Dafeng's Night Squad - Chapter 11
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
The officials in Dafeng had to undergo inspections every three years. They would be evaluated based on the four sections of the imperial examinations and the eight exclusions.
Officials who failed inspection would be demoted or sacked.
The inspections explained the county magistrate’s bad mood, especially when the victim had kin among the Board of Imperial Advisors.
The murder investigation in Changle County had the potential to be politicized.
Xu Qian asked absentmindedly, “How did the man die?”
“He went to the countryside to collect rent and came back in the middle of the night. Ran into a thief in his courtyard and was killed,” a colleague said.
“Any witnesses?” Xu Qian asked.
“The wife heard a commotion and went out to check. By the time she reached the courtyard, the man was already dead. We noticed some footprints on the outer wall.”
“Any enemies? An intentional murder disguised as a theft gone wrong?” Xu Qian poured himself a cup of tea and took a few honey-coated candies from his colleague. He tossed them into his tea.
Xu Qian’s mind flashed back to the times when he and his colleagues discussed homicide cases at the police station.
“We took testimonials from the family, the household staff and the neighbors. The victim did not have any enemies recently.”
“How about the soldiers on night patrol?”
“The Armed Guards said they saw no one suspicious that night.”
Jingzhao City had three city walls: the Imperial Wall, the Inner Wall and the Outer Wall.
Soldiers patrolled the Outer Wall. The outer city area had no curfew and the gates never closed. The merchant would have made the necessary arrangements and obtained a permit that would allow him to freely enter and exit the city.
The open gate system was beneficial to the merchants and traders which greatly boosted the economy.
Xu Qian nodded. “If this was a theft gone wrong, the thief must know the ins and outs of Kangping Street.”
“How can one be sure?” The bailiffs were taken aback by Xu Qian’s confidence.
“The thief could enter and leave the manor without being noticed by the night patrol. They must have surveyed the area and were with the Armed Guards routine.” As Xu Qian analyzed, he reached for his pocket for a smoke.
His hand came back empty.
He was reminded of his days in the police station. His colleagues often sat together and smoked while they talked about cases.
It was there where he picked up the bad habit.
The others were amazed by Xu Qian’s analysis. “That makes sense.”
“How did we miss that detail?”
“After a trip to jail, Ningyan is a new man. Smarter than before for sure.”
In this period, there was no formal education system. Hence, the investigations were handled by constables who relied on their experience. The constable with the best track record would be promoted to head constable.
“It didn’t occur to you guys but I’m sure Constable Wang thought about it. Anyone questioned the people in the west end?” Xu Qian said.
“Two days of questioning but no suspects.”
The west end of the city was the slums where the dregs of society congregated. Whenever the city’s peace was threatened, the bailiffs would enter the slums and make an arrest.
“How much was stolen?” Xu Qian needed more details about the case.
A colleague stared at Xu Qian—for a moment there, the man sounded like the county magistrate. “None. The victim returned with some broken silver, copper coins and grain. The thief couldn’t have left with a large chest of silver after killing someone.”
That was odd.
Xu Qian squinted and thought, ‘If I was the thief and I knew the victim’s routine, I would have chosen another day to enter the manor.’
He kept his theory to himself and continued snacking on the sunflower seeds, all the while keeping an ear to his colleagues’ idle chatter.
“A pity the wife was widowed at such a young age. Her body is impeccable. You can’t find someone like her in the playhouse. I’d pay a silver tael a night if she was available.”
“She’s not that young, 20 years her husband’s junior. Unlikely a woman in her thirties will stay widowed.”
At that point, Xu Qian spoke up, “A woman in her thirties is ideal. She has life experience and knows how to take care of others.”
His colleagues disagreed with his futuristic view and taunted him.
Being a martial artist at the refinement state, he had to retain his virginity. Once his Qi energy was released, it would be difficult to open Heaven’s Gate.
Therefore, Xu Qian had never succumbed to a lady’s charm.
