Joe worked as an undercover cop for the Chicago Transit Authority and his job required him to ride El Trains all day to protect the passengers from would be robbers, assailants, drug addicts, etcetera. The January day he stood on the Belmont EL train platform for fifteen minutes was probably equal to standing exposed on an ice berg floating around in the arctic.
The wind blew so hard, Joe held onto a steel girder to keep from being blown onto the tracks. Yet, above the howling of the wind and the screeching of the B trains roaring by he heard the conversation that went on between two women who stood next to him.
“It’s amazing to me that so many of them dream that one day fame and fortune will be theirs.” She pointed to a guy at the bottom of the stairs playing a guitar.
“The problem is, when someone does become famous, they’re admired by so many, and even if they get arrested for doing drugs and the daily news declares they’re going to jail, they become more famous and renowned,” the other woman shouted into the wind.
“That’s right,” the other woman said, “Distinction, recognition, acclaim, was even given to O.J. Simpson for murdering his wife.”
The A-Train finally came and two dozen half frozen people boarded it.
Joe made sure to get on a different car than the yakking women, but he looked through the window in the door and saw that the two women from the platform who had been gabbing were being threatened by a bearded man. He held a knife to one of their throats. Joe reached inside his coat and drew the .38 police special he carried there, quietly slid back the connecting door and went through it.
He was behind the knife wielding man in a flash, and he put the barrel against his head, “Move and you’re dead,” Joe said in a serious voice.
“Shoot me, go ahead, shoot,” the man yelled.
“Don’t tempt me punk.” Joe reached with his left hand and took the knife from his hand.
“Thank you,” the woman he had held said, “He has all my money in his pocket.”
“Mine too,” the other woman said.
“Face the door, lean against it with your hands in front,” Joe went through his pockets and found an expired army I.D. card that said he was Corporal James Jones. “How long since you got discharged?”
“Six months. Man can you give me a break? I wasn’t going to hurt anyone. I needed a few hits real bad, I was only trying to get a few bucks so I could get high and forget the shit that happened over there.”
“Ever think about working?”
Jones laughed out loud. “You kidding? I looked for a job every day for the first month I was out. Then I ran out of money.”
Joe remembered how the women had said that famous people get praised when they get caught doing drugs, beating their girlfriends or other things. Things were different for discharged vets though. They were forced to kill for their country, but once back home and had problems adjusting, no one wanted to know if he had a break down, there were no headlines or radio shows that invited him to give his side of the story. A vet was put in jail or some quiet place. No one cared or wanted to know what he went through.
One of the women said, “So you decided to stick up helpless women to get money for drugs?”
“After the shit I did for you,” Jones looked at her. “You owe me,”
“I don’t owe you anything.”
“She’s right,” the other said. “We work for our money. Now please return it to us?”
“Other than me, they killed everyone in my squad,” Jones said in a sorrowful voice, “I wish they would’ve killed me too.”
Joe had never heard of Jones or his buddies getting killed. He knew that wasn’t unusual because most of those who died for the United States never got their names acclaimed like any minor Hollywood star or even a singer/musician did when they died from a drug overdose or even a drive by shooting. Soldiers who died fighting hardly got any mention at all.
He wondered if the reason they were disregarded was so we didn’t have to think about the high price they paid, so that we could take our drugs, watch our TVs, and the ability to pray to a god of our choice.
“Can I put my hands down?” Jones asked.
Joe saw his hands shook from the exertion of holding them over his head. Jones was sweating and his teeth began chattering. His drugs were worn off and he needed some soon or he’d get really sick.
The train stopped at Montrose Avenue, the doors slid open. Joe pushed Jones out the door and the two women followed. How much do I owe this guy who fought in the war and then came back to be treated like shit? He imagined what it must be like to come back home with a messed up mind after seeing so many killed, and then being thrown out in the street with no job, no money, no place to go, no one to care if you lived or died.
Joe’s thoughts were interrupted by the women. “Make him give us our money back,” the one repeated.
Jones was shaking all over now. Joe took out his wallet, pulled out all the money he had in it and handed it to Jones. “Go get well.”
Jones looked confused. He didn’t take his eyes off of Joe. It looked like he expected to be shot until Joe yelled, “Go on, get out of here.” Jones turned and ran down the stairs with all Joe’s money in his hand and the women’s money in his pocket.
“Why did you let him go?”
“We owe him more than he took.”