"Is this all?"
In the iron box where Ah Lan's savings were kept, there were only scattered ten or so silver dollars.
Yue Dingtang looked up at the butler.
"How much is Ah Lan's salary usually?"
The butler didn't hesitate: "Three yuan a month, including food and lodging at the Yuan family's."
"How long has she been with the Yuan family?"
"She came with the lady when she got married, about five or six years ago."
"Does she usually spend money recklessly?"
"Impossible, she's always been frugal. She wouldn't even buy a new headband if hers broke, she would just patch it up and keep using it."
"If she's so thrifty, how could she only have this little savings after five or six years?"
The old butler naturally couldn't answer.
Shen Renjie was afraid that Yue Dingtang would misunderstand, so he quickly explained. "Mr. Yue, we know that this case is highly valued. After the confiscation of the Yuan family's belongings, our brothers didn't dare to touch anything. What was there before is still there now, nothing more and nothing less. These are the things that were originally in the iron box!"
Yue Dingtang nodded in agreement. He believed that the officers from the patrol house wouldn't dare to tamper with the evidence. If they did, it would affect the progress of the case and they would all be in trouble.
Ling Shu picked up the iron box. The box had an advertisement for candy on it, but it was covered in rust and the colors were faded, indicating that it was quite old. But around the box, she carefully knitted a cover with yarn, tightly wrapping the corners of the box. Although the yarn cover was not particularly exquisite, made with the roughest and cheapest thread, for Ah Lan's living conditions, this was the best way she could cherish it.
This shows how much she values the box.
There must have been her hard-earned savings stored inside the box, accumulated through years of hard work. She had lived a life of drifting and had no one to rely on. The only thing that could bring her comfort was the fruit of her labor. If someone were to take away her hard-earned savings, it would be worse than taking her life.
If neither the police nor the old housekeeper had taken anything, then there were only two possibilities. "One possibility is that Ah Lan spent all the money herself, which must mean she received more money and no longer cared about these savings. Another possibility is that Ah Lan's relatives suddenly appeared, causing her to willingly spend the money on them."
Suddenly, Yue Dingtang said, "Why does it have to be relatives? Can't it be a lover?"
Ling Shu replied, "Where would a lover come from?"
But in the next moment, Yue Dingtang's words silenced him completely.
Ling Shu had never associated Hong Xiaoguang with Ah Lan.
Because in the descriptions of many people, this young man was handsome and extraordinary. Although they discovered in his temporary residence that he was not as knowledgeable as others thought, as long as Du Yunning was willing to immerse herself in the beautiful dreams he weaved, no one could ever wake her up.
And Ah Lan, was even easier to handle. This mute and illiterate maid had no way to survive after leaving the Yuan family, but her life took a turn when she met a benefactor from the Du family. However, it was also the Du family who eventually buried her.
If there was someone who spoke kindly to her, communicated with her through skilled sign language, and showed her unprecedented care, making her feel warmth she had never felt from anyone else before, like a ray of sunshine shining into a perpetually dark prison cell, the person in the cell would undoubtedly feel as if they had been granted a reprieve from heaven and experience a rebirth.
Yue Dingtang's words opened a new door for him.
"Where's the key?" Yue Dingtang asked the old butler. "You said the key to the cellar entrance, where is it?"
"In the master's possession. The key was made into a pendant, and the master didn't even know it was a pendant. He casually gave it to his favorite head dancer, and when I found out, I quickly told the madam that it was a family heirloom left by the old lady. The madam then stepped in and retrieved the key. Afterwards, the key was kept with the madam." The butler looked tired. "But after the madam had an accident, I never saw the key again."
All the details and clues were pieced together, and Ling Shu had a vague idea.
Hong Xiaoguang and his mastermind learned about the underground gold vault of the Yuan family through some means. They took the opportunity to approach the family and fabricated a person who matched Du Yunning's preferences in appearance, personality, and hobbies, gradually winning her heart.
Perhaps during their time together, Hong Xiaoguang constantly brainwashed Du Yunning with visions of a better future, contrasting it with the harsh reality of their present situation. This made Du Yunning's desire to escape the luxurious cage of the Yuan family grow stronger with each passing day, until she finally made the decision to elope with Hong Xiaoguang.
This is also why she came to find Ling Shu. As their meetings increased, she revealed more and more of her desire to leave the Yuan family.
Ling Shu remembered that at the time, Du Yunning was already thoroughly disappointed with Yuan Bing. She no longer cared for the lavish lifestyle of fine clothes and luxury, and her behavior and demeanor were genuine.
She never imagined that the romantic pursuit she had been so single-mindedly chasing was actually a stumbling block on the road to death. At the time, Ling Shu thought that Du Yunning still had feelings for him and avoided her at all costs, fearing that he would become entangled with a married woman. Little did he know that Du Yunning was only using him as a pawn to set up a trap.
