All that hollering was practically enough to make Ming Shu's ears ring. His gaze sharpened with severity, and he irritably snapped, "Sit down!"
He Yi was trembling. As expected of a man in his thirties in this situation, his voice was tinged with a few measures of aggression as he insisted, "Really, it really wasn't me. If you hadn't told me just now, I wouldn't even have known they were already…"
"Then you just need to give me a clear account of where you were on October 13th. Where were you? What were you doing?" Ming Shu demanded. "And tell me exactly how you met the two of them, as well as how the conflict between you played out."
According to He Yi's ensuing testimony, he met a waitress at Linshen Jianlu in June of that year—a waitress named 'Lanlan'. He instantly felt that 'Lanlan' had a sort of air about her that set her apart from all the other waitresses. 'Lanlan' seemed so pure, and she possessed a sort of bookishness typical of students. He Yi fell in love at first sight with 'Lanlan' and began to pursue her.
Linshen Jianlu had a policy of protecting the identities of their staff members; all employees worked under aliases, and their real names were kept secret from customers. But He Yi felt that his feelings for 'Lanlan' were genuine, and he was set on marrying her, so he asked the shift leader and the manager for 'Lanlan's' real name.
But everyone at the bar followed the bar's rules. No matter how He Yi asked, no one told him 'Lanlan's' real name.
And before long, the bartender 'Louis' heard about He Yi's pursuit.
This name 'Louis' seemed like it would belong to a man, but the bartender was actually a beautiful short-haired woman.
'Louis' and 'Lanlan' were on very good terms. The former cut a striking figure when she stood behind the bar; some would have even called her 'valiant'. And the latter was exactly what anyone would consider a very traditional beauty.
Since he'd failed to learn 'Lanlan's' real name, He Yi could only continue to approach 'Lanlan' over and over again to endear himself to her.
He Yi went to Linshen Jianlu practically every day. He always asked for 'Lanlan' as his waitress, ordering plenty of drinks and fruit plates to keep her coming. He always brought 'Lanlan' flowers and other gifts, too. He basically spent his whole salary trying to woo her.
In July, He Yi managed to get a good sense of 'Lanlan's' work schedule. After 'Lanlan' left work, he started to follow her from a distance.
'Lanlan' and 'Louis' always left work together. They seemed very close. At first, He Yi was wary of 'Louis'. He would stop tracking the girls shortly after they left the bar. But soon enough, He Yi realized that the girls weren't very vigilant at all. They hardly even looked over their shoulders. Gradually, He Yi grew bolder and started to follow them farther.
Before long, He Yi learned that 'Lanlan' was a second-year graduate school at the School of Communications of the University of Dongye, studying at the Zijiao Campus. He also learned that her real name was Zhao Siyan, and that her friend 'Louis' was her classmate, whose real name was Lu Chen. The two girls were both twenty-four years old, and they were the children of wealthy families.
He Yi was immensely pleased by Zhao Siyan's status as a graduate student and her family background. He pursued her even more ardently, with the intent to marry her. But Zhao Siyan never accepted his advances, and she was even displeased with the way He Yi had followed her and investigated her background.
He Yi relentlessly explained himself to Zhao Siyan, insisting that he was a nice guy who had a steady and proper job. As a civil servant, adored by everyone, he was sure to give her a happy life.
But Zhao Siyan refused to accept him. She even said she already had a lover.
He Yi remained persistent. He asked who this lover was, and it was at that moment that Lu Chen stepped up, wrapped an arm around Zhao Siyan, and said, "It's me."
He Yi was incapable of believing what he'd heard, and he was even more incapable of believing his own eyes. Zhao Siyan and Lu Chen were both women. How could two women be together?
Lu Chen told He Yi to get lost after that. She warned him that she wouldn't be so polite next time, if he continued to pursue Zhao Siyan.
Although He Yi was a bit afraid of Lu Chen, he told himself that Lu Chen was still only a woman. How could he, a grown man, be scared off by a little girl?
With that mindset, He Yi pushed Lu Chen's warning aside. He visited Linshen Jianlu again and continued to bring gifts for Zhao Siyan. When he failed to see her, he texted and called her relentlessly.
He believed that persistence was all that mattered when pursuing a woman. What kind of woman could resist persistence? As long as he kept at it, Zhao Siyan would become his docile housewife soon enough.
But Lu Chen used her actions to make him realize… he was just dreaming!
