Jingli City Bureau.
The sound of hurried footsteps occasionally rushed down the hall. Ming Shu tapped his marker against the desk again and again.
Seven years ago. An illegal heart transplant. A prison break. Organ traffickers. Qin Ying. Chu Xin. Foreign countries. One million yuan…
These keywords continued to swirl inside Ming Shu's mind. He tried to come up with some explanation other than organ trafficking, but he couldn't—all the clues pointed to organ trafficking in the end. But why had Qin Ying been targeted without a thorough medical examination? Could it be that people on the outside had been eyeing Qin Ying even before he was imprisoned? But Qin Ying had been in prison for five years by then.
Furthermore, if Qin Ying had already been identified as a 'donor' before his arrest, would the people targeting him—a rich family like the Chu family—have allowed him to be framed by Cao Fenghuai? Impossible. If this family had already set their sights on Qin Ying, they wouldn't have stood by and watched as Qin Ying was thrown into prison and taken out of their control.
A more plausible explanation was that the people who needed Qin Ying for his organs only found out he was a match when he was already in prison.
But why Qin Ying's organs?
If it came back to Chu Xin, then it would mean Chu Xin needed Qin Ying's heart. But why did it have to be Qin Ying? With their power and resources, the Chu family could have easily made an illegal heart transplant happen overseas. What was the reason that the heart had to come from Qin Ying, when Qin Ying hadn't even been examined?
Ming Shu suddenly felt like he had reached a new door.
He hung his head and pinched his temples with his right hand, hard.
It had to be Qin Ying…
Qin Ying hadn't been examined to see if he was a match…
Taking this huge risk to get Qin Ying out of prison…
Qin Ying was the optimal choice…
Like a bolt of lightning, a new thought pierced Ming Shu's mind. His eyes snapped open, and he turned to look at the whiteboard.
The reason Qin Ying was the optimal choice was that he and the person receiving the organ transplant were flesh and blood relatives!
Heart transplant surgery was extremely risky. Even the best surgical teams couldn't guarantee success. After surgery, a patient faced the risk of infection, internal bleeding, other organs failing, rejection of the new heart, and so on and so forth. Some surgeries seemed to be a success on the operating table, and the patient recovered well in the hospital, only to have to quickly return for another surgery when their body began to reject the heart. Instead of prolonging their lives significantly, they only wound up dying in agony.
Many people believed that if the donor of a heart was a healthy blood relative, the chances of rejection were relatively low.
Ming Shu clenched his fists.
Qin Ying's life, from beginning to end, was a mystery.
This poor soul had been taken in by the Qin family at a young age. Qin Anqiang and Bai Hong had treated him like their own beloved son. They'd treated him even better than they treated their own son Qin Xiong. Back in those days, why would the Qin family adopt a child of unknown origins?
Qin Anqiang's colleagues had mentioned that Bai Hong wasn't well and had left the city to receive treatment. But whether or not she actually left the city to receive treatment was something the police were unable to confirm. Bai Hong could very well have gone somewhere else to give birth. Could Qin Ying have been her biological son?
But if this was her biological son, where did the issue of adoption come in?
Could it be that someone else had had no choice but to entrust Qin Ying to the Qin family?
That wasn't right either.
Ming Shu shook his head. If that were true, the Qin family would have had to answer to someone when Qin Xiong 'killed' Qin Ying so many years ago. What could they have said to the person who'd hypothetically left Qin Ying in their care?
What if there was no longer a need for them to answer to that person, at that time?
Could the person who'd entrusted Qin Ying to the Qin family have died a long time ago?
Was that why the Qin family could react so coldly to Qin Ying's supposed disappearance?
Dongye City. Criminal Investigation Bureau.
Xiao Yu'an was holding an identification report.
Previously, he and Ming Shu had suspected that Chu Xin was Chu Linxiong's son, not his nephew. And this identification report confirmed the relationship between the two of them.
But if Chu Xin wasn't Chu Linxiong's nephew, and was his very own son, then who was Chu Xin's mother?
Chu Linxiong was an incorrigible womanizer. Besides Chu Qing and his other four legitimate sons, he had countless illegitimate children outside his marriage. Chu Can, who had entered the sights of the Serious Crimes Division during their last case, was one of these illegitimate sons.
Chu Linxiong had always been fairly indifferent to these illegitimate sons of his. He would give them some money and a bit of status, but he would never allow them to participate in the Chu family's business.
Chu Xin was the only exception.
