Torin Lake is massive in both width and depth.
An old coal mine, filled in a good 30 years ago, it’s a swimming hole for many of the locals and even Shin-ah himself has swum there every summer for as long as he’s resided in this little town.
Shin-ah is also certain that the body of his victim is at the bottom of it.
He leans back, so he’s propped up against the tree behind him. It’s too cold for anyone to be swimming now, so the lake remains quiet and eerily still.
There’s no wind, the birds don’t even chirp, and it’s fitting in a terrible macabre way, as though even the wildlife recognises Shin-ah’s predicament.
He’s the only one at the lake, thankfully. He needs some time to think, to process because this case is beyond frustrating.
The case came to him a few months ago, 34 years old and colder than any case he’d come across before.
The victim, a 19-year-old woman named Yue who had been working at the Corner Cafe since she graduated from high school, had gone missing in broad daylight one Tuesday morning.
No one sees anything. No one hears a shout or a scream. And no one, no one, has the slightest clue to who it could have been. Well, that’s what everyone says at least.
She was known for running, the hairdresser, Meili, had told him. She clutched the scissors in her hand in a death-like grip until her knuckles were white. Her back was ramrod straight and her gaze continually drifted to the only client in the store - a 55-year-old man named Déshì with an essentially non-existent alibi for the day of Yue's disapearance but no matter how much Shin-ah digs, he can’t pin anything on him aside from his terrible character, circumstantial evidence and gut feeling that tells him something’s very, very wrong.
Déshì had looked up, gazing at him through the mirrors on the wall and it had taken all of Shin-ah not to squirm under that gaze. It was dead. Empty. There was just nothing in his eyes.
She could have run away again. Meili said again as though if she said it enough it would become true.
Shin-ah had sworn that he would get Meili on her own without Déshì present. It was more than obvious that something was happening between Déshì and Meili. When Shin-ah went the next day, now a couple of weeks ago, to her apartment, all he’d found was an empty room.
She left, the Landlady had told him.
Meili had no other family, no real friends and no one to miss her if she left town. Shin-ah had looked into it - is still looking into it of course - but all signs pointed to her having left of her own volition.
Still. Shin-ah knows that she’s scared of Déshì and Déshì knows something about Yue. The coincidences are all too weird for Meili to high-tail it out of town with no notice just after Shin-ah questions her about Yue especially when she’s the only hairdresser the town has.
And Shin-ah has yet to find out where she’d gone and until he finds proof that Meili is alive and well he’s not going to drop it.
Meili was alone with Déshì in the hair salon for who-knows how long before Shin-ah had shown up. What had they been talking about to make Meili so terrified? Meili wasn’t even born when Yue went missing, but either she knew something that she shouldn’t or she suspected something and perhaps was right and someone wasn’t too happy about it. Maybe Meili had overheard something, found out something incriminating. It's possible, but at the end of the day, it's just speculation.
Shin-ah, of course, had talked to Déshì before and after Meili left and every time he did, that burning sense of something is wrong, something is very, very wrong, burns brighter.
She was just a jittery girl, Déshì had told him when Shin-ah asked about their salon conversation with Meili.
Was? Shin-ah asked.
Is, Déshì had corrected, brushing off the mistake as nothing more than a slip of the tongue.
Déshì’s apartment was bare at best. There were no photos of his family on his walls, no ornaments littering the house, each telling their unique story. There was a fishbowl filled with murky river water with nothing identifiable in it and nothing else of personal value.
For a man who’d been living in this tiny town his entire life, he seemed in no way attached.
Déshì would have been 21 when Yue went missing. He lived near her, and they even dated for a while before Yue broke it off.
According to Yue’s friends, she had told them that Déshì scared her.
Yue had also apparently told one of her friends, Rou, that Déshì said that if he killed anyone, he’d bury them in the mine because they’d never be found. Not with thousands of litres of water on top of them once it was filled up.
Damning statements, but it’s coincidental at best.
Rou had also lied to him the first few times he had questioned her, first about knowing Yue at all, and then about her whereabouts on the day of her disappearance.
She had said she was at the local supermarket, but Shin-ah had worked out that she was actually at the mine.
So. Why was Rou at the mine? She was 17 at the time and Shin-ah’s aware she could have just wanted to sneak in just because it was dangerous, but why would she lie about it now? It was over thirty years ago and it’s not like Shin-ah’s going to charge her with trespassing now. He’s not that petty. And why would she lie about knowing Yue? Her best friend?
