I called my phone and got a foreign voice on the other line.
“Hello,” he answered.
“Hi, this is my phone,” I said.
“It was your phone,” he calmly replied. “It’s mine now.”
“Can I get it back?” I asked.
“Listen, I just lost my phone too. I know how it is. So I’ll make this easy on you. Give me $150,” he suggested, as if this were a legitimate negotiation and not extortion.
The night before, I had left my phone on the bus home to Jersey. I used the “Track my Iphone” app to locate it, and the app told me my phone was at the Bus Depot in Paramus NJ. I tried to call it the next morning on my housephone, but it went straight to voicemail; I figured it died. I called the dispatcher at 9:00 a.m. to explain the situation. Nothing had been turned in to the lost and found, he told me, and after a thorough search up and down the bus, my phone was nowhere to be found. So I headed to work, hoping that a Good Samaritan would e-mail me (forgetting that my phone was locked with a 6-digit password), I called the dispatcher again at noon, asking him to kindly search the bus one more time. He happily obliged, but, alas, still no luck. I started to accept my sad fate, and began thinking about buying a new phone. We all know that losing our contacts, notes, apps, our dirty little electronically stored secrets, is a monumental annoyance, to say the least. (Hence the Icloud). Despondent but not giving up hope, I logged back in to the “Track my Iphone” app and found that someone was charging my phone. It was on the move. After three or four more failed attempts, my call – my prayer – was answered.
At first, the perp had offered Port Authority as a rendezvous, but he became increasingly paranoid about cops, and, after hesistating to even meet at all, he suggested we do the exchange – the extortion – on the corner of 40th and 9th ave. It’s a public place, so I agreed. I had 45 minutes to get across town from my midtown skyscraper.
Eavesdropping on my conversation, one of my co-workers (at the time) recommended I go downstairs to the local precinct. You know, let the authorities handle it. I figured what the hell. After a lengthy explanation, the boys in blue informed me that any potentially helpful undercover officers would not be available in time. But they wouldn’t give up on me. They threw me into a cab and sent me crosstown, to a station nearby the 40th and 9th meeting point. Two undercover female officers let me use one of their phones to track mine, which, according to their tracking app, was coming through the Lincoln tunnel at an impressive clip. I called the perp to buy more time. His girlfriend was now doing the talking, as she spoke more fluid English. It took about 30 minutes, but two undercover male officers joined us – I’m now rolling four blue hats deep – and we headed uptown.
Strolling up ninth avenue, one of the female officers called her sergeant, who was already with his partner on the corner of reference. Out of a bodega came a Latino, cigar-smoking, jean jacket-wearing officer. A real Serpico. Two blocks away, I called my phone to get the perp’s location, and he said he was on the agreed-upon corner in a blue Nissan Moreno. The female officer notified her seargent, who located the vehicle. We got to the meeting point and I hid in a telephone booth, hoping to remain unseen, since I had previously revealed my clothing to the perp before I saw the light and got right with the law. Nervous about him driving off, I urged the officers to cancel their plan of me walking up to the car, and instead suggested to them that he come to the pizza shop where I was standing on the southeast corner. I called the perp, gave him the new rendezvous, entered the shop, and waited. As he drove up, one of the officers motioned me over to the car. It was slow motion from here on out. As I approached the car, the girlfriend lowered her window and flashed me my phone. Within a split second, six officers converged on the Nissan like gangbusters. The culprit was in disbelief. Refusing to get out of the car, the girlfriend was dragged out of the passenger seat, thrown up against the wall and patted down. By then, hundreds of New Yorkers were stopped dead in their tracks to see what the hell was going on. After the seargent was satisfied that the girlfriend wasn’t involved (She wasn’t in the car until the meeting had been arranged) and confirming the identity of my phone, we finally headed back to the station.
I gave a statement to the arresting officer – standard procedure, they assured me – who told me that the perp was actually the driver of the bus on which I lost my phone. Best case scenario for him, the cops told me, is he’ll be stripped of his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and lose his job, even though he’d just be charged with two misdemeanors. I would later give a written deposition to the District Attorney.
It’s hard to believe this guy was dumb enough to think he was getting away with this. I wish it was harder to believe I almost let him.
Thanks to Jordan Rubin for reading drafts of this.