“Damn!” Angela jerked the wheel to avoid the spinning Ferrari. The Forerunner moved sluggishly, the wheel resisting her efforts. Something popped painfully in Angela’s left shoulder. A hot wire burned down her arm, and the wheel slipped from her grasp. The Forerunner whipsawed, the back end suddenly sliding around. “Please Great Spirit!” Angela prayed as she re-grabbed the wheel. She was too late; they were heading for a man loading a luggage cart.
The bellman dove aside as the car clipped the cart, scattering bags and sending a lady’s feathered hat flying. Angela finally managed to right the Forerunner, and it shot between two parked cars, then bounced over a curb. It plunged through a short fence and plowed through the garden before sliding to a halt.
Angela slowly regained her senses, counting herself lucky that only her shoulder ached. Glancing over to Blasing, she saw he was a little dazed. Thank Great Spirit she hadn’t killed anyone. Suddenly her anger flared. Where had the ghostly stages come from? Better yet, where had they gone? And who was that idiot driving the Ferrari?!
“Counselor, I think I’ll drive next time,” Blasing said, gingerly touching his head. “WHAT???!” Blasing recoiled from the transparently pale face poking through the windshield. Hackles rose on his neck, and it tingled maddeningly.
“Oh dear, oh dear. Is everybody all right?” the ethereal figure asked, then bit his lower lip. The ghost’s eyes were wide, and his handlebar mustache twitched nervously as his gaze darted back and forth between Blasing and Angela.
Blasing was disconcerted, his mouth working soundlessly for a time. When he finally managed to speak, his voice was hoarse. “I’ve survived worse, thank you.” Blasing unbuckled his seat belt, then glanced at Angela. She had a pained look in her eyes but appeared unharmed otherwise. Somehow she looked even more stunning disheveled than she did composed. “How about you, Counselor?”
“Counselor? Miss Starborne? Oh my!” the crestfallen spirit cried, his ethereal hands nervously fluttering about as though a flock of birds.
“Besides a sore shoulder,” she said as she rubbed the spot, “I think I’m okay. I can move everything that’s supposed to move. How about you?”
“I’ll… be… fine.” As though the ghost’s disembodied state was contagious, Blasing was leaning away from it.
“I tried to warn you. Barney, meet Blasing Madera, Peter’s heir and now part owner of Ghostal Shores.”
“A pleasure indeed, sir,” Barney said, the tip of his head disappearing into the dashboard as he bowed. Blasing was glad the ghost didn’t offer to shake hands. “I apologize for such an inauspicious beginning to your inaugural visit to Ghostal Shores. We try diligently to ensure that our guests have an enjoyable stay. Though recently it seems that has become more difficult.”
“Why do you say that?” Angela asked. Unfastening her seat belt with shaky hands, she shoved open the door and crawled unsteadily out of the car.
“Every since Mr. MacGuire was murdered, things seem to have… well… soured. We have had numerous accidents, enough that the doctors, I mean, the METS or is that EMTs?” he rolled the acronym around in his mouth, “certainly know their way here from Point Reyes by now.” The ghost sagged as if he hadn’t ever had a bone in his body. Even the bars and jacket tassels on his shoulders drooped.
“How many accidents?” Angela asked.
“Nearly a dozen,” Barney replied.
“Are people dying,” Blasing asked, suddenly alarmed.
“No! No! Nothing quite so severe, good sir,” Barney explained. He began playing with his mustache, curling and stroking it. “Just broken bones, cuts and the like. They tell me it’s the usual kind of accidents, just a very large number. Some believe it’s our fault, but I assure you it’s not. Mr. Heller believes someone is trying to sabotage the construction. Maybe the same person who tried to kill him and murdered poor Mr. MacGuire by accident.”
“Hey, is everyone all right?” a stout young man clad in a green bellman’s outfit asked.
“They’re fine, Anthony,” the ghost concierge replied, then gave instructions to take good care of them.
“I want to discuss driving with the owner of that Ferrari,” Angela growled. She didn’t see him anywhere. Anthony promised to get his name. “Thank you,” Angela said, her smile feral.
“I imagine the Sheriff will want to talk with you folks,” Barney said, then sighed, his chest puffing up like a balloon. “At least he won’t have far to go.”
“What do you mean by that?” Angela asked; she didn’t like what she was hearing.
“Sheriff Middleton is staying here while he continues to investigate Mac’s murder.” The ghost looked critically at Angela, who was leaning on Blasing, then smiled apologetically. “But enough. I believe you should rest a while. Just ask any ghost– after it’s all said and done–a near death experience is more frightening than actually dying. Go relax. We’ll check in for you.”
“Is this it?” Anthony asked, holding up Blasing’s overnight bag and both of Angela’s suitcases. They nodded.
“What about those ghostly stagecoaches?” Blasing asked Barney, who had stopped at the curb. Anthony had also halted, waiting for a limousine to pass. It was followed by a burgundy Mercedes 450 SL, then a classic white ’65 Jaguar with gold wheels and trim.
“A very odd sight,” the ghost bell captain replied, his brows knitting together. The three of them looked around at the crowd. People were talking excitedly and pointing toward the front entrance as if the stage had raced up the steps and through the main doors.
