by Tom Adair
My wife used to think I was paranoid. When your day job is all about murder, rape, and theft you tend to look at the world a little differently so I suppose I can come off as a little "guarded." Like a lot of folks in law enforcement I can easily imagine bad things happening.
Most people I give the benefit of the doubt but every once in a while I run into a person or situation that makes my necks hairs stand at attention. When that happens, my senses come alive and I start running "what if" scenarios in my head. Like some fictional Jason Bourne I start looking for "exits" and subconsciously check my weapons. It's a survival instinct and second nature at this point in my life. My wife can tell instantly when I go into this mode and sometimes she even races me there.
Such was the case this summer on a camping trip in Colorado. It was a cloudy/rainy day in the back country mountains west of the mining town of Leadville. We were driving along a lonely road and spotted a cute little creek winding it's way up the mountain. Always the adventurer, I pulled the truck to the one available spot to park at without rolling off the mountain. We grabbed the dog, camera, and headed up a small trail.
About 45 minutes into our adventure the hairs on my neck stood up. I noticed it even before the dog. A big man in his fifties, maybe 6'4 and 230 pounds, was coming up the small trail toward us. He was maybe 20 yards away. His blue overalls and boots didn't look like something you'd wear hiking. That...and the white hard hat perched on his head with the name "Rob" written in ink on a piece of tape affixed to the front. I had heard chainsaws on the opposite ridge a few miles away but this guy didn't have any tools.
The first thing any good cop looks at is a man's hands. Hands kill. I looked at his and saw something small and brown. The steep hill on one side and the creek on the other didn't leave a lot of room for maneuvering on the trail so I figured a good offense was better than a good defense. I put myself between him and my family and called out "How's it going?" My tone said go away. Actually, my tone added a few other choice words I can't repeat here.
That's when he held up the mushroom. "I've found these all along the trail. Do you know much about mushrooms?" he asked. "No" He held it out for me to get a better look but I kept my eyes locked on his. I never let him get within arm's length of me. Maybe he was just creepy and innocent but all I could think of was him grabbing my arm if I extended it; so I didn't. He never gave me cause to pull my gun but he creeped me out all the same.
After some one-sided small talk he moved on up the trail. Once out of sight, we turned and made our way back to the truck. There was no way I was following him into a possible ambush. When we got back to the road I noticed a funny thing. There were no other vehicles. So either this guy walked a really, really long way, he lives in the woods, or he had his car hidden somewhere not easy to find. I never cared to find out which it was.
The point of this story is that people like me, who saw the worst in people day in and day out, see the world differently. When you're developing your law enforcement characters remember that they have a unique world view. They may pick up on details others may miss. Often times their suspicions are unfounded, or they may come off as paranoid, but they are just trying to make sense of the puzzle pieces they find.