The Negotiatler

A short story about the world's greatest hostage negotiator.

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[SCENE: a crowd is gathered in front of the City Municipal Tower, where an apparent supervillain has taken hostages. Police have surrounded the building, but they have failed to make any progress in negotiations]

OFFICER MCCABE [looking up at tower]: Hell of a dilemma got going here.

OFFICER BRANSTADT: [arriving at scene] So what is it, what’s going on?

MCCABE: It’s that darned ‘Doctor Discord’ again. He claims to have assembled a Doomsday Device, and he’s threatening to vaporize the Financial District if we don’t meet all of his demands.

BRANSTADT: My god. What’s he asking for?

MCCABE: [reading from notepad] Let’s see… he wants twenty billion dollars transferred into offshore accounts… the dissolution of the Metro Police Force… the release of all members of the Legion of Lawlessness from Prison Island… a golden helicopter… a second season of Firefly… this one just says ‘Europe’… 

BRANSTADT: [shaking head] That son of a bitch.

MCCABE: I know, right? He’s not even a doctor.

BRANSTADT: What?

MCCABE: He’s not a medical doctor. I looked into it. He’s got a Ph.D in comparative literature from Brown.

BRANSTADT: That’s still technically a doctor.

MCCABE: He’s expecting people to assume that he has a medical background, though. Supervillainy is scientific by nature. Advanced weaponry, all that — he’s counting on people not knowing the difference!

BRANSTADT: I mean, he had to go through a dissertation defense. It’s a pretty rigorous process.

MCCABE: Let me ask you this. Say you’re on an airplane, and you go into cardiac arrest. If they call out ‘is there a doctor on board!?’, are you going to be expecting a doctor of philosophy to save you?

BRANSTADT: No, but I suppose they could put my death in proper perspective. Y’know, poetically. Make it seem real poignant.

MCCABE: [slamming fist on hood of patrol car] HE’S NOTHING BUT A DO-NOTHING ACADEMIC.

BRANSTADT: This really bothers you, huh?

MCCABE: [regathering composure] I find it intellectually dishonest. 

BRANSTADT: You know he blew up a football stadium last month, right?

MCCABE: I don’t follow sports.

BRANSTADT: It was all over the news.

MCCABE: I like Antiques Roadshow. 

BRANSTADT: Killed thousands of people.

[a loudspeaker crackles to life from within the building]

DOCTOR DISCORD: ARE YOU LOOKING INTO MY DEMANDS? 

MCCABE: [through megaphone] We’re waiting on the negotiator to arrive, you valor-thieving career student sack of sh—

BRANSTADT: [takes megaphone] Just calm down. Sarge said the negotiator should be here any minute.

[a black SUV with a dashboard siren pulls through the police cordon]

BRANSTADT: I bet this is him now.

[an impeccably-dressed man in dark sunglasses steps out of the SUV, and smooths his hands on the front of his well-tailored suit. He looks up at the tower, where Doctor Discord’s familiar robot spider vehicle is visibly perched. He seems unruffled]

BRANSTADT: [whispering] They say this negotiator is the best there is. 

[the man opens the rear door of the SUV, and spends several minutes fumbling with something in the backseat. He emerges, carrying a 4-year-old in an Elsa sweatshirt and several layers of tutus]

THE MAN: [nods] Officers.

MCCABE: Hold on, you brought your kid to a hostage negotiation?

BRANSTADT: Yeah, man, that seems really irresponsible to me. And I’ve been in three high-speed car chases just this week. Twice as the pursuer.

MCCABE: I don’t even use the safety on my gun and I think this is irresponsible.

THE MAN: Alright, now, hold on a second—

[McCabe’s gun goes off in its holster]

MCCABE: Dangit. That keeps happening.

BRANSTADT: [shaking head] Can’t believe you’d bring a kid here, with all this gunfire and such.

THE MAN: Okay, first of all, I don’t want to hear any criticism from either of you unless you’re willing to have a real frank conversation about the difficulties of being a working parent and managing childcare. Second, I didn’t “bring a kid to a hostage negotiation.”

BRANSTADT: You didn’t?

THE MAN: She is the negotiator.

MCCABE: Wait, what?

THE MAN: You ready, kiddo? 

