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Authors: Barbara Delinsky

Finger Prints

BOOK: Finger Prints
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BARBARA DELINSKY
 
 
Finger Prints
 
 
To my husband, Steve, for his endless support and the brilliant career that inspired Finger Prints, and to my sons, Eric, Andrew and Jeremy, for their indulgence in repeating things twice to catch my attention
.
 
Contents
 
 

One

THE NOVEMBER AFTERNOON WAS GRAY, WITH…
 

Two

TAKING A WORN ADDRESS BOOK FROM HIS DESK…
 

Three

“YES?” SHE ASKED SOFTLY, UNSURELY.
 

Four

SATURDAY MORNING DAWNED CLEAR AND SEASONABLY…
 

Five

“CARLY, WAIT!” CATCHING THE DOOR JUST…
 

Six

WHEN HE LOWERED HIS HEAD THIS TIME, THERE…
 

Seven

SHEILA MONTGOMERY TUGGED AT THE BUZZING…
 

Eight

“YOU NEVER DID TELL ME ABOUT THAT AUTOPSY…
 

Nine

CARLY’S GAZE SWUNG TO RYAN. “YOUR EX-WIFE?”
 

Ten

CHEEKS RED, RYAN AND CARLY SAT AT THE BOTTOM…
 

Eleven

AFTER LEAVING THE AIRPORT, THEY’D STOPPED…
 

Twelve

CARLY SPENT MOST OF NEW YEAR’S EVE DAY…
 

Thirteen

NEW YEAR’S DAY DAWNED BRIGHT AND CRISP…
 

Fourteen

SHEILA SAT AT HER DESK THE FOLLOWING MONDAY…
 

Fifteen

HEAD DOWN, RYAN CAME UP THE COURTYARD…
 

Sixteen

RETURNING FROM THE COURTHOUSE, SAM HAD…
 

Seventeen

CARLY COULD HAVE SWORN SHE WAS BEING FOLLOWED…
 

Eighteen

WEDNESDAY NIGHT RYAN WORKED LATE. HE DID…
 

Nineteen

RYAN SAT ON THE PLANE ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON…
 

Twenty

CARLY’S RELIEF WAS IMMEASURABLE NOW WHAT…
 

Twenty-one

BEFORE CARLY COULD UTTER THE SMALLEST…
 

Epilogue

WITHIN A WEEK AFTER, AND INDEPENDENT OF,…
 

About the Author

 

Praise

 

Other Books by Barbara Delinsky

 

Cover

 

Copyright

 

About the Publisher

 
One
 
 

t
HE 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 tail-lights 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 street-lights 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. Looking neither to the right nor the left, she sprinted forward with single-minded intent. Her breath came in short, painful gasps, intermingled with soft moans of fear. Through the wisps of auburn hair that had blown across her face, she saw the sanctuary of home drawing closer, closer. Ignoring the stitch in her side, she ran on, nearly there now, all but tasting refuge.

It was only after she’d turned in at the stone courtyard that, without breaking pace, she dared a glance over her shoulder. The look was ill-timed. She’d barely spotted the jogger who had turned onto Memorial Drive when she collided headlong with a firm wall of muscle.

Terror-filled, she caught her breath in a loud gasp and would have fallen on the rebound had it not been for firm fingers gripping her arms. One part of her wanted to scream; the other part recalled what Sam had told her.

“You’re Carly Quinn now,” he’d said in that soothing voice of his. “Stay calm. Whatever you do, if someone approaches, don’t make the mistake of assuming that Robyn Hart has been found out. You’ve got to act with confidence or you’ll blow your own cover. Carly Quinn has absolutely nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Remember that.”

It was easier said than done. Now, breathless from running and with the drum of her pulse reverberating in her ears, she raised panic-stricken eyes to those of her captor. He was large, tall and broad-shouldered, intimidating. In the relative light of the courtyard, she saw that he was dark—his full shock of casually mussed hair, the beard that stretched from ear to ear and parted only briefly at his lips, the worn sweat shirt he’d shoved up to the elbow. She knew she’d never seen him before; there was an intensity about him that she would not have quickly forgotten. Yet as a hit man he was questionable. His features were too gentle, as were, oddly, the fingers that seemed now to grasp her arms more in support of her shaking limbs than in any form of detention. And his voice, his voice, too, lacked the coarseness for which she’d steeled herself.

“Are you all right?” he asked, frowning at the pallor that the courtyard lights illumined.

Slowly, Carly came to her senses. His concern was as inconsistent with imminent attack as was the leisure with which he stood there holding her in the light, in view of any neighbor who cared to look. Panic yielded to caution, which was tinged with embarrassment when she forced herself to speak. She’d obviously made a foolish mistake.

“Yes…yes, I’m fine,” she whispered falteringly. As unwarranted as her alarm had apparently been, it had nonetheless taken its toll. She was breathless from her dash, and felt weak and tired. And she wasn’t yet home free. Scrounging odd fragments of strength, she tore her gaze from his and took a step back. The man’s arms dropped to his sides. Then she turned her head and murmured a chagrined, “Excuse me,” before sidestepping him and heading for the door, which was mercifully propped open with a carton, saving her the trial of having to fit her key into the lock. With the trembling of her fingers, she never would have made it.

