuanhang instantly guessed what Ming Shu wanted to say. He hurriedly covered his ears and declared, "I don't want to listen, I don't want to listen!"
"Once upon a time, there was a police officer who made plans far, far in advance to see a movie starring his goddess," Ming Shu said. "Ten days before the movie was released, he started to count down the days."
Yi Fei became alert and hastily protested, "Hey, hey, hey!"
Ming Shu ignored Yi Fei's objections and continued, "The movie was due to be released at midnight. The day before, that police officer took a picture of himself with his movie ticket. He even made me take that picture for him."
"Little Ming," Yi Fei interrupted helplessly. "Shut up."
Fang Yuanhang had already heard this story many times before. He also said, "Chief, that's enough!"
If you go looking for trouble, you'll definitely find it!
Ming Shu still persisted, finishing his story. "In the end, at 11:40 that night, a new case arrived."
"Captain Yi had no choice but to rush back from the movie theater," Fang Yuanhang recounted. "By the time the case was closed, the movie was no longer playing in theaters."
Yi Fei stood next to him and planted his hands on his hips.
Fang Yuanhang hastily added, "Condolences to my Captain Yi."
Yi Fei had to add, "I watched it online later! Little Ming even gave me the DVD!"
"What this story teaches us is to not look forward to anything too much," Ming Shu said. "Otherwise, if your hopes are crushed, the psychological damage you take will be immense."
After a moment, he continued, "Let me tell you another story."
"Please don't!" Fang Yuanhang protested, shaking his head.
"I have a friend. Similar job and disposition to us. The sort who won't even go home when he gets busy," Ming Shu began, unhurriedly. "Once, he asked his higher-ups for five days off and planned on going to another city to visit a friend he hadn't seen in a very long time. But ultimately, when the day of his departure arrived, when he was already at the airport…"
Fang Yuanhang was actually very interested in the story this time. "He was called back by his boss? His hopes were dashed? His mood plummeted?"
Ming Shu sighed. "That's why your chief is telling you to moderate your expectations. Don't look forward to anything too much."
Fang Yuanhang's mind worked very quickly. As soon as Ming Shu finished his story, Fang Yuanhang had already drawn a completely different conclusion—
Your 'friend' is obviously you! You were the person who was called back from the airport, and you were the one who didn't get a chance to go visit Director Xiao!
After telling his stories, Ming Shu slipped away. That night, there would be one of his favorite dishes—roasted chicken with chestnuts—waiting for him at home.
The next day, the weather was perfect. More importantly, there was no new case. The Serious Crimes Division set out in five cars, but they got stuck in traffic before even reaching Shouquan, the town nearest Mount Qiyue.
"This many people?" Fang Yuanhang mused as he inched Ming Shu's car forward bit by bit. "They can't all be going to Mount Qiyue, right?"
"What do you think?" Ming Shu asked. "It's the weekend, and the leaves have turned golden. If we didn't go now, there would have been even more people in a week."
They remained stuck in traffic until noon, at which point Fang Yuanhang finally laid eyes on the destination of his dreams—Mount Qiyue.
The cold snap from a few days ago hadn't been that fierce, so the leaves at the bottom of the mountain were still green. All the tourists who came to see the golden leaves had no choice but to crowd onto the trails and make their way up the mountain.
Ming Shu had never been all that interested in taking in natural sights. Starting from the time he was sixteen or seventeen, he'd traveled everywhere with Xiao Yu'an. There was practically nothing he hadn't already seen. He only came on this trip to spend time with his team, and he really didn't have the heart to squeeze up the mountain with all the shawl-wearing aunties and grandmas and grandpas.
At the bottom of the mountain, lots of makeshift rest areas had popped up. Any one of the locals from the nearby town could come over with a big umbrella and some plastic tables and chairs, offering a place for tourists to sit. They could charge at least twenty yuan per person.
Ming Shu felt there were too many people trying to get up the mountain at that time of day. He planned on finding a place to sit for a while before ascending later, when it was less crowded.
Fang Yuanhang, Xing Mu, and Xiao Man were the three members of their team with the greatest interest in the mountain. Xiao Man had even brought a very professional camera.
"That's the camera he uses at crime scenes, isn't it?" Ming Shu asked.
