Chapter 58 Humbert Humbert Twenty-five

TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee

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Luo Wenzhou actually had his own office but — perhaps for ease of communication, or perhaps this talkaholic just never wanted to be alone – it was basically an open space. There used to be a door separating his room and the rest of the cubicles, but the last time that this door was closed must have been the year of the Donkey. The door was currently wide open and pushed all the way towards the wall by loads of messes from everyone. 

The plants in his office were clearly in good hands. Potted flowers and greens were flourishing near the windowpane. The arrangement of the pots was well thought out and quite tasteful, with the sun-loving ones on the outer layer and the shade-loving ones in the corner of the room. The only two unlucky souls in the room were two large pots of dills that sat by the entrance. Watered each day by his lazy colleagues’ over-night tea, the pots were almost overflowing with yucky tea compost and the poor dills were at their last gasps.

Luo Wenzhou’s wallet and keys were casually left on the table. Apparently he didn’t harbor a single bit of worry about others taking them away. With that said though, it’s not like there was much to take if you asked Fei Du.

Fei Du behaved for a little while and waited quietly in his office. But it was really boring. The smell in the room was unbearable. It looked like Luo Wenzhou wasn’t going to be back any time soon, so he texted him: “I can help you feed the cat if you need.”

In the midst of the hassles, Luo Wenzhou only found time to text back a single “.” Fei Du took it as a “yes,” so he headed out with his keys.

Luo Wenzhou’s home wasn’t far from the Bureau: it was easily accessible by bike and within the base-fare of a taxi ride. Fei Du had just been there last evening. This time, as soon as the door opened a crack, a nosy furry ball poked its head out eagerly. In the next moment, Fluffy realised it was greeting the wrong person. Off it went like a flash and disappeared underneath the sofa, only leaving the tips of its whiskers out to assess the situation.

Last night they left in the middle of the meal to respond to Tao Ran’s call. There was no time to clean up, so Luo Wenzhou swooshed all the dishes into the fridge like college kids facing a pop-up dormitory hygiene check. With no time to strategize and rearrange the plates, he didn’t manage to fit everything in. A plate of fried meatballs had to be settled on the top of the 1.8-meter fridge with the hope that the old kitty’s climbing skill wasn’t that great.

Obviously, they were too optimistic.

The broken remains of the porcelain plate were scattered everywhere. From the dining room to the living room, what was left of the meatballs were all marked with tooth marks. Apparently comrade Luo Yiguo had the high spirit of scientific experimentation: it had tasted every single meatball to finally reach the solid conclusion that “none tasted good”. 

The cat bowl was already empty. It had a little shine under the light, perhaps from the cat’s repeated licking.

Fei Du grabbed a handful of the cat food like how he saw Luo Wenzhou do it. He thought about it a little, then opened two cans of wet food and placed them on the side too.

Luo Yiguo was starved to lick the bowl, so it didn’t take much luring. It slowly poked out its little head, but as soon as it saw Fei Du’s eyes, it disappeared underneath the sofa again.

Fei Du paid it no attention. He washed his hands twice and finally got rid of the stink of the cat food. Then he found a broom in the kitchen and tried to sweep all the messes together. But he was anything but housework material. The more he tried, the messier it got.

With one hand hanging in front of his chest and the other hand holding a broom stick, Fei Du objectively rated the fruit of his own labor and concluded that if he kept on sweeping the greasy floor it would turn more and more similar to the slick floor of the Bureau Cafeteria. He decisively stopped and looked for the familiar house-cleaning service’s number in his cellphone to request for an hourly worker.

At that time, he felt there was something on the back of his heel.

Fei Du turned around and saw that Luo Yiguo had snuck up on him. The cat bowl was half-empty again. It finished feasting and finally gathered more courage to sniff around Fei Du. Suddenly realizing that Fei Du was looking, Yiguo fled six feet away. After a long while, it decided that the human wasn’t going to approach, so it slowly ventured back.

Fei Du squatted down, and reached two fingers out.

Luo Yiguo jumped at first. But seeing that he didn’t make any further movements, it approached and started sniffing his hand. Perhaps it smelt the friendly scent of cat food. It finally lowered its guard and touched Fei Du with its wet nose. Nothing bad happened, so it pushed its head into his palm.

Fei Du’s hand froze.

