Chapter 50 Humbert Humbert Seventeen

TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee

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“Indeed, he was home at 8:30 pm on the 27th.” Tao Ran went with Chen Chen to the hospital and got to have a couple words with her after she finally calmed down. On his way back, he received orders to verify Xu Wenchao’s alibi, “I checked his take-out orders for the past six months too. It’s very routine, usually from a handful of restaurants. The delivery men recognized him.”

An officer by his side asked: “Could it be that the delivery man had been bought?”

“Let’s look into the personal relationship between the witness and Xu. But I wouldn’t put my money on it.” Luo Wenzhou said, “The delivery boys are mostly on short-term contracts. New faces come and go every three months or so. You can imagine they don’t get to bond with the client very often. So I don’t think one would agree to falsify an alibi for a client. Not to mention that not everyone has the guts to bullshit in front of the police…And…”

“What?”

“My shoes are size forty-two.” Luo Wenzhou lightly tapped one foot, “Xu was wearing sneakers this afternoon so I didn’t get a clear look. But judging the shoes he is wearing now, they look smaller.”

The meeting room was in an uproar.

Lang Qiao was the last that walked into the room. She threw herself onto a chair: “Boss, would you please send someone else? I am helpless with that kid. She scares me.”

Luo Wenzhou asked: “How is it with Su Luozhan?”

“The kid is completely at home. She eats and sleeps as if nothing happened.” Lang Qiao shook her head, and took the cup of coffee passed over by a colleague, “She is not afraid of the adults, not even the police. I have no clue about why this is… Maybe she is too young to realize the consequences of her doings? Or maybe she is too smart — she knows that she won’t get into any real trouble because of her age. When you talk nice to her, she’ll play innocent. If you speak tough to her, she’ll just smile back. Oh, and just now, she asked for a bottle of milk, drank it, and asked me if she could take a nap. Then she napped! To be honest, if I were caught on scene doing what she did and brought to the police station, I’d be scared to death. I definitely wouldn’t be able to sleep. Is this child really human?” 

Luo Wenzhou remained silent. He lit a cigarette, but was deep in his thoughts before he put it between the lips.

Without any doubt, Xu Wenchao had a role in this. Otherwise, there would be too many ‘coincidences’.

Xu was the liaison between the current case and the ones twenty years ago. He had a special relationship with the Su family. Su Luozhan called him twice while on-scene, and identified him as the culprit without hesitation. 

His different attitudes during the two summons today were very interesting too. In the first summon, he was soft and polite, but acted unprepared. Many times he had to rely on his ‘loss of memory’ excuse, and was almost cornered by Tao Ran in the end. He panicked as if he didn’t expect it at all.

But during the second summon, he was sharp and calm. His words were logical; his answers were impeccable. When he was taken from his home in the middle of the night, this man was even fully dressed.

Xu at first said that he heard about Qu Tong’s case from the radio. Although the details were hidden from the public, key information such as “the evening of the 27th”, or “Xiling district” had been revealed. Then why didn’t he mention his alibi the first time around?

Was he too frantic to remember it, or had he not realized that he ranked high on the suspect’s list?

Or…was he only testing the waters to see how the police would react?

If it were the latter, that would be absolutely horrifying.

Whichever one it was though, one thing was certain: a person cannot appear in two different places at the same time. Law of physics. 

Luo Wenzhou pondered for a while, then knocked on the table: “Attention, everyone. I’d like you to work on…”

Right then, someone pushed the door open from the outside. A reception room staff interrupted Luo Wenzhou: “Captain Luo, did you call for food delivery? It’s here.”

Luo Wenzhou did not see this coming at all. Before he answered, those exhausted and starving young men had already swamped the messenger. But they were surprised too when they saw what was inside the delivery bags.

It wasn’t the usual skewers, nor the hot and spicy stew. Not even Mcdonalds or the KFC.

There were two gigantic bags. One was an insulated container for warm food, and the other was packed with dry ice to keep it cool. Both were stamped with a fancy logo. The utensils were neatly packed in a separate carton and looked too delicate to be disposable.

Opening them up, what was inside was nothing short of an entire buffet bar from a luxury hotel! Chinese dishes, Western gourmets…there was even some fresh ice cream. 

Luo Wenzhou choked on his own smoke.

Lang Qiao quickly recovered from the initial shock and snatched a box of ice-cream: “Mamamia! Big boss you are too kind!”

Tao Ran asked dumbfoundedly: “What the heck? What are we going to live on for the rest of this month?”

“Boss, did you win a lottery?”

