Dong District Precinct.
As soon as Lan Qiao returned, Shen Lan rushed over and asked, "Captain Qiao, what did the Serious Crimes Division say?"
"We'll be in charge of continuing our investigation into this case, but we'll have to communicate the details to the Serious Crimes Division at every step of the way." Lan Qiao shrugged off her police jacket, then suddenly seemed to sense something. As expected, when she looked up, she found Shen Lan eagerly peering at her.
Just as Lan Qiao thought, Shen Lan really did want something.
"Then, the next time you go report to Captain Ming, can you take me with you? Or I'll go by myself and help you do the legwork."
Lan Qiao smiled. "Do you want to report our findings to Captain Ming, or do you want to go see Captain Yi?"
Shen Lan's eyes widened, and her cheeks reddened. "Captain Qiao, what nonsense are you saying?"
"Who in our whole team doesn't know about your crush on Captain Yi?" Lan Qiao asked. "Last year, during joint training, you were always staring at him."
With her true intentions revealed, Shen Lan covered her face with her hands. "I just like him a little, secretly! Don't tell Captain Yi, none of you can let him know. He likes the sweet, elegant sort of woman. I'm too coarse. He would never fall for me."
Lan Qiao originally wanted to refute her words, but after mulling it over for a moment, she decided to let it go.
Outsiders liked to call female police officers the 'flowers' of the force. However, the female officers who really were as dainty and pretty as flowers were far and few between. That was especially true of the women in Lan Qiao's squadron, which regularly operated on the front lines.
Even the most gorgeous girl couldn't remain unblemished in the face of the harshness of working in the field. Shen Lan's features were beautiful, but she had an inconspicuous scar on her forehead, sustained during a confrontation with criminals earlier in her career.
Many female officers sustained injuries during the line of duty, and most didn't usually have time to fuss about appearances. When important missions and cases came up, they worked just as tirelessly as male officers.
If Shen Lan hadn't been a police officer, she might have been Yi Fei's type. But now…
Lan Qiao sighed and said to Shen Lan, "Alright. Next time we need to report to the Bureau, you go."
Yi Fei had no idea that a woman on the force was harboring a secret crush on him. At that time, he was leading the investigation at the University of Dongye's Zijiao Campus.
Zhan Li had a motive to commit the crime, and the fact that she'd ranked in the Top 50 of the National Women's Martial Arts Tournament meant she also had the physical ability to kill Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan.
A student named Zhou Xinlin had been in the same grade as Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan. According to word of mouth from all other students in their field, Zhou Xinlin knew the two victims better than anyone else.
The first time the Serious Crimes Division visited Zijiao Campus, Zhou Xinlin had been at her internship. She hadn't managed to make it back in time to speak to them. This time, when Yi Fei found her, she only managed to say a few words before she burst into tears.
Yi Fei comforted her to the best of his ability, but soon cut to the chase. "According to what you know, did Lu Chen or Zhao Siyan have any enemies on campus?"
"They were on bad terms with Zhan Li," Zhou Xinlin said, still sobbing. "Zhan Li has a super aggressive personality, and she's insanely jealous too, so she doesn't like anyone whose grades are better than hers. Especially not people like Lu Chen, who tested in from an outside undergrad program."
Zhan Li. Again. Yet another person had mentioned Zhan Li.
Yi Fei nodded, then continued, "Please think back carefully. Did Lu Chen or Zhao Siyan experience anything strange recently?"
"Yes!" Zhou Xinlin exclaimed. "This year, there was a man who kept harassing Yan-zi."
A man harassing Zhao Siyan. It could only have been He Yi.
"Besides that, was there anything else?" Yi Fei asked.
Zhou Xinlin's tears continued to fall as she fell into thought. After a while, she said, "Chenchen was drugged."
Yi Fei instantly became more alert. "Drugged? What kind of drug? When did this happen?"
In the investigation thus far, no one they'd spoken to had mentioned anything about Lu Chen being 'drugged'. It seemed to be something that not even Yang Le, the victims' other roommate, knew about.
