An apology for my tardiness in posting this next adventure, especially to Mara. I can only plead technical difficulties and a migraine. However … and without further ado …
Previously, on ‘Identical’
Ciska, riding her bicycle along a lonely road, takes shelter from a nasty storm with a slightly confused Meg, whose car’s been stolen, and since recovered, with a dead woman behind the wheel.
Or … you can read the whole episode HERE
The clues are in. Mystery abounds. Just exactly what’s going on?
Storm clouds rumbled above Meg’s cottage until they ran out of steam and slunk off to hide out in the horizon. Inside, Ciska tossed and turned, unable to fall asleep even though she knew none of them were coming for her. Disgusted with her lack of discipline, she stomped into the kitchen in search of a cuppa.
Tea in hand she ventured into the back yard and stood under the deep roof overhang. She raised her cup to the silent flares of lightning still strobing inside the cloud cover to the east. “You missed again, you bastards.”
“You talk to storms a lot?”
Ciska spilled her tea and cussed under her breath. She must be getting old.
“As often as I can. “Birds as well. You couldn’t sleep either?”
“I keep thinking about that woman in my car.” Meg tucked her hands inside her sweater sleeves. “Tamsin sounded spooked. More than just another dead body would account for.”
“It couldn’t have been easy finding someone dead in your car.”
Ciska watched the sun tip over the horizon and shoot rays of light through the breaking clouds. She reluctantly emptied the dregs of her tea onto the grass and followed Meg back into the house.
“Thanks for the ride,” Meg closed the passenger door of Mrs. Connelly’s tricked out truck.
Mary Connelly had shown up on her doorstep and offered to drive her into town. Good news travels fast. Meg did feel grateful for Mary’s offer though, no matter what prompted it.
“Nasty business it is, dead people stealing cars!” Mary Connelly said by way of farewell.
Meg nodded. The logic was impeccable. “I’ll let you know how it goes,” she said.
Mary gunned the gas and pulled out from the curb in a screech of tires. Meg winced in sympathy for the pain Mrs. Connelly’s grandson would feel when he heard the sound from his repair shop across the road.
She took a deep breath and strode up the old stone steps into the RCMP detachment.
“Thanks for bringing these in,” Tamsin said. She took the bag containing Meg’s clothes from the previous day and passed it to another officer who hurried out of the interview room.
“I still don’t understand why you need them,” Meg said, leaning out of her chair to watch the constable disappear down the hall.
“It’s just part of the investigation. You know how these things go,” Tamsin said matter-of-factly, Meg didn’t buy it, but saved her misgivings for another time. “Your car’s been towed to Philby’s Yard. As soon as the investigation’s done you can pick it up there. It’s not as damaged as we thought.”
Tamsin picked up a notepad covered in scribblings that looked as though they’d been written with a thumbnail dipped in tar. Although Meg recognized the handwriting, she’d never been able to decipher Tamsin’s ‘secret code’.
“I do have a couple more questions for you though,” Tamsin said, and flipped the pad open to a clean page.
Ciska waited with Meg until the redoubtable Mrs Connelly arrived, then set off on her own to ride into town with the first breeze of a late arriving Autumn at her back. Those storms did something useful.
Her muscles felt stiff and sore. Definitely getting old. She snorked at the thought, and gritted her teeth until she loosened up and the road slowly began it’s winding descent into town.
Although motel receptionists sometimes balked when Ciska asked for a ground-floor room she got her way most of the time. Her bike and trailer looked so incongruous parked between the single and double beds though. She stripped naked and stepped into a hot shower.
As was her habit whenever she decided to stay in one place for a while, Ciska carried out a thorough inventory of her worldly possessions.
Her clothes lay in a crumpled pile on the bed. Soon it would be time to swap summer outfits for heavier clothing, which cost more money than she had. Time to go to work.
She sat back on her heels for a moment, staring beyond the motel walls. Something seemed out of kilter. More so than usual, if that was possible.
Perhaps it was this town. Perhaps it was Meg. Vulnerable and steel strong at the same time. A conundrum that teased her to solve. Not a good idea. Keep moving, keep ahead of the storms.
Her lithe fingers teased apart the complicated knot-work that held her toolkit closed. Small leather wrapped bundles contained hooks and picks, files and tempered steel saws. Neat rows of pockets held all manner of tiny pieces of metal that would’ve made a locksmith, clockmaker, or an old-time bank robber, drool. Tiny brass cogs, levers, and springs, tinkled against each other as she shook their bags and assessed their quantity. She removed her visor and lens case from their soft cotton wrapping and laid them on the open kit. These were the tools of her trade, her survival.
She hefted a small knife. Not the first one she ever made, but the first one she remembered. If memory defined a person, then this knife was where she began. Where her journey began. She turned it over in the palm of her hand and tested the edge with her thumb. It remained sharp and true.
A memory of carving the bone handle smacked against the harsh barriers in her mind.
She forced her emotions away from such dangerous territory and repacked the trailer. After ironing her least crumpled pants and shirt, she dressed to meet Meg for lunch at Silvan Joe’s.
As Ciska ambled along the sidewalk between her motel and the cafe she looked for nuances that might distinguish this small town from others.
