Author Stalked by a Police Officer

Being stalked by a police officer when you’ve done nothing wrong can be a scary thing. Especially now. Every day, we see media stories about preternaturally violent cops: dangerous people who break the laws they’ve sworn to uphold, abuse their power, and use lethal force for no justifiable reason. In truth, many of these stories are thrown out there before the facts are in, resulting in a sudden, and often unfair, rush to judgment. The truth is that most cops are like you and me. They have lives and families and are deeply rooted in their communities. They get paid a paltry salary to put their lives on the line, and being unjustly vilified by the press only makes a tough job even tougher.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t “bad cops” out there. There are. They may be few and far between, but knowing that 99% of them are good people doesn’t make one feel any better when being unexpectedly pulled over or stalked by someone who carries a gun and is empowered to enforce the law.

Max Hawthorne recalls being stalked by a police officer.
Author Max Hawthorne was stalked by a police officer. (file photo)

I’ve known scores of police officers, as well as federal marshals, members of the FBI, and even a couple of Secret Service agents. I also have family “on the job” and was friends with many of the aforementioned people. Of all of them, almost every one was a decent person. Not perfect, but decent. There was one who was a piece of garbage with no honor or integrity, and another who was, in my opinion, a power-mad lunatic who was destined to implode. I don’t want to even imagine the things he’s undoubtedly done.

This particular blog post relates to an incident that happened over a decade ago, back before I left my career in fitness and became a published author. I was living in Bath Beach, Brooklyn and running the membership department of a large health club.

One day, one of my knucklehead friends suggested that we drive out to Sheepshead Bay (a neighborhood in Southern Brooklyn) and hang out at a large arcade that used to be there. Before he’d mentioned it, I never knew it was there. Initially, I was skeptical, but it turned out to be a fun experience. It was a big place – a multistory building, devoted to every full-size video game you can imagine, and we had a blast. I’m proud to say that, with my superior peripheral vision and reflex speed, I even managed to break the record on “Whack-a-Mole”.

After a few hours of prepubescent fun and, after having spent eighty of the one hundred dollars I’d taken from an ATM for the occasion, we decided to call it quits. We popped into a local 7-11 to grab a drink and a snack. It was when we went to pay that the festivities started.

The Scam

Our two sodas and bags of chips totaled to just over six dollars. I paid, and the clerk, a Hispanic male, only gave me back change for a ten instead of the twenty I’d handed him. I pointed out his mistake, and he immediately went on the defensive, telling me that I was mistaken. I explained to him that I’d had five twenties when our evening started and I’d just given him my last one. My friend vouched for this, as he’d seen it. I’d actually pulled it from my wallet while we were in line and jokingly lamented, “My last twenty . . .”

The clerk then spouted, “Oh, no. We just took all the big bills out of the register. Only singles are left. There are no twenties in here at all, see?” Unfortunately for him, I’m tall, and as I leaned forward, I could see the contents of his open register drawer. There was my last twenty, sitting all by itself. There were no fives, no tens, no anything except some singles and my bill. “It’s right there,” I remarked, pointing at it. Realizing he was caught in a lie, the clerk turned to his compatriot (make that fellow con man), who was walking by and had not even been near the register or the transaction, and said, “Oh, hey . . . you did this, right? You put this twenty in here, right?”

The second clerk gave him a knowing smirk and said, “Oh, uh . . . yeah, I just did that.” I knew then that the two of them had a nice little con game going on there. They would pull this crap every so often, periodically fleecing customers out of their hard-earned cash. I considered my options. There were two cops in the store, big guys in uniform, who were holding their free coffees and donuts (yes, most stores give the police free stuff for obvious reasons). I could see them becoming interested in the conversation. I already had a lot of friends on the job at that point, but I really didn’t feel like making a scene, escalating the situation, having to make phone calls, etc.

Plus, it’s hard to compete with free donuts.

I gave the thief a ‘Oh, we’re not done here, you prick,’ look and said, “No problem. I’ll be speaking with your boss tomorrow. I’ll be back for my money, and I will be sure to let him know about the little scam you two have going on here.”

