I’ve been asked for Monster and Ex’s story from SHAMELESS. Monster and Ex aren’t your typical couple – this is their background story – with both points of view.
It was early evening when I arrived at the crappy little house, a three bedroom shithole with half the siding off and a sagging front porch. I could hear children crying, and a muffled, but loud voice yelling as I walked past three Harleys toward the front porch of the battered place. As I walked across dead grass and weeds, two oversize men – one with a wild head of shaggy dark hair and a matching full beard, the other bald as a cue ball - in “Purple Pranksterz Motorcycle Club” jean vests stood up to block the torn screen door.
Shaggy spoke “Gotta wait, man, Cooler is straightening out his old lady.”
He was a big guy, and for a moment, I wondered if he was actually one of those big teddy bear types where the gruff exterior hid a kind heart. The small black “1%” patch on the front of his vest spoke otherwise. Cueball moved up beside him, looking bored.
I dropped my eyes and looked down at my feet for a second. The voice from inside the house grew louder and clearer: “I’ll teach your fucking brat to mouth off to me!”
A child’s wail grew louder.
At that, I raised my head, locking eyes with Shaggy and letting him see the destroyed side of my face. He paled for a second, then shifted his feet into a serious defensive posture; somebody, my oldest boy probably, must have been telling tales.
I kept my mask up and put on my friendly voice “Sorry big guy, she may be his old lady, but those are my children.”
It was Cueball’s fault – Shaggy looked like he wanted to at least talk for a second, maybe even come to an agreement. On his forearm he had a Ranger Regiment tattoo – maybe I could find some common ground, maybe negotiate. Cueball, though, he had to throw that chance away. Cueball was on my right; he didn’t see the ragged, ruined skin, the permanent, twisted, half-grin and the cloud-filled left eye. He lunged, grabbing for my shirt.
“We toldya to fukkin wait, Asshole!”
I prayed for patience, but was granted none. As usual. Not that I expected any. I hadn’t had any prayers answered for a long time.
Nobody was out there for me anymore.
The moment his hand touched me, I pinned his wrist to my chest with my left hand, twisted, pulled, and stomped. He was curled up on the ground, unconscious before Shaggy could react. When his reaction did come, it was far too slow. I tried not to do him any permanent damage – I really did think he was hoping to be reasonable, and from the look on his face he could sense how it was going to end; but he just had to try out of a sense of obligation.
And I knew all about obligations. They’re all I have left.
I stepped over his unconscious body and pulled the screen door open.
Cooler – aka Brian – had his back to me with his fist raised threateningly. Anne, my ex-wife, with one eye swelling shut and a bleeding split lip, was standing defiantly between him and the three children. With a bit of pride I noticed my oldest son, Patrick, who was 7, had pushed the 4 year old twins, Danni and Finn, behind him. Whichever of the younger ones had been wailing stopped at my entrance. Anne was thinner after two years, a little too thin. She wore no makeup and her hair looked stringy, just tied back out of the way, a sharp difference from the carefully cared for look I remembered. All in all, she looked like hell.
Anne’s unswollen eye widened as she saw me. While the children had seen the scars and damage to my face when my brother had brought them out, I’d simply refused to see or talk to her again after the injury. Part of that was to buy time. She had known me too well. So she got the full effect of seeing me, right along with the shock of my disfigured face. I knew what I looked like, with the ruined face and the deeply ingrained tan of years under a tropical sun.
I looked, more or less, like what I really was.
Although nobody would want to believe that.
“Cooler” noticed her shock and spared a glance over his shoulder at me. We’d never met, but I could see sick realization wash over him. I closed with him as he turned around and I hammered him to the ground – like most big guys he assumed being taller, heavier, and smellier was some kind of advantage. Which it could have been if any of them had any real training.
Once he was down, I looked at Anne – and decided to deviate from my original plan of just taking the children. She’d been taking the beating defending the children, so maybe she wasn’t a complete loss.
“Get your ass, and the children, in the car. Now.” I’d kept the mask up. With any luck, all she saw was an angry ex-husband.
If she argued, she could stay.
She chose to go.
As she stepped forward I stopped her with a raised hand. She tried, but failed, not to stare with horrid fascination at the ruined side of my face.
“Give me the vest.”
She was wearing cut off jean shorts, a blood speckled white tank top and boots – and a miniature jean vest with a Pranksterz logo on the back with a patch that said “This Bitch is property of the Pranksterz MC. If Lost, Return to Cooler”. Still unable to take her eyes off me, she pulled it off and thrust it at me like it was scalding. The children smiled at me as she herded them past.
