Miss Forensics – Chapter 29

Regret

“Team Song, those are the relatives of the deceased,” Song Yuhang hurriedly returned, stepping into the office. As soon as she entered, Fang Xin covered her nose with a folder and leaned in close to her ear.

Inside the office, a middle-aged woman, robust and somewhat unkempt, sat in a chair with her shoes removed, picking at her feet and occasionally peeling off some dead skin from the soles. In one hand, she held a plate of sunflower seeds, and there was a cup of tea on the table. She shook her head and watched the TV on the wall.

Song Yuhang walked over and took a seat opposite her. The woman was about to get angry as she blocked her view of the TV. Still, upon noticing the two horizontal bars on her shoulder, indicating her high rank, her demeanor instantly changed to a friendly and welcoming one.

“Hey, Leader Song, is there anything you need?”

“Surname Song, just call me Officer Song,” she said as she got closer. A strong and overpowering odor of sweaty feet filled the air; no wonder no one else wanted to come over.

Song Yuhang remained unfazed and took out a photo from her briefcase. “Take a look; is this your daughter?”

Of course, she couldn’t show her the gruesome crime scene. The photo taken by the criminal investigators showed fragments of clothing the girl was wearing and her shoes.

“Ptui, ptui,” the woman spat out sunflower seed shells on the ground. After picking at her feet, she reached out and took the photo from her.

“Yes, yes, but she’s not my daughter. I’m her aunt.”

She pointed at the photo with her finger, her face devoid of any sadness. “These clothes were leftovers that I wore, and the shoes, I found them in the garbage heap…”

Under the watchful eyes of the two detectives across from her, the woman patted her mouth and said, “Ptui, ptui, ptui, why bother telling you all this.”

“Do you have any other family members at home?” asked the criminal investigator sitting beside her.

The woman shook her head and picked up some more sunflower seeds. “No, no, my sister left home to work when she was barely a teenager. She met a heartless man who got her pregnant and then abandoned her. She didn’t survive long after giving birth.”

“Hasn’t the child’s father contacted you all these years?”

“No, he disappeared a long time ago. I felt sorry for my sister and for the child. She started following me when she was still nursing.”

At this point, a hint of sorrow appeared on the woman’s face. “I had hoped she would finish junior high school and not have to work to support the family. How did this suddenly…”

The woman let out a deep sigh and put the sunflower seeds back in the plate. “Officer, I heard that she was crushed to death. Will there be compensation? How much compensation?”

“…”

Song Yuhang remained unfazed, her brow not even slightly furrowed. “We don’t know that. The specific outcome will depend on the court’s decision.”

Just then, Fang Xin knocked on the door and walked in. She leaned in and whispered in her ear, “The DNA test results are out.”

Song Yuhang nodded in understanding and then turned back to ask, “Has your niece had any thoughts of suicide recently?”

The woman cracked sunflower seeds as she replied, “Not that I know of. She’s not very talkative and doesn’t share much with us. But I’ve been to her school for a few parent-teacher meetings, and the teachers said she’s been doing well in her studies. There’s no reason for her to commit suicide.”

Song Yuhang’s gaze shifted to a necklace hidden beneath the woman’s collar. “Could you take us to your home?”

The woman’s face displayed some impatience, but while Song Yuhang’s words were delicate, her tone left no room for refusal.

“Fine, fine, it’s such a hassle. After the burial, they should just compensate us for what we’re owed. Why go through all this trouble?”

Song Yuhang didn’t bother explaining further, and several detectives followed her as they made their way out, whispering among themselves.

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“That’s it, if it were me, I’d commit suicide too.”

Suicide?

Song Yuhang’s thoughts drifted back to that day on the rooftop. She couldn’t shake the feeling that the person in black and that farewell letter were not mere coincidences.

******

The woman’s home was located in the farthest corner of the West City District, deep in the outskirts, where the cement road only extended to the village entrance. The road had become muddy and impassable in the past couple of days due to recent rainfall. Their vehicle had gotten stuck, so the group had no choice but to wade through the muddy water.

Most of the people living here were quite impoverished. Houses were low and humble, with electric wires crisscrossing haphazardly above. The air carried the faint scent of chicken and cow dung. Occasionally, a few emaciated stray dogs ran by the roadside, and in the distance, the faint sounds of roosters crowing could be heard. It took a considerable distance before a flickering streetlight struggled to illuminate the path. Here, life could end abruptly at any moment.

