Three-year-olds understand how triggers work but curiosity fuels their looks down the barrel.
He knew more than his parents thought. Maybe the gun safety course was only taken by one parent instead of both. Perhaps a recent burglary kept the weapon readier than recommended. Hard to say but the boy could tell us.
He could tell us if there were multiple hiding places for the weapon. He could compare the weight of the gun to something else he previously held: maybe a toy, a rock or a truck. He could tell us if the odor of gun oil accompanied his discovery. He could tell us how easily he pulled the trigger. Maybe it was a revolver: they don't have safeties. He could tell us the last thing he thought about before his skull was opened.
Joe* got the call after the three year old opened his own skull. Radio traffic is supposed to be monotone and unemotionally. He heard the 911 operator say that the child shot himself and had to say, "10-4...en route" because that's what you say when you're a cop.
When there's been a gunshot, the ambulance waits at a safe distance to make sure the scene is safe. Joe was the first cop the scene; the first to see. When a cop gets to the scene and is safe, the cop checks in with the 911 operator again. "10-2" means "I'm safe."
Joe might have said "10-2" in a monotone. Instead of waiting for the ambulances however, Joe scooped the child up and started driving toward the hospital. Maybe radio traffic belied his emotions. Ambulances caught up to him on the way and took the three year old away.
At some point on the shift, Joe had to tell the 911 operator he was done at the house and could take another emergency call. Cops say, "10-8" when they're ready for the next one. He said, "10-8" but his readiness was a matter of opinion. Was he ready to dust for fingerprints after a car radio was stolen? Was he ready to talk to the warring neighbors about a property line? Was he ready to check on a lonely widow who calls 911 for company?
Maybe he was ready for the next call. Maybe after he washed the blood out of the back of the cruiser, he was ready. Maybe after he made sure no brain, bone, blood, urine or feces were on his uniform, he was ready. Maybe after he took a minute to process, he was ready.
When I called Joe, he wasn't ready to talk. When I texted Joe, he didn't text back. Maybe he wasn't ready to talk to a fretting chaplain he knew was going to ask him stupid questions. Maybe he wasn't ready to do anything except say "10-8" again. The more calls he takes, the more distance he puts between him and the three year old.
There have been other rough ones. His peers say Joe has a "$#!+ magnet" on his belt. Most of them add "Sorry chaplain."
I've seen Joe since that night. He cleans up nicely. We talk. He even talked to me about the three year old, a little bit. I don't know if the child was black or white; never asked.
Joe is white and I'm black. I try not to say anything stupid.
Prayer helps. I say the stupid things in prayer.
I don't have much to say to a cop like Joe. Words fail but listening helps.
Sometimes words fail when I pray for Joe and his magnet but listening helps.
Sometimes, when I listen to the Lord, I hear, "Alex, go down there again."
Words fail but I manage a, "10-4."