You Might Need a Friend Someday

The previous post left you with a mystery.

What was the connection between illegal spying by the Chicago Police Department during the 1968 Democratic National  Convention and my walking away from an extortion attempt backed by the threat of 10 years in prison?

Here’s what happened.

In August of 1986, I was the Director of Marketing for a manufacturer of sporting goods. Our factory and office were in an renovated building of the former Chicago Stockyards where thousands of animals were brought every day, from all over the midwest, to be fattened, slaughtered , butchered, packaged and sent off to market in stores across America.

It was only logical that the large meeting hall connected to this realm of blood and controlled mayhem was frequently used the site of the presidential convention for one national political party or another. This year is was the Democrats.

The Vietnam War and race relations were tearing America apart. Five months previously, President Johnson had dropped out as a candidate for re-election , worn down and worn out by the mess he had inherited when Kennedy was assassinated.

Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis less than two weeks later. Robert Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles after promising to end the war and make racial peace.

It was a violent time. America’s future was in question.

That August morning, I was driving through the Chicago Stockyards and passed the driveway to the final security check point before a vehicle could enter the VIP parking lot at the entrance to the building that housed the convention.

The night before, the cops had assaulted thousands of chanting protesters in Grant Park, across the street from the Hilton Hotel where the major politicians were staying. It was a brutal encounter.

I was within that security perimeter in my shiny new 4-door forest green Ford Crown Vic because, like everyone who worked in the nearby factory, I had been cleared to come and go simply by displaying a credential from the Secret Service in my windshield,, saying I had been cleared.

This Noontime, I was heading out for a meeting in the loop. I was the second car waiting to clear the checkpoint at Halstead Street. It too was closed to normal traffic. There was other checkpoints four blocks away in either direction.

A three-wheel motorcycle came out of the driveway on my right, the final check point before the building entrance. I have no idea why he failed to stop, but he ran into the rear door on my passenger side with a loud bang.  I jumped out and came around the back of my car.

There was one car a head of me and two behind me, so the motorbike was pretty much blocked in. But the first car, not having seen what had happened, pulled ahead and went through the narrow passage and turned right onto Halstead, clearing the gate. The motorbike backed up a bit and swung ahead of me, out of the gate and turned up deserted Halstead Street.

I jumped back in the car and took off after him. That Crown Vic had the biggest V-8 they offered at that time. I like iron.

Before he had gone three blocks I had pulled up alongside him. I banged into him using the damaged door as the contact point. What the hell, it was already abused. And I wanted his ass.

When I came out of the car and around the back to confront him if he tried to back out, he had turned to me and was holding up an open wallet. I could see a Chicago Police Department shield on one side. On the other open face of the open wallet was his CPD photo ID and his name.

Around his neck he had a Press Credentials of a CBS Television courier, also with a name and photo. The photo was the same person but not the name. He had counted on my focusing on the badge and not recognizing the discrepancy – or maybe he forgot the fake ID around his neck. I realized he was a undercover police spy.

The previous night, the CBS-TV reporter Dan Rather had been roughed up on the convention floor but what Walter Cronkite called “thugs” and many claimed were undercover cops.  So I was not at all shocked to encounter one.

And here was one of them with CBS credentials, driving a 3-wheel courier’s bike with a big blue CBS eye on the front and back.

“I know what you are.” I waved my hand at the two different IDs. “Those names don’t match. ” I made a mental note to remeber both names and his CPD badge number.

“Fuck off. Get away from me. ”

He looked past me. Something had his attention. But it was not the classic “watch out behind you” trick from the movies. He was still straddling the bike, upper body turned to me  and I was more than an arm’s length back of him. So I looked too. I saw a police cars clear the same gate we had come from and it was heading for us, siren screaming.

He said, “Be cool when they get here. Don’t say anything. Follow me back.  We’ll work this out.” I was curious. Also, I made the judgment that confrontation with a combination of one undercover cop and the two “real’ cops who were visible in the squad car did not look like a good thing to experience.

By the time the it pulled up next to us, the spy was off his bike, standing clear, and holding up the same CPD credentials he had showed me.

“It’s OK guys. We’re on  the job. We’ll take care of this ourselves.”  In my 3-piece suit and snap-brim hat I must have looked the part because the one of the uniformed cops, waved his hand in my general direction  said to the undercover cop, “Secret Service?”  and he nodded.

They never got out of their car. They just waved and continued on up towards the next checkpoint.

I got in my car and backed up enough to let his bike turn around. I followed him back through the check point. I guess the big CBS eye was familiar and they waved him through. I had to show my permit.

By the time they cleared me through he already had turned into that same driveway and disappeared. He had gone through the final check point that I knew from television reports the night before had stopped even famous politicians who did not have the new electronically active passes. It was new technology.

I went to the nearby CPD local command center and demanded to talk with a ranking officer. When he came I told him too much. I should have just reported a hit and run. But I told him about the two sets of non-matching credentials.


“Sir, please come in and have a seat. I’ll have an officer take your report.”

They kept me almost three hours, wouldn’t let me make a phone call and wouldn’t let me leave. “No sir, you are not under arrest but we have an active investigation here and you may not leave until we are finished.”

