Chapter 42: Humbert Humbert Nine
TL: QuantumC, Editor: MochiMochi
“According to what you just said, “ Lang Qiao murmured solemnly, her dark circles almost as big as her eyes: “either Wu Guangchuan crawled out of his grave, or you got the wrong person twenty years ago – and the real murderer is now doing it again.”
“Six times he had succeeded, and not even once did we get close to him. He even tricked us into closing the case with the wrong suspect. Even a normal person might get dizzy with the easy success, let alone an actual maniac. Would he really lay low and stay put for so many years?” Luo Wenzhou said, “If we really had the wrong guy before, then these twenty years would have been enough to fill a death pit with bones.”
Luo Qiao turned away: “Captain Luo, your words give me goosebumps.”
“Yours give me goosebumps as well.” Luo Wenzhou swung the pen with his fingers as he continued, “Anyways, I’ve sent our guys to Qu Tong’s apartment. Let’s start from the one who dropped the USB drive.”
“I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think we are going to get anything.” Lang Qiao said, “Apparently, Qu Tong’s family apartment is in a very old residential area. The residents are sloppy in paying the $30 monthly property management fee – and rightfully so, since there is hardly any ‘management’ going on. It’s like the lyric “my gate is always open” had been written for them. They literally just had a break-in last month. I mean, if you can’t catch the guy who took something from your home, can’t imagine getting the guy that left something there.”
Tao Ran asked: “Any other leads?”
“The USB drive was of the most generic kind – one that you can find on a thousand different webpages. It was wiped clean; not a single trace of fingerprint was found. As for the content of the recording, the technical department is still on it. However, from what we know so far, the suspect clearly has good skills against clue extraction.” Luo Wenzhou paused, then shook his head, “The outcome isn’t looking so bright.”
The probability that they might find more clues was slim. So was the probability that the girl was still alive.
The golden 72 hours has already passed. The recording delivered to the parents seemed to be a way of showing off, a concluding message — I am still here. I am still the winner. You guys still cannot get me.
“Actually, there is another approach.” Tao Ran pondered for a while, then said, “On the night of the abduction, what kind of people might have driven past the scene? We’ve thoroughly screened the nearby sight-seeing spots, the campus of the winery, and the security footage on the main roads. If whoever picked up the girl was really a passer-by, it’s unlikely that he didn’t leave any trace. However, up until today, we haven’t found anything from the screening. What if…what if he had been following Qu Tong all along — or maybe his target had been some other girl on that bus, but then the bus was hijacked…”
Lang Qiao realized what he was implying, and continued for him: “You mean, if it had been intentional stalking, then it must have been planned, and probably been on-going for a while!”
The students’ summer camp ended in the Xiling suburb on its last day. However, before that, it had been held in the city, near the school. If the mysterious abductor had been stalking one of the students, then he might have been picked up by some traffic cameras or some nearby residents, since it was much harder to be invisible in the heart of the city than in the remote countryside.
Lang Qiao shot up: “I’ll go.”
“I’ve already tried.” Luo Wenzhou waved her down, “Sit. On that night, when we finished screening the crime scene and didn’t find any suspect, I asked our guys to search along the everyday routes of the girls. There are eleven girls in the 18-students-class. They were all of similar ages as Qu Tong, and six of them had similar physical characteristics as her. Even if we focus on only those six, it is almost impossible to check every person that they have crossed every day. We can’t narrow down the suspect, because we only know that his or her shoe size is 42, and nothing else. We don’t know whether it’s a man or a woman, old or young. Unless the person somehow appears suspicious…but from what we have gathered, apparently not.”
Lu Youliang had been listening from the side. Hearing this, he couldn’t help but sighed, and thought that even if he were to lead the investigation himself, he couldn’t have been more thorough. Sometimes luck was just not on their side.
“Back in the days the abductor called the parents directly. Now that we can finally track phone calls, he changed to a traceless USB drive. Talk about keeping up with technology…” Lang Qiao also sighed, “What a classic case of ‘virtue grows one foot taller, yet the devil 10 feet’.”
Luo Wenzhou hesitated, then asked, “I remember that none of the victims’ bodies was found. What was the final nail on the coffin for Wu Guangchuan then? Only the bloody children’s clothing in his basement?”
“No. The rules were looser back then, but not that loose.” Chief Lu answered, “Besides some clothes that had been cut into pieces, the main evidence against Wu was the testimony from the seventh girl. Physical examination showed that she was sexually assaulted. After she became conscious, she identified Wu Guangchuan as well. What was her name…Su…Su something.”
“Su Xiaolan.” said Tao Ran, “My Shifu wrote it in his notebook. She was one of the students of the suspect Wu Guangchuan.”