On the night of September 2nd, He Yi left the bar and was immediately dragged into a back alley by a group of people. There, Lu Chen was waiting for him.
After being beaten up, He Yi swore to Lu Chen that he would never approach Zhao Siyan again. He even deleted Zhao Siyan's contact information right in front of Lu Chen.
But as for his whereabouts on October 13th, He Yi couldn't provide a solid alibi.
Work at the Cultural Bureau was relatively light and easy. It was rare that anyone had to work overtime, and sometimes people could even get off work half a day early. On the afternoon of the 13th, He Yi finished all his tasks and clocked out early. He claimed he went straight home to his place in Xi District's Danfeng Community and stayed there for the rest of the day.
"I really went home, I really didn't go anywhere else. Also, after Lu Chen had me beaten up, I went to the hospital," He Yi said. "If you don't believe me, you can check my medical records!"
"After being beaten by Lu Chen's people, you never went looking for Zhao Siyan again?" Ming Shu asked.
"How could I?" He Yi snapped. He was both scared and angry. "Lu Chen even threatened me. She said if I didn't listen to her, she would tell my colleagues and bosses that I was harassing a female graduate student at a bar. If people at work found out about this, I wouldn't be able to keep my place in society!"
"Do you know the people Lu Chen got to beat you?" Ming Shu asked. "Who were they?"
"Just a bunch of thugs, obviously! Lu Chen herself is a little rough and tough girl, a delinquent. Those people were all her pals!"
Lu Chen was a delinquent, and she was pals with a bunch of thugs?
That was a new lead.
However, when Ming Shu thought about it, he realized it was very likely that Lu Chen had just hired some random thugs and paid them to beat He Yi. The team had already looked into the communications records of the two victims, and neither Lu Chen nor Zhao Siyan had been in regular contact with anyone who could have been considered a thug. Lu Chen seemed like the type who never studied, but she was actually a top student at her school.
Ming Shu jotted down some notes in his notebook, then asked, "I have another question, but it's rather personal. You can choose to answer or not answer."
He Yi looked like he was at a loss, bewildered and a bit perplexed.
"Based on my understanding, most of the men at your workplace married before they were thirty. At your age, it's a rare thing to be unmarried and to not have a girlfriend," Ming Shu said. "Before you began pursuing Zhao Siyan this summer, why did you remain unwed all those years?"
Hearing that, He Yi hastily averted his gaze in embarrassment.
Ming Shu waited for a while. "You don't wish to answer?"
"You said I didn't have to," He Yi whispered.
At this time, Xu Chun had already rushed out to the hospital where He Yi had been treated. He confirmed that, early in the morning on September 3rd, He Yi really had received emergency treatment at that hospital. He Yi had sustained numerous soft tissue contusions, but none of his wounds were all that serious. Lu Chen had clearly wanted to have him beaten as a warning, to teach him a lesson. Her intent wasn't to seriously injure him.
But while he was at the hospital, Xu Chun also unearthed another important clue—starting from five years ago, He Yi had visited the pharmacy and bought various drugs and medicinal herbs to improve his sexual performance. His online shopping records also showed that he had purchased various sexual stimulants.
"This fucking…" Fang Yuanhang stared at screenshots of He Yi's online shopping transactions. He was thoroughly stupefied. "What the hell is all this? This guy is a prevert, right? So gross!"
"He Yi has some sort of sexual disorder, which could very well be why he's remained single all this time," Ming Shu said. "These drugs and 'supplies' may have helped him in some way, but it's more likely that he's realized he can't be 'normal'. He could be suffering from long-term sexual repression, which does fit our profile for the killer. But…"
"But the killer is strong and skilled, which doesn't fit with He Yi's apparent abilities," Fang Yuanhang said. "He Yi doesn't have an alibi, though, and he did have a grudge against the victims. He has the motive, and he has the opportunity."
"The suspicion on He Yi is indeed immense," Ming Shu said. "Lu Chen claimed she was Zhao Siyan's lover. This could have been true, or this could have been something she said to get He Yi to leave Zhao Siyan alone. Judging by the way they were posed in death, anyone would have taken them for a pair of lovers. If that was He Yi's revenge, it all checks out."
"What we're missing now is evidence," Fang Yuanhang said. "Did He Yi go to Mount Qiyue on October 13th or not? Ai, but I'm still stuck on He Yi's lack of physical strength and skill…"
Fang Yuanhang propped his chin up on one hand and thought for a while before he continued, "Chief, why don't we change up our way of thinking for a bit? Let's say He Yi didn't actually kill them… but hired a killer? Based on the crime scene, the killer seems extremely professional. With just two strikes, he killed two adults. And he didn't leave any evidence pointing to him at the scene of the crime."
