Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery) (5 page)

BOOK: Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery)
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“He’s actually a detective,” Suzanne said with obvious pride. “He’s one of the youngest they have.”

“I just love the little game Dolly plays with Nicholas.” Emma smiled. “You know, the one with Lenny the Lightbulb.”

Suzanne also laughed. “Yes, how funny is that, huh?”

“Nicholas must also be fascinated with the lights at your house. Kids do that. They latch on to something and hold on for dear life. For Kelly it was keys of any kind. The bigger and more jingly, the better.”

Suzanne thought about the comment. “That’s the odd thing. At home he could care less about the light above the kitchen counter, or any of the others. Our house is set up just like Dolly’s but he never gives our kitchen lights a second thought.”

“Maybe it’s because they don’t have a name,” Emma suggested with a wink. “Maybe if you called the light Rover or Kitty, he’d fall in love with it like he did with Lenny.”

Suzanne laughed and bent down to straighten Nicholas’s cap. “Now there’s a thought.”


CHAPTER SIX

A
S
ambivalent as Emma was about Las Vegas, she’d never cared for Fremont Street. It was old school Vegas, which was exactly why many tourists loved it. The casinos were louder and smokier. The stores were schlockier and the inhabitants gaudier. It was a mecca for hard-drinking, hard-partying patrons with its cheaper drinks and food. At night it wasn’t uncommon to see go-go dancers outside clubs and street performers that looked right out of a circus side show.

In the 1990s, in a bid to attract more tourists to downtown from the fancier Strip, a roof or canopy had been constructed over several blocks of Fremont Street that had been closed to traffic. Every night a spectacular light show was displayed on the underside of the canopy. Emma, in all the times she’d been to Las Vegas, had never seen it. Usually when she visited Fremont Street, which was rare, it was for a short time and during daylight. Phil, upon learning that, had insisted they take in the show the last time they were in town. It had been fun and the light show well worth seeing, but both preferred the Strip with its glamour, big-name shows, and fine restaurants.

Emma parked in a nearby parking structure and made her way to Fremont Street. Dolly had said The Raven’s Craft was directly across from The Golden Nugget. Above Emma came giggles, shouts, and screams of delight. She looked up to see people flying—fairies dressed in shorts and sneakers. They were traveling along the zip line nestled under the canopy. She’d wanted to do the zip line when she and Phil were here, but Phil, with his fear of heights, just couldn’t muster up the courage to do it. Maybe this trip she’d do it, even if she had to experience it alone.

She located The Raven’s Craft exactly where Dolly had said it would be. The sign above the door had two shop names:
The Raven’s Craft
and
Crafty Beads
. It was a storefront with a slightly split personality. In the store window was a large placard advertising fortune-telling services by Madam Dolly with posted rates for fifteen-minute, thirty-minute, and sixty-minute sessions.

Stepping inside, Emma found herself in a cheerful shop that sold handmade jewelry, as well as beads, stones, and supplies for those wanting to make their own trinkets. Along the walls were locked display cases of jewelry with a small photo pinned near each grouping. At the main counter a young woman with multicolored hair and a nose ring was sorting beads on a tray. She looked up and greeted Emma with a smile through lips slicked dark purple. She appeared to be the only one in the shop.

“Can I help you?” the girl asked.

“I’m looking for The Raven’s Craft,” Emma said, approaching the counter. She glanced around. In spite of the sign outside, the bead shop was evident, but the fortune-telling business was not. “Is Dolly here?”

“Are you Emma?”

Emma looked at her with surprise, wondering if the girl was a psychic herself. “Yes, I am.”

“Dolly called a few minutes ago and said you might be in. She said to tell you she was running late and to apologize for her.”

“Did she say when she might arrive?”

The girl stopped pawing at the beads in the tray and consulted a scrap of paper. “Maybe around six thirty. She said if you have other plans, she’d understand and you could meet her tomorrow at her place.”

