She emptied the contents of the shoebox into her secretarial handbag. After a few seconds' hesitation she put Helen's little gun inside, as well. She closed the handbag, gripped it in one hand, hoisted the suitcase, and hurried out into the hall.
When she went past Helen's bedroom, she tried not to look at the body, but she could not help herself.
Helen Spencer had been ravishingly beautiful, an angelic blonde with sparkling blue eyes. Wealthy, charming, and gracious, she had paid her small household staff, including her secretary, very well. In return, she had demanded loyalty and absolute discretion concerning her seemingly small eccentricities such as her occasional demands for privacy and her odd travel schedule.
Like the others on the mansion's very small staff—the middle-aged housekeeper and the butler—Anna had been happy to accommodate Helen. It had been an enchanted life, but tonight it was over.
Anna went down the stairs. She had always known that her good fortune could not last. Orphans developed a realistic view of life early on.
When she reached the ground floor she went past Helen's study. She glanced inside and saw that the door of the safe was open. The desk lamp was on. There was a blue velvet bag inside the safe.
She hesitated. Something told her that she had to know what was inside the velvet bag. Perhaps the contents would explain what had happened that night. She set the suitcase on the floor, crossed the study, and reached into the safe. Scooping up the velvet bag, she loosened the cord that cinched it closed and turned it upside down over the desk.
Emeralds and diamonds glittered in the lamplight. The necklace was heavy and old-fashioned in design. It looked extremely valuable. Helen had some very good jewelry but Anna was sure she had never seen the necklace. It wasn't Helen's style. Perhaps it was a family heirloom.
But the more pressing question was, why would the killer open the safe and then leave such an expensive item behind?
Because he was after something else, she thought. The notebook.
She slipped the necklace into the velvet sack and put it into the safe.
She went back into the hall, picked up the suitcase, and rushed outside. The sporty Packard coupe that Helen had insisted upon giving her was waiting in the drive. She tossed the suitcase and the handbag into the trunk and got behind the wheel—and nearly went limp with gratitude and relief when the well-tuned engine started up on the first try.
She turned on the lights, put the car in gear, and drove down the long, winding drive, through the open gates, and away from the big house.
She gripped the wheel very tightly and forced herself to concentrate. She had not learned all of Helen Spencer's secrets tonight but she had stumbled upon enough of them to make one thing blazingly clear: She had to get as far away from New York as possible.
The narrow mountain road twisted and turned on itself as it snaked down into the valley, a harrowing trip for those unaccustomed to it, especially at night. But her grandfather had taught her to drive when she was thirteen, and she had learned on bad mountain roads. She knew how to handle tight curves, and she knew this particular mountain road very well. She had driven her employer back and forth between the Manhattan apartment and the secluded mansion many times during the past year.
Helen's faithful butler, Mr. Bartlett, had doubled as her chauffeur before Anna arrived at the mansion. But Bartlett's eyesight had begun to fail. Helen had been thinking of looking for a new driver when she hired Anna. Helen had been delighted to discover that, in addition to her stenography skills, her private secretary was also a skilled driver. Saves me from having to hire a chauffeur, she had said.
Helen had always been very keen on keeping staff to a bare minimum. She was not a stingy employer—just the opposite, in fact—but she had made it clear that she did not want a lot of people around her at the mansion. Tonight it occurred to Anna that the reason Helen had limited the number of people on her household staff was because she had secrets to hide.