My own private murderer, Part IV

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My own Private Murderer, Part IV

     The “walk by” battles with Spahalski went on for the next several years. Somehow I had entered into an involuntary war with a murderer; a war only recognized by the two of us and whose existence was doubted by most others. Many were skeptical, some were uncertain, including those on the police force.  There were a few believers and occasionally one would assist in my travail.  Terry was an officer that was willing to help and after the debacle with Sam, I was in need of additional assistance.  Whether is was through guilt or general concern, Terry was my away team in the police department reporting on the enemies movements.

Spahalski’s criminal activity was not limited to my business. His demons required him to be more opportunistic. In addition to his occasional murderous rant, he engaged in menacing on a regular basis: theft, burglary, etc. Terry was kind enough to keep me informed of Spahalski arrests, court appearances, and the ensuing outcomes.  On a good day Terry might stop in to tell me about a 3 month reprieve in my war as Spahalski was sentenced for his latest escapade.  On a bad day I was informed of his pending release date and the resumption of our feud.  

I don’t recall each incident but it certainly ranged about 4- 6 months every 2 years. As a reminder to those following this saga, the war was a 7 year battle. The eventual normalization of having this guy as a factor in my life didn’t lessen the relief I felt each time Spahalski went away for a while. I could feel my blood pressure lower when I received that wonderful phone call as much as I could feel the anxiety raise it when he was released. 

          There are two multipart stories that I have been posting and both require the introduction of a few more characters (individuals) to best understand the gestalt of each tale. The story of my health and the ongoing battle with Spahalski both benefit from a better understanding of my relationships with these friends. This is the beginning of how those people entered my life and the role they play in each story.  I will set up their existence and continue with each piece as necessary. If you can bear with me, the advantage of having a better understanding of these people will aid in the flow of all that has transpired. 


     It was that winter of 2001 when Michael walked into my store for the first time.  Everything about his aura told me we were going to be friends. By now this has happened to me on enough occasions that I no longer doubted the energy in the air. He walked in the store with a quiet confidence that was rarely disputed. He absorbed the surroundings quickly, and picked up small details. I later learned that he can do that anywhere. Michael quickly figured out his environment, including the best time of day to experience the benefits of my neighborhood place and how to limit the negatives of a downtown lunch spot.

      It didn’t take long for this became Michael’s regular place. Somedays for lunch and other days a coffee in the morning. At lunch he sauntered in casually around 1:00 p.m. and within a few visits started joining me at my table, soon to be designated as our table for the hour.  Don’t undervalue the idea of being invited to my table. I have removed many people over the years from that space, sometimes with only a brief slighting, often with the end result of never seeing them again. 

     Michael was about 65 years old when he first started coming to o’Bagelo’s and a group of us recently celebrated his 80 birthday at a local steakhouse. He is a big man and his soft, yet prominent presence is felt by anyone that meets him. Shake hands with Michael and you will grip the largest set of hands you have ever seen.  It is part of a first impression that includes his well-dressed appearance from an old Italian city neighborhood. Nothing overly ostentatious or fashionable but always appropriate and professional. But none of this is what sticks with you. 

     It’s his aura. Patriarchal in many senses of the word. A worldly intelligence that only increases with each conversation. Never once in fifteen years have I ever heard a boastful or condescending sentiment come out of him. Sage like criticism perhaps, but with a tone of acceptance of each person’s humanity.  He is well versed in Latin, history, opera, literature and theater. He could tell you about restaurants and speak-easys in most of the big cities across the country from first-hand experience. He can just as easily quote from the seasons offerings of Shakespeare at Stratford as the craziness from some barroom sot.  If for some reason he didn’t know anyone when he arrived some place, he knew most before he left. 

     Michael looked at everyone as though they had something to offer and he always listened. Your past or education didn’t matter, people always felt accepted. I have never seen him flustered even in the craziest of situations. A hearty laugh and a suggested path for the future, but never a judgmental attitude about the past. 

     By early spring my friendship with Michael was well-established.  This is when another member of the office reluctantly strode into o’Bagelo’s with him. The new guy had injured his foot and a cast made it difficult to walk the snowy streets of winter. But as the weather started to break, Joe was healing and the streets were clearing. 

     When Joe started joining Michael for lunch it was apparent he wasn’t going to break the newly developed bond, regardless of effort or concern. Frankly I’m not so sure he could have done this even if he had started out with Michael on day one. Michael makes up his own mind. At first Joe challenged my authority on everything.  Food, the place, the neighborhood, and even my relationship with his mentor. Everything. Come to think of it, he still challenges everything I say, but now it is after many years of friendship and countless adventures.   

     I like to say suspicious was Joe’s first sentiment towards me. How could this friendship have happened without him? Who was this bakery guy that had developed a kinship with the man affectionately known as “Big Daddy”? And without his approval? When Joe was finally able to check out this situation he did so with great concern and with a protectionist attitude toward Michael, although none was ever needed. Michael rarely made a poor judgment call on anyone he encountered.  

     So now the two of them (and sometimes three when Michael’s son was downtown) were coming in for lunch or some other need on a regular basis. In addition, I started to see Joe in places after work. It seems we both found the same city bars acceptable to have a few drinks. It was in these places that we realized we had many friends in common.

     One of these friends was Randy, a police officer in the city. Randy had worked his way up the detective ladder over the years and for as long as I have known him he was with homicide. Once he landed there, that’s where he stayed.  He was even featured in a few of those T.V. cop shows that follow the path of specific crimes in certain cities. Randy grew up in the city he patrolled, and might have the most diverse connections in and around town. He is a regular everywhere, and not just in the city; clothing stores, bars, collectibles shops.  His ability to establish and maintain relationships is as powerful as Michael’s, yet entirely different.

