The Victim

Chapter Three: Ascent

Usual suspects

I put my daughter on the ground, almost pushing her, and rush to the toilet to throw up. I start hyperventilating. I can’t control myself. How can I have been so blind? How could uncle have been so careless to not disable notifications? Nothing makes sense. I feel hatred filling me up as I understand his reasons. He told me not to go through with my bill. He called it “worthy of a banana republic.” I thought we only had a disagreement, but in the back of my mind I knew he was holding a grudge.

And now he has stabbed my back with a chainsaw. He put me here, in this impossible situation. “the fire is ready.” If I don’t bite (resign), they will cook me with fire (press charges on tol’s arson scheme.) They must have some proof or witness, counterfeit or otherwise. Would he really do that? To his own daughter-in-law? What kind of a f-wording degenerate is he? Is there anyone on my side? Am I completely surrounded by enemies?

This is too much, I can’t allow this. First I have to know for sure, and I must be quick. I breathe deeply in and out, then wipe my tears, wash my face and redo my ruined makeup. I open the bathroom door only to find uncle standing there. “Hey, are you ok?” he asks. I’m very tense, but I try to calm down and look normal. I smile. “It’s just lady problems.” He says nothing else as I walk past him.

I go into my room and take one of my burner phones. I text my rock: “Uncle is behind the strike. He’s friends with fisherman. Need confirmation.” I take a couple of burners with me and return to the kitchen, where I start cooking up a scheme. My daughter has already taken his phone from the counter, so he has no clue I’ve seen the message. The dinner is in sixteen minutes, but I need more time. Apart from the salad, I’m roasting a chicken in the oven. The truth is I’m not a very experienced cook, so I decide to turn up the heat to burn it. It’ll buy me some time.

“Get me the phone records on—” I start typing to my secretary. Immediately I stop and remember uncle suggested her to me. Right now, I can only trust my friend from school and my rock. “Uncle is behind theee—” I start typing to my friend from school, but the sound of steps coming to the kitchen interrupt me. I slip the burner phone back inside my purse.

“Hmm, smells wonderful,” says uncle. “How much longer does it—” “About sixteen minutes or so, I’ll call you,” I cut him dryly. Then I force a smile. “I’m sorry, it’s the tension,” I say. He smiles. “Don’t worry, I totally understand,” he says before leaving. I sigh with relief. In a few minutes, the chicken will start to become charred. I finish my text to my friend through my burner phone. I edit the message so it reads “Uncle is behind the strike.” I hit send.

“Doesn’t it smell like it’s burning?” asks uncle from the tv. Of course it does, I’m burning it. “No, I just checked,” I say. I wait until I hear him stand up and walk toward the kitchen. I turn down the heat and open the oven. “Oh god no I burned it,” I say before he steps in. “How does this keep happening to me?” I complain. The smell of charred flesh invades the kitchen, and soon the whole apartment. Uncle enters the kitchen.

“I’m so sorry,” I say, “I’ll go outside and buy one already cooked. We can still eat the salad.” He frowns. “Why not just order—” he says, but I interrupt him. “No, no, no, I want to get it myself. I feel bad for burning this one and I’d like to take a walk.” He smiles and says “Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to improve your cooking after tomorrow.” I smile back and say. “You know, you’re right.” Condescending, backstabbing motherf-worder. I make time “getting ready” so I can wait for my friend from school. Finally the door rings. Someone opens it and I hear her voice.

I exit my room and meet her. “… think I’ll retire from tol soon. It’s going nowhere with the—” she’s saying to uncle when I come in. “Hi, I have to go out, get another chicken. Wanna join me?” It’s not really a question. “Yeah, sure,” she says. “I still think you could order from—” says uncle, but my friend from school interrupts him “No, it’s better this way.”

Once outside, I start whispering in hush tones. “He got a text from one ‘fisherman’ that said ‘if the fish isn’t cooked by tomorrow, the fire is ready.’” Her eyes open wide. “I have my rock looking into it, but I can feel it in my gut. I knew he was holding a grudge.” “It makes sense that it’s him,” she says. “I don’t want to go out this way,” I say. She smiles and for the first time today, she doesn’t look defeated. “Me neither. Let’s show everyone what we’re made of.”

During the thirty-two minute trip to get the food and get back to the apartment, stopping also for unnecessary sauce, we plot our comeback. As the elevator rushes us to my apartment on the top floor, I hold her hand. “It’s all-in,” I say. She presses my hand tight. “That’s how legends are born.” The burner I use to communicate with my rock buzzes. “Uncle had chance to talk to every union leader. His secretary confirms he has met ‘fisherman’ eight times this week.”

“It’s him,” says my friend from school after reading the message from my phone. She rings the door and I hide the burner in my purse. We step into the apartment and close the door. It’s my turn now.