A Train Named Evil - 15
“…..You did it, ma?”
Wu Fengrong and the transit police exchanged glances. Both officers stood on the boy’s left and right, and Wu Fengrong stood like a pillar, blocking the entrance to the car. Together they surrounded him, forming a narrow triangle. He Youan frowned impatiently and lowered his head to pick at his fingernails. Wu Fengrong signaled for the transit police to fall back and to let Zhou Yanling leave first.
“Young student, why did you make that report?” Wu Fengrong asked.
He Youan spoke: “When I arrived, I saw the news about the fugitive and I just happened to pay attention to it. I thought that he looked quite similar to the photos shown. Did I finger the wrong person? Then I apologize to that gentleman. It wasn’t done maliciously. I probably didn’t get a good enough look.”
Wu Fengrong finally saw the gauze bandage wrapped around the back of his hand, partially concealed by the cuff of his sleeve.
“It’s good to be vigilant, but this is a very important matter since it also relates to the safety of the other passengers on this train. Therefore, we would like to ask you questions just to double-check to see if you know something about this crime. What was their name?”
“His name is Zhou Yanling. He killed a high school senior. Or so the news said. Didn’t you guys arrest him? Didn’t you question him? I reported him to the police and then you brought him to see me like this. What’s going to be done if he comes back later to try to get even?”
“It hasn’t been proven that he’s the perpetrator. That’s for the police to decide, not us. You can rest assured that we will keep the identity of the person who made this report confidential. May I see you ID, ma?”
“Didn’t you already check my ticket?”
“Give me your ID, ba.”
Wu Fengrong extended a hand in a polite movement that, nevertheless, suggested that he wouldn’t accept a refusal. He Youan was a little unhappy and unwillingly took out his ID. As he was halfway through getting his ID, he was interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming from behind him.
“What’s going on here?” It was a girl’s voice, “What are you doing? What did he do?”
There was a series of thumping sounds like that of a cannon. Wu Fengrong was stunned by her sudden unexpected questions and didn’t answer. He laughingly regarded the nervous young girl, this Shi Xiaoran. Those fake eyelashes that were still glued to her eyelids draped her round glaring eyes like a dark, majestic cloak.
Before Wu Fengrong could speak, He Youan interrupted her first: “It doesn’t concern you. Go and play by yourself for a while.” As he spoke, he took a game console out of his knapsack and tossed it to her. She Xiaoran curled her lip as she caught the console and sent her boyfriend a look that showed her hidden resentment. The two threw their flirting into the faces of the three adults. Watching this, Wu Fengrong didn’t dare let out the laughter that was bubbling up.
“Then…..then I’ll just sit back here and wait for you. So hurry up!” The girl said, stammering.
He Youan faced her, smiling: “Be careful while you play. It’s almost out of battery.”
After the girl had firmly sat down, Wu Fengrong teased him: “Tsk tsk. So fond of her that you didn’t tell her that you made a report to the police?”
He Youan shook his head and first took out his ID card. Wu Fengrong seized it and looked it over. Woah. Still a minor. Thinking back, he really hadn’t asked their age. He just carelessly made that determination because they looked like university students. He wondered too if it was Shi Xiaoran’s makeup that made her look so much more mature. He couldn’t tell whether or not she was actually an adult. If someone said that she was ready to enter society and start working, Wu Fengrong would be believe them.
“A high school senior? Young sweethearts come out on their own and no one objects? Wu Fengrong asked.
He Youan spoke: “My parents aren’t very controlling of me. They’re too busy with work.” At these words, Wu Fengrong assessed his clothes. Although they were modest, one could see that this family was quite wealthy. The price of his wristwatch alone was in the six digits. His tone of voice was like his watch, cold and mechanical. Wu Fengrong guessed that the relationship between family members wasn’t good.
“You live in Tongzhou, ma? Where do you go to school?”
“I’m from Tongzhou. We study locally.”
“Where did you hear the news about the fugitive? TV? Cellphone or somewhere else?”
“Cell phone. I saw it this morning by accident, but I didn’t pay it much mind then. I was just bored waiting for the train. Everyone in Tongzhou knows about what happened with Quan. It’s a big murder investigation.”
Wu Fengrong pointed a finger at the injury on the back of his hand: “How did you injure yourself?”
He Youan rubbed his wrist and laughingly said: “In a fight. Didn’t you say that this is the cost of having a pretty girlfriend, ya?”
This time, Wu Fengrong did not laugh. He easily grabbed his wrist and pulled him close. He Youan’s expression changed as he struggled to free himself. Wu Fengrong’s hand had great strength and forced him closer so he could speak into his ear: “You know that Zhou Yanling is not a suspect. Now I didn’t ask you to take out your student ID in the presence of the transit police and your girlfriend because I didn’t want to make you feel embarrassed. But that’ll only continue as long as you’re honest with me. You’re a student at Tongzhou City First School and, on the evening of the 27th of the month, you were also playing at the internet cafe nearby.”
