Fei Du took back his cup, his fingers lightly spun around the rim before stopping at a slightly stained spot. He raised his eyelids, seemingly smiling, as he glanced at Luo Wenzhou. Under Luo Wenzhou’s gaze, he tasted the water and commented, “The tea is too strong.”

Luo Wenzhou: “…”

He needed an effective charm to deal with this demon!

Luo Wenzhou shifted uncomfortably and changed his sitting posture. In a somewhat serious tone, he asked, “What’s the matter?”

“I’ve made some progress on the person you asked me to investigate,” Fei Du said, glancing at the open office door behind him. He took out a file folder tucked under his arm.

The file folder contained several screenshots and photos. They were captured from the aerial recording during the capture of Lu Guosheng in the Ecological Park.

It depicted an unremarkable middle-aged man of average height, with a crew cut and thin, elongated eyes that appeared slightly dark. Whether in attire or appearance, he didn’t stand out among the group of villagers doing manual labor. “You can show these photos to Lu Guosheng and see if this person is ‘A13.’”

Luo Wenzhou quickly abandoned the dirty “self” and equipped himself with the diligent and dedicated “ideal self,” entering full serious mode.

Fei Du moved to the side of Luo Wenzhou’s desk, blocking the line of sight from the open door.

“I went to the village and asked around. The local people who were present that day told me that there happened to be a villager who was renovating his own house. This person claimed to be a newly arrived deliveryman from the building materials market. He was carrying a load of tiles and was very familiar with everyone,” Fei Du said. “At the time, he pretended to play cards with a group of villagers near the gas station, mingling among them, monitoring the movements of the ‘Shepherd Dog.’ The surveillance equipment at the entrance of the ‘Shepherd Dog’s’ house was invaded, and there was even a bug under the windowsill. If we had been one step slower, he could have eliminated the ‘Shepherd Dog’ first.”

Luo Wenzhou frowned. “While he was keeping an eye on the Shepherd Dog, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that Lu Guosheng would survive. In that Ecological Park, everyone who lived there was a wanted criminal, and each of them had taken more than one life. A remote command could make them kill Lu Guosheng.”

Fei Du didn’t say anything, smiling as he looked at Luo Wenzhou. After a moment, Luo Wenzhou immediately reacted, “You mean there are also people inside that Ecological Park!”

Fei Du said, “I guess there is one person who had the most contact with Lu Guosheng. What do you think?”

Luo Wenzhou stood up abruptly. “Interrogate the one-eyed person.”

Luo Wenzhou hurriedly walked out, but after a moment, he turned back to the conference room and grabbed Fei Du’s arm. “Wait.”

At least two forces were now facing them—one was Wei Zhanhong’s group, and the other was concealed within, with extensive influence. It seemed that they wanted to uncover the old cases and settle things with “those people.” Their goals appeared to align with the police.

However, Luo Wenzhou couldn’t help but think of the several major cases he had experienced this year—the Su family child trafficking case, who revealed Su Xiaolan’s modus operandi and “unique signature” to Su Luo, enticing her to imitate it? In the Zhou Junmao case, who revealed the true reason behind the hit-and-run by the driver Dong Qian to Dong Xiaoqing? And in the case of Feng Bin’s murder, who sent the mysterious message of “Greetings from Shatov”… and the “Reciter” who always clandestinely foreshadowed murders through reading software.

Every single case seemed to have the shadow of this mysterious force, shrouded in an indescribable chill and bloodthirstiness.

They had swapped surveillance videos twice in Longyun City, exposing Wei Zhanhong and his group to the fullest. However, this indicated that these mysterious individuals had already sensed Fei Du’s actions early on.

Fei Du tilted his head. “Hmm?”

“You wait here,” Luo Wenzhou said seriously. “From now on, you’re not allowed to act alone. No matter where you go or what you do, you must let me know.”

Fei Du thought for a moment, then leaned closer to his ear.

Just as Luo Wenzhou thought that he had something important to tell him privately, and prepared to listen attentively, he felt his face being touched—Fei Du took advantage of this ambiguous gesture to kiss his face.

Luo Wenzhou: “…”

This person had no conditions, yet he still wanted to take advantage of him!

Fei Du watched as Luo Wenzhou dashed out with a face that said, “Wait for me.” But before the smile had completely faded from his face, his phone suddenly vibrated. Someone had sent him a text message: “You said if I wanted certain people to pay the price, I could call this number directly.”

