Jianning City Bureau.

“She said the police would never catch me, and then she jumped off. I was prepared for her to do something drastic, so I rushed forward and grabbed her arm. But unexpectedly, she pulled me towards the river. How could I be dragged by such a little girl? When I saw her fall into the water, I had no choice but to jump in and rescue her…”

Several provincial experts sat behind the long table, each with paper, pen, and teacup in front of them. The leaders had different expressions on their faces, obscured in the smoke of cigarettes.

“Rescue?” Wei Yao, as the direct supervisor, sat in the middle of the table, facing Yan Yin, and said coldly, “From the moment the suspect fell into the water until the search team arrived, you were out of contact for over an hour. Does it take that long for a rescue?”

Seated in the center of the room, Yan Yin wore a light blue standard shirt, with a crisp and new police uniform, and a four-cornered star badge of a third-level police superintendent on his shoulder. In stark contrast, he hadn’t shaved for several days, and although he sat up straight, his expression was not as respectful or serious. He seemed somewhat indifferent.

“I’ve said it many times, Director Wei, but it really does take that long. Do you know how fast the water is in Sanli River? Even those who are used to swimming in the wild wouldn’t dare to go there. Moreover, the hidden currents make the situation complex, the riverbed is winding, and the person being rescued wasn’t cooperative. It was late at night, and the water temperature was so low. Did you really think I was swimming back and forth like in a swimming pool and could easily climb ashore?”

Wei, the deputy director, slammed the tea tray, “You little…”

Provincial expert: “Ahem!”

“You brat,” Wei Yao finished the following words gently and amiably, gritting his teeth, “Why didn’t you report to the command center as soon as you found Bu Wei by the riverbank? Why didn’t you request support through the radio before jumping in?”

“I really didn’t have time, Director!” Yan Yin looked sincere, saying, “When Bu Wei was discovered, she was very agitated. So, I had to stabilize her as quickly as possible. If I had reported to the command center, maybe she wouldn’t have revealed any information about the case and just jumped. After that, I saw her jump into the river, hastily took off my pants and shoes, and jumped in to rescue her. There really wasn’t time to go back to the car and get the walkie-talkie… In the end, it’s my fault. I was too inexperienced and panicked. I am willing to accept the organization’s education and punishment.”

Wei Yao angrily said, “What’s the use of educating you now! I’ve already told you not to handle a case alone, not to handle a case alone! Calculate for yourself how many rules you’ve violated in this case. Can you still be educated?”

Another provincial expert intervened, trying to smooth things over, “Hey, Old Wei, don’t be so hot-headed. It’s true that the regulations are like this, but we all know what the actual situation is when handling cases in the front line…”

Yan Yin relaxed and leaned back in the chair. When the provincial leaders lowered their heads or looked elsewhere, he quickly made a face at Deputy Director Wei.

“You!” Wei Yao was almost driven crazy by this audacious little brat.

“I know, I know,” Yan Yin immediately followed suit, “I violated discipline and regulations. I am willing to accept any investigation and punishment. Ah.”

Wei Yao took a deep breath and was about to continue with his stern face when suddenly the door was opened, and Director Lv, holding a large tea tray with wolfberries, entered along with another leader with graying hair.

“Director Liu is here,” the provincial experts stood up respectfully one by one, “Director Liu!”

“Hey, Director Liu!…”

If anyone had doubts in their minds before, they were now truly convinced. No wonder this old man named Wei from the Jianning City Bureau made a lot of noise but didn’t mention any disciplinary action. It’s good to be born into a good family. As the only son of the richest man, he could personally invite Director Liu from the Provincial Party Committee for even a violation of discipline…

“Save it for later, save it for later. Let’s all go out for a drink another day,” Director Lv sent off the experts to the door with a smile, then signaled Deputy Director Wei with his eyes to see them off before closing the door.

Click! The entire small conference room was left with Yan Yin, Director Liu, and himself.

“Speak,” Director Lv turned around slowly and said, “Your dad told Director Liu that you spent the past two days at home writing a lengthy self-review, being meticulous and reciting it by heart. Come on, let’s hear it.”