I hit Brian again, hard enough to keep him down for a few minutes, then dragged Cueball and Shaggy into the house and dropped all three of them on the ratty couch. As I went out and dragged them in, I could see that Anne was sitting in the passenger seat of my car, trying to calmly talk to the children. She was now desperately avoiding eye contact with me. The children, on the other hand, appeared to be enjoying the whole event. There was obviously no love lost between them and ‘Cooler’. I’d brought zip strips and secured their hands carefully.
It took a few minutes, but all three of my guests woke up. I concentrated on keeping the mask up. When they were fully awake, I stood and very deliberately snapped the little finger on Brian’s right hand, just to make sure I had their attention, then walked over and stood in front of them.
“She’s out. You have nothing to do with her or the children anymore. You see them coming down the street, you go another direction. I see, hear of, or smell any of your pack anywhere near her or the children it’s all over. If that happens, there is no stopping it. Anyone with Pranksterz affiliation disappears forever.”
Brian glared at me, with tears of pain in his eyes, still not fully understanding his predicament. “She left you, you ain’t her husband anymore.”
Good. They were buying the “vengeful husband” act.
I nodded. “She shouldn’t be my fucking problem. But those are my children and they need their mother. She’s still acting like it. Hell, you should appreciate that; if she hadn’t stopped you from hitting them, you’d be dead already.”
On my right, Cueball shook his head “You gotta buy her out. Bitches get gangbanged in and bought out.” He said it like “Bitch” was some kind of title.
I finally turned so he could get the full effect. And grinned – I knew the effect that had.
“Sure, Cueball, how many broken bones will that be? Let’s start with fingers.”
He turned an interesting shade of green.
They didn’t negotiate that hard; Hell, they must have had at least 20 unbroken fingers between them before they agreed to my terms. I burned her vest in front of them.
We had a nice long talk. Long for them.
I grabbed an expensive pair of Oakley sunglasses off a wobbly end table as I walked out and Brian actually tried to object, albeit weakly.
“Hey, take the cunt, but those are mine.”
I stopped and looked at him. “Sorry ‘Cooler’ – do these guys know you got the nickname because you repaired air conditioning in the Army? – I’m taking them for Anne to wear. I don’t want anyone to think I’m the kind of little shit that would hit a woman. I’ll send them back to you in the mail or something.”
I paused again at the door and looked back. “I don’t know if she’s using, but just in case: anyone who sells her anything – grass, pills ... fucking aspirin, whatever – will deal with me. Then I come for you. No warnings, no negotiation. Spread the word.”
As I walked back to the car, I reviewed everything. That had been the longest conversation I’d had with anyone in months. It looked solid, the mask had never slipped. They thought I was human.
I sat down in the driver’s seat of the car, handed Anne the sunglasses and headed out to the highway. Anne said nothing, she just put on the sunglasses and stared wretchedly at her feet. I listened to the children talk, but, relieved of the stress, all three of them fell asleep within a few minutes. Anne didn’t even ask where we were headed, apparently just silently soaking in her own misery for the next two hours. She was holding her own arms, hunched over, seemingly trying to hide the old bruises on them. That made me a little concerned, so when she wasn’t watching I looked over her arms as best I could. There were no needle tracks, so at least she hadn’t fallen that far.
She’d left me over two years before – I was gone too often, too many late night calls and departures. Training all the time to be the best.
I was the best. Everybody has a role on the team. I wasn’t Control. Or Demo. Or the team Sniper. I was the best at point blank work. The close combat specialist. On many teams they’d call me the Tank, an echo of the games so many of us grew up with.
But on my team we had a different name. A name for the thing that left no survivors.
Anne had tried. I could see that now, but I was never home, and even when I was, my head was somewhere else. We tried counseling, but I was what I was. So after nine years of marriage, she filed. She could have waited six months and had half my Army pension, but she didn’t want to be “that wife”. She’d been faithful the whole time. It wasn’t about some other guy, it was about us not working. She’d even tried to minimize child support. The state had a formula for that, so she couldn’t do much. She picked up the children and moved back to our hometown. The Army would likely move me in the next few years anyway, so I could hardly argue about that. Besides, to be perfectly honest, while I’d loved them, they hadn’t been my priority.
Sometime after we’d parted ways, she’d met Brian. A great guy who planned to open his own Harley Davidson shop.
That never happened. And it turned out he was more interested in running his own little version of Hell’s Angels. Sort of a start-up OMC. Sooner or later, one of the bigger OMCs would notice them and either absorb them or smash them, but it hadn’t happened yet.
