Fei Du had already gone upstairs. With a “click,” it seemed like he had locked the door.

Luo Wenzhou sighed silently and forced his attention back to the phone. He asked Tao Ran, “You said someone set fire to the Dong residence. What could be worth burning in their house?”

Tao Ran glanced at the heavily damaged Dong Xiaoqing’s house. Strictly speaking, the situation wasn’t very severe. The fire started in the living room, burning most of the furniture and blackening the walls. The carbonized edge of the television had slightly melted, but the entire TV wall and surrounding cabinets were still intact. Important documents like property deeds and bankbooks in the drawers were also unharmed.

“We’ve thoroughly investigated the Dong residence three times before, including the websites they visited, logged-in emails and social media accounts. We also searched their rooms. It’s unlikely that we missed anything unless that thing was really inconspicuous…”

Luo Wenzhou interrupted him. “No, that scope is too broad.”

“…or that thing wasn’t at the Dong residence at the time,” Tao Ran calmly completed his sentence after being interrupted. After a pause, he asked, “Do you have something urgent to attend to over there?”

Luo Wenzhou was momentarily speechless.

Understanding his situation, Tao Ran said kindly, “Then hang up for now. I’ll handle things here and report back to you later.”

“Wait, Tao Ran,” Luo Wenzhou hurriedly said, “This case may be more complicated than we imagined. During field operations, ensure your safety. From now on, no one involved in this case is allowed to act alone.”

Having partnered with him for many years, Tao Ran sensed his anxiety and promptly replied, “Understood.” Then he hung up the phone.

“Tao Deputy, the paper,” Xiao Haiyang approached with red-rimmed eyes. “I think the target of the perpetrator was the paper product he used to ignite the sofa.”

Tao Ran asked, “What’s your reasoning?”

“When a residential building catches fire, neighbors quickly report it to the fire department. Unless the person is certain that what they want to destroy has burned completely, they are likely to leave some evidence due to incomplete combustion,” Xiao Haiyang’s speech quickened involuntarily. “Furthermore, Dong Qian has a low level of education. I’ve been to his house a few times, and besides a few advertisements that someone had stuffed in, there were no other books in the living room. The things that need writing or drawing are all in Dong Xiaoqing’s study. The surveillance footage showed that the arsonist stayed in the Dong residence for a full ten minutes after breaking in. Lighting a fire doesn’t take that long. He must have been searching for something…”

“After finding it, he set it on fire, making sure it was almost burnt before throwing it at the sofa and igniting the entire house,” Tao Ran furrowed his brows. “Don’t you find it strange? Since this person could sneak into Dong Xiaoqing’s house unnoticed, why didn’t they just take what they wanted and leave? Why did they have to burn down Dong Xiaoqing’s house? It caused such a commotion and left behind footage. Was it intentionally inviting the police to investigate the arson case?”

Xiao Haiyang was momentarily stunned, unable to utter a word.

“Haiyang, the feeling I get from this is that in the eyes of the other party, whatever Dong Xiaoqing had in her possession wasn’t particularly extraordinary. They intentionally burned it as a diversion… It’s a provocation to us,” Tao Ran pointed at his phone. “Check and see if the message you received was really from Dong Xiaoqing or if someone has taken control of her number.”

Xiao Haiyang reached for his phone but remained rooted to the spot. “Tao Deputy, is Dong Xiaoqing really dead?”

Luo Qiao had already sent the crime scene photos to Tao Ran, and Dong Xiaoqing herself was in the hands of the forensic examiner. Tao Ran sighed and patted Xiao Haiyang’s shoulder.

“I… I’ve talked to her many times and privately evaluated her. She’s definitely not the type to harm someone with a knife. Even if she has negative emotions, they’re directed at those who criticize her father. She has never taken it out on the family members of the car accident victims,” Xiao Haiyang said, “She stabbed someone and was immediately struck by a hit-and-run driver, and her house was set on fire at the same time. Someone is manipulating everything behind the scenes…”

Tao Ran slowly took Xiao Haiyang’s phone from his hand. He saw that the page Xiao Haiyang had been looking at was a news article on the internet. The incident where the Lang brothers were attacked at the hospital entrance had already been exposed. The report was only a short news flash, briefly mentioning the identities of the victims and the assailant, but onlookers were already speculating and adding their own imagined cause and effect to this bizarre story.

