I’m sitting down with Wordle and a plate of nachos for dinner, when my mobile rings. An unknown number, but I answer. It might be an opportunity to play games with a telemarketer while I eat. My three rescue cats, Erudite, Musical and Justice, are also eating their dinner under the table next to me.

A female voice asks, “Fred Anderson?” 

“That’s me.” I take a nacho and scoop refried beans from the paper plate.

”Alberta's scrabble champion?”

“This is correct.” Crunching on the chip, I wonder could this be a reporter?

“This is Jen,” she says. “With the Medicine Hat police department. I know this must be a surprise, but we would like to ask for your help. Is it possible for you to stop over at the station tomorrow morning?”

“I have to teach tomorrow." A vision of my thirty rebellious students in the classroom tomorrow flashes before my eyes. "But, tell me more.”

“It's classified.”

“Classified… In Alberta?” Now this is getting interesting. “Will I get paid anything?”

She mumbles to someone on her side before coming back. “No, but you will be helping the community. And you may get national media attention.”

“I'm in. I’ll stop by tomorrow." I confirm, almost giggling with joy, still not knowing yet whether this is a prank call from one of my students. But, finally, something might be happening in Medicine Hat. Also, it's a small city, where everyone knows each other, so I wouldn't want gossip going around I refused to help if this is something real.

One word really got my attention: classified. I take the chips to my desk and turn on the computer. It’s good I ordered extra guacamole. I have something to celebrate. I spend the rest of the night digging into the local news.

The next morning at the police station, the receptionist says yes, Detective Johnson is waiting. This is real. An irrepressible thrill make my heart flutter that I could be involved in something important. 

In Detective Johnson's office, he looks like what I expect for a Medicine Hat policeman; a bored, slightly heavy set small town cop.

Sitting at his desk, I ask, “Detective, I don’t know anything about police work. Why did you call me?” 

“Ryan DeSilva. Have you heard of him?” His eyes lie heavily on me, studying my every reaction. The same stare that I give students when I question them.

“Of course. He’s the one who’s been holding hostages at the Tim Horton’s branch." I don't normally read the news, so it's good I did my research last night.

His expression loosens up a bit, and he explains, “Our experts have noticed a certain peculiarity in his behavior, and you’ve come highly recommended as a language expert.”


“Do you know the expression, you walk the walk. do you talk the talk?”

“Of course."

“We heard you are someone who can talk to young people.”

“The police can’t talk?”

“It's more complicated than that,” he says, “You’ll see what I mean. I’m going to have you get a briefing from our consulting psychologist, Elaine.”

Mulling it over, as a teacher, I do a lot of talking. Teaching high school students for 27 years also makes me a trained negotiator. 

“What exactly are his demands?” I probe. I didn't see anything in the news about what Ryan wants.

Detective Johnson pushes a piece of paper across the table. “First, sign this NDA.”

I scribble my signature and slide it back.

“Ryan leaked to the press that his commanding officer at Suffield Base spent half the ammunition budget for personal home repairs. The military says we can’t let anyone get away with this.” 

“With what?”

“Leaking information about a commanding officer.”

A young woman taps on the window.

“That’s Elaine. I’ll pass you to her before sending you to meet the negotiation team on site.”

Elaine introduces herself as a licensed clinical psychologist. She usually works with children. Turns out she knows my therapist Amanda, but she cuts the small talk short.

“Our donut shop terrorist, Ryan, is on the autism spectrum. People on the spectrum often have an intense obsession, with a hobby or special interest. Ryan’s special interest is idioms.”

“Idioms? Like it’s raining cats and dogs?”

“Yes. He goes through phases. He becomes agitated and starts threatening to blow himself up if our negotiator doesn't speak back in the same way. We haven’t figured out the pattern. We’re hoping you might.”

“Because I won a scrabble tournament last year?”

“Something like that,” she says, “We’re at the end of our rope here, so help us out and give it a try?”

“End of your ropes. Your singular object doesn’t match the plural subject.“

“Looks like we have the right guy.” She says and rolls her eyes.


We drive five minutes to where ten police cars encircle a Tim Hortons. Detective Johnson parks the car, and we walk across the street to a Comfort Inn. In a room, there's at least a dozen people in suits and uniforms of different Canadian police units.

"This is the negotiation team," Detective Johnson says.

“You’re up bright and early,” someone replies. “Ryan has been quiet as a mouse today. Let’s have your new guy give him his wake-up call.”

A man in a suit tells me, “Ryan has been clamming up the last two days.” His assistant chips in, “Something smells fishy.” They both chuckle.

I ask the pair, “Do you always talk like this?”

