The police broke through the door and entered the courier's office. A cordon was swiftly set up outside.
Jiangbei Village 2 was a densely populated neighborhood. Many residences housed three generations of a family. An old home of seventy to eighty square meters was often occupied by five or six people. Although it wasn't currently the time of day when the neighborhood was the most crowded, news of the incident at the courier's office spread very quickly. More and more people gathered outside the police cordon.
Forensics and the trace analysis team were still on their way. Ming Shu let other police officers stand guard at the cordon to prevent locals from getting in and ruining the scene of the crime. He entered the office alone, wearing covers on his shoes and latex gloves. He squatted down by the mountain of packages.
Before the police had broken down the door, the entire office had been locked up tight. The curtains had only been open by a sliver, but the windows themselves were tightly shut. Since the air inside hadn't had a chance to circulate, a very strong stench of blood and corpse rot now permeated the surroundings.
Even several layers of masks couldn't block out that odor of corpse rot. Ming Shu instinctively pressed down on the masks he wore.
Huang Yan had both been the head of her household as well as the owner of this courier's office. It was very likely that she was the victim currently buried under this mountain of packages.
Ming Shu didn't immediately get too close to the packages. Instead, he found the computer she'd used for work.
The computer was turned off, and it was a little slow to start.
While waiting for the computer to boot up, Ming Shu looked towards a surveillance camera hanging up on the ceiling.
The camera wasn't currently active. There was no telling who'd turned it off.
All courier offices installed surveillance monitoring devices. The computers and cameras had most likely been turned off by the killer, and the videos stored in the system had most likely been deleted. But technical investigators had the ability to recover deleted data.
It took half a minute for the computer to finish loading up. The desktop image was a photo of a woman.
The woman's hair was cut very short. Her features weren't outstanding; in fact, at a glance, she looked a bit harsh and unkind. She was wearing a light yellow chiffon dress with a low cut, and a large portion of a tattoo—depicting an angel—was visible on her chest. The backdrop of the photo was of pale white sand and a deep blue sea.
Ming Shu found the folder where the surveillance videos were stored. He clicked it open and saw that the last video had a timestamp of 19:21 on the night of December 13th.
It was now December 16th.
The local residents had said that the courier's office had been closed for the past few days. It was possible that the killer had committed the crime on the night of the 13th, then deleted the videos from that time.
Ming Shu swiftly skimmed through the last recorded video again. He didn't find any odd details, so he planned on having Zhou Yuan and the technical investigation team do their data recovery work on this computer later.
Leaving the desktop behind, Ming Shu finally walked towards the corpse.
The feet that were exposed beneath the mountain of packages weren't wearing shoes, only pure white socks that were stained by blood. Livor mortis was present on the undersides of the victim's calves, and the skin there was stained by smears of blood. Long trails of blood ran along the floor, like the body had been dragged over all the way from the other room.
Apparently, the victim had been moved post-mortem.
The killer had deliberately taken all the packages off the shelves and piled them up on top of the victim.
But what was the meaning behind this act?
Ming Shu didn't move the body or the packages yet. He stood up and took two steps back, looking up at the window where the curtains hadn't been drawn fully shut.
The packages could cover the victim's body, but the victim's calves and feet had been left exposed. This way, the mountain of packages couldn't really serve a purpose of hiding the body at all. If the murderer truly wanted to hide the body, they would have covered the legs and feet completely, and they would have pulled the curtain tightly shut.
It wouldn't have been like this.
So if the purpose of throwing all these packages on top of the body wasn't to hide it, what was the purpose?
Ming Shu mulled it over while following the blood tracks on the floor, surveying the state of the home as a whole.
In Jiangbei Village 2, all ground-floor residences had been converted into shops. Some were fruit and vegetable stalls, some were barber shops, some were little convenience store kiosks, some were beauty salons for pets, some were massage parlors, and more than one had been converted into a courier's office.
Besides the living room, kitchen, and bathroom, this residence had three other rooms. The smallest of these rooms was Huang Yan's bedroom. The two other rooms, as well as the living room, had been filled up with all sorts of packages and popular snacks.
These days, most courier offices didn't only offer delivery and package intake services. Many of them also sold popular snacks. When people came to drop off or pick up their packages, they would sometimes pick up a bag of snacks as well.
It seemed the deceased owner of this business really knew how to turn a profit.
The body had been dumped between two of the shelves in the living room, while the blood tracks led to the largest of the inner rooms. As he stood in the doorway to that room, Ming Shu took in the blood spatter on the walls.
