Dong District Precinct. Women's Squadron.
Hong Chuanfei sat at the interrogation table, adopting a bizarre posture. His head was bowed low, but he had his face turned up. His bulging eyes glared out from the messy, greasy hair sweeping over his forehead.
"Qiu Min is already dead," he declared, laughing darkly all the while. The corners of his lips twitched with the effort it took to maintain a cruel smile. "I killed him!"
Lan Qiao calmly studied this frenzied man.
Very few suspects admitted to committing a murder. They typically argued for their innocence until ironclad evidence was produced. Even then, some of them continued to insist they were innocent.
It wasn't that Lan Qiao had never encountered a suspect like Hong Chuanfei before. Among this type of suspect, there were some genuine killers. There were also some people who simply wished to hinder a police investigation.
"When did you kill him?" Lan Qiao asked. "How did you kill him?"
Hong Chuanfei slowly lifted his head higher, higher, higher—he held his head up loftily now, in a stark contrast to the posture he'd taken a moment earlier.
He leaned back in his chair and arrogantly answered, "Why don't you guess?"
Lan Qiao was unperturbed. "It looks to me like you're eager to talk. Why don't you tell me why you wanted to kill Qiu Min first. Then I'll guess how you did it."
Hong Chuanfei's thin brows jumped up. After a long moment, he finally stated, "He deserved to die!"
"Mm." Lan Qiao actually nodded her head in apparent agreement. "Qiushan Wangmian accepted payment for advertising various businesses to his fans. He made one restaurant popular, then another, then another. He drew tourists to one scenic spot, then another, then another. Let's set aside the tourist destinations for now and focus on the restaurants.
"The restaurant industry is extremely competitive right now. One could say that one restaurant must die for another to live, in some cases, and it wouldn't be an exaggeration. There's only so much business to go around. Not everyone will be able to get a slice of the pie.
"Qiushan Wangmian had countless fans. He was extremely influential, and he took payments to advertise certain shops. Originally, you could still scrape by with some crumbs from the pie of this industry. But after Qiushan Wangmian advertised all those restaurants that paid him off, you couldn't even get any crumbs anymore."
At that point, Lan Qiao's voice deepened slightly. "Cutting off someone's way of making a living is like killing off their parents. Isn't that right?"
"Fuck that!" Hong Chuanfei spat. His emotions suddenly boiled over. He slammed both fists down on the interrogation table.
The police officers on the side of the room nearly rushed over, only stopping halfway when Lan Qiao lifted a hand.
"Am I wrong?" Lan Qiao asked. "Isn't that why you wanted Qiu Min dead?"
"He can take money! That's how he makes a living, by collaborating with businesses. I never said he couldn't charge for his services!" Hong Chuanfei grit his teeth. His fists were clenched so tightly that veins were bulging out of his arms.
"Oh?" Lan Qiao hummed. "Since you think there's no problem with him taking money to promote certain restaurants, since you think there's no problem with him disrupting the 'fair' competition within the restaurant industry, why…"
This 'why' was drawn out. Once it trailed off, leaving the interrogation room silent, Hong Chuanfei declared, "If someone has that much money and is willing to pay someone like Qiu Min to promote their restaurant, there's no problem! What could possibly be wrong with that? Money is part of competition. Paying Qiu Min for a promotion is no different than paying for advertisements on review platforms or takeout services! Qiu Min charges too much, I couldn't afford him. That much I'll admit!"
"Then what did you have a problem with?" Lan Qiao asked.
"What right does he have to promote shops that don't pay him?!" Hong Chuanfei bellowed. "There are so many small businesses in Dongye City that struggle to get by! Which one of them doesn't face challenges every day? Why should Qiu Min's preferences alone decide which businesses succeed and which businesses fail?"
"That…" Shen Lan furrowed her brow as she listened. She couldn't wrap her head around his reasoning.
