The Victim

Chapter Three: Ascent

Fake news

Yes, I lied to you. I didn’t tell you everything about my girlfriend’s death. So far I had only whispered it to my husband, when he was dying. But see, you weren’t ready to hear it back then. I pick up my phone from the table and pause the audio clip. I also pick up a recorder I had left lying about to record this special conversation. “What do we do with mrs baked-potato over here?” my friend from school asks, pointing at uncle’s wife. The woman is crying for… well, for many different reasons. “She can’t talk,” I say. “It would be suspicious to kill her. I’ll keep her for now.” My friend from school comes up to me, still trembling. “It was such a rush… at the end.”

“I told you,” I say, still shaken up myself. I pour two glasses of freedom vodka and offer one to her. Then I raise mine, toasting. “To victory,” I say. “Against all odds,” she goes on. “Mommy?” I hear my daughter’s voice. Freedom vodka flies out of my nose. I turn around and see my daughter staring at uncle’s corpse. “What’s wrong with grandpa?” S-word. “Everything is going to be fine, sweetie. Grandpa’s not feeling fine and mommy’s gotta call an ambulance.” Oh god, how long has she been standing there? Did she… did she hear anything I said?

I call the paramedics. Meanwhile, my friend from school writes uncle’s confession on a piece of paper and my daughter sits on her lap. I try to hug her but she refuses me. It’s like a cold stab into my heart. An eternity later, the paramedics arrive. By then uncle is long gone and his confession of guilt about the insurance scheme lies on the table. The paramedics helpfully report that uncle “has left us.” I make myself cry, and my friend from school also fakes a few tears.

The police is notified of uncle’s death and they come to ask us some questions. “… yes, you see,” I explain to an officer, agitated, “We-we had an argument but I-I didn’t think… Oh god, I didn’t think he would just… collapse like that, you know?” I make sure to look into the officer’s eyes and look genuinely repentant. After asking me and my friend from school some questions, they ask me for permission to question my daughter. I agree.

“Sweetie, did you see what happened to your pops?” asks the officer. My daughter shakes her head. “I only heard him talking loud with mommy.” As she opens her mouth again, my heart races. “Is he ok?” she asks. The officer looks at me. “No, sweetie, I’m afraid not,” I say. They carry uncle away in a body bag. All the autopsy will tell them is that he died from a heart attack. He was, afterall, old and decrepit. Finally, the officers leave, but our night has only begun.

“You organize the media coverage,” I tell my friend from school, “I’m gonna prepare a speech and rally the support we need.” She smiles at me. “It’s our time,” she says. First I take my daughter back to bed and wait with her until she falls asleep. Who knows what she has seen… or understood. But I don’t like it. She has seen… me, what I really am. Only my friend from school can stand it. And well… you of course. One day she will understand what I did, and she will hate me for it. She’s sleeping now, so peacefully, so…

No! I won’t fall into this self-pity crap. I did what I had to do to survive, to win. “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror,” remember? That’s me. As long as she’s healthy and well, she can hate me. I can’t act like everyone wants me to and still win. This is not some shoddy superhero movie where you can have your cake and eat it too. This is unfair, crude, real life. I close the door. My friend from school is waiting for me, offering her hand. “Shall we?” she asks. I smile and take her hand. “No regrets.”

We leave my daughter with the babysitter and leave for my office. My rock is already there. I told her on the phone I was coming. “Uncle’s dead,” I greet her, almost too cheerfully. “He left a letter confirming he was behind the insurance scheme. Police have it now but we have a picture of it.” She thinks for a moment. She doesn’t have to ask to know it was us. “This… simplifies things,” she says. “I had an alternative plan, but this is better.” My rock reaches out to my former supporters and tells them the good news. She also asks each of them to be by my side during tomorrow’s press conference.

Yes, I’m also organizing a press conference. I will lure all those greedy vultures to feast with me on the corpses of battle. Tomorrow, the union leaders will find themselves without leader, like a serpent without its head. They can flail and twist, but they can’t hurt me anymore. And let’s not forget the puppet congressmen who tried to sack me and wrongfully accused me. I would love to see their faces when they wake up tomorrow to this new order.

Several cups of coffee later, the press conference is all set up and I’ve written a draft of my speech. Of course I won’t actually read it out loud, I’ll memorize it. It has to look like I’ve been mourning the old fart all night. The first rays of dawn come through my office window, and I stand up. I feel great, like I haven’t felt in a long time. I’m in control now. I’ll show those backstabbing rats what happens when you aim for the queen and fail.

I dress myself in battle clothes: a black mourning dress, red lipstick and black heels. The press conference is on the same building where I have my office, so I just walk down the stairs before it starts and wait to make it look like I’ve come through the back door. I’m holding a handkerchief on one hand, which I use to wipe my tears. I instructed my bodyguards to stay out of the picture, you know, to make me look less rich. I climb on the podium with tears in my face and look at the flock of vultures before me. They have looks of genuine pity on their faces. Good.

“Ready?” asks the man in charge. “Yes, let’s start, please,” I say. I wipe the tears off my face. “First of all, I would like to thank you all for coming in such short notice.” The crowd nods sympathetically. “You see, I—” I start. “I have no words to express what my uncle meant to me.” Tumor. “He did so many good things for me, and for other people… Last night he confessed to me and to my closest friend his involvement in the insurance scheme that I’m now being investigated for.”

There are gasps of amazement in the crowd. “He even wrote a letter confessing his terrible crime.” The reporters start talking to each other loudly. “Please!” I speak up. “Please, let me finish.” They settle down. “After that, we had an argument, a heated argument…” I stop to wipe tears off my eyes and let go a sad laugh. “You know, I always told him ‘Do your exercises,’ ‘Eat healthy.’ But he was so stubborn he wouldn’t listen…” I smile as a tear comes down my right eye. “Because I still loved him, despite what he did. He was, he was family. Oh, but his heart couldn’t take it. He just, he just collapsed.”

Here I stop to wipe my tears. The crowd is silent. I sigh deeply. “There will be a funeral for him this week. Please, please, attend, and don’t think of him as a criminal. Remember him for all the charities and organizations he funded, for his efforts to preserve the beautiful green zones of our city back when he was mayor. Yes, he made mistakes… But who among us can say ‘I am without sin’? So please, remember him as he was: a human, flawed, but also generous and kind. Thank you.”

After I’m done, the crowd generously bathes me with applause. I stretch my friend from school’s hand, who has been by my side throughout the whole speech. After that, reporters raise their hands. “Yes?” I say, pointing at a young female reporter. “If it’s not too soon to ask,” she says, “how do you think these news affect your upcoming impeachment?” I shake my head. “Please, don’t, don’t ask me about impeachment or my office. That’s all secondary to me right now. I need to mourn and rest.” The vultures nod in fake sympathy.

A few questions later, I decide it’s enough and let my friend from school take over. As I’m leaving, my rock approaches me. “The regional commissar wants to meet.” I shake my head. “Now they’ll have to wait.”