This kind of blood spray usually occurred when a person's arteries were cut while the person was still alive. That would explain why so much blood stained the floors, and why such a visible trail had been left behind.
It seemed the killer hadn't cleaned up the crime scene, and it seemed they didn't care about leaving behind tracks.
Taking that into consideration, it appeared this killer didn't have a strong sense for evading detection.
Ming Shu sighed. A feeling of vexation rose in his chest.
Not long ago, there had been just one case. And now suddenly there were two.
The identity of the 'faceless' female corpse that had been dumped on Fengshui Lane was difficult to determine. While conducting a search of the area, the police had focused on looking for women who had recently gone missing. However, the identity of the faceless female corpse remained unknown while another body was discovered.
This victim was also a woman.
Every year, criminal activity peaked at the end of the year, which meant it was also the busiest time of year for police officers. It was like people from all walks of life were trying to achieve more in their careers before the year ended, and criminals weren't willing to be left behind.
After walking through the whole house, Ming Shu returned to the living room and found Xiao Man squatting down with an open toolbox.
"There was traffic, I know I'm late, I'm late!" Xing Mu called out as he ran in. It was a cold day, and yet he ran in sweating all over, finishing his sentence with a fierce cough.
"Caught a cold?" Ming Shu asked.
"It's nothing, I took some medicine before heading out." Xing Mu's voice was hoarse. His cold probably wasn't too mild, but he refused to delay his work just because he was ill. He swiftly put on his gloves and other protective gear, then waited for Xiao Man to finish taking pictures of the scene before carefully removing the packages from the body.
Ming Shu stood off to the side, watching without making a sound. When the body was finally revealed, he let out a light hiss.
The victim's throat was completely covered in blood. Her trachea had been torn out. That mess of flesh and blood made it look like the head was about to fall off the shoulders.
This gruesome wound was the cause of death, and the blood spatter on the walls of the inner room was also in line with the spray that would have come from a torn carotid artery.
But the strange thing was, a large number of small holes had been punched into the victim's chest. They were packed densely on her chest. Just a glance could make a person's scalp tingle.
Those small holes had completely destroyed the victim's angel tattoo.
"What kind of injury is that?" Ming Shu asked.
Xing Mu was clearly taken aback. He shook his head and said, "Boss, just wait a moment. I need to take another look."
Ming Shu could only take a step back.
The victim was wearing a warm nightgown which would have been suitable for a winter night at home. But the top buttons of the nightgown weren't buttoned. Inside, the victim wore only a bra and a pair of underpants.
The underpants were still properly covering the woman, but the metal hooks of her bra had already fallen off. The straps loosely hung off her shoulders.
And the buttons of the nightgown hadn't been unbuttoned normally. The nightgown had been violently torn open. Buttons and stray threads had scattered all over the floor.
"The victim's neck was repeatedly slashed with an edged instrument. Her trachea and arteries were cut open," Xing Mu said as he began to report the results of his preliminary autopsy. "Based on the condition of this wound, the edged instrument that the killer used wasn't very sharp. The deceased's face was also struck. Her nose was broken, before death. There's also a very deep pressure injury on the jaw, caused by a tight grip. The killer may have grabbed the victim's head with one hand and beaten her face, before using a knife to commit the murder. The deceased was still conscious and struggling at the time, which resulted in a lot of damage to the neck."
"Which is to say," Ming Shu deduced, "not only was the murder weapon not very sharp, the killer's movements in cutting the victim's throat were also not very skilled."
Xing Mu nodded. "The killer cut several times. The victim's skin is only unbroken at the nape of her neck. As for time of death, rigor mortis has already passed and the abdomen has started to swell. Her corneas are heavily clouded, with white spots. Her pupils are indistinguishable. It's winter right now, the temperature is low, and the indoor heating wasn't on—I would estimate time of death to be before four in the afternoon, at least two days ago."
Ming Shu was still looking at the chest of the deceased.
Compared to the neck, which had been badly bloodied and practically torn inside out, the chest wounds looked less gruesome—but more noticeable.
The killer had slit the victim's throat in order to kill the victim. So why did this person make so many small holes in the victim's chest? What kind of tool could have caused those holes?
Was the killer trying to destroy the victim's angel tattoo?
"The injuries on the chest exhibit no reactions of life, so they were inflicted post-mortem." Xing Mu turned the body over and revealed a large amount of blood staining the floor. "The killer slit the victim's throat in one of the inner rooms, but these small holes were inflicted here."
