The Plough – Chapter 12

Lao Yue, your wife is still waiting for you at home!
“Du Yunning, is that Mrs Yuan?”

Yue Dingtang lifted his head, his face had a perfectly curious and surprised look on it.

Mr Li sighed: “Exactly, when Mrs Yuan was free she would come to have afternoon tea, this Lunar New Year… aii! Just now, my employee read me the newspaper. Just now, my employee read me the newspaper, who could have known after only a few fleeting encounters, but now we are eternally separated by the heavens!”

Yue Dingtang: “Did you know Mrs Yuan well?”

Mr Li: “We spoke a few times but we didn’t know each other well.”

Yue Dingtang: “We are doing a social study right now – there will be a part about public safety in Shanghai, coincidentally this case with Mrs Yuan happened, is it convenient for us to chat to you about it?”

Mr Li: “Yes, that’s okay, my wife and son are in Southeast Asia, I have no relatives here, I was actually preparing to have reunion dinner with my employees, so please go ahead and ask.”

Yue Dingtang looked at Ling Shu, and passed his notebook over to him.

“Xiao Yang, take some notes.”

He spoke to him like he was his assistant.

Ling Shu: ……

He wiped his mouth and then took a fountain pen out of his pocket.

“Ok! But Lao Yue, you should hurry it up, your wife is still waiting for you at home, if you don’t go home soon on New Year’s Eve, I’m afraid your knees will be sore tomorrow from kneeling.”

Yue Dingtang: ……

He resisted the urge to reply, twisting his lips, he turned to look at Mr Li.

“When was the last time you spoke to Mrs Yuan?”

“The day before yesterday.”

Wasn’t that the last time that Ling Shu had seen Du Yunning?

Ling Shu and Yue Dingtang gave each other a look.

“What did Mrs Yuan say to you at the time, was her mood or attitude any different from usual?”

Mr Li thought for a moment: “Didn’t seem like it.”

Yue Dingtang: “She didn’t seem sad or bitter, and she didn’t complain to you about anything?”

Mr Li shook his head: “I saw that Mrs Yuan’s mood was quite good that day. She once said to me, every time she came here, she loved to order the strawberry cake, and she would only eat it when she was in a good mood. That day she ordered one to eat in, and took a portion to go.”

Ling Shu asked unexpectedly: “What did you both chat about?”

Before this, because the lights were quite dim and Mr Li was preoccupied with talking to Yue Dingtang, he only noticed Ling Shu when he heard him speak, and he couldn’t help expressing his surprise when he saw him.

“You, you look familiar, I think I’ve seen you somewhere before?”

Seeing him rack his brains trying to think, Ling Shu kindly reminded him.

“The day before yesterday, it was here, I had a coffee with Mrs Yuan.”

“That’s it!” Mr Li clapped his hands together, “I remember, it’s you!”

Ling Shu nodded: “It was me, but I don’t remember Mrs Yuan talking to you.”

Mr Li: “It was before you arrived, I saw that Mrs Yuan was sitting alone so I went over to say hello. She seemed to be in a great mood, she even said the next day she was going to a dinner party organised by the British consulate, she wanted to order some coffee beans from me, and offer it as a gift, she told me to prepare them and then deliver it to her manor later.”

Ling Shu: “Nothing else?”
Mr Li: “Nothing, only that.”

Ling Shu: “Usually, when Mrs Yuan comes in, aside from me, who does she meet up with?”

Mr Li hesitated: “It seems that there is someone else.”

Ling Shu: “What does he look like?”

Mr Li: “A well-refined gentleman.”

Ling Shu: “He wears glasses?”

Mr Li thought about it: “Yes he seems to.”

Ling Shu: “Red suit?”

Mr Li forced a smile: “I don’t really remember, sometimes I am not in the shop, it’s usually the employees who take care of the coffee shop, so I don’t always see Mrs Yuan every time she comes in, should I call them over and you can ask them as well?”

