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Even if she had already mentally prepared herself for this, the sudden loud noise still managed to make Ju Mu’er jump in surprise. Instinctively, her voice rose as she called out, “Second Master!”
A big, warm palm instantly caught hold of her hand, and Ju Mu’er felt her heart begin to calm down. This time, in a softer voice, she called again, “Second Master.”
Long Er shot out from behind the screen, clasping her hands tighter as he did so. When he heard her call out for him again, he replied, “It’s me, don’t worry.”
The original plan had been for Ju Mu’er to act at her own discretion. She was supposed to sit around the foyer for a while, giving the culprit a chance to spot her. Then, it was up to her to think of a way to give the culprit an opening for him to act. This way, he would be able to approach her and deal with her without drawing the attention of anyone else.
The locations they had previously agreed on, included this house in which the murder had taken place, as well as a narrow alleyway behind the inn. However, considering the possibilities of something unexpected happening, they had arranged for plainclothes informants and constables to be stationed at the entrance of the inn, the foyer as well as scattered across the courtyards.
Initially, one of the constables had been stationed here, and in the event, anything wrong happened, he would have been able to assist. This was why Ju Mu’er had been pleasantly surprised when she heard Long Er’s voice. For her, there was nothing that could make her feel more secure than having Master Long Er here as opposed to some random constable.
“He opened and closed the door, but he did not leave the house right?” Ju Mu’er asked Long Er.
“That’s right.” Long Er lifted his eyes as he locked on to Shanzi, almost as if he were glaring daggers at him.
“How did he plan on killing me?”
“He has a scarf in his hand, he probably wanted to cut off your air supply, and suffocate you.”
“That way I would not have been able to call for help, and I would have died.”
On the side, Shanzi was out of his wits with fear. His heart was thumping so fast that it felt like at anytime, it might jump out of his chest. He had planned on catching her unawares and suffocating Ju Mu’er. Then he would throw her body out the window, and make it look like her cause of death was falling from a great height. Then, the prefectural magistrate would assume that she had committed suicide out of guilt for her crime, or it might have been because she was unprepared to face the terror and hardship of prison, and unable to reconcile this fact, she had been ‘forced’ into suicide. If all went according to plan, then his lordship the prefectural magistrate would subsequently close the case, in order to avoid people gossiping about it.
He felt that such an opportunity was indeed a rare and valuable one, not only was there no one around to see this, this lady was also blind herself, and would not be able to identify him later. He still had a chance to make all that happened right again, so he needed to act now.
He had heard her saying that she wanted to that visit that house, so before she could move, he had sneakily unlocked the house. Then, he had kept on eye on her, silently watching as she felt her way upstairs. Once he saw how she was able to find her way to the 6th Room of TianZi, his intent on killing her grew even stronger.
He waited for a while, then decided to look for a window of opportunity—when fewer people were around—so that he could deal with her. No one knew that there was someone inside here, so this was the best location for him right now. However, it soon turned out that she had locked the door, and any move he made, might surprise her and cause her to cry out loudly. Thus, he had knocked on the door, then he talked to her. After that, he had pretended to leave the place; he could not use a knife, because it was still daytime, and if he got blood on his robes it would be a hassle to clean, so he was left with the only option of suffocating her.
To his surprise, just as he was approaching her after rearranging the grip on the piece of cloth, this Second Master Long came charging at him from out of nowhere.
If it had been an ordinary constable, Shanzi might have tried to put up a fight; but upon seeing that it was Second Master Long, he did not dare to retaliate. He knew that Second Master Long was more than capable of chopping off his hand, and right now, all he could think about was the possibility of Second Master Long ending him there and then, and how likely it was that the constabulary would not hold him accountable for that.
Shanzi was extremely frightened, but now, as Second Master Long stepped out from the house, he barely spared him a glance. Even that blind girl ignored him, and the two of them began to talk amongst themselves.
Shanzi’s heart seemed to skip a beat, then he gritted his teeth and ran toward the doorway. Just as he opened the door, two steel blades immediately found his throat. Without much effort, the constables standing guard easily subdued Shanzi.
The constables frog-marched him inside, and soon Qiu Ruoming arrived. Taking a chair, he calmly sat down on it, his domineering aura permeating throughout the room. When he saw this, Shanzi knew that there was no hope of getting out of this alive.”
“My lord.” Ju Mu’er softly called, “May your humble citizen briefly touch his hands?”
Again? Long Er could not help but feel quite unhappy at this development, and with a furrowed brow he sent Shanzi a scathing look.
It was no surprise to see Qiu Ruoming agree to this, and soon Ju Mu’er was on her feet, but she still had no idea of which direction to go. The ruckus just now had drawn a crowd of people inside, and so she was having some trouble discerning where Shanzi was.
Another constable walked over, as if to lead the way for Ju Mu’er, but she saw nothing. By then, she had already reached her hand out in the direction of Long Er, her gentle plea for help audible as she said, “Second Master.”
