All the Great Things are Simple
She read the slip of paper again and hoped it was the correct address. Otherwise, she'd have come all this way for nothing--not to mention the fact that she would have to start all over again. It had been hard enough just to get this address. One deep breath and two vertical steps forward, and her outstretched fist hesitantly knocked four times on the large brown door.
Her hands shook as she waited for the tenant to answer. When the door finally opened, it sent a wave of calm through her; there stood exactly the man she was seeking. "Hey, Frank. Yer a hard man ta get a hold of these days."
"Can I help you?" There was a slight recognition in his gaze. I know those eyes. It was dark out, but in the porch light, he clearly saw the deep blue-gray colored irises, and the pupils circled by a line of brown.
"Has it really been that long?" She sighed and uttered a phrase that would either spark his memory or confuse the hell out of him. "Five points; I've flushed your tie down the toilet, and I've puked on your bed, but never blatantly disobeyed you."
It worked; his hazel eyes glowed. "Ollie?" She smiled in return. "Is that really you? God, you got tall."
"Tall? I'm only five foot two!"
"Well, the last time I saw ya, you were two foot five," he countered. A gross understatement, but his point had been made.
"Fair enough," she laughed.
"Come 'ere." He didn't have to pick her up or kneel to hug her anymore. When he let her go again, he took a step outside and pulled the door shut. "So, whatcha doin' here?" It wasn't an accusation.
"Um." This was going to be hard. She'd temporarily allowed the bad news she carried to escape her as she'd filled her mind with only thoughts of seeing Frank again. "Ya haven't been returnin' m' letters fer about three months now. But I figg'red ya'd wanna know that Ma died a few weeks past."
"Oh, Sweetheart." He opened the door again and laid a hand on her back. "Come on inside."
She stepped through the doorway and, his hand still on her back, Frank led her into the kitchen. There was another man sitting at the table sipping from a coffee mug. "Ollie, this is Inspector Tarconi. Inspector, this is Ollie." He pulled out a chair for her, then grabbed a mug and began pouring coffee into it. She dropped her messenger bag onto the floor next to the chair and sat.
"Uli, was it?"
"Ollie," she corrected politely. "Olivia Leigh . . . Ollie to friends and family." Inadvertently, her eyes shot to Frank.
"You are a friend of Monsignor Frank?" Wow, Tarconi, way to be clever.
"Somethin' like that, yeah."
"Milk 'n sugar; right, Love?" Frank asked from across the room.
"Aye," she answered with a half smile. He tilted the milk bottle, allowing a small amount to lighten the dark liquid filling the mug. Then he dropped in a teaspoonful of white sugar from a small dish and began stirring it.
"Your accent," Tarconi observed, "is not French, not English . . ."
"No," she clarified. "Technically, I was born in England, but Ma 'n I moved ta Ireland when I's four." She paused slightly and looked to Frank when she said "four" as though she were not really sure.
"Five." Frank amended.
"So, then what brings you all the way to France?" Ollie went quiet for a second. Like times past, Frank was there to save her.
He set the mug on the table before her. "Ollie's mum died not too long ago." He kissed the top of her head, then sat next to her and began drinking from his own mug.
"Oh, I am sorry to hear that." She dropped her chin in a grateful nod.
"Ya want anythin' ta eat, Sweetheart?" Frank asked. She'd been in the house four minutes, and already he was worried about her.
"Nah, thanks. I--uh--I grabbed a sandwich at one 'a the cafés in town."
"When did you get in?"
"Well, the plane landed two days ago. But like I said, you're a hard man ta get a hold of."
"You've been wanderin' Marseilles for two days?"
"It's not exactly easy ta find ya when yer not in the phone book, y'know. And on top 'a that, ya tend ta keep a low profile, so not many people know who ya are." She seemed exhausted just thinking about the process she'd gone through.
Despite the coffee, Ollie felt her eyes drooping. It had been a long couple of days, and she hadn't slept since she'd gotten off the plane. She didn't really have the money for a hotel room; she didn't feel safe anywhere anyway. "Are you alright, Love?"
"Just tired," she sighed. Frank's lips pursed briefly. Then he stood and lightly touched her cheek. With a soft CLINK his mug found a new home in the sink, and he headed through the doorway.
"Mademoiselle Olivia," Tarconi ventured.
"Yes, Inspector?" Ollie shook her head a bit an blinked, willing the drowsiness to leave her alone.
"Would you mind if I asked how your mother died?"
