Tabula Rasa

Here’s a story that gives almost no information to construct a piece of fiction from:

The tire tracks still remain on Parks Drive where a red 2000 Grand Am came to rest.

Powder Springs Police said they found 24-year-old Anthony Costner dead inside the vehicle. His common law wife, 22-year-old Catherine Costner, was clinging to life.

Police said the couple had been shot. But, amidst all the violence, officers made an amazing discovery in the backseat – a small child.

“The 22-year-old female in the vehicle sustained one gunshot.  The 24-year-old male received multiple gunshots. Luckily, the 2-year-old in the vehicle was unharmed,” Deputy Chief of Powder Springs Police Matt Boyd said.

Rescue officials rushed Ms. Costner and the couple’s daughter to Kennestone Hospital. Police said the 22- year-old didn’t make it, but her daughter who was in a car seat at the time, checked out fine and is in DFACS custody now.

Police said they are asking for the public’s helping finding out who shot the Costners and why.

“We are trying to establish anything that will become a lead…whether that is video, talking to any witnesses, so anything we can do we are looking into,” Boyd said.

Anyone who saw the Costners or their car over the last 48 hours should call police. Boyd said Crime Stoppers is offering up to a $2,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.

Poor little girl. Poor Costners. If the cops are willing to admit they’re clueless, they have really no idea who might have done this or why.

So let’s be respectful to them and imagine a very similar situation with two fictional victims. Keep the baby: it’s the best detail. Here you have something like the classic closed room mystery, with nothing but the blank slate of a bullet-riddled car. No evidence pointing at someone else, be it fingerprints or phone records. Clearly impossible for it to be a suicide. Where do you go? Writing fiction like this is a real challenge. How do you create someone more or less entirely outside the characters’ normal sphere of communication but who still has sufficient motivation to shoot them in cold blood? What kind of double life does one or the other lead that might create such a motivation, but which isn’t visible even to the cops?

The copout here would be to make it some kind of random crime: the much-discussed but rarely-seen “gang initiation”, some kind of trite serial killer thing, etc. A slightly less copout version would be a case of mistaken identity; but the article clearly states that the kid was in a car seat, and a kid that young needs a real car seat, and I know from long experience that a car seat like that is a real pain in the ass to move from car to car.

Of course, therein could lie the drama: you’ve got car owner, who is both impatient with the slowness of moving the car seat and nervous because in the back of his head he knows someone crazy or mean is out to get him; Mom and Dad, trying not to bicker over getting the damn straps right; and the baby saying something cute. And then they drive off, and Crazy Mean pulls up next to them, shoots Dad, realizes oh crap wrong guy, and feels bad about it but has to kill Mom, too. The baby’s one bit of babble will not actually be helpful here.

But then the New York Daily News follows up, and we get this:

Two Georgia parents who responded to a call for help from someone they knew were fatally shot early Thursday morning, with their young daughter in their car with them, police said…

Catherine’s mother, Cynthia Quinn, says her daughter was called by someone she knew in the middle of the night needing help.

“When they went to help these people, for whatever reason, a gun was pulled and my son-in-law and my daughter are now dead,” Cynthia Quinn said. “Her husband was shot in the face, the head and the hand. She was shot in the stomach, all in front of my granddaughter.”

So if this is true, presumably the cops have easy access to phone records, and can sort out who called when and track them down. So if they’re still clueless enough to admit it in public, that means that they talked to everyone and came up with nothing suspicious. If they had been called and went for help, and the cops talked to that person and excluded them from suspicion, then where does the story go?

In our fictional story, what’s important enough to put the kid in the car and have all three go? That would be the piece of drama the story hinges on. Someone needs a jump-start or whatever? Just send Dad.

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