I'll be posting a chapter from "Murder in Half Moon Bay" every day until the end of the month. Enjoy!
If you like to read about lovely places and fabulous cuisine, enjoy the Jillian Bradley mystery series. Book 1 MURDER IN HALF MOON BAY for your e-reader is free!
I stopped off at the Club Room for a bite to eat. The hors d’oeuvres had not had any staying power and my stomach gurgled in agitated hunger alert. I needed refueling.
Marianne stood, leaning over the refreshment table, helping herself to some crackers and cheese spread. She turned when I joined her in line.
“Jillian, it’s nice to see you.”
“Hello, Marianne. Beautiful dress. There’s nothing more elegant than royal blue satin and rhinestones for an evening dress.”
“Thank you, Jillian.”
We filled our plates and she asked me to join her.
She stopped to get a glass of wine. “Have you seen Spencer anywhere? I need to ask him about something.”
We arrived at our table and deposited our plates.
She scanned the room. “I haven’t seen him since the ball about a half hour ago.”
“Perhaps he left. We are free to leave as long as we stay in town. You live here, don’t you, Marianne?”
She had known Regina since grade school. She might know something useful.
“Yes, I do. I’ll probably head home soon. As much as I’m enjoying the hotel, I think I’ll feel safer.”
She appeared resigned about finding Spencer just now and took her seat.
“Marianne, do you have any idea if the Westovers’ nursery business was in any kind of financial trouble?”
“No. Of course, Evelyn would never say anything if it were. She’s a very proud woman. Why do you ask?”
“Well, it seems to me that Spencer is acting very strangely. I wondered if it was because of financial trouble at work.”
“Spencer is a very closed person, Jillian. If there were financial trouble only he and Evelyn would know about it. She doesn’t even let Thomas come near the books.”
“The business belongs to her, then?” I found that interesting.
“Actually, it does. She inherited it from her father. She was an only child and since she showed she had a head for business when she worked for her father, he passed it on to her.”
“Was this before or after she married Thomas?”
Marianne looked away for a moment, and then turned to me. “It was before she married him. You see, he worked for Evelyn’s father. That’s how he met her. Thomas will joke occasionally and say, ‘Not every man is lucky enough to marry the boss’s daughter.’”
The phone rang just as I made it back to my room after the dance. I groaned, not wanting to answer.
Who would call at this late hour anyway? Then I remembered. I was investigating a murder.
“Jillian, it’s Spencer. We need to talk. I know it’s late but I must talk to you.”
“Yes, Spencer it is a bit late, but name the place and I’ll be there.” Teddy scratched the floor with all four paws letting me know he was ready, too.
“Meet me at the Seaside Nursery office in fifteen minutes. I believe you’ve been there before.” His tone snarled.
“Right. Fifteen minutes.”
“Sorry, Teddy. Our walk will have to consist of returning to our room by stairs tonight.”
I quickly changed out of my evening attire, grabbed my keys and wallet, and with Teddy in tow, headed for my car. I didn’t see Walter anywhere and someone other than Mr. Ibarra was on duty. Well, it was late.
Driving once again past the guardhouse I noticed a different person on duty. I wondered if somehow Spencer had put them on duty the night Regina was murdered. I would have someone check.
I pulled up to the nursery. No lights lit any of the interior rooms. Perhaps someone plotted my death right here, right now.
“Maybe we’re early, Teddy; I don’t see any other cars here.”
Teddy shivered a small, “I don’t like the looks of this,” and let out a whimper.
“Don’t worry, boy, I can call the chief on my cell phone if we need to.”
This comment was more for me than for my dog.
“Well, let’s go.”
I stepped out of the car and closed the door quietly.
Teddy looked at me with eyes that said, “I’m a little scared, please carry me.”
“Oh, all right.” I picked him up and walked through the main entry.
It was open, though dark and unnerving.