Despite his promises, they’d never gotten married.
I’d managed to get myself shot and blown up about a year ago; spend enough time in combat and the law of averages will eventually find you. While the majority of the damage was cosmetic, the combination of nerve damage and lost vision put paid to my career in the Army. I figured the real reason for my discharge was the scarring on my brain; they weren’t exactly sure what it meant and weren’t taking chances. So after hospitalization, therapy and transition, I was out.
And that was wise of them. I knew more than they did – when I woke, my emotions about nearly everything were gone – no anger, sorrow, nothing. At first I thought I was still in “trigger mode”, that place an operator goes mentally to suppress emotion, rely on reflex and training, and survive. But it wouldn’t turn off.
Empathy for nearly everyone and everything had evaporated. I couldn’t identify with them at all. Only my children seemed to bring out any feelings. Compared to the dead grey space all around me, the children were spotlight of color. I don’t know if it’s love, but it’s what I have.
They were my obligations.
I’d had to invent “the mask”, the pretend “me” I wore in public. Because if they ever figured out what was left of me, somebody would realize how dangerous it was.
I still had the training and reflexes they’d pounded into me. But little in the way of any human restraint. Basically a bundle of combat reflexes. But little else.
Nobody realizes how dependent humans are on emotions. How much humans use them to interact with others. Human faces reflect them constantly. I had to constantly try to figure out what a real human would do. How to hold my face. Until I perfected the mask, the doctors all thought I had residual nerve damage. I was lucky that the psychs used tests centered on family – my children – to gauge emotion response.
But I was out. With no direction, no goals and no meaning. Except my children. My obligations.
Two months ago, my child support payments had gotten screwed up when I went from active duty to medically retired, and I had had to wire money to Anne’s account to make sure she got it on time. When I tried to contact her directly to get a receipt, I’d ended up talking with her grandmother instead and gotten an earful of the hell my children had been sucked in to, and how it had spiraled into freefall the last 8 months. I made a few phone calls and learned about “‘Cooler’. I considered legal action, but it didn’t sound like there was time for that option.
In any case I’d always been an ambush predator. Even before.
In looking for the isolation necessary to protect my secret, I’d taken a job as a history teacher at a community college about two hours away.
Nobody pays attention to a history teacher at a technical college.
I bought a three bedroom cabin with a mostly finished basement on the edge of a state forest. The cabin had been built on the walkout basement of a much larger house that had burned down, and the owner had all but finished the basement with several rooms before he had a heart attack at his desk at work. My brother had taken care of the details while I finished out-processing the Army. I stayed away from him as much as I could, though. He’d known me too well before.
That house gave me options now. I had decided that the boys could share one bedroom and Danni would have another for the first couple of nights, and when I got the huge basement repainted, everyone could essentially have their own room and there’d be an extra kitchen, big pantry, workshop and TV room as well. I’d initially planned on just scooping the children up and leaving Anne where she chose to be, but when it happened I realized I couldn’t leave their mother, because it would send the wrong message to the children. They would want me to take her to safety. They wouldn’t know her odds were better with Cooler.
I can still appreciate irony.
I wasn’t sure how long I was going to let Anne “stay”, but the children were going to have a stable, safe life. I had obligations.
After we got to the cabin, I showed the boys where their room would be, and then showed Danni where her and “Momma” would be. Anne kind of hung back, but encouraged the children to settle in. That done, I announced I was going to get pizza and groceries and left them to look around. I stopped at Walmart, picked up some clothes for all of them - I knew the children’ sizes, but had to guess at Anne’s; I knew what her sizes used to be, but she’d lost more weight than she could really afford. I also picked up the aforementioned groceries and pizza.
The pizza was gone in minutes, and Anne got the children cleaned up and ready for bed. She wasn’t meeting my gaze, and seemed to be fighting an urge to cringe whenever I walked too close.
She still hadn’t said anything directly to me, she’d just returned to the table after putting the children to bed, and found that I’d already cleaned up the pizza boxes and put away the other groceries. She might have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. I decided to leave it – I really hadn’t planned on bringing her here, and I wasn’t sure how much leeway her protection of the children had bought her. It was a variable I hadn’t calculated. At least dealing with her for a long term wasn’t. She knew me too well for the mask to hold for long. And if she couldn’t accept what was behind the mask, I would have limited options. None of them good for her.
I needed time to assess the options.
I pointed at the bathroom.
“You can have that one. I’m headed down to shower in the basement.”
