I'll be posting a chapter from "Murder in Half Moon Bay" every day until the end of the month. Enjoy!
I needed to get Teddy out of my room for a while so I decided to take him with me. He had been cooped up far too long. I caught Walter as he opened my car door for me. “I’m going out to see your father again. I will figure this out.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Bradley.” He smiled, patted Teddy, and we were off.
We drove with the windows down. The comfortable breeze mixed with sun rays tingled and invigorated my skin. The pleasure reminded me of how fortunate I was to live in such a moderate climate. The afternoon temperature had to be a perfect seventy degrees.
I arrived at the nursery and parked near the front. Was it just yesterday I had been out here? It seemed more like a year ago so much had happened.
“This time you’re coming with me.” I hugged Teddy tight as I grabbed my purse and shut the door, more for my own moral support than his.
A different cashier stood at the register. He had his hair in a ponytail and wore baggy jeans. His T-shirt had ‘Seaside Nursery’ printed on the front. I asked for Walter Montoya and told him that I knew the way. He nodded, and returned to ringing up a sale for a customer who struggled putting several flats of impatiens on the counter.
Careful of the hoses this time, I walked confidently to Mr. Montoya’s office and knocked.
He stood next to his desk loading his belongings into a box. The office was now bare except for the chrome chair, an old wooden hat rack, a filing cabinet, and the desk and chair where he stood.
“I see you’re leaving.”
“Hello, Mrs. Bradley. That’s a nice dog. Is he yours?” He bent down to gently pet him.
“This is Teddy.”
“Hey, boy.” I used my mama voice. “Shake hands? Shake. Shake hands with Walter, Teddy.”
Teddy lifted a paw, tentatively at first.
Walter grabbed it and patted the silky fur up his leg. “How polite of you, Teddy.”
“Good dog.” I scooped him into my arms and kissed him on the head. Then I put him down.
Walter’s smile only glimmered for a moment. Almost immediately, he sat down dejectedly in the desk chair.
“You really didn’t have to come. It’s too late anyway. Mrs. Westover fired me. She said she didn’t want a thief working for her. She called me a thief! That’s like saying she’s a New York model.”
“Is she going to prosecute?”
“She said she just wanted me out of here, the sooner the better.”
“You might be better off not working here anyway, Walter. I don’t understand something. If she thought you were stealing money from her, why not prosecute?”
“I don’t care anymore, Mrs. Bradley. You can just forget about it. I think that’s best. I don’t want you getting into trouble just because of me.”
“I don’t see how I could get into trouble, Walter. It’s just that someone is getting away with theft and you’re the scapegoat. That makes me mad.”
Walter folded the box tops into one another, closing them. “I’m finished here. I don’t know who’ll hire me after this. I need some time to think. If you’ll excuse me. It was awfully nice getting to know you….”
“Walter. I’m not giving up so easily. I’m sure you’ve heard about Regina Anatolia being murdered.”
“Yeah, I heard. Mrs. Westover told me when she fired me and you know what? She told me she wouldn’t be surprised if I did it.” He put the box on the dolly with the others and started for the door.
I took his arm. “Walter, did Mrs. Westover say why she thought you murdered Regina?”
“She said anyone who would steal like I did would probably do murder.” Walter sat down, choked, and covered his eyes with his hands. He began to sob.
Teddy walked over and placed his little paw on Walter’s knee, trying to comfort him.
“Thanks, Teddy.” After regaining his composure, he grabbed my hand. “Thanks for coming Mrs. Bradley. You don’t know what it has meant to me…but, I’d just like to be alone for a little while.”
I couldn’t refuse such a request. No matter what information I might be missing, the man was falling apart.
I left, more determined than ever to find out who embezzled that money. I felt there was a connection somehow between the stolen money and Regina Anatolia’s murder, but where should I start?
I knew Spencer must know something. He certainly was fond of Regina. If he took the money, how did he do it? Did he use a bogus account?
I’d put Nicole on it. What about the Westovers? Why didn’t Thomas fire Walter? Did Evelyn really run the business? Why was she in such a hurry to fire him? I thought Ann could find out. She could get things out of people better than anyone.
I must talk to Hugh about Regina’s father. Maybe he knew something about whom she was involved with, or knew something about her activities outside the Society.
My mind was racing so fast, I had to pull off the side of the road and jot down the questions before I forgot them. I also made a note to find out just how close Paul was to Regina.
My thoughts also turned to Celeste. Would she actually kill Regina if she believed she stood in her way of getting Paul? What a horrible thought.
That left Marianne. Did she have a motive? Perhaps she had a tie to Regina no one knew about. Dominique was sitting next to Marianne at dinner last night. They seemed to get along well. I’d ask Dominique to find out what she could.
List in hand, I returned to the hotel, stopping once again at the gatehouse.
The cheerful, gray-haired female saluted. “How may I be of assistance?”
“I’m just returning from an appointment in town.”
“May I have your name, please?”
“It’s Bradley, Mrs. Jillian Bradley.”
Logging on to her computer, she located the information.
“Welcome back to the Ritz-Carlton, Mrs. Bradley. Have a nice afternoon.”
Teddy barked at her for not acknowledging him.
“Sorry, sir,” she joked, “welcome back to you, too.”
