Chap. Summary: How to talk down a bomber/gunman in 12 twelve steps... or less.
Notes: One of my pet hates in a story is talking heads. And here I am doing it yet again. Ah well...
Warnings: Some things said could be... a little intense. So, um, yeah. Remember that this is a negotiation. Don't be hating the poor author.


CALL OF DUTY
Obstacle Course

9. Negotiator


I woke up slowly enough that it took a while for both the memories to surface and for me to become fully aware of my body. Long enough that I had no real idea of how much time had passed. Lucid enough that, the moment I became aware of how in danger I was really in, I was also aware enough to know that I needed to pretend to still be unconscious. It wasn't that hard to make it seem like I'd only stirred for a moment before falling asleep again.

"Is it safe?"

"Yeah. He's asleep again."

The voices were so quiet and distant that I could barely hear them, let alone distinguish one from another.

"Are ya sure 'bout dis?"

"What choice do we have? You know what will happen if we don't."

I waited for the voices to continue – some more information about what they were so afraid of would be nice – but nothing came. No voices, no footsteps. Nothing.

Finally I heard a muted beeping.

"Damn. The phone."

"A text from them?"

"Yeah."

"An'?"

"...We've got a problem. Lobby floor."

"You stay an' I'll go?"

"It's for the best."

A set of footsteps retreated. I waited a few minutes, but that was it. Okaaaay. That seemed as good a moment as any to "wake up".

One of the flaws of "pretending" to be asleep was that there actually wasn't much pretend about it. To carry it off successfully, I had to shove my awareness of my body down... way down. Far enough down that my body was, literally, asleep, while the mind was... not. There were reasons I didn't use this technique often.

One the other hand, one of the benefits of being a Son of the Bat was that I'd had the (dubious) pleasure of waking up from various stages of unconsciousness enough times to have the four-stage process memorized. First I rolled my head around a bit, next my hands twitched, and then I gasped in a breath as my eyes fluttered open.

Of course, actually getting my eyes open was an interesting challenge. Each eyelid seemed to weigh about a ton, and I couldn't get them open very far. Maybe it was that last hit to the head, or maybe my face had swollen even more from being pistol-whipped. Either way, I had a feeling that the bruises tomorrow were going to be interesting.

Instinctively, I tried to reach to reach up to help, to maybe unglue my eyes or something. Not being fully awake, I'm still not sure what I was planning. But the realization that I couldn't move my hands brought me to full-body awareness like not much else could.

Full-body awareness had never so much fun. It kind of hit me like slamming into a wall – at high speed. This is going to be messy. My hands were cuffed in front of me, just above my head to some of pipe. I'd actually been resting my head in the quasi-cradle that my arms created. My legs were stretched out in front of me, and I was reclining back against... something. Something round... like a barrel, or large pipe. It was also ticking. Definitely messy.

It was all rather ingenious, really, as I quickly discovered. The pipe-thing I was cuffed to was horizontal all the way, and the cuffs just kind of scraped along every time I tried to get leverage to grip the thing. And with my hands above my head and at the angle I was leaning back at, I'd have to pull on the cuffs to move myself or lean forward, which would make the cuffs cut into my wrists. And that was something I wanted to save for more desperate circumstances than simply changing positions, especially since I had the feeling I'd be here for a while.

Yeah. Someone had definitely known what they were doing when they'd put me here.

A noise beside me brought my attention back to my surroundings. Eddington. He knelt down beside me, a very satisfied look on his face. "Comfortable?"

The retort was out before I could stop it. "Sure. Looks like a five star hotel, thanks." Actually, it looked more like I was in some sort of generator room. Joy.

His lips quirked, and he shrugged. "You were easier to transport this way."

I looked down at myself, and gauged how well I was restrained versus how well I was feeling. It didn't take me long to decide that I didn't mind the not walking part. "I guess I would have been," I admitted.

He blinked at me. No doubt not expecting me to agree – or not to say it aloud. He'd probably thought I'd object a lot more loudly to the not being able to move part. And, yeah, while that was an obstacle I'd have to overcome at some point, right now it wasn't that much of a problem.

Speaking of problems, I decided to play 'ignorant' and looked around a little obviously. "Hey, where's your friend?"

