Volume 1: Case 502 — The Intoxicated Frozen Corpse
The life-threatening distress signal.
The young woman raised her head, giving Yan Xie a vacant stare. Though still tainted with traces of panic, her face looked as if it had been exquisitely carved from unblemished jade. One had to admit, she was the epitome of a natural-born beauty.
Yan Xie gave Jiang Ting a meaningful glance, as if to say: see, I didn’t get the person wrong.
“I’m with the city bureau’s Criminal Investigation Unit; my name is Yan Xie. You’ve spoken with my colleague Ma Xiang at the bureau.” Yan Xie hinted for Han Xiaomei, the only female field officer on duty, to follow, and then promptly went forward to shake hands with Ding Dang. “There’s a couple of things we might like to ask you again, if you could step over here for a minute, please.”
The wounded night-watch employee in the control room’s office had already been taken away by the biochemical analysts in order to extract any trace DNA left behind on his head injury. A few chairs had been temporarily set up in the clearing outside the office.
Yan Xie had a cigarette pinched in between his fingers, but didn’t light it. He asked her while fiddling with his lighter, “Just now you were telling your daddy how ‘it’s not possible’. What exactly isn’t possible?”
“…” Ding Dang bit her lip, but didn’t directly answer. Instead, she asked, “Officer Yan, did Chu Ci really… steal controlled chemical substances?”
Ding Dang was wearing a cropped white lace vest paired with a floral-print dress, her face lightly made-up, and her soft, pale hands placed demurely atop her thighs. Girls who could get accepted into drama school indeed had the assets to boast — young, delicate features, lustrous raven hair. Put her side by side with the grime-faced female trainee officer standing beside Yan Xie, and it was visibly the difference between a cloud in heaven and the dirt on earth. Han Xiaomei couldn’t help but touch her own face, unwashed after an all-nighter, feeling somewhat inferior.
Although what did give her some consolation was the fact that, blockheaded-straight-male-Yan’s attitude towards a beautiful woman was no better than his attitude towards herself, his tone when speaking maybe even a touch cooler. “Well, that’s still under investigation. We’re not at liberty to reveal too much.”
Ignoring her father’s apprehensive looks, Ding Dang insisted urgently, “But Chu Ci isn’t that type of person, really! He’s very motivated, and very serious and diligent about his academics, if you don’t believe me you can ask my dad!”
Ding Jiawang rushed to stop her, “Ai, why are you bothering the police with this sort of nonsense!”
Yan Xie huffed a laugh.
“His family doesn’t have much money, but he really is a very good person. When Feng Yuguang’s parents came to Jianning after what happened, Chu Ci helped them sort out his things. He was rushing about all over the place for them, doing all he could to comfort them.” Ding Dang got more and more dejected as she spoke. “Just because of that, even the progress of his own experiment got held up, but he still…”
Jiang Ting, who had been silent this whole time, suddenly interrupted her, “You attend drama school, if I recall?”
“Then how do you know about Chu Ci’s progress in his experiments? Your dad mentioned it at home?”
Under the scrutinizing looks the police started casting him, Ding Jiawang scrambled to deny the allegation. “Why would I ever mention that sort of thing? She wouldn’t understand any of it even if I did!”
“He… he told me about it himself.” Ding Dang’s voice grew smaller and smaller. “I come visit my dad at the company sometimes, and I’d go see them in the lab…. After Feng Yuguang passed away, I went to find Chu Ci a few times. He was really upset, and kept messing up during his experiments.”
Yan Xie rubbed at his chin as he glanced around, subconsciously trying to find a spot to sit down. However, all the seats in the clearing had already been taken, so he had no choice but to lean against the side of Jiang Ting’s armrest.
Jiang Ting started to stand up. Yan Xie shot him a look. “Sit still.”
“I remember Feng Yuguang had a forty-eight second phone call with you before his death,” Yan Xie turned back to Ding Dang. “Later on when you were giving your statement, you said that Feng Yuguang originally wanted to ask you out that night, but you rejected him?”
Ding Dang nodded, her head hanging low.
“Why’d he ask you out?”
“To… to go singing,” Ding Dang mumbled. “I told him, you can’t really do karaoke with only two people. Also, I wasn’t feeling well that day, so I said no.”
Despite the fact that this was all information that had already been written down in her statements, Yan Xie still asked once more, “He didn’t pester you?”
