The Pub - A Murder Mystery 1
When Bob, the manager of a local restaurant, disappeared without a trace, word of his departure spread like fire through the small beachside community. The remaining restaurant staff who'd survived other management changes had a good idea what would follow in the wake of his absence. Tension was high with employees concerned by the news of the missing manager.
Options were few and competition was tough for jobs, mostly found in the only two banks and small businesses in town or in the multitude of restaurants and lounges catering to the tourism trade.
Joe, the Pub's bookkeeper, had been hired only months before having given up her teller's job at the bank. With rumors flying about missing cash and embezzlement, she had second thoughts about the day she'd decided to take the job.
Bob had been relentless in his pursuit of the new bookkeeper. Day after day waiting patiently in her teller line, he ignored the invitations from other tellers that beckoned from behind glass partitions. Standing firm, he clutched the bulging deposit bag while whistling tunelessly and waiting. Joe's coworkers on the teller line winked knowingly and passed looks between them as she counted down the towering stacks of The Pub's daily cash receipts.
"That Bob guy from The Pub is a handsome devil, don't you think, Joe?" a teller remarked one morning as they collected their teller drawers, her voice echoing off the walls of the cavernous vault. Joe ignored the comment.
"I think he has the hots for you," another whispered as they set their cubicles in order and tidied up the racks of ink stamps in their cages.
"He's definitely not my type," Joe answered, for what seemed like the hundredth time. Her love life seemed to be a favorite topic for the small group that would have no part of her denials. They needed little encouragement to tease her and break the monotony of the daily routine. Joe, the only single teller on the line, was often a target for blind dates arranged with friends and relatives of her married coworkers.
"You just need to find the right guy and settle down," they often reminded her.
One morning after the doors of the lobby opened for business, Bob stood at Joe's teller window, as usual, while she counted the bundles of cash from his deposit. As she slapped down the last twenty dollar bill Bob leaned closer to the glass and whispered.
"How'd you like to get a free lunch every day, Joe?" His breath in the chilly air left a foggy circle on her teller window.
"There's no such thing as a free lunch, Bob," she answered. She made a check mark on the deposit slip where it indicated the cash amount. She passed the receipt out through the rounded opening below the glass. "What's the catch?" she asked.
"There's no catch," he said. "My bookkeeper quit and left town." He waited for Joe's reaction before continuing. She kept her hands busy straightening the cash in her drawer, unfolding the corners and aligning the edges of the bills. He continued. "The pay is good." She looked up with an unspoken question on her face.
"It has to be better than here," he indicated the lobby with a toss of his head. She glanced down the teller line at two of her coworkers whispering behind hands held close to their mouths.
"Okay, I'm game." She zipped the deposit bag closed and pushed it through.
"Be there around five and wear something nice. You'll be meeting the partners who own the place."
"Wait a minute," she said. "How many bosses would there be?"
"You'd be directly under me," he said and then smirked at the inference.
"Okay, I'm in."
He made an immediate about face and headed toward the exit, the bank bag tucked under his arm. Joe watched him pass under the multi-colored tapes on the door marking different heights. They were trained to note the color of the tapes for any would-be robber's identification. For the first time, she noted that Bob was over six feet tall.
"See ya' later, alligator," he called back loudly.
A chorus of giggles followed his departure and Joe smiled at her decision to give it a shot.
The opportunity came at the perfect time for Joe. With two mortgages on her house and a staggering overhead, she reassured herself it couldn't hurt to look elsewhere. She might miss the banker's hours that allowed tellers to leave early when their drawers balanced at the end of the day. They only had to stay late if someone was off. Then, they all stayed to review the day's transactions and find the error.
That day, she hoped all would go well so she would have time to go home and change clothes. It did.
She drove home and took her second shower of the day. She chose a suitable outfit and slipped into a pair of heels she would never wear to the bank. She grimaced at the thought of standing in them all day.
"Besides, I don't need any more grief from the other tellers," she told herself shifting her car into reverse. She tried to imagine a job where she could actually sit down most of the day with an added bonus of having her own private office.
She arrived promptly at five. Bob introduced her to Dick, the local owner and Operations Manager. Ervin, the other partner, had flown in from Chicago for the interviews to replace the bookkeeper.
