Chapter no 60

Anxious People

What actually happened was that when Jack ended the call with the negotiator and ran out of the building on the other side of the street, Jim was just emerging from the building where the hostage drama was taking place. Jack of course was furious that Jim had gone into the building despite being told to stay outside, but Jim did his best to calm him down.

“Take it easy, now, son. Take it easy. That wasn’t a bomb in the stairwell, just a box of Christmas lights.”

“I bnom! Why did you go into the building befove I came bacb?”

“Because I knew you’d never let me go if I waited that long. I’ve spoken to the bank robber.”

“Of course I wouldn’t have… hang on, what?” “I said I’ve spoken to the bank robber.”


Then Jim told him exactly what had happened. Or rather, as exactly as he could. Because it has to be said that telling stories wasn’t one of Jim’s greatest talents in life. His wife always said he was the sort of person who tells a joke by starting with the punch line and then stopping, yelping, “No, hang on, something happened before that, darling, what was it that happened before the funny bit?” then trying to start from the beginning again, only to get it wrong again. He never remembers the end of 1lms, so he can watch them any number of times and still be surprised when he 1nds out who the murderer is. He’s not much good at party games or television quiz shows, either: there’s one his son and wife both liked, with celebrities in trains who had to guess where they were going by solving various clues, and Jim’s wife used to mimic him as he sat there on the

sofa frantically suggesting everything from Spanish capitals to African republics to tiny Norwegian 1shing villages, all in the same round. “See! I was right!” he always declared at the end, and Jack always snapped: “You’re not right if you guess EVERYTHING!” And his wife? She just laughed. Jim missed that so much. With him or at him, he didn’t care, as long as she laughed.


So Jim took the opportunity to go into the building when Jack wasn’t looking, because Jim knew that’s what she would have done. He felt very, very foolish when he reached the landing with the box and realized that sometimes Christmas lights were just Christmas lights. But she would have laughed at that. So he kept going.

There were two apartments on the top Aoor. The hostage drama was taking place in the one on the right, and the one on the left was owned by the young couple who couldn’t agree about coriander or juicers, and who Jim had had to phone not long before (and the details of whose separation he now knew more about than any normal person ought to know). Just to be on the safe side, he peered through the mailslot, but there were no lights on, and the mail on the mat suggested that no one had been there for a while. Only then did Jim ring the doorbell of the apartment containing the bank robber and hostages.

There was no answer for a long time, even though he kept ringing the bell. Eventually he realized that the bell wasn’t working, and knocked instead. He had to do that several times as well, but eventually the door opened a crack and a man dressed in a suit and ski mask looked out. First at the pizzas, then at Jim.

“I haven’t got any cash,” the man in the mask said. “Don’t worry,” Jim said, holding the pizzas out.

The man in the mask squinted suspiciously. “Are you a cop?”


“Yes you are.”

Jim noted that the man’s accent changed several times, as if he couldn’t quite make his mind up. And it wasn’t possible to determine much about his

appearance, not even if he was tall or short, because he never opened the door properly.

“What makes you think I’m a police officer?” Jim asked innocently. “Because pizza delivery guys don’t give pizzas away for free.”

Jim couldn’t really see much point in trying to deny it, so he said: “You’re right, I’m a cop. But I’m on my own, and I’m unarmed. Is anyone in there hurt?”

“No. At least no more than they were when they arrived,” the bank robber said.

Jim nodded amiably.

“My colleagues out in the street are starting to get nervous, you see, because you haven’t made any demands.”

Taken aback, the man in the ski mask blinked. “I asked for pizza.”

“I mean… demands in order to release the hostages. We just don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

The man in the ski mask took the pizza boxes, held up a 1nger, and said: “Give me a moment!”

He closed the door and disappeared into the apartment. One minute passed, then another, and just when Jim was thinking about knocking on the door again, it opened a couple of inches. The man looked out and said: “Fireworks.”

“I don’t follow,” Jim said.

“I want 1reworks, the sort I can see from the balcony. Then I’ll let the hostages go.”


“And no cheap rubbish, either, don’t try to trick me! Proper 1reworks! All diPerent colors, the sort that look like rain, the whole lot.”

“And then you’ll release the hostages?” “Then I’ll release the hostages.” “That’s your only demand?”



So Jim went back down the stairs, out to Jack in the street, and told him all this.


But it’s worth pointing out again that Jim really isn’t good at telling stories. He’s completely hopeless, in fact. So he may not have remembered everything entirely accurately.

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