I'll be posting a chapter from "Murder in Half Moon Bay" every day until the end of the month. Enjoy!
After freshening up I returned downstairs with Teddy and ordered the car. The fog had rolled in and the wet mist hit my face the moment I stepped beyond the lobby doors.
Walter, the bellhop, appeared with the Jeep and held the door open. I set Teddy gently inside.
“I’m off to see your father today. See, I do keep my promises."
“Oh, thanks, Mrs. Bradley. You’re great!”
I climbed into the driver’s seat, ready to get to the end of this mystery. It had been a nagging undercurrent in my mind all week. What sort of problem had Walter been inferring? Why did it require my expertise?
I headed past the gatehouse and down Highway 1. After a few turns, I pulled up in front of the large warehouse nursery, parked, and rolled down the windows a little for Teddy.
“I’ll be right back.”
I headed for the entrance and walked through the automatic doors.
A clerk at the check-out counter on the right buried her nose in some paperwork.
“May I help you?” She seemed a little surprised, and squinted at me behind a pair of red-rimmed Coke-bottle glasses.
“Yes, as a matter of fact. I’m here to see Mr. Montoya. He’s expecting me.”
“Hmm…he’s in the office. Straight past the cyclamens, turn left at the hydrangeas. There’s a sign.”
I moved in the direction she spoke and barely missedtr ipping over a hose.
I had never seen so many cyclamens in such an array of colors in all my life. They were beautiful! The hydrangeas were not as robust, but it was, after all, not their season. I finally saw the sign. It read “Office”.
“Come in.” The man’s voice sounded curt. He sat with his back to me hunched over a stack of papers.
“Hello,” I said with a smile. “I’m Jillian Bradley and I believe Mr. Montoya is expecting me.”
“Mrs. Bradley.” He jumped up from his chair as if the meeting had completely slipped his mind. He stepped forward and held out a hand. “Uh…Walter Montoya... Senior, at your service.”
He glanced warily down the hallway to see if anyone was listening. Satisfied, he me in and closed the door.
“Thank you for coming. It’s a real honor to have a celebrity in Half Moon Bay.” He offered me a cup of coffee that looked freshly made. I accepted. “Won’t you have a seat?”
“Thank you.” I sat down on a small chrome chair covered in green vinyl.
“I’ll come right to the point,” he began, eyes downcast at first. “I’ve done the books here for fifteen years and in all those years there’s never been any trouble with our accounts. Everything would balance out to the dime; that’s how I run things.
Then last month, I discovered a lot of money missing. I’m talking big money, money that could rob me of my job… all in the account for this conference. I would tell someone but I’m afraid if I don’t find out what’s going on, I’ll get the blame.”
“Oh my… do you have any idea what may have happened to it?”
“All I know is that I got to balancing the books two months ago and they come up $8,000 short.”
“That’s a lot of money. It’s just gone?”
“Shh! Please Mrs. Bradley. No one knows anything about it yet, except my wife. I tell her everything. She’s the one that told me to get outside help before I told the boss about it. That’s why I asked my son to talk to you.”
“I can see your problem, Walter. You haven’t told your boss anything about the shortfall?”
“I was so stunned I told myself there had to be a mistake somewhere, so I decided to let another month go by to see if it would work out somehow. Now I know that it was the wrong thing to do because I still can’t account for the shortfall. Since I waited so long to report it, it makes me look like I took it, but I swear to you I didn’t!”
“I believe you. Tell me, has anything unusual happened that you can think of?”
“No, things are pretty much the same as they always are. Same wholesale accounts, same upfront sales, no changes in personnel. I can’t figure it out, but if I don’t come up with an answer soon I’m afraid I’ll have to take it to the boss and let the chips fall where they may.”
“Do you have any idea where to start looking?”
“All I know is the owners leave most of the business concerns to me and the warehouse manager. You must know him, Spencer Hausman. He’s running the conference you’re attending.”
“I certainly do know him, but not very well. I’ve only spoken to him on the phone and had tea with him. How long has he been the manager?” Was this more than just a coincidence?
“He’s been here for almost four years. We get along fine, as long as he stays in his office and I stay in mine.”