Ling Shu: “Okay, then we will have to trouble you to ask you to call out the employees who usually work during the daytime, we will just delay them for a short amount of time whilst we ask a few quick questions.”

Mr Li agreed, but seemed somewhat at a loss.

“Gentlemen, excuse me for being frank but aren’t you professors, why does it seem like you are investigating a crime?”

Yue Dingtang said gently: “Our social research touches upon everything, and the case is related to it, so we need to be more detailed. Plus we had met Mrs Yuan a few times, and was with great pity that we received the news of her death, so we also wanted to come over to investigate a little, who knows, it may even aid the investigation.”

“Oh I see, please wait a moment.” seemingly convinced by Yue Dingtang, Mr Li turned around to call his employees over.

A tall and thin employee quickly came over.

He wasn’t on shift tonight, he was wearing a crude garment, with an honest, if asked he’d definitely answer kind of face.

“When Mrs Yuan came in, there was often a gentleman who would come. The two of them would sit together for a half a day, and then leave one after the other. There were three times that I was actually on shift as well.”

Ling Shu had met her three times as well, so he asked: “You’re not talking about me right?”

The employee looked at him seriously for a moment, shook his head, then said with certainty: “It wasn’t you! This gentleman often wear a red suit, and wore glasses.”

Yue Dingtang: “Do you know what they talked about?”

The employee first shook his head and then he said: “Once I was serving them tea, I heard a few sentences, it seemed like they were writing a poem. I’m an uneducated person so I don’t really understand poetry, so I didn’t really understand much of it.”

Yue Dingtang: “Do you know what his surname is, do you have any ideas at all?”

Employee: “He said his surname is Hong, he didn’t ever mention anything else, but the way he held himself, he seemed like you both, an educated person.”

What he was saying was just about the same as what the tea shop owner had previously said to them. Eliminating the possibility that the two were both lying and basically identifying that it was the same man.

A new character had risen to the surface.

This also matched their previous speculations.

So, this man was possibly the person who had helped Du Yunning to write the list of assets.

And they might have had an even more intimate relationship.

“Is he a regular at the coffee shop?”

Employee: “I’ve been working here for three years, since the previous owner to this current owner, Mr Li. Thanks to Mr Li, he kept me on as staff, but before this, I rarely saw this Mr Hong.”

Yue Dingtang: “Do you know where he lives, where he might work?”

The employee naturally shook his head.
It was just a customer after all unless he was a well-known person like Du Yunning, otherwise why would he know?

Yue Dingtang furrowed his eyebrows with disappointment.

This was indeed a worthy clue to the case, but if this man surnamed Hong really had something to do with Du Yunning’s death, after the news got out, he definitely wouldn’t appear nearby again. Furthermore, he’d probably directly buy a ticket out of here, never to be heard from again so they’d only be left with a deadend.

“Ah, actually!”

The employee suddenly said: “Last time when it was snowing – this Mr Hong wanted to leave, so I called a rickshaw for him. I heard him give an address to the rickshaw puller, it sounded like — Hengtong Road, number 36!”

Hengtong Road.

Yue Dingtang subconsciously looked over at Ling Shu.

And the other was also looking at him at the same time.

That was the same street as Xiaoji Noodle Shop.

Two days ago, after Du Yunning died, because of a fire next door, the owner of the noodle shop, Lao Xiao, had also died.

Was this a coincidence, or was this on purpose?

The one surnamed Hong, Du Yunning, Lao-Xiao, what was the connection between all of this?

Mr Li had been standing on the side the whole time, and didn’t disturb them, seeing that they had almost finished asking questions, he said: “Gentlemen, it’s getting late, any later and you may not be able to find a rickshaw.”

The light blue sky from before had been completely covered by the darkness, it was possible to imagine how warm it was compared to the bitter cold outside.

Yue Dingtang glanced at his wristwatch, they should leave.

“Thank you Mr Li, we’ve inconvenienced you for so long, we must apologize, after the New Year we will come back again to apologize for our disturbance.”
At the same time, it was not known when the other table of Westerners had finished eating and had left, in the whole coffee shop, there was only their table left.

