Soup...Er...Myrtle!: A Myrtle Crumb Mystery (Myrtle Crumb Mystery Series)

Soup…

Er…

Myrtle!

 

by

Gayle Trent

Grace
Abraham Publishing

Washington Cooper, Inc.

13335 Holbrook Street, Suite 10

Bristol, VA 24202

 

Copyright © 2014 by Gayle Trent

 

All rights reserved, including the right
of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

 

This book is a work of fiction. All the
events, places, and characters are products of the author’s imagination or used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or
dead, is purely coincidental.

Other Books in the Myrtle Crumb Series:

 

Between a Clutch
and a Hard Place

When Good Bras Go
Bad

Claus of Death

Table Of Contents

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

About the Author

 

Chapter One

 

It was just before nine o’clock on a
Wednesday night. Me and Matlock, my chocolate lab, had just got comfortable on
the bed so we could watch one of those “Thin Man” movies on television. I told
him he was just like their little dog Asta, except he was bigger and braver.
And I said I was kinda like Myrna Loy only a tad taller and still living. And
our Sheriff Cooper Norville (my beau) didn’t have much at all in common with
William Powell. Coop was taller, broader, and a lot better looking.

Anyway, I’d just got through setting
the stage so to speak for Matlock, and we were ready to settle in and watch our
movie when Bettie Easton called. Ain’t that always how it goes? You have your
mind set on doing something, and somebody interrupts you before you even get
started.

I wouldn’t have answered the phone
if I hadn’t been worried it was my daughter Faye. I mean, what if she or my
precious grandbaby (who’s a teenager now, so don’t you dare tell her I called
her a baby) needed me for something? Or, even if they didn’t, if Faye’d call
over here this late and I didn’t answer, she’d be worried and would probably
get in her car and come over here afraid I’d fell and broke my hip and couldn’t
get up. And if she hadn’t heard from me in a day or two, she might even think
I’d died and that Matlock had commenced to eating on me. Not that he
would—except as a last resort. I mean, I’ve read about stuff like that
happening…but it might just be one of them urban legend things.

Anyhow, back to Bettie. When I
answered the phone, she started talking like we were characters right out of
Gone
With the Wind
so I knew she wanted something.

“Good evening, Ms. Myrtle. I hope I
didn’t disturb your respite.”

See what I mean? Who says stuff like
respite
these days?

“Well, I
am
getting ready to
watch a movie,” I said. “Is anything wrong?”

“Oh, no, hon. There’s nothing wrong.
In fact, I hope we can help to make something right.”

I didn’t have an answer to that, so
I kept my mouth shut and waited for Bettie to make her point.

“You see, I want our little ol’
community to think highly of the M.E.L.O.N.S.,” she said.

The M.E.L.O.N.S. is a group Bettie
came up with. The letters stand for Mature Elegant Ladies Open to Nice
Suggestions. The first time she told me about it, I said it made us sound like
old hookers. But Bettie said I was silly and that the M.E.L.O.N.S. are only
open to
nice
suggestions. I still think it makes us sound like
prostitutes, but we have parties and eat good, so I stick with it.

“So how do we go about making
M.E.L.O.N.S. the shining stars of Backwater?” I asked.

“Well, at Bible study this
evening—we missed you, by the way—Doris Phillips was saying that they could
really use some help down at the food bank and soup kitchen, “ Bettie said. “I
said I’d rally the M.E.L.O.N.S. to each help out a couple days a week. So…what
do you say?”

What I
didn’t
say was that I
didn’t appreciate her little dig about my not going to Bible study. It was
freezing cold, snow flurrying, and I didn’t want to get out in it. Besides,
that was between me and the Lord. It wasn’t any of Bettie Easton’s business.

So here’s what I
did
say:
“I’ll be glad to pitch in a day or two a week. When do you need me?”

“Could you come tomorrow?” she
asked.

“What kind of weather are they
calling for?”

“It’s supposed to be partly cloudy
and in the low forties.”

“All right,” I said. “What time
should I be there?”

“Eleven in the morning would be
fine…even a little earlier, if you can swing it, would be great.”

“I can swing it just fine,” I said.
“I’ll be there at ten.”

“That’s great, hon. Doris will help
you get familiar with everything.”

By the time we hung up, me and
Matlock had already missed ten minutes of Myrna and William. I’d been watching
even though the TV was muted, and it didn’t look like we’d missed anything
important.

When the movie went to commercial, I
told Matlock I’d better set the alarm while I was thinking about it.

“There’s no way I’d give Bettie
Easton the satisfaction of being as much as one minute late in the morning.”

 

* * *

 

I got up Thursday morning way
earlier than I’d planned. It was before Matlock had been aiming to get up too
because he raised up his head, looked at me like I was crazy, and then flopped
back onto the bed.

“Well, excuse me, Mr. Night Owl,” I
told him. “If you’d have asked me before Bettie Easton called last night when
I’d be up this morning, I’d have said whenever I good and well feel like it. I
sure wouldn’t have been up before the sun could even melt the ice off the car.”

Matlock just sighed.

“If you’re planning on peeing before
I leave, you’d better come on. I don’t have time to dawdle around.”

I put on my housecoat and started
down the stairs. Matlock got off the bed and lumbered along behind me.

Our backyard is fenced in, so I let
him out and then put the coffee on. If I’d known before dark yesterday that I’d
be leaving early this morning, I’d have put me a piece of cardboard over the
windshield of the Buick. My late husband Crandall taught me that trick when we
were both holding down jobs and going to work every day. As it was, I’d just go
out and start the car about five minutes before I had to leave. I never scraped
the windshield if I could help it.

