Early the next day, Xiaotao sent me a text asking me to drop by the station at 10 to discuss the case. Dali and I took attendance in class, then slipped out the door as soon as our professor looked away.
At the school gates, I saw Lao Yao standing there as if he were waiting for someone. How rare indeed. Lao Yao was a well-known homebody who never left his “cave.”
"Lao Yao, who are you waiting for?" I asked.
Lao Yao’s eyes brightened at the sight of me as he skipped over with a come-hither look. "Xiao Song-song, I’m waiting for you of course!" he flirted.
My head was covered with beads of cold sweat. Being in public certainly didn’t stop this guy from behaving scandalously. I deftly dodged his wandering hands and said, "About what I asked yesterday, did you manage to find out anything?"
"I was waiting just to tell you this,” he said. “I couldn’t find anything and I think the problem lies with the hardware. I was just at your dormitory but your roommates said that you had gone out. So I decided to wait here for you and head to the station together. "
"Are you going with us to the station?" asked Dali in surprise.
Lao Yao gave Dali an arrogant nod. "I’m a proper technical consultant. Why can't I go?"
Dali was shocked by his words, his tone filled with bitterness as he asked when Lao Yao had been appointed technical consultant. I spilled the truth of the matter and explained it was Xiaotao’s idea, which earned me a sad puppy face from Dali.
"You haven't had breakfast yet, have you?” asked Lao Yao. “Well, I haven't eaten either. There’s a stall selling steamed buns outside campus. Let’s go!" And with that, he spanked my buttocks. I thought to myself, This guy really knows how to take liberties!
After breakfast, we went down to the station together. Lao Yao greeted Xiaotao warmly as soon as he saw her. He complimented how supple and soft her skin was and asked what skincare products she was using, all the while touching and hugging Xiaotao without care. We were stunned to see how intimately he behaved with her. Perhaps this was gay privilege.
"How rare of you to visit?” she quipped. “Are you also here for the meeting?"
Lao Yao looked surprised. "Meeting? Are there any good-looking guys? I just wanted to take a look at what you found at the crime scene. I don’t believe anyone can surpass my technical skills so I think the problem lies in the hardware."
It turned out that Lao Yao’s self-esteem was threatened when he failed to discover anything which was why he suddenly made a trip to the station.
We accompanied Lao Yao to the evidence room to check the pile of odds and ends we discovered at the crime scene yesterday. Just as he reached out a grubby paw to sift through the evidence, I stopped him at once. "Hey, put on some gloves!"
"I hate wearing gloves,” he complained. “But I’ll do it since you asked."
Once again, I felt myself erupting in cold sweat while an amused Xiaotao had a good laugh at my expense.
Lao Yao searched among the bits and pieces for a long time before zooming in on a cable. "Look, just as I said!" he exclaimed.
Wasn't that the USB cable we found yesterday? When I asked what was wrong with the cable, he ignored me and carefully examined it. Then, he asked if we had seen a brick-sized object. After further reflection, Xiaotao said, "It’s not on the evidence list but it’s probably still in the crime scene!"
Lao Yao wrinkled his brow. "Let’s go over and look for it now!"
"Before we go, tell us what your theory is!" I said with a wave of my hand.
As it turned out, Lao Yao speculated that there was a video signal converter at the crime scene. This cable was a little different from the ordinary USB cable and looked like it was connected to a converter. Gesticulating with his hands, he described that the device was about yeigh big. It was used to convert images and sounds into data and could be connected to the Internet or transmitted via Bluetooth in close range. Lao Yao suspected that it was the latter. That is to say, at the time of the crime, the murderer had taken the video with him.
The converter was most likely still buried under the rubble. It would be a crucial piece of evidence if it were found and the damage wasn’t too serious. Perhaps the murderer might also appear in the crime scene on film.
"We’ve got some matters to handle right now so you’ll have to go to the crime scene first!"
"Alone?" laughed Lao Yao playfully.
Xiaotao got the message and said, "I’ll assign a handsome officer to accompany you. All necessary expenses will be reimbursed."
Lao Yao was so happy the corner of his eyes were all crinkled. "How thoughtful of you, Xiaotao-jiejie,” he gushed. “Xiao Song-song, I’ll see you later!"
