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ONE SHOE AND THE GOLDEN MEDALLIONA Novel
By Russel Frederick Ahrens
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Russel Frederick Ahrens
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy Dear Olivia, You Are Very Special
It was a few minutes past six on a typical warm and heavenly evening on the small Caribbean island of Nevis. Olivia Laffoone had just put away her housekeeping supplies and shut her staff locker at the world-renowned Four Seasons Resort Hotel. In a few hours, she would give oily massages to alluring tourists on a weathered picnic table in front of Sunshine's Beach Bar & Grill. She had no idea that an endearing customer, this night, would change her life—forever!
Olivia had a smile that would have lit the darkest jungle. In her late teens, she held a warm balance between maturity and innocence. Independent, she was admired by all who knew her. A heavenly twinkle blessed her eyes.
Only a row of manicured shrubs separated the Four Seasons and Sunshine's. Both coexisted on the famous Pinney's Beach, with its miles of titanium-white sand and gentle tides, home to the most wealthy and attractive of travelers. Private luxury yachts dotted the water near the shore. The hotel guests would dine at the resort in seersucker and baubles or feast at Sunshine's in wrinkled shorts and beads. The blend of these two establishments was grand for the soul, stretching the visitors' libidos from sanity and decorum to insanity and craziness.
The architecture of Sunshine's was a cross between a wrecked lean-to and a battered bamboo hut, most certainly not inviting to the unsuspecting. But that was its charm and character and intrigue, traits that its owner, Sunshine, also possessed. He was an authentic and huskier Bob Marley type without the musical skills. Cuban and American flags, among numerous others, graced the cross-nailed barn wood walls of his bistro. Sunshine was fine with being a neo-Commie with a capitalistic thirst and hunger. Having withstood two fires and six hurricanes, Sunshine's kept reinventing itself.
Meeting Olivia at the grill's back door, Sunshine whacked her on the fanny, laid a toothy smile on her face, and said, "Have fun rubbin' them backs tonight." She returned the welcome with both disgust and hope on her face. "Sunshine, you sinful man, I hope you're right."
Olivia had been born in Charlestown, the capitol of Nevis. She was in her teens when Hurricane Lenny bashed the Caribbean island in late 1999. Her father made rum, sold rum, and drank barrels of his profits. He had a gray, prickly haired face and a skinny torso with lean, vein-rippled muscles. The natives called him Wooly, for he wore an orange knit cap that was always tilted over his right eyebrow. On his right wrist, he wore a bracelet of beads with an Indian-like relic. Olivia always played with it when she was a baby, so, one day, out of an unusual fit of kindness, he let her wear it, forever.
Olivia was an only child and didn't have a mother during her formative years. She and Wooly lived in a small, one-bedroom house in a hilly jungle area on the outskirts of Charlestown. Olivia slept on an old, stained faux leather couch that Wooly had received in exchange for a case of his sweet anejo rum. Life was not easy for her. But very soon she would be introduced to a mentor and a savior.
Before exercising her massage talents for the evening, Olivia had a routine that she would follow. She would walk into a nearby cluster of tall palm trees and change from her hotel garb into a tiny, faded pink-and-orange-striped bikini. Then, she would make a beeline for the water's edge, stopping abruptly to kneel down and kiss her metal cross necklace. For the next hour, she would frolic in the darkening azure ocean. One instant you would see her head surface, only to see it pop up again a short distance away. Rushing, dipping, swimming, Olivia was behaving like a dolphin and enjoying every flip, flop, twist, and turn.
Olivia would then return to her circled palm dressing area to dry off and change into her usual attire—a Chicago Cubs T-shirt that a customer had given her a few years back and a pair of faded blue flip-flops.
