Yue Dingtang had no answer to this question.
He had the same doubts.
The forensic doctor had examined the bodies of the three family members and the Xiao family from the neighbouring noodle shop, all of them had been burned to death.
It was impossible to know if something had happened to them before their deaths, unless Boss Xiao had come back from the dead to tell them a dream.
They had arrived at No. 36 Hengtong Road.
It was a typical Shanghai residential house.
Such houses were usually not occupied by one family, but by several families. The owner would occupy one of the rooms and rent out the rest. Most of the tenants were from other provinces.
At that time, Shanghai had gathered the most luxurious pleasures in China, and its economy was more developed than that of other cities in the south. Its customs were more open than those in the north. When people in the north were still arguing about whether women could wear short-sleeved cheongsams ten or twenty years ago, fashionable women in Shanghai had already appeared in the streets and alleys in Shanghai.
So there were many people from other provinces in Shanghai. Those who came to study, to make money, or to seek power, even if they could not become important people, still wanted to try their luck. So these houses were never short of tenants, and the rent was naturally not cheap.
On New Year's Eve, families were eating reunion dinner, but there were also naughty children running out to set off firecrackers. The firecrackers sounded one after another, accompanied by the shouts of the children, and occasionally bright fireworks, which made Yue Dingtang and Ling Shu seem out of place.
Yue Dingtang had originally been worried about how to find an opportunity to go in and take a look, but when he came to the house, he found that their children had also eaten and drunk enough to run out and play, and the door was half open, and he stepped over the threshold at once.
"Who are you looking for?" A middle-aged woman came out to meet them.
"Auntie, first let me wish you a happy New Year, do you know if there is a Mr. Hong here?" Yue Dingtang asked politely.
"What do you want to do with Mr. Hong?" The woman's face looked unpleasant, but she didn't get angry when she saw their clothes.
This sentence had two meanings. One, they had come to the right place, and the man surnamed Hong who had dealings with Du Yunning was indeed living here. Two, the woman didn't like him because of his behavior here.
"We are his friends. It's New Year's Eve, so we came to see him. Take these pastries and give them to the children."
Yue Dingtang took the pastry box from Ling Shu and handed it to the other party without stopping for a moment.
Ling Shu: ...
This was the pastry box he had packed in the cafe and was going to take back for dinner!
The woman looked at the exquisite pastry box and couldn't bear to put on a sour face. She forced a smile.
"I didn't expect that Mr. Hong... had friends. He hasn't been back for two or three days. I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place."
Yue Dingtang: "Do you know where he went?"
The woman said sarcastically, “If he isn’t at the gambling house, then he’ll be at the dance halls, where else could he go?”
Yue Dingtang was patient and politely asked: “Would you happen to know where we could find him?”
The woman sighed: "I don't know either. His rent for this month has not been paid yet. I also want to find him. Well, you can sit here first. Maybe he will come back soon."
The landlord went back to the house to get the key and took Yue Dingtang and Ling Shu upstairs.
The wooden stairs of some years creaked, and the light from outside shone on the uneven window edges.
"By the way, how do you know such a person?" The landlord asked curiously. "How can Mr. Hong make friends with people like you?"
Ling Shu: "We met him on the train to Shanghai. Mr. Hong was very enthusiastic and helped us carry our luggage. We chatted for a while, and later he wrote to us and told us that he was living here."
The woman said, "He helped you carry your luggage, I can only say that it’s like a weasel paying New Year's calls to a chicken, there’s no way he had good intentions, there must be something else going on!"
Ling Shu smiled, "We are all from the same area here, we don't usually have contact. It's almost New Year's, so I'm here to visit my fellow townsman. If I had known he was living in such a lively place, with an enthusiastic and responsible landlord like you, and such lovely children, I would have moved here sooner!"
The woman was flattered by his compliments and she was laughing.
"His lease is almost up, if you want to move here, I'll keep the room for you," she said.
"Okay, I'll discuss it with my wife when I get back. She always complains about where we live now, saying that since I'm a teacher, I should live somewhere with a scholarly atmosphere. I think this place looks pretty good. Ah, women are so troublesome, nobody can stand up to them. If she had someone like you to talk to, I wouldn't have to worry so much."
Yue Dingtang was speechless...
He thought he was doing pretty well with his improvisations, but he had no idea there was someone else who was even better at it.
The woman was almost overwhelmed by his compliments, and when she heard they were teachers, she was even more enthusiastic.
"Oh, look at what you said! You go back and tell your wife to come over and have a look. Big sister here will make sure she likes it. But you're so young and you're already married?"
"Yes, it was all the orders of our parents back home. It's common to get married early there. But I haven't heard that Mr. Hong is married. He lives alone, right?" Ling Shu brought the conversation back around without anyone noticing.
"I haven't seen him bring a woman back. Oh, don't even mention it. He told us before that he was an editor at a newspaper. I thought his income each month was enough to pay for the rent, but he's been living here for almost half a year. Apart from paying the rent on time for three months, he's been dragging his feet and he's even taken all the deposit. He still owes a month and hasn't paid a cent!"
The woman complained discontentedly in the stairwell.
"The rent here isn't that expensive. The other day he came back looking very excited and he even brought me a roasted chicken, and he changed his entire outfit. I thought he was about to get rich. Who would have thought he'd rather spend his money on clothes than pay the rent? It's ridiculous! I've never seen anyone as good at dodging rent as him! With his character, he can't even call himself a cultured person, he's no different from a street thug!"
