Tuesday, October 11, 2011

About That Creepy Guy I Met In The Woods...

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.


  1. Intriguing post. It sounds like your senses served you well. I pay attention to details too...and run mental scenarios. I think a lot of writers develop those patterns because of our tendency to see everyone as a potential character. And sometimes as a potential threat too. An active imagination can make you a little paranoid too.

  2. I thing the "see the worst" is an excellent way to show your cop characters, and it creates conflict because most people aren't that negative. I'm working on a few chapters right now where that comes into play.

    (And Hubster is a mushroom person, so he'd probably have gone right up to the guy and tried to help him identify his find. Or at least asked if he could take its picture.)

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  3. I heard one time, only half-jokingly, that cops pretty much divide the world into two groups. If you're not a cop, you're a suspect.

    Having gone on a few ride-alongs I know for a fact I miss a lot of the details cops have been trained to see. But as a writer, I think I pick up a lot more than non-writers. The problem is that I often embellish and twist what I've seen into something unrecognizable.

    The nature of the biz.

    Terrific post, Tom!

  4. Wow! What a story! Sure glad that, thanks to your heightened senses and street/woods savvy, it turned out well - at least for your family! Hope there were no later victims in that scenario.

    Excellent post, Tom!

  5. I'm a writer, but I think my heightened suspicions are from also being a victim of violent crime. I watch people, but I almost always have an escape plan.

  6. Loved your post! Glad that your senses were alert. I think most of us have the neck hair rising alert, but sometimes brush it off because we like to give the benefit of the doubt to strangers, or we think we've watched one too many scary movies. But, I'm a firm believer in trusting your gut and even if you come off rude or aloof, better that than getting hurt, or worse. Thanks for the tips on writing men and women in law enforcement.

  7. Good post, Tom. I was married to a Las Vegas Metro PO for many years and I know exactly what you're saying. The wives (and husbands) get used to it and trust it but outsiders often don't seem to "get" it. Guess that one reason cops hang out with cops.

  8. See, and here I thought I was the only one who looked at the world through tarnished glasses. I've always been that way--but with me, I saw things in terms of plot action. The woman rolling a baby out of the store in a stroller was always kidnapping it. The old lady on the corner wasn't a lady at all....etc. If made for a good plot twist, my mind was all over it. (Drew's Party of One).

  9. Hi, Tom: Great post. I'm from Colorado and I can easily visualize what you and your wife went through. Wow. One question. Could that man see your gun, or did you keep it hidden. Very interesting and thanks for sharing!

  10. I think part of the difference is that cops have learned to trust their intuition, whereas many of the rest of us dismiss those little subconscious warning bells as an overactive imagination.

    But, as Gavin de Becker says in "The Gift of Fear", that warning prickle of intuition should always trigger a careful examination of one's surroundings. Your intuition may be responding to the wrong thing, or it may be responding incorrectly to whatever stimulus triggered it, but it's NEVER responding to nothing. When those little alarm bells go off, stop to figure out why.

    People who work in a threat-rich environment -- cops, soldiers, bouncers in bars, etc. -- learn this lesson well. Too many of The rest of us don't learn it until we've been victimized.

  11. A lot of great comments, thanks everyone. Donnell, I carry concealed in most situations so he had no idea (which is the way I like it). It is true that a lot of LE folks keep LE friends because we're usually on the same wavelength. I remember one time a neighbor came over to borrow something and he froze in his tracks upon entering the dining room. It startled me. He was reacting to my handgun laying on the table. I have no kids so it's not an uncommon sight in my house. When I come home I off-load (not unload) my gun in the same way I do my keys and wallet. There was nothing dangersous about it just laying there but you'd thought he saw a rattlesnake. Anyway, he just wasn't used to seeing something like that and I was way too familiar so it was an interesting collision of world views. He was very good spirited about it though.

  12. Thanks so much for sharing. I'm glad you were safe!
    I'm a pharmacist and get jaded on people lying to me about certain things to do with their pain meds. (stolen, lost, dog ate it, whatever) and that's just one aspect of criminal activity. I can only imagine what you deal with on a daily basis.
    Thanks again!

  13. Hi f4f, this is a really good article. I think victims of crime and their families train themselves to think this way too. Fooled me once, shame on you, fooled me twice...

    As you say, there is always a reason for the hairs to go up at the back of your neck. I blame the psychology/psychiatry profession for pathologizing caution as paranoia, and the media picking up on this.

    With increased risk (e.g. LE career, country or neighbourhood you live in, etc) or a known attacker who is targeting you, you will need to assess your risk, take appropriate defensive measures, and be on an appropriate state of alert. The average person regards this as paranoia.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.