Yan Yin dared not lazily lean back in the chair anymore and quickly stood up, “Director Liu, Director Lv, I’m really sorry. I ignored the organization’s discipline and various regulations when handling the case, and my improper actions during the critical moment reflect my inadequate attention to disciplinary learning…”

“Alright, alright. That’s enough,” Director Liu interrupted with a wry smile and waved his hand to stop him, “Xiao Yan, you’re young, but you’ve been a criminal detective for over ten years. How did you make such a basic mistake?”

Yan Yin smiled apologetically without saying anything.

“Fortunately, this case hasn’t been made public yet, and Bu Wei has no family. Otherwise, with a minor involved in the kidnapping and her fear leading her to jump into the river, without any body camera footage, it would be difficult to control the public opinion. If it were to encounter a more difficult situation, where the suspect is an underage girl and Yan Yin is a single male police officer handling the case, well…” Director Liu pointed towards Director Lv and tapped his finger in the air twice, “That would be a problem!”

Director Lv immediately pointed at Yan Yin without hesitation. Director Liu couldn’t directly scold Yan Yin, so he had to go through Director Lv. The three of them formed a perfect triangular relationship.

“Fortunately, we have a complete chain of evidence,” Director Lv chimed in, “Fan Wu confessed to two criminal acts: one, he was hired by Wang Xingye to attempt to kill the victim Li Yuxin to silence her; two, when he had no way out from the police pursuit, he knew that his older brother Fan Zhengyuan had hidden the twenty-five thousand yuan in cash paid by the employer, so he took the risk to come back and steal it. However, he was caught by Yan Yin and the others. In addition, we extracted Bu Wei’s fingerprints from the package of cash found at Fan Zhengyuan’s house, and the handwriting analysis matches perfectly, which can corroborate Fan Wu’s confession about Fan Zhengyuan being hired for murder…”

“Old Lv is quite resourceful,” Director Liu nodded while listening, praising, “Even if we send this case file to the procuratorate, they won’t have anything to say.”

Director Lv waved his hand repeatedly.

“But I still don’t understand one thing,” Director Liu pondered, frowning, “You said that the girl gave the twenty-five thousand yuan to Fan Zhengyuan. Who was she planning to assassinate?”

Yan Yin suddenly raised his eyes.

Sure enough, Director Lv also nodded heavily, “Hard to say. Among Fan Zhengyuan’s series of crimes, the only thing we have solid evidence for is when he attacked Yan Yin with a gun and was subsequently killed to silence him, his body left exposed and crushed on the highway. But if we conclude that Bu Wei or Wang Xingye instructed him to assassinate Yan Yin based on this, it seems a bit far-fetched.”

Of course, it wasn’t an assassination attempt on Yan Yin. Bu Wei was jealous and her target for murder was Jiang Ting.

Yan Yin’s face was filled with the humility and understanding unique to a junior, but in reality, he clenched his fist in his palm. Just as expected, Director Liu also nodded with a serious expression, “Indeed, it seems far-fetched, especially since he was immediately silenced afterward… Xiao Yan! If I didn’t trust your father’s character, anyone would have thought your father had gotten rid of Fan Zhengyuan. It was quite clean and neat, hahaha—”

Yan Yin: “…”

Director Liu probably realized that the joke wasn’t funny and felt a bit awkward as he touched his nose, “So, Lao Lv, let’s focus on the connection between Fan Zhengyuan and Wang Xingye and investigate Wang Xingye’s involvement as the higher-up in the drug trafficking organization. We have reason to believe that Wang Xingye has close ties to a drug trafficking group that was active on the border in earlier years. Let’s write a plan and submit it to the Ministry. Let’s strive to establish a special task force and dig deeper into the clues.”

Director Lv fully agreed and kept responding.

While the two of them engaged in their conversation, Yan Yin’s gaze quickly scanned the round, plump face of Director Lv and the thin face of Director Liu. He cleared his throat and raised his hand, “Um… I can take care of the establishment of the task force. I can write a detailed plan tonight and submit it to the leaders for review. I can also—”

“You?” Director Liu looked at him and burst into laughter, “Do you know the level of this transnational drug trafficking organization?”

