Chapter 2: Survivor
This was the third murder case in the last month. The first time, Gu Shi was in the middle of live-fire training at police rank promotion training when the call came, recalling the other field officers to the scene.
When Gu Shi got back she returned the call, and noticed the crime scene photos had already been delivered: the victim lay in a pool of blood, her brains spilled out everywhere and her carotid artery cut, blood sprayed on the wall of the entryway and even up to the ceiling. From the contorted way she lay and the surrounding fall marks, she must have been caught completely off guard by her trailing attacker the moment she entered her home at noon, where her assailant struck her in the vital point at the back of the head and cervical vertebra, killing her instantly.
Gu Shi asked about the victim’s condition on the phone. The deceased was a young woman, around twenty years old, normal appearance, normal figure, her job and family situation ordinary, and the area she lived in was normally safe. Her body was found about an hour later by a courier, who reported the crime.
Later the investigation found that none of the victim’s possessions had been taken and there had been no signs of rape. The method used indicated a first offender, yet not a single mistake had been made. No fingerprints, no footprints, no sweat, no eyewitnesses, no security camera footage. Not a single clue left behind. And so this daylight murder case spread like wildfire throughout the neighborhood, putting everyone on tenterhooks.
The conjecture one after another was that this was like that “Head Beating Case” that happened more than twenty years ago, where the assailant specifically targeted single women. The proprietor even said reasonably, “The scary thing is the murderer was not after money or sex, but was motivated by an unadulterated, sociopathic hatred of women. Any woman could be a target.” Now husbands were seeing off wives, fathers were escorting daughters, and the residents spontaneously formed a neighborhood watch. They wore distributed volunteer vests and chatted while closely scrutinizing the faces of the unfamiliar. Even during the daytime they didn’t let up their guard.
The second crime occurred ten days or so later. Gu Shi was prepared this time when the call came and she sped first thing in her cruiser from the police school in the suburbs to the scene. For the victim this crime must have struck like a bolt out of the blue. But for Gu Shi, every challenge concealed a 99% chance of being solved.
Supposing it was the same culprit, then he had created a problem for himself: how could he conceal his motive for this series of crimes? The traces at the scene could be covered, but the traces of his thoughts were more predictable; he wouldn’t necessarily be conscious of it, and so would not think to cover it up. And from the two previous autopsies of the victims it could already be determined that the perpetrator was not old and was not all that strong. How could he disguise his methods while not making any mistakes?
Everything seemed to be cut and dry, but Gu Shi still felt something wasn’t right. Flipping through the case records she saw the second victim was a fifteen-year-old boy returning home after cram school, only to be knocked out with a heavy object as soon as he entered the door. The perpetrator had taken the risk to wait a minute, and had discovered the victim was still breathing. He then took a fruit knife and viciously slit the boy’s throat.
The perpetrator’s determination to make sure his victim was dead was the same, yet other characteristics of the cases, such as the murder method and the victim’s background, though seemingly similar, still existed within a huge boundary. The only certainty was that the sex and age of the victims were unpredictable for Gu Shi, which only doubled the scope of the threat.
Just what kind of person was this, and for what purpose was he creating such anxiety among the ordinary residents of this supersized metropolis?
Gu Shi was outside ICU talking with the staff there, jotting notes on her pad while her brain whirled. The third time. Still not a single useful clue, each case time and again breaking the same common ground.
Could it be this time they were really up against a random, motiveless, highly intelligent criminal who was extremely resistant against psychological probing?
Through the glass wall of ICU Gu Shi could see the victim lying on the hospital bed. This girl was different from the two previous non-descript victims. She was especially pretty. Even from such a distance you could tell her skin was soft and delicate, and her curled, lissome eyelashes stood out brilliantly from her other already clear, fresh, and fine facial features. Even though she was lying on a hospital bed, wearing a hospital gown and no make-up, her eyes slightly closed, her classical beauty radiated the aura of a goddess, so that even the beautiful Gu Shi had to admire her, and she couldn’t help but steal a few more glimpses. Fortunately, the doctor had already made his rounds and reported that the girl’s life was not in danger. Gu Shi waited patiently for her to come to and prepared for her first chat with the patient. She would definitely get some results. After all, up to now she was the only victim to survive.
Friday morning. Zhang Chi held a cup of soy milk in one hand, a sticky rice ball in the other, and Audio-Technica headphones on his head as he swayed toward his office desk, only to find a sturdy figure blocking his path. It was none other than his senior brother, Crime Technical Team Officer Chen Ting. He quickly took off his headphones and put down his breakfast, though he still shouldered his backpack. “Good morning. I thought I was mistaken for a minute. What wind has blown you here?”
Zhang Chi was a Political Section Publicity officer. An ordinary officer would not come here without a specific reason, plus there was no hope to ask a person like Chen Ting, who normally kept a very low profile, to go back and forth. If the supervisor had not sent him, then even though joined in opposition against a common enemy, he would still not take one step through those doors.
Chen Ting responded in his usual methodical manner, “Can’t you be a bit more on-time to work, you’re nearly late. I’ve been waiting for you all day. The supervisor wants to see you.”
