An old movie from more than thirty years ago was playing on the screen. The picture quality wasn't very good, and the costumes would be hideous by modern standards.
And yet Ming Shu was completely enthralled.
A burly man was performing martial arts on the screen. His naked torso was smooth and shiny, and his eyes burned with intensity. A bold track of background music played out along with the action scene, making viewers' hearts boil over with passion.
Before the turn of the century, the country had made a lot of martial arts movies. Many of the martial arts masters who starred in those films had become wildly popular, but Mou Haiyuan couldn't be considered one of them.
Was he popular? Certainly nowhere near as popular as the top masters in his field.
But was he unpopular? That wasn't completely correct either. Many fans of older films were very satisfied with his body of work.
Of course, very few people in the younger generation knew of the movies he'd starred in.
Ming Shu was one of these 'very few' young people, so when he saw that sketch of Kui Chen that had been made up based on the monks' descriptions, he'd gotten a sense of familiarity.
"Kui Chen is really Mou Haiyuan?" Ming Shu murmured to himself as he propped his chin up on one hand.
"That was the result of multiple image overlay and comparison tests run by the technical department," Xiao Yu'an said. "Before you got back, the Serious Crimes Division contacted the agency Mou Haiyuan was signed with before his retirement. His agency said they lost contact with him at least eight years ago. Furthermore, Mou Haiyuan wasn't married and had no children."
Ming Shu drummed the fingers of his left hand against the fist formed by his right.
When he was a child, he'd often tussled with Xiao Jincheng. Xiao Jincheng was three years older than him, and for children a three-year age difference was a vast chasm that could never be bridged. At first, Ming Shu could never defeat Xiao Jincheng. When Xiao Yu'an was there, Ming Shu would always plead for help. When Xiao Yu'an wasn't there, Ming Shu could only fight tooth and nail to hold his own.
He lost and he lost and he lost. Then, by chance, he saw a martial arts film on TV. He excitedly took in the action scenes, believing he could learn the 'Jianghu School' of martial arts and finally defeat Xiao Jincheng in a fight.
Ming Shu had watched all the martial arts films he could find after that. He didn't form any particularly deep impressions of Mou Haiyuan, but his impressions weren't completely shallow either. At the end of the day, Ming Shu hadn't watched all those movies for fun or as a fan. He'd just wanted to beat Xiao Jincheng.
However, the things that looked easy on TV were difficult to learn in real life. Ming Shu often started to feel like he'd become a king of martial arts, only to be defeated like a dog when he ran off to challenge Xiao Jincheng again.
Ming Shu's eyes had learned those moves, but his body hadn't.
Later on, he stopped trying to learn from movies.
When Ming Shu first started watching Mou Haiyuan's movies, Mou Haiyuan had already stopped acting. He'd transformed from an actor to a stunts choreographer, ultimately becoming a director.
After a while, he basically disappeared from the public eye.
Since Mou Haiyuan hadn't been one of the most famous martial arts actors, his retirement—ten years ago—didn't attract much media attention. Ming Shu hadn't even known about it until he argued with Xiao Jincheng one day. Xiao Jincheng had teased Ming Shu for once trying to learn martial arts from movies, and it was only then that Ming Shu remembered all the old films he'd watched. He'd run off afterwards to look up those old stars online, discovering then that Mou Haiyuan had already retired from the industry.
"I remember reading an interview at that time," Ming Shu said. "Mou Haiyuan said he wanted to move abroad after he stopped making movies. If he's really living abroad now, then Kui Chen must be someone else."
Xiao Yu'an shook his head. "There are no records of Mou Haiyuan exiting or reentering the country."
Ming Shu looked over at him. "Is it that there are no records, or is it that we haven't found them yet?"
"It's that there are no records," Xiao Yu'an confirmed. "Mou Haiyuan never left the country, at least not by normal means."
Ming Shu furrowed his brow. "He had no criminal record, and he did say he wanted to leave the country at first. There would have been no reason for him to leave through 'abnormal' means."
