Soup...Er...Myrtle!: A Myrtle Crumb Mystery (Myrtle Crumb Mystery Series) (9 page)

“Sunny, darlin’, would you please go let Cooper in?” I
asked.

“That’s all right, Crimson,” Faye said. “I’ll do it.”

That worried me. Faye apparently wanted to speak with
Cooper privately. I was not about to have anything about my finances be kept
from me. I quickly transferred the breadsticks to a basket with a cloth napkin
lining, put the baking sheet into the sink, and hurried into the living room.
Sure enough, Faye was whispering to Cooper, and he was looking concerned.

“Hi, Coop! Why don’t y’all come on into the kitchen and
fix yourselves a plate?” I asked.

“Where’s my buddy?” Cooper gave me a peck on the cheek.

“I thought Matlock should go outside while we’re
eating,” I said. “I’ll let him in when we’re finished.”

He chuckled. “He loves this cold weather, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, he does.” I winked. “It’s good squirrel chasing
weather.”

“He ever catch ‘em?” Coop asked.

“Nah…but I don’t think he ever tries real hard.” I let
Faye go on ahead of us to the kitchen. “She tell you about Crandall?”

He nodded. “It’ll be all right.”

“You sure?” I asked. “I wouldn’t relish the idea of
waiting tables these days. I don’t have the patience I used to…and I’ve not
ever had a whole lot.”

He patted my shoulder as we walked into the kitchen.

“Mimi, I’m getting some of everything! It all looks and
smells so good,” Sunny said. “You must’ve cooked all day.”

“I did, angel,” I said. “And whatever we don’t eat, I
want everybody to take home with them.”

After we’d all got our plates and sat down around the
kitchen table, I figured I might as well jump in with both feet. “Faye found
out today that Crandall’s identity was stolen.”

“How can that be?” Melvia asked. “He’s dead.”

“That fact often makes it easier for the thieves,”
Cooper said. “The…uh…dearly departed aren’t apt to find anything amiss with
their finances.”

Faye explained how she’d discovered that three of the
ten names she’d chosen from random out of Frank’s book appeared to be victims
of identity theft.

“When I saw that one of those apparent victims was
deceased, I ran Daddy’s name out of curiosity,” she said.

“And what showed up to make you think his identity has
been stolen?” Melvia asked, holding a breadstick halfway between her plate and
her mouth.

“Crandall Crumb bought a jet ski this past Christmas,”
Faye said.

“You guess they have recreational water sports in
Heaven?” Sunny asked.

“Crimson!” Her mother looked at her sharply.

“Oh, don’t fuss at the young ‘un,” I said. “She’s only
trying to add a little levity to a tense situation. Besides, we might as well lighten
up and figure out how to fix this mess.”

“What I’d like to know is could this all come back on
Myrtle?” Melvia asked. “I’m a widow too… on a fixed income…. I can’t afford to
pay for somebody’s water motorbike. This kinda thing scares me.”

“Neither of you has anything to worry about,” Cooper
said. “Two of the first things you should do when a family member dies are
notify the Social Security Administration and alert the credit reporting
bureaus of the death.”

“I thought the SSA notified the credit agencies,” said
Faye.

“They do, but they can get backlogged,” he said. “It
sometimes takes them a while to get to your family member.”

“I realize our main goal is to stop whoever’s doing
this,” I said. “But I have to agree with Melvia. This situation concerns me,
and I need to know what I can do to protect myself.”

“The first thing you should do is put a
deceased
alert
on the credit report,” Cooper said.

“I did that,” Faye told us.

“Good,” said Coop. “And, remember, Myrtle, you aren’t
responsible for any debts made on any account that your name’s not on. The bank
or credit card company can’t make you pay balances incurred by the phony
Crandall.”

“But how do I know my name’s not on the account?” I
asked. “If the thieves know enough to target Crandall, maybe they put my name
on the accounts too.”

“They didn’t, Mother,” Faye said. “I checked. Still, to
have some thief treat Daddy that way makes me furious. I want to stop these
people too.”

“Go, Mom!” Sunny cried.

“Just how do we do it?” Melvia asked. “Do we take Frank’s
ledger and confront him with what we know?”

