Volume 1: Case 502 — The Intoxicated Frozen Corpse
Life and its fickle fortunes. The superior commanding officer and subordinate patrol cop who had been of such distinctly different worlds all those years ago — no one would have thought that they could now be standing here together, facing each other like this.
“The suspect vehicle is a red Camry in used-condition with a covered license plate. It left out of the south gate of the chemical engineering plant at three o-six in the morning and drove down Third Ring Boulevard towards the southeast direction. It was last seen fifteen minutes later heading onto Provincial Highway 635.”
“The kidnappers are suspected to be an underground drug-manufacturing ring; they have at least one hostage in their hands and have yet to make any demands. The missing person Chu Ci: twenty-one years old, a chemistry graduate student from Beijing. He came to intern at a Jianning chemical-engineering plant, and might know some secrets regarding the 502 Frozen Corpse Case. He also possesses a very high level of technical expertise; the kidnappers may have taken an interest in his drug-manufacturing abilities.”
“The Traffic Administration Bureau, Traffic Police Brigade, every jurisdiction’s patrol squadrons, relevant base-level police stations — get all units on the move, go door to door, pull all CCTV records along the routes! We must do everything we can to ensure the hostage’s safety, before the kidnappers make any further moves!”
Yan Xie speed-walked through the Criminal Investigation Unit’s buzzing, hectic main hall and darted into his own office, shutting the door fast behind him with a thud.
Greeting him from within his office was a mess of slurping noises, the aroma of Master Kang’s Beef Noodles rising to embrace him.
“Yan-ge, here.” Ma Xiang pointed in front of him with his chopsticks, his mouth stuffed full, cheeks bulging. “The last two Uni-President ‘Imperial Feast’ Beef-Delicacy Noodles, eighteen yuan a bowl1, cooked and ready to eat. We saved it just for the two of you. This time you can’t say we’re mistreating the consultant, can you?”
Yan Xie glanced over.
There, with a few case files acting as lids, stood two bowls of instant noodles, quietly releasing wafts of white steam.
Jiang Ting sat behind the office desk, keeping to himself as he perused the injury assessment photos, not showing any sign of even lifting his head.
“…” Yan Xie let out a silent sigh, and walked over to pick one of the bowls up. After nearly wolfing down half the bowl of noodles in one go, he jutted his chin in Jiang Ting’s direction and told him, “The unadon ordered for you is on its way; it’ll get here in a few.”
“What?!” Ma Xiang just about leaped up, and got shoved back down into his seat by Gao Panqing and Han Xiaomei’s fumbling hands. He could nearly cry at the unjustness of it all. “How come he gets grilled eel over rice, while we eat Master Kang? I can’t accept this, I really can’t accept this! Yan-ge’s no longer the Yan-ge who integrated himself into grassroots-level communities and educated us that all men are born equal…”
“Diao Yong, male, forty-one years old, one hundred and eighty-four centimeters in height. His wound is located between the second- and third-to-last ribs on his right. The weapon of assault was a fruit knife, depth of wound around four centimeters, with no severe damage caused to the internal organs.” Jiang Ting flipped over to the next page in the injury assessment. He mimed the knife’s angle of penetration into muscle as illustrated in the corresponding diagram.
“The assailant is of a height between one sixty-five to one seventy, right-handed, with an arm strength that’s rather… unexceptional.”
A moment of contemplation, then he quietly noted, “…It’s a woman.”
“That’s Gou Li’s assessment too,” said Yan Xie, eating his noodles. “Hu Weisheng’s accomplice was also a woman.”
Beyond the city bureau’s conference room windows, the sky had already completely faded to black. The hour hand of the clock on the wall silently pointed itself at eleven.
Jiang Ting’s face was tinged with some fatigue. He leaned back into the armchair, letting out a deep exhale. “Let’s go through this case again from the top.”
Ma Xiang downed the last dregs of the noodle soup in his bowl, then turned to ask Han Xiaomei in a whisper, hiding half his face behind a case file, “Isn’t this guy the witness from that KTV, from the night of May 2? When did he turn into Captain Yan’s private consultant? I was only gone for a few days, watching surveillance tapes in the bureau off field-duty, and now there’s been a whole shift of world powers?”
“Love hits you too fast. It’s just like a tornado; there’s no way to avoid the whirlwind and no time to run,” Han Xiaomei sighed with great feeling, shaking her head. “Someone like you, who doesn’t even have a significant other, shouldn’t bother attempting to understand.”
Ma Xiang: “Who says I don’t have a significant other? I have my Ayanami Rei and Asuka2, not to mention the most kawaii Goddess Hatsune….”
