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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.”

 

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.)

 

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.”

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.

Myrtle Mysteries: BBQ, Sweet Tea and Murder – Chapter 13

The next day, after church, Myrtle decided to have a simple lunch at home.  One of her favorite comfort meals was a tomato sandwich.  White bread, thick sliced tomatoes covered in salt and pepper and a thin layer of mayonnaise.  Add some salt and vinegar chips on the side and you couldn’t ask for much more.  After finishing her lunch and a large glass of ice cold sweet tea, Myrtle sat on her back deck to relax.  Her mind was still full of Laura from the day before and she knew that the only way to try to get past it was to write.  As she went inside to grab her journal from the nightstand, she passed her wedding photo.  Seeing Bradford’s smiling face reminded her that the remembered pain from her teenage years was ancient history.  Smiling herself, she grabbed the journal and headed back to the deck for sunshine and catharsis.

 

By our senior year of high school, Pop and I had been dating exclusively for two years.  For the most part everything was great between us but we did have our problems.  Pop became more and more popular – being a member of the football and basketball teams.  His good looks didn’t hurt matters.  I wasn’t cut out for the in-crowd, though, and preferred to spend my time with my small group of friends.  My focus was on school and my part time job at IGA.  There were times that I turned down Pop’s invitations to go to parties or hang out after games with the players and their girlfriends.  Most of the time this turned into an argument.  The worst was a night I will never forget in April 1970 – only one month from graduation.  I still remember it like it was yesterday.

“Myrtle, everyone is going to Lake Robinson tomorrow night to hang out.  I want us to go.”   

“Pop, you know how I feel about that.  I’m fine to go to a party around here sometimes but I don’t think it’s a good idea to go there.  Your friends like to party.  They drink and smoke pot.”  Myrtle could see Pop getting ready to defend them.  “Don’t, Pop.  I don’t care what they do and you know it.  But, the truth is, that isn’t who I am and it pisses me off that you are trying to make me into something I’m not.”

“What?  All I said was that I wanted to go to a party and now you are accusing me of trying to change you.  That’s insane.  You just think you are too good for them.  That’s why they call you a miss goody two shoes.”  As soon as the words left Pop’s mouth he knew he made a mistake.  

“Do you think I give a rat’s rear end that your dumb-butt friends don’t like me?  Let me enlighten you.  No, I don’t.  Take me home.  Now.”

“Fine.”

Both of us were silent on the ride to my house.  I got out of the car and slammed the door behind me.  My father just raised his eyebrows when I came inside but he didn’t say a word.  I went into my room and punched the pillow a few times.  Then I cried for about an hour.  All the time, I kept waiting for a knock on my window.  Pop had always come back to apologize when we argued but this night he didn’t.  

The next day I didn’t hear from him at all.  I moped around the house and avoided Vera’s phone calls.  She had her standing Saturday night date with Jake and I wasn’t in the mood to talk anyway.  It was a long night.  I tossed and turned and slept a grand total of ten minutes.  Around 3 am, I decided that I needed to go and talk to Pop first thing in the morning.  

I told Mama and Daddy that I was sick the next morning so that I could skip church.  At 9:30, I drove over to Pop’s house in my Mama’s car.  I was so nervous when I knocked on the door but after several minutes I realized that noone was going to answer.  Pop had stopped going to church about a year before so I thought he must have been still sleeping.  I was writing a note to leave on the door when I heard a car pull up.  As I turned, I realized it was Pop just coming home from his night of partying at the lake.  But what was most surprising was that Laura Mungo was exiting the passenger door.  When he saw me, Pop stopped dead in his tracks.  The look on his face, along with the slow smile spreading across Laura’s, told me everything I needed to know.  When I turned him down, he took Laura, who had been after him for years.  

I watched Laura walk to her house next door and I slowly approached Pop.  

“What did you do, Pop?”

“Myrtle, listen…”

“Pop, answer me.  What did you do?”

He scraped his hands across his face and looked at me with the blue eyes I had loved since I first laid eyes on him.  “When you wouldn’t go with me, I was so angry.  Laura was in her yard when I was leaving last night and she said it was a shame for me to make the drive alone.  I don’t know why but I asked if she wanted to go with me.”

“Is that all?  Did you just drive her there and home?”

“Myrtle, we all had a lot to drink.  It was a crazy night.”

“Tell me the truth, Pop.  Now.”

“I didn’t plan it, Myrtle.  Laura started kissing me and one thing led to another.”  He started crying then and I knew the truth was going to be bad.  “Myrtle, I love you.”

“If you really loved me you wouldn’t think about touching another girl.  Did you sleep with her?”  I couldn’t believe how calm I sounded when my heart was pounding and I was sure I was seconds from passing out.  

“I did.  I don’t know why but I did.  As soon as it happened, I knew it was a mistake.  It meant nothing to me.  Nothing.  You are my world.”

