Bus Stops and Abandoned Backpacks

“The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.” -P. G. Wodehouse

**********

This is one of those stories.  You know the kind.  The type where you sit around a pub table at night, talking about things that you still find a little hard to believe.  Yet, you know that it is probably in your best interest to keep these sorts of stories from your Mom.  Because, well, keeping your parental figures from having heart attacks is in everyone’s best interest.  Darn it though, anecdotes want to be told.

I find it rather relaxing to take leisurely strolls.  On one particular route, I rarely encounter another person on the sidewalk.  There is only one stoplight between myself and home.  The route has trees, long stretches of pavement, and is quite low in stress.

Except for that one time.

bus-stop-1452777239g7iThere is a bus stop just as the road curves.  Rarely does a bus stop there in the evenings.  Crowds of people do not cram into that little depot.  It sits quietly, unassuming, content to be whether or not it is serving any real purpose.

On that particular day, its purpose was to play host to a backpack.  It was a rather large, black backpack.  There was no host, no people meandering about that would quickly return for the bag.  It was an abandoned item; a mysterious package.

I have found items of value before and I try to return them.  Thus I unzipped the main pouch, and found large amounts of Mike’s Hard Lemonade.  Plenty of the stuff filled into that backpack.  I really think half of the weight was made of these cans sloshing about.

I started to walk, thinking it would be easier to find some ID at home.  But the bag was heavy and I was curious.  So I opened a second pouch, moved some more Hard Lemonade, and kept trying to arm myself with more information.

Which is when I found the gun.

There are plenty of people who would be alarmed at the steps I had already taken.  “Don’t you listen to the intercom system at any airport?  Like, ever?  Report unattended items!  It could be a bomb!  See something, say something!  Call the cops!  You could have died.”

cardboard-box-155480_960_720Calm down.  People call in bomb threats to create a sense of panic.  They want a sense of fear to permeate the world.  If they can get on the news for forcing a building to be evacuated, then they win.  The world gets shaken up and they get their little excitement.  If they are really determined, then they will make an actual bomb and see how much carnage they can create.

This bag was in the middle of nowhere.  No pedestrians, no houses, located at the base of a rather bare hill.  If it had been a bomb, they would have claimed exactly one victim.  Apologies, but I am not spiffy enough to warrant my own headline, I do not care how slow of a news day it is.  There is a twisted logic to causing terror, and in my estimation, there was no payoff for anyone to leave the bag there.  So that was my thought process when I unzipped the thing.  Take precautions, sure.  But shirk panic.

I once had a woman come into my store.  She was very concerned and nervous.  She asked if I would call security or the police.  When I pressed her, she pointed to a black plastic box sitting outside our door.  It was a mouse trap.  We have them all over the building.

All that said, I do hate guns.  I had no desire to see if it was loaded.  I know enough not to handle a firearm without knowing if it is loaded and I certainly did not want my fingerprints on any more items than they had already touched.

The paranoid folks that worry about bombs will be pleased to know that my concerned side kicked in as I put the cans back in the bag.  What if the owner comes back now?  What if they see me walking down the sidewalk with their gun?  Is this a violent individual who will chase after me and might be carrying a second gun?  What if a child comes across this bag and finds the gun?  Do I need to worry about drugs or other weapons in the bag?  Do I really want to walk this a few miles home?

I wanted that bag gone.  And the closest business was only a few blocks away.

Picture if you will.  You are sitting in a residential business.  You have less than an hour left in your shift.  You have cleared off the clutter of your desk for the day.  Maybe you need to make a phone call or two, telling customers their requests have been fulfilled.  You start pining for the weekend that just cruelly ended; far too soon for your liking.

business-1067978_960_720Then a young man walks through the door.  He is carrying a large bag.  You have never seen this man before.  He comes up to you and says, “I need to use your phone to call the police.  Is that okay?”  When you point to the lobby phone and mildly ask what is happening, he tells you things you would rather not hear.  Things like, “There’s something in, I, the police need to come get this.”  You look to your supervisor, raise your eyebrows a bit, and reply, “If it is a bomb, I’m not sure I want it in here.”

Poor gal.  All the people in the city that carry phones with them and she gets visited by the one guy who does not.  I made the call brief though.  I went outside the building, as far from their business as I could, and waited for the police to arrive.

Not too much later, along came a police SUV.  A calm and pleasant officer approached me, put on her blue gloves, and took the bag.  I gave her a brief recap, pointed to the areas that my hands had touched, and made sure she knew what section the gun was in.  She took it and made her way back to the station to x-ray it.

I considered myself the good little citizen.  I had followed my Sesame Street training and called the authorities.  For all the news stories and controversies about police there are out there, I am glad that there is someone to call when weapons are found.  I decided that all was well, even if I was a little worried about the kinds of people that were out there leaving backpacks with weapons.  Were they part of some Hunger Games-esque, underground reality show where they had to kill or be killed?  Were drug runners moving in and expanding their territory?  Had a government drop off been intercepted?  No matter what my imagination contrived, the gun was off the streets.  No shootings today.

I received a phone call from the officer an hour later.  It had not been a gun.  It had been a paintball gun.  (Which, in my definition, is still a gun.  See the second word there?  Gun.  But I let the officer define terms since it is her field.)   Some ID was inside, so they were calling to have the belongings picked up.

