The two victims had yet to be identified. Their fingerprints and DNA had already been collected, but no matches in the police database came up.
As for the forensics side, the detailed autopsy reports had yet to be completed.
The youth outside Haijing Temple, who had been observing others with a strange look on his face, was named Qin Xu. Seventeen years old. Currently a second-year at Shisan High.
"Chief, this Qin Xu kid is way too frail. He definitely doesn't look like the type of person who could stab through an adult's temporal bone," Fang Yuanhang said.
"It's hard to say for sure right now," Ming Shu said. "If the victims were conscious and alert, Qin Xu doesn't seem like the type that could successfully launch a surprise attack on them. But if the victims were already unconscious? Or if they were otherwise subdued? Qin Xu does look weak, but he is a man after all."
"That's true," Fang Yuanhang admitted. "Should I call him over?"
Ming Shu nodded. "Go."
Qin Xu truly was different from all the others in the crowd. Many people who hadn't seen the bodies were scared out of their wits. Qin Xu, meanwhile, had personally laid eyes on the bodies. But he wasn't scared. He wasn't panicking. He behaved almost like he hadn't seen two bodies in the pit, but something else entirely.
"Where are your friends?" Ming Shu asked.
Qin Xu was expressionless as he retorted, "If you're looking for my friends, why did you call me over here?"
Ming Shu huffed a laugh. Teenage boys often liked to posture in front of older men, subconsciously hoping to appear bold and to win the upper hand. Ming Shu had encountered way too many people like this already. Qin Xu was, at best, a little cretin.
Qin Xu apparently hadn't expected Ming Shu to laugh like that. He furrowed his brows, unable to maintain the calm look on his face.
"I'll ask you one more time," Ming Shu said. "Where are your friends?"
Qin Xu's brows furrowed even deeper. "I didn't come with any friends."
"You came to Mount Qiyue by yourself?"
"Can't I come by myself? Is there some rule at Mount Qiyue that says you can't come alone?"
"Of course you can," Ming Shu said. "But I'd like to know what your purpose was, in coming to Mount Qiyue alone."
Qin Xu was starting to get worked up. "I came to take pictures!"
"Then do you mind if I take a look at your photos?" Ming Shu asked.
Qin Xu was hugging his camera. He turned slightly to the side and pursed his lips into a flat line.
It was an extremely defensive move. He was obviously very, very reluctant to let a police officer touch his camera.
Or perhaps the camera itself was unimportant. The pictures inside were key.
After facing off against Ming Shu in a tense stalemate for a while, Qin Xu relented and admitted defeat. He unhappily handed his camera over and said, "If you want to look, then look. Don't break my camera."
Ming Shu quickly scrolled through the photos on the camera. One of his brows subconsciously arched with surprise.
The camera, lens included, cost upwards of fifty thousand yuan. To professional photographers or people very invested in the hobby, fifty thousand wasn't too much to spend on a camera. But to a second-year high school student, this would already be considered a top-of-the-line piece of equipment.
Qin Xu claimed he'd come to Mount Qiyue to take photos, and Mount Qiyue was famous for its beautiful scenery in the autumn. But since arriving at the foot of the mountain, Qin Xu had only taken photos of other people—not the scenery.
Some people liked to photograph the scenery, and some liked to photograph other people. There was nothing out of the ordinary about that.
But if someone simply liked taking pictures of people, why would they come all the way out to Mount Qiyue? Couldn't they take pictures of people in the city, or anywhere else?
Plus, the people in Qin Xu's camera were all very 'ugly'.
Not 'ugly' in terms of appearance, necessarily. But ugly in the way they behaved.
There were photos of middle-aged women pulling at and arguing with each other in disputes over scenic photography spots. There were men who viciously shook nearby trees in order to make leaves fall down so that their female companions could be photographed with those drifting leaves in the background. There were young tourists trampling off the trails and wandering where they shouldn't. There were kids urinating in public…
The most recent photos were of the looks of terror on the faces of the tourists streaming down the mountain. There were also over a dozen photos of the bodies in the pit.
Why did a seventeen-year-old boy enjoy taking photos of such sights?
Ming Shu scrolled farther back. It seemed Qin Xu had yet to transfer or delete his earlier photos. The camera roll still contained his 'stock' from the previous week, the previous month.
The photos were all similar to the ones taken that day on Mount Qiyue, capturing various people in moments of 'ugliness'.
Suddenly, Ming Shu spotted a familiar place. As well as a familiar face.
Shrimp Baobao. And the owner of Shrimp Baobao, Qin Xiong.
In that photo, Qin Xiong was in the middle of grappling with a middle-aged woman. Their expressions were both twisted and full of resentment.
Ming Shu turned the camera towards Qin Xu. "Who are they?"
Qin Xu sneered. "My parents."
