The kite was about one and a half meters long and one meter wide with a pentagonal shape. The entire human leather had been stretched tightly over the bamboo framework, and a broken-off kite string was attached to it.
From the physical characteristics, it was obvious this was a woman's skin. All the hair on the body had been removed. The dead woman was split down the middle at the nose bridge, her face evenly divided into the left and right sides and her hands and feet spread on both sides. When looking directly at the kite, it was as if a strange, grotesque person was trying to give you a hug.
"Dude, that thing is terrifyingly disturbing," cried Dali as he trembled uncontrollably.
"She told you not to look, but you said you could handle it,” I chastised. “You didn’t wet yourself, did you?"
Dali quickly reached down and felt his pants. "I didn’t!"
"When the kite was delivered, many officers were scared out of their wits. An old man was even frightened to death at the scene," said Bingxin.
"Where was it found?" I asked.
Xiaotao briefly narrated the incident. Early this morning, in one of the parks, a kite was seen drifting out of nowhere. The dense morning fog that backdropped the floating kite heightened the eerie effect of the scene. At the time, there were quite a few park-goers, including the elderly who were busy with their morning exercise. At first, no one noticed anything until someone suddenly shouted, "There’s someone in the sky!"
The public exploded in cacophonous panic. Many were so frightened they wet themselves or fainted. When they finally came to their senses, they found an old man lying on the ground, blue and breathless. Because the incident had caused such grave repercussions, the deputy director ordered the case to be solved within a week.
"Deputy director? Where’s Sun Tiger?" I asked curiously.
"My dad is attending another meeting in the province,” explained Bingxin. “During his absence, the deputy director is in charge."
"Was the old man really frightened to death?" I asked.
In truth, it was almost impossible to be frightened to death. I wondered if there was more to it than what meets the eye.
"I knew you would make that connection,” remarked Xiaotao. “The old man had quick-acting heart relievers with him, possibly indicating the presence of a heart disease. At the time, he was sent to the hospital and the doctor identified that he had indeed died of a myocardial rupture. The body is now in the hospital morgue. I left an officer there to wait for the family members to claim the body."
“Let’s look at the old man’s body later," I said.
"I knew you wouldn’t let this pass," laughed Xiaotao.
"Nothing’s worse than death,” I commented. “It's safer we take a look. If we neglect something related to the case, we’ll only regret it."
As I went to examine the kite, I asked Bingxin, "Have you done an autopsy?"
"How am I supposed to conduct one? It’s not even a proper corpse..." she bitterly complained.
I measured the length of the pelvis with my hand and stated, "The deceased should be a woman in her early twenties, 1.6 meters in height, and has never given birth.”
Putting on a pair of rubber gloves, I carefully felt the surface of the human skin. It was still considerably supple and firm. All the hair on the surface had been cleanly removed. I sniffed at it and picked up the smell of mirabilite. The fat underneath the skin had also been properly removed.
"The work done on this human skin is really professional!” I exclaimed. “The killer must have working experience in this field."
"Yes,” concurred Xiaotao. “The leather used to make my handbag isn’t as soft."
Hearing how casual our conversation was, Dali turned pale. I turned to him and said, "Run out and get me a bottle of white vinegar and a bamboo brush used for cleaning pots and pans.”
Dali agreed and quickly left the morgue. I opened the Autopsy Umbrella and got Bingxin to turn on the ultraviolet light. No fingerprints had been left on the surface of the skin but there were traces of textile patterns. The murderer must have worn gloves.
Upon examining the skin on the hands, I noticed it felt rather tough despite the fact that they were a woman’s hands. This indicated that her hands were especially strong when she was still alive, yet there were no calluses on her fingers. From the back, she showed no signs of a hunchback so she most likely wasn’t engaged in heavy physical labor. There were sores on her buttocks which suggested that she often sat.
I thought for a moment and conjectured, "The deceased might have been a foot reflexologist."
"Song Yang-gege, how could you tell?" asked Bingxin.
"It's just conjecture,” I smiled. “I might not be accurate this time."
