"As if split personalities are that common!"
After blearily shouting out those words, Ming Shu opened his eyes.
He was no longer sitting on a rigid chair in the bright yet cramped interrogation room at the Serious Crimes Division. A soft, warm light spilled down from the bulbs that dotted the ceiling. The large windows were more than half covered by thick curtains. Everything in the vicinity was neat and tidy, and the surroundings were extremely quiet, but not in a cold, lifeless way.
This was the home of Ming Shu and Xiao Yu'an.
Just as Ming Shu sat up on the couch, Xiao Yu'an came out of the study. Xiao Yu'an was wearing a casual, at-home outfit that was perfect for autumn and winter, along with a thin, light gray sweater.
Ming Shu looked down at himself. He was wearing the same style of clothing.
Xiao Yu'an had only just taken these clothes out of storage. Just a while ago, the two of them were still wearing summer clothes at home. But now, Xiao Yu'an had unpacked all their warmer, thicker clothing.
This was one of the 'benefits' of living with Xiao Yu'an.
In the past, when Ming Shu lived alone, he would have all sorts of clothes, for any season, in his closet. But when the seasons started to change, he would nearly freeze to death before going off in search of heavier clothing. Sometimes, he would even call Xiao Yu'an just to whine and ask, Ge, do you know where I put my checkered pajamas?
"What time is it?" Ming Shu asked. He stretched out his arms and back, still feeling a little fuzzy from sleep.
He had just dreamed of his interrogation with Yin Xiaofeng. In his dream, that interrogation proceeded farther than it had in reality—Yin Xiaofeng had only confessed to killing Qiu Min, not Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan. Ming Shu dreamt that the police found additional evidence, which left Yin Xiaofeng with no choice but to confess to the murders of Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan as well. But even then, Yin Xiaofeng insisted that it was a separate personality who committed those murders, and that it had nothing to do with him.
"It's only one," Xiao Yu'an said, moving closer. He pressed a hand to the top of Ming Shu's head and lightly tousled his hair.
Ming Shu hummed contentedly. His tone was softer as he said, "Only one? I thought it was nearly dawn already."
When they returned from the Bureau just a short while ago, Ming Shu had taken a quick shower before crashing on the couch. He couldn't even be bothered to move into the bedroom. He'd had to question Yin Xiaofeng and hold a team meeting before coming home, and even after coming home, he still dreamt of the case. He'd slept, but it wasn't a particularly restful sleep. It was the sort of sleep that made a person wake up feeling tired. Still, it was a good thing Ming Shu had managed to sleep at least a little. He felt a bit more energized than he had in the shower.
"Hungry?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
Ming Shu rubbed his stomach and thought back. He'd only had a wrap earlier, so he lifted his head and thumped his chin against Xiao Yu'an's abdomen a few times. "So you were waiting for me to wake up to cook for me, huh?"
Xiao Yu'an lightly whacked Ming Shu's forehead. "Keep dreaming."
Ming Shu glanced at the kitchen and took an exaggerated whiff of the air, but he really didn't smell anything cooking.
Usually, when Xiao Yu'an made Ming Shu a midnight snack, the kitchen would be steaming with the scent of boiling or stewing food.
"There's really nothing to eat?" Ming Shu straightened up and wrapped his arms around Xiao Yu'an's waist. "I woke up for nothing? My ge doesn't love me anymore?"
Xiao Yu'an laughed. His voice was deep, and a little raspy. "You're tired, but you think I'm not tired? Tell me what you want to eat, I'll order takeout."
Ming Shu suddenly felt his heart start to ache.
If Xiao Yu'an weren't genuinely too tired to move around, he definitely would have made Ming Shu something to eat. Even if it were something as simple as a bowl of noodles or some dumplings.
"Ge…" Ming Shu trailed off. He buried his face against Xiao Yu'an's abdomen and didn't say anything else. He just held Xiao Yu'an and lay there for a while.
