The Mark of Eden Book 4From the back cover...
After a frantic call from a couple on their honeymoon, Jillian returns to Half Moon Bay to help. Two elderly men are found dead in their recliners, and now another man is missing. This time it's the distraught father of the bride, Jillian's personal assistant Cecilia Montoya. Their investigation must be incognito since the groom, Detective Walter Montoya, can't work on the case due to a conflict of interest. The clues culminate with Jillian and Teddy taking a cruise to Catalina Island, but it's only an entree into a strange clinical world where she almost becomes a victim herself. Will Teddy be in time to save the day?
Daisy Larsen bustled. She bustled at home tending her garden, feeding the cat, and getting out invoices for her plant care business named ‘The Plant Lady.’ She even bustled as she made calls throughout the day, watering, fertilizing, and grooming plants of every size and description. Her kind-looking face held a spirit of honesty and forthrightness, but that did not deter her from being a woman unafraid to take charge.
Daisy made a tidy sum from her plant maintenance business, enough to pay the rent, to feed herself (and the cat), and to have some fun money which she usually used on the weekends going out with friends for dinner and a movie. She looked forward to it being the end of the week. Tonight, she’d have a chance to kick back and relax before the upcoming fun.
The Plant Lady, dressed in a blue plaid shirt and jeans, pulled up in front of her client’s house that afternoon. She parked the van and began gathering up her purse and clipboard holding the checklist and billing statement for the month. She thought about how nice it would be to finish this last call, to get home, and kick off her shoes. Then, of course, she’d pop open a soda and check the mail.
Last call. Yes, old Mr. Pascal and his nine houseplants. She had cared for them this past year and a half.
Hoisting herself out of the van, she flung the strap of her purse over her shoulder, held the clipboard in one hand, locked the door with the other, and congratulated herself for remembering to set the parking brake. The hills in Half Moon Bay were unforgiving if you forgot to put it on. Her car rolled down a hill once and struck a parked car. That was enough of a lesson for her.
As she started up the walkway, she noticed the blinds were closed.
She hoped he was home.
Upon further examination, she found a few dead spots in the yard. Most unusual. Mr. Pascal had an automatic sprinkler system and one of the best lawn services in town.
She approached the door and rang twice. It was her special ring, to alert him that it was her. When no one answered, Daisy decided to knock.
“Mr. Pascal? It’s Daisy, The Plant Lady. Anybody home?” She called again even louder.
She decided to check her calendar to make sure she had the right day, although she seldom got her appointments wrong.
“That’s strange.” She found it was indeed the correct day. “I’d better check my phone to see if he left a message.”
There was no message from him.
Peering through the front door pane, she noticed a light on in the living room, which wasn’t unusual. Mr. Pascal spent a lot of time reading, as he had often lent her books.
After Daisy knocked again and still no answer, she began to worry that something might be wrong. She wondered if he’d had a stroke or something. After all, he was elderly.
“I’ll try the back and see if I can get in.”
She couldn't ignore someone who might be in need.
Daisy tucked the clipboard under her arm and tried opening the back door. It was unlocked. She pushed it open halfway and stopped. An unpleasant smell greeted her. Mr. Pascal needed to empty his trash!
Daisy wondered if he might be in the shower, but the water wasn't running—that she could hear.
“Mr. Pascal?” She called softly at first. She finally yelled. “Mr. Pascal, are you home?”
He was sitting in his recliner in the living room, presumably taking a nap. The TV was on, the volume turned low.
Daisy knew he was hard of hearing, so she called his name in a crisp tone as she walked toward him.
Mr. Pascal did not answer. In fact, he didn’t move at all.
Oh dear. He’s dead. Mr. Pascal’s dead!
Although she had been to a few funerals, Daisy had never been this close to a dead body before, and the stench filled her nostrils. The room began to feel stifling. She went weak in the knees, and her stomach began to turn. She wanted to sit down, but she had sense enough not to touch anything.
Glancing around the room, she took note that nothing was out of order. It didn’t look like a robbery. Still, something was bothering her about the room. She couldn’t put her finger on it. Perhaps he died of heart failure. After all, he was elderly, and people did often die like that.
