I nearly ran into a guy as I stepped out of the elevator into the small parking garage beneath our hotel. He was carrying a rifle. We were in Vienna, Austria celebrating Oktoberfest. We chose the hotel because of its proximity to the event, and the balcony view. I needed the phone charger out of my car, which was why I was hurrying to the garage, and why I startled the middle-aged (medium height, medium build, light brown hair) bearded man as he stepped onto the elevator.
To be precise, he was carrying a rifle case. I couldn’t see inside. I wondered where he’d be hunting. Somewhere outside of Vienna? Anyway, I was in a hurry, eager to attend the festival. I looked back, on second thought, to see where his elevator stopped. Fourth floor, same as ours.
Charger in hand, I returned to our room and told Jessica what I’d seen. She was deciding on her Oktoberfest outfit. I plugged in my phone to ensure a full charge for all the photos I’d take at the event.
From the bathroom she said, “Do you think you oughta tell somebody? We’re not in America you know.”
I stood at the balcony, looking out on the throngs of people arriving at the Kaiserwiese in the Prater with the famous giant Ferris wheel (The Third Man, Orson Welles). Anyone else on that floor would have the same view.
“Yeah . . . , I’ll go tell them,” I said.
In the lobby I motioned one of the receptionists over, away from the other guests.
“I don’t know if this is important,” I said, “but I think a guy got on the elevator with a rifle.”
She looked confused, then asked, “Rifle?”
“You know,” I said, recognizing she didn’t understand the English word, “a long-range gun.”
Her eyes widened. “One moment, please.” She hustled over to another receptionist and whispered into her ear. More wide eyes. Receptionist #2 disappeared through a door behind the counter. Receptionist #1 returned to tell me she informed hotel security and that they called the police.
Ugh, I thought, dropping into a chair near the front desk. I was probably overreacting because of the news, the terrorism. SARS. George W? Simply ridiculous. Maybe the case held a musical instrument, a microphone stand. Maybe I was just filling in the gaps of what I hadn’t actually seen. A few slow minutes passed, and then a squad car pulled up and parked in front of the hotel.
I wasn’t exactly interrogated in the back room, but I was questioned thoroughly, and from a few different directions. He challenged me on my understanding of what a rifle bag looked like. I held strong until he asked what color it was.
“Sort of a light green,” I said. “Lime? And some orange”
I would have gotten my ass kicked in Mississippi if I showed up at hunting camp with a lime green and orange rifle case. Mine was camouflage.
He seemed to notice me struggling, questioning myself about what I saw. I grabbed a notepad off a desk and quickly sketched the bag, the shape and print pattern, more or less.
“Here,” I said, with a little more conviction.
“Thank you. Will you please wait in the lobby?”
I sat in a chair near the windows, with a good view of the entrance and the park. So I had a really good view of the Austrian SWAT team that showed up moments later in full riot gear, Kevlar vests and helmets, and fully automatic weapons.