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.
In a restless, half-zombie state, I woke up early. The fog had lifted. I made myself some hot tea and took up the morning paper from under the door. The bright side to this was that I’d get to be a little lazy with the added time this morning. Who needed sleep when they had this kind of luxury?
I perched behind the desk by the window and pulled open the drapes to greet the morning. My composure and cheery attitude about the clearing weather made the sight even more shocking. It drew my gaze immediately–the form which lay below my window on the green.
Teddy jumped up sensing my alarm.
There, sprawled on the lawn close to the manicured shrubs, lay a woman, her contorted body lying face down. My only thought was to run for help. No movement on her part gave me no reason to hope, but there was a chance that she was just unconscious.
I threw on my jeans and a sweatshirt and stepped into my tennis shoes, not bothering to put on socks.
“Stay here, Teddy,” I ordered. “We’ve got trouble!”
He looked at me with wide eyes that said, “Hurry back! Too dangerous.”
I grabbed my room key, tucked it in my pocket, “I know. It could be foul play, but someone has to do something.”
I flew down the stairs, not waiting for the elevator, without any idea where I was going. Exiting through the first outdoor opening, I began a mindless fast walk to the green.
The twisted neck, the arms outstretched as if to catch herself….
Oh my word! It’s Regina Anatolia!
“HELP! HELP, HELP!”
I placed my fingers on her neck to feel for a pulse. Her skin was cold. I turned to see a housekeeper and Mr. Ibarra rushing toward me. Upon seeing them arrive, the terror finally burst from me.
“She’s dead! Mr. Ibarra…Regina Anatolia! I just found–”
He gently helped me stand.
“I’ll call the police.” He waved off the housekeeper frantically. “Hurry…a blanket…to cover the body.”
Turning a little green herself, she left at once.
I grasped at his shoulder as he held me back. I was nearly hysterical. “Was it…do you think…could it be…was it an accident?”
“How could it be anything else?” He took his cell phone from his belt and made a call.
“She’s fully dressed but no coat of any kind. Not even wearing any jewelry.”
“Could have been robbed.” He seemed cold and detached about it.
“Maybe. It’s horrible! Oh what to do…oh, I’ll wait for the police in the lobby. Please Mr. Ibarra, you must keep everyone away and make sure nothing is disturbed.”
“Sure, Mrs. Bradley. Go on. I’ll stay here.”
I walked a little slower around the courtyard where a wedding was to take place later and in through the bar entrance to the lobby.
The concierge looked at me questioningly when I walked up to her desk. I’m sure my attire was awful.
“I’m waiting for the police to arrive. There’s a body on the courtyard lawn.”
It only took about five minutes for the police to arrive, and for that, I was grateful.
A policeman lumbered into the lobby. He looked to be around forty, average height, strong build, and wore a very official looking blue uniform complete with white Stetson hat and gun holstered at the hip. His tanned face and faded blond hair made me think he must have been a surfer at one time. Seeing me, he approached followed by a young deputy.
“I’m Chief Frank Viscuglia, ma’am.” Turning to the young man now at his side, he gestured, “This is Deputy Gary Cortez.”
With a smile of pearly white teeth, Deputy Cortez nodded once. “Ma’am.”
“I’m Jillian Bradley. Thank you for coming so quickly. I’m still shaking.”
Chief Viscuglia looked me over. “Where’s the body?”
“It’s this way, through the bar.”
I led them back the way I came. As we exited into the courtyard I saw several people standing around Mr. Ibarra. Some had hands clasped over their mouths, others looked down in horror at Regina’s body which had been covered with a white blanket. I broke through the bystanders and reached Mr. Ibarra.
“Mr. Ibarra, Chief Frank Viscuglia and his deputy are here.”
Before I could say anymore Mr. Ibarra started talking to the officers.
“Hello, Frank. Hey, Gary. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that they already knew each other. Half Moon Bay was a very small community where everyone knew everybody.
“What have we got here, Lewis?” Chief Viscuglia lifted the blanket and looked at the small crumpled form.
“Mrs. Bradley, here, said she looked out her window this morning and there was the body.”
Chief Viscuglia looked at me. “Is that correct, Mrs. Bradley?”
“Yes. You see, I woke up rather early and went to my window to look at the weather, since it was so foggy last night. When I looked down I saw her.”
The chief took out a small hand-held electronic device and began making notes with a metal pencil. He turned to Deputy Cortez.
“Gary, get an ambulance over here and notify the medical examiner.” Turning back to me he poised his pencil. “Mrs. Bradley, I need some information from you–full name, address, phone, e-mail and reason for your being here at the Ritz-Carlton. I also need to ask you not to leave the premises without notifying me. Is that understood?”