Qin Xu and Qin Xiong shared the same surname. Before asking, Ming Shu had already guessed the answer.
"It seems you enjoy observing people at their lowest, 'ugliest' moments," Ming Shu said. "But why did you come out to Mount Qiyue to indulge yourself?"
"Obviously it's because the people who chase after these net-famous attractions are the ugliest of all!" Qin Xu declared. Shadows flashed across his eyes as he laughed darkly. "Haven't you realized? You can find the ugliest of souls on this mountain!"
Fang Yuanhang's eyes flew wide open. He felt a bit like he'd been shot while lying down.
"Earlier, outside Haijing Temple, you were observing the others," Ming Shu said. "Were you also trying to capture their ugliness?"
Qin Xu licked his lips. "If I could have, I would have wanted to capture the ugliness of you cops too!"
Fang Yuanhang couldn't listen to any more of this. "Shut it, you!"
"This camera," Ming Shu said, waving it gently. "Lend it to me."
Qin Xu became more worked up at that. "Why?"
"The dozen or so photos you took of the pit may be of use to us in our investigation," Ming Shu said.
Qin Xu clenched his fists.
"What?" Ming Shu prompted. "You're not willing to lend it to us?"
"You don't want those pictures of the pit at all," Qin Xu accused. "You want to take my camera in for technical processing!"
"Oh?" Ming Shu smiled. "You're pretty smart."
"You think I'm the killer," Qin Xu continued. "Because in ninety percent of murder cases, the killer will return to the scene of the crime!"
Ming Shu folded his fingers together and tapped them lightly against the camera. "You read and watch a lot of detective stories."
"But I'm not the killer!" Qin Xu insisted. "I don't even know who those girls are!"
"Who was the first one to discover that pit?" Ming Shu asked.
Qin Xu froze.
Ming Shu waited for a few seconds, then prompted, "Hm?"
"If I say it was me," Qin Xu ventured cautiously, "won't you be more suspicious of me?"
"So it really was you?"
"Well, it's not like I can lie to you! If I lie and you guys find out I lied, wouldn't that make me even more suspicious?"
"In that case," Ming Shu said, "you'll have to do your best to remember exactly how you found the pit."
"I…" Qin Xu finally started to show a bit of uneasiness. "I was following three guys and two girls. I wanted to photograph them while they were kicking up a fuss near that pit. But I couldn't get a clear shot of their faces from below them, so I had to climb higher. I went to a spot that was higher than the pit. When I looked back down, I saw what was inside."
"Which five people were you following?" Ming Shu asked.
Qin Xu looked behind himself and pointed in a certain direction.
"Did they know you were following them?" Ming Shu added. "Did they know you were taking their pictures?"
Qin Xu snobbily answered, "I've never been discovered while photographing people!"
Ming Shu didn't ask anything else. For the time being, he let Qin Xu go.
"This kid might have some serious psychological problems," Yi Fei said. "But as for whether or not he's the killer… I'm not so sure about that."
"Mm," Ming Shu agreed. "Qin Xu has a way of venting his issues, through his photography. The killer, on the other hand, shows all the markers of a person who has been repressed for a very, very long time. One who finally exploded."
Yi Fei swept his gaze across the crowd of witnesses again. "We've questioned pretty much everyone here already. Besides Qin Xu, no one else stuck out as especially suspicious."
Ming Shu rubbed at the dip between his brows. "We'll have to wait for the results from Xing-laoshi and Xiao Man."
That night, Xing Mu finished the autopsy report and rushed back over to present his findings. When he saw that Xiao Yu'an was also present, he stammered, "Di… Director Xiao. You're here."
Xiao Yu'an nodded. "Mm. I came to gain a basic understanding of this case. Xing-laoshi, don't mind me. Please report directly to Captain Ming."
"Oh, o… okay." Xing Mu passed the reports to Ming Shu. "It's as we thought during the preliminary examination. Both victims died from the stab wound to the temporal lobe. Previously, I suspected the victims may have been incapacitated during the killer's attack. The killer could have drugged them. But the tox screen results show that they hadn't imbibed any such substances. Furthermore, their stomachs have been emptied. Time of death was the evening of October 13th."
Ming Shu mused, "So they were conscious when the killer stabbed them…"
"Of course, they could have been sleeping," Xing Mu said. "But there's one problem with that. The primary scene of the crime was right next to the pit, and we've already determined that they were positioned in the pit very shortly after death. Under what circumstances would two girls sleep out in the wilderness? I really can't fathom it."
Ming Shu began to pace while hugging his arms. "Judging by Qin Xu's physique, he probably couldn't have stabbed two women through the temporal bone while they were awake. Not even if he attacked in the middle of the night. It's very probable the killer wasn't in the group of young people who climbed the mountain today—
Hearing his name all of a sudden, Fang Yuanhang hurriedly stood up. "Yes, Chief! Present!"
