The Pub Aftermath, Chapter 3
Joe Mitchell, the bookkeeper at The Pub, had stayed on after the trial of her musician boyfriend ended. Tom was found not guilty but that hadn’t been the only outcome. Once Joe found out he’d lied about his real name, she could never feel the same toward him.
Staying busy at the restaurant helped heal some of her romantic wounds with reports to complete, house accounts to manage, and loose ends to tie up with the books. Her former manager, Jason was gone. A few of the regulars at The Pub along with choice employees had attended a quick and quiet wedding ceremony of his impromptu marriage on the beach. Joe wasn’t among the invited guests. He’d stayed in town just long enough to flaunt his brand-new wife around before hopping a plane to Jamaica. Oddly, his new bride stayed in the states planning to follow him once he found a job and arranged a place for them to live.
In light of the recent upheaval, working at the restaurant seemed vastly different than before. She thought with Jason gone things would improve. Instead, things had become more stressful than ever. For one thing, Dick was acting odd, distancing himself from Joe and the rest of the staff. Their nightly gatherings in the corner booth with off-duty staff had come to an end.
On the bright side, with his partner dead, Dick was able to make decisions about the business without consulting anyone. In the absence of a manager at The Pub, Dick had expected Joe to take on more of the management duties which suited her just fine.
Mornings, she’d arrive early, balance the registers and prepare the deposit for the previous day’s receipts. Between handling the books, scheduling the entertainers, food servers and bartenders, meeting with liquor salesmen, and staying ahead of the supply ordering for the two busy lounges she kept busy. After the bank closed, she’d take the daily deposit to the night depository. It was easier that way than having to deal with the curiosity of her former coworkers. After a quick trip home for fresh clothes and a break, she’d return to stay until last call with Chewy, now the lead bartender. The two of them would close out the registers and lock up the place.
When Dick told her to call a staff meeting, she had hopes that it was to announce her promotion to restaurant manager. While the staff gathered in the break room waiting for the meeting to start, the usual gossip made the rounds.
“Who’d have thought the old desperado would tie the knot?” one waiter asked.
“Yeah, he knew her, what, about two weeks?”
“He really robbed the cradle with that one,” another one said bringing a round of hearty laughter to the group.
“Do you blame him? She’s a real looker!”
“Where’d he meet her, anyway?” another asked. Others placed wagers on how long the marriage would last. But the chatter came to an abrupt halt when Dick walked into the breakroom.
“Some of you may be wondering why I called a meeting today,” Dick started out. The room grew deadly silent as undercurrents of unease settled into the crowd.
“Well, I’ve found a new partner.” Like Joe, those who had weathered the storm of changes in the past became instantly leery with Joe as the most surprised.
“Don’t be concerned,” he said motioning with his hands for quiet. “I’m retaining an interest as a silent partner.”
“Good!” someone shouted from the back of the room. Dick smiled.
“I plan to stick around to keep an eye on the operation.”
Someone else called out, “Yeah, remember what happened to the last silent partner?”
Dick’s co-owner, the restaurant’s CPA had been discovered in the walk-in cooler months earlier, murdered after what became his last trip to audit the restaurant. An uncomfortable silence filled the space while Dick stepped out into the hall. He came back in accompanied by a tall man and his rather plump wife. The couple stood next to Dick as they looked over the crowd in the small room.
“I’d like you all to welcome our new manager, Stephen and his wife, Stevie. Their names should be easy to remember,” he chuckled trying to ease the tension.
Most of the time in the small-town atmosphere of the restaurant, news came through the rumor mill long before it became official. This development came as a total shock. Stephen raised his hand for quiet. All eyes focused on him.
“Hello team,” he began. “Let’s give each other a round of applause for all you’ve been through over the past few months.” There was a weak response of clapping that stopped almost immediately except for one bartender who clapped long after the others stopped. Chewy pushed his glasses back up on his nose in a familiar gesture and looked around with a shrug.
“What?” he mouthed to the dirty looks of the others.
Stephen, who appeared oblivious to the undercurrent of emotion, continued his prepared speech.
“First of all, my wife will be taking on the role of bookkeeper.” He spoke for a few minutes about her years of experience in the exciting world of accounting before he added, “You can expect some shifting of responsibilities as I evaluate the staff, but rest assured, we need and expect cooperation from each and every one of you.”
The rest of the meeting was a blur to Joe who began to imagine the worst. Her job as bookkeeper was effectively finished, her extra work discarded, replaced by a doubtful future at The Pub.
She retreated immediately to the small office that had been her home these past months and gathered her things from shelves and drawers, filling a small box with her belongings. She flashed back to her last day at the bank and a different cardboard box. This time it wouldn’t be a guard who escorted her to the parking lot, but likely one of the bartenders. She squared her shoulders and waited in the cool air for Stephen to show up. Dick was probably taking him on a tour of the lounges and dining areas introducing him to staff as they walked about. Stevie followed along, writing down everyone’s names on a small tablet. By each name, she made a cryptic note in shorthand.
It wasn’t long before the door creaked open and Dick poked his head into the small space, like he’d done countless times before.
“We’d better meet in the dining area so we’ll have enough room to spread out,” he told her. She looked around for a final time, recalling days of when Bob had first trained her sitting at the same bench where she sat now.
