"Get up!" Zhang Xuejiao, a local police officer, exclaimed. She hastily helped the kneeling man to his feet and dragged over a chair for him. "Sit here and speak slowly. How could you kneel here? What would people think if they saw you? What kind of cops do you think they would take us for?"
The man was dressed fairly well. From head to toe, his outfit must have run at least a few thousand yuan. But his skin was a little waxy, with an unsightly pallor to it. His expression was frenzied, and he was short of breath. His appearance didn't quite suit his style of dress.
"This is the busy season for the farms in my hometown. I went back there to work in August, and I kept in touch with my Little Min all this time. He was perfectly fine the last time we spoke on the phone, but the day before yesterday, before I came back here, I couldn't get through to him no matter how much I called. I rushed back, and no one was home," the man explained urgently, still panting for breath. "Officer, tell me, how could an upstanding citizen like him disappear for no reason? Something definitely happened! Please, please help me find him! I'm begging you!"
Zhang Xuejiao had been a police officer for over half her life. Every few days, some civilian would burst into the police post to file a report. Some said their old parents or grandparents had wandered off, some said their young children had gotten lost, some said their daughters stayed out all night and didn't come home. But it was relatively rare for someone to report their son missing.
"Calm down first. The more panicked you are, the more difficult it'll be for you to give us a clear explanation," Zhang Xuejiao urged. Then she called over a rookie officer, Little Jin, to take notes.
"You're only going to take my statement?" The man looked up at Zhang Xuejiao with helplessness written all over his face. "I heard people say that you might not investigate this as a case even if I make a report."
Zhang Xuejiao sighed and placed a cup of warm water on the table. "Sir, whether or not this constitutes a case will depend on the details of the situation. Please clearly tell us what happened to your son first."
The man was still extremely anxious, but he had no choice other than to comply.
Guofu Street was a noisy street, but the interior of the police post was very quiet.
The panicked man's surname was Qiu, full name Qiu Guoying. He was sixty-three that year. His hometown was Qingshui Village, which fell under the jurisdiction of Luocheng. Although it technically fell under the jurisdiction of Luocheng, the village was actually much closer to Dongye City. If villagers from Qingshui decided to move to a big city, they more often than not chose Dongye City.
Qiu Guoying had a son named Qiu Min, who was only twenty-five that year. His wife, Qiu Min's mother, had given birth at an advanced age; she passed away from difficulties during childbirth.
Over ten years ago, Qiu Guoying had sold his old home and brought Qiu Min, who was still in school at the time, to Dongye City.
Qiu Guoying was hard-working and a skilled craftsman. Back at his village, he'd already gotten plenty of experience helping neighbors build or renovate houses. In the city, he made a living by working as a carpenter for a private home improvement company. Qiu Guoying was so good at his job that he made enough to buy a second house in Dongye City after a few years. He and Qiu Min could settle down and live comfortably in that big city.
Qiu Min had grown up without a mother, and he was a rather timid child, always afraid of going out—that was one of the reasons Qiu Guoying had wanted to bring him to the city.
Another reason was that the family on Qiu Min's mother's side loathed Qiu Min; they considered Qiu Min a murderer.
Qiu Min's maternal uncle, Li Aiyou, had even shown up at Qiu Min's school several times, threatening to kill him.
"You're the little demon who killed my sister! You just wait! Sooner or later, I'll see you dead!"
After leaving behind their past and distancing themselves from their familiar surroundings and hateful family members, Qiu Min gradually became a happier child. At school, his grades in middle school and high school were among the best in his class.
Qiu Guoying had assumed that his son would stay in the north after attending university there, but Qiu Min actually returned to Dongye City shortly after graduating. Qiu Min said that Qiu Guoying was gradually getting older, and that as a son he wouldn't be able to stop worrying if he settled down too far away.
Qiu Guoying had felt sorry for holding his son back, but at the same time he thought his son was very considerate. Dongye City was a big and prosperous place too, so ultimately he decided it was perfectly fine if Qiu Min wanted to return.
And so, Qiu Guoying and Qiu Min continued to live in Dongye city. Qiu Guoying still worked as a carpenter while Qiu Min found a job as a lawyer, working in the heart of the city. Qiu Guoying had only ever attained an elementary school education. He didn't know anything about these 'high-class' professions, but he knew that his son was a great man who made him and his late wife proud.
A few years ago, Qiu Min had already told Qiu Guoying that he was now making enough to support their family; Qiu Guoying didn't need to work any longer. But Qiu Guoying was still fit and healthy. He didn't want to sit around doing nothing, and he wanted to continue saving money to help his son eventually marry and start his own family. So, Qiu Guoying continued to work as a carpenter, and during the peak seasons back at his hometown, he returned to help his brothers on their farmland.
