Perfect Murder, Perfect Town
Do roses know their thorns can hurt?" JonBénet asked me that one morning. I was the landscaper at the Ramseys' home during the last two years of her life, and it was the kind of question I'd learned to expect from her.
I remember how intelligent JonBenét was. That's why I never talked to her as if she were just a little kid. I spoke to her pretty much as I would to an adult, the way I'm talking to you now. We would discuss evolution, the natural mutations that occur in plants, animals, even people.
So when she asked me about thorns, I told her, "They're a rose's shield. They allow roses to survive. They keep away animals who might eat them."
She would follow me all over the yard, finding something to do wherever I was working. I was happy to talk with her, and would answer her questions about anything and everything. All the topics you'd call natural science seemed to interest her.
"What is a year?"
"That's the length of time it takes for the earth to make one trip all around the sun."
"So I've been around the sun five times?"
"Right. And you've almost finished your sixth trip."
I added that I'd completed the journey twenty-seven times. That stopped her. So many trips, she exclaimed. Then she became lost in thought.
That same week in September, the needles were falling off the pine tree and the sap had started to drip. "Why does a tree do that?" she asked. I wasn't certain I knew exactly, but I tried to explain--scientifically. "The sun helps pull the sap up from the trunk to the leaves." Then I compared the sap to human blood, said the sap carries nourishment to the whole tree. Anyone could see she was excited to learn about these things.
The neighborhood kids would come by from time to time. JonBenét seemed to socialize with them just fine. Her brother, Burke, was three years older. He almost never said a word to me. Just played by himself in the backyard, completely occupied with his own projects. Next to the sandbox and swing, in the pea gravel area, he dug a system of canals. Then he put a hose on top of the slide. The water poured down and spread perfectly throughout the elaborate waterway.
"Someday you're going to be an engineer?" I asked him.
"No," he said. Just a single word--no.
He always seemed to play alone.
Just then Patsy called from inside, "It's time to start your homework." I remember thinking, There's a mother who really cares about her children.
"Burke, come in and start your homework."
"OK, just a minute, Mom." It was like an old-fashioned TV show--Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best.
While I kept the gardens well-defined and tidy, as pristine as a golf course, JonBenét had her own projects. She would attach an exercise device to one ankle, and then, as it rotated several inches off the ground but parallel to it, she would hop with the other leg over the cord as it swung by. She'd keep this up for long periods on the back patio. And she was very good at it. It was kind of a cool thing--demanded good reflexes and coordination. I even thought of getting one for myself.
I figured her legwork was for the pageants. I could see the muscles becoming defined in her calves. I'd made a similar assumption when I saw her practicing the violin. I knew the competitions took a lot of preparation, but I never once saw her in makeup or costumes, never spotted her wearing anything but jumpers or jeans, or shorts and T-shirts.
I'd heard she was Little Miss Colorado, and I asked her if she was excited about winning the title.
"I really don't care about it," she said. It didn't seem to be a very big deal to her, or if it was, she certainly didn't let on. She seemed more interested in trips around the sun or the lifeblood of trees.
Perfect Murder, Perfect Town. Copyright (c) 1999 by Lawrence Schiller. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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