Chapter 12: The Woman Underneath the Bed
The scene of the crime was already crammed with police officers. When Jiang Zhengkai arrived on scene, the forensics team was busy taking photographs and collecting forensic evidence. He made his way to the front of the crowd and saw the two corpses. “Two more lives taken,” he grumbled.
“Oh good, you’re here, Inspector Jiang,” Zhang Nan greeted Jiang Zhengkai as he turned around.
“Any new discoveries?” Jiang Zhengkai asked while he stared at the corpses on the bed.
“No, sir!” Zhang Nan answered crisply. “From what we were able to gather here at the crime scene, it appears that this homicide was identical to the three that occurred before. There are no blood splatters, no signs of a struggle, and no indication of a forced entry.”
“Seems to me like there’s something different about this one,” Jiang Zhengkai said, all the while continuing to stare at the corpses on the bed. Even though Jiang Zhengkai hadn’t spoken very loudly, what he said immediately attracted the attention of every person in the room. All eyes turned towards Jiang Zhengkai and the bed beside him; everyone was eager to hear more.
“Look here! This woman’s expression is a bit strange.” Jiang Zhengkai was blind to the changed atmosphere in the room. His attention was too fully focused on the two corpses in front of him. Zhang Nan looked where Jiang Zhengkai indicated and carefully observed the woman’s corpse. Indeed, unlike the three previous female corpses, neither the jaw nor the eye sockets were wide open.
“And also look here, at her hands!” Jiang Zhengkai pointed at the deceased woman’s hands. Her boney, skin-wrapped hands weren’t like those of the previous three corpses, whose hands had hung casually to the side or had been gripping the bedsheets. This one’s hands were clasped in front of her chest, as if she were praying. Coupled with the expression on her face, it appeared that she had been begging something of someone.
“Inspector Jiang, are you suggesting she saw the murderer?” After taking stock of the places Jiang Zhengkai had gestured at, Zhang Nan had reached the same astonishing conclusion.
“Yes! Or to be more precise, she either knew the murderer or was begging them for something.” Jiang Zhengkai smirked to himself. Who knows what the previous three women were scared to death by: the men lying on top of them, or this mysterious serial killer?
“You’re right, sir!” Zhang Nan nodded. “It looks like we finally found a slight lead that could help us crack the case.” As he spoke, he seemed to almost sigh in relief, as if his spirit was no longer taking a beating.
“Let’s hope so!” Jiang Zhengkai continued to smile as he turned back towards Zhang Nan. “What was this woman’s name?”.
“We’re still looking into it,” Zhang Nan replied somewhat embarrassingly. “People like her are always on the move, so it’s hard to keep track of them…” he tried to explain.
“Well, get to it then!” Jiang Zhengkai ordered. He studied the man’s corpse for a while, but without saying anything more, he soon headed straight for the exit.
“Inspector Jiang!” Wei Xin burst in, clearly out of breath.
“Did you just come here from home?” Jiang Zhengkai asked with a smile on his face. “Hey, take it easy while you’re off duty. There’s no need to be so gung ho all the time.”
“But… but…” Wei Xin still couldn’t catch her breath.
Jiang Zhengkai cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Alright, since you’re already here, why don’t you give Sergeant Zhang a hand in figuring out this woman’s identity?”
“Yes, sir!” Wei Xin nodded in acknowledgment. Jiang Zhengkai looked at Wei Xin, but an image of A-Jiao wearing her hospital gown suddenly appeared in his mind. He vigorously shook his head, as if he were trying to shake her image from his mind. Why would I think of her at a time like this?
“Inspector Jiang, is there something wrong with your neck?” asked Wei Xin.
“Yeah, it’s feeling a bit stiff,” Jiang Zhengkai casually replied. “Okay, you go help Sergeant Zhang. I’m going to take a look upstairs.” He had a hunch that he had missed something, so he ran up the stairs onto the floor above.
Fortunately, he still had the key to the room up there. He opened the door and walked in. The room was pitch black, but his instincts told him there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. He removed the hi-beam flashlight from his utility belt and shined the light all around the room. The place looked like it hadn’t changed since the last time he’d been here. Regardless, he always carried his pistol and flashlight; it had already become a habit of his.
