A crime suspect who had been under constant pursuit had finally been found, but unfortunately, he had already turned into a corpse submerged in water for several days. His face had been partially consumed by shrimp and crabs in the waters of the lake, rendering his appearance unrecognizable.
Due to the advanced state of decomposition, the skin had taken on a putrid color, and facial features were missing, making it impossible to determine the true identity at the moment. However, based on the identification documents found on the body, there was a 95% likelihood that it was Zhao Shen. To completely confirm the identity, DNA and fingerprint analysis would still be required.
Qiao Ruofei cried out and tried to rush over, but she was stopped by Yun Xiaoxiao, who forcefully made her sit under a tree. Although Qiao Ruofei was taller than Yun Xiaoxiao, she was much weaker in strength. Yun Xiaoxiao managed to restrain her, and Qiao Ruofei could only sob and cry while holding her face.
He Wei was observing a travel suitcase. When he opened it, there were no clothes inside, only stones. The hands and feet of the corpse were chained, and connected to the handle of the suitcase. Both the corpse and the suitcase had sunk into the lake together. While the body would resurface in a few days due to the decomposition process, the weight of the sinking objects and the cover of the reed marshes meant that it went unnoticed for over a dozen days.
Before this, He Wei and Lin Heyu had speculated that Zhao Shen might have been killed, but they hadn’t suspected this lake. If not for Cheng Zhenqing, they might have taken a detour.
“He wouldn’t have committed suicide out of fear,” Lin Heyu said, holding a damp charger in his hand. “Why would a person planning to kill themselves buy a charger?”
He Wei squatted down, “Certainly not. Otherwise, he could have ended his life in Haijing. Why take such a long journey to Shengzhou? Sightseeing?”
Lin Heyu’s hand reached into another pocket and pulled out a folded strip of adhesive tape.
“A band-aid?” He Wei opened the band-aid, noticing a stained mark on the medicinal gauze in the center. He immediately called Zheng Youqing over.
Holding the band-aid, Zheng Youqing examined it. “Looks like the bloodstain has been diluted. After prolonged immersion in this type of lake water and exposure to severe pollution, I’m not sure if we can still extract DNA.”
“Let’s take it back and try.” He Wei instructed a colleague to fetch an evidence bag and placed the band-aid inside. “It was in his pocket, but it might not necessarily belong to him.”
Lin Heyu went through all the pockets of the body from top to bottom and shook his head at He Wei, indicating that there was no valuable evidence left.
“The body has been submerged in water for too long. Besides the presence of postmortem submersion lines, which can demonstrate that the vital reactions prior to entering the water, have largely disappeared, we need to take it back for autopsy and perform diatom testing.” Du Ruanlan said as she stood up, looking at the shimmering lake surface. She instructed Luo Ying, “Collect water samples, sediment, and the piece of reed connected to the body.”
She took off her mask, and He Wei smiled. “Lan-jie, it looks like you’ll be working hard again tonight.”
“Not a problem, it’s my job. Are you two coming?” Du Ruanlan smiled. “With handsome guys around, my work efficiency is higher.”
Without Du Ruanlan having to say a word, they would be involved in Zhao Shen’s autopsy. Both of them were well aware that he had been murdered. However, the area was remote, lacking surveillance cameras, and there were no eyewitnesses. Frequent rainfall during this period washed away almost all valuable evidence along the shore. They could only hope that the autopsy would uncover some clues about the killer.
The group felt a mix of relief and concern. They were relieved that Zhao Shen had finally been found, but concerned that it had brought another unknown assailant into the picture. Du Ruanlan changed into her autopsy gear, and He Wei and Lin Heyu joined her, along with Chong Zhen.
“Why did you call me? I’m an amateur when it comes to autopsies.”
“I need you to handle something.” He Wei went in first, with Chong Zhen following. They entered the autopsy room, where Du Ruanlan was carefully removing the skin tissue that had slipped off the hands of the body. She placed it on a tray, and Luo Ying handed it to Chong Zhen.
“…” Chong Zhen looked at the “drowned gloves” in the tray and then at He Wei, his tone helpless. “Is it like last time? Do you want me to stick my hand in and take fingerprints?”
