Three Methods to Save Your Life, Chapter 3

By Stacia Levy

nd blast through they did.

After that whole thing of releasing our names, it wasn’t like I wasn’t totally expecting it, the conference room invasion. But captivity does something to your brain. You lose all track of time and then, with it, almost all ability to think and act rationally. I had no idea at this point how long we’d been in that room. The clock read 6:20, I remember, when I glanced at it at one point, but I had no idea if that was a.m. or p.m. or if the clock was even working. And I wasn’t motivated enough to look at Dylan’s phone to find out.

I remember later, after looking at the clock, I was standing in the middle of the room with Jake, where he was showing me pictures of his ex and babbling on about how he’d like to get back together when we got out.

I had just opened my mouth to advise him about maybe not getting his hopes up too high.

That was when the boxes against the door blew apart, papers and bits of cardboard erupting.

I just stood there—I remember thinking what a mess it was going to be to clean up.

“Get down.” Something slammed against my back.

I hit the floor. My hands and forearms came up, abdomen muscles tightening in what was now a reflexive move learned in karate, but still the wind was knocked out of me. Something warm trickled down my cheek.

And I must have passed out for a while.

Later I became aware of Jake, on top of me, moaning.

“Jake, Sharona, you guys all right?” Kev’s voice.

“Think I’ve been shot in the head.” My voice came out in a gasp. Jake was crushing me. I tried to push him off, but it was like a tree had fallen over on me—he was about as inert.

“Let’s move him off her. Dylan, let’s go.” Kev yanked at Dylan’s arm, and they crawled out from beneath the table where they’d both taken cover.

“Hey, man.” Kev knelt next to us. “Think you can roll off her?”

“I’ve been shot,” Jake said, voice twisted with pain. “In the shoulder, I think. I can’t.”

“Sharona?” Dylan dropped next to me. “You still conscious? You were shot too?”

“Maybe it’s Jake’s blood.” I touched the side of my head; my hand came away slick and red. No real pain, except my ear stinging, a loud ringing encompassing my head. “I think they maybe just shot off part of my earlobe.” Bad, but not as bad as in the head. It was going to take plastic surgery that my insurance probably would try to weasel out of paying for, the bad news for me, but Jake had taken most of the bullet for us, even worse news for him.

“You’re bleeding an awful lot, girl,” Dylan said.

“Ears bleed a lot.” A vivid memory rose of a covert and botched attempt on the part of my best friend to pierce my ears when I was twelve because my mother wouldn’t allow it, as it’s against Jewish law. It ended in a trip to the ER. “I’ll be all right.”

“Dylan, we need to get him off her.” Kev rose and moved to my and Jake’s heads. He seemed in a take-charge mood, like he knew just what to do—maybe he’d dealt with shootings before, who knew. “Jake, we’re going to try to keep you as still as possible. Grab his feet, Dylan. I’ve got him under the arms.”

They lifted and laid him out on the floor next to me. I sat up, feeling for cracked ribs.

“You still bleeding, man?” Kev knelt next to him. “We’ve got to get that stopped.”

“Here.” I pulled off my sweater. Damn, one of my favorites. “Let’s tear it in strips for bandages.” I’d save what was left to stop the blood still dripping from my ear.

It was only after we had tied the makeshift bandages on and slowed the bleeding that I thought about it.

“They stopped shooting,” I said. “Why’d they stop shooting?”

“Because they don’t really want to kill us,” Dylan said. He’d picked up his phone from the table. “Not just yet, anyway. They found us just as negotiations with the police really started to break down.”

“‘Break down’?” Jake asked. “What does that mean? Didn’t they release the others?”

“We’re their last leverage. Two of them shot through the doors, and their leader told them to stop. Why kill or release us when they can tell the police they’ve got us at gunpoint?”

“Is that what they’re saying?” Kev said. “Assholes.”

“Yeah.” I laughed. “How dare they lie on top of everything else?”

“The only good news,” Dylan said, “is they know we’re their last bargaining chip. Basically they don’t want to kill us right now.”

“Well, I don’t want to get too discouraging,” Kev said, “but we all know what they did with a couple of the first bargaining chips. And with us they may be more effective.”

None of us responded until Dylan spoke. “I just ask that they shoot me first.”

“Listen.” Jake got up, staggering a little bit, hand at his bad shoulder, but he was on his feet. He seemed energized, like he’d gotten some adrenaline rush from the whole thing. “We can’t have that attitude.”

“Oh, it’s my attitude that’s the problem?” Dylan laughed. “Oh, okay, just like not being aware enough? Well, thank God, because that’s easily fixed.”

“What I’m talking about,” Jake spoke over him, “is if we’re going to survive this, we can’t get defeatist. We have to think we can survive, be really motivated, if we’re going to push through and live. Well, what is it? Do you guys want this bad enough to do the work?”

Usually motivational speeches broke me out in hives. But this time I got his point.

“I’m in,” I said.

“Me too,” Kev said after a moment. “Dylan?”

“Oh, all right,” he said.

“Good.” Jake started to collapse in his chair again but then just leaned on the table. “So now it’s time to talk strategy. The first thing we need to decide is if we try calling 9-1-1 after all, tell them exactly where we are, and let the police save us.”

We all looked at each other.

“Practically, how are they going to do that?” I asked. “Wouldn’t they have to come blasting through the store, kill all the gunmen, before they get over here? And if they could do that, why haven’t they already? They’ll probably get killed themselves in the process.”

“We could walk out on the floor and meet them,” Jake said.

