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.
My breakfast didn’t satisfy me very long, so I decided to stop by the coffee shop on Main Street and grab a pastry. Images of that cameo ring ran through my head. What could it mean… transporting something illegal?
Why was Regina in possession of plant spores? Someone looking for them could have murdered her, but why strangle her? That’s a crime of passion. No, they killed her out of anger, but the spores tied in somehow.
I stared in a bit of a stupor, drinking my coffee and tasting the flaky cherry croissant. All of the twists and turns had my mind racing to keep up.
Hugh stood in front of my table before I ever saw him coming.
“Hello, Jillian. A million miles away, are we?” He grinned. “Mind if I join you?”
Without any answer from me, he pulled out the extra chair and set his cinnamon roll and coffee on the table. I groped to snap out of it. Time to be normal for a minute.
“It’s nice to see you, Hugh.” Of course, I didn’t mean it. Thinking through the investigation was my preferred form of entertainment.
“You’re out pretty early today. Doing some sightseeing?” His gaze searched my face.
“I should be, I suppose. Actually I just visited the police station.” Could I have said something any more revealing? So much for discreet. Next time, I’d have a better answer for surprise questions.
“That’s right. You found Spencer Hausman’s body, didn’t you?”
“I did. Word travels fast.”
After finishing the croissant, I cradled my mug in both hands.
“Half Moon Bay’s a small town, Jillian.” He chuckled, and shook his head. “Everyone knows everyone’s business around here.”
“I believe you.” Taking a chance, I decided to be blunt. “Hugh, why do you think Spencer was murdered?”
I sipped my coffee innocently.
Listen for a change, Jillian, and see what happens.
Hugh sat back as well. He seemed to be considering. “I suppose you have to know Spencer’s background to understand why several people might want to see him dead.”
Hugh took a forkful of cinnamon roll, drank some coffee, and then smiled. “To begin with, he was lonely. Right after he moved here, he volunteered to help Evelyn in the Society.
“He wound up doing all the grunt work–work that no one else wanted to do. He lined up guest speakers and put out the newsletter pretty much all by himself.
“The thing about Spencer that no one liked was his manner. He always made passes at the ladies, which offended, even though no one really took him seriously. I suppose knowing that, you could say Evelyn Westover, Celeste Osborne or Marianne Delacruz could have motive, although I hardly think they’d murder him for making a pass or two. Perhaps Thomas would defend Evelyn, but that seems unlikely as well.”
“Aside from offended females, who else would want him dead?”
Too forceful. Take it slow, Jillian.
Hugh shifted in his chair, crossed his legs, and took another sip of coffee. “Spencer had a tainted past. He sort of slithered into Half Moon Bay and did a good selling job passing himself off as a business manager to Evelyn. He mentioned starting over several times to me, so he probably talked to others about it.”
I had to ask. “Hugh, what was Spencer starting over from, did he ever mention that?”
“He barely escaped going to prison.”
“He confessed to that?” I was astounded.
Hugh leaned into the table and looked around the room, then spoke quietly, “Someone ratted on him once and he almost did time for it.”
“Hugh, did he tell you what he was ratted on for?” I pressed for more.
“I got the impression it was for mishandling of funds.”
The $8,000. Finally!
Now I just needed to understand how Marianne played into all of this. “Hugh, it’s been enlightening to say the least, but I really must be getting back to the hotel. Teddy needs attention you know.”
“I certainly understand, Jillian. I hope I was of some help.”
“We’ll see, won’t we?”
I went to take care of Teddy, called Dominique and arranged to meet her. We needed to tie up the connections between Marianne and Regina. Besides, I remembered after the ball Marianne had been asking for Spencer.
Back at the hotel, Teddy stretched out his paws upon seeing me enter the room.
“Hello, Teddy,” I greeted, stroking his fur and giving him a hug. He sat down on his haunches and cocked his head as if to ask, “Find out anything down at headquarters?”
