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Fresh blood is especially vivid against snow. Even on a moonless, starless night like tonight, when it spills thick and dark, like oil leaking from the rusting sump of an abandoned Moskvitch. But oil doesn’t steam. Oil doesn’t spatter red against white, until it trails back to a body half-hidden under silver birches. And oil doesn’t dribble from the lips of a wound already turning stiff and blue with cold.

The threat of dawn snow hangs in the sky like ash. A few stray flakes already shroud the woman’s upturned face, a scattering of lace like a bride’s veil across her forehead.

Unless a drunk stumbling home from a bar stops for an urgent piss and spots her, a few hours will transform her into yet another snow drift, unnoticed, skirted around, anonymous until the spring thaw. Only when a single boot-clad foot or a mottled hand signposts itself out of grimy snow will people wonder why no-one heard anything…

Privyet, Inspector Borubaev, how are you?’

‘Cold, what do you think?’

I waved away the proffered pack, noting the swathe of butts at the uniform’s feet, the stink of cheap tobacco rancid on the raw night air. Typical uniform, high-peaked green cap and no brains inside. I watched as he lit a fresh Classic from the stub of his last one, debated tearing him a new arsehole for contaminating the crime scene. But this is Kyrgyzstan. The forensic lab of the Sverdlovsky District Police is a cupboard with an assortment of cracked test tubes, some pre-independence medical textbooks and a box of out-of-date litmus paper. We’re still waiting for the electron microscope.

I’d put it off long enough; time to justify the fistful of som they pay me each month. A battered ambulance will turn up sooner or later, to ferry the body down to the morgue. No hurry: it would be a damn sight warmer in there than it was outside.

We were up on Ibraimova Street, just down from the Blonder Pub, on the unlit birchlined path above the carriageway, where the moorzilki, the cheapest railway station whores, hang out in the summer, by the footbridge. Dumpy, surly women, big-bellied and chainsmoking, swigging cans of Baltika beer, dressed to depress in shapeless tee-shirts and tracksuit bottoms, easy down for instant access, easy up for a quick escape. No business ladies here now though, not at twenty below and more snow coming.

Not a good place to die, if there is such a thing.

I told the uniform to keep behind me and followed the droplets and smears of blood towards the body. They reminded me of the black cherry juice you get on ice cream cones in Panfilov Park, rich and appetising. I turned my collar up against the wind, but nothing keeps a Kyrgyz winter out. My feet felt like they belonged to someone else, but I consoled myself that at least the body wouldn’t stink. Not until Usupov sliced her up on the table.

Or rather, sliced her up some more.