Xiao Yu'an let Ming Shu embrace him. He lightly squeezed the nape of Ming Shu's neck with one hand while taking out his phone with the other, to start ordering. "Do you want something light or appetizing?"
"Both." Ming Shu's voice was muffled against Xiao Yu'an's clothes, sounding a little hazy. "Get some variety, order a lot. I'm starving."
The pressure of the grip on Ming Shu's nape grew a little stronger. It was so relaxing that Ming Shu didn't want to move a muscle.
After placing their takeout order, Xiao Yu'an also took a seat on the couch. Ming Shu pillowed his head on Xiao Yu'an's lap and fell asleep again.
This time, Ming Shu slept well. He didn't dream of interrogations or investigations. Unfortunately, he didn't sleep for long. It was only a short while before their delivery arrived.
"I'll go get it," Xiao Yu'an said.
With his perfect 'pillow' getting up and leaving, Ming Shu had no choice but to get up as well.
The front door opened and closed. Xiao Yu'an returned with two bags.
Ming Shu subconsciously pursed his lips. "That much?"
"Go get the dishes and juice," Xiao Yu'an instructed as he started to unpack their order.
"Sure!" Ming Shu immediately bounded into the kitchen, where he fetched some dishes, chopsticks, and a bottle of fresh juice with an impending expiration date.
There was actually some wine in the fridge, and wine was of course the perfect beverage for a midnight snack. Juice felt too juvenile. But Ming Shu and Xiao Yu'an both shared the same habit—they never, ever drank while investigating a case.
All the takeout boxes had already been opened. There was a light mushroom and ribs soup, coconut cakes, fried pork, pig's tails, frog's legs, and even a box of steamed crabs.
"Four of them?" Ming Shu asked as he reached out to take one. "Two for each of us?"
"Or you can eat all four if you want," Xiao Yu'an said.
Ming Shu was delighted. He had three of the crabs and shelled one of them for Xiao Yu'an.
It wasn't that Ming Shu was hogging all the food. Xiao Yu'an didn't actually like this sort of crab dish, so all four had been ordered for Ming Shu.
After they ate their fill, they immediately took out the trash. Ming Shu's mind felt much clearer, and he started thinking about the case again.
"What were you shouting before?" Xiao Yu'an asked. "Something about a split personality?"
Ming Shu told Xiao Yu'an what he'd dreamt. Then he asked, "Ge, Yin Xiaofeng is refusing to admit to digging up Qiu Min's body and dismembering it. Of course, he also won't admit to killing Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan. You've reviewed our case. Do you think he's lying?"
"Is this the reason you think Yin Xiaofeng may have another personality?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
"It's not that I think that," Ming Shu said, tapping his own temples. "I dreamt it."
"Dreams are often projections of the subconscious mind," Xiao Yu'an said. "Before you fell asleep, you may have been thinking of this possibility."
"I…" Ming Shu couldn't refute that statement. It wasn't just before he fell asleep, either. He'd also thought of the possibility of a split personality while he was still in the interrogation room, facing Yin Xiaofeng. But he'd quickly disavowed himself of that notion.
"Then what do you think?" Ming Shu asked, gradually growing serious. "Qiu Min died a long time ago, but then someone used Qiu Min's cell phone to order takeout in Shouquan on October 14th. The person who delivered the takeout said that the person who picked it up was a man wearing a baseball cap. It's probable that this was Yin Xiaofeng, but Yin Xiaofeng is saying that it wasn't him.
"The surveillance cameras near Mount Qiyue are few and far between. For the time being, we can't confirm Yin Xiaofeng's whereabouts on the 14th. So let's say he isn't lying. If he wasn't the one who ordered that takeout, who was? Was it the person who dismembered Qiu Min and killed Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan?"
