"Qin Ying was once pushed off a cliff on Mount Qiyue by Qin Xiong? And then he was saved by Kui Chen?"
Ming Shu had returned to Dongye City. He'd planned on telling Xiao Yu'an about everything he'd discovered right away, but wound up receiving this important lead from Xiao Yu'an first.
"Hu Chengyi is currently under our protection. He won't be leaving Dongye City for a while. If you have any other questions, you can speak to him." Xiao Yu'an tossed Ming Shu a towel. "I've already shown Hu Chengyi the collection of photos Qin Ke had. Hu Chengyi has confirmed that the young man in the photos was the young man he saw at Haijing Temple twenty-one years ago."
Ming Shu took the towel and dried his freshly washed face before slinging the towel over his shoulders. "Twenty-one years ago… Director Xiao, Hu Chengyi wasn't the only monk at Haijing Temple twenty-one years ago!"
Xiao Yu'an nodded. "So I also questioned Liu Sui and Tang Yuan. Liu Sui doesn't remember anything about the boy, but Tang Yuan does."
Ming Shu leaned against the sink. Water still dripped from the wet hair hanging over his forehead. "Qin Ying was still 'undocumented' when he left Haijing Temple. Where could he have gone after that?"
"Let's assume the person who committed the murders at 5-8 was Qin Ying, back for revenge," Xiao Yu'an said. "That would mean he stewed for twenty years. Twenty years ago, Qin Ying was seventeen, and he's around thirty-seven now. This is an extraordinarily long timeline. In these twenty years, how did Qin Ying hide himself? Why did he wait so long?"
"Thirty-seven years old…" A figure suddenly flashed across Ming Shu's mind. "I just thought of someone."
Xiao Yu'an raised his eyebrows. "Hm?"
"The owner of Cheng Jianghu!" MIng Shu exclaimed.
"You're basing that solely on the fact that the owner of Cheng Jianghu is around the age Qin Ying would be now," Xiao Yu'an said.
Ming Shu shook his head. "It's not just that. Cheng Jianghu became very popular, very quickly. Within two months of opening for business, they became so successful that they've nearly forced Shrimp Baobao out of business. That's practically inconceivable.
"Back when I was investigating the Sha Chun case, I visited Shrimp Baobao. It was extremely popular at the time, while Cheng Jianghu was basically unknown. Shrimp Baobao was undoubtedly the most popular shop on Longcheng Street.
"This has always been a point of suspicion to me, but we already looked into Cheng Jianghu during our preliminary investigation. We didn't find anything out of the ordinary there, and we couldn't think of any motive the boss of Cheng Jianghu could have had to commit this crime, so we didn't dig deeper."
"And now you've found a motive?" Xiao Yu'an prompted.
"Isn't it obvious?" Ming Shu answered. "Qin Ying was pushed off a cliff by Qin Xiong. He survived, and now he's back to seek revenge on Qin Xiong's family."
Xiao Yu'an took the towel off Ming Shu's shoulders. He folded it into a neat square, then placed it on top of Ming Shu's head. "It's true that the speed at which Cheng Jianghu became popular is suspicious. Even with Qiu Min's promotion giving them a boost, there could still be something fishy going on at that restaurant that we don't know about yet.
"But if the owner of Cheng Jianghu is Qin Ying, and if his ultimate goal was to kill Qin Xiong's whole family, then why didn't he remain hidden? Why did he expose himself like that?"
Ming Shu was so focused on the case that he didn't even notice the towel sitting atop his head.
Cheng Jianghu had popped up at a very interesting time, and it couldn't be denied that the restaurant had an effect on the people involved in this case. Before Qin Xiong's family met their tragic end, the internet had started to talk about Cheng Jianghu more than Shrimp Baobao. Then, after the murders, Cheng Jianghu was pushed into an extremely uncomfortable position. Their business was negatively impacted by customers who now considered their location 'inauspicious', and there were even whisperings that the death of Qing Xiong's family had something to do with competitors from Longcheng Street.
