In the vicinity of the 79th Secondary school, there are a lot of old deserted textile factories. After the SOE reforms in the early 21st century, most small scale textile factories faced bankruptcy and closed down. Many of the laid off workers set up street stalls in the Fragrant Hill district to makes ends meet. And many of their children studies in the 79th Secondary School.
Ruan Ming Huai’s best friend, Huo Xiao Lu is one of them.
Jian Yao and Bo Jinyan observe as an officer takes her testimony.
It’s late in the night and it’s dark outside. The school is well lit, but there is a sense of emptiness in the place. They have set up a temporary office in one of the classrooms. A girl is grieving the loss of a good friend.
“Did she tell you whether she was meeting someone afterwards?” Asks the officer.
Huo Xiao Lu is weeping: “No.” She shakes her head.
She is an ordinary girl with average looks. A small face with some freckles around the nose. But her eyes look clear and sharp. She is wearing a simple T Shirt and jeans.
“Does she have a boyfriend?” Asks the officer.
She shakes her head again: “Of course not.”
“Can you please repeat what happened that night?. Include every detail.” Bo Jinyan says suddenly.
Huo Xiao Lu looks at this man who has been quietly sitting throughout the interview. She nods.
“Around 8pm. Huai Huai collected all the money. We left the classroom together. I don't recall seeing anyone along the way. The third graders are on holiday. Other students are revising for exams in their own classrooms.” She clears her throat and continues: “We arrived at the administration office. The door is open but there’s no one inside. We waited outside for a while. A few teachers walked past us. We were chatting. We didn’t pay too much attention.
The officer interrupts: “We have confirmed that with the CCTV footages.”
Huo Xiao Lu continues: “Around 8:30pm, my stomach started to hurt. I usually get cramps on the first day of my period. So I returned to the dormitory to rest.”
“Was there anyone in the dorm?” asks the officer.
“No. My roommates were studying in their classrooms.” answers Huo Xiao Lu.
“Then? What did you do in the dormitory?” Bo Jinyan asks.
Huo Xiao Lu answers: “Well, I went to the…. toilet. Then I noticed my clothes were stained, so I washed them. Then I made myself a cup of tea, lied on bed to read. After a while, I went to bed.”
The officer asks one final question: “Does she have an entanglement with any of the boys? Perhaps a crush, or someone is chasing after her?”
Huo Xiao Lu: “Well… there is this boy…”
The second person they interviewed is another good friend of Ruan Ming Huai. Her name is Qi Xiao Ran.
Like Ruan Ming Huai, her family lives in the area so she does not need to stay in the school dormitories. She starts crying when asked about what happened that night.
“If I knew something would happen to her, I wouldn’t have left her alone.” She sobs. “I left school immediately after the classes. She looked fine on the day. Why would anyone kill her?”
Bo Jinyan asks: “What did you do after school?”
Qi Xiao Ran pauses for a while. Then she answers: “I was with my boyfriend. I didn’t go home until 10pm. Mr. Officer, is it possible not to tell my parents about this?”
Bo Jinyan puts his hand on his knee. There’s a small smile on his face: “Sure. Everyone is entitled to pursue love the way they want to.”
Jian Yao takes a look at him. Somehow, this sounded funny coming from him. A ‘love idiot’ has views on courting and dating too?
“Hmm..” The officer asks again: “What were the two of you doing?”
“Not much… just chatting. We were sitting in amongst the trees just outside of the school.” She mentions the name of her boyfriend. It’s someone from her class.
“I really didn’t think this would happen to Huai Huai…” Tears are streaming down uncontrollably. “I am shocked. Why would anyone want to kill her… there’s college entrance exams next year… but she will never….”
The officer passes her a tissue: “Last question. This is very important. Does she have any entanglements with any of the boys in school?”
Qi Xiao Ran answers: “Su Bei. Huai Huai likes Su Bei. But Su Bei is not interested in her. They don’t get along with one another… Does he have anything to do with the murder?”
