This is Angel’s story from The Shack, I’ve been asked for her story several times, and I hope this is satisfactory. This is very much a companion piece to “Shameless,” and I strongly recommend reading that first. The time period starts just before “Shameless” and ends a year or so after “Behind Blue Eyes.” I don’t typically write graphic sex in this story line and that remains true here. Special thanks to sbrooks103x and Ckcpper for editing and beta reading, and to No1specific for beta reading and Special Weapons advice. Any remaining errors are entirely mine -- probably added after their assistance. And, as always, thanks to everyone for the amazing encouragement and support.
A Parable of Wolves
“С волками жить - по вольчи выть”
Live with wolves, and you’ll learn how to howl
- Russian Proverb
“We want a story! Story! Story! Story!”
Three little blonde girls chanted at me from their beds.
I leaned back in the rocking chair, twisted my mouth and made my accent a caricature, “Do you vant ‘Ve must find Moose und Sqvirrel’?”
“Noooooo!!!!!” That brought shrieks of laughter from Kisa and Lily. Amber, our smallest, laughed too, but mostly because her big sisters were laughing. She’d never even seen Rocky and Bullwinkle, much less understood my terrible “Natasha” imitation.
Kisa is named after me in a way; “Kisa” - “Kitten” - was my first husband’s pet name for me, and I named Kisa that so I would always have a part of him. Lily is named after Thomas’s first wife, a woman I shall always feel fond of, though we never had a chance to meet. Amber’s name was suggested by Spooky, in a sad, hushed voice. I’m sure there is a reason for the name, though she’s never shared it with us. Thomas and I find the name beautiful.
“The wolf story! The wolf story!”
That’s their favorite story. It’s a long story and a sometimes sad story, but they love it.
Maybe because I love it. I looked up at the dresser. The pictures of Piotr and Lillian looked down on me approvingly.
“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful dog, with long, shining, golden fur, a wonderful fluffy tail, long beautiful ears and fine, perfect teeth. She was pretty and carefree, and even though she was a little vain because of her beauty, she loved the sound of laughter and joy, and that made her try very hard to make everyone around her happy. One day she met a wonderful, upright and honest police dog. She fell in love with his honesty and laughter. They ran off together to live their lives in happiness with each other and the dream of having puppies.”
Once upon a time, a frivolous, but very pretty university student met and married a junior detective in the Saint Petersburg Police department.
It started with a slip on the dirty grey winter ice, while I was going into a coffee shop. I’d always loved winter, loved the cold, and I loved to walk through the winter streets, sipping hot, sweet coffee. As I started in, I felt the ice slide under me and I started to fall. Someone caught me, pulling me upright; I slipped again, and caught myself on a pair of broad shoulders, pulling myself to him so we were nose to nose. He had laughing grey eyes and light brown hair and a smile that seemed so completely honest.
“Easy. We can’t have pretty girls falling all over the street. It’d give the city a bad name.”
Even though I was used to flattery, I could feel my cheeks flush. “I can’t get my footing.” Something about his smile made me laugh and I slipped more, holding on to him tighter to keep from falling.
His smile broadened as he caught my waist in firm hands. “I’m supposed to say something clever, but I think I’ll just stand here and let you hold on to me as long as you like.”
And I did. I decided at that instant to hold on to Piotr forever. It sounds silly, but I knew right then that we would laugh and live, raise our children, and grow old together.
He never had a chance of getting away from me. I’d been pursued and I knew all the tricks. The coffee shop girl told me his name and told me which police station he worked at.
I showed up at his department with lunch the next day, pulled out a calendar and told him we had to choose our wedding date.
He laughed. “I don’t even know your name, how do you know we’re even compatible?”
“Because you told me I could hold on as long as I like. And I’ve decided on ‘the rest of our lives’.”
“I don’t get a say in this?”
“You get one chance. We go out and if you want to stop after two months, we stop and you get away. If not, we’re together forever.”
“Why would I agree to this?”
“Because you said I’m pretty.”
“And pretty girls get whatever they want?”
“This pretty girl only wants one thing.”
“I’ve been told to stay away from pretty girls, they can be a lot of trouble.”
“I’ll wear a mask for the rest of my life. You can be the only one who ever sees me.”
He stared at me. “You’re serious.”
“I’ve never chased after a guy in my life before today. Ever.”
