The Plough – Chapter 13

He'd planned everything in advance!
Yue Dingtang had no way of answering this question.

Because he had the same suspicions.

But according to the coroner’s autopsy report, the family of three, and Xiaoji next door had all been burnt to death.

Even if something had happened to them before their deaths, it was impossible to know.

Unless Xiaoji died with his eyes open1Idiom: 死不冥目 – someone who dies a wrongful death and cannot move on and came to tell all to them in a dream, otherwise it would continue to be a riddle.

Amidst their chatter, they had already arrived in front of number 36.

This was a typical Shanghai residential home.

These types of houses were usually home to more than one family. Sometimes the owner of the house may also live there and rent out the remaining rooms of the house. Most of the tenants were usually foreigners.

Shanghai at this time, was a convergence point of the most lavish pleasures of life. The economy was flourishing compared to the South and more open-minded than the North. Ten or twenty years ago, whilst the North was still discussing whether it was appropriate for women to wear a short-sleeved Qipao, Shanghai’s most fashionable women had long appeared wearing them.

So there were many people who came to Shanghai whether it was to study, to work, to gain power and authority, even if they couldn’t rise above others, people still wanted to try. So there was never any worry that these rooms couldn’t be rented out. Naturally, the rent was also not too cheap.

Lunar New Year’s Eve, everyone was having reunion dinner, but there was still a few naughty kids outside setting off firecrackers.

The sound of firecrackers one after another, accompanied by the yelling of the children, and the occasional sparkling fireworks. On the contrary, it was only Yue Dingtang and Ling Shu who seemed out of sorts.

Yue Dingtang originally had some worries about how to create an opportunity to get inside to have a look around, but after coming to the front of the house, they discovered that the child of the house had finished eating and had also come out to play. The entrance was still open, all they had to do was step over the threshold.

“Who are you looking for?”
A middle-aged woman came to the door.

“Hello madame, greetings and Happy Lunar New Year, can we ask if there is a Mr Hong living here?” Yue Dingtang said courteously.

“Why are you looking for the one surnamed Hong?” The woman’s face turned harsh, but seeing how well-dressed they were, she held back making a fuss.

This question could mean one of two things.

One, they had come to the right place, the man surnamed Hong who was meeting up with Du Yunning indeed lived here.

Two, the actions of the one surnamed Hong made this woman dislike him.

“We are his friends, since it’s nearly New Year, we’ve come to see him, here’s some desserts, why don’t you take them and give it to your son.

Yue Dingtang took the dessert box from Ling Shu’s hand and gave it to the woman swiftly.

Ling Shu:……

That was what he had got from the cafe. He was thinking of having them for a late night snack!

Looking at the delicate snack box, the woman’s mood improved, and she managed to squeeze out a smile.

“I wouldn’t have thought that the one surnamed Hong…. Mr Hong would have friends, he hasn’t been back for two or three days now, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place.”

Yue Dingtang: “Do you know where he went?”

The woman sneered: “If it’s not in the casino or in the dance hall. Where else could he be?”

Yue Dingtang was polite and courteous: “Then do you know where to find him?”

The woman sighed, “I don’t know. He hasn’t paid his rent for this month. I want to find him too. Let’s go inside and sit down first. Maybe he will be back soon.”

The landlady went back in the house to get her keys and then took them upstairs.

The aged wooden staircase creaked as it was stepped on, the light from outside reflecting on its uneven edges.

“Whilst we’re on the topic, why would you two know someone like him?” The landlord asked curiously, “The one surnamed Hong doesn’t seem to be in the same calibre as you two gentlemen.”

Ling Shu: “We met on the train to Shanghai. Mr Hong was very friendly and even helped us with our luggage. So we ended up chatting a bit, after that we exchanged a few letters where he told us that he was staying here.”

The woman sneered: “He helped you with your luggage. I’m afraid it’s a weasel wishing a chicken Happy New Year2Idiom meaning that he probably had a nefarious ulterior motive. It definitely wasn’t out of the kindness of his heart, don’t be drawn in!”
Ling Shu laughed: “Since we are strangers, we don’t really keep in touch, we just thought since it was Lunar New Year we might as well come see an old acquaintance. If we had known he lived in such a lively place, and had such an upbeat landlord such as you, da-jie, with such a cute child, I would have moved here a long time ago!”

