LIVE FROM DEAD-END STREET
Hawk is out tonight. That's what the wind is called in Chicago,
a sharp, vicious blast that roars in off the lakefront and shrieks
down the streets, slicing through those in its path. The long
stretch of west Madison Street is nearly deserted tonight but
for the shivering figures that huddle in doorways, scanning the
deserted road. Madison Street is famous for a number of distinctions.
The United Center, home of the Blackhawks and Chicago Bulls, is
on Madison Street, as are many famous theaters and world-class
architectural wonders. But here on the near-west side, Madison
is one of the most notorious whores' strolls in the city.
Rain or shine, the prostitutes are out, waiting to service any
trick who's willing to pay for play. These women, men, and a variety
of gender-uncertain types parade along the gritty streets dressed
in everything from sequined bras to leather collars, advertising
their wares. Any hooker working this stroll will tell you Madison
Street is the place to make some beaucoup cash. Crowds of executive
types drive over from the restaurants of nearby Greek Town, where
they've just finished a business dinner and are ready for a little
'dessert.' The nearby expressway means that truck drivers can
take a quick detour without losing too much time on their long
distance runs. But nights like tonight are best. Although the
streets are empty now, and it's bitter cold, the regulars know
there'll be big business later. The Bulls are playing at the United
Center, and nothing is better for business than a sports crowd.
The fans sit through four quarters of beer-swilling and male bonding,
cranking up those testosterone levels to critical mass as they
whoop and cheer and groan.
the game, they spill into the streets, excited and hyped and looking
for something to take the edge off. The young fans travel in packs,
while the older (or married) gentlemen are a bit more discreet,
but the outcome is the same: The Bulls won? Why not celebrate
with a hooker? In the event of a home team defeat, what better
consolation than--you guessed it!--a hooker! And so the girls
are out tonight, waiting in the cold.
my undercover assignment means I'm whore for a night, shivering
right alongside the pros. I'm working "Operation Angel"--the
prostitution sting that uses cops as decoy hookers. Every few
months, our unit lieutenant decides his arrest stats need a boost,
and orders us to do a sweep. This time, it's the customers instead
of the whores we'll be locking up. That means that one of the
tactical team gets decked out in some flash 'n trash apparel,
goes out on the whores' stroll, and grabs whatever prospective
trick takes the bait. While the whole operation fairly screams
of entrapment, our bosses justify it by pointing out the 'criteria'
to be met before an arrest is made: A customer has to name a specific
sexual act, and the price he's willing to pay for it. The catch
here is that it doesn't even have to be a specifically sexual
act. As long as it provides sexual gratification, it's still considered
freezing out here, probably because this is December, and I'm
dressed (or undressed) for Miami Beach. The purple satin shorts
look like they've been sprayed on, and my sequined tube top is
as tight as a pressure-wrapped bandage, which will be just the
thing if some irate john decides to shoot me in the chest. A pair
of stiletto heels complete the outfit--red, to match the acres
of exposed skin. My back-up is slumped behind the wheel of a parked
car down the block. Because my outfit is too skimpy to conceal
a gun or a wire--it barely conceals what God gave me--I have to
signal when an arrest should be made. Once the prospective john's
named an act, and a price, I'll brush back my hair--an obvious
gesture that will be visible from 50 yards--and wait for my back-up
to arrive. Or at least, that's the plan. In theory, it sounds
foolproof. While I stand on the corner, I check out some of the
whores working this drag. Since I've arrested most of them at
various times in the past, I know their names, am fairly familiar
with their M.O's. And although I've booked most of them in Women's
Central Detention, not one of them makes me for a cop tonight.
Amazing how a platinum wig and a lot of exposed skin can change
a cop's appearance.
'Destiny'--a/k/a Gladys Luckett--is out. Always stylish, she's
going for the eclectic look in ancient go-go boots, an orange
g-string and a tight black blouse. Her nappy dreadlocks are whipped
by the wind, flapping over eyes glazed by fatigue and amphetamines.
Farther down the street, 'Chantell,' (Lester Morehouse in his
other life) poses under the street light. The skintight spandex
dress, an eye-catcher in shocking pink, molds to every curve.