Seeing that he was awkward and clumsy, Luo Yiguo relaxed some more and lifted the alarm completely. Tail raised high, it sniffed Fei Du here and there while meowing in its squeaky girly voice. 

Fei Du finally was able to put a hand on it. He lightly stroked Luo Yiguo’s soft and silky fur from head to bottom. Luo Yiguo looked for a comfortable spot on him to lay down. When it tried to poke its head inside his sleeves, Fei Du caught it and picked it up.

“You don’t remember me any more?” Fei Du asked gently.

Luo Yiguo’s head was smaller than his fist. It looked up at Fei Du. There was innocence and a little bit of fear in its eyes. The animal’s instinct told it to be afraid, although it wasn’t sure what exactly it should be afraid of. At the same time, Luo Wenzhou raised Yiguo to be so soft-boned around food that one bowl of wet food was able to let it get over its instinctive fear.

Fei Du looked at the cat. His palm suddenly became sweaty. He gently put Luo Yiguo down and hid his hands.

The soft body, light breathing, and heartbeats of a small animal were all unbearable to him.

He quickly stood up. To avoid Yiguo’s curious sniffs, his back was against the wall.

What was “life”?

It seemed to be a biological question, but most people learnt about the word long before they attended their first biology class.

Some people experienced it first hand by losing a loved one or getting a baby sibling; others were taught by their parents who used simpler or more romantic languages than the language of biology; still, others read about it or watched it in movies and TV shows and formed their own blurry definitions.

Fei Du patted himself down to look for his cellphone and earbuds. Then he rushed to put them on like an addict lighting a smoke. The familiar sad song filled his world. He couldn’t help but hold his breath. His eyes landed on the annoying cat which was playing with the broken pieces of the plate and the meatballs. More and more greasy stains appeared on the floor.

“What is life?” He could almost hear that man’s voice.

The man held his hand and placed it on top of a small animal. Maybe it was a small hamster, or maybe it was a quail or a bunny. Fei Du couldn’t remember exactly, but it was always a very small animal so that a kid could hold it in one hand. He remembered a small furry ball curling inside his palm. It was warm and soft, with a heartbeat that felt like quivering. 

The feeling was marvelous.

This is life,” the voice said.

Suddenly, the hand that had been guiding and supporting his hand crushed in like a pair of iron clamps. His fingers were pushed to close in on the neck of the little thing. The animal struggled under his hand and whimpered for life. He struggled too, but the man easily controlled him until the trembling heartbeat and pathetic struggle ended in his palm.

“And this is death.” The voice told him, “See, the process from life to death is dull. There is nothing glamorous or horrific about it, not like what people describe. The reason why men glorify or mystify death is that as sinful social animals, they depend on others to survive but also can’t resist their distorted selfish desires. So there needs to be a value system that constraints every member, such as the so-called “law” and “morality”. The former is a public contract with society; the latter is there to regulate private behaviors. Morality lets everyone buy into the values of the group so they would willingly do what the majority does. Once you understand this, you’re already on a different level than the majority.”

“Now, shall we learn the truth about life and death again…you’re shaking your head? Little people need to be humble. Reviewing is necessary for internalizing what you’ve just learned. Come, let us do it again—”

The knocking on the door by the housekeeping service interrupted his thoughts. Fei Du shivered. His temple was already covered by a thin layer of cold sweat.

One hour later, Fei Du arrived back at the Bureau with cups of freshly ground coffee. The victims’ families were pretty much all gone by then, only Qu Tong’s parents and Guo Heng still sat face to face. One refused to accept it and wished for the one in a million chance of hope while the other waited for the truth that had been delayed for twenty years. Guo Heng was talking to Qu Tong’s father. Their conversation was regularly interrupted by the young couples’ tears. When that happened, they struggled to cool themselves down and console each other.

Right before Fei Du entered the office space of the Criminal Investigation Team, he saw a stout middle-aged man with a faint scar on his eyebrow walking across the room, followed by a group of officers. The man was giving orders: “……Those at home, let’s leave only the necessary folks on duty. And the rest should all go on site. Little Tao is short of people. I will also request support from the local forces…”

He saw Fei Du and suddenly stopped talking.