I heated up a few biscuits I had
left over from last night’s supper. Then I got out two mugs. I broke up a couple
of the biscuits into one of the mugs, poured coffee over the bread and added my
cream and sugar. I poured me some coffee in the other mug.

After I ate my coffee and bread, I
called Matlock to come back in and gave him the other two biscuits with some gravy.
It wasn’t homemade gravy. It came out of a jar, and I heated it up in the
microwave. Now, normally, I make my own gravy, but I do keep a jar of
store-bought on hand for the occasional emergency—like not wanting to give poor
little Matlock old dry biscuits. It wasn’t his fault we had to get up early. It
was Bettie Easton’s. And she was sure gonna hear about it if I slipped and fell
and broke a bone.

Old people don’t need to be getting
up and running around when it’s icy out. Not that
I’m
old. I don’t mean
me. I’m a very young sixty-five…as opposed to an
old
sixty-five. Some
people just seem to grow old before their time. You know what I mean? But not
me. I do what I can to take care of myself. I don’t like to mention my age—it’s
one of them
don’t ask, don’t tell
questions—but when people do find out
how old I am, they’re always plumb shocked. Or, at least, they act like they
are. And I don’t know of any Academy Award winners who’ve had occasion to find
out my age.

Back to old people…. Some of these
M.E.L.O.N.S. are. Bettie Easton herself is no spring chicken. And then there’s
Melvia and her older sister Tansie. Of course, Tansie’s a big old blowsy thing.
It probably wouldn’t hurt her if she did fall. Now watch her fall and hurt
herself, and I’ll feel so guilty I won’t be able to stand it.

I hurried upstairs and threw on some
jeans and a thick sweater. I took my time with my makeup. That little Bobbi
Brown wrote a book telling aging women how to do their makeup. I have a copy of
it, and it’s what I go by. I don’t need the book so much anymore, but I go back
and look at it every now and then to refresh my memory. One of Bobbi’s
important tips was to fill in your eyebrows. Old naked eyebrows and cakey
powder age you like nobody’s business.

After I got my face fixed, I put my
boots on and went out and started the car. That ice seemed half an inch thick.
It would likely take more than five minutes.

I went back inside and turned on the
TV so I could see the weather before I left. They said on the news it wasn’t
supposed to get above thirty-eight degrees today, which was pretty good for
January in Southwest Virginia but still awfully cold.

 

* * *

 

Bettie had been right about one thing—Doris
Phillips had met me at the door just tickled pink to have a little help and
more than willing to show me the ropes. Doris was a sweet little woman…short…a
tad on the chubby side, which made her look like a mischievous schoolgirl when
she was grinning and those hazel eyes of hers were sparkling.

“Am I the first one here?” I asked.
“Besides you, I mean.”

“You are,” Doris said. “And I sure
am glad to have you. I have a couple of other volunteers, but you’re the only
M.E.L.O.N. coming in today. Bettie said she’d stagger it so that I’ll have
somebody helping out all week.”

“Well, that’s good. I catch on
pretty quick. Just show me what you need me to do.”

“Come on back,” she said.

I followed Doris into the kitchen.
There were three big stockpots on the stove.

Doris nodded toward them. “Today
we’re serving tomato, vegetable beef, and potato soups. Would you care to make
the cornbread?”

“Not at all,” I told her. I make
awfully good cornbread, if I do say so myself.

“Thank you. Everything you’ll need
is either in the refrigerator or in that cupboard over top of the microwave.”
She got a pan of biscuits out of the oven and put it on a wire rack beside
another pan she had cooling. “The oven’s already hot for you. I’ll be in the
dining room getting the tables ready if you need me.”

The kitchen was tidy. Doris did a
good job of keeping it stocked too.

The food bank and soup kitchen
aren’t directly affiliated with our church, but the church does a lot to
support it. Doris and her husband Frank started the operation when they
realized there were more homeless people in and around Backwater than any of us
had ever dreamed. I’d always thought that homelessness was a big city thing. I
mean, I knew we had
poor
people…just not to that extent.

And as I stood in that kitchen
mixing up the cornbread, I was thinking we’d have enough to send everybody off
with a care package, especially after Doris popped her head in and asked me to
make three skillets of cornbread. But after folks started filing in, I got
afraid we wouldn’t have enough.

Now, some of the people who came
through that line were big old dirty, lazy-looking people. They acted like it
was all they could do to shuffle one foot in front of the other. And, before
anybody gets up on their high horse and tells me that I didn’t know those
people and that maybe they had some kind of condition, I
saw
them. The
only conditions they had were filth, greed, and laziness. If it hadn’t been for
me and Doris, they’d have ate up everything before the people that truly needed
it even got through the line.

 And, trust me, you could tell
the ones that really needed this food. One woman and her two little girls
nearly broke my heart. She was young herself, and the girls were both under the
age of five or else they’d have been in school. The oldest one looked like she
was getting close to school age, so I reckoned her to be about four years old.
I imagined the other one was about two, but just barely. All three of them were
clean and well kept. The little girls’ clothes were hand-me-downs that had
probably been through the cycle more than once. The knees and elbows were
starting to look shiny and worn. That’s common to see on the clothes of older
young-uns because they tend to play harder. But with kids these ages, it made
me reckon them little outfits had been around the block a few times.

The woman had on a thin blue jean
jacket right here in the very dead of winter. That told me she didn’t have a
decent coat. She was about Faye’s size. I’d check and see if Faye had a coat
she didn’t wear anymore.

The girls had coats. Their momma
took their coats off of them and held onto them with one hand while latching
onto the girls with the other.

“Honey, it looks to me like you
could use an extra pair of hands,” I told her as she started through the line.
“Why don’t you tell me what y’all want, and I’ll carry it to the table for
you?”

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