"Becoming a monk is the best decision I've made in years!" the monk Wu Yu declared. He languished in his seat, striking a leisurely pose that radiated the same 'rich kid' aura he must have possessed in his former life as Chu Xin. He was extremely relaxed, treating the police investigation like it was no serious matter at all. "How interesting. Just by becoming a monk, I became a suspect in a criminal case as well. If I hadn't become a monk, would such an interesting thing ever have happened to me? Of course not, right? Ai, Hanghang, why don't you introduce me? This gentleman is…?"
Fang Yuanhang and Ming Shu were sitting across from Chu Xin.
In the entire Serious Crimes Division, Fang Yuanhang was the one who'd had the most interactions with Chu Xin so far. He was also the one who least wanted to see Chu Xin again. This guy Chu Xin was extremely wily. He seemed to speak in nothing but riddles and lies, and yet in his lies, there seemed to be an undercurrent of truth.
Fang Yuanhang still desperately wanted to know why Chu Xin had implied there was something wrong with Wu Zeng, formerly named Fang Pingxu. Ever since then, no matter how they asked, Chu Xin never again spoke of Fang Pingxu.
"Captain of the Serious Crimes Division," Ming Shu stated calmly. "Ming Shu."
"Ah, so you're Hanghang's boss." Chu Xin smiled and shifted in his seat. "What would you like to ask of me? Motive? Or alibi?"
Ming Shu lightly quirked the corners of his lips. "Neither."
Chu Xin looked curious now. "Oh?"
"Whether or not you have a motive, whether or not you had the means to commit the crime, isn't something you can credibly attest to yourself," Ming Shu said. "Only the evidence I discover in my investigation can attest to the truth."
Chu Xin's eyelids drooped slightly. "Then what do you want to ask me?"
"I'd like to chat about your brothers at the temple, and your master, Kui Chen," Ming Shu said. "Your brother Wu Han revealed something to my team not long ago. Would you like to know what?"
"Wu Han…" Chu Xin looked like he had fallen into thought. "That gloomy old uncle, huh?"
"Uncle?" Ming Shu asked. "You don't consider him your brother?"
"How could we be that close?" Chu Xin shook his head absently. "We just happened to join the same temple. It isn't any deeper than just happening to visit the same cheap brothel together. You wouldn't consider someone you ran into at a brothel your brother, would you?"
Fang Yuanhang was flabbergasted just from listening to him. Chu Xin was a monk, after all. How could he compare his monkhood to something like visiting a brothel?
"Tsk, tsk, tsk." Chu Xin raised his eyebrows at Fang Yuanhang. "Look at that, Hanghang can't handle being teased. Straight guys are just no fun."
After saying that, Chu Xin turned to Ming Shu. His eyes suddenly seemed a little warmer. "I like to communicate with my own kind much more."
Fang Yuanhang froze.
The interrogation room was being recorded! What the fuck did this Chu Xin guy think he was saying at a time like this?!
In the Serious Crimes Division, Fang Yuanhang was still the only one who knew his chief was gay. He had done his very best to keep this secret. How could he let this little rich boy blow Ming Shu's cover now?
"Who's the same kind as you!" Fang Yuanhang snapped.
Chu Xin sighed and glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. "You're just a straight kid. What are you getting worked up about?"
Compared to Fang Yuanhang's reaction, Ming Shu's was much more calm. He didn't seem at all affected by Chu Xin's words. He only steadily continued, "This 'gloomy uncle' said that there isn't a single good person living at Haijing Temple."
Chu Xin's right eyebrow arched very high. He was silent for a moment before he asked, "He really said that?"
"I have no interest in teasing you," Ming Shu said.
Chu Xin fell silent for a while longer, then laughed and clapped his hands twice. "He's right. There are no good people at Haijing Temple."
"That includes you?" Ming Shu asked.
"It includes me," Chu Xin agreed.
"Then why don't you tell me what kind of people you all are," Ming Shu said, leaning back in his seat. "No need to talk about yourself. Let me think… well, let's start with Fang Pingxu, who you seem to dislike the most."
Chu Xin scoffed. "You're very confident, aren't you? Why should I tell you all that?"
"Didn't you say it yourself?" Ming Shu smiled. "You like to communicate with me."
Fang Yuanhang almost blurted out, Chief, don't engage in his nonsense!
