Upon seeing that it was Xiao Yu'an who arrived at the Psychological Research Center, and not Ming Shu or Yi Fei, Lin Jiao showed some surprise.
"Captain Ming has something to do that he can't set aside for now," Xiao Yu'an said. "I came to take a look on his behalf. Did you find a problem with Qin Xu?"
Lin Jiao led Xiao Yu'an towards his office with a trace of regret in his eyes. "Qin Xu was probably harmed by his sister."
"Qin Ke?" Xiao Yu'an stopped abruptly. "Qin Xu's current personality was created by Qin Ke?"
Lin Jiao unlocked the door to his office with his fingerprint. "Let's talk inside."
Qin Xu wasn't in this office. Some machinery emitted cold, mechanical noises. A few reports with extremely complex values scribbled across the pages were on the desk, and a selection of abstract drawings sat next to them.
"This art was all sent over by the Serious Crimes Division," Lin Jiao said. "These pieces were all found among Qin Xu's personal belongings. They're his works from five years ago, which is to say—when he was twelve years old."
Xiao Yu'an picked up one of the drawings. There were huge concentric circles on the right side of the page, in red ink—one circle inside another, inside another, inside another. And those circles were then scribbled out by messy black lines. At a glance, it looked almost like an ugly hedgehog.
On the left side of the page, there was a small blue circle. Compared to the red concentric circles, the blue circle was miniscule. But there was a thick, heavy black line to the right of the blue circle. All the lines that crisscrossed the red circles erupted from this black line.
The other drawings looked different, but they all made use of the colors red, blue, and black. Some of them only used these three colors, while some others also contained circles in fluorescent green or yellow. The red and blue circles were always connected by black lines, and the blue circle was always smaller than the red.
The message on every drawing seemed to be the same—although the blue circle was small, it could control and manipulate these black lines to bind and ensnare the red circle.
And all these pieces had been drawn by the hand of a twelve-year-old boy. What had Qin Xu wanted to express?
Qin Xu was a key person of interest in the Qin family's case. Although Qin Xu insisted he only stumbled upon the crime scene after the murders and took photos, there was so far nothing that could prove he hadn't been present at the time of the murders.
Ming Shu had already dispatched a few team members to ask about Qin Xu at his elementary school, middle school, and high school. From Qin Xu's peers and teachers at his elementary school, the team had already learned that everyone considered Qin Xu outstanding ever since he was young—and not only in terms of his grades. Qin Xu also participated in all aspects of campus life. He was bright and outgoing. He always participated in class activities, and he always took the lead in group projects.
Qin Xu's personality changed dramatically when he was around twelve years old. His grades plummeted for a while before climbing again. His already outstanding grades became even more superb, but he became a gloomy person. Unless it was necessary, he basically didn't talk to anyone at all. He always showed his classmates and teachers an extremely cold face, like the whole world owed him something.
Now, at age seventeen, Qin Xu didn't have a single friend in his life. Everyone kept their distance from him. His classmates thought he was weird, and his teachers were a little scared of him. Since his grades were still excellent, his homeroom teacher didn't even know what to talk to him about.
"The red circle represents Qin Ke, and the blue represents Qin Xu. Qin Ke is depicted as strong and big, while Qin Xu himself is small and weak. The other two colors represent their parents, who simply stood by and never interfered," Xiao Yu'an mused. He put down the drawing. "The black lines represent some sort of abstract power that Qin Xu imagines he possesses, that he can use to punish Qin Ke."
Lin Jiao nodded. He switched on a monitor and pulled over another chair. "Director Xiao, please have a seat."
Xiao Yu'an saw that it was Qin Xu who appeared on the monitor.
"He's very resistant. The hypnosis I used on him wasn't very effective," Lin Jiao said. "Fortunately, we learned quite a lot from the few things he was willing to say."
Before the age of twelve, Qin Xu had been very close to Qin Ke. In his eyes, Qin Ke was the best big sister in the world. She was beautiful, gentle, and kind. Her only flaw was that her grades were average.
