# 14. The Mind Game “Smack!” Magistrate Zhu again smacked the table, shouting angrily “You say you saw a black shadow vault over the wall, why then when the bailiffs went and searched your courtyard, they found no traces of footsteps in the flowerbed, nor traces of flowers or plants being broken?” Madam Yang stared blankly, her beautiful almond eyes looked left and right, “This… this…” Zhang Xian immediately answered, “Sir, how would my mother know how the intruder entered our home? Even if your bailiffs cannot figure out any clues, does not mean you can put the blame on us mother and son.” *The fuck are you “mother and son”? Don’t insult that phrase… that’s your stepmother…* Xu Qi’an couldn’t listen any further. runners Magistrate Zhu shouted, “You have a sly tongue, don't you? Come! Bring out the torture devices” The way investigations worked in this era were all like this: forcing answers, using torture devices; that was all that could be done, when evidence was insufficient. Thus, very commonly were people beaten into admitting guilt. But what else could be done? Finding evidence was too difficult, there were not the tools nor the technical knowledge to, thus torture played a vital role. It had its advantages and disadvantages. Zhang Xian shouted, “Is the magistrate trying to beat a confession out of us? My uncle works at the Ministry of Rites, do you sir not fear getting impeached?” This so-called uncle, was in fact several times removed. However even if their familial relations were distant, their personal relation was very close, since the ZHang family often sent some of their profits this uncle’s way. With one sentence, Zhang Xian struck a sore spot. Magistrate Zhu’s brow twitched; he knew enouhg about the Zhang family’s background. “You dare to threaten this official? Give him twenty strikes of the cane!” Four runners approached. Two used rods to trap his neck, the other two pulled down Zhang Xian’s trousers. They started to use force, and the smack, smcack, smack sound of a cane being applied filled the room. Zhang Xian screamed in pain. Magistrate Zhu’s expression was dark; twenty strikes was not enough to get a murder confession out of the man. Fifty, though, had a chance, though it could also just as well kill him. Furthermore, even if Zhang Xian admitted to the murder, when the case was eventually transferred to the Ministry of Law, he could still turn it on its head. After all, one must not forget, he had an uncle in the government. If that time comes, it could instead be the Magistrate, that would have a confession beaten out of him. Leveraging the time when Zhang Xian was being beaten, Xu Qi’an waved his hand towards one of Magistrate Zhu’s assistants. The assistant hesitated, before silently stepping back a few steps, and then jogging over. “Help me take a message to the Magistrate, for him to pause the interrogation a moment. I have an idea.” Xu Qi’an said quietly. “What idea could you have, don’t speak nonsense, and get me involved.” The assistant did not believe him. “Doing this won't get a results. The Magistrate sir is already far too deep into this to back out, he will accept. Afterwards, I’ll invite you for drinks.” “Sure…” The assistant quickly jogged over to Magistrate Zhu, bending over to whisper in his ear. Zhu immediately turned his head, to look at Xu Qi’an. He hesitated a moment, before turning his gaze away, striking his gavel: “Take those two away for now, the court is adjourned.” … The inner hall. Magistrate Zhu took the cup of tea from a maid, and slowly drank a sip. Having been in the government system for many years now, and at least somewhat knowing all of the unspoken rules in officialdom, Xu Qi'an immediately copied Magistrate Zhu, and took a small sip too. “Xu Ningyan, what idea do you have?” Xu Qi’an was shocked at his attitude: it was unexpectedly warm and kindly, without any hint of official sternness. In his mind, Magistrate Zhu was never so courteous to the staff in the constabulary. Could it be that after he transmigrated, his face got more attractive? “I can try.” “Not using torture?” “Naturally.” Magistrate Zhu was more curious, as he put down his teacup, looking at Xu Qi’an intently, “Elaborate.” *You don’t even understand game theory, what use is there in telling you really…* Xu Qi’an laughed, “Magistrate sir, allow me to make some suspense for a moment, you sir just wait and listen for the good outcome.” Yang Zhenzhen was brought to a quiet room, her watery eyes darting about, as she sat down with unease. Creak… The wooden door opened, and a young man wearing a bailiff’s uniform walked in, standing tall, with well-defined rather handsome features. “Don’t be afraid, I’m just here to chat.” The young man even started making tea, smiling at her, “You can call me Xu Sir.” Xu Snake?