“Finally, those outside the small group are objectified and can easily become tools of revenge. Even if it harms the innocent, it is seen as necessary sacrifices on the path of vengeance and justice,” Fei Du’s gaze swept across all the angry detectives. “But the ’tools of revenge’ and the ’targets of revenge’ are not the same. To enhance group cohesion, they must have certain beliefs, and cultivating these beliefs requires a sense of ritual—for example, exacting ‘an eye for an eye’ on criminals who died due to their own crimes.”

“Are you saying that Fan Siyuan, the initiator of the ‘Reciter,’ designed this group starting from when he killed the first person in the First Album Plan?” Luo Wenzhou asked. “The murders were part of his plan, not some ‘gazing into the abyss’ type of obsession.”

“No,” Fei Du said, “this group is well-structured, with a small number of members, strong cohesion, and extreme loyalty. It was consciously designed and cultivated by Fan Siyuan. When he first acted as a ‘volunteer policeman’ and murdered unpunished suspects, it wasn’t out of righteous indignation. If Fan Siyuan had come into contact with Zhu Feng earlier, he should have realized that the person locked up in the psychiatric hospital wasn’t the real culprit, so killing him would be meaningless.”

“The time when Zhu Feng stormed into the psychiatric hospital and when Qian Cheng was eventually killed is very close,” Luo Wenzhou pondered for a moment. “Is it possible that the real culprit, upon hearing Zhu Feng’s accusation and realizing that the switch wasn’t seamless, took advantage of the chaos during the First Album Plan to muddy the waters—creating an unconscious impression that Qian Cheng was the target of revenge, making people believe he was the real culprit, preventing further investigation.”

Xiao Haiyang suddenly jumped up, “So the murder of Zhu Feng’s husband, Yu Bin, was arranged by the mole at the Municipal Bureau back then!”

Luo Wenzhou said, “Investigate Yu Bin’s interactions with people before his death—check the school, the students he taught, and the places he visited.”

Xiao Haiyang leaped into action.

At that moment, another detective asked, “Captain Luo, did the mole back then have any suspicions? Should we keep an eye on them?”

Before Luo Wenzhou could speak, Fei Du glanced at his watch.

“Not necessary for now,” Fei Du said. “It’s about time; someone will go.”

After the investigator responsible for Fei Du left, he couldn’t help but carefully review Fei Du’s surveillance records— it was a long duration, several hours of casual conversations with different individuals, with a jumble of information. He first found the parts related to Pan Yunteng and went through them from start to finish. As Fei Du had said, it was all about students inexplicably inquiring and greeting, nothing of value. The investigator felt somewhat disappointed and was about to give up when he vaguely sensed something that bothered him.

While reviewing the information once again from start to finish, he suddenly noticed something and pressed the pause button.

On the screen, a subtle expression flickered across Fei Du’s face, and then he seemed to feign composure as he sent a voice message: “I haven’t heard anything. What’s the matter?”

The investigator was taken aback for a moment, then replayed the conversation between Fei Du and the ‘philosopher’ from start to finish and called in the technicians—Fei Du hadn’t worn earphones, and the voice message from the ‘philosopher’ could be faintly heard directly from Fei Du’s phone receiver. Through technical means, the voice message sent by the ‘philosopher’ became clear.

The keyword “Zhang Ting” sent a shiver down the investigator’s spine.

Meanwhile, quietly returning to the old Zhou family mansion, Zhou Huaijin, as the sole remaining heir of the Zhou family, was highly efficient and had already obtained the whereabouts of Zhou Yahou’s former assistant from 38 years ago.

“Zhou Yahou’s assistant was a member of a collateral branch of the Zhou family, his Chinese name was ‘Zhou Chao.’ After Zhou Junmao took office, this person was arrested and imprisoned for embezzlement of public funds,” Zhou Huaijin said as he looked at the map. “Later, due to injuring others while in prison and repeatedly attempting to escape, his sentence was continuously extended. I found a lead through various channels. It is said that this person is still alive, in his seventies, living under a new identity in a small town in Province C. Interestingly, he was released from prison in the same year Zheng Kaifeng handed the fake DNA results to Zhou Junmao. Do you think…”

Lu Jia, holding an ice cream, looked around thoughtfully. He smiled when he heard Zhou Huaijin’s words, “It’s very possible. Your mother probably thought you weren’t Zhou Junmao’s biological son and, in order to protect you, a mother can do anything. This Zhou Chao has never been found. It wouldn’t be surprising if she hid him away.”

