Chapter 350: The Slow Clock

Xiaotao remained silent for a long time, perhaps shaken by my discovery. Bingxin and I remained in the kitchen to continue our investigation. A few minutes later, Xiaotao returned smiling, "Song Yang, you’re wrong this time!"

In her hand was a photo from the living room taken by the wife, showing another fruit knife which was the murder weapon.

"I found this in their photo album,” she clarified. “Looks like your spider-sense is off! The murder weapon does belong to them!"

I stared at the photo and insisted, "But there were apples in the fruit bowl then!"

Xiaotao shook her head firmly, "It’s a fruit knife, and that’s all that matters. Generally speaking, most people distinguish between different types of knives and their specific uses, even more so for a fruit knife."

Xiaotao and I were at odds, trying to prove each other wrong, and the winner of this round was obviously Xiaotao.

Our deadlock was interrupted by Bingxin’s loud exclamation which led me to believe she had discovered something. Unfortunately, this was what she said: "I used to have the same set of knives in my home. We exchanged it using points during one of the Wanda Supermarket’s events. You can’t just purchase it!”

"You’ve got nothing left to say huh!” gloated Xiaotao. “Then again, whether or not the murder weapon is this fruit knife, the fingerprints found on it belong to Mr. Ding."

The more I thought about the case, the dizzier I felt. I decided to walk out to the balcony for a breather.

Out on the balcony, I noticed that the window directly opposite of this unit had the curtains drawn and the balcony was empty, devoid of plants or household items. This residential area was situated in a good location with almost no vacant apartments, which aroused my suspicions.

Xiaotao joined me out on the balcony and patted me on the shoulder, "Song Yang, this is the sixth floor! Even if it’s a frame-up as you said, how did the murderer escape if the neighbors discovered the anomaly soon after the murder?"

"Mr. Ding left the house at 8:00 pm and the neighbors discovered the anomaly at 8:10, so the murderer had ten minutes," I frowned.

Xiaotao pointed downstairs, "Do you see a parking lot over there? There was an old man in the parking lot watching TV at the time, facing in this direction. He confirmed no one left the building between 8:00 and 8:30."

Xiaotao left me with yet another obstacle. I was racking my brains for a reasonable explanation when I overheard the conversation between a man and a woman next door.

"What bad luck! I was ten minutes late for work today and my boss deducted my pay!" 

"I told you to leave earlier, but you wouldn’t listen."

“How should I know? I left at 7:30 as usual and there wasn’t any traffic on the road. God knows what happened!"

Upon hearing their conversation, I was thrilled. Those ten minutes were a crucial point in the case. 

“Was this the case reported by the family next door?" I asked Xiaotao.

"Yes," she nodded.

"Let’s talk to them!”

After I left the apartment, I took note of the building layout. There were four units in total on each floor, two on the left and two on the right while the elevator was in the middle. The left and right units were far apart which meant only the next-door neighbors could hear movement in this unit.

Xiaotao was about to knock on the door but I motioned for her to stop as I stared at the keyhole.

"What are you looking at?” laughed Xiaotao. “Do you suspect the neighbors?"

"There are signs of forced entry, and it’s very recent!" I noted.

"So what? What does that prove?” Xiaotao retorted. “Maybe they’ve been robbed."

A clear picture had formed in my mind. The dialogue between the couple next door and this keyhole was enough for me to confidently affirm that Mr. Ding was by no means the murderer!

When we knocked on the door, the woman looked surprised at our visit. "Officers, aren’t you done with your investigation? What can I do for you?" she asked.

"I have a question for you. Is your clock accurate?" I began.

"Yes, we follow the time shown on the TV!" she maintained.

Glancing at my cell phone, I added, "It's 1:46 pm now. What time is it on your clock?"

She left and returned, holding her head in bewilderment. "That’s strange. Why is the clock slow? It's only 1:36 on my clock!"

