The sound of a key turning in a lock. Alex froze - no no no, this was all wrong. No-one was supposed to be home till Tuesday. They were supposed to be in the Maldives, Alex had been extremely thorough researching this family, she knew their routine, their habits, their plans - this should not be happening.
But it was.
Alex thought fast. She had only done the downstairs rooms so far and nothing was out of place - they wouldn’t notice anything missing for a good while. Maybe not even a few hours; Alex was always careful never to leave things in a mess - there was no need and it always bought her more time before they called the police.
She assessed her position. She was in the room closest to the front door. Good. An upholstered sofa stretched lazily under the window and a sleek black piano stood adjacent, its teeth bared at her intrusion. She tucked herself back and to the side of it furthest from the door, holding herself perfectly still. With a little luck she might be able to slip out behind them, once they’d moved further inside.
A shadow in the doorway, a figure fumbling in the hallway just beyond it. She thought she couldn’t be seen from the doorway if they looked in, but she couldn’t be absolutely sure. Sweat trickled down her throat, pooling in the hollow at the base of it and her neck and back ached appallingly. It wasn’t the family, at least she hadn’t got that wrong. Maybe a friend coming to water the plants or feed the cat?
As if on cue a black cat sauntered into the room where Alex crouched. It stared at her with outrage in its cold green eyes. Alex couldn’t look away. Whoever it was was still in the hall, but soon the shadow moved and the footsteps travelled down the hall into the kitchen at the end of the passage.
Could she risk it? If they turned at just the wrong moment they would see her. If only they’d gone upstairs, she thought, pinioned by indecision.
“Samson?” called a high voice “Samson? It’s dinner time, where are you?”
And the footsteps were off again as whoever it was began to search for the cat.
Alex heard the door to the next room swing open. This was her chance! She raised herself silently, ready to sprint from the hall and out the front door before they came out of the room next door. They’d hear her, of course, but that couldn’t be helped now; Alex just had to get out and away before they looked in here for fucking Samson.
Now or never. She straightened, tensed and picked out the path of least resistance to the door.
Afterwards Alex swore that the cat had looked at her with a kind of knowing. She swore a glint of malevolence, a glimmer of amusement had flashed across its blank eyes as it leaped up onto the side of the piano and wavered there, a single black paw poised above the keys, a Roman Emperor toying with her before deciding her fate.
Before Alex could move, Samson strode nonchalantly across the piano keys, the sound ringing out in the nearly silent house.
There was nowhere to hide.