I can sense the admiration from here.  Clearly I am a hero for the masses.  Saving the world from… getting little dots of color splattered on clothing.  Stay back Captain Kirk, I got this!  No red shirts today!  Recreational sports equipment, fear my might!  Rawr!

I shook my head and went back to my life.  The drama had resolved itself, all except for one tiny detail.  What the sam hill was with all that lemonade?

The Officer’s Key Error

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Officer’s Key Error

Let us all be thankful for fools.   But for them the rest of us could not succeed.” –Mark Twain

Crccc-click.  Crrrccc-click.  The inner-workings of the handcuffs ratcheted noisily into place, becoming tighter and more confining with each bit of pressure that Hal put on them.  His knees ached from his crouched over perch.  Hal stood up, never taking his eyes away from his prey, and looked down with glee.

“Why don’t you just stay right there?  I mean, you’re comfortable, ain’tchya?”

The man sat there.  He didn’t say a word.  Instead, he smiled.

Officer Hal Donaldson couldn’t understand why the man would be feeling victorious.  The arrest had gone entirely Hal’s way.  The Lieutenant had given a description of the bank robber over the walkie talkie.  Donaldson’s partner had started to canvas the area.  He was sure that he had seen someone similar a few yards back.  The plan had been for Hal to call in their actions to the house, but then he saw the man that so perfectly fit the bulletin.

Hal had leapt out of the card, reached for his service weapon, and dashed up the road to catch the man.  That was when Phil Klen poured on the speed.  It had played out just as Hal had hoped it would.  The crook took off in a burst of swiftness.  Hal had been right on his tail.  Klen ran to the end of an alley, jumped for the top of a chain link fence, grabbed maniacally at it, and finally hoisted himself over.  Hal, eager and thrilled to be in an actual chase, had grabbed onto the fence, vaulted himself over, and landed quite smoothly on the other side.

Klen ran down the sidewalk throwing café tables and garbage cans behind him to block the officer’s pursuit.  Hal managed to jump over the tables, skirt around the garbage debris, and he even fought his way through the crowd of pedestrians that had stopped to see what the ruckus was.  Hal felt the thrill feeding his adrenaline, boosting his levels of performance higher and higher.  At the same time, he knew what his duty was to the good citizens of the city.  He was hired to protect and the longer this cat and mouse game went on, the more people he would endanger.

Hal looked around him, hoping that his environment would grant him some advantage to stopping Klen.  The police officer could see nothing that would give him the edge.  But then he noticed Klen up ahead.  The man was clearly slowing down.  Hal knew that this was his moment.  He took a deep breath and drew on his reserves to give him one final sprint.  Hal bee-lined towards Klen, catapulted himself off of a cement planter, and dove at the wanted man.

The tackle had been picture perfect.  Just like in the movies, Hal had connected solidly with Klen’s back.  The force of Hal’s attack had sent the two of them into the ground.  The impact knocked whatever fight that had been left in Klen right out of him.  Hal recited the Miranda Rights.  As he did so, he handcuffed each of Klen’s long arms to a bike rack outside a grocery store.

Now Hal couldn’t take Klen’s smiling anymore.  “You wait right here while I go and get reinforcements”, Hal half-joked.

Again, Phil Klen only smiled confidently.  Hal couldn’t see where this devious attitude was coming from, but it was freaking him out.  He was already warmed up from the initial round of running, so he picked up the pace again and ran back to his squad car.

Four blocks and as many minutes later, Hal saw his partner approaching the car.  Hal threw up his hands in a victory-pose.

“What are you so excited about?”  Officer George Cutlo had been on the force ten years longer than Hal.  His enthusiasm was always harder to earn than Hal’s.

“I caught him!”

“Caught who?”  George only half listened as he pulled up the latest arrest warrant on the squad car’s laptop.

“The guy on the radio; Phil Klen.”

“Yeah right”, George smirked.  “So where is he?”

“He’s in front of the grocery store about four blocks from here.”

“Really?”  George’s tone had quickly shifted to serious.  “Who’s watching him?”

“No one.  Don’t worry; I left him handcuffed to a bike rack.”

“You did what?”  George immediately put his keys to the ignition and fired up the vehicle.

“What’s wrong?”  Hal sat shotgun as George fired up the lights and sirens.

“Did you happen to listen to the broadcast?  Maybe actually read the arrest history of our perp?”

“No.  I was too caught up in arresting him.  What’s the problem?”

“The problem”, George said angrily, “is that this Klen guy is a safecracker.  He’d been an apprentice locksmith.”

“And?”

“He worked for two years learning his trade with a professional escape artist!”  George stabbed his finger towards the laptop, directing Hal’s attention to the details in the warrant that were right in front of him.

The weight of Hal’s mistake started to dawn on him as the car turned the last corner.

“You’ve got a walkie talkie on you.  Why didn’t you call for back up?  Or take that phone out of your pocket and call me?  I could have met you there.”

“I just”, Hal stammered.  “I didn’t think to.”  Hal left out the part where he had enjoyed leaving the world of paperwork behind and the thrill that the foot chase had provided him with.  As they screeched to a halt in front of the grocery store, what had been a moment of pride for Hal was now a hollow victory.

Hal’s handcuffs were right where he left them on the bike rack.  Only now, they were empty.  In that moment, the smile on Klen’s face made a lot more sense to the rookie cop.

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