I'll be posting a chapter from "Murder in Half Moon Bay" every day until the end of the month. Enjoy!
My gut reaction to the Westovers was twofold: a strong dislike for Evelyn and pity for Thomas. Hopefully, tea with Ann would produce more insight into this strange couple’s history.
I never tired of the Ritz-Carlton’s afternoon tea. Warm sunlight filled the soft peach and muted green lobby where they served tea every afternoon.
Ann waited for me, sitting comfortably in a green-and-white upholstered booth. A white tablecloth was adorned with a small bouquet of fresh fall flowers. Ann smiled upon seeing me come toward her and moved over to make room for me to join her.
“Hello, Jillian. You look pretty discouraged. The tea ought to revive you. Here’s our server.”
A young dark-haired woman wearing the hotel tan and green print uniform smiled and asked if we would like the ‘Set Tea.’ After answering in the affirmative, Ann and I put our heads together and debriefed.
“How did the Westovers’ visit go?” She made a grimace.
“Let’s just say I’m glad it’s over. I really couldn’t get anything out of her. She didn’t even flinch when I mentioned The Venus Flytrap.”
Ann nodded and sat back in the booth. “I found out who the Westovers got rid of. That ought to perk you up a bit.” She chuckled.
“I’m glad you’re in such a good mood, Ann. Let’s have it.”
“Well, after talking at length with Marianne, who seems to know more about the Westovers than even the Westovers do, I found out that at one time the Westovers’ son had a girlfriend that didn’t meet with his parent’s approval.”
The server brought our tea–a pot apiece, steaming with our individual choices, plus a three-tiered plate stand filled with sweets and savories of every description.
We helped ourselves to the delicacies as the server, Alicia, poured out. “Milk?” she asked. We both nodded a “yes,” and then she asked, “Sugars?”
“Three for me, please,” I replied.
After Alicia departed, I continued the questions. “Don’t tell me they had the girl killed because they didn’t want her dating their son.”
Ann smiled at my impatience. “Not exactly. Marianne said their son told his parents he wouldn’t see her and they believed him until the girl showed up on their doorstep with her parents, claiming she was pregnant with their grandchild.”
I almost choked on my cucumber sandwich. “I bet Evelyn loved that.”
Ann ignored my comment and urged me to drink a sip of my tea. “Actually, it seems Evelyn took it quite calmly. Evidently she invited the trio in, served them coffee and said that she would handle everything according to whatever they wished to do.”
Ann smiled and twitched her head. “To have the baby and keep it, insisting the Westovers’ son marry her as soon as he turned eighteen in three months.”
“And Evelyn agreed?” I was incredulous.
“It seems she did. The girl and her parents left, apparently on good terms.” Ann’s tone was serious.
She took a sip of tea and a small bite of a smoked salmon and dill sandwich.
“So how did Marianne say the Westovers got rid of her?” I was totally mystified.
Ann put her teacup down thoughtfully and looked at me full in the face. “The girl was killed in a freak car accident two weeks to the day after she made her demands to the Westovers.”
“What did the police report say?”
Ann nodded her head and took a petit fours.
“I knew you would want to know so I asked Marianne that as well. The police found no foul play. The girl was alone driving home from work that night around nine o’clock. Evidently, she lost control of the car and hit a tree off the side of the road. She was killed instantly.”
“And Evelyn’s grandchild along with her.”
“The police couldn’t prove any connection to the Westovers. Shortly after it happened, the girl’s parents moved and the whole affair just went away.”
“Ann, the whole affair may have gone away for the girl and her parents, but how could a grandchild ever go away? I think that would have stayed with Evelyn forever. It certainly would have cast a dim light on her son, don’t you agree?”
Ann put her teacup carefully on its saucer. Without looking up, she took a deep breath. “There’s something else.”
I braced myself emotionally after thinking about an innocent life lost.
Ann looked at me. “The Westovers’ son overdosed on barbiturates three days after the ‘accident’.”
I sat quietly for a moment thinking about the total dismay Evelyn must have felt losing a grandchild and a son at the same time. People don’t just pick up and carry on without going through the process of shock, acceptance, grief and recovery.
Maybe that’s why Evelyn didn’t seem to act normal at times.
Nicole came into the lobby from quite a shopping spree from the looks of her armful of bags.
Walter saw her and offered to take the bags to her room. She let him help her. She handed him her plastic key and he declined, informing her the front desk always had a spare.
A light came on in my brain and I said aloud before I could stop myself, “A spare key.”
