Archive | October 2016

Myrtle Mysteries: BBQ, Sweet Tea and Murder – Chapter 16

Tuesday evening, Myrtle met Vera at La Página de Tierras for Taco Tuesday.  Both of them chose the trio of beef, chicken and fish.  With the unlimited chips and salsa, they were stuffed after dinner.  It was a beautiful March night that hinted of the spring to come; so they decided to walk down McGregor Street to see if they could make room for some dessert.  Vera tucked her arm into Myrtle’s and they strolled quietly.  None of the retail stores were open but they both enjoyed window shopping almost as much as the real thing.  They walked along one side and then turned to make their way back to their cars.

As they neared the parking lot, Myrtle said, “Do you think you’ve got room for a piece of pie?  I’ve got one of Miss Freeman’s chocolate lovers delight.  Can I tempt you?”

“You had me at ‘Miss Freeman’ and you know it.  I’ll meet you at your house”,  Vera replied.

When they arrived, Myrtle unlocked the door and heard the phone ringing.  She rushed to reach it and answered breathlessly, “Hello.”

“Hello.  Is this Myrtle Mills?”

“Yes it is.  Who is calling?”

“My name is Elizabeth Jordan.  I’m the daughter of Paul and Laura Jordan.”

“I know who you are, sweetheart.  What can I do for you?” Myrtle asked

“I was hoping that you might be available this coming Saturday for a few minutes.  If so, I can come by your house.”

“Oh, okay.  I’m supposed to go to Columbia for the day but that can be rearranged.  Please come.”

“If you are sure?”  Elizabeth asked tentatively.

“Of course.  Of course.”

“I’ll be there at 11:00 if that works.”

“That is absolutely fine.  I will see you then.”  Myrtle hung up the phone and said “huh”.

“Who the heck was that, Myrt?  You have a very confused look on your face.”

“That was Elizabeth, Pop’s daughter.  She wants to come see me on Saturday.  I guess we no longer need to make that trip to Columbia.  The mountain is coming to Muhammad.”

“That’s interesting…or something.  Have you ever spoken with her before?”  Vera asked.

“Nope.  It’s strange; especially given the timing.  But she sounded sad on the phone so how could I say no.  Plus we were planning to try to go see her anyway.”

“Don’t furrow your brow Myrtle Mills.  The years have given us enough wrinkles without you adding more over this.  We will just see what she has to say when she gets here.”  Vera said in a matter-of-fact fashion.

“You can’t get angry with me, Vera, but I don’t think you should be here.  She called me and might not be willing to talk about whatever it is that she wants with someone else.  There was something guarded in her voice on the phone and I can imagine it will only be worse face-to-face.”  Myrtle glanced at her friend who didn’t seemed surprised by the request.

“That’s fine.  That’s fine.  You’re probably right anyway.  What if I call up Shelby and see if she wants to go over to Johnny’s shack that day and we will talk to him?”

Myrtle felt a slight pang and realized that she was jealous of Vera and Shelby hanging out again this weekend.  Shaking her head, she reminded herself that she and Vera had been friends their entire lives and she was being silly.  “That sounds like a great idea, Vera.  What if y’all do that and then we all meet here for dinner Saturday night?”

“You cooked dinner last time.  Let’s meet at my house instead and I will make my famous chicken casserole with all the side dishes we love.”  Vera said.

“That would be wonderful; I haven’t had your chicken casserole in ages.  Now, before it gets too late, let’s have that chocolate pie.”

****

The remainder of the week was uneventful for Myrtle.  She spent her days working and her nights doing her bible study homework, watching television and reading.  When she got home Friday after work, she decided to take a walk and head over to Vivian and Steve’s house.  She was thankful that her daughter and family lived just a few blocks away.  When she arrived, she was greeted at the door by Vivian’s youngest, Cindy.  Full of energy, the child never seemed to run out of steam.  Everyone loved her infectious laugh and sweet disposition.  Mary walked in the room shortly after that.  While she was more reserved, she still had the sparkle in her eye that hinted of mischief.

“Girls, I swear you grow bigger every day.  What is your Mama feeding you?  And where is that daughter of mine?”  She hugged both girls as she talked and felt her heart swell with love for them.

“Mama’s in the kitchen making dinner.  It’s witches stew* tonight.  Will you stay?”  Mary said.

“If Vivian is okay with it, I just may do that.” Myrtle answered.

Walking into the kitchen, Myrtle saw her daughter at the stove.  She could smell the onions browning on the stovetop.  Beans and cooked hamburger meat were on the counter waiting to be added in.  Turning around, Vivian exclaimed, “Where did you come from Mama?  I didn’t know you were here.”

