Chapter 28 Wind Crane: Stratagem
The fact that just the sight of the hairpin was enough to throw Wang Ji into such a state of panic was already suspicious enough. The servant came out of the room carrying the tray and the hairpin, and saw the four of them clustered together looking into the room. He was about to call out for help when Xue Yiqi dashed up to him immediately and covered his mouth. Muffling the servant’s protests, Xue Yiqi dragged him into the corner, where he was quickly surrounded by the others.
Feng Luodi questioned him immediately. “Did your young master return late at night 8 days ago? How did he look that night when he returned?”
The servant looked to be 16 or 17 years of age, and had soft boyish features. His eyes avoided looking at the rest. “Who are you? Why are you in the Administrator’s household?”
Feng Luodi took out her badge and waved it in front of him. “We are from the yamen, on orders to investigate the murder in Moonglade 8 days ago. Tell us what you know, or you will be charged with obstruction of the investigation.”
The servant bowed his head. “Nothing happened. Young Master never left home that day; you must be mistaken.”
Feng Luodi leaned over and took the hairpin from the servant. “This hairpin belonged to one of the handmaidens who were murdered in cold blood. Your young master was spooked when he saw it, do you not suspect anything at all?”
The servant shuddered, and lowered his head even more. “I dare not slander my masters.”
Xue Yiqi narrowed his eyes. He is definitely hiding something from us! Seems like we will need to use something more forceful to wring the truth from him.
Xue Yiqi stepped forward to intervene, but Jiang Moyin stopped him, wanting to see how Feng Luodi would continue from here. She lifted her skirts, and bent down to be level with the servant’s face, speaking softly but firmly.
“Let me guess: 8 days ago, your young master went out late at night, not needing you to follow along. He returned late at night without his robe, his inner tunic splattered with blood. You panicked, but he merely instructed you to dispose of the tunic and barred you from speaking of it to anyone.”
She continued slowly. “You have been updating him about the murder at Moonglade the past few days, and his appetite and sleep has gotten worse. You know it isn’t right to do so, but you find him suspicious as well. That’s why you kept the bloodied tunic.”
“How did you know that I’d kept the tunic?”
His eyes widened in fear when he realised what he’d just spoken out loud. Then his face crumpled, pressing his lips tightly together.
Xue Yiqi was furious, immediately wanting to dash into Wang Ji’s room. “I should have known that Wang Ji is a murderer!”
“Yiqi, calm down.” Jiang Moyin quickly stopped him again. “We haven’t even finished questioning him.”
Qi Jianqiu pursed her lips at Xue Yiqi’s rash attitude. What a rash fellow! The rumours that called him ‘dashing’ and ‘handsome’ couldn’t be less true! He is but an impatient man. Perhaps Qi Jianqiu was too obvious with her disdain; Xue Yiqi scratched his head embarrassedly and kept mum.
“You’d suspected that your young master was responsible for the murder at Moonglade due to his bloodied tunic, yet because there is no physical evidence, we cannot prove anything.”Feng Luodi continued. “That’s why we need your help, to trick him into confessing his crime. Will you help us?”
The servant kept his lips firmly pressed together, not uttering a word.
Feng Luodi took a look at his hands. “I see the calluses on your fingers. These are not from housework, but from years of holding a pen, presumedly from doing paperwork for the household. With your ability to read and write, can I assume that you are well read, in both literature and the modern laws? These works teach us to uphold moral righteousness, and you can do so by helping us. If you refuse, your young master will run free, and the murders of the two innocent handmaidens will go unavenged. Withholding information from law enforcers is a crime. Wang Ji is wrong, and I hope you don’t follow his example, disregarding the law as he pleases.”
Feng Luodi straightened her back, and looked at him emotionlessly. “I hope you can live with yourself.” Her voice was flat, but her hands shivered uncontrollably. Qi Jianqiu quickly came over and took her hands in hers, giving her strength.
The four of them looked at the servant wordlessly, waiting for him to make a decision.
It was a few minutes later, before the servant lifted his head in a sudden motion, and nodded at Feng Luodi. “What would you have me do?”
Feng Luodi smiled and leaned close to him, quietly whispering a plan. The servant nodded along, his face pale but determined.
She turned to the rest. “Let’s wait for a while longer. I’m expecting someone.”
“Who else is coming?” Qi Jianqiu asked, curious.
“He should be here soon.” Feng Luodi’s voice was steady, but her face was pale.
“Luodi, Are you not feeling well?” Jiang Moyin noticed her pasty complexion. “Why don’t you head home first? We can handle the rest.”
Feng Luodi shook her head. “I’ll be fine; just a little tired, that’s all.”
As they spoke, two figures appeared in the courtyard. Constable Zheng and the Chang’an Administrator marched in, their faces serious and solemn. Behind them, the head steward of the household was held back by officers from the yamen.
Qi Jianqiu was surprised. “When did you contact the Administrator?”
“I’d instructed Officer Sun to rush here once he’d notified Constable Zheng. If we haven’t left after five minutes, he would fetch the Administrator – all according to plan.”
“Brilliant.” Jiang Moyin praised.