Feeling numb, I let out all of my frustration.  “You don’t treat ‘your world’ that way, Pop.  I knew you were partying with your friends but I thought you were better than this.  If someone had told me that you, of all people, would break my heart, I would have punched them in the face.  Instead you’ve made the last two years a lie.  We’re over, Pop.  I don’t want to see you ever again.”

I slowly walked to my car and looked over at Pop one last time.  He looked dejected and alone but, for the first time, I felt nothing when I looked at him.  I’m not sure how I made it home but somehow I got there and into my room before anyone else could see me.  Knowing I needed my best friend, I called Vera.  We spent the next several hours cursing Pop and all men in general. For weeks, Pop begged for forgiveness and I ignored all of his attempts.  He finally stopped coming around and I eventually started seeing him and Laura around town together.  

 From that moment on, Vera hated Pop.  I eventually forgave him but knew that I could not forget.  Our friendship was over along with any chance for a future.  

Myrtle Mysteries: BBQ, Sweet Tea and Murder – Chapter 12

“Well hello to you too Miss Vera.  I could say the same to you.”  Ginger Jordan smiled until she heard Laura walking up behind her.  “I was just on my way out.”  As she passed Myrtle, she reached to her and surprised them both with a hug.  She whispered in Myrtle’s ear, “My mother always talked about how nice you were.”  She let her go so quickly Myrtle wasn’t sure it had really happened.

“Bye, ladies.”  She said without a look back.

As Laura took in Vera and Myrtle standing on her doorstep, it was clear that she wasn’t impressed with what she saw.  “To what do I owe this honor?”

“Hi, Laura.  Vera and I were in the area and thought we would stop in to see you.”  Myrtle took the lead knowing the Vera was never able to hold her tongue with Laura.  “Is it okay if we come in for a minute?”

“Really?  You just stopped in.  I don’t think so Myrtle.  Don’t forget I’ve know you for a million years and you’ve hated me for most of those.  You would never come to see me willingly.”

“Fair enough, Laura.”  Myrtle could feel her pulse rising and decide to cut to the chase.  “We are looking into Pop’s murder and thought we should talk to you.”

“You’re joking, right?  You think I killed Pop and now you want me to invite you in and offer tea?  I don’t think so.”  She started to close the door and Vera decided it was time to step in so she put her foot in the door to keep it from closing.

“Listen up, Laura Bell.  Yes, I remember that is what everyone called you in kindergarten.  Do we hate you?  Yep, pretty much.  But as much as I would love to see you get your comeuppance, I don’t think you killed Pop.  You were a part of his life, though, and you might know something that could help us.”

“Why are the two of you here anyway?  Are they hiring senior citizens as detectives now?”  Laura roller her eyes but hadn’t slammed the door.  Vera’s still stuck foot might have had something to do with that but Myrtle felt like they were making headway.

“We aren’t detectives, Laura.” Myrtle calmly told her.  “We just want to help and, honestly, we don’t like the thought of a killer being loose in Pageland.”

Laura sighed and opened the door.  “Fine, come in.  But I don’t have all day.”

As Myrtle walked into Laura’s living room, she was surprised at the understated decorating.  The walls were all a warm beige and the carpet a few shades darker.  The furniture was nice but not extravagant.  A cream covered leather couch was covered in soft brown pillows and a cozy-looking throw blanket.  Side tables and a coffee table surrounded the couch.  On the opposite was a large built in bookcase flanked by two leather chairs.  Everything was situated to bring your eye to the focal point of the room – a large fireplace.  Myrtle tried to keep her face neutral but was trying to take it all in so that she and Vera could discuss it later.

“You two can sit on the couch.”  Laura said as she sat in on of the leather chairs.  “Now let’s get to it so we can all get back to our lives.”

“Were you surprised when you heard Pop had been killed?”  Myrtle wasn’t sure why that was the first thing to come out of her mouth but went with it anyway.

Laura appeared to be taken aback but then decided to actually think about the question.  “I was surprised but not overly shocked.”  She looked over to see Vera shaking her head.  “I know that sounds stupid, Vera.  But that’s the truth.  Anytime someone is killed in a small town like Pageland it is surprising.  Noone expects it.  But we all know that Pop carried around a lot of cash and that had to be tempting to a lot of people.”

“You are right, Laura.  It is surprising for this to happen in Pageland.  But, I’m just not sure he was killed for money.”  Myrtle leaned slightly forward and continued, “We have been looking into some other people that might have had reason to want him dead.  Don’t interrupt me yet, Laura.  I’m not saying you wanted him dead.  Just someone.”

Feeling that she had appeased Laura slightly, Myrtle decided to get to the point.  “We heard through the grapevine that you and Pop had an argument at his restaurant a long time ago and we wondered if you remembered what it was about.”

