The door was locked
In modern times, most people lose contact with each other when they turn off their devices.
The roadblocks at the crash site had long been cleared. The rain had stopped at dawn and the sun had risen.
Xue Xianqing, who had been busy all night, was waiting antsily by the roadside. She had dialed Zong Ying’s number a dozen times. At the beginning, she had still heard the low sound of the dial tone. However, after a while, Zong Ying appeared to have turned her phone off entirely. This had never happened before.
Thus, she gave up on dialing Zong Ying’s phone and resorted to calling her apartment instead – there was still no answer. It was only when she finally rang apartment 699 that she heard the steady beep of the phone ringing. Just as she grew frustrated and was about to hang up, the beeping stopped abruptly. It was replaced by the sound of the call being picked up…
She was so angry that she could feel her veins pop. “What the hell! Are you out of your mind? Did you turn off the phone on purpose?”
However, the voice that responded was that of a young man. He said lightly, “Hello, may I know who it is you’re looking for? I can take a message for you.”
It was completely out-of-the-ordinary.
She checked her phone’s display again – it clearly showed that it was the landline number for flat 699.
The person on the other end asked again in a conciliatory manner, “May I know who this is?”
It was like adding oil to an already blazing fire, and Xue Xuanqing only felt her anxiety grow.
When she spoke again, she enunciated every word. “Who are you? Put Zong Ying on the phone!”
It was 5:58 a.m. when the other party hung up with a click.
All she could hear was a sharp beeping from the other line. Xue Xuanqing stood stock-still for a moment, stunned. She dialed again, only to be told that the line was busy – the other party had left the receiver empty.
It was 5.58 am when Zong Ying returned to flat 699, fumbled with her keys, and opened the door.
Xue Xuanqing could not wrap her head around the reason why she had been inexplicably hung up on. She lifted her dark rain hat and smoothed back her wet hair, revealing her anxious expression.
Xiao Zheng, who had been waiting for a long time, said, “Teacher Xue, let’s go and have breakfast first.” When she didn’t answer, she took the initiative to suggest, “How about some sashimi?”
Xue Xuanqing was in no mood for breakfast, so she fished out her car keys and tossed them to Xiao Zheng. “Go back to the bureau by yourself first. I need to find Zong Ying.”
It was a clear day after a rainy night. There was an endless flow of traffic on the roads, and the streets were abuzz with noise.
At ten past six, Xue Xuanqing squeezed onto the subway to make her way to 699, while Zong Ying sat up from the sofa.
She listened with bated breath, but there was no movement in the room other than the ticking of an old-fashioned desk clock. She opened the coffee table cabinet and dragged out the aluminum investigation case, unlocking it with a click. Then, she put on latex gloves and filled an evidence bottle with warm water from the mug, before putting the mug into the evidence bag and sealing it.
Zong Ying then got up and walked to the kitchen again.
The semi-open space was neat and clean, with an electric kettle on the counter.
The temperature displayed was between forty-five and fifty degrees Celsius. From experience, she knew that boiling water required around twenty minutes, which meant that the person had been in her house at around five in the morning.
The rest of the kitchen was relatively untouched. However, when Zong Ying opened the bin, she found an empty milk carton inside. She plucked it out. The date of manufacture on the seal was marked as2 015-07-21, indicating that the milk had been filled the day before.
After checking the kitchen, Zong Ying went back into the bedroom to look for clues but found nothing.
She turned around and went upstairs. There was only one small room upstairs, which was used as a guest room on weekdays. However, she hardly ever entertained outsiders, and thus had not cleaned it for a long time. As a result, the door handle always had a thin layer of dust on it.
However, the door handle in front of her now was polished to a high shine.
Carefully, she gripped the handle with a latex-gloved hand, intending to open the door. However, it would not budge – it had been locked.
The door was locked.
Zong Ying had never been in the habit of locking her doors.
She patiently extracted the fingerprints from the handle and went downstairs to check the doors and windows one by one – there was no sign of a break-in, meaning that the other party probably had the key to her house.
That was right, the key.
Zong Ying flicked on the foyer light and pulled open the top shelf of the five-drawer cupboard. The spare set of keys she kept inside had disappeared, and some money was missing – the change she usually used to pay for takeaways.
Next to the box, however, was an envelope. Next to it was a black umbrella that had been dried and folded.
Before she had time to take it out, a succession of hard raps rang out from the door. From outside, Xue Xuanqing panted loudly, “Open the door, or I’ll have someone come and break it down!”
Zong Ying stepped forward to open the door and was met with two hard slaps to the face. “You’re at home and you turned off your phone! Who turns off their phone at home!”
“I forgot to charge it.” Zong Ying said frankly.
“You must have done it on purpose!” Much of Xue Xuanqing’s worry had dissipated upon seeing Zong Ying, as soon as she spotted Zong Ying’s gloves, she frowned again. “What are you doing?”
“Strengthening my business skills.” Zong Ying replied in a deadpan voice.
“Nonsense, is there a burglar in your house?” She swatted Zong Ying away, entering the room only to see the open investigation box. “Don’t you know how to call the police? What can you prove by extracting physical evidence like this?”
Zong Ying did not respond. Her instincts told her that this was no simple burglary, but she did not want to reveal her thoughts yet.
“Was there any damage?”
Zong Ying remained quiet, and Xue Xuanqing turned to stare at her.
They looked like mirrors of each other. They were both about the same stature and had been up all night, as evidenced by their bloodshot eyes. They were truly in a pathetic state.
“Forget it.” After a moment of confrontation, Xue Xuanqing gave up. “I won’t pry if you’re not willing to tell me.”
She fumbled for her cigarette case, extracting two cigarettes and handing one to Zong Ying. “What time did you arrive home?”
“Nearly six o’clock.” Zong Ying replied as she accepted the cigarette.
She remembered very clearly that the desk clock in the house had rung six times as she had laid down on the sofa.
“Then I need to tell you-” Xue Xuanqing opened her phone to show her call log to Zong Ying. “At five fifty-seven, I called the landline here. A man answered the phone, but hung up suddenly on me at five fifty-eight.”
“What did he say?”
It was an effort to force her overworked brain to recall the man’s words. After a beat, Xue Xuanqing said, “Hello, may I know who it is you’re looking for? I can take a message for you.”