“I’m afraid that wouldn’t work,” said Cooper. “He could
point out that anyone could come into the food bank and get that ledger or the
necessary information from it to commit identity theft. In fact, you three
proved that point yourselves yesterday.”

“That’s true,” Faye said. “So how do we catch him?”

Coop leaned back in his chair. “We send someone in
undercover to catch him in the act.” Before any of us could speak, he quickly
added, “One of my guys.”

 

* * *

 

Melvia rode with me to the soup kitchen and food bank
the next morning. We went a little early and both got some canned goods for the
food bank. That way, we figured we could work both sides of the operation. I
could stock the canned goods for Frank, and Melvia could work in the soup
kitchen and keep an eye on Heather. This tickled Melvia because she wanted to
be in the soup kitchen when Cooper’s undercover detective came in.

I was afraid that Tansie would blow our cover, but
Melvia assured me that she’d explained everything to her sister after dinner
the night before and that everything was okay.

“I can hardly wait to see
our vice guy
,” Melvia
said as we pulled into the parking lot.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” I told her. “For one thing,
he’s not supposed to be obvious about who he is. And for another, he’ll be real
subtle. He’ll try to get a feel for everybody…see if anybody will chat him
up…that sort of thing.”

“Gotcha. I’m planning to merely watch and learn…from a
distance. I won’t chat him up or anything.”

I said that was good, and we got out and got our grocery
bags and carried them inside.

“Well, look yonder!” Doris hollered across the room when
we came in. “Y’all are going above and beyond the call of duty. You know that,
don’t you?”

I laughed and flicked her compliments away with my
wrist. “Just trying to help.”

Melvia handed me her bag, gave me the nod of a
determined warrior, and headed for the soup kitchen. I went to the food bank.

“Good morning,” I said to Frank.

He was sitting at the table reading a newspaper and
barely grunted.

“People sure do miss you when you’re not here.” Although
I sure couldn’t imagine why. I put the bags on the table. “I’ll get these
stocked. Got that inventory sheet from yesterday?”

He nodded, opened the door, and slid the notebook across
the table. “It appears you all did a decent job yesterday.”

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. He’d said
more than three words, and they were complimentary words at that!

I thanked him, took the notebook, and began putting away
the groceries.

After a few minutes, Frank let out a huge sigh. “Did you
read this in the newspaper this morning about the kids plotting to shoot up a
school?”

I turned around, a can of creamed sweet corn still in my
hand. “No. Around here?”

Frank nodded. “They found where a couple of young ‘uns
had floor plans to the high school, guns, homemade bombs, and an agenda for the
shooting…from the time they aimed to enter the school until the time they
figured they’d be killed.”

I blinked. “Right here in Backwater?”

“Yeah. Hard to believe, ain’t it?”

“It is,” I said. “You hear about things like that
happening afar off, but not here local. I thought we were raising our kids
better than that.”

“I believe as far as communities go, we do the best we
can,” he said. “But, then, I’d reckon every other community does too. It’s just
that some of these little ol’ young ‘uns don’t have a chance from the very
start, you know? They get to running with the wrong crowd. Their parents don’t
care for them the way they ought to…they’re mean to ‘em…. They get bullied.
It’s a shame.”

“It
is
a shame, Frank.”

He let out another long sigh and went back to reading
the paper. Cooper hadn’t mentioned anything about anybody planning a school
shooting…probably because he knew it would tear me all to pieces. Thank the
good Lord the plan was foiled. I don’t know what makes these kids so angry and
so hopeless.

And Frank was genuinely torn up about it too. Of course,
mass murder is a far cry from identity theft, but his sentiments put him down a
notch lower on my suspect list…. At least, it made me hope more than ever that
the identity thief
wasn’t
Frank. But, then, I hoped it wasn’t Heather
either. Maybe it was Heather’s husband, that he’d stolen whatever identities he
could steal before he left, and that no one—not even Heather—was the wiser
about it until now. That was the scenario I liked best. I decided to go with
that.

Chapter Eleven

 

 Me and Melvia rendezvoused back out at the car at a
quarter past twelve. We didn’t eat the soup because we had plenty of Italian
leftovers waiting for us at my house.

