“Welcome home,” said Pavlov. It was an even bet as to which terrified Hardwick more: that an intruder was in his home, or that the intruder had spoken without moving his lips.

“W-who are you? What are you doing here? Get out!” screamed Hardwick, dropping his load of groceries. Vinegar from a shattered bottle of pickles pooled around his shoes as he fumbled for his cell phone.

“That won’t be necessary.” Pavlov once again spoke without moving a muscle. He simply kept his dark eyes fixed on Hardwick, gleaming beneath his slicked-back helmet of black hair and high domed forehead.

Hardwick’s arm went limp, and his smartphone cracked its screen as it tumbled to the hardwood floor. “Sutton sent you.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Of course.” Pavlov’s eyes were unblinking, his thin lips pursed and closed.

“How…how did you find me?” there was a hint of resignation and despair in Hardwick’s voice.

There was no real reason Pavlov had to answer the man’s entreaties, but whether out of pity or a desire to gloat, he did so: “You left a thousand breadcrumbs. People have seen you, spoken to you, heard rumors. I took those breadcrumbs from their minds and followed them to the loaf. It wasn’t hard; no harder than a voracious reader tracking a fact through a library of open books.”

“What happens now?” Hardwick was frozen; he wasn’t sure f it was fear of some kind of paralysis like that Pavlov had induced in his arm a moment ago. He also failed to notice that his lips were not moving; the conversation had seamlessly shaded over into the realm of extrasensory perception.

“I will search your mind to see if you actually possess the information that Sutton believes you to. Then I will wipe its contents clean.”

There was an ominous, disinterested finality in Pavlov’s remarks, even though his face was as a mask throughout. Many would blubber or gibber helplessly at this point, but–whatever his other flaws may have been–Hardwick was able to keep his composure in the face of looming destruction.

“Will it…hurt?”

“Did it hurt before you were born? Does it hurt when you are asleep?” Pavlov thought evenly. “I see here that you know many of the things Sutton hoped, but not nearly as many as he feared. It was a foolish move to try and parlay such pittances into a plea bargain and a reward, but smarter men have transgressed for smaller prizes.”

It was done. Pavlov’s expression was one of intense discomfort for a moment, and then Hardwick crumpled to the floor, every neuron in his brain still functioning but completely devoid of the engrams which had represented a functioning mind. The psychic hitman calmly walked out through the open door, while Hardwick’s police handler found him unresponsive hours later. The witness was assumed to have suffered a massive stroke, and was left in a persistent vegetative state in an area hospice.

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