At a burial ground outside Liangxi, there was a double tomb. Compared to the costly plot where Mou Qinzhi and He Yinghua were buried, this aged tomb seemed far better maintained.
The old man stooped down in front of the tomb and offered a few sticks of incense. While he burned some sacrificial paper money, he told Xu Chun, "Haiyuan's biological parents are buried here. He used to visit every year, but he hasn't been back in a long time. When Liu Lan was alive, she often came to help him maintain these graves. Now that Liu Lan has departed, I'm the one who comes."
Criminal Investigation Bureau. Serious Crimes Division.
"One of Mou Haiyuan's biological parents died of starvation while Mou Haiyuan was still a teenager, and the other also passed away before Mou Haiyuan became famous. Neither of them lived to see Mou Haiyuan make a name for himself." Fang Yuanhang sighed after reporting the information that Xu Chun had sent over. "It's no wonder Mou Haiyuan is so obsessed with 'demonstrating filial piety'. He had no biological parents left, so he created a life in which he could be filial to his hired 'parents'."
Ming Shu shook his head. "He isn't obsessed with 'demonstrating filial piety'. He's obsessed with 'being a filial son'."
"Is there a difference?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
"Of course there is," Ming Shu said. "The act of 'demonstrating filial piety' is done for the sake of one's parents, while the act of 'becoming a filial son' is a persona you put on for the sake of outsiders who perceive you.
"Decades ago, when martial arts films were popular, Mou Haiyuan couldn't have been said to be outstanding in terms of looks or skill. And as expected, he wasn't all that popular. He had to create a characteristic for himself which set him aside from everyone else, and he chose 'filial piety' as that characteristic.
"Judging by the way Mou Qinzhi and He Yinghua lived, much of Mou Haiyuan's life was an act."
Fang Yuanhang gave it some thought. "That's true. Mou Haiyuan is the type of person who's trying to use others to atone for his own sins. How could he possess any sense of filial piety? What he fears most is the conditions of his childhood. He pities his past self, and that's why he donated to all those youth charities after striking it rich."
Ming Shu was silent for a long while.
"Little Ming?" Yi Fei called out.
"We now have a clear understanding of Mou Haiyuan's background and motives." Ming Shu drew a deep breath. A solemn look came over his face. "But what about the man himself? Where is he? No matter how close we are to the truth, it's all pointless if we can't find him."
Hearing that, Yi Fei balled his right hand into a fist and pressed it to his lips.
That was indeed the most troublesome problem now. Many cases that were left unsolved for several decades hit this exact snag. All the clues and evidence were present. They knew exactly who their primary suspect was. But no matter how hard they looked, they couldn't find that suspect. In some cases, the suspect would eventually turn up. And in other cases, the suspect would eventually, for whatever reason, turn up dead.
The two major cases being handled by the Serious Crimes Division were both stuck on this same snag.
"Twenty-one years ago, Qin Ying was saved by Kui Chen." Ming Shu leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes as he began to recount what they knew. "Qin Ying felt he had to take revenge on the Qin family. But at the same time, he should have felt he had to repay his debt to Kui Chen as well. People who can't let go of the crimes committed against them typically don't let go of the favors that are done to them either. Qin Ying…"
At that, Ming Shu suddenly opened his eyes. "If Qin Ying was the one who killed the four people in Unit 5-8, then either before or after seeking his revenge, he should have at least gone to Mount Qiyue to visit Kui Chen and the other monks who had once taken care of him."
"But he would likely expose himself, if he did," Yi Fei said.
"Not necessarily." Ming Shu shook his head. "Mount Qiyue and Longcheng Street have absolutely nothing to do with each other, outside these cases. If everything had been calm on Mount Qiyue, we could have thoroughly investigated the 5-8 case without ever connecting it to Mount Qiyue."
