The Postponed Dinner

Caroline slipped into Libellule without being noticed. The hostess was too busy with the cluster of waiting patrons. Caroline sped through the back of the house and darted up the stairs to the balcony.

“Good evening, Miss Caroline,” Seymour said as she passed the upstairs bar. She ignored him and disappeared into the office with the door shut firmly behind her. Without turning on the lights, she crossed the room and opened a cabinet. Her hands shook as she picked up the decanter and splashed the amber liquid into a glass. She kept seeing the faces of the tarot cards before her eyes. She took a stiff drink and laughed. All this talk about fortunes and spirits, it meant nothing! It was completely ridiculous for Margot to rise from the grave only to tell Caroline to comfort her husband to put it politely. It was only some foolish fraud’s lucky guess.

She poured another drink and slipped down into one of the upholstered chairs. On an empty stomach, she already was beginning to feel pleasantly flushed as she sunk deeper in the cushions. Faint music from below drifted up into the room to join the gentle ticking of the clock.

“Has Miss Caroline arrived yet?” Frank snapped as he came in the front door. The hostess was caught off guard.

“She was in earlier, but left again. I haven’t seen her since,” she replied. Frank stifled his profanity near the guests and headed to his office. He would call Dauterive, then if he could think of the right words he would call Caroline and apologize. Seymour was busy with a few patrons as Frank passed to the office. He banged through the door so quickly, the shriek stopped him in his tracks. Caroline had sprung inches out of the chair in surprise. Her grip on the glass failed and it flung across the room to smash near the bottom of the wainscoting.

“Caroline, I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were in here!” Frank apologized as he shut the door and turned on the light. Caroline stared at him wide-eyed as she tried to catch her breath. He went over to the decanter and poured her another drink. He held it out to her and was patient as her shaking hands tried to get ahold of it. “Jesus, Caroline, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” He chuckled as he poured a drink for himself.

“Not quite,” she murmured before she took a sip. Caroline set the glass on the side table. She knew she had steeled her nerves quite enough. “But I think I should take a rain check on dinner, Frank.” She stood up tentatively and smoothed her skirt.

“Come on, sweetheart, I’m here now. You have my undivided attention.”

Caroline laughed and tried to walk to the door, but had difficultly maintaining a straight line. “I highly doubt anyone ever has your undivided attention!” Frank came forward and grabbed her elbow to steady her.

“Caroline Connolly,” he chastised, “How dare you get drunk without me.”

She smacked his chest with the back of her hand.

“I’ve only got an edge…and I’m tired, that’s all.” She put her other hand on the doorknob. “-Mnot drunk!”

Frank kept a firm grip on her arm and laughed. “Oh yeah? Well you left your wrap and pocketbook on that chair, so why not take my advice. Stay and have something to eat, then I’ll give you a ride home.” Caroline swayed as she still hung onto the door knob.

“Fine.”

Frank put an arm around her waist and steadied her. He opened the door and they walked slowly to their usual table in the dark corner of the balcony. In a moment, a waitress had appeared, most likely summoned by Seymour as the balcony was mostly empty. She was about to hand them the menus, when Frank waved them away.

“Two of tonight’s specials. Tell Seymour I’ll have some of that reserve bourbon and that Miss Caroline has a craving for soda pop.” The waitress nodded and disappeared.

“Aw, shit!” Caroline plopped her forehead in her hand. She pulled the napkin off her lap and was preparing to stand.

“What is it?” Frank asked, concerned.

“My ciggy’s are in my pocketbook,” Caroline sighed.

“Sit down, take one of mine,” Frank pulled out a cigarette case and held it open. Caroline plucked one out and waited for Frank to light a match. She leaned over as he held it out to her and ignited the end. Her first drag was like a long sigh as she sunk further in her chair. The waitress returned with their drinks. Frank plopped the bottle of Coca-cola in front of Caroline. She looked away down at the band on stage below.

“It’s not like you to sit and drink in the dark, Caroline. Is there something on your mind?”

“Do you believe in ghosts?” she asked in almost a whisper.

“No,” Frank replied. Caroline shook her head.

“Then I must be going crazy.”

Frank reached out and grabbed her hand that sat on the table.

“You’re not crazy, Caroline.”

“But I’ve been hearing voices. A woman’s voice.” Caroline could feel her throat tightening, “Since the first time we came here.”

“That night I dragged you out of bed to see an abandoned building?” Frank asked. Caroline nodded.

“You weren’t here when I showed up. I was going to go home, but for some reason, I ended up at a fortune teller.” Caroline grabbed her napkin and dabbed at the corner of her eyes. “As if I didn’t even have control over what I did and the lady she said I have a woman following me. A spirit.” Frank scoffed.

“Charlatan! You can’t believe those frauds. They just want to squeeze dimes out of the shoobies.” Caroline shook her head as Frank spoke. How could she possibly tell him what the message was?

“No, Frank. It wasn’t like that. It’s Margot, I know it. I think I’ve always known it. I’ve just been ignoring it…her…for months!” Frank stared down at his drink. His face was an expressionless mask and Caroline wondered as she spoke aloud if maybe she was crazy.

“Caroline. Margot is gone. I know that, you know that. I refuse to believe that she is still wandering the earth. How could I stand to think that she’s trapped in some sort of purgatory? How could you even think to say that? It’s only your guilt talking.” He stood up and buttoned his suit coat. “Agent Spiegel knocked off one of my stashes tonight. I have enough on my mind already without this. I need to call Dauterive, have the waitress bring my plate to the office.” He didn’t leave room for argument as he rushed away.

Caroline tried to stifle a sob in her napkin. She still held a cigarette in one hand. The ash grew longer as she tried to control herself. She finally picked up the bottle and took a drink of cola as the waitress returned. The girl set a plate in front of her.

“Mr. Sicero had business to attend to. He would like to dine in his office,” Caroline rasped without emotion or eye contact. The waitress nodded and disappeared. Caroline finished smoking her cigarette as she watched the band. She realized she would never be able to tell Frank about the message conveyed by the fortune teller. It would have to be something she acted on alone.

 

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