“What, are you crazy?” Kev said as howls of protest came from both Dylan and me.

“Just throwing that out,” Jake said. “Okay, we have consensus there, then. That is not an option.”

“Yeah, suicide’s out, for now, anyway,” I said. “If they aren’t talking to the police, shouldn’t we wait until they begin negotiations again? We’re okay for now. Like you said, we’re their last bargaining chip.”

“We can’t wait,” Jake said. “We are not okay. It’s a really volatile situation that could blow up at any time. And we need to get more food and water soon. Kevin and Dylan, don’t you guys need to get to your meds soon?”

“I’m good for a while,” Dylan said. “Before I start frothing at the mouth. Kevin?”

“Oh, I’m spiking sugar,” he said. “Or they could decide to start blasting through that wall again, and then it won’t matter, will it?”

“Does your phone battery still have some juice?” I asked Dylan. I was getting resigned here. The time for toughing it out was drawing to an end. “We have to consider calling 9-1-1.”

Dylan looked at it. “It’s at seventy percent. No problem making the call.” He looked at us. “Well, what is it? Do we trust the police to get over here and bail us out?”

The two other men nodded. There seemed little other option. A bad one, but maybe the only feasible one.

Dylan shrugged and put his hand to the dial screen.

Then I heard my voice, as if it was coming from outside of my body, “Wait just a second.”

He stopped and looked at me. “What?”

“Call this number.” I rattled it off.

Dylan put his hand to the keypad, as if automatically, then paused. “What’s that?”

“It’s the clothing register’s extension.”

“What the hell—” Kev said. And then, “Oh, no, Sharona. No way.”

“Well, why not?” Dylan said. “It’s an option. Then, if it fails, we call 9-1-1.”

“Dylan, Sharona is not going to negotiate with a bunch of killers,” Kev said.

“Jesus, you didn’t think I was serious, did you?”

“Yes,” Jake and Kev said together.

“Well, why couldn’t you have been serious?” I said. “Why can’t I negotiate with them?”

“Sharona, you’re just not,” Kev said. “And that’s final.”

“What are you, my big brother? What gives you the right—”

“If anyone does it—and I’m not saying at all that’s going to happen—it will be one of us.”

“‘Us’? Who’s ‘us’?”

“Dylan, Jake, or me.”

“I see. So I’m not part of ‘us.’ And just why is that, Kev?”

“Because you’re a girl, okay?” Dylan said.

“Oh, I’m a girl, am I?” That was almost funny, the visual of me as a “girl” rising—maybe stretched across my bed, talking to my boyfriend into a pink phone with one hand, twirling a piece of my hair with the other. Shit, I was never a girl. I hadn’t been serious about the whole thing before, just basically trying to get a rise out of Kev, in particular, for some reason, but now it wasn’t a joke anymore.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “Let’s play ‘paper, scissors, rock.’ Best of five; winner negotiates.”

“What in hell’s ‘paper, scissors, rock’?” Dylan asked.

“Come on, Dylan, really? What, did you spend your childhood under a piece of paper or rock or something? It’s that game where everyone sticks their hands in the middle of the group in the shape of a rock, paper, or scissors. Scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, and all that?”

“Oh, yeah, that.” Dylan looked at me. “Are you serious?”

“Dead serious.” I added, “Pardon the pun.”

I could basically beat the pants off anyone at this because, for some reason, I was usually the only one in any group who realizes the likelihood of winning if you knew that players tended to rotate the three choices of paper, scissors, and rock, and then you could anticipate their moves. Maybe because the people who played “paper, scissors, rock” weren’t too bright in the first place.

Kev was the wild card in this one. Dylan didn’t know the game, and I had to think that Jake was exaggerating or lying outright about stealing from the company, swaggering for Dylan and Kev’s benefit, maybe. He just wasn’t as twisted as the rest of us. He didn’t know how to cheat.

After some more hesitation and bickering, we ended up gathering in a circle and sticking our hands in the middle, Dylan placing the coveted phone on the table.

“On the count of three,” I said.

“Wait,” Kev said. “Why are you calling it?”

“Do you want to call it?” I really didn’t want to give him this because it gave him control, but I wasn’t going to show that.

“No,” he said, as I had anticipated. “You call it.”

“Once again,” I said, with exaggerated patience. “On the count of one, two—three.”

As I knew they would, they all threw their hands out, anticipating “three” before I actually said it while I deliberately held back my hand a fraction of a second. I saw Kev’s fingers forming a V: scissors. Because rookie males generally ran to “rock,” I also threw out rock, which breaks scissors, without glancing at Dylan or Jake.

And only then saw Kev’s paper. Paper covers rock.

“To Kevin,” I said. Shit. How’d he does that? “Okay, next round.”

Kev probably wouldn’t take paper again. Jake and Dylan wouldn’t take rock again. So I’d take paper as Kevin might just take rock this time.

And he did, as Dylan did. And Jake took paper, so I was tied with Kev.

“And again,” I said.

It got tricky here. I’d go to rock as Kev just might rotate to scissors, and the other guys really wouldn’t choose rock again.

Kev did choose scissors, as did both Jake and Dylan, so I was ahead by one.

Now I’d choose paper again. Kev really wouldn’t choose scissors again. The other guys might rotate back to rock.

I threw paper.

Dylan took rock and Jake chose paper.

And Kev did take scissors again, damn him, tying us.

Now I had to really concentrate, with one more to go. I watched them carefully. It was really hard to anticipate, at this time, what they’d take.

