“Wait, what? Laura threatened to kill Pop?” Myrtle was having trouble grasping Rhonda’s assertion.
“That’s right. Little Miss First Wife said she was going to kill him when he least expected it.”
“Okay, you’ve got our attention. Now you really do have to tell us the full story.” Vera turned towards Rhonda.
Rhonda, never afraid of attention, said, “If you really think I should.” Myrtle nodded her assent.
“Here’s the story:
Laura thought she had him wrapped around her finger when they first got married but he told me he only married her because he had messed up with the one he really loved and knew he could never get her back.”
Myrtle gave a start as the words hit her. Vera reached over to take her hand and squeezed. They would talk about this later but needed to hear the full story for now.
Oblivious to anything except herself, Rhonda continued on, “When Pop found out she was pregnant with their son, he knew he was stuck so he tried to make the best of it. At least she had something to occupy her time when Paul, Jr. was first born and she wasn’t out spending all of his money. After a while she turned over his care to the nannies so she was back to her old habits of shopping and lunching with the gals every day. Pop was working hard and trying to make his own way in the world but she didn’t want anything to do with work.
Pretty soon she was pregnant again with Elizabeth. An heir and a spare as they say. Pop was working more and more hours to support the family and her spending habits. Pretty soon they spent almost no time together. He said it really didn’t seem like she cared either way. You girls knew Pop, though. He was a passionate man. He had needs. The first affair he had was with his secretary. How cliche. They probably did it on his desk.”
Vera was struggling to maintain a calm facade. Did Rhonda seriously just bad mouth a woman for having sex with her boss on a desk? Hypocrite did the same thing.
“From what he told me he had many women after that. Most were one night stands but a few were a little longer lasting as long as the women knew he wasn’t interested in a relationship. It went on like this for years and while neither one of them were happy, both Pop and Laura just ignored their problems. He started the restaurant in 1980 and said he felt happy there for the first time in years. This made him realize what he was giving up by being so unhappy at home.
When Paul Jr was 12, Pop had finally reached his breaking point with Laura and her demands. He told her he was leaving. She tried the sweet act, cursing and begging. Nothing worked and he finally left. Can’t believe it took him that long. Of course she got alimony and child support so she still lived pretty well.
You know by then he was already on Shelby’s trail and as soon as he could he married her. What a mistake that was. Geez. Anyway, the restaurant was really taking off and he was doing so well financially. When he and Shelby split no one was surprised and he just went back to his one night stands.”
Rhonda reached down for some sweet tea and gave the two friends a look.
“That’s all well and good Rhonda but we knew most of that. You said you had a story about Laura threatening to kill Pop.” Vera was ready to get out of the tiger’s den and was losing patience.
“I’m getting there. Just thought you might want some background info.”
“We appreciate that but the day is getting short and we have a few other stops we have to make. Would you mind telling us about the threat?” Sometimes Myrtle was tired of being the voice of reason. Why couldn’t she blow her top like Vera?
“Well, things were quiet for a while. Pop was working and dating. Working and dating. He said it was a Saturday afternoon and things were pretty quiet at the restaurant.” Rhonda paused and her brow wrinkled.
“What’s wrong, Rhonda?” Myrtle asked.
“You know. I don’t think I should tell you this story.” She was chewing her lip and looking away. “Listen, Pop and I had our disagreements but deep down he was a good man. He told me this in confidence and I shouldn’t have brought it up. I can’t believe I did that.”
Vera was speechless. She could see real tears in Rhonda’s eyes. What in the world was going on? She looked to Myrtle for guidance.
With a deep breath, Myrtle spoke softly to Rhonda, “If you don’t want to finish the story that is okay. I’ve kept plenty of secrets for people in my life and I wouldn’t ask you to do anything you don’t feel right about. But, truth is that Pop is dead. And if this could help the police figure out who did it then you should at least tell them.”
“Who did it? They arrested someone. Isn’t the case closed?” Rhonda seemed genuinely confused.
“To be honest, I’m not sure whether they have the right man or not. I hope they do but you never know. If it’s someone else, the police could use help finding them.” Myrtle sat back with her tea to give Rhonda some time to think.
“Say it isn’t the meth head who killed Pop. Do you really think it would be Laura?”
“I have no idea. We all went to high school together but the truth is that I don’t know her very well.”
“I can’t go to the police with this story. They would laugh in my face saying I was just the jealous, vindictive ex-wife. And, you know what, they’d probably be right. I was just being spiteful even bringing it up to you.”
Myrtle made a motion to Vera that they should start to leave. “I understand, Rhonda. We don’t want to pressure you. Do what you feel is right.” The friends started to gather their things and get up.
“Wait.” Rhonda said quietly. “Wait. I don’t know you ladies very well but you were friends with Pop right?”
“We were good friends a long time ago. Both of us still cared for him,” said Myrtle while sitting back down.
“Can I tell you the rest of the story and you decide what to do with it from there? Can I trust you with Pop’s secret?”
Vera and Myrtle looked at each other and in unison agreed, “Yes, of course.”
“Okay then. That afternoon in the restaurant (he didn’t tell me the year) it was quiet. He was in his office working when a woman came in. It was one of his one night stands. He said she was a sweet lady and he was sure she regretted what they had done. She was married herself but bored. It had been about 8 weeks since their night together and she was pregnant. When she did the math, it was clear that Pop was the father, not her husband. She had originally planned to keep it a secret and not tell Pop but felt he deserved to know he was having another child. She begged him not to tell anyone. Her plan was that her husband would always be the child’s father. Pop reluctantly agreed to her plan but offered financial help. She adamantly refused and said that it would make things too complicated. When she left the office in tears, Pop was gutted.”
With so many revelations that day, Myrtle felt this one shouldn’t have surprised her but she felt as if she was breathing underwater. What other secrets had Pop had?
“Pop never told me who the woman was, only that she as a good woman. He said that she and her husband split up eventually and he did start sending money then. They never spoke about it again and the daughter never knew.”
‘Daughter?’ thought Myrtle. ‘Pop had another daughter.’
Vera cleared her throat and seemed to stall for a few seconds before speaking. “Wow…hmmm…this is a lot to process but I still didn’t hear a threat from Laura.”
“I’m getting to that now.” Rhonda continued, “When that woman walked out of Pop’s office, he was sitting there with his head in his hands. A few seconds later he heard a low laugh coming from his doorway. ‘So you got one of your sluts pregnant, huh?’ Laura was standing there. She had apparently come into the restaurant and when she heard Pop talking in the office, she stood out in the shadows and listened to everything that was said.”
“Don’t call her a slut. She is a good woman and you would know that if you could recognize good in anyone.”
“I don’t have to call her anything. The whole town will know what she is soon.”
“Pop was mortified. He didn’t want this woman’s life ruined. Thinking that he knew her so well, Pop offered Laura money to stay silent. She wouldn’t agree to anything though. She told him that he could pay her and she might keep their little secret. I think she just wanted to torture him. Anyway, at one point she realized that he would have another child who might get money from him. That’s when she went from smug to threatening. She told him that if her kids didn’t get every dime they wanted from him that she would tell everything. Then she would kill him so they could split his money. She left his office that day saying that she should do the world a favor and just kill him anyway when he least expected it. He didn’t seem to take it seriously. But who knows.”