I'll be posting a chapter from "Murder in Half Moon Bay" every day until the end of the month. Enjoy!
Hugh agreed to meet me for a short stroll on the beach. I changed into my tennis shoes and welcomed the outdoors. Teddy and I walked down the path from the hotel.
The cliffs overlooked the ocean. An assortment of coastal flora bloomed just beneath the surface of the waves. Hugh was in a retiring mood, so I initiated the conversation.
“Thanks for coming, Hugh.” Hugh was a little intimidating to me. I took in a deep breath of the sea air to calm my nerves.
“It’s a pleasure, Jillian. With all the gloom of Regina’s death permeating the conference, it’s good to get away from it, even for a few minutes.”
“Hugh, tell me about Regina’s father. The chief said he was pretty unfeeling when he came in to identify the body.”
“That’s Jack Anatolia all right. Kind of a cold fish.”
“Has he always been that way?”
“He lost his wife two years ago.”
“Hmm.” How could this mean anything? I needed a connection. “So you know how she died?”
He looked uncomfortable, as if he remembered something unpleasant. “She drowned.”
“Drowned where? How did it happen? Do you know the details?”
He sighed, but after a moment continued. “Jack and Katherine were on their boat for a fishing weekend up at Princeton.”
“That’s just a few miles up the coast. What happened?”
“It made big news. The reports said it happened after they went to bed on the first night out. Evidently, a strong wind came up unexpectedly. The sea was rough and Katherine told Jack she felt nauseated and needed some air. She went topside and didn’t come back.”
“What did he do?”
“Jack said he came up to look for her, but when he did, she had disappeared. He assumed she fell overboard. It was dark and the water was extremely choppy. He said he couldn’t see a thing. There was nothing he could do.”
“The poor man, it must have been awful!”
“A pile of loose rope had been left on the deck. It looked like she had stepped on it, got caught, tripped, and fell overboard when a large swell hit the boat. Jack said that normally the rope was wound into a pile.”
“Did the police think it was an accident?”
“There didn’t appear to be any indication of foul play, if that’s what you mean, Jillian.”
“Hugh, would you take me to see Mr. Anatolia?”
He stopped and faced me, “Jillian….”
“He may be able to shed some light on Regina’s private life…who she was seeing, perhaps?”
“I’ll get him on the cell. He’s a supplier so I keep him listed.” He brought up the number and dialed.
After the fourth ring, Mr. Anatolia answered. He was busy, but he could arrange to meet with me at his home in half an hour.
“Thanks, Hugh, this will really help.”
We entered the double doors into the warm lobby.
“Hugh, do you know why anyone would want to see Regina dead?”
Shaking his head, he looked at his shoes. “The wages of sin is death.”
“You’re saying, because she was involved in something immoral, she suffered the consequences?”
“Something like that. There were rumors that she was seeing a married man. There was also talk about seeing her with a strange man. No one knew who he was.
“Who knows, she may have had incriminating information about someone, and whoever it was killed her because of it. Why else would someone murder a lovely young woman like that, Jillian?”
My mind kept whirling through all the events of the past few days. I put a bowl of some fresh water down for Teddy and after he lapped to his heart’s content, I cuddled him.
“Okay Teddy, we need answers here. Where is the motive? That’s the key. Did Regina know anything about the missing money at the Seaside Nursery? Was she receiving any of the money, and if so, why? Who took that money? I have to find out.”
He looked a little puzzled but wagged his tail and lifted an ear. It brought a smile to my face.
“Yeah, I know. You’re just confused, like me. Thanks for listening, though.” I gave his ears an extra scratch and set him down at the end of the bed. He needed a rest after that long walk.
The message light on the phone grabbed my attention after Teddy settled. It blinked as I looked at it and I felt a sense of urgency.
It was the chief.
He answered on the first ring.
“Hello, Chief. What’s up?”
“The report came back from the medical examiner.”
“We found evidence of sexual activity.”
“Can they pinpoint the time it occurred?”
“It was on Saturday afternoon, probably late.”
That laughter rang through my head again, my memory of the sound I’d overheard in Regina’s room next door. Could someone love a person one day and murder them the same evening?
“Jillian, are you there?”
“Someone was laughing Saturday afternoon in Regina’s room. We need to find out everyone’s whereabouts at that time.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“Chief, DNA can convict someone, can’t it?”
He didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely.”
“What do you think the probability is that we are dealing with a male suspect?”
“I’d say pretty good.”
“Hmm.” Inspiration hit me. “Listen, I need to run. I’ll check back with you shortly.”
After hanging up, I called extension 48 to talk to Spencer Hausman. He answered the phone with a heavy tone. Had he been crying?
“Spencer, it’s me, Jillian Bradley.”
“Jillian…how may I help you?” he sounded as if he hoped he wouldn’t have to do anything at all.
“Spencer, can we meet somewhere privately?”
“There’s really not much time with the ball and all. Can it wait?”
“I don’t think so, Spencer. It will only take a few minutes.”
“Well…meet me in the lobby. We’ll choose a place that’s private.”
“Thank you. I’ll be down in two minutes.”
Spencer appeared as promised, looking tense and pale. The slick confidence he had displayed earlier had disappeared.
“Spencer, are you all right? You look terrible.”
“No, I’m not all right. Can’t get used to her being gone. I depended on her much more than I realized.” He began to break down.
“Let’s go into the Fireside Room. It appears to be empty.”
I led the way to a back corner table. Soon enough, the server appeared and took my order of black coffee for both of us.
“Spencer, if we’re going to find out who killed Regina, you have to help us.”
“What do you want to know?” He had re-gained his composure a little as he sipped the hot black coffee.
“What do you know about the missing $8,000 from the Seaside Nursery?”
The straightforward question gave him an obvious shock.
His eyes grew large. He swallowed hard and set his coffee down. “How did you know about that? Who told you such a confidential thing as that? Who?” His voice grew louder.
“Please, Spencer, not so loud.” I whispered a warning.
Taking a deep breath and looking down at the table, the words came reluctantly. “If I tell you, someone is going to be terribly hurt. I don’t want any part of it.”
Spencer abruptly stood up. “Jillian, there are details for tonight’s ball I must see to and without Regina…will you please excuse me?” Without waiting for a reply, he fled the room.
Finishing my coffee, I thought over the overwhelming events of the past twenty-four hours. Why was Spencer Hausman acting so strangely? Something in my bones told me he was in trouble somehow, so I decided to check in with the chief.
He answered on the second ring this time. “Chief Viscuglia.”
“It’s Jillian. I just finished talking to Spencer Hausman and he shut up tighter than a clam when I asked about the missing funds. He looks awful.”
“Looks awful, huh?”
“Yes, awful…ill…like he’s under stress. Something is eating at him and it’s not just Regina’s death.”
“We’ll keep a watch on him. Who knows? He may lead us to some answers if we just sit tight.”
“Chief, the ball is tonight at eight o’clock. I have enough time to go see Regina’s father. He may have a piece to the puzzle and he may not.”
“Such as?” The chief sounded encouraging.
“I’ll tell you later, I promise. Did you talk to Paul Youngblood?”
“Yep. He told me he and Regina were on more than speaking terms as of Saturday night.”
“What’s your opinion, Chief? Friends, or more, do you think?”
“I got the feeling it was more. He was deeply moved by her death.”
That’s interesting. Did Celeste know about them? She was always watching Paul. Celeste was hoping for a relationship with him. She might be upset to know he and Regina were planning to get back together. If she knew they were together that night, she could have waited until he left and then killed Regina.
Walter held the door for me and then jogged off to pull my jeep up under the overhang. Mr. Ibarra approached, a strange look on his face.
No, a bit nervous, in fact.
“I saw your friends come in just a few minutes ago. They asked if I’d seen you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ibarra. I’ll speak to them when I get back.”
Walter brought my car around and helped me in.
“Just set Teddy in the back seat. He likes it back there.”
He obeyed, happy to cuddle the little guy once again.
“How’s your father doing? Have you talked to him?”
“He’s okay. Well…mad that someone killed Regina. He said she didn’t deserve to die so young. But, as far as the job and all, my mom is looking out for him. She’s making his favorite dinner tonight.”
“Good. We still need his help you know.”
“He wants to help. They really did him dirty by firing him like that.”
“Walter, did you notice anyone driving out with Miss Anatolia yesterday?”
“Hmm… no, but I’ll let you know if I remember later.”
