For the next week, Myrt and Vera had very little time to work on the investigation. The insurance office was unusually busy. With Vera also working overtime, the friends had a lot of catching up to do.
“Myrt, this chicken pot pie is to die for. Did you make the crust yourself?” Vera asked as she took another large bite.
“No, I actually got several pre-made crusts from Mrs. Freeman. You know she started selling them frozen in addition to all the homemade cakes and pies?”
“She needs to franchise. Amazing!”
The two friends spent the next several minutes eating, catching up on trivial things and just generally enjoying each other’s company. After the dishes were done and they had moved into the comfortable den chairs, they got down to business.
“I went to check on Shelby yesterday. She seemed to be a little better. I hope she is able to keep herself healthy.” Myrtle knew that it would take time for Shelby to fully trust her but she felt they had a good chance of becoming real friends. “The more I’ve thought about it, I just can’t see her hurting anyone other than herself. We have to eliminate her as a suspect.”
“People do things out of character all the time, Myrt. But, I am inclined to agree with you. Maybe if Pop had been poisoned or killed in his sleep, I could consider Shelby a suspect. But, shooting someone is too direct, too forceful. She doesn’t have it in her.”
“Well, that’s one off the list for now. Who should we talk to next?”
“It’s got to be Rhonda.” Vera shook her head as she remembered Rhonda’s actions at the graveside service.
“Why her?” Myrt trusted Vera’s instincts but wasn’t sure of her reasons.
“She’s hot-headed. If Pop was killed in a fit of passion, my money would be on Rhonda.”
“OK, we will go see her next but I have to say, Vera, that I don’t see why she would kill him. She got a lump sum payout from the divorce, they hated each other by that point and she gained nothing with his death.”
Vera nodded and thought for a second. “You might be right, Myrt, but either way we have to talk to her and we might as well get it over with.”
Rhonda lived in a house off Oak Street that she purchased from the local dentist when he moved. It had always been an understated, nice home but she was doing her best to make her mark. The bright new paint, ornate masonry work and wrought iron fencing might have fit for a Los Angeles mansion but for a Pageland home it was just plain tacky. When Myrtle and Vera pulled into the driveway, both had to stifle the urge to roll their eyes as they took in all the details.
Answering the door in a pair of yoga pants and tank top, Rhonda looked good, Myrtle had to give her that.
“What do you two want?” This wasn’t quite the greeting they had hoped for but was also not unexpected.
“Hi, Rhonda. We were hoping we could talk to you for a few minutes.” Myrtle, being slightly less abrasive than her beloved friend Vera, decided she should be the one to respond.
“You want to talk. To me. Why in the hell would you want to do that?”
The snide tone was more than Vera could take. “You know, I’m asking myself the same thing. Why in the hell would we want to talk to you?”
“Vera!” Myrtle knew that if there was any chance for this to not blow up in their faces, she had to act quickly. “Rhonda, I’m sorry. We should have called ahead. I didn’t think and I’m sorry.” Myrtle could feel Vera priming for another attack but she wanted to avoid more conflict. “Vera and I were both friends with Pop for a long time and have been shaken by his death. Please forgive us but we just wanted to talk to people that had been close to him. That’s all.”
Rhonda seemed surprised by Myrtle’s conciliatory tone but still was on guard. “That’s all well and good but why me? Pop and I were only married for a hot second and he hated me.”
“I doubt he hated you. All anyone could talk about was how much you two loved each other when you were married. I’d just like to hear more about his life with you.” Myrtle read a lot of mysteries and especially loved Agatha Christie. She decided to pull a Poirot and tailor her investigative tactics to the suspect. For Rhonda, that meant playing to her vanity. “You are so different from his other wives and, frankly, from most of the other women around town. I know that’s why he chose you.”
Seeing her wall coming down, Myrtle made her final move. “You know, this house used to be so plain and boring. The updates you’ve made are spectacular. Even if you don’t want to talk, can we at least get a peek inside? I’m dying to see what you’ve done.”
“Well, I can’t let everyone in but I guess it wouldn’t hurt for you to come in for a second.” Opening the door further, she allowed the two women inside. When she turned her back to close the door, Myrtle winked at Vera and got a scowl in return.
The house tour was enlightening. The front rooms and Rhonda’s bedroom were lavishly furnished with things made to look expensive. But, most of the rooms were bare. Rhonda talked quickly of taking her time with decorating and trying to find just the right things but Myrtle had a sneaking suspicion that most of the money was gone and these rooms would be empty for a while. Rhonda grudgingly led them into the living room and offered tea. When she went to the kitchen, Myrtle took the opportunity to pay attention to the details. The room showed no signs of a life lived. Everything was immaculate and in its’ place but there were no personal photos, no magazines, no books. It was a room meant to impress but instead left you feeling sad.
While Myrtle wasn’t a fan of Rhonda’s decorating, she did have to give her credit for one thing. She knew how to make a pitcher of sweet tea. It was fresh, strong and just sweet enough. In a word, it was heaven.
“Thank you for showing us around. You must enjoy living here.” Myrtle decided to try to engage their reluctant host.
“The house is just what I wanted but the neighbors are a pain in the butt. Always complaining about noise, the color I chose for the shed outside and anything else they can think of. Plus, the dirty looks the wife is always giving me are crazy.”
“The Austins were good friends of Pop, so there is that.” Vera chose that moment to enter the conversation and seemed oblivious to the glare Myrtle turned on her.
Luckily, Rhonda was also a little oblivious. “Yeah, well, they were his friends but who cares? All of that was water under the bridge. The divorce was done a million years ago and I left him alone after that. They didn’t need to be giving me stare downs when I walked to the mailbox. You know, I didn’t mind the husband looking at me. I recognized that look in his eyes when I was sunbathing and he came outside. That’s probably why the wife hates me and I saw her talking to her landscaper about adding a hedge. Whatever. Let your man look. If I get his motor running, who cares as long as he comes home to your pit stop.” With a laugh, Rhonda made it clear that she enjoyed any attention she could get even if it caused problems for other people.
“Gotta love a racing metaphor.” Vera muttered.
Trying to get the conversation on track and the visual of Rhonda in a tiny bikini out of her mind, Myrtle decided to cut to the chase. “You know, Rhonda, Vera and I were at Pop’s graveside service. There seemed to be some words between you and Laura. What was that all about?”
“Oh, that hussy. I simply said that I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a little something in the will. She went ballistic, calling me names and saying that if he left any of us anything it would be her. She, after all, was ‘the mother of his children.’ I almost smacked her. She’s such an idiot. If he hated anyone most in this world, it was her. He told me some stories. But I shouldn’t talk about that, should I?” Rhonda sat back with the look at a cat eyeing a mouse. Myrtle was loath to play her game but wanted the information. Her mind worked quickly looking for a way in.
Vera knew Myrtle had a hard time being truly devious so she decided to do her part. Swallowing her distaste, she entered the fray. “Now, Rhonda, you know you can tell us. We hate Laura as much as the next woman – I mean, who doesn’t? Give us what you’ve got.”
“I guess, if you can keep a secret?” Rhonda gave both women a bright-eyed look and they each nodded to her. “Laura threatened to kill Pop when he left her. Something about revenge being a dish best served cold.”