Fei Du’s eyebrows twitched—Wang Xiao?

Fei Du made the call, and on the other end, a timid voice said, “Hello…”

“It’s me,” Fei Du sat by the window. “Have you decided to come see me?”

Wang Xiao hesitated for a while before saying in a low voice, “About the school… I… I have evidence.”

Fei Du leaned against the windowsill, feeling the warmth of the office heating against his back. He didn’t ask what the evidence was, nor did he say anything. He even held his breath low, silently waiting for the girl to speak.

Wang Xiao struggled like a squeezed tube of toothpaste, mustering all her strength to say a few difficult words, “It’s… the… clothes… I didn’t wash them… at that time…”

Fei Du sighed soundlessly. “Where are you? I’ll send someone to pick you up.”

Wang Xiao replied like a mosquito, “I’m waiting at home.”

“Wang Xiao,” Fei Du spoke gently yet firmly before she hung up the phone, “Can you tell me why you suddenly made this decision?”

Wang Xiao fell silent for a moment. “I’m going abroad.”

“One-eyed” knew from the day he was caught that he was doomed. Even if he stayed silent and didn’t utter a word, his past deeds were enough to earn him a severe sentence, if not the maximum penalty.

Therefore, he was more cooperative and didn’t waste much time. He spoke everything he knew to Luo Wenzhou.

“I didn’t intend to kill Lu Guosheng,” One-eyed said. “Officer, as you saw, I even brought him food. We have rules. When someone exposes our base, everyone living with him is dragged down together. That’s why they all hated Lu Guosheng. As soon as they heard he might be exposed, without waiting for orders from above, they automatically tied him up and waited to frame him. But I’m different. I’m righteous. How the hell can I be that kind of person…”

“What kind of person are you then? The Virgin Mary?” Luo Wenzhou coldly interrupted him. “Spare me the nonsense. If you keep blabbering, I’ll feed you a bullet.”

One-eyed curled his lips, his shoulders slumped. After a while of struggling, he confessed honestly, “…They promised to send me away.”

Luo Wenzhou raised an eyebrow. “‘They’? Who promised to send you away and where?”

“Escape from the base,” One-eyed sighed, speaking softly. “Go abroad or run to a place where no one knows me… that’s what A13 said. I know there are many of their people in the company. Don’t bother asking me who their leader is. I only found out when I was caught this time. Those ‘big shots’ are like rats, hiding themselves very well. Anyway, I’ve had enough of that kind of life. Sometimes, I feel like being locked up in prison is no different. You never know when they’ll make you take the blame and be the scapegoat.”

Luo Wenzhou listened with a mix of astonishment and doubt—it was different from his previous speculation.

Although this mysterious third-party force used any means necessary, judging from their capture of Lu Guosheng and the exposure of the base, their goals seemed aligned with the police. He had thought they were similar to “volunteer police” or “vigilantes.” Xiao Haiyang even suspected a connection to Gu Zhao. But now it sounded more like they were in cahoots with Wei Zhanhong’s group, albeit with an internal conflict.

Now, these criminal organizations were fighting amongst themselves, and they were beginning to exploit the police?

Luo Wenzhou asked, “How did you make the arrangement?”

“They demanded that if someone informed us to deal with Lu Guosheng, I had to do everything to save his life. Just keep him alive, whether he ended up disabled or seriously injured. They would arrange for someone to pick us up and take us to a safe place.”

Luo Wenzhou immediately pressed on, “Where is this safe place?”

One-eyed laughed, “Officer, when it comes to money, you either pay first or complete the task first. It depends on who’s begging who. In this case, I was the one begging, so I had to complete their tasks before I could reap the rewards. Before that, they wouldn’t trust me, nor would they tell me where they were sending me… Anyway, there was no time to arrange anything before I was caught by you. I even thought that A13 was an undercover cop deceiving me—haha, now that I’m here, well, this place is also a ‘safe location.’ At least I can sleep peacefully at night without worrying about someone sneaking in to stab me.”

When Luo Wenzhou finished interrogating One-eyed and walked out, deep in thought, he immediately saw Fei Du waiting for him at the door.

“Wang Xiao is here,” Fei Du informed him concisely.

Luo Wenzhou, who hadn’t fully recovered from the information revealed by One-eyed, was momentarily stunned.