She would end her routine by joining a few friends for a jerk chicken dinner and drinking one— and only one—Killer Bee. Sunshine's was famous (or notorious) for this secret, rum-based concoction topped off with freshly shaved nutmeg and always served in an unpretentious, clear plastic cup. Like so many tropical drinks, the Killer Bee looked innocent but packed the punch of a typhoon disguised in a sweet, smooth, milky liquid. One night a German tourist from the adjoining resort tried to impress his new bride by downing a pitcher of this tantalizing blend, only to be carted back to their suite, hallucinating and visibly upset that he wasn't allowed to say good-bye to his dinner guests—Gandhi, Mussolini, and Brigitte Bardot.
As Olivia was preparing her massage table, a short jump in front of Sunshine's, the sun finished for the day, and a full moon was raising its head beside billows of huge, white cumulus clouds. Flashes of light flickered on the sand as tourists captured the moment with their cameras.
Every full moon, Sunshine would build a large bonfire to commemorate the occasion. It usually started slowly, and then large tree branches, even trunks, were piled on to brighten the night well into the next morning. The blaze would cast its glow on the faces of two musicians, one fixing the reed on his golden saxophone, the other rehearsing on a pair of silver steel drums.
On this night with the waning sunset, the rising full moon, the warming fire, the gentle surf, the live music awaiting—and the Killer Bees—the locals and the tourists flocked to Sunshine's Beach Bar & Grill on Pinney's Beach.
After securing standing torches in the sand near each corner of the picnic table, Olivia kissed her cross before covering the table with large, flowered beach towels and several pillows. She smiled, feeling that tonight was going to be a memorable one.
* * *
An elderly Dutch woman had already been promised a massage by Sunshine earlier in the evening. She made her way to Olivia's table just as a tall, olive-skinned, middle-aged man of Portuguese descent was about to fill the table completely.
"Mister Sunshine said that I would have the first massage this evening," she proclaimed.
The man, startled by the woman's comment, awkwardly sat up and slid off the table onto the cooling sand below, taking all the beach towels with him. He slowly stood up and then leaned down to brush the loose sand from his excessively hairy legs with Olivia's help. Trying to hide his embarrassment, he turned to Olivia and exclaimed, "Forgive me. I am truly sorry. I will return."
"No, please forgive me. I will be here for the rest of the evening and look forward to giving you a very special massage for this inconvenience," Olivia responded.
The man nodded and disappeared into the evening.
Before welcoming the woman and replacing the towels on the table, Olivia paused for an instant to recall seeing a tattoo on the man's right leg, just above the Achilles tendon. She thought it looked like an ancient-looking sandal, worn and weathered, with leather straps high on the ankle.
Olivia was distracted the entire evening, thinking about the large Portuguese man with the strange sandal tattoo. He never would return to her table that night.
She watched the bonfire turn to embers and tourists stumble back to their comfy beds.
After a few meaningless words with Sunshine, as well as his infamous fanny slap, and Olivia jumped on her scooter and was gone for the night.
* * *
The Four Seasons Resort Hotel had also endured many hurricanes. It was an unpretentious, two-story building with a large, overhanging roof surrounded by swaying palm trees weaving around multiple swimming pools and open-air eateries. Hollywood favorites and international millionaires knew it for its five-star service and secluded atmosphere. The resort sat majestically on Pinney's Beach, and it was protected by a man-made sea wall constructed to prevent erosion from unkind natural elements.
It was midafternoon, and Alfredo and his business partner, Raphael, were playing Bocce Ball on the court that lay between the beach and an entrance to the hotel's grounds. The men were several minutes into their contest when Olivia bravely walked up to Alfredo and said, "You probably don't recognize me in this uniform, but I am Olivia. You visited my massage table last night in front of Sunshine's."
"Yes, yes, I remember. I see you work here at the hotel during the day and give exquisite massages at night," he responded.
Olivia shyly replied, "Yes. And I feel bad about last night and what happened to you."
As Alfredo bent over to put his Bocce ball on a chair, Olivia took another glance at the marking over his right foot. "I like your tattoo. Is it a Roman sandal?"