“Sorry, after I got home from work, I decided to walk over and see what you all were doing.  The girls asked me to stay for dinner but I don’t want to impose.”

“Mama, you housed and fed me for 18 years, you are welcome here to dinner anytime.  And, you know that witch’s stew serves as many as it needs to.  Will you help me mix up the cornbread?  I’ve already got the salad ready and in the fridge.”

Mary and Cindy had been standing off to the side to see if their Granny was staying.  Mary said, “I’m going into my room to read until dinner.  Is that okay?”

“Of course, Mary.  Cindy, you go play in your room and I’ll call you both when everything is on the table.  And, don’t forget the rules – I made dinner, so you two rascals are responsible for cleaning the kitchen after dinner.”  Vivian said with a smile.

Both girls rolled their eyes (a family trait) but smiled and said in unison, “Of course, dear Mother.”  They laughed and ran off to their rooms knowing that their Mama wasn’t angry.

Myrtle laughed as she grabbed an apron.  “Those girls are so much like you.  It’s payback, you know.”  She started pulling the ingredients for the cornbread and grabbed a mixing bowl.

Vivian was slowly working on mixing everything together for the stew.  She said with a wry grin, “Well, I’ve always been told that I take after you so I guess it runs in the family.”  Turning to her mother she added, “You mentioned that you and Vera were asking some questions about Pop’s death but I haven’t had much time to talk to you about it.  How is it going?”

With a sigh Myrtle proceeded to tell Vivian about the details she and Vera had been able to find.  Because she trusted Vivian implicitly, she shared Rhonda’s story about Pop’s married lover and illegitimate child.  She could see the wheels turning in Vivian’s head and decided to give her a few quiet moments and some space to think about the things she had just learned.  Myrtle knew of her daughter’s ability to solve puzzles.  Combine that with her inherited love of mysteries and she just might think of an angle that she and Vera had missed.

Vivian continued to stir the stew as Myrtle put the cornbread in the oven.  With a furrowed brow, Vivian asked, “I know Rhonda said she didn’t know the year that Pop’s other daughter was born, but did she have any idea as to when or who it could have been?”

“If she did, she didn’t tell me.  It was obviously after his divorce from Laura but before his marriage to Rhonda.  That leaves a pretty wide open window.”  Myrtle said with a sigh.

“It does but let’s think about things.  He did eventually start sending money to the mother so maybe that’s an angle to investigate.  Another thing is that if he told Rhonda this story, chances are he told other people he was close to.  Who was his best friend?”  Vivian asked.

“Honestly, I’m not sure he had a best friend.” Myrtle said sadly. “He worked and was friendly with his customers but it’s not like he went out and played golf or poker with buddies.  From what I saw, he kept to himself when he wasn’t working.  The only thing I can think of is that he might have told one of his children.  After all, they had another sibling and he may have felt an obligation to let them know.  I’m actually supposed to see Elizabeth this weekend.  I will try to find a way to ask her about it.”

“I think you should do that, Mama.  Unless the killing was random, my gut is telling me that this other child plays a part in this drama.  But, be careful.  I don’t want to see you pulled into something dangerous.”

Hugging her daughter, Myrtle assured her, “I will be careful.  Don’t you worry, sweet pea.”

“Alright then.  Let’s eat dinner.”  Vivian went to get Steve, who was outside, working in the yard, and her daughters.  Myrtle set the table and retrieved the cornbread from the oven.  Transferring the stew to a serving bowl and getting the salad from the fridge, the food was ready as everyone else filed into the kitchen.

Steve washed his hands at the sink and then sat down.  “Cindy Lou, why don’t you say the blessing.”

Blushing, she said, “Okay Daddy.”  She closed her eyes and clasped her hands as she recited, “God is great.  God is good.  Let us thank him for our food.  By his hands, we all are fed.  Thank you for this daily bread.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhmeeeeeeeen.”  She opened her eyes to see the adults smiling at her and Mary rolling her eyes (again).  Cindy was infamous in the family for adding her personality to any blessing or song that she sang.  This time she had chosen to sing “Amen” in the Gregorian chant style she heard on PBS earlier in the day during one of the boring documentaries her Mama was watching.

The family started filling their plates and the food was quickly consumed.  Myrtle looked at the witches stew and remembered the day that she taught her daughter to make this simple dish that became a staple in their growing family.  She smiled at Vivian and then thought of Pop’s daughter, hoping that she had grown up with all the love that was evidenced around the table this night.

