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SCENE: A SWAT team, holding riot shields, stands before a man in a balaclava holding a gun and a hostage. A NEGOTIATOR stands behind the SWAT team, holding a megaphone.
NEGOTIATOR: Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to calm down.
MAN WITH GUN: Back off, I’m telling you! I’ll shoot him! I’ll do it!
NEGOTIATOR (whispering) : It’s gonna be one of those days, isn’t it?
SWAT GOON #1 (to NEGOTIATOR) : Should we back down, sir?
MAN WITH GUN: What are you cops waiting for? Leave! Scram! Get out before I shoot this man!
NEGOTIATOR (to SWAT GOON) : No, he’s not nearly desperate enough. I can reason with him.
(to MAN WITH GUN): Sir, please, can we talk about what you’re doing right now? If you put the gun down right now, no one has to get hurt.
MAN WITH GUN: What kinda idiot do you take me for? I put this gun down, I get shot! You’ve got a sniper who’s lookin’ at me right now! What do I have to lose?
NEGOTIATOR: Listen to me, sir. If you comply with what I say, the worst that can happen is that you’ll get jailed for a while.
MAN WITH GUN: And why the hell would I listen to you if that’s all I get?
NEGOTIATOR: If you don’t put your gun down, the worst thing that is going to happen today is that at least one person is leaving here in a body bag.
MAN WITH GUN: And how do I know that you won’t shoot me as soon as I put the gun down, huh?! You can’t ever trust a cop! [continues ranting in this fashion]
NEGOTIATOR (over radio) : He’s continuing to escalate. Does anyone have a solution? (pause) No, you idiot, not that kind of solution. I mean can anyone shoot the man with a gun? (pause) No shot? This just got a whole lot more complicated.
SWAT GOON #1 (to NEGOTIATOR) : Sir, we don’t have a lot of time left. You’ve got to do something.
NEGOTIATOR (to MAN WITH GUN) : Sir, we are law enforcement. We protect and serve. It’s not in our jurisdiction to hand out summary executions to people who comply with the law. But if you continue to break the law by refusing to stand down, then I can’t guarantee that no one will get hurt.
MAN WITH GUN: Yeah, this guy’s gonna get his brains splattered if you lot don’t back off! You want that to happen? You wanna tell his wife and kids that he died ‘cause the cops wouldn’t back off? Yeah, I didn’t think so!
HOSTAGE: Actually, I’m -
MAN WITH GUN: Shut up, I do the talking.
HOSTAGE: But -
MAN WITH GUN: [jabs HOSTAGE with gun] I’m the man with gun! You listen to what I say or you get shot!
NEGOTIATOR: Come on, sir, there’s no need for that. We can all walk out of this safe and unharmed if you just listen to me.
MAN WITH GUN: Don’t you understand? There is no other way out! Either I get out, or you drag me out in a body bag! There’s only one way I’m getting out of here. The choice is already out of my hands.
NEGOTIATOR: You have my word that you will not be harmed if you surrender now. You’re innocent until proven guilty, and you haven’t killed anyone… yet. Please. A peaceful solution is still on the table.
MAN WITH GUN: I don’t want to hear you prattle on about diplomacy any more! Ya hear? I’m done! Finished! Ain’t nothin’ else left for me! So if you don’t back off in the next thirty seconds, I’m gonna light this guy up!
SWAT GOON #1: [puts hand on shoulder of NEGOTIATOR] Sir, your call. This is it.
SWAT GOON #2: [over radio] No solution. I repeat, no solution. You’re going to have to pull out if we want to have a shot of taking this guy down without getting that hostage killed.
MAN WITH GUN: Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!
NEGOTIATOR: [taps SWAT GOON #1 on back] Pull back. It’s not worth a civvy’s life for us to keep pressuring him.
SWAT GOON #1: You heard him, men. Fall back! Fall back!
(NEGOTIATOR, SWAT GOONS exit stage)
MAN WITH GUN: (whispering to himself) That can’t be the end of it… They’re still out there. Waiting for me to trip up. I can’t trust people like that. You can’t ever trust the police. They’re out to get me. I know it.
HOSTAGE: Um. Uh.
MAN WITH GUN: (suddenly shouting) And what do you want?
HOSTAGE: Um, could you, uh, maybe please not point that gun at me anymore?
MAN WITH GUN: Oh. Yeah. (lowers gun)
[both HOSTAGE and MAN WITH GUN sit quietly for a few minutes. HOSTAGE is nervously looking around, tapping his leg, fidgeting, etc. while MAN WITH GUN is staring at the ground, as if in deep thought]
HOSTAGE: … (looks at MAN WITH GUN, opens mouth, leans forward as if to speak)
MAN WITH GUN: (without turning to look at HOSTAGE) What d’you want?
HOSTAGE: (jerks back nervously) Um, if I may ask… why are you so distrustful of the police?
MAN WITH GUN: Are you kidding me? What, were you dropped on your head as a child? Man, I just committed a felony! No, actually, multiple felonies! Gee, I wonder why I’m not ready to hold hands with the cops and sing Kumbaya!
HOSTAGE: (wincing) Well, I know that, but… Just in general. You seem like you really don’t like the police.
MAN WITH GUN: Didn’tcha hear me? I’m committing an armed assault and robbery. Do I really seem like the kinda person who’s a goody-two-shoes model citizen?
MAN WITH GUN: Besides, even if I was completely clean, I still wouldn’t believe a thing those cops say. They’re always ready to get you. No matter what they say, they’re not there to protect you.
HOSTAGE: But isn’t that their job? ‘To protect and to serve?’
MAN WITH GUN: Yeah. To protect and to serve. Just not protecting and serving the people.
MAN WITH GUN: (laughs) People like you wouldn’t get it.
HOSTAGE: People like me?
MAN WITH GUN: Of course. You rich geezers pay their salaries, after all. Of course they’re willing to look the other for you.
HOSTAGE: I...I really don’t get it.
MAN WITH GUN: You know what makes the world go ‘round? It’s money. Money can get you anything on God’s green earth, as long as you have enough of it. And sure, maybe it can’t really buy you love or happiness, but it can sure as hell rent you some for a while. You got money, you got power. There’s a reason you don’t see the 1% in prison, and that’s because the system is stacked in their favor.
MAN WITH GUN: It’s all rigged, man! They don’t care about the common man, so long as they get their money in the end. Who cares about enforcing justice, if looking the other way can get you rich?
HOSTAGE: W-well, not that I’d disagree with you, since, you know, you’re the one pointing a gun at my head, but if that were the case why do people still get arrested for fraud? Money laundering? Drug dealing? Hell, if the police or any government branch wanted to get rich on bribes, they’re doing a terrible job of it.
MAN WITH GUN: I don’t appreciate backtalk.
HOSTAGE: (sarcastically) I think what you don’t appreciate is being wrong, but hey, I’m the hostage here. Woe to any who question men with guns, am I right?
MAN WITH GUN: (angrily) I think you’d best shut your mouth.
HOSTAGE: And what, who do you think you are? You’re the one who’s robbing this establishment. Even if, as you say, the police are corrupt, even if the system is rigged against the little man, that still doesn’t excuse you or what you’re doing right now.
MAN WITH GUN: [shouting] And what would you know about that?
HOSTAGE: (more confidently) You make all this big talk about social inequality and justice, but in reality you’re just another crook. I can’t say I know or understand your circumstances, but you’re as much of a hypocrite as you claim the law is. Here I am, an honest man trying to make an honest living, and what do you know, some schmuck busts in one day, waves a gun in my face, and tries to steal my money, and he’s got the audacity to claim that somehow he’s in the right.
MAN WITH GUN: Now, you look here…
HOSTAGE: You think you’re some kinda hero? That you’re taking some kind of stance, showing the long arm of the law what’s for? Don’t get me started. I don’t care what kind of sob story you’ve written up for yourself in order to justify it to yourself, but robbery is still robbery. If you cared so much, if you really think that society is rigged, then explain to me this.
The hell is robbing a store gonna change any of it?
MAN WITH GUN: (jaw opens and shuts several times, but no response)
HOSTAGE: (wearily) I honestly don’t give a damn about what lies you tell yourself to sleep at night. I got a family to take care of, man. You probably do too. Hell, those cops out there have people that they care about waiting back home, probably anxiously watching the news.
MAN WITH GUN: I….I guess you’ve got a point.
HOSTAGE: Look, I understand that we’ve all got to make ends meet. I don’t need to hear your story. I get enough of those every time I see someone else walk in here and tries to swipe a can of beans when they think I’m not looking. You want to know how many druggies, drunks, and homeless people I get in here? They’re all people too. They’ve made some decisions in life that they probably regret, but you can never turn back time. You can only admit the mistakes that you’ve already made.
MAN WITH GUN: [suddenly angry again] Then what the hell am I supposed to do?
HOSTAGE: (shrugging) I have absolutely no idea. Never robbed a store before, so I couldn’t tell you. But the best thing that you can possibly do in this situation is turn yourself in.