Poor old Mr. Pascal. He had never spoken of having any family. It had been just he and his wife until she died about a year and a half ago. He had only hired Daisy to keep the plants alive. It was a small way to continue to feel his wife’s presence. She had cared for the plants as if they were her children since she had been unable to conceive.
With her hands shaking, Daisy called 911, then left through the back door and went to her van to wait for the police.
It was only a matter of minutes until two police officers arrived. Daisy got out of her van to meet them. The man apparently in charge, a solidly built, sandy-haired officer wearing an official looking blue uniform and white Stetson hat, lumbered over to her. He wore a holster and gun, yet carried himself with such confidence that Daisy wondered if he ever even used the weapon.
“Are you the one who called?”
“Yes, sir. I’m Daisy Larsen.”
“I’m Chief Deputy Frank Viscuglia.” He presented his badge. Turning to the man behind him, who presented his badge as well, the chief said, “This is Officer John Mueller, my deputy.”
Daisy could only nod briefly at the introductions.
The two officers took rubber gloves from their pockets and put them on. “I’d like for us to go inside if you don’t mind, ma’am,” said the officer in charge.
Daisy did mind, but felt it was her duty as a good citizen to cooperate with the police. She took a deep breath and led them around back, explaining how she had found the back door open. Then she showed them Mr. Pascal.
When the chief saw that there was indeed a corpse in the living room, his demeanor changed from skeptical to alert. He ordered an ambulance, then adjusted his Stetson, took out a notepad from his pocket, and turned to Daisy.
“I need to get your statement. What did you say your last name was?”
“It’s Larsen, Daisy Larsen. I’m sorry, but I think I’m still in shock, finding him like that. He was fine when I stopped by the last time.”
“When was that?” The chief made an entry in his notes.
“It was two weeks ago. I do his plants bi-weekly.”
“And that was the last time you saw Mr. Pascal alive, correct?”
“Yes, it was.”
The chief noticed the sadness in her voice.
“May I get your address and phone information?” He continued to make notes.
Daisy took in the room. How had Mr. Pascal become such a neat housekeeper all of a sudden?
Glancing at the mantel, Daisy said softly, “It’s gone.”
“Ma’am?” asked Deputy Mueller, “What’s gone?”
“Her picture. Mr. Pascal’s picture of his wife is missing. It was in a beautiful silver-filigreed frame. He always keeps it, or kept it, where he could see it when he sat in his chair. Now it’s gone.”
The chief stopped writing. “Who do you think might have taken it?”
“I can’t imagine! He had no family that I knew of. Who would want a picture of someone else’s wife? Something just isn’t right about it. Look.” She pointed to the television Deputy Mueller was about to turn off. “The remote…that remote was next to the TV when I came in. Mr. Pascal would have had that remote by his chair if he had been watching something.”
“Good point.” Viscuglia pulled out his phone and dialed. “It’s the chief. We’ll need a forensics team. Some suspicious circumstances.” He gave the address. “Mule, get a picture of the body and one of the TV. There might be something.”
“Thank you,” said Daisy. “It’s the least we can do if someone killed him.”
“Truthfully, ma’am, if this is a homicide, we’d better find the killer or he might kill again, if he hasn’t already.” The chief paused and thought back a few years when another middle-aged woman had raised similar questions at a crime scene.
Chief Viscuglia looked at Deputy Mueller. “I think that will be all for now. Ms. Larsen. We’d like to talk to you some more, but first, I’ll get a coroner’s report so we’ll be starting with as many facts as we can.”
“I can meet anytime you want. I’m sure my clients will cooperate in rearranging their appointments. Most of them are real troopers. And after all, this is their civic duty.”
“Thank you, Ms. Larsen. We’ll be in touch and talk to you later.”
“Sir, what’s to become of his plants? Would you like me to take them and find good homes for them? I mean, after the investigation, of course.”
“I’m sure that would be okay. I’ll let you know when you can come get them.”
“Thank you. I’m sure Mr. Pascal would have appreciated it.”