“That he didn’t. It seemed like he was about to go meet someone… so he just hung up.”
Yan Xie poked Jiang Ting in the shoulder. Jiang Ting brushed his hand off. “I know.”
Yan Xie took no offense, chuckling. He glanced toward Ding Jiawang in amusement. “Director Ding, about the reason you didn’t mention that fight Feng Yuguang had with Chu Ci last time. Might it be, because they were fighting over your daughter?”
Ding Jiawang’s face flooded with red. He waved his hands insistently, looking quite ill at ease. “Ai, stop talking about this, please stop talking about this!”
The chemical engineering company wasn’t a state-owned enterprise — even if word got out that two interns were squabbling over the internship director’s daughter, it wouldn’t really be that big of a deal, and wouldn’t have any effect over evaluations of the director’s own performance either. But for Ding Jiawang to be this reluctant to bring it up, the reason was most likely because he wasn’t too satisfied with either student, and not too happy with his daughter’s choice either — clearly, the girl favored the penniless smart-boy with the pretty face.
“Did Feng Yuguang ever mention to you whom he was meeting that night?” Jiang Ting asked.
Ding Dang raised her head and glanced at Jiang Ting. It wasn’t clear what was going through her mind, as she shook her head without a word, her eyes reddening.
Yan Xie pressed further, “Not even a thing?”
Ding Dang shook her head again, wiping her eyes with a pale, slender finger.
The internal torment this girl must be feeling was practically written on her face: If Chu Ci really had some involvement in Feng Yuguang’s death, then with the current internet rumorscape’s hostility towards women, who knew how many keyboard warriors were going to condemn her as the true culprit once the case’s details were released to the public.
Jiang Ting patted Yan Xie, then curled his fingers in beckoning.
“What do you want?” Yan Xie asked as if in protest, yet his body betrayed him as he obediently leaned closer. He felt Jiang Ting whisper something beside his ear. Air grazed over the tip, and it was as if his ear was immediately engulfed in flames.
“…” Yan Xie felt a bit light-headed, and straightened up without thinking. “Yeah, yeah.”
Jiang Ting, “Did you hear me or not?”
Yan Xie, “Right, you’re right.”
Jiang Ting, nonplussed: “I told you to get someone to bring over Chu Ci and Feng Yuguang’s lab notes! What are you thinking!”
For some reason, Yan Xie’s face got a little red. He rubbed his ear wordlessly and turned around to tell Han Xiaomei to do as he said. Han Xiaomei had already lost any capability of speech at this point. She ran off in a plume of dust, her emotions gushing beyond all control.
“Yan-ge!” Gao Panqing shouted from afar. “The surveillance tapes are out. Would you like to come take a look?”
The surveillance tapes saved Yan Xie. He promptly coughed into his hand — though his ears were still burning a little, he had already put on quite a convincing front of nonchalance — and he randomly waved over a policeman and pointed at Ding Jiawang. “This is Director Ding and his daughter. You take care of them for a bit longer.”
The rookie officer immediately gave a “yessir”.
Yan Xie then made an “if you’ll excuse me” motion to Ding Jiawang, and said, “We’ll have to trouble the two of you to make a detailed statement with us in a moment. Especially your daughter, anything she knows about Chu Ci, things he’s said, things he has done, things that are out of the ordinary, as well as all of his social connections in Jianning — every piece of information that you two can remember, describe it to us police. No matter how big or small, the more detail the better.”
Ding Jiawang was the supervising director who was immediately responsible for these two interns — he was the person who most feared any potential chance of this whole incident escalating into an even bigger disaster. He nodded madly in agreement to what Yan Xie asked of him, holding his weeping daughter.
Yan Xie grabbed Jiang Ting and started pulling him away, but he barely took a few steps before Jiang Ting wrenched himself free of his claws. “Where are we going?”
“Surveillance room,” Yan Xie said. “The quantity of chemical substances that got stolen couldn’t have been carried by hand alone; Chu Ci must’ve used a motorized vehicle to transport it all. This company’s surveillance management practices fail to satisfy industry regulation requirements — the control room’s CCTV footage got automatically overwritten following the power cut. That’s why it took them so long to finally file the police report — they were busy running to their connections and getting them to smooth things over. I got lao-Gao and his men to pull up the surveillance footage over all the major entrances and exits of this plant. If we’re lucky, we might even get their escape route, on top of the license plates.”
