Chen Shi said, "There is another person. Yan Qilin's best friend Xiao Ran. How much do you know about this girl?"
"Xiao Ran and I have close ties with each other. We aren’t relatives. Her father and my father are colleagues. But she’s from a divorced family. We went to the same elementary and junior high as well. We both envy each other. I envied the relaxed parenting she received and she envied my having a complete family..." Zhang Jinlei smiled bitterly. "Thinking carefully about it, we both came from unhappy families!"
Chen Shi had not expected him to have this kind of relationship with Xiao Ran. He continued to ask, "Yan Qilin's diary mentioned that both of them fell in love with you at the same time, but Xiao Ran backed out of her own volition. Was this the case?"
"Hmm!" Zhang Jinlei looked calm. "Actually, I’m very grateful to her. She helped me and Yan Qilin get together. Xiao Ran is a very good girl. She’s understanding and takes care of people, just like a big sister…"
Lin Dongxue interjected, "Listening to your tone, it seems that you kept in touch even after high school."
At that moment, someone opened the door with a key. A plainly-dressed woman with a full figure came in with a bag of food bought from the supermarket. When she saw that there were strangers in the house, she was a bit startled. Although the woman's appearance had changed, Lin Dongxue could still recognize her at a glance. Wasn't she Xiao Ran?
"Ranran, the two of them are police officers. They’re here to investigate the case." Zhang Jinlei introduced.
"Oh, hello... You guys aren’t the same officers from back then. Did they change the people in charge of the case again?"
"We’re criminal police officers from the city bureau. Your relationship with Zhang Jinlei is..."
"Boyfriend-girlfriend!", "Cohabitation." The two answered at the same time, then glanced at each other.
"When did you start dating?" Lin Dongxue asked.
"No, we aren’t dating. We met by chance a few years ago. She was renting a house at the time. I offered to rent a house with her, and then we began living together. I’m useless at looking after myself, so she’s been taking care of me."
Xiao Ran said, "We haven't established our relationship. It's more like being housemates. After I lost my job and couldn’t find another one, I have been doing the housework and taking care of Jinlei. I know that our relationship is strange, but Yan Qilin’s tragedy was a great blow to us and it’s another form of mutual support.”
"It’s our dereliction of duty for not being able to solve the case after so long. I'm sorry." Lin Dongxue said.
"It's okay. I know you’ve been investigating the whole time. Did you come and look for him today to understand the circumstances?" Xiao Ran said.
Chen Shi said, "The original plan was to visit the two of you. Since you two are here together, it’s more convenient. Miss Xiao, can we talk privately for a while elsewhere?"
Xiao Ran looked at Zhang Jinlei. "I understand. When you’re asking questions, you don’t want any interference… Let me put the food away in the fridge first.”
Xiao Ran opened the refrigerator and put the food away. The things in the refrigerator were arranged in an orderly manner, in contrast to the messy studio. Then she cleared up the used cups and some garbage on the table. She reminded Zhang Jinlei, "Don't always drink coffee. Drink more water."
"Don't take my stuff. I haven't finished using them yet."
Listening to this conversation, it seemed that the two were very familiar with each other, as if they were husband and wife.
Afterwards, Xiao Ran changed her coat and went downstairs with the two of them. A car was parked downstairs. Xiao Ran said, "Ah I forgot, I wanted to ask Jinlei to help me park the car. I’m not very good at reverse parking."
Chen Shi offered, "Let me do it!"
"Thank you so much."
Chen Shi whispered to Lin Dongxue, "Distract her." Then he took the key and got into the car. He parked the car in the parking lot skillfully. Lin Dongxue and Xiao Ran were chatting away. While she was distracted, Chen Shi opened the glove box to have a look.
A photo of Zhang Jinlei and Xiao Ran was posted on top of the glove box. It looked like a special occasion, as if they were a couple.
In addition, there were some miscellaneous items. There was nothing of importance. When Chen Shi was getting out of the car, he suddenly found a piece of paper under the seat. He picked it up and looked at it. It was a small piece of joss paper that was burned as offerings to the dead.
Seeing the car parked, Xiao Ran said a few words of thanks again. Chen Shi asked, "Whose car is this?"
"Of course it is Jinlei’s. I have no income. The house and car both belong to him."
"Oh? The house was bought?" Chen Shi looked up. "It seems that Zhang Jinlei's income isn’t bad. He must be a famous painter."
"I wouldn’t say that he’s well-known. In fact, his family often gives him money. If we put it nicely, his parents had lent him the money. In fact, his parents don't expect him to pay it back. He hasn't returned home over the recent years, but his family's financial support has never stopped."
"So, he has a poor relationship with his family?"
"Mmm, how do I put it..."
"No rush. Let's go outside and find a place to sit."
The three went to a fast-food restaurant near the housing district. They found secluded seats inside and ordered three drinks.
Xiao Ran said generously, "It's okay for you to ask anything. The police have visited many times over the years. Every time, it’s to investigate. I really hope that one day they’ll come to inform us that the murderer has been caught."
Chen Shi said, "Don’t worry, that day will definitely come. How is your relationship with Yan Qilin?"
"We were like sisters. You know that she was introverted and her family background wasn’t very good. For a while, she was ostracized by her classmates. I could be said to have been her only friend. Her diary should still be with you. It mentioned that I fell in love with Jinlei at the same time as her, and then I backed out of my own volition. To be honest, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Jinlei and I had known each other since we were young, and we’ve always had feelings for each other, but we’ve never talked about it openly. Later, Yan Qilin told me that she was in love with someone. To be honest, this kind of plot happens all the time. Why do good friends always fall in love with the same person? Maybe it’s because of their similar personalities! The reason why I silently backed out was very simple. It was my senior year in high school, and studies were more important. Other matters could be set aside first while trying to get admitted to one’s dream university.”
Lin Dongxue said, "I remember that you studied at a band 3 university later."
"Yes." Xiao Ran looked regretful. "I did poorly in the exam. I was exhausted physically and mentally after finishing the third year of high school. Although I had the idea of repeating the year, in the end, I still gave up. My family background isn’t too well-off. Furthermore, the majors I applied for were ones that I liked, so I basically just went ahead with it... In fact, during summer vacation that year, Yan Qilin and I basically didn’t meet up, but just kept in touch with each other by phone. I heard that Zhang Jinlei had a big fight with his family because of her. The two almost eloped. Later, this thing happened, and it was a huge blow for all of us. I’ve always thought that this kind of homicide would only happen on TV. Who knew it would happen to us? And it was my best friend. Even though it’s been many years, when I think about it, it feels almost unreal..."
Chen Shi asked her a question to catch her off guard. "Do you go to the crime scene to mourn her every year?"
Xiao Ran was surprised. "How did you know?"
1. Here, the author uses a phrase that described the two as having a relationship similar to that of relatives or friends. I’m not sure if there’s an English equivalent for this.
2. Also known as ghost or spirit money, they are sheets of paper or paper crafts made to be burnt as offerings, commonly for Chinese ancestral worship the veneration of deceased family members and relatives on holidays and special occasions).
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