     There is a dichotomy with Joe and Randy that extends beyond the work environment. Randy works on finding and prosecuting criminal activities and Joe works on defending the people accused. On many occasions Joe has cross examined Randy in court and somehow they have still remained friends.  The after effects aren’t always pretty but they are always entertaining. 

     Their personalities mirror a similar dichotomy. People are drawn to Joe the minute he enters a room.  There is no avoiding his presence. Nearly everyone in the room looks to get a few minutes of his time and he almost always obliges.  One of the great qualities inherent in his persona is one that I have tried to teach my employees over the years. “If you want to continue a conversation with someone, talk about the other person. If you want to end a conversation, talk about yourself.” I have had varying degrees of success imparting such great wisdom, especially when working with young women. As they get attention without much effort, they don’t take my advice to heart. It is my hope they will remember my advice when they are not so young, if it’s not too late.

     This may be one of Joe’s a priori characteristics, but if not, he had ample opportunity to learn from Michael. I consider both men experts at conversational stickiness. No matter how hard the other party may try to move away from talking about themselves, they are always distracted by the adhesive power of the talents of Joe or Michael. The conversation always focuses on the persons Michael or Joe has engaged.  Sticky. 

     When given the opportunity to talk to either Michael or Joe you will walk away thinking “He is so interesting, and wonderful,” even though all you did was talk about yourself, and really, you had no choice in the matter. Genius. It is a marvel of social behavior to watch Michael or Joe work a room or an individual.

     Randy isn’t invisible by any means but he has a conversational style that can be confusing to some, and just as remarkable for his profession. The first thing you notice is that he is scanning the room for part of a sentence, or even for a few of them. He enters a room and assess his environment. Who’s in the room and what is everyone doing. Just when you think he is being rude or inconsiderate, he zeros in on your eyes and his full attention is on you. He can push you right to the edge of annoyance, and then reach out at the exact moment you might fall away and grab hold of your attention. He smiles a great charming apologetic grin as to acknowledge that he is aware of what he did without uttering a word about it. 

     There is a 1970’s smoothness to Randy's style. A kind of hip older detective without the harshness of force one might associate with a cop from that era. Somehow he can move around in just about any environment and look completely comfortable, like he belongs wherever he has landed. Clothed like he cares about his appearance with an end result that looks like it wasn’t much effort. Not an easy task. 

     I will tell one Randy story that epitomizes all of his swagger and effectiveness. During the Jazz Fest in our city we were hanging out at one of our local places. The other members of our group had gone on to different shows and it was just the two of us.  We had decided to go to a show at a new venue, one neither of us had been to. I was holding a schedule in my hand and we headed over to the small concert hall on the side of the Eastman Theater. We both knew who we were going to see as we left the bar but half way there he asked me “Is this the way to where ‘Guy X’ is playing?” I told him yes, and that I had walked by the place for the early show but decided to wait for the later one. 

     As we approached the venue there was a long line waiting to get in the show, a show that had already begun. I stopped at the end of the line. Randy paused and slowly sauntered up a bit towards the door. He did his usual scanning of the situation and then asked a couple in line if they were waiting to see “Guy X”. They smiled and pleasantly responded in the affirmative. The smile could have been the suburban excitement of talking to an older black man about Jazz in the city, but let’s just leave it at a pleasant smile and nod.  

     Randy smiled back at them and repeated the response and Guy X’s name as to confirm what they said in a nice police verification style. I overheard all of this. As he walked back towards me he then asked the same question to another man that had walked up behind me in line.  Randy never asks with an accusatory tone but rather a polite informational request with a confused undertone. His repeated request for verification isn’t noticeable unless you are with him for more than five minutes. 

     Finally I looked at him with disbelief and said “Do you really need to ask 5 different people the same question that I, your friend holding a schedule, just told you five minutes ago?” He just smiled and smoothly laughed it off. This is Randy in a nutshell. Repetitive to a point that one barely notices that he is using a technique that has served him well as an investigator.  Acting like he didn’t hear or notice your response, and then asking the same question again without sounding accusatory.  Always looking for inconsistencies in the answers. I’m sure this has worked for him over the years, intended or not.

     Randy easily finds his way into people’s hearts and it may only feel like it takes some time since he so often travels with “Instantaneous Joe”. There is another difference between these two characters that is worth pointing out. Randy is a great mediator. His calm and non-confrontational demeanor has both aided and failed us on a few occasions. He can bring down a tense situation quickly. Joe’s profession brings him to a confrontational point of a discussion just as quickly as others are drawn to him. This can be as innocent as a disagreement over subjective issues to the more formal identification of a social injustice. Behaviors are rarely going to be swept under any carpet with Joe. While Randy will look to avoid tense interactions, Joe uses one hand to lift the carpet and the other to point out the mess someone is trying to sweep under it.  Crap that someone has tried to conceal with poorly constructed arguments or ridiculous statements are considered fuel to Joe.  

     It’s really entertaining to watch, and personally, even better when I am the target. We have rehashed several points over the years and sometimes it is just good mental exercise for both of us. 

     Somehow I have been invited into this group and the extended members it includes.  Even though I don’t have as much history as most of the guys in the group, I have never felt anything other than welcome. We drink together, dine together, travel together, and often commiserate about life’s hurdlers together. The point here is that the people I have introduced in this section are important members of my social circle and to several stories. All of this prophesying will not be for naught, I promise.  

      Let’s get back to the Spahalski story and his perditious path.  After his court appearance that left me with a personal protection device for one year, Spahalski’s travels brought him by o’Bagelo’s at least every other week while he was not incarcerated for any of his other menacing behaviors. I had eventually found the courage to stand outside my store like a guard on duty and follow his actions with my eyes as he made his way down the road. 