After dinner, Myrtle spent several hours at Vivian’s house.  Most of the time, they just all sat around and talked.  That was all that a family needed.  When it was time to go home, Steve insisted on driving her back even though it was only two blocks away.  Myrtle was secretly pleased to have a son-in-law who was so attentive.  Once home and ready for bed, she said a quick prayer of thanks for her family and that the next day’s meeting with Elizabeth would go smoothly.  ‘Ahhhhhhhhhmeeeeeen.’  She thought to herself with a smile right before she fell asleep.

*See recipe below

Vivian’s Witches Stew

1 1/2 pounds hamburger meat (80% fat)

1 medium yellow onion

2 cans pork and beans (do not drain)

1/2-1 cup of ketchup (more or less to taste)*

Salt and pepper

In a large pan, cook the hamburger meat over medium heat.  Season with salt and pepper before browning but do not add oil.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the hamburger meat from the pan.  Drain off excess fat – leaving only about a tablespoon in the bottom of the pan (any small pieces of hamburger left behind are just fine).

Rough chop the onion and place into the pan.  Season lightly with salt.  Cook over medium heat until the pieces are soft and slightly brown.  Don’t overcook.

Reduce heat to medium low.  Add hamburger meat back to pan along with both cans of pork and beans and ketchup.  Stir to mix and allow to simmer for at least ten minutes.

Serve with cornbread and a simple salad.

*The ‘best’ brand of ketchup is a running joke in our household.  We girls always preferred Heinz but would use Hunts in a pinch.  One day my Daddy went to the store and brought home Del Monte.  We were relentless in telling him what a bad choice it was and that we didn’t like it.  To this day, I check the labels in restaurants to make sure they are using the right ketchup.  (As an adult, I now see that Daddy probably bought the one that was on sale and I feel slightly bad that we gave him such a hard time.  But, it was all in fun and we still laugh about it so that’s okay.)

**P.S.  In many ways, Witches Stew is similar to a basic, inexpensive chili without the extra spices.  In our family, this was a quicker and easier alternative that worked for two young kids who wouldn’t want the spiciness of chili powder or the smokiness of cumin.  Plus, we almost always had the simple ingredients on hand.  You can add things that you like (jalapeños, sour cream, cheddar cheese, etc.) and make it your own.  Think about using fresh cooked beans to save even more money or a homemade tomato sauce for a different flavor.  Either way – Enjoy!  (P.S. Don’t throw away those leftovers.  It’s even better the next day with some cornbread broken up over the top.)

 

Mini-Review: The Big Four (Hercule Poirot #5) by Agatha Christie

I have to admit that I enjoyed this departure from the standard Poirot type mystery. The Big Four is full of international intrigue and attempted world domination. It was entertaining and quite fun. 
The only strange thing is that I watched the BBC episode a few days ago and the story was strikingly different. The book was much better and the tv producers erred in their adaptation. 

4/5 stars. 

Mini-Review: Dead Man’s Folly (Hercule Poirot #31) by Agatha Christie

527620

Well, you are bound to have some books that aren’t as good in any long running series.  I am quite obsessed with all things Poirot but Dead Man’s Folly wasn’t up to the same caliber as most earlier installments.  I’ve read that Christie became either bored or frustrated with the character and, in some ways, you can see it in DMF.  For me, the series is at its’ best in the books written from the 20’s to 40’s.  This book, written in 1956, doesn’t have the same feel.

Without going into too many details, part of the issue is that most of the police investigation takes place with Poirot off the scene (and therefore, the page).  It’s hard to understand how or why he would solve the mystery when he wasn’t there for many interviews, etc.  Also, the ending was fairly preposterous.  This was no red herring or plot twist.  It just didn’t make sense really.

Having said that, I do enjoy Ariadne Oliver as a secondary character.  And, I believe David Suchet narrated the audio for this book.  I may choose to listen to it in the future.

2/5 stars.

Myrtle Mysteries: BBQ, Sweet Tea and Murder – Chapter 15

After a relaxing Sunday spent at church and at home, Myrtle headed back to work on Monday.  Jimmy was in early to prepare for several important meetings and was on his second cup of coffee when Myrtle arrived.

“How was your weekend, Miss Myrtle?”  Jimmy was in a good mood.  The coffee must have been very strong this morning, thought Myrtle.

“Good, good.  I had a nice dinner Saturday with Vera and Shelby Jordan.  What about you?”

“Oh, nothing special.”  Jimmy looked away as he answered and Myrtle was sure she saw pink in his cheeks.  “Just hung out with some friends.  Nothing special.”

“Jimmy Davis, you are blushing.  I think you did more than hang out with friends.  Now you don’t have to tell this old lady your personal business but it makes me happy to see you with a sparkle in your eye.”