Ming Shu shook his head. "There would be a contradiction there."
"What contradiction?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
"Think about it. If He Yi had hired a killer, why couldn't he produce an alibi when I asked about his whereabouts on October 13th?" Ming Shu challenged. "If he hired a killer, he would have known that Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan would die on the 13th. He would also know that the police would investigate the victims' social connections, and he would know the investigation would inevitably lead to him.
"Knowing all that, he definitely would have created a solid alibi for himself."
"Ah, I overlooked that," Fang Yuanhang admitted, falling into thought again. "If we rule out the possibility of him hiring the killer and assume He Yi really is the killer, then his disguise as a 'weak' person really is too good."
"Go check on He Yi's background," Ming Shu said. "Thoroughly. The spotlight is already on him now. If there's a break in the case to be discovered here, there's no reason for us not to discover it."
Since the 1013 Case had taken place at a net-famous tourist destination, since the victims were two female graduate students from a famous university, and since the conditions of their death were extremely unique, the social impact of the case was huge. The Serious Crimes Division received no small amount of pressure from higher-ups to solve the case quickly; not only did they have to investigate this case, they had to look into unresolved cases of missing women from recent years as well.
But combing through missing persons cases from any major city was extremely time- and labor-intensive. They had yet to find any new leads through that channel as of yet.
Ming Shu had been called into the deputy director's office by Xiao Yu'an. Just as he prepared to report on the current conditions of the case, he heard Xiao Yu'an say, "Checking old missing persons cases may be a misstep."
The corners of Ming Shu's eyes twitched slightly. "Why?"
"You and your team have determined, based on the deaths of Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan, that this killer is experienced. The killer suffers from some sort of defect in maleness and has been repressed for a long time. So he brutally slaughters women and poses them in sexual positions after death, satisfying his ego in the process," Xiao Yu'an recounted. "You've also determined that the murderer chose this time and place, during the peak season at Mount Qiyue, in order to put his 'masterpiece' in a prominent position where it would be discovered by many people."
"Is there a problem with any of that?" Ming Shu asked.
"Since his goal is to put his 'work' on display, then how could his previous victims—if there are any—still be missing? Wouldn't they have been discovered long ago, becoming victims in a murder case?" Xiao Yu'an asked. "Think about it. Doesn't that make sense?"
Ming Shu furrowed his brows. After a long moment of thought, he said, "But I still think the murderer has killed before this Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan case. He was just too skilled."
Xiao Yu'an nodded. "I'm inclined to believe that as well, that this person has killed before. But I don't necessarily approve of expending all this manpower on combing through missing persons cases."
"You mean this person could be a nomadic killer?" Ming Shu asked. "Before this, he committed his crimes elsewhere. This was his first, in Dongye City?"
"Shen Xun got back to me just a short while ago," Xiao Yu'an said. "He's gone through all unsolved homicide cases in the country, and there isn't a single one that fits the mold of the case we're investigating now."
Ming Shu was sitting on the desk in Xiao Yu'an's office. He swung his legs absently and looked up at the ceiling. "Strange. If there are no similar cases in Dongye City, or any other city or province… if there's no need to sift through missing persons cases… then this was the killer's first murder? The first time he kills, he goes this far? Is that possible?"
"There are a few details of this case that are currently inexplicable," Xiao Yu'an said.
Ming Shu looked at him. "Hm?"
After the cold snap from a few days earlier, the temperature had gone back up. Ming Shu wasn't wearing as much that day. After taking off his suit jacket, he was left in only a dress shirt and his slacks. And because the temperature in the conference room had been rather high during his meeting earlier, he'd undone the top two buttons of his shirt. When he twisted at this angle, the collar of his shirt fell open, revealing his beautiful clavicle.
"Button up," Xiao Yu'an said.
Ming Shu couldn't be bothered. "It's not like there's anyone else here."
"Take a look at yourself in the mirror," Xiao Yu'an said.
Ming Shu took out his phone and loaded up his camera, switching it to selfie mode to use it as a mirror. He saw a red mark just under his collarbone, which Xiao Yu'an had left the night before Ming Shu set out for Mount Qiyue.
