Volume 1: Case 502 — The Intoxicated Frozen Corpse
The captain of the criminal investigation unit VS the police beauty with the long legs
The police cars tore through the congested evening rush hour streets, sirens wailing the entire way, speeding in the direction of the hospital under the curious stares from myriad passersby.
“The author of To See the Obvious is Australian chemist Arthur Birch, whose most famous contribution to the field is publishing the Birch reduction, named after himself. Description of a Method for Factory Production of Amorphous Phosphorus is a work published by Austrian chemist Anton Schrötter in 1848; Schrötter’s main contribution is his discovery that, when white phosphorus is heated to 250°C within an inert gas, it will form a red allotrope, also known as red phosphorus. Terpene and Camphor’s author, Otto Wallach, was the recipient of the 1910 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; he has an additional discovery partially named after himself, the Leuckart-Wallach reaction, which refers to the reductive amination of carbonyl compounds with either ammonia or amines.”
At the wheel, Yan Xie glanced sideways at the passenger’s seat. He couldn’t help but ask, “What does this have to do with abduction?”
“The Birch reduction, the red phosphorus reduction method, as well as the Leuckart-Wallach reaction – these three share one thing in common.” Jiang Ting lifted his head from the notes Chu Ci left behind, and said, “They are the three major processes used by current drug-manufacturing organizations in the synthesis of methamphetamine.”
Yan Xie at the wheel: “…”
Han Xiaomei in the backseat: “…”
Both wore expressions of sudden enlightenment.
“But this hint’s way too esoteric, even his own advisor didn’t get it. Are you sure we’re reading it correctly?” Han Xiaomei couldn’t help but question. “Is there any possibility that he himself is involved with the drug manufacturing, and he was just looking into these books for reference?”
Jiang Ting’s reply was unwavering. “There’s no such possibility, and for two main reasons: The process of manufacturing meth is exceedingly simple. Someone with such high aptitude for chemistry like Chu Ci would have no need for any reference material; he could likely be able to synthesize it even within the comforts of his own kitchen — that’s number one.”
“As for two, I went over Chu Ci’s notes. He has a mild anxiety disorder — that is, OCD. It specifically manifests as a compulsion where he has to stop his strokes on the lines of a page, when he’s writing a vertical stroke. Such as when writing a ‘T’, the second stroke will always meet the horizontal line to form an extremely precise right angle. If you examine all of his notes, you’ll find that every vertical line is as such. If the angle’s not straight enough, it’ll even be forcibly whited-out and corrected.”
A moment of rustling in the backseat, then Han Xiaomei’s head bobbed up, exclaiming, “It really is!”
“It’s quite normal,” said Jiang Ting. “Chu Ci lives in an environment that is intensely stressful. His thesis, his experiment, ensuring his admittance into his doctorate program, securing the highest scholarship every year, and then his roommate Feng Yuguang creating long-term disturbance to his sleep and causing his nerves to be highly strung — mental health issues are practically tailor-made for people in situations like this. A bit of obsessive-compulsion is hardly any surprise.”
He motioned to Han Xiaomei. “Look at your phone’s photo album again.”
Han Xiaomei wasn’t following the logic. She clicked open her album, where the newest images were the photos Jiang Ting took of the storage tank dispenser ports.
“I used Chu Ci’s experiment notes from this week as reference, and identified all the storage tanks that he might have touched. I found that all the dispenser ports have been placed just like those vertical strokes — flush against the edge of the floor tiles, presenting a precise 90° angle. Yes, this is another sign of his OCD, but take a look at the storage tanks that had been siphoned from this morning.”
Jiang Ting took the phone that Han Xiaomei passed over and showed it to Yan Xie.
Yan Xie turned his body toward him as he drove, his eyes flickering over to the phone screen.
The silver Mercedes roared as it switched lanes, cutting through traffic with the steadiness, accuracy, and ruthlessness of a scalpel.
“These disperser ports are carelessly placed,” Jiang Ting said, pointing at the photo. “That is to say, they were simply tossed onto the floor after being used.”
“Your hand’s quite pretty,” Yan Xie remarked offhandedly.
