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The Eagle Chronicles 16: Hostage for a Day

Title: Hostage for a Day
Series: The Eagle Chronicles.
Word Count 5284
Summary Steven and his sister get caught up in a bank robbery and are held hostage.
Author's Note: This is one of my personal favorites!



16 Hostage for a Day


November 1946

Steven sat back in the chair on the front porch and put his feet up on the rail. The sun was starting to go down, casting am amber glow over everything. Nothing could top the contentment he felt right now. Autumn had to be his favorite season. It was cool, not cold, and the leaves were changing. He just closed his eyes and breathed deep. He heard the front door slam and opened his eyes to see his younger sister Sarah rush down the steps. "Where are you off to?"

"Got to get to the bank before it closes."

"Want some company?"

"I don't want to pull you away from your meditation."

"Très amusant. I wouldn't mind a stroll."

"Fine. C'mon."

Steven didn't get his stroll as his sister strode briskly down the street. "You know, if speed-walking were an Olympic event, you'd be a shoe-in for the gold."

"I told you I had to hurry." Sarah walked up the steps to the brick building.

Steven slowly walked up the steps behind his sister, finding it ironic that he was entering a bank under totally legal circumstances. Last time he was in one, he had been robbing it. Old habits died hard as his eyes automatically took in the exits, number of customers, and employees. He noticed a couple of customers hanging around the island with the deposit slips. How long does it take to fill out those things, anyway? They were acting suspicious, and, if there was anyone in the building who knew what to look for, it was him. He walked over to Sarah. "I'd recommend doing your banking tomorrow," he whispered

"What are you talking about?"

"Unless I'm mistaken, I think it's about to be robbed." Sarah knew not to question how he knew. "Act like you forgot something and get out. I've got to try and warn the manager."

Steven noticed the door to the manager's office was closed and the blind drawn over the window that looked into the lobby. He approached a man sitting at one of the desks. His name plate read, Sean Barrett New Accounts. "How may I help you today?"

"I think I'm the one who'll be helping you. I had intended to speak with the manager, but I can see he's unavailable."

"Yes. He stepped out for a few moments. What do you need to see him about?"

"Perhaps you can do." Steven leaned forward. "I think you're about to be robbed," he said in a conspiratorial whisper.

Barrett leaned back in his chair. "And you're certain of this?"

"Let's just say I've seen the signs. I recommend notifying the police before it's too late."

"I can't just call the police based on what a customer says."

Steven looked towards the door as Sarah tried to leave. One of the men moved menacingly towards her. "If nothing's going on, why won't that 'gentleman' by the door let that woman leave? If you won't call Haskins, I will." He reached for the phone.

"Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but this is a robbery!" declared one of the men in a deep voice. He brandished a gun as did the four other men Steven had known to be in on it. "If everyone does what they're told, no one will get hurt."

The other men moved towards the teller and customers, motioning for them to keep their hands in sight. "Do it," hissed Steven. "You must have an alarm button or something!" Barrett hesitated. "Quick, before they look this way."

The banker quickly pushed the alarm button just as the leader looked their way. "No heroics, please, gentlemen. If you would join the others." He motioned with his gun and Steven and Barrett joined the other hostages against the teller windows. Steven stood next to Sarah and took her hand. "If you kind ladies could help my friends fill their bags, we'll be on our way," he said to the tellers.

Steven sat on the floor and Sarah slid down beside him. "Why don't you do something?" she whispered.

"What can I do? If you hadn't noticed, they have guns and we don't. Probably if I did try something, an innocent bystander might get hurt."

"That's a sensible thing to do. Why doesn't everyone just follow..." He waited for a name.

"You can call me Sam," Steven answered, wishing to remain anonymous.

"Everyone follow Sam's lead and just sit there. We should be done soon."

Police sirens sounded and Steven grinned. "So much for the perfect heist."

One of the other men pointed his gun at Steven, who just stared him down. "No," said the leader. "Don't shoot him. We don't want to hurt anyone--if we can help it." He looked at Steven. "That was either very stupid or very brave, Sam."

"There's not much difference. You say you don't want to hurt anyone, yet the longer you keep this up, the stronger the chances are that's exactly what will happen. The longer people stay cooped-up together--especially in a hostage situation--emotions run high and someone will break."