The police were kind enough to let me know when he was sentenced for his latest antics and then when he debt was paid. Not that I needed too much lead time as I was pretty sure his weekly walks downtown during the day were a requirement to check in with probation. Their offices were close to Main street and I was pretty sure Spahalski was still living on the north side of the city and his required visits brought him past my store. 

A few months in and a few months out. This was the pattern for the next 6 years. During that time I had stopped talking about the earlier incidents for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want to scare my customers or any employees. Business was tough enough without concerning others about the crazies in the neighborhood. Staff and customers needed to believe that I was going to be the first line of defense in anything that violated a comfortable environment to get a bite to eat. Any interruption of that impression could be harmful.

Secondly, as more time passed and I was still alive, people were less inclined to take seriously the impact of the threat. It had been a few years since all the real action had taken place. Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe Sam the cop was right.  Perhaps the only real threat to my life existed in my imagination.  I certainly didn’t believe any of that but I was certain others felt that way when I occasionally rambled on about the interactions. 

I still made the effort to walk outside an eyeball the passerby whom I knew to have taken a life. A passerby found ready to barge into a back door left ajar at 5:30 am, hammer in hand and a deviant desire in his psyche.  A man caught breaking into my store weeks later, then threatening me from the back of a police car when apprehended. I watched him. Each time he passed my store for the next six years. 

In the seventh year nothing looked like it was going to change. It was November of 2005 and the weather was cooperating for the end the season. I saw an mounted officer approach the store on his horse as he did often.  He stopped by for a cookie to take on his travels and a carrot or two for his horse. Sometimes I took care of the sidewalk delivery and other times I let the staff get a break from the bipeds barking at the counter. 

Today was my day. I walked out the door with the usual treats for both of them. The horse ate his snack immediately from my hand and his rider pocketed the cookie for later. I hung out for a few minutes catching up on the days news and watching for falling debris from the four legged officer. It was a regular occurrence to have a few of the mounted officers pass by the store from the barn to monitor downtown and leave a little reminder of their existence. Some of the guys would try to manage the situation themselves but as long as it wasn’t noon, we made use of the shovel in the back room designated to handle the mess.   

It was a clear day and we were all enjoying the last few warm days of the season. That was until I noticed Spahalski heading towards the three of us on a bicycle.  Not only was the mode of transpiration an odd site but he had a companion with him as well. He and a woman, both on bikes, riding down the sidewalk, heading out of downtown on my side of the street. 

The police officer and his horse had their backs to Spahalski and his companion but I quickly informed him of the oncoming duo. The rider looked back to check out the pair, the horse remained uninterested. This particular cop knew my story well and although he may not have completely felt the threat, he didn’t dismiss it entirely either. He wanted his cookies and sidewalk service so it was in his best interest over the years to at least act concerned. 

The pair on the bikes stopped a few storefronts before o’Bagelo’s. This was getting stranger by the minute. They paused and were staring at the back end of the horse and at me. I could tell they were having a quick discussion about what had prompted their delay as the woman looked confused. They both got off their bikes and started walking into the street and heading in our direction. This time he didn’t bother to cross the street but traipsed by myself, the cop, and the carrot chomping horse.

I’m not sure what alleviated my concerns about the situation more, the rider with a gun or the horse in his command. If you have never seen a well trained police horse use his size and strength to detain a menacing suspect, you are missing out on a great force and talent. It is amazing how well they can deescalate the most violent of assholes.  

Either way, it wasn’t fear or anxiety that prevailed at the moment. Shock and surprise were at the forefront. What was this guy doing? Granted, the order of protection had expired years ago but I was standing with a cop. This was the first time in years that he has made any type of aggressive stance or statement. What’s going through his mind? 

So Spahalski and companion walk right past us with their bikes in hand in the middle of the lane of a busy street. When they get to the next intersection they return to the sidewalk and pause again. Before they get back on their bikes they are eyeballing us and pointing as their conversation continued. A minute later the two of them get back on their bikes and ride on down the road. I looked at my cop friend with great confusion and as he just peered at them with the standard cop stare. I’m sure you have seen the look. It’s an investigative look without concern for being seen by either the person being watched or anyone else that may be watching them. 

As the two bike riders faded into the curves of the street, the three us left standing on the  sidewalk went about our day. The cop and his horse heading into the city, and I back into my store. For some reason this interaction didn’t unnerve me as much as it had in the pass. Maybe it was the remaining deference Spahalski showed as he altered his path in my presence. Maybe it was being seen socializing with a police officer. Maybe the years of relative calm had made me callous to the idea of being threatened by the likes of him. It was something, but I wasn’t sure it was anything helpful or positive. 

The story from here on out is all verifiable using several different sources. It is often hard to believe, but it is all very true. Some pieces of the story will not be found as I have had some inside lines to the process and interactions. 

The following day Robert Spahalski walked into the Rochester Police headquarters and approached the front desk. A uniformed cop asked how she could help, just like you see on the T.V. shows.  Sphalski asked to speak to a homicide detective. The gatekeeper asked what this in reference to and if possibly she could help him out. 
I can’t be certain but from the telling of the story from other cops, the officer on duty was doing her duty as a triage agent of the walk-ins. Spahalski told her that he just killed a woman and repeated his request to talk to a homicide investigator. Now the cop may have been more interested in the man that stood before him but I understand it had more to do with his sanity than his proclaimed actions. “Let me see if I can find someone to help you out.” As she got on the phone to convince one of the guys to come talk to the nutcase in front of her,  a homicide  detective was walking into the building. The desk cop hailed him down and asked him to take over the discussion. 