“I just called her parents and arranged for a female police officer to accompany her,” Fei Du said seriously. “But something is off about this. When I gave Wang Xiao my number, it was just to comfort her. The personality shaped by her upbringing and family background is not easily influenced by a few words from outsiders. Even if it changes, it will be a long process, and it’s hard to escape the shackles of ingrained beliefs, especially when the trauma hasn’t been healed.”

“So, what’s the reason?”

Fei Du frowned. “Wang Xiao told me she’s planning to go abroad.”

As soon as he frowned, Luo Wenzhou instinctively furrowed his brows as well. He regained his senses and extended a finger, pressing it against the center of Fei Du’s forehead, forcefully separating his eyebrows. He asked, “Where did her family get the money? Is it possible that the school or the parents of the involved students want to settle things quietly?”

Fei Du was pushed back slightly, looking somewhat helpless, but his expression softened. “Take money from them to settle things, then come to the police station and report the case?”

“If it were me, I would do exactly that. Take the scoundrel’s money and make him call me ‘father’,” Luo Wenzhou casually draped an arm over Fei Du’s shoulder, pushing him forward. “After this incident, it’s normal for Wang Xiao to want to transfer schools. The only problem is the money—what made you feel something was off?”

Fei Du lowered his voice and whispered in his ear, “I was planning to pay for her study abroad expenses. I had already informed the foundation, but I hadn’t had a chance to make contact yet.”

Luo Wenzhou’s eyes narrowed slightly as he turned to look at Fei Du.

“Someone beat me to it—someone is closely monitoring this case and doing the same thing as me,” Fei Du said in almost a whisper. “Think about it, don’t you find it strange that we were able to catch Lu Guosheng this time all because of Wang Xiao pointing out that he had met Wei Wenchuan in Longyun City on November 6th?”

Without this crucial clue, Wei Wenchuan and his son Wei Zhanhong could still argue their innocence.

Without this clue, the students at the birthday party wouldn’t know the details of the murder of Feng Bin.

And the several people who were questioned by the police with Lu Guosheng’s portrait because they had fled with Feng Bin would not have been invited to Wei Wenchuan’s private gathering—these two lines of investigation would have never intersected, but because of the snippet of conversation Wang Xiao overheard in the bathroom, they were linked together with the likelihood of a comet hitting the Earth.

Luo Wenzhou’s steps halted. “Let’s go.”

An hour later, Luo Wenzhou and Fei Du arrived at Yufen Middle School and questioned several of the female students mentioned by Wang Xiao through the teachers. Due to the earth-shattering scandal, the school had to close for a month for investigation. They had just reopened recently, and many students had transferred to other schools, with parents collectively demanding tuition refunds. The previously brash and domineering “Big Sister” Liang Youjing seemed like a different person. Her lips were cracked, covered by an ill-fitting school jacket, making her look like a little haystack with a burlap sack wrapped around her. The girls who used to breeze through the hallways, attracting attention while putting on makeup, now seemed like mere illusions.

Luo Wenzhou wasted no time. “On the day when Wei Wenchuan invited you to dinner for his birthday, do you remember when you all returned to the school?”

The several girls looked at each other inexplicably. One of them, emboldened, said, “I don’t think we returned to school.”

“Afterward, didn’t you go to KTV?”

“Yes, they brought alcohol, we drank a lot, and we stayed in the karaoke room.”

The expression of the nearby teacher had become extremely ugly—students going to entertainment venues, getting drunk, and not returning home overnight, and the school had done nothing about it.

“There’s little chance that Wang Xiao lied. She’s an ordinary girl, and it’s a bit far-fetched to have her deceive the police. If she were to be discovered, it would be even easier to expose herself,” Luo Wenzhou dismissed the dejected female students and turned to the on-duty teacher with a rigid expression. “Please contact the security room and see if the surveillance footage from November is still available.”

The school’s surveillance records were generally kept for fifty days. However, due to recent incidents, the backup files that should have been deleted had been left untouched for reference. The surveillance footage from that day was quickly retrieved. It was a rest day, and the entire teaching building was empty and quiet.

In the footage, Wang Xiao walked out of the classroom alone and went to the restroom in the teaching building.

“Hold on,” Fei Du suddenly said. “There’s someone here.”

The accompanying on-duty teacher was startled by this statement, with chicken skin bumps appearing all over. Upon closer inspection, they noticed a middle-aged woman, who looked like a school worker, hiding in a secluded stairwell corner of the surveillance footage.

