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Jennifer Barret glanced at the clock on the white wicker table beside her bed for at least the hundredth time that night. Midnight. She paced, her arms hugged across her chest.
"Where are you, Dad?" she whispered. "Why are you so late?"
She paused by the phone, lifted the receiver, and dialed her father's office at Orion Laboratories. The answering machine clicked on. She hung up. Something was wrong. But what?
In her mind she played back her father's phone call earlier. How long ago was it? Six o'clock, she thought. She was on her way out the door to go to the basketball game with her best friend, Iris, when he called. Saxet High was one win away from the state tournament, but her dad told her to stay home until he got there. He had sounded tense, jittery, even frightened. So she obeyed. And that was the last she had heard from him.
She tossed a pile of shirts and jeans to one side, flopped down on her bed, and ruffled the ears of the blue-speckled dog curled on the pillows. "Dad's not at work, Chopin," she said. "Where do you suppose he is?"
The dog opened one eye a hairline crack and yawned.
Jen joked to hide the unease growing inside her. "What's that you say, boy? You think Dad is at Lani's, doing whatever old people do on a date? Do they kiss?"
She wrinkled her nose at the thought. "If Dad is at Lani's, then why did he order me to stay home, when he hasn't shown up? Thanks to his phone call, I missed the most important game of the season." She sighed. "I don't understand him anymore. Ever since he met Lani he's acted like a lovesick schoolboy, while here I sit, bored to death. It isn't fair."
With her emotionsswitching from worry to irritation, she dialed Lani's house, ready to complain, and got her second recorded message of the evening. She dropped the receiver in its cradle. "I do not talk to machines," she told Chopin.
The dog sat up, his amber eyes alert and on his girl.
Soft music rolled from the CD player--Schubert's La Serenade. Branches of the mulberry tree outside her open window scraped against the roof. The red-and-white curtains rustled in the crisp spring breeze. Jen shivered and hurried to close the window. The glare of headlights coming down Harmony Road caught her eye. "Dad's home," she said with relief. "Finally."
The vehicle drew even with the iron gate at the end of the gravel drive, half a mile from the house, but instead of turning in, it stopped and sat there for a minute. Even at that distance she could see it was a car. Her father drove a pickup. The car then sped off, disappearing around a bend in the road.
"It wasn't Dad," she said, disappointed. "This isn't like him, Chopin. He always calls me when he's delayed. Or when he's going to Lani's."
At that moment, the phone rang, making her jump. She grabbed it. "Dad, what is going on? Do you know what time it is? When are you coming home?"
Silence on the other end.
The line went dead. Wrong number? She hung up.
The phone rang again.
She yanked it to her ear. "Listen, you ... you creep. I don't know who you are, or what game you're playing, but it's rude to hang up on a person. Get some manners. Talk to me. Say something."