12 September 1929, Boston MA
Her husband looked at her with red-rimmed, swollen eyes. He must have been up all night, not even dozing on a sofa.
‘Did something happen?’
He turned his eyes away from her, looking at the floor. Belle came closer and sat down on the other kitchen chair.
‘It doesn’t look like nothing.’
‘You don’t have to worry about anything, sweetheart.’
‘Don’t, Robert!’ Belle snapped. Something in the way he told her that alarmed her. ‘I can see that something’s happened. Please, tell me.’
She saw that he clearly didn’t want to. Whatever it was, he hoped to hid it from her. And here she thought that they are honest to each other. Finally, he took a deep breath.
‘Yesterday...’ Then he trailed away.
‘Yes? What did happen yesterday?’
‘When I was going home...’
Robert had late shift in the pharmacy and was home when Belle was already asleep. She went to sleep alone and woke up alone.
‘When I was going home I’ve met Regina.’
Belle took a sharp breath. Regina belonged to the previous life he left behind. The owner of the local net of speakeasies, with strong ties to mafia, she was a dangerous woman with little regard for other people. She was also Robert’s former boss. As a chemist, he helped her to renature industrial alcohol to make it drinkable again. But as it turned out he had a sharp eye with a gun and was helping her also to, as she ironically called it, negotiate better business contracts with her competitors. He killed three men during his work for Regina, but hurt and disabled many others. Belle never saw Regina, but despised her thoroughly.
That changed however. Robert told her that back then he had little reasons for living as a good man. His marriage fell apart, his son left as soon as he was an adult, driven away by Robert’s own addiction to alcohol. Then he met Regina and yes, she managed to get him off drinking, but into selling alcohol and killing people.
‘What did she want, Robert?’
‘Help,’ he said in a sad voice.
‘What kind of help?’
‘She wanted me to go with her to one of her business talks.’
Belle took a deep breath.
Belle stood up abruptly, feeling tears stinging in her eyes.
‘I had to. She... I owe her. She helped me when no one else would. And she’s in trouble.’
Belle wanted to scream that she helped him too, helped him to live as a good, honest man again. She met him shortly after he left Regina and she stood by him since then. They married, for Gold’s sake! But then another thought hit her – maybe she never helped him, and he didn’t stay or even become that good, honest man she wanted him to be? But no, that couldn’t be possible.
‘What have you done when you went with her?’
‘Nothing. I stood there with a gun she gave me and I tried to look dangerously. She talked and then we left. I think she didn’t trust anybody else to go with her. Even I had to stand as far as to not hear what she’s talking about. But she’s in danger, I’ve felt it.’
‘You shouldn’t have done it. She’s going to pull you back into the crime! You don’t know what she’s planning!’
‘I won’t let her, sweetheart. But I don’t want her to die. She’s still a friend... of sorts.’
Belle took a deep breath. But thank God, what he did so far was salvageable. No one got hurt yet. Belle loved her husband, but she honestly didn’t know if she had the strength to work on their relationship if he killed someone, like he did before they met. She was feeling her stomach churn even thinking that she might not catch it earlier, that her stupid husband could successfully hid it from her, denying her the chance for helping, for solving the problem together. Then again, he rarely asked for her, or anybody else’s help. Even after his son died.
‘So you think it’s okay to hurt or kill again just because she needs help...?’ She asked carefully. ‘If she needs it, I can’t believe that it has to be you.’
‘I have to help.’
‘Why, Robert?’ Belle pleaded. He didn’t owe a thing to Regina, who used him for her own, nefarious goals.
‘I have to. I can’t help her any other way than being her guard when she needs me. It’s how it’s done.’
Belle swallowed her anger at his willingness to please his former (were she really former then?) boss, and not her. The doubt was creeping in. Did he really love her as much as he claimed to?
‘Okay.’ Belle said briskly. ‘You went with her, that’s done, but don’t do that ever again, please.’
‘Oh, Belle,’ he whispered softly. ‘I’ve already promised her my help.’
Belle felt her blood freeze.
‘You... you promised?... Just like that? With no thought of me?’
‘With every thought of you.’ His voice was broken. ‘She might be friend, but ah, you don’t understand what friend mean in that world. She’s friend, she’s in troubles and I don’t want her dead, but she wouldn’t hesitate to use threats to get what she wants.’
That sounded better, ironically.
‘Did she threatened you?’
‘No,’ he admitted. ‘Not directly. Not aloud. But it’s obvious anyway, I have to help her.’
‘What would happen if you’d do it different way? Negotiate? Stand up for yourself? Say that you’re done. That she accepted that you’re not working for her anymore? You did it once.’
‘She wouldn’t be pleased. It’s different. Then, she had a strong position and allowed me to leave. Now she’s in trouble, I can’t deny her my help.’
