Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery) (6 page)

BOOK: Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery)
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CHAPTER EIGHT

I
T
wasn’t difficult to find Laura Crawford’s place of business. Unlike The Raven’s Craft, Lady Laura conducted her fortune telling out of a small gypsy wagon parked at a jaunty angle in front of the souvenir shop Megan mentioned. The wagon sat high up from the street, supported by four wheels with large wooden spokes. The wheels were painted school bus yellow. The rest of the wagon was painted in a geometric pattern of purple, blue, and green. The roof was curved downward. There were two small windows on either side, both covered with curtains. Along both sides was painted in a fancy script:
Lady Laura, Clairvoyant.
A soft light glowed from within.

Emma walked entirely around the wagon before coming to a stop in the front of it, where several people were waiting, some sitting on folding chairs. On the side by the door was a sign posting Lady Laura’s rates. They were similar to Dolly’s. The back door of the wagon was a Dutch door painted dark purple. Steep wooden steps led up from the ground to the entrance. On the door was hung a sign:
Session in Progress
.

Emma saw the two women who had entered Crafty Beads earlier and approached them. “Is this where you wait for Lady Laura?”

One of them nodded. “The end of the line is right after us.”

Mentally, Emma counted the people waiting in front of her. If each took the minimum fifteen-minute session, her wait would be at least an hour and fifteen minutes. She looked at her watch. It was five thirty now. If she waited for Lady Laura, Dolly should be at The Raven’s Craft by the time she was done. She had nothing else to do, but she was thirsty. Just steps away was a snack bar selling drinks and quick snacks.

The women in front of her were engrossed in conversation so Emma turned to the man who’d entered the line right behind her. He was kind of dumpy, wearing loose jeans and a faded T-shirt sporting an old rock band logo. “Would you mind holding my place in line while I grab something to drink?”

He glanced up from the comic book he was reading. “Sure, go ahead. Got nuthin’ else to do.”

Emma thanked him and covered the distance to the food place with quick steps. Less than two minutes later she returned holding a large fruit smoothie.

“I would have held your place,” Granny said to Emma when she returned, “but who’d notice.”

By the time the door to the back of the wagon opened, Emma was slurping down the last of her smoothie. A young man with red hair came out, bounced down the stairs, and closed the door behind him. A minute later the door opened again and a woman came out and looked at the line of people. By now there were two others lined up behind Emma.

“This gal’s popular,” noted Granny.

Emma studied the woman at the door to the wagon. She was small in both stature and frame with very long medium brown hair that hung loose around her like a cape. She was dressed in jeans and a man’s white dress shirt that hung almost to her knees.

Instead of waving the next person in line up to the wagon, the woman locked eyes on Emma and stared at her. “I’m glad you made it. I was worried you wouldn’t.”

Emma pointed an index finger at herself.

“Yes, I mean you,” Laura said. “Now come along so we don’t keep these other folks waiting any longer than necessary.” She indicated for Emma to approach.

After tossing her empty drink cup into a nearby trash bin, Emma started for the wagon.

“Hey,” said a woman sitting on one of the folding chairs. “We were here first.”

Murmurs of protest came from the others, but Lady Laura stopped them with a simple wave of her hand and a gracious smile. “Yes, but Emma made an appointment, and she’s right on time.”

Before anything more could be said, Emma scooted up the steps past Laura Crawford and entered the wagon. The door closed behind them.

“Please take a seat there,” Laura said, directing her to a wooden chair in front of a small table on which sat a burning thick white candle and a deck of tarot cards. Emma obediently sat, pulled out her earpiece, and stuck it in her bag, which she put on the extra chair next to her.

The inside of the wagon was sparsely decorated and tidy. There was the table and chairs—two chairs on one side and one on the other. Opposite the table was a counter on which sat an electric teapot, a few mugs and jars with an assortment of loose teas, and several small burning votive candles. Under the counter was a minifridge. There was a small bookcase next to the counter filled with books and odd-looking knickknacks. Like the outside of the wagon, everything was painted in colorful hues.

