Translated by: TaffyGirl13
Chapter 3: Wu Chang
The man’s slightly crooked back moved up and down from where it was hunched over in the dim yellow candlelight.
He was sprawled exhaustedly next to the coffin, an abnormal smile of happiness on his face.
“Wei Wei, Daddy is here.”
He gently caressed the coffin in front of him. Every touch left behind a thin trail of blood.
The air reeked with a heavy stench of rot and the sewer water that covered the ground had glinting traces of blood in it.
Scattered loosely on the ground was a bloodstained surgical blade, steel pliers, and pair of tongs. And on the large metal cross nearby was a length of bloodied rope tied around it. Fresh blood continued to drip nonstop from the rope, falling into the puddles of water. The moments of contact made eerie, hollow-sounding plop…plop…plop noises….
“Wei Wei, say Daddy.”
The corners of his rough lips opened as he chuckled at the coffin he was gazing at.
The coffin was quiet for a long time. Finally, a low voice came from inside.
“Yes, Wei Wei is right! It’s Daddy, it’s Daddy!”
He excitedly thumped his own chest, wild with joy. However, he suddenly heard the girl’s voice from the coffin timidly say, “No, it doesn’t sound like Daddy’s voice…”
He was stunned for a second, but he hurriedly shook his head and replied, “How can that be? Wei Wei, listen again more carefully. How is it not Daddy? Daddy is here. Daddy is still Wei Wei’s daddy…”
“No, Daddy’s voice isn’t like that…”
“Wei Wei, I really am your daddy!”
He chokingly asked, “Wei Wei, do you still remember? When you were little, you loved Japanese roses because you said they were very similar to your name. So Daddy would often bring you to the nearby flower shops on the weekends and buy several different coloured roses. There were pink ones, red ones, blue ones, and even purple ones. I remember that Wei Wei liked the purple roses the most, so since then, Daddy would always buy a large bouquet of purple roses for Wei Wei’s birthday each year. Do you remember that?”
The voice in the coffin fell silent for a beat. Then it hesitantly asked in doubt, “Are…you really Daddy? Really Wei Wei’s Daddy?”
“Mhm, of course!”
He nodded forcefully. But just as he as about to lift his hand to wipe his tears away, he felt a coldness on the back of his hand.
At some point, a small pale hand had unknowingly reached out of the coffin. The hand was very thin, basically just skin and bones. The fingers were as skinny as matchsticks. Like a lifeless skeleton, it slowly and silently came to rest on the back of his hand. The touch was as cold as ice, but the slim fingertips were unexpectedly powerful, tightly gripping around his fingers like iron pincers.
“Daddy…” The voice from the coffin softly called out and murmured, “Wei Wei loves Daddy the most.”
“Mhm, Daddy loves Wei Wei the most too!”
He laughed, warm tears filling his eyes as he firmly held the freezing, icy little hand up next to his face.
If the murderer is not Shen Wei’s father, Shen Guo Zhong, then who exactly is it? And why is he imitating Shen Guo Zhong’s killing methods from long ago? Plus, what do those bloody roses by the victim’s bodies represent?
This series of questions perplexed Ye Xiao no matter how much he pondered over them. From the very beginning, he had not been in favour with the claim of someone returning from the dead. However, the testimony from the second victim, Miao Ruo Xue, had further confirmed his opinion—that supernatural stuff did not exist at all. Everything was just Su Mu’s wilful guessing.
After work today, Ye Xiao and Su Mu sat across each other at a decently stylish Western restaurant.
They were sitting next to the window. The murky dark clouds densely covered the sky outside, looking exactly like Su Mu’s current expression.
He had both arms crossed as he sinisterly watched Ye Xiao. If possible, he really wanted to throw a knife over to stab the man sitting opposite him, who was currently wolfing down a hamburger while loudly smacking his lips the entire time.
Sometimes, being extremely thick-skinned could be counted as a type of talent as well.
Such as this instance, where Ye Xiao was casually chomping down on a fast-food hamburger from outside while sitting in an elegant Western restaurant as though no one else was here. Every once in a while, an infuriating, drunken-like look would appear on his face as well.
“Oh, this steak hamburger is the newest product from that chain. As expected, its taste isn’t bad…mmm….it’s way more delicious that what that damn brat cooks at home….mmm….I should fill my stomach before going home, or else I’ll be tormented by puking and diarrhoea again….mmm….”
Su Mu was not paying any attention to what the other person was saying. He simply watched Ye Xiao, having already lost appetite.
