“So Elba for the record what is your full name?” Max asked.
“What is your position here at the Blue Moon Restaurant?” Max asked.
“I’m the head bartender.”
“How long have you worked for Victoria Rutledge? Max asked.
“Hmm, getting close to six years,” Elba said.
“Do you like working for Miss Rutledge?” Max asked.
“Yes, she is a great boss. She is very fair with her staff. It is obvious she cares about all of her employees.”
“So Miss Waters you wanted to tell us something that could help our investigation,” Sarah said.
“Look, I’m a bartender and have been for most of my adult life. I didn’t go to college and get a degree, but being a bartender; I have learned to listen to people. Listening over the years has given me the ability to read people’s personalities. I usually can read a person as soon as they sit at my bar. You cannot pour drinks for people without reading them like a book.”
“Okay I get that, but how does that help our investigation?” Sarah reiterated.
“I know something about last Wednesday that I did not tell you previously you’re your were here shortly after Mrs. Knowles was murdered.”
“Okay, we are here now, what do you have?” Max asked.
“Last Wednesday I started my shift at about 4 p.m. Victoria was in her office I happened to pass by and stopped at a cupboard to grab some stir sticks for the bar. The door was open. She was on the phone. She seemed upset while talking. She had the receiver to her ear and her right hand holding her head up.”
“What did you hear?” Sarah asked.
“She was clearly pissed off. She said something like, ‘what do you mean you want to do something different? It’s been a long time, and we have done very well working together. That’s going to blow up in our faces. No, well then promise me this, don’t do anything until we have time to talk face to face.’ There were a few seconds of silence then all I heard was ‘Thank you.’ At that point, she slammed the phone down and was whispering a couple of sentences with a lot of curse words.”
“Who was she talking to?” Max asked.
“I do not know, but it was someone close to her,” Elba said.
“Any guesses?” Sarah asked.
Elba’s mouth twitched before saying, “If I were to guess, it was Hallie.”
“Did she use her name in the conversation?” Max asked.
“No, but my gut says it was her.”
“Why would you think it was Hallie?” Sarah asked.
“The person she talked to was someone close to her. I know that Hallie and Victoria were having some issues between them. The tone of voice, I don’t know, I am sure it was Hallie.”
“What else you got Miss Waters?” Sarah asked.
“Victoria left shortly after that,” Elba said with no emotion.
“She left?” Max said.
“I went back to work, and maybe five minutes later I had gone into the kitchen to get the snacks for the bar. Mickie walked over to the large refrigerator, and we talked for a second while he handed me the snacks. That is when I saw her, with her purse over her shoulder, open the back door and slip out kind of stealth-like.” Elba said.
“Wait, you are saying she left the Blue Moon?” Sarah said.
“The staff swears she was here the whole time,” Sarah added.
“As I told you, detectives, I notice things. The employees are so busy at that time getting ready to open. It’s entirely possible they thought she was here. She is always here before we open. Pretty much seven days a week, that woman is a work alcoholic.”
“You are positively sure she left? About what time would you say it was?” Max asked.
“We were about fifteen minutes from opening the restaurant. There a few people waiting outside. It looked like it would be busy for a Wednesday. Later I went upstairs for something in the storage, and I noticed her office door was open, the light was on.”
“And she wasn’t there,” Max added.
“That is correct,” Elba said.
“You said you were talking with Mickie when you saw Victoria slip out the back door. Did Mickie see her go as well?” Sarah asked.
“I don’t think so, but you can ask him. Like I said it was really busy, and everyone was moving pretty quickly.” Elba said.
“Was there any other chef’s in the kitchen area when you saw her leave?” Max asked.
“Yes, but they were at the stoves and grill. Mickie was with me nearest the back door.”
“Did you see Victoria anymore that night?” Max asked.
“Yes she was visiting with the late patrons I would say around 10:30 that night. I just happened to notice.”
“Anything else that might be significant to our case?” Sarah asked.
