It had been many years since Shrimp Baobao was a small, new restaurant. But despite their success, Huang Hui and Qin Xiong continued to abide by the routine they'd set when they first started up their business. Every day, they would take turns coming in to the restaurant. At least one of them would have to stay at the restaurant at all times, during their hours of operation, to watch over their staff and customers.
Most of Shrimp Baobao's business came in during the dinner rush. Huang Hui was usually the first to arrive, before any of her staff. When their ingredients were delivered, she personally checked every crate.
But today, all the ingredients had already arrived, yet neither Huang Hui nor Qin Xiong had turned up at the restaurant. No one could get ahold of them through their landline, and both their cell phones were switched off.
Big Sis Qin could only call the eldest daughter of the Qin family, Qin Ke. But it turned out Qin Ke's cell phone was switched off too.
"How about you try Qin Xu?" Old Liu suggested. "At least one person in their family has to pick up the phone, right?"
"I don't know Qin Xu's cell phone number, and that kid is so weird. Even his parents are afraid of him!" Big Sis Qin protested. After saying that, she peered over at the neighboring restaurant.
'Cheng Jianghu' was also preparing to open for the dinner rush. Customers were already waiting on the benches set outside. The thirty-something-year-old proprietor had come out with dishes of sunflower seeds and peanuts, passing them out to the waiting patrons with a smile. He even made some small talk with them as he passed by.
Big Sis Qin heaved a sigh and complained, "Our bosses should take a look at how other people do good business!"
"What should we do about today, then?" Old Liu asked. "Everything is ready to be served. Should we still open for business?"
"Of course!" Big Sis Qin untied her apron and shoved it at Old Liu. "How could we not open? The place next door has already stolen so many of our customers. If we don't open today, people will definitely think we've gone out of business!"
"Where are you going?" Old Liu asked.
"To the bosses' place!" Big Sis Qin called back. "They're definitely having a spat again. We're the ones who'll have to handle the mess if they kick up some trouble. I'm going to take a look!"
Old Liu shook out the apron and muttered, "What's the good in you going to take a look? Be careful, they might start fighting with you."
With their profits from over ten years of business, Huang Hui and Qin Xiong had bought two extra residences and a Porsche, though they usually still drove their old Volkswagen Santana. They'd given one of the homes to their daughter, and they planned on giving the other to their son. The old couple still lived together at their old home on Longcheng Street.
Big Sis Qin had been over there countless times. She knew the way and walked over in around fifteen minutes.
The old apartments in that area were situated very close together. Some older residents who liked to eat dinner early were already cooking. As she made her way through the neighborhood, Big Sis Qin couldn't stop sneezing as the scent of oil and smoke tickled her nose.
Huang Hui and her husband lived on the fifth floor of a building with no elevator. The stairs were the sort that circled the building. After climbing one flight, a person would have to head down the hall to climb the next. This sort of layout was very characteristic of the time the building had been constructed. It seemed inconvenient now, but in the past when each residence housed a family of seven or eight, it was the layout that allowed the most people to be crammed into one building.
Big Sis Qin huffed and puffed as she climbed, swearing under her breath, "Damn you! Why do I have to suffer just so you two can fight all the time?"
The iron door and wooden door of Unit 5-8 were both shut tight. Big Sis Qin pressed her ear up to the door and listened, but didn't hear any noise from inside.
"Strange," she murmured. "They're not home?"
Since she was already there, Big Sis Qin didn't have any plans of just turning around and going back. First she shouted, "Xiong-zi!" Then she started to rattle the iron door.
Even after knocking for over ten minutes, Bis Sis Qin received no answer from Unit 5-8. But two other doors nearby, belonging to other units, did open. A middle-aged man emerged from one of them and swore at her—
"Shut the hell up, bitch!"
Big Sis Qin instantly shot back, "I'll shut you up!"
The middle-aged man stomped up as he continued to swear, squaring his shoulders like he was prepared to dole out a beating.
Big Sis Qin wasn't all bark and no bite. She wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty. Back in the countryside where she grew up, people wouldn't hesitate to bash each other over the head with whatever was in reach. Big Sis Qin didn't have anything she could use as a weapon on hand, so she just charged and rammed her shoulder into the middle-aged man.
The two of them wrestled each other to the ground. A young man from upstairs peeked down and called the police out of the goodness of his heart.
By the time the local police rushed to the scene, Big Sis Qin was sobbing on the ground with her hair in disarray. The middle-aged man's face had also been scratched, and he was insistent that the police pass judgment on their situation.