“Sorry. We spent the last 17 days talking to Ryan.” He points toward the Tim Hortons. Ryan has rigged the entire cafe with alarm and tripwires he bought online. Combined with an almost unlimited amount of donuts and coffee, the standoff appeared to have no end in sight.

They sit me down in front of their audio equipment, show me how to use it, and then I make my first call. When someone answers, I say, “Good morning Ryan, this is Fred Anderson, I’m working with the police.”

“I don’t want to talk to the police.”

“I said I’m working for them. I’m not in the police. I'm a teacher.”

“You don’t sound like a teacher, you sound like another police robot," he says bitterly. “I’m going to dig you up on the internet and eat you for breakfast.”

The speakerphone goes quiet. I have a common name in Alberta. Do I want someone with a dozen hostages and a bomb knowing my name and home address? What if he’s acquitted?

“Can we cut off his internet?” I ask the negotiation team.

One of the local police speaks up, “Right on bro! He’s been replying to my Facebook posts.” 

A suit informs us, “That would be violating his Canadian constitutional rights.” He looks about to explain all the boring legalities, when Ryan’s voice come back on over the speakerphone.

“Fred Anderson, of 47 Elder Avenue, Ross Glen?”

“Yes,” I say, reluctantly. 

The line goes quiet. Elaine told me people on the spectrum are often not good at small talk.

“Ryan, I heard you are into idioms?”

“No, I’m not! Why did you say that? Now you’ve got egg on your face." He hangs up.

Elaine also told me he’s sensitive. I know what young adults are like.

I give him ten minutes to cool off and try again. “Ryan, I think we got off on the wrong foot.”

“I’m listening.”

“Ryan, we’re both in a bit of a pickle.”

“I know I’m in a jam, but….”

“I’m going to spill the beans. I can’t do much to change the situation. But I can help you communicate with the police team here. Lately they tell me you got a F on your report card for cooperation, if you catch my drift”

“Is that a fast and furious reference?”

"Let's not get sidetracked," I say. “I just don’t want you to put all your eggs in one basket.”

“It sounds like you are just trying to butter me up like the last guy." He hangs up again. 

Detective Johnson says, “Food! Today it’s food idioms. I’m so sick of this shit.” He bangs his fist on the side of the police van. “I wish we could just shoot him.”

Talking to Ryan, he felt more like one of my confused students than a terrorist. I've got an idea. “Detective. I think it’s time to spice things up, and let me go in and have a chat with him.”

He glares at me, still clenching his fist.


With the excitement of the case, I almost forget to call in sick to Crescent Heights High School. Working in a classified case, gives me a license to lie. This morning, the negotiation team has already been leaving me updates and text messages, so I rush over there to begin today’s police work.

Elaine and Detective Johnson explain to me a few of the typical goals they would like to see happen in a crisis negotiation.

“Ryan, the police team tells me you were well-fed last night,” I say, “So let’s move on from that. How about you and I have a sit down today?”

“That’s a whopper of an ask.” He breathes loudly over the speaker as he mulls it over. “But you seem like a standup guy, so I can agree to that.”

Five minutes later, I’m walking across the parking lot with a tactical team pointing rifles behind my back. A hostage opens the front door, and inside I meet Ryan. He looks just like his photo, if a bit more nervous and wild-eyed.

“Take off your body armor,” he says.

I drop the police flak jacket to the ground and raise my arms, to show him I’m not carrying any weapons. My eyes are drawn to the homemade looking bomb vest he has on.

“Take a seat in my office,” he says mockingly. “Let’s have a chat about my situation. And don’t give me the run around.”

He’s young. Probably hatched his plan after reading something on Reddit. I doubt the bomb vest is a real one, but I don't plan on testing that theory today.

I lead with flattery. “Ryan, you’re a smart kid. You remind me of my best students. I stand up for people I believe in.”

“I’m all ears.”

“They tell me you want safe passage to North Korea to seek asylum. My two cents is you’re the first person to want to break into a prison state.”

“I had to get that information about my commanding officer's corruption off of my chest.”

“That was a good move, the government is full of corruption. I want to help you, but we have to learn how to crawl before we can walk–walk out of here. Tell me one small ask, something they haven’t given you yet, and I will do my best to get it for you.”

I'm studying the bomb again, and hoping I don't become one of the hostages.

“How about a big screen TV to watch the Edmonton game,” he says. ”Hey, you know what? One with a screen so big it costs an arm and a leg.”

I think I have a head start on what tomorrow is going to look like.


“Hope you enjoyed watching Edmonton last night,” I say. “Today is game day”

“Game day?” As we talk over the telephone, the police didn't want to risk me going in person again, Ryan now has a cheerful tone in his voice—he seems to be enjoying this. “What’s the name of the game teacher?”

“Let’s get the ball rolling. Release a hostage,” I say. “If you do that, I will go to bat for you on your other demands.”