Xiao Yu'an nodded. "So, most likely, Mou Haiyuan is still in the country. We've already checked for expenses on his bank cards or usages of his ID. But eight years ago, the year his agency lost contact with him, he withdrew all his savings from his bank accounts. After that, he never used his ID or bank cards again."
Ming Shu's pupils constricted slightly. "Was that because he became a monk at Haijing Temple? But that's not right. Mou Haiyuan disappeared eight years ago. He couldn't have gone to Haijing Temple until after that. But Kui Chen had been a monk at Haijing Temple for several decades.
"If we assume he went there and 'replaced' Kui Chen, then there would be no reason that the other monks there didn't realize he was a different person. He couldn't have gotten plastic surgery to look like Kui Chen, because we found him through our sketch of Kui Chen—meaning the way Mou Haiyuan 'originally' looked, even when he made his movies, was the same as the way the other monks remembered Kui Chen looking…"
Saying that, Ming Shu suddenly paused.
"Hm?" Xiao Yu'an prompted.
"Hu Chengyi went to Haijing Temple to become a monk thirty-two years ago. According to him, Kui Chen enjoyed talking to him about Buddhism and explaining the concepts. Seven years ago, Kui Chen fell ill and left the mountain to 'wander'. He came back the following year and was like a different person." Ming Shu paced as he spoke. "Outwardly, he seemed to look the same, but he'd become completely different inside. He no longer spoke of Buddhism with Hu Chengyi, and he also limited his contact with the other monks.
"The once tolerant and compassionate Kui Chen had become cold and gloomy. Hu Chengyi left Haijing Temple precisely because he felt Kui Chen was no longer the Kui Chen he used to know."
"Liu Sui and Tang Yuan also said they felt there were many changes in Kui Chen after he returned from 'wandering'," Xiao Yu'an said. "They weren't like Hu Chengyi. Hu Chengyi's mind was free from worldly distractions. He'd already practiced Buddhism for many years. Liu Sui and Tang Yuan, however, both had demons of the past in their hearts. They didn't have as deep of an understanding of Buddhism or of the old Kui Chen, so unlike Hu Chengyi, they didn't realize right away that a 'switch' had occurred."
"Mou Haiyuan retired ten years ago, disappeared eight years ago, and 'replaced' the real Kui Chen six years ago?" Ming Shu shook his head. "But why did Hu Chengyi, Liu Sui, and Tang Yuan all believe that Kui Chen's appearance hadn't changed? And what was Mou Haiyuan's reason for leaving behind his stable life to replace Kui Chen?"
"Let's set aside the latter question for now. As for the former, Hu Chengyi said that Kui Chen's appearance hadn't changed, and we found Mou Haiyuan based on a description of the 'original' Kui Chen." Xiao Yu'an gazed at Ming Shu. "In that case, Mou Haiyuan and the real Kui Chen are brothers. Chances are good that they're identical twins."
Ming Shu breathed in sharply. His mind raced.
That was indeed the most logical conclusion, but the problem was that no one had ever heard of Mou Haiyuan having a brother.
Mou Haiyuan had mentioned many times, in interviews and to the public, that he came from a poor background and was the only son of his family. He'd said that he desperately studied martial arts in his younger years, just so that he would be able to make a name for himself and ensure his family never lived in hunger and poverty again.
After making a name for himself, Mou Haiyuan had been well-known for being extremely filial. He worked hard by himself to provide a large house for his parents, and he hired servants to look after them until they passed.
If Kui Chen really was Mou Haiyuan's twin brother, why had Kui Chen become a monk so early in life?
The monks on the mountain led poor, destitute lives. After Mou Haiyuan became successful, did he never wish to help his own brother? Instead, after a few years of retirement, he went out to find Kui Chen, then replaced him?
And how did he 'replace' him, exactly?
Did Mou Haiyuan kill his own brother?
