I'll be posting a chapter from "Murder in Half Moon Bay" every day until the end of the month. Enjoy!
Teddy and I left Clover Hills on a Friday at mid-morning. Ann and Nicole drove together. Dominique said that she would meet us at the hotel. We planned to have lunch together for our “official” garden club time.
I always enjoyed the drive to Half Moon Bay, home of the “Great Pumpkin Festival.” Passing over the reservoir and entering the tall cypress-covered hills, I began to relax knowing that soon I would see the ocean.
The sea had always intrigued me. It was such a calming force and yet at times deadly. Myths aside, everyone who read the papers knew that on occasion it could claim a life or two. Rarer were the large boating catastrophes like the Titanic or the USS Indianapolis. But who wanted to think about such unpleasant things on a morning like this? The air was fresh, the sun dazzled.
The road narrowed and large clumps of pampas grass began to appear here and there decorating the landscape. Pumpkins were everywhere. Pumpkin this, pumpkin that. Vendors selling pumpkin seeds, bread, and pies all came into view, standing out from the patchwork of farms along both sides of the road. This was Half Moon Bay. The pumpkin capital of the world. A pleasantly situated agricultural community producing some three thousand tons of those tasty and oddly decorative orange gourds every year.
Moving out from the pumpkin district, I passed field after field of flower farms rich with black dirt. Then the buildings gathered and became more ornate as I entered the center of town. The architecture, reminiscent of the Victorian days, loomed above my car as I turned down Main Street, their structures adorned with an even mix of grace and mystery.
Most of them had been home to someone, but now they housed antique shops, boutiques and coffee houses. I loved every nook, every sandwich shop–every art gallery.
I’m coming back for the sheer joy of it next weekend. Who really needs a reason anyway?
Upon my arrival at The Ritz-Carlton a smiling gentleman greeted me. He wore a dark suit and an earplug for a phone system of some type. I noted the name on his badge read, “Mr. Ibarra.”
He snapped his fingers to summon a young valet who wore a Scottish golfing uniform with knickers, argyle socks and a golf cap. I handed my keys over, thrilled by life’s little luxuries.
“Come along, Teddy.” I gathered him secure to my chest. His cold button nose snuggled just at my neck. I grinned. The world was perfect. What a day we had in store for us!
“Oh, you’re such a good boy.” I squeezed him gently. “We’ll go for a walk after we check in.”
Two giant twin pumpkins greeted me near the entryway. They weighed almost six hundred pounds apiece. Mr. Ibarra informed me that both had grown from a single split seed.
I examined the lobby in a sort of idyllic stupor. A lovely fire burned in the lobby lounge, the perfect nook for a cup of tea.
The young woman behind the front desk smiled. “Welcome to the Ritz-Carlton, Mrs. Bradley. I see you have a voicemail. You may take it in your room if you wish.” She nodded to someone behind me. “It's 526, Walter.”
The bright-eyed valet had parked the car and loaded my luggage onto a cart. He jumped forward to assist me to the room. Down the hallway, the wheels of my well-traveled suitcase didn’t squeal in the slightest over the double cushioned embroidered carpet.
He made a sharp turn and I followed.
“I love your dog.” He nodded at Teddy. Maybe he was just working me for a more generous tip in a moment, but I didn’t care. Everything was roses this morning.
“His name is Teddy. I take him with me whenever I can. He enjoys people.”
Walter swung open door of 526. “He’s really well behaved.”
I smiled with secret pride for my devoted little friend. “I know.”
I stepped inside. The room, furnished in my favorite style of Chippendale, held a club chair and ottoman covered in a bright yellow floral print. An occasional chair in a contrasting striped fabric stood at the desk. Across from the bed, a large mahogany armoire encased the TV.
The unscreened windows streamed in the glorious view. It highlighted everything wonderful about the bay–the breathtaking view of Miramontes Point, the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing against the black rocks, the foam that remained after they rushed to shore.
Inland I could see the manicured golf links and the hotel courtyard set up for an upcoming wedding. Complete satisfaction rolled through me from my head to my toes.
Without my noticing, Walter had quietly rolled the suitcase up to the wall by the closet. He seemed to be stalling.
Oh, yes–the tip. I began to rummage through my purse for my wallet.
“The weather is a perfect seventy degrees this weekend, Mrs. Bradley. You probably won’t need your air conditioner, but if you do, it’s right here.” He pointed out the thermostat.
I gave him what I considered a generous tip.
Still, he lingered a bit, hesitant. Then he blurted, “Mrs. Bradley, I’ve read your column…the one in the Enterprise. My father works for a nursery business in town, so I know it’s weird for a kid like me to know about you but…my dad…well everyone around here thinks your gardening advice is right on the money.”
