The night air was tinged with smoke even this far away from the burning crash site.
There was an unnerving silence in the forest that seemed almost unnatural, although Salome knew it to be perfectly normal in this weather. No creature stirred about this horrid damp, dark, misty night. They were all taking shelter of course, somewhere warm, burrowed and cocooned awaiting a break in the rain.
She made her way slowly from the scene of the crash, hands outstretched in the darkness in front of her feeling around tree trunks, occasionally catching herself as she stumbled over bushes. She kept mostly adjacent to the road — the last thing she wanted was to get lost in the forest she knew covered hundreds of square miles, cut only by this lone road.
Her plan was simple, follow the road until it joined the highway, hitchhike into town and then…
And then what? she murmured to herself, her words hanging ominously before her in the stillness of the night, …what do I do?
Going to the cops was out of the question, Salome knew that for a fact. The police had been on that idiot’s side from the word go, what with the money he was willing to fork out to get his way.
The only bottom line
Daniel was truly without a conscience. That was not just some disparaging remark she was levelling at him because they disagreed on virtually everything, but the hard cold truth. He cared only about the bottom line, correction, his bottom line. People? The environment? Common decency? What did those things matter? He bribed, coerced then threatened, and now, even attempted murder; all over his desire to drill for oil inside a protected marine area.
I need to finish this. I can’t and won’t keep looking over my shoulder, she promised herself.
Her resolve was final, even as a small voice began to protest in her mind, trying to avoid the confrontation it knew would be ugly. But what if he wasn’t the one that sent those men in the car? What if they were just random kidnappers? Besides, Daniel is never alone as he is always surrounded by guards…how will you get to him?
The rain had stopped now. The mist was lifting. You could not tell in the pitch dark, but you could feel it. The damp in the air slowly dissipating to leave a sort of fresh coolness, and Salome realised she could no longer smell the smoke from the charred cars.
And she heard something else too, penetrating the silence. A low, dull hum that shifted slightly in pitch every few seconds. Cars! The highway!
Buoyed by the thought of getting to warmth and safety, she emerged from the tree cover and picked up her pace, reaching the still busy highway a few moments later.
“Please…please, please,” she prayed under her breath as she stuck her thumb out and hoped someone would stop. Her luck seemed to have changed for shortly, a truck pulled over to the shoulder of the road and a kindly old man flung open the passenger door.
“Are you alright? Jump in, I am headed into town.”
There wasn’t much small talk during the ten-minute drive into town. He seemed to understand she didn’t care to share, and he wasn’t much of a talker himself. Dropping her off, he tipped his hat and offered her a kindly smile which she returned with a brief but heartfelt ‘thank you’, then she was off.
In her pocket was his mobile phone which she had swiped with ease. She felt horrible for it but this was no time for feelings.
Walking briskly, Salome headed to a shopping complex. It was only around eight o’clock, but the place was mostly empty which suited her. Ignoring the few curious looks directed her way, she went straight to the make-up section and began pilling on the test samples.
She never wore make-up, but knew how to apply it expertly. When she was done, few could recognise her. Then she made for the bathrooms, to try her best to get the dirt and mud off herself.
“Well …this is it,” she said calmly to the reflection of the stranger staring back at her.
As Salome emerged from the shopping centre, there was a subtle but very perceptible change in her demeanour. She strode confidently all the way to the imposing high-rise that housed Daniel’s penthouse apartment.
In this affluent part of town, the streets were deserted. No one was walking about and only a few cars drove by, spraying plume from the recent rain. Salome inhaled to settle her nerves, squared her shoulders and walked into the building, straight to the concierge.
“Daniel Mdi, penthouse please.” Her voice was even.
The tired, little man at the front desk barely looked up at her. He had been at this job long enough to know Mr Mdi well, and having random female company over was typical behaviour. He waved her toward the elevators and continued picking at his nails.
Salome paced from foot to foot as the lift whirred to the top floor, exhaling slowly as the doors opened. There, a few feet from the lift doors, sat a beefy, unfriendly looking beast of a man, who leapt to his feet immediately.
Like the concierge in the lobby, he was all too used to his employers’ behaviour, but unlike the little man, he devoured Salome with his eyes; so much so she began to be uneasy. What if he recognised her?
But as she pondered this, he simply leered at her and opened the door to the apartment.
It was dimly lit by mood lighting, and there was classical music gently wafting from somewhere. Walking on tiptoe, Salome followed the sound to a large living room overlooking an expansive balcony, with views of the entire town.
Standing still by the balustrade, drink in hand, was Daniel. Hesitating slightly, she pulled out the stolen phone, turned on the voice recorder and stalked forward until she was a few feet from him.
It was all she said. She had come to extract a foolproof confession but words failed her.
Daniel spun round wildly, his glass crashing to the floor. She saw in his eyes that he was drunk, or high on something; either way he was terrified to see this apparition appear out of nowhere, speaking in a voice he recognised as belonging to a woman he thought was dead.
His sudden motion threw him off balance and he lost his footing. He fell back against the balustrade, but being the tall man he was, the railing did not confer the protection it should have. Daniel’s mouth opened in a silent ‘oh!’ before he slipped over the edge to his death.
Salome did not wait around. She charged at the door in seconds, hitting the guard over the head with a vase as she exited, and slipped out into the night without the concierge giving her so much as a second glance.