“When I look back on my youth, those days are like white snowflakes on a stormy morning, blown away by the strong wind.” - “Lolita” “Comrades, you’ve worked hard today. I’ll reimburse you for the supper and the ladies’ face masks. For those of you with wives and children, I’ll write a confession letter on your behalf. Even if we have to stay up all night and dig three feet under the Su family’s old mansion, we must clarify this matter. No matter what, I want to see Qu Tong, that little girl, alive or dead.” After speaking into the walkie-talkie, Luo Wenzhou turned to his side and looked at Feidu with interest. “Young man, I feel like you might be a born troublemaker. You’re having such a happy and fulfilling birthday. I can’t give you a ride back. Should I call a car for you, or drop you off at a hotel along the way?” Feidu didn’t answer but instead asked casually, “What do you usually eat for supper during your shift?” “Usually it’s a deluxe package of gutter oil,” Luo Wenzhou’s expression turned bitter, “occasionally there are a few picky ones who might go for something higher-end, like McDonald’s.” Feidu: “…” “Nonsense,” Luo Wenzhou turned the steering wheel towards the direction of the city bureau, grumbling, “You guys are so hard to feed, can I afford to reimburse all that? There’s a hotel up ahead, you can spend half a month’s salary to stay overnight. Should I stop there for you?” “I don’t stay at that one. The lobby is too suffocating with incense, and the bathroom doesn’t have a bathtub,” Feidu said slowly to the unfortunate government employee who had to endure “fried chicken for dinner and gutter oil for thirst,” and then, ignoring the series of overwhelming resentment he had caused, he instructed, “Keep driving, there’s a six-star hotel near your bureau, it’ll do. I can walk there myself.” Luo Wenzhou: “…” After holding back for a while, he finally couldn’t take it anymore. “Fei, you’re just fooling around all day, never doing any real work. Will your family’s money sustain your extravagant lifestyle for a lifetime? What will you do when you’ve squandered it all? No one will support you anymore. You’re not a child anymore. After today… no, yesterday, going to the Civil Affairs Bureau to get a marriage certificate is legally binding. Can you tone it down a bit?!” Feidu leaned his uninjured elbow on the car door, silent. He just supported his chin and smiled. Luo Wenzhou couldn’t understand what was so funny. He looked at Feidu with frustration. If it weren’t for Feidu being disabled today, he would have almost thrown him out of the car. After a while, Feidu asked again, “Are you sure you don’t need my help?” “Do you have a position? Do you get a salary?” Luo Wenzhou didn’t let him walk on his own in the end. When they were nearing the city bureau, he scolded while temporarily turning into the side road across the street, heading towards a hotel that served as a landmark in the vicinity. “What do you want?” “I heard that the so-called ‘accomplice’ you arrested was identified by that brutal little girl. Other than that, there’s no other evidence, right?” Feidu continued in a nonchalant tone. Luo Wenzhou remained expressionless and said, “The investigation process is confidential.” Before he could finish his sentence, Feidu calmly continued, “Oh, and also because he has some connection to the serial kidnapping of girls twenty years ago, he seems suspicious.”

His shirt hung loose and messy, showing the aftermath of the car accident. From Luo Wenzhou’s perspective, he could see the faint glimpse of his exposed collarbone, which exuded a subtle sense of restrained strength. Today, he didn’t deliberately spray on any cologne, but the corruption of his flesh had likely absorbed the fragrance from various places around the world. A vague, almost imperceptible scent of masculinity emanated from his collar, leaving no time for careful appreciation before it disappeared.

When Feidu reached out with his elongated arm to take the phone, he came close to Luo Wenzhou’s body, and with a deliberate or unintentional touch, he snatched his own phone away.

Luo Wenzhou: “…”

In the deep night, a young man who identified as male, had a preference for males, and was temporarily without a fixed partner, unexpectedly faced such a provocation under immense work pressure. The degree of his wretchedness was no less than that of a person who hadn’t eaten for three days stumbling upon the official blog of a Michelin-starred restaurant in the late night.

“I should still be here tomorrow morning. If you need anything, you can come find me,” Feidu said nonchalantly, straightening up and stuffing his unlucky phone into his pocket. “I can talk to that girl on your behalf. Although I’m not an expert on problem teenagers, I do have quite a bit of personal experience as one.”

Luo Wenzhou waved his hand in mental and physical exhaustion. “Just get lost.”

After Feidu truly left, Luo Wenzhou parked the car by the roadside and lit two cigarettes in succession to recover from his half-awkward state. He started the car and drove back to the city bureau, feeling a sense of world-weariness filling his heart.