“Mr. Hausman? Mr. Hausman? Is anyone here?” My voice echoed across the deserted porch. I pushed open the unlocked door.
“Where are you?”
Wait, what is that?
I tried to make out the moving shape in the darkness. My eyes couldn’t adjust. Someone flew toward me. I fell to the cold ground. My palms hit the ground first, breaking my fall. Pain seared my knees and my right ankle twisted. My hands ached as I lay sprawled on the ground.
Teddy barked furiously but I managed to hold onto his leash, afraid someone would harm him if the dog attacked.
I couldn’t move, but I knew I had to get up. The attacker might come back.
I gathered my wits. Holding Teddy’s leash in one hand, I used my other to grab the counter and pulled myself up. My knees stung and I could feel a warm trickle of blood tracing its way down my leg. My ankle ached painfully as I applied more weight on it.
I saw the door to the office standing open. A small lamp shown in the darkness, but it had been too dim to see from the windows. I painfully hobbled inside holding onto chairs and desks until I stopped cold.
There, I found him. He lay piteously on the floor beside the desk chair in a puddle of blood. It was Spencer Hausman with a bullet hole in his heart.
“Oh, no, oh, no….”
I couldn’t think. Tears started in my eyes as I felt the shock of seeing Spencer dead and felt the pain throbbing in my knees and ankle.
“I must call the chief, Teddy.” I took a deep breath and steadied myself to punch in the number.
He answered almost immediately.
“You had better get over to the Seaside Nursery, Chief. Spencer has been shot and I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”
“Stay where you are, Jillian. Don’t touch anything. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
“Thanks. Bring some Band-Aids and an Ace bandage for my ankle if you can. I think I twisted it.”
The chief was as good as his word and arrived five minutes later, Band-Aids and all. After doctoring my wounds, he drove Teddy and me in my car back to the hotel, with Deputy Cortez staying behind to guard the scene of the crime.
“Jillian, whatever possessed you to take a chance like that, going somewhere alone at night?”
“I’m sorry, but I thought I could find out something from Spencer if we could be alone together.” I winced with pain.
“You mean Spencer asked you to meet him at the nursery?”
“He called me a few minutes ago at the hotel and said that he needed to talk. I thought if I put him off, he’d back out, so I told him I’d meet him. Ow! Ow! Oh, that hurts so badly,” I winced, motioning to my knees.
“I’m sorry, Jillian.” The chief paused to give me a sympathetic look.
“Could anyone have overheard you talking to Spencer when he called?” Back to business again.
“Well, there was Teddy.”
Teddy barked an affirmative, “I heard the call.”
“Besides Teddy, Jillian.” The chief smiled at Teddy sitting in the back seat.
“I was in my room when he called me.”
“So we know no one overheard your end of the call.”
“Maybe someone could have overheard the call coming from Spencer’s end.” I leaned my head back on the headrest. “Someone set him up….”
The chief interrupted me.
“Or he surprised someone in the office and they shot him.”
“Chief, the front door was unlocked, so either Spencer was there first, waiting for me or....”
“Or, someone let himself in before or after Spencer arrived–”
“Or herself,” I interjected thoughtfully, with another wince of pain in my ankle.
“As I was saying,” the chief continued, “someone came in, locked the door behind them, waited for Spencer, and shot him before he knew what happened.”
“And guess who would get the blame?”
“Yours truly, Jillian.” The chief looked solemn.
“Chief, right now, there’s no way to prove anything without some kind of confession, which I doubt will come about by itself.”
“Agreed.” He pulled up to the gatehouse to check in.
The gatekeeper opened the window. “How may I be of assistance?”
“We’re just returning to the hotel.” I spoke across the chief. “Excuse me, but is this your normal shift?”
“Yes, ma’am, I’m on graveyard. The Ritz provides 24-hour security.”
“Were you on duty Saturday evening?”
“As a matter of fact, I was.”