Being Chu Linxiong's nephew was obviously more respectable than being his illegitimate son. Chu Linxiong bestowed this 'title' upon Chu Xin and taught him about the family business as soon as he became an adult. Before becoming a monk, Chu Xin had worked his way up in the family business and become even more popular than Chu Linxiong's son Chu Qing.
Chu Linxiong favored Chu Xin, and Chu Xin truly did have outstanding qualifications. According to the Chu family's employees, Chu Xin was extremely modest and down-to-earth when he started working for the family business. Among the young employees trained up by the Chu family, Chu Xin was very well-liked.
If things had continued like that, Chu Xin would have easily been Chu Linxiong's most natural successor.
However, this successor had a heart disease.
Chu Xin was extremely cunning, and he could be ruthless. The Chu family only got to where it was thanks to Chu Linxiong's abilities, ambition, and wily tactics.
His most ideal successor, and his favorite son, was gravely ill. Chu Linxiong absolutely wouldn't stand by and do nothing.
Heart transplant surgery wasn't the only way to treat a heart condition. Doctors wouldn't recommend such a serious procedure if it weren't absolutely necessary.
Seven years ago, without a heart transplant, Chu Xin wouldn't have survived even one more year.
With all their wealth and connections, the Chu family could have easily found a suitable heart in the country, and Chu Linxiong could have hired the best surgeons and caretakers to look after Chu Xin. Since that was all true, why did they have to have the surgery abroad?
It couldn't just be that a foreign team of surgeons was more skilled. Because even if they wanted foreign surgeons, Chu Linxiong could have flown them in from abroad.
Flying Chu Xin out of the country wasn't actually a safe move.
Xiao Yu'an placed the identification report down on the table, then went to the water dispenser to pour himself a cup of warm water.
When it came to a 'lord' of business like Chu Linxiong, he had to have a reason for doing everything.
For whatever reason, Chu Xin's operation couldn't be carried out in their country.
In the last decade, the medical field in the country had become more and more well-regulated. The once-rampant black market trade of organs had ceased, making it nearly impossible to buy organs illegally. Even if someone could buy a black market organ, no hospital or surgeon would dare perform an illegal surgery.
The problem, however, was that Chu Linxiong didn't have to get Chu Xin an illegal operation at all. Through his connections and with his money, he should have been able to get Chu Xin a suitable heart through a legal transplant.
Suddenly, Xiao Yu'an's hand spasmed around the cup he held.
Chu Xin ended up having his heart transplant surgery performed abroad, which meant that it was highly likely to have been an illegal operation. In that case, the only possible explanation would be that Chu Linxiong had obtained the heart he wanted the most, but it was a heart that couldn't be used in a transplant in this country, according to the country's regulations.
It was a heart that hadn't been obtained through conventional means!
In Chu Linxiong's eyes, the best heart for Chu Xin may not have been a heart procured from a legal donor, but the heart from someone related to Chu Xin by blood.
So, his other sons?
Judging by the way he treated Chu Can, Chu Linxiong was certainly capable of doing something like exchanging the life of one of his illegitimate sons for the life of Chu Xin.
But if he had a choice that was just as good, he wouldn't sacrifice his own children.
The Serious Crimes Division still hadn't pinned down exactly who Chu Xin's birth mother was. If Chu Xin's birth mother had had another son—that is, if Chu Xin had a half-brother, then that person would be the most suitable heart donor.
Xiao Yu'an narrowed his eyes and picked up his cell phone.
As soon as the call connected, Ming Shu's excited voice came over the line. "Ge, I have an idea to run by you."
Xiao Yu'an smiled warmly. "Perfect timing. I have an idea for you as well."
The autumn night was long, and their phones were faintly warm against the palms of their hands. Ming Shu paced back and forth in the temporary conference room that had been assigned to the special operations team, while Xiao Yu'an stood by a window in the offices of the Serious Crimes Division, occasionally taking a few steps left or right.
One person's mind had limits and blind spots, but when two people snapped their ideas together, it was enough to form a complete puzzle.
"If we confirm this connection between Chu Xin and Qin Ying, then Chu Xin will be the final target of the killer," Xiao Yu'an said. "The killer committed his first crime in Hongcheng, Han Province. Then the second crime was in Jingli City, Zhou Province. The third was in Dongye City. The killer is probably still in Dongye City now, waiting for the chance to move."