Did Rou sneak in and see something she shouldn’t? Was she just too scared of Déshì to tell Shin-ah what really happened, especially now that Meili apparently fled her home town in what Shin-ah can only assume was fear? Did Rou help Déshì dispose of Yue’s body? If she did, did Déshì force her to in order to convince her to keep her mouth shut or did she do so willingly?
Yue had run away many times before, Rou had also told him, just as Meili had, just has Déshì had and just as everyone had.
Yue had strong ties to many people in the time. She had three little brothers who she loved and a mother and father who cared for her dearly. There were no issues in Yue’s life that Shin-ah could find aside from the natural friction that comes with being a teenager. She was happy, and she was looking forward to her life ahead of her, even planning to eventually move to the city.
She wouldn’t have run and left all her savings and all her clothes and every personal item behind. And she would have told someone, or at the very least hinted at the idea of running.
Maybe it’s ignorant of Shinsou to say as much, but he’s dug into this case so deep, he feels as though he knew Yue. He feels as though he met her, for the beautiful, kind, loving person she was, and she wouldn’t have run away. She had too much to lose, she loved her family too much.
The alternative isn’t better, but it’s a truth that no one can deny.
Rou was Yue’s friend. They spent almost every weekend at each other’s houses having sleepovers despite Rou been a few years younger. They were close and yet, all the arrows are pointing to Rou knowing something, and Déshì having some involvement.
Shin-ah eases himself down onto the ground and lets his head fall back against the tree. Ao, his best friend and dog, flops down next to him, resting her head on his lap as though she can sense his frustration.
Shin-ah is sure this damn swimming hole is going to haunt him until the day he dies. Yue has to be under there. They would have found her by now, and it’s too coincidental that Rou was at the mine at the same time that Déshì’s whereabouts just happened to be unaccounted for and the mine was mentioned by Déshì in relation to literally hiding a body.
She’s down there, at the bottom of that lake.
He runs a hand over Ao’s fur, angry at Déshì, angry at Rou and angry that the information pointing to Yue’s remains been in Torin Lake not enough to warrant the lake to be drained. The Lake has never even been searched and at the absolute very least, Shin-ah would appreciate police divers to search it. There might be something down there that could help, anything.
Shin-ah has a suspect, a gut feeling and a whole lot of information that could be explained away by a good lawyer. He needs all the help he can get.
Searching the lake is the least they could do, not only for Yue but for her three brothers and her mother and father, now both dead, having never known what happened to their baby girl.
There’s a crunching of leaves behind him and Shin-ah straightens, mind racing as he turns around to face the intruder.
Rou stands there, looking old beyond her years.
She looks at Shin-ah, then looks out at the lake. Her lips press together, and Shin-ah can hear the breath catch in her throat as she squeezes her eyes shut.
For a moment, they don’t speak. The silence is the loudest he’s ever heard it as he waits. There’s a soft gust of wind, an icy cold that makes Shin-ah shiver involuntarily just as Rou opens her mouth.
“Detective,” She says, her voice cracks.
“I saw Déshì kill Yue. I saw him kill her and I will testify for you.” She looks heartbroken and terrified all at once, no blood in her face and her eyes bloodshot like she’s been crying for days.
“Yue was my best friend. I’ve let her down so many times, I won’t do it again,” she barrels on, her voice shakes along with the clenched hands at her side.
The wind stops as though it never started, leaving the air stagnant, and Shin-ah forgets how to breathe.
“Can you come down to the station with me, Rou?” Shin-ah asks carefully. He keeps the same intonation as always, keeps his face the same impassive stare as always, but there is a weight lifted off his shoulders, an unwilling excitement that he knows he shouldn't feel at this development. He sends one more glance at the lake behind him as he stands up, Ao sticking close his side.
Perhaps, the Torin Lake won’t haunt him to his grave. Maybe, just maybe he can get Yue the justice she deserves.
It’s not a happy ending, Shin-ah thinks as Rou sticks close to his side as they walk through the thick shrubs back to Shin-ah’s car, but at this rate, it’s better than anything he thought possible.
Yue did nothing wrong. She loved and she loved. And that love, she gave to the wrong man. Shin-ah doesn’t smile, but as opens the door to his car, watching as Rou slides into the passenger seat, he hasn’t felt this good in weeks.