After Feng Huan, the others took turns to look at it with the magnifying glass. Sure enough, they could see the dust clearly.
The education officer who was responsible for assisting da sicheng, affirmed, “Tai Xue attaches great importance to cleanliness. Every day, the zhaichang1“斋长” (zhaichang) refers to the student who is responsible for various things such as dishing punishment to students who break the rules (around 30 students are assigned under the zhaichang). would inspect the rooms, and if the windowsill was contaminated with dust, that student would be punished. Looking at the pattern, it truly looks similar to the sole of a shoe. I think someone entered through the window, and it should not be any earlier than yesterday.”
Fang Xiang added hastily, “As Tai Xue students, we pay great attention to etiquette, so usually, no one would use the window just to enter. More importantly, people are going back and forth all the time. If someone attempted this, it would be known.”
As life in Tai Xue was dull, any signs of disturbances and troubles would usually be spread by mouth everywhere. After all, the skill of circulating juicy gossip was not entirely above the common people.
Official DaWei’s expression was not good. “This sole print cannot prove that Han Chuan is innocent. If we cannot find other suspects, Han Chuan will still be unable to refute his connection to the case.”
Han Chuan’s heart felt as if it was going up and down. As he heard that there was hope for him, he did not look as lost as before. “The killer is definitely not me! I am willing to swear by my parents that I cleaned up carefully yesterday. It is impossible for the windowsill to be contaminated with such thick dust.”
Official DaWei coldly snorted, “If that is so, who can then prove that you are not intentionally misleading us?”
Han Chuan smiled bitterly. “Yesterday, I was with Yuan LiangJun. If there was such abnormal behavior from me, he would have noticed and told everyone.”
Da sicheng knitted his eyebrows. “If the killer is not Han Chuan, it will be one of the people in Tai Xue.”
For Tai Xue, no outsider was allowed to enter and leave so easily. If one wanted to meet guests, there was even a special place for entry. Generally, each building was managed independently, and there were about 80 people each. For the murderer to be so familiar with the surroundings while also managing to kill Yuan LiangJun and place the blame on Han Chuan, he was unlikely to be a stranger.
“The deceased died between choushi and yinshi, so I am going to find out who was not in their building at that time. Da sicheng, please call all the students here for me to conduct an inquiry,” said Official DaWei. Although he still believed that the murderer was Han Chuan, he could not stand around and do nothing at this point.
At that time, most were asleep, so they were unsure whether the people in their room were there or not. Nonetheless, it was fortunate that every night, the door between each building was closed, or there would have been more subjects to be investigated.
Ignoring what was going on at the other side, Zhuang Zhong continued to investigate. In the past, the law clearly stipulated that the forensic examiner must make a detailed record of the investigation process carried out at the scene to lay a solid foundation for the follow-up work. Most of the time, these seemingly trivial data might affect the nature and direction taken to solve the case. They were also first-hand evidence that one needed to take seriously.
At present, it was a pity there were not many clues and even fewer valuable ones in the room. As Zhuang Zhong wiped off the sweat on his forehead with his elbow, he picked up the knife and thought of Feng Huan, who had been sticking around.
“Your Highness, the scent of blood is strong here, and with your identity, it is not good for you to smell too much of it. Why don’t you go out for some fresh air first?”
Feng Huan squinted. “What are you planning to do that cannot be revealed to others?”
Zhuang Zhong replied with a sincere expression, “I just care about Your Highness.”
Feng Huan was stunned, and his voice turned muffled. “Just investigate and stop talking.”
When Zhuang Zhong saw that Feng Huan refused to leave, he could only ignore him and picked up the knife to carefully examine with his magnifying glass. Between the crevices of the knife sheath and hilt, he noticed some white powder. He carefully scraped the powder into a small spoon with a periosteal elevator2 The author used “骨膜分离器” which I managed to find some variations in English for it. I chose the periosteum elevator in the end cause it had seemed like something that a forensic examiner would use (mainly used to lift full-thickness soft tissue flaps).. The function of the spoon was to retrieve the contents of the deceased’s stomach and the accumulated water and blood in the cranial cavity, chest, and abdominal cavity. It essentially allowed one to estimate the volume with each scoop.
“This thing… it is like flour? Hey, what are you doing!” Finding it inconceivable, Zhuang Zhong stared with widened eyes as Feng Huan dabbed a little and placed it in his mouth!
Feng Huan affirmed, “It is flour.”
Zhuang Zhong was extremely speechless. “You are suicidal.”
Feng Huan wiped his hands with a handkerchief. “My life is not that easy to lose.”
“Do not do it again next time. Who knows what dirty things were in it?” Zhuang Zhong’s mouth twitched as he thought that this person was really too ridiculous and bold. “Have you ever eaten flour? How can you be so sure?”
