Hu Chengyi had practiced Buddhism for many years, and it showed. When he was brought to the Serious Crimes Division, he wasn't nervous like many people would have been. His expression was calm.
Xiao Yu'an invited him to sit in a lounge, brewed a pot of tea, and asked to review the details Ming Shu had glossed over during his hasty investigation. Hu Chengyi was extremely cooperative. He described the compassionate and caring Master Kui Chen he remembered, from before Kui Chen went down the mountain.
He mentioned the youth Kui Chen had once saved as well. "That child was very unfortunate. He fell off a ledge and nearly lost his life. Kui Chen knew a bit about medicine, but he certainly couldn't treat all those wounds. He had no choice but to take the child to a hospital in the city, but then he discovered that child was undocumented."
"Undocumented?" Xiao Yu'an asked. "How old was the child? And when was this fall?"
Hu Chengyi thought back for a while. "He was around sixteen or so, I think. That year… it was maybe twenty years ago? Or twenty-one years ago. I really can't remember clearly."
Qin Xiong's lost little brother, Qin Ying, had just so happened to disappear the year Qin Ke was born. Which was to say, twenty-one years ago.
Sixteen years old. Undocumented. Both of those details were also a match.
"Why did he fall?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
"My guess," Hu Chengyi ventured, "is someone pushed him."
"Your guess?" Xiao Yu'an echoed. "He didn't explicitly tell you?"
"He wouldn't say." Hu Chengyi sighed. "We're very familiar with the mountain. No one goes up to that precipice. I went to take a look after we found the boy, and I saw a lot of footprints there. It didn't look like they all belonged to one person. When we found the boy after he fell, he was barely breathing. Just barely holding on. He must have been lying there for at least a day."
"What was his name?" Xiao Yu'an asked. "Did he not stay at Haijing Temple?"
"He had a 'Ying' in his name, the 'ying' from 'yingxiong', meaning hero," Hu Chengyi said. "As for his surname, he didn't want to tell us, and we didn't force him to."
Had he been reluctant to say his surname because he was disheartened by his situation with his family, and wanted to cut ties with them?
Was it because the person who'd pushed him off the cliff was Qin Xiong?
Xiao Yu'an took a moment to think, then said, "He was 'undocumented'. How was that handled?"
"There wasn't much to handle," Hu Chengyi said. "Once the hospital saw that we were monks, they gave us the green light to have the boy hospitalized. Let me think… he stayed in the hospital for around two months, then lived with us after he was discharged."
"He wasn't registered with the police?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
Hu Chengyi smiled bitterly. "Those days, not even we checked in with the police when we were admitted to the temple. And he was just a boy. Who would've thought to register him?"
"How long did he stay at Haijing Temple?" Xiao Yu'an asked. "Did anything happen during that time?"
"What do you mean?" Hu Chengyi asked.
"For example, did he ever leave the mountain to look for someone, or did anyone ever come up the mountain to look for him?"
"He didn't leave the mountain, but I do remember some outsider came up."
"Who?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
"I don't know who, exactly." Hu Chengyi shook his head. "We didn't get a lot of visitors on the mountain back then. Not many came to offer incense. Occasionally other monks from other temples would come to seek refuge for a while. The person who came wasn't an incense-bearer or a monk or someone trying to become a monk. He arrived and immediately asked if we'd seen a boy who was around sixteen, so I remembered his visit very clearly."
If Qin Ying had been pushed off a cliff by Qin Xiong, then this strange visitor… there was an eighty percent chance it was Qin Xiong.
"What did you tell him?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
Hu Chengyi smiled. "The boy told Kui Chen a long time ago that if anyone came looking for him, we were to say we hadn't seen him and didn't know anything about him. Truth be told, he didn't have to say anything at all. Even if he hadn't asked us to keep quiet, Kui Chen wouldn't have told anyone about his existence. Kui Chen did invite him to stay with us at the temple to practice Buddhism, but the boy turned him down and left after he was fully healed."
