This is one of my favorite short stories. I first had the idea for this story when visiting the area in Argentina mentioned in the story line. We visited a Jewish settlement of war refugees, who were dead set against tolerating any Nazi presence. I really want to develop this story line into a full length novel, and I've been tinkering with that idea for a little more than a year...
Before we start the story, thanks to all of you who made an appearance at the Chonda Pierce/Phillips, Craig, and Dean concert. We had a great time and a great turnout. I'll let you know when the next big event will be.
And now, without further adieu--
The Decision Maker
In a downtown bank, a gunman steps forward and takes the crowd hostage. The maneuver took only a matter of seconds to conclude as he fired a round into the ceiling, which immediately overwhelmed the stunned and scared security guard lounging by the water cooler in the corner by the vault. An alarm sounded, directly protesting the terrorist act, the gunman simply pointed to the guard who entered the code necessary to disable the blaring, violent noise.
He stepped forward and demanded that the hysterical crowd remain calm until all of his grievances could be addressed, as if the crowd would immediately return to hysterics once his concerns were settled. After a space of five seconds, the crowd stopped wailing and he had their attention.
“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Isaac Jacobs and I am not here to rob you, so please don’t do anything rash that will jeopardize you or your neighbor’s safety. You have become unwilling participants in a social experiment. However, after a few minutes of discomfort, I will gladly release you and you will leave unharmed. In a moment, the police will arrive, along with the media. I will address my concerns only after I have everyone’s full attention, as I don’t like to repeat myself more than necessary.
“As I mentioned before, I am not here to take your money or your valuables. I have a specific grievance that will be addressed shortly. Until then, please remain calm and try to make yourselves comfortable.” He walked along the length of the bank counting his hostages. “There are twenty-two of you present, including employees. I intended to act early, as the bank doors opened, to minimize the potential number of casualties. I tell you this so that you will be prepared to answer questions of the authorities after I am removed from power. There are only twenty-two of you present. Please remember that number. Only twenty-one of you will be leaving, as one of you will die in this incident.”
The crowd began to shift and mummer among themselves as the information of one casualty sunk in. Each prisoner began to wonder who would be the one unlucky victim until a man stepped forward. He was wearing a cowboy hat and appeared to be in his early fifties. “Sir? If I may?” He held up his hand until Isaac noticed him. “I would like to volunteer to be the one prisoner to die.” A gasp echoed through the crowd as this man gallantly surrendered his life to the madman. “I mean, I don’t really know these people, but I have lived a happy life and I am at peace with my God. After all, Jesus died for me; I am willing to die for others.”
Isaac nodded to the man. “I am very pleased to have your generous and unsolicited offer. Your character is to be commended. However, I have already selected my prey.” He redirected his attention to the entire crowd. “I now want all of you to step forward slowly and form a single file line, please stand about three feet apart.”
The first person to stand was a woman who appeared to be around forty years old, “I am the bank president, I am responsible for everything that happens here, and I will be the first.” She glanced over at the cowboy as if to tell him that his gallantry was wasted on a liberated woman. A line formed behind her until all twenty-two people stood in an orderly line. He examined the crowd and pointed to two elderly gentlemen in the middle. “I would like for the two of you to go last, if you please. That way I can determine how the events will unfold.” He watched as they complied with his orders and took their position at the back of the line. “Very good. Now, I want you to step forward one at a time, beginning with Mrs…. I am sorry, I don’t know your name.”
The bank president glared at him. “Misses Kincaid,” with special emphasis on misses.
“Yes, of course, Miss Kincaid.” He nodded politely to her and addressed the crowd. “What I want you to do is rather unpleasant, but important, if I am able to ensure your safety. Please don’t argue with me or misinterpret my intentions. This is simply a matter of safety. Okay now, beginning with Miss Kincaid, I want each of you to step forward and undress down to your delicates and place your clothes on this table.” He touched the top of the table and rapped on it once for good measure.
The crowd balked at such a ridiculous instruction until Isaac waved his gun in their faces. “I want to remind you that, even though I am a gentleman by nature, I am a now a fugitive by definition. I do hold a weapon for a specific purpose.”
The cowboy held up his hand. “Sir?”