If Du Yunning had truly eloped with Hong Xiaoguang at that time, the witnesses who had met with her several times would have been enough to drag Ling Shu into a quagmire. However, Du Yunning had already slipped away and was enjoying herself somewhere.
But all of this was just Du Yunning's wishful thinking.
She failed to elope and instead doomed herself and her lover.
Ling Shu was indeed dragged into her trap, but now he had become the person helping her to find the real culprit.
The old butler had devoted his life to serving the Yuan family, but now he was unable to fulfill his dying master's wishes and was already exhausted, with deep wrinkles etched on his face. "I can take you to the entrance of the basement, but as for the key, I really don't know where it is," said the man.
"We can't waste any more time, let's go now," urged Ling Shu.
Yue Dingtang shared the same sentiment, but with just the two of them and the old butler, they were clearly outnumbered.
If they were to encounter the same dangerous criminals as before, they would be in serious trouble.
Yue Dingtang looked towards Shen Renjie.
Before he could even speak, Shen Renjie understood and said, "Mr. Yue, I can come with you. Do you think we need to bring two more brothers along?"
According to the old butler, the basement is full of gold. It's hard to say if anyone can resist the temptation. Most of the police officers in the concession are not trustworthy. Yue Dingtang knows this well. There are many like Shen Renjie who are good at reading people's expressions and body language, but also many who are greedy and willing to sacrifice the greater good for a small gain. There are also many foreign police officers who think they are superior because of their skin color and do not regard Chinese people as equals. They may not be willing to take orders from Yue Dingtang.
In comparison, Shen Renjie is more reliable.
"No need, just give me a gun when you come back. I need to be prepared for self-defense. We'll leave in half an hour," said Yue Dingtang.
Shen Renjie stood at attention and replied, "Yes! I'll go prepare now!"
While Shen Renjie went to get the gun, Ling Shu took the opportunity to interrogate the old butler. He could tell that the latter was losing energy and his thoughts were starting to wander. If they waited any longer, he might not be able to answer the question.
"Did Miss Ah Lan follow the madam when she went out?"
"Sometimes she did, sometimes she didn't."
"When did she follow and when did she not?"
"Let me think... When the madam went out to attend banquets, she wouldn't let Ah Lan come along. I once heard her say to someone else that Ah Lan couldn't speak and was afraid of making a mistake, which would make the ladies laugh at her. There used to be another girl in the Yuan family named Ah Qing who was literate and quick-witted. The madam always took her along when she went out. But later on, the Yuan family declined day by day and the master lost all his money on gambling. Ah Qing was a free servant, so she left the Yuan family."
The old butler was indeed getting on in years, and once he started talking, he tended to go off on tangents. Ling Shu had to remind him, "You haven't said when the madam will bring Ah Lan with her."
The old butler replied, "Sometimes when the madam goes out to buy things and needs someone to help carry them, like when she goes to the department store or meets up with friends, she will bring Ah Lan along."
Ling Shu asked, "Do you remember which friend she met up with?"
The old butler replied, "I dare not inquire about these things, but one time when she had a fight with the master, he said some very hurtful things. He said she didn't have any real friends and that it was just an excuse to go see her lover."
Ling Shu asked, "How did your madam respond to that?"
The old butler smiled bitterly, "Madam said that the master is unkind, so she doesn't have to remain faithful. Even if she has an affair, it's because the master forced her to. But in my opinion, these are just angry words. The master still cherishes the madam deep down. Otherwise, all these years, there wouldn't have been so many outside temptations, yet the master never thought of taking a new wife. It's just the master's temperament...sigh! I can't explain it. If the old master were still alive, the master would have restrained himself more and wouldn't have ended up like this!"
Yue Dingtang said calmly, "Even when your old master was alive, he couldn't control him. Even if he were still alive, he's old and frail, what could he do? When he was young, he was the only son, so he was inevitably spoiled. Even if he made some small mistakes, they could be tolerated. Over time, small mistakes turned into big ones, and the tolerance level increased. In the end, he harmed himself and others."
Yuan Bingdao was not a good person. During his time in Sichuan, he never did anything good for the people there. Instead, he used his power to plunder the wealth of the region.
Even when the gold fell from the sky, he never thought to use it for good. He only gave a small portion to his subordinates and kept the rest for himself. It's no wonder that he ended up in such a tragic state, with his family destroyed and himself dead.
However, Yue Dingtang didn't say these unfinished words when facing the old butler.
The butler understood this in his heart, but he didn't want to admit it. He was just facing reality.
As the two of them faced each other in silence, Ling Shu broke the silence.
"When was the last time your lady took Ah Lan out? Do you remember?"
The butler pondered for a moment and replied unsurely, "It seems like it was on the 23rd."
