Zhou Qin struggled and kicked her legs, but it was no use. The attacker was too strong. She tried to step on the attacker's foot, but her attempt was thwarted when the attacker hoisted her body upwards—her feet couldn't even reach the ground. Her arms were restrained, so she couldn’t use her hands or elbows to strike the attacker's groin.
Realizing how defenseless she was, Zhou Qin did the only other thing she could think of. She jerked her head backwards as hard as she could until the back of her skull slammed into something soft—probably the attacker's mouth, or his nose.
There was a hiss, then a grunt.
"Shh! Damn it! It's me, Miss Zhou!"
Zhou Qin stopped struggling. That voice sounded so familiar.
The attacker's arms loosened around her body the moment she stopped struggling. Seconds later, she was lowered gently to the floor. As soon as her feet touched the carpeted floor of her bedroom, Zhou Qin scrambled towards the nightstand and reached for the Taser.
"Stop!" The attacker removed the dark ski mask from his face. "It's me!"
Zhou Qin's hands stilled in midair.
"Detective Wang?" she squeaked in surprise. A moment later, she regained her composure and narrowed her eyes. "What on earth are you doing here?"
Detective Wang lowered the ski mask with a soft groan, then rubbed his lips. "Nice head butt, by the way."
"How did you get past security?" Zhou Qin snapped.
"Gave them the slip," Detective Wang said with a casual wave of his hand. "I'm ex-military. Those guys didn't stand a chance."
Zhou Qin opened her mouth to argue, but Detective Wang silenced her with his palm.
"There's no time," Detective Wang said urgently. "You need to—"
Zhou Qin didn't wait for him to finish. She dove for the phone receiver and—
"Stop!" Detective Wang's hand beat her to the receiver. He tossed it onto the bed. "I'm on your side, dammit! They're coming for you."
Zhou Qin froze. Confusion swirled in her mind like a dense fog.
"The He family," Detective Wang said, giving her a stern look. "They're coming for you and your family. You need to warn your father and start taking precautionary measures."
Zhou Qin stared at Detective Wang for a few seconds. Then, she took a deep breath. "Start from the beginning," she said. "Tell me what's going on."
Detective Wang sighed and moved towards the window, the one he'd just climbed through. He stared out the window for a moment before drawing the curtains shut. After that, he pulled out a chair and sat down.
Dark rims circled the detective's eyes. The last time Zhou Qin saw the detective was about two weeks ago, in the interrogation room. His face was still clean-shaven back then. Now, it was covered with scruff and dark stubble. His hair was also slightly longer than Zhou Qin remembered.
"The whole system is bullshit," Detective Wang said tiredly. "My team got taken off the damn case after we presented your statement."
Zhou Qin frowned. "Wait, when was that?"
"A week ago." Detective Wang's face twisted in disgust. "I tried, Miss Zhou. I really tried." Detective Wang sighed. "Look. I don't have to spell everything out for you. I think you're smart enough to figure out what's going on here."
Zhou Qin sat down on the edge of the bed, her mind racing.
"The He family had the commissioner wrapped around their little finger, Miss Zhou." Detective Wang shook his head in disgust. "I refused to do the commissioner's bidding. So they kicked me off the damn case. Gave it to some dumb rookie with a chip on his shoulders instead. You see that? Assigning a high-profile case to some rookie who is about as green as the Bok Choy in my mom's vegetable garden!" Detective Wang snorted. "If that doesn't smell like bullshit, I don't know what is." The detective paused and gave Zhou Qin a pointed look. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you what this means, Miss Zhou."
No. He didn't. The rookie officer—or detective, whatever—would jump at the chance to do the commissioner's bidding without asking any questions. After all, what better way to ensure a stellar career in law enforcement than getting on the police commissioner's good side?
"I see." Zhou Qin nodded. "The He family wanted Li Yundong charged for He Shao's murder. But the only way to get a conviction is through me." Zhou Qin laughed darkly. "They want me to testify against him."
Detective Wang nodded grimly. "So far, all the evidence tying Li Yundong to He Shao's murder is circumstantial at best. There's no direct proof that he killed He Shao. And all the stuff you pointed out in our last few interrogation sessions checked out. The story you told me matches all the evidence the lab found. The footprints. He Shao's DNA in the hole. All that stuff."
"But it wasn't enough," Zhou Qin said tiredly.
Detective Wang sighed. "The He family is convinced that Li Yundong is the killer because his prints are all over He Shao's car."
"Of course his prints would be there. Li Yundong was chasing He Shao's car," Zhou Qin said coldly. "That doesn't prove he killed He Shao."
"Which is why we're sitting here, having this conversation," Detective Wang said. "The evidence against Li Yundong is all circumstantial, but the He family needs a way to convict the guy."
