Caroline woke with sweat on her brow and the rushing sound of a summer storm in her ears. The curtains on the windows blew sporadically from the tumultuous wind. The fan sitting on bureau had spun to a halt. Lightning flashed. Caroline winced, her stomach contracted painfully. It was a few minutes before she could register anything except the pain.
It faded to a dull throb and she realized she was holding her breath. She panted and turned to the vacant spot on her bed. Frank hadn’t come home yet. She grabbed the alarm clock from the night stand. It was well after midnight. The cramping started again. Caroline curled into a ball. She let the clock fall from her hand and it bounced across the bedroom floor.
This wasn’t right, she thought, something was wrong. Where was Frank? Caroline writhed, trapped in the twisted bed sheets. She was burning up as if she had left the radiator on too high. Her eyes managed to focus on the fan as it spun lazily in the breeze from the window. Sweat soaked through Caroline’s night gown. Why was she alone?
The pain subsided and Caroline threw back the covers. She stumbled over to the fan. The room spun and her vision darkened as she became light headed. She caught herself against the bureau. Carefully, she reached out with a shaky hand and flicked the on/off switch of the fan. No response. The power must be out from the storm. She lurched towards the door, but she couldn’t focus. She lost control of her limbs and sunk to the ground. Her vision turned to black.
* * * *
Frank stood in a lantern lit, guard shanty on the docks. The roof leaked and rainwater flowed down the walls. He puffed on his cigar and adjusted his collar. He longed to be in bed, smelling the faint clove perfume instead of the seaweed and fish odor that clung to everything in the shack as it moldered day in and day out.
The door burst open and a large man in a trench coat shadowed the doorway. He grabbed behind him and pulled a man inside. He shoved the man to the floor. The big man entered followed by another. Water streamed off their shoulders and the wide brims of their hats as they’re eyes were hidden in shadow.
“You were right, boss, he wasn’t had to find,” the big man said. The man on the ground got to his knees and attempted to wipe his glasses on his soaked shirt. He was balding and the long wisps of hair he still had were smoothed over his shiny scalp with a quick movement of one hand.
“There’s been a mistake, Mr. Sicero,” the bald man argued.
“A mistake, Pyle? I don’t send Jack and Homer on retrieval errands when there’s been a mistake.” Frank straightened up. He took a step towards Pyle and the bald man twitched. Jack stood behind the man and cracked his knuckles.
“No, you’ve got this all wrong. It was just a loan. I was going to pay it back. I can pay it all back, I promise!” Pyle pleaded.
“You’re going to give me the money?” Frank asked. Pyle nodded enthusiastically. “That money belongs to every shopkeep on Keen street. You had one job, Pyle and that was to make collections. I never authorized you to raise the dues and skim the excess for your personal gain. I’m glad someone finally complained that his fees were too high and he couldn’t afford them during the tourist off season. Otherwise you could have kept up your little scheme.”
“I’ll stop, I promise,” Pyle crawled on his knees towards Frank.
“It’s not just that, Pyle. These people trust me. When something like this happens, it’s a betrayal of trust. I have to earn that trust back. Unfortunately, that means things don’t look very good for you.”
“No, No, Frank, Please!”
* * * *
Caroline regained consciousness only to be greeted by pain again. The hallway was stuffier than the bedroom had been. The heat unbearable. Beyond the pain, she felt a trickle on her thigh. She struggled to sit up and saw the blood blooming on her nightgown. It gave her a new strength fueled by desperation. She started to drag herself to the bathroom. She crawled over the white hexagon tile and grabbed the sink basin. Caroline hauled herself up to her knees. The cold water tap twisted in her grip and she struggled to lap the cold water into her mouth. She splashed her face. It offered momentary reprieve as the cold liquid slid down her throat and settled in her belly. A gush of hot fluid splashed on her thighs. The cramps took hold of her as she clutched the sink and pinched her eyes shut. She tried to concentrate on her breathing and just make it through the onslaught. The baby, she thought, Not my baby. A hot tear stung her eye.
Gradually the pain subsided. The tap was still running and the sink had filled. The chilly water immersed her fingertips.
Caroline slowly opened her eyes. She was staring at the floor. A dark puddle oozed from the fabric of her gown. A small rivulet branched off away from her and crawled along the uneven tiles. The scene became blurred as more tears began running from her eyes. Where was Frank when she needed him? When our baby needed him?
