I detected a doubtful point in his words. "How do you know that the second victim died of gas poisoning?" I asked.
The old man pointed to the drawing and grinned, "The picture says everything!"
As it turned out, the wavy lines Bingxin had drawn hinted that the room was filled with some sort of gas. "Besides, this killing mechanism must offer the victim a small chance of escaping,” explained the old man. “Otherwise, who would be willing to mutilate themselves? Since it’s a secret room, if I were the mastermind, I would certainly fill it with poisonous gas."
"You seem to know the ropes!" I remarked.
"I know a little," the old man modestly replied.
He grabbed a cigarette from Wang Yuanchao's cigarette case, slid it between his lips and leaned in so Wang Yuanchao could light the cigarette. From the look in Wang Yuanchao’s eyes, I recognized his impatience. Facing such a presumptuous prisoner, the chief instructor of the Armed Police Force was already nearing the last straw.
I asked him for the lighter and lit the old man’s cigarette.
He took a deep inhale and slowly puffed out a perfect smoke ring. "If this person is really a copycat, I suggest you check what the victims did before they died."
"Although being in prison isolates you from the rest of the world, there are still ways to transmit information outside,” I bluffed, trying to extract information from this cunning old man. “You could have designed these contraptions yourself and instructed someone outside to help you continue with your mission."
"If only that were true,” the old man threw his head back in laughter. “I heard there’s been a lot of wicked people and unspeakable things going outside these past two years. I’ve long wanted to leave this place and punish them all. But I’m sorry to disappoint you. I'm just an old geezer with one foot in the grave that nobody cares about!"
His arguments were absolutely watertight but my intuition told me that he had some connection to the case. Although he refused to reveal anything, he might give us a hint to point us in the right direction. If we couldn’t take a direct route, the curved path was just as good, anything to solve the crime!
"Unfortunately, this person doesn’t have such noble motives like you,” I prompted. “He designed these contraptions and shared videos of the murders on the internet to make money."
The old man raised an eyebrow. "Can I have a look?"
"The police haven't found the website yet," I admitted.
"What an incompetent lot you are!" he admonished, stubbing out his cigarette.
Thud! Wang Yuanchao’s chair violently collided against the floor. When I looked over, he had stood up and fixed a fierce gaze into the old man’s eyes.
"Yuanchao, calm down!" I urged. When Wang Yuanchao was seated once again, the old man solemnly added, "The creator of such an ingenious contraption must be a brilliant man. You should be careful. I wish you good luck then!"
And with that, he got up and left the room.
We left the visitation room and were greeted by an annoyed Xiaotao who had clearly overheard our conversation from this side of the door. "That old fox,” she cursed. “He went around in circles but didn’t actually reveal anything of use!"
"But he did remind us to do one thing,” I smiled. “He told us to check if the victims had committed any misdeeds. Since we have no other clues at the moment, we might as well investigate that."
Xiaotao nudged the inattentive Dali and urged him to leave. Head bowed, this fellow had been preoccupied with his cell phone the entire time.
"Wait a second! Let me show you a video I found!" he interjected.
In the video stood a wealthy middle-aged woman beside her expensive BMW. There was an old farmer selling vegetables in front of the car who appeared to have been hit by the BMW. The woman started verbally abusing the old farmer for walking without paying attention and claiming that he had feigned an injury so he could blackmail her for money.
I hit the pause button and stared at the middle-aged woman for some time before I ventured, “Isn't this our second victim?"
"Yes, that's her! Dali, how did you find this video?" exclaimed Xiaotao.
Dali smiled sheepishly. "You asked me to look for clues so I watched a bunch of videos online and accidentally came across this on one of the websites. Since the woman’s accent sounded like she was from Nanjiang City, I thought it might be related to the murder."
"She insulted the old farmer in the middle of the street so the murderer designed a tongue-pulling mechanism for her,” surmised Xiaotao. “The old man was right after all. The murderer is punishing the wicked. What sort of misdeed could the Bronze Toaster torture be related to?"
"That’s hard to say,” I pondered. “Back then, the Bronze Toaster was invented by King Zhou of Shang to torture innocent people for his amusement. It doesn’t refer to a specific charge at all."
Xiaotao patted Wang Dali on the shoulder and praised, "Not bad, you saved us a lot of effort. We’ll go back to the station and investigate the first victim!"
Upon leaving the prison, we headed straight back to the city. Xiaotao ordered Wang Yuanchao to go home. The man hardly had any sleep over the past two days and investigating the video didn’t require all four of us.
Soon, we arrived at the first victim’s neighborhood. After a round of questioning, we discovered that the neighbors didn’t have a good impression of the man so his death hadn’t agonized anyone either. However, the charges against him–a bad temper, not paying attention to hygiene, and littering–made him far from being a villain.
A neighbor's little girl added, "That uncle smoked everywhere he went. Once, he even smoked on a bus and everyone had to remind him to extinguish it. How annoying!"
Smoking was related to fire and so was his cause of death, suggesting that this might be his crime.
"Isn’t it a little childish to kill someone over such a trivial matter?" sighed Xiaotao.
"That’s not the point,” I said. “Rather, I’m concerned with how the murderer obtained his information. Did he live nearby, or was he on the bus?"
"You’re right!” Xiaotao beamed. “Let’s check with the little girl!"
Right then, Dali who had been quietly searching on the internet spoke up. "I found a video of him!" he shouted.
This video was taken on a bus and featured a middle-aged man holding a cigarette between his fingers as he puffed out mouthfuls of smoke. Then, a pregnant woman politely reminded him to put out his cigarette but was ignored. One after another, the people around him began lecturing him for his lack of consideration for the public but even then, he refused to budge. This middle-aged man was undoubtedly the first victim.
It seemed that the murderer often watched these short clips on Kuaishou and obtained information from them. As a streamer himself, it wasn’t so surprising for the murderer to frequently watch these videos. I couldn’t fight the feeling of frustration that washed over me. Every clue we had led to a dead end. It was already a week since the first murder had occurred, yet we were at a complete standstill.
"Song Yang, you’ve been working since late last night,” said Xiaotao. “You and Dali should go back. I'll inform you the minute we make any progress."
"Alright then, Don’t tire yourself out.”
I loathed showing any negative emotions before Xiaotao. I knew she regarded me as her pillar of support. If I voiced my discouragement, she would have even less confidence in solving the case. But as soon as I got on the bus with Dali, I could no longer hold back a heavy sigh. Watching me shake my head despondently, Dali said, "Dude, this isn’t like you at all. How can you be so defeated just because of a case?"
"I’ll give you an example,” I started. “Imagine playing a game of League of Legends where the opposing team gets a dozen kills in under 10 minutes from the start of the game. The other party has all upgraded but your team is still stuck at level one. Would you be happy?"
"If that’s the case, I’d rather surrender," grunted Dali.
"But there isn’t an option to surrender in reality,” I lamented with a bitter smile. “I’m more depressed than ever!"
There was no denying the fact that this particular case made me feel more lost than I had been when I was hunted by Professor Li. At the time, I at least had a definite goal but now I didn’t even know where to start.
"Stop worrying about the case,” comforted Dali. “Go back and have a good rest. And we’ll go for barbecued skewers in the evening to release some tension."
I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The overthinking and worrying had exhausted my body so I slept like a baby until the sky turned dark. Then, I followed Dali for barbecued skewers as planned. But to my utter surprise, this meal ended up exposing the most unexpected person!Previous Chapter Next Chapter