1947, Los Angeles, California, USA
Mickey Holloway felt the tap of the nightstick on his shoulder before he caught sight of the two cops out of the corner of his eye.
“Let’s see it, red vet,” the older cop growled.
“See what?” Mickey said in a calm, even voice.
“Come on, red vet,” the younger cop piped in as he tapped Mickey’s red skull and cross-bones armband with his nightstick. “You know what’s up.”
Mickey sighed and slowly pulled out his wallet. Then equally slowly extracted the two cards he was required by the Veteran’s Control Act of 1945 to have at all times. He handed them to the younger officer. A small crowd gathered around Mickey and the cops to watch the show.
The younger cop looked at the cards carefully. One was Mickey’s veteran’s identity card; laminated with a snapshot of the veteran in one corner, a line by line description of his combat service (Peleliu and Iwo Jima), his ranking as a Class-Four, Extreme Threat, combat veteran, all done in red lettering. The other card was also done in red letters and showed the dates of Mickey’s PAX treatment. He was due for his next shot and therapy session in three days.
“Cutting it kind of close on the PAX, aren’t you?” the younger officer asked.
“I’m obeying the law,” Mickey said keeping himself calm. “You shouldn’t have even stopped me. I’m not making trouble.”
“You know we had every right to ask for your papers,” the older cop said. “That skull and crossbones you’re wearing gives us the right to check you out, even haul you in if we think you’re a threat. Are you a threat? Do you want to spend the night in lock-up? ”
Mickey shook his head as he took his identity cards and stowed them away.
“Alright then, move along.” The older policeman said. “It’s almost curfew for your kind.”
The two police officers started shooing the crowd away.
Mickey gathered what dignity he had left and continued into the store. Inside the grocery Dennis Ito smiled at his fellow veteran. Ito wore a smaller, yellow skull and crossbones armband showing his status as a Class-3, moderate threat, veteran.
“Those cops shouldn’t have bothered you,” Ito said. “The law shouldn’t let them give you trouble like that.”
“Tell that to Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin,” Mickey said, shrugging.
In 1945, on hearing from an upper-class New York club woman, pacifist Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin proposed the Veteran Control Act. The concept was simple: extremely dangerous individuals, such as combat veterans, trained as they were to kill without thought, or mercy, could not simply be released on an unsuspecting American public. The law passed and the veteran class rating system was devised, appropriate emblems were designed and veterans were required to be evaluated, classed, and forced to wear the proper badges when in public. No one asked the veterans how they felt about the system, since most were too young to vote anyway. When one veteran sued the federal government over the law, his case was summarily dismissed as he had no standing to object, since he was just 19 years old.
“Boston will take your Dodgers tonight,” Ito said as he rang up Mickey’s purchases.
“They are not my Dodgers,” Mickey retorted. “But you’re screwy if you think your Braves stand a chance…” And so the old and friendly argument started and went on until Mickey looked at his watch and rushed out of the store with his one bag of groceries and a friendly wave to Ito.
Mickey walked down the street back to his apartment, which was over the small appliance repair shop where he worked. After his run-in with the two police officers, he badly wanted a drink, but as a Class-4, he was forbidden from drinking alcohol at any time. After walking a block, his right arm and right leg, both with Japanese shrapnel still in them, started to ache. But as a Class-4 he was forbidden from owning a car, or driving at any time. Plus he could only ride public transportation at certain specified times and on certain routes.
The veteran checked his watch, again. It was almost 6 PM, he had to be off the streets by then, unless he wanted to spend the night in jail. Mickey walked on as fast as he could. He reached his studio apartment right as the clock struck six.
Mickey’s mother had taught him to cook, and since he was a meat and potatoes kind of man anyway; dinner was pretty easy. He put his cast iron skillet on the burner and dropped a healthy portion of lard into it. He washed one of his fresh spuds and then, without peeling it, cut it thin and put the slices into the pan to fry. He then got a fresh cube steak, pounded it even flatter, dipped it in an egg and milk wash, dredged the steak in flour and set it frying next to the quickly browning potato slices. He diced up an apple, sliced some strawberries and tossed the fruit pieces with apple cider vinegar and a dash of white sugar.
Mickey ate the meal with relish while listening to the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the socks off of the Boston Braves. At least the PAX, Mickey thought, doesn’t ruin the taste of good food. Although it seemed to wreck every other joy in his life.
