The patrol officer was startled and quickly counted. Soon, he had an answer.
"Sir, we're missing a servant named Sancai!"
Normally, those few people stayed in the small building at the back, eating, drinking, and taking care of their bodily needs inside. At most, someone would come in and out to deliver food or take out the trash.
After all, their suspicion wasn't that great, and they hadn't been convicted yet. It was just a precaution to keep them under guard. The person in charge of watching over them wasn't that diligent, and didn't even bother to count the number of people every day.
Who was Sancai?
Ling Shu narrowed his eyes and looked at the old butler.
"On the night when Du Yunning had an accident, you said that Sancai had a stomachache and Lao De went back to his hometown on leave, so Sancai took over their night watch duties." He didn't miss any change in the old butler's expression.
The calm demeanor that the butler had just managed to regain was once again disrupted.
But he quickly lowered his head, afraid that they would continue to question him and refused to speak up.
"What about you guys? Didn't anyone see anything?" The patrolman shouted at the others.
"Reporting to the officer," a timid middle-aged maid raised her hand. She was the cook of the Yuan family. "I saw Sancai during lunchtime."
"What about after lunch? Did anyone see him?" The patrolman looked around.
No one could answer.
"After you finish asking, take your brothers to have some supper." Yue Dingtang took out a few silver dollars and placed them openly and calmly in the patrolman’s palm.
If he didn't do this, even with Smith's support, these people would still be passive and uncooperative. Lowering his voice, he added, "He’s getting old, so no torture. Try to coax a confession out of him instead."
The patrolman nodded and saluted, "I understand. Don't worry, he'll spill everything tomorrow morning!"
Yue Dingtang interjected, "And what about here..."
The patrolman replied, "Let's search this place first. If we don't find anyone, we'll take them back and have our brothers come search and guard the area."
If there were enough people in the patrol station, they could have torn apart both small buildings and maybe even found the "ghosts" hiding inside. But with limited manpower, they had to settle for this.
Although Yue Dingtang wasn't their direct superior, the two patrolmen were polite to him. However, he couldn't give them direct orders. "Then I'll trouble you all. I happen to be attending a banquet at the consulate later, and I will inform Mr. Smith of your contributions."
The patrol officer was overjoyed. "Thank you, sir!"
Leaving the grieving Yuan family behind, Yue Dingtang and Ling Shu quickly got into the car.
"We're a bit rushed for time, so I'm afraid we won't have time for you to change clothes," Yue Dingtang glanced at his watch.
Ling Shu was about to say that he could skip the banquet, but then he thought that if he didn't go with Yue Dingtang, the despicable villain would never let the driver take him home separately. He would have to walk back.
Thinking about the journey from here to home, Ling Shu quickly changed the subject.
"The butler is not the murderer."
Yue Dingtang asked, "How do you know?" Ling Shu said, "His performance was too panicked, and he easily revealed his flaws. And Du Yunning's death was a trap, just like the night when the person who attacked you and me seemed to have blood on their hands. If the gunman had better aim, you might not be alive to attend the banquet now."
Yue Dingtang replied, "The butler may not have killed anyone, but he definitely knows the secret of the Yuan family, and this secret may be related to the deaths of the three people."
Ling Shu rubbed his chin and said, "If all the ghosts and monsters are man-made, and the old butler deliberately created an atmosphere of haunting in the Yuan family, wanting to establish the fact that it is a haunted house, over time, the news of the Yuan family's haunting will spread, and no matter what strange things happen there, it will not be surprising."
Yue Dingtang furrowed his brow, "The secret of the Yuan family must be hidden in the details we have yet to discover. Regardless of whether the butler is colluding with the culprit or not, these people's plans and actions will ultimately lead back to the key secrets of the Yuan family."
In other words, as long as they keep watch over the Yuan family, the other side will be helpless and unable to achieve their goals.
Ling Shu raised an eyebrow, "So you deliberately sent people away for a while to lure the snake out of its hole?"
Yue Dingtang did not directly answer, "The banquet will end around ten o'clock in the evening. You and I will go to the patrol station to see what results the butler's interrogation yields."
Ling Shu replied, "I'm still a patient."
Yue Dingtang said calmly, "You had a bowl of tofu pudding, two fried dough sticks, and half a bowl of tomato noodle soup for breakfast."
Ling Shu remained calm and said, "Patients need to eat more to recover quickly."
Yue Dingtang replied, "The consulate's buffet is very abundant."
Finally, Ling Shu stopped talking.
The car drove from Yuan Manor all the way to the consulate.
Along the way, there were several people who were barely dressed or wrapped in tattered cotton coats, shivering under the round columns on the roadside.
The poor have no right to celebrate the New Year. Their only wish is to survive this winter.
Ling Shu knew that some of these people might not even survive until he returned from his short trip in the car.
As they got closer to the consulate, the scenery on both sides changed rapidly. Everything became more upscale, with countless Western-style buildings and elegant, beautiful red walls shining brightly in the night, far away from poverty.
It was as if they had entered another world.
But, this was still the same Shanghai. Poverty and wealth, desolation and prosperity, are only a stone's throw away from each other.
In 1933, Shanghai still appeared bustling and prosperous.
The clouds of war had briefly lingered last year, but quickly dissipated.
