"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. 

Chicken Pastina -PF

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Chicken Pastina Soup and Chicken Stock

All of us who take up in the kitchen have our own version of homey chicken soup. I started mine at o'Bagelo's in the early 90's and found it had great appeal, especially during the winter months. This in not a quick soup recipe but the payout ends up being a rich and wonderful stock that can be used for any soup requiring a chicken base. 
First we will make the stock. This can be done anytime during the week and can be frozen for future use. Many restaurant keep a special pot plugged in and they will add the end cuts of fresh veggies and chicken bones on a constant basis. The pot has a spigot at the bottom for deliver of the stock. Very little waste in the old style service places. 

  • 1 Whole chicken - I recommend a local bird as I am uncertain about the new processing rules
  • 1 Head Celery - separated
  • 1 1/2 Large Spanish Onion
  • 1  lb. Bag of Carrots
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic, minced
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1 Bag of Fresh Spinach
  • 2 Lemons
  • 1 old rind from a Parmesan or Romano Block (optional but very helpful)
  • Salt/Pepper
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Pastina - small pasta that looks similar to couscous
  • Fresh Parmesan for serving

Time: 2 Days to make the stock
           1 Hour to make the soup after the stock is done.

Special tools: Dutch oven is preferred.

Chicken Stock:

The goal here is a gelatinous mixture after cooling that moves like jello. Not at all like the purchased product at most stores.

Start by placing the whole chicken, breast side up, in your dutch oven, or other oven safe container with high sides. Next chop up 1/2 of the celery, 3/4 of an onion, 2 cloves of garlic and 1/2 lb. of the carrots. If you cut your veggies into large pieces it will be easier to remove them when the stock is finished. I use all the pieces parts of the veggies after I clean them.

(A side note about mirepoix - I have been asked about the packages of cut up veggies often found in grocery stores.  My fist response is usually why bother? It really doesn't take that much time to cut, and it will increase your knife skills. The negatives are the same for any processing. The more of the product exposed to air, or the more processing done before use, the further from it's natural state. So, time vs quality. I think you know where I stand on this issue. Cut your own damn veggies. It's good for you.)

I have used the neck and gizzards in the picture below as they came with my bird. All in as far as I am concerned with stock.

Fill your pot with water so that just the top 1/3 of the chicken in left uncovered. Roast in a 350 degree oven for about 2 hours, or until the chicken reaches 160 degrees in temperature.the chicken is cooked, remove the bird and set on a plate to let cool.

When cool enough to handle, remove all the white and dark meat from the chicken and set aside. As your peel away the meat add everything else back into the dutch oven with the liquid and veggies. I try to remove and save as much of the meat as possible, but there will still be some left on the bones.

Fill the dutch oven up with water leaving some room for the mixture to boil (about 3/4 full).
Place the stock on the stove top and add one bay leave, and cook on medium heat for 3 hours, or until any meat left on the bones has all fallen off.

Let this mixture cool for about 30 minutes and drain the through a colander. You should be left with a a beautiful yellowish chicken stock. Discard the veggies and bones as we are finally done with them.

At this point you can run the stock through a fine sieve if you want a clearer stock without some of the bits and pieces. I generally leave it in because I use it directly for my soup. Other applications might require a clearer stock (Risotto).

Place your stock in the refrigerator overnight. The next day the fat will have gathered on stop and created a nice wax layer on your stock. Remove the fat (save if you like to cook with it) and what is left should be a perfect gelatinous and concentrated stock. You can use it immediately or freeze it for future use.

Chicken Pastina Soup

Start by adding the chicken stock from above and an equal part water to a soup pot.

Next add the remainder of the veggies (onion, carrots, celery, garlic). I cut these veggies smaller (no bigger than the size of a tooth). Next add one bay leave, thyme, parsley, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese rind.

Bring mixture to a light boil and reduce to a simmer for 1 hour.

While soup is cooking, boil enough water to cook 1/2 lb. of the pastina. Cook al dente and immediately drain the pastina in a colander with small holes. This is the one time I deviate from standard protocol of pasta cooking. RINSE the pasta and set aside.

Rinsing the pasta will remove some of the starch, and hence the sticky nature of pasta needed to adhere to most sauces. Here we are going to add the pastina to the soup when served and we don't want our noodles sticking to each other.

If we add the noodles to the soup to early they will absorb the liquid and become a little unappetizing.  No one likes soggy noodles.

The last thing I add to my soup is fresh chopped spinach. It will wilt quickly and add another layer of taste and salubriousness to your soup.

