Lady Luck's Map of Vegas: A Novel

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9780345469120: Lady Luck's Map of Vegas: A Novel

A successful Web designer, forty-year-old India has a fabulously hip life in Denver and a sexy Irish lover in New York who jets out to see her on bi-weekly visits. The long-distance romance suits India just fine: Though Jack is the only man who has ever made India feel truly alive, she doesn’t want things to get too serious. But then her father passes away, and India must honor the promise she made to him: to look after her mother when he’s gone.

Suddenly India finds herself back in Colorado Springs with the woman who both intrigues and infuriates her. Eldora is sixty something and exquisitely gorgeous, but her larger-than-life personality can suck the air out of a room. True to form, Eldora throws India a curveball, insisting that they hit the road to look for India’s twin, Gypsy, a brilliant artist who lives a vagabond’s existence in the remote mountain towns of New Mexico. It looks like India can’t avoid her mother’s intensity any longer, especially after she discovers stunning secrets from Eldora’s past.

Thirty years ago, Eldora regaled her twin girls with glamorous stories about her days as a Las Vegas showgirl– stories of martinis and music at the Sahara, back when Frank and Sammy ruled the town. But the story of how she really ended up in Sin City, and the unsavory life she’d run from with her daughters in tow, is full of details she’s never seen fit to share–until now.

As mother and daughter sail down Route 66, the very road Eldora drove those many years ago, looking for Gypsy, while passing motels, diners, and souvenir shops, Eldora must relive a lifetime of memories that have tormented her before she can put them to rest once and for all. . . .

Award-winning author Barbara Samuel brings us a heartfelt story of second chances and unexpected detours. As two women come to terms with themselves and each other, the past unravels and the future spreads out before them like the open road.

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About the Author:

BARBARA SAMUEL is the author of several novels, including The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue, A Piece of Heaven, and No Place Like Home. She lives in Pueblo, Colorado, with her two sons, where she is currently writing her next novel.

Visit the author’s website at www.barbarasamuel.com

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

India The sun is setting over Pikes Peak when I get home Tuesday afternoon. The play of pink light is as delicate as a teacup, so beautiful that a muscle in my neck untwists. The mountain feels like a relative. I find myself checking in with it a thousand times a day, glancing over to see where the light is, whether the snowy cap is white or gray or pink, whether I can see a hidden valley.

My passion for it surprises me. I grew up with it, after all, looked askance at the tourists crowding into town every summer, shooting endless, endless photos of it. It was, in those days, only a mountain. I didn’t understand the appeal. Now its burly steadiness against the horizon is something I can count on, unlike life.

I fit the key into my front door and take one last glance at the Peak before carrying my load inside. The canvas bag of supplies goes on the breakfast bar between the kitchen and the sparse living room that I’ve not decorated with much of anything because I’m not planning to stay. The mail I hold in my hand, because it is my policy to handle each piece of mail only once. The bills go in one pile, the junk—most of it—in another, the business letters in a third pile.

Two are from clients, and I take the time to open those first. They are checks. One is a retainer for a site I’ve agreed to design for a Denver photographer, the other a hefty—yes—final payment for an enormous, complicated site for an eccentric old writer. I smile, thinking of him. Paul David Walters, a grizzled adventurer with four ex-wives, led me on a merry chase for three months, changing his mind every ten minutes, but his wits were sharp and his insights into the function of the Web were brilliant. It’s the best site I’ve designed in years and it is in my portfolio. The payment, too, is quite sweet. Solvency for another three months, four if I’m frugal.

Tucked between the utility bill and a flyer for a new restaurant down the street is a postcard from my twin sister, Gypsy. I glance involuntarily at the bag of groceries on the counter, then pick up the card for a closer look.

It’s an index card with a miniaturized version of one of Gypsy’s paintings on the blank side. She works mainly with descansos, the roadside crosses planted at the sites of accidents, and graveyards, and this is an abstract graveyard with a blur of pinks and yellows and stylized crosses, so odd and beautiful it draws the eye almost against one’s will. Gypsy’s paintings invite the viewer to come closer, lean in, hear a secret, a mystery. I stare at this one a long time, wishing I really could.

On the back, where the lines are, is a message scribbled in Gypsy’s pointed, spidery hand. Unfortunately, the only thing I can read is my name, India, and the date, which she’s written in numbers at the top. Last week. That’s a good sign.

The rest is written in a language I wished I remembered, the one we created as babies and used between ourselves until we lost it at around eleven or twelve—which is actually quite late; most twins stop using their secret languages by first or second grade—or rather, I lost it. Gypsy kept it, and when she is delusional, as she is now, it is the only language she uses to communicate with me.

I stare at the words with great concentration, as I always do, sure that the veil between past and present will lift one of these days, and I will suddenly remember the code. I even went to a hypnotist once to see if she could help me. It hadn’t worked.

And no miracle occurs now, either. The only clue I can gather from the card is the postmark: Tucumcari, New Mexico. It’s something.