After meeting Ming Shu's gaze for a moment, Chu Xin looked away as though to compromise. He glanced at Fang Yuanhang before he began to speak a little more seriously. "Like I told you last time, Fang Pingxu isn't devout at all. His heart isn't in the right place. You guys may want to look into what he did before he was a monk."
Ming Shu studied Chu Xin carefully. His gaze was like a blazing torch. For the time being, he didn't speak.
Chu Xin subtly avoided his gaze. "What, you don't believe me?"
"When it comes to Wu Zeng, 'before becoming a monk' is the same as before last year. The scope of that search is too broad," Ming Shu said. "Since you're willing to provide us with this lead, won't you narrow it down for us?"
"Isn't that your job as police officers?" Chu Xin asked.
Ming Shu smiled. "It's also our job to ask questions."
Chu Xin put on an expression that seemed to say 'fair enough', before he continued, "Fang Pingxu is an orphan. He grew up at an orphanage. Once, he was adopted, but then was returned. I suggest you start looking there."
Fang Yuanhang was getting worked up again. "Can't you speak more clearly?"
Chu Xin shrugged. "Little straight boy, I think I've already made myself clear enough."
Ming Shu lifted a hand, stopping Fang Yuanhang from saying anything else. "What about the others? You know about more than just Fang Pingxu's past, don't you?"
Chu Xin folded his arms. A somewhat sly look came into his eyes. "If I told you guys that a pair of lovers are hidden away in Haijing Temple, would you be surprised?"
Fang Yuanhang did his very best to not make a sound.
"You're talking about Wu Han and Wu Shi, right?" Ming Shu guessed. "A language teacher and a physical education teacher who gave up their worldly lives and social statuses twenty years ago is indeed an unusual thing."
"They were very good at choosing their path," Chu Xin said. "The world wouldn't accept them, so they chose a place removed from the world. But Wu Han—that is, Fang Yuan—had a wife at the time."
Ming Shu prompted, "This wife…?"
"Died." Chu Xin leaned forward and gazed at Ming Shu with a deep look in his eyes. "After Liu Sui became a monk and took the name Wu Shi, and before Tang Yuan became Wu Han. That was when she died. She drowned in an aqueduct, somewhere very far from home."
Ming Shu narrowed his eyes and slowly asked, "Something like that happened?"
"Nothing is all that strange for a small town twenty years in the past," Chu Xin said. "The official police record states that Tang Yuan's wife lost her footing and slipped into the aqueduct, but did she slip or was she pushed? Only the people present at the time know the truth. I, for one, don't really buy the former explanation."
"So you think Liu Sui and Tang Yuan killed Tang Yuan's wife together?" Ming Shu asked.
"Who knows?" Chu Xin's tone became rather coy again. "I'm not a detective. I'm only responsible for my own imagination. The investigation is your business."
Ming Shu nodded. "Alright, the investigation is my business. What about Wu Nian and Master Kui Chen?"
"Wu Nian…" Chu Xin covered his forehead with one hand. "I don't know."
"You don't know?" Ming Shu echoed. "You mean you don't want to say."
Chu Xin didn't deny that. "I've told you enough already. You can look into the rest yourself, or you can ask someone else. As for Master Kui Chen, if I say I've never really interacted much with him, would you believe me?"
"He is, at least in name, your master," Ming Shu said. "And you've been a monk at Haijing Temple for several years already. If you say you haven't interacted with him much, I really wouldn't believe you."
Chu Xin laughed. "Well, believe it or don't believe it, whatever you please. Do you think it's very difficult to become a monk at Haijing Temple? You think you have to be vetted and tested, like at regular temples? It's not like that at all."
"Hm?" Ming Shu hummed.
"If they tested you and asked you about this and that when you arrived, would Haijing Temple really have become a place of so many hidden secrets?" Chu Xin sighed. "That's just a temple out in the wild. Anyone can go there and become a monk. Kui Chen himself comes from ambiguous roots. How could he interrogate others about where they came from?"
"Based on what you say, the monks at Haijing Temple aren't real monks. Just people who have demons in their hearts?" Ming Shu's eyes gradually became sharper. "What about you? What demons are you carrying in your heart?"
When the topic suddenly shifted onto him, Chu Xin's expression changed subtly. "Didn't you say we wouldn't talk about me?"