"Is that the voice of experience?"

"No, just observation."

"I'll take it into consideration." He walked off to confer with his men.

"Was that really necessary?" asked Sarah.

"We had to see how far they'd go."

"You're not in Germany anymore. The police can handle it if we just stay calm."

"You're the one who wanted me to do something."

"Constructive, not stupid." She looked down the line at their fellow hostages. She counted fifteen, including Steven and herself. "At least there aren't any pregnant women." She looked back at Steven who was grimacing. "What's wrong?"

"My chest. This isn't the most comfortable position for a prolonged period."

"What if you lay down?"

"Might take a bit of the stress off." He stretched out on the floor.

He watched through half-closed lids as the leader--Steven decided to call him Max--went over to Barrett. "Who has the combination to the safe?"

"The manager's the only one who knows the whole thing," he answered nervously.

"And yourself?"

"I only know the last half."

"Who knows the first half?"

"Mr. Peters, but he left early today."

Steven smiled and muttered, "And not a safecracker in the bunch."

"Attention, in the bank!" came a voice from outside. "This is Police Captain Haskins! Come to the door with your hands in the air and no one will get hurt!"

Max went to the front door and opened it a crack. "We're not giving up! We've got fifteen hostages here, all in good health for now."

"What is it you want?"

"To keep the money and have free passage out of here."

"Nothing else?"

"I think that getting out of here free and clear is enough." Max closed the door and faced the hostages. "You see, we want nothing to happen to you." He looked at Steven lying on the floor, eyes closed. Somehow he knew the man was listening to everything. The woman with him was a pretty thing. She had backbone, too. There was some resemblance which made them brother and sister, not boyfriend and girlfriend. He gave a lopsided grin and gravitated towards them, leaving the other hostages under the watchful eye of his men. "What's your name?" he asked her.

"Why should you care? You'll be leaving soon."

"We could try to have a civil conversation. Names help."

Sarah debated giving her name. Granted, it was common enough. "Sarah," she answered. "Yours?"

"He won't give you his real name," commented Steven. "I've christened him Max."

"It's as good a name as any," said Max. "You two are bother and sister?" Sarah nodded. "And you came to the bank together?"

"You know the old saying," replied Steven. "The family that banks together, stays together." He sat up and grunted in pain.

"The floor too hard for you?" joked Max.

"Nope. Wounded in Italy."

"A veteran. Wounded in defense of this great nation. What do you do for a living now?"

"Nothing."

"After all you did for your country, none would hire you."

Steven could hear a speech coming on how they were alike and decided to stop it before it started. "Mine was purely by choice. It's hard for someone with my, um, talents to find a job."

"With special training, you should be chased after."

Steven couldn't help but smile. "But not as much as before." It was getting dark in the bank. "If you draw the blinds, could we put on some lights in here? When I'm near people with guns, I like to be able to see them."

"It would be easier for you to be seen as well." He walked over to two of his men and had them close the blinds.

"Why do I feel as if he's trying to chat me up?" questioned Sarah.

"Probably because he is. Breaking in at night is so much simpler. No people to worry about." He watched the men skirt around the windows. "Haskins is probably going nuts."

*******************************************************************

Police Captain Haskins stood by his squad car and stared at the door to the bank as if he could force the robbers out by sheer will alone. He wouldn't be surprised if the radio and newspaper people showed up soon. This used to be such a quiet town. Well, he knew it was just a bungled robbery as they didn't ask for anything but the money and free passage out. Good, that was straightforward enough. He saw the lights go on inside and knew they were settling in for a long wait. "Someone get me the number of that bank. We need to get negotiations started."

An officer walked over with an older man in a suit and tie. "Captain, this is Mr. Ferguson, the bank manager."

"Mr. Ferguson." Haskins shook his hand. "Why aren't you in there?"

"I had a meeting."

"How many employees would you say are in there?"

Ferguson was quiet as he mentally counted. "About for or five tellers plus Mr. Barrett in New Accounts."

"Okay, so that leaves us about nine customers. What kind of money are we talking about here? General figures."

"Only what the tellers have in their tills. Plus whatever they can take from the customers."

"What about the safe?"

