Monday, November 18, 2013

Alibis...from "Murder in Half Moon Bay"

I'll be posting a chapter from "Murder in Half Moon Bay" every day until the end of the month. Enjoy!

                                                              CHAPTER 11

Chief Viscuglia sent out the word. Everyone connected to Regina’s death was to remain in his or her rooms until sent for. The small, elegantly appointed dining room he would use offered privacy as well as a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean.
The hotel staff brought in comfortable chairs and a table for our interviews. They had provided an urn of coffee and plates full of homemade cookies on a table along the wall in the back of the room. Deputy Cortez stood by the door.
“Come in Jillian,” the chief invited. “Thanks for being on time.” He motioned for me to sit beside him. An empty chair faced us.
“Is that the hot seat?” I joked.
He smiled. “I’m the spider spinning my web. Let’s hope we catch a fly today.” He motioned to Deputy Cortez. “Please escort Mr. Hausman to his interview.”
A few moments later Spencer opened the door and carefully closed it as if he were entering a church.
“Come in, Mr. Hausman. Please have a seat.” The chief motioned toward the empty chair.
Spencer moved stiffly, in obvious discomfort.
How would he handle the electric chair, then?
I caught myself. Good thing thoughts were private. That one had just revealed my personal prejudices outright–not incredibly professional.
Hausman looked at me. “May I ask what she’s doing here, Chief?”
The chief looked in my direction and back at Hausman. “I want her here.”
I could tell Spencer wasn’t satisfied, but he decided not to press the matter.
“Let’s begin, Mr. Hausman. Please remember that no one is accusing anyone of murdering Miss Anatolia. We’re just doing routine questioning of everyone who was involved with her.”
Spencer brushed a speck of lint from his coat. “What do you want to know? Ask away!”
“Thank you.” The chief looked at his notebook. “First of all, where were you between the hours of two and four this morning?”
Spencer didn’t hesitate. “I was asleep in my room.”
“Was anyone with you to corroborate that?”
“I wish!” He looked down at his shoes, evidently aware of the faux pas he’d committed. “No, Chief.”
“When did you last see the deceased?”
“It was about eleven-thirty last night. We’d all just returned from dinner at the Distillery. I was tired and wanted to go to my room.”
“Your room is on the main floor?”
“That’s right. It makes it easier for me to run the conference.”
“And where did you see the deceased at eleven-thirty last night?”
Spencer shifted–more discomfort, apparently. “She went into the bar. I think she was going to have a nightcap with the Westovers.”
I couldn’t sit still. “Chief, may I?”
He nodded for me to go ahead.
“Actually Spencer, I saw you follow Regina into the bar.”
He looked at me with cold eyes, smiled, then relaxed a little. “Of course, I’d forgotten. It’s just been so upsetting not having her around. I really depended on her more than I realized, and I’m having difficulty keeping things straight. I apologize.”
The chief gestured to him. “Please go on, Mr. Hausman.”
“There’s nothing really. I asked Regina to come to my room before she retired to verify two late arrivals for the conference, make sure they were registered properly and informed of the meeting rooms.”
“How long did that take?” The chief jotted swiftly on his electronic pad.
“Just a few minutes. She said she was joining the Westovers for a nightcap and would see me later. That’s the last time I saw her before…. ”
I couldn’t resist. “Before you saw what, Mr. Hausman?”
“Nothing, it was just the last time. Am I free to go, now?” He stood. “I have a conference to attend to.”    
“Okay, Mr. Hausman. Remember not to leave town before I give you permission.” The chief looked at me. “Well, Jillian?”
“I get the feeling he wasn’t as forthright as he should have been. Maybe it’s because he’s still upset.”
“I think he was uncomfortable telling us Regina went to his room. You’d think something as small as late arrivals could have been handled early the next morning.”
“I don’t think that’s all they talked about, Chief.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, Regina said she couldn’t stand Spencer. I don’t think she would go to his room that late at night unless he had some kind of hold over her.”       
“Or maybe Regina had a hold over him?”
“Maybe she did.”
“All right deputy, bring in the next one in.”
