Potential triggers for the entire novel:
Domestic abuse, sexual assault, suicide, nonconsensual sex (main cp).
T97 mentions this is an experimental work. Read @ your own risk.
If any of the above are landmines for you, please stop reading now.
The shaving lotion used by Shi Shanyan was extremely pleasing to the smell. The faint, residual scent wafted down along the tip of Yan Junxun’s nose and glided into Yan Junxun’s T-shirt, causing Yan Junxun’s collarbone to even feel the coolness that came with Shi Shanyan.
There was no retreat for Yan Junxun in this enclosed space. He turned his eyes and tried to find a way of escape, but all four sides of the elevator had Shi Shanyan’s reflections on them. He was drowned out by Shi Shanyan. Yan Junxun’s sensory center blared out a warning as Serial no. 01AE86’s presence overloaded and overwhelmed his senses.
But Shi Shanyan looked so serious it was as if he was asking his new colleague, “Have you eaten?”
“Nope.” Yan Junxun eventually stared at the slow-moving floor numbers. “Normal love-making is fine.”
“What a pity,” Shi Shanyan looked at Yan Junxun’s tear mole.1 “Your sense of perception is so keen. It’s suitable for much more exciting experiences.”
Yan Junxun turned his face to look at Shi Shanyan. “Are you trying to say that Li Jianhua has some hidden sexual fetishes?”
“Grown-up babies2 generally don’t want to be ‘daddy’.” Shi Shanyan found Yan Junxun’s unperturbed expression interesting. Not letting Yan Junxun get away with it, he continued with the rigorousness of one researching a problem. “Perhaps he didn’t realize it himself. People don’t necessarily understand themselves, like you.”
They arrived at the second basement floor, and the elevator let out another chime as the doors opened.
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“One’s actions stem from one’s expectations.” Yan Junxun walked out first. “You definitely don’t have a girlfriend.”
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The parking slots in the car park of Puli neighborhood were bound to the ID numbers of the residents. Other than the residents, the only vehicles that could enter were those from moving companies and cleaning companies. There was no management system in the car park, only attendants who set up and served as gate sentries at the various entrances and exits of the car park to inspect the ID numbers of the coming and going vehicles.
Yan Junxun was sure that the murderer had a car, because the crime scene was not in these three neighborhoods. Furthermore, the distance between all three of them was relatively far. Judging from the state of the body parts in the drainage ditch, the murderer did not take protective measures for them, not even plastic wrap and plastic bags. The murderer had simply just thrown them away. So, he could not have relied on public transports to discard the corpses. He couldn’t pedal a bicycle, either. He had to have a car to do it.
The dismemberment also meant that the murderer was from Tingbo District. He had his own private space, and he was very familiar with the drainage channels in the area of the old buildings. Dumping the corpses was not for the purpose of hiding, but for others to find. Otherwise, he would have stopped the act of discarding body parts into the gutters from the moment Liu Xincheng’s body parts were found.
The killer was contradictory.
All the victims he selected had records of sexual assault, yet he avoided all elements of sexual assaults when he was cleaning up the victims’ houses. This contradiction made the murderer odd. If he killed them because of “sexual assault”, then he should have purged those photos and videos that had recorded the processes of those assaults.
“You’re right.” Yan Junxun looked at Li Jianhua’s parking slot. “People don’t necessarily understand themselves, especially a murderer in a serial murder case. His familiarity with the Puli neighborhood lowered his guard, since he left behind too many personal traces. He doesn’t live here, but he likes the environment here very much. Can you understand that? His fondness for Li Jianhua’s house made him move around in it; he even slept in it. This neighborhood fits his fantasy from the inside out, so he erased Li Jianhua and tried to make that place his own home.”
There was a “beep, beep” sound of clocking in and out at the car park corner. This sound was very similar to the digital watch Yan Junxun set at the side when he took tests as a child. He thought about his little blackboard, but it was empty.
“He is good at cleaning, and he understands Liu Xincheng and Li Jianhua’s living habits. There’s a good chance that he comes from the same place as Liu Xincheng. He fed Li Jianhua’s fishes, but did not tidy up Liu Xincheng’s kitchen cabinet. This was his own personal preference. He hated Liu Xincheng’s living environment and had no wish to live there at all, so he never went back. “
Shi Shanyan followed behind Yan Junxun without interrupting him.
