On what should have been one of the happiest days of my life, I noticed Lee Templar standing two back from the counter as I took my place in the line at the Onancock Airways flight desk in Boston's Logan Airport. That man! Why did he have to get involved and spoil the fantasy vacation I'd been dreaming about for years.
He glanced around and tucked his scarred hand in his raincoat pocket. Darn, he was good-looking. Too good-looking. The same old tug, every time I saw him. I squared my shoulders, and pushed the bangs out of my eyes. Pekinese bangs, Lee Templar had called them on the day we first met at Helgasen's Body Shop, in the small western Massachusetts town where we both live.
Even with his face red with anger and his deep voice yelling at me, I had felt the attraction. On the job I'm usually cool, detached and competent, but not that day. A woman who is twenty-seven and looks younger is at a disadvantage working as an insurance claims adjuster. I thought he was going to self-destruct when I offered him no more than the original purchase price on his classic '56 Jaguar XK140. He towered over me, his too-handsome face twisted in anger, and insisted his classic car was worth a lot more now than when it was brand new, even though it hasn't been listed in the Blue Book for years. I knew my job was toast if they had to get someone out of Boston to come down and settle this thing. Purchase price was as high as we could ever go on an estimate. I gave him my stubborn look and crossed my arms on my chest.
"If you're going to be difficult, the settlement could take a long time." I wasn't about to give in. After all, I couldn't afford to lose my job for incompetence when I had a young son to support and an eagle-eyed boss breathing down my neck.
"You work for Ralph Caraway, right? The Independent Agency?"
Of course, I worked for Ralph. The other agencies in this town don't have a full-time adjuster and if it was anyone else, he would have had to wait a week ir more for someone to come out from Boston. I suspected where the conversation would lead and refused to be distracted. "I guess you know where you bought your insurance."
"I guess you don't know that Ralph and I are old friends." Oh, boy! That one again. Not the first time it ever came up in a small-town like ours, for sure. Back when it started, I'd gone to Ralph and told him about the threats. He'd told me then none of his friends could get me fired, but he'd also asked me to play on their sympathy, because it saved him the embarrassment of saying no to their faces. I didn't like doing it, but it saved me the embarrassment of going back on welfare, collecting unemployment insurance, or both.
"Look, Mr. Templar. I'm only trying to do my job, here. If you and Mr. Caraway are friends, I'm sure your grievance could cost me my job. I need this job, because I'm a single parent with a young son to support and no other resources." I lifted my chin again and explained the appeal process open to him if he seriously disagreed with my estimate; a process that could take weeks, I pointed out. I crossed my arms on my chest and gave him a hard look. "If you complain about me, I'm sure Danny and I will end up back on welfare. I need this job, but I also need to do it well and honestly. So I guess you'll just have to go ahead and use your influence to get me fired."