I felt my friend C.’s hand brush against my hip and across the handle of the knife I had clipped there. “Just making sure I could reach it too,” she said. “You see him…at your four o’clock?” I nodded, my eyes tracking him, unsurprised that she’d noticed him too. The newcomer was young, dressed in a dirty jacket and jeans. But it was the way he moved, and the way he stared at everyone female in the restaurant, that had set off my alarm bells.
We were at a a fast food restaurant on the way home from the range after Ladies Night, and had decided to get a drink and a snack. The man C. and I were now watching sat perched on the edge of a table near the door. His body was never still, his eyes scanning in a hungry, desperate way. His movements were jerky and awkward. If I had to guess, he was either mentally ill, high, or up to trouble. Maybe all three.
A moment later, he leapt up and bolted out the door. I thought I saw him stop behind a concrete garbage can just outside the door, but a glare on the window made visibility hard. The third member of our group sipped her coffee, oblivious to the stranger’s actions and to the whispered conversation between C. and I. “Let’s get out of here,” I murmured. C. nodded agreement. “D. in the middle,” she said. “You take rear, since you’re armed and I’m not.” She turned to D. “Let’s get out of here.”
We stood and made our way to the car. The stranger was there, behind the garbage can, and his eyes fixated on us as soon as we got outside. C. and I both made eye contact with him, and something in our expressions made him hesitate. It was all the opening we needed to get past him and to the car. C. watched the man while I unlocked the car and D. and I got in. Once we were inside, I locked the door and we left without incident.
The fact that there wasn’t trouble that night didn’t mean there couldn’t have been. Minutes earlier, we were laughing and giggling and joking around. Might he have looked at us and seen a group of easy prey? Might he have been lost in a world inside his own mind, seeing us as projections of his own internal narrative? Who knows. The odds are, we would have been just fine. But the fact that the chances of trouble are one in a million doesn’t offer much comfort if you’re that one.
What lessons can be learned from our experience? Here are a few of my thoughts:
- Just because you’re in a group doesn’t mean you’re safe. I talked about this a few days ago, but it bears repeating: If the whole group is in Condition White, the fact that the predator has more than one of you to choose from doesn’t make you safe. It makes you a buffet. Situational awareness is every bit as important – if not more so – when you’re in a group.
- Coordinate your responses. My friend made sure I’d seen the bad guy. She made sure she could reach the knife. We kept our (unarmed) friend between us when we left the restaurant. The two of them kept overwatch while I unlocked the car. The strength of a group comes when all of you can work together to keep yourselves safe.
- Err on the side of caution. This is generally true, but especially so in a group. It’s harder to coordinate and get a whole group out of a situation and to a place of safety than it is for a single person to flee. For that reason, err on the side of moving away from trouble sooner than you might if you were alone. Had I been by myself, watchful Condition Orange monitoring might have been okay. With three of us, a strategic retreat quickly was the way to go.
- Discuss emergency responses ahead of time. This is something I didn’t do with my friends, but I should have done. With my daughter, for example, I’ve ingrained the knowledge that the command “RUN!” means right now, no questions, no arguing, just go. Nutmeg knows that if I say “we need to leave NOW”, that’s not the time to ask me why. She also knows that I try to keep myself between her and potential danger if we have to retreat. It would have been useful if both of my friends knew this, too. I wasn’t as worried about C., because I know her level of awareness and training, and I know how she’s likely to respond to trouble. D. is a newer friend, and so far as I know is less experienced tactically, so I didn’t have that same comfort level.
- Don’t assume danger only comes in the dark. The restaurant was well lit, though not very busy. There were lights in the parking lot. The maybe-predator was trying to conceal himself behind the garbage can, but wasn’t trying especially hard to stay in the shadows. Trouble can find you anywhere, which is why a relaxed state of watchful awareness at all times is so critical.
Perhaps the most important lesson of the day was that absolutely nothing bad actually happened. It’s entirely possible that C. and I could have over-reacted. It’s entirely possible that the guy we were watching wondered what the heck was wrong with us. 99% of the time these things are nothing, but the trouble is that you never know WHICH 99%, and the 1% of the time that isn’t nothing is only clear in hindsight.
How about you? Have you been in a similar situation? How did you react, and what did you learn from it? Was there anything you could have done better? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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