"Roughly when was that?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
"After more than half a year," Hu Chengyi said. "I never saw him again after that, and Kui Chen never mentioned him again."
"Do you still remember what he looked like?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
Hu Chengyi closed his eyes and thought back for a long while. Remorsefully, he answered, "I can't remember clearly."
On his cell phone, Xiao Yu'an pulled up the photograph Qin Ke had hidden in a frame. To date, that was the only photo of Qin Ying the police had in their possession.
Xiao Yu'an handed the phone to Hu Chengyi and asked, "Is this him?"
Hu Chengyi looked at the photo and studied it for a long time. "It looks like him. The more I look at it, the stronger the resemblance becomes."
Xiao Yu'an loaded up a photo of a young Qin Xiong next. "What about this one? Any impression of him?"
Hu Chengyi studied that photo for an even longer time. "I feel like I've seen him somewhere, but I can't remember where."
"Please think some more," Xiao Yu'an prompted. "Does this look like the person who came to the mountain to ask if you'd seen a sixteen-year-old boy?"
Hu Chengyi's drooping eyelids suddenly seemed to be pulled taut for a second with concentration, but after a while, he said, "I'm sorry. My brain doesn't seem to be working."
"That's okay." Xiao Yu'an took his phone back and didn't press Hu Chengyi any harder. He smiled warmly and said, "You've already provided us with some very important information."
"Really?" Hu Chengyi sighed softly and nodded. "That's good, that's good."
After seeing Hu Chengyi off, Xiao Yu'an stood quietly by a window for a while.
The sixteen-year-old boy described by Hu Chengyi was, in all probability, Qin Ying.
It turned out Qin Ying's so-called 'disappearance' involved him being pushed down from a cliff on top of Mount Qiyue.
Hu Chengyi could no longer clearly remember the face of the person who'd come up the mountain looking for Qin Ying. That was normal. This was something that had happened over twenty years ago. If Hu Chengyi had been able to definitively confirm that Qin Xiong was the person who'd come up the mountain, then something would have been quite fishy.
The truth was gradually taking shape and emerging from these fragmented clues—
Twenty-one years ago, Huang Hui was pregnant. They were an impoverished family; one more person would be one more mouth to feed. Qin Xiong had endured the presence of Qin Ying, this brother of his from mysterious origins, for many years. Finally, Qin Xiong acted out when his own child was about to be born. He could tolerate Qin Ying robbing him of things that should have been his, but he couldn't allow Qin Ying to steal those precious resources from his wife and child.
Qin Ying was still young at the time. A minor, and defenseless against his family. Qin Xiong tricked Qin Ying into going to Mount Qiyue with him somehow—perhaps for a hike with his brother, or for a trip to the temple in the mountains where they could pray for the well-being of Qin Xiong's unborn child.
And on that mountain, Qin Xiong showed his true nature and pushed Qin Ying off a cliff.
No movement came from the base of the cliff for a long while. Qin Xiong must have assumed that Qin Ying had either broken his neck or died upon impact. In any case, he would have assumed Qin Ying was beyond saving.
Qin Xiong had chosen that mountain because it was mostly unpopulated, with only a temple halfway up the climb.
The mountain was large, and surely the monks wouldn't patrol the whole place. Qin Xiong must have assumed there was no chance of anyone finding Qin Ying at the base of that cliff.
As long as he wasn't discovered, Qin Ying wouldn't survive even if he hadn't died upon impact.
Qin Xiong may have considered personally going down the cliff to take a look. If Qin Ying was dead, then everything would be perfect for Qin Xiong. If Qin Ying was still breathing, Qin Xiong must have had other means of ending Qin Ying's life. Then he could have buried Qin Ying on the spot, to prevent any problems from arising in the future.
But Qin Xiong didn't dare.
That was a living person.