“At this stage of the game, I think that might make sense, and might help me score some points with the public. My main demand, do you think you can get me an airplane to North Korea soon?”

“An airplane to North Korea? That’s a bit in left field. The Hat doesn’t have that sort of airport.”

“You’re really making me jump through hoops to get anything, aren’t you?”

“How about this, if you release one hostage, I will let you have a visit from your mother, and send shower supplies. You haven’t taken a shower in 18 days. You’d like that, right?”

“No airplane? You’re skating on thin ice.”

“We’ll talk about the airplane again tomorrow, I promise,” I say. “Have a good day, Ryan. The ball’s in your court now.” A teacher needs to be clear and firm with young adults.

An hour later, the front door of the Tim Hortons opens. An elderly man walks out toward us. When he reaches the police line, a junior lieutenant pats him down, and leads him to a waiting ambulance for health checks.

There's smiles amongst the police and negotiation team.

Later at the daily debriefing, Elaine tells everyone, “it looks like Fred and Ryan are starting to hit it off.”

“Touch down!” Detective Johnson says, shaking his head. “Damn, now I’m talking like them too. He’s never cooperated with any of us before, so keep up the good work, Fred.” 

They ignore me for the rest of the meeting, and discuss the day’s press release.

That night at home, I’m restless. After the camaraderie today, the stillness of home feels disconcerting. I text Elaine a few questions about the case, but she doesn’t reply.


I’m looking forward to finding out this morning if the seed I’ve planted will bear fruit. I call Ryan. “Good morning. How was the visit from your mom, and the shower?”

“Good. Thanks. And I’ve been thinking,” Ryan says, his voice softer today, “if there’s any way I could wash my hands free from this situation?”

“You have aired a wrong doer’s dirty laundry in public. That was a good, people on social media have been supporting you.”

“I've seen that," he says, "But with the police, is there anyway I can get a clean slate?”

“To be honest, your ducks are not in a row for a clean slate,” I say, “but they haven’t dug up any dirt on you outside of delaying a few people going home from a donut shop. That's not such a big deal, is it? This should all blow over quickly.”

“Let me think about it. I might throw in the towel today.”

“That would be a good idea,” I say, “and those were your words and not mine.”

I hate lying. Having him say it takes a weight off my shoulders. The police team says I need to think of the hostages, and not the hostage taker, but I’m still overwhelmed with guilt for misleading Ryan about what's going to happen if he surrenders.

The front door of the Tim Hortons opens. Ryan walks out, waving a white towel above his head. He scans the scene from side to side, looking for something or someone. He locks his eyes on me, gives me a dirty look, and winks. The police grab his arms and haul him away.


I suspect, deep down, Ryan knew that he would never leave the Tim Hortons a free man or be given an airplane to North Korea. At his trial his defense lawyers explain the depth of his family trauma at home and his problems being bullied in school. His hostage taking begins to look more like a cry for help.

Elaine, testifying for the government, spins the Alberta’s government's yarn about terrorism but doesn’t sway public opinion away from the idea that he simply didn’t understand what he was doing. Ryan is given a two-year prison sentence—also mitigated by the fact that his bomb was a fake, as I suspected.

I make an appointment to visit him in Lethbridge to apologize for my part in his incarceration, and to ask him about his motives. We play word games again, so I don’t find out many answers, But I enjoy the challenge, so I begin to visit him regularly. 

Over time, as evidence of corruption in Canada’s military leadership is exposed in the press, the public becomes even more interested in Ryan. They want to hear his story. I think I will encourage him to write it all down. I just need to find the right words to tell him.

April 21, 2023 16:38

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Kevin Marlow
01:41 Apr 24, 2023

Kudos Scott, if that were any more of a humdinger, I would throw in the towel with a flick of my wrist and ride off into the sunset with my head in my hands. Way to throw your hat in the ring.


02:17 Apr 24, 2023

Thanks Kevin. I also can't stop typing in idioms after writing this last week! This started as a bank heist and then shifted toward comedy and a donut shop in Canada.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Viga Boland
14:25 Apr 27, 2023

This is too bloody clever for words! How I loved the interplay on the idioms. So much my kind of thing. But the entire plot line was also terrific with a perfect ending. This was wonderful Scott. Bravo. 👏👏 BTW, do you live in ALTA? I’m in 0ntario.


14:53 Apr 27, 2023

Thanks so much for reading! I've actually never been to Canada. I'm from Wisconsin but have a lot of Canadian friends over here. I live overseas in Asia. I guess Wisconsin and Minnesota has the same sort of vibe maybe, I listen to a podcast based in St Catherine's and almost feel I'm home.