Whenever Qin Xu got anything good, he would share with Qin Ke. And Qin Ke would do the same.
But when Qin Xu was twelve, he perceived that his sister was gradually changing. She started to talk less and less, and she always spent her time running out to internet cafes. She was irritable and grouchy. Sometimes, Qin Xu would sense that Qin Ke was looking at him, and when he turned, he would find her gaze fixed on him indeed.
Huang Hui and Qin Xiong had been extremely busy people. They were rarely ever at home, and in order to save money, they hadn't hired a nanny either. Most of the time, Qin Xu was home alone with Qin Ke.
At this time, Qin Ke started to act in 'bizarre' ways. For example, she would sometimes play pornographic videos from overseas in front of Qin Xu.
As a twelve-year-old boy, Qin Xu already knew about sexual relations. But what shocked Qin Xu to his core was that Qin Ke actually took off her clothes while watching those videos and masturbated to the sounds spilling out of the speakers!
Qin Ke was only sixteen years old at that time!
Qin Xu was extremely shaken up, and he didn't know what to do. He was even threatened by Qin Ke, who said she would tell their parents that all the videos were his if he dared tell them about this.
In the eyes of everyone in their lives, Qin Ke was a sweet, well-behaved girl. How could a sweet girl watch these sorts of videos?
Qin Xu had been at a very impressionable age. His shock gradually turned into interest. Every time Qin Ke put on those videos, Qin Xu would stand by the door and watch as well.
But, rather than the people on the screen, what interested Qin Xu more was his own sister.
Qin Ke was growing more wanton. Eventually, the videos alone were no longer enough to satisfy her. She bought all sorts of things online, things that Qin Xu couldn't even have dreamt of.
And finally, Qin Ke beckoned Qin Xu over to her.
The twelve-year-old Qin Xu had simply walked over, to be molested by his own sister.
That was the first time, but it wasn't the last. Qin Xu knew what they were doing was wrong, but Qin Ke threatened him and forced him. He couldn't escape, and he was continuously poisoned by her. And all the while, their parents were completely oblivious to their entanglement.
Countless times, on countless nights, Qin Xu wanted to kill Qin Ke, then kill himself.
Those disturbing pieces of art were drawn on those nights.
But no matter how much he struggled, whenever Qin Ke beckoned to him, he would be drawn to her.
This relationship lasted until Qin Ke started to hire 'boy toys' to keep her company.
Qin Xu thought he was finally free, but the effects of the past were indelible. He changed completely, becoming a person who hated Qin Ke, himself, and their oblivious parents.
In his eyes, everyone in the world was ugly and filthy. Just like Qin Ke.
With money given to him by Qin Xiong, Qin Xu bought a camera and made taking photos of other people in moments of 'ugliness' his biggest hobby.
"Trauma during these years of adolescence, particularly trauma of a sexual nature, can very easily cause lasting psychological damage throughout a person's life, especially if they don't receive psychiatric treatment in time," Lin Jiao said. "Especially in a case like Qin Xu's. The person who betrayed him was the sister he'd once adored, and he had been too young to free himself. Their parents did nothing. There was no one in his life who would help him."
With a sigh, Lin Jiao continued, "Qin Ke's behavior paints a clear picture. She was a pedophile, she committed a crime. According to the information passed along by the Serious Crimes Division, the men she dated later in life were all younger than her as well. But she's dead now, so pursuing this will only lead us into a dead end. That's all I've learned from Qin Xu, in any case. I don't know if it will be of any help in your investigation."
"Thank you," Xiao Yu'an said. "Any clues that appear have a role in our case. Even if they aren't the key to solving the case, they at least help us unravel the mystery and eliminate some possibilities."
Lin Jiao let out a breath of relief. "That's good. I didn't do all that work for nothing."
After learning of the cause of Qin Xu's current personality disorders, Ming Shu was furious. "So it was Qin Ke!"
