Well, well . . . the plot definitely thickens. A new and unexpected – or did you see it coming? perhaps Bo Jinyan did – character is introduced, and the Animation Murders take on a new slant. Read on to find out more . . .
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Ke Qian’s hometown was in Hebei, not too far from Beijing. However, in these past few years, all of China’s small and medium-sized cities, without exception, had been undergoing a process of demolishing buildings and relocating the inhabitants, in order to build boringly uniform commercial housing or new townships. Ke Qian’s earliest registered permanent residence, a hostel based in an old factory which had gone bankrupt, had long since been razed to the ground, and a new housing community had sprung up on the same land. Moreover, they had no idea where his old neighbours had gone. Jian Yao asked around the small community, including the neighbourhood committee, but no one knew anything about the Ke family, and she was unable to obtain any pertinent information.
Only the lake opposite the housing community, with its rippling blue-green waters, remained as clear as before.
Perhaps, in this era of rapid economic change, the only constants are the mountains, lakes and rivers, under whose watchful gaze we live.
Next to the small lake, there was a large wetland, lush with greenery. It had obviously been well conserved.
They then visited the second address they had: the home of Ke Qian’s grandfather, in the same county. According to the family details which Ke Qian had provided when he enrolled for university, his only relative was his paternal grandfather. His grandfather’s address was also listed as Ke Qian’s place of residence.
This time, they found the place with relative ease. It was an old house in the old town. Green tiles, grey walls, a two-bedroom single-storey house. A big padlock was on the door.
Jian Yao and Bo Jinyan knocked on the door for an eternity, until an older woman emerged from the house next door. She asked, “Who are you looking for?”
Jian Yao said with a smile, “Dajie, we are Ke Qian’s friends from Beijing. We’re here on vacation and remembered that he mentioned his old home was here, so we thought we’d come and take a look.”
Bo Jinyan hid his smile as he eyed his increasingly slick criminal investigator wife.
The elderly lady observed that they both looked fairly upstanding, and did not suspect anything. She commented, “Oh, so you’re Xiao Ke’s friends. He hasn’t been home recently.”
“Dajie, when did Xiao Ke’s grandfather pass away?” Jian Yao asked.
The woman sighed and said, “About four or five years ago. That was when Xiao Ke had just passed the university entrance exam.”
Jian Yao and Bo Jinyan exchanged glances. Since the blow had come at that time, it was no wonder that Ke Qian had formed such a strong attachment to his university friends.
“Does he have any other relatives?” Jian Yao asked.
The woman considered briefly before shaking her head. “I haven’t noticed any relative come by. Our family moved here about ten years ago, and it was just the two of them living their plain and solitary lives. Aish, Xiao Ke has had a bitter life; I heard that his parents died in a car accident when he was just five or six years old, and there was not much compensation. As a matter of fact, even after his grandfather died, I still kept a set of keys to their place. Since he was studying somewhere else, he asked me to come over and clean the house from time to time.”
Bo Jinyan abruptly asked, “When was the last time he came back?”
The woman replied, “Just a month ago. I remember it very clearly; it was the time of the Qing Ming* Festival holiday.”
*T/N 清明节 (Qing Ming jie) – Qing Ming Festival (also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day) is a Chinese festival which falls on the first day of the fifth lunar month. During the festival, Chinese families visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean their gravesites, pray to them, and make ritual offerings.
Bo Jinyan and Jian Yao did not say anything.
A month ago.
Ke Qian had been ‘killed’ by Jiang Xueran and the others half a year ago.
Then his buried ‘corpse’ had disappeared, then he had visited his old hometown a month ago, then he had committed a series of murders.
“Are you sure he was the person who came back?” Bo Jinyan asked.
The woman looked at him strangely. “Why on earth are you asking that? Do you think I could make a mistake? He even ate dinner at my home that day. That grown-up kid . . .”
Jian Yao smiled as she interrupted, “Dajie, it’s like this. We’re also aware how much you cared for Ke Qian when he lived here. Please accept this 200 dollars (29 USD) as a token of our regard for you as his friends.”
