At 10:00 in the evening, the two arrived at the Taiyang pawn shop. He Jingjing waved them in from the door. The lights weren’t turned on inside and it was really dark. Lin Qiupu imagined that there was a gangster holding a sharp blade behind the door, and he swallowed a mouthful of saliva nervously.
He followed behind Song Lang and entered the house. He Jingjing turned on the light, and there was a reception desk directly opposite the door. On the left was the consultation room, which only contained sofas, a coffee table and potted plants. He Jingjing opened the door on the right, which led to an office. The room was full of tall glass cabinets with a dazzling array of antiques, calligraphy, paintings, branded watches, jewellery, gems and other objects, but they could only be seen and not touched. They were all locked up.
"This is my father's office. He keeps all the collateral and account books here. Outsiders aren’t allowed to enter without authorization. Not even me."
"In that case, why do you have the key to this place?" Song Lang asked.
He Jingjing looked panicked for an instant. She said, "He’s my dad. Of course I know where he hid the spare key. He can't hide things at home and in the shop from me."
"How many people work in the shop?"
"My dad, the receptionist Little Li who works from nine to five every day and shop assistant He Jun who mainly does random chores. When Little Li isn’t around, I’d take over."
"There wouldn’t be just these people, right? This is also a money lending business. Debt collection is a hard job. Who’s responsible for debt collection? Miss He, if you want to help us investigate the case, then don't hide things."
He Jingjing pursed her lower lip and said, "He Jun has a few friends in the underworld. When we encounter debts that can’t be collected, we’ll go to these friends for help. Of course, they’ll collect them using legal means."
"Does your father really trust He Jun?"
"Yes, He Jun is his nephew, a distant relative’s son. He had fought and gone to jail when he was young. He couldn't find a job when he came out and my dad took him in. He’s been working here for ten years."
Song Lang nodded and turned his head to find Lin Qiupu standing completely still. He said, "You brought the notebook just to note down the few phrases I said?"
"Oh!" Lin Qiupu came to himself and quickly took out his notebook to record the information down.
Song Lang said to He Jingjing, "Let me take a look at that little bowl!"
"I’ll go find it!"
He Jingjing went to open the safe. After trying several times, she still couldn't open the combination lock on it. So she shouted "He Jun" upstairs. A tanned, muscled man wearing an undershirt came downstairs. His neck tattoo was very eye-catching. Seeing the two strangers in the room, he instinctively asked, "Police?"
"Don't talk nonsense. They’re here to investigate the case. My dad has been killed by someone!"
"Wh... What?!" He Jun was shocked. His expression didn't seem to be an act.
He Jingjing briefly explained the situation and asked He Jun to open the safe. He opened it easily. Song Lang glanced at the safe. There were cash, gold bars, real estate certificates, etc., and there was also a small bowl.
He Jun carefully offered the small bowl. Song Lang took it into his hands and observed it. The shape, color, and texture showed that it was clearly carved out of a human skull. However, it was hardly a work of art, because there were no additional carvings, polishing or processing. The bowl base was installed at the bottom and also made out of bone.
"What is this?" Song Lang noticed a strange pattern on the bottom of the bowl, which had been pasted on.
"Captain, that's a QR code." Lin Qiupu explained.
"QR code?" Song Lang looked puzzled.
Lin Qiupu thought to himself that it was too weird how Song Lang didn't even know about QR codes. Later, he noticed that Song Lang was still using an old-fashioned flip phone.
"How does this thing work?" Song Lang asked.
"It works like this…"
Lin Qiupu took out his mobile phone, scanned it, and a video popped out. He clicked to play it. The screen showed a man sitting in a dark room. They couldn’t see what he looked like clearly as he was against the light. He was holding a folding fan in his hand and constantly tapped it on his other hand. He said in a story-telling tone of voice, "She’s called Zhao Di, a Huaibei rural woman who was born at the end of the 19th century. Because her family was very poor, her father asked a landlord’s second son to marry her, and she became the landlord’s daughter-in-law. When she was seventeen, she became pregnant, but because the fetal position wasn’t correct, the child didn’t survive, so she was very sad and cried for a long time. When she was twenty, she became pregnant again but again failed to give birth. The two children who were lost in succession were both sons. The husband was heartbroken and looked for reasons everywhere. On that day, the husband came back from the midwife utterly discomfited and beat Zhao Di up. He said, ‘I told the midwife to prioritize the child but you actually said you wanted to survive and begged them to save you instead? I will X you XXX. If you don’t give birth to a son for the X family, what was the point of my marrying you? If you can't give birth to a son next time, I will screw off your head and give it to the dog to use as a dog bowl!’"
The man in the video shook his head regretfully. "However, it's as if fate was joking with Zhao Di. The third child was a son again and once again, she couldn’t give birth to him. After that, Zhao Di disappeared. When people asked her husband about her, her husband said with a cold face that she had run away, and that the bitch had killed his sons, so she wouldn’t have the face to come back.
The man took out a small bowl exactly like the one in Song Lang’s hands from a small wooden box. “This bowl was found in the landlord’s second son’s house during the Cultural Revolution. Yes, you guessed right. It’s Zhao Di! A poor and helpless woman! This isn’t just her skull, but also a vessel for her grievances. Deep grievances that span a century... Boss, I want to pawn this thing right now. I want 6 million yuan. If you don’t want to give me so much money, I will leave Zhao Di at your house. She will bring continuous 'good luck' to your family, hahaha..." After he had finished laughing, the man continued, “I’ll notify you as to where to pay the money. By the way, it’s useless if you call the police. This is not blackmail, because whether you believe it or not is up to you. You can throw it in the trash and see if Zhao Di would get angry! Hahahaha!"
The four people stared at the screen quietly, and He Jingjing said, "Now do you believe it? This bowl will bring about a curse!"
"Can we take the bowl back for appraisal?"
"Yes, yes, and don't return it! Your police station has heavy inauspicious influences, so maybe it would be subdued." He Jingjing breathed a sigh of relief as if she had sent away the plague.
"By the way, how much cash did your father take with him when he went out at night?"
"I don't know. The last time I saw him was at 8:00 in the evening. He was carrying a box while he was leaving. He usually used that box to store money, and he had also handcuffed his wrist to the box. It must have been a big sum of money. I asked him where he was going, and he said he would be back soon."
"He didn't personally say he was going to send this life-preservation money?"
"I guessed. Otherwise, what was he doing with the money in the middle of the night? Officers, it's really not because I am superstitious. You can go to any pawn shop in the city to ask and you will find out that there’s a curse on this bowl. The boss of the Yuxiang Pawn Shop died bizarrely after receiving this bowl. You police also have a case file regarding this matter."
He Jun also agreed, "Yes, yes, it’s true. This bowl is really evil. Ever since it appeared in the store, unlucky things befell me one after another this month, and the boss’s wife fell ill and died as well."
Song Lang noticed the pair of young people standing together. He Jun's hand seemed to have brushed He Jingjing's waist...
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