Chapter 55 Humbert Humbert Twenty-two

TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee

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“You mean…inside?” Luo Wenzhou didn’t know what facial expression to pull together for Fei Du’s idea. What he managed in the end was a teeth-clenching smile, “Are you sure Xu Wenchao is as psychotic as you are?”

“I find it quite interesting how you ‘normal’ people view it.” Fei Du handed him Su Xiaolan’s ash box, “On the one hand you acknowledge it to be what remains of an ordinary person. On the other hand, you grant it extraordinary meanings, like holy, taboo, inviable, untouchable…regardless of what a person she used to be.”

The tiny box was surprisingly heavy. Luo Wenzhou took a couple deep breaths, then said: “The rituals and taboos are a result of awe and reverence — towards death, and life. Hear me now, Fei Du. If I open it and find nothing inside except the ashes, I’ll stuff you in.”

He laid down the small wooden box on the ground. Then, gritting his teeth, he flipped open the cover. What emerged at first was some messy styrofoam and dehumidifier. Despite his goosebumps, Luo Wenzhou braced himself and dug in the ashes inside a cotton pouch.

Suddenly, his hand stopped. Under Fei Du’s inquiring eyes he slowly and carefully pulled out a sealed plastic bag from the pile of ashes.

Fei Du smiled: “Looks like I don’t need to go in now?”

With his gloved hands, Luo Wenzhou carefully flicked off the remaining ashes from the plastic. What laid in front of them was a mini-notebook with the signature pink plastic covers which marked it as an object of the past.

Surprisingly, Su Xiaolan’s handwriting was quite good. She wrote like an adult. The margins were filled with doodles —  skeletons drawn from blue ball-pens, “blood drips” from red fountain pens, and so on. It looked quite depressing. The pages were filled with exclamation marks and poor grammatical sentences.

“date, month, year. The bitch let that fat man have me. She sat by the door and counted the money. Kill her! Rip her tongue out!! Crak her head with the bear botle!”

This sentence popped into his eyes as soon as he opened the notebook. He took another silent deep breath, brows furrowed.

“date, month, year. Deng Ying is here! It rained and she came to borrow an umbrella. She came here before. A customer was here too. He was drunk! (Followed by a whole page of messy ink stains.) Bitch and the drunk ass dragged her into the room. She is a dead fish!”

“date, month, year. The police came to our school today to look for Deng Ying. They asked many people but didn’t ask me. Because I was sick and stayed at home that day. Deng Ying is still in the bathroom. Bitch said get rid of her, or we will all be dead.”

“date, month, year. Bitch put Deng Ying in the fridge and took her away. She told the neighbors she was going to the wholesale center to stock up on ice cream. The fridge stinks! I puked, and bitch hit me again.”

Fei Du asked: “Who is Deng Ying?”

“Don’t know.” Luo Wenzhou’s bushy eyebrows were tightly arched like bowstrings. He lowered his voice and said: “During this time Su Xiaolan was still in fourth grade. We didn’t find any victim that fit the screening criteria from this period. If this was the first child victim, she may have accidentally stumbled upon the crime site so her case didn’t show the signature characteristics like the rest.”

24 years ago, a hot summer evening.

Fourth-grader Deng Ying was on her way home from school. It suddenly started pouring and she didn’t have an umbrella. Her friend’s home was just around the corner. She thought maybe she could stay there to wait for the rain to pass. The friend was also absent from school that day because of sickness, so it was a good opportunity to pay her a visit too —

Large pedals of the sophora flower were chased away by the wind and battered by the rain. Their soft fragrance wallowed in mud.

The girl had no cell phone and couldn’t tell anyone of her plan. Her split-second decision to visit the friend led her to a hellish detour — and many others after her.

Luo Wenzhou said: “So after that first incident, Su Xiaolan’s mother discovered a new way to use her girl.”

Fei Du refused to squat on the floor like a big monkey. Instead, he sat down beside Luo Wenzhou, propped one leg up, and rested the plastered arm on his knee. Casually, he leaned on the wall of ashes as if it was like any other regular wall. 

Half of his attention was on the current event, but the other half of his mind was on Luo Wenzhou himself. Finding his reactions interesting, he suddenly asked: “What will happen to Su Luozhan?”

“Su Luozhan?” Luo Wenzhou’s train of thought was suddenly interrupted. Puzzled, he turned to Fei Du, “What about her?”

Fei Du asked: “I mean, would she get any sentences?”

“Oh, that. In the juvenile rehab camp, yes. With her case, probably three years.” Luo Wenzhou flipped over another page of the mini notebook and added emotionlessly, “And after that, we’ll see. I will ask the local office to pay attention to her after she gets out.”

“Three years.” Fei Du raised one brow, “That’s not even enough for college. I thought when she said ‘just for fun’, someone was going to blast into the interrogation room and strangle her.”

