I've been incredibly naïve, Anna thought.
She had always prided herself on taking a cold-eyed, realistic view of the world. A woman in her position could not afford the luxuries of optimism, hope, and sentiment.
For the most part she considered herself to be quite intuitive when it came to forming impressions of others. But when she did make mistakes, the results tended to be nothing short of catastrophic.
She reached the small, sleepy village at the foot of the mountain and turned onto the main road. Unable to think clearly enough to come up with a destination, she pursued a random route, passing through a string of tiny towns.
She continued driving an erratic pattern straight through the next day, stopping only for gas and a sandwich. But at nightfall exhaustion forced her to pull into an autocamp. The proprietors did not ask for a name, just enough money to cover the cost of a private cabin and a hot meal.
She collapsed on a cot and slept fitfully until dawn. In her feverish dreams she fled from an unseen menace while Helen urged her to run faster.
She awoke to the smell of coffee. A newspaper delivery truck arrived while she was eating the breakfast provided by the couple who operated the camp. She bought a paper and unfolded it with a mix of dread and curiosity. The news of Helen Spencer's murder was on the front page.
WEALTHY N.Y. SOCIALITE SAVAGELY MURDERED.
PRIVATE SECRETARY MISSING. WANTED FOR QUESTIONING.
STOLEN NECKLACE FOUND IN DEAD WOMAN'S SAFE.
Shock iced Anna's blood. She was now a suspect in the murder of Helen Spencer. Helen's warning came back to her: You must not trust anyone—not the police, not the FBI. Above all, never trust a lover.
The last bit, at least, was easy enough, Anna thought. She did not have a lover. She had not had one since Bradley Thorpe. That humiliating debacle was the last occasion on which her intuition had failed quite spectacularly.
She pulled herself back from the cliff-edge of panic. She was a proud graduate of the Gilbert School for Secretaries. Gilbert Girls did not panic. She had been trained to exert control over chaos. She knew how to set priorities.
First things first: It was time to choose a destination. She could not continue to drive aimlessly up and down the East Coast. The very thought of spending weeks, months, or years on the run was enough to shatter her nerves. Besides, the money would not last forever. Sooner or later she would have to go to ground. Catch her breath. Get a job. Invent a new life.
She was not the only person who had spent the night in the autocamp. The others gathered around the table for breakfast, eager to get back on the road. They chatted easily, sharing travelers' tales. All of the conversations started the same way. Where are you headed?
There were many answers but one in particular stood out because it sparked curiosity, wonder, and several nods of agreement around the table.
By the time she finished breakfast she had made her decision. She would do what countless others had done when they were forced to build new lives. She would head for that mythical land out west where a vast blue ocean sparkled beneath a cloudless sky, and orange trees grew in people's backyards. A land where glamorous people created magic on the silver screen and got involved in titillating scandals in their spare time. A land where everyone was too busy inventing the future to care that she had no past.
She got back behind the wheel and started driving west.
Somewhere along the line she came up with a new name for herself: Irene Glasson. It had a Hollywood ring to it, she thought.
She found the highway to her future right where the other travelers had said it would be—in downtown Chicago.
Route 66 would take her all the way to California.