This is the beginning of a chapter in this story that has been documented by many other media outlets, including books, T.V. shows, and newspapers. I am going to do my part to describe the next set of events using all the connections that I have alluded to in the past. Coincidence, Karma, Connectivity, or some combination, it’s up to the reader to decide.

Next up: The Interview

"My Own Private Murderer, Part III"

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"My Own Private Murderer, Part III"  

      The morning after I was threatened by a suspected murderer from the back of a police car, I started asking some questions. Many of my customers were lawyers and I knew a few had experience in this specific area. Experience in county criminal court that is, not necessarily being stalked by a murderer. 

In mostly 3 minute intervals, I was gathering as much data as was offered.  It was suggested that I get ahold of the district attorney and give him or her more details concerning Spahalski, details that may not have made it into a one or two page police report. One of my cop customers offered to look into the arrest and find out who had been assigned the case. This would save me some time chasing through the system and  perhaps I could enlighten the prosecutor and learn more about my options. 
Even with the inside line it took several days to connect with the district attorney assigned to the case.  I figured that wasn’t too bad in a overly crowded system where each lawyer isn’t granted much time to look at small cases like this one. The woman assigned to the case sounded concerned and interested in helping.  She suggested that we fill out an oder of protection to submit to the judge when the case came up on his docket.  If we can get it signed there would be some immediate recourse if Spahalski was found lurking around my store. 

This all sounded like a good idea until we talked in detail about the scope and parameters of this piece of paper. The lawyer told me that the order would be filed under my name and would include both my work and home addresses.  If he was seen within a certain distance of either place Spahalski could be arrested for violating the order. This all sounded nice and formal but frankly it didn’t put me ease one bit. 

First of all, Spahalski had no idea who I was, and by that I mean he didn’t know my name. If we filed the order as she suggested he would be told this information. Secondly, he had no way of knowing where I lived. In order for him to comply he also needed to know where not to be found lurking. Even for a criminal it doesn’t seem fair to tell someone to stay away from “X”, and then not tell them the location of “X”. So he would now learn my name and my home address. This covers most of my time each day and that was not helping my cortisol levels. 

The third concern created even more fear. What would be the overall effectiveness of the order, regardless of the information in contained? If he was the level of criminal that I had been told - on top of the criminal I knew him to be after the attempted break in - would he really give a crap about a piece of paper that told him to “stay away from X”? Doesn't seem likely. Let’s move on to the fourth concern. What’s to stop him from sneaking unseen into my home or place of work, killing me, and then leaving. All this before anyone sees him lurking around a place he isn’t supposed to be.  If you have murdered a few people in the past, have a history of drug use and engage in prostitution for income, I can’t see a “No Lurking” piece of paper changing your actions.

I asked the D.A. all of these questions and she maintained her position but admitted my points had some validity. We talked over a few other options that might meet my concerns. Panic and fear had me reaching for possibilities that would maintain whatever anonymity that remained. I asked if the order of protection could be put in the name of the business only.  Look, I was paranoid and felt quite alone in this matter.  The police were around in force during the day to accommodate the population increase of the office workers but the evenings required a different system of allocation of resources. 

The D.A. told me she had never done this before and that she wasn’t sure a judge would sign an order like this without an individual as the complainant. I convinced her to give it a try and if he refused to sign it, I would reconsider and try again with additional information. 

The courthouse was close enough to the store that many who worked there were customers and I think this may have aided my plight.  Whatever the reason, the judge signed what looks like quite a sparse order of protection for “o Bagel o”.  Granted that may not be the exact name of the business, but it was unlikely it could be confused with any other establishment..

So I had my piece of paper.  A paper that was now going to protect me from a man who has shown no respect for any laws. A man that is suspected of murder.  A heavy drug user, willing to stoop to pretty low levels to accommodate his body’s physical need to stay on those drugs. Someone who had lost control of his life to the demons swirling around within him. Someone that has given up on personal dignity and morality to feed “the beast”.  But I had my piece of paper to protect me. I was sure they would find me grasping that crumpled piece of crap as I lie strangled and hammer beaten in my kitchen. My last unheard words being “But I have an Order of Protection.”

Obviously I wasn’t swayed into comfort and complacency by the judges willingness to sign a vague order, but I was happy we used the system to start out in the right direction. The next step was to see if this had any impact on the actions of Spahalski. I had no idea how this was going to be done, but it certainly had to be the next step, provided I survived another week. 
The reality of my actions now encompassed every minute of my day. I had a murderer arrested for hanging around the front of my store. The courts issued a “stay away” piece of paper, and I undoubtedly cost him a few nights in jail. I’m guessing he wasn’t looking at the bright side of getting a few free meals in this deal.

How well this device worked was going to be directly impacted by the actions Spahalski was going to take. If he chose to challenge the court oder, I was going to need the police to help me out, and in a timely fashion.

Downtown was it’s own section in the mapping of the police department. We had several designated officers every day working a Monday through Friday shift. Other sections had a 4 - 3 schedule, four days on, 3 days off to equally cover the weekends. Being assigned the downtown section was a reward at the end of a career for many uniformed officers. Day shift with weekends off, located in the business district. Not the highest crime area around.  

There was a pretty good unwritten system for the guys working the downtown section  that I learned early on. It didn’t look good to the community to have more than 2 uniformed officers sitting in one retail place at the same time.  I overheard several territorial conversations in my store when too many guys from the same section found themselves at o’Bagelo’s. When I asked a few of the them they were kind enough to let me in on the program. 
One of the downtown guys frequented o’Bagelo’s every morning at the same time, just after roll call.  At first, Sam liked to sit at my table in the front room. My table was closest to the cash register and the counter. I think he did this to get his coffee refill quicker and to keep a better eye on the place. After a while a few too many customers were greeting him and interrupting his peace. Eventually he moved to the side room in the back corner. 