With a laugh, Jimmy said, “You caught me.  I did go out with some friends Saturday night.  We decided to try the new billiards place in Cheraw.  While I was there, I ran into a nice young lady and we spent some time talking.  You know, Miss Myrtle, I think you were the one who told me who she was.  Remember at Big Pop’s funeral?  Ginger.  Ginger Mangum.”

Myrtle realized she must have looked shocked as Jimmy started stuttering out an explanation.  “I know she’s only 21 and I’m 32.  All we did was talk; I promise.  But, it was nice.”

“It is not for me to tell anyone how to live their life, Jimmy.  Just be careful.  Age might be just a number but maturity is something else entirely.  You are a successful business owner who has a lot of life experience.  At 21, she is just starting to figure out herself and the world around her.”  Pausing, Myrtle was trying to choose her words thoughtfully.  She decided to keep it simple and again said only, “Just be careful.”

“Miss Myrtle, I appreciate you worrying about me but it’s all good.”  Jimmy got up and walked into his office so Myrtle decided it was time to begin her day.  After grabbing a cup of coffee and turning on the computer, she got to work.  They had a busy day ahead with several meetings – which meant a lot of additional paperwork for Myrtle.  Not that she was complaining as, strangely enough, she found that she enjoyed the paperwork.  Finding new ways to organize the office and keeping everything in order seemed to come natural to her.

About an hour later, the phone rang for the 5th time.  “Good Morning.  Davis Insurance, this is Myrtle.  How may I help you?”

“Myrtle, it’s Shelby.  Am I bothering you?”

“Of course not.  How are you on this Monday morning?”

“I’m good, I’m good.  But, I’ve got news.  Can you meet me for lunch at Beth’s?  I’ve already asked Vera and she can meet us there at noon.  Will you be there?”

“Well, if the excitement in your voice is any indicator, I wouldn’t want to miss it.  I’ll be there.”

“Great, I’ll see you then.  Bye.”

“Bye, Shelby.”  Myrtle looked at the phone as she was replacing the receiver and found herself very curious.  Shaking her head and resolving to wait until lunch, she got back to work.  At 11:50, she knocked on Jimmy’s door to let him know she was leaving.

“Have a good lunch, Miss Myrtle.  I’ll be here through lunch so don’t worry about setting the message on the phone.”  Jimmy barely looked up from his work so Myrtle knew he was having a good day.  He was happiest when completely absorbed in finding the best solution for one of his customers.

Making the short drive to Beth’s she arrived and saw that both Vera and Shelby were already there.  When she went inside, they waved to her from their booth and she went through the buffet line.  Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, lima beans and sliced tomatoes filled her plate nicely.  Balancing her sweet tea and paper plate, Myrtle made her way to the booth.

“Girl, sit down and eat quick so we can hear Shelby’s news.”  Vera was impatient in the best of times but became bossy when she was also excited.

“Hello, Vera, dear old friend.  Thank you, I think I will enjoy my lunch.”  Chuckling, she turned to Shelby and said, “Was she like this when you got here too?”

“I think I am more excited than anyone.  I got here at 11:30 because I just couldn’t wait any longer.  She’s probably ready for me to tell the story so I will stop bouncing my knee up and down.  She’s already fussed at me three times.”  Shelby elbowed Vera who just rolled her eyes.

After they all settled in, they finally did eat and enjoy their lunches.  A quick refill of sweet tea for everyone and they were ready to talk business.

“Will you tell us now, Shelby.  I am dying over here.”  Vera turned to Shelby and asked.

“Okay, okay.”  Looking over at Myrtle, she said, “I was very careful, Myrtle.  Benji has been coming  to my church for about a year now.”

“Benji?  Who is that?”  Vera asked.

“Chief White.  Benjamin.  Well, he told me to call him Benji.”  Shelby said timidly.

“Vera and I knew him as Benjamin in school; he was a few years behind us.  I think we just never pictured him as a Benji.  Vera, wipe that smile off your face.  Go own, now, Shelby.  Ignore her.”

“Benji, Chief White, has been coming to church for a while.  We’ve only spoken in passing but, like I said, I always had a feeling he kind of liked me.  Anyway, I saw him yesterday morning after preaching service but talked myself out of going up to him.  Then last night, he said hello after the training union service and I decided to go for it.  I asked if he wanted to grab some coffee in the fellowship hall.  He said yes.”

Shelby was so excited she barely paused before continuing.  “I couldn’t wait to tell you both that I did it.  I asked him out.  Oh, I know that it wasn’t a real date but for me, it was a big deal.”

“It’s a big deal for anyone.  Trust me, Shelby.  Good for you!”  Myrtle squeezed Shelby’s hand and even Vera was smiling.