"But after listening to you say so much, I can't contain my curiosity after all," Ming Shu said with a smile. "None of the other monks are simply monks. Are you saying that you are? They all came to that mountain with some purpose. Are you saying you only went there to sincerely pray and ring the bell?"
"It's a nice bell," Chu Xin said, laughing as he shook his head.
"Plus," Ming Shu continued, "you know far too many details about your master and your brothers."
Chu Xin thought for a while before he answered, "I decided to become a monk at Haijing Temple, didn't I? Even if I didn't care about what the other monks at the temple were like, my family wouldn't have been so unconcerned. If my uncle didn't thoroughly investigate the people here, would he really have let me live at Haijing Temple?"
"Now, that's strange. Your uncle Chu Linxiong investigated and discovered every monk at Haijing Temple is suspicious in some way. Yet he was still willing to let you live there?" Ming Shu asked. "I can't wrap my head around that logic."
Chu Xin's brows furrowed faintly with a trace of hesitation. Ultimately, he spread out his hands and said, "That's the truth, and that's all I have to say. If you suspect me of being a killer, then go ahead and investigate me. Take as much time as you need. I swear I won't ask my family for help."
Compared to Chu Xin, who babbled incessantly, the monk named Wu Nian—secular name Yin Xiaofeng—hardly said anything at all except the occasional 'Amitabha'.
"He was like this before too!" Fang Yuanhang said. "It's like he doesn't understand what we say to him. No matter what I asked, he just said 'Amitabha' back at me."
"If Yin Xiaofeng isn't willing to speak, that isn't a big problem. There will be evidence that 'speaks' for him," Ming Shu said. "I need you all to shift gears and change your way of thinking right now. I know your first instinct when faced with monks is to feel they're kind, compassionate people. But the monks at Haijing Temple are clearly different. Right now, we know nothing about the identity or whereabouts of Master Kui Chen, but the other five all have their dark sides waiting for us to investigate.
"We have two ways of investigating Qiu Min's death now. One is centered around Qiu Min, and therefore Hong Chuanfei is a key person of interest. The person who killed Qiu Min must have been tracking Hong Chuanfei's movements. They wouldn't have been able to take Qiu Min away from Yatou Mountain by coincidence, after all. Lan Qiao."
Lan Qiao instantly answered, "Here!"
The Serious Crimes Division was short on manpower, and thus Lan Qiao's squadron of policewomen had been called in to join the investigation.
"You're most familiar with Qiu Min, so you keep pursuing this line of investigation. Hong Chuanfei may still provide us with some new, useful information. But if he can't think of anything else, we'll have to dig up new leads ourselves," Ming Shu said. "Any questions?"
"Don't worry," Lan Qiao said. "Just leave it to me."
Ming Shu nodded and continued, "The other line of investigation involves Haijing Temple. It's possible that the murderer is hiding among the monks of Haijing Temple, but right now it's impossible to tell who that is. There's one considerable challenge here, which is that the killer isn't necessarily one of the five monks who live at the temple full-time. There are other monks who pass through to offer incense. They would be familiar with the temple and the mountain as well, and they would have had the opportunity to slip into the isolation temple and grab the nails."
"But if you think about motive," Yi Fei interrupted, "the five monks who live at Haijing Temple have more of a reason to commit the crime. Since they're permanent residents of Haijing Temple, they're the ones who are affected the most by the popularity brought to Mount Qiyue by Qiu Min and other influencers. If they didn't commit the crime, but other monks just passing through did… that doesn't make sense, does it?"
Ming Shu nodded. "You're right. We have to find out exactly who these five people are and where they came from. Also, regarding this person Kui Chen—does anyone have any thoughts on how to find him?"
Xiao Man raised his hand. "Judging by the dust in the isolation room, Kui Chen disappeared from the temple shortly after telling the other monks he would be going into isolation. There were no signs of a struggle in that room. Everything was in order. My personal guess is that Kui Chen used his period of isolation as a cover for leaving Haijing Temple."
"But why would he do that?" Fang Yuanhang asked. "An old man in his seventies, sneaking away without telling anyone. What could he have been planning to do?"
"There are many possibilities," Ming Shu said. "Perhaps, as a monk who discovered he didn't have much time left in the world, he wanted to find a place to end his life. However, there's one point we can't ignore. We know nothing about the true identity of Kui Chen. Whether or not he really is a man in his seventies is something I still want to question."
