“We are isolated here, we are vulnerable. Whatever is driving someone to these terrible crimes, there is nothing to stop them but our own vigilance and a few policemen and guards who have not been paid in weeks.”

“And I think,” said Sokolov, ”that is exactly the crux of the matter. I think that, whoever is doing this, they have chosen their target very carefully.”

“What?”

“Think about it—the pilot on the way in said that the window for easy access was rapidly closing. In a slightly harsher winter, it would have already done so, preventing me from joining you at all. This would have meant the killer would have been all but unopposed, free to run wild for months. And at the end of the season? The workers would have left. The mines would be hurt badly, perhaps even forced to close.”

“You think that’s what the killer wanted?”

“No,” continued Sokolov. “The killer may be the only honest actor in this farce. He or she simply wanted to commune with the spirits through ritual mutilation. Insanity, to be sure, but an insanity that has been carefully nurtured and protected.”

“By whom?”

“By someone who had a vested interest in seeing this madness played out in the most brutal fashion possible—ruining the mines and plunging the area into economic crisis.”

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