“We talked for a while and had several cups of coffee.  I almost forgot to ask about the investigation.  When I finally did bring it up, I honestly didn’t want to push it.  We were having such a nice time.”

“I don’t blame you, Shelby.  Don’t feel pressured to do this.”  Myrtle said.

“Oh, I don’t feel pressured.  I just don’t want him to think I’m only talking to him to find out information.  I’m sure he’s wary of that and people have done it before.”  Shelby took a deep breath and continued, “Once he started talking, he actually seemed relieved to have someone listen.  He has a very stressful job!”

Myrtle smiled to herself and risked a knowing look towards Vera.  They could tell that Shelby was becoming smitten herself.

“He told me that they are releasing Barry, the meth head.  The evidence just isn’t there and they can’t really hold him any longer.  It sounds like he did find the money like he told the police.  Benji said he almost felt like he was starting back at square one.  They have interviewed everyone close to Pop although I did point out to him that they didn’t talk to me.  He seemed a bit embarrassed and said that since our marriage had ended a while back, he told his detectives that he couldn’t see any reason  for them to come see me.  I’m not sure if I should have been offended that he thought me too meek to be a suspect.  Maybe I’ll have to disabuse him of that notion.”  She laughed and continued on, “Oh, that’s wicked. But, it feels good to laugh again.”

“Nothing wrong with showing a man he’s wrong about something.  I strive to do it every day.” Vera said with a straight face.

“Vera, you are a card.”  Shelby was hitting her stride with the story.  “He didn’t say a lot about his discussions with Laura and Rhonda but I didn’t get the feeling he considers them suspects either.  He mentioned that Paul Jr was very defensive when they talked to him, though.  Have either of you considered speaking with Paul or Elizabeth?  I hate to think of a child killing their parent but it is possible.”

“I thought about it, too.  But, I’d probably start with Elizabeth even though she lives a few hours away.  She is a little more level-headed so we might get more information from her.  Paul is a lot like both his mother and father so talking with him could be like walking in a mine field.”  Myrtle responded.

“That could be true.  Benji said Elizabeth was a sweetheart to them and answered all their questions.  They sent someone to Columbia to talk to her.  I might be reading too much into it, but I really felt like he didn’t suspect her either.  That’s why he sounded so down.  Every suspect seems unlikely and the clues seem to lead nowhere.  He did bring up Ginger Mangum too.”

“Wait, what?  Ginger Mangum, Betsy’s daughter?”  Myrtle was so shocked she couldn’t believe it.  First, it had never crossed her mind that Ginger would be a suspect.  Second, she hadn’t thought much about Ginger in the last several years and to have her name come up twice in the same day was unusual.

“That’s her.”  Shelby said.  “Again, I didn’t get the feeling it was a big deal but he said they had to talk to her because of that business with the car.”

“That business with the car, ha.  You mean the fact that she stole Pop’s Camaro and then totaled it?”  Vera had always had the knack of cutting to the chase.

“She did steal the car and total it but Pop didn’t press charges.  I can’t see why in the world she would have a motive to kill him.”  Myrtle pointed out.

“Benji said as much himself but said he couldn’t leave any stone unturned.  He said she was a pretty young lady, of course, and cooperated but that there was something about her he just didn’t care for.  It could be her history of drug use and trouble-making but who knows?  The only other person he really mentioned was John Plyler.  I guess they had words about a year ago about Pop’s BBQ sauce recipe.”

“Oh, I remember that.  How had I forgotten?  John decided he was going to start selling BBQ at his place, Johnny’s Shack.  It wasn’t going well and one day he saw Pop at the post office.  He accused him of bad mouthing his BBQ sauce.  Pop apparently told him that he didn’t need to say anything bad about it, the customers did that themselves.  He said that maybe John should focus on improving his own BBQ sauce instead of trying to copy Pop’s.  They almost came to fisticuffs but Pop walked away before it could go too far.”  Vera said.

“Leave it to you to know all the details.”  Myrtle never ceased to be amazed by Vera’s knack for learning gossip.  “Does Chief White think John would hold  grudge over something so small?”

“The argument might seem small but Johnny’s Shack has always struggled.  He has to be jealous of the success Pop had at his restaurant.  Maybe he just blew one day.  Benji didn’t give me too many details but I got the feeling that he was not ruling out John’s involvement.”

“Okay.  So, we need to talk to Elizabeth and to John.  What are our next steps, fearless leader?”  Vera looked at Myrtle expectantly.

