As Jiang Lian stepped out of the door, Yan Junxun stopped him. He thought Yan Junxun would talk about Shi Shanyan, so his expression was extremely grave when he looked back. In the end, Yan Junxun merely looked at him and tossed over the car keys he had left behind.
“Serial no…” Jiang Lian caught the car keys and tried his best to change his way of address. “Shi Shanyan probably needs…”
“Tell Fu Chenghui,” Yan Junxun’s exposed face under the sunlight was inhumanly fair. He said in all seriousness, “Just this once.”
Jiang Lian made a hand gesture to indicate “I’ve got it”, then lowered his voice, “Do you know why he didn’t flee last night? Before he left, Fu Yun told me that Black Panther had implanted a Data Positioning Chip in his body.”
“Oh.” Yan Junxun felt as if the effects of the iced water he had drunk earlier had worn off. “Fu Chenghui’s a chips seller.”
“I won’t remove his restraint locks for the time being,” Jiang Lian made a detour to the side of his car and shouted to Yan Junxun. “Call the communicator if something crops up.”
Yan Junxun nodded his head and realized that Shi Shanyan was watching him through the glass. He did not like being stared at as it always made him feel uncomfortable, even more so if it was someone like Shi Shanyan doing the staring.
Jiang Lian was driving slowly out of the narrow road when he suddenly smelled cigarette smoke. He looked at the side-view mirror in horror and saw Shi Shanyan leaning back against the seat with a cigarette of unknown origin between his lips.
“It has been a long time since I last smoked.” Shi Shanyan’s gaze slid over. “You don’t mind, do you?”
The smell gradually pervaded the inside of the car, agitating Jiang Lian’s jumpy nerves. Jiang Lian retracted his gaze and said, “I understand. I like to smoke too whenever I encounter knotty cases.”
“I noticed that Yan Junxun isn’t a part of the official staff.” Shi Shanyan smiled. “Why do you look to him to solve cases?”
Jiang Lian turned the steering wheel. He hesitated for a few seconds whether or not to answer, then said, “He’s formidable, that’s why. The way he thinks differs from others.”
“The cases that Yan Junxun assists you in are all serial murder cases.” Shi Shanyan flicked the ashes into the tin ashtray Jiang Lian prepared. “He sure can empathize with perverts.”
At the moment, it was 1300 hours in the afternoon. The waves of heat washed over the windows of the car. Jiang Lian wanted to speak, but he did not know what to say. The automobile in the next lane was honking. The noise, coupled with the rhythmic sound of ticking time in the car, put Jiang Lian on tenterhooks as if he was sitting on pins and needles.
“Junxun has a unique sense of smell. He is able to screen away certain interference while working on cases,” Jiang Lian tried to keep his expression normal. “I think this is due to his keen senses and his unique growth environment.”
“A Panda1 mama?”
“Yeah.” Jiang Lian caressed the steering wheel with his thumbs. “He… was raised by the family system. Panda is only just a part of it. There’s also a teacher named ‘Artemis’. Panda is responsible for taking care of Junxun’s daily living needs, while Artemis is responsible for tutoring him in his studies. Junxun once said that whenever he starts to deliberate over the cases, he would recall the blackboard Artemis used to teach him how to read. That was the root that enabled him to concentrate on his thoughts.” Jiang Lian quickly took a glance at Shi Shanyan. “According to the system classifications, the role Panda plays is the papa.”
A thought-provoking expression washed over Shi Shanyan’s face.
“… By the way.” Jiang Lian then asked tentatively. “Where did you get your lighter from?”
“This?” Shi Shanyan held up the lighter and tossed it nonchalantly into the ashtray. “A gift from Fu Yun.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Yan Junxun returned to his house. The panda was in the kitchen scooping up the rice into the bowl. Its tail was squeezing out of the curtain, and Yan Junxun could see both of its chubby legs hurrying around. He was not in a hurry to look at the data. Instead, he bent over to correct the position of the crooked coffee table.
It had been knocked askew by Shi Shanyan.
Although Shi Shanyan’s legs were indeed long, Yan Junxun’s intuition told him that he had done it on purpose. This act of his was just like a silent declaration of his presence here—That he had been here before, had entered Yan Junxun’s territory, and had even left his own traces behind.
The panda came out carrying a tray and said to Yan Junxun, “The war at the southern front has already stopped, but the beef here is still so expensive. I’ll have to reconsider the menu for next week.”