Originally, she had assumed that Hong Chuanfei hated Qiu Min because Qiu Min had too many fans and too much influence. Just one casual video from Qiu Min could save a struggling restaurant, pulling them away from the brink of bankruptcy. She'd thought Hong Chuanfei hated Qiu Min for tarnishing the fairness of the competitive spirit in the restaurant industry by favoring those who paid for his promotions. Rich stores bought promotions and became richer, while less successful stores couldn't afford those rates and suffered more, eventually closing down. It was a vicious cycle that couldn't be stopped.
But Hong Chuanfei was now saying… that he didn't hate Qiu Min for giving publicity to those shops that paid. He only hated Qiu Min for giving publicity to shops that didn't pay.
What kind of logic was that?
Every month, Qiu Min posted some videos that were paid promotions and some that were pure recommendations, unsponsored. Qiu Min used his popularity to help those little stores that the public had yet to discover. How did this act become a crime of unspeakable evil in Hong Chuanfei's mind?
Hong Chuanfei's eyes were bloodshot, and his voice trembled with anger as he continued, "His influence is so huge. Does he not know that a store's popularity will soar once he promotes them? And that the stores next to them will plummet in popularity? He knows! Of course he knows! He takes pleasure in seeing that happen!
"He has over a million followers, and they've made him feel like a god! He feels so high and mighty that he thinks he can make a store popular just by choosing it. People like him are the vilest creatures, the ones most deserving of death! What's the difference between Stewed Hong and Fatty Li's across the street? There is no difference! So why did he go to Fatty Li's, and not to me?!"
Hong Chuanfei's rage flooded the small interrogation room. He and Lan Qiao locked eyes for a moment. Although Lan Qiao's expression remained perfectly calm, she felt some movement in her heart.
Not because she agreed with Hong Chuanfei's rhetoric, no. But because she could see that he had a very human heart.
There were thousands of little shops and stalls in Dongye City. Most of them probably looked forward to being visited by Qiushan Wangmian one day, and those who weren't visited grew jealous of the businesses that did receive attention from him. Eventually, that jealousy would evolve into hatred for Qiushan Wangmian.
Hong Chuanfei believed it was perfectly fair for Qiu Min to do paid promotions, because those promotions were determined by money. Whoever paid would soar in popularity, and therefore make more money.
Money was the great equalizer in this playing field.
But, in addition to paid promotions, Qiu Min also did free promotions of restaurants he personally preferred. In that way, the great equalizer vanished. Which stores received 'promotions' from Qiu Min depended solely on Qiu Min's own preferences.
Thus, Hong Chuanfei, and many others like Hong Chuanfei, were angered by what they perceived to be an injustice.
People always sought out fairness and justice. Qiu Min was a man like any other. Why should his preferences decide which restaurants lived and which ones died?
It was all because Qiu Min had more fans and more influence. His 'preferences' were worth more than anyone else's 'preferences'!
The more fans he gained, the more powerful his voice became. And with the growing power of his voice, his social responsibility grew as well. Very few netizens were consciously aware of this fact.
And that was where conflicts arose.
People like Hong Chuanfei, who demanded fairness from the world, actually only hated it when these 'unfair' benefits fell to other people.
The problem wasn't in scarcity, but uneven distribution.
Lan Qiao sighed and studied Hong Chuanfei. "Did you really kill Qiu Min already?"
Hong Chuanfei was still trapped in his turbulent emotions. He was panting heavily and still raging. "Why Fatty Li's? Why not me? Am I any worse than Fatty Li's? My store was left to me by my father. Before Qiu Min went to Fatty Li's, I had more customers! But as soon as Qiu Min put up that video of his, all my customers ran to Fatty Li's!
"He praised Fatty Li's like it was a gift from the heavens! One person praises the shop, then everyone else starts praising it. It never ends! Why are you people such sheep?! And just praising that shop wasn't enough for Qiu Min. He had to shoot down the surrounding shops, too! He had to say that all the other shops on Huyong Street combined couldn't live up to Fatty Li's! It's bullshit!"
The interrogation table was quickly covered in Hong Chuanfei's flying spittle.
Competitiveness was a core part of human nature. Old sayings often alleged that women were jealous creatures, but in truth, it wasn't just women—men were fiercely prone to jealousy as well.