"The crime scene is pretty far from Haijing Temple, but anyone taking the usual trails up the mountain should have passed Haijing Temple on their way up," Ming Shu said. "When these victims were killed, Mount Qiyue had yet to enter its busy season. There wouldn't have been many tourists on the mountain at that time, and the monks at the temple may have remembered these girls.
"Go ask around at the temple. If these girls didn't use the usual trails to climb the mountain, we'll have to deeply scrutinize their relationship with the killer."
Nine monks lived at Haijing Temple year-round. When Fang Yuanhang went to ask about the victims, a monk in his twenties took the initiative to step forward. He claimed to have seen two women pass the temple and continue up the mountain three days ago.
This monk was named Wu Zeng. He'd only become a monk a year ago, after failing his entrance exams.
"They came to enjoy the autumn sights on Mount Qiyue, but it was already three in the afternoon when I encountered them," Wu Zeng said. He was dressed like a monk, but perhaps because he'd only been a monk for a short while, he didn't quite act like one. "I was reading in the courtyard at the time. They came in to take a break and asked me if the leaves at the top of the mountain had yellowed."
"What did you tell them?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
"I told them the leaves had indeed turned yellow, of course," Wu Zeng said. "But I also told them that there was still a long distance between the temple and the peak of the mountain, and there were no more roads beyond this point. I said it might be dangerous for two girls, but they didn't listen. They even said they were 'tough gals'."
"Why did you think it would be dangerous for them to go on?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
Wu Zeng froze for a second. He lowered his gaze. "No one ever really goes up the mountain from here. Doesn't that make it dangerous?"
Fang Yuanhang didn't ask anything else. He simply fixed his gaze on Wu Zeng and studied him for a while.
There were many different types of danger. If there were wild animals in the mountain, they could be dangerous. If the mountain paths were steep and uneven, traversing them could be dangerous. And if there were people with ill intentions hiding higher up in the mountains, that could be the most dangerous thing of all.
Exactly what type of 'danger' was Wu Zeng talking about?
When he sensed Fang Yuanhang studying him so intently, Wu Zeng began to feel restless. "I didn't stop them from going higher. I feel responsible for that. But the two of them dying on the mountain… that isn't my fault, is it?"
Fang Yuanhang was a little surprised by that.
Everyone said Buddhists were compassionate people. But Wu Zeng didn't sound the slightest bit compassionate.
"Can you think back a little?" Fang Yuanhang prompted. "When they went up the mountain, what were they wearing?"
"Sportswear, on both of them," Wu Zeng said. "One was wearing all white, from her clothes to her sneakers, and one was wearing a red outfit with black shoes. The one in white was carrying a camera."
"Before and after they went up the mountain," Fang Yuanhang continued, "did you take note of any other tourists?"
Wu Zeng shook his head. "Quite a few people came to Mount Qiyue that day, but those two girls were the only ones I saw who went beyond the temple."
"Do you guys often go up the mountain?"
"No. There's nothing on the mountain. Just trees and more trees. Sometimes we'll see a few squirrels. If we need any supplies, we'll go down the mountain to shop. There's no point in going higher up from here."
"Wearing sportswear, enjoying the autumn. Carrying a camera. Calling themselves 'tough gals'," Ming Shu recounted, after hearing Fang Yuanhang's report. "Then they really were just normal tourists, like any of us, going to enjoy the ginkgo leaves. So why were the two of them targeted by the killer?"
Fang Yuanhang stood off to one side, spacing out.
Ming Shu raised his voice and called out, "What are you thinking?"
"Huh?" Fang Yuanhang snapped back to his senses. "That Wu Zeng guy gave me a sort of bad feeling."
"Bad in what way?" Ming Shu asked.
"As of right now, he's the last person we know of who saw the victims," Fang Yuanhang said. "After the girls passed the temple, he would have had ample time to follow them up and commit the crime."
"Motive?" Ming Shu asked.
"I don't know," Fang Yuanhang admitted.
"Don't rush it," Ming Shu said, giving his rookie a pat on the shoulder. "Once we identify the bodies, this case will advance very quickly."
Unfortunately, they didn't have an easy time identifying the bodies. But the skin tissue Xiao Man extracted from beneath the nails of one of the victims actually matched a record in their DNA database.
Wang Zheng, forty-three years old. Four years ago, he'd been sentenced to three and a half years of jail time for raping a woman. He only completed his sentence at the start of that year. He was unmarried and presumably unemployed. Presently, he lived with his elderly mother on Caolong Street in Xi District.
Ming Shu instantly dispatched a team to Caolong Street, and he personally reached out to the prison where Wang Zheng had served his sentence to learn about what type of inmate Wang Zheng had been.
There were a total of two prisons in Dongye City, one to the north of the city and one to the east. Wang Zheng had been sent to the one in the north, which was colloquially called 'North Prison' by the police.