“How did you know my name?” asked Emma. “I never made an appointment.”

Laura’s lips formed a slow, slight smile as she took the single chair opposite Emma. “Yes, you did, Emma Whitecastle. You just didn’t know it. You came to me in a dream last week.”

“Last week I didn’t even know I’d be coming to Las Vegas.”

“Maybe not, but here you are. I wasn’t sure when myself, but I knew I’d know you when I saw you.”

Laura swung her head, making her long hair flip back away from her face. Emma clamped her lips tight before a gasp could escape. Laura Crawford’s face was disfigured. The left side was pretty and unblemished, but the right side was pulled tight and the eye drooped with a half-closed lid. Scars ran along her jawline and in front of her ear. Emma wondered if her face had been surgically reconstructed after a horrible accident.

“Would you like some tea, Emma?”

“No, thank you.” Emma shifted in her seat and silently told herself to get a grip. She was hardly a stranger to physic phenomenon. She’d sat in on many of Milo’s sessions, not to mention her own experiences.

Laura looked up, away from Emma and toward the closed door. “And welcome to you, friendly spirit.”

“She can see me?” asked Granny, coming closer.

“Who are you speaking to?” Emma asked Laura.

Laura gave her Mona Lisa smile again. “To the spirit with you. It’s female, is it not?”

“Yes,” answered Emma, deciding to be honest about Granny. “It’s the ghost of my great-great-great-grandmother. We call her Granny. Can you see her?”

“Not clearly. It’s more like I can sense her presence.” Laura turned her attention back to Emma. “I’ve seen your television show. It’s interesting and well-done.”

“So you recognized me from TV when you saw me out front?” Inside, Emma relaxed. That would explain how Laura knew her name.

Laura shook her head slowly. “I’d never seen it until last week. Your name came to me in the dream so I looked you up, which led me to your show. I watched a couple of old episodes on my computer.”

Emma didn’t know whether to believe her or not, but decided not to push the point. “So in your dream, why did I seek you out?”

“That wasn’t revealed, but I get the sense you are looking for someone, someone already deceased who is lingering or visiting on this side.”

Emma leaned forward. She wasn’t sure she fully trusted Laura’s abilities, but the girl was impressive. “Can you help me with that?”

Laura was still for a long while before answering. “I don’t really know who the spirit is, only that he has a purpose for being here.”

“That’s true of most spirits. In my experience,” Emma told her, “most spirits want to go to the other side and stay there as soon as they pass, except for those like Granny, who enjoy walking among us. Others stay for a specific reason, then leave when it’s accomplished.”

“Shortly,” continued Laura, “a conflict between two spirits, this and another, will rise up and you will be caught in the middle, trying to protect the living in their path.”

A chill ran up and down Emma’s spine like an electrical current.

“Two ghosts?” asked Granny, hovering nearby. “Ask her if one of them is that Speidel character. You know, Lenny the Lightbulb.”

“Is one of the spirits named Leonard or Lenny?” asked Emma.

Laura closed her left eye. Her right remained in a half-open droop. When she opened her eye, she said, “I’m not getting a name, but as we speak, the other is crossing over from life to death.”

Emma hugged herself against the chill in the wagon. “You mean the other ghost is dying right this minute? Or rather the person is?”

“Yes. His life is oozing out of him as we sit here.” Laura’s voice turned almost tinny and mechanical. “I can feel it.” Laura opened her eyes wide and starred into Emma’s face. “He is being murdered.”

“Holy crap!” shouted Granny, using a phrase she’d picked up from Phil Bowers.

Granny moved to stand by Laura. She looked her up and down, then turned to Emma. “This girl is the genuine article, Emma. I can feel it.”

“I think you’re right, Granny.” Emma spoke the words to Granny aloud, not caring if Laura heard them.

Even though Laura’s eyes were open, she appeared in a trance. She continued to stare at Emma, but with an unsettling vacancy in her eye. “Nemo’s boys will come for you, too.”

Emma sucked in her breath and scooted backward, her chair scratching the worn wooden floor of the wagon. She wanted to pick up her bag and flee, but couldn’t. She needed to learn more. Instead, she said to Laura, “Lenny, are you in there? Are you using Laura’s body?”

Laura didn’t move. She continued to stare, unblinking, at Emma, but now her face shimmered like gauze catching sunlight.

“Come on out,” Granny demanded to the spirit inhabiting Laura. “Show yourself and leave that poor girl alone. We’re here to help you.”

Granny and Emma watched as the haze left Laura’s face, but the spirit didn’t materialize to them. The chill in the wagon diminished as Laura shook her head, cleared it, and returned to herself.

“Like I said, Emma,” the medium continued, picking up the conversation where she’d left off. “I sense someone has been murdered. His spirit has unfinished business with the spirit you seek.”

Emma leaned across the table and took Laura’s hands. “Who was the spirit who just inhabited you?”

The girl looked genuinely puzzled, but didn’t pull back. “No spirit visited here except for your Granny.”

“No spirit took over your body to speak with me just now?”

“No,” Laura said in earnest. “Channeling is not one of my gifts, though I wish it were.”

“Well, I’ll be,” said Granny, bending down to get another close look at Laura. “She has no idea how gifted she is. She’s like Milo, just not as developed.”

“I agree, Granny.” Emma let go of Laura’s hands and leaned back in her chair, mentally exhausted.

Emma looked at Laura. “Have you ever heard of Milo Ravenscroft?”

“Yes, of course. He’s a famous psychic and medium.”

“He’s also a close friend of mine, and he’s the son of Dolly Meskiel, your colleague down the street.”

Laura looked surprised. “You mean the old woman who tells fortunes out of the bead store?”

“Yes.”

“I had no idea.” Laura’s face changed. Her mysterious mask dropped and she became a simple young woman just a few years older than Kelly. “I thought she was just a batty old lady. I tried to tell her when I set up my wagon that there was enough business for both of us, but she didn’t want to listen.”

“No matter, but I believe you need to get in touch with Milo and talk to him. He’s in Las Vegas right now.” Emma reached inside her bag and pulled out one of her business cards. She jotted down Milo’s cell phone and her cell phone numbers on the back and handed the card to Laura. “Call Milo tomorrow. That will give me time to talk to him about you first.”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Yes. I think you have more gifts than you realize. Milo can help with that. He mentored me.”

“I’d really like that.” Laura smiled. This time it wasn’t tight and shadowy, but wide with excitement.

Emma pulled out her wallet and plucked a couple of twenties out. She looked at the bills, then plucked out two more. She put them on the table and pushed them toward Laura. “Is that enough?”

“That’s way too much, Emma. And you are hardly one of my touristy customers.” Laura pushed the money back toward her.

“Keep it, Laura. You earned it.” Emma got up. She was about to open the door when Laura stopped her.

“Emma, one more thing. And this is for you personally.”

Emma turned back, waiting.

“A door is about to open,” Laura said, her face serious and determined. “It’s up to you if you open it and enter, but the presence of the door itself will challenge and change your life.”

“A new business opportunity?” Emma asked.

Laura shrugged. “I don’t know. But consider the consequences before you act on anything.”

Getting up from the table, Laura held out her hand. “It was a real pleasure to meet you, Emma.” After the two women shook, Laura turned her attention just to the right of Emma. “It was also nice to meet you, Granny. Emma is lucky to have you in her life. Take care of her.”

The ghost looked from Laura to Emma, her brows knitted in concern. “That’s the plan, Stan,” she said, not caring if the medium could hear her or not.


CHAPTER NINE

“B
OY,
that was spooky.” Granny floated next to Emma as she made her way back to the snack bar she’d visited earlier and bought herself a bottle of water. Then Emma found a bench, sat down, and reinserted her earpiece.