“Li Jianhua had no hidden fetishes. His IQ wouldn’t permit him to hide it. He only had sexual urges towards adult women.” Yan Junxun shook his empty water bottle. “You are right again. The grown-up baby is not the daddy. The system voice was reset by the murderer.”
Yan Junxun walked to the trash can and put the empty water bottle in it. The garbages inside were all neatly arranged. It reminded Yan Junxun of the storage boxes in Li Jianhua’s bedroom.
“He knows how to make good use of space and is very meticulous when cleaning. I think he has a child, but he is not a pervert. He is not…” Yan Junxun hesitated a little and looked back at Shi Shanyan. “… the same breed of people Liu Xincheng and Li Jianhua was.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Both men emerged from the car park and crossed the street to drive.
The entrance of Puli neighborhood was very lively at night. Space that had been vacant out was reserved for the aunties as a dance arena. They formed teams to hold activities. Just by opening their screen, they could dance with their online friends and fellow netizens over 108,000 miles away. The popularization of the ID communicator allowed each person’s personal mobile screen to replace the mobile phone. Physically, it was only the size of an earring, so it is convenient to carry around. One could set up their own style of wearing it, and it was not a problem to even wear it as an earring. All they had to do was to tap wherever they needed to when venturing outdoors.
Tingbo District was more like an urban-rural fringe. In fact, its urban planning was virtually unplanned. The high-speed light rail directly ran through the entire district, causing noise pollution to its living environment. The regional center had also shifted eastward because of the rail. Semi-old residential areas like Puli neighborhood still bore the shadows of development zones like Guangtong District and the such. All the areas near the coke3 plants in the Di’ai mountain ranges were so run-down that they were an unsightly view to behold.
“You have paid the parking fee.” The parking lot’s barrier automatically lowered itself, and the system said mechanically, “I wish you a pleasant journey.”
Yan Junxun’s ID communicator lit up for a moment.
The little orange dragon was still wearing Shi Shanyan’s sunglasses. It folded its front claws and said, “A message from the Special Inspection Bureau. Jiang Lian said that he would wait for you both at ‘Delicious, Delicious, Super Delicious’.”
Yan Junxun gripped the steering wheel and replied callously, “There is no ‘us both’.”
◈ ◈ ◈
“Delicious, Delicious, Super Delicious” was a highly private BBQ restaurant located near the Special Inspection Bureau. It was also the shop of Jiang Lian’s wife. Every day after work, he had to head here with his briefcase in hand to pick up his wife.
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“The residents’ inquiry is still ongoing, as with the interrogations of the relevant property management. There are no surveillance cameras in Huihe and Diba, and Puli’s surveillance cameras broke down during the week of the incident.” Jiang Lian turned over the barbecued meat. “But many people know the password to Li Jianhua’s door. His friend said that his passwords were all his birthday. Whether it was Liu Xincheng, Li Jianhua, or Huo Qingjun, the murderer did not leave fingerprints or spittle in their houses. He’s way too careful.”
“You might as well say it’s a professional habit.” Yan Junxun shook the beer mug that was filled with ice cubes. The amber-colored beer bubbled. “His cleaning of the rooms was very professionally done.”
“You think he’s a cleaner?” Jiang Lian cast a glance at Shi Shanyan, then at Yan Junxun. “Puli’s property management said they have worked with a cleaning company named ‘On-Time Cleaning’ for a very long time, and they have never had any problems with them. A week after Li Jianhua was discovered, we questioned ‘On-Time Cleaning’. They have a clear work roster, with accurate records of the timings for the door-to-door service down to the minute. However, Li Jianhua’s mother was a cleanliness freak. She was very picky when it came to cleaning, and she even had to personally review and approve the cleaning staff arranged for Li Jianhua. None of them satisfied her. So before her death, she was the one who cleaned the house for Li Jianhua. However, Li Jianhua had never changed his password. Anyone could access his house.”
