A City of Two Tales

A girl and boy grew up together in a town that was quickly becoming a city. They each came from families belonging to a powerful and ruthless crime syndicate. Norman’s family ran prostitution rings and strip clubs, diversifying their business with armed robbery, extortion and the occasional murder. Sophie’s father and brothers ran drugs and guns and were increasingly involved in human trafficking.

The two fell madly in love and were married. Fiercely independent, they started their life together believing that everything they saw was theirs for the taking. They were destined to rule the world. Norman was a keen business man and within a few years, had invested in a chain of restaurants and a car dealership. He was busy with his ventures, but in his late-twenties, began to feel shame about his family’s other businesses. He started quietly pulling out of the more unseemly aspects of their enterprise. For the first time, he was able to see clearly that he didn’t need it—and just how despicable it all was. The allure of the outlaw lifestyle gave way to disgust at his own callous disregard for human dignity.

One night, he told Sophie they were getting out of the organization. His restaurants were doing well. They were going clean. She was furious, responding that she’d never give it up. Real jobs were for suckers, she said. She’d inherited her father’s trafficking operation and calculated that if they started smuggling young girls from Asia to work in Norman’s clubs, they’d soon be rich beyond their wildest dreams. Never, he replied. He was going clean. She could keep the guns and drugs if she wanted, but there would be no expansion.

One week later, Sophie told Norman she’d filed for divorce. He’d changed and she couldn’t trust him anymore. No hard feelings, but it was over. He stood between her and the doorway, slowly shaking his head. His eyes hardened as he placed a strong hand on her shoulder. Incensed, Sophie smacked him hard across the face, her rings cutting a gash on his jaw. Norman’s mouth twisted into a frown as he punched her in the stomach as hard as he could. She crumpled to the floor and rolled away—sucking pitifully for breath as she grasped for something to use as a weapon.

They fought bitterly, tearing at one another and screaming unforgivable things. In the end, pinned to the floor and bleeding badly, Sophie broke down crying and agreed to stay with Norman. She’d give up the lifestyle, if that’s what he wanted. It was. They’d go to marriage counseling and Norman would find Sophie a good job at the car dealership. It was all settled.

Years went by. Their family grew and became very wealthy—even without organized crime. In quiet moments, Sophie whispered vignettes of her once and former glory to her daughters. Her face was badly scarred from their fight, but she was still proud. She brushed aside the vile nature of just how her lifestyle had been sustained, preferring to romanticize what seemed to her like a happier time. She was no less broken, though. Sophie’s hatred morphed into something even more insidious and repugnant than before. Her wickedness eclipsed only by her ability to deceive herself.

For his part, Norman carefully erased all record of his involvement in the organization. Given the chance, he’d proudly tell his sons stories of how their mother had been wild and terrible in her youth, and the night he’d brought her to heel. She’d had it coming, you see. Norman’s moralism was undermined at every turn by his own complicity and hypocrisy—clear to everyone but him. As the fight itself faded deeper into the past, his heroism became more and more pronounced in his version—the only version spoken aloud. He’d wanted to preserve their marriage. It was God’s will. He’d prevented sex trafficking. He was a good man in his own estimation, and yet his daughters loathe him still.

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