We left the store and, true to my word, I called the store the following morning. I spoke to the owner on the phone, a Korean gentleman, if memory serves, and I told him what happened. His tone made it sound like it was my fault and he was doing me a favor. “Oh, the customer is always right, even if they wrong,” he said. “You come down and I give you ten dollars.” I explained to him that whatever his clerks told him was rubbish. They were stealing form people, and he should check the cameras he had overlooking the register. He would see right away that I was right. I explained to him that I had a good job, drove a brand-new car, and it wasn’t worth my time to come down there on my day off for a lousy ten bucks, but I was going to on principle.

I then asked him for the names of the two men who were working the counter. He refused to tell me, most likely because it was Brooklyn and he figured I wanted to do something unpleasant to his employees. He was mistaken. I wasn’t the kind to wait for them outside, give them the beatings they deserved, and leave them both in the store’s dumpster; they weren’t worth it. But I was considering calling ICE and having them checked out. Proving their mini crime spree might have been difficult, but if they turned out to be illegal aliens that were stealing from American citizens, getting them deported was just as good.

Sadly, he wouldn’t give me the names. I told him I would be down there in about two hours and would see him then.

Stalked by a Police Officer

Since I was off that day and it was nice outside, I decided I would try a little fishing after I ran down to Sheepshead bay. I planned on putting a few baits out by the rocks under the Verrazano Narrows bridge. A friend of mine had previously told me you could catch huge striped bass there. So, I packed up my rods, cooler, and folding chair and I jumped in the car.

I drove down to Sheepshead Bay on the Belt Parkway, got off the Knapp St. exit, and swung by Bernie’s Tackle Shop for a fresh bunker (Menhaden) to use as bait. I put the bait in my cooler, hopped back in the car, and then drove to the 7-11. The owner was waiting for me. He gave me my ten dollars, but he was completely unapologetic about the whole affair. I don’t think he cared about his employees’ shenanigans. He probably figured that, as long as they weren’t stealing from him, it didn’t matter.

Still fuming, I jumped back in my car and got back on the highway. Driving to the Verrazano meant I had to go several miles past it, all the way to the 65th street exit, flip a U-turn, and go all the way back to the bridge. It was a bit of a haul, but on the bright side there was a parking lot right off the highway, practically under the bridge. From there, it was only a fifty-foot walk to the seawall.

I was only a few miles into my drive, when I realized something alarming.

Someone was following me.

I could see the sedan, a few cars back. He gave himself away by inching out every so often so he could keep tabs on me. I’d lived in Bensonhurst for a decade at this point. Courtesy of my place of employment, I’d dealt with plenty of unpleasant people, including a rogue’s gallery of loan sharks, hit men, and assorted wiseguys. I’d been interviewed twice by the FBI over the death of a mobster I’d known who’d gotten “whacked”, and even knew a private investigator who’d driven around with me and taught me a few tricks of the trade when it came to tailing someone.

That said, I know when I’m being followed.

I executed a maneuver or two to confirm this (changing lanes, pretending to exit but then changing my mind, etc.) then continued driving. I wasn’t sure at this point if my tail was a wiseguy or a detective. I had a feeling it was cop – most likely that 7-11’s apathetic owner called them and said he was worried I would come after his employees – but I wasn’t sure.

Frankly, I preferred the latter over the former.

LE notwithstanding, in NYC, only the bad guys get to carry guns.

When I hit the 65th street exit, made my U-turn, and my shadow did the same, there was no doubt. With no choice at that point, I drove to the parking area by the bridge. If there was going to be a confrontation, I figured one that took place in broad daylight and in a public place was by far the best option. I parked and got out, grabbed my rods, bait and chair, and headed to the seawall to set up shop.

With my eyes hidden behind my sunglasses, I used my peripherals to keep an eye on my shadow as I worked. He’d pulled into the lot and parked in the rear, perpendicular to the parked cars, and occupying part of the entrance/exit lane. He wasn’t blocking traffic, just getting in people’s way, and had his sedan’s nose pointed toward the exit that led back onto the Belt.

I spent an hour fishing without a bite. Eventually, boredom, combined with the knowledge that some idiot was following me, convinced me that my time would be better spent elsewhere. So, I packed up my gear, tossed my remaining bait into the water, and headed back to my car.

At this point, my stalker had gotten out of his car and was conversing with someone. Any doubt I had about him being a cop evaporated. A marked patrol car had pulled into the lot and had stopped alongside his vehicle, facing the opposite direction.

