At 2pm in the afternoon, in the Huadu urban area, Qiao Ze stood outside a metal gate with a young rookie police officer. From the outside, it was clear that this was a private courtyard with a single-story building resembling a factory warehouse.
Qiao Ze pressed the doorbell in front of him, and the sound was loud enough to be heard clearly through the iron gate. They had been investigating based on Su Hui’s conjecture, and all buildings and personnel within the designated area had undergone a new round of registration and investigation.
For this purpose, the Major Crimes Unit dispatched more than ten detectives and auxiliary police officers from the local sub-bureau. With everyone conducting their own investigation, the circle of suspects gradually narrowed.
Today, they had reached the last few blocks in the purple zone, and to speed things up, they had divided into eight groups, with Qiao Ze and a young police officer from the detective team in one group.
The young officer’s name was Qi Shi, and Qiao Ze had trouble getting used to his name at first, always having the urge to add the word “white” to it. Eventually, he learned to remember the name as “actually,” and it no longer felt awkward.
Seeing that there was no response from inside, Qiao Ze rang the doorbell again. Behind him, Qi Shi reported on the situation on his form: “This was originally a warehouse for a food company. Later, it was bought by a private owner and turned into an art gallery… The contact information and the person in charge were registered before. The gallery owner’s name is Fu Yunchu.”
“An art gallery?” Qiao Ze looked up at the building, an old warehouse with a new artistic vibe after being renovated.
“Yes, the owner, Fu Yunchu, is a somewhat famous painter in Huadu. He has studied abroad and his new work was sold for 1.55 million at an auction,” Qi Shi explained.
Qiao Ze sighed, “One painting is worth several years of an average person’s salary. This painter seems to be quite talented.”
As they spoke, there was no response from inside, so Qi Shi asked, “Should we try calling Fu Yunchu?”
“Let’s wait a bit longer,” Qiao Ze said.
Just as they were talking, the iron gate in front of them was opened from the inside by a tall, thin man with fair skin, long narrow eyes, and short hair. Qiao Ze judged that this person was probably the painter Fu Yunchu.
Qiao Ze took a step forward and said, “Mr. Fu?”
The man nodded, “Yes, that’s me.”
Qiao Ze showed his police officer ID according to the procedure, “Hello, I’m Qiao Ze from the Major Crimes investigation team in Huadu. We are currently investigating a case and we hope you can cooperate with our investigation.”
The man named Fu Yunchu let them in and said, “This is just an art gallery, there’s nothing special here.”
Qiao Ze asked, “We just need to verify a few things. Are you the only one here?”
Fu Yunchu replied, “Yes, after all, creating art is a very private matter. I need enough quiet when I’m painting.”
“Do you usually live here?”
“Sometimes when I paint late, I stay here. Occasionally, I go back home.”
Qiao Ze and Fu Yunchu verified information such as their ID numbers, mobile phone numbers, Fu Yunchu’s registered vehicle, the time he usually comes here, and where he was on the day Ning Ke was attacked.
Fu Yunchu answered methodically and even took out two movie tickets, which happened to be on the night Ning Ke disappeared.
Qiao Ze looked at the man’s hand and said, “Mr. Fu, your wrist is injured?”
He saw a place on Fu Yunchu’s wrist that looked like it had been scratched by someone, and the wound was recent.
Fu Yunchu covered the wound and said, “It was scratched when I sharpened my pencil while drawing.”
How could a wound from sharpening a pencil appear on the inside of the left wrist? Qiao Ze became suspicious, but he didn’t expose the man in front of him and continued, “It’s a bit unfortunate. I see that the wound is still fresh. Mr. Fu, don’t you need to take care of it?”
Fu Yunchu smiled, “It’s not urgent. I’ll take care of it after you leave. It doesn’t hurt much anymore.”
After Qiao Ze finished questioning, he wanted to check behind him, “Mr. Fu, this place is quite big. It’s no wonder it took so long for you to open the door.”
Fu Yunchu said, “Yes, I was in the innermost studio and had to walk all the way here. Sorry for keeping you both waiting.” His response was very calm. “Would you like something to drink, officers?”
Qi Shi was about to say they would leave in a moment when Qiao Ze spoke up, “Yes, do you have coffee here?”
When he mentioned coffee, he watched Fu Yunchu’s face for any changes.
