“Zhao said that theoretically the police would come to where Zhongyi lived to question him, but the ones who killed and investigated were the same group of people. Their questioning was just a formality for the higher-ups. If we want to seek justice, we have to make the higher-ups hear us. We need to cause a scene at the Sub-Bureau. But that’s their territory. In doing so, it’s like accusing them to their faces. Zhao asked if I dare to do it. I do, following his instructions. I’ll be fine, at most, detained for a couple of days and then released. There must be someone protecting me from above. If I don’t dare, it’s also okay. After all, Zhongyi and I have no blood relation, and I didn’t intentionally harm him.”

“Zhao also told me many heartfelt things. He said he had seen many young people like me end up in ruins, rolled up in a straw mat and dragged outside the city to be burned. The lucky ones can inform their families, while some are treated as vagrants, with no one knowing, not even their parents. He said if I follow his instructions, if it can be considered meritorious, my previous acts of petty theft and mischief, even ’extorting protection money,’ can all be wiped away. I won’t be arrested, and I can go to the rehab center for free. After coming out, I’ll be just like an ordinary person. No one will know that I’ve taken the wrong path.”

Ma Xiaowei wiped away a tear with a sense of grievance. Xiao Haiyang, unskilled in showing sympathy, refrained from uttering the cold and harsh truth that Zhao was trying to deceive him into becoming a cannon fodder.

Xiao Haiyang chatted with Ma Xiaowei for over an hour, finally getting a clear understanding. He bid farewell and left. As he was leaving, he suddenly remembered something. Pushing up his glasses, he turned back and asked, “Although Zhao Yulong lied a lot, he didn’t instruct you to commit any illegal activities. Why did you seem a little afraid when I first came in?”

Ma Xiaowei’s face turned pale as he raised his head—

This Ma Xiaowei said that when he was on his way to the rehab center after leaving the Municipal Bureau, a car had been following him. Then, someone in the car held up a sign, saying he had done well. The person in the car wore sunglasses and was definitely not Zhao. This incident scared him. Ma Xiaowei thought it was a sarcastic remark, something like “look at the good deeds you’ve done,” and that someone had found out about the secret arrangement between him and Zhao Yulong. The Wang Hongliang gang had someone who escaped capture and was now threatening him. Xiao Haiyang sat on the sofa at Luo Wenzhou’s home, reporting with a straight pen.

The sofa at Luo Wenzhou’s home was very soft. Once seated, one would sink into it. However, Xiao Haiyang refused to go with the flow of the sofa, appearing as if he had grown over three hundred extra bones, sitting as stiff as a wooden bench. It was a stark contrast to Feidu sitting next to him.

Feidu propped his elbow on the armrest of the sofa, supporting his head, looking boneless. Beside him, Luo Yiguo imitated his posture, tilting his neck and resting it on Feidu’s leg, sleeping like a pancake. He had rubbed Fei’s stylish pants into a pair of fuzzy pants.

Feidu and Xiao Haiyang, along with Lang Qiao and Luo Wenzhou, gathered around a small coffee table, temporarily using Luo Wenzhou’s living room as their base. The telephone on the table was still connected to Tao Ran, who was still in the hospital.

“I do remember Zhao Yulong,” Tao Ran said on the phone. “Not only Xiao Haiyang, but I also couldn’t tell that anything was amiss. If it’s true, then it’s really terrifying… Hello? Is the signal bad? Why is there always static?”

Luo Wenzhou stood up, lifted Luo Yiguo, who was snoring against Feidu, and tossed him into his cat bed without a word.

“I checked based on the identification information we registered at that time,” Xiao Haiyang continued, “There really is someone named Zhao Yulong, and he did come to Yan City. However, he returned to his hometown five years ago. He speaks very poorly in Mandarin and is completely different from the person we met. It’s also said that he lost an ID card locally.”

“People who live in small shanties there are the poorest young workers who arrived with nothing. Although this Zhao Yulong doesn’t stand out in the crowd, if you look at him individually, he does have something different from those young people. How do I put it… he has a certain air of decency.” Tao Ran said on the phone, “It’s my fault. I thought there might be some difficulty in his family and didn’t investigate further.”

“So, what is this fake Zhao Yulong doing here?” Lang Qiao asked. “Is he secretly collecting evidence against Wang Hongliang and his gang to serve the public?”

Feidu said, “According to Ma Xiaowei, this person has been undercover for a long time. If he really wanted to serve the public, he would have done so a long time ago…”

“He just didn’t need this chess piece, so he let him die and did nothing.” Luo Wenzhou finished his sentence and gave Feidu a stern look. “Your throat hurts, so talk less. It’s uncomfortable for me to listen to you.”