"Car accident." A slight laugh escaped her closed mouth, but it was devoid of happiness.
Ironic, Tarconi thought. She must think it as well.
Frank returned from the other room. He gently laid a hand on her shoulder and took her mug from her. "Come on, Little One; time for bed." She knew enough not to oppose him. She stood, but had to grab onto his outstretched arm to steady herself; her legs were tired of holding her up. Her mug joined Frank's, and he led her into his bedroom, sitting her down on the bed. Her shoes came off first; she didn't resist that. Then came the hair tie, letting down her ponytail. But she objected when he tried to pull her shirt over her head.
"I'm grown up now."
He knelt to look her in the eyes. "Number one, you don't have anything I haven't seen before. And number two, the fact that you've grown isn't gonna make me think of you as anything but that bubbly little blond I used to throw in the air." She gave in, sitting in her bra as he grabbed a T-shirt from his drawer and pulled it over her head. He offered her his hands, and she stood long enough to undo her fly and step out of her jeans; the T-shirt was plenty long enough, but he gave her a clean pair of boxers to wear as well. Then she collapsed onto the bed, and he pulled the blanket over her. She rolled onto her side facing him. Bending down, he kissed her temple.
"Say it." Her voice was barely a whisper.
"Aren't you a little old for that?"
With a sigh, he sat on the edge of the bed and pushed her hair back behind her ear. Obediently, he began reciting:
Winken, Blinken and Nodd one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe--
Sailed off on a river of crystal light
Into a sea of dew
"Where are you going, and what do you wish?"
The old moon asked the three
"We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in the beautiful sea
Nets of silver and gold have we
Said Winken, Blinken, and Nod
The old moon laughed and sang a song
As they rocked in the wooden shoe
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew
The little stars were the herring fish
That lived in the beautiful sea
"Now cast your nets wherever you wish
Never afeared are we"
So cried the stars to the fisherman three
Winken, Blinken, and Nod
He didn't make it all the way through the poem; she was already asleep. He stood, pulled the blanket up a little higher, then turned off the lamp on the nightstand. "Goodnight, Love."
As he walked back out to the kitchen, Tarconi was pulling on his coat. "Leaving already, Inspector?"
"Well, you know, it's almost eleven, and I have work in the morning," he shrugged. "We old men need our sleep." One side of Frank's mouth curled up, a knowing glance passing between them. He knew exactly what Tarconi was going to do, and it wasn't sleep. He nodded and held out his hand. "I will see you again soon, my friend."
"You're always welcome here," Frank affirmed. He walked Tarconi to the door. One step outside, the inspector turned.
"I've never seen you act toward any other person like that before."
"She's not just any other person."
"I'm seeing that," he admitted. "But I'm just wondering who she is to you."
"Ollie is the one complication in my life that was never complicated."
As always, Frank, never saying more than you have to. Tarconi nodded, accepting the answer for the time being. "Well, goodnight, Monsieur Frank."
Light assailed her eyes as she rolled over and buried her face in the pillow. She heard the door creak open and knew without looking that Frank leaned against the doorjamb looking at her, just as he knew she was really awake despite her best efforts to remain otherwise. "Five points," he started. "I'm not quite round, but my casing is sound, unless I happen to fall."
She sat up and faced him, brightening instantly. "You made breakfast."
He smiled as she bounced out of bed. Grabbing her hair tie off the nightstand, she shuffled through the doorway, briefly stopping to kiss him on her way past to the kitchen. "Good morning," she called over her shoulder.
They sat together eating eggs and toast in near silence. Frank couldn't help but smile a little. He liked it quiet in the mornings; it let him think whatever he wanted to without being called to share. That was one of the things he'd never had to scold Ollie for. Maybe she understood, or maybe he just scared the speech out of her sometimes . . . But something told him it wasn't the latter.
Frank may not have been a master chef, but he knew exactly how Ollie liked her eggs prepared. She poked one of the orange bubbles, spilling yolk all over the small plate. With one piece of the toast, she sopped up most of it. Suspecting she hadn't eaten properly in a while, Frank had made her three eggs cooked somewhere between was was considered "over easy" and "over medium." He'd also used a good portion of the loaf of bread that had been delivered that morning, lightly glazing each slice with butter and crisping it in the pan. The slices now sat on a plate between them, and she ate almost half of what was there, as well as all three eggs. "How's school?" he finally asked.
"I finished six months ago," she answered through a bite of bread.