"It's the person who sent New Year's presents to Qiao Ying from abroad," Ming Shu said. "But there's one thing I can't figure out. Chu Xin has been at Haijing Temple for so long without any guards. Why didn't the killer make his move sooner?"
"Qin Ying's heart is beating in Chu Xin's chest," Xiao Yu'an said. "The killer may be thinking that they want to save Chu Xin for last."
Ming Shu thought for a while, then said, "Then we have two breakthrough leads now. One is pointing us to the Chu family, and the other still concerns Qin Ying's life in Jingli City—the people he interacted with and befriended. As far as I know, Chu Xin didn't earn a special spot in Chu Linxiong's heart after growing up and proving himself as a competent businessman. Chu Linxiong raised Chu Xin as his nephew this whole time, starting from Chu Xin's youth. So I don't think Chu Xin himself is special to Chu Linxiong. I think Chu Xin's mother holds a special place in Chu Linxiong's heart."
Xiao Yu'an agreed with that notion. "Determining the identity of Chu Xin's birth mother will either confirm that theory or prove it false."
"Things aren't going to be so easy over here in Jingli City," Ming Shu said. "Considering Qin Ying's social status at the time, the people he befriended were mostly from the lower class. And of the ones I've managed to get in touch with so far, none seem to fit the profile of the killer."
"You can also focus on looking into prisoners who left Second Prison between two and seven years ago," Xiao Yu'an said. "The inmate you spoke with at first said that Qin Ying often helped him while serving his sentence, right? Taking Qin Ying's personality into consideration, it's likely he helped more than one person. We can't underestimate a favor one person does for another. To outsiders, a favor may seem insignificant, but to the person who receives it, that same favor could be life-changing."
Ming Shu nodded. "I got it."
After a moment of silence, Xiao Yu'an said, "Is there anything else you want to say?"
Ming Shu froze for a second. His mind was still scrambling to put together the pieces of the puzzle in this case, while also starting to wander. "Is there anything… there is."
"Hm?" Xiao Yu'an hummed, with a hint of warmth slipping into his voice.
"Investigating a case is so exhausting." Ming Shu yawned and wiped at the corners of his eyes. It was already well past midnight. "Ge, my head hurts."
"Rub it yourself," Xiao Yu'an said.
Ming Shu raised his eyebrows. "Why are you like this?"
"I can't reach that far to rub it for you," Xiao Yu'an said warmly. "Go to sleep. I'll get in touch with Shen Xun later."
Ming Shu really did massage his own head.
Trying to win his older lover's affection was an intoxicating thing. Instead of going to sleep, Ming Shu continued to whine, "Ge, my shoulders and back hurt too. My legs are about to snap in half from all the running around I've been doing."
Xiao Yu'an breathed a laugh.
That low, deep laugh rumbled through the line, making Ming Shu tense his abdominal muscles.
There was no one else in the meeting room, so Ming Shu whispered, "I've been working so hard. If you don't feel sorry for me, fine. But you'll even laugh at me?"
"Even if I feel sorry for you now, I would be all talk, no action," Xiao Yu'an said. "I can't see you, I can't hold you. Even if I try to comfort you, I can only use the words from my mouth."
Ming Shu grinned. "Comfort from the mouth is still comfort, what's wrong with that?"
"I'm more practical," Xiao Yu'an said.
"Practical?" Ming Shu echoed meaningfully. "In what way?"
"You'll find out when you get back," Xiao Yu'an said, reassuming a commanding tone. "Hang up and go get some rest. Right now."
Ming Shu instinctively straightened up.
Xiao Yu'an had a special ability. He could be talking about amorous things like a lover one second, then switch straight to giving orders like a commanding officer the next.
Ming Shu actually liked this poised and composed Xiao Yu'an. He had always been racing to catch up to Xiao Yu'an. When Xiao Yu'an became a police officer, Ming Shu naturally had to become a police officer as well. But Ming Shu didn't chase him with the intent of overtaking him. He didn't even need to catch up to Xiao Yu'an.
He wanted Xiao Yu'an to always walk a step ahead of him.
Chu Xin had undergone his operation in Country B. There were many obstacles to investigating in another country. After weighing their options, Xiao Yu'an decided not to send a team out to Country B just yet. Instead, he opted to focus on Bai Hong's family and the Chu family.
Qin Anqiang had been born in the countryside. He eventually left his village and made his way out to Dongye City. He was the only one from back home to 'climb up' in life, getting a respectable job and marrying a woman from the city.
Bai Hong had been born and raised in the city. In that regard, she was unlike Qin Anqiang.