He agreed. I don’t know how I knew it would happen, but it did. And it was everything I dreamed life could be – every fairy tale, every “happily ever after.”
Two months passed, then three, then four. In six months we were married. We wanted lots of children and planned on starting to work on our family as soon as I graduated.
The only mar was an argument at our wedding – not between Piotr and me, but between Piotr and his cousin Dmitri, a powerful man, covered in prison tattoos.
Piotr, a man who never even lost his temper, even with drug addicts and thieves, knocked his cousin unconscious in the vestibule of the church. When I asked about it, all he would ever say was that his cousin wasn’t welcome in our home. Ever.
“Seeing them and their happiness, the awful, horrible underground Troll King who hated happiness sent terrible, terrible ogres to punish them for being honest and happy. They tried to force the police dog to become an ogre like them, but he was too honorable and true for that. So the ogres attacked the two dogs. There were simply too many ogres and while they fought bravely, eventually the ogres killed the police dog and dragged the beautiful dog away.”
Piotr and I had been married for ten months; I’d graduated the University with a degree in languages and was working part time as an interpreter at the local telecomm office. Seven months pregnant and happier than even the prettiest girl could expect to be.
Piotr’s only worry was his family. His mother and father had died in a car accident, but he had an Uncle, a respected, wealthy man named Gregor Ivanovich. He always spoke down to me in a strange, condescending, way. I wrote it off to his generation and their attitude towards women.
I learned very differently later.
I learned that to him, women, like drugs and weapons, were nothing more than commodities to be bought and sold.
Gregor ran an enormous criminal empire. Guns to Africa and the Middle East, drugs to Western Europe and girls to pretty much everywhere. Piotr had wanted nothing to do with it, and his uncle had promised to leave him alone, leave him out of everything. And the one additional promise Piotr had demanded of his uncle, as a wedding gift was to never, ever, harm me.
But promises from such men are worse than useless because you can make the mistake of believing them...
I was in the kitchen when it happened. I heard arguing at the front door. I came out of the kitchen, my seventh month of pregnancy making me awkward, although Piotr said that I was more beautiful to him than ever.
“Even if I wanted to, it’s too damn late for that.” Piotr’s voice. “The evidence is already moved.”
Gregor’s voice, calm and even. “You’ll just have to have them bring it back won’t you?”
“It doesn’t work that way, and you know it. You’ll have to use one of your pet judges to deal with it.”
Just as I rounded the corner, powerful hands grabbed me. “Piotr!”
He spun toward me. there were six men in the living room with us.
A low hateful chuckle from Dmitri. “Maybe he should see his wife with a real man. Maybe that will teach him to be more thoughtful for family matters.”
Piotr glared at him, then snarled at his uncle. “You swore you’d never let her be harmed.”
Gregor smiled. “I did.” I could feel Dmitri reluctantly begin to loosen his grip. Until Gregor curled his lip. “But using women as they are meant to be used is hardly harmful.”
I fought, scratching and kicking, as Dmitri clamped down on me and began tearing at my dress.
Piotr’s hand pistoned out, shoving the man nearest him away as he drew his gun. His first shot went into the man he’d shoved and he twisted towards me, his gun coming up. I could see it all clearly. He couldn’t kill them all, but he could try to save me. I tried to hold very still so he could.
But he failed, another gun went off just as he shot again, and his head jerked oddly to the side, then he began to sag. Piotr’s final shot, instead of killing me, tore through Dmitri’s left lung.
He couldn’t save me from them. But at least I wouldn’t be violated by Dmitri.
I began to scream. And in some ways it would be years before I stopped.
“The ogres mistreated her horribly and took her deep into the dark wilderness where they forced her to marry a nasty, evil creature of slime and mud, a creature they knew would treat her even worse. In exchange, the slime thing would keep a box of dark and evil magic for the terrible Troll King.
“Despite all the horrible things that happened, the dog had one perfect little puppy, a puppy so beautiful that even the slime creature was in awe. Still, he kept the puppy from her most of the time, and mistreated the poor dog even more, knowing she couldn’t run away, because he knew that no good and faithful dog could ever leave her puppy. The slime monster, resenting her beauty, made her sleep in mud and stay covered in slime and filth. She was so very sad, but she learned that the slime monster fed on sadness and so, she kept her sadness hidden from him.”