Viga Boland
15:20 Apr 27, 2023

Fascinating. Well, to my knowledge, you nailed life in Medicine Hat to a “T” 😂


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Tommy Goround
10:04 Apr 27, 2023

Is this story still in session? Hook/premise works. Still reading


11:00 Apr 27, 2023

Thanks for having a look, out of the running already, week #15.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Debbie Curtin
21:28 Apr 26, 2023

This kept me engaged in the whole shebang. Great fun!


04:28 Apr 27, 2023

Thanks! Not having had any training in writing, my first goal is to entertain. So great to hear it was fun.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
20:36 Apr 24, 2023

Heh, idiomatic terrorism - really digs into the theme of the prompts this week :) I also appreciate Canada featuring in a story, even if it is for a hostage situation at Tim's :) Critique-wise, this isn't an entirely realistic story, and that's fine - not all stories are and we understand that and still enjoy them. But one detail did stand out to me - this hostage situation has been ongoing for 17 days, but there's only one hostage taker. Surely, he must sleep at some point, giving police or the hostages an opportunity to act. Or is the ...


06:04 Apr 25, 2023

Thx! I was so focused on the "idiom procedural" I think I didn't cover all the bases of the police procedural. Thanks for pointing out that obvious gaping hole there with having one guy not sleeping for 17 days, I'll see if I can easily explain that. I first had this story set in america, but then thought readers would just assume the police would storm in with guns blazing in the US. So I don't know much about canada but thought it might be a more believable place for a peaceful donut shop hostage standoff. I listen to a film review podcas...


Michał Przywara
20:36 Apr 26, 2023

Poutine's worth a try :) Tim's… less so :) Tangentially related, I picked up a nonfiction book about negotiation once, "Never Split the Difference", by Chris Voss. The distinction in this one being, his background is as an FBI hostage negotiator, so there is a lot of interesting/harrowing recounting of cases. This story reminded me of it. Good read, too.


04:31 Apr 27, 2023

Yeah, Chris Voss! That's exactly what came into my mind. I had seen his youtube videos a few years ago, and I remembered he talked about finding some tiny small thing to agree on to get the negotiation started in his stories. I forgot about what else he talked about but it was a really fun listen.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Kendall Defoe
12:54 Apr 23, 2023

Okay, that was brilliant. You really probed an issue that has me bent over backwards with interest. A quite penetrating look at something... Hey, what's on my mind today? 😬


14:55 Apr 23, 2023

haha! thanks for reading, good to hear you weren't overwhelmed at me getting a bit obsessed myself at throwing a chum bucket of idioms into this.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
22:28 Apr 22, 2023

'He bangs his fast on the side of the police van.' Try 'fist'. Otherwise, when Major Campbell was mentioned I had forgotten who he was. I was busy catching all the idioms. Very astute. You are already a pro.


05:04 Apr 24, 2023

Thanks for your comments, yeah understand about the Major Campbell bit, its always a risk having more than 2 characters in a short story. i'll see if I can make it more obvious.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Amanda Lieser
15:38 May 06, 2023

Hi Scott! What a charming take on the prompt. I loved every idiom you incorporated, but my favorite line was right in the beginning when he was hoping the call was from a telemarketer. That gave me a chuckle. What a cool call to action(pun intended)! I think that’s kinda a dream for every person: you’re just living your everyday life and someone literally calls you to save the day. Nice work!!


Show 0 replies
Delbert Griffith
00:08 Apr 30, 2023

Laughed at the idioms all the way through, Scott. This was such a fun read, my friend. Thoroughly enjoyable. I swear it deserved to be at least shortlisted, that's how good this tale is. You have a talent, Scott. A real writing talent, and I applaud your work. Cheers!


00:36 Apr 30, 2023

Thanks, after having had so many shortlists and wins, I haven't even been on the Rec list for 16 weeks.. but I do enjoy writing and getting comments from readers so just keep going.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Darya Silman
05:16 Apr 24, 2023

What an enlightening and funny story! As a non-English speaker, I found your story easy to read, with all idioms' meanings clear from the context. Well done! Wishing you luck!


Show 0 replies
16:39 Apr 21, 2023

Still editing, any suggestion or line edits would be greatly appreciated.


Lily Finch
03:00 Apr 24, 2023

Scott, I thought this was good. The idioms were amusing and well placed. I found two spots that may need your attention. Damn, now I’m talking like them now too. - repetition of now maybe The police than grab - then maybe Nicely done otherwise Scott, as always. LF6.


03:08 Apr 24, 2023

Nice spots! "the police then grab" yes, that's better. And I *then* deleted the "then" because 90% of the time the prose is better that way. The reader knows what follows is the next thing that happens anyway.


Lily Finch
03:31 Apr 24, 2023

Yeah I didn't want to suggest that but that fits better when you leave it out. LF6


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.