The sky was gloomy, and the sunlight couldn't penetrate through the cracks, just like the hearts of the Guan family.
Yue Dingtang glanced at his pocket watch.
It was six o'clock in the morning, and the east was turning white as all living things began to awaken.
All five brothers of the Guan family had arrived.
Even the Third Master, Guan Shuzhi, was dragged over, his hands empty without his usual carving knife. He kept groping on the armrest and his thigh, trying to find his familiar tool.
Yue Dingtang held his throbbing temple and looked at the shattered vase and the missing key to the box.
He listened to everyone talking about what had happened.
Yesterday, Steward He didn't need to be on duty and thought he could get a good night's sleep.
But just as he lay down, he heard the sound of Second Master screaming like a pig being killed, "Murder! It's a murder!". He jumped out of bed in a panic, threw on a coat, and ran over to see Second Master holding his wife on the ground.
Naturally, the term "killing a pig" was added by the Eldest Master, which even with ten times the courage, Steward He wouldn't dare to describe it that way.
"Fourth Master," he said, "when I arrived, I saw Second Master howling for half a day without saying a word. When I entered the room, only Yue Dingtang was still sleeping. Ling Shu and the suitcase were long gone. I immediately sent someone to check the front and back doors and found that the back door, which the servants usually used for purchases, was slightly ajar. The latch was not damaged, but it had been opened from the inside. This fully shows that there is a traitor in the Guan family, not someone who broke in from the outside."
Second Master's eyes were red, and he held back his tears. His mouth twitched as he stared blankly at the broken vase on the ground most of the time.
Occasionally, he glared fiercely at Yue Dingtang, as if he wanted to pounce on him and bite him hard, venting all the anger and resentment of not being able to catch the culprit on him.
Fifth Master had sleepy eyes and a vacant look, clearly in a state of absent-mindedness.
Old Yuan also arrived, although he had the qualifications to sit, he did not sit, standing by the door with a solemn expression.
As for the others--
The body of the Second Master's wife, Mrs. He, was wrapped in a cotton quilt by the Second Master and temporarily placed in Ling Shu's room.
Under the quilt, her clothes were disheveled, her neckline was wide open, and her undergarment was pulled out, revealing her private parts. Her pants were also pulled down to her thighs.
Yue Dingtang had just witnessed it with his own eyes. The situation of this wife was indeed very much like she had been violated.
But if we must say that Ling Shu's beastly nature had taken over, violating the women before fleeing with the treasure...
"Second Brother, there's something I don't understand, please explain it to me!"
The loud voice of the Eldest Master suddenly interrupted the incessant chatter of the Fourth Master.
"Your yard is quite a distance from Dingtang's yard. Why did your wife come to their yard in the middle of the night? Those who know say that the second wife is concerned about her nephew whom she hasn't seen in a long time. She came to check on his daily habits. Those who don't know will probably start spreading rumors!"
The Second Master gritted his teeth and remained silent.
The Eldest Master sneered, "Could it be that my younger brother and his wife have really taken a liking to that little white-faced Ling Shu and came to warm his bed in the middle of the night? But they didn't expect to be killed and robbed of their treasure, did they?"
The Second Master roared and jumped up from his chair, throwing punches at the Eldest Master.
Caught off guard, the Eldest Master took two punches and stumbled back a few steps. He quickly regained his composure and fought back.
The two of them immediately started wrestling with each other. Onlookers were stunned.
Old Li, who was by the side of Second Master, had just thought of stepping forward to stop the fight when he unexpectedly received a punch and fell to the ground with a cry of pain.
Both of them were old and lacked the strength to fight. Soon, their scuffle turned into a tug-of-war, with each of them gasping for breath while clutching at the other's clothes.
Their four eyes glared at each other like two roosters ready to fight to the death. It seemed like their fists were not enough, and they were ready to use their teeth at any moment.
People who tried to intervene offered various suggestions.
Some said they should report to the authorities, while others suggested that the police would extort money from them if they came. Some even suggested that they should bury Second Madam quickly to avoid any scandal and protect the family's reputation, including the marriage prospects of the younger generation.
Surrounded by the crowd, the Second Master suddenly let out a mournful cry.
He wailed and pounded the ground, tears and snot streaming down his faces. He lamented his misfortune, saying that when the old master left, he didn't take him with him, and now they had lost his father and his wife, and everyone was bullying him.
"I say, old second brother, don't embarrass yourself. If you keep crying, you'll attract the neighbors, and then the cause of the deaths of your wife will be impossible to hide. The rumors outside will mock our family's reputation!"