He silently put his fork and knife down with a dark expression as he said, “Ever since becoming your partner, having a meal in peace and quiet has become a type of luxury.”
“Ah? What did you say?”
Ye Xiao looked up, his mouth forming a glittering grin. There was still a smudge of ketchup stuck to the edge of his lips, so he stuck his tongue out to lick it. Then he craned his neck to peer at Su Mu’s plate and asked with open shamelessness, “You’re already done eating? Can you give that slice of toasted cheese? I want to stick it inside this to eat.”
He pointed at his half-eaten hamburger.
The shadows on Su Mu’s face immediately stretched all the way down to his chin. With a stormy look, he sneered, “I can, but you have to trade it with that steak you have in the middle.”
Ye Xiao glanced down at the delicious steak between the slices of bread and immediately shook his head as he rolled his eyes, “As if I’d trade. That’s an unfair exchange. Forget it, I don’t want your cheese slice.”
“Hmph, you want to reap without sowing? Do you think money just falls from the sky?”
Su Mu rolled his eyes back but immediately after speaking, had the strong urge to bite his own tongue. Without him knowing, he had at some point gotten caught up in this idiot’s pointless, meritless, and stupid conversation.
“Um, so what are you planning to do now?” Ye Xiao asked as he chewed on his hamburger.
“What do you mean?” Su Mu glanced at him.
Ye Xiao sniggered and replied, “As in, someone overthrew your previous somewhat unrealistic conjecture. The killer can no longer be the Shen Guo Zhong from forty-nine years ago. What direction do you plan on investigating in now?”
Su Mu’s face was cold as he picked up his glass to take a sip of the lemon water. He did not respond.
“Eh, don’t lose heart. Humans will always make mistakes. You just have to turn over a new leaf.” Ye Xiao smothered his laughter at seeing Su Mu acting disappointed for once. He then asked, “Oh right, how’s the portrait from the forensic group going?”
Ever since Miao Ruo Xue had rejected the photo of Shen Guo Zhong that day, they had requested someone to try sketching out a portrait of the criminal according to the eyewitness’s description. However, since Miao Ruo Xue was unable to speak for the time being, they could only communicate in Q&A style and go off her nodding or shaking her head to judge the suspect’s appearance. Thus, altering the facial sketch back and forth like this ultimately required an extreme amount of time and effort.
“The sketch is already completed. I just picked it up this morning.”
Su Mu swirled his lemon water and watched the half-slice of lemon floating in the cup as he spaced out a bit.
“It’s already completed? Fuck, why didn’t you tell me earlier!” Ye Xiao leaned forward and urgently asked, “How is it, how is it? What does the killer look like?”
Su Mu glanced at him, then pulled out a photocopied paper from his pocket.
Ye Xiao grabbed it and impatiently unfolded it to get a look. After a moment, he disappointedly huffed, “Oh, it’s just a very common-looking middle-aged uncle’s face. You could randomly grab a whole bunch of them off the street. No unique traits, and he gives off a slight good-for-nothing feeling too. He doesn’t seem anything like an extremely ruthless criminal.”
“Um, have you ever met a criminal with ‘I’m the killer’ written all over their face?”
Su Mu shot back.
Ye Xiao tilted his head to the side as he studied the drawing while shoving the last few bites of his hamburger into his mouth. Then he unabashedly swiped the lemon water from Su Mu’s hand and took a large swig, swallowing it down together with the food. He let out a beautiful burp before asking, “Have you looked into this person? Any clues?”
“No clues at all. He’s just a normal person.”
Su Mu closed his eyes. There was faint helplessness in his tone as he stated, “The person’s name is Wu Chang. Male, forty years old. Former game software development engineer at W Corp.”
“Yes, he was fired three months ago.”
Su Mu leaned back against his chair and crossed his long legs as he added, “In addition, his wife ran off with another man two years ago, bringing their daughter with her.”
“Huh, that’s very similar to Shen Guo Zhong’s experience.” Ye Xiao furrowed his brows and let out a heartfelt sigh. “A man with truly terrible luck. First he lost his wife and child, then he lost his job. Does he have any past criminal records?”
“No, he’s even cleaner than spring water.”
“Oh…no matter how you look at this face, he just seems like a super average uncle!” Ye Xiao rubbed his chin as he pondered over this and asked, “Then what about now? Where is he?”
“He fled in fear of getting arrested?”
“Hah, who knows. Maybe he’s hiding in some dark corner planning a third murder case.”
Su Mu shrugged, then called over a waiter for the bill.