Robert Sandoval. That was my new owner’s name. Although officially we were husband and wife, and while he was cleaner than the men that had used me at first, he was many times worse. While the others saw me as an object to use, he saw me as something to torture. A cruel little boy, pulling wings off of flies. Not so much physically, although he did that, but by humiliating me, forcing me to perform for other men and women. Sometimes in groups. Sometimes to get something he wanted, but most often just to “keep me in line” and enjoy my degradation.
And he had the perfect way to force me. In a filthy, overheated shipping container, seasick and miserable, I went into labor and gave birth. Completely alone, in pain and darkness. But when my baby began to cry, I stopped wishing I was dead and understood that I had to live, to protect my baby. I could hear my Great Grandfather telling me, “Whatever terrible things happen, Russians, true Russians, can endure pain and misery like no others.”
Robert saw my love for Kisa, and saw it as a weakness, a way to make me do anything he wanted. As long as it was for my baby, I realized I didn’t care what happened to me, or how I was used. I was Shameless; after all, how could a mother be ashamed of doing anything, or everything, to protect her baby?
I could endure.
“So every day, the poor dog, chained by love of her puppy, watched the woods, praying and hoping for a brave dog to come and save her. But all she saw were more ogres, and in the darkest corners of the woods, she could see the yellow-bright eyes of wolves. The wolves were always out there, and they seemed so strange with their pointed ears and long, shining teeth. And their eyes held all the wilderness of the world in them. She feared wolves as much or even more than the ogres, for she had heard all her life that wolves had no honor, no loyalty and no joy. Their mournful howls of despair made her tremble.”
I didn’t see them at first, the strange men, such peculiar men. They tended to stay away from the tourist end of the strip. Staying to themselves. But after a year or so, I began to notice them occasionally among the crowds of tourists and travelers. They seemed to have souls of steel and ice. They reminded me of my Great Grandfather, a man who had lived the hardest of lives, fighting through the Great Patriotic War. But they seemed to have none of his softness, none of his kindness. The tall white haired man and the short bald man looked at Robert – and me – with nothing but cold contempt. Utter and complete contempt for our degeneracy. I could tell that Robert feared them, maybe more than I did. Worst of them all were the half-demon man and his woman. She saw me with only disdain, and his one clear eye could see only death. I had nightmares about them sometimes.
“Every day she looked into the woods, feeling her hope fail and her spirits fall, hiding her sadness from the slime creature. Until one day she saw a pair of bright yellow eyes staring back at her. Day after day. The eyes got closer, brighter, until she could see it was a ragged, skinny wolf; the silliest and weakest of wolves she thought. A sad and tragic figure himself. He snuck up closer to her every day until he was eventually sitting facing her, just out of sight of the slime monster. She still feared wolves, but he seemed sad and harmless, the least of wolves. He rolled around and acted as a clown, a comical, silly wolf. He made her smile with his silliness, and even though she only had a sad, skinny, silly, wolf and the thought of her puppy, she didn’t feel so alone anymore.”
He was a scarecrow of a man. Dirty and ragged and skinny. His filthy hair was a shaggy mop and his untrimmed, ratty beard was worse. He was clearly an alcoholic – I’d seen it all my life; alcoholism is rampant in Russia and I could see it eating him alive, as I’d seen it eat so many others. But he stared at me the way Piotr had. As if I was the only beauty in all the world. At first I was repulsed, but I began to see that he didn’t see me like all the others; as an object, a thing to use and discard.
He did something I hadn’t dared to even think to do. He sensed my hatred of Robert and began to gently tease me, making fun of Robert. Mockery has real power, it can make the unbearable, bearable. His mockery seemed to eat at Robert’s power over me, his power to make me despair.
Robert never noticed. And Robert never noticed that the man he called “Grease” was fighting his disease and winning. It even took me a while to notice, but he slowly became cleaner, gained weight, and I saw that he drank less and less. I was amazed. In all my life, I’d never seen anyone beat alcoholism. In my heart, I began to see him differently, without even knowing it at first. And when Robert gave me to him, he refused to use me as others had. So I gave myself to him. For the first time since Piotr, I was with someone I wanted. He introduced me to the others, the peculiar men with their special place. They accepted me, in their odd way.
Leaving Thomas to go back to Robert was the second worst pain I’d ever known. I know it was hard on Thomas, but I had to protect Kisa. I had to endure.
