Tuesday, July 30, 2019

What Happens in Book 2, The Ghost Orchid Murder?

At the end of "Murder in Half Moon Bay" it says, "Not the end." Eight years later, this is what happens!


I took off my glasses, rubbed the bridge of my nose, and glanced down at my Yorkshire terrier, Teddy, curled up asleep on his pillow next to my desk. This was a long session. The words on my computer screen were jumbling together.
“I need a break, Teddy. Would you like to go outside for a minute?”
Like a kid eager for ice cream, Teddy jumped off his pillow and headed toward the back yard. That meant a path from my office through the conservatory. It took him no time to reach his destination, and soon he scratched on the door, begging to roll on the lawn.
So much for work.
“All right, all right.” I followed him through the house. “Here you go.” I opened the door, and Teddy darted outside. The yard was green and beautiful with a smell of freshly cut grass. Gorgeous weather. Working any more would prove hopeless.
For my own rest break, I took some cottage cheese, pineapple slices, and cold roast chicken I keep on hand for protein boosts from the refrigerator. It would be a mid-morning meal.
“One last addition…a nice glass of cranberry juice, and I’ll be all set.”
I smiled, placed the food and juice on a floral tray, and added a napkin and a set of silverware. I would feast in the conservatory where I could view Teddy frolicking in the yard, chasing dead leaves in the breeze.
Warm sunlight gleamed in beams streaming through the glass. The conservatory. It was the perfect place to get my daily fifteen minutes of vitamin D. But, there was something about the room…something missing. Another painting, perhaps on the adjacent wall to accentuate the he beautiful garden view. I sat on the rattan sofa, contemplating the sort of piece I wanted as I ate.
After the last bite of chicken and final sip of juice, I set my glass down and let out a sigh.
“Break over.”
Opening the door I called, “Come on in, Teddy. Work time.”
Work…I didn’t hate it. But today had been especially stressful. Glued to my computer with a fear that put fire into my typing fingers, I had searched through numerous news releases since receiving a call from a friend of mine, Arthur Wingate.
A few weeks ago, Arthur approached me to help him win an important research grant from a wealthy couple who happened to be in my circle of acquaintances. The Hansens were devoted to the preservation of rare American flora on the verge of extinction. My degree in horticulture, my Master’s in botany, and years of experience working as a contributor for various gardening magazines gave Arthur the impression that I might bring a few interesting sidelights to the work he was doing.
He had invited me to attend a ceremony at the Sanctuary Resort and Spa in Scottsdale to hear the winner announced. My bags were packed, the garden weeded, timers for watering were set, and the neighbors had graciously agreed to pick up my morning paper. Then the dreadful news came.
It had been a shock and surprise. Of course, I would do all I could to help him. A technical assistant on the competing team had been found dead in one of their offices in Phoenix just yesterday. Arthur discovered the body upon arriving for work. The light was on. He peeked inside and was horrified at the bloody scene.
Arthur described the man lying on his back, arms outstretched. Someone had placed what looked like a white ghost orchid over his heart, right on top of the bullet wound. Arthur called the police immediately.
They arrived a short time later, and soon, the homicide detective and the coroner had sized up the crime scene, zeroing in on the orchid.
After he gazed upon it for some moments, the detective commented on how real it looked.
Arthur told me he was badly shaken and could barely speak due to the shock of seeing a colleague in such a state. My friend explained to the detective that the ghost orchid only bloomed in the early summer, and this was November.
My friend said the detective seemed puzzled when he pulled on his gloves and carefully lifted the thin, delicate flower from the body, discovering that the orchid wasn’t real. Instead, it was a lifelike piece of porcelain. 
I focused on the screen. Demanding discipline from myself, I clicked on one more Wikipedia article that promised answers.

The American ghost orchid is a rare and beautiful species of orchid found in the southwestern part of Florida and Cuba. The flower roots grow deep in the moist, swampy forests on the trunks of the bald cypress tree. Their roots blend in so well with the tree, the flower often seems to float in midair, hence its name “ghost orchid.”
These orchids are so rare that when a giant one surfaced in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in 2007, a flood of observers from all over the world flocked to southern Florida to view the specimen which contained eleven flowers on one stalk. Each bloom was the size of a hand. 

