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. Book 1 MURDER IN HALF MOON BAY for your e-reader is free!
Teddy greeted me at the door, “Gee, I’m glad to see you.”
It came out as two short barks, but I got the message.
The ladies would be expecting me any moment so I couldn’t take long to freshen up. My brush lay in the nightstand by the window, so I brushed mirror-less just to take in the outside view.
The fog had lifted and the sun shone gloriously on the ocean breakers. Unable to resist, I lifted the window and took in a breath of refreshing sea air.
“Oh, Teddy,” I scooped him up. “What a marvelous place this is. I promise we’ll go for a short jaunt after I get back from lunch. Okay, boy?” I set him on his towel.
Teddy looked at me with his big brown eyes, pleased with the plan, and cocked his ears as if to say, “I’ll be here waiting.”
Dominique had arrived at the Club before me. She motioned excitedly for me to join her at the back table that seated four. The pumpkin-colored mohair sweater and khaki slacks she wore flattered her brown eyes and auburn hair.
“Good morning, Jillian. Did you find out anything more about Spencer’s murder?”
“Good morning, Dominique.” I set my plate full of dainty sandwiches, fresh fruit and small squares of tasty cheeses on the table. “You’re looking lovely today.”
Dominique sipped her cranberry juice, and nodded with that smile I’d really come to love. Her soft eyes creased at the corners with genuine delight in life. She exuded a sweet demeanor. Though soft-hearted, she also carried a confidence that came from her professional dealings in her import business.
I returned to the table with a cup of tea and sat down. I silently thanked God for my food and prayed for help in finding Regina’s murderer and Spencer Hausman’s, too.
Dominique waited patiently until I ate the chicken curry sandwich, knowing how hungry I get when I’m busy with a project. I took a bite of honeydew melon and ate a square of cheese.
Dominique looked up and smiled. “Well, here are the others. Now, you’ll only have to tell your news once.”
After we exchanged greetings and I’d managed to eat at least half of the delicious food on my plate, I took a sip of my tea and felt full enough to parlay the latest information to my good friends.
“So far, ladies, it appears Regina was involved with a concern called The Venus Flytrap. Turns out it’s a research project on poisonous spores of the Brachystegia flowers.”
Ann and Nicole opened their eyes wide with surprise and question.
Dominique reacted by asking, “Our Brachystegia flowers, Zambia’s?”
“I’m afraid so. Forensics found dead plant matter in a cameo ring in Regina’s room after she was murdered. The FBI thinks she may have illegally transported the spores for sale to bio-terrorists.”
It would take a moment for the news to sink in. While I waited for that to happen I consumed the rest of the sandwiches, cheese and fruit. The women sat like statues, perhaps wondering what I had gotten us all into.
“Excuse me ladies. I’m going back for some salad.”
A dark-haired Grecian server deftly removed my empty plate. Actually, that was interesting. I looked back toward the server again and peered at him as he continued to clear other tables. Such a person could hear conversations, disputes and sensitive information due to the close quarters of the tables.
Best to wait to divulge the rest until we meet back in my room.
I returned to the small elaborate luncheon buffet to refill my plate with several delicious looking salads. The servers brought out some freshly baked rolls and I grabbed one.
A voice startled me, “Marvelous food here, don’t you think?”
I turned to see Marianne holding an empty plate and surveying all the delicacies.
“Oh, Marianne.” I kept my voice quiet not wishing to disturb the reverie of the other guests. “I’m so sorry about Spencer. So tragic.”
I blushed, trying my best to feel pity and yet feeling very little. Marianne placed a serving of roasted red and green pepper salad on her plate and sighed.
“I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that Spencer wasn’t the most well-loved person in the Society, Jillian.”
“I’d gathered that.”
She took the tongs, selected a smoked ham and pepper cheese sandwich and placed it next to the salad on her plate. Turning to me she spoke softly. “Hard working–yes. He was also officious at times, in fact most of the time, but I don’t think he really knew how to get people to like him. Actually I felt sorry for him, but in a way, now that he’s gone, I think he’s better off.”