He felt for the light switch next to the door and found it. Pop! The lights in the room instantly turned on. He squatted down to carefully examine the floor. A light layer of dust covered it; there didn’t appear to be any new footprints. He then got up and tried to find the area on the floor right above where the wooden bed was in the room below. He eventually discovered that the bed in this room was exactly above the bed in the room below.
He felt along the wooden bed with his hands; it felt the same as room temperature. Then he squatted down and lifted up the sheets so he could take a look underneath the bed. As he lifted the bed sheet, the figure of a long-haired woman clad in black came into view.
At exactly the same time he noticed the woman, the woman also noticed him. Her head slowly turned towards Jiang Zhengkai as she looked into his eyes. She had the palest face one could imagine, completely devoid of color. She opened her mouth at Jiang Zhengkai, and he saw the flesh and skin around her mouth expand. Jiang Zhengkai felt a sudden sense of shock, and he fell backwards onto the floor. From where he was, he could see the top half of the woman’s chest exposed by the low neckline of her clothes. What he saw was a shrivelled chest. Even an elderly woman in her eighties or nineties wouldn’t have such a shrivelled-looking body. This was worse than that: a skeleton! A skin-covered skeleton!
The female skeleton extended an arm towards Jiang Zhengai. It looked like she wanted to crawl out from under the bed. Jiang Zhengkai felt his body going numb and his heart tighten. He wanted to shout, but no sound came out. The skeleton crawled forward. “Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh!” came the sound from the skeleton’s throat.
Jiang Zhengkai lay on the ground, unable to move, as if something was pinning him to the floor. Then suddenly, his cell phone started ringing. “Ah!” he yelled at last, as he reached for his flashlight with his left hand, turned it on, and frantically pointed it towards the skeleton.
“Ah! Ah!” he kept shouting as his body finally started to respond. He pushed himself back several feet, but when he raised his head to look beneath the bed, there was nothing there! Was that a figment of my imagination? Am I hallucinating? His cell phone kept on ringing, so he fished the phone out of his pocket, and answered it. “H-h-hello?”
“What are you doing?” It was A-Jiao’s voice on the other end. “You just left without saying goodbye?”
“Uh… ah… I… I had a case!” Jiang Zhengkai said as he swallowed a mouthful of saliva. His body was drenched in cold sweat.
“Hehe, big uncle police officer, I’m not buying it,” A-Jiao started laughing on the phone. “If you’re out chasing girls, just say so! That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that you forgot your bag.”
“Oh! Okay. I’ll… um… I’ll just leave it with you for the time being.” Jiang Zhengkai’s tone of voice was finally returning to normal.
“My my! You were climaxing just now, weren’t you?” said A-Jiao in her usual irreverent way. “You sound a lot more with it than a second ago. Okay, I’ll stop bothering you now. Once I’ve recovered, I’ll repay you with some free services. Bye, Officer Jiang!” Then came a click, as she hung up the phone.
“Fuck me!” Jiang Zhengkai cursed softly. He angrily swung his fist a couple of times in the air. That vile bitch! he thought hatefully. However, his hatred towards A-Jiao also carried with it a sense of caring. As such, he didn’t truly hate her.
He put his cell phone back into his pocket and then remained sitting on the floor so he could calm himself. There really wasn’t anything underneath the bed right now, but that hallucination had felt too real! As he thought about what he had seen, he carefully crawled forward and reached his hand out to where the female skeleton had been only moments earlier. Not a damn thing there!
Jiang Zhengkai let out a sigh of relief and let his hand fall to the ground. The floor beneath the bed was cold! In fact, it was freezing! He immediately snatched his hand back. Suddenly, he had an epiphany. I need to take a look underneath the bed in the room below… he thought. He didn’t even bother to close the door as he raced back down to the room below.
“Inspector Jiang–” Wei Xin greeted him at the door, obviously wanting to tell him something.
“Hold on a sec!” Jiang Zhengkai pushed her aside and bolted into the room. He ran over to the bed and pulled off the bed sheets. Nothing! “How could that be?” Jiang Zhengkai quietly muttered. He still didn’t give up and proceeded to place his hand on the floor. Still nothing out of the ordinary. “Was it really my imagination?” He sat down on the ground and thought to himself: People are all the same. When there are others around, a person’s courage knows no bounds, but when a person’s alone, he could easily scare himself to death.