"Bachellor of Science in Genetics. Ma didn't want want me leavin' the house fer college, so I took classes online."
"Why not?" Even through all the moves, Ollie had been in public school all her life.
"Don't know," the girl admitted. "Just said she switched jobs and wanted ta spend more time with me." He noted how already, the girl was slipping back into her British accent a bit, no doubt by accident. It hadn't been long after the girls had moved to Ireland that he almost didn't recognize her voice on the phone because of the accent switch. Ollie was just an excellent mimic, and her voice would naturally adopt the speech pattern of the people she was most around. What he always found funny was that this talent allowed her to do perfect accents on command, but when she was speaking plainly, the change in speech was always unintentional.
From his left pocket, Frank's phone began to chirp. He pulled it out, flipped it open and said, "Hello?" Ollie couldn't hear the person on the other end, but she knew exactly what was going on when Frank answered, "I'm listening." Besides the signal phrase, Ollie could always tell when someone had called Frank to transport; his eyes would go cold and his body rigid. It was like every muscle in his body was holding its breath. She looked at him with curiosity. He placed his hand over the receiver for a second and commanded, "Drink your juice," then stepped out of the room to discuss the details of the job. She made a face at him that he didn't see. She hated orange juice; at least this kind didn't have pulp.
When he came back, she asked, "Was that for today? Or later in the week?" She may not have been very old when he had originally given up transporting and become a soldier, but she'd known he drove people and things around, and that she wasn't supposed to talk to police officers unless she was in trouble. After the military, Frank had continued to write letters to her--this time accepting her return correspondence at a post office box--in which he told her he was "a delivery man." As he opened his mouth to answer, the phone began singing again.
He shut his jaw with a sigh and held up a finger as he snapped the phone open again and answered, "Hello?" For this conversation, he stayed where he was; this wasn't a job. "Yeah . . . I don't see why not . . . yeah, she'd probably just get bored sitting around here all day . . . I'm sure she wouldn't mind."
Ollie's ears were about to spontaneously combust, but she showed no sign. She gulped down the rest of her orange juice trying not to taste it while Frank finished the mysterious phone call in front of her. "Yeah, we'll see you in a bit then . . . Goodbye." The phone returned to his pocket, and he started cleaning up the dishes.
"Where are we going today?"
"Inspector Tarconi wants to talk to you a bit today; so on my way to work, I'm gonna drop you off at the station."
"I see; don't want me digging out any old photographs or anythin' while yer gone?"
"Actually, most of those were destroyed in the fire." He seemed so matter-of-fact about it.
"Yeah, I got into some trouble a while back, and someone ended up burning my house down. That's why I went to Miami for a little while, and came back here when I figured it was safe again." He didn't deliberately hide what he did from Ollie; he just tended not to give too many specifics because if she didn't know, she didn't have to lie. But if he refused to tell her anything, she'd find out on her own.
"Did you break the rules?"
He cocked his head to the side and his eyebrow rose.
"You did, didn't you?" she smiled.
"Go get dressed." She let it drop. Frank was a man who lived by rules; he had a set of rules for everything. She'd grown up knowing that. Rules made sure things ran smoothly; they made sure no one got hurt.
She hopped up from her chair, dropped her dishes in the sink, then grabbed her messenger bag, still sitting next to the table, and headed back into the bedroom.
A few minutes later, they were heading out toward the garage. "Do you remember the rules of the car?" She was shocked he would even ask her. Frank took a few steps before realizing she was no longer at his side. She'd stopped short almost as soon as the words had left his mouth. He turned to find her with her jaw set and her eyebrow toward the ceiling. "Alright, I'm just checkin'." She caught up to him and together they walked through the door that led to Frank's car.
Ollie opened the passenger side door and slid in, making sure her feet didn't touch anything but the floor mat. Frank entered the driver's side in a similar manner and touched a button. A small screen popped up, prompting him to punch in the ignition code. Before he could, Ollie reached out and hit 1-9-8-6. He turned toward her, surprised for a second, then he returned to starting the car. "What?" she asked. "It's not my fault ya still use the year I's born as yer ignition code."
The shiny black car pulled up in front of the police station. Inside, Frank pulled a wad of money from his wallet and handed it to Ollie. "What's this for?"
"It's gonna be a little while before we'll be able ta get back to the house in Ireland ta get your things, and you're gonna need some new clothes soon; ya can't keep wearin' the same three shirts all the time."
