Caroline & The Witness
--"I have to go away for a while, Caroline…"
Richard's words still rang in Caroline's ears. So much had happened over the next several hours, but his words stayed with her, haunting her. His tone of voice had been so… what? Serious? Scared? Whatever it was… it had her frightened. And now all this. Cops and FBI everywhere. In her building. In her apartment. They said she would be safe… it was Richard they were after, but somehow, those words offered little comfort. And who were the 'they' they referred to? She had no idea, and no one was telling her either. 'For her own protection' they said. It was all too confusing. She sat on her couch, watching the FBI agents drink her coffee and watch out her windows… hoping to see what? The not knowing was eating away at her, slowly killing her.
"You're not going to tell me what this is all about… are you?" she asked anyone who would listen. No one did. At least, no one answered. "Where's Richard? Why are you here? What are you looking for?"
"Ms. Duffy! Please! It's for your own protection that you don't know." A large agent replied, continuing to watch out the window.
"Well, whoever it is you're protecting me from… do you honestly think THEY think I don't know?"
He looked at her, confused. She had to admit, the statement did make little sense…
"Look, whoever the 'bad guys' are… they're gonna think I know something anyway! I might as well KNOW something!"
They ignored her, and she resigned herself to the fact that she was not going to be getting answers. Her mind conjured up all kinds of horrifying things… like that mobster's girlfriend Richard once painted… could he be the target of a mob hit? After hours of just sitting, she eventually dozed off.
--Morning came to a near empty apartment where as the night before, it had been filled with men and women from various departments of law enforcement. Caroline sat up and yawned, looking around her at the mess all those people left in their wake…
"What happened to everybody?" she asked sleepily…
"Gone. We feel the largest part of the threat is behind us. It will just be me protecting you now."
"And what is the threat?"
He looked at her skeptically for a moment, like he debated whether or not to tell her, then he sighed and approached her…
"Mr. Karinsky witnessed a crime…"
"Oh my God! You're kidding!"
"No ma'am, I'm not. The FBI doesn't have a sense of humor."
"You have that in common with Richard then." She quipped… "What was the crime?"
"I'm not at liberty to say. His life is now in danger--"
"…And because you are his employer--"
"MY life is in danger?!"
"If something were going to happen, it would've happened by now." He assured her… "Still, I will be here to protect you until Mr. Karinsky testifies."
"Testifies? Then what happens?"
"He goes into the Witness Protection Program."
Caroline's jaw dropped open, shocked… "What?! For how long?"
"He can't! He's my friend! He's my employee!" she felt like she couldn't breathe… "I'll never see him again?!"
"That is correct. It's either that, or he accepts the risks and refuses protection."
"But, he could be killed…"
"Oh God… I have to see him…"
"But I have to!"
"Sorry. Maybe after he testifies we can work out a brief meeting. Until then, he is to remain in an unknown location."
--Richard paced the room that was to be his home for the next… however many… what? Weeks? Months? He didn't even know how long he'd be there. He didn't even know where 'there' was. Everything had happened so fast. He went into the police department to report a crime, next thing he knew, his life was in upheaval. Total strangers buzzing about him and barking orders, refusing to let him leave. Then, the pieces fell into place. The crime he'd witnessed… the criminals who were guilty of it… would kill him if they could. Just to silence him. When the FBI arrived, he knew it was serious. There was talk of hiding him away… for his own protection… until he could testify. He couldn't do that though. What about Caroline? She needed him. Well, she didn't need him so much as he needed her. He refused, but they insisted. Then they talked about the risk to Caroline if he continued to go to work… to see her at all… and he agreed. Reluctantly, but with a stipulation… that he be allowed to call her. To let her know he'd be going away. She didn't understand… and he couldn't explain it. It could put her in danger… they said. So he said the only thing he could say…
"I have to go away for a while, Caroline. And I can't explain why…"
What she must think of him. He had to call her. He had to explain…
"I have to call her. You don't know Caroline. She'll worry…" he told his protector, an FBI agent who seemed to want to be anywhere but there…
Richard sighed deep, exasperated… "Just a quick phone call!"