“He must have won the latest bet on the Euro Cup!”

“Bullshit. That is beneath our dear Captain. Cap’ Luo, Is it pocket money from your parents?”

“But what’s the pocket money for? There’s no such thing as free meals in this world. Maybe they are making you a baby brother and are bribing you ahead of time?”

Luo Wenzhou: “Bri… go f*ck yourself!”

What a team of comrades.

He took over the container and found a familiar-looking hotel logo — the one that he just left.

Luo Wenzhou’s eyelid twitched.

“Wait, it looks like that fancy and pretentious hotel down the block.” Lang Qiao suddenly realized, “I thought their buffet only served during regular business hours and was too cool to cater…but all these goodies? What a down-to-earth gesture!”

“I guess the food isn’t enough to seal your mouth?” Palpating veins bulged from Luo Wenzhou’s temples, “Why so many f*cking questions? If you’re not hungry, go to work.”  

Lang Qiao studied Luo Wenzhou’s facial expression. Her long-buried little girl’s pink bubbly heart was suddenly rejuvenized. 

She thought about it: such an extravagant late-night treat was absolutely out of character for Captain Luo, who was more of a ‘pancakes, churro, and soy-milk’ guy. A brand new idea flashed through her mind. Lang Qiao burst out: “Wait! Someone is courting you and sent this dinner of love … Ouch!”

A crumbled paper ball flew from Luo Wenzhou and hit her right in the forehead.

Luo Wenzhou tried to end the topic by pretending that he didn’t hear it. Amidst the salivating aroma of food, he calmly continued where he left off: “Okay guys, listen to me while you eat. I need you to split into two groups. Group one will use the missing children information platform to gather info from all districts of Yancheng. Pay special attention to these victims’ gender, age, physical characteristics at the time of missing, and the summary of the cases. Let us do another round of search in this order — the timeframe will be within the past two years.”

Tao Ran asked: “You suspect that Qu Tong is not the first one?”

“The suspect stalked the victim for a long time and continued with the abduction plan despite sudden hitches — a sign that they planned the kidnapping all along. I think Qu Tong cannot be the first one.” Luo Wenzhou said solemnly, “ Since we can’t find any evidence for the current case, let’s focus on earlier ones. Group two, I want you to dig out Su Luozhan, Su Xiaolan, and Xu Wenchao’s files and go through everything about these two generations of people: their transcripts, bank notes, address books, personal computers…I want a thorough screening of all of it.”

The two tasks fell on their shoulders like the Five-Elements Mountain on top of the Monkey King. They could feel the pressure of the workload even with their toes. Suddenly, the bubbly room turned somber. Everyone hurried to take notes or gobble food down and no one sought answers for the origin of the meal any more. 

Luo Wenzhou grabbed a roasted chicken wing. Within three bites, the bones were as clean as a rice field after a locust outbreak: “Very demanding tasks, I know. Everyone get down to it as soon as you finish eating. Little Lang, you will be the final summarizer.”

“Boss, don’t you want to try Su Luozhan one more time?”

“It’ll be useless.” Luo Wenzhou said, “With adults you can provoke, trick, or even scare them…but with Su Luozhan…she wouldn’t think of you as one of her own kind even if you sat right in front of her. Perhaps in her eyes, a human is no different from a lamb, and it’s all just a game of predator versus prey. Besides, she is too young and her testimony can only be used as supplementary evidence, but we need to make this one solid. The victim’s family from 20 years ago is sitting right there in the hallway outside. None of us want this case to drag on again to our retirement, right? Then hurry up, on your feet.”

Dull screening jobs like this one could hardly produce any adrenaline rush. At the tail end of a long evening, everyone relied on cheap dark coffee to stay awake. 

All the records for the missing children’s cases were succinct: boy or girl, age they went missing, place last seen, and events leading up to the incident… As for what kind of a kid she was, what she liked, how she lived, or who still dreamed about her in the dark long nights and were forever trapped in the hopeless search — none of those things would be reflected in the papers.

When so many tragedies were listed together, it was shocking and heart-wrenching but also long and dull, like the endless list of carved names on a war memorial.

Before long, it was dawn. The meeting room was filled with empty coffee cans and cigarette butts.

“Unfound missing girls between 9 to 14 years of age — minus those who left letters and ran away themselves, or those whose bodies were later found — there were 32 cases last year, and 31 the year before. Considering physical characteristics, we can further eliminate some adult-like girls and ones who look kiddy, which would leave us with 26 cases in the last year and 20 in the year before.