Xiao Haiyang’s voice trembled slightly. “She’s not what they say she is, truly.”

“My master once asked me a question,” Tao Ran returned Xiao Haiyang’s phone. “He asked me, ‘Do you believe in the justice of heaven and that retribution will come?’”

Xiao Haiyang stared at him, at a loss for words.

“I said, of course, you can’t believe in that. It’s just feudal superstition, right? Besides, old sayings are contradictory. Sometimes they say, ‘The justice of heaven is clear, retribution will come,’ and other times they say, ‘Good people don’t live long, calamity lingers for a thousand years.’ I don’t know whose words to listen to.” Tao Ran chuckled. “My master used to say, ‘You must believe because you’re a criminal detective. When you’re investigating suspects, you are the embodiment of justice. This saying became feudal superstition because of you useless people who can’t uncover the truth or wash away wrongful accusations’—it may be crude, but there’s some truth to it. Let’s encourage each other, young comrade. Start with the text message. Share any thoughts for everyone to discuss. Don’t keep going around in circles on your own. Go quickly.”

Xiao Haiyang opened his mouth, adjusted his glasses, and quickly went to request technical assistance.

Tao Ran surveyed the chaotic scene of the fire and sighed. Perhaps it was because he had mentioned Yang Zhengfeng to Xiao Haiyang just now, but he instinctively took out his phone. After a moment of hesitation, he opened the “Zero Degrees Reading” app.

The latest issue’s preview caught his eye: “I have never seen such a gloomy yet bright day - Macbeth, contributor: Reciter.”

“FM88.6” was Yang Zhengfeng’s final words, heard only by Tao Ran in a state of extreme panic. At that time, he didn’t even have a recording device on hand. Besides his chaotic memory, there was no other evidence.

After Luo Wenzhou raised doubts about the underground passage, the police conducted a routine investigation into this questionable last message. They dug deep into the program director and related staff but found nothing. From any perspective, it was just an obscure audiobook program for entertainment.

The conclusion reached by the investigation team at the time was that the portable radio Yang Zhengfeng had with him fell out of his pocket during the struggle, accidentally landing on this channel. Tao Ran may have unintentionally heard the radio reporting the channel, causing a mild cognitive dissonance in that situation.

Tao Ran couldn’t let it go. He secretly followed the program for two months, but besides effectively re-studying the “Extracurricular Reading Expansion for Middle School” curriculum, he gained nothing. Even he had accepted the explanation of cognitive dissonance… If it weren’t for this, he wouldn’t have developed the habit of listening to books and discovered the ID “Reciter” in this boring pastime.

Reciter might not appear even once a year before, so Tao Ran had always suspected that he was being overly suspicious and that there might not be anything wrong with the books selected by the program. However, in the past six months, three consecutive cases were somehow loosely associated with this seemingly unrelated book program. If it were just a coincidence, it would be too extraordinary.

After the fire, in the charred living room, Tao Ran stared at the title for a full minute, shivering slightly.

On the other side, Luo Wenzhou hung up the phone with a heavy heart and walked alone in the living room for a few laps. He decided to go upstairs to find Fei Du. When he reached the stairs, he inadvertently lowered his head and saw the path leading to the basement.

Luo Wenzhou’s footsteps suddenly paused, and somehow he thought of Fei Du’s description of their basement when they were on their way to Heng’ai Hospital.

Luo Wenzhou’s legs made a sudden turn instead of going upstairs, heading down.

The stairs to the basement had a corner, blocking the light from above and making the environment even darker. At the end of the stairs, there was an additional heavy security door with a keypad lock.

Luo Wenzhou stared at the keypad lock for a moment, then took out his phone and called Fei Du. It rang twice before being abruptly cut off. It was clear that the person upstairs didn’t want to talk to him.

Luo Wenzhou examined the keypad on the lock and noticed that it was connected to an alarm device. In other words, if someone attempted to break in forcefully or entered the wrong password, the entire villa would be filled with the wailing sound of an alarm.