“Otherwise? Just treat it like wearing gloves.”
With Du Ruanlan right there, Chong Zhen couldn’t say much and could only use his eyes to express his annoyance at He Wei. Ignoring his gaze, He Wei instructed him to make sure every finger’s fingerprint was pressed clearly and distinctly, making it easy to recognize.
Based on the degree of decomposition, combined with the local water and air temperature, Du Ruanlan estimated the time of death to be between 23 to 25 days ago, matching the time when Zhao Shen had arrived in Shengzhou. It was highly likely that he had been murdered shortly after entering Dangshui Village and thrown into the cold lake water.
“There are no signs of external injury or internal bleeding on his head, and there’s no evidence of struggling after entering the water. It’s highly possible that he was drugged into unconsciousness. We need to take a blood sample for toxicology testing.” Du Ruanlan reached out, and Luo Ying handed her a syringe. Du Ruanlan lowered her head, then suddenly turned the body’s head, revealing the damaged right ear tissue. She examined it closely and beckoned, “He Wei, come here. Does this look like a needle mark?”
He Wei walked over and observed, then shook his head with a wry smile after a moment. “Lan-jie, you’re still more professional than me. I can’t make that judgment.”
“If I could make accurate judgments, I wouldn’t be calling you. There’s a high probability that it could be from an injection causing unconsciousness.”
“Is it possible that the drugs caused death, and then the body was disposed of?” Lin Heyu asked.
“The likelihood of entering the water while alive is higher. Although many post-mortem reactions that indicate life have disappeared, look at the contrast in color between the left and right ventricles and endocardium. Do the right ventricle and endocardium appear darker than the left heart?” Du Ruanlan pointed at the dissected heart with her surgical scalpel. “This is due to inhaling fluid while drowning, which dilutes the blood in the left heart through the pulmonary veins, reducing the blood concentration. On the other hand, water-related lung emphysema occurs during drowning, leading to disorders in the pulmonary circulation and severe congestion in the right heart. As the body decomposes, differences in coloring between the two heart chambers become more apparent due to the presence of hemoglobin, myoglobin, and other decomposition products.”
“I was considering taking it back for diatom testing at first, but if the toxicology test comes back positive, indicating the presence of substances that induce unconsciousness, the diatom test results wouldn’t be a decisive factor.” Du Ruanlan sighed.
Lin Heyu nodded. “Administering drugs to induce unconsciousness without external injuries suggests that the perpetrator was someone familiar to him. Moreover, this wasn’t a hasty killing. The planning was meticulous. The assailant struck after Zhao Shen arrived in Dangshui Village. Few people venture there at night, making the murder nearly undetectable.”
“If it weren’t for the tip-off, we might not have thought to search that lake for quite some time,” He Wei sighed.
“How much reward is the informant expecting?” Du Ruanlan asked casually.
He Wei and Lin Heyu exchanged glances. They hadn’t told anyone that the clue was provided by Cheng Zhenqing. After all, his bizarre story was hard to believe, and the police were primarily focused on a scientific approach. They didn’t want to create any sensational news stories.
The cold surgical scalpel sliced through the stomach, revealing stomach contents that were no longer recognizable. Du Ruanlan used forceps to manipulate them, extracting a white, gooey, sticky substance.
“It’s not food; it’s more like fabric.” Du Ruanlan held the object with her forceps and spread it out on an empty section of the dissection table. As they gradually flattened it out, the three of them lowered their heads and felt puzzled.
“A face mask?” He Wei frowned. “How did he swallow something like this?”
“Moreover, why would he eat this?” Lin Heyu pondered. “Pica?”
Du Ruanlan examined the face mask carefully and shook her head. “Non-woven fabric, nothing else.”
Luo Ying, who had been recording, interjected, “I thought of a joke. It’s about a man who takes a few pieces of peppermint candy from his wife’s makeup drawer. After dinner, he offers one to his business partner. As they’re chewing, both of them pull out a face, hahaha…”
He chuckled a few times, realizing that the three people at the dissection table were staring at him. He quickly suppressed his laughter.
