Chapter no 65

Anxious People

The truth the truth the truth.


So, Jim came back down to the street and told Jack what had just happened inside the building, after he spoke to the bank robber. But that isn’t quite what happened, not really. Not at all, in fact. In part that was because Jim was bad at telling stories, but it was mostly because he was very good at lying.


Because it wasn’t Lennart who opened the door when Jim showed up with the pizzas. It was the bank robber, the real bank robber. Both Roger and Lennart had insisted on being allowed to wear the ski mask, but after a long pause she had said no. She had looked at them, her voice gentle with appreciation, then given them a determined nod.

“Obviously I can’t set a good example to my daughters and teach them not to do idiotic things now. But I might at least be able to show them how you take responsibility for your actions.”

So when Jim knocked on the door again, she opened it. Without the mask. Her hair was draped over her shoulders, the same color as Jim’s daughter’s hair. Sometimes two strangers only need one thing in common to 1nd each other sympathetic. She saw the wedding ring on his 1nger, old and dented, tarnished silver. He saw hers, thin and discreet, gold, no gemstones. Neither of them had taken them oP yet.

“Are you a police officer?” she asked so quickly that Jim lost his train of thought.

“How did you…?”

“I don’t think the police would send a real pizza delivery guy if you thought I was armed and dangerous,” she smiled, more like her face actually cracking than cracking into a smile.

“No, no… well, yes… and yes, I am a police officer,” Jim nodded, holding the pizzas out.

“Thanks,” she said, taking them with one hand as the pistol dangled in the other. Jim couldn’t take his eyes oP it.

“How are you doing?” he asked, which he may not have done if she’d been wearing a mask.

“I’m not having the best day,” she confessed. “Is anyone in there hurt?”

She shook her head in horror. “I’d never…”

Jim looked at her, noting her trembling 1ngers and the bite marks on her lower lip. He couldn’t hear anyone crying inside the apartment, there was no one shouting, no one who sounded afraid at all.

“I need you to put the pistol down for a little while,” he said.

The bank robber nodded apologetically. “Can I give them the pizzas 1rst?

They’re hungry. It’s been a long day for them… I…”

Jim nodded. She turned around and disappeared for a while, then came back without the boxes and without the pistol. From behind her, someone exclaimed, “That isn’t a Hawaiian!” and someone else laughed: “You don’t know a damn thing about Hawaiians!” laughed. Then came the sound of idle chatter between strangers who were no longer quite that. It’s probably hard to say precisely what would be normal in a hostage drama, but this certainly wasn’t it. Jim looked intently at the bank robber.

“Can I ask, how did you get caught up in all this?”

The bank robber, now unarmed, took such a deep breath that she doubled in size, then she became smaller than ever.

“I don’t know where to start.”

Then Jim did something deeply unprofessional. He reached out his hand and wiped a tear from the bank robber’s cheek.

“My wife had a joke she used to like. How do you eat an elephant?” “I don’t know.”

“A bit at a time.” She smiled.

“My kids would have liked that. They have a terrible sense of humor.”

Jim put his hands in his pockets and sat down heavily on the landing next to the door. The bank robber hesitated for a moment, then sat down with her legs crossed. Jim smiled.

“My wife had a terrible sense of humor as well. She liked laughing and causing trouble. The older she got, the more trouble she was. She always told me I was too nice. That’s a terrible thing to be told by a priest, isn’t it?”

The bank robber laughed quietly. Then nodded. “Who did she used to cause trouble with?”

“Everyone. The church, the parish, politicians, people who believed in God, people who didn’t believe in God… she made it her job to defend the weakest: the homeless, migrants, even criminals. Because somewhere in the Bible Jesus says something like: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was homeless and you looked after me, I was sick and you cared for me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ And then He says something like, what we do for the weakest among us, we also do for Him. And she took everything so damn literally, my wife. That’s why she kept causing trouble.”

“Has she passed away?” “Yes.”

“I’m sorry.”

He nodded gratefully. It’s so odd, he thought, that still, after all this time, it feels so incomprehensible that she isn’t here. That his heart hasn’t gotten used to the fact that no giggling idiot is going to stick her 1nger in his mouth when he yawns, or pour Aour in his pillowcase just as he’s about to go to bed. No one to argue with him. Love him. There’s no getting used to the grammar of it all. He smiled sadly and said: “Now your turn.”

