Ivy '05: Past Wreckage

There is blood on the dingy blue walls, a fanning spatter pattern that indicates the shooter was standing no further than 5 feet when he pulled the trigger. A shot gun at that distance tears grown men in half, or nearly that. Imagine what it can do to a child.

The carpet is sticky, older stains and newer stains, and an unbelievable amount of blood soaked clear through the carpet and into the pad. They'll pull it up and most likely reveal that the blood had pooled on the concrete slab. Eventually mold and hungry microorganisms will take up residence, feeding and growing on the proteins, and no amount of scrubbing will ever bleach out the stain.

Denver CSIs have been in and out all morning, but evidence still needs to be collected, from this bedroom, from the other bedroom, from up and down the hall, the kitchen. Trying not to make footprints out of all this blood has been difficult, but they've managed. They've managed to make the entire crime scene very clinical, very taped and tagged and photographed within an inch of its cramped, grimy existence.

The beige curtains have been drawn, enough light streaming in to glance off the motes in the air and spotlight the fact that Ms. Colletti might have been a good mother but a terrible housekeeper. That's what the photographs will say; another poor single mother, couldn't keep a home, probably neglected her children.

For those who care to look closely, they will see a different picture, painted lovingly, painstakingly: a mother who most likely spent every spare cent on making sure her son was happy. His clothing is newer than hers, his shoes in better condition; new toys are equally mingled with the old, and there are well-worn and dog- eared children's books by the bedside. She probably knew Green Eggs and Ham by heart, but he liked to look at the pictures.

Housekeeper or not, it is highly unlikely that her last thoughts were that she should have vacuumed under the sofa or washed the week-old dishes in the sink.

There is a wallpaper border around the top of his bedroom, a whimsical little nautical pattern with tug boats and sailing ships, only it doesn't wrap all the way around. Maybe mom didn't have the money to buy enough of it, or maybe she never got around to putting the rest of it up, or pulling it down. His pajamas are baseball- themed, like his bed-spread, little balls and bat and mitts, bright colors for a happy, normal, six-year-old. The stuffed animals seem uniformly well-loved, but there is one in particular that was his favorite. The teddy bear saw it all. He was clutching it when he died.

There are no defensive wounds on her hands or arms, no sign of struggle, old track marks on her arms, no sign of rape. The position of her body indicates that she saw it coming, knew it was coming, probably prayed that it wouldn't touch her son. This is a personal crime, a message, from one gun-runner to another. Maybe it's even revenge, not that it makes a damn bit of difference.

Really, this homicide isn't the jurisdiction of the ATF. Only peripherally do we have any business here. The apartment just happens to belong to someone we wanted for questioning. Ezra and I just happened to knock. When there was no answer, we tried the door and found it open.

Ezra's expression never changed, which is when you know something is really eating him alive. His strength on the job isn't a poker face, it's how easily he changes faces, shifting, adapting, he's either laughing or smiling or deadpanning, but not mimicking the dead. Not pulling down the blinds, frozen pale in rigor, showing absolutely nothing. That he only does when he can't cope.

While Ezra put on his own face of death, we cleared the apartment, called the cops and the coroner, and I went outside and threw up. He appeared moments later and handed me a crisp white handkerchief and his flask of bourbon. He didn't say a word. Neither did I. He went back inside; I stopped at the door.

I'm still standing here just inside the front door, leaning against a bookshelf with more knickknacks than books, smoking cigarette after cigarette, fucking up my patch of carpet with ashes, dropping the butts into the sludge at the bottom of a coffee cup. I guess that's too much to be doing all at once because I don't ever remember feeling so exhausted. I don't even know whose cup this is, or was, but it is slowly filling to the brim with evidence of my need to remain calm.

I keep hearing this stanza of a poem, over and over in my head. The little toy dog is covered with dust, but sturdy and staunch he stands; the little toy soldier is red with rust, and his musket molds in his hands. Time was when the little toy dog was new and the soldier was passing fair; and that was the time when our Little Boy Blue kissed them and put them there.

I wonder if Ms. Colletti read that poem to her son, and I wonder if he understood it.

His stuffed animals with their glassy black eyes got to watch him be torn in half, their brown and polka-dot fir splattered goopy red. Apparently he peed his pants before he was shot and all I can stand here and think about his him hearing her scream, her thinking about him, both of them praying that the inevitable wouldn't happen. The only saving grace is that little Peter Colletti wouldn't have known what was really going to happen until it did.

Now the whole mess is someone else's problem. Someone else gets to catch the shooter and we get to go back to working on our cigar smugglers and the guy who makes gin in his back yard. I wonder if someone has phoned the grandparents. I wonder when they'll find the father. And I wonder if he will double over on the floor and convulse with denial, screaming inside his head until the screams break loose and they have to drag him away so he doesn't hurt anyone, or himself.

Every time I think I'm past it, every time I think it's over and I can move on, something happens to remind me that I'm not really any further away from it than I ever was. I was only a phone call away the first time, Buck's voice on the line telling me the worst news any friend has to tell another, and for so long I couldn't think of anything else.

I tried to – think of other things. Everything. It didn't take Buck and one very memorable conversation where we used each other as punching bags to appraise me of the fact that I had turned into an obsessive, overbearing, micro-managing tyrant at the office. I know that's how I was; it was my way of coping. If I could control everything, then nothing could slip between my fingers. If I watched all the angles, then I could always see everything coming.

It took me several years to let my men do the jobs I'd hired them to do without second-guessing every move they made.

Then I hired Vin.

Talk about things you don't see coming.

I don't think there are words to describe how shocked I was to find myself in love with another man. Likewise I can't conjure up a phrase to accurately express how it felt to take him to bed the first time. Like living again, maybe.

Quiet, unassuming, confident, and so very strong – Vin doesn't know just how strong he really is. I clung to that, I think, from the beginning. He was the last man I brought onto the team, and the first person I let into my heart. Everything clicked around him, fell into place. He became the center cog in a mechanism that I had previously thought was functioning just fine. Just like me.

The team found its final member; Vin found a family; I found myself in love.

I wouldn't give him up for anything – job, friends, house, money, anything. I like to think that I make him happy, that I give him what he gives me, but I can't seem to let my past stay in the past. I always end up back here, or somewhere, in a room or on the street or walking by someone who wears my wife's perfume and I realize that all I have to give him is my baggage. More luggage than on most international flights.

Aye, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand, each in the same old place, awaiting the touch of a little hand, and the smile of a little face. And they wonder, as waiting these long years through in the dust of that little chair, what has become of our Little Boy Blue since he kissed them and put them there.

I am so afraid that Vin will tire of that, of living with my ghosts, of me not being able to release them, finally, and move on. I keep moving, but it's only in place. I am treading water, clinging to the wreckage of my past. I am so afraid that I'll never get past it, that I'll never be able to let go.

I need to let go – for his sake, for mine, but mostly for ours. I love Vin beyond reason, and I lie awake at night, afraid that one day I'll call Sarah's name in my sleep, and he'll know. He'll know just how terrified I am of living without them.

Ezra tells me we should head back to the office; there's nothing more we can do here. I'll be sure to ask the Coroner what will be done with their bodies. A decent burial is the least I can do, the least effort I can make, to help them, those who are beyond help. Everyone deserves to be mourned, to be remembered. A little boy who loved his mother and a mother who loved her son. There is nothing in the world more worthy of memory.