“Then what happened?” He Wei asked. “Why would peppermint candy turn into a face?”
“It’s individual packaged face masks.” Luo Ying cautiously asked, “You guys—don’t know about these things?”
The four of them worked overtime through the night, and by the time they left the autopsy room, dawn was breaking. He Wei and Lin Heyu reeked of the stench of the cadaver. Having been exposed to it for so long, they couldn’t sense it themselves. When they encountered their colleagues on duty outside, the strange expressions on their colleagues’ faces made it clear that they were quite “fragrant” at the moment.
He Wei lifted his arm and took a whiff, his expression unchanged. “It’s okay. It’s much better than the body in a travel bag from the summer two years ago.”
Lin Heyu agreed, “Yeah, not as intense as the body we pulled out of the septic tank last year.”
However, that didn’t mean He Wei didn’t want to return home and take a hot shower, changing into clean clothes. When he got home, he headed straight to the bathroom, pushed open the frosted glass door, and found a half-naked Cheng Zesheng inside, seemingly in the process of undressing.
“…” He Wei’s expression remained neutral, his eyes not shifting, “Why are you taking a morning shower?”
“I was too tired when I got back last night and forgot.”
“Oh, hurry up.” He Wei rubbed his forehead and retreated. Cheng Zesheng swiftly followed, grabbing his arm. Catching a whiff of that familiar yet nauseating smell, he asked, “Is the suspect dead?”
“Mhm, soaked in the lake for over 20 days, feeding the lobsters and crabs well.” He Wei evaded his hand, “Stay away from me a bit; the smell of the cadaver might cling to you.”
Cheng Zesheng hardly cared about that. He had seen numerous crime scenes before; the waterways of the Yangtze River basin were abundant, and between July and August, floating corpses were discovered every few days. Even the Giant Buddha statue had become a common sight. The pungent smell that hit the nose when the abdomen was cut open during an autopsy was overwhelming. Compared to that, the odor on He Wei’s body was nothing to Officer Cheng, who had been through it all.
“You go ahead and shower,” Cheng Zesheng appeased, “Take your time; I’ll cut a lemon for you. When you’re washing your hair, squeeze a bit of it. It works really well as a deodorant.”
He Wei glanced at Cheng Zesheng’s bare upper body and waved his hand, saying, “You go first; I don’t care.”
The sound of water echoed from the bathroom. Cheng Zesheng turned to look at the glass door, remembering He Wei’s pink-tipped ears. He joyfully went to the kitchen to cut the lemon. After preparing it, he walked into the bathroom, pretending to be a decent person who averted his gaze and covered his eyes. He Wei, on the other hand, didn’t care and let Cheng Zesheng place the lemon on the counter. He was free to go.
This time, He Wei’s shower took unusually long, until his fingers and toes were wrinkled. But it couldn’t be helped. Either don’t shower at all or shower thoroughly. When He Wei finished his first wash, he still detected the smell of decay in his hair. He opened the mixer valve again and started from the top.
He emerged from the bathroom with a cloud of steam, his black hair dripping wet with water droplets. Cheng Zesheng walked over, placing his hand on He Wei’s shoulder, and leaned in with his nose, saying, “Mhm, much better.”
“Lemon is quite effective,” He Wei paused, “Thank you.”
“Don’t just say it with your mouth.”
“Then what do you want me to do—” He Wei’s words were cut off abruptly as Cheng Zesheng lifted his face and held it, their gazes locking as their chins rose.
Cheng Zesheng’s dark pupils gleamed with a touch of light, and he had a brimming smile on his lips as he drew closer.
Then, with a gentle touch, he kissed emptiness and loneliness. Cheng Zesheng froze, staring at his empty hands in astonishment.
He Wei snapped back to reality and realized that Cheng Zesheng had disappeared. He looked around the room, concluding with a single thought: the time was up.
Cheng Zesheng, annoyed, marched off to take his shower, cursing the unromantic timing in his mind.
He Wei leisurely dried his hair, his lips curving into a half-smile. Eventually, unable to contain himself, he sat on the couch, hunching over with suppressed laughter.