The Roast Duck Killer

Halloween flash fiction by Carly J Hallman


Ed: This story is the winner of the That's Beijing Halloween flash fiction competition, beating off some very impressive competition, including skin-crawling stories of misdelivered heads, ghosts in the rain, and a poem by an 11 year old. Congratulations to Carly, and we're looking forward to reading her novel Year of the Goose when it's out this December. Happy halloween all, and make sure you check what the meat is if you're having Peking duck for dinner ...

I parked my scooter at the west gate. A minute passed before Mr. Wang approached. Tall. Thin. Wire-rimmed glasses. I sized him up as an engineer or programmer, something in Zhongguancun with a high salary, good benefits, occasional trips overseas.

He squinted. “Detective Li?”

“Please,” I said. “Call me Granny Li.” As Beijing’s #1 Senior Citizen Private Investigator for three years running, I had better things to do than nurse an ego.

Mr. Wang led me into the children’s playground, past swings and slides, and filled me in. Around seven a.m., his daughter and her nanny had happened upon a gruesome discovery. He wasn’t impressed with the official investigation thus far, and he’d heard I was just the detective to make things right.

We limboed under the yellow tape. The playhouse. Scene of the crime. A windmill atop its tiled roof, extending into the tree line.

“Definite cultural appeal,” I said, thinking of my granddaughter, her infatuations with the Eiffel Tower, cheese, tiramisu. “Attractive to children.”

“Indeed,” Mr. Wang grunted. He opened the playhouse door. “After you.”

I entered. A sickly sweet smell hung in the air. My eyes focused.

A body hung by the rafters from its feet. Eyes removed. Skin painted a shiny reddish-brown. On the floor, two plates, containing rice flour pancakes and spring onions, respectively. Between the plates, a saucer of bean sauce.

I cleared my throat, grappled for words. “But who could…who would…”

Mr. Wang lowered his gaze to his Clarks. “They’re calling him the Kaoya Killer.”


I took statements, snapped photos, and returned to my office. Alim lowered his newspaper, greeted me.

Alim’s my right hand man. He’s from Xinjiang and he’s had a tough go of things here in atheistic Han China, but I look out for him. In return, he looks out for me.

I filled him in on what I knew so far—the work of a sicko, no doubt, but what kind of sicko?

“Male,” he said, pacing now. “No question.”

I nodded. “Probably youngish, 20s, 30s.”

“Disgruntled,” he added. “And clearly nursing an unhealthy fixation with food.”

“Uh-huh. And where were you this morning, Alim?”

He grinned. Truth is, I’ve seen Alim’s “handiwork” in the kitchen. It’s not pretty. He’s more a takeout kind of guy.

“So,” he said, his smile gone. “Whaddya say we track this bastard down?”

We spent the subsequent hours making calls, scouring the Internet. Come to find out, this wasn’t the Kaoya Killer’s first dinner party. In Shanghai, three victims had been decapitated, their heads stuffed inside soup-filled buns. In Chongqing, seven individuals were simmered to death in a swimming-pool-turned-hot-pot. On and on.

Other than the food motif, there was no clear pattern to the killings. Victims were from all walks of life, with no discernible relationship to each other. Worse still, there was no apparent motive.

Amidst all this murk, one thing, however, remained clear: it was only a matter of time before the Kaoya Killer struck again.


Around midnight, Alim took a break, boiled the kettle. I stood, stretched at the window, looked out. Beyond this block, city lights shone on. But in the near distance, darkness.

Quiet. Breathing. Joints cracking. Water boiling. And then, a knock at the door.

Alim went to answer, but before he could, whoever it was began to pound. “Wait a moment!”

At this, the pounding intensified.

Alim cracked the door. The knocker pushed her way inside. Panicked, panting. “Shut the door!” she cried.

Alim heeded, bolted it for good measure.

The girl bent over at the waist, caught her breath. “You’re investigating the Kaoya Killer, correct?”

I nodded. Although we didn’t advertise our office’s location, it wasn’t uncommon for us to play host to drop-in informants—anyone can find any address if they know where to look.

The girl seated herself. Alim brought her a cup of tea. I figured, based upon her unsettled behavior, that she’d heard about the recent killing and suspected a boyfriend or classmate or uncle, someone close to her.

I was hopeful this’d be the break we’d been waiting for.

“Whenever you’re ready,” I said.

Alim crossed his arms, leaned against his desk.

The girl took a sip of tea. I tried to size her up. But no age, no physical appearance, nothing registered.

Just: girl, unsettled.

I was still trying to pin her down when she jumped to a stand, studied the map we’d put up tracing the killer’s route.

“Granny Li,” she spoke, her gaze not straying from the wall. “Are you always so careless about who you let in?”

Alim took a protective step my way.

The girl laughed, a tinkling sound. She turned, and for the first time, looked me dead in the eye. Her irises were not any color I’d seen before. There was something multi-dimensional about them. Something sinister. Something hungry.


Everything went black.

I blinked, awakening.

I tried to move. No. Paralyzed.

On the floor. Naked.

I mentally cursed, hoping I wouldn’t catch cold. But then I felt the bristles against my skin. Catching cold was the least of my worries.

The girl crouched over me. From this angle she was all double chin. “Oh,” she said. “Good. You’re awake.”

Out the corner of my eye, I spotted Alim on the floor, also unmoving, except for his eyes, which met mine. I tried to scream. I figured he was trying the same. Somehow the girl seemed to sense this. She laughed her tinkling laugh. She hummed “Beijing Welcomes You” as she finished painting me and moved on to Alim.

The acrid smell of spring onions drifted into my nostrils.

I resigned myself then and there because that’s what a good detective does. She does her best. But beyond that?

Soon we’d be hanging from the ceiling, our eyeballs removed, our skin glistening. We’d be dead as ducks. Roasted.

And that, everyone always tried to tell me, that’s what you get for getting involved.

Carly J. Hallman lives in Beijing. Her first novel, Year of the Goose, is forthcoming in December 2015 from Unnamed Press. For more details, visit her blog