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Stall And It Might Save Your Life

, , , , , , | Legal | April 17, 2022

In the 1980s, I worked in a newsagent at a local train station.

One afternoon, when rush hour was almost over, I was refilling our drinks cooler while my female colleague was at the cash register. A man came in and asked [Colleague] for a pen and some paper. He then stood to one side and wrote a note of some kind.

All of a sudden, a train or a bus had come in to the station and the shop was flooded with customers. I stopped what I was doing and went to the second cash register to help get people out the door again. After a couple of minutes, all the customers were gone and the man from earlier came to the register. He put a note on the table and looked expectantly at both of us.

Me: “What am I to do with the note?”

Man: “One of you should read it.”

I picked up the note and read the first line.

Note: “This is a robbery. I want a minimum of 10,000. If you try contacting the police, you will be dead.”

I then noticed that he kept his right hand in the pocket of his jacket. I immediately pressed the alarm button which called the police and had the instore camera take one picture every second.

I turned the note over and noticed that something had been written on the other side, though it had been partly crossed out again.

I gave him back the note.

Me: “Which side am I supposed to read?”

Man: *Snarling* “Don’t try to be funny!”

As I had now pressed the alarm, I tried to stall for time. I took the note again and read it three times. I must admit that my hands were shaking a bit, but I gave the note back to him.

Me: “I’m sorry, but I can’t read what it says. Could you read it to me?”

Man: *Annoyed* “I’m going to shoot if you don’t give me 10,000 kroner.”

As I removed banknotes from the register, when there were above a certain number of them, I truthfully told him:

Me: “We don’t even have that much money.”

Man: “Do you want me to shoot you or shoot up in the air?”

Me: “I don’t know, but I don’t have that much money.”

Man: “Fine, just give me 5,000, then.”

Me: “We don’t have that much, either.”

Man: “How much do you have, then?”

At this point, I had noticed that his eyes seemed unfocused and his last statement told me that he wasn’t exactly in control of the situation. I opened the cash register and started counting the banknotes. Having counted them, I put them back in the cash register and closed it.

Me: “There are almost 1,500 kroner in there.”

Man: “Give them to me.”

As he hadn’t complained while I was counting the money, I opened the cash register again and counted them while wrapping every tenth note around the other nine. When I’d counted all of them, I recounted them while putting them on the desk between us. At this point, I had left the cash register open, and there were a lot of ten- and five-kroner coins.

Me: “What about the coins?”

He glanced at them.

Man: “I want those, too.”

I started taking them out of the cash drawer one at a time while counting them. I then counted them again as I put them into the plastic tubes we used when depositing them at the bank, each containing twenty to twenty-five coins depending on which coin it was for. I had done this with all the ten- and five-kroner coins and was counting the third tube of one-kroner coins when the police came in. At this time, I think almost ten minutes had passed.

Police: “Is the alarm from in here?”

That was the moment I was ready to throw myself on the floor. If the man really had a gun, this was likely when he would choose to shoot.

Me: “Yes, could you please take care of that man?”

We locked the door. One officer questioned my colleague and me while the other one questioned the man. The other officer came back and told us that the man didn’t have a gun and that he claimed that I had written the note.

They ended up arresting him and taking him to the police station. I then called my boss and explained what had happened. He laughed and told me that I should just open the shop again. I was the one on closing duties at 10:00 pm. The police left a little after 6:30 pm, and those last three and a bit hours were horrible. I knew that the man wasn’t coming back, but I was rather shaken.

There had been a number of customers while this took place. [Colleague] took care of them while I was dealing with the robber. Apparently, not a single customer noticed anything out of the ordinary.

Over the next week, I was annoyed that everybody I told the story to ended up laughing. I certainly didn’t find it funny. After that week, I slowly began seeing that the entire thing was rather funny because the man obviously had been out of touch with reality.

Three months later, [Colleague] and I were in court as witnesses against the robber. Our names and addresses were read aloud in court while he was present. All I know about him is that he was thirty-seven and from a neighbouring town. I don’t even know what kind of sentence he got if any.

I know that I behaved in a less than rational way, but you can’t plan ahead and know how you will react in a stressful situation like that, especially when you haven’t been told by corporate what you are supposed to do. Picking up on his not-being-quite-there and trying to stall for time led to things happening this way. 

I have twice since been in similarly stressful situations and have learned that I’m good at keeping calm while things are going on. Afterward, I tend to end up shaking all over.

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