Heather’s story is not one many Toronto cyclists may be used to hearing. Although it begins with what is for many an all too common experience – having one’s bike stolen – the tale finishes with a scene that wouldn’t seem out of place in a James Bond film or Tom Clancy novel. Complete with an improvised set-up at the appropriately named ‘Castle Frank’ subway station, a team of undercover cops, nervous yet supportive friends and a tinted ‘old-school’ SUV, Heather’s story is nothing short of spectacular.
It begins on the Friday night of the long weekend in May, while Heather was having a drink with friends at a bar in Kensington. “I had a feeling and I don’t normally have that feeling,” recalled Heather, who was anxious over her bike which she had parked outside to a post-and-ring. “It’s a nice enough bike that I don’t normally take it out at night,” she explains, making it all the worse when, to her shock, she emerged from the bar only to find both her bike and lock nowhere to be found.
Hearing about her loss the following day, a friend jokingly searched Kijiji for a similar bike to Heather’s. He found one selling for $750 and light-heartedly sent her the link via Facebook. Remarkably, her friend had actually stumbled upon Heather’s stolen bike, identifiable not only by its make and colour, but by its loosened front brakes mentioned in the description – an adjustment Heather always makes to avoid going head over her heels in case she has to stop suddenly.
In disbelief, she called the number provided and arranged to meet with her potential bike thief for Tuesday. Following the phone call, she filed a stolen bike report to a cop who, as Heather describes, was completely uninterested in her story and just wanted to take down her info and be done with it.
After giving the cop her purchasing order for the bike, its serial number and description, he referred her to the OPP whose jurisdiction includes online fraud. The number led to a dead end, however, since not only was the office closed for the long weekend, but the line turned out to be for cases related to child pornography.
Understandably frustrated at the cop’s apparent disinterest, she consulted with some friends and decided to just try confronting the potential thief on Tuesday with an offer of $100 along with several friends and photos to prove that it was indeed her bike.
Tuesday afternoon rolled around and sure enough, she got a call from her bike thief confirming their meeting that evening at six o’clock outside Castle Frank Station. She quickly texted several friends to meet at Castle Frank and went on Facebook to print off some photos of her riding her bike.
By coincidence, the friend who had originally found the link to her stolen bike happened to be on Facebook chat, so upon seeing Heather online, he asked for an update on her stolen bike search. Upon hearing that she was “about to go get my bike back gangster style,” her friend freaked, telling her about how there was an active bike mafia in Toronto and that her plan was a terrible idea.
Getting increasingly nervous, Heather decided to try the cops one more time. It was now almost 5:45 and the clock was ticking. After giving the police her information and being put on hold twice, she finally met with a voice on the other end of the line: “Heather, is this Heather? We are going to get this bike back for you, do you trust us?”
She did, and after telling the cop her story he gave her these instructions: “You’re going to take the subway to Castle Frank Station; you’re going to go up the escalators; you’re going to go out the front doors; on your right hand side is Bloor Street; wait there. Two unidentified police officers are going to approach you. Do you understand?”
She did, and headed off to Castle Frank to the cheers of her coworkers, all of who were well aware of her coming rendezvous. Just before Heather entered the subway, she remembered to text her friends – who were all converging on Castle Frank from all over the city – the new plan: “Pretend u don’t know me. Cops involved.”
Heather arrived at Castle Frank, went up the escalator, out the doors and to the right. Looking around, she noticed a man conspicuously reading a newspaper nearby who turned out to be her boss. He flashed a quick smile at her before quickly burying himself back in his paper. On a grassy patch to her left lay a “hippie” – another friend of Heather’s friends, she realized – who acted lost in thought, staring at the leaves hanging overhead. Continuing to survey the spot, Heather noticed a couple sitting across the street wearing big sunglasses despite it not being a very sunny day. Upon closer inspecting, she saw that they were her friends, pretending to make-out while keeping an eye on her.
Taking in the scene, her phone rang. “Private number,” the screen read. Answering it, she heard a deep voice say “Heather, this is District 14. We’re in a bit of a bind here. Traffic is really heavy; we’re going to be a little late. How are you holding up?” Reassuring the cop that she was doing fine, Heather was told to wait and that, whatever she did, don’t contact the bike thief.
All of a sudden, her bike appeared, ridden by a man Heather could only assume was the guy looking to meet her. “He rides up right next to me,” she recalls, “my bike is within arms length. I could touch it if I wanted to.” Looking around, the man on her bike waited to see if anyone would respond, knowing a woman of Heather’s age might be watching from nearby. Heather looked away, giving him no response. After a minute or two of waiting, the man biked across the street where he circled slowly, watching the street.
Moments later, a hefty and heavily tattooed man wearing a raggedy old outfit approached her: “Hi there Heather, how’re you doing there?” It was a cop, Heather soon found out, and after telling him that her bike was across the street, he told her to wait there and hopped into an old-looking SUV with tinted windows and disappeared across the street.
After several minutes of waiting, her phone rang again. It was the same cop, this time asking her to cross Bloor and go and sit on the very bench where her sunglasses-wearing friends were pretending to be making out. Sitting down next to them as if they were strangers, the cop then told her to hop into another tinted SUV parked on the street. The next thing she knew, the SUV took off around the corner, as her friends looked on in shock.
The SUV, it turns out, was full of more undercover cops who told her they were going to park the car and go to meet the bike thief who was already chatting to the first group of cops. They left Heather in the parked SUV and disappeared around the corner.
A paddy-wagon drove by soon after and the next thing Heather knew, the cops had re-emerged from around the corner and were walking by towards her. Casually rolling alongside on of them was her bike. The thief had been arrested, she was told, and that – other than her still missing helmet – her bike was in perfect condition. As Heather returned to Castle Frank reunited with her lost bike, her friends threw off their acts and came to congratulate her.
Speaking about her experience, Heather remarked afterwards how her attitude towards the police has changed. “Now every time I bike past a cop car, I say hi to them as my friends because I never thought they were fans of cyclists.” The cops also told her that they would be continuing to conduct more ‘bike strikes’ in the hopes that such strong responses to bike thefts will discourage larger operations like those of Igor Kenk.
Photo from David Topping