"Fuck!" Ming Shu hastily buttoned up his shirt. "This is obviously your crime. Why do I have to be the one to cover it up?"
After saying that, Ming Shu looked at Xiao Yu'an's shirt and recalled there were just as many—if not more—red marks under that shirt as well. He grinned and said, "Alright, you're covering up the traces of my crimes too. We'll call it even."
Xiao Yu'an laughed and said, "Captain Ming, let me remind you. This is the office, not our home. To keep up appearances, there's a certain way you need to treat your bosses."
Ming Shu hopped off the table and pulled out a chair, taking a seat properly. "Boss, sir! Your orders, please!"
Xiao Yu'an sighed. "Since you can still crack jokes, it seems you haven't gotten to the point of being overwhelmed by this case just yet."
Ming Shu had messed around enough. He grew serious again and said, "You said there were some inexplicable things about this case. What things?"
"The bodies were too clean," Xiao Yu'an said. "The bodies were posed in a very sexual nature, but they weren't violated before or after death. There were no bodily fluids found on the bodies or around the pit. It seemed the killer only wanted to use their bodies to construct that pose."
"Judging by this killer's apparent level of experience, he wouldn't have left any of his own bodily fluids at the scene," Ming Shu said. "If he did, he would have been too careless."
"Pay close attention to the last part of my analysis—it seemed the killer only wanted to use their bodies to construct that pose," Xiao Yu'an reiterated. "If a person had been repressed for a long time, what would they have done before and after the murder?"
Ming Shu put his hands into the pockets of his suit pants and thought about it for a while. "He would have used the victims' bodies to do the things he was normally incapable of doing. He would have violated them, perhaps with the tools of his crime. Or he would have admired his work after placing them in that position, watching them while he… most likely, he would have left his own bodily fluids on the victims' bodies."
"Correct," Xiao Yu'an said. "That would have been typical of a killer who suffered from long-term repression. In both domestic and international cases of this nature, it's often the killer's 'uncontrollable urges' that lead to the critical break in the case.
"What is his goal in committing this crime? Of course, it should be to satisfy his own twisted desires. The victims' bodies should have been his means of venting those desires. In our current case, the killer murdered his victims, but didn't do anything else to them. So what was his goal?
"This is the first point that's presently inexplicable. The other point is what we discussed before. This feels like the work of a serial killer, and it doesn't feel like it's the first time he's killed. But we can't find any other case that seems like it can be investigated in line with this one."
Ming Shu closed his eyes and mulled it over for a while. These points really were difficult to explain.
This killer exhibited extreme control over his own impulses. In the vast majority of cases involving female victims murdered by repressed killers, the killer lost control of his inhibitions and left evidence of his presence—typically bodily fluids—behind at the crime scene.
If the killer wasn't a repressed psychopath, then what kind of killer was this?
The investigation into the social circles of Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan was nearly complete, and He Yi was the only person with a clear motive who had been found so far.
But among the classmates of the two victims, their roommate Zhan Li was a person of interest.
Zhan Li had attended the University of Dongye for her undergraduate studies as well, and her grades were steadily near the top of her class. But in her first and second years of graduate school, her academic standing fell far behind that of Lu Chen, who'd tested into their prestigious university from an external undergraduate program.
Furthermore, Lu Chen was the type who rarely studied and spent a lot of time on extracurricular activities. Yet she continued to excel in classes, and she was often praised by professors. She was the ideal student.
Even Lu Chen's family circumstances were better than Zhan Li's.
Lu Chen didn't have to worry about her financial situation at all, but she still went out to work a part-time job. She would spend all the money she earned on 'useless' trinkets, or she would take people out to eat.
Zhan Li came from a poor family. She should have worked a part-time job, but when she worked, her grades dropped even more.
This became a vicious cycle.
Ming Shu couldn't help but think of the people from their last case, the ones who weren't 'gifted' enough.
It wasn't impossible that Zhan Li would want to kill Lu Chen out of hatred and jealousy, and it wasn't impossible that she would even kill Zhao Siyan, who was close to Lu Chen. But the question remained—was Zhan Li capable of executing these extremely difficult murders?
Zhan Li and He Yi were rather similar. They both had enough of a motive to commit the crime, but their ability to do so was dubious.
Ming Shu rapped his knuckles against his own temples, then shook his head. A thought finally leapt to the forefront of his mind. "Ah, that's right. We got a noteworthy lead from He Yi."
Xiao Yu'an had just been watching Ming Shu. He knew Ming Shu's thoughts were racing. "What lead?"
