It was 4 a.m. Outside, it was dark and cold. Inside the service station’s fast food restaurant, there was no concession to the hour. It was bright. Too bright for the middle of the night. Sally wanted shadows she could crawl into. She wondered if Dan’s swollen face, accompanied by her gigantic midriff, would prevent them getting a table. But the waitress didn’t even seem to notice.
‘Table for two?’ said the rotund woman in the restaurant's unflattering uniform - the pattern on it could only be described as ‘tablecloth’.
The waitress took them to the far side, close to the front window which stretched the full length of the wall and from floor to ceiling, in full view of the car park. She waited for them to shuffle into the booth. It took Sally a while, as most things did these days.
'Two decaffinated coffees, please,' said Dan. Sally hated his assumptions of what she'd drink, which had started with the pregnancy. At first, his protectiveness was cute but that had worn off. Nevertheless, she was too tired to protest.
The waitress left them. Sally was still squeezing her bump into the booth.
'Do you need a hand, hon?'
'I'm fine.' Sally landed and took a deep breath. 'What's the plan?'
Dan rubbed his face to wake himself up but it hurt. The swelling had peaked. 'Ow,' he squeaked.
'You should wash that.'
'I will before we leave.” He glanced round the restaurant, but there was no chance of finding inspiration in a place like this. ‘To be honest, I don't have a plan. I thought about it in the car but I just went round and round. Have you had any thoughts?'
The waitress returned with two coffees. ‘Ready to order?’
Sally picked up the menu and read it in ten seconds flat. ‘The double cheesburger, pancakes, an English muffin, toast and the strawberry tart. Thank you.’
The waitress jotted it all down, then turned to go.
‘Excuse me,’ said Dan, raising his hand. The waitress huffed and begrudgingly turned back on her heels. ‘I haven’t ordered yet.’
The waitress appeared puzzled, until she took another look at Sally. For the first time she noticed she was pregnant.
‘Oh my God,’ gushed the waitress, ‘you’re so pregnant. You haven’t got long, have you?’
Sally raised her eyebrows. ‘About a month.’
‘You must be terrified. I know I would be. I could never do that. Like no way. Like shitting a football. That’s what they say, isn’t it?’
Sally forced a smile. Trust them to get a waitress with tocophobia. Sally knew that was the name for a fear of pregnancy - she’d looked it up shortly after she’d discovered she was expecting. ‘I’m looking forward to the unbearable pain actually. I don’t think the hospital exists that has enough drugs to keep me happy during the delivery.’
Sally saw Dan look away as he always did when she half-joked about the upcoming festival of torment. What other people, obviously better adjusted people, called the ‘joy of childbirth’.
‘I’ll have a poached egg on toast, please,’ said Dan.
‘Coming up,’ said the waitress, then headed off to the kitchen.
‘I’ll call the police.’ He pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket.
Sally put her hand over it. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’
Dan looked up at her quizzically. She stretched out her hand to stroke his battered face, but withdrew it in case it hurt. ‘The police were the only people who knew. Think about it. The only people. It might be a coincidence. But we don’t know.’
‘What do we do until then?’
‘We keep driving. If you’re not too tired.’
Aside from the injuries to his face, bags were appearing under Dan’s eyes. But they had to keep going, at least for a while. For once, his insomnia might be an advantage.
‘Eventually we’ll run out of road,’ Dan looked deep in thought. ‘And then what?’
Sally hadn’t thought that far ahead. ‘I don’t know.’
‘What if I just called Max and Julian. Told them not to tell anybody else in the police. We’ll need help.’ said Dan, as his finger played with the spilt salt on the table.
‘If nobody but the police knew where we were then, somehow, Frank Tong got his information from them. Surely I don’t have to tell an ex-lawyer that.’
Dan looked sheepish. She hadn’t meant to embarrass him but she squeezed his hand, just in case. ‘I don’t think we can tell anybody. What do you think?’
Dan went back to parting the spilt salt in a search for answers. ‘I think it’s going to be a long drive.’