"But Qin Ying still wouldn't have had any reason to visit Kui Chen. The Kui Chen who saved him all those years ago has probably already passed away, right?" Fang Yuanhang asked. But as soon as he finished speaking, he suddenly straightened up with shock. "No, wait! The Kui Chen from back then is probably dead, and the current Kui Chen is Mou Haiyuan pretending to be the old Kui Chen. But Qin Ying doesn't necessarily know that, so he might still have visited the mountain!"
Ming Shu crossed his arms and frowned at Fang Yuanhang.
That look was almost enough to make Fang Yuanhang's hair stand up on end. "Chief?"
"Let's say, hypothetically…" Ming Shu flipped open his notebook and started to scribble something down. "Qin Ying returned to Dongye City to take his revenge. His target was Qin Xiong's family, but before taking his revenge, he went to visit the monks who'd saved his life.
"So he goes to Haijing Temple first and learns that Hu Chengyi, one of the monks who'd taken care of him, had already left. And he also discovers that Kui Chen is no longer the kind man from his memories. What would Qin Ying do now?"
"From the perspective of someone hell-bent on vengeance," Yi Fei mused, "Qin Ying would take time to observe Master Kui Chen, analyze his actions, and finally…"
"Finally, he would discover Master Kui Chen had been 'replaced'!" Ming Shu exclaimed.
"Fuck!" Fang Yuanhang exclaimed. "Then wouldn't Qin Ying be furious when he learned the truth? Would he have confronted Mou Haiyuan to get answers on where the real Master Kui Chen had gone?"
"Qin Ying could have killed the fake Kui Chen," Yi Fei said. "According to Mou Haiyuan's logic, he should have killed all the monks on the mountain to carry out his supposed 'atonement'. He would've found some reason to disappear only after that. But he went into isolation in June and hasn't been seen since. He hasn't killed anyone from Haijing Temple since then either, which basically means he 'fled' before he finished atoning for his sins."
"I originally believed Mou Haiyuan may have postponed his 'atonement' because he realized he couldn't kill Yin Xiaofeng and Fang Pingxu the way he killed the other three monks. So he disappeared under the pretext of going into isolation, in order to buy himself time to think of another way of completing his 'atonement'," Ming Shu said. His gaze was fixed on the indecipherable writing on his notebook. "But now there's one more possibility. He could have disappeared after realizing he was being targeted."
Fang Yuanhang's head was starting to ache. "So should I go interrogate the monks at the temple again? Hu Chengyi said Qin Ying never returned to Haijing Temple, but Hu Chengyi only knows about the time before he personally left the temple. He doesn't know anything about the past three years there. What if Qin Ying visited Haijing Temple this year, or last year?"
"Of course we'll have to talk to them again," Ming Shu said. He slapped his pen down onto his notebook. "This time, focus on Chu Xin."
"Chu Xin?" Fang Yuanhang was surprised. "He doesn't have any similarities to Mou Haiyuan. He only became a monk at Haijing Temple by coincidence."
Yi Fei, however, interjected and said, "I agree with Little Ming. While investigating these cases, we all swept Chu Xin aside for various reasons. We all believed it wouldn't matter if we questioned him or not. At first, we set him aside because we looked into his background as a member of the Chu family and found nothing suspicious. Then we neglected him because he didn't have any 'similarities' to Mou Haiyuan.
"But at this point… to be honest, I've already started to feel like we've searched every nook and cranny. At this rate, if we keep going down the same paths, we'll just keep hitting the same dead ends. That means it's absolutely necessary for us to look into Chu Xin and get a good sense of who he is.
"He doesn't seem to have a motive at all, but after we've ruled out all the others, he's all we have left."
"Heart surgery," Ming Shu said. "Chu Xin had heart surgery seven years ago, and it's not like we don't have excellent surgical teams in this country. Why did the Chu family arrange for him to have this surgery abroad? Did something happen before or after the surgery that they feel they have to keep hidden?"
