Chicago and Caroline

“Nobody move!” Cylus shouted. He pulled a shotgun out of his long coat and waved it in the faces of the bystanders. There were a few screams before bodies dropped to the floor on Cylus’s orders. Margot blocked the exit and disarmed the lone guard, just as she had been instructed. Caroline already had her gun in the bank manager’s face. She yelled at the tellers to hit the deck, then directed the manager to start emptying the cash drawers into a bag.

A man tried to fight back and be a hero, but Cylus laid him out with a fist to the face. Margot panicked as the guard grew a pair and grabbed for her gun. As they wrestled over it, Cylus unloaded both barrels to quell the restless crowd. The guard managed to wrench the gun away and shot Margot twice before she sunk to the floor.

“Margot!” Caroline shrieked. The guard swung around and aimed at her. She took her gun off the manager and shot the guard. The manager slithered off and hit the alarm. Caroline dropped the cash and ran around the counter. Cylus was already stepping over Margot as he backed out the door. Caroline rushed to Margot’s side and tried to get her to her feet. Margot was bleeding profusely from her abdomen and more spilled out of her mouth. She was heavy. Her legs moved woodenly as Caroline hauled her out to the bank’s front steps.

Caroline’s jaw dropped. Cylus pulled away from the curb and stepped on the gas. The car roared down the street, but Caroline was deaf to it. Time had slowed to a crawl. Her heart slowly pounded in her ears as she met Cylus’s gaze. His face was expressionless stone. Then he was gone.

“Cylus!” she bellowed. Margot was so heavy and slippery with blood. Police sirens were getting closer. “Margot…come on, we got to…” She saw her friend’s eyes fluttering and she sunk to the ground with her. She tried to put pressure on the wounds, but the blood simply welled up around her fingers. The squad cars screeched to a halt. She saw their mouths moving as they shouted at her, but she couldn’t hear their voices. Only the sound of herself panting as her hands pressed on a chest that was no longer moving. Margot’s face fell away from her. Caroline gave her a shake.

“Margot! Margot!” she cried. She looked at the men around her and called for help, but they stood frozen with their service revolvers pointed at her. Slowly, she lifted her bloody hands in the air. She was too shocked to react as they muscled her into hand cuffs. She was shoved along towards a car and blinded by the flashbulb of a lucky photographer.

Caroline abruptly sat up in bed with a gasp and looked around. It took a few moments to register that she was in a hotel room. It was dark except for a strip of light under the hall door. Slowly, Caroline laid back down and reminded herself that it was only a dream about long ago. She didn’t have anymore tears left to cry over it. She stared at the ceiling until she began to drift back to sleep. She barely registered that there was a woman pacing in the hallway. Caroline turned towards the window and tried to block it out as she closed her eyes.

“Caroline!” It was a quick, hushed whisper, but it woke her in an instant. Now she was on edge. She rolled onto her other side and stared at the slit of light. The shadows from the woman passing broke the light. The footsteps went a few feet down the hall and stopped. After a few minutes, they walked past the door again…and again…and again.

Caroline finally mustered some courage and pulled on her coat. She huddled close to the door with her fingers resting on the door panel as she tried to steady her breathing. She waited for the footsteps to pass again. The floor in the hall creaked as the footsteps tread more softly past. Caroline burst out of her room into an empty hall. At the end of the hall, almost in darkness, the door to the back staircase drifted shut.

Caroline ran to it and stood at the top of the stair. She didn’t see anyone and strained her ears to listen. A shuffling drifted up from below her. She made her way down until she emerged in the lobby.

“I just need you to look after him! It’ll only be a little while!” a woman was near tears as she held her colicky baby out to the front desk clerk. She kept repeating herself desperately as the clerk attempted to point out that he was unable to watch the child. Caroline ducked behind a pillar and froze. “Look after him, please!” A night maid finally turned up and led the woman away, but Caroline couldn’t shake the words from her head. She felt a freezing cold sink over her.

“Caroline!” the whisper called again as if from just on the other side of the pillar.

Caroline slowly turned and peeked out from behind the pillar. No one was standing there, but she was starting to grow accustomed to the eerie occurrence and waited for another sign. Her eyes fastened on the telephone booth and she rushed inside. She picked up the earpiece and waited for the operator.

“Look after him, please,” the mother pleaded from the earpiece.

“Excuse me?” Caroline asked surprised.

“Ma’am, how may I direct your call?” the operator repeated.

“Oh, sorry, it’s late…this is long distance…” Caroline gave the number for the Libellule office and prayed that she would make it through.

“Libellule supper club,” a low voice said cautiously.

“Frank?” Caroline’s voice cracked as she felt the urge to cry from relief.

“Caroline? You should have told me about New York. I would have taken you,” Frank said.

“I’m…I’m in Chicago, Frank,” she confessed.

“Chicago? What happened? Are you in trouble?” he asked.

“No…I’m fine. Actually, I’m not fine. I knew you wouldn’t agree with my plans so I lied. I came to Chicago. It felt like something I needed to do…” She wasn’t sure if she should even mention Margot or ghosts again. The last thing she wanted was for Frank to hang up on her right then.

“And?” Frank prompted. He didn’t know what to make of Caroline’s trip. He for one never wanted to step foot in Chicago again.

“It was…a mistake to come here. I’m going to catch the earliest train. Do you think…do you think you could meet me at the station?” she asked in a hushed voice.

“I’ll try. If I can’t make it, I’ll send Charlie to pick you up,” Frank agreed.

“Thank you, Frank,” she replied.

Caroline emerged from the telephone booth and asked the night clerk about the train schedule. She returned to her room, packed her bag and sat awake with the light on until it was time to leave. She got in a yellow cab and was on her way to the station when the street became backed up. There had been an accident ahead.

“Driver, is there another way to the station? I really need to catch the earliest train,” she asked. He glanced back at her.

“Sure,” he turned off the road and took a detour, “You lookin’ to get out of town fast?” He snuck another glance at her.

“You could say that,” Caroline replied. She watched the buildings pass by as they made progress. Then Caroline’s chest tightened, the cab felt extremely hot and her mouth started to water as her eyes clung to the marble steps of a bank. She bent forward and put her head in her hands.

“Hey lady, are you gonna be sick?” the driver asked with surprise.

“No,” she growled back, “Just get me to the station.” Without delay the driver made it to their destination. Caroline tossed some cash at him and told him to keep the change before she rushed inside to the ticketing agent.

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