an honourable dialogue

by dm gillis

“Hey, Officer Dick,” Cecil Graves said, looking up toward the bank’s stamped metal ceiling, “what the fuck’s that sound? That’s a helicopter, isn’t it? What the hell do you need a helicopter for?”

“It’s not ours,” said the hostage negotiator. “It’s the six o’clock news.”

“Well it’s hovering. I hate that. I can’t concentrate with that racket. Get rid of it or I start shooting bank employees.”

“My people have already made the phone call. Give it a minute. And Mr Graves…?”

“What?”

“It’s Lieutenant Morris, not Officer Dick.”      

“It’s Dick for the duration,” said Cecil Graves, pacing with his phone to his ear, “so get used to it. When I say Dick, you jump. Got it?”

“A little mutual respect can go a long way, Mr Graves.”

“It’s funny to me,” Graves said, looking at his row of hostages, sitting on their hands, lined up on the floor against the wall, “how many people become cops thinking it’ll get them some respect, only to find out it doesn’t. Don’t let it make you bitter, Officer Dick.” The row of hostages looked back at him, pokerfaced.

“I’m not a bitter man,” Lieutenant Morris said.

“Good,” said Graves. “Now, listen to me. I had a vegetarian pizza once. It had raisins and sunflower seeds. No cheese. It wasn’t just vegetarian. It was über-vegetarian. It was…. Damn what do you call it?”

“Vegan?” said Lieutenant Morris.

“Yeah, vegan. Get me one of those?”

“Anything you like.”

“Make it a large one,” said Graves. “And pepperoni for everyone else. Oh, hold on….” Lieutenant Morris could hear the usual hostage/hostage-taker conversation on the line. “Make one double pepperoni with double cheese. Oh, wait…. And somebody wants chicken wings. Huh? Oh, Buffalo wings. Got that? And assorted soft drinks. Wait.” More conversation. “What, are you kidding me? And a couple of Red Bull for the middle aged manboy bank teller who’s been spitting dharma at me since this shindig started.”

“Got it.”

“Wow,” Graves said, “it must be very disappointing, having gone through hostage negotiator school, just to end up taking pizza delivery orders.”

“We want to make sure everyone is comfortable. You ready to talk?”

“Talk? What good’ll talking do?” said Graves.

“It’s got to be better than not talking, Mr Graves,” Lieutenant Morris said. “I mean, you’ve been holding hostages for three hours now and haven’t made any demands, other than pizza. We’re starting to wonder if this all happened by accident, some simple plan gone awry. If that’s what it is, if it’s all just some misunderstanding, then maybe it’s not so bad. You can just let the people go and….”

“No no no, don’t you do that, Dick, you fuck. You ain’t the voice of reason here. There is no voice of reason here. There’s just you, me and nine hostages.”

“And the entire Police Department, Mr Graves,” Lieutenant Morris said. “The textbooks say that I shouldn’t mention that, but I’ve got to be honest with you.”

“You got SWAT crawling through the air ducts, right?” Graves said. “You got your heat seeking sniper scopes on me, right?”

“Not yet, Mr Graves,” said Lieutenant Morris. “But they practice hard for opportunities like this. I can’t hold them off forever. Now, I’m getting you the pizzas. Why don’t you give me something in return? Your hostage, Mr Draper, the Bank Manager, he’s got a heart condition. He had a quintuple bypass in 2012. Why don’t we trade him for the pizzas?”

“Draper’s got a bum heart?” Graves said. “He’s the one who wants double pepperoni, double cheese, the sick bastard. Yeah, I’m taking to you, Draper, you Gucci wearing degenerate fuck. You can have Draper when hell freezes over, Officer Dick.”

“Okay, okay. Look, you must know by now that we’ve tapped into the CCTV,” said Lieutenant Morris. “We know that all of your hostages work for the bank, except one. He’s an innocent bystander, isn’t he? — a courier. What about him? Let him go, so he can tell the world you aren’t such a bad guy.”

“No,” Graves said. “There’s something about him that makes him more special than the rest.” Muffled conversation over the telephone line. Then, “His name is Norman. He coaches peewee league hockey.”