He Youan breath caught and he began to struggle: “Let me go! I’ll shout!”
Wu Fengrong caught a glimpse of a bulge that looked like a cell phone in his trouser pocket. Suddenly, he recalled the evidence that was mentioned in the mysterious person’s text messages. He pulled He Youan even closer and quickly said: “You didn’t recognize Zhou Yanling from his photo being circulated as a wanted man, but because you had already seen him that night, am I right? He was wrongly accused. But you already know that, because you took that metal pipe and shoved it into his hands and framed him. What you said about being injured in a fight is true. But the fight wasn’t over your girlfriend. Instead, you got in a fight with someone at the internet cafe over a game. And the person you fought with on 9/27 at Tongzhou was the victim, Xiao Quan. Not only did you kill him, but you’re trying to frame someone else for it by planting evidence.”
He Youan ground his teeth and said: “How illogical. You think that Zhou Yanling was framed? He police already said that he’s a suspect. What evidence do you have to prove that he’s been framed? Aren’t you just a conductor, ma? Do you really think you’re better than the police?”
“That’s a good question,” Wu Fengrong praised: “I don’t think I’m better than the police. And all that I’ve said is only conjecture.”
He Youan felt tricked. He abruptly pulled his hand away: “You were joking! I could sue you for slander!”
From the rear, the transit police hadn’t heard their whispered conversation and they stared doubtfully at Wu Fengrong.
Wu Fengrong slowly stood up and leaned against the car door: “But if what I’ve said is true, the police will find out during the course of their investigation, isn’t that right? But, when all is said and done, people end up taking responsibility for their own actions. You’re still a minor, so you’re not aware of the standards that adults have to follow. That’s not your fault. As you grow, you’ll learn. The process of maturing will cause you to slowly accept and master this. But you mustn’t feel that you can shirk responsibility just because you’re a minor.”
Suddenly, his bearing changed. As Wu Fengrong (1) assumed the solemn bearing of a school teacher, He Youan looked down at him with disgust, his body slouched against the arm of the chair. Wu Fengrong unexpectedly felt that the train chair was too large for this boy.
“Let’s make bet, ma?” Wu Fengrong took care that, when he spoke, his voice was light: “You take out your cellphone and let us take a look at it. Will we see that there was a payment made on the evening of September 27th? The creditor, the time and the amount of money should all be there. That internet cafe was a small business, not a part of a larger chain. Most of the billing is probably done by cellphone, so I don’t think that they’ll have accepted cash.”
He Youan started in shock, his hand going to cover his pocket before he could tamp down on his instincts. At only ten centimeters away, Wu Fengrong could see his pupils dilate suddenly. He sighed once with great sorrow: “E-payment is already widely popular among people like us who live on trains year in and year out, let alone you city kids. Not to mention, the modern person can leave home without their wallet. Nowadays, science and technology has flourished. When we were taught to handle money by our moms and dads, we were taught that we should shred our invoices and leave no trace. It’s a pity that now people don’t remember to delete the scattered records of business transactions from their cellphones.”
He Youan took a deep breath and didn’t move for a long time.
Wu Fengrong waved a hand for the transit police to retreat until it was just the two of them so the boy wouldn’t be too embarrassed. He was actually very nervous himself because he was only five parts sure that this was the correct answer. If he was wrong, as the train conductor, he really wouldn’t be able to do anything. Harboring a fugitive, forcing confessions out of minors, and abuse of power…..each on their own was a major crime. Each could press down on his shoulders until he was damned. But he had no choice but to take that risk. He was absolutely willing to bet that He Youan was the person he’d been looking for.
The boy unconsciously straightened his back. Wu Fengrong heard his adam’s apple slide as he gulped, hard and awkward. The expression on his face almost made Wu Fengrong feel a little sorry for him. He patted the boy on the shoulder, took out the cellphone for him, used his fingerprint to unlock it, and easily found the records.
The record was from 23:15PM on September 27th for a total of 158 yuan. The money went to Hua Lu Internet Cafe. This was the last transaction recorded on this phone indicating that there hadn’t been any other transaction within these past five days.
This period of time was unusually close to Xiao Quan’s time of death, proving that it was entirely possible that He Youan had been present during the crime.
“Give me back my cellphone,” the boy stiffly straightened his neck: “I’ll go with you, but you can’t tell Xiaoran.”
Wu Fengrong touched his shoulder and looked a few rows behind him at the young girl. Gazing at the girl, she looked nervous. The game console lay forgotten, squeezed between her hands. The eyes of both people met, and the girl quickly lowered his head again.
The following dialog was recorded on Wu Fengrong’s cellphone–
“Youan, did you kill Xiao Quan?”
“You’re sure, ma?”