Nicole heard me as she walked toward our table. “What are you talking about, Jillian?”
“I said, ‘a spare key.’ Regina might have given a spare key to her lover to come and go as he pleased.” My brain started churning up a scenario.
“What if Regina got ready for bed, took off her jewelry, and then someone entered her room using a spare key. She would probably assume it was her lover. She would have no reason to be alarmed. She wouldn’t have screamed. That’s why no one heard anything.”
Nicole sat down and ordered her own tea service. “But, Jillian, everyone has a pretty solid alibi for the hours between two to four in the morning, like the chief said.”
“I know, I know, but they aren’t all air tight. Something was amiss with several of their statements. Nicole, have you found out anything else about Spencer’s background or the Westovers’ financial condition?” I stored up the questions of alibis for later contemplation.
Alicia brought Nicole a pot of Lady Earl Grey and poured some out for her over milk.
Nicole took one sugar. “You’ll be pleased to know my friend at the credit bureau gave me an earful on both parties.”
“To begin with, Spencer worked for Desert Nursery and Landscape Sales in Henderson, Nevada–right outside of Las Vegas, before his stint at the Seaside Nursery.”
“Bingo! It’s the connection with the gambling debts just as I thought. Sorry, Nicole, please go on. I’ll try to keep quiet.”
“That’s all right, Jillian. I’m anxious to get to the bottom of these murders, too.”
“What about the Westovers’ financial situation?” I took a sip of tea.
Nicole smiled and tossed her head. “It’s just like we thought. Evelyn has everything in her name. It’s probably because she initially inherited everything from her father’s estate including the Seaside Nursery wholesale business.
“My friend said that according to their records, Thomas gets an allowance every month and a pretty generous one at that.”
“How generous, Nicole?”
“Thomas receives $5,000, which covers his cars, golf trips, wardrobe and restaurant tabs. Evelyn makes him account for everything.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s really unbelievable the control she has over him.”
“Thomas goes along with it though, and that’s unbelievable. Then again, he may have no choice.”
Yes, everything about Thomas’s behavior indicated his unwillingness to challenge her in any fashion. “Nicole, How about their finances… are they in good shape? Is their nursery business profitable?”
Nicole finished a curried chicken sandwich and took a sip of tea before answering. “Their finances are in impeccable shape.
“They do have other interests but they seem legitimate. They have a rental company for farm equipment, a manure processing plant, and a small high-end florist shop in downtown Half Moon Bay called, let’s see, I wrote it down here....” She looked through her purse. “Here it is. It’s called Chelsea Gardens Flower Shop, right on Main Street.”
I wrote down the names and addresses of the subsidiaries and planned to check each one of them out.
“Nicole, this is most helpful. I need to check on Teddy, but let’s meet for dinner. Why don’t we go into town for Mexican food tonight? I saw a bunch of cars in front of a taqueria on Highway 1 last night. It must be good if the locals go there.”
“Mexican food sounds fine to me.” Nicole nodded, looking toward Ann her for approval.
“Mexican food is not my favorite, but I could manage a couple of tacos or even some fajitas tonight. Six-thirty?”
I was about the business of finding my room key when I noticed that the door stood slightly ajar.
The housekeeper again?
“Teddy? I’m home.” I pushed it open and stepped inside. A towel lay rumpled on the floor. Teddy was gone!
Then I saw the note lying on the bed.
My heart sank to my knees as I read the contents. “Go home, lady. Quit snooping if you want to see your dog alive again. If you don’t, your dog is toast.”
I picked up Teddy’s towel and ran into the bathroom to find his dish and toys still there. “He probably doesn’t have any food or water. I must find him!”
I called the chief immediately, shaking as I dialed my cell phone. His number rang three times before he picked up.
“Chief Viscuglia, here. How may I help you?” His welcome voice came over the line.
“Chief, it’s Jillian.”
“Jillian, what’s wrong? You sound really rattled.”
“Someone’s taken Teddy. They left a note telling me to quit investigating and to go home or they’d harm Teddy.
“I don’t even know how they got into my room. I’m so mad at whoever did this! They’re a bunch of cowards picking on my dog instead of me.” I choked back the tears.
“Listen, Jillian. We’ll do our best to find Teddy. I’m coming over to the hotel right now with some forensics people to see what clues they may have left. Don’t touch the note any more than you have to.”
“I’m one step ahead of you. I read it without picking it up. Chief, we must have stepped on some toes for someone to go to this length.”
“Exactly, Jillian. We’re on our way. Just stay put.”
