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Chuck Spanner, Interior Decorator One I was at my desk reading the day's headlines, when the phone rang. I let it ring the customary three times, not wanting to appear over eager. "Chuck Spanner" "Chuck. Its Lenny. We got a live one today. You watching the news?" "Nope. Whaddya got?" "One shooter, 2 hostages. Typical disgruntled ex-employee. He's on the horn, but tearing our negotiator apart." "The new guy?" "Yeah. I'm not sure he has the stomach for this." "What are the demands?" "Oh, the usual impossibles. A free pass, his old job back, you know." "You want me to talk with him?" "I don't care what you have to do. One of the hostages is the chief's nephew, his sister's kid. He's a little worked up right now." I took down the address and checked my duffel. Tile samples, color book, fabric swatches, roll of quarters. I put the quarters into my inner jacket pocket. I picked out a nice lamp from the storeroom carefully packed it into the bag. The boy was sleeping in his car seat, and I grabbed him on the way out the door. Lenny was a good cop, but he knew when he was overmatched. He didn't have much sense of color, either, but his apartment had a nice open plan and I had been able to do some nice things with large hanging plants. The scene downtown was a mess. Eight squad cars, police blockades and blue uniforms everywhere. I picked out Lenny from the crowd, he was barking orders through a bullhorn and trying to look collected. "Chuck, you made good time." "I drove fast, most of the traffic cops are here, from the looks of it." "Yeah, well, we're a little nervous over this one. No one can get near the building, the shooter's on the fourth floor, he keeps moving from window to window, and keeping us pretty well pinned down." "Is there a way in?" "Parking garage 'round back. Freight elevator from there." "Ok, I'll be back soon." "F'cryin out loud, Chuck. You aint takin the kid in there are you? Why'd you bring him out here?" "His mom's out of town on business." "Well let one of our guys watch him, there's a man with a gun in there." "The gun is pointed out here at you guys, I think I'll take my chances." I drove around back and into the garage, parked, located the freight elevator and went to the fourth floor. When the elevator doors opened, I was in a reception area, neatly kept, with the exception of a man and a woman with duct tape over their mouths, tied to two of the chairs in the corner to my right, and with the second exception of two men with their shotguns pointed at my head about twenty feet away. One was wearing ripped jeans and a heavy metal t-shirt, the other, by contrast, had on neatly pressed dress slacks, and a white shirt with deep blue tie. I set the car seat down in the elevator, keeping the doors open. "How'd you get in here?" the dressy man asked. "Elevator," I replied calmly. The jean wearing man spoke, "That's an awfully nice suit for a cop. You hired muscle?" "Thank you. I'm an interior decorator. I heard they were looking for some new artwork for this office." I was slowly moving towards the center of the room. "What?" Jean-man looked puzzled. "There's a hundred cops outside, they wouldn't let no decorator in here." "Is that so? I didn't even see them, came in the back," I replied, the distance between me and the gunmen now about ten feet. "Is there a problem?" A muffled groan escaped from the man tied up, now behind me. I pretended not to notice him. Jean-man seemed to be the bigger talker. "There won't be a problem soon. We're just here to get my cousin his job back." He nodded towards the well dressed man. "Is that your boy?" I was now within arms reach of either man's gun barrel. "Yes sir, he's mine. Take your son to work day, today. But I suppose if I had known there would be all this excitement, I may have left him at home with his mother. As a matter of fact, I might have stayed home myself. I don't suppose the office manager is here, is she?" The well dressed man gestured with his gun to the woman tied up behind me. "That's her." "Oh. Well I don't suppose you'd consider letting me speak with her about her artwork? I drove all the way across town for this, and traffic was murder." "She's a hostage!" Jean-man spat, starting to lose his patience. "Oh, right, of course. Well, that's different then, isn't it." I turned my back on both men, to look at the woman. I took a half step backwards, absentmindedly, while making thoughtful noises. "Well, how about this. If you are planning on getting your job back, you certainly would want to help your office manager out with this decorating, right? And I'm not expert, but untying her now could only make things better for you in the long run, I would imagine." "I'm not so sure about that." He looked towards his cousin, "Jake said..." His voice ended abruptly as I finished my step backwards and brought my hands up on either side of me, shoving the shotguns towards the ceiling. I brought my elbows back sharply, in an attempt to knock the wind out of both opponents. The man I assume was Jake threw a hook at my head that would have hurt for days, if I hadn't stepped into him and landed an uppercut that landed him on his back on the receptionists desk. The well dressed man was regaining his composure and attempted to level his gun towards my chest, but he was too close to me for such a long shotgun, and I easily grabbed the barrel and wrested it from his grip. I tossed the gun across the room out of reach, and moved towards him. Obviously, cousin Jake was the mouth and muscle that had put the well dressed man up to this, because he crumbled into a heap on the floor, sobbing and shaking with fear. I tied the men up with their own belts and some phone cords, and then cut loose the hostages. They followed me outside, and some officers met us in the garage by my car. Lenny didn't seem surprised. Lenny is a smart man. "Good work as usual, Chuck," he said. "I suppose you'll want to be getting paid. Do we need to go back to my place?" "No," I replied, opening the trunk of my car and unzipping the duffel bag. "I have pictures of your apartment on file. Tell me what you think of this. That corner table by your easy chair needs a little more light." "That's a pretty nice lamp," Lenny said, "I'll take it. How much?" "Four hundred dollars." "Four hundred? Prices going up?" "There were two shooters, not one, you're lucky that's all I charge. And its a nice lamp." "Well," Lenny hesitated, and then nodded, "I suppose I don't have much choice." "You know the drill," I said. "If you want those little red candy fish, you can go to Ikea and buy your own lamp. If you want the additional services that I provide, you call Chuck Spanner, Interior Decorator."

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