Ye Xiao remained in his seat, spacing out at the man in the sketch.
There was just something incomprehensible about this case. Why did a middle-aged man that always acted according to the norm suddenly display brutal behaviour and kill two people in a single breath? And even going as far as skinning them and prying out their teeth?
Moreover, this man named Wu Chang was simply a computer engineer. He’s never trained in medicine, so where did he get the skills to remove a person’s skin so meticulously? And what do those Japanese roses represent? Don’t tell me that this man in the sketch has been possessed by Shen Guo Zhong’s soul?
At this point, Ye Xiao immediately shook his head in amusement. After being with Su Mu for so long, even a steadfast atheist like him had started to grow overly suspicious.
“What’s so funny?” Su Mu swept a glance over him.
Ye Xiao stood and chuckled as he put on his coat. “Do you have change? Will you treat me to a cup of soda?”
Su Mu did not even spare him another look as he replied with only a few words, “Pay me back first.”
Ye Xiao was taken aback. Su Mu let out a snort and spun around to stride out of the restaurant entrance without looking back.
Ye Xiao watched the other’s retreating back and scratched his head as he mumbled to himself, “Tch, miser.”
The next morning, they went to Wu Chang’s home.
It was in a very ordinary six-storied complex that appeared to be quite old-fashioned.
Wu Chang’s residence was on the second level. Ye Xiao and Su Mu walked up the stairs – the home right next to the staircase was the target of their visit. There was a round, extremely old-styled doorbell next to the slightly dirty front door. Unlike other modern-styled apartment doorbells that made a clear ding dong noise, this one repeatedly let out what sounded like the quack of a goose.
The quacking doorbell rang for a long while, but no one answered the door.
“Looks like Wu Chang really does live alone.” Ye Xiao shook his head and said, “Guess we have no choice but to request for a search permit and come again another day.”
After saying this, the both of them turned to leave. However, they suddenly heard a click, and the door actually opened.
“So noisy. Who are you guys looking for?”
A man around his thirties appeared behind the door. He wore messy sleepwear and scratched his tangled hair, yawning as he glanced at the two uninvited guests in annoyance.
It was evident that they had interrupted his beauty sleep, although it was in the middle of the day – nearly noon.
“Hello, we are from the police.” Ye Xiao flashed his ID.
The man looked as though a bucket of cold water was dumped over his head to shock him awake. He rubbed his eyes and stared blankly at the words on the ID for two seconds. Suddenly he grasped the door handle as fast as lightning to slam it shut.
Fortunately, Ye Xiao’s reflexes were faster. He immediately reached out to block the door, then squeezed himself in midway with a glare as he declared, “If you do not open the door, I have the right to report you as obstructing official business!”
The moment he said this, the man’s expression changed completely. He immediately let go, and the door swung into the wall with a bang, with Ye Xiao nearly faceplanting along with it. When he indignantly raised his head, he discovered that the man had decided to cross the living room in panic to step out onto the balcony and recklessly climb over the edge.
Su Mu let out a low roar and swiftly ran over. He vaulted himself over the balcony railing with a single hand, and actually—actually just jumped straight down.
Ye Xiao hurriedly charged over to glance down in astonishment. “Fuck, what the hell? Are they all trying to kill themselves?”
But despite saying this, he immediately gritted his teeth and leapt down from the second floor as well.
A person was wildly running down the bustling street like a madman, with two people in tight pursuit behind him, unwilling to let him go. They chased him across several intersections, flanking him on both sides. Finally, they reached a small, remote alley where they blocked off the man that had tried to escape for unknown reasons.
“Stop-stop chasing after me…I-I can’t run anymore…”
The man weakly collapsed on a pile of trash, panting heavily as he struggled to catch his breath. His slippers had long since been lost in the run, and his naked feet were in a tragic state – bright red in colour.
Su Mu grabbed the man’s collar with one hand, his breathing completely steady as he looked down from above. Right as he was about to speak, the man scrambled to raise both hands and surrendered with a bitter expression, “Sorry, I was wrong, I was wrong…the stolen things should all be in the house. I haven’t sold them yet…”
“Stolen things?” Ye Xiao was dumbstruck as he exchanged a look with Su Mu.
“What, did you not come to arrest me?” The man raised his head in tearless grief and despair.
Ten minutes later, the three of them finally sat face-to-face with each other in Wu Chang’s living room.
Laid out on a coffee table covered in a layer of fine dust were six cellphones, five wallets, two necklaces, and what looked like a fairly expensive quartz watch.