“Thanks,” Emma said, thinking things must have gone well with Milo’s presentation and Dolly’s interest in it. They were probably still at dinner

Emma walked around the store looking at the various jewelry. Some of it was lovely. Some of it kitschy. The store itself wasn’t very wide, but it was deep. In the back was a door painted red and marked
The Raven’s Craft
in bold, black Gothic lettering. Next to the door was a large rectangular window. Emma peered through the glass to see a small room set up with a couple of chairs, a small table, and several shelves with books and bottles. Around the room were brightly scattered pillows and fabrics. It was a mini version of Dolly’s home. Just outside the door were a couple of plastic chairs, probably for waiting clients. On the door was a small sign decorated with brightly colored beads. In the center was a clock face. The sign informed people that Madam Dolly would be back around six thirty.

Emma returned to the counter. “I take it through that door is where Dolly sees clients.”

“Yes,” the girl answered without looking up from her work. “She closes the drapes on the window when she’s with someone.”

“Does Dolly also work for the bead store?” Emma asked, thinking that The Raven’s Craft must rent space from the bead store, and maybe Dolly also worked in the store in exchange for her space.

“She owns it,” the girl answered after writing something down on a slip of paper. “The whole place, both businesses.”

“I’m sorry,” Emma said, apologizing. “I didn’t realize you were taking inventory.”

“That’s okay,” the girl said without a hint of annoyance. “I’m just counting beads and I have all night to do it. It’s slow on Tuesday nights. Now what was it you asked?”

“Does Dolly work for the bead store, too?” Emma repeated. “You know, on slow nights.”

The girl noted where she’d stopped her counting and pushed the tray aside. “Madeline actually runs the jewelry end of things while Dolly does the fortune-telling stuff. They’re partners in the place, sharing the profits from both ends, but Dolly’s usually too busy with clients to pitch in behind the counter.”

A partner
, thought Emma. Neither Milo nor Dolly had said anything about Dolly having a partner in her business. “Is Madeline here?”

“She’s not feeling well today. She’s my aunt. Well, actually my great-aunt. I work here with a couple of other girls who go to UNLV.”

“Looks like it would be a good part-time job for a college student. My own daughter is in college back East. She’s a junior.”

The girl brightened and gave Emma a wide smile. “Me, too! I’m studying earth and environmental science. My name’s Megan, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Megan.” Emma indicated the locked wall displays. “Do you and some of the other girls also make the jewelry? One of those photos looks like you.”

“Yeah, that’s me before I colored my hair. Some of us make stuff to sell. Other things come in from local artisans. Madeline sells the jewelry on consignment for us. If you see something you like, let me know. It’s not fine jewelry, but if we don’t keep it locked up, it gets stolen.”

Emma went back to the display with Megan’s photo. She liked the girl’s work. It was very creative. Youthful and trendy without being cheesy and cheap looking. “I’d like to see those two pairs of earrings, if you don’t mind.”

Megan came from behind the counter and unlocked the case. She pulled out the earrings Emma had chosen and handed them to her. One pair was made of a blue stone with veins of gold and lavender. The other was more dangly with stones in striking earth tones. Both hung on sturdy silver wire.

“You do very nice work,” Emma told her after examining the jewelry. “I’ll take them. I think my daughter will like the blue ones and the other pair is perfect for her friend Tanisha.”

When Megan returned to the counter to ring up the sale, Emma’s eyes caught several framed photos on the wall behind the girl. They were photos of old-time Vegas showgirls similar to the photos back at Dolly’s.

“Is that Dolly?” She pointed at one of the photos she recognized as a duplicate of one back at Dolly’s house.

“Yes, and that’s Aunt Madeline with her.” Megan pointed to a statuesque brunette standing next to Dolly. “They’ve known each other forever. They were both showgirls back in the sixties.” Megan laughed. “Although Aunt Madeline is very roly-poly these days while Dolly has pretty much kept her figure.”