"We only open it a few times a day and I'm the only one who knows the whole combination."

"But other staff members know part?"

"Yes. Barrett and Peters each know half."

"So the robbers could get them to open the safe."

"No. Peters left early today. So, unless they have a safecracker, they'll have to resort to explosives."

"All I can say is, thank God Taylor isn't with them. They'd've come and gone without us knowing."

"I thought he didn't do that anymore," said Ferguson.

"Oh, he doesn't, but the know-how is still there. You can't get rid of that."

"Sir, we've got you a phone!" called one of the officers.

"All right. Let's get down to business."

********************************************************

The phone in the bank rang. "I think it's for you," said Steven.

Max went to the closest phone and picked it up. "Hello, Captain. Yes, all the hostages are well. Are you any closer to getting us clear passage out of here? I know these decisions take time, so why don't you get us some food. Ah, that would be telling you how many men I have, wouldn't it? Oh, and don't think of adding anything to it; we'll make the hostages eat first. You can just leave it outside the door. My name? You can call me Max," he said with a look at Steven. He hung up the phone.

"Very smooth, Max. However, I know Haskins. He's not going to give in unless there's no other option."

"I'll keep that in mind."

A young woman hostage squirmed uncomfortably and tried to hide it. She failed. One of the robbers pointed his gun at her, telling her to stop. "I'm sorry," she said nervously. "It's just that I need to go to the ladies' room."

"So do I," claimed another.

Soon all the hostages were declaring the need to relieve themselves. Max came over to check on the commotion. "What's the problem?"

"They need to use the john."

Max looked up and down the line of people. "I guess it was inevitable. All right. You two, go secure the restrooms. Check the windows and make sure there's nothing they can surprise us with."

Once the bathrooms were declared secure, the hostages were taken one by one to use them. Steven was sent in last as Max wanted to keep an eye on him. After using the room for its main purpose, he splashed cold water on his face. Now was a time he needed to keep control as much for himself as for Sarah and the hostages. If only his patience lasted longer than Max's. There was a loud tapping on the door. With a smile, Steven looked at himself in the mirror. "End of intermission. Places for Act II." He went back into the lobby.

Steven saw that the other hostages had returned to the floor in front of the teller windows. He wanted to see how far he could push the robbers. He walked over to one of the desks, sat in the chair, leaned back, and put his feet up. "So, Max, what do you plan to do with your share of the money?"

"Since when did you start asking the questions?"

"Just making conversation."

One of the men positioned by the door called Max over. He peered through the blinds. "Is that room service?" called Steven. "Did they bring the beluga?"

"No," replied Max, trying not to smile. He turned to the hostages and pointed at a young woman and a middle-aged man. "You are to bring in the food." He reached into his pocket and took out a handkerchief. "Wave this as you open the door. You just bring the food inside and don't say a word. Understood?"

The two nodded and did as they were told, bringing in a selection of sandwiches and coffee from a nearby deli. Max had the woman pass out the sandwiches. When she got to him, Steven could see how nervous she was so he winked. She smiled and seemed to relax a bit. The coffee was placed on one of the desks along with the cream and sugar so each could prepare his or her own. Steven held back and watched hostages and robbers like, trying to see if anyone was near the breaking point. He didn't like the attention Max was paying Sarah; that could prove hazardous in the near future. "Nothing like a good roast beef sandwich and a hot cup of coffee," he remarked. "The ambiance is top-rate, and the waiters. . .indescribable. I shall tell all my friends."

Sarah knew what he was doing and tried to sound snobbish when she said, "But, darling, then just everyone will know!"

"True, dearest. Maybe just a select few." He took her free hand in his and walked back to "his" desk, pulling the chair out for her. He then sat on the edge facing her, his back to everyone else. "They're staring, aren't they?" he said just for her. She blinked twice, their childhood signal for "yes". "And the others? Smiling?" Two blinks. "Good. Just what I wanted."

"Do you know what's going to happen?" she asked.

"I'm not a mind-reader and I can only guess going by what I'd do. We both know Haskins won't go through with it." He took a sip of coffee. "He'll follow them until the opportune moment to catch them. As for what our friends will do, odds are they'll head for an airport. New York's closer, but also obvious. I'd say Hartford."