I glanced at my hand, and allowed my fingers to uncurl from the keys. A bloom…as big as a hand. What a sight that must be. Well, surely that was enough. I clicked ‘send’ on the e-mail that contained links to the information. Hopefully, it would be of some help to him. As far as I knew, no one had canceled the award ceremony.
After watering the plants on the porch and in the conservatory one last time and placing Teddy in his crate, I locked up the house. While loading Teddy and my bags into my Jeep Cherokee, I felt a sense of foreboding. The skies had grown overcast and the brightness of the day seemed to dwindle. Surely, it was nothing. Everything would be fine. Now, on to the airport to meet Cecilia. 
Cecilia Chastain, my personal assistant, was my right arm. An extra right arm was needed for a person like me so I could be two places at once. Teddy required constant care, but I couldn’t take him everywhere. Cecilia was indispensable, not only in my work, but also in caring for my precious canine companion as well. She and I were to fly into Phoenix together.
I kept running over in my mind how a man like Arthur Wingate could possibly be involved in a murder. I thought about how jovial he was, always making us laugh when we became a little overheated about a subject like deforestation or insensitive land users.
He and his wife Diana had been colleagues prior to their marriage twelve years ago. Before that, Arthur never had the time for relationships outside of work. He was certainly the workaholic type. When he met Diana, however, they fit hand-in-glove, and the chemistry between them happily resulted in marriage.
I was looking forward to seeing them again, but the murder cast a pall over our visit. 
Teddy was grateful to climb out of his carrier after being stuffed under the seat for two hours. I attached his leash to his red rhinestone-studded collar, and our little party marched through the airport to retrieve our bags. Heads turned to watch Teddy prancing along and wagging his tail.
After giving himself a good shake, he blew a tiny sneeze to clear his sinuses and looked up at me.
“This exercise feels good after being cooped up so long,” he seemed to communicate to me, as he often does.
I scooped him up and gave him a squeeze. Cecilia and I piled into the rental car and headed into traffic.
Phoenix is, admittedly, the largest city in Arizona at around 4.3 million people, boasting some of the hottest temperatures and some of the best southwestern food you’ll ever taste. Right in the middle of the metropolis sits majestic Camelback Mountain, looking just like its name—a large rust-colored dromedary camel towering over the city. Fabulous palm-studded resorts nestle at the mountain’s base with casitas, swimming pools in the shape of camels, spas, golf courses, and exclusive shops available for tourists with money to spend. How nice that included Cecilia and me.
Cecilia was such a Godsend. We’d met eight years before while she’d worked as a hotel housekeeper to earn her way through college. Through the years, we’d stayed in touch and worked out an arrangement for her to be my personal assistant.
Besides her strong work ethic, I was impressed with her being one of the few people I’d ever met who never used the “five Cs.” Because she never complained, compared, condemned, criticized, or cursed, she certainly had my respect. We became fast friends.
Today, she wore her long auburn hair straight with bangs curved to the side and sported a cute pair of glasses and hat for the Phoenix sun. Typical for tourists like us.
The rental car gave us a smooth ride through the sights. Towering saguaro cacti and a few yuccas were still in bloom, sending tall white stalks high into the air. To the north side of the mountain, the gated communities of Paradise Valley sprang into view. As we turned right off 44th Street, custom million-dollar homes of every style and shape dotted the mountainside. A sign for the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa entrance marked our way. We turned into the winding desert path to Guest Reception.
Three valets in gold polo shirts and tan slacks opened our car doors and welcomed us to the Sanctuary. All of the grant contenders would reside here through the ceremony.
“This is really different, isn’t it?” Cecilia stepped out of the car and paused to gaze up at the entrance. The building was art itself. 
Influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Asian-inspired architecture incorporated the natural desert setting. Winding brick and flagstone paths ran in between each casita, and each of them had a unique desert garden. I had to agree with her; it was definitely different from the green rolling hills of San Francisco.
I checked us in at the small reception area. Original art lined the walls, all excellent works, and all were for sale. This, of course, intrigued me.
The young receptionist interrupted my musings. “You have a message waiting in your room, Mrs. Bradley.”
I noted her name badge. “Thank you, Rebecca.”
“If you need anything or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.” She smiled.