He needed a little teasing to lighten him up.
“Well, you can’t go wrong with compliments, young man. I always enjoy hearing them, especially when they involve me.”
Still shuffling, he looked down and reddened. “Maybe this sounds weird, but would you mind if I brought my father over to meet you? He’s having some problems…well…I just…I feel like you can be trusted. Would it be all right?”
“Certainly, Walter. I appreciate your vote of confidence. I don’t know if I’ll be able to help but I can certainly lend an ear.” Then I remembered the conference and my busy schedule.
“I’ll try to find some time. Give me his name and address. Let me have his phone number too. When I know what my plans are I’ll give him a call.”
“That’s great!” He sounded relieved. “If you need anything while you’re here, anything at all, just ask the front desk to page me and I’ll be at your service.”
“Thank you, Walter. I hope I can help your father.”
He left and I opened the windows, taking in the invigorating salt air. The king-size bed and its down-filled duvet and pillows looked inviting for a nap later. I placed a towel at the foot of the bed to protect the comforter and put Teddy onto it.
Ah–the message. I stepped to the phone and dialed “48” as the cue card indicated.
A timid-voiced woman answered.
“Hello? You’ve reached Mr. Hausman’s room.”
“This is Jillian Bradley returning his call.”
From the whispers I heard, I wondered if I’d interrupted something.
“Mrs. Bradley, would you please wait a moment?” Her voice now sounded business-like.
Perhaps it was my imagination, but hearing the rustling of sheets sounded like they were in bed together. Strange.
“This is Spencer Hausman. Thank you for returning my call so promptly, Mrs. Bradley. Please call me Spencer, and may I call you Jillian?”
“Of course.” I didn’t like his obsequious tone of voice. “Mr. Hausman….”
“Ah, ah, ah, it’s Spencer, Jillian.”
“Very well, Spencer. I already have a luncheon engagement but perhaps a cup of tea later in the afternoon. Shall we say by the fireplace in the lobby at 4:00 o’clock?”
“Tea at 4:00 it is.”
I took Teddy for his walk, and set him down for a nap back in the room. “Be a good dog and we‘ll go for another walk when I get home.”
Teddy yawned and laid his little head down over his paws. I might not be able to prove it, but I knew he could understand me.
After freshening up I joined Ann, Nicole and Dominique in the lobby and we were off to have lunch at the Moss Beach Distillery up the coast a few miles.
The Distillery dated back to the 1920’s, and after seeing the views for myself, I could understand its popularity with travelers from all over the world. Their patio was the largest on the coast. Since it was a nice day we chose to have lunch outside.
We placed our orders, all of us choosing succulent-sounding seafood entrées. Waiting for the food, our topic of conversation centered on the history of the restaurant. Ann had done a little research about this place when we’d formed our itinerary for the trip. She had saved it for when we’d be together.
“About seventy-two years ago, a beautiful young woman was dining at this very restaurant. She met a handsome but dangerous man, who some say played the piano in the bar. She fell desperately in love with him even though she was married and had a son. The woman and her lover met repeatedly at the restaurant. Her husband and son never knew. Tragically, the ‘Blue Lady’ died in a violent car accident. Many say she resides at the Distillery, searching for her lover.”
I looked over toward the corner where the piano had been. Part of me longed to know, the other part shivered. That name, The Blue Lady, brought a chill to my bones despite our sparkling glasses or the skin-soothing sunshine.
“I don’t know about you ladies, but that just ruined the morning for me.” Dominique rubbed her arms. “I’m shaking.”
“Why are they so sure that there’s really a ghost here? Have there been sightings?” Nicole bent her head toward Ann.
“I’ve heard she’s been seen by children eating here, mysterious phone calls (from no one) have been received, and rooms have been locked from the inside without any other means of entry.” Ann folded her arms, as if the matter was final.
“I actually did some reading up on the internet, too, before we came,” Dominique interjected.
“Oh, really?” Ann looked a little miffed about being upstaged.
“Yeah, sorry. Couldn’t help myself.” Dominique reddened. “Anyway, one article said people have seen checkbooks levitating. Sometimes the computers are tampered with…changed dates and such things. One of the strangest accounts details how she’ll take one earring off a customer without them even noticing. Then someone will find a stash of earrings a few weeks later.”
“Well, I’m sure stories like that attract the tourists.” I chuckled. “But I’m not sure I believe it.”
My friends glared at me. I had completely ruined their fun.
I capitulated. “You guys know I’m the eternal cynic.”
Nicole leaned forward. “You know it’s the cynics who always get into trouble.” Her tone teased. “Watch yourself Jillian…at least when I’m with you.”
“Oh.” I looked around. The wind came up a bit and blew the napkins off the table, interrupting my planned retort. A cloud darkened the afternoon sun and the patio grew chilly.
