“I don’t see why they felt it necessary to call in a… consultant,” sneered the officer. “Just a dead son-of-a-bitch in a whorehouse.”

Burke didn’t even bother looking up. “Dead CORE employee in a whorehouse, you mean. That alone is noteworthy. CORE men can do better than this side of town. Now, look at this. How he was found.”

He knelt by the body, wincing a bit at the stained, putrid-smelling carpet. “Look how he fell, the location of the wound, and the direction of the blood spatter.”

“Yeah? And…?” sniffed the cop, sitting on the bed.

“I’d get off of that; it’s likely crammed full of bedbugs,” Burke offered, and the officer snapped to his feet. “You haven’t seen too many homicides, have you? Take a look. Entry at the base of the skull; exit through the frontal lobe. If he’d been standing, the shooter would have to have been firing upwards, about a sixty-degree angle. Try to imagine doing that while standing next to your target.”

The cop’s eyebrows raised a little. “But that couldn’t have happened anyway, ’cause the poor bastard’s brains are right there instead of all over the place.”

Burke smiled and nodded. “Very good. The victim was clearly made to kneel, face to the floor.” He knelt beside the body to demonstrate. “So he took that round, went instantly limp, and rolled to his side.” He did likewise, and the officer’s light bulb came on.

“Exactly the same,” he said. “Sort of… execution-style.”

Burke nodded his approval. “Excellent. This was no simple argument, or a drug deal gone wrong, or a pissed-off pimp. This was a person on a mission to kill this man.”

“Terrorist?” asked the cop.

Burke chuckled. “The ‘terrorists’ are making bottle bombs and throwing fucking rocks.”

“A professional, then?”

“Likely. Now, you mentioned brains, but look. Not much here, are there? Mostly just blood.” Burke looked around. The round had to be nearby. It hadn’t embedded in the floor, or passed through, which alone told him a great deal. He looked ahead towards where it must have skipped, and sure enough, there was a glint.

“There,” he pointed. Burke donned surgical gloves and examined his prize. “The bullet hasn’t fragmented. In fact it’s barely even mushroomed.”

He showed it to the cop, who looked confused. “That’s a target round.”

“Yep,” Burke nodded. “Simple, copper-jacketed wadcutter. Good for almost nothing but target practice and…”

“…and what?”

Burke waved that thought off; he wasn’t ready to share that, nor could he know if the cop was trustworthy. “Eh, never mind that. Okay, so here’s what we have so far. A CORE employee in the worst part of town. A murderer who knows what he’s doing, but uses target rounds.”

The officer shook his head. “That doesn’t add up. None of it does.”

“Right. Now do you see why they call in consultants?”

“I stand corrected,” nodded the cop. “You’re good, Zebra.”

Detective Burke, please.”

He stepped outside and lit a cigarette. Shit, he thought. Who the hell’s left that has guns? Police, yes; but they’re packing hollowpoints. And anything home-brewed would either be solid lead or solid something else. Besides, black powder would have to be either bootlegged or stolen. That’s complicated. So who would have access to shitty, bulk- quality jacketed target rounds?

Through the smoke he saw a CORE work vehicle. A hard-hat was checking the condition of a nearby pylon. Burke suddenly remembered, and it was like a kick in the stomach.


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