Mr Li laughed: “it’s not a problem, plus I’ll be spending New Year here anyway, I didn’t want to hold you up with this so you could go home and spend time with your family, this little shop will close on New Year’s day but after that if you gentlemen would like to come back you are welcome.”

After saying their goodbyes to Mr Li, the two left the coffee shop, and walked to the end of the street.

The driver was still waiting there for them.

Da-jie is probably very impatiently waiting for you to have reunion dinner, you can leave first, we can talk about this in a few days.” Yue Dingtang said.

Da-jie, Da-jie, what a familiar greeting, Ling Shu swallowed up that thought and didn’t let it slip out of his mouth.

“We need to strike whilst the iron is hot, we don’t know what could have changed in two days, I can’t put my little life on the line just for New Year’s, let’s go, we’ll go directly to Hengtong Road.”

He finished speaking and got in the car first.

……

Hengtong Road, with its rows and rows of new and old houses, under the dark sky, there was not much difference in whether it was new or old, but an ablaze of lights appeared randomly. The smell of steamed fish mixed with the odour of niangao floated in the air, welcoming in the New Year.

The smell of fish and pork was faint, almost non-existent plus for the ordinary citizens, these last few years, even if there was a bowl of tender niangao and a braised fish was already considered sumptuous for the New Year. To be able to be like they just were eating lobster and steak was even more inconceivable.

This was mostly a residential area, there were a few shops. All the shops were well-established family run businesses passed down through generations, who relied on the regular customers.

Nowadays the country was not complete, there were still some places which were caught up in battle, especially outside of Shanghai. Citizens could occasionally see in the newspaper the smoke from the guns, but it was usually peaceful. Those who worked had enough to eat, those who studied had books to read. Disregarding those passionate youths and intellectuals who were concerned for their country and people, the rest of the population were still living their lives according to their usual rhythms day in and day out. Amongst these families who were celebrating the New Year’s together, there were two places which were not.

Those were the two households who were destroyed by the fire before.

The one in the middle was precisely the Xiaoji noodle shop that Ling Shu often frequented.

“This house where the fire started, the family’s patriarch was a labourer who worked at the docks. One time when he was moving heavy goods he injured his leg, after that he could only stay at home doing some needlework. His wife’s embroidery work was not bad. Sometimes she even got some imported fabrics to embroider, so their home stored a lot of fabric and cotton wadding, which are extremely flammable items. Then after investigation, it was suspected that the child in the house was playing with fire, the adults were both sleeping, and didn’t discover it in time, with the rapid spread of the fire, in the end they all died inside the house, and even killed Xiaoji next door.”

Yue Dingtang explained whilst the two of them arrived in front of 36, Hengtong road.

“Something doesn’t add up.”

Ling Shu stopped walking.

“In order to save money, people usually don’t light up their candlelamps at night, and they rarely buy matches or even oil lamps. Even if their child found matches in the middle of the night and was playing with fire. Whether it was the married couple, or Lao Ji, they have all five working senses. As soon as the fire started, even if they were in deep sleep, they would have been woken up. Even if the married couple were unable to jump out, why couldn’t Xiaoji get out?”
Author Note:

Mini theatre unrelated to the main story——

Yue Dingtang: Since when did I get a wife?

Ling Shu: And when did I become your assistant?

Yue Dingtang: Sooner or later, you’ll be calling me lao-ban.

Ling Shu: Sooner or later, you’ll be calling me lao-gong.

Yue Dingtang:……

Ling Shu came back to his senses, vigorously turning around and shouting: Director, there’s a mistake in the script!

2 thoughts on “The Plough – Chapter 12”

  1. I wonder if it really was the man in red that murdered her. Thank you so much for treating us to such beautiful translations 🥰
    I love slow burn detective novels so much! But if it’s okay to ask, a while ago I read that the romantic development happens quite early (compared to wushuang and QQ) in this novel. Can I have a hint in what arc that happens?

    Reply

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error: Reposting my TL is strictly prohibited!