Today's Reading

They return to the bedroom. Lu unzips the plastic wardrobe. He finds a bipolar assortment of apparel—half somber working clothes and half chic outfits. Lu guesses the former belonged to the deceased mother and the latter to the deceased daughter.

"How did Mother Yang die?" Lu asks.

"Don't know, but must have been natural causes or there'd be an incident report. Why? Think it's related to this?"

"Let's just remember to check the death certificate."

While Sergeant Bing roots through the chest of drawers, Lu inspects the vanity. He removes the cloth covering the mirror and finds a strip of photo booth prints showing a young woman striking different poses. It's hard to tell if she's pretty, because the prints are overlaid with fuzzy filters and flourishes—a cartoon cat nose, whiskers, artificially enlarged eyes. But Lu figures this must be Yang Fenfang.

Sitting on top of the vanity are a supply of cosmetics, a hairbrush, two cell phones, one newish and one an older model, and a jewelry box. Lu opens the box. He finds earrings, necklaces, rings. Some of them might be of value, but Lu doesn't have an eye for such things.

He picks up the newer cell phone. It is charged but requires a pass code. The screensaver displays another photo, likewise highly filtered, of Yang Fenfang. The older cell phone is out of power.

Beneath the vanity, resting on the floor, is a purse. Lu tugs it out. He searches for a wallet and finds one. He opens it and removes Yang Fenfang's identity card. He shows it to Sergeant Bing.

"She looks just like Fan Bingbing," is Sergeant Bing's generous assessment.

"Really?" Lu holds the ID card up to the ceiling light and takes a closer look.

Fan Bingbing is famous not only for her beauty and her status as the highest-paid actress in the Chinese film industry but also for mysteriously disappearing from public view after being accused by the government of tax evasion. Rumors spread that she was under house arrest or even that she'd fled to the United States. When she did resurface, ten months later, she issued an apology in typical Chinese fashion: "I failed the country which nurtured me. I failed the society which trusted me. I failed the fans who loved me. I beg everyone's forgiveness!"

Lu half laughs to think about it. Less than a decade ago, Hollywood was the undisputed king of the international box office. Now China is the fastest-growing film industry in the world, with annual revenues and audience numbers that far exceed North America.

And with first-world status comes first-world problems. As the People's Republic is discovering on a daily basis.

While Lu doesn't see the resemblance to Fan Bingbing, he can't deny Yang Fenfang is—was—an attractive young woman. He slips the card into his pocket.

In the chest of drawers, Sergeant Bing finds clothes, folded and mothballed. Papers, receipts. Jewelry and personal items that likely belonged to Mother Yang. And her identity card, which he hands to Lu. Lu is struck by how young she looks in the photo, but then realizes if Yang Fenfang was only twenty-three, her mother was probably still in her forties when she died.

"Hard to tell if anything is missing," Sergeant Bing says. "Want to keep searching?"

"We should probably you know."

Sergeant Bing nods toward the door. "After you, boss."

In the hallway, Lu takes a breath, holds it, then pushes open the bathroom door.

The room is small and rudimentary, with cement walls, a squat toilet, a shallow water basin fed by a rubber hose, and a sink with a mirror hanging over it.

Yang Fenfang's body lies on the floor. She wears a yellow silk dress. Her hair is coiled into a neat bun. Her face is fully made-up. Powder, lipstick, eye shadow.

She looks, truly, like a porcelain doll. Even down to the cold, dead eyes.

The translucent white of her skin contrasts with angry red welts encircling her neck and wrists.

Lu doesn't step into the room. He peers at the floor, walls, and ceiling, searching for any visible evidence. There is nothing.

"Looks like she was dressed for a date," Sergeant Bing says.

"Don't say it," Lu warns.

"What?"

"A date with death."

"I would never," Sergeant Bing says. "Only a sick mind would even think of such a joke."

Guilty as charged, Lu thinks. "Seen enough?"

"More than enough."

"Okay, let's go."


This excerpt ends on page 11 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett.
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