The Accidental Extremist
Because bad trips make great stories.

Shoulda Gone To Law School [Close Calls]
Wednesday November 04th 2009, 10:50 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Business meetings ought to be a bit more exciting.

Business meetings ought to be a bit more exciting.

Here’s the last of three tales from Greg Dobbs, an Emmy-winning producer and correspondent for 23 years with ABC, taken from his new book, Life in the Wrong Lane - Why Journalists Go In When Everyone Else Wants Out.


(On Dobbs’ meeting with an arms dealer in Beirut)

Just as quickly as my contact had appeared out of nowhere, two more guys did the same. But they didn’t sit down at the table. They towered over it.

My tablemate started shaking. Not a single word from our visitors, but he seemed to know who they were and why they were there, and he was shaking, and starting to mutter, and then squeal, “No, not me, no, not me, nooo  …”

It didn’t really seem like a party where I wanted to stay. But it didn’t seem like I could just get up and leave, either.

It felt like they stood there for a minute or so, just staring down at this guy next to me. But there was a message in their eyes: “Come peacefully, or not. Up to you.”


I don’t think the shaking man at my side actually made some kind of conscious decision to hold his ground. I think he was just too scared to move. So they moved first. These two thugs reached over the table, each grabbing this guy under one arm, and pulled him across. Coffee cups and cream and sugar bowls went flying, but hey, the owner can always buy more.

My contact wasn’t just squealing anymore, he was screaming. “Noo, nooo, pleeeese, noooo, nooooo, noooooo!”

Three things flew through my mind: 1) Live by the sword, die by the sword; 2) Maybe instead of journalism school, I should have gone to law school; 3) I was really glad I never learned the guy’s name.

Now let me tell you what happened with our eyes: mine never met his. The abductors were bad guys, but he was too, and I didn’t want any part of his problem.

And their eyes never met mine. They were about as interested in me as they were in the porcelain now shattered on the floor. Thank goodness!

The other customers, veterans of life in Beirut, never looked up. Well, maybe once, but then they quickly resumed the appearance of non-involvement that had kept them alive so far through all the years of Lebanon’s civil war.

That was the last time I saw the guy who sent me a message to meet him at the Alexander. The last time I even heard about him. His abductors had to drag him, kicking uselessly, all the way to a car. My hearing’s not so hot, but I could hear him screaming ’til they slammed the door on their way out. I don’t suppose he screamed much longer.

That might have been the end of it. But I couldn’t be sure. Some mysterious American arms dealer had just been dragged kicking and screaming from a hotel coffee shop by a couple of mysterious Arab thugs, and I was the other guy at the table. Worse still, he had left the briefcase.

—Greg Dobbs


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