Lang Qiao: “…”

She felt like she had made a very wrong statement and didn’t know where to look. She could only turn her gaze to the equally redundant Xiao Haiyang beside her. “So, who exactly is this fake Zhao Yulong?”

Xiao Haiyang hesitated for a moment. “I haven’t found that yet.”

“I do have a lead,” Luo Wenzhou suddenly interjected. “That’s why I called all of you here.”

“While investigating Wang Hongliang, I went to Hongfu Daguan to save Chen Zhen. I encountered a fake front desk receptionist there. Then, in the case of Yufen Middle School, Feng Bin was killed in the Bell and Drum Tower. I and Feidu traced the path taken by those two kids to investigate…”

“Ah?” Lang Qiao keenly captured the key information. “You two went to…to investigate a case, right?”

After she finished speaking, there was silence around her. Xiao Haiyang had no idea what she was talking about, and Feidu propped his head up, looking at her with a smile that wasn’t a smile, like a monstrous demon waiting to devour souls. Lang Qiao was scared to meet his gaze and silently looked away.

On the other hand, Luo Wenzhou was “kind” to her. He simply took out a very old file bag and skillfully flicked it against Lang Qiao’s forehead. “You’re sharp!”

Lang Qiao: “…Father, I’m dumb!”

Luo Wenzhou gave her a glance and flattened the almost falling apart old file bag. “We encountered a fake patrol officer at the location where Feng Bin had an incident. When we were chasing Lu Guosheng, the surveillance at Longyun City had been tampered with, and the security guard ‘Wang Jian’ went missing afterwards—a fake security guard. Later, during the reinvestigation of Wang Xiao, we reviewed the surveillance footage from Yufen Middle School on November 6th and found that several female classmates mentioned in Wang Xiao’s testimony didn’t return to the school. In reality, the person who went into the restroom with her was a janitor.”

“A fake janitor.” Luo Wenzhou paused for a moment. “In addition to this one, the fake Zhao Yulong, have you noticed the pattern and the modus operandi?”

“They are all insignificant people. Their public identities are either outsiders who are alone or temporary workers. They belong to highly mobile industries, and disguising themselves is not difficult.” Xiao Haiyang quickly caught on and continued, “And it seems like they all have prototypes. For example, there is indeed a real Zhao Yulong whose birthplace, name, age, and even some work experience match. So, in case someone investigates, as long as it’s not a thorough investigation, it’s not easy to find any flaws!”

“You missed one thing,” Feidu said softly, “Before Dong Qian hit Zhou Junmao, the fake deliveryman who had been in contact with him couldn’t be found. Considering the situation without considering motives, I think that case fits better into this category.”

“Receptionist, patrol officer, security guard, janitor, deliveryman…” Lang Qiao shuddered and realized that she shouldn’t dwell on these matters too much. Overthinking might lead to persecutory delusions. Receptionists can tamper with food and drinks easily, patrol officers and security guards are symbols of safety, janitors are invisible in any environment, arousing no suspicion wherever they go, and deliverymen can knock on countless doors without any suspicion.

However, the contradiction lies in the fact that these service industries, which are entrusted with additional trust, sometimes have the highest turnover rate, the most frequent personnel changes, and the least strict scrutiny.

“Taking over a fake identity and being able to stay undercover for a certain period of time suggests that it’s likely the work of the same group.” Luo Wenzhou took out a photo from the file bag. “But luckily, we’ve found one of the ’leads’.”

“This woman is called Zhu Feng. She was the fake janitor who infiltrated Wang Xiao’s school. We can confirm her identity because she has a criminal record. Fourteen years ago, Zhu Feng’s newlywed husband was killed, and the perpetrator was later determined to be a mentally ill person without legal capacity and exempted from criminal punishment. After that, Zhu Feng was dissatisfied and once infiltrated a psychiatric hospital with the intention of committing a revengeful crime, which failed. This case was later included in the first album plan,” Luo Wenzhou paused and took out seven thin files from the file bag, handing them over for everyone to see, “You may not know this, but the first album plan had a slight accident.”

“What accident?” Lang Qiao asked.

“The first album plan included several unsolved cases due to various reasons. These are the files you have in your hands, all old cases. Some were due to technical limitations, some due to insufficient evidence over time…various reasons. In short, the suspects didn’t pay the price they should have paid—combined with the mentally ill person exempted from criminal punishment, there are a total of seven cases. This information was obtained through deceitful means and is confidential. Don’t leave this room,” Luo Wenzhou said, and these unsolved cases, after being included in the album plan, all had the suspect with the highest suspicion but not enough evidence arrested, and they all died under mysterious circumstances one after another."

