Chapter 407 - Jade Thumb Ring
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Hearing Jing Rong’s threat, Li Mingzhou was felt a frisson of fear amidst his agitation. His fear was not for himself, but for the possibility of Yu’in being tortured during interrogation. He plastered his upper body to the floor in plea as he howled, “Yu’in did not kill anyone. You can’t torture her!”
Jing Rong sneered, “Li Mingzhou, you have no right to quibble now. You can remain silent as long as you want, but it’s a fact that you unearthed the corpse. Unless you’re willing to tell the truth now, neither you nor Miss Yu’in can be absolved of suspicion. Unveiling the truth is the only way to save yourself and Miss Yu’in.”
Jing Rong had extended the olive branch; whether or not he accepted it, was up to him.
After a long moment of contemplation, Li Mingzhou exhaled, raised his head, and said determinedly, “Fine. I’ll say it.” Everyone held their breath in anticipation and perked up their ears. “I went there because there was something on Chang Shiliang’s body that I must take back.”
“What is it?”
“A jade thumb ring. And that ring was engraved with the words ‘Shang Xi’.”
As he said that, Fang Mingshan shot a look at Constable Zhang. Taking the hint, he immediately went out quietly. Following that, Fang Mingshan asked, “Why was your jade thumb ring with him?”
Li Mingzhou’s face fell and he slowly sat up with his shoulders drooping listlessly. At this moment, he still couldn’t decide whether to reveal the truth.
After a long contemplation…
“Twenty years ago, we were all leaders of the Liu Gang. Something happened later that broke up our gang and we separated to go our own way. Since then, we had not been in touch with each other. However, few months ago, Chang Shiliang suddenly came to see me, saying that his silk business was in financial trouble, and he urgently needed some money to tide him over. On account of our brotherhood, I could not bear to see him fail and so I lent him a sum of money. He wrote me an IOU which is still kept in my residence.”
“I didn’t expect that few days later, he would come again to borrow money. At that time, I had just invested all my money on a batch of expensive gemstones and could not gather enough money to lend to him. I could only give him my jade thumb ring, hoping that he could leave it at the pawnshop temporarily in exchange for some money. I originally wanted to get that thumb ring back the next day, but he had unfortunately already passed away. Tonight, I went to get back my thumb ring as I was afraid that you would find out this item that was related to me and involve me in the case.” His voice was full of grief.
Fang Mingshan continued his question, “That thumb ring cannot be used as proof. If you didn’t kill him, what are you worried about?”
“That thumb ring is a love token between my wife and I. It had been with me for more than ten years, so I must get it back. Moreover, twenty years ago, all of our brothers promised to head in different paths and never again contact each other. None of us are willing to talk about what had happened to the Liu Gang. If you knew that the thumb ring belonged to me, you would also ask about my relationship with Chang Shiliang. I only went to the hill late at night to retrieve the thumb ring secretly as I didn’t want to get involved in this.” This story barely seemed plausible.
“What does this have to do with Yu’in’s deed of disguising as a ghost to scare them?” Li Mingzhou’s eyes shifted slightly, he opened and closed his mouth a few times, and finally said, “I’m fairly close with Yu’in. Despite being born in the House of Serenity, she has always had self-respect. She’s a very gentle and warm-hearted person. After interacting with her for a few times, we grew closer and became best friends. She frightened those people because Chang Shiliang, Wu Lei and Liu Shuhuai had frequently bullied and humiliated her. She came up with the idea of disguising as a ghost to scare them away from harassing her. For this matter, she had mentioned it to me before and I did not object.”
Jing Rong squinted his sharp eyes, “Oh? So there exists such coincidence? All the people who were frightened by Yu’in died on the next day, and they were all your brothers from the Liu Gang.”
Li Mingzhou was frustrated at being doubted. He said angrily, “I’ve told you everything I know. I didn’t say a single falsehood.”
At this point, Constable Zhang came in and whispered to Fang Mingshan, “There’s actually a thumb ring carved with the word ‘Shang Xi’ on Old Master Chang’s hand.”
So, is Li Mingzhou telling the truth? Fang Mingshan thought to himself, then straightened his face and asked Li Mingzhou, “Even if you were really there to find the thumb ring, but this is only a one-sided claim without verification. What actually happened to Liu Gang back then? What is so important that you chose to dig up the body and retrieve the thumb ring to hide your relationship with the deceased?”
Li Mingzhou, “This thing happened twenty years ago. There’s no use talking about it now.”
“Is there no use talking about it or did something happen back then that caused you to hold grudges and kill them?”
“I did not.” Li Mingzhou was enraged. He tried to stand up but was held back by the yamen runners. Just as Fang Mingshan was about to say something, suddenly...
A soft voice came from the front door of the yamen. “He didn’t kill my father.” Everyone’s gaze shifted as they followed the voice to see Miss Chang, Chang Yiyan, standing right there.
Her frame was small and frail, needing the support of her wet nurse as she walked in. Her delicate and fair face appeared to be tired and sorrowful as she stared tiredly at Li Mingzhou who was still kneeling on the ground. As she entered, she shrunk behind her wet nurse timidly. Gradually, she lifted her eyes, framed with beautiful long lashes, and looked at Fang Mingshan sitting at the bench.
She spoke softly. “He didn’t kill anyone. I saw the murderer that night, it wasn’t him. He didn’t kill my father.” Everyone was stunned.
Fang Mingshan leaned half his body over the table in excitement. “Miss Chang, you mean that you saw the killer?”
“Who’s the killer?”
Now, she shook her head!
“Didn’t you just say that you saw the murderer?”
“Yes, I saw him, but… I didn’t see clearly. The murderer was wearing a hat at that time, and his build was different from Li Mingzhou.” She pointed at Li Mingzhou as she spoke. Chang Yiyan did not appear like she was lying, her clear eyes beaming with innocence and naivety. But her words confused everyone.
“If you saw the murderer, why didn’t you stop him? Why didn’t you tell anybody? Why did you only come to yamen now?”
“Miss Chang, this is a very important matter. Every word you say is very significant.”
“I…” Chang Yiyan was frightened. She retreated and hid her small body behind her wet nurse again. She was trembling with her head lowered.
Taking stock of the situation, Ji Yunshu walked to Chang Yiyan’s side and said gently, “Miss Chang, don’t be afraid. Just tell us honestly what did you see the other day.”
She raised her head and looked at Ji Yunshu, the panic and fear in her eyes greatly reduced. Maybe the warmth of Ji Yunshu’s eyes made her feel more secure. She greeted Ji Yunshu with ‘Brother Ji’, then gulped and snuffled a little. “I couldn’t sleep that night and thought of visiting my wet nurse for a chat. When I passed by the backyard, I saw someone who was carrying something under the tree. The person had his back facing me and he was wearing a hat. His physique was not exactly big, but…” She pointed at Li Mingzhou, “He was slightly taller than him.”
“You’re certain that you didn’t see his face?”
She shook her head.
“No, then I left.” She said as she shrunk backwards again and stopped talking.
ChouFleur Rants Corner
The plot thickens... ready for cliffhanger galore?
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