Fred Inman walks with a cane because of a .32-caliber slug he took in his left leg when two men tried to rob him a few years ago. A muscle was severed in the leg and now his foot swivels from side to side.
But that was not enough to deter him when he heard a girl fighting off two would-be rapists on a school playground. Hobbling to her aid, Inman heard one of the assailants yell, "Get back, old man. This is none of your business."
Inman made it his business, grabbed one of the men and freed the girl. Then he found himself staring down the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun. When he reached for the gun, the assailant fired.
Rubbing a bald spot on the top of his head where several shotgun pellets are still lodged, Inman said during a recent interview, "I'm not scared of no shotgun. Let 'em shoot. I may give out, but I'll never give up."
As a free-lance mechanic operating out of his back yard in Northwest Washington, Inman tries to mind his own business. But when he hears the sounds of people in distress, he becomes a crime fighter extraordinaire.
At 62, he is the personification of the area's Neighborhood Crime Watch program, and although he has not received any awards or public recognition, he has seven bullet wounds to prove that he does more than watch.
The 14-inch vertical stitch from his chest to his waistline came after doctors removed two of four .38-caliber slugs that were fired into his stomach during an attempted robbery of a grocery store. The other two slugs lodged so close to his spine that they could not be removed.
"I was left for dead but I was still able to get up and call for help," said Inman. "I went to the hospital and smoked a cigarette until the surgeon came. I felt good about it because the robbers didn't get anything."
What makes a man risk his life for neighbors and strangers alike is easy for Inman to explain. "Something inside me just clicks and says 'Do something,' so I do," he said.
Inman's efforts are well known by the longtime residents of his neigborhood around Third and Q streets NW, where he is regarded by many as a hero. Yet, some newcomers are not aware of Inman's sideline as a crime fighter and report him to police for working on cars in his back yard.
Inman said he was particularly disappointed with one of the complaining neighbors because, just a few days earlier, he had spotted a burglar leaving the neighbor's house, jumped in his car and ran the man down. The burglar escaped, but dropped the stolen goods.
"I wasn't looking for a thank you -- but I didn't expect her to call the police on me, either," he said.
Yet, if anybody respects what Inman does, it is the police, who are more inclined to give him a hearty handshake for fighting crime than a ticket for working on cars. Police know, even if some neighbors don't, that Inman's vigilance from his back yard workshop has helped reduce the area's drug traffic and has made their job easier.
Inman came to Washington from Richmond to join the Army in 1940. He decided to make the city his home because, he says, "There is plenty of work here and a man who works hard can make it." The main challenge to his belief came from criminals who wanted to steal what he had earned. But Inman would not go for that.
"Every time I got shot it would make me want to fight harder," he said. "My wife [who died 15 years ago] used to ask me to take care of myself. But you can't evade the issue: People must get involved, do what they can, stand up and be a witness, or else it will be dangerous for everybody."
He tells an old story about the time he was stranded outside of Camp Edwards in Massachusetts. He had been on weekend leave and had spent all his money "sporting with the ladies," and had passed out along the side of a road.
"Two women came by and picked me up, drove me 60 miles to where I needed to go, fed me -- did everything for me, and didn't ask for anything in return," said Inman. "I might have died a long time ago if they hadn't come along. Nowadays, the only thing I have to give is my life."