He'd believed that getting rid of Qin Ying was necessary, for the sake of his own little family and unborn child. He even wanted Qin Ying dead, but he didn't dare look upon Qin Ying's body with his own two eyes.
So, after hesitating for a long while, Qin Xiong decided to leave.
Qin Ying disappeared, and the Qin family spiraled into despair.
Qin Anqiang and Bai Hong must have strongly suspected that their younger son's disappearance had been caused by the elder brother, so they didn't dare go to the police or even ask neighbors for help in searching for Qin Ying.
Qin Xiong must have returned to Mount Qiyue later on, perhaps fearing that Qin Ying was still alive.
And Qin Ying had, indeed, survived.
Qin Ying left Haijing Temple after recuperating from his wounds for more than half a year there. Judging by the fact that he had been around sixteen back then, he should have been approximately thirty-seven in the present day.
Hu Chengyi didn't know where Qin Ying went after leaving the mountain, but he was certain Qin Ying didn't return to Haijing Temple.
Had Qin Ying returned to Dongye City from somewhere and killed off the entire Qin family, besides Qin Xu?
Han Province, Mingliang County.
Ming Shu threw open his car door and looked up at a low-rise building in front of him.
Mingliang County was under the jurisdiction of Luocheng. It was relatively far from Mou Haiyuan's hometown of Fucheng. After a thorough search, the Serious Crimes Division had confirmed that Li Feihe, who'd worked as the Mou family's housekeeper for seven years, currently lived in Mingliang County.
Most of the buildings in that small county were only a few stories tall, and there were no elevators inside. Ming Shu took the stairs up to the fourth floor and knocked on the door to Unit 4-1.
A little boy answered the door, peering up curiously. "Who are you looking for, uncle?"
A woman in her sixties came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron as she wearily called out, "Weiwei, who said you could open the door for just anyone?"
Ming Shu flashed his badge. "Are you Li Feihe?"
The older woman was a bit shocked at first, then panickedly said, "Did something happen to Little Cheng?"
Ming Shu shook his head. "It has nothing to do with your son. I came to find you to chat about Mou Haiyuan's family."
Li Feihe's eyes widened. After a moment, she said, "It's good that it isn't anything to do with Little Cheng. Please, come in."
After stepping inside, Ming Shu looked around. The house's decor and location were both considered quite good for that county. It seemed Li Feihe was living a relatively good life now.
Li Feihe seemed a little nervous. "I haven't worked for the Mou family in a long time. I'm not very sure what their family is like now."
"There's no need to be nervous," Ming Shu said. "I'd just like to ask you a few questions. Please just answer whatever you can, based on what you know."
Li Feihe nodded.
"Was it Mou Haiyuan who hired you to take care of his parents?" Ming Shu asked.
"Yes," Li Feihe said. "My children were all working in Fucheng, and I had nothing to do, so I decided to get some work at a housekeeping company. Mou-xiansheng saw that I was capable and had a good reputation, so he hired me to work at his home."
"Did he make any requests of you?" Ming Shu asked.
"Requests?" Li Feihe thought for a while. "Just to be patient and careful with his parents."
"And Mou Haiyuan never visited his parents?"
Ming Shu lightly drummed his fingers against the table. It was a very small, subtle movement, but one which conveyed a powerful amount of hidden strength.
Li Feihe hesitantly said, "Mou-xiansheng actually…"
Ming Shu studied the look in her eyes, then slowly said, "You took care of Mou Qinzhi and He Yinghua for seven years. You lived with them day and night. Whether or not this was a real family is something you've known for a long time, isn't it?"
Li Feihe's expression shifted subtly. After a while, she nodded.
"You have a boy and a girl, and you're raising your grandchild now. Your children would never go long without visiting you," Ming Shu said. "This is normal for a 'real' family. But the Mou family… just like you, Mou Qinzhi and He Yinghua didn't act like Mou Haiyuan's parents. It felt more like they were also hired by Mou Haiyuan, correct?"