When he sent Qin Xu in for a psychological evaluation, Ming Shu had already formed some judgments in his mind. But he had assumed that the guilty parties in creating Qin Xu's personality would be his parents, Huang Hui and Qin Xiong. Yi Fei and the others had assumed the same.
But it was Qin Ke who had hurt Qin Xu, in such a disdainful, criminal way.
After cooling his head, Ming Shu said, "Now that we know that, Qin Xu's motive becomes even stronger. At the age of twelve, he 'killed' Qin Ke countless times in his drawings. He also drew his parents, who stood aside and did nothing to help him. Now, at age seventeen, his hatred of his family has grown stronger and stronger. To the point where he had to act."
"He has ample motive, and we have circumstantial evidence implicating him in the crime. But Qin Xu himself won't confess," Xiao Yu'an said. "Qin Xu is indeed the most likely suspect right now, but…"
"But there was another set of unfamiliar footprints in Unit 5-8. We can't rush to convict Qin Xu before we find that person," Ming Shu said. He was extremely level-headed about the matter. "And according to the logic behind Qin Xu's actions—if he were the killer, then killing his whole family was his way of venting his rage and finding his relief. He most likely wouldn't be trying to hide his crime from us, in that case. He would have flaunted it."
"That's right," Xiao Yu'an said. "Even if we didn't know about this mysterious Qin Ying, we wouldn't be able to rush this case to a close with those unfamiliar footprints in play."
For a few seconds, neither of them spoke. The sounds of their breathing filtered through their phones.
After a while, Ming Shu said, "All these tragedies of the Qin family can be traced back to Qin Ying. The reason for Qin Xu's sudden change in personality was Qin Ke's abuse. So, what about Qin Ke? According to Qin Xu, Qin Ke used to be a gentle and caring girl. What caused her to change?
"She first discovered the photo of Qin Ying when she was in her teens. After that, she learned from her aunt Huang Qing that Qin Ying had disappeared shortly before she was born. When she was sixteen, Qin Ke looked deeper into the matter. And when she was seventeen, she started posting online about this—but she must have started suspecting her parents of having killed Qin Ying before that, when she was sixteen."
"This huge shadow of her parents potentially being murderers weighed on her," Xiao Yu'an said. "Many crimes committed by juveniles can be traced back to their family. The psychological burden of these family troubles can be difficult to bear. Some turn to violence against others, and some resort to violence against themselves. Qin Ke chose to indulge in sex, and she used it to harm her own little brother."
"I suddenly had a thought," Ming Shu said. "Could Qin Ke's behavior be considered an imitation of her parents? She thought her parents killed Qin Ying, so she used another means to hurt her own little brother?"
"Whether or not that's the case isn't important right now," Xiao Yu'an said. "We'll never know exactly what Qin Ke was thinking, deep in her heart."
Ming Shu sighed. "That's true."
Xiao Yu'an glanced at the time. "How are things going on your end? Any new developments?"
"The people at Haijing Temple are all pretty complex. The monk who wouldn't speak this whole time, Yin Xiaofeng? We've managed to track down his true identity," Ming Shu said. "Before he became a monk at Haijing Temple, he received treatment at a mental institution in Liangxi City."
"Yin Xiaofeng suffers from mental illness?" Xiao Yu'an asked. "Then why did he make his way to Dongye City?"
"I've already asked Xu Chun to make a trip out to Liangxi City," Ming Shu said. "We should know more about Yin Xiaofeng's past soon. But I have to say, boss, this investigation is pissing me off."
Hearing Ming Shu call him 'boss', Xiao Yu'an knew right away that Ming Shu had much more to say. He warmly asked, "What's riling you up?"
"Due to personnel shortages, inferior equipment, and other reasons, local police officers may occasionally get a case wrong. Some important cases might not be escalated as they should be. I understand that. But the cops in Shouquan have really gone over the top with their mistakes. There are problems with an old case of theirs, but they won't tell me anything. And now that I'm investigating our current case there, they won't cooperate.
