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.
Three more questions came in for my column. I pasted them into a document making a mental note to talk to Hugh about the question on whether or not he recommended eating begonias. Perhaps after napping I would purchase his book. He had promised to sign it for me.
I slipped into my robe and moseyed over to the open window with my peppermint tea. The drink caddy near the bathroom had a good assortment of teas and the coffee maker worked for heating water, too.
Teddy jumped up on the chair trying to see out.
“Careful, there are no screens, remember?” I lifted him from the chair into a tender hug.
We looked out together. The waves caressed the rocks and the wind was calm. We inhaled the sea air. A few golfers played on the emerald greens, which were mowed in crisscross patterns, and couples strolled hand in hand on the walking trails.
Breaking our reverie, someone stuck a key card into a nearby door slot.
I glanced at the clock on the radio.
Two voices spoke too low to distinguish any words. Following the mumbles, a peal of laughter rang out–a woman. Then she was silent. Someone else thought it was naptime too.
The Miramontes Room was already full to the brim where Hugh Porter was signing books.
A bit chagrined at having to wait in a line that curled out the door, I tried to entertain myself by seeing how many of the faces I actually knew.
Not a soul.
Still, many of them seemed rather interesting. It was fun to imagine what they might be like. One robust gentleman wore his collar so tight that his neck bulged and his face turned red. A set of twins spoke unintelligibly to one another, hooked arm in arm, looking like the opposite side to the same conniving person.
A heavyset woman stood at the very front, telling Hugh that her family enjoyed the fresh lettuces she grew while he signed the title page for her.
Just behind her, a tanned, lanky gentleman shyly handed his book for Hugh to sign as soon as there was a pause in her nervous chatting. “To Abner, would be fine, Mr. Porter.”
He thanked Hugh and quickly stepped away. Next, Thomas Westover approached and leaned against Hugh’s table looking a little smug. There, now that was someone I recognized. Thomas handed Hugh two books.
Hugh smiled. “Going to read it twice, are you?”
Thomas watched while Hugh signed them.
Finally, another half hour passed and it was my turn. Taking the opportunity, I asked Hugh about the poisonous begonias. He seemed a little weary, but humbly referred me to the correct chapter to find the answer.
I was quite done with the mad rush and overjoyed to see Nicole maneuvering her way through the masses. I had been craving a decent conversation all day and I hoped she would be the ticket.
“How was Paul Youngblood?” I gave her a knowing grin.
“He was very interesting, especially the part about landscaping for the romantic spa garden.”
She said it matter-of-factly, but I didn’t miss a special twinkle.
“Now in all seriousness, Nicole, I wonder if you could help me with an unusual request.”
“Sure. Oh, look, it’s almost time for tea. Why don’t we go into the Fireside Room and wait for the others?”
I chose a table in the corner for the most privacy.
“Now, what’s this about, Jillian?”
“Walter’s father is in a touchy situation and has asked for my help.”
“What can I do?”
I leaned in to whisper. “A little snooping.”
“Is it legal, this ‘little snooping’ or do I have to bend the law?”
“It’s legal. I just need to know procedure at this point.”
“That sounds all right. What do you want to know?”
“If money was missing from a business, how would someone get it out of the account without being detected?”
“That’s a tough one. The accountant could be crooked and doctor the books, saying less was taken in than went out. Alternatively, someone could turn in invoices and receipts, making it appear more was taken in than actually was, so the balance would be less. I suppose a false account could even be set up showing money being paid out, but no money coming in.”
“Like a phony supplier that was paid for goods and services that never existed.” I spoke the thought aloud.
Ann and Dominique joined us and we ordered tea and appetizers.
I couldn’t puzzle it out, no matter how much Earl Grey I consumed. Why would anyone take the time to steal from a nursery? Eight-thousand dollars of course, was a lot for a middle-income gentleman but it was hardly worth it for an experienced criminal. Nurseries weren’t exactly known for rolling in dough.
Dominique, turning toward Nicole, spoke with enthusiasm, “Paul was wonderful wasn’t he? I had no idea spas had a frog problem.”
Nicole smiled. “I wonder if Paul thinks of Celeste Osborne as a frog in his spa.”
She continued. “Did you notice her sitting in the front row hanging on his every word?”
“How could I not notice?” Dominique sipped her tea. “She reminds me of a black widow getting ready to eat her mate.”
“Ladies, please.” I interrupted, telling them of his previous relationship with Regina and about his fiancé’s tragic demise. “I’m sure Mr. Youngblood can handle someone like Celeste. He’s not without experience, tragic experience.”
