During four decades of law practice I’ve had some close calls. Once, the brother of a woman murdered by our client, (oops, I meant “allegedly murdered”), tried to run me down with a car as I crossed the street. A female caller said a bomb was under my new dream home. A man threatened to torch my law office during a capital murder trial and a fellow actually told me face to face that he was going to kill me. I’ve been threatened with numerous “whuppins.” All in a day’s work. But the attempt to assassinate me was the most intriguing. It occurred during the time the “Slingshot Bandit” was terrorizing Athens merchants. Each morning, Athenians woke to discover that another merchant’s window had been shot out. It was a drive-by-shooting southern style – rather courteous and respectful – no gun, no bullet, no one injured. Just a steel ball bearing and an old fashion slingshot was the weapon.
It was a mystery to citizens. Why would anyone want to shoot out store windows? Morning coffee drinkers at Dub’s Burgers were on the case.
“Maybe Ernest T. Bass moved from Mayberry to Athens,” said one fellow.
“Nah, this is strictly high-tech,” said another. “He’s using steel ball bearings.”
“Whoever it is must have plenty of money, they don’t give ball bearings away free.”
“And he’s smart,” said another. “Ball bearings ain’t traceable.”
Athenians were stumped. Who was committing these crimes and why?
My law office was located at 212 South Marion Street. A large window was located directly behind my desk chair. I liked to swivel around and look out the window at the Maple trees across the street, especially in the fall. One morning I arrived at work and found a bullet hole in the glass about head level behind my chair. Had I been present, my head would have caught a bullet for sure. I was puzzled. The only woman I knew who owned a gun was my wife, whom I eliminated as a suspect after she had stated on several occasions that I wasn’t worth wasting a bullet on. I didn’t call the cops. I set out to solve the crime before the assassin struck again.
Who would want to kill me? And what was the motive? Perhaps it was a client whose divorce case I had lost? Too many to count, I concluded. First, I had to find the spent bullet. I inserted a pencil in the bullet hole and followed its trajectory toward a row of files in the adjoining room where the door was always open. No spent bullet was found.
I stuck a wad of toilet paper in the bullet hole to keep out flies, mosquitoes and such. Clients sitting in front of my desk took notice.
“Say, ain’t that a bullet hole I see?” asked a fellow.
“Yeah, probably an irate woman in a divorce case trying to assassinate me,” I said nonchalantly.
“Darn! You must be a pretty good divorce lawyer if someone is trying to kill ya.”
“Awww, it could happen to anyone -” I replied.
“-Or a pretty bad ‘un,” he added.
I changed the subject
The tissue remained in the bullet hole for months and I got a lot of mileage out of it. I could have easily doubled my fees in divorce cases, but didn’t.
One Monday morning I arrived at my office and found a steel ball bearing resting in my chair. The cleaning lady had found it in the carpet over the weekend. The Slingshot Bandit, not an assassin, was the culprit! I was disappointed.
In the future, when a client saw the hole behind my desk chair and exclaimed: “Wow! Is that a bullet hole?” I’d reply, “it sure looks like one.” I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t worth killing.
Later, the Slingshot Bandit was arrested by the Athens Police Department. I knew him well. He hired me to defend him.
“Why did you shoot out my window?” I asked.
“I don’t remember,” he replied. “I could’ve made a mistake and shot out the wrong window.”
The only thing worse than not being worth killing was having my window shot out by mistake. Life has its disappointments.
By: Jerry Barksdale