The police officers who'd arrived were already feeling their heads start to ache. They were just about to suggest taking both parties back to the police post when Big Sis Qin declared, "I'm not going anywhere! You guys are just in time. Help me open this door."
"We're not in charge of unlocking doors," one officer said.
"I don't care. You're here, so you have to open the door. I'm looking for someone!" Big Sis Qin said. "The boss of our shop, the boss's wife, and their daughter are all missing, and I don't know where their son is. I had no choice but to come to their place!"
The middle-aged man muttered, "Can't find 'em? They must all be dead!"
"Your whole family is dead!" Big Sis Qin snapped viciously.
The officers could tell that these two were about to start fighting again. They quickly intervened, then reported the situation to their captain. Before long, a few other officers arrived.
Big Sis Qin had finally calmed down a little. She properly explained the situation. One of the new officers on the scene actually knew Qin Xiong and gave him a call; there was no answer.
At that point, someone else emerged from another apartment and said they heard the couple in 5-8 arguing last night. And that day, they hadn't seen anyone emerge from that apartment.
Big Sis Qin was starting to panic. "They couldn't have killed each other in a fight, right? But why else would we not be able to get in touch with them? And their daughter is also…"
"Captain." A rookie from the police post leaned close to the door and sniffed the air. "There does seem to be a scent coming from inside."
"What kind of scent?"
"I think it's blood!"
"Ah!" The middle-aged man, who had been acting so arrogant, now looked scared as well. "Someone really died?"
A little later that evening, after all the appropriate paperwork had been filed, the police opened up the door to Unit 5-8. Instantly, a thick stench of blood flooded out.
The entryway was very narrow. It didn't provide a good view of the inside of the apartment from the doorway.
The police entered first and saw a gruesome scene—
Two bloodied, disfigured corpses were situated on the couch. Practically every inch of exposed skin was drenched in blood. The eyes and mouth of each corpse had been mutilated, appearing now as three 'bloody holes'. Chunks of body parts lay strewn all over the floor.
In the bedroom, a man lay naked in bed. The sheets were soaked through with blood, and this man was just like the bloodied corpses on the couch—his eyes and mouth had been mutilated.
In the study, a properly dressed woman was sitting against the bay window. Blood had spilled from a huge gash in her throat, staining her dress to the point that the original color almost couldn't be identified.
The apartment was completely silent. All three police officers who'd entered were paralyzed by the sight.
At some point, Big Sis Qin slipped in. When she saw the bloodied figures on the couch, she let out an ear-piercing shriek.
"This… this is… a family massacre?" The youngest officer's voice was shaking when he spoke. "Four… four of them… this family only had four members, right? And they're all dead?"
A 'family extermination' case wasn't something that a local police post could handle. They quickly reported the details to the Nan District precinct, and the case was then transferred to the Serious Crimes Division.
In any city, 'family extermination' cases were always handled by the Serious Crimes Division. But Ming Shu's team was busy with the 1013 Case. Xiao Yu'an deliberated for a while after receiving the news, but in the end still called Ming Shu over.
"This…" Ming Shu looked through the case report that had been sent over from the Nan District precinct. His eyebrows were furrowed. "The victims were the family of the owner of Shrimp Baobao?"
"Three of the four victims suffered facial mutilation. Their identities are still being confirmed now," Xiao Yu'an said. "But the primary scene of the crime was the Qin family's home, and the fourth victim has already been identified as Qin Ke, their daughter. Barring any surprises, it's likely the four victims were the owner and his family."
The four members of the Qin family were Qin Xiong, Huang Hui, Qin Ke, and Qin Xu. Ming Shu had already met two of them—he'd spoken to Qin Xiong to get an understanding of the traditional music department's dinner party during the Sha Chun case, and he'd taken note of Qin Xu's strange behavior on Mount Qiyue.
And now all these people were dead?
What kind of deep, intense loathing could result in the murder of an entire family?
Ming Shu didn't speak for a while. He paced in front of Xiao Yu'an with his head bowed.
Just a short while ago, he had been mulling over the potential connection between Qiu Min's disappearance and Shrimp Baobao.
Assuming Qiu Min had been harmed by someone else, rather than disappearing of his own volition, who would be the most likely culprit? Who would want to kill him?
In the eyes of the vast majority of people, Qiu Min was a kind and generous person. He used his social media presence and influence to help numerous small and new restaurants skyrocket to fame. His fans found new places to eat through his videos, as well as little-known attractions in the city. The restaurants he promoted enjoyed a boom in popularity, going from slow business to being packed all day. Qiu Min himself also gained lots of attention through his videos.