"Right now, our top priority is to figure out exactly what Mou Haiyuan's family background is. What he said in his interviews can't be trusted," Xiao Yu'an said. "I've already dispatched a team to look into the details. You just got back, so take a break."
Ming Shu really was tired, but he didn't want to rest. "I'm going to buy a cup of coffee. What do you want to drink?"
"I don't need anything," Xiao Yu'an said. "Why don't you have it delivered?"
Ming Shu picked up his jacket. "I want to walk around a bit, sort through my thoughts."
"I'll join you," Xiao Yu'an said.
"That won't do, boss." Ming Shu grinned. "Last time you went to buy milk tea with me, it was at night. It's broad daylight right now. There would be negative ramifications if people saw us."
Dongye City had grown cooler with the changing seasons. It wasn't too chilly indoors, but people could feel the cold as soon as they stepped outside.
"Put on the overcoat you left in your locker before you go out," Xiao Yu'an said.
"How do you know I left an overcoat in my locker?" Ming Shu asked. "You went through your subordinate's locker?"
"Not only did I go through your locker, I also confiscated the cigarettes you had in there," Xiao Yu'an said. "Does my subordinate have a problem with that?"
Ming Shu's brows twitched. "Your subordinate definitely doesn't! He wouldn't dare!"
Xiao Yu'an smiled. "Go ahead."
Ming Shu left the deputy director's office and returned to the Serious Crimes Division, where he looked out the window to check the weather. He originally hadn't planned on wearing a thicker coat. In his opinion, it wasn't too cold outside yet. Besides, going out to buy coffee was secondary. What he really wanted was to get some fresh air and feel the wind on his face, to clear his mind and help him sort through his thoughts.
If he bundled up too much and stayed warm, the wind would no longer be as refreshing.
But Xiao Yu'an had rummaged through his locker. Ming Shu had to go see if anything, besides the cigarettes, had gone missing.
If Ming Shu remembered correctly, he also had a pack of nuts in there.
With that thought in mind, Ming Shu went over to check his locker. The cigarettes were indeed gone, but the pack of nuts was still there. He also found the mid-length wool coat that he'd put in there earlier. He considered it for a moment, then decided to follow his boss's orders after all.
He grabbed that coat and put it on before heading out, only to find that a scarf had been stuffed inside.
Ming Shu definitely hadn't hung up a scarf with that coat. It must have been put there by Xiao Yu'an.
"Tsk." Ming Shu grinned and draped the scarf around his neck before closing the door to his locker.
"Chief, where are you going?" Fang Yuanhang asked. He looked like he'd just returned from the trace inspection team's offices.
"Grabbing coffee," Ming Shu said. "I'll have some delivered for you guys too."
Fang Yuanhang grinned. "My chief is the best!"
Ming Shu shot him a scathing look.
Fang Yuanhang instantly lowered his gaze. "Chief, it's only what month? Barely autumn? And you're already wearing a scarf?"
"This is called fashion," Ming Shu said. "Got it?"
Fang Yuanhang blinked a few times, then inwardly thought, I guess it's good enough for gay guys to understand fashion. It's fine if I don't get it.
But then Fang Yuanhang thought about it again and remembered that Yu Dalong had been nagging at him to celebrate his birthday with him. As the seasons grew colder, it was getting to be the perfect time to gift someone a scarf.
Fang Yuanhang was a straight guy, so obviously he didn't know what kind of scarves gay guys liked. Why not take a peek at Ming Shu and copy his homework, so to speak?
Ming Shu watched as Fang Yuanhang scooted closer, with his gaze fixed on Ming Shu's scarf. Suddenly, Ming Shu thought back to the interrogation with Chu Xin, when Fang Yuanhang had so fiercely protested Chu Xin's implication that Ming Shu could be gay.
Ming Shu figured his little rookie had probably already figured out his orientation, but was only pretending to not know. He was even helping Ming Shu cover it up by making sure no one else spoke of it.
Ming Shu was a bit amused. He pushed Fang Yuanhang's head away and asked, "What are you looking at?"
