Caroline watched Sal clear out the till of Tino’s. She was absentmindedly wiping down the woodwork in the restaurant entry way. Waiters bustled in the dining room as they prepared for closing. It had been another quiet night since the tourist season had ended.
She looked over and saw Frank standing in the doorway to the dining room. He tilted his head.
“Come have a drink with me,” he said before walking away. Caroline abandoned her rag on the counter and followed him to a back table. He poured out two glasses of wine. Plates of pasta and red sauce appeared before them.
“You haven’t eaten, have you? No, you haven’t eaten,” Frank said as Caroline tried to object. She didn’t want Frank to buy her dinner. Since she had been released from prison she was intent on paying her own way. She didn’t want to be in anyone’s debt.
“Don’t worry about it. I always eat whatever is left over in the kitchen. I don’t think my alley cats should be eating better than you on a regular basis.” Frank started to twist pasta onto his fork. He left little room for argument.
“I don’t understand what this is about. Why are you doing this?” Caroline asked as she tentatively picked up her fork.
“Besides some fat cats? I felt like having company is all. Is that so wrong?” He picked up his wine and took a sip.
“I didn’t think you had trouble finding company,” she commented. In her mind she recalled the different girls he had paraded though the front door over the months since she had started.
“Perhaps not company, but good conversation is harder to find,” he replied. Caroline turned her eyes down to her plate and forced herself to eat a few bites.
“To be honest, the real reason is that I saw a store today with wreaths and garlands decorating their window. It reminded me of that winter in New York after the Savannah gig. You girls were glued to the windows of every shop we walked by. You both had stars in your eyes. The glow in your cheeks from the cold. The memory stuck with me,” Frank chuckled.
“That was the year you bought Margot the gorgeous mink. I was so jealous. I just about locked myself in my room and cried,” Caroline said. She shook her head with a little laugh. “It seems so silly now.”
“Well, why didn’t you have one? I told Cylus where I got a good deal on it. Even when you’re flush you have to be smart with your money.” Frank pointed at her.
“Smart is not Cylus,” Caroline said firmly. “He lost most of the money at cards. Everything he could get his hands on. I had stashes and wads hidden all over the room so he couldn’t find it all. He still managed to almost ruin us that winter. It was everything I could do to keep up appearances. Margot guessed the problem right away, of course. She always read me like an open book.” Caroline slowly pushed pasta around on her plate. “You didn’t know, but she would loan me a little here and there. That’s why I can’t accept anymore of your charity, Frank. I already owe the Siceros too much.” She pushed her plate away.
“Eat it Caroline. I’ll deduct it from your pay if it makes you feel better,” Frank grumbled. Caroline picked her wine glass up.
“It would.” They continued to eat in silence. She could tell Frank was thinking, because he had that squint. He always had that look when he was planning a heist. Sometimes they would be walking past a bank when he would stop and squint at the building until he was satisfied. Caroline never had any idea what information he was storing away when he did it, but it seemed to work. They had had a high success rate with Frank’s planning.
“Why did you keep it a secret?” Frank broke the silence.
“What?” Caroline replied.
“Why did you keep it a secret that Cylus lost all that money?” Caroline laid down her fork again.
“Because you planned the heists. Cylus was just muscle. You think I don’t know that you let him believe he had a bigger role? If you knew how much he shot his mouth off about the things we did and how dumb he was with our money…” Caroline shrugged. “Well, I thought you’d leave us behind. Back then I was sure of it. I imagined you’d wait until he was on a bender and steal away in the night with Margot. If we weren’t robbing banks, then what was Cylus going to do? Go back to boxing? Work in a slaughterhouse? No thank you. I still loved him then and I still had my pride.”
“Shit, Caroline.” Frank refilled her glass. “I didn’t know you thought I was that cold hearted.”
“No, you’re not cold hearted, but you’re constantly calculating the odds in your favor. We were a liability.”
“Cylus was my oldest friend. I wouldn’t have done that.”
Caroline shrugged again, she wasn’t convinced. Frank’s expression grew darker.
“Margot may not have been my oldest friend, but she was like a sister to me since I met her. I didn’t want to risk ruining our little hodge-podge family.” Caroline sniffed as her eyes started to glisten. “Margot and I, we had plans. Whenever we stopped the bank robbing…we would get a side by side duplex and help raise each others children. Now what? Now what do I do?” She blotted her eyes with her napkin.
“Margot and I had plans too, Caroline,” he said quietly.
“Sure, Frank, but you have to admit I’m right. We were a liability. I think Cylus proved that in Chicago. I was so scared that something would tear us apart and in the end it was Cylus’s bullheadedness. Margot died because of it. We all paid the price, but unlike me, you seem to have gotten everything figured out. It looks like you’ve been doing pretty good for yourself since then!”
Frank threw his napkin on the table as Caroline started to bawl. He pushed out his chair and stalked out of the room without another word. Caroline looked around her at the empty dining room. She tried to compose herself as she went back to the counter to retrieve her things. Sal appeared out of the back and without speaking let her out of the restaurant. She started walking home in the dark. The cold crept through her coat.
She had made it a few blocks when a car came down the street and slowed as it neared her. The hairs on the back of her neck rose. Caroline began to walk faster as the car crept up behind her.