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The conversation coming to that point, Li Man, of course, could not offend Tang Fan too greatly, so he had to personally bring him to Lady Zhang’s living space and let him go in for an inspection.
Her corpse had already been moved to a side room. This area was the equivalent of a crime scene, but because the body had been shifted, said scene was thus equivalently destroyed. At first look, it was difficult to find any clues of use.
Ah-Chun followed after, repeating to him what she had seen and heard after she had come in here. When he heard her say that she shut the window, he went behind that screen, opened said window, carefully looked it over, then walked back to the inner room.
The rope Lady Zhang had hung from the beam was still there, likely because after her body was carried away, no one had the mind to go untie it. The stool next to her hanging site had also been overturned onto the floor.
Ah-Chun tailed him, on edge, and looked on as he rummaged through the disheveled bed for a spell, then as he lifted the sheets hanging off of the bed, examined them for a time, and went to feel about past them.
When he straightened back up, he had a jade earring in hand. The jade was quite exquisite, carved into a lotus shape with silver tassels hanging below it.
“Do you recognize this?” he asked.
She nodded. “It’s something of the Madam’s.”
“I found it under the pillow.”
Ah-Chun gave an ah. “I’m guessing that she forgot to take it off before she went to sleep, and then it accidentally fell onto the bed?”
“Why is there only one, then? Where’s the other?”
She was unsure. “Maybe it’s on the bed, too?”
He nodded, handing the earring to her. “You go on and put it away, then.”
Li Man saw Tang Fan exit from where he stood outside the door. “Have you gained anything, Sir?” he questioned.
Tang Fan shook his head. “No gains at all. Perhaps your good wife really did hang herself.”
Li Man sighed, the disappointment on his face plain to see. “Honestly speaking, I was actually hoping that someone had brought harm to her. If that was the case, the true killer could be found, and her spirit would be comforted in the Heavens.”
“You can think of it this way,” Tang Fan replied, “her heart will definitely be at peace, because she won’t have to bother with the concubine you brought back from outside.”
Li Man was shamed from his words, immediately after which he got a bit angry. Even if Tang Fan was a Dynasty official, taking a concubine was a family matter. How was it this guy’s place to criticize him?
Tang Fan was disinclined to care about how Li Man felt. After leaving the house, he went straight to Wanping County, sought out its Magistrate, and then discussed the matter with them, asking that they send people to go investigate Lady Zhang’s body.
The Li’s didn’t want to report to the authorities, but he still wanted Wanping County to take a round over there. It was, if nothing else, in regards to Madam Li having constantly treated him well; if she really had died unjustly, then he wanted to get justice for her, no matter what.
Officials of higher rank crushed those lower than them to death. Tang Fan was only from the sixth rank, but he was a member of Shuntian Prefecture regardless, which was in direct control of Wanping County. After hearing him out, the Magistrate didn’t dare to slight him, and sent a Deputy and Registrar over at once.
Following his departure from the County’s bureau, he returned to the Prefecture.
As soon as he stepped into the main gate of its bureau, he saw Du Jiang hurriedly come to greet him. “You’re back, Sir! Mister Prefect is looking everywhere for you!”
“Do you know what’s going on?” Tang Fan asked.
“This subordinate does not, but he appears to be very anxious.”
Tang Fan smiled. “I see. Many thanks, you can go on ahead.”
Pan Bin was currently pacing back and forth in the side lobby with his hands behind his back. Once he saw that Tang Fan had come in and was about to cup his hands in courtesy to him, he impatiently waved him off. “It’s fine, nevermind those empty courtesies! Take a look at this invitation!”
The card he passed him was red-papered and black-lettered, gold pieces sprinkled upon it. It looked rather expensive.
Taking it for a peek, Tang Fan’s expression grew strange. “Chief Eunuch Wang invited you to dinner?”
“Yes!” Pan Bin looked vexed. “I’ve never provoked him, and everything is fine. Why would he want to do that?”
Seeing that he was jittery from head to toe, Tang Fan consoled him. “Don’t be worried, Sir. Do you know what it is that he invited you over for? Or how many other people he also did?”
Pan Bin was glum. “How would I know? Ever since the Marquis Estate case, he’s been getting more and more tyrannical. He says one thing, and other people won’t dare to say a second. No one visits a temple without ulterior motives! This banquet is definitely not going be a good one! What trouble’s been arranged for the Prefecture again?!”
Wang Zhi was a eunuch. Firstly, eunuchs and civil officials were innately opposing classes, and their interests would eternally never match up unless they schemed with each other. In that case, however, the civil officials themselves would have to make mental preparations for them to lose their reputation and have their names go down in infamy.
Pan Bin was no clean official, but he also definitely didn’t want to be a treacher; he only wanted to be a peaceful official that rose above. Yet, no such beautiful thing existed in the world, and as someone of the bureaucracy, it was inevitable that he was going to have to contend with all sorts of people.
When it came to contending with civil officials, they would all be in the same profession, and he could play by their rules. When contending with eunuchs, though, the standards used for those officials wouldn’t work. Pan Bin couldn’t get a grasp on Wang Zhi’s goal here; he didn’t want to get involved with him, nor did he want to offend him, so he was in a real pickle.
Tang Fan understood his feelings, and expressed his deepest sympathies thereafter.
But Pan Bin didn’t need ‘sympathies’, though, saying to him, “Aren’t you familiar with the Brocade Guards? Maybe they know the situation over there! It’d be best to ask them!”