She opened her mouth to say something, but it was obvious she had no idea what. I just headed down the stairs. By the time I got cleaned up and went back up to the main floor, she’d finished and was in Danni’s room.
Even with my emotional distance, there had been a chance that seeing Anne would open up a lot of old wounds, but I’d felt nothing. No anger no sadness; she just seemed like a stranger. I could logically remember everything that happened, but the emotional impact of what had happened was simply gone. Not faded, not repressed; just gone. I knew that I had had feelings of anger and loss, but they were gone now. I couldn’t even remember what anger felt like.
The next day was a Saturday, and I figured there was a lot to do before I started preparing for the semester on Monday. I’d already pulled the paint sprayer and cans of paint out of the barn storage room before anyone else woke up. I also had an adjustment to make on the car.
The boys came out quietly and were drinking tea and waiting patiently for their bacon and hash browns before Danni and Anne came out of their room, blinking sleep out of their eyes, Finn, the younger of the two boys, and Danni’s twin grinned. Anne and Danni’s “pajamas” – loose shorts and T-shirts that I’d picked up for them to sleep in – matched. I was sure I hadn’t done it on purpose, but they were both wearing pink shorts and oversize T-shirts with big grey; kitten faces on them. And both of them had the hair on the left side of their head standing almost straight up. Both Patrick and Finn began laughing, much to Anne’s confusion. I just reached up and lightly patted the left side of my hair. Anne slowly reached up and felt the mess of her hair realized what was going on and dashed into the bathroom with Danni.
It was several minutes later when they came out, with their hair fixed and Danni giggling. I’d already put plates of bacon and hash browns down at their places at the table. I watched everyone as we ate – the children seemed to be less the worse for wear than I’d expected, and they were eating like starving wolverines. Anne, on the other hand, was still avoiding my eyes and acting cowed. She did eat though, and took over clearing the table and doing dishes before I could do anything.
After the dietrus from breakfast was cleared and everyone had changed, I sent the children outside. I motioned Anne over to the kitchen counter. She walked over like a condemned woman and waited for me to speak.
I pulled out my extra debit card, car keys and a piece of paper.
“I’m writing the PIN on this paper, take the children and go school clothes shopping. School here starts Thursday for them, so you will have to get them registered on Monday – I’ll be stuck at the college all day, but I’ll take the truck and leave you the car. Get yourself stuff to wear too. There’s about two thousand in that account. I need to finish painting the basement – it should take about six hours – about four hours to tape and dropcloth everything, an hour to paint with the sprayer and the rest to clean up, so take your time, take the children to lunch or whatever. The basement should be livable by tomorrow evening, and the children can each have their own room.”
She looked numbly at the card and keys while I wrote the PIN on the paper. She finally spoke.
“So why did you take me too? You could have left me. After ... everything, you might have thought that was a better idea.” Sadly.
“I wasn’t planning on bringing you out of there. But you were protecting them. And children need a mom. Since you were still acting like it in there, it seemed like the logical choice. For now.”
“What if ... what if they say I have to come back?”
“They won’t, you’re out. For good. They wouldn’t take you back if you showed up on the front step naked with 10 kilos of coke. We have a deal”
She looked pensive. “What kind of deal.”
“it’s a simple one: They never have anything to do with you or the children again, and in return I don’t exterminate everyone wearing purple for 100 mile radius.”
She already looked sick and off balance but I decided put the rest of the cards on the table. I had to let her think she had options, otherwise she’d play along for time. “I need to make some things clear. I don’t own you, and I don’t want to. If you decide to run by yourself, I won’t come after you. I’ll even leave the debit active, but won’t put any more money into that account once you run, so once it is gone, it’s gone. If you take the children, though, I will follow you to hell and back – I intend to watch over them until they can make their own decisions from now on. You really, really won’t like it if I have to come after you to retrieve the children. You can stay here until they all graduate, and all I will ever ask you to do is to help take care of them. This is solely in the interest of protecting them. According to studies, children from a stable home with two parents are happier and more likely to be successful.”
“This part is important. You need to know the truth.”
I dropped the mask. And from her expression, she could see the change, but she didn’t run. Good. Maybe she’d survive this after all.
I could use help to maintain the mask.
“After this happened” I pointed at the scarring on the side of my head “I’ve lost nearly all capacity for emotion. I have no feelings about you at all, good or bad, except concern for what you’ve put the children through. Your decision making for the last year or so has been ... less than optimal.”
I paused as she considered the meaning of that. Now to give her the choice.