Zhou Qin rolled her eyes. "I'm surprised they didn't just try to bribe the judge."
"It would still make them look bad if the evidence isn't conclusive. People will talk."
"Right. So now they're forcing me to testify because I'm a key eyewitness." Zhou Qin let out a dark chuckle. "An eyewitness account is better than circumstantial evidence. That's the game plan they are going with."
"When I was first assigned to the case, the commissioner ordered me to trick you into revealing incriminating information about Li Yundong." Detective Wang shook his head slightly. "But when everything in your story checked out, he told me to use any means necessary to force you to testify against Li Yundong." Detective Wang gave her a pointed look. "Any means necessary."
Zhou Qin smirked. "And you disagreed?"
"Nearly socked the old bastard in the face."
Zhou Qin shook her head. "If they took you and your team off the case, what's stopping them from destroying all the evidence I gave you? My statements." Zhou Qin snorted. "Even that video of He Shao's death. Everything."
Zhou Qin looked up and saw Detective Wang smirking at her.
"I don't see why not, detective. Isn't that the whole point of replacing the lead detective?"
Detective Wang laughed. "I was one step ahead of the old bastard, Miss Zhou." He smirked again. "I secretly made copies of the case files and then kept it in a safe place."
"But that's not—"
"Even the audio recordings and transcripts of our interrogation sessions."
Zhou Qin would be lying if she said that she wasn't impressed.
"That... takes a lot of foresight," Zhou Qin said.
"I'd chalk it up to my military training." Detective Wang stood up from the chair and walked towards the window again. He took a peek from the curtain, then returned to the chair once again. "Look. Right now it's just you and me here. So why don't you cut the bullshit and tell me the truth. Did He Shao really die because he was struck by lightning?"
Zhou Qin stared at the detective for a few seconds, her eyes narrowing. Suddenly, she sprang to her feet. "You! This is a setup! You're wearing a wire, aren't you?"
Detective Wang rolled his eyes. "I'm not wearing a damn wire!" He yanked down the collar of his shirt and patted himself all over. "See? No listening device."
Zhou Qin eyed the man suspiciously.
Detective Wang sighed. He sounded exasperated, and perhaps a little bit annoyed.
"What do you think this is for?" Detective Wang waved a hand down his body, which was clad in dark, combat gear. "There's no need for all this cloak-and-dagger business if I'm really working for them. I could just come in through your front door like I was conducting official business and then basically tell you the same thing."
Zhou Qin relaxed her stance a little.
"I had to sneak around because the commissioner has put me under surveillance ever since he kicked me off the case. And if I get caught, not only will I lose my badge, but my contacts in the military will also be—" Detective Wang huffed out in frustration. "You know what? We're wasting time here. Look. How many times do I have to tell you that I'm. On. Your. Side."
"Why are you helping me?" Zhou Qin narrowed her eyes slightly. "What's in it for you?"
"Let's just say that I have a thing against corrupt officials," Detective Wang said gruffly, then waved his hand a few times. "Whatever. If you still want to keep what really happened to He Shao a secret, then that's fine by me. It doesn't matter anyway. Now sit, and listen carefully to what I'm about to tell you."
Zhou Qin sat down at the edge of the bed.
"The police commissioner couldn't force you to testify, so the He family plans to take things to the next level." Detective Wang gave her a serious look. "They plan to get the military involved."
It took Zhou Qin everything to maintain her poker face. "And how, may I ask, did you come across that information?"
Detective Wang leaned forward. "Like I said, I'm ex-military. So I still have a lot of contacts inside the military. A few of them heard rumors about the formation of a special task force to"—Detective Wang did air quotes—"work on a murder case. And then, two days ago, another buddy of mine saw members of the He family leaving a military base in Tiannan City. My buddy called me because he knew I was working on a case involving the He family. He didn't know that I'd actually been kicked off the case." Detective Wang leaned back in the chair. "After that, I asked my buddy to do some digging, and he found out that the task force is about to, I quote, make an arrest."
Zhou Qin's back stiffened. Stay calm, Zhou Qin. Stay calm…
Detective Wang leaned forward again. "My buddy couldn't find out any specifics of the arrest, just that it'll take place within the next few days. He couldn't find out the person they're planning to arrest either. But I figured it's most likely you, because I know that the He family is out to get you."
Zhou Qin could feel her hands shaking a little as Detective Wang's words from before echoed inside her head: any means necessary.
Just how far would they go to force her to testify?
"Look. I'm just here to warn you," Detective Wang said. "What you decide to do is up to you."
What should she do? Bend to the He family's will and agree to testify against Li Yundong? Throw Li Yundong and Su Chan under the bus to save her own skin?
