Pictures of an Old Murder
by Jonna Turner
The newest of the Highlands Ranch high schools, Coyote Canyon,
like a skeleton as the warm, dry, September wind blew through
its bones. A
Saturday and from where she stood, the site appeared deserted.
reached over the seat of her Wrangler. She grabbed her
thirty-five millimeter camera and a Broncos cap to keep her
copper-penny hair out of her eyes while
she shot pictures of the construction site for The
Highlands Ranch Voice.
Chunks of dry, rocky soil and concrete littered the barren,
construction-damaged ground. Brandi gingerly stepped around
the debris and climbed a packed, four-foot dirt pile to gain
an elevated position. She planted her feet in
the sun-baked soil and shot several pictures of the front of
building. Satisfied with the angle, she walked around to the
back of the
building where she noticed a red Jeep, a white Lexus, and two
Someone must be on-site today,
she thought, although she saw no one.
With no workmen in sight, she used the vehicles as the focal
point for her
next shot to give life to the picture. Next, she scanned the
with her zoom lens in search of something that might be
Suddenly, three men popped into her viewfinder. She steadied
and focused on them. Each man, she noticed, wore a yellow hard
hat, and they
appeared to be in deep conversation while they stood on the
fourth floor of the
steel and concrete structure. Brandi snapped a picture. Yes!
This would be
perfect for the front page of the next edition of the
For the moment, she ignored the men and checked her film. Six
shots left. A digital camera would have been her camera of
choice, but the paper still
insisted on thirty-five millimeter. She aimed her camera to
the west and
captured the hazy Rockies in the distance through the steel
Then, for one last shot, she aimed back toward the men. When
they came into
focus, she witnessed what appeared to be an argument in
progress. Their loud
voices carried across the site on the warm, afternoon breeze.
The shorter man, with curly red hair that poked out from under
hard hat, jammed his finger toward some sort of blueprints.
A taller, sandy-haired man in jeans and a black tee shirt
folded his arms
across his chest and shook his head.
Was this what her editor called local color? Brandi chuckled
Suddenly, the taller man shoved the shorter man who lost his
stumbled and fell backward over a large roll of insulation.
Brandi snapped another picture as the man tried to regain his
“Oh, my God!” Unable to stop herself, Brandi snapped another
picture. The man screamed and clawed at the air as he plunged
to the ground. Pop!
The man’s head smashed on a stack of concrete blocks. His body
a pretzel and sagged toward the ground.
Brandi raced toward the man who lay sprawled across the
expected the two men on the fourth floor to hurry down to
help, but when she
looked up at them, they only stared at her.
“Call 911!” She bent over the man.
Blood gushed from the side of his head. Helpless, she watched
choked on the blood that spewed from his mouth and nose.
“Oh, dear God!” Brandi looked back up to where the men had
were gone. “Please hurry!” she screamed. Why had she left her
She grabbed the man’s hand, not sure what else to do.
For one second, the man’s wild eyes focused on her and then
choking sounds stopped.
Brandi knew the man was dead. A cold chill clawed its way up
her back, and her hands shook when she released the dead man’s
hand. She heard a
scrunching sound and turned.
The taller man and a beefy, dark-haired man walked toward her
Finally. “Have you called 911?” she shouted.
The men continued toward her. The taller man bent down. He
piece of rusty rebar. Iciness burned hot in his eyes.
The shorter, heavier man followed closely behind. “Don’t!” he
pulled on the taller man’s arm.
The man shook off the hand that would restrain him and
purposefully toward Brandi.
Realization dawned—Brandi stood and ran. The men had no
helping her. They meant to kill her too. But why? What
to be an accident.
Brandi stumbled and tripped over the construction debris. When
reached the Wrangler, she yanked open the door and jumped in,
camera on the passenger seat, and jammed the key in the
The Wrangler exploded to life just as the men reached her.
“No!” She stood on the clutch and threw the Wrangler into
The taller man grabbed the door handle.
Brandi screamed. She hit the gas pedal. The Wrangler shot
threw the man to the ground.
He scrambled to his feet and ran around the side of the
building. “Give me
the keys to your truck!”
“Don’t do this!” the shorter man said, catching up to him.
“Just give me the keys!”
When the keys were reluctantly handed over, the man jumped
pickup and rammed the key in the ignition. The engine roared
to life. He
wrenched the steering wheel and stomped the gas. The truck
Brandi fought to control the Wrangler as it bounced over
ground. After she reached the road, she checked the rearview
A white pickup rounded the side of the building. The truck
bounced over the dry terrain. The tires spat dust and rock.
Brandi tore down the road and headed for C-470. Soon the
to the expressway came into view. She glanced in the rearview
The truck had almost closed the distance between them.
The Wrangler raced up the ramp and careened into traffic. She
her emergency flashers in hopes the other cars would let her
faster. They did. She swerved over into the left lane and
accelerator to the floor.
If she could make it to the Yosemite exit, the Douglas County
office would only be about a mile away.
The truck, now in the middle lane, was two car lengths behind.