The chief took over. “I need your name and a phone number where I can reach you after work.”
“Sure, it’s Charles Owens, and that’s my number.”
He handed the chief a crumpled piece of paper.
“Thanks, Charles.” The chief and I harmonized. We both stifled our merriment until out of sight from the view of the gatehouse.
“I swear, Jillian, you think just like I do.” The chief pulled up to the front door. “Maybe we have a chance of ferreting out the murderer. My mind is strong enough, but two of me? No one can beat us together.”
The chief saw Teddy and me safely back to our room and insisted on cleaning my wounds. I propped the door open to make sure tongues wouldn’t wag.
His burly countenance belied the kind and sensitive man underneath.
“There you go, Jillian, all doctored. If that ankle isn’t better by morning, I’d recommend a doctor because you may have a fracture. Now, after I leave, you get straight to bed.” He pulled back the covers. “Where’s your Ibuprofen?”
“There’s a bottle on the bathroom counter.”
He fetched the pills and poured me a glass of water.
I took the medication.
“Eat your truffle and forget about what happened until morning. That’s an order.”
I dreamed of Spencer lying on the floor, shot through the heart, eyes staring up at me. The dream had just repeated when a sudden noise broke through and I awoke with a start.
“Was that a dream, Teddy?”
Throwing on my sweats, I took Teddy for his morning walk. My foot felt much better but I still hobbled from the soreness. We passed the front of the hotel. I noticed numerous guests checking out. Mr. Ibarra looked like he had his hands full with two desk clerks working the line.
“Isn’t this a bit unusual for people to check out this early, Mr. Ibarra?”
“Good morning, Mrs. Bradley. No one wants to stick around a place where people are being murdered.”
“You said people.”
Teddy tried sniffing some luggage on the curb.
“Mr. Hausman was murdered last night, Mrs. Bradley.” He checked off his clipboard when a couple I recognized from the West Coast Garden Club Conference entered their car and left.
“I guess bad news travels fast. Mr. Ibarra, how did you find out Spencer was murdered?”
“Walter told me when he came on duty this morning.”
“I see. Well, Teddy says it’s time we moved on.”
Teddy insistently pulled on his leash.
“I would rather do my business in private than in front of the main entrance, if you know what I mean,” he conveyed.
“See you later, Mrs. Bradley. Be careful out there.”
Another couple, obviously upset, came up to him.
The woman, who wore designer jeans and expensive jewelry, looked down her nose at him. “I can’t believe the Ritz-Carlton would let the kind of people who get murdered stay here. It’s simply unheard of.”
“I’m very sorry, ma’am.”
Too bad he couldn’t say what he was thinking.
With Teddy’s walk finished at last, we took the elevator back to the room. I showered, then put on a navy pantsuit–my most versatile outfit.
Teddy barked as if to say, “I know you’ve got a lot on your mind, but I still need feeding.”
I blinked. “Sorry, boy.”
I placed small pieces of turkey breast and a couple of cubes of cheese in a bowl and made sure he had fresh water.
I picked him up and cuddled him for a moment.
“Here’s your snack.”
He squirmed to get to the food dish.
“I’ll be back after breakfast.”
I put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door as I left.
I paused in front of room 528, still taped off for forensics to finish up.
Thoughts troubled me. Why did Regina end up in that room? Where was she before that? And where did Paul wind up?
The Club Room was virtually empty when I arrived except for the serving people. I took a piece of Macadamia Feast coffee cake and some fresh fruit and placed the plate on a table by the windows overlooking the ocean and courtyard.
I went back for juice and coffee and picked up the morning newspaper left by someone and returned to my table. The front headlines said it all:
Second Murder in Half Moon Bay–Police Baffled
Some rat had e-mailed the world about it, apparently.
When I returned, Teddy lay asleep, a fur ball on the unmade bed. How does he know it’s me coming in? If someone else barged in, he’d jump up immediately to sound the doggy alarm.
