Chapter 41: Humbert Humbert Eight

TL: QuantumC, Editor: MochiMochi

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“The missing girl’s name is Qu Tong, 11 years old, and originally sat at the back of the bus. She threw a siren out of the window to help distract the offenders from the teacher, and then she escaped from the window too. Now we’ve lost track of her.”

“Ask for some patrol dogs from the Xiling Bureau.” Luo Wenzhou was surprisingly calm for such news: “I think the kid won’t be able to run very far. Get someone experienced to console the parents. To be honest, if she hadn’t run away, once the offenders realized what she did, she’d be in bigger trouble. She is a smart one.”

Fei Du turned around and whistled to his buddies in the distance. He was the head of this pack of lazy bones who had enjoyed the thrill of the motorcycle racing followed by an adrenaline-packed hostage rescue mission just before this. Although they weren’t much more than props for the show and none of them actually saw a single hair of the abductor, it was enough for them to talk about for the rest of the year. Hearing Fei Du’s whistling, they rushed over: “Sir Fei, anything else?” 

“From the Yan-cheng Bureau.” Fei Du introduced the handsome dude in front of him with only four words, then went straight to the point: “An eleven-year-old girl is missing from that bus. I’ll share her picture on WeChat in a minute. If you guys are free tonight, the search team could use some extra hands.”

“Yes Sir! Not a problem!” Zhang Donglai rarely had the opportunity to impress Officer Luo Wenzhou. Apparently he decided to make the most of it. He nodded with a wide grin from ear to ear: “Salute, Captain Luo! If the Captain has any use for us, don’t hesitate to ask. You are like family, you know.”

Luo Wenzhou kept a straight face and measured him from head to toe. He heard that the young master Zhang had been grounded for more than two months after his last epic screw-up, and was probably just “released” from his “prison cell” recently. He was wearing a vest with nothing underneath. There were two giant holes on either side of his pants. His hair was styled into colorful Mohegan spikes with some kind of an abstract calligraphy shaved on the back of his head.

Luo Wenzhou asked curiously: “What the heck is that?”

Zhang Donglai stood at attention and replied with all seriousness: “The word ‘restraint’.”

Luo Wenzhou had to admit that he was impressed — who could have guessed that this outlandish look of the young master Zhang was the result AFTER applying restraint.

“Captain Luo, don’t you worry. I know this area like the back of my hand.” Zhang Donglai said, “Let me put it this way: we are in a ‘big melting pot’ of the bourgeoisie. These mountains, there are no monsters in there whatsoever… other than the monstrous beasts of indulgence and extravagance. Within 30 miles the most dangerous wild animals are the squirrels. The girl is going to be fine.”

Indeed, the Xiling mountains were quite benign to begin with, not to mention that after the heavy rain there were even fewer activities. Besides, how far could a scared little girl run?

That’s why when they first heard about the missing girl, they weren’t too too worried. Everything was still rolling according to plan: the abductor Han Chengzheng, who had completely lost the game, was carried away in a body bag; the ambulances took away the heavily wounded Miss Hu and the other abductor, Han Jiang; the group of shocked students reunited with their parents and were scheduled for immediate body and mental check-ups; even the borrowed police dogs had arrived quickly. 

The police officers broke into several search units going in different directions. Zhang Donglai borrowed some convertibles from god-knows-where, each carrying a loudspeaker that played the theme song of the cartoon “The Happy Lamb and the Grey Wolf”. He and his friends went searching along the driveways. 

The professionals and the amateurs each went their own way and, surprisingly, complimented each other quite well…except that the endless “Don’t look down on me because I am a lamb” got a bit annoying after a while.

Fei Du held the car door open and nodded at Luo Wenzhou: “Let’s go take a look at where the girl escaped.” 

Luo Wenzhou shamelessly accepted the free ride. What’s more, he pointed at Fei Du’s chest and commented with his feudalistic old man voice: “Button up, young man — what were you kids doing at this hour over here anyways?”

