The police car drove out, swiftly shuttling through the streets of Wanhu City, drawing a long line in the dark night.
Su Hui hung up Lu Junchi’s phone and couldn’t help but suppress a cough, covering his mouth.
Qiao Ze, sitting in the passenger seat, looked back at him with some concern and asked, “Teacher Su, the director sent over the footage they shot with the children before. Would you like to take a look?”
Su Hui nodded and reached out to take the tablet handed to him by Qiao Ze.
There were many files, some capturing the living environment of Wanhu City, others showcasing the lives of ordinary people here, and a special section dedicated to the children.
He opened a folder, named after each individual child.
Su Hui propped his chin with his fingers, squinting and scrolling down, and his eyes landed on Kong Tao’s name first.
He opened the video, and the background of this interview footage was the abandoned building site, taken around dusk.
As the camera swept through, the abandoned building site appeared even larger than it did at night. All those windows were dark, exuding a desolate feeling.
Kong Tao stood in the empty space beneath the abandoned building, holding a basketball. He took a few shots first and then ran towards the camera. There was no basketball hoop nearby, so he mimicked a shooting motion, and the basketball soared in a beautiful parabolic arc before landing on the ground.
The boy’s movements were smooth and fluid. If there were a basketball hoop in front of him, he could enjoy the satisfaction of scoring. But in this ruins, there were no cheers, no applause, only the echo of the basketball hitting the ground.
He gradually ran away in the fiery sunset, picking up the basketball he had thrown.
Then the young boy tirelessly started practicing again. Su Hui dragged the video forward a little.
The formal interview began, and the volume of the video was a bit low. Su Hui, with his impaired hearing in one ear, had to increase the volume slightly.
“Are you born in Wanhu City?”
“Yes, I have been living here since I was a child.”
“Do you like it here?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Are you willing to live here then?”
“Not willing, but what can I do? We’re still underage, not capable of changing everything.”
“What are your hobbies…”
“Do you feel any difference between your life and that of children in other cities?”
“Of course, it’s very different. My family lives in the building behind me. When it rains, the water sometimes seeps into the house, making half of the room wet. Every day after school, I have to go far away to fetch water and carry it up to the eighth floor. I once suggested to my family that since these buildings are all empty, why don’t we move to a lower place? But they objected. They said that only that one room originally belonged to us. They only live in their own house.”
“Do you want to improve your living environment?”
“That’s natural. I hope these buildings can be completed. Sometimes I can’t understand why my home is different from others’. But then I think that I’m probably much stronger than many children who can’t eat, can’t dress properly, and can’t go to school. At least I’ve made it to high school.”
Su Hui quietly watched the video. The boy in front of him was tall with bright eyes. He spoke a bit quickly and showed a hint of shyness when facing the camera.
“Do you have any wishes you want to fulfill?”
“My wish is to join the city basketball team. That way, I can probably change my life. Although I
‘m not on the school team now, I still train every day.”
“Do you have a high chance of achieving it?”
The young boy fell silent. “Then let me change my wish. I hope I can work during the summer vacation and buy a pair of good basketball shoes.”
The camera moved downward, capturing the basketball shoes he was wearing. The edges of the shoes had already cracked. In a formal game, he would stumble wearing such shoes. More importantly, a pair of shoes like these would subject him to ridicule from his opponents.
Upon seeing this, Su Hui didn’t rush to open other videos. He asked, “Was a pair of sneakers found at the first crime scene?”
Qiao Ze, who had been at the scene before, remembered it vividly. “Yes, it was a brand new pair of white sneakers. They shouldn’t be cheap.”
Su Hui closed his eyes, and in his mind, he saw the scene of Kong Tao’s death.
The raging fire engulfed him, trapping him within it. He struggled desperately to break free but couldn’t.
Those sneakers were the bait the killer used on Kong Tao. In exchange for those shoes, he cooperated in this performance and ultimately paid with his own life.
Su Hui then opened Mo Xiuxiu’s interview video. The girl in the footage had light makeup on, dressed in a beautiful dance costume with long water sleeves. She played a short piece of music on her phone and performed a few dance moves in the open space of the ruins. When she swung her water sleeves, the long sleeves brushed across the gray-blue sky.
Then she effortlessly performed a split.
