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The Greatest Showman – Chapter 106

Chapter 106 – Full of resentment

“Help me! Help me!”

His voice was increasingly desperate, with a hint of anger mixed with a plea. This was his last straw, regardless of who was on the other end of the line or whether they could help. It was his only choice. He called for help, he begged, he shouted.

In his final hoarse cry, there was a painful sense of falling apart, engulfing him. Thin mist veiled his deep brown eyes, blurring his vision with warmth, and grey despair slowly climbed up his ankles.

“I know you’re upset, but as far as I know, they’ll be able to rescue you soon,” the voice on the other end of the phone remained calm, as if there were no fluctuations at all, “Hopefully, it won’t take too long.”

Damn! Damn! Damn!

He couldn’t help but grind his teeth, cursing sentence after sentence. The petty voice circled around his lips, almost suffocating him. Finally, after all the sounds gurgled in his throat for a while, he was only able to whisper, “Thank God.” This prayer wasn’t just lip service; he prayed they were really nearby, prayed he could really escape death. The choked sob carried a hint of bitterness, a hint of desolation, a hint of gratitude.

“Yes, thank God. Now, I’m going to turn on the recorder.”

“What?” He felt like he hadn’t heard it clearly, completely unable to understand what was going on, why would he turn on the recorder?

“Wait a moment.” The sound of the recorder turning on came in his ear. “This is Alan Davenport, HR manager of CRT Company, date is October 23, 2006. I am speaking with Paul Conroy. Mr Conroy, do you know that I am recording this conversation?”

He lay on a patch of sand, not daring to move at all. Any slight movement seemed to trigger a fall of sand. The flashlight had been discarded nearby, blood beads starting to seep out of his parched lips. But his brain couldn’t function at all, after that brush with death, it turned into a mess, and he couldn’t even breathe properly.

“What?” What on earth is going on?

“Please answer my question.” On the other end of the phone, there was a rare display of “professionalism,” but this professionalism carried a kind of coldness akin to that of a robot, stirring up his inner agitation once again.

Suddenly, the flashlight went out. He instinctively cursed, “Damn it!” which prompted the other person to say “Mr. Conroy” again. Impatiently, he picked up the flashlight and began to tap it, while absentmindedly responding, “Yes, yes.”

“May I have your permission to record?”

But the flashlight didn’t respond. Only the faint glow of the phone screen was illuminating the darkness. He wanted to rub his sore temple, but as he raised his left hand, he realized one hand held the flashlight and the other held the phone, so he had no room to spare, which made him frustrated. He pounded the side wall with the flashlight in annoyance. It flashed for a moment, but only for a moment.

“Why do you need my permission? What is this about?” His education level wasn’t high; otherwise, he wouldn’t be a truck driver. He didn’t understand much about the processes of these big companies, and in this situation, he couldn’t even calm down to think. So, he could only respond casually.

“I need you to answer yes or no, please.” The other person’s voice still carried a professional tone.

“Yes! Yes!” He tapped his thigh with the flashlight, gritting his teeth. “Is that enough?”

“Thank you.” The politeness of the other person didn’t diminish in the slightest despite his rudeness. “Mr. Conroy, when were you hired by CRT Company?”

“I don’t remember…” His words were somewhat scattered, as the flashlight flickered back on. “Nine months ago, that would be January. What the hell is going on?” He felt somewhat oxygen-deprived, tugging at his collar. His lungs burned fiercely, with sand still continuously falling. He looked vigilantly at the cracks around him as if they might collapse at any moment.

“I see your official hiring date was January 4th. Is that correct?”

“Who cares?” he said impatiently, his breath coming in quick bursts, unable to find a vent. “This is bullshit.” The stark contrast between the other person’s coldness and his own fervour, the other person’s calmness and his own urgency, left him increasingly at a loss, making him unconsciously reach out to touch those cracks.

“January 4th, is that correct?” The other party remained unfazed, still steadfast in their position.

“Yes!” He took a deep breath, suppressing his anger and impatience, and replied curtly.

“During your internal training before being deployed to Iraq, were you aware of the level of danger your job contains?”

Sand fell, filling his mouth with grit. “Ptui!” he spat it out. “You mean that when I was sent to Dallas, you told us that all the trucks were armored, and there was bulletproof glass? You mean when you said it was safer than ever before?” The flashlight dimmed suddenly. He gritted his teeth and smashed the flashlight against his arm — the crack was already fragile enough, and he wasn’t sure if the wall would collapse if he smashed it again. The flashlight left two bloodstains on his arm, but he didn’t even notice that. His muscles had stiffened and numbed, his sensory nerves seemed to be deteriorating. “Is this what you call ‘being aware’?”