The soup is now ready to serve. I start by placing a few ounces of the pastina in the serving bowl. This will allow the noodles to distribute as you add the soup. Next ladle out mostly stock to create a fluid in the bowl, and lastly add a ladle of meat and veggies.

I finish my soup with a grating or shaving of fresh Parmesan. Mmm Mmm good.

A different Tale of Survival

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"My Own Private Murderer"

      Stories of murder, murderers, and the the often questionable convictions of accused killers are all the rage.  I thought I would to take advantage of the trend to tell my story while the the interest still exists.  It will be told in several parts as it takes place over nearly a 7 year period.

All that I am about to tell you is completely true. A dramatic beginning, I know, but it pales when compared to the roller coaster of events that occurred during the years this story developed. I have told my tale to others but I think it is too long for an oral presentation in the 2 minute world we live. I’m not sure how many parts it will take to tell the whole piece, but I will do my best to keep in interesting. Please feel free to research the main participants, as I have not changed the names.

The story begins on a weekday September morning  in 1998 around 5:30 am, not unlike any other day at the store. I was the first to arrive at work as I have said in other stories, but not the first to arrive (or still be hanging around) on State Street. The sun was taking it’s time as it was a cool fall day and well past the summer solstice. 
 After we had expanded in the early years  o’Bagelo’s now occupied two storefronts. The original section had the main entrance but no accessible back door. Once we took over the new section we add dining space and a back door that led to the alley.  This was a needed addition for deliveries and for the occasional escape without customers noticing.
Once the ovens were running for a bit the back end of the store warmed up enough to be uncomfortable and I often cracked open the back door to get some fresh cool air in while the hot air escaped.  This was one of those mornings.  As I baked away and watched the news on the kitchen television, the mindless repetitive actions of baking and setting up the store were  going nicely. Nicely that is until I saw a light coming through the front door and what appeared to be some tapping on the window. 
I poked my head out of the kitchen to identify the action and saw a uniformed police officer peering into the place with work like mannerisms. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to appear at my door prior to opening. Often just a regular customer heading to work early who knew I would let them in, as long as they abided by the rules. I was working and on a tight schedule. No requests that required too much of my time, including conversation. This cop was checking the place out with a flashlight in one hand and his other hand placed on his his gun, still holstered. This was work, not a coffee run. 
As I approached the front door I realized I didn't know the cop at my door. This only increased my curiosity.  His car was parked on the street facing the wrong direction. There was another police car parked in the right direction. We quickly got acquainted and he asked me if everything was O.K. in the shop. I thought all was well and he began to tell me why he was asking. 
There was a man standing at the back door and he was peering into the small opening at the back door.  When the cops approached him they noticed he had a hammer in his hand. Although there was an elevated railroad track on the north side of the street, this was no John Henry impersonator. The strange mans’s response wouldn’t have satisfied anyone at any time of the day, let alone in a dark alley before the sun had risen. His appearance didn’t aid his argument and the police officer told me he was in the back of the police car. 
The cop told me his name and asked if we were acquainted. The name didn’t ring a bell and I said so, but he wanted me to take a look and see if I recognized him from the neighborhood. I don’t like things interrupting my morning rituals, but the reason has always been that I leave little time for distractions.  This seemed like more than a distraction. I walked with the cop to the police car that held the rude visitor at my back door and we made eye contact. If I may paraphrase a great movie “This was the beginning of a (not so) great friendship”. I make eye contact with a diverse group of people every day.  And not just casual eye contact, but discussion based contact. It’s short and informative, but there are often plenty of telling signs it each one of those interactions. This one was no different is many senses, and completely different in others. 
That September morning the face sitting in the back seat of that police car was not familiar to me. That was the last time I would ever be able to make that statement.  His eyes lacked softness and a definition of connectivity that comes with humanness. There was a direct hollow space extending from his eye sockets into the emptiness of his entire being. Somewhere between animalistic and soulless human. The rest of his tall frail body was long and stringy, covered in clothes that had been worn through more than a few long evenings in the city. Sunken cheeks highlighted facial hair that struggled to grow, and the short hair on his head appeared exhausted from the same efforts. 
It wasn’t until a later date that I learned I was looking at the effects of the powerful parasitic host called “crack”. But there was more in that face. It was a face of despair. A face of secrets, perhaps brought on by the parasite and possibly one that is evident in all of it’s hosts, but I knew I had seen this look before.