As I ended the call, I bowed my head and silently prayed for Teddy’s safe return.
I needed to get out of the room. Some criminally insane person could be mistreating my poor Teddy. My thoughts ran round like a storm–I needed some air.
The halls were empty, except for a young housekeeper cleaning and restocking the rooms. Her nametag read, “Cecilia.”
She eyed me intently when I stopped her.
“Have you seen anyone with a small dog? About this big…they might have just come down this hallway.”
It took a second, but then she replied with wide-eyed recognition, “Yes, I saw a man just a few minutes ago carrying a small sack down the stairs. I thought I saw it moving.”
“This is very important.” I touched her arm. “Can you describe what the man looked like? Anything at all?”
“Well, he looked a little foreign to me. He was kind of heavyset. He had brown hair, quite a lot of it I noticed, and he was wearing a hotel uniform liked he worked here, but I’ve never seen him before.”
“That’s good, Cecilia. Thank you. Was there anything else?”
“Only that he wasn’t wearing the right shoes for work. They were some sort of sandals, ‘native-looking’. He didn’t fit in with the hotel staff here, if you know what I mean.” She seemed to be growing nervous. Perhaps she realized that she should have reported it.
“Thank you, Cecilia. I’ll need your last name and a number where I can reach you in case we need you to identify him later. Would you be willing to help me in that way?” I prayed she would.
“Of course I will.”
She told me she had just taken this job to work her way through college. She didn’t plan to work in service forever.
I took her name and number and tucked it in my pocket. I dialed the chief. He seemed pleased when I told him the news of the sighting.
“Would it be all right if I went to the Club Room, Chief? I have to get out of this room.”
“We’re coming up now. It should be okay. Don’t go anywhere else without letting me know, though.”
“Call me if you find anything.”
I hung up and forced myself toward the Club Room to gather my thoughts. The window I chose faced the ocean. Its breakers rushed to the shore and back to the sea again.
There was an Asian couple sitting two tables away from me serving their two children a late afternoon snack of cookies and milk. They looked at me and smiled.
With Teddy gone, I was alone.
I swallowed. My cheeks grew flushed. I could feel their heat radiating into the tepid air. How could someone try to intimidate me? My blood just boiled.
No more fear, no more self-pity.
I had to put my thoughts on hold when I looked up and saw Celeste standing in front of my table. I hadn’t seen her come in.
“Hello, Jillian. Mind if I join you?” She pulled out a chair and demurely seated herself.
I had to admire the way she looked. Her hair was now a different shade of blond, somewhat darker than before. Her makeup looked freshly applied. I wondered if she’d just had a shower.
“What have you been up to, Celeste?” I honestly couldn’t care.
“Nothing much, I’m sorry to say. I’ve just spent the afternoon at the spa. I had my hair done, got a massage, a manicure, a pedicure and a facial. I feel like a million dollars. How about you? Have you found any clues to the murders yet?”
“Actually some information has surfaced. We know that Regina was involved in some subversive activities, and Spencer was probably mixed up in them as well.”
“Really.” Celeste acted impressed with my sleuthing.
“The bad news is that someone has kidnapped my dog, and I have no idea how I’m going to get him back.”
“That’s terrible.” She sounded truly sympathetic. She shook her tousled tresses, which landed perfectly back in place. “I can’t believe someone would stoop so low as to kidnap a pet.”
Paul wandered into the room and locked eyes with Celeste.
She waved a small jewel-encrusted hand in a sophisticated flourish and motioned for him to join us.
Paul looked resigned but sauntered over to our table. In spite of losing Regina, he looked no worse for wear. He wore a black mock turtleneck underneath a natty brown sports coat, and a pair of black wool slacks neatly pleated in front. Shortly cropped sandy brown hair framed his tanned face and deep blue eyes.
I thought of how I would have been attracted to such a man thirty years ago and glanced at Celeste who eyed him hungrily.
“Hello, ladies.” He pulled up a chair and joined our table. “I’m really sorry to hear about your dog, Jillian.”
“How did you find out?”
“I heard it from Marianne just a few minutes ago. She saw the cops arrive and inquired. I was waiting for the elevator when she came over and told me.”
“They’re here? I’d better excuse myself and meet them.”
“Oh, that’s quite all right.” Celeste smiled. “Good luck finding your dog.”
I didn’t like the way that she said it, but I thanked her anyway and went back to my room. As I left, I looked back and noticed Paul staring after me. He looked sorry to see me go.
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!
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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