Ji Yunshu pinched the button between her fingers and showed it to Li Zhao. Upon seeing the button, the transient bafflement within his eyes became that of deep terror.
“How… How would I know why?” as he replied, he reached out to hold onto the belt he wore.
Unfortunately for him, Ji Yunshu saw what he did with absolute clarity. She spoke, “Why wouldn’t you know? You wore the same clothes as you’re wearing today. Both were made with Qing Province silk and only on those clothes are these types of buttons found.”
“So- So what? That’s not enough to prove that I killed my brother-in-law. You can’t just falsely accuse an innocent person.”
“Wouldn’t you agree that it’s quite a coincidence that this button just so happened to be found with that skeleton? The ankle bone on Master Jiang’s corpse was damaged, proving that he struggled with someone before he died, and this button just so happened to have been ripped off during the struggle.”
The more Li Zhao heard, the more panicked he became, but he still continued his denial, “Even if that button belonged to the killer, it… it has nothing to do with me!”
A futile struggle.
Ji Yunshu was not in a rush. She smiled and spoke, “Li Zhao, can you not even recognize the button from your own clothing?”
Eh? Where did this come from? Magistrate Liu was puzzled. He sat up slightly straighter in his rosewood chair and asked, “It’s just a button, what’s so weird about that? How can you be certain that it belongs to him?”
The magistrate was not the only one who wished to know the answer, even the adviser and the yamen runners were eagerly awaiting her explanation.
Li Zhao grabbed onto that loophole to immediately argued back, “Silk clothes from the Qing Province are everywhere. These buttons are also common, why are you saying it must be mine?”
“No need to press me so hard. Can you quiet down and let me speak?” Ji Yunshu was visibly unhappy. Walking over to Li Zhao’s left, she said, “From what I know, normally, buttons have four holes in the middle for the thread to be sewn through. The buttons found on Qing Province clothes are no exception. However, this one is an exception.”
She lifted the button once again before explaining, “As everyone can see, this button only has three holes. Normally, buttons with three holes for Qing Province clothes are custom-tailored. Now you might be wondering, ‘Why would someone see the need for three holes when four would do as well?’ That’s because… of a superstition amongst gamblers!”
What? Everyone looked at each other and shook their heads in incomprehension. Why are you moving the focus of the conversation from the button to how it had three holes?
However, while everyone else was surprised by the revelation, Li Zhao felt as if Ji Yunshu’s words were sharp blades which peeled away his skin, leaving him shivering.
Ji Yunshu swept her gaze over everyone before bringing it back on the button in her hand, “I believe that there are people here who have gone to gambling dens before. You may know about fortune and dissipation, but do you know about ‘take all’?”
“I know!” A yamen runner raised his hand as if he was a good student answering a question from the headmistress, “Take all means eating all! It’s when only the dealer wins.”
The facial muscles of the runner twitched. He scratched his face. Was that wrong? It shouldn’t be though? That’s what it means in gambling dens ...
The yamen runner asked in a quivering voice, “Then, Teacher Ji, what does it mean?”
Ji Yunshu smiled, but her smile was terrifying, “The so-called ‘take all’ is when a normal gambler, or a player, wins it all. To a gambling addict, this represents ‘wealth from three sides’. Li Zhao, have I spoken correctly?”
Her gaze landed on Li Zhao once more!
He lowered his head, not daring to look at her as he licked his lips, “I…” Yet he could not get a full sentence out.
“Since you won’t speak, I’ll speak on your behalf. You’ve been wearing silk clothes from the Qing Province since you were a child and you haven’t changed this habit to this day. What you liked even more were the buttons on these clothes. Normally, buttons are sewn on the collar. However, you had yours sewn on your waistband, which shows just how much you like them. In fact, you like them so much that, while the standard is four holes, you wanted to flaunt your fashion tastes and had personalised buttons with only three holes made for your clothes."
“Of course, the reason you liked buttons with three holes was because you loved to gamble. A true addict like you not only believes in luck, but also in Fengshui . True gambling addicts believe in wearing three holes on the waist, which would bring wealth from three sides.” Her words pounded Li Zhao’s spirit, and the latter was already trembling.
Seems like the rumour that he was a coward wasn’t just an apocryphal tale, thought Ji Yunshu.
Ji Yunshu struck while the iron was hot; she pointed at a section of the waistband he concealed with his hand, “If you still won’t admit the button is yours, then remove your hand! Let everyone take a look and judge for themselves if what I’ve said is true.”
How would he dare to move his hand away now? Li Zhao seemed that he would swallow his belt whole, if given the chance.
Seeing that Li Zhao still kept his hand where it was, the magistrate got impatient and shot a look at the yamen runners. Two of the sharper ones understood the meaning of his glance, went up to Li Zhao, and forced both his arms to his sides.
“You- Let go of me!” Li Zhao shouted.
However, the button on his waist had already been exposed; as expected, it was a three-holed button. It was identical to the one in Ji Yunshu’s hand!
The magistrate’s eyes widened. He lifted his gavel in rage and slammed it down. The smack resounded within the courtroom, “Li Zhao, first you’ve committed perjury, and now, when this button is presented as irrefutable proof, you’re still not going to admit that you killed Master Jiang? Don’t make me torture you.”
Ji Yunshu rolled her eyes at him. Is violence the only language you speak? A confession is best when not coerced.
Li Zhao was held in place by the two yamen runners. His face was pallid and his mind was in a mess from the panic. A sudden streak of inspiration ran through his mind, and he immediately used it to formulate a rebuttal to Ji Yunshu’s accusation, “You are accusing me of being the murderer based solely on a button. This is just a fabrication, a convenient accusation you’ve concocted! I didn’t- didn’t kill anyone, I didn’t!”
To Ji Yunshu, he was merely delaying the inevitable.
She looked at him with seriousness and overbearing cold eyes, and she questioned, “Another sophistry, even at this point? Fine, then I will reconstruct the events which occurred on that night for you. You owed a large amount of debt due to gambling and you were pursued by your creditors to your doorstep. You were very afraid and didn’t know what to do, but you didn’t dare to ask your sister for money. So, during these few days, you were hiding from your creditors while drinking your troubles away...”
“No, no that’s not…”
“Then, one night, you saw Master Jiang. Though you knew that Master Jiang had no authority in the Jiang family, he was still the ostensible head of the household. So, you planned on asking him to lend you money to solve your troubles.”
Grenn's Rants Corner
The author has many plot twists coming up for us.
 Fengshui: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feng_shuiPrevious Chapter Next Chapter