She blinked the tears away. This wasn’t the time for blubbering like a fool. There would be a man outside. A guard. Caroline struggled to stand. Her feet slipped on the blood, but she still held onto the sink. She didn’t have much time before the cramps would start again. She leaned on the wall as she left the bathroom and walked down the hall. She focused all her power on moving. Putting one foot in front of the other as she tried to stay conscious. She reached the top of the stairs and slid to the floor as the pain returned. She gritted her teeth and had a white knuckle grip on the spindles of the railing. She focused on the door at the base of the stairs. The leaded glass panes. The gauzy curtain. The big brass handle.
* * * *
Frank stood up to take a good look at Pyle as he came to. The bald man looked around him as he put the pieces of memory back together. The man moved his feet as he sat up and heard the clink of chains. The grogginess was replaced by panic. His legs were wrapped in the chains of a large anchor.
“Well, Pyle, it’s time for you to take a long walk off a short pier,” Frank said. Jack reached down and pulled Pyle to his feet as he pleaded. His voice cracking and muddling the words. Homer handed him the anchor to carry in his hands. The little man’s arms stretched. He could barely hang on to it. Homer opened the door for Pyle and Jack gave him a shove outside.
Frank stood in the doorway and watched as the three men walked to the end of the pier in the storm. He saw Pyle turn around to face the gangsters. Lightning flashed and illuminated the shiny bald head and glasses. Jack stepped forward and gave Pyle a shove. The man disappeared off the edge of the dock. His body dragged to the deep by the anchor.
* * * *
As soon as Caroline felt the cramps give a little she slid on her bottom down one step at a time. She crawled over the plush wool entry rug and hung on the knob. She crawled onto the porch as the stormy wind whipped by. She had crossed the porch and made it to the front steps before a man finally rushed out of a parked sedan.
“Mrs. Sicero!” the big oaf exclaimed as he came to her side. Caroline was so relieved to see someone that she didn’t bother to correct her name.
“Hospital,” she croaked out. The man lifted her in his arms and rushed back to the car.
* * * *
The storm clouds had moved through. The sky was brightening with weak sun when Frank finally returned home. Caroline should just be sitting down to breakfast. He carried a bouquet of flowers to heal any bruised feelings from his absence and went up to the front door. He saw the path of blood instantly. The flowers dropped to the floor and he pulled out his pistol.
“Caroline!” he yelled. No answer. He followed the trail of blood as he climbed the stairs two at a time. He stopped at the bathroom, then stepped into the bed room. They were empty. His mind was going a mile a minute as he tried to put the pieces together.
“Mr. Sicero?” a woman’s voice called. He hurried back to the top of the stairs to see the day maid standing in the foyer with the mop bucket. He hastily tucked his pistol away.
“Where is she?” he said evenly. He tried to cover his shock.
“Your man came by only fifteen minutes ago. He said he took Miss Caroline to the hospital early this morning. The door was open so I let myself in.” She waited for Frank to respond. He slowly descended the stairs and let the information sink in.
“But she’s alright?” Frank asked slowly.
“That’s what it sounded like, sir.” Frank took out his money clip and pulled off a few dollars.
“Here, for you…for the extra cleaning. Make sure it’s all gone before she returns.” The maid nodded. Frank stooped to pick up the flowers and left.
* * * *
Caroline woke up staring at the white ceiling. She looked around the room to see another empty white cot. When a nurse came in, she tried to sit up.
“Ms. Connolly, you should be resting,” the woman said, but she still came forward and helped Caroline prop herself up with pillows. As she got settled Caroline saw Frank appear in the doorway. The nurse squeezed her hand.
“I’ll leave you two alone.” She hurried out of the room. Frank stepped forward and held out the flowers. Caroline took them. She only took a brief sniff, before depositing them on the side table.
“Thank you,” she said without expression. Frank gave her a questioning look. Caroline looked down and studied her hands.
“It’s gone,” she said. Frank sighed. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead as she sniffed and fought back tears. She had cried enough last night.
“I’m sorry, hun.”
He put an arm around her shoulders. He felt her shrink away from him and released her. She angrily wiped her tears away.
“Where were you?” she asked.
“I was handling business.” He put a hand on top of hers. Caroline pulled them away and looked him in the eye.
“I can smell her perfume on you, Frank.” He took a step back under her gaze. “I needed you last night. We needed you.” Frank was speechless.
“I remember that feeling still when I saw Cylus drive off, when I had Margot dying in my arms, when I was arrested and alone. I thought I’d never feel that much pain again. Until now.”
Frank held his hands up, “I’m sorry, Caroline. I’m sorry.” She pointed at the door.
“Just fix it, Frank. Fix it!”