“That’s my girl. Let’s get started.” Myrtle jumped out of her seat and started walking to the table.
“If we are working tonight, you are going to buy me dinner first. I’m a cheap date, don’t worry.” Vera stayed put in her chair knowing that if she didn’t remind Myrtle to eat, her one-track mind would leave them both starving. “What are you doing?” she asked as Myrtle picked up the phone.
“I’m ordering a large pepperoni from Pizza Hut. We can pick it up and be back here in less than 15 minutes.”
“Fine but I want the thin crust. Not the nasty pan pizza you like. Pizza should be crispy.”
After finishing their pizza, Myrtle and Vera sat down to brainstorm about the investigation. Vera wanted to go talk to Chief White immediately but Myrtle felt that would get them nowhere. Why would he share any information with two women who have no investigative experience? Instead Myrtle wanted to focus on the why of Big Pop’s murder.
“If this was a random killing, we will never be able to figure it out. We need to focus on the reason he was killed. That will give us our list of suspects.”
Vera and Myrtle spent the next several hours talking through possible motives. Did one of his ex-wives finally snap and give Pop the payback they had threatened many times? The secret recipe for his BBQ sauce was well guarded and he never shared it with anyone. Maybe a competitor decided they wanted it for his or her own. Not to mention the money that he carried around. That amount of cash would tempt a lot of desperate people. Or, given Pop’s personality, he could’ve said the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time and ended up in the crosshairs.
Feeling they made good progress, the friends called it a night. They decided Myrt would pick Vera up at 10:30 to head to the funeral. It was being held at First Baptist Church (but, of course, that’s the church for the people in town with money, you know.)
Myrtle and Vera were some of the first people to arrive for the service. They chose a seat at the back right corner so they could see everyone who came in and how they reacted during the eulogy.
As the church started to fill, Myrtle was reminded that there were a lot of good people in her town and many were coming to pay their respects to a man who wasn’t perfect but had been a business leader and local celebrity for his entire adult life. Jimmy joined Myrtle and Vera when he arrived. The Mayor sat just outside the family’s roped off area.
“Who is that?” Jimmy asked as a young, very pretty brunette entered.
“Jimmy Davis, don’t tell me you don’t recognize Ginger Jordan. She grew up around here but left when she was 16 to live with her dad in Rock Hill after her mom passed. I think she got back close to a year ago and waitressed at Big Pop’s for a little while when she got here.” Vera prided herself on knowing everyone in their corner of the world.
“Oh, I remember her. But, wow, she has really grown up.”
“Mind out of the gutter young man. She may be 21 and legal but that doesn’t mean she’s right for you. “ Vera nudged Jimmy to stop his staring.
Myrtle had almost forgotten Ginger was back in town. Her mom, Betsy, was Myrtle’s hairdresser for years and they had become good friends. Ginger was a beautiful child and sweet as could be for most of her young life. Around 14 she started to hang around with the wrong crowd and it became a struggle for Betsy. When Betsy died of breast cancer in 2010, Ginger had to go live with her father. Myrtle heard rumors that the girl was a handful for her dad and she had proven to be trouble in her short time back in town. Pop had tried to keep the details quiet but Ginger stole one of his vintage Camaros out of the restaurant’s parking lot one night and took it for a joy ride. Losing control, she totaled the car and was lucky she hadn’t killed herself or someone else. She was fired immediately but Pop didn’t have the heart to press charges so he worked things out with the police. Last Myrtle heard, he had the car buried on his property with a grave marker and everything.
Knowing that it was almost time for the family to enter, Myrtle wondered if any of the exes would show up. Almost as if she had summoned them, all three women came through the door at the same time. It was clear that each wanted to make an entrance by coming in just before the family. They just didn’t count on the other two getting in the way. The angry looks they shared should have shaken the foundation of the old brick church. For the life of her, Myrtle couldn’t understand what had possessed Pop to marry one of these women. Let alone all three of them.