I put it down on the counter, take off my coat and hang it in the nearly empty coat closet, then I go back to the kitchen to put away the groceries—a can of Eagle-brand condensed milk, maraschino cherries, paraffin, baking chocolate; chicken breasts and coriander; onions, basmati rice; the whole milk Jack likes in his tea. The cherries, so very red and round, are irresistible, so I open the jar and take three of them by the stem, popping them into my mouth one at a time. Then the bottle goes into the fridge, on the door, next to the olives I keep for my mother. The milk is slightly out of place, and I nudge it into its place beneath the light.

At the back of my neck I feel the lure of Gypsy’s card, and close my eyes, trying—in the way of twins, not some new-age fruitcake—to sense her, sense her mind. It’s not there.

And there, at the bottom of the grocery bag, is a box, tapping its foot while it waits for me to face it. I’ll hear that little tap all evening unless I answer it, so I carry it into the bathroom and close the door. Gypsy once laughed uproariously when she found out I close the door even when I’m alone, but there are some things that just require privacy. I’m not like her and my mother, who don’t have a single body secret in the universe. I’m sorry, but I don’t need to share or know any of those things.

I read the directions on the box twice to be sure I understand them, then, safe behind the closed door, I follow them. I wash my hands and wait.

It doesn’t take very long. In minutes, the lines on the pregnancy test form a distinct, undeniable plus sign.

Pregnant.

Carefully, I wrap up the stick and the box in lengths of toilet paper, as if there is someone else here who might see it in the trash, then carry it out to the kitchen and throw it away safely under the sink.

Pregnant.

I’m swept with an intense dizziness, and put a hand over my belly. It’s a weird thing to do, considering my horror, but it’s involuntary. Am I trying to sense it? Repulse it?

But instead, for one long, yearning second, I see my lover against the screen of my eyelids, his black hair, his quirky smile—and for one single flash of time, I imagine a daughter with tumbling black curls and a tilt to her eyes.

No.

With a sense of seasickness, I open my eyes, list sideways and pick up the postcard from Gypsy. It contains all the reasons I cannot take the chance no matter how much I might wish it.
My mother no longer drives, so two hours later, I am sitting in the dark at the parking lot of Winchell’s Doughnuts on Eighth Street, waiting for her bus to arrive from Cripple Creek. There is a nearly full moon pouring down on the Peak, making the snow shine. I think again that the mountain is beautiful enough to make up for a lot of things I’ve had to face about living in Colorado Springs again.

I’m sitting in my mother’s car, since she refuses to ride in anything else. It reeks of cigarettes and old leather, and I turn on the heater full blast and roll down the window. A man passing by turns his head and whistles quietly. Over the car, not me. It’s a 1957 Thunderbird, turquoise, which Eldora has owned since it rolled off the lot, and it’s in cherry condition since one of the last things my father did before he died was restore it, top to bottom. I’m fairly certain my mother loves this car more than she loves me.

I’m a little early, so I spend the time going through my purse, which I’m persnickety about. It’s been a day or two since I’ve had a chance to organize it, make sure everything is in its place. There are three sections and two small, zippered pockets. In one section are my comb, lipstick, small mirror in a rubberized pocket that keeps it from breaking, a fingernail clipper, and an emery board. All in their places. In the middle section that zips, I keep three pens with caps, a small notepad, and a calculator. The tops are off two of the pens and I replace them firmly, zipping the pocket. In section three is my wallet, and I open it to be sure all the cards are in their places—the grocery store cards in one section, the credit cards in another. I also keep my keys in the third section, but they’re currently in the ignition.

In one of the smaller zippered pockets I keep a ChapStick and my cell phone. In the other, inside the bag, are the usual female supplies—I open it and look at the tampons and realize with a shock that I might not need them for a while. What would that be like? A hollow feeling goes through me.

The bus lumbers in. It’s the early evening service, so everyone getting off is over the age of fifty. They go to gamble early before the casinos get too smoky and then return home by nine so they can take their evening medications and have a good night’s sleep, the binging and ringing of slot machines dancing in their heads. The lucky ones are easy to spot. They’re laughing and joking, jingling change in their cotton jackets.

I know when Eldora will be next because there is a handsome, Mediterranean-looking senior, dapper with silver at his temples, who gets off the bus and turns around to hold out his hand to the woman behind him. She steps down carefully in her high heels and slim slacks, her perfect red hair shining beneath the streetlight. Even in the dark, I can see her long acrylic nails, nails she has done every other week by a Vietnamese boy at the local strip mall. Technically, she’s a senior like the rest of them, sixty-three, but my mother has been the most glorious female in any room since they laid her in a nursery and all the other fathers wished that she was their baby instead of the plain one they got.

She laughs her throaty laugh at something the man says and lifts a graceful hand in farewell. He’ll think about her for weeks.

As she comes toward the car, she waves at me, too, but doesn’t hurry her long-legged walk any. In the dark, it would be easy to mistake that body for one thirty years younger. Legs long as a spider’s, shoulders straight and square beneath her neat, boxy jacket. A diamond at her throat catches the light and winks at me as she climbs in, smelling of bourbon and Tabu and cigarettes. “I,” she says in her whiskey voice, “had a very good day.”

“Did you?” I start the car, glare at her when she takes a cigarette out of the pack.