"By now they are monitoring her activities. If they think she has communication with you, she is in danger."
"Who are these people anyway?"
"It's better if you not know."
Richard plopped down on the bed, running his hands through his hair, frustrated.
"She's in danger just by association." The FBI agent added, and Richard's heart jumped in fear...
"What do you mean by that?"
"If they think you care about her, they'll kill her as a warning to you not to testify."
"Oh my God…"
"But she's safe right now. She is being protected by the FBI. And as long as they think she is nothing more than your employer, she is safe."
Somehow, that didn't ease his concerns. He just wanted it to be over with as quick as possible so that he could get back to his life. Back to Caroline.
"Well, I'll be glad when this is done with. Get back to my life. Coloring cartoons doesn't seem so bad after all this…"
The agent looked at him, confused… "You do know you can never return to your former life, right?"
"After this, you will be put into the witness protection program. Given a new identity. You will no longer be Richard Karinsky, working for Caroline Duffy."
"Wait a minute, wait a minute! I was told that testifying would put me out of danger! If there is no danger, why do I have to leave my life and hide out?"
"Testifying puts you out of IMMEDIATE danger. There's still the possibility that someone will exact revenge."
"A possibility? How big of a possibility?"
"It's very possible."
"Oh, this just gets better and better!" he snapped, angry, and getting angrier… "What about Caroline?"
"What about her?"
"Will she be safe?"
"Most likely?! That's it?! Most likely?!"
"There are no guarantees in life, Richard. But the consensus is that she will be in no real danger. We will protect her till you testify and get relocated, then she will be free to live her life as she did before."
"This is getting way out of hand! I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time! This can't be happening. I can't do this. I can't leave her knowing she may be in danger…"
"You leaving will put her out of danger. It will show them you have no attachment to her."
No attachment. How he wished that were true. He buried his face in his hands and sighed…
"But you do have an attachment to her, don't you?"
Richard looked up abruptly, considering his next words carefully…
"She's just my employer… but I do care for her. Enough not to want her killed! Cause of something I inadvertently witnessed!"
Fate was once again bent on robbing him of any happiness. It wasn't bad enough he was in love with a woman who could never love him in return… but now he may never see her again. He sunk into a depression, allowing the self-pity to swallow him up. No Caroline anymore? He might as well let 'them' kill him. Without her, he would be dead inside anyway.
--"So that's it?" Annie asked in whispered shock as she and Caroline sat on the couch in her loft, talking softly so that the FBI agent couldn't hear… "You may never see him again?"
"Well, they said they might be able to arrange a quick meeting after he testifies… but yeah. That's it." The tone in Caroline's voice told of just how upset and sad she was…
"Hun, I'm so sorry…" Annie put her arm around her supportively, but Caroline squirmed away…
"Yeah, well, it's not like I can't get another assistant…" she stated with detached indifference…
Annie just looked at her, confused… "What?"
"C'mon! Let's face it! He hated this job! I mean, he was good at it, but he wasn't at all fun! Not like Jeannie was…"
"No, I mean it. He was always complaining… not just about the job… but his life in general. This way, he gets a new job AND a new life. A chance to be happy…"
"Caroline, please! This is Annie you're talking to! I know how you feel about him! And I also know that for however much Richie bitched, he loved being here each day. Cause you were here."
Caroline started to cry, and Annie held her, trying to offer some comfort…
"Annie, I don't know what to do. I mean, there isn't anything I CAN do! I'm going to lose him... it hurts…"
"I feel like my heart is breaking…"
"I never told him…" she trailed off…
"Told him what?"
Caroline sat up, drying her face, trying to regain control… "I just never told him how much I appreciated him."
Annie knew there was more to it than that… more in Caroline's heart she wasn't admitting out loud. She pondered briefly telling Caroline about the love letter Richard had written to her… the letter SHE accidentally found in the street when Caroline and Richard were helping her friend Vicki deliver her baby, but decided against it. She was worried that it would upset her even more… causing her to become even more depressed. Instead, she kept the information to herself, silently hoping it was the right decision.
