HELP IS JUST A CAPE AWAY
Some thought it was because he looked good in tights. Others said
it was a cop’s version of building a better mousetrap. But
when Mass Transit tactical officer Otto D. reported to work in
a Superman suit, everyone knew it’d be a night to remember.
Mass transit cops are the tunnel rats who patrol Chicago’s
subways. By riding the trains and acting as decoys on the subway
platforms, they snag the thieves, robbers and other predators
who strike beneath our city streets. The decoy operation is fairly
simple. Dressed in thrift-store clothes, one cop plays a drunk
slumped against a wall or across the floor. Sometimes inert, other
times muttering crazily to himself, he’s always positioned
to show his wristwatch and a few dollars protruding from a pocket.
His back-up team is hidden nearby, waiting for the subway rats
to take the bait. It’s standard procedure that’s usually
successful, but often boring. Exactly why Otto D. becomes Superman
one Saturday night. His costume won first prize at the last Halloween
party, but now it’s time for something different.
At the corner of State Street and Jackson Boulevard, the Mass
Transit cops descend the subway stairs with their plan intact.
Hatton will be the decoy. Decked out in baggy brown tweed and
a dangling gold pocket watch, he could be a college professor
after a crash course in Sour Mash 101. While he sprawls across
a bench, Mendoza and Young get out their screwdrivers. After removing
the hinges from a platform level maintenance closet, they tuck
‘Superman’ neatly behind the door. Meanwhile, Ward
and McCarthy crouch at the top of the stairs with a pile of shredded
newspapers and an industrial fan. Once they’re all in position,
it doesn’t take long.
Seconds after the ‘A’ train rumbles past, two young
thugs stroll down the platform, eyeing the drunk old geezer. Dressed
in dark jackets and baggy jeans, Jamal and Toad circle cautiously.
Nobody else is on the platform, nothing between them and a quick
score. Ten minutes from now, they’ll be fencing a watch
and splitting the contents of a fat wallet. The old freak’s
sure to have a lot of cash, Jamal tells his partner.
Only rich people carry pocket watches.
They move closer.
“Yo, man! What’s wrong wid you?” Jamal kicks
the drunk and waits. No response. Another nudge, and still nothing.
It’s their golden opportunity. While Toad grabs the watch,
Jamal reaches for the wallet, and all hell breaks loose.
“HIT!” screams the drunk. The closet door crashes
down on the concrete, echoing down the tunnel like a subterranean
“Shit!” screams Toad.
“Superman!” chokes Jamal. It’s the only word
he can manage. The Man of Steel has them both in a headlock.
“Yes!” shouts Superman. “I’m here to preserve
truth, justice and the American way!”
“I thought you was just some cartoon dude?” Toad gasps.
It does no good to struggle. For a cartoon dude, Superman has
arms like a vise. One wrong move, and he’ll toss both of
them on the tracks. And now that the ‘B’ train’s
pulling up to the platform, he might throw the whole damn train
on top of them.
Instead, Superman keeps them in his iron grip while an elderly
couple steps out on the platform.
“Look, dear, isn’t that Superman?” The blue
haired lady turns for a better look, but her husband tugs her
“Don’t bother him, Edna. He’s got enough to
do keeping the peace. Good thing, too. There’s never a cop
around when you need one.”
Now dressed in full uniform, Mendoza and Young saunter up.
“Hey, there, Superman. Looks like you’ve got your
hands full. Need any help?”
“Why, thanks, Officers!” While handcuffs are snapped
into place, the Caped Crusader scowls at the thugs. “Try
this again, and I’ll pulverize you into dust, you hear?
Nobody pulls this stuff in my Metropolis!”
Mendoza’s quick pat-down produces a quantity of weed, some
crack rocks and a filthy green glass pipe. He holds it up and
“Look, Superman. I think this is Kryptonite. Maybe these
two are tryin’ to off you.”
Toad nearly faints. Piss off the man of steel, and he’s
history for sure.
“Naw, man! That ain’t no damn Kryptonite! I don’
be messin’ with no Superman!”