“At what?” the bank robber said.

“Telling your story. About how you ended up here.” “How long a story do you want?”

“As long as you like. One bit at a time.”

Which was a nice thing to say. So the bank robber told him.

“My husband left me. Well, he kicked me out, actually. He’d been having an aPair with my boss. They fell in love. They moved in together, in our apartment, because it was only in his name. Everything happened so quickly, and I didn’t want to make a fuss or cause… chaos. For the children’s sake.”

Jim nodded slowly. He looked at her ring and toyed with his own. There’s nothing harder to remove.

“Girls or boys?” “Girls.”

“I’ve got one of each.”

“I… someone needs to… I don’t want them to…” “Where are they now?”

“With their dad. I was supposed to pick them up tonight. We were going to celebrate New Year together. But now… I…”

She trailed oP. Jim nodded thoughtfully.

“What did you need the money from the bank robbery for?”

The desperation on her face revealed the chaos in her heart as she said: “To pay the rent. I needed six thousand 1ve hundred. My husband’s lawyer was threatening to take the girls away from me if I didn’t have anywhere to live.”

Jim held on to the handrail to stop himself collapsing as his heart broke. Empathy is like vertigo. Six thousand 1ve hundred, because she thought she’d lose her children otherwise. Her childven.

“There are rules, legislation, no one can just take your children away from you simply because…,” he began, then thought better of it and said: “But nom they can… now you’ve held up a banb and…” His voice almost gave out as he whispered: “You poor child, what have you got yourself mixed up in?”

The woman had to force her tongue to move, her lips to open, as her smallest muscles seemed to have almost given up.

“I… I’m an idiot. I know, I know, I know. I didn’t want to cause any trouble with my husband, I didn’t want to expose the girls to that, I thought I might be

able to sort it all out for myself. But all I’ve done is create chaos. It’s my fault, it’s all my fault. I’m ready to give up now, I’ll let all the hostages go, I promise, the pistol’s still in there, it isn’t even real…”

Jim couldn’t help thinking that was one hell of a reason to rob a bank: because you’re scared of conAict. He tried to see her as a criminal, tried to look at her without seeing his daughter, and failed at both.

“Even if you release the hostages and give up, you’ll still end up in prison. Even if the pistol isn’t real,” he said mournfully, and of course he’d been a police officer long enough to have seen that it was. He knew she wouldn’t stand a chance, no matter how sympathetic any decent person might feel about her situation. You’re not allowed to rob banks, you’re not allowed to run around with 1rearms, and we can’t let criminals like that go unpunished if we catch them. So Jim concluded there and then that the only way she wouldn’t get punished was not to do that. Not to catch her.


He looked around in the stairwell. On the door of the apartment behind the bank robber was a real estate agent’s sign bearing the text: Fov sale! HOUSZ TRICMS Real Zstate Rgency! HOW’S TRICMS? Jim stared at it for a while, ransacking his memory.

“That’s odd,” he 1nally said.

“What is?” the bank robber wondered.

“House Tricks Real Estate Agency. That’s a fairly… silly name.”

“Maybe,” the bank robber nodded, not having given it much thought before then.

Jim rubbed his nose.

“It might just be a coincidence, but I spoke to the couple who own the neighboring apartment on the phone a little while ago. They’re splitting up. Because one of them likes coriander, and the other also likes coriander, but not quite as much, but apparently that’s enough of a reason if you’re young and are on the Internet.”

The corners of the bank robber’s mouth tried to form a smile.

“No one wants to be bored anymore.”

She was thinking that the worst thing of all, the most impossible thing to reconcile herself to emotionally, was the fact that she still loved her husband. Every blood vessel felt like it was exploding every time that realization struck her. That she couldn’t stop loving him, not even after everything he’d done, not even then could she stop herself wondering if it had all been her fault. Maybe she wasn’t enough fun—maybe it’s unreasonable to expect someone to stay with you if you’re not fun.

“No, that’s just it! Everything has to be like the 1rst Aush of infatuation for youngsters, nothing can be mundane, they’ve got the attention span of a kitten with a glittery rubber ball,” Jim agreed, suddenly excited, and went on: “So they’re separating and selling the apartment. One of them couldn’t remember what the real estate agent’s name was, just that it was a silly name. And you know what? House Tricks Real Estate Agency—that’s a really silly name!”

