Ming Shu clutched his cell phone tightly. His eyes were fixed on the words 'Bai Ying', on the whiteboard. Many days of fatigue had built up, resulting in fine red veins appearing in his bloodshot eyes.
His furrowed brows and reddened eyes made him look much more fierce and hostile than usual.
After receiving no answer except the sound of Ming Shu's breathing for a while, Xiao Yu'an prompted, "Captain Ming?"
"I'm here." Ming Shu jerked his gaze away from the whiteboard and pinched his brows with his right hand. "I'm here."
With that, he spun to the conference table and grabbed a chair from not too far away. He sat down, choking back a wave of hard-to-describe anger, and calmly said, "I've been thinking all this time. Someone went to a lot of trouble to work with Gong Guozhen to get Qin Ying out of prison. Director Xiao, you've given me an idea."
"Someone had their eye on a certain organ in Qin Ying's body," Xiao Yu'an said. "And if it's connected to the Chu family, it was the heart."
"Wait!" Ming Shu lifted a hand, although this motion wouldn't be seen by Xiao Yu'an at all. "Chu Xin is Chu Linxiong's nephew in name only. Rumor has it he's actually Chu Linxiong's illegitimate son. He was a big name in the Chu family until he suddenly became a monk. It was only after Chu Xin became a monk that Chu Qing gradually rose in their ranks. Heart surgery, becoming a monk, Haijing Temple…
"But, ge, besides the fact that Chu Xin is involved in a case we're investigating, there are no other clues that connect him to Qin Ying."
"It's true that there's no evidence," Xiao Yu'an said. "But if we confirm that Chu Xin did in fact have an illegal heart transplant, and if the heart came from a living person, it would explain why Chu Xin gave up his career and chose to become a monk."
"He wanted to repent," Ming Shu said. "The Chu family is mired in deep, treacherous waters. Many people who receive heart transplants don't live past ten years. Chu Xin is practically an invalid now. The others from the Chu family are all keeping their eyes on him."
Xiao Yu'an was silent for a moment. "Officially, Chu Xin is being monitored by the police. But in truth, we have him under our protection. If someone wanted to make a move against him, they wouldn't be able to do it now."
"Ge," Ming Shu said. "Are you working under the assumption that Chu Xin's surgery is related to Qin Ying?"
"We don't have any evidence right now, but don't forget that there's a key piece of information here—timing," Xiao Yu'an said. "Qin Ying was taken out of prison by Gong Guozhen seven years ago in June. Chu Xin's heart surgery also took place seven years ago, although we're currently unable to determine the exact date. But based on what we do currently know, Chu Xin disappeared from the public eye in the first half of that year, by May 9th at the latest. Then he wasn't seen again until March of the following year."
Ming Shu's pulse gradually quickened. "The dates match up. Then, if Qin Ying and Chu Xin really are linked by this heart transplant, wouldn't Chu Xin be the avenger's biggest target? This killer is seeking vengeance for Qin Ying, killing off those who'd hurt Qin Ying, one by one. Is their last step reclaiming Qin Ying's heart? Ge, right now, Chu Xin…"
"Don't worry," Xiao Yu'an said. "The special police force has men there, protecting him."
"No, wait, let me think about this some more." Ming Shu propped his forehead up on one hand. "Whether or not Chu Xin's surgery has something to do with Qin Ying is something we can investigate later. If we tell Chu Xin he may be in danger, his attitude is sure to change."
"Mm," Xiao Yu'an hummed softly.
"Then… based on our current thinking, Gong Guozhen took Qin Ying out of prison for his heart. Doesn't that mean Gong Guozhen could have done something similar in the past?" Ming Shu asked. "Stealing organs from prisoners… this sort of thing usually isn't an isolated incident."
Cases of organ theft from prisoners had occurred both domestically and abroad in the past. There was a whole network of influential people, prison guards, and doctors involved in this black market trade.
One characteristic shared by all these cases was that there was never just one victim. After the people involved got a taste of the huge gains to be had, they repeatedly took the same risk again and again to reap more rewards.
"But Second Prison is in the spotlight now. The police from Jingli City, and the special operations team are both digging around. No one has found anything else that seems fishy," Ming Shu said. "Assuming Qin Ying was taken away by black market organ traffickers, how could Gong Guozhen have done it only once? And how did he get away with it so cleanly, skillfully?"