Long Er looked at her, and inside, he categorized this as behavior that showed how much Ju Mu’er depended on him. She did not just want any random person, she had specifically asked for his help. With a growing sense of happiness in his heart, the volatile matter of his future wife touching the hands of another man was completely forgotten and his hands immediately reached out for hers.
Long Er had large palms, and when he held the delicate-sized hands of Ju Mu’er, they fit together like parts of a mould. Deep inside, he was delighted to bits at this, but on the outside, his face was as impassive as stone. Still, he stoically offered her his arm as he led her all the way to where Shanzi was.
A constable grasped Shanzi’s hands and directed them toward her. Ju Mu’er was extremely careful as she touched his hands, in fact she kept feeling them for quite a while, time slowly dragging on as Long Er’s brow began to furrow deeper and deeper. Just as he was about to crack and pull her hands away, Ju Mu’er suddenly let go of Shanzi’s hands. This time, she finally said, “He’s the one.”
By now, Shanzi was trembling like a leaf, and did not dare to say anything. Ju Mu’er took two steps back from him, and while facing Shanzi, she loudly declared, “My lord, he’s the one.”
As she said this, her face seemed to glow, her delight and excitement apparent to see. Long Er could not help himself as he pulled her toward him, while she in turn grabbed hold of his hand, excitedly saying, “Second Master, he’s the one! We’ve finally caught him, it’s definitely him!”
What followed next was much less complicated, Qiu Ruoming took control of the situation and immediately got to work—questioning him. Shanzi seemed to have been drained of any resistance, and he soon confessed everything.
It was soon revealed that Shanzi had racked up a large amount of gambling debt, and was facing pressure from the gambling parlor to pay his debts. Afraid of dying, he had bought a dagger for self-defense purposes, but he knew that the money he owed would have to be returned. In the midst of his worries, he ended up crossing paths with Zhu Fu.
That day, Zhu Fu had entered the inn with a thunderous expression. He had not said much, but soon began to drown himself in liquor. Shanzi had politely tried to intervene, but Zhu Fu lost his temper and had retaliated by pulling out his purse while saying that he had the money to drink all of this. The moment Shanzi caught sight of the silver, his mind clouded over with greed, and felt that this was a rare opportunity.
He spared no effort in trying to intoxicate Zhu Fu, and plied him with alcohol. Then, he had tried to convince him that he was intoxicated and had better spend the night at the inn. At the time, Zhu Fu had aimlessly mumbled his agreement, mentioning something about not wanting to go back and see that woman. Thus, without much trouble, Shanzi managed to bring Zhu Fu to one of the rooms.
Zhu Fu soon fell fast asleep, but even as he slept, he did not loosen his hold on his purse, and because Shanzi had no way of telling just how drunk he was, he did not dare act rashly. All he could do was wait until he fell into a deep sleep, then sneak back in and steal his purse.
Shanzi returned to the foyer to continue with his tasks, but inside he had already begun to plan the next steps to take. Thus he had patiently waited for Da Hu to lead the guest upstairs, before he passed Da Hu a glass of water, having already added in some powder to drug him. This had been given to him by one of the helpers from the gambling house, the person had mentioned that they regularly used it, and that it could cause a person to feel extremely sleepy and muddled, but they would not fall unconscious, so using it was quite fool-proof.
What happened next was Da Hu quickly grew very sleepy, and Shanzi made use of this opportunity to put out the lamps along the corridor. He had already prepared a set of the clothes usually worn by the errands boy that usually delivered the sesame oil. At the time, while transporting the goods, the sesame oil errand boy had taken off his clothes for ease of working, and because he left in a hurry, the clothes ended up being left behind. In Shanzi’s mind, once he had changed into this outfit, even if a passerby noticed his silhouette, they would not think it was one of attendants from this inn.
However, just as he was changing his clothes and about to make his move, one of the guests—Liang Ping, came looking for him. He mentioned that he was feeling hungry, and also pointed out that the lanterns along the corridor were out. Shanzi hastily tried to devise a plan of action as he led Liang Ping into the kitchens. There was some food in the kitchens, so as hungry as he was, Liang Ping soon began digging into the food. As he watched this unfold, Shanzi was suddenly struck by an idea, and told Liang Ping to continue eating here, while he went to the storage room to get some more lanterns. Liang Ping signalled his agreement, while Shanzi used this opportunity to swiftly change clothes and crept into the room of Zhu Fu.
Even in utter darkness, Shanzi was quick to find the purse, but to his surprise, Zhu Fu had begun to stir from his sleep. In shock, Shanzi hastily drew out his dagger, but Zhu Fu was already on his feet, screaming and shouting for help as he ran to the door.