"Big brother, second brother's wife is already dead. Can't you have a little conscience? Should we report it to the authorities or settle it privately? We need to have a plan!"
"Conscience? Ask our second brother if he has any conscience. If he had a conscience, he wouldn't have tried to curry favor with Dingtang and even sent his own wife over. Isn't he just trying to get that Buddhist pagoda?"
"Alright, alright, that's enough talking!"
The crowd was silenced as if their throats were being squeezed like ducks.
They all turned around in unison.
All the tea sets on the table were swept off by Yue Dingtang, making a loud crash as they shattered into pieces. Along with the broken vase, it was truly a scene of good fortune and prosperity.
"I made an appointment with Kagesawa yesterday. At noon, I will go to the municipal government office and someone will come to pick me up. If you don't quiet down now, I will just spill the beans tomorrow and let everyone feel uneasy."
His words were plain, but they successfully shut everyone up.
The small hall was quiet.
Those sitting or lying on the ground, those bending over to mediate, and those standing by to watch the show were all frozen in mid-air, as if a comedy movie had been forcibly paused.
"Guang Qizhi." Yue Dingtang addressed the Second Master by their names directly.
Under the shock, the Second Master forgot to be angry.
"I ask you, why was your wife killed here by midnight yesterday? What was she doing here?"
The Second Master opened his mouth, and blood oozed from the corner that was just punched by the Eldest Master. He finally felt the pain and reached out to touch it.
This question was something the Second Master could not avoid no matter what.
When the Eldest Master asked, he could respond with a fight.
But this time, all eyes were on him, and he couldn't escape.
"After she returned, she couldn't stop thinking about the pagoda. She tossed and turned in bed, saying that the Buddha was beckoning her to convert to Buddhism. She really wanted to see the pagoda again. No matter how I tried to persuade her, she wouldn't listen. I never expected that after I fell asleep, she would sneak over there alone. And I never expected that Ling Shu would, would..."
The Second Master bit his cheek and couldn't continue, sobbing.
The Eldest Master sneered, "You're just trying to fool children with your words. Going to your nephew's yard in the middle of the night, sneaking in just to see the pagoda, doesn't she know the box is locked? Doesn't she have to ask her nephew for the key? If that's the case, why can't she just go see it in broad daylight? You're lying in the name of the Buddha, aren't you afraid of divine retribution? In the end, you just want to steal the box!"
"You!" The Second Master were so angry that it seemed like Buddha had been born and ascended to heaven.
It was all because the Eldest Master hit the nail on the head with one sentence.
The Second Master couldn't find a reason to continue their fuss.
"Even if she had a moment of confusion, she didn't steal anything in the end. The person is already dead, what else do you want?"
Normally, the Second Master was good at stabilizing the situation, but after his wife died, he became a bit nervous and resorted to blaming others.
However, no one could do anything about it.
In the end, the Fifth Master spoke up, "The most urgent matter is to find Ling Shu. Yue Dingtang, he is your subordinate, you should know him well. How can we find him? Tell us."
Yue Dingtang remained silent.
How did all of this happen? He tried to recall and sort it out bit by bit.
The vase was broken, the key was missing, and only Ling Shu knew that the key was in the vase. The box was likely stolen by him.
But the death of Mrs. He was an accident.
Yue Dingtang believed that Ling Shu's plan definitely did not involve Mrs. He.
Knowing Ling Shu's character, he would never stoop so low as to insult Mrs. He, no matter how young and beautiful she may be.
Ling Shu had no shortage of women, and with a snap of his fingers, countless beauties would willingly throw themselves at him.
He had no need for someone like Mrs. He, and there was no reason for him to do such a thing.
If it wasn't Ling Shu, then who could it be?
Was there someone else who had come in between them?
Was it before or after Ling Shu's arrival?
Or perhaps it was one of Ling Shu's accomplices?
Yue Dingtang couldn't help but look up and direct his gaze towards Old Yuan, who was standing by the door.
The sky was gradually getting brighter, and although it was still gloomy, there was enough light in the room to see.
However, Old Yuan had his back to the door, and his face was turned inward, making it difficult to read his expression.
"Old Yuan, do you think we should report this to the authorities?" Yue Dingtang suddenly spoke up.
Everyone was surprised that he would ask Old Yuan, and they all looked towards the door.
Old Yuan seemed equally surprised that Yue Dingtang would ask him, and fell silent for a moment.
"Master Yue, if you want to keep this a secret, it may not be possible. There were Russian and Japanese people present this morning, and tomorrow you will be going to the municipal government. Whether you want to downplay the situation or make it a big deal, it depends on you and the other gentlemen's opinions."