Jiang Ting refastened the side of the mask that he had removed just then, his voice somewhat muffled as he said, “I’m not going. There are too many surveillance specialists in that room.”
Yan Xie scoffed, “So what if there’s too many of ‘em? It’s been three years. Besides me, who else do you think would still remember your face?”
Jiang Ting, “…”
“What’s up with that look?” Yan Xie asked, puzzled.
Jiang Ting was silent. He inched back a step, a wary light flickering in his eyes.
“Yan-ge!” Gao Panqing called from behind. “We found a suspicious Camry with a covered license plate near the crime scene at around three in the morning, come quick!”
“Once the APB is sent out, get people to swiftly control every major long-distance bus station, car-rental company and private passenger transportation in this city. The suspect is in possession of a large quantity of controlled chemicals, so the possibility of him making it out of this city is relatively low; he might be hiding at an accomplice’s or a fence spot. I suggest you immediately triangulate his cell phone location, and get the Department of Economic and Cultural Defense1 to contact the suspect’s university, go through his social network. There might be clues there.”
Jiang Ting paused, then slid another two meters further away. He gave a baffled Yan Xie a faint smile, one that looked a bit complicated.
“Go. I’ll look over the suspect’s experiment notes, maybe we’ll find some clues there.”
“Hey,” Yan Xie frantically called out to him, a rare moment of insecurity creeping up on him. He glanced around, then asked in a small voice, “What’s up with you, did I say something wrong just now?”
Jiang Ting stayed silent for a long while, before he finally took a breath. “No.”
Yan Xie’s heart settled back into his chest.
“After this case is closed, you should go on some proper dates,” Jiang Ting continued. “I’ll set you up with Yang Mei.”
Yan Xie, “…Huh?!”
When Han Xiaomei panted her way back to the crime scene with the experiment notes in her arms, her young, handsome, insensitive-straight-male boss was nowhere to be found. Just as she was fretting, she heard a honk from nearby. She turned toward the sound, and her eyes landed upon that silver Mercedes.
Han Xiaomei dumped the heap of lab notes in the backseat. She rubbed at her lower back, complaining, “I should’ve expected it from a nerd, these notes are like a bunch of Oxford English-Chinese dictionaries. My god, I’m exhausted.”
Jiang Ting absentmindedly passed her a bottle of water.
“Eh? Thank, thank you!”
Han Xiaomei felt beyond flattered. It came to her notice that she had never received such considerate treatment under Yan Xie. Yan Xie had only ever greeted her over the head with a shower of tongue-lashings such as: “Girls need to toughen up their physical training too. What do you think the city bureau has you here for, just to chill around?” Or: “Dieting dieting dieting, diet the hell diet. What can you do with those paper-thin arms and legs, a gust of wind and they’ll break, you might as well just quit and go home and get hitched!”
Jiang Ting flipped through the half-dozen or so experimental logs one by one, until he found the most recent week’s entry. He removed his mask, and conveniently found a place to rest his baseball cap by plopping it on Han Xiaomei’s head, then settled into the leather back seats to read the notes.
Han Xiaomei almost choked on her water. She immediately took off the cap, carefully placing it down on the passenger seat as if it was a holy offering.
After three years of lying comatose in a hospital bed, even the most beautiful veneer would have deteriorated into ruin, had it been someone with features that were a little less durable. But Jiang Ting had a bone structure that was very defined, one that was even more striking in profile, his brow bone, noseridge, and jawline all coming together to create a silhouette that was sharp and flawless. Features like his could withstand the abuse of age, and not lose any of its allure or elegance to the passage of time.
Han Xiaomei had taken up a notebook and pretended as if she was reading it, so as to not appear like she was just idling around. But in actuality, she was surreptitiously eyeing up this man beside her who allegedly went by the surname Lu, wondering how old he was.
“What are you looking at?” Jiang Ting suddenly asked.
Han Xiaomei jumped, then with a laudable reaction time, she responded with a bout of brown-nosing flattery, “Uh, I was thinking about how these chemistry notes are so complicated, but you can actually understand it all, that’s so incredible!”
Jiang Ting responded evenly, “I can’t understand it.”