"Actually, your earlier thought wasn't completely illogical," Xiao Yu'an said. "It's just that cases of split personalities are exceedingly rare, and pinning the deaths of Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan on Yin Xiaofeng's 'other' personality would be troublesome if the murderer really was another person entirely."
"While interrogating him, I was face to face with Yin Xiaofeng. I got the feeling, from his microexpressions, that he wasn't lying. And you and Xing-ge both think one person killed Qiu Min while another dismembered him. But I just can't imagine what this other person's motive could be," Ming Shu said, hugging his legs to his chest. "Whether it's dismembering Qiu Min's corpse or murdering Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan—this person's motives are completely unclear. Plus, there's the matter of the ten nails. Yin Xiaofeng could have easily procured those nails from the temple, but he said he didn't know what nails we were talking about. The other monks at Haijing Temple could have easily gotten their hands on those nails too."
At the mention of the other monks, Ming Shu felt his head start to ache. "Other temples accept good, kind people. Haijing Temple accepted all sorts of people with all sorts of problems."
"You've found a problem with Chu Xin as well?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
"Not exactly," Ming Shu said. "Chu Xin seems to be the most unique case. All we know so far is that he once had heart surgery overseas. Before becoming a monk, he had a dispute with Chu Linxiong's four legitimate sons. He was on particularly bad terms with Chu Qing, who's the most popular successor now. But back then, Chu Qing wasn't in as favorable of a position as Chu Xin. Chu Linxiong clearly favored Chu Xin much more.
"These details don't have any obvious connections to our current case yet, but I keep getting the feeling that Chu Xin is hiding something. He walked away from a promising future to become a monk. I don't buy that it was only because he 'saw the light'."
As he spoke, Ming Shu scratched at his hair. "But I figure it probably has something to do with the Chu family's internal feud."
"But based on their ability to access those nails, Fang Pingxu, Chu Xin, Liu Sui, and Tang Yuan are all potential suspects," Xiao Yu'an said, setting a hand on Ming Shu's shoulder. "Liu Sui has already confessed to killing someone twenty-seven years ago, and his victim was a woman. Could he have developed a hatred of all women, because society refused to accept him and Tang Yuan?
"Compared to Liu Sui, Tang Yuan is a far less probable suspect. As for Fang Pingxu, he's had a twisted personality ever since he was a child, and he nearly killed his foster parents' daughter when he was only a few years old. He would be capable of anything now. And Chu Xin, meanwhile, is still shrouded in fog."
Ming Shu closed his eyes and didn't say anything for a while.
"But if you only focus on these four people, your thoughts will be limited," Xiao Yu'an continued. "Don't forget that the nails were found in the isolation room at the inner temple. The one who could have most easily obtained them is the currently-missing Master Kui Chen."
Ming Shu suddenly tensed.
"Furthermore, the monks who visit Haijing Temple to offer incense and the monks who lived there but have already left are also persons of interest as well," Xiao Yu'an said. "These days, we've been putting our focus on the five people who currently live at Haijing Temple. Now that Yin Xiaofeng has confessed to a crime, we should expand the scope of our investigation. Don't get too attached to what's 'possible' and 'impossible'. Any event that has transpired is one that has already come to pass. It is necessarily possible. Do you understand?"
Ming Shu nodded. "Understood."
After saying all that, Xiao Yu'an grabbed hold of Ming Shu's nape again. Ming Shu wasn't prepared for it, and he was swiftly lugged off to bed.
Xiao Yu'an turned off the lamp on the nightstand and said, "Go to sleep, don't think about this anymore. You'll be busy again after dawn."
Ming Shu wanted to say that he wasn't sleepy anymore, and that he could still keep 'brainstorming'. But then he was wrapped up in a familiar embrace.
He hummed, relaxing fully.
Xiao Yu'an pressed a gentle kiss to his ear and whispered, "Sleep."
The next day, even after getting only a few hours of sleep, Ming Shu arrived at the Serious Crimes Division in high spirits.