As Zhou Huaijin’s mind raced, his anxiety grew when Lu Jia’s big head turned alertly. He quickly looked around as well, “What’s wrong? Could someone be following us again?”

Lu Jia squinted and smiled, “You’re just realizing it? I guess when you returned to the old mansion, someone started tailing you.”

Zhou Huaijin exclaimed, “What?!”

The previous night, Lu Jia had used the excuse of “too many people, don’t want to cause trouble” to not stay at the old Zhou family mansion with Zhou Huaijin. Instead, he had assigned two bodyguards to accompany him while the rest of the team went to a pre-booked hotel.

At the time, Zhou Huaijin didn’t think much of it because he was relieved to be back in a familiar place. He unconsciously relaxed and slept peacefully, never expecting that those who wanted to kill him would follow him here.

Zhou Huaijin suddenly turned to look at Lu Jia, “You knew…”

“Don’t worry, they didn’t make a move on you yesterday,” Lu Jia said as he licked his ice cream. His tongue seemed to have barbs, and with one lick, half of the ice cream disappeared. “They’re not familiar with this area and need to figure out who you’re going to meet before they can trap you and capture everyone.”

Zhou Huaijin remained speechless.

Lu Jia casually continued licking his ice cream, then reached out and patted Zhou Huaijin’s shoulder, preventing him from looking around, and pushed him forward, “Didn’t you notice that my people aren’t all here? Come on, do you still not trust me, let alone Mr. Fei?”

The old man who used to follow Zhou Yahou lived in a very remote location, a shabby little courtyard with minimal decoration. The entrance had just been swept and was relatively clean. Lu Jia gestured to one of his little brothers who had followed them, and several people immediately dispersed and took up positions in the backyard.

Only then did Zhou Huaijin approach the door and knock. After a moment, a middle-aged foreign woman appeared through the intercom, asking who it was.

Zhou Huaijin glanced at Lu Jia, who nodded, indicating that he should tell the truth. Zhou Huaijin cleared his throat and revealed Zhou Chao’s alias, “Is he living here? My surname is Zhou, I’m the son of his old friend.”

There was a moment of silence inside the house, then a Southeast Asian-looking middle-aged woman cautiously poked her head out. Nervously, she glanced at the unexpected visitors and forced a smile, “I think you might be talking about the previous tenant who lived here. We moved in just last month.”

Zhou Huaijin frowned and took out an old man’s photo from his pocket, “Have you seen the previous tenant? Is this the person?”

The woman hesitated, hesitantly took the photo from Zhou Huaijin, and, whether due to face blindness or some other problem, she looked at it repeatedly for a long time before reluctantly saying, “I’m not entirely sure…”

Just then, a loud shout came from the backyard, “Halt!”

The woman’s hand trembled, and her panicked expression could no longer be hidden. The photo slipped from her hand—it turned out she had been stalling for time!

Lu Jia calmly looked over and saw an old man with gray hair leaping over the backyard fence, agile as a cat. Taking advantage of the distraction caused by the nanny at the door, he sprinted away. It was clear that he didn’t suffer from rheumatism; his legs were nimble enough for parkour.

Lu Jia stretched his neck and sighed, “Wow, still spry at an old age!”

Unfortunately, Zhou Chao didn’t anticipate that the people who came to find him were already prepared. As soon as he showed himself, the people lying in wait in the backyard immediately swarmed in and captured the nimble old man. Lu Jia bent down and picked up the photo that the woman had dropped. He wanted to say something, but after pondering for a while, he realized that the only foreign language phrases he remembered from his school days were “thank you,” “goodbye,” and “good morning.” He closed his mouth like a great sage and revealed a profound and inscrutable smile.

This scene was captured on camera.

Not far behind Lu Jia and the others, inside an inconspicuous white business van, a fully armed man put down his binoculars, adjusted the angle of his sniper rifle, and sent out the photos of Zhou Huaijin, Lu Jia, and the old man held by a group of people, asking his employer, “Confirmation? Shall we proceed?”

In China’s Yancheng, which was separated by a time difference of over ten hours from the small town in Province C, night had fallen.

Zhang Chunjiu picked up the phone and listened silently for a moment. Then he raised his head and said to Zhang Chunling in a deep voice, “Someone went to Donglai Company to find him.”