Han Xiaomei, “…”
“Chu Ci had been essentially leading the progress of the entire experiment ever since they arrived in Jianning from Beijing. Practically every page in the log journal is signed by him. Feng Yuguang, on the other hand, barely participated in the research, apart from helping him assemble the lab equipment on the first day. This falls in line with Chu Ci’s sketch of the victim’s character — slacker, not particularly passionate for academics, little interest in his field of study.”
Han Xiaomei listened and nodded attentively, all the while thinking, Ahh Mr. Lu’s voice is so unique, cool and collected but also mellow, way better than that callous and demanding Captain Yan’s!
“The experiment as a whole progressed successfully enough, until May 5th onwards, when Chu Ci abruptly changed the direction of his experiment.” Jiang Ting paused a beat, then noted softly, “Strange. What happened on May 5th?”
“Uh… on May 4th, Chu Ci dropped by the bureau for questioning, and a police car drove him back the next day…” Han Xiaomei offered cautiously.
Jiang Ting lifted his eyes from behind the notes, casting her a glance.
— Ahh Mr. Lu’s eye shape is so lovely, his eyebrows too, how old is he actually, how did he meet Vice-Captain Yan, what’s their relationship right now? ……
Han Xiaomei kept fantasizing uncontrollably, even as she worried that she was probably going to get reprimanded for interrupting. But then all of a sudden, Jiang Ting nodded his head, and told her in a tone most gentle, “Good memory.”
Han Xiaomei, “?!”
Jiang Ting returned to the notes, going through several pages without pause. “After being questioned by the city bureau, Chu Ci’s experiment direction suddenly became erratic. He started conducting different tests every day, and every test made use of the controlled chemicals that were stolen this time, yet the purpose of these experiments is unclear…”
A momentary silence in the car. Han Xiaomei peered at Jiang Ting’s pensive face, not daring to make even a squeak.
Suddenly, Jiang Ting’s hand that was turning the pages stopped in its motions, then immediately moved forward, flipping through over a dozen pages in quick succession, as if he was trying to confirm something. He frowned. “It’s as I thought.”
“Wha…” Han Xiaomei summoned up her courage. “What?”
Jiang Ting said, “Chu Ci — that man has OCD.”
Jiang Ting abruptly pushed open the car door and exited the car, marching towards the warehouse crime scene in great strides and ducking under the police tape. Han Xiaomei, bewildered, grabbed that bottle of water and scrambled after him. She saw that Jiang Ting was using Chu Ci’s notes as reference, stopping in front of every corresponding chemical’s storage tank and checking the liquid dispensers. It was practically a forest of storage tanks within the warehouse; Han Xiaomei trailed around behind him for nearly ten minutes, before Jiang Ting finally stopped in front of the dispensers of the tanks of the stolen chemicals. He reached out a hand. “Phone.”
Han Xiaomei rushed to hand him her domestic-manufactured mobile phone that was the city bureau’s standard issue. Jiang Ting knelt down by the dispenser ports, clicking away on the phone camera.
“What are you … ”
“Call Gou Li,” Jiang Ting directed, returning the phone to her.
His speaking tone was ever steady, mild, and unequivocal. Han Xiaomei hardly dared defy this private consultant of Vice-Captain Yan’s. She hurriedly dialed Gou Li’s number, yet before she could say anything more than a “hello”, the phone got snatched away from her hands.
“Director Gou, my last name is Lu, I’m Captain Yan’s friend. We met last time at the scene of Fan Zhengyuan’s highway dismemberment.”
Gou Li, “Ah, right, right, Mr. Lu …”
“Send over the victim’s injury documentation. I need a clear photo of the stab wound entry slit before it was bandaged, plus photos of the blunt force trauma at the temple where it was struck with the flashlight, those as well.”
“???” Gou Li had most likely just left the hospital, his background thrumming with clamour and noise. He hesitated for a while, before tactfully and somewhat helplessly saying, “Sure, but according to regulations, case-related images can’t be revealed so easily to outsiders. Maybe you can get lao-Yan over to talk to me himself, how about that? As long as lao-Yan gives the word then …”
Jiang Ting covered the bottom of the phone with a hand, and murmured under his breath, “All these rules.” Then he instructed Han Xiaomei, “Go fetch your Captain Yan from the surveillance room.”
At this moment, the air in the surveillance room was currently congested with swirling fumes. Every single video surveillance personnel was puffing on Yan Xie’s pack of Chunghwa soft. Han Xiaomei had barely pushed open the door before she stumbled, assaulted by a wall of smoke. She immediately hightailed it a few steps away from the room, all but hacking up a lung.