Perhaps the local residents still remembered, or perhaps they deliberately forgot, but everyone sang, danced, raced horses, and gradually the smoke and blood faded with time, returning this largest city in the Far East to its original appearance.
Beneath the glamour lies decay, like flesh and blood.
Outside the consulate, colorful lanterns were hung, and even small lanterns were placed at the doors of the small Western-style houses, illuminating the smiling faces of the people with a red glow, making the atmosphere joyous. As the saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." The longer foreign diplomats stay in China, the more they adopt Chinese characteristics in their every move. Little do people know that this is just a facade they put on for protection and as a means to negotiate and make connections with military and political figures. Deep down, they are still shrewd and capable Westerners who never want to be at a disadvantage.
However, the Nanjing government is still willing to deal with these "China experts."
Many people in this era admire Western civilization and look up to it with envy and humility, yet they are unwilling to bend their proud 5,000-year-old heritage. There is always a contradictory mentality of inferiority and superiority.
The owner of this consulate, Terry Pence, perfectly understands and exploits this mentality of the masses. He wasn't dressed like a typical guest in a suit and tie. Instead, he wore a long robe and jacket, bowing and greeting everyone he met. This drew praise and admiration from many of the banquet attendees. Of course, there were also those who secretly mocked and ridiculed him.
"Mr. Pence is truly well-versed in Chinese etiquette and culture!"
"I heard that Mr. Pence has a wide network of connections in Nanjing. Even the Chairman has heard of him. He's not like other foreigners, he's a true China expert."
"Tsk, tsk. They're not one of us, so their hearts must be different. What's there to praise?"
"As a dignified American Consul in Shanghai, he personally came out to greet us at the door. This is truly more courteous than some of our own people. Isn't it worthy of praise? Nowadays, everyone talks about democracy and science, but since the May Fourth Movement, many people have gone too far in their admiration of foreign things, overcorrecting and forgetting our ancestors' etiquette. It's shameful, shameful!"
"Alright, enough of that. In this kind of setting, with so many high-ranking officials and celebrities from Shanghai, don't just blabber on. Don’t let anyone hear you, just eat your food and keep quiet. Eat more, talk less!"
Whispers could be heard from all directions, but Ling Shu calmly picked up a piece of melon and ham and savored it in his mouth.
As one of the few China experts, Pence was naturally very courteous. However, not everyone was fortunate enough to receive a personal welcome from him, and unfortunately, Ling Shu was one of them. He only got the opportunity thanks to Yue Dingtang's connections.
Judging from the friendly conversation between Pence and Yue Dingtang, it was clear that Yue Dingtang's two older brothers must have been doing very well in both the government and business sectors, and had maintained good relationships with diplomats like Pence.
But none of this mattered to Ling Shu.
His seat was located at the end of the long buffet table, and few people would come over to him.
However, several circles had formed around him, and he had managed to pick up quite a few pieces of gossip by listening in on conversations nearby.
For example, at the banquet, there were not only politicians and businessmen, but also many cultural celebrities. Even the famous movie star He You’an, who has recently gained a lot of fame, was brought along.
Another example is Miss Liu San, who is well-known in Shanghai. She actually left her fiancé, whom she was already engaged to, and ran away with someone else.
The news was suppressed by the Liu family, but it couldn't be contained any longer and eventually came out. Her future in-laws were furious and dissatisfied, and the two families, both with their own backgrounds and connections, are now almost taking the lawsuit to Nanjing.
For example, the "Sheshan Evening News" recently serialized a novel called "The Chronicles of Liuquan". It borrowed the background of the late Qing Dynasty and wrote about the strange things and suspenseful cases encountered by a county magistrate in Liuquan County. The plot is thrilling and has become popular recently. Not only are people discussing it in the streets, but even in such occasions, people are mentioning it and guessing the plot.
Another example is the recent rumors of ghosts in the Yuan Manor, which have caused a lot of commotion and become one of the hot topics of discussion.
Many people are talking about Du Yunning's cause of death and even the various female stars that Yuan Bing had relationships with. Even Du Yunning's name is barely mentioned in the newspaper, only referring to her childhood sweetheart surnamed “Ling”.
"Ling, the childhood sweetheart," went from eating melon and ham to enjoying French foie gras, sipping on wine, and listening to these stories with great interest. Suddenly, someone called out to him from behind.
"Well, well, isn't this our handsome Young Master Ling?" they said.
A little side story unrelated to the main plot:
Yue Chunxiao was happily preparing a bunch of food to bring to the hospital to visit someone who was sick. Yue Dingtang glanced over and saw small cakes, cookies, sweet and sour pork ribs, vegetarian goose, drunken crabs, and braised bamboo shoots, all of which she had personally cooked.
Yue Dingtang asked, "Are you bringing all of this? Will he be able to eat it all? And shouldn't he be eating light food since he's sick?"
Yue Chunxiao stood firm and confident, "Even if he can't eat it, just looking at it is enough. With such a perfect combination of color, fragrance, and taste, it can lift his mood and help him recover faster from my illness."
Yue Dingtang was speechless, "When I was sick as a child, why didn't you treat me so well?"
Yue Chunxiao replied with a smile, "Well, you have to act a little spoiled first."
Yue Dingtang remained silent.
Yue Chunxiao then turned and left.