A Jump To Conclusions No. 13

We crossed the street. “Might it not be wise,” I said, holding the door into the building for Amber, “to cast a wider net for gun dealers?”

She shrugged. “Why do the extra work before we have a better idea? It’s odds on that we’ll turn something up with local dealers, and if not, then it crosses district borders.”

That, of course, meant a task force, and it was not widely acknowledged in the Investigative Arm that there was a place for the consultant. I appreciated Amber’s concern for my livelihood. “Point taken.”

She wore a faraway, thoughtful look for a moment, then said, “Remind me to call in a favor when we go.”

There was no time to ask what she meant; we had crossed the marble-columned lobby, and the receptionist looked up at us expectantly. Amber showed her badge, and in a few minutes we had the run of two conference rooms and the presence of the assistants to Mr. Heath and Mr. McKenzie, on Amber’s oft-correct theory that such people knew much more about their bosses and their bosses’ affairs than they were strictly supposed to.

McKenzie’s assistant was one John Culpert. I placed his age just inside the far border of middle age; if pressed for a number, I might have guessed seventy. He had nearly finished graying, and his silver hair in combination with the sharp lines of his face gave him an air of thoughtful dignity. I could see the effort he spent on controlling his emotions. We exchanged pleasantries, and presently, we came to business.

“Mr. Culpert,” I said, “you were well acquainted with Mr. McKenzie?”

“I’ve been with him since the beginning,” he replied. “That would be two decades ago now.” He spoke softly, and I gathered from his cadence and his downcast look that he had been one of McKenzie’s friends.

“You were familiar, then, with his affairs? His private life?”

Culpert nodded. “He trusted me far enough to talk of things of that sort.”

I made a note on my pad. So far he hadn’t told me anything I was genuinely curious about, but suggesting that I trusted a witness when he told me he was an authority often opened them up more thoroughly. “Can you say whether he had enemies?”

Culpert scratched his chin and cast his eyes toward the ceiling. “I would think,” he mused. “The sort of enemies any businessman has. I don’t think any of them would take it this personally. If they did, Mr. McKenzie would have known, and he would have taken it personally too. I’ve seen him hold a grudge, and these last few months he wasn’t.”

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