A few hours later I got the email from Aden confirming that the email to Jacqui Munch was sent. I’m sure Chad could figure out it was me who did it but he couldn’t get back at me without compromising himself so I knew I was safe.
Aden also sent me another attachment. It was a PDF file containing everything about Michael that was public information…and some of it that wasn’t. I couldn’t believe what I read. It was too much to process all at once so I just closed the file and went back to work hoping if I could focus on work then I wouldn’t completely lose my shit.
After a while, it wasn’t really working anymore so I had to look again. The more I read the more I felt like crying. I slept next to this man every night. I married him. I had children with him and was currently pregnant by him again. How the hell did I not know the things he was capable of? Even Aden was surprised by what he found. He even called me just to make sure I was okay.
I felt so stupid. Even Chad Munch was smart enough to do a background check on someone who worked for him but I didn’t even think to do one on a man I let into my bed and in my life. He was a complete stranger when we met, a random man I met in a restaurant, what was wrong with me?
As if on cue, the door opened and he walked in. “How did it go?” He asked.
I was confused by his question at first but then it clicked that he was asking about my meeting with Chad from earlier. “As well as can be expected.”
“I should have been there with you.”
“Why? So you could make sure he didn’t tell me about you?”
“You wanted to continue to keep the wool over my eyes? To make a fool out of me? Is that why you really wanted to be there, Michael?”
He groaned. “What did he tell you?”
“You thought you were so slick, huh? You thought I would never find out. I know everything, Michael. I know about Bridgeport!”
His expression changed, and a realisation hit him. “I’m sorry…”
“Just tell me one thing. Were you really partying with Chad? Were you using drugs with him? Were you taking advantage of those girls as well?”
He frowned at me. “How the fuck can you think I would do some shit like that Maia?!”
“Just answer the question!” I demanded. He stomped across the room, so I got up to follow him. “DID YOU?”
“NO!” He practically growled.
“He said you liked to party, that you stayed after you brought him the drugs and that you…” I couldn’t begin to repeat what Chad said he did. “Please…just tell me you didn’t…”
“I would NEVER rape anyone Maia! NEVER! I never partied with him or whatever the hell he said I did and the fact that you believe that coming from HIM about ME…I don’t believe this! You should know me better than that!”
“I don’t know you! Not anymore! You lied to me, about your past, about who you are…!”
“Fine! Okay, I admit I kept a lot of things about my past from you. But I did not do the things he said I did. I’ve done some questionable things in my life but I could never be the kind of scum he is!”
“No, you’re the kind of scum who nearly beats a woman to death and gets away with it!”
His eyes widened at the fact that I knew that. He was the number one suspect in an assault against a woman named Natalie Smith who worked on the same street he lived on in Bridgeport that left her hospitalized for weeks. A witness claimed to see him commit the assault but he was released because the witness was scared into silence and the victim refused to name the perpetrator. The police believed he did it but didn’t have enough proof to formally charge him. “What did she do to you to deserve that?”
“I didn’t hurt Natalie! She was my friend! I stopped those punks from raping her after they beat her up but they got away. That supposed witness was a liar who didn’t know what he saw!”
“Then why didn’t she tell the police who the real culprits were?”
“Because the neighbourhood we lived in was shitty and talking to the police would only get you killed. Natalie was attacked by two little shits from the Thorns gang…”
“The same gang you were in.” I finished for him.
With a sigh, he admitted it. “Yes. I was a Thorn. Chad tell you that too?”
I shook my head. “I asked Aden to do a background check on you,” I confessed, fighting back my tears. “Since I can’t trust you to be upfront and honest with me, I had to do some digging.”
“I understand.” He said. There was a short pause as I waited for him to tell me more. “That’s how I got the tattoos on my right arm.” He pointed to his right arm. “It’s also why it bothers me to still have ’em. I’m not the same man I was back then.”
He took a deep breath and continued. “I was young and I just lost my mother. She and I moved there from Sunset Valley after she got sick. She was seeing a specialist but none of the treatments worked and she died within a couple months. I was grieving and in a new town and broke. The Thorns ran my neighbourhood. Some lived in my building so they became like family.”
“Family? They were criminals!”
He frowned at me, “You don’t get it. You’ve never been alone, not really. You’ve always had family and friends around you. After Mom died, I had no one. You don’t know what it’s like being a teenager and not having any money to support yourself. The law only allowed me to get a part time minimum wage job and that was barely enough to cover the rent. Some days I had to fucking dumpster dive for food or steal sandwiches from the convenience store around the corner. It’s easy to get convinced that the wrong thing is right when you’re desperate.”
“But they were obviously using you. They took advantage of your desperation so they could recruit you.”
“You’re right. I wasn’t that naive, I knew exactly what they were doing. Thing is, they were good to me so I did whatever they asked if it meant I could have food in my fridge and the bills paid.”