The minute she saw the money, the woman blushed; she waved her hand and said she did not want it. Jian Yao persisted in giving it to her, and, after demurring a few more times, she finally accepted it. Jian Yao seized the opportunity to ask, “Dajie, since we’re here already, may we go into Ke Qian’s home to have a look around?”
To say that Ke Qian’s grandfather’s home consisted of four bare walls would not be an exaggeration. In both rooms of the house, there was nothing else apart from a bed, a table, and a cupboard. However, everything was kept very neatly. The furniture was old-fashioned, and someone had hand-painted a pattern of Chinese-style bamboo leaves and flowers on the walls. Upon looking carefully, the entire home immediately transformed into something extraordinary.
Needless to say, this was Ke Qian’s style.
Perhaps because there was nothing valuable in Ke Qian’s home, after bringing them in, the elderly woman had gone outside to busy herself with other matters. Bo Jinyan and Jian Yao looked around the house but found nothing unusual. Jian Yao said, “I’m confused. Previously, I thought it was beyond doubt that Ke Qian had died, and the person Fang Qing and Gu Fang Fang saw was someone else whose figure’s very similar to his. But, now, this dajie has definitely seen a living, breathing Ke Qian. Did he really not die?”
“There’s no need to be confused,” Bo Jinyan said. “I believe we are already close to the answer. Have you not realised that there is something missing from this place?”
Jian Yao looked blank.
Bo Jinyan put on his gloves, and opened the cupboards and drawers one by one, then closed them again. “Ke Qian has such a sensitive and meticulous personality, losing his mother and father at a young age, also losing his grandfather just as he gained entrance to university . . . he would have kept that item very carefully, it would have been precious and very important. But, we didn’t find it in his rented apartment, and we didn’t find it here.”
“What is it?” Jian Yao asked.
Jian Yao was stunned.
Bo Jinyan smiled slightly as he said, “That’s what that person wants to hold on to, or . . . what he wants to keep hidden. It is because of this that he suddenly came home for a visit.”
Jian Yao stood transfixed.
Could it be . . . not a lover, but a . . .
Lian Hua (Lotus Flower) Elementary School was the best elementary school in the vicinity. When Bo Jinyan and Jian Yan rushed there, it was already afternoon.
“The elderly woman moved next door to Ke Qian ten years ago,” Bo Jinyan said. “At that time, Ke Qian had just started junior high school, so she would not know anything about him prior to that time. There aren’t any people living near him who have been around for longer than that. Moreover, Ke Qian’s grades have been excellent since he was young, so he must have attended the best elementary school.”
They arrived at the school’s administrative office and showed their identification. An elderly teacher received them. “Ok, please wait a moment. I will retrieve that year’s registration information.”
While they were waiting, An Yan called them.
“I’ve got it. The money that Ke Qian received was from an overseas account, an American account. The account holder is ‘K.A.’.”
At this time, the teacher returned with the registration folder. Even though it had been many years, with a close inspection of the class photo, Jian Yao was able to locate a child whose facial features strikingly resembled that of the adult Ke Qian and pointed the child out to Bo Jinyan. “Look, there’s Ke Qian.”
However, the teacher put on her reading glasses, laughed and said, “You’re mistaken. That’s not Ke Qian, that’s Ke Ai. Ke Ai is the older sister; she’s the girl standing in the first row. Ke Qian is the younger brother; he’s standing in the last row. Those two are twins, and resemble each other to an amazing degree.”
Bo Jinyan took the photo and stared at it silently. Jian Yao finally located Ke Qian in the back row. Looking at the two children whose features were virtually indistinguishable, she suddenly felt an indescribable sadness. She asked, “What happened to them? Where did the older sister, Ke Ai, go?”
The teacher sighed and said, “The older sister’s fate was good. They had a childless relative who adopted Ke Ai when the children were in the third grade. Perhaps, because the couple thought the burden of adopting both children would be too heavy, or because they thought keeping the children together would make it more difficult for the kids to grow close to them . . . anyway, the younger brother was left in the grandfather’s care. I think Ke Ai was taken to America later.”
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