Ann looked away for a moment. “Spencer Hausman is coming this way. Let’s invite him to join us.”
“Ladies, how nice.” Spencer beamed. “May I join you?”
“By all means.” I smiled sweetly.
He pulled up a chair and motioned for our server to bring another set up. She brought a cup, saucer, napkin, and utensils for him then poured him a cup. He nodded to her in quiet dismissal.
I decided a few questions were appropriate. “Tell us, when you’re not working Society affairs, what do you do?”
“Actually, I work for a large wholesale nursery concern. I’m the business manager.”
“Yes, we’re located in Half Moon Bay, but we do business with outlying retailers in the Bay Area supplying them with plants on a wholesale level. We’re actually sponsoring this conference with plant specimens and speaker fees.”
“Then you must work with Thomas and Evelyn Westover.” I kept talking. “When I first met them I believe she told me they were sponsoring the conference as well.”
I casually sipped my tea and took a dainty bite of a ham and tomato sandwich.
“Thomas and Evelyn Westover own the nursery. I work for them.”
“I see. How many retailers do you supply?”
“Actually, we have sixteen accounts at present.”
“You oversee all of them? Impressive.”
“Well, most of them, I should say.” He sipped his tea. “Of course, Thomas manages one or two.”
“What about Evelyn?”
“Evelyn stays close to home managing the promotional affairs. She goes to luncheons, teas, that sort of thing but doesn’t like to get her hands dirty.” Spencer added this with a touch of criticism in his voice.
He stood. “I really must be off. It was delightful having tea with you ladies. See you at the reception.”
Ann looked at her watch. “I promised Evelyn I’d meet her in the Club Room for a chat just about now. I’d better go. Something tells me she’s not the kind to wait around.”
Dominique graciously signed for the tea. “I’m going to check out the shops here. I like to know what other importers are bringing in.”
“I don’t see how anything can compete with your beautiful teak giraffes. Enjoy.”
Dominique stood and left.
I turned to Nicole and touched her arm to emphasize the importance of my request. “Nicole, stay for a minute if you don’t mind.”
“Sure.” She gave me a questioning glance. After scanning my face, she got a knowing look on her face. “Your mind is going a hundred miles an hour. What can I do?”
A well-dressed older couple entered the room and sat at the table next to us.
I lowered my voice to be discreet.
“I want you to find out about the financial affairs of Thomas and Evelyn Westover. Try getting more info about Spencer Hausman, too, for starters.”
Nicole glanced at the nearby couple out of the corner of her eyes. “I do have ways, I suppose. I know someone who works for a credit-reporting agency that could find out who does their personal books and you already know who does their books at work. Give me a little time and I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks, Nicole. I appreciate it. It’s possible that I may be poking my nose into something that’s none of my business, but I promised Walter Montoya I’d help and I never go back on my word. I only hope it’s not someone in the Society who’s behind it.”
“Be careful, Jillian.”
“I will. You watch out too, Nicole.”
Perhaps I had been too quick to speak of Paul’s strength against the barracuda–Celeste. They were waiting together by the elevator as Nicole and I walked up.
“Jillian.” He nodded.
I could tell Celeste was none too pleased to have her solitary time with him interrupted. I would have observed her better, to get all of the potential subtext of the scowl she threw my way, but I wasn’t quick enough. Paul’s good looks disarmed my detecting senses.
Wow! He is a looker, and he’s looking at me…I mean, us.
He did seem to be examining Nicole rather slyly.
Soon enough Celeste managed to pull that plastic smile over her face once again.
“Have you met Celeste Osborne?” He gestured toward her.
Not formally, anyway, though I did know enough about her to be on my guard.
“How do you do, Celeste?” I tried to match her phony smile with one of my own. “Your gardens are legendary. This is my friend from our garden club, Nicole King.”
I gently nudged Nicole forward, for she had become a little shy in Paul Youngblood’s presence.
Paul took Nicole’s hand and shook it. “Hello, I believe I saw you at the lecture this morning. It was informative, I hope?”
“Yes…it was.” She blushed. “I’ve decided to add a romantic spa garden to my yard after hearing you speak.”
Celeste couldn’t mask her jealousy but it only took a few seconds for her to peel that fake smile right back over any genuine emotion and interrupt their conversation. “How do you do?”
The elevator stopped and let us all off. Paul and Celeste went into the Club Room together.
I gave an exasperated look toward Nicole. “Oh, to be a fly on the wall.”
Book 1 MURDER IN HALF MOON BAY
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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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