"Qiu Min is extremely filial, he never would have left home without telling me!" Qiu Guoying exclaimed at the end of his story. His eyes were full of unshed tears. "Please, open a case and help me find him!"
Little Jin tried to calm and reassure Qiu Guoying while asking, "When was the last time you got in touch with Qiu Min?"
Qiu Guoying pulled up the call and chat logs on his phone. "Look, right here. This day."
September 29th, 7:04 PM.
"It's my fault. I don't usually call that often, but Little Min called me that day and asked me how things were going in our old hometown. He asked if the Li family had made any trouble for me," Qiu Guoying lamented. "If only I'd called every single day… then I would have known right away that something was wrong, when Little Min didn't pick up! I would have rushed back right away!"
Little Jin took the cell phone and looked through the call logs. He noticed that, starting October 16th, Qiu Guoying had called Qiu Min numerous times. None of the calls had been answered.
"Sir, you said Qiu Min works at a law firm? Did you ask around at his workplace?" Little Jin asked. "Could he have been sent on a business trip?"
Qiu Guoying's face twisted with another intense wave of worry. "The people at the law firm told me Little Min doesn't work for them, but that's impossible. Little Min showed me his work ID and everything, all issued by that law firm. The people there just saw me as a troublesome old man. They're trying to pull the wool over my eyes. They definitely know Little Min is missing!"
"Doesn't work there?" Little Jin echoed, bewildered. He looked towards Zhang Xuejiao and started, "Ma'am, this…"
Many of the family conflicts Zhang Xuejiao had mediated involved husbands and wives, or fathers and sons, hiding their unemployment from each other. Based on Qiu Guoying's story, it was very likely that Qiu Min had never found a job at that law firm, or that he'd been dismissed some time ago and kept it hidden from his father.
However, Qiu Guoying had also said that Qiu Min was making a good living and supporting their family.
Qiu Guoying could have been talking nonsense, but one thing was undeniably true—his clothes weren't cheap.
So where was Qiu Min getting that money from?
Could that have something to do with Qiu Min's disappearance?
Dong District had been the center of a drug-related case some years ago. A cartel had actually managed to set up shop in a residential building and operate from there for over two years. In the raid on that drug den, the Special Police Force's narcotics team had lost two officers in the line of duty.
Zhang Xuejiao had been personally involved in that case, and she hated drug dealers and traffickers from the very core of her soul. She was extremely sensitive when it came to cases of this nature. The first thing that came to her mind after hearing Qiu Guoying's story was that Qiu Min could very well be involved in drug trafficking, couldn't he?
Drug trafficking was the quickest way to make money, and lowly gang members were the most expendable pieces on the board of that sort of game.
Zhang Xuejiao instantly asked, "Are you familiar with any of Qiu Min's friends?"
Qiu Guoying shook his head. "Little Min is very busy. He's often not home, especially at night. I work during the day, and I don't see him much at night, so I've never seen him bring any friends to the house."
Zhang Xuejiao took a deep breath. "Okay…"
"Can you open a case?" Qiu Guoying asked anxiously. "Please, you have to!"
Zhang Xuejiao did her best to reassure him. "Don't worry. We'll look into Qiu Min's situation. You can leave it in our hands."
Little Jin was a bit surprised to hear that. He looked towards Zhang Xuejiao, confused.
"Ever since he was little, the only enemies Little Min had were his mother's family," Qiu Guoying said. "Could his uncle Li Aiyou have done something?"
"I've recorded all the information you've given us already," Zhang Xuejiao said. "Go ahead and go home for now. We'll draft up a plan for our investigation."
After seeing Qiu Guoying off, Zhang Xuejiao mulled the matter over for a while, then reported the case to the Dong District precinct.
Serious Crimes Division, deputy director's office.
Ming Shu gazed at Xiao Yu'an, drumming a beat against his own cheek with his fingers.
"Based on the crime scene of the Mount Qiyue case, you could tell the killer has some very intense emotions to express," Xiao Yu'an said. "And you've been focusing on an analysis of the killer's psychology during your investigation thus far—your first theory was that this could be a sexually repressed psychopath, and your second was that the killer could have been homophobic. There's nothing inherently wrong with trying to decipher the killer's psychology, but every time a new suspect pops up, a problem pops up as well.
"The problem, with all our suspects to date, is that none of them seem to possess the ability to commit this crime. We've also discussed a few other hard-to-explain points. Captain Ming, have you considered why these issues are arising?"
