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.
Mr. Anatolia sighed and then looked to the ceiling as if searching for his wife, his love, his Katherine in the thick globs of dried plaster there.
“Years ago,” he began, not yet facing me, “Katherine and I were researchers for a scientific outfit called the Bay Data Group.” He turned, walked back to where I was sitting and sat down in the small colonial rocker facing me.
“Things went very well in the beginning. We did extraordinary research in the area of migrating plant spores. Along with the discoveries we made on their migration, however, we found horrific application possibilities. The government wanted our involvement and so did other interests.”
“Namely, other countries, I should think.”
“That’s correct. Both people from other countries and our country, Jillian, are not the nicest people you’d want to be around. Anyway, Katherine and I didn’t have a problem working for our government, thinking we were working in the interest of national security.
“However, when our own government actually sent their representatives to work with us, our feelings changed dramatically. I suppose I should say my feelings changed. I think Katherine may have still been working with them without wanting me to know.”
“Mr. Anatolia, are you sure she was working behind your back?” Could this be The Venus Flytrap connection?
He sighed and looked me straight in the eye. “I don’t have any proof except for all the times she left without telling me where she was going. I had this gnawing feeling that Katherine was keeping something from me, and then on the night she died, I confronted her.”
“This was on the boat?”
I gripped the sofa edge, trying to steel myself to hearing it.
“Yes. Actually, I was more afraid of it being another man in her life.”
“And was there?”
“She said that there was no one else. She told me she loved me and she loved Regina, and anything she did was for us.” Mr. Anatolia looked at me with a puzzled expression. “I decided not to question her after that. And then, during the night, Katherine whispered she needed some air.”
“That’s the last time you saw her?”
He nodded. “After she left, I thought I was dreaming because I heard Katherine arguing with someone and I thought I was replaying our previous conversation. When I woke up she wasn’t beside me.”
“So you ran after her immediately?”
“Immediately, Jillian, but it was too late. By the time I came topside she was overboard. All I saw was a pile of rope on the deck.”
“The pile of rope that had been disturbed by someone.” I shuddered.
“I see you’ve heard the story.” I could feel him withdraw.
“Hugh Porter told me. He said that he used to work with you and Katherine.”
“That was a long time ago. Hugh is a top-notch guy. I have a great deal of respect for him. Katherine did too.”
“I don’t mean to change the subject and I really must be going soon, but you said that you knew all the accounts of the Seaside Nursery?” I stood, putting my jacket on.
“That’s correct. I’ve worked in Half Moon Bay forever.” He stood to help me.
“Does the term ‘Venus Flytrap’ mean anything to you?”
“Hmm…strange name. I’ve never heard a business called that. Catchy, though.” He looked genuinely confused by it.
He obviously knew nothing–not even that his wife was working for them at one time.
Poor man. He’d been deceived and robbed of his wife and daughter. I think I would be out of my mind.
“Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Anatolia. You get some rest now, and please know that we’re doing all we can to find answers.”
Pulling away from Anatolia’s house, I decided to check with the chief for the tail he’d promised to send. There was a car following me, but it was a champagne Camry. Something was wrong here. I felt scared but told myself not to panic.
I pulled out onto the highway and spotted a different car keeping chase as well. That car had to be my tail. I floored the accelerator and prayed I’d reach the station in time. The car directly behind me abruptly turned left at the next intersection. The other car followed it close behind.
“Better late than never.” I heaved a sigh of relief. I prayed the tail managed to report the license number.
I pulled into the station and headed inside. The chief was in his office when I burst through the door.
“Jillian!” He extended his hand.
Taking it, I almost babbled. “I’m so glad you’re here. The Camry was following me, but your tail followed him.”
I looked around the room and noticed two gentlemen in dark blue suits sitting in the shadows.
Taking me by the arm he motioned for the gentlemen to stand.
“Jillian, I’d like you to meet Agent Boyle, and Agent Chambers. They’re from the FBI. Gentlemen, Jillian Bradley, the lady I was telling you about.”
After these perfunctory introductions, the chief got down to business. “I’ve told them everything we know so far. These men tell me the substance found in the cameo ring was indeed dead plant material but there were no dangerous spores. However, it seems when you mix the Brachystegia flora with certain other substances it becomes a poison used in Africa to coat spearheads and darts that are deadly.”
“Chief, why would Regina carry useless plant material around like that? I mean, what would be the point?”
The shorter agent spoke up. “The point is, Mrs. Bradley, Miss Anatolia had possession of the flora and it was proof more could be obtained.”
The chief nodded. “What we don’t know, obviously, is who her contact was.”
“Chief, you said that The Venus Flytrap address was Regina’s. Have you been out there yet?”
The dark-suited agents both again stood and looked at the chief for answers.
“We’re just on our way, Jillian. Gentlemen, shall we?” The chief gestured an invitation.
“I’m coming too.” I picked up my black shoulder strap purse and slung it over my arm.
The chief took a call on the way out to Regina’s house. “Rats!” He slapped the phone shut.
“Deputy Cortez lost the Camry.” He bent his chin to his neck and peered at the ground in frustration.
“What about the license number?”
“He did get the number fortunately. Our friends here are checking it out as we speak.”
