Soup...Er...Myrtle!: A Myrtle Crumb Mystery (Myrtle Crumb Mystery Series) (4 page)

“Please won’t you let me pay you for this?” she asked.
“Your daughter could get a good price for a coat this nice at the consignment
shop.”

“We’re just happy you can use it,” I said. “There’s a
couple pairs of jeans, some sweaters, and a dress in that bag on the seat.
Would you mind taking those off our hands?”

“I’d love them,” she said.

“Dolly!” Miranda Sue shouted happily, pointing at the
other bag in the back seat of my car.

“You see a dolly?” I asked her. “I couldn’t very well
bring your momma something and leave you two angels out, now could I?”

“Myrtle, you’re spoiling all of us,” Heather said.

“It makes me happy to be able to give back something.
When my granddaughter was a baby, her daddy was killed in a car accident. Faye
had a rough time raising Sunny by herself.”

“That’s sad,” said Heather. “Thank goodness, we aren’t
alone though. Or, at least, we won’t be for much longer. Their daddy went to
Georgia to find a job.” A shadow passed across her face. “We’ve not heard from
him since Christmas…but we know he’s doing the best he can.”

“I’m sure he is.” That was a bald-faced lie I’d have to
ask the Lord forgiveness for as soon as I got to myself. “In the meantime,
please let us, your family, and the rest of this community help fill in until
he either gets home or sends for you.” I smiled. “It tickles us all to get to
know new people.”

She thanked me again and allowed me to carry the two
bags to her car. I’d put the cupcakes in the freezer when I got home yesterday
and had forgotten to bring them this morning.

I’d sure like to find out Heather’s sorry husband’s
name. Me and Matlock would load up the Buick and drive down to Georgia to find
his sorry butt and drag it home where it belonged!

 

* * *

 

Coop came and picked me up at around six o’clock. He
brought me a bouquet of pale orange dahlias. He looked very handsome in his
khaki slacks, white shirt, and navy sport coat; and I told him he did. I wasn’t
bashful about expressing myself. He had a full head of white hair, piercing
blue eyes, and a strong, sturdy build. My Sheriff Norville was a looker, that’s
for certain.

Anyhow, he told me I looked as pretty as the first
flower of springtime. That made me giggle like a schoolgirl. Of course, I had
taken pains to look my very best. I had on black and white hound’s-tooth pants
with black hose and pumps and an emerald green sweater.

Coop helped me on with my black wool coat and kept his
arm around my waist as we went out to his truck. I hoped Tansie was watching
from her window. If she wasn’t watching us leave, you could be sure she would
be when we got back. Like that’d do her any good. Did she really think I’d give
Cooper his goodnight kiss on the porch as cold as it was?

He opened the door and helped me up into the big white
pickup truck. It was toasty warm.

He went around and slid behind the wheel. “Where to, my
lady?”

“Wherever you feel like going,” I said.

“I’m kinda in the mood for a steak. Would that be all
right with you?”

“I think that sounds great. There wasn’t a steakhouse in
Backwater, so I knew we’d be driving for a few minutes. It was as good a time
as any to voice my concerns about all the dual identities I’d recently
encountered. “I guess you run across lots of people with the same name in your
line of work.”

“Well, it depends on the area. Here in town, there seems
to be a lot of Millers and Coles. In the county, I see a lot of Whites and
Phelps come across my desk.”

“That’s not what I mean,” I said. “How often do you
figure you stumble upon two
exact
names…say, two Myrtle Crumbs?”

He laughed.  “Darlin’, there ain’t but one Myrtle
Crumb in this world. I’m sure of that.”

I laughed with him but then I got serious again. “But
tell me…how often do you see the same name?”

“It’s certainly not uncommon, especially with the
plainer names—John, James, Mary, Alice—paired with widespread surnames like
White or Miller. If you did a search for John White or Alice Miller, you’d
likely get a slew of results.”

“How about
Opal Grady
or
Harry Loomis
?” I
asked.