Sam was quiet and wanted to be left alone for a short period of time before he started his day of keeping  downtown workers safe. Because he showed up pretty early, Sam had laid claim to the my little bagel shop. Other officers still stopped in and hung around but if you were a downtown beat cop working days, this wasn’t going to be your regular spot until Sam had left. The same rules applied to places other officers laid claim to for certain parts of their day.  Spread out the positive public perception and limit the negative implications of seeing many officers sitting around drinking coffee was the general rule.
Sam moonlighted in the school district I attended and my father worked as a principal, when this was still acceptable behavior.  My father moved around to the troubled schools and the need and use of the extra forces was part of his system to straighten out the problems. Sam knew my father well and they were natural allies.  I think this gave me more credibility with a man who presented politely but held a deep suspicion of most others. 
His demeanor was that of a man who worked under a set of rules his entire life and now found those rules to be unacceptable by management and often society as a whole.  Faced with the choice of challenging the tenants and building blocks of everything he knew,  he found solace in a smile that caged the disparity of the world he confronted and the one he knew. 
He also wore the scars of a department that had gone through a rough transition period  mimicking his personal battle and affecting the whole department. The problems created a strong line of “us” and “them” among his peers. The war may have been over but you can see the remnants of a “Blue vs. Gray” civil war that still unsettled both sides. 

It took some time and I am certain a little vetting on Sam’s part, but we had become trusted allies and maybe on the road to becoming friends. He started sharing some of his views with me on the war inside the department and who had fallen on which side. There was still a hesitant demeanor about his actions and I don’t think he ever let the wall completely down. 

It took a few weeks for me to spot Spahalksi walking around my neighborhood but he eventually emerged. What startled me was his appearance during the day. The first time I saw him he was walking down the sidewalk just after the lunch hour, across the street. I could see him from behind my counter and I watched as he eyeballed my store. Shivers, fear, panic: You name it, it was happening. The difference this time was my response. I was silent about his appearance primarily because I didn’t want to alarm my customers or my employees.  Not to mention my staff consisted of a cousin whose mother and father would not be all too happy to learn about these recent developments. They already had their concerns about their eldest daughter working in the area (and with me). 
I watched him walk by that first day and went about my business trying to contain all that was going on inside me.  A petrified business owner was not going to project good vibes for my customers. The first incident came and went, and the only impact was on my mental well being. If there was any time that the fear of being stalked by a murderer and then poking him with a  “Order of Protection” stick dissipated, if was back in full force now.

It wasn’t just his appearance but my response that had me concerned. Was I now just going to hide in my store every time he passed? Is this the cave of fear I have designed for my daily life? I had no desire to step up the pressure but I was certain that my position could not end with a piece of paper and ducking behind the 10 foot glass windows of my store. 
It took another week for Spahalski to appear again.  Same M.O. on his part but I knew I had to change my response. The line at the counter wasn’t short but the staff on hand could handle the activity. Scraping the bottom of the barrel of my manhood I headed for the front door. The weather was still reasonable and I had the tables and chairs on the sidewalk for customers. They were only used on the days that the sun chose to shine and the temperature reached to claim the remnants of the season. This was not one of those days and it was empty on the streets. Details and memory are much clearer when anxiety or fear activate the brain to be on high alert. 

I tried to walk with a calm yet purposeful demeanor toward the front door and not show my worry.  Although it wasn’t warm enough to dine “al fresco”, it was warm enough to leave the front door open to let in some cool fresh air. I kept my head up and my eyes focused on the image across the street. I didn't want to appear aggressive nor did I want want to seem overly passive. Calm and confident was my goal. I have no idea what anyone else saw in me at that moment. I walked through the door and stopped at the edge of the sidewalk. I put my hands on my hips and slowly looked around the neighborhood to take in my surroundings. When my eyes landed on Spahalski I stopped. He looked right at me and maintained eye contact as he walked down the street. A good old fashioned starring contest, except it wasn’t between two 10 year old boys on the playground. 

Neither of us made any other motions or gestures and he maintained his gait. I was standing my ground to protect my little storefront and Spahalski was testing the boundaries of our latest interactions and I assume the depth of my commitment. He was well passed me when he finally let his gaze stray from my eyes.  His pace was constant and he kept on his path to whatever his destination. I waited a few minutes to both wallow in my small victory that day and to be sure that he saw me silently planting the victory flag.  

That day I controlled the hill in this ongoing battle and eventually returned inside to go about my business. Relief and a small sense of pride took over and the reality of the situation took a back seat to those emotions. The war was not over nor would this be the last time I had to defend my position as king of my hill.  I would have to fight this battle every week and my responsibility to this war was going to be continual. 

This gamesmanship went on for months. I would catch eye of Spahalski in the neighborhood and he would catch eye of me, eyeing him. The stare downs lasted for the next several weeks until I felt that we had established protocol. After that I would let the occasional appearance go by without notice, but I didn’t want that to become a habit either. 

This may be what started his corner-cutting behavior that sparked my next piece of action. On a few occasions I saw Spahalski coming down the sidewalk on my side of the street and then crossing just before he hit the windows of my storefront, and then crossing back once he passed the place. A clear challenge to my ownership of the hill in my paranoid mind. It was only a matter of time before he just walked by the door on my side of the street without concern. The thought of this was elevating my anxiety. 

From the beginning I had told Sam about my interactions with Spahalski. My emotional  state identified my level of concern.  Sam, however, cared not for my issues and he gave no credibility to the stories or the information being passed on to me from his colleagues.  As a matter of fact each time I had a new problem with this man and informed him the next day, it was one of the few times he smiled. Not only did he completely disregard my fear and pooh-pooh the idea of this man having killed anyone, it diminished his opinion of me. All of this I had learned to read in his face, not to mention the occasional words of derision he used to exemplify his point.