Fang Yuanhang prepared a set of questions and interrogated Liu Sui, Tang Yuan, Yin Xiaofeng, Fang Pingxu, and Chu Xin yet again, one at a time. All five monks said that the number of visitors the temple received had skyrocketed in recent years. The number of tourists had increased, and the number of people coming to offer incense had increased as well. Even those who didn't come to burn incense often excitedly asked if there was someone 'special' at the temple they could meet.
When Fang Yuanhang asked if anyone seemed to take a keen interest in Kui Chen, such as repeatedly asking about him or meeting with him multiple times, all five monks said they couldn't remember anyone.
Tang Yuan and Liu Sui had met Qin Ying twenty-one years ago, but even they had no impression of someone like that visiting the temple recently.
"My little straight friend, you haven't been enchanted by me, have you? Why have you been finding an excuse to talk to me every other day?" Chu Xin asked. Just like before, he still wore a cocky smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes. "If you want to see me, just come see me. I won't be happy if you ask me about other men, you know. By the way, why are you the only one here today? Where's your chief?"
Fang Yuanhang took his teasing words in stride. "Alright, then. I won't ask about anyone else. I'll just ask about you."
Chu Xin raised his eyebrows. A very subtle shift in emotion passed through his eyes.
"Why did you become a monk?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
Chu Xin scoffed. "My little straight friend, how many times have I already answered that question for you? I've already enjoyed all the wealth and glory life had to offer me. I've already slept with all the beautiful women and handsome men I could desire. And so I saw the light and decided to retreat to the mountains, where I could become a monk. Is that very strange?"
Fang Yuanhang laughed. "For someone like me, who hasn't slept with any beautiful women or handsome men, it's very strange indeed."
Chu Xin hadn't expected Fang Yuanhang to give an answer like that. His smile stiffened just a little.
Fang Yuanhang didn't let go of this thread. He persisted, "If you said you became a monk because your heart was in poor health, so you couldn't be bothered to keep fighting with those sons of Chu Linxiong, I might have found it a bit more believable."
After saying that, Fang Yuanhang stopped and gazed into Chu Xin's eyes.
And surprisingly, Chu Xin didn't tease and harass him as he normally would have.
"So why is that?" Fang Yuanhang continued, speaking more slowly now. "You obviously have a more convincing excuse for becoming a monk, and yet you stick to some story about 'seeing the light'. Chu Xin, do you need me to remind you that you've been implicated in a very important case? Your answers to these questions don't just help the police. They help you as well, to clear your name of suspicion. If I were you, I would be very interested in offering a more convincing explanation."
Chu Xin narrowed his eyes. It was hard to say what he was thinking.
Before he could speak again, Fang Yuanhang suddenly added emphatically, "You say you 'saw the light', but you don't talk about your heart condition. Can I assume there's something about your heart surgery, from seven years ago, that you don't dare talk about?"
Chu Xin's eyes widened all of a sudden. The light in his pupils shrank to twin pinpoints.
Fang Yuanhang had already interacted with him many times. He knew that this was exactly what happened when Chu Xin's mood experienced the greatest fluctuations.
Perhaps they'd hit the nail on the head.
But just a few seconds later, Chu Xin adopted his usual carefree demeanor again and laughed. "Your logic is quite forceful."
As he spoke, Chu Xin tapped a finger against his chest, over his own heart. "You've already judged me as a suspect, a suspicious person. You believe I know I'm guilty of some crime, and so I must be doing everything in my power to cover up for myself and get myself off the hook. And so you believe I should tell you about my heart condition, instead of saying I 'saw the light', because that would be more convincing."
Fang Yuanhang furrowed his brow.
"But I know I'm not guilty of anything," Chu Xin continued, lifting his head high. "I don't care whether you think my words are 'convincing' or 'believable'. I can say whatever I want. I'm not afraid of being investigated by you, because the more you investigate, the more you'll find that I, Chu Xin, am innocent."
