Chapter 53 Humbert Humbert Twenty
TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee
“The old Majong Club had long been demolished, and the building itself underwent multiple renovations. Now it is a business court. If the body were really hidden there, it surely would have been excavated a dozen times. As for the rest, because of the poor record keeping practices back in the days, there wasn’t much we could find, at least for now.” Another peek at Su Luozhan through the video cam gave Lang Qiao shivers: “Speaking of which…how trustworthy is this little psycho anyways?”
“Only for reference. I think this kid has some kind of histrionic personality disorder.” Luo Wenzhou stared at the video cam without blinking. After a short pause, he added, “But at least their method is clear — it’s a collaboration between an adult and a girl. They started by stalking the target. Then the adult would do something to scare the target so the girl could win her trust. After a couple interactions, they would lure the target away.”
“On the day of my housewarming party, Chen Chen was indeed stalked.” Tao Ran pondered, then said, “If the stalker that Fei Du spotted that day was the culprit…”
“Let’s hypothesize that he is Suspect A.” Luo Wenzhou pulled out an A-4 sized paper, wrote down the letter ‘A’ and circled it, “…and suppose that the driver in Qu Tong’s case is Suspect B — whether A and B are the same person, we do not know yet. But I would guess not.”
Lang Qiao asked, “Why?”
“The frequency.” Luo Wenzhou knocked on the desk with the pen cap, “If Suspect A had been following Chen Chen since the day Tao Ran moved, then up until yesterday evening, it had almost been a full month. Putting aside whether Suspect A had the time or energy to stalk two girls at the same time — let’s suppose that he could — even then, for someone so patient that he stalked for a full month, committing another case within five days is too frequent.”
“And then there is the third person in this case, Xu Wenchao. On the night of Qu Tong’s case, he had a good alibi, so we can be sure that he is not Suspect B. Then, what role did he play in all of these?” Luo Wenzhou wrote down the character “Xu”, and then the character “Su”, and drew a line connecting them, “After Su Luozhan drugged Chen Chen and tied her up in the old Su apartment, she went back home as if nothing happened. She did not worry about whether Chen Chen would escape, or whether she would be heard by the neighbors…”
“Because she knew that her culprit would go there and take care of the rest!”
“However, this culprit of hers did not go. When Su Luozhan received the phone call from the YMCA coordinator, she went back to the Su apartment to see whether Chen Chen had been taken away. Then, she called Xu Wenchao twice.” Luo Wenzhou bolded the line connecting “Su” and “Xu” on the paper, extended it, and drew two diverging arrows, “Zhang Yuchen’s mental state is still unstable so let’s put her testimony aside for now. From just the information above though, there are two possibilities.”
“Number one, Xu Wenchao is Suspect A that had been stalking Chen Chen and planned the abduction.” Luo Wenzhou paused, “Number two, Xu Wenchao was Su Luozhan’s ‘agent’. After Su Xiaolan fell ill, there were many things that the girl could not manage on her own. She needed an adult ‘agent’.”
During his first trip to the Bureau, Xu Wenchao acted very surprisedly because he had no idea what went wrong in the plan. His answers to all questions were meticulously cautious. He would rather appear retarded than let things slip out unnecessarily. Back then, he most likely did not know that Su Luozhan had delivered those recordings to Qu Tong’s parents. He also didn’t expect that the police would connect the current case with the one twenty years ago so quickly.
“Wait, you mean…” Tao Ran lowered his voice without noticing, “Xu Wenchao was the ‘temporary cleaner’ that the girl mentioned just now?”
“Temporary cleaner…It…It’s not what I think it is, right?” Lang Qiao turned abruptly to look at Luo Wenzhou, “He was cleaning the…What about Qu Tong? Is there really no hope?”
“Last night, Su Luozhan tied Chen Chen in the old Su apartment. Xu Wenchao should have taken it from there, but he couldn’t because he was locked up here.” Luo Wenzhou skipped her question and continued without looking up, “Meanwhile, the cloth pieces from Su Luozhan’s music box showed a large amount of blood, while the forensics team did not find any matching luminol reactions in the old Su apartment. That means that the apartment was probably only a temporary hub. The first scene wasn’t there.”
Tao Ran asked: “Then where would the first scene be?”
“Wait! No…guys, hang on!” Lang Qiao searched in frenzy. She pulled out a piece of paper from a stack of files, “Something ain’t right. Xu Wenchao is someone who went to private school twenty years ago and had the kind of money to buy expensive camera lenses. As a freelance photographer with a house, a car, and no debts, he’s been living a very comfortable life. Pardon my language, but in this world, a wealthy pervert can simply pay to get the things he wants. Did he really need to partner with Su Luozhan and put himself in danger? He’s not in it for the money obviously. Then why? What is he after?”
