The Negotiator

She can smell the sirens before she hears them. Their shrill stench of authority floods her nostrils and her skull, roiling her stomach until she asks her driver to pull over. He says nothing. This is a bad case: his department was desperately lucky to get her. He radios ahead and the sirens stop.

By the time they reach the scene, she has tightened her focus. SWAT myrmidons and the media pack—gone in one cerebral blink. The multistoried office hive—a construct of shadows. Only a writhing knot of rage and narcissism remains, hunkered in the basement like a rabid rat.

There are hostages, of course. There are always hostages.

They are not her concern.

A rookie passes her a bullhorn, fumbling it in his haste to relinquish responsibility. Despite her best efforts, their fingers brush: he freezes in the utterness of her knowing. Then he and his fresh migraine turn away, leaving her to her work.

What she speaks into the bullhorn is not important. It is what is expected, pure performance for the men and women and whimpering K9s around her.

Now she can begin.

Seizing upon one flailing end of that rage, she follows it back into the gorgon lair that spawned it. Vipers and violators and violence, a tedious tragedy of unforeseen yet entirely predictable outcomes. The unachieved GED. The petty arrest record. The scrabble for minimum wage. His sole remaining instrument of will is his trigger finger, slipped inside his favorite automatic like a child’s thumb sucked raw.

Pull. Now that flailing end is a choke chain. Pull. Now it is a strong rope running sure through her grasp, looping and looping upon itself: the simplest system of justice. Pull.

A single pop sounds from the basement. Several hundred thousand tax dollars saved. Amid the shrieking of the hostages, the reeking radio urgencies of the myrmidons, she lays her bullhorn on the ground and walks away.


Editor’s Corner

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