Xiaotao made a phone call to her subordinates, ordering them to investigate if there had been any missing foot reflexologists reported missing in Nanjiang City recently.
"Here’s something that’s a cause for doubt–why did the murderer divide the victim’s skin down the middle of the nose bridge?” I pointed out. “Not only is it more difficult, but this method also damages her face, which greatly reduces the overall effect of the crime. Why don’t you tell us what you think, Bingxin?"
Bingxin paused to think. "The deceased appears to be a young and beautiful woman,” she noted. “Perhaps the murderer was jealous of her appearance and wanted to destroy her face."
I shook my head. "Then why not disfigure her outright?"
"Haha, I got it!” exclaimed Xiaotao. “That’s because the fatal wound is on the neck and the murderer is trying to cover that up. Look, don’t you see a small piece of damaged skin on the neck? If you compare the two sides, you’ll notice the damage pattern matches.”
"You’re right!” I acknowledged. “But such a cover-up is meaningless. The murderer obviously has another purpose. Try using a less complicated reasoning."
"What is it?" they asked at the same time.
"During the process of tanning, the skin shrinks so the wound becomes larger. If there’s a hole in the neck, the kite can’t fly because the air is going to leak through it..." I explained.
Bingxin stared in wide-eyed wonder but Xiaotao remarked, "You’ve got a really weird way of thinking!"
"I’m thinking from the murderer’s point of view. If we pursue the murderer’s line of thought, we would discover that the dead woman was merely a piece of leather in the eyes of the murderer. The murderer felt nothing throughout the entire process of peeling the skin off her body and turning her into a kite, which also suggests that the murderer is skilled in skinning. Furthermore, this sort of composure isn’t something you’d see in a younger person. Therefore, I think the murderer is at least 40 years old."
Xiaotao puckered her brow. "Please don’t tell me it’s another sadistic serial killer."
"Sadistic serial killer?! How exciting!" exclaimed Bingxin.
"Please pay attention to your words,” said Xiaotao with a roll of her eyes. “Should you say something like that out loud?!"
Bingxin spat out her tongue. "It’s not like I’ll say that when others are around."
While the two were going back and forth, I carefully examined the human skin again. "Xiaotao, you don't have to worry,” I said. “This time, even if the murderer is a serial killer, there should be quite a significant period of time between the killings."
"Why is that?” asked Xiaotao.
I lifted the skin open and showed it to her. "Look at the cut—it wasn’t done in one go. There are many pauses in the middle, which tells me the murderer has limited strength. The most tiring part of the entire process is separating the skin from the body. The murderer is either old or has a physical ailment."
Bingxin clapped her hands. "I got it! The murderer must be a cynical old bachelor. Perhaps he holds contempt for girls working in this industry, so he’s decided to punish them in this manner!"
Both Xiaotao and I stared at her, struck speechless by her words.
“Was I wrong?” faltered Bingxin.
"Miss Sun,” sighed Xiaotao. “I know you’re a Pisces who loves getting lost in your fantasies, but we’ve hardly broken the surface with this case. Can you not make any wild guesses? Preconceptions are a huge no-no when it comes to solving crimes!"
"The murderer is not necessarily a man,” I added. “It could also possibly be a woman."
"I know, I won't babble any more nonsense!" cried Bingxin indignantly.
Just then, Dali returned with what I wanted. I found a basin, filled it with white vinegar and soaked the bamboo brush for a few minutes. Finally, I heated the vinegar with an alcohol burner and fumigated the skin with vinegar smoke.
The murderer used mirabilite in the process of creating the human leather. When smoked with the acidic white vinegar, certain traces would appear.
After repeating the process twice, a cloud of smoke filled the room, the sour smell assaulted our noses, causing Bingxin to sneeze incessantly. She was well aware that she shouldn’t sneeze inside the morgue so she covered her mouth with tissue paper.
I asked Dali to turn on the ventilator. As the smoke dispersed, a shallow mark gradually appeared on the skin.Previous Chapter Next Chapter