“Okay, how about Mrs. Africano? She’s sixty-three, Mr Graves. She’s got grandchildren, and she’s retiring in a couple of years. Give the old girl a break.”

“No one’s ever given me a break.”

“Somebody must have, once,” said Lieutenant Morris. “Think about it. No life is completely devoid of second chances.”

“You contradicting me, Officer Dick? You getting philosophical?”

“You know the CCTV cams I mentioned, Mr Graves? You can’t see where they are, but they’re showing us everything that’s going on in there. We know which one you are. You’ve got the gun. You’re wearing the red cardigan.”

Cecil Graves looked up and around the bank’s perimeter. “It’s not red, damn it,” he said. “It’s claret. Don’t you even know red from claret?”

“Okay, but you see my point. You may not be holding all of the cards right now.”

“You know I am, Dick. Don’t fuck with me.”

“This all must have started somewhere, Cecil,” Lieutenant Morris said, “before you decided to rob the bank. Let’s talk about that. You haven’t got a criminal record, if Cecil Graves is your real name. And you don’t strike me as the bank robbing, hostage taking type. Real criminals know there’s no money in bank robbery any more. Tell me how it came to this.”

“I really didn’t need much money,” Graves said. “They wouldn’t have missed it. But the bank sure wouldn’t have loaned it to me. This wasn’t supposed to be so fucking complicated.”

“How much did you need?”

“Ten grand. I went to a dozen banks trying to get a loan, legit like. Including this one, a month ago. They all said no. They laughed, like it was a joke.”

“What they say? Why wouldn’t they give you the loan?”

“Because the bastards I borrowed from originally made it impossible,” said Graves.

“How?”

“They called my bank,” Graves said. “The pricks arranged to have their money deducted from my account whenever I cashed my pay cheque. You know what that does to your credit rating?”

“Wait wait wait,” said Lieutenant Morris. “Was this about drugs or a loan shark or what? How could someone like that make an arrangement with your bank?”

“Nah, no loan sharks.” said Graves. “Okay maybe, depends on how you define things. It’s was a payday loan.”

“A payday loan?”

“Yeah. Funny thing is, it was only for two hundred dollars to begin with.”

“You mean from the Money Mart,” said Lieutenant Morris, “or some place like that? That makes no sense. How does a loan go from two hundred dollars to ten thousand?”

“I got it from the Paradise Payday Loan Store. Nice name, eh?”

“I still don’t get it,” Lieutenant Morris said.

”Why would you get it?” said Graves. “What do you make? A well trained hostage negotiator like you, probably eighty or ninety grand a year. And you’ve got benefits. Maybe your wife works, too. So, you’re doing okay. You don’t have to take out payday loans. I, on the other hand, had two crappy little McJobs, both minimum wage, no benefits. I worked fifty hours a week, and every month I had to choose between paying my rent and eating. So one day a couple of years ago, I took out a two hundred dollar payday loan to take the edge off. They saw me coming from a mile away, man.”

“So, how’d that turn into ten thousand dollars?”

“When the loan came due a couple of weeks later,” Graves said, “I couldn’t pay it. So, I had to roll it over. If I’d paid it on time, the rate would have been thirty dollars on two hundred, that’s 390% APR. But because I had to roll it over, the rate jumped to 1400%. I really couldn’t pay that, so I rolled it over again and again, paying off bits and pieces of the interest but never touching the principle. A lot of the cheques I wrote to cover it bounced, and I had to pay penalties on those.

“Eventually, the Paradise Payday Loan Store took control of my bank account and called my bosses. They garnisheed my pay cheques, and when that happened I got fired from both of my shitty little jobs. So, I borrowed from my family and friends to make interest payments and pay the rent. But none of them have much money, either. And all the while, the Paradise Payday Loan Store is calling me at home, making scary and bizarre threats, or just saying nothing and tying up the line. They said they had warrants out for my arrest, that they were gonna sue, that I was gonna do time. Then they put threats and bullshit comments on my Facebook wall. They stalked me on Twitter. And they called my family.

