The Pub Murder Mystery, Chapter 1
Joe pulled into a spot on the far edge of the parking lot and shut off the engine. She sat for a moment quietly watching the water shimmer as dawn broke over the channel. One weathered fisherman toiled in the breeze that swept along the creaking dock, bending low as he stowed away his gear. She could almost feel the wind in her hair as she remembered gliding along on the crest of the waves. The gleaming pilot house boat that belonged to her boss rocked gently beside the other boats, its pair of Mercury v8 engines ready to take on the rough sea. It had been a while since she went out on the boat. Her friendship with the owner had taken a toll in the recent financial difficulties at work. She questioned how long she’d have the job at the rate things were going.
There were only two other two cars parked in the lot. Leftovers, she thought, a term she’d heard often over the past few months. Usually people said the word with a sneer and a knowing wink. She recognized the cars as belonging to customers that shared a ride once the lounge closed last night. Actually, it was earlier this morning when the last of them left and she’d locked up. She spent another minute listening to the tick of the cooling engine before climbing out of the seat, then, slammed and locked the door. As she followed the narrow path that lead toward the building, she wondered how things could have gone wrong so fast.
Unlocking the back door of the main lounge released a pungent odor of stale whiskey and beer which followed along the stained carpet to the service counter where she started a pot of coffee. She made a mental note to call the carpet cleaners as she waited on the Bunn-o-Matic to finish, and then followed the trail of stains down the hall and into the gleaming kitchen. Her own distorted image reflected off the gleaming appliances as she passed through the quiet of the empty kitchen.
Once she reached the office, stale cigarettes added to the mix of yesterday’s food service coming from the adjacent kitchen. Turning on the air conditioner sent a cloud of tepid vapor blossoming into the room.
“Home sweet home,” she said to no one. She wrinkled her nose and pulled out the thick bank register from the top file drawer and tossed her purse in the bottom drawer. She slammed it closed harder than she intended sending a glass vase tottering near the edge. She took a sip from her mug and remembered that the restaurant paid high dollar for the best imported Colombian blends of coffee. She ought to know. She wrote the checks when the bills came due.
The delicious coffee was just one small part of liking her job. It was easy to remember the other reasons. Where she’d worked before, there’d been little chance of promotions or even a pay raise. Her bank salary left her struggling to pay the most basic bills with the mortgage payment taking most of it. It seemed like forever since she bought anything she didn’t absolutely need.
People in town waited in line for a plush office job with weekends off. But what really squashed her hopes for advancement was when the security guard was promoted to Head Teller.
He’s never even worked on the teller line! Joe fumed when the announcement was made. So, he carries a gun and stands around gawking at the customers. How does that qualify him for the job? All the tellers were stunned by the management’s decision. There was the usual undercurrent of complaints but, despite their grumbling, no one did anything about it. That was, except for Joe.
Fed up with the special treatment men seemed to receive at the bank, she started searching for a new job. What she’d found in the small town was that few places had regular eight-to-five hours. Most places required working nights and weekends, not something she’d really wanted. That would kill her plans to attend classes at the community college. For now, she needed to concentrate on solving the cash flow problem and clear any doubts about her bookkeeping abilities. She needed this job.
She bent over the ledger and soon was engrossed in running the numbers. It’s got to be something simple like a deposit recorded twice or a transposition of numbers. At the bank, she’d learned most errors divisible by nine meant there was a transposition somewhere, although the totals showed no sign of that. With a heavy sigh, she ran the long list of handwritten figures again.
Around nine, she planned to start calling customers with past due house accounts, something she dreaded and put it off for as long as possible. She enjoyed the duties that were more like the ones she’d had at the bank. Counting stacks of cash was like playing Monopoly. She couldn’t understand why Bob let customers run up food and bar tabs. Dick’s was among those with the largest balance. Some accounts carried over a huge debt from one month to the next. But since he owned the business, she put aside his file and concentrated on the others. With any luck, she might bring in enough to cover the overdraft, although it wouldn’t cover the orders for food and supplies needed for the week. With payroll due again in two days, there was no time to waste.
Bob, her manager at The Pub, always insisted on taking the deposit to the bank which was fine by her. She had no desire to see her former coworkers. He used the trip as an excuse to borrow the owner’s fancy convertible while Dick ate lunch at the restaurant.
“Gas is like fifty cents a gallon,” he complained. “I can remember when it was under thirty cents!” Bob rarely drove his own gas-guzzling car to work. When Bob needed to go anywhere, he borrowed someone’s car.”
He told women. “Yeah, the brisk walk from my waterfront apartment clears away the cobwebs.” To the men, he bragged, “Walking is how I stay in such excellent shape.” Joe had to admit, for a man in his late fifties, he was lean and muscular, not paunchy like Dick whose well-padded waistline toppled over his belt obscuring his belt buckle completely.
Eating at a fancy restaurant was something she could never have afforded on her bank salary. The free meal she got 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 recently as they ate lunch together. It was one of his favorite and most often repeated clichés. Another one was rattling on about having a Plan B.
“Yeah, I know.” She’d learned that the hard way. In a tourist town like this one, most of the jobs were either in hotels or restaurants. 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,
Despite her constant reminders to Bob, the past three months’ bank statements were missing from the files making it impossible to review them. According to the checkbook register, there should have been plenty of cash for last week’s payroll with money left over. Over the past few weeks with checks bouncing and fingers pointing, she began to miss her old job at the bank. Employees screamed and yelled at her when the bank wouldn’t cash their paychecks. She turned her attention back to the numbers.
Another development during the past weeks was that vendors started requiring deliveries to be paid in cash no longer accepting The Pub’s checks. That complicated things.
“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 the bank statements were 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. “Like I said, I balanced them myself while you were wasting time on some other worthless crap.”
That’s a new one, even for the master of insults, she thought.
“You don’t need them to do your job,” he yelled, storming out of the room. Through the closed door, he shouted, “I need that staff schedule I told you to get done. Work on something useful for a change.” Joe’s mouth fell open. That was the last time she’d seen him the rest of the day.
She wondered if his affair with Doreen had anything to do with his foul mood or the state of the books. Bob no longer followed his standard routine since he started dating the pretty waitress. He was often seen hanging around her workstation talking in hushed tones before meal services hanging on her every word. The staff pretended not to notice, but of course, everyone knew about their affair.
Bob had begun to neglect his duties since dating the pretty waitress, always hanging around the station while she folded napkins whispering and flirting. Flings among the staff were as common as hangovers and usually 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 the choice shifts and better tables than the other waiters and waitresses, although, no one dared mention it to Bob. That subject was strictly off limits.
Joe reran the numbers and came up with same ending balance again. Two hours flew by as she poured over the register totals looking for errors. The clatter of pans and dishes signaled the arrival of the kitchen workers. Her eyes had grown bleary by the time the door squeaked open. Dick stood in the doorway wearing a grim expression which could only mean something was wrong. He never came in this early.
“Bob’s gone,” he said frowning. His eyes took in the tangle of adding machine tapes that snaked across the desk. Joe removed the chewed stub of a pencil from her mouth. It left a black smear across her lips.
“What do you mean gone?”
Have you ever worked in the hospitality industry?
© 2012 Peg Cole