About 10 years ago, Cowgrit and I were out and about after a dinner date. We decided to run over to the nearby Walmart to pick up some items before heading back home.
The Walmart is situated at the end of a strip mall of about a dozen or so other stores down a covered sidewalk. We pulled into the shopping center parking lot, (Cowgrit was driving, I was the passenger), and slowly drove down the lane next to the sidewalk. It was well after sundown, and the stores along the sidewalk strip were closed.
As we moved along, we noticed a woman and daughter (around 8 years old) walking down the well-lighted, but otherwise vacant, sidewalk. A man followed them about 20 feet behind. He was talking to them, and showing agitation with his hand gestures. The woman kept her daughter moving forward while keeping an eye on the man behind them. It became more obvious that there was an uncomfortable dispute between them as we passed by.
I mentioned to Cowgrit how that woman seemed afraid of the man. I asked Cowgrit to pull back around and lets pass them again with our windows down. When we passed them again, we could hear the argument: he was pleading for the woman to come back to him, and saying, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
This was a time before cell phones were so common, so neither of us had one. We needed to get to a phone, but most of the stores were closed and dark. The only open store on the strip, besides Walmart was a game store.
Coincidentally, I was a regular patron of this game store. It was situated pretty close to the center of the strip of stores, so the woman, girl, and man walked right by it. Inside the store, the lights were on, and there were a handful of people hanging out. (There had been a gaming event there that evening, and it had just finished up.)
I told Cowgrit to stop and let me out so I could go into the game store and use their phone. She was to continue driving around, watching, but staying out of harm’s way. She stopped the car long enough for me to get out, and I walked fast up to the game store door.
The woman, girl, and man had just passed the store front, and I could hear the man continuing his call for the other two to return with him. I tried to open the store door, but it was locked. I rapped on the glass to get the attention of someone inside.
One of the workers said, “We’re closed.” I couldn’t hear her, but I could read her lips.
I held my hand up to the side of my head with my thumb and pinky extended, to mimic using a phone. When all the workers and patrons were looking at me, wondering what I was trying to do, I held up my hands, using my fingers to show the numbers 9, 1, 1. My audience was confused at my antics, but the worker girl motioned for the nearest patron to unlock the door.
By this time, the woman and her daughter were walking back towards me, with the man still following and still pleading. (They must have turned around back this way while I was trying to communicate with the game store people.) I could tell the man was probably drunk or stoned, and the woman was very upset. The little girl was following her mother’s direction, and was scared.
The store patron, a skinny little teenager with a box of Magic: the Gathering game cards under his arm, turned the lock to open the door. When the door opened, I said, “Let this woman and girl in, then lock the door.”
The people inside the store seemed to figure out what I had been trying to explain mutely through the window, and they all moved forward as the woman and girl entered. “Thank you, thank you,” the woman said to everyone as she went inside. I stood there a moment longer as they relocked the door, and as the aggressive man stepped up just a moment too slow.
I backed off quickly — the crazy guy might have had a weapon. He gave me a dirty look through bloodshot eyes, but then turned to the glass door. He put his hand on the glass and pleaded once more to the woman. Inside the store, the patrons, a half dozen “gamer nerds” (tall and short, skinny and fat, middle-aged and young) stood at the window with the woman and girl behind and among them. One of the workers was dialing the phone.
I walked off the sidewalk and into the parking lot just as Cowgrit pulled up with the car. I opened the door and hopped in. We waited there for a minute, until the crazy man gave up and walked away down the sidewalk. We then just went on to do our own business.
A week or so later, when I visited the game store again, I asked the guy behind the counter what happened that night after they let the woman and girl in. This worker didn’t know what I was talking about — he hadn’t been working that night, and hadn’t heard anything about the incident.
So I have no idea how the whole thing ended. The last thing I saw was a group of geeks letting a terrified woman and girl find safety in their herd.