Two hours later, I returned to my room only to be greeted by an antsy Dali and teary-eyed Bingxin who had been too afraid to sleep. As soon as I entered the room, Dali pounced on me, choking back a sob, "Dude, you’ve been gone for so long! I heard some noises outside but wasn’t sure what was happening so I didn't dare to sleep either. You scared me half to death!"
"It's okay, let's go to sleep now," I said.
"Sleep?" the two blurted in unison.
"We need to recharge for tomorrow,” I explained. “Don't worry, there won’t be any problems tonight. If you’re so worried, then the three of us can take turns keeping watch."
In that manner, the three of us rested till dawn when an ear-piercing shriek woke us up from our slumber. "Chief... I mean, abbot, something has happened!"
The voice belonged to Scarface. "Let’s go and have a look," I suggested.
We tidied ourselves and quickly left the room. Havoc rained on the courtyard outside; the door to the abbot's meditation room had fallen open, the floor bloodied by a body with its face disfigured from being smashed in. It was Zhu Xiaohao as indicated by the clothes on the body and the makeshift frame tied to his leg. A thick branch covered with bits of flesh and solidified blood–the murder weapon–lay beside the body. Tongue-tied from the shock, Dali clutched my shirt, fingers shaking.
"Oh my God!” He stammered, “Z-zhu Xiaohao has been killed!"
Bingxin covered her mouth in disbelief, tears swirling in her eyes.
The abbot was livid, his jaw clenched so hard the veins popped on his face as if it took everything for him to keep his anger in check. Scarface walked over and whispered a few words into the abbot's ear.
"Fuck!” cursed the abbot. “Those two bastards!"
Feigning ignorance, I demanded, "Abbot, what the hell is going on?! Why is our friend dead?"
Flustered, the abbot took forever to organize his speech. "I don't know what happened either,” he replied. “It must have been Jingde and Jingci. Scum! Back when I took them in, I was suspicious of their origins. It’s an oversight on my part. I hold myself responsible for this."
Dali and Bingxin were still immersed in great shock. In truth, Zhu Xiaohao was still alive and this scene was a special display Song Xingchen and I had prepared for the other monks.
The body actually belonged to Glass Eye who was about the same height and size as Zhu Xiaohao. The slight difference in height was masked by lifting Zhu Xiaohao’s trousers so it remained difficult to detect when the body lay on the ground. Bashing in his head was easy, but the hair was difficult to fake. I had Zhu Xiaohao cut off some of his and carefully glued it onto Glass Eye’s bald head with some tung oil I found in the yard. The entire process had taken me quite some time.
As for the real Zhu Xiaohao, he was probably already a distance away. I had instructed Song Xingchen to escort him down the mountain to the police station. When he left, he was wearing an oversized monk robe with parts of his hair shaved off–an altogether comical sight. At the time, he was completely scared silly and obeyed me without a single word of objection.
And to tie up the final loose end, I told Song Xingchen to find a ravine and dispose of Skinny’s body.
When these fugitives woke up in the morning and found Zhu Xiaohao dead beside the courtyard covered in pits, what would their conclusion be? It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that the other two discovered the treasure during their routine digs and absconded, leaving behind a dead Zhu Xiaohao who had accidentally witnessed the incident.
To cement their suspicions, I deliberately created a rectangular outline in one of the pits using a flat wooden board to give the impression of a chest buried in the ground!
The reason why I kept the truth from Dali and Bingxin was to invoke genuine shock. I feared the abbot and Scarface could sniff out the deception in our expressions had the three of us appeared too composed.
"How could our friend just die like that?!” I yelled, putting up an angry front. “What sort of temple is this? We have to leave now! There’s no way I’m sticking around!"
"You can’t go!" roared the abbot.
The abbot was seized by a sudden fit of panic though he quickly regained composure. "Please remain calm and wait until I investigate the truth. I only have one request—don’t call the police!"
Despite the polite tone, his demeanor was overbearing.
"Why shouldn’t we call the police?” I argued. “Are we supposed to let our friend die for nothing?"
"Abbot, since things have already come to this,” Scarface loudly interjected, “What's the point of..."
"Jingneng, that’s enough!" he yelled. Then, turning to me, he explained, "This matter concerns the reputation of our temple so it’s best if we keep it under wraps for the time being. I promise to find out what happened and give your friend justice. Please stay in your rooms till I return."
"Fine! I’ll trust you this once,” I agreed.
The abbot exchanged a meaningful glance with Scarface who quickly led us into the meditation room. The two continued their private conversation, after which the abbot hurried out the door.
I was certain he was going after the two accomplices who had vanished while Scarface stayed behind to monitor us. He stood under a large tree in the courtyard, chain smoking cigarette after cigarette.
"Dude, this place scares the shit out of me!” Dali burst out in hysterics. “They’re definitely going to kill us next."
"Don't worry,” I chuckled. “Just listen to what I have to say!"
I narrated all that had transpired last night in detail which drew incredulous and awestruck looks from Bingxin and Dali.
"Song Yang-gege, you fabricated Zhu Xiaohao’s murder?" asked Bingxin in disbelief.
"Yes,” I nodded. “Did I manage to trick you as well? Don’t forget to testify my innocence when we get back."
Bingxin bit her lip and asked, "If your mysterious bodyguard was here, why didn’t you arrest them all?"
"Do you know anything about the 116 case?"
Bingxin shook her head and I continued, "It involves the biggest cultural relic heist in the province in the last 50 years!"
Because of its memorable date, the case left a vague impression on me despite having occurred outside of Nanjiang City. I recall having noticed the case files in the archives of the provincial arrest warrants.
The case had occurred 10 years ago when several robbers armed with five or six submachine guns drove into a museum and killed more than a dozen security guards, robbing several national treasures worth over 300 million that included the Nanyang King’s bronze vessel, the antlered crane censer and the most well-preserved jade burial garment from the Han Dynasty. At present, the whereabouts of these relics still remained unknown.
Due to the unique nature of these items, it was impossible for the robbers to have sold them domestically. Therefore, the police assumed they had been lost to overseas buyers.
Later on, when the police were investigating another case, the chief culprit, Mr. Jia, was coincidentally arrested. I suspected this Mr. Jia was the old man whom the two had mentioned last night. In spite of his arrest, Mr. Jia remained tight-lipped, refusing to reveal any information right up to the moment he was executed. From the conversation I had overheard between the two men, I presumed that the execution happened three years ago. Before his death, Mr. Jia told his associates where the historical relics were buried and gave them a password. Unfortunately, this gang of robbers consisted of half-witted knuckleheads who failed to find the treasure even after three years of digging. They impersonated the monks who once lived here and killed any uninvited visitors who entered the temple by mistake.
Needless to say, the lives of these wanted criminals were worth less than these cultural relics. Recovering the relics would be a great achievement that justified the risks!
"Even if we arrest them, they won't necessarily confess so I was thinking of setting up a little game to loosen their lips," I explained.
"And how are you going to do that?" asked Dali.
I looked out of the window and said, "Have you noticed that Two-Face hasn’t appeared at all?"
“You’re right!” Dali echoed in surprise.
His absence only served to convince me that he wasn’t part of their gang at all. Thus, I had to create an opportunity to speak to Two-Face. If he knew what the password was, then the plan was to buy us enough time till the police arrived. In the event Two-Face was a monk held hostage by these criminals, our only way forward was to trick the password out of the others.Previous Chapter Next Chapter