Chapter 1: A Strange Homicide
Every city always has a few brightly-lit spots full of glitz and glamour. But just beyond the bright lights, one can always find one or two dimly-lit alleys where a few women loiter about, wearing lots of make-up and little else. These women are either standing lazily on the street or leaning up against a wall, gazing at every single man who walks by. Some of the men hurry along, while others quickly disappear with the women into the night. These women belong to what is often called the world's oldest profession. It's said they've been around since the dawn of Chinese civilization, during the Shang and Zhou dynasties.
A-Jiao was a woman who was happy to be engaged in this line of business. She was quite young and certainly attractive. As such, there were always men willing to strike up a conversation with her when she was standing out in her alley, which naturally means that her earnings were quite good. For A-Jiao, today was just like any other day, standing with her “sisters” in the alley as they impatiently waited for clients. Every day felt like Groundhog Day. They stood in the same spot, had the same companions, and even worked in the same place, on a dirty bed in a dilapidated building deep inside the alley.
“You want a massage?” A-Jiao asked a man walking past her, casually trying to engage him. None of the men who walked these alleys were squeaky-clean, save for the few familiar faces who lived in the area, so it never hurt to ask them such questions. Some of the shyer men would immediately follow her into a room as soon as they heard her voice. Unfortunately, this one was a disappointment and quickly walked away.
“Hey beautiful! You working tonight?” asked a heavily-built man as he walked towards A-Jiao.
“Yeah!” A-Jiao replied crisply. “What kind of services do you want?” She shot a quick glance at the man. To be quite honest, she didn’t really care for muscular men. Her job wasn't about satisfying her own needs. It was all about satisfying the needs of others, and those men with body image issues were more likely to be clients, so A-Jiao naturally gravitated towards the skinnier-looking men.
“A-Jiao, can you let me take this one?” her friend Xiaomei asked while standing behind her. Not all women entered this profession because they were bored or were lured into it by human traffickers. Some of them were like A-Jiao, working for the fun of it. Others, like Xiaomei, did this job voluntarily because they lacked better alternatives. Xiaomei came from a poor family, and she desperately needed money, so she entered this profession purely out of her own volition.
“Say, handsome! What do you think of the pretty lady standing behind me here instead?” A-Jiao casually pointed towards Xiaomei. She had a casual look on her face, as though she weren't suggesting anything unusual. “Take a look. She’s younger than I am, and she hasn't been in the business as long as I have. If you think she’s alright, then the two of you go off and play together.”
“Sounds good,” the man agreed as he looked at Xiaomei. Not all of the men who came here wanted to get down to business right this second, like some kind of hungry sex fiend. Of course, you won’t find any real gentlemen here either. Those that came here did so purely to satisfy their sexual desires. Otherwise, who would risk coming to a place like this? Xiaomei looked at A-Jiao gratefully before leading the man inside the building behind them.
“Go on, then!” A-Jiao quietly muttered to herself. “Doing it all day long. Aren’t you afraid it’s gonna rot out?” But even though she muttered to herself, she wasn’t really upset with Xiaomei. After all, she was the one who agreed to hand over the client. Besides, she also sympathized with Xiaomei. It wasn't an easy thing for a young girl to come out here and do this type of work to support her poverty-stricken family.
This night seemed especially cold. After Xiaomei left, A-Jiao was the only one left in the alley. “Fuck, it’s cold!” cursed A-Jiao. As she spoke, she unconsciously rubbed her hands against her thighs and then folded her arms across her chest. Sigh, you can’t just go back inside and rest if you’re not with a client. Even though she didn’t need the money, she rather liked standing out there doing this unseemly work. Perhaps she did it out of delight, just for sheer spite, along with the kind of pleasure that only a stranger could bring.
“Ahhhhh!” shot out a young girl’s scream, followed by a strange sound that could only be made from deep inside the throat. Both these sounds came from inside the building. Standing at the entrance, A-Jiao felt a tingling sensation on her scalp as beads of cold sweat dripped down her neck. That was definitely Xiaomei’s voice, but how wretched she sounded. What had happened? A-Jiao's heart raced as she rushed across the street towards a storefront on the other side of the alley. “A-Shun! A-Tie! Get out here! Something’s happened!”