A few aunties had trampled over Yi Fei's feet, so he'd decided to climb the mountain later as well. He sat with Ming Shu to rest for a while first. "It really is," he said. "Bringing that thing here… isn't he nervous?"
"We'll be nervous for him," Ming Shu said.
As the tourists climbed up from the foot of the mountain, their numbers dwindled considerably. But there were still people all over the place. The most obvious change in numbers came halfway up the mountain, where the temple was situated. Beneath the temple, the mountain was absolutely packed with people. But relatively few people ventured above the temple. Even though the leaves were more vibrantly gold up there, most people chose to take pictures and turn back at the temple seeing as there were no roads higher up on Mount Qiyue.
However, many young people did continue onwards.
Fang Yuanhang and the others had split up with the rest of their group. After climbing and taking photos for more than two hours, they all felt a little disappointed.
"These photos aren't turning out nearly as good as the ones on Weibo," Fang Yuanhang said while scrolling through his camera roll. "There are people everywhere. I can't capture the serenity of the temple at all. No, this won't do at all. When we get back, I'll have to ask Zhou Yuan to photoshop these for me a bit. Otherwise I won't even be able to find one picture to post to my Moments."
"You're a cop," Xiao Man said. "How can you be so vain?"
"So what if I'm a cop?" Fang Yuanhang asked. "Cops can't care about their online aesthetic?"
Xiao Man warned, "Cops who are too vain tend to slip up and make mistakes."
"Come off it!" Fang Yuanhang rolled his eyes. "What's that hanging around your neck? Your work equipment! Bureau property! You brought your work gear out just to get a good picture to show your friends, didn't you?"
Xing Mu, the oldest of the three of them, hastily rushed over to break up the argument. "How petty is this matter? You two should quit fighting already."
Xiao Man scoffed. "I came to enjoy the autumn. I'm taking pictures to print them when I get back."
Fang Yuanhang scoffed right back. "As if I'd believe that!"
"Are we going higher or not?" Xing Mu asked.
More and more young people were making their way higher up the mountain. Fang Yuanhang glanced up and said, "Of course we're going! How could we not go? We've barely gotten anywhere."
As soon as his words fell, a shout of alarm came from higher up the mountain.
The space around Haijing Temple was extremely noisy. The clamor was nearly enough to completely drown out that scream. Fang Yuanhang instantly lifted his head. "Did you guys hear something?"
Xing Mu shook his head. "It's noisy everywhere around here. I just overheard a guy complaining about his boss, and his insults were all so fresh and innovative. I should learn from—wait, what did you hear?"
Fang Yuanhang held his breath for a moment, listening raptly. "Someone screamed."
"Ah, hell!" Xiao Man laughed. "And I thought it was something serious. What, haven't you ever shouted at the top of your lungs in the mountains?"
"It wasn't that kind of scream," Fang Yuanhang said. He looked up the mountain again and earnestly continued, "It was a frightened sort of scream."
As members of the Serious Crimes Division, they were all extremely sensitive to the different types of shouts and screams that one might hear. Although Xiao Man often bickered and bantered with Fang Yuanhang, he had faith in Fang Yuanhang's ability to discern a concerning scream from an innocuous one. Xiao Man instantly put away his joking attitude and looked up the mountain as well.
Someone really was shouting. And it wasn't just one person either.
"Go!" Fang Yuanhang called out. "Let's go check it out!"
From Haijing Temple, there had originally been just one road heading higher up the mountain. There was some history to that road—monks from the temple had carved it out several decades ago. It only went up fifty meters or so before breaking off mysteriously. Beyond that, the only paths were small footpaths stamped out by recent tourists.
At that moment, a group of around a dozen young men and women came rushing down the wooded mountain. One of the girls was wearing a long white dress. She'd clearly come to pose for some pictures. In her haste, she tripped and fell, staining her dress with mud. One of the boys helped her up, and the two of them hurried after the rest of their group.
"Wait for us! Qingqing fell down! Are you our fucking friends or not?!"
Fang Yuanhang could tell, with just one glance at their expressions, that something had happened on this mountain.
"What happened?" Xiao Man asked, stopping one of the taller boys.
"Up there… up there…" The boy looked to be around seventeen or eighteen. He was very sturdily built, but his face was currently an ashen color, full of panic. "There's dead people up there!"