“I guess you could say that things are getting interesting. We found a cameo ring filled with plant matter, an address for The Venus Flytrap, expensive clothes and jewelry worn by Regina, and presumably the fact that Spencer Hausman had embezzled funds.”
Teddy barked in approval.
“Ready for some air, boy?”
His wagging tail and perked up ears gave me an affirmative answer.
“Let’s wait for Dominique and then we’ll go.”
As if on cue, there was a knock at the door and sure enough, it was Dominique.
“Come in.” I ushered her in and motioned for her to have a seat.
“You sounded urgent, Jillian. I can’t believe someone murdered Spencer Hausman, too! Have you found out anything?”
I told her everything I’d learned up to having coffee with Hugh. She hung on every word.
“Why would someone kill Spencer Hausman unless he knew who killed Regina and they thought he might have gone to the police? I mean, if he embezzled money from the Westovers, you’d think they’d want to prosecute and get it back, not kill him.”
I agreed. “It really doesn’t make sense. Unless Spencer was silenced for another reason.” I sat on the edge of the bed, my mind lost in thought.
Snapping back to the present, I changed the subject. “Dominique, don’t you know someone who does research on plant spores or bio-terrorism?”
“Yes, I do…a Dr. Nagera. Family friend.”
“Can you get hold of him?” Almost shaking with a mixture of agitation and delight, I paced around the room, holding Teddy to calm my nerves.
“Sure. My card file is back in my room. But…what shall I say to him? It seems a strange request, especially since we haven’t spoken for years.”
“Don’t say a thing, I’ll do the talking.”
“Fine with me.” She moved toward the door.
“Would you get Ann and Nicole together and have them meet us for lunch?”
“Sure, Jillian. Do you want to meet in the Club?”
“Perfect. Let’s meet in an hour. Teddy needs a walk first.”
She left and Teddy and I headed downstairs.
“We can’t take a very long walk now, sweet doggie.” We started down the path in the courtyard. “But I promise we’ll do a long one later on this evening.”
Teddy whimpered as if to say, “Like I have a choice here?”
Evelyn and Thomas whipped around the corner on their way inside. They practically ran us over, having been too engrossed in their close communication.
“Oh, Jillian,” Thomas exclaimed, acting truly surprised to see me.
In confusion, I tried to think of something to say. “I’m very sorry about Spencer. You have my condolences for losing such a valued employee.”
Had I ever mouthed a sentence so contrived in my life?
Evelyn interrupted whatever Thomas started to say in return. “It was quite a shock. Spencer shot, at our nursery!” She sounded more than sorrowful.
“The police are still there looking for clues,” Thomas managed to say.
Teddy politely pulled on his leash saying, “You might want to cut this short, if you know what I mean.”
I wasn’t quite ready to depart. “I didn’t realize you were still here at the hotel. The chief only confined us to Half Moon Bay. You do live in Half Moon Bay, don’t you?”
Thomas nodded. “We do. We’re checking out this morning. You must drop by sometime.”
Evelyn pulled in a little breath through her nose at his invitation, but I seized upon it.
“I understand you have a beautiful home. I’d love to see it and your gardens, but I wouldn’t want to impose....”
That obviously hit a hot button with Evelyn at the mention of her gardens because she changed her attitude toward me immediately.
“Our garden is lovely.” Her pride was obvious. “Some say it’s the finest in the Society, except for Celeste Osborne’s, which, of course, is so commercial.”
I pushed for a commitment. “Would this afternoon be too soon? Just for a few minutes. I’m a little behind in my column for this week.”
“Sure,” Thomas glanced at Evelyn and they both smiled. “Shall we say three o’clock?”
“I’ll look forward to it.” I tried to interpret the knowing expressions of these enigmatic people.
We parted company and Teddy led the way to the path leading toward the beach, grateful to leave them behind.
“Must we go all the way down there, Teddy?”