Fang Yuanhang straightened up. "Maybe the real Kui Chen died a long time ago, and the one who went into the isolation room wasn't Kui Chen at all!"
Everyone in the conference room immediately started discussing these new possibilities. In any case which involved religion, there tended to be an additional layer of mystique. Especially in cases with murders as bizarre as these. They had no choice but to sort through their clues and investigate certain leads separately, but once they separated those leads, they tended to scatter their efforts too much—that wasn't conducive to solving the case either.
Ming Shu listened to everyone's chatter for a while, then said, "Director Xiao gave me an idea. The person who killed Qiu Min and the person who dismembered Qiu Min could have been two people, while the person who killed Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan was the person who dismembered Qiu Min. It's a possibility, but I think the likelihood of this being true is very small."
Xing Mu stood up. "I agree with Director Xiao's theory. I conducted the autopsies on Qiu Min, Lu Chen, and Zhao Siyan. The post-mortem wounds on the former victim, Qiu Min, were caused by an axe-like tool that chopped his body into pieces. And the post-mortem wounds on the latter two victims were caused by sharp blades and nails. Although these are very different types of wounds, in both cases the perpetrator demonstrated a sort of expertise in what they did.
"To say that such a person messily choked Qiu Min to death with their bare hands is something I find illogical."
Xiao Man lowered his voice and whispered to Fang Yuanhang, "Is the sun rising in the west today? Our Xing-laoshi is actually calling Little Ming illogical."
Fang Yuanhang whispered back, "Xing-laoshi is a really good person, don't mock him too much."
"Am I mocking him?" Xiao Man cuffed Fang Yuanhang over the back of the head. "You can't even tell when I'm praising someone. How the hell did you become Little Ming's rookie?"
"Don't mess with me for a while," Fang Yuanhang warned. He pointed to his own head. "These recent cases have all been messing me up right here. Be careful, or I just might send you straight into retirement with one punch."
"For fuck's…" Xiao Man wanted to continue bantering with Fang Yuanhang, but when he thought about it, his little friend really had been overworked as of late. Ultimately, he let it go. "Alright, alright. No more messing with you."
"If we assume the person who killed Qiu Min and the person who dismembered him are two separate entities, things become much more complicated," Ming Shu said. "The orders I gave out earlier are actually founded on one assumption—which is that the killer hated Qiu Min and Qiu Min alone. But there is a possibility that would cause problems for us. Which is that Qiu Min may have been chosen by the killer, but he may not have been the only one chosen by the killer."
"This could be a serial killer," Yi Fei said.
Ming Shu nodded. "And that's why we have to find a breakthrough in this case as soon as possible."
After the team meeting, Zhou Yuan called Ming Shu back. "Captain Ming, I've checked up on Qin Ke's internet history already. I didn't find anyone following her closely. She did a great job of disguising her identity. The average person wouldn't have been able to find out who she really was at all. And before the murders, no suspicious characters appeared in her life."
"Then it's more likely that the killer got to the family through Huang Hui?" Ming Shu quickly switched gears, shifting his thoughts from the case of Mount Qiyue to the gruesome case of the Qin family. "Huang Hui doesn't go online much, and there's nothing suspicious in her communication records. The killer most likely approached her in person."
"Could it have been Qin Ying?" Zhou Yuan mused to himself.
As the investigation continued, the details of each monk's history were unraveled by the police.
Luocheng, Open Arms Orphanage.
"Fang Pingxu, that child…" Yong Hong, the old head of the orphanage, had already retired. But when the police asked about Fang Pingxu, Yong Hong's face still filled up with remorse. "Technically speaking, Fang Pingxu wasn't really an orphan. His parents were still alive when he was sent to us."
Xu Chun came up with one possible explanation right away. "His parents are in prison?"
Yong Hong shook her head. "No, his father wasn't only his father. His father was also his older brother."
"That…" Xu Chun was stunned. "His brother forced himself on his own mother?"
"There were all sorts of rumors at the time," Yong Hong said. "There was never a father in that family. Fang Pingxu's older brother was raised by his mother alone. At the time of their 'act', his mother had yet to even turn forty. When the police went to investigate, both parties said it had been consensual. Fang Pingxu was sent to us when he was very young, but he heard from many others that he was a 'monster'. People mocked him for being a 'product of incest' every day."
"Who sent him to the orphanage?" Xu Chun asked.