“I’m a friend of Dolly’s son, Milo. Does Madeline have any children?”

Megan shook her head. “No. Aunt Madeline never married.” She looked at Emma with curiosity. “So you know Dolly’s son, the famous psychic?”

“Yes, quite well. In fact, he’s engaged to my best friend.”

“Dolly talks about him sometimes. She claims he can see and talk to ghosts. Is that true?”

Emma smiled. First Suzanne Foster, now Megan. Dolly believed in Milo more than Milo knew. “Yes, it is true. He’s amazing. Do you believe in the paranormal, Megan?”

Megan blew out some air and twisted her mouth in a thoughtful knot before answering. “I’m not sure. I know a lot of the people that come in here to see Dolly do and they believe she can see their future. Madeline’s told me that The Raven’s Craft pulls in more money than the bead shop does.”

Almost as if she’d conjured up proof of her words, two young women walked into the store. One was dressed in a strapless sundress. The other in shorts and a low-cut knit top. Both wore high-heeled sandals, heavy makeup, and were holding large plastic cups.

“May I help you?” asked Megan.

The one in the dress answered, “We were told there’s a pretty good fortune-teller here.”

“Yes,” Megan replied. “But Madam Dolly won’t be in until about six thirty. Would you like to make an appointment?” She picked up a small calendar from the counter behind her. “That way you won’t have to wait.”

The two women consulted each other with raised eyebrows and whispers before the one who’d spoken earlier answered, “No thanks. We’ll check out the other one.” Without another word, they left.

“The other one?” Emma asked.

“Yeah.” Megan rolled her eyes. “She came in about a year ago with a fancy painted wagon. It’s parked at the other end of Fremont in front of an Indian souvenir shop.” She knitted her brows. “Fremont Street didn’t need two fortune-tellers, but Laura convinced the powers that be it did and got her business license.”

“Her name is Laura?”

“She bills herself as Lady Laura, but her full name is Laura Crawford. She’s young for a fortune-teller, not much older than I am. I think that was part of her pitch. She probably told them Dolly was getting too old and didn’t attract the younger tourists.”

“Has her presence impacted Dolly’s business much?”

Megan shrugged. “I’m not sure. Dolly has her regulars, mostly locals, and she does get a lot of tourists, but Laura gets a lot of hype with that wagon and she works longer hours. Personally, I think she’s kind of weird.”

Suddenly, Emma wanted to see the Lady Laura.

She smiled at Megan. “Thanks for your help, Megan. When Dolly comes in, tell her I’ll be back later tonight. I’m going to walk around a bit and get something to drink.”

“Okay, I will. And thanks for the purchase. I hope your daughter and her friend enjoy the earrings.”


CHAPTER SEVEN

A
S
soon as Emma left the store, Granny Apples popped up, startling her. Collecting herself, Emma inserted her cell phone earpiece. She always did that in public so people passing by would think she was speaking on the phone instead of into thin air, or to a spirit. “She’s not in yet, Granny. Dinner with Milo and Tracy must have run later than planned.”

“No, it didn’t.” Granny told her with a raised eyebrow. “I went to Milo’s presentation. He did an excellent job, by the way, but Dolly made some excuse to wiggle out of dinner and took off right after.”

“Really?”

Granny nodded as her eyes scanned the people milling about the gaudy street of casinos, food vendors, and shops. Overhead a couple more people flew by dangling from the zip line. “That looks like fun,” the ghost said, pointing up. “Wish I could do that.”

Emma was concerned about Dolly. “I hope she’s feeling okay. Maybe I should call her or check in with Milo.”

“Dolly’s hunky-dory,” Granny said, returning her attention to Emma.

“How do you know?”

“I followed her. As soon as she left Milo’s thing, she went to some place filled with old people to visit someone. She’s probably still there.”

“Some place? You mean like a rest home or hospital?”