Fang Yuanhang wasn't sure how to feel after hearing Chu Xin's fierce retort. He couldn't help but wonder what Ming Shu would do if he were in Fang Yuanhang's shoes. Would he also be speechless? Or would he argue right back? Or…
Maybe Ming Shu wouldn't do any of that.
Fang Yuanhang suddenly felt a new wave of resolve in his heart.
Ming Shu wouldn't try to bicker with a suspect, and he wouldn't retort just for the sake of retorting or having the last word. Because this wasn't some sort of debate that tested their argumentative powers. As detectives, it was their responsibility to dig into the words spoken during an interrogation, to find the tiny cracks and clues in those words!
Chu Xin smiled. "What is it, my little straight friend? Don't know what to say?"
"I'm still interested in your heart surgery," Fang Yuanhang stated evenly. As his heart became steadier, his mind calmed down as well. "Can you tell me why you went abroad for your surgery?"
Chu Xin's smile seemed to freeze on his face, making his whole expression look like a plastic mask.
After a few seconds, Chu Xin said, "That's my private business. You have no right to pry into it."
Fang Yuanhang didn't repeat his original question, but he did slowly echo, "Private?"
That only seemed to make Chu Xin feel even more uneasy. After a moment, he said, "How many years has it been since my surgery? Do you think my heart surgery has something to do with the case you're currently investigating?"
"Whether it has something to do with this case or not, I can't say right now," Fang Yuanhang answered sincerely. "Because you haven't told me anything yet."
Chu Xin ran his right hand up his left arm. The veins in the back of his hand were faintly visible.
Fang Yuanhang heaved a sigh. "If you really don't want to tell me, that's fine. What sets our Serious Crimes Division apart is that if there's something we really want to know, we'll find out in the end. No matter what."
As he left the interrogation room, Fang Yuanhang saw the heavy shades of darkness in Chu Xin's eyes.
That made him feel Chu Xin's carefree, frivolous attitude had all been an act.
With Chu Xin becoming a person of interest in the eyes of the police, the Chu family naturally started to pay attention. Whether or not that attention was born of sincere concern was something that had yet to be determined.
Recently, various members of the Chu family had paid visits to the Criminal Investigation Bureau. Ming Shu usually didn't handle them personally, but this time it was Chu Qing's secretary Shui Xun who came to visit.
When Chu Can was suspected of murder, he'd accused Shui Xun of helping him dispose of the body. However, since there was no evidence of this, the police hadn't been able to arrest Shui Xun.
Ming Shu was quite interested in this secretary, who seemed to perfectly fit the mold of the 'sophisticated yet suspicious' sort of character.
"I know it isn't very appropriate for me to disturb your work now, but when Chu-xiansheng gives me an order, I have no choice but to comply," Shui Xun said, with a dignified yet not overexaggerated demeanor. "Chu Xin became a monk many years ago, and now he's suddenly become involved in a criminal case. It's really quite troublesome for Chu-xiansheng."
Ming Shu sized Shui Xun up and pretended not to understand. "Are you asking me if Chu Xin has been cleared of suspicion in this case?"
"Of course I know I shouldn't ask about the details of the case…"
"It's good you know you shouldn't ask," Ming Shu interrupted. "Chu Xin is Chu Xin, and the Chu family is the Chu family. Chu Xin hasn't only entered a temple. He told me he's a devout Buddhist now, who has nothing to do with your Chu family."
Shui Xun's eyebrows shot up.
"Don't try to play games with me," Ming Shu said. "As long as this case remains open, Chu Xin will remain under our surveillance."
A cold smile, without any traces of warmth, tugged at the corners of Shui Xun's lips.
Ming Shu suddenly had a thought.
He couldn't think of this rich and powerful family the way he thought of an ordinary family.
When a person was suspected by the police, their family members would often visit the Bureau and ask about them out of concern.
But when a suspect came from a wealthy and prestigious family, their family could very well have ulterior motives for poking around and asking for information. They could be afraid that the suspect would spill some important family secrets. They could be afraid of being implicated in a crime.