"It is, and thank you for noticing." He smiled at her and glanced over at Raphael.
She continued, "You must come over tonight and see me, as I would like to hear more about your tattoo."
"If I can stay on the table," he responded humorously. Olivia chuckled and walked toward an open hotel room that she was cleaning.
"Who was that girl?" Raphael inquired.
Alfredo chortled. "I believe, my dear friend, that we may have identified another link on our magnificent journey."
It was approaching nine o'clock in the evening when Alfredo told Raphael that he was going over to Sunshine's to enjoy the culture of Nevis on their last night. He picked a Padron 1964 Pyramides out of the box of cigars on the coffee table, cut off the enclosed end, and placed it delicately between his moistened lips.
* * *
Father Thomas Stone had been the only presiding pastor at St. John's Fig Tree Church during Olivia's upbringing. The church, miles outside Charlestown, was originally built in the late seventeenth century and nearly a hundred years later would host the marriage of Frances Nisbet to Horatio Nelson, the hopeless romantic who would later become England's most famous admiral.
Fr. Stone met Olivia in front of the church one day when was eight years old as she sat next to her rusty old bicycle, which had a flat tire.
"Hi, there. I'm Father Stone. And who might you be?"
Shyly looking up at the man in black with a white collar, she replied, "I'm Olivia, and I was on my way home when my bike broke down."
Helping fix Olivia's tire, he said, "Ah, you're Wooly's daughter."
He quickly befriended her during this incident, fixing the tire and driving her home. In spending a brief time with her, the good Father sensed a shining light burning within Olivia's soul, a light that was very penetrating.
Soon thereafter, Olivia and Fr. Stone met every Monday afternoon for two hours. Despite her uncomfortable home life, with no parental guidance to rely on, she still found a way to cope with her situation with hope and always with a smile. They spent most of those afternoons discussing the need to lead a virtuous life. Fr. Stone believed that one's "values or virtues" determined one's destiny. He also knew that Olivia had an uncommon inner spirit full of virtues, and he wanted to help her understand them, draw them out, and live by them.
"Olivia, do you know what virtues are?"
"I have an idea that they help you know good from bad."
"Yes, you're on the right track, as they guide you to think and act in a humble way."
One day, Fr. Stone gave Olivia an assignment to identify her own virtues. Sometimes Olivia thought these sessions were more like drills and work than fun.
"Olivia, I would like you to give time to listing five of your own personal virtues that you could not live without in your life, okay?"
"Okay," she answered with a smile as warm as the afternoon sun.
"And after each virtue, write a very brief sentence on how you would use that virtue in your own life."
"Father, would you please give me an example of what you are asking?"
"Sure. Let's say one of my virtues is humility, and how I use this virtue in my life would be to not let my actions disrespect the rights and needs of others." Adding, "This is to be humble."
Arriving at home, Olivia was eager to ask her father if he knew his virtues.
With a breath of sweet rum, Wooly quizzically garbled, "What?"
No more discussion ensued.
The next day, Olivia bicycled to a particular palm tree that stood on a secluded point overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Her secret spot was near the grounds of Fort Charles, constructed in the 1670s to fortify the island of Nevis. It boasted having twenty-six cannons, and the British also used it to protect the city of Charlestown and to maintain their control over the vital sugar industry.
On that tranquil afternoon, Olivia followed Fr. Stone's instructions by listing her many virtues. Staring at a catamaran off in the distance, she recorded twenty personal virtues before settling on her top five. All of them sounded so true to her, like honesty, love, tolerance, peace, hope, and perseverance. But, she forced herself to focus only on those that she had to have in her heart and in her mind, forever. Beside each of the five virtues, she wrote how they would be lived out.