"Thank you!" I smiled.

Still flummoxed, the woman exchanged some pleasantries and closed the door.

Judging from Xiaotao's expression, she seemed to have realized something as well. "How did you confirm the time? Mr. Ding supposedly left his home at 8:00 pm, the neighbors noticed something unusual at 8:10, and at 8:30, Mr. Ding returned."

"Both Mr. Ding and his neighbor reported that he left the house at 8:00. The neighbor gave the statement for the discovery at 8:10 and everyone unanimously stated Mr. Ding returned at 8:30. At the time, because of the seriousness of the matter, many people were alarmed."

"I get it now!” I shouted. “This is what happened. Earlier yesterday, the murderer entered the neighbor's home and dialed the clock back by ten minutes. Mr. Ding left his home at 8 when the neighbor's clock showed 7:50. The murderer immediately entered the Dings’ home and killed Mrs. Ding, then slammed the door. It was 8:10 but only 8 on the neighbor’s clock. At 8:10, which was actually 8:20, the neighbor noticed something unusual and called Mr. Ding. It took him ten minutes to get back, but when he got home, it was 8:30, which perfectly answers why Mr. Ding took ten minutes to reach the nearby park but 20 minutes to get back."

"That’s so complicated!" Bingxin looked at me, tongue-tied.

I shook my finger. "It's not complicated at all. To simplify things, the murderer created the illusion of Mr. Ding leaving by slamming the door, which the neighbor overheard!"

"Why didn't he leave quietly after murdering the victim?” puzzled Xiaotao. “I mean, why make such a loud noise?"

"To frame Mr. Ding of course!"

"But the old man in the parking lot said that no one left the building between 8:00 to 8:30,” Xiaotao raised another point of contradiction.

"That’s easy to solve!” I assured her. “Wait here for a minute!"

I quickly went downstairs, grabbed my Autopsy Umbrella and hurried back up. When the elevator reached their floor, I told Bingxin and Xiaotao to join me. Then, I hit another button and waited till we reached the top floor to explain, "The roofs are connected, so the murderer could’ve left the building via the other buildings!"

Sunlight spilled in as soon as I opened the door to the roof. I opened the Autopsy Umbrella and found a trail of footprints on the stairs.

The footprints were size 39 and tended to extend forward, each print clear and distinct. After Xiaotao snapped a photo of the footprints, we followed the trail all the way to another building where they continued down the stairs.

With how cautious the murderer was, he would certainly avoid the elevator. There was no need to check the middle floors either. First off, there wasn’t any sunlight, and secondly, the stairwell and corridors were often frequented so the footprints would’ve long been destroyed. 

I now had a clear outline of the crime. While Mr. Ding was quarreling with his wife, the murderer was hiding in the corridor upstairs. As soon as Mr. Ding left, he immediately entered the home, killed Mrs. Ding and fled via the roof.

"Song Yang-gege, you’re amazing!” Bingxin applauded. “You managed to overturn the case just like that!"

"Hold on, I’m waiting for a photo from the bureau!" Xiaotao interjected.

Shortly after, she handed me her cell phone and scrolled back and forth between two photos–Mr. Ding's footprint and the one we had just discovered. The two footprints were an exact match. But how could that be just a coincidence? The way a person walked was distinct, with subtle differences from person to person, depending on how they distributed their weight. Some people placed more weight on the heels while others had the habit of lifting their heels.

Based on these two sets of footprints, even I had to admit they were left by the same person.

"The murderer is very smart indeed, but his footprints betrayed him.” Xiaotao concluded, “The murderer is Mr. Ding himself. After leaving at 8, he quickly turned around and killed his wife."

"And then pointed the evidence towards himself?" I arched an eyebrow.

If Mr. Ding was as smart as Xiaotao thought he was, would he have been arrested immediately?

I answered the question for her, "The footprints belong to another person, and this person has perfectly copied Mr. Ding's gait!"

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