"Organ transplants are extremely risky, and heart transplants are even riskier," Xiao Yu'an said. "You definitely can't find just anyone to use. A lot of investigative work would have to be done in advance. There were so many prisoners in that prison. Why was it Qin Ying who was chosen?"
Ming Shu thought for a while longer, then sighed. "I don't have any clue yet."
"Continue to investigate your own way," Xiao Yu'an said. "First, if this is an organ trafficking case, Qin Ying definitely wasn't selected randomly, by pure chance. There has to be information at Second Prison that we've yet to uncover.
"Second, Gong Guozhen was killed along with his wife and grandson. He still has living relatives. You can continue to dig there as well. And third, I'll talk to Chu Xin again."
Gong Guozhen's son, Gong Fu, used to be an English teacher at Fourth High in Jingli City. The child who had been killed was Gong Fu's three-year-old son.
Those tragic murders caused Gong Fu to lose three family members in one night. Later, his wife divorced him because she couldn't bear the pain of the loss.
Since then, Gong Fu had quit his job as a teacher. He was still unemployed, and he spent his days either sitting around at home or wandering the streets, living off his savings.
Last year, at the time of the crime against the Gong family, the police had recognized that Gong Fu was a close relative of the victims, and they had taken care not to exacerbate his fragile emotional state. Now, Gong Guozhen was no longer a simple victim. He was tied to the case of a missing inmate from Second Prison, who had been taken away seven years ago.
The police had to investigate Gong Guozhen's family more deeply now.
"My father, my mother, and my three-year-old child were murdered!" Gong Fu roared. He became extremely worked up when he was questioned again. His eyes were full of anger and grief. "Now you're telling me there was some problem with my father, and that he was some sort of criminal? How dare you! How can you even say that?! My father worked diligently his whole life. After retiring, he was murdered. Instead of arresting the person who brutally slaughtered my family, you're throwing mud on my father's name and asking me to cooperate in some investigation against him? You want me to cooperate with you in falsely accusing my father?"
"It's a false accusation if a person is accused of something they didn't do," Ming Shu said. "If a person did something wrong and is caught later, that isn't a false accusation."
Gong Fu was in his thirties. All the teachers and students at Fourth High said he was a very well-educated and dignified teacher who was great at his job. But, sadly, he completely changed after what happened to his family.
"Bullshit!" Gong Fu was no longer as dignified as he had been described. He glared fiercely at the investigators facing them, as if these were the people who had personally killed his family.
"You married six years ago, and half a year before you got married, you bought this home." Ming Shu swept his gaze around the apartment which hadn't been cleaned in a very long time. Finally, he returned his attention to Gong Fu. "One hundred and twenty square meters, three bedrooms and two living rooms. Located in a mid-grade building in the center of the city, close to the best elementary school in all of Jingli City. According to the housing costs six or seven years ago, this residence would have been at least one million yuan."
Gong Fu raged like he had lost his mind. He bellowed, "You people don't deserve to call yourself police! Instead of catching the ones who killed my family, you come to investigate my house?! What does it matter how much my house cost?"
"Of course it matters." Ming Shu glanced at the message on his phone, which contained information from the special operations team, confirming Gong Fu had paid for this house in full six and a half years ago.
Nowadays, the vast majority of people took out a loan to buy a house. Jingli City was a small city, less economically advanced than Dongye City and Luocheng. Six years ago, Gong Fu was a high school teacher who wasn't even thirty years old yet. Where would he have gotten one million yuan to buy a house?
"When you bought this house, you weren't married yet. You were earning less than six thousand yuan a month, and you paid off a million-yuan house in full. Who gave you the money?" Ming Shu asked.
"None of your business!" Gong Fu snarled. "Why are you people so fixated on my house?!"
"If you can't clearly tell us where this million came from, I can't let go of this line of questioning," Ming Shu said. "Did Gong Guozhen give you the money?"
Gong Fu's pupils shrank in an instant. "So what if he did! My father was frugal, and he worked hard. He and my mother worked tirelessly to save up that money! What, you suspect he stole the money he gave me to buy this house? You… you people are too good at trampling over a good man's name!"
"Frugal is correct," Ming Shu said. "After all, they've been living in an old apartment. But is it possible to save up a million yuan just by being frugal?"
In Jingli City, a prison guard, no matter how frugal, couldn't possibly save up a million yuan.
Gong Fu locked eyes with Ming Shu for a moment, but averted his gaze before long. "The million didn't all come from my father. My wife and I had savings as well, and my sister also supported me with five hundred grand!"