"Oh, Smokes? He had something to take care of for me." He said it so carelessly, that I almost missed the significance. That "something to take care of"? It was no doubt related to the phone call I'd overheard earlier – something about a mysterious "them" and "something in the lobby". I tried to believe that it meant Roy and Donna were doing their usual mischief, but I wasn't that hopeful.

It'd been that kind of day.

All I really could do was nod and outwardly look like it meant nothing to me. Especially since Eddington looked like he was desperately trying to cover something up. It was the first crack in his facade I'd seen since this whole business had started.

My suspicions about that crack were only confirmed when he got up with obvious nonchalance and walked to the only window in the room. He peered around the edge of the drawn blinds, careful to move or touch the blinds themselves. Obviously my earlier warning/threat about snipers had struck home. And the entire time, that damned gun of his never stopped pointing in my direction. Did he have a preternatural sense of aim, or something?

Which made it a perfect time as any to bring up something that had been worrying away at the back of my mind for a while. At least, I didn't see the harm. If he didn't listen, he didn't listen; but if he did listen, then he might just change his plans enough for me to be able to disrupt them even more. "On the topic of things to take care of, you do realize that I can't get you to Diablo without my badge, don't you?"

"What?" He jerked back around to face me. And his gun actually stopped pointing at my heart. Finally.

Small words, Grayson. I sighed mentally and tried again, with half-an-eye on that gun. "He's on a secure floor with guards. They won't recognize me as an officer without a badge." And let's not even go into the whole tied-up thing.

Eddington blinked. And shifted his gun back towards me. Damn. "That's a stupid rule."

"Hey, I don't make the rules. I just have to follow them." Occasionally.

"So where's this 'badge' then?"

"Probably at home," I said truthfully. Honestly, why lie about this?

"At home?"

"Yeah. I'm on sick leave, man. Have been for a few weeks now, and probably will be for a few weeks more." And wasn't that a kick in the shins to actually admit it out loud? It was the first time I'd actually said the words, not that I'd tell him that. "Didn't think I'd need my badge for a while," I shrugged. "What, don't tell me you thought the whole crutches and brace thing were just for show?"

He blinked again, sighed, stopped, and seemed to think. "So. We'll just have to find another way to get what we want." Never let it be said the man wasn't persistent. In fact, I was starting to wonder what it took to make him give up. Or make him stop aiming that damned gun at me. Either option was acceptable at this point.

Luckily for both of us, I didn't give up very easily either. I shifted awkwardly, trying to find a more comfortable position; I had a feeling that this was going to take a while. "So just for the sake of curiosity, what is it you want anyway?"

He left the window and stood in front of me. He was also, incidentally, standing between me and the only door. "I'd've thought that was self-explanatory."

At least I could watch the exit now without being too obvious– or as best I could, considering my arms were kind of in the road. "Humor me."

He shrugged almost carelessly. "I want Diablo free, as a favor to a... friend, you might say. Then passage to a place of my choosing. And as you're my ticket to both of those, you'll be coming with me."

"Nice to know I'm appreciated," I drawled, using bravado and sarcasm to hide my instinctive fear at his words. Because I knew exactly what he meant. With his connections to the Bogota cartels and all the things he'd let slip, it meant that someone in the cartel had apparently put a price on my head for some reason. And at the moment, the contract was most likely "preferably alive," a rather small point in my favor, because that could quite easily change.

But there was really nothing I could do about that now, except push that information to the back of my mind. I couldn't even let it interfere in these quasi-negotiations I was working on here, lest I let my personal desires get in the way of all those lives at stake. It was really only pure luck that saving the hospital meant I had a good chance of saving my own life. If I could get rid of the contract at the same time, well, that'd just be a bonus.

Eddington sighed, and for the second time I saw conflict in his eyes. I'd've felt like cheering, if the situation hadn't been so serious. "For the record, I didn't want to do it this way."

I took a chance, hoping that this time his openness would last long enough to forge a connection I could work with. "Hypothetically, then. How would you have done it?"

He shrugged. "Not like this," he answered, if a little vaguely. "This... is not my way." He straightened his shoulders then, and I saw the tension and conflict depart from him as if they'd never been there in the first place. "But one thing I am not is a quitter."