"Twenty-seven years ago, Tang Yuan's wife Zhou Tingting 'fell' into an aqueduct and drowned. That case is full of suspicious holes. The aqueduct was so far from Zhou Tingting's home, and it was a very remote place as well. Why would she go out there? The family of the deceased had a lot of questions too, but the police ignored them all. They reported that Zhou Tingting's footprints were the only ones by the aqueduct, and her cause of death was determined to be an accidental fall into the water."
Back then, twenty-seven years in the past, Shouquan had yet to come under the jurisdiction of Dongye City. Plus, investigation techniques and tools were all very basic at the time. It was very likely that a case could be misjudged, and it was also very possible that results of a case could be deliberately falsified.
"Zhou Tingting's younger sister, Zhou Qingqing, says that Zhou Tingting was killed by Tang Yuan and Liu Sui because of a supposed 'affair' between Liu Sui and Tang Yuan," Ming Shu continued. "Chu Xin, with his connections to the Chu family, had the luxury of looking into his brothers before he joined the monks at Haijing Temple. His research into the other monks' backgrounds told him that Liu Sui and Tang Yuan had, in fact, been engaged in an 'inappropriate' relationship back when they were teachers.
"Liu Sui is older than Tang Yuan, and he's unmarried. Tang Yuan, meanwhile, was married. Forget about the social climate back then. Even now, in the present, they would have faced an uphill battle to be accepted in society. Haijing Temple, on Mount Qiyue, was a place where they could escape from reality."
"Too much time has passed since this case," Xiao Yu'an said. "Regardless of whether it's the word of the police or the word of the family of the deceased, that's just one side of the story. The critical point is—Captain Ming, do you have evidence?"
"It's already impossible to dig up key evidence now, but according to the old colleagues of Liu Sui and Tang Yuan, they were indeed lovers, and their families disapproved," Ming Shu said. "Before he went to become a monk, Liu Sui had already cut off all ties with his family. When his parents later died, he didn't even come down from the mountain to mourn.
"As for Tang Yuan, he seemed to be the more reliant party in their relationship. Apparently he depended on Liu Sui for everything."
"In your opinion," Xiao Yu'an prompted, "is there a very high possibility of them having killed Qiu Min?"
Ming Shu was silent for a while. Finally, he said, "It's hard to say. Murderers who were never caught by the law, or murderers who were caught and later released after a prison sentence, have a much higher probability of killing again. If Liu Sui and Tang Yuan worked together to kill Zhou Tingting twenty-seven years ago, then the chances of them being the killers in this case really aren't low.
"Plus, don't you and Xing-laoshi both think that Qiu Min was killed and dismembered by two separate people? Well, Liu Sui and Tang Yuan just so happen to be two people. But right now, 'Zhou Tingting was killed by Liu Sui and Tang Yuan' is still only my theory."
After saying that, Ming Shu heard some other voices from the other end of the line. "Director Xiao?"
"You continue investigating," Xiao Yu'an said. "A team member is calling me, but call me back anytime."
Just as Ming Shu hung up the phone, Fang Yuanhang arrived with a woman with a yellowed, sickly face.
"Chief! This is Qian Da's ex-wife, Dan Mei! She has something to tell you!"
Ming Shu gave the woman a once-over and guessed what her purpose was from the anger roiling in her eyes.
"Are you here from the city to investigate Qian Da? Are you in charge? Are you the one people listen to?"
Her questions came flying out in quick succession, making her prominent cheeks tremble with the force of it.
"I'm not investigating Qian Da," Ming Shu said. "I'm investigating the case of Zhou Tingting, who lost her footing and fell into water twenty-seven years ago."
Dan Mei sharply said, "It's the same thing! What I want to talk to you about is also the matter of Zhou Tingting being killed!"
"Killed?" Ming Shu echoed. He kept his own tone calm, trying to calm Dan Mei down as well. "Do you have evidence to support that claim?"
"Of course I do!" Dan Mei slapped an metal box down on the table. "The stuff in here is the evidence!"
Ming Shu opened the box and found a set of gold bracelets, a pair of gold earrings, and a gold pendant inside.
