Caroline struggles with freedom

Caroline awoke with a start. Tendrils of hair stuck to the sweat on her face. She had dreamed she was back in her prison cell, laying on her lumpy cot. She quickly ran her hands over her slip and the bed’s quilt. They weren’t prison issue. She touched the smooth plaster of the wall, so different than the coarse brick. Light from the street crept around the curtains. A car drove by outside. She still couldn’t believe it.

Her chest felt tight. Her heart was clinched in panic and she could barely breathe. She stumbled out of bed and opened the door to the hall. It was empty, but the house lights confirmed that it was an apartment building and not a cell block. Unless I’m dreaming now, she thought.

Caroline shut the door and crossed the room. She wrenched the window open and slipped out onto the fire escape. She settled on the metal grating and looked up at the night sky. The air off the ocean was cool and filled her lungs to capacity. She slowly exhaled. This was it. This was freedom. This was life after. All the nights that she had lain trying to imagine life after prison, after Cylus. Now she was here. The possibilities didn’t seem endless like when she was young, but the future was brighter with the fresh air and open spaces.

Even after the few months of freedom, she still found herself waking in the darkness and suffocating. She spent many nights sitting on the fire escape. As she did so she imagined she had a balcony overlooking the sea. Then she’d open her eyes and see only the empty street below her damp from the autumn rain.

Caroline had taken the job that Frank had offered her as the hostess at Tino’s. She was known simply as Miss Caroline. The job didn’t require any skill, only a smile and cheerful greeting. It was boring and repetitive most days, especially now that the tourist season was over. It drove her crazy, but it was something and she didn’t dare complain. Something else was weighing on her mind. Seeing Frank again brought up old memories of the times they had shared with Margot and Cylus. She missed her friend. She did not exactly miss her husband, but it still hurt to think of the old days. The times when she had been full of light and hope. Her mindset had greatly changed since then.

Caroline crawled back in her window and pulled it shut. You can’t warm yourself on memories, she told herself as she wrapped the quilt around her. She would have to get used to sleeping as a free person without climbing out the window from now on. It was getting too cold to do that.

Frank rolled his cigar in his fingers as he studied it. Dauterive slipped into his office so quietly it reminded him of a fox in a chicken coop. The lawyer was being cautious.

“What is it, Louie?” Frank growled.

“I am sorry to be bother, Mr. Sicero,” Dauterive drawled, “But I see you had Mrs. Connolly working the front this evening.”

“Yes, she’s the hostess now and according to Sal the till has never been off. Not even a cent.” Frank put the cigar to his lips and struck a match. He puffed on the cigar as Dauterive crossed the room. Plumes of smoke surrounded him like a devilish aura.

“Are you sure that’s in our best interest given the enterprise we are about to set out upon?” Dauterive perched on the edge of a chair in front of Frank’s desk.

“It’ll be fine, Dauterive. I doubt anyone remembers the Connolly gang these days. They’re too focused on all this Prohibition shit. These new prohee agents of the Treasury are bullshit…I’m not afraid of them. They gave some goons badges and pay them next to nothing. I’m sure we can line their pockets enough for them to look the other way, whether in regard to our venture or Caroline.” Frank was relaxed as he leaned back in his chair. He was not as worried as Dauterive was.

“But our relationships with the city council members and the state politicians…” Dauterive tried to point out, but Frank waved his cigar at him.

“It’ll be fine. I don’t think they’re interested in my staff. Certainly, not some hostess. She’s just another pretty face to them. Trust me on this, Dauterive.”

“I am trying, Mr. Sicero. I only desire that you be rational when it comes to Mrs. Connolly. If she presents a problem, you have to be capable of making a decision no matter how difficult it may be.” Dauterive pulled out his handkerchief and blotted the nervous sweat off his brow.

“I understand, Louie, I truly do and I appreciate your hard work, but let me handle this. She needs a starting point. She’ll work here a while, work up a good reference and probably head out into the world once she has her feet under her again. It’s only temporary.” Frank tapped a bit of ash off the end of his cigar.

“Temporary.” Dauterive nodded. His shoulders relaxed inside his light colored suit. He got to his feet to depart. He paused and looked back at Frank. “Any idea where Mr. Connolly is hiding out?” Frank shifted his weight and leaned on his desk.

“No,” he said firmly, “And I don’t care. If he walks through the front door, he has another thing coming.” Dauterive nodded in understanding. He crossed to the door.

“And Louie?” Frank called, his voice lighter. The lawyer stopped. “From now on, when she’s present, can you refer to her as Miss Caroline? I think she’d prefer it.”

Dauterive nodded and left the office. Frank leaned back in his chair and sighed.

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