A night had passed, but Yin Xiaofeng still refused to change his confession—
"I didn't kill those two people."
"I don't know anything about iron nails."
"I didn't dismember Qiu Min's body."
"His cell phone? I threw it away with my clothes a long time ago."
"I didn't use Qiu Min's cell phone to order takeout."
Ming Shu thought back to the words Xiao Yu'an had spoken to him before they fell asleep. Any event that has already happened… has happened. It had to be possible.
There was no point in debating whether or not something that had happened made logical sense, because it was something that had already happened, logical or not. What an outstanding detective needed to do was find the rational truth under that irrational surface.
"Take Yin Xiaofeng in for a psych eval," Ming Shu ordered. "Look into the monks who used to live at Haijing Temple as well. Their records should have been logged with the local police. Track them down and verify their identities. As for those who come to offer incense… it'll be more of a challenge to find them. We can only ask Chu Xin and the other monks about their visitors."
At that time, Fang Yuanhang brought over the sketch that had been composed of Master Kui Chen, based on the descriptions of the monks at the temple.
"Can't really see anything unique about him," Fang Yuanhang said. "But this portrait should be fairly accurate, and more reliable than some, since it was based on the descriptions of five people. Unlike the portrait we had made with the description from Long Tianhao."
The portrait was sent to each team member's cell phone. Ming Shu stared at it for a while. "Why do I feel like I've seen this person somewhere before?"
"Then, think harder?" Yi Fei suggested.
"You don't have any impression of this person at all?" Ming Shu asked.
Yi Fei shook his head. "I'm not with you at all hours of the day. I don't see every single person you see, y'know?"
"No, it's not that," Ming Shu said. "It's not that kind of 'seen'. I just feel like this face is familiar. Like I've seen it on TV a long time ago."
"TV?" Yi Fei studied the sketch again. "An actor? A news anchor? A random citizen who was interviewed? Or maybe even a wanted criminal?"
Ming Shu frowned and thought for a long while. "No, I can't remember. Let's continue with the investigation I outlined earlier. We have the sketch now, so contact the media. This person disappeared without any explanation. We have to find him."
When the truth about Liu Sui killing Zhou Tingting twenty-seven years ago came to light, the entire Shouquan police system was thrust into a difficult position.
The person who had paid the bribe was Liu Sui's late father, and the primary beneficiary of the bribe was Qian Da, who'd already retired from the police force. But none of the officers involved in the investigation of Zhou Tingting's case would get away with their negligence. Liu Sui's footprints must have appeared near the aqueduct where Zhou Tingting died, but the official reports showed that only Zhou Tingting's footprints were present—that was why her death had been deemed an accidental fall.
This neglect would become the shame of all officers in Shouquan.
Old cases had to be investigated too, but the circumstances of Mount Qiyue were still shrouded in mystery. The killer in one murder had been caught, while two other cases remained open. For the time being, the police from the city had no choice but to put the Shouquan investigation on hold.
When Ming Shu visited Shouquan again, the atmosphere was noticeably different. The arrogant and uncooperative police officers he'd previously worked with had all been transferred away. New officers, all very diligent, had replaced them.
In addition to Master Kui Chen and the five monks who currently lived at Haijing Temple, the police also had records of monks called Chang Qingying, Chu Jiang, Hu Chengyi, and Wang Lu. These four people had all left over the course of the past three years, setting out to 'wander'.
For monks, to 'wander' was to travel the world, considering anywhere and everywhere their home. It was no easy matter to find a 'wandering' monk.
But the police already had confirmation of the true identities of these four monks. By checking their expenses and traffic surveillance footage, it shouldn't have been too difficult to track them.
That, however, was where a problem arose.
After the police investigated, they learned that only the oldest of those four monks—Hu Chengyi—still lived in Hanshu Village, under Dongye City's jurisdiction. The other three were all nowhere to be found.
