The Cheshire Man


You've got the hardware — what about the software?

We’ll call my friend Bill and his oldest dog Bruno, okay? It happened in a small, nice suburban development in the mid-South, buffered by 20 miles of fields and woods from the nearest urban center. Bill can’t recall a single crime in the neighborhood in years, as though all troubles — gangs, drugs and grief — stop at the interstate.

At about 2:00 a.m., old Bruno’s aging bladder signaled him to awaken Bill and answer nature’s call. Bill got up and let him out, expecting, as usual, to wait 5 minutes, then let him back in. Routine. Bill almost nodded off again, but Bruno’s bark — his “General Quarters!” bark, not his “Let me in, Dad” garrumph — put Bill on instant alert. He stepped into saggy-baggy old sweatpants and floppy slippers and shuffled for the front door.

Bruno was just inside his invisible electric fence, giving canine hell to a dark figure a few feet away, slightly bent over, murmuring soothingly to Bruno. Bill flipped the light on. It was a young man; tall, mid-20s maybe, long wild hair, wearing sneakers, jeans and a short-sleeve T-shirt. There was frost on the grass and windshields, temp about 30 degrees. Looking for a car or bike, Bill saw only a skateboard out in the street. He called sharply for Bruno, who reluctantly withdrew a few feet. Bill’s spider-senses tingled.

“I can tell by the tone of your voice you’re upset,” the man said more loudly than necessary, but low. “I’d like to come up and talk to you.” He began slowly advancing. Now Bill’s bells rang. He was standing half in the door, holding a pistol behind his back. “We’re not talking,” Bill said. “You need to leave.”

“What’s that behind your back?” the guy chuckled — and advanced. Bill blurted the first thing that came to him: “A big-ass flashlight!” Now the dude laughed, low — and took another step.

Tipping Point

Will that flashlight … kill a deer?” He smiled broadly. Bill was suddenly and acutely aware of his shrinking options and poor situation. Should he abandon Bruno and slam the door? Shoot? His sweatpants were almost falling off. His slippers would flip off with any sudden movement. The man showed no fear, not even concern, and a weird, carefree, even amused attitude. As Bill later said, “He radiated casual violence.”

Bill took his best verbal shot: “Yes it will!” he bellowed. “Go! Move along!” Still smiling like a Cheshire cat, the guy gazed at Bill for a long moment, then coolly turned, walked out to the street, stepped on his skateboard and wheeled away. Bill noticed that unlike every skateboard he’d ever heard, this one was silent. A few minutes later he realized it had to have been set up for that: “Rigged for silent running.”

Bill freely — and wisely — admitted the incident had shaken him, and he was miserably unprepared for it. He had faced danger before, but he realized it had fallen into two categories: In most, he knew the dangers he faced and had some time — a little or a lot — to psychologically prepare himself for them. Then a couple of times lethal danger had sprung upon him so suddenly he reacted instantly, aggressively and instinctively. This was different, and he was unprepared. All those other situations were unequivocal. This one wobbled from second to second.

Bill’s a shooter; a good one, with solid guns and a level head. Bill was prepared, with the right hardware, attitude and game plans, to “repel boarders” in a home invasion or deal with an ATM stickup or sudden violence in his business. We talked about it at length, and I wish I had room here to repeat that. I’m sure your heads are already sparkin’ with conjecture and conclusions about Bill’s encounter. Was there an unseen accomplice nearby? Is that why the dude spoke louder than necessary? A T-shirt in 30-degree weather? Was that because he was drugged up — or just got out of a warm van? That careless attitude: was he armed and experienced, crazy and fearless — what? And at flashpoint, does any of that matter?

Preachin’ To The Choir

Yeah, I know. But remember, Bill is a choir member too. And sometimes the songbook is missin’ a few pages, so excuse me re-stating what I’ve said before: Never step out — not even halfway out — without a gun, a light, a knife and an attitude. Always be prepared — clothing, footwear and in your head — to run, fight and climb fences. It’s not that difficult or even inconvenient once you adopt the survivor’s philosophy and totally dismiss any concern about being thought paranoid. The world is a dangerous place. Run “worst-case scenarios” constantly — and have scripted lines to fit a variety of spontaneous, unpredictable scenarios. Give some thought to having “the right lines,” but far more thought to the right actions.

My S.O.P. is to never open a door or turn a corner unprepared to deal with Zombies, Nazis, PCP freaks, giant rabid wolverines, Martians, mad mullahs and laser-guided psychotic polar bears. You don’t have to go full-boogie Connor though. Just remember: Bill’s Cheshire-grinnin’ goblin is out there, somewhere — right now — runnin’ silent.

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