Sam’s actions didn’t make me feel any better about my little piece of paper as it required a certain amount of participation from the police to have any effect. Was this going to be the response from the other officers working downtown? Was it part of the great divide created by the problems on the force that were before my time?  Either way I was not comforted or happy about his reactions. 

Despite Sam’s response I asked him about enforcing my order of protection. I wanted to know what would be done by a officer if presented with a judicial order and the appearance of the man named on the paper.  His gave me the rundown on the procedure with little interest in helping me out. I tried to remind him that the service in his morning coffee shop would be severely altered if I was dead on the sidewalk one morning, but he maintained his disbelief. “He could be arrested for violating the order, but he is walking across the street.” That was Sam’s response. 

I wanted to know if we could test the order by following through with this idea and then let a judge decide what additional parameters constituted a violation. Sam wanted no part of this and he clearly made his opinion of my cowardice known. He wasn’t going to challenge the order or the man just walking down the street. 

His answers did not appease my fears or my motivation. A few weeks later I ran into another officer I have known for several years in a local pub. I gave him the same account of my recent plight while we had a beer and he seemed much more concerned. He told me he would look into the matter and keep and eye on the situation. I knew Terry had moved up the ladder in the police department and that might be why I wanted his opinion. What I did not know was that he was now in charge of the downtown section patrol guys.  In the midst of my fear laced complaining I had mentioned my conversations with Sam and his unexpected responses.

I didn’t hear anything for a few days from anyone and oddly I hadn’t seen Sam in the mornings. Nothing came together until later in the week when Sam walked in well past his usual hour. He had one of those metal enclosed clipboards in his hand and he looked serious. Not putting the scenario together I asked him if wanted some coffee. He declined and started directly with his questions about my concern over a man that was giving me cause for worry.

The tone he took was that of a man who didn’t know me from Adam. Sam was professional and curt. He was responding to a complaint by a citizen and filling out a from from his board. No sense of recognition, no sense of a personal relationship with me. I was confused and answered his first few questions but then asked him what was going on. He kept reading from a list on the form without responding to my inquires. 
The reality of the situation finally penetrated my dense outer layer and the air let out of my sails quickly. I apologized but there was no change in his demeanor or his questions. I kept explaining between providing answers to his questions. Nothing.  I tried to defend my position of wanting to stay alive.  Nothing.  I went on the offense and things did not get better. “You didn’t want to do anything about this so when I ran into Terry I asked him for an opinion and some help.” 

I didn’t know Terry was Sam’s boss when this all started. I had no idea there was some bad blood between them. I later learned that Terry confronted Sam about his disregard over my inquiries. It was not a pleasant interaction and it ended with Terry ordering Sam to follow through on my request.  Unfortunately this would not be the last time I pissed off a police officer in the process of protecting my store. 

Sam finished his report and walked out of my store. I never saw him again. Not for coffee or anything else. I had offended him by inadvertently going over his head and probably crossing the line created by old wounds in the department. Now I was left without one of the protection systems that had helped me get through each day being hounded by a man with a penchant for revenge and for murder.

Next time I will introduce two more characters (and friends) as I search for more help in my battle. 
Below is the Order of Protection that was issued in court after Spahalski was arrested for threatening a police officer, and harassing me and my store.  


Broccoli Steaks

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Roasted Broccoli Steaks with a Lemon Yogurt Sauce

One of my dinner guests brings me several food magazines to read and often asks me make him my take on something he has read and seen. Although I look at plenty of recipes both for research and inspiration, I don't often replicate them exactly. This is a close interpretation of one of his desired recipes. 
I have wanted to try out a few of these promoted recipes to see just how they turn out and frankly, to see if they are as good as those touched up pictures make them look.

  • 1 Whole head broccoli
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • 2 Whole peperoncini (or 1 Tbsp of crushed red pepper)
  • Fresh Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt/Pepper 
Yogurt Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup Greek Yogurt
  • 3 tbsp. Mayonaise
  • Lemon zest from one lemon
  • Lemon Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 clove Garlic, minced
  • Salt/Pepper
Total Time: 45 minutes

Start by placing all the ingredients for the Yogurt Sauce in a bowl and mix well. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Next, slice the head of broccoli into 1 inch thick pieces. Stand the head up with the florets on the table and the stem facing up. Try to create pieces that include the stem. Some of the pieces will not have the stalk with them, but that's O.K. Reserve the florets that fall of during the slicing process and just add them to the mixture.

Place all the pieces parts in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil and the peperoncini, salt, and pepper. 

Place the broccoli steaks on a sheet pan and be sure they are flat and not overlapping. Add the small pieces around the steaks trying to keep the whole thing as one layer on the sheet pan.

Roast for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, and then carefully flip he large steaks and cook for another 15 minutes.  When the steaks are done place on a serving platter and add the parmesan cheese.

Serve with a side of the yogurt sauce for dipping. The broccoli steaks on their own are what you might expect form this vegetable.  The acidic and tangy taste of the sauce is a delightful addition to the broccoli and brings the taste to a much higher level.  A recipe worthy of repeating from another publication.

Roasted Rosemary Potatoes

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Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Another simple recipe that works as an addition or side to most meals. All the 
effort goes into cutting your potatoes, and the oven does the rest of the work.

  • 4 Large Russet Potatoes (or whatever you may have on hand)
  • 4 Fresh sprigs of Rosemary
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • Salt/Pepper

Total Time: 45 minutes

Cube each potato into 1 inch squares. You can make them larger or smaller, but do your best to make sure they are all equal size. This will help to cook them all evenly. 

