Stepping back in time to earlier in the day, Jim comes downstairs and tells Jack about his conversation with the bank robber. But he doesn’t mess up the story because he’s bad at telling stories. Rather, he’s just a really good liar. So, stepping back more to his meeting with the robber, Lennart doesn’t open the door when Jim knocks on the door. The bank robber does, after telling the hostages that she has to do this. She needs to show her daughters how to take responsibility for one’s actions.
Here, the narrator begins to explain why Jim has perhaps been such a bumbling policeman as he and Jack have searched the apartment again—he chose to lie to Jack about his meeting with the robber. As the robber insists on speaking to Jim herself, she feels she’s doing the best she can as a parent given the circumstances. Hopefully, she reasons, her daughters will learn something from her mistake and not judge her too harshly.
When the bank robber opens the door, her hair is the same color as Jim’s daughter’s. They both notice that neither of them has removed their wedding rings. The robber asks if Jim is a policeman; she didn’t think the police would send an actual delivery guy up. She takes the pizzas, the pistol dangling in one hand, and Jim asks how she is. She says it hasn’t been the best day, but nobody’s hurt. Jim asks her to put the pistol down, and she asks to take the pizza to the hostages—it’s been a long day for them. When she returns to the door, Jim is shocked to hear people laughing inside the apartment.
Jim likely feels moved to help the robber because she resembles his daughter so much—and he can't help his daughter, but perhaps he can help the robber. Getting so close to the apartment is also an odd experience for Jim, as he never expected to hear hostages laughing inside. The hostage situation, of course, has turned into something entirely different—everyone in the apartment is now new friends.
Jim asks how the robber ended up here. She says she doesn’t know where to start. Jim brushes a tear off her cheek and tells her one of his wife’s favorite jokes: how does one eat an elephant? A bit at a time. The robber laughs that her daughters would like the joke. They both sit on the landing, and Jim says his wife loved bad jokes and causing trouble. She took some verses in the Bible literally and defended everyone who needed help. She’s dead now. Now, Jim says, it’s the robber’s turn to tell her story.
In describing how his wife tried to help everyone she could, Jim confirms that he’s trying to channel his wife and make her proud by treating the robber like a fellow person, rather than a hardened criminal. He’s no longer making assumptions about the robber that might make it harder to help her. Instead, he wants to hear her story so he can finally work with all the information.
The robber says her husband kicked her out; he’s having an affair with her boss, and since the apartment is only in his name, he got to keep it. She didn’t want to make a fuss for their daughters’ sake. The girls are with their dad now, but they were going to celebrate the New Year together. Jim asks what the robber needed the money for. She explains that she needed rent money, since her husband’s lawyer is threatening to take her children away if she doesn’t have a place to live. At this, Jim’s heart breaks. He starts to say that nobody can take her children away for not having a place to live—but now that she’s held up a bank, things are different. Jim asks how she got here.
The robber’s story is heartbreaking: she went to all this trouble for her daughters, and now she’s ended up in more trouble than when she started. This is especially difficult for Jim to hear, as a father who’s spent the whole novel trying to protect his own son from harm and disappointment. As the robber tells her story, she also echoes Nadia’s assertion that people erroneously try to fix chaos with chaos. The robber kept going with an elaborate scheme, and now, she’s stuck paying the price.
The robber says she’s an idiot; she didn’t want to make a fuss and thought she could sort it all out. But she’s ready to give up now, and the pistol’s not real. Jim, failing to see anyone but his daughter in the robber’s face, says that the robber will still end up in prison. He knows her story is sympathetic, but you can’t just let people run around with guns and rob banks and not arrest them. Jim decides he just won’t catch her.
Now, Jim runs up against the unfortunate fact that the law often doesn’t care about a person’s reason for breaking the law. What matters is that they broke the law, and they’ll be punished accordingly. Jim, though, does what he can to help by acting like a caring person, not a law enforcement officer.
Noticing the House Tricks Real Estate Agency sign on the apartment door, Jim says that he spoke to the couple in the apartment across the landing earlier. They’re splitting up because they’re “young and on the internet.” Privately, the robber thinks that the worst thing is that she still loves her husband—but maybe she’s no fun, so maybe he was right to leave her. Jim continues to say that the couple was using a real estate agency with a silly name, and if the real estate agent is still inside, maybe she has keys. Maybe the robber can hide in the other apartment, so the police won’t find her when they police storm up here. Jim shrugs that the police aren’t that good here, and they can’t break down doors without a reason. He notes, too, that they’ve been assuming the robber’s a man.
Though there’s still likely a decade or two of difference between Jim and the robber, they both see the couple in the apartment across the way as young and naïve—but conveniently so, in this case. And Jim also suggests that in this situation, the fact that the police have incorrectly assumed the robber is male will work in her favor and allow her to escape. The robber is still struggling to process the end of her marriage, even as she’s seen the proof that her husband is no longer on her team and is, in fact, her enemy.
The robber asks why Jim is helping her. Jim says his wife always quoted someone who said something to the effect of even if the world ends tomorrow, he’d still plant an apple tree today. Jim tells the robber to get going; his son Jack, who’s also a police officer, will be the first through the door. He also says that what he and his wife always had in common is that they wanted to save the ones they could. When the robber says she’s not sure if she deserves to be saved, Jim tells her to get back to him in 10 years and then tell him he was wrong. As Jim turns to go, the robber asks him to wait: she’d like to make a demand. She wants fireworks for Estelle, who used to watch them with her deceased husband. Jim nods, goes downstairs, and lies to Jack.
Jim’s wife quoted Martin Luther, the face of the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century. The gist, as Jim sees it, is that it’s important and worthwhile to help, even if it ultimately won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Then, when Jim says he and his wife wanted to save the ones they could, it’s an oblique reference to the fact that right now, Jim can’t save his daughter—but he can, perhaps, save the robber. When the robber asks for fireworks for Estelle, it highlights the strength of the bonds that the robber has formed with her hostages over the course of the hostage drama.