Fang Yuanhang obviously couldn't say, I need to give a gift to a little gay guy so I wanted to see what an old gay guy like you likes. He only said, "Nothing, just looking. I want a latte, extra large."
Twenty minutes later, a delivery of coffee was made to the Serious Crimes Division. Everyone at the office received a drink.
While everyone else praised Ming Shu for being a generous and righteous captain, Xing Mu held a hot latte in his hands and frowned down into the cup, wondering—
Is he sending me coffee because he thinks I'm not working hard enough and wants me to go back to work?
Ming Shu, still wandering around outside with his own coffee, inexplicably sneezed.
He was dressed warmly enough and had a scarf around his neck, so he couldn't have sneezed because he was cold. It must have been because someone was talking about him.
As the captain of the Serious Crimes Division, Ming Shu was hard at work even while taking a break from work.
After getting himself a cup of coffee, he continued to think about the case.
The investigation into Mou Haiyuan's background was still ongoing. At the time, the detectives had no idea what his motive could be. But the technical investigators had confirmed that Mou Haiyuan was the person in the sketch, so the chances of them being wrong were slim to none.
Six or seven years ago, Haijing Temple changed. Previously, Haijing Temple had been a place where people could earnestly practice Buddhism. All the residents were old monks, or pure-hearted people like Hu Chengyi. Liu Sui and Tang Yuan were exceptions. They had darkness in their hearts, but after Kui Chen accepted them, he tried to change them for the better.
Seven years ago, Kui Chen left the mountain. He returned six years ago, after a year of absence, with Yin Xiaofeng. Since then, Haijing Temple had started to accept all sorts of people with dark backgrounds and devious intentions.
If Mou Haiyuan replaced the real Kui Chen six years ago, did he deliberately draw these people to Haijing Temple? For what purpose?
Chu Jiang, Chang Qingying, and Wang Lu had supposedly left the mountain to 'wander', but the other monks at the temple only heard about that through Kui Chen. And all three departed monks were currently missing. If they hadn't actually gone down the mountain to 'wander', if Kui Chen had lied… then there was the possibility that the missing monks had been killed by Kui Chen.
Ming Shu stopped in his tracks. The furrow between his brows deepened.
Kui Chen… or, rather, Mou Haiyuan. Could he have gathered all these people at Haijing Temple for the purpose of getting rid of them, one by one?
Chu Jiang, Chang Qingying, and Wang Lu.
Yin Xiaofeng, Tang Yuan, Liu Sui, and Fang Pingxu.
Could they all have been Kui Chen's targets? Perhaps Kui Chen simply hadn't had enough time to eradicate them all.
What right did Kui Chen believe he had to punish these people?
And how did he choose his victims?
If he'd already killed three people, where were their bodies?
At his advanced age, did Kui Chen still possess the physical ability to commit serial killings?
An ordinary person in their sixties or seventies would perhaps even experience trouble walking long distances. But Mou Haiyuan had trained in martial arts for many years. His level of physical ability couldn't be compared with that of ordinary people. If he maintained his training in the ten years since his retirement, he could have conceivably maintained the ability to commit these crimes as well.
Ming Shu thought of the bodies of Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan.
They'd only gone up the mountain to enjoy the autumn sights, but they had wound up murdered. They had been stripped bare and pierced by ten iron nails. Their temporal bones had been stabbed through by a sharp object.
When they first profiled the killer, the team had deemed this perpetrator a very 'professional' killer—almost like a trained assassin. Yin Xiaofeng had been trained to kill from a young age, so he had the ability to commit this crime. With all his training, Mou Haiyuan would have been just as capable, if not more.
But if Mou Haiyuan was the one who killed Lu Chen and Zhao Siyan, then he would also have been the one who dismembered Qiu Min's body.
Did Mou Haiyuan hate Qiu Min as well?
Ming Shu quickly returned to the Criminal Investigation Bureau. He'd only taken two sips of the coffee in his hand.
