It’s Friday night at H2O. Couples cuddle and kiss on plush banquettes, while pairs of patrons shimmy to a pulsing beat.

Like a beat cop on patrol, H2O employee Timothy Sumter walks the hallways, flashlight in hand, casting a thin beam of light as he ambles along. Sumter spots a cluster of customers at the end of a long corridor and bathes them in light. Suddenly and silently, the group scatters to the dance floor.

At H2O, a waterfront restaurant-cum-lounge, security guards and employees use flashlights to communicate. Light in a patron’s eyes means he or she is being watched. A beam in the hallway says, “Clear this space.” One flash might ask, “How’s it going?” Two could say, “Buddy, I’ve got your back.”

On good nights, guards use flashlights to conduct nonverbal, workplace chatter. “Since it’s so dark, we use it to let the other people know we’re here and to make sure everything is OK,” Sumter says.

On bad nights, guards radio and flash for backup. And twice in the past year, guards used their flashlights to say something else altogether. The message was “Don’t mess with me,” and the flashlight was doing the talking.

H2O’s first flashlight fight happened around closing time on Dec. 18, 2005. The alleged victim had just graduated from college, and he and his friends had come to H2O to celebrate.

“I had a few drinks, and I was by the VIP room,” the victim recalls in an interview. “I guess it was overcrowded in there, so they were telling everyone to back up.” He tried to get out of the way, but it was difficult. “One of the security guards came over to me and said, ‘Back the “f” up.’”

At that point, he says, he must have looked at the guard “kind of funny,” because the guard “took his forearm and hit me in the chest with it.”

Considering his next move, the graduate, an educated man, drew upon one of his earliest life lessons. “My parents always told me to defend myself,” so “I punched him.” The guard, O’Neal Gray—aka King—fell to the ground, he says, but the fight was far from over.

According to the police report, Gray took his flashlight and clobbered the clubber, hitting him five to seven times in the head. Gray could not be reached for comment, but the victim says his graduation night ended with a trip to the hospital, 15 stitches, and a bill for $9,000.

Then, in March, a second police report says that a patron named Wilmer Agular also got into a fight with an H2O security guard. What started as a verbal altercation escalated into a physical fight, the report says, with Agular being hit “on the top of his head with an unknown type of stick.”

H2O owner Abdul Khanu, who was not present for the incident, said at an Alcoholic Beverage Control Board hearing Oct. 25 that the so-called stick must have been a mini-flashlight.

“Now the normal reaction for most people, for most humans,” Khanu said at the hearing, “is to defend themselves in that case. I don’t advocate it, we don’t advocate it, but if you look at the laws of the land, every man has a right to defend himself.”

Sometimes, he says in an interview, when guards defend themselves, they have mini-flashlights in their hands. “We’re not talking about ridiculous instruments.…It’s not the kind of flashlight police officers use.” It’s not the kind of flashlight firefighters or spelunkers use either. They’re rubber and plastic and about 6 inches in length. “The size of a palm,” he says.

And yet, as ABC Board chair Charles Burger points out, a small flashlight wrapped in a fist can do as much damage as a roll of quarters. So Khanu and his crew are looking into flashlight alternatives. They’re searching for a “true pen light,” only 2 to 3 inches long, or perhaps a kind of glove that unfolds to reveal a small light within.

The good news is that, when searching for mini-flashlights, the savvy shopper has plenty of options. There’s the aluminum Maglite Solitaire flashlight, which is just over 3 inches long and weighs less than an ounce. It comes in black, red, blue, silver, and gray, according to the Maglite Web site, and costs about $6 or $7. There are also rubber and plastic Ace flashlights, which can be as small as 3 inches in length.

“Obviously, the lighter it is, the least damage it’s going to do,” says Logan Hardware employee Marc Levy. “A plastic one is probably going to do less damage than a metal one.”

David McLeod, director of security at Fur, says that, instead of a flashlight argot, his security staff uses radios solely to communicate, although Fur personnel do carry small flashlights to navigate the dusky club. McLeod recommends 3-inch Maglites.

Meanwhile, according to McLeod and Khanu, security guards aren’t security guards anymore. Says McLeod: “We’re hosts now. We provide the proper service to patrons.…The customer’s always right, unless the customer is wrong, and then he gets locked up.” —Jessica Gould

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