Anyone in Hong Chuanfei's shoes would most likely have felt the same jealousy, the same rage, the same injustice.
Ironically, this wasn't an injustice imposed by a higher power, but by a popular internet celebrity.
Lan Qiao was a sympathetic and perceptive person, but in criminal investigations, rationality took precedence over sympathy.
Her sharp gaze was like a blade that could cut through the vilest evil. "Answer me. Have you really already killed Qiu Min?"
Hong Chuanfei had spewed out all the rage he'd kept bottled up inside. Now, he deflated like a big balloon, slumping in his interrogation chair. "I… I…"
Lan Qiao gave him time to answer.
"Of course I've already killed him!" Hong Chuanfei roared. In that instant, he strengthened his voice, but his eyes were shifty. "A man like that… even if I didn't kill him, wouldn't you believe there are countless others who would want to kill him?!"
"I do believe that," Lan Qiao said. "Fatty Li's was the restaurant that gained the least popularity after Qiu Min did an unpaid promotion on them. In other words, the people who operated shops near restaurants that received more popularity from Qiu Min were hit even harder than you."
Hong Chuanfei opened and closed his mouth a few times, then laughed bitterly. "And that's why he had to die!"
"I've spent quite a while chatting with you. It's time we had a chat about what I want to know, isn't it?" Lan Qiao subtly lifted her chin. "How did you kill Qiu Min?"
Hong Chuanfei's throat spasmed several times. After a long time, he said, "How else? I tricked him out of his house and brought him to a deserted place. Stabbed him a few times, then he… he drew his last breath."
"That easy?" Lan Qiao asked.
Hong Chuanfei lowered his gaze. "Ah, yeah! It was easy!"
Half a minute later, Lan Qiao firmly decided, "You're lying!"
Hong Chuanfei's shoulders tensed, and he instinctively protested, "I'm telling the truth!"
Lan Qiao said, "You detest Qiu Min and believed he deserved to die. To you, killing Qiu Min would have been a huge accomplishment. Judging by your disposition and your rationale, you should be bragging about how you killed him since you already admitted your guilt!"
Hong Chuanfei's eyes widened.
"But you're mumbling," Lan Qiao continued, rapping her knuckles against the table a few times. "Because you don't know how to brag about the process. You don't know what the killing process is. You didn't kill Qiu Min at all!"
Hong Chuanfei jumped in his seat, nearly standing up. "I—!"
"What exactly did you do?" Lan Qiao demanded sternly. "Where is Qiu Min right now?!"
"I…" Hong Chuanfei was completely cowed by Lan Qiao's aura. His arrogance turned into panic. Almost incoherently, he babbled, "I… I wanted to kill him, but then… later… later, I couldn't do it."
"October 4th," Lan Qiao stated. "Qiu Min was taken by you on this day?"
Hong Chuanfei confessed that he'd already learned Qiushan Wangmian's real name and address in mid-September. He'd confirmed that Qiu Min lived with his father, who was currently back in their hometown.
The best time to act would have been when Qiu Min was living alone.
Hong Chuanfei knew he didn't have the skills to evade the police after committing a crime like that. He knew he would be captured if he killed Qiu Min. But after battling with himself for a long time, he simply couldn't swallow his rage in the end. He ultimately decided to kill Qiu Min, then turn himself into the police. That way, even if he died, at least Qiu Min wouldn't go on living either.
Before launching his attack, Hong Chuanfei went to Qiu Min's neighborhood every day to familiarize himself with the area. He learned that the area was undergoing construction, and that entering from the west was extremely inconvenient. Thus, he'd found a shortcut through a back alley, which he often took when coming and going.
The alley wasn't open to cars. Motorcycles and small pedicabs could barely squeeze through.
Hong Chuanfei believed he'd been met by an opportunity granted to him by God.
Before October 4th, Hong Chuanfei lurked in that back alley several times, waiting for Qiu Min to return. However, every time Qiu Min came back, there were other people around as well. There was no good opportunity to strike.
Then, on the 4th, Qiu Min appeared. And he was alone.