Jiang Ting, “…”
There was a singular moment where Jiang Ting’s expression went utterly blank. Meanwhile, Han Xiaomei in the backseat could not have possibly foreseen such a development, and she just about erupted into a burst of fireworks in a faraway sky.
Yan Xie’s gaze returned to the road in front of them. “So that means the person who stole the controlled chemicals might very likely not be Chu Ci, but he got framed for it?”
“…” Jiang Ting said, “…Mn.”
The police cars clearing the way for them skirted past a red light, hurtling through the hospital’s front entrance. Yan Xie flicked his turn signal, switched lanes, took a turn without even stepping on the brakes, and, with a screech that tore through the air like lightning, came to a firm stop in front of the emergency department doors.
Yan Xie opened his door and got out. Five or six officers had already jumped out of the police car ahead of them. The sight attracted nervous glances from all around, as the doctors, nurses, and family members of patients nearby all whispered among themselves.
Yan Xie said, “But there’s one thing I don’t get.”
He sped off towards the ER building, the officers all following suit. Jiang Ting’s natural walking pace was already a touch more sedate than most people’s; now, it was even harder for him to keep up. Yan Xie slowed down his stride. He shot out a hand and grabbed him, then continued marching forward with him in his grasp, in a hold that was almost as if he was clutching him to his chest, or perhaps tucking him under his arm.
“That last call Chu Ci took, the location that the tech specialists triangulated indicated that he picked it up somewhere near the warehouse. And with the technological capabilities we have nowadays in criminal investigation, the margin of error could be as precise as no more than twenty meters.” Yan Xie asked, right up against Jiang Ting’s ear, “If you say he was framed, then what was he doing at the warehouse in the middle of the night? He got taken hostage and forced all the way there?”
Jiang Ting, his brows set in a light frown, was clearly trying to angle his face away toward the opposite direction. But Yan Xie dragged him back with an arm hooked around him, forcing him to put his head right against his.
“If someone forced him there against his will, it would’ve been impossible not to cause a commotion. He walked of his own free will into that warehouse.” After a few back-and-forths of this tug of war, Jiang Ting finally gave in, helplessly continuing, “If your biochemical analysts managed to extract Chu Ci’s trace DNA from the wounded Nian Bowen’s head, then that’s more than enough to prove that it was also Chu Ci himself who sabotaged the surveillance and power system.”
With a ding, the elevator doors slid shut. Yan Xie followed with another question, “Why’d he go to the warehouse?”
The hospital elevator was exceptionally spacious, uncrowded even with all these officers filing in. And as if by common accord, everyone had their eyes trained on the reflective metal walls, furtively watching Yan Xie and Jiang Ting from every possible angle.
Jiang Ting objected in a low whisper, “It’s one thing for us to talk normally, but can you not stand so close?”
Yan Xie immediately furrowed his thick, sharp brows. “What? What’s not normal about this? Are you some little girl?”
Jiang Ting, “…”
And in that moment, Yan Xie thought that Jiang Ting was being particularly cute. Step-by-step delivering the suspect to the police — cute. Analyzing the case and picking it apart with a fine-toothed comb to find these various clues of the kidnapping — cute. Even how he looked right now, trying to twist his head as far aside as he physically could — very cute. And so, with what could practically be called a tone of tender sincerity, Yan Xie encouraged him, “Keep going, police flower1.”
It wasn’t as if Jiang Ting was short, not at all. In fact, he stood at a relatively rare 180 cm, in a region where statures trended toward medium.2
But as someone whose trademark had always been being the one with the brains rather than the brawn, and who had only just recovered from serious conditions and was still rather weak — his physique really couldn’t be compared with Yan Xie’s. It was all fine when they weren’t standing so close to each other. But once you put the two of them side by side, then it truly was the tragic disparity between “the captain of the criminal investigation unit” and “the police beauty with the long legs”.
Jiang Ting pressed his fingers against the pressure point between his brows. Yan Xie was sure, though, that it wasn’t that pressure point that the man longed to put his hands on and squeeze right now, but Yan Xie’s own throat.
