A week later, Xiaotao called to inform me of the location of a second murder.
Awoken by the ring of my cell phone, Dali said in a daze, "Dude, I'll drive you there!"
"Alright, I'll let you know when I'm ready!"
I didn’t wake him but quietly slipped out the door and called for a cab.
The crime scene was an underground parking lot which was already cordoned off. Several police cars and ambulances had arrived at the scene. Passers-by on the night shift stood outside watching the bustle. Passing the barricade tape, I noticed the technical team taking photos and bagging up the evidence. Then, I saw the murder scene.
I was greeted by a gruesome picture–the victim's upper body was an indistinguishable bloody mess. Like a pancake, her body lay smack on a concrete column, surrounded by blood spatter. Only one of her legs was attached to the body, still dressed in a skirt, with one foot wearing a sandal.
On the other side of the victim were several parallel tire tracks on the ground.
The murder occurred at about 10:00 pm last night. At the time, the couple had a fierce argument in the parking lot. There was no one around but surveillance videos recorded the entire incident.
The wife turned and walked away when the husband accelerated and hit her with the car, slamming her against the wall. But he didn’t stop there; he repeatedly reversed and pounded his wife into a meat patty before finally stopping!
Then, the husband drove away in the damaged car, bumper still badly deformed, heading to an automatic car wash five kilometers away. The car wash manager noticed the blood and quickly called the police.
At about midnight, the suspect was stopped by police on a highway out of the city and arrested on the spot.
I glanced at the body, noticing indentations that were indeed left by the impact of the front bumper. I turned to Xiaotao, "Why do you think it’s our hitman?"
"It’s just my gut feeling!” she replied. “The evidence is conclusive and irrefutable and it's very similar to the previous case. I called you in to have a look. It’s better to be thorough than wrong an innocent man."
"I agree!" I nodded.
Putting on rubber gloves, I began the autopsy. The victim was female, in her thirties, similar in age to the previous victim. The time of death was indisputable–four hours ago when her internal organs ruptured.
The victim had a platinum wedding ring on her right hand and seemed to be holding something. I opened up her palm to see a cell phone. Xiaotao confirmed that the last call was from her husband.
Although the body was in a ghastly state, there weren’t many clues too because the murder wasn’t committed by the killer’s own hands.
I walked over to the other side to examine the tracks on the ground. There were even scorch marks where friction was strongest between the tires and the ground. "How do you accelerate fast enough to kill someone in such a short distance?"
"You don't drive, so you may not know. But there is one technique–step on the brakes and accelerator at the same time and the moment the brakes are released, the car accelerates very quickly,” explained Xiaotao. “But this damages the engine of course."
"What do you think of this guy's driving skills?" I asked.
Xiaotao studied the brake marks on the ground. "He was able to repeatedly reverse and crash into the victim in a swift motion, avoiding even the car that was parked so close to him. He’s definitely got skills!"
"Does the suspect fit the profile?"
"The suspect is a driving instructor, and his driving skills are definitely first-class,” she laughed. “It’s consistent with the case."
"Alright then, let’s have a look at the surveillance video!" I urged.
We headed to the security room and asked for the surveillance video shot at the time. The video was divided into two sections which were taken by two cameras. One was the scene of the suspect and his wife quarreling in the parking lot which clearly showed their identities while the other was of the husband crashing the car into his wife at a high speed. Unfortunately, the angle made it impossible to capture the driver’s face.
I replayed the videos several times, picked up a pencil and pointed at the first video. "Why is that corner missing?" I asked.
"It’s probably dirty,” the security guard replied. “The cameras are rather sensitive so we have professionals come to clean it regularly. This doesn’t fall under our responsibility."
Xiaotao made a phone call to one of the officers and asked him to check the camera. My intuition told me there was more to this than what meets the eye since the back of the car was so conveniently blocked out in the video. A few minutes later, the officer reported, "Captain Huang, there’s a piece of gum paper stuck to the lens."
Xiaotao and I exchanged a meaningful look. If someone wanted to deliberately block the camera, wouldn't it make more sense for him to cover all the other cameras? So obviously, that wasn’t his purpose. He wanted the cameras to catch certain images, but not everything.
"Show me the other videos," I instructed.
The security guard froze, "But that’s it!"
"I want to look at the rest!"
The security guard muttered a word of affirmation and pulled up the rest of the videos. I noticed that at least three of them were dirty or appeared to have something covering the lenses.
I noticed a floor plan of the parking lot on the wall and marked it with a pencil. "This is the place where the first video was taken, and this is the second. There’s a distance of about five meters between the two cameras!"
After a brief survey of the floor plan, Xiaotao nodded.
I snapped a photo and left the security room with Xiaotao. "The parking lot isn’t an easy place to control because cars can enter anytime and park anywhere,” I analyzed. “Therefore, the murderer must have made quite a few arrangements and prepared for more than one backup plan!"
"I just noticed the time difference between the two surveillance videos, which is about two minutes."
Xiaotao arched her eyebrows, "Two minutes? That’s not much time at all!"
I pointed to the empty space in front of me, "It's about five meters from this area to that. Even an old man with weak legs can cover this distance in two minutes. But the victim took longer than that. Was there something in the blind spot that delayed her?"
I quickly walked back to the crime scene to retrieve the victim’s cell phone which had been placed in an evidence bag. The screen was cracked but it was still working. When I turned it on, I noticed that the last call came in two minutes before the murder.
I called out to Xiaotao, hands gesticulating for her to come over to the place where the couple had quarreled. "Around 10:30, the husband and wife had an argument here!"
Then I walked towards the blind spot. "Their argument lasted for about five minutes before the wife walked over here and received a phone call from her husband. She stood right here in the blind spot. At this moment, the car came hurtling towards the wife."
Xiaotao stood where I was standing, turned around and observed, "If the person who killed her wasn’t her husband, but the Imitator, the victim would have seen him from this angle since the light in the parking lot was as bright as it is now!"
While I pondered over the matter, Xiaotao raised another question: "But how did the Imitator switch places with her husband in the car?"
"The cameras didn’t capture the back half of the car so the Imitator could have entered through the back door and knocked him unconscious with whatever means. The wife was definitely able to see her husband in the driver’s seat."
"If that’s the case, shouldn’t she be able to tell whether or not he was conscious from five meters away?" Xiaotao pointed out.
“Perhaps she has myopia…" I speculated, though I hadn’t yet confirmed my theory because the victim’s entire head was smashed in.
"What did the suspect say in the interrogation?"
"What a coincidence!” she smiled wryly. “He claimed he was drugged but a urine test showed no drug residue in his body!"Previous Chapter Next Chapter