Huang Chuanfei tailed him for a short distance. Then, when he found the perfect moment, he flew at Qiu Min with a blade he'd prepared in advance, pouncing and stabbing towards Qiu Min. He got as far as pressing the blade to Qiu Min's throat.
Qiu Min struggled fiercely, but Huang Chuanfei managed to cover his nose and mouth.
"If you dare scream, I'll kill you right now!" Huang Chuanfei hissed viciously.
In terms of physical strength, Qiu Min was no match for Hong Chuanfei. More importantly, Hong Chuanhai had a knife, and this knife had already drawn a trickle of blood from Qiu Min's throat.
Qiu Min trembled uncontrollably, but he didn't dare struggle anymore.
Hong Chuanfei instantly took out a cloth soaked with the drug he'd prepared, knocking Qiu Min out. He threw Qiu Min into the back of the pedicab he used when buying ingredients for his shop. After swiftly tying Qiu Min up and throwing the waterproof cover over the back of the pedicab, obscuring him from view, Hong Chuanfei rode out of the alley.
Hong Chuanfei had been born and raised in Dongye City. He knew these streets like the back of his hand.
He knew that, nearby, there was a mountain with no formal name—the old residents of Dongye colloquially referred to it as Yatou Mountain. On that mountain, there was a long-abandoned weapons arsenal. The army had built it several decades ago, but no one went there anymore.
Hong Chuanfei planned on eradicating Qiu Min there.
The trip went smoothly, but upon arriving at the abandoned arsenal, Hong Chuanfei found himself hesitating.
The old weapons were long gone. All that remained were some steel bars. The dim glow of the emergency lights only illuminated small patches of the room, leaving the rest cast in darkness. The steel rods that were scattered in the dark cast distorted shadows across the floor, like ghastly and gruesome figures.
The drugs Hong Chuanfei had used to knock Qiu Min out were too strong. Qiu Min was still unconscious. Lying prone on the floor, he looked like a poor creature watched over by those shadowy figures.
Hong Chuanfei gulped. The hand with which he held the knife had started to sweat from the palm.
It would take just one swing of the knife. One cut, along the throat, and Qiu Min's life would be over. Hong Chuanfei continuously tried to find the willpower to act. He looked upon Qiu Min and thought to himself, again and again, You've done a vile thing. You deserve to die.
But he was still hesitant to swing that knife.
At the end of the day, not everyone had the 'talent' to kill.
Many ordinary people threw around the words 'I'll kill you' at the drop of a hat. Whenever there was some conflict, big or small, those words might slip past someone's lips. But very few of these people were actually capable of acting on those words.
Otherwise, society would have descended into chaos long ago.
The knife fell to the ground with a clatter. Hong Chuanfei was anxious and distraught. He didn't know what to do next. He could only drag Qiu Min over to a steel frame by the wall, where he tied him to the bars.
"I can't do it," Hong Chuanfei said, "but I can make you suffer!"
With that, he started to hit Qiu Min's face with all his strength, to wake him up.
Qiu Min came to, terrified. He started shouting for help.
Hong Chuanfei instantly hit him again.
This blow had so much strength behind it that Qiu Min's head snapped back, hitting the steel bars behind him. His head lolled forward after that, as though he were in a daze.
Hong Chuanfei straightened up and started to kick Qiu Min, swearing as he did. "Do you know what you did wrong? You piece of shit! You just have a million fans or so, and you think you're some kind of fucking god? Fuck you! How does it feel to be beaten up? Huh? Huh?! If you're so powerful, powerful enough to make a shop famous with just one video, why don't you get your fans and those who made you famous to rescue you? Hahahaha!"
Finally having vented enough of his malicious anger, Hong Chuanfei spat on Qiu Min's face.
By then, Qiu Min had been beaten to the point of delirium.
On the one hand, Hong Chuanfei felt satisfied. On the other hand, he felt he hadn't done enough at all. If he let Qiu Min go now, he would definitely be arrested by the police. He was doomed, no matter what. So why not kill Qiu Min?
But Hong Chuanfei really couldn't bring himself to deal the finishing blow.