Under the dim yellow light, there was a dark, seemingly colorless table. A few elderly men sat around it, playing cards. Some puffed on their tobacco pipes, while others smoked rolled cigarettes. A few half-sized kids squatted nearby, playing with the mud on the ground. One of them picked up a cigarette butt from the ground and took a drag, immediately breaking into a fit of coughing.

The old men burst into laughter.

Song Yuhang glanced in their direction, and as some of the idlers noticed her arrival, they hastily pocketed their loose change from the table. With a toothy grin, the woman in the lead among them greeted her.

“Hey, Xiuzhen, what’s going on? Why do you have police officers with you?”

Wang Xiuzhen let out a sigh and said, “Oh, you know, people can’t speak kindly about others all the time. What trouble could I possibly get into? It’s just that my unfortunate niece passed away. Well, being dead is better, at least she’s free from poverty.”

Duan Cheng, feeling outraged, was about to step forward, but Fang Xin held him back firmly. “How can she talk like this? Is she even human?”

Fang Xin shot him a glance. “We’re here for the case, don’t get involved in other matters.”

They crossed the muddy path at the village entrance, turned left around a small field, and soon arrived at Wang Xiuzhen’s home.

The house was lit, and a dirty stray dog was tied up in front of the door. As soon as they approached, it began barking loudly.

Song Yuhang glanced at the light. “Is there someone inside?”

Wang Xiuzhen hurried over to quiet the dog and pushed open the iron gate. “Yes, yes, my son is studying at home.”

Song Yuhang followed her across the threshold. “What about your husband?”

“He works as a carpenter in the provincial capital and doesn’t come home often. Normally, it’s just me, my niece, and my son at home.”

The woman turned around and loudly called her son’s name, asking him to turn on the light in the main room.

Her son, wearing a sleeveless shirt, emerged from the outdoor toilet, saying, “Mom, what’s going on?”

“You little rascal, every time you come out of the toilet, you leave the lights on inside! I swear I could wring your ears.” She said this as she was about to grab his ear, and the boy dodged while letting out a series of yelps.

“There are guests here, can’t you refrain from making a scene?”

Only then did the woman reluctantly release her grip, smiling apologetically at Song Yuhang. “Officers, please have a seat inside.”

“No need, where is He Miao’s room?”

He Miao was the deceased victim in this case, who had tragically committed suicide by jumping from a building and was subsequently run over by a vehicle.

A hint of unease flickered across the woman’s face, but under Song Yuhang’s gaze, she reluctantly led them into the house.

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The living room was not large, with two spacious bedrooms on either side, where the couple lived. On the right was her son’s room. As they reached the end of the living room, the woman pushed open a wooden door, causing dust to fall steadily.

Fang Xin covered her mouth and coughed, brushing away the flying dust. She then realized that this was a cluttered room of less than 8 square meters, filled with all sorts of odds and ends, as well as some vegetables that had been stored for goodness knows how long, emitting a musty odor.

In the middle of the room, there was a bunk bed with some worn-out bedding on the bottom and various items piled on top.

In front of the bed, there was a small low table, and the owner’s unfinished work was spread out on it, with scattered books and papers on the floor.

Song Yuhang took gloves from her pocket and put them on. “Let’s get to work.”

The forensic experts got busy, and Fang Xin picked up a few strands of hair from the pillow, putting them in an evidence bag. When she lifted the pillow, a shiny black bug quickly crawled out and disappeared into the darkness between the bed seams.

If it weren’t for Song Yuhang’s presence, Fang Xin would have screamed in terror. She turned pale at the sight of the massive cockroach.

Duan Cheng was also visibly disgusted. “How can anyone live in a place like this?”

The woman stood at the doorway, watching them work. Before leaving the police station, she had even grabbed a handful of sunflower seeds and placed them in her pocket, chewing them loudly.

“Ah, what’s the big deal? People can live here just fine. I used to live in a cowshed when I was a child. Besides, Miao Miao’s brother is about to take the college entrance exam. It’s distracting to live together now.”

The phrase “live together” caught Song Yuhang’s attention, and she paused in her actions. “Could you please call your son over? We need to ask him something.”

