THE FLATFOOT BOOGIE
We were an unlikely couple. On first meeting, I knew he wasn't the
man of my dreams. Barely 5'4", his barrel chest and Popeye forearms gave Manny the appearance of a diminutive prize fighter . A substantial belly, usually dusted with ashes from his ever-present
cigar, sagged over his belt while his tie bore the remnants of a week's worth of meals. With his broken nose and hard-knocks demeanor, he
might have been an extra in a gangster flick - not exactly what I'd pictured as my perfect partner. Manny was the first cop I ever worked with, the senior man in charge of a brand new rookie. I was
his eager student, ready to learn from his years of experience. Together we looked like Mutt and Jeff in blue serge.
He had stories to tell and lessons to teach me in a Copland 101 curriculum that began with each eight-hour duty tour. After the street commando orientation of the Police Academy, rookie cops are
geared for action, preferably as soon as possible. I anticipated a partner who was Hercules with handcuffs, an iron man with balls of steel. Instead, I got a flatfoot with fallen arches, recurring
flatus and chili stains on his shirt.
Manny was low-key bordering on barely conscious. A cop's job wasn't always about ass-kicking
and taking names, he said. Subtlety went a long way on the street. The race was not always to the swift - or aggressive. It was a tortoise-and-hare approach I wasn't expecting. The Academy training
had prepared us for high-speed chases and bloody shoot-outs. When you get street dances, fried chicken and peach cobbler instead, it's definitely time to regroup.
It was a Saturday evening in August, not quite twilight as we patrolled our beat. My partner had worked the inner city streets for longer than I was alive. As we cruised along, he provided a travelogue
of the ghetto according to Manny. There was Elmo's Tombstones, a business located directly across the street from the fearsome highrise Robert Taylor housing projects. "Before you go, call Elmo,"
proclaimed the marquee. "Tombstones Made While You Wait."
Passing Sheba's Packaged Liquors, I watched two drunks duke it out over the last swallow from a pint
of gin. Instead of police intervention and a battery arrest, Manny suppressed a burp and cruised on.
We approached Barbecue Kingdom, ("where the King goes for 'cue") and, apparently, where the locals
also loitered in front, selling dimes of dope to passing cars. The perfect opportunity to leap out and effect my first narcotics bust, I thought. I was wrong. Instead of a grandstand sweep, Manny merely
crept up from behind, tapping the siren just enough for the dealers to scatter... and probably soil their underwear.
At the next stoplight, a lowrider rumbled with rap music. I saw the occupants scramble - presumably to hide the drugs and guns they were transporting - and anticipated a street stop that never came.
Busily sucking his teeth, Manny didn't pull over the car, or even spare them a glance. Even the prostitutes strutting along 43rd Street in what looked like nothing more than sequins and dental floss
didn't capture his attention. No dice on a vice arrest, and by that time, I was beginning to wonder. Was my partner a real cop or a tour guide? Were we ever going to do anything remotely like police
work? When Manny pulled up at the block party in progress on Prairie Avenue, I knew it was a lost cause.
Barbecue smoke from the makeshift steel drum grills beckoned like a siren's song. Even over the blaring music, I could hear my partner's stomach rumble. While some locals danced in the street, others
attended the tables - old doors supported by sawhorses, now mounded with platters of food.
There was fried chicken, biscuits, salads of every description and enough bakery goods to plunge half
the city into a sugar coma.
Manny pointed to the behemoth chef attending the grill.
"Leland makes the best damn barbecue in the city." Stylish in do-rag and plaid shorts, the man's apron
bore the legend, "Kiss the Chef....or I'll cap yo' ass."
Hitching up his sagging pants, Manny hopped out of the squad.
"Consider this 'community relations,' kid. What real police work is built on."
With more agility than I'd ever have guessed, he zigzagged through the crowd of dancers and bellied up to the buffet.
