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Erik Zinter fought in a world war before they starting getting num- bers. He was one of the merry but homesick doughboys who went into battle in 1918 singing and whooping with all the enthusiasm of a col- lege football team pouring out onto the field just before kickoff.

They came with six hundred aircraft plus one hundred forty-four tanks under Col. George Patton. Three thousand pieces of field artillery unleashed by the Allied side and countless bombs dropped from the air tore the battlefield into a pock-marked pigsty filled with mud.

The Germans withdrew but they fought a rear-guard action with a fero- cious bite. Erik took two rounds from a Bergmann Maschinenpistole 18/1 that shatters the bone in his upper left arm and he developed gas gan- grene in the field hospital lying just out of range of enemy fire.

The amputation was performed in less-than-ideal circumstances. After- ward Erik rode a train to Paris with a hundred other casualties. The same train carried soldiers fresh off the boat back to the Western Front, which had become a vast machine for mangling and killing men.

In Paris Erik met a Red Cross nurse whose name-tag bore a surname he recognized. While she changed his dressings Erik learned that Clara was of the Brannens who had stayed behind in Pennsylvania when the wagon train went west so she knew little about the Green Dome Church. Soon they knew they shared the same great-gramma: second cousins. That and her all American girl next door good looks interested Erik.

For her part Clara was pleased how Erik maintained a good attitude despite his misfortune. He didn't feel sorry for himself, even after losing an arm. There was pain but right on through it Erik maintained a deliciously wicked sense of humor. They could not talk for long but Clara passed along to him the address of her parents in Pennsylvania after he declared he wanted to stay in touch with her when they went home.

Their pen pal relationship gradually blossomed into something they thought was love. In 1922 Erik drove halfway across the country in his Model T. It took a full month. He used the Yellowstone Auto Trail and aside from two big auto repairs he averaged five dollars a day. Part of this money came from his veterans' 'bonus' of sixty dollars but some employers went out of their way to give returning vets seniority. Erik had accepted a job in Headwater painting houses using his remain- ing arm, and spent three years laying aside for the wedding.

In Clara's hometown Erik sold his tin lizzie to pay for the wedding. Pennsylvania was the first anti-cousin marriage state, but only first cousins couldnt get hitched, not second ones. And they were so obvi- ously in love both of Clara's parents gave their nuptial blessing.

Erik's parents back in Headwater were a harder sell. After the train ride west he became the black sheep of the family for passing over a perfectly good (but horsefaced) local first cousin for a beautiful second cousin from back east. Why, any heathen would do as much.

Kimberly Zinter was born to Erik and Clara in 1925. Kim knew her two best friends Sofie Krause and Dory Twofeathers from as early she could remember, as far back as the economically frothy days of 1928 when they shared the same nursery while even their mothers found work.

By 1932 the Depression really started to bite. Clara was fired first, but soon even Erik was jobless. Builders found applicants with two good arms suddenly willing to paint. Still, Erik retained the good spirits that had endeared him to Clara in that Paris hospital.

There are rich seams of bituminous coal inside Green Dome hill and under Headwater itself but the geology of the area is so folded and jumbled there has never been an economical way to reach it by drilling a straight shaft. The coal would be exposed only in spots. During the Great Depression Erik Zinter created twisting passageways through the bulk of Green Dome. By day other men followed in his wake to reinforce the tunnels with timber and remove the coal. In the heart of the Great Depression, Headwater experienced a boom.

Great heaps of black gold from the mines began to pile up on docks in Chicago. Suddenly the unemployed, unemployable Erik Zinter had a brand new brick red Ford Model B, his first automobile since selling his Model T, and he also completely paid off his modest home. There was enough money left over to send Kim to the Green Dome parochial school to be with her friends. So affairs stood for years.

Then coal miners stumbled across Erik's dead body and learned he had been in possession of the most sacred Church relic.

The Golden Gift was returned to Peter Twofeathers but this sparked the current tussle between Red and White wings. Sheriff Walker recalled the recent death of Erik Zinter and he yearned to dodge the duty to notify Clara Zinter of the discovery of her daughter's body. How does one break it to a newly-widowed woman that her family has now been entirely wiped off the face of the earth?

The young woman who answered the door was not Clara Zinter. Her hair was a rich, dark red. She had eyes that were a light, icy green, striking for being so rare. She also had a pretty face but she was a little too chubby even for a time before actresses and models made being skinny sexy.