Brandi shifted her Wrangler into the center lane, then into
the right lane. Horns blared. Tires screeched. She pulled onto
the shoulder and sped toward
the exit less than a quarter of a mile ahead. Again, she
glanced in the rearview
The truck merged into the right lane, one car-length behind
“Oh, no! He’s trying to pull up beside me!”
Brandi reached the exit ramp and braked hard. The Wrangler
the offramp. She fought for control, but the tires spun. The
It rolled down the steep incline, across the grassy embankment
traffic. Brandi screamed. “Oh, God!” She threw her arms over
The driver of an eighteen-wheeler, with his cellphone to his
ear, never saw
the Wrangler until it lurched onto Yosemite into his path. He
steering wheel to the right and stomped on the brakes. Tires
screamed. Brakes squealed. The truck jackknifed; the driver
crashed through the windshield.
The truck bed spun and slammed the cab into the Wrangler.
Suddenly, a loud
erupted. Torn metal and yellow flames shot into the air.
The man in the pickup pulled over to the side of the exit ramp
and wiped sweat off his face with his shirtsleeve. He watched
the fiery wreckage spread
across the roadway while oncoming cars veered off the road.
Tires screeched as cars skidded off the pavement onto the
shoulder and into the median.
He jumped out of the truck and ran down the incline. From a
Metal crunched; car doors slammed. Shouts and screams mingled
metallic mayhem and the whoosh of the fiery collision.
The man joined the crowd that now gathered to gawk. He scanned
area. Hopefully the camera burned along with the girl and the
he needed to know for sure. He remembered that the Wrangler’s
had been open, so the camera could have been thrown clear. He
looked up the hillside to his right where the Wrangler had
left the road and rolled down the
embankment. He spotted the camera. Yes! He strode
toward it. When he
reached the spot where the camera lay, he crouched in front of
it, with his back to the expressway and crowd. It was open—and
“That stupid—” He uttered a harsh laugh and climbed up the
When he reached the pickup, he opened the door and turned to
look down at the wreck. No one paid any attention to him. He
grinned and pulled himself
into the truck and threw it into gear. He had a body to bury.
“Are you through with the front page?” Lindsey asked. Val’s
daughter knew more about local and world events than she did.
Dressed in her favorite pink terrycloth bathrobe and matching
Val dropped Section A of the Denver News on the red
Formica breakfast bar
when she passed Lindsey to refill her coffee mug. Val looked
thirty-something-year-old kitchen while she poured her second
Renovation would definitely start here. The aged white
appliances and the
white metal cabinets had to go, although white kitchens were
fashionable. Obviously, the people who liked white in their
kitchens had not
grown up with white metal cabinets.
“Thanks.” Lindsey picked up the newspaper. She wrinkled her
nose and watched her mother pour coffee. “Don’t you know
that’s bad for
“What should I drink in the morning, carrot juice with a raw
With a smirk, Lindsey said, “You know what I mean. Caffeine’s
not good for your
blood pressure. Why don’t you try decaf?”
“If God had meant for coffee beans to be caffeine free....”
Lindsey finished her mother’s sentence—singsong. “...He
made ‘em that way to begin with.”
“Well spoken, daw-tuh.” Val resettled on the bar stool next
to Lindsey and sipped from her mug. Then, she set her mug on
reached over, and pushed Lindsey’s coppery hair away from her
Lindsey looked up from the front page and smiled. “When’s Dad
“Probably in a week or so. They should be finishing up with
“I’m glad.” Frown lines appeared between her green eyes.
“Seems like he’s always on the road
somewhere helping out somebody with something.”
“You’re right.” Elbows on the counter, Val took a long drink
The strong brew revved her slow-starting engine. She looked
over at her
daughter—seventeen, serious, and growing up too fast. “When
comes back from this trip, he should be home for a while and
get some of the projects done around here.” She paused for
more coffee. “So,
what’ve you got going today?”
Lindsey sipped her orange juice. “I’m meeting Hannah at school
on the first edition of the The Rover.”
“School doesn’t start until Monday, remember?”
“I know, but we want to get a head start on setting up the
Monday. Mrs. Claton’s going to let us in and help us decide
what to put in the
“Mmm.” Val nodded.
Lindsey, dressed in khaki shorts and a black tank top, checked
her watch. “I’ve gotta go. I promised Rachel and Erin I’d pick
them up.” She jumped up
and brushed a kiss across her mother’s cheek. “Love you,” she
before the door to the garage slammed.
“Love you, too,” Val called out too late. She sighed. How
old do kids have
to be before they quit slamming doors?
Moments later, Lindsey was back. “Oh, I forgot to ask you.”
She sat down
beside her mother again. “I...uh...was wondering if you would
I...uh...used Aunt Brandi’s camera to take pictures for the
Val choked on her coffee.
Lindsey patted her mother on the back. “Are you okay?”
Red faced, Val raised her hand to signify that she was still
alive. She grabbed a napkin off the counter to wipe her face
and the front of her robe.