Parabiprazosin alpha-1 adrenergic anti-exciter also known as PAAA-eX, or just PAX, was developed at Harvard University in 1945 and soon became recognized as the Disulfiram of violence. Disulfiram was the anti-alcohol drug designed to make people that drink alcohol while taking it violently ill. PAX acted the same way. Become excited, like getting ready to fight, or commit an act of violence, and the subject became violently ill with headaches, stomach cramps, and vomiting followed by grand mal seizures. The 1946 amendment to the Veteran’s Control Act of 1945, required all Class-3 and Class-4 veterans to undergo monthly treatments with PAX as well as monthly counseling regarding their inherently violent natures.
Unwanted, memories of Kimberly Bray came to Mickey. She was a lush and curvy brunette, Mickey had met her at a veteran’s dance, before the Control acts passed. Despite the objections of her family, Kim and Mickey started to date. All went well, until he started to take the PAX. Then it fell apart. Their one attempt to make love had ended with Mickey curled in a ball, vomiting, while Kim cried in the bathroom.
He never saw her again after that night.
Mickey wiped his eyes and went to bed.
Three Days later
The rain was blowing sideways while Mickey stood at the bus-stop waiting for the bus to take him to the Veterans Administration Hospital for his monthly appointment. The bus stopped and the soaking young man stepped on.
“Sorry, brother,” the driver, his small, white skull and cross bones armband saying he was a Class-1, negligible threat, veteran said. “Already have two reds and two yellows abroad. Rules say can’t have more than four Class-4s and/or Class-3s on the same bus. You’ll have to take the next one.”
“Come on,” Mickey nearly whined. “Give me a break, brother. It’s pouring down.”
“Sorry, brother,” the bus driver shook his head. “An inspector or cop show up; I’d lose my job.”
“Tell that stinking killer to get off,” a man shouted from the back of the bus. “I got to get to work.”
Mickey turned toward the shout and felt the all too familiar throbbing in his head start. Then the roiling in his stomach. He took a deep breath and calmed down.
“I understand, brother,” Mickey said as he stepped back into the pouring rain.
Mickey sat with five other veterans in a half circle pointed at a small dais. On the platform were two hulking orderlies dressed in hospital whites and a skinny man in his mid-twenties with slicked-back hair. The skinny man was haranguing the veterans with the same old speech. Mickey didn’t know any of other vets and they didn’t know him, the VA always made certain that it was a random group at the counseling sessions.
“Don’t you see,” the counselor said. “You have to criticize yourselves. You all have to admit you’re killers and born killers at that. You have to accept the judgement of society; you are too volatile, too dangerous, to be allowed to run free. For you to be allowed the same freedoms as other citizens is just too risky for the rest of us. Things would be easier if you would just accept that fact.”
The therapist paused for a breath.
“You have to admit, your situation could be much worse. Some of the drafts of the Veterans Control Acts had provisions for camps in Montana, or the Panama Canal Zone. Some others wanted to resettle all veterans on the California Channel Islands or the Georgia Barrier Islands. The current solution is much fairer than that.”
“I’d like to see this skinny punk face down some SS men,” the man next to Mickey said. “He’d piss himself just looking at a Tiger Tank.”
“Yeah,” Mickey agreed. “Or some Jap Special Naval Landing Forces in a banzai charge.”
“Or me, just one hour off the PAX.”
“Yeah,” Mickey nodded again. Then stopped. Just saying that was a federal crime.
“Solution?” the man opposite Mickey sprang up and shouted. “We aren’t a problem to be solved. We are people, human beings. We’re men. We aren’t a problem…” The man twisted over, vomited, and then fell forward in a grand mal seizure.
The one of orderlies went over to the quaking, fallen veteran and started toeing him like an unidentified piece of trash, while the other orderly hustled the other vets out of the room.
It was late afternoon when he finally left the VA. The rain had stopped while Mickey was at counselling and getting his PAX shot. He got off the bus a block from Dennis Ito’s and walked to the grocery store, despite the rainy weather making his old wounds ache.
As Mickey rounded the corner he saw a large crowd gathered in front of Ito’s store. He moved as fast as he could and when he got close enough, he asked a random man what was going on.
“Some thugs hurt the store owner, Ito, pretty bad it sounds like,” the man said.
Mickey pressed forward as best he could. He found himself within earshot of a teenage girl talking to a police detective. She was calmly giving her statement, like she was talking about the weather.