I saw their hands coming up. I again held back, saw Jake’s hand forming into paper, couldn’t tell with Dylan’s, and Kev’s hand laid out flat.

Paper.

I threw scissors.

And only then saw Kevin’s hand in a bunched fist.

Rock. Rock breaks scissors.

Damn, damn. It was over.

“How in hell did you do that?” I said.

“Sharona, I didn’t do anything.” Kev shrugged. “It’s a game of chance.”

“It is not,” I said. “There is strategy.”

“I know that,” he said after a moment. “And I knew that you knew, so I was keeping my eye on you. Jake and Dylan I wasn’t worried about.”

“But I was keeping my eye on you.”

“It’s probably just my reflexes or eye-hand coordination are a little quicker than yours. Gave me the advantage.” He picked up the phone. “Sorry.”

He’d just out-cheated a cheater, which really wasn’t fair.

“Give me that thing.” I held out my hand. “You know I’m the only one who can successfully deal with these guys. I’m the talker and besides, the least disabled one among us.”

He shook his head, stuffing the phone in his front jeans pocket. His hands were trembling slightly and anxiety flashed through me.

“It’s going to be all right, Kev,” I whispered and put my arms around him. He had hard, lean muscles in his back, smelled of salty sweat that wasn’t at all unpleasant. I let my hands trail down his abs and then along the front of his legs. Who knew, maybe this would be the last time I’d touch a guy like this, might as well make the most of it.

“You know you’re the only person who’s ever called me that?”

“Sorry. I’ll stop.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it.” He leaned his face into my hair. Then he suddenly froze and pushed me away. “What in hell are you doing?”

I jumped away, turning my back, hands cupping the phone.

Shit. Great, that’s what I get for thinking with my balls.”

“Yep.”

“Sharona, that really was not fair—”

“Shhh.” I was dialing away.

It rang until the answering machine picked up. I gritted my teeth as the recorded message with store hours and sales came on.

Then a voice interrupted the monologue. A tenor—didn’t sound like a gunman’s—asked, “Who’s this?”

“Sharona Feinstein,” I said. “I’m one of your hostages. And may I ask to whom I’m speaking?”

Behind me the men broke into laughter. I shushed them again.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Oscar.”

“Do you have a last name, Oscar?”

“White.” After the smallest of pauses.

Oscar White. Sharona Smith. Sure.

“And you’re the alpha male, I take it?”

“What?”

“Are you the leader?”

“Yeah.” After another pause.

“Okay, Mr. Oscar White,” I said. “Let’s talk.”

“About what?”

Yeah, about what. What the hell do you talk to a killer and your captor about? I was totally in the dark on that one, but experience told me that just talking clouds a lot of issues rather than illuminating them, which would probably be for the best in this case. Didn’t want to know this guy’s life story. I’d just pretend I did because people always secretly believed you did anyway and wanted, more than anything, to tell it.

“So it’s been a busy day for you,” I said. “Care to tell me about it?”

“No,” he said. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”

“True enough,” I said. “You don’t. We could both just hang up right now.”

Except he wasn’t going to do that, now that he knew he had a literally captive audience.

I waited. No sound of the line going dead.

“Oscar, you still there?” I said anyway.

“Yeah.”

“Okay, good. So tell me, Oscar. What’s this all been about today?”

“What do you mean?”

What did I mean. “Well, the thing with taking hostages, killing people. I have to think it’s been about something.” No answer. “Oh, I heard you wanted money and a plane. Is that true?”

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

Said, operative word. “But not what you really want. Like saying you want to go to Disneyland with your family or whatever, because it’s expected of you, when you’d really rather spend the vacation at home in your room, eating pizza and screwing your girlfriend while everyone else goes. Am I right?” No answer. “So what do you really want, Oscar? What’s this all been about? You didn’t take a bunch of people hostage and shoot a couple of them over a plane and some money.” People didn’t kill to go to Disneyland. They killed for much more fundamental urges.

And Oscar didn’t disappoint. “To get even,” he said.

Ah. Now we were getting somewhere. “Get even with who?”

“The manager.”

Well, I wanted to get even with some manager somewhere too. “Manager of what?”

“The store, what do you think?”

“I don’t know. Was thinking maybe the one in the sky, the Great Manager.”

This drew a startling burst of laughter from him. “You’re funny.”

“So they say.” I cleared my throat. “Well, I can totally relate, Oscar. I want to get even with them too. Both the manager and The Manager. For getting me in this whole situation, obviously. What do you want to get even with them for? What did they do to you? Fire you?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, a lot of us lose jobs, Oscar. I’ve lost more myself than I can count.” Coming to work hung over and spending time on the phone dealing with various romantic crises tended to get your employer upset with you. “What was such a big deal about losing a job here that made you want to kill?”

Oscar, Oscar. I was racking my brain trying to remember him. Who worked here who was called Oscar? It had to be an alias.

Or maybe I really just didn’t remember him. The problem was he was invisible to everyone. This was the only way he could get others to pay attention.

“Come on, Oscar,” I said. “What made you so mad?”

He didn’t respond.

“Oscar, you still there?”

“Yeah.” Barely audible.

I sighed and slid down the wall I’d been leaning against to settle on the floor, knees drawn to my chin. We were in for the long haul, it looked like.

“When you lost your job, did you lose your family too?” I prodded. “Like your wife and kids left because you couldn’t support them?”

He didn’t sound old enough to have a wife and kids.

“I don’t have a wife and kids,” he echoed my thoughts. “It’s just me.”

