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.