by Seán Dwyer, 934 words

Donald Schwartz glared at Willoughby Smyth. Leave it to this moron to blow up an entire town and several families. When Schwartz had sacrificed the weaker of the twins to get Smyth to leave town, he had understood that his sketchy medical decision could cause him more trouble than shooting Smyth would, if he claimed that he was preventing a kidnapping.

It was unfortunate that he had not had a gun handy when Smyth tried to swipe both twins. It was unfortunate that he didn’t have a gun on him today. Like Indiana Jones, confronting a flashy swordsman, Schwartz could have shrugged and blown a hole in Willoughby’s chest.

How far does one go to placate a nutjob? How far does one go to support such a creature in his schemes? Schwartz knew that Smyth had terrorized his hoe town to the point that they let him get away with everything he decided to do. And here Smyth was, back to wreak more havoc after he had overcome incredible odds to escape this situation unscathed when he impregnated Amy.

Smyth still sobbed, not the sobs of a penitent, but the howls of a wild animal. Schwartz looked around, hoping the medical people would take control of the situation, rather than the police, because this man needed to be committed, not jailed. A police guard would be in order, of course.

***

Meghan also gawked at the sperm donor who had stolen her twin sister. He had not even had the decency to try to raise poor Alice or let his family in the Missouri hills take over her care. As much as she hated the idea of having her position as daughter usurped by Alice, Meghan was beginning to understand that this shift in attention was probably temporary. Amy depended on Meghan to keep the diner running when she disappeared, and Meghan knew that Alice could never have been useful in that crisis.

What, in fact, could Alice do that was useful? She had led an existence as a sheltered but probably abused child, isolated rather than sheltered, really. She had good genes from Amy and Phyllis, but nurture clearly had not worked in her favor. Both Alice and she had shitty dad-genes, Meghan knew, so anything good that came of Meghan’s rearing stemmed from the love and wisdom imparted to her by her mother and grandmother.

Willoughby had provided no positives to the lives of the twins, and he might have donated to Alice a touch of his craziness. Or that could be simply the result of her lonely, tortured childhood.

What could she do to improve this mess? Summoning Phyllis’s inner strength, Meghan did something neither her mother nor her grandmother would do. She walked slowly toward the trembling, soggy mess who had burned down her inheritance. She knelt beside him and put her arms around him. When he leaned his head on her shoulder, she finally believed he would not strangle her. This might even turn out acceptably.

***

Bilan may have run from Willoughby Smyth, but she could not run from her health issues. Once again, she approached the site of the diner. A sight she would never have believed confronted her: Meghan was comforting the shooter. Dr. Schwartz was shaking his head in wonder. The police officer had his gun drawn; she supposed he was ready to shoot the criminal.

Now might not be the best time to barter with Dr. Schwartz, but the previous night’s Duolingo session had told her not to fear, but to talk to the doctor. Here she was, obeying her own little owl, Duo.

“Dr. Schwartz,” she whispered, “may I have a word with you? I am Tawfiiq’s sister.”

He started from his reverie and turned to her with a sad smile. “Of course. You must be Bilan.” She nodded.

“Doctor, Tawfiiq tells me you are interested in twins for experiments.”

He chuckled. “You make me sound like a mad scientist. I want to contribute to our knowledge of what role genetics play in humans, and identical twins are ideal subjects.”

“I have twin daughters, and they can help you, but I also need your help.”

“Even if you don’t let me work with your twins, tell me what I can do for you.”

Bilan’s eyes began to water, and she wondered if it was the stench from the fire, blown her way by a puff of a breeze, or tears caused by her relief.

“I have a sore lump on my breast.”

He frowned. “How long have you had it?”

“Since the girls were babies. I could not get doctor help then.”

He let out a deep sigh. “If you have had it for several years, your girls are not babies, right?”

“Right.”

“Then it could be something as easily fixed as a cyst or sclerosing adenosis. By now you should have metastases everywhere if this lump is cancerous, so I’m betting it’s not.”

Bilan began to shake with relief. “Really?”

“Yes. But you need to see a friend of mine quickly, just in case. And there’s no reason to continue to have pain and fear. Does that help?”

All she could do was cry quietly.

***

Phyllis was afraid to watch what was happening with Meghan and her father, so she looked toward the other section of the ruined diner. She almost fainted when she saw three men appear from nowhere, probably where Alice’s booth was, burly men in flannel shirts, all sporting lumberjack beards.

One walked over to Bilan. “I hope you found the coin we left for you,” he said.