“And I’m sure nice things, lots of women, and all the parties and drugs you could ever want came with the package too huh?” I said flippantly.
“I never used. When your mother’s been sick and you have to see her pumped up with morphine to deal with the pain, it doesn’t make getting high appealing. But yes, I took advantage of the easy money and the women that came with it.”
I felt a little sympathy at hearing the part about his mother. He so rarely talked about her and I now I knew why. I knew she died from cancer but I had no idea what he went through in dealing with her death. “So what happened? What changed to make you leave?” I asked.
He paused and looked at me like he was asking if I really wanted to know but I had to know. I was tired of living in the dark. “After what those two did to Natalie…let’s just say I took care of them.”
“You-you killed them?”
“No, I didn’t kill them but they ended up worse than Natalie, that’s for sure.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. A drug dealer and gang member were bad enough. I couldn’t deal with him being a murderer too. “It’s still wrong. Two wrongs can never make a right. You should have let the police handle it.”
He shook his head at me and laughed. “Baby I love you, but you don’t know shit about that life. This is why I didn’t want to tell you, why I wanted my past to remain in the past because I knew you wouldn’t understand.”
“I’m trying to understand but exacting vigilante justice doesn’t make sense to me. You could have been killed or worse. The police could have helped.”
“Did you forget I was in a gang? These were criminals we’re talking about! The cops couldn’t help me or Natalie. And she wasn’t just my friend. We were also sleeping together. She was my woman as far as everyone was concerned.”
“D-did you love her?” I asked tentatively. He told me I was the only woman he ever loved so I was hoping that wasn’t another lie.
He shrugged. “I mean I cared for her but…we were just kickin’ it. It wasn’t serious. But if I was sleeping with her, it was understood that no other man could touch her out of respect until we were over. That was the rule. Those motherfuckers were pissed that she chose me instead of one of them so they attacked her. It was a move against me, a personal insult. I had to make them pay! Besides, if it had been you instead of her I can tell you right now I would have murdered them without a second thought!”
I didn’t know if I should feel flattered or frightened by what he said. “Did the others in the gang come after you? Is that why you left Bridgeport?”
He nodded. “One of the guys who attacked Natalie was the nephew of the boss. Little prick thought he could do whatever he wanted to anyone just because of who he was. He deserved the beating he got but I knew when it was over that I had to get out of there to save my skin. That’s how I ended up traveling the world before I decided to settle down here.”
“So you can sell drugs here?” I grumbled. “You left that life behind to restart it here? What sense does that make?”
“I wasn’t selling drugs.”
“I told you the truth on our first date when I said I wanted a quiet life, a wife and kids, the suburban life, and I meant it. I didn’t want to be on the streets for the rest of my life. But I had been doing it for so long. I had a system. I knew how to stay under the radar to not get caught. It was the only thing I was good at.”
“But that’s not true. You’re great at so many things.”
“I know that now. You gave me the confidence to take my art seriously. I didn’t think my stuff was worth anything until you started nagging me to show off my work and I’m so grateful that you pushed me. But at that time I needed money and a part time job wouldn’t do. I needed quick cash and Jake had a low key operation here.”
“How do you know this Jake?”
“I met him in Windenburg. He moved here before I did. He’s not in a gang or anything. He only sells to rich punks like Chad and college kids looking to party. He’s a cool guy, a good dude…”
“A good drug dealer? There’s such a thing?” I rolled my eyes.
“I am. I’m a good person who used to sell drugs” He said defensively. “Yes, I’ve done some shitty things but tell me honestly, am I suddenly the worst person in the world to you now?”
“No…but…I just feel blindsided. I thought I knew you.”
“You DO know me. You are the only person in the world who knows me, the real me.”
“How do I know that for sure? How do I know you aren’t still keeping some other big secret from me?”
“I’m not! I swear! All of my secrets are out in the open now, all on the table.”
Then suddenly, another thought entered my head that was more of a concern. “Oh Watcher! What if that life follows you here? They could be looking for you. They could come after you!”
“No one’s coming after me. Most of them were either killed or in jail. The few like me who made it out are straight now. I’m safe, you and the girls are safe. You have nothing to worry about.”
He moved towards me with his arms out to hold me but I stepped back. I didn’t want him to touch me. I felt so confused and so overwhelmed and I just needed some space from him. We stood in silence, me trying to process everything I just heard, and him looking at me waiting for me to say something.
“Tell me what’s on your mind.” He said. “Just say it, whatever it is.”
“Nothing.” I said dismissively. “Just processing.” What I really wanted to say, I couldn’t. It would sound so bad and it would hurt him and I didn’t want to hurt him in spite of everything. I still loved him but I couldn’t help but feel like he manipulated me. Like he kept his past a secret so he could keep me in his life because he didn’t think I’d be able to get past it. Like he thought I would start seeing him differently if I knew.
And honestly speaking…he was probably right.