Gold was the material that was most likely to retain its value. Many older folks kept similar stashes of gold jewelry.
Ming Shu couldn't help but think of his jiejie, Xiao Jinlan.
Xiao Jinlan was only a few years older than Xiao Yu'an, but starting a few years back, she'd started to become enthralled with gold jewelry.
One year, when Ming Shu and Xiao Yu'an were visiting the Xiao family over Chinese New Year's, Xiao Jinlan gifted Ming Shu a gold pin.
Back then, Ming Shu still hadn't learned how to appreciate gold. He only thought it looked old-fashioned. "Jie, you could have just given me a pair of shoes."
"You're such a kid, you always ask me for shoes," Xiao Jinlan said, laughing. "Your closet full of shoes isn't enough? This pin is to keep you safe. You, Yu'an, Jincheng, and Mu'ting all have one. Keep it safe, don't look down on it."
Even now, that pin was still sitting at home, right next to the one that had been given to Xiao Yu'an.
"This is evidence?" Ming Shu asked Dan Mei.
"All this jewelry was given to me by Liu Changjun!" Dan Mei said. "Do you know who Liu Changjun is?"
"I do," Ming Shu answered.
Liu Changjun was Liu Sui's father; he'd passed away many years ago.
In terms of family status, Liu Sui and Tang Yuan were very different. Liu Sui came from a relatively wealthy and influential family in Shouquan, and he had gotten his teaching job through his family's connections. Tang Yuan, on the other hand, came to Shouquan from the countryside to make his living. He had to work hard, and he was quickly introduced to the music teacher at the same school where he found employment. He and the music teacher, Zhou Tingting, soon married.
"Liu Sui was the one who killed Zhou Tingting! Everyone knew about that funny business between Liu Sui and Tang Yuan," Dan Mei said, still speaking rapidly and excitedly. "Liu Sui was the one who lured Zhou Tingting out to that aqueduct, saying he wanted to resolve things between the three of them. But Tang Yuan wasn't there at all! No one else was at the aqueduct to talk. Liu Sui just pushed Zhou Tingting down!"
"You know all the details that clearly?" Ming Shu asked. "Is it because your ex-husband Qian Da was in charge of the case?"
Dan Mei nodded. "I'm guilty too. I took a bribe from Liu Changjun to stay quiet. Now I'm here to confess to you. I have no problem with it if you have to sentence me for my crime as well, but that vile creature Qian Da must be caught!"
"Let me ask an unrelated question," Ming Shu said. "This case is from so long ago. Why do you want to see Qian Da caught now?"
"I…" Dan Mei lowered her eyes, looking a bit awkward and embarrassed for a while. She finally continued, "He was a police officer, working long hours. He was rarely home, and he didn't make much money. I never minded that. I took care of him, I took care of our son, I even took care of his parents.
"But him? He stopped being an honest police officer and opened up his own business. A teahouse. Now he's making so much money from that teahouse that he went off to find all sorts of mistresses, and he divorced me! I can't get over my anger! If he won't make things right with me, then the two of us can just go to prison together!"
When faced with the gold jewelry that had been presented to the team from the city, Qian Da was stunned. The arrogance he had shown when he last spoke to the detectives was completely gone.
"It looks like you recognize them," Ming Shu said.
Dan Mei's allegations alone weren't enough to prove that Qian Da accepted a bribe from the Liu family to cover up Liu Sui's crime. It would be a long, complex process to determine whether or not Dan Mei told the truth, and whether or not these 'gifts' really had come from Liu Changjun. Considering the hatred Dan Mei harbored for Qian Da, it was completely possible that she lied to falsely accuse Qian Da.
But Qian Da's extremely obvious reaction to the sight of the jewelry already spoke volumes.
"Twenty-seven years ago, the one who pushed Zhou Tingting into the water was Liu Sui, correct?" Ming Shu fiercely accused. "When you investigated the scene, you didn't find just one set of footprints belonging to Zhou Tingting. Isn't that right?!"
Qian Da started to tremble and babble incoherently.
