This place never sees the light of day, with a cold and damp atmosphere that, although not as biting as the winds above ground, exudes a frozen stillness that is more like a silent and creeping fear, making every pore on one's body suddenly alert.
Shen Renjie couldn't help but tighten his grip on his gun.
But the dampness continued to seep through his palms.
He began to regret his decision.
In the concession, there was a well-known rule that the salary and treatment of foreign and Chinese police officers were not the same. Their status was naturally very different, and sometimes Chinese officers were even treated worse than Indian patrolmen.
When it came to difficult and tricky tasks, it was usually Chinese officers who took the lead. But when it came to easy and commendable tasks, it was often the foreign officers who got the credit. Even when it came to apprehending criminals, they might resist when they saw a foreign officer, despite the fact that in recent years, the Chinese directors of the Commercial Bureau, who held power over the concessions, had increased.
However, this did not provide much help to the grassroots officers like Shen Renjie, who had been working in the police station for several years but was still just an ordinary patrol officer. It was difficult for him to be promoted unless he had connections or someone to rely on.
That's where Yue Dingtang came in. He was the big shot that Shen Renjie had his eyes on. Having returned from studying abroad, Yue Dingtanghad a wide network and great influence. Even someone like Smith, who was usually very arrogant, was polite to Yue Dingtang.
Shen Renjie had heard that Yue Dingtang's family background was even more impressive. His two older brothers had good relationships with various parties in both the political and business worlds. With such a powerful ally, if he missed this opportunity, he might never have another chance.
Rarely did he have the chance to come out and investigate a case. Even if he was afraid, he had to grit his teeth and persevere. But now, Shen Renjie was truly feeling a bit chilly.
The kerosene lamp in his hand did not give him any more courage. Instead, it produced a coldness that came from within.
He reached into his pocket and fumbled around, pulling out a flashlight.
A faint sound behind him was particularly clear in the darkness.
Shen Renjie was startled and almost jumped up. Half a second later, he realized that it was the person behind him who had turned on a flashlight, and couldn't help but curse himself.
With a few flashlights, the surroundings were much brighter, and he finally managed to alleviate some of his fear. The old butler walked ahead without a lantern, his pace not like Shen Renjie and the others who stopped to survey their surroundings. He walked ahead on his own, getting faster and faster. Shen Renjie didn't notice and reached out, only to grab air and lose the old butler.
"Butler! Old Bai!" Shen Renjie shouted several times but received no response.
"Mr. Yue, what should we do? Did the old butler purposely hide?" Shen Renjie tried to remain calm but couldn't help but shiver with fear.
With the butler's age, where could he hide? Shen Renjie was more afraid of someone hiding in the darkness and taking the old butler away.
In the darkness, Shen Renjie didn't even know if the other person was human or a ghost.
People and ghosts aren't necessarily scary, but the unknown that constantly makes one imagine and speculate is terrifying.
Yue Dingtang remained silent, which made Shen Renjie even more anxious. He was afraid that the two people behind him would suddenly disappear, so he kept turning back to check.
"Mr. Yue, should I go look for him?"
"I'll look for the entrance. It should be here, why is it gone..." Finally, the old butler's movement came from the other side.
There were jars in the middle, and no one could be seen.
But Shen Renjie finally breathed a sigh of relief.
"Don't be nervous." Yue Dingtang's voice also sounded, as he bent down to look at the jars piled up in the cellar.
There were many such jars, piled up in every corner and central space of the cellar, one on top of the other, like small mountains.
In the area illuminated by the flashlight, they could see the winding paths left between the jars, for people to walk on. This was for the convenience of taking pickled vegetables, otherwise if...
Ling Shu exclaimed.
Shen Renjie's heart tightened fiercely!
He was starting to get a bit paranoid.
But the next moment, he realized it was a false alarm.
Because Ling Shu was crouching in the corner, looking at the jar in front of him, and nothing supernatural had appeared.
Due to Yue Dingtang's presence, Shen Renjie didn't dare to curse at anyone, but he couldn't help but give Ling Shu a fierce glare behind his back.
Before he could finish rolling his eyes, Ling Shu turned his head.
Shen Renjie was startled again.
But he quickly realized that Ling Shu couldn't see his expression at all because it was too dark there.
"Come over here and take a look." Ling Shu beckoned.
Shen Renjie walked over, half-believing and half-doubting.
He thought he would see a truly horrifying scene, like severed limbs or blood flowing out of the jar.
But there was nothing like that.
The jar that Ling Shu wanted them to see was buried at the bottom, and it was no different from the others. "The traces around the jar, as well as the jar itself," said Ling Shu before Shen Renjie could even ask the question.
"This jar is too clean. When you touch it, there's hardly any dust. It's obviously different from the ones next to it," Ling Shu explained, shining his flashlight on the jar. "The other jars have handprints on them, indicating that someone has moved them. Let's move the ones on top first."
Yue Dingtang said, "Old Shen, can you help?"
Shen Renjie reluctantly walked over and began moving the jars one by one. Ling Shu was finally able to take out the one at the bottom and punctured the paper on top.