“Sure, sure, just do it quickly. My son still needs to study.”

Duan Cheng poked Zheng Chengrui and said, “Hey, the difference between her niece and her own son is like night and day. Her niece stopped going to school after graduating from junior high, but from the looks of it, her son doesn’t seem to have the makings of a scholar.”

Zheng Chengrui adjusted his glasses, and upon hearing the phrase “doesn’t seem to have the makings,” he glanced over, causing Duan Cheng to quickly step back.

“Brother, calm down, I wasn’t talking about you.”

“On the night of May 31st, where were you?” Song Yuhang asked, taking charge of the questioning while the other investigators recorded the conversation.

“I was… studying at home,” he said, glancing at his mother.

“Can anyone vouch for your alibi?”

The woman became displeased upon hearing this. “Oh my, Officer, what do you mean by that? Miao Miao didn’t jump from upstairs herself? Why does it concern my son? Honestly.”

Song Yuhang gave her a glance, her gaze piercing. “Just routine procedure.”

“My… my mom was at home.” The boy seemed a bit bashful but was noticeably tidier than his mother.

“She came back after finishing a card game around seven in the evening and didn’t go out again. I was at home studying too, and she even made some late-night snacks later.”

When others wanted to further inquire, Song Yuhang stopped the conversation. “Fang Xin, collect a DNA sample from him.”

Fang Xin complied, taking out a saliva collection strip from her forensic kit and gesturing for the boy to use it. The boy didn’t hesitate much, complied, and handed it to her.

Fang Xin carefully marked it, then placed it inside an evidence bag.

Song Yuhang lowered her head and entered the room again, using her flashlight to pick up a workbook from the floor. She flipped through a few pages hastily, revealing densely packed math problems interspersed with a few simple cartoon drawings. There was a drawing of a whale that appeared to be a casual doodle from a teenage girl.

She handed the workbook to Fang Xin. “Take it back for handwriting analysis.”

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After inspecting the room, the group walked back along the rural path.

Fang Xin still had some doubts because the DNA analysis of the damaged embryonic tissue had already been completed, and there was no matching sequence found in the genetic database.

This meant that everyone around the girl could potentially be the culprit responsible for her suicide.

She voiced this concern, and Song Yuhang smiled faintly. “Without a time of the crime, did you notice those two sets of tire tracks?”

Following her pointing finger, they saw two distinct sets of tire tracks on the rural road, barely wide enough for a single passenger car to pass through.

She was also a forensic expert in trace analysis. “This is…”

“Yes, traces of a bus. Due to the poor condition of this road, our police car couldn’t enter because of its low chassis, but a bus could. When we passed by the village entrance, I noticed there was a dilapidated bus stop sign with ‘Last bus to the city at 6 PM’ written on it. The Wang family doesn’t have any means of transportation, and it takes over two hours to drive here from the city bureau. They couldn’t have walked that far on foot alone. While it’s possible they borrowed a vehicle from someone else, that’s not very likely and would surely raise suspicion among others. If we put in some effort to inquire, we can definitely find out.”

Fang Xin suddenly understood. Indeed, experience matters.

Song Yuhang checked her watch; it was now 10:15 PM. She turned around and said, “Alright, let’s split into pairs and conduct interviews with the local residents. See if we can gather any new clues.”

******

“Hello, Jiangcheng City Public Security Bureau, have you seen this person?”

“Has she exhibited any unusual behavior recently?”

“Has she ever mentioned anything like not wanting to live to you?”

“What’s her usual personality like? Does she have any suicidal thoughts?”

……

About a dozen detectives split into several groups, going door to door, questioning dozens of local farmers, continuing into the late hours of the night until the moon was high in the sky. They only returned to the village entrance when the dew was heavy and the night was deep.

Song Yuhang was the last one to return, her pants wet from the dew, and she had taken off her uniform jacket, revealing her muscular forearms.

She decided not to go back to the city bureau tonight; inside the police car, the sound of snoring was already prevalent.

She opened the sunroof, lay back on the seat, and looked up at the myriad of stars. In the vastness of the universe, the solitude of an individual always seemed infinitely magnified.

As she gazed, she began to feel a sensation of merging with the cosmos. The gentle evening breeze finally allowed her tightly wound nerves to relax a little. Under the tender embrace of the universe, she gradually closed her eyes.

