Sunday, November 11, 2012
Under the Gun
I was exchanging posts with a friend on Facebook and for some reason got involved in a story from my younger days. One thing led to another and I promised to blog about a particular incident. So here it is...
The first time I ever fired a weapon, I was fourteen. My dad and I were out on my Uncle Bill's ranch in Texas. My memory says it was a shotgun, but reason argues for a rifle. Whatever is was, when I fired it, the kick from it landed me on my butt about six feet away from where I started. That didn't deter me. Over the years, I've had occasion to fire other guns. After all, target shooting can be fun and competitive.
Not so when the weapon is pointed at you.
When I was twenty seven, I worked at a fast food joint, closing the place six nights out of seven. The hunk and I had been married nine years, had three kids and a continually mounting pile of bills. He worked days plus the breakfast rush at the fast food place on the weekends. I worked nights. It's a schedule a lot of young couples go with because childcare is too expensive.
Our store closed at eleven p.m. on the dot. The manager ran around locking all the doors while the rest of us starting taking the bins apart and carrying them back to the crew person in charge of washing dishes. In the back storage room we had a washing machine we used to wash our cotton clean up towels. After dumping off my bins, I snagged the keys to the storage room from the manager's desk and went to empty the washer.
When I unlocked the door and flipped on the light, a guy jumped out at me, waving a shotgun. He had on a rubber Halloween mask with a sheet draped over him.
We never know how we'll react in a crisis until it happens to us. I just backed up and slammed the door shut. It didn't occur to me that I was the one locked out--not him. He jerked the door open, pointed the gun at my belly, and yelled, "This is a hold-up!"
The mind freezes up. I just stood there until he poked me in the gut and told me to sit on the floor under our time clock. He rounded everyone else up by telling them he would shoot me if they didn't come. When everyone was sitting on the floor except the manager, he demanded she dump the money in the drawers in a pillowcase he was carrying. And then he left.
Time started. Stopped. Started. The manager called the police and then the head store manager. The crew went back to work in the close down cleaning.
I remember the plain clothes cops kept trying to talk to me but I was cleaning. Finally, one gently removed the towel I was using from my hands and directed me to sit down.
Then I started shaking.
The head manager called in extra crew to close down and sent the night manager and me to a diner to unwind over coffee because clearly we weren't going to be able to just go home and sleep.
Overall, I thought I was handling the incident pretty well until about two weeks later. All the crew members except the grill guy and me were in the back for a quick crew meeting. Two fellows came in and walked up to the counter, but they were acting weird and my inner alarm were screaming. In my best cheery voice, I welcomed them to the store and asked how I could help them.
"This is a stick-up."
Maybe they were screwing around. I never saw a gun. But I walked away, heading for the crew room. By the time I got there, I was crying and howling.
The two guys ran out to their car and were peeling out of the parking lot when the manager made it to the front counter. The manager called the cops and the same two plain-clothes cops interviewed me again. By then, I was feeling really stupid and sure I'd over-reacted.
When I shared my thoughts with the officers, they just shook their heads. One of them scolded me about discounting my instincts. Then they told me they were pretty sure the same two guys had hit another fast food store after they left ours.
They killed three teenaged crew members there.
Because of the first robbery I didn't react the way I might have otherwise and that had thrown them off their plan. I worked a couple more weeks. And then I quit. The hunk and I decided we'd find some way to make things work without my job. Things were really hard. Not long after that we found out I was pregnant at the time of the first robbery.
I've talked to officers since then over the years. Every single one has told me to never ignore my instincts. If something about an individual sets off my alarms, get the heck away from them. There's a reason that radar is screaming.
And I can tell you firsthand--the real deal is nothing like television or movies or books. Nothing like it.