I just barely held back the eye-rolling. I'd met that "I-won't-quit" type before – hell, I'd been virtually raised by that type – and personally, I didn't care to negotiate with them. I shifted the cuffs down a little so I could see him better. "So if you were walking and suddenly there was a landslip, you'd go over the cliff just because it was on your route now?"

"No!"

"So why go through with this, if it's not what you want?"

"You don't understand."

I shrugged. "So make me. Help me understand."

"I—What?"

Fully aware of the gamble I was taking, I gave him a lopsided smile – mainly because I could really only move one side of my mouth. "If you can convince me that this is the right thing to do – and I mean that 'if,' by the way – I won't stop you pulling the trigger and blowing up the hospital."

"You mean that?"

"Yep. Scouts honor." Of course, I was never really a Scout, never had the time for that sort of thing, but he didn't need to know that. "Of course, if you don't convince me, I'll do everything in my power to stop you." Especially since I was apparently part of the package deal with the hospital-cartel-bomb-thing. Of course I had a vested interest in stopping him.

Eddington looked at me for a long moment. Then he nodded slowly. "I guess that's fair enough."

I grinned mentally and shifted position again. Stupid leg. The gauntlet's laid. Let the battle begin. "So. If you don't want to do this, why are you?"

He blinked. "Because it has to be done."

I rolled my eyes at that. "Right," I said, laying the sarcasm on as thickly as I could.

"And because the stand must be made."

Oh, great. One of those. I really hated fanatics. Generally speaking, they were impossible to talk down. But then again... I had seen a few cracks in his facade, just enough to make me wonder if the good ol' shock treatment might work. If it didn't, well, I had other tricks up my sleeve. And to think, we'd been getting along so well.

I made eye contact. "Ok. Fine, then. Hit the switch. Blow us all up. And I guarantee that as soon as they finish scraping off the walls, it'll be business as usual."

"Maybe." He gave me that quirky half-smile. "But at least, I'll have made a stand. And with what you're leaning against, at least I'll have taken you out with me."

Okay, not exactly a good way to confirm the suspicion that I was leaning against the bomb. Which was still ticking. However, there was nothing I could really do about that until I got my hands free. And to do that, I needed to keep him occupied – or get him to free me. My lockpicks had literally been in my other clothes. I had, after all, originally been wearing a hospital gown when all this had started. Before I'd managed to get Leslie to agree to let me wear something more... dignified.

"Yeah. Maybe." I shrugged. "But whatever message you're trying to send will be drowned out in the voices of the innocent and the lives of everyone who wasn't supposed to be here. We're in a hospital, pal. How amenable are they gonna be to the killing of the sick and the weak?"

He shook his head. "Drowned out? How little you see." His confidence was seemingly unbroken. I really had to find some way to fix that. "But at least I will have made a stand. It will be enough," he added, "for at least one person to have done something."

Oh, great, now he was getting philosophical – and maybe more fanatical. I had to get him off this topic fast. Maybe a little dose of reality would help. I doubted it – it rarely did for the rabid types – but you never knew. "Yeah," I nodded sagely, barely resisting the urge to roll my eyes. "You'll have done something all right. You'll have ended up in a body bag. Meanwhile, your accomplices get arrested, it becomes the next 15-second TV spot, and then the next news item comes on. It happened, or didn't happen, as far as media reports go, and what changes? Nothing. The world keeps spinning. So go ahead. Push the button. I dare you." I smiled unpleasantly. "No, I double dog dare ya to do it, and let's see how much the world changes as a result."

He stared at me. I could almost see him take a mental step back. "You really want me to push it?"

"No. I'm just trying to prevent the stupid waste of life I see on the job every day. Your's included."

"By telling me to die."

"No," I corrected, shaking my head. "I'm telling you to live, damn it. I didn't become a cop to watch people die."

Eddington frowned. "Ah, but you won't be watching people die. You'll be dying along with me. In fact, you'll be dead before I will."

I shrugged, trying to ignore the feeling that talking to this guy was worse than talking to Alfred and Bruce combined. I persevered anyway. The word "surrender" wasn't really in my vocabulary. "Same principle. I didn't become a cop to watch people throw away their lives for a useless purpose. You do this, and what use does it serve? Just think about that for a minute."

