Huang Xiaotao finished the last of her phone calls and turned to me and asked, “How is it? Any new discoveries?”
I shook my head. She called up a few police officers to prepare to go search that old abandoned building, but before we moved on, I suddenly thought of something and stared into the man-made lake while waiting for her. Huang Xiaotao noticed this and asked me what was wrong.
“Can you get some people to search through the lake?” I suggested.
“Why?” she asked, eyebrows raised. “Do you think something’s in there? Are you sure about this?”
“Well, according to my reasoning,” I said, “if the murderer could hang the victim’s body without leaving any signs of physical struggle, that means that the victim must’ve been unconscious during this act, possibly due to some kind of drug. But the victim weighs at least about 60 kilograms, hoisting him up wouldn’t be an easy task to anyone, no matter how strong. Plus, the murderer needed to make sure that no scratches or marks were left on the victim’s body. Why go to such trouble? Why not just fling him into the lake if you want to fake a suicide? That would be an easier method with less risk. It’s impossible that the murderer didn’t know this, but he or she chose not to do it because I surmise there must be something in the lake that the murderer didn’t want the police to find when salvaging the body.”
“You’ve got a point,” said Huang Xiaotao. “Why didn’t I think of that? You really are a clever one, Song Yang! What are you studying, anyway?”
“We’re both studying electronics,” Dali butted in before I could answer. “But our Yang boy here has a special hobby of reading all the books on forensics and criminal investigation that he can find.”
I was immediately put off by his use of the term ‘our Yang boy’ and subconsciously distanced myself from him slightly.
“What a massive waste of talent if you don’t join the police!” she said. “I’ll call headquarters immediately and get a team to comb through the lake.”
Huang Xiaotao ordered a few police officers to stay at the crime scene while the rest would go with us to the old abandoned building. She made a phone call on our way there. At the time, she wasn’t wearing the official police uniform, so I couldn’t make out what rank she was in.
“You look like you have some authority over the other officers,” I said. “What is your actual rank?”
Huang Xiaotao then showed me her police ID badge, where the words ‘First Class Superintendent’ were written. I swept my glance over the whole badge and found out what her ID number was, and that she was only 24 years old. I guessed that she probably either had some connection through her family or had accomplished a great feat in her short career to be able to rise up to her considerable rank at such a young age.
“Xiaotao-jiejie,” said Dali, not losing an opportunity to try to build rapport with the policewoman, “you’re so young but your rank is already First Class Superintendent? How high is your rank, really?”
“It’s not that high,” answered Huang Xiaotao with a laugh.
Wang Dali then turned to me and discreetly asked, how high up is a superintendent? I explained to him that there are five ranks in the police force, and it went from Constable at the lowest level, to Superintendent, then Supervisor, then Commissioner, and lastly the Commissioner General on top. A First Class Superintendent wouldn’t exactly be a high-ranking officer, but for someone who had just graduated from the police academy not too long ago, Huang Xiaotao had clearly been soaring through the ranks at an impressive speed.
Soon after that, we reached that abandoned building. There were a lot of banyan trees surrounding the building, wrapping the building up in a dark and gloomy atmosphere. We all felt an eerie chill the moment we approach the building.
We found that the main door was locked with chains, so Huang Xiaotao ordered one of the police to go find someone on campus who could open this door, but I waved my hands and told her there was no need for that.
“Just lend me two of your hair pins,” I said.
“Don’t tell me you know how to pick locks!” said Huang Xiaotao, although she was at the same time picking out two of her hair pins from her hair.
I straightened the pins and inserted the ends into the keyhole. After a few twists, I managed to unlock it.
“Holy shit, dude!” exclaimed Dali, all amazed. “I’ve been your roommate for four years and never knew you’re the kind of guy who can pick locks!”
“It’s pretty simple,” I said. “I’ll teach you sometime.”
Lock-picking really was a simple skill, because all modern locks had the same internal structure. Naturally, I learnt all of this from Grandpa, who taught it to me when I was sick and bored at home. It only took me three hours to learn it.
“Hey, hey, hey!” said Huang Xiaotao. “You can’t just offer to teach anyone how to pick locks! All locksmiths are supposed to be registered at the police station, you know!”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t do bad things with this skill.”
I then returned the hairpins to her.
“Never mind, you keep it,” she said. “I’m a neat freak, and those pins are way too dirty to go anywhere near my hair.”
“Ah, then I’d better pay you for that!”
“You really are inexperienced with girls, aren’t you?” she said with a laugh. “You’re cute, but you’ve got no clue how to talk to girls. You should’ve said something along the lines of, “I replace those hairpins with better ones” or something like that.”
Those words hit a sore spot and I blushed instantly. In terms of emotional intelligence and social skills, I was indeed a fathead.