Bent only on reaching total safety, she walked quickly through the lobby to the open stairs that wound broadly around the plant-filled atrium. She neither stopped nor looked back until she’d reached the third floor and her own apartment. Glancing around then to see that she hadn’t been followed, she quickly punched out the combination to disengage her alarm, fumbled with her key for a minute and let herself in. Before she’d even crossed the threshold she flipped a switch to brightly light not only the small foyer in which she stood but also the sunken living room beyond. Everything looked fine. Wonderful, in fact. Stepping inside, she shut the door firmly, reactivated the alarm, drove home the bolts, then sagged back against the door with a long, shuddering breath. For the many times she’d felt herself a prisoner of circumstance, her cell had rarely been more appreciated than it was at that moment.

Home. She’d made it. Through the harrowing trek, her worst enemy had been her own imagination. Her lips thinned in self-reproach. Nightmares were one thing—those she couldn’t help. Though they varied in specifics, their general content was the same. She was caught. Cornered. Doomed. Sometimes by fire, blazing hot and out of control. Sometimes by an obscured face, by a gruff, terrifying voice. Or by a hand with a small but deadly gun.

Suppressing a shudder, she silently scolded herself. No, she couldn’t control the nightmares. But
this
? Running through the streets in a state of sheer panic? Shaking her head in dismay, she gazed around at the comforts of home and took long, purposeful breaths. With the gradual steadying of her pulse, she pushed away from the door, dropped her shoulder bag on the hall table, shrugged out of her coat and tossed it over the arm of the living-room sofa before sinking into the adjacent cushions. Their welcome was heaven. She eased off her heels to allow her feet play in the plush carpet and laid her head back, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. In the four months that she’d been on her own, she couldn’t remember ever having panicked. Yet just now she’d totally, pathetically lost her cool, and it baffled her.

She opened her eyes, first looking down at the sophisticated sweater and skirt that so fitted the image of the modern English teacher, then letting her eyes wander over the apartment that similarly spoke of her new life. Given the bizarre circumstances that had brought her east, she had much to be grateful for. She had this beautiful home, a newly converted condominium with every convenience and then some. And she had a good job, one for which she was well trained, if a bit rusty. It had been more than five years since she’d taught, and she had been hesitant, to say the least. But it had seemed the perfect answer to her relocation dilemma and, once her teaching position had been secured, she’d spent the summer preparing her curriculum. It had taken hours upon hours, long days of reading and study and thought. As with everything she’d ever done, though, she had wanted to do this right.

Initially she’d been simply grateful for the diversion. With thoughts of Melville, Faulkner and Hemingway dominating her mind, there was little time to brood on Barber and Culbert. Gradually, she realized that she truly loved what she was doing, all the more when school began in September.

Stretching to further relax herself, she reached back to lift the weight of hair from her neck and expose lingering traces of dampness to the air. Yes, she did love her job. She loved dealing with literature itself, she enjoyed the give and take with her colleagues, and she particularly adored the kids. They were fresh and open, eager to learn. Many came from families who sacrificed to send them to private school. All were college-bound. Even given the free spirits, the nonconformists, the occasional troublesome ones of the lot, their dedication to learning was a teacher’s dream. She felt challenged and rewarded, far more than she’d imagined she would ever be when she’d been forced to abandon Chicago, and some of the happiest years of her life.

Happiest, yet most tragic. First Matthew. Then Peter. Two people she’d loved, though in very different ways, now dead. And she had lived to begin anew in a way that most people wouldn’t, most people couldn’t, dream of doing.

She wandered restlessly around the living room, trailing her finger across a white lacquered cabinet to the television, then on to the bookshelf where she paused for a moment’s thought before padding to the kitchen for a glass of orange juice. That firmly in hand, she returned to the sofa, settling back into the cushions to cope with an all-too-familiar sense of emptiness.

The view that met her eye was comforting, though. Her apartment was a vision of subdued elegance, from the white-textured cotton of the modular sofa, with its gay throw pillows of mauves and pale blues, and the low sculpted tables of white marble, to the original silk-screen prints on the walls and the recessed fixtures overhead. It was easily something a decorator might have put together, yet Carly had done it all. For the first time in her life she had splurged indecently. But then, she’d reasoned, she owed it to herself, both in compensation for the years she’d worked nonstop and in consolation for her more recent heartache.

Helplessly, her thoughts turned to Matthew. He’d never have lived this way, in a spotless apartment, with everything in its place. The apartments they’d shared through six years of marriage had been older, more cluttered, eminently casual. She’d loved it then because she had been with him. How she’d loved him. How she missed him!

Sighing, she absently swirled her orange juice, then nearly spilled it when the jangle of the phone made her jump. Muscles that had just begun to relax tensed quickly. The phone didn’t ring often. That too was a change. There was a time when it had never seemed to stop.

BOOK: Finger Prints
4.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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