Jonesy stood across the street, in the shadow of a doorway. The 22-year-old had been there for a couple of hours, casing the liquor store, waiting for street to grow empty.
It wasn’t like this was the first time he’d knocked off a place for money. Less than 10-hours before, Jonesy had held-up a gas station in Vernal, Utah, locking the old man in the supply closet, grabbing 30 bucks and stealing his truck.
That’s how he came to be in Reno, Nevada, planning yet another robbery. This time, the mom and pop liquor store, which he now stood across the street from.
“Odd,” he thought, “I don’t seem to be scared to do this shit anymore.”
Jonesy reflected back on the one time in his life that he’d been really scared, so scared he was nearly paralyzed – uncertain if the Gooks would kill him first or if the weather would. It was also the only time in his adult life that he prayed to God for mercy.
It was also the first time he’d ever been outside the United States, and he found himself in what he believed to be a god-forsaken country, fighting jus’ to survive. Chosin wasn’t even on most maps and yet he and his Marine buddies were trapped there, freezing and dying.
When the order came to move out, Jonesy recalled being relieved, “At least we’re gonna do something besides sit on our asses and die without a fight.”
The 78 mile trek from the reservoir to Hungnam left a lot of men dead, and those who had survived, emotionally damaged. That was nearly six-years ago and Jonesy still couldn’t get over the nightmares that terrorized him when he fell asleep.
He looked at his watch. Jonesy had it all planned out: hit the store, locked the woman behind the counter in a back room, grab the money and maybe a bottle of booze and then rush to the Mapes Hotel down the street, buy a ticket to San Francisco and hop the Greyhound jus’ as it pulls out of town.
Stepping out onto the sidewalk, Jonesy felt for the .45 in his waist band. He knew it was there, but it helped reassure him that nothing would go wrong with his planned heist.
The pistol was a hold over from his time in Korea. In fact, besides the boots he was wearing, the old rattle-trap was the only thing he’d managed to hang onto from that awful period in his life.
Up until that time, he’d never killed a man. But after wards, he could never say that again.
The pistol played a crucial role in keeping him and five of his buddies’ alive one night.
It began with the Skipper getting killed by a sniper. The ‘old man’ as they liked to call him never heard the rifle report or felt the piece of lead that slammed into his forehead.
He was dead before he hit the icy ground.
Jonesy was the first to react, grabbing the Colt from the dead man’s hand and firing into the rushing Chi-com’s as they tried to over run their position. Nine shots, nine dead Chink’s within a matter of seconds.
By that time, other Jarhead’s had begun blasting away into the darkness, ending the sneak attack that had killed the young officer lying at Jonesy’s feet. It wouldn’t be the last charge of the night – nor would those nine dead Slant-eye’s be the last Jonesy would send to hell during the fight.
Jonesy was a natural with the .45 and with the Gunny’s blessing, he kept the pistol even after shipping back state-side. Reassurance, that’s what the gun meant to him then and it meant the same now.
He crossed the street, pausing to look up and down the sidewalk. Jonesy saw only one man and the fellow was walking towards him at a fast clip and this concerned the Marine-turned-criminal.
“Something’s wrong,” Jonesy mumbled, as he watched the lone figure dart into the liquor store ahead of him.
Jonesy slipped the pistol from his waist band and thumbed the hammer back. He knew at the first sound of gun fire, that his plan had gone to hell in a heartbeat.
Suddenly, the door swung open, the little bell attached to door frame above it, ringing violently and Jonesy found himself standing face-to-face with a man pointing a revolver at him. Instinct kicked in and Jonesy leveled his .45 at the guy.
Flames erupted from both weapons simultaneously. He tried to side step the muzzle blast but instead Jonesy found himself falling backward as if in slow motion.
He dropped hard onto the sidewalk, the force seeming as if he’d been struck by a baseball bat. Still in combat-mode, Jonesy raised his pistol and fired three quick rounds into the man who was still holding the gun as if he planned to shoot again.
The bullets smashed into the man’s chest and he stepped back against the brick wall before slowly sliding sideways and down to the sidewalk. He was dead, staring off into the great void that only those passing from the living world would ever know.
A searing pain burned through Jonesy’s entire body as he lay against the cool concrete. He brushed his hand over his stomach, finding a hole jus’ below his navel.
Jonesy knew then that he was going to miss the 9:45 to Frisco. And for only the second time in his adult life he prayed to God, this time for grace.
“How long have I been here?” he choked out the words to the nurse as she hovered beside him.
“Four days,” she smiled as she offered him a sip of water.
“Where am I?” Jonesy asked.
The nurse smiled kindly, “You’re in the hospital. You were shot and you lost a lot of blood.”
The memory came to him like a jolt. He looked around the room puzzled, wondering why there were no cops around, but instead the room was filled with floral arrangements.
He waved a hand in a half-circular movement and asked, “What’s all this?”
“Flowers from well-wishers,” she responded.
“I…don’t…I don’t’ understand,” Jonesy replied.
“The man you who shot you,” she explained, “and whom you shot and killed – he was a very bad man – a baby-killer even. You’re a hero, Mr. Jones.”
She quickly fluffed the pillows under his head and shoulders, and stated, “I’ll be back. I need to let someone know that you’re awake.”
Sometime later a man wearing a stained trench-style coat, a weather-beaten fedora and smelling of stale cigars and strong coffee entered the room. Right away, Jonesy knew he was a police detective.
The man identified himself and explained what had happened and how it had been touch-and-go with Jonesy, but the doc’s were able to keep him alive. He also explained how the man that shot him had killed an entire family jus’ over the hill in California.
“You’re a hero, a genuine hero, Mr. Jones,” the cop stated. “We ran your background, a decorated war vet and now this.”
“But…” Jonesy started, “You don’t understand…”
“Ain’t nothing to understand,” the cop interrupted. “You killed a murderer right after he robbed that liquor store and shot Mrs. Pavlovich to death in cold blood.”
Jonesy shook his head, “No – you don’t get it. I was planning to knock that store off myself. I’m a crook!”
The ex-flat-foot didn’t look the least surprised, “Not today, you’re not.”
Jonesy looked up at him, confused and speechless.
The cop chuckled, “Enjoy it while you can,” adding, “You’ve earned it,” as he slipped out of the hospital room.