Ming Shu closed his eyes. He was silent for a while before he slowly answered, "We profiled the killer based on our analysis of the crime scene, but we keep running into logical dead ends and haven't unearthed any similar cases… could the killer be trying to mislead us?"
"Yes," Xiao Yu'an said. "The killer deliberately posed the bodies in that ritualistic manner to express some intense sort of desire or hatred. As a result, any investigative team would have tried to analyze the killer's psychology and reach the same conclusions as us.
"But this may be the killer's way of blinding us to the truth. He wants the police to mistake him for a sexually repressed psychopath, when in fact he isn't sexually repressed or 'abnormal' in any way. And, since he's sexually 'healthy', he would have had no reason to violate the victims' bodies."
"Then what was his reason for committing the crime?" Ming Shu asked. "If we take that to be the case, then his motive becomes unclear."
"As I said earlier, I just want to guide you and make sure you don't run into a dead end," Xiao Yu'an said. "You do still need to investigate this case using conventional logic. After all, there are still some blind spots that we need to fill in. But if conventional logic doesn't yield any answers, you'll have to 'hit the brakes' on that route and tackle the case with some unconventional thinking."
Ming Shu pressed a hand to his forehead for a moment, then said, "Many thanks for the guidance, Director Xiao. I understand."
Mount Qiyue, Haijing Temple.
From a personal standpoint, Fang Yuanhang was actually reluctant to suspect the monks of Haijing Temple. His grandparents were Buddhists, and his family kept a Buddhist altar at home. When he was little, his grandparents had taken him to many temples where he ate with the monks and slept under the temple roofs. He'd even fantasized about shaving his head, not taking any entrance exams, and joining the Shaolin Temple to become a martial arts monk who would hone his skills and descend from the mountains to punish evil.
Although his childhood dream of becoming a martial arts monk hadn't come true, becoming a police officer—specifically a member of the Serious Crimes Division at the Criminal Investigation Bureau—meant he could still punish evil and achieve part of his ambitious childhood dreams.
All in all, Fang Yuanhang harbored a deep respect for monks. He even believed that his own sense of righteousness had been nurtured by all the time he spent among monks in his younger years.
But as a detective, he had to thoroughly investigate every point of suspicion that rose in his mind.
"I already told you everything last time," Wu Zeng said. Upon seeing Fang Yuanhang again, the monk's expression had turned extremely unpleasant. "I told them it was too dangerous to keep climbing, but they were insistent on going. I'm just a monk, not a keeper of this mountain. I couldn't stop them, could I?"
"What's your work and rest schedule at the temple like?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
Wu Zeng froze for a moment. "I like to read, so I sleep late. My brothers and my master go to sleep very early."
"How early is 'very' early?"
"Around eight or nine. We don't have any televisions here, and cell phone reception is bad. It's hard to get a 2G signal. As for 4G, forget about it."
"Would you mind telling me your secular name?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
Wu Zeng opened his mouth, but was silent for a long moment before he said, "Since entering the temple, I've given up my worldly name and affairs."
"But you're still a citizen of this country!" Fang Yuanhang insisted, his voice suddenly growing stern.
Wu Zeng shrank back at that outburst. After a moment, he got up and said, "Then please wait a moment."
While waiting for Wu Zeng to return, Fang Yuanhang studied the room he was in.
Many old temples were built and held intact solely by wood, with interlocking joints. In such temples, not a single nail would be used. But that wasn't the case with Haijing Temple; many nails had been used in its construction.
The two victims in this case had been nailed in place with ten long iron nails, used for construction. These long iron nails were over ten years old and could no longer be found on the market.
Fang Yuanhang considered it for a while, then got up and moved over to a wooden pillar in the room. At a glance, the pillar seemed very old, and several old nails were still hammered in it.
After slipping on a pair of gloves, Fang Yuanhang felt around the pillar. Then he took out his phone to load up a photo of the nails that had been used on the victims, to compare.
No, they weren't the same kind of nails. The difference between them was actually quite significant.
Fang Yuanhang pursed his lips and took several pictures of his surroundings.
Around ten minutes later, Wu Zeng returned with a tin case.
"My identification papers are inside," Wu Zeng said. "Please feel free to verify them."
Fang Yuanhang took the case and opened it up. Inside, he saw Wu Zeng's ID card, undergraduate student ID, driver's license, passport, credit cards, and so on.
Wu Zeng's former name was Fang Pingxu. Twenty-four years old. Citizen of Luocheng. He had attended a university in Luocheng for his undergraduate studies, but he gave up on his studies in his fourth year and became a monk. Thus, he never earned his degree.