There was also another possibility. Someone could have been planning to do something to this suspect, who was now protected by virtue of being under police surveillance.
If someone had planned on harming Chu Xin, they wouldn't be able to act now.
Chu Xin had abandoned his old life. Could he have been running from some danger as well?
Ming Shu studied Shui Xun for a while longer. This was undoubtedly a person who was worthy of being the secretary of the president of an important business empire. Shui Xun showed almost no cracks or weaknesses, remaining poised and composed even now.
Ming Shu suddenly asked, "If Chu Xin were no longer under police surveillance, what would you do to him?"
Shui Xun pushed up the bridge of his glasses and breathed a laugh. "I'm afraid I don't understand that question. Chu-xiansheng and Chu Xin are family, and they grew up as cousins. How could we be planning to 'do' anything to him?"
At that moment, someone from the team called out for 'Captain Ming'.
Ming Shu got up and smiled at Shui Xun. "You can leave. There's no information for you here."
The person who had called for Ming Shu was someone from the Serious Crimes Division, but the one who was really summoning Ming Shu was Xiao Yu'an.
It was already late enough in the year for the heating to be turned on, but Ming Shu still always felt Xiao Yu'an's office was colder than the offices of the Serious Crimes Division.
"The neighboring provinces have two cases," Xiao Yu'an said, laying out a stack of documents in front of Ming Shu. "Take a look."
Ming Shu took the files and spent a few minutes flipping through. He looked up, puzzled. "Cases from Han Province and Zhou Province?"
These cases from neighboring provinces didn't fall under the jurisdiction of Dongye City. Even if they may sometimes need cooperation from Dongye City, now wasn't the time.
The Serious Crimes Division had two complicated cases on their hands, after all. In Fang Yuanhang's words, it was like their heads were about to explode. They simply couldn't afford to help a neighboring province with another case.
Xiao Yu'an didn't rush to explain. "Keep reading. Tell me your thoughts once you finish."
If anyone else had said such a thing to Ming Shu, he would have slapped the documents back down and left the room. But this was Xiao Yu'an.
Although Xiao Yu'an teased Ming Shu once in a while, when the mood struck him, he never joked about work. If he was telling Ming Shu to look into a set of unrelated cases now, there must have been something important in those files.
Ming Shu nodded and focused on the files again.
The first case—
Two years ago, a horrific case had taken place in Hongcheng—the second largest city in Han Province, after Luocheng. The perpetrator was still at large; the Hongcheng police had never managed to find a promising lead.
The victims were a family of four. The head of the household was a man named Cao Fenghuai, thirty-seven years old. His wife at the time, Qiu Lin, was twenty-one. The two children were six and four years old, and both had been born to Cao Fenghuai and his ex-wife.
Cao Fenghuai's father, Cao Xuan, was an entrepreneur. He'd built himself up from nothing in his youth, working hard to find his success. After riding a wave of government projects, Cao Xuan was able to bring great fortune to his family name. He turned his family into a relatively prominent leader in Hongcheng.
Ever since he was little, Cao Fenghuai had never experienced a day of hardship. Many people saw him as the 'young lord' of his family. He never worked and only showed a passionate interest in pursuing all sorts of women. When he was thirty, he married a woman he'd knocked up, but he continued to frequent night clubs even after getting married.
His first wife gave birth to a daughter, then a son. Then, when they divorced, she received a large sum as compensation from the Cao family.
Cao Fenghuai's second wife, Qiu Lin, was a cosmetics saleswoman. She was young and beautiful, but unfortunately—she met a tragic end less than a year after marrying into the Cao family.
Judging by the records of the crime scene and the autopsy reports, the four members of the Cao family had died horrifically. Qiu Lin's breasts had been cut off, and her body and pretty face had been sliced all over with a sharp implement. Cao Fenghuai had suffered an even worse fate. He had practically been skinned by a steel brush. When he was found, his skin had been hanging off his body in strips.
