“Yeah,” the cop said. “That’s your basic death threat. They do that once or twice, with the idea being that if you don’t stop whatever it is they don’t like, next time they’ll fire into the house.” He pulled a flashlight out of his belt to better examine the bullet. “Hollow-point bullet,” he said, “but it looks homemade.”
“Thought that, too. Hey: don’t mind me, but you looked a little serious when you came up to the house.” It was cinematic-moment serious, a blinding flashlight up high in one hand and the other hovering over his sidearm, ready to draw.
“Oh, we know this address. Seems like every couple of weeks, one of us had to head out here to pick up one of the boys who lived here — big family; can’t remember the name. Spanish.”
“Picked ’em up for what?”
“Stolen car, usually. One time, the vehicle was actually in the driveway as we drove up.” He laughed. “Your car been stolen?”
“Well, when the address went out on the radio, I hurried over, thinking, ‘Not again!’ You can imagine what I thought when I pulled up and saw a little red convertible with a hole cut out of the roof. Say: how long you been here?”
“About a month. I think it was empty for a month before that.”
“That’s about right.”
“My car got stolen this summer. They recovered it maybe a mile from here, behind a furniture store. Hispanic gang initiation, they said.”
“Huh,” said the cop. “Wouldn’t that be a coincidence?”
“Mmm-hmmm. So, what do I do about the death threats?”
“Oh, they’ll stop, once they see that the family who was here ain’t here anymore.”
My sense of politeness wrestled with my sense of self-preservation.
“Do you have any ideas,” I said, “about how best to let these people, whoever they are, know that this family no longer lives here?”
“Huh,” he said. “Okay, here’s what you do: put a sign on the backdoor: ‘To whom it may concern, the Whatever family no longer lives here.’ Can I use your phone?”
We went inside and he called a friend of his at the electric company. “Hey, I got a guy here, he’s getting death threats meant for the family used to live here. He’s gonna put up a sign warning them off. Any way of sharing with me the name of the family?” He rattled off the address. “You’re a peach. Thanks.” He hung up the phone. “Lopez,” he told me, and I finished the sign I’d started while he was making the call. I taped it up at waist height, where it’d be sure to be seen by someone crouching to place a second bullet on the porch.
I really hoped that I was finding the first bullet, and not the second one.
“Thank you, officer. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
“Well, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate knowing that I don’t have to come out to this address anymore.” His foot slipped out from underneath him a tiny bit as he made his way across the living room to the front of the house. “Spill something over there?” he asked.
I walked over near the fireplace. Sure enough, the dampness was returning, and the wet-dog smell with it. Very loudly in my head, I said bad words.
He tipped a non-existent hat at me. “Everybody’s got a job to do,” he said. I thanked him again and he disappeared out into the night, then the next day I went back to work.