I settled back and made a show of getting comfortable for the long haul – I could tell that this guy was going to take a while to convince – and tried not to think about the fact that I was settling back against a bomb of all things;. It was just the latest incident in a twisted day. A really twisted day.

He got up and paced the room. It was hard not to notice that he kept shifting the gun so it stayed facing me, no matter where he was. For all his agitation, it was clear he wasn't forgetting the difference between us. Obviously, I needed to work on him some more.

Finally, after maybe five minutes of pacing (and carefully avoiding the windows), he turned to face me. "So. You save lives."

"Pretty much."

His gaze suddenly sharpened and he stared at me shrewdly, his finger caressing the trigger. "What about your own?"

"Mine? No." I grinned at him, suddenly thinking of long nights in the Kevlar suit. "In my line of work, that's just a bonus."

Eddington cocked his head to the side, looking at me half-puzzled, half-bemused. "So, what? You want to die or something?"

"Me? Want to die?" I shook my head. "Nope. Right now, all I want is to get rid of these cuffs," I moved my hands a little away from the pipe and shook them lightly to reinforce my point, "but I know that's not going to happen, so I'd be more than happy to settle for some painkillers, maybe even an antipyretic or two."

He actually paused and looked at me. I could virtually see the cogs shifting. "Antipyretic? You have a fever?"

I snorted. "Hey, this is a hospital. What did you expect? A picture of health?"

His eyes narrowed at me again. Probably because of the sarcasm. Had to watch that. Then he surprised me again. "That's really all the painkillers and antipyretic are for? Just your... fever?"

The idiot was actually considering it? More fool him, then. "I'm fighting an bad infection in my leg," I explained, "which is why I've got a bit of a fever. And a headache." Okay, so it was more than a 'bit' of a fever, and I've had concussions which have given me nicer headaches. So sue me. I still wanted to be alive when this was all said and done, so it was worth my while to under-sell my state of health. Historically, unstable gunmen had a record of getting rid of sick hostages the messy and permanent way, which was something I wanted to avoid. I was kind of attached to my head.

His lips quirked. "And here I thought the crutch and braces were for show. So what about the rest?"

After a quick moment's thought, I held up my hands again, and wriggled the one in the latex glove. "See this? Its to prevent my spreading the infection by touch. Or so they told me. I mean, what do I know? I'm a cop, not a doctor." I figured there'd be no harm in playing up a little on the BPD's reputation of incompetence. At best, he'd underestimate my intelligence, which could always come in handy at some point. And at worst, he wouldn't underestimate anything and I'd still be no worse off for trying.

"And the other hand?"

I shrugged. "It was splinted at the time. No need for a glove." I decided not to mention that I couldn't move my fingers on that hand anyway, with or without a splint.

He frowned. "Splints?"

"Yeah, splints. You know, those hard things that keep you from bending a limb? The ones your friend Smokes took? Broken hand from Diablo."

Eddington snorted and looked at me appraisingly. "You know, you're not like most cops we encounter. I usually get bluster, threats, intimidation, or some kind of meek subservience that makes me want to throw up. Or shoot them. They act like they don't, but I always know they fear me." He tilted his head a little and looked at me thoughtfully. "Instead, you're giving me sarcasm, jokes, defiance." The implication in that was clear. He didn't know quite how to react to me, or read what I was feeling.

Way to play the helpless hostage card, Grayson. And I could either try to bury the sarcasm – yeah, and I'd been doing a real stellar job of that so far – or keep rolling the dice and see what happened. No prizes for guessing which choice I made. I never did like being helpless or predictable. "Yeah, well, I kinda failed the 'How To Be A Hostage' part of my academy training." Deliberately, but he didn't need to know that.

Eddington snorted again. "So? What good does that information do me? All that precious academy of yours is good for is flower arranging, in my experience. Like I said, wimps and cowards. If I had a choice, that's one building I'd blow up."

I frowned, as pieces of the puzzle suddenly fell into place. "So, why don't you?"

He froze. "Why don't I do what? Blow it up?"

I shook my head. "No. Why don't you have a choice?"

If anything, Eddington held even stiller. "I never said that."

"Yes you did. Just now." I narrowed my eyes. Maybe if I went with the more explosive question, he'd give me an answer to a minor one. "But we'll get back to that. If you're not in charge of blowing this building up, who is?"