“On May 5, that is, once he had learned the news of Feng Guguang’s death, Chu Ci started repeatedly testing controlled chemical substances such as methylamine, chlorobenzaldehyde, as well as some other methanol solutions. All of the above chemicals have to do with synthesizing crystal meth. These meaningless experiments continued until the early hours of today, when Chu Ci, for reasons unknown, cut the power and the surveillance, stole a keycard, and snuck into the controlled substances warehouse.”
Jiang Ting’s voice halted, and Yan Xie butted in, “He might’ve gotten suspicious over the solution density of these couple of controlled substances in the plant, and wanted to go check the tanks himself?”
“…No, not the solution density,” Jiang Ting said quietly, “but the remaining amount.”
Ma Xiang opened up a second bowl of beef noodles. He asked in a whisper, “So do you guys think Yan-ge actually understood, or is that ‘I got it!’ expression on his face just an act?”
Gao Panqing retorted tensely, “Go eat your noodles!”
“Some of the controlled chemical substances are especially dense. If one replenishes the deficit after siphoning out the raw materials, by adding an equal volume of some other liquid of lower density, such as water, then with water being lighter, it’ll float towards the top of the storage tank, and thus make it hard for anyone to notice any irregularity at the dispenser port located towards the bottom. At the same time, because these controlled substances have low water solubility, even if a lot of water is added, the substance’s density would still barely change. And even if it does, it’ll just be taken as a procedural error during experiment evaluations.”
Jiang Ting took a breath, his expression not looking particularly pleasant. “However, Chu Ci’s operating procedures are very precise, to the point where you could call it with mathematical precision. So he didn’t brush it off as error, and started suspecting that someone’s using this method of adding water to the tanks to steal controlled chemical substances.”
Yan Xie was so engrossed in listening that the bite of instant noodles twirled on his plastic fork slipped his mind. “But Top Student pretended not to notice anything, out of a mentality of ‘none of my business, I just wanna graduate’, or ‘just let me graduate and anything else is cool’. That was his attitude all the way up till May 4, when he got brought to the city bureau and learned of Feng Yuguang’s death…”
“Right,” Jiang Ting agreed. “He felt a vague suspicion that Feng Yuguang’s death had something to do with himself, and he therefore had an obligation to keep investigating, or he was simply worried that he himself would become the next one. But it is indeed hard to deduce just what the top student’s thoughts were. The human mind is mystifying in its intricacies; there’s no need to try and dig to the bottom in this matter.”
Yan Xie side-eyed Jiang Ting.
Jiang Ting, “What?”
“Nothing,” Yan Xie humphed, thinking: like your thoughts are any easier to deduce, you top student.
“…” Jiang Ting asked dubiously, “What exactly is your problem with me?”
Yan Xie lifted his fork and slurped. He continued indistinctly, “The nightwatch employee Nian Bowen was knocked out by Chu Ci, which tells us that Chu Ci didn’t enter the warehouse at the same time as the kidnappers, but that these two parties just happened to bump into each other as they were sneaking around in the middle of their criminal activities. We can tentatively confirm that the kidnappers are internal staff members at the chemical engineering company, with a huge amount of suspicion on the security management office — as of right now, the entire office has already been detained for immediate questioning. Hey, you think there’s any chance that Ding Dang girl might be Diao Yong’s accomplice?”
Jiang Ting said mildly, “I hope she is; that would save a lot of time. But you can’t just take anyone who’s a woman and say that she’s under suspicion. Ding Dang can’t be considered an internal staff member after all, and there isn’t a red Camry to be found under anyone’s name in the entire Ding family. Meanwhile, there are about seven or eight other female employees within the security management office who possess the means to commit this crime.”
Yan Xie, holding a marker before the whiteboard, twisted around to give him a doubtful glance. “…But you also can’t just see someone who’s pretty and think she’s definitely innocent.”
Jiang Ting asked in surprise, “Is she pretty?”
“I didn’t really notice.” Jiang Ting smiled lightly. “You sure remember a lot of things.”
Yan Xie, “…………”
Covering her face in embarrassment, Han Xiaomei said, “I can’t watch this anymore.”
“Yan-ge, your unadon’s here!” someone outside the door poked their head in and yelled.
Under Yan Xie’s “I’m not I don’t that’s nonsense” look, Jiang Ting rose leisurely and came back with the unagi donburi in hand. The mouthwatering aroma instantly hooked Ma Xiang’s burning gaze. He goggled at that tantalizing black wood bento box, his neck stretched long.
