Damaging ripple effects from a theft

Yesterday morning, Matt and I were about to set off on a search for a new bike for me. We aimed to visit a local bike shop or two, and buy a new Trek hybrid on sale.

Right before we left, Matt looked on Blocket (the equivalent of Craigs List), on the off chance that my green bike, stolen a month before, might be listed there.

And there it was.

For sale, in a neighborhood in southern Stockholm, with a seat that wasn’t mine, and without the toe clips and some other bells and whistles.  Needless to say, that threw a wrench in the morning’s plans.

I immediately texted *and* emailed the seller, asking if the bike was still available.  Then I set to work looking for documentation from Zurich, or some record of the bike’s serial number, or anything at all that would help pin the bike to my possession. Matt and I dug up the photo he took of me back in June carrying my bike up some stairs in Lidingo. I called the police to ask for advice; they told me to call back once I’d arranged a meeting and maybe a police car could be dispatched. (!)

I also called my friend A.N. to see if he would come with us to meet the seller, and speak Swedish if necessary. Thankfully, he treated this as a crime novel, or detective story — lightly, with humor.

I needed that. I was freaking out. Poor Matt had to suffer my emotional ride too. I couldn’t find my papers, the guy wasn’t contacting me, and the day was slipping away quickly. We decided to go look at new bikes before the stores closed that afternoon, despite the knowledge that the my green bike was out there.

I ran this list down again and again in my head: The scratches on the side, the age of the bike (mid-1990s, a certain model color made in the U.S.), the plastic tie that Matt had to put on to keep the fenders tight, the stickers from Zurich…  all circumstantial evidence.  No proof whatsoever that I had bought this bike — even though I know the address of Bob’s Cycle Shop in Fair Oaks, Calif., where I purchased this beauty 16 years ago.

So, we went and bought a new bike yesterday afternoon:  the same model type from the same maker. We went and had a beer or two with another expat. We went home.

And then the seller sent an SMS to me to say that the green bike was still available.

I freaked out again. When I had called the Swedish police earlier in the day, they told me that it is illegal to buy something that you know to be stolen property. I couldn’t buy my bike back. I somehow had to meet this person, and my friends SueBill persuaded me that I had to tell simply say to this person that the bike was mine and ask him to return it. This strategy had worked for my friend Bill in D.C., not long ago. I had to try.

The seller and I arranged to meet at 10:30 am today in front of a local gymnasium (a hybrid of high school and college, for 16- and 19-year-olds). I immediately started speculating that a local kid stole my bike and now was engaging in risky behavior, by selling it almost immediately.

A.N. and Matt were more cautious, open-minded even. We arrived early at the appointed place, and I watched the gates of the high school for a teenager to walk out with my beautiful green bike. Instead, my bike came rolling down the street from the other direction, in the hands of a tall thin man, with a gray knit cap low on his forehead, a bike messenger bag slung across his body, and a day’s worth of gray stubble.

Matt and I immediately could see that it was my bike coming down the sidewalk. We introduced ourselves, and I told this guy that the bike had been stolen, that I could not buy it from him. He clutched the handle bars. I told him I had bought it 16 years ago in California. I told him the seat was not mine and he could have it. I told him the toe clips were removed. I felt under the top bar for the stickers from Zurich, which had been peeled away.

He in turn launched into the story of how my bike came into his possession — an ad, a guy selling it who was in such a hurry that he just bought the bike without having time to try it, and the discovery later that it was too small for him.

It fits me perfectly.

Somewhere in the middle of this conversation, the man handed the bike to me by the handles and, then asked, almost plaintively, for the seat, which I happily gave him. Quick release, easy to pull out the saddle. He said he wanted to kill the guy who sold it to him, and said one more time, pleadingly, “but I paid for it!”  But I couldn’t pay him.

And so we went our separate ways.  As promised, I SMS’d the police report number to the guy, information on when and where it was stolen, and for good measure, the three phone numbers I had been calling for the past 24 hours, trying to reach a human in the police department who would assist and advise me.  I then updated the report online, and then tried to settle back into the rest of my work day.