After a long silence, Li Feihe sighed. "They… they really weren't Mou-xiansheng's parents. But I'm not sure how to say this."
Ming Shu didn't interrupt, waiting for Li Feihe to continue.
"I felt something was off a long time ago, but I didn't think too much about it." Li Feihe curled her hands tightly in her apron. "Before going to the Mou family to work, I've worked for other families as well. Back then, anyone who could afford a housekeeper was pretty wealthy, like the Mou family. But even in these wealthy families, everyone was happy together. At least, the parents didn't seem to fear their children.
"The Mou family… I've only seen Mou-xiansheng come back a handful of times. Every time he visited, Mou Qinzhi and He Yinghua were very withdrawn. It was like the person who came back wasn't their son, but was the master of the house. And they weren't like the parents of rich kids I'd interacted with in the past. They didn't communicate with their neighbors much. They didn't go out, they didn't seem very cultured.
"Later, after spending a lot of time with the Mou family, I started to get closer and closer to He Yinghua. We chatted more, and she started to treat me like a friend. That was when she told me something." Li Feihe swallowed. "She said that she and Mou Qinzhi weren't Mou-xiansheng's parents at all."
"Then do you know their true identities?" Ming Shu asked.
"Yes, they're from a small city to the south," Li Feihe said. "They lived in the countryside and signed an agreement with Mou-xiansheng to play the parts of his parents for him."
"How did Mou Haiyuan find them?" Ming Shu asked. "What about Mou Haiyuan's real parents?"
Li Feihe shook her head. "I'm not sure about that. Mou Qinzhi rarely spoke at all. And after He Yinghua spoke with me, she would always tell me not to tell anyone else. After they passed, this matter plagued me. I never told anyone. If you weren't a police officer, I wouldn't have told you either."
"What were the real names of Mou Qinzhi and He Yinghua?" Ming Shu asked.
"Those are their real names," Li Feihe said.
"The small city to the south that you mentioned," Ming Shu continued. "Which city was it?"
"I can't think of it right now." Li Feihe pressed a hand to her forehead. "Liang… Liang something…"
"That's right, that's right, it was Liangxi," Li Feihe said. "But not the town itself. They were from the rural area south of the town."
Liangxi was Yin Xiaofeng's hometown. Six years ago, Kui Chen went to 'wander' and returned with Yin Xiaofeng. By then, Kui Chen was probably no longer the real Kui Chen, but rather Mou Haiyuan.
And Mou Haiyuan's false parents had also come from Liangxi.
"Mou-xiansheng was very generous. Although the people living at his home weren't his real parents, he treated them pretty well. At least he never left them wanting for any material goods," Li Feihe continued. "The salary I was offered was also pretty high. After Mou Qinzhi and He Yinghua passed, I no longer had any work there. Mou-xiansheng gave me a large sum of money so that I could go home and live peacefully. See, if it weren't for Mou-xiansheng, I wouldn't have such a nice home here."
"Wait a minute," Ming Shu said. "Is it true that Mou Qinzhi and He Yinghua died of natural causes?"
"You suspect Mou-xiansheng killed them? How could that be possible!" Li Feihe shook her head. "It really was just illness. I took care of them. How could I not know? When people get old, all sorts of problems crop up. This wasn't Mou-xiansheng's fault…"
After leaving Li Feihe's home, Ming Shu sat in his car for a while and absentmindedly toyed with a pack of cigarettes.
There were still a few cigarettes in there, but he didn't light one up.
Mou Haiyuan presented himself to outsiders as an extremely filial son who cared for parents who weren't his real parents. That was the persona Mou Haiyuan had intentionally created. His best course of action would have of course been to treat his biological parents well, but he didn't do that. One possible reason was that his biological parents may have been long dead. Another was that, perhaps, for some reason he was incapable of bringing his biological parents out to the city with him.