Before closing her notebook, she reviewed her achievement:
1. Kindness. I will be good to my father, even though he does not always appreciate me.
2. Respect. I will treat others, including my father, with honor, like I do Fr. Stone.
3. Forgiveness. I will not blame people for hurting me with their words or hands.
4. Courage. I will stand up for my virtues, even though I might be scared sometimes.
5. Helpful. I want to take care of others, including my father when he gets old.
On the ride home, now aware of her own personal human values, she knew that they would be challenged in every possible way. A comforting smile appeared when she thought of Fr. Stone and his unselfish interest in her life and his own unbelievable kindness toward her every day.
During the next meeting, Olivia shared her list with Fr. Stone.
With one hand behind his back, the good Father gently touched her shoulder. "I'm so proud of you, Olivia."
At that instant, Fr. Stone was felled by a massive stroke.
"Oh my God," shrieked Olivia.
His aged body bounced hard off the wooden floor near the altar. As it came to rest, lifeless, a small box bound by a gold string popped out of his right hand near where Olivia was standing. His life ended so quickly, so profoundly swiftly, that Olivia didn't have time to act like a normal youngster. She crouched down, her whole body shaking, and picked up the box that was teetering on Fr. Stone's index finger. She saw a little card attached to the tiny bow that read, "Sweet Olivia." She anxiously dropped it in her satchel and, with tears flying out of her eyes, pedaled into town to tell the police what had just happened.
Thirty minutes later, a police car, with Olivia in the backseat, arrived at the church to coordinate the procedures surrounding the tragic death of Fr. Stone. While the officials were finishing up their duties, including removing Fr. Stone's body, Olivia went outside and perched on the old, moss-covered wall to open the precious little white box. Her hands and heart were tense as she removed the gold string and cautiously took the lid from the box. Between two pieces of cotton lay a black onyx cross that was affixed to a thick strand of rough leather. Looking at it forever, she slowly placed it around her neck, adjusting the cross after it came to rest well below her neckline.
Breaking her solitude, a policeman shouted out, "We are ready to go, Olivia. I'll drive you back to the station."
"No thank you. I wish to be here for a little while longer. Don't worry. I'll be okay. I promise to go home soon," she yelled back.
Slowly walking into the church and kneeling down on a small purple pillow near the altar where Fr. Stone had died hours before, she nervously took the note from the box. A tear dribbled down her cheek, cascading onto the black onyx cross.
My dear Olivia, I am aging all too rapidly and so desire to give you this little gift as a reflection of the happiness that you have brought me over the years. I wore this cross while attending the English seminary prior to my appointment to St. John's Fig Tree Church. Make it a symbol of the human values given to you by the Almighty. Remember to live by them every day of your life. You are very special and possess extraordinary gifts, my sweet Olivia. (Signed Thomas J. Stone, Rev.)
* * *
Alfredo fixed his collar and adjusted his pleated shorts as he walked on the path past the hotel. On the beach, several young boys were stacking green-and-white-striped lawn chairs. He stopped to remove his sandals near the entrance to Sunshine's and then approached the picnic table where Olivia performed her extraordinary talents.
He sat down at the table, placed the cigar in his pocket, and then stared at the dimly lighted mast of a large French-made Beneteau 52 anchored offshore. A small, brown dog with a handkerchief around its neck made a bed in the sand next to his feet.
In his mind, he reaffirmed the strategy that had worked to perfection in the past.
Off to his left he saw the silhouette of a person coming out of the water and walking slowly toward a band of palm trees. The figure looked like Olivia. An instant of gleeful anticipation flashed across his face.
Suddenly he felt a soft hand on his left shoulder and quickly turned around to hear, "So you want to be my first customer tonight?"
"It would be my sincere pleasure," Alfredo replied.
He removed his Italian silk shirt and climbed up on the beach towels covering the table. As he lay face down, Olivia placed a small pillow under his throat to cushion his head comfortably.
Excerpted from ONE SHOE AND THE GOLDEN MEDALLION by Russel Frederick Ahrens Copyright © 2012 by Russel Frederick Ahrens. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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