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.”

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