After thinking about it for a while, Hong Chuanfei tied Qiu Min down more securely and hit him a few more times before deciding to leave.
While Hong Chuanfei dealt these last few blows, Qiu Min suddenly managed to open his mouth. He bit down on Hong Chuanfei's arm, fiercely enough to tear off a piece of skin and flesh.
"The only thing going through my head was that I had to kill Qiu Min. I was going to fucking kill him, no matter what!" Hong Chuanfei declared, his voice booming out through the interrogation room again. "I couldn't stab him, but I could starve him to death! Yes, I could make him starve! No one ever goes out to that mountain, and even if they did, they wouldn't go to the old arsenal. Qiu… Qiu Min is definitely dead by now!"
The women of Lan Qiao's squadron quickly rushed out to Yatou Mountain, but the arsenal was empty.
The trace evidence examiner took blood and hair samples from the ground at the scene. After comparing it with DNA samples from Qiu Min's home, it was confirmed that the blood and hair belonged to Qiu Min. There was also a piece of rope lying on the ground, which Hong Chuanfei had used to tie Qiu Min.
After some more tests, it was determined that the rope had been burned apart by fire.
"Have you gotten any footprints?" Lan Qiao asked.
The trace examiner shook her head. "The prints at the scene have been destroyed. We couldn't even pull Hong Chuanfei's footprint from here."
Lan Qiao exited the armory and carefully studied the muddy ground in front of her eyes.
If Hong Chuanfei wasn't lying, there were two possibilities. One was that Qiu Min burned the rope with fire on his own and escaped. The second was that, after Hong Chuanfei left, some unknown person appeared and took Qiu Min away.
If it was the first possibility… according to Hong Chuanfei, Qiu Min had been bound very tightly. He was barely able to move, let alone free himself on his own. And if Qiu Min had actually freed himself, why didn't he go home? Why did he clear away the footprints on the ground? Was he planning something, like revenge on Hong Chuanfei?
No. The logic there didn't make sense.
In that case, if the second possibility were true, how did this mystery person know Qiu Min was on Yatou Mountain? Why did they take Qiu Min away? And was Qiu Min alive or dead when he was taken away?
On October 14th, Qiu Min's cell phone was used in Shouquan, but the person who picked up his takeout order wasn't Qiu Min. Could that person have been the one who took him from Yatou Mountain?
Based on the clues they had, the second possibility seemed far more likely than the first.
The person who removed Qiu Min had been able to clear away all of their footprints. But in the process of taking Qiu Min, they surely would have left some tracks somewhere.
However, during the recent cold snap, rain had fallen and washed away any of these tracks that may have been left behind in the mud.
They'd finally found a lead, and now they were at a dead end again. Lan Qiao took a deep breath. Her expression grew solemn.
If Hong Chuanfei was telling the truth, then this was no simple disappearance anymore. For what reason did this mystery person take Qiu Min away? And why did they appear in Shouquan?
Hong Chuanfei wasn't the only one who'd targeted Qiu Min. Someone else had targeted him as well. Was that it?
Lan Qiao closed her eyes. A rare feeling of losing control of the reins of this case came over her.
Thinking back, if Hong Chuanfei had lied, then…
No, that wasn't right either. What reason would Hong Chuanfei have to lie?
There was no reason.
If Hong Chuanfei hoped to clear his name by lying, then he wouldn't have admitted to abducting Qiu Min on October 4th and bringing him to Yatou Mountain in the first place. The police wouldn't have had enough clues to prove anything.
The most likely answer was that someone really did take Qiu Min away after Hong Chuanfei left.
"Captain Qiao," Shen Lan said as she emerged from the arsenal. "What should we do next?"
Lan Qiao thought for a long time, then sighed. "I'll contact Captain Ming."
Longcheng Street, Road 3.
The doors to Shrimp Baobao were tightly shut. Through the window, it looked like time inside the restaurant had stopped—
Leftovers on the tables were still sitting out, with flies swarming around. Some chairs had fallen over to the floor. The dishes that hadn't been packed away in the kitchen were rotting. Live fish and crayfish had clambered out of their tanks. Some were still struggling, others had already gone still.