"How could they also be missing?" Fang Yuanhang asked, frazzled. "Kui Chen said he was in isolation, but he's been gone from Haijing Temple for ages. And these three went 'wandering'. They wandered and wandered and went completely off the grid? If we couldn't find one of them, that would have been fine, but three of them? That can't be normal!"
Chang Qingying, forty-seven years old, was a native of Luocheng. He had been a white-collar worker before becoming a monk five years ago. He left Haijing Temple in December of last year.
Chu Jiang, fifty-five years old, native of the town of Fengxiang, under Dongye City's jurisdiction. He had worked on a dairy farm before becoming a month six years ago. He left Haijing Temple last summer.
Wang Lu, thirty-six years old, native of Shouquan. Prior to becoming a monk, he had been unemployed. Like Chu Jiang, he'd become a monk six years ago, and he left Haijing Temple earlier that year, during the spring.
Luocheng and Fengxiang were both relatively close to Shouquan. It wasn't too strange that people from there would choose to become monks at Haijing Temple.
Ming Shu studied the records on these three people for a while. A moment later, he asked Fang Yuanhang, "You know more about the habits of monks than I do. When they leave the mountain to 'wander', is it like what they show on TV? Do they go with no worldly possessions and make money along the way?"
"No," Fang Yuanhang said, shaking his head. "Chief, don't think that real monks are so primitive. They have IDs and credit cards. Even if they don't have credit cards, they at least have a bank account. They'll also take planes and trains. The younger monks will even have cell phones. They're not the sort of monks that go door to door, asking for food."
"In that case," Ming Shu said, "there should at least be a paper trail of their movements in this past year and a half."
"Right!" Fang Yuanhang said. "Chu Jiang was the one who left the mountain the earliest. He's been 'wandering' for more than a year, but we can't find anything relating to him or his movements. This can't be possible, unless he died."
Ming Shu raised his eyebrows and looked towards Fang Yuanhang.
Fang Yuanhang froze. "Did I say something wrong?"
Ming Shu shook his head. "If we think of these as disappearances, then it isn't unlikely that Chu Jiang has died. What's more, he could very well have died immediately after leaving Haijing Temple."
Fang Yuanhang felt his whole back turn cold. "But why? First it was Chu Jiang, and now Kui Chen?"
"I don't know," Ming Shu said. "But don't forget what Tang Yuan said. There are no good people at Haijing Temple. It's possible that they all left for some reason or some purpose."
Fang Yuanhang mulled it over for a while. "I understand. Looks like we'll have to start by looking into their background. Maybe once we find out why they came to Haijing Temple, we'll know more. Maybe they have something in common with people like Fang Pingxu and Chu Xin."
"You got it." Ming Shu smiled. His gaze traveled over the photos of the monks again, lingering on Hu Chengyi's face.
Of all the monks registered at Haijing Temple, Hu Chengyi was the only one whose movements could be clearly tracked. He'd left Haijing Temple much earlier than the other three as well. Three years ago, he returned to the countryside to live.
It wasn't rare for monks to return to an ordinary life after practicing Buddhism for a few years, but most of those who did were young people. Very few older people, who spent most of their lives practicing Buddhism, left their temples to return to society.
And according to the other monks at Haijing Temple, Hu Chengyi hadn't left the temple in order to stop being a monk. He'd told them that he was going to 'wander', just like the other monks.
So why had he gone straight home to the countryside, without even 'wandering' at all?
"Hu Chengyi might know something," Ming Shu said. "I'll go out to Hanshu Village."
Fang Yuanhang wanted to go with him, but he was ordered to stay back and continue interrogating Fang Pingxu and the other monks.
Chu Jiang had taken the name 'Wu Fei' during his time at Haijing Temple, so Chu Xin and the others also called him 'Wu Fei'.
"Wu Fei didn't say goodbye to me. We weren't all that close, so why would he go out of his way to bid me farewell?" Chu Xin laughed. "It's like I told you guys before. We just happen to be at the same temple. We're not really all that familiar with one another."
