Caroline took the bundle of clothes from the prison guard and changed out of her uniform. The clothes hung loosely on her frame. They were secondhand and old, just like Caroline felt. A secondhand woman, used and tossed away, neglected, forgotten. She was getting released, but to what? Who would hire a woman fresh out of prison?
“Time’s up, Connolly, get a move on,” the guard ordered. The keys turned in her cell lock. Caroline picked up her small pack of belongings. A comb, a half pack of smokes, a few letters, and a well thumbed dime novel. She followed the guard as he led her out a series of gates and locked doors until the prison matron came into view. Caroline stopped in front of her.
“Sign this, Connolly,” the big woman ordered. She handed Caroline a clipboard. She didn’t bother reading the sheet. The title said ‘release’ something or other. She didn’t care. Caroline wanted out. The matron looked her in the eye. “Now, I don’t want to see you back here.”
“Believe me, neither do I,” Caroline said through gritted teeth. She had seen, heard and experienced things she never wanted any part in again. The matron pursed her lips and waved Caroline towards the door. Caroline grabbed the knob and turned. The sunlight that broke in hurt her eyes and made her squint, but it didn’t stop her from stepping out of the building. She simply put one foot in front of the other and kept going. The gravel crunched under her feet. The breeze picked at her hair and blew the strands against her face. She was hardly aware of the chaperoning guard that followed her. A shadow fell on her face cast from the perimeter wall. She stopped in front of the gate. A guard stared down at her from a tower. The other guard behind her stepped forward and unlocked another door. He held it open and stared at her.
“Town is that way.” He pointed.
Caroline came forward and passed through. The door quickly slammed behind her and she heard the scrape of the lock. She stood on a dry country road. The field of hay next to the road had already been threshed. A few scraggly trees created a weak windbreak, but there was not a soul in sight. She stared up at the wall. She certainly wasn’t going to ask them for help. She started walking in the direction the guard had pointed. She quietly prayed that he had to told the truth.
The sun quickly lost its novelty as it bared down on Caroline. Drips of sweat rolled down her back and soaked her blouse. She shielded her eyes with her hand and looked into the distance for shade. Plumes of dust were rising in the distance. She stopped in her tracks and watched. A car appeared over the hill. Caroline started waving her arms frantically. The car slowed as it approached and she ran to the driver. She was breathless as she planted her hands on the top of the door. The man in sunglasses and a white suit studied her.
“You wouldn’t happen to be, Mrs. Connolly, would you, my dear?” the man drawled. Caroline’s brow furrowed as she panted. Who was this man? She managed to nod.
“Then I must apologize, Mrs. Connolly, for my tardiness. There was an issue with the car outside Louisville.” He patted one of her hands as it clutched the door.
“I am one Louis P. Dauterive and I am supposed to bring you this on behalf of my client.” He dug in his chest pocket and pulled out an envelope. Utterly confused, Caroline peeled her hands off the door and took it. She tore back the flap and removed a note wrapped around a hundred-dollar bill.
I hope this finds you in good health, despite your recent circumstances. You’ve always been a friend. This is just a little gift to help you back on your feet.
“Frank,” Caroline whispered. She would recognize his handwriting anywhere. “Where did you get this?” She clutched at the man’s arm. He abruptly pulled away and brushed the nonexistent dirt from the light fabric.
“As I said I am delivering it on behalf of my client. I am not aware of its contents. He did not trust its confidentiality to the prison mail system. It would be inopportune for his business dealings to dredge up the Connolly gang history at this time.” Dauterive pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his brow.
“You didn’t read this?” Caroline asked, an idea forming in her mind.
“No, I gave Mr. Sicero my word,” Dauterive assured her. Caroline stifled a grin.
“This says you’re to chauffeur me to him,” she said flatly, “but what if I don’t want to go?”
“It says what?” Dauterive exclaimed, “Now I have discussed that very matter with Mr. Sicero and I insisted that we put the Connolly gang in the past.”
“I’m afraid it says he wants to discuss that very thing with me personally. Something about what Margot would have wanted.” She folded the note out of sight into her pocket.
“Although he is an old friend, I’m not sure if seeing him is the best idea either, but he is very insistent in his letter.” Dauterive’s mouth opened and shut wordlessly for a few moments. Then he let out a big sigh. She hated using Margot’s name deceptively, but as she had guessed anyone who worked for Frank walked on eggshells when anything involved his late wife.
“Then perhaps you should get in the car, Mrs. Connolly and we’ll be on our way.” Caroline hurried around the car and got in. The lawyer carefully maneuvered the car to return the way he came. The wind swept over Caroline’s skin and felt refreshing after her long, plodding journey. Dauterive clenched and unclenched his hands nervously on the steering wheel.
Caroline wasn’t exactly sure what she was going to do when she saw Frank. She only wanted to see a familiar face again.