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 froze him like standing exposed on an iceberg in the arctic would.
The wind blew so hard, Joe held onto a steel girder to keep from being blown onto the tracks. 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 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 becomes 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 woman wearing a babushka said, “Distinction, recognition, acclaim, was even given to O.J. Simpson for murdering his wife.”
The A-Train came, and two dozen half frozen people boarded it.
Joe made sure to get on a different car than the yakking women. He looked through the window in the door and saw that the two women from the platform that had been gabbing were being threatened by a bearded man. He held a knife to the throat of the woman who had a red scarve wrapped around her head. 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 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. You know how it is, I needed a few hits real bad, so I was only trying to get a few bucks to get high. Then I could forget about 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 praise when they get caught doing drugs, beating their girlfriends or breaking the law in other ways. Things were different for discharged vets. Trained to kill for their country, they developed psychological problems. Once back home, difficulty to adjusting became common. No one wanted to know if the vet had a break down. There were no headlines or radio shows that invited veteran’s to give their side of the story. A vet got put in jail or some quiet place. No one cared or wanted to know what he went through.
The woman wearing the red scarve said, “So you stuck 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. 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. Sometimes a drive-by shooting filled the news channels. Soldiers who died fighting, sometimes got mentioned in the obituary column.
Were they disregarded so we didn’t have to think about the high price they paid? Then we could take our drugs, watch our TVs, and enjoy the ability to pray to a god of our choice without paying them what they were due.
“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 chattered. His drugs had worn off, and he needed some soon or he’d get 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 and got treated like shit? He imagined what it must be like to come back home with a messed up mind after seeing so many killed. Then getting thrown out onto the street with no job, no money, no place to go, no one to care if you lived or died.
Joe’s thoughts got interrupted by the women. “Make him give us our money back,” the one wearing the babushka 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 get shot until Joe yelled, “Go on, get out of here.” Jones turned and ran down the stairs with Joe’s rent 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.”