First date

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mason jar of iced tea

The story so far… Old Wives’ Tale

Scully’s had been a local hang-out since my parents were dating. Still family owned, it was wasn’t a teenage favorite any longer, but the Gen-X and Baby Boomer crowds remained loyal. Furnished in rustic barn decor, it looked the same as the last time I was there, nearly 10 years ago.

I spotted Marshall right away, noticing he had changed out of his sheriff’s uniform. I suddenly felt self-conscious, realizing I still had on the same clothes I wore to the old house. I held my mother’s photo album across my chest, hoping to hide behind it.

Wending my way to Marshall’s table, I waved to childhood friends and neighbors also dining at the old haunt. They called out my name, and “welcome home,” greetings.

“That was awkward,” I said, sitting down across from Marshall.

“They’re curious about you,” he said. “You’ve been gone a long time.”

“I don’t want to talk about me,” I said, laying the album on the table. “What did Doc Simon say.”

“You’re not wasting any time.” He grinned at me while taking a long drink from his glass of iced tea.

“I’m sorry. It was a very disquieting day.”

He sat back in his chair, frowning, his grin gone.

“The bodies were remarkably well-preserved,” he began. “Doc estimates they were between 10 and 12 months old, girls, and…”

“And?”

“They had been strangled.”

“Strangled?”

“There were definite ligature marks on their throats. Because the bodies had not completely decomposed, the signs were very clear. He took the bodies back to the morgue for an autopsy, but based on his preliminary exam at the scene, he’s ruling it a homicide.”

“Damn. The mortality rate for conjoined twins is about 75-percent. I was hoping their death was due to natural causes.” I felt sick thinking about what would drive parents to kill their children.

I sat in silence for a while, trying to collect my thoughts. Marshall ordered for us both when our server stopped by.

He finally touched my hand, bringing me out of my reverie.

“You’re taking this awfully hard,” he said. “Is there something I need to know?”

I picked up the photo album, turning to the page of Amelia and Charles, handing Marshall the open book.

“This is Charles and Amelia Parker. The parents of the baby girls we found today.”

Marshall turned over the album to read my family name on the cover.

“How do you know that. How do you know them?” He was in his sheriff’s mode.

Taking the locket from my pocket, I held it out to him.

“This was around the neck of one of the babies. I took it without Casper knowing. I opened it and recognized the faces in the photos.”

“And, I repeat… how do you know them?”

I looked around to see if anyone was eavesdropping to our increasingly louder conversation.

“I don’t know them, but I recognized their faces from this old album of my grandmas. I didn’t know their names until today,” I said just above a whisper. “This couple were itinerants, and came through the valley when Granddad was raising the house. The man worked on the house, and the woman was a domestic for my Grams for years.”

Marshall visibly relaxed.

“Charles went to work over at the Branch farm once the house was up, but died in a tractor accident. Amelia stayed with my grandparents. She later married one of the Branch boys.”

“These were Branch babies?” Marshall sounded shocked.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said, flipping more album pages to show him the picture of Lester and Amelia with their children.

“Mom said Amelia and Charles didn’t have any children when they arrived, and these children were born after she and Lester moved away.”

Marshall waited, knowing I had more to tell him.

“Here’s my theory… Charles and Amelia had the twins somewhere else, long before they came to the valley. Something happened, maybe they were just overwhelmed, but the girls died. Because they were migrants, they simply brought the bodies with them, instead of leaving them behind when they moved on.”

“That’s a little far-fetched,” Marshall shook his head.

“Like I told Casper, if these babies, these conjoined twins, were born here, people would have known and would still be talking about it.”

I could tell Marshall was trying to sort out all this new information.

“Charles would have had the perfect opportunity to hide the babies behind the wall.” I said. “If they had already been dead for a long time, there was no risk of the smell of decay giving them away. The only big mystery is the ‘why’ of it all.”

Marshall closed the album, laying the necklace on top, and pushed it across the table towards me.

“There is no statute of limitations for murder.”

“I thought of that too,” I said. “Based on these photos and the stories mom told me, Amelia was probably in her early 20s when she stayed with the family. If… if she was still alive, she’d be close to 90. You can’t even be sure she was the one who killed them. Would it be worth pursuing?”

Marshall tapped the table topped with the butt of his steak knife, his other arm draped over the back of his chair, his body turned away from me. From the look on his face, I could tell he was struggling with what being an officer of the law would mean he had to do.

“I’ll let Doc Simon do his thing first,” he said. “If there is no way to determine who killed them, there’s not much I can do after all these years.”

Our server arrived with our food, and we ended any more discussion of the Parkers.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “This wasn’t what I hoped for on our first date.”

“This is a date?” A slight pull at the corner of his mouth was his tease tell.

“It’s not?” I took his bait.

‘I’d be a pretty lame date if it was,” he laughed. “I’ve planned this night for nearly 15 years.”

“That sounds a little obsessed,” I said. “Should I be concerned?”

“Absolutely.”

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