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Horse Players

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The four were big men--almost too big for the chairs they sprawled on inside the Wendy's on Jackson--and their cartridge belts with their pistols, nightsticks, and handcuffs added to their girth. They were studying their racing programs and occasionally glanced out the windows at the crowd that had gathered outside the new off-track betting parlor.

One of them, who had thick red hair, almost jumped out of his chair. "Look at that wacko!" he shouted, pointing toward a black Mercedes pulling up at the curb. "He's parking in a bus zone! I'll have him towed before he can turn off the ignition."

One of the other policemen raised his head from his program. "Forget it," he said. "He'll be out in a minute. He's the type who'll keep this place running. Guys like him pay the freight."

A rotund man wearing a dark suit got out of the Mercedes and hurried into the betting parlor.

"Yeah, he's probably laying off some bets. The bagman," said the redhead.

Another policeman pointed toward three shabbily dressed men standing on the corner of Jackson and Franklin. "Did you clock those three derelicts there on the corner? I knew they'd show up, panhandling cigarettes and quarters. Maybe we oughta call the wagon and run them in."

The fourth policeman looked up from his Sun-Times. "Aw, the hell with those guys. They're part of the atmosphere. They add flavor to the place."

The man wearing the dark suit hurried back out of the betting parlor, got into the Mercedes, and sped off.

"There goes your buddy," said one of the policemen to the redhead.

The redhead laughed. "He probably owns some horses."

A tall man wearing a white windbreaker walked into Wendy's. His thin jacket barely concealed a large gun attached to his belt.

The four policemen laughed. "Moonlighting, huh?" one said.

The tall man walked over to them and shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah. What're you gonna do when duty calls."

The 151 bus pulled up and stopped in front of the betting parlor where the Mercedes had been parked. The well-dressed women sitting on the bus stared--some in amusement, some in dismay--through the windows at the crowd of horse players on the sidewalk.

"Hey, look," one of the policemen shouted. "It's five minutes until eight. If we're gonna bet the Daily Double, we'd better get moving!"

Together the policemen rushed outside and brushed past the shabbily dressed men. Then they strode into the betting parlor, clearing a path through the crowd.

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