Kirov, despite his lofty position in the local government, did not exactly live or work in luxury. His office occupied a corner of the largest and best-preserved Khrushchev-era building on the main square, but it was just as drafty as any other, with a rust-stained radiator in one corner and ceiling tiles stained by leakage.

“Please, have a seat,” he said to Sokolov. Rising out of his chair a bit, Kirov poured tea out of an electric kettle into a waiting cup.

The inspector took the seat, wincing a bit as the decades-old coil springs bit into him. “I’ve never been one for hot tea, Supervisor,” he said. “I hope you won’t be offended if I let it cool to lukewarm.”

“Of course not,” Kirov said. “Drink it ice-cold if you like. Now, as to the matter at hand. The murder.”

“Murders,” said Sokolov. He picked up the teacup, letting its warmth fill his hands as he blew on it gently. “There have been three so far that fit the same pattern. One on the road to the mines, discovered in an electrical substation. One in the power plant, found in a maintenance closet. And of course the one your work crew found when they were de-icing.”

“As I’m sure you know,” Kirov said, “workers, good workers, can be hard to come by, and they tend to be a superstitious lot. Now more so than ever, with hard currency so difficult to come by. Since the new government has taken power, it has been difficult to pay, let alone maintain, workers.”

“My sympathies,” said Sokolov. “My pay has been affected as well.”

“Suffice it to say that the…ritual…manner in which mutilated remains may or may not have been found has given rise to some rather wild speculation.” Kirov opened a drawer of his dark and removed an envelope from it. He placed it in front of Sokolov. “Luckily, the inspector sent in as a specialist has confirmed that this death was the result of a lone disturbed individual who is now in custody.”

“Has he now?” Sokolov said. “That is news to him.” He lifted the edge of the envelope, revealing a stack of currency—-US dollars. “Who have I concluded is to blame?”

“We will find someone in our local prison,” Kirov said dismissively. “One of the usual suspects. It doesn’t matter.”

“Oh, Supervisor,” Sokolov said. “I’m afraid you are mistaken. It matters a great deal to me.”

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