Chapter 22: First Investigation
Contrary to the arrest, the interrogation went unexpectedly smoothly. The suspect was cruel and savage, but after all he was still just a kid. Faced with such huge pressure and fear of the unknown, he quickly broke down and spilled everything. With his complete testimony they could report to the procuratorate. With everything out in the open that should have been a sigh of relief to everyone, but this case had been a devastating hit to both the victims and the criminal. It had made everyone’s heart heavy.
Everyone learned through various channels that it had been Zhang Chi’s portrait sketch that had determined the suspect, and that it had been him who had personally fought with and subdued the suspect. Each version of the story told was fantastic, described as if the person had witnessed it personally. Everyone who saw him had some words of praise for him; no one was able to hide their new admiration for him, including Gu Shi, who seemed to have forgotten their earlier quarrel, as well as her lost wager.
Work on the force never seemed to give the team a chance to catch their breath; it was just one case after another. People always said you had to be a “workaholic” to work on the criminal investigation team, the kind of person who was listless from idleness and only was in high spirits when busy. It was a saying everyone professed.
Gu Shi was just returning from buying a cup of freshly-ground coffee from a small shop. Everyone was eager to enjoy a rare lull in the afternoon, much needed to perk their spirits up. The phone on Gu Shi’s desk rang. The newest orders. Just like loafing soldiers hearing the call of the bugle, she instantly bolted upright in attendance.
The strong-fragranced Zhang Chi, who had just dropped by, heard and volunteered to help. “I’ll drive so you all can rest and enjoy your coffee.”
Chen Ting and Gu Shi had barely spoken to one another since that time he had confessed to her. Now was a rare chance to say something, so he seized the opportunity to tease. “Seems you have some ulterior motive?”
Gu Shi side-eyed him indifferently. Although Zhang Chi hadn’t been thinking of anything, he just pretended he hadn’t heard him and grabbed the vehicle request form so he could get the boss to sign it.
The captain was just passing by and saw the sheet in his hand and nodded in praise and took it and signed it with a flourish. “You all ought to be like Zhang Chi. We’re all the same here, just dividing up the work. Everyone has room to learn and improve and you should take the lead in grabbing every chance to learn. Every crime scene is a classroom.”
Now that the captain had emphasized that, Gu Shi had no excuse to refuse, even though she had wanted to. She could only give him a secret look which said, “Don’t give me any trouble.”
Zhang Chi gave her a knowing smile. Chen Ting saw their exchange and thought about their previous reaction, which seemed to suggest something. He lowered his head and with a gloomy look and quietly walked out.
The crime scene was a mess. The student who had called the police was huddled in his uncle’s arms, trembling, his face pale, eyes tightly shut, as if he expected to see something frigthening when he opened them. The door had been unlocked when he returned home from school, a low groan coming from within. He went inside, curious, where he saw the terrible scene.
When Zhang Chi stepped over the police tape he was shocked by what he saw. This was the first violent crime scene he had been to personally. He had seen photographs before, but it was nothing compared to experiencing it firsthand.
It was an old-style resident building, built in the late 80s. No elevator, the stairs made of unfinished cement. The banister had a fresh coat of red lacquer which gave off a pungent smell. Spots of blood in the hallway extended from the ground floor up to the fourth, accompanied by several tracks of overlapping or converging bloody footprints. The door to the room where the violent crime had taken place was wide open.
The room was piled with odds and ends. It was crowded and dark. The bedroom led to an open-style kitchen where a seventy-year-old woman lay dead on the floor. Her face, neck, and arms had been hacked up, the body mangled. There were clear strangle marks on her neck, and the nose had been nearly severed from her face at the bridge, making one think of a strange creature from a sci-fi horror film. The officer who had taken the call said there had been another on the floor then, the old woman’s granddaughter, whose body was also covered with cuts. She also lay in a pool of blood, but had already been rushed to the emergency room.
Gu Shi was down on the floor, measuring and surveying, moving nimbly and soundlessly, not much different than a cat waiting to ambush its prey. Chen Ting held a camera, constantly stooping and standing, taking notes and snapping photos, completely engrossed in his work. Some of the other officers were maintaining order outside while others were inside inspecting the room, no one paying attention to what the others were doing, the scant conversation orderly, not disturbing each other, going about their work as usual.
