Chapter 085 Guess the Murderer
Gu Shenwei was at a loss and didn't have any clue about what was going on. He was just a killer's disciple who had taken on an assassination request. Now, he had to prove his innocence by finding another murderer.
Tie Hanfeng must have spent lots of silver and used a great favour to create a chance of redemption for Gu Shenwei. The cost must have been so high that it seemed impossible for a killer's disciple to pay it back.
Gu Shenwei had mixed feelings about the whole situation and didn't speak again until they reached the north gate of the city.
Someone was already there, waiting for the Master and disciple.
Tie Hanfeng wore a protective smile wore on his red face as he heartedly greeted that person and pulled his disciple over to bow to the patrol commandant.
The patrol commandant was a martial officer of the Jade City who commanded one hundred subordinates and had a responsibility to patrol his territory and seize any thieves that he found. However, the territory under his control was very small. The southern Jade City had all kinds of people, good and evil, and could not be claimed by anybody. Additionally, no one dared to control the area that extended from outside the north gate of the city to Golden Roc Castle. Even at the northern Jade City, many rich people and nobles lived there and didn't take the patrol commandant seriously.
The current commandant was surnamed Zhong, with a first name Heng. He came from the Central Plains and Tie Hanfeng called him ‘Commandant Zhong‘ or ‘Lord Zhong‘.
The commandant Zhong Heng wore the plain clothes of a military officer. He stood tall and straight with an appearance of a scholar that had a thin beard. A sabre with a Central Plains style hung from his waist, which was longer, wider, and slightly bent when compared with the narrow sabre of Golden Roc Castle.
An intimidate feeling spontaneously arose in Gu Shenwei's heart. He was very familiar these types of military personnel. When he lived in the Central Plains, he saw many military officers visit his home everyday. 'Commandant' was not an official title in the Central Plains, so judging from the clothes, it was probably an inferior officer of the fifth or sixth level.
Zhong Heng didn't talk to the teenager who was suspected of killing an important official. Instead, he casually chatted with Tie Hanfeng for a bit before cutting to the point, "What are you planning to do, brother Hanfeng?"
"Who could be better than Lord Zhong at finding a hidden murderer in the city? We master and disciple are planning on just following you to learn something new and also to be hostages for three days, haha."
The two of them rambled on for a long time, and their conversation moved in a roundabout way, avoiding an unspoken about topic the entire time. Almost half of the day had passed, but they still didn't even enter the gate of the city. Gu Shenwei really wanted to scold them, but he restrained himself as status was low.
"Well, I can't guarantee that I can solve the case, but the formalities are always necessary, so we should go to the Ju Palace and make an explanation first."
The Stone Country was a small country located in the Western Regions and the members of the royal lineage were surnamed Ju. Ten years ago, two princes escaped and came here because of a palace revolution. They wanted to borrow some soldiers to regain their kingship but hadn't saved up enough money. However, good luck fell into their laps from sky as the King suddenly died without leaving any children behind. In the end, ministers from of two different parties fought each other until they finally decided to welcome their old King's sons back.
Ju Gaotai, the older prince who had just learned that his status as crown prince was being reinstated ten days ago, had suddenly died in a prostitute’s house in southern Jade City.
The so-called Ju Palace was in fact just a small mansion. It even seemed crowded because the two princes as well as their entire family lived inside.
The younger prince avoided meeting them with a random excuse, so the one who greeted them was a minister who came to invite the prince home and was a bodyguard of the older prince.
The minister was a good conversationalist and he happily made small talk with Zhong Heng and Tie Hanfeng about irrelevant topics. Gu Shenwei suddenly felt that he had went back to the Central Plains and was sitting amongst his father and other fellow officers.
Although the minister had appropriately expressed his condolence for the death of the older prince, everybody could see that he didn't have any deep feelings towards the older prince. He had come from the Stone Country in a hurry and had only spent several days with the future King. In the past around ten years ago, the prince was still a little kid. So it was no wonder that he didn't have a strong attachment to the older prince.
The truly sorrowful one was the bodyguard, who was also surnamed Ju. He came from a branch of the royal family and was armed with a bent sabre of the Western Regions. As the bodyguard of the prince, he felt that the assassination of the prince was his fault, so he coldly glared at Gu Shenwei as if he would pull out his sabre and avenge his lord at any time.