Fu Yunchu seemed surprised that they were staying and hesitated before saying, “I don’t have coffee, but would you like some tea?”
Qiao Ze replied, “Tea is fine.”
After the man left, Qiao Ze gestured to Qi Shi and then called Lu Junchi on his Bluetooth earphone. He reported the situation in a low voice and said to Lu Junchi, “Captain Lu, I think this person is suspicious…”
They had already questioned several places before this, mostly verifying the situation and ruling out suspects before quickly leaving. Only here, Qiao Ze asked more detailed questions and felt that this art gallery was a bit strange.
Lu Junchi said, “It sounds like the location fits, and the artist has relatively ample time… Although he explained his whereabouts on the night of the incident, the alibi for watching a movie is not very strong. The movie ticket might have been deliberately purchased to serve as an alibi.”
In addition, there were the marks of injuries…
Lu Junchi made a quick decision, “Delay them for a moment, keep in contact, don’t hang up, we’ll be there in about five minutes.”
Qiao Ze murmured in agreement and was about to turn around and say something to Qi Shi when Fu Yunchu came out.
He brought over two cups of tea, smiling as he handed them to them. Qiao Ze took them and placed them on a glass table nearby. He knew that the man in front of him appeared refined and elegant, but in reality, he could very well be the serial killer they had been chasing for so long – the Butcher.
As he looked at Fu Yunchu in front of him, Qiao Ze couldn’t help but feel nervous, and his palms began to sweat. He was the youngest member of the Major Crimes Unit, having been a police officer for only a few years and mostly doing investigative work. He had participated in arrests before, but they were always in a team. Facing a serial killer like this today was unexpected.
They had two people now, which gave them an advantage in numbers, but Qi Shi was still an intern and didn’t have a gun, so he was completely unreliable when it came to physical combat. Thinking about this, Qiao Ze became even more nervous. He had to try his best to stall this person in front of him until the rest of the team arrived.
Qiao Ze asked a few more questions, and Fu Yunchu answered truthfully. Qiao Ze pretended to jot down notes, but his heart was pounding, causing his handwriting to shake.
Fu Yunchu noticed that the two police officers had drunk water but didn’t seem to be leaving. He asked, “Do you need me to cooperate with anything else?”
Qiao Ze followed up, “I actually like art, Mr. Fu. Could you lead us around the gallery?”
Fu Yunchu seemed visibly nervous for a moment but eventually said, “It looks empty here, but it’s not very big. There’s a small exhibition hall in the front, and my studio, bedroom, and bathroom are in the back.”
Qiao Ze looked around, and because this place used to be a warehouse, the ceiling was very high, and the walls were covered in paintings. There weren’t many furnishings, making it look empty, like an art exhibition hall. Some of the paintings were a bit abstract, but the skill was still quite good. In the lobby, there were also various sizes of plaster statues and other works of art.
Three people walked through a somewhat spacious exhibition hall. Qiao Ze steadied himself and looked at a painting in the center, saying, “This painting is well done.” The painting depicted a woman of indeterminate age sitting in a chair with her head bowed and eyes closed, looking peaceful and serene. Behind her were many squares that looked like boxes. The painting was called “Beloved.”
Fu Yunchu’s face showed a hint of pride. “This painting is my most famous work, and it won an award at the art festival,” he said.
Qiao Ze turned to look at the other paintings on the wall and stopped in front of one that depicted several women standing in a row, their eyes closed and mouths slightly open, with a somewhat eerie expression on their faces. The painting was called “Chorus.” Qiao Ze noticed that Mr. Fu seemed to like painting women, with 80% of his paintings featuring women, while the remaining 20% depicted landscapes and a few other subjects. The women in his paintings mostly had pale faces and closed eyes, which made people feel uneasy.
Thinking about the dismembered limbs in the boxes, Qiao Ze’s hair stood on end.
The exhibition hall quickly made a circle, and Fu Yunchu slowed down and looked at them…
“I can’t hold on much longer!” At this moment, Qiao Ze heard Lu Junchi’s voice in his earpiece. “It’s basically confirmed. I just had Xia Mingxi check the electricity usage here, and it’s several times the normal amount. We’re on our way, so be sure to stay safe!”