If Qin Ying just wanted revenge, opening up an extremely high-profile store next to Shrimp Baobao would have been completely unnecessary.
However, this was only what an outsider would think!
"No, right now we just don't fully understand the psychology of this person who wants vengeance," Ming Shu said. "I have another thought."
"Go ahead," Xiao Yu'an said.
"With how fiercely Qin Ying hated Qin Xiong, he may not have been satisfied with just killing Qin Xiong and his family," Ming Shu said. "He wanted to 'destroy' Qin Xiong, thoroughly. Qin Xiong was so proud of his business, Shrimp Baobao. After his parents passed away, Qin Xiong used their savings to open a restaurant. And that restaurant became the predecessor of Shrimp Baobao.
"Qin Ying spent twenty years lying in wait. He must have investigated Qin Xiong's situation very thoroughly. He might know even more about how Qin Xiong made his fortune than we do. In Qin Ying's eyes, Shrimp Baobao was a leech. It was sucking his blood, and it was sucking his parents' blood in order to grow. So before killing Qin Xiong's family, he wanted to destroy Shrimp Baobao first."
After rushing out that explanation in one long breath, Ming Shu looked Xiao Yu'an in the eye and asked, "Are there any holes in my logic?"
"I'd guessed you would suspect Cheng Jianghu," Xiao Yu'an said. "That restaurant is indeed a point of interest. We need to either lock onto it or rule it out. Before you returned, I already sent Fang Yuanhang out there."
Ming Shu's eyes widened for a few seconds before he regained his calm. Afterwards, he methodically recounted all his discoveries about Mount Qiyue to Xiao Yu'an.
"Atonement?" Xiao Yu'an echoed. "What a novel idea. When a guilty person feels the need to atone, they should first understand what they did wrong and why their actions were wrong. Then they should do good deeds to atone, or directly compensate their victims.
"But Mou Haiyuan, contrary to what you would expect, assumed the identity of a monk from his twin brother, then gathered people he perceived as sinners who committed wrongs similar to his own, so that he could punish them one by one?"
"I think conventional logic is of limited use to us when we're analyzing a psychologically twisted suspect. We've taken plenty of detours already, so why not think about this from a different angle?" Ming Shu said. "To Mou Haiyuan, maybe eliminating people like Chu Jiang is a sort of 'good deed'? The person who deserves to be punished most is Mou Haiyuan himself, but very few people can accomplish that. He couldn't point the knife at himself, so he pointed it at others like him.
"Chu Jiang and the other three who supposedly went to 'wander' only left the temple safely according to Kui Chen. No one else personally heard them say they were leaving to 'wander', and no one saw them leaving Haijing Temple. And our investigation in Shouquan, even now, still hasn't yielded a single person who saw them depart.
"My theory is that by the time Kui Chen said they left the mountain to 'wander', they'd already been killed."
"With Kui Chen's age, killing wouldn't have been too difficult, but hiding the bodies would have been a more challenging task," Xiao Yu'an said. "He can't have hidden the corpses too far away. When Yi Fei and the others searched Haijing Temple last time, did they only look inside the temple?"
"Yes." Ming Shu nodded, and it was only then that the towel suddenly slipped off his head.
Xiao Yu'an let out a soft laugh.
Ming Shu grabbed the towel. "Fuck, you're screwing with me!"
Xiao Yu'an schooled his expression into a calm facade and said, "Don't use such foul language with your superiors. Please focus on work during work hours."
"Who was the one who 'unfocused' first?" Ming Shu folded the towel up again and plopped it down on top of Xiao Yu'an's head. "I want to do it too."
Xiao Yu'an's gaze shifted subtly as he quietly studied Ming Shu.
Ming Shu froze.
After a few seconds, Ming Shu took the towel back. "Okay, fine. If you don't want me to put it there, I won't put it there. I'll screw with you when we get home."
Xiao Yu'an smiled and said, "What were we saying just now?"
