Was she being followed? It was hard to tell at that time of night
on the motorway. There was plenty of traffic, lorries for the most
part, and people driving home from the pub just a little too
carefully, red BMWs coasting up the fast lane, doing a hundred or
more, businessmen in a hurry to get home from late meetings. She
was beyond Newport Pagnell now, and the muggy night air blurred the
red tail lights of the cars ahead and the oncoming headlights
across the road. She began to feel nervous as she checked her
rear-view mirror and saw that the car was still behind her.
She pulled over to the outside lane and slowed down. The car, a
dark Mondeo, overtook her. It was too dark to glimpse faces, but
she thought there was just one person in the front and another in
the back. It didn't have a taxi light on top, so she guessed it was
probably a private hire car and stopped worrying. Some rich git
being ferried to a nightclub in Leeds, most likely.
She overtook the Mondeo a little further up the motorway and didn't
give it a second glance. The late night radio was playing Old Blue
Eyes singing "Summer Wind". Her kind of music, no matter how old
fashioned people told her it was. Talent and good music never went
out of style as far as she was concerned.
When she got to Watford Gap services, she realized she felt tired
and hungry, and she still had a long way to go, so she decided to
stop for a short break. She didn't even notice the Mondeo pull in
two cars behind her.
A few seedy looking people hung around the entrance; a couple of
kids who didn't look old enough to drive stood smoking and playing
the machines, giving her the eye as she walked past, staring at her
She went first to the ladies, then to the cafe, where she bought a
ham and tomato sandwich and sat alone to eat, washing it down with
a Diet Coke. At the table opposite, a man with a long face and
dandruff on the collar of his dark suit jacket gave her the eye
over the top of his glasses, pretending to read his newspaper and
eat a sausage roll.
Was he just a common-or-garden variety perv, or was there something
more sinister in his interest? she wondered. In the end, she
decided he was just a perv. Sometimes it seemed as if the world was
full of them, that she could hardly walk down the street or go for
a drink on her own without some sad pillock who thought he was
God's gift eyeing her up, like the kids hanging around the
entrance, or coming over and laying a line of chat on her. Still,
she told herself, what else could you expect at this time of the
night in a motorway service station? A couple of other men came in
and went to the counter for coffee-to-go, but they didn't give her
a second glance.
She finished half the sandwich, dumped the rest and got her travel
mug filled with coffee. When she walked back to her car she made
sure that there were people around -- a family with two young kids
up way up past their bedtime, noisy and hyperactive -- and that
no-one was following her.
The tank was only a quarter full, so she filled it up at the petrol
station, using her credit card right there, at the pump. The perv
from the cafe pulled up at the pump opposite and stared at her as
he put the nozzle in the tank. She ignored him. She could see the
night manager in his office, watching through the window, and that
made her feel more secure.
Tank full, she turned down the slip road and eased in between two
articulated lorries. It was hot in the car, so she opened both
windows and enjoyed the play of breeze they created. It helped keep
her awake, along with the hot black coffee. The clock on the
dashboard read 12:35 am. Only about two or three hours to go, then
she would safe ...
Excerpted from STRANGE AFFAIR © Copyright 2005 by Peter
Robinson. Reprinted with permission by William Morrow, an imprint
of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.