And when forming his 'persona' as a filial son, Mou Haiyuan had also declared that he was an only child.
But in truth, Master Kui Chen of Haijing Temple was his twin brother.
Ming Shu opened the pack of cigarettes and distractedly crushed the few remaining cigarettes in there, one by one.
Even after having come into contact with many psychologically warped suspects, Ming Shu still couldn't wrap his head around Mou Haiyuan's motivations. Hiring false parents in order to play the part of a filial son made perfect sense, from a career standpoint. But after retiring with plenty of wealth, why had Mou Haiyuan gone on to 'replace' his brother at Haijing Temple?
Furthermore, had Mou Haiyuan known all along that his brother was the master of Haijing Temple?
In Hu Chengyi's eyes, the Kui Chen from before seven years ago represented compassion while the Kui Chen who appeared more recently was sullen and harder to read. That must have been the key difference between Kui Chen and Mou Haiyuan.
Ming Shu's cell phone vibrated. He picked it up and saw that the caller was Yi Fei.
The Serious Crimes Division had split up to work on the same case. Yi Fei had been put in charge of investigating Mou Haiyuan's connections in the film industry.
"I've found something," Yi Fei said. "When are you coming back?"
"Let's talk over the phone," Ming Shu said. "Saves time, and I'll be able to think some more on my way back."
"Sure," Yi Fei agreed. "Your childhood idol, in reality, is far less noble than the characters he portrayed on film."
Ming Shu had originally wanted to retort that Mou Haiyuan wasn't his childhood idol, but his heart knew that wasn't important in that moment. He leaned back in his seat and listened to the rest of Yi Fei's report.
Before entering the film industry, Mou Haiyuan had been a disciple of a martial arts school in Han Province. That was a school which no longer existed.
Chen Shaoxing was Mou Haiyuan's earliest connection in the entertainment industry. This was someone who also came from a school of martial arts, but he never got as successful as Mou Haiyuan.
Thanks to the training of his youth, Chen Shaoxing was still a strong and hearty old man in the present. When he first met Yi Fei, he'd even wanted to spar with him a bit for fun.
According to Chen Shaoxing, Mou Haiyuan had once said, while they were still attending a martial arts school, that he would ensure his parents had a good life as long as he became successful.
That was consistent with Mou Haiyuan's words and actions later in his career.
But Chen Shaoxing also recalled that Mou Haiyuan had become extremely depressed for a period of time. When Chen Shaoxing asked about why, Mou Haiyuan had broken down and admitted that his father had passed away.
Yi Fei had immediately asked Chen Shaoxing, "Mou Haiyuan really said that?"
"He did," Chen Shaoxing confirmed. "So when he appeared in public with his parents later on, I thought it was pretty strange. But by then, Mou Haiyuan and I were no longer close. I could only guess that his mother remarried, and that was the person he presented as his father."
Chen Shaoxing remembered Mou Haiyuan, before his fame, as someone who was frequently anxious, and the source of his anxiety seemed to be his concerns over providing a good life for his parents.
What Yi Fei learned from Chen Shaoxing was that Mou Haiyuan was 'genuinely' a filial son.
However, what Yi Fei heard from others in the entertainment industry, who met Mou Haiyuan after he achieved fame, was that Mou Haiyuan was no saint.
"Mou Haiyuan had serious violent tendencies," said one of the employees at the agency Mou Haiyuan used to work with.
Apparently, Mou Haiyuan had used his time as an actor, stunt choreographer, and director to behave violently in the name of 'acting'. But the media was different back then, and they wouldn't have covered a story like that. Even if they did, they would have simply said that the actors who complained about the violence were weak and easily bullied.
Thus, these incidents were never brought to light.
In addition to gratuitous violence while filming, Mou Haiyuan sometimes beat up his own crew as well.
