I sat at my small dinette table within a shabby apartment watching my almost one year old, Karen, toddle from one object to the next and my almost three year old son, Tom, playing with some toy cars.
This wasn't the bottom, but pretty damn close. I had enough money for food and milk for the kids. I seemed to find money just in time for books. There just wasn't enough for new clothes, car repairs or even a hair cut. The car had deteriorated so badly, I sold it to a local mechanic for parts. The G.I. bill was putting me through school, St. Louis University. But there was not any extra money to be raising a family. I received some disability, but again it wasn't enough to raise a couple of kids. I had used up all of my savings the past two years living in a small apartment near campus. Now? This.
My ex had left when Karen was three months, exactly one year after leaving Nam with a busted up foot and ankle. She took the little money we had in our checking account. Thanks goodness she couldn't get at my savings account. We had not heard from her since. The Legal aid society helped me get a divorce with full custody of the kids. But who was arguing.
I was doing pretty good physically, healing nicely, but mentally I was a mess. With the two little ones, it was necessary to keep a happy face and be cheerful as much as possible. Actually they were my life. Everything that I was doing was to make it better for them some day.
I couldn't afford an apartment close to the school any longer so I had applied for public housing. My application was accepted immediately for a third floor apartment in a living tomb that was called Pruitt-Igo. This place had been built as the panacea for low income and the poor. In just a couple of short years it had been open, it had become an instant slum, a dangerous crime ridden self-contained ghetto. I had begged the housing authority to find me something closer to school and in a better neighborhood to raise my babies. They were not helpful, just telling me that's what we have, that's what you get.
There were 800 apartments on eight floors in ten buildings that were connected by covered, suspended walk-ways between each building and each floor. It looked a little like a giant motel from the outside. One of the disconcerting things that caused me some apprehension was the race thing. This was 1969 and there was a lot of racial tension throughout the country to go along with attitudes toward Nam vets, especially limping Nam vets and the war. My family was one of five white families among eight-hundred.
So far I had not had a lot of problems with the tough guys and gang kids that wandered the parking lots. I left them alone; they left me alone. I did buy a used colt .45. The military taught me how to use it and I felt comfortable with it. I applied for a carry permit but was turned down because of my address. I went down to the local police precinct where I talked to the captain about it. He was an ex G.I. who knew how hard it was when you first get out trying to make it in civilian life. He had a solution. I had to do three weekends of training and even received a couple of bucks for the time. He made me a neighborhood watch reserve police officer. The piece made a difference in how secure I felt, when I had to go out, I put the piece in my belt at the back of my pants and felt a hell of lot more comfortable.
While I was at school, my kids stayed with an older lady next door that kept five or six little ones while their parents worked or whatever. Mrs. Williams was always helping me out, fixing me something special for a snack, always doting over my babies. Matty Williams was pretty good with hair clippers and kept my head trimmed. She was pretty good at cutting a flat-top too. She had a couple of young teenaged grandkids living with her that were trying to stay out of the bad groups at the complex. I became the tutor for helping with math or their other homework. Her fourteen-year-old boy and I were the gofers when it came to groceries or the occasional Chinese take-out. We usually went together so he wouldn't be harassed and I wouldn't be too out of place.
We were coming back from the little grocery store up the street when it happened. The elevators were broken, which was usual so we were starting up the stairs. At the landing between the first and second floor, four Afro-haired toughs had a girl down on the hard concrete landing. At first I thought it was just the some kids doing the nasty but realized the girl was in trouble when I saw one of the guys was holding her arms and two guys were holding her legs apart while the fourth guy was on his knees between her legs. She couldn't yell because she had a scarf tied across her mouth.
I yelled at the toughs while pulling my piece from the back of my pants, "Hey! Stop! Get off her. Let her go! I'm a police officer. Do it now."
The guy on his knees jerked his head around and stood while he fumbled around in his pants to come up with a pretty good sized folding knife. "I'll cut your balls off honky." He said thrusting it at me.
I brought the .45 up to point between his eyes and said, "Try it."
His eyes got big and one of the larger guys holding the girls legs stood up. He was [robably 6'3", close to 300 lbs., intimidating. He said, "What you gonna do, cap us all?"
"Hope I don't have to do that. Stand slowly, all of you. Drop the knife. Let the girl go. Marty, go hit the call-box quick. (They used to have little red boxes on light poles that would summon the police.)
The girl scrambled up, pulled her dress down then hurried up the stairs pulling the scarf from her mouth. She stopped on the second floor landing looking down at the scene.
"You really think I'm afraid of you?" The knife holder said to me starting to come at me.
I stepped down a step but leveling the gun at the threatening guys chest. When he lunged at me, I fired. The force of the gun blast pushed him back, dropping him instantly. The big guy roared in anger and rushed me. I had no choice, I fired three times rapidly. The first staggered him, the second stopped him, and the third knocked him down. I had to side step as the big guy rolled down the stairs. I moved the pistol back to cover the other two and told them to sit down on the stairs with their hands on their heads. Their eyes were as big around as quarters.
Marty hollered, asking me if I was okay. I answered back and told him to take the groceries up to his grandmother using another stairway.
A couple of gawkers had come to see what the commotion was. Several just looked at the big guy laying there bleeding, turned up their nose and walked away. A man had come out and was standing next to the girl that had been attacked. He was looking down at the dead tough on the landing shaking his head.
Almost a half-hour after the gun shots, a police car screeched to a stop near the stairway. A couple of uniforms ran up with guns out yelling for me to put mine down. I popped the clip while putting it down and ejected the chambered round catching it in one hand while laying my piece on the step.
I told the officers I was a neighborhood watch officer and had a badge in my pocket. One of the uniforms pointed his .38 special at me and said, "Very slowly, get it out."
Once he saw the badge he asked what had happened. I told the guy the story and was told he had to take my gun in as evidence. While one officer cuffed the two guys sitting, the other went upstairs to talk to the girl. Another couple of units came rushing up to park next to the first. A Sargent took one look at the dead guy at the base of the stairs and went back to his unit. He came back advising the other officers he had called for the coroner and a crime scene group.
The Sargent came up to me and stared at me for a few seconds. "You the kid they made a neighborhood watch officer?"
"Thought you left this shit back in Nam didn't ya," he said still staring at me.
Again I nodded.
"You ever do this before? See the guy you shot?"
I nodded again.
"You talk? Or just wag your head?" He said smiling gently without any confrontation in his voice.
"Let's get your statement. You got kids right? Where they at?" He asked.
I answered, "My neighbor Mrs. Williams has them. Her son and I went to the store. That's why we were out."
"That girl's lucky. These guys may be the ones who have raped and killed several other ladies and girls from the complex. You may have done the place a favor," the Sargent continued.
A bunch of people came to photograph the scene, interview people and finally haul off the corpses. They had quizzed Marty extensively. I had given my statement to the Sargent then to a homicide detective. They were shaking my hand getting ready to leave when the detective said, "You did a good thing. The two guys you left alive admitted they were part of the group that had been raping women around here. They said they didn't know about killing any though. They'll hang for it anyway."
"By the way, what in the hell are you living here for?" He asked.
"All I can afford right now. One more year in school and I'll be able to get a decent job. I'll be out of here then," I said.
"You be careful. You're gonna be popular with some of these folks but you're gonna be a target for some others. Watch yourself," he said leaving. He went to his unmarked car, opened the trunk, took something out and came back to me.
"Here, keep this till you get yours back," He said as he handed me a snub-nosed .38 special and a box of shells. "This is a piece I haven't had time to turn in yet. It should do for right now."
.... There is more of this story ...