SCALES OF JUSTICE
By Gina Gallo
It's another glorious Indian Summer morning in Chicago. The air is
crisp, the recent sunrise still bleeding color across Lake Michigan. And at Pratt Avenue Beach, in the northernmost corner of the city, the citizens are out in force for their a.m. constitutionals.
Since three major universities are located among the high rise condos that crowd this area,
there's always an interesting mix of people who jog, run or bike along the shore. Students
trot alongside business people, college professors, moneyed scions who've left the platinum baubles at home in favor of designer sweats and cross-trainers. Dogs are walked, yoga fanatics
bend and twist in their 'salute to the sun' postures, and the random bag persons rummage through the trash for hidden treasure. All part of the regular morning routine at Pratt Beach, as predictable as the
'disturbance' call that's also a regular.
Like clockwork, the 911 call comes in each morning at 0745 hours. And, like clockwork,
the beat car heads over to handle this daily assignment. For the regular beat cops, it's not a big deal. They've grown accustomed to Elvin, a wiry, mid 50's fitness enthusiast who's devoted to maintaining
optimum cardiac health. Which wouldn't qualify as a disturbance but for one other detail. Elvin insists on jogging with his pet, a 16-foot boa constrictor named Zeus. An aerobicized reptile is a healthy
reptile, Elvin thinks, so Zeus joins him each morning for the daily workout.
Elvin's M.O. is simple. He coils Zeus around his waist like a scaley innertube and jogs out of his
building, across Sheridan Road, and through Pratt Park. But once he hits the beach, Zeus is ready to hit his own target heart rate. While this reptile of nightmare proportions slithers along
in the sand, Elvin trots alongside, commenting on the weather, the day's plans and whatever other conversation one shares with a cherished friend. Then they reach the children's play lot that borders
the beach. While Elvin gets in some sets of jumping jacks,
an activity which Zeus has not mastered, the snake takes to the monkey bars. Which is usually when
some distraught citizen calls 911 to report a man-eating snake has escaped from the zoo.
On one particular morning, Officer Jack Malloy is partnered with Dutch Van Haagen, a new man to
the district, recently transferred in from the Public Housing Unit. Dutch is big and beefy and, after sixteen years of working in the projects, figures he's seen it all.
When the 'disturbance at the beach' call comes, he nearly snickers. After where he's been,
this district is paradise. High-rent residences, lots of rich folks, more luxury cars than he's ever seen.
Only disturbance around here is probably some drunk sleeping in the park. And when the squad car pulls up along the beach, where Zeus is happily chinning himself on the monkey bars, Dutch nearly drops his teeth.
Larger in circumference than Dutch's thighs, the snake looks like he's hungry. In fact, the skinny guy who's jumping around next to him is probably going to be breakfast. When Dutch reaches for his
Glock, Jack holds up a restraining hand.
"No problem," he says. "This guy's a regular."
"A regular WHAT?" Dutch snorts. "Look at the size of that thing. Gonna swallow that poor mope
whole!" There's enough snakeskin there, he figures, to make a few dozen pairs of boots and have some left over for hatbands besides.
By now, Elvin has spotted the squad car. One last jumping jack, and he makes his way
over to the cops.
"The same thing every morning!' he begins. "Officer, I got my rights. I'm a citizen like anybody else. They walk their dogs, I walk Zeus. Besides, this is a public way. I'm the public."
"C'mon, Elvin. You know the drill. People see that snake, they go crazy. It ain't like he's your standard garden variety."
Offended now, Elvin huffs.
"Zeuss happens to be a very handsome specimen. And he needs his exercise. Regular workouts prevent plaque build-up in the arteries, you know. Can't have him being a couch potato." He shoots a
look at Dutch's substantial gut. "A sedentary lifestyle is a heart attack waiting to happen."
"You wanna see that thing become a handbag and matching shoes?" Dutch returns.
Peacemaker by default, Jack holds up his hands.
"Awwright, you two. No need to get your shorts in a bunch. Let's calm down."
"I'm just tired of being persecuted," Elvin whines. "This is a public beach. And the humidity is good for Zeuss - he's getting ready to shed his skin. Does he look dangerous to you?
Look at that adorable face, those sweet eyes! He's a marshmallow!"
The two cops look toward the monkey bars, where 16 feet of marshmallow is sunning himself in the morning rays.
"That is one big-ass snake," Dutch mutters. "Bet he could swallow the whole damn squad car."
Elvin sniffs dismissively.
"He wouldn't do any such thing. He eats chickens. The free-range kind that are raised without steroids. Although I give him duck occasionally for a treat. And pheasant on holidays, just to make it festive."
By now Dutch is speechless. A rich softball and his pheasant eating- snake on his first day in the new district - and his partner says this is business as usual? What's next? Canapes with King Kong for
But Jack is ready to wrap up this job. Five minutes is plenty of time for the morning snake call, and he's ready to move on.
"Alright, Elvin. You know what comes next. The snake's gotta go. Roll him up and hit the bricks."
"But I've -"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. You've got your rights. So does everybody else around here. They got the right not to be scared by the damn snake." When Elvin's face crumples, Jack shakes his head.
"I told you before, Elvin. You're going about this all wrong. You want these people to accept your snake, you gotta take a different approach. You know what I'm saying."
He turns to his partner, who still hasn't taken his eyes off Zeus.
"I told this guy before. All these rich people around here, the same goofy liberals who make big
charity donations, send thousands of dollars to 'Save the Whales' or
'Protect the Baby Seals' without batting an eye. If Elvin was smart, he'd carry a sign that said,
'Protect this endangered species. Save Zeus.' Then, not only would they leave him alone, he'd get donations up the ying-yang. Sounds like a plan to me."
While Elvin gathers up his reptile, the two cops head off to their next job.
Dutch is still mulling over Jack's suggestion. He knows North Siders are a little eccentric but this
beats it all. And he doesn't even want to think about what the rest of the day will bring. Somehow, things had seemed much simpler back in Public Housing.
Copyright © 2000 by Gina Gallo - www.gallostories.com
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