“On May 5th, Chu Ci returned to the chemical engineering company after coming by the city bureau for questioning. He suddenly abandoned the experiment he was already half finished with, and started conducting numerous tests relating to solution density. That day was the day he learned of Feng Yuguang’s murder — this shift in Chu Ci was catalyzed by that.”
Yan Xie asked, “What was he trying to do?”
The elevator stopped, the metal doors easing apart.
Jiang Ting finally broke free from Yan Xie. He straightened out his clothes, and said darkly, “He wanted to verify whether or not Feng Yuguang’s death had any relation to certain secrets within the chemical engineering company.”
Jiang Ting strode out of the elevator. Yan Xie hastened his steps to catch up to his side, the officers following right behind them as they crossed the hospital building’s bustling corridor.
“What are you doing? The police are just allowed to nab whoever they want, is that it, huh? The police are allowed to just cuff whoever they want?” Loud bellows came from inside the emergency room at the end of the corridor. “I’m wounded, I’m a victim, and you treat me like this! I’m gonna go and file complaints against the lot of you!”
A gaggle of onlookers crowded outside the emergency room. “What’s going on?” “Police are all such brutes these days.” Such whispers could be heard even all the way down the hall.
“Move aside, move aside, c’mon, can bystanders move aside please!“
The police officers forced the crowd apart, and Yan Xie stepped up and pushed the door open. Jiang Ting marched straight into the emergency room without even a pause in his steps.
A sturdily-built, bandaged man was handcuffed to the hospital bed. This must be the injured security supervisor, Diao Yong, then. Gou Li was standing guard in the room with two rookies in tow. Under the double onslaught of both Diao Yong’s protests of unjust treatment and the onlookers’ chatters that even the door couldn’t block out, everybody’s expression alternated between livid-blue and flustered-red.
Diao Yong took one glance at Yan Xie and knew that someone in charge was here. The decibel of his voice instantly hiked to a whole new level. “Who here doesn’t know that once you get taken in by the cops, there’s no getting out with your hide intact? The police just can’t solve their cases, so now they’re grabbing us defenseless and powerless common folks to cover for the real criminals! With you government people, who knows how many shady things are going on behind those closed doors!”
One of the rookies growled, “You —”
The officers were shouting at the crowd in the corridor, trying to herd them away so they could shut the doors to the emergency room. They were caught off guard when they heard Jiang Ting say to Yan Xie, “Let them leave the door open.”
Yan Xie checked with him in a low voice, “You sure you can handle it?”
Jiang Ting nodded once.
Yan Xie signaled with his eyes for two subordinate officers to stay on standby at the doorway.
Now that got the gathered crowd even more abuzz. Everyone stretched their necks, vying to catch a glimpse. “Are the police randomly arresting people?” “Got bribed, I bet.” Such comments rung out in incessant streams, as if the hubbub of gossip at a flea market.
Diao Yong yanked at his handcuffs with loud clangs, his face flushed and veins straining. No one would have been able to tell that this was a wounded man who had been knocked out for hours by a flashlight over the head. “I’m a witness! I’m innocent! You guys should be out there chasing down the controlled substances and catching the thief, what’s up with keeping me locked up in here?!”
Jiang Ting ordered, “Uncuff him.”
The police in the room all faltered for a beat, dumfounded. One of the trainees just about blurted out a, “What?”
But he glanced left and right, to find that Yan Xie’s demeanor was clearly one of tacit permission. He therefore could only step up and hesitantly unlock Diao Yong’s handcuffs.
“Diao Yong?“ Jiang Ting confirmed.
Diao Yong rubbed at his wrists, answering tetchily, “Yes! Why, y’all police …”
“I saw you were being quite vigorous in your yelling just now; I presume standing up would also not be a problem for you then.”
“…” Diao Yong spoke warily, “What do you want?”
Jiang Ting paid no heed to his attitude. He continued impassively, “I read your statement. Two-thirty a.m. today, you passed by the warehouse while making your rounds and came upon the suspect Chu Ci in the act of committing larceny. You went forward to stop him, but was stabbed by a fruit knife during the ensuing struggle, then struck on the head after falling to the ground. Is that correct?”