It made me think of all those alibis. One of them had to be false.
I thumbed through my large shoulder bag for my notepad. It was always handy to keep one around for the musing too complicated to work out in my mind. For some reason, the thoughts seemed more concrete as they took shape on paper.
Teddy stirred but my whispered questions lulled him back to sleep again.
I found a pen and made a list.
1) Why did Paul switch rooms with Regina?
2) Where did Regina stay before she changed rooms?
3) Where did Paul wind up?
4) How did Walter learn about Spencer’s murder?
5) Check the gatekeeper’s log for last Saturday night.
6) Who knew Spencer was meeting me?
7) Did Spencer actually make the call?
8) Look at Regina’s personal effects taken from her room
9) Check Regina’s house for any information.
10) Have Nicole find out about Regina’s project with
11) Look up records on Mrs. Anatolia’s death.
So much to do….
I wanted to attend to all these items immediately, so throwing on my shoes again, I quietly left my sleeping friend, snuck downstairs, and gave the order for my car. I planned to see the man who had the power and the resources to get things rolling forward.
He motioned for me to come in while holding his phone to his ear, yelling at some poor deputy to get busy. Not wanting to interrupt the chief, I timidly looked around the room searching for a place to sit. A nice brown vinyl occasional chair hugged the wall near his large metal desk. It would do nicely.
The usual official documents verifying his position hung behind him on either side of a framed print of the beautiful marina at Half Moon Bay. It made me think of those cheap paintings in doctor’s offices that people put there just so that the wall isn’t bare.
Finished at last, the chief offered me a cup of coffee which I took. After pouring a cup for himself, he sat down at his desk.
“How are the injuries?”
“They’re pretty sore. My ankle hurts a little, too, but it’s not broken.”
“Well that’s a relief.”
“I’m alive. Can’t complain really.” I shrugged.
He tossed me the newspaper. “Have you seen this?”
I gave an understanding smirk. “You’d almost think someone tipped them off. They were ready and waiting!”
“People are out at all times during the night. Somebody probably saw the yellow tape and called the paper. Got a little something for the tip.” The chief sounded animated. “Well, Jillian, what do you want to see first?”
He rolled his chair toward the metal cabinet and slipped out a fat manila folder.
“Actually, I’d like the file on Mrs. Anatolia.”
“Here.” He tossed me the folder and I caught it in the same haphazard manner as I’d caught the paper. The official papers and photos threatened to spill out into my lap. He must not be in good sorts this morning.
I opened the file and almost wretched at the sight of the photograph. Katherine Anatolia’s drowned body lay sprawled out on the boat’s deck.
The chief stood, and in an informal apology for his grumpiness, he gathered the rest of the file for me and offered me a seat behind his desk.
“Be my guest. I have to follow up on a few messages, so take your time.”
Grateful for the solitude, I fearfully flipped through the pages, cringing at the new horrors each one brought before me.
I forced myself to continue the gruesome task and let out my breath when the next page seemed harmless. It was a photocopy of five receipts in her personal effects. Two of them were from the same establishment, and it had the peculiar name, “Venus Flytrap”.
I read on. Some handwritten notes indicated her previous involvement with the same company. She had worked for them, but the investigator had concluded the fact to be of little importance at the time.
Nicole needed to know this. It might help her search. “Hurray for cell phones.”
Funny, how they came in handy occasionally. Just a year ago I abhorred carrying one. I dialed her number.
“Jillian, how are you?”
“Oh, I’m fine, except that Spencer Hausman was murdered last night and whoever killed him knocked me down on their way out.”
“I heard, Jillian, that’s awful. Are you all right?”
“I’ll live. Listen, I need to know if you found anything out about that company called The Venus Flytrap in the Westovers’ records.”
“I swear, you’re a mind reader. The company does exist, but there’s no information on what it is exactly.”
“Nothing at all?”
