TOMAS Chapter 22

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Chapter 22 Wind Crane: Leads

A group of servants crowded around the front door of Moonglade, all clad in the different uniforms of their households. They demanded to know a date for the reopening of the parlour, and insisted on being given an explanation for the delay in the investigation. Although they were mere servants, they represented the will of their masters, and the owner had to take care not to offend them. He smiled apologetically at each of them, reassuring them that the investigation was “well under way” and to remind their masters to be patient with Moonglade.

Constable Zheng glanced at the crowd clustering at the door and shook his head. “Moonglade has only been closed for a couple of days, and the young masters are already impatient to come back to all the girls and artists they admire. Especially Miss Linglong – the young masters adore her most of all.”

Showing their badges at the side door, they were led inside by a manager, who quickly sent word to the owner as well. Following the manager, they wound through the long corridors, heading straight for the crime scene. As they rounded a corner, a couple appeared in the passageway in front of them. It was the famous zither artiste Linglong, accompanied by the Third Master of Chang’an Gan Qingjia. The two quickly stopped their conversation and stopped in their tracks, standing close together.

Constable Zheng furrowed his eyebrows. “What is the meaning of this? Didn’t the Administrator give the order to close off Moonglade from any guests? This could contaminate the crime scene.”

“I am a personal friend of Linglong, not a guest of Moonglade today. I’m sure inviting a friend for tea isn’t prohibited by the Administrator?” Gan Qingjia spoke up, undaunted by the Constable’s unfriendly attitude.

Constable Zheng looked at him, disdain apparent in his eyes. Although Gan Qingjia is one of the Four Masters, the title was not given because of his ability, but because of his birth status and attractive looks. He was known for being ignorant and playful, to the point where not even his father, the Left Minister, could control him. “Regardless, you are neither from Moonglade nor part of the yamen…”

Before the constable could continue, Linglong spoke up in defence of Gan Qingjia. “Oh? What about Miss Feng behind you, Constable Zheng? She isn’t part of Moonglade, nor is she from the yamen as far as I know. Wouldn’t it disrupt the investigation further if she went to the crime scene?”

The owner arrived right then, and upon hearing Linglong’s words quickly interjected and waved his hand at the constable. “I apologise for her lack of manners, Constable. Please forgive her rude rebuke.”

Gan Qingjia glanced bemusedly at the constable, who looked upset as expected. Feng Luodi smiled at Linglong and took out the badge she was given. “Seems like Miss Linglong is mistaken. I have been approved to join the investigation, by the Administrator himself.” She ignored the look of surprise that crossed Linglong’s face and continued. “Time is tight, and we need to process the clues left behind at the crime scene. If you will excuse us.” She stretched out her hand, motioning for the Constable to walk ahead.

Constable Zheng’s expression softened somewhat and walked behind the owner of Moonglade, who shot a warning look at Linglong before he left. As Feng Luodi followed, Gan Qingjia laughed lightly. “It’s just as Moyin said. Miss Feng, you are a very interesting girl.”

Upon hearing that, Feng Luodi stopped and motioned Constable Zheng to carry on in front. Then, she turned to look closely at Gan Qingjia. An intricate jade crown sat on his head. His tunic was an ashen grey, embroidered with depictions of animals and plants, his collar upright and gilded. Coupled with his attractive looks and the beauty Linglong beside him, the two of them looked like a match made in heaven.

“I’d wanted to thank Master Jiang for his assistance that day, but I haven’t had the chance to meet him after that incident.” Feng Luodi curtsied.

Gan Qingjia raised an eyebrow. “Oh? If that’s the case, why don’t you bring a gift to his household as thanks? You’ll be able to meet him then.”

“That’s a great idea, Master Gan.” Feng Luodi smiled at him. “If there isn’t anything else, I have to go. I promised the Administrator my help in the investigation, and it won’t look good if I spend all my time chatting here.” She turned to leave, and had barely taken a few steps before she was called again.

“Miss Feng.” Linglong smiled. “Seeing how you’re willing to personally participate in the investigation, you must be quite interested in Wind Crane. As a token of appreciation for your efforts, I’ll lend the Guqin to you for a couple of days, if you’re interested. What do you say to that?”

Feng Luodi looked at her carefully, and took a moment before she replied. “Then, I’d best find Wind Crane quickly. Thank you again, Miss Linglong.” She nodded at Gan Qingjia and quickly followed in the direction the constable had left.

When they were out of earshot, Scarlet lowered her voice and said, “Young miss, I feel like Linglong is always up to something. I can never decipher the meaning behind her smile.” Feng Luodi smiled. Scarlet was young, but she was intelligent and sensitive to the intentions of others. “I’m afraid you’re probably right, Scarlet.”

They quickly approached the crime scene, and Feng Luodi stopped Scarlet from entering the room. “Stay here and wait for me, it wouldn’t do you any good to see what’s inside. I don’t want you getting any nightmares from this.” Scarlet nodded obediently and sat down by the bannister in the corridor.

When Feng Luodi entered the room, Constable Zheng had already examined the scene. Feng Luodi looked around the room, specifically at the bloodstains on the floor. She furrowed her brows.

“Constable, is this really the room that the two bodies were found?”

