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295 The Two Most Important Things

 Huo Shaoheng was standing before the door to the bathroom, and therefore overheard Gu Nianzhi's uncontrollable laughing. He shook his head in resignation; deep down, however, he was happy to know how much this meant to Gu Nianzhi. His lips curved into a slight smile as he crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. He waited patiently for her to come out.

Gu Nianzhi laughed so hard she doubled over and had to gasp for air. She supported herself on the sink for a long moment as she waited for the euphoria to pass. Once her nerves had steadied, she exited the bathroom.

She saw Huo Shaoheng waiting for her outside, and almost died of embarrassment. She wondered whether he had overheard her laughing like a maniac inside...

She made a few halting attempts to ask whether he had heard, but Huo Shaoheng neither admitted nor denied it. Instead, he explained to her in a low voice, "...Bai Yueran is close with the people in the military's Legal Department. After careful consideration, we decided that the best way to avoid suspicion was to have someone entirely unrelated to the military's Legal Department represent the plaintiff in court. And that's why we want you to take on both cases, because they're essentially one and the same. It'll make communication a lot easier if we have you on both cases."

Gu Nianzhi finally realized he had been one step ahead of her the whole time. She quickly reassured him by saying, "Don't worry. I won't let you down, not when you have so much faith in me!"

"Just do your best. It doesn't matter if you win or lose-you will always be number one," said Huo Shaoheng as he patted her on the shoulder. Gu Nianzhi's legs immediately turned to jelly.

...

Now that she had Huo Shaoheng's encouragement and trust, Gu Nianzhi was eager to get started.

She returned to her room with her laptop-which now had an entire hard drive's worth of confidential documents-and began studying all the evidence at hand.

She was particularly interested in Medical Examiner Zhu's postmortem report for Luo Xinxue's body, Director Wang's appraisal of all the physical evidence, and Dan Bohan's assessment of Song Jinning's mental health. She typed up 2MB's worth of notes just for those documents alone.

In addition to familiarizing herself with the evidence, she also wrote several drafts for her opening statement and arguments to be presented in court, and made sure she knew all the correct terms.

The trial was scheduled to begin in three days. She did not have a lot of time to prepare.

Gu Nianzhi wished she did not have to spend time eating or drinking. If it were up to her, she would rather crawl inside her computer and stay there, to better absorb all the information.

Song Jinning saw Gu Nianzhi sitting before her computer in her pajamas, too absorbed in her work to even brush her unkempt hair. The older woman was impressed by Gu Nianzhi's commitment and diligence, and decided to help out by personally cooking nutritious meals for her. She brought the soup and food to Gu Nianzhi every day and sat with her while she ate.

Even then, Gu Nianzhi did not waste a second of the time spent eating. She talked to Song Jinning about the case in-between mouthfuls of food.

"Auntie Song, I want to hear your opinion on this-if it turns out that Bai Jinyi killed Luo Xinxue, why did she wait six years after Huo Guanyuan's death to do it? I can understand killing Luo Xinxue while Huo Guanyuan was still alive, because Bai Jinyi was in love with him, but he had already been dead six years when she killed his wife. Something doesn't add up here."

Gu Nianzhi hated Bai Jinyi's guts, but she had to admit that the evidence at hand wasn't enough to convince her that Bai Jinyi had killed Luo Xinxue.

How was she supposed to convince the judge, if she wasn't even convinced herself?

Song Jinning did not seem at all confused by this. She knew how Bai Jinyi ticked, and calmly said, "If you can't fit the pieces together, perhaps you should first think about what kind of person Bai Jinyi is."

"Well, what kind of person is she?"

"The two most important things for her are her career and the man she secretly loves. There's literally nothing she wouldn't do for either of them." Song Jinning summed up Bai Jinyi's life in a single sentence.

Gu Nianzhi swallowed a mouthful of okra and pork ribs soup. She mused, "The man she's secretly in love with was already dead by then. So she committed the murder for the sake of her career? But that can't be right. Luo Xinxue was just a housewife, and had absolutely nothing to do with Bai Jinyi's work. Why would Bai Jinyi kill her to advance her career? Could we be looking at this from the wrong angle? Maybe Luo Xinxue's death wasn't a murder in the first place-or maybe her murderer isn't actually Bai Jinyi?"

Gu Nianzhi glanced sideways at Song Jinning. If Bai Jinyi was ruthless enough to murder others just to further her career, surely Song Jinning would be first on her list of targets?

Then again, Song Jinning was already suffering from her mental disorder at that point. It was possible Bai Jinyi no longer saw Song Jinning as an obstacle because of that.

But why would she kill Luo Xinxue?

Had she killed Luo Xinxue by mistake?

Gu Nianzhi quickly rejected the idea.

Luo Xinxue and Song Jinning weren't even living in the same place back then. There was zero possibility of Bai Jinyi trying to kill Song Jinning and somehow killing Luo Xinxue by mistake.

And besides, Medical Examiner Zhu's postmortem report suggested that Luo Xinxue had most likely been the victim of a premeditated murder.