Ming Shu thought back, then hurriedly said, "Where's the cliff that Qin Ying was pushed off of? Maybe not even tourists would go up there, but the bottom of the cliff could be considered a 'safe' place. Could Kui Chen have taken a page out of Qin Xiong's book and…"
Xiao Yu'an shook his head. "Captain Ming, you're getting all mixed up."
Ming Shu suddenly realized his mistake. The current Kui Chen was no longer the Kui Chen who'd taken Qin Ying in. So why would the 'new' Kui Chen emulate Qin Xiong?
"According to the theory you just proposed, Mou Haiyuan is trying to atone for his mistakes by killing others who committed similar wrongs. These could be considered ritualistic killings, and murderers who commit ritualistic killings typically dispose of the body in ritualistic ways as well," Xiao Yu'an said. "If Chu Jiang and the others have already been killed, there are only two possible places where their bodies could be buried. One is the place where they committed their 'wrongdoing', and the other is Mount Qiyue.
"If it's the former, then Mou Haiyuan must have somehow lured these people to their respective hometowns, where he struck. The probability of this isn't very high, because he would need time to come and go. He's been in 'isolation' at the temple all year, making it seem like Kui Chen hasn't left Haijing Temple at all."
"Then the bodies are most likely hidden somewhere near Haijing Temple," Ming Shu said. "I'll arrange a search right away."
Longcheng Street, Road 3. Cheng Jianghu.
"If you have a reasonable request, of course I'd be happy to cooperate." The man was smiling, but it was a very cold smile. "But I seem to be getting the feeling that you gentlemen are treating me as a suspect. How could I cooperate with that?"
Fang Yuanhang frowned at the man.
This was the owner of Cheng Jianghu—a man named Cheng Xiuming. He looked to be in his early thirties, and his ID said he was thirty-six years old.
He wasn't 'undocumented'. His hometown was Yancheng in the neighboring Han Province, and he'd only come to Dongye City this year.
Cheng Xiuming's background seemed perfectly clean. The field work team had already gone out to Yancheng to investigate. There, they learned that Cheng Xiuming had operated a Jianghu cuisine restaurant in Yancheng as well. Because he was a good cook and well-liked by his patrons, his business had done very well.
But earlier that year, Cheng Xiuming had suddenly handed over his old restaurant to his apprentice Han Chao. After that, he moved out to Dongye City and opened up Cheng Jianghu.
"Do you guys really need to look into Cheng-ge? My Cheng-ge is the best guy under the sun!" Han Chao exclaimed. He was extremely displeased by the police who'd ventured out to Han Province to ask about his old master. "You ask around. Everyone on this street will tell you how good my Cheng-ge was!"
The Jianghu restaurant Cheng Xiuming had operated back in Yancheng was situated on a street called Ronghua Street. On that street, Cheng Xiuming was practically a celebrity. Whenever anyone came to him to ask for help with anything, he would always help as long as he had the means. Even if he wasn't able to solve their problem for them, he would be able to give them some reasonable advice.
As Han Chao said, no one on that block spoke poorly of Cheng Xiuming.
But what the police took note of was the fact that Cheng Xiuming had lived a solitary life in Yancheng. He didn't have any family, and besides his apprentice Han Chao, he didn't seem to have any close friends.
No friends or family. Living alone. Helping out wherever he could, regardless of whether or not there was something in it for him.
This person was practically a saint.
But the Serious Crimes Division's detectives had seen many twisted and bizarre murderers in their time. The more outlandishly 'saintly' a person was, the harder it became for them to escape the police's attention.
Good and evil went hand in hand. There were shades of darkness in every person's heart. Not a single soul was free of sin. If a person really seemed to possess no darkness in their heart, then their goodness was often fake. In many cases, killers donned an extremely kind and compassionate persona in their everyday lives. Outside of committing their crimes, they never did anything wrong. They perfectly acted out the part of a 'good' person. So when these killers were brought to justice, the people in their lives would be shocked—how could such a kind person have done something so evil?
"If Cheng-ge hadn't saved me, I would have been dead in a ditch somewhere," Han Chao said.