He took his eyes off the road just long enough to squint
at me. “Those wheels are turning, Myrtle. Tell me what’s going on in that head
of yours. “

I told him about Backwater apparently having two Harry
Loomises and a pair of Opal Gradys, and then I filled him in on what I’d
learned the past couple of days.

“I suppose there could be a father and son named Harry
Loomis, but it would be strange if the man you met had a son by the same name
and he chose not to mention it,” said Cooper. “But two Opal Gradys in a town as
small as Backwater?” He shook his head. “I’d say we have an identity thief on
our hands.  Both of these people are associated in some way with the soup
kitchen where you’ve been volunteering?”

“Yeah. They’re poor people. Opal even told me she’d
never had a bank account,” I said. “She said her parents went through the Great
Depression and taught her to be leery of banks.”

“So she’d never know someone had stolen her identity until
the authorities or bill collectors came knocking at her door,” he said. “And
that can take years. We had a case once where a neighbor stole a child’s
identity. It didn’t come to light until the kid was eighteen and went to get a
car loan. When the bank ran the credit report, it showed all these defaults.”

“How’d they find out it was the young ‘un’s neighbor
who’d done it?” I asked.

“The parents contacted the credit card companies to ask
for detailed statements. Of course, the companies’ fraud divisions were happy
to help. When the parents examined the statements, there was the new lawn mower
the neighbor had bought…along with several other items that made it easy for us
to get a search warrant. And, when his back was to the wall, the neighbor
confessed.”

“What a creep! To steal a young ‘un’s identity and ruin
his credit before he even gets started! Did it all get worked out all right?”

“Eventually…but it was a long, drawn-out process. He did
get his car though.”

“That’s good. And as much as I hate hearing about that
sort of thing happening to that child, it’s awful for it to happen to Opal and
Harry Loomis too. It’s horrible for it to happen to anybody.”

“It is,” Coop agreed. “I’ll look into it and see what I
can do.”

“Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s like you
said, it’s strange that
two victims
both come into the soup kitchen.”

“I said that?” He arched an eyebrow at me.

I grinned. “Well, you said something along those lines.
And since I’m volunteering at the soup kitchen, you’ve already got someone on
the inside….”

“Myrtle….”

“You know good and well I can handle this. I’ve dealt
with robbers and killers and all kinds of riff-raff,” I said. “Besides, I like
Opal. She’s a sweet, God-fearing woman, and I want to take this identity thief
down.”

“All right.” Cooper sighed. “We’ll start investigating…
discreetly
.
I’ll run the names
Opal Grady
and
Harry Loomis
to see what comes
up. Get me as many more names as you can—workers and people who come in to
eat.”

“I’ll do it. Would you mind stopping at a store before
we get to the restaurant? I want to buy a new notebook for my intelligence
gathering.”

Chapter Five

 

The restaurant was nice. Booths lined the walls, there
were small, walnut tables scattered throughout the dining room, and classical
music was playing softly. The hostess led us to a table and said our waiter
would be with us momentarily.

“Did you see Heather today?” Cooper asked.

“I did. She was especially tickled with that coat…kept
trying to pay me for it.” I frowned. “She told me her husband has been in
Georgia looking for a job. She and the girls haven’t heard from him since
Christmas.”

A perky brunette waitress named Courtney came over and
took our drink order. When she left, I turned back to the subject of Heather’s
husband.

“If he’d had an accident or something, the authorities
would’ve contacted Heather, right?”

“If he had identification on him, they would have,”
Cooper said.

“Here I’ve been vilifying him all day as a deadbeat who
ran out on Heather and those precious little girls, and it only just now
occurred to me that he might’ve had an accident or something,” I said.

Coop took my hand. “Odds are your first instinct was the
right one.”

Courtney brought us our glasses of sweet tea and took
down our food order. When she sashayed off, I asked Cooper if he could maybe
contact Georgia police to see if they could find Heather’s husband.

“Not without more information,” he said. “I’d need to
know the man’s name and what part of Georgia he’s supposed to be in. An
approximate age and description would be good too.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

He smiled and shook his head. “I know you will.”

 

* * *

 

It was still early when we got back to my house. After
Matlock had greeted Cooper, I let the dog out into the backyard.

