Going through the paperwork and filling in forms seemed interminable. They’d booked on-line why did they have to do it all again? When they came to the driving licence and credit card bit they had to charm the receptionist. The names on both were supposed to match but a story about a break in at their house, a suggestion of emotion from Sally, causing Dan to wrap his arm around her shoulder and whisper quietly to her did the trick and eventually the forms were completed. It was a neat bit of acting and they surprised themselves. Feeling a mixture of guilt and triumph they walked around the white van, inspecting the paintwork and signing that they agreed with the condition. Sally tried not to think beyond the moment because when she did her stomach clenched with nerves and she was continually fighting nausea as the urge to run almost overtook her.
“So this is a twenty-four hour rental?” The receptionist didn’t look at them but typed continually into the computer, and you will be returning the vehicle to this depot?”
As Sally opened her mouth to respond Dan placed his foot on top of hers, pressing down gently. She glanced at him but held her tongue.
“Can we leave it somewhere else then?”
“Oh yes, we do one way hire and you can leave the van at your destination providing we have a depot nearby.”
“Okay, we’ll do that then.”
“Where will you be leaving it? I need to change the booking, again,” she sighed and rolled her eyes. “And I’ll have to give you details of our collection point.”
“Newcastle.” It took all her resolve not to glance at him. Sally bent to fiddle with a shoelace until her expression was back under control. What the hell was he thinking? They were going to Dover weren’t they? They were taking the women to the coast.” He slid an arm around her waist and gave a little squeeze. Okay, she would wait, he’d thought of something.
Eventually it was all done. By the time she sat in the driver’s seat Sally’s hands were damp with sweat and shaking with nerves. Daniel laid a hand on her leg. “Take a deep breath Sal, you can do this. Don’t screw it up, just drive slowly and then as soon as we’re out of sight I’ll take over. She couldn’t speak, but nodded and conjured up a smile. She let in the clutch and the big vehicle moved towards the yard gate and turned into the mercifully light flow of traffic.
“Hey, it’s not that hard really.”
“Watch the parked cars Sal, you’re awfully close.”
“Right, right, sorry that’s the only thing, getting used to the size but apart from that it’s no different from driving a car.
“Do you want me to take over or can you manage?”
“No, actually I think it’s okay. I need to know which way to go though.”
“Take the next left and head towards the motorway.” She rolled her shoulders and took a deep breath.
“Okay, why on earth are we going to Newcastle?”
“But you said… …”
“I know, but it was a spur of the moment thing. I thought it might be better if we didn’t have to bring the van back here, then I thought we didn’t want to tell them where we were going.”
“Well, we don’t know what’s going to happen. If the police get involved and they have the registration and so on it might be better if they don’t know which way we’re headed. I’m just trying to think on my feet here Sal, I could be completely wrong – how the hell do I know?”
“Yeah but they’ve got our address and my driving licence details and stuff. If we don’t leave the van where we said we would we’ll be in trouble.”
“I have a horrible feeling we are going to end up in trouble anyway love. I don’t know how we’ll get away with all this without some sort of comeback. I’m sorry.”
“Stop bloody apologising will you. But why Newcastle?”
“It was just the first big town I thought of, I remembered your face when I said we could go to Newcastle, you looked so shocked. To be honest it was a bit funny. We’ll just leave the van in Dover, they must have a depot there. We’ll tell them there was a change of plan. The most they can do really is keep our deposit.”
“Hmmm. Right, am I going on the motorway?”
“No, at the roundabout take the second exit and then I should be able to find the Paint Ball place.” … …
There were a few frustrating wrong turns. Sally struggled reversing and manoeuvring the clumsy vehicle in narrow roads but after forty-five minutes Daniel reached across and touched her arm.
“Pull in Sal, over there by those trees.”
Once the engine was stilled she took a moment, flexing her cramping fingers and easing tense shoulders, rolling her head from side to side. “Well, that wasn’t as bad as I thought but I’m glad it’s over.”
“You did brilliantly. I’ll drive from now on if you like but you really had it sorted.” They looked at each other. It was happening and they had no idea what “it” was going to be. “Do you see just down beyond that broken gate?” Dan had leaned across to point along the lane.
“Okay well the road turns up ahead and the house is just beyond the bend. We need to have the van nearer. The closer the better I should think but let’s go and have a look round first.”
“I need to pee. I’ll go over there.” She pointed to a narrow hedge.
Once she was comfortable Sally leaned against the trunk of an old tree. Tears flooded her eyes, she had never been so scared. Even when they had locked her up in that horrible little room she had dealt with things as they had happened and hadn’t had the time to feel this accumulation of fear.
Why was she doing this, becoming involved with women she didn’t know, crime that she had no part of?
It was for Daniel. All for him. Those endless days not knowing where he was had proved that life without him was not what she wanted. She took in a deep breath of the thin country air. She would do this and they would put it behind them and then they would go back to being Sally and Daniel, ordinary and simple.
She waved across the road to where she knew he would be watching from the cab of the little van. A moment later he clambered out and closed the door quietly. He crossed the road to join her. They didn’t speak as they bent below the level of the hedge and moved away towards the rambling house up ahead.