“Your friend Walter was right.” Agent Boyle stepped up behind us as we made our way through the office. “It was Nevada all right. The car checked out to belong to a police officer who reported it stolen last week.”
“So we’re back to square one.”
“Now, don’t get discouraged, Chief. Walter is still checking out who’s been driving it at the hotel.”
Regina’s house stood out from her neighbors with great curb appeal. The gray stucco exterior trimmed with white shutters formed the perfect backdrop for her lovely landscaped yard. Colorful petunias filled the flowerbed that hugged the home in circular elegance.
Interspersed between them and the manicured shrubs grew a cluster of fall mums. A large shade tree, bordered with azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias, would look spectacular when the shrubs bloomed in the spring. What a pity she wouldn’t be here to see it.
A flagstone walkway welcomed guests to the front door. It cut through the emerald green lawn, which spread out impeccably free of weeds. We approached the welcome mat that pictured ivy growing along its borders.
“From the looks of the yard I’d say Regina knew what she was doing with plants. Look at it. Everything is perfect. Not a weed or even a dead blossom anywhere.” I was truly amazed.
“Let’s go inside and check it out.”
The chief unlocked the door. The two agents and I followed him into the front hall. A dark carved wood table graced the entryway with a matching carved mirror above. I stared just a bit at my reflection. Hmm, I really could have done more with myself. My hair had become terribly windblown.
I had just smoothed most of my hair back into place with my hands when the living room spread out before us. It was decorated with understated sofas and chairs covered in chocolate suede. The hardwood floors gleamed.
The agents checked out the two bedrooms and hall bath, finding nothing. The chief and I wandered into the kitchen. It was painted sunshine yellow with white appliances and red countertops. Red and white gingham curtains hung at the windows over the sink near the back door. A small table and two chairs sat in a nook with pictures of flowers on the walls.
“All in all, it’s a cozy little house here.” The chief looked approving.
At that moment, I noticed a narrow door leading off from the back of the kitchen.
“Look at this, Chief.” I headed toward it. “It may lead somewhere.”
“It’s probably a pantry.” He inspected the door.
That’s just what it was. He opened it, and I reached for a can of marinara sauce. Barilla© brand. I didn’t actually touch it before accidentally knocking over some cans behind it.
“Great job, Jillian.” The chief poked me. “Great way to defile her house.”
He may have been kidding, but that didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to leave everything as she had left it. It was only proper.
I reached far back into the shelf to retrieve the rebellious cans and pushed against the outside edge. The shelf moved. I nearly lost my balance.
“Chief, look.” I pushed the shelf to the right. The wall behind it gave way and opened up into another room.
“Good work. Stay here while I get the agents.”
“No problem. I’m not going in there without you.”
He chuckled at that, but I was dead serious. This room without a door, in full dark, gave me the creeps.
When he returned with the agents, he stepped in first and flipped on a light. Windowless, it was an office with two desks, two chairs, a filing cabinet and one puny overhead light. The light barely illuminated the tiny space, giving a tinge of dingy yellow, making everything look dirtier than it probably was.
“We’ll take it from here, Chief.” Agent Chambers pushed forward.
Unlike the tidy yard and interior of the house, the tiny office lay cluttered with documents, paper cups half-filled with cold coffee and trashcans overflowing with paper. The two agents ordered us not to touch anything and called for backup.
“They’ll need bags to bring in all of this stuff as evidence.” The chief nodded approval. “Come on, Jillian; let’s get back to the station.”
I followed closely behind him as we got into the car. “Chief, did you find anything in Regina’s belongings you took from her room at the hotel?”
“I didn’t see anything unusual. Just personal stuff and a briefcase filled with papers relating to the conference. The only other thing was a book.”
“A book?” I looked up from clasping the seat belt.
“Yeah, it was some gardening book. I didn’t really notice the title. Do you think it could be important?”
“Hmm. I want to see it, just in case.”
We wasted no time when we arrived back at the station. The book was in a protective plastic bag but I made note of the title and checked the flyleaf to see if there were any inscriptions. On the front inside cover were just three words, all my love.
Why hadn’t the inscriber signed their name? My brain recalled a recent image of a book being signed but the image vanished before any details materialized.
“Chief, would it be possible to get prints off that book?”
“You think it’s important to take prints off of something inside her briefcase?” The chief shook his head, and then sighed. “Okay, Jillian. If you think it’s important, I’ll send it over to the lab and check for prints.”
“Thanks.” I smiled. He was just indulging me.
“Listen, Chief, I’m meeting my garden club for lunch. Then I have an appointment with the Westovers at three o’clock.”
“All right.” The chief took off his jacket and settled in behind his desk. “I’m looking forward to hearing from the special agents as to what they’ve found.”
In an uncharacteristic display of sympathy, he shook his head and let out a long breath. “Why would a young woman like Regina get mixed up with a covert operation like The Venus Flytrap?”
I shrugged, as if shrugging could undo all of the evil, secret dealings we’d uncovered. “Why would anyone do anything illegal–money?”
“Love?” He added his guess.
I couldn’t help but see that photo in my mind, the one with Katherine Anatolia dead on the ship deck.
If you like to read about lovely places and fabulous cuisine,
enjoy the Jillian Bradley mystery series.
Book 1 MURDER IN HALF MOON BAY
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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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