Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery) (2 page)

BOOK: Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery)
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“Did Nemo’s boys send you?”

She whipped around. Dolly was again occupied with making faces at Nicholas.

“Did you say something?” she asked Dolly.

“I was just telling my little man here I had some yummy strained peaches for him. He loves peaches.”

“You didn’t say anything about Nemo?”

“Nemo?” Dolly stopped playing with Nicholas. “Where did you hear that?”

“Just now. I thought I heard you say something to me about Nemo.”

“No.” Dolly shook her head back and forth with quick jerks. “I didn’t. You must have heard me say
num num num
.” She looked the baby in the face and repeated the words. He giggled.

Emma would have bought the explanation, except for catching Dolly giving Lenny the Lightbulb a furtive glance.


CHAPTER TWO

“V
EG
AS
reminds me of a twenty-dollar prostitute dressed in couture.” Emma looked out the large window of her suite at the Venetian Hotel, her arms crossed in front of her. Beyond her was a fabulous view of the Strip. Her words weren’t said in judgment, but a simple statement of her opinion.

Milo Ravenscroft got up and went to the window to stand next to her. The city of Las Vegas lay before them—an odd collection of fake landmarks and bogus palaces from around the world dropped in the Nevada desert like flashy shoes flung from a passing car. Between the humongous hotels and casinos, bars, restaurants, and cheap souvenir shops clung like tooth plaque, vying for overflow dollars. The sun was high. Once it went down, the buildings before them would be ablaze in color and lights.

“It’s always been a twenty-dollar whore,” Milo added, “but at least in the old days it was an honest whore without pretention.”

Emma looked at Milo with interest. “That’s right, you grew up here.”

“Yes, born and raised. Never liked the place. Then or now.” He stretched an arm out as if presenting a prize in a game show. “Where else in the world could you find the Eiffel Tower, an Egyptian pyramid, and a medieval castle in the same place?”

“Disneyland offers the Mississippi River, a Swiss mountain, and an African jungle all within walking distance of each other,” offered Tracy from her seat on the sofa. “And they both have pirate ships. Of course, Disneyland doesn’t offer gambling and nude revues.”

“I don’t know,” Emma chuckled. “I hear those cartoon characters can get quite racy after hours.”

She took a seat on the opposite end of the large L-shaped sofa and propped a foot up on the large glass coffee table. She’d just filled Milo and Tracy in on what had happened at Dolly’s. “I have a few housekeeping questions before we get to the business of the ghost.”

Tracy glanced over at Milo. “I told you to tell her.”

“If it’s about Dolly being a fortune-teller,” Emma told Milo, “Tracy had already mentioned it to me. But why didn’t you? And why did you call me here to do something you can do much better?”

Milo took off his glasses and inspected the cleanliness of the lenses. “What can I say, Dolly is an original.” He shook his head. “She’s one of those fortune-tellers you see in bad movies, complete with potions on display.”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Emma. “You call your mother Dolly?”

“Everyone calls his mother Dolly,” added Tracy.

“Even when I was a kid,” Milo added, “she hated to be called Mom or Mother, probably because she was so young when she had me. She’s been Dolly to me since I was old enough to talk.”

Emma couldn’t imagine calling her mother Elizabeth. More to the point, she couldn’t imagine her mother wanting or tolerating it. Nor would Emma want her own daughter calling her Emma. But to each their own. If you discounted Granny Apples, her family was fairly traditional and Emma liked it that way.

Emma squared her shoulders, readying herself to ask a very personal question. “Milo, are you ashamed of your mother and what she does?”

Milo took a full minute before answering. “
Ashamed
is a strong word, Emma.” He paused, sucking on one end of his glasses. “Okay, maybe I’m a bit embarrassed by her business. Though why should I be? Right? To most people, what I do is no different, just on a bigger scale. But I’m also concerned for Dolly.” Milo put his glasses back on. “As you can see, she can be quite colorful and unconventional. As for her skills, even after all these years, I’ve never seen anything concrete beyond her ability to convince people of the things she’s telling them. She can be quite persuasive, especially when someone’s willing to pay more. The local authorities have been cracking down on scams against tourists. I’m always afraid she’ll get in trouble. All it would take is one unhappy customer to complain to start trouble.”