“The hot-headed ones were sent out for fieldwork. They weren’t around.”

“What about you?” Fei Du pressed on relentlessly, “All those sleepless nights, all those stressful encounters with the victim’s family, the press, the public…Most of what you got was either tears or scolding. It takes great perseverance and empathy to keep on going, right? Now you finally nailed the suspect. But not only do they refuse to cooperate, one of the key culprits shows no shame and no regret of what she’s done. On top of that, she doesn’t even get any real punishment for it. Don’t you feel anything?”

Luo Wenzhou glanced at him, then brushed it off lightly: “When I became a police officer, you were still at home watching cartoons, Intern.”

“I don’t watch cartoons.” Fei Du replied, “I only play video games occasionally.”

Luo Wenzhou: “…’

He cleared his throat, then tried to change the subject: “Su Xiaolan’s diary didn’t mention how Su Hui dealt with the bodies. Any ideas?”

Fei Du stared at Luo Wenzhou mischievously, intending to embarrass him. And he succeeded: Luo Wenzhou felt thorns on his back and had to fight the urge to sew the man’s eyelids closed. Finally, Fei Du let him go and cooperatively responded to his question: “Who, me? I would disassemble the corpse first. Since I have a car, and since back then they didn’t have the DNA technology, I would chop up the body and mix it with some pork ribs, and then toss the mixture in the mountains. Even if I got unlucky and someone discovers them to be human remains, it would be very hard for the police to identify the remains.” 

“If they dismembered the body, Su Xiaolan probably would have mentioned it in the diary.” Luo Wenzhou ignored his excited tone and tried to state objectively, “Not to mention that a drunkard woman and a little girl probably don’t have the strength to dismember the body.”

“Then find somewhere to bury it. The best option — an absolutely safe place — would be somewhere that belongs to me and won’t be bothered before I die. In other countries, you could bury in your backyard. But here, with our special land policy, burying a body is like burying a land mine that could go off any day. It’s too risky.” Fei Du said, “So the next best option would be somewhere that’s not likely to be dug and, even if the body were dug out, nobody would care. For example, the unofficial burial lands in the countryside, or the water-weed covered wetlands where drowning happens often.”

“Even today, there are villages that haven’t fully adopted the cremation practice. So you can still find fresh tombs in the middle of the farmlands. Find one of these new tombs — or anywhere with newly dug soil due to construction — and bury the body. This way, the color of the soil wouldn’t attract attention and the same place usually won’t get excavated again, at least not very soon. However, this requires the suspect to be very familiar with the landscape.” Fei Du paused, then added, “What’s easier would be to tie the foot with something heavy and let the body sink into the water. Even if the rope rots with time and the weight eventually detaches, chances are that the rotten body and the bones would already be entangled by the water weeds and become the main character of the next urban legend. All things leave traces. A wise man who is careful a thousand times will miss the 1,001st time. So, rather than trying to outsmart the whole public security system, it’s better to abide by one simple principle of murder—”

Luo Wenzhou looked at him in silence.

“Do not let the body be discovered. If there are risks, then do not let the person who discovers it think there is a need to involve the police.”

Hearing his theory, Luo Wenzhou nodded: “Sounds like a plan, but not without its flaws — for example, it seems that you can’t bear the sight of blood. Speaking of which, why are you afraid of blood again?”

Fei Du’s mouth corner unnoticeably stiffened. As if the question choked him, he didn’t answer until after a long, long pause. Then, he answered rather rigidly, “Wouldn’t be so afraid of it if I knew the reason.”

He refused to say more.

In one sentence, Luo Wenzhou successfully turned the master criminal theorist into a quiet flower vase. He let Mr. Eyecandy sit quietly beside him while continuing to flip through Su Xiaolan’s diary in peace.

“Placing the body somewhere with drowning risks…possibly.” Luo Wenzhou murmured, “Su Hui came from Ping Hai County which used to be the water source of Yancheng. There are lots of rivers and creeks there. She could…Huh?” 

Luo Wenzhou was originally flipping through the diary rather quickly, skimming lots of repetitive details about the ups and downs of a girl’s daily life. But suddenly, his flipping slowed down.

There were a couple pages about the happenings at school. Su Xiaolan was a very bitter girl, calling this one a ‘b*tch’ and that one a ‘c*nt’ as if she had been living on the planet of morons with no other species around. What caught Luo Wenzhou’s attention was a picture between the pages. It must have been taken during a school performance. There were six girls lining up on the stage to do a curtain call, their long and skinny legs exposed underneath their lovely floral dresses. 

The rest of the five faces were crossed out with a ball-pen. Su Xiaolan was in the middle. She stared into the camera with a slightly raised chin.

Floral dress — yes, she hadn’t mentioned the floral dress in the diary yet.