Yan Junxun ate his meal amid the chattering of the panda.
“Mr. Shi is really handsome and polite. Is he a new colleague of Jiang Lian? He doesn’t look the part; he looks more like Jiang Lian’s leader.” The vigilant panda warned, “Mr. Yan, please eat the potatoes too. Eating just the meat alone will give you constipation.”
Yan Junxun picked up a piece of potato and stuffed it in his mouth, then uttered a half-hearted “uh-huh”.
“His sense of smell is excellent.” The panda continued to discuss Shi Shanyan. “He could even tell that you’ve just drunk milk.”
“He’s very intelligent too.” Yan Junxun recalled what happened last night. “Just like a criminal.”
The panda smiled in amusement. “You seldom praise others for their intelligence.”
“He fooled me.” Yan Junxun took two mouthfuls of rice. “I thought he was thinking of fleeing.”
Shi Shanyan’s attitude towards Fu Yun made it seem as if he wanted to abort the transfer mission, and the words he said to Yan Junxun gave Yan Junxun pause. But in truth, he could not flee and had not thought of fleeing at all. Right from the start, he had used the information asymmetry2 between his own and Tingbo District to play everyone. It was only after the lights went out that Yan Junxun came to realize what had been so fishy about the lighter.
Shi Shanyan’s performance from the start to the end was too natural. He presented his vulnerability right before Yan Junxun, wanting Yan Junxun to unwittingly send it back with his own hands. This abominable desire to be in control. He was observing Yan Junxun even as Yan Junxun was observing him.
“If this was an exam.” Yan Junxun sighed, put the empty bowl back in the tray, and said angrily, “I’d definitely fail.”
“Don’t feel discouraged,” The panda comforted him. “We should look at the problem from a dialectical perspective.3 On the whole, you have still gained something.”
“A friend.” The panda spread its paws wide open. “A very handsome friend.”
“Ha.” Yan Junxun was even angrier now. “I’m so happy.”
◈ ◈ ◈
The sun was glaring the next day. Yan Junxun parked his car in front of the Inspection Bureau. Before he could pull out his key, he heard someone knocking on his windowpane. Yan Junxun rolled the window down and came face to face with a pair of sunglasses.
Shi Shanyan had not only changed into a new shirt but had also cut his hair. If not for the restraint locks he was wearing, everyone would have thought him to be an elite of the Inspection Bureau. He pulled down his sunglasses a little. It was hard to tell if he was happy or not. He said, “You aren’t very punctual.”
Yan Junxun turned his face and answered, “This is my working hours.”
When Shi Shanyan got into the car, the little orange dragon uneasily grasped its front paws and said to him, “Welcome, Mr. Yan. Do you have any requests for your seat?”
“It’s a little narrow.” Shi Shanyan adjusted his sitting posture. “It’s okay now. Thank you.”
“The in-car system will navigate for you,” The little orange dragon asked tentatively. “Does Mr. Yan need some soothing music?”
Yan Junxun nodded and stepped on the accelerator to let Shi Shanyan experience the lightning speed of his car.
◈ ◈ ◈
Yan Junxun parked the car before the electric pole in the corner alley of Huihe neighborhood. When he got out of the car, he saw a jumble of advertisements posted on the electric pole along with several wanted notices with indistinguishable faces.
Shi Shanyan placed his sunglasses on the head of the little orange dragon and closed the door to look at his surroundings.
This was an old city district. The buildings all around looked like stoves smeared with charcoal ash, with paint peeling off their corners. All the residents had hung their underwear on their humble little balconies, while the windows of the residents on the lower stories were all sealed tight with iron mesh. They could only poke the cloth poles out of the gaps in the iron mesh, thereby unreasonably occupying the spots where people walked. The ventilation in this area was not good either, and the stench of sweat and sewage simmered in the hot weather until it boiled over, stewing them in it as if they were stewing in a pot.
Yan Junxun sweated not long after he got out of the car. Carrying a bottle of iced water that he had prepared in advance in the car, he walked into the neighborhood to look for the building number.
“Go to the left,” Shi Shanyan tilted his head. “Building no. 4 is this way.”
The corridor of the old building was very dirty, and the wall had long turned into a graffiti board. As Shi Shanyan headed upstairs, he did not forget to appreciate these arts. Several exaggerated human bodies were drawn bending over like a bow, and the bare, exposed contours of the woman was covered in various kinds of handprints. Yet, a beard had been drawn over her face as if it was some kind of spoof.
