Chapter 37: Humbert Humbert Four

TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee

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Lang Qiao wasn’t done yet. She planned to strike while the iron was hot and egg on the others to rub it in for Luo Wenzhou. However, as she leaned forward to lead the charge, her eyes accidentally caught sight of the portrait that fell on the floor. The next second, the alcohol-encouraged audacity was completely scared out of her skin. 

There was a unit in their department that specialized in creating suspects’ portraits. Some of them were quite good. In comparison, this portrait was elementary at best. However, it was so strangely vivid and compelling despite the rather clumsy drawing techniques that the sketcher must have drawn this face in his mind a thousand times before finally recreating it on paper. 

Lang Qiao asked, “What is this?”

Tao Ran sobered up a little thanks to Luo Wenzhou’s sudden attack. Realizing that he had messed up big time, he struggled to get up and went to the bathroom to sprinkle some cold water on his face. Then he came back to help Luo Wenzhou with the mess on the floor: “Is it the Lianhua-shan case? The old man never got over it.” 

“Lianhua-shan” was not a mountain, despite what the name implied. It was actually a town in the northern suburbs of Yan-cheng City. In the early days, it used to be a stand-alone municipal district, but it had since merged with Yan-cheng City more than a decade ago. Now it had become an “Economic Development District” through government planning. 

On the same page of the notes, some more yellowing pictures were taped there, falling out upon touching because the tape was so old. Some were daily life shots; others obviously came from photo studios — they all had exaggerated lighting, a dutch windmill on the backdrop, and a young girl in the center whose smile had grown stiff because she’d been holding it too long. There were six pictures all together.

Old pictures could be quite strange. All of them faded and turned yellow over the years. But if the person in the shot lived a happy life, then the warm tint from aging would seem tender and peaceful. On the other hand, if the person later suffered from tragedy, then you might get a sense of foreboding gloom when looking at their pictures, as if some of the bitterness and anger from the deceased had transferred onto their pictures.

“You mean… Master Yang?” Lang Qiao asked, “But why was he involved in the cases in that district?”

“The Bureau had a policy back then that all young people under thirty-five needed to do rotations in the local offices — they had to either serve in the district police stations or in the nearby towns. My mentor’s cohort went to Lianhua-shan and stayed there for almost a year. ” Luo Wenzhou carefully picked up the picture by the corner and put it back between the pages, “Before long, they encountered that case — you probably never heard of it. Even I was still in kindergarten.” 

“At first, a man came and reported his missing child.” Tao Ran spoke as he flipped through the notebook. The senior officer who wrote in it had very elegant handwriting. On the page just before the pictures, the name “Guo Heng” was written there with three thick underlines. “Yep. This was the informant, Guo Heng. The missing child was his 11-year-old daughter, nicknamed ‘Feifei’. “

When hearing this, Luo Wenzhou’s hand that was picking up a thick notebook twitched. He looked at Tao Ran half-surprisingly: “You still remember the girl’s name even when you’re this drunk?”  

Tao Ran avoided his eyes: “The old man brought it up a lot. After all those years being around him, I could recite pretty much all the details.” 

Chang Ning was usually very busy with work and didn’t really have much time to watch TV. It was a novel and rare experience for her to listen to the first-hand stories from police officers. She curiously asked: “What happened then?”

“Back then, most parents weren’t like your typical helicopter parents today. The 10 to 12-year-olds were considered big kids already. They usually went to school on their own and were free to go to friends’ houses after school without supervision, as long as the parents agreed to it. The adults usually didn’t stick by their sides all the time.” 

“The missing girl, Guo Fei, was one of the shyer and more disciplined kids. She almost always came home straight from school. If she needed to be late, there was always a good reason. Her grades were exceptional. Nothing abnormal happened on the day of. Her classmates said that on that day, Guo Fei didn’t need to stay any longer so she went home right after school was over. It was at most a 15-minute walk from school to her home. The girl disappeared within those 15 minutes. My mentor and the others searched along her usual route again and again — there weren’t that many security cameras back then — but they didn’t find any particular sketchy places along the way. It was summertime and it wasn’t even dark yet at five. The path was mostly crowded with pedestrians and well lit. Theoretically, if a girl that big was abducted by someone from the street in broad daylight, even if she were just a little conscious and struggled, someone would have noticed.”

“However, after all that searching and interviewing for witnesses, they found nothing.”

“They pretty much tore the school apart, but they didn’t find even a single strand of hair from the girl. Didn’t Sherlock Holmes once say something like, ‘When you eliminate the impossible, no matter how improbable it is, whatever remains must be the truth’? So someone back then suggested that she was either abducted by a familiar person, or the kid ran away from home herself.” 

“Following the familiar person hypothesis, the police screened every possible suspect: school teachers, family friends of the Guo’s, even the stationary booth and the supermarket that the child frequently visited… Over 100 people were interrogated, but still nothing.” Tao Ran paused here, then continued: “Just as they were stuck in the standstill, the father, Guo Heng, suddenly received a strange phone call. No one said anything when he picked up. All he heard was a girl screaming at the top of her lungs. The mother fainted as soon as she heard it. The police immediately traced the location of the phone call. It was from a very remote telephone booth.”

Lang Qiao was confused: “There was no surveillance camera?” 

“No. That telephone booth was next to a trash transfer station and looked quite deserted. Most people didn’t expect the phone to still be functional,” said Luo Wenzhou. “A trace of blood was found next to the booth, and it was the same blood type as Guo Fei’s. Back then we didn’t have the DNA testing tech, so we couldn’t be sure whether it was really hers or not. There were no fingerprints.” 

Tao Ran’s living room fell dead silent. After a long while, Fei Du broke the ice: “Were there no other phone calls? How about the ransom? Did they mention money?”

“No,” answered Tao Ran. “After that, the abductor never called again. There wasn’t any mention of money, nothing.”

Fei Du gently swirled his glass and smelled the wine, as if what he was holding wasn’t some cheap 10 dollar supermarket wine, but a glass of Romanee-Conti. “That’s quite odd. ” He said, “It sounds like the abductor wasn’t doing it for the child, but to torture the parents instead. What could the parents have possibly done?” 

“Guo Heng was a middle school teacher, and the mother of the child was a civil service employee. The family wasn’t poor according to the standards back then, but they weren’t very affluent either. Both of the breadwinners had ordinary jobs, were friendly with colleagues, and had no big ambitions at work — basically no reason to suspect a work-related conflict of interest. Marriage affair was ruled out too. “

Ordinary family, ordinary parents, and ordinary child — not even a particularly good-looking child. They lived an ordinary life like any other ordinary person you would pass by on the street. No matter how deep the police tried to dig, they didn’t find any story that was out of the ordinary. An old saying went, “The fly never stops on a crackless egg.’ But after carefully going over all possible leads with magnifying glasses, in the end they had to admit that this family was indeed a “crackless egg”. 

Time was running out. The silent abductor never made another move. Both the police and the parents knew that the hope of finding the girl was very slim. The best scenario for her was being sold to some remote village. However, what was more likely… 

The police had zero clues for the abductor’s motivation as to why he or she picked this particular girl. It was like someone threw a die on the street and picked a victim at random: out of nowhere, because of no reason. Then no one in this world would be safe.

Lang Qiao asked: “H…how about the other five?” 

“Guo Fei’s case hit a dead end. They exhausted all resources and had to put the case on hold. Then my mentor was relocated to Yan-cheng City. Another case happened in the Xi-tai District. Again, it was a 12-year-old girl who went missing on her way back from school. Again, there were no abnormal events leading up to her disappearance what-so-ever. The abductor was also quiet. The freakiest part was that after two days, her family got a screaming phone call as well.”

“My mentor immediately saw the connection and reported it to his supervisors. The chief decided to raise the case to the Central Bureau. Before long, they discovered that within the whole city and including the surrounding towns and villages, there were as many as six similar missing-children cases.” 

