Captain Martin Crieff startled and looked up from his logbook to see a ginger head with curly pigtails peering over the edge of his desk. “Oh. Erm. Hello, there. And you might you be?”
A nose, a pair of chubby hands and two impossibly blue eyes appeared. “I’m Martha!”
Martin hesitated. “Right. Okay. Martha. What are you doing here, Martha?”
“You’re supposed to play with me while my dad smokes, though I’m not supposed to know that.”
“Dad?” A horrible, horrible suspicion made its way into Martin’s head. “And who’s your father?”
“Douglas,” Martha informed Martin cheerfully. Then, added as an afterthought, “Mr Richardson.”
“Ah.” Martin sighed. “Of course he is.”
“And you’re Martin!”
“Yes! Yes, I am. So, erm . . .”
“My dad says you’re supposed to teach me how to write my name while I’m here.”
“Did he?” Martin picked nervously at the pages of his notebook. Kids never did respect him much – though Martha was yet to throw one of the tantrums Martin’s presence seemed to inspire. “Well, I suppose I should . . .” He gazed longingly at the office’s door. “Well, okay. Let me just finish the—.”
“Oh.” Christ, how could such a small child hold the amount of disappointment her tone suggested? It was like a spear to Martin’s heart. “I guess you’re too busy,” Martha mumbled.
“No! No, not too busy at all,” Martin was quick to add. “I was just going to put these away,” he pushed his things aside and picked a clean sheet of paper and a pencil, “and get you a chair, okay? Wait—wait just a bit.”
Martha looked at Martin exasperatedly. “I’ll just sit in your lap, like a puppy.” So saying, she walked around the desk and held up her arms.
Martin stared. “I—er, I guess that’s okay, too.” He picked her up and settled her comfortably on his legs. “What’s your full name?”
“Martha Jane Richardson!”
“In here, mummy!”
A blonde woman in her mid-thirties poked her head through the door. “Oh, what did I tell you about bothering your father’s friends?” she asked firmly, coming inside, crossing her arms over her chest, a purple rucksack with My Little Pony written on it slung over her shoulder.
“Martin doesn’t mind!” Martha protested.
Martin wisely decided not to contradict her.
“Doesn’t he?” asked a deep voice from the outside. Martin startled. “Now, that’s odd.”
Martin scoffed, just as Douglas made his way inside, smirking. “Of course I don’t mind, but you could have asked before volunteering me to watch over Martha. I almost went home early.”
“Of course you did. Sir.” Martin scowled. Douglas proceeded, “As a matter of fact, I simply told Martha to amuse herself in here while I waited for her mother.”
“What? But—but she told me you asked me to teach her to write her name.”
Douglas let out a short laugh, but Martha’s mother looked beyond exasperation. “Martha,” she began warningly.
Martha, still in Martin’s lap, looked down at her knees. “Sorry I lied.”
Martin didn’t think he could take such despondency. “Oh, it’s—I’ve forgiven you, really.” He patted Martha’s head awkwardly.
Douglas snorted a laugh. “See, Janey? They’re fine. See you on Monday?”
Martha’s mum, presumably called Jane, glowered at Douglas from over her Vogue eyeglasses. “I’m not in a rush,” she snapped, before adding, with the air of someone who knew it was pointless to speak, “You know the rules, Douglas. In bed by half-nine, veggies at lunch and supper, no bubblegum, and don’t exaggerate in the sweets. I’ll know.”
“You always do,” Douglas conceded, fondly.
Jane nodded reluctantly. “All right, I’m off, then.” She set the rucksack on the floor. “I’ll just leave this here, shall I? Thanks for watching her, Martin.”
Predictably, Martin felt himself blush, but nodded resolutely.
“Come say goodbye to Mummy, Martha,” Jane cajoled, and Martha promptly jumped off Martin’s knees to run to her mother.
Just as Jane was giving Martha her last advice, Douglas turned to Martin with a gleam in his eyes Martin did not appreciate. “So, Martin. Dinner?”
Martha immediately lifted hear head from Jane’s shoulder. “Martin is coming with us?”
Martin groaned, while Douglas laughed.