--The day Richard testified was confusing and chaotic. In order to prevent being followed, they had Richard switch cars multiple times. So many times in fact that all the actions around him started to lose all meaning. They had him wear a bulletproof vest AND a bulletproof helmet. Then, as an added measure of security, they had him in a separate room and the whole examination was conducted through video cameras and monitors.
--His time on the stand was brief, he only knew what he saw, and he didn't see much. What he did see however, was of the utmost importance.
--Caroline tried to work. Tried to draw her strip, but her thoughts kept floating back to Richard. Time without him made her realize just how important he was to her. She wished for one last chance to tell him… but felt she would never get that chance. She was wrong…
"You still want that brief meeting with him?" the FBI agent in charge of Caroline's safety asked her…
Her eyes grew wide and she immediately jumped off her desk chair… "Yes!"
"Come now." He briskly led her to a waiting car, saying nothing further.
--Richard was done testifying and was quickly led to a waiting car…
"What happens now?" he asked, but he got no response.
He scoffed, making a sound that wasn't quite a word, expressing his frustration at being ignored.
--They drove onto a dirt road, heading for a large, abandoned building in the distance. It was a little unnerving, but he had trusted these people up till now… and even if they were going kill him, it wouldn't matter. Life without Caroline didn't matter.
--The enormity of the building and its remote location was putting Caroline on edge… but for the chance to see Richard again… it was worth it. She paced nervously, waiting for him to arrive, then she heard his voice…
--"What are we doing here? I don't understand…"
Seeing her rendered him speechless… momentarily. She rushed to him, throwing her arms around him, hugging him…
"Oh my God, Richard… I've been so worried…" she breathed, her voice shaky…
"Caroline?" he questioned his own reality… "What--??"
"I asked to see you…"
He shook his head as he held her tight… "This is only going to make it harder…"
"Seeing you. Caroline, I have to go away…"
"I don't want to leave…" he was on the verge of tears…
"I don't want you to leave."
"But I have to."
"It's not safe for you if I stay."
"Then, take me with you."
"Take me with you."
He shook his head… "I can't."
"You can't leave your friends. Your family… your strip…"
"None of that matters."
"What? How can you say that?"
"Nothing matters except you. I love you."
He couldn't have heard her right. She didn't just say that. He couldn't speak, he could only stand there, staring…
"Sorry. Bad timing…"
Before she could finish her sentence, she found his mouth on hers. His lips kissing her lips… tenderly, but growing more passionate by the moment. Finally, he broke away, looking deep into her eyes…
"I love you too, Caroline."
"Then take me with you."
"I can't. It's not fair to you…"
"What's not fair is you leaving without me!"
"It's asking too much. They only way they would agree to let you come with me is… is if we were married."
She nodded… "I want to get married Richard."
"Yeah, but to me?" His tone was a mix of amazement and sarcasm…
She laughed… "No, to HIM." She joked, pointing at a large, burly FBI agent standing nearby.
He smiled and kissed her softly… "It's such a sacrifice though…"
"It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make."
--Annie sat in shock, tears blurring her vision as she and Del watched the news…
"…It's uncertain if Caroline Duffy, creator of the popular 'Caroline in the City' comic strip was a target as well, or if Richard Karinsky was the only intended target of this fatal, apparent car bombing…"
"I can't believe she's gone." Annie choked out… it was just as inconceivable hearing it the 4th time as it was the 1st time…
Del tried to hold back his tears, but that proved futile… "Why was she even there with him?"
"She wanted to see him one last time."
"I thought they were being protected!"
The newscaster addressed Del's inquiry before Annie could… "Unsubstantiated reports are that Richard Karinsky refused the FBI's Witness Relocation services, and planned to return with Caroline Duffy to her apartment, where he worked for her as her assistant. Once out of the FBI's protection, he was an easy mark… sources say…"
"Why did he refuse protection?"
Annie shrugged… "Cause he didn't want to leave Caroline?"
"She didn't deserve this…" Del muttered softly, wiping a tear from his cheek…
"Neither deserved it."