He rolls his eyes in supplication. “I swear ‘fore
God, I ain’t never even seen Kryptonite before!”
“Doesn’t matter. I have the antidote. Kryptonite doesn’t
affect me anymore,” Superman growls. “I am invincible!”
“No shit! What, you take it like a flu shot or somethin’?”
Young can barely keep a straight face. “You fool! Can’t
stick needles in Superman. He bends steel with his bare hands!”
“It’s a patch,” Superman says. “Nicotine,
Kryptonite - takes care of all that stuff.
Science is a wonderful thing.” He takes a step backward
and raises his arm in salute.
“I’ve gotta go now. Time to get back out there, patrolling
Metropolis. But remember, Officers, if you ever need me, just
give me a shout. I’m only five minutes away by cape.”
“Justice will prevail! Always remember that!”
In perfect superhero form, Superman races up the stairs and vaults
over the turnstile. Positioned upstairs, Ward and McCarthy turn
on the fan and feed it with paper shreds.
“DAMN! Superman flew right on outta here!” Jamal shouts
against the gusting wind and paper.
“Whaddaya think?” asks Mendoza. “He travels
on roller skates or somethin’? You guys really are a couple
the courtroom the next day, defendants Jamal and Toad are seated
next to the public defender. The arresting officers, now dressed
in sport coats and ties, wait to be sworn in for testimony. Eying
them, Toad whispers frantically to Jamal.
“There will be silence in the courtroom,” the judge
pronounces. “This is not the time for private conversation,
“Them ain’t the dudes that locked us up!” Toad
“I beg your pardon?”
“Them coppers. They ain’t the ones from last night.”
The judge glares over his glasses.
“Are you saying the arresting officers aren’t here?”
“Hell, no, your honor. It was Superman who grabbed us.”
Mistaking the court’s silence for sympathy, Toad leaps to
“Here’s what happened, your honor. Superman come flyin’
down the subway tunnel. Then he tore up a couple trains with his
bare fists, then grabbed us and...”
“Counsel, approach the bench.”
Even before he gets there, the public defender knows what’s
coming. Not only does the judge think his clients are looney tunes,
but probably still high as well. Didn’t the arresting officers
also recover a quantity of controlled substances?
“Yes, your honor, but -“
And who does this crackpot kid think he is, tying up valuable
court time with his hallucinations?
Which is exactly why both defendants will be referred to the court
psychiatrist. Let him pick their brains for awhile.
“Yes, but -“
And one more word out of anybody will be taken as contempt of
court. Any questions?.......Didn’t think so.
At his psychiatric evaluation, Toad figures he can finally set
the record straight.
He’s not crazy. Once he tells the shrink what happened,
everything will be fine.
But fear, fatigue, and too many strange things in too short a
time are confusing him. Somehow, fact and nightmares jumble together
in one non-stop rant.
Superman locked them up, Toad confides to the doctor. Before he
knew it, they were flying through the air, over the subway trains,
and out above Wrigley Field.
When Toad tried to get away, he held them hostage on the roof
of the Sears Tower.
Told them he’d buzz over to Daley Center Plaza and skewer
them on the Picasso sculpture if they didn’t act right.
The doctor listens quietly, recording everything on tape. A half
hour later, Toad is still
ranting, about air sickness and Kryptonite patches and narrowly
missing the incoming jets at O’Hare Airport. When he extends
a skinny arm to the doctor, inviting him to check for ‘cape
burns’, the evaluation is over.
Jamal takes a different tactic. He may be crazy but he’s
not nuts. After entering a guilty plea, he’s sentenced to
three years at Joliet. On the recommendation of the court psychiatrist,
Toad is remanded to Dunning, a state facility for the criminally
Leaving the courtroom that afternoon, Otto D. a/k/a Superman suggests
a new Mass Transit slogan to his partners. An updated version
of “Dial 911- Make a cop come,” he explains. Something
different. Something the Man of Steel would be proud of..
“Help is just a cape away.”
2002 by Gina Gallo