“Let me think about it. I really need to get back to work.”
“Well thank you for your time, Miss Waters. If you think of anything else, please see us before we go or call me. My number is on this business card.” Sarah handed her the card and smiled.
Elba slid out of the booth. Stood up straight and looked down at both detectives before saying, “For what it is worth there is no way Victoria would ever hurt anyone never the less murder them. Hallie was her best friend for as long as I’ve been working here. I just thought it was important for you to know what I saw.” Elba added.
“You’ve been most helpful, thank you, Miss Waters,” Max said.
Mickie Wade, the head chef was slightly over 5’7” sporting a barrel chest and sideburns down past the bottom of his ears. He had an oversized nose, and his eyes were more like faded brown marbles. Max figured he was getting close to sixty years old. His chef hat actually made him appear taller. He wore a white, stained apron that circled around his meaty body. Max and Sarah walked up to the table where he was cutting vegetables.
“Call me Mickie and I know who you are and why you are here.”
“Can we ask you a couple of questions, I know you are busy, but Mickie it is important,” Sarah said stepping slightly in front of Max.
“I am Sarah McFadden and my partner Max Drake.” Sarah dived into her questions before Mickie got more irritated. He was chopping faster and more aggressively.
“Mickie, you were working last Wednesday afternoon and into the evening is that correct?”
“Yes, since my sister passed away three years ago I have nothing at home, so I work. I work seven days a week.”
“Can you tell me if you had a conversation with Elba on Wednesday afternoon?” Sarah asked.
The chopping stopped and Mickie for the first time looked up at McFadden. “You’re kidding right?” He said gruffly.
“No, I’m trying to connect the dots of our case, Mickie. Did you. . .” Mickie cut Sarah off.
“I have conversations with all the staff every day. How would I remember some conversation with Elba?” The chopping started up again.
“Mickie, Elba said she was with you getting snacks for the bar when she saw Miss Rutledge go out the back door of the kitchen. Did you happen to see her leave at all last Wednesday?” Sarah asked in a soft voice.
Mickie sat the knife down and wiped his hands on a towel before tossing it back on the table. He turned to face Sarah face to face. “Detectives, I mind my own business, I am very busy here, and I do not pay attention to who is coming and going. So, no I did not see Victoria leave last Wednesday.”
“Are you sure?” Sarah added a little more aggressiveness in her tone.
Mickie turned away and mumbled something that Sarah or Max could not understand.
“What?” Sarah said.
“I have nothing more to say to you two. I love working here, and Victoria has been nothing but gracious and kind to all of her staff. She is like a daughter to me. Also, I will tell you Victoria is here almost as much as I am. I have no idea when she comes and goes on Wednesday or any other time. So, I have told you what I know as fact. Now I ask you to leave my kitchen before one of you sneeze on my vegetables.”
Max bumped Sarah’s elbow slightly. “Well thank you for your time. As you know sir, we are investigating a murder, If we find you are bullshitting us in any way, you will find your ass down at the station in not such a friendly environment.” Max said slightly over Sarah’s shoulder.
Mickie pointed the knife at the door, “Leave.”
Max and Sarah stepped out of the kitchen and stood near the door. Max turned to her, “This guy, if he knows anything, he would never give it up. Put him in jail or cut his fingers off one at a time. He is not going to say anything.”
“So let’s head back to the job and lay out all the facts we have so far. Hopefully, we will have some good luck with the gloves Robin is working on.” Sarah said.
Both detectives turned to leave and not more than six feet away Elba stood quietly. Her eyes focused on both of them.
“Something else I remember detectives. Later that evening I did see Victoria was back she was wearing a different change of clothes.”
“Can you describe what she was wearing before and after you saw her leave,” Max asked.
“One more thing she sat in one of the booths and had three or four cocktails and had, in my opinion, an intense conversation with John Knowles.”
“John Knowles, not Parker?’ Max said.
“That’s right John Knowles, his brother.”