“Yes. I’m the one who killed Xiao Quan.”
Wu Fengrong said: “Youan, I need you to tell me once and for all what that happened that day.”
He Youan nodded briefly. After choking back several sobs, he forced himself to calm down.
“That day, I went to the internet cafe after school to play games. Xiao Quan sat at the computer opposite me. He started swearing first. I didn’t think, I just started swearing back. It’s quite common to swear while playing games at the internet cafe, but that day I was in a bad mood. Xiaoran and I had fought, and she’d refused to meet up with me for several days. I was trying to think of how I could reconcile with her, so I also kind of wanted to fight with someone to vent my feelings. Xiao Quan and I decided to meet up behind the internet cafe to settle our debt. He was quite strong. He bruised my waist and almost broke my toe.”
As he spoke, he lifted his clothes a little. There were several marks clearly visible on the side of his waist. Some of the bruises were as big as the palm of his hand.
“Afterward, I wasn’t able to keep warding him off. He said that he was going to get other people to help him and I just kind of panicked. I saw that there was pipe over to the side and I picked it up. But I wasn’t thinking about killing him. I still thought that we were just fighting.” He paused for a moment and didn’t speak for a while. Wu Fengrong (2) didn’t know if it was because it was too difficult to recall what happened next.
“You killed him by mistake?” Wu Fengrong asked.
The boy shrugged his shoulders and replied with a “You said it” expression.
“He made a feint towards me. I hit him over the head and he fell. I saw that he’d passed out and I thought that I should call an ambulance, but I had left my cellphone in the internet cafe. By the time I got it and returned, he wasn’t breathing.” He finished speaking, licked his lips and added: “A few minutes later, Mr. Zhou and his friend happened to walk by the intersection. I waved to them and said that my friend had been in a fight and fainted, and then I asked them to help me. His friend originally didn’t want to help because Mr. Zhou was completely drunk and unconscious. I told him that I would help keep an eye on Mr. Zhou for him if I could trouble him to call a car. Finally, he left. I put the water pipe in Mr. Zhou’s hand and immediately fled. I don’t know what happened after that.”
Wu Fengrong was a little angry: “Don’t you know you’ve tried to entrap him with false evidence?”
He Youan smiled. It couldn’t be called benevolent and it also couldn’t be called malicious. It was just a shy smile.
“I’m sorry that I haven’t grown up to be an adult who can take responsibility for my actions.”
Finally, he rubbed his eye and looked, to Wu Fengrong, as though he was embarrassed to have made a fool out of himself: “Do you still have any questions that you want to ask, ma?”
“Where did you go after you ran?”
“I went home.”
“What did you after you returned home?”
“Showered and went to bed. The next day I asked for a day off from school. But by the third day I decided that I should go to school.”
“You weren’t afraid, ma? You weren’t worried that the school’s mood might influence you?”
“I was afraid, but I couldn’t let anyone think that something unusual had happened.”
This was simply a natural-born murderer. Wu Fengrong sighed inwardly. How strong the psychological predisposition must have been to induce a homicide. The school children of today don’t behave like they used to.
“Aside from you, who else would know what happened that night?” Wu Fengrong asked.
He Youan thought about it and said: “No one.”
“Your parents didn’t find anything to be unusual?”
“Our family is in business. My father is often away on business and my mother is also usually busy. That evening, I was the only one at home. The next day, when I went to the hospital to get my hand wrapped, I told my mom that I’d gotten into a fight. She scolded me a bit.”
“Did your parents give their approval for this trip to Baihe?, ma? What reason did you give for bringing along your girlfriend?”
“Because I was injured, Xiaoran immediately agreed to reconcile with me. We had already agreed to travel for National Day. We have family in Baihe, so I said that I wanted to go to visit them for several days and that she also wanted to go with me. Before we fought and ignored each other for several days, I had thought that it had been a long time since I had seen her. Besides…..I don’t know how long I will be able to be together with her…..I just want to see her more and spend more time with her. Tomorrow, I might not be able to see her again…..”
While speaking about his girlfriend, He Youan’s emotions overwhelmed him a little. His eyes reddened and he blinked a little to try to restrain himself. Wu Fengrong could see that he sincerely liked this girl. He entrusted all his love to her. Being his girlfriend ought to be a blissful and blessed affair. But the heavens could will the unexpected to happen so that even in the end, there was no such thing as a happy ending.
“Can I speak to her one last time and say a few words, ma?” He Youan looked over to where his girlfriend was sitting and said sincerely: “Just for five minutes. When I’m done, I’ll go right away. She’s a girl and she’s never traveled far alone. I want to tell her how to get in contact with the person meeting us in Baihe. Otherwise, she won’t know what to do. She probably won’t cry if I lie to her.”
Wu Fengrong watched as he walked past. The sweethearts embraced in a deep hug for the last time.
1. Added for clarity
2. Added for clarity