Jake and I were experiencing a winter day unlike what we’ve seen here lately in Chicago. It started out as rain the night before. It had turned into snow by early morning as the temperature dropped to almost zero. The snow stopped around noon and I began to get ready for the Third Watch (4 PM to 12 PM). Jake and I had been partners on Beat 1713 for about three years. I enjoyed working with Jake because he was an honest and superior cop. If I could fault him for anything it would be that he always wanted to drive. Out of the 8 years we were partners, I was lucky if I drove 40 times while working with Jake. I grabbed my driving time when I could, either with our 3rd partner or with some newer cop with less seniority than I had when Jake was off. Working with Jake was well worth what, for me, was a big sacrifice.
After roll call we grabbed our usual squad and headed out to the streets of the 17th Police District. That night I was very, very happy to let Jake drive because under the 3 inches or so of snow, there was a sheet of fairly thick ice. I think our top speed that
night reached about 10 miles per hour. Any faster and we would end up fish-tailing all over the streets. This was a night that wise people stayed home. Cops, drunks and gangbangers – not so much!
As with many snowy winter nights, we had few calls and did our ‘routine patrol’. That means that we drove in big circles and little circles. This is what cops mean when they say a lot of the job can be almost overwhelmingly boring. The usual open spots, like the mini-malls were plowed and salted. Other small businesses were either closed or hoping the foot traffic they’d draw wouldn’t fall down on their way to or from. Cars were few and far between. Jake and I were driving near the North Branch of the Chicago River when we finally heard something interesting on our radio.
“Shots fired! Shots fired! 1713 go to Lawrence and Spaulding! This may be related to something that happened earlier! Let me know!”
I answered the usual, “10-4”. And off we sped at about 11 miles per hour. We knew the places where the usual gangbangers hung out. Jake decided to take a back way to get to that location and we were forced to go even slower as we slid through several side streets. We reached Spaulding and drove south to reach Lawrence. Even with our headlights out, we knew the odds were that the bad guys would see us before we’d see them.
Sure enough, we saw nothing of interest and unless we had more details from the dispatcher we were limited in what we could do. I was ready to call dispatch to ask for more information or to clear us to do other jobs. We had just passed the alley and were coming up to the brightly lit Lawrence Ave. Jake touched the brake to stop the squad before we entered the larger street.
Since we were going barely 5 miles an hour it really didn’t bother us when the squad didn’t immediately stop. We had a full 3 car lengths to go before we reached Lawrence Ave. The simple inertia of the vehicle and the fairly thick snow would slow us to a stop. That’s when Jake and I felt the back end of the squad car begin to slowly slide sideways toward the driver’s side. Jake spun the steering wheel to stop the slide but it didn’t work. The squad’s rear kept sliding until, with a small crunch, we felt our squad bump something. The movement stopped and the squad was no longer going either forward or sideways. The front of the squad was still in the center of the street so both Jake and I could open our doors to get out.
“Oh my goodness!” Among other things, Jake never, ever swore. “That’s Mrs. Lu’s Caddie! She loves that car!”
Jake seemed to know everyone on 1713’s beat. I may have been Jake’s partner for 3 years but he’d been working 1713’s beat for a great deal longer than I had even been on the force.
Naturally my next question was, “Who is Mrs. Lu?”
“She’s the owner of this bar.”
I had known that the business on the corner was a tavern but it was a rather quiet place and I’d never had reason to go in there. I had never met Mrs. Lu or her Cadillac. Not only was the bar noisy and obviously filled with patrons, the car had been parked there for so long that there was little ice and no snow under it. Jake and I got out of the squad car to see how much damage there was.
“I gotta call our sergeant now so he knows why we aren’t going to be able to clear ourselves quickly.” Jake grabbed his radio and notified our sergeant of the accident and that we would have to call the department’s tow truck.
The sergeant said that we knew what to do and that he was several miles away from us. He’d come over to do the paperwork as soon as he could but we knew the driving conditions. Odds were we’d get the tow before he got close to us. If so, we could fill out the accident report later and he could deal with us by phone. Why tie up the radio with small details? Jake agreed and was ready to switch over to a different radio zone to notify ‘Repair’ that we needed a tow when he noticed something.