“The cause of death is also quite subtle,” Feidu scanned through the old files. “For example, in this case of a mentally ill person committing murder, the killer, who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, had a cause of death similar to that of the victim he killed before admission. Both were repeatedly stabbed in the chest and abdomen with the same type of knife, and the distribution of wounds on both individuals was almost identical. On the day the mentally ill person was killed, there was a sudden power outage in the hospital where he resided, causing partial surveillance failure. Someone quietly drugged the on-duty nurse and broke open the door lock. The murder weapon and blood-stained clothes were eventually found in the neighboring ward, with the fingerprints of a patient from that ward discovered on the weapon… However, that mentally ill person was so severely disturbed that he could hardly communicate with others and couldn’t extract any information. Even if he was the real killer, the case could only be left unresolved.”

“A mentally ill person killed by another mentally ill person?” Tao Ran said over the phone. “What does that mean? Karma?”

“The individual cases may be karma, but with so many consecutive incidents, I’m afraid this ‘karma’ is not purely natural.” Feidu smiled briefly, but then his smile vanished, and his gaze turned heavy. Using a method to secretly gather victims of heinous crimes and setting them up like pawns, using inconspicuous people to weave a web… If he hadn’t been born a dozen years too late, Feidu almost suspected that he himself had done it. He couldn’t help but turn his head and cough a few times.

“Have you learned to keep quiet?” Luo Wenzhou furrowed his brow and pushed a glass of warm water in front of him. “If you interrupt again, I’ll seal your mouth shut.”

“Was the previous album plan stopped because of this?” Lang Qiao asked. “Then who killed these people?”

“The person in charge of that album plan was a senior professor from Yan Gong University named ‘Fan Siyuan’. I checked, Lao Yang, Lu Ju, Gu Zhao—they all studied or attended training at Yan Gong University and were once his students. Later, this person disappeared, and it took two or three years for the file status to be changed to ‘deceased’.”

When Xiao Haiyang heard the name “Gu Zhao,” half of his brain short-circuited. He asked with a bewildered expression, “What does that mean?”

“It means that this Fan Siyuan is likely to have disappeared and was declared ‘deceased’ several years later,” Luo Wenzhou said deliberately and slowly. “Most likely, it’s only in the legal sense of ‘deceased’.”

Xiao Haiyang suddenly raised his head.

“But why? What about the motive?” Lang Qiao asked. “Boss, let me use your catchphrase—based on what?”

“The motive is probably something we can only find out after apprehending the person, and as for the basis, that’s for you to find out. Otherwise, why did I call all of you here?” Luo Wenzhou spread his hands. That’s the advantage of being a boss. He could be strict with others and lenient with himself. When someone asked him for evidence, he would casually gesture for his subordinates to investigate it themselves. “I’ve provided the theory, comrades. It’s up to you to verify the theory!”

Lang Qiao: “…”

“To investigate these seven unsolved cases one by one, to trace and explore the immediate relatives and anyone with close relationships with the victims during their lifetime, not letting go of any leads. If all these ‘fake individuals’ are indeed connected to old cases, then the identity of the mastermind behind it all is self-evident. Xiao Haiyang, what’s wrong with you?”

Xiao Haiyang’s chest rose and fell sharply. He raised his eyes, slightly dazed, and said, “Captain Luo, since this Fan Siyuan has gained the trust of so many people, is it possible… Is it possible that he was also involved as an informant fourteen years ago? When Uncle Gu suspected that there was a mole in the Municipal Bureau and couldn’t determine who was suspicious, could he have sought help elsewhere? Like his own teacher? Is it possible that the person who betrayed Uncle Gu is not even in the Municipal Bureau?”

Luo Wenzhou was momentarily stunned. Before he could speak, the phone suddenly rang. He made a gesture to Xiao Haiyang and answered the call. “Hmm… What? Today? Okay, I understand. Thank you.”

Everyone looked at him, and Luo Wenzhou hung up the phone. “The investigation team has decided to temporarily conclude the investigation on Lu Ju.”

Lang Qiao was initially stunned but then smiled with joy. “Lu Ju has been cleared of suspicion!”

“Not cleared, just temporarily,” Luo Wenzhou quickly said. “The investigation is still ongoing. During this time, he cannot leave the city—so, you go and investigate. Feidu, don’t wander around if you’re not feeling well. Stay at home and consolidate the information. I’ll go see Lu Ju and carefully inquire about the ‘album’ matter.”

The investigator politely escorted Lu Youliang to the door and prepared a car for him. “Lu Ju, are you going back to the office or home? There is indeed a lot of work at the Municipal Bureau that needs your supervision.”

Lu Youliang hesitated for a moment and suddenly said, “Can I see Old Zhang?”