"As soon as ya go in, there'll be a desk; just tell the lady you're here ta see Tarconi, and she'll tell ya where ta go." She nodded that she understood. "I'll pick you back up here at four." He opened the glove box and handed her one of the cell phones from inside. "For emergencies; the only people who have this number are me and Tarconi. If you can help it, don't go anywhere that's not heavily populated."
"I know, Da."
"I just want ya ta be safe."
"Take yer own advice; no more breaking the rules." Her voice commanded it, but her eyes begged. "I don't think I could handle losing you as well."
They sat looking at each other for a few seconds. "Alright, I'm gonna be late." He wasn't pushing her, but he was suggesting that she couldn't come on this job. "What time am I picking you up?"
"Four." She pulled on the door handle and put a foot on the pavement.
"Hey," Frank objected. She stopped, pushed herself back in the car, and kissed him before moving to get out again. "Love you," he called after her.
"Love you too." Ollie closed the door and stood waving as he pulled away. Then she turned around, took a deep breath, and plunged into enemy territory.
As she walked up to the secretary's desk, the woman rattled off something in French. "Um . . . I'm here to see Inspector Tarconi," she returned hesitantly.
"Oui, Mademoiselle Olivia?"
"Down zis hall, you will see his name on ze door. He should be in his office."
The young woman nodded and went back to answering the phones as Ollie started down the hallway. Unconsciously, she counted her steps as she walked.
At step fourteen, she stopped in front of a door labeled--among other names--"Inspector H. A. Tarconi." She knocked a couple of times and was invited to enter. "Ah, Mademoiselle Olivia."
"Inspector." She dipped her chin respectfully.
"Please, have a seat." She sat and made herself comfortable in the chair he indicated; she had a feeling she would be here for a while. "If you don't mind, I would like to ask you a few questions."
"You've been looking up my records, haven't you?"
"Did Monsieur Frank tell you that?"
"No, but he did raise me."
He nodded defeat. "You were not easy to find. I tried to do a search on only your first and middle names and couldn't find anything substantial. Then, on a hunch, I added Frank's last name and finally found you. But it is strange that through years of searching Monsieur Frank's files, I have never once seen mention of you or your mother." Ollie looked unsurprised. "Which brings me to my first question; your name is Olivia Leigh Martin."
After a brief silence, she responded, "That was a question?" He didn't answer; he simply looked at her as though she should understand. "Yes, that is my full name."
"And Monsieur Frank is listed as your father on your birth certificate?" This time she caught the slight raise of his voice on the last word.
"Frank William Martin is, yes."
"But your mother's name is Emma Katherine Jones?"
"Yes." She was failing to see the point.
"They were never married?"
"No." She paused for a moment and then explained, "It would make sense if you understood the circumstances surrounding my conception."
"Would you mind telling me a little?"
"Is there a reason you need to know?"
He nodded, understanding. "As Frank's daughter, you've been told to be wary of police, no?"
"Very astute, Inspector."
"Well, I can assure you, Mademoiselle Olivia, there have been plenty of times I could have arrested Monsieur Frank, but I do not. Do you know why?"
"Because I know much of his past, and I know his character. These things tell me that he is a good man. And I have much more important things to do than chase after good men."
She allowed the corner of her mouth to turn upward. The men had obviously been visiting as friends when she'd first arrived, which meant--at least to a degree--that Frank trusted him; she would trust him too. "Frank and my mother were very good friends through school. Never thought about dating, but trusted each other with everything. My ma was seein' a guy who was a real jerk, treated her horribly. One day, he and Frank got into a fight that ended with Ma breakin' up with the guy."
"Of course." It was a natural interjection, and not one of interruption.
"Naturally, Ma was feelin' pretty crappy that night, so she 'n Frank went to a party some friends were havin'. The two of 'em got pretty drunk 'n ended up in bed ta-gether." She paused for a second, looking down and gathering herself before continuing. "Then they sobered up a bit and were gettin' ready to leave. Ma went to the bathroom, and while she was there, she was raped." She laughed a little nervously. "Talk about a bad day." Tarconi's brow was furrowed with concern. "You know the kind of man Frank is." Tarconi nodded. "They were never more than friends, but he was there through the pregnancy, and fer m' birth. And without knowing which of the three was my biological father, and without hesitation, Frank signed my birth certificate. Now, I don't know about you, Inspector, but I believe it takes a very strong man to claim a child that might not be his."
"Indeed it does." Tarconi mirrored the girl's half smile, finally understanding what Frank had said earlier.