“Thank you. Let’s stay in touch…and Walter, keep your faith.”
“Faith?” he asked. “Faith in what, Mrs. Bradley?”
I smiled and nudged him. “Faith in your father for starters. He’s bound to surprise us.”
My car approached the gatehouse. Would the gatekeeper recognize me by now? Sure enough, she waved hello and actually waved to Teddy, too. He showed his appreciation by wagging his tail.
This place is beginning to feel like home. Home…
Right now, home sounded like a good place to get some rest, but I needed to be here to find out who murdered Regina. There would be plenty of time for rest after he, she, or they, were behind bars.
Mr. Anatolia lived in the hills above Half Moon Bay. I liked the Spanish architectural style of the houses. Some people would probably call them “quaint,” but in truth, they were simply older homes, relics from the cold war era–many in need of serious repair.
I found the place and pulled into the driveway behind two very dusty cars–a Chevrolet Impala, and a Plymouth something. Perhaps they weren’t in working order. It looked as if no one had driven them for quite some time.
I put Teddy on his leash and we found the side steps to the front porch. No porch light greeted us, even though dusk was approaching. In fact, I didn’t see any lights on in any of the visible windows.
I knocked on the worn, green-painted door and waited anxiously until someone moved around inside.
Good, this trip will be worth something.
A voice came from the darkness. “Who’s there?”
“Jillian Bradley…a friend of Regina’s. I wish to speak to Mr. Anatolia.”
There was no sound for a full minute, then footsteps approached the door.
“What do you want?” A male voice grumbled.
Would directness impress him?
“Do you feel like finding Regina’s murderer, Mr. Anatolia?”
The door opened slowly. Mr. Anatolia was dressed in a soiled sleeveless undershirt and black, wrinkled slacks. His hair was uncombed. Stubble grew on his face.
“Just woke up from a nap, you see and…well, don’t just stand there, come on in. The dog too.”
“Thank you, Mr. Anatolia.”
Surprisingly, the house was in order. The only thing I noticed was the unmade bed in the small bedroom adjacent to the living room.
He groped for the wall with a large calloused hand and found the light switch. They flickered on with a buzz.
“No, thank you. I just finished a cup, but go ahead and have some.” Hopefully, he would still think me friendly.
“Sit down then. I make it in the microwave when it’s just for me.”
I found a seat on the well-worn loveseat. Peppered with dingy orange flowers, it looked like the relic had been new in the 60’s and had seen much abuse in the intervening years.
He moved into the kitchen, giving me some time to look around the room. An assortment of pictures cluttered a small paint-chipped desk. It rested next to a window that, though clean, offered an unappealing view of the dirty porch.
Still, when I looked at the pictures once more, I forgot about the rest. One in particular caught my attention. I leaned forward from my seat to examine a certain young woman. It must have been Regina at an earlier time.
“That’s my wife.” He came up quietly behind me.
“She died in a boating accident, I understand.”
“You know about that?” He snorted. “Accident. Huh! Don’t think I’ll ever know for sure, to tell you the truth.”
We both sat down. He sipped his coffee.
“Jillian, is it?”
“How did you know Regina, Jillian?”
Now I was the one being grilled, but he had more reason to be cautious than I did. He’d lost a wife and a daughter.
“I met her at a gardening conference over at the Ritz-Carlton.”
“I see.” He nodded soberly. “So, you really didn’t know her that well and yet you go around asking a bunch of questions about who murdered her? Don’t rightly sound smart if you ask me.”
“Mr. Anatolia, was Regina in a relationship with anyone that you knew of?”
He set his coffee mug down on a coaster on the small maple coffee table and looked me in the eye.
“Lady, my girl did what she wanted, when she wanted, and with whoever she wanted. Couldn’t keep up with all her boyfriends. After my wife died…she didn’t really care what she did. She was going to live her own life. Even said, ‘Mama did whatever you said, and you know what happened to her.’”
“You mean Regina thought your wife committed suicide?” That one rather slipped out.
“Yeah. Look, I don’t know if my wife killed herself or not but if she did, I’m to blame. If she was that unhappy, it was my fault for not seeing it. But I thought she was happy. Dense maybe, but it’s the truth.”
“If she was, then maybe someone did kill her.”
I must have hit a sensitive subject. He was staring into his coffee cup and didn’t answer.