Yan Yin rubbed his hands.

“This is not an ordinary transnational drug lord. The new compound you confiscated in the last case has spread not only in the southwestern border of our country and countries in Southeast Asia such as Myanmar and Vietnam, but there have even been related cases reported in the United States and Mexico. Even if we establish a task force to handle this matter, it would be a major case personally supervised by the Ministry of Public Security.” Director Liu patted Yan Yin’s shoulder and smiled, “As for you, you’d better honestly write a self-review and submit it to the office. There will be criticism and suspension, and regardless of the process, your father said to firmly cooperate with the organization’s handling and take a month off to go home… for a blind date.”

Yan Yin was stunned, “Suspension and investigation for a month?”

Director Lv smiled and gestured with his finger as one.

“No, Deputy Director Wei is getting old, and Captain Yu also needs to delay his retirement due to health reasons,” Director Lv kindly said, “Go back home, reflect, and rethink your choices. Let’s see if you dare violate the discipline again.”

Yan Yin: “…”

“Oh, by the way,” Director Lv seemed to suddenly remember something, “The audit of the contraband warehouse for destruction is halfway through. If you have nothing to do, find time to help them move the boxes so as not to waste your energy.”

“But…” Yan Yin’s argument wasn’t finished yet when Director Liu waved his hand, “Alright, that’s settled!”

Suspension and investigation were something new in Yan Yin’s detective career. Even when he had a personal conflict with the Municipal Bureau five years ago over a second-class merit issue, he had never faced such disciplinary action.

The reason was simple: the Criminal Investigation Division was short-staffed.

These days, there was a shortage of personnel everywhere. Forensic departments often had forensic experts who frequently traveled for lectures, and the number of medical students who chose to take the civil service examination was decreasing year by year. The Technical Investigation Division required qualifications and diplomas, but the number of technical detectives who passed the exam each year was limited. To outsiders who were unaware of the situation, it would seem that the Criminal Investigation Division was not as desperate for manpower. However, in reality, patrol officers rotated through the Criminal Investigation Division just like they rotated through police stations and branches. They couldn’t make it to the Municipal Bureau. Moreover, in the past two years, Captain Yu’s health had been declining, and Yan Yin was the one responsible for all the work inside and outside. Under Deputy Director Wei, he was the only one who could oversee the work.

In middle age, surrounded by turmoil, one had to support the older generation and take care of the younger generation—this was Yan Yin’s daily work state.

“Fine,” he said, “I’ll just treat it as a vacation.”

Yan Yin hung his police uniform jacket on the coat rack at the entrance, casually rolled up the sleeves of his left and right arms to his elbows, revealing his firm forearm muscles and watch. With the other hand, he casually took out a pair of sunglasses and put them on his handsome face. Wherever he went, he seemed to be accompanied by the background music of a crime TV series. Like a tornado, he swept down the steps of the Municipal Bureau’s entrance and slammed the car door.

The G65 roared to life and expertly merged into the rush hour traffic.

Click—the fingerprint lock of the upscale apartment automatically opened.

“Not having Western food, what else should I eat? Get a chef to come and make two bowls of beef brisket noodles. The beef should be tender and well-marbled, and add plenty of cilantro. The tender dried bamboo shoots the head chef personally marinated last time were good, and bring four small dishes of cool and mildly spicy appetizers…” While talking on the phone, Yan Yin hung up his coat and changed into a pair of slippers, entering the kitchen to get a glimpse.

Jiang Ting stood at the stove, wearing a long-sleeved home shirt and cotton pants, holding a bunch of noodles in his hand, about to put them into the pot.

“Back already? Wash your hands and get ready to eat.” Jiang Ting didn’t even lift his head. “We’ll have tomato and egg noodles tonight.”

Yan Yin had been alive for over thirty years, but it was the first time he felt like a newlywed husband coming home from work to have dinner. He pinched himself, but he didn’t feel any pain. For a few seconds, he almost confirmed that he was dreaming.

“Why are you smiling?” Yan Yin asked absentmindedly.

“Nothing.”

“No, you were just smiling. What were you smiling at?”