"But what about us?"

"Hostages will just slow them down. He might use us for cover until they get a safe distance then 'Bye-bye'."

"Ssshhh, here he comes."

Max strode over. "I've indulged you and your lovely sister long enough, Sam. Now, get back over with the other hostages."

"Temper, temper." He gathered up the remnants of his meal and followed Sarah back to where the other hostages stared at him in awe. "Tempers are getting a little frayed," he whispered. "Time to be cautious."

"That's fine talk coming from you."

"I just had to see how far we could go." He looked at her. "How're you holding up?"

"Fine. Thanks for asking to come along. I don't know how I'd handle it if I were alone."

He squeezed her hand. "You'd've done just great. Luckily, we won't have to find out."

"It's just that that guy keeps staring at me."

"Max?"

"No, the one by the front door. He gives me the creeps."

"Frank. Yeah, he does have that slimy look."

"Did you give them all names?"

"It makes it easier to tell 'em apart. I'll keep an eye on him for you."

"Thanks."

Steven settled back and tried to get comfortable. Now he knew why he gave up this life. Well, apart from his arrest, conviction, and presidential pardon. He could see the stress on Max's face and the white knuckles of the gunmen. He wondered what kind of world it was that would let veterans go without work and resort to armed robbery. He knew that not everyone could land on their feet like himself, or his friend Harry back in Monaco.

He dozed lightly, aware of all that was going on around him, a trick mastered after many years when alertness equated survival. Whenever he heard footsteps coming in his general direction, he opened one eye to make sure it wasn't Frank come to take advantage of the situation. The man in question remained at his post. He heard murmured voices and recognized Max and Barrett. He couldn't hear the words, but the act itself made him a little nervous.

Footsteps came towards him and stopped. "I know you're awake, Sam. I need to talk to you."

Steven opened his eyes to see Max standing there. "Me? A lowly, ordinary hostage? I'm flattered." He stood.

"There's nothing lowly or ordinary about you." He directed Steven away from the other hostages. When they were at the opposite side wall, Max faced him. "I was talking to Barrett to see what training he had for this type of situation--"

"Training or experience?"

"If I had wanted to talk with someone with experience, I would have come to you."

"As you have now."

"Yes, but for a different reason." Max noted that Sam didn't deny he had experience in this type of thing. "Barrett said that you knew we were going to rob the place. You also spoke like you knew Haskins well. Are you family?"

Steven laughed. "If I were, he would have disowned me years ago. No, I just think it's because this is such a small town and he's known me since I was a boy. Why do you ask?"

"I was hoping you might be able to tell me what he'd do."

"You want to know what you're up against. I guess it couldn't hurt to tell you. He's determined and stubborn, ideal qualities for a police captain, don't you think? He'll fight you as much as he can without letting any hostages get hurt. He may grant you free passage to wherever you're going, but have you nabbed the moment you get there."

"So he doesn't want to shed blood either."

"No, he'll try to find the best solution possible with the least amount of fuss."

At that moment, Steven heard a loud "No!" in a familiar feminine voice. He turned and saw Frank accosting Sarah. He rushed over and jumped the man, forcing him to the floor. With gun still in hand, Frank hit him in the chest. Grunting in pain, Steven let go and Frank stood, turning the gun on him.

"What's going on here?" demanded Max.

"I was just talkin' with her," said Frank.

"He wanted to do a little more than just talk," remarked Sarah.

"You know I said not to touch the hostages."

Steven stood slowly and glared at Frank and Max. "If you ever touch my sister again, or any of the hostages, I...I--"

"A threat, Sam? We're the ones with the guns. What threat could you possibly hold over us?"

Sarah looked at him, pleading silently for him not to say what she knew he had to be thinking. He looked past her to Max. "I won't open the safe for you."

"And we're supposed to believe you can do this?"

"One of the guys I knew during the war used to be a safecracker. He taught me a few things."

"You could just be saying this."

"You want the money and the rest of us just want to get out of this. You don't want to keep them, hostages will just slow you down. I've got a bargain for you. I'll get the first two numbers of the combination and you let the other hostages go. Once that's done, I'll complete the combination." Pleased with this plan, Steven waited for Max's reply.