But it was obvious that Huang Xiaotao was only joking with me. At first glance she might seem like the typical cold, distant and domineering police officer, but the more I knew her, the better my opinion of her became.
Wang Dali saw his chance to be the chivalrous knight in shining armor.
“Xiaotao-jiejie,” he said in a cloying tone, “I know a good place selling girls’ hair accessories. Their stuff is of good quality and they’re cheap too. I can take you there and you can buy new hair pins if you like?”
“No, thanks!” Huang Xiaotao replied bluntly.
Dali made a deflated hmph noise, and turned to my support.
“Dude,” he whispered, “she was so warm and friendly with you, but why wouldn’t she talk to me? I mean look at me, I’m clearly a mix between Daniel Wu and Eddie Peng, right? You don’t think she’s got a problem with my bad-boy vibes, do you?”
I glanced at his messy head of hair like Eason Chan’s and sighed.
“She probably hasn’t warmed up to you yet,” I comforted him. “It’ll get better when she gets to know you.”
“You really think so?” asked Dali doubtfully while scratching his head.
We reached the music room on the third floor. There was something ineffable about the hallway here – it felt so gloomy and dark even when it’s quite sunny outside. It evoked the atmosphere of a horror movie. I attributed it to the state of disrepair it was in due to being abandoned for such a long time.
“What is this legend about a piano-playing ghost?” I asked Dali. “Why have I never heard of it before?”
“I’ve never heard of it either,” he said. “I guess it’s the kind of thing girls like to gossip about. But we never talked to girls, so maybe that’s why we never heard of it. Besides, I’m not the kind of guy to believe in ghosts.”
“Then why are you hiding behind my back?”
“No, I’m not!” Dali denied. “I-I was just… tying my shoelaces! That’s why I fell a bit behind!”
We then reached a door with the sign ‘Music Room 314’ above the door. A few police officers broke through the door, and soon enough there was a cry of horror coming out from that room. We rushed in, and was met with the sight of a headless body slumped over the floor. The blood that spilled out of the neck and covered most of the floor had already congealed.
Wang Dali gasped audibly and instantly hid behind me.
“Don’t touch anything!” ordered Huang Xiaotao. “You! Go outside and surround this building! You! Take pictures of the crime scene immediately!”
The police officers began to scatter about with their tasks. Huang Xiaotao handed me a pair of rubber gloves and asked, “Can you handle this?”
“I can do anything a coroner can,” I said, my gaze fixed on the corpse. “I can do many things a coroner can’t, too.”
“Good,” she said, nodding. “It’s all yours, then.”
We both put on our gloves, while the idiot Dali kept hiding behind my back, gripping my shoulders with both hands. I could feel that he was quaking with fear.
“Dali,” I said, “if this is too much for you, then go wait outside.”
“Did you think I would leave a friend like you behind to deal with this on your own?” he asked. “Well, I’m sure you can handle it. I’ll be right outside the door.” And then he was out.
“Your friend is such a clown,” commented Huang Xiaotao with a smile.
I knelt down beside the corpse to examine it closely. Judging from the clothes, this looked like the body of a student in his early twenties. The body collapsed chest down towards the direction of the door, and the head was neatly cut off from the position of the fourth cervical vertebrae. But that was still not enough information to determine the cause of death.
Huang Xiaotao moved the corpse’s arm and said, “The time of death should be about ten hours ago.”
“You know how to do that, too?” I was honestly surprised.
“I’ve seen it done so many times,” she said, “naturally I had to learn it too. You see, the patches of livor mortis on the body has fused together, and the fingers are showing signs of rigor mortis. Wouldn’t that make the time of death about ten hours ago?”
I was genuinely impressed. By the looks of it, she must’ve been reading books on forensic science too. Her rise to the rank of First Class Superintendent probably had nothing to do with her connections, but more to do with her own effort. My opinion of her kept increasing the more I knew of her.
I then put my ears on the corpse’s back and started the process of Organ Echolocation by tapping gently on the spine.
“If Dr. Qin were here,” I said, “he would’ve come to the same conclusion that you did.”
“Does that mean that I was right?” asked Huang Xiaotao confidently.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” I said, “but the time of death is about 48 hours ago, with a margin of error of less than two hours.”
“But that’s impossible!” exclaimed Huang Xiaotao. “The corpse still looks so fresh!”
“No, you shouldn’t judge things by their appearance on the surface,” I said. “If you don’t believe me, I’ll prove it to you!”
As I said so, I took off the gloves on my hands.
1. About 132 pounds.
2. and . Methinks our Dali is a just a bit delusional.
3. Eason Chan’s .
4. Also known as the vertebrae.
5. Livor mortis, basically the purplish of the skin after death.
6. Rigor mortis, or the post-mortem of the limbs.