Chapter 27: Dazed
At the group discussion that afternoon Zhang Chi put forth a bold conjecture. “What if Xiao Shilin, who was injured on the scene, is the real suspect?” He had in fact said what Gu Zhichang had been thinking and turned Gu Shi’s work upside down. He knew that Gu Zhichang would never mention it openly without clear-cut evidence. He didn’t care who solved the case, but he couldn’t stand and unsolved case.
Someone else chimed in, similarly suspicious, because her grandmother’s death had not grieved her. One could even say her reaction had been indifferent. Someone else brought up the fact that the deceased’s wounds were light, characteristic of an attack by a girl. But others opposed this idea. After all, a detective’s intuition could not serve as evidence. Unless they received direct testimony during interrogation it would be easy to fall into disadvantageous mindset and outsmart oneself. Smoke curled in the air of the investigators’ conference room, the truth of the matter similarly enveloped in a dense fog, difficult to break out.
It was the technical team’s main verdict that really put Xiao Shilin in the spotlight as a potential suspect, after it had been put together with information from the peripheral investigation team. There were several directly implicating Xiao Shilin that could not be explained away, to the point that she was now a major suspect.
First of all, no one else directly went in and out of the crime scene, aside from the two previously eliminated suspects. And the neighbors never heard Xiao Shilin cry for help the whole time.
Secondly, the largest regular passbook in the wallet had not been taken out, and the change in funds of the other account had occurred the Saturday a week before the crime. The Friday before that a neighbor had heard a loud argument between the granddaughter and grandmother. The most recent, sweaty palm print had been left behind by Xiao Shilin, contradicting her claim that the “money had been stolen”.
The third suspicious thing was revealed in traces at the scene. Since the goal had been to take money, what could explain the grandmother’s severed tongue?
Fourth, the murder weapons and bloodstains on the stairs were of the same blood type as Xiao Shilin, and all the fingerprints, palm prints, and footprints matched hers. There were no traces of a third person.
When Gu Shi gently questioned her about her wounds at the hospital, she clearly, resolutely told them how it all went: how the villain had grabbed her hands and used the fruit knife on the table that had been used to peel an orange to chop at her head, and how he chased her after she went to look behind her for something to hit him with, his knife slashing at her neck, leaving several cuts.
Gu Shi didn’t dispute anything, only made some notes on her pad and went back to her office and got to work. Zhang Chi’s sketch had led to an arrest, but it was the wrong guy. The suspect had a concrete alibi. On that day at that time he was with his group of cronies were eating at a small restaurant. The boss and security cameras both confirmed his testimony. Xiao Shilin also stated without hesitation that she didn’t recognize him. “Doesn’t look like him.” The only match for a suspect they had was thus easily eliminated.
The crime scene investigation report made, Gu Shi rushed in from her second trip to the hospital. “I probed her, asking why the fingerprints on the wallet belonged to her. One moment she said she had opened it after the incident; the next moment she said she had previously taken money out to buy something for her grandmother. Then I asked her didn’t you pass out after losing all that blood? She fumbled around, hemming and hawing, but she wouldn’t answer any more questions.”
After listening to everyone’s discussion, Gu Shi modified her earlier conclusion. “I was thinking before, what kind of knife wound would make someone pass put but not be fatal? Was it luck or inevitable consequence? I paid special attention to the state of her wounds and their location, and conducted further inspections and measurements.”
“Is there a problem? Can it verify our guess?” Zhang Chi was a little excited.
“There’s only data, inference, and conclusions, no guesses and verification.” Gu Shi put extra stress on that. “Her wounds certainly weren’t fatal. Even though there were many knife wounds, they were all to the scalp and didn’t penetrate the skull. In addition, the distribution of marks were such that if you’re not careful you wouldn’t discover there was common ground.”
“What common ground?” everyone asked eagerly.
“All her wounds were concentrated in a specific area. There’s no way they’d be so concentrated if it she had been hurt during a scuffle.”
“It’s not entirely impossible given the circumstances,” Gu Zhichang said.
“But all the wounds in that area were made in the same direction, and all within reach of one’s one two hands. With these factors combined we can reach a conclusion, or at least a possibility.”
“There’s a strong possibility that Xiao Shilin’s wounds were self-inflicted,” Zhang Chi suddenly realized. “A ‘self-injury ruse.’” Gu Shi nodded heavily.
The wounded girl, Xiao Shilin, was silent as she looked around the unfamiliar surroundings. She was already accustomed to the white under-toned hospital room, was used to the nurses’ silent footsteps, used to the pattern of noisy and quiet outside her room, even used to the smoke detector next to the light fixture on the ceiling. The blinks of the red light were the sheep she counted on sleepless nights.
Now, she seemed to have fallen into a silent vacuum. Through the small window she could see the hurried steps of police officers. The propaganda on the wall was white text on a blue background, text she had read carefully, had read without emotion, like the dazed way she always looked at her parents.
Too long. From the time she was born to now at fifteen, she had seen them maybe three times, and just when she was about to forget them one of them would show up again. Like yesterday when her father suddenly came to visit her, in a hurry before setting out. As far as she could remember there had never been a full family gathering. But those eyes, swollen from crying, and those weathered hands, were unfamiliar, as if they weren’t even of the same bloodline as her. Distant, indifferent. These were her only answers for everything. Her brain was stuffed with schoolwork, hidden danger filled her belly. Was the present her savior? And that awful, bloody day. She hadn’t had time to think about anything else.
She was so dazed. Why was she sitting here? What was this place?