"It wasn't poison or anything, it was just fengyoujing," Zhou Xinlin said. "It was at the start of the second term of our first year of grad school. Chenchen went to the campus library to check out some materials. She brought a bottle of tea that she made for herself at home, and she put it on a table while she went to get her books. She only left it unattended for a little while. When she got back and tasted the tea, she tasted something weird."
As she spoke, Zhou Xinlin started to shiver faintly. "Chenchen had already swallowed that first gulp of tea. If it had been poison… of course, Chenchen was afraid she… she would…"
"Don't panic," Yi Fei coaxed softly. "Take your time."
Zhou Xinlin paused for a moment, then continued, "The campus library is very large, and anyone can go in as long as they have an ID. The table where Chenchen sat was in an unmonitored area, so it would have been really hard to look into the matter. Chenchen went to the hospital to get a check-up. Once she was sure she was fine, she told us not to tell anyone."
"By 'us', you mean…?"
"Me and Yan-zi," Zhou Xinlin said. "Chenchen had some of our classmates who major in medicine run lab tests on the tea, and they confirmed it was fengyoujing. Whoever did it poured in half a bottle! You wouldn't get poisoned just from drinking a mouthful, but it was still super scary. Afterwards, Chenchen was very careful. She never drank anything she'd let out of her sight."
Yi Fei couldn't help but wonder… who would pour fengyoujing into Lu Chen's tea?
Was it just a prank, or was it a 'rehearsal' before a real attempt at poisoning her?
Zijiao Campus was the newest campus of the University of Dongye, and the security there was much tighter than the security at older campuses. It was almost impossible for outsiders to enter the campus, much less the library, where everyone had to swipe their university IDs to get in.
There was a high chance that the culprit who'd poured fengyoujing into Lu Chen's tea was a member of that university.
"Do you have a suspect in mind?" Yi Fei asked.
Zhou Xinlin hesitated for a moment, then whispered, "Yes."
At that time, Zhou Yuan suddenly called Yi Fei's cell phone. "Captain Yi! I looked into Zhan Li's internet history, and I found that she recently looked up phrases like 'how to hide a corpse', 'how to kill without being discovered', and 'highly toxic poisons'. She also has a Weibo account that has no followers at all. Inside…"
After taking that call, Yi Fei instantly checked out the Weibo account that Zhou Yuan mentioned. He scrolled down and instantly felt a chill run down his spine.
That Weibo was full of nothing but posts documenting the intense malice Zhan Li felt towards Lu Chen.
On her Weibo account, Zhan Li referred to Lu Chen as 'L', and she repeatedly wrote about wanting Lu Chen to die. After the school year began again in September, the frequency of Zhan Li's posts increased. Several of them had screenshots attached, which all contained information on burying or destroying bodies.
A post from March of that year confirmed Zhou Xinlin's words.
It really was Zhan Li who'd poured fengyoujing into Lu Chen's tea.
Today, I slipped some fengyoujing into L's tea. This naive woman took a big gulp without even smelling the drink. Hahaha, I really regret it now. What if I hadn't poured fengyoujing into her drink? What if I'd used poison? Would she have drank it too? She would have been dead, in that case. Would the cops have tracked me down?
There's no use regretting it, anyway. I wasn't ready yet. L, you just continue being a horrid bitch. One day, I'll give you what you deserve!
On October 13th, Zhan Li posted to that account for the final time.
L and that dog went to see the ginkgo leaves at that net-famous mountain. There shouldn't be many people there yet, right? Could this be my chance?
The chance to kill Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan?
On the 13th, did Zhan Li go to Mount Qiyue?
Why did Zhan Li never post again after the 13th?
Faced with the contents of her own Weibo alt account, Zhan Li's face instantly collapsed. She shook her head faintly and repeatedly mumbled, "No, it's not… no…"
Yi Fei gazed at the girl with pity in his eyes. His heart was heavy.
