Lin Page 6

Mr. Liu's grunt is a morse code of annoyance, but he grabs the photograph by a corner and leans in until his eye almost touches the surface.

Probably, he says. I can't be more sure than that.

Do you have files on the case?

Mr. Liu's mouth freezes in mid-chew. What is this about? he says.

I don't mean to accuse. My job is to check on cases like these for Mr. Allen. Sometimes … He speaks even more deliberately, struggling to explain in the easiest vocabulary possible. People move to America, get life insurance, and then have a fake death so they collect on

the money. Many similar cases in China. Maybe you have heard…

Mr. Liu is picking at a set of beads wound loosely around his wrist. Buddhist prayer beads. Everyone here believes in superstition, burning paper money at sundown every day for the dead, consulting fengshui experts, avoiding activities based on dates and star positions. Mr. Liu rubs one bead, then moves onto the next, and the next, a ceaseless polishing routine.

The man I examined died in a car accident, Mr. Liu says. Crushed. Broken neck. Very typical. Nothing fake about it.

I understand. If I could see your files … I just want to note them for my report …