“The murderer has done this job before, but it doesn’t mean that he’s still doing it. He is older than you.” Yan Junxun looked up at the tightly closed private room doors, which was covered in ukiyo-e paintings. The woman’s lying posture was somewhat similar to the graffiti in Liu Xincheng’s corridor. “The victims he chose were all on the news ten years ago. What about your investigation of the sexual assault victims?”
Jiang Lian looked again at Shi Shanyan. Shi Shanyan was very quiet when he ate. He did not look like a man who had been locked up for four years at all. He was very knowledgeable about the preparation of barbecue dipping sauces. The aroma had already wafted over to Yan Junxun. He did not even drink alcohol; the hot milk beside him seemed out of place.
“The sexual assault victim in Liu Xincheng’s case has already moved out of Tingbo District.” Jiang Lian tried to make the expression in his eyes less obvious. “Liu Xincheng stalked her after his release from prison. She had made many reports to the police back then, and the Special Inspection Bureau prohibited Liu Xincheng from approaching the sexual assault victim’s residential area again, but to no effect. The emotional distress he inflicted on the sexual assault victim continued. Two years later, the sexual assault victim moved away.” Jiang Lian considered his wordings. “There’s an even more professional psychologist helping her in Guangtong District. Although her family applauded and cheered Liu Xincheng’s death, they were shocked too. The investigation established that they have never returned here, nor come into contact with Liu Xincheng again.”
Shi Shanyan looked up at Jiang Lian and asked, “Are you going to barbeque the meat?”
“… No, thank you.” Jiang Lian tactfully passed the barbeque tongs to the other side. He took a sip of alcohol and continued saying to Yan Junxun, “The news greatly affected Li Jianhua’s sexual assault victim’s life. She was jobless after Li Jianhua went to prison and stayed at home for several years. When she heard that Li Jianhua was about to be released from prison, she jumped off a building. She had no immediate family members, and it was her distant relatives who helped arrange her funeral. As for Huo Qingjun… his case is much more complicated.”
“In 2154, Huo Qingjun was a math teacher at Tingbo District’s no. 6 middle school. He was sentenced to ten years for sexually assaulting his student. His wife divorced him when he was jailed and took their child away. Huo Qingjun himself had always denied that he had sexually assaulted his student. He refused to accept the verdict and appealed several times, but he never succeeded. After he was released from prison, he continued to appeal. He tried to find a job but hit a wall all around. In the end, he could only be a gate sentry security guard for the Diba neighborhood. He even came to the Special Inspection Bureau at the end of last year.”
“What about his victim?”
“Didn’t remain in Tingbo District either.” Jiang Lian was starting to worry about Tingbo District’s future by the time he spoke to this point. “All the talents are now heading to the development zone. Who would remain in this god-forsaken, dusty place of ours? Of course, except for the two of you talents. You are all good young men with dedication and devotion. I thank you on behalf of Tingbo District.”
“No need for thanks.” Yan Junxun finished his beer. “The credit is Fu Chenghui’s.”
“There’s too much involved in this case.” Jiang Lian listened to the news broadcast on the screen in the hall for a moment and pursed his lips. “Reporter Liu, Liu Chen, has gone all out and jumped into the fray. There, listen. He’s digging out the sexual assault cases of the victims to talk about again. In the past few days, all that’s written in his real-time feeds are revenge killings.”
Yan Junxun turned back and pushed open the door to look at the screen in the hall. Shi Shanyan turned back too, but before he could see, Yan Junxun shut the door. He shifted his gaze towards Shi Shanyan and said, “Sorry. I feel sick at the sight of that man.”
Shi Shanyan nodded. “Let me look and feel sick too.”
Yan Junxun would not let him open. He said, “Revenge killing will be more symbolic. At the very least, the murderer will destroy the materials on the sexual assaults.”
“People will subconsciously avoid certain matters, not necessarily because they’re afraid, but also possibly because they can’t look directly at themselves losing control of their emotions when it comes to said matter.” Shi Shanyan paused for two seconds. Then his expression suddenly took on a mysterious turn as he instigated in a hushed tone, “You can also substitute this kind of feeling with yourself in the midst of an orgasm.”