“What’d you find out?” I asked. “Do you think you saw
him come in?”

“I believe I did,” she said. “He was a nice but
scruffy-looking young man in a ratty brown jacket and blue jeans. He had dark
brown hair and the prettiest brown eyes you ever did see. They were a light
brown…I’d say a caramel color.”

“Did he talk with Heather or anybody?”

“Of course, Doris met him at the door. You know, she greets
everybody,” Melvia said. “She mentioned that she hadn’t seen him around
before—I reckoned them pretty eyes had got to her too—and he told her that his
uncle—somebody I’d never heard of before—had suggested this place to him. 
He said he was kinda down on his luck, had lost his job and couldn’t find
another one, was in town looking and his uncle told him to come to the soup
kitchen for a good meal.” She bobbed her head. “He was a pretty loud talker.”

“Making sure he was noticed,” I said.

“Yep…that’s what I figured.”

“So Doris was nice as pie to him, but did anybody else
pay any attention to him? Did Heather?”

“Nope,” she said. “You’re right, though. Doris was nice.
She even came back and gave him a card for the funeral home so he could get
some work from them.”

“Wait a minute…the
funeral home
?”

Melvia nodded. “Yeah.”

“Here in Backwater?”

“That’s how I took it,” she said. “Why?”

“The only funeral home in Backwater is Jackson’s, and
it’s family owned…always has been. They never hire anybody outside of family.”

She shrugged. “Maybe they’ve been real busy or
something.”

“Maybe.” Still, it didn’t set right with me. “Get my
phone out of my purse, look at my contacts, and call Cooper…please.”

“Oooh! Did I stumble upon a clue?” She grabbed my pocket
book and opened it up.

“I think you very well might have. After you get the
number to dialing, hand it to me please.”

She did as I’d asked.

I asked for Cooper, but he was on another line. I left a
message telling him that the funeral home business just didn’t set well with
me.  “The Jacksons have never hired outside the family since I’ve been in
Backwater, and I think it’s weird that they would now. I’m not trying to tell
you how to do your job, of course, but maybe you ought to call over there and
ask if they’re hiring.”

I hung up and drove us on to the house. We went in,
greeted Matlock, and then I let him out back to pee.

I washed my hands and heated us up some lunch.

“Hey, you want to watch
The Young and the Restless
while we eat?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “It appears this day was mostly a bust.”

“Not entirely. I’m guessing Mr. Brown Eyes will come
back tomorrow and really get the ball rolling. I imagine it takes time to fully
ensconce oneself in the…whatchamacallit.”

“Yeah…the…” I didn’t know what to call it either. “The
sting?”

“That works,” she said, as she fixed herself a plate.

My phone rang, and I quickly answered it. It was Cooper.

“You were right about the funeral home,” he said. “It’s
a front.”

“A front for what? The identity theft ring?” I asked.

Melvia put her plate down and hurried over to stand
beside me.

“Yeah. When Mac called it and said that Doris had given
him their card, they told him that for five hundred dollars, they could get him
unlimited credit,” said Cooper.

“Are you serious? Does that mean
Doris
is behind
all this?” I turned to Melvia to see her eyes widen. I imagined they matched my
own.

“Looks like it. Mac is going to take them the five
hundred and see what happens next,” he said.

“We should get over there,” I said.

Melvia went to nodding her head and hurried over to the
peg to get her coat.

“No, you should stay right where you are,” said Coop.
“You don’t want to blow your cover in case this doesn’t work. I’ll call you as
soon as I know something.”

“All right.” I motioned for Melvia to come back.

As soon as Cooper and I had finished talking, I told
Melvia to hang her coat back up. “He said for us not to come.”

“But he might need backup,” she said.

“I know,” I said. “But I figure he’s got a lot of people
on the police force. Besides, he said that if this doesn’t work out, he doesn’t
want us blowing our covers with the soup kitchen and food bank.”

“That’s true,” she said. “He still needs us on the
inside if this thing goes south.” She went back and got her plate. “I reckon in
the meantime we might as well watch and see what Victor and that bunch is up
to.”

“I reckon so.”

 

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