He jerked back and stared at me, eyes wide. "I—What?"

Time to play another card. "And while we're on the subject, what're the consequences if you don't go along with it?"

He narrowed his eyes. "One consequence will be your death if you don't shut up!" He hesitated. Looked away. Looked back. Shifted slightly so his back was to the door. 'The cartel,' he mouthed.

I just nodded, even as I met his eyes as best I could considering my arms were kind of in the road. Message received and understood. It was twofold, really. Eddington wasn't just doing this because the cartel had some kind of hold on him; whoever was in charge obviously had some means of keeping tabs on what was going on in the hospital. For all I knew, they were tracking every single word and action. It explained why he'd continually played the lunatic-fanatic card; it was a good way to hide his real feelings. But that meant...

I let my eyes drift to the security camera over the door and back. Eddington gave me the briefest of nods.

Well. That certainly changed everything. If the cartel was hooked in to the security system along with Oracle...

They had to be. Oracle was the only explanation for how the pictures of the gunmen got out to the GCPD so quickly and from there to the media. Both Eddington's very real fear and that earlier text message could be explained by someone from the cartel's IT department piggybacking somehow on Oracle's activity, and keeping watch on everything as well. It was, frankly, disturbing that Oracle hadn't picked it up.

Unless they were already there when she hooked up. Which would mean that they'd been watching for... a long time. Perhaps as long as I'd been here, or maybe even longer.

Now that was a disturbing thought. How far had the cartel's tentacles reached?

That was when I noticed it. I closed my eyes for a moment and slowly opened them. Nope, still happening. The camera I'd pointed out to Eddington earlier had a small light beneath it. It was blinking. And unless I was much mistaken, it was blinking in the Bat-Code. Oracle was watching us. For all it good it did me.

U-O-K-? D-B- -G-G-H

Despite myself, I felt my mouth twitch. 'DB' was a Titan nickname for Batman. It stood for 'Daddy Bat.' So apt, and it was easy to communicate in code. I had to admit, it was kind of comforting to know that Bruce was working with the GCPD on the outside.

I leaned my head back against the bomb, as if I was resting, and flicked the fingers of my good hand quickly. I had something far more important to communicate than the state of my own health.

B-A-C-K-D-O-O-R

I had to mentally laugh at the response.

?-M-F-I-N-E

Obviously someone had done a quick security check and hadn't thought too much about what she was actually doing for once.

C-A-M-E-R-A-S

The response took a lot longer. Oracle had obviously been caught napping on this one.

K-F-X-D. H-W-K-N-W-?

And she was apparently prone to dropping vowels when annoyed. She who knows all... except when she doesn't. And seeing as the full explanation would take too long, especially using only one hand...

2-L-N-G. W-H-T-D-O?

C-U-T-W-L-O-O-P

I frowned. She'd looped the cameras to whoever had been on the other end of that backdoor into her systems. It added another layer of complications I didn't really need. Sooner or later, they were going to notice. I'd just have to be ready for it when it came, and hope like anything that I'd talked Eddington around by then.

Speaking of which...

I refocused on the room, just as Eddington knelt in front of me, back once more to the camera. "What are you doing?"

Play innocent, Grayson. I blinked and pulled on my best little-boy look. "What do you mean?"

"You kind of... zoned on me for a moment there. So. What are you doing?"

I couldn't help it. Call it exhilaration, recklessness, or maybe the fever. I grinned at him and told him the truth. "Taking care of the camera problem."

"I—you—what?"

I leaned forward as much as I could, which, sadly, wasn't very far. "It's... I have friends on the outside. They just took care of the camera problem. We can talk freely." For as long as the loop went unnoticed, at least.

He stared at me. "You can guarantee this."

I nodded. "On my honor." Or rather, on my faith in a world-class hacker, but that was harder to explain in the time I had. And besides, Officer Grayson technically didn't know any hackers.

To my surprise, he closed his eyes, bowed his head, and relaxed. It made me realize exactly how tense he'd been through this whole thing. "Then I think its time I told you what's really happening."

Finally.


TBC

Next/Teaser: It's not what you think.

Go ahead. Guess. :) Let's see if we match up...