Diao Yong blustered self-righteously, “Yeah! How would I know he had a knife with him, and was so handy with it?”
“What kind of knife was it? Approximate length, any curvature to the blade?”
“Just… a regular fruit knife, pretty small.” Diao Yong gestured with his hands. “This long, no curve.”
Jiang Ting picked up a convenient ballpoint pen that a doctor on call had left behind on the bedside table. “About the same as this?”
Diao Yong nodded without any hesitation.
“Then, if I should ask Mr. Diao to reenact the crime, I suppose that also won’t be an issue?”
Diao Yong swallowed, replying, “Of course, of course that won’t be an issue!”
Jiang Ting beckoned at Han Xiaomei, who stood quite a distance away, several policemen in between them. “You, come.”
“Huh?” Han Xiaomei, somewhat stunned, stepped forward apprehensively and accepted the pen.
The trainees helped Diao Yong up from the hospital bed, so that he stood opposite Han Xiaomei.
Jiang Ting, standing to the side with his arms folded in front of his chest, asked, “At the time, how much distance was between the suspect and you? Same as this?”
One thing that marked Jiang Ting out from the other police officers was: his voice was relatively soft, deep, and slightly hoarse, a sign of poor physical health. However, his every single word was enunciated with sharp clarity. This lent him a certain sangfroid in his bearing that was quite hard to describe.
Diao Yong eyed the distance, gauging, and huffed, “Pretty… pretty much.”
“And what were the respective actions taken by the two of you?”
“I walked over to ask who’s there. He heard my voice, and immediately stood up and shut his flashlight off. I… I knew he wasn’t anyone nice, and I did feel a bit afraid inside, but I could only man up and throw myself at him. Then suddenly I felt a pain in my body….”
Diao Yong leaned his body slightly forward, spreading his arms, poising as if he was about to tackle Han Xiaomei.
Jiang Ting asked, “How did the suspect stab you, if you could describe it to our female officer here?”
Diao Yong still had bandages wrapped around his ribs; Han Xiaomei didn’t dare actually jab him with the pen. She mimicked the motions Diao Yong described, bringing her arm down from above in a feeble faux-strike. The pen tip came to a rest just above the location of the wound.
“Hold that position and don’t move. Where’s the forensic photographer?” Jiang Ting pointed. “Document this.”
Gou Li had brought with him a technician who was responsible for all the crime photography to aid in the injury assessment. The technician hurried forward, and took a photo of Diao Yong and Han Xiaomei’s current poses.
In the corridor outside was a furor of irrepressible chatter. Gou Li sidled a couple steps over to Yan Xie, whispering, “Are you really sure your friend can hold it down? If it turns out he bit off more than he can chew and chokes, we might just get stoned to death by an angry mob….”
Yan Xie didn’t answer.
Gou Li raised his head, to find, to his surprise, that Yan Xie had his eyes fixed on Jiang Ting like a hawk, an indescribable glint flickering in their depths.
“He’s right,” Yan Xie answered in a low, heavy voice. “Such a simple logic, and yet none of us figured it out.”
Gou Li, “???”
Diao Yong was getting a bit tired from having to stay immobile in his position, what with his injury and all. He snapped at Jiang Ting in impatient demand, “Are we done yet? What else are you police unsatisfied about?”
“No rush,” Jiang Ting replied evenly. Then, he turned and asked Gou Li, “How tall is Chu Ci?”
Just that one sentence, and the revelation hit Gou Li like a bolt from the blue; he completely understood now!
“About — about the same as you!” Gou Li was practically stuttering. “Yeah, a good head taller than Han Xiaomei!”
Jiang Ting stepped forward, took the pen, and mirrored Han Xiaomei’s pose from just before. The tip of the pen travelled from above downwards, but it didn’t stop right at the bandages like it did with Han Xiaomei — it stopped above Diao Yong’s upper chest.