The on-duty teacher blurted out, “This… this person doesn’t seem to be from our school!”

Luo Wenzhou asked, “Are you sure?”

The on-duty teacher seemed to be shifting the blame and quickly said, “Really, she’s not from our school. I patrol the teaching building every day, and I know all the school workers. She’s not one of them!”

In the footage, the middle-aged woman followed Wang Xiao into the restroom. She first looked around the surroundings to see if anyone was nearby, then peeked into the bathroom, probably to confirm whether Wang Xiao had entered a stall. She then took something out of her pocket and went inside.

After a few moments, the middle-aged woman came out of the restroom, her hat brim lowered, and swiftly walked away.

It was quite a while before Wang Xiao nervously emerged from the restroom, hesitatingly walking towards the classroom. She first leaned against the back door of the classroom for a while, checking to make sure there was no one inside. Finally, seeming to breathe a sigh of relief, she pushed the door open and entered.

“Wang Xiao didn’t lie,” Fei Du paused the video at the moment she leaned against the classroom window. “She did hear the voice of the girl who had bullied her. Look here, she’s worried about running into the other person inside the classroom, which is why she made this movement—it should be a high-quality recording and playback device.”

Luo Wenzhou took out his phone and sent the picture of the middle-aged woman from the surveillance to his colleagues. “Check the identity of this person.”

At this time, Tao Ran had already efficiently brought his team to Nanwan County.

Around Yancheng, Nanwan was clearly an area that had developed later. There were still many low shanties and urban villages undergoing transformation, with chaotic demolitions and potholed roads. The police officers from the Nanwan Police Station warmly guided them, saying, “The person you’re talking about, Yin Chao, still has his household registration here. He moved away a long time ago. I asked about it earlier, and it turns out he didn’t even come back when their old house was demolished. It was his younger brother Yin Ping who used the power of attorney to sign and receive the money.”

Tao Ran didn’t expect to find the clue to “Old Cinders” so easily and asked, “So this person has been in contact with his brother?”

“No,” the police officer said. “Boss, guess what? As soon as I received your call this morning, I went to their place to ask. This guy named Yin Ping was evasive and shifty from the beginning. I felt something was off at the time. With a little more pressure, I found out that the power of attorney was completely forged, just for him to pocket the compensation for the old family house! Ah, slow down, they’re repairing the road… They’ve made a mess of it. The whole family used to live peacefully in a small run-down house, but now… Well, the parents are not the parents, the children are not the children, and the brothers and sisters fight over money every day. All the police work we’ve had recently is because of this conflict… We’re almost there.”

The Yin family had just moved out of their old house and were living in a temporary rental. The three of them lived together in a poorly lit room that seemed devoid of heating, resembling a cold and damp ice cellar. Yin Ping, the twin brother of “Old Cinders” Yin Chao, was also fifty-six years old and worked as a boiler operator in a unit. He had a long, gaunt face with ten years’ worth of wrinkles, exuding an indescribable sense of sorrow.

Tao Ran was stunned at first sight. The records on “Old Cinders” at the municipal bureau were over ten years old, yet one could still see the resemblance between his facial features and the old man before him. They were truly twins. Feeling guilty, Yin Ping appeared extremely fearful when he saw the police and quickly directed his equally troubled wife to serve tea and water.

“Do you think you can get away with it by covering up the problem? Why didn’t you think of today when you forged your brother’s signature?” The police officer’s face turned stern. “What you did is illegal, understand?”

Yin Ping hung his head, not daring to utter a word. He wore a dirty pair of knitted gloves on his hands, which he nervously rubbed against his pants.

“We came here primarily not to investigate this issue,” Tao Ran’s tone softened as he pressed his work ID card on the table.

Yin Ping’s gaze briefly passed over his credentials, and even his nervous fidgeting stopped. He froze, unsure of what to do.

“Your brother Yin Chao is an important witness in one of our cases,” Tao Ran said. “We’re looking for him. Do you have his contact information?”

Yin Ping’s chin almost touched his chest, and he shook his head gently.

The police officer from Nanwan interjected, “Is it that you don’t have it, or you’re too scared to give it? You have the guts to embezzle family property, but you don’t have the courage to talk to your brother, right? People like you…”

Tao Ran waved his hand to interrupt him. “Yin Ping, when was the last time you had contact with Yin Chao?”