Editor’s note: This story comes from SN, a SOFREP reader, fellow intel guy, and good friend of mine. He had shared a mini AAR on his travels to Europe with me and I realized it was too good to pass up. Take what lessons and notes you can from his experience, and enjoy the story that goes along with it. This is part one, with part two available here.—14C
I was alone, on leave, and traveling through Europe not too long ago. Looking back, I really should not have been traveling alone—but plans I’d had to link up with a buddy of mine had fallen through.
After spending time in France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, I decided that my next stop was to be Italy. I had been to Rome before, but in an entirely different context. This time would be different; I wanted to see the city and experience Italy “down and dirty.” I got more than I bargained for.
As I arrived on a train from Switzerland, I realized how much time had gone by and how late it was. I glanced at my watch—it was 2350. “That’s no problem, this is a major city! There must be places open and people to ask for directions to the nearest hostel,” I thought to myself. I was wrong. The main station was dark and practically empty.
I wandered around for a while before spotting an Arab-looking fellow wearing a blazer and a shiny name tag. He seemed to be ushering other passengers to various locations and giving advice, so I assumed he was someone of relative credibility. First mistake. I asked him where the nearest hostel or hotel was (at that point, I would have paid the extra Euros for some privacy). He gave me a business card and assured me that the hotel he worked at as a “receptionist” was right down the block, and he was headed there anyway. I agreed to follow him. Second mistake.
After the first turn down a dark and deserted residential street, I felt the hairs creeping up on the back of my neck. Always trust your instincts. However, the fatigue of travel and close proximity of this alleged hotel allowed me to rationalize the situation. I kept telling myself, “Have some faith in humanity. This is fine…right?”
The man quietly ushered me to the front gate of an apartment building complex—but it was dark and hard to make out any detail of the surrounding neighborhood, let alone the actual building. I asked him, “This is a hotel, right?” as I stopped walking beside him. “Yes, yes, of course. It used to be an apartment building, but my family bought it and we use it as a hotel now,” he assured me in a surprisingly convincing way. Somehow, I trusted this guy. Somehow.
We walked into the small, shadowy lobby where a fat Arab man, who I assumed was my guide’s father or relative, greeted me with a smile and waved as we walked to the elevator. Upon exiting the elevator, the man showed me to the door of my “room” and handed me the key. He wished me a good night and told me to let him know if I needed anything. Then he left.
Part of me breathed a sigh of relief, having started to feel very wrong about the whole situation, when I opened my door. The room was clearly at one time a large apartment, and in fact was quite spacious and decently furnished. I started to breath even easier…and then I turned and shut the door. Written in blocky, frantic letters on the back of the door were three words: lock this door.
“Shit,” I thought. I immediately locked every device on the door, thankfully including two deadbolts and a sliding chain lock. I contemplated getting out of the building, but at the time couldn’t justify walking away from 50 Euros. I decided that the writing was probably some cruel joke or relic of the apartment. Third mistake.
BANG BANG BANG. I shot out of bed as the door seemed to almost jump out of the frame. I ran to my bag and grabbed my Surefire and a Gerber knife, then positioned myself in a small alcove-like space beside the door. BANG BANG. Someone was throwing themselves at the door and continuously jiggling the handle. Hoping that it was someone who was drunk and unable to remember which room was theirs, I shouted, “This room is taken!” in as much of an intimidating voice as I could muster. There was silence, then voices—strange accents and language—then silence.
BANG BANG BANG BANG. They started back at the door even harder than before. I readied myself for the door to come down, holding up my light, ready to block and blind, while also ready with my Gerber in the other hand. If you are wondering why I didn’t go for a window, it is because they all had permanent old-school iron bars on them.
My plan was simple: If the door came down, I’d blind, stab, move, repeat as necessary, and get out of the building. At this point, my willingness to go hands-on was entirely animal, and I had not yet had any solid training on the subject.
Finally, silence. The sounds of squeaky footsteps went down the hall and the voices dissipated. I was a statue. I don’t know how long they tried to get in, as temporal distortion due to adrenaline was in full swing.
“Thank God,” I thought when it seemed certain that they were gone. My next challenge was picking a time to exit the building. When was too soon? When could be too late? Was the Arab family in on it? Who were they, and what did they want?
Read Next: Rome and the Night Train
I left at 0630 that morning, as soon as a reasonable pattern of life could be established outside in the street. I decided there was enough light and enough people out that if something happened, I would have a reasonable chance to make a scene.
As I practically ran through the lobby, I threw the keys at the fat man at the desk. He was sitting at his same desk, with the same smile, and wearing the same clothes as he had the night before.
As I made my way back to the train station, I realized I was in a primarily Moroccan/Arab neighborhood. Later discussions at a hostel in Germany with a Swiss traveler led me to believe this: Various groups from that neighborhood had been robbing many Westerners and tourists that summer. Americans were considered a premium target, and rumors of kidnappings and assaults were all too common.
I had been lured in. They had come for me. But thanks to a sturdy door and some solid deadbolts, I’m not out hundreds of dollars or much worse. I made several mistakes that day, ones that were easy to make but will never be repeated.
Needless to say, I was done with the city. I booked a train out of Rome bound for Munich. It was a night train. At that point, I thought my shenanigans were over, but I was wrong.
(Featured Image Courtesy: ninemonthsinnapoli.blogspot.com)
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