“The wound is of a triangular shape; the knife spine was on top, blade on bottom, therefore the grip couldn’t have been a forward grip. You were saying that Chu Ci had stood up before he struck, then what I would like to know is: how did Chu Ci, who is ‘a good head taller’ than this female officer, manage to stab you in such a low position with a reverse grip? Or did you somehow grow an extra twenty centimeters out of nowhere?”
Diao Yong’s face instantly drained of all color!
Jiang Ting turned and tossed the pen away without care. Behind him, Diao Yong started backtracking in a voice that shook, “I, I remembered it wrong! He didn’t fully stand up, it happened so fast back there, I wasn’t thinking clearly when I was giving my statement! …”
“Then there seems to be a few too many things you weren’t ‘thinking clearly’ about,” Jiang Ting cut him off, saying, “You said Chu Ci turned off his flashlight right after hearing your voice, so at the time, the scene would have been pitch dark. How were you able to see so clearly, then, that the weapon was a regular fruit knife, about as long as a ballpoint pen, with barely any curve to the blade?”
Diao Yong’s legs went totally weak. He took a trembling half-step forward, and was immediately tackled to the ground by the hot-blooded young rookies.
“You guys must be mistaken, I didn’t lie! Wait, wait, I’m injured, I’m allowed to request for medical parole3! I …”
Diao Yong, held down by the officers, was still struggling violently. Blood seeped through his bandages, painting a rather alarming picture. But Jiang Ting was unperturbed, speaking with a blithe indifference, “Take him away. He’s not dying anytime soon.”
“After we’ve left, leave two men behind to check all the phones. Get the crowd to delete all their photos and videos, make sure there’s no uploading anything to the internet either,” Yan Xie ordered his subordinates in a low voice. After he was done with that, he turned toward Jiang Ting, a teasing smile spreading on his face. “Not bad, Yuanfang.”
Jiang Ting shifted his shoulders, ignoring him.
Yan Xie asked as he followed him out the room, “But your deductions just now had to be built upon the fact that Diao Yong truly hadn’t thought up a good testimony yet. What if he had just been a little bit smarter, and prepared a watertight spiel ahead of time? How’ll you find the weak points in his story then?”
“There is no false testimony in this world that’s ever watertight, only investigators who aren’t observant enough.” Jiang Ting crossed the corridor, turning a blind eye to the countless stares aimed at him from all directions. The face mask he wore made his voice sound quiet and somewhat muffled. “The blow on Diao Yong’s head was of a relatively large diameter. Even if it had been caused by a flashlight, it would have been those traditionally household-use, heavy-duty aluminum alloy handheld searchlights. But if Chu Ci brought such a large flashlight to the warehouse to secretly transport chemical substances, it would’ve been nothing but a hindrance. That’s already one cause for suspicion. On top of that, no one who had been lying unconscious for hours could be up and roaring afterwards as energetically as that. So the depth of the wound is most definitely fabricated, and the wound edge possibly aggravated by force. Of course, once the medical examiners complete the injury assessment, these incongruities would’ve been discovered nonetheless. It’ll just have been half a day to a day late.”
They walked into the elevator. At the other end of the corridor, officers were escorting a rancorous and struggling Diao Yong out of the emergency room.
“That one day, half a day’s delay, it might just have ‘delayed’ away the abductee’s life,” Yan Xie murmured.
Jiang Ting hummed in agreement.
The elevator slowly shut its doors and descended. Yan Xie suddenly spoke up, “I heard people out there applauding, just now.”
“Should be for you,” Yan Xie gave Jiang Ting a smile.
But unexpectedly, Jiang Ting stood beside him with utterly no reaction on his face, so unmoved it could practically be described as apathy. “So?”
“At least next time when someone’s yelling about how the police are wrongfully arresting people to take the blame for others…”
“If they were the type of onlookers who would yell those things at you, then any warmth they feel towards you wouldn’t last longer than five seconds either,” Jiang Ting spoke mildly. “Let’s head back to the bureau. It’s going to be another sleepless night tonight.”
Yan Xie exhaled, his voice low, “Yeah.”
The elevator arrived at ground floor. The doors steadily parted, the wind poured in, and the two of them walked out, side by side.