The firemen’s union president is standing in front of me, separated by his oak desk. His office is like him, small, simple and fugly. Maybe he wants people to underestimate him. I don’t because I know him from charity events and I’ve also researched him. He has four adopted kids from mudhut countries and is the chairman of two charities to feed children from “developing” (aka mudhut) countries. Since I’ve stepped into his office, neither of us has spoken a word. “I want to make amends for our previous failed discussions,” I start. “After all I only want this strike to end so we can all move on.”
He’s clearly uncomfortable having me here. “And that’s precisely what I want too,” he says smiling. I smile, now I know he has a camera or microphone somewhere. “Look,” I say. “I know I’m not in a good position to negotiate, but I’m appealing to your common decency. Please return to work.” He sighs. “Already a woman died because you wouldn’t do your job, how long—” “A cop friend told me she was dead before the fire,” he interrupts me. “You can’t really blame us for that.”
The hell I can’t. “I think your cop friend may be covering up for you,” I reply. “Just like they found her, they’ll keep finding bodies as the fire spreads while you sit idly by, watching.” He doesn’t look very good. “Look,” he says, putting both his hands on his desk and coming closer to me, “that woman died from a heart attack and people will know the truth.” I laugh. “Truth? Truth you say? Okay, your cop friends may be able to justify one. But what will happen when more people die because you couldn’t do your work? Just look at this report…” I reach for my purse which is at the desk and whisper so only he can hear: “I’ll leave a car full of burnt children.”
My heart beats wildly, but I try to stay calm. He backs away from me in horror. “Say that out loud!” He yells. “Say what?” I ask. He shakes his head. “What you just whispered in my ear.” He thinks I’m room-temperature IQ so I just smile. “I didn’t say a thing, I was just looking through my purse.” Then, looking stranged, “What game are you playing?” I ask naively. He doesn’t look well. “Are you ok?” I ask. “Get away from me, get out!”
“So you refuse to listen to the offer I’m willing to make? I’m willing to raise another—” “No! Get out!” He shouts at me. His secretary comes in. “Is everything ok?” she asks. “I don’t know,” I say. “We were just talking, and he just… I don’t know, lost it.” “Get out!” He snaps at his secretary, who quickly leaves. “You… you…” But he bites his tongue. “Yes? Can you finish that sentence, please? Say the word, I know you’re dying to.”
I pull my phone and move it close enough to show him a picture of a charred car with corpses inside. Then I say “I’m taping this conversation so—” “You sick c-word!” He interrupts me. I smile. He finally said it. “You f-wording twisted c-word,” he says. I just go on talking “… so that people know how you unions have been completely unreasonable.” “… you’ll go to jail for this s-word!” he screams. “… now you’re also being sexist. I believe you should apologize right now—” I say. “I’m going to put you in jail for this s-word,” he goes on.
“Ok, I’m leaving now,” I say as I open the door. “Get back here, give me that phone!” He yells, but I’ve already opened the door and his secretary can see us. He rushes to take it from my hands. “Stop! You’re hurting me!” I complain. His secretary watches the whole scene. He finally tears it from my hands, and I scratch my own arm during the struggle. “Oh my god! You made me bleed! Are you insane?” He finally has my phone, but surprise surprise, the picture is gone because I deleted it right after I showed him.
There’s a small crowd assembled outside already, lured by our loud argument. The more witnesses the merrier. “Help, he’s gone insane, look!” I say showing them my left arm, which is by now covered in blood. “No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong!” He screams in desperation. I take refuge behind a tall, rugged man. We’re all looking at him now as he speaks. “She-she showed me a picture of burned children to-to…” He wants to say “provoke me,” but he’s too distracted by my gloating smile, which only he sees because everyone is looking at him.
“Look at her, even now!” I’ve put back on my “scared to death” face by the time the crowd looks at me. “You are sick,” says a woman, looking at him. I leave, aided by two women. “It just so happens” I was going to meet a reporter right after the meeting to discuss the strike. She finds me in the lobby at the entrance of the building as I come out of the elevator.
“Oh my… What happened?” asks the reporter. “I-I,” I start, too shaken to speak. “This is outrageous,” says one of the women helping me. “The union’s president called her a c-word, and we heard it. Even saying it is too triggering…” she goes on. She has to be comforted by the other woman, who picks up even more enraged. “That man like literally scratched our governor to steal her phone!”
The reporter smells blood and it opens up her appetite. A state union president isn’t exactly big game, but it’s definitely good for her career. That’s why I chose this young little piranha that has gotten into a national newspaper by using scandal and rumors to tear down decent working men. She came highly recommended by my friend from school, who has already worked with her. “You see, I was taping our conversation to prove unions do not want to collaborate with me, as I’ve been saying all along.”
She smiles. “I always thought you were telling the truth, you know?” No she didn’t, but it’s ok. I don’t need her for her honesty precisely. I let her sweeten my ears with fake support. “… and was hoping the strike would end favourably for you.” This from a woman from a major newspaper allegedly here to write an “unbiased account of the strike from both viewpoints,” as she explained over the phone. “I don’t suppose you have the—” Oh, finally.
“Yes, I have the tape,” I interrupt her. I look at the two women who have helped me. “Thank you very much. I think I can take it from here. Please give my secretary your contact information and I’ll thank you properly another time.” They nod, shake my hand and go meet my secretary. “Now,” I say looking at my reporter. “I’ll give you an exclusive interview and the tape instead of the article.”
Her eyes open wide with lust. “You belong to me now. I’ll feed you news from time to time, and you’ll publish them. I’ll give you interviews, but we’ll agree to the questions.” There’s two options now. Either she infers premeditation in my actions and I have to let her go, or she shows pragmatism and loyalty. “I can get a crew down here in sixteen minutes.” Second option then. I lean forward and whisper in her ear, dead serious. “But never, and I mean never, betray me.” She nods because she wants status, power and wealth at any cost. She nods because she understands that I can give her all that.