"There, this is it!"
The woman brought them to the room at the end of the second floor, took out the key and opened the door.
"Since you know him, why don't you come in and sit down? I'll let you know if he comes back."
"That's not quite right, we haven't gotten the host's permission," Ling Shu said politely.
The landlord didn't mind, "It's fine, there's nothing valuable in there anyway. You can sit for a bit, I'll make some tea for you two."
Since she said that, the two naturally stopped being polite and started to look around the room.
Ling Shu was a policeman, he knew how to look around without leaving a trace.
Yue Dingtang just wandered around, looking everywhere.
The room was very simple, almost crude.
There was paper and pens on the desk, and underneath was a Wusong University library card.
The card was new, with the number of uses written on the back. There was only three strokes of the character "正".
At the same time, Ling Shu saw the name on the card.
There were three books next to it.
One was a collection of poems from the European Renaissance.
One was Tagore's Fruit-Gathering.
The last one was Shakespeare's most well-known work, Romeo and Juliet.
About half of the notebook had been used up, and it was mostly copying down verses, mostly from Shakespeare.
"Find anything?" Yue Dingtang walked over.
"The handwriting in the front is more serious, the handwriting in the back is sloppier, and there are scribbles," Ling Shu said.
Ling Shu flipped to the last few pages and Yue Dingtang realized that the scribbles were just a few characters from a poem that was copied over and over again.
"A wise man becomes a fool, an easy prey for the angler; for he relies on his talents and knowledge, yet fails to see his own arrogance." Yue Dingtang read it out loud. "Who wrote this?"
"Shakespeare," Ling Shu replied. "Du Yunning loved reading his works when she was in school, and she could recite these lines like the back of her hand."
"So Mr. Hong was trying to win her over?"
"Interestingly, all three books are foreign works, none of them are from our country. And Du Yunning also had a preference for poetry. Maybe she couldn't recite Bai Letian's most famous three poems, but she could write out half of Shakespeare's lines by heart."
"I have some interesting findings here, come and have a look."
Yue Dingtang walked to the bedside and gently lifted the pillow.
Underneath was a book.
The Golden Lotus.
Ling Shu picked it up and flipped it open.
Yue Dingtang noticed that he was wearing two white gloves: "Where did you get the gloves from?"
Ling Shu glanced at the book and said absentmindedly, "I asked Shen Renjie and he gave them to me without hesitation after I cited your name. They're not expensive but they can come in handy in critical moments to avoid leaving fingerprints on the book cover and being noticed by someone who pays attention to details. Look—"
Li Pinger whispered to Fei Cuixuan while Pan Jinlian made a drunken scene at the grape trellis.
This was one of the most famous lines in The Golden Lotus.
It not only profoundly depicted human nature and customs, but also satisfied people's curiosity.
This chapter's few pages were flipped through repeatedly and were much more wrinkled and worn out than the other pages, indicating that the owner must have read it often.
Ling Shu had an enigmatic smile on his face: "I'm afraid the attraction of The Golden Lotus to Hong Xiaoguang is much greater than those poetry collections on the table."
"The poetry collections were used to please Du Yunning, while The Golden Lotus was something he liked to read, of course it's different," Yue Dingtang said. "Is this Hong Xiaoguang a con artist?"
Con artists and Fairy Jumpers were similar societal terms, referring to those who swindled money and sex through some means, setting traps for the victims.
With the world in disorder, all kinds of people emerged. Such con artists were everywhere, the small ones swindling money and food, while the big ones could make people lose their property.
Especially those originally poor and humble men, who, with a passable face, dressed up, talked sweetly, and lured rich girls into their traps, making them befuddled by their own beauty and asking for something in return. This was often reported in newspapers and people had already become accustomed to it.
"But con artists usually only swindle money and not take lives, right?"
Now not only was Du Yunning dead, but he was also unfairly implicated.
This case was still shrouded in mystery, and the real culprit was yet to be revealed. If it was a con artist, they would have been too powerful.
Ling Shu flipped the novel and put it back in its place.
The room was not big, and a few steps were enough to turn around and see the whole thing. Most of the furnishings were the landlord's, and even the wardrobe contained only one set of pajamas, showing that Hong Xiaoguang's financial situation was not good.
Although Du Yunning was naive and inexperienced, her literary accomplishments were far greater than those of ordinary rich girls. If Hong Xiaoguang could win her heart just by twisting a few foreign poems, it would be too ridiculous.
Ling Shu felt that there must be other links and hidden information that they were not aware of yet.
Yue Dingtang suddenly spoke up.
"What do you see when you look here?"
Ling Shu walked over and stood by the window, following his gaze outside.
As the fireworks and lights of the night faded away, one could still vaguely make out the scene outside.
Ling Shu was taken aback and couldn't help but take a deep breath.
"He had definitely planned this ahead of time!"
Author's note: Happy Tuesday! Leave a comment and get 66 red packets~
Side scene unrelated to the main story–
Ling Shu: My desserts...
Yue Dingtang: Handle the case with care and win the people's trust.
Ling Shu: My cigarettes...
Yue Dingtang took the cigarette and put it in his mouth: Smoking is bad for your health.
Ling Shu said nothing and three days later gave Yue Dingtang a birthday present.
Yue Dingtang opened it to find a copy of The Golden Lotus.
Yue Chunxiao said with a heavy heart: Little brother, I have already told you, get married early and don't read too many of these novels, it's bad for your health!
Yue Dingtang: ...