“… these three punks followed me into the store,” the teenager said. “They followed me around inside and then one of them grabbed me and tried to drag me away. Mr. Ito told them to knock it off and then he actually grabbed the one that grabbed me. Then Mr. Ito got all sick and fell over and started to shake. The punks all got around him and started to yell terrible things at him and kick him too. I ran out at that point and called you police.”
“Hey, you, red vet,” a uniformed officer came over to Mickey. “What are you doing here?”
“The store owner is my friend,” Mickey said.
“Sorry about that,” the uniform cop said, as coroner’s crew came out of the door.
The morgue attendants hadn’t even bothered to cover Dennis Ito’s body as they wheeled it out on a gurney. He barely looked human, his face had been kicked into hamburger. Mickey turned away and then walked away, eyes filling.
Mickey wandered the city, head down, until well after curfew, not caring if the cops did run him in. He looked up and saw he was in front of Central Receiving Hospital.
“Help!” came a woman’s voice. “Help me!”
A woman in her early 20s, holding her torn blouse at the shoulder, rushed by Mickey, out into the street. Three men, a little older than the woman, dressed in business suits, came out of the alley. A shot of adrenalin coursed into Mickey and the all too familiar sick ache started in his head and stomach. The PAX treatments were really working.
The woman had stopped in the middle of the street, catching her breath. When she spotted the three men she shouted.
“No, Bobby, no!” and took off running and shouting again.
Mickey looked around and saw no one else on the street. As one of the men barreled by him, Mickey struck. A solid chop to the man’s throat, knocking him to the ground, leaving him gasping for air. The veteran doubled over and vomited, then he pitched forward and started to shake. The two others, without a look at their fallen buddy, started kicking Mickey. The veteran curled into a ball, but that was as much defense as he could manage as his muscles contracted and jerked. The men continued to kick the downed veteran. Mickey felt bright webs of pain radiate from his battered and wounded legs, arms and back.
As he laid curled in a ball, he vaguely heard a siren getting louder. The beating stopped as his two attackers fled, leaving behind their pal. The cops cuffed the man on the ground and then tossed him in the back of their patrol car. Then, knowing what was going on with the trembling veteran, with one cop on each arm, they dragged Mickey into the hospital.
Two Days Later
Mickey’s injuries were not severe. The investigation into the incident was ongoing, so he stayed in the hospital. After the police interviewed him, Mickey had been left pretty much alone. Not that he minded that.
A kindly orderly, a white vet, loaned Mickey a radio so he could at least listen to the game. Brooklyn was in a tight one with Boston. It was three to four in the bottom of the seventh when the nurse came in. She was the first nurse he’d seen in two days, yet she looked familiar. Bobbed, wavy black hair, dark eyes, full lips, an hour-glass figure, not very well hidden under her starched, white uniform. Her name tag read “Makros”.
The accustomed sick feeling came over the veteran as he recognized the nurse.
“I know you,” Mickey said at last. “You’re the girl from the other night.”
“Yes, Emily Makros,” she nodded. “And you’re Michael Holloway.”
“Please call me Emily,” the nurse said. “I had to find you and thank you for saving me.”
“You’re welcome?” Mickey said with a question in his voice.
They both laughed a little.
“Who is Bobby?” Mickey asked finally.
“I guess I can tell you,” Emily said and sat in the single chair and in a breathless rush of words told her story. “Bobby is Robert Ketchum, of the publishing Ketchums. He used to be my boyfriend, I broke it off with him and he didn’t take it so good. I work here in the emergency room. The other night he and two of his friends jumped me when I came out of work. They are all such weaklings, it took three of them to take on one woman. They didn’t expect me to fight. But it was still three on one, so I ran. One of them tore my blouse as I broke away. I spotted the patrol car and flagged them down. Well, you know the rest.”
Mickey patted her shoulder and once again the sick headache started to throb as his anger rose at what had happened to her and to himself.
“I wish I could have done more,” Mickey announced.
“You saved me,” Emily said, leaned in and gave Mickey a kiss on the cheek. “No one could have done more.”
Emily stood. “I have to go now, but I’ll be back tomorrow.”
She left. Suddenly Mickey felt better.
The Next Day
Emily came into Mickey’s room.
“I heard the doctors say they are going to release you tonight,” Emily said. “They said the police decided whatever happened, it wasn’t your fault.”