Fei Du casually buttoned his shirt without paying attention to whether the buttons were correctly matched at all. It was hardly making things better, if not worse, because the front of his shirt was still soaked. He replied: “Came for a race.”

Luo Wenzhou: “With the tops open?”

“With motorcycles. Two crashed actually. Before you guys shut down the roads, an ambulance just drove out someone with a broken leg.” Fei Du pressed lightly on the gas pedal. Then, quite unusually, he joked without too much sarcasm but in a lighthearted tone: “Of course, it might be a little too much for you middle-aged folks.” 

Luo Wenzhou glanced at Fei Du’s muddy boots and suddenly came to a rather depressing revelation that perhaps he was indeed well on his way to middle age — because he absolutely could not understand how young people nowadays can be so empty.

“What is it with your hand?” Fei Du noticed the “three-stoke band” on him: “Who was this wild beast?”

Luo Wenzhou was paying attention to the reports from each search units in the intercom at that moment, so he replied perfunctorily: “Your little brother.”

Poor Fei Du was completely lost. 

“Got it. Pay close attention to possible hiding places such as the trenches. The child might be in shock and is likely to find some place to hide. ” Luo Wenzhou finished giving the orders, put down the walkie-talkie, and turned towards Fei Du, “Does this look like the mark from a primate to you? Have some common sense. The street cat that Tao Ran gave you, remember? Gosh…nothing lasts for you kids. Someone always have to clean up after you.”

Fei Du was taken by surprise at first. Then, as if suddenly remembering something, his droopy peach-blossom eyes suddenly widened.

The night sky silently passed behind them. Fei Du did not respond for a long time. Not until they had approached the well-lit crime scene did he finally open his mouth again: “After all these years, you still kept it?”

“Yeah, what else could I do? Give it to you? If you want it, come and take it. Just don’t give it back again.” Luo Wenzhou’s hand ached as he thought about Luo Yiguo and he unconsciously scratched the cuts while ordering: “Park here. Don’t drive too close — the child might have left some footprints. Don’t damage the clue.” 

So Fei Du parked somewhere further away: “You…ahem… Do you need to get vaccinated?”

Luo Wenzhou wasn’t prepared for such a ‘normal’ question asked in concern and was quite shocked, even more shocked than if Luo Yiguo suddenly came to him and asked for a pet. He was so shocked that he became tongue-tied: “N…no, actually, my last one is still in effect.” 

Luo Wenzhou was vaccinated so often that he was pretty much under “effective” coverage for eleven out of the twelve months in a year. The doctor who usually gave him the vaccine even suggested that he get a yearly member card — he’d really benefit from wholesale rather than retail.

After the initial shock, Luo Wenzhou found his voice again and couldn’t help but strike back: “Don’t show so much filial piety all of a sudden. I can’t take it.”

Fei Du hid away his uneasiness, and picked his usual vexing tone back up: “Caring for the abandoned elderly is every citizen’s duty. Tut-tut…long and lonely nights with only a cat to keep you company, what a pity. “

Perhaps Fei Du’s shirt was too wet, or perhaps Luo Wenzhou’s self confidence was too over the top. Either way, he sensed something flirty going on from the way Fei Du looked at him while firing those provocative words. The enticing look, coupled with the way he humphed “long and lonely nights”, made the atmosphere so suggestive that Luo Wenzhou accidentally stepped over the line.

“Then what?” a naughty joke rolled off Luo Wenzhou’s tongue without him thinking too much about it “Are you only going to console me with words?”

Fei Du: “…”

Luo Wenzhou: “…”

As soon as the inappropriate joke was made, the two were both tongue-tied, and the air in the small racing car bubbled with awkwardness. 

Lou Wenzhou wished he could take those words back as easily as they were thrown out. After a short silence, he coughed, and tried his best to amend the situation (although not so successfully): “Just…remember to bring Daddy a gift basket during the holidays.”

