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243 Pulling the Net in

 Truth be told, although Huo Jialan had been negligent in her duty and had intentionally delayed Song Jinning's treatment, it was a massive exaggeration to call it "abuse."

But Gu Nianzhi was gunning for maximum dramatic effect, and had therefore deliberately phrased it to make it sound like Huo Jialan had been abusing Song Jinning.

Huo Jialan's gaze swept across the living room, taking in the shocked expressions on some of the guests. She grew nervous, and dropped her soft-spoken, demure "I'm a victim" act in her panic. She said loudly, "How did I abuse her? Spit it out, right now! I-"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. You're not the one on trial today, we'll deal with your mess later." Gu Nianzhi waved Huo Jialan away disdainfully, as though she were an annoying fly.

Huo Jialan was so angry she saw white. The color immediately drained from her face. Even her lips, usually a pretty cherry red, had turned gray; she looked increasingly pitiful with each passing minute.

Song Jinning smiled as she gently patted Gu Nianzhi's hand, before turning to look Huo Jialan in the eye. "I'll let bygones be bygones; I can overlook the way you treated me. Those letters, however, are a different matter. Jialan, where did those letters come from? Did you really get them from your mother? Don't you want to get to the bottom of your mother's death?"

Huo Jialan calmed down. She gave Song Jinning an odd look as she said in a low voice: "Madam Song, my mother killed herself because of you, and that's a fact. Don't bother trying to prove otherwise."

"Is that so?" Song Jinning looked at her calmly. "Jialan, I will ask you one more time: those letters, where did you get them?"

"Do you really want to know?" Huo Jialan rolled her eyes. "They were from my mother, of course."

Gu Nianzhi immediately asked: "When did you discover them? Do you remember the exact moment?"

"Of course I remember. It's been 10 years, but I still remember it like it was yesterday." Huo Jialan grew agitated in her anger. "I had just returned home from school. I went to my mother's room to talk to her. But when I opened the door, there she was, lying on the bed, stiff as a cardboard. Her body was already cold, and beside her hand were those disgusting love letters! Tell me, why would my mother choose to kill herself, if it wasn't because this harlot here seduced my father?!"

Huo Jialan extended a hand and pointed an accusing finger in Song Jinning's face.

Gu Nianzhi pushed her arm away. She calmly said: "So what you're saying is that you found the letters right after your mother died."

"That is correct."

"And you exposed them, right away?"

"Of course. Why should I cover for Song Jinning? She made her bed, so she has to lie in it. So what if she was mentally impaired? She still has to face the consequences. It's a good thing my uncle is an intelligent man. He saw the truth, and immediately filed for divorce." Huo Jialan spoke eloquently; she had recollected herself, and was back to her usual haughty self.

Gu Nianzhi smiled. She had been waiting for Huo Jialan to let her guard down and start talking. It would have been a lot more difficult for Gu Nianzhi to find the holes in her story had Huo Jialan decided to remain silent as part of her "I'm too delicate for this" act.

She calmly asked: "Did you mother ever tell you about the letters when she was alive?"

Huo Jialan hesitated for a moment. Her eyelashes flickered uncertainly, and her gaze began to drift.

"Please answer the question: when your mother was alive, did she mention the letters to you? You just have to answer yes or no." Gu Nianzhi repeated her question patiently; she was determined to get some answers, and she would repeat her question a thousand times if necessary.

Huo Jialan was silent for a long moment. She decided it was better to be honest. "...No."

She did not dare say "yes"-she had a feeling Gu Nianzhi would follow up with all sorts of bizarre questions to corner her.

"Did your mother leave a suicide note, then? You just have to answer yes or no." Gu Nianzhi was now acting like a lawyer questioning the accused in court.

Huo Jialan did not realize she was being led around by the nose. She hesitated, then shook her head. "No."

"That's strange. So your mother never mentioned the love letters to you when she was alive, and she didn't leave a suicide note explaining the letters, either. How, then, did you come to the conclusion that your mother left the letters for you to find? Or that they were the cause of her suicide in the first place?" Gu Nianzhi neatly cleaved apart the connection between the scandalous love letters and Luo Xinxue's suicide.