She makes a noise. “I haven’t had one for two hours, India! And it is my car.”

I put my hand on the gearshift and just look at her. She puts it back, snaps her case closed. “You are such a fuddy-duddy.”

“Ah, well. So you won a lot, huh?”

“Six hundred dollars!”

I blink. “Wow. Was it that Monopoly machine?”

“No! That blasted thing isn’t paying worth a squat these days. No, this was a quarter machine in the back of the Midnight Rose. It paid and paid and paid, and I finally hit the big one.” She fidgets, opens her purse, closes it. “That nice man you saw at the bus was sitting right beside me, bringing me luck.”

“Did you give him your phone number?”

“Oh, don’t be silly. After Don Redding, all other men are just shadows.”

Don is my father, who died six months ago. This pierces me because until he died, I never thought Eldora was particularly besotted, and I feel guilty for hoping she’ll find another husband to dote on her so I’m off the hook. “Well, at least you got out and had a good time.”

“I did. It was nice.”

At a stoplight I hand her the postcard I got in today’s mail. “I heard from Gypsy.”

My mother looks at it, her mouth working as she tries to deci- pher it.

“Don’t worry,” I say, “I don’t know what it means, either.”

“I can’t see the postmark in this light. Is it readable?”

“Tucumcari,” I say. The word is layered with meaning. For me, for my mother, and for my poor, schizophrenic sister.

Eldora is quiet for a moment. At a red light on Colorado Avenue, not six blocks from the house I grew up in, she says, “You know, I was thinking about her up there. Had a little brainstorm.”

“Pray tell.”

“You’re gonna argue with me, so I don’t want you to say yes or no right now, all right?”

“Mom—”

“Don’t start arguing before I even say it!”

The light turns green, thank God. If I hurry, I can be at her house before she gets it all out, and then I can pretend to forget about it. “Go ahead.” I try to sound more patient than I feel.

“I want you to drive me to Las Vegas.”

“No.”

“I said don’t answer yet. Just hear me out.”

“No.” What I don’t say aloud is no friggin way. No way am I driving across the country with my mother and her cigarettes and her penchant for bourbon on some wild quest that will lead nowhere.

“What I was thinking is that maybe we could look for Gypsy.”

I ignore her. The house is straight ahead, a plain ranch style in Pleasant Valley, near the Garden of the Gods. My father bought it for her just after my sister and I were born, and it has quadrupled in value since. It’s been paid off since 1979, so she’s sitting on a small fortune. There is a light in the window, showing a crystal lamp shining on a red- velvet piano shawl that decorates the back of a chair upholstered in deep blue, one of the pockets of beauty that fill my mother’s house. It looks welcoming.

Without waiting for her, I get out of the Thunderbird, lock the door, and head toward my own vehicle, a slightly less dramatic dark blue Toyota sedan. Her high heels tap behind me.

“I can see you’re in a bad mood. We can talk about it later.” She nudges my arm.

“What?”

She leans her cigarette into the lighter she’s had at the ready since she got off the bus, blows a plume of smoke politely away from me, and presses a crisp hundred-dollar bill in my hand. “Go to the spa for a day, sugar. It’ll make you feel better.”

“Mom!” I try to give it back, but she’s already going up the walk, waving a hand behind her. “I don’t need your money, I swear!”

“Oh, just take it, baby!” She turns around but keeps walking backward. The tip of her cigarette glows red. “That man’s coming in to see you tomorrow, isn’t he? Buy something wicked.” She waves. “Night!”

For a long moment, I stand there at the foot of her driveway, the bill in my hand. We all say this, but in my case it’s true. My mother is a wacko with absolutely no sense of reality.

Las Vegas. I shudder. Chapter Two

India There are no messages on my machine when I get home, just as there have been no calls on my cell this evening. That’s because I have no life in Colorado Springs—a place I had vowed never to return.

Until six months ago I had a perfect life. A town house in the Capitol Hill area of Denver, a beautiful old place with twelve-foot ceilings and the original wood moldings, plenty of work pouring in, lots of interesting friends, many of them in the arts or the computer industry—a pungent mix when I stir them together at parties. I’m good at parties, which I say without arrogance. I love them; love the work of getting all the details just right, the food and drinks and people and music and settings. There are often people sleeping on my couch the morning after.

The good old days, I think, flipping through my CDs. There’s the Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin I used for a Rat Pack party I threw last summer. We all dressed up in A-line dresses and turquoise eye shadow with false eyelashes and danced to Frank’s love songs. It was great. I got the idea from my mother, actually, who’d spent quite a bit of time in the old Las Vegas and loves to share tales of Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank and all the others at the bar of the Sahara or the Sands. That’s where she met my father, at the Sands, playing blackjack. I wonder if that’s why she wants to go there now.

Tugging my hair into a knot at my neck, I keep flipping through the CDs. I don’t want Frank or Dean tonight, and choose a Dido CD that’s been a big favorite lately. I’m on a kick with female soloists—Natalie Merchant and Dido and K. D. Lang. I tell myself it’s because I can do my work while listening to it, not because I’m in love.

At that Rat Pack party last summer, my life had...

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