‘Dorothy! Come over here and look at this!”
I slipped and slid my way to the rear of the squad where Jake was pointing to the place where our squad’s left rear wheel-well was kissing Mrs. Lu’s Caddie’s right rear wheel-well. At first I noticed only that our rear bumper was wedged under the Caddie’s rear bumper. Then I saw the real problem: our rear wheel-well was tucked into the Cadillac’s wheel-well in such a way that if we were towed out, both cars would be seriously damaged. Not only would our rear fenders be torn off, the bumpers themselves would be destroyed.
“Oh shit!” I swore enough for both me and Jake.
As Jake and I stared at the mess we were in, we saw that as the cars were positioned; neither had suffered any damage. I thought how much of a shame it would be when the tow truck came and pulled our squad forward to not only mess up our car but also Mrs. Lu’s beloved Cadillac. But I couldn’t figure out any way to prevent that from happening.
Jake thought he had an answer to our quandary! “You know, if we could just lift the back of Mrs. Lu’s Caddie I could pull the squad straight out and there wouldn’t be any damage to either car!”
I now believed that Jake was totally crazy. There were only two people staring at the cars. If Jake thought that I was going to lift up the back end of a Cadillac just so he could get behind the wheel of the squad to drive it out, he was crazy!
Jake must have realized what I was thinking because he suddenly held up one hand and said, “Wait. Let me go in to tell Mrs. Lu what happened.”
At least that made sense. Mrs. Lu was going to find out soon enough and better from Jake’s mouth than from hearing the noise of two cars being torn apart by a tow truck. I stayed by the squad while Jake went into the bar to break the news to Mrs. Lu that her precious Cadillac was about to be destroyed by a City of Chicago’s tow truck. Well, at least I hadn’t been driving!
Mrs. Lu had thrown on a light sweater and boots as she came out of the bar behind Jake. He held Mrs. Lu tightly by her arms so she wouldn’t slip or fall on the snow and ice. She came to the inside of the bottom of the ‘V’ created from the rears of our cars touching and the front of the squad facing away from her Cadillac, sitting in the street.
Jake was very persuasive as he pointed out to her what he thought could be done. Mrs. Lu listened very carefully and shook her head a couple of times. The she turned and with Jake helping her every step of the way, she walked back to the tavern. As she disappeared into the bar, Jake returned to where I was standing.
“Well, it was worth a try.” Jake said as he began to switch radio zones to contact 'Repair'.
Just then the tavern door flew open and about 5 burly guys came out to the street. Mrs. Lu followed while an older man kept her steady as she walked along the sidewalk. She ordered the guys to the rear of her Cadillac. Just from the laughter and jostling as the men meandered toward the car, it was evident that they were two sheets to the wind…maybe even 3 sheets. In other words, Mrs. Lu had hauled out 5 drunks from her bar and they were supposed to lift the rear of the Caddie.
I stood back. No way was I going to get involved in this coming fiasco. Mrs. Lu began to yell at the guys to lift the Cadillac. Jake quickly ran to the squad’s driver’s door and climbed in. Before he could even start our car Mrs. Lu screamed at him to stop. Jake lowered the driver’s window and immediately saw the problem. The Caddie hadn’t moved an inch. There was no way 5 drunks had the strength to lift the rear of a made-of-steel automobile. Those were the days before fiberglass was used for the bodies of cars.
I moved further away from the cars. This operation had all the earmarks of a Keystone Kops comedy. Mrs. Lu kept screaming in her heavy Korean accent. The five men finally stopped trying to lift the rear of the Cadillac as Mrs. Lu made her way back into her tavern with her escort making sure she didn’t fall. Within a minute another 5 drunks came out of the bar. They were in even worse shape that the 1st five guys. Several of the new crew were literally staggering and kept slipping and falling. Again Mrs. Lu yelled at them to get to the rear of her car.