“Good, I guess,” Mickey responded.
“Mickey,” Emily now whispered. “I’m going to tell you something that if anyone found out I’d be in big trouble. So, I need your promise not to say anything to anyone.”
Confused, but curious, Mickey promised to stay quiet.
“Mickey,” Emily started. “I belong to a group of veterans and medical professional that have problems with the Veterans Control act and the PAX treatments. Call us a kind of underground, or resistance. If weren’t for the PAX you wouldn’t have been beaten. Things like that, and worse, are happening every day to veterans. Also, I was a nurse in the war, to see men who fought for their country treated this way is just inexcusable.”
She reached into her purse and pulled out a syringe containing a watery blue fluid.
“This is Bellum, it is a PAX antagonist. It blocks the action of PAX. If you want, every month before you get your PAX shot, you’ll get a note telling you where to go to get a dose of Bellum, so the PAX won’t affect you. You can live normally.”
Mickey thought for a moment and decided he had nothing to lose. She could be tricking him, but why would she do that. Also he could go to prison for accepting. But how could prison be any worse than how he was living now?
“Yes!” Mickey said. “I’ll do it.”
Emily needle slipped almost painlessly into Mickey’s arm. A warm feeling spread from the injection site through his whole body, then a sharp pain in his head and chest followed. The pain faded and everything brightened and became clearer. For the first time since the war, Mickey felt alive, whole and unbound.
Emily smiled back.
“When they discharge you,” she said, “meet me at the front doors, I’ll take you back to your place.”
The drive to Mickey’s apartment was quiet and uneventful. Once Mickey and Emily were inside, like something from a cheap romance novel, they literally fell into each other’s arms. The two stood just inside the door and kissed like they were the last two lovers on earth.
The doorknob rattled and then the door swung open and Bobby Ketchum and his two pals burst in.
“Well…” Ketchum started.
A jolt of adrenalin shot through Mickey and without even taking a breath, he struck. A straight right to Ketchum’s midsection paralyzed his diaphragm. Ketchum made a small grunt. Mickey pivoted and drove a short left cross into Ketchum’s jaw, just below the ear. Ketchum dropped limply to the floor.
Mickey took a small step back and sent a side kick with his left foot into the knee of Ketchum’s pal to his right. The blow shattered the man’s left knee. The man fell forward, Mickey hit him with a hard right cross, knocking him cold.
The veteran turned quickly left to deal with the last attacker. Emily was on the last man’s back, strong legs gripping his midsection while she had locked her arms around his throat in a choke hold. The man was gasping and red-faced. He dropped to his knees and then pitched head first onto the floor.
“I grew up with four older brothers,” Emily said as she stood, smoothed her skirt and straightened her blouse. “They taught me how to fight.”
“No fooling,” Mickey said in honest admiration.
Emily stepped over her victim and closed and locked the door.
“You need to go!” she said.
“I know,” Mickey said, suddenly aware of all the felonies he’d committed. But also thrilled by his actions. “But where?”
Emily grabbed her purse and quickly scribbled some names and phone numbers on the back of an old receipt.
“Memorize these if you can and if you can’t, don’t get caught with them. Take my car and head north. If you need help, call the numbers and ask for the names next to them. Once you reach Seattle, call that last number. Some people will get you across the border into Canada.”
“I hate running from a fight,” Mickey said.
“I know, my dear,” Emily said and kissed him lightly on the mouth. “But you’re not running from a fight, but running to a fight. Trust me. There will be lots for you to do in Canada to help other red vets and also put an end to this… this… atrocity.”
Mickey nodded. He went to his icebox and pulled out a coffee can. He then reached into the can and pulled out a wad of bills wrapped in wax paper.
“I’ll go to the diner on the corner and call a friend,” Emily said. “She’ll take me back to the hospital and I’ll volunteer for another shift. In the morning I’ll report my car stolen. Make sure to dump it some place by then.”
“Will I be able to contact you?” Mickey asked, a little plaintively.
“Yes,” Emily said and handed him her car keys. “Our mutual friends will pass letters and news of each other.
“We need to go!” She said and toed Ketchum like a dead snake. “These bástardos could come to anytime.”
They stepped through the door and kissed again. Emily tore the red skull and cross bones armband from Mickey’s arm, threw it behind them and shut the door. They both smiled and walked away.