She excused herself to sit alone at a table by a window overlooking the ocean. I wondered if she genuinely felt pity for him, or if the relief came from Spencer being out of the way. Her remark felt purposefully cryptic. For her, gardening pursuits and writing took center stage.
She seemed to have a sincere friendship with the Westovers, but real sensitivity for a man like Spencer Hausman? Maybe she was trying to feign neutrality, to look as though she had no dealings with him when he was alive.
If that were true, why did she seek him out so late on the night he was murdered? Perhaps, it was for the same reason Spencer sought Regina out late at night on the night she was murdered. There had to be a reason other than Society business.
No, something smelled off about it–some urgent matter perhaps, that couldn’t wait for morning? Maybe it involved a sale of spores: Venus Flytrap. What did Paul Youngblood mean when he said, ‘Everything is ready, tomorrow then’?
I snapped out of my reverie and returned to the table where my garden club sat.
Ann nudged me. “Jillian, are you all right?”
“I’m okay. As I said, there are too many ‘ears’ in this room.”
Everyone nodded. We leisurely finished our lunch, trying to keep the conversation light, but we found it difficult. Everyone had murder on their minds.
Dessert consisted of delicious fruit tarts and small slices of Mud Pie, a concoction of chocolate and fudge swirled together, and topped with whipped cream.
Teddy welcomed everyone back to the room with a polite tail wagging.
“Would anyone like to go for a walk? I need to take Teddy outside.”
My black flats wouldn’t do for the venture so I slipped them off and grabbed my tennis shoes.
Ann rose from her perch. “That’s exactly what I need after that Mud Pie.”
Nicole, not yet seated, agreed. “It’s either a walk or a nap and frankly, after what I’ve found out about Spencer Hausman, I couldn’t sleep anyway.”
“I certainly want to hear all about it, Nicole. Dominique, you can get Dr. Nagera’s number for me when you change your shoes. Let’s meet at the elevator in five minutes.”
Armed with Teddy on a leash and the room key in my pocket, I walked down the hall and turned left to wait for my friends in front of the Club elevator. Teddy quivered in delight, keeping in step next to me. Seeing him calmed my spirit.
Soon, the others arrived and we silently descended to the lobby level.
“Have any of you been for a walk along the beach yet?” I tried to sound casual in the presence of other hotel guests.
“I haven’t.” Dominique reacted to my cue. “But I’ve wanted to ever since I arrived.”
Nicole patted Teddy on his head. “Point the way, Jillian.”
“I’ll follow,” Ann chimed in.
Out the lobby door we went, passing the bellhops and Lewis Ibarra, who eyed us with a half-smile and polite nod of his head. I waved and smiled in return noting he looked disturbed about something. I pushed the button on my cell phone and dialed the chief.
“What’s wrong?” was his first reaction. “Where are you?”
“I’m okay, Chief. I just had a question. You seemed to know Lewis when you first arrived at the hotel. Does he have a record?”
“Lewis Ibarra?” The chief sounded surprised.
“I take it from your reaction that he doesn’t, but he’s acting awfully suspicious. I’d like to question him, but I would feel more comfortable if you were with me.”
“Jillian, now you’re talking smart. Leave it to me and I’ll set up an interview. Anything else?”
“Nicole has something. She can just tell you and we’ll listen in.”
“Efficient. Wait, who’s with you?”
I re-assured him. “Don’t worry, Chief. It’s only Ann and Dominique. We’re out for a secluded walk along the beach talking things over. No one else can hear us.”
I handed the phone to Nicole.
Taking it, she smiled shyly. “Hello, Chief.”
“Hello, Nicole. Jillian said that you have something?”
“I did find out that Spencer Hausman gambled up in Reno, primarily at Harrah’s. He ran up a considerable bill, close to $15,000. According to their records, he’d only made one payment of $8,000 since incurring the debt two years ago.”
“That’s excellent work, Nicole. Did you get the date he made the payment?”
“Yes.” She looked at the three of us with obvious satisfaction. “The payment was made two months ago, right about the time the funds went missing.”
”Bingo!” I loved my friends...so savvy.
