Authors: Roumelia Lane
When Julie got a job with an oil company in North Africa, she never dreamt that it would take her miles out into the Libyan desert. But even that was not such a challenge as working for the camp manager, Clay Whitman, who insisted that 'women and oil don't mix'.
"How come a mere secretary gets such lush accommodation?"
Tamara stretched her brown legs in the sun and stared across the table in envy and astonishment. Julie smiled shamefacedly and pushed the ash-blonde hair from her neck.
"It's Alan. He booked this hotel for me before I arrived."
"You mean the guy who pulled the strings to get you the job out here?" Tamara blew cigarette smoke gustily into the air. "You sure do know the right people. Alan Moore, the son of the big chief himself." She gave Julie a half smiling glance. "Are you sure that's all you are to him ... a secretary ?"
"I've known Alan for years ... not closely, his father and mine are friends. When I told him I intended giving up modelling for a more exciting life abroad, he offered me this job with his father's firm. Naturally I jumped at the chance."
"Naturally," Tamara replied, nodding with heavy emphasis. "And who can blame you? This is some place compared to the poky little flats we lowly secretaries rent down town. Pity you have to spoil it all by turning out to work! "
Julie sat up and gazed blissfully around. It
heavenly, wasn't it? The blue sea of Tripoli only yards away, and the African sun like a warm caress on one's skin. Such a contrast to the dreary round of modelling in London, where life was a succession of changing garments, changing taxis and talking clothes. There had never been time to look up to see whether the sky was blue today or whether the trees were in blossom. The only thought was high fashion. Inthe modelling business one lives, sleeps and breathes clothes.
Here in the gardens of the Hotel Gerard people gave little thought to dress. The sun took care of that. Scant colourful garments on brown bodies littered the chairs and terraces. There was only one man who apparently desired more formal wear; he occupied the table immediately behind theirs, and wore a light lounge suit, white shirt and tie. Julie remembered now. He had come to sit at the table with another man earlier on. His companion had apparently left, and now he stretched his long legs forward and lay back with a drink in his hand.
It was with something of a shock that her gaze travelled curiously upwards and clashed head on with his. The shock was displaced by mild anger that he had probably heard every word that had been said. Judging by a pair of brown eyes, half closed and loaded with cynical distaste, and the fact that there were just the two tables on this secluded section of the terrace, there could be no doubt about it.
Julie swung her eyes coldly to the front, the fair hair brushing over already tanned shoulders. Why worry? He would be gone soon anyway. She was certain he was not staying at the Gerard. In her week's stay she would not have missed so striking a figure. The shoulders were immense, under a face long and tanned and ruggedly handsome. She hadn't had much time to notice the hair, but felt it had to be a dark reddish brown.
Tamara's voice drifted across her musings.
"Why don't you get Alan to swing it so that you don't have to go into the office? Just collect your pay cheque at the end of the week."
She laughed throatily, and Julie found herself fidgeting. She didn't dislike Tamara Stevens. In fact since her arrival froip England, the American girl had proved quite a friend, but like so many of her countrymen she spoke in a loud unselfconscious voice which could be embarrassing at times. Also she was inclined to put rather a cheap slant on Julie's friendship with Alan Moore.
Julie knew it wasn't the thing to be staying at the impressive Hotel Gerard when she was merely a secretary at the Dawah Oil Company offices, but that was Alan's doing. She fully intended looking for something more in keeping with her job. In the meantime these luxury apartments were at her disposal. What was the sense in wasting them ?
Tamara persisted lazily, "Don't tell me, honey, that with those looks you intend to waste your talents behind a typewriter?"
"I must admit," Julie replied lightly without looking behind, "the working side doesn't appeal to me much. I'd much rather enjoy the gay life of Tripoli."
Reclining back with a luxurious sigh, she couldn't for the life of her explain why she should be talking like this. Unless it was to give that odious man behind something to sneer about.
"It's possible when Alan comes to Tripoli I'll persuade him to give me something a little less demanding." she said for good measure.
"And while you're at it," Tamara drawled, "tell him you've got a buddy who's being worked to death!"
At that precise moment two young men came bounding up the steps. Laughing and talking volubly in Italian, they made straight for Tamara's chair and she raised herself to banter with them good-humouredly. Looking on, Julie felt an absurd relief at the diversion. Perhaps the man behind would go now that his afternoon's entertainment had been interrupted. Pushing him from her thoughts, she preferred to concentrate on her friend.
Whatever the dark slender American girl in her late twenties imagined she was lacking, she certainly had a way with the young men of the town. They seemed to gravitate towards her wherever she went. As her friend, Julie wasn't sure she cared for this. Admitted, she had found it exciting at first having a different escort every night after the office, but after the third night she had begun to yearn for a little solitude, and a chance to explore the wide handsome streets of Tripoli. Perhaps this time when Tamara asked her out, she could refuse without offending. She was more than grateful for the older girl taking her under her wing as it were in a strange country, but her ideas on entertainment were totally different from Julie's.
"Tony, Eugene," Tamara was saying, "this is Julie Lambert. She's fresh in from England. Pull up a chair, boys. What about some drinks?"
The one who was Eugene raised his hands with a dazzling smile. "Ah no! But already we have drink.' Slanting a sly glance at his friend, he sunk a hand into the pocket of his tight Italian cut trousers and brought out a flask.
"Oh-oh!" Tamara threw her head back and chuckled hoarsely. "You can count me out, boys, but Julie's all yours." She turned a heavy-lidded smile towards Julie. "Take it from me, honey, you haven't lived until you've sampled the Kitty Kola kick."