Xiao Man whipped his head around to look at Fang Yuanhang. And at just that moment, another group of people came running down while shouting, "Scary, scary, way too scary! How could someone die like that?!"
Fang Yuanhang made a decision instantaneously. "Xing-laoshi, stay here and maintain order. Keep everyone who's coming down the mountain here for the moment, don't let them go. They're all important witnesses. I'll go up with Xiao-ge!"
"No, wait!" Xing Mu anxiously protested. "I'm a forensic scientist, I have to be the one to go up!"
It was only then that Fang Yuanhang realized it didn't make the most sense for him and Xiao Man to go up. It would be much more sensible to send Xiao Man and Xing Mu.
"Fuck!" Fang Yuanhang had taken out his cell phone to give Ming Shu a call, but when he took a look, he saw that they didn't even have one bar of signal there.
A constant stream of tourists continued flowing down the mountain. Xiao Man and Xing Mu were already pushing against traffic, trying to make their way upwards while asking where the body had been found.
Fang Yuanhang took out his ID and stopped everyone coming down the mountain.
These people were all young adults. If they weren't students, they were white-collar workers in their twenties. Most of them were relatively reasonable. When they were stopped, they stood aside without making a fuss. But a few of the girls did start to whimper and quietly sob with fear.
While talking to the witnesses to get an idea of what had happened, Fang Yuanhang also called Ming Shu and Yi Fei again and again. Finally, he managed to find a spot where he got a weak signal.
"What did you say?" Ming Shu could only hear a few words, broken up by static, over the line. Amidst all that static, he picked out the words 'dead' and 'homi—'.
Before long, the call was cut off.
Yi Fei could already tell from Ming Shu's expression that something wasn't right. "Did something happen?"
Ming Shu instantly stood up. "Fang Yuanhang seems to have found a body on the mountain. Possibly a homicide. Inform the local police post and our team right away. I'll go up right now."
Half an hour later, most members of the Serious Crimes Division had gathered outside the Haijing Temple. The witnesses had also been asked to gather outside the temple. The police from Shouquan had also arrived and put up a cordon beneath Haijing Temple, barricading the upper half of the mountain from all other tourists.
Everyone's perfectly nice autumn outing was ruined. Most of the tourists didn't want to leave right away. They crowded around the police tape, gazing up at Haijing Temple.
"What happened up there?"
"I heard a kid found a body!"
"Someone said it was two girls. They weren't even wearing clothes!"
"What? That's messed up!"
"There's a temple here, Buddha is watching! Does the killer not fear retribution?"
Xing Mu and Xiao Man were the first members of the Serious Crimes Division to see the bodies.
Two naked female corpses were piled up in a pit filled with dead branches and leaves.
And this 'pile' wasn't an ordinary 'pile'. They were positioned in a sexual sixty-nine figure.
One body lay on the ground while the other lay on top. Their heads were positioned so that they directly faced each other's genitals.
And it was ten rusted nails that kept them affixed in this position. One nail pierced the tailbone of the body on top, aimed down at the throat of the body on the bottom. Another nail punctured the throat of the body on top, driven down into the abdomen of the other body. The other eight nails pierced their arms and legs in various places.
This was, beyond a doubt, a homicide. And it was an extremely twisted, violent homicide.
Many tracks were littered around the scene of the crime, all left behind by the tourists that had just trampled through the area. There was a good chance that the killer's tracks had already been destroyed. Neither Xing Mu nor Xiao Man had brought their full set of equipment. For the time being, they could only take pictures of the scene and conduct a preliminary analysis.
"Time of death was at least three days ago," Xing Mu said as he began to study the bodies with some simple tools provided by the police from the local police post. He stooped at the mouth of the pit and continued, "No signs of a reaction to the nails, meaning the killer affixed them in this position after they were killed."
"One of them shows signs of livor mortis on the back," Ming Shu said. "The other shows it on the chest and abdomen."
"Right." Xing Mu nodded. "Judging by the state of their livor mortis, they were placed in this position shortly after their deaths."
Ming Shu studied one of the corpses, which had a very noticeable head wound. Blood and brain matter had gushed out, drying and solidifying in the victim's hair.
"Was the head wound the cause of death?" Ming Shu asked.
Xing Mu had already assigned each of the corpses a number, with the victim on top being '1' and the other being '2'.