"You can expect a thorough and detailed review of the books," he told her, frowning sternly as he looked her over from head to toe. When the interview concluded, the owners held a short conference in the hall. They promptly returned to the booth where Joe waited sipping a Coke. The salary they were offering was substantially more than her wages at the bank. It took her only a moment of reflection to make the decision.
"I accept," she told them, and glanced over at Bob whose expression was unreadable.
"Welcome aboard," Dick beamed, offering her his hand to seal the deal.
The following Monday, she gave a two-week's notice at the bank. The wobbly and decrepit Vice President promptly called her into his office and stood glaring at her.
"It is our custom to immediately dismiss employees that resign. Your services will no longer be required," he announced, with a clear look of disdain on his wrinkled face.
"You can't fire me," she mumbled on her way to collect her belongings. "I quit."
Joe was surprised to find her new office at The Pub so tiny, yet, despite its resemblance to a broom closet, she was thrilled to have her own space. Even more pleasing was that her duties were similar to those she'd performed at the bank. There were stacks of cash to count, registers to balance and deposits to prepare.
Bob trained her on how to review vendor invoices and showed her how to make the payroll checks using their pegboard system.
But the best part of the job was toiling in the delicious aroma of char-grilled steaks, seasoned roasted potatoes and other mouth-watering sides. Each day she enjoyed a meal of her choosing; a perk nearly too good to be true.
The Pub's office had a vertical filing cabinet at the far end of a wooden table that served as Joe's desk. Narrow benches lined either side of the table with room for little else. There were no windows in the room where she could see the spectacular view of the Inter Coastal Waterway just outside. She was in the middle of writing out the weekly payroll when Dick opened the door.
"Bob is gone," he said without hesitation.
"What do you mean gone?" Her pen stopped in mid air over the open checkbook. It was mid-morning, about the time Bob normally arrived.
"He's vanished overnight," Dick added. "There's no trace of him."
News of Bob's disappearance traveled quickly sending waves of panic across the staff. Eloise, the salad lady who was near retirement, looked strained. Denny, the grill cook and George, the Head Chef who was generally mischievous seemed unsettled by the rumor.
The restaurant had a reputation for the best prime rib in the county with a salad bar far better than their competition, but the main draw of The Pub was the live entertainment. Guests flocked in after dinner service ended to grab a cocktail and to check out the talented musicians in the two lounges. The Pub was the in place to be seen for the moment, its rowdy crowd growing larger each night.
In the months before his departure, Bob had hired several new bands to hold on to this competitive edge in a game where popularity changed with the whims of a fickle crowd. Yesterday's favorites were discarded like yesterday's newspaper.
Once Bob disappeared, bill collectors seemed to come out of the woodwork with unpaid invoices for produce, meat and liquor purchases. The entertainers and the restaurant staff had valid reason to worry with paychecks bouncing and vendors demanding payment. The mood at The Pub turned somber instantly.
Ervin, the CPA owner, flew back into town. After a tense and loud discussion between the owners whose shouting could be heard throughout the kitchen, a decision was taken to supply an injection of cash to keep the restaurant open. At an impromptu staff meeting where the announcement was made, the staff cheered.
Chip had served dutifully as Assistant Manager for Bob. With his manager gone, Chip eagerly took on the extra duties in high hopes of a promotion to the job. But his hopes gave in to doubt as the siege of applicants flooded in for the position arriving from the neighboring communities and stumbling their way through interviews. When Jason showed up, Chip's enthusiasm dimmed visibly.
Jason made it to the top of a short list of applicants with his solid experience in running a string of lounges in Jamaica. After the partners held a private conference at the service kiosk, Ervin told his partner, "He's the best we've seen so far."
"You want to make a decision this soon?" Dick asked stirring cream into a glass of iced coffee. Ervin pulled the handle to dispense milk into a tall glass. In a well-practiced motion, he pulled a blue bottle of Maalox from his shirt pocket and took a deep swig.
"I've seen enough," he answered, wiping the chalky residue from his lips with the back of his hand. "Let's get this guy on board."
© 2012 Peg Cole