“Here, this is everything, I swear.” The man was hunched over as he cradled his head in distress.
Ye Xiao glanced at Su Mu and said, “I’ve already notified people from the Community Safety department. They’ll be here soon.”
Su Mu turned his head to face the male as he asked, “What is your name? And your relationship with Wu Chang?”
“My name is Zhang Yue.” The man raised his head to reply, “Wu Chang is my distantly-related cousin.”
“You live in his home?” Ye Xiao inquired.
“Yes, for the time being.” Zhang Yue answered, “I came down from the countryside last year to find work. But you know, it wasn’t as easy to earn money in the city as I thought. My tiny wages from washing dishes and cleaning up at restaurants wasn’t anywhere near enough to rent a place. I could only stay at Wu Chang’s temporarily.”
“Do you know where Wu Chang is now?” Ye Xiao peered at the man.
Zhang Yue reeled back and murmured, “That’s what I wanted to ask you guys. He’s already been missing for over a month. I can’t afford the utilities cost for this place.”
“What, you don’t know where he went either?”
Zhang Yue nodded and studied the two police officers across from him as he tentatively asked, “Um, if you two are looking for him so urgently, does that mean Wu Chang did something?”
Ye Xiao went silent and smoothly pulled out a photo from his pocket. It was a family photo of the first victim with her other two family members. He pointed at the girl in the middle and asked, “Have you ever seen this girl?”
Zhang Yue peered closer, then shook his head and replied, “I don’t know her, nor have I seen her before. Is something wrong…with this girl?”
“She’s dead.” Su Mu stated, “Wu Chang murdered her.”
“Oi, don’t just say whatever you want. There isn’t any concrete evidence yet,” Ye Xiao quietly reminded.
Su Mu paid him no mind, only staring straight at Zhang Yue to study the other’s expression.
Zhang Yue was clearly shocked. His jaw dropped open in astonishment and his body went rigid for a while, as though on a freeze frame. Suddenly, a chuckle involuntarily left his mouth. He waved his hands around, unsure whether to laugh or to cry. “No way, no way, no way. I think you guys must be mistaken somehow.”
“Oh, why do you say that?” Su Mu’s eyes locked onto him.
Zhang Yue cleared his throat and stated, “I would believe if you said anyone else committed murder, but there’s no way I can believe it to be this person. I’ve lived together with him for over a year; I understand his character inside-out. That man is simply stupid, cowardly, and good-for-nothing. What’s that description you learn in school…oh, the type of person that you feel sorry for when they’re grieving, and angry at when they don’t fight back…You know, when his wife cheated on him that year and swindled away all his savings, he only suffered in silence like a coward. How could a man like that have the guts to kill someone?! Oh, also, also, I heard that his daughter wasn’t even his—”
“Ahem.” Ye Xiao coughed to interrupt the man’s unceasing torrent of gossip and concluded for him, “In other words, you are absolutely certain that Wu Chang wouldn’t commit murder based on his cowardly nature?”
“That’s right!” Zhang Yue snapped his fingers.
“Then do you know why Wu Chang was fired by his company?” Su Mu immediately asked.
Zhang Yue pondered this for a moment before answering, “I heard him mention it before. It seemed that the game software he designed was too dull and tedious and didn’t hit the market, with the sales volume getting worse and worse. It ended up affecting the company’s performance, so they fired him.”
“After being dismissed, did he show any abnormal moods? Or was there anything strange about his speech and actions?” Ye Xiao gestured and added, “For example…would he suddenly burst into hysteria out of nowhere and become extremely violent?”
“Oh, there wasn’t anything like hysteria. But I think he must’ve suffered quite a bit from the blow. After all, he’d been diligently working there for so many years, yet they just suddenly said they didn’t want him.” Zhang Yue pointed at the room across them and stated, “After he lost his job, he was always in low spirits, speaking less and less. He would basically spend his entire day locked up in his office, even sleeping and eating in there.”
“What did he do in the office?”
“Eh, I secretly peeked in a few times and it seemed as though he was always playing computer games.”
Ye Xiao suspiciously glanced at the office, while Su Mu had already stood and walked over.
The office was not locked. With just a slight turn of the doorknob, the door opened with a creak.
The room was tiny, barely even 3m2 large. It did not have windows either. The extremely crammed space had a wooden desk and a single bed. The desk had a laptop, a calendar, a pen holder, and some scattered items. There were some partially eaten instant noodles dumped in the garbage bin next to the desk, and it emitted a faint stench.