"You want to personally visit Mou Haiyuan's old home?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
"I don't want to stand around waiting for results," Ming Shu said. "I think all these cases tied to Mount Qiyue can be traced back to Mou Haiyuan's past!"
Mou Haiyuan's hometown was Fucheng in Han Province. There, Mou Haiyuan had bought a few properties for his parents. When he announced his retirement ten years ago, Mou Haiyuan had also said that he wished to go home to Fucheng for a while before going abroad.
Han Province was a large province, with Luocheng as its capital. Compared to Luocheng, Fucheng was a very small city—average in economic and cultural developments.
Although Ming Shu had been to Luocheng many times, he'd never gone out to Fucheng in the same province.
Xu Chun had already reached Fucheng with a team of around ten.
At present, what the field work team had managed to determine was that Mou Haiyuan had once owned five properties in Fucheng—two residential, three commercial. Four of these five properties had changed hands in the two years between Mou Haiyuan's retirement and disappearance. The only property which was still owned by Mou Haiyuan in name was a residential home, but it wasn't the place where he had grown up with his family.
"In modern terms, Mou Haiyuan had the 'persona' of being extremely filial," Ming Shu said. "A filial son, when selling property, would typically sell everything else before the property where his parents had lived. That, he would have kept in the family. But Mou Haiyuan didn't. The property he saved was the one he personally occupied, and that isn't normal for his 'persona'. Where are his parents buried?"
"Eternal Spring Cemetery," Xu Chun said.
In recent years, the funeral industry had developed rapidly. There were four cemeteries in Fucheng, and Eternal Spring wasn't actually the best or most expensive one. But Mou Haiyuan's parents had passed away over ten years ago, and back then Eternal Spring had indeed been the best cemetery in Fucheng. So there was nothing to criticize about Mou Haiyuan burying them there.
"Have you already visited Eternal Spring?" Ming Shu asked.
"Not yet," Xu Chun said. "Haven't had time."
Ming Shu mulled it over for a moment. "Okay, let's do this. I'll go out to the cemetery. You take some people and go to the place where Mou Haiyuan's parents used to live. Be meticulous about your investigation. Ask all the neighbors to carefully think back on the time his parents lived there. Send some people to the place where Mou Haiyuan himself lived as well, and be just as meticulous there."
"Roger that!" Xu Chun said.
Dongye City and Luocheng were both situated near the water, and the air was especially humid in the autumn. But there were no large bodies of water near Fucheng. Autumns were typically dry and cold, and no rain had fallen that season.
Ming Shu found the graves of Mou Haiyuan's parents at Eternal Spring Cemetery, where he discovered an extremely dusty and dirty headstone. An employee at the cemetery explained to him that everyone buried in that area had been very wealthy ten or twenty years ago. Although the graves weren't much to look at now, the feng shui there was impeccable.
Ming Shu stooped down and looked at the names on the double headstone.
Mou Qinzhi. Fu Yinghua.
These were Mou Haiyuan's parents.
There was nothing particularly unique about the headstone itself, but compared to the ones around it, the one for Mou Haiyuan's parents looked especially worn and old, like it had been neglected for a long time.
With Mou Haiyuan missing for at least eight years, it made sense that no one had come to take care of it.
But would Mou Haiyuan really have never come, even sneakily, to take a look?
"Do you guys have entry logs here?" Ming Shu asked.
The employee looked a little perplexed. "We do have logs as a formality, but those aren't very reliable or complete. They aren't a good source of information."
Seeing that this employee was around fifty, and had clearly been working at that same cemetery for a long time, Ming Shu asked, "Do you have any impression of the person who bought this plot?"
"Mou Haiyuan," the employee said right away. "He's famous in our town."
Ming Shu knew he was on the right track now. "Then do you happen to remember when he last visited?"
"He's never been here before!"