Tang Fan was a bit dumbstruck. “Sir, the Western Depot is an intelligence agency, too. The guard on their information isn’t necessarily any laxer than the Guard’s. It’s probably useless to ask, isn’t it?”
“Its usefulness doesn’t matter for right now, just go and ask! Maybe they’ll have some kind of info!”
Aware that no matter what he said right now, the other wouldn’t hear any of it, Tang Fan could only say, “I’m humbled by your misplaced regard, Sir. This humble official will go make an inquiry, but I might not be able to glean anything. I ask that you forgive me!”
Only then was Pan Bin pleased. “You’re my good little brother, what are you calling me ‘Sir’ for? You’re being so unfamiliar!”
Tang Fan just smiled painfully, at his wit’s end about Mister Upperclassman Pan.
Following the Marquis Estate case, Tang Fan and Sui Zhou indeed had a bit of a friendship. However, the Northern Bastion Office could only be busier, not more relaxed, when compared to Shuntian Prefecture. That was due to the Brocade Guard not only being responsible for the inspection of Court officials on imperial orders, but also having to simultaneously investigate major and/or important cases, as well as take responsibility for formations in imperial ceremonies. They even had to arrest regular citizens that castrated themselves in private out of want to enter the palace and win wealth and prestige, then send them off to their birthplaces in penalty one by one.
In truth, the Guard was actually doing a lot of the same work that Shuntian Prefecture ought to have been doing, while still having to do the work that the Prefecture ought not be doing. In result, as a minor boss of the Office, Gonfalon Sui’s level of busyness was not any lower than Tang Fan’s.
Even so, when he went to the Office, he obtained the same spot of special treatment as ever. Sui Zhou’s deputy, Xue Ling, greeted him in person. The man that normally rarely spoke or smiled was instead quite cordial towards Tang Fan, but the news he gave was a bit disappointing. “You’ve come at a bad time, Brother Runqing. Sir Centarch is currently on an abroad assignment, and will probably only come back after a few days.
“Brother Guangchuan’s been promoted? That’s worthy of celebration!”
Above ‘Gonfalon’ was still ‘Assistant Centarch’ (which was tantamount to ‘Deputy Centarch’), and ‘Centarch’ came only after that. However, Sui Zhou had skipped over the position of Assistant Centarch to go straight to Centarch. On one hand, it had to be because of his remarkable performance in the Marquis Estate case, and on the other, he was ultimately different from typical Brocade Guards. For someone of his background and capabilities, promotion was certain to come a lot easier to him no matter where he was.
Therefore, while Sui Zhou’s promotion was somewhat unexpected, when one thought about it carefully, they would discover that this was within reason.
As a friend, Tang Fan was of course happy for him, to say nothing of the aside that having a Centarch pal in the Office would make work a bit easier for him from now on.
Xue Ling chuckled. “Nah, big bro thinks it’s nothing. Before we could even have a party to help him celebrate, he got sent on an outside mission. When we can, we’re going to set up a banquet at Immortal Guest. Will you be coming?”
Tang Fan smiled. “Of course I’ll go to such a happy occasion. How about you let me be the host? Speaking of that case, I’m really thankful for yours and Brother Guangchuan’s help. I haven’t thanked you two properly yet!”
“You’re a forthright man, Brother Runqing, but there’s no need. A couple of Office brothers are paying for his banquet, you’ll be fine if you just show up!”
Tang Fan agreed, as was natural. “Old Xue, I have something I need to ask you about.”
“Do you know if anything has happened recently on Chief Eunuch Wang’s end?”
Xue Ling had a think. “Don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
Tang Fan smiled bitterly. “He suddenly invited our Prefect for a meal; we don’t know what his intentions are, and Mister Prefect is uneasy about it. That’s why I came over to bug you in the hopes that I could get a bit of the gist of it, and to keep Mister Prefect from offending Wang Zhi when he goes in and doesn’t know the situation.”
Wang Zhi’s notoriety was known to all in the capital. It wasn’t just Shuntian Prefecture that was wary of him, but the Brocade Guard, too. Xue Ling had a look of empathy. “I haven’t heard of anything happening, but I can help you with asking around. When is Sir Pan going?”
“In two days.”
Xue Ling nodded. “There’s still time, then. If I have news, I’ll let you know.”
“Thank you so much, really!” Tang Fan answered gratefully.
“You don’t need to be so polite, it’s nothing but a hand wave’s worth of effort! If big bro was here instead, he’d definitely help you with this, too. I’ve never heard him compliment anybody before, at least. You’re the first one. In view of just that, I’d help with whatever you need!”
“What did he compliment me on?” Tang Fan wondered.
Xue Ling laughed. “He said that you don’t talk drivel and can get things done.”
Tang Fan smiled sardonically. That really did seem like how Sui Zhou would compliment someone!
After a few more pleasantries, Tang Fan said his goodbyes to Xue Ling, left the Office, and returned to the Prefecture.
Once Pan Bin heard that the Guard was willing to help him investigate, he was pleased, not looking as worried as he did before. With the resolution of the other man’s business, Tang Fan had just returned to his on-duty room on his toes when he heard a bailiff come in with a report on his heels, saying that Wanping County’s investigation at the Li’s had born fruit: Lady Zhang’s cause of death was suspicious.
She had likely not killed herself, but been strangled to death.
The translator says: Tang Fan’s my spirit animal. “your wife probably killed herself because you’re an enormous asshole”