Fei Du smiled reluctantly: “And light up three incense sticks to pay homage?”

The two — almost telepathic this time — jumped off the car at the same time as if trying to lock behind the awkwardness in that innocent car.

Lou Wenzhou suddenly thought of something. He turned around to Fei Du: “Speaking of which, I remember that you liked that cat a lot initially. Why did you want to get rid of it later?”

Fei Du’s one hand was still on the car door. Luo Wenzhou’s question made him pause. The dim lights from afar casted delicate shadows of his chiseled face. 

“A pet?” After the short stiffness, Fei Du answered with his usual nonchalant tone: “I don’t like pets. They are too much trouble. I didn’t want to say that to Tao Ran directly. Also, well…”

He looked up, one brow slightly twitching: “Perhaps I am a habitual animal torturer who can’t control his urges. To avoid disappointing Tao Ran, I had to stay away from animals. Captain Luo, what do you think of this explanation?”

Luo Wenzhou was slightly taken aback. His gut told him that Fei Du wasn’t just telling a malicious joke. However, before he was able to sort anything out, the search team’s reporting came through his headphones: “Captain Luo, we found the siren keychain thrown by the girl, and some footprints.”

When Miss Hu was stabbed, the rain was already getting lighter so the tracks of the bus were not completely washed away. The driver was in the front, and the other abductor was pushed out by Miss Hu from the front entrance, so if the girl was to escape, she had to jump out from the back of the bus and run towards a direction that avoids the head light. Following this reasoning the search crew quickly found some footsteps of the girl. 

The police dogs followed the tracks and got to work right away.

Everyone felt lucky – the abductors picked a very muddy place to park, where Qu Tong left many footprints. Following the footsteps, finding her seemed only a matter of time.

However, all the way until dawn, there were no news of Qu Tong.

Qu Tong’s parents waited longingly at the search site. Each time someone passed by, the mother’s eyes would light up like the lights on motion-sensors – going on and off again and again as the search crew and volunteers came and went.

“Captain Luo, you need to see this.”

The crowds parted for Luo Wenzhou. A couple of the search dogs all stopped at the same spot, panting heavily as their tongues were hanging out. He rubbed one of the dog’s heads while squatting down to check the scene. A leather shoelace was tangled on a sharp rock where a trace of blood lingered.

“We showed it to the parents, and they confirmed that this shoelace is from Qu Tong’s shoes.” The search crew member said, “There are some child’s footprints on the back, and some scratch marks. Looks like the girl ran over here, tripped on the rock, and fell down? Here, there are some footprints of an adult and some break marks of a vehicle. I think it’s a size 41, or 42. Very likely to be a man’s footprint.”

Luo Wenzhou pondered, then said: “What you are trying to say is, someone happened to drive past here, and took the child away?”

“Very likely. The dogs can’t be much more help now.”

Luo Wenzhou borrowed a flashlight from a colleague and scanned the surroundings.

The footprints were very messy. The girl’s fall messed up the traces, making it hard to ascertain what exactly happened at the spot afterwards.

“Captain Luo, I think this might be good news actually. After all, it was raining heavily, and this is quite a deserted mountainous area. The rocks and the road beds are loose and there may be safety hazards. If someone has driven by and taken the girl away, at least she doesn’t have to spend the night out in the wild.”

Luo Wenzhou still looked very solemn. He didn’t reply. After a while, he finally nodded, slowly “Alright. Keep the scene intact. Inform the technical crew, see if they could tell from the traces whether the child got on the car voluntarily. And…prepare the missing child posters. Pay close attention to the relevant calls from the sub-bureaus in this area.”

“Yes Sir!”

“Also, contact the museum that the students visited this afternoon.” Troubled, Luo Wenzhou picked up a cigarette and thought through everything carefully to make sure that nothing was missing. Then, he added: “Check the museum visitors. Also, screen the security camera footage from the nearby interstate highways.”

