Back then, when Grandpa was imparting his knowledge to me, he asked me to restore a huge mess of human bones with my eyes blindfolded so I was well acquainted with the shape and structure of every human bone and quickly pieced together half a human figure.
With each corpse fragment I handled, I would carefully examine it, my observations leading me closer and closer to the idea I had formed in my head. But without an entire corpse in front of me, I couldn’t yet confirm my conjecture. I could only rely on Bingxin’s findings.
It was almost dark when a delivery guy entered the neighborhood and came to the door on an electric bike. Xiaotao instructed several officers to pick up our food and soon, hot lobster rice boxes were handed out to the others courtesy of our generous team leader.
I removed my gloves to receive the rice box from Xiaotao. "Eating in front of a corpse is really something else!" I said.
"Why don't you eat in the car?" she asked.
"It’s alright,” I shook my head. “I'm trying to work as fast as I can and piece together a few more fragments."
While I was eating and studying the corpse fragments, an officer walked over with a blackened object in his hand saying that he had found it in the rubble.
It turned out to be a pinhole camera with a burnt USB cable attached to the back. It was highly unlikely a middle-aged man would install something like that in his home so perhaps it was related to the murder. "Do you think Lao Yao will be able to find anything from that?" asked Xiaotao.
“Let’s ask him!” I said as I put down my food.
I made a call to Lao Yao who answered with his usual enthusiasm. I went straight to the point and asked him if he was familiar with installing pinhole cameras. Lao Yao seemed to be eating and mumbled almost inarticulately, "I’ve never bought any. I usually hack into other people's computers and spy on them with their cameras. Now do you know why I have your photos?"
I couldn’t help but turn gloomy at the thought. Previously, I had forgotten to turn off my computer when I was taking a shower, giving this guy the opportunity to hack my computer and take a photo of me. "Ahem,” I coughed. “Let’s focus on the matter at hand. Can you take a look at the camera?"
"I'll try,” he replied. “Since it’s a pinhole camera, it must have been connected to the Wi-Fi network to send out data so it should be traceable. What’s the LAN IP address?"
I asked an officer to head down to the property manager to ask for that information. After Lao Yao agreed to help, he immediately hung up without so much as a mention of his compensation this time. How strange! I thought. But I was certain he wouldn’t forget to ask about it later on.
Right then, Bingxin exited the police vehicle. She was dressed in a white lab coat, appearing much like a wise, old doctor and smelling of chemicals. Hanging me the test report, she said, "Song Yang-gege, the content of carboxyhemoglobin in the corpse fragments is within normal range. The victim’s death wasn’t caused by a fire."
"It wasn’t caused by a fire?!" asked Xiaotao in surprise.
I breathed out a sigh of relief. It seemed I was onto something. "That sounds about right,” I said. “The victim was burned with a hot object. In forensic terminology, it’s known as a contact burn."
As the sky completely darkened, the officers turned on floodlights. Under the illumination of the floodlights, I carefully separated the skin of the corpse to show them the underlying dermis. The victim's skin was severely dehydrated, pale in color with a sheepskin-like texture. There was a layer of congealed fat on top and rose-colored extravasated blood on the bottom. This was synonymous with burns caused by an extremely hot object.
However, such signs frequently appeared on the bodies of fire victims because it wasn’t uncommon for high-temperature objects to fall onto the body during a fire, for instance, in circumstances where the victim is pummeled to the ground by an entire wall. The possibility that our victim had burned to death was ruled out with Bingxin’s test results.
And judging from the characteristics of the burns, the object that had scalded the victim to death was made out of metal! The first thing came to mind was a large iron plate. Perhaps the murderer had deliberately tortured the victim by heating up a piece of iron plate till it was sizzling hot and threw the victim onto it. However, I later discovered that almost all the corpse fragments showed the same burn marks on them. There was no way a large iron plate could achieve that because there would be areas where the iron plate couldn’t reach.
