Chapter no 52

Anxious People

While the hostage drama was going on, out in the street Jack was trying to think of some other way to contact the bank robber rather than let Jim go up with the pizzas. He thought and thought and thought, because young men may be absolutely certain about almost everything nearly all of the time, but even for Jack it would have been easier to be one hundred percent certain that the bomb wasn’t a bomb if he didn’t need to send his dad into the stairwell to test the theory.

“Hang on, Dad, I’ve…,” he began, then raised his phone and said to the negotiator: “Before we go in with the pizzas I want to try to get a better idea of what’s going on. I can get into the building that’s on the other side of the street. I might be able to see into the stairwell windows from there.”

The negotiator sounded skeptical. “What diPerence would that make?”

“None, maybe,” Jack admitted. “But I might be able to tell if it’s a bomb or not through the window, and before I send my colleague in I want to know that I’ve exhausted all options.”

The negotiator put his hand over his phone and talked to someone else, one of the bastard bosses, perhaps. Then he came back and said: “Yes. Okay, yes.”

He didn’t tell Jack that he was impressed that he had called his dad his “colleague” in such a critical situation, but he was.

So Jack went into the building on the other side of the street. The negotiator stayed on the line, and one and a half Aoors later he wondered: “What… what are you doing?”

“I’m going up the stairs,” Jack replied. “Isn’t there an elevator?”

“I don’t like elevators.”

The negotiator sounded like he was hitting his head with his phone.

“So you’re prepared to go into a building containing a bomb and an armed bank robber, but you’re scared of elevators?”

Jack hissed back: “I’m not scaved of elevators! I’m scared of snakes and cancer. I just don’t libe elevators!”

The negotiator sounded like he was grinning. “Can’t you call in reinforcements?”

“All the staP we have at our disposal are here, the whole lot. They’re maintaining the cordon and evacuating the surrounding buildings. I’ve called in backup, but they’re both waiting for their wives.”

“What does that mean?”

“That they’ve been drinking. Their wives will have to drive them here.” “Drinking? At this time of day? The day befove New Year’s Eve?” the

negotiator wondered.

“I don’t know how you do it in Stockholm, but here we take New Year’s seriously,” Jack replied.

The negotiator laughed.

“Stockholmers don’t take anything seriously, you know that. At least, nothing important.”

Jack grinned. He hesitated brieAy as he went up a few more steps before asking the question he had been wanting to ask for a while.

“Have you been involved in a hostage drama before?” The negotiator hesitated before replying.

“Yes. Yes, I have.” “How did it end?”

“He let the hostages go and came out after we’d spent four hours talking.”

Jack nodded tersely and stopped at the next-to-last Aoor. He peered out of the landing window through a small pair of binoculars. He could see the wires on the Aoor of the landing opposite, they were hanging out of a box that someone had written something on with a marker. He wasn’t absolutely certain, but from where he was standing it looked very much like the letters C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S.

“It isn’t a bomb,” he said into his phone. “What do you think it is, then?”

“Looks like outdoor Christmas lights.” “Well, then.”

Jack carried on up to the top Aoor—if the bank robber hadn’t closed the blinds, he might be able to see into the apartment.

“How did you get him out?” he asked. “Who?”

“The hostage taker. Last time.”

“Oh. All the usual, I suppose, a combination of what you get taught. Don’t use negatives, avoid can’t and mon’t. Try to 1nd something you’ve got in common. Find out what his motivation is.”

“Was that really how you got him out?” “No, of course not. I was joking.” “Seriously?”

“Yes, seriously. We talked for four hours and then he suddenly fell silent. And of course that’s the 1rst thing we get taught…”

“To keep him occupied? Not to let the line go quiet?”

“Exactly. I didn’t know what to do, so I took a chance and asked if he wanted to hear a funny story. He said nothing for a minute or so, then he said: ‘Well? Are you going to tell me or not?’ So I told him the one about the two Irish guys in a boat, if you know that one?”

“No,” Jack said.

