There’s a quiet scene in The Bourne Identity that tells volumes about the hero Jason Bourne – and how much I’m his opposite.
The time is late at night. The setting is a roadside café somewhere between Switzerland and Paris. Bourne is at a table with the woman who’s giving him a ride. Because of his amnesia he doesn’t know who he is, only that he’s different from everyone around him and has had extreme training. That’s why he has – with freaky speed and instinct – already assessed his surroundings and memorized anything relevant to his safety. He knows the license plates of every car parked outside, which man at the counter would most likely have a gun, how much of a threat a stranger might be.
Obviously, I’m no escaping super spy with amnesia. Stick Bourne out in public, and he’s hyperaware of everything. Stick me out there, and I can turn into a space cadet. Sometimes I just seem to live in my head. It’s so warm and cozy in here.
In a recent post I wrote about my plan to develop the Layla skill of tailing strangers – preferably without latching onto a paranoid psycho, as reader Robert warned. What I’ve done so far is mild; mostly I’ve discretely followed someone through stores or down streets and into buildings. Yet I’m surprised at what I can learn about strangers within seconds, and that I’m not the only person who zones out in public.
First of all, the easiest people I tailed were the ones talking on cell phones. They really are oblivious to just about everything. They shop so slo-w-w-w-wly you’ll be stuck with them in the same department or aisle for ages. They seem to develop temporary lack of peripheral vision. And if the mark is a woman on a cell with one or two small children in tow, you can walk behind her for miles and she’ll never notice you. You can also find out, via their phone conversations, who they’re talking with, where they’re going next, and why they’re upset with their boss/client/spouse/teenager/neighbor.
Obviously what’s more challenging is tailing someone who’s not plugged into anything electronic, and walking quickly. Still, I found myself keeping up with such marks. I also realized I can memorize details about their faces, clothes, body language, what they’re carrying, and anything else that stands out, all within seconds. It was fun.
Granted, as a middle-aged woman I might have an edge at tailing. There just doesn’t appear to be much anything threatening about me. Personally, I always wanted to be an exotic femme fatale with a hint of danger about her alluring curves. But I don’t even come close to my ideal – damn it.
I’ve also learned to spot more readily potential paranoid psychos – or maybe that’s too strong a term. Let’s just say Dangerous Guys. What makes them stand out? They are very aware of YOU. And they don’t turn their back on you. And they watch you and everyone else.
Take the guy who got on the mall shuttle (the free shuttle buses go up and down Denver’s sixteenth street mall). Most people find a place to stand or sit and chat and look around. He didn’t. He stepped onto the shuttle and just stood there, with the now closed shuttle doors to his back, his hands free, and his eyes rolling over every face around him. He was young, very muscular, and itching with suspicion. No one around me paid him any mind, but I got a bad gut feeling. Sure enough, at another stop someone he knew got on and they exchanged a few words. Turns out the young guy had just gotten out of prison.
No wonder he was acting like he was still locked up and could get jumped at any moment. If I hadn’t been in a hurry maybe I would have tried tailing him – very, very carefully.
Anyway, my next step will be to pick much more difficult marks and make up some complicated games. I need to develop many more skills, after all. I also need the thrill of a challenge.