"Your home is in Luocheng," Fang Yuanhang said. "Why have you come to a temple in Dongye City?"
"There are many famous universities in Luocheng, but their graduate programs are second-rate," Wu Zeng explained. "I'd planned on applying to graduate programs in Dongye City. Last year, and the year before that, I was already staying in Dongye to prepare."
"What about your family?"
"I'm an orphan. I grew up in an orphanage."
Fang Yuanhang was surprised. He looked through Wu Zeng's documents again, then photographed them one by one.
But Wu Zeng wasn't the only reason Fang Yuanhang had paid another visit to Haijing Temple.
Fang Yuanhang suspected Wu Zeng, but that wasn't because Wu Zeng had a clear motive. It was simply because Wu Zeng had the opportunity to commit the crime. By that logic, all the other monks at Haijing Temple had the opportunity as well.
Ming Shu had given him free rein to pursue this lead, to follow up on all his ideas. As his chief, Ming Shu would back him up behind the scenes.
That undoubtedly gave Fang Yuanhang a great deal of peace of mind.
Besides Wu Zeng, five other monks resided at Haijing Temple.
Wu Nian, thirty-one, had already lived at the temple for over ten years. He was typically silent, and he only mechanically moved about, sweeping the temple floors.
Whenever Fang Yuanhang asked him a question, he only mildly chanted, "Amitabha."
Another monk, Wu Yu, was around the same age as Wu Nian, but Wu Yu had joined the temple fairly late. He had only arrived two years before Wu Zeng. The gray robes he wore didn't look like a monk's garments, but rather looked like they'd been modified to be quite fashionable.
"Ah, me? I just suddenly saw the light a few years ago," Wu Yu said, launching into the story of his life before Fang Yuanhang even asked many questions. "I used to be extremely rich. I drove a Lamborghini, I slept with beautiful women and handsome men—men or women, there was no one I couldn't have. But I wasn't happy. Do you understand?"
Fang Yuanhang said nothing.
"I can tell you don't." Wu Yu laughed. "Because you've never experienced that sort of life. You're just a weed struggling to survive."
Fang Yuanhang was starting to think that Mount Qiyue was just an unlucky place to him. Otherwise, why did he keep getting attacked whenever he came to this place?
After laughing briefly, Wu Yu stopped. A gloomy cloud came over his expression, and his voice had changed somewhat when he continued, "I was carrying a burden that was too heavy for me. I couldn't carry it any longer, so I thought, why not set it down? Look at my life now, as a monk. I have no worries. I can sit in the courtyard all day and watch the leaves fall, the flowers bloom, the clouds drift by. It's such a happy life! Ai, little brother, don't you get tired?"
"You mean of my work?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
"I'm referring to your life," Wu Yu said, laughing again. "Why don't you learn from me and become a monk as well? You can be my little brother. I'll look after you."
Fang Yuanhang's temples spasmed. He followed Wu Yu's words along and asked, "Don't you already have a little brother?"
"You mean Wu Zeng?" Wu Yu scoffed disdainfully. "Tsk, he isn't the type that can catch my eye."
"Why?" Fang Yuanhang hurriedly asked.
"You want to know why?" Wu Yu asked. "Then call me 'brother' first."
Fang Yuanhang kept his expression completely serious and said, "I'm investigating a case."
"Alright, alright, I won't harass you." Wu Yu sat down properly and said, "Wu Zeng isn't devoted to Buddhism at all. He's just trying to escape reality. You just watch. He'll leave on his own before long."
"He isn't devoted?" Fang Yuanhang asked. "Why do you say that?"
"Ai, shizhu1, are you thinking…" Wu Yu pointed up as he spoke. "The two women who died on the mountain. You think they were killed by Wu Zeng?"
Fang Yuanhang's expression shifted. "What do you know?"
Wu Yu waved a hand dismissively. "I don't know anything. I'm just a simple-minded, decorative monk."
There were two other monks at Haijing Temple, both older—Wu Shi, fifty-two, and Wu Han, forty-nine. Compared to Wu Zeng, Wu Yu, and Wu Nian, two of them were much better fits for Fang Yuanhang's idea of a monk.
As for the master of Haijing Temple—he was seventy-three years old, and currently meditating in isolation in the rear courtyard of the temple.
Dong District Precinct.
The investigation into Qiu Min's disappearance was underway, and this investigation quickly revealed that Qiu Min had indeed interned at Wei & Xiang Law in Dongye City three years ago, when he returned from his university studies in the north. However, Qiu Min had voluntarily resigned from his position before the end of his internship.
