Christmas morning in Chicago never really dawned. The dark orangey skies reflecting the sodium vapor lights remained a dark gray when the timers finally killed the street lamps. The thick clouds allowed the temperature to sneak above freezing for the first time in two weeks and the heavy snow cover actually started steaming a bit adding to the overall dullness of the day. By 10 AM the dawn finally gave up and the day settled into the dreariness of a dark, cloudy winter day.
The marked twelfth District squad and the unmarked detective car pulled to the curb in front of the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls on West Jackson Boulevard in Chicago. The century old building appeared to loom ominously in the background. There was no call that brought them here this morning, rather Christmas Mass to be held in the small second floor chapel, officiated by the Police Chaplain.
The four men gingerly exited their vehicles and cursed silently as they attempted to navigate the high piles of soot black snow that lined the streets. The homicide detectives and uniform patrolmen nodded to one another in a silent, grim greeting of sorts. The detective in the black trench coat cursed aloud when he slipped and fell against the salt laden squad, leaving a white swath of salt on the side of his coat. The detective in the rumpled Colombo trench coat laughed and in a distinctive, slow, hoarse voice said, “See, you gotta have a tan coat for da’ winter.”
“Yeah, aren’t you the Beau Brummel of the police world,” his partner replied.
They climbed the stairs to the room where the ambiance was a bit warmer. The place of worship seated forty without breaking out folding chairs. It was a simple chapel, with small stained glass windows at the front and rear. There were no Christmas decorations but the edge of the altar bore a blue and white checkered band matching that of the police hats. The ceiling held a battery of black box Fresnel stage lights, barn doors and scrims, belying the fact that one of the chapel’s primary uses was for videotaping the Mass for shut-ins. However, on the second and fourth Sunday of each month and each Christmas and Easter the Chicago Police Chaplain held the “Police Mass.”
The priest, in street clothes, moved easily among the gathering group, exchanging greetings and an occasional emotional hug. Retirees, spouses, and off-duty police with pistols at their waist mingled and exchanged Christmas greetings. This morning there were a bit more on-duty officers than normal; the district officers in full street uniform, tactical officers in jeans with their black safety vests festooned with star, name tag, radio and extra magazines of ammunition and of course the two detectives who sat at the very rear of the chapel. For many of the on-duty officers it would be their only chance to attend a religious service for Christmas.
The priest disappeared into a make-shift sanctuary at the front of the chapel and emerged moments later in his robes. He stood in front of the altar.
“Good morning,” he said quietly.
The congregation was busy chattering amongst one another.
“Good morning,” said the priest a bit louder than before. No reaction.
“Role call!” shouted the priest, in his best Watch Commander voice. The group laughed and took their seats. As they did so, the Chaplain beamed. These were his people… this was his flock. He had married them, baptized their children, ridden the streets with them, and prayed with them in emergency rooms across the city as one of them lay wounded or dying. His chest almost visibly puffed with pride as he surveyed the room.
“Let’s take a moment to quiet our souls before we proceed.”
The two uniform officers keyed their radio briefly.
“Twelve-twelve, hold us down for lunch at the Mercy Home.”
“Ten four twelve-twelve, you’re down for lunch.” That would give them some thirty minutes without a radio assignment. The tactical officers and the detectives were on a bit looser leash, generally not subject to assignments from the dispatcher but they kept their radios on and on low volume.
“Before we dare go on, let us call to mind our sins and ask forgiveness,” said the priest.
The chapel was totally quiet until the radios broke the silence.
“Twelve-sixteen, cars in twelve and cars on city-wide, we have a man with a gun at 2323 West Lexington, no further information.” That was about a mile and a half from the tiny chapel.
From the very back of the chapel came the unmistakably growly drawl of the detective.
“Guess what he got for Christmas?”
The Mass continued and almost as if on cue, at the next momentary silence the radios in the room burst to life again.
“Attention cars in twelve and on city-wide, we now have shots fired on Lexington.”
“They must be opening the rest of the presents.” Same voice… from the rear of the chapel.
The tactical officers got up quietly and exited the side door, the rapid pace of their boots echoed on the stairway.
“Attention cars in twelve and on city-wide, one more time, we now have a man shot at that Lexington address, that’s 2323 West Lexington.”
The uniformed officers exited the south chapel door, the detectives exited the opposite side door.
“Twelve-twelve, cancel that lunch, we’ll take in Lexington”
From the opposite hallway, “Yeah dispatch, this is homicide 7403, tell our office we’re heading for that Lexington scene.”
The priest paused for a long moment. Less than five minutes into the service, the radios, along with their officers, had left the building, the sirens now fading into the distance.
The Chaplain resumed, “Let’s take a moment and pray for our people on the street this Christmas morning…”