Rust: Episode Thirteen
by Alan Augustson
08 May 2017

“I shouldn’t even be talking about this. There’d be…” the officer rolled his eyes. “Repercussions.”

“But you understand why it’s a good thing you did? I mean, do they want this case solved or don’t they?”

The cop folded his arms and nodded. Burke lit two cigarettes and offered him one.

“This is troubling,” Burke said. “More so because I don’t know what to make of it. Yet.” Burke made sure he caught eye contact when he issued the last word, and the shadow nodded again, this time with more satisfaction.

Burke looked out over the rooftop, over the barriers to Outside. There was a CORE maintenance worker ascending a ladder in the distance, to service one of the screens.

“Officer, the guy you report to. Who the hell does he report to now? Have they replaced your chief operations officer yet?”

“Psht. Hell, I don’t know. I just do what I’m told. McMonagal could be the replacement for all I know, or care. I can’t imagine how many other people could be volunteering to get their heads cut off.”

“Well,” Burke mused, “let’s talk about that.”

The policeman joined Burke at the ledge. “Okay?”

“McMonagal told you, albeit indirectly, two things that even police haven’t shared with me. First, the brothel where we found Ralph Morgan. Allegedly procuring kids, he said? No, correction, ‘notorious’ for procuring kids, were his words? Had you ever heard such a thing?”

“First I’d heard.”

“Likewise,” Burke nodded. “And I keep my ear pretty low to the ground, lemme tell ya. So… ‘notorious’ to whom?”

“I don’t know,” mused the officer.

“Me either, obviously. If McMonagal’s accusation is correct, and if that was what Ralph Morgan was after the night he was shot, then we have two connecting threads between the cases, and likely more. Problem is, the only other person who might be able to confirm is Bernard.”

“And he ain’t talking.”

“Not without the aid of a ventriloquist, no,” grinned Burke, and the cop blurted out a laugh. Burke watched that maintenance worker applying something to the surface of the screen. Maybe a solvent or polishing agent; he didn’t dwell on it. Whatever it was, it was sure making a mess of the screen for now. His wheels spun.

“You’re thinking about something,” muttered the cop.

Burke raised his eyebrows and sighed. “My own personal curse. I’m always thinking about twenty different somethings. Let me ask you, Officer. What are your feelings on this case? Do you want to mete out justice to a possible serial murderer? Or do you even care who killed a couple of filthy pederasts?”

The police officer took off his cap and hung his head as he leaned over the ledge. “I don’t know. I’ve made a career out of just following orders and keeping my head down. I don’t think anyone wins, no matter how this shakes out. All I know is that I’m feeling used.”

“Nothing new there,” offered Burke. “We’re all getting used by someone, every minute of every day. What choice do we have, other than starving to death out there?”

The cop scratched his head. “True. Just, this time, I’d like to know by whom, and why. It’s not going to change anything. In the end, I’m still gonna shoot whomever they tell me to. So I don’t know why I even care.”

Burke nodded. “But you do care.”

“Yeah.”

“Officer, what’s your name?”

“Stover.”

“Well congratulations, Officer Stover. You’re still a man.”

The cop shook his head with a humorless grin.

“Stover, I don’t think we’ve been very smart about our working relationship. Your CORE contact, maybe even the police themselves, are withholding information that could help this investigation. You know that’s not right, or else you wouldn’t have come to me. Now I’m gonna let you in on something I was holding back.”

The policeman’s brow furrowed.

“You recall our discussion about the weapon in the Morgan case? The low-budget target rounds, and we wondered who used them?”

“Oh. Yeah, I remember. Who?”

Burke pointed a finger towards that big screen.

“See that guy? CORE worker? CORE maintenance are issued cheap sidearms when they go Outside on a job. For their own safety.”

Officer Stover thought for a moment. Then his expression became weary, and he rubbed his eyeballs.

“Oh, God damn it…”

“Right,” Burke said sourly. “Quite a can of worms we’re opening up, isn’t it?”

Stover cursed under his breath. “So now what? Where do we even start?”

“We start with that other piece of information McMonagal was sitting on. This ‘Army of the Damned’ thing. We’d never heard of it, and apparently McMonagal didn’t want for me to know. But he mentioned it to that low-life you brought in.”

“Name’s Pike. He didn’t know, either.”

“He does now. I think McMonagal wanted him to. Now we need to see what Mr. Pike does with that information.”

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Social scientist, public policy analyst, emergency management consultant and author. U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former firefighter. Former candidate for U.S. Congress.

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