Jiang Ting opened the box and peered at it, then at Ma Xiang, as if he found it all quite amusing. So he asked, “You want to try some?”
Ma Xiang, drool slobbering and tail wagging, nodded his head.
Jiang Ting pointed at Yan Xie. “All men are equal?”
“Of course not!” Ma Xiang declared reverentially, “You are a god and we are but puny mortals, fuck that equality shit!”
And now everyone’s expression had turned into “please shut up we can’t watch this anymore”. Only Ma Xiang jubilantly received a full piece of grilled eel, and he gobbled it up with his instant noodles in elated satisfaction.
“Has Diao Yong confessed yet?” Jiang Ting asked, as he unhurriedly mixed his rice with the sauce from the unagi.
A top chemistry student from Beijing got abducted by drug traffickers in Jianning territory — the whole city bureau had been positively whipped into a frenzy. Only Jiang Ting seemed relatively unharried, when he himself was the person who had discovered the key clue. Yan Xie felt a twinge of absurd mirth amid the urgency. He couldn’t imagine just what kind of bizarre picture it had been, back when Jiang Ting led his own men as the captain of a unit.
“Nope, got his mouth clamped dead shut. You pressure him and he just says at worst he’ll see us on the firing grounds,” Yan Xie replied with a bitter smile. “These people aren’t ignorant of the law. They know the country’s more and more lenient with dealing out capital punishment nowadays. It used to be sure-fire death for anything over fifty grams, but now anything starts at the kilogram-level. Watch the big lawyers make a bit more of a ruckus, and one day the country will ban the death sentence entirely. At that point, I suggest all drug control officers just pack their bags and go home and support their asses on their own. Spare everyone in their families from getting used as human target practice by the drug traffickers for shits and giggles.”
In the middle of eating, his mask removed, Jiang Ting smiled at him.
“If you didn’t run your mouth off so much, you could’ve been promoted to proper Captain a long time ago.”
He very rarely showed such an artless, tender demeanor in front of Yan Xie — not counting the times he was putting on an act.
For a moment, Yan Xie was stunned.
“The confession statements are very important.” Jiang Ting then bent his head back over his meal and went right back to eating, as if nothing had just happened. “A-Zong and those lackeys know about the drug supply channel, and Diao Yong has a direct connection to the drug-manufacturing group. We cannot afford to let up on the interrogations on either side. Chu Ci has been missing for nearly twenty hours now. The longer it’s dragged out, the worse the odds are against him.”
Every thread seemed to be approaching a dead end. Fan Si was killed off, Hu Weisheng was killed off, the drug raid got leaked and barely any drug evidence was seized. Even though currently every single surveillance officer was working through the night, poring over the CCTV footage from Three Spring Trees KTV, it would still require a massive, massive amount of manpower and time to find even a trace of a clue in that vast ocean of surveillance footage.
Chu Ci didn’t have the time.
This abducted young man, if he wasn’t dead yet, the only reason for that would be because his outstanding specialist skill-set caught the drug traffickers’ eyes. Should he provoke the drug traffickers to anger, he could be at risk of losing his life at any second.
“I understand that.” Yan Xie grabbed a napkin and wiped his mouth. He coughed, as if to hide some sort of emotion, then stood up, saying, “You guys keep eating. I’m going to the interrogation room to check on lao-Qin and the others again. Ma Xiang, you watch over Consultant Lu here for a bit. Him being here’s against regulations. Don’t let anyone just randomly barge in and make a big fuss out of it.”
Ma Xiang jumped up. “It’s okay, lao-Gao can do it. I’m done eating; I’ll go with you.”
Yan Xie gave Jiang Ting a nod, then started walking out. Ma Xiang eagerly rushed to open the door before him.
Except who could’ve known that he would barely even touch the handle before — whoosh! The door was rammed open from the other side. Yan Xie, his reflexes quick, instantly dodged a half-step back. Ma Xiang, on the other hand, got slammed straight in the face by the door panel, and immediately fell into a crouch with a squawk, clutching his nose.
“Ay lao-Yan!” The tech director Huang Xing lunged in, then promptly glanced down. “What did xiao-Ma do to get such a huge nosebleed? C’mon stop bleedin’ already. Whole team’s heading out! The surveillance crew found that suspicious red Camry on CCTV!”
Everyone sprung to their feet at once. Ma Xiang froze before he could even get a chance to start racketeering for damages.
Yan Xie barked, “Where?”
Lightning split the horizon, thunder barrelled over the pitch-dark heavens, and the deluge poured.
