Mr. Ambassador, we need an extraction.

Urban Escape and Evasion

The room was silent as they bound our ankles to the legs of the chairs and our upper arms to the person beside us. My hands were already cuffed and a pillowcase covered my head, secured around my neck with duct tape. A taser cracked, a body nearby jolted. Then water, the pillowcase was wet, instantly panic set in as I gasped for air. The taser cracked again, this time my body jolted.

I felt as though the wet pillowcase would suffocate me. Don’t panic, I kept repeating in my head, breath slowly. The door opened and closed, our captors had left the room – this would be our only chance for escape.

I edged my cuffed hands into the front of my pants. Inside the seam, I’d hidden a modified hairpin with a slightly bent end. I removed the pin, focused on staying calm, and edged the bent end of the hairpin into the inner side of the keyhole on the handcuffs. As I twisted the pin down against the lever it gave way and the cuffs opened. I wriggled my hands free and tore at the duct tape around my neck, eventually it pealed away, allowing me to yank the soaking pillowcase off my head.

It was 9 am on Sunday morning in Denver, Colorado, and I was zip tied to the marine in the chair next to me. In the past week we’d learned to: pick locks, conceal our identity, escape from handcuffs, flexi-cuffs, duct tape, rope, and all sorts of other restraints. Now it was time to test what we had learned.

This was an Urban Escape and Evasion course run by Kevin Reeve from onPoint Tactical. Reeve had been the director of Tracker School, were he trained navy SEALs, Special Forces units, SWAT teams, and SERE, before going on his own to train professionals and civilians – people with the desire to survive in a hostile city as a fugitive.

Having escaped our restraints we paired up and scattered in different directions, hoping to find our caches where we'd left them a few days earlier. Early on in the course, Reeve had taught us to familiarize ourselves with our environment and create caches – hiding places where food, money, survival supplies etc can be stored in the event of emergency. James, my partner, and I had stashed: cash, lock picks, bus tickets and a variety of other essentials inside the toilet cistern at a Holiday Inn and a Starbucks.

Our priority was to retrieve our cached items, disguise ourselves, and locate a ‘friendly’. Our zip locked bags were just where we left them, tape to the inside of the cisterns. We had cash, bus tickets, and lock picks. We'd also stashed some extra clothes near a dumpster, which we changed into.

We found our contact at Starbucks sipping coffee. Having cautiously approached him, we applied the persuasion engineering skills we had been taught during the course. He grudgingly shared the intel we needed; the location of the next set of directions we needed and a couple of locks that needed picking.

As we left the book store James spotted Reeves. With nowhere to hide, we ducked into a Whole Foods Market.

“In here.” James motioned toward a door, marked Employees Only.

“Do you think they’ll find us here? They must have seen us come into the store.” I whispered.

“Lets keep moving.” James suggested.

We climbed two flights of stairs to a door that opened out onto the roof. We had the perfect spot to keep a lookout for Reeves. Who, shortly afterward, exited the store, scanned the parking lot, and jumped in a car, driving off in search of other pairs on the run.

From there we made sure to stick to side streets and parks, as we made our way toward the location of our next clue, which would lead us to the city centre.

As we crossed walked across City Park, I noticed a guy staring at us.

“James, don’t look now, but I think we have a bounty hunter watching us, over by the trees, the guy pretending to stretching.”

We looked around the park, spotted a pair of fellow fugitives, and another bounty hunter flanking us on the right. We kept the same pace as we hatched a plan; the second they made their move, we sprinted straight toward the other pair, who, caught off guard, were recaptured, while we hoped onto the bus – next stop Barnes & Noble on 16th Street.

It was supposed to have been in the magazine rack, amongst the adult magazines, but the list wasn't there. Without it we wouldn’t have been able to complete the simulation, we had to break cover and ask the staff. It turned out the list had been discovered by a customer, who reported it to a staff member, who handed over to a police officer. A list including tasks like: photograph a car to steal, get a stranger to give you money, find a defensive weapon, find a place to sleep, call for an extraction, tends to raise unwanted attention.

Once we'd convinced the officer that we were involved in a training simulation, and Denver had never been in any real danger, he handed us back the list and we continued our simulation, but not before he agreed to 'arrest’ the next team that came into the store looking for the tasks.

After our brush with the law, we competed all our task. I even bummed $20 of a gent during a heavy downpour of rain, spinning a story that I was from out of town and I'd left my wallet at the hotel; had he $5 for us to buy a coffee while we waited out the rain - my accent has its uses.

Our final task was to arrange an extraction, the only catch, we had to ask a person to allow us to make the call, using their phone.

So, James and I strolled into the Ritz Carlton, and as we walked up to the concierge desk, I told hime "Let me do all the talking."

“Good day sir,” I greeted the concierge “would you be able to assist us?"

“Yes sir, how may I help?"

“Well you see my mobile roaming has stopped working and we’ve lost our friends in the city. Would you mind if we called them to find out where they are?”

“Yes sir, right this way.”

He led us into a small office where he sat down and pushed the phone toward me. I pulled out a slip of paper and dialled the number, a man answered after three rings.

“Yes?"

“Mr. Ambassador?” I enquired. The concierge's eyes widened.

“Yes."

“Sir, the mission is complete. We need an immediate extraction.”

The concierge's jaw dropped; Reeves relayed the final meeting point.

“On our way sir.” I put down the phone, thanked the concierge, whose jaw was still on the ground.

As we walked out of the hotel, I could swear that I heard the theme for Mission Impossible playing.