“I believe
True Grit
is coming on the classic
movie channel at eight,” I said. “I could make us some popcorn if you’d like to
stay and watch it.”

Coop smiled. “I’d like that very much.”

“Well, then, make yourself comfortable, and I’ll get the
snacks.” I went into the kitchen and put a bag of popcorn in the microwave.
While that was popping, I took some cookies out of the freezer. I still had
some potato chip, peanut butter, and double chocolate chip cookies left over
from all the batches I’d made in December.

After the popcorn was done, I thawed the cookies in the
microwave until they were warm through and through. I put them on a plate and
the popcorn in a bowl, and then I took the snacks into the living room.

Cooper had taken off his sport coat and laid it over the
back of the couch.

“Now, what’ll you have to drink?” I asked.

“What’ve you got?”

I told him I had tea, coffee, water, soft drinks, and
cocoa.

“Would it be too awful much trouble to make some cocoa?”
he asked.

“None at all.” I nodded at the remote. “Go ahead and put
it on the movie channel if you want to. I’ll be right back.”

As I returned to the kitchen, I heard the TV come on. I
got a saucepan and filled it full of milk. I thought about how nice it was to
have Coop here. We’d been to the movies before. And, of course, we’d had dinner
out, and I’d made him dinner here several times. But this was the first time
we’d watched a movie at either of our houses. I thought it was nice…and that it
was maybe another milestone in our relationship.

When the milk was hot, I added the cocoa powder. I got
it all smooth and creamy, poured the cocoa into two mugs, placed a marshmallow
in each mug, and carried the mugs into the living room. Coop got up off the
couch, took the mugs, and set them on coasters on the coffee table. Then he gave
me a sweet kiss before we sat back down.

He put his arm around me as the movie started, and I
settled in against his side. I felt like a teenager again. I didn’t move until
the first commercial when I got up to let Matlock back in.

 

* * *

 

The next morning, Faye dropped Sunny off at my house on
her way to work. Faye had to work for half a day every other Saturday so Sunny
and I had ourselves a spa day then. We did manicures and pedicures, and we
tried to brush up on makeup techniques sometimes.

Sunny introduced me to the YouTube videos done by that
pretty little Michelle Phan. Have you seen those? They’re incredible. That
young ‘un can transform herself into looking like just about anybody with
makeup and a wig. And she has practical applications too. She did a makeover on
her momma one time, and I swear to goodness that when Michelle got done, the
woman looked twenty years younger.

“I wish we could get her to do our makeup,” I told
Sunny.

“Me too.” She grinned. “I’d have her fix me up like Jennifer
Lawrence playing Katniss. Who would you be, Mimi?”

“Honey, I’d settle for Myrtle Crumb circa 1990.” I ran
my hand over her beautiful smooth cheek. “Always appreciate who you are. I mean
it. Truly appreciate yourself.”

“I do. You’ve always taught me that,” she said. “Don’t
you appreciate who you are?”

“I do now. I didn’t always. That’s why I understand the
importance of it when I look back now,” I said. “I used to gripe that I was too
short or too fat…that my nose was too big. I look back now and realize that
none of that was true. I was something of a looker in my day.”

“You’re still a looker, Mimi.”

“Well…I’m no slouch,” I said, and we both laughed until
we cried.

I loved spending time with my Sunny. For one thing, I
not only adored her but I genuinely liked the young ‘un. She was bright, funny,
warm, and had a lightning quick wit. And she made me feel young again…not like
a kid…but maybe like her mom instead of her grandmother.

I did all the things with Sunny that I’d wanted to do
with Faye while Faye was growing up. But Faye and I hadn’t clicked the way she
and her daddy had. Faye would’ve much rather been in the garage tinkering on
some project with Crandall than painting fingernails with me. I reckoned that
was just how it went. Having Sunny made me feel like I’d been given a second
chance.

“Any new cases?” Sunny asked as I brought out our
plastic container filled with manicure supplies.

“As a matter of fact, Cooper and I are embarking on a
new investigation,” I said. “We talked about it last night. You know that food
bank and soup kitchen I’ve been volunteering at this week?”

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