“Pop and I had many arguments.  Everyone knows that.  You will have to be way more specific than that.”

Myrtle looked at Vera and saw her slight nod.  “Well, Laura, it was about an affair that Pop had that resulted in a child, a daughter.  Do you remember that, Laura Bell?”

Laura opened and closed her mouth several times but nothing came out.  ‘I guess I figured out what it takes to make her shut up’, thought Myrtle with a inner chuckle.

“Who told you that?”  Myrtle was sure she could almost see Laura’s blood pressure rising as she finally responded.

“I can’t tell you.  All I can say is that it came up.  I told you we don’t think you killed him but you did threaten him that day and we’d like to know who you were arguing about.”  Somehow Myrtle was maintaining her composure and knew that she would be proud of herself for that later.  “Do you remember who left his office that day and who gave birth to his daughter?”

“Even if I did know what you are taking about, and I’m not saying that I do, why would I tell you two gossips?  If I kept a secret for twenty-two years, why would I share it now?”

“Because it might be important.”  Vera was quickly losing her patience and decided to jump in.  “And if you don’t want to tell us maybe the police can get it out of you.”

“Vera!  You don’t mean that.”  Myrtle knew that threats wouldn’t work with Laura but it was too late.

“Both of you can just get the hell out of my house.  Don’t think you will come in here and threaten me.”  Laura stood up and started walking towards the door.  Myrtle threw a glare at Vera who just shrugged.  Both of them knew the visit was over so they picked up their purses and stood to leave.

“Laura, I’m sorry.” Myrtle tried to calm her down.

“I don’t care.  Get out.”  Laura was shaking at this point.

“Okay, we are leaving.  Again, I’m sorry.”  As they passed through the door, Myrtle decided to try one more question.  “What was Ginger doing here Laura?”

Laura stopped cold but recovered herself quickly.  “None of your business, Myrtle Mills,” she said just before slamming the door in her face.

“That went well, don’t you think?”  Vera commented as they walked to the car.

“Oh shut up, Vera.”

Myrtle Mysteries: BBQ, Sweet Tea and Murder – Chapter 11

**I had a little free time today so decided to visit the world of Myrtle and Vera for a while.  It was nice to have them in my head for a few hours.  This is a very short snippet where they continue to investigate Big Pop’s murder.  Enjoy. **

 

The next two weeks were frustrating for both Myrtle and Vera.  They knew that at some point they needed to talk to Laura about the confrontation she had with Pop all those years ago.  Myrtle was sure that it was important.  Who was the woman he got pregnant?  And, did he have another child out there that noone knew about?

Myrtle knew that these were vital questions but she just couldn’t bring herself to talk to Laura and each time Vera brought it up, she found an excuse.

“Myrt, it’s been two weeks since we talked to Rhonda.  What the heck is wrong with you?  It’s Saturday, let’s go see Laura today.  Don’t you want to know about her fight with Pop?”  The friends were spending Saturday morning shelling beans on Vera’s porch.  Their fingers worked on autopilot after so many years practice.

“Of course I do, Vera.”  Myrtle sighed and tried to put her feelings, confused as they were, into words.  “Every time I think about what she could say, I get cold feet.  Truth is that I simply don’t want to talk to her.  There’s too much history.  You know she isn’t my favorite person but I just can’t see her killing anyone.  But we’ve got to find out who Pop had an affair with.”

“And maybe a child.” Vera added.  Setting her bowl aside and looking at Myrtle, she tried to gauge her reaction.  Her friend seemed to be in her own world but Vera noticed that her fingers were slowing down.  “Listen, I know this is weird for you but I’ve never known you to back down from anything.  Let’s go over there today.  Right now.”

With a resigned huff, Myrtle agreed.  Both went inside and put their bowls in the kitchen.  The beans could wait.

The two friends were quiet as they drove to Laura’s house on Outen Street.  Myrtle had always avoided driving by if at all possible and wasn’t anxious to see the house or its’ occupant.

Vera pulled into the driveway and turned to the woman she was closest to in the world.  “Myrt, you’ve got this.  And, if she gives you a hard time, I’ll be there to clean her clock.”

Myrtle laughed then squeezed Vera’s hand.  “Let’s go, Miss Marple.”

As they walked along the bluestone walkway to the front porch, Myrtle couldn’t help but notice all of the beautiful landscaping.  Loropetalum, tea olives and knockout roses were in bloom.  The ground was covered in lantana and carpet rosemary.  In the shaded areas, hydrangea were popping open to show blue, pink, purple and white blooms.  She saw one of her favorite plants, camellia, also tucked away in several spots where they could wait to show off their beautiful blooms in the late fall and winter.

When they reached the red front door of the large brick house, Vera stepped up to ring the doorbell.  In just a few seconds, they could hear footsteps and the door opened.  Vera was the first to speak.  “What are you doing here?”