It was only when the day broke.

******

Lin Yan got out of bed quietly, restored the bedding to its original state, quickly changed out of her patient gown into her regular clothes. She combed her voluminous curly hair back into a ponytail, picked up her bag, put on her flat shoes, and sneaked along the wall toward the exit.

The early morning triage desk was deserted, with nurses dozing off. Lin Yan, wearing sunglasses and a mask, had an unobstructed passage through the corridor.

Goodbye, hospital. She didn’t want to stay there and continue to endure the taste of the meals her aunt sent her every day.

Even though chicken soup tasted good, too much of it made her feel nauseated. After a few more times, she might actually develop an illness. Moreover, the case was far from over, and she couldn’t relax while it remained unresolved.

Just when she was about to escape to freedom by taking a turn, a tall man with hurried steps walked towards her. She was too busy looking back and ended up colliding head-on.

Lin Yan took a few steps back, and the man’s image report scattered all over the floor. As a martial artist, one usually had a stable lower body, but she had been caught off guard and was somewhat surprised.

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“Hey, do you have eyes or not?”

Miss Lin had always had a confrontational style, especially when she encountered someone she considered inconsiderate.

The man squatted down to pick up the scattered image reports. His face was obscured by a mask, but there were a few strands of white hair on his head, suggesting that he was not young.

“Hey, I’m talking to you! Are you mute?”

Lin Yan kept talking incessantly, and the man lifted his head, his eyes bloodshot from a lack of sleep.

A patient?

When this thought flashed through Lin Yan’s mind, the man had already picked up the scattered papers and tucked them under his arm before heading towards the internal medicine department.

Oh, what a pity. He seems to be quite skilled.

Lin Yan made a dismissive sound, and behind her came the roaring of a nurse. “What are you doing, patient at Bed 13? You’re not even fully recovered yet, and you’re already leaving?!”

Uh-oh, the pursuit was on.

Miss Lin swiftly entered the elevator and pressed the close button. As a parting shot, she blew a kiss towards the nurse squeezed in the gap.

The butler’s car was waiting downstairs. Lin Yan opened the car door and got in. “Back to the villa.”

Her clothes were now soured from wearing them all day, and there was a lingering smell of disinfectant in her hair. Lin Yan couldn’t stand it any longer and decided to return home for a shower and a change of clothes.

On the way, she thought about it and sent a brief text message to Lin Ge, editing the story of her discharge to save her mother-in-law an unnecessary trip.

She came out of the shower and walked to the study, taking out a yellowed photograph from a drawer.

It was Chu Nan.

The photo had been given to her by Li Shiping, who had just started teaching chemistry to the first-year students fourteen years ago. At the time, she was an unknown and inexperienced teacher.

But that wasn’t the focal point. The crucial detail was that she was the last person Chu Nan had seen.

A week after the college entrance examination, on the day to collect graduation photos, she hadn’t gone herself, so she had asked Chu Nan to pick it up for her.

This is what Li Shiping had said—

“At that time, the senior high school teachers were short-staffed, so I volunteered to help out in the general affairs office. She arrived very late, took the photo, and left. I remember it clearly because it was already past the office hours, and if she didn’t come soon, I would have had to go home.”

“She seemed to be in a hurry, her footsteps were swift, and it seemed like she had some urgent business. The photo fell out of her folder without her noticing. When I chased after her, all I found was this.”

Lin Yan gazed at the photo, examining it closely. The person in the picture had bright eyes, a radiant smile, and after all these years, this photo still managed to touch the softest corner of her heart.

The brief moment of melancholy caused her to gradually clench her teeth.

Lin Yan closed her eyes for a while, allowing the tense muscles to relax.

She picked up the photo and placed it in an album, which she then locked in a drawer. Then, she sat down and pulled out two sticky notes.

In truth, there was regret in her heart, not just because she and Li Shiping shared a similar fate but also because she hadn’t had the chance to say a simple “thank you” to her.

The morning breeze rustled the window curtains, and sunlight filtered through the French windows, casting a glow on the neatly folded origami cranes.

Lin Yan got up, took her uniform jacket from the hanger, and buttoned it up, one button at a time. Finally, she picked up her wide-brimmed hat, placed it on her head, and adjusted it in front of the mirror. With confident strides, she left the room.



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