The young men nodded delightedly and Julie eyed the liquid that Eugene had poured into her glass.
"What is it?" she asked with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. "I never drink anything stronger than gin and orange."
"Ah, Julee!" Eugene's black eyes were dancing. "Once you have tasted Kitty Kola! ... green and orange ... psha!" He moved his shoulders expressively.
"Well, it's all in the line of experience," laughingly Julie raised the liquid to her lips. With a name like that it probably wasn't much different from Coca-Cola, and refusing would appear childish.
The glass couldn't have been more than an inch from her mouth when she felt it roughly removed from her hand. The contents were flung across the lawn.
"I suggest you wait until you are slightly more seasoned to the climate before sampling this hideous local fuel."
The tall man from behind had picked up the flask and screwing the top on tightly thrust it at Eugene. With a spate of Italian that sent the young men on their way with an occasional sheepish glance backwards, the man turned to stare down at Julie.
"It's bad for the oil company when the personnel go about making spectacles of themselves. If you must drink something that could put you flat on your back perhaps you could do it in a less public place."
Julie's blue eyes flashed up in anger. Of all the colossal nerve! As if it had anything to do with him. She pushed herself up from the chair to let fly with a few well-chosen words, but he had already turned on his heel and left adding over one shoulder,
"The gay life out here can be a bit potent, as you probably mean to find out."
"We ... ll ...!" Tamara let out the exclamation in soft astoundment. "Where did Clay Whitman drop from? I didn't know he was on leave." She pulled a wry smile. "He was in one hell of a mood, wasn't he?"
Still breathing heavily, Julie asked, "Do you know him?"
"Figuratively." Tamara sent an amused glance after the receding figure. "He's the general field manager out at the Guchani oil fields."
"What is he doing here?"
Tamara lit another cigarette. "As I said, honey, he's probably on leave. The men work a month in the desert, and have two weeks free."
"Well, I hope I never have the pleasure of running into
again." Julie lay back in the chair, hating herself for still trembling. It wasn't so much the manner in which he had flung the drink from her. There was something else. She found herself feeling ridiculously hurt because that brown gaze had held nothing but a cold contempt. Well, that's what he got for listening to conversation that didn't concern him. If he didn't like what he heard he should have moved off long ago.
No doubt he had already formed his opinion of her, and would welcome another chance to lecture on the behaviour of oil company personnel. Not if Julie could help it. Though they worked for the same firm she meant to give Clay Whitman a wide berth in future.
In any case, with him at the oil fields and her here at the offices in Tripoli, it wasn't likely that they would meet again.
days passed pleasantly at the oil company offices. Julie got used to sitting with the other secretaries in a long cream-painted room until being detailed to the private offices of the executives. Though she wasn't as familiar with the specialised work as some of the girls who had been out there years, the secretarial course she had taken in her last year at school held her in good stead, and she was kept reasonably busy.
One morning when most of the girls had gone off to their respective jobs, Julie sat at her desk typing notes from the day before. The air was hot and languid in spite of the air-conditioning. The white blouse she wore with three-quarter-length sleeves and crisp upstanding revers was fresh enough now, but no doubt towards lunch time it would be feeling as she did, slightly limp.
She typed to the bottom of the page and then walked down to the far end of the room for a drink of water. Mrs. Bannerman, a plump little woman whose husband worked out at one of the oil fields, looked up with a smile.
"Feeling the heat, dear?"
Julie nodded, putting a carton to the tap of the glass tank.
"I was just conjuring up visions of a swim in the hotel pool, arid then a long drink, stretched out on a chaise- longue."
Hardly had she spoken the words when she felt a circulation of air behind her as though someone had just pushed through the swing doors. She turned to gaze into a pair of unsmiling brown eyes.
again! And she would have to be draped over the drinking tank.
She sipped her drink unhurriedly as the man beside Clay Whitman started to talk in some agitation.
"This is most irregular, Mr. Whitman, most irregular. In all my years as head of the secretarial stream, I've never known us employ female labour at the camps ... in the desert. I mean, it's ..."
"Dammit, man, you've no alternative We can't go another month without some help in the accounts, it's chaos as it is." His voice was harsh and unbending. "Unless you can offer me a male secretary, I'll have to take someone from here."
The other man rubbed his chin worriedly.
"There's simply nobody on hand. Greaves, Wilson, and Hopkins are already out on jobs. One is laid up, and Andrews has gone home." He sighed heavily. "It really is irregular, but as you say we have no alternative." Reluctantly he started to walk down the room, but Clay Whitman, giving only a cursory glance over the some half dozen girls sitting at their desks, nodded towards Julie.
"She'll do," he said briefly, turning towards the doors.
"But—" the secretarial head followed hurriedly—"Miss ... er ... er ... Lambert is ... has only recently arrived. Perhaps you would prefer someone a little more experienced with ..."
"I'm in a hurry," Clay Whitman looked pointedly at his watch and then at Julie. "Meet me outside the Gerard at five in the morning. I want an early start. You'd better take the rest of the day off to get some things together."
As the other man started to fluster again about irregularities and Julie's scant experience of the tropics, Clay Whitman snapped,
"I'll take full responsibility, and we're not exactly in the age of tents and iron rations, you know. In the meantime if you can come up with any other solution I'll be glad to hear it."
They turned and left, and Julie gulped down the last mouthful of water. If he thought that she was going to be taken three hundred miles into the desert, meekly and without a word of protest .. .! Unconsciously, she screwed the paper cup round and round in her hands. Five o'clock indeed ! Some hopes