“Yes, it is, no doubt about that. The bodies were discovered when another handmaiden came to retrieve a zither the next morning. Why? Is anything wrong?”

Feng Luodi pointed at the bloodstains on the floor. “Don’t you think that there is too little blood? One of the victims died from a stab in the chest, while the other had her throat slashed, both of which causes heavy bleeding. Meanwhile, forensics had also verified that the two of them died from blood loss. If this was indeed the scene of the crime, there should be a lot more blood than this!” She paused for a moment. “What can you remember about the condition of the two bodies, when they were brought in for autopsy?”

Constable Zheng thought carefully about it for a moment. “If I did not remember wrongly, there was a lot of blood on the body with the wound on the chest, but the one whose neck was slashed was pretty clean. Now, this is intriguing; if they weren’t murdered here, where could it have been? I’ve already had the entire property sweeped yesterday. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, nor did we find the murder weapon.”

Feng Luodi narrowed her eyes. “The room itself is very intriguing indeed. It is a very inaccessible place, and not somewhere you would want to safe keep your zithers, especially when they are often taken out to be played.”
Constable Zheng agreed with her and quickly instructed a few officers to search the property again. Then, he gave orders for all the employees of Moonglade to be gathered in the antechamber for further questioning.

“Constable, I’ll stay here in this room and look around a bit more, if you don’t mind.” Receiving his approval, she continued. “Perhaps, if there is enough manpower to go around, you could send a few officers to question the night watchmen of the area. If the guards did not hear any commotion while they were asleep, the watchmen might have seen something.”

“Right! I didn’t think of that at all. I’ll instruct the shift of officers coming in the afternoon to question the night watchmen. We’ll know by tomorrow morning if we have any leads. I’m glad we have you on-board this case. You’re much more attentive and meticulous than the rest of us!” Constable Zheng left quickly to question the employees, and Feng Luodi circled around the bloodstains in the room.

The silhouette of the bodies from where they were found were marked down with chalk. Some symbols were left by the officers when they removed the bodies, which Feng Luodi recognised from the manuscripts her father kept in his study. She bent over the chalk markings on the floor and studied them carefully. “This was the place where the handmaiden with the slashed neck was lying. If the cut was on her left, there should be a spray of blood on the floor.” She looked towards where her hand gestured. “But it’s spotless. Not even an indication if it has been cleaned before.”

She moved on to the other silhouette. “If this handmaiden was stabbed in the chest, and she was on her back when she died, there shouldn’t be any blood on her back. But there are many irregular bloodstains on the floor where it came into contact with her back. This is weird.”

She got up and traced the path between the outlines of the bodies and the door, meticulously examining every part of the door. Upon close examination, her eyes lit up as she spotted a scrap of cloth caught on the hinges. Carefully taking it between her fingers, she could feel that the fabric was neither too cheap nor too expensive, much like the quality of the uniforms that Scarlet and Jet wore. Opening the door, she stepped into the sun with the scrap of cloth to get a clearer look. “Pink.” She nodded to herself. “That means it must belong to a girl. If I’m not wrong, it’ll be the same colour as the clothing of one of the handmaidens. I’ll have to confirm that with the constable.”

She smiled to herself, full of confidence. “This is definitely not the scene of the crime, I’m sure of it.”

She walked out and saw Scarlet dozing off by the bannister. Smiling at the sight, she strode off in the other direction. Walking with her body bent towards to the ground, and sniffing the air every so often, she mumbled to herself. “The servants here wipe the floor every day; there shouldn’t be any bloodstains left by now. I have to find another way to locate the original crime scene – I won’t be able to find anything else by observance alone.”
She walked through the few courtyards in the area and took note of the few that seemed suspicious. Returning to the original room, she was about to wake Scarlet up to leave when she saw Constable Zheng storming down the corridor, his face dark and angry. Scarlet jumped awake at the noise and looked around in bewilderment.
Perplexed, Feng Luodi quickly approached the constable. “Constable Zheng, is something the matter? Are there still no leads?”

Upon seeing it was Feng Luodi, Constable Zheng’s anger subsided a little. He huffed. “It’s that Gan Jiaqing again, always messing around. Their responses are all the same: we didn’t hear or see anything that night. How infuriating!”

“Calm down, constable. We weren’t expecting to get any leads from them anyway. Look, why don’t we all take a break for now, since it’s almost noon? We could question the night watchmen in the afternoon, and who knows? We might get some clues from them.”

Heaving a sigh, Constable Zheng nodded. “You’re right. The Administrator had warned me that this case might be more difficult than what we’re used to. I’ll get my boys to take a break then. Why don’t you go home to rest, Miss Feng? We can continue the investigation tomorrow.”

“Of course, constable.” Feng Luodi curtsied, and seeing Constable Zheng turn to leave, she motioned to Scarlet to follow her out of Moonglade.

“Young miss, you look elated! Have you found any clues?”

“I guess you could say that. We’ll know if I’m right tomorrow.” Feng Luodi’s tone was light, almost jovial. “Argh, I’m so hungry! Let’s go back quickly and have our lunch. Oh, and I have to let Father know that I’m fine.”

“Yay! It’s finally lunchtime!” Scarlet pumped her fist into the air.

The two of them walked out of Moonglade, and hastened their footsteps home.

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