The investigator was taken aback and said very politely, “I’m afraid…

“Of course, it won’t be a private meeting. You can have someone present to watch,” Lu Youliang said. “I’ve worked with Lao Zhang for many years, and emotionally and rationally, I find it hard to believe he has any issues. Let the two of us have a chat. Maybe we can remember some overlooked details. Or should you consult your superiors first?”

The investigator gave him a deep look, picked up the phone, and walked to the side.

An hour later, Zhang Chunjiu and Lu Youliang were led into a shabby small reception room. They looked at each other, each revealing a bitter smile as if from another world. Zhang Chunjiu appeared even more gaunt, and Lu Youliang’s temples had grown significantly grayer in just a few days, showing the toll the situation had taken on them.

“It was my negligence that led to the troubles in less than a year after you took over the stall. It caused trouble for you, old buddy,” Lu Youliang said.

But Zhang Chunjiu raised a hand, interrupting him with a hint of urgency in his voice. “Lao Lu, it wasn’t me back then.”

Lu Youliang didn’t expect him to skip the pleasantries and directly get to the point. He couldn’t help but look at the investigator who was eavesdropping on the side. The investigator silently pressed the record button.

“I know it wasn’t you,” Lu Youliang sighed and said, “We’ve been brothers for so many years. We know each other inside out.”

“I had no knowledge of Gu Zhao’s private investigation of the Louvre Museum back then. He must have chosen someone he trusted the most,” Zhang Chunjiu lowered his voice, “Do you know who he trusted the most?”

Lu Youliang was taken aback but quickly regained his composure. “You mean…”

“Listen to me. In these past few days of cooperating with the investigation, they reviewed my work in recent years thoroughly. One person asked me why I submitted a second application to initiate the ‘album plan,’” Zhang Chunjiu said quickly, “I was stunned at the time. I said, ‘What album plan?’ Then they showed me the reports I had submitted――Lao Lu, I did submit a report. You know I’ve always wanted to improve our internal electronic file management. In addition to the intelligent field system, I wanted to categorize the case files, along with theoretical research results, for future reference in investigations. I only mentioned these things in the report, and I never gave this project a code name, let alone calling it the ‘album plan’!”

Lu Youliang’s eyes widened suddenly, and he subconsciously clenched the hand in his coat pocket.

“This project was approved after I left my post,” Zhang Chunjiu said. “Lao Lu, who gave it the name ‘album’? Why did they call it that?”

Lu Youliang opened his mouth, but it took him a while before he could say with difficulty, “If it wasn’t you, then it must be… Yan… Yan Gong University.”

“Is Fan Siyuan really dead?” Zhang Chunjiu said slowly and deliberately. “Who resurrected this ‘ghost’? Who framed me――us? Who’s hiding among the ranks and secretly spreading information? Lao Lu, let your subordinates investigate and expose this person to clear my name!”

Lu Youliang almost sat on the edge of the seat as if he had lost his soul. He knew that the driver, who was nominally there to accompany him, was secretly observing him. However, Zhang Chunjiu’s words from earlier lingered in his ears――Do you know who he trusted the most?

Who did Gu Zhao trust the most?

When Gu Zhao was studying at Yan Gong University, he indeed had a good relationship with his mentor, Fan Siyuan. He felt that there was a mole in the Municipal Bureau, and no one was safe, so he chose his mentor, right?

Or… was the person he trusted the most someone else?

The Municipal Bureau didn’t forcibly assign fixed partners to the detectives, but during actual work, each person had their preferred partner they frequently collaborated with, like Luo Wenzhou and Tao Ran now――Gu Zhao and Yang Zhengfeng back then.

When they first discovered Lu Guosheng’s fingerprints, Yang Zhengfeng happened to be absent. What about later? If Gu Zhao suspected that there were people leaking information around him, wouldn’t Yang Zhengfeng, who was absent at the time, be conveniently exempt from suspicion? He and Gu Zhao were both in the main and deputy teams and had the most interaction and the best cooperation in their work…

If Yang Zhengfeng hadn’t sacrificed himself three years ago, then if they were reopening the Gu Zhao case now, the focus of suspicion would undoubtedly be on him.

“Lu Ju, you’ve arrived at your home.”

Lu Youliang jolted back to reality and barely managed to smile at the driver. When he got off the car, he almost tripped over the curb. Cold sweat covered his back, but he walked quickly upstairs and took out a dead bug from a hidden compartment in the bookshelf.

Lu Youliang stared at the bug for a long time, then stuffed it into his pocket and left without paying attention to his concerned wife’s repeated inquiries, striding away from home.

In the Second Hospital, after the information-packed phone conference, Tao Ran hadn’t had time to sort out what he had just heard when a visitor arrived in the ward――It was the young detective, Xiao Wu, who had accompanied him on the investigation of Yin Ping. Xiao Wu was carrying bags of fruits and nutritional products and piled them up on the windowsill of the ward.