Feng Huan’s eyes flashed. “I just know.”
Zhuang Zhong felt doubtful, but when he saw Feng Huan’s arrogant appearance, he was not that interested in asking. “If we look at its color, the powder was not mixed with too much dust, and it should have been contaminated not too long ago. As flour can only be found in the kitchen or grain shop, the murderer should have been in and out of those places beforehand to be contaminated with it.”
At this time, in line with his speedy reputation, Official DaWei seemed to have discovered something from his inquiry too. When Zhuang Zhong was called for, he noticed the people in the hall seemed to be at a loss, but it was not something out of his expectations.
Official DaWei pointed to Jiang Xun and asked, “Is this man rooming with you? Was he in the room between choushi and yinshi last night?”
Jiang Xun’s eyes were dull, and there was none of his usual sharpness at all. Appearing to be seemingly stunted, his eyes were also fixed to a place, without blinking. Beside him stood Tang BaiShan with a face of distress. When he saw Zhuang Zhong, he gave him a bitter smile.
Zhuang Zhong sighed, “Yesterday, when Jiang Xun came back, I was already asleep and only vaguely heard some sound. I am not very certain about the specific time, but it was at least after zishi3 “子时” (zishi) is the period of the day from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., around choushi.”
“Around choushi, this student headed to the latrine and saw the silhouette of Jiang Xun near the building of the deceased. The gatekeeper of the library also said that Jiang Xun came out just after the choushi, later than usual.” Official DaWei then turned to Jiang Xun. “Jiang Xun, why did you appear around Yuan LiangJun’s building at that time? The route between the library to your residence does not require you to pass through here.”
When Jiang Xun heard Yuan LiangJun’s name, he was shaking and said in a trance, “Yuan LiangJun… is dead… dead…”
Official DaWei increased the volume of his voice, “Jiang Xun, did you enter from the window last night to kill Yuan LiangJun, then shifted the blame to Han Chuan? During the daytime, you had a dispute with Yuan LiangJun and foretold that he would have a short life. Did you have the intention to kill him then?”
Suddenly, Jiang Xun looked up to the sky and laughed, “Hahaha, short life. You really had a short life! There is no one who can surpass me anymore! The heavens were so unfair to give you everything, while I had to work hard to barely be of the same status as you. Despite never being serious when studying and playing every day, you are as good as me! Everyone said that you are intelligent, and if you were willing to work harder, you could make great achievements. However, to me, they only said that my talent was fair, and it was due to my diligence. It was implicated that I could never be compared to you! However, now I am stronger than you at last. I will have a longer life than you!”
Even though Jiang Xun was laughing, tears fell from his eyes. It was unclear whether he was laughing or crying and whether he was happy or sad. As he cried and laughed at the same time, his whole person appeared insane. When he suddenly ran around in the yard, onlookers chased after him, but he avoided them. Not too long after, he then fell to the ground and fainted.
The onlookers did not expect such a thing to happen. Before that, Jiang Xun had just appeared dull, and they had thought that he was frightened by Yuan LiangJun’s death. It had never crossed their minds that he would become possessed while speaking such suspicious words.
Zhuang Zhong was the first to react. “Quick, call the doctor.”
Tang BaiShan, who stood on one side, had a blank face. “This… what is going on? The words Jiang Xun said just now, is it… no, that is impossible. Although his words are usually unforgiving, he is actually the most fragile. The reason why he said those words yesterday was because of a letter he received. It said that his father had broken his leg and could not work anymore. If he could not be conferred as an official in this public examination, his family would not be able to hold on, making him feel depressed. So when he saw Yuan LiangJun, who was carefree, he could not help but make a few taunting remarks. He would not target Yuan LiangJun and would never poison him.”
Official DaWei said coldly, “Humph, this means that it is more likely to be Jiang Xun as, without Yuan LiangJun, there is one lesser competitor. Moreover, just now, he himself had admitted to killing Yuan LiangJun, so that is that. Jiang Xun killed Yuan LiangJun due to jealousy, and during the day, he even once told Yuan LiangJun that he would have a short life. Jiang Xun has truly ruined his future.”
Zhuang Zhong also did not expect that Jiang Xun would have such an intense reaction. He thought Jiang Xun was suspicious but did not expect him to turn insane because of it. However, despite the underlying meaning in Jiang Xun’s words, it was still too hasty to make a final decision now. After all, Jiang Xun was naturally harsh, and it was normal for him to sprout nonsense after being shaken.
“Wait a minute, Jiang Xun was just shaken, and his mood was unstable. Those words just now do not mean that he killed him. If you want to convict him, you would have to wait for him to explain the situation when he gains consciousness before doing so.”
Official DaWei became very impatient, thinking, how could Zhuang Zhong cause so many problems. How could settling a case be so troublesome? If that were so, the cases in the Yamen would have piled up to as high as a mountain.