Nicole handed the phone back to me.
“Well, Chief, that explains who the embezzler was, but why wouldn’t they just prosecute? Why kill him? It doesn’t add up.”
“I agree. Jillian, I’m sorry, but I have another call on the line. Stay in touch and tell your garden club to keep up the good work. I’ve got to go.”
Now I could tell Walter’s father the good news. I wondered if Evelyn would hire Mr. Montoya back, now that the truth was out. It would be interesting to find out her reaction when I talked to her this afternoon.
Teddy began barking at a sand crab walking awkwardly on the wet beach and woke me from my reverie. The little crab ignored the threatening barks and walked unimpressed back into the water. We all laughed at the sight.
Dominique reached into her pocket, took out a slip of paper and handed it to me. “Here’s Dr. Nagera’s address and phone information, Jillian. How do you think he can help?”
I shook my head in exasperation, but then corrected my attitude smiling-light heartedly. It was so obvious. “He may know where the Brachystegia plant matter grows and who exports it. It’s what I’m counting on. Otherwise, it may take forever to uncover that information. I’m going to call him as soon as we return from our walk.”
We stopped to rest on a bench along the path. Teddy enjoyed himself immensely smelling the sandy path for dog scents and an occasional piece of kelp. I caught his eye as he sniffed at a piece of driftwood.
“Thanks for such a great smelling walk,” he seemed to tell me.
I smiled back at him and said, “You’re welcome, boy.”
Ann touched my arm. “Are you talking to your dog, Jillian?”
I laughed and nodded emphatically, “I am. Teddy speaks to me in a language all his own.”
Ann smiled and shook her head from side to side. “You’re serious.”
As we walked slowly back to the hotel, I drank in the lovely fragrance of sage and the purple wildflowers growing along the path. They bent in a delicate dance over the walkway, moving rhythmically to the pulse of the gentle ocean breeze. The scene did not distract my mind for long.
Where was the connection between Katherine Anatolia’s death and Spencer Hausman’s? The Venus Flytrap? Katherine worked for them and Spencer used their account to siphon funds from the Seaside Nursery.
“Ann, I want you to find out from our suspects list who knew Katherine Anatolia.”
“I’ll get started the moment we get back to the lobby. I’ve noticed that most of them are uncomfortable staying in their rooms. Everyone wants to keep an eye on each other.” She held the door open for Teddy and me.
“Call me if you find out anything.”
Ann nodded, and leaned in for a much-needed hug. “We’re getting close.”
She smiled encouragingly and walked into the Lobby Bar.
Hmm…that was odd. Why would she need to tell me that?
Had I acted unsure? No, I probably looked tired. I hadn’t realized how much stress I was feeling until I accidentally bumped into Hugh. I hadn’t even seen him.
“Excuse me, Hugh.”
Wow, totally distracted and uncoordinated. What’s wrong with me?
“You’re excused, Jillian.” He laughed in his good-natured way.
I laughed too, loving his delightful British accent.
“I can tell you’re feeling the tension of this investigation, Jillian.” He leaned closer seeming to want to make certain no one overheard him. “Have the police uncovered anything about Regina or Spencer, as to why they were killed?”
I liked Hugh, but I didn’t think it wise to mention The Venus Flytrap business in case it would jeopardize the FBI’s tracking down the people involved.
I decided to give him just a small fact. “The police think that whoever murdered Regina could have murdered Spencer and possibly even Katherine Anatolia.”
“Katherine?” He looked truly surprised. “But that was over two years ago. I thought it was ruled an accidental drowning.”
“It was at the time, but now it seems Katherine and Spencer might have been connected and were both connected to Regina as well.”
I hoped the information would give him something to chew on for a while and let me get on with my call to Dr. Nagera. It seemed to do the trick because Hugh looked away and then took his leave. “I’ve got to go. Try and not overwork yourself, dear lady.”
Hugh paced slowly away, looking down at the floor.
I took the elevator back to the fifth floor, holding Teddy in my arms. A hotel guest smiled weakly at Teddy and me, as if to say, “Really? Bringing your dog to The Ritz?”