"I was thinking the same thing. Since that's the case, let me talk to the officials at the municipal government first. Later, when the sun rises, I still need to go up the mountain to pay my respects to my late grandfather..."
"Are you trying to run away?!" Second Master interrupted him, his voice filled with malice. "You were afraid that we would have designs on the pagoda, so to prevent future troubles, you had Ling Shu take the pagoda away and falsely claim it was stolen. Then you would meet up with him afterwards. It was just that the my wife happened to stumble upon your scheme, which brought about this deadly situation!"
Yue Dingtang's expression was cold as he replied, "Repeat what you just said and see who would believe it? Even if the uncles here are unfamiliar with each other, they are still uncles. How could I possibly believe an outsider over my own uncle?"
The Second Master's chest heaved as he was left speechless.
"Alright, alright," Fourth Master intervened, "Your second uncle is currently furious, don't argue with him. As soon as it's light out, we'll report to the police and find the murderer and the pagoda. We also need to handle the funeral arrangements for your second uncle's wife. Fortunately, your father just passed away not long ago, so everything is still in order and there's no need for much preparation... Why are you all looking at me like that?"
In the end, Yue Dingtang couldn't make it up the mountain to pay his respects to the old master.
This was because Second Master refused to let him go and even clung onto his thigh, refusing to let go.
The others pulled him away, and Fourth Master had someone knock him unconscious and drag him away.
Finally, Yue Dingtang was able to carefully examine the body of Mrs. He.
The weather was cold, so the body wouldn't change for a while.
Mrs. He's young and delicate face evoked genuine pity and regret in everyone, even Fourth Master's expression showed it. Under the cotton quilt, her clothes were open, revealing her fair and towering chest.
There was a dark bruise around her neck and some messy finger marks on her chest.
Yue Dingtang lifted the cotton quilt covering her lower body.
The Fourth Master couldn't help but glance at him, thinking that young people are full of vigor, not even sparing the dead.
But the Fourth Master couldn't tell anything from Yue Dingtang's solemn expression.
"Hmm...hmm? What's wrong?"
"Mrs. He has bruises on her upper body, but not on her lower body. There are no signs of torn clothing, so it's likely that she wasn't raped and killed. The murderer directly strangled her and deliberately made it look like she was raped."
The Fourth Master asked in surprise, "Then why did Ling Shu do this?"
Yue Dingtang remained silent.
This actually proves that Ling Shu didn't do it.
After Ling Shu went missing, the first person the Guan family suspected was him.
That's why the killer went to such lengths to frame him for the death of Mrs. He and tarnish his reputation.
This means that Ling Shu and the killer are not accomplices.
So, does the killer know Ling Shu?
And why would they do this?
As one puzzle is solved, new ones arise.
But until Ling Shu or the killer is found, Yue Dingtang can talk until he's blue in the face, but the Guan family won't believe him. Especially Second Master, who is now solely focused on finding Ling Shu.
Thankfully, he fainted, or who knows how long he would have been wailing.
Yue Dingtang was lost in thought when Kagesawa came to pick him up.
Upon learning of the death of Mrs. He and the disappearance of Ling Shu, Kagesawa was shocked.
After expressing his condolences, he invited Yue Dingtang to join him in the car, as he was not there to investigate the case but rather on someone else's behalf.
Once they were in the car, Kagesawa turned to Yue Dingtang and offered his condolences.
"I am sorry for the unfortunate events that have occurred at your estate. If there is anything I can do to help, please do not hesitate to ask."
Yue Dingtang nodded slightly in gratitude.
"Thank you, Kagesawa. The Eldest Master has already sent someone to report the case to the police station, and they should be coming to investigate soon. My assistant comes from a family that has been friends with mine for generations, and although he is my assistant, I have spoiled him and he doesn't know how to do anything. I am afraid he may have been kidnapped and is in even greater danger. It will be difficult for me to explain to my family if I return without him."
Kagesawa believed it to be true and eagerly said, "I happen to have a friend who works at the police station. I'll let them know and have them put in more effort to find Mr. Ling's whereabouts!"
He didn't wait for Yue Dingtang's response.
Unfortunately, Yue Dingtang never had the chance to respond.
In the instant that Kagesawa finished speaking, a huge gust of air burst from under the seat, propelling him to the top of the carriage.
The explosion was the last sound Kagesawa ever heard.
As far as his eyes could see, his entire body was engulfed in flames. It was a sea of fiery red.
This was the last sight that Yue Dingtang saw before losing consciousness.