Fei Du thought that this should be someone on top. He wasn’t sure how Luo Wenzhou reported to his Superior about him. Right when he hesitated about how to introduce himself, the middle-aged man gestured to those around him, signalling them to get to work. Then he walked up to Fei Du and extended one hand: “You must be Director Fei. I am Lu Youliang, the interim Chief of the Bureau. I issued your honorary banner.”

Fei Du put down the cups of coffee and shook his hand like a serious man: “Chief Lu, my pleasure to meet you.”

Lu Youliang greeted him very courteously, then added, “Tao Ran’s team has already found the rough location of the bodies. With more men and more time, the excavation should soon give us some answers.”

In the memorial hall, Luo Wenzhou had mentioned that Su Hui came from Pinghai County. It was under the jurisdiction of Yancheng and was the main source of water for the city. It was very likely the burial site for the victims of this case.

So Fei Du asked politely: “Is it in Pinghai County? I happen to be involved in an ongoing construction project there. There are many construction workers on site. If you need any additional hands, don’t hesitate to let me know.”

“Oh?” Luo Youliang was a little surprised. He thought Fei Du might have misheard him, so he explained: “Maybe they weren’t very clear. It wasn’t “Ping” Hai. It was “Bin Hai”, about a 4-hour drive from here. Although it’s Yancheng’s closest access to the sea, technically the area belongs to the neighboring province…there might be some complications in terms of the coordination of forces…”

In the dimly lit hallway, no one noticed how Fei Du’s pupils quickly constricted. When he finally found his voice again he asked: “Sinking the bodies into the sea? But hasn’t it been the typhoon season lately? Would it pose a problem when sinking the body?”

“You are right. The ones that couldn’t be sunk were buried.” Chief Lu replied, “Those are what we are trying to find now. Especially Qu Tong. This girl is the key.”

Meanwhile, Qu Tong’s parents and Guo Heng both overheard Chief Lu giving new orders. They rushed over hoping to get some information, but officers on call quickly stopped them from entering the office.

“Lads, don’t.” Chief Lu said, “Let them in. We all have the deepest condolences for the family. Let me talk to them.”

Fei Du coughed to clear his dry throat, and took this opportunity to say: “I will let you get back to work.”

Lu Youliang nodded at him while sighing heavily: “The suspects of this case…well…arresting them is just the beginning of it. I will not see what happened twenty years ago happen again.”

Afterwards, he nodded at Fei Du again and headed toward his office.

Perhaps because of the increasingly strict environmental regulations, although the lands at Bin Hai had long been proposed for many projects, it never obtained the necessary paperwork. 

The only livelihood in the vicinity were a couple of sanatoriums in the nearby islands and a small oil-painting village. Very few locals lived there. Seasonally some contracted art schools would send students there to practice landscape sketches, which brought in some business for the local home-stay and restaurants. During the off-season, the village was pretty much deserted. 

The offshore landscape was quite hilly and uninhabited. One rarely-traveled old road stitched through the thick weeds and undisturbed canopies. The slightly salty wind blew from the sea.

All sections of the road had been closed down. The beautiful sights on the picture wall had been identified one by one. They spanned for more than ten miles and seemed to be following a small deserted path. The police force from Yancheng teamed up with the local police force and circled countless suspicious sites with yellow tape along the path.

“Vice Captain Tao, we found one…Ah, wait!! One piece of the body is still fresh!”

Qu Tong’s tiny body was carved into eight pieces and buried separately. At dawn, they finally reassembled all the pieces. The dissection marks matched those knives found in the Xiangyang Road apartment. The forensics team even managed to obtain some semen from the body. 

This tiny bit of fortune out of the tragedy led to a total meltdown of the mid-aged man that Lang Qiao had arrested. 

“I was following another child. I already knew that her parents were busy and she usually went home alone. But then the school bus hijack happened — who would’ve known… I wanted to call the police at first, but that other girl — Su Luozhan — she kept pushing me. She said that she liked this one and that I should seize her. I was quite familiar with the landscape of Xiling, so I got hot-headed and…

“I didn’t kill her! I swear I didn’t kill her! Afterwards I just left…I swear…That man — the cleaner, he barged in and grabbed Su Luozhan. He was very angry. I thought something was wrong so I ran out…I really didn’t know that they were so sick. Please, you have to believe me!

“I loved her. How could I bear to hurt her?”

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(1). There is no year of donkey in the Chinese zodiac. This is a way to say that the door was basically never closed.

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