The agency employee Yi Fei spoke to showed off an old scar on his back, which had been left by Mou Haiyuan. Mou Haiyuan had paid the medical bills for the employee's treatment, as well as 'compensation' to keep him quiet.
"I'm not making this up. Ask anyone, and they'll all tell you the same thing. Mou Haiyuan was scum. I heard he's been missing for a few years now. Maybe he's been killed by his enemies."
Yi Fei found many more people who'd worked for Mou Haiyuan back in the day, and many of them said the same thing. One even said that Mou Haiyuan mistreated both men and women.
"Xiao Lan'er, the movie empress of the previous generation… ah, you young people might not have heard of her before. But she… she was once treated very badly by Mou Haiyuan."
Xiao Lan'er had already passed away, but her husband Lin Yi was still alive.
Upon hearing the name 'Mou Haiyuan', Lin Yi fell deep into thought for a long moment. He was already an old man, and his eyes were cloudy with age.
But Yi Fei saw anger, resentment, and regret in those clouded eyes.
"I should have killed him back then," Lin Yi muttered. "I was the one who made Lan'er suffer."
The film industry back then wasn't necessarily any 'cleaner' than the film industry in the present day. Lin Yi was also an actor, but he was relatively unknown. When Xiao Lan'er married him, newspapers only wrote that she 'married', without any details—and at the time, Xiao Lan'er had been collaborating on two movies with Mou Haiyuan.
Lin Yi didn't outright tell Yi Fei that his wife had been abused by Mou Haiyuan, but he rambled on and spent a long while talking about Xiao Lan'er. Ultimately, he also said, "Lan'er wasn't the only victim."
"Mou Haiyuan targeted other actresses?" Yi Fei asked.
Lan Yi didn't say anything else.
"He had violent tendencies, and he acted upon them. He assaulted actresses as well. And these aren't Mou Haiyuan's only crimes," Yi Fei continued, as he concluded his report to Ming Shu. "But the rest isn't considered all that scandalous in that industry of theirs."
"Don't keep me in suspense," Ming Shu said.
"He fought over connections and industry resources with other actors," Yi Fei said. "Back then, there were a lot of martial arts actors, like how we have a lot of young 'fresh meat' actors these days. It wasn't easy to get ahead as a martial arts actor, so Mou Haiyuan used a lot of underhanded tactics early in his career."
A thought suddenly occurred to Ming Shu. "Then how did these competitors do later on, after Mou Haiyuan pulled ahead of them?"
"I haven't had time to check them out one by one yet," Yi Fei said. "But in any line of work, especially when you're just starting out, those who lose at the starting line typically end up pretty miserable."
After hanging up, Ming Shu hunched over the steering wheel. Gradually, a picture began to form in his mind.
The monks at Haijing Temple. There were the ones who became monks a long time ago—Hu Chengyi, Liu Sui, and Tang Yuan. Setting them aside, the ones who remained were Yin Xiaofeng, Chang Qingying, Chu Jiang, Wang Lu, Chu Xin, and Fang Pingxu.
Yin Xiaofeng and Fang Pingxu were both psychologically unwell and had violent tendencies.
Chang Qingying had used underhanded tactics to get ahead in the workplace, indirectly causing the death of a colleague.
Chu Jiang had been the first person to harass a widow at his workplace, which led to her eventual suicide.
Wang Lu lazed around at home and showed no filial piety, ultimately leading to the death of his father.
As for Chu Xin… he'd most likely come to Haijing Temple by coincidence.
Besides Chu Xin, the dark pasts of the other five monks all had some shadow of a resemblance to aspects of Mou Haiyuan's life. The most far-fetched connection was Wang Lu, because currently the causes of death of Mou Haiyuan's real parents were still unknown. But if Mou Haiyuan had been responsible for his parents' deaths, then there would be a connection between him and Wang Lu as well.
Mou Haiyuan disappeared, then brought together all these people who had some resemblance to him… in order to get rid of them, one by one?
What was this?
A form of 'atonement'?