“The only real emotions I seem to have at all now are ones directly connected to my children. I will not tolerate anything that negatively impacts their life. I could use help taking care of them.”
That was a lot to take in and I could see her pondering her options.
She made her choices rather more quickly than expected.
Shaking her head “I don’t have anywhere else to go. My parents ... they don’t want anything to do with me.”
At the time she may not have realized how close she was to death. I had a handgun – a piece of shit Glock. Unlovely things, Glocks, all the feeling and warmth of a staple gun. Brutally functional though. Like me.
I’d taken it from Brian. Trapped scared people look toward what they believe is salvation. In his case a much abused Glock 19 in the television stand drawer. I’d made sure his prints and blood DNA were on it. Just in case. I couldn’t afford for her to leave with my secret.
Best to change the subject.
“We apparently do have to get one of your tattoos removed. According to the ‘negotiators’ yesterday, it is mandatory when a woman leaves their social club for any reason. Removal is customarily done with a belt sander, but unless you have your heart set on that, I think we can just get laser removal.”
She paled and her hand shot down to her pubic mound. The tattoo, according to my negotiation discussion, was a small Purple Pranksterz emblem located about an inch above the vagina, overlaid with the number of guys involved in “ganging” the woman in. Apparently, according to Cueball, in Anne’s case, the number was 15. She started to visibly shrink in on herself as she realized I probably knew all about the meaning of the tattoo.
I held my hand up. “We can set it up with a respectable tattoo parlor in town, there are a couple, including a really pleasant-looking one at the mall. Or maybe they can hide it under different kind of tattoo if you want, I really don’t care. Either way it is likely to be somewhat painful, but a lot less trouble than if somebody finds out you still have it now that you are out.”
The conversation died out a bit after that and she headed out with my three children. I reminded her to wear the sunglasses until she found some to buy – her black eye was a glorious purple and yellow blossom over a third of her face now. The day went more or less as planned, with the repainting and clean up complete on time.
I waited to see if she would run.
She wouldn’t get far. The gas gauge was rigged – she’d get less than 40 miles before it ran dry - and the lo-jack would tell me where she was.
All I would need was a starting point.
The car pulled up not long after I finished and the children spilled out bubbling with excitement over all their new ‘stuff’. It seemed to take forever to unload the clothes, books and other necessities from the car, but a light supper was soon fixed, eaten and cleaned up. The children insisted on showing me their school clothes and other sundry items before heading off to bed.
Anne seemed a bit down and unhappy, but tried to keep a cheerful face on for the children until she put them to bed. I was sitting paging through a book in one of the two big wingback chairs by the fireplace when she plopped herself down in the other. She all but had a black cloud hanging over her head – I vaguely remembered that as sure sign she had something she needed to talk about, but really didn’t want to. I considered letting her sit there without saying anything, but decided that asking would be a good way to gauge how she was adjusting.
She went off, although it wasn’t aimed at me. “EVERYTHING is WRONG. I was stopped twice by police to see if I needed ‘assistance getting out of a bad situation’ because of my black eye!”
“They were doing their job and trying to help.”
“Sure, but where were they YESTERDAY? Or two weeks ago when I had my last black eye? Or four months ago? Or a FUCKING YEAR AGO? Just because I was part of that club, everybody was okay with me being hurt? But today, while I am wearing regular “Mom” clothes everyone wants to help!”
I didn’t say anything – I was sure this wasn’t over.
“Then I went to the tattoo place in the mall and basically the girl there told me I would have to get permission to get it removed – like somebody owns me!”
Which was pretty much what the tattoo meant, but here was no reason to really point that out, she already knew it.
“Then the little bitch tells me that, even with permission, she won’t touch me without a broad panel STD test from a clinic!”
I thought that was probably a pretty good idea. There was no telling what she could have picked up.
I let her stew for minute. “The Tattoo artist is making sure her place doesn’t get burned down in retaliation. As to the ... tests, I’ll try to put you on my family health plan at the school. I can tell them it was part of the divorce agreement, as long as I pay for it they won’t care. The children are still on my military plan.”
For a second, just a second, she looked at me with disbelief and a hint of anger.
The answer was that a woman who had had a 15 man gangbang and has been loaned out like a library book for the last couple years should probably be tested anyway. But that seemed to be self-evident, so I sat silent. In any case, a few seconds later, she obviously came to that rather logical conclusion herself without my prompting.
She actually blushed – a capability I was dimly surprised she had maintained - and looked down at the ground for a second. “I ... I could probably use a checkup anyway. I haven’t seen a doctor in a while.”