The girl’s posture was graceful, her body flexible, and her dance exuded a kind of spirituality.
Su Hui skipped the dance part and proceeded to the interview. The questions were similar to those asked to Kong Tao.
“Were you born in Wanhu City?”
“Do you like it here?”
“No, I think no one would like it here.” Mo Xiuxiu’s face showed an expression as if she was discussing the most annoying and disgusting thing. She tried to suppress her emotions but still became excited.
“We met some people during the interview who said they liked it here.”
Mo Xiuxiu raised her head and pointed out mercilessly, “That’s a lie. Sometimes the children here tell lies. It’s one of the reasons we can survive. People like money, good looks, delicious food, big houses, and long lives. No one wants to be born into hardship. You adults should understand all of this, right?”
“What are your hobbies?”
“Dancing. I love dancing.”
“What kind of dance?”
“All kinds. I practice along with some videos.”
“Do you have any wishes you want to fulfill?”
“I hope that one day I can be a true leading lady.”
“In advertisements or videos?”
“Either works. Even documentaries would do. As long as I can capture the attention of the masses. I like standing in the center of the stage. I feel like I’m lacking an opportunity…”
Su Hui finished watching the interviews of these two individuals and randomly opened a few others. He frowned and listened carefully to several segments, then said to Qiao Ze, “I think someone selected these children based on their answers in these videos. They then used their thoughts and desires to entice them.”
Qiao Ze asked, “Selected? What were the selection criteria?”
Su Hui lowered his head and contemplated for a moment. He was trying to get closer to these victims. “To select those children who are dissatisfied with their current situation and want to change their lives.”
Then Su Hui searched for another video and finally found Tao Yingxu’s.
Su Hui was particularly curious about this person’s psychology. If his and Lu Junchi’s deductions were correct, he might be the mastermind behind this live broadcast.
Tao Yingxu was a very handsome boy, exactly like what people would imagine as a school heartthrob. The only imperfection was a red birthmark on his forehead.
That birthmark was distinctive, making it hard to ignore. It looked like several pink petals overlapping each other.
Su Hui couldn’t quite determine if the birthmark affected his appearance or added a touch of charm to his face.
Tao Yingxu’s voice was indeed very pleasant to listen to.
The video was shot against the backdrop of a giant tree, which was in full bloom with white flowers. The blossoms adorned the young boy’s head.
Tao Yingxu recited a few poems under the tree and ended with some words he particularly liked.
“I see even the humblest flower has thoughts hidden in places tears cannot reach.”
Su Hui remembered that these were lines from a poem by Wordsworth. The interview then began.
“Were you born in Wanhu City?”
“Yes, I was born here, but I have also seen the bustling world outside.”
“Do you like it here?”
This answer was different from most children. He was probably one of the “other people” mentioned by the interviewer and also someone Mo Xiuxiu refuted as a liar. But now, Tao Yingxu’s face was full of sincerity.
Su Hui continued watching, his head lowered.
“We rarely hear this answer. Can you tell us what aspects you like about this place?”
Tao Yingxu said, “I feel that there are many beautiful places here, many good people, and lots of delicious food. It’s just that there are still some things lacking at the moment, which makes life very difficult for people.”
“What do you think is missing?”
Tao Yingxu fell silent for a moment and then smiled, saying, “Attention.”
He explained, “This place exists within Huadu, the most prosperous metropolis in the world. This actual situation leads to many people not being able to see it. You might find this idea a bit strange, but it’s a fact. Although it’s connected to the outside, people out there don’t know what it’s like here, how people live… There are many misconceptions about this place.”
“Do you feel like you’re not being valued?”
Tao Yingxu nodded. “People living here are like invisible beings… I’m very grateful that you’re willing to come here and shoot this documentary.”
Su Hui felt that Tao Yingxu was indeed different from the other children. His thinking was more organized. Perhaps it was because of this that he had the opportunity to hold a position in this production crew and help out.
And precisely because of this, he could understand those children, manipulate them, gain their trust.
The interviewer remained silent for a moment and said, “We believe that someone needs to do this kind of documentation. We try our best to present the real lives of the people here in a more beautiful way. However, this type of documentary has always struggled to gain views.”
It was a self-deprecating remark from the creators. No one would enjoy watching such uneventful city records.