“Yes, exactly.” Chief Lu tried hard but finally gave in to his fading memory, “It had been too long. And my brain isn’t as sharp as the old days any more. Go ahead and get the archived files.”
Luo Wenzhou gave the spaced-out Lang Qiao a nudge. Then the latter hurried off to take care of the paperwork.
Following the Chief’s own orders, the process of finding and transferring the archived files was super smooth. Before long, the official records, more detailed and objective than Lao Yang’s notes, finally saw the light of day again after twenty long years.
“Yes. It should be this girl.” Chief Lu singled out one of the pictures.
Because the victim was still alive, and probably wouldn’t want to be disturbed, Lao Yang did not keep any picture of her in his notebook.
The seventh victim, Su Xiaolan, was a very good-looking little girl. Her eyes were the shape of perfect prune pits. The corners of those eyes were long and slightly slanted upwards. She wore light makeup for the picture, and held her head in her palms. She stared into the camera, looking innocent, yet precocious.
“Su Xiaolan was a student at Jing Xiu Middle school. She was a sophomore at the time.”
Lang Qiao asked curiously: “Wasn’t the girl from a humble family? She’s the one whose mother didn’t even notice she was missing until days later, right? Then how could she afford to go to private school?”
“She danced. She was a good dancer and her primary school teacher recommended her to Jing Xiu Middle School directly. Jing Xiu recruited students with special talents and gave them generous scholarships. However, because of her family upbringing and regular training at the dance team, Su Xiaolan missed a lot of classes and wasn’t close with any of her classmates. Wu Guangchuan was her homeroom teacher in the first year of middle school. Because she was always alone, Wu decoyed, coerced the girl and took advantage of her many times.”
“That’s strange.” Tao Ran couldn’t help but interject, “If Wu Guangchuan abducted and murdered six other girls, why let this one live?”
“I was new to the job back then, and worked mostly on the lower levels. I wasn’t heavily involved in the case.” Chief Lu thought carefully for a while, “The suspect had been dead, so we couldn’t hear the motives from his own mouth anymore. What we have now is only the hypotheses of the senior officers when they put together the report post hoc. They suspected that there were two main reasons: First, many people knew that Su Xiaolan and Wu Guangchuan were close. If Su Xiaolan died, Wu would become heavily suspected. So Su was a pricey and risky target for Wu. Someone even had a theory that the other six girls were substitutes for Su Xiaolan.”
“The second theory was purely our speculation — different from the rest of the victims, Su Xiaolan’s family was very unique. The offender couldn’t get any satisfaction from mentally torturing the parent via the screaming call. If calling the parent had a special meaning to the offender, then he couldn’t get that from killing Su Xiaolan.”
The whole case sounded quite solid. There was both evidence and an eye-witness. The logic and motivation made sense as well. The only question left was: if the offender had died twenty years ago, then who took Qu Tong away?
Who else would know the cruel detail of the metal pencil case?
Perhaps only the family members of Guo Fei…and the senior officers who handled the old case. Including Chief Lu.
In front of Chief Lu, everyone in the cramped meeting room fell silent.
Chief Lu was the one that was the most candid. He broke the ice by standing up and patting on Luo Wenzhou’s shoulder: “You should continue to lead the investigation. For any question or support, go to Lao Zeng. I will remove myself from the case for now. I’ll also write you a report of my schedule and whereabouts in the past several days. As for the other old guys involved in this case, I will call them up ahead of time about it, in case they give you a hard time.”
“And we should visit the family members of the victims in the Lian Huashan cases. Perhaps the family members said something to someone.” Luo Wenzhou brushed off the awkwardness, and picked up where Chief Lu left off: “And Su Xiaolan. She knew Wu Guangchuan quite well, so she might know something more. Let’s split into three teams. Tao Ran, continue to track the 18 students’ whereabouts with your men. To err on the safe side, include both the boys and the girls in your searches too. Xiao Lang, take some people to go over the security footage near Qu Tong’s apartment. That includes the private cameras in the shops nearby as well. I will take care of the rest.”
The rest was tricky – both investigating the senior officers, and interviewing the families of the victims.
Tao Ran wanted to say something, but was cut off by Luo Wenzhou: “Be on your way…I know… But It’s been twenty years and most of the evidence has probably already perished. Witnesses would be hard to find as well. It’s unlikely that I’ll find anything valuable. Your task, on the other hand, is vital — what if the kid is still alive, right?”
Hearing this, Tao Ran knew that it was useless to argue with Luo any more. He followed Lang Qiao and left the room.