He carefully placed a hand at the head of Victim 1. "This wound is very different from the wounds inflicted by the nails. There was a reaction of life. She was still alive when the killer stabbed an approximately three-centimeter knife into her temporal lobe."
Ming Shu furrowed his brow. "Stabbed through the bone while she was still alive? The killer's strength and skill must be exceptional."
"Boss," Xing Mu said. "I have to ask a question I shouldn't ask. Please don't get angry."
"I know what you want to ask," Ming Shu said. "Could I do it?"
"Um…" Xing Mu couldn't deny it.
Ming Shu bluntly answered, "I could."
Xing Mu nodded. "I couldn't. The only ones capable of something like this would be elite special ops members like you, or highly-trained veterans, or professional killers."
"Don't jump to any conclusions just yet," Ming Shu said.
Xing Mu gulped and quickly continued reporting the results of his preliminary analysis. "The murder weapon is also very interesting. It was a very hard blade. But I can't yet tell what condition the victims were in when the killer stabbed the blade into their heads. The victims could have been unconscious or drugged, or otherwise subdued. I'll have to conduct a more thorough autopsy back at the lab to find out."
Once Yi Fei arrived at the temple, Fang Yuanhang let out a sigh of relief. He hurried up the mountain and finally understood, after seeing the two bodies, why some of the girls who'd witnessed the scene had been sobbing so hard.
This was a truly gruesome, frightening sight.
Ming Shu called Xiao Man over. "Have you found anything?"
"We won't get any useful tracks. They've all been destroyed," Xiao Man said. "But I did find skin tissue under the nails of one of the victims. This could be a key piece of evidence."
Ming Shu noticed a bloodstain approximately two meters away from the bodies. "They were killed over there?"
"I do believe this was the primary scene of the crime, as well as the place where the bodies were disposed of," Xiao Man confirmed. He moved over to the bloodstain and lifted his right hand, making a stabbing gesture. "The murderer killed them here, then put them in the pit. It's like Xing-laoshi said. They were put into their current positions shortly after death.
"Both victims were killed by a sharp stab to the head. If the murderer had killed them elsewhere and moved their bodies here, there should be other bloodstains around, forming a trail to the pit. But as of right now, this is the only bloodstain I've found."
Xiao Man paused for a moment, then continued, "And we're on the upper half of Mount Qiyue right now. It would have been far too difficult to move two bodies up here."
Ming Shu looked around. "Where did their clothes go?"
"Probably taken away by the killer," Xiao Man said. "Clothes, jewelry, bags, cell phones, IDs. All gone. But the killer didn't destroy their fingerprints and faces. Their reason for taking the victims' belongings probably wasn't to keep us from identifying the bodies."
Ming Shu fell silent for a while. He took a dozen or so steps back, observing the scene from a distance.
The pit wasn't actually hidden at all. Even from a spot at the same altitude, it was possible to see the contents of the pit. From a higher vantage point, looking down, the bodies would have been even more visible.
The two bodies were stacked up, one on top of the other, but there was no mud covering them. No branches, and almost no leaves. The few leaves that did stick out from their hair seemed to have fallen from nearby trees.
Which meant the killer had no intention of hiding the bodies.
Xiao Man had ventured the theory that the killer didn't intend to hide the victims' identities since he didn't destroy their faces or fingerprints.
But that wasn't necessarily correct.
The victims were both women. Judging by their facial features, statures, and physiques, they had very likely been beautiful women during their lives.
Wouldn't destroying the faces and hands of beautiful women have ruined the beauty of the crime for the killer?
The killer murdered the two women next to the pit, stripped off all their clothes, and placed them in a sixty-nine position. Why did the killer do such a thing?
Perhaps the killer hadn't taken their clothes. Perhaps they had taken off their clothes, of their own volition, before their deaths?
The initial investigation of the crime scene was still in progress. Ming Shu sorted through his thoughts as he paced in the nearby woods.
Time of death was three days ago. October 13th.
Three days ago, a cold snap had yet to hit Dongye City and the leaves on Mount Qiyue had yet to turn yellow. And this place was only frequented by tourists when the leaves were gold.
If the killer chose this place as their killing ground, they must have been extremely familiar with the conditions of Mount Qiyue. They must have known that the cooling weather and yellowing leaves would draw in mass amounts of tourists.