“All right, Mr. Anatolia…just one last question and I will leave you in peace. Do you know anything about Thomas or Evelyn Westovers’ nursery clientele?”
“You mean who they do business with?”
“Yes. Would you recognize their suppliers if you saw a list of them?”
He picked up his coffee mug and took a swallow. “Lady, I know everybody around here. Where’s the list?”
“I’ll get it for you. There’s some funny business going on and it could tie in to poor Regina’s death.”
“I’ll do whatever. I loved my Regina. Too bad she was so stubborn.”
I rose to leave and gave him my cell phone number in case he wanted to reach me.
“Come along, Teddy. We need to go.”
Anatolia followed me to my car.
“Sorry that I’m not good company right now. I do appreciate what you’re doing for her.”
“I’m going to do my best. Call me if you think of anything.”
He nodded and turned to walk slowly back into the house.
So far, the day had been extremely productive–and grueling. I checked my makeup in the visor mirror and as I did, I noticed a shiny new Camry parked three doors down.
Strange. Someone can afford that sort of car and lives here?
Shaking the thought off, I pulled out of the driveway. As I did, the car moved into the street a few car lengths behind me.
What? Follow me? Preposterous!
Surely, it was just my imagination. I sped up and turned right at the corner, trying to make my way toward the highway. I checked the rear mirror again and there was the same Camry a few cars back.
“Okay, what do I do now?”
But…how? It was getting dark. The pit of my stomach wrenched at the thought of what they might do to me. Perhaps they only wanted to know my whereabouts–perhaps it was more than that. Did someone wish me harm? I didn’t want to find out.
I floored the accelerator and raced down the highway. Lucky for me, they didn’t take me for slightly suicidal. Whoever was following me didn’t predict the way a middle-aged woman could cling to life when threatened with a violent death. I lost them at the hotel turnoff but I probably wouldn’t be so lucky again.
Quite shaken, I got the chief on the phone. “Hello, Chief? It’s Jillian!” I nearly screamed it as I fled through the hotel door.
“Jillian, what’s the matter? You sound terrified!”
I made my way to my room so that I could have some privacy. Who could even be trusted?
“Someone followed me from Mr. Anatolia’s house. Who besides you and Hugh Porter knew I was going there?”
“No one. But someone could have followed you when you left the hotel easy enough. This is actually good. It means we’re upsetting someone. Did you get a look at the make and model of the car?”
“It looked like a Camry.”
“What about the color?”
“It’s hard to describe, a silvery cream color. You know what I’m talking about?”
“I’m taking it down, Jillian. Maybe you should stay put and not do any more investigating on your own.”
“Oh, no. If I just keep putting the pieces together it will all fall into place. I’m not afraid anymore.”
“Don’t take any more chances, Jillian, got it? What did you find out from Mr. Anatolia?”
“Mainly, it just confirmed what we knew already. Regina had several boyfriends. She was independent and strong-willed. He didn’t know whom she had been seeing lately–I surmised they weren’t on the best of terms, anyway. Also, he promised to help in any way he could.”
“That’s more than what we got down at the precinct.”
“Chief, could you get me the files on Mrs. Anatolia’s death a few years ago?”
“Sure. What are you thinking?”
“I’m not sure. There could be a link. Mr. Anatolia didn’t seem to understand her. She could have been seeing someone. Just a feeling.”
“Come down first thing tomorrow morning then. Meet me at the precinct, say nine o’clock?”
“I’ll be there. Thanks, Chief.”
We ended the call and I paused before the mad dash to get ready for the ball. I picked Teddy up and walked to the window. He nuzzled into my shoulder.
I watched the sun as it set on the rim of the ocean horizon. It cast an orange hue mixed with pink and purple over the clouds–a kaleidoscope of color.
Strange cars follow you, people die–life goes on. Someone played a bagpipe, perhaps in preparation for the festivities. It rang out a single solitary tone and I could almost imagine the note wishing a foreboding farewell to the sun. What sort of world would it rise to see tomorrow?
Teddy whined, hiding his head beneath my hair.
As the last fingers of light shrank into the ebbing waves, coldness crept closer.
I felt a chill. “Goodbye, Regina. I hope you’ve found peace. I almost envy you. May you find eternal morning.”
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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