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The Negotiation

D. Thomas Minton recently traded the tropical Pacific Ocean for a valley in the northwestern United States (and thinks he got the better end of the deal), where he now lives with his wife and daughter a short walk from vineyards and next to an alpaca ranch. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Asimov's Science Fiction, Lightspeed Magazine, and Intergalactic Medicine Show. This is his third story for Daily Science Fiction.

Alexandre found Samson exactly where the card said. The card hadn't mentioned the gun or the explosives or the twenty-seven ashen-faced hostages, but he could work with that.
"I'm just here to talk," Alexandre said when Samson's gun swung in his direction. Since the police had arrived and cordoned off the block around the bank, Samson's already accelerated heart rate had tripled. Alexandre felt it like a subwoofer beat pulsing at the core of his body.
"I didn't ask for no negotiator."
"But you did, the second you walked through that door."
Samson's face contorted grotesquely. Alexandre thought it a look of confusion, but Samson's face was a knot of gristle and bone and incapable of looking anything other than grotesque. A shame, Alexandre thought, his brow crinkling, because Samson didn't have the aura of a bad man. Since the divorce, Samson's life had been a downhill toboggan run on a sheet of black ice. Alexandre had seen it before: personal hardship leading to depression to hard drugs to a career spiraling down the proverbial toilet to a poor life choice. (In Alexandre's opinion, strapping C4 to your chest and holding twenty-seven hostages in a failed bank robbery qualified as a poor life choice.)
Alexandre hoisted himself up onto the counter that held the bank's withdrawal slips. "Is this the best you have?" he asked loudly, addressing the room.
The hostages, in a neat line on the floor along the front of the teller's counter, drew away from him as if he were something contemptible.
"How did you get in here, man?" Samson clutched a dead man's switch to his chest. He jabbed his pistol in the air like he was poking at Alexandre with a sharpened stick.
"You knew this was going to end badly." Out of habit, Alexandre used his calming voice, the one that had never averted bad endings in the past. Those bad endings haunted Alexandre, draining the color from the world. But today would be different.
"Wha'chu mean?" Samson asked.
Alexandre pointed at the brick of C4. "You don't wire yourself to blow if you expect to walk away." Alexandre threw his hands up and gazed into the air. "Really, how will this demonstrate anything?" he asked.
One of the hostages whimpered. Alexandre tried not to look at him--a middle-aged man, plump from sitting behind a desk and probably caught in the wrong place during his thirty-minute lunch break--but his aura shimmered with the love of a dowdy wife and three kids in Catholic school.
Alexandre's stomach soured. Maybe this wasn't going to be so easy.
He exhaled loudly. If this was how it had to play out, then so be it. "We all get dealt a shitty hand of fucked-up," he said, turning back to Samson. "Some of us deserve it."
"I didn't deserve nothing," Samson said.
"Sure you did. What was his name? Pepe?" Alexandre knew he had it right because Samson's whole body clenched. "He got in with your wife because she didn't want you. You were lousy at your job, worthless as a son, and a horrible friend. Even I don't like you, and I'm predisposed to like everyone."
"What kind of negotiator are you?" asked the whimpering hostage.
Alexandre flashed a smile, and was momentarily surprised when the man recoiled away. His smile once had the power to calm--not that it ever helped--but no more. He focused his attention on Samson so he wouldn't think about the hostages.
Samson's left eye twitched.
"Just do it," Alexandre said, his voice surprisingly calm. "You've got nothing--"
In a flash of prescience, Alexandre dropped to the floor as bullets flew. The staccato chatter of Samson's weapon punctuated splintering marble. The screams--thankfully, they didn't last long. Then a final gunshot, and the bank was quiet.
Alexandre's muscles thrummed with adrenaline. Standing, he brushed chips of marble from his shirt. The smell of blood made his nose itch more than the lingering gun smoke. Twenty-eight, he thought. If Samson had wired the explosives right, he might have gotten some people in the street, too, but twenty-eight should be enough.
His assessment sat better than he would have expected.
"So? How'd I do?"
Alexandre reached into his pocket and felt another card, cool and crisp like a razor blade. He could cut himself on it, he thought.
He put his finger to his lips. Something about the metallic taste of blood now pleased him.
As he removed the card, a whiff of sulfur calmed his itchy nose. YOU'RE HIRED, said the words next to his bloody fingerprint. One corner of Alexandre's mouth rose slightly. He could not remember the last time he had successfully negotiated a "good" outcome, but maybe, just maybe, he had been working for the wrong side. Good outcomes, after all, were a matter of perspective.
He flipped the card over. On the back was a new name and address.
As an Angel of Mercy, Alexandre had been a failure and a joke among his peers. As an Angel of Death?
He could be a good Angel of Death.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 17th, 2013
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