By David Wilkinson
What goes up must come down. As our family recently discovered, that includes a .40-caliber bullet.
Our daughter Meredith, driving a car she had borrowed from a cousin for a month-long summer job, was preparing to return to Fort Worth after enjoying Father’s Day weekend with us. I volunteered to back her car out the driveway. As I looked over my shoulder to steer the car through the gate, I noticed the back window looked like a transparent jigsaw puzzle rather than clear glass.
I got out to investigate and there it was — a dark bullet hole at the center of a milky-white circle in the tinted glass.
That’s not a good way to start your week.
We quickly traded cars, sent Meredith on her way, and called the police. A half-hour later, Officer Luna, my wife Melanie and I were examining the bullet hole. I had surveyed the crime scene before the officer arrived and concocted a scenario that someone had fired a shot from the alley behind our house. Maybe a neighbor took a crack at one of those noisy, nasty grackles that give birds in Central Texas a bad name. The bullet, I theorized, had struck the back of our house and ricocheted into the car window. I had even picked out an indention in the Austin stone that seemed to be at the right height and angle for the bouncing-bullet scenario.
Officer Luna removed his shades, retrieved a penlight from his pocket and carefully inserted a pencil through the bullet hole, a la Horatio Caine on “CSI: Miami.” My theory was quickly blown away by the evidence. The steep trajectory of the bullet’s path indicated that it had literally fallen from the sky. We were the random victims of a bullet fired into the air, perhaps a block or more away.
Upon closer examination, it appeared the bullet had gone through the glass and struck the plastic cover over one of the rear speakers. I wondered if whatever remained of the bullet might even be resting under the speaker cover. Officer Luna scribbled a few notes on a pocket-sized pad, called for a case number from dispatch and gave us an index-card sized form. If we did find a bullet, he said, call the number on the form.
The next day while I was sitting in the car outside the Toyota dealership waiting on an estimate for replacing the rear window, I got a call from a long-time friend in Atlanta. I mentioned the incident to him. “I’m glad no one was hurt,” he said, and then told me about a tragedy in Atlanta earlier this year. A four-year-old boy sitting in church beside his parents was killed by a bullet that fell from the sky and pierced the roof of the church.
Two random incidents, 750 miles apart. Two bullets fired into the air. One strikes a car window, costing us $200 to replace and inconveniencing us for a day or two. The other strikes an innocent child and shatters a family forever. (What words of comfort, I wonder, do you offer the grieving parents of a toddler killed without warning by a stray bullet while he was sitting in church?)
On the way home from the dealership, I stopped at a locally owned store that installs vehicle sound systems. I had looked for a way to pull the speaker cover off, but didn’t see how to do so without doing more damage. The two windows in the small, dimly lit shop were covered by iron bars. The guy behind the counter was talking animatedly into his cell phone, gesturing with tattoo-covered arms. By the time he hung up, I knew a lot about him. He was trying to locate a house to rent for him, his wife and their five German shepherds. Not surprisingly, he owned the impressive Harley-Davidson parked out front. And he was a former cop.
I briefly related my little Crime Scene Investigation project and asked if he could show me what it would take to remove the speaker cover. He offered to take a look. In less than two minutes, he had yanked off the bottom and back parts of the rear seat, pried the panel behind the seat up a few inches and wedged his hand under the speaker cover.
“Yep, there it is,” he said.
He crawled out and plopped a cold piece of metal in my hand. “Looks like a .40-caliber,” he offered.
I thought about keeping the bullet as a keepsake, but instead I dialed the number Officer Luna had given me, and another police officer showed up about 30 minutes later to pick it up. But I did take a picture of the bullet as a reminder of the interplay of physics, human behavior and randomness.
It’s also a reminder that too often I live under the illusion that I’m in control of my life. Maybe tomorrow I will lean a little more into the hope that ultimately God is in control.