When Myrtle saw Shelby also gazing at her, she said, “How in the world did I become the leader?”  After a few moments of silence from the other two, she finally sighed and said, “I think we should talk to John first.  I know him pretty well so I can stop by the Shack one night this week and see if he will talk to me.  Why don’t we plan a trip to Columbia on Saturday?  We can shop a little and drop in on Elizabeth.”  Vera nodded her agreement and Myrtle asked, “Shelby, what about you?  Wanna visit Columbia?”

“Why not?  This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

Mini-Review: Peril at End House (Hercule Poirot #8) by Agatha Christie

After working my way through about half of Christie’s works so far, I’ve come to the conclusion that almost all can be classified as good (3-4 stars) or great (5 stars). I think the 2- star entries will be few and far between and 1-star is unthinkable. 

Peril at End House falls into the good category at 4-stars. I probably would have enjoyed it more if read in one sitting. Instead I kept it as my ‘purse book’ for a while. So I only pulled it out when I had a few minutes before a meeting or appointment. This created a disjointed reading experience and wasn’t the best way to consume a Poirot. 

One thing I also noticed is that I now read Poirot with David Suchet’s voice. I’ve been binging BBC Poirot when I have time and am quite obsessed. It took me a few episodes to begin to appreciate his portrayal of the character but now…he is brilliant. I may have an unexpected crush. 

Myrtle Mysteries: BBQ, Sweet Tea and Murder – Chapter 14

The following week was uneventful and frustrating for Myrtle.  She spent her days working in the office and her nights searching her brain for ideas that might help with their investigation.  Vera was busy with work and going to her granddaugther’s dance recital so she was more scarce than usual.

She decided to spend all day Saturday cleaning the house.  By the time she had scrubbed the bathroom, mopped the floors and dusted all the furniture, her mind was the clearest it had been in weeks.  As she put the last load of clothes in the dryer, she heard the doorbell.

“Well hello, Shelby, come on in.  You will have to excuse the way I look.  I was just finishing up my housework.”

“I don’t want to disturb you, Myrtle.  I should have called first.”

“You aren’t bothering me at all.  Let’s sit on the deck and have some sweet tea.”

After showing Shelby onto the deck, Myrtle came back in to prepare a tray of sweet tea and some of the chocolate oatmeal cookies* she had made the night before.  She added a few of the mini-pretzels that she always kept on hand in case they wanted something salty to go with the very sweet cookies.  Heading back outside, she was interested to see what brought Shelby to visit her for the first time.

“Here we go.  Tea, cookies and pretzels.”

“Thank you, Myrtle.”  Biting into one of the cookies, Shelby let out an unexpected groan of pleasure.  Blushing, she said, “I’m sorry, Myrtle, but these are the best cookies I’ve ever had.”

“I would be modest but the truth is that I love them too.  The base recipe came from my mother and I tweaked it with some changes of my own.  I think the secret is using a portion of brown sugar instead of all white sugar.”  Myrtle smiled over at her guest.  “Shelby, I am so glad you came by but we both know you didn’t come her for tea and cookies.  Is there something on your mind?”

With a laugh, Shelby set down her glass of tea.  “I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to get to know each other Myrtle.  One of the things I am starting to learn is that you don’t pull any punches.  I like that.”  Myrtle saw the spark in Shelby’s eyes and knew that, in many ways, she was starting to come back to life.  When Shelby continued talking, Myrtle had to pull her thoughts back to the conversation.  “The truth is that I’m probably just being nosy.  After we talked a few weeks ago, I haven’t been able to get Pop’s murder off my mind.  I know you and Vera have been quietly looking into it and I wanted to see if you had any ideas of what happened.”  Shelby stopped talking and Myrtle was surprised to see that she was blushing again.

“Was there more you wanted to say, Vera?  It looks like you are holding back.”

“I guess I’m a bit embarrassed.”  Taking a deep breath she looked at Myrtle and said, “I wanted to see if I could help y’all investigate.  I’m a big mystery fan and always figure out the killer ahead of time when I’m reading.  Plus I’ve watched all the Poirot mysteries on Netflix and I think I could match him – little gray cell by little gray cell.”

It took a few seconds for Myrtle to respond because she was so surprised.  “You love Poirot?  Me too.  Have you read the Louise Penny series set in Canada?”

“Oh yes, I love Armand Gamache.  If only there were more men like him in the real world.”

“They are out there, Shelby.  You just have to find the right one for you.”  Myrtle thought about Shelby’s words and decided to take a chance.  “Back to your question.  Vera and I are having dinner here tonight and I’m sure we will talk about Pop.  Why don’t you come back around 6 and we will see what happens?”  Looking down at herself, she chuckled.  “As you can see, I need a few hours to get myself together.  Between the house cleaning and dancing, I could use a shower.”

