Mr Hobart's not there.
I can't take it in. I stare at the patch of filthy carpet where he should be, resisting an urge to bend down and touch it with my hand. No way I want to touch that thin pile, scuffed and stained and tacky under my feet.
He was dead, I know he was.
Where the hell is he?
There's someone else here.
This last thought forces my eyes up away from the empty carpet, and pulls me back close to the wall, my hand reaching for the gun. I'm moving slowly, quietly now, even though it's too late. If someone else is watching - has seen: If someone has managed to move a huge whale of a dead guy without me hearing, seeing or even being the slightest bit aware of them, then they've already got the upper hand.
My neck itches, prickles, and I have the nasty feeling I'm being watched. It's my turn to be the helpless one and I know how they felt; all those other Mr. Hobarts. I recognize their shock and fear and frustration, seeing it in myself. Their rage at the unfairness of it; the way little kids are heart-broken by injustice. All those 'why's'.
Why me? Why now? WHY!
Some of them, they got down on their knees and begged, tears trailing, noses running, their eyes pleading with me; offering me everything and anything to turn around and walk away.
I've never walked away.
Come on. I wouldn't get paid, would I? Same as you if you don't do your job.
Besides, the ones that beg are not the worst thing about this job. The worst are the quiet ones; those that have stared at me, dead-eyed and so tired, so utterly resigned.
Something catches my eye, a movement in the darkest, furthest corner of the hall, near the door to what I take to be the bathroom. A slow movement, a sliding shadow, smoothly flowing like a ripple of water.
I turn the gun toward it, and take a step like the gun's a shield, held in front of me. Like I'm really safe behind it. I wish I could put down the bag without making myself even more of a target. Then I change my mind, because what if I left it and it vanished too?
I move slowly down the hall. Nothing happens, but I don't let that fool me into overconfidence. I know all about waiting for the perfect moment, I've done it a hundred times. You wait until they relax. Someone could be waiting for me to do the same.
The bathroom door is a dark rectangle in front of me. It is a bathroom, because I can now see the tiles on the floor; thick with grime, like everything else in the Hobart residence.