“Okay, two Irish brothers are out at sea 1shing. A storm blows up, and they lose both oars, they’re convinced they’re going to drown. Then suddenly one of the brothers spots something in the water, and manages to grab hold of a bottle. They pull the cork out and POOF! A genie appears. He grants them one wish, anything they want. So the two brothers look around at the stormy sea, they’re stuck out there with no oars, several miles from shore, and the 1rst brother is thinking about what to ask for when the second brother cheerfully blurts out: “I wish the whole sea was Guinness!” The genie stares at him like he’s an idiot, then says, okay, sure, let’s go for that. And POOF! The sea turns into Guinness. The genie vanishes. The 1rst brother stares at the second brother and snaps: “You

bloody idiot! We had one single wish and you wished the sea was Guinness! Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” The second brother shakes his head in shame. The 1rst brother throws his arms out and says…”

The negotiator left a dramatic pause, but didn’t have time to deliver the punch line before Jack cut in from the other end of the line.

“Rom me haue to 9iss in the boat!”

The negotiator let out an aPronted snort so loud that the phone shook. “So you had heard it after all?”

“My mom liked funny stories. Is that really what got the hostage taker to give up?”

The line was quiet a little too long.

“Maybe he was worried I was going to tell him another one.”

The negotiator sounded like he wanted to laugh as he was saying this, but didn’t quite succeed. Jack couldn’t help noticing. He had reached the top Aoor now, and looked out of the window at the balcony on the other side of the street. He stopped in surprise.

“What the…? That’s weird.” “What?”

“I can see the balcony of the apartment where the hostages are being held.

There’s a woman standing on it.” “A woman?”

“Yes. Wearing headphones.” “Headphones?”


“What sort of headphones?”

“How many diPerent types are there? What diPerence does that make?” The negotiator sighed.

“Okay. Stupid question. How old is she, then?” “Fifties. Older, maybe.”

“Older than 1fty, or older than in her 1fties?”

“For God’s… I don’t know! A woman. A perfectly ordinary woman.” “Okay, okay, calm down. Does she look scared?”

“She looks… bored. She de1nitely doesn’t look like she’s in any danger, anyway.”

“That sounds like an odd hostage situation.”

“Exactly. And that de1nitely isn’t a bomb in the stairwell. And he tried to rob a cashless bank. I said from the start, we’re not dealing with a professional here.”

The negotiator considered this for a few moments. “Yes, you might well be right.”

He was trying to sound con1dent, but Jack could hear his doubt. The two men shared a long silence before Jack said, “Tell me the truth. What happened in that last hostage drama you were involved in?”

The negotiator sighed.

“The man released the hostages. But he shot himself before we managed to get in.”


Those words would follow Jack throughout the day, right next to his skin.


He had started to walk back down the stairs by the time the negotiator cleared his throat.

“Okay, Jack, can I ask you a question? Why did you turn down that job in Stockholm?”

Jack considered lying, but couldn’t summon up the energy. “How do you know about that?”

“I talked to one of the bosses before I set oP. Asked her who was on the scene locally. She said I should talk to Jack, because he’s bloody good. She said she’d oPered you a job several times, but that you keep turning it down.”

“I’ve got a job.”

“Not like the one she’s oPering.” Jack snorted defensively.

“Oh, all you Stockholmers think the world revolves around your bloody city.”

The negotiator laughed.

“Listen, I grew up in a village where you had to drive forty minutes if you wanted to buy milk. Back there we used to think your town was metropolitan. To us, you were the Stockholmers.”

“Everyone is someone else’s Stockholmer, I guess.”

“So what’s your problem, then? Are you worried you wouldn’t be able to cope with the job if you took it?”

Jack rubbed his hands on his pants.

“Are you my psychologist or something?” “Sounds like you could do with one.” “Can’t we just focus on the job in hand?”

The negotiator hesitated and took a deep breath before asking: “Does your dad know you’ve been oPered another job?”

Jack was about to swear, but the negotiator never got to hear what, because at that moment Jack looked out of the window in the stairwell and saw that his dad was no longer waiting in the street like he’d been told.

“What the hell?!” Jack exclaimed. Then he ended the call and ran.

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