[^1] Having never received such good treatment, Yang Zhenzhen did not speak, cautiously watching him. Xu Qi’an looked back at the beautiful woman, deserving to be someone sought after by a wealthy man, she had a natural grace, with a beauty that was only slightly worse than his own Auntie. Her age was good, too, only thirty. In his previous life, thirty was the most perfect age to enjoy. “I see your luxurious clothing, it looks like Zhang Yourui treated you well.” Xu Qi’an broke the silence. Yang Zhenzhen gave an noncommital response. “To be honest, what I think is that for a woman of your age, to not have given birth in that many years, Zhang Yourui must have a problem.” Xu Qi’an continued. Yang Zhenzhen initially thought that this was going to be another investigation, and did not expet that the young man’s attitude and tone was so kindly. Completely different from how she expected an official to act. Furthermore, usually when talking about a couple not being able to get pregnant, usually the blame would be pushed on the woman. Xu Qi’an’s words thus struck a chord. She slowly let down her barriers, and cried, “It was all this commoner’s fault, this commoner’s womb is not healthy enough. After finally getting pregnant after all these years, it had to be now that my husband would be killed.” As she spoke, her eyes became red. “The dead cannot come back to life,” Xu Qi’an comforted her, before asking “Did Zhang Yourui often go to the brothels?” “Of course he did,” she replied, “from ancient times, of all the wealthy men and important officials, who doesn’t go to the brothels?” *Fuck me, what are you saying… fifty years old and still going to the brothels, the vault must be empty… I can almost guarantee that the child inside you is your neighbour Old Wang’s… both women that get around and virgin maidens are all pretty easy to get pregnant.* “I suddenly understand you so much,” Xu Qi’an clicked his tongue, “A woman is like a wolf when she is thirty, and a tiger when she is forty, and at fifty she’s sitting on the ground in the dust. Zhang Yourui has lived half a century, going to brothels and ignoring you. Seeking someone else is an understandable action. “But killing? That’s not right.” Yang Zhenzhen’s face turned, “This commoner doesn’t know what Sir you are talking about.” Xu Qi’an laughed, “I read the dossier, that Zhang Xian is younger than you by a full seven years.” She kept a straight face, “Sir, what does this mean?” “You’re an old eagle eating a young chick.” “This commoner doesn’t understand.” This time, Yang Zhenzhen really didn’t understand. “Then I’ll say something that you do understand.” Xu Qi’an replied solemnly, “Madam Yang of Zhang, you spend your time alone at home, and naturally became lonely, so you enticed the son, and carried out unvirtuous things. “That night, you took the opportunity for when Zhang Yourui was out in the villages collecting rent, to sleep with your stepson. Who knew that Zhang Yourui came back last night, and caught you in your adultery. Father and Son started fighting, and you used a flowerpot to kill Zhang Yourui from behind. “To cover up your crime, you two pulled Zhang Yourui’s body into the courtyard, pretending it was a burglar who had broken in, and killed him. Zhang Xian deliberately left a footprint on the wall, to support your claim.” Yang Zhenzhen’s face was a deathly, deathly white, as she stared at Xu Qi’an, not quite believing her ears. “I didnt, I’m innocent, I was wronged!” she shouted loudly, hands clenching into fists, palms wet with sweat. *She’s panicking…* Xu Qi’an, having put in all the hard work in the interrogation, brushed aside any hint of kindliness, and with an emotionless face, coldly said “You are not curious why I know so much? Well, Zhang Xian already confessed.” *No, this can’t be…* Yang Zhenzhen thought, as her face got whiter still. She forced herself to be steady, and still replied “This commoner is innocent.” “Do you think your adulterous partner couldn’t confess?” Xu Qi’an maintained his emotionlessness. Even though there weren’t any sort of angry words or threats, this nonetheless made Yang Zhenzhen’s even more fearful, made her hair stand on end. “Because you thought you had covered it up flawlessly, yet there was flaw after flaw after flaw. “Zhang Xian only left an exiting footprint on the wall, yet did not make a print entering the courtyard. If the burglar was fit and well, then when he left he would have used even more of his energy, vaulting straight over without leaving a footprint, this is the first flaw. “Secondly, Zhang Yourui died to blunt force trauma, and not from a sharp weapon. According to the laws of Feng, every trespasser in the night are sentenced to eighteen strikes of the cane. If the trespasser is killed by the residents, there is no penalty.” Xu Qi’an tapped the table, continuing, “May I ask, who would enter a house, to rob it of its valuables, without bringing a weapon? But Zhang Yourui died to blunt force.” Yang Zhenzhen’s face stiffened. “I haven’t finished…” Xu Qi’an laughed coldly. He had broken down Yang Zhenzhen’s mental barrier, and now to deliver the killing blow. --- [^1]: The author used the English word “sir”, which sounds similar to the Chinese word for snake, 蛇 shé