The Mill

    One

     The mouse.

     Someone had moved it.

     The position and orientation were off slightly.

     Chase Riddell invariably placed the mouse facing due north on the exact same spot: on a prominent knot just left of center on the oak desktop. His office was otherwise undisturbed. The desk and a brown leather swivel chair were the only furniture in the small, windowless room. The tawny brick walls were bare, as was the desk, except for a flatscreen monitor and the errant mouse.

     The precise placement was a function of his OCD. He also hated odd numbers, unless they were multiples of five. The kitchen cabinets were studies in neatness and order, the bottles, cans, and cartons arranged by size and type. His clothing was similarly organized. He checked his locks twice whenever he went out, though crime wasn’t an issue he expected to worry about.

     The building had a keyed entrance, and his apartment had two commercial-grade locks on the door: a Schlage lever handle and a double cylinder dead-bolt. The windows were new, twelve feet above ground on the exterior, and equally secure.

     Management had no access to the unit without advance notice. The outside walls were brick and limestone block. The apartment was more impregnable than most bank buildings. He had chosen this place in Rock River Mills—an old paper mill converted to condos and upscale flats—partly for that reason.

     He carefully examined the locks on the door, but there were no scratches or evidence of tampering. A quick survey of the apartment revealed that nothing else had been disturbed.

     Nothing.

     The computer seemed to be the target of the illicit entry.

     Was that possible? And why? Was he being unduly paranoid?

     He couldn’t imagine how someone had broken in, but the wayward mouse was proof someone had. It was a serious problem.

     Had they discovered the hidden files on his computer? Files filled with photos of deviant sexual acts. Images of domination. Rape. Murder. Just the thought of them brought a stiffening to his groin.

     But if someone had, surely the police would be here, arresting him. Dragging him off to jail to face life in prison.

     While it was unlikely a casual browser would find the incriminating files, he could assume nothing, since someone had breached his well-secured apartment, maybe hacked into the computer, and left zero evidence of his presence—other than the errant mouse.

     What now?

     He didn’t know.

     Chase only knew he had a problem on his hands.

     Possibly a disaster.

     Unless he found the asshole and killed him first.