The chief motioned for them to leave, adjusted his Stetson again, and held the door open for her with his gloved hand. “In case of fingerprints.”
As Daisy got back into her van, suddenly the thrill and adrenaline kicked in. She couldn’t wait to call her mother and tell all of her friends what had just happened.
Another detective, one of Chief Viscuglia’s former protégés, was walking out the front door of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider Hotel arm-in-arm with his new bride, Cecilia.
Oahu was gorgeous this time of year. The air was warm and tropical, caressing the islanders and tourists alike with its delightful scent of plumeria and ginger blossoms.
The newlyweds took the sidewalk down the street toward the aquarium, strolling hand in hand.
“Happy?” Walter Montoya, Jr. looked lovingly at his new wife.
“Yes.” She laid her head against his shoulder for a moment. “I still can’t believe Jillian gave us this honeymoon for a wedding present. It’s so incredible!”
Walter nodded and looked at her. “Jillian is one in a million. A little eccentric the way she fawns over Teddy, but in spite of that little quirk, she’s the most generous person I know, and one of the brightest. I don’t know how we were lucky enough to meet her, Cecilia.”
Cecilia smiled in a knowing way and let go of his hand.
“I don’t believe it was luck at all.”
“You mean you believe it was fate?”
“Well, yes and no.”
“I know,” he said in a kidding kind of way. “You think God worked this all out ahead of time, don’t you?”
She looked at him a little defensively and slowed her walk.
“Yes, I do, and I think you should be glad He did. I know I am. Think about it, sweetheart. How else could two people like us, with absolutely no backgrounds to speak of, wind up like this? You’re an up-and-coming-detective for Clover Hills now, I’m a journalist with some excellent stories to my credit, and here we are on our honeymoon in Hawaii staying at the oldest, most charming hotel on Waikiki Beach. No, my darling, this did not all happen by chance. And who knows what else God has planned for us?”
“All right, my love.” Walter smiled. “I do agree with you. But I think I’d agree with anything you said right now because I love you so much.”
“Look.” She nodded to the right. “The aquarium is just up ahead.”
They started to walk towards the entrance, but Cecilia held back.
“Just a minute. I promised Dad I would call him and I just now remembered. He said I didn’t have to, but I said I wanted to.”
“Sure, honey. We’ll sit down over here while you make your call.” After sitting down on a bench, Cecilia called her father.
A family passed by and stood in line to get their tickets while Walter waited patiently.
Cecilia frowned. “He’s not answering.”
“Maybe his battery is dead.”
“I don’t think so, dearest. He charges it every night before he goes to bed. I’ll try again after we go through the aquarium. I saw an advertisement for it back at the hotel, and the exotic species they have are quite remarkable. I’m sure Dad’s all right.”
But the moment those words left Cecilia’s lips, she felt a slight pang of doubt.
Back on the mainland, in the quaint upscale town of Clover Hills, California, Jillian Bradley was enjoying a brief morning excursion into downtown where she had decided to pay a visit to her favorite gallery. Even though she knew she really didn’t need any more art for her home, she couldn’t resist looking at what was for sale.
Prentice Duvall, the proprietor, was with a customer when she entered. Seeing who had just stepped through the door carrying a cheetah-print dog satchel, Prentice paused, waved a hello, and motioned for Jillian to join them.
Placing a friendly kiss on his cheek, Jillian smiled. “Hello, Prentice. I can wait until you’re finished. Please, go ahead. I’ve come to take a peek at the new exhibit.”
“No, it’s quite all right, Jillian. It’s always good to see you. I want you to meet a favorite customer of mine. This is Dr. Ira Sinclair. Dr. Sinclair, Jillian Bradley. She writes the “Ask Jillian” column for the San Francisco Enterprise.”
Dr. Sinclair extended his hand, “This is a pleasure, Ms. Bradley. I’ve seen your column in the Enterprise. You’re quite famous.” He was a portly man with faded strawberry blond hair and ruddy skin. Shrewd hazel eyes stood out behind his blond lashes. He wore an expensive sports coat over neatly pressed slacks. His ears stood out a little farther than most, as if he were equipped to hear more things than most people did.
