She would never—never, never!
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They would surely shake their heads and attempt to shackle her back to the kitchen! Her grin faded as her gaze focused briefly on the gas gauge. The needle was bouncing below the reserve line. Oh, God! Why are you doing this to me? She could hardly see ahead of her; how would she ever find a service station if there was one to be found? Again she berated herself for not doing a more thorough study of the area and the problems she would be called upon to solve.
In theory her idea of reaching her destination and learning the particulars of the job in the city where she would be headquartered had seemed sound. She would have a whole week to study the situation up close before her first meeting was scheduled.
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She knew the basics. Her firm, T and C Development, had purchased land from the federal government The company was planning a wonderful family community, but now the land was in dispute. The Seminole Indians were claiming that prime portions of the land belonged to them. Rather than anticipate long years of court battles, T and C had decided first to attempt to deal with the Indians on their own.
Hence the PR. She loved dealing with people, and with T and C behind her, she was sure she could work out a deal beneficial to both parties. Of medium height and slight build, she was a willowy beauty. Her face was a classic oval, her nose pert, her chin determined, her large green eyes vivacious and sincere.
The dark brunet hair that framed the alabaster skin of her features was styled in a long, feminine, feather cut that thoroughly proclaimed her a woman, while the dignity of her stature, movements and cool, quiet voice announced that she was not one to be dealt with lightly.
She tackled each new problem with vital energy, intuitively looking beyond the obvious, objectively open to thoughts and ideas other than her own. Whitney was inching along now, the rain having become a solid sheet of gray which her bright lights illuminated but failed to penetrate.
The car practically came to a stop as she chewed her lip nervously and decided she would have to pull off the road and onto the embankment. Carefully she braked and hedged the wheel to the right. She breathed a sigh of relief as the auto halted without sinking into the muck. The ground of the embankment was sturdy.
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Leaving the emergency blinkers on, she switched off the ignition and fumbled in her purse for a cigarette. She had been craving one for an hour but had been afraid to lift her hand from the steering wheel long enough to light it. Now she inhaled deeply, flexing her long, taut fingers. Once the rain cleared, she would be fine. She had to be close to Naples. And somewhere along the road there had to be a service station.
Allowing her mind to wander as she watched the pelting rain pummel the windshield, Whitney idly began to wonder about the man who would be her main opponent in the land deals. All she really had to go on was a name: Jonathan E. He sounded like a crusty old crusader, some ranting do-gooder determined to hold sacred the cause of the Indian.
Oh, well! She hoped she would be able to convince old Jonathan E. Jobs, schooling, and better housing would be available to all.
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Ricking the key in the ignition and switching the brights back on, she noticed a broken sign lying haphazardly on the ground not twenty feet away. The heavy rain must have torn it from a post. Straining her eyes, she could just make out the blessedly wonderful word GAS and an arrow that pointed into the swamp. Frowning, Whitney scanned the dark, cropped embankment and the fields of high sawgrass that loomed beyond in the night. She switched to her low beams and then back to her high beams.
Yes, just past the sign there was a road. Creeping slowly to it, she discerned that it was solid—just dirt and gravel, but mercifully unflooded. And in the distance, peeking dimly but surely, glowed a sure sign of life—light!
Almost giddy with relief, Whitney eagerly began her drive through the swamp. With the rain receding, she rolled down her window and welcomed the fresh night air that washed through the small car. Along with the air came the eerie sounds of the primitive environment—the low, musical chirping of a thousand insects, the guttural croak of a bullfrog, the high-pitched and mournful scream of a startled bird. The darkness, compounded by the sawgrass that bordered her, rising several feet higher than the car in spots, suddenly caused chills of fear to creep along her spine.
She was facing danger, she realized for the first time. The longer she drove, the farther away the light seemed. Legends she had heard of the Glades came to her mind—legends of alligators, snakes and quicksand. In the sterility of a Richmond high rise, the stories had seemed things of the past—fairy tales as extinct as dinosaurs. But she was driving into reality—a very present reality. She could well imagine being lost in this desolation, dying a slow, agonizing death of snakebite and wandering mile after dismal mile in the sweltering bog.
Stop it, girl! She was in a car on a high road. Alligators did not attack BMWs. Nor did snakes climb through moving windows. Now as to quicksand …. The light was standing still, increasing in brilliance. Within minutes she would reach it. Not even a half-mile farther—.
But the BMW sputtered, choked and died, rolling to a standstill. Knowing that it was her own stupidity that so thoroughly infuriated her, she still swore a spate of oaths to the betraying machinery.
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She had to yell at something! Sitting perplexed, in disgusted disbelief she watched the slow tick of the second-hand dial on the dashboard clock. The first pink streaks of dawn were still a good ten hours away. Having been raised in a distinguished old Virginia home by moderately wealthy parents, Whitney was admittedly accustomed to all the creature comforts.
Competent and on my own! Oh, for a shower and a Holiday Inn! She extinguished the lights and curled her leather shoulder bag into her arms to form a pillow as she stretched as comfortably as possible across the front seat. Now sleep! You have no choice …. But as soon as she closed her eyes, visions appeared before them—visions of her running through the Everglades, lost in the woods, shrouded in darkness, deadly menace lurking everywhere …. Snapping back to a sitting position, she blinked in the darkness.
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