I donned a sweater I’d brought.
Dominique looked wary. “Weird.”
Our server broke the tension, opening the door from inside the busy restaurant. The wealth of companionable chatter helped us feel enthusiastic again. He refilled our water glasses as we finished our meal.
Ann nudged Dominique. “Tell us about your trip to Africa.”
“Well,” Dominique shrugged, “the only thing that happened, besides coming home with some great carved wooden giraffes, was that I saw some specimens of the trees that produce the Brachystegia flowers. The blooms fill the nights there with fragrance and magically give relief to the heat of the day in that part of the world. If someone could capture the fragrance and bottle it, they’d make bank.”
“Sounds very romantic, I must say.” Nicole looked dreamy.
We concluded our meal discussing the nature of African plants and took our separate checks. With the romantic notions of ghosts and intoxicating fragrances fluttering through our pleasure-bent minds, we returned to the hotel.
Walter had been waiting for us, seeming determined to take care of our needs for the remainder of our stay. Mr. Ibarra looked resigned.
Walter helped us from the car. “Did you enjoy the Distillery, Mrs. Bradley? Didn’t see any ghosts did you?”
“I’m afraid we didn’t. Walter, meet my friends, Ann Fieldman, Dominique Summers and Nicole King.”
“Hello, ladies. I’m Walter Montoya, Junior. It’s a pleasure to meet you. If you need anything at all, I’m at your service.”
We returned to our rooms for some reading and rest before dinner.
Teddy and I went for another walk. The crisp fall air was wonderful to inhale. Teddy wagged his tail throughout and after his exercise was ready to join me for a little rest.
“Hmm…edible borders….” My fingers typed entries on the computer keys. I needed to get in a little homework in order to prepare for the speaker reviews. Hugh Porter’s expertise on horticulture was quite incredible. It was important I know my stuff.
The research made me drowsy. A nap was inevitable.
After a few quick winks, I climbed out of bed to ready myself for tea. I determined my favorite black snake headband would work with this suit jacket. Hair was a bore, so I wore mine shoulder length, straight, and off my face.
“I’ll be back soon, Teddy.”
Teddy slept on.
Spencer Hausman stood to greet me as I approached the fireplace. He was much taller than what I had pictured based on his photograph in the brochure. He was thin and by his pale complexion looked as if he spent all of his time indoors. Every dark hair on his head fell perfectly in place.
He was impeccably dressed in a deep navy wool blazer he wore over a pale yellow turtleneck, which looked to me like cashmere. His well-pressed gray slacks and mirror-shined Oxfords completed the overall image of vanity–he might as well have had his picture next to the word in the dictionary.
He had been speaking privately to a lovely young woman. I wondered if she was the same one who answered the phone. Seeing me, he ended their conversation and came forward.
“This is a pleasure, Jillian. I’m Spencer Hausman and this is my assistant, Regina Anatolia.”
“How do you do, Mrs. Bradley?”
“Please, call me Jillian, and I’m fine, thank you. This is a fine hotel. You made a good choice.”
She cast her eyes downward, and smiled at the compliment. “Thank you, I’m glad you like it. It seemed to be more private than the others up the coast.”
Spencer suggested we all sit and then ordered tea. “Now then, Jillian, I want to say again how delighted we are to have you do the reviews for our next year’s campaign. Have your friends settled in?”
“Yes, they have. We plan on meeting for dinner.”
“Good. Our Society Ball isn’t until Sunday evening. Everyone’s on their own until then.”
Our tea arrived served by a smiling young Filipino woman.
Regina poured but kept eying the obviously overbearing Mr. Hausman.
I helped myself to a dainty cucumber sandwich made on freshly baked sourdough bread and sipped my steaming cup of hot tea.
Finished with small talk, Spencer changed into his formal speaking voice and continued, while Regina sat unobtrusively in the background.
“Jillian, I can’t tell you how informative your articles have been for our Society members. Most of us wouldn’t miss an issue of your column for anything. Our conference speakers are almost a little nervous speaking about their topics in front of you.”
“Well, Spencer, I’m hoping to learn something from them. I understand Hugh Porter is doing a workshop on designing the edible perennial border, and Marianne Delacruz is lecturing on the world of tree peonies.”
After drinking his tea, Spencer stood, as did Regina, whom I noticed hadn’t finished hers. He offered an apology, and said that he needed to attend to some last minute details. He spoke as if Regina wasn’t there. Before he left, Spencer turned to me and looked ardently into my eyes. “Now, Jillian, feel free to call me anytime for anything you need.”
I shuddered at the possible inference.
He smiled. “We are quite honored to have you with us. Come, Regina.”
She gave a meek nod, and with that, they left.
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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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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