“That car’s wrong,” said Yan Xie, pointing at a monitor screen, not even turning his head. “He was transferring that high of a quantity of controlled substances all in one go; he wouldn’t have used a car this small as his transportation vehicle. You guys keep searching. See if there are any other suspicious vehicles around during the time frame of the crime, and contact the Traffic Administration Bureau to look into this Camry’s escape route too. I’ll be right back.”
Yan Xie stubbed out his cigarette and patted off the heavy nicotine scent on his clothes, then turned and walked out of the surveillance room. “What is it? The hell are you doing?”
Han Xiaomei had just about coughed herself into a coma. She said in a voice that came out muffled as she covered her nose, “Vice, Vice Yan, your friend wants to see photos of the injury documentation. Director Gou’s asking you to give the word …”
“Why is he so unable to just settle down, huh?” Yan Xie groused, as he headed down the stairs and out the warehouse.
Jiang Ting stood outside the police line, already looking a bit impatient with the wait. Yan Xie traded some mutual accusatory finger-jabs with him via their eyes, as he took the still-connected phone from the other man’s hands. He had only just opened his mouth to say, “Lao-Gou2, I say you hurry up and…” when his own phone suddenly started blaring. The caller ID indicated that it was the Department of Economic and Cultural Defense.
Yan Xie, “Fuck me, can’t they let a man have a breather?”
Gou Li, “Who’s a lao-Gou, Director Gou! Call me Director Gou!”
Yan Xie stuffed the phone back to Jiang Ting, gesturing for him to speak himself, then picked up the DECD’s call. “Yeah?”
“Vice-Captain Yan, we did as you told and just now contacted the suspect’s advisor, XX University’s Chemistry department doctoral advisor, Niu Juncai. His statement matched with the records that the technical team’s Director Huang found: the suspect’s last call was an incoming call, call time was two-twelve this morning, and the duration of call was about one minute and thirty seconds.”
“Two-twelve?” Yan Xie repeated questioningly.
Estimating by normal adult-male walking speeds, by this time, Chu Ci should have already arrived at the warehouse and started siphoning out the controlled chemical substances.
What kind of felon, dealing in both drug-manufacturing and larceny, would have a mental security as stable as this, that he would even pick up a call from his advisor in the middle of committing his crime?
Han Xiaomei’s phone ding-ed a couple times as it received the injury documentation images sent by Gou Li. Jiang Ting clicked them open and took a glance.
“Yes,” the officer on the other side of the call affirmed. “When we contacted Advisor Niu Juncai, the other man was very agitated. He repeatedly stressed that his student could not possibly have anything to do with illegal criminal activities, and said that when they talked on the phone today in the early hours of the morning, the suspect’s behavior was clearly quite calm and composed. He was saying that he was just about to go to the lab to read some books.”
Yan Xie was fairly skeptical. “…What kind of excuse is that? Who heads out in the middle of the night to go read?”
Jiang Ting shut off Han Xiaomei’s phone and raised his head. “Get him to tell me the titles right now.”
Yan Xie felt an indistinct glimmer of something. He asked the other side, “Did he say what the book titles are?”
“Oh, he did, actually.” From the other end of the phone came sounds of a mouse clicking through the statements, then the officer said, “Mm…. Here, and he spouted some English at me too: To See the Obvious, Description of a Method for Factory Production of Amorphous Phosphorus, and Terpene and Camphor…. If I hadn’t gone and looked it up, I wouldn’t even know how to type those characters. Oh and there’s a last part, he said that he might be heading back after he finishes reading those books, so Advisor Niu told him not to stay up so late then, get back earlier and go to sleep.”
Yan Xie thanked him and was about to hang up, when suddenly Jiang Ting asked beside him, “Has the APB been issued?”
It was just one short sentence, and yet there was something very off about his voice. Yan Xie instinctively looked over towards him. “Yeah, why?”
“I made the wrong judgment. Chu Ci isn’t a suspect, he’s a victim.”
“He’s been abducted by a group associated with drug-manufacturing. He received the call from his advisor in front of the kidnappers as the crime was taking place. Those book titles are his distress signal.” Jiang Ting threw the phone to Yan Xie, his countenance edged with unprecedented steel. “That security supervisor is one of the perpetrators, detain him!”