“Luo Jia said that the director who accepted the donation was named ‘Hao Zhenhua,’ a native of Yancheng City, born in May 19XX. Can we find his whereabouts with a name, surname, hometown, and birthdate?”

“Wait a moment.” Tao Ran, brushing off his previous despondency, gestured for Fei Du to push him into the office and started making phone calls to inquire.

With specific information, the search became much easier. While apologizing, Tao Ran woke up a group of drowsy staff on duty. After a moment, they actually managed to find a match in terms of age and name.

“There was such a case—deceased Hao Zhenhua, male, 46 years old at the time. He died from stab wounds. The assailant knocked on his door and stabbed him three times in the chest and abdomen. The victim suffered severe internal bleeding. Then the assailant pursued him inside the house, wielding a copper vase from the victim’s home, delivering violent blows to his head repeatedly until he died… The scene was a mess, and the victim’s head was reportedly smashed like a rotten watermelon. All the valuable items and cash in the house were looted. The police initially concluded it as a case of home invasion robbery.”

“What happened next?” Fei Du rummaged for a pack of instant milk powder from somewhere, brewed it with hot water, and added extra sugar before placing it next to Tao Ran, asking, “When did this home invasion robbery and murder occur?”

“It was eventually left unresolved. Later, the city organized several crackdowns on criminal activities, dismantling several violent criminal gangs. Some of them were so wicked that they probably didn’t even know how many crimes they had committed and just confessed to all of them.” Tao Ran took the milk from Fei Du, took a sip, almost spitting it out. He suspected that Fei Du’s hand shook and poured the entire jar of sugar into it, making it unbearably sweet. “The murder happened the year after Zhou Yahou’s death. What Luo and the others said that day made sense. The Heng’an Welfare Institute didn’t close down because of Zhou Yahou’s death… Comrade Fei Du, you don’t need this much sugar for preserved fruit.”

“Too sweet?” Fei Du innocently raised an eyebrow and reached out his hand. “Then give it to me.”

After the age of three, Tao Ran felt embarrassed to leave his unfinished food to others. He quickly waved his hand, as if to show that he could manage. He then took another big gulp and drank most of the cup. “So, the welfare institute director was likely the first victim. The orphans from back then planned revenge and disguised it as a home invasion robbery and murder of the director. At that time, the methods of criminal investigation were not advanced, and the victim’s family didn’t relent, so the case was haphazardly closed.”

“The director Hao Zhenhua’s family probably knew what he was involved in,” Fei Du said. “Even if they knew who the killer was, they might not have dared to pursue it. Dying in a home invasion robbery could still garner sympathy, but revealing the truth could lead to their downfall… They probably tasted the benefits and started on this path—bro, are you tired?”

Perhaps it was because the indoor heating was too sufficient, or perhaps it was Fei Du’s low and soothing voice that was hypnotic, but Tao Ran felt that his eyelids were becoming heavy, which was unexpected given the shocking revelation he had just heard. Normally, his nerves should have been stimulated, yet now he felt his eyelids sinking.

“No,” Tao Ran rubbed his eyes vaguely. “Please continue.”

Fei Du increased the volume on his phone and played the voice message from Lu Jia.

Lu Jia said, “At that time, most of the girls adopted by the welfare institute were between the ages of 12 and 15. Every Christmas, several welfare institutes sponsored by Zhou Yahou would send photos of the girls in that age range for him to choose from. The chosen ones would be sent abroad, and the expenses would be covered by the donations, paid to the welfare institute. The girls sent over would be kept in Zhou Yahou’s villa and occasionally entertained his scumbag friends.”

“The leftover girls would be raised and sold to human traffickers. As for the boys—it was easier for boys to be adopted at the time, so there weren’t many healthy boys left in the welfare institute, only a few.”

“The girls were kept to please the wealthy patrons; they had to at least look presentable. The welfare institute wouldn’t mistreat them too much on ordinary days. Therefore, the boys unwanted by those wealthy patrons would suffer even harsher abuse. As long as they could bring in enough money, they couldn’t afford to be idle once they reached seven or eight years old. Whether it was through child labor, theft, or robbery, if they couldn’t meet the quota, the consequences would be dire. Physical abuse was commonplace, and…”

Lu Jia’s voice message was interrupted for a moment, seemingly slipping out accidentally before he finished.

After a while, Lu Jia’s voice resumed: “And those girls waiting to be sold had to remain ‘intact.’ The ones left didn’t have that problem, so… President Fei, you understand.”