Evelyn Westover entered the room regally, as if she were a queen. “Chief… Jillian….”
She greeted me as if it was no surprise at all to find me there.
“Please take a seat, Mrs. Westover.” The chief indicated the chair Spencer Hausman had vacated.
“Oh, do call me Evelyn, everyone does.”
“I prefer to call you Mrs. Westover.” The chief smiled. “Business, you know.”
Evelyn narrowed her eyes slightly, then crossed her legs. “Of course.”
She tossed her hair, as if it really didn’t matter to her at all. “What is it you want to know, Chief?”
“There are two things, mainly. One, where were you between the hours of two and four this morning, and two, when was the last time you saw the deceased?”
Evelyn looked to her right as if to pull up a file, looked at the chief, and then me. “One, I was asleep in my room wearing earplugs between the hours of two and four this morning, and two, we had a nightcap with Regina around eleven-thirty last evening. Is that all, Chief?”
“I have a question, Chief, if I may.”
“Go ahead, Jillian.”
“Evelyn, at the reception yesterday afternoon you paid an offhanded compliment to Regina.”
“I did? That was peculiar of me.”
“Yes, you said Regina had done an excellent job on the conference considering her background. What background were you referring to?”
Evelyn looked up, gave a “harrumph” under her breath and said, “Regina Anatolia was nothing before the Society. Her parents were common, uneducated farmers, ‘small time’. The only attributes she had were good taste in clothes and ambition.”
The chief cleared his throat. “Mrs. Westover, did you ever deal with Regina personally?”
“I only dealt with her when I had to.”
“Continue, please.”
“As I said, only when I had to. Regina used to oversee deliveries for her parent’s farm produce and whenever she delivered to us she would always stir up the men.”
 My curiosity rose. “What do you mean ‘stir up the men’?”
“Oh, you know, flirt. She wore seductive clothing, perfume, always had her hair and makeup fixed just ‘so’–it was totally obvious what she was doing.”
“I see.” The chief made notes on his electronic pad.
Evelyn Westover grew more upset as she talked. “Of course I tolerated her because her parents were good suppliers and I tried to ‘just consider the source’ as my father used to teach me.”
I tried to understand where Evelyn was coming from so I expressed my thought aloud. “So you just considered Regina to be a ‘flagrant ill-bred hussy’ and tried to rise above the situation, is that correct?”
“Exactly, Jillian.” She seemed grateful for my apparent understanding.
The chief thanked her, told her not to leave Half Moon Bay, and that at this time no one was under suspicion of murder.
Looking relieved, Evelyn rose from her chair, straightened her ill-fitting pants suit and left.
As soon as Evelyn had closed the door, I turned to the chief. “Chief, I think we should question her again.”
“This is only the beginning.”
I stood. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Thanks. I take it black. I’d like one of those white chocolate macadamia nut cookies too, please. Two down, four to go.”
I handed him the refreshments and smiled. 
“I’m ready when you are.”
The chief nodded with a stifled grin and turned to Deputy Cortez. “Send in Thomas Westover.”
I hadn’t paid that much attention to Thomas Westover before, probably because his wife dominated the space whenever they were together. Apart from Evelyn, Thomas was quite a different man.
When he entered the room it was with a confident gait. Motioning to the empty chair in front of us, he smiled. “I assume you want me to sit here?”
The chief nodded. “Please.”
Thomas took a seat, crossed his legs carefully, and folded his hands in his lap.
“Jillian is assisting me, Mr. Westover. She did find the corpse and I feel she can provide unbiased insight into this investigation.”
“Anything that will help bring justice to Regina’s murderer is admirable, Chief.”
Thomas placed his elbows on his knees, folded his hands together and leaned forward, unconcerned. He rested his chin on his hands.
His intense eyes, the color of the green golf course next to the sea in our view, captured my attention. Why hadn’t I noticed them before? They signified an inner strength that he hid from view. His tanned face testified to spending many hours on the courses. I wondered if he played for pleasure or just to retreat from Evelyn.
“Where were you this morning between the hours of two and four, Mr. Westover?” The chief’s voice was surprisingly stern.