“I’m glad your bark is delicate, Teddy, otherwise you’d be a naughty dog disturbing everyone.”
He looked at me with an innocent air as if to say, “I only need to disturb you to get what I need.”
I relented. “To the beach then.”
The air chilled me, but the early morning fog had almost lifted. One other couple treaded ahead of us. From the way they held hands and looked into each other’s eyes, it was obvious that they loved each other passionately.
My thoughts turned to Regina. Who had she been in love with? Whenever she was with Paul, she acted upset or serious. Was she hiding the fact that she loved him, and if so, why?
She hadn’t spoken with any other men, except for Thomas Westover and Spencer Hausman. She might have talked to Hugh Porter, but I never observed them. Then, whenever she was with Thomas, Evelyn was always there.
How would Evelyn react to The Venus Flytrap if I mentioned it?
I would definitely bring it up somehow at our meeting this afternoon.
The couple in front of us stopped at the bottom of the steps and shared an affectionate little kiss. It reminded me of how my husband used to kiss me in the same sweet way.
I shook my head and peered lovingly at my little four-legged companion who had wandered to the extent of his leash. He’d found some kelp to investigate.
He did all the things dogs do so we returned to the hotel. The crisp sea air had invigorated us both, giving new energy to me and tuckering Teddy out.
“I’m going out to talk to a few people and I won’t be back for a while. You take a good long nap until I return. I’ve left you some toys by your dish in case you get bored, okay?”
Teddy looked at me with his large brown eyes and blinked a “thank you” at me.
On my way out to see Mr. Anatolia again, Walter waved me down.
“Hello, Walter. I’m glad to see you.” We walked over toward the front door and found a private place along the wall to talk.
Walter looked around and made sure no one was listening. “Mrs. Bradley, I was driving home last night and I passed the Seaside Nursery just as a car drove away and the police arrived. Naturally, I stopped to find out what was going on.”
“Did you see the car clearly?”
“Sure did. That’s my business, remember?” He chuckled. “It was a 2000 champagne Camry.”
“You didn’t see the driver or license number did you?” Surely, he couldn’t have seen both.
“Actually, I did see the driver for just a minute, but he was moving so fast…I didn’t get the number, just the state.”
Mr. Ibarra approached and so I began to move toward the door. I didn’t want to get Walter into any sort of trouble.
“Nevada.” He seemed very positive about it. “I should go. The boss....”
Mr. Ibarra approached me and nodded a polite greeting. That didn’t keep him from throwing a cold glare at Walter.
“Good morning, Mr. Ibarra,” I greeted him. “Are you still busy with checkouts?”
“Yes, unfortunately. Can I order your car for you?”
“I think Walter is taking care of it for me, thanks.”
“Have a nice day, Mrs. Bradley and be careful.”
I nodded a polite thank you as Walter pulled my car up to the landing.
“By the way,” Walter whispered, “remember you asked me if I saw anyone leaving with Regina on Saturday afternoon? Well, I think I saw that same car leave the hotel during the day Regina was murdered. I just don’t know if she was with the driver.”
“Walter, see if you can trace the driver. Be careful, dear. Whoever it is may be very dangerous.”
Strange that I had more concern for his safety than my own.
On my drive out, I made a quick call. “Chief, it’s Jillian. I have some information.”
“I have some too. You go first.”
“Walter Montoya, Jr. was at the Seaside Nursery last night and saw a 2000 champagne Camry leave the scene right before you arrived.”
“That’s fabulous. A car and an eyewitness. Cortez!” he barked some orders to unseen underlings.
I grinned. Yes, I was making a stir.
“Walter saw the license plate, too.”
“Don’t tell me he got the number.”
“He didn’t get the number, just the state.”
“You continue to amaze me, woman. Don’t even work for me, and I want to give you a promotion. Hmm…it isn’t California then I gather.” He played along.
“No, Nevada…and listen to this….” Perhaps I was too pleased with myself. “ Walter saw the same car leave the hotel on the day Regina was murdered. He’s going to check and see if he can trace the driver.”