I tried to let him know how I felt. Even so, I could see his pain, a pain that echoed mine, and I began to wonder if, somehow, some way, I could find a way to flee with him, with my Kisa.
“One day, the ogres came back for the box of dark magic, and ogres are terrible things so they decided to take the rest of the slime creature’s treasures too. There was a terrible fight and the ogres killed the slime monster. They were so angry that the dog had some happiness left they decided to kill her and her puppy, but at that moment, the raggedy tattered wolf burst into the hut and dropped his disguise, revealing himself as a noble brave prince of wolves, and he slayed the most evil ogre with a single fierce bite. Then he called his pack to destroy the rest of the ogres and rescue her puppy.”
Chance is a strange and often terrible thing. Dmitri and his men showed up with no warning. I didn’t know what he wanted from Robert – I was locked in a closet while they “dealt” with Robert, and after I saw what they’d done to him, I was glad. For though I hated Robert, their cruelty was beyond comprehension. Dmitri made it clear that would be my fate as well, after they were finished using me. But my Thomas didn’t let that happen.
One minute I was about to die, the next, Dmitri was dead and I was fleeing with Thomas. Dmitri’s men, chasing us, ran right into a trap. They never realized they were going to die, that death incarnate, a real Monster, waited for them in that bar.
When Kisa and I were wrapped in Thomas’ arms, I knew that I had everything I needed. That I belonged with Thomas and his friends. After he took us to his boat, I watched him silently pour every bottle of alcohol into the sea, and I knew he did it for us.
“Surrounded by wolves, she clung to him and her puppy, terribly fearful of the other wolves and their wildness. The wolves saw this and led her to the edge of a shining pond under the moonlight and they smiled at her. One said ‘Look in the water, beautiful one. What do you see?’ The dog looked into the mirror-bright water and saw herself. The mud and slime had fallen away. She still had her shining golden coat, but her ears were pointed and upright. Her teeth were different, they’d grown long and sharp. And her eyes held all of the wilderness in them. She raised her muzzle to the sky and howled, long and loud, for she knew the truth; she was a wolf like them, and she always had been. What she’d always believed was despair in their howls was a call of kinship. She was truly home. She would stay with them forever and have more puppies with her brave strong prince of wolves.”
I started to get up to leave the room.
Kisa gave me a dark scowl. “Stop! What about the Troll King? He’s MEAN, he CAN’T get away! What about the evil magic box?”
Lily and Amber mirrored their older sister’s scowl. For a moment, they all looked so very Russian. I sat back down, and couldn’t stop my smile.
“Are you sure? It’s getting late and I’m getting tired.” I stretched and faked a yawn that turned into a real one.
“Mommy! Tell the whole story!”
I smiled. We did this every time. “Okay. If you’re sure. The wolf pack grew as wolves were drawn to a pack that was true and fierce, and they lived in peace and harmony in their forest. But while the wolves were content to live in peace, the Troll King was not. He sent more ogres to kill the golden wolf and her beautiful puppies and to bring the magic box back to him. But wolves are wild and wary creatures, and they saw the ogres sneaking into their forest. They hunted and killed the ogres and found the awful box.”
For years everything was beautiful. Thomas and I understood each other more deeply than I would have ever dreamed. We’d both lost our first loves painfully. We decided to keep their memories alive, keep their pictures in our home. I touched Lillian’s picture every time I left the house, promising her silently that I would watch over Thomas and our children.
More joined our strange little family. Sometimes by choice, like Spooky, and sometimes not, like Evelyn. Monster’s daughter, Danni, became my closest friend and I tried to let Gregor fade into the past even though it pained me that Piotr would never be avenged. But it was not to be.
On a quiet night, well after dark, Thomas and I found ourselves sitting with Pogo, Howard, and Chief.
Pogo drummed his fingers on the table. “We may have a problem. Wendy called.”
I’d never met Wendy, but I knew she was a very expensive smuggler of sorts.
Pogo continued. “Somebody is shopping for transport. Three weeks from today. Six men and they’ll be guarding a thousand pounds of uninspected cargo.”
“Headed here?” Howard cocked one eyebrow.
“That’s the strange part. From here. To the Sudan.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“That’s why she called. Wanted to see if it was us using a Russian cover.”
“Russian?” Chief looked over at me.