“That would be wonderful, Myrtle.  I’ll bring desert.”

“Perfect.”  Shelby was getting up to leave and Myrtle started to stand.

“Myrtle, if we’re going to be friends, you have to treat me like one.  That means you don’t have to walk me out.  You stay here and enjoy a little quiet time.  I can find my way back to the front door and I will see you tonight.”

“Well, alrighty then.”  Myrtle saluted Shelby and laughed while saying, “See you tonight.”

Myrtle decided to take Shelby’s advice and she spent the next hour on the deck enjoying the sunshine, birds chirping and more cookies than she would later admit.  She saw Miss Willie mowing her backyard and the smell of fresh cut grass was still strong in the air when she went back inside.  Before her shower, she remembered to call Vera to let her know that Shelby would be joining them for dinner.  As expected Vera was more than happy to have their new friend there.

For years, Myrtle was a bath person.  She wanted to soak all her cares away for as long as the water was warm and until her fingers and toes were wrinkled as prunes.  While she still enjoyed a soak sometimes, she had come to appreciate a steamy shower.  Spending more time than should be legal, Myrtle finally stepped out of the shower.  Wrapping a towel around herself and looking in the mirror, she was happy with what she saw – a woman aging but okay with it.

She used a light hand on her makeup and was able to get herself ready before 5:00.  While preparing dinner, she turned on channel 9 news as background noise.  She rarely paid close attention as the news was too depressing most of the time.  But, she enjoyed looking at the handsome anchor every few minutes.  She might be old but she wasn’t dead, after all.

One of the things that Myrtle enjoyed most, when she had time, was cooking.  For tonight’s dinner with friends, she decided to keep it simple.  And, after all the cookies she had eaten earlier, it wouldn’t hurt to make some healthier choices.  First, she pounded the chicken into cutlets and made a crust of panko bread crumbs, parmesan cheese and parsley.  Next, she boiled a box of bowtie pasta.  While it was cooling, she cut up veggies – cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes and corn fresh off the cob.  She finished off the pasta salad with a simple dressing of oil, red wine vinegar, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper.  To complete the dinner, she roasted a head of broccoli and of cauliflower.

The pasta salad was cooling in the fridge and the chicken and veggies were in the oven just as Vera came through the front door.  “Myrt, where are you?  I brought some garlic bread and it’s still hot.  Where can I put it?”

“I’m in the kitchen.  Bring it in here and I’ll set it on top of the oven while the other things are cooking.”  Putting the wrapped garlic bread in place, Myrtle turned around to hug her friend.  “Girl, it’s been a week since I’ve seen you.”

“I know.  Crazy week.  Work was a bear.  I’m just glad we are together now to catch up.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind Shelby coming, Vera?  I think she’s a little lonely and, as she admitted, a little curious about what we’ve found out.”

“You know I don’t mind.  I like her.  But she may not like us after this dinner.  She is going to be so disappointed with what we have so far.”  Vera ruefully said.

“That could be true but at least maybe we can have some fun before she discovers our secret.”

The doorbell rang then and Vera went to let Shelby in.  As they both walked back into the den, they were already gabbing about their weeks.  Myrtle was glad to see them getting along so well.  After a few minutes, Myrtle led them both into the kitchen where the table was already set for three.  She pulled the chicken and veggies out of the oven and the pasta salad out of the fridge.  Setting everything on the counter, she said, “We are all friends here so it’s buffet style.  Grab your plates and let’s eat!”

Everyone filled their plates high and after a short blessing, they were all so engrossed with eating that they only had time for a few words here and there.  They finally all finished and pushed away from the table.

“Myrt, you know I’m not much for anything healthy but that was a darn good dinner.  You did it again.”

“Vera’s right, Myrtle.  That was so good.  I’ve eaten so much that I may never be hungry again.”

Myrtle was pretty happy herself and smiled at them both.  “Thank you, ladies.  I will accept your compliments.  It was good, right?  Now, Vera, I know that you are already eyeing that angel food cake and the strawberries that Shelby brought but why don’t we let our dinner settle and we’ll eat desert after a while?”

Everyone agreed so they moved back into the den.  Myrtle took her place in the recliner she had used for many years.  Vera sat in the arm chair next to the television.  That left the other recliner for Shelby.  Unknowing, she sat down and then looked at Vera’s face.

“What’s wrong, Vera?”  Shelby asked.

Myrtle stepped in quickly.  “Vera is just being overprotective.  That was Bradford’s chair.  No, no, Shelby, don’t you get up.  He would want us to use it.  Stay there.  Life goes on and I’m not going to keep that chair as some kind of unused shrine.  It’s comfortable isn’t it?”  Shelby nodded but still seemed a little uneasy so Myrtle decided to change the subject.