In the county magistrate’s hall, the head constable stood with his head low. He had a tan complexion much like a weatherbeaten farmer. He zoned out as the county magistrate carried out the scolding.
The county magistrate was a portly man with a fair complexion. He hailed from the Yan Province and became a third-rank jinshi 1 in Yuanjing Year 20. A man of average governance skills, he made it this far by currying favor and networking.
Fortunately, he was a man of moderation. He took small bribes but never caused trouble for the empire.
Unfortunately, he was bad-tempered and often swore at his subordinates.
“Useless! Absolutely useless!”
After learning that Constable Wang had no new leads on the case, Magistrate Zhu was furious.
“You’re the most experienced constable we have, and yet you have nothing after days of investigation?”
Sweat dripped from Constable Wang’s forehead and he felt pinpricks on his back.
The upcoming inspections worsened the county magistrate’s temper. Executive Li kept his lips sealed as he watched his friend of many years get yelled at by his superior.
Executive Li knew the county magistrate was aiming for a promotion. The criteria for promotion were connections and achievements.
Without supporting evidence to back up a promotion, the official could easily be impeached.
Hence, one must fulfill both criteria to ascend the ranks confidently.
What kind of achievements?
The inspections were one of the standard evaluations.
15 minutes later, Magistrate Zhu stopped and brought the cup of tea to his lips.
It was customary to take a sip of tea when sending off guests.
Executive Li noticed the gesture and signaled Constable Wang. The two men scurried out of the room.
Constable Wang returned to the break room with a scowl on his face. A hush fell over the room when he stepped in as everyone glanced cautiously at the head constable.
“Magistrate Zhu gave you a scolding again?”
Constable Wang rolled his eyes and drank his tea. “Son of a b*tch, the man is dead and the thief is gone, what am I supposed to do? Such an unlucky day, I even lost a silver mace1.”
Xu Qian strained his ear to listen as he took a sip of his tea.
‘Oh, so that was yours? Clearly, fate intended for you to lose it.’
When the head constable was done with his rant, one of the constables made a suggestion, “Maybe we can go fishing?”
Xu Qian raised an eyebrow.
In the lower courts, fishing meant finding a scapegoat.
With limited techniques and resources, most investigations in the ancient period went nowhere. There were many instances of false convictions due to pressure from higher-ups.
The fishing process went like this, a local official would be asked to provide a list of frequent offenders. The individual names would be written on pieces of paper, then random selection would determine who was the scapegoat.
Hence, the lingo, fishing.
Once the unlucky person was selected, the official would bring him to the courts and a forced confession would be obtained.
The higher-ups would be pleased, the middle-ranked officials would be praised, the local officials would be rewarded. Overall, it was a positive experience.
There would be little sympathy for the scapegoat—he was a rotten character after all. The people would appreciate having one less troublemaker on the streets.
This was one of the many questionable practices that went on in the courts.
Constable Wang said, “Guess it’s our only option. Little Li, I’ll leave this to you. Pick the older ones.”
“Hold up! Constable Wang, the case has clues that require a better look. It’s not a dead end.”
Xu Qian could not stand by and turn a blind eye to the injustice.
Although he had left the force decades ago, his principles remained unyielding.
The suspects gathered might be scoundrels but they were not murderers. He did not believe death could not wipe away one’s crime but the victim’s family deserved the truth.
It would be a disservice to them if they employed a scapegoat. The real murderer had to be rightfully punished.
Constable Wang’s expression was sullen. He said nothing but the glare he directed at Xu Qian was telling.
His colleagues gave their advice.
“Ningyan, stay out of it.”
“The magistrate has been berating us non-stop. It’s not that bad, they’re criminals after all.”
A colleague who was close to Xu Qian said, “Ningyan’s a bit sensitive about this. His family just got released from jail.”
Constable Wang ignored the chatter and met Xu Qian’s eyes. In a displeased tone, he said, “Tell me, how would you solve this?”
Xu Qian did not back down. “Hand me the scroll.”