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.
I poured myself a cup of coffee. Spencer had invited everyone to meet in the Club Room for a staff meeting. Being the first to arrive, I picked a spot on one of the brocade sofas. Paul soon joined me looking rather distraught. His expression drooped, dark circles lined his eyes, and he was pale–as if he’d seen a ghost.
“Paul, I’m so very sorry. Regina was such a nice young woman.”
Without even looking up, he spoke. “They’d better get the swine that killed her.”
“You think she was murdered?”
He nodded. “She didn’t commit suicide. Tell me you don’t believe that?”
“No, I don’t.”
“She didn’t fall out of a window or off a balcony because she wasn’t drunk enough for that to happen. She wouldn’t have gotten plastered like that alone–she wasn’t that kind of drinker.”
“It doesn’t look like an accident.”
Spencer Hausman strode through the open double doors and immediately made his way over to me. He took my hand.
“Thank you for coming, Jillian.” He turned to Paul with a cold look. “This won’t take long. You won’t miss your lecture.”
Paul huffed. “I really don’t care what I miss.”
The Westovers arrived and sat down. Evelyn sat next to me. Thomas sat in a chair next to her. They held hands.
Hugh Porter followed them in as well as Marianne Delacruz. Hugh brought over two chairs from a table for Marianne and himself.
When everyone was comfortable, Spencer began.
“Celeste isn’t here but we have a lecture in just a few minutes, so I’ll begin.”
“I’m here,” Celeste made an entrance. “Now, what is all of this about?”
“For those of you who haven’t heard, there has been a terrible accident. Regina Anatolia was found dead this morning.”
Evelyn looked at Spencer with disbelief. “Dead? Regina’s dead?”
Spencer’s voice was barely audible. “Yes.”
In a sudden burst of emotion, he broke down. “Dead, Regina’s dead.”
He curled his hand into a fist to make an obvious effort to shake off his emotions so he could continue. “I know this is a terrible shock to us all. I’m asking you to consider the Society. Please do not to talk to anyone except the police about this matter. We must keep things on an even keel to get through this evening.”
Celeste looked at Paul tenderly. “Paul, I‘m so sorry. You were fond of her.”
Paul stood and left without a word.
He managed a great lecture, though, to my surprise as well as everyone else’s. Thomas caught him afterward, keeping me from approaching Paul with my questions. In disappointment, I moved to speak with Evelyn, but she wasn’t engaged in conversation, she was gone altogether. Perhaps she was attending another lecture.
Especially when Thomas and Evelyn seemed to have made up and had been inseparable the other night.
Ann came into the Club Room as I was leaving. She motioned for me to come over. “Jillian, the police have blocked traffic anywhere near the room next to yours. It’s marked with yellow tape.”
Our mad dash to my room gave me visions of the wretched morning. Had they found something? Why did it always have to be so close?
“Ann, I just realized a few minutes ago…Evelyn wasn’t at the lecture.”
“I saw her leaving with Marianne.”
“We were ordered not to leave.”
“Surely it’s nothing. Perhaps they didn’t know.”
“Ann, you had a chat with Evelyn yesterday. What did you talk about?” We stepped into the elevator and began our ascent.
Ann seemed out of breath, “Can we talk about this later?”
“Please? Just humor me.”
She sighed. “She told me about her son. That woman is hard to figure out. When she’s with other people and her husband, she’s outgoing and friendly. One on one is a different story. Jillian, I think she has deep problems.”
“Didn’t he die of a drug overdose?”
“Yes, I think that’s what I heard. She found him in his room after it happened.”
“I didn’t realize that.”
“It must have pushed her over the edge. She’s probably in denial. She told me she calmly picked up the phone in his room and dialed 911 and reported a death in her home.”
“She wasn’t hysterical or upset at all?”
“She said she felt very calm, like it was all over.”
“Like what was all over?” I was trying to imagine finding a child you loved dead.
“I don’t know. All she said was, at that point, she felt like she left her life with his body and stepped into a different person’s life altogether.”
Turning the corner to where my room was located, I stopped. There were some reporters trying to talk to the chief right outside my room door.
“Ann, go and get Nicole and Dominique. Tell them to listen for anything that might help us. Have them pay special attention to Spencer Hausman and Celeste Osborne. It would help if you would keep an eye on Evelyn and Thomas Westover. If Marianne is with Evelyn watch her too. I’ll take Paul Youngblood and Hugh Porter.”
“All right. Do you want to meet for lunch somewhere other than here? We might be able to talk better.”
“How about meeting at the Distillery again? The food is good and we all know where it is.”
“Okay, see you. Good luck.”
“Thanks, I’ll need it.”
