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After the Pub - Murder Mystery, Chapter 3

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Peggy Cole is a self-published author who enjoys writing fiction stories, book reviews and articles about simpler times.

Chris Light [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Chris Light [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

New Duties

Business flourished at the Pub in the aftermath of the murder trial.

Jason was gone as manager but not before he gathered a few of the regular customers and favored employees for a wedding ceremony on the beach. Joe wasn’t invited nor did she mind. They held the reception in the main dining room where he flaunted his new bride in loud and drunken fashion. When he finally left for the airport Jason was alone. As they cleaned up the mess, Joe heard a couple of busboys talking.

“Why’d he leave without his new bride?” one asked.

“He’s got a job interview in Jamaica,” the other guy said, proud of being in the loop. “She’s staying here until he lands the job and finds them a place to live.”

“Some honeymoon,” the first one said with a snicker.

Dick turned over the managerial duties to Joe. She was thrilled to be rid of the overbearing Jason and eager to run the restaurant and two lounges.

She got there early each morning, opening the doors to stale smoke and spilled beer, started a pot of coffee and reviewed the evening’s receipts. Registers balanced and stacks of cash counted, she’d make up the work schedule for entertainers, wait staff and bartenders. Around nine am, meetings with vendors for supply ordering would start and continue past lunchtime.

Hoping to avoid her former coworkers, she’d wait until after five to take the bank deposit to the night drop. After a quick stop at home to freshen up, she’d return and stay until last call when she and Chewy would lock up. The next morning it would start all over again.

With Dick’s partner out of the picture. he was free to run the business without consulting anyone. But Dick was acting odd, distancing himself from Joe and the rest of the staff. Their former camaraderie in the corner booth had come to an abrupt end after Jason left. Her relationship with Tom had changed, too. Her musician boyfriend’s new popularity in the small community was growing but her faith in him was not. Finding out he’d lied about his real name had planted the seeds of doubt.

One morning, way before his usual lunchtime arrival, Dick showed up at her office door. That was never a good sign.

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Announcements

“Gather the troops in the breakroom before the lunch service,” he told her. Her heart raced hoping the staff meeting would be to announce her promotion to manager. She started off by telling the kitchen staff as they prepped for the day’s food service.

“Meeting at 11:30 in the breakroom.” She practically sang as she made her way through the building to the front lounge where two bartenders were slicing fruit.

“What’s it about?” one asked.

“Oh, you’ll find out quick enough.” Floating back through the main dining room, she shared the news with wait staff and bus boys before heading to the breakroom. As the crowd grew, gossip made the rounds.

“Who’d have thought the old desperado would tie the knot?” asked one waiter who hadn’t gone to Jason’s wedding.

“Yeah, he knew her, what, about two weeks?” a busboy answered.

“He really robbed the cradle with that one.” The comment brought a smattering of laughter.

“Do you blame him? She’s a real looker!” A couple of once- hopeful waitresses sent them a dirty look. In the pool of available bachelors in town, Jason had been a good catch in a seedy sort of way; handsome, chatty and a mover with the ladies. A pool circulated on how long the marriage would last. Odds favored two weeks.

When Dick walked in, the idle chatter came to an abrupt halt. He worked his way to the front of the room and straightened his tie. The room grew thick with anticipation and dread. With the continuous changes over the past few months, the staff was leery of what might be next.

Lowdown

New Faces

“Some of you may be wondering why I called this meeting,” Dick said. “It’s simple.” He cleared his throat. “I’ve managed to find a new partner.” Everyone started talking at once with questions and concerns. Long-time employees shook their heads. They wondered how the new partnership would affect them. Joe was completely taken off guard, her previous elation turning to stunned disbelief.

“Don’t be concerned,” he said raising his hands for quiet. “I will retain complete interest as a silent partner and plan to stick around and keep an eye on things.”

“Good!” someone shouted from the back. Dick smiled.

Someone else shouted, “Yeah, remember what happened to the last silent partner?” A couple of people laughed nervously. The last partner’s body had been found in the walk-in freezer after what became his last audit of the restaurant’s books.

“Hang on for just a second,” he said. “There’s someone I want to introduce. He disappeared into the hall leaving an uncomfortable silence in his absence. He came back in seconds later with a tall man and his rather plump wife. The couple stood next to Dick eyeballing the crowd.

“I’d like you all to welcome our new manager, Stephen, and his wife, Stevie.” He stepped aside as he added, “Their names should be easy enough to remember.” He chuckled at his own humor.

For the most part, news circulated with lightning speed through the small community, long before anything was official. This news came as a total shock to everyone in the room.

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VIP Tour

Stephen raised his hand and motioned for quiet as all eyes turned 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 died out quickly except for one person who clapped long after the others. Chewy pushed his glasses back up on his nose and looked around. He shrugged.

“What?” he mouthed to the dirty looks he was getting. Stephen continued his canned speech seemingly oblivious to the undercurrent of emotion.

“First of all, my wife, Stevie,” he winked at her, “will be taking on the role of restaurant bookkeeper.” Joe’s mouth dropped open.

“She comes with many years of experience in the fascinating world of accounting,” He grinned and they shared a private smile before she looked back down to the steno book. Eyebrows joined at the top of her nose, she furiously scribbled something before turning the page. She looked up and stared directly at Joe.

“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 whatever Steve was saying became incoherent noise. Joe's job as bookkeeper was clearly over. She thought about the months of long hours and hard work that would be rewarded with no future.

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.

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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 from “Mission Impossible” played in her head.

Easy to be Hard

Propositions

“What would I be doing?”

“We’d like for you to serve as hostess,” he said. Joe sat speechless, trying to keep a neutral look on her face.

“Just think about it,” Stephen said standing up to dismiss 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 mismatched glassware. Winding her way through the narrow path that cut through the space, she mulled over the garage sale planned for the weekend. Former treasures had suddenly 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 moved close to where she stood.

“Maybe we could work something out,” he said raising his eyebrows up and down. 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.

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.

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© 2019 Peg Cole

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