Ordinary people could study and work diligently and still find ways to solve personal problems through “blind dates.” However, as a niche enthusiast like him, it was more inconvenient in this regard.

When he had just graduated, Young Master Luo, like Feidu, had wandered around for a few years. However, he later discovered that it was easy to be promiscuous, but finding the right person was difficult. The so-called “drunken revelry” was essentially a four-step process: infatuation at the beginning, followed by familiarity, then boredom, and finally disgust. Coupled with the increasing pressure of work that diverted his attention, Luo Wenzhou gradually settled into a “sunset red” life of going to work, going home, and playing with his cat.

However, while his mentality was “sunset red,” his body was still young. The physical and mental worlds clashed with great internal contradiction. Luo Wenzhou thought irritably, at this rate, one day he might end up sexually attracted to one of Luo’s large mackerel tails.

He slammed the accelerator to the floor with a frustrated kick, and the car made a mournful sound as it bounced in place before bounding towards the brightly lit city bureau.

“Luo, Xu Wenchao has been brought in. He’s in the interrogation room. Su Luozhan is in another room, and Xiao Lang is watching her. What are you planning to do…”

Before the words were finished, Luo Wenzhou’s hurried footsteps came to a halt in the corridor as he saw a stooped figure.

“Uncle Guo?”

Guo Heng extinguished his cigarette butt, slowly stood up, and struggled to straighten his back… but it remained crooked.

Luo Wenzhou: “Why are you…”

“You came to find me this afternoon. Are you planning to reopen the investigation into that case from back then?” Guo Heng gazed at him intently. “Right? My daughter… hasn’t been found all these years. I heard you just found a girl who is still alive. Is it true? Have you caught the suspect? Besides Wu Guangchuan, are there any other accomplices in Feifei’s case?”

The old man’s cloudy eyes seemed to reignite the flame mentioned by Old Yang all those years ago, almost unbearable to look at directly.

Luo Wenzhou didn’t know what to say for a moment, so he could only awkwardly evade, “We’ll do our best.”

After saying that, he hastily ran off. Even when he was far away, he still felt Guo Heng’s gaze burning into his back, as if it could sear a hole through him.

In the interrogation room, Xu Wenchao went from being an “assisting in the investigation” to a “suspect” in just one day. He had been taken from his residence in the middle of the night, his face looking extremely grim, marked by the signs of sleepless nights and even a stubble of facial hair.

At this moment, his attitude was no longer as polite. With his ten fingers clasped together and resting on his legs, his pale face carried an indescribable nervousness.

“I didn’t…” Xu Wenchao’s tone was helpless and innocent, but his words were sharp. “I’ll say it again, I didn’t kidnap any little girls or commit murder. You’ve checked my driving records, and you’ve done illegal tracking and wiretapping. Let me ask you, has the violation of a person’s basic human rights reached this point? Have you found evidence that I’ve killed someone?”

The interrogating detective spoke coldly, “Su Luozhan kidnapped a girl from the same school, subjected the victim to abuse, and even attempted murder. She called you twice at the crime scene and accused you in front of everyone as her accomplice. What else is there for you to argue?”

Xu Wenchao leaned back on the chair and spoke in his soft, distinct voice, “With a single phone call and a child’s words, I became a murderer. Today, I finally understand what it means to ‘add crime to the innocent’.”

“Why did Su Luozhan call you, and why did she accuse you?”

Xu Wenchao paused, calmly raised his eyes, and Luo Wenzhou, watching him through the surveillance, suddenly had a foreboding feeling—a feeling that this person was too calm and too certain, as if he held a secret unknown to anyone else.

“Because her mother and I were in a romantic relationship,” Xu Wenchao said. “Yes, I didn’t mention it when I came this afternoon… because I was afraid of trouble. I’ve liked Su Xiaolan since I was young, but she didn’t like me. She would rather live a life of solitude, neither human nor ghost, than accept me. It was only when she learned that her life was nearing its end that she selfishly decided to show me a little tenderness. I was deeply grateful for it, and even wanted to marry her… If it weren’t for her not being able to wait until today, I would be Su Luozhan’s stepfather now. Without that legal relationship, it’s difficult for me to adopt the child. I can only try to figure out a way slowly while providing for her materially. If something happens, she will call me. It’s normal.”

“But you didn’t answer.”

“I didn’t answer because I found out I was being wiretapped,” Xu Wenchao said frankly. “Even if it wasn’t her who made the call, but just some random delivery or real estate sales call, I wouldn’t have answered. Officer, do I have the right to maintain my last bit of freedom under the weight of state power?”

