Willie had been a private secretary for the last 15 years. She'd had several bosses during that time, the latest two she had taught how to do their job. In fact, she really didn't need to work under a boss; she knew the job inside out and managed a good percentage of the work on her own. The only reason Willie herself was not appointed manager was that she was a woman. The law being what it is, nobody would admit that openly, but Willie knew it was the case. There was no other earthly reason she would be overlooked for the position. She had the skills for the job, was intelligent and was tidy in appearance.
However, at 30, Willie was also of ripe childbearing age. No employer would put her in a position of high rank knowing it would only be a temporary job for her until she left work to have a baby. The new laws in New Zealand meant an employer would have to pay her a full wage for three months after she left the job, and they would also have to leave the position open for her should she wish to return to work after that three months leave.
It wasn't a hugely difficult job for the managers; they were simply figureheads of a company that managed the storage of client's personal effects. Several branches through the country all came under this one head office. Willie's boss took care of the paperwork for the insurance dealers.
There was generally a time difference between the replacements of managers; the latest had been a week before the new manager arrived. During that time, Willie had needed to sign several documents in order for personal effects to be stored. One of those documents had required the signature of both the manager and his lawyer.
To speed up the process, Willie had forged both signatures after having learnt them by heart, knowing that the new manager would replace the necessary document when he arrived. Signing the documents didn't really worry her; she had done the same thing many times before. The clients of the company did not have the time to wait until the newly appointed managers decided to arrive and begin their job. In her mind, she was simply facilitating the paperwork.
It had been easy enough to keep a copy of the prospective manager's signatures close to hand, they all came on the pre-forwarded job resumes for Willie to photocopy and file. It was an accepted part of the job for a secretary to sign on behalf of her manager, but it was not accepted to sign the manager's name, nor the company lawyer's name. It wasn't a huge criminal act really, though in itself forgery is illegal in New Zealand.
It became more serious when Willie began signing cheques with the new manager, Mr Duffield's signature. The payments were required in order to cover rent on the office building and the lease on the company BMW.
And even more serious when she began writing and signing cheques to pay for her own house mortgage payments and weekly groceries.
Now, she was running from the law. She had crossed half the length of the country, taking nothing with her except one full backpack, making good use of her thumb as she hitchhiked away from trouble.
Unfortunately, trouble had followed in the guise of an experienced bounty hunter. RJ Thomas, loner, had followed Willie every step of the way. Now, he leaned against the bar watching as she sipped her red wine. He'd watched her in the last bar, and the one before that, but she'd not seen him.
He decided the time had come to introduce himself to her.
"Howdy miss, let me buy you a refill," his Texan accent caught her attention immediately.
She looked up at him. Middle age hadn't yet spread to his belly. He was a tall, rugged, reasonably fit looking man. Deep crow's feet were etched beside his steel grey eyes.
She smiled, interested but wary, "Thanks."
"My name's RJ. Thomas," he said holding a darkly tanned hand towards her. "My friends and enemies alike call me RJ." Not that he had any friends, he thought to himself.
"Hello RJ, pleased to meet you," she shook his hand.
"And your name would be... ?"
Her eyes darted back up to his. Some unknown element had her answering honestly. "I'm Willie. Yes, I've heard all the jokes, feel free to add yours."
"Hey ma'am, I don't care what your name is. Drink up."
Willie looked at him suspiciously. Intuition told her there was something not quite open and aboveboard with RJ. She couldn't pinpoint it yet, but she would. She'd learnt the hard way about reading a man. She lifted her glass and finished the last mouthful as another was placed in front of her.
"You're not trying to get me drunk are you RJ?" she asked wryly.
"No ma'am, I'd just like you to feel relaxed in my company is all." His smile charmed but didn't quite disarm her. "Where are you from?"
"Oh, here and there," she avoided his probe. "You're a local are you?"
"No ma'am, I'm from the States. Texas. Just here for a short visit."
"Visiting friends RJ?"
"In a way ma'am. Where are you staying?"
"At the backpackers lodge down the road," it slipped out before she thought.
"Well, drink up dear. I'll walk you home. It's dark out and there's some unsavoury folks around at this time of night."
Minutes later they walked out the door together, the cold air fresh on their faces. The street lamps were on. A few people walked quickly past them, purposeful intentions etched on their faces.
Willie kept a furtive eye on the others in the street. She felt a little uneasy tonight. Heck, she'd felt uneasy every single night since she left the company. Intuition told her they would chase her until they'd found her. Then, who knew what would happen? She had a good idea she'd be tried and jailed for the forgery, no amount of mitigation would save her from that fate.
RJ took hold of her elbow when a couple of drunken louts staggered down the street toward them. She looked up at him thankful for his protection. She didn't know why but he was quickly growing on her. For a complete stranger to notice her loneliness and buy her a drink, and then to walk her home, well, it went without saying that kind of caring was a rarity in her life.
Her room at the Lodge was no bigger than her bathroom back home. It held the smallest double bed that had been manufactured, a bedside table, and one white chair upon which sat her backpack.
"I'd invite you inside if there was any room," she laughingly commented as she unlocked the door.
"No problem, I'll fit." He walked past her and stretched out on the bed. A little taken aback she moved to close the gawky '60s patterned curtains.
"Leave those," he said. "I like the moonlight coming in that way. Come and sit beside me." He patted the edge of the bed, having moved over as far as he could, there was still only a small amount of room left. If she sat beside him she'd more than likely end up on the teal-coloured felt carpet squares, and it wouldn't be a soft landing.
She chose instead to move the backpack from the chair and sat on it cross-legged waiting patiently for him to speak again.
He half closed his eyes, watching her, waiting until he saw her shoulders rise and lower in an almost exaggerated manner, then her eyes drifted closed. He wasn't sure why, but he felt drawn to her. Maybe it was her innocent appeal; she certainly didn't seem like the lawbreaker that he'd been led to believe. But he'd been caught out by that once before, he was not going to drop his caution with her. He knew he was physically attracted to her. Hell she filled out her tight jeans in all the right places. And that T-shirt she was wearing, well, she may as well not have been wearing it. Thinking along those lines had the ache in his groin springing to life. He stifled his groan as he reached across, grabbed her arm and gently pulled her onto the bed beside him.
She opened her eyes in confusion, only to find herself staring directly into his grey ones. The smile on his face held hers for an interminable time. Then, slowly, he moved until his warm lips covered hers.
They only made love once that night. He left soon after. Willie lay awake thinking until the sky lightened; then exhausted, she fell into a deep sleep not waking until pounding on her door interrupted her dream.
She awoke, not groggily, as most people do, but instantly and completely clear headed. She always woke that way, she had figured years ago that it was because she was a morning person. When at home, she got up in the small hours of the morning and went out walking for exercise before the sun had risen. She enjoyed that time of day the best. The clear fresh air together with the stillness of the early hours was enough to put her mind on a peaceful level. Willie was one grumpy woman if she didn't keep to her normal routine. Today was going to be no exception.
She climbed out of bed and opened the door. RJ walked right in and stretched out on the bed again.
"Go away RJ, it's late. I have to pack and leave." She moved off to the small room with its white washbasin and threw cold water over her face. Wiping it with the towel, she lent against the doorframe.
"I'm not going anywhere. I need to talk to you."
"At least let me get dressed then." She moved to the backpack and began taking out clean jeans.
"Leave those and come here Willie." His quiet demand caught her attention. She took the step towards him, letting him draw her down onto the bed beside him.
"Tell me Willie. Tell me why you're running."
She was startled that he'd read her mind so well.
"Please Willie. I know something has happened and I'd like to be able to help you if I can."
.... There is more of this story ...