He told the police that he'd been sold to Yancheng by human traffickers as a child. He'd never been able to get himself a proper household registration or ID, and he couldn't find his parents either. He was incapable of verifying his identity, and thus he was incapable of finding a decent job to integrate into society.
When he first met Cheng Xiuming, Han Chao had been walking in the 'gray area' between good and evil. He'd done good and bad things in his life, just to get by. He had even almost been tricked into becoming a drug mule.
It was Cheng Xiuming who'd pulled him out of his dire straits, and it was Cheng Xiuming who'd given him a job and helped him solve the problem of being 'undocumented', which had plagued him for over ten years.
According to Han Chao, Cheng Xiuming had once told him, "I used to be 'undocumented' too. It was my Uncle Cheng who helped me get my documents."
"Cheng-ge was like me. He didn't know who his real parents were, and his original surname probably wasn't Cheng," Han Chao continued. "Old Man Cheng took him in, so he took on Old Man Cheng's last name."
Han Chao seemed to know Cheng Xiuming very well, and he was eager to convince the police that Cheng Xiuming was a good person. In practically one breath, he spilled Chu Xiuming's entire life story—
Cheng Xiuming had inherited his craft of cooking from the late Cheng Shucai. Cheng Shucai's wife and child had passed away prematurely, and he'd found a beaten and battered Cheng Huiming at a rival restaurant. Cheng Shucai had immediately called the police, saving the boy.
At the time, Cheng Xiuming had been less than twenty years old. He was 'undocumented', with no relatives. And he had been mistreated everywhere he went.
Cheng Shucai took pity on him and used all the connections he had to get Cheng Xiuming a proper ID card and household registration. He took the boy in as an apprentice, first letting him help out at his restaurant, then teaching him all the details of his craft.
More than ten years ago, Cheng Shucai had saved Cheng Xiuming.
And more than ten years after that, Cheng Xiuming had saved Han Chao in the same way.
One member of the field work team asked, "Do you know why Cheng Xiuming left Yancheng to do business in Dongye City last year?"
"Dongye City is bigger than Yancheng," Han Chao said. "Cheng-ge is so good at what he does. It's a waste of his talent if he just stays in Yancheng, right? Cheng Jianghu is so popular in Dongye City now, which just proves Cheng-ge made the right decision."
"Dongye City and Luocheng are both big cities," the field work team member continued. "Why did he choose Dongye, and not Luocheng? Luocheng is the capital of your province."
"That…" Han Chao couldn't think of an answer. "Well, Cheng-ge can go wherever he wants to go, obviously!"
Han Chao's explanation was full of holes, and Cheng Xiuming's past—prior to obtaining legal documentation—was still a big blank. The only person who could speak to his past, Cheng Shucai, was no longer of this world.
Was it possible that Cheng Xiuming was the missing Qin Ying?
If so, why didn't Qin Xiong and Huang Hui recognize him?
People changed in appearance as they grew older, of course. Qin Ying had disappeared at age sixteen, and he was now thirty-seven. He'd grown from a boy to a man. His appearance would naturally change, but had there truly been no trace of his old self left?
Not likely, unless he'd resorted to plastic surgery.
Back at Cheng Jianghu, Fang Yuanhang's mind was racing. Cheng Xiuming had already looked away, like he was getting ready to prepare for the evening rush.
"Qin Ying," Fang Yuanhang suddenly called out.
Cheng Xiuming turned back around.
That was a reaction, but it was a very normal reaction. Fang Yuanhang couldn't find any traces of an unusual expression on Cheng Xiuming's face.
"Who's Qin Ying?" Cheng Xiuming asked calmly.
"I still have a few questions I'd like to ask while I'm here," Fang Yuanhang said. He pulled out a chair for himself and sat down, then lifted his gaze and forcibly met Cheng Xiuming's gaze.
