Yan Junxun seldom came to the Inspection Bureau. He hated the atmosphere here, as well as the various gazes the people here gave him. He was different from the kind of people they understood; he had no passion and no drive. Every time he came to the Inspection Bureau, he looked as though he was still in slumberland. He would not allow Jiang Lian to mention his name here, and he also thought that he had not been of much help to Jiang Lian.
To those on the outside, Jiang Lian called Yan Junxun a psychological profiler. But they all understood that Yan Junxun did not act like a psychological profiler at all. Shi Shanyan had said something that had hit the nail on the head: Yan Junxun was able to empathize with the murderer. The details at the crime scenes were woven like a spider web in Yan Junxun’s mind. He often let his visualization and imagination run along this one thread.
“Can you understand it?” When Yan Junxun went to the restroom, Jiang Lian took the chance to say to Shi Shanyan, “His line of thought runs so fast that it’s often hard for people to catch up with him. It’s a lot like an exam. Everyone clearly has the same exam paper in hand, but he not only answers the questions correctly; he also answers them swiftly. So fast to the extent it inevitably makes people suspect if he had seen the correct answers before, and with detailed explanations at that.”
Shi Shanyan leaned back in his chair and watched as the Yan Junxun behind the glass wall turned around the corner. Yan Junxun stopped in front of the vending machine, uninterested in the surrounding gazes on him. His superhuman perception made him very astute. He knew what the people around him were thinking, but he did not care.
“He knows how to protect himself. He will throw a lot of matters and people into the ‘insignificant’ category. He doesn’t like to be watched, and he holds an aversion to his own power of observation. But he’s so gifted that more often than not, he can’t control himself from making cognitive associations. Give him just a little something about the case, and he can’t help but sit there and think.”
“Right…” Jiang Lian looked at Shi Shanyan with complicated feelings. “You understand him well. If I may ask, are you like this too?”
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Shi Shanyan turned his chair around and looked at Jiang Lian. The expression in his eyes was frank as he said, “Why don’t you ask Yan Junxun? He can tell you the correct answer.”
After a moment of silence, Jiang Lian continued, “I often wish Junxun would be wrong in his inferences. It would make him look more normal.”
Amused, Shi Shanyan laughed, as if he did not understand these words. He straightened up and asked Jiang Lian from across the desk, “Why do you think he’s ‘not normal enough’?
Jiang Lian’s lens had been wiped until they were bright. He thought about it seriously, then replied, “Because I’m an ordinary person. An ordinary person will be righteously indignant about some details of the case. Everyone is much more willing to stand in the victim’s shoes and see it from the victim’s perspective, but not the murderer’s. Each time Junxun observes the crime scenes, he’s very cool-headed… sometimes, you can even say he’s indifferent.”
“You think he can’t empathize with the victims.” Shi Shanyan was like a psychology professor sitting in the office. “He ‘saw’ the victims’ agony, but he displayed none of the sympathy and indignation he is supposed to have. A system-raised kid is pretty scary, is that right?”
Jiang Lian did not answer.
“There’s no Artemis in Yan Junxun’s house now.” Shi Shanyan broke down the topic to analyze. “Because you people discovered that Yan Junxun is unable to empathize with the victims. Even though he now seems to be very obedient, the extent of his understanding of the murderer far surpasses that of a normal person’s. The fruit of Artemis’s teachings makes one afraid. If Yan Junxun were to commit a crime, then he would be the toughest murderer to crack.” Shi Shanyan put on an understanding expression and asked ruthlessly with a smile, “I’m curious. Did you people ‘kill’ Artemis?”
◈ ◈ ◈
Yan Junxun held the beer can and made his way through the various sounds of bells and conversations. He looked like a fresh graduate. Even his t-shirt had a Pikachu image on it. Instead of going back to Jiang Lian’s office, he went to the lounge with relatively few people.
The Inspection Bureau’s lounge was surrounded on all sides by lush virtual greenery, with the distance between the seats consistent. The people inside were all chatting in hushed tones. The no-smoking area was on the left. Yan Junxun thought for a moment, then went to the right to look for a secluded seat to sit.
The sound of a flowing stream was broadcasted on a loop in the lounge. Yan Junxun felt around his trouser’s pocket, where a stick of cigarette was hidden. He took the cigarette out and hesitated for a moment before biting down on it between his lips. However, he did not light it.
To predict whether a person would carry out an act, one first had to figure out what the person expected from the outcome of his or her actions. If the person could get a reward from it, then he or she would continue to do it. This was the expectancy theory1 in social learning.
Yan Junxun pressed the tip of his tongue against the butt of his cigarette.
The murderer feared the sexual assault process, yet she chose to repeat the crime against the sexual assailants. She was stubborn and maintained her modus operandi. This was like some sort of ritual that must be carried out step by step in order for her to achieve the result she desired.
Yan Junxun had analyzed her too much. In Yan Junxun’s eyes, she was already transparent.
As a woman who had endured years of sexual violence from her husband, her status in her family was perhaps even worse than that of a dog. She could not fiddle with anything in her house; all of those did not belong to her. She had no right to touch them. She tidied up Liu Xincheng’s and Li Jianhua’s houses as if she was living there herself. But she did not dare to do so back at home, because she would get physically abused if she did so.
She shied away from all elements of violence and sex, refusing to look squarely at Liu Xincheng’s photos and herself. The graffiti in Liu Xincheng’s corridor made her feel stifled and oppressed, so she drew a mustache on the graffiti, as if rape did not only happen to women. Thinking like this made her feel a little better.
She loved her own child very much. So much that she did not want to accept the fact that the child was dead. She modified Li Jianhua’s system and made the system call her “daddy”. In her imagination, she was not only the child’s mother but also the child’s father. This way, she could rectify “daddy’s” mistakes and give the child happiness.