Fake leopard-skin spike heels teeter under the weight of Chantell's
300-plus pounds. Although he's substantial enough to moonlight
as a large appliance, Chantell still dresses to impress.
are others. Tiffany with her fuschia wig and oozing lesions, Pandora
of the gold teeth and glass eye. Whores minus teeth, whores with
habits, whores scarred and maimed by strutting pimps. Some wait
for the next trick, others for the next fix that brings white
heat and cold oblivion. They shiver and prance, waiting for whatever's
next. A silver Ford eases up to the curb. Before rolling down
his window, the man inside eyes me, considering. He's middle-aged
and balding, with a plaid wool jacket and black-framed glasses.
Portrait of Average Joe Citizen With An Itch. Finally, the window
he says solemnly. "How much?"
offer my most inviting whore's smile.
on what you want."
Joe lowers the window even more and shows me what he's brought
to the party. Apparently, he's a man skilled at driving one-handed.
'bout you swallow some of this? Twenty bucks sound good to you?"
I nod and brush back my hair.
me right around the corner here into the alley, and we'll party."
A few minutes later, Joe is on the way to jail, and I'm back on
the corner. Dominique, a stunning transvestite in a thigh-high
rabbit fur skirt, waves at me from across the street. Gesturing
to a tiny radio, he smiles.
Bulls are up by eight," he calls. "Four minutes left
in the third quarter." And fluffs his fur in anticipation
before heading toward a red Toyota. I get more customers. One
of them, a Catholic priest, offers me eternal life for a shot
at my holy grail. To seal the deal, he tosses a $10 bill on the
sidewalk. A group of teens in a low-rider Chevy pull up to inquire
about my group rate. After many lewd proposals, they offer seventy-four
cents and a half-eaten candy bar.
between arrests, I notice the girl shivering in a nearby doorway.
She's young, not more than 14, with a starveling body and wide,
curious eyes. Her hands, trembling from cold or drugs, clutch
at a shabby silk vest. The sweater beneath it is ragged enough
to display the tracks on her skinny arms.
ain't seen you around here before," she tells me. "Who's
teeth--what's left of them--are chipped and blackened, indicating
a long and intimate relationship with heroin.
pimp," I reply. "I'm a free agent." This is enough
to stop her cold. The girl's eyes, heavily shadowed with sparkly
blue, widen in disbelief.
out here, on Madison and you ain't got no pimp? Can't be messin'
around here, thinkin' you gonna make some money, and nobody to
protect you. The pimps who run this street gonna kick your ass!"
Nodding, she pulls her vest closer against the biting wind.
"Maybe you new around here and don't know. See, you can't
be on some other pimp's turf 'less he says so. Like me.....my
pimp is 'C-Note.' He the one take care of me, and I give him my
he takes care of you, why does he take your money?"
The girl looks at me like I've lost my mind.
"Cuz I work for him, that's why. I'm like his employee. And
C-Note, he takes that money and gives me anything I need."
"Like some food? Looks like you could use a few meals."
"I'm all right." The girl shrugs and turns to scan the
street. Her practiced eye tells her no customers are imminent,
and she turns back to me.
"Why you be trippin'--like you my mother or somethin'! Like
you worried about what I'm doin'."
She turns away again, but not before I catch the smile that tugs
at her shivering lips. It's a child's smile, sweet and somehow
poignant. Obviously, it's been a long time since she's had any
sweetness in her young life.
that's what you need," I tell her. "Maybe someone better
than C-Note should be taking care of you. How old are you, anyway?
A kid like you has no business on the street."
her smile broadens, as old and tired as Time.
"Looks like you and me, we be in the same kind of business."
Before I can answer, the girl is sliding into the front seat of
a black Mercury. Less than 10 minutes later, she's back and grinning.
"Twenty dollars that time. Few more like that, I can call
it a night." She stuffs the bill into her wig, a mangy, matted
affair that's standard uniform for any streetwalker. Instead of
pockets, or other body parts, it's the best place to stash their
name's Peaches," she tells me. "You wanna look out for
me, I'll watch your back, too. If you new around here, maybe you
wanna work for C-Note. That way, you won't get messed up by no
trick, or no other pimp. C-Note, he real nice."
study her stalkish limbs and purple scars.
long you been doing this, Peaches?"
years. C-Note, he say I'm fine. Said a fine thing like me could
make a lot of money."
have you? Made a lot of money, I mean?"
need no money. C-Note give me whatever I need. Like this."