As soon as tourists swarmed up the mountain, they would find the pit with the bodies inside.
Then, the police would launch an investigation.
The killer wasn't afraid of being investigated.
Not only that, it was likely the killer had arranged everything on purpose!
Ming Shu turned his back to the pit and meticulously combed through all the details in his mind.
The bodies were arranged in a very obviously ritualistic fashion. The killer had gone to great lengths to position them and affix them in place with ten nails. That may not have been solely for the purpose of satisfying some cruel desire; the killer may have wanted to present this exact scene to spectators as well.
If the killer hadn't wished to put on a show, they wouldn't have chosen the time shortly before the busy season to commit this crime on Mount Qiyue. And they wouldn't have put the bodies in such a prominent place.
They wanted tourists, enjoying their autumn trips, to stumble upon this scene and witness this 'masterpiece'.
And judging by the victims' gender, their positions, and their injuries, it was extremely likely that the killer was male.
A likely suspect would be one with an intense desire for the female form, without any way to fulfill his sexual desires in real life. A long period of repression could have led to psychological abnormalities. In that case, could the killer be someone who suffered some manner of sexual defect in life?
Ming Shu shook his head and quickly hit the brakes on that train of thought.
The victims had yet to be identified, and a thorough autopsy had yet to be conducted. Profiling a killer from only a preliminary scan of the crime scene was actually a very bad idea. If Ming Shu made a mistake here, it could deeply affect the course of the investigation.
Xiao Man had already removed the nails from the victims and laid them out, numbering and photographing each of them before placing them inside evidence bags. Xing Mu and a few other team members placed the bodies inside body bags, but the matter of transporting them down the mountain became an issue.
Normally, after conducting a preliminary investigation on the scene, the team would move the bodies into a car and drive them back to the Serious Crimes Division.
But these bodies were high up in the mountains. A car couldn't possibly reach them there.
"What should we do?" Xing Mu glanced over at Ming Shu. "Should we ask for a helicopter?"
Ming Shu considered it for a while. "Let's move them down to the temple. We'll have a helicopter pick them up there."
It was extremely easy for the Serious Crimes Division to request a helicopter, and the Bureau's helicopter could have easily flown up to the scene of the crime. But the propellers would have disturbed the scene even further with all the air it whipped up, causing further damage to any evidence that remained.
If the killer left any traces at the scene of the crime at all, those traces had yet to be found.
Ming Shu didn't want to take the risk of destroying any evidence that may have been left behind.
Fang Yuanhang had never imagined that his trip to Mount Qiyue, to take pictures to show off to his friends online, would have ended with him carrying a body back down the mountain. But that was the nature of an elite police detective—even if they were loath to have their vacations disrupted by a new case, when a new case cropped up, they would wholly devote themselves to it.
The helicopter that came to Haijing Temple picked up the bodies and flew back to the Criminal Investigation Bureau. Xiao Man, Xing Mu, and a few other investigators went back as well.
Everyone else stayed back to question the witnesses. But even after questioning all those who'd stumbled upon the scene, the detectives didn't gain much valuable information.
The witnesses hadn't discovered the body much sooner than Xing Mu, Xiao Man, and the others. Many of them hadn't even seen the bodies, or hadn't taken a close look due to fear. Most witnesses had simply fled back down the mountain after hearing others shout that there were dead bodies up there.
But the Serious Crimes Division would never take something like this lightly.
"The killer wants to show off. They want everyone to see their 'work'. The more witnesses there are, the more satisfied they'll be," Ming Shu said. "If the killer is a patient person, they may have simply waited for the busy period for tourists to flock to Mount Qiyue. With the seasons changing, the busy season would have started this week, or next week at the latest. Someone would definitely find the bodies by then. But if the killer is the impatient type…"
"They would guide witnesses to the pit!" Fang Yuanhang exclaimed. "They may have been hidden in the group of tourists that climbed the mountain today. They may have 'unintentionally' led their companions to the pit. And they would definitely be eager to see the witnesses' reactions with their own eyes!"
Ming Shu glanced at the witnesses still gathered around. His gaze lingered on several of the men.
Most of them seemed anxious. Some were trying to soothe the girls with them, and others were whispering to their companions about what had just happened.
But one man, wearing a gray tracksuit, was different. He stood off to the side, alone, and watched the others with a strange look in his eye.