Zhan Li's academic performance wasn't as good as Lu Chen's, but her grades weren't bad by any stretch of the imagination. During their undergraduate entrance exams, Zhan Li's test scores had in fact been higher than Lu Chen's. Otherwise, she wouldn't have been able to get into a prestigious university like the University of Dongye. And Zhan Li had kept her grades up throughout her college career, further proving her academic excellence.
In addition to her grades, she was also a master of martial arts.
But Lu Chen's appearance in her life had thrown her into a psychologically unbalanced state. Zhan Li's jealousy grew more and more, until she did something as rash as pouring fengyoujing in Lu Chen's tea. She'd even started plotting Lu Chen's death.
"On the night of October 13th, where were you?" Yi Fei asked.
Zhan Li was still shaking her head nonstop. She lifted both hands and covered her ears, refusing to utter a single world.
Even if Zhan Li refused to say anything, the evidence would 'speak' for itself.
At 1:04 in the afternoon of the 13th, a surveillance camera at a bus station captured Zhan Li boarding a bus on Route 308. She got off at the final stop, at West Tianxing Road.
At 2:12 and 2:32 that afternoon, Zhan Li was captured twice more by public surveillance cameras near West Tianxing Road. She appeared to be waiting for transportation.
But after that, until ten in the evening, she didn't appear on any surveillance cameras again.
At 10:00, the last Route 308 bus was due to depart. Zhan Li was seen getting on that bus. She wore a strange expression and looked both tired and disappointed.
Yi Fei had the technical investigation team enhance the video as much as possible. Even after zooming in, there was no blood visible on Zhan Li's body.
The surveillance footage showed Zhan Li coming and going in the same set of clothes, and the way Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan died would almost surely have caused blood to splash onto the killer. If Zhan Li truly was the killer, had she brought a second set of identical clothes to change into after the act?
And if Zhan Li wasn't the killer, where did she go during those hours? What did she do?
"I wanted to kill Lu Chen! In a place like Mount Qiyue, Lu Chen wouldn't have been able to find help, and Zhao Siyan is just a waste of oxygen. I could have easily wrung their necks," Zhan Li said. Her eyes were red. "So I did go to Mount Qiyue, but I didn't kill them!"
Her claims weren't all that convincing. Zhan Li had rushed out to Mount Qiyue with the intention of killing Lu Chen, but then gave up after arriving? Why?
Yi Fei patiently asked, "You gave up because you couldn't find them? Or because you saw something?"
Serious Crimes Division.
After seeing Lan Qiao off, Ming Shu shut himself up inside a small meeting room and reviewed the missing person case that he simply couldn't ignore.
Qiu Min, an internet celebrity based out of Dongye City, had updated his social media accounts for the last time on October 4th. The last records of any activity on his cell phone were from October 14th, when he used it to pay for a takeout delivery in Shouquan, the town near Mount Qiyue. Since then, his phone had been off. The chip had been separated from the phone itself; there was no way to track it.
October 14th was the day after Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan were killed.
Even without the Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan case, the association between Qiu Min and Mount Qiyue would have been quite strong.
Two years ago, Mount Qiyue had first been discovered by the masses through a photo taken by a visiting backpacker. But it was actually Qiu Min who publicized the scenery the most, turning Mount Qiyue into a net-famous destination.
Last year, and the year before last, Qiu Min had posted no small amount of content relating to Mount Qiyue on his social media accounts. Due to his attractive features, his unique captions, the angles of his photos, and so on, he became the influencer most strongly associated with Mount Qiyue.
This year, Mount Qiyue received more attention and more visitors than ever. However, Qiu Min had actually started to post less and less about the mountain. Most likely, he'd finished riding the wave of that craze and had moved on to unearthing the next sensational thing to recommend to his fans.
But now, Qiu Min had disappeared.
Qiu Min's update schedule had been one video a week, or occasionally two videos per week when he was especially active. His content could be split into two categories—recommendations of food in Dongye City and recommendations of beautiful sights in Dongye City. In the middle of every week and on every weekend, Qiu Min would also host a livestream, during which he would receive tens of thousands of yuan in tips per session.