It certainly felt good to have stiff security around the hotel but it hadn’t stopped a murderer. No. Regina knew her assailant, of that I was convinced.
Walter greeted me as he opened my door. He looked hopeful. “Any luck?”
I sighed. “He’s pretty discouraged. You should stay close to him, Walter. Try to keep his spirits up.”
Then I had a stroke of inspiration. “Does he have a computer at home by any chance?”
“Yes, he does. Sometimes he has to check on the accounts when he’s not at work.”
“That’s good. I need his home address and phone number as soon as possible.”
“Mr. Ibarra is looking daggers at me, Mrs. Bradley. I’ll leave the information for you at the desk.”
“Walter, I’m kind of in a hurry. Take my key and put Teddy back in the room for me, would you, please?” I handed Teddy over to him as I spoke. “You may leave the key at the desk.”
“Sure thing. Come on, boy.” Walter took him in his arms. “This is the best fun I’ve had all day.”
The chief had saved me a seat. Down the row next to him, my garden club friends waved to catch my attention. I smiled and took my place just as Marianne began her talk.
“Tree peonies make an excellent addition to any garden….”
It was difficult to fix my mind on the review I would soon be writing. I took notes on content, presentation, and audience appreciation of the subject matter.
Marianne had prepared a great presentation, even getting the chief to nod his head upon hearing a surprising fact or two.
At the lecture’s end, the audience was given time for questions. Afterward, Marianne invited us to look at a few samples that she had set out on the row of tables.
She had a specimen of each major species of tree peonies from all over the world, which was amazing. Some of them I’d only seen in books.
A crowd of people gathered to ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’. Another crowd shuffled around her person, to give kudos for such an extremely entertaining presentation.
Ann, Dominique, and Nicole waited patiently for the hordes to clear out. It took a while. I could tell they hungered to know where I’d been, but it wasn’t safe to talk here.
The Chief excused himself. “Be right back, ladies. I’ll speak to Ms. Delacruz for a moment.”
“Ladies, we need to talk. Shall we have tea in the Fireside Room?”
“Perfect.” Ann beamed greedily. Dominique and Nicole nodded.
The Chief returned, a little disappointed, “It appears Ms. Delacruz is too exhausted to talk right now.”
I had an interesting thought. Why not let him in on our little table talk? I would only have to fill him in later, in any case.
“Chief, won’t you join us for tea?”
“I have a better idea. Why don’t you all join me in the private dining room? There are too many ‘ears’ in the Fireside Room this time of day.”
I stopped by the front desk on the way there and grabbed the note from Walter with the address and phone number of his father, along with my room key.
Good boy, Walter.
The hotel served us a tea befitting a queen: delicious finger sandwiches, miniature cherry tarts with cheesecake filling, fruited scones with real Devonshire cream and strawberry jam, decadent chocolate and hazelnut truffles, petit fours, and steaming hot Lady Gray tea. I was “mother” and poured out.
Nicole took her cup of tea. “Is the ball still on for this evening, Chief?”
“As far as I know there haven’t been any changes. Spencer Hausman is trying to keep everything as normal as possible. This is the last event of the conference.” The chief popped a whole pecan and cream cheese sandwich in his mouth.
I selected a cucumber sandwich. “Chief, whoever killed Regina might be involved in embezzling funds from the Westovers’ nursery business.”
“Embezzling funds?” He gave me his full attention.
I turned to Nicole. “Find out all you can about the accounts of the Seaside Nursery. See if they’re all legitimate.”
“Sure, Jillian.” Nicole sat up straighter than she had before.
I looked at Ann. “Research why Evelyn fired Walter Montoya so suddenly. Find out why Thomas didn’t. I think that’s important.”
Ann nodded. “I’ll talk to her at the ball.”
“Well, well, Mrs. Bradley. You have a regular investigative team set up here, don’t you?” Chief Viscuglia sounded a bit stunned.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just four neighborhood busybodies who are turning their talents for the common good.” I grinned deviously.
Dominique looked at me. “What can I do, Jillian?”
“You got along pretty well with Marianne at dinner last night, didn’t you?”
“We sat next to each other and made small talk. I’m sure I can make arrangements to talk to her privately if you want.”
“We need to know how well Marianne knew Regina. See if there were any links between them. Remember, anything that sounds interesting may be important.”
The chief raised his hand. “What about me, Jillian? What do you want me to do?”
“You don’t mind if my friends help, do you?” I put on an innocent face.
“Do I mind?” He shook his head. “I’m glad to get all the help I can. So far, we’ve hit a brick wall in the investigation. No clues, no motive and the only suspects we have are those who were involved in planning this conference or were on the Society board.”
I took a sip of tea and had a thought. “Chief, Hugh Porter knew Regina’s father. Maybe he knows something about who Regina was seeing.”
The chief finished one last sandwich and stood. “It’s a long shot, I admit, but we need any kind of shots right now. That leaves Paul Youngblood. I think I’ll have a talk with the lad. Ladies, thanks for your help, and be careful. You may step on some toes that are already hurting.”
“We’ll be careful, Chief.” Dominique spoke for our group.
We all stood and agreed to meet back in the Club Room at seven o’clock that evening.
I took my room key from my pocket. “Good luck, ladies.”
With assignments in hand, we all went our separate ways.
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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