Shrimp Baobao used to be the highlight of Longcheng Street. Just this summer, a few short months ago, it had still been the most popular restaurant on the street.
Nearly everyone who lived on Longcheng Street had gone to eat at Shrimp Baobao. Most of them had exchanged a few words with the boss or boss's wife at some point. Even if they didn't know the owners' names, they knew what they looked like.
Now, Qin Xiong and Huang Hui were dead, and they'd died in such a horrific way, along with their daughter and their daughter's boyfriend. Gossip spread down the street like wildfire. People were both scared and excited to talk about the Qin family. They talked about everything from the family's business, to the daughter who never worked, to the younger son who was smart yet eccentric.
The more people talked, the broader the scope of their conversation became. Some people even started talking about Qin Xiong's parents. It seemed as though everyone on the street had become a detective, each analyzing the Qin family's situation and guessing at who could have had a grudge against them.
These gossips could sometimes be a big help to police officers. Sometimes, 'idle chatter' was what led to a breakthrough in a case.
Ming Shu personally camped out on Longcheng Street, directing his team's search through the nearby surveillance camera footage.
On the afternoon of the murder, Huang Hui was captured by surveillance cameras twice. She looked somewhat nervous. Then, at 10:58 PM, Qin Ke and Yu Xiaohai appeared at the Old Chilun Residential District. Qin Ke was wearing what she had been killed in; Yu Xiaohai was wearing a tan jacket and skinny jeans. The two of them moved hastily. No one around them seemed to be behaving strangely.
"Yu Xiaohai was the only victim who was stripped of his clothes, and the clothes we see him wearing here weren't present at the scene," Ming Shu said. "In other cases, when a victim's organs or other body parts are cut out, the killer typically takes them away as 'trophies'. However, Huang Hui's body parts were scattered all over the place. The killer cut her, but didn't take any of the pieces away.
"Instead, they took Yu Xiaohai's clothes. What kind of thought process is this? Could there have been something on Yu Xiaohai's clothes that would have revealed the killer's identity? Blood? Or something else?"
Ming Shu was currently at the local police post on Longcheng Street, where the officers had prepared a temporary room for him to work out of. The conditions of that room couldn't compare to the offices of the Serious Crimes Division at all, of course. It could only be considered a temporary 'outpost'.
Xiao Yu'an leaned over Ming Shu with one hand braced against the back of Ming Shu's chair. "The scene was extremely chaotic this time. It's difficult to clearly map out the killer's logic, but perhaps the killer did that on purpose."
Ming Shu turned around. "Then doesn't that make this the same as the case with Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan?"
Xiao Yu'an lowered his head. "There's an idiom which seems quite suitable here—'traceable to the same origin'."
"Oh?" Ming Shu gave it some thought. "My language grades were never any good. It's impressive for me to even know a few idioms. Don't play with me, Director Xiao."
Xiao Yu'an pressed his hand to the top of Ming Shu's head and warmly said, "This is called playing?"
Ming Shu shook his head. "If you keep messing around, you'll become a complete troll. Not even Fang Yuanhang is as bad as you!"
After they idly bantered for a while longer, Xiao Yu'an picked up Ming Shu's jacket and said, "Let's pay a visit to Qin Ke's home."
Without having to be told, Ming Shu knew why they would go.
"Qin Ying used to live in 5-8," Ming Shu said, "but there's no trace of him there. None whatsoever. Qin Xiong and Huang Hui have completely erased his existence. Qin Xu didn't even know he had an uncle like that. But according to Huang Qing, she was on good terms with Qin Ke. That means Qin Ke may have learned of Qin Ying's existence when speaking to Huang Qing."
"Qin Xu and Qin Ke are both somewhat unlike other kids their age, but the Qin family doesn't seem so odd, on the surface. So what caused these kids to develop in this way?" Xiao Yu'an asked. "Let's set Qin Xu aside for now. If Qin Ke learned of a family secret at a young age, then perhaps she's hiding something about it at her own home."