Prisons had their own internal hierarchy, and prisoners had their own hierarchy—a 'chain of contempt'—as well.
The inmates who fell at the bottom of that 'chain of contempt' were always the lowest of the low—those who assaulted children. And just slightly above them were the monsters who laid their hands on women.
Wang Zheng was a convicted rapist, and his victim was a young woman who'd just entered the workforce at the time. Many inmates had their own wives and daughters; Wang Zheng was the type of trash they loathed the most.
According to Lu Zhaofeng, a guard at North Prison, Wang Zheng had a miserable three and a half years there.
"Miserable in what way?" Ming Shu asked.
Lu Zhaofeng didn't go into the details. He simply stated, "He was basically crippled."
Ming Shu understood.
The prisoners who had been sentenced to jail time for various crimes had used their own means to punish a rapist, ensuring he would never again be able to commit the same crime upon his release.
However, there was more than one way a monster could violate a woman.
Ming Shu studied the autopsy reports laid out on his desk.
Neither of the women had been raped before their deaths, and no traces of bodily fluids from other people had been discovered on their bodies or in their hair. But the way they were positioned was extremely sexual in nature.
Wang Zheng was no longer a fit and firm male. Could he have vented all his repressed bitterness and rage on these women?
When the police found him, Wang Zheng was in the middle of delivering a package as a courier. He was riding an electric three-wheeled scooter, with the seat and basket piled high with packages. It was a busy season for delivery services; every company was short-handed.
"You… what do you people want?" Wang Zheng started to back up in obvious fear. "I didn't do anything illegal. Why are you trying to arrest me?"
"We obviously have our reasons," Fang Yuanhang snapped. He'd grown up with a cousin who was now around the age of Wang Zheng's victim, and his relationship with his cousin was very good—they were practically as close as siblings. So when he saw Wang Zheng, his anger flared.
Yi Fei warned Fang Yuanhang to keep his emotions out of the case, and he instructed Fang Yuanhang to bring Wang Zheng back to the Bureau first.
"What about you, Captain Yi?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
"This Wang Zheng isn't exactly like what I imagined," Yi Fei said. "I'm going to go check out his home."
"If you have a problem with me, take it up with me!" Wang Zheng shouted. "Don't go making trouble for my mother! She isn't in good health, she can't take the stress!"
"Aren't you, her son, the one who's caused her the most stress?" Yi Fei asked.
Wang Zheng froze, rendered speechless for a moment.
Yi Fei reached Caolong Street. The Wang family's apartment was in an eight-floor residential building. Many of the older homes in Dongye City were situated in similar buildings.
Wang Zheng's mother didn't react at all like Wang Zheng had reacted. In contrast to the son's violent outburst, the mother calmly let Yi Fei into her home and asked, "Has Wang Zheng done something again?"
The apartment was decorated in a very old-fashioned way. On the table, many cooked dishes were covered by lightweight cloths. Many bottles sat on the coffee table; upon closer inspection, they were all medicine bottles.
A medicinal scent drifted out from the kitchen. A pot of herbal medicine was currently simmering on the stove.
Before entering the apartment, Yi Fei had already noticed traces of paint on the front door. It was very likely that words like 'rapist' had been splattered across the door and walls at some point.
This family was having a very hard time.
Yi Fei asked Grandma Liu a few questions about her son Wang Zheng, and Grandma Liu answered them one by one.
"Wang Zheng committed a horrible crime," she said. "I didn't raise him right. He deserved as many years in jail as he got. Even if he sat in there for the rest of his life, it would never be enough to repair the damage he did to that poor girl.
"He couldn't find a job after getting out of prison, but I fortunately still had my pension. We struggle, but we can make ends meet. He did find some sort of job delivering things recently. And there's a construction site that's willing to let him do some work. Life is getting more stable, I suppose.
"I don't have much hope for him. I only hope he won't hurt anyone in the future. That's all."
When Yi Fei asked about the medicine, she continued, "Oh, the medicine? The medicine is for me. I'm getting on in years, and my body is starting to give out on me. My heart, liver, and kidneys aren't so good these days. I have rheumatoid arthritis as well.
"Look at my hands, they're all disfigured. Wang Zheng always tells me not to worry. He says he'll work hard to provide for me in my old age. You see all this medicine? Wang Zheng is the one who insisted on sending me to the hospital to pick them up."
Wang Zheng sat in an interrogation room at the Criminal Investigation Bureau. Photos of the two victims were placed on the table in front of him.
He leaned in and looked at the photos for a few seconds before suddenly jumping back with a shout.
"Ah!" His face had turned a ghastly shade. "Wh… what is this?"
"Who are they?" Ming Shu asked.
With obvious shock in his voice, Wang Zheng asked, "How should I know?"