Myrtle lifted her eyes to meet those of her lifelong best friend. “Vera Carnes if you are pulling one of your pranks, it isn’t funny. People don’t get murdered in Pageland.”
“Myrt, you know I wouldn’t joke about this. He is gone.”
“But I don’t understand. I just saw him last night when I went into his BBQ place to pick up a quart of coleslaw. What the heck happened?” Myrtle could feel her legs trembling and had to hold on to the front edge of her brand new desk to keep from falling into a puddle on the floor. Her chest ached and she was sure she was about to faint. Remembering a television special about avoiding panic attacks, she looked frantically for something neutral to hold her focus. Her eyes fell on the checkered pillows that didn’t really match the couch. ‘Good Lord, they are ugly. I bet Big Pop hated sitting next to them when he came in here. He loves pretty things. Loved. Crap. Past tense, Myrtle.’ she thought to herself as a small tremor worked its way through her. Slowly she realized that Vera had started talking again so she forced thoughts of Pop back into a hidden compartment of her mind and gave her attention back to the gray-haired woman standing in front of her with concerned eyes.
“I don’t really know. In the middle of the night I heard some sirens headed out of town but didn’t think much of it. I figured it was a car accident or something. Not this. Never this.” Even though Vera had refused to forgive Big Pop for hurting Myrtle all those years ago, she still had fond memories of their childhood friendship and wouldn’t have wished this end for him in a thousand years.
“Just like every other Monday morning, I stopped for gas at Grits and ran into Officer Murray. He seemed in a hurry and when I asked him where the fire was, he told me about Pop. I guess the entire police force of Pageland is now on duty and they’ve even called in SLED. Chief White is a good chief of police but he isn’t prepared for a murder investigation.” Vera stopped talking and took a long look at her friend.
“Do they know who did this or why?” Jimmy asked. He was struggling to keep his thoughts off insurance and was ashamed to be thinking about how much money Pop’s beneficiaries were going to have in a few short weeks. Shaking his head with guilt at his train of thought, he looked to Vera.
“Officer Murray wouldn’t tell me much. I think secretly he was excited to have something interesting to work on for once. Sure, they get an occasional meth lab, moonshine still or home break-ins. But nothing like a murder. He did say that Pop was shot in the chest and his car was ransacked. He swore me to secrecy but whatever. I didn’t sign anything. He should know better than to tell me if it’s confidential. The whole town knows I can’t keep a secret. Right, Myrt?”
“Right,” Myrtle replied distractedly. “That’s it. Nothing else?”
“Not really, hon. It just happened so I’m sure they need time to investigate.”
Myrtle took a deep breath and started to demand more information. With an audible snap, she closed her mouth. ‘What’s the use, anyway?’ she thought. Snapping her fingers lightly, she turned on her heel and went around the desk. As she sat down and pulled her chair forward, she first looked at Vera then at Jimmy. “Well, I guess that is that. Jimmy, you need to head out to your lunch and I’ve got a lot of filing to do.”
Seeing her pale face and shaking hands, Jimmy was not willing to leave and looked to Vera for support. “Miss Myrtle, why don’t you head on home for the day? I can reschedule my lunch and keep things under control here.”
“Nonsense, we’ve both got work to do. Life goes on.”
“Myrt, don’t be silly. Let me take you home and we can talk.” Vera had heard the snapping fingers and knew Myrtle was on the brink of an explosion. The result could be screaming or sobbing, either of which would mortify Myrtle when she calmed down later. She also knew her stubborn friend well enough to realize that she wouldn’t listen to reason right now.
“I’ve made up my mind, Vera. Now leave me alone.” Myrtle gave both Vera and Jimmy a look that brooked no questions.
With a sigh, Vera decided that she was not willing to fight a losing battle. “Ok, Myrt. Call me if you need me. I will bring dinner to your house tonight around 6:00.” Vera could see Myrtle opening her mouth to argue. “NO! This is non-negotiable. If I am going to leave you here now against my better judgment, I will, by God, be there for you later.”
On the verge of tears, she picked up her pocketbook and opened the door to leave. “Bye Jimmy,” she said softly.
“Bye Miss Vera.” Jimmy turned to look again at Myrtle. He knew he should just walk out the door and go to lunch. Risking her wrath, he instead went around the desk and pulled on Myrtle’s hand until she stood up. Then he wrapped his arms around her and just held on. “It’s going to be okay, Miss Myrtle. I’m fixing to leave and give you some space but I will lock the door behind me so no one else can come in. You can do your filing in peace or just sit here quietly. Don’t worry about answering the phone. Voice mail is there for just this reason. I’ll be back in about an hour but I have my cell phone so just call if you need me.”
With that, he grabbed his things and went to lunch. Somehow meeting about liability coverage didn’t seem that important anymore but Miss Myrtle was right. Life goes on. Sadly, though, Jimmy knew life in Pageland was never going to be the same.
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