Chope up the sprigs of rosemary and mince the fresh garlic. Mix them tougher with 1 tbsp of olive oil.

In a bowl, mix the potatoes and the rosemary mixture. Add the rest of the olive oil as needed. Spread the potatoes onto a sheet pan greased with some non-stick spray.

Place in the 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Flip the potatoes as evenly as possible and cook for another 20 minutes, or until the start to turn a golden brown. The trick is to have the cooked and brown at the same time. This may require a hotter oven, depending on the size of the cuts.

"My Own Private Murderer Part II"

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"My Own Private Murderer"
Part II
Over the next month things were fairly quiet in and around o’Bagelo’s. Other than watching over my shoulder and circling the store every morning a few times before I entered, all was calm and the world spun at the same rate as before.  I was, however, much more attentive each day and continually on the look out for my new "friend". The neighborhood was chock full of characters that I was familiar with, but now I was looking for my own personal murderer in the mix of suits and goofs that walked the streets. 
It was the quiet moments that were most difficult. The hustle and bustle of each day kept me distracted with work and gave me a feeling of safety through numbers. Those quiet moments that used to be mine alone were now interrupted by a fear of what might be lurking in the shadows. Time slowed down to a crawl at these moments and it felt as if they consumed and long parts of each day. Thanks for pointing that out Mr. Einstein.
I was rarely in a vulnerable position (alone or in a dark alley) so the fear wasn’t debilitating but there was a distraction that hovered over most of my daily activities.  The accusations concerning Mr. Spahalski’s murderous antics during drug and prostitution transactions were well outside my daily routine but apparently that didn’t stop him from finding me on at least one occasion. 
One of the distractions helping me forget about the fear was the increase in break-ins in the last few months.  Burglary wasn't a new problem at o’Bagelo’s as the store had been the target of mischief with a varied degree of success since before we opened.  CD’s were the most common loss as they were a  hot item in these years and apparently had enough value someplace to finance an eventing’s worth of elicit behavior. I don’t think I was ever thanked for unwittingly being the sponsor of any of those evenings. 
It is quite startling to approach the front of your business in the predawn hours only to find there had been a breach to the outer perimeter. And once again, before I have even had my coffee. On each occasion time had muted the memory of the previous violation and each time the surprise released a gushing flow of cortisol in my brain. 
The damage of each event usually amounted to more expense than the value of anything stolen, but the effects still unsettled me for at least a few days.  My former business partner taught me early on to leave the cash register open with some change in the drawer. This would stop an intruder from breaking the machine to get what was a total of a few dollars. This trick worked very well as I only had to replace the cash register once over the years. 
So the place suffered a small broken window; Wooden door hammered to shreds; Front door pried open and damaged; Wooden door in the back smashed open. Each new point of entry caused a few days of creative reinforcement,  moving the next intruder's attention to the another point of weakness. Although I didn’t like playing business defense, the offense was much more determined in their efforts. Piece by piece and section by section the options were being eliminated. 
At one point I started collecting the debris used in each attempt and each success.  I would display the items on a ledge in the store like a museum exhibit.  One morning it was a rock sent through a 2’x 8’ window.  Another morning I found a green steel street sign post leaning against my front door after it was used to pry open a gap big enough to crawl through.  A few times I found a 10 lb. gas cover from the local utility company thrown threw a window. I remember when a representative from that gas company was shopping in the store and asked me with an accusatory tone about the covers. His attitude changed quickly when I told him I was looking for someone to take ownership as they were used in a burglary attempt. He quieted down and left without the evidence. These are just a few examples of the 21 successful break-ins over my 21 years on State Street. Yes, that is a correct number, 21.  
All of this is necessary to the tale of the my murderer. In was October of 1998 and there was an unusual spot used to enter the store. I remember it well based on the location. It was a Thursday morning when I found the breach. The night before someone had mule kicked a small wooden panel on the lower part of a large old door that was not in use. It couldn’t have been much more than 2 feet wide and a foot and half in height (I will measure it for the reader). It was not secured very well and the burglar was able to crawl in and out through the opening. Bold and nimble, I thought. 
That thursday I replaced the panel and reinforced the inside with a few 2x4’s on the inside of the door. Not a pretty sight but I hoped it would hold up for a while as I worked on my new defensive tactic. The following Wednesday I found myself working later than usual. It was about 6:00 p.m. and the evening had a beautiful blue hue heading into an early fall darkness. Remember, it was October in the northeast. I looked around as I left the store and pulled out of my parking spot. After turning down Andrews street, less than a block away, it occurred to me that I had forgot something. The specific day I remember but what I went back for is lost. I drove around the block and as I pulled in front of my store I noticed a tall lanky man lurking in the same doorway that was breached exactly one week earlier. 
“AHA! I had one!” That was my initial reaction. I was going to catch one of these sons of a bitch in action. After all these years I would finally have some revenge.  First I needed to  make sure he was going to try and use the same technique and then I would put my plan into action. Exactly what that plan entailed was still not defined, but i knew it included approaching this bold derelict. I mean, come on now, it was 6:00 p.m. and there were plenty of cars on the streets even for a dark fall evening.
          All those recent break-ins increased my communication with the police department. I think they were just as tired of showing up at my store early in the morning as I was at finding out the place had been hit again. We had been working on some options including finally putting in a security system. I wasn't opposed to it but I never thought the burglars were there long enough to be caught by the system. The end result being summoned much earlier to come into work to assess the damage and start my day. The police had offered to put someone in the store overnight to help solve the problem. I refused the offer as I thought it was a waste of resources, but apparently they took great offense to my response as this was considered an excessively generous offer. An issue I did not recognize through the anxiety of fixing another hole in the store (That's yet another post). 