**************
Until I got a phone call from the Swedish police a few hours later.  A lovely young woman from northern Sweden called to check that what I had posted online to my police report was correct. Yes, I said, and answered her questions about what transpired with the guy.

As we hung up, she said that the local department would decide whether to follow up with an investigation.  About an hour later, another guy called to confirm that they would be sending police to my home to check the bike and validate that it was mine, somehow, and if not, they might have to impound it.

That sort of blew my mind.  I had spent hours calling these folks, hoping for someone official to join me when I met with the online seller in person earlier in the day. I had faithfully updated my police report to tell them I had gotten back my stolen bike. And now the police had called me twice within the space of an hour, opening the possibility that I would lose my bike again…

I called Matt and asked him to come back home from work again, just in case he could serve as moral support.

Things remained quiet, until the next phone call a few hours later:  another officer from the Stockholm police headquarters called to say that no one would be coming today.  Perhaps the investigators will be in touch soon when they need to come visit me and my bike.

*************

This open-ended, nebulous — almost threatening — non-ending is not the final scene I’d been hoping to describe to you. I had imagined the cops showing up, seeing my photos, listening to my story, agreeing that the bike was mine, and then we would say goodbye after I snapped their photo standing next to my beautiful green bike.

Instead, Matt and I went to pick up my new bike, a beautiful silver beastie, which I am sure I will grow to love. And I bought a new seat post for my green bike. And another heavy lock. I am now the proud owner of a handful of bikes (a bike clutch? a flock of cycles?) — an embarrassment of riches.

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8 Responses to Damaging ripple effects from a theft

  1. zurichsee says:

    One more thought: The damaging ripple effects engulf not just me and my friends and husband, but the online seller as well. And frankly, I can see why the police did not pursue a small-scale theft like that of my bicycle. I am sure they have other important things to do. But I still feel violated by this action — and I worry now a little bit more than I did about my safety and my physical goods… even though this place seems so safe. I would never have done this, say, in New York City.

    • taliastar says:

      Very interesting story. It is such a personal violation to have something STOLEN from you, something that you love…I think you did the right thing by confronting the person. And I don’t actually believe that he bought it from someone else.

  2. Anu Gupta says:

    Two bikes, that’s nothing– you should see how many bikes we have around here (probably close to a dozen)! If this makes you feel any better, Will said he currently has 19 tennis racquets– although he is planning on getting rid of the ones he doesn’t like.

  3. Bill says:

    Yay N. Even if the guy didn’t steal the bike he knows he’s dealing in stolen property and almost got caught. I think that these jerks would much rather give up the goods than escalate the situation over something they don’t even care about, especially since you obviously have their contact information. You were right to leave no doubt he wasn’t going to get paid. Thanks for putting me in the story.

  4. Alba says:

    Hey! what a good story! I think confronting the guy was the best part! shame we have no photos of the moment, I can imagine you very firm and strong! woah woman! you’re the best!

  5. americaninchengdu says:

    I can sympathize. In the past two years I’ve had three bikes stolen, been pickpocketed once, had more than $200 cash stolen by a house cleaner, and caught a guy trying to slip my friend’s camera out of her pocket. All relatively small potatoes, and it’s nice that violent crime in China is much rarer than in the US. Still, I’m now paranoid to the point of neurosis. And I clean my own house.

  6. Ms. Krieger says:

    hm.

    Your Stockholm police make no sense; why would they impound the bike? If you cannot prove it is yours, then they have no evidence it was stolen in the first place.

    (A bike mechanic friend of mine in DC saw a kid riding his wife’s recently stolen bike down the street in Mt. Pleasant. He walked up to the bicyclist, shoved him off the bike, hopped on and rode it away. Such is the way of the DC streets…)

  7. Pingback: A Spring in My … Pedal | Fourteen Islands

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