Everyone knew him, and, by association, me. I was his new kid, the green rookie. Hefty grandmothers pinched my check and called me "Baby." The behemoth chef himself plied us with plates of food, the
local gossip, his views on world peace and more efficient trash collection. I watched as giggling teen-aged girls pulled Manny into the next dance. While everyone else did the Electric Slide and the
Bus Stop, Manny lumbered through his own version of the Flatfoot Boogie. With his belly wobbling as much as the gelatin molds, he sweated his way to a standing ovation.
Afterward, he circulated. Armed with a slab of peach cobbler and liter of soda, he moved through the crowd, a politician of the street variety who kissed babies, chatted with kids, listened to the older
crowd. It was fascinating and frustrating. I wanted action, some blood-pumping crime adventure that ended with bad guys taking a long walk to a cold cell, thanks to super cop me. Instead I watched my
partner work the crowd and the food table, humming to the music over his third helping of everything.
Which was why I didn't anticipate what happened next.
Sidling next to me, Manny burped up some coleslaw breath and a peculiar order.
"Call for the wagon," he whispered, nodding to my radio. "Tell 'em we need a transport for six arrests."
"Six arrests? Where?" Unless overeating was a crime, I hadn't seen anything unusual go down.
"Just do it. In fact, tell the dispatcher we need a back-up unit over here, too, ASAP."
It had to be a joke. One of those tricks the seasoned cops pull on the new kids just to yank their chains.
"You're kiddin' me, right? Because -"
"DO IT!" he hissed, spraying me with pie crumbs. "Tell 'em to haul ass over here NOW."
Maybe the heat had affected his brain. Or maybe some rancid potato salad that caused delusions, who could tell? Whatever it was, I had to obey his order. He was the senior cop, I was just the kid.
Within moments after I'd radioed for help, the first squad car arrived on the scene, and then another, followed by the paddy wagon. With six additional cops standing by, Manny was ready for action. His
Popeye arms clamped like vises around the two young men who'd been lounging near a tree. After the wagon men cuffed them, a quick pat-down revealed enough heroin- neatly packaged for quick sale - to
constitute an arrest of penitentiary proportions.
The sweet-faced lady overseeing the dessert table was next. One of the babies Manny had kissed was
her daughter. He'd noticed the fresh cigarette burns and old scars, and the peculiar way the little girl's arm hung limp. Later, the hospital's ER staff would pronounce her bones broken and her body's
extensive scarring indicative of horrific child abuse. For now, Mama was on her way to jail.
The man in the lounge chair hadn't looked suspicious. Nodding over a quart of beer, he sat with some
other men watching the dancers. According to Manny, he also directed paying customers to the nearby van where his prostitute held court. Pimping, pandering and prostitution - a total vice sweep
for the rookie.
And that kid in the athletic shirt who was crooning along with Marvin Gaye?
There were a string of warrants out for his arrest - armed robbery, aggravated battery and auto theft, to name a few.
"All felony arrests, kid," Manny told me. His eyes twinkled in a solemn face.
"Think that's enough excitement for one night?" Excitement, and enough paperwork to keep us in the station for a few hours of overtime.
On the way to our squad car, he trundled past the food tables a final time. One of the beaming grandmothers handed him a foil-covered plate. Something to keep his strength up, she told him. Police work was tough.
"She has no idea," Manny belched. "We're in the jaws of death of every night."
As we headed back to the station, he loosened his belt. And while he munched antacids, I thought
about the flatfoot boogie, something he'd surely teach me, now that we were partners in this dance.
Copyright 2001 by Gina Gallo
Visit Gina's website at www.gallostories.com
Gina's new book, ARMED AND DANGEROUS: MEMOIRS OF A CHICAGO COP
(Forge Books) has just been released.Copyright © 2001 by Gina Gallo - www.gallostories.com
CLICK HERE FOR MORE STORIES
CLICK HERE FOR MORE STORIES BY GINA GALLO