“The sole print is there. It has been proven that he once appeared near Yuan LiangJun’s building around choushi, and he admitted that he was jealous of Yuan LiangJun. The evidence is irrefutable, and the witness has testified, so what else is there to investigate? The case can be concluded now, so why are we dragging this out?”
Zhuang Zhong was speechless, and he finally understood where the title of “master of solving cases” given to Official DaWei came from. What he deduced was not the truth, but to find someone who was willing to bear the consequences for the case, pacifying the higher-ups. As for who was wronged and who was the real murderer, he did not care. Like this, everything would be easier. As long as one did not worry about their own conscience, one can solve the case quickly, get promoted, and make a fortune. No wonder Feng Huan said he would only make trouble!
To allow such unjust officials to continue for one more day was to let even more people suffer from injustice. Zhuang Zhong found such a person who only cared for his official position and did not do well to be the most intolerable. Perhaps, Official DaWei might not be as selfless as his father, who was willing to sacrifice his own life to ensure the safety of others, devoting his whole life conscientiously and silently in his own post. Even then, he should not defy the law like this and view people’s lives as something trivial!
The more Zhuang Zhong thought about it, the more exuberant he felt. As he recalled that Official DaWei had dealt with countless cases, which implied many people could have been wronged, he could no longer help roaring, “Jiang Xun has gone demented, so how reliable could his words be? He only showed up near the building, and no one saw him come in and kill the deceased. How can we resolve this case so rashly when it is full of holes? We have to at least wait for him to wake up and clearly explain how he got Han Chuan’s knife and how he performed the murder. Only when there are no chances of mistakes can we make a final conclusion. Otherwise, if the real murderer is not Jiang Xun, he is not qualified to be substituted as so! It is the duty of an official to judge right and wrong, not to find someone who is willing to take responsibility!”
Pa Pa Pa——
Everyone present applauded. Da sicheng nodded and said in relief, “This is the way to be an official. We should not just strive for career progression and forget the purpose.”
Official DaWei’s face darkened, but he was surrounded by too many Tai Xue students. If he did not handle this properly, he could be pulled down on the spot. After all, some things could be done but could not be said. Otherwise, why were there no doubts when he had broken so many cases by such means?
“If Jiang Xun is not the murderer, who is it?”
Zhuang Zhong was indignant. “How many times have I said that before the case is finally concluded, everyone is a suspect. Like Han Chuan before, Jiang Xun is not fully ruled of suspicion. It is just that we cannot make a hasty decision when the evidence is insufficient. Only when the evidence is solid, and we can truthfully perceive the situation at that time can we deduce someone’s crime. Otherwise, everything is just one’s own inference.”
Zhuang Zhong turned to Tang BaiShan. “Are you sure that the man you saw last night was Jiang Xun? Do repeat what happened last night without any omission.”
Tang BaiShan recalled carefully. “My stomach has not been good since I was a child, and I would easily get a stomachache when I eat new food. Yesterday, I ate the tadpole noodles, and I had trouble with my stomach at night. At choushi, it was the third time I got up. As soon as I went out, there was a gust of wind, and I seemed to have heard something. It scared me, and I almost…” He coughed a little before proceeding. “At that time, I even yelled, “Who is it?” and when I looked in the direction of the sound, I saw that Jiang Xun was looking this way. I was very surprised that Jiang Xun would appear around here so late, but the pain in my stomach was unbearable, so I did not ask any more questions. In the end, I went to the latrine first, and when I came out again, there was no sign of him.”
Usually, Tang BaiShan was too shy to broach such topics. However, as it was a matter of great importance, he said the scene in great detail before turning red in the face. Even then, at this junction, no one had the heart to laugh at him, which allowed him to slowly calm down. His roommates also testified for him, confirming that he got up four times last night and did not get well until he took medicine in the morning. The doctor could also testify, and the dregs of the medicinal decoction were still present.
Official DaWei asked, “How could you see so clearly last night?”
Tang BaiShan replied, “Last night, it was cloudless, and the moon was very bright. There were also no structures on that route, so one could see clearly with the moonlight. Besides, I know Jiang Xun very well, so I can recognize him at a glance.”
At this moment, Feng Huan, who had been silent this whole time, said, “Now, go to the scene and act out what happened last night.”
- 1“斋长” (zhaichang) refers to the student who is responsible for various things such as dishing punishment to students who break the rules (around 30 students are assigned under the zhaichang).
- 2The author used “骨膜分离器” which I managed to find some variations in English for it. I chose the periosteum elevator in the end cause it had seemed like something that a forensic examiner would use (mainly used to lift full-thickness soft tissue flaps).
- 3“子时” (zishi) is the period of the day from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.