After talking for about two hours, the only conclusion that they had reached was that the older prince Ju Gaotai had went out alone the night before yesterday. At that time, there were only three days left before he would start moving back to his own country. As such, he wanted to say farewell to the ten years of his life that he had spent in exile. However, it all changed when the sad news came yesterday at noon.
"Xu Guanren had a profound friendship with the prince. What a pity, what a pity." 1
The minister sighed before making a sincere and sorrowful speech that reminisced about the two's friendships as well as the connection between the Stone Country and the Meng family. The speech was so moving that it almost sounded as if he had followed the prince all these years.
Gu Shenwei listened for a long time before he finally understood that ‘Xu Guanren’ was actually Big Belly Buddha.
Tie Hanfeng took advantage of a lull in the conversation to ask about the matter of checking the corpse. The minister put on a sheepish expression as he explained that although the prince hadn't yet ascended the throne, he was still the lord of a country. His remains had been put in the coffin and it was taboo to reopen it. Finally, Zhong Heng guaranteed Tie Hanfeng with his official title as collateral that he had checked the corpse personally and found that the killing blow was a single cut. The wound was located on the right side of the neck and was very small, all of which fit the characteristics of the narrow sabre used by those of Golden Roc Castle.
With Zhong Heng's guarantee, Tie Hanfeng didn’t insist on personally seeing the corpse. Gu Shenwei thought that Lame Tie had made a mistake and that it was imperative to check the corpse personally, but he was not qualified to to speak at the moment.
When the three were about to take their leave, the aggrieved bodyguard Ju suddenly said, "Lord Zhong, you do not believe this kid, right? I know that the Golden Roc Castle said that they had nothing to do with the murder, but if they want to get this kid set free, then even if the Stone Country is small, we can still gather several thousands of elite troops."
Zhong Heng tried to crack jokes in embarrassment while Tie Hanfeng rushed to say, "Hey hey, even if Golden Roc Castle really wanted to clear the charge, we would not trouble Lord Zhong. Although your country has several thousands of elite soldiers, go ask how many of them are not under the Golden Roc Castle's flag?"
The Golden Roc Castle was a killer's organization, meanwhile it supported many mercenaries who served as the armies for the countries of the Western Regions. Thus, Tie Hanfeng's words were not all false intimidation.
Upon hearing these words, bodyguard Ju's face turned as red as Tie Hanfeng's. The minister saw the tense situation and hurriedly walked over to bodyguard Ju to try to resolve the dispute.
When the three of them left the palace, the atmosphere was not as harmonious as when they had first entered.
Zhong Heng invited the Master and disciple to his office to have some tea and snacks. Seeing that dusk was fast approaching, they finally began discussing the main issue. At this point, Gu Shenwei couldn't wait anymore and he threw out his opinion, "Those two killed the prince. The minister didn't come to welcome the prince back. He came back to kill his lord, and the one who made the move was that bodyguard. After the assassination, I dropped a counterfeit sabre in the room. Anybody could have picked it up and killed someone."
The commandant Zhong Heng carefully looked at the teenager for the first time without looking down upon him because of his low status. "Your idea is bold, but why would the minister joined hands with the bodyguard to kill the prince? You know, this prince was going to be a King soon, and it wasn't even enough time to please him."
"Because of the younger prince." Gu Shenwei had already thought about the issue for a long time and had gradually felt more and more certain that his guess was right as time went on. "If the older brother dies, the younger brother will be qualified to be a King, so he bribed the minister and bodyguard to murder their lord. The reason why the two agreed is because the contribution of helping a lord to seize the throne is bigger than welcoming a lord back home."
Gu Shenwei looked at the murder with the way he was trained at Golden Roc Castle and felt everything was crystal clear.
Tie Hanfeng sneered with disapproval, but Zhong Heng was interested and started treating this teenager who was 'full of killing aura' seriously. "Considering the matter as it stands, what you said is somehow reasonable. However, there was one thing that you got wrong. According to the Stone Country's custom, a royal bodyguard can only have a single lord for his entire life. The moment the older prince died, the bodyguard Ju was destined to guard his tomb for the rest of his life and never return to the palace."
"The rule can be changed once this younger prince becomes King …"
Zhong Heng shook his head, "No no, you don't understand the custom here. The King's power is not as big as you've imagined. It's completely different from the imperial houses of the Central Plains. Even the King himself can't protect himself if he breaks from custom."
Gu Shenwei had lived for several years in the Western Regions and had heard about some local customs from his father. What Zhong Heng said didn't seem exaggerated, and Tie Hanfeng also nodded to agree with his analysis.