Emma rubbed the soft gold brocade on the arm of the sofa. “Okay, but why did you call me here? It’s not that I’m not happy to help out anytime you need it,” she rushed to clarify. “But it seems strange you’d ask me to Las Vegas to check on a ghost.”

Tracy cleared her throat. “The ghost is not the problem, Em.”

Looking from Tracy to Milo without getting an answer, Emma pushed, “Is it because it’s in your mother’s home?”

Emma could tell by the way Tracy twisted her mouth from side to side, she was dying to tell her, but was restraining herself. Something quite difficult for Tracy’s natural exuberance. She looked up at Milo with encouragement.

After a deep sigh, Milo said, “Yes, it is because it’s at Dolly’s, and because she specifically asked if I could convince you to come to Las Vegas to investigate.”

Emma pointed a finger at herself. “Me? Why me when she has you here?”

Milo got up and went to the window again. “Dolly is convinced it’s something only you can do.”

Tracy closed her eyes for a second. When she opened them, she said with kindness, “Please don’t take it personally, darling. You said yourself your communication with spirits goes awry around Dolly.”

“I’m not going to lie.” He looked from Tracy to Emma. “I do take it personally. Dolly has always thought my skills were nothing more than a con, a scam like hers.” A strangled half laugh followed his words. “She claims she got the idea for her palm-reading setup indirectly from me.”

Emma sat forward in her seat, trying to get a handle on what Milo was trying to say. “But she doesn’t think I’m a scam?”

“Not at all. She records your show and watches it faithfully. She says it gives her ideas for her own business.”

Emma cringed inwardly at the idea, but admitted to herself that, like Milo, many thought her medium abilities were nothing more than tricks and scams and she had the mail back at the studio evidencing those opinions, along with mail supporting her and the show.

“Dolly doesn’t understand that Milo is your mentor,” added Tracy. “I’ve tried to explain that to her, but she won’t listen.”

“When I was a small kid, my mother was a showgirl.” With a slow, deliberate gait, Milo paced across the room. “Not in one of the big extravaganza productions, but it was still very popular. She slept during the day while I was in school. At night I’d sit in a corner of her dressing room. I’d stay out of the way and do my homework or read until I fell asleep. The other dancers didn’t mind as long as I behaved.” Milo laughed. “Believe me, I saw my share of naked women as a young boy and was the envy of a lot of my school friends. When I was older, Dolly let me stay home in our apartment by myself. That’s when I first started seeing spirits.”

He looked up at Emma. “Do you have some water? I’m a bit parched. A Coke would be even better, if you have it.”

Emma got up and opened the minifridge, retrieving a can of Coke. She filled a glass with ice from the bucket on the counter and poured the soft drink over it. The sound of carbonation and the tinkling of ice filled the room like bees hitting wind chimes.

“At first I was scared,” Milo continued, “then the spirits became my friends and kept me company.”

Emma handed Milo the glass and retook her seat on the sofa. “You must have spent a lot of time alone.”

He nodded and took a big drink from his glass. “Yes, but I didn’t really mind. I buried myself in my schoolwork. By the time I was thirteen, I’d skipped two grades.” He took another gulp of soda. “That’s when I went from being a cool kid surrounded by showgirls to a target for bullies.”

“You never told me this,” said Tracy, leaning forward.

“I know, my love, and I’m sorry.” Milo took another drink before continuing. “Most of the time Dolly came straight home after her last show. Sometimes she went out with friends for drinks afterward. But almost always she stayed up to make sure I got off to school on time, and she even made me breakfast and packed my lunch.” Milo smiled into his glass. “We’d talk over eggs and toast about school and who came into the club the night before and what we were going to do together on her night off. It really wasn’t so bad. She was really a good mother and I never doubted she loved me.”

