Ghost In The Guacamole (A Ghost of Granny Apples Mystery)

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9781410480828: Ghost In The Guacamole (A Ghost of Granny Apples Mystery)
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"When two sisters feud over the family business, medium Emma Whitecastle doesn't need a Ouija board to know it spells trouble. But with a little help from the spirited ghost of Granny Apples, she may be able to solve one murder and prevent another . . . "
Sisters Lucinda and Ricarda Ricardo--better known as Lucy and Rikki--are at each other's throats over the family business, Roble Foods. Lucy wants to sell and Rikki is against it. Rikki asks Emma to contact their deceased father, Felix, to help her convince Lucy not to sell.
But the ghost of Felix Ricardo has his own bombshell to drop--his death was not an accident, and Rikki's life may be in danger if the girls don't sell. Now it's up to Emma and Granny Apples to chip away at the mystery and stop a killer from double dipping in death . . .

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About the Author:

Sue Ann Jaffarian is the critically acclaimed author of three mystery series: the Ghost of Granny Apples Mysteries, the Odelia Grey Mysteries, and the Madison Rose Vampire Mysteries.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Acknowledgments

· CHAPTER ONE ·

THE eye sockets of the skeleton were small wells of black ink, conveying both mystery and mockery. “That thing gives me the creeps,” Granny announced as she studied the figurine in Emma’s hands.

Emma smiled then whispered to the ghost of her great-great-great-grandmother, “That’s funny, Granny, considering that you’re dead.”

“I may be dead, but you don’t see me showing off my bleached white bones, do ya?” The diminutive ghost, dressed as always in pioneer garb, sniffed in disgust. “It’s like showing your backside to the world.”

Emma shook her head in amusement and turned the small figure in her hands over several times to inspect it. It was of a horse and rider, both skeletons. The rider wore a sombrero and a grimace of big white teeth. Around the horse’s bony neck was a tiny garland of silk flowers. “Phil might like this,” she told Granny. Reaching out, she picked up another skeletal figurine, this one holding a gun in one hand and a bottle of tequila in the other. It was also wearing a large colorful sombrero. “Or do you think he might like this one instead?”

The ghost shivered, even though she couldn’t feel temperatures—hot or cold—and pointed to two figurines on the shelf: a skeletal bride and groom dressed in wedding finery. “Maybe you should get those,” she said to Emma. “You can put them on top of your wedding cake if you and the cowboy ever get hitched.”

Emma put down the dolls in her hands and picked up the bride and groom. “These are pretty cute.”

“Puppies and kittens are cute,” groused the ghost. “Babies are cute. Those are downright creepy.”

“These are called Day of the Dead dolls, Granny,” Emma explained. “Día de los Muertos—Day of the Dead—is a big holiday in Mexico. It’s a day when people celebrate and remember family and friends who are deceased.” She smiled at the ghost and whispered, “Not everyone is as lucky as we are to have our dead relatives with us all the time.”

Humpf,” snorted Granny. “I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic with that remark or sincere.”

Granny’s real name was Ish Reynolds. She’d died in the late 1800s at the end of a rope, having been hanged by vigilantes who’d thought she’d killed her husband—a murder for which Emma had proved she’d been framed. For a hundred years, Granny had searched for someone to prove her innocence, a search that had been frustrating and fruitless until she met Emma at a séance and convinced her to help. It was also this connection that had triggered Emma’s awareness of her talents as a medium. Ish and her husband, Jacob, had lived in Julian, a mining town in the mountains north of San Diego, which today is a charming tourist destination known for its apples. Granny had only been in her forties when she died, having received her nickname of Granny Apples due to her fame as a pie maker. In time, after her death, she did become a grandmother when her only child, Winston, married and had children, starting the line that led to Emma. As a sales clerk approached Emma, she bit back the laugh on the tip of her tongue. She handed the wedding pair to the clerk. “I’ll take these.”

Granny watched the transaction with interest. “Is there something you’re not telling me?” Emma only smiled as she took her change and package from the clerk.

Bright colors, lively music, and the smell of onions sizzling with sharp spices put Emma in a festive mood as she strolled down the small street lined with shops, restaurants, and kiosks.

“Are we in Mexico?” the ghost asked as she drifted alongside Emma.

“No,” Emma whispered. She put a hand to her Bluetooth earpiece as she spoke to give people around them the impression she was on the phone instead of speaking to herself. It was a trick she often used when speaking with Granny while out in public. “This is Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles,” she explained. “It’s the birthplace of the city.”

“Interesting,” said the ghost. “It looks like it could be in Mexico.”

Emma tried hard to remember the last time she’d visited Olvera Street. Her daughter, Kelly, had been in grammar school—third or fourth grade—and had been on a school field trip. Emma had come along as one of the chaperones. Quickly she did the math. Soon Kelly would begin her senior year at Harvard, so it had been about a dozen years since Emma had stepped foot on the short but busy brick-paved street.