That made sense. Anyone with a family wouldn’t do this—they’d be too worried about what their sisters would think or whatever.

“So you feel pretty alone.” I was no stranger to that either.

“Yeah.”

“So do I sometimes. Still doesn’t explain why you did this.”

“Look, will you stop comparing yourself to me?” he burst out. “You got no idea how I feel.”

“True, no one knows how anyone else feels. So why don’t you tell me, Oscar?”

“Disrespected.” He spoke after a minute. “They were rude to me.”

And here was the heart of the matter. “Who was rude to you?”

“My co-workers. The manager.”

“So you were like bullied? How?”

“Look, I really don’t want to talk about it, okay?”

“Okay.” Too close to home, then. “So I don’t know exactly what went on then, Oscar, obviously, but what I can tell you is this. You know the saying ‘the best revenge is living well’?” I just remembered that from bumper stickers that were popular a few years back, usually on Mercedes and BMWs, like anyone needed to be reminded that their owners lived well. “Think about that. Stop worrying about these people so much and work on your own happiness.” Advice I should probably take myself.

“I don’t want to be happy,” he said. “I want to get even.”

Ah, yes. Revenge trumps everything else. Again I could totally identify. That’s what all the running from man to man and job to job, drinking too much, was about, probably—getting even with my ex for abandoning me by commission by leaving and my parents by omission, absenting themselves by dying.

So what could I do? It takes years to reach that kind of insight, and I wasn’t any kind of therapist.

This was getting weird. Or weirder. The pros really should take over.

“Oscar,” I said, “have the police negotiators been in contact recently?”

“Yeah. They want to know how you guys are doing.”

“How are you guys holding up?” I turned to face my fellow captives. Had almost forgotten about them in the conversation with Oscar.

They were all seated around the table; they shrugged in unison. Oh, fuck, fuck the macho credo. Some guys would rather crawl off and die somewhere than admit to needing help.

I turned back to the phone and had to remember to switch it to my un-messed-up ear. “Listen, Oscar, we need to get some food and water in here. Please?”

“Shit, is that what you really want from me?”

“No.” Well, what the hell did he think? I enjoyed listening to his sad story? “But it’s what we need right now. Could one of you maybe go to the food aisle and pull out some sandwiches from the refrigerator and a few water bottles? Oh, and look. Go over to the medical supply section too and get some bandages and rubbing alcohol while you’re at it.”

“What’s that for?”

“For the two of us you shot, okay? So we don’t die of tetanus.”

“Okay.” Then the line went dead for a while.

“What’s going on?” Kev asked.

“I’m on hold.” I shrugged. “Assume Oscar’s getting his posse to round up the supplies.”

“How are we going to get the stuff in here once they’ve found it?” Dylan’s voice suggested my IQ wasn’t much more than two.

Shit. I really hadn’t thought of that.

“Obviously we’re going to have to open the door for that.” Jake shook his head. “A real risk.”

I thought it over, tried to imagine opening the door to Oscar. And shuddered.

“I don’t think we can risk it,” I said. “We need to let the police take over the negotiations again.”

I put the phone back to my ear. “Oscar, are you back?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, Oscar.” I knew from my long history of manipulating people that repeating their name over and over, every sentence, had a lulling effect, got them on your side, like you had some magical power for knowing their name, when they’d given it to you themselves not ten minutes before. “What do you think about talking to the police again? They’re better at this than I am.”

“Sure they are, and that’s why I don’t want to talk to them. They’re going to get me killed. They want you guys released and me killed.”

Well, what the hell did he think I wanted? “Okay, that’s fine, Oscar,” I said. “I understand. I’ll keep talking to you. But I need you to promise me something.”

“What?”

“I’m going to open the door partway to get the food and medical supplies, and you’ve got to promise not to shoot or barge in here. Will you promise that, Oscar?”

He was silent.

“Oscar? You need to promise that, or I’m not going to open the door, and we won’t get the food and supplies, and one or more of us will probably die. And then it’s all over. Worst-case scenario. Best-case scenario, you won’t have your hostages anymore, and the police will have no incentive to not come in.”

“Okay.” Mumbled. This was clearly a man of action, not words. “I promise.”

“All right.” I breathed out. “I’m going to take down part of the barrier now and open the door.” I signaled to Dylan to get over and help me.

Heart pounding, I pushed open the door, talking all the while into the phone. “I’m opening the door now, Oscar. Please hand in the stuff…”

I caught a blurred glimpse of him as he passed through the bag of sandwiches and bandages—white shirt, long sleeve pushed back to reveal a tanned arm. Red bandana holding back tightly curled, black hair. Head lowered so I couldn’t see his face.

My heart pounded twice, hard. Then the door slammed shut.

“Here.” My limbs felt like jelly as I carried the food and bandages the couple of steps to the laptop table, where I dumped them. I sank into a free chair, breathing in and out, trying to regulate my heartbeat.

The men were already breaking into the sandwiches, passing around the water bottles.

“Sharona, take one,” Jake said.

I shook my head. I couldn’t imagine eating right now.

“She’s on such a roll,” Dylan said, “she doesn’t have time to eat.”

“I’m just not hungry, okay?” I said. “Somewhere along the way I lost my appetite.”

But he was right, I realized. Besides my stomach heaving, I was somehow cruising along on the adrenaline rush.

“What do we do now?” Dylan asked, his mouth full.

“Do?” How many choices did we have, anyway? “I think we should eat, bandage up our wounds, and then keep talking.”

I was eventually going to have to get back on the phone and try to reason with an unreasonable person, but I’d delay it as long as possible.