Before climbing aboard the golf cart loaded with our luggage, Teddy pulled on his leash, leading us to a nearby mountain laurel that he wanted to sniff. He wagged his tail, indicating he was thoroughly going to enjoy his stay.
“We have a dog lawn if he needs to pay a visit,” the young valet offered.
Teddy barked a tiny yip as an affirmation that he knew exactly what had been said. This trip was going to be delightful.
The young driver, whose name badge read “David,” made small welcoming talk and recognized my name from The San Francisco Enterprise.
“Yeah, my mom reads your column all the time. Says she learns more about gardening from your answers than from any gardening book. You should see her collection of plants.
“I guess you know what you’re talking about because my mom’s garden is really something, Mrs. Bradley. Would you like to get a tour of the grounds sometime while you’re here? If you want, I could set it up for you.”
David was trained to be chatty, I’m sure, to put guests at ease.
“I’d love a tour. Thank you. Perhaps I’ll call once my schedule becomes clear.”
Arthur’s message was an invitation for dinner just after a private meeting on the Jade Bar patio. The representatives of the contending project teams would be there and the facilitator, Herbert Jamison, as well, who represented the grant donors. This was all going to be so fun.
I settled into my comfortable earth-hued room. The design made the dramatic views of Camelback Mountain even more spectacular. Various travel and shopping magazines beckoned next to a tray on the nightstand. Perhaps those would make good reading later. Hopefully, I might get to do some shopping while I was here in neighboring Scottsdale.
A comfortable over-sized chair and another long chaise holding colorful throws paired well with an armless geometric print chair and a small brass table. Tiny lights hung from the ceiling, interspersed among the dark wooden beams. There were even candles.
I flipped the switch next to the lava rock fireplace. Flames rolled up, and their crackle accented the classical music station I found on the clock radio. I unpacked my bags and made sure Cecilia was comfortably settled.
After seeing that Teddy had fresh water and a dog treat for being so good on the plane, I placed a towel at the foot of my bed to protect the comforter and settled him on top for a nap. He seemed grateful. He gave a little sigh and put his head down on his tiny paws.
The provided robe was royal blue and plush. I threw it on in a surge of haste and tucked my hair up in a clip, for a quick bubble bath. Time to unwind. Dinner would come soon enough, and I felt a little nervous about meeting the new team members.
“Yes?” She opened my bedroom door slightly. “I know, tea, right?”
“Bless you, child.”
“I’ll order room service along with your tea so I can get to bed early. Let me know when you need to leave for dinner and I’ll come watch Teddy.”
Cecilia was such a blessing, such a pleasure.
A few moments later, the tea arrived. “Do you want me to fix you a cup?” she asked.
“Thanks, dear. Just what I needed, thank you.”I took a small sip. Earl Grey…delicious. I brought the tea into my room, sprinkled bath salts into the over-sized bathtub, and filled it with extra hot water. After placing the cup carefully on the edge of the tub, I stepped in and immersed myself in mounds of aromatic bubbles. Heaven.
“How’s Walter Montoya these days?” I queried Cecilia after I emerged from my refreshing bath. He was a sweet young man from a trip I’d taken to the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, California. He’d worked with her there, and they were roughly the same age. “Have you heard anything about how he’s doing?”
“Jillian, it’s incredibly odd that you ask me. I was just texting him. He wanted to know if everything went okay with our trip.”
“Oh…so you do keep in touch?”
“We do.”
“How is he, then?”
“Walter’s actually doing quite well. He got his degree in criminal justice and then went through the police academy. Graduated with honors.” She blushed. “He’s been working with Chief Viscuglia on the force for the past three years, and now he’s applied to become a detective. Should be hearing back any any day now. That business in Half Moon Bay a few years ago really inspired him to want to catch bad guys.”
“Well, good for him. I’d love to see him again. He was such a sincere young man. I really liked him.”
“I like him, too.” Cecilia voice was quiet.
Now that was interesting. I smiled. “Well, I must be off to dinner.”
The sun was beginning to set as I strolled past the other casitas. A few guests sat on their balconies enjoying appetizers and drinks. I could hear snippets of conversations and an occasional laugh. A slight chilly breeze came up, and I pulled my black leather coat closer around me as I meandered along the flagstone paths.
Pausing at the giant saguaro cactus to figure out which way to walk, I turned left and followed alongside the deep-blue infinity-edged pool. A blazing fire rising from a giant stone bowl at the far end created a truly unique setting.