To Qiu Min, his fans, and the restaurants he promoted, his 'recommendations' were extremely beneficial. But would the businesses that fell out of favor as a result of his recommendations—such as Shrimp Baobao—hold a grudge against him?
Ming Shu had even gone so far as to wonder if Shrimp Baobao could have been involved in Qiu Min's disappearance.
But now, it seemed very likely that Qin Xiong's entire family had been exterminated.
Ming Shu suddenly muttered under his breath, "Qin Xu…"
"The young son of the Qin family," Xiao Yu'an said.
"Yes, the Qin family's son. I met him at Mount Qiyue." Ming Shu gave Xiao Yu'an a general summary of those events, then continued, "Earlier, I came up with a theory that would overturn all our other theories thus far. Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan may have been 'silenced' after seeing something they weren't supposed to see on Mount Qiyue. The crime scene we discovered wasn't a projection of the killer's true psychological state at all."
That unconventional way of thinking was exactly what Xiao Yu'an had hoped to encourage by throwing Ming Shu a 'rope'. He nodded and said, "Mm, continue."
"So what about Qin Xu?" Ming Shu propped his chin up on one hand. "Why were he and his family killed?"
"It seems you're already planning on taking this case," Xiao Yu'an said.
Ming Shu sighed. "First, this is a 'family extermination' case. It's rightfully the duty of the Serious Crimes Division to solve these cases. Second, Qin Xu was behaving strangely at Mount Qiyue. He was there with a camera, and he was the first to discover the bodies of Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan. Could he have brought this trouble upon his own family? If that's the case, then the deaths of the Qin family are related to Mount Qiyue as well. That's a lead that I can't set aside."
"I heard the Dong District precinct also transferred a case over to you," Xiao Yu'an said. "Stressed?"
"You mean the case about that missing internet celebrity?" Ming Shu shook his head. "It hasn't been transferred. Lan Qiao and her women are still the ones investigating it, but whenever anything suspicious comes up, Lan Qiao will report it to me."
Xiao Yu'an picked up his coat. "Then let's go."
Ming Shu blinked, surprised. "Go where?"
"You're the captain," Xiao Yu'an said. "You don't want to check out the scene of the crime?"
"Of course I do!" Ming Shu exclaimed. "I'm asking where you're going."
"I'm going to the scene too," Xiao Yu'an said. "I'll properly take responsibility for reducing the burden on my captain's shoulders."
Longcheng Street, Road 2. Old Chilun Residential District. Building 3, Unit 5-8.
The trace investigators from the Serious Crimes Division were currently working together with the trace investigators from the Nan District precinct. Ming Shu stood in the living room, studying the bodies on the couch. The faces of the two victims were already disfigured beyond recognition. Ming Shu's gaze slowly traveled from those faces to the victims' chests.
Although the victims were home, neither of them had changed from their outdoor clothes to indoor clothes. They had either just come back from going out, or had just been about to go out.
The floor was bloodstained. The body parts that had been scattered around had already been collected, for the most part. Each piece was put away in an evidence bag and labeled. The flesh had been cut from the victims' cheeks, arms, chest, and abdomen. There had been an eyeball on the floor as well.
The female victim on the left had had her left breast cut off. Unlike the other body parts strewn on the floor, her severed breast was found on the TV stand. Judging by the blood patterns, the breast had most likely been placed on top of the TV first, before it slipped and fell onto the stand.
It was a chilling sight. The victims were posed like they were watching TV, and their eyes must have fallen directly upon the flesh on the TV.
Ming Shu breathed out slowly, then turned to make his way towards the inner rooms. He found Xiao Yu'an standing in the doorway to the study, gazing in.
"Director Xiao?" Ming Shu called out.
Xiao Yu'an beckoned him closer. "Come here."
Ming Shu hurriedly moved to his side.
"Out of the four victims, we've only conclusively identified Qin Ke thus far, because her face wasn't mutilated." Xiao Yu'an walked towards the bay window in the room. He stooped down and looked up at the beautiful woman who had been slain. "Why didn't the killer disfigure her face? Because they thought she was beautiful and thus 'showed mercy'? Or was there another reason? The bodies of the four victims were all mutilated, which seems to indicate the killer was venting their anger."
Ming Shu moved closer and bent over, bracing his hands on his legs.
Xiao Yu'an continued, "This is the home of Qin Xiong and Huang Hui. Mutilating their faces wouldn't stop the police from identifying them. The killer didn't bother to destroy the victims' fingerprints either."
Ming Shu thought for a while, then said, "I'm not going to analyze the killer's psychology based on the crime scene for now."
A small shift came over the corners of Xiao Yu'an's eyes. Lightly, he asked, "Learned a lesson from the Mount Qiyue case?"
