A woman with no name is desperate to get from California to Utah, desperate to escape a life she wishes she could forget. But she's being followed, and the very man she had hoped to escape forever ...
200 miles from Phoenix, Arizona.
The car was never going to get me all the way to Salt Lake. I'm surprised it got me across the border to Arizona from California.
A crappy old Dodge. I picked it up cheap in L.A. five years ago, just in case I ever came out east again. I did, so I suppose it's a good thing that I had it waiting for me. I never should have left Phoenix in this thing, but I didn't have a choice. Unfortunately, it means that I about to become stuck in the middle of the Arizona desert, with night about two hours away.
I could push on, risk having the car explode beneath me. But I shouldn't. What I left behind isn't worth dying over.
It doesn't matter, I don't have a choice. Steam pours from the bonnet, the engine rattles like mad. The radio, permanently stuck on a station constantly spewing forth static, picks up the brassy sounds of a mariachi band, and a bang rings out, the entire car starts to shudder.
Alone, on a desolate stretch of desert road that probably last saw a car in 1973. I could have taken the highway, the famous Interstate all the way from Phoenix up to Salt Lake, and I could've just called my Triple A. But I do nothing; I just pull the car over, the sounds of the mariachi band, thin and tinny through the heavy static, still play over the poor-quality speaker system.
The engine whistles like a flute, and I pull up on the rocky shoulder of the road, just as the car quits on me and the mariachi music cuts out as the radio dies. I punch the steering wheel.
"Crap." I whisper. I reach across to the bag on the passenger seat as I undo the seatbelt. I check through the bag, make sure that my purse is in there. I grab the duffel, get out of the car. The sun is sinking towards the mountain-dotted horizon. I make my way down to the road, a thin stretch of dusty, sun-bleached asphalt stretching on forever. Empty. Barren. Deserted.
I slump down on the side of the road. I take out my purse, a nice leather thing. Ten bucks in a Tijuana back alley. Inside's a couple of hundred dollars, and a photograph of me and my ex. Mikhail. Tall, handsome. Blonde hair, blue eyes. I look away from it, to the card in the plastic fold opposite the photograph. A Vermont driver's license. I look pretty there: shoulder length brunette hair, and a bright smile on my pixie face. Now my hair hangs down past my shoulders, and is blonde.
The name on the ID is Veronica Samuels. I don't pay much attention to that.
All of a sudden, there's a bang, followed by a roar and the crackle of flames. I turn, see my car; a smoking ruin, smell burning gas and scorched plastic. Looks like I got out just in time. I take a deep breath.
Wednesday. Ten-twelve a.m.
Ontario Airport, Los Angeles.
Two Days Earlier.
"Okay, Miss Donovan, enjoy your stay in Los Angeles."
I take the passport back off the man behind the counter as the bustling hub of activity that is Ontario Airport in Los Angeles continues on around me. I take a second to look at the passport, and to read the name, just to remind myself. Marika Donovan. I smile at him, and he hands me the keys to the ancient blue Dodge waiting outside. Over the last few days I've used so many names, and so many pictures, that they've all become one in my mind.
"I will. Thanks."
I sling the bag I carry over my shoulder, and walk away, putting the passport into my leather purse. I allow myself to slip into the crowd, allow myself to be carried along on the sounds of the babbling crowd. I go out through the sliding glass double doors of the terminal, into the busy parking lot and the hot, still Southern California air.
I see the Dodge in the long term parking area. I head over there, avoid the long line of cars where people are dropping off their loved ones, saying last minute goodbyes. I don't like that kind of thing. I make my way across a busy stretch of road, and I barely miss being hit by a rented Cadillac. I see something odd. A Chevy in the long term parking area, with two people in it. Both men, both watching me. Or at least looking at me. I'm kind of used to men staring at me, but these two aren't just ogling.
They are watching me specifically.
I look away quickly. Not a good idea to let them know that I can see them. I get to my car, I start the ignition, which fires up with a sputter and a bang, and I drive away. And all the while, the men watch.
I drive the car from its position beneath the thin plastic awning covering that area of the parking lot, doing very little to actually protect the vehicles from the elements. I get to the boom gate, and flash the security guard my passport, and the parking ticket stub.
"Car looks about an inch from death." He says, with the smallest hint of concern. "It won't run forever."
"It'll get me where I need to go." I reassure him. He smiles at me, and lets me through, telling me to have a good day. I thank him, and drive on.
Then, in my rear view mirror, I see the Chevy, a black vehicle that wouldn't stick out anywhere in America. It follows me, the two men still inside. I accelerate away. But they're still following me.
Friday. Six-nineteen p.m.
200 miles from Phoenix, Arizona.
