Chapter 27 Wind Crane: Suspicion
Feng Luodi sat in the dining room of a teahouse, supporting her head with an arm. She had arranged to meet with Qi Jianqiu that afternoon, but she was early, and in the teahouse alone. Her other hand tapped the table idly as her thoughts wandered back to that afternoon, when she had lunch at the Qi household.
The thought of having lunch with the Minister made her really nervous. Not expecting to see Situ Muye in the Qi household, she froze in place when he appeared in the dining room. The person whom she thought she might never had the chance to see again, was right in front of her.
I must have seemed so silly back then! Feng Luodi covered her face. Back then, even the General who was known to keep a serious expression had burst out in laughter, and the Minister had to struggle to contain his laughter. My image as a lady is ruined! Thankfully, neither Situ Muye nor the Minister mention anything during lunch, but her appetite to eat was wrecked by her embarrassment.
The sound of footsteps interrupted her thoughts. She had sent word to Constable Zheng that she would be spending her afternoons in this teahouse with Qi Jianqiu these few days, and he promised to send word of any developments in the investigation to her. Knowing the constable’s efficiency, Feng Luodi knew she would be expecting news about the investigation these few days. It’ll either be Jianqiu or an officer from the yamen, I guess.
The person that came up the stairs was Qi Jianqiu, dressed in a scarlet gown with golden embroidery. Surprisingly, another figure appeared behind her, none other than Jiang Moyin. He was wearing a robe of navy colour, with a matching belt of sapphire blue, cutting a striking figure.
“Why are you here as well?” Feng Luodi was straightforward.
“Why? Am I not welcomed here?” Jiang Moyin smiled as he sat down, pouring himself a cup of tea.
“I met him along the way.” Qi Jianqiu cut in, “He said he was free today, and asked to join us.” Her hand reached for the desserts the moment she sat down.
“Oh, I see.”
“How is the investigation going?” Jiang Moyin sipped his tea and asked casually.
“The same as before, I suppose. I’m still waiting for news from the yamen.” Feng Luodi poured Qi Jianqiu a cup of tea, the latter too busy devouring the desserts.
“I really don’t understand this.” Qi Jianqiu said between mouthfuls. “Would someone really kill for a zither? The sentence for theft would be nowhere as heavy as that for murder, which is death; there’s no reason to risk your life just for a zither!”
“You’re right. It seems weird to kill just for a zither, but it would be another matter if someone else stole the zither in the chaos caused by the murder.” Jiang Moyin then turned to Feng Luodi. “If that’s the case, Luodi, you’ll have to be mentally prepared that you might not be able to retrieve Wind Crane, even if the case is solved.”
Feng Luodi nodded in agreement, but her expression did not change, full of confidence in retrieving Wind Crane.
Qi Jianqiu swallowed a mouthful of cake and was about to say something, when the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs echoed along the hallway again. The trio looked outside the room, and saw a man clad in the uniform of an officer from the yamen.
“Officer Sun?” Feng Luodi leapt to her feet in excitement. “Does Constable Zheng have any updates for me?”
“Miss Feng, Grand Tutor, Miss Qi.” The officer greeted the three of them before he explained. “The constable had us check the merchants who sold the type of silk we found and who they sold it to, and cross-referenced that with the list of patrons Shun gave. We’d had the few households that satisfied both criteria staked out, and one in particular stood out from the rest. Wang Ji, son of the Administrator of the Consultation Section, has been ‘sick’ at home ever since the incident in Moonglade.” He emphasized the word “sick”.
“However,” the officer continued, “we are barred from entering the household to search the grounds without any evidence that he is the murderer, and our Administrator cannot issue a warrant. Constable Zheng has his hands full trying to figure out how to get in, and got me to send word to you, to see if you have any suggestions.”
“The Administrator of the Consultation Section? What position is that?” Feng Luodi’s knowledge of governmental positions are title are extremely limited, and quickly asked, but neither the officer nor Qi Jianqiu knew much about the position. Then, Jiang Moyin spoke up.
“The Administrator of the Consultation Section is a speaking official under the bureau of the Defender-in-chief. His position doesn’t require him to do anything much, mostly just to offer some advice on some of the policies. His household should be near to the Defender-in-chief’s estate as well.”
“The Defender-in-chief?” Feng Luodi’s eyes lit up. “Master Jiang, Isn’t your good friend, Xue Yiqi, the son of the Defender-in-chief? He would definitely be allowed in, if he went to visit the Administrator’s household, right?”
Jiang Moyin grinned. “If you need my help again, why are you still calling me Master Jiang?” he emphasized the last two words, laughter and excitement in his eyes.
Feng Luodi looked at him, and could not understand why he was so happy. Carefully, she said, “Moyin?”
Jiang Moyin laughed and stood up. “Let’s go and visit Yiqi right now. He has been bored out of his wits the last couple of days, and would definitely love to participate in the investigation. Moreover, if the son of the Administrator is the murderer, Yiqi would definitely be the first to turn him in.”
Hearing that, Feng Luodi quickly got up as well, pulling Qi Jianqiu to her feet. Turning to the officer, she said, “It isn’t suitable for you to be dressed like that if you’re coming with us. Just go back and let Constable Zheng know that we’ll handle it, and to wait for the good news.”
The officer nodded in understanding, and took out a handkerchief. “The constable knew that you’d be up to the task, and told me to pass this to you. It will be of great use.”
Feng Luodi unwrapped the handkerchief, and inside was a fancy hairpin. “What is this?”
Officer Sun quickly explained. “This belonged to one of the dead handmaidens, and is likely to be a gift from someone rich. This hairpin is remarkable, and will probably stir up memories to those who have seen it before.”