It was almost 3:00 pm before they allowed me to leave. “We’ll have someone get in touch with you. So far we are unable to identify any Chicago Police Officer of that name.”

I went back to my office a few blocks away. Shortly afterwards, I got a phone call. “Sir, the officer whose name you gave us has been on vacation for the past 10 days and his Captain said he has gone out of state. Obviously you are mistaken. Sorry, but we cannot help you. File a report with your insurance company.”

I said. “OK, but I will bet you that CBS wants to hear this story about the undercover cop who is working for them under a fake name. I’m going to go to their office in the Loop in the morning and tell them.”

I went home a short while later. My wife said that someone had been calling me every 15 minutes but would not leave his name. Sure enough, the call came again a few minutes later. It was the bike cop. I recognized his voice.

“Listen motherfucker. You had better shut up. I know where you live. If I hear that you talked to any reporters I’ll make sure you get fucked up real bad.”

I said, “You just guaranteed that I will do exactly that. But wait a few minutes before you call again so I can get my tape recorder hooked up.” And I slammed the phone down.

Before I could go to CBS, I had to stop by my office to give some work to my secretary. I always came in the side door that avoided the long detour through our reception area. She greeted me with, “There a Chicago Police Lieutenant waiting for you in the lobby. Here’s his card. He’s not in uniform.”

It was not the same name as the cop I’d met yesterday. Nor, when I went out to the lobby, was it yesterday’s officer.  This was an older guy, probably late 50’s. Kind of tired looking but still very professional. I took him back to my office.

“May I talk with you in absolute confidence?”

“Sure. Is this about yesterday?”

“Yes, but I am not here to cause you any trouble. In fact I may save you some if you are willing to discuss things.”

“OK, I’ll listen.”

“I know all about what happened yesterday. Everybody who has touched this has handled it wrong. I’m here to straighten it out if you will let me. I’m not going to talk at all about what was done wrong. I’m not going to point fingers or name names. You did nothing wrong and they jerked you around. First thing I want to do is apologize. I undertsand your car was damaged. we’ll get that fixed for you. Tell me, what else can be done to make this right for you?

“I want that apology in writing.”

“Son, that’s not going to happen. I give that aplology to you sincerely, but I can’t put it writing. I am telling you that in the past 18 hours, the shit has hit the fan about this. A lot of people have had their asses kicked. I’ve done some of that kicking. And I may still get mine kicked too if I don’t handle this right now.”

“So what good is your apology? I have a banged up new car and it’s going to hurt my insurance after I report it. I was held against my will and then threatened by a cop who has my unlisted home phone number.”

“I know that happened. That was one of asses I kicked. Even if you and I don’t work this out, he will never cause you a problem again, ever.  But I also want you to know, someday, that you will have done the right thing for yourself by not going to CBS this morning.”

“Why shouldn’t I blow the whistle? You guys are out of control. This is looking like Germany of the forties.”

“Look,” he said, “I’m not talking about history or something somewhere else. I’m talking about today and tomorrow. Will you listen, please?

“OK. I’ll listen.”

“Thanks. Please listen carefully and think about it before you answer. It could be important to you someday.”

“Before I came here, I checked you out. You have a great job with this good business. You are are doing well for yourself. You own your own home at a great address out in the suburbs. Yes, I checked you out. You have no criminal record, no outstanding traffic tickets and only one minor traffic offense in the 10 years since you first moved here from New Jersey. You got that summons dismissed on your own, without a lawyer. That tells to me that you are intelligent and you think things through.

You never cause trouble. You’ve never been in trouble. ”

Obviously, he had no clue about my juvenile history.  There was no point in updating him on that.

“Let me point out something. Your job has you moving around the city. You must have an expense account here. You entertain. You are in and out of restaurants and bars.

One day, through little or no fault of your own, or maybe even some serious fault, you will have a problem. Maybe you’ll be stopped and have alcohol on your breath. Maybe a woman accuses you of something. Anything can happen. It’s the way the world is.

When that happens you will need a friend. as long as it is a harm-free thing, as long as you don’t hurt someone, as long as it doesn’t create a lot of publicity that demands attention, as long as it is just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and doing something stupid, you will need a friend who can keep things from going too far.

You will need a friend who is a position to help you. Maybe something as simple as making sure you are treated right and get to tell your side of whatever happened. Maybe it can even be made to simply go away. I’m not talking about letting you walk for a serious crime. I’m talking about the kind of thing that can cause you a lot of trouble over nothing.

You might need that friend someday. If you understand what I am saying, I could be that friend.

“What about my car?”

“Take it to any three places you trust and get a written estimate from each. Call me and I’ll come by and pick up the car. Rent a plain car for a few days and I’ll cover that in cash.  You’ll have it back two days later with the repair perfectly done. ”

“What about the friend part? How will that work?”

“You have my card. Let me put my home phone on the back. If you ever need a friend, call me either at home or on the job. Remind me of your Forest Green Crown Vic and tell me the problem. I’ll remember that. If there is anyway to help you, I will.”

Two days later I gave him the estimates. On the third day after that, he brought back my car. The paint job matched. He paid cash for the car rental. We shook hands.

I never saw him again. But before the year was out I had two phone conversations with him, each less than 15 seconds long.

See “You Can Walk Away

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