“Yes, it was, Granny. It was very unsettling for many reasons.”

Her time with Laura had given Emma a lot to digest, and most of it was disturbing. She opened her water and took a long drink. Around her, Fremont Street was starting to liven up with evening foot traffic, busy even for a Tuesday night. Emma consulted her watch. She’d spent thirty minutes with Laura, but it had felt more like an hour. By jumping to the head of the line, she also had a little more time before Dolly would arrive at her shop.

She took another drink of water and thought about the dichotomy that was Laura. One minute she displayed a maturity beyond her years, the next, as when she was speaking about Dolly, she seemed like any ordinary twenty-something. Emma wanted to know more about the girl. How did she become a psychic? How did her face become disfigured? Where was she from? She hoped Laura would call Milo. If the girl was to continue with her fortune telling and maybe even advance her skills, she needed to learn how to use her gifts properly.

It had been the same with Kelly’s friend Tanisha in Boston. When Emma learned Tanisha could communicate with spirits, she’d insisted Tanisha be mentored, just as Emma had done with Kelly. Emma had invited Tanisha to visit them in California when Kelly came home over her last Christmas break. At first wary, Tanisha agreed and came for the visit the week between Christmas and New Year’s. She and Kelly divided their time between the Los Angeles area and Julian, the small mountain town where Granny was from and where Emma maintained a vacation home across from Phil’s ranch. Granny and Emma also spent a lot of time with Tanisha, and included some time with Milo. By the time Tanisha headed home, she was more comfortable with her abilities and they had determined that for now Tanisha seemed only to be able to see faint images and hear some audio from the spirits. Whether that would increase in time, they would just have to wait and see.

Emma had liked Tanisha Costello immediately. The daughter of a famous crime novelist and a college professor who died when she was young, Tanisha was a budding journalist, tough on the outside and as soft and vulnerable inside as a high-end caramel. Emma had taken her under her wing like an abandoned chick. Something Kelly accused her of doing with many of her friends, but Emma noticed Kelly’s accusation came with a sense of pride and amusement.

Emma’s maternal instincts and observation told her Laura was very different from Tanisha and Kelly. Judging from her language and appearance, she was probably less educated than both and most likely from humbler beginnings, but she had the same independence and fire. She also had the early signs of advanced medium and clairvoyant skills. Skills that went far beyond the telling of fortunes to eager tourists.

“So which part are we tackling first?” asked Granny, who perched on the bench next to Emma. “The murder, finding out why Lenny’s here, or that secret door that’s supposed to open for you?”

Emma fiddled with the label on the water bottle, picking at a loose edge. “We can’t do anything about what she said to me personally until it presents itself, and right now only a headache is making itself known.” Emma dug into her bag until she located a small container of aspirin. She shook two into her hand and tossed them into her mouth, followed by another pull on the water bottle.

“As for the murder,” Emma continued in a low voice after a few seconds, “who knows if Laura’s vision was literal.”

The ghost shivered. “She said it was happening right then, while we were with her.”

“Yes, but you know sometimes psychics aren’t always on schedule with visions. If there was a murder, it could have been in the past, or in the future.”

“But she also said the spirit of whoever was murdered is going to be locking heads with Lenny the Lightbulb.”

“Again,” Emma noted, being cautious, “if she was literal in her prediction.”

Granny got up and faced Emma, her hands on her hips. At that moment a couple walked by, hand in hand, heads together, laughing. They went right through the ghost without a second thought. Granny stomped her foot. “Boy, I hate that!”

Emma could only shake her head and hope the aspirin would do its magic in short order.

Granny stomped her foot again. This time at Emma. “Aren’t you forgetting the most important part of our time with Laura?”

Emma knew what Granny was getting at, but chose instead to look up and watch the current batch of people fly by on the zip line.

“Lenny was there,” Granny went on, a deep scowl on her face. “He said Nemo’s boys were coming after you. I would think you’d be focused a little more on that, don’t ya think?”

