Caroline sees an old friend

Louis P. Dauterive kept pursing his lips as he drove. Caroline watched him out of the corner of her eye, but kept her annoyance quiet. The lawyer was deep in thought. He was carefully choosing his words for when he encountered Mr. Sicero. This woman could bring more scrutiny down on Frank’s businesses than was desired while the imminent arrival of Prohibition sat on the horizon. Dauterive had already jumped through hoops three years ago to clean up the Connolly gang and keep Frank out of jail. He remembered getting a tip from a reporter about the botched robbery in Chicago. He drove straight through the night to St. Paul, where Frank was still lying in the hospital, oblivious to the Chicago mayhem.

Dauterive wouldn’t have normally driven across several states for a client, but he had had his own scandal a few months previous and Mr. Sicero was the only client left. Rather the only client left that still made money. Frank would not be making money if he was sitting in jail. If he was not making money, he would not be paying Dauterive to make deposits and investments on his behalf. Luckily, the lawyer had entered the hospital and was able to deliver the news about Margot before the police tracked him down. After Louis walked into that hospital ward and spelled it out, Frank was a broken man. He cut off Dauterive’s suggestions, he didn’t want to hear any of it.

“Take care of it…any means necessary,” he ordered before he waved the lawyer out. Dauterive fabricated an estranged marriage. He arranged several character witnesses. Margot had left Frank to join the Connolly gang. The fourth member of the gang was a man with a strange resemblance to Mr. Sicero. That man was conveniently found dead in a rooming house outside Chicago. Dauterive also made arrangements for the burial of Margot’s body and selected a white marble headstone to be put in place. Frank didn’t resurface to reality for three months.

Now the very woman sitting next to him might jeopardize the whole scheme. All it would take is a young detective wanting to prove himself, a little digging and the whole story would unravel. Maybe she only wanted more money and then she would be on her way. If we’re lucky, Dauterive thought.

Caroline tried to pick the lint off of her old skirt, but it was hopeless. She looked up at the road. The wind changed direction and a draft hit her in the face. It smelled of the ocean. She shut her eyes and let the crisp air polish her skin.

“We’re almost there, Mrs. Connolly,” Dauterive announced.

“Good, my legs could use a stretch,” she purred haughtily. Caroline distinctly got the impression that the lawyer did not think she should be here at all, but after three years in prison she wasn’t about to let someone else tell her what she could and could not do. Dauterive pursed his lips again. They drove into town and after several meandering turns as he tried to avoid the tourists that streamed into the street, he finally pulled over and parked.

“Come along, child, he’ll be in there,” Louis nodded at a small Italian restaurant named Tino’s. Caroline was already out of the car and crossing the street before the little man could collect himself. He hurried to catch up with her.

Caroline burst in the front door. The bell chimed merrily. A few patrons lingering over their late lunch sat in the dining room. The hostess scurried over to the entrance, but Caroline pushed past her and strode into the room.

“Where is he?” she asked as the door tinkled with Dauterive’s entry. He motioned to the bewildered hostess.

“Mr. Sicero, please,” he requested.

The girl disappeared to the back of the restaurant. Caroline glanced around. The patrons quickly looked away when she laid eyes on them.

“Caroline?” she turned around and saw Frank standing there. His expression was surprised, but not cold. She couldn’t contain herself. Caroline swept across the room and nearly leapt into his arms.

“Oh Frank, I can’t believe it is you!” she cried at first out of happiness, then something inside her broke. She started to sob as her grip on him tightened. He patted her back and carefully guided her towards the kitchen. Frank looked over her shoulder at Dauterive. The lawyer opened and shut his mouth several times, but couldn’t force himself to explain. After Frank and Caroline left the room, he darted to the bar and ordered a stiff drink.

“I wasn’t expecting you, Caroline,” Frank said as he shut his office door. Caroline stepped deeper into the darkness. “You should know….you’re not welcome here.”

“Please don’t blame me, Frank,” Caroline mumbled over her tears. She sniffed, then abruptly turned and hollered. “It was Cylus! I said we should wait, but he wouldn’t hear of it. You know, Margot was always curious about the inside. That’s why she finally agreed, but she was nervy. I fought with Cylus not to do it, but what did I get? A punch to the gut! You know him as well as I do. Get him angry enough and he’ll come out swinging, but he would make sure to never leave a mark.” Caroline was pacing back and forth across the room as tears ran down her face. Her fingers clenched open and shut. She froze as new sobs broke out. She moaned quietly, “Then he left me. I saw him, Frank. I saw him drive away. He looked straight at me. I saw his face. He stared right through me…like I was nothing… LIKE I WAS NOTHING TO HIM!”

Frank stood still as the words bubbled out of Caroline. He didn’t want to see her. He had given her partial blame all these years, but the woman in front of him was different than he expected. She had suffered too. She was abandoned, left holding the bag. She did hard time and still came out the other side with her chin up. Frank was so wound up in his own pain, he had neglected to think of hers. He stepped tentatively forward and held out a handkerchief.

Caroline took it with a sniffle. Her eyes landed on the decanter, but she restrained herself. She headed to the small window and pulled back the curtains. It was only a view of the alley, but it let in the sunlight.

“Frank, I know your note wasn’t an invitation, but I needed to see a familiar face.” She tried to compose herself and turned around to face him. “Don’t blame Mr. Dauterive either. I told him you wanted to see me.”

“It doesn’t look good for me that you came here. I have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies.” He stood on the other side of the room with his hands in his pockets.

“They can’t convict you of anything. I heard the mysterious fourth member of the gang was found dead in a cheap hotel.” Caroline walked over to the large desk and started nonchalantly picking up papers. “Anyone that runs in our old circles would be better off using your mental acuity for business than turning you in. The Connolly gang is dead and gone. All I have to show for it is his name.”

“What do you plan to do now?” Frank went to the decanter and poured them both drinks. He held out a glass to her. She left the desk and went to Frank.

“I need a room and a job. I will just pray that the name doesn’t ring a bell.” She took the glass and studied the amber as the light hit it. Frank took a drink.

“I can already hear Margot, God rest her soul, yelling at me if I let you walk out of here empty handed,” Frank said. “I’ll set you up in a room. Nothing fancy and I’ll see if there’s any openings at one of my joints.”

Caroline’s voice shook as she spoke, “Thank you, Frank…thank you.”


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