Chapter 57 Humbert Humbert Twenty-four
TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee
Xu Wenchao found it hard to breathe. He had no time to think about how the police managed to find that apartment, nor did he recall whether any fingerprints were left on that car. The moment he heard that address, he knew it was all over.
For more than half a minute, his ear tingled and he sat there like a wooden sculpture. The officer across the room, the fierce surveillance, and the cramped ‘little dark room’… He managed to put everything on the back burner and submerged himself in his own world.
Xu Wenchao was an educated man with above-average IQ.
He could tell right from wrong, and he knew very well that he was playing with fire. He clearly saw the red line of the law and morality, yet he could not make himself stop. Therefore, he tried hard to cover up the tracks of his sins.
For many years, he felt like a man floating on water. His upper half was exposed in plain air, mingled in the crowd of ordinary people. He contemplated the same questions of life like everybody else. He even agreed with the points of view of the ordinary — as long as he did not look down.
Because his lower half was submerged in cold cement.
He was divided into two for so long — until a minute ago a strong force pushed his upper body into the muddy water. His nose and mouth were suddenly filled by the stinky and icy ‘liquid,’ making him suffocate.
Luo Wenzhou patiently waited for him to digest it. After a while, he continued, “Your photographs were very high definition — even the pores on their faces could be seen. We have already started identifying these men to summon them. Speaking of which…it would be even better if we could have their contact and address directly. Didn’t you keep a list of that sort?”
“There is no use,” he said.
“There is no use.” Xu Wenchao replied softly, “You won’t find any evidence, and they won’t admit to it.”
The assisting officer by their side was now truly awakened out of horror and anger, thanks to both his boss and the suspect. As soon as he realized what was going on, he was so outraged that he slammed the table and yelled, “No evidence?! The roomful of blood and the weapon aren’t evidence? The pictures, aren’t they evidence? What other f*cking evidence is needed?”
Xu Wenchao stared at him peacefully, with even a trace of sympathy.
He calmly said, “But those were taken many years ago.”
The furious police officer was boggled. He really wanted to grab this beast’s collar and shake him up to make him speak human language. However, Luo Wenzhou realized what he meant.
They surely knew it. They did not need to admit to it: “I had no idea where the girls came from. I was referred by a friend. I only went there a couple of times…How could they be abducted? How could they die? They told me that the girls were willing…”
As for the bodies, even if they could be found, there were probably no traces left on them. The police could not find any direct evidence to link these customers with any recent cases of child abduction. The pictures in the ash box could only support that they previously molested children.
Not to mention that, for such a big case that spanned across twenty-some years, were there really only five perpetrators?
“How the others are going to be sentenced is none of your business. The prosecutor and the law will take care of it. Thanks for asking.” Luo Wenzhou replied calmly, “It’s not like we could give you an honorary banner for worrying for us. I suggest you focus on your own trouble. It looks like even if the others could get out of this unscratched, you, Xu Wenchao, were surely involved in the abduction, killing, and disposal of these children’s bodies. What do you want to say to that?”
“In the end, an outsider will have to swallow all the consequences. Thinking about it is ridiculously funny actually.” Xu Wenchao loosened his fists and showed his palms: “To be honest, I didn’t lay a finger on Su Luozhan, or any one of those girls. I didn’t take a single penny from them. I am not a monster.”
Luo Wenzhou was almost speechless: “Then what did you do? Did you only take photos and cover their asses? You are such a living Lei Feng.”
Xu Wenchao said: “I did it for Su Xiaolan.”
He looked down a little. His eyes seemed to have wandered to somewhere faraway: “I first met Su Xiaolan in middle school. It was love at first sight. There was something special about her that I never saw on any of the other girls before. I tried everything to get close to her, but she was such a loner. She was often absent from school. She barely talked to anyone, except for the homeroom teacher — our homeroom teacher was Wu Guangchuan back then. Except for him, no one knew her whereabouts…In sophomore year, even the new teacher didn’t know where she was most of the time. I realized then that she was around Wu Guangchuan a lot.”
“You had been following Wu Guangchuan before Guo Heng came to you?”