As for Weibo, Qiu Min posted updates every single day. If he didn't have anything to recommend, he simply posted a selfie.
Based on his inactivity on Weibo, it was likely that Qiu Min had disappeared on October 4th, or October 5th at the latest. Lan Qiao's team had already checked the surveillance cameras from around Qiu Min's home. They found that Qiu Min had left his home on the morning of the 4th, carrying a bag over his shoulder. After that, he never returned.
However, based on his cell phone activity logs, Qiu Min didn't fully drop off the grid until October 14th—the day after Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan were killed.
Lan Qiao's squadron were currently in the process of trying to track down the person who had delivered Qiu Min's takeout on the 14th. But so far, they'd had no luck.
Exactly when did Qiu Min disappear? That had everything to do with the nature of his disappearance.
There were two types of disappearances. A person could go missing of their own accord, or a person could go missing because something had happened to them.
Qiu Min had been living well as an influencer. His fans' support and his product endorsements added up to a monthly salary of at least a hundred thousand yuan. What would cause him to suddenly leave this life behind?
If he hadn't left of his own volition, what happened to him? Who made him disappear? And who used his phone to pay for takeout on the 14th?
Shouquan, the town of Shouquan…
Ming Shu pinched the bridge of his nose and took several deep breaths.
One murder case. One disappearance case. Both related to Mount Qiyue, in Shouquan. Then did Qiu Min's disappearance have something to do with the deaths of Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan?
There was no overlap in the social circles of Qiu Min, Lu Chen, and Zhao Siyan. There was no indication that they knew one another. However, it was possible that Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan had seen Qiu Min's videos.
Ming Shu browsed through Qiu Min's most recent videos. His gaze lingered on the most popular one from the past few months.
It featured 'Cheng Jianghu', a Jianghu cuisine restaurant.
Ming Shu recalled that this was the very popular restaurant that had opened up next to 'Shrimp Baobao'.
Cheng Jianghu was a fairly humble restaurant which sold inexpensive dishes. Customers could dine there for around seventy to eighty yuan per person. The interior design of the restaurant was fairly average, and the dishes weren't outstanding, but Qiu Min had a rather unique perspective on the place. He praised it for the taste of its food as well as the generous hospitality of its staff.
The other day, while Ming Shu ate with Xiao Yu'an at Shrimp Baobao, the lady who sold them drinks had tried to 'recommend' Cheng Jianghu to them. Ming Shu hadn't had any interest in actually checking it out. He'd been pretty sure that all the praise for the place was an exaggeration. But now, after seeing Qiu Min's video, Ming Shu found himself thinking he might find time to check that restaurant out one day. It seemed Qiu Min really did have some 'influence' as an influencer.
Ming Shu checked the date on the Cheng Jianghu video uploaded by Qiu Min. He noticed that it had been posted just before the Serious Crimes Division visited Shrimp Baobao for the first time, during their investigation into the Sha Chun case.
At that time, Shrimp Baobao had undoubtedly been the most popular restaurant on Longcheng Street, Road 3.
Now, Cheng Jianghu clearly overshadowed Shrimp Baobao in terms of popularity. Was that because of Qiu Min's recommendation?
Ming Shu decided to look up Cheng Jianghu on Weibo first. He quickly discovered that one of the top related search terms was Qiushan Wangmian—Qiu Min's online alias. When Ming Shu scrolled through the search results, he saw many results from people saying they went to check out that restaurant on Qiushan Wangmian's recommendation. Those people all praised the restaurant for its excellent service, claiming they'd truly discovered a gem. Many of them said they would definitely visit again, and just as many 'strongly recommended' the restaurant to others.
Ming Shu then took a look at the most active forum for Dongye City locals, 'Hey Dongye'. When he skimmed through popular posts there, he quickly saw many about Cheng Jianghu.