“Yeah, but I don’t think it was a hospital.”

“And who did she visit?”

“I don’t know, but it was a man—a very old man. He didn’t look too well neither. He was in a wheelchair and using oxygen. I’d say he has one foot in the grave.”

“But you don’t know who it was?”

“If I did, I’d tell ya, wouldn’t I?” the ghost snapped. “Dolly and the man were off in the corner of some sort of public sitting room talking. It looked pretty serious, too, not idle chitchat about the weather. I tried to listen, but there was one old lady there who I think could see me. She kept pointing at me and shrieking, saying things like ‘Death has come for me’ over and over. It was pretty disturbing, I can tell ya that.” Granny ran her hands down the front of her long skirt, as if wiping off the memory. “So I left.”

Emma stepped onto a narrow side street, not much more than an alley. As she moved farther down it, her nose wrinkled at the tangy odor of urine. She backtracked until she was out of its reach and jabbed at an entry on her phone. When the call was answered, she said, “Milo, it’s Emma.”

“How’s your visit with my mother going?”

“She’s not here yet. Granny told me she ditched your dinner plans.”

“Yeah, she said she had something to do before meeting you, but I got the feeling it wouldn’t take long.”

“Do you have any idea who she might know in a rest home or retirement home? An older man who might not be doing very well.”

There was a pause on the other end. “No, I can’t think of anyone, but I’m sure Dolly has a lot of friends I’m not aware of, especially from the old days, and most would be elderly.”

“Yes, I just met Megan, Madeline’s great-niece, at the shop. I didn’t know Dolly had a partner in her business.”

“I should have mentioned that but forgot. Sorry. Madeline Kurtz deals solely with the bead store. She and Dolly have been best friends forever, even going back before I was born. She’s like an aunt to me. I really should stop by the shop before I leave and see her.”

“Megan said Madeline is out ill today. I saw several photos of Madeline and Dolly as showgirls. I’ll bet if Dolly knew Nemo Morehouse and Lenny Speidel, Madeline did, too.”

“I’m sure of it. Those two did everything together. I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of that myself. If one won’t talk, maybe the other will. Do you want me to call Madeline? I have her home number. She’s my mother’s local emergency contact. I could make it seem like a social call.”

Emma hesitated, wondering how smooth Milo would be in a questioning situation, but it would save time and Madeline wouldn’t be suspicious if he called. “Sure, why don’t you give her a ring.”

“I’ll do it right now before dinner.”

“I thought you guys were having an early dinner.”

“We were when Dolly was going with us, but when she bailed, I promised Tracy we’d go out for a romantic evening. We haven’t had much time to ourselves this trip.”

Granny had drifted back to where the side street met Fremont. The ghost was hovering, her head tilted up, watching more people fly by on the zip line. Granny really did want to experience a lot of the things modern people took for granted and Emma wished she could.

“Milo,” Emma said into the phone, returning to the task at hand. “Do you know of a Las Vegas clairvoyant named Laura Crawford? She also uses the name
Lady Laura
.”

Milo laughed. “All I know is that Dolly claims she’s an upstart and is stealing her clients.”

“I think I’m going to pay her a visit. I’m not sure why, but I have this gut feeling I should. Does the name give you any vibes?”

There was a full minute of silence from the other end of the phone, then Milo said, “All I’m getting is that you should proceed with caution.”

“You mean Lady Laura might hurt me?”

“I’m not sure if it pertains to Laura or to physical danger or even tonight in general. I’m just getting the feeling something or someone is going to endanger you in some way.”

Emma glanced over to where Granny was still watching the people on the zip line. “Well, I was considering riding the zip line tonight. Maybe I shouldn’t.” She laughed.

Done with the call, Emma started back down Fremont Street.

“So where are we going?” asked Granny after she caught up with her.

“To see a psychic named Lady Laura.”

BOOK: Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery)
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