The Pub: a Murder Mystery, Chapter 1
Joe pulled into a spot on the far edge of the parking lot and turned off the engine. She sat for a moment watching the water shimmer as dawn broke over the channel. One lone fisherman toiled in the warm breeze that swept along the creaking dock. She watched him stowing his fishing gear below deck and thought about the feel of the wind in her hair while riding along on the crest of the waves.
Dick’s pilot house boat rocked alongside the others at the dock, its pair of Mercury v8 engines ready to tackle the rough sea. Her heart sank as she pondered the reasons she hadn’t been invited for a cruise in a long time. Financial trouble at work was taking a toll on her friendship with the owner of the restaurant along with the future of her job there.
There were three cars in the lot this early. Two likely belonged to customers who rode home with someone after the lounge closed the previous evening, actually earlier this morning. Hers was the only other car. With a sigh, she crawled out, locked the door and walked toward the building wondering how things could have gone this sour so quick.
Her key unlocked the back door of the main lounge. She stepped inside and was greeted by the pungent smell of stale liquor. The smell followed her along the stained carpet to the service kiosk where she started the coffee maker. While she waited for it to brew, she took note to call the carpet cleaners. The stains snaked their way to the gleaming kitchen where she carried her mug through the eerie silence. Her distorted image reflected off the steel appliances as she passed. Inside the office, an odor of stale cigarettes and sweat mingled with leftover food from the nearby kitchen. She turned on the air conditioner sending a cloud of tepid vapor blossoming into the room.
“Home sweet home.” She wrinkled her nose at the odor and pulled the thick bank register out of the top drawer of the file cabinet, then, tossed her purse in the bottom drawer. She slammed it closed with more force than intended. It set a small vase tottering, nearly falling off the edge.
She took a sip of coffee. It was good. In fact, it was really good. The restaurant paid high dollar for the best imported Colombian blends. She ought to know. She paid the invoices.
It was only a small reason for wanting to stay.
Where she’d worked before, there’d been little possibility for a promotion or a raise. That was clear after the male security guard was made Head Teller. He’d never even been a teller. Sure, he carried a gun and stood around all day staring at the customers. The most he’d ever done was lock and unlock the doors when the bank opened and closed. His undeserved promotion brought a round of complaining from the tellers but, despite the grumbling, no one did anything about it. That was, except for Joe. Fed up with the special treatment men seemed to get there, she started looking for a new job. Instead, one had found her and she intended to keep it.
Today, she was determined to resolve the cash flow problem and clear the doubts about her bookkeeping abilities. Despite the current pressure, it wasn’t hard to remember why she took the job. She needed it. The salary where she worked before left her struggling to pay basic bills. The mortgage payment took most of it with little left for anything else.
Soon she was engrossed in running totals on the numbers written in the ledger thinking the error might be as minor as a duplicate deposit or a math error. The totals showed no sign of that and with a heavy sigh, she ran them again.
Around nine, she planned to call some of the customers with past due house accounts. It was a mystery why Bob let customers run up tabs like he did. She dreaded collecting on accounts and always put it off as long as possible. It was a drudgery. The duties she enjoyed were more like her old ones at the bank. Counting stacks of cash was like playing Monopoly to Joe. Her manager always insisted on taking the deposit himself which was fine by her. She had no desire to see her former coworkers.
Dick’s account was among the ones with the highest balance. Some house accounts, like his, carried over a balance due from one month to the next. But since he owned the place she put his ledger aside. With any luck, she might bring in enough cash to cover the overdraft, although, it wouldn’t cover all the food supplies and liquor they needed to order. With payroll due again in two days, there was no time to waste.
Bob used the trip to make the deposit as an excuse to drive the owner’s fancy car while Dick ate lunch at the restaurant. He rarely drove his own gas-guzzling car to work constantly complaining about the high cost of gas.
“It’s over fifty cents a gallon now,” he lamented almost daily. When he wanted to go anywhere, he borrowed someone else’s car. He told women that the brisk walk from his apartment cleared away the cobwebs. To the men, he bragged that it kept him in excellent physical shape. Joe had to admit, for a man in his late fifties, he was lean and muscular, not paunchy like Dick whose well-padded waist spilled over his belt.
Eating at a fancy restaurant everyday was something she could never afford on her meager bank salary. The free meal she received everyday was one of the best things about working there. It tipped the scales when she first considered taking the job.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” Dick told her again as they ate lunch. It was one of his his favorite and most often repeated cliches. Another one was when he rattled on about having a plan B.
“Yeah, I know.” She’d learned that lesson the hard way. What she found in the small town was few places that offered regular eight to five hours. Most jobs required working nights and weekends; not something she really wanted to do. With only two banks in the small town, jobs were mostly found in the collection of pubs, hotels and local eateries. The beachside community, with its easy access to boating and fishing, drew a seasonal clientele that ebbed and flowed like the tide.
Within the circle of hospitality employment, workers seemed to drift from place to place. Joe wasn’t like that. She wanted stability. She thought she’d found that when she took the job, but, over the past few weeks with checks bouncing and fingers pointing at her, she began to miss her old job at the bank. Employees blamed the bookkeeper, screaming and yelling at her when the bank wouldn’t cash their paychecks. That hurt, but not enough to make her quit. She needed this job.
Despite her constant reminders to Bob, the past months’ bank statements weren’t in the files where she could review them. According to the books, there should have been plenty of cash for last week’s payroll with money left over. Vendors had the restaurant on notice with no more deliveries unless paid in cash.
“I need those bank statements,” she’d reminded Bob again two days ago. He blew her off so she pushed harder. “What if Ervin shows up? The last time he was here that was the first thing he demanded to see.” Bringing up the CPA from hell turned Bob’s face a frightening dark red.
“If he shows up tell him to ask me,” he shouted, spit flying. Tomato juice sloshed from his glass as he teetered about in the small room, bent nearly double to avoid the low ceiling. “Like I said, I balanced them myself while you were wasting time on some other worthless crap.”
Sometimes, Joe wondered if Bob and Doreen’s affair had anything to do with the state of the books. Bob started neglecting things since he began seeing the pretty waitress. Flings among the staff were as common as hangovers and as quickly forgotten. This one was different. Bob fell hard for Doreen and she took full advantage of it. The staff grumbled that she got better shifts and more hours, although, no one dared bring it up to Bob. That subject was strictly off limits.
Lately, Joe sensed trouble brewing between the pair. It probably explained his foul mood that had grown worse over the past few weeks. He’d started coming in to the office later in the morning guzzling vodka-spiked tomato juice, mostly vodka from the looks of it, barking orders and scowling more than usual.
She ran the numbers again. They totaled the same ending balance three times in a row. Two hours flew by as she poured over the register totals looking for any errors. The clatter of pans and dishes sounded from the nearby kitchen as staff began to arrive. Her eyes were bleary when the door squeaked open and Dick stood in the doorway wearing a grim expression. Something was up; she knew it immediately. He never came in this early.
"Bob’s gone,” he said immediately. His eyes drifted over the tangle of adding machine tapes that snaked across the desk. Joe removed the chewed stub of a pencil from her mouth leaving a black smear on her lips.
"What do you mean gone?" she asked.
© 2012 Peg Cole
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