Completing such a shoot, even breaking even was difficult. The directors, production assistants, and everyone involved were basically operating at a loss.
Such documentaries were destined to have low viewership.
People already had enough hardships and busyness in their own lives. Watching these things was like confronting their own difficulties, and some people watched these documentaries just to seek a sense of superiority.
Tao Yingxu expressed understanding, saying, “Life’s pace is too fast nowadays. Even if it manages to catch people’s attention for a while, it can’t last. However, I think it’s remarkable that you are willing to do this. Perhaps it will explode when the editing is completed and it’s aired.”
Su Hui frowned, thinking that Tao Yingxu’s words had a hidden meaning. Maybe at that time, he was already planning the whole scheme.
Today, both Huadu and even the entire country of Huaxia were paying attention to Wanhu City.
This place, this huge unfinished building, left a deep impression in people’s hearts.
A place that had never been given much attention suddenly took the spotlight.
Tonight, the protagonist was not the executioner, nor those children, but Wanhu City.
Tao Yingxu’s interview was one of the longest Su Hui had watched. By the end, a police car had already entered the hospital’s parking lot.
Compared to other hospitals in the city, this hospital was much smaller, and the main building was much shorter.
The video played until the end.
“What is your wish?”
Tao Yingxu turned around and looked behind him. “I hope the slums can truly disappear from this city. The row of unfinished buildings behind me can be rebuilt. But, this is a difficult thing to achieve… Due to some historical reasons, no one is willing to take over this place.”
“Do you think your wish can come true?”
Tao Yingxu smiled, his smile was beautiful, and there was a dimple on one side of his mouth when he raised the corner of his lips. “How would I know if I don’t try? Someone has to make an effort to do this.”
The camera of the interview froze on this shot.
“Who was the person who kidnapped you? What did they look like?”
“I… I didn’t see him. It should be a man…”
“Where did he kidnap you?”
“In an alley not far from my home…”
“What about the time?”
“After school, around four o’clock.”
“Were there no people around at that time? Didn’t you call for help?”
“Someone suddenly appeared from behind and knocked me unconscious… I didn’t know anything. When I woke up, my hands and feet were already tied, and I was sitting there…”
Su Hui and Qiao Ze arrived at the hospital ward where two detectives from the Criminal Investigation Division were questioning Mo Xiuxiu.
They entered the room, and Su Hui sat on a chair opposite the hospital bed.
The girl lowered her head, twisting the blanket with her fingers, and there was an oxygen tube under her nose.
After listening for a while, Su Hui realized that everything she was saying was a lie. He spoke up, “You’ve done enough. Let us ask her.”
The two young police officers agreed and walked out, closing the door behind them.
Mo Xiuxiu had recently finished receiving treatment. Her complexion was still pale, and she had changed into a patient gown.
The young girl looked curiously at Su Hui, the consultant in front of her, and the small police officer next to him. Both of them looked young, especially Su Hui. He seemed like a gust of wind could blow him away. He didn’t resemble the image of a police officer she had in mind.
Su Hui opened his mouth, his voice slightly hoarse, and went straight to the point, “You don’t need to tell any more lies. Who is the person behind this plan?”
Mo Xiuxiu was momentarily stunned, then furrowed her brow, “What plan?”
Su Hui stared at her intently, “The plan for the live broadcast of death, or do you have any other proprietary terms to refer to it?”
Mo Xiuxiu took a deep breath, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“What I’m telling you is that tonight’s live broadcast was not a performance, and it has already caused two deaths. You were also moments away from drowning.”
“Somebody died?” Mo Xiuxiu sat up abruptly on the bed. Until then, she had only felt herself submerged in water, feeling drowsy and losing consciousness. When she opened her eyes again, she was in the hospital.
She thought everything was going according to plan, that fainting was just for the sake of realism because she had actually survived.
But now, the person in front of her was telling her that she had come close to death?
Su Hui continued, “Time is of the essence. I hope you can tell me who was the mastermind behind this plan.”
Mo Xiuxiu lowered her gaze, hesitating.
Certified member of the IIO(International Introverts Organization), PhD holder in Overthinking and Ghosting, Spokesperson for BOBAH(Benefits of Being a Homebody), Founder of SFA(Salted Fish Association), Brand Ambassador for Couch Potato fall line Pajama set.