Emma picked again at the label, this time until she had it half off the plastic bottle. “I’m not sure Lenny, Spirit of the Lightbulb, can really be considered an oracle of doom. Do you?”

Granny leaned in closer. “And denial is just a river in Egypt.”

Emma yanked the label off the bottle and shot a look at Granny. “And where in the world did you hear that phrase?” She sighed and held up a hand. “Wait, don’t tell me. It was Phil. He says that sometimes, especially to his boys.”

“Phil’s a smart man,” Granny said with a determined jerk of her chin. “I learn a lot from him.”

“I’m not in denial, Granny. I heard what Lenny said, although we haven’t determined yet if that ghost is Lenny Speidel.”

“Well, the spirit who entered Laura is the same one as back at Dolly’s house. We know that by the voice. It was identical.”

“Yes,” Emma agreed. “It was.” She looked at her watch again. It was almost time to start back to The Raven’s Craft. “But we still need to determine why he’s here and who the spirit is he’s supposedly having a conflict with.”

“You mean the spirit from the new dead guy.” Granny rubbed a hand over her chin. “Maybe it’s Nemo himself.”

“I’ve been wondering that myself, Granny. We know if Nemo Morehouse is still alive, he’s pretty old. Maybe he’s the one passing away who is going to cause trouble for Lenny.”

“You mean Nemo is the fresh murder victim, don’t you?”

Emma took another drink of her water, screwed the cap back on the now naked bottle, and got up. “I’m not sure what I mean anymore. This is certainly becoming more complicated than a spirit haunting a household light fixture.” She started walking back down Fremont Street. “One thing is for sure, Dolly needs to start fessing up about stuff if she expects my help.”

They weren’t moving fast down Fremont, but taking their time, letting the noise of the casinos, the crowd, and the smell of fast food wash over them in waves. Emma was lost in her thoughts about what Laura had said and what Lenny had meant by his comment. She was sorting all the pieces and trying to put them into neat piles like freshly folded laundry. She was also mentally preparing what she was going to say to Dolly. Granny floated beside Emma, happily taking in the loud sounds and garish sights of the famous gambling street.

They were almost to The Raven’s Craft when they heard, “Emma?”

Emma looked up, still lost in her thoughts. It took her a minute to focus to see who had called her name.

“Emma Whitecastle, is that really you? Here on Fremont Street?” The voice was male, deep, and confident.

Both Emma and Granny turned to see the tall, dashing figure of Dr. Quinn Keenan standing not more than ten feet away. He was staring at Emma with amused disbelief. She stared back at him, her mouth slightly open. A group of people passed between them. Quinn threaded through the crowd of pedestrians to make his way to her, a wide smile on his handsome face.

“Uh-oh,” whispered Granny in Emma’s ear. “Don’t look now, but I believe that door Laura mentioned is coming your way.”

Quinn scooped Emma in his arms and gave her a hearty hug. “I can’t believe it’s you. What are you doing here?”

Caught off guard, Emma blurted out the truth. “Granny and I are here helping Milo with a ghost problem.” Quinn knew about her skills and about Granny, but ordinarily Emma would not have said something like that out loud in public. Fortunately, with the noise, lights, and action, no one walking near them noticed or gave it a second thought.

Quinn looked to Emma’s right. “Hi, Granny. Nice to not see you again.”

Emma pointed to her left. “She’s there.”

Quinn adjusted his eyes to Emma’s left. “Hi, Granny.”

“Hi back at ya, handsome,” the ghost said with delight.

“Granny says hi back,” Emma reported.

Granny shot Emma a dirty look. “You forgot the handsome part.”

Ignoring the ghost, Emma asked Quinn, “And what are you doing here? Don’t tell me there’s a famous archeological dig under these old casinos.”

Quinn laughed. “I’m here with a few buddies for a bachelor party. We flew in on Friday night. Most took off Monday morning but two of us stayed on to get in some more golf.”

“There you are,” a tall man said, approaching them.