“Maybe I can make the alarm device shake the upstairs chickens. It’s a bit more civilized than me kicking the door open.” This wicked idea popped into Luo Wenzhou’s mind. Although his injured back didn’t bother him much, it was still sore. He wasn’t in the mood to engage in physical activity like kicking the door today. So he reluctantly stretched out his hand and randomly entered a six-digit number on the keypad, then quickly covered his ears.

But after waiting for a while, the expected alarm remained silent. The indicator light on the security door blinked twice, and with a “click,” it slid open on its own.

Luo Wenzhou: “…”

He sheepishly put down his hand covering his ears, staring in disbelief at the security door in front of him. It suddenly dawned on him that the password he had entered by chance was the date of Fei Du’s mother’s accidental death.

Luo Wenzhou never expected to be so lucky, accidentally guessing the password like that. He was dumbfounded for a while, and then he hesitantly glanced upstairs before calling Fei Du again. This time, his phone was simply turned off.

“Well, it’s not my fault,” Luo Wenzhou muttered, “All the silence here is tacit consent.”

He confidently walked into the most mysterious corner of the house, facing the cold and damp underground air. He turned on the light and froze immediately.

The basement didn’t have the desk that Fei Du had mentioned. It was extremely empty, with the floor, walls, cabinets, and ceiling all a ghastly white. In the center, there was a luxurious projection device with a screen as big as a small theater. In front of the screen was a recliner with straps, accompanied by a computer, a pile of complex equipment of unknown purpose, and a small freezer.

Luo Wenzhou inexplicably broke out in a cold sweat on his palms. He gently opened the small freezer and found several small bottles with instructions written in an unknown foreign language that he couldn’t understand.

And whether it was his imagination or not, he always felt a faint smell of blood.

What had Fei Du done here?!

Luo Wenzhou’s heart rate instantly soared to 150. For a brief moment, his mind went blank, and he almost stood motionless, while ten thousand bees buzzed around his ears.

After a while, he lightly bit his tongue and forcefully shook his head. He looked around, thinking, “No, this isn’t right. There should be no handy weapons here.”

With Fei Du’s cowardly physique, it was highly unlikely that he would do anything significant without tools.

Luo Wenzhou tried to calm himself down. He carefully examined the strapped recliner and then took photos of the pile of inexplicable instruments and bottles. He discreetly sent them to Lang Qiao, instructing her to find out what these things were.

There was a pair of headphones hanging on the back of the chair. Luo Wenzhou picked them up and put them close to his ears, then turned on the audio-visual equipment in front of him.

First, the soothing melody of “You Raise Me Up” flowed into his ears through the high-quality headphones. Luo Wenzhou had never realized that this song could sound so good. While marveling at the quality of electronic devices, a sudden hysterical scream pierced through the music without warning. Even with Luo Wenzhou’s strong mental resilience, he couldn’t help but shudder intensely.

At that moment, the large screen suddenly lit up, and he abruptly lifted his head.

A live video of a murder was playing on the screen. It was uploaded by a deranged killer from abroad a few years ago. The killer had already met their maker with a needle, and the video had been cleaned up by the authorities, but it was still circulating on the dark web. The victim in the video let out screams of a dying animal, and the screams intertwined with the music in the amazingly realistic headphones, like whips lashing at the soul.

Unable to bear it any longer, Luo Wenzhou ripped off the headphones and fast-forwarded. Behind were videos of beheadings, executions, members of extremist organizations torturing captives and hostages, and gory images…

Luo Wenzhou’s vibrating phone suddenly buzzed, causing him to startle. He almost dropped the phone, and when he answered, his voice wasn’t right, “Hello?”

“Boss, where are you? Can you talk?” Lang Qiao asked in a hushed voice. “You didn’t accidentally break into one of those ’treatment and rehabilitation centers’ for addicts, did you?”

Luo Wenzhou frowned, “What treatment and rehabilitation center?”

“I had someone look at the photos you sent,” Lang Qiao said, “It’s an electroshock device, and those drugs include emetics, tranquilizers, and some other things…”

He couldn’t hear the rest of what she said.

Fei Du seemed to have an explanation for making him vomit until he was dehydrated, the trembling that couldn’t stop, and the looped song… It all made sense.