He pointed at the sign on the door of the apartment where the real estate agent was. Then at the door opposite. It was too small a town to have many estate agencies with silly names. It wasn’t even big enough to have more than one hairdressing salon called The Upper Cut.

“Sorry, I don’t understand the signi1cance,” the bank robber said. Jim scratched his stubble.

“I was just thinking… is the real estate agent in there with you?” The bank robber nodded.

“Yes, she’s driving everyone mad. When I went in with the pizzas just now she was making Roger stand near the balcony, then she went and stood at the other end of the apartment, then she threw her keys to him so he could see how far you could throw something because it’s all open plan.”

“How did that go?”

“Roger ducked. The window very nearly broke,” the bank robber smiled. It was a friendly smile, Jim thought. Not the sort that wants to hurt anyone. He looked at the sign again.

“I don’t know… this might be… but if it is the same real estate agent who’s going to sell the neighboring apartment, then maybe she’s got the keys to that one with her, and then…”

He couldn’t quite bring himself to say it. “What do you mean?” the bank robber said.

Jim pulled himself together, stood up, and cleared his throat.

“What I mean is that if the real estate agent is also selling the next apartment, and if she’s got the keys with her, then perhaps you could hide in there. When the other police officers come up here, they won’t break open all the doors to the other apartments to look for you, not right away, at least.”

“Why not?”

Jim shrugged. “Because we’re not that good. Everyone will be concentrating on getting the hostages out 1rst, and if you tell them to close the door behind them, then everyone will assume that the bank robber… you… are still in the apartment. This apartment. Then, once we’ve smashed the door in and discovered you’re not there, we can’t just smash the other doors in willy-nilly, that would cause a huge stink. Bureaucracy, you know. We’ll have to take the hostages to the station 1rst and get witness statements from them and, I don’t know… you might be able to come up with a way of getting out. And you know what? If anyone were to 1nd you in the other apartment, you can always pretend you live there! We’ve been assuming that the bank robber is a man right from the start.”

The bank robber was still wide-eyed and uncomprehending. “Why?” she asked again.

“Because women don’t normally do… this sort of thing,” Jim said, as diplomatically as he could.

She shook her head.

“No, I mean, mhy? Why are you doing this for me? You’re a police officer! I mean, you’re not supposed to do this sort of thing for me!”

Jim nodded feebly. He rubbed his hands on his pants, then his wrists across his brow.

“My wife used to quote some guy who said… what was it? He said that even if he knew that the world was going to hell tomorrow, he’d plant an apple tree today.”

“That’s lovely,” the bank robber whispered.

Jim nodded. He wiped the back of his hand over his eyes.

“I don’t want to… catch you. I know you’ve made a big mistake here, but… that sort of thing happens.”

“Thank you.”

“You need to go in and ask the real estate agent if she’s got the keys to the other apartment. Because it won’t be long before my son loses patience and comes storming in here, and then…”

The bank robber blinked several times. “Sorry? Your son?”

“He’s a police officer, too. He’ll be the 1rst one through the door.” The bank robber felt her throat tighten and her voice faltered.

“He sounds brave.”

“He had a brave mom. She would have robbed banks for his sake, if she’d had to. I didn’t even believe in God when we met. She was beautiful, I wasn’t. She could dance, I could barely stay on my feet. Back when we 1rst met, the way we thought about our work was probably all we had in common. The fact that we save those we can.”

“I don’t know if I deserve to be saved,” the bank robber whispered.

Jim just nodded, looked her in the eye, an honest, decent man about to do something that went against the principles of a profession he’s belonged to all his adult life.

“Come and 1nd me in ten years’ time and tell me if I was wrong.” He turned to go. She hesitated, swallowed hard, then called: “Wait!” “Yes?”

“Can I… Is it too late to make a demand in exchange for releasing the hostages?”

“What the hell…?”

He raised his eyebrows, then frowned, at 1rst taken aback, then almost annoyed. The bank robber was trying to make her mind up.

“Fireworks,” she eventually said. “There’s an old lady in here who always used to watch the 1reworks with her husband. He’s dead now. I’ve been holding her hostage all day. I’d like to give her some 1reworks.”


Jim grinned. Nodded.


Then he went downstairs and lied to his son.

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