The woman was beaming with smiles after his praises.

“His tenancy is almost up, if you want to move here, I can give you his room.”

Ling Shu: “Great, when I get home, I’ll discuss it with my wife. She’s always complaining about where we live now. She said since I am a University Professor, I should live in a reputable place. I think your place here is great. Ah…when women start nagging, no one can stop them. If she was even a bit as sweet and understanding as you da-jie then I would have a lot less headaches.”

Yue Dingtang:……

He thought that his ability to adapt to change was quite good, but he didn’t expect that there was still someone who was even more talented. This master had opened his eyes with his nonsense, he’d pulled a wife out of thin air and turned into a University Professor.

After a few more words, Ling Shu had discovered what the landlord’s surname was, and what her family did with much clarity.

The woman was completely enamoured by his praises, and she was even more elated to hear that they were both professors.

“Ah, as you said, you go home and have a good discussion with your wife, bring her over to take a look, da-jie promises that she’ll love it, but you’re so young and you’re already married?”

“Yes, it was arranged by our parents. We were engaged very young, but I haven’t heard of Mr Hong being married, does he live alone?” Ling Shu seamlessly guided the conversation back on course.

“I’ve never seen him bring a girl back home, ah, let’s not mention it, before he told us that he was an editor at the news office, I thought that he must have money to pay for the rent every month. But he has been living here for almost half a year, aside for the first three months where he paid on time, after that it was always late, now even his deposit is almost gone, he still owes one month’s rent, but I haven’t seen a cent!”

The woman’s incessant and resentful complaints echoed down the stairs.

“The rent isn’t exactly expensive. Two days ago he came back in a really good mood, and for the first time ever he even brought me a roast chicken, and got himself a whole new set of clothes. God knows why he’d take the money to buy new clothes but he wasn’t willing to pay the rent, it’s absurd, I’ve never met such a rat! As for his virtue, acting like he is some well-refined gentleman, I think he is inseparable from street gangsters!”

“Ah, here it is!”
The woman brought them to the second floor in front of the room, and took out the key to open the door.

“Since you know him, just go in and take a seat, if he comes back in a bit, I’ll let you know.”

“This doesn’t seem very good, we don’t have his permission.” Ling Shu pretended to be courteous.

The landlord didn’t care: “It’s fine, since he has nothing of value in there. Go have a seat, I’ll bring you some tea.”

Since she said it like that, the two of them didn’t refuse. After the landlady left, they started to look around the room.

As a police officer Ling Shu knew that after looking at the things he had to put them back in the same place to not let the owner know.

Yue Dingtang checked the entire room, corner to corner, not letting a single detail slip.

The layout of the room was very simple, almost crude.

There were papers and pens on the desk, and a library card from Shanghai Wu Song University hidden underneath.

The library card was new. The back of it had a record of how many times it had been used – the “zheng” character had only three strokes3This is the character 正.

At the same time, Ling Shu saw the name on the library card.

Hong Xiaoguang.

To the side, there were three books.

One was a collection of poems from Europe’s Renaissance period.

Another was Tagore’s 《Fruit-Gathering 》.

The last book was a work by Shakespeare, the most widely known 《Romeo and Juliet 》.

Half the notebook had been used. Most of the pages were full of copied verses, mainly from Shakespeare.

“What did you find?” Yue Dingtang walked over to him.

“The handwriting at the front is more serious but the handwriting at the back is more scribble and graffiti.”

Ling Shu flipped the last few pages, Yue Dingtang discovered that those scribbles were the same phrase over and over again.

None are so surely caught, when they are catch’d, As wit turn’d fool; folly, in wisdom hatch’d,4This is actually a quote from Shakespeare’s Love Labour’s Lost, Act 5, Scene II” Yue Dingtang read out loud. “A well known quote from Shakespeare.”

Ling Shu: “Not bad. You must remember, when Du Yunning was at school, she loved his work, and she memorised these quotes.”