“Only its location. It’s listed at 385 Fedora Street in Half Moon Bay.”
I jotted down the address. “Thanks. At least it’s something. Anything more on those articles Regina wrote?”
“That took a bit of doing, but I looked up Spencer Hausman’s name in every gardening magazine for the last four years and did come up with something pretty significant.”
“Two articles. Both date back to two years ago. The first article is entitled, The Migration of Plant Spores in North America, and the other is, listen to this...Indigenous Spores of the Venus Flytrap!”
“Bingo!” We’d just completed the outline of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. “Nicole, that’s great work.”
She chuckled. “I was pretty pleased with it myself, but it’s only part of the story. Do the police have any idea who killed Spencer, yet?”
“I don’t think they have a clue, really. Now, before we left for the Distillery the night Regina was murdered, you said that Spencer gambled. Could you find out who he owed money to and where he did his gambling?”
“I’ll get on it right away. I’ve arranged to stay here for as long as it takes. Ann and Dominique have done the same.”
“My goodness, Nicole! I really appreciate you all standing behind me in this.”
“You couldn’t keep us away. This is too much fun.”
“Well, good luck, and be careful.”
“Talk to you soon.”
The knob to the office door squeaked, signaling the chief’s return. He came in barking orders to his office staff and carrying a steaming cup of coffee.
“Okay. Bye, Nicole”
He set his cup on its customary coaster–coveting his forsaken throne no doubt.
I wasted no time telling him about Regina’s articles and the Venus Flytrap business. He grinned like a Cheshire cat, then leaned over me even further to see the copied receipts.
“And all of these years, Venus Flytrap has been right under my nose.” He took up the paper, examined it and then smiled slyly. “I should put you ladies on salary.”
“We’ll check out the address.” He placed the paper back on his desk.
“I could perhaps find out more if I could see Regina’s effects. After all, we got such a good lead from her mother’s notes.”
The chief tapped on the window and motioned to Deputy Cortez, then pointed to a large cardboard box on the deputy’s desk. The deputy, reading the chief’s mind, smartly picked up the box and brought it right in.
He nodded and exited to continued shuffling papers.
The chief gazed at me squarely. “Jillian, I’ll be honest with you. We don’t have any leads on Regina’s death or Spencer Hausman’s, for that matter.” He sat and took a sip of his steaming coffee. “Put yourself in the murderer’s place for just a minute.”
“Okay.” I sat back and folded my arms before I spoke.
“If I were the murderer, I would either worry myself sick or be cocky and over confidant so that no one would suspect me. I suppose it depends on whether the murderer has a conscience.”
The chief nodded. “You see how difficult it is?”
He gestured to the box and smiled. “All right, you’re in the right mind set now. Have a gander.”
One by one, I carefully lifted out the box’s contents. Regina’s clothes were all expensive, nothing but name brands–size six. “Pretty defenseless size.” Her underwear was lacy and sexy. “Pretty typical for her age.”
“I suppose. My wife goes for more comfort in that area.” He grinned. “And this is her jewelry.”
I handled a pair of heavy gold earrings, laying them tenderly in my palm. Then there were two rings. One was a dinner ring clustered with diamonds and sapphires, and the other a large cameo set in gold. Inside a set of bracelets, an inscription read, “To Regina, All my love,” but no name followed.
I looked closer at the cameo and noticed a tiny latch on the side. “Look at this.” I handed it to him.
Inside were bits of plant material concealed by a plastic coating.
Alarmed he grabbed it out of my hand.
In excitement, I almost sputtered. “I know those! Those are plant spores. We need them analyzed.”
“I’ll get the forensics lab on it right away.” He strutted purposefully to the phone. “The feds run one about an hour north of here. We can send it there and get it processed in a few hours if I pull a few strings.”
He spoke into the phone. “Yes…Chief Frank Viscuglia, Half Moon Bay police here. I found something your agents may be interested in.”
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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