When Phil Hamm came home—on “shore leave,” he liked to call it—he lived among the rich. The upper echelon. He liked it that way. He knew his very presence made the neighbors uncomfortable. Phil Hamm enjoyed making people uncomfortable.
Getting off the elevator, he was bid a fine goodnight by the elevator operator. Hamm had been surprised upon moving in to his current domicile to learn that such people still existed. A guy whose sole job and duty consisted of riding up and down on an elevator, tipping his corny hat and bidding everybody a good morning/good day/good evening, wearing that ridiculous uniform that made him look like a circus barker. Another useless affectation of the rich. They didn’t even have to push the buttons on an elevator console for themselves.
God, Phil Hamm loved being rich. Oh, he was no Bill Gates, of course. No oil-shilling sultan. But he did okay. WEBWATCH paid very well. At least for a guy willing to do their dirty work and keep his mouth shut afterwards. Phil Hamm had no problems keeping secrets.
He marched down the hallway, stomping on the floor (as best he could with the damn shag carpeting; beige, of course) just to piss off the people on the floor below him. There were paintings on the walls, watercolors. Originals, no doubt. The overhead lighting had been designed to mimic bright candlelight, warm and yellow. It complimented well the eggshell-colored walls. Even the cool air smelled perfumed with vanilla. Livin’ like a king, Phil Hamm told himself. An’ nobody deserves it more.
His penthouse apartment was larger than most apartment parking lots. A little foyer, with a chandelier, opened into a room with a fifteen-foot ceiling and original brickwork. 1920s, they said. Shelves from one end of the room to the other held DVDs and CDs. Cushy furniture spread around the room. A pool table, several video games, bought vintage from an arcade, and a couple of pinball games he’d picked up at an auction somewhere. Ceiling fans and tract lighting. A television with a screen the size of a refrigerator, stereo system with speakers as big as bathtubs.
*Welcome to paradise.*
Hamm went through a side doorway, a gothic arch with no door and the face of a gargoyle set in the keystone, and entered the dining room, passing through to the kitchen. He got himself a Hard Lemonade from the cooler and came back into the living room, dropping into his favorite chair. He noticed then, on the coffee table, a package he did not remember bringing in. A manila envelope, stuffed thick.
*What the hell?* Hamm leaned forward with a grunt, picked up the package. It had his name on it but no address. The name looked to have been written with crayon, the writing of a child. *How’d this get in here?* The envelope had been wrapped in clear packaging tape, so it took a minute for Hamm to get it open. He turned it up in his hand.
Pictures and a cell phone fell into his lap. The phone and several of the photographs dropped to the floor. There, face-up on the carpet, Phil Hamm saw himself. But not just himself. In all the photographs, Phil Hamm saw skin. Naked skin. His own hairy, naked body. No mistaking that. A few of the pictures offered a perfect view of his face. But Phil Hamm was not alone in any of the photos. Not by a long shot.
*Oh God, no!*
He got down on his knees. The Hard Lemonade turned to bleach in his stomach. His throat tightened, an invisible noose around it.
Naked skin. Naked people. Phil Hamm and his little friends. Males and females, girls and boys. Yellow skin, brown skin, black skin. All naked.
The cell phone rang.