Luo Wenzhou quickly flipped back a couple pages.

“date, month, year. The dance teacher is such a mother-f***er. She asked us to buy our own performance costumes because she didn’t want to handle the money. ‘Must have the costume to dance in the show’, she said. Bitch heard it and hit me with a beer bottle. Bitch go to hell! Dance teacher go to hell!”

“date, month, year. Rehearsal is tomorrow and I have no dress. I saw the disgusting fatty outside of school. He’s been scouting there for many days. I went with him. He got me the dress.” 

”So the first time that Su Xiaolang sold herself, it was for a floral dress.” Luo Wenzhou double checked the date from the diary, “Twenty-two years ago — the time matches too. She then turned from a passive culprit to an active one. But why didn’t she seek any help…What’s that smile for?”

“Men, women, or kids of her own age, who should’ve she asked? To her, men were disgusting ‘customers’, women were ‘bitches’ that forced and tortured her. As for the kids at her own age…after Deng Ying died, out of fear she would naturally turn away from forming intimate friendships with the other kids…not to mention the hate and jealousy she had for the floral dress that the other girls obtained so easily. For a gloomy and bitter girl who happened to be pretty, do you think she’d have a lot of friends of her own age? The kids can be much more crural and innovative than adults when it comes to bullying.”

Towards the last pages of the diary, the angry doodling diminished. Because someone else entered.

The precocious girl clearly liked him, especially after she discovered that he turned out to be her new teacher at school. Although Wu Guangchuan was also a “customer”, he was different from the rest. He was cultured and gentleman-like. On the one hand he was a teacher; on the other hand he was poisoned by the sickly lust. As if a plant that grew from the dark shady corner, he had a special sentimentality. He loved young girls. When with Su Xiaolan, he treated her caringly and lovingly, like his real lover.

“date, month, year. I went to his home today. I won’t let Bitch know that I went. I didn’t go for money. He comes to my home twice a week so that Bitch wouldn’t find me other customers.”

“date, month, year. I like him. He is my knight.”

“date, month, year. He said he wanted to adopt me. He will help me get rid of Bitch.”

……

……

“date, month, year. Bitch said he’s been with us for half a year and it’s about time to trust him with the ‘lambs’. I bought tetramine today. I am going to kill her!”

“date, month, year. Bitch gave him a ‘lamb’, and he took it! He took it!! I hate him!!!”

“date, month, year. I followed him to Lian Huashan.”

“date, month, year. He was stalking someone. The little bitch wore a floral dress.”

“date, month, year. He got sick and stayed in the hospital overnight. I tricked the little bitch into his hotel room and tied her up like a lamb. I waited for him.”

What followed was a big blob of messy ink. A couple pages were torn, and amidst the mess there was the scrambling word – “hate” – written here and there. Towards the end of the diary, there were no more coherent writings. 

Drenched in the ink blob were the ghastly scream-calls and the severed floral dresses of the  serial abduction cases.

The floral dress costume that she paid for with her body had been haunting her ever since. It was not a fetish of the pleasure seekers after all, but the endless repetition of how a girl’s soul wallowed and drowned in a pool of mud.

Wu Guangchuan almost pulled her out once but he eventually stomped her back into the abyss. The doomed dress that Guo Fei wore on that ill-fated day had turned into a shackle that, despite the passing of years and Su’s death, was passed down to the next generation. 

The last page of the diary got stuck on the plastic back cover. Luo Wenzhou felt that there was something in between, so he carefully pulled on the page: a dozen pictures dropped onto the floor.

The photos were all taken at different times, probably in secret. They were of a small room with soundproof material covering its interior. The heavy curtain was always pulled shut and the light was dim. In each picture, there was a different girl and a different man. In each of the shots, the face of the human-skinned beast was recognizable.

But Fei Du picked up the only blurry one.

It was a very old photo, and the lighting was particularly poor. The skilled photographer tried hard but could only get a blurry silhouette. The short buildings in the distance blended in the night. The camera had a high angle and the focus was on the flower beds in the small garden. One of the roses recently died, exposing a slim slit of the basement window. 

A skinny girl was pushed against the glass. Her hands were pressed helplessly onto the window pane. Her face was blurry. Behind her there was a towering man. “Was this a picture of Wu Guangchuan and Su Xiaolan that Xu Wenchao secretly took when he rented the apartment at Xiang Yang Road?”

Meanwhile, Tao Ran and a group of colleagues had opened the door of Room 201, building 8 of the Xiang Yang District.

It was an empty room. A complex and perplexing scent shrouded them.

Thick curtains were shut and kept the lights out. Tao Ran opened the curtains to reveal the window that once faced Wu Guangchuan’s windows. Instead, what he saw behind the curtains was a gigantic poster of a life-size photograph. 

It was the night view of twenty years ago.

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