Prentice started to pet the tiny Yorkie in the satchel, but instead remarked, “I thought I’d heard from someone that Teddy passed away recently, but here he is!”
The tiny dog yipped excitedly several times because of the attention.
Jillian admonished his behavior.
“Bad dog,” she said, placing her fingertip firmly on his nose. ”We don’t bark inside stores.”
He hung his head in shame and huddled down inside the satchel. She patted him gently. “You know I love you, but you need to mind your manners.
“Actually, you’re right on both accounts,” she said. “Many people don’t know that I’ve always had a Yorkie. When one of them would pass away, I couldn’t help but replace him with another one.”
“I see. I’m sorry for your loss, but who is this little guy?”
“This is Teddy number two.”
Jillian turned to Dr. Sinclair and smiled.
He didn’t seem to mind the interruption of his business with Prentice. “Please go on, I’d like to hear the explanation, too.”
“I suppose I’m just sentimental.” Jillian stroked the tiny dog gently. “After I lost my husband many years ago, I bought myself a Yorkie and named him Teddy after my husband, Ted.”
Prentice nodded. “He was quite a dog, as I remember.”
“Yes, he was a dear companion for me. After he died, my niece had a Yorkie that needed more attention than she could provide, so she asked me to give him a home.”
“And you did.” Ira looked approving.
“I did. It’s taken some getting used to because he’s so much more active than my last dog. I’m training him, though, and thoroughly enjoying it. He’s quite fierce!”
Prentice spoke up. “Dr. Sinclair is an entrepreneur, Jillian. He and I were selecting some new pieces for his office. Jillian has quite a knack for choosing fine art. She’s quite the collector, Ira.”
Jillian studied the entrepreneur for a moment. “Are you an art lover, Dr. Sinclair?”
“I’ve never thought about it. But I’d like your opinion, Jillian. I mean, it sounds like you have a real appreciation for fine art. I, on the other hand, have difficulty trying to decide, because I like them all.”
“I don’t know if I could be of any help.” She couldn’t help feeling flattered. “I find selecting art is about personal taste. A piece should either be something you can’t live without, or wouldn’t care if you never saw it again.”
“I like that.” Ira nodded. “Prentice, I think I should get to know this lady better.”
Jillian blushed. That remark made her feel like a young co-ed again, and since she and Prentice often dined together, she could tell by his face that he took Ira’s remark as personal competition for her attention. Sensing the tension, she decided to change the subject.
“I should be getting back to work, and it’s time for Teddy’s nap. Dr. Sinclair….”
“Please, call me Ira.”
“Well, Ira, it was nice meeting you.”
Ira pulled a business card from his inside coat pocket and handed it to her. “I want you to visit my office at your first opportunity. You’ll be able to get a better idea of what art I need. If I haven’t heard from you in three days, I’m calling to escort you personally.”
Jillian took the card and felt both flattered and honored at the interest he was taking in her. He was self-confident, for sure.
“I’ll be happy to come take a look, but I’m not sure when I can get away. Well, I really must be going.”
“Are we still on for dinner tomorrow evening?” Prentice made it a point.
“As far as I know. I’ll call you if my plans change.” She gave him another small kiss on the cheek and, with Teddy in tow, left the gallery.
Dr. Ira Sinclair watched her in admiration until she was out of sight.
Turning back to Prentice, he asked, “How long has she been a widow?”
“Too long,” said Prentice.
As she drove home, Jillian considered whether to pursue Ira’s offer. She didn’t like being told what to do and was a little uncomfortable with his aggressiveness. By the time she got home, she had made up her mind to forget the whole thing. I really don’t have time. He was probably only flirting with me. If he was an entrepreneur, he could afford an interior designer to choose art for him. He didn’t need her. Still, for a woman in her sixties it was nice to be flirted with.
Jillian took Teddy out of the satchel and let him out in the back yard to run around for a moment. She looked admiringly at her picturesque garden, remembering the lovely wedding of Cecilia and Walter in her gazebo only a few weeks ago.
Teddy raced around, yipping at a bird who had intruded on his territory, as if wanting to make a good impression on her with his watchdog skills.