Max looked from Steven to the other hostages then back again. "Why not the first half?"

"You'd just force Barrett to finish in case I refuse."

"Probably." He thought for a moment. "Okay. Deal." He stood back and spoke to the hostages. "A compromise has been reached. You are being released." They stared at him in disbelief. "You are to proceed through the door one-by-one and go down the steps slowly. Once you reach the street, you can go where you want."

They stood and hugged each other, glad to be ending their enforced stay. One of the women came over to Steven. "Thank you for standing up for the rest of us. I'll make sure that all those outside know who was responsible for our release."

"That's not really necessary, but thank you for the thought." Steven purposely placed himself by Max as the hostages left so the robber would not suspect him of any double-dealing.

*****************************************************************

Haskins was getting ready to give in to the robbers' demands when a young officer brought his attention to the main door of the bank. He had a spotlight aimed at the entrance and cautioned his men to hold their fire. The door slowly opened and a young woman walked out. "She's one of the tellers," said Ferguson. She was followed by a line of people as they walked down the steps. When they reached the street, the police rushed forward and escorted them away to be questioned.

"I only counted 13," said Haskins. "There are still two hostages inside."

"Perhaps one of the other hostages can tell us what is going on and how many robbers there are."

Haskins and Ferguson moved over to where the former hostages were being debriefed. "Mr. Ferguson, sir!" someone called. The bank manager turned to see Barrett waving him over.

"Tell us what happened, Barrett." The man related his story. "What money did they get?"

"Just what was in the tills. It wasn't all that much."

"But nothing from the safe."

"That's how we were released. The man Sam--"

"Is this the same Sam who warned you about the robbery?" asked Haskins.

"Yes. Anyway, one of the men began making unwanted advances on his sister, so he attacked him. He then threatened them by saying if they didn't leave us alone, he wouldn't open the safe."

"Did he?" asked Ferguson.

"He got the first two numbers before we were released. I think he can get the rest."

"Can you describe him for me?"

"Young, maybe 25, about 5'11" with black hair and blue eyes."

Haskins shook his head. "Those men do not know who they're dealing with."

"And you do?" questioned Ferguson.

"Someone you wouldn't have wanted near your bank five years ago: the Eagle."

************************************************************

"What do you think you're doing?" demanded Steven when Max grabbed Sarah's arm. "I thought we agreed on all the hostages."

"We needed a little security to make sure you'd follow through," Max replied. "For some reason, I don't quite trust you."

"I'm all right," Sarah told him. "Just do what you said."

"What a bunch of amateurs," he muttered as he returned to the safe and combination.

"What was that?"

"Nothing." As he worked on the combination, he knew he had to change his plan. Maybe once he opened the safe, they'd let Sarah go. Yeah, and I'm the king of England. A female hostage was always a better choice than a male. Perhaps if he told them who he was... He reached the fourth number.

Frank looked out the front window. "Why aren't they doing anything? We've released the hostages."

"Haskins knows these two," said Max. "He won't risk their lives."

"I think he knows things will handle themselves."

"Sarah," said Steven warningly.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. I have the habit of babbling when I'm nervous or scared."

Steven hit number five.

"How much longer?" asked Max coming up beside him.

"Only one number left. I'm not used to an audience." The tumbler clicked and he stepped back. "It's all yours."

Max holstered his pistol and opened the safe.

As his men followed Max into the safe to start loading their bags, Steven and Sarah backed away towards the door. He glanced at her then they both ran for the door. Once outside, they bounded down the steps, ignoring the warning shouts from the police. Steven was surrounded by police with guns as soon as he was clear of the steps. "It's all right. Put down your guns," said Haskins, coming over. "He's on our side."

"Bet you never thought you'd be saying that," said Steven as he shook the Captain's hand.

"Can't say as I did. Hello, Sarah," he said. "Are you all right?"

"Fine, Captain Haskins, thank you."

"Good. Steven, how many were there?"

"Five. Strictly amateur. They didn't even have it planned very well. Not a safecracker among them."

"Do you know the reason for it?"

"Disgruntled vets, I think. At least that's the speech they gave me when they heard I had been in Europe during the war."

"So what do you think they'll do? Suicide run or surrender?"