     Many years earlier I had met a man who was rumored to have been a contract killer for one of those underground organizations. I knew the rumor prior to meeting him and was skeptical about his history.  I kept an open mind about the possibility, after all, I don’t doubt their existence so they must be somewhere. 
The day I met the man of rumors I immediately ceased talking about the acts that followed him and changed his status to: “Believable in my mind”. He had the same look in his eyes, however they were surrounded with an appropriate exterior and presentation. If you could possible miss those searing soulless lasers emanating from his clean cut face, you may never have noticed. I hold onto the possibility that my judgment was clouded by the placement of derelict thoughts concerning his craft, but the cold crushing wave that pierced my body when our eyes met and we shook hands is still shoots through me when I think of him. 
Twice. I had now seen that look twice and it added to the data points making up my scientifically-lacking model. But the data was about to change. The officer told me they were going to take this “John Henry” wannabe into custody for processing and see what comes up, and I thought that was the end of it. 
At this point I still lived in a world of relative peace and ease. A world where business stress and customer behavior was an occupying force. That was all about to change. I asked the officers how they had come to be at my back door so early in morning, and out of their section, to boot. The officer at the door told me he was responding to a silent alarm that had come over the radio at this location. An office upstairs had a system in place and they were sent to investigate. This was fairly odd as there were only two offices on the upper floors, and one was my landlord. Most of the four floors were vacant and had been for many years. Recently a computer guy had put an office on the 2nd floor and since he was out of the office most of the time, he must have put installed an alarm system. Who knew?
It was about 8:15 the same morning when two plain clothes detectives came wandering into the store on the their way to the cigar shop next door. I knew the guys from their lunch appearances over the years and from a few other common local haunts. It was unusual for these two to stop by in the morning, especially asking for me when they arrived.
Detective 1: “What did you do to piss off Spahalski?” 
Detective 2: “You need to be careful. He’s a bad guy. We have been trying to get him for years.”   

This all confused me. “Who? What are you talking about?” was my response. Not because I didn’t have the penchant for pissing people off, but I couldn’t remember a recent incident that would have been brought to their attention. 
“We saw the overnight report this morning about the guy at your backdoor. His name is Robert Spahalski. He’s been on our radar for years.” This statement prompted a long historical description and threat assessment of the tall, thin, drug addicted individual at my back door at 5:30 am, wielding a hammer.
The two detectives were not unfamiliar, as I stated earlier. They were the definition of cool and calm. Dressed in classy overcoats and nice suits with a NYC cop show look about them. I wouldn’t classify either as jovial, but they both had a sly and soft humor about them. Never too serious, never too animated. I mention all this because none of those characteristics were showing during our discussion. They were serious and stern. Eyes wide open and showing concern - hopefully over my safety and not about the chance of being called into work at this location. 
Not only did the information set me back but their tone enhanced my fear. This is the story the two detectives relayed to me that morning over coffee. 

     Robert Spahalaski was a drug addicted street hustler who worked as a male prostitute some nights, and on other nights he robbed the men working in the same field.  In September of 1991, he was suspected of killing Charles Grande, a Webster man he often met in a bar, and occasionally exchanged cash for sexual favors. Spahalski was pulled over in Grande’s car a day after he was killed and told the police he was Grande, using his ID.  Charles was found dead in his home a few days later in Webster, NY, beaten to death with a hammer. 
Robert Spahalaski was a suspect but never tried for the crime. He was later convicted of impersonation and drug possession. The detectives told me they were sure he had killed Grande, and that Spahalski was a suspect in a few other murders over the years but they could never pin anything on him. 
Someone cleaning the upper floors of my building was running a vacuum cleaner in the hallway and bumped the office door of the new computer guy with the machine. As he was new to the building this was never an issue. Today was different, and I think I may owe a great deal to my new building mate. The bump of that machine, that never caused an issue in the past, now set off a silent alarm and contacted the police. Two cars came by to investigate and that started and stopped a number of incidents in my life.  With hindsight i can say that Chaos theory is much less of a “theorem” to me now.  

This is how my story starts out. An accused killer is at my back back door at 5:30 in the morning on a cool September day.  A very small mistake by an unsuspecting cleaning person with a vacuum cleaner stopped a potential ugly encounter with a drug addled male prostitute with a suspected history of violence and murder. Yielding a weapon he had used before to kill a man over $60.00, he certainly wasn’t interested in a bagel and coffee.  This would be enough to unnerve me for a longer period of time than I care to admit. Unfortunately this was not even close to the end to my encounter with my own personal serial killer.