MAN WITH GUN: [slumps and then sighs] ...
HOSTAGE: Now, I know what you said earlier -
MAN WITH GUN: [raises hand] Stop. I get it. I think I already knew before I put this mask on and picked up this gun.
HOSTAGE: [after a few seconds of awkward silence] (clears throat) So, what now?
MAN WITH GUN: (wearily) This is usually the part in cop flicks where I try to make a getaway with the hostage, either ending with someone’s partner taking a bullet for them or something equally tragic to build backstory.
But it’s never that simple in real life, is it?
HOSTAGE: ...that’s just the way it is, sometimes, innit?
MAN WITH GUN: (sighs) Yeah. I don’t know what I was thinking when I came in, and I sure as hell don’t know now. I think I always knew that this would never work out, but I just couldn’t get myself to care anymore.
HOSTAGE: This the part where you convince me to help you through your tragic backstory?
MAN WITH GUN: [sarcastic laugh] Hah! If only.
(MAN WITH GUN leans against wall and slides down, sitting next to HOSTAGE.)
MAN WITH GUN: I...I just need someone to listen, right? I know I’ve done a bad thing. There ain’t no way I’m getting out of this without going to jail, not if I don’t want to leave in a body bag. And I don’t really want anyone getting hurt anymore.
HOSTAGE: [lifts tied hands in front of his face] Well, I don’t have anything else to do but listen, at any rate.
MAN WITH GUN: Sometimes it all just seems so pointless. I work all the jobs I can find, but it’s never enough to make ends meet. I ain’t no druggie or a drunk, either. Gotta stay clean if I want to ever move up in life.
But here I am, same place I was ten years ago, still living in a s***ty apartment with a broken faucet and a worthless heater, still barely payin’ off my rent every month. I work myself to the bone, but there’s just less and less work to find.
I can’t afford to go to school again, and there’s no way any school’d take a guy like me anyways. But without that, what can I do?
HOSTAGE: (shrugs) It’s the cycle, man. Some people get it good, and some people get the s*** end of the stick.
MAN WITH GUN: I tried, man. I really did. I’ve worked so hard for so long, but I still have to use food stamps to get by. I got mad. What point was it, working so hard, working so long, with nothing to show for it but the lines on my face?
I did everything legit, man. I stayed clean for so long. And all the while, I see all these guys - kids, really - making it big, throwing around money without a care in the world. The kind of money that I’d never seen, even though I’d worked so hard for so long.
HOSTAGE: What was it? Drugs? Alcohol?
MAN WITH GUN: I never got hooked. The people who I used to call friends slipped up. They gave up and decided they just didn’t care anymore, and the world could go to hell for all that they cared. I couldn’t ever bring myself to touch the stuff, if only so I could prove to someone that maybe life wasn’t hopeless.
They say crime doesn’t pay - but it does. At least, it pays quickly. It was just little stuff at first. And it seemed to be working out! I had more money than I knew what to do with. I wasn’t hungry every day. Things were looking up.
HOSTAGE: And what, did you expect it to last?
MAN WITH GUN: Hell no. The longer you stay in the game, the more debts you have to settle, the more blood you get on your hands, the more you get burned when you try to pull out.
HOSTAGE: What went wrong?
MAN WITH GUN: I got greedy. Wasn’t no dramatic betrayal or something like that. I had money and I was living the good life. I always wanted just a little bit more. It wasn’t even for anything important, like a new car or some lifesaving medicine.
And this time? Well. I guess I just got unlucky.
HOSTAGE: (gingerly) We all make mistakes.
MAN WITH GUN: And now, I have to fess up to them.
HOSTAGE: The cops really are looking out for all of us, you know.
MAN WITH GUN: Yeah. (chuckles, slumps in a tired fashion] You can only lie to yourself for so long.
HOSTAGE: (extending his hand) I know that you tried to rob me, and that I really can’t make any judgements on your character, but…
MAN WITH GUN: (takes hand, pulling himself up) You listened to me, a criminal who was trying to steal from your livelihood, rant about the problems that no one else cared about. It’s too late to apologize and I can’t take back what I’ve done, but…
HOSTAGE: I can’t exactly forgive you, either, even if I could. I don’t know if I even want to.
MAN WITH GUN: (nods slowly, sighs)
HOSTAGE: But I can empathize with you. Life isn’t fair, and trying to cheat in the rat race only makes it worse.
MAN WITH GUN: (puts gun down, puts hand on door) Guess all I can do is face the music.
HOSTAGE: (nods) It’s for the best.
MAN WITH GUN: (pauses briefly) I suppose it is. [opens door]