The clues are in. Mystery abounds. Just exactly what’s going on?
Sweat trickled from underneath Ciska’s helmet, slid down her back and soaked her shirt. The chronometer strapped to her handlebars reported that she’d ridden 37 kilometers since she started out, at an average speed of 15 kph, and the time was 5:27pm PDT. Like all her equipment her timepiece was precision tooled and multi-functional. Not that such measurements had any great meaning for her anymore, but it was a way of keeping score.
She crested a slight hill, pulled over onto the parched grass at the side of the dilapidated backroad and hitched her bike up on it’s stand.
Her spine cracked as she stretched and surveyed the mountain range she’d ridden out of. Towering thunderclouds tumbled down their wildfire scarred flanks. Booming thunder, still hungry, echoed across the empty plains as it chased her eastwards. It would catch up with her sooner rather than later, but she decided to make a run for the next town anyway. She had no desire to spend another night in her tent surrounded by these determined storm clouds.
Ciska eyeballed her bike and trailer for any signs of deterioration. With a satisfied nod she snapped the chinstrap on her helmet closed, and set off.
The long hot Summer had brutalized the Interior. Even now, with Fall looming close, the surrounding hills shimmered and baked in the heat, thirsting for the coming storm.
Most of the fields she rode past had already been harvested and only opportunistic hunters patrolled them. Ciska flinched as a flurry of wings flashed across her path.
“Silly bugger!” She yelled. “I hope it was worth it.” The bird veered back across the road with a writhing victim in its claws. “I guess it was,” The bird ignored her and flew into the hills. “Thanks for dropping by.”
A tailwind buffeted her bike. The smell of impending rain pestered her senses. Oppressive yellow-tinged shadows hurtled along the road, overtaking her and stealing the harsh sunlight.
The quiet fields finally gave way to a loose row of tired old houses strung out along the road. Each one huddled into itself as though to caution unwelcome strangers.
If she’d taken the main highway, a shorter distance into the next town, rather than this looping scenic route, she’d be riding through a ghetto of car yards, fast food joints, and mini strip malls by now. In spite of her grim surroundings she remained content with her decision.
A buckshot shredded sign announced twenty five more kilometers to her destination, a well deserved shower in her pre-booked motel room.
Storm driven gusts rocked her bike and jerked her out of a hot water daydream. Heavy ice-cold slugs of rain splatted against her helmet, heralding the downpour. Thunder cracked. A lightning strike crashed into the road behind her.
A house loomed up on her left, closer to the road, a little more welcoming than the others. Its veranda looked deep enough to shelter under. No light shone through the closed curtains. She’d apologize for dripping on the veranda if she needed to.
She unhitched the trailer, dragged it up the shallow steps and across the weathered timber boards, then staggered out into the pouring rain for her bike. High and dry, she hurriedly changed out of her wet things into what she called her ‘shlumping clothes’ and dried her hair as best she could.
She knocked on the front door of her temporary refuge as the storm broke overhead.
Meg dropped her car keys on the kitchen table and slid into a hardbacked chair. Static electricity generated by the storm spun her dark hair around her head like an Escher spiderweb. She waited for the wave of nausea that would confirm, as if she needed any reminding, that she really didn’t like thunderstorms.
Several generations of women had sat at this very table and, as she’d been frequently reminded throughout her childhood, not one of them had ever thrown up because of something as ordinary as a thunderstorm. Their shades were probably snickering while they danced, like dervishes, in the rain.
Swallowing hard, she began to make a cup of tea. A loud knock startled her so much the kettle clattered into the sink.
Ciska’s contemplation of the storm came to an abrupt end when she heard a noise inside the house. She glanced at the front door then along the rain-lashed road.
Should she run for her life in case an axe murderer had just broken into the house and was gunning for her – she knew she was mixing her metaphors, but at that moment she didn’t care – or, knock on the door again and offer help just in case someone had hurt themselves?
Before she could decide the door cracked open. “Hello. Can I help you?”
Ciska spoke in a rush … about riding in the rain, and stopping to wait out the storm, and thinking no-one lived here, and the crash startling her, and staying until the rain eased, and … eventually wound down as she realized babbling might not be in her best interests.
The door opened wider and a woman looked at Ciska, her bicycle, and trailer. Satisfied no more babblers lurked in the rain soaked corners of the veranda, she opened the door completely and stepped aside.
“You’d better come in then. I’m Meg.”
“Ciska. Good to meet you. I’ve got some fairly expensive equipment out here and call me paranoid, especially with this storm, but I’m not comfortable letting it out of my sight.”
“Oh,” Meg said, nonplussed. “Just bring it in then. It can stay in the front room. I hardly ever use it anyway. Would you like some tea? I just put the kettle on.”
“Love some,” Ciska said, and bustled her rig through the door before Meg changed her mind about either offer.
Meg walked into her silent dark kitchen. She flicked a light switch.
“No power?” Ciska said.
“I’ve got a back-up system and … I’m… not feeling so good.” Meg melted back into the chair she’d recently vacated.
“That’s OK. Where is it, and what do I have to do?”
“Along there. Near the back door.” Meg pointed. “Just flip the switch.”
Ciska followed the directions and returned to a well lit country kitchen.
“Nice,” she said, surveying the beautifully appointed room. “Everything handy and in its place.”
Meg refrained from nodding in agreement. She didn’t know if her head could take it. “Glad you approve. ‘Tidy kitchen, tidy mind’, my mum would say. Would you mind?” She gestured to the kettle.
