Myrtle Mysteries: BBQ, Sweet Tea and Murder – Chapter 17

As Myrtle made her way to Vera’s house Saturday night, her head was spinning.  She had learned many things during her talk with Elizabeth.  Now, she had to decide how much of it she would be willing to share with her friends.  She knew that they would expect full disclosure but she wasn’t sure.  Suddenly, she felt weary and wished that she and Vera had never stuck their noses into this business.

Pulling in front of the house, she saw Shelby turning in behind her.  At least one good thing had come out of this mess.  Shelby seemed like a new person and they were all becoming good friends.

“Hey, Myrtle, I was afraid I was late.  I’m glad you’re just getting her too.”  Shelby said breathlessly as she got out of the car.  She was carrying a small bouquet of flowers.  “I know Vera told us not to bring anything but I can’t come empty handed.  Do you think she will like these?”

Myrtle looked at the mix of yellow and purple daisies.  “She is going to love them.  Just the right colors for spring.  Come on, let’s head inside.  I’m starving.”

“Vera, don’t shoot.  It’s just me and Shelby.”  Myrtle announced as they walked into Vera’s front door.  She could already smell the chicken casserole and felt her shoulders relax for the first time in hours with the thought of the dinner to come.

Vera walked out of the kitchen and quickly hugged Myrtle and Shelby.  “Myrt, dinner is almost ready.  Will you set the table?  You know where everything is.”

Shelby said, “I brought you some flowers, Vera.  Do you have a vase I can put them in?”

“These are beautiful, Shelby.  Just what the table needs.  There are some vases in the cabinet above the fridge.  Grab that step stool and find one you like.”

The women moved comfortably around the kitchen and within minutes the food was on the set table.  Vera looked at the other two women and smiled.  “I know we have some things to catch up on from today but I want us to enjoy this meal first.”  Holding out her hands to her two friends, she said, “Let’s say the blessing.”

They clasped hands around the table and Vera, who never wanted to be called on for prayer in church, began, “Dear Lord, thank you for giving us this day…”  When she finished they all squeezed hands and Vera said, “Let’s eat!”

Over the next half hour they ate and talked about nothing of consequence.  Topics ranged from the new clothing that had arrived at Casually Chic to which color of lipstick was their favorite.  Shelby surprised them all by admitting that she loved a bright pink lip.  She blushed when Vera asked if Chief White liked a pink lip too.  After cleaning the table, they moved into the den with cups of coffee.

“Myrt, why don’t Shelby and I tell you about our talk with Johnny first and then you can fill us in on what Elizabeth had to say.”

“That works for me.  How did it go with him?”

“Shelby, he seemed more comfortable talking to you so why don’t you tell Myrt about it?”  Vera said.

Shelby looked surprised for a moment and then said, “You know, you’re right.  I do think he was more comfortable talking to me.  I wonder why?”

“Because you are known as a nice person, Shelby.  People think I’m a little too, how do they put it?  Oh yeah, direct.  That’s the word.”  Vera said with a laugh.

Laughing herself, Shelby said, “I like direct.  Anyway, Johnny seemed upset about Pop’s death.  He admitted that they argued about BBQ and sauces but said he didn’t hold a grudge.  There was some jealousy on his part because his place has been struggling.  He said that after that argument at the post office, he decided to think long and hard about himself and his business.  He decided that trying to sell BBQ when there was already such a successful place in this small town was a dumb move on his part and he had to own it.  Instead, he’s decided to close down for about a month and regroup.  The Shack will be a seafood restaurant and he is completely revamping the menu.  He seemed excited about the new ideas he had but did say that if this doesn’t work out he was probably going to find a new career.”

After a few seconds, she continued, “I know I’m new to this detective business but I feel like I know people.  Johnny didn’t do this.  He’s a good man.”

“I agree, Myrt, he didn’t do this.  He was genuinely excited for his new plans.  Dang it if he didn’t win me over.”  Vera said with a wry grin.  “Now, on to your report.  What did Elizabeth have to say?  Spill.”

Myrtle looked at Vera and Shelby.  She decided that honesty was always the best policy.  “She had a lot to say.  But, I’m not going to tell you everything.”

“Ummm, excuse me?” Vera said.

“Vera, if you had been there, you would say the same.  Some of the things that she told me don’t bear repeating.  And some she asked me to keep to myself.  I’m going to honor that request.  I will tell you what I can and you’ll have to be okay with that.”  Seeing both Vera and Shelby nod, Myrtle continued.  “When I opened the door to Elizabeth, my heart stopped for a few seconds.  I always thought she looked more like Laura but, up close, I could see Paul in some of her features.  It caught me off guard…

“Hello, Elizabeth. Come on in.  You are right on time.”

“Thanks for seeing me.  I’m not sure what came over me Tuesday but my head has been spinning and I couldn’t think of anyone to talk to.”  Elizabeth looked at Myrtle and continued, “I know we’ve never really spoken but over the years I heard my Dad say what a good person you were.  I think you were friends in school.  Is that right?”

Feeling a lump in her throat, Myrtle replied, “Yes, that’s right.  We met in 2nd grade when your Dad and grandparents moved here.  We were friends through high school.”  

