for Colleen MurphyThe children were killed first. Lined up in ascending order of height on their knees facing the wall, hands tied to their ankles, gags in place. First the five-year-old, then the six, then the seven, then the nine, and finally the mother, once her babies were dead and she’d suffered the unimaginable. By that point, more than likely, she’d welcomed it. One shot each to the back of the head.
The gun had been left behind, encrusted in blood the shag carpet had not been able to sop up. It was an incredible weapon. Costa could see that even through the scab that encased it. He was capable of that—separating what was beautiful from what was horrific—though he saw this not as a gift for fact but a personal flaw.
The gun was made by Steyr Mannlicher, a model commonly known as either a “forester’s rifle” or a “drilling.” Two 16-gauge barrels side by side, mounted above a 7-millimeter Mauser. The action was covered in silver filigree etched with flowers and fronds. The butt and forestock, as far as Costa could tell, and he knew more than a little about guns, were a varnished walnut, shimmering caramel. There was no rust anywhere, the bluing on the barrels as fresh and uniform as the day it had been first applied. The two triggers looked gold, also filigreed, each of them inscribed with the initials “TD.” Only the Mauser barrel had been used. There were exactly five shells on the floor.
The coroner, Lawrence, who arrived shortly after Costa, squatted near the bodies, using the tip of his pen to lift a finger here, a lock of hair there. The young one struggled the most, he said, indicating the lacerations around the wrists and ankles where she’d strained against the ropes. The mother had done the least, he continued. She just accepted it? Costa asked. Maybe paralyzed with fear or shock, replied the coroner. I’ve seen that sort of thing. But that kid fought like hell.
Costa rubbed his eyes. His first response to trauma was always exhaustion. It was not like ordinary tiredness. More like an inability to stay fully awake, to respond to threats with anything but a yawn.
The second was to get sick. It always happened later, hours or days after he’d left the scene. Costa never threw up on the spot, as some police did. It arrived with plenty of warning, giving him time to take off his tie, his shirt, his shoes, to set a towel on the edge of the toilet, along with a moistened facecloth to wipe the bile from his mouth. It was an illusion of control, he knew it, as if it were all happening at a time and place of his choosing, countered by the massive gut-wrench of spew that followed, as if his mouth were a rocket trying to blast his head through the roof. It happened, he was done, then he got up, got dressed, got back to work.
His wife, Amy, listened to him from her wheelchair in the living room. She always settled into the same corner, the walls to either side marked by a constant rubbing from the wheelchair’s black plastic handles. She felt safe there, watching TV. When Costa came out of the bathroom she said she was hungry and that her ass hurt from sitting all day and she would need him to give her a massage. Costa didn’t nod, but it was clear from his posture that he’d do as she asked, only don’t expect him to nod, because he was afraid his head would fall off if he did. Tony, Tony, Tony, she said, as if it were all his fault, this line of work he’d chosen, its effect on him, as if he were a child who hadn’t noticed that there were more important things in the world than his gratification.