Pogo nodded. “That’s what she said. I don’t like it. Whatever it is has to be coming in by ship or plane.”
Thomas gripped my hand. “Or it’s already here. Bobert might have cached weapons on one of the little islands.”
Howard looked thoughtful. “Maybe MANPADS,” he glanced at me and noticed my confusion, “shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles. They’d bring damn good money with some of those Middle Eastern groups. Not sure it would be enough to cover Wendy’s prices. Even with a ‘family discount, ‘ she’s damned expensive.”
Chief grimaced. “If something bad happens and a shipment gets tracked back to here, it’d be bad. Besides, this could be really bad, maybe a commercial airliner.”
A flash of pain washed over Howard’s face. “Grease, you and Angel need to make a list of every place Bobert could have put something, probably the size of a pallet container.”
I shook my head. “I was only with Robert two weeks of the month; he could have put things anywhere when I wasn’t around. The only place I ever stayed was at the house on Komi Key. Other than that, I was on the boat here.”
“Who did you sell the Key to?”
“Wing Ho Development. I don’t think they’ve ever done anything with it, they just bought up a bunch of little islands for investment.”
“Christ, I hope it isn’t a PLA cover. I’m going to ask Evie to find a way to buy that island back through one of her front companies, just in case.”
We’d made almost seven million dollars from the sale of the island, but for Evie, that would be like a normal person buying a candy bar. Even if it wasn’t, she’d do it for Howard.
Chief pulled out his notebook and flipped it open, pulling out a chart that had the Key on it. “Not much area to hide a pallet container on, really just the house and a couple small beaches. I’ll have my guys keep an eye on it. We’ll have to watch visitors. Six guys, probably mercenaries, won’t be too hard to spot.”
It was two days less than three weeks when they showed up.
I knew it was bad when I arrived at the Shack and found Chief wearing a gun. He never wore a gun, ever.
Howard and Pogo looked grim.
“They arrived this morning. Spooky’s been on them all day. They’re looking for you, Angel. They have a couple old pictures. You and Bobert.”
I felt myself panicking. “Thomas is out on a charter and the girls are at school.”
Pogo smiled. “The goons are hunting for you, but the first things you worry about are Thomas and the girls? That’s why we love you Angel. Monster is headed over to the school to pick up the girls, and Chief already called Grease, sent a police boat over to keep an eye on him.”
“They must have no idea we’re here. Nobody who suspected we were here would be stupid enough to be this clumsy.” Howard looked more bemused than anything.
Pogo shrugged. “Probably Bobert’s old playmates looking to tie up loose ends. They may not believe the report that Bobert died and think he killed Dmitri.”
“Feels wrong, and it doesn’t explain the shipment.” Howard looked through the table, trying to see the logic.
“I guess we’re going to have to ask them then. We could gauge their intentions, have someone tell them where Angel lives, and wait to see what they do.”
“Make sure Monster knows we need one alive.” I understood Howard’s concerns. Monster’s implacable one track logic; any threat to the children was a threat only until he made sure it wasn’t.
Chief shrugged. “I need to stay out of this. Some things are better off the record.” His voice trailed off.
They came that night. Only Thomas and I were in the house, making the right noises, making the house look normal. But the six men would never come in. Pogo and Monster were waiting outside, flickering patches of living darkness. I’d seen Monster kill before, and I had no doubt what would happen.
Thomas and I heard nothing at all, but around midnight Pogo and Howard came in.
“We need to dump six bodies in the Deeps tonight. This really is about something Bobert had stored away. The one guy we talked to didn’t know what it was, just that they had to pick it up from ‘the house.’ He really didn’t know. He’d have told us if he did.”
Pogo wouldn’t look at me. “First they were supposed to find out if Angel knew anything and get rid of her.”
Shards of ice clipped up my spine. I knew how they “questioned” people, how they’d treated Robert. Though I doubted Monster was any gentler with the lone, temporary survivor. And I didn’t feel bad about that at all.
Howard “It has to be the house at the Key. We need to head over there in the morning. I’ll let Evie know.”
As we finished checking the rooms on the first floor, Pogo looked at me. “What’s the layout of the basement?”
I pointed up the stairs to the second floor. “Kisa and I were kept up there. I was never in the basement and I just wanted away from here after that. I didn’t want anything that Robert had.”