“I was in bed with my wife, Chief.”
The chief jotted in his notebook, taking his time.
Thomas put down his hands, shifted in his chair, re-crossed his legs and folded his arms across his chest. I had read that such body language indicated defiance and hostility to whomever that person was talking.
The chief followed up with his next question. “When did you last see the deceased, Mr. Westover?”
“I think it was in the bar last night. Regina joined us for a nightcap.”
The chief looked at him closely. “Where?”
“The bar.”
“What time was this?”
“About 1:30 a.m.”
“You think it was in the bar, yet you sound so sure that it was 1:30 a.m. Why is that, Mr. Westover?”
“Look,” Thomas laughed. “I had a lot to drink last night, so things are still a little foggy. I know Regina had a nightcap with us last night. I know it was 1:30 a.m. because I do remember Evelyn saying it was 1:30 a.m. and asking if I didn’t want to come to bed.”
The chief patted the air with his hands–he’d heard enough. “Okay…okay. I think that will be all for now, Mr. Westover. As I’ve told the others, don’t leave town and no, we don’t have a suspect as of yet.”
Thomas Westover stood up and smiled. “Good luck, Chief. I do hope you catch the crazy person that did this. It really was a shame.”
With downcast eyes, Thomas Westover left the room.
Hugh Porter was the next one we interviewed. He said he was asleep in his room at the time of the murder, and that he hadn’t seen Regina since leaving the bus.
Satisfied, the chief had let him go. I planned to talk to Hugh on my own and told the chief so. He agreed I might find out more than he would, so he called in Marianne Delacruz.
Marianne walked in, straight-faced, carrying a binder. Without asking, she pulled out the “hot seat” chair and sat down.
“Hello, Jillian.” She placed the binder on the table in front of her. “Mind if I get some coffee? I’m doing a lecture at three o’clock and I won’t get a chance beforehand.”
The chief gestured. “Please take whatever you like.”
Placing a cup of coffee and two chocolate chip cookies on the table in front of her, she looked at me. “Am I a suspect, Jillian?”
I answered, as informally as I could. “Marianne, the chief has to ask those who were closely involved with Regina the same questions.”
“Really? Hmm, fun. What are the questions?”
The chief looked up and repeated his standard line. “Where were you between the hours of two and four this morning? When was the last time you saw Regina?”
Marianne sighed. “After dinner I went to my room, got into bed and then I started reading. I remember looking at the clock when I couldn’t read another word. It was 2:05 a.m. After that, I fell asleep.”
The chief continued. “And when was the last time you saw the deceased, Ms. Delacruz?”
“I’m sure I saw her get off the bus and then…yes, I saw her talking to Paul. After that, Hugh and I went into the Fireside Room to talk about how the conference was going. That’s really all I know about it.”
The chief and I exchanged glances, and then he spoke, “Ms. Delacruz, we may want to speak to you again so, as I’ve told the others, please don’t plan on leaving town until we have things cleared up, okay?”
“Whatever you wish, Chief. I really must look over my notes before my lecture. Jillian, I’ll see you then.”
“I’ll look forward to it. By the way, the chief, here, is interested in tree peonies, so he’ll be joining me.”
Marianne looked surprised. Relaxing a little, she smiled. “Why, Chief, that’s marvelous. Please feel free to ask me any questions on the subject that you like.”
She smiled, and with a chuckle, left.
“Would you like a warm-up?” I asked, standing to get one for myself, and another cookie.
“Thanks.” He handed me his cup.
“Who’s next?”
“Let’s talk to Mr. Youngblood.” He signaled for Deputy Cortez again.
Paul was either very polite, or very unsure of himself. He knocked on the door and asked permission to enter before opening it–very timid. He found the seat.
“We would like to ask you the same two questions we’re asking everyone else, Mr. Youngblood,” the chief began. “We want to know where you were between the hours of two and four this morning, and secondly we want to know when you last saw Regina alive.”
“Well, as to the time you’re asking about, I was in my room watching a movie.”
“And you didn’t leave your room during that time period?”
“No, sir, I didn’t even finish it. I was asleep by 2:30 a.m.”
“We can check the guest services record to see if you’re telling the truth, Mr. Youngblood.” The chief’s reminder gave an unspoken warning.
