Burke whistled his approval, looking around the opulent office. The constant struggle to survive might have ended once one found their way Inside, but this level of comfort was attained through birth, marriage or dumb luck. In this case, you could say it was the latter.

“Thank you, I’m glad you like it,” McMonagal said, and it sounded like he meant it. “Truth is, it still doesn’t really feel like mine. I admit, I’m curious how long it will take to feel comfortable enough in here to get any actual work done.”

Burke tried not to sneer. “I had the impression that one was done with ‘work’ when he landed this office.”

“Certainly, as most people understand the term,” McMonagal said, pouring two drinks and offering one to Burke. “But CORE is still a business concern, and it needs people who can run it. I fully admit that Mr. Bernard’s murder has resulted in my gain. Is that what you wanted to question me about?”

“Well, yes, in a way,” Burke said, settling into a chair beside McMonagal. “Frankly, I’m surprised I was able to get to speak with you at all. I know too well that I’d never have made it into the building without your say-so. I definitely wasn’t expecting hospitality.”

McMonagal sipped his drink, closing his eyes to focus on the flavor and aroma. Burke noted that: clearly CORE’s new chief operations officer was new to the good stuff.

“Contrary to what the police think,” he said, “the company gains nothing by refusing to cooperate with law enforcement. Obstructing the investigation of Mr. Bernard’s murder could well put me a step closer to my own.”

Burke crossed his legs and narrowed his eyes at his host. “Doesn’t seem likely, assuming you’re not a pederast. So far that’s one of a very few threads of commonality between Bernard’s and Ralph Morgan’s homicides. Morgan was a relative low-life; just a district maintenance manager. Any idea if he and Bernard were acquainted?”

“If so, I can’t imagine how they would have met,” McMonagal said.

“Perhaps through their common interests? I can’t imagine Mr. Bernard ever visiting the First National, but perhaps their… supply chain was in common. Which brings me to an interesting question. The police, so far as I know, had no clue that the First National was trafficking. You apparently knew. May I ask how?”

“Security falls under this office’s jurisdiction. CORE has eyes and ears all over, Inside and Out.”

“But you didn’t relay this information to the police. Nor your information about the so-called ‘Army of the Damned’.”

“Ah,” McMonagal chuckled. “Your police liaison must have mentioned that. It was very fresh intel; there wasn’t much to tell police, other than of a rumor.”

“But you felt it necessary to tell a… gentleman known only as ‘Pike’. A principal suspect, in fact. Did it not occur to you that you might be planting a seed?”

McMonagal nodded. “It’s true; rumors have a nasty way of substantiating themselves if spoken carelessly. But I’ve since heard that Mr. Pike is no longer considered a person of interest in any of these events.”

“According to those in charge, very true,” Burke answered. “Myself, I’ll be keeping tabs on him. My gut tells me his role isn’t played out yet. I’m hoping that role isn’t one of scapegoat.”

“I do have one idea that may help,” said McMonagal, with a sudden, thoughtful look. “If indeed the two murders are bound by, as you say, ‘common interest’, then that may be the best avenue to pursue. If the demand still exists, someone will be supplying. Find out whom, and you might find your next victim.”

“If I find him before he actually becomes a victim, I’ll be arresting him instead.”

“Are contractors able to make arrests for crimes outside the scope of their investigations?” McMonagal asked. “I honestly don’t know. Besides, depending how high up the ladder that person is, you may be the only one experiencing a career setback for it. Unjust by any definition, but there it is.”

“Shall I just shoot him myself, instead?” Burke chuckled. “It’s sounds like we’re both just a step shy of defending our murderers’ actions.”

“I’m on the fence, I admit it,” said McMonagal. “For the moment, though, I have to err on the side of promoting stability. A serious public safety deficit is bad for business. Detective Burke… you’re not a stupid man. I’m certain you know that Officer Stover has been reporting to me on the developments of the case. I promise, CORE will not interfere with your investigation. But I will be expecting further updates.”

Burke thought a moment. “Irregular. And technically illegal.”

“But is it unreasonable? We have the same goals in this matter. We may be able to achieve the resolution together that we cannot separately.”

“On the latter point, no argument,” the detective said. “On the former… I suppose we’ll see. But if it means I get to sample this whiskey again, I think we can arrange it.”

McMonagal smiled, and refilled Burke’s glass.


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