“I need you to answer yes or no.”

His complaints, his sarcasm, his anger, all hit a wall, causing his fists to clench involuntarily and his teeth to grind, but then he relaxed again. “Yes.” There was a hint of helplessness in his tone, tinged with a sense of vulnerability. After being trapped here for hours, he was exhausted, with barely any strength left even to argue.

Breathing, breathing deeply. He wanted to get out of here, he wanted to escape this damn nightmare, he wanted to wake up. Or perhaps, had the dream become reality? Was he truly trapped here, buried alive? He remembered lying on the hotel bed, entering the dream, or was it that the hotel part was the dream, and he had just snapped out of the illusion? Breathe, he had to breathe. But the breaths became more and more rapid. What was happening? What was really happening? The incessant chatter in his ears didn’t cease. He needs to think, he needs rescue, he needs… to survive.

“At the time, you signed an employment contract with CRT Company, which detailed the company policies, including the terms of your employment?”

Dust continued to fall, and he started coughing. “Yes, yes, I signed many documents.” The scorching breath made his face contort, his parched lips covered in bloodstains as if even his sweat had ceased to flow.

“Yes, or no?” The emotionless, formulaic voice was truly infuriating.

“Yes!” He forced himself to swallow, suppressing the cough. “I signed the contract! Yes!”

“Are we in agreement that you were abducted in Iraq two hours ago?”

“Yes! That’s exactly right, you bastard!” He felt like the air was running out, so he slapped his chest forcefully, his bloodshot eyes filled with restlessness and anger. “Where are they now? The rescue team? Why are you asking these questions? Are they almost here?”

There was a half-second pause on the other end of the phone, then it continued, “Our legal department requires our employees to sign an affidavit,” but there was a faint, almost imperceptible tremor in the voice, as if…it was reluctant, “to confirm that they know the reasons for their termination. This morning, your employment with CRT Company was officially terminated.”

“Wait, wait, wait.” He felt like his brain wasn’t functioning properly, “What?” The dream stopped, reality stopped, even his struggling and breathing stopped. He widened his eyes, stiffened in place, like a statue.

“We noticed you had an ambiguous relationship with employee Pamela Lutti,” the voice on the other end of the phone became slightly heavier.

“No, no!” He began to shake his head vigorously, “Wait a minute!” But the other party’s voice still did not stop, “Wait a minute!” His shouts were completely ineffective.

“In the employment contract, there is a clause clearly stating that any ambiguous relationship between internal employees is prohibited. Whether it’s a romantic relationship or a sexual relationship, as long as the CRT senior management deems the relationship inappropriate, the employment relationship can be terminated immediately.”

“Stop, stop, please stop!” His sense of time seemed to freeze, every muscle in his body tightened to the extreme, even the rise and fall of his chest became still, “We are just friends, wait, listen to me, listen to me, we are just friends, just friends, okay?” He kept on insisting, but still couldn’t stop the other person.

“Our records indicate differently.” Calm, restrained, polite, solemn, formal. This was the voice on the other end of the phone, coldly and ruthlessly pronouncing his death sentence.

“Your records are wrong!” He shouted.

Silence, complete silence, only his chest could be seen faintly rising and falling, the beam of the flashlight and the halo of the mobile phone seemed to be getting weaker and weaker, the woodenness and despair in his eyes were gradually sinking, constantly sinking, unable to find an end.

“Mr. Conroy?” A voice came from the other end of the phone again.

He still had no response, like a corpse, his brain went silent, “What about my life insurance? My family needs this money.” Calm, terribly calm, still grasping for the last straw deep in his throat.

“Considering you were still alive when you were fired…”

“Don’t do this!” He interrupted the other person’s words.

…There was a pause for a moment, “Do you understand everything I’ve said?”

“Don’t do this.” His voice trembled lightly, choked with fear and beseeching. “Don’t do this.” Apart from this sentence, he was powerless to say anything else.

“Do you understand my words, Mr. Conroy?”

Silence again. His eyes trembled violently, shimmering with despair and confusion amid the crystal tears. He gazed around, lost and uncertain, his lips trembling uncontrollably. Yet, he couldn’t find any leverage point. Helpless and in panic, he started to shiver under the faint light.

At the most critical moment of his life, they severed his lifeline, then eagerly reclaimed their interests, shaking off their hands, adopting the stance of bystanders, and refusing to come closer.

Making him full of resentment.

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