"This…" The more Ming Shu read, the deeper the furrow between his brows became.
There were similarities between the deaths of the two couples—Cao Fenghuai and Qiu Lin, and Qin Xiong and Huang Hui. The most obvious relation was that Huang Hui's breasts had also been cut off.
The killer left no traces at the scene of the crime, and the surveillance cameras near the Cao family's home didn't capture anyone suspicious. The perpetrator came and left like a ghost, drifting in and out of the Cao family's home almost like a non-corporeal form.
Cao Fenghuai had been Cao Xuan's favorite son. Upon learning of Cao Fenghuai's death, Cao Xuan had immediately pressured the police to find the killer as soon as possible. The Hongcheng police set up a task force to thoroughly investigate Cao Fenghuai's network of connections.
The killer had been so brutal that a revenge killing was the most likely explanation, but the police looked into every single person who could have had a motive for killing Cao Fenghuai, yet found no evidence against any of them.
The most prominent suspect was undoubtedly Cao Fenghuai's ex-wife, Xi Xiaotian.
Before the four members of the Cao family were killed, Xi Xiaotian had repeatedly harassed Qiu Lin, threatening to kill 'that slut' one day and hang her breasts from the balcony for all to 'admire'.
However, Xi Xiaotian had a solid alibi for the time of death that the forensics team determined for the Cao family. And in the follow-up investigation, the detectives couldn't find any evidence of her having hired a killer.
Last year, Cao Xuan suffered a stroke and fell into a coma. His eldest daughter and second son were struggling for control of the family, while Cao Fenghuai's case gradually became a cold case due to a lack of leads. Although the Hongcheng police still seemed to be investigating the case, they had actually already started to give up.
The second case—
One year ago, in Jingli City of Zhou Province, a retired prison guard named Gong Guozhen died tragically in his own home, along with his wife Kong Yue, and his grandson who had been living with them at the time.
This case bore similarities to the previous one. One of Kong Yue's breasts had been cut off, but Gong Guozhen's skin hadn't been flayed by an iron brush. Instead, the killer had used a blunt object to break all the bones in his body.
Jingli City was a small city, and their public surveillance system wasn't perfect. Gong Guozhen's home was located in an old residential neighborhood. There had been no surveillance cameras to check.
Later, when the police looked into Gong Guozhen's background, they learned he'd been a prison guard his whole life. He'd wronged countless prisoners, and each and every one of those prisoners could have had a motive for committing this crime.
After Gong Guozhen was killed, another guard from the same prison, Qian Xi, was also murdered in his own home. The killer, Liu Cheng, was caught before long. He admitted to killing Qian Xi because Qian Xi had used his power and authority to abuse him while he was in prison. Liu Cheng claimed he wanted to kill all those guards one by one, and he insisted he'd killed Gong Guozhen as well.
However, the police didn't accept this explanation as fact. The Jingli City police still believed someone else had killed Gong Guozhen's family.
Ming Shu set down the case files and got up to pace around.
Geographically speaking, Zhou Province was north of Dongye City and Han Province, but they could all be considered neighboring regions. And judging by the fact that all three of these cases involved instances of a female victim's breast being cut off, it seemed the killer of Cao Fenghuai's family, Gong Guozhen's family, and Qin Xiong's family was one and the same.
But, at present, there was no obvious relationship between these three families.
"Based on the clues we have on hand, Qin Xiong's family died at the hands of a vengeful Qin Ying," Ming Shu said, after mulling things over for a long time. "Then if these three cases are linked, it means Cao Fenghuai's family and Gong Guozhen's family also died at Qin Ying's hands? Qin Ying also took revenge on them? Last year, and the year before last… Qin Ying killed one family per year. Is the Qin family the end or not?"
"I received a lead from the prison where Gong Guozhen once worked," Xiao Yu'an said. "Seven years ago, a prisoner named 'Bai Ying' successfully escaped from that prison. His whereabouts are still unknown."