Gu Nianzhi mulled over this puzzle for a long time, but could not come up with a plausible answer. As she was looking over the physical evidence checklist submitted by Director Wang, she discovered something amiss, and was struck with sudden inspiration. She decided to take a gamble on her assumptions and build her strategy around them.

By the time the day of the hearing for the secret trial rolled around, three days later, Gu Nianzhi was confident she was on the right track.

She changed into a simple light gray skirt suit, and coiled her hair into a bun. She put on some light makeup and a pair of nonprescription gold-rimmed glasses, in an effort to look more mature and experienced.

Huo Shaoheng saw her get-up, and frowned.

The suit was a little too form-fitting. It pinched her around the waist and accentuated her every curve, drawing attention to her ample bosom, her wide hips, and her long, shapely legs.

Fortunately, the nonprescription glasses she had put on partially obscured Gu Nianzhi's large, lively eyes, dampening her natural charms.

If it weren't for those glasses, Huo Shaoheng was sure most of the men in the courtroom would be held spellbound by Gu Nianzhi's looks. No one would listen to what she was saying.

"Huo Shao, this will be my first day in court as a lawyer. Shouldn't you encourage me?" Gu Nianzhi stood in front of the full-length mirror as she checked her attire one last time.

Huo Shaoheng embraced her from behind. He watched her quietly through the mirror, before extending a hand to cup her chin. He turned her face towards him, and kissed her lightly upon the lips. "Consider this to be interest paid. Once we wrap up the case, I'll return the principal..."

"Wait, there's principal?" Gu Nianzhi's heart soared at the thought.

She was going to win this lawsuit no matter what, if only just to get Huo Shao to return his "debt" to her!

...

On January 28th, at 7 o'clock in the morning, the trial for the murder case of Luo Xinxue officially opened in the secret court of the Imperial Capital.

This was the first time Gu Nianzhi had set foot in the Intermediate Court of the Imperial Capital.

As this was a secret trial, the doors to the courtroom were immediately shut tight as soon as everyone involved in the trial was present. No one else would be allowed inside.

Gu Nianzhi casually took in her surroundings. She noted that Huo Shaoheng was leading their team; aside from Gu Nianzhi, Yin Shixiong, Zhao Liangze, Medical Examiner Zhu, and Director Wang were also present. There were also a few orderlies and attendants seated all around Huo Shaoheng-they were there as his human shields.

Medical Examiner Zhu and Director Wang were attending the trial as expert witnesses. They sat in the chairs nearest the plaintiff's table, to make it easier for them to be called upon to testify at any time.

Bai Jinyi, on the other hand, was leading a startlingly large entourage that included 15 lawyers, all of them in black suits. They sat in the chairs behind the defendant's table, looking very much like a mass of black crows, and appeared to be there to provide additional support to the primary lawyer who would be leading the team that day.

There was hardly anyone from the Bai family in attendance, however; the only one there was Bai Changhui, the third son of the Bai family. Aside from him, some of the employees working under Bai Jinyi at her Institute of High Energy Physics had also turned up in a show of support for their boss.

The judge was a middle-aged man in his forties. He was an exceedingly serious man who never smiled or laughed.

He checked the time on his watch and asked: "Is everyone present?"

Both the plaintiff and the defendant replied in the affirmative.

"In that case, I hereby declare the court to now be in session." The judge rapped the sounding board with his gavel.

As the plaintiff's lawyer, Gu Nianzhi was required to introduce herself first. She stood up and bowed respectfully to everyone in the courtroom, before swearing that she would present only the truth in court.

The Bai family lawyers had expected to be facing the Imperial Military's famous lawyers, as the rumors had suggested. They gaped openly at the young lady before them-she looked like she was fresh out of college!

Had the military just handed the Bai family their victory on a silver platter?!

Bai Jinyi's haggard face finally split into a smile.

She whispered into Lawyer Jin's ear. "The lawyer we're up against is Gu Nianzhi. As far as I know, she graduated from college less than a year ago."

"Less than a year ago? That means she doesn't have her lawyer license!" Lawyer Jin's hand immediately shot upwards. "Your Honor, can Miss Gu over there show us her lawyer license?"

The judge paid no attention to Lawyer Jin.

Gu Nianzhi pulled no punches with her reply. "I'm standing here in court, which means I've submitted the necessary documents proving my qualification. Why do I have to show them to you?"

Lawyer Jin laughed. "Well, you showed them to the judge, so why can't you show them to us? My dear child, do you really know what you're doing? Don't sabotage your own future."

"Same to you too." Gu Nianzhi lobbed the thinly veiled threat right back at Lawyer Jin.

The judge hammered the gavel upon the block. "Silence! The plaintiff and the defendant may now present their opening statements."

Gu Nianzhi was representing the plaintiff, which meant she went first. "Hello everyone. My name is Gu Nianzhi, and I have been asked by the military's Legal Department to represent the plaintiff. Although Luo Xinxue was not a soldier herself, she was married to Huo Guanyuan, a senior colonel in the military. According to our country's laws, she is afforded special status as a family member of a military man. Her murder, therefore, is of special interest to the military."