Observations of An Ex-Cop in La La Land




Going undercover can be
a Felliniesque experience


Working undercover in the Chicago Police Vice Control Division is considered a plum assignment. After you read this, you decide for yourself if it really is.

My partner “Swede” Stromberg and I were assigned to check out a tavern on Madison Street, Chicago’s West Side skid row area. We left police headquarters dressed like two semi-affluent bums. We soon parked our rental car a few blocks from the tavern in question. We stumbled into the joint, taking seats at the smoky, over-crowded bar. Our drinking “associates” were mostly male, toothless, with bar-fight battlescarred faces. They looked a lot like the characters you might find in that "Star Wars" Bar!

Our cover story was simple. It was Swede's birthday and because we had made a little “score” we would be treating him to a snoot full of “hootchie” and with luck, maybe some “coochie.” We each put a $50 bill on the bar and quickly made friends with these natives by buying the bar a round. We feigned like we were semi intoxicated and that Swede had saved my life back in prison where we met.

After I bought another round, we owned the place. We had more pals then we knew what to do with. For some (then) unknown reason, a midgetwearing a red beret took a liking to Swede. This little guy stood about three feet tall. He had a really big head, a pot belly and stubby fat fingers. Even wearing his beret, he barely reached the bar top as he stood next to Swede, who was sitting on a stool.

The little guy turned out to be "Pierre," the bar pimp. Soon he had a not so ravishing redhead hanging all over Swede. This woman was so ugly that Swede began to really drink some of his shots and beer chasers instead of dumping them off somewhere, as we usually did.

Later, when I spotted Swede dancing with this “babe,” I knew he was feeling way too good for his own good. You see, Swede never had learned how to dance! The redhead, whose name was “Mona,” choreographed a very special seductive dance routine especially for Swede. It involved using a soiled light green scarf, which she pulled out of her crotch area, and sliding it around Swede’s neck, pulling his face down into her floppy bosom while the jukebox played that sexy sax version of "Harlem Nocturne."

Yes, Swede was intoxicated, if not by booze, then perhaps by the stench wafting up from Mona’s bra-less bosom. She had his jacket off, his shirt opened to his belly button and was working on his belt!

I noticed that each time the Midget prompted the redhead to dance with Swede, he would help himself to a few bucks out of the money Swede and I had left on the bar.
Swede soon wanted to share Mona’s charms with me, so he got her to involve me in this exotic dance.

Before long this menage-et-trois production was giving the runty Pierre all the time he wanted to clip our money from the bar. Sadly for me, I was not really drunk and did have to smell exactly how badly this woman needed a bath. I became sick to my stomach. I figured if I puked it would work for my cover and they’d all think I was just another drunk on skid row.

Now the evening was in full swing. Drinking, dancing, and our bar money was getting low, thanks to the Midget Pierre. We soon sprang with a $100 bill each and, after the bartender examined them closely to make sure they were real, he bought us a round on the house.

When the Midget spotted the c-notes his eyes nearly popped out of his oversized head. He then made his pitch to Swede and me: “How would you gents like to have Mona for a roll in the hay?"

"Sounds great to me," Swede replied.

Pierre said, “O.K., one at a time you can take her in the back room. There’s a cot in there. Have fun."

He raved how Mona was his “best girl” and hinted at all the tricks she knew. I thanked the Midget as if this was going to be "on the house," too, but he quickly cleared that up, saying, “There’s no free lunch, Boys. Mona will tell you how much it’s going to cost you.” We agreed to it.

Now, there were two standard signals an officer could use to indicate he had the evidence needed to make an arrest: He could simply get his badge out of hiding, identify himself, and announce the arrest, so his partner could see or hear it. Or, if it was a rough joint and you had to make a hasty exit with your prisoner to avoid trouble, then one of us would call for uniformed back-up officers to help us out. Whenever a liquor license was involved, our department rules also required a field lieutenant must be called to the scene.

Mona took Swede by his hand and led him to the back room. I kept my eye on The Midget and bought him another round. In just a minute or so, Swede stuck his head out of the back room door and signalled that it was time to make the pinch. I stumbled to the phone and discreetly got a call off, summoning a paddy wagon and a field lieutenant. There were at least 80 drunks in this bar and I suspected some of them had outstanding warrants for crimes they committed elsewhere. Trouble might ensue, if we weren't careful.

As soon as I heard the sirens, I grabbed for the Midget, but he slipped out of my hands and made a dash for the back room. I took off in hot pursuit, pushing drunks out of the way. Pierre was small and fleet, so he was weaving his little body through the crowd quite a bit faster than me and got into the back room first. I got there just in time to see Swede, wearing just shorts and undershirt, with his hands literally full of Mona. He had one hand around her neck, trying to keep her from swallowing a $20 bill. Mona, who was stark naked, was struggling to get away while Swede used his other hand to hold onto her--by one of her boobs.

Meanwhile, The Midget had both little hands around Swede’s neck and was trying to choke him. As I pushed into this melee, I pounced on The Midget, breaking his grip on Swede's throat. We all fell to the dirty floor and landed in a heap. The Midget’s face wound up between Mona’s legs. This could mean he'd be unconscious in minutes, if he inhaled.

Swede shifted a bit and got The Midget's neck between his exposed hairy legs, gripping the little guy with a sort of wrestling scissors hold. Swede yelled for Mona to cough up his money. which she had finally gotten into her mouth, and The Midget was yelling for Swede to stop choking him. With all the thrashing around and the putrid smell of Mona growing richer by the moment, I was getting sick to my stomach. But I still had the resolve to get my hand into The Midget's pocket and fish out the money he'd stolen from us.

About then, I happened to look up and saw a very young, inexperienced, uniformed, field lieutenant eyeballing this Fellini-like scene with his mouth agape.

Later, after The Midget and Mona were booked, we explained it all to the rookie lieutenant. He asked us if we’d been drinking on the job. We both laughed.

"Of course, we've been drinking on the job,” we explained. "As you'll eventually find out, Lieutenant, it’s all in a day’s work when you're working the Vice Squad."

©2004 by Andy Murcia. The caricature of Andy Murcia is ©2003 by Jim Hummel. The illustration is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA.

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