As Tao Ran listened to Lu Jia’s lengthy report, his head became increasingly heavy, and his vision grew blurry. There seemed to be some strange force emanating from the wheelchair, pulling him down. Fei Du, pacing back and forth in front of him, appeared as a double shadow, ghostly. Tao Ran finally realized that this wasn’t a normal physiological reaction. By now, his gaze had become so unfocused that he struggled to extend his hand, grabbing onto Fei Du’s clothes.

Fei Du slightly lowered his head, the lenses reflecting light, making it difficult for Tao Ran to see his close gaze.

Tao Ran’s lips moved slightly, “Fei…”

Fei Du placed the phone aside and removed Tao Ran’s hand from his body.

Tao Ran desperately tried to open his eyes wider but was ultimately unable to resist. Overwhelming fatigue engulfed him. “You…”

In the blink of an eye, the overly sweet milk from earlier left a strange taste on his tongue. Then, a thought flashed through Tao Ran’s mind—why did Fei Du allow Zhang Donglai to publicly release those two photos… perhaps, it was Fei Du himself who instructed it?

Since Zhang Donglai was already in his custody, couldn’t they have simply handed over the photos from that phone as evidence to the police? Fei Du, what are you planning?

Tao Ran’s consciousness emitted one final, inaudible murmur before dispersing and dissolving in defeat.

Fei Du assembled the chair, carefully laid a layer of coats, and picked up a jacket that someone had left behind, rolling it into a pillow. He avoided Tao Ran’s injuries and gently placed him on the bench.

He surveyed Tao Ran’s unwilling sleeping face, brewed himself a cup of coffee, put on his headphones, and used Tao Ran’s privileges and communication devices to monitor the progress of the police’s pursuit of Zhang Chunjiu and his brother.

At 2:40 in the early morning, Zhang Chunjiu and the others fled near Yanhai Expressway when an unknown number called Fei Du’s phone.

Fei Du: “Hello.”

There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone. “…I didn’t expect that the one lurking in the shadows would be you.”

“Director Zhang,” Fei Du smiled silently. “I was just wondering when you would call me. You really have remarkable patience.”

Cross-border kidnapping—something the police couldn’t handle. If there were truly incriminating evidence against him, they would have come with an arrest warrant long ago. The Zhou family didn’t have this capability.

Everyone around Zhang Donglai were elderly people he trusted, who knew everything about him. Some of them had even been with them since the Heng’an period. If Fan Siyuan’s influence really reached that far, there was no need to wait until now.

Zhang Donglai was definitely not forcibly abducted. He had slipped away on his own during the night, changed clothes, brought alcohol, and dressed as if he was planning to have a good time with his friends. Obviously, there was a “familiar person” he trusted who deceived him. With all these circumstances, and if it wasn’t Fei Du, Zhang Chunling would probably need to examine his own thinking.

After abducting Zhang Donglai, the conditions presented were to demand one person—Su Cheng, the contact person for Su Heng. So, who had Su Cheng, who had disappeared, ended up with? It was evident.

Zhang Chunling’s voice was deep, “Su Cheng is your bait. I should have sensed that something was wrong with you ever since I escaped the assassination—that wasn’t a coincidence, nor was it just luck.”

“I’ve never been lucky, and I don’t dare to bet on coincidences. Later, I probably became more obedient and willingly allowed the investigation team to detain me for questioning, caught up in inexplicable lawsuits. That’s why Director Zhang ignored me and didn’t consider me a threat.” Fei Du propped his elbow on the armrest of the chair, pressing his temple with two fingers, calmly spinning in the swivel chair for half a circle. “Su Cheng disappeared, and you thought he fell into Fan Siyuan’s hands. To be on the safe side, you neatly sent your children to a safe place… a loving parental heart, Director Zhang.”

“Never thought they would end up in your hands.” Zhang Chunling said coldly, “President Fei, you truly are a chip off the old block.”

“Fine,” Fei Du said somewhat nonchalantly, “It was just fooling a silly girl by Su Cheng’s side. There’s nothing technically challenging about it. For that, Director Zhang, I admire you.”

Zhang Chunling probably wouldn’t be satisfied until he fired a shot at Fei Du’s head. He spoke deliberately, “Enough with the nonsense. What do you want?”

“What do I want?” Fei Du replied with a hint of amusement. “Director Zhang, that doesn’t sound very friendly. I’m just a law-abiding citizen who has been assisting the police in solving cases…”

“Assisting the police by means of kidnapping?” Zhang Chunling snorted coldly. “You purposely lured my person out of the country to help the Chinese police solve cases? President Fei, I’m a straightforward person. I don’t like beating around the bush. Let’s speak clearly. I have a son, and even if you want him, I can’t give birth to another one. You’d better not treat him as a bargaining chip.”