There weren’t many lights in this place, and the ceiling was high. Even without air conditioning, it was a bit chilly. If they needed so much electricity, it was obvious that there was an underground cold storage or large freezer equipment here.
Qi Shi looked at the paintings on the wall and said, “We’ve been running around for half a day. It’s hot outside, but it’s comfortable here. We don’t need air conditioning, which saves electricity.”
After hearing this, Qiao Ze’s heart skipped a beat. As expected, the man who had just been talking to them turned pale. Fu Yunchu took two steps back and his eyes flashed with hostility.
Qi Shi had only mentioned this casually, but Fu Yunchu was clearly feeling guilty! He took that sentence as a test and thought he had been identified.
Qiao Ze reacted quickly. He went up to grab Fu Yunchu’s hand, but Fu Yunchu tried to dodge. Qiao Ze seemed to anticipate his move and kicked him in the stomach. Fu Yunchu grunted and tried to retaliate, but Qiao Ze quickly pulled out a gun from behind his holster and fired without aiming.
With a loud bang, a gunshot exploded in the gallery, shattering the peace. The bullet grazed Fu Yunchu’s upper arm. He was obviously more familiar with the place than the two young police officers who had just arrived. He turned and pressed a button on the wall.
Several plaster statues shattered in response, and the ground was covered with white plaster debris. These plaster statues were specially made, and a large amount of white powder spilled out of them. The air was filled with a pungent smell, obscuring the two officers’ vision.
This was obviously a trap set up by the culprit in advance.
Qiao Ze shouted, “Watch out, it’s poisonous!” He quickly covered his mouth and nose, held his breath, and pulled Qi Shi back to the door.
Qi Shi finally reacted at this point and followed Qiao Ze’s lead, using his sleeve to cover his mouth and nose.
Fu Yunchu had apparently stored a lot of chemical materials, and they didn’t know what the white powder inside was.
The white mist gradually dissipated, and at this time, Lu Junchi’s voice came through Qiao Ze’s Bluetooth earpiece: “We’re here, open the door!”
Qiao Ze quickly opened the gallery’s door and let Lu Junchi and other officers in.
Inside the gallery, Fu Yunchu had already disappeared without a trace. As a serial killer’s lair, he probably had planned various escape routes long ago.
The entering officers quickly opened various windows. The gallery was in a mess, and there was still the smell of some residual chemicals.
“Captain Lu, a car drove away from the back door direction…” Zheng Bai’s voice came through the intercom. They were in charge of blocking the back door. The car had rushed past them not far away, and they had been unable to stop it.
Lu Junchi looked in the direction of the back door, where a trail of blood stretched away. They had rushed over, but they were still one step too late.
“Captain Lu! Do we still pursue?” Qu Ming asked anxiously.
“Let Zheng Bai go after him. We need to save people first! If our inference is correct, the victim may be locked up here!” Lu Junchi quickly gave orders, then walked back and saw Qiao Ze.
“I’m sorry, Captain Lu. It’s my fault for not stopping the culprit.” There was still some white powder on Qiao Ze’s cheek, and he looked a bit disheveled and aggrieved.
If he had been more decisive just now, if he had coordinated with Qi Shi earlier, if he had been more skilled in combat, if he had been more accurate in shooting…
That was a brutal serial killer, and letting him go could lead to more killings and more victims!
If it had been Captain Lu here just now, he would have been able to catch the killer without fail and not let him escape.
Qiao Ze clenched his fists in regret. Teacher Su had already analyzed the killer’s location, but he had let the killer escape in the end. Thinking about this, his eyes felt sore, and the corners of his eyes turned red.
Lu Junchi looked at Qiao Ze. The person in front of him was only twenty-four years old, and not everyone had the courage to face a brutal serial killer and fight to the death.
If he rashly chased after him, he might get hurt…
Time for another recommendation. The kdrama “Connect” is based on a serial killer who uses human corpses to make art. *brrrrr* So Creepy. But did you know that making art out of corpses is actually a real thing? There’s a museum called “Body World” based in Berlin where they use real human corpses as artwork. People donate their bodies for plastination. They are then selectively shaped to expose certain organs thus the ‘art’ comes in here. They go around the world holding exhibits so if you want some new nightmare material because the ones you’ve been having have been getting kinda boring and repetitive, then watch out for the next time the exhibit will be popping up in your city and go take a look. You can thank me later. *wink wink*