“I eventually lost my apartment because I had no job and I was paying what little I had on the loan interest. Now I live in shelters round the city. When the debt hit five grand, I went to this guy named Bartholomew, who hangs out at Starbucks in my old neighbourhood. He drinks coffee all day and writes poetry on his iPad. And he loans out money to anyone. His rates are about the same as the Paradise Payday Loan Store, but I figured at least owing Bartholomew would be a fresh start.

“I used most of the Bartholomew loan to pay off the payday loan, and part of it to buy some crack. I planned to sell the crack on the street to generate some income. Maybe my luck would change, and I’d become a drug kingpin. Real rational, eh? Well, that worked for a while, until I got caught selling on some other dealer’s turf, and got my ass kicked and my inventory stolen.

“Before I knew it, I owed Bartholomew ten grand. And Bartholomew wasn’t writing poetry anymore, or leaving shit on my Facebook wall, he was beating the crap outta me and threatening my life, telling me that I was gonna die very slowly and very badly.

“I was desperate when I went to my bank for a loan, and they almost called the cops on me. The same thing happened in every bank I went to.

“I’ve been a slowly descending vertical ellipsis since I took out that payday loan. So, this morning I walked into BankUnited and pulled a gun. The rest is history, unfolding as we speak. If I somehow make it outta here alive, without having paid Bartholomew, he’s gonna have me horribly whacked. Those were his words, horribly whacked. If I end up in jail, Bartholomew’s gonna have me sodomised first and then horribly whacked. So, you can see why a hail of bullets might be a good fit for me right now. That can be avoided, of course, if someone delivers ten grand to Bartholomew in my name.

“You wanted to know my demands, Officer Dick. Well that’s it. You can find Bartholomew at the Starbucks at Commercial and Second. When he calls me here and says we’re square, I’ll let seven of the hostages go.”

“Wait a minute,” said Lieutenant Morris. “There are nine hostages, not seven. If I do this thing for you, and Bartholomew gets his money, then I need you to release all nine.”

“Draper,” Graves said. “He was one of the Bank Managers that nearly called the cops on me when I came in for a loan, so he stays. But he might have a heart attack, so Norman stays too, as a back-up.”

“Why Norman, Cecil? You’re not falling in love with him, are you?”

“Don’t be vulgar,” Graves said. “Just do the Bartholomew deal. I’m hanging up now, and when this phone rings again, I want to hear Bartholomew’s voice tell me that we’re jake. Capiche?”

“I’ve got people doing it now,” said Lieutenant Morris. “But don’t hang up.”

“You got something else to say?”

“It’s always best for a hostage taker to stay on the line, that’s all.”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“A negotiator can’t always control the actions of other cops, Cecil. Besides, the press are here; they want engagement. They want ratings. We have an honourable dialogue going. Let’s keep it that way.”

“Engagement?”

“Just stay on the line and I can say we’re still working something out.”

Now there was muffled conversation at Lieutenant Morris’s end of the line. It was quietly emphatic. Cecil Graves heard the word No said several times through the hand held over the mouth piece.

Then: “Is the gun real, Cecil?” Lieutenant Morris said.

“Of course.”

“Really? Because it looks like a toy on the CCTV screen, at least to me. It looks like you bought it at the dollar store and removed the orange plug at the end. If that’s so, what are you going to shoot hostages with?”

“You’re messing with me.”

“Throw the gun away, Cecil. I mean far away, over the tellers’ counter. Then lie down on your belly, face down with your hands behind your head, fingers locked. You’re not a killer, Cecil. I’ve seen enough to know.”

“What the fuck…?”

“Do it now, Cecil. Please do it. Don’t die with a toy gun in your hand.”

More muffled conversation at Morris’s end, louder now.

“Cecil…!?!” Graves heard Morris say, just before the snap of the vent cover dislodging from the wall to his right.

Then Cecil Graves said: “What’s happening, Lieutenant Morris?”

“Fall down, Cecil.”

“The police were very heroic,” Mr William Draper, the BankUnited Manager, told reporters later. “There were several loud cracks, and he fell like a stone. He didn’t have a chance.”  

Cecil Graves, in his claret cardigan, had been an easy target.

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