Where was the honor in that?
Even in death, He Shao was screwing up her life.
That thought made Zhou Qin sick to the stomach.
"You alright, Miss Zhou?"
Zhou Qin looked up. Detective Wang was staring at her worriedly. Those eyes were filled with compassion and pity.
Seconds later, Detective Wang sighed.
"I suggest you warn Deputy Governor Zhou about this. I didn't have a way to reach out to him, but you do," Detective Wang said, then paused slightly. "Maybe he'll find a way to smooth things over before the members of the task force arrive with guns blazing."
Her father? Zhou Qin released derisive snort. That man would rather feed her to the wolves than jeopardize the good relationship between the Zhou and the He families. No. She wouldn't count on Zhou Keqiang to get her out of this mess. She was on her own.
Detective Wang rose from the chair. "Whatever your plans are, Miss Zhou, I hope they involve a safehouse and a damn good lawyer." Detective Wang gave her a hard stare. "You need to find a place to lay low before those bastards get here."
Detective Wang moved towards the window.
"Thank you for the warning, detective."
When Detective Wang reached the window, he paused and turned around.
Silence permeated the room.
After a while, Zhou Qin sighed. "He Shao really died because of the lightning." Zhou Qin stared at Detective Wang intently. "I saw it with my own eyes. I'm telling you the truth. I swear."
Detective Wang ended the staring match with a nod.
"Your story fits the evidence." Detective Wang suddenly had a faraway look in his eyes. "But Li Yundong… I just don't know how he…" Detective Wang sighed and shook his head.
"He's a good man," Zhou Qin said pointedly.
Detective Wang looked up sharply.
Zhou Qin held his gaze firmly. "He is a good man, detective."
Zhou Qin's expression must've looked a little funny right then because Detective Wang suddenly started laughing. "Seriously, I'm not bullshitting you. I do know that he's a good man."
Zhou Qin kept staring.
Detective Wang stopped laughing, his expression turning somber. "Look… I know I was a bit biased against him during our first interrogation—"
"A little?" Zhou Qin arched a brow.
"Okay, maybe more than a little. But I did a deeper background check on the guy after I saw the video of He Shao's death." There was a pause. "I found out that he was the guy who saved my idiot brother's life."
Zhou Qin did a double take.
"Yeah." Detective Wang let out a sad chuckle. "That's right. He did. Li Yundong saved my brother's life. I was a little surprised that the information hadn't turned up sooner. But then again, the incident was covered up pretty well."
"Which incident are you referring to?"
There were a lot of incidents involving Li Yundong.
Detective Wang scowled. "Months ago, my good-for-nothing brother decided to show up at Dongsheng Realtors with a suicide vest. But Li Yundong stopped him and saved everyone in the building. After that, my brother jumped off the building. And guess what?" Detective Wang chuckled. "Li Yundong saved him too."
Zhou Qin could do nothing except stare.
"I swear, dude's like some kind of superhero out of a comic book," Detective Wang mumbled.
Zhou Qin smirked. If only you knew half of it, detective.
"So no. I don't have a problem with Li Yundong."
Zhou Qin nodded.
"It's the He family that I have a problem with," Detective Wang growled.
Zhou Qin curled her lips. You might have to get in line, detective.
"Those corrupt bastards—" Detective Wang froze, then pulled out his phone from his pocket. He stared at the screen and frowned. "It's my buddy from the military."
"Go ahead," Zhou Qin said.
She rose from the bed and walked towards the window while the detective answered the call. She parted the curtains slightly and peered out.
"Hey buddy. What's up?"
Two SUVs were parked outside the gates of Zhou's residence. The vehicles seemed unoccupied.
Strange. She'd never seen those vehicles before.
There had been one or two police vehicles stationed outside the house ever since her house arrest, but they were always sedans, not SUVs.
Zhou Qin turned away from the window at the sound of Detective Wang's angry voice. The man was now pacing around her room.
"Goddammit! Why didn't you tell me this sooner?!" Detective Wang yelled into the phone.
There was some kind of commotion at the front gates. Zhou Qin frowned and glanced out the window again. Five men were now standing in front of the gates, speaking to the security staff.
Zhou Qin shot a fearful glance at Detective Wang. "Detective…" She pointed at the window.
Detective Wang walked over, his phone still pressed to his ear. He stepped beside her and looked out the window.
"Shit…" Detective Wang said. "Listen, buddy… I'm gonna have to call you back."
Zhou Qin's scalp tingled.
Detective Wang listened to the voice on the phone for a moment.
"Yeah. Thanks for the warning, buddy," he said. "But you're too late. The task force is already here to make the arrest."