"He Yi claimed Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan were lesbians. Based on He Yi's reaction, he was so repulsed by the notion that he couldn't even believe two women could be together," Ming Shu said. "If the murderer isn't someone who's sexually repressed and psychologically twisted, could he have been as much of a bigot as He Yi?"
At some point, Ming Shu had gotten out of the chair and moved to sit on Xiao Yu'an's desk again. His arms were crossed in front of his chest. Although his posture was very casual, his expression was extremely serious.
"There are various reasons people come to be prejudiced against these minorities," Ming Shu said. "Two reasons are very typical. One, they may have been slighted by lesbians in the past. Two, they may simply find the idea of two women together repulsive. If this is what the killer felt, then he didn't use the victims' bodies as an outlet for his desires. When he faced them, he felt only disgust. No desire.
"Previously, I'd approached this case with the assumption that the killer posed the victims in such a way to 'appreciate' them. As a way to vent his repressed urges. But if we assume the killer is a homophobe, they may have considered that an extraordinarily ugly pose. They may have wanted the victims' supposed 'ugliness' to be put on display."
"Has the relationship between Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan been verified?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
Ming Shu shook his head. "This is only He Yi's claim. Their classmates and roommates didn't mention anything about it. They only said that the victims were close and often went on outings together."
"Women, especially students who live together in the same dormitory, may often go out together to shop or eat. In and of itself, that isn't proof of a relationship," Xiao Yu'an said. "He Yi also didn't suspect Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan of being in a relationship until Lu Chen told him outright. It was only then that he believed it. Furthermore, if we assume Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan were a couple, why would they have lived in a dormitory with their finances? Wouldn't it have been inconvenient for two graduate students, at age twenty-four, to share a room with two other roommates?"
Ming Shu propped both hands on the desk and leaned back. He sighed heavily and, after a moment, said, "Then it's a bit of a stretch to think this murder was motivated by homophobia. Lu Chen only said she and Zhao Siyan were lovers as a last resort, possibly just to get He Yi to back off. They weren't necessarily a real couple, and even if they were, no one around them knew. How could the killer have known? Tsk, this complicates things."
"How has the investigation into Haijing Temple been going?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
"Fang Yuanhang is suspicious of that monk, Wu Zeng, who was the last person to see Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan," Ming Shu said. "Every single monk at Haijing Temple had the opportunity to commit the crime. But as for motive and evidence, so far we've found nothing."
"I have a thought," Xiao Yu'an said. "You can give it some consideration."
Ming Shu looked at him. "Why are you speaking so politely all of a sudden? You mean to direct me, don't you?"
Xiao Yu'an laughed. "I'm afraid you'll dive into a dead end, so I'd like to lend you a guiding rope first."
"Tsk! You think you're putting a leash on Chengcheng or something?"
Chengcheng was a wolfdog the Xiao family had raised; Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Mu'ting had rescued it together. The two of them couldn't agree on a name for the dog until Xiao Jincheng got home from school, covered in mud. It was then that Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Mu'ting looked at each other, and reached a consensus—
The answer was clearly to give the dog the name Cheng, sharing a character with the 'cheng' in Xiao Jincheng. After all, Xiao Jincheng was basically like a dog himself.
All the boys in the Xiao family were responsible for taking Chengcheng on walks. When Xiao Jincheng took him out, they would just run wild. When Xiao Mu'ting took him out, they would find a quiet spot to laze around in the sun. And when Xiao Yu'an took him out, he would always diligently affix a rope as Chengcheng's leash.
"If you put him on a leash, he won't be free," Ming Shu had said.
"But if you let him run free without a leash," Xiao Yu'an had said, "he'll run wild. Last time, he and Xiao Jincheng ran into a dead end together. They were both lost and stranded for ages."
Ever since he was little, Xiao Yu'an had been the extremely organized and practical type.
Back in the present, in Xiao Yu'an's office, Ming Shu smiled and said, "Go ahead and leash me. I'm listening."
While Fang Yuanhang rushed to Haijing Temple again, and while Xiao Yu'an and Ming Shu had this small meeting, a panicked man rushed into a local police post on Guofu Street in Dong District.
The man was in his sixties, and his eyes were red and swollen. As soon as he burst into the police post, he exclaimed, "My son has gone missing! I know it isn't easy to file a missing persons report for a young person, but please! Please help me find my son!"
After saying that, the man fell to his knees with a thud.