In the Serious Crimes Division, if anyone could be called a rowdy little hooligan, it would be Fang Yuanhang. However, after Ming Shu's return from his special training this summer, Fang Yuanhang had stuck to him and deliberately learned a lot. He had gradually picked up a few of Ming Shu's mannerisms, as well as some of his assertiveness.
Cheng Xiuming stood in place for a while, sizing up the young detective before him. After a while, he let out a helpless laugh and said, "It seems like I won't be able to open for business tonight if I don't answer, hm?"
Fang Yuanhang laughed cordially as well. "I have a duty to carry out this investigation. Please understand."
Cheng Xiuming sighed and took a seat as well. "Go ahead, ask away."
"You became a member of the Cheng family when you were twenty," Fang Yuanhang said. "What were you doing before that?"
"Barely scraping by," Cheng Xiumin answered calmly. "I worked any odd jobs I could get. If you insist on finding someone who can verify that for me, I can unfortunately only tell you that there's no one."
"Do you know of Haijing Temple?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
"I didn't know of it before, but I do now," Cheng Xiuming said. "Some sort of crime happened there recently."
Fang Yuanhang kept his eyes glued to Cheng Xiuming. He couldn't see any cracks in this man's facade.
"Cheng Jianghu's explosive popularity came after an influencer's promotion. Did Qiushan Wangmian come to you, or did you reach out to him?" Fang Yuanhang continued. He was deliberately weaving important questions in with insignificant ones. "And after Cheng Jianghu became popular, did you remain in contact with Qiushan Wangmian?"
"I didn't try to stir up all this hype on purpose," Cheng Xiuming said. "But since a big influencer came to my store, it was of course everything I could have hoped for."
"Did you think Cheng Jianghu would become this popular, this fast?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
"I dared open a restaurant next to the most popular restaurant on Road 3 of Longcheng Street," Cheng Xiuming said. "Of course I had faith in my ability to compete with them on equal footing."
Fang Yuanhang narrowed his eyes. "So you set aside your business in Yancheng and came to Dongye City just for the sake of targeting Shrimp Baobao?"
Hearing that, Cheng Xiuming raised his eyebrows a little. The hand he'd set on the edge of the table tensed very, very slightly.
This was the first hint of an unexpected reaction Cheng Xiuming had given since he and Fang Yuanhang first started to talk.
"As you know, my colleagues are currently in Yancheng," Fang Yuanhang continued, keeping the pressure on. "Your apprentice Han Chao also wasn't sure of the exact reason for your sudden departure from Yancheng."
"So in your minds, I'm someone who came to Dongye City for 'no reason' and stole away Qin Xiong's business, and that makes me a suspect?" Cheng Xiuming laughed again. "Where's the evidence? Anyone can be suspicious of anyone, but making an arrest requires evidence."
The Serious Crimes Division had no solid evidence to prove that Cheng Xiuming was the killer. Their suspicions weren't even as founded as their suspicions of Qin Xu. There had indeed been an unidentified pair of footprints in 5-8, and by modeling a suspect based on those footprints, the detective could determine the approximate height, weight, and walking habits of the person who left them.
But footprints were nowhere near as conclusive as fingerprints.
Cheng Xiuming's height was indeed within the range predicted by the model that had been created based on the unidentified footprints.
Fang Yuanhang considered what his next step should be. While he was lost in thought, he suddenly saw Cheng Xiuming spread his hands in what appeared to be defeat.
"It seems my 'willfulness' has gotten me into trouble," Cheng Xiuming said.
Fang Yuanhang perked up. "What 'willfulness'?"
"To be clear, I had nothing to do with Qin Xiong's death, nor did I have any sort of grudge against him," Cheng Xiuming said. "You just called me 'Qin Ying'. Did you think I was that person? Qin Ying. Qin Xiong. Interesting. But I'm not Qin Ying. I'm not the killer you're looking for."
Fang Yuanhang's pulse gradually quickened. He knew that what Cheng Xiuming said next would be extremely important.