“Of course.” I wondered if I was a suspect. “Chief, do you think she was pushed out the window?”
“Ma’am, we don’t think anything. We gather facts and we investigate.”
“I see. Well, I noticed she wasn’t wearing a coat and it was pretty foggy last night.”
“Mrs. Bradley, we’ll contact you for a statement. Right now, I have to get the body to the morgue and write up the report, so if you don’t mind why don’t you go back to doing whatever it is that you do and let me get on with my job.” He started to leave as the ambulance approached.
“Just one more thing, Chief.”
He stopped, his annoyance obvious.
“What is it, Mrs. Bradley?”
“It’s just that she isn’t wearing any jewelry. That means she was probably in her room when whatever happened, happened. Jewelry is the first thing a woman takes off when she’s undressing and the last thing she puts on when she dresses.”
The chief cocked his head and looked irritated. “You’re not going to leave this alone, are you?”
“I only knew Regina for a short time, Chief, but she was a gifted young woman. If someone killed her I want to do all I can to see that they’re caught.”
“All right, Mrs. Bradley.”
“Call me Jillian.”
“You got it. You can call me Chief.”
I detected a tiny smile and was grateful he wasn’t a bonehead.
The medics gently loaded the body into the back of the van with the chief carefully overseeing the process.
Before he left he turned toward me. “I’ll be in touch so stick around the hotel.”
It seemed like an eternity. The hysteria, the blaring lights all over the green. A bride showed up for the scheduled wedding and broke down in tears, and faded from blissful wife-to-be to a pile of white satin and distress in less than five minutes flat.
The whole episode took thirty minutes from my mindless jog to my return. Teddy would worry.
Need to keep it together for a few more minutes....
Before I could even get my key in the door, the tears streamed. I hadn’t known her that well but just eight hours before she’d been a living breathing person, not a mangled pile of limbs in a heap. She probably had a family, cherished dreams–had been a child once.
I hate this stupid key.
I brushed the tears out of my eyes. The door finally unlatched and Teddy raced up to meet me with a yelp. He was so intelligent. He knew me.
“She’s dead, Teddy,” I sat on the edge of the bed, letting my arms hang loose in shock. “She was a friend.”
He climbed into my lap. I couldn’t resist the emotions that swelled over me. I pulled him close and cried.
I had plans to meet the garden club that afternoon. The meeting was all the more important now.
Ann greeted me for tea with eyes big as saucers.
“Jillian!” She spoke in a loud whisper.
“They’ve found a body….”
“I overheard the police…said that you….”
“Found it?” I needed to hold it together. “Yes.”
“Oh dear, how awful. How horrible!”
Nicole and Dominique stepped off the elevator and joined us.
“Look.” I swallowed hard. “Why don’t we just go to the Conservatory for breakfast? I have orders not to leave the hotel. I’ll explain everything in there.”
The Conservatory was empty except for the two ladies who sat close to the cashier, heads bent in animated conversation. Murder in a fancy hotel might seem romantic to those far removed from any association.
“We’d like a table in the back, please.”
The server smiled and, taking four menus, led us to a corner table with an ocean view. She whipped out her notepad and quietly took our orders for juice and coffee.
My mind kept wandering from the present. The green carpet was just the shade of freshly mowed grass. The chairs reminded me of mangled limbs. The jam basket, which Ann rifled through in a search for the perfect strawberry spread, seemed to hide a perfectly gruesome violence.
The server brought some slabs of toast and when Ann opened the pack, I swallowed. The jam perfectly matched the pool of blood after it had soaked thick and clotted into the ground.
“Jillian?” Nicole touched my hand with hers. “Are you all right?”
“I….” I shook my head. Instantly the jam turned back to jam again. “I am now.”
I tried to shrug off the memory as mere absence of thought. I couldn’t let it haunt me forever. “It’s just so strange the way I found her.”
Ann spoke up timidly, as if she wasn’t sure if she wanted to know. “How did you find her?”
“Mangled.” I swallowed. “She wasn’t wearing any jewelry, or a coat.”
“Sounds to me like someone pushed her.”
Of course, Dominique would come right to the point.
“I agree…except it would be difficult due to the small windows. A balcony perhaps?”
Ann chimed in. “Maybe she was leaning out, like to get some fresh air. Someone could have caught her by surprise.”
It seemed unlikely, at least last night. “Getting a breath of fresh air in the fog?”
Ann sat back in disappointment. “You’re right. It really was thick last night, wasn’t it?”
The server returned and took our orders and then left us alone.