It made her smile. She was glad she had agreed to take him. The Yorkie was such an intelligent breed of dog, and she was going to teach this one the manners he lacked.
Teddy was tuckered out after the training session.
Jillian picked him up and laid him on his special blanket on the living room sofa, while she went to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea.
“I think I’ll have blackberry sage this time.” She filled the kettle, set it on the stove to heat, then took down a pretty pink-flowered teacup trimmed in gold from the cupboard, along with a small bowl of sugar cubes, and placed a small silver spoon on the saucer next to the cup. While she waited for the water to boil, she went to her Chippendale secretary desk, opened up her computer, and got ready to work on her column.
“I’d better check my e-mails before I start, just in case.” Before she hit the inbox button, the teakettle whistled and she went back into the kitchen to finish making the tea.
“No cookies this time. I have to keep this weight off or I won’t fit into anything.”
She thought of how fortunate she was to have Marlea Bartelt, her personal shopper who was so gifted, knowing exactly what to buy. All Jillian had to do was tell her what the occasion was and Marlea brought four complete ensembles over.
With her cup of tea in hand, Jillian returned to her computer and checked her inbox. Scrolling down and deleting anything unessential, she came to a curious message from her personal assistant.
Please call me. — Cecilia
After figuring out it was three hours earlier in Hawaii, Jillian made the call. She glanced down at Teddy, fast asleep on his back with all four paws in the air. Not a care in the world. She wondered why Cecilia had called and hoped it wasn’t serious. A lover’s quarrel perhaps? I suppose I’ll soon find out.
It was Walter who answered Jillian’s call, which surprised her.
“Is everything all right? I just got Cecilia’s e-mail.”
“Hi, Jillian. Everything is fine. We’re having a fantastic honeymoon, thanks to you. It’s like Paradise over here. How are you and Teddy getting along?”
“Just fine, thanks. I’m in the process of training him. He’s very smart, I’m happy to say.”
“I’m glad. I’m handing the phone to Cecilia. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Jillian?” Cecilia sounded concerned, no matter what Walter had said.
“I just got your message. What’s the matter, dear?”
“I’m not sure anything is the matter. I just needed to talk to you and get your advice.”
Jillian had no idea if Cecilia was about to ask anything delicate, but since Cecilia’s mom had died, Jillian was prepared to answer any questions as if she was the young woman’s own mother.
“I’ve tried to call my dad several times and I can’t reach him. I’m worried that something has happened.”
“Did you try calling his work?”
“Yes. They said he told them he was taking some time off and would let them know when he was coming back.”
“That doesn’t sound like your father, Cecilia. Did he actually talk to them?”
“No. That’s just it. They received an e-mail. They called him, of course, but he never answered. Jillian, I’m really worried.”
“Now listen, Cecilia. I’m sure there must be a reason he wanted to be by himself. I know he’s been grieving since losing your mother.
“I know, Jillian, but it’s just not like him to go off like this and not let me know.”
Cecilia began to break down and cry.
Jillian felt a little worried. After all, this was their honeymoon. They shouldn’t have to be worrying about her dad, but Jillian could sense both of them were.
Walter got back on the phone again. “Sorry, Jillian. Cecilia is pretty upset and I am, too. We haven’t told you the worst part.”
“What is it, Walter? How could it be worse unless they found him…?”
“Yeah. Only it’s not her dad they found. It was another older gentleman.”
“In Half Moon Bay?”
“Yeah. I was checking with work when I came across it.”
“I thought you were supposed to be on your honeymoon.”
“I only checked after Cecilia couldn’t get hold of her dad.”
“I see. Does this mean you’ll be coming home soon?”
“I’m afraid so. It’s only one day earlier than we’d planned. I was able to get an earlier flight. I could stay forever, though.”
“You can tell me all about it when you get home. Now what can I do in the meantime? Just tell me.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen when we get back. Just be ready. And pray that her dad’s okay. I don’t like it, Jillian. I don’t like it one bit.”
“I will, Walter. Tell Cecilia I love her and not to worry. I will pray. Take care now, and I’ll see you when you get home.”
See you in my books!