"Your sister?" Ming Shu asked quietly. "Gong Xin."
"Yes. If you don't believe me, go ask her!" Gong Fu said. "And my ex-wife. If you have to ask her, then go ask. But don't you dare slander my father!"
Ming Shu had already wanted to contact Gong Xin, but Gong Xin had left the country more than ten years ago. Last year, when three members of the Gong family were killed, the police had tried and failed to find her.
"Your sister gave you support in the form of five hundred thousand yuan," Ming Shu said. "How did she give you this support? Have you been in contact with Gong Xin in the past year?"
Gong Fu's expression became a little unnatural. "She cut off contact with us a long time ago."
"Oh?" Ming Shu raised his eyebrows. "How long ago was 'a long time' ago?"
Gong Fu pursed his lips, refusing to answer.
"She cut ties with you, but she was still willing to support you and help you buy a home?" Ming Shu asked. "This isn't very logical."
The police looked into the Gong family's bank records. None of them—not Gong Guozhen, not his wife, and not Gong Fu—had any records of large transactions under their names. However, Gong Fu did make a huge deposit into his savings account shortly before buying his house.
"You guys think I can't afford this place, so no matter what I say, you'll say it isn't logical!" Gong Fu argued. He already had tears in his eyes, and he was gnashing his teeth. "The money I used to buy this house was totally clean!"
"Then can I confirm that, before you bought this home, Gong Guozhen gave you some money. Your sister gave you some money. And the rest was put together by you and your ex-wife?" Ming Shu asked.
Gong Fu was still gritting his teeth.
"How much did Gong Guozhen give you?" Ming Shu asked.
"From him and my sister… a total of nine hundred thousand."
"You paid a million for this place, and you and your ex-wife only contributed a hundred thousand yuan or so," Ming Shu said. "Is that what you're saying?"
"We also had to pay for renovations!" Gong Fu exclaimed. He had unknowingly been influenced by Ming Shu, and his attention shifted fully onto defending his purchase of his home. "The renovations put us down another three hundred thousand yuan!"
Ming Shu nodded. "Did Gong Guozhen hand you nine hundred thousand yuan in cash? He told you to go to the bank and deposit it to pay for your house?"
Gong Fu opened his mouth and was silent for a moment before he answered, "Yes. They didn't know how to transfer funds."
Ming Shu laughed. "They didn't know how to transfer funds, so they took their money and their daughter's money out of the bank and handed it to you, for you to deposit into your own account. But that's the problem. I haven't found any records of Gong Xin transferring money to Gong Guozhen, and I haven't found any records of Gong Guozhen withdrawing that sum from the bank."
Gong Fu's face instantly turned a ghastly white.
"Gong Guozhen may not have known how to transfer money, but did he not usually keep his money in the bank?" Ming Shu asked. "And could it be that your sister, who lives so far away, didn't transfer money to Gong Guozhen through the bank? You're claiming she sent him the bills in cash?"
"I…" Gong Fu was finally speechless.
"This nine hundred thousand yuan," Ming Shu stated firmly. "Where exactly did it come from?"
Tears finally started to fall from Gong Fu's eyes. He dropped his head into his hands, then kept shaking his head as he panickedly said, "You're the police, aren't you! You go and investigate! Okay, fine, maybe my father took dirty money. Does that mean he deserved to be killed? Aren't you police supposed to find who killed him?"
Ming Shu stared at Gong Fu. His expression became more and more severe, and his tone became cold as well. "I'm asking you about what happened back then precisely for the sake of finding Gong Guozhen's killer!"
Gong Fu wiped at his face, streaked with tears. "But I really don't know. I was just a teacher, I couldn't save up much money. Shanshan and I loved each other very much, but her family said they wouldn't let her marry me if I couldn't buy a big house. Shanshan and I tried to save up, but we couldn't get enough…"
"So you asked your parents for help?" Ming Shu asked.
Gong Fu froze up and remained silent for a long time before he ultimately said, "I also wondered how my father came up with that much money. I asked him once, and he said he had help from my sister. My sister and I have always been on bad terms, ever since we were kids. My sister left the country because she said our parents played favorites, and she swore she would never come back once she left. She… she couldn't possibly support me in buying a house…
"But I didn't dare ask any questions." Gong Fu was starting to tremble. "If I didn't have enough money, I couldn't buy a house and marry Shanshan. I… was it because of me? Was my father killed because of me?"