The third girl’s name is Zhao Ying Zi. She is the daughter of one of the teachers at school. It’s the same name… again.
She looks like a straight forward girl. Her eyes are swollen from all the crying, but she speaks with a firm voice: “Huai Huai likes Su Bei. It’s been two years. But Su Bei is not interested. Hua Huai belongs to the school committee. Su Bei heads the sports committee. But they are not on talking terms.”
Jian Yao tries to clarify: “Even if Su Bei is not interested in her, why are they not even talking to each other?”
Jian Yao tries to clarify: “Even if Su Bei is not interested in her, why are they not even talking to each other?”
Zhao Ying Zi pauses, then answers: “Because Huai Huai mentioned before that Su Bei might be gay, because he likes to hang around the basketball players. I don’t think Huai Huai meant to start a rumour, but it ended up that way, and Su Bei was not happy.”
Bo Jinyan smiles: “Ruan Ming Huai must be a bit of a diva too, right? Just because someone doesn’t like her, they are homosexuals?”
Zhao Ying Zi says: “Well, she is a proud girl. Apparently, Su Bei finds her arrogant. But this Su Bei is not Mr. Nice Guy either. I heard he gambles a lot with those basketball boys, and lately he has been losing a lot of money.”
Everyone is quiet.
Gambling… then the missing 40,000 yuan…
“Does Ruan Ming Huai still like Su Bei?” Jian Yao asks.
“Yes.” Zhao Ying Zi says quietly. “She still likes him.”
It seems more layers of this mystery have been peeled off. They are closer to the truth now.
After a few more interviews with other students, they are sure that the only boy that she has involvements with was Su Bei.
Su Bei. Eighteen. His parents used to be workers in the textile factory too. From the records provided by the school, he is tall and handsome. His grades are average but he is very good at sports. Many girls are attracted to these ‘sporty bad boys’.
Recently, he has lost thousands of dollars in sports betting.
The motive is there. And he has no alibi. Nobody knows where he was during the time of the murder. In fact, no one is sure where he is currently. His parents are in Zhuhai. He lives with his grandfather, who has no idea where Su Bei is most of the time.
It’s 9pm. Bo Jinyan has spent one and a half out of his four hours.
In the temporary office, officers continue to take testimonies from other students and staff. Bo Jinyan thinks he has enough information. He asks Jian Yao to go to the playground with him.
Summer is almost over. Jian Yao feels the cool night’s breeze against her skin. She is only wearing T Shirt and a pair of Capri pants. She wraps her arms around herself to keep warm.
“Does he hate her so much? What makes a high school student so determined to kill his peer?”
Bo Jinyan stands next to her. He looks straight ahead and comments: “Sometimes, killing is their way of escaping from this world.”
Jian Yao always knew Bo Jinyan understands those psychopaths. When he is investigating, he is able to maintain impartial and never let his emotions get in the way of work. But perhaps, it’s simply because… he has no feelings?
“You have two and a half hours left…” She changes the subject.
He glances at her, as if to say he has it all under control.
An officer walks up to them. It’s Xiao Chen, the young man who asked Jian Yao out for a movie. He says to Bo Jinyan: “Professor Bo, we are going to check out the places Su Bei usually hangs out. Would you like to come with us?”
Bo Jinyan shakes his head: “That will not be necessary.”
Xiao Chen is about to walk off when he notices Jian Yao’s face is a little pale. She still has her arms around herself. He starts to unbutton his jacket: “This area is close to the hills, the temperature drops at night. You should wear something warmer.”
Jian Yao is feeling cold, but she quickly waves her hands: “No no, I’m alright.”
Bo Jinyan takes a look at this young charming officer. Xiao Chen…
Oh…. It’s him. The one who tried to ask Jian Yao out for movie, who distracted her from work and even caused her to be angry with him.
- And what is he trying to do now? Is he interested in my assistant? How long has he had that jacket on? He’s been running around the whole night. There’s a combination of his odour and sweat on it. Jian Yao’s skin is delicate…
This…man is about to put his jacket on her.