When they heard A-Jiao’s cries, two burly men bolted through the storefront’s unlatched door. Both of them held makeshift melee weapons as though they were ready for a fight. They stormed into the building across the street and, with A-Jiao’s help, made their way to Xiaomei’s room. A-Tie kicked down the door to the room, which made a loud "bang" sound as it hit the floor. Both he and A-Shun then dashed inside, but what they saw there immediately stopped these two otherwise hardened men in their tracks.
A-Jiao followed them into the room, not just to see what had happened, but also out of concern for Xiaomei. We can’t keep letting men bully such a poor woman, she thought angrily as she squeezed her way past her two stupefied pimps. “AH!” she cried out fearfully as she looked at the scene in the room. Her eyes glazed over, and she stumbled her way back against a wall. She slowly slid down the wall onto the floor and felt like she didn’t have a bone left in her body.
Half an hour later, the police arrived on the scene. A-Shun was the one who had called them. There were instances of girls dying in this alley in the past, but A-Shun and A-Tie had never called the police before, since men like them had to play a constant game of cat and mouse with law enforcement. Besides, this was a special profession, and women dying while working this job was a common occurrence. Whenever one died, the pimps would simply find a remote place to dump or bury the body. These women already lived lowly lives while they were alive, so there was no reason to dignify them in death. Nobody was going to give them grand funerals. Given such circumstances, there was no point in making a big deal out of their deaths.
But this time, it was different. Not only did the girl die, but the client died as well. Furthermore, the circumstances of their deaths were very strange indeed.
Inspector Jiang Zhengkai was the police officer in charge of criminal investigations in this area. That meant he was the commander of the district police sub-bureau’s investigative division. Although he was only thirty-five years old, he was already a sixteen year veteran of the force. Assigned to countless major cases, Jiang Zhengkai was nevertheless so shocked by what he saw at the scene of the crime that he couldn’t help but open his mouth in horror.
The crime scene room was like nothing he'd ever seen. There were no traces of blood and no signs of a struggle. All one could see were two skeletons wrapped in human skin on the bed, forever frozen in the positions of a man and a woman in mid-intercourse. The man’s head pointed upwards, and his mouth was open ever so slightly. It was apparent that he had not suffered in the last moments of his life. However, the woman’s mouth was wide open, as were her eyes. Clearly, she had experienced a sudden terror right before she died. Therefore, from their condition, one could obviously deduce that the man died first, followed by the woman.
“Have you found anything at the scene?” Jiang Zhengkai asked the other police officers around him as he finished reviewing the two bodies.
“No, Inspector Jiang. Everything appears normal,” answered Sergeant Zhang Nan, who commanded the neighborhood police station. “From what we can see here, although there are quite a lot of footprints, they appear to have been left by people who had previously entered the room. From the time the victims entered the room until the arrival of the caller, there does not appear to have been anyone else who entered this room through this door. The windows don't seem to be damaged, and they only open from the inside, so we can eliminate the possibility that someone came in through the window. Furthermore, according to the caller, he was the one who kicked down the door. We inspected the door lock, and it looks like it also locks from the inside.”
“Where are the officers who first arrived on scene?” Jiang Zhengkai asked. He nodded his head in approval, since everything he just heard matched up perfectly with his own estimations. As for the victims' clothing and personal items, Jiang Zhengkai had no need to ask Zhang Nan about them.They were piled neatly on a nearby table, with two police officers wearing rubber gloves intently going through them.
“They went back to the station to receive psychological counseling.” Zhang Nan shrugged his shoulders as he answered. “A couple of new cops. They’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“And where’s the caller?” Jiang Zhengkai asked with furrowed brows. He couldn’t help but think that new officers these days had stronger brains but weaker stomachs.
“Oh, them?” Zhang Nan hesitated for a second. “They’ve all been taken back to the station.”
“How many in total?” Jiang Zhengkai asked.
“Three. Two men, one woman,” Zhang Nan replied.
“Good! Let’s go back to the station then,” Jiang Zhengkai said, as he waved his hand in the direction of the police station.