Yue Dingtang: “So, this Mr Hong was trying to adapt to her taste?”
Ling Shu: “Interestingly, these three books are all by foreign authors, not a single Chinese book. Plus, Du Yunning loved poetry and had a preference for these authors. Even if she couldn’t recite the poems of Bai Letian, she could write out from memory some Shakespeare quotes.”

“I’ve also discovered something interesting over here, come take a look.”

Yue Dingtang walked over to the bed, lightly lifting up the pillow.

There was another book.

《The Golden Lotus》.

Ling Shu picked up the book and flicked through casually.

Yue Dingtang discovered that his hands were wearing a pair of white gloves: “where did you get those gloves from?”

Ling Shu burrowed his face in the book, he said carelessly: “I asked Shen Renjie, using your …., he quickly gave them to me. This isn’t worth much money, but it has its uses, to avoid leaving fingerprints on the book, and be discovered by a detail oriented person that it’s been touched. Look –”
Li Ping’er communicates a secret in the Kingfisher Pavilion, Pan Jinlian engages in a drunken orgy under the grape arbor5The title of Chapter 27.

This is the most famous chapter in《The Golden Lotus》 .

Not only was this book a deep portrayal of human nature, customs, and world affairs. It also satisfied the voyeuristic desires of the common people.

The pages of this chapter had been repeatedly turned and were far more wrinkled and damaged than other pages, indicating that the owner must have read it often.

Ling Shu smiled: “I’m afraid that the attraction of this 《The Golden Lotus》to Hong Xiaoguang is far greater than the collection of poems on the table.”

Yue Dingtang: “The poems were used to impress Du Yunning but 《The Golden Lotus》was for his own pleasure, of course it’s not the same. This Hong Xiaoguang, could he be Chai Bai Dang?”

Chai Bai Dang and Xian Ren Tiao6仙人跳 similar to Chai Bai Dang and like Badger Game in English basically where someone creates a scheme to trap someone and blackmail them for money are similar. They are both slang, referring to those who use some means to defraud their victims or set a trap for their victims.

The world is in chaos, crooks mixed in with the honest folk, people of all trades coming out in force. Chai Bai Dang were everywhere, the small-time crooks would try to treat people for some food and drink, the bigger ones could ruin lives.

Especially those who had come from a lowly background. They relied on their handsome faces, added some fancy clothing and used flowery language to lure wealthy ladies with their charm. Allowing them to take what they wanted. There were always many reports in the newspapers, everyone was used to seeing it.

“But the Chai Bai Dang only steal but they don’t usually kill?”

But now not only was Du Yunning dead but he had also been framed by them.

Up until now it was still a mystery and the real culprit had yet to show his face. If it was done by the Chai Bai Dang, they seemed to have exceptional powers.

Ling Shu flicked through the book again and then put it back in its place.

The room wasn’t big, you could walk around in one lap. All the furniture belonged to the landlady, even in the wardrobe. There was only one set of pyjamas, it was evident that this Hong Xiaogong wasn’t wealthy.

Although Du Yunning was naive and hadn’t really experienced the outside world, her literary talent could be said to surpass that of the usual wealthy families’ daughters. If Hong Xiaogong was able to gain her trust with just a few verses from foreign poems, and she was ready to elope with him, this sounded just too ridiculous.

Ling Shu thought that there must be something else at play here that they had not discovered yet.

“Here.”

Yue Dingtang suddenly said.

“Look from here, what do you see?”

Ling Shu went over, stood next to the window, and looked out of it from where he was pointing.

Thanks to the fireworks going off one after another on Lunar New Year’s Eve, the outside was still clearly illuminated.

As expected, Ling Shu was surprised and couldn’t help gasping.

“Sure enough, he’d planned everything in advance!”
Author Note:

Mini theatre unrelated to the main story——

Ling Shu:My snacks……

Yue Dingtang:We need to foster good relationships with people to solve the case.

Ling Shu: My cigarettes……

Yue Dingtang puts a cigarette to his lips: Smoking is bad for your health.

Ling Shu didn’t say a thing. Three days later, he gave Yue Dingtang a birthday present.

Yue Dingtang opened it to find a copy of 《The Golden Lotus》.

Yue Chunxiao said with much sincerity:Xiao-di,I told you before,it’s better to get married soon, reading these kind of books is damaging to your health!

Yue Dingtang:……

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