It made me hug him even closer, thinking how much more sincere most animals are than people.
I wondered about the sincerity of Regina Anatolia. She must have had innocent intentions at first when she wrote about the plant spores. How did the situation escalate until she paid with her life?
If Spencer took credit for her articles, then it made sense that he must have been contacted by someone first. Would Katherine have known about the plagiarized papers? I had to check the dates to see if Katherine died before or after Spencer stole them.
I reached the room and interrupted the housekeeper tidying up my room. She offered to come back but I insisted she continue. After all, I only needed to change my shoes before going to see the Westovers.
Teddy gratefully drank the fresh bowl of water I poured for him, then wagged his little tail and lumbered exhausted over to the freshly made bed. His sad little face bade me scoop him up and deposit him gently.
“Thanks,” he said with those large brown eyes, and laying his head down on his outstretched paws, fell asleep.
The housekeeper started on the bathroom and I decided to take a peek at her method, hoping to improve my own. “So that’s what you do.” I was impressed.
She smiled. In an act of economy, she had sprayed cleaner only on the rag and not all over the entire surface like I usually did.
After quickly finishing her duties she left.
Time to call Dr. Nagera.
Zambia was ten hours ahead and after calculating the time there, I almost lost my nerve.
Eleven o’clock at night… hmm….
But no, it couldn’t wait another day.
I dialed the international code and sat down at the desk by the window, pen and pad ready.
Fortunately, Dr. Nagera answered and sounded very much awake. He remembered Dominique and asked me to convey greetings, which I said of course I would. He then asked how he could be of help.
After I laid out the scenario of spores, bio-terrorism, murder and the FBI, there was an ominous silence for about thirty seconds. I checked my phone to see if we were still connected, and then, to my relief Dr. Nagera spoke.
“This is amazing, Mrs. Bradley that you should be calling me, now….”
“Oh, I do apologize for the late hour.”
“It isn’t the hour I was speaking of. It’s the timing of your call. First, I must explain my work before you’ll understand.”
“Dominique told me you did research on plant spores used in bio-terrorism.” I sat down on my bed next to Teddy and kicked my shoes off.
“That is correct. Specifically, I do research on the Brachystegia flower and those plants related to it. In Zambia, there are still archaic tribes who concoct killing poisons from plants. They don’t understand spores specifically. They only know that the plant matter, when dried, and then mixed with sap from certain succulents, produces a deadly poison that can be used on darts and spears.
“Now, think for a moment what a scientifically educated person could conclude. That same poison concentrated a thousand times in spore form, and then placed in an airborne container designed to explode on impact….”
“I think I understand, Dr. Nagera. Tell me, how far along is the research?”
“Far enough along that the weapons are being tested in Zambia. Secretly of course.”
“I’m sorry to have to ask you this, but are you part of the tests?”
“I personally am not. However, I believe my colleague, Dr. Hector Grant, is heading the project. We’ve been friends for thirty years, Mrs. Bradley. I feel I have no choice but to turn him in, and yet, he is my closest friend.”
I could sense the sadness in his voice.
“Dr. Nagera, listen to me. Does Dr. Grant work with anyone outside of Zambia that you know of? Perhaps someone in the United States?”
“I could find out. I’ll check on his computer, but if I do find anything, how can I securely contact you?”
“We must account for being overheard so let’s use a code of some type. I’m going to give you the names of possible suspects and if you find any of them dealing with Dr. Grant relay the first initial of their last name followed by a ‘y.’”
“And Dr. Nagera, we mustn’t talk again. Give the information to Dominique’s sister there in Zambia and have her relay it to Dominique immediately. You have her address, don’t you?”
“Yes, I know the family well. I’d better write down the names and get some rest. I suddenly feel very tired.”
“Thank you again for your help, Dr. Nagera. The names are Porter, Delacruz, Osborne, Westover, Youngblood, Anatolia, Hausman, Montoya and Ibarra. Good luck, and please be careful.”
I hung up the phone and had to shake myself back from late night in Zambia to the West’s early afternoon.
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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