Ex-wife number one, Laura, was the mother to Pop’s two children. While she was the same age as Myrtle and Vera, she refused to accept that she was getting older and continued to wear leopard print mini-skirts and way too much makeup. Myrtle knew that Laura thought she had locked up her marriage to Pop by producing two children. The couple lived in a beautiful home and seemed to have everything. Laura was never satisfied, though, pushing for bigger houses, designer clothes and expensive jewelry. Pop started to see his mother in Laura and by the time his son was 12, Pop met…
Ex-wife number two. Shelby was in many ways the anti-Laura. She was a member of the local Church of God and had never worn pants in her life. Her belief was that a woman should dress and act appropriately while being subservient to her husband. At 55, she still had her signature long red hair that was showing only a few strands of silver. If it weren’t for the sneer on her face, she would have been a knockout. Myrtle could see why Pop would have been attracted to her. Beautiful and a challenge. An irresistible combination to him. She refused to have any physical relationship with him until he divorced Laura and then recited the old story about free milk and a cow. Pop married her to get her in bed and that’s just the truth of the matter. When the newness wore off, he quickly discovered that she was not the woman for him. He went to a Southern Baptist church but was in no way a holy man. Shelby wanted a fellow bible-lover and he couldn’t be that person. So, he filed for divorce number two and swore that he would live the bachelor life for the rest of his days.
Pop kept his word for a long time. He dated many women and enjoyed the single life of a wealthy man who was a big fish in a small pond. When Pop opened his restaurant, he made a promise to himself that he wouldn’t date any of the waitresses. Unfortunately, when Rhonda started working for him, that all went to hell.
Ex-wife number 3 pursued Pop relentlessly. She didn’t seem to care that he was 55 and she was 30. Instead his rejection seemed to stoke her desire for him. Myrtle heard many stories about the Rhonda-Pop mating dance. About a month before the two were married, they apparently sealed the deal in his office. Truth is, Myrtle couldn’t believe he held out as long as he did. They fell head over heels in love and went to Vegas for a quickie wedding. It didn’t take long for problems to start coming to the surface. The lovebirds had nothing in common other than a high sex drive. Rhonda pushed Pop to get his vasectomy reversed so they could have a child together and when he refused, she left him and took a hefty payout in lieu of support payments.
When the exes were seated as far apart as possible in the church, the family was finally ushered in. Both Pop’s parents and his sister Libby died years before so only the younger generations were present. Paul Jr. led the way with his wife and two young children. He was the spitting image of his father physically except for his eyes. Even with all that had transpired over their lives, Myrtle never saw the sparkle leave Pop’s blue eyes. Jr.’s eyes were a cold gray that showed no warmth or humor. He lived in town and had been the manager of the BBQ place for about 10 years.
Elizabeth, Paul’s daughter, had her mother’s features but softened just enough. While she looked like Laura, her personality couldn’t have been more different. A sweet girl who was smart and popular, her strained relationship with her mother was clear only to those who knew her well. She left Pageland at 18 for college and never came back except for occasional holiday visits. Myrtle remembered that she had been recently divorced and had no children. Her heart went out to the younger woman when her mother, Laura, stepped out to hug Paul Jr. and then turned her back to Elizabeth.
As the pastor stepped up to the podium, Vera poked Myrtle in the ribs. “How long do you think this will take? I’m hungry.”
“You are always hungry, Vera. Show some respect. Be a good girl and I’ll buy you an ice cream cone.”
“Myrt, you can go…”
“We’re in church. Behave.” Myrtle smiled at her friend and they laughed quietly together. With a pang, Myrtle realized they were getting older and one day she might lose her best friend. She quickly put her arm around Vera’s shoulder and squeezed. “I love you, girl.”
“Don’t get all maudlin on me, Myrt. Funerals are depressing enough without you getting all mushy.”
The service was over very quickly and before she knew it, Myrtle was watching the family being led out to the cemetery. Most of the mourners were heading straight to the restaurant for the reception. But, Myrtle and Vera decided they should go to the graveside burial. Even though the funeral had gone very smoothly, the burial was a different story altogether. The friends were still talking about it the next day over lunch.
© Mary Brown, Lowcountry Book Lover and lowcountrybooklover.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Brown and lowcountrybooklover.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any publication for profit is strictly prohibited without specific written consent by owner.