Different upbringings could influence people in different ways. In the case of Qin Anqiang and Bai Hong, their differences were apparent in their social circles. Qin Anqiang essentially only socialized with his colleagues from the factory where he worked, while Bai Hong must have had other friends.
Qin Ying was raised by the Qin family, and the other members of the Qin family knew Qin Ying was adopted. However, Qin Anqiang and Bai Hong had always told outsiders that Qin Ying was their real son, who had simply grown up in the countryside.
Regardless of what the truth was, for Qin Ying's sake, Qin Anqiang and Bai Hong should have at least gotten him on their household register.
There were only two possible explanations for why they allowed him to remain 'undocumented'. Either it was impossible for them to get documents for him, or someone else didn't want Qin Ying to be added to the Qin family's household register.
According to the information provided by the local police from Longcheng Street, the Qin family had never even tried to get Qin Ying registered. Which meant the former explanation could be ruled out.
The Qin family treated Qin Ying well and considered him a part of their family, but they didn't give him a documented identity. Was that because the Qin family knew that Qin Ying would only be with them temporarily? Did they know that, in the future, after some unknown danger had passed, Qin Ying would return to his real parents?
That would explain why Qin Anqiang and Bai Hong took better care of Qin Ying, which was perceived as favoritism by the young Qin Xiong.
Qin Anqiang didn't have many connections in Dongye City. It was likely that Qin Ying's birth mother had had a close relationship with Bai Hong, and had died at least twenty-one years ago.
If Bai Hong was still alive, she would be in her seventies now. Many of her old friends and relatives would most likely have passed away already. It was extremely hard to investigate a past that was buried under several decades of dust, but there was always a way to start.
After searching meticulously, the Serious Crimes Division found a woman with whom Bai Hong had attended a women's vocational school when she was young—Wang Choumin.
Back in their school days, it was still rare for women to attend vocational schools. Out of Bai Hong's classmates, the only one still living that the police could find was Wang Choumin.
The old woman had a head of white hair now, and she wore a shawl over her shoulders. Her face was covered in wrinkles, but there was a distinct sort of bookishness about her that seemed impossible to hide.
Before she retired, she had been a high school teacher.
Xiao Yu'an personally visited her home and asked her about the events from Bai Hong's youth.
"Hong-jie passed away early. I remember I was studying abroad that year. I didn't get a chance to see her one last time." Wang Choumin spoke slowly, and as she spoke, the corners of her heavily hooded eyes gradually curved up. "I still remember us, studying together at school. Hong-jie, ah… she took good care of us younger girls. She was a big sister to us all."
There was a big difference between schools for girls back then and junior high and high schools now. Very few parents sent their daughters to school. When a school was able to scrape together enough students to form a class, there would often be a huge age gap between the students.
According to Wang Choumin, Bai Hong had been one of the oldest girls in their class.
"Do you still have any photos from back then?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
Previously, when the Serious Crimes Division searched the Qin family's home, they found that everything relating to the past had been disposed of a long time ago—most likely to hide any ties they had to Qin Ying. All of Bai Hong's personal belongings had been discarded as well.
"I do." Wang Choumin stood up and moved into the study.
Xiao Yu'an followed her and saw her struggling to reach up to the top shelf of the bookshelf. He immediately moved closer and helped fetch a thick photo album from that shelf.
"Thank you." Wang Choumin turned the pages one at a time. Even if there was no picture of Bai Hong on a certain page, she would linger and gaze at the photos for a while.
Xiao Yu'an didn't rush her. He kept her company as she browsed and reminisced. He found that nearly all the photos in that album were very old, and most were of young girls posing together in very period-typical fashions, each wearing a cheerful smile.
"This is Hong-jie, and this here, and this one here." Wang Choumin's thin, dry finger pointed out each of Bai Hong's photos in the album. "This one is our group photo."
"Let me have a look." Xiao Yu'an took the album and quickly studied the photos of Bai Hong.
Bai Hong's image appeared much more frequently in the second half of the album. This was Wang Choumin's photo album, so naturally the focus of most of the photos was Wang Choumin. She was in nearly all the photos that were taken of Bai Hong.
In addition to Wang Choumin, Xiao Yu'an also noticed a very beautiful, sweet-looking girl. That girl was in most of the photos with Bai Hong as well.
And in the group photo of their class, that girl and Bai Hong stood together. It could be seen that those two had a very good relationship.
Xiao Yu'an asked, "This is…?"