The tone he used was more telling than words. ‘Not pleased’ probably really involved some of the dangers that Belle knew only from books and newspapers and not from her husband because he never wanted to talk about his crime years. Probably. But he said that Regina was still his friend. He thinks he have to help her, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, and that I don’t even matter in that equation, Belle thought with pain.
’Why is it so important to you to please her?′
‘So I could keep you safe,’ he said immediately, surprised as if he wondered why did she even ask.
’But wouldn’t there be other solutions that keeps us,′ she accented that word, ‘safe that doesn’t involve harming other people? I think you should refuse her. And we could work on how to defend ourselves from her if need be.’
‘It’s how it’s done,’ he repeated stubbornly.
‘Why the way it’s done is the only way to do it?!’ she exclaimed, exasperated. His response was bordering on shout as well.
‘Nothing else would work! And neither she not her enemies would understand anything else! What do you want me to do, go to the police and report her?! Do you think they would help us?!’
‘Is that all? Is it not that you also need to feel that you yourself done it, instead asking me, or anyone else for any help?’
He looked at the floor.
‘It’s the only thing I can do, Belle.’
‘If you could do something else, would you?’ she asked with her heart thumping loudly. It was the crux of the matter. Did he truly approve criminal ways, like he was still one of them, or did he see it as a necessary evil that should be abandoned the moment a better solution is available. His answer would decide their future together or separate.
‘Yes,’ he said and she felt lightheaded with relief. ‘But there’s no point in dwelling about impossible.’
‘I don’t think it’s impossible.’
He shook his head sadly, and suddenly he was on the brink of crying.
‘Robert?’ she asked carefully and tenderly, laying her hand on his forearm.
‘I can’t do it any other way!’ he shouted suddenly. ‘I’m still that good for nothing weak man, who can’t do it other, better way! It’s the only thing I can do!’
‘Maybe, but we can do it in a better way together,’ she said, trying to project calm decisiveness, even if she didn’t have any clear idea yet what they could do with a crime boss needing her husband to become a killer again so he could defend her from other crime bosses. She was confident enough that they could manage if they really wanted, though. ‘And if it’s to keep me safe, don’t you think that I should have a say in that?’
’Belle, you don’t know how dangerous it is. You can’t know! And it’s her!... Her, Belle! I’m sure she’s behind this, even if no one spoke her name! She’s Regina’s biggest enemy! And if she takes over Regina’s business, she can go for me and you!′
She knew what ′her′ he meant. Zelena, Regina’s sister, the woman who ordered his son’s execution. Neal was an innocent, trying to help his father to severe the ties with crime world. Robert testified in court about Zelena’s crime deeds, seeing as it helped him and didn’t harm Regina - on the contrary, it helped her too. He knew a lot about Zelena - when he started to work for Regina’s mother Cora, Zelena was working with them. The sisters parted ways some time later. Robert’s testimony granted him pardon for his crimes and resulted in arresting most of Zelena’s associates, even if she remained free. Zelena killed Neal in revenge, just when Robert managed to free himself. Belle remembered that evening when Robert came home, looking pale, ill, but fighting for composure. He told her that Zelena killed Neal, just that, nothing else. He seemed to be in trance, and Belle was frightened. First thing she did was asking him to not kill Zelena, to not revert to his old ways. Then she helped him with the funeral. He seemed to take all of it better than she expected. They returned to their sweet, quiet life, doing things together and just enjoying the fact that crimes were finally left in the past.
Now it was her again. Why couldn’t he leave her be, when he had so much to lose, their marriage the first thing to go?
‘You’re doing it out of revenge?’ she asked quietly.
Robert hid his face in his hands.
‘Is that why you didn’t want me to know?’
He still didn’t say anything, didn’t even uncover his face. He blocked her out completely and Belle felt afraid again. He said he’d take another solution but didn’t believe one existed. And his mind was clouded by revenge that clearly for him was the acceptable thing. She wanted to get out, to get away from that man, who seemed to only wear a mask of her dear husband, and beneath the mask was hiding a dark, cold, ugly face. She needed to protect herself from that.
‘I thought you wanted to keep your promise,’ she said in trembling voice. ‘That you want to be better. Alright, then,’ she sighed. ‘If you’re not going to work with me, then let’s leave it at that, and talk later, after we have time to think it through.’
She got up and reached for her coat and purse.
‘Where are you going?...’
He was looking at her with wide, teary eyes, but Belle wasn’t going to let tears cloud her judgment.
‘Stop it, Robert,’ she said calmly, or at least as calm as she managed. ‘We need to talk with words, not tears. I’m going to Ruby. I think we need some time alone to think about everything.’
‘Belle, please, don’t...’
‘I’ll be back in a few hours. Then we’ll talk.’
She was hearing him sobbing even when she closed the door and descended the stairs, but forced herself to not turn back. They would talk later. He needed to know that she won’t approve him hurting people for vengeance. She wasn’t about to allow her marriage turn into lies, enabling crimes and his dominance over her.