With a paper bag in hand, Jiang Lian entered the office, where Yan Junxun and Shi Shanyan were. He greeted Yan Junxun and saw Shi Shanyan admiring the virtual rose he was growing in the glass wall.
“It’s said to be a new variety from Guangtong District.” Jiang Lian turned the chair over and sat down. “If you like it too, I can help you ask them for another pot.”
Shi Shanyan tapped on the glass wall in boredom and said, “And where am I supposed to grow it? The toilet bowl?”
“That… works too.” Jiang Lian coughed twice and skipped over the topic on his own accord. “I have good and bad news.”
Biting down on the thin lollipop stick, Yan Junxun said, “You didn’t find her.”
“That’s right.” Jiang Lian placed the family portrait – individually sealed in an airtight bag to prevent cross-contamination from contact – from the paper bag on the desk. “There are indeed fingerprints that belong to someone else other than Huo Qingjun on this photo. But a search with the regional database did not give us any corresponding match. We then compared Puli neighborhood’s entry and exit records, as well as the employees’ data of the relevant enterprises. But there is no match. As a matter of fact, there is currently no evidence to prove that this is the murderer’s fingerprints.”
The set up of Tingbo District’s residential database had only just started in recent years as an initiative of the Inspection Bureau. There used to be many small steel processing plants hiding in the district. In order to avoid detection and investigation, they would consciously avoid having their data inputted into the database. Consequently, the data record remained incomplete.
“But since she has a vehicle, she must have left a trail somewhere.” Jiang Lian pushed up his glasses. “Where do you think she will carry out the dismemberment?”
“Near her house.” Yan Junxun tossed the lollipop stick into the trash bin. “Or in her house itself.”
“Then she has to have a house.” Jiang Lian thought for a moment. “And she has to be living alone.”
“Define living alone.” Shi Shanyan observed the rose close up without looking back at them and extended two fingers to tap at his own temple. “Does it count as cohabitation if there’s someone in here?”
“Living by herself.” Jiang Lian wanted to use Yan Junxun as an example, but he remembered Panda and promptly swallowed back his words. He continued, “What have you gathered from Huo Qingjun’s house?”
“A math teacher who was preparing to self-teach himself law.” Yan Junxun did not want to recall that room. But then he saw the photo on the desktop.
The photo was very old, with all four corners aged and yellowed. The Huo Qingjun in the photo was not as skinny as he was in his profile. He was sitting on the lawn and smiling contentedly at the camera, with one arm hugging his few-year-old son and one arm around his wife’s shoulders.
They were having a picnic at that time. Perhaps it was some kind of anniversary, and Huo Qingjun had specially hired a photographer to take photos of them. The photographer did a good job, and they looked so blissful that the photo could have been used as a publicity photo of a happy family.
“Have you notified his wife?”
“Huo Qingjun’s?” Jiang Lian shifted his gaze to the family portrait. “… Wasn’t able to reach her.”
Yan Junxun’s mind wandered as he looked at the family photo. He did not want to pay too much attention to this photo. But he had to start from this photo to make mental connections.
The murderer had seen this photo when she struck up a conversation with Huo Qingjun. She removed her gloves and held the photo up to her eyes. Huo Qingjun should have been rather elated to have someone to chat with finally, even if this person was a stranger.
Did she sense something? A pitiful man’s gripe. Huo Qingjun looked so downtrodden. Even if he was trying very hard to sort out his life, he still reeked of mold from within. That was the vicissitudes of life that could not be concealed.
The murderer returned the photo to Huo Qingjun, and she sized him up once again with inquiring eyes. She could not see the happiness in the photo. All she knew was the Huo Qingjun described in Liu Chen’s news.
She must have enjoyed this process. It made her feel like she was ruling a mysterious and tiny kingdom. She freely chose her targets to execute, then meted out punishments to them. Liu Chen’s news by itself was her shortlist of candidates’ names.
“… Are you listening to me?” Jiang Lian observed Yan Junxun’s expression. As he spoke, he cast a glance at Shi Shanyan, who was also looking attentively at Yan Junxun. Jiang Lian softened his voice and tried to sound as non-aggressive as possible, “Do you want to take a break?”
“Her crimes are planned. From locking on to her target to approaching the target—she has a plan for it all. The remainder of the victims’ bodies are difficult to dispose of, especially now, because if she leaves it alone, the blowfly maggots will hatch in more than twenty-four hours. She still has to work on normal workdays, which is why she always does it on Fridays, so she has time to deal with the bodies. I suspect Liu Xincheng isn’t the first person she killed.”
Yan Junxun drew closer to the table. His eyes were bright.
“She handled Liu Xincheng rather cleanly, didn’t she? You have not been able to find the remainders of the body to date; it’s evident that she has experience. She’s stubborn and insists on using the same method to execute the victims. She thinks of Liu Chen’s news reports as the gospel truth—This is something she firmly believes in. What has Liu Chen been saying on his homepage these days? He says that these are revenge killings. Retribution. His words gave the murderer a response, and this is exactly what the murderer is waiting for. Do you understand? Liu Chen’s follow-up coverages on these victims displeased her. She has been through sexual assaults. She doesn’t want these people alive; she wants them dead. This is the ending she approves of. If we can’t find her this month, she’ll strike again next month.”
“If she has already killed the person who inflicted violence on her.” Jiang Lian asked, “Then why is she still continuing?”
“Because the pain didn’t stop.” Yan Junxun stared at Jiang Lian. “She did not manage to free herself from it. Don’t you see it? She only dares to emphasize her own existence in other people’s houses.”
Shi Shanyan tapped the glass briskly, as if he was applauding. His keen sense of smell kept him one step ahead in all matters, but Yan Junxun was fast too, wasn’t he? Artemis was an amazing system teacher; it had produced the most interesting student.
Yan Junxun was a beautiful child, inside and out.
But then, Shi Shanyan did not like someone else’s system, just as he did not like this pot of roses within the glass wall that had been pruned by Jiang Lian. He craved to tweak it himself, even if he might get his fingers pricked.
Fu Chenghui had chosen a great partner for Shi Shanyan. Compared to the cases, Shi Shanyan was even more interested in Yan Junxun. As long as Shi Shanyan was interested, he would not go around causing trouble for others for the sake of getting a thrill.
Shi Shanyan thought.
I’m so well-behaved.
The four cases in this book pretty much follow the narrative of volume 01. I’m hoping it will be different from my previous works. Where exactly? I don’t know either. Rhythm is something I’ve tried to learn with practice in each book, but to this day, I probably still have yet to master it. I’m used to my own touch.
The process of “writing” is very important to me. I always need to finish writing it before I can reflect on the issues I have. This is because I choose to trust my feelings when I’m writing. As long as it feels right to me, then that’s what I’m going to write and publish. It’s hard for me to be guided by others during the writing process.
I definitely have a lot of shortcomings, but I’d still like to give it a try.
I hope everyone will exercise caution and read at your own risk.
Thank you for reading.
Please read the synopsis for warnings and etc. T97 later expressed difficulty in continuing writing the novel and cut it short, so the ending may feel rushed and confusing. You may see this novel as an experimental piece if you want. I personally like it myself and the ending feels like a surreal Salvador Dali’s masterpiece to me, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you like your stories logical and questions, answered. Just my two cents.