Su Mu circled the room and carefully inspected every object. Finally, his gaze landed on the desk calendar. The calendar was for last year. The papers were faintly yellowed, and the page it was flipped to was the final month of last year.
Su Mu frowned and grabbed it for a closer look. He discovered that there was a date specially marked in red pen: December 11th. There was also a row of tiny, fragmented words written below. The words were extremely messy, clearly meant for Wu Chang himself. However, according to the marks, one could just barely discern the words to be: Catgirl, Straight Flush, Curtain of Dreams, Hikikomori A, 8:30 meeting at Red Maple St.
“What does this mean?”
Su Mu turned around with the calendar in his hands to ask Zhang Yue standing at the doorway.
Zhang Yu squinted at it for a while before shaking his head and replying, “Don’t know.”
But as soon as he said this, he immediately slapped his thigh as he thought of something else with an “ah”.
As Su Mu stared at him, he rushed to say, “December 11th was the last day I saw Wu Chang. He went out very early that morning, probably before 8. He even drove away in the second-hand classic car. I thought he had found a new job and never imagined that I would never see any trace of him after that.”
“Oh? Why do you remember that date so clearly?”
Zhang Yue wagged his brows with a grin as he pursed his lips towards the direction of the coffee table in the living room. “Because that’s the day I stole that quartz watch from an old woman. It’s the most valuable thing I’ve stolen, so…hehe, that day counts as a day worth commemorating.”
Ye Xiao shot him a look, then neared Su Mu to quietly state in the other’s ear, “I remember that date. It just happens to be the date that Shen Guo Zhong was executed forty-nine years ago.”
Su Mu was silent for a moment. He wordlessly placed the calendar back.
Ye Xiao turned on the laptop. However, the instant the power kicked in, what popped up was a password input box.
In the end, the man was still a computer engineer – even setting up a password on his home laptop.
“Do you know this password?” Ye Xiao looked at Zhang Yue.
Zhang Yue shook his head again. “I’m a crude person; I’ve always lived on the countryside. I’ve never touched or played with high-tech things like computers. How would I know his password?”
“Hah, looks like we’ll just have to try guessing blindly.”
Ye Xiao crouched over and concentrated on the computer screen as he attempted multiple passwords in succession. However, regardless of whether it was Wu Chang’s birthday or even the names of his ex-wife and daughter, it was incorrect.
Even after struggling for a while, the computer stubbornly refused to grant access. At this point, the Community Safety department’s people had already arrived. They did a general inspection of the area, then brought Zhang Yue and his stolen items away with them.
Ye Xiao and Su Mu returned with empty hands to the police station at noon, only to be called back to the group leader’s office. With sullen faces, they endured another rebuking. The reason this time was that the murderer was still wandering beyond jurisdiction and their case-solving efficiency was too low.
“Sigh, efficiency too low…it’s not like I want that either…”
Ye Xiao sat on the window ledge in the break room as he gloomily lit a cigarette.
Su Mu prepared a cup of coffee and took a sip. Then he spun around to face Ye Xiao, using his chin to point at the no smoking sign on the wall.
“Eh, just pretend you didn’t see.” Ye Xiao grinned at the other and blinked his eyes. After a while, he then asked, “Oh right, did you notice that book in Wu Chang’s study earlier?”
“The one placed next to his bed?”
“Yeah, that’s right.” Ye Xiao nodded and said, “From the cover, it seemed to be the biography of some famous person called…what was it…Derrin…Derrin something…”
“Ah, yep, yep, that’s the name. You remember it so well.”
“That’s a female English poet from the nineteenth century.”
“Poet?” Ye Xiao took a drag of his cigarette as he chuckled, “Never thought you knew those things too; you don’t look it.”
Su Mu took a sip of his coffee and indifferently replied, “Derringer became famous because she committed suicide by shooting herself in the mouth. Very few women are that bold. She once said that she had been yearning for death ever since the day she was born.”
“Pfft, yearning for death? What a bizarre person.” Ye Xiao couldn’t help but feel at a loss for words.
“One of the most famous lines from Derringer’s poems is ‘only once your name is carved in stone can your soul truly be free’.” Su Mu cupped his coffee in his hands as he leaned his back against the wall. The golden sunlight spilled into his solemn gaze and he narrowed his eyes slightly while adding, “And before her suicide, she wrote one final poem.”
“Oh? What’s it called?” Ye Xiao looked at him in interest.
Su Mu slowly drank the rest of his coffee. After a moment of silence, he quietly stated, “The Song of Death.”