Nicole continued with the speculations. “That business of her not wearing any jewelry is interesting, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Dominique picked up the analysis. “And she wasn’t wearing a coat. Surely, if she was outside when she died she would be wearing one.”
I hushed my voice. “A lady only takes off her jewelry if she’s getting undressed.”
Nicole added, “Or, if she’s going to take a bath…. ”
A fresh thought struck me. “Or, if she was going to bed… and someone was in the room with her.”
The server brought our food and we sat quietly for a moment contemplating the thought.
Deputy Cortez appeared in the doorway of the Conservatory and looked in. Seeing me, he came over to our table, smiled and said, “Ladies. The chief wants to have a talk with you, Mrs. Bradley.”
“I’ll come right away. Ladies, enjoy your morning.”
He showed me into the Fireside Room where the chief was waiting. When the chief greeted me, it was as a friend this time which made me feel much more comfortable.
“No one’s in here now. Thought this would be a good place to talk.”
“Have you found out any more about Regina, Chief?”
“Only that it’s a mystery how she wound up on the courtyard in such a crumpled heap. Someone strong enough to carry her could have dumped her there or she may have fallen. There’s a balcony directly above where she was lying.”
“There’s a balcony next to my room. I noticed it the first day I was here. The room next door belongs to….” I hesitated.
“Yes?” The chief waited for me to finish.
“Only that I saw Paul Youngblood check into the room next door.”
“Paul Youngblood.” He made an entry into his notebook.
“A very nice young man. He’s lecturing at our conference this weekend.”
“I see. I’ll check on it. Jillian, I need to ask you some questions.”
“It sounds like you don’t think it was an accident.”
“Personally? It looks like she was murdered. Officially? Without proof, all we can say is ’cause of death unknown.’ It won’t take long to get the lab reports and autopsy results back, so I’m proceeding as if it’s a homicide.”
“Are there many homicides in Half Moon Bay?”
“This will be the first in five years.” He shifted and readied the metal pencil again. “How well did you know the deceased?”
“Actually, I just met her. We had tea on Friday afternoon. I talked to her yesterday at breakfast. I talked with her awhile at the reception yesterday afternoon and then we all had dinner together at the Distillery last night.”
“Who is ‘we’, Jillian?”
“There were twelve of us. I count everything, just a habit. Let’s see, there was: Regina…and Spencer Hausman, he’s the conference coordinator…my garden club…oh, that’s Ann Fieldman, Nicole King, and Dominique Summers…then, Paul Youngblood and Celeste Osborne…Thomas and Evelyn Westover…Hugh Porter and Marianne Delacruz…then, myself–twelve.”
His pencil moved quickly. Then he nodded with satisfaction. “Did any of these people have a reason to kill the deceased?”
“My goodness, what a question. Hmm…well, there were bad feelings between Regina and Spencer Hausman because she told me as much.”
“When was this?”
“It was at breakfast yesterday morning. Then, I found out from Paul Youngblood that he’d had a previous relationship with her. She acted uncomfortable when he came over to our table.”
“I’m trying to think. Evelyn Westover was malicious whenever she talked to Regina, so there could be some kind of past there I think. At dinner, Regina and Celeste almost got into a fight and I had to change the subject. My goodness, maybe you should have asked me who she did get along with.”
“It will take me some time but I’ll check these people out. I’ll put out a detainment for them not to leave town.”
“The conference is supposed to end tonight after the ball. I guess you will need more time than just today. Chief, what can I do to help? I’m free until three o’clock and then I’m reviewing Marianne Delacruz’s lecture on tree peonies.”
“Tree peonies?” He had a look of distaste on his face.
“Why don’t you come to the lecture? You could ask Spencer Hausman to make the arrangements. You know, see these people in action. Maybe learn something.”
“I like your imagination, Jillian. I need to check back with the medical examiner in about an hour and tie up some loose ends. I’ll talk to Spencer Hausman before I leave and set it up.”
“I’ll see what I can come up with. I’m always bumping into these people. Maybe I can find out more about what was bothering Evelyn.”
“Do you have a cell phone, Jillian?”
“I have one in my car.”
“Here’s my number. Save it in your speed dial. If you find out anything, I don’t care how small it is, you call me. The sooner we find out who killed her the safer everyone’s going to be.”
“Why wouldn’t we be safe now?”
“We have to be careful if someone did kill her. If we get too close they may kill again.” He stood, signaling the end of our conversation.
“I’ll get my phone out of the car.”
“Jillian, don’t take chances. We may be dealing with a very desperate killer. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m allowing you to be part of this investigation only as a bystander. Protocol, you understand.”
“Of course, Chief.” I nodded. “Still, if I happen to learn something important it will be my duty as a good citizen to report it.”
He just smiled.
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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