Jan and Marsha Edgar Pepperwood worked the cash register of the only diner in Apparition Cove as one. Marsha handled the bills, Jan the coins, and the drawer always balanced to the penny at the end of the day. Their presence often disconcerted newcomers but some tourists traveled the infamous Cove Road just to see the sisters in action. Jan and Marsha were quite pretty. They also shared the lower portion of their body and this was even more unusual than the presence of undomesticated afterlife.
Marsha appeared to be the more dominant of the conjoined twins because—nine of ten times—she was the first to speak. She also had the full use of both her long and elegant arms. She leaned forward and to the left, while Jan leaned back and to the right. Jan had full use of her right arm but her left was a bit diminished and spent most of its working day slung across her sister’s shoulders. No one ever confused one sister for the other because not only was one always on the right and the other always on the left, they looked very different as well.
Marsha wore her long blonde hair straight and held back with one of several wide, colorful bands. Jan wore her hair pixie short and dyed it black. Or fuschia. Or violet. Marsha’s skin was tan and unmarked save for a smattering of freckles across her nose and the tops of her shoulders and a mole to the right of her belly button. Jan’s skin was pale and heavily inked, with black lines curling up her neck but not reaching past the line of her jaw. Her tattoos incorporated the freckles on her shoulders and circled a mole to the left of her belly button. Her brows and nose and lips and tongue were pierced. Jan was dark to Marsha’s light but she was, by far, the nicer of the two girls.
At seven forty-five on Wednesday morning, a black and silver sports utility vehicle with an emergency light bar on the roof parked in front of the diner. Marsha heard the engine rumble to a stop and the parking brake engage but she did not register the event as significant and continued to pull pennies from the tip jar, replacing every five with a nickel from the drawer. The commercial fisherfolk had already been by for their sandwiches and coffee, and the sports fisherfolk had yet to rise, so she was keeping her hands busy until the next wave of customers surged through the diner. Jan was wiping down the counter with a clean rag and bleach water from a battered spray bottle. When Jan set down the bottle, slipped her smaller arm behind Marsha’s back, and resumed wiping the already clean portion of the counter with feigned casualness, her sister knew that something was up.
The bells chimed when Deputy Coroner Trevor Marks opened the door and stepped into the diner. Marsha snorted softly to herself. That explained Jan’s shift in demeanor. What her sister saw in that man, Marsha did not know. Sure, he was a nice looking fellow but he was as uptight as a cat trapped in a room full of cranky toddlers. Marsha felt the heat of Jan’s blush and a tingle in their conjoined loins. She grinned and nudged her sister with an elbow, a signal that the teasing was about to begin.
“Good morning, Deputy!” Marsha chirped. “We haven’t seen you since around since that unfortunate event at Big Flat in February. Are you here on business or pleasure?”
“Business,” he said as he strode towards the counter.
“Finished or unfinished?”
“Then you’ll be wanting your double Americano,” Marsha said and held out one hand for his travel mug.
The deputy flinched as though she had correctly guessed the number he’d been thinking. The man did not like being predictable but he did appreciate the reduction of social interaction for which her memory allowed. Marsha winked and took his mug. She turned to walk to the espresso machine but her sister stood their ground.
“Whose unfinished business?” said Jan.
“I am currently not at liberty to discuss the situation,” he replied.
Jan frowned. “Nobody’s died near the Cove since that paraglider thing. Is it a cold case? Is there new information about Sage?”
He shook his head. “I’m not at liberty to discuss the situation.”
“I’ll bet there was an accident on the road,” Marsha said, in an effort to deflect the intensity of her sister’s sudden interrogation. “Someone probably lost their brakes. People need to downshift. They should read the signs.” She leaned towards the espresso maker.
Jan agreed to move in that direction but kept her torso twisted to look at the deputy. Her shyness had been overwhelmed by curiosity. “Are you here to consult with Elida and Jeremiah?”
“I don’t think they’re back from their trip yet, Jan,” Marsha said, tamping the fine, dark grounds into the portafilter. “Sherilyn’s probably in the office. Her bicycle is propped up against the lighthouse right now but the Harmms, they’re in Benbow for some fancy funeral conference or something, remember?”
Craning to look the opposite direction taxed Jan’s spine so she turned around to help her sister, automatically slipping the silver cups under the spouts while Marsha wedged the filter into place.
“Yeah,” said Jan. “But they said they’d be back on Monday and it’s Wednesday.”
One long moment passed before both girls realized that the deputy had not responded. Another shorter moment passed before both girls realized they had not seen Elida and Jeremiah Harmm for several days. Trevor’s silence was as explanatory as a written report. The girls turned, as one.
Jan lifted one hand to her mouth. “No,” she whispered.
Marsha said, “You are fucking kidding me.”
The deputy stared between them. “You done with that coffee?” he asked.