The plainclothes detective – and there was no doubt at this point that that was what he was – was standing there talking to a uniformed highway patrol officer, who remained behind the wheel of his squad car. He was so into the conversation that he failed to notice that I had pulled up stakes and was loading my stuff into my trunk, barely twenty feet away.

My Stalker

As this was going on, I had time to surreptitiously study my shadow. He was your stereotypical NYC detective – the kind of person I might toss into one of my novels as a “red shirt”, although I’d have to give him a twist to make him interesting. He was in his late forties to early fifties. Stocky, mustached, with a fairly good-sized paunch hanging over his belt. Too many free donuts, I suppose. For the purpose of this story, let’s call him Barney, as in “Barney Miller”. The thing that annoyed me about Barney was the words coming out of his mouth.

I heard the highway officer ask him, “So, how’s it going? What are you up to?” To which he scoffed and replied, “Just following a perp.” A perp? Some lowlife tried to rip me off and suddenly I’m a criminal?

What an imbecile.

As I loaded my stuff, I watched as Barney strutted back and forth like a puffed-up male turkey, boasting about all his heroic exploits and assorted “collars”. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure some good actually came of all that, but from my perspective it was a meth-enhanced drive down ego lane. When someone asks me how I’m doing, I focus on important things like my child’s latest accomplishments, something hilarious one of the cats did, or a pending fishing trip. I don’t brag about how many books I’ve sold, awards I’ve won, or reviews I’ve gotten. When your life is so sad that all you have is your work, it really is time to sit down and think.

Payback

At this point, I was sick of the swaggering, although I daresay nowhere near as tired of it as the younger cop was. I could see him sitting there, mechanically nodding and listening, presumably because he had no choice. From what I’ve gleaned, seniority and experience in the police department count for at least as much as rank. It’s all about reputation and respect, and I’m sure the highway cop felt he had no alternative but to let his eyes glaze over as he absorbed everything spewing from his “superior’s” mouth.

Still unnoticed, I got in my car, backed out of my parking spot, and arced forward toward the exit. I had to pass Barney’s car on the way. I’m sure it would’ve been awhile before he noticed I was gone; he was so into his stories. Just then, I remembered a scene from the movie Goodfellas and a devilish idea came over me. I decided his braggadocio needed a little lesson in humility.

And I was going to give him one.

I drove slowly by and stopped, with my vehicle just far enough forward of Barney’s car that both cops could see me. Then I rolled down my window, noisily cleared my throat so that both noticed and turned in my direction, then held up my index finger. “Excuse me,” I said from beneath raised eyebrows. “I’m leaving now.” Then I winked and pointed toward the exit.

At that moment, two things happened simultaneously. The uniformed cop started laughing so uproariously, I was worried he’d hurt himself, and Barney screamed, “Motherf—-r!” at the top of his lungs. I then pulled slowly forward a few yards and graciously waited while my shadow, still cursing non-stop, jumped in his car.

I swear, the highway cop had tears in his eyes from laughing so hard. I could see him in my rearview mirror shaking and trying to talk into his radio. He’d sat there for Lord-knows-how-long, while this braggart painted himself as the superman of the department. And then, the “perp” he was tailing came along and politely let him know he was leaving so he could continue following him.

It was like something from a movie.

And that’s the kind of thing that stays with a guy for the rest of his career. You can bet the entire borough heard about it, and he was ribbed over it until the day he retired. “Hey, Barney, remember that guy you was secretly following? The one you watched fish for an hour? I heard after he left, he had to drive in the granny lane so you could keep up!”

I left the lot and merged onto the Belt, making sure my tail had time to follow. He stayed behind me for a few miles then, presumably because he was sick of playing the fool, blew past me and headed back to Sheepshead Bay.

As the saying goes, all’s well that ends well. Being stalked by a police officer is never fun. I never saw either of those cops again, and the odds of them or anyone else involved reading this are slim. That said, if the highway patrolman does read this, feel free to reach out to me through my website. I’ve got a free book with your name on it. As for the owner of that 7-11 and his two reprobate employees . . . in the words of Triple-H, you can all “Suck it!”

Max Hawthorne

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