I sit alone. Not a single car has gone by in the time I have sat by the wide open road. There's the occasional tumbleweed, but nothing else, other than the slowly lengthening shadows. Night was just minutes away. When that happened, the Arizona desert would become a frozen waste, and I would either freeze out here, or be picked up. The car isn't an option. The fire's gone out, but the old Dodge is just a smoking wreck.
I close my eyes, and lean backwards on the dusty shoulder of the ancient road, using my bag as a pillow. I hope someone comes soon, because, quite frankly, the shoulder's uncomfortable, and it'll be worse when it's half frozen. I have no choice. I stand, grab my bag, sling it over my shoulder, and look around at the desolate twilight landscape, a bleak desert of nothing. I start to walk.
The only thing I can do follow is the road. So I do. I walk off, into the rapidly descending night.
Thursday. ten-fifty-nine p.m.
Hammerston Motel, Phoenix, Arizona.
One Day Earlier
"Enjoy your stay at the Hammerston Motel, Miss Kendall." The hotel's owner smiles at me, and I take back the New York State driver's license off of him. The name: Patricia Kendall. In this one, I have black hair, and a serious expression. "You went blonde."
I smile. "Yeah. I like it."
The owner flashes another smile, and hands me the keys to the hotel room. I leave; make my way to Room 6. I don't like lying, but it's getting easier. I go into the hotel room, and find myself in a nice, but small, apartment. I throw my bag on the single bed, and make sure that the door is chained. I sit down and pick up the remote on the bedside table. I watch a little TV, but I'm too tired to stay awake for long. Finally, I just sleep, too tired even to get undressed.
Eventually, something wakes me up. I glance at the clock on the wall beside the TV, which is still on, volume low. Three hours have passed since I first arrived at the motel. And, then, I hear what woke me up. A knock at the room's door. I reach into my bag, take out a six-shooter revolver. I have to be careful.
I move to the door. I open it slightly, keeping the chain in. I glance around the frame. Suddenly, it bursts open, and I'm thrown backwards. I grunt with shock as I hit the side of the bed, and the gun leaves my hands. I look up, just as the two men who had followed me from L.A. to Phoenix enter the room, wearing black suits. "You bastards." I growl, gritting my teeth. One grabs me, picks me up, and throws me onto the bed. As I fall, I lash out with my feet, and catch him in the groin. He drops to the ground, and the second goes for my throat. His fist curls around my neck, squeezes. My hand gropes outwards towards the bedside table. My fingers find purchase on an ashtray.
I grab it, swing, hit him hard in the temple. He growls with pain. I swing again. And again. And again. Finally, he lets go. He slips, falls down dead on the floor. The ashtray, made of glass, is unharmed. His temple is a bloodied mess. I go for my bag, for my revolver.
Suddenly, I hear a scraping noise, and I spin, just in time to the see the first man rearing up. I pull the trigger, and a gunshot thunders across the metre or so between us. He screams, clutches his stomach, drops to his knees, blood seeping out between his fingers. "You can't run forever. Not from him." He rasps through his clenched teeth, his skin suddenly pale.
"I know." I whisper, and I pull the trigger twice more.
Friday. Seven-o'clock p.m.
200 miles from Phoenix, Arizona.
The road is dark. I can see nothing, and the night is so quiet all I can hear is the crunching of gravel beneath my feet, and the chattering of my teeth as the last of the day's warmth is sucked from the air. With the bag still over my shoulder, I rub my upper arms, trying to keep warm. The cold pricks my skin, and I'm getting thirsty.
All of a sudden, in the distance, I see two tiny oncoming cones of light. This is my chance. I reach into my bag, take the revolver out. It only has three bullets left after my showdown with the stalkers that followed me across state lines, but that should be enough to deal with any predators that are in that car. I don't want to kill again. Twice was enough. I'm done running.
The car comes closer.
It's an SUV. It looks black, but at night it's difficult to tell. My footsteps still, and hope rises in my chest. The car nears. I see that it's a late-model Lexus. Finally, the light bathes me, and I'm obviously visible to the driver. I put out my hand, extend a thumb, but keep my other hand on the gun, making sure I keep it out of sight.
The car pulls in beside me.
I walk towards it, and open the door. "Where are you headed?"
"Vegas." The driver answers. He's alone. But his voice is somehow familiar.
I look into the murky interior of the car, and by the gentle light coming off the LCD screen of the car's in-built GPS system, I see the lone occupant. He's tall, and blonde, with blue eyes. My heart stops, the breath catches in my throat, and my mind goes back to the place where my car had finally given out. The photograph in my purse. Mikhail.
"You can't run forever," he tells me.
"I know." I whisper. "I'm done running." I get in the car, and together, we head back along that straight, lonely road, as oddly familiar brassy mariachi music plays strong and clear over the radio.