The Outcast
doorstep, impossible to ignore or rationalise away. It was baffling, incomprehensible, illogical. But it was here, and it was as real as Tunjin’s sleeping body.

    Doripalam had borrowed a flashlight from one of the uniformed officers, but the thin beam made little impression on the hazy dark. The smoke and dust hung motionless in the warm summer night, the fumes harsh at the back of his throat. Ahead, he could make out the occasional flicker of another flashlight, but he had lost sight of the officer who was leading them to where the body had been found.
    â€œI suppose it would be possible for them to be less helpful,” he called back to Batzorig. “Though I’m not quite sure how.”
    â€œNever high on the local agenda,” Batzorig said, inches behind him. “Helping out the visiting team from HQ. Especially when we’ve just snaffled a juicy case from under their noses.”
    â€œWe’re here to lighten their load.”
    â€œBut always unappreciated. I don’t know why we bother.”
    Doripalam was placing his feet warily. The narrow alleyway was cluttered with several years’ worth of accumulated rubbish. At this time of the year, it might be a favoured sleeping area for some of the city’s homeless. Directing the flashlight warily around him, he spotted, behind a row of overflowing refuse bins, a bundle of blankets that might well be someone’s stowed bedding.
    The end of the alleyway came suddenly, and Doripalam stumbled out into a small open area, his flashlight beam lost in the smoky space. To his left, along the rear of the hotel, he saw a rectangle of deeper darkness—a double doorway, gaping open. He flicked the light across the wall and found the local officer, leaning against the doorway, a lit cigarette in his mouth.
    â€œMaybe not the smartest move,” Doripalam said, “if there really is a gas leak.”
    The man shrugged. “I don’t smell it,” he said. “Do you?” Nevertheless, he tossed the cigarette to the floor and ground it out under his boot.
    Doripalam stared at him for a moment, trying to make out the officer’s expression in the dim light from the flashlight. “This the place?” he said, finally.
    The officer gestured towards the open doorway. “In there,” he said. “I’ll wait out here, if that’s all right with you.”
    Doripalam stepped forward, playing his flashlight across the gaping doorway. “Not really,” he said. “We’re all in this together, you’re supposed to be guiding us.”
    The officer stared at him for a second, as if wondering just how much Doripalam’s authority was actually worth down here. Then he nodded. “If you insist,” he said. “I don’t think any of us will want to stay in there any longer than we can help.” He switched on his own flashlight and shuffled slowly through the doorway, Doripalam following close behind.
    The smell struck him at once. Not strong—the body had clearly not been here for long, given the heat of the day—but unmistakable even through the acrid burn of the smoke.
    â€œWhere is it?” Doripalam said, trying not to breathe too deeply.
    â€œThere,” the officer said, lifting his flashlight. The pale light ran across a row of wooden crates, piles of some kind of fabric, a clutter of old machine parts.
    The body was lying behind all of this debris, face up on the filthy concrete floor. Doripalam had to concede that the local officers had carried out their jobs with some rigour—it was surprising that the body had been spotted at all.
    He moved forward and shone the flashlight into the narrow space. The body was wedged between the cold stone of the wall—dripping with damp even in the height of summer—and the jumble of discarded rubbish that dominated most of the room. The limbs were twisted awkwardly, the head at a disturbing angle,as if

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