THE CHILD: [nods]

BRANSTADT: [shrugs, hands child megaphone] Go get ‘em, kid. 

CHILD: [over megaphone] We’re ready to talk.

DOCTOR DISCORD: Finally, my demands are—

CHILD: You have to let those people go now.

DOCTOR DISCORD: Precious time has been wasted, and the foolish leaders of this city have only hastened the arrival of their own fiery demise! Unless my demands are met in full within the next hour, my diabolical Doomsday Device will be put into operation, raining death upon the—

CHILD: Can I have a cookie?

DOCTOR DISCORD: — foolish people of — I’m sorry, what was that?

CHILD: I want a cookie.

DOCTOR DISCORD: What exactly is going on here? I’m the one making the demands here. I have a powerful weapon, and-

CHILD: I WANT A COOKIE. 

DOCTOR DISCORD: [confused] I think I have some pretzels up here. 

CHILD: Are they the good kind?

DOCTOR DISCORD: I don’t know what you consider to be the good kind. They’re just pretzels. Pretzels are pretty much all the same, aren’t they? Besides, my Doomsday De-

CHILD: I WANT THE GOOD KIND.

DOCTOR DISCORD: [slightly away from microphone] The packaging says Kirkland. I think they’re from Costco.

THE MAN: [leaning into megaphone] She only likes one kind. They’re sold at one particular Target which is not at all convenient to get to from here. 

DOCTOR DISCORD: [getting annoyed] The only target we’ll be talking about is the Metro Stock Exchange, which will be a smoking crater if my demands are not taken seriously very soon!

CHILD: What are we doing after that?

DOCTOR DISCORD: What?

CHILD: What are we doing next?

DOCTOR DISCORD: I hadn’t really thought that far, to be honest. I was just going to blow up the Stock Exchange and sort of play it by ear after that. I’d probably go back to my secret island lair. [muffled, away from mic] Shit. I shouldn’t have mentioned that.

CHILD: I want to go ice skating. 

DOCTOR DISCORD: We are not going ice skating, first of all, I don’t even know why I’m negotiating a child, and second of all, I’m not very good at it. I did not grow up with a strong skating culture. I grew up in Georgia.

CHILD: Can we get ice cream at the ice skating store?

DOCTOR DISCORD: I think that’s up to your Dad, and if you plan to eat a healthy dinner first.

THE MAN: [leaning into megaphone] She will not.

CHILD: [nodding] I will not. 

DOCTOR DISCORD: Can I speak to someone else down there? I plan to push a wall of fire through the streets of this city, crippling the financial system and rising to unchecked power, but I can’t negotiate with this toddler. Now—

THE MAN: [leaning into megaphone] No.

CHILD: [just starts screaming for no apparent reason]

DOCTOR DISCORD: This is making me extremely uncomfortable.

CHILD: [still screaming]

DOCTOR DISCORD: Does no one care about the Doomsday Device? I worked really hard on it. I had to overthrow several small countries to get the technology.

CHILD: What’s this button do?

DOCTOR DISCORD: [startled] How did you get up here? You were 58 stories down just a second ago.

CHILD: [pointing] I want to push that button.

DOCTOR DISCORD: NO, DON’T PUSH THE BUTTON, THAT—

CHILD: [presses button] 

[a massive explosion can be heard in the distance]

MCCABE: Crap, that wasn’t the financial district, was it?

BRANSTADT: [listening on radio] Nope, everything’s fine down there.

DOCTOR DISCORD: [on loudspeaker] IT WAS DISCORD ISLAND. SHE BLEW UP MY ISLAND LAIR. ALL MY STUFF WAS THERE. [sighs] I’M COMING DOWN.  

[a short time later, the child and a demoralized Doctor Discord exit the building, along with a stream of freed hostages]

[police swarm and handcuff the supervillain]

DOCTOR DISCORD: Hold on. Hold on. She got me to agree to go ice skating. 

CHILD: AND PRETZELS.

DOCTOR DISCORD: [defeated] Yes, right, of course. We have to go to the other Target for the good pretzels.

THE MAN: I told you she was good.

CHILD: I want to watch Rainbow Ruby on your phone.

DOCTOR DISCORD: [handing over his phone] My data plan is going to be wrecked this month.

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)

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