"How could I not learn? Criminal investigation technology and techniques are evolving, but killers are evolving as well. Those with a strong sense for hiding their tracks are no longer satisfied with just erasing evidence," Ming Shu said. "I'll go talk to Xing-laoshi real quick."
Xiao Yu'an nodded. "Go ahead."
Xing Mu was currently in the bedroom, conducting a preliminary autopsy on the naked corpse.
"This man probably isn't Qin Xu," Xing Mu said. "I've seen Qin Xu. He's really skinny. This guy is much sturdier."
Ming Shu also recalled that Qin Xu had longer hair, while the victim's hair was short.
"If this isn't Qin Xu, then it's critical for us to find out where Qin Xu is right now," Ming Shu said. He turned and called out, "Zhou Yuan!"
Zhou Yuan hurried into the room with covers on his shoes. "Captain Ming, what is it?"
"Qin Xu's phone is off," Ming Shu said. "Go track it and find him for me."
Ming Shu turned his gaze back to the corpse on the bed. There were countless wounds on that body, but it was obvious that the fatal wound was the one on the chest.
"The victim was repeatedly stabbed in the chest by a sharp object. His heart and arteries were ruptured, and there are strangulation marks around his neck," Xing Mu said, gesturing to the points of note. "The murderer wore gloves. They held the victim down by the throat with their left hand and stabbed with the sharp object in their right hand. Judging by the condition of these wounds, the murder weapon had hooks and grooves. It wasn't a traditional knife or dagger."
Xing Mu gestured to the rest of the body and continued, "However, the other wounds were inflicted by a normal knife, and these wounds were inflicted after death."
Even if Xing Mu hadn't mentioned it, Ming Shu could have guessed that the mutilation marks had been inflicted post-mortem.
Cutting up a body with a knife was bound to be like torture. If the victim had been alive at the time, they would undoubtedly have screamed. And in old residential buildings, where the walls were poorly insulated, neighbors surely would have heard the commotion.
"The victims' arms and legs show signs of having been bound by some sort of wire or cord," Xing Mu continued. "But there are four victims in total. We can't determine as of yet how the killer managed to bind them all. We'll have to conduct thorough autopsies when we get back, then combine all our findings to compose a comprehensive theory."
"What about the time of death?" Ming Shu asked. "The residents of Unit 5-6 said they heard the sounds of a fight coming from 5-8 in the middle of the night, last night. And the staff of Shrimp Baobao confirmed that Qin Xiong had personally supervised them at the restaurant last night. He didn't leave until three in the morning, after the restaurant closed. According to the time he left work, can we assume the murder took place at some point after three-thirty in the morning?"
Xing Mu shook his head. "Judging by the degree of rigor mortis and livor mortis on this body, the victim was killed between one and three this morning."
Ming Shu clasped his arms in front of himself and furrowed his brow slightly as he turned to look back into the living room.
Although the identity of the body in the bed was still unknown, it was very likely—judging by the way they were dressed—that the two victims on the couch were Qin Xiong and Huang Hui.
Qin Xiong had gotten home at around three-thirty in the morning at the earliest. Meanwhile, a victim in 5-8 had died before three in the morning. Did that mean the murderer had killed three of the victims before Qin Xiong returned home, then stayed back to wait for Qin Xiong?
The lock on the front door wasn't broken. If the killer hadn't come in through a window, then they must have come in through the door. Either they had their own key, or they were let in by someone from inside.
The killer must have been an acquaintance of the victims. Most likely, a very close acquaintance.
"Captain," Xing Mu called out.
Ming Shu came back to his senses. "Hm?"
"I think there's a very large possibility that the killer is Qin Xu," Xing Mu said. "I heard from Fang Yuanhang that Qin Xu seemed to be very twisted, psychologically speaking."
"I know," Ming Shu said. "We'll talk about that in detail when we call a meeting back at the Bureau. By then, Zhou Yuan will probably have some results in his search. There are four victims that need to be autopsied right now, so you just focus on that. Thanks for your hard work, Xing-ge."
Xing Mu was still the same as always. He hated being criticized and grew shifty and embarrassed when he was praised. He pursed his lips for a moment, then mumbled, "Okay, boss. I understand, boss."
By the early hours of morning, the trace investigators had finished their thorough sweep of Unit 5-8. The DNA test results of the three unidentified victims had been passed along to Ming Shu. Right away, Ming Shu called a case analysis meeting in the Serious Crimes Division's second conference room. Xiao Yu'an hadn't left; he sat in on the meeting, taking the seat diagonal to Ming Shu.