"We've actually talked about that before, among the staff. We all wondered why this celebrity would buy such an expensive plot for his parents, but not even visit on the anniversary of their deaths or during the Qingming festival," the employee said. "Don't think that we're inferior to you big city folks just because we're a small town. Here, in small towns like ours, we show a lot more filial piety! Lots of people come to visit graves over holidays, and since Mou Haiyuan was a celebrity, everyone was always very aware of him. He really hasn't ever visited, not even once.
"After his parents were buried together, he paid us a management fee, then never appeared again. Look at that headstone. His management plan expired a few years ago, so no one's been looking after it these days."
While driving back to the heart of the city from Eternal Spring Cemetery, Ming Shu had a sudden thought—
Two people were buried in that plot of land. But were those two people necessarily Mou Haiyuan's parents?
A person's death records were very easy to check in the present day. But a decade or a few decades ago, records would have been much less reliable.
Mou Haiyuan and the Kui Chen from seven years ago were nearly identical. That was a fact. And Mou Haiyuan had claimed to be an only child.
If Mou Haiyuan had told one lie, then there was no telling how many other lies he'd spun.
The search warrants had already been granted. One team from the Serious Crimes Division entered the last property which remained in Mou Haiyuan's name, and one team entered the home of Mou Haiyuan's parents.
"I know their family. It was a very strange family," said Wang Mengxiang, seventy-something years old. For nearly half her life, she'd been the Mou family's neighbor. "All the families that live in this area are pretty good, but their family… they just felt strange and out-of-place."
"In what way?" Xu Chun asked.
Wang Mengxiang babbled on for a long time, but ultimately all that information boiled down to one simple detail—
Mou Qinzhi and Fu Yinghua had lived in a very nice house, and they had been catered to by drivers and housekeepers. But they were very reserved. They never interacted with other people much. They always stayed shut up in their own home and garden. They didn't behave like other wealthy people, but rather like poor people from the countryside living in a wealthy person's house.
Another point of interest was that Mou Haiyuan rarely came to visit his parents. In Wang Mengxiang's memory, she'd never seen Mou Haiyuan at all.
Xu Chun asked a few other neighbors about their memories of the Mou family, and another clue popped up—Mou Qinzhi and Fu Yinghua had clearly spoken in accents that weren't native to Han Province.
A filial son, never visiting his parents. And his parents were clearly remembered as people from Fucheng, yet their accents weren't from that area.
What was going on here?
Xu Chun instantly reported what he'd learned to Ming Shu.
Ming Shu had already returned from Eternal Spring Cemetery by then. He was presently at Mou Haiyuan's last property.
Over the past eight years, the proper management team in charge of that home had changed twice. The current property managers reported that, in all their time there, Mou Haiyuan's home had never been sold or occupied.
When the doors opened, the air that spilled out was extremely stale. All the furnishings inside were coated with a thick layer of dust. There were no signs that anyone had set foot inside that place in a very long time.
In that house, Ming Shu didn't find anything related to Mou Qinzhi or Fu Yinghua.
Which meant that this filial son, Mou Haiyuan, didn't take care of their graves. He didn't visit them when they were alive. And he didn't keep any mementos of them in his own home.
Mou Haiyuan's 'persona' had thoroughly collapsed.
But if the people buried at Eternal Spring weren't Mou Haiyuan's parents, or if Mou Haiyuan's filial piety was only a show for the public, then all these seemingly contradictory details started to make sense.
"Go check their family register again," Ming Shu said. "Also, Mou Haiyuan hired drivers and housekeepers for his parents back in the day. Mou Qinzhi and Fu Yinghua never interacted with their neighbors, most likely due to restrictions imposed upon them by Mou Haiyuan. But since they lived with servants, they must have interacted with them. These servants may know the truth of what Mou Haiyuan was hiding."
While Ming Shu led the investigation in Fucheng, Xiao Yu'an sent someone to pick up the important witness Hu Chengyi and brought him out to Dongye City. In chatting with Hu Chengyi, another important piece of information arose—
Over twenty years ago, Master Kui Chen had once saved a youth who'd fallen off Mount Qiyue.