“I didn’t need to follow him. I could see him through my window every day. I rented an apartment near the school campus — the one you already found — my mom lived with me in the apartment then, but she also had to take care of my grandparents at home, so she wasn’t always there. Besides mealtimes, I was often alone. Su Xiaolan was my first love, the ‘can’t sleep without thinking about her’ kind of love.” Xu Wenchao smiled and gave Luo Wenzhou a “
Every man knows what I’m talking about,” look, then continued, “Once, I woke up in the middle of the night. I ‘relieved’ myself with a picture that I took of her during the school’s anniversary celebration. Afterwards, I was resting on the bed and my bed was right next to the window. It was summertime and I didn’t put the curtain down. I saw Su Xiaolan going home with Wu Guangchuan.”
“After midnight, to be exact.” Xu Wenchao replied, “Wu Guangchuan was very cautious. Then…I saw something that was beyond my imagination — you know, the imagination of teenagers tend to be misty and romantic — I was shocked, so shocked that I forgot to be angry or jealous. When I finally was able to think again, I realized that something was wicked: Wu Guangchuan was a teacher. Wasn’t this a crime?”
“I felt sick. I wasn’t sure whether she did it willingly. So I set an alarm, bought binoculars, and made use of the camera and lenses that I got after bugging my parents for a million years.”
Lou Wenzhou stopped the assistant officer who was about to cut off Xu Wenchao. He slowly twirled a pen between his fingers and asked emotionlessly, “Then when did you figure out that Su Xiaolan wasn’t simply a victim? I guess Wu Guangchuan wouldn’t take home the other abducted girls?”
Xu Wenchao closed his eyes for a minute and smiled in self-mockery, “I was…god knows why…I thought about her day and night, and the thought made me bitter but also hopeful. I was angry and depressed. I dreamed of tearing Wu Guangchuan to pieces. Once I couldn’t bear it anymore, so I lied to the teacher about being sick, and I snuck out of school to look for her. I saw her with another girl that I didn’t know. I hesitated, then decided not to confront her. But a couple of days later, news broke that the girl went missing. I had a strange feeling then. The next day I went to her home in the name of ‘delivering the homework’, and I caught her cutting a dress…it…it was the dress that the missing girl was wearing.”
“She panicked and pleaded me not to tell anyone. I was horrified. Truly. I couldn’t bear to think it through. My sky fell down basically. But in the end…in the end, I couldn’t see her suffer. So I agreed.” Xu Wenchao covered his face, “I was the class monitor. The teachers trusted me with the absences. They didn’t even ask for a doctor’s note. But I stalked, cheated, lied, and covered up a murderer…all for her. I lost decades of my own life as an ordinary person. She basically ruined me. She ruined my life…yet I still can’t help but love her…”
Luo Wenzhou pressured: “You didn’t run into Su Hui?”
Xu Wenchao shook his head: “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.”
Hearing this, Luo Wenzhou didn’t continue with the interrogation for a long while. He massaged his temples gently, and asked, quite politely: “Mind if I smoke?”
Xu Wenchao replied: “Could I have one too?”
Luo Wenzhou generously handed him a cigarette: “Didn’t know that you smoked too.”
“I don’t.” Xu Wenchao received the cigarette with his slightly shaking fingers. His words were a bit relaxed, “Well, only when the occasion calls for it. I don’t really enjoy it…Excuse me. Today is really a hard day for me. These things were buried in my mind for twenty years, and I had to pretend that they didn’t exist. Not even my closest family knew about it.”
“I see.” Luo Wenzhou peeked at his cell phone. Tao Ran and Lang Qiao hadn’t reported any news yet. The cigarette softened the atmosphere between the interrogator and the interrogatee a bit. He replied quite gently, “I feel you. Could you say more about what went through your mind when you were helping Guo Heng follow Wu Guangchuan?”