Zhang Chi took a big bite of his sticky rice ball and chased it with a gulp of soy milk as he frowned, wondering what this had to do with him. “There’s some work he needs to ask you about,” Chen Ting said impatiently. “You’ll find out what it is when you get there. Our boss has already informed your supervisor about it.”
This time, Zhang Chi was even more confused. “Senior brother, you know that I studied community management at the police academy and work with domestic and foreign publicity. Aside from some fieldwork with the station, my actual experience and professional expertise can’t compare with even your newest officers. It’s not April Fools’ Day is it?”
“I haven’t seen you in a few days and you’re already acting diffident. There must be a reason our supervisor is asking for you, though I don’t know why your expertise is needed. Hurry up, our supervisor has been pestering me.” Chen Ting motioned him with his cell phone to come on.
It wasn’t until he was seated in front of the Criminal Investigations Sergeant Gu Zhichang that Zhang Chi understood what his assignment was: drawing. Turns out they were at an impasse in what they suspected was a serial killer case. Gu Zhichang happened to know that Zhang Chi had won several drawing competitions while at the academy, so he had mentioned giving him a shot.
This was really like “giving medicine to a dead horse”—a last-ditch effort. First off, there were no leads that could be followed up on and investigated. Second, he was one of their people, so they could effectively keep things a secret and control news from leaking out. Third, there was already precedent for this from overseas, using a portrait sketch of a criminal suspect. There was even one famous artist from Texas in the United States whose work sketching portraits of criminal suspects over the course of thirty years had led to the convictions of nearly a thousand criminals, which had won her a place in the Guiness Book of World Records.
Even though Gu Zhichang corrected him by calling him a “criminal composite sketch artist”, Zhang Chi still insisted on referring to himself as someone who merely draws what’s in his head.
“Mr. Gu, I know the person you’re talking about. Her name is Gibson. The American police had a larger probability of success using her sketches to solve cases than collecting suspect fingerprints. Problem is, she’s a trained professional, who has studied forensic medical arts, and probably the best criminal sketch artist. I’m just an amateur artist with a bit of talent. You really can’t compare us.”
Gu Zhichang was an “old man” on the criminal investigation team. Despite being well-experienced in solving crimes, he was well-known for his good will toward others. Everyone in the department, except perhaps the detained suspects, who all were terror-stricken by him, were only too glad to strike up a conversation with him should they meet him in the hall, even the cleaning ladies who usually kept their heads down and didn’t make eye contact with anyone.
Gu Zhichang smiled as he looked at him, but in Zhang Chi’s mind Gu Shi’s frosty phoenix eyes appeared. Father and daughter, same bloodline. So how could one be passionate like fire while the other was cold as ice, and only toward him?
“Gibson is the best criminal sketch artist in the world,” Gu Zhichang continued. “That’s certainly true. But she only helped crack 30% of unsolved cases. The overall statistics for participated cases you can well imagine. It’s not going to be smooth sailing when you’re just starting out. Today I only want to ask you one-on-one. You also know this field is non-existent among our domestic public security cases. Now you have a chance to become China’s future Gibson; don’t you have any desire at all to give it a shot?”
“Gibson has already reached a state that would be very difficult to surpass. My biggest impression of her is that my drawing teacher uses her detailed, realistic drawings as examples. The meticulous detail of her drawings is truly astonishing. Dermatology experts can even look at the scars she draws on her suspects to positively identify whether the scar was from a stab wound, a burn, from surgery, or a scar that was the result of a car accident…”
“Seems you’ve already been following her.”
Chen Ting had been waiting in the outer room, pacing back and forth, wringing his hands.
He had not told Zhang Chi that Gu Zhichang had requested him because Chen Ting happened to recall some fascinating stories from the police academy when he was chatting with his colleague and had let slip about his junior classmate’s special talent. “His drawings are more realistic than a photograph”, “He can look at someone’s face and basically remember it like looking at a photo; even several days later he can draw it exactly”, “When you get married don’t go to get wedding pictures taken, just ask my buddy to draw your portrait for free”.
Now he was fidgeting, worried that Zhang Chi, who never thought anything of authority, would resolutely refuse the assignment. He also feared that should he take the assignment he wouldn’t have the ability to do it. Whichever way it went, he would be implicated. His mother always warned him that when it came to government matters one must “speak less and work more”, but he had always let it go in one ear and out the other. He never expected disaster might be at his door. He was always so cautious and careful conducting himself, yet his casual chatting and joking, if he wasn’t careful, would screw him over. Now, he could only pray that Zhang Chi would assume the sergeant wouldn’t tell him the true situation of the victim’s body.
There was the sound of boisterous laughter and the two came out of the office with their arms around each other’s shoulder. Facing the dumbstruck Chen Ting, Gu Zhichang tersely explained things. The gist of it was Chen Ting would provide the particulars of the job and report without delay.
Once Gu Zhichang had closed the door of his office, Chen Ting lost no time in cautioning him. “This time the job will be very difficult. Go on back and prepare well.”
Zhang Chi was still steeped in his earlier cheerfulness with his new-found buddy, Gu Zhichang. “It’s just a pencil and a drawing board,” he said offhand, “what’s the big deal? Don’t worry, brother, don’t worry. My skills haven’t wasted away. I won’t make you lose face.”
Chen Ting held his tongue. “This victim’s case is special. I fear you won’t be up for it.”