“Attention all departments, the suspect’s location has been locked down!” “A total of five vehicles with the following license plate numbers…” “Caution, the suspect may be armed.” “The assault team is in position—”

Zhang Chunling’s breath hitched.

“I heard that you were raised in the welfare home, despite the significant age difference. In that case, Zhang Bureau is probably not your biological brother,” Fei Du picked up the phone again, feigning sentimentality. “It’s not easy to be so loyal and affectionate to someone who isn’t your own flesh and blood. No wonder you’ve always trusted him to hold such a crucial position.”

Silence enveloped the other end of the phone. Fei Du closed his eyes, almost able to imagine the anger contorting the other person’s face.

“Director Zhang, even if you manage to escape today, you’ll probably be a globally wanted fugitive. You’ll have to live a life in hiding, always looking over your shoulder, and who knows, one day you might be extradited and face punishment. It’s not easy to end up like this. Are you content with your fate?” Fei Du lowered his voice. “Shall I show you a clear path?”

Zhang Chunling remained silent, but he didn’t hang up either.

“You heard it just now—I can obtain the same internal police information that Zhang Bureau used to have. I have more connections, more means, and more money than him. I even have a good relationship with Ling Gongzi. I’m quite generous, unlike Fei Chengyu, who nitpicks over every little thing and won’t even sponsor a piece of wasteland. Don’t you think I’m an ideal partner?” Fei Du casually stated, “My demands aren’t high. Just a little loyalty from you. Don’t waver, don’t associate with so many people surnamed Zhou or Zheng… What benefits can you gain from being with those wastes other than getting yourself into trouble? Zhang Bureau, I’m sure you understand this well.”

Zhang Chunling finally spoke. He gritted his teeth and said, “Fei Du, you truly are Fei Chengyu’s son, inheriting his greed and malevolence.”

“Well, I wouldn’t dare to claim that, but I’m a bit stronger than that waste Fei Chengyu,” Fei Du’s voice was low, almost tender. If someone didn’t know, they might think he was coaxing a lover on the phone rather than using threats and enticement on a middle-aged man with an unimpressive appearance. He continued, “I guess Fei Chengyu only managed to find the breadcrumbs left by Wei Zhanhong and his ilk. He didn’t know about your true identity, did he? Rest assured, I’m not Fei Chengyu, and you’re not the same as three years ago. Our collaboration will be pleasant.”

Zhang Chunling replied coldly, “I don’t know what changes I’ve undergone.”

“Pardon my bluntness, but three years ago, you were confident behind the scenes, in full control. But now…” Fei Du silently chuckled. “You’re a cornered dog with no way out.”

Zhang Chunling’s breath could be heard on the phone.

“Wealth, brothers, reputation, status, power—gone in the blink of an eye, Zhang Bureau, think carefully. Are you willing to live the rest of your life as a loner, hiding and evading, or will you listen to my arrangements and let me take care of you and those capable people under you? I’m very willing to do so, after all, Donglai gets along well with me, and I don’t want to see him heartbroken.”

Zhang Chunling remained silent for a long time before reluctantly saying, “Let me speak to Zhang Donglai. I’ll send you the meeting location. Fei, you better not chicken out.”

After that, he hung up the phone.

Fei Du stood up, silently draping a blanket over Tao Ran, picking up his coat, and walking out.

As he passed a corner in the corridor, someone whispered to him, “Are you sure this will lure him out?”

Fei Du walked on, putting on his coat without stopping, and said without looking up, “We’re at the end of the road. If he doesn’t show up now, it means he’s giving up. For him, catching Zhang Chunjiu is meaningless. Unless he’s dead, there will be a reaction.”

The person asked again, “Why don’t we inform Wen Zhou and the others?”

Fei Du replied, “Too obvious.”

The person didn’t accept this perfunctory explanation. “Too obvious, so obvious that it’s almost like it’s real—can I trust you, Fei Du?”

Fei Du continued walking, his mouth lifting slightly.

“Lü Bureau,” he said with a hint of being deserving of a beating, “Sincerity works wonders.”

The southeast section of the city’s exit was completely sealed off, with blaring police sirens and the flickering lights of street lamps casting intermittent beams on Zhang Chunjiu. Suddenly, a fleet of police cars rushed out from an intersection ahead, their red and blue lights flashing, making it impossible to see how many cars were coming towards them.

The trapped driver was visibly flustered. “Director Zhang!”

“Turn east and charge straight ahead,” Zhang Chunjiu ordered calmly, without changing his expression.