“Sounds very lonely, Milo.” The comment didn’t come from Emma, but from the ghost of Granny Apples, who had just appeared.

“Did you tell Dolly about the spirits?” Emma asked.

“Not at first, but as they visited me more, I did.” With his index finger, Milo poked at the ice in his glass. “She always thought they were simply imaginary friends cooked up by a lonely kid with too much time on his hands. Over time, I studied the paranormal as much as possible and developed my communications with the other side. After I graduated from high school, I went to college here in Las Vegas and graduated at twenty. I put myself through college giving readings and conducting private séances, much as I do now, but on a smaller scale and with less experience.”

He sighed and took another drink. “Dolly always thought her smart baby boy had come up with a slick way to make money. I don’t think she’s ever believed I could really see and speak to spirits.”

“But what about your reputation?” asked Emma. “You’ve written several bestselling books on the subject. Doesn’t she know that?”

“Yes, she does, and she’s quite proud of my success. She just about ruptured with excitement when I bought her that townhome with my royalties. But considering I can’t do a lick of anything spiritual when I’m around her, why should she believe it’s real?”

Milo drained his glass, placed it on the table, and poured in the rest of the soda from the can that Emma had left in front of him. “My mother can be a real piece of work, Emma, but she has a good heart, and fortunately, she seems to have taken a shine to Tracy.”

Tracy shrugged. “What can I say? We’re two peas in an eccentric pod who happen to love the same goofy guy. But,” Tracy said, pointing a finger at Milo, “I draw the line at getting married by Elvis.”

“Elvis?” asked Emma.

“Yes,” Tracy told her. “Dolly wants us to get married here in Vegas by a justice of the peace who is also an Elvis impersonator. Apparently, he’s a friend of hers.”

Emma chuckled and shook her head. “I can just see your stuffy family going for that.”

“Her parents are just as bad,” added Milo. “Just in a different direction. They want us to have this big wedding and reception with two hundred of their closest friends, none of which we know.”

Emma got up and went to the window and looked out over the Strip. Granny floated over and hovered by her side.

“I love Vegas!” the ghost said with enthusiasm. “They didn’t have fancy places like this when I was alive. People gambled in the back of beer halls.” Granny had lived during the late 1800s in Julian, California, a gold rush town in the mountains north of San Diego.

Emma could take or leave Las Vegas. When she was married to Grant Whitecastle, the famous bad boy of television talk shows, they’d come here often. He’d gamble in the high roller rooms while she shopped or lounged by the pool. He loved Caesars Palace. She preferred the Venetian. Neither had cared for the newer hotels. She’d returned to the city a couple of times since their divorce, but that had been with Phil Bowers, the man she was currently seeing. She had much more fun with Phil, who loved the shows and spending time together more than the gaming tables.

Phil couldn’t make this trip. He was tied up with work at his law firm in San Diego. When she’d called him to let him know she’d arrived safely, he’d said if he could, he’d try to get away from the office and fly up for at least a day or two.

Emma wouldn’t be here now herself if not for Tracy and Milo. She could hardly say no to Milo’s request, not after everything he’d done for her since she first learned she could speak to and see spirits. Without him, she wouldn’t have
The Whitecastle Report
, her cable TV show on the paranormal, or be able to help the ghosts and people who came to her for assistance. Milo had mentored and schooled her in the way of the other side. She owed him big-time. As for Tracy, she was like a sister to Emma. She wasn’t due back in Los Angeles for a couple of weeks when they were scheduled to shoot the next few segments of
The Whitecastle Report
. That should give her more than enough time to take care of any ghost Milo’s mother thought was visiting her, if there was one, and get in some R and R with Phil.

Next to her, Granny was nearly bouncing with excitement. “Maybe this visit we’ll see some of those
CSI
folks, or maybe a dead body in a casino. That’s what happened last week on TV. This man was stabbed by a broken beer bottle just as he hit a big jackpot.”

Milo started to say something to Granny, but Emma signaled to him to leave it be. “Don’t encourage her.”

BOOK: Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery)
11.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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