"The victims have been identified," Ming Shu began. "Qin Ke, twenty-one years old. Qin Xiong, forty-five years old. Huang Hui, forty-three years old. These are the members of the Qin family. The father, mother, and daughter.
"The victim in the bedroom is not Qin Xu, the son of Qin Xiong and Huang Hui. The fourth victim was Qin Ke's boyfriend, Yu Xiaohai. Nineteen years old. Only two of the autopsies are complete, so Xing-laoshi will be coming by later. First, Xiao Man, go ahead and talk to us about the state of the crime scene."
"Right," Xiao Man started, taking over the reins there. "The killer didn't bother cleaning up the crime scene. We collected six distinct sets of footprints from the apartment. Four sets are a match to the four victims. Of the other two sets of prints, one must belong to the killer.
"Judging by the shoe size and print pattern, one pair of these prints likely belongs to an unknown man. I compared the other prints to some shoes Qin Xu left behind at the apartment, and it's very likely that the second pair of unknown prints belongs to Qin Xu."
Zhou Yuan raised his hand. "I'll have to interrupt for a moment here. Based on public surveillance footage and cellular tracking, I've confirmed that Qin Xu is currently in the Huangqiu Road area in Bei District. Xu Chun-ge is already on his way there. Qin Xu is a second-year in high school and he has classes all day today, but he didn't go to school this morning. He appeared near Road 2 of Longcheng Street at 11:24 AM. And last night, at around eight, Huang Hui called him—their call lasted two minutes."
"Longcheng Street, Road 2 is where his home is located," Ming Shu mused. After thinking it over for a moment, he nodded back at Xiao Man. "Continue."
Xiao Man nodded back. "I focused on checking all the windows and the front door at the scene of the crime. None of the windows showed any signs of having been disturbed. The dust on every window was still intact. No one could have come through a window. As for the front door, the fingerprints I found there belonged to three of the victims—the Qin family members, but not Yu Xiaohai. Qin Xu's fingerprints were also on the door.
"The murderer, whether it was Qin Xu or not, was wearing gloves while committing the crime, so the presence or absence of fingerprints is somewhat irrelevant. The most critical detail right now is that sixth pair of footprints. Who do they belong to, and why was that person in the Qin family's home?"
"It's also very strange that Qin Ke suddenly came home," Yi Fei said.
Ming Shu looked towards him. "What did you find?"
Qin Ke was the first victim who had been identified, and her manner of death was different from that of the three other victims. Shortly after arriving at the scene of the crime, Ming Shu had dispatched Yi Fei to look into Qin Ke's situation and interpersonal relationships.
It was very likely that Qin Ke would lead them to a breakthrough in this case.
"Qin Ke and Qin Xu were siblings, but they had a large age difference, and their personalities and achievements were very different as well," Yi Fei reported. "Qin Xu is withdrawn and well-behaved, and his grades have always been what anyone would consider 'excellent'. Qin Ke, on the other hand, was extremely cheerful and outgoing. But her academics weren't great. She didn't continue her studies after high school.
"Judging by the Qin family's financial situation, it would have been easy for them to send Qin Ke overseas with their money to 'buy' a degree. If Qin Ke wasn't willing to study, then Qin Xiong could have easily found her a job through his business associates. Or Qin Ke could have started a small business of her own, with her family's support. But ever since she left school at the age of eighteen, Qin Ke has never worked a job."
"Three years, without studying or working," Ming Shu mused. "The Qin family can afford to support her, but this family dynamic…"
"The relationships between the members of the Qin family are a mess," Yi Fei said. "Qin Ke has no income. Huang Hui pays all her credit card bills. And Yu Xiaohai has only been Qin Ke's boyfriend for a month. Guess what he does for a living?"
"Hairdresser?" Xiao Man ventured.
Yi Fei shook his head. "He was a waiter at Dark Mountain."
Ming Shu narrowed his eyes. "He was actually from Dark Mountain? Interesting."
'Dark Mountain' was a famous nightclub in Dongye City, catering solely to women. The waiters who worked there were male prostitutes.
"The daughter has taken in a hooker? How could this family possibly be on good terms?" Xiao Man shook his head disdainfully. "If my daughter did something like this, I would break her legs!"
Fang Yuanhang snorted. "What daughter? You don't even have a girlfriend!"
"If they were on such bad terms," Ming Shu said, "why were Qin Ke and Yu Xiaohai in the same apartment as Qin Xiong and Huang Hui on the night of their deaths?"
At the same time—
Bei District. Huangqiu Road.
A hooded man stood outside the glittering facade of Dark Mountain. His lips were curled with a sinister, menacing grin.