There were at least a hundred little holes that seemed to be scattered across the victim's chest in disarray. Some seemed to overlap, but upon close inspection, it was obvious that some of the holes that weren't overlapping were the same distance from one another.
It was impossible for a needle to have made these small holes.
Xing Mu studied the body for a while longer, then stood up and looked down at the body from a greater height.
"Can you clean up these injuries now?" Ming Shu asked.
Xing Mu nodded.
After cleaning away the blood, the small holes became clearer.
Ming Shu suddenly said, "Do they look like a sort of stamp to you?"
The small holes seemed to spread downward from the clavicle as one gruesome tableau, but each cluster of holes was actually framed in its own circular boundary.
"The weapon was circular, about five centimeters in diameter. And on the surface, there are countless little spikes distributed at equal distances from each other." Ming Shu took out the notebook he always carried with him and started to sketch. "The killer held the hilt of the weapon in one hand and struck the victim's chest over and over again, as though stamping it."
Xing Mu peered at Ming Shu's notebook and saw something that looked like an old-fashioned flashlight. He frowned and said, "What kind of weapon is this?"
"These small cone-like spikes remind me of the mouths of certain insects," Ming Shu said. "Like that of a caterpillar."
Xing Mu shrank his neck into his shoulders. "Don't say anything else! I get the picture!"
"Xing-ge, you're afraid of caterpillars?" Xiao Man came over and made a stamping motion with the pen in his hand. "If my guess isn't wrong, this could be a spiked ice mallet. It can be used to crush ice or fruits. They're really common in drinks shops. Those shops use these hammers to crush large amounts of ice, or fruits like grapefruits, oranges, and so on. One with a diameter of five centimeters wouldn't be considered large. I've seen some with a diameter of ten centimeters, and even ones as small as three centimeters."
"The ice mallet of a drinks shop," Xing Mu mused. "Then there wouldn't be a lot of people who have such a thing."
Xiao Man shook his head. "Not many, sure. Most people wouldn't keep this sort of thing at home, after all. But it's easy to get your hands on something like that. You could get them at hardware stores, or you could get them online. Even supermarkets that have a lot of stuff might carry them."
"But finding out where something like this comes from is easier than finding out where an unidentified sharp object comes from," Ming Shu said. "This could be an important lead."
While Xing Mu got the body ready to be taken back for a full autopsy, Ming Shu asked Xiao Man, "How's it going on your end?"
"This is basically the equivalent of a public shop. Besides the room where the victim slept, outsiders could come into any of the other rooms," Xiao Man said. "So there are lots of tracks on the ground, but only one set of bloody tracks."
"The killer's footprints," Ming Shu said.
"But the killer was wearing slippers from the victim's house at the time of committing the murder," Xiao Man said, pointing over to the shoe rack in one corner. In addition to four pairs of women's shoes, there was also a pair of cotton slippers left. "The pattern of the prints in the blood trail is consistent with the tread of those slippers, and the slippers that fell off the victim's feet in the inner room also match the same tread."
"So there were a total of three pairs of slippers of the same style here. The victim was wearing one pair herself, and a second pair was worn by the killer," Ming Shu said. "And after the killer took her life, they took the blood-stained slippers away with them?"
Xiao Man nodded. "That's the only explanation."
"Then the killer is someone the victim knew," Ming Shu said, walking over to the shoe rack. "A customer who comes to the store during the day definitely wouldn't change their shoes. If someone came by during business hours, there would be no reason to change. The victim was wearing a nightgown, and she offered the killer a pair of slippers. The killer could only have visited her at night."
At that time, Fang Yuanhang gave them a call and said that the woman who had discovered the 'faceless' corpse, Wang Hongying, had provided them with a clue.
Bei District Precinct. Questioning Room.
After seeing the mutilated face of the corpse, Wang Hongying had immediately fainted. Once she came to, she started to babble nonsensically. It was only after she was comforted by a psychological expert that she managed to calm down a little.
Wang Hongying was, in the end, a person who had dealt with dead bodies in her line of work for many decades. Her psychological resilience and ability to accept death was stronger than that of the average person. Not only was she able to recount the details of her encounter with the body several times, she also said, "The deceased… I feel like she looks a little familiar."
The detective in charge of questioning her asked, "Her face is gone. What do you think is familiar about her?"
Wang Hongying thought about it for a long while. "I keep getting the feeling that I've seen her clothes somewhere. I was scared half to death at the time. But the more I think about it, the more I think she's someone I've seen before."
Wang Hongying operated a funeral business. Besides family members of recently deceased persons, and the staff of the local funeral home, the people she saw most often were those in the same line of work.