          My point here is that the police and I had been on edge for several months in an effort to stop the carnage of the buildings and businesses in the neighborhood. Whatever was happening was beyond an acceptable level for any of us.

I planned on driving by and parking up the street so I could make sure the guy wasn’t just loitering. I wanted to witness him trying to break the panel and call the police before I approached. With all the recent action, this might be our chance to put and end to some of the problems. 

       As I drove by I took a closer look at the man in the doorway and my plan changed pretty quickly.  Mr. Spahalski was standing in the recess of my doorway that evening, eyeing his options on my reinforced portal. 
“Son of a Bitch!” was the thought in my head, but this time with a streak of fear and a yellow tinge. I have convinced myself it was nature’s flight or fight doing battle within me and it appears flight was winning in the early rounds. I drove past the store and made a U-turn to park on the other side of the street. I called 911 as I drove (no laws against it at the time) and watched the man at my door while I waited. 
I had become naively arrogant over the years and if it was nearly anyone else at the door I would have been out of my car and in confrontation mode (most likely after I called the police, of course).  There go those cortisol levels again. The stress in my body was in full overdrive. If those two detectives hadn’t taken the time to stop by my store the morning after my initial meeting with Mr. Spahalski, the battle  in my brain would have taken a different turn, and who knows how that night would have ended.  It was dark enough that I may never have seen the horrors that lie in those eyes. 
I watched him mule kick the door a few times. A sense of pride replaced the fear for a brief moment as I realized my ad hoc carpentry was holding up to the crack induced force pounding at it’s core. That feeling didn’t last long as Mr. Spahalski spotted me across the street. I can’t be sure if he knew it was me or if he just thought someone was watching him, but he started to walk away. He wasn’t heading directly at me but he was heading in my direction on the other side of the street. He passed my car and then crossed the street behind my car. That’s when I saw the police officers pulling up to my storefront.

         The quick response was most likely do the steady stream of reports over the last few months or just a stroke of luck that the guys were nearby. I am more likely to believe  the area was a priority due to the recent activity.  In addition it was a call for an "in progress" rather than a "past tense" and we might have the answer. 

Either way, Mr. Spahalski was getting away, albeit at a slow pace, and I needed to talk to the cops. I quickly got out of my car and crossed the street to meet them. There wasn’t enough time to go into all the details so I told them a guy was trying to break into my store at the exact location of a brea-in the previous week. I pointed out the image walking down the road and one of the cops drove off after Mr. Spahalski while the other stayed with me. 
Now I had the time to go into further detail. Trying to tell a cop, or anyone for that matter, that there is a man suspected of a few murders harassing my business is a tough sell, especially in a few minutes time. I did the best I could to relay the developing story and my high level of concern over the situation. The police officer listened politely but I’m not so sure he believed me. I had given him all the names involved but he was probably too young to know all the older players on such a large police force.
The second police car returned and parked in front of my car across the street.  I thought that was going to be the end of a narrowly averted confrontation. Nope, wrong again. The cop that stood with me crossed the street to speak to the second car and then returned: 
“I need you to identify the man you saw in the doorway.”
“Okay.” I said. “How am I going to do that?” 
“He’s in the back of the police car.” He said with a causal tone. 
        Now my panic is in back in overdrive. “What!? You want me to go over there and look at this guy? Didn’t you hear what I told you about him? He’s a killer!”
       Unassuaged is probably the best way to describe his mannerism. Either based on disbelief or the ease of knowing they each had guns and badges. I, on the other hand,  knew they would be leaving before long and I would be left to fend for myself with an accused murdered in need of another fix for his drug habit.. 
After gathering myself and the manhood that had fallen to pieces on the sidewalk, I agreed to the request. We both walked over to the car and Mr. Spahalski was seated in the back directly behind the driver. As we approached the car I noticed the window was down and I could see Mr. Spahalski's  hands were cuffed behind his back. I looked at him and he stared right back at me without blinking or moving as if to intimidate me. I glanced back to the police officer and said “Yeah, that’s him. That’s the guy that was at the front door and the guy I told you about at my back door a month ago.”
At this point I have no idea what’s going to happen or what the cops can do about the situation. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long for the circumstances to change. Upon hearing me identity him as a someone engaged in illegal activity, Mr Spahalski looked directly at my face, squinted his drug addled eyes and through a slightly clenched jaw growled, “Paybacks, Asshole!” 
There was an awkward silence for a moment until I looked at the cop standing next to me and asked “Did he just threaten me? From the back of a police car? And in cuffs?”
Although the primary emotion going through my entire being was fear and self preservation, I honesty believe that my statements emanated with genuine surprise and confusion. It didn’t replace the fear, it just superseded it for that brief statement.
The police officer standing with me responded to my inquiry by asking Spahalski (He is no longer a Mr. to me. Once I have been threatened, you are degraded to surname only) 
Cop 1: “What did you just say?” 
Spahalski: “Nothing”
Cop 1: “Where you talking to him” said the cop pointing to me,
Spahalski: “No”
Cop 2: “Well, if you weren't talking to him, you were talking to one of us. I’m placing you under arrest for threatening a police officer.”
The cop in the car starting reading Spahalski his rights. I was stunned and frankly quite relieved. I was pretty sure that he wouldn’t be released with only an appearance ticket and at least tonight I didn’t have to worry about my store or my safety.
After Spahalski was driven away I had a conversation with the police officer about the process and my next steps.  I thanked him and asked him to thank his partner for me. Their actions to trap a would be criminal using a deductive argument from logic was certainly above my expectations. Pretty quick thinking and it put me at ease to know maybe, just maybe, these two cops were starting to place some merit in the story I had told them.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be the case for other police officers when I asked for their assistance in future encounters. 
That’s where Part III of this tale will take us.