Huo Jialan stared at Gu Nianzhi. She was feeling a little light-headed from Gu Nianzhi's clever twists and turns.

The letters were obviously the cause of her mother's death-they had been right next to her mother's lifeless hand!

But Gu Nianzhi made it sound like the letters were completely irrelevant. How was that possible?!

What was going on?!

Bai Jinyi had been watching from the sidelines. She stepped forward to back Huo Jialan up. "I don't blame you all for not knowing this, but Jialan's mother Xinxue was a very kind woman. For the sake of Song Jinning's reputation, she decided not to expose the affair, even though Huo Guanyuan was no longer around. She suffered silently under the weight of her secret for six years. In the end, she couldn't take it anymore and committed suicide. She was an honorable woman-she never so much as breathed a word about the love letters when she was alive.

"...Jialan decided to expose the letters because she lost too much. You would have to be very selfish and vicious to blame her for that. You keep talking about how you were wronged, but what about her parents?! They lost their lives!"

Bai Jinyi had a point.

Several people in the audience had begun to nod in agreement. Bai Jinyi's explanation made sense: it explained why Luo Xinxue had concealed the love letters for six years, and committed suicide without telling anyone about them.

Gu Nianzhi waited patiently. When the murmurs in the living room died away and the guests fell silent again, she said, in a loud voice, "That's one way to interpret it. Your explanation is far-fetched, however, and riddled with holes."

"How is it far-fetched? Or riddled with holes?" Huo Jialan had moved to stand next to Bai Jinyi without realizing it herself. "This is obviously the only explanation. I know you want to get in my Cousin Brother's good books, but you shouldn't play yes-man and agree with everything his mother says just because of that."

"Projecting, much? You didn't even try to get to the bottom of your mother's death. Instead, you immediately began sucking up to an outsider, while abusing your own family," Gu Nianzhi replied coldly. Huo Jialan immediately wished she hadn't mentioned Huo Shaoheng; Gu Nianzhi was all the more ruthless when she saw his reputation was at stake.

"I'm a law student, Huo Jialan. I stand firmly on the side of the law."

Bai Jinyi put an arm around Huo Jialan's shoulders in a display of concern and solidarity. She rebuked Gu Nianzhi by saying: "Well, here's what I have to say, and I'd say it even if we were standing in court right now: Jialan's mother killed herself because of those love letters. She committed suicide because the letters were too much for her to take!"

Gu Nianzhi wagged a finger. "That makes no sense, Physicist Bai. Huo Guanyuan's wife, Luo Xinxue, did not commit suicide when she heard that her husband had been killed in the laboratory accident. She did not kill herself after reading the love letters her husband sent to another woman. Instead, she waited for six years before finally committing suicide... Why? What was she waiting for?"

Bai Jinyi: "..."

"Besides, as Huo Jialan said, Luo Xinxue kept those letters a secret. Up until the day she took her own life, no one had known about the letters-not even her one and only daughter. How do you know Luo Xinxue first saw the letters 16 years ago? Did she tell you about the letters?"

Bai Jinyi: "..."

"Physicist Bai, how do you know Luo Xinxue got those letters 16 years ago?"

"It's a logical deduction. Since the letters belonged to Huo Guanyuan, they should have been handed over to his wife when he died 16 years ago, so..." Bai Jinyi trailed off uncertainly.

"In other words, it's all conjecture. You have no evidence to support your claim." Gu Nianzhi turned and looked at the guests in the living room, one by one. "Well, two can play that game. Here's my theory: Luo Xinxue did not receive the letters 16 years ago, when her husband died. Instead, someone intentionally showed her the letters 10 years ago, which led to her suicide. It's also possible the letters were planted on her bed after her death. So who gave her the letters? Why does this mystery person have Huo Guanyuan and Song Jinning's private, handwritten letters in their possession? Who could have discovered those letters, and which one of us would have benefitted from having them exposed?"

Gu Nianzhi looked directly at Bai Jinyi. The meaning behind her steady gaze was clear to everyone in the room-it was as though she had pointed a finger in Bai Jinyi's face and yelled: "It was you, it was you, it was you!"

