Caroline stood by the railing of the boardwalk and watched as Frank greeted members of the city council next to a sweet shop and a vacant lot. The remains of the burned out building had been torn down and hauled away. The lot was now prepared for new construction and the beginning of Frank and Caroline’s hotel. A crew of workmen were standing around a truck waiting for the signal to proceed.
For the time being, men in suits swarmed the area as they congratulated each other on the prospects of developing new cash flow in the city. Frank Sicero was grinning as he shook hands and clapped men on the shoulder. He glanced up at Caroline and winked. Bashful under his eye, she turned her gaze toward the ocean.
Large, puffy clouds drifted across the sky and cast shadows over the beach sand. In the distance, a few cargo ships were heading north up the coastline. A pair of young men dashed in and out of the surf. Their pant legs rolled up as they splashed in the still icy seawater. Suddenly, a loud, flapping thump startled Caroline. She whirled around and came eye to eye with a large, dark seabird. It stared back, parted its hooked bill and chuckled at her.
“Shoo, go away!” she tried to urge it to leave without attracting attention to herself. She wondered if it could be the same bird as the day she had met the young artist, Tom. She thought of the sloppy, lackluster kiss they shared and the disappointment. The bird had laughed at her then too. It had been nothing like the kiss on the night of Libellule’s grand opening. She had been surprised when Frank kissed her and feelings were stirred up in her that she had long since forgotten. There had been excitement and a spark of youth and vigor.
The bird flapped its wings and made itself more comfortable on the railing. It stared back at her expectantly as if waiting for something.
“Caroline!” the all too familiar woman’s voice whispered in her ear as she watched the bird watching her. She barely turned her head to confirm that she was indeed standing alone.
“Caroline!” a different voice called. Her head snapped to the other direction. Frank was waving her over. She gave the bird a farewell glare and crossed the wood planks of the boardwalk. Frank took her hand and pulled her into the circle of men.
“Carry on, Mr. Mayor,” Sicero urged to a man that stood holding a shovel. The greasy man smiled broadly and looked at each man around the circle.
“It is with great pleasure that I accepted Mr. Sicero’s offer to be the first to break ground on the seaside’s newest luxury hotel…”
Caroline zoned out as the mayor talked on about the increase in the enjoyment of seaside visitors, not to mention the city’s revenue. It was a lot of hot air as far as she was concerned. She wasn’t interested in lining the pockets of these men, but she understood it was necessary in order for Frank to continue some of his other ventures. She was relieved when the mayor finally drove the shovel into the ground and scooped the soil out of the tiny divot.
Someone in the crowd popped a cork on a bottle of champagne and the suds spilled over onto the ground. A silly and ridiculous sight during Prohibition, Caroline thought. Not far away she saw the workmen grimace and shake their heads. They were probably as thirsty as she was and in need of a proper drink. She turned and lightly touched Frank’s lapel to get his attention.
“Frank, I’m going to walk back to the cabaret if you don’t mind,” she purred. She knew he wanted her included in all these business things, but she wasn’t really interested in the joshing and backslapping. “I brought a choreographer in and left her with the girls to see if she could turn them around. I would like to see if she made any progress for myself.”
“Certainly, I understand that you’re a busy woman.” Frank smiled. She felt him shift slightly as if he were going to lean in for a kiss and she stepped back.
“Not here, Frank,” she whispered. He caught the hand she pulled away from his lapel and squeezed it.
“Fine, Miss Caroline,” he replied with a more professional tone. She forced a smile and separated herself from the group of celebrating men. As she turned down the boardwalk she saw the big bird watching her pass. The black beady eyes bore into her. She nervously unclasped her pocketbook and pulled out a cigarette. A workman stepped forward and struck a match for her.
“Oh!” she said surprised as she tried to tear her gaze away from the bird long enough to light her cigarette. “Thank you,” she murmured.
“It’s a cormorant,” he said. Caroline’s face bore baffled expression. “The bird. It’s a cormorant. Pretty harmless unless you’re a fish, despite looking like a devil.”
“You don’t say,” she muttered as she looked back at the bird. “Thanks for the light.” She nodded and continued on her way.