Kill the Hostages

It’s Tuesday, right before lunchtime, and you’re headed to the bank to make a deposit from the weekend. The sun is shining and it’s one of those warm fall days when the larch needles are a singing kind of yellow and a breath of frost has whispered across the ridgelines and peaks of the horizon. It’s your father’s birthday today, and you make a note to call him.

You tuck the money pouch into a folded newspaper and pull the heavy door before stepping into the marble lobby. There is a line; you wait. Your phone battery is dead, so you’re left to gape dumbly around the room as your ancestors have done for generations to while away a queue. You had not noticed before that the cherub ceiling mural really is quite sexually explicit for an institution such as a bank.

The woman behind you in line is a mouth breather in too much perfume. In front of you a man seems to be negotiating the terms of a divorce in a hoarse, heated whisper that is anything but private. And so you can be forgiven for not noticing the four men with rifles who slipped in behind you and chained the door closed until you are lying on your stomach with a gunbarrel to your head.

The man with the gun tells you not to look at him, but you catch a glimpse of desperate, bloodshot eyes twitching through the holes of a ski mask. He faintly smells of vodka from a plastic bottle. You can’t be sure he isn’t drunk. You consider reaching for the revolver in your sock, but decide that it’s unwise. These men will come and go, everything will be fine.

Tuesday at lunch is a poor time to rob a bank. In the first five minutes of this bungled heist seven people try to enter the lobby. Finding it locked they peer in through the glass doors to see masked men and black rifles and two dozen people lying on their bellies. You don’t believe that any kind of silent alarm was even necessary; the police surround the building before all of the tellers are even sprawled across the cool stone floor.

The men with guns are more nervous. You see them huddled in front of the safe and they seem to be arguing. Things are not going according to the plan, if there was a plan at all.

Time passes and the sun goes down, the gunmen speak with the police on one of the bank’s phones. Pizzas come and are taken away and the masked men grow more agitated. After a while one of them begins yelling into the phone that if the police do not cooperate he will kill the hostages. Power in the building goes out and for a moment the room is completely dark. You wonder if now is the time to act. Your pistol carries six rounds, there are four of them. They are standing together, vulnerable. Their backs are turned.

The first hostage they shoot is the man who was in front of you in line. He is not tall but handsome, one of those guys who went grey in his 30s and carried it off. The bullet takes away most of the top half of his face as it leaves his skull just below his left eye. He is followed by a red streak as he rolls down the front steps.

Two more customers are shot, and it seems that a SWAT team will come through the doors, or the windows, or the ceiling at any moment. Instead it is silent except for the sobbing of the people on the floor. The system isn’t working.

You wait, but begin inching toward your pistol. It occurs to you that help is not coming. It is up to you to act. And as you sit and ponder how to do so, another man is shot and rolled out into the street.’

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