“Sure.” Ciska bustled around the kitchen, making educated guesses about where the makings were. “Is something wrong? You’re looking a little green around the gills.” She set a steaming cup of tea in front of Meg.
“Not really. I have a storm headache. I just drove up from Vancouver.”
“I suppose so. I come up here just about every weekend. I’m used to it.”
“There you go. Mystery solved.” Ciska tossed off a rakish bow that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Sun King’s court, except that she was tall, tanned, female, and not exactly dressed for the part. Her ‘schlumping clothes’ consisted of a pair of cut-off track pants and a sleeveless sloppy joe.
Meg inclined her head with delicate formality, and sipped her tea. “How did you know?”
“About your tea? Lucky guess. You look like a top-of-the-pot-black-tea kinda gal.”
“And you?” Meg asked, peering into Ciska’s now empty cup.
Ciska refilled her cup. “Middle-of-the-pot-with-several-dashes-of-milk.”
They made small talk until Ciska drained her third cup of tea and set the cup down in its saucer with an air of decisiveness.
“The worst of the rain seems to have passed.”
“Had enough of my scintillating company, I see.”
“Afraid so. How’s your head?”
“Fragile, but I’ll be OK. Could you help me with my bags though?”
“I usually bring them in with me, but I must’ve left them in the car.”
“Sure,” Ciska said, and smiled. “It’s a fair exchange for a dry roof and a cuppa.”
“That you made,” Meg said, as she hooked her keys from the table and explained that she kept the garage locked at all times, just in case. “I keep my old paintings out there. They’re not valuable, but …”
Ciska nodded. “I understand. That’s why my bike’s in your front room.”
Meg led the way out the back and unlocked the garage door. Ciska, trying to see the artwork, bumped into her.
“Where’s my car?”
Ciska peered over her shoulder. “What?”
“My car. It’s not here.” Meg hit a red button on the wall with the ball of her hand. A flurry of raindrops blew in as the garage door rolled up into the ceiling.
The road outside looked as deserted as it had when Ciska arrived.
“Yes, I’m fine. … No nothing else appears to be missing, just my car … No. I’m fine. A bit hung over from the storm. I know, some things don’t change … I will. Yes, there’s someone here with me. Don’t worry. No, you don’t need to send someone tonight. I won’t touch anything … alright then. Thanks Tamsin…um…Corporal Lightsmith.”
Meg hung up the phone. Tamsin worried about her now more than she ever did when they were together … well, not together exactly.
“Nice that she worries about you,” Ciska deadpanned from the kitchen.
“Moved in, have you?” Meg commented, equally bland.
“Making myself useful in a crisis.” Ciska lifted a lid from a pot on the stove and slid a pile of freshly chopped veggies in. “I’m hungry, and so are you. I’m going to spend the night, in your spare bedroom, because you look like a weekend of wet washing, and need a bit of fussing over.”
Meg couldn’t argue that. “What I don’t understand,” she said. “Is how this happened. The garage was locked. As though I never drove in. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I just …”
Ciska finished cleaning the counter and dried her hands as she hung up her apron. Meg smiled at the image. If anyone looked more incongruous in an apron than Ciska, she had yet to meet them.
“Nothing,” Meg said, hiding her smile.
“Hm-m. Anyway. Lets reverse engineer the chain of events and see what you remember.”
“Well, I certainly remember everything that’s happened since you walked in my front door.”
“Thanks, I think. Before that? Go backwards. Wait a minute, let’s eat first.”
“Your soup is so good it’ll help me remember?”
Meg chewed on a last mouthful of crusty bread and pushed her empty bowl to one side. The visit with her mother had gone about as she’d expected. She felt as though she’d barely escaped with her life from a bad Bette Davis movie. The storm headache was already gnawing away at the base of her skull like a zombified gerbil. She debated whether to drive home or stay in her Vancouver apartment. Home, in the Nicola River Valley won, simply by virtue of being as far away from her mother as she could get.
“…I stopped for coffee at Tims in Hope, which I then spilled on my blouse halfway up the Coke, while I gawped at the storm. Here, see?”
Ciska saw. “And then …?”
“The next thing I remember, I’m putting my keys down on the kitchen table just like I always do.”
“What time was that?”
Meg glanced at the old cuckoo clock above the sink and did some fast calculations. “It must’ve been ten to six, maybe.”
Ciska nodded, as though she too calculated the passage of time. “So, you zoned out for about an hour. That happens, especially if you’re familiar with the road. Maybe you parked out on the street, maybe forgot to lock your car, and someone took advantage of the opportunity.” Ciska’s expression changed. “That sounded just as insulting in my head. Sorry.”
“It’s about as rational as anything I can come up with,” Meg said with a shrug.
The shrill ring of the phone startled them both.
Meg recognised the number. “It’s the RCMP. Maybe they found my car.”
“I’ll clean up. Give you some privacy?” Ciska offered.
“Hello? Tamsin, hi … you did? Where? … Oh … Oh my god!” Meg looked at Ciska. “They found my car. In a ravine off the Coquihalla Highway. There was a woman inside. Dead!”
Read Episode 2 of … ‘Identical’ … HERE
Some suitably stormy music
GLOSSARY AND LINKS
The Interior – Any part of British Columbia away from the west coast
Tims – Tim Hortons
The Coke/ Coquihalla Highway
The Sun King – Louis the XIV of France