Everyone was familiar with what happened next, Ju Mu’er had been passing by, and upon noticing that she was blind and could not see anything, Shanzi instantly decided to make use of her. He planned to create a scene of questionable interaction between Zhu Fu and this random woman, ending in the woman’s loss of control which caused her to stab him to death. However, his arrogance and over-confidence in this plan was the beginning of his downfall. He chucked a few pieces of silver into the purse and placed it back beside the head of the bed, trying to conceal the true motive of his crime.
Then, he stripped himself of the bloodied clothes, changed his clothes, and with a new lantern in hand, he went back to look for Liang Ping—all this done without catching anyone’s attention. He led Liang Ping back to his guestroom, thinking to himself that he could lead this person to uncover the scene of the crime. This way, no one would look at him as a potential suspect.
However, when they reached, to his surprise he saw Lu Sixian standing there. Instantly Shanzi felt that even the Heavens were helping him. Later on, he had burned the bloodied clothes and his shoes, making sure to leave no evidence behind. He had thought that there would be no more threat but suddenly he heard news of the bailiffs looking for a man of medium-build, with a scar on his hand. Luckily, no one had yet to suspect him, and as an attendant, he always had a piece of cloth over his hand, plus no one usually cared to look at his hands, and luckily he continued unnoticed. He had been quite puzzled at what had happened, but then he found out that it was the doing of the blind girl he had failed to kill, and that she could identify the murderer...
All the details came to light, and Qiu Ruo Ming had successfully captured the true culprit. He ordered the rest of the bailiffs to transport him back to the government office, and promised Long Er to release Shopkeeper Lu as soon as he returned.
Ju Mu’er was utterly delighted, and her face was constantly in a smile. Long Er led her out of the inn, and matched her slow pace as the duo walked towards the carriage waiting for them.
She just kept on smiling, and as the wind blew across her face, the hair by her ear got whipped up by the wind, revealing her earlobe, which was as round as a pearl and as white as jade. Long Er saw this, and he could not hold in his urge to squeeze it, asking as he did so, “Are you really that happy?”
The force of his squeeze made Ju Mu’er shiver, but since he was her fiancee in name, it would not do to have her reprimand him about his actions, and she was truly overjoyed right now, so she nodded her head replying, “Very.”
“What are you so happy about?”
“Quite a few things actually.” Ju Mu’er calmly listed them all out, “The wrong against Shopkeeper Lu has been righted, and the real culprit will face his punishment; furthermore, Boss Zhu’s soul will now be able to rest in peace. Oh and another thing, I can finally stay at home again.”
Soon she stopped talking, and Long Er was surprised, why was there no mention of him?
“Don’t you feel glad, that I protected you?” Either way, he had to be a part of anything that made her happy.
“I do.” Ju Mu’er smoothly took the hint, and quickly agreed with his question.
“So… Do you have anything else you want to say to me?”
“Mmm…” Ju Mu’er was now feeling a bit put on the spot, if she were to say “Thank you Second Master”—that sounded a bit distant, and if she were to say “Oh how kind of you Second Master”—that was too disgusting for her. If that’s the case, it would be better just to ask a question right… “Second Master, you had to crawl through the window to enter just now right?”
Long Er was caught off guard by this, once again, she was talking about something he had not anticipated. What did she mean by crawling through the window? As a word “crawling” was such a graceless adjective, he had obviously entered the house by “handsomely” coming in through the window.
“Had the window been closed shut?”
Long Er took a moment to recall the events of that night, yes the window had been closed shut, so how had he managed to ‘effortlessly’ open it?
“Truth be told, when I was younger, I used to hear stories of how those flying thieves would force open windows and sneak in… I never really understood, how did they do that? Was it by arching their bodies and lying flat as they forced the windows open?”
Arching, prostrating himself… Was it too hard for her to use more cultured adjectives?
Long Er’s face turned a complex mix of colours as he processed this. How on earth had his fiancee managed to imagine him “elegantly” climbing in through a window to protect her? Long Er instantly decided that he would not waste anymore time on this question.
“Second Master, are you still here?” When no one replied her, Ju Mu’er halted and turned around to ask this.
“I’m here.” Long Er huffed as he turned her around. He was right beside her, what was she doing looking behind her?
“Oh~” Ju Mu’er hurriedly tried to appease him with a smile, but Long Er was already squeezing her earlobe as if to vent his frustration.
Her shoulder shied away, and Ju Mu’er caught his hand with hers. Then, in a soft tone, she sweetly said, “Second Master, when you appeared to protect me just now… I was really happy.”
Involuntarily, Long Er gulped in surprise, this little lady, t-this little lady! Was that just a slip of her tongue or did she say that on purpose?
What he wanted to hear from her, she didn’t want to say; and just when he thought she was not going to say anything, she uttered that line in such a saccharine tone, almost as if she was purposely trying to irk him.
She was doing this on purpose!
Long Er gripped her hand tighter, what a devious little lady, she must be doing this on purpose!