The huge red rock formation of Camelback Mountain reflected the magnificent sunset and created a dramatic fiery orange backdrop. I noticed, not for the first time, a small outcropping high up on the right side of the formation, standing alone and aptly named The Praying Monk. The figure could be seen from a small clerestory window in the entry of the hotel, as well as from any casita that had a view. Clearly, a touch of Frank Lloyd Wright.
If the murderer was someone involved with the grant contest, perhaps he or she felt the eyes of God looking down through this edifice, even right this moment.
Arthur Wingate was a head taller than most men, so it made it easy to spot him. His black hair was only slightly grayed at the temples, and he was in great shape for a middle-aged man. I couldn’t help but smile at his attire, which was a typical professorial buttoned-down blue shirt topped with a tan micro fiber sports coat, Dockers slacks, and tennis shoes. He spoke in a strong bass voice that I loved hearing.
Upon spotting me, he boomed. “Jillian, it’s so good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you, too. You look well, all things considered.”
“Thanks, it’s probably due to the fact that I’m mostly a vegetarian. I also work out at the fitness center close to my office.”
“I work out only when I feel guilty!”
We both laughed.
“You look wonderful, as always. How was your flight? Did you bring Teddy?”
“Yes, he’s back in the room with Cecilia. The flight was quick and uneventful, so Teddy did just fine.”
Arthur became a little less animated, and I could sense an undercurrent of tension as he spoke. “I want to thank you for coming, considering the circumstances.”
“Well, my bags were already packed. How is Diana holding up through this awful ordeal?”
“She’ll be all right. I'm worried about me. I’ve never seen a dead body before, and what’s worse, I knew him.”
“It must have been horrible. You told me he was part of the Florida team?”
“That’s correct. Let’s get something to drink, and I’ll fill you in.”
A smiling young server dressed in a black shirt and slacks came to wait on us.
Arthur ordered a glass of Cabernet, and I stuck with cranberry juice with a twist of lime. The bar was almost empty, so we had privacy to talk. The only people nearby were a couple of young women in the restaurant area having an early dinner. They were smiling and talking, probably friends catching up.
Arthur stood. “Let’s take our drinks outside. It looks like there’s no one on the patio right now, and I want you to enjoy the view.”
We watched the magnificent sunset spread out behind the majestic purple mountains. Deep oranges, reds, gold, and grays filled the canopy as the sun slipped quietly over the mountain’s rim, silhouetted darkly against the sky. Soon, we were overlooking the twinkling lights of Paradise Valley.
Arthur Wingate was a gentleman in every way. Comfortable with who he was, he never put on airs. He knew botany like no one else and loved and respected mother earth. Although he was 57, he acted like a man of 40, with all the energy and passion of a man of 20 who had just discovered what he enjoyed doing and couldn’t wait to get started. Every new species Arthur learned about garnered his full attention, but when a rare and endangered species was in his sights, he focused so completely one had to believe his sheer will would keep it from dying out.
“We have just a few minutes, Jillian, but here’s what I know so far. I told you how I found Rene. He was quite dead, of course, but there was a look of surprise on his face.”
“You mean like when dead people meet their Maker?”
“I know you’re a Christian, Jillian, and it could have been that, but when I saw him, it reminded me of that program where the expert can tell if a person is lying or not by their body language. I don’t know. It was just strange. And as I’ve said, I’ve never seen a dead body before.” 
“I’ve seen two dead bodies, and they didn’t look surprised at all. You may have something, Arthur. Did you tell the police?”
“Yes, but when I mentioned it, the police didn’t act as if it was important. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget seeing his face.”
“I know it must have been a terrible shock. Have the police found any motive yet?”
“I don’t think they have any idea why he was murdered or who could have murdered him. Nothing was taken from the office, and there wasn’t evidence of a break in, so it had to have been someone he knew or someone who was there that day or that night.”
“I’m sure you’ve told the police who was there at the time, haven’t you?”
“That’s the trouble. I left shortly before everyone else, and there were about seven or eight people still there after our meeting with the grant people.”
“Why did you leave early?”
“Can’t talk now. Here comes the group.”
One by one, Arthur introduced me to everyone, and the server led us to a large secluded table overlooking the patio. An affable gentleman named Herbert Jamison sat next to me. Herbert was the grant facilitator.
“Arthur tells me you’re a columnist for the Enterprise, Jillian.” He picked up his water glass and waited for me to comment.
Wow. Self-confident and charming. “I write the ‘Ask Jillian’ gardening column every week.” 
