“Personal preference for what?” Karena asked herself as she drove back into town. “I thought I was worried before. Now I’m freaking out.” She turned down her car radio, to reduce that distraction. She wasn’t familiar with the roads in this part of town, and her thoughts about Dan Starney were distraction enough. With the detour and poorly-timed lights, it took her almost forty-five minutes to get back to her apartment that was only a few blocks away from Branner Glen High School. She rolled her eyes when she saw that a frequent visitor of her upstairs neighbor had again taken her reserved spot. She searched for an open unreserved spot and finally found one several buildings away from her own.
Once she was in her small apartment, Karena began pacing back and forth between the small kitchen and the so-called dining room with its tiny balcony overlooking the grand vista of parking spaces and more apartment buildings. She was on the second floor and not on an end, so she had neighbors on both sides, as well as above and below her. Most of them were relatively quiet, and all but the upstairs neighbor were gone during the day. At that moment the music from upstairs could be heard, but it was not as loud as at other times and she decided to ignore it.
Serious misgivings plagued Karena’s thoughts. In the past, Dan Starney seemed like a quiet, somewhat reclusive, and mildly eccentric teacher who wouldn’t stand out of the crowd for any reason. His large home sitting on a large piece of land was a bit unusual, but he wasn’t the only person in town to inherit a sizable home. Many sold their newly-acquired properties promptly, either as-is or for razing and development, but she couldn’t blame him for wanting to live in his quiet, comfortable home. In a very short time, however, her perception of him shifted from a benign and simple history teacher to somebody with serious and potentially dangerous secrets.
“Donna,” Karena said to herself suddenly. “Donna should know what to do.” It was not the first time that Karena’s college roommate came to mind at a time when Karena was having a hard time sorting out her thoughts.
Donna Firenza had always seemed to Karena to be too smart for the small state-run college where Karena earned her degree in teaching, but Donna made no secret of her disavowal of what she termed “modern ambitions.” She was happy to obtain a straightforward and low-cost degree in computer science and apply her analytical thinking to the first employer to offer her a decent salary. Donna allocated her time precisely, putting a high priority on gardening and book reading, never making an effort to advance her career by working long hours or vying for higher positions. Karena admired her clear thinking, even if it bordered on basic stubbornness at times.
“Good evening, Karena,” Donna’s voice came over the line as Karena’s call went through.
“Hi Donna,” Karena replied. “Do you have a few minutes? There’s something I’d like to run by you. It’s sort of urgent.”
There was a brief pause before Donna replied, “Yes, I have thirty-seven minutes before I need to prepare to leave, although I can postpone my evening commitment if you will need more than that.”
Karena smiled at her friend’s precision. “No,” she answered, “I don’t think I will need that much of your time.” She was tempted to ask her friend teasingly if she was going out on a date, but decided the urgency she felt was more important
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