Mike's parents were apprehensive about Mike's attending Hunter because of the hour-plus commute from their home. But the Manhattan school has a good reputation, so they figured why not. Mike leaves home at 6:45 a.m. and takes a bus and then a train to get to the school's Upper East Side campus. And no matter how safe you think New York is now, a 5-foot-6, 140-pound 15-year-old is still a viable crime target.
Mike became a target two weeks ago. He and a friend of his I'll call Tony Riley?neither kid wants his name in the paper?stopped off at a deli on 96th St. before heading down to class. Mike waited outside while Tony went in for a morning snack. As Mike told me:
"I saw a guy standing at a bus stop. I guess he was about 20 or so, and he was looking at me real harsh. Like he was up to something. When the bus came and he didn't get on it I got suspicious. But I wasn't that worried because I see suspicious people all the time. But then the guy just kept looking at me. When Tony came out of the deli he had a $10 bill in his hand. We turned quick and started to walk down Madison to go to school. I saw that the guy from the bus stop was following us and then he started to walk with us. It was really weird, because he was saying stuff, but he was mumbling, so I had no idea what he wanted."
When Mike and his friend reached the corner the guy looked at them and said, "Okay! Ready! One! Two!" He charged Tony and grabbed him and threw a wild punch. Tony was able to get his left arm up to block the blow.
"I thought he stabbed Tony because I heard his coat rip. After he hit Tony he just walked off. He didn't take any money. Maybe when he was mumbling that was what he was asking for, but since we didn't understand him we didn't give him any. If he demanded money we might have given it to him 'cause he was bigger than us." The two teens hurried to school as the man fled down Madison. When they got in the building they looked under Tony's jacket and they saw that his arm was slightly bleeding along a long line. He'd been slashed with a razor. The cops were called. Tony went to the hospital and Mike, along with Hunter principal Sue Leung Eichler, went to the 19th Pct. to give a description of the slasher. A sketch was made, and when Tony and his father arrived at the precinct Tony confirmed that Mike had gotten the slasher's face right.
"Tony's father was talking to a cop, and the cop told him that Tony was the ninth high school kid to get mugged on the Upper East Side in the last month."
Tony's father flipped when he heard that?what had the police been doing all that time? And it wasn't only the cops' apparent quiescence. It was also the media. Here nine high school kids had been assaulted by a man fitting the same description and the story wasn't all over the place in the papers and on tv.
As it turns out, Tony's father works at Channel 4 News, as an assignment editor, and called the station to arrange for a film crew to meet him outside the precinct. They turned the camera on Tony's feet as he told the story of the slashing. That night the story of the Upper East Side mugger aired on Channel 4's 6 o'clock news.
"We'd been treated well before Tony's father did anything," Mike told me. "But after the cameras, the cops took us out in unmarked cars. Tony and his father went in one car and I went out with three cops in another car. We drove around the Upper East Side looking for the guy. The cops I was with were like out of a tv show. One guy was the fat guy that they all made fun of, one guy was like the seasoned vet and the other guy was like the rookie go-getter."
The search proved fruitless, and everyone returned to the precinct building. The cops offered to drive them all back to Queens, where Tony, like Mike, lives. At first they refused, but the cops explained that the Mayor's office wanted them driven home. So, a police escort to Queens.
A few days later detectives showed up at the Riley house bearing huge mugshot books to see if Tony could identify his assailant. Usually these books are viewed at the precinct, but now nothing was too good for the Rileys. The NYPD became real accommodating, real fast.
That's the power of the media in Giuliani's New York. Eight kids get mugged; the father of the ninth has access to a camera crew and finally the police get results. You could bet that the Upper East Side mugger's days were numbered. He was caught a few days later.
I asked Mike Hall how he felt about the whole thing now that it was over.
"It was surreal. After it happened I started to feel less secure on the trains... I'm glad he got caught, but it's funny that this guy is going around mugging kids and threatening them with a knife, and it didn't receive any publicity before Tony got slashed. And all those other eight kids went to prep schools."
You wonder how many of them went to St. David's School, on E. 89th St., where I'm told Rudy Giuliani's son Andrew is a student.