It had a wide main street that probably connected the town to faraway places before a freeway isolated it. Two and three storey commercial buildings shoehorned themselves between the last crumbling residential holdouts, and a couple of lonesome fast food chains struggled against the long established eateries that parents and grandparents still patronized.
What would it be that set this town apart? Perhaps only her passing through it? It wouldn’t be that simple, it never was.
What was wrong with her today?
She banged through the wooden doors of the cafe that occupied one corner of the only intersection in town with traffic lights.
Ciska walked up to the order counter constructed from a single slab of wood reminiscent of the golden era of the logging industry. She rested her elbows on the polished surface, and chose her lunch selection from the blackboard menu hanging precariously above the head of a tattooed woman with a gap-toothed smile. Her name-tag said ‘Silv’.
“That’s ‘Joe’ in the kitchen,” Silv said, answering Ciska’s unasked question with an even broader grin that won Ciska over completely.
Looking over Silv’s shoulder into the open kitchen area, she saw that Silv and Joe had kept the tattoo parlor across the road in business for a good many years. “Pleased to meet’cha,” Ciska replied, letting a hint of an Aussie drawl escape into her voice.
Silv shook her hand. “Nice to meet people with interesting pasts.”
“You have no idea.”
Meg buried herself in one of the dog-eared thrillers she always carried to while away the time, whether it be in a queue or in a cafe waiting for someone who was, she checked her watch, late. She looked up and did a double-take as a tall brunette walked over to her table.
“Ciska,” she said, and stuffed the book in her bag. “You look … um …”
“I scrub up fairly well, eh?” Ciska sat across from her but Meg noted she’d made sure she had a clear line of sight through the plate glass window and out into the street.
“Have you ordered?” Ciska asked, then nodded toward the RCMP detachment that stood kitty-corner to the tattoo parlor, gas station, and the cafe. “How’d that go?”
Meg, still flummoxed by her realization of how drop dead gorgeous Ciska looked, tried to gather her thoughts by hiding in the bottom of her empty coffee cup, looking out the window, anywhere else but at Ciska.
Silv arrived with a pot of hot coffee, inadvertently rescuing her before the potentially embarrassing silence grew any longer.
“Lunch’ll be about twenty minutes. Joe’s making it from scratch ‘cos Meg’s a regular, and that makes you family too,” Silv said to Ciska, as she returned to the bar.
Meg cleared her throat. “I’m not sure how it went. Tamsin wouldn’t tell me why she wanted my clothes. And she asked me a lot of questions about my childhood, my family history.”
“If I had any close women relatives about my age. A half-sister, first cousins. Someone who maybe looked like me.” Meg shrugged in denial. “I’m an only child of only children. She knows that. If I had a half-sister surely I’d know. My parents, my mother, would’ve told me.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Everyone has secrets.”
“Not my mother. She’s exploited every skeleton in every closet she’s ever come across.”
A shadow blocked the light from the window. Meg looked up and smiled. Her lunch date was turning out to be full of surprises.
“What’s this about skeletons?” Tamsin asked as she pulled a chair from a nearby empty table, straddled it, and folded her arms across the back.
Meg gazed at the two women. Ciska had ten years and a few more grey hairs than Tamsin, but otherwise, they’d been cast from the same mold. She refrained from mentioning her discovery. They’d never believe her.
Silv returned with their food and the tableau broke apart. Ciska introduced herself and Meg explained how she and Ciska met. Tamsin turned her chair the right way around and flouted regulations to reveal why she’d joined them. She slid a thin stack of pictures out of an envelope and laid the first one on the table.
“This is a photograph of the clothes you were wearing yesterday.”
Meg lowered her sandwich and studied the image. “Yep. There’s the coffee stain, which has now permanently ruined my favorite blouse because you refused to let me wash it”
Tamsin’s somber expression didn’t change. “And this,” Tamsin placed a second 8×12 on the table. “Is what the deceased was wearing at the time of the accident.”
“You’ve got them mixed up,” Ciska said.
“No, I haven’t. Here’s another shot. Same clothes, different angle.”
Meg’s hand shook as she touched the third photograph. “Are you sure these aren’t my clothes?”
Ciska slid the photos from underneath Meg’s hand and leaned over them. “The same clothes,” she said. “The same coffee stain.” Her voice fell to a whisper. “It’s not possible.”
“What going on, Tam?” Meg asked, her voice no louder than Ciska’s but sharp with fear. “Is someone impersonating me?” She shoved the pictures back across the table. “Or is this someone’s idea of a joke?”
“It is most definitely not a joke,” Tamsin said. “Why would anyone go to all the trouble of impersonating you then drive off the road in your car, that you don’t remember losing, and end up dead in a ditch?”
“I told you before. I don’t know!” Meg had finally found her anger. “Who is this woman?”
Tamsin pulled a fourth picture out of the envelope. She laid it on top of the others and pointed to the cadaver’s face. “She’s your twin.”
Stay tuned for Episode 3 of …
And as a bonus, “A Bush Christening’ – with a slight embellishment! For my Aussie readers, and anyone whose read/heard the original, you’ll understand why I was in tears of laughter by the end.