Luo Wenzhou poured some cold tea onto a disposable towel and wiped his face: “What about adding ‘floral dress’ as a keyword?”

“Seven cases last year, and eight cases the year before.” Lang Qiao looked up. Amidst yawning and droopy-eyed colleagues, Lang Qiao’s bloodshot eyes looked particularly bright. Her face was lit by the reflection from the computer screen and beamed with an unusual paleness: “Captain Luo… You guys might want to see this.”

She connected the laptop to the projector. As a photo collage of the victims appeared on the wall, Tao Ran froze in the middle of a yawn— 

The fifteen girls each had a unique physical appearance and no one looked particularly similar to another. However, when all of them were placed side by side in one picture, the differences in them somehow faded while a vague similarity between the teenage girls surfaced: the look in between a girl and a woman. At a casual glance, this point of commonality made them seem so similar that it was even hard to tell them apart! 

Tao Ran murmured: “It can’t be…”

Like withered flowers on a bed of fallen leaves, information about these girls was swamped in the sea of missing children cases. Gradually, they turned into cold cases locked away in a file drawer. If not for this coincidental discovery, no one would ever realize that they grew from the same vine.

It was a poisonous vine hidden deep down the bog, with strong roots and far-reaching branches. Only a small tip of it crept up under the sun and it was already horrifying enough.

“Go back further.” Luo Wenzhou said, “Search for the past 10 years … no, 20 years, all the way back to the first Lian-Huashan abduction case!”

Fei Du had ordered for clean clothes to be delivered to his room, and had finished grooming himself early in the morning. Then he asked his assistant to drive him to Dr. Bai’s home. However, it was a middle-aged man who opened the door.

The man had an average height, squarish face, and very wide shoulders. Although dressed in casual and humble clothing, something about the way he looked at him made Fei Du frown.

His eyes were neither intimidating nor sharp. But they had a special kind of presence. They were like a very fine needle that could find the tiniest pore on the skin and pierce through.

Fei Du was taken aback at first. But quickly he greeted politely: “Nice to meet you. I am here to meet Dr. Bai. She is expecting me.”

“Oh,” The middle-aged man pushed up his glasses, “I see. You must be Mr. Fei, right? Bai Qian is my wife. Please come in.”

As he was talking, Dr. Bai came out to greet him too. The man seemed to be on his way out. He gently nodded at Dr. Bai, then took his briefcase and left.

“He works at the Yancheng Police Academy.” Seeing that Fei Du turned to see him leave, Dr. Bai introduced, “Just an armchair strategist who only knows things on paper — actually, the book that you’re borrowing today was edited by him.”

Fei Du’s eyes landed on the book in his hand — “Criminal Psychology: Case Studies of the Criminal Case Victims (Third Edition)” — and dwelled shortly on the name of the editor: Pan Yunteng.

“So how are you lately?” Dr. Bai poured him some tea, “Last time you mentioned you wanted to apply for graduate school? What a surprise. I wouldn’t have guessed it from a busy man like you. Tell me it’s not because of all the journal articles that you read here while waiting for your appointments.”

“Well, I’m nothing more than a mascot.” Fei Du answered casually, “My father left me a very good managerial team. I am not at all needed for the day-to-day business operations. Plus, the other board members would prefer to keep my hands out of unfamiliar waters too. They would love to see the Fei Jr. go get a real degree besides the paper from some diploma mill.”

Dr. Bai looked at him curiously, “But for you, wouldn’t it be more helpful to get an MBA abroad? Our field just seems too…irrelevant.”

Fei Du smiled, “You think so. But compared to some of my other friends who study the Beatles or the existence of ESPs, my interest is actually fairly reasonable.”

Dr. Bai concurred, “Fair enough. It’s not like you guys would be worried about getting a job with the degree. So what is your research interest? Perhaps I could connect you with some advisors.”

“This is the one.” Fei Du waved the thick book in his hand.

Before Dr. Bai fully wrapped her mind around his suggestion, the young man continued with his half-hearted self-mocking: “Besides, I have heard so much about the good-looking police officer-to-be in the Academy. Maybe I will get lucky.”

It was already late in the afternoon when Fei Du left Dr. Bai’s home. His fully-charged cell phone had been sitting silently in his pocket the whole time. Fei Du pondered a little bit, then spoke to the assistant: “To the Bureau, please.”

The assistant was confused: “Director Fei, what happened? Is there a case to report to the police?”

Fei Du replied with a smile. The assistant had been working for him long enough to read his different types of smiles. With the sudden revelation, she shrugged at his increasingly queer taste. 

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