Beside the provincial freeway, in the wilderness beyond the steep, sloping banks, black smoke curled up from the charred remains of a car under the heavy, drenching rain.
“No body found in the front seat or behind the dashboard or glove compartment!”
“Nothing in the back seat either!”
“No human remains or body parts found in the trunk yet!” Huang Xing had his police flashlight raised, the hood of his raincoat long since slipped off. He lifted a hand and scrubbed away the rainwater that was cascading down his face, hollering at the top of his lungs, “It’s an empty-vehicle fire, lao-Yan! The accelerants used still need to be further determined!”
The scene was surrounded by several police cars. The night was so dark they couldn’t see their own hands. Police car headlights and flashlights swept back and forth in the darkness. It was early summer, a late night in May, and yet the chill from the storm seeped right through to the bone, sending shivers down everyone’s back.
The kidnappers torched an empty car.
With a good majority of vehicle arson cases, the act was committed so that all possible clues left behind would be destroyed in the blaze, for the inside of the car itself was the crime scene.
Was Chu Ci alive or dead? Had his body already been destroyed prior to their arrival, or had the drug traffickers found a better method of disposal?
Icy silence radiated through the gathered group. There was utter quietude around them, no sound except the torrential downpour that thundered on. Everyone’s eyes stared helplessly at that blackened and malformed metal car frame. No one knew how much time had passed. Suddenly, Yan Xie’s low, hard voice rang out,
“Everybody stays. Turn this hill inside out. Collect any leaf, branch, or pebble that has even a touch of blood or any other suspicious stains on it. Ma Xiang will lead some men and help the technicians extract footprints, tire tracks, dirt samples, as well as any and all traces of human activity, within a five-hundred-meter radius of the scene. Do not let even a hint of a clue slip by.”
“Right now it’s twelve-forty, less than six hours till daybreak. Before sunrise tomorrow, I demand that we fully complete the inspection process, and proceed into the stage of search-and-rescue.”
Everyone stood with their backs straight as bolts, no dissent and no hesitation, all eyes focused on Yan Xie from under their raincoat hoods.
“There’s a twenty-one-year-old young student’s life that’s currently in our hands.” Yan Xie scanned the criminal investigation officers under his command. He spoke with solemnity, “The rest, I shouldn’t need to say much more. Let’s begin.”
Besides the crash of the rain and the sound of footsteps, one couldn’t hear a single complaint. The policemen got straight to work in twos and threes. Practically within the blink of an eye, the technicians had started dismantling the hood, the trace analysts had begun digging up the wet mud under the treads, and the investigative officers had lit their flashlights and were searching along the road. Everybody, with efficiency and order, threw themselves into the investigative grind.
Yan Xie turned and walked toward his Grand Cherokee.
Jiang Ting stood beside the car door, Yan Xie’s trench coat over his shoulders. His hands were folded naturally before his body, his face abnormally pale in the black of night. The strands of his hair and eyelashes were slightly dampened by the permeating cold.
Han Xiaomei stood behind, holding up for him a black umbrella.
“It’s getting way too late. You’re going to make yourself sick, staying up with us like this.” Yan Xie stood in front of Jiang Ting, his face slightly lowered, his eyes fixed on the other man’s face. Then, he took a breath and shifted his gaze aside. He dug his keys out from his pocket and tossed them to Han Xiaomei. “I have a place nearby; it’s got toiletries and everything stocked — Consultant Lu’s been there before. You drive him over so he can rest up for the night. Order him some porridge, boil him some hot water. He didn’t even get to eat that many bites of his dinner before we left.”
Han Xiaomei scrambled to catch the apartment keys.
Yan Xie’s gaze returned to Jiang Ting’s face. It seemed like he was about to say something else, but then he held back, merely smiled and told him, “Don’t worry.”
Yan Xie turned and walked off towards the burnt wreckage, when suddenly from behind him he heard, “Hey.”
“…” He turned around.
In that moment, they stood half a step apart. And yet, it was as if there was no distance between them at all, the rain carrying their breaths until it wetly intertwined at the tip of each other’s nose.
Life and its fickle fortunes. No one would have thought that the superior commanding officer and subordinate patrol cop who’d been of such distinctly different worlds all those years ago, could now be standing here together, facing each other like this. After sharing a lengthy stare with him, Jiang Ting seemed to let out a breath, as if a silent sigh.
“Take care of yourself, don’t stay up too late.”
Jiang Ting turned around and climbed into the car. The Grand Cherokee slowly backed up and away in the muddy storm. Yan Xie didn’t make a sound. He stood rooted in place, watching the flashing tail lights as they disappeared into the vast veil of night.