I stared in disbelief. How were ten very big and very drunk men going to be able to fit behind the Cadillac? I knew the Caddie was big but it wouldn’t be possible to fit all 10 men along the back bumper of the car to lift it high enough to get the squad out from under it. I quickly realized that this was not Mrs. Lu’s plan. She ordered the biggest guy of the lot to join the first five guys in back of the rear bumper. Next she put two men by the left wheel-well of her Cadillac. Then she ordered the two drunkest of the five into the area inside of the ‘V’ formed by the 2 cars, by the right wheel-well of her car.
That’s when I closed my eyes and covered them with my gloved hands. Those two guys at the inner wheel-wells were, in my opinion, real danger. Even if the 10 guys managed to lift the rear of the Caddie, even if Jake managed to pull our squad out from under the bumper and away from the Cadillac’s left wheel-well, there was no way to stop the squad from sliding sideways again and seriously injuring the two men.
No! I just couldn’t look! Well, maybe I could spread my fingers a little bit to see the horror as it happened. I couldn’t believe it! The 10 very drunk guys were yelling at each other and slowly I could see the back end of the Cadillac rise higher. There was a ‘ping’ sound and later I found out that was when the two bumpers separated. Jake gunned the squad’s engine and it began to move – not sideways but straight ahead. Not that Jake could go very far because there was a parked car on the other side of the street. But he managed to move the squad out of its previous position. It was free! Mrs. Lu's customers put the Cadillac down gently so Mrs. Lu would not deny them the free drinks she had promised.
As soon as the squad and the Cadillac were no longer touching, Mrs. Lu and Jake went to check on both cars. All they saw on our squad was the place where the dirt was scraped off. On Mrs. Lu’s Caddie there was, as far as anyone could tell, not a single thing wrong with it. The bumper was as even as before and there weren’t any kind of marks where our wheel-well had touched the Cadillac.
Suddenly we realized there was another problem: our squad was still sitting diagonally from one side of the street to the other. If Jake tried to drive out of that spot it was likely to slide sideways again. Mrs. Lu was not too happy but she realized the danger as well as we did. She put her army of 10 drunks back to work for us. As Jake very slowly started to straighten out the squad car, Mrs. Lu’s mob prevented it from sliding anywhere but where it had to move to get the squad car onto Lawrence Ave. Only when we were on the main street could any of us feel any kind of relief.
Jake made a left turn onto Lawrence Ave. and stopped the squad. Mrs. Lu herded her men back into the tavern where it would cost her a few drinks instead of whatever deductable she had with her insurance company and/or the 10 years it probably would have taken for her to be reimbursed by the city. I used my boots to skate my way to the squad car still not quite believing what I
had just witnessed.
Just then another squad car pulled up behind us on Lawrence Ave. and used its spotlight to signal us to come over. It was our sergeant. I looked at Jake and totally refused to have anything to do with the boss or to hear what Jake would say. But I knew Jake. He’d never lie to either the sergeant or anyone else. Jake totally believed in the goodness of humans, even bosses. When he got through talking to the sergeant I was hoping I wouldn’t have to fill out any reports on this ‘accident’ that wasn’t.
Jake slid back into the driver’s seat, “It’s okay. Sarge said he had already told the commander but he’ll straighten it out, especially since we never did contact ‘Repair’. But I told him I was going to take the car to that self-service wash on Foster. That way we can wash off all the dirt and maybe the next Watch won’t notice anything amiss.” (Yes, Jake really did talk that way.)
Jake drove to the car wash and I let him wash off all the dirt. I asked why Jake would believe that the next crew wouldn’t think something was screwy if we drive in after our shift with a totally clean car: in the middle of a snowy night when no regular
car wash was open.
Jake shrugged and smiled, “We’ll see. I just want to be sure there aren’t any scratches we haven’t seen because of the dirt.”
When we drove into the police lot at the end of our Watch, I realized why I enjoyed working with Jake: whatever happened he would always come up with an unusual twist or answer. This time he had literally washed away an ‘accident’ involving Mrs. Lu’s