“Seven,” added Luo Wenzhou. “The last girl who survived had a different situation. She was from a single-parent family. At the time, she lived with her mother who was a drunkard and didn’t even notice that the daughter was missing until days later. She did not call the police at all. “

“The Central Bureau put together a special investigation group, consisting of experts from every district. Lao Yang was relocated to the Central Bureau because of this too. However, they made almost no progress for a long time. The missing girls had nothing in common, except…” Luo Wenzhou stopped here as if suddenly thought of something. His eyes fell on Chen-chen, who was completely hooked by the story. After a brief pause, he continued with a brisk change of tone: “Except for the similar behaviors of the abductor.”

“Guo Fei’s father had heard of the special investigation, and so quit his job so he could move closer to the Bureau to wait for closure. Unfortunately, he was disappointed.”

Tao Ran carefully placed the notebook back into the cardbox, and continued: “Later, after the special investigation group was dismissed, the only ones still following this case besides the family members was my mentor who was there from the beginning. Almost a year later, Guo Heng suddenly came to him and said that he had found the suspect. It was a teacher named Wu Guangchuan — the man in the portrait. He was a teacher at ‘Jinxiu Middle School’, one of the earliest private boarding schools. Its students came from all over the city. Because the school had good academic rankings, despite its high tuition, many parents from the underachieving school districts wanted to send their kids over. At the time of Guo Fei’s case, Wu Guangchuan happened to be part of the admissions team that was sent to the Lian Huashan District by the school to recruit new students.”

Chang Ning held her breath: “Was it him?”

“Wu Guangchuan was 36 years old that year, divorced, and was living alone. He indeed had the capability to do it. Lao Yang followed him when he was off duty and even used some illegal methods. In the end, he didn’t find anything valuable. Wu Guangchuan was easygoing and soft-spoken. Many people that knew him liked him a lot. Although his daily job involved interacting with children, he had never crossed the line. Lao Yang followed him for a long time and concluded that he wasn’t the man. However, for some reason, Guo Heng was so determined that Wu Guangchuan was the abductor that after Lao Yang pulled out, he found Wu Guangchuan and stabbed him with a watermelon knife.”

Lang Qiao was in disbelief: “Whaaat? Dead?”

“Yes. He barely made it to the hospital. They discovered the seventh missing girl in Wu Guangchuan’s basement, together with clothing from the other six. The clothes were cut into thin stripes and had bloodstains that fit the victims’ blood types. The serial child abduction case was finally solved. However, they couldn’t find the bodies of the girls, and the suspect was too dead to help.” Luo Wenzhou stood up and stretched, “Guo Heng committed first-degree murder and was sentenced for it. Lao Yang was never able to get over this case. He thought that he was responsible for Guo Heng’s tragedy because he made a wrong judgment. It haunted him for a lifetime. Enough of the story. Even the suspect’s bone dust has already cooled. Now eat your lunches.”

The party continued until late in the afternoon. Then, those who took public transportation were dismissed. Those who drove stayed to help with cleaning up while sobering up for the ride. Chang Ning and Chen-chen left for home as well. 

Tao Ran was so tipsy that he broke a bowl while doing the dishes. Luo Wenzhou shooed him away. 

After Captain Luo quickly and adroitly cleaned up the dirty dishes and returned to the living room, he saw Fei Du facing away and casually flipping through the senior officer’s notebook.

As if seeing him with the eyes on his back, Fei Du started speaking: “The part that you skipped just now – about what the missing girls had in common…Was it the clothing?”

Luo Wenzhou was leaning on the hallway wall. His smile vanished: “How do you know? Are you the reincarnation of the murderer?”

“You looked at Chen-chen and then stopped talking.” Fei Du turned around, “The clothes that were found in Wu Guangchuan’s basement ––– they were probably dresses with floral prints, am I right?”

Luo Wenzhou couldn’t resist the thought of the damn PSP if he looked at Fei Du, so he carefully avoided eye contact: “You can teach the kid to be careful, or not to trust strangers easily, but you can’t teach her to fear floral dresses. Otherwise what’s the use of us?”

“Mhm.” Fei Du nodded, “Well said, Cap’ Luo.”

Luo Wenzhou got all edgy and alarmed by the nod, because he almost never heard anything good from Fei Du without strings attached. Sure enough, his dread came true in the next moment.

Fei Du asked quietly: “Besides the flower bouquet and the PSP… is there anything else?”

 

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