Pointing to her ragged vest, she preens and swivels so I can admire
it. Her sweater droops at the back of her neck, low enough to
show the bruises. Bruises dark enough to be seen even in the dim
a red Pontiac pulls up--my next customer--Peaches steps away discreetly.
Even at her tender age, she knows it's bad form as well as a health
hazard to horn in on another girl's john. This time, the Pontiac's
driver announces, in a charming Austrian accent, that he's a dentist
looking to party. He admires my incisors and informs me that,
for twenty-five dollars, he'll be happy to fill all my cavities.
When I return from the alley, Peaches is back.
sure did take care of him quick. That's good." She nods wisely
with the experience of her years.
this business, it's best to do 'em fast. Time is money."
cue, Dominique calls from across the street.
"Forty seconds left in the fourth quarter. Bulls up by seventeen.
Lawd, they gonna be some partyin' fools 'round here tonight!"
white Camaro rumbles up to the curb. Dual carburetors ensure a
purring growl, with custom flames painted on the rear quarter
panels. It's a gang-banger's car, complete with windows tinted
dark enough to obscure the occupants. The car vibrates with the
throbbing bass of music loud enough to cause arrhythmias. When
the window rolls down I see them--two beefy thugs with do-rags
and gang tattoos.
baby, gimme some a that!" One drawls to Peaches. "C'mon
get in this ride and let's get busy!"
Between them, these guys look like they could share honors as
poster boys for the criminally insane. The sweet stench of cheap
wine and marijuana smoke gusts out of the car along with the music.
I can just imagine the arsenal of guns under the front seat, the
stash of drugs that's fueling the madness in their eyes. The one
on the passenger side opens the door.
what you waitin' on? Get in here. We'll give you half a yard ($50)
and all the weed you can smoke."
it, Peaches," I whisper. "These guys are trouble."
her wig, she smiles at me.
worry. I told you C-Note take care of me. He watch to make sure
nothin' happens. No way I'm gonna pass up $50!" She climbs
into the back seat and the Camaro peels off, swerving around the
Suddenly, the street comes alive. The Bulls' game is over, and
a squadron of honking cars comes out of the west. Jubilant fans
troll the avenue, and the whores prance to the curb, ready to
strike up a bargain. The hours of waiting, the frozen fingers
and tired feet are forgotten. It's a Bulls' market now, with plenty
of money to be made. With all the honking and cheering, I can
barely hear it--think, at first that I'm imagining the thin scream.
I walk closer to the corner, hear the shriek-- a muffled sob,
and car doors slamming. But it's the squeal of tires and roar
of dual carbs that starts me running. I find her in the alley,
slumped against a building like a broken doll. The shabby little
vest is already drenched with red, like the tattered flag of a
defeated nation. Her child's eyes are wide and blank in a head
that hangs at an odd angle. Peaches' neck was broken--please,
God, I hope before they did the rest. Even before I find the knife,
I see what it did to her, how she's spilled out all over the ground.
They used her, gutted her, left her seeping life in this filthy
alley. There's no one around now, not my back-up, nor a passing
citizen, but I can handle this. I'm the police, and I've seen
death a hundred times before. So I gather her in my arms, this
child-woman with the vacant eyes, and feel her fluids run hot
and sticky over my shivering flesh. I know that later, some supervisor
will reprimand me for disturbing a crime scene, interfering with
critical evidence. But they won't be too concerned about it.
was a whore, they'll say. Nothing much to investigate. Just another
victim of 'the Life.' If the johns didn't get here, the drugs
would have. And there will be only the most cursory of investigations,
the minimum of paperwork done before the books are closed on Peaches,
aka 'Black Female Jane Doe--age unknown.' But for now, I can hold
this child's cooling body and try not to wonder about the life
she had, her future denied. Or the people who were supposed to
take care of her, like C-Note. Like me.
2002 by Gina Gallo