Isaac immediately recognized him, “Please, what is it?”
“Well, it seems to me that no gentleman would force these women to take off their clothes in front of this crowd or yourself. Not to mention the fact that a gentleman would not take a crowd hostage at gunpoint.”
“Thank you for your observation, Mr.?”
“Thank you for your observation, Mr. Cato. However, you are at a distinct disadvantage of not realizing my motivations. With time, I will correct that problem. However, for now, I don’t have the means or resources to allow these women the luxury of modesty. I am afraid that you will all have to look away to ensure what privacy that might afford. Now, Miss Kincaid, I am sure that a liberated woman such as you will be the first to step forward and be processed. Unless you prefer Mr. Cato to be first.”
“I am sure that I will manage,” she sighed and stepped forward. She quickly undressed and placed her clothing on the table in front of Isaac.
“If you would please step back until I can examine your clothing to ensure that you don’t hold a weapon.” He picked through her skirt and blouse. Once satisfied that she was unarmed, he instructed her to turn a full circle with her arms outstretched. Isaac never looked at her vulnerable body in a vulgar or lustful manner, and returned her clothing, designating a place for her to stand against a wall, completely segregated from the unsearched crowd. After she was dressed he asked, “I would think that the police would have responded by now. It has been at least five minutes.” As he spoke, the sirens were heard approaching. “Good! Now hurry up, I will be very busy in a moment.” He pointed at Cato, who pulled off his boots and stopped moving.
“Mr. Cato, are you so modest that you risk your own life, or are you simply proud and stubborn?”
Cato shrugged, “Actually, I am just a cowboy. As any other good cowboy, I have a pistol in my belt. I just didn’t want to surprise you and have someone get hurt.”
“Very good, sir. I applaud your thoughtfulness. Please retrieve your weapon and place it on the table and back away until I have recovered it.” Cato did as he was instructed and continued to undress. The crowd silently grinned at him as he revealed his heart covered boxer shorts. He blushed and hurried to the corner to get dressed.
Isaac processed five people without comment until a young woman stepped forward and began to undress. “Just a moment young lady. The police will be calling any second and I must speak with them post haste.” Almost on cue, the phone in the lobby rang and Isaac instructed Mr. Cato to answer. He spoke long enough to identify himself as a hostage and handed the phone to Isaac.
“This is Isaac Jacobs. I am responsible for the activities taking place. I assure you that no harm will come to these hostages. Once the media has fully responded, please return this call and I will discuss our situation. Until then, please rest assured that everything is under control here.” He hung up the phone and addressed the young woman. “Okay, please continue.”
She hesitated and glanced out the window at the activities on the street. Realization came to Isaac and he nodded. “Yes, of course you are right. Mr. Cato, would you please close the blinds and allow us more privacy? I am sure that we don’t want a sniper to shoot into the windows and accidentally kill a hostage. You can rest assured that the media won’t be filming your undressing.”
He gave full attention to the young woman while she undressed. “You are pregnant? How far along are you?”
“Six months tomorrow.” She looked at the floor.
“I am sure that you must be proud. Is it a boy or a girl?”
“I don’t want to know.” She never looked at him while he talked to her.
“Keeping it a surprise? Well, that was how we did things when my little ones where born. Of course, in the 1940’s we had no choice.” He laughed at his joke and ushered her to the searched wall. He searched ten more hostages until the phone rang again. Mr. Cato walked over and answered after Isaac pointed to him. He politely handed the phone over.
“This is Isaac Jacobs, with whom am I speaking? Okay, Chief Gray, am I right to assume that you have never handled a hostage situation before…? Yes, it will be my first time also. However, I have planned this scenario many times and I am fully convinced that no one will be injured unnecessarily, if no one gets careless or anxious…. Yes, I am holding twenty-two hostages…. No one has been injured yet…. I am now conducting a search for weapons. When I am finished, I will call you and we will discuss this situation.” He hung up the phone. “Mr. Cato? Would you please get a chair for this young lady who is pregnant, what is your name?”