It was a Tuesday in late July and the small street was booming with tourists and workers from downtown offices on lunch breaks. On the weekend it would be packed as the tourists were joined by locals looking for a fun weekend outing. Emma stopped at a booth to look at pairs of huaraches lined up like soldiers ready for marching orders. She’d once had a pair she’d picked up on a trip to Mexico. For years she’d worn them on weekends, but they had finally fallen apart and had to be tossed. Glancing over the various styles and colors, she picked up a pair and looked them over. With a smile that showed a couple of silver teeth, the woman working the kiosk encouraged Emma to try them on. After checking her watch to make sure she had time, Emma slipped out of her flats and into the huaraches. They weren’t quite right. She chose a couple of other styles and slipped into them until she found exactly the right style and fit. She looked down at the open-toed sling-back shoes in natural leather. The woven leather would need time to soften and break in, but she knew they would soon become comfortable friends to her feet. She looked back at the woman, returned the smile, and pulled out her wallet.

“Did you come here to shop?” asked Granny when the clerk left to get Emma’s change.

Emma shook her head. “I’m meeting someone for lunch.”

Emma left the shoe stand with her new shoes in a bag and continued her way down the lane, stopping here and there to look at various wares until she reached her destination—Restaurante Roble. It was a good-size restaurant and one of the few on the street with a proper dining room and patio and waiters in pressed black pants and bright white shirts. Most of the other dining options were geared toward take-out or grabbing quick bites.

Emma quickly looked around as she approached a hostess standing at a podium. “I’m meeting a friend for lunch,” she told the young woman. “But I don’t think she’s here yet.”

Emma figured the hostess wasn’t much more than eighteen or twenty tops since her oval face still held a trace of the plumpness of childhood. Through lips the color of rubies, the girl flashed a wide smile of bright white teeth at Emma and at the two men in business suits who’d come up to the entrance behind her. The hostess was wearing a traditional Mexican costume of a long flouncy black skirt encircled with strips of green and red ribbon and white lace secured at her waist with a wide red sash. Her top was a short-sleeved white blouse adorned with intricate embroidery. A red ribbon secured her long glossy black hair at the back.

“Are you Emma?” she asked in a soft voice, her brown eyes wide and luminous with inquiry. The name tag attached just below her right shoulder said Ana.

“Why, yes, I am,” Emma answered with surprise.

“Follow me, please,” Ana told her. Before leading Emma away, Ana told the two men that she’d be right back to seat them and flashed another smile. Emma doubted the men minded the wait after that.

Emma followed the girl to the far end of the patio to a round table that could easily sit six. On the table was a Reserved sign. As she took a seat, she noted that all the tables near her also had similar signs. On the other end of the patio, most of the tables were filled with patrons.

“Ms. Ricardo will be with you in just a few minutes,” the hostess informed her as she handed Emma a menu. “May I get you something to drink?”

Emma started to order an iced tea, her usual drink of choice, but changed her mind. “Ana, do you have limeade?”

“Yes,” Ana said, offering up another bright smile. “It’s made fresh daily right here.”

“I’ll have that,” Emma said.

Ana left the table and stopped a waiter—a small dark man who looked to be in his early fifties with his dark hair pulled back into a tidy braid. She said something to him in Spanish and indicated Emma. A minute later he returned with an icy goblet of limeade, which he placed in front of Emma. His name tag read Hector and up close Emma noticed that his hair was laced with gray and his white shirt was actually embroidered white on white. She recognized the shirt as a guayabera, or Mexican wedding shirt. Behind him was a tall young man dressed in the same manner toting a basket of chips and two small bowls containing salsa and guacamole. His name tag read Carlos. The younger man put the items on the table and left.

“Will there be anything else, señora?” Hector asked.

“Nothing, thank you,” she responded pleasantly.

With a slight bow, Hector left her table, but not before Emma noticed him frowning at the empty tables around her.

The limeade was perfect, not too sweet yet not too tart. Emma preferred limeade over lemonade on hot summer days. She took several sips and smiled. Ana had said that Ms. Ricardo would be with her shortly. She only knew the first name of the woman she was meeting. It was Rikki. If Ms. Ricardo and Rikki were one and the same, then Emma was about to have lunch with Rikki Ricardo. She couldn’t wait to tell Phil, knowing he would get a big kick out of it.

Granny settled into the chair next to Emma. “I love Mexican food,” said the ghost with a breezy wistfulness. “There was a woman in Julian in my day who taught me how to make some of it. My man Jacob enjoyed it, too, especially her tamales, which I could never get just right. What are you ordering?”

“I don’t know yet, Granny,” Emma whispered, glad the tables around her were unoccupied. “I’m here to meet a woman from my yoga class.”

