The table gets turned

 

Caroline set down a tray on the coffee table. She poured the hot brew from the ceramic coffee pot into the matching cups.

“Cream or sugar?” she asked. Her guest shook his head. His expression was a pleasant smile as she handed him his coffee cup.

“Agent Edgerton, I want to tell you again how moving your speech was the other night at the Temperance meeting. I’ve always had these feelings about how alcohol has effected my life, but I was never able to describe them until you spoke about your own experiences.” Caroline tried to sound cheery and wholehearted. It was all a sham. She didn’t give a shit about Temperance, but the Prohibition agent intrigued her. He was younger, not that much younger than her, but very young in comparison to Homer, Frank or Cylus. His physique was trim. In summation, he looked like a good time. He blushed under her praise and smiled into his cup. He took a sip and cleared his throat.

“Thank you, Mrs. Birkenbauer.”

“Please call me Caroline,” she urged softly as she reached out and lightly touched his arm. He didn’t take his eyes off her hand as it rested there for a few moments. He cleared his throat again.

“Yes, not only the success of Prohibition, but also the adherence to the Law are near to my heart. I’m lucky to be assigned to Philadelphia where there is so much to be done with the support of such esteemed community groups.” Caroline thought he looked a bit ill at ease like a choir boy that suffered from the guilt of dirty thoughts.

“I want to know how we, the women of the Unity Temperance society, can help. I mean there must be someway that we can repay you for all of the good you are doing.” Her voice was soft and earnest as she delicately put a hand on his knee. Agent Edgerton twitched ever so slightly under the touch. He cleared his throat again.

“I think the society is doing a good job with outreach in the poorer communities. We must keep educating them about the dangers of tainted alcohol.”

“Yes, we will, but how does that help you? How else can we show our support?” Caroline raised her eyebrows as she leaned closer. She wanted to maintain a level of sophistication, but the young man wasn’t responding. She couldn’t believe that he wasn’t reading between the lines. He must have stalwart self-discipline.

“Mrs. Connolly,” Edgerton cleared his throat and budged away a few inches as he set his coffee cup down. Caroline froze for a moment, but convinced herself she didn’t hear him properly.

“Caroline,” she reminded him as she reached over and swept off some nonexistent lint from his lapel. He sat up straighter and turned his steady eyes on hers.

“Mrs. Connolly,” he stated again. She lurched back from him. She wasn’t mistaken this time. Her bright demeanor instantly dropped as she waited for his speech. She was sure he had one. He had been over-prepared for the Society meeting as well. She regained her composure and a smile spread on her face.

“I’m sorry, you must be mistaken,” she said. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a mug shot. She was so much younger then. Her smile fell away as her eyes latched onto the photograph.

“You’re Caroline Connolly, a member of the Connolly gang and the only one I believe to do any time for the robberies. You can deny it, that’s fine, but I bet you never said a word about it to Mr. Birkenbauer, hm? What would he think about having a bank robber under his own roof given the business that he’s in?” His tone changed. He didn’t sound like a nervous choir boy anymore. His words were short and clipped.

“What do you want?” Caroline asked in her real voice, a low, throaty hum. It didn’t matter now since neither was acting.

“The rest of the gang, of course,” he said as if she should have already known. “You can drop your temperance act. I know America is wet as it ever was and corruption is rampant. There’s not a chance in Hell that I can make a collar that’ll make my career. Every king pin and every politician are friends. They won’t even spend the night in jail. I combed through dozens of old cases to find ones with potential and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I actually spotted you in Philadelphia. You dropped right in my lap.” Edgerton was pleased with himself. He picked up his coffee again and took a sip. Caroline stared at him a moment, then burst out laughing. The agent cringed.

“You’re at a dead end!” Caroline shrieked. “I did my time. You can’t charge me again!”

“I’m talking about your husband, Mrs. Connolly or the other gentleman accomplice,” he replied urgently. Caroline shrugged.

“I haven’t seen Cylus since that day and I believe our “accomplice” as you put it was found dead in a hotel.” She stifled her chuckles.

“I don’t believe that to be true,” he stated.

“Then by all means prove it.”

Edgerton looked down at the floor to hide his grin. He decided to change tactics.

“I had hoped you’d be a more willing participant. I thought you would want them to serve time. It’s not fair that you were the only one that did. Are you really going to let them get away with it?” Caroline didn’t reply. She started collecting the coffee things back on to the tray.

“You could still go to jail, you know.” She scoffed and met his gaze again.

“Are you threatening me with some trumped up charge?” Edgerton shook his head.

“No, a very real one. Bigamy.” He waited patiently for her reaction. She didn’t break eye contact.

“If I knew where my husband was, I wouldn’t still be married to him, now would I? I haven’t seen him since that…that day. He could be dead for all I know.” She shook her head. “You still don’t have anything.”

“I think Mr. Birkenbauer will still find my information intriguing.” Caroline glared at him as he continued. “Especially since you’ve been flirting with me since we met at the Society meeting. What time will your husband be home? Not for hours, I bet. I could always wait. Maybe I’ll stay for dinner.” Caroline made to stand up, but he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back down onto the davenport beside him.

“Ruining my marriage won’t help your career,” she sneered.

“Ah, but it won’t hurt it either.” His grip on her was tight, on the verge of painful. “Not like it’ll hurt you and this little lifestyle you’ve made for yourself.” Tears sprung to the corners of Caroline’s eyes.

“I don’t know where Cylus is. I swear. If you do find him, I’d rather you would put a bullet in his skull instead of putting him on trial,” she growled. Edgerton grabbed her hand and forced it palm down on his knee.

“Ah, I was right, you do want revenge. In that case, I could be persuaded to save my meeting with Mr. Birkenbauer for another day.” He ran her hand up his leg. Caroline fought hard to swallow. She felt sick. The hunter had become the prey. The goody two-shoed choir boy she had wanted to toy with was playing a much darker game. She would never be able to escape her past.

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