It seemed Qiushan Wangmian truly had been the first person to promote Cheng Jianghu. The first wave of customers who went on his recommendation were all immensely satisfied, so the cogs of the machine of word-of-mouth started to turn. After that, many other popular influencers from the city went to check out Cheng Jianghu to get in on the hype. Most of them wrote about their own thoughts and heaped glowing praise on the restaurant.
Only one influencer wrote a negative review—
Maybe my expectations were too high. I felt a little disappointed after eating there.
This influencer was notorious for being negative, so most netizens didn't put much stock in that review.
As happy customers continued to promote the restaurant through word-of-mouth, Cheng Jianghu quickly became the most popular restaurant on Road 3 of Longcheng Street within a matter of months. Its popularity was enough to put Shrimp Baobao to shame.
While browsing the forums, Ming Shu noticed that many people liked to compare Shrimp Baobao and Cheng Jianghu. The two restaurants were neighbors, and they had a great deal of overlap on their menus. They were also aimed towards the same general demographic, and Shrimp Baobao used to be extremely popular—so it seemed only natural that the two places would be compared.
Many netizens criticized Shrimp Baobao while praising Cheng Jianghu. Some even posted downright false claims about Shrimp Baobao, solely for the purpose of talking up Cheng Jianghu.
It wasn't hard to see how Shrimp Baobao had fallen so quickly into the shadows of Cheng Jianghu.
On the surface, it seemed like Shrimp Baobao's decline in popularity was related to the rise in popularity of the neighboring Cheng Jianghu. However, upon digging deeper, one would realize that it wasn't completely unrelated to the video Qiu Min posted some months back.
Qiu Min was a local influencer. He was internet-famous, and he had countless local fans. With just his words, some photos, and a video, he could bestow huge amounts of attention on a brand new restaurant.
Of course, Cheng Jianghu's popularity couldn't be credited solely to Qiu Min. The quality of a restaurant's food was still the most important thing. If the food at Cheng Jianghu had been bad, Qiu Min could have posted a dozen videos, and he wouldn't have made its popularity soar. People may have gone once on his recommendation, but if the food wasn't to their liking, they wouldn't have gone a second time, and they certainly wouldn't 'recommend' the place to their friends.
But if Qiu Min hadn't recommended Cheng Jianghu in the first place…
Perhaps Cheng Jianghu would have still accumulated attention over time, and perhaps it would have gotten wildly popular one day. But it definitely wouldn't have risen to stardom so quickly, and it wouldn't have stolen so much of Shrimp Baobao's business in such a short span of time.
While leaving Shrimp Baobao after dining there, Xiao Yu'an had something along the lines of—most things were simply good or bad, not 'very good' or 'very bad'. The more influential people recommended something good, the 'better' that thing would seem. At the same time, the more people spoke poorly of something subpar, the 'worse' that thing would become in the public eye.
Shrimp Baobao's lost glory and current business turmoil were examples of this.
People were social creatures. Most of them went with the crowd.
Ming Shu himself was no exception. Otherwise, he wouldn't have taken Xiao Yu'an to eat at Shrimp Baobao.
Based on the logs of Qiu Min's work on his platform, he was paid to do product endorsements every month. That was his main source of income. However, he wasn't paid for at least half of the food or attractions he recommended. In other words, he often went somewhere or ate something on his own and promoted it on his platform after deciding he genuinely liked it. That was one way in which he organically promoted his platform and increased his reach.
Cheng Jianghu seemed to fall into this latter category of organic promotions.
Before Cheng Jianghu, Qiu Min had visited many other unknown restaurants in Dongye City, boosting their popularity through his videos. Qiu Min benefitted from these videos as well. He grew more popular with each one, which in turn translated to more product endorsement opportunities.
It was a win-win situation.
But was there anyone who suffered due to Qiu Min's recommendations?
Of course. Shrimp Baobao, for example. And there must have been other restaurants that had suffered a similar decline in the past.
Ming Shu leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.
If something had happened to Qiu Min, these restaurants that had 'suffered' because of him—despite him having almost nothing to do with them—would have ample motive to hurt him.
