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A Few Good Men Do the Right Thing

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I'm so thoroughly boiled in bile after 30 years of cranking out newspaper and TV stories that I'm amazed whenever anybody does the right thing without working an angle.

This is an amazing story about one of my favorite people in the world and a couple of strangers who came into his world. To me, the whole world feels like a better place since I heard their story.

None of them were trying to get elected, or on the evening news, or on the cast of a reality show, or ahead in any way. Just a few good men who behaved beautifully in circumstances that would tempt the devil himself.

I won't tell you my friend's name, because he wouldn't like that. He may not even like that I'm telling his remarkable story, but I'll take that chance. We've known each other for more than 40 years, and if this story triggers our first argument, so be it.

One of the most interesting things about my friend is his attitude toward money.

"I hate money," he says outright, and what he means is that he hates the way it dominates and overshadows everybody's life.

A curious opinion from a guy who used to work on Wall Street, wouldn't you say?

So he's never been the kind of guy to run out and buy a flashy car. Quite the opposite. For as long as I've known him, my friend has driven nothing but economy cars, to put it gently.

One of them was a clunker he called the Blue Ghost. The horn didn't work on the Ghost, a condition my friend remedied by rolling down his window and yelling whenever he reached a blocked intersection.

The Ghost gave up the ghost one winter night on the Long Island Expressway, 30-something years ago. It's probably still on the shoulder of the road somewhere, a rusting hulk with weeds growing through the fenders.

My friend had the misfortune to park his latest car beneath a tree when a tornado hit the borough of Queens. A giant branch fell on the car, smashing the back window. My friend stretched a piece of black plastic across the gaping hole for a temporary repair that lasted a little too long. Weeks, maybe longer.

We all urged him to get the window replaced, and at last he got around to it. And while he was at it, he decided to have the inside of the car cleaned.

This was serious business. The floorboards were a rumor beneath a mulch pile of papers and other junk, and the interior was coated in the kind of grime that grows when your rear window has been absent for a while.

The cleanup was a major job, tackled by a team of Mexican-Americans who toiled away for hours to get the inside of that car clean and shiny.

My friend was astonished by the bill -- a hundred bucks.

"That wasn't enough, for all they did," he said. "So I took out another 50 bucks and gave it to the head guy, and told him to spread it around."

The head guy took the 50, glanced at his co-workers and pulled something from his own pocket.

"We found this in the car," he said softly.

It was a wrinkled envelope containing five hundred-dollar bills. Five Franklins, battered but undeniably legal tender.

My friend has no memory of having lost the money. He probably withdrew it from the bank a long time ago, got distracted in some way while driving, and dropped it on the ever-growing mulch pile.

He couldn't believe these guys were returning the money, and they couldn't believe what he did next.

"Here," he said, handing back one of the Franklins, "take this, too."

And he drove off into the sunset in his gleaming-clean, fully-windowed automobile.

One of the most cynical lines in modern American fiction was penned by author Charles Lachman in his hard-boiled novel In The Name Of The Law. A sleazy lawyer's attitude toward life is summed up in one sentence:

"The world is round, and nothing is on the level."

In keeping with that concept, it shames me to say that my immediate reaction to my friend's story was this: Those workers actually found a thousand bucks in the car, and only returned half!

"No way," says my friend, and he's absolutely right. Everybody in this story behaved honorably, and shame on me for doubting that.

So now I say this to you all: Breaking news! Stop the presses! There are decent people out there! Not everybody is working an angle!

Charlie Carillo, who's been known to work an angle or two, is a producer for the TV show Inside Edition. His novels "God Plays Favorites," "Found Money," "My Ride With Gus" and "Shepherd Avenue" are available on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents.