I'll be posting a chapter from "Murder in Half Moon Bay" every day until the end of the month. Enjoy!
The two large forensics experts looked uncomfortable crammed into my room, with their large jackets and six cases of equipment. A cinematographer snapped pictures incessantly.
Currently he’d chosen to focus on the abandoned towel lying askew on the bed. Deputy Cortez held the housekeeper for questions just outside my door, while the chief gazed out the window lost in thought. He sure looked tired, probably not far from how I looked to people. I moved toward him and gave him a friendly pat on his big shoulder.
“Oh, Jillian, you’re back.”
“Have you found anything, Chief?” I hoped against hope they’d found something.
“So far we’ve found that someone used a duplicate key to get in. Either they had help from a hotel employee or they stole it from the front desk which would be pretty difficult since there’s someone stationed there at all times.”
I thought of someone entering Regina’s room the same way.
“We should look at everyone’s record. Maybe something will surface.”
“Would you mind looking at the records with me?” The chief sat down as if weighted by the world. “I’ll get the copies and we’ll take a look at them after dinner. I’m meeting with the FBI agents and then I’ll be free.”
“That sounds good to me.” I remembered the Mexican restaurant plan and hoped I’d have enough time for it. “Have they found anything about Teddy’s abductor?”
Before he had a chance to answer, one of the forensic experts called. “Chief, we found something…near the bed.” He waved his hand for us to come over.
Another forensics agent was bending over a portion of the carpet and taking photographs. He smiled up at the chief. “Yep. We have a footprint here. It’s definitely not from Mrs. Bradley or the housekeeper. We’re sending it now for analysis.”
This perked the chief up considerably. “Good job. Let me know what you get on it.”
I gazed over the mess–black fingerprint powder all over the furniture and half of my belongings.
The chief must have noticed my displeasure. “I’m going to ask the hotel to give you a new room, Jillian. You can’t stay here.”
I smiled. “I wouldn’t have asked, but since you’re offering….”
“Oh, Chief, did you talk to the guard at the gate that was on duty Saturday evening yet?”
“I did. The only people that left the hotel at the right time were Hugh Porter and an unknown gentleman who refused to give his name.”
“Did the guard give you a description?” I zipped up the last bag and placed it by the front door.
“Actually he did. He said that the man was unfriendly, in his mid-forties, had on a tan suit with a black shirt, was smoking and wore a black and tan hat and sunglasses.”
“Pretty descriptive I’d say. You’d think someone planning a murder would wear less conspicuous clothing.”
“There’s more.” The chief helped me with my bags out the front door. “He had a large nose and looked like a former boxer.”
“Sounds like a criminal. Mobster or something?”
“Sounds about right. We may be in for trouble.”
Walter Junior appeared at the door to help us.
“Mrs. Bradley?” He held himself stiffly, obviously wanting to appear in his formal capacity in front of the strangers. “I’m here to take you to your new room.”
“How is your father doing?”
He placed my bags and belongings on a large brass cart and we proceeded down the hall to my new room.
“He told me he was working on a deal with someone and said to tell you it was a surprise.”
“It sounds intriguing. I’m glad he’s got something to move on with.”
“I’m sorry about Teddy. How could someone be so mean? That dog was great. Heartless thugs.”
“Walter, have you had any luck finding out who was driving the champagne Camry? The police know it was stolen, and from a police officer at that, but it’s disappeared again.”
The chief nodded in the affirmative. “We need you as a material witness. Will you help us?”
“Sure.” Walter nodded. “I think I could recognize the driver if I saw him again.”
I threw another question his way. “What about the car, Walter?”
“Mr. Ibarra said I wasn’t allowed to see the records because it was an invasion of the hotel guests’ privacy. I really didn’t think it would hurt to know who drives what, but he wouldn’t let me check.”
Hmm…Lewis Ibarra covering for someone?
I had to find out.
“Chief, do you have any information yet on Lewis Ibarra’s background?”
We followed Walter down the hall toward the Club Room.
“There’s nothing on file with the FBI or with our department but I’ll check again. Something may turn up.”
We had reached my new room, now only a few doors away from the Club Room. Walter slipped a key into the door and entered, pulling the cart behind him.
“Walter, how do you get the room keys?”
“The hotel manager has a machine that makes new keys whenever a new guest occupies a room. When the guests leave, we destroy the keys and make new ones using the same coding machine.”
The chief interrupted his explanation. “Walter, who has access to this machine?”
“I know it’s in the manager’s office and she’s there most of the time. I’ve seen different management people in there: the dining rooms manager, the special events coordinator…you know, people like that.”
Walter’s face clouded over as if something had just occurred to him.
“What is it, Walter? What are you thinking of?”
“It’s probably nothing, but you know how it is when you see something all the time and take it for granted? Well now, after all the stuff that’s been happening around here I feel like I’ve seen something that isn’t normal.”
The chief put his hand on Walter’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I know it’s been rough on your family, Walter. But if you think you know something you’d better tell us.”
“You’re right, I know. It’s just that I don’t want to get anyone in trouble if I’m wrong.”
“Walter, no one is going to get into trouble unless they’ve broken the law. Making keys for any other purpose other than giving them to people who are using the room as a guest is wrong.”
“Okay, Mrs. Bradley. I’ll tell you, but promise me if they get in trouble, you won’t let them know I told. I can’t lose my job. I just can’t.” He started to get upset.
Just then, Walter’s pager went off. He answered it and then rolled his eyes. “Sorry, Mrs. Bradley. I can’t talk right now. Sort of an emergency downstairs. There’s a bunch of reporters who just came in and the management needs me to help check them in. Mr. Ibarra says it’s a zoo down there. I’ll talk to you later, I promise.”
“Goodbye, Walter.” The chief sounded reluctant to let him go. “Well, Jillian, my appointment is in just a few minutes. My wife says she wants to meet you and has made a pie for our after dinner meeting. Would you mind coming over to the house?”
“Would I mind? I could use a normal home setting after all that’s happened. Tell her I’m looking forward to it.”
“Great. Margaret will be pleased that you said yes.”
My new room faced the front entrance of the hotel. I judged the lobby was directly below me two floors down. This room had a balcony over the green that on any other occasion someone might think ‘splendid’. Now, it just reminded me of Regina’s broken body.
My mind pictured a faceless someone, standing on the balcony over her with a satisfied smile. Perhaps they took a towel to wipe for prints. They cleaned every surface until it gleamed anew, then simply walked out of the room, leaving no evidence whatsoever.
It bothered me. Someone had to have a hole in his or her alibi somewhere. I just had to find out where. The hotel desk had corroborated Paul’s movie rental but that didn’t necessarily prove he was in his room. Marianne, Celeste, and Hugh, were all supposedly by themselves as well. The Westovers could vouch for each other and probably would under any circumstance whether or not either one of them left their room during that time.
I kept coming back to the question of why someone would kill Regina. It had to be because she wouldn’t cooperate with the people who were dealing in spores or…or someone just didn’t like her at all. Would Celeste stoop that low? Would she actually hire someone to strangle Regina?
I knew she could afford it, but it was difficult to picture anyone being that desperate to hold onto someone like Paul Youngblood. It would be easier to picture Evelyn doing the deed herself out of sheer loathing for anyone she despised.
How would Regina’s death benefit Evelyn, unless Regina was having an affair with Thomas? There didn’t seem to be any overt evidence to support that theory but I supposed it could have happened that way.
I looked at my bedside clock radio.
Time to get ready for dinner. Mexican didn’t really appeal to me anymore.
I had the tub running and the towels laid out when the phone rang.
News of Teddy?
An ugly voice came over the line. “Since you’ve decided to continue your snooping around, lady, your dog will be barking his last bark by noon tomorrow. Have a nice evening.” The voice laughed and then hung up with a loud click.
I didn’t have a chance to say a word.
I called the front desk and asked them to trace the call. The young woman answering said that the call came from inside the hotel because if it came from outside, it would have registered on her monitor. I thanked her and kept the threat to myself.
For now, I was going to take a bath and clear my head. Time to ready myself for battle.
My wounds had just barely healed over from the incident on Sunday evening. I winced as I submerged my knees beneath the bubbles. At least my ankle wasn’t hurting as badly.
I was too old to be falling down. Maybe I was too old to chase a killer, but I wasn’t too old to hunt down whoever took my dog. I only soaked for five minutes. I threw on my most comfortable jeans, a red plaid shirt and a navy sweater, and then headed for Señor Pico’s Taqueria on Highway 1.
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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