Jiang Ting used his chopsticks to scatter the noodles. “I said it’s nothing.”

“You were clearly looking at me…”

“Get your bowl and chopsticks,” Jiang Ting scolded, “Don’t think you can just sit there and wait for your meal without doing anything.”

Yan Yin made a sound of surprise and reluctantly said, “You’re quite good at bossing people around.” Then he put down his bag, changed his clothes and shoes, and went into the kitchen to take out bowls, chopsticks, and spoons from the disinfection cabinet. He whispered near Jiang Ting’s ear, “You can’t deny it, I know you were smiling at how handsome I am… mmm!”

Jiang Ting picked up a piece of egg from the pot and stuffed it into Yan Yin’s mouth. “Eat your meal.”

Tomato and egg noodles, first cross-cut fresh tomatoes and boil them until soft. Rinse them with cold water to remove the skin, then stir-fry them with a little oil to create a thick sauce. Add semi-cooked eggs and stir-fry them together. The tender egg pieces absorbed the tomato sauce, add a little salt, sugar, and chicken bouillon, then add water and noodles. Use chopped scallions and cilantro to season the dish. Finally, drizzle a few drops of sesame oil.

The bright red tomatoes, the vibrant yellow egg pieces, and the verdant green of the scallions and cilantro—all combined to create a bowl of visually appealing and flavorful noodles.

Yan Yin devoured his meal as if a gust of wind swept through. He polished off a large bowl of noodles with succulent beef brisket, too busy enjoying the delicious food to say a word. He stood up, went back to the kitchen, and filled another bowl, returning with a solemn expression. “Worth it.”

“What’s worth it?” Jiang Ting asked, spoonful by spoonful, sipping the soup.

“The official reprimand, plus one month of suspension.” Yan Yin gestured with his index finger in the air, pointing at the bowl in front of him. “It’s all in this bowl.”

Jiang Ting smiled and picked up a piece of beef brisket with his chopsticks, asking, “Do you regret it?”

With deep eye sockets, elongated outer corners of the eyes, a straight nose bridge, and thin lips, Jiang Ting’s facial features gave off a somewhat distant impression. Many people saw him as a rational and professional criminal investigator with a cold demeanor. Therefore, the stark contrast between him wearing home clothes, sitting amidst the steamy aroma of food, and his freshly washed and fluffy hair emitted an indescribable charm.

Yan Yin stared at Jiang Ting without blinking and suddenly counter-questioned, “Has your life ever benefited from your good looks?”

“No, why do you keep thinking about it?” Jiang Ting replied.

While eating the piece of beef, Yan Yin smiled and said, “Well, now you have.”

Living alone after work, Yan Yin’s well-being could be attributed to his own iron stomach, but the hard work of the private chef and the cleaning aunt also played a significant role.

However, according to Jiang Ting, if only two people had dinner at home and used a few bowls and plates, there was no need to bother the cleaning staff to come and wash them. Leaving them in the sink overnight was troublesome. Therefore, Chief Inspector Jiang personally took the greasy dishes to the kitchen to wash them. Yan Yin obediently took a dishcloth, stood by his side, dried the dishes one by one, and neatly arranged them in the sterilization cabinet.

By now, it was already dark outside, and the kitchen was illuminated. The two stood side by side, with the lively sound of the TV playing some variety show in the living room. The only sound in this space was the running water.

“You’re such a great cook,” Yan Yin whispered to Jiang Ting by his ear. “Did you ever learn specifically? Are you planning to cook for someone? Hmm?”

Jiang Ting leaned away slightly. “I live alone. If I don’t learn how to cook, should I eat takeout every day?”

“Then besides me, has anyone else tasted your cooking?”

“No, only you.”

Yan Yin narrowed his eyes skeptically. “Really?”

“Really, really.”

“Are you lying to me?”

“You, you…” Jiang Ting avoided his gaze. “You get mad when I lie, and you doubt the truth…”

Yan Yin took the opportunity to grab his hand. “Don’t move. You splashed water on your sleeves. Let me wipe it.”

“No need. Let go, be careful not to break the dishes…”

“Just a quick wipe. It’s nothing.”