“I am telling the truth.” Paul met those eyes of the chief without wavering.
“Chief, if you don’t mind.” I touched his shoulder.
“Go ahead, Jillian.”
“Paul, you talked to Regina after we arrived back at the hotel last night.”
“Yes.” He looked miserable.
“What state of mind was she in when you talked to her? Can you remember?”
“Regina said she needed to talk to me. I asked her if she was in trouble. She said, ‘I don’t know how I ever got into this mess,’ and then she saw Celeste waiting for me, got mad, and said, ‘forget it,’ that I ‘probably didn’t care anyway.’”
“And that was the last time you saw the deceased?”
“Yes, sir, she just walked away.”
“That will be all for now, Mr. Youngblood. Don’t leave town. We may need to talk to you again.” The chief waved dismissal.
Paul didn’t say a word. He just got up from his chair, turned, and walked as fast as he could out the door.
The chief took a sip of coffee. “What do you think?”
“It’s hard to say. I know he once cared for her. I wonder if he cared for her up until last night.”
“I wouldn’t have a clue. Ready for the last interview?”
Then I remembered. An image flashed through my mind of Paul and someone standing together on that balcony. Yes, that had been my wish for him. Then I pictured him throwing a woman over the balcony, but the woman had no face.
My attention snapped back to the present as Celeste sauntered in wearing a taupe suede suit, pale yellow silk shirt, and a long, abstract print scarf. This woman really had her wardrobe pulled together and looked like a model for a fashion magazine. I felt like I should be photographing her instead of interviewing her.
“Please sit down, Mrs. Osborne.” The chief spoke cordially.
“Thank you. ‘ Chief,’ is it?” She obviously flirted.
“Yes. Let’s get on with this. Before we begin I know you must be wondering about Mrs. Bradley here….”
“Oh, I’m sure if you think she needs to be here it’s perfectly all right with me.” She made a token glance in my direction, but I could tell that she fought to keep her cool. She wanted to maintain control of this man. Acknowledging the power of another woman nearby would only make her look weak.
“Good. I must ask you, Mrs. Osborne….”
Celeste interrupted the poor chief, “You may call me Celeste. It would make me so much more comfortable if you would.”
The Chief must have been tired. He acquiesced not to formally address her, but this was probably less Celeste’s request and more his desire to be done with this. I heartily agreed.
“Celeste,” he began, once again.
She gushed. “Now, isn’t that better, Chief? Ask me anything you want.”
“Where were you between the hours of two and four this morning?”
“That’s pretty personal, don’t you think?” She sat up straighter in her chair.
“Now, Celeste, it is personal, but that’s the whole point. Someone killed Regina Anatolia and I think she thought it was ‘pretty personal’ when they did, so I’ll ask you one more time. Where were you between the hours of two and four this morning?”
Celeste took in a long breath through her nose and released it before replying. “I was alone, in my bed, with a mask over my eyes, trying to sleep.”
“Thank you, Celeste. And when did you last see the deceased?” The chief ignored her defensive tone.
“It’s hard to remember. I saw her talking to Paul as we got back to the hotel last night. After that, I saw her with Evelyn and Thomas having a drink together in the bar.”
“And after that?” The chief tried again.
“After that, Paul and I left.”
“What time did you and Paul leave the bar?”
“I don’t really know. No, wait, I remember the music was on in my room when I got back, and right after I turned it off, I took my watch off and looked at it. The time read 1:15 a.m.”
“So, you last saw the deceased between 1:00 and 1:15 a.m. Is that correct, Celeste?”
“That’s correct.”
“And the last people who saw her alive, according to you, were Thomas and Evelyn Westover.”
She gave a “That’s correct” once again.
The Chief stood and she followed his lead. “You may go. One word, however. You must remain in town until this is over.”
Celeste rolled her eyes, turned, and sauntered toward the door.

  If you like to read about lovely places and fabulous cuisine, enjoy the Jillian Bradley mystery series.

for your e-reader is free! 
All books are G-rated and contain no profanity.

  See you in my books!

 ~Nancy Jill 
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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