"There was no problem with the quality of his work," said Pu Shan, the lawyer who had been in charge of Qiu Min back then. "He's very smart and driven, with a lot of his own ideas. He didn't feel he was a good fit for working in law, but we've kept in touch. Just earlier this year, he invited me to dinner. What, did something happen to him?"
"Do you know what he did after resigning from his position here?" the police officer asked.
"Blogging? Or something on Weibo?" Pu Shan said. "I'm actually not too sure of the details."
Soon, the police combed through Qiu Min's internet records and found that this student from a renowned university had become an internet celebrity.
Qiu Min was called 'Qiushan Wangmian' online. He had Weibo and streaming accounts all under that name.
Three years ago, he'd posted his first video—a short food review. Now, he was a popular 'food and fun' vlogger widely watched by young people in Dongye City. His last Weibo post had been made on October 4th. In that video, he recommended a red dates and chicken stew from a place in the north of the city.
Qiu Min was handsome and showed his face in all his videos. In that video from October 4th, he said, "Autumn is here, everyone please be careful of your health. My recommendation today is…"
Tons of comments were piled up beneath this video. When sorting by most recent, the latest comments were all fans asking when he would upload his next video. Some even wondered if something had happened to him.
Upon learning Qiu Min wasn't involved in drugs, Zhang Xuejiao breathed a sigh of relief.
"Captain Qiao, are we going to investigate this case ourselves or escalate it to the top?" Shen Lan asked, turning to Lan Qiao for the final decision.
The Dong District precinct had formed a squadron of female criminal detectives, captained by the experienced Lan Qiao.
At that time, the Dong District team was still looking into Qiu Min's communications records and interpersonal relationships. Lan Qiao was quickly scrolling through Qiu Min's videos. She saw that last year, Qiu Min had repeatedly 'recommended' visiting Mount Qiyue to his followers. This year, in early September, he had 'recommended' visiting Mount Qiyue again, even before the ginkgo leaves turned yellow.
In that video from September, Qiu Min was all smiles as he meandered through the small roads on the mountain. The video managed to capture a tranquil, melancholic atmosphere, perfect for late summer.
That video was extremely popular. It was Qiu Min's second-most popular video from the past three months.
His most popular video from the past three months was a review of 'Cheng Jianghu', a Jianghu restaurant in Nan District.
"Mount Qiyue was just home to a case that the Criminal Investigation Bureau is looking into now," Lan Qiao said. "All the district precincts are helping comb through missing persons reports."
Shen Lan misunderstood her meaning. "The Criminal Investigation Bureau can't spare any manpower, so we won't escalate this case?"
Lan Qiao shook her head. "No, that isn't what I mean. Qiu Min was familiar with Mount Qiyue, and the time and circumstances of his disappearance are strange. We have to at least let Captain Ming know about this."
Dong District's female squadron was something of a marvel in the police world of Dongye City. Ming Shu and Lan Qiao had joined the force at the same time, and Ming Shu had once tried to recruit Lan Qiao for the Serious Crimes Division. But Lan Qiao had turned him down, stating she couldn't leave her squadron behind.
Ming Shu had always felt some regret over that matter.
The Serious Crimes Division needed to be composed of elite officers, and for the time being, the team was full of men—which had its pros and cons. The benefit was that with everyone being men, they could act somewhat more freely and thoughtlessly around each other. If a woman joined their ranks, some of the detectives might feel a need to hold back in some regards. However, the downside was that some cases were especially troublesome without a woman on the team. Lan Qiao was extremely accomplished, a perfect detective in every way. If the Serious Crimes Division needed a female member, she was far and away the best candidate.
But she was determined to foster her squadron, and Ming Shu could only respect her decision.
Due to Qiu Min's case, Lan Qiao personally paid a visit to the Serious Crimes Division.
Ming Shu was in the middle of talking to Yi Fei at that time—
Yi Fei had dug deeper into the victims' backgrounds and social connections at Zijiao Campus. He'd learned that Zhan Li, their roommate, wasn't just an ordinary student. She had participated in the university's martial arts competition for women, ultimately ranking in the Top 50 of the nation.
Lan Qiao was left waiting for a long while before Ming Shu managed to hurry over to greet her. Jokingly, he started, "What a rare visitor. Don't tell me you've suddenly changed your mind and decided to join us here at the Serious Crimes Division?"
Lan Qiao laughed and said, "I know you guys have been busy with the Mount Qiyue case lately. I have a missing person case here. Our squadron is still looking into it, but I think you need to take a look at the details."
1. Monks address outsiders as 'shizhu' (施主).