Criminal Investigation Bureau. Serious Crimes Division.
Xiao Yu'an had had to cut his call with Ming Shu short because a team member had rushed over to say that Tang Yuan was asking to see the head of the Serious Crimes Division.
Tang Yuan had yet to reach the age of fifty that year, but he already looked like he was in his sixties or seventies. Although it could be said that life in the mountains was difficult, it certainly wasn't that difficult.
This was a result of the guilt weighing on his heart.
"You're in charge of the Serious Crimes Division?" Tang Yuan's expressionless eyes gazed at Xiao Yu'an. A faint tremor ran through his voice.
"I am," Xiao Yu'an said. "What do you have to tell me?"
"I can never make it up to Tingting. I hid this for nearly thirty years, and for thirty years I never lived a single day in peace." Tang Yuan lowered his eyes. "I've been practicing Buddhism at Haijing Temple and repenting every day and night, but it still doesn't change the fact that Liu Sui and I killed my wife. That's the truth.
"I'm tired. I don't want to hide it anymore."
What Tang Yuan confessed was quite similar to what Ming Shu had pieced together after hearing about the past from Dan Mei and Qian Da.
More than thirty years ago, Tang Yuan met and married Zhou Tingting, only to discover afterwards that he wasn't attracted to women. The appearance of Liu Sui, a language teacher at the same school where Tang Yuan and Zhou Tingting worked, allowed Tang Yuan to feel the passion of life for the first time.
The relationship between the two men was originally a well-kept secret. No one knew about it. But a sheet of paper could never fully hide a raging fire. Gradually, Zhou Tingting began to realize something was wrong.
Tang Yuan was a weak-willed and traditional person at heart. He was already feeling guilty for cheating on his wife. When Zhou Tingting cried and screamed at him, he finally decided to end things with Liu Sui.
But when Tang Yuan tried to break up with him, Liu Sui said he'd already left his job and cut ties with his family. All he wanted was to be with Tang Yuan.
With that, Tang Yuan was caught in a dilemma. But Liu Sui told him not to worry, saying he would resolve everything.
Soon after that, Tang Yuan learned that Liu Sui had become a monk.
Tang Yuan assumed this meant Liu Sui had given up on their relationship. And so, he did his best to let go of his feelings for Liu Sui as well. He tried to devote himself to his little family with Zhou Tingting.
But two months later, Zhou Tingting died in that aqueduct.
The police said Zhou Tingting slipped and fell into the water, but Tang Yuan knew better than anyone that Liu Sui had killed Zhou Tingting.
After taking care of Zhou Tingting's final affairs, Tang Yuan also retreated to the mountain to become a monk, where he was reunited with Liu Sui at Haijing Temple.
In front of Buddha, they both became demons.
"I've wronged Liu Sui, but it was him… he wronged me first," Tang Yuan said to Xiao Yu'an in the end.
Upon learning Tang Yuan had confessed to the police, Liu Sui didn't seem at all surprised. He let out a bitter laugh and said, "He isn't the only one who's tired. I'm tired too. What use is there, practicing Buddhism? A murderer who spends a whole lifetime practicing Buddhism is still a murderer, right?
"I was the one who pushed Zhou Tingting into the aqueduct. Tang Yuan had nothing to do with it. At most, he suspected me and didn't report it to the police. Don't make any trouble for him."
After falling silent for a moment, Liu Sui suddenly lifted his head again with a crystal clear look in his eyes. "But this is the only case that has anything to do with us. The other cases on Mount Qiyue, and Master Kui Chen's disappearance—these don't have anything to do with us at all."
Xu Chun stepped out of the mental institution where Yin Xiaofeng had once received treatment. He instantly called Ming Shu.
Jiulin Psychology Clinic.
A cell phone vibrated on a table for a long time without being answered.
Finally, a passing assistant gently called out, "Dr. Luo?"
Only then did Luo Yi come back to his senses. He pulled his gaze back from the yellowing ginkgo leaves outside the window and turned to his assistant with a smile, before picking up the phone.