Zhang Chi was only too glad to have no one paying attention to him. He gingerly made his way over and around the corpse, avoiding the blood on the floor, and made his way inside. The room was really messy, a television turned over on the floor. Blood was splashed on the walls, the floors, the table, the bed. The bed mat was strewn on the floor with several cuts in it. The window curtains had all been pulled down, scraps of paper and bloodstains spread all over the outdated cloth.
There was no presentable furniture in the room. There was an old-style sewing machine by the window which seemed to be normally used as a dining table. A tablecloth was spread on it, a corner of it sticking up slightly because the drawer was opened.
He looked in the drawer, which was shallow and contained sewing thread, thimbles, and such. He put on gloves and pulled out the drawer and discovered some pale human tissue. He looked at it carefully and quickly signaled for Gu Shi to come over.
“It’s a piece of finger; can you not tell?” Gu Shi told him calmly after a quick glance.
Seeing his expression turn slightly, she continued, “If you can’t handle it then go wait in the car. It’s a small room. If you disturb the scene it will be a big problem.”
Zhang Chi forced down the dry heaves threatening to spill out and waved his gloved hands to indicate he wouldn’t disturb the scene, then went to look at some other things.
Forcing oneself to turn one’s attention to something else was effective. He was soon over his disgust and dread. Gu Shi kept looking back at him, making sure he was all right. Actually she wasn’t just concerned with protecting the crime scene, but also was concerned about him. He couldn’t tell from her expressionless face, but he was happy. He thought, if Gu Shi knew this was his first crime scene, her actions ought to be the rarest of rarities and wasn’t anything to lose face over.
Zhang Chi noticed there were two murder weapons on the scene. One was a kitchen knife on the table, the other a fruit knife dropped on the floor at the lower part of the bed mat. Both seemed to have belonged to the deceased. He stood in the middle of the room which was not even twenty square meters. The furniture was of the style he remembered when he was a boy, the top handle off and half dangling. There was a low writing table at the head of the bed piled with elementary and middle school textbooks. There seemed to be only the old woman and the child living here, living under meager conditions.
The room was closed off, reeking of blood. The people gathered outside were discussing noisily. Beginning of summer and the body in just an hour had already started to stink. The officers on the scene seemed not to hear the din or smell the reek. Rather it was like they were sitting properly in a well-ventilated, immaculate laboratory, immersed in their experiments.
Zhang Chi didn’t see how these specialist officers could take these poor working conditions. He was about to announce that he was going outside to make inquiries, but Gu Shi seemed to see through him and exposed him. “What, you can’t take even this little scene?”
He knew she was talking about even more terrible deaths, bloated corpses, suicides by hanging, and many others. He was glad he wasn’t a forensic medical expert or a technician. At least he didn’t have to work at these crime scenes.
He could only continue with his plan to slip away. Seeing him pretending like nothing was up, several nearby colleagues lowered their heads and snickered.
He laughed at himself, not minding. He was the only one standing up in the room. With nothing to say and not much to do, yet his field of vision was uniquely higher. He stood on tiptoe to give him an even higher vantage point, and his attention was quickly drawn to a leather pocketbook on the top of the wardrobe.
He motioned to Gu Shi that there might be a useful clue over there and she skeptically stuffed an evidence bag in his hands. “Do you know how to collect evidence? If so, go on and get it.”
When he handed the evidence bag back to Gu Shi, she frowned and gave him an odd look. Actually he was just trying to straighten out the motive for the crime. If this was a revenge killing then that piece of finger might be enough to confirm it, but he had just overheard two neighbors talking about it: this family almost never interacted with anyone. The child’s father was from Qidong and worked on an ocean liner. The old woman had moved there “simply to look over the household and supervise the child’s studies”. If that was really the case, then how could they have made an enemy of a violent criminal?
If it was about money, common people like that wouldn’t attract much attention, plus the family wasn’t well off; even just supporting supplemental school fees for two kids would be overwhelming. They seemed to be extremely poor, so how could they have incurred this fatal disaster?