Ling Shu said, "Don't be unsure, think carefully."
The butler replied, "I remember now, it was indeed on the 23rd. That day, Ah Lan came to me and said she wanted to buy some things for the New Year while Madam was out, so she asked for a day off and came back later. She hasn't bought anything for herself during the New Year for so many years, and I felt sorry for her, so I agreed."
It was January 23rd, two days before New Year's Eve.
That day was the last time Ling Shu and Du Yunning met.
But he didn't see Ah Lan.
Perhaps Ah Lan had already taken a day off and left, or maybe Du Yunning didn't want her around and made an excuse to send her away.
There are many coincidences in this world. If all the coincidences happen to be true, then it's not a coincidence, but rather inevitable.
As they were talking, Shen Renjie came back. He handed a floral-patterned revolver to Yue Dingtang.
This is the most commonly used police pistol nowadays, officially named Browning 1910. Although it is slightly larger than a Heart Thunder, it is also more practical.
"The bullets inside are all loaded, I just tested it. Don't worry! I have called two other brothers to come with us. They will be guarding outside the Yuan Manor. Once there is any movement, we will shout inside and they will rush over immediately."
Shen Renjie was very thoughtful and had everything planned out.
Yue Dingtang nodded and put the gun and holster under his coat.
Ling Shu smiled ambiguously, "Old Yue, you're a teacher, but you handle the gun so skillfully, without any hesitation!"
Yue Dingtang asked in surprise, "Didn't you do the same thing?"
Ling Shu replied, "I am a police officer." Yue Dingtang nodded, "The learning ability of a genius is always stronger than that of a cop who just eats and waits to die, don't you agree?"
Ling Shu: ...
Yue Dingtang patted his shoulder, "Don't be jealous. If you want to learn to be as suave as me, come back and I'll teach you the secret."
Ling Shu twitched his mouth and really wanted to chop off his hand. He thought to himself, "Don't get caught by me later, or I'll definitely make you regret it!"
The two small buildings that were once thriving were now pitch black and quiet in the thick night.
The houses in this area were already expensive, and even the neighbors who used to live next door had moved out after several consecutive violent incidents. Those who couldn't move out had gone to stay with relatives and friends, waiting for the storm to pass before returning. The servants of the Yuan family were once locked up in the back building. Even after nightfall, there were still some lights on, but after they were taken away and imprisoned, the place became even more lifeless and eerie, enough to scare anyone.
"Before the banquet, I had someone come back to keep watch. How come there's not a single person here?" Yue Dingtang frowned.
Shen Renjie could hear the dissatisfaction in his tone and quickly laughed, "They must be slacking off. I'll make sure to report to their superiors and punish these people severely. You don't need to lower yourself to their level!"
Yue Dingtang remained silent.
Ling Shu noticed that he had his hands in his pockets, right where his gun holster was.
The old butler led them into the small building in front.
Ling Shu noticed that he was walking towards the room where Ah Lan's formerly lived.
"The entrance to the cellar is here?"
"Yes, it's right under the bed," the butler pointed to the bed where Ah Lan used to sleep. "If you lift the bed, you'll find the entrance to the cellar."
Ling Shu asked Shen Renjie, "Has anyone searched here before?"
"Yes, everyone has searched here. The cellar is not a secret, and there are many pickled vegetables stored down there. But we didn't find the entrance to the lower level," Shen Renjie replied.
"The Yuan family has a cook, but Ah Lan was the one who took care of the pickled vegetables. The entrance is conveniently located in her room, but the entrance to the secret vault is well hidden. She couldn't have found it," the old butler added.
Ling Shu didn't believe the old butler's words. After all, he was old and could easily lose his judgment. Alone and friendless in the Yuan household, Ah Lan poured all her energy into the repetitive task of pickling vegetables. The monotony of her work left her with plenty of time to explore every nook and cranny of the cellar, and she had long since discovered the entrance to a secret chamber.
But what was impossible for the old butler was merely a matter of limited knowledge. Ling Shu was still recovering from his injuries and couldn't do the heavy lifting, so Shen Renjie stepped forward and lifted the wooden boards covering the entrance. Sure enough, a flight of stone steps was revealed.
"I've been down there once before, following the butler. You guys go last, and the butler can lead the way," he said.
The old butler hobbled ahead with his cane, muttering to himself as they descended. "I haven't been down here for a long time. In the past, it was Ah Lan who brought out the pickled vegetables and sent them directly to the kitchen..."
Shen Renjie's lamp in his hand swayed with his footsteps, slowly moving forward in the darkness.
To Ling Shu, the darkness below seemed more like a giant monster, ready to devour the only remaining light at any moment.
The author has something to say:
In order to comfort the single people, Ling Shu, who is single on Singles' Day, has a good heart and is not showing off his love. Instead, he is preparing to tease each other in the main text →_→