Her words made everyone silent.
Fair enough — for someone who grew up in an intact upper middle-class family with a smooth sail through life, why in the world would he muddle with the Su clan?
Had it not been for Su Luozhan’s imitation of Su Xiaolan’s ‘signature’ and Xu’s own careless slips afterwards, who would have guessed that he was involved?
“Captain Luo.” At that time, an officer poked his head in and interrupted, “There is an uncle Guo looking for you and he’s been here since early morning.”
Guo Heng was waiting outside the chaotic visitors’ meeting room, sitting on a chair that someone had found for him out of sympathy, and facing the back door of the guards’ room. The guard on duty was pulled out to help register the visitors and left the TV open. On the old shabby screen, a local news channel was covering the breaking YMCA rescue mission last night.
Guo Heng watched very carefully, his neck extending forward and his hunched back unintentionally straightening. He sat rigidly upright — in a way that prisoners would sit in assembly halls when they were made to watch correctional programs together.
Twenty years an inmate had turned a strong youngster into an old man and had robbed his ability to slouch freely on the sofa. Luo Wenzhou called out gently: “Uncle Guo.”
Guo Heng unconsciously straightened up some more and checked his sitting posture, then quickly realized it was no longer necessary. His eyes sadly looked down. Wrinkles reemerged on his ironed face.
Guo Heng sighed, then spoke softly: “I must have burdened your work…I just…seeing so many people here made me worry. Could it be that the man I killed, Wu Guangchuan, was the wrong person?”
Luo Wenzhou hesitated. He pulled out two cigarettes from the pocket, lit them, and handed one to Guo Heng: “Do you remember the girl that you rescued?”
“Yes.” Guo Heng nodded immediately, “She was quite skinny. She looks a little older than Fei Fei…a pretty little girl. What is her name again?”
Luo Wenzhou answered: “Su Xiaolan.”
“Yes yes, exactly.” Guo Heng savored the smoke in his mouth — a habit from many years of prison life, “It has been so many years. I wonder how that girl is doing now. When I got out, I thought about paying her a visit. But then I thought that she probably returned to a normal life now, maybe even married and with a child. Who would want to be reminded of the dark past? I’d better not disturb her.”
Guo Heng’s gloomy face finally showed a hint of a smile: “Honestly, for all these years I survived on the thought that had I been a coward back then and let the bastard slip, the girl might not have been able to live. A couple of years of jail time in exchange for a life — it’s worth it, don’t you think?”
Luo Wenzhou’s lips moved. But looking at Guo Heng’s face, he didn’t know where to start.
Was he supposed to tell him: “You might have killed the wrong man. The girl you saved was the true murderer?”
Then the old man’s lifetime of suffering, his rigid sitting posture, and constrained smoking, would all turn into a ridiculous joke.
“Captain Luo,” Guo Heng thought of something else, and asked, “You haven’t told me yet about these people gathered here. What happened? Was Wu Guangchuan the murderer?”
“Uncle Guo, would you please recall something else for me first?” Luo Wenzhou propped himself up with the back of his chair, “Look at me, look at my eyes…and tell me on the day…the day that you killed Wu Guangchuan, how exactly did you find him?”
Guo Heng was taken aback and had no idea why he would ask this detail again: “Because of that boy…”
“The boy messaged you on your beeper. He was a student at Jin Xiu Middle School named Xu Wenchao, and he helped you follow Wu Guangchuan — these I already know. But do you remember what Xu Wenchao said in the beeper message?”
Cigarette butt in his mouth, Guo Heng tried hard to recall the details. His brows tightened: “Hum…it might have been… something like, ‘He took her away from school.’ Yes, that was it. He was very cautious and ambiguous and didn’t mention any names. But as soon as I read it my scalp exploded. I quickly called back from a phone booth.”
Luo Wenzhou was surprised: “You called him back? What else? Please, any details?”
“I asked him what had happened, then I met him at the school gate.” Guo Heng answered, “The boy led me to Wu Guangchan’s apartment. And then…you know what happened from then on.”
Luo Wenzhou squinted: “That means that Xu Wenchao was waiting for you to call back somewhere. Do you know where he waited?”
“Close to the school.” Guo Heng said, “The Jin Xiu campus was quite well established. There were many newly-built telephone booths not far from the campus. He usually called me from one of those.”
Luo Wenzhou pressed on: “How long did it take you to get there?”
Guo Heng answered: “About five to six minutes at most.”