The phone sounded as Dylan had just finished covering my ear with a bandage. Automatically I answered the call, turning away from him as I held the phone to my other ear.

“I’m back,” Oscar said.

“Well, great.” So we were going to talk some more, it looked like.

The men were all looking at me. I shrugged and turned away again.

“So what’s up, Oscar? What are your plans now?” I had to keep him on the line, talking. Delay any more impulsive decisions on his part.

“I still want the plane and money,” he said.

“You still—” I echoed his words as my brain caught up with this. “Okay, I see. And what are you going to do with those things if you get them?”

“Start a new life in a different place.”

“Well, don’t we all want that? Maybe we have more in common than you think, Oscar.”

Sharona, Kev was mouthing at me. I shook my head.

“But let’s just hold that thought, Oscar,” I said. “What’s so bad about your life here? What do you want to change? What will get better if you go somewhere else?” I thought of something then. “You said something about respect awhile back? You aren’t respected?”

No. I mean yes, that’s what I said. No one respects me.”

“Well, why don’t they? Is it because you’re on the short side?”

“How in hell do you know that?”

“I saw you when the door was open. A little.” I sighed. Could see the headline. Short Kid With Gun Takes Hostages, Kills for Respect. What a joke and fucking stupid way to die. “You’re not going to get any taller when you go somewhere else.”

“You know what, shut up.”

“Okay, okay. Let’s talk about something else.” I drew in my breath. “So what do you do with yourself when you’re not taking people hostage, Oscar?”

What?”

“What do you like to do, Oscar? Like with your free time? Read, go to movies, play golf, what?”

“No,” he said.

“No what? You don’t like those specific things or you have no outside interests?”

“I got no fucking hobbies, okay?”

“Okay, okay.” Made total sense. Maybe crime was just a symptom of boredom. “But I don’t believe that. There must be something you like to do.”

Not necessarily. I didn’t have any particular compelling interests either, beyond living through this, of course.

And talking. I really liked the sound of my own voice.

I was steeling myself for a tongue-lashing or something worse, like Oscar losing all patience and shooting through the door again.

But then all he said was, “I like cars.”

“Cars.” I breathed out. “Great. What kind of cars?”

And I listened, but not really, as he waxed eloquent about the relative merits of Ferraris and classic Mustangs.

Then the phone beeped.

I held it away from my head, looking at it. And saw the telltale battery icon.

“Oscar, I got to power down for a couple of minutes to save the battery.” Shit, shit, shit. Why couldn’t Dylan have thought to stick the power cord down his pants when he went to the bathroom? How much trouble would that have been? “So could you just chill for a couple of minutes?”

What?”

“Just sit tight. Wait.” And we were dealing with a language barrier on top of everything else, apparently. “I’ll be right back.”

I set down the phone and then just sat, eyes closed, trying to clear my mind. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Say the schma, a Jewish prayer that’s something like a mantra.

I then opened my eyes. “Dylan, why don’t you use the phone for a while?” The negotiations were going nowhere right now anyway, and Dylan’s tireless pacing around was really getting on my nerves.

“What?” He stopped to look at me. “You want me to talk to them now?”

“No. Call your parents.”

“What the hell? Why—?”

“Because they probably want to hear from you.”

“I’ve told you they said—”

“Never mind what they said. Families say all kinds of things to each other they don’t really mean.” He didn’t respond. “Christ, Dylan, you broke their TV, in my understanding. You didn’t kill anyone, did you?”

“No, of course not, but that still doesn’t mean they want to hear from me.”

“If you’ll excuse me, it almost certainly does. Dylan, I’ve got to think your parents listen to the news like anyone else. And this is big news locally. They’ve heard your name the media so kindly released. They know you’re in here, and they’d want to know you’re alive.” For some reason I found myself tearing up and fought to keep my voice steady. My own rhetoric got to me at times—I was that good. “Take the damn phone and call your parents. Tell them you’re all right.”

“Shit, I’m not all right. I’m probably going to die.”

“Then call them and say good-bye. If not for you, then for them. Do you really want them to live the rest of their lives without ever having made up with you?”

He took it. “Damn it. All right. I’m going to do it in semi-private, if you don’t mind.”

“Just do it.”

He strode off to a corner opposite the one we’d been using as a bathroom, the telephone booth now, apparently. I closed my eyes again, breathed deep.

Dylan came back to the group and handed the phone to me.

I took it, looking at him, not saying anything.

He shrugged. “It’s all good.”

“Well, good.” I put the phone back to my ear.

“Oscar. I’m back.” I tried to keep my voice calm, hoping there’d be some kind of synchronicity between us. “I think you know the police are not going to give you a plane to Argentina. Even if they could. But they don’t have that kind of power. You know that, Oscar.”

Just the sound of his breathing into the phone.

“And they’re not going to want to, Oscar. You know that too. And it’s only a matter of time before the cops come busting in here, whether you’ve got hostages or not. They’re not going to stand off forever, Oscar. Police have generally got real low levels for frustration tolerance. You’re going to go to jail, Oscar. Or die trying to keep out of jail.”

He made a low mutter or growl. Maybe a whimper. Hard to tell over the phone.

I thought of something then. “Let’s go back to what we were talking about earlier. You said something about wanting to start a new life somewhere else. Don’t you still want that? What kind of new life do you want?”

“I don’t know.”

He didn’t know. Probably true, at least consciously. Young adult males with criminal tendencies weren’t particularly celebrated for their impulse control and ability to plan.