“So, you’re saying Su Luozhan falsely accused you?”

“I don’t know why the girl said that. If it’s true, then I’m truly saddened. Her mother has always neglected her. In comparison, I believe I have been a responsible quasi-stepfather. This girl has been given too much freedom since she was young, and her behavior has crossed boundaries at times. I have disciplined her as well. Perhaps she has some rebellious feelings towards me,” Xu Wenchao said, pausing slightly. “Or perhaps she doesn’t even know what she’s saying and someone is manipulating her.”

Another detective slammed the table. “Cut the crap! The surviving victim testified that Su Luozhan, after calling you, said, ‘If he doesn’t come, I can handle it myself.’ The old Su family house has always been cleaned by your hired workers, and the water and electricity bills are paid from your account! What are you doing maintaining an old house that’s slated for demolition? Clearly, there are unspeakable secrets! If we hadn’t been tailing you today, that kidnapped girl might not see the sun tomorrow!”

Xu Wenchao shook his head. “What’s the causal relationship between maintaining an old house and kidnapping and murder? According to your logic, shouldn’t the city government be responsible for all criminal cases that occur in the city?”

“Didn’t he say he had burned his brain?” Luo Wenzhou raised an eyebrow in surprise. “He seems pretty clever to me. Is intermittent idiocy a thing?”

“Luo, if he insists on denying it and we don’t have any other evidence, should we give him a lie detector test?”

“Check his accounts, credit cards, the vehicles and properties under his name… Take his photo to various rental car companies and inquire. Also, look into his personal relationships. The car he was driving at the time of the Qu Tong case may have been borrowed. The driving records on the day of the Qu Tong case are fine, which means he didn’t drive his own car. I don’t believe he has the ability to hide another four-wheeled vehicle out of thin air…”

Before Luo Wenzhou finished speaking, he heard the detective in the interrogation room ask, “I’ll ask you again, where were you on the evening of the 27th?”

“I was at home reading,” Xu Wenchao replied with an unchanged expression. “I’m a freelancer and don’t have to go to work every day. It’s normal to read at home.”

“If you were reading at home, then why did you rent a car?”

This was a false confession.

If Xu Wenchao didn’t drive his own car in Xiling on that day, then whether he borrowed from an acquaintance or secretly had a car registered under someone else’s license plate, there would be traces to follow, making it easy to investigate. In comparison, the best choice would be to rent a car from some unregulated rental companies. Some of these small-scale rental companies operated illegally and were well-hidden. That was the most likely course of action for Xu Wenchao.

Luo Wenzhou fell silent, crossed his arms in front of his chest, and attentively waited to hear Xu Wenchao’s explanation.

Little did he know that Xu Wenchao raised an eyebrow, seemingly genuinely surprised, and asked, “Officer, what are you talking about?”

“On the evening of the 27th, you followed a school bus from Xiling in a car, intending to target one of the eleven girls on the bus. However, you happened to witness the bus being hijacked by the kidnappers. During this process, a girl named Qu Tong escaped from the bus and encountered you and Su Luozhan. Trusting you, she sought help and got into your car, only to be buried by a beast like you!”

Xu Wenchao sneered, “This is simply…”

The interrogating detective interrupted him sharply, “The surveillance outside the museum captured your license plate number. What else do you have to argue about?”

“Officer,” Xu Wenchao calmly asked, “May I know the exact time of the incident on the 27th?”

The interrogating detective replied coldly, “Don’t you know?”

“I really don’t know,” Xu Wenchao raised his hands slightly and shook his head. “Well, since you’re intent on deceiving me, it seems you won’t tell me the exact time. But I still have something to say for myself. If this case happened in the early hours of the night, then I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been able to make it there in time. You saw where my home is located. It takes at least three hours to drive to the Xiling area you mentioned… and that’s not even considering traffic jams and bad weather. Around 8:30 PM on the 27th, I ordered takeout at home. There are records of the order number and delivery time. If I’m lucky, the delivery person might even remember me.”

Luo Wenzhou’s heart skipped a beat as he realized his intuition had come true.

“I suggest you verify it as soon as possible and clear my name,” Xu Wenchao lowered his head to look at his watch. “It seems I’ll be spending the night at the police station. When can I request a lawyer? Oh, and by the way, although I’m still not entirely sure what Su Luozhan has done so far, she’s still young. Officers, could you be gentle with her? If necessary, I’m willing to take on the responsibility of being her guardian.”