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The November afternoon was gray, with dusk lurking just around the corner, waiting to ensnare the hapless passerby in its chilling shroud. Carly Quinn tugged the collar of her trench coat closer around her neck, then shifted the bag of books to a more comfortable spot on her shoulder without missing a step. She walked quickly. These days in particular, she didn't feel safe until she was home and the last of the three bolts on her door were securely thrown.
The tap of her slender heels on the sidewalk reminded her that she'd forgotten to change shoes before she'd left school, and she silently cursed the haste behind the lapse. But she'd worked late grading themes. And it was Friday. When she left the library her only thought had been of home.
Home. She gave a wry smile as she turned onto Brattle Street, waited for a break in the rush-hour traffic, then trotted across to resume her march among the smattering of pedestrians on the opposite side. Home. Strange how the mind could adapt, she mused. How utterly, unbelievably different her life had been a year ago. Now, Cambridge Was home and she was Carly Johnson Quinn. She looked like a Carly, dressed like a Carly, was even beginning to dream like a Carly. Perhaps they'd been right. Perhaps she would adjust after all.
Momentarily lulled into security by the humanity surrounding her, she became mesmerized by the taillights of the cars headed into Harvard Square. She wondered where their drivers were going, whether to dinner at Ahmed's or Grendel's Den, for a beer at the Wursthaus, or to a show in Boston.
A car honked in passing and, stiffening, Carly jerked her head sharply to the left. When her gaze met the grinning faces of several of her students, her relief was immediate. They had just returned from a triumphant basketball game against their arch rival. She had talked briefly with them as she'd left the school and now tipped her head up to offer a smile. Then they were gone, swallowed up in the inbound traffic, leaving her to control the runaway beat of her heart Oh, yes, she reflected, she might well adjust to a new life, a new identity. But she seriously doubted that this would ever change -- the constant nervousness, the perpetual guardedness, especially now that the days were shorter and darkness fell that much earlier.
Quickening her step, she covered two more blocks before turning right and heading toward the river. Her apartment was no more than five minutes ahead. Yet this was the strip that always bothered her most. The side street was narrower and less traveled than the main one. It was darker too, barely lit by the streetlights that seemed lost among the network of tree branches and telephone wires. And there were any number of front doors and side paths and back alleys from which an assailant might materialize. An occasional car approached from behind, headlights slinging tentative shadows across the pathways ahead. Carly swallowed hard once, anchored her lower lip beneath her teeth and pressed onward.
There was nothing to fear, nothing to fear. She repeated the silent litany as she had so often in the past months, speeding it up in time with her pace. Perhaps, she mused, she should follow Sam's suggestion and take her car. But then she would have a parking hassle at the end of the day. Besides, the exercise was good for her, as was the crisp fall air.
She took a deep, restorative breath, then held it convulsively when a figure suddenly approached from the opposite direction. Only when she recognized the research technician who worked at the hospital did she slowly exhale. He was right on schedule, she realized, mentally calculating the time. She passed him whenever she left school at five-thirty, which wasn't more than once or twice a week and then always on random days. It was one of the things Sam Loomis had taught her. The more varied her existence, the more elusive a target she'd be. Not that she was a creature of habit. She'd been far more impulsive in the past, when she was driven by the demons within to prove herself as a journalist. Now, though, as a highschool English teacher, she led a life more conducive to order. Strange, she mused again, how things had changed.
The research technician passed on the opposite sidewalk without a word. But then, he'd have no reason to recognize Carly. She, on the other hand, had Sam, who had carefully checked out not only her neighbors, but the people they'd passed in those first few weeks when he'd been by her side walking her to school in the morning, then home at night. He'd been a godsend, given the circumstances.
Now, though, she was on her own and free to imagine all kinds of villains in pursuit on a dark and deserted street. But it wasn't really deserted, she chided herself. There were close-set houses on one side, low apartment buildings on the other. And there were cars lining both curbs as evidence of people nearby. Surely if she were in danger, she would only have to scream and there would be any number of people to help. Or so she hoped. In less optimistic moments she wondered if these urban dwellers would come to the aid of a woman they didn't know. She wondered if, with their doors and windows shut tight, they would even hear her.
When, silhouetted against the lights on Memorial Drive, the rounded turret of her building came into view, she felt momentarily lightened. Then she heard the crescendoing thud of footsteps behind and her calm vanished. Without thought to her heels, the broken sidewalk or the heavy bag that pounded her side with each stride, she broke into as steady a run as she could manage ...Finger Prints. Copyright © by Barbara Delinsky. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Finger Prints by Barbara Delinsky
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