“Excellent work, partner. This helps a lot. Could you meet me somewhere? I’ve got something too, but really don’t want this going over the lines.”
“Oh, sure. It must be good. Let’s meet at the Half Moon Bay Coffee Company on Main Street.”
“I’ll be there.”
The coffee shop brimmed with locals and tourists alike. The crowds crammed the tables and along the walls. The tourists stood out easily enough from the masses, as they were the women with shopping bags and bored husbands with tired feet, glad to be sitting anywhere.
I found the chief waiting at one of the tables toward the back, which offered a little more privacy. I brought my coffee over and took a chair.
“Now, what’s the news?”
I’d bought a delicious house blend decaf. Its aromatic flavor distracted me temporarily.
“First, the address of The Venus Flytrap. Get this–it was none other than Regina Anatolia’s home.”
“Oh, dear! That’s bad, isn’t it?”
“Second, the FBI is sending over two of their forensics experts to check the contents of the cameo.”
“Did they say anything about Regina’s government project?”
“They just said that they would debrief us when they arrived.” He grimaced, echoing my disappointment at having to wait.
I persisted. “Did you ever get an explanation from Paul Youngblood or the front desk about the room changes between him and Regina?”
“Yes and no. It seems once Paul went to his original room next to yours, he called the front desk and said that he needed to move. He told them he wasn’t comfortable with the location–made a big fuss about being trapped during an emergency, so they moved him.”
I reached for my notes and flipped to the sequential list of events leading up to the first murder.
“Chief, I overheard Paul say something when the bellhop put his things in his room.”
“Let’s have it.” He leaned forward expecting another miracle.
I read the entry, “Everything’s ready, tomorrow then.”
“That was on Friday, Chief, and Regina was killed the next day.”
He thought a moment, and then nodded in agreement. “It might be something, but he also might have been talking to someone about the conference.”
“True. Let’s find out. If he talked to Spencer or Regina, we could tell by room numbers through the hotel exchange.
“Did you find out about the comings and goings of Regina on Saturday from the gatehouse guard yet?” I felt a little criminal pushing a municipal agent this way.
“I was just on my way over to the hotel to do that when you called.” He pointed his finger at me in a playful gesture.
“Well, I’m going back to Mr. Anatolia’s to question him further about his wife’s association with The Venus Flytrap.”
The chief opened his mouth and started to speak.
I spoke for him. “I know–I’ll be careful. Why don’t you put a tail on me for protection?”
“Let me know when the FBI arrives. I want to be there when you talk to them if you don’t mind.”
“That’s a good idea. Stay in touch, and I mean that. Don’t take chances.”
We finished our coffee and headed our separate ways.
I couldn’t see any tail behind me, but one had to be there. The drive to Mr. Anatolia’s house with one eye on the road and the other in the rear view mirror made things a little more perilous. My mind kept running over the expensive clothes and jewelry Regina wore until I pulled up to the cozy little house. Where had the money come from? Surely not from here.
Stepping up to the front porch, I noticed those same dusty cars. Nope, they certainly hadn't moved since the last time I was here. He’d left the lights on for me this time, which was encouraging. Good thing I called ahead.
“Come in Mrs. Bradley.” Mr. Anatolia welcomed me and invited me to sit down. “You didn’t bring Teddy?” He sounded a little disappointed.
“No, I left Teddy in my room to take a nap. By the way, thank you for seeing me. How are you feeling?”
Things appeared a little better for him as the room looked tidy and he wore a V-neck sport shirt.
“I have my good times and my bad. Don’t worry; I’ll be back to normal, whatever that is, when things sort out.”
“You mean, Regina?”
Finding a worn chair, I took my jacket off and laid it across my lap.
His eyes were red from crying and not enough sleep. “Not just Regina, I mean my wife too.”
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.
CONTACT INFORMATION email@example.com