“Rose.” She spoke softly without looking up. Mr. Cato complied and carried a chair to Rose. She sat down gratefully. He searched his prisoners until the last two elderly men stood in front of him. He stripped them down but did not return their clothing. Instead, he made them stand together and ordered them to remove their t-shirts, revealing a tattoo on both of their right shoulders. Isaac instructed them to kneel and approached them from behind. Their tattoos where identical.
He left them kneeling and picked up the phone, dialing Chief Gray. “This is Isaac Jacobs. Here is our situation; I want you to allow one representative of the various media groups to accompany you or your designated officer. If possible, please select the representative for Fox News, as they are the most reputable of those that are available. I want them ready to record our negotiations and document everything that happens. In exchange, I will release half of my hostages. If you or anyone enters this bank with a weapon, I will randomly kill a hostage and the person holding the weapon…. Yes, I will release them as your party approaches the entryway.”
True to his word, Isaac released eleven hostages as the entourage approached the bank. As they exited the building, Chief Gray excitedly motioned them to run to safety, as if the hostages had no clue what they were supposed to do. The chief stared musingly at the security guard running past him. His pistol had been replaced into his holster. After determining that the former hostages where safe, Chief Gray resumed his march to meet with Isaac Jacobs. When he entered the lobby, he was shocked to see his life long friends, David and Adolph Heinz naked and kneeling on the floor.
“Please come in, my name is Isaac Jacobs, and these are my hostages. I assume that you are Chief Gray.” He smiled warmly at them and motioned them to stand along the wall with the other hostages. “You gentlemen may set up your equipment over there. Mr. Cato, would you please find some chairs for the rest of our guests?” He watched carefully as Mr. Cato collected chairs from the entire bank lobby.
While the chairs were gathered, Chief Gray spoke, “Mr. Jacobs, you have placed us all in a very irregular situation…”
“Chief, please!” Isaac interrupted. “If you would wait for a moment, I will explain everything once we are all settled.” They watched as the chairs were gathered and everyone was seated, except for Isaac, who paced in front of them as if contemplating his next move. As soon as the news crew was in place, Isaac prepared to continue, but Chief Gray burst out, “Mr. Jacobs, I insist that you surrender immediately. You can’t possibly expect to live through this if you…”
“Chief, please! Am I going to be forced to gag you in order for you to maintain your silence?” The hostages glared at the chief in disapproval of his outburst. Isaac had behaved properly and had shown no aggressive tendencies. He had managed to gain their cautious trust for the moment. He sighed deeply as if troubled to answer the charges put forth by Chief Gray. “For your information, shortly after I committed to my present course of action, I discovered, much to my chagrin, that I have cancer in my lymph nodes. I am afraid that I will die shortly, regardless of our outcome today.
“Now, where was I? Oh yes, at the beginning. What a proper start. I was born in Germany in 1913, shortly before the Great War. My father was killed in action along the Marne River while combating American infantrymen…”
“Surely you can’t hold us personally responsible for actions that took place before the majority of us were born.”
Isaac glanced over at Cato, who nodded and pulled a bandana out of his vest pocket. “Sorry, Chief, but I am afraid that you’re going to get us all killed because you can’t seem to shut up and listen. Now, I don’t intend to tie your hands, but I’m going to gag you. Do us all a favor and listen for a while.” The chief swallowed hard, but submitted to the cowboy. The hostages nodded in approval.
Isaac continued, “No, chief, I do not hold you responsible for my father’s death. My father died protecting his country’s right to be sovereign, however misguided it might have been. I married at an early age and had my first child, a girl, in 1930. My wife, Hilda, named her Hydrant. She was the joy of my life and we loved to fly kites together in the park, along with her brothers and sisters. In all, we had five children, Wolfgang, Manfred, William, and Gretchen, in that order. Gretchen was born in 1935, shortly before the 3rd Reich rose to power in Germany.” As he spoke, he glanced over at the Heinz brothers, who were staring at the floor.
“By the time the ethnic cleansings began to take place, it was too late for those of Jewish descent to escape to South America. Many of my family members fled Germany just ahead of the Nazis and settled in Argentina, in the mountains near Cordoba. However, I waited, trying to sell my business interests and…” His voice cracked and he wiped a tear from his eyes. “And it cost me everything."
To Be Continued