“Okay.  Let’s talk murder.”  Myrtle waggled her eyebrows and looked at the two ladies.  When they snickered, she continued.  “Now, Shelby, we are convinced you are going to be very disappointed when you find out how little we know.  But, here goes…”

Myrtle, with a little help from Vera, recapped everything they had learned so far with one exception.  They had agreed that they should keep the fact that Pop might have another child to themselves.  It wasn’t their secret to share.  But, they talked about both Rhonda and Laura.  All three agreed that, regardless of their flaws, they just couldn’t see either one of them killing Pop.  Once they went through everything that had been reported in the newspapers, they all looked chagrined at the lack of real leads.  Yes, the police had arrested the meth head but there were rumors that the evidence was looking more and more flimsy.  Most people expected him to be released any day.

They sat in silence for a while and Myrtle was surprised when Shelby was the first to speak again.  “Can I ask you both a question?”

“Of course you can, girl.” Vera said.

“You both have been thinking as outsiders.  That’s probably a good idea so that you can come up with things the police might miss.  But, you didn’t mention even talking to the police chief or anyone official.  I know you had some informal chats with Officer Murray, Vera, but I’m not sure those count.  If I were investigating I would at least try to see what I could find out from the chief.”

Myrtle and Vera looked at each other and laughed.  “Myrt, I thought about talking to him early on but we got to focusing on ‘the wives’ and I completely forgot about it.”

“Me too, Vera.  It was kind of always in the back of my mind but…”

“Shelby, you need to attend our planning sessions more often.  You can keep us on track.”  Vera stood up then.  “So, Myrt, do you want to flip a coin to see who gets to go speak with the illustrious Chief White?”

Shelby slowly raised her hand like she was in a class.  “What if I went and talked to him instead?”

“You want to go see the Chief?”  Myrtle was unable to hide her surprise.

“Truth is that I’ve known him for a while and I’m pretty sure he is sweet on me.  You know, I used to have ‘it’.  Maybe…”

“You are going to use your feminine wiles to get information.  Now, I know we are going to be good friends.”  Vera cackled as Myrtle tried to shush her.

“Don’t pick on her.  If you are willing to try, Shelby, it’s not a bad idea.  But, I will give you one piece of advice.  Unless you reciprocate his feelings, don’t take it too far.  You might end up with a problem.  And I really don’t want to see him hurt.”

“Oh, I won’t, Myrtle.  Truth is that I kind of think I might like him too.”  Blushing for the third time that day, Shelby looked down and said, “This is so exciting.”

“Lord help us, we are becoming Charlie’s Angels.”  Vera said.  “Let’s go eat some of that cake, Sabrina and Kelly.  Don’t you roll your eyes, Myrtle Mills.  You know I am Jill with this fabulous head of Farrah Fawcett hair I was born with.  Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”

“You are mixing up your cliches, Vera.  Come on, Shelby, let’s get her some cake to get her to shut up.”

 

*Recipe: Myrtle’s Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup white granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup creamy peanut butter

2 1/2 cups quick oats

In medium saucepan, bring butter, sugars, cocoa and milk to a slow boil over medium heat while stirring constantly.  Allow to boil for one minute – keep stirring the entire time to make sure it doesn’t stick on bottom or sides.

Take pot off heat and mix in one cup of oats.  Then add peanut butter and vanilla.  Once mixed, add another cup of oats.  As needed you can add up to 1/2 cup more of oats depending on consistency.  (Humidity and other factors will affect the final result and it’s best to make these in a cool room.)

Drop cookies by spoonful onto wax paper.  Once they cool completely and set up, place them in a cookie tin with layers separated by wax paper.

Mini-Review: The Killing Moon (Dreamblood #1) by NK Jemisin

11774272

I am woman enough to admit that I might not be smart enough to adequately review NK Jemisin’s work.  She is a genius.  I have adored everything I’ve read so far from her.

The Killing Moon is the first in the Dreamblood duology.  The world building and magical system are exceptional.  Gatherers are a revered, and very limited, portion of the Gujaareh people’s religion.  They worship Hananja and at her service they harvest Dreamblood from those who have requested it (think a very peaceful assisted suicide) or those deemed corrupt and judged to death.  The Dreamblood is then used to treat illness – both mental and physical.

The main character, Ehiru, is a powerful Gatherer who is a devout believer.  When things begin to happen that challenge his beliefs, he is forced to examine the corruption among his own kind.

Powerful on so many levels, The Killing Moon is a 5-star read.