- What is he trying to do? Testosterones transfer?
Jian Yao is about to say thank you to Xiao Chen when they hear an icy voice: “She doesn’t wear clothes that belongs to strangers.”
They are both stunned. Then they see him taking off his jacket and wrapping it around Jian Yao.
“She can wear mine.” He says to Xiao Chen. “You can go now.”
The cool night breezes brushes past them.
Jian Yao is standing there with his jacket wrapped around her.
Xiao Chen looks a little embarrassed. He seems to come to some sort of understanding. Jian Yao knows what’s in his mind. But she is not sure herself if that is in fact the case. Once again, Bo Jinyan’s seemingly intimate gestures always have a logical and non-intimate reason behind them. This might just be another example.
But she is touched. During the first encounter, he refused her request for letting her borrow his clothes. In the end, he reluctantly gave her Fu Ziyu’s jacket.
But she feels that he should learn to be more considerate. So she says to him: “Xiao Chen is only concerned for me. The things that you said, they might hurt his feelings.”
Bo Jinyan: “Why should I care about his feelings?”
Jian Yao: “…..”
-Ok… Forget it.
She looks at Bo Jinyan: “Are you…cold?”
He is looking ahead. A forensic doctor and an officer are walking towards them.
“Nah…” He answers Jian Yao: “What? Do you think I am not strong enough?”
There are more discoveries .
- The wounds on her body were done to her at the time of death. The most likely scenario is that the killer slit her throat. Then as the blood is draining from the neck artery, he inflicted the cuts on her face and limbs.
- According to the owner of a small supermarket nearby, Su Bei bought a knife from his shop. The owner recognises him as he is a frequent customer.
- The police found a backpack in an old air raid shelter in Qi Hill. It’s covered with leaves. The students recognise the pack. It belongs to the victim.
They pass Bo Jinyan a blood stained cotton back pack.
“They found the money.” The officer passes Bo Jinyan a clear plastic bag with all the cash in it.”The killer didn’t take it with him. Instead, he hid it in the mountain. We are trying to match the fingerprints on the notes, but that might take a while.”
Bo Jinyan have a look at the items. He pulls out a large yellow envelope. He takes a look inside, the notes have blood stains on them too.
He passes the evidences back to the officer.
“Why didn’t he take the money with him?” Jian Yao asks.
“He’s afraid.” Answers Bo Jinyan.
Jian Yao nods. The money is stained with blood. That would attract unnecessary attention.
They see a group of officers walking towards the entrance of the school. They must be the team looking for Su Bei. All the evidence points to him: Motive, weapon, his lack of alibi, his disappearance…
Behind them, students are slowly leaving their classrooms and make their way home. The lock down order has been lifted. The students are free to go.
Jian Yao turns to look at Bo Jinyan: “Looks like the police has also figured out who is the killer.”
But Bo Jinyan has a smile on his face: “Have they?”
Jian Yao turns to look at him.
“Of course they will need to find Su Bei. He is involved in the case. But…” He turns to the Seniors Block. A group of students are walking out to the playground. They look tired. It’s been a long night.
“The killer is there.” He points to a group of girls. It’s Ruan Ming Huai’s friends - Huo Xiao Lu, daughter of redundant factory workers; Qi Xiao Ran, who also lives in town like Ruan, and Zhao Ying Zi, child of a teacher in the school.
Jian Yao feels her head being tapped gently.
It’s Bo Jinyan, of course. He whispers in her ear: “Which one of them killed Ruan Ming Huai?”
Jian Yao looks at the three girls. All of them have been crying. But each of them has a slightly different look on their face.
One girl looks calm and collected. The other girl looks upset. And the last girl has a determined look on her face.
Jian Yao’s gaze rests on the girl that is calm and collected.
“Huo Xiao Lu?”
Bo Jinyan looks at her with a big smile: “Good. Our Criminal Psychology Beauty is showing improvement.”