Bai Changhui's face darkened. He said, furious, "Watch what you say, Miss Gu. You can't just say whatever you like and expect to get away with it. You said it yourself: all we have is conjecture. You're being an alarmist, you can't just cry murder and foul play and pin them on my sister without evidence."

"...But your sister did exactly that: she tarnished Madam Song's reputation on the basis of mere conjecture, causing her to lose the trust of her husband and ultimately her marriage. If that wasn't enough, Madam Song was abused for 10 years after that. Where were you then, oh righteous one?" Gu Nianzhi stared fearlessly at Bai Changhui.

Bai Changhui was so annoyed he could feel his scalp grow warm all over with anger. In his rage he said, without thinking, "...What do I care about that? I only care about my sister!"

"I see. Mr. Bai, you are clearly guilty of nepotism. Since you have no intention of playing fair, don't blame me for being what you call an 'alarmist.'" Gu Nianzhi waved him away contemptuously. Her attitude said: "Scram, you're not worth my time."

Bai Changhui's face turned a shade of green. He could not come up with a counter-argument.

Bai Jinyi's ears were ringing. She could not think; her brain crackled like static on an old TV. Her forehead was drenched in sweat. She bit her lip, too afraid to say another word.

The living room had gone deathly silent. All eyes were on Bai Jinyi and Song Jinning.

Huo Jialan felt as though she had been struck by lightning; she heard the resulting thunder reverberate in her skull. She looked from Bai Changyi to Gu Nianzhi, thunderstruck, not knowing who to believe.

Song Jinning sighed as she looked at Huo Jialan with a conflicted expression. "Jialan, you were the person your mother loved most. Her greatest wish was to see you grow up, marry, have children, and be happy with your family."

Song Jinning found it difficult to believe that Luo Xinxue had chosen to commit suicide when Huo Jialan was still a child.

"Shut up, it's all your fault! If it wasn't for you, my mother would never have chosen death!" Huo Jialan cried out hysterically as confusion and anger ballooned within her. Her face had turned an ashen gray; she looked like she was about to faint any minute now.

Bai Changhui quickly nodded to Huo Guanchen. "Well, who could have foreseen all this? There's a lot to digest. You should straighten things out with your own family, first. In the meantime, I'll take my sister home with me..."

Huo Guanchen did not speak. Grandfather Huo's face was full of anger, but he was too afraid to voice his displeasure in the presence of General Ji and Chairman Long.

Gu Nianzhi was beginning to panic-they were letting Bai Jinyi get away!

If they got away now, the Bai family would immediately arrange for Bai Jinyi to be sent straight to the airport to take refuge outside of the country. Gu Nianzhi was about to say something to stop them, when she heard a commotion from the direction of the living room entrance.

Gu Nianzhi turned her head to see what was going on. Her eyes immediately lit up.

Huo Shaoheng, dressed in his military uniform, walked in, followed by his orderlies and several policemen.

One of the policemen walked over to Bai Jinyi, an arrest warrant in hand. "Are you Bai Jinyi? We suspect Luo Xinxue's death 10 years ago wasn't a suicide, but a murder. Please come with us to the police station to assist in the investigation."

Bai Changhui was shocked. He looked up. "...Do you have evidence?! You can't just go around making arrests without evidence!"

"We are currently gathering the evidence, Deputy Secretary-General Bai." Huo Shaoheng's steady voice was powerful and irresistibly alluring.

"'Gathering evidence' my ass! Luo Xinxue was cremated 10 years ago, her ashes are buried in the cemetery. Where are you going to find your evidence, Major General Huo? Are you trying to pull one over us?"

Bai Jinyi could not believe her ears: what grounds did they have for arresting her?!

What insolence! Where was their respect for the law and due process?!

"Luo Xinxue's body wasn't cremated." Huo Shaoheng stood behind Gu Nianzhi and Song Jinning, his hands clasped behind his back. His tall, strapping figure was as majestic and imposing as a mountain. "10 years ago, I asked someone to help freeze Luo Xinxue's body, because I knew we'd reopen the case someday."