"Nothing is going to be the same without them…"
--The funeral was the hardest thing Annie and Del ever had to go through. Their best friend was gone, and the funeral made it final. So final. Annie had never cried harder in her whole life, and Del held her in support, also crying, but able to keep control. Margaret, Caroline's Mother was as bad as Annie… if not worse, but her Father, Fred was holding it together… for Margaret's sake most likely. Richard's Father, Ben was in obvious shock, crying, but not hysterically, and his Mother, Natalie showed something near sad indifference. His paintings and her comics were displayed around the room, as well as pictures of them, taking attention away from the small urns that held their ashes. They spent time remembering them, telling stories of her cheerfulness and naivete, and of his distance and artistic talent. All were in agreement though… they loved each other. Sincerely. Sincere amore.
--Months had passed and there still wasn't a day that went by that Annie and Del didn't think about Caroline and Richard… missing them. They found solace with one-another, and soon a relationship bloomed from their need for comfort. Together, they could get through each day, making life without their dearest friends bearable.
--Several months later, Annie and Del were married. The ceremony was fairly small, and a bit bittersweet, seeing as how Annie always pictured Caroline being her maid of honor. They headed off for their honeymoon shortly after the reception, not to return for 2 weeks. When they got back, there was something of a surprise waiting for them…
--"Hey guys! How was the honeymoon?" Charlie asked as he skated into Annie and Del's apartment…
Del had to physically stop him from rolling into Annie… "Fine Charlie. Did you bring our mail?"
"Yep! Here ya go!"
"Thanks for picking it up for us." Annie patted him on the back, then snatched the mail from Del's hand…
"Hey! I was lookin at those!"
She grinned, then started sorting through the mail… "After me." Within a few moments, a look crossed her face that caught Del's attention…
"This postcard…" she replied, her face losing all color…
"You look like you've just seen a ghost!" he replied, concerned… "Let me see the postcard."
"It's… it's… Richard and Caroline."
"What?!" He snatched the postcard from her hand and looked at it.
The postcard was plain enough… the New York skyline at night, but the message section…
There was no message, in writing anyway, but what was there caused Del's complexion to turn just as white as Annie's. On the postcard was a picture of a cartoon Caroline and a cartoon Richard, holding hands… and waving.
"It's her artwork, isn't it?" Annie asked anxiously, but Del just stood, dumbfounded. "Del?! It's her work, isn't it?"
"I think so… yeah." Came the shaky reply…
"My God. Then where are they?"
"It doesn't say. It's a New York postcard, but the postmark says… Sweden?"
"Maybe they faked their deaths." Charlie added simply, obliviously calm…
Del looked at him incredulously… "What?"
"The FBI coulda faked their deaths… so the criminals Richard testified against wouldn't go looking for them…"
"That doesn't happen, Charlie!" Annie exclaimed… "Except in the movies!"
"Oh, doesn't it?" Charlie smiled, then skated out the door.
She turned back to Del… "Could he be right?"
"Well, normally I would say 'no'… cause it's Charlie and all. But this time, I think he might be."
"What do we do now?"
"There's nothing we CAN do. Except… we have to keep this postcard to ourselves."
--Over a year went by, and Del and Annie never heard another word from their friends. They started to think maybe, somehow, the postcard was a fluke… or something. But then, something happened to change that thought…
--Annie had gone out to get the mail, and Del was on the phone, talking to 'Card Village' about an order they had placed. It was an average, normal day for them… until…
--Annie walked in the room, her pregnant stomach getting inside a moment before she did, her eyes wide and her complexion pale…
"Annie? What's wrong?" Del asked, putting the call on hold…
She said nothing, she just handed him a postcard. It took only seconds to realize what he was looking at…
The picture was of the New York skyline at sunset, but in the message section on the back… a cartoon Richard and a cartoon Caroline, holding a cartoon baby. Underneath the drawings… "We miss you. Love, 'And baby makes 3'…"
"Oh my God, Annie, they beat us to it! They had a baby!"
She smiled, the shock starting to make way for joy… "They're alive! There's no other answer for this!"
"They have to be!"
"Do you think we'll ever see them again?"
"I sure hope so."