A pained look crossed Lindsey’s face. “I didn’t mean to upset
mentioning Aunt Brandi, but I’d like to use her camera...if
All the horror of Brandi’s death returned. Tears smarted in
Val’s eyes, and
she swiped at the wetness with the back of her hand. “I’m not
even sure what
happened to her camera.”
Hope flickered in Lindsey’s eyes. “It’s in the basement—with
Val pulled a Kleenex from her robe pocket and blew her nose.
sure? I don’t remember seeing it when we packed up everything
“It’s down there. I...uh...found it yesterday.”
Val searched her daughter’s bright eyes and shining face—the
spitting image of her aunt. Young and eager, she seemed to be
following the path her aunt had taken. “I guess your aunt
would want someone to get some
use out of it.”
“Thanks,” Lindsey said, relief evident in her voice. She
headed for the
Swoosh. Swoosh. Creak. Creak. Click. Click.
Val heard sounds of small feet as they shuffled in house
shoes, the creak of old pine floors, and dog’s nails that
clicked on the hardwood in the hallway. The familiar sounds of
Val’s ten-year-old son, and George, his three-year-old golden
“Morning.” Sleepy-eyed Ryan hugged his mother and then opened
the back door to let George outside. Spiky brown hair stuck
out at odd angles
from Ryan’s head.
Val stood up and wiped away the last of her tears. “What do
you want for
“Cheerios,” Ryan mumbled. He shuffled over to the pantry door
pulled. The glass knob came off in his hand. “Not again!” he
whined as he
held up the guilty knob.
“Just lay it on the counter. I’ll fix it.” How many times had
she put that
knob back on? Maybe she’d use Superglue this time. Would
glass? Probably not.
While Ryan grabbed the box of cereal, Val pulled a bowl from a
and milk from the refrigerator. She placed each in front of
her son. He
climbed onto the red vinyl bar stool that had been vacated by
“It looks like you combed your hair with an egg beater this
Ryan poured cereal and milk. He grinned at his mother. “I
didn’t comb it.”
“My point exactly.” She took a spoon from a drawer, handed it
to him, and
poured a glass of orange juice, which she set beside his bowl.
to thank the Lord for your food.”
“I always do—to myself.”
“Here it is!” Lindsey called as she ran up the basement steps.
the basement door and walked over to her mother.
Val held out her hand. Caked dirt flaked off the black
millimeter camera when she turned it over. In a flash, Val
the mud-covered camera in a box at the morgue. It was the only
thing left after
the accident, except for a role of film and the rear license
plate of Brandi’s car.
A young police officer had handed her the film while she
paperwork on where to send her sister’s charred body. He had
about finding the roll somewhere near the camera. Not sure the
film was even
Brandi’s and not caring, Val had thrown the dirt-covered roll
in the box with
the camera. Vaguely, she remembered the box being placed in
the back seat
of her Explorer. Somehow it must have ended up in their
The inevitable click of Brandi’s camera at family gatherings
Val’s memory. In her mind, she could still see Brandi’s
freckled face, bright
smile, and shiny hair that swung around her shoulders. Val
instance where Brandi sneaked up behind her and snapped a
picture while she
mucked out the stalls in the barn. The sharp pain of the loss
of her sister
returned as Val stood, walked over to the sink, and brushed
dirt off the
“I also found this roll of film. I wonder if it’s any good?”
Lindsey said. “It’s got dirt caked on it like the camera.”
“I don’t know.” Val took the film. “This must be the roll
someone gave me
at.... It may not even be from Brandi’s camera.” She studied
it more closely.
“It looks like most of the film has been exposed.”
She paused, thinking. “Maybe I’ll take it to one of those
one-hour photo places today and see if they can develop any of
it.” If the film
had come from Brandi’s camera and if it was any good, Val
would have the
last pictures Brandi had taken.
“Do you think the camera still works?” Lindsey asked.
“I think we probably still have a roll of thirty-five
millimeter film around here somewhere. If you
really want to use the camera, I’ll try it out.”
Lindsey hugged her mother. “Thanks, Mom.” She walked over and
opened the door to the garage. With a glance back at her
mother, she added,
“Oh. Would you pick up some extra film for me if the camera
“Okay. Don’t slam....” Slam! Too late. Val grimaced and
leaned on the counter beside her son. She shook herself
mentally, not ready to allow herself
to slip back into the grief pit that it had taken her two
years to climb out of
after Brandi’s death.
She looked over at Ryan who dribbled milk and cereal on the
about you and George pose for some pictures for me so we can
try out your
Aunt Brandi’s camera?”
Ryan shrugged. “Okay.”
“Good. As soon as you finish your breakfast, clean up, and
how about we go down to the pond and see if this camera still
A frown crossed Ryan’s milk-speckled face. Gray-blue eyes, the
his dad’s, focused on the dusty camera. “Looks kinda beat-up
More loose dirt fell free from the camera when Val shook it
over the sink.
It was in reasonable condition considering that it had been
Brandi’s Wrangler before the crash. Tears welled in Val’s eyes