The water was still running, and halfway-washed chopsticks scattered in the sink. Jiang Ting forcefully pulled his hand back, but Yan Yin, like a starving wolf, refused to let go. In the struggle, Jiang Ting’s right sleeve was pulled down halfway, and Yan Yin suddenly caught a glimpse of a faint scar on the inside of his wrist.

If it were a self-inflicted wound, the wound should have been a series of parallel or intersecting marks, not such distinct bite marks.

Yan Yin’s eyebrows twitched violently, but his face remained unchanged.

Unaware of Yan Yin’s expression, Jiang Ting took the opportunity to withdraw his hand and also took away the large porcelain bowl, putting it in the sterilization cabinet. His cheeks showed a barely noticeable blush as he coldly said, “You almost broke the bowl just now!”

With his back to the sink, Jiang Ting didn’t see Yan Yin’s deep and uncertain expression. In the next second, he suddenly felt his waist being tightly squeezed, and Yan Yin’s height of over 1.9 meters pressed him against the glass door of the sterilization cabinet.

“You…”

“Shh, let me press against you a few times,” Yan Yin whispered in his ear. “Shh.”

Jiang Ting exerted force in an attempt to break free, but he was firmly held down. In the narrow space, the vertical sterilization cabinet made a creaking sound that was so clear that it couldn’t be drowned out by the noise of the TV in the living room. Jiang Ting’s ear, which was held, turned red and became hot. He couldn’t utter a single word. He tried to turn around but had his hand grabbed and twisted behind his back.

“Yan… Yan Yin!”

Jiang Ting’s normally calm voice suddenly changed tone on the last syllable, but before he could struggle free, Yan Yin firmly pressed him against the glass door. Their lips and tongues entangled, merging into one in the warm yellow light.

“…I’m telling you, what’s gotten into you tonight…” After a while, Jiang Ting finally uttered a hoarse and irritated voice, but unfortunately, the emphasized annoyance couldn’t conceal his reddened cheeks. “…Did you take the wrong medication?”

Light shone on Yan Yin from behind. He squinted his eyes, unblinking, and stared at the slightly reddened corner of Jiang Ting’s lips due to the kiss. Suddenly, he murmured in a low voice, seemingly out of context, “My parents are coming to visit tomorrow.”

Jiang Ting paused for a moment, and an unspeakable and ominous premonition arose in his heart.

The two silently locked eyes for a moment. Suddenly, a subtly ambiguous atmosphere permeated the air, more delicate than a kiss. The variety show on the TV outside reached a certain segment, and the deliberate applause and laughter became particularly abrupt and awkward.

“Yan Yin,” Jiang Ting turned his gaze away, calmly saying, “Do you want to reconsider…”

“What are you thinking?” Yan Yin suddenly let go of him, turned around, and walked towards the sink while bursting into laughter. “My parents are coming because the day after tomorrow is my birthday. Hahaha…”

Jiang Ting was truly stunned. He saw Yan Yin laughing heartily, picking up the chopsticks and rinsing them under the tap, with a teasing expression on his face.

“…,” Jiang Ting reacted and couldn’t help but cry and laugh, pointing at Yan Yin with his hand twice.

“Don’t worry, I’ve already talked to them. I told them that a friend from the police academy just transferred to Jianning and didn’t have a place to stay, so they’re staying for a few days. They’re busy with work anyway. They’ll just come over for lunch and leave. It’s not what you imagined,” Yan Yin said playfully, raising his eyebrows and intentionally sizing up Jiang Ting. “Look at how nervous and eager you are. Tsk tsk tsk… Can’t wait to meet your parents and get the in-law bonus, huh?”

Jiang Ting snorted, “I think they’re your parents.” With that, he casually picked up the dishcloth, threw it to Yan Yin in mid-air, shook his hand, and went back to the bedroom.

Yan Yin watched his figure disappear into the guest room, twirling the chopsticks in his hand. A smile remained on his face, but the expression in his eyes gradually darkened, sinking inch by inch until it became as cold as a deep abyss.

After a while, he finally turned off the tap, stood upright, and pondered. The furrow between his thick eyebrows tightened, indicating deep contemplation.