I straightened my shoulders. Pushing past the reporters took some doing. “Excuse me,” I said as politely as I knew how to the deputy, “I need to speak with Chief Viscuglia.”
A woman with a tape recorder turned to me and said rudely, “You, and everybody else, lady.”
The chief caught my eye. “Excuse me, people. Jillian, step inside please. I’m sorry about that.”
“No apology necessary.” I moved through the threshold and he shut the door behind me. “Looks like the sharks are hungry.”
“The media are always hungry.”
I looked around the room. “Do you think she fell from Paul Youngblood’s room?”
“Regina Anatolia’s room you mean.”
“No, Chief, I saw Paul check into this room yesterday afternoon. He even used the phone–I heard him when the bellman was leaving.”
“He must have checked into another room then because, as of yesterday afternoon at five o’clock, Regina was checked into this one.”
My mind raced back to the fragments of conversation I had heard. I promised myself I would write them down. “Chief, do you have the medical examiner’s report? What else have you found out?”
“First question. The cause of death was due to strangulation.”
I grabbed onto the desk beside me and looked to the floor. “What time did it happen–they can determine things like that can’t they?”
He moved his head to one side and blinked once. Picking up the report lying on the bed he read aloud. “Time of death was between the hours of two and four this morning.”
I let the time sink in, dumbfounded that a murder took place next door while I slept peacefully, even if it did take me until one o’clock to fall asleep.
Coming back to the present I had another thought. “Did anyone have to identify the body or was it taken for granted who she was?”
He looked at me and laughed. “You just keep those wheels a turnin’ don’t you, Jillian?”
“I just wondered who her next of kin was. I think she lived in Half Moon Bay.”
“As a matter of fact, her father came down to the morgue and identified her. He was pretty shaken up.”
“If they were close, he might have an idea of who would want to kill her.”
“I asked him of course, as a matter of procedure, but all he said was he wasn’t surprised at all. He said, ‘Something like this was bound to happen sooner or later.’ Then he slowly walked out with his head down.”
“Chief, I’d like to talk to him if it’s all right with you. Maybe I could find out what he meant.”
“It’s a free country, Jillian. I think Mr. Anatolia is pretty benign. He works for a flower grower out on Highway 92. I have his address right here.” Taking out his notebook, he read off the address. I grabbed up the notepad provided by the hotel next to the phone.
“Thanks. At least I feel like I’m doing something to help. Look at this room! Did you find it like this?” The bed was unmade, the covers dragged off to the side closest to the balcony. A lamp lay overturned on the floor, a long silk scarf across the chair next to the desk.
The chief nodded.
“It looks like she was strangled between the bed and the wall. Whoever did it must have dragged her body out this door and over the balcony railing.”
“Why would the murderer bother to lift a heavy body and throw it over the balcony? I mean, the body was sure to be discovered much sooner than if they had just put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door.”
“From my experience, Jillian, a murderer isn’t thinking too clearly unless it was premeditated. It’s hard to tell in this case.”
I walked over to the bed. “I suppose you’re checking for DNA from the bed.”
“The thought did cross my mind, yes. We still have to process the room so please don’t touch anything.” He laughed good-naturedly. “And, yes, we’ll check for fingerprints.”
“Well, it sounds like all we have is the means. That leaves motive and opportunity. I suppose anyone could have been in her room at that time of the morning.”
“I don’t think just anyone, Jillian.”
“You mean you don’t think it was just she and a girlfriend hanging out, catching up on old times?”
“I think that’s hardly likely. Of course, it could have been. But can you imagine a female strangling another female, then lifting the body and throwing it over a balcony?”
Looking around the room, I noticed a briefcase on the floor underneath the desk.
“Chief, when you dust for fingerprints, do you dust external surfaces only or absolutely everything?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Maybe it’s nothing, but maybe Regina had some books and papers inside that might be worth looking at.”
“I’ll check it out.” He took a handkerchief from his back hip pocket and picked up the briefcase, preparatory to taking it with him.
I put my forefinger on my chin. “Maybe it was a pretty angry female with a lot of jealous adrenaline.”
The chief looked at me. He cocked his head to one side. “You really think that’s a possibility?”
The chief looked at his watch and started for the door. “I’d better be going–lots of people to question.”
“Would you mind if I tagged along? I won’t notice everything, but I’d like to hear everyone’s alibi. Maybe something I’ve heard already will connect somehow. May I, please?”
The chief sighed heavily. “I suppose so. It can’t hurt I guess. I am in charge. I’ll tell you what. I’ll interview everyone after lunch. It’s important to get their statements as soon as possible.
“Listen, I really have to be going. Let’s say one o’clock in the small private dining room. The hotel has given me full run of the place. They want the killer caught as soon as possible.”
“One o’clock, it is.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org