“Yoga? You mean all that bendy stuff you do?” The ghost rolled her eyes.

“Yes. She asked me if I’d meet her here today for lunch. She said it was about a ghost.”

At the mention of ghosts, Granny’s interest sparked to life. “Oh boy,” the ghost said with glee. “We haven’t had any excitement since Vegas.”

“And that’s how I like it,” said Emma, “uneventful and unexciting.”

Granny stuck out her chin. “Speak for yourself. You try being dead for over a hundred years. It gets real boring real quick.”

Ignoring the remark, Emma said, “I sensed some spirits as I walked through the street just now, but nothing seemed disturbed or unhappy about them.”

“Yeah,” said Granny. “I got the same feeling. Everything seems pretty calm on that front.”

“And,” Emma continued, “Rikki’s concern might not have anything to do with Olvera Street.”

Rikki had approached Emma at the end of their Thursday evening yoga class—a class Emma took every week in Pasadena if she was in town.

“You’re Emma Whitecastle, aren’t you?” the woman had inquired just as Emma left the yoga studio. Emma had seen her in class many times. She was petite but strong and sturdy with great flexibility.

“Yes, I am,” Emma had answered.

The woman adjusted her rolled yoga mat under her left arm and offered her right hand. Emma took it. “I’m Rikki,” the woman said, shaking Emma’s hand. “Can I speak to you for a moment?” Before Emma could say anything, Rikki added, “It’s about ghosts and I was hoping you could help.” When Emma stiffened with wariness, Rikki quickly added, “I know who you are. You’re the medium on TV. My family could really use your help with something. We’d be willing to pay you.”

“I don’t know how much help I can be,” Emma had demurred. “Maybe you should contact my colleague and mentor Milo Ravenscroft. He’s much better at contacting spirits than I am. They generally just come to me or I stumble upon them. I can give you Milo’s number.”

Rikki shook her head. “No, I’d rather it be you. We may not know each other well but at least you’re not a total stranger.” The woman gave Emma a shy smile. “My mother sometimes watches your show. She was quite impressed to learn that I took yoga with you.”

After coordinating their schedules, they agreed to meet for lunch on Tuesday, although Emma was surprised when Rikki had insisted on a restaurant on Olvera Street, a tourist spot.

“Is that her now?” asked Granny.

Emma looked up from the menu to see a woman around thirty speaking to Ana, then heading their way. She’d had short black hair when Emma had last seen her, but now it was cut even shorter in a trendy style that made her large brown eyes look even larger. She’d worn no makeup on Thursday night, but today her face and eyes were beautifully done. Like the waiters, she wore black pants and a white top, but her top was similar to the feminine embroidered blouse Ana was wearing.

“Yes,” Emma whispered to Granny, barely moving her lips. “That’s her.”

“Emma,” Rikki said with a big smile when she reached the table. She shook Emma’s hand with warmth. “Thank you so much for coming today.” She pulled out the chair next to Emma and sat down. It was the same chair Granny had been sitting in and Rikki sat down on top of the ghost.

Humpf!” groused Granny, moving to hover behind Emma. “I hate that.”

Ignoring Granny, Emma said to Rikki, “I haven’t been to Olvera Street since my daughter was in elementary school. I’d forgotten how cute and fun it is.” She held up the bags containing her purchases. “I even did some shopping. Do you work here?”

“I’m one of the owners of this restaurant and I also manage the place. My family has owned it since the late 1920s,” Rikki told Emma with great pride. “It started out as a hole-in-the-wall café. My great-grandfather waited the few tables and my great-grandmother did the cooking—everything from scratch. Over the years it expanded to become the largest restaurant on Olvera Street.”

Emma looked down at her menu and took note of the oak tree depicted on the front. She tapped it with a manicured nail. “Isn’t this the same logo that’s on Roble products in the grocery store? Any connection?”

Rikki nodded with another wide smile. “That’s us. Over the years we’ve gone from a tiny cantina to a large Mexican food brand. We’ve even launched two food trucks that are doing great. Roble means oak tree. My great-grandfather named the restaurant for the huge tree that grew on their property back in Mexico.”

“We use those products all the time at home,” Emma told her with a chuckle. “My boyfriend loves your salsa verde. He slathers it on almost anything he can. He’ll be tickled that I met you. In fact, I bet he’ll insist that we come here for dinner sometime soon.”

Rikki blushed a bit. “I’m sure with your TV show and your background with the rich and famous, you meet a lot more interesting people than us restaurant folks.”

“Don’t sell yourself short. Rich and famous doesn’t always translate into interesting. Besides,” Emma told her with a wink, “now I can tell people I had lunch with Rikki Ricardo.”

Rikki laughed and her blush went deeper. “Yeah, you’d think I would get used to that over time, wouldn’t you? Would you believe my sister is ...

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