Feng Luodi smiled. Behind the scenes, she was taking matters into her own hands. After that day at Moonglade, she had taken down the names Shun had given, and cross-referenced them with the clients that sold the fabric found on the bloodied robe. It was just as she had advised Constable Zheng. However, instead of staking out the few households that were suspicious, she’d made another trip down to Moonglade. Using the authority her badge had provided her, she’d mentioned the names a few times in her conversation with Linglong. Seeing as how the handmaidens were murdered in such close proximity to her bedroom, she found it hard to believe that Linglong had not heard anything when the crime was committed. Perhaps it was her intuition, but even though Linglong had kept her composure when Feng Luodi mentioned those names, she suspected that Linglong not only knew who had killed the handmaidens, but also the person who took Wind Crane. However, Linglong had kept quiet to protect herself, steering out of the mess.
“Miss Feng,” the Administrator approached her quickly, “is the suspect Wang Ji in the room right now?”
“Yes, Administrator. Please, enjoy the show that’s about to unfold, and judge for yourself afterwards.”
The Administrator nodded, trying to suppress his rage when he saw the bloodied tunic that the servant had retrieved.
Looking at Feng Luodi for approval, the servant placed the tunic on the tray and entered Wang Ji’s room. The rest of them quickly huddled close to the wall, peering into the room.
Wang Ji lay inclined on the bed, his upper body propped up with cushions. A perverted smile hung on his face, his eyes fixated on the small book in front of him. Hearing the servant’s approaching footsteps, he commanded impatiently.
“What is it! Didn’t I tell you not to disturb me? ”
Not hearing a reply, Wang Ji looked up, annoyance written plainly on his face. “Didn’t I tell you to get out…”
His voice cut off abruptly when he saw the bloodied tunic on the tray. Scrambling off the bed, he pointed a shaking finger at the tunic.
“Di…didn’t I instruct you to burn this?”
“Young master,” the servant said calmly, “I did burn the tunic the other time. But it appeared again in the courtyard just now.”
“Ar…are you serious?” Wang Ji stuttered, fear apparent in his eyes.
“Yes, young Master. When I was cleaning the dishes in the kitchen, I saw the two handmaidens that served Miss Linglong appear in the doorway, chatting about makeup and perfumes.” The servant continued. “I couldn’t understand why they were here, when they’ve died 8 days ago in Moonglade. Could it possibly be their… ghosts?”
The servant’s tone was calm and steady, lending an eerie tension to the room. Wang Ji’s eyes widened, and shook his head furiously.
“That’s not possible! That’s not possible at all! They definitely died that day! I’d checked them myself! I’d checked them myself!”
“But I just saw them with my own eyes, young master.” The servant looked emotionlessly at him.
Wang Ji waved his hand around frantically, caught in his own delusions. “It isn’t possible! It isn’t possible! Don’t come after me! I swear, I didn’t mean to kill you! All I’d wanted was to find out where Miss Linglong stayed! I didn’t mean to kill you! I really didn’t!”
Wang Ji dashed haphazardly for the door, and the servant quickly shrunk into the corner. The door burst open, and the Administrator walked in, accompanied by the rest.
“The penalty for murder, is death. Wang Ji, You have nowhere to hide.”
The sight of the furious Administrator shocked Wang Ji out of his delusions, and he muttered frantically. “Admi….Administrator…why is the administrator here?”
His eyes fell on the servant, and in a second he understood everything. “You betrayed me!” He lifted his food to kick the servant, but was quickly stopped by Constable Zheng and the officers who then restrained him. Now they had all the evidence they needed, and the confession from the murderer. All that’s left was the to find the location of Wind Crane, and the case will be closed.
The constable quickly left with Wang Ji, but the Administrator stayed back to speak with Feng Luodi.
“Thank you for your help, Miss Feng. We wouldn’t have solved the case so quickly otherwise. We will question Wang Ji about the whereabouts of Wind Crane, and let you know afterwards.”
“Let me thank you in advance then sir.”
“It’s but a small matter.” The Administrator glanced at the servant who stood in the corner. “This man here is a witness to the case, and we will need him at the yamen to get his statement. If you don’t mind Miss Feng, please send him to us after you’re done here.”
“Of course, sir.” Feng Luodi curtsied, and the Administrator promptly left.
“That was quite the show we just witnessed just now.” Qi Jianqiu teased. “For Wang Ji to end up like this, it must be because of the poor guidance from his father. Speaking of which, isn’t Master Wang your father’s subordinate?”
Xue Yiqi was angered by her gibe, and took it out on the servant. Lifting his leg, he wanted to kick the servant as Wang Ji had done, but Feng Luodi suddenly dashed out in front of the servant. Clutching her stomach in pain, Feng Luodi quickly steadied herself with the other.
“What are you doing!” Qi Jianqiu was shocked and upset by the turn of events. Even Jiang Moyin was surprised by his brother’s actions.
Xue Yiqi did not expect for Feng Luodi to step out as well, and was embarrassed by his own mistake. He avoided looking at the rest, and said coldly to the servant.
“How dare you betray your own master like you just did! This is not how a servant should behave. Even if he isn’t indicted, Master Wang will not forgive him when he finds out what happened. Why not I punish him first on Master Wang’s behalf?”