"No seal," he said.
No seal meant that there weren't pickled vegetables inside.
As soon as they entered, they noticed that the smell of pickled vegetables was not strong at all, almost non-existent, only the damp and cold smell of dust. This meant that at least in the past few months, or even further back, Ah Lan had probably stopped making pickles.
As for what she was doing in this cellar and whether she had already discovered the entrance to the secret vault, that was one of their goals for this exploration.
Ling Shu picked up a jar and shook it, making a clanging sound. Shen Renjie's heart skipped a beat, wondering if there were gold and silver treasures inside.
Ling Shu directly pushed the jar over and smashed it, scattering the contents all over the ground. When the flashlight shone on it, Shen Renjie was stunned.
It was all women's cosmetics - lipstick, snow cream, rouge, eyeshadow. They included both domestic and imported brands, all of which were well-known and recognized even by three burly men.
However, there was a problem. Each item of makeup was expensive, and while Ah Lan could afford one or two, there were at least dozens, if not hundreds, of brand new, unopened products.
Even if she spent her entire life savings, she couldn't afford them. Where would she get the money? Or perhaps, who gave them to her? Was it Hong Xiaoguang? Did he use this method to win Ah Lan's heart while also pursuing Du Yunning? Did Hong Xiaoguang already know about the existence of the secret vault, and that's why he schemed to get close to these two women? Perhaps he had already taken the key from Du Yunning?
In addition to the makeup, there were also several letters in the jar. Ling Shu didn't recognize these as letters at first. They were all folded into cylindrical shapes and stuffed into a small box. It wasn't until he opened the box with the Snowflake Cream label that the letters fell out.
Ling Shu quickly realized that they were all love letters, mostly excerpts from foreign poets, with Shakespeare making up the majority. To be exact, they were love letters written by Hong Xiaoguang to Ah Lan, as the handwriting was identical to what they had found in Hong Xiaoguang's temporary residence.
"Does the maid really not know how to read?" Shen Renjie couldn't help but ask.
"She probably doesn't," Ling Shu replied, sliding his slender fingers over the back of the envelope. "But look, she recognizes her own name, so she copied Hong Xiaoguang's handwriting on the back, writing that 'Lan' character over and over again."
Shen Renjie clicked his tongue twice and exclaimed, "I always knew that beauty could be deceiving, but I never realized that it wasn't just women who could use their looks to manipulate men. Even men can use their handsome appearance to enchant a woman like this!"
The love letters on the paper were poorly written, with awkward transitions between paragraphs. It was clear that the person who copied these love poems lacked any real skill and simply copied them without much thought. Perhaps the recipient didn't even put much effort into writing them for Ah Lan, thinking that she wasn't worth the effort.
Despite not being able to read, Ah Lan still treasured these letters and kept them hidden in her "secret garden," where she believed no one could find them. Judging from the repeated creases on the letters, she must have taken them out to admire and silently read them whenever she had a spare moment, easing her longing for her secret lover.
Suddenly, the old butler on the other side let out a startled cry, caught off guard and unprepared. With a sudden stop, the sound abruptly ended.
Shen Renjie hesitated for half a second, but Yue Dingtang had already rushed ahead.
He had no choice but to hurry and catch up.
The three of them followed the sound and ran to where the old butler had just made a noise, only to find him lying on the ground with his head seemingly struck by something heavy, blood flowing in all directions.
Shen Renjie quickly shone his flashlight around, but saw nothing.
Suddenly, Ling Shu shouted, pulling out his gun and turning to chase after the shadow that Shen Renjie's flashlight had inadvertently revealed behind them.
But Ling Shu had noticed it.
He only spoke out to get the attention of his two companions, as in such a rush, the only choice was to pursue. The shadow reacted quickly, knocking over the jar as he ran, causing it to shatter into pieces on the ground.
Ling Shu, who was chasing after him, couldn't avoid stepping on the broken pieces and slipped forward. If it weren't for Yue Dingtang grabbing him from behind, he would have fallen face-first onto the shards.
"Don't let him get away!" Ling Shu gritted his teeth in pain, not because his shoes were too thin and got punctured, but because he had just kneeled on the ground and landed on the broken pieces, which were probably already causing him to bleed.
"Mr. Yue, come and take a look!" Shen Renjie shouted from the front.
As the two rushed over, they saw the shattered jar and the bricks and stones that had been pried open, revealing a dark entrance underneath.
Shen Renjie stood there hesitantly, unsure if he should go down.
Yue Dingtang was suspicious. "Is this an underground secret vault? Don't we need a key for it?" Shen Renjie exclaimed, "I heard some movement downstairs just now, there must be another door!"
As they spoke, Ling Shu had already bent down and squeezed through the opening, leaving Yue Dingtang with no time to stop him.
Just as he disappeared through the door, Ling Shu caught a glimpse of the shadow he had been chasing all along slipping through the iron gate. Without hesitation, he followed after it.
He had a strong feeling that he was getting closer and closer to the truth, whether the culprit was Hong Xiaoguang or someone else.
Perhaps tonight, everything will finally become clear!