“Yes, I read it every week online.” Mark Russell nodded his head. He seemed to approve.
Arthur had introduced Mark as his main research assistant and the systems administrator for the Arizona team.
Everyone seems so young! How is that possible? Guess I’m getting old.
“I’m flattered, Mark.” I noted the nice way he was dressed, in a black turtleneck and tweed sports jacket. He wore his medium brown hair closely cropped, and his skin had the pale tone of one who sat at a computer all day.
Being the consummate matchmaker, I also noted the lack of a wedding ring on his finger.
The server took our orders and made sure our water glasses stayed full.
I turned to the man on my left and said, “Dr. Fontaine, I’ve followed your work in Florida for years. It’s an honor to finally meet you.”
“Why, thank you, Jillian. But I think you probably outrank me in notoriety with your gardening column.”
Everyone chuckled. The ice had been broken.
Dr. Fontaine’s eyes seemed to twinkle. “That article you did on the demise of the blue agaves was most interesting. Pesky weevils. I suppose if you tried to eradicate them some irate weevil-loving group would get a protection law passed.”
I blushed at his compliment. “Well, I’m sure they’d meet with resistance from the tequila makers and their growing markets. Tequila is big business, you know.”
Everyone nodded in agreement. I thought I could tell by certain expressions who the tequila lovers were. I surmised Dr. Vincent Fontaine was one. A real sanguine kind of person I figured—expressive—life of the party, no doubt. However, he was likable and kept the conversation light and amenable.
The woman sitting next to him jumped in. “My father is our consultant from the Florida Department of Agriculture. He knows more about endangered plants in Florida than anyone alive.”
Dr. Leah Fontaine was the Director of Research for the Preservation Society of the Florida Everglades and head of the Florida project. She had the thin figure of a model and wore her jet-black hair sleekly up, crowning her lovely oval face. She wore a striking blue camisole with her charcoal gray business suit. Ironically, I had almost bought a camisole just like it a few weeks ago but thought it too expensive.
“He’s pretty amazing.” Tori DeMarco, the young woman introduced to me as Leah’s administrative assistant, agreed.
Nothing really stood out about Tori except for her blue eyes, peering out against her beautiful olive complexion. She wore her ash blond hair in a simple ponytail. Tori seemed quiet, but maybe this was not unusual. Perhaps she just kept to herself, owing to a melancholy temperament.
Leah commented at one point that Tori was an excellent administrative assistant, highly efficient down to the smallest detail. Even though Leah had been complimentary, there was still a distinctive undercurrent of tension between the two women. I decided to find an opportunity to acquaint myself with both of them as soon as I could.
Vincent Fontaine’s voice brought me back to the present world of the dinner. “My dear colleagues, I appreciate your endorsements, but I think we should wait until the winner of the grant has been announced before singing my praises.”
Arthur smiled. “No matter who wins, I think what’s especially important is that we find ways to protect those species that can’t protect themselves against the human element.”
“You’re right of course, Arthur.” Vincent nodded. “Too bad we can’t discuss our projects in such a friendly atmosphere as this, but the grantors do have their rules in this competition.”
“Well,” Herbert interjected, “everyone is welcome to discuss both projects as soon as the grant has been awarded. It seemed the only fair way to go about funding $2 million. You must understand that most research competitions are cutthroat. I think it’s rare that both of your teams have collaborated in the past and are as comfortable with each other as you are.”
Everyone had their drink orders, so Herbert raised a toast of good luck to the winner of the Peter and Elise Hansen Grant for the Preservation of Endangered Flora.
“Cheers.” The room echoed with the toast.
“And a toast to Rene Parker, may he rest in peace.” Vincent Fontaine added a sobering note.
“To Rene,” everyone repeated.
The server brought a delicious spiced soup to start. Others had the mixed field greens with jicama and cilantro vinaigrette. The food was a combination of Asian and southwestern fare, but I played it safe by ordering the roasted free range organic chicken breast on top of mashed sweet corn pudding and creamed spinach. To keep my weight down, I only ate half-portions. I saved a few morsels to take to Teddy.
Soon, the conversation turned to the murder. It began with Richard Sanchez, head of field studies for the Florida team. His tousled brown hair kept to what was in fashion for the young men of today. He must have spent most of his life outdoors by the look of his handsome tanned complexion.
“Well, Arthur. Have the police found out anything about who killed Rene?”
Before answering, Arthur took a healthy sip of water and wiped his mouth. “I only wish they had found something out by now. It’s been two days. I’m meeting with the detective tomorrow. Maybe he’ll know something by then.”