So my conclusion was that the victim had been wrapped in a huge high-temperature metal object and this metal object was very similar to the shape of the human body. What could it be?
Shock swept across Xiaotao’s face as I presented my deductions. "What a cruel way to kill someone!” she exclaimed. “This definitely isn’t an ordinary case."
"Is there any possibility that the victim was unable to move at the time, allowing the murderer to burn his skin little by little with a soldering iron or a clothing iron?" asked Bingxin.
"The possibility of this is almost zero,” I said, shaking my head. “Why couldn’t the victim move? There are only three possibilities–anesthesia, being tied up or serious injury. From my examination of the corpse, I found no ligature marks or any traces of an injury, at least not on the corpse fragments that have been found."
“I’ll conduct another test to ascertain if the victim inhaled any anesthetic drugs," suggested Bingxin.
She was about to proceed when I stopped her. "That’s impossible as well,” I interjected. “What sort of powerful anesthetic can keep someone unconscious even after being burned alive? When doctors operate, patients might be put under anesthesia, but if every nerve in the body is fully anesthetized, the victim would’ve surely died from such a large dose. The other point is that if the murderer used a soldering iron or clothing iron to burn the victim bit by bit as you said, uneven scorch marks and edge marks would be left on the corpse due to the inconsistent force and heat. But this corpse displays no such signs. Except for the victim’s sole where the burn was most severe, the burns on the victim’s entire body are even.”
Awed, Bingxin gave a thumbs up. "Great Detective Song, tell us your conclusion then!"
Truthfully, the conclusion I had arrived at seemed strange even to myself. But from all the signs, this was the most plausible explanation. "The victim was burned to death in a scorching hot suit of armor!" I declared.
The girls stared at me in speechless confoundment, astonished by my remark. "How deep the murderer’s hatred must be?!" gasped Xiaotao.
I refused to comment while the details of the case were still unclear. It was best not to jump to conclusions.
Eighty percent of the corpse had been recovered while the rest remained unfound. It was already 9 in the evening when I prompted, "It's getting late. I’m guessing the rest of the corpse fragments are buried under the debris. Let’s stop looking for the time being."
"Alright,” nodded Xiaotao. “I'll dismiss the team so they can go home and rest. I'll also make sure to file the case with the bureau early tomorrow morning."
"Song Yang-gege, how do I determine the victim’s identity? Do you have any tricks up your sleeve?" asked Bingxin.
The victim was completely unrecognizable and there were still no signs of the most crucial part–his skull. In addition, the house had also been completely destroyed. I took a moment to mull over the problem and said, "Compare the victim’s DNA to his next of kin. Both his parents will do. As long as the victim isn’t a twin, we can be 99% sure of his identity."
"That's a great idea!" replied Bingxin.
Xiaotao instructed a few officers to clear up the scene before dismissing the team. She assigned an officer to drive me and Bingxin back. Bingxin had recently moved home since she didn’t have any classes at the moment. On our way back, I asked, "Has your father returned from his meeting?"
"God knows what important meeting he’s attending,” she said. “He’s still away."
"Doesn’t that make you a free bird?” I laughed. “There’s no one here to tell you what to do."
She pursed her lips. "There’s no difference with him being away or not. I still have to do the cooking. By the way, would you like to drop by my place and hang out?”
I mentioned I had class tomorrow, blushing with shame as I heard the words leave my own mouth. Despite being in the second semester of my final year, I was still making up for a credit deficiency. There was no doubt I had exposed what a hopeless student I was!
As we approached Bingxin's house, she grabbed my arm and pouted, "Song Yang-gege, have you forgotten something important?"
Thanks to her reminder, I remembered that it was her birthday today. Pulling out the present I had prepared for her, I chuckled, "Happy birthday!"
"Thank you, Song Yang-gege!" Bingxin sweetly smiled.Previous Chapter Next Chapter