“Xu Wenchao sent a message to your beeper first, then waited for your call. After briefly talking on the phone, you arrived at Jin Xiu Middle School in five to six minutes to find him and then the two of you went looking for them together, right? So, all in all, it took around ten minutes?” Seeing that Guo Heng nodded to his question, Luo Wenzhou continued: “When you two saw Wu Guangchuan, you asked Xu Wenchao to go get help while you followed Wu to his home, correct? How far was it from the place you saw Wu to his home?”
“Not very far. Only one turn of the corner.” Guo Heng calculated, “About…fifty meters? … shorter than a hundred meters.”
“Wu Guangchuan took Su Xiaolan from the school to his home. You and Xu also went from near the school to his home. How come that despite being ten minutes slower, you still arrived before him?”
“The kid took me through a shortcut,” said Guo Heng. “That bastard Wu Guangchuan didn’t have the guts to take the main roads. He must have used the back door. He had to go around a large residential complex, while Xu and I cut through the complex in a straight line. Back then the residential areas were mostly fenced with brick walls — not too tall though — and the tops of the walls were decorated with hollow bricks. I hid behind the wall and saw Wu Guangchuan dragging the girl. I sent the boy away and — fury got to my head — I flipped over the wall to follow them.”
Luo Wenzhou took out a small notebook from his pocket: “Could you show me the orientation of the wall and his apartment in a sketch?”
Guo Heng paused to think, then tried his best to draw him a rough draft: “Yeah sure…but why? What about it?”
“I don’t know yet.” Luo Wenzhou replied softly, “Uncle Guo, the evidence led us somewhere unexpected. Are you prepared for it?”
Guo Heng slowly rose, supporting his weight on the back of the chair.
“We will give you closure as soon as possible.” Luo Wenzhou left it at that, and strode away. He took Guo Heng’s sketch to Tao Ran who was waiting down the hallway, “Could you see if this residential complex is still there?”
Tao Ran studied the piece of paper from all angles: “Wu Guangchuan’s apartment has long been demolished. When we first suspected this case to be related to the old one, we investigated the old crime scene: Jing Xiu Middle School had moved, and Wu Guangchuan’s old apartment had been torn down and a public gymnasium now sits there. As for this residential complex down the block…I’ll go and take a look right away!”
Fei Du strolled over. Luo Wenzhou could tell it was him without looking — because everyone in the Bureau was mad busy now and trotted or strode everywhere. Only his footsteps were as calmly paced as usual.
Fei Du wiped his glasses with his shirt and put them back on. All of a sudden, he turned into a different person — from an earnest youngster to a wolf under the sheep’s skin. Surely if he went to question Su Luozhan looking like this, he wouldn’t have gotten anything from her.
Fei Du asked in an indolent, draggy tone: “Have you heard of the ‘Fu Yuan Memorial’?”
“The memorial next to the ‘Fu Yuan Funeral Service’?” Luo Wenzhou didn’t expect it, “Isn’t that a temporary storage for ashes?”
“Su Xiaolan’s ashes are there.” Fei Du said, “Xu Wenchao helped arrange it. Accordingly, some of her belongings were stored there with the ashes too. I suggest you go and take a look. Might be worth your while.”
Luo Wenzhou asked pensively, his brows tightly knitted, “Did Su Luozhan say something was in there?”
“You wish. The girl is a little fox. She’d never tell us details like that. It’s just my guess.” Fei Du said, “I keep thinking… In this risky business, they needed a good way to silence the cowardly stalker customers that they had. Besides providing them with what they wanted, they also needed to get the goods on each of them too. The location to hold that “something” is the key. This place needs to be closely guarded like the safes in a bank, but has to be low-key enough to avoid police searches when things go down. If you ask me, the storage for the ashes is an ideal place.”
“I heard that the Fu Yuan Funeral Service’s memorial hall has good management. Only a registered few can be let in by staff, and every visitor needs a reservation — unlike some loosely managed cemetery that just lets anyone in.”
Luo Wenzhou: “…”
Not to mention the stalker, but Luo’s goods had clearly been left in the cemetery with the bouquet of little white flowers.
“No offense.” Fei Du shrugged and smiled, “Otherwise, why would Xu Wenchao keep Su’s ashes in the memorial rather than burying them? He doesn’t lack that bit of money. What do you think, Captain Luo? Mind being the chauffeur one more time?”
An hour later, Luo Wenzhou parked the car in front of the funeral service in the suburbs.
A couple hearses were parked here and there. The place was on the backside of a small hill. Housed in the shadows of the hill and shielded from any sounds of livelihood, the only thing moving here was the steam from the incinerator.
Fei Du retracted his eyes and reached for the door. But it was still locked. He lightly knocked on the door to remind the driver, only to hear the man beside him burst out a blunt question: “What did you mean last night?”