The search crew member was baffled: “What? Why?”

“See which cars passed by.” Luo Wenzhou answered lightly, “Pay special attention to single male drivers. I have a feeling that this is not so simple…”

In a deserted countryside, a panicking little girl suddenly stops your car and tells you that some abductor has taken control of their bus. What would a normal person do under this circumstance?

They might not have the courage to intervene directly. They might not even dare to let the child on their car without verifying – after all there is no shortage of news stories about criminals using children as bait. So, most likely they would either drive away as if the girl did not exist, or, after sorting out the situation they would report to the police as soon as possible.

After the police had located the bus in Xiling County, emergency calls from the whole county would be transferred to this line. Then why was it that so many hours after the girl had escaped, there was still zero information about her whereabouts?

The missing girl had cast a shadow on the whole rescue mission.

Three days passed with no progress. The mysterious driver who picked the girl up was nowhere to be found. 

In the late afternoon of the third day, Qu Tong’s parents came to the Bureau and brought a USB drive.

“We don’t know who left it, or when…We found it in the milk box. Since Tongtong’s missing we haven’t been checking the milk box regularly.” said the red-eyed father, “then this morning the milk delivery boy knocked on our door because the milk box was too full. We opened it, then this dropped out.”

Lang Qiao put on a glove and took the tiny USB drive in her hand: “What’s inside?”

She had hardly finished her question when Qu Tong’s mother burst into tears. She started wailing uncontrollably. 

“T…there is…a recording.”

Fifteen minutes later, Lu Youliang finished hearing the recording. His brows were tightly knit. The recording was only less than one minutes long. It started with a girl’s heart-wrenching screams. Then there was the sound of intense struggling. The screaming and struggling gradually weakened, and finally stopped. Then, a sudden sharp rattle — like the sound of someone shaking a metal box full of small jingle-bells. The stinging jingling pierced through the listeners’ ears right into their hearts.

Lu Youliang’s eye twitched. He slowly lit a cigarette.

“Chief Lu.” Luo Wenzhou broke the silence, “We have too little evidence right now and this is probably too early to suspect… but, I heard Lao Yang mentioning this so many times that I have to bring it up: the case twenty years ago — we only heard it from someone else but you were the only one who was involved in it. Do you think this recording resembles the phone call from the abductor back then? Could this be a mimicry of the old serial abduction case?”

Lu Youliang slowly blew out a smoke ring. He didn’t respond right away.

After a disturbingly long silence, he finally spoke: “That case received very high publicity back then. You could find its news coverage on the old newspapers even today. Back then, because of the lack of privacy protection, many details were leaked, such as ‘the victim’s parents received black-mailing phone calls’. However…”

There was a rare solemness on the face of the old Chief.

“I remember, in the first case of the Lian Huashan serial abduction cases, there was a particular detail.” said Lu Youliang, “The father of the victim provided this testimony during the investigation. He said that he heard the sound of a metal pencil case over the phone. Back then, students liked to use metal pencil cases. The missing girl’s parents said that the girl collected some colorful jingle bells in her pencil case and would sometimes shake it for the sound of the jingles. The adults found it irritating and had yelled at her for it before…The sound that he heard from the phone was definitely the shaking of a pencil case. And because of the sound he was certain that the screaming girl over the phone must be his daughter.”

Lang Qiao, the note-taker on the side, felt a chill down her spine.

This detail was too minuscule. Also, since there weren’t any recordings back then to serve as physical evidence and it was all based on the parents’ testimony, the police took it with a grain of salt. Because under extreme anxiety and fear, the state of mind of parents was less stable. There was the possibility that they had misheard as well. Therefore, this piece of the testimony was not treated as key evidence.

There was no mentioning of this in Yang Zhengfeng’s note, so even Luo Wenzhou and Tao Ran did not know of it.

Obviously, the police wouldn’t include such details in their public reports. Then…

 

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