Lu Youliang opened a new pack of cigarettes, and pushed it to Luo Wenzhou: “ ‘Keep the hardest task to oneself’, I’m glad to see that you are still following this motto.”
Luo Wenzhou: “The worst that I might get is some sour-mouthed complaining. If they go, who knows if it will end up getting physical…but of course, after the complaints, whether I can get any helpful information depends on you.”
“Those old folks…most left, some died. They completed their careers in grace and most are enjoying their long-deserved retirement. Now that Lao Zhang is transferred away too…” Chief Lu paused, feeling strangely melancholic, “I am the only one left…leading you little monkeys…these are my final years.”
“What’s so dreadful about retirement?” Luo Wenzhou smiled at him, “I dream of it everyday. Sleeping without the alarm clock, getting paid for not working, traveling wherever you feel like with dear old wifey…You get on the subway and all the little monkeys have to give you their seats…”
Lu Youliang had long considered Luo Wenzhou as his successor. Although the kid is a bit too young, luckily he wasn’t going to retire right away, so there is still time to nurse and trim Luo into a dependable pillar. So, his ambition-less bullshit rubbed Chief Lu in all the wrong ways. Lu then thought of some shady gossip he heard about Mr Luo, and became all the more irritated. He pointed at Luo Wenzhou: “As if you are going to take a wife…just shut up, alright? Or get the hell out of my sight.”
Luo Wenzhou took a cigarette and the archival files and was ready to be on his way, but Chief Lu stopped him at the door.
“What are your general thoughts about this case?”
Luo Wenzhou’s one hand was already on the door knob. He stopped: “There were two questions unanswered in the old case. First, the missing girls’ bodies were never found. Second, we don’t know Wu Guangchuan’s motive for calling the victim’s parents. I discussed this case with a friend before. He thought that the calls seemed to be about the parents, rather than the children — which was very odd for a pedafile. Also, I have this feeling that the two cases might be related, but they are not necessarily the work of the same guy.”
Luo Wenzhou: “Making a phone call and personally making a trip to the victim’s home are very different. The latter takes much more involvement and courage. The risk is higher as well. Looks like besides being good at throwing off the scent as Lang Qiao mentioned, the suspect is much more arrogant this time too. ”
The whole Yancheng city was like a river; after decades of regulating the sewage, the water now seemed quite clean and safe. However, rivers were rivers, and there was always going to be turbulence and whirlpool.
The odds of finding the missing girl, Qu Tong, back and alive, was getting slimmer and slimmer. At the same time, for thousands of other girls her age, today was nothing more than an ordinary summer day, filled with uninteresting classes at the ‘interest clubs’. Outside of the classrooms, the cicada was chirping weakly; inside the classrooms, the boys and girls were dreaming about their teenage years ahead.
Chen Chen carried an isle on her back. She was waiting for her parents at the bus stop on the rear entrance of the YMCA. Bored, she took out an ipad and started playing. Suddenly, she noticed a shadow on her screen. Chen Chen looked up, and saw a hunch-backed blind old man approaching her, his face turned towards her, despite the supposed blindness.
Chen Chen felt uneasy all of a sudden. She thought of the conversation she had with the Gege who bought her cream puffs the other day. She carefully moved closer to the small crowd on her left who was waiting for the bus, while keeping a wary eye on the blind old man.
At that time, a bus arrived. The crowded bus stop emptied up. Before long, the old man and Chen Chen were the only two people left.
Suddenly, the old man swept the floor with his walking stick and started walking towards her. Chen Chen felt all the hairs on the back of her neck standing up. She quickly turned and ran towards the YMCA. At the corner, she bumped into someone who dropped all the books that she was carrying.
It was a girl who looked slightly older. She wore a floral print dress. Her hair was tied up into two ponytails.
Chen Chen hurried to apologize: “I’m sorry!”
The girl looked at her. She didn’t get mad at all. Instead, as she kneeled down to pick up her notebooks, she asked gently: “Why are you running?”
Chen Chen helped her and answered: “There is someone strange over there. I’m a little scared.”
The girl looked in the direction that Chen Chen pointed to: “I don’t see anyone. Where?”
Chen Chen turned around, and saw that the bus stop was empty. No one was there at all.
The girl looked at Chen Chen and asked: “Which grade are you in?”
“Sixth grade in the fall.”
“Oh, then I am one year older than you.” The girl held the books under one arm, and held Chen Chen’s hand with the other, “Are you still scared? I can wait for the bus with you.”
Chen Chen couldn’t be happier.
“I am taking photography classes here.” The girl looked down as she talked. Her long eyelashes flickered. Then, she turned and smiled at Chen Chen, “My name is Su Luozhan.”