"Then how can you be sure that Wu Fei went to 'wander'?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
"What else would he be doing?" Chu Xin asked. "You think he went to visit brothels?"
"Can you be decent for one minute?" Fang Yuanhang snapped, almost losing his temper. "Wu Fei didn't tell you he was leaving the temple to 'wander'? And you didn't personally see him leave?"
Chu Xin straightened his back. "No. Maybe I was sleeping when he left?"
"Then when I first asked and you said Wu Fei went to 'wander', it was just what you believed in your mind!"
Chu Xin smiled and pointed at his own head. "The little straight boy is trying to analyze me again."
Fang Yuanhang had already grown immune to these provocations. He calmly continued, "Who told you that Wu Fei left to 'wander'?"
"You suspect that person?" Chu Xin seemed to fall into thought, but no one could be sure whether or not he was seriously thinking about the matter. After a few seconds, he said, "I believe I heard it from Wu Shi."
Fang Yuanhang asked, "What about Chang Qingying and Wang Lu? That is, Wu Hong and Wu Huan to you? What were you doing when they left Haijing Temple?"
"I don't know," Chu Xin said with an indifferent air about him. "I heard from the others that they left the mountain to 'wander'."
Fang Yuanhang also asked Liu Sui, Tang Yuan, Fang Pingxu, and Yin Xiaofeng the same questions, and he learned a shocking fact—none of them had personally seen Chu Jiang, Chang Qingying, and Wang Lu leave Haijing Temple. None of them had personally heard from the departed monks that they were leaving to 'wander', either. They'd all heard that information secondhand.
And the source of the information seemed to be Master Kui Chen.
The more Fang Yuanhang thought about it, the more wrong it all felt.
Haijing Temple wasn't large. There was one entrance in the front and one in the back. All monks passed through the front gates when they went to and from the temple. At a temple like that, even if the monks were especially close, they should have at least exchanged a few words every day.
When Chu Jiang and the other monks left the temple, they must have made some preparations. It would have been common courtesy to give a heads up not only to their master, but to their brothers as well. And they must have left through the front gates. How could Chu Xin and the others not have seen them at all?
Could it be that they purposefully avoided the others and left at night?
But why would they do that?
It wasn't like they were doing anything shameful. What reason would they have to leave at night, or through the smaller gates in the back?
Only Kui Chen would know, and now Kui Chen was missing as well.
Fang Yuanhang leapt up from his chair and instantly called Ming Shu.
Dongye City, Hanshu Village.
Every village was unique. In the process of investigating cases, Ming Shu had visited countless villages before. Hanshu Village was one of most orderly and well-constructed villages Ming Shu had seen. Each family had their own little home, without any chimneys. The smell of smoke and smog that permeated many small villages was absent from Hanshu. Each family had natural gas in their house, and a full array of appliances.
Seven or eight years ago, Hanshu Village hadn't been like this at all. They'd suffered a devastating flood and mudslide which destroyed the whole village back then. Afterwards, the government drafted up a new plan for the village, turning it into a small tourist destination.
Ninety percent of the families in Hanshu Village ran farmhouses that lodged tourists. Hu Chengyi was an exception. He lived in a home allocated to him by the village, where he grew some vegetables in his yard. The life he led was one of near-complete isolation.
When Ming Shu explained his reason for visiting, Hu Chengyi exhaled slowly.
"Why did you return to the secular world back then?" Ming Shu asked. "I heard from the monks at Haijing Temple that, before you left, you said you were going to 'wander'?"
"That's what I told them," Hu Chengyi said. "Because I couldn't find a more suitable excuse."
"Then what was the real reason for your departure from Haijing Temple?" Ming Shu asked.
After a long pause, Hu Chengyi looked up at the clouds in the sky and said, "I felt like the master had become a different person."