“Hey, Bob,” Quinn said to the guy. “I want you to meet Emma Whitecastle.” He turned to Emma. “Emma, this is my mate Bob Emmons, the groom-to-be and a fellow dirt digger.”

Emma shook hands with the man. “Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. When’s the happy day?”

“In three weeks.” He gave Emma a wide grin. “So you’re the famous Emma Whitecastle. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Next to Emma, Granny said, “He’s almost at cute as Quinn. What is it about these archeologists? They’re all as dashing as Indiana Jones. Is that a requirement?”

Ignoring Granny’s remark, even though she agreed with it at the moment, Emma smiled at Bob. “Well, don’t believe half of it.”

Bob laughed. “One thing for sure, old Quinn here wasn’t exaggerating about your beauty, fair ghost chaser.” He gave her an exaggerated bow. “So I’m sure he was on point about your brains.”

Emma felt the blush traveling up her neck and was helpless in stopping it. She looked at Quinn, who seemed to be taking delight in her discomfort.

“You here for work or play, Emma?” asked Bob.

“Emma’s working,” Quinn answered for her. “Ghost stuff.”

“Yes,” Emma said, finding her voice. “And I’m about to meet someone, so I’ll be off and won’t hold up your fun.”

“Actually,” Bob said, “I’m shoving off tonight. I’m off to grab my bag from our hotel and head to the airport, but Quinn here isn’t leaving until tomorrow.” He nudged Quinn with an elbow. “Maybe you could help out the lady before you go.”

“I am available until tomorrow afternoon,” Quinn commented, looking at Emma. “And I believe I proved to be a valuable sidekick on one of your other adventures.” He paused and looked around. “Unless, of course, Phil’s here to watch your back.”

“Phil didn’t come with me,” Emma answered. “At least not this time.”

Granny tried to get Emma’s attention. When she wasn’t successful, she got between Emma and Quinn and faced Emma. “Be careful here, Emma,” the ghost warned. “Just because the door presented itself doesn’t mean you have to open it and walk in. Remember that.”

“I know, Granny.”

Bob’s mouth dropped and he turned to Quinn. “Is she actually talking to a ghost right now?”

“Yeah, Bob, she is,” Quinn answered with amusement. “The ghost of Granny Apples is her almost constant sidekick.” He moved his eyes away from Emma to his friend. “But isn’t it time for you to head to the airport?”

Bob looked from Quinn to Emma and back to Quinn. “Yeah, it is.” He slapped Quinn on the shoulder and laughed. “Thanks for reminding me.”

Quinn embraced his friend. “I’ll catch you at the wedding.”

Bob held out a hand to Emma, extending it through the determined Granny, who bristled and moved out of the way. “It was a real pleasure, Emma. And I mean that.”

“Same here, Bob,” she said, shaking his hand. “And again, congratulations on your upcoming marriage.”

After Bob left them, Quinn turned to Emma. “So where are we off to tonight?”

“I don’t know about
we
, Quinn, but Granny and I are meeting someone.” She consulted her watch. “In fact, we’re running a little late, so if you’ll excuse me.”

“Us,” Granny corrected. “Excuse us.”

“Let me come with you. I don’t have anything else to do tonight with Bob gone. I’ll be quiet as a mouse unless you need me.”

Emma was torn. Quinn did believe in ghosts and had a good head on his shoulders for facts and piecing them together. It couldn’t hurt to have someone else, someone objective, to run ideas past. As Granny had said, just because the door is there, it didn’t mean she had to walk through it, and having Quinn’s company didn’t mean she was entering his door. Then again, maybe Quinn wasn’t the door Laura mentioned. Laura could have been way off on everything, including the new murder and the ghosts doing battle. Then she remembered the voice coming from Laura’s lips. It hadn’t been Laura’s voice. It had sounded like Lenny the Lightbulb, and he was warning her. But Lenny wasn’t warning her about doors and choices for her personal life.

BOOK: Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery)
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