"Where does Wang Hongying live?" Ming Shu asked when Fang Yuanhang called.
Fang Yuanhang said, "Guangdan Road, next to Fangzhi Road. That place is known as Bei District's 'funeral street', where most of the residents are in the funeral business. Chief, you suspect Wang Hongying saw the victim around there?"
The place where the body had been found was two bus stops away from Guangdan Road. The investigation had yet to reach that area.
"The deceased didn't have an outer jacket on, she was dressed like she was indoors," Ming Shu said. "If Wang Hongying feels her clothes are familiar, that means it's unlikely she saw the victim outdoors. Send a few officers to Guangdan Road, see if there are any women there who recently went missing. We're still in the early stages of this investigation. We can't let go of any potential lead."
After giving Fang Yuanhang his instructions, Ming Shu walked outside and passed the police tape.
Xiang Tao and several other officers from the Bei District precinct were there to check out the situation. Ming Shu could tell that they were all very anxious
The police force had been completely unprepared to stumble upon this case. They were already dedicating all their time and resources to investigating the case of the 'faceless' female corpse. Now, another body had been found in the same district, which would inevitably take up some police resources.
Both murders had occurred around Fangzhi Road in Bei District, and both murders involved women in their thirties. However, the modus operandi in the two cases were very different. One victim was hit over the head with a blunt object, then dumped elsewhere. The other had her throat slit, and the killer didn't transfer the body to a different site—this killer had left a blood trail at the primary scene of the crime.
When comparing the two cases, it seemed the killer couldn't be the same person. The killer in the former case only struck the victim twice, and the first strike had been fatal. This could be considered a sharp and precise attack. The latter killer, however, had repeatedly slashed the victim's throat, making her death long and messy.
There was currently no reason to investigate these two cases as though they were linked. The best option, at the moment, was to investigate the two cases separately and not allow one to interfere with the other.
It was also untrue to say that the victim at the courier's office and the 'faceless' victim had no similarities.
Both deaths had one point that was utterly bizarre. For the 'faceless' corpse, it was the twenty-one dog hairs under her tongue. For Huang Yan, it was that dense array of small holes in her chest.
Ming Shu and Li Chi, the captain of the criminal investigation division of the Bei District precinct, briefly talked things over and decided that the 'faceless' corpse would become the responsibility of the Serious Crimes Division, while the Bei District precinct focused on investigating the new case at hand.
It was already late in the evening, but the floral wreaths, paper dolls, and other funerary offerings that shops laid out in the street hadn't been taken back inside. The cars that constantly drove through the alleyways all had darkly tinted windows. It was night now, but even in the daytime, it would have been very difficult to see into any of these cars.
Fang Yuanhang asked around and learned that these cars were hearses, modified to transport the bodies of the deceased.
Now, in most families, people generally didn't use their own vehicles to transport a family member's remains to the funeral home for cremation. The funeral service they hired would typically do that for them. In winter, the funeral business boomed. One hearse might make more than ten deliveries to the funeral home in one night.
People who weren't familiar with the funeral business might think running around with a dead body in the middle of the night was a terrifying thing. But for those who made their living from this business, it was no different than any 9-to-5 job.
"This street feels pretty horrifying to me, and I'm just walking down it," Fang Yuanhang muttered. He wasn't dressed too warmly, so the cold wind made him shudder in front of a paper doll. That paper doll was very simply made, with a strange little smile on its face. Fang Yuanhang took one look at it and swore under his breath.
During the peak season for business, many people were unwilling to talk to the police, for fear of the police interfering in their business. But after asking every shop on the block, Fang Yuanhang did at least find a few people who were willing to say that they hadn't seen Meng Shan of Building 6 in a while.
Meng Shan's home was located in the innermost alleyway of Guangdan Road. One of the locals who provided that lead led Fang Yuanhang over to the building.
When Fang Yuanhang knocked, no sound came from inside.
A middle-aged woman who lived in a neighboring unit did open her door, though. She stuck her head out and asked, "Are you looking for Meng Shan? Are you the police?"
"Have you seen her recently?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
The woman shook her head. "A few days ago, I heard her shouting in her home. I thought she was fighting with someone. But then I didn't see her again after that. The day after, I went to knock on her door, but no one answered."
"Do you remember exactly which day that was?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
The woman thought for a moment. "Friday."
Friday… which matched the time of death of the 'faceless' female corpse!
Fang Yuanhang immediately reported this new information to Ming Shu, who rushed to the scene and had them open up Meng Shan's apartment right away.