This meant that this child’s death had something to do with the father.
The gentle, soothing sound of the stream made it easy to lure one into sleep. Yan Junxun did not want to sleep. He did not want to continue thinking either, but his train of thoughts seemed to have grown legs on its own. They hauled Yan Junxun along, whether or not he wanted to.
The flame from the lighter ignited Yan Junxun’s cigarette. Shi Shanyan’s scent was very prominent. His arm that wound around Yan Junxun from behind seemed as if he was partially embracing him. The quality of his shirt was decent enough to show the contours of the muscles hidden under the fabric.
“They are looking forward to have you solve this thorny issue as soon as possible.” Shi Shanyan nimbly flicked the lighter close and put his arm around Yan Junxun’s shoulders as though they were buddies.
“Don’t be silly.” Yan Junxun held the cigarette in his mouth. “I’m just an insignificant small potato who only knows how to assume.”
The soft light of the lounge fell upon Yan Junxun’s hair. His tear mole was faintly discernible among the cigarette smoke. This was a unique charm of his. He took only two puffs before he removed the cigarette and looked at Shi Shanyan without a care of how close they were to each other.
“If you are concerned about this case, you can tell Jiang Lian what you know.” The taste of cigarette blended with the taste of sweetness in Yan Junxun’s mouth—that was the taste of a lollipop. “Don’t fucking try to sound me out again.”
“Then why don’t you tell him?” Shi Shanyan was patient. He caught a whiff of fragrant citrus, which made him licked his canine tooth. “Tell Jiang Lian that the murderer is sick.”
Yan Junxun felt irritated. He hated the feeling of pitting himself against another. He also loathed the sensation of being watched and observed all the time.
“Sorry.” With two fingers, Shi Shanyan pinched Yan Junxun’s leftover cigarette over and apologized rather perfunctorily. “I accidentally guessed it right.”
He bit down gently on that cigarette, yet his eyes looked as though he was biting down on Yan Junxun.
“You know why the murderer kills.”
Of course, Yan Junxun knew. He had already given Jiang Lian a hint.
◈ ◈ ◈
Chen Xiulian was feeding the dogs.
She lived in an old residential building near the steel industrial park. This old and shabby two-story building was purchased by her husband, He Zhiguo, when he ran a factory. They used to stay on the second story, while the grinders for processing steel were all placed on the first story to facilitate the movement of the steel materials. Now that He Zhiguo was no longer in Tingbo district, Chen Xiulian had the final say; she moved the old grinders to the basement.
Several mongrels surrounded Chen Xiulian and wagged their tails. She put down the metal basin, and the dogs all swarmed around it.
“Beat them to death.” He Zhiguo said in Chen Xiulian’s ears. “What a stench!”
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Chen Xiulian said nothing and listened to the sound of chewing for a moment.
“I’m talking to you.” It seemed as though He Zhiguo was about to use his hand to push Chen Xiulian’s head. He had always loved doing this. “Do you fucking hear me? Don’t make me angry, Chen Xiulian. I beat you all because you provoke me. It’s because you make me angry that I fucking hit you. You understand?”
Chen Xiulian’s breathing grew slightly heavy. She did not switch on the lamps on the first floor, so she stood in the darkness and endured the scoldings until her face turned livid. Her lips opened and closed. “I’m going to report you to the police and get them to arrest you…”
“Go on.” He Zhiguo’s spittle sprayed all over Chen Xiulian’s face. “Once you’re done reporting, I’m still going to hit you to the death!”
Chen Xiulian wiped her face with her sleeve with forceful moves, as if she was wiping age-old filth. The button on her cuff scraped against her face. It did not take long for her to scrub her face red.
“I’m telling you to kill the dogs. You’re not going to fucking listen, are you? Then I’ll kill Qinqin!” He Zhiguo’s voice cut into Chen Xiulian’s ears like a knife. “I’m going to drag her down the stairs and deal with her like I deal with you. Money-sucking bitch2 who eats up my wage every day. She’s sick in the head, just like you! Slut who doesn’t learn her lesson after a beating!”
Like a wounded female beast, Chen Xiulian suddenly howled at the communication-navigator. Trembling all over, she tugged off the communication-navigator on her ear and flung it to the ground, then she raised her foot and stomped down hard on it.
Startled, the mongrels howled as they hid their tails between their legs and fled to the corner with the bones in their jaws.
Chen Xiulian screamed until her voice went hoarse. She gasped for breath and looked all around her with her reddened eyes, finally unable to hear He Zhiguo’s voice. She haphazardly pushed aside her sweat-soaked hair and darted to the stairs, where she took a few steps down and unlocked the door with trembling hands.
There was a stench in the basement, but Chen Xiulian did not care. This smell relaxed her. She groped along the wall with her hand and switched on the light.
The basement was too filthy, with discarded steel everywhere. One of the grinders had been previously shifted. Chen Xiulian had wanted to throw it away, but she remembered what Liu Chen had written in his news reports—that the Inspection Bureau was so formidable that they could glean many clues just by following the traces from one object. This grinder was bought with money that He Zhiguo got a loan for. There was still an IOU, and although she had already burned the IOU, she was still fearful of the unknown Inspection Bureau.
In the reports, the Inspection Bureau had captured many people before. Chen Xiulian did not want to get arrested—she had yet to kill He Zhiguo.
- 期待理论 Expectancy theory (or expectancy theory of motivation) proposes that an individual will behave or act in a certain way because they are motivated to behave thus, owing to their expectations of the result of that selected behavior.
- 赔钱货 literally money-losing, or unprofitable, goods. i.e., a daughter, so called in former times because a daughter could not earn a living and needed a dowry.