Feng Luodi nodded. “This will come in handy indeed.”
However, Qi Jianqiu reached over and raised an arm to swat it away. “How can you touch the belongings of the dead just like that, Luodi!” Then she turned to the officer. “And you! Can you be more aware of such things next time? How can you let a girl touch things like that!”
“My apologies, Miss Feng.” Officer Sun quickly apologised, reaching to take the handkerchief and hairpin back.
Feng Luodi kept the handkerchief quickly. “It’s fine this time round, but be more careful in the future. Go on ahead, officer.”
Qi Jianqiu wanted to berate her actions, but Feng Luodi quickly cut her off, pointing at Jiang Moyin who was leaning against the door, waiting for them with a smile on his face. “Let’s not waste any time now.”
The trio walked to the Xue household, and Jiang Moyin only had to mention his name to the guards before word was quickly sent in. They had barely waited for a few minutes when a handsome young man quickly walked out.
Seeing Jiang Moyin, the man clasped his hands together in greeting. “Second Brother!”
Jiang Moyin smiled, and introduced the two girls with him. “This is Miss Qi Jianqiu, and Miss Feng Luodi.”
“My greetings, Miss Qi and Miss Feng.” Xue Yiqi clasped his hands in greeting again, but he did not dare to look at the two.
Now that’s interesting. Feng Luodi exchanged a look with Qi Jianqiu, and curtsied in unison. “Greetings, Master Xue.”
“I haven’t had the chance to thank you for getting the physician for me the other time in Manchun Tang, Master Xue. Now that I have the honour of meeting you, please accept my gratitude.” Feng Luodi bowed again.
Xue Yiqi still did not dare to look at the two. He waved his hand at Feng Luodi. “It is but a small matter, Miss Feng.” Turning to Jiang Moyin, “Is something the matter, brother? Why are you here at this time of the day?”
“I’ll explain to you as we go along.” Jiang Moyin gestured for Xue Yiqi to follow, and lead the way towards the Administrator’s household. Feng Luodi and Qi Jianqiu lagged behind, the former gripping the hairpin and handkerchief tightly in her hand. Feng Luodi let out a breath of air. This is going to work out. The case is going to be solved very soon, and finally I can play a song on Wind Crane.
Qi Jianqiu did not know why Feng Luodi was so excited, but she held her friend’s hand comfortingly.
By the time they had reached the household, Xue Yiqi had understood the situation. “This is nothing. When we get there, I’ll just tell them that my father has a message for the Administrator, and the few of you could question Wang Ji. If he was indeed the murderer, he’ll definitely be shaken and might let a few things slip up. If he isn’t, we have an excuse to get out of there as well.” He paused. “If what you suspect is true, I will have to take action. I cannot let a man like that work under my father and do nothing about it.”
“Thankyou, Yiqi.” Jiang Moyin quickly waved for the two girls to stay closer to them, and true to his words, the four entered the household without hassle once Xue Yiqi gave his name.
The Administrator wasn’t in, and the head steward invited them in to rest in the antechamber while they sent word to the Administrator. The situation was ideal for the four. Xue Yiqi quickly spoke up.
“I’ve heard that young Master Wang has been sick for a few days, and I’d like to visit him on my father’s behalf. May we see him?”
The head steward was elated. After all, the fact that the Defender-in-chief’s son would visit their young master was good news for the Administrator. “I’ll lead the way immediately, sir. The Administrator has always hoped that our young master can have distinguished acquaintances such as you, sir.”
As they walked towards Wang Ji’s room, Feng Luodi quietly approached Xue Yiqi and passed him the hairpin, whispering a plan in his ear. Xue Yiqi nodded in understanding and quickly moved away, his ears red from the close proximity to her. Feng Luodi smiled, and joined Qi Jianqiu a little further back again.
When they reached his room, Xue Yiqi was led in by the head steward and spoke to Wang Ji, quietly leaving the hairpin behind when he left. They stayed back in the courtyard under the pretence of wanting to look around while waiting for the Administrator to return, and the head steward quickly left to resume his duties. After a while, a servant came bearing a tray of food for Wang Ji, and entered the room. Quickly, the four scooted along the wall to a window and, lightly breaking a small hole in the paper, looked into the room.
Wang Ji looked as sickly as he claimed, eye bags heavy and complexion pallid. He looked distressed and tired, without much of an appetite for the dishes that were served. However, under the suspicion of murder, he looked like a man wrought with guilt.
He ate a few meagre bites, and commanded the servant to bring the rest away. As the servant walked out of the room, stepped onto something and bent to pick it up. It was the hairpin Xue Yiqi had left behind on purpose, and the servant quickly asked Wang Ji.
“Young master, did you buy this hairpin? You must have dropped it onto the floor.”
“What are you talking about? Why would I even buy a hairpin now? To woo girls? You must be mistaken.” Wang Ji shot a casual glance at the hairpin in front of him, and his expression turned into horror, falling off the bed in shock.
“Where…where did you get this hairpin!” Wang Ji stuttered, shivering uncontrollably.
The servant quickly went to him. “I found it on the floor, young master. Do you recognise it?”
“Throw it away! Now! Throw it away immediately!” Wang Ji frantically grabbed the hairpin and hurled it out of the door.
The servant was confused for a moment, then his eyes widened. “Does this have to do with what happened that day, young master?”
“Didn’t I warn you not to speak of that day again?! Get out! Get out of my room!” Wang Ji was enraged. He grabbed the plates left on the servants tray, and hurled them out of the room. “Get out right now!”
The servant quickly cleaned up the mess and left the room, with the hairpin picked up in his hand.
By the wall, Feng Luodi and the other three exchanged glances, and nodded simultaneously. Something is definitely up with Wang Ji.