“I got the feeling that you might have been more than friends.  Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.  I’m getting off track and I’m sorry.”  

“Don’t worry about it, hon.  I don’t mind talking about it if you want.  Pop and I were high school sweethearts.  He was my first love.”  

Looking closely at Myrtle, Elizabeth finally said, “I would like to talk to you and learn more about my Dad when he was younger but today probably isn’t the day.”

With a deep breath, she continued, “Sometimes I feel like I barely knew my parents.  My mother is difficult to say the least and my father tried his best but I never felt very close to him.  His death has been a too late wake up call for me.  I should’ve tried harder when he was here.  The past several weeks I’ve been thinking about family and how you can’t take anything for granted.  So, this past weekend I decided to try to spend some time with Mother.  My hope was that she would feel the same and we could finally start to get closer.  It didn’t happen that way.”

Seeing Elizabeth start to cry, Myrtle patted her hand and got the tissue box from the side table.  Handing a handful to Elizabeth, she said, “Take your time.  I’ve got all day.”  

“I’m old enough to know better.  I think I’m crying because I can’t believe that I allowed myself hope.  Mother has never been interested in anyone except herself.”

“Elizabeth, I’ve known your Mother almost my entire life.   And I will admit that we haven’t been friends.  But, I do know that mothers and daughters have complicated relationships.  She may not know how to show it but I’m sure she cares about you.”

Composing herself, Elizabeth said, “My visit started out okay.  We talked about some updates she wanted to do to her house and places she wanted to visit over the next few years.  It was actually pleasant.  Then her attitude completely changed when I mentioned Dad.  I told her that I regretted not spending more time with him and that I was realizing the importance of family.  Her face changed and she told me that I was wasting time thinking about that and she didn’t want to talk about him anymore.  She was so hateful about it that I’m afraid she brought out the worst in me.  I told her that was selfish and that I was a child grieving for my parent.  Couldn’t she at least have a little sympathy for the man she had married and had two children with?”

Elizabeth paused and Myrtle gave her a few moments before saying, “Everyone grieves in their own way.”  

“Oh but, Miss Myrtle, she wasn’t grieving.  She was angry.  Plain and simple anger.  After that she started saying that all people wanted to talk about was Pop.  Paul this, Paul that.  She brought up your visit and said you basically accused her of killing him.”

“We did no such thing!”  Myrtle said angrily.  

“I know you didn’t.  She was in a tirade, though, saying that you and Miss Vera were amateur detectives thinking you could solve his murder.  I just watched and listened to her.  Honestly, I’d never seen her like that.  After a few minutes, she huffed and said, ‘Your Daddy wasn’t Mr. Perfect.  Those women were asking me about his affairs and his love child. They couldn’t even figure that out.’”  Elizabeth looked at Myrtle and said, “I always knew that my Dad had affairs.  But, I never knew he had another child.  Mother said it like it was old news.  How could I not know?  Does everyone think I’m an idiot with my head in the sand?”

Myrtle responded, “It wasn’t common knowledge.  I found out very recently and, I’m sorry, but I don’t know who it is.”

“Well, as of last weekend, I do.”  Elizabeth announced.  

“Wait a dang minute, Elizabeth knows?  How the heck?”  Vera interrupted.

“She does know.  Her mother told her and said that if she wanted some family time maybe she should look up her sister,” Myrtle said sadly.

“Oh my goodness.”  Shelby said.  “Did she tell you?”

“She did.”  Myrtle sighed, “and I’m not ready to tell you.  Elizabeth asked me to keep it to myself for now.  I think she’s still trying to come to grips with it and doesn’t want to risk someone asking her about it before she is ready.  She asked if I would help her contact her sister.  I didn’t know what to say.  I really don’t want to get in the middle of such a personal family matter but I understand that she doesn’t want to just call this girl up out of the blue and say, ‘I’m your sister.  Let’s go get pedicures.’  I agreed to call the sister and just feel her out to see if she gave any indication of knowing the situation.  I made it clear to Elizabeth that I won’t be the one to tell the girl but if she already knows I will see what I can do to put the two of them together.”

“Are you sure you want to do that alone Myrt?  You know as well as anybody that I can keep a secret,” Vera said.

“Of course you can keep a secret and I trust you with my life, Vera.  But, I don’t want to scare this girl off and I want to try to help Elizabeth if I can.  As soon as things settle down and Elizabeth tells me it’s okay, I will tell you both.  I promise.”

“Okay then.  What’s your plan?”  Vera asked.

“I’m going to call the sister tomorrow to see if I can meet with her.  From there, I will just have to play it by ear, I guess.”

“Did Elizabeth have anything else to say, Myrtle?” Shelby asked quietly.

“She talked a little more about her Mom, Dad and brother.  I think she just needed to talk, period.  She seemed to feel better as she was leaving.  Of course, that’s when I started worrying.  I hope this all turns out well.”

After a few moments silence, Shelby said, “I thought this would be more like an Agatha Christie mystery and instead it’s like The Days of our Lives.”

With a laugh, Vera said, “Like sands through the hourglass.”

 

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