“I can’t believe he’s gone.” Leah sighed.
“How long had Rene worked for you?” I had to ask.
“For two years.” She looked at me, thoughtfully.
“I’m truly sorry, Dr. Fontaine.”
“Thank you, Jillian.”
“Rene was really good at what he did.” Richard spoke up. “He was a top notch researcher, and we really depended on him for our tech support.”
“It will be hard to replace him with someone with his unique skill set.” Leah shook her head. “In the meantime, I’ll have to depend on Tori and Richard to fill in until we can hire someone else.”
“At least your project was submitted before all this happened.” Herbert took the dessert menu the server was distributing around the table.
“Yes, that was fortunate, wasn’t it?” Leah smiled.
The idea of the Grand Marnier crème brulee with fresh berries and whipped cream set my mouth watering. I ordered one accompanied by a favorite of mine, cappuccino.
The man sitting on my right was Warren Burkett. The only person who hadn’t spoken all evening had me intrigued, and I turned toward him. He was Arthur’s assistant director and was certainly worth knowing.
“You’ve been awfully quiet all evening, Warren. Are you feeling all right?”
He gave a wry smile. “Oh, I’m fine. I just keep wondering who the last person to leave the office was before Rene was murdered. I know I left before Tori and Richard.”
“And I left before Mark,” Herbert added his comment, “because I remember he said he was going out to celebrate and needed to call a taxi.”
Arthur turned toward Mark. “I suppose you were going to celebrate posting the final submittal.”
I wanted to head off a confrontation. “I think we’d better leave the details to the police for all concerned.”
“Jillian’s right.” Leah’s father added. “Let the police figure it out. I don’t know about the other team, but I’m exhausted after this whole thing. We’d better call it a night.”
He stood, and as if on cue, Leah put her napkin to the left of her plate, glanced around and said goodnight to everyone. Richard Sanchez and Tori DeMarco stood up, thanked Herbert for the dinner, and bade us goodnight. Since Herbert did not seem to be in any hurry, the rest of us lingered over our dessert and coffee, making small talk.
Herbert commented about how difficult it must be for everyone to have a murder hanging over their heads along with the stress of the ceremony. Winning a much hoped for injection of funds for research could mean a lot to an academic career.
I finally stood, thanked Herbert for a lovely dinner, and told Arthur I would see him in the morning at eight o’clock sharp.
Ah, jet lag. I was beginning to feel it. Since it was an hour later here in Arizona, the thought of not having much time for sleep made me weary. When I returned to my room and ran my passkey across the lock, Teddy barked furiously.
After I let myself in, I scooped him up gently—all four-and-a-half pounds—and gave him a hug and a kiss on top of his sweet little brown head, right between his long, silky, perked up ears. I often thought his hair looked like I had streaked it on purpose because of the blond highlights.
Cecilia was still up.
“Hi, Cecilia, has Teddy been out?”
“I just let him out. How was the dinner?”
“Well, it was interesting meeting everyone. The only one I didn’t meet was Arthur’s administrative assistant because she was just getting over the flu. But he said she’d be at work in the morning, so I’ll meet her then. I brought Teddy some leftovers.”
“What would you like me to do tomorrow?”
“Why don’t you book me that gardens tour in the afternoon? I’ll also need you to take Teddy for a walk after breakfast and after his afternoon nap. Afterward, you’re free to do anything you like, as long as Teddy is with you. I haven’t let him out of my sight since Half Moon Bay.”
“I totally understand, Jillian. Don’t worry—I’ll take good care of him. I have some articles to go over for my editor, so I’ll keep busy here in the room. See you in the morning.”
“Goodnight, Cecilia, pleasant dreams.
“Let’s go to bed, Teddy. We have a big day tomorrow. I’m going to have to look at where that poor man was murdered. Then there’s the garden tour.”
I put him gently down, and he laid his head on his paws, ready to go to sleep. After I crawled between the smooth sheets and pulled the down comforter close, I felt as if I was sleeping in a cloud.
I flicked off the lamp, but lay awake on my back. It was hard to imagine any of those people shooting a colleague, but I suppose anything was possible. If there was enough of a motive. Rene must have terribly upset someone. Maybe tomorrow I would learn more.
My eyelids grew heavy as I thought about Mark’s comments regarding who left the office after him. I thought about Leah Fontaine’s apparent composure after the ghastly affair, since it had taken place only a few short days before. Of course, she still might be in shock. That had happened to me after receiving the news of my husband’s death in Vietnam. All I felt was numbness. Couldn’t function. So empty…alone.
I miss you, my darling, but I will see you again…in Heaven.

