It was early evening and I was walking north on the west side of Broadway in New York City. I had almost reached 48th street when I heard a woman shriek, Stop him! Stop that man, he has my purse!

I saw a tall, lean man sprint north a half-block in front of me. Don't ask me why, maybe it was her screams, or the I don't-want-to-get-involved attitude of onlookers, or the fact that my ego prods me to emulate Walter Payton at odd times. But I started trotting after the woman and the man she was chasing.By the time the suspect, a black man clad all in black, turned left on 49th Street, a small posse had formed. Running easily, I passed them at the corner and began running along 49th street toward 8th Avenue. A sneaker-clad youth told me the man had run through a parking garage that linked 50th street, the next block.

Inside the garage, an attendant told me the suspect had turned right after running out of the garage. I raced into an automobile elevator that connected with the next block. The suspect had indeed bolted right, back toward Broadway. But he had crossed 50th street and begun running left toward 8th Avenue again. I couldn't see him, but I glimpsed his feet under parked cars.

Instead of yelling to my fellow pursuers (who must have been a half block behind me) to turn right, I kept silent and followed the suspect alone into a walkway beneath the Gershwin theater. He stopped to catch his breath, cradling a brown leather valise as I jogged up triumphantly beside him.

You, you wanna get hurt? You better get outta here, he snarled. Then he placed his right hand behind his back as if to reach for a gun.

I thought quickly, very quickly. If he had a gun he would have already pulled it out. It never occurred to me later that I probably could also have been shot. I snatched the bag from him, but he snatched it back and gave me a shove. I fell, got up, and the chase was on again.

The suspect raced through the walkway to the next street, skidding to a stop behind a parked truck. He must have been a rookie because he was wearing street shoes. Hardly the footgear for a chase.

I ran into the street, around the other side of the vehicle.

Every time the suspect tried to run, I would block his path. He cursed and grunted. Then while waiting for me to give up and walk away, he began emptying the valise's contents. I couldn't see what he was doing, but I heard coins drop and saw papers fluttering to the street. I looked around frantically for some help.

There I was, standing in the middle of darkened 51st street, flailing my arms as cars lumbered by, and urging drivers and passers-by to call the police. Most drivers gave me a quizzical Oh, another psycho look while passers-by stopped, folded their arms and watched the drama.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a Department of Transportation tow truck rumbled into view. I flagged it down and told the driver to call the police. I've got a robber trapped behind a truck! I shouted. The tow truck driver, a bearded black man about 35, nodded his head, picked up his walkie-talkie, but wisely decided to stay in his truck.

Knowing he would soon be in deep trouble, the suspect began walking briskly toward Broadway, only to be intercepted by an Asian sporting a T- shirt. I found out later that this Thailand-born cabbie, who asked me to call him Tee, was a 36-year-old former U.S. Army Special Forces officer who had served in Vietnam.

Picking up a passport that had fallen out of the purse, Tee confronted the

suspect, asking him, Hey, don't you want this?

When the suspect didn't reply, Tee stepped in front of him. That's when I swung my backpack, containing at least 22 pounds of assorted junk, and slammed the suspect flush in the face.

Down he went and immediately Tee was astride his chest while I did my best imitation of a Hulk Hogan headlock.

Git offa me! he bellowed, as two more passers-by joined the tag team match. A young blond man, looking like a linebacker for Oklahoma University, stepped up and asked, You guys need any help?

Sure do, I gasped, out of breath as my lack of exercise finally caught up with me.

After a few more moments of having his right leg twisted toward New Jersey and his left leg toward Queens, and both arms toward the Bronx, the suspect stopped struggling.

This gave Tee an opportunity to remove the suspect's shoes, which revealed a few crisp but crumpled $100 and $50 bills.

We let go of the suspect as the victim and the first of three patrol cars arrived. I looked down at him, his garments stained with grime from the street and thought, There, now we both have dirty shirts.

The victim, Annagloria Puccetti, an importer from Italy here on business, walked up to the suspect, who was now handcuffed and standing. Staring straight into his face, she nodded to the arresting officer, P.O. Humphrey, of the Midtown North precinct who quickly placed the suspect in a patrol car. As passers-by gathered up Ms. Puccetti's papers, Tee handed her the money and passport. I hung my head between my knees and gasped for breath.

Wheezing like a radiator, I thanked Tee, who whispered in a Thai accent, Good work boss. The tow truck driver walked over and patted me on the back, saying, Nice going man.

Grateful at having her money, passport and papers returned, Ms. Puccetti twice offered Tee and myself a $50 bill. We both declined the offer, but at the station house posed for a picture together at her request.

She and I however, did exchange business cards when I discovered she was an importer. You American journalists always go after stories like that, she laughed.

Only when it involves a shipper, I replied.

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