As soon as Lao Yao slid away, Dali reminded, "Xiaotao-jiejie, you don't know how sneaky this guy is! He’ll definitely go shopping and bring back a stack of receipts for you."
"Let him try then!" she scoffed.
Unsurprisingly, Lao Yao did exactly what Dali said he would do. Halfway to the crime scene, he stopped to buy a bag that cost more than 1,000 yuan and brazenly returned to submit the receipt for reimbursement. To his utter dismay, Xiaotao only reimbursed his meal and left him with the words: all necessary expenses. As the saying goes, it takes constant vigilance to stave off “evil!”
"There’s still an hour before the meeting starts,” said Xiaotao, glancing at her watch. “Would you like to get breakfast?"
"We’ve already eaten. Why set the meeting so late?" I asked.
"I get the feeling it’s going to be a big case,” sighed Xiaotao. “So I thought I’d let the others sleep in because we might not have the chance for any rest soon."
These tiny details highlighted Xiaotao's delicate human touch. I suggested taking this extra time to conduct a little experiment to which she nodded. "Sure thing. I'll keep myself busy with something else."
When Dali and I arrived at the forensic laboratory, we found Bingxin already there, engrossed in work. Curious, I asked her what she was testing.
"I’m screening the corpse for drugs,” explained Bingxin.
Then, I asked Dali to purchase a piece of fresh pork belly. "Your autopsy methods are beginning to resemble more and more like cooking,” jested Dali. “This time, you’re even using pork belly."
"What’s with all the commentary?! Hurry up!" I chided.
In truth, I was planning a simple burn test. When I asked Bingxin if she had any metal here, she pulled out a box filled with some metal sheets made out of copper, iron, aluminum and magnesium, which were commonly used for testing.
Right then, Bingxin announced that she had the test results. "Song Yang-gege,” she clapped excitedly. “I’ve found anesthetic drug residue in the corpse. Looks like your deductions may be wrong!"
"It’s irresponsible to discuss the drug effect without the dosage!" I argued. “So what’s the dosage?”
Bingxin spat out her tongue and laughed. "Haha, it seems I can't fool you. I found diethyl ether but the dosage wasn’t large. It looks like it was administered via inhalation."
"The murderer must’ve knocked the victim unconscious with ether and kidnapped him,” I nodded. “By the way, could you get me a blowtorch?"
With everything ready, all that was left was to wait for Dali’s return. A few minutes later, he sauntered into the room with a piece of pork belly. "Here you go, fresh pork belly as you asked. What’s it going to be–stir fry or braised?" he laughed.
"Barbecue!" I declared with a cryptic smile.
I placed the pork belly on the table, put on protective gloves and heated up a piece of metal until it glowed red. Then, I carefully picked it up with my tweezers and seared the pork belly with it. A puff of smoke immediately rose from the pork belly, delighting our noses with a delicious barbecue aroma.
I tested the burn effect of each metal in turn and discovered that burns induced by the heated copper sheet resembled closest to the burn injury on the victim. After silver, copper was the metal with the highest thermal conductivity. In the past, hot pots used in winter were made of copper because it had a low melting point and strong malleability.
"It looks like copper is the main component of the metal object that burned our victim to death. Have you thought of anything?” I asked Bingxin.
She shook her head. "Could the murderer have covered the victim’s body with copper sheets? What in God’s name was the murderer trying to do?"
"Let's not digress,” I urged. “We’ll focus on the murder weapon first. Copper sheets are highly unlikely since that would cause burn edge marks on the victim’s skin. We’ve seen no such marks on the victim’s corpse, indicating that it must be a sheet of copper that perfectly covers the victim’s entire body. What do you think that is?"
Bingxin's eyes brightened with realization. "It can only be a suit of armor!" she blurted.
Dali was so shocked he stood there mouth open and goggle-eyed. What little he knew about the case was what he had heard from me yesterday. "The victim was roasted alive in a suit of armor?” he faltered. “Could this be some sort of weird ritual?"
"The soles of the victim’s feet suffered the most severe burns,” I started. “He was most likely forced to walk on fire in heavy copper armor and finally died from extensive burns. I wouldn’t call this a ritual — it’s more like torture!"Previous Chapter Next Chapter