After a great deal of work, the special operations team was finally able to get in touch with Gong Xin, who was now settled down in the southern hemisphere.
Upon learning her parents had died a year ago, Gong Xin was silent for a moment. After that short pause, Ming Shu heard her sigh.
"I didn't think I would be saying goodbye forever when I left back then," Gong Xin said. "I just hated them and Gong Fu, but not so much that I wanted them to die."
Ming Shu had heard about Gong Xin's current circumstances. She worked in the energy conservation industry, and she was already married. She was living a very happy life.
"My condolences," Ming Shu said. "I just have a few questions I need you to answer."
Gong Xin restrained her emotions as much as possible. "Okay, go ahead and ask."
"Seven years ago, did Gong Guozhen contact you and ask for a sum of money to help Gong Fu buy a house?" Ming Shu asked.
Gong Xin was silent for a while, most likely thinking back. After ten seconds or so, she said, "They did ask, but I didn't give them anything. They scolded me for being cold-blooded and unwilling to help my own little brother."
"When was the last time you had any contact with your family?" Ming Shu asked.
"More than four years ago, I think. I can't remember too clearly," Gong Xin said with a bitter laugh. "In fact, ever since leaving the country, I haven't had much contact with them at all. I don't feel much of a kinship with my family. If they needed me to support them in their old age, fine. But if they wanted any more money than that from me, I would refuse."
It was late autumn, and everyone was walking around in a rush. Le Ran was still wearing his bright yellow jacket, and he'd put on a baseball cap. At a glance, he would have looked like any ordinary takeout driver.
Ming Shu had sent him out to pick up an order at the curb precisely because he was wearing that outfit.
When the takeout driver appeared on his moped and saw Le Ran reaching out to take the order, he did a double take.
Le Ran was speechless. He hurried back into the building with the delivered food. While splitting his disposable chopsticks, he asked, "Ming Shu-ge, do I really look a lot like a takeout guy in this outfit?"
Ming Shu grabbed a honey barbecue set meal and leaned against the table to start eating. "No one told you?"
"They all say it's a nice and sunny look on me," Le Ran said. He wasn't in a rush to start eating, instead taking out his phone and taking pictures of everything first. "Zhao Fan-ge said everyone wears dreary colors in the winter and looks so morose. The more people dress like that, the more important it is for someone to dress brightly. Like in festive reds or yellows…"
Ming Shu thought back to the bright red colors Zhao Fan had been wearing when they last met. The corners of his lips twitched with a smile. "Don't tell me Zhao Fan sent you this jacket."
"Well, no." Le Ran shook his head and looked around the room, checking the door. After making sure Shen Xun wasn't there, he said, "Xun-ge's birthday was coming up, and I wanted to give him a piece of clothing as a gift. But my tastes, you know, they're garbage."
Ming Shu put down his chopsticks. "…Lele, we can't talk about ourselves like that."
"Oh, that's nothing. I am tasteless, and I don't know anything about aesthetics." Le Ran wasn't bothered by that. "I can't tell which clothes are super nice and which clothes aren't. If I had to pick, I would probably pick out a track jacket for Xun-ge."
Ming Shu laughed. "A track jacket would be fine."
"I actually wanted to ask you to go shopping with me back when you were training with us, because you're good at picking out clothes. But then you went back to Dongye City, and Captain Hua and Little Liu-ge are both in Luocheng. The only one I had around was Zhao Fan-ge, so I could only go to the mall with him."
"Mm," Ming Shu hummed. "Zhao Fan is alright."
Zhao Fan, out on a mission somewhere in the world, suddenly sneezed.
Le Ran continued, "Zhao Fan-ge and Xun-ge are classmates, at least. The same age. Their tastes are pretty similar too."
Ming Shu silently retorted, Your Xun-ge and Zhao Fan couldn't have more different tastes if they tried.
"But I still picked something out for Xun-ge myself in the end," Le Ran said with a smile. "Xun-ge liked it a lot."
Ming Shu helplessly asked, "So you dragged Zhao Fan out shopping with you, and he didn't end up helping you pick something for Captain Shen, but he picked something for you?"
"Yeah, this one." Le Ran scratched his head. "I didn't feel like it made me look like a takeout guy at the time…"
Ming Shu patted Le Ran on the shoulder. "Lele, next time, don't go shopping with Zhao Fan. He screwed you."