""Then the younger prince was in league with the minister, and the murderer was somebody else." Gu Shenwei quickly adjusted his thinking.
This time it was Tie Hanfeng who refuted him, saying, "Dummy, are you awake? We're not here to find out who was the real killer, we're here to prove that the third person was not killed by you."
Finding the real murderer and getting rid of the suspicion seemed to be one thing, but Gu Shenwei still understood his Master's meaning, "That pair of brother and sister can prove I have only killed two people."
"They're lost." Zhong Heng frowned, as if he was also puzzled, "I have sent someone to search through all of southern Jade City, but they just vanished. We couldn't find anybody, alive or dead."
"No one has seen them ever since Xu Xiaoyi brought you away from the tavern. I can guarantee that."
Tie Hanfeng also made a promise that the two siblings were nowhere to be seen, which surprised Gu Shenwei. He had noticed Tie Hanfeng's popularity in southern Jade City; he just didn't expect that Tie Hanfeng had already quietly investigated the situation.
It seemed as if the case had already hit a dead end. Although Gu Shenwei had a suspect on mind, he didn't have any evidence to arrest him.
“Come, it ‘s almost time. Let’ s look around and ask someone, maybe we can still turn this case around. It would be best if we can come across the two little devils. If the truth is what you said, then they are still the best evidence."
Zhong Heng called two policemen over and he led the way in the front with a lantern. They walked out of the office and headed for southern Jade City until they finally arrived at the famous 'retention alley'.
There streets on the sides of retention alley were crammed with more than a hundred small two and three floored houses. Here, the best and most famous prostitutes of Jade City all gathered, and Xu Yanwei was one of them.
Tie Hanfeng's eyes lit up as even he hadn’t come to this place too often. "See this house? Xiao Fengchai lives there. Tut tut, she's an amazing woman, but she's so expensive that she makes people want to kill themselves. We had an affair before, but look at that ugly old hen at the door. She acts as if she didn't know me."
Zhong Heng smiled without saying anything, and Gu Shenwei pretended he hadn't heard anything.
Xu Yanwei's small house was as messy as yesterday morning. The corpses had been removed, but the bloodstains were still there. Gu Shenwei could still remember where and what position Big Belly Buddha and that bodyguard had died in. There was a third bloodstain on the bed, where Xu Yanwei sat when Gu Shenwei was killing.
"1000 liang silver was once placed here."
Gu Shenwei pointed at that empty low table.
"It's gone. There was nothing when the policemen arrived. Maybe it was taken away by the brother and sister, or the murderer went off with it."
Or it was taken away by the policemen who arrived first, Gu Shenwei thought.
Big Belly Buddha had managed five prostitutes and they all lived nearby. The two policemen followed the order to bring in the remaining four. They were not willing to come upstairs, so the questioning took place downstairs.
"My lord, it's really not a good time to talk to us. We're about to receive more guests, and even a short delay is a big loss," a pungent prostitute snapped. Big Belly Buddha's remains were scarcely cold, and yet they'd already found a new lord and continued their business.
Zhong Heng asked the four for their names first. The names were nothing special but were something like Ying, Yan, Jin, and Yu. Gu Shenwei noticed that they didn’t follow Big Belly Buddha's rule to call themselves of the surname Xu. 2
Then the room became turbulent as old hens and maids flooded in to urge them to leave like tidal waves, saying that either the 'prince' had come or the 'king' was going to leave. This made the four prostitutes more distracted and their answers quickly became more incoherent.
A prince from Stone Country? Yes, Ju Gaotai often came here to play but I haven't seen him for several days. Wow, he's really a prince; Yesterday morning? We were all sleeping, and the servants were also taking a rest. It was too early and there were not too many people out in the street. The brother and sister surnamed Xu? Who knows, maybe they were already killed and thrown into the wildness.
Amid the turmoil, Zhong Heng and Tie Hanfeng didn't find any valuable clues, but a prostitute pretended to trip into Gu Shenwei. She quickly whispered into his ear, "Fourth night period, come alone."
That prostitute was named Shen Yanshi, and she lived in the room opposite of Xu Yanwei.Translator's note: Guan Ren literally translates to "people from the government." It is a title similar to Gongzi, but it was more commonly used as 'husband' in old times. ↩ Translator’s note: Literally speaking, Ying, Yan, Jin, and Yu mean Warbler, Swallow, Gold, and Silver. ↩