"That absurd mother of his," Yong Hong said. "Originally, our policy was to not accept any child whose parents were still alive. But their family's situation was just too unique. The whole community knew that Fang Pingxu was the product of his mother's and brother's incestuous relationship. People were saying all sorts of things about him. The child was completely innocent. After we considered it, we decided to take him in."
"Then, what happened to Fang Pingxu's parents?" Xu Chun asked. "They couldn't have just left Fang Pingxu here and forgotten about him, right?"
"They're gone," Yong Hong said. "And some people say they died together a long time ago."
Xu Chun frowned. "You mean to say… they're missing?"
Yong Hong found an old book of records and put on a pair of glasses to flip through the pages. "Fang Pingxu was sent to us when he was four years old. When he was six, his parents suddenly disappeared. The police also came to tell us what had happened, but they never found those two. Everyone who knows about this, including me, believes they may have committed suicide because they couldn't withstand of the judgment of the community any longer."
"Was Fang Pingxu adopted before or after this happened?" Xu Chun asked.
"After," Yong Hong said. "A wealthy and kind family, who already had a daughter at home, was willing to adopt Fang Pingxu even after learning all the details of his situation. They said he needed psychological treatment, and that staying at an orphanage would only cause his mental state to worsen. Back then, how many people even cared about things like a person's mental state? Very few. That was a wonderful family. But in less than six months, they sent Fang Pingxu back. That child, in someone else's home… committed a crime."
Xu Chun was baffled. There was no record of any crime committed by Fang Pingxu in the system. Even if Fang Pingxu had been a child at the time, his record shouldn't have been a blank slate.
"He killed the family's two sheepdogs, and when he tried to kill his sister, the family's maid found him," Yong Hong said. "He was only eight years old at the time. Because the little girl wasn't seriously injured, his foster parents simply sent him back and didn't call the police. They said they were sorry, but they couldn't change him."
"So Fang Pingxu stayed at the orphanage until he became an adult?" Xu Chun asked. "From the age of eight to eighteen, did he do any other violent things?"
"I don't know." Yong Hong closed the record book and put it back in its place. "After he started middle school, Fang Pingxu rarely came back to the orphanage. Truthfully, none of us wanted him to come back. His parents weren't normal, and he wasn't normal. With him there, I always worried he would do something to an innocent child."
Shouquan, local police post.
"Zhou Tingting lost her footing and fell into the water, that's all!" Qian Da, the officer in charge of investigating the death of Tang Yuan's wife many years ago, had already retired from the force to open a teahouse. Upon being invited back to the station to be questioned by the police, his tone was noticeably confrontational. "If she didn't lose her footing, what else could it have been? You think she was pushed? We checked everything very carefully back then. Hers were the only footprints in the area. So who pushed her? A ghost? Besides, this happened more than twenty years ago. You want to reopen the case now?"
Ming Shu had already checked the case file from back then. The file itself didn't reveal any problems, but Qian Da's reaction to these questions made Ming Shu very suspicious.
Qian Da now operated a business in Shouquan. It was nominally a teahouse, but frankly speaking it was clearly a mahjong hall. When someone operated a business like that, even if they weren't on great terms with the police, they at least behaved civilly in front of them.
But Qian Da was clearly very nervous, and his nerves had an obvious effect on how he handled Ming Shu's questions.
If there had been nothing suspicious about that case from over twenty years ago, would Qian Da's reaction be so extreme?
Ming Shu tracked down Zhou Tingting's family. Her parents were both deceased, but she had one younger sister who still lived in Shouquan.
"My sister was killed," Zhou Qingqing huffed indignantly. "My sister was an extremely careful person. She was like that ever since she was a child. That aqueduct was so far from her home, too. What was she doing all the way out there? Those police officers were paid off by Tang Yuan. They were bribed into saying my sister fell into the water by accident, just so Tang Yuan could clear his name. My sister was killed by Tang Yuan!"
While these investigations were going on, Lin Jiao gave Ming Shu a call. "Captain Ming, do you have time to come to the Psychological Research Center?"
Ming Shu was in Shouquan when he received the call. He had no time to hurry back there right away.
"A while ago, you asked me to delve into Qin Xu's state of mind," Lin Jiao said. "I've discovered something, but I don't know much about the cases you're investigating right now. You or Captain Yi will have to personally determine whether or not the imagery in Qin Xu's subconsciousness is relevant to your investigation."