Man, why is everyone asking me? "If they're smart, they'll surrender. They released the hostages without harming anyone so that should count for something."

"What about the leader, Max? Does he have enough control over his men?"

"To a degree. If the situation had gone on much longer, I think he would have lost them."

"I heard you were giving them a hard time."

"Just being my normal, charming self."

"Like I said, you gave them a hard time."

"But I was annoying the right people."

"Should I give them time to formulate a plan or rush the building?"

"You're asking me?"

"You were in there and know more than me the state of things in there. Besides, I trust your judgment."

Steven thought for a moment. "I think they were driven to it out of desperation and are not beyond redemption--though Frank may be pushing it."

"Frank?"

"Steven named all the robbers. He's the one who came up with 'Max'," explained Sarah.

"I say you call him and give him a second chance to surrender. Emphasize the fact that they have no hostages to hide behind. That should make him come to a decision."

*******************************************************************

"What are we going to do now?" asked Frank. "We've lost our hostages."

"Just be quiet and let me think," snapped Max. This had all seemed so easy on paper: come in, grab the money, and go. Where had it gone wrong?

"Hey, that guy Sam is talking with the police," said Frank from the window.

"So? He probably just wants to know how many of us there are."

"It seems to be more than that. Do you think he's a cop or something?"

"Something." What would Sam have to say to the police? From the way he spoke, there was no way he was a policeman. Yet, how did he know how to open the safe? He said he met someone during the war, but in what branch of service? Intelligence! That had to be it! "We surrender," he stated.

"What? We can't do that!"

"We have to. There's no way we can get out of this. They have the building surrounded, we're outnumbered, and, as you pointed out, we have no hostages. If we try anything else, they'll gun us down."

"I'd rather that than go to prison."

"But what about your family? At least they'll know they'll see you again if you're in prison." He walked to the door. "You think on that. I'm going." He took out his handkerchief and slowly opened the door, waving the white cloth. The door hissed closed behind him. He held his hands up, his gun hanging from his right index finger. He walked slowly down the steps.

*******************************************************************

Steven watched as the door to the bank opened and the flag of truce was waved. When he saw the figure come out, he smiled. "Why am I not surprised? It's Max," he added for Haskins' benefit. "He's realized he has no way out."

They all watched as he slowly walked down the steps. Wondering why he was alone, Steven's eyes went to the bank and saw light flash off metal. Instinctively, he ran for Max, bringing him to the ground as a shot rang out.

The police opened fire on the bank.

Haskins and Sarah rushed over to where Steven was helping a dazed Max to stand. "Why did you help me?" he asked. "You could have just let Billy shoot me."

"So, that's his name. I was calling him Frank."

"Taylor here believes strongly in reform; he's experienced it himself," said Haskins. "Thought you might benefit from it."

"Your name isn't Sam, is it?"

"Didn't think it would take you long to figure it out."

Max looked past him to Sarah. "My name is Peter Anderson."

"Hello, Peter Anderson. My name is Sarah Taylor and this is my brother Steven." She smiled at the look of astonishment on his face.

"Christ, no wonder you knew how to open the safe. Why didn't you tell us?"

"What would you have done? Tied me up and locked me away for the duration?"

"Probably," he grinned. "Do you mean what you said about reform?"

"Sure. It sounds like you got gypped out of your job and were driven to this. You'll definitely have to do time, but maybe with a word from Haskins here, we might be able to arrange for a work-release program."

After Anderson was placed in the squad car, Haskins turned to Steven. "Your word might help more than mine."

"Only if necessary. You know I don't like drawing attention to myself."

"Sure, whatever you say, Steven," Haskins said with a shake of his head. "Do you want a lift home?"

Steven looked at Sarah, who shook her head. "I think we'll walk. Thanks."

Brother and sister walked downtown and stopped for some late-evening ice cream. They bought a pint for Stephanie and Sheila. Steven sighed as he licked his chocolate cone. "This is so normal, so peaceful. Why can't my life be like this all the time?"

Sarah laughed. "Your life hasn't been normal since you robbed the Waldorf-Astoria. I don't know if it ever will be again."

"Well, I'm gonna try my damndest to make it as close to normal and average as I can!"

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