Unscathed Murder, part 4

    “We need to go check something out,” Lin Zhennan explained. “Escort Cui, Escort Ji, my son, and Chen, come with me.” 

With Lin Pingzhi leading the way, the group of five rode out of town, and headed north. Soon, they arrived at the small wine shop. The door of the shop was shut. 

    “Old man Sa, old man Sa! Open the door,” Lin Pingzhi pounded on the door and called out. He knocked and knocked, but there was no response. 

Escort Cui signaled to Lin Zhennan if they should bash down the door. After getting a nod from Lin Zhennan, he struck the door with both hands. With a resounding crack, the door’s bolt snapped, and the swinging doors squeaked back and forth on the rusty hinges. 

Escort Cui pulled Lin Pingzhi to the side as soon as he forced the door open. They waited until they were sure that there was no sound coming from within. Lighting a fire, they entered, and then lit an oil lamp sitting on the table along with two lanterns. They searched both the interior and exterior of the shop, yet found no one. However, blankets, trunks, and other everyday accessories were still in the shop. 

    “The old fellow got scared. There was a murder here and the body was even buried right in the back garden. He was afraid of getting into trouble, so he just ran off,” Lin Zhennan said with a nod. Walking into the garden and pointing to a hoe that was leaning against the wall, he commanded, “Chen, dig the body up.” 

Chen was nearly convinced that the whole crisis had been caused by demons, so after digging only a short while, he felt his limbs getting stiffer and stiffer. He felt so weak that his legs started to give out.

     “Utterly useless! How can you even call yourself a henchman?” Escort Ji yelled at him sternly. 

He handed his lantern to Chen, took the hoe from him, and then began digging. Not long after, the clothes of the dead body appeared. He dug a little deeper and then levering the hoe beneath the corpse, he gave a strong tug, and lifted the body out of the hole. 

Chen turned his head away, afraid to look. But gasps of shock suddenly came from the other four. Scared to death, Chen dropped the lantern. The light was extinguished and the garden was enveloped in complete darkness. 

    Lin Pingzhi’s voice quavered when he muttered uneasily, “We definitely buried the Sichuan guy’s body, how come…how come….” 

   “Light the lantern!” Lin Zhennan ordered. He had been keeping calm since the strange events started, but now there was fear in his voice.

    Escort Cui lit the lantern, and Lin Zhennan bent down to check on the body. Minutes later, he declared, “Same kind of death, not a single wound at all.” 

    Chen finally gathered enough courage to glance at the body, and then he screamed, “Escort Shi! It’s Escort Shi!” The body they had dug out was that of Escort Shi, and the corpse of the man from Sichuan had vanished. 

The body they had dug out was that of Escort Shi
The body they had dug out was that of Escort Shi

    “Something seems strange about this old man Sa,” Lin Zhennan said. He grabbed the lantern and hurried back into the room, looking over everything very carefully. But he couldn’t find anything unusual, even after inspecting everything in the room – in the wine jugs, underneath the stoves, in the iron pot, and under the table and chairs. Escorts Cui and Ji, and Lin Pingzhi also began examining the different rooms. 

    “Father, come here and look at this,” Lin Pingzhi shouted out suddenly. 

Following the sound of his son’s voice, Lin Zhennan found Lin Pingzhi in the girl’s bedroom holding a green handkerchief in his hand. 

  “Father, how could a poor girl have a handkerchief like this?” Lin Pingzhi asked, his voice quavering with excitement. 

Lin Zhennan took the handkerchief from Lin Pingzhi’s hands and examined it carefully. A trace of some kind of light, but sweet, scent soon caught his attention. The handkerchief was very soft and smooth, yet also quite heavy. It was obviously made from high-quality silk. When he looked at it more carefully, he found three levels of green thread sealing the edges of the handkerchief. In one corner, a small red coral branch was embroidered in great detail. 

    “Where did you find this?” Lin Zhennan asked. 

    “It fell underneath the corner of the bed. Maybe they didn’t see it when they packed and left in such a hurry,” Lin Pingzhi suggested. Lin Zhennan put his lantern close to the bed and searched, but found nothing else. He muttered, “You said that the girl was very ugly. I suppose she wasn’t wearing very expensive clothing, but was she dressed very neatly?” 

    “I didn’t pay much attention. I am sure her dress wasn’t filthy, because I would have noticed when she poured wine for me,” Lin Pingzhi replied eagerly. 

Lin Pingzhi showed a handkerchief to his father
Lin Pingzhi showed a handkerchief to his father
    “Brother Cui, what do you think?” Lin Zhennan turned to Escort Cui. 

   “I think this old man and the young girl must be involved with the deaths of Escorts Shi and Zheng, and Henchman Bai. It’s even possible that they were the actual killers,” Escort Cui concluded. 

    “The two fellows from Sichuan must have been in on it too; otherwise, why would they move the dead body?” Escort Ji added. 

    “But that fellow Yu was harassing the girl. I wouldn’t have called him names otherwise. They can’t be working together,” Lin Pingzhi objected. 

   “Young Master,” Escort Cui explained, “you may not realize it, but we are living in a very dangerous world, and people may intentionally set traps into which others may fall. It happens all the time. Two people pretend to fight, and when someone comes to try and separate them, the two will suddenly turn on him.” 

    “Chief Master, what’s your opinion on this?” Escort Ji asked. 

   “The old man and the young girl must have come for us. I am just not sure if those two fellows from Sichuan were in league with them,” Lin Zhennan replied. 

   “Father, didn’t you say that Master Yu of Pine-Wind Temple sent four people over. There…there were exactly four people,” Lin Pingzhi muttered restlessly. 

These words struck Lin Zhennan like a hammer. “The Fortune Prestige Escort House has always shown great respect to the Qingcheng Sword School, and has never done anything to displease them. Why would Master Yu send people to stir up trouble? Why?!” he muttered to himself. 

The four just looked at each other in silence; no one could think of anything to say. After a long while, Lin Zhennan finally spoke. 

  “Let’s move Escort Shi’s body inside first. When we get back to the Escort House, don’t mention this to anyone. We don’t want the authorities to know about this and cause any unnecessary trouble. Humph, the Lin family respects others and wants no trouble, but that doesn’t mean we are cowards who won’t fight back.” 

   “Chief Master,” Escort Ji agreed heartily, “like the old saying goes, ‘Keeping an army for a year just for one battle.’ All of us will fight for the honor of the Escort House.” 

    “Many thanks!” Lin Zhennan nodded. 

The party headed back to town. Just as they were about to reach the Escort House, they saw a big crowd gathered in front of the gate. Countless torches lit the street, turning the night into day. Lin Zhennan’s heart missed a beat. He rushed forward. (To be continued)

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