Wang Choumin put on her glasses. "Her name is Lin Xi. The most beautiful girl from our class, the one with the best grades, the one who came from a very good family. Ah, that's right. Hong-jie was the closest to her."
"I can tell," Xiao Yu'an remarked. "You said she came from a good family. What do you mean by 'good'? And do you know where she went after she graduated?"
"Her father was a government official. We used to teasingly call her an 'official little lady'." Wang Choumin paused and thought back for a long while. "After graduation… I don't remember what she went to do, but I do remember one thing. Out of our whole class, she was the one who passed away first. She departed when she was only thirty-something years old."
"Was it an illness?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
Wang Choumin shook her head. "I heard it was suicide."
Fang Yuanhang was fairly miffed about being 'abandoned' in Dongye City by Ming Shu. He insisted on 'harassing' Ming Shu every day, calling to ask what his rookie had done wrong, and to ask why he'd gone to Jingli City without his rookie, taking only his vice captain instead.
Now that Xiao Yu'an was assigning them new tasks, Fang Yuanhang was excited to receive his marching orders. But he was quickly confused.
Why were they looking into Bai Hong's classmate?
This was a classmate who'd committed suicide many years ago. Did this person have anything to do with the complicated cases on their hands now?
But even if he had his own questions, they were just questions. When Fang Yuanhang got serious about work, he was more serious than anyone. Very quickly, with help from the household registration department, he was able to verify Lin Xi's identity.
As Wang Choumin said, Lin Xi's father had indeed been a government official, but only a minor official. In her twenties, Lin Xi married a man named Guo Yong. The two of them had a son, named Guo Ping'an, who was later abducted. Lin Xi called the police, and the police station still had a record of the incident. But the child was never found.
Lin Xi committed suicide in her thirties, leaving no suicide note. Prior to her suicide, she hadn't been diagnosed with any sort of incurable disease.
Her husband, Guo Yong, died in a car accident two years later.
Of the members of their families from their generation, only Guo Yong's younger sister Guo Shanmou was still living.
Guo Shanmou was close to Wang Choumin in age. At this time in one's life, most people attained a sort of enlightenment, or at least a sense of calmness. But when Xiao Yu'an approached her to speak with her, he saw dread, panic, and unease in her eyes.
"How much do you remember about the loss of your brother's son?" Xiao Yu'an asked, carefully studying Guo Shanmou's eyes the whole time. "Guo Ping'an. Your nephew."
Upon hearing that name, Guo Shanmou displayed a reaction that could only be described as exaggerated. All the wrinkles on her face seemed to be pulled taut by someone's hand.
"Not much." Guo Shanmou's voice trembled as she continuously shook her head. "I wasn't very close to their family."
"Is that so?" Xiao Yu'an asked. "Ma'am, do you feel very nervous?"
Guo Shanmou's eyes completely froze.
Xiao Yu'an placed his own ID in front of Guo Shanmou. "I'm a police officer. I have the ability to protect you."
Guo Shanmou's eyes instantly reddened. She lifted a trembling hand to cover her eyes. A moment later, tears started to leak out from between her fingers.
"Ping'an, he… he was hidden away by Lin Xi," Guo Shanmou said. "You shouldn't go looking for him. As long as he isn't found, he can live well."
"But Lin Xi and Guo Yong once reported it to the police," Xiao Yu'an said. "That Guo Ping'an was abducted."
Guo Shanmou vigorously shook her head. "That was done as a pretense, for outsiders. Ping'an wasn't abducted. My brother and sister-in-law gave Ping'an to someone they could trust, so that Ping'an could be protected."
"And who was this trustworthy person?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
"I can't remember the names," Guo Shanmou said. "I only know that it was Lin Xi's classmate, and Lin Xi said they would be able to take care of our Ping'an. When everything was calm and peaceful again, we could go pick Ping'an up."
"What kind of person did Lin Xi provoke, that she had to go so far as to hide her child?" Xiao Yu'an asked. In his heart, he'd already guessed the answer, but he had to ask Guo Shanmou for confirmation.
Guo Shanmou picked up the ID that Xiao Yu'an had laid down in front of her. She whispered, "Can the police really protect us? The common folk?"
"Yes," Xiao Yu'an said.
His gaze was steady, and his voice was firm. With just one word, he charged Guo Shanmou up with courage.
"It was the Chu family. It was Chu Linxiong!" the old woman rasped. "That beastly monster destroyed our family!"