"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.