“I know what you mean. Walter, can you tell me how large a concern this nursery business is and how much revenue is generated in a month?”
“I guess it would be okay to tell you. I’d say roughly $50,000 on average, give or take a thousand.”
“That’s a lot of flowers!”
“That’s not just flowers, Ma’am. We raise mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and leeks too.”
“I had no idea. Listen.” I stood. “I’ll do what I can to help you. Perhaps I can find out something at the conference. You mustn’t worry. I’m sure if you’re honest, and I think you are or you wouldn’t have such a wonderful son as Walter, everything will turn out all right.”
“I sure hope so. I don’t have much time before the owners ask for the report. Please stay in touch, Mrs. Bradley.”
Teddy hopped all over the front seat in dog-delighted welcome when I returned. “I’m glad to see you too,” I said, a little deflated by Walter’s situation. I climbed in and turned out into the street.
This was horrible. How could I help the poor man? I needed a pick-me-up to lift my spirits–quick! The road curved and caughtI a glimpse of something delightful. Half Moon Bay Coffee Company spellined vertical letters towered over Main Street. I parked immediately.
“I’ll have the clam chowder, half a roast beef sandwich and a diet cola… to go.”
The young man behind the counter looked dead to the world. Had he worked the night shift? Did they have night shifts in small towns like this?
I glanced toward the other tourists who, like me, crowded in around the bar and other tables. It seemed to be a happening place for young people, probably surfers and students, a place to hang out together…with coffee. Normally, I would have enjoyed a place like this, but I needed away from the noise to think. Yes, a shot of caffeine was just what I needed. I had to think, to plan.
Coming out of the diner, bag in hand I heard, “Jillian, over here!” and turned to see Ann seated at a sidewalk café.
Thank heavens! The perfect time for a friend.
Then I did a double take and regretted acting so ready to sit and dine. Next to her under a wide brimmed beach hat was Evelyn Westover. Spencer Hausman and a woman I hadn’t seen before put their menus on the table.
I saw them and cringed, not really in the mood for vain conversation.
“Jillian, meet Marianne Delacruz. I believe you’re going to review her tomorrow.”
Ann placed her menu on the table and gestured, “Marianne, this is Jillian Bradley.”
I nodded my head in a friendly way, not quite in the mood for perfect cordiality.
“Thomas didn’t join you, I see?”
Evelyn half closed her eyes. “Thomas is playing a round of golf this afternoon. That is his life, you know. He was the one who insisted we stay at the hotel. I told him we would have been much more comfortable at home, but he wouldn’t hear of it.”
I changed the subject. “I see you’ve met my friend Ann.”
“Oh, yes,” began Evelyn, “it seems we have a mutual friend who spoke at the Rutherford House League last month. It’s a small world, isn’t it? Just the other day–”
Spencer spoke before Evelyn could continue. “I knew Ann was a garden club friend of yours, Jillian, and when we bumped into each other I invited her to have lunch with us. She’s quite a delight.”
The server brought another chair and I sat down to join them for a minute.
“Are you only having lunch, or have you all been shopping like I know Ann has.”
“Just lunch,” Marianne said quickly before anyone else could answer.
They exchanged a few furtive glances, so I stood to leave. “I’ve just had mine, and actually, I’m ready for a nap. It was nice to see you again Evelyn, and nice to meet you, Marianne. I’m looking forward to your talk on tree peonies. I’m sure I’ll see you again soon, Spencer. Ann, see you at tea.”
Nearly back at the jeep, I heard a light step behind me.
Marianne caught her breath. Apparently, she had jogged to catch up with me before I left. She raised her shoulders in a shy gesture. “Do you mind if I ride back with you? I need to get some things ready for my talk tomorrow, and I don’t want to hurry anyone with their lunch.” She hurried through her excuse as if justifying herself was necessary.
“Of course.” I moved my excited-to-see-me companion off his seat and into the back. “Sorry, Teddy. We must be courteous.”
It was a joke. He preferred having the entire seat to himself anyway.
She was quiet after we got into the car. Something was on her mind. She finally spoke.
“That’s a cute dog.”
“Thank you.” I smiled. “I’ve always had a Yorkie.”