And if Qiu Min had 'disappeared' of his own accord, why had he gone to Shouquan?
"Mount Qiyue, ginkgo leaves, Haijing Temple, Lu Chen, Zhao Siyan…" Ming Shu mumbled softly under his breath, then suddenly opened his eyes as an idea popped to the forefront of his mind.
Just a short while ago, Xiao Yu'an had pointed out a few strange points in the 1013 Case. He'd thrown Ming Shu a 'rope'. Although the 'rope' was a sort of inside joke between them, it truly did come in handy now. It was because of Xiao Yu'an's guidance that Ming Shu found himself avoiding a dead end.
Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan had died in a bizarre way. They'd clearly only gone to Mount Qiyue on an autumn outing, yet they never made it back down.
What was the killer's motive in killing them?
One possibility was that the killer hadn't planned on killing them in the first place. Maybe the killer had had no choice but to kill them!
Because they saw—or perhaps even filmed—something they weren't supposed to see.
Ming Shu instantly felt like his eyes had been opened to a new world.
Perhaps there was some secret on Mount Qiyue that had yet to be revealed to the public. Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan may have stumbled upon that secret, after which the killer had felt compelled to take their lives. Then, dealing with their bodies became a whole ordeal.
As long as the killer couldn't make the bodies fully disappear, those bodies would eventually be found. And once they were found, the police would investigate the matter. And an investigation would surely unearth clues that led to the killer.
So the killer had devised a plan to deliberately mislead the police.
Ming Shu's pulse gradually quickened. He turned this theory over in his mind again and again, searching for holes in his logic.
If all this was true, then what exactly had Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan stumbled upon?
"Chief, you were looking for me?" Fang Yuanhang called out as he pushed the door open and entered, looking like he'd just returned from a trip outside.
"Did you find anything at Haijing Temple?" Ming Shu asked.
"Lots of weird people," Fang Yuanhang said. He went on to tell Ming Shu all about Wu Zeng, Wu Yu, and Wu Nian. "I want to do a search of the temple, but it's a sacred place and all."
"I'll take care of the search," Ming Shu said. "I now suspect there's something on Mount Qiyue that we don't know about."
"Huh?" Fang Yuanhang was so exhausted that his brain wasn't firing on all cylinders. "What other secrets could there be on that mountain?"
"The last time we were on Mount Qiyue, we were focused solely on the two victims. The trace investigators focused only on the area around the scene of the murders," Ming Shu said. "It's very likely that we missed some key information."
"You want to search the place again?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
Instead of answering, Ming Shu only asked, "When you went back to Haijing Temple, did you also pay another visit to the spot where Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan were killed?"
Fang Yuanhang shook his head and subconsciously brushed a hand over his neck. "Xiao Man said he'd already checked everything up there, so I…"
"It's fine," Ming Shu said. "I'm not blaming you. I just suddenly have some new ideas."
"So what are we going to be looking for up there?" Fang Yuanhang asked. "We should have a purpose for going back, right?"
Ming Shu paced over to the window and narrowed his eyes.
What was the killer hiding?
This was a murderer with heartless methods and excellent skills. They must have killed before. What were they hiding in a deserted forest?
Crime scenes of other murders?
Ming Shu's tongue darted out to wet his lips. "Do you think there could be other bodies near the place where we found Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan, or perhaps even a little farther away from there?"
Nan District, Longcheng Street, Road 3.
The dinner rush had yet to begin. The doors to Shrimp Baobao were open, and only half the lights were on inside.
Some waiters were cleaning, and some were taking inventory of the ingredients that had just been delivered.
The most experienced employee, Big Sis Qin, was wearing an unpleasant expression. She stood at the door to the shop, craning her neck to look outside while making a phone call.
She'd already had her phone pressed to her ear for a long time. Only a mechanical voice came over the line.
"Big Sis Qin!" Little Xi called, running out from inside the shop. "You still haven't been able to get in touch with the bosses?"
Big Sis Qin put down her phone and said, in a rural dialect, "Strange. Is this whole family playing dead?"