As the white vinegar smoke fumigated the body, creases slowly appeared on the human leather, all of which were caused during the tanning process. There were also some scratches which might have been caused during handling.
There were ligature marks on the wrists and ankles, indicating that the deceased had been bound before her death.
A large splash mark was visible on the body, with a line of liquid flowing from the neck to the chest. As soon as I sprayed poplar solvent onto the leather, it immediately turned purple. "Blood!" I cried.
"The dead woman died after a fatal neck wound and shed a lot of blood at the time,” summarized Xiaotao.
I turned the human leather over and carefully examined the ligature marks. "The skin on the victim’s waist and thighs are a little loose,” I noted. “Combined with the ligature marks, the dead woman must have been starved for a period of time and depleted of her fat reserves. That makes it easier for the murderer to peel off her skin. On top of that, the victim was probably missing for more than a week... "
I sprayed more poplar solvent on the human leather and raised the ultraviolet light again for further examination.
"Song Yang, what are you looking for?" asked Xiaotao.
I was looking for traces other than blood. Earlier, when I heard Bingxin sneeze, a thought suddenly crossed my mind. Making leather involved exposure to mirabilite, quicklime, softening agents and other chemical products, which were all very harsh on the human respiratory tract. Leather makers generally had respiratory issues. So could the murderer have left saliva when sneezing?
With this in mind, I quickly instructed, "Bingxin, can you test the composition of the skin’s surface?"
Bingxin nodded, "Roger!"
Bingxin swabbed some samples and headed next door for testing. Xiaotao chuckled, "Since Miss Sun volunteered for field work, she’s even robbed Xiaozhou of his job. He was just protesting."
“Isn’t it normal for top students like her to have more than one job?" I joked.
Xiaotao asked, "Should we look for the victim’s remains next?"
"No,” I replied. “Let’s go to the hospital and take a look at the old man!"
Xiaotao told us to wait in the parking lot while she delegated tasks to her subordinates. Then the three of us headed to the hospital. The officer Xiaotao had assigned to watch the body was chatting with a nurse outside the morgue. Upon noticing Xiaotao’s arrival, he stood up and respectfully saluted her. Xiaotao nodded and said, "We’re here to look at the old man."
"Damn, look at how domineering Xiaotao-jiejie is!"
"I am their team leader after all!” she laughed. “By the way, I’ve now been promoted to First Class Supervisor."
I gasped, "Looks like Captain Lin won’t be able to train you much longer!"
The lighting in the morgue was dim and many bodies were parked together, covered with white sheets. Dali's itchy fingers lifted one of the sheets and at the sight of the corpse underneath, he let out a scream of horror. It was a suicide jumper so his nose was smashed and his flesh was a mangled bloody mess. "You cowardly idiot!” I reproached. “Why would you do that when you know you’ve got the courage of a mouse?!"
Dali defended himself, "I’ve never been to the morgue before. I’m just curious!"
The officer brought us to the old man’s body. He looked to be about 70 or 80 years old, with a head of white hair. His face was frozen in the look of terror before he died. I listened with the Echolocation Rod and found that his heart had ruptured.
If a person was frightened to death, their entire heart would rupture. This cause of death was quite rare.
Xiaotao asked, "Do you have any more doubts?"
"I can't say I don’t. There were many old men in the park. Why him?"
"The old man had heart disease and forgot to take his medicine which led to the tragedy,” she explained. “He had a pill organizer on him and the box written with today's date was still full."
"What is the dead man’s identity?" I asked.
"An ordinary retired veteran soldier."
At this moment, there came a loud wail from outside. The nurse quickly stopped the visitor, "Madam, madam, you’re not allowed to enter the morgue!"
An old lady's voice cried out, "My darling, how could you leave like this? How could you bear to leave me all alone? What am I supposed to do from now on?"
When we exited the morgue, we saw an old woman about 70 or 80 sobbing her heart out as she held onto the nurse for support. As soon as she saw us, she pleaded, "Officer, can I see my husband?"
"I'm sorry for your loss,” consoled Xiaotao. “I'll take you to see him now."
The old lady walked into the morgue, crying even harder when she saw her dead husband. In an attempt to comfort her, I told a little white lie and assured her that he had passed away painlessly. In truth, dying from a heart rupture was an agonizing process.
Soon, the old lady’s tears subsided under our consolation. She wiped away her tears with a handkerchief and asked, "Can I take away my husband’s body?"
Right when Xiaotao agreed, I noticed a small detail. The old lady's fingernails had burn marks but I couldn’t be sure if the cause was heat or chemicals. "May I ask you a few questions?"
I enquired about her name, job and family. The old lady, surnamed Hu, had worked at a printing factory for many years. In her younger years, she had met the old man on a blind date and after more than 50 years together, the relationship was still going strong.
"Did you get your ring when you first got married?" I asked.
Old Madam Hu replied, "No, back then we were so poor. How could we afford a ring? My husband gave this to me on our golden anniversary."
"May I have a look at it?"
"Go ahead!" said the old lady.
Truthfully, I was less interested in her ring as I was with her fingers. I noticed that the corrosion on her fingernails had been left behind from the past. "When I worked in the printing factory, I used to touch starch paste with my bare hands, causing them to look like this," explained Madam Hu.
"You should protect your skin or you might develop skin cancer," I advised.
Old Madam Hu sighed, "What’s the point in doing that? Right now, I feel as if my heart is dead. Thank you, officers. I’ll take my husband with me now."
Xiaotao told the policeman to wheel the body onto the van and transport it to the funeral home with Madam Hu.
As I watched Madam Hu leave, I was suddenly struck with an idea and pulled out a silver needle with a spade-like end which was mainly used for testing drugs.
Making haste, I ran out to the officer who was wheeling the body down the corridor and cried, "Hey, what's wrong with you? You left the dead man’s hand hanging out!"
Taking advantage of his confusion, I quickly pulled the dead man's hand out. “Just look at that! How disrespectful it is to the deceased!" I admonished.
"I'm sorry, I completely missed that!" the officer apologized.
As I placed the dead man’s hand back onto the gurney, I pricked it with a silver needle hidden in my hand and quickly withdrew it. Then, I pretended to solemnly lecture the officer before letting him leave.
Of course, my actions were witnessed by Xiaotao who grinned, "Song Yang, your acting skills have improved."
“If you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas,” I winked.
“What are you up to?” she asked.
I held up the silver needle which contained a little bit of the dead man's skin tissue. "I took a little DNA sample."
A trace of confusion reflected in her eyes. "We’ve confirmed his identity,” she said. “Why do you need a DNA sample?"
I smiled mysteriously. "Consider this an impulse to satisfy my curiosity! I have a little conjecture but I won't tell you what it is for the time being. I'm afraid you’ll laugh if I’m mistaken!"
"What’s there to be shy about?” she teased. “What’s next then, Great Detective Song?”
"If you can spare some officers, I suggest they make a trip down to the printing factory to verify what Madam Hu said."
My words threw Xiaotao into shock. "What are your reasons for doubting the old lady?” She argued, “Making a human skin kite to kill her husband seems like an overly complicated way to get rid of him, does it not?"
I smiled wanly. "It's just my intuition. Isn’t it characteristic of the police to suspect everything?"
"Okay,” Xiaotao nodded. “I'll send someone to check it out. Where should we head next?"
"Let’s take a break and go kiting in the park!"Previous Chapter Next Chapter