Dick said nothing as she followed him out to a booth at the back corner of the lounge where they’d spent many evenings together. It hit her that those days were gone forever.
Kiss and Say Goodbye
In the spot where Joe normally sat was the frumpy Stevie, nose buried in the steno pad where she studied her first impressions of the staff. Stephen sat next to her on the outside of the booth, leg dangling out into the aisle. Joe slid into the opposite side and Dick blocked her in with his bulk on the aisle.
Lots had changed over the past few months. The new entertainers Jason hired before leaving drew an older crowd. The youthful exuberance that once filled the lounges was replaced by tinkling piano tunes. Without the rock-style vibe, the younger set went elsewhere to seek revelry. Few of the original bartenders remained at the lounge with one exception. Chewy seemed to survive in any environment where he could sip Scotch and tell his jokes. He’d been a great comfort to Joe during the transition. There were few left who knew the whole story of Jason’s time as manager. He was one of them.
He showed up at their table once Dick was seated, carrying a tray of beverages. He placed a tall seltzer water in front of Stephen and a squat fruity drink for Stevie. Dick was served his usual Rusty Nail and Chewy placed a regular Coke in front of Joe.
“Anything else?” he asked. Stephen shook his head and Chewy turned an about face and headed back to his hangout behind the bar. As he wiped non-existent spots from clean glasses, Joe knew he was listening, eager to get the scoop on the new management.
Stephen got right to the point.
“As I see it, Ms. Mitchell,” he paused. “May I call you Joe?” She nodded. “Well, as I see it,” he repeated, “you have a couple of choices here, Joe.” He took a sip of seltzer water and made a face, then continued. “With Stevie taking over the books,” he glanced over at Stevie whose face remained impassive, “you’ll need a new role here at The Pub.” He let that sink in. Joe said nothing.
“Anyway, there’s a place for you here, that is, if you choose to accept it.” The theme song from “Mission Impossible” began playing in her head.
“What would I be doing?”
“We’d like for you to serve as hostess,” he said.
Joe sat without speaking, trying to keep a blank look on her face.
“Think about it,” Stephen said as he stood up dismissing her.
That afternoon, Joe found a new schedule posted on the bulletin board. A grumbling crowd was gathered around, each checking for their new assigned hours. In an instant she traveled back to a different day; a different work schedule. Something she remembered Jason telling her to do to get rid of unwanted staff.
“Cut their hours and spread ‘em out over the week,” he’d told her. “They’ll quit soon enough." Her name appeared under every heading, seven days of the following week totaling under thirty hours on the clock.
She walked to the hostess podium and began organizing the menus and checking the reservation’s book as Stephen walked through the lobby.
“Oh, by the way,” he called on his way past, “I’d like you to train Stevie’s sister on the hostess duties.
Joe folded the blouse and put it on top of the teetering pile of clothes. Months had passed since her three-bedroom house sold. Moving into the two-bedroom apartment had turned her spare room into a piling zone. An oak buffet and sideboard were obscured by a full-sized mattress and box springs standing upright. Empty picture frames towered between overflowing boxes of dishes and unmatched glassware. Winding her way through the narrow path that cut through the space, she mulled over the garage sale planned for the weekend. The point had been reached where former treasures had become burdens.
If everything sells, it might put a little gas in the car. Reality set in as she looked around. At garage sale prices, I’ll be lucky to make it around the block. Despite the grim prospects, she thought about where she might like to go when it came time.
The wheels were in motion with the written notice she’d given to the landlord. He’d seemed surprised that she wanted leave the apartment and had shown up at her door only moments later.
“Need to take a quick look around the unit,” he said pushing his way past her at the door. He walked through her living room and walked into her bedroom, the spare room and then the bath. Back in the kitchen, he opened her refrigerator and the oven door, leaving it open.
“Looks like we won’t even have to paint the place. Truthfully, I’ll be sad to see you go,” he said. “You’re about the only tenant who pays on time.”
“Does that mean I’ll get my deposit back?”
“Oh, no,” he laughed, rubbing the stubble on his chin. “You’ll lose that that since you broke the lease.”
“But you just said…” He stepped closer to where she stood at the door.
“Maybe we could work something out,” he said raising his eyebrows up and down reminding her of Groucho Marks without the cigar.
“I’ll let you know,” she said opening the door and motioning toward it. She quickly closed and locked it after he stepped through. He stood for a moment on the front porch peering around until he spotted his wife across the courtyard, hands on her hips. He took off immediately in the opposite direction. She glanced at her watch and went back inside.
Let's Get It On
Joe had until the end of the month to get rid of everything that wouldn’t fit into her small hatchback car. The rest she planned to donate to charity. If she waited to sell the washer and dryer, she’d be able to use it until the last minute. A neighbor had seen Joe’s flyer in the laundry room and asked about the appliances. Hopefully, the woman could come up with the cash to pay for them. There were appliance hookups on each of the back porches but none of the other tenants used them. She fished an unfamiliar sock out of the empty tub and tossed it aside.
“Not mine,” she said looking around. Curtains twitched at a neighboring window. She packed the tub with more clothes and set the dial.
“Definitely time to move on,” she said to herself, as she measured out detergent and watched the tub fill with water.
To Continue Reading
- The Pub Aftermath, Chapter 4
Joe visits an old friend who is a shut-in. Something about her jewelry sets the dialogue off in a new direction.
© 2019 Peg Cole