It was 7 PM and I was heading east on 63rd Street when I saw the cop's lights in my rearview mirror. The squad was about three-quarters of a mile behind me, ablaze with those blinding rooftop strobe lights. And he was flying. I watched his headlights jump the centerline and weave through traffic.
Then up ahead, I saw a second set of flickering blue lights approaching from the east.
And as I made a left turn onto Kedzie, due south I saw a third flashing squad. Screaming sirens filled the air.
I stopped and idled at the curb as they squealed round the corners, gunning past me, heading north. A couple of blocks up they ducked into a side street.
I was on my way to the 7-Eleven to pick up a magazine for my brother-in-law's birthday, probably a Playboy. With four kids and a six-day workweek, he needs a little entertainment. And wouldn't you know it? At 61st, ten squads were jammed into the tiny 7-Eleven lot. One car's lazy, old-fashioned blue lights were splashing the store windows; an unmarked car stood abandoned with its doors thrown open. I could see the crowd of blue jackets inside.
"Kid's been shot," one cop said to a pair of plainclothes cops hustling up.
"Is the suspect of the Afro-American persuasion?" a white cop asked.
"In the leg. Maybe a dart."
"Blowgun or Saturday night special?"
"They think a gun..."
The boy was sitting in the corner near the front windows, his leg up on a milk crate. He didn't appear to be in much pain but gawked at the cops pouring in, at their expectant looks. All they knew was what they heard on their radios, that someone had been shot. They came up to him, a few bending to speak quietly in his ear. The boy was a lanky teenager, sandy-haired, with wire-rimmed glasses, a big-shouldered jacket, and a painter's cap pushed back on his head.
Everyone--the cops, the man and woman behind the raised counter, the customers--told him to relax, take it easy. An older cop pulled out a green notepad and scribbled down the facts. Another cop appeared with a skateboard with green plastic wheels and marched it over to the boy, who smiled weakly. The pain grabbed him. He winced, clutched his thigh, and bent his head forward, almost touching his knee.
Convenience-food shopping slowed to a trickle.
The big young counterman in the 7-Eleven smock leaned over to answer the cop's questions and gaze with concern at the boy. He was affable. The boy hadn't been shot in his store but across the street. After it happened, he'd simply let the boy use the telephone to call his mother.
Now he watched the door, the cops coming and going, and the few customers standing in line. They seemed ill at ease, hunching apologetically for having come in at a time like this. The petite counterlady, nervously blinking, seemed to be enjoying the drama.
The boy's mother appeared, short, plump, wrapped in a long, unzipped car coat. Except for the worry in her eyes, she was calm. A few of the cops seemed to know her. She explained she couldn't come immediately because she'd had to find a sitter for the younger kids. Yes, she'd called her husband at work. "The boy'll be just fine, Mrs. ____," one cop said. She walked up to her son and stroked his hair.
On the phone, he'd given her only a sketchy story. Apparently he and his buddies had been riding their skateboards near the stoplight when a car passed, the passengers yelling wildly out the windows. He and his buddies turned to the racket. The next thing the boy knew, he was on the sidewalk, clutching his leg.
At the cash register, an older woman in a dirty blond wig was in the throes of her own story.
"And honey," she said to the counterlady, "it felt like somethin' stuck me, so I reached back"--she was pawing the back of her coat as if searching for something--"and I found this!" she said, holding up what appeared to be a piece of wire.
"Where'd you get that?" one cop asked, putting out his hand.
"Right here, honey," she said, flapping her coat like a black wing.
"Hey, she's got a dart," the cop said, and held it over his head. It was a thin, six-inch-long needle with a yellow plastic cone on the end opposite the tip.
When the cops questioned the woman, she told them how she'd been getting into her parked car, and was just sticking her key in the door lock when she felt something brush the back of her legs. And when she reached behind, she found this dart stuck in her coat. Moments ago, she said. Just down the street. She remembered a brown car passing behind her.
If the boy had been shot with the same type of dart, where was the evidence? A cop banged out the front door to search the street corner.
Now a young drunk stormed in, shaking his finger at the salespeople for keeping the short line of customers waiting. The counterman, pointing to the boy, said, "We got a boy shot here."
The cop with the notebook stepped up to the greasy-haired drunk. "Listen," he shouted, wagging his finger in the guy's face, "this is an official police investigation, and if you don't shut up I'll have you arrested and thrown in jail." The young man backed off, raising his hands. When he finally stepped up to the counter, he mumbled his request for a pack of cigarettes and disappeared into the night.
The fire fighters arrived, equipment in hand, and the cops stepped back to let them get to the boy. The first man inside was broad-faced, freckled, his potbelly sticking out of his black rubber coat. His eyes were screwed into their wrinkled sockets as if he'd just been startled awake.
"How y'doin', Mrs. ____," he said gruffly, reaching out to touch her arm on his way to talk with the boy. A young, skinny fireman, swallowed up by his big boots, long coat, and backwards fire hat, marched around with an oxygen tank.
"Playboy, please," I said to the counterlady, my five-dollar bill ready. She did a double take and made me repeat my request. After what seemed a long time, she reached behind her to a special rack and then slid the magazine across the counter. I folded it and tucked it under my arm.
The cop returned from his search of the sidewalk with a second dart tweaked between his fingers. The cops passed it around, squinting, holding it up to the light, comparing it with the other. The two were identical. There was a positive feeling in the room--now we're getting somewhere.
The older woman in the blond wig said she thought the driver and his passengers were Mexicans. Dark-skinned, she said. Possibly Arab--she wasn't sure.
Were the shootings gang-related? The cops checked the boy's clothing to see if the colors could be mistaken for those of a local gang.
At this stage, it appeared the darts had been shot at random, probably from a blowgun. The woman was hit first, getting into her car at 65th. Moments later, at 61st, the boy was hit. Calls describing the suspect car and its direction were put out over the radio.
The paramedics arrived. "Hello, Mrs. ____," an easygoing paramedic said. He'd been following the investigation on his radio. The paramedics slit one leg of the boy's blue jeans up past his knee and wrapped the wound loosely in gauze. He slid onto the stretcher, and they rolled him out.
Outside, under the fluorescent overhang, the lady with the blond wig told me that the only reason she'd stopped at the 7-Eleven was to tell her friend, the counterlady, about the dart.
"And that car was heading north," she said, pointing. "Probably toward--" and she paused.
"Little Village?" I asked.
She said her mother's old fur coat had saved her from getting hurt.
"Listen, honey. I'm 51, and my mother gave it to me years ago. So it's old. Nothin' fancy, kinda ratty even, but go ahead, feel how thick it is," and she lifted the frayed hem.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.