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“Has Chief handed us the new cases?”

Shaking his head, Ma Jianguo answered, “Not yet, but I reckon they’ll send it here soon.”

“Thank you,” she told Zu Dong who was bringing her some tea.

Zu Dong gave a courteous smile before returning to his seat.

Just as An Xiaoning was discussing the details with her colleagues, Pan Zhenghui entered.

He brought along two documents in envelopes with him.

“There are two cases?”

“No, just one. This is a case from two months ago, and it’s the worst one we’ve had so far. Due to the fact that the Serious Crimes Unit were unable to crack the case, it wasn’t reported in the news in order to avoid ruining their image. But this case really gets one’s hackles up. I reckon you’re the only one who can crack it,” said Pan Zhenghui as he placed the document envelopes onto the table.

An Xiaoning retrieved the case file from the envelope and perused its content. Seeing one of the photographs, her brows furrowed into a frown as she asked, “What is this pot of spare ribs broth…”

“It’s broth made with human meat… it seems the murderer was extremely skilled in cleaning up the crime scene. The autopsy report also showed that the victim’s bones were severed in a very precise manner, which is not something the average citizen can achieve easily,” Pan Zhenghui said with much disgust.

An Xiaoning was repulsed at the thought of the revolting scene of a human being slaughtered alive.

“When I arrived at the scene to carry out investigations… I threw up immediately. The murderer must be a psychopathic maniac,” said a nauseated Pan Zhenghui.

“There are so many dark sides to today’s society, and people with twisted minds are rampant as well nowadays,” An Xiaoning remarked as she continued to read the details of the case.

“Thank god you’ve come back yourself. If you were absent for any longer, we would’ve gone to look for you.”

“I haven’t been feeling too well of late actually, but I’ll do my best. Besides…” An Xiaoning looked up at Pan Zhenghui before continuing, “I’ve developed some martial arts skills after training at the boot camp academy for close to five months, which also means three out of four of us in this unit are capable of defending ourselves. Isn’t that rather reassuring?”

“That’s true, Oldie Ma is the only one we have to worry about then…” Pan Zhenghui agreed.

“Hey, I’m already forty-odd years old. I don’t want to start training and toughening myself up, now that I already have one foot in the grave.”

“Alright, I’ll hand the case to you guys then. You may discuss when you’d like to begin carrying out investigations. I’m heading back to my office.” Pan Zhenghui then exited through the door before closing it behind him.

“The victim’s name is Wu Changqing. Female, 24 years old. Her parents were divorced since she was young and have since went on to rebuild a family of their own each, separately. She was raised by her grandmother. It says here that she used to be a rebellious teenager, according to the accounts of her classmates. Is that so?” An Xiaoning said to Ma Jianguo.

“Yes, she had apparently been severely deprived of parental love, which was the main cause of her rebellious nature from a young age. Ever since her grandmother was plagued with illness, she cut off all contact with her classmates and friends completely. We’ve found out from Wu Changqing’s workplace that she had been moonlighting as a social escort at a certain nightclub, perhaps because it pays well. We also heard from her grandmother that Wu Changqing had given her a lot of money for her medical treatment, during the few months before her death.”

“The peculiar thing we discovered was a text message her uncle received. Take a look at the photo attached in the message,” he added.

An Xiaoning took a look at the caption attached to the photo in the message, which read: “Grandma, I’ll be leaving the city to go overseas to work. I’ll take good care of myself. Love, Changqing.”

“According to Wu Changqing’s uncle, this phone number had indeed belonged to his mother, but the latter had given it to him a few months ago. The reason being, her hearing has become poor due to her old age and she won’t be able to hear any phone calls. Besides, she’s also illiterate, thus, there was no way she could ever read or understand text messages. These are matters-of-fact that Wu Changqing knew clearly. She would only ever call to speak to her grandmother, and she was also aware that the phone number now belonged to her uncle. Thus, she would have definitely mentioned for her uncle to relay the message, instead of directly addressing her grandmother, should she ever send a text message. Hence, this was why her family decided to make a police report,” Ma Jianguo explained.

An Xiaoning expressed assent and continued to flip to the remaining pages of the case file. She then realized that the murderer had left the pot of human meat broth at the scene intentionally for the police to find.

“Since the murderer had sent that text message, why did he or she still want us to find out that the broth was made with Wu Changqing’s body? Isn’t that a little contradicting?”

“This is exactly why the murderer is psychotic. Perhaps he wanted to play hide-and-seek with the police, thinking that it’s impossible for us to find him.”

“That’s one possibility. I’m afraid we’ll only get to the bottom of the truth when we manage to nab the murderer.”

An Xiaoning looked at them in a serious manner while sticking out her index finger. “I’ll assign the three of you to your respective tasks. Firstly, you’ll have to obtain Wu Changqing’s birth characters, followed by the total amount of money she’s earned at the nightclub. Oh and also, remember to ask her grandmother how much money Wu Changqing had given her. Thirdly, since we can’t find anything from her text message history on her phone, we’ll have to search for other clues online, just like how we did for the murder case involving the 17-year-old girl previously. We mustn’t leave this out. Lastly, carry out careful and detailed investigations on the people around Wu Changqing. Find out about her personality traits other than her rebellious nature and the hobbies she enjoyed in her free time. I want to know all of that,” she instructed.

“Got it! We’ll complete the task for sure!” Ma Jianguo, Zu Dong, and Gong Le chorused.

An Xiaoning then began driving home after assigning the tasks to them.

She had completely lost her appetite for dinner, probably because of the revolting photo she had seen earlier.

Upon arriving home, 007 served An Xiaoning a bowl of freshly-boiled herbal soup. Pinching her nose, she gulped it down in one sitting before proceeding to rinse her mouth.

“Ms. An, what would you like to eat? I’ll prepare it for you.”

“I don’t feel like eating anything. You may return to your room to get some rest.”

An Xiaoning laid onto the couch, too exhausted to move an inch.

Her eyelids began to feel heavy as she eased into a comfortable position. Soon after, she fell asleep and drifted off to dreamland.

Sensing something unusual, she opened her eyes immediately.

An Xiaoning heaved a sigh of relief upon seeing Jin Qingyan, who covered her with a blanket.

“Didn’t you already drop by yesterday? Why are you here again tonight?”

“I had dinner yesterday, but I’ll still have to eat again today, don’t I?” Jin Qingyan said smugly.

“Twisted logic.”

“Why don’t you go upstairs to sleep since you’re tired?”

Sleepy-eyed, An Xiaoning sat up straight and asked, “Have you had dinner?”

“No.”

“Neither have I. I went to the police station earlier and caught sight of a repulsive photo of the crime scene. It absolutely ruined my appetite,” she said sluggishly.

“Let me see what you have in your refrigerator,” said Jin Qingyan as he stood up and began walking towards the kitchen.

An Xiaoning did not stop him and instead remained seated on the couch quietly, hugging her knees. All of a sudden, she heard some noises coming from the kitchen.