“I really thought that she was forced by Wu.” Xu Wenchao blew out a mouthful of smoke, “I agreed with Su Xiaolan not to tell on her. Otherwise she’d be in big trouble. I thought – little boys all had a bit of heroic blood in them I suppose – I thought that I could take care of Wu Guangchuan by myself and rescue her. Once when I was following him, I ran into Uncle Guo. He was investigating on his own, and I was on my own. We were both doing it for our loved ones. I sympathised with him. Also, it will be safer with an adult on the side. But I had no clue that he would kill Wu Guangchuan. Had I seen it coming, I absolutely would not have helped him.”
Luo Wenzhou asked: “Why is that?”
“That man was out of his mind. Thank god I did not tell him what Su Xiaolan had done. And thank god Wu Guangchuan didn’t have the time to speak. Otherwise she would’ve died that day too.” Xu Wenchao took two big clouds of smoke in a row. His face was shrouded by the smoke and looked a little blurry, “I still feel the goosebumps for her till this day.”
“You still feel the goosebumps for her till this day.” Luo Wenzhou looked at him meaningfully and repeated his last sentence. Then he asked, “After Wu Guangchuan died, how was your relationship with Su Xiaolan?”
Xu Wenchao was silent for a long time. As if choked by his collar, he struggled to loosen it while raising his head.
“Su Xiaolan wasn’t forced. She wanted it. She was born to be a poisonous poppy flower. How could she…enjoy it…” Xu Wenchao raised one arm and harshly wiped his face, “After that incident, she lost her spirit and lived like a corpse. I could hardly believe my eyes. Could you understand that feeling of helplessness? And I had to pretend that I knew nothing. I had to save up for a long time to buy one slot of hers from her mother.”
“Wait.” Luo Wenzhou paused, “Su Luozhan can’t be…your daughter?”
“No.” Xu Wenchao answered without a split second of hesitation, “I have never touched Su Xiao Lan. I bought her time only to keep her accompanied. It’s not like what you think.”
“She was so wicked, so evil, yet I was helplessly in love. I couldn’t help her, and I couldn’t help myself…”
The officer could take it no more. After a full day of agonizing interaction with the victims’ families, he almost shot up and it looked like he was ready to crush Xu Wenchao’s ‘romantic’ head into a pancake. But Luo Wenzhou pulled him back with a firm hand.
“Let me finish.” Luo Wenzhou signalled him to be patient, “Xu Wenchao, when did you start to clean up after Su Xiaolan? What was your role?”
“After Su Hui died.” Xu Wenchao thought about it, then replied with a long sigh, “It must have been over a decade. When Su Hui was still living, Su Xiaolan cursed her to death each day. But when she finally died, she felt alone and afraid. Her mother’s Mahjong Club was scheduled for demolition too. Su Xiaolan said that she didn’t trust anyone, and that she had no one to turn to besides me. What could I have done? I’d do anything for her.
“At the time, the apartment on Xiangyang Road was on the market because the previous owner was getting ready to immigrate abroad. I had some money back then — my family helped me out a bit, and I also had some savings — so I bought the apartment. But they went away in a rush and the apartment was never officially retitled.” Xu Wenchao looked down, “I gave it to her.”
Luo Wenzhou replied: “I see. Su Xiaolan started out as a teenage girl, then quickly turned into a pregnant woman, and then a mother… pretty much always someone that’d be given a seat on busses. Using her apparent vulnerability, she lowered the defence of the victims, abducted them, sold them to be molested by the pedophiles, and then killed them. Meanwhile, you provided the place and helped with cleaning up the body. How did you do it? Did you sever the body and bury the pieces elsewhere? Am I right?”
Xu Wenchao took a deep breath and covered his face with his palms. He did not refute.
“She died. But the nightmare wasn’t over. I realised that her girl…little Luozhan…she was a mini-version of her mother. I didn’t meet the requirements to adopt her officially. During the past two months, I was scratching my head off trying to find a way to take her under my wings. One minute without me looking and she…she reached out to the customers on her own! Can you imagine how shocked I was when I heard over the radio about the missing girl at Xiling? And then I was immediately summoned by you guys to the police bureau to talk about the case from twenty years ago.” Xu Wenchao stared at Luo Wenzhou with bloodshot eyes, “Now you have me. Well, it’s rather a relief. I finally don’t have to…”
Luo Wenzhou’s phone vibrated. It was a message from Lang Qiao: “Boss, we got the bastard! That son of bi**h saw the picture but still wouldn’t admit to it. He insisted that he knew nothing. You just wait until I get to the rest of them!”
