The Victim

Chapter Two: Friends

The arsonist

She delivers my speech in front of an auditorium full of supporters and people from tol. I silently follow her with my mouth, word for word, feeling my words fill the room. During the next days, the tide turns in our favor. More fires, more police incompetence and a black man shot after trying to escape from the police help us too. We’re headed for a victory in full swing. She’s confident, strong and charming. With only one week left, I begin to feel anxious. We’re so close, yet it feels so far… As I’m preparing some breakfast for us while she still sleeps, I turn on the tv, dreading some news that will destroy us. I sigh with relief: there’s nothing.

Today we have several acts scheduled. She’s been giving talks at high-schools, associations, clubs, and colleges. This morning we have one in a high-school, then a live interview. She wants to save her energy for the “actual elections,” as she calls them. But I’m not so confident and want to make sure we nail the primaries. This last week I’ve had this… feeling of expectation. Like something is about to go wrong, horribly wrong. Irreparably wrong. But I keep it to myself.

The high school talk goes fantastic. The kids love her. And some not-so-kids actually love her, shamelessly looking at her a-word (a s s) and breasts. The live interview is another matter entirely. We’ve already done a couple, but I still worry. The start is slow, with questions about her platform, and what she’ll do in office, etc. Then it gets more interesting after the interviewer says “… so you would be… both the first female and youngest mayor in the history of the city. How do you feel about that?” She smiles gracefully. “I guess that would be a good, a very good sign of-of change, and possibly give hope to other women across the country. In fact—” She’s interrupted by the annoying message sounds of phones bleeping. “W-what’s going on?” I ask to a guy from production behind me who’s looking at his phone.

“Oh man, you won’t believe this,” he says. I look at the phone. There’s a picture of my arab friend with half his face burned. “I don’t know wh—” I say. He scrolls up and I read the title. “THE ARSONIST.” At first I pull back. I take out my phone and quickly scan the news feed. “… compelling evidence was found at the suspect’s apartment, who is now on the run, and suspected to be armed. Apparently, he—” I stop reading to look at my girlfriend in horror. She’s gone on talking and doesn’t know yet. The interviewer is listening to production through an earbud. I tell her to “cut talking” visually by moving my right hand in front of my neck as if cutting it. She frowns at me and keeps talking with confidence.

“Sorry to interrupt you,” says the interviewer. “Apparently there’s a suspect for the fires, and you know him.” His face appears on a large screen in front of them. She immediately takes her hands to her mouth. “I—” she starts. “… there must be some kind of mistake.” After listening through her earbud, the interviewer says: “Bottles of kerosene have been found in the apartment, along with an… altar with pictures of your campaign manager. Yep, that’s me. There’s also disturbing writing on the walls about torching people alive and ‘making her pay.’ What can you tell us about all this?”

I’m caught by surprise. What’s worse, my girlfriend’s caught completely off guard. She stays quiet. “Wire me up,” I order a crewman. He obliges and I step into the stage, sitting by my girlfriend’s side. “For those watching, the campaign manager is now joining us,” announces the interviewer. “Look, before saying anything,” I say. “We need to learn what actually happened. That’s why she’s decided to remain silent.”

“But what do you have to say about the altar?” she asks. “As I’ve said, until we learn all the facts, I don’t want to venture an opinion. I will say this: that he had a shrine to me, and kerosene, and incriminating letters is not enough. Justice is based on the assumption that men are innocent until proven guilty. Now—” “But you must admit, it… doesn’t look good right?” she interrupts me. “Look, I will not attack a colleague and friend until I learn more. Now, if you have any other question about our platform…”

She smiles. “Wasn’t your platform kind of based on ‘being the good guys?’ I mean—” I stand up and help my girlfriend up. “Ok, I see you have no interest in our platform,” I say. “We’re leaving now.” We walk out of there, me with my head held high, and my girlfriend… well, in a daze. We get into the car and I drive. “I-I f-froze,” she babbles. “It’s ok, don’t worry,” I say. A committee of vulture journalists is already gathered in front of our apartment, prepared to feed on us. I drive past it and head for a hotel.

My girlfriend seems to sink deeper and deeper into self-pity. “… it’s over,” she says. “We lost.” I hit the brakes, quickly pull over and park in a not-very-legal fashion. “Don’t you give up now, you hear me?” I threaten, but she doesn’t answer. “You hear me!?” I yell. “We lost it, you need to start accepting that…” she sighs. “No, no, no,” I say. “You don’t get to quit now.” She smiles. “Come on, we’re a joke. How can we ask for more law enforcement with a murderer in our ranks? A murderer I personally recommended. How—” Her throat shuts. “How am I going to stand in front of a camera and ask them to trust me when this happened?” She takes her hands to her face. “Oh god… we were vicious when we had the upper hand. You know how bad we’re going to be rammed by the media, the other candidates… Even regular people. No, I… we’re… we’re done.”