I was skimming through some of my past journal entries not too long ago, and I came across a singular event that had happened to me a number of years ago.
Those who know me personally tend to believe that I’m a decent sort of guy, maybe even a bit of a Boy Scout at times. However, there is another side to this writer, a much darker side. Those who profess to know me may be aghast to find that there is indeed a little ne’er-do-well within me that occasionally springs forth to defy law and order. A visit to Hannibal, Missouri in the spring of 2005 was the setting for one of those villainous acts which led to me being a fugitive, albeit briefly, from local authorities. It has taken me almost 11 years to come to grips with this particular skeleton in my closet, but now is the time for the truth to come out.
I am not the man you think I am!
The day in question began pleasantly enough. Having a few days off from work, I chose to spend them in Hannibal, a small town on the banks of the Mississippi River whose former resident, Mark Twain, I am a great admirer of. However, this segment of northeastern Missouri had a greater attachment to me than that. Lying on the outskirts of the town was Hannibal LaGrange College (now Hannibal LaGrange University).
This was my alma matter where I spent a number of wonderful, life-changing years. In the time following my 2002 graduation, I was a frequent visitor to the college. After all, many of my friends were still around as staff or student. The campus also held a lot of pleasant memories for me to immerse myself in while I pretended that I wasn’t an adult for a few hours. HLG has always been, and always will be, a place of retreat for me.
Unfortunately, the timing of my visit was not all that great. It was the start of spring break and the campus was virtually deserted. The weather was also overcast, windy and a bit chilly. Undaunted, I shoved my cold hands deep into the pockets of my hoodie, strolled the quiet grounds and reminisced. Over here was the place where my roommate had tried in vain to teach me golf; and there in the open field was where the massive boy vs. girl water balloon fight at the end of my first year. I walked under the massive trees blooming with springtime growth that were the center of the campus. I stood beneath the signature memorial archway, the remnant of the college’s original administration building which had burned down years before my arrival. I wandered through some of the buildings, peeking into darkened classrooms and remembering my favorite professors.
Behind the school was a nature trail which wound through forested bluffs, past a small waterfall and a burbling stream. This had been my silent refuge during my college days, a sanctuary for whenever things got stressful. Despite the rather inclement weather, I decided to retrace my steps down to the trail to revel in its sylvanian tranquility.
I spent a good hour on the trail before returning to my car. As I pulled out and made my way toward the exit, I barely registered the car that had come up behind me. As I drove through the campus traveling at speeds upwards of 10 miles per hour, the car stayed on my tail. It wasn’t until I turned right onto the street that ran past the college that I began to wonder about the car which was still following me. Glancing carefully into my rear view mirror, I noted the words “Campus Security” printed along the sides of the vehicle. There began to be a niggling in my mind that something was wrong. After all, why would campus security be leaving the campus? Still, I brushed the worry aside; I was just being paranoid. Maybe they were just going out to lunch or on some innocent errand.
I drove a short way before reaching Highway 61, the town’s main drag. I signaled to turn right and looked back in the mirror. The campus security car was right behind me, also signaling right. This has to be a coincidence, I thought. There was no reason why I should be pursued by security…was there?
I turned onto the highway, staying in the right lane and maintaining the speed limit (What a daredevil I was in those days). Perhaps the car will just pass me on the left, I hoped…but it didn’t. It continued to follow me. Now I was getting worried, perhaps even a little scared. Aside from a few speeding tickets, I had never had any problems with the authorities.
Apprehensively, I switched over to the left lane, and so did campus security. There was no question now that this person was after me. About a half mile into our low-speed chase, I finally had enough and turned left into a parking lot. As I pulled into a space, the campus security car stopped right behind me, blocking any potential getaway. With a feeling of unreality, I shut off my car and lowered my driver side window. A man got out of the campus security vehicle and approached the open window. I recognized him immediately. He was the criminal justice professor at the college, as well as the head of campus security. He also worked for the county sheriff. This was not some wet-behind-the-ears, overzealous rookie looking for something to do.
What on earth did I do?!
“Uh, hi,” I said, trying to stifle my rising panic.
“Hello,” he replied, “I’m glad you decided to stop. I wouldn’t have been able to pull you over.”
Rats, I thought. I could have made a clean getaway.
“Could I see some identification, please?”
I wasn’t sure if he had the authority to ask this of me, but I wanted to be as cooperative as possible. I handed over my driver’s license. He asked me what my purpose was for being on campus. I explained to him that I was an alum just paying a visit to the college.
“I see,” he said, returning my license with an apologetic grin. “I’m sorry for chasing you down like this, but I also need to search your car.” As I had nothing to hide I agreed to the search, still unclear as to why this was happening. I got out of my car and popped open my trunk for inspection. As he looked through it, he finally explained the reason behind the pursuit. The evening before, a student’s car on campus was broken into and a gun stolen from it. Apparently, as I was roaming around the college that afternoon, fogged in happy memories, someone in the Administration building spotted me and thought me very shifty looking. Thinking that I was casing the joint for another target, campus security was summoned. Unbeknownst to me, I had been an on-the-run fugitive from justice for ten minutes.
Not finding anything incriminating, he again apologized for the whole affair. We shook hands and there were no hard feelings. After all, he was just doing his job. Still, I felt rather mortified. Some people may enjoy being falsely suspected of a crime, but I was not one of them. I decided to keep this embarrassing tale under my hat.
As you might expect, with the passage of time I began to see humor in it. I also must confess that this little adventure into the world of crime turned out to be a better story than my other run-in with the law in Hannibal when I was once pulled over by the county sheriff for driving too slow in the left lane.