Victim no. 1, Liu Xincheng, lived on the third floor. The walls on his story were not only covered in graffiti but also scribbled messages.
Screwed her good.4
The word “fuck” had been written in large letters, circled for emphasis, and scrawled in a striking red color.
Liu Xincheng was 48 years old this year. Ten years ago, he held the post of Senior Section Head in the finance department of Hongxing Steel Plant in Tingbo District. He was later sued by an intern of the same company for sexual assault, and consequently, he was sentenced to four years’ jail and had to compensate the victim $700,000. Four years later after he was released from prison, he divorced his wife and moved to Huihe neighborhood, where he lived alone and worked as the night watch for the mahjong den at the entrance of the neighborhood.
On the evening of March 6th, Liu Xincheng did not report for work at the mahjong den. The boss thought he had gone drinking again and waited until the second day before using the communicator to contact him, but no one answered. The boss’s first reaction was that he had fled after owing rent, so he immediately contacted his own mahjong buddies to catch hold of him. In the end, they did not find Liu Xincheng. Instead, they found his body parts in the gutter.
Yan Junxun used the key Jiang Lian gave him to open the door to Liu Xincheng’s house. All at once, the stifling heat in the room poured out. Yan Junxun raised his hand to lightly fan it away, but did not cover his mouth and nose.
The space inside the house was very cramped. The living room was the bedroom. Liu Xincheng had used several plastic boards as partitions, and within the partitioned space was a lavatory. The windows were not open, and the curtains were drawn. The room was extremely stuffy. Surprisingly enough, there was not much of the odor that typically came with inhabitation.
Yan Junxun pushed aside the barricade tape before the kitchen and saw that the only bowl and plate in the kitchen were all stuffed into the doorless cabinet. There was only accumulated dust from these three months on the stovetop.
Shi Shanyan did not touch anything and merely swept a glance under the table. There was a trash can without a plastic bag there.
Yan Junxun suddenly asked, “Do you smell anything?”
Shi Shanyan replied breezily, “Nothing except dust.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Yet Yan Junxun could sense that this room felt extremely off. He left the kitchen and approached the plastic partition panels. The wall behind it was covered all over with the insides pages of pornographic magazines. Liu Xincheng had cut off the heads from the female bodies in the photo spread and pasted the crude, black and white headshot photo of his victim from the newspaper articles covering his sexual assault case.
The vulgar, bright pink partition panels had been used for a long time. The edges had been touched until it was brownish-yellow, and the lower portion was deplorably filthy.
Yan Junxun took two steps back.
Liu Xincheng’s toilet habits were bad. He even liked to stand here and jerked himself off. His urine had all splashed over the plastic partition panels. Over time, it not only came to stink, but also turned the urine stains and seminal stains into aged grime and filth.
He had such sloppy living habits. Yet, his room was extremely clean.
Shi Shanyan stood in front of the window curtain, wanting to look at the other side through the gap. But he discovered that the window was fully covered with the black and white photos Liu Xincheng had previously taken.
“Well—” Shi Shanyan leaned back slightly as if these photos had shocked him. He raised his eyebrows and said, “This’s a bastard who still bore a grudge against the verdict.”
Time-Limited Hunt is still ongoing, but so far, the story-telling layout seems to be a little like Nan Chan—various casework arcs with a common thread leading up to the end. Also, there will be several potential triggers and landmines so it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea either. BUT I LOVE MY BAES!
Anyway, WARNINGS for the first case, Nemesis’s Breakfast:
Domestic Abuse, Rape/Sexual Assault, Cannibalism, Suicide
(These are mostly mentions and allusions and typically won’t go into graphic details).
- 胖达 Panda or Pangda. The word 胖 can be read pang (typical reading which means fat or plump) or pan (less common reading which means healthy or at ease). 达 da is to achieve. I’m actually more inclined to call it Panda (coz… panda) but JJWXC audio reads it as Pangda. Note that the novel is still ongoing. Names and terms might be edited in the future if there are any changes.
- 信息不对等 Information asymmetry is an imbalance between the knowledge of relevant factors and details between two negotiating parties. Typically, that imbalance means that the side with more information enjoys a competitive advantage over the other party.
- In philosophy, dialectical is used to describe situations, theories, and methods that depend on resolving opposing factors.
- 干得漂亮 is generally read as “well done / good job”, but the word 干 not only means “do” but also “screw”. So this line could be interpreted as “good job there screwing her.”