“Why did you name him Teddy? Any special reason?”
“My husband’s name was Ted.”
“You’re widowed then?” She turned to look at me.
I started the car and pulled away from the curb. “Yes,” I answered with a small sigh, then smiled as I remembered him.
“Would you care to tell me about him?” She acted glad to put the ball of conversation in my court.
“They drafted him soon after we were married and sent him to Vietnam. Killed in combat within the year. Before he died though, he managed to save three of his buddies by drawing enemy fire away as they escaped.”
I could picture it perfectly in my mind, the bravery of it. “I still have his medal of honor and the flag they presented to me at his funeral.”
“I’m so sorry, Jillian. And you never found anyone else?”
“I never had the time. I stay busy writing for the paper, and with my own gardening endeavors, it seems I only have time for my garden club.” I laughed a little. “We had two wonderful years. He was such a loving man. He left me with enough memories to last my lifetime. I’ve never felt the need to replace him.”
I reached back and gave Teddy a love pat and noticed Marianne lost in thought.
“Marianne, are you feeling all right?”
“Yeah, I’m okay I guess. I was just thinking about Evelyn Westover. We’re great friends and have been for a long time. It just bothers me that Evelyn acts like the only thing she cares about is her social life.”
“Why should that bother you? Some people are social butterflies, some people aren’t.”
“Would you be a social butterfly six months after your son overdosed on barbiturates? Your only son?”
“I had no idea. How awful! I know it took me at least two years to get through losing my husband. You know, you’re right. Evelyn certainly doesn’t seem grief stricken or upset.”
“I think she’s deluding herself, Jillian, and when it hits her, it will hit her hard. I’ve known Evelyn for years. She never used to treat Thomas the way she does.”
“You think she’s taking it out on him?”
“That’s exactly what I think. Thomas is a wonderful man, but he can’t be expected to hold on much longer.”
“Perhaps they can get counseling.”
“Evelyn Westover? Counseling? That will never happen. She has too much pride. Her son was everything to her.”
“Have you tried to talk to her, Marianne?”
“I’ve started to several times but she always changes the subject like it’s blocked out of her mind completely.”
“What about Thomas? Have you talked to him?”
“He’s never around. He plays golf most of the time or looks after his clients in various parts of the Bay Area.”
“Losing a child is so sad,” I said, “I’m sure no one can understand what they’re feeling unless they’ve gone through it.”
“I’m sorry to burden you, Jillian. You just happened to be here when I needed to vent. Thanks for listening.”
“I’m a good listener, anytime.”
The fog had rolled in and Marianne commented, “It’s pretty unusual to see fog this time of day.”
I looked up at the sky. “It sure makes it dark, doesn’t it?”
I didn’t like the way the sky looked. It seemed to lean over me, threatening to obscure my happy time at this delightful conference. A shadow seemed to stalk my immediate future and I felt a strange pressure. The two of us must have felt it for we sat in silence until we were at the gatehouse again.
Breaking the strange foreboding feeling, Walter greeted us merrily near the front doors.
Marianne excused herself and made her way into the lobby.
I handed Walter the keys. With as much sympathy as I could muster I brought him up to date. “Walter, I’ve seen your father. Somehow, we’ll make everything right.”
If you like to read about lovely places and fabulous cuisine, enjoy the Jillian Bradley mystery series.
If you like to read about lovely places and fabulous cuisine, enjoy the Jillian Bradley mystery series.
Book 1 MURDER IN HALF MOON BAY
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All books are G-rated and contain no profanity.
See you in my books!
Mystery novelist Nancy Jill Thames has published Christian fiction since 2010. The author of seven books in the Jillian Bradley series, she is an award winning blogger and listed numerous times on the Author Watch Bestseller’s List. In addition, she won first place in her church's 4th of July celebration for her chocolate cream pie.
When she isn’t plotting her next book, she spends time with her six grandchildren, tags along with her husband on business trips, and plays classical piano for her personal enjoyment. She is an active member of the Leander Writers' Guild, American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), CenTex Chapter-ACFW, and supports the Central Texas SPCA with a portion of her book sales. She resides with her husband in Leander, Texas.
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