Read on! 

See you in my books!
~Nancy Jill

Friday, July 26, 2019

Meet Jillian Bradley, Amateur Sleuth

Meet Jillian Bradley, an unassuming bay area gardening columnist, along with her garden club friends headed to Half Moon Bay for a long weekend. You never know what lies ahead...






The invitations had gone out a few days ago to three of my dearest friends in the world. Ann would respond first. Cherishing her friendship for over fifteen years had given me some insight — I knew her like a book. It was therefore no surprise when the phone rang and her name popped up on my caller ID.
“Jillian, I’m coming to the Garden Club. Have you heard from anyone else?” 
    “Not yet, you’re the first.” I leaned an elbow on the freshly wiped kitchen counter. “I did talk to Dominique last week, but it was about her trip. She had quite an interesting time.”
Knowing I would probably be talking for a while, I reheated my coffee and sauntered from the tidied kitchen into the living room. There, my overstuffed recliner waited. Teddy, my Yorkshire terrier, crawled up into my lap, curling up in his usual sleeping position.
Ann laughed. “Dominique’s trips are always interesting. I believe she went on two safaris this….”
A beep drowned out her words — another call.
“Ann, I’m sorry, but I have another call coming in.” I switched over. It was Nicole.
That was convenient and ironic. In five minutes flat, I had my first two confirmations.
I reached for the coffee and smiled in satisfaction as I sipped its bittersweet goodness.
Our garden club had come together a few years ago as a way to stay in touch. The core of us, Nicole, Ann, and I, had been neighbors. Always the social butterfly, Ann was the second member after me. She regularly kept her calendar booked with luncheons, dinner parties, and of course, her monthly bingo night. She also loved to travel, and took at least one major trip every year to some exotic foreign country.
Compared to Ann, Nicole King was quiet in demeanor and small in stature, but passionate when it came to her house and garden. Fountains and statuary created a fantasy atmosphere in her backyard. There were graceful arbors covered with vines, and passionflowers crept up every inch of the perimeter fence. When hosting our garden club, she’d always added a little something new.
The last recruit to the founding quartet, Dominique Summers, had lived in our former neighborhood as well. A diminutive, auburn-haired woman, she radiated kindness and gentility. Dominique had the same love of gardening as the rest of us. It was she who suggested we take on a name to add prestige and sophistication to our lives. We all were enamored with the idea to call ourselves “The Garden Club.” That was it. The name stuck.
For seven years, we met consistently every month. We’d visit each others’ gardens and do lunch, gradually extending our touring to public gardens as well. Now here we were in the process of attending the West Coast Garden Club Society’s Annual Conference together.
It had started for me as a job. My newspaper had hired me to review some of the key speakers. Having a degree in horticulture, I always had an opinion about plants in general and authored the “Ask Jillian” column in the gardening section of The San Francisco Enterprise.
     Life was good. My expenses were covered, my friends were coming, and I was so looking forward to the invigorating ocean air. 

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See you in my books! 

~Nancy Jill