“Wait, I have one more question.” Luo Wenzhou wasn’t moved a bit by his heart-wrenching ‘confession’. He put down the cell phone. His softened tone sharply turned: “You said you couldn’t control Su Luozhan and you knew nothing of her doing right? But the girl told a different story. She said that the two of you made a great team, that you dressed up as an old blind man and followed Zhang Yuchen. When she was alone you approached her to frighten her, and then Su Luozhan appeared to comfort her. That’s how you earned the child’s trust. Is it so?”
This group was always centered around the Su family. The ‘innocent’ customers only paid for the pleasure and didn’t need to shoulder any risks. The victims were all decided by the Sus. It took intricate planning to carry out the stalking, the abduction, and the murder. Picking Chen Chen to be the target happened more than a month ago. After they gradually figured out her daily routine, they picked a suitable time to strike. This all fit their pattern.
That is to say, their original hypothesis proved impossible: the suspects didn’t choose their own targets and then use Su Luozhan to lure them.
Xu Wenchao was too smart. After the initial shock, he quickly figured out what the police had against him, and dressed up his story with facts but cleverly minimized his responsibilities: He was only covering up for his love. He only helped with transferring the body. However, what he didn’t know was that with the help of Su Xiaolan’s diary, his story had revealed the gist of the Modus Operandi: That is, there was no other suspect but him. He was the one that stalked Chen Chen. He was an active perpetrator of the crime, rather than a passive culprit.
But why complicate the plan by abducting Qu Tong at the same time?
Why was Xu Wenchao so flabbergasted when he guessed from the police’s interrogation that Xu Luozhan was copying the details of the old case?
Because Qu Tong’s case was Su Luozhan’s own doing. The girl really was “out of control”. She was trying to get rid of Xu Wenchao, the “cleaner” that she despised. She took a job from a customer without him!
“Xu Wenchao, you were sickened by the relationship between Wu Guangchan and Su Xiaolan. You suspected Wu Guangchuan of raping, but you didn’t tell anyone. Instead, you started stalking and voyeurism.” Luo Wenzhou’s eyes closed in on him, leaving him no room to react, “Was it fun? Exciting? Were you unable to forget it after so many years?”
Xu Wenchao’s face turned pale. His lips were tightly pursed. His pupils were slightly dilated. His throat unconsciously jittered. Sweat crept onto his nose tip.
“You said you saw Su Xiaolan with a new girl so you didn’t go up to say hi. Why? What’s wrong with greeting a friend when someone else was beside her? Or were you not there to say hi to her at all?” Luo Wenzhou suddenly stood up and grabbed Xu Wenchao’s collar, “You ran into Su Xiaolan while she was cutting up a floral dress at home. How did you run into her at her house? Huh? Wouldn’t she at least hide the dress before opening the door for you? Or maybe you broke in. You, breaking into a girl’s room while her mother was gone….Xu Wenchao, what were you trying to do?”
“Didn’t touch those girls, you said.” Luo Wenzhou lowered his voice and whispered in his ear, “That is because you never could. You can’t get hard. You put Su Xiaolan’s thirteen-year-old photo on her ashbox, and stuck the poster of her old photo on your window pane, all because what attracted you was the frigid, psychotic Su Xiaolan who could murder a same-aged kid without a blink of an eye, rather than the timid ‘lamb’ with no balls who’s her mother’s minion, and yours.”
“Let me ask you — are you only able to get ‘excited’ when watching her kill?”
Xu Wenchao could no longer stand. He feebly tried to loosen Luo Wenzhou’s hand: “I…”
“Why didn’t you want to marry Su Xiaolan? Because you saw that now after twenty years, her girl had grown into another copy of her. Did you want to be Wu Guangchuan? You weren’t a beast, you said? Of course you weren’t. Beasts are at least useful. What do you think you are?”