At that moment, the field work team in Yancheng had finally stumbled upon a clue that had a lot to do with Qin Xiong—
Earlier that year, Cheng Xiuming and Han Chao had served a customer named 'Qu Yongfei' at their restaurant. And this customer was currently living in Mishui County, located just south of Yancheng.
"Qu Yongfei?" Ming Shu asked as he walked. He was wearing headphones, receiving the report from the field work team through a call. "Isn't that the old owner of Xinyang Kitchen?"
Before Cheng Jianghu opened, the restaurant next to Shrimp Baobao had been Xinyang Kitchen. Earlier in their investigation, the police had already gained a clear understanding of the situation back then. Xinyang Kitchen's business had been much worse than Shrimp Baobao's. The owner's son, Qu Xinyang, had been gravely ill. In order to earn more money to cover his medical expenses, the owner Qu Yongfei had tried to introduce new dishes to his menu. But those dishes had been quickly copied by Shrimp Baobao.
Qu Yongfei had once pleaded with Qin Xiong to give him a chance to win over more customers. It wasn't totally appropriate to ask something a competitor like that, but Qu Yongfei had had no other choice.
However, Qin Xiong didn't help Qu Yongfei. Not only that, he publicly shamed Qu Yongfei as well.
Soon after that, Qin Xinyang passed away.
"We've already tracked down Qu Yongfei, and he's behaving strangely," the field work team member reported. "Not only does he have four memorials shrines to Qu Xinyang in his house, he has curses plastered up on the walls too!"
"So he's engaging in rural superstition," Ming Shu said.
"Qu Xinyang's illness and death had nothing to do with Qin Xiong, and Qin Xiong can't be blamed for not accepting Qu Yongfei's request," Cheng Huiming said to Fang Yuanhang. "After all, we're all businessmen. The strong don't have any obligation to take care of the weak. But Qin Xiong, in his arrogance, ruined a person."
"You mean Qu Yongfei?" Fang Yuanhang confirmed.
Cheng Xiuming got up and looked around his shop. "Many years ago, Qu Yongfei was apprenticed to my master, Cheng Shucai. He studied cooking for a while. Back then, he was brimming over with ambition. The Qu Yongfei from back then was nothing like the Qu Yongfei who moved to Mishui County in Yancheng this year. After his own son passed away due to illness, his wife left him, and now his psychological problems have risen up."
Fang Yuanhang didn't quite understand. "So you wanted to take revenge for Qu Yongfei?"
"It depends on how you define the word 'revenge'," Cheng Xiuming said. "As I said, I didn't kill anyone, and I won't kill anyone in the future. Qin Xiong was very proud of his culinary skills, and he looked down on all those who weren't as good as him. I opened my shop next to his and took away his business. Does that count as 'revenge'?"
"But you didn't have to…" Fang Yuanhang cut himself off before he finished speaking.
Didn't have to.
Didn't have to what?
To any outsider, all of this would have seemed unnecessary.
But to those personally involved, how could any of this seem unnecessary at all?
As expected, Cheng Xiuming shook his head. "You police officers have your sense of justice, your principles. I have my principles as well. I opened my shop here and sought 'revenge' within my means, without breaking any laws. Even if Qiushan Wangmian hadn't come to promote my shop, I would have been able to give Qin Xiong a taste of his own medicine. But…"
Cheng Xiuming paused there and sighed before he continued, "All men are to be revered in death. If I'd known this tragedy would befall the Qin family, I probably wouldn't have come to Dongye City."
Shouquan, Mount Qiyue.
"Mm." Ming Shu hummed as he listened to Fang Yuanhang's report over the phone. He was still leading the search on the mountain.
"Cheng Xiuming gave a very clear explanation of his actions, but I still have some doubts," Fang Yuanhang said. "We currently have no way of verifying what this man did before he was twenty. Chief, do we need to bring him back to the Bureau?"
"No," Ming Shu said. "Keep a close eye on him, though. Don't let him out of our sight."
That night, the Serious Crimes Division discovered an extremely well-hidden cave on Mount Qiyue.
Three decomposed bodies were stored inside.