“Director Zhang, if we go east, we’ll head directly towards the sports park and Dongsen Ski Resort. That place…”

“I know,” Zhang Chunjiu interjected, neither light nor heavy in his tone. “Just drive, stop wasting words.”

The sports park and the massive ski resort divided the city of Yancheng from the Dongsen suburbs. It was situated in a squeezed position, resembling an area beyond governance. Apart from a small business district developed around the sports park, the surrounding area consisted of a blend of urban and rural spaces, with few streetlights and perennial traffic congestion.

However, in the early hours of New Year’s Eve, an unusual silence pervaded the area. Five vehicles targeted by the police forcefully crashed through the roadside barriers. Their wheels left the ground as they descended along the steep slopes on both sides.

Zhang Chunjiu remained composed. “Give those persistent pests a taste of our strength.”

The pursuing police cars were closing in. The last car in Zhang Chunjiu’s group suddenly opened its window, and someone threw something out. In the pitch-black darkness, the lead police cars couldn’t make out what it was. By the time they sensed something was wrong, it was already too late. The object thrown from the car exploded upon impact, followed by a deafening blast. The vehicle’s sirens went haywire as several police cars were overturned almost simultaneously, engulfed in flames that created a wall of fire.

Simultaneously, the five cars carrying the fugitives brandished their guns and unleashed a torrent of bullets, shielded by the chaos of fire and explosions.

The serene early morning shattered like a porcelain vase dropped from a height, the unexpected gunfire catching everyone off guard.

“Ambulances, stay close. Explosive-resistant vehicles, take the lead. Divide into two groups to encircle them. We must pin them down. Give me the map, and be wary of nearby residential areas…” Luo Wen Zhou’s voice suddenly halted.

“Luo Team, the major urban villages are concentrated in the west district, not in this direction. You can rest assured that going further east will only lead to the Dongsen Sports Park and Ski Resort. The ski resort has been closed since the day before yesterday until the third day of the Lunar New Year. There won’t be anyone there these days. We can block them off!”

Luo Wen Zhou narrowed his eyes in realization, recalling a phrase mentioned by Zhou Huai Xin when they secretly investigated Yang Bo and his mother—the former site of Heng’an Welfare Home was located in the outskirts of Yancheng, and it had been transformed into a ski resort.

Dongsen… Ski Resort.

“Second team, follow me. The others continue the pursuit on the original route!”

Could this be the site of Heng’an Welfare Home?

Could this be the place where everything began and ended?

A chill ran down Luo Wen Zhou’s spine, and he suddenly had an inexplicable sense of foreboding.

Fei Du arrived at the predetermined street park and scanned the surroundings but couldn’t find any trace of Zhang Chunling. He wasn’t surprised and simply sat in the car, waiting.

The song “You Raise Me Up” played on an endless loop, and he lightly tapped the steering wheel with his fingers in rhythm.

Suddenly, a bullet grazed the side of his car and hit a stone near the front wheel, rebounding and hitting the bulletproof glass with a loud “clang,” startling him. Fei Du glimpsed in the rearview mirror that several cars following him couldn’t hold back any longer and made a move.

At that moment, the car phone rang. The ringtone overlapped perfectly with the looping single, creating an unexpectedly pleasant effect during the chorus.

Unable to resist, Fei Du listened for a while before reaching out to answer the call. “Zhang Dong, I’m here to save you, and you shoot at me? What’s that about? I’m not the only one you can rely on. Since you don’t desperately want freedom and your son’s life, then let’s see each other again…”

“Hold on,” Zhang Chunling interrupted him. “Get rid of your people.”

Fei Du frowned.

“Shake off… your… people,” Zhang Chunling said firmly. “I’ve already told you, come alone.”

Fei Du fell silent, and the two remained in a wordless standoff for a moment.

Zhang Chunling said, “Fei, you don’t dare, do you?”

Fei Du slowly rolled down the car window and made a gesture behind him.

“Take the back entrance of the park. I’ll tell you where to go.”

Zhang Chunling made Fei Du drive in circles near the street park several times, probably to confirm that he had shaken off his entourage, before finally saying, “Drive forward for two hundred meters, park by the roadside. A car will be there to pick you up. Mr. Fei, please.”

Fei Du stepped on the brake and indeed saw a small car parked not far away. He couldn’t help but sneer at Zhang Chunling. “Our interests are aligned now, and we have a cooperative relationship. Zhang Dong, you know very well that I’ll only protect you. Yet you remain so guarded… A businessman should be generous when necessary.”

“People who are too generous tend to die early.” Zhang Chunling spoke coldly and promptly hung up the phone.