"Are you...?" Roddy was looking at the spitting image of the deceased, Kimberly Zinter, standing in the doorway, patiently waiting for him to speak. He pulled out his file to be sure. Identical. He was not aware that Kim had a twin sister. "Is Mrs. Clara Zinter at home?"

"Mother isnt here anymore," the young lady said, "I swapped places with her. Mom's with her own folks in Pennsylvania. You're Sheriff Walker, right? I'm Robyn. Do you want to come in? I'm sure you have questions and it will be better than standing here in the doorway."

Roddy took off his hat and accepted her offer. The hardwood floors were covered with throw-rugs. He could smell the light odor of a gas furnace. A radio was playing "Ive Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, and Robyn turned it down.

"Please, Robyn, if you could turn the radio entirely off. Its hardly appropriate for what I must tell you."

The girl complied, and invited the sheriff to be seated.

A small coffee table between them. Robyn smoothed out her plaid dress and Roddy saw that she wore bobby socks. "You were about to tell me that you found the body of my sister," Robyn said, "and that she had been brutally murdered."

On one level Roddy felt relief. His duty to notify the next-of- kin had been mooted. But Robyn had stated things she should not know. "You dont seem to be too upset about it," Roddy said, taking a small note- book and pen out of his jacket liner. The sympathetic bearer of bad news was a detective again. "When did you know your sister was dead, Miss Zinter? Did an old Indian fellow pay you a visit today?"

"Just Robyn, please," she said. "One name. Robyn. Not Miss Zinter. No- body else has visited me today. I find it difficult to say how I knew she had died. If I speak it will be the truth, but then you would believe me to be insane."

Roddy said, 'Robyn, this is a murder investigation so I exhort you to hold to that thought, that whatever you tell me must always be the truth. Now, as for believing you are insane, I'm already having trou- ble with your attitude toward the news of your twin sister's murder."

Robyn asked the sheriff whether he had heard stories about identical twins who seem to have a link that defies any explanation. Perhaps stories about twins who were separated at birth. They never met, yet they led lives with coincidence piled upon coincidence, with the same type of job, and even the same type of spouse.

"Robyn, are you saying you and Kim had some kind of radio in your head that let you know what was happening to the other? If that's what you- 're trying to tell me, young lady, I wouldn't believe you were insane. I would run you in to the station for further questioning, for knowing material facts about this case with no plausible explanation why."

But Robyn was shaking her head. "That's not what I'm trying to tell you, Sheriff."

She stood up and walked over to her record collection, where she pulled a ten inch 78 RPM record from its sleeve. Holding it up for Roddy she said, "Let's do this by analogy. This is Kim. And in every instant of time, a copy is made of her. By the time shes seventeen Kim is quite a stack of records. But something happens to her that she can't explain. Maybe she starts skipping. Her friend Sofie is another stack of records who starts skipping too. The music store says nothing is wrong with them. But Kim's mother is a stickler for high fidelity and she wont take that for an answer. She quits her job at the music store and takes Kim to Lusk for a second opinion, and she convinces Sofie's parents to do the same. Soon after, both re- cord stacks are in impound. There's six months of tests but nobody figures out why Kim and Sofie skip. The girls realize they're never getting out of quaran- tine, so they escape, but that's another story. Kim Zinter changes her label and becomes Robyn. Sofie Krause changes her label to Hunky. And soon Hunky is back with Doriel, and Robyn is back with Gabriel. Robyn and Gabriel want to get hitched, and the Prophet says he can swing it. But the Apostle says: 'Will no one rid me of this troublesome platter? So the Deacon takes a kitchen knife to her. Now enter an otherworldly giant named Mike. Seven and a half feet tall! Somehow he reaches back into that stack of records named Robyn and pulls out a disk from after the Deacon stole it, but before he broke it, and starts a new stack."

Robyn fell silent and stared placidly at Roddy.

Finally he said, 'You win, Robyn. People as growing stacks of records? Thats too batshit crazy to take you downtown or lock you up. The Dea- con did it, you say? Paul Bergin?"

She nodded yes.

"You didn't give me enough probable cause to even check him out."

Robyn said, "My sister was killed with a knife from Bergin's kitchen, one with a distinctive handle."

Roddy held his face immobile and said, "Possibly."

"Tomorrow is trash day. If you dig in his garbage can you'll find the whole set. You wont even need a search warrant since he has already thrown it out."

"Now that I can use," Roddy said. "Kim's body was found on the tri- state marker, which makes it a federal case. Whoever killed her did that on purpose. That's why I'm trying to break this case before the FBI gets here, on the principle that you never give a perp what he wants."

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Strangers In Paradise