To deceive others, after secretly sending Zhang Donglai and his sister away, Zhang Chunjiu had someone impersonate Zhang Donglai and continue to appear at the company as usual. With fewer people in the company these days and nothing much happening, as long as the fake Zhang Donglai wore a mask and sunglasses, avoided talking too much with the staff on duty, and passed by without any issues, it would give the impression that everything was as usual in the “Chunlai Group”… as long as no one came looking for him specifically.

Why did the investigation team suddenly want to find Zhang Donglai?

Who leaked the information?

The two brothers exchanged glances. Zhang Chunjiu pulled open the curtain and looked outside. The city’s lights were just beginning to illuminate, and through the hazy mist, an air of joy permeated, giving the city a peaceful and harmonious appearance.

A peacefulness that gave him a sense of foreboding.

At this moment, someone lightly knocked on the door and said in a deep voice, “Mr. Zhang, we have located Zhou Huaijin. He found an old man named Zhou Chao and wants to consult with you. Should we take action immediately?”

Zhang Chunling took the phone from him and saw the clear photos sent to the phone. The elderly Chinese man was looking at Zhou Huaijin with a frightened expression. His face was weathered and pale, but even after many years, Zhang Chunling recognized him at a glance. “He was one of Zhou Yahou’s men who came to Hengan.”

Zhang Chunjiu snatched the phone, “Why is he still alive? What have Zhou Junmao and Zheng Kaifeng been doing all these years?”

“I don’t find it strange. Zheng Kaifeng is greedy and lustful, while Zhou Junmao is indecisive. The two of them were close like brothers yet also estranged, with Zhou Yahou’s woman caught in between. It’s normal that there were leaks,” Zhang Chunling calmly said. “Stay calm. Take advantage of this opportunity to eliminate them once and for all. I don’t believe they have any evidence, and I don’t believe they can dig up anything from forty years ago. Even if Donglai isn’t here, so what? Which country’s laws did he violate by sending his son abroad?”

Zhang Chunjiu collected his thoughts, “Big brother, you should go into hiding first.”

Zhang Chunling neither confirmed nor denied, “What about you?”

“My investigation isn’t finished yet. Leaving like this would be suspicious. I’ll stay behind to handle the follow-up matters,” Zhang Chunjiu said. “Don’t worry, I can take care of myself.”

Zhang Chunling gave him a deep look.

“Big brother,” Zhang Chunjiu suddenly spoke ambiguously, “I remember that year, it was winter… you… you hid me in the bamboo basket used for storing coal. It was all ashes, and I rubbed against it, my whole body, my face, turned black. I looked out through the cracks in the bamboo basket…”

Zhang Chunling’s face changed, interrupting him, “Enough, why are you talking about this?”

Lowering his head, Zhang Chunjiu, who had weathered the storms of more than fifty years, with his copper-like skin and iron-like bones, who could manipulate and dominate, had a momentary crease in the wrinkles on his forehead that seemed to never unfold. He took the coat from the hanger and respectfully draped it over Zhang Chunling’s shoulders. Then he handed him the scarf and said, “You’re right, why am I saying these things? Big brother, take care.”

Zhang Chunling hesitated for a moment, accepted the scarf, and made a hand gesture to the men following him. Several people quietly followed him as they slipped out.

Lang Qiao’s phone vibrated, and she looked down to see that her father was asking when her long shift would be over and whether she had time during the Spring Festival to visit their relatives. Before she could reply, she saw the old headmaster coming out with a bunch of keys, beckoning her.

“Sorry, Teacher,” Lang Qiao quickly put her personal phone back in her pocket. “It’s the New Year, and it’s a hassle for you to come here so late at night.”

Based on Zhu Feng’s testimony, Lang Qiao had found the Fourth Middle School where the murdered art teacher Yu Bin used to teach.

“It’s fine. The kids went on a trip, it’s just the two of us old folks. Let’s finish dinner and do some activities,” the old headmaster said. “Oh, it’s been more than ten years. I never thought someone would come to investigate the case of Teacher Yu from all those years ago. It’s so tragic, such a good young man. Here we are.”

Lang Qiao looked up and saw the words “Art Classroom” on the door.

“In these years, we’ve been pursuing higher enrollment rates, and sports have been given extra exams, which is tolerable. But music and art classes are basically just for show,” the old headmaster said. “When Teacher Yu was here, the school still had students specializing in art. Afterward, the policy changed, and we stopped accepting art students. The art classroom became a place for visits… Let me see if this key works.”