“Come on, Oscar. You must have some idea of this new life, maybe where you’re respected? So how are you going to get that if you die? You want to avoid the electric chair, don’t you? Or the needle?” California had a moratorium on the death penalty, but I was betting he didn’t know that. Best to leave him on that thought. “Look, Oscar, I got to power down again. I’ll be right back.”

I closed my eyes again. More deep breathing. Said the schma again. Schma Israel, Adonai aleheinu

“Sharona.” Kev’s voice. “What’s going on? What the hell are you doing?” He must have heard me whispering. “Saying the freaking schma?”

He wasn’t an observant Jew, right. “Just thinking.”

“Just thinking? Who has time for that? Praying and thinking—give me a break. Why don’t you say something?”

“Because I got no idea of what to say now, okay? That’s why I’m thinking. So why don’t you just shut up and let me?”

“Want me to take over for a while?”

No.”

So that’s what it disintegrated into for a while, the “negotiations.” It was really hard. I had always considered myself a supreme bullshit artist who could talk her way out of just about anything—more tickets than I could count, a couple of bad grades, and once a relationship with a stalker ex-boyfriend, whom I managed to convince it would be in his own best interest to put as much space between himself and me as possible. But now I was getting the limitations of communication, how maybe we put too much faith in its power. Talk therapy never did anyone much good, from my experience, maybe made you worse. Most couples who committed to regular chats where they “talk things through” were headed for divorce within a couple of months. And they’ve been “talking” in the Mideast forever, and look where it’s gotten them.

Just saying.

“Sharona, give me that phone.” Kev’s voice.

“Christ, what is it with you and the phone? Don’t you get ‘no’ means ‘no’?” I glanced up at him—he was bugging the crap out of me.

And then I saw how much his condition had spiraled downward in the time I’d been talking to Oscar—he was white, shaking, dripping sweat, pupils dilated like coins.

“Kev.” I fought down a surge of panic. “Why don’t you just sit down and take it easy, okay?”

Take it easy? How in hell am I supposed to do that?”

“Just do it, okay?” He stood there, arms folded. “Kevin, I think you know you’re in no shape to do this. You won at ‘paper, scissors, rock,’ okay, but frankly, you look like shit. Just sit down and save whatever resources you have left.”

He sat down.

I turned and dialed the clothing section extension. The phone growled back at me. We were now down to ten percent battery. “Oscar, I’m back. So what’s the scoop?”

What?”

Jeez, just what dialect did these guys speak? “The news,” I said. “Any decisions? I’m pretty much done talking, Oscar. My battery’s going to power down permanently any minute now, and I’m running out of patience. So are the police. So what’s it going to be?”

No response but I could hear him breathing into the phone, like he had allergies and needed to breathe through his mouth.

“Look, Oscar.” I glanced back at the men, then turned back to the phone. I had been trying to modulate the fear in my voice, but maybe it was okay to let it out. Besides Kevin being on the verge of collapse, Dylan was pacing around again, climbing the walls, the anxiety levels from whatever his psych issue was probably spiraling, Jake bleeding some more. “We got two people in here with critical health conditions and one shot who all need medical attention real soon. If something bad happens to one of them, I’m thinking something worse will happen to you.” I thought of something then. “And to tell you the truth, Oscar, I’m not feeling so great myself. Besides you nearly taking off my ear, I’m still a little hung over from last night and feel like I’m about to start my period.”

Silence.

“Oscar, are you still there?” A muttered reply. “What? I don’t understand mumbling.”

“I said I’m thinking.”

“Okay, you go ahead and think all you want, but what I really need you to do now is get one of your people to go to these gentlemen’s desks and get their meds. Please. I’m begging you now. Guys, where are your meds?”

“At home,” Dylan said. “I don’t bring them to work. Worry about Kevin, why don’t you? Yeah, now I’m worried, okay? Kevin, where in hell’s your desk?”

“I don’t have a desk,” Kev said. “It’s a locker.”

Oh, great. “Well, what’s the combination?” I asked. “Where is it?”

“It’s that row of lockers in the coat room where the time clock is. Mine’s second from the right, bottom. Combination’s fifty-two to the right, sixty-four to the left, eighteen right.”

“Okay, got it.” I fed this information back to Oscar.

Something occurred to me then. “Oscar, hold on.” I turned back to Kev. “What’s it look like? The medication? Needles or what?”

“Yeah, needles, with insulin preloaded. I don’t think he’s going to overlook them. I’ve missed a couple of doses by now.”

“Okay.” I turned back to the phone. “Oscar, look for some needles. Go get them now—just bring all of them that you see, and I do mean now.” I hung up.

While I was waiting there for the medicine, I remembered something from college.

“Logos, pathos, ethos,” I said.

“What the hell are you mumbling?” Kev said. “More Hebrew?”

“I think actually it’s Greek. I learned it about a million years ago in college.” Back when I thought I might be a lawyer when I grew up, before I realized that actually took effort and persistence. “It means ‘logic, feeling, ethics.’” The three strategies to persuade someone, playing on their logic, emotions, and ethics.

“I get it,” Kev said. “We’ve already been logical and pathetic.”

“Yeah.”

“So time for ethics.” He shrugged. “Good luck with that.”

It only hit me as they passed the needles through the door a few minutes later. It was probably not going to be much longer now. The door was open and basically they could burst in any time but were choosing not to, for whatever reason. And they were doing everything I asked. Like almost no one had ever before in my life. That was intoxicating.

And then another thing hit me. Two epiphanies in the space of five minutes. So this was what it was like when you had a clear head and time to think.