Le Ran took a few selfies. The more he looked at them, the more he thought he looked like a takeout delivery driver.
"Damn it!" the golden boy of the special operations team exclaimed.
Ming Shu laughed. "Once this case is solved, you won't be in any rush to return to the capital, right?"
"Can't be sure," Le Ran said. "Depends on whether or not there's a new mission."
"Come by my place for a few days," Ming Shu said, taking on the position of a reliable big brother. "I'll help you pick out some clothes."
They only had a short break to eat. In just a few minutes, everyone gathered around at the conference table and devoured everything.
Ming Shu had initially believed he would be able to unearth some more information at Second Prison, but he'd already thoroughly checked the circumstances of everyone who'd served time there in the past ten years. None of them suffered a similar fate to Qin Ying, which meant Qin Ying had been the only victim. If Qin Ying had become a victim of organ traffickers, then it would be unprecedented for him to be the only victim in the whole prison. The possibility of that was slim to none.
Furthermore, there were no records showing Qin Ying had undergone a medical examination which could have confirmed him as a viable candidate for a transplant. Although the prison did conduct regular medical examinations, those were nowhere near thorough enough to confirm a transplant match.
Considering those two pieces of information, it seemed likely that Qin Ying hadn't been taken away by Gong Guozhen because someone wanted to harvest his organs.
But if they ruled out that possibility, then it was back to square one.
Ming Shu pushed open a window. The cold late-autumn wind instantly flooded into the room.
Shen Xun came over to him. "Qin Ying being taken away is the biggest mystery right now. In the seven years after he came to Jingli City, he led an extremely peaceful and quiet life. He became an extremely ordinary member of society. If we had to guess at who could have wanted him dead, I could only think of Cao Fenghuai—even with Qin Ying in prison, Cao Fenghuai could have been afraid that Qin Ying would tell the truth one day, so he could have been determined to kill him.
"But we've already investigated the Cao family. Cao Fenghuai used to get his close confidants to do everything for him, all his dirty work. And even now, those confidants refuse to admit to having any involvement in Qin Ying's 'escape' from prison. We have no reason to suspect they were involved."
Ming Shu crossed his arms and shook his head. "If Cao Fenghuai wanted to silence Qin Ying, there would have been easier and safer ways for him to do it. Getting Qin Ying out of prison wouldn't have been his first choice. If Cao Fenghuai had already bought off the guards anyway, why not have the guards do their dirty work in the prison? Qin Ying couldn't have been silenced by Cao Fenghuai."
"Then it has to be that someone on the outside needed him," Shen Xun said. "Captain Ming, besides organ trafficking, can you think of any other possible explanations?"
Ming Shu furrowed his brow. The clues were gradually starting to come together now. Seven years ago, Gong Guozhen's son needed a large sum of money to buy a house. Gong Guozhen couldn't get that much money on his own, and his daughter, who was living abroad, was unwilling to help. At that time, someone presented Gong Guozhen with a way to get 'rich'. And Gong Guozhen took that opportunity, forcing another prison guard to cooperate with him.
Whoever offered that 'opportunity' had to have been very rich.
The Chu family satisfied that condition, and Chu Xin had indeed undergone a heart transplant surgery seven years ago.
But the Chu family could have easily found a donor. Why did it have to be Qin Ying?
What hadn't the police thought of yet?
What were they still missing?
Which corner was still laden with dust?
Ming Shu took a deep breath of cold air and marched back to the whiteboard.
Dongye City. Hanshan Book Cafe.
It was already late at night. Most cafes were already closed. Only this book cafe, boasting a reputation of being a 'late-night city cafe', was still open. But there were very few customers, next to none.
In one corner, two men in suits were seated.
"Chu Xin is now in the hands of the police," Shui Xun said. "The case on Mount Qiyue has blown up. The police are watching him day and night. There's nothing Chu-xiansheng can do."
Luo Yi coldly stated, "Chu Qing has plenty of means to fish Chu Xin out."
Shui Xun laughed. "It all depends on timing. It's far too risky to go against the police right now."
Luo Yi was silent. His eyes, which were usually filled with kindness and tolerance, gradually darkened.
Shui Xun stood and flashed a feigned smile. "Don't worry. You're not the only one who wants to get rid of Chu Xin. After all the trouble Chu Xin caused, do you really think Chu-xiansheng wants to see him living freely at Haijing Temple?"