The instant the doors to the apartment opened, a cold wind blew in through the windows and lifted the curtains with a swoosh. This commotion made it seem like someone had just tumbled out through the window.
Fang Yuanhang swiftly walked over to the window. There were no traces of anyone having climbed in or out of the window, and the street below was empty. Only a black cat bolted across the street below.
And only a few lights were on in the building outside the window, across the street. It looked like not many people lived in there.
The trace evidence analysts started to do their work. Ming Shu scented the air and said, "What is this smell?"
"Bleach," Xiao Man said. "Someone disinfected the house."
"Does that mean someone wanted to wipe away evidence?" Fang Yuanhang asked.
"You guys step outside for now," Xiao Man said. "I'll do a test for bloodstains."
Ming Shu sent a few officers to talk to the neighbors and get an understanding of the Meng family's situation. He soon learned that a father and daughter had lived here—Meng Shan, and her father who had been named Meng Yonghui. Meng Yonghui had passed away a few days ago. Meng Shan didn't hold a memorial like most people would have. Instead, she mourned the body of Meng Yonghui at home for two nights, then had him moved out to the West Moon Funeral Home to be cremated.
Since Meng Shan had no relatives, no one could identify the body. Furthermore, no one could provide DNA to run a DNA comparison test. Whether or not the 'faceless' female corpse was really Meng Shan was something that would be uncertain until the police had done a full examination of the apartment.
While they were busy at work there, a surprising bit of news came from the Bei District precinct—the surveillance cameras at the courier's office hadn't captured the killer on film.
"Didn't capture the killer?" Ming Shu asked. "Or the technical team couldn't recover the footage?"
"No footage was captured," Xiang Tao said. "Before the killer appeared, Huang Yan turned off the cameras."
"Did Huang Yan usually turn off the cameras at night?"
"No. She wouldn't even turn them off when she left the building. She only turned them off on the day of her murder."
Ming Shu fell into thought.
Under what circumstances would Huang Yan, a woman who lived alone and operated her own shop, turn off the surveillance cameras that she usually never turned off at night?
And it just so happened to be the night she was killed?
"Huang Yan grew up in a single-parent household, but she's been living independently from her mother for years already. Her mother is rushing over to identify the body now, and to provide DNA for a comparison test," Xiang Tao reported. "The investigation into the victim's interpersonal relationships is still ongoing. Captain Ming, do you have any thoughts on this matter of Huang Yan turning off the camera?"
"Someone asked her to turn it off, and she was willing to do it for that person," Ming Shu said. "But right now we can't be sure what kind of person Huang Yan really was. To analyze a person's behavior, we have to know them. Has your forensics team completed the autopsy?"
"Yes," Xiang Tao said. "The results are consistent with Xing-laoshi's preliminary autopsy results. Also, we've determined that Huang Yan wasn't sexually violated."
Ming Shu gave this new information some thought. "I would suggest you finish looking into Huang Yan's social circle first. Since she was willing to turn off her cameras for this person, that means this person was important to her. They met at night, and when they met, Huang Yan was wearing a nightgown. So I suspect there was an emotional relationship between them."
The night grew deeper. Traffic on the streaming platform 'Wildcat' was steadily climbing. Countless gaming streamers, foodie streamers, beauty streamers, and so on had all come online to start their day's work.
In one streaming room, a streamer by the name of 'Juejiang Lan Cao' had yet to begin the stream. But fans were already filling up the comments section with lively chatter.
A tune started to play in the streaming room, and soon a coquettish face appeared on camera.
[Lanlan is here!]
The fans began to cheer.
"Good evening." The streamer smiled at the camera. "Long time no see. Did you miss me?"
The fans continued to babble all sorts of things in the chat. The streamer read these comments while saying, "Oh, I'm sorry for my absence. I've been too busy with work lately. I'll provide you all with some fanservice today. What would you guys like to see?"
[We're happy just seeing your face! You're so beautiful!]
[I want to see Lanlan dance!]
[Lanlan, teach us about makeup!]
[Oh? Lanlan, what kind of lipstick are you wearing today? The color is amazing!]
The streamer smiled softly, answering the questions one by one and satisfying the fans' requests one after another. As the night dragged on towards morning, the streamer eventually gave a tired yawn and then bid all the fans farewell with a sultry wave.
At this early hour, these viewers of the stream weren't the only people who had yet to go to sleep. The detectives of the Serious Crimes Division were still up as well.
Xiao Man finished his search of Meng Shan's apartment. Some of the DNA traces found there were a perfect match for the DNA of the 'faceless' corpse.