This was what I wanted to be when I grew up, with the rest of my life, if anything was left of it.

I turned back to the phone.

“Oscar, I’ve gotten to know you a little in talking with you over the past few hours, and I know that even if you’ve made some really bad decisions today, you’re not a total sociopath.” Actually that was what I thought, but this was an appeal to ethics. “Those first hostages, out on the floor, those were an accident, I know, in the heat of the moment. But if one of us dies in here, it’s different. It’s cold-blooded murder, Oscar. Do you think you can live with that for whatever will remain of your life?”

He didn’t respond.

“Look.” Had to think of something, anything else to say. “You said you’re totally alone, Oscar? Got no one?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I don’t believe that either. Because I would have said the same thing earlier today, but now I have three other people depending on me.” That also just hit me. I wasn’t alone anymore and probably never would be again once I walked out of here, if I walked out of here. Once people sensed you were someone they could count on, they were never going to leave you alone—which meant I’d have to stop with the self-injury shit of drinking and sleeping around. “And you have at least your buddies out there. And then, Oscar, there’s all of the people who depend on the people who depend on you. Got it? None of us is really alone. What’s going to happen to your friends if you die?”

He mumbled something that sounded a lot like “mother” and not in the curse word sense of the term.

“What?” I couldn’t quite believe it. “Shit, Oscar, did you just say you have a mother?”

“Yeah.”

“And she’s alive? Well, Christ, then you’re really not alone. Even if you did kill someone. If you’ve got a mom, you’re not alone. All mothers care.” Even my mom, a professional party girl who had never gotten over being the prom queen that she was, had cared on some level. “What’s she going to do if you die? Oscar, we’ve both got people depending on us. Please.”

“I’ll let one of you out,” he said. “You. Just you.”

I let my breath out.

“Oscar,” I said, “I respect you for this. Really.” And I meant it. “We might all just get out of here alive.”

“What?” Kev said. “What’s going on?”

“They’ll release one of us.” I put down the phone.

Jake sighed. “That means the rest of us will probably follow right after.”

“Dylan, I think you and I can wait,” I said. “It should be Jake or Kevin first.”

“No,” Kev said.

“What do you mean, no?”

“I mean who died and left you the triage unit? I can’t speak for Dylan and Jake, but I can wait.”

“I can too,” Jake said.

Dylan shrugged. “I think that means you’re going first, Sharona. Like he said. Do you think I didn’t hear him? I’m standing here right next to you and heard every freaking word.”

I let this sink in for a moment. “So you really think,” I said, “I’m supposed to go first just because I’m female, did most of the negotiations, and got shot a little?”

“Yes,” Jake and Kev said together.

“Ladies first.” Jake shrugged.

“How many times do I have to say it? I’m not a lady. I’m not a girl. I’m a grown woman who can make her own decisions.” I really was; there was no denying that little fact now. “And I’m telling you I just can’t do it. I don’t care if I’m the only female. Not when two of the guys in this room really need to get out. Remember what we decided before about gender stereotypes? We can’t do chivalry now.”

“It’s not chivalry.” Dylan spoke up, his voice dry. “It’s evolutionary, instinctive. To continue the species, you need a lot of women, just one guy. Basically, we can die.”

“Jesus Christ,” Kev said. “Will you shut the fuck up? For once?”

“For once? I haven’t talked in like hours.”

“Shut up,” Jake said. “Both of you.”

And they obeyed.

“I’m getting back on the phone,” I said. This was ridiculous. “I’ll talk him into letting one of you go first.”

“Sharona, you just can’t take that chance,” Kev said. “We can’t risk it. He might just withdraw the whole offer.”

“I’ve been negotiating with him for hours. I can get him to take this one more step.”

“No, and that’s final.”

“Your qualms about leaving us don’t even matter,” Dylan said. “Not if they’re asking for you. It isn’t even a matter of your being a woman.”

Crap. He was probably right. I put the phone back to my ear anyway, reflexively.

And got nothing. I looked at it, knowing I’d see the dark and blank screen.

“We’re powered down,” I said.

“Well, that really seals it,” Kev said. He had gotten up somehow, hanging onto the table. “Go, Sharona.”

I walked over to the door without thinking, just limbs moving automatically, and stood on the threshold. Then I turned back.

Kev had made it over to stand behind me.

“What if they’re lying?” I put my hand on his shoulder, more to steady than persuade him. “What if they just release me and not you guys?”

“If they do, they do. At least you’ll survive. I mean it, Sharona.” Kev shoved me forward. “Just go, or I swear to God I’ll kill you myself.”

“Do you really think I just put myself through hours of negotiation just to walk away from you guys?”

“Just go.” He shoved me again.

“Stop pushing.”

I stood on the threshold, biting my lip, then walked out into the hall. Was it really only a day or two ago I had breezed up and down this hall about ten times a shift on the way to the bathroom or the break room, not even noticing—it was just a hall, not some monumental and terrifying move into the unknown?

I stepped out and looked down the hall and through the store.

Oscar’s slim, short figure stood posted at the end of the hall. I didn’t see a gun anywhere, and the thought shot through my mind that he’d been unarmed this whole time. Wouldn’t that be a joke on me.

Further out through the store, not fifty feet away, in front and through the clear windows, a whole pack of police lined up, a bunch of squad cars parked behind them. It looked like it was dusk, the sun just setting.

So we’d probably been in that room about a day and a half.

One of the officers spoke through a bullhorn that blasted through the windows. “Sharona. Step forward. Now. Come out of the hall, then walk toward me.”

My vision blurred.

I swung around to the door. “I can’t. Remember? What we promised each other?”

“Oh, fuck.” Kev slammed his fist into the door. “Fuck you, Sharona. I don’t give a shit what we promised each other. Just go.”

“Not without you.” We’d all go down together.

“Sharona.” The policeman blared through the horn. “Walk toward me.”

Kev pushed again. “We’ll be all right,” he said. “You’re just the first to go.”

He was right. Probably.

I took my first step down the hall. And then another. And another, keeping my eyes on Oscar the whole time. He stared back, face impassive.

I averted my gaze. These guys were like panthers—stare at them and they sprang. And this was no time to play dare-you.

I continued walking, keeping my eyes straight ahead. Oscar’s entire posse was lined up on either side—there were probably only four of them actually, looking back, but they seemed then like an entire platoon, lining the wall to infinity. I kept going, strides toward the doors.

Oh, thanks, guys, my dear fellow captives. Thanks a lot. You did me such a big favor, forcing me to go first.

No one made a move toward me.

And then I was at the double glass doors. They were automatic, no way to engage them manually without going in and doing some major monkeying. I stepped on the mat in front.

They didn’t move.

Fuck, the gunmen had locked us in here. We were stuck. It was all a trap.

“Sharona, that’s the entrance,” the cop said into the bullhorn. He had sandy hair, freckles, piercing blue eyes he kept trained on me. “Step over to the exit.”

I moved over as I suppressed hysterical laughter. I had only come in and out through these same doors every weekday for two years now.

The doors swung open.

And then two medics were on top of me, dragging me away. One of them slung someone’s big corduroy jacket across my shoulders. It smelled of cigarette smoke.

“What’s that for?” I attempted to shrug out of it. “I’m not cold.” It was a late summer Stockton afternoon. I’ve known Israelis from the freaking desert to come here and piss and moan about the heat.

The medic, one of those big, bossy nurse types, shoved it back on. “You’re in shock.”

“I am not ‘in shock.’” What the hell was there to be shocked about after a couple of days?

“Clinical shock.” The other medic, a guy with brown hair and glasses, also made an attempt to get the coat back on. “You’re shaking.”

He was right. I was freezing, short of breath, and dizzy.

“You need to be treated for that,” the bossy nurse said. “Get in the ambulance, Sharona.”

“No.” I knew that much about the law, that I had the right to refuse treatment as long as I had all my faculties. Well, I’d probably never had all of them but still enough to make decisions for myself. “I need to make sure the others make it out all right.”

“Sharona, you can’t.” The other medic, the guy, shook his head. “Staying here won’t make an iota of difference. You need to come to the hospital for treatment. You could lose oxygen, drop your blood pressure, and suffer major organ damage.”

“Shut up.” I was a hero of sorts and in shock. I was allowed some latitude.

He shut up, shaking his head.

That made me feel bad and I relented. “I need to see for myself. I’ll go in after, I promise.”

Then I shut them out for a few minutes and focused on my breathing until the dizziness cleared.

We all stayed there in the parking lot for hours, literally, eyes trained on the doors as the guys were released, one by one. Someone gave me something to drink at one point, couldn’t say what it even was, just that it was in a paper cup. I stood there drinking it as the doors kept swinging open.

A news crew and some paparazzi, the usual vultures, had gathered, of course, filming, taking pictures, tweeting. They kept announcing names for the audience watching from here and at home on TV as the guys were released. “Kevin Wasserman—Jakob Anderson—Dylan Alvarez—”

Hysterical laughter bubbled up in me again at one point. “It’s the freaking Academy Awards,” I said.

No one laughed.

Jake and Kev were hauled over to the ambulances as soon as they got out. I wanted to go over but stayed where I was, not knowing at all how they’d feel about it. Now that it was ending, the entire episode was somehow already retreating into the past, weirdest thing, and I was a virtual stranger to them again.

Dylan and I were left in the parking lot with the medics.

“You two need to go in as well now.” The nurse, Betsy, was all brisk business again.

“I just want to go home.” I had promised to go in, but hell, like I’d never broken a promise before.

“You’re not going home,” the other medic, Thomas, said.

And Dylan said at the same time, “Really, Sharona? How are you planning to even drive? We can’t go home.”

He was right. I couldn’t go home again, at the risk of sounding cliché. I turned away from the store that the police were already storming.

And that was that. It was over.

We needed to get out of there before some ass of a reporter came over to ask us how we felt about it.

“Wait just a minute.”

“What is it now?” Dylan snapped.

“Just wait.” I turned back to the store and the police barricade and crowd milling about, eyes fixed on the store.

Oscar stood in front, flanked on either side by policemen, hands in cuffs.

I stared at him.

As if sensing my gaze, he looked up.

I glared.

He looked away.

I turned back to the others, and we walked across the parking lot toward the ambulance still waiting, the medics and Dylan flanking me. It was only a few steps, but it seemed like miles. My pace quickened as I walked, my pulse racing until I was almost running, seeming to leave the others miles behind, a few feet away in the parking lot.

This was it, the rest of my life I had been waiting for.

 

——————–

Stacia Levy lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband and daughter. She teaches writing at the college level.  Past publishing credits include short stories in The Blue Moon Review, Sambatyon, True Story, Storgy Magazine, and The Apalachee Review. Finally, she was a second-place winner in The Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards of 2010.  She has completed one novel of romantic suspense, California Gothic, published under the pen name Anastasia Levine.


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