The customers were a melting pot of various nationalities and cultures. By their clothes, jewels and mannerisms, many were obviously well-to-do. A few patrons looked stringently studious. Others were eccentrically attired with crystals to match. Regardless of their background, each one appeared thrilled as if something miraculous had happened to change their lives.
“The first stagecoach to arrive at the Goldfield Hotel in over a hundred years,” Barney told them.
“I thought I was at Ghostal Shores,” Blasing said, now very confused.
“You are at Ghostal Shores, but I have– had– worked at the Goldfield for so long, that it just slips out sometimes. Mr. MacGuire said he understood. You see, the spirit of the Goldfield lies within Ghostal Shores– a fine establishment that welcomes all and spoils most.” He winked. “The essence of the Old West is here, wrapped within Ghostal Shores’ grandeur, beauty and spirited service.” He smiled broadly, then made an elegant, sweeping gesture toward the front entrance. “If you like, I will ask around and see if any new spirits have checked in.”
“Take good care of them Anthony, Mr. Madera is your new boss.”
The bellboy straightened as if he’d been starched. “You’ll be checked in so fast you’ll think the express line is run by snails.” Anthony headed across the driveway. “Yes sir, ma’am, I’m your man, Tony Swift that’s me.” Angela and Blasing followed him. Barney just floated along lazily apace.
“Thank you, Barney,” Angela said. “You always take such good care of me. How is Broderick taking Peter’s death?”
“He has been rather withdrawn, I’m afraid.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“But I’m sure your presence will brighten his day. I’ll let him know you’re here.”
“Who’s Broderick?” Blasing asked.
“Mr. MacGuire’s personal valet,” Barney told him.
“He’s very British,” Angela added.
“If I may be so bold,” the host ghost began, “might I suggest you ring the house doctor? While you wait for him, might I also suggest you visit Cannon? It might help you relax.”
“I’ll take your advice,” Angela replied.
“Then good day, madam and fine sir.” The ghost floated off to greet others.
“Who’s Cannon?” Blasing asked Angela.
“The bartender,” Angela asked. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Come tomorrow, it’ll probably feel like an awkward ski fall. My guardian angel takes good care of me.”
“You believe in guardian angels?” Angela asked with an arching eyebrow.
“Ms. Starborne, you’re talking to the only survivor of a private plane crash at age six. I felt I was unlucky then, but when I survived a commercial airplane wreck at age thirteen, I just knew I was hard to kill, and for the next dozen or so years, I was determined to prove it. Isn’t youthful wisdom wonderful?”
“Blasing, please explain to me how believing in ghosts is stranger than believing in guardian angels?”
Blasing was thoughtful, then admitted. “Good point, Counselor. I’ll try to be more open-minded. How are you feeling?”
“I’ll survive.” Angela replied as she gingerly moved her shoulder. “Blasing, if it isn’t too much trouble, could you call me Angela? I am your lawyer now, and we could have died together.”
“Sure, Angela,” Blasing replied with a slight smile. “I wonder where the stagecoaches went?”
“Let’s ask,” Angela said. A lanky bellman with red hair and a droopy mustache told them that the stagecoaches had raced through the side of the building. Her thank you and smile made him beam.
While Anthony was grabbing a luggage cart, Angela and Blasing paused at a forest-green carpeted stairway. One set of steps headed upward to the portico. The other and a ramp led down into a modern-looking lobby where a green-suited staff tried to guide and organize the guests and their sea of luggage.
A Hispanic priest was standing back and appeared to be studying the crowd. An over-dressed and heavily jeweled woman carrying a poodle was harassing her husband and a stocky bellman. An elderly Asian gentleman, with the aid of his valet, counted and then recounted his black trunks. Coming up the ramp, a group of bald men dressed in brown robes were departing. They were followed by a thin man dressed in a tweed suit, smoking a pipe and reading the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Anthony, do you need anything else from us?” Angela asked.
He promised to check in, then take their baggage to their rooms. “I assume you have reservations?” Anthony asked.
“I’d better have,” Angela said grimly. “My office was supposed to have called yesterday.”
“Just like last night?” Blasing asked. She shot him a sharp glance. Her office had forgotten to notify him of her visit, leading to several awkward moments; Angela had been the first to tell him of his uncle’s murder. He’d been upset; a week had passed since the murder, and no one had notified him. She’d been out of the state, but that didn’t explain why no one had contacted him.
“Where should I bring the keys? To the bar?”
“That sounds like a good idea.” Blasing handed him a twenty.
Beaming, Anthony thanked him, then carted their luggage down the ramp into the bustling lobby.
“You certainly know how to make a good first impression.”
“I live in a resort town, remember? Almost everybody lives off tips,” Blasing reminded her.
“Even bodyguards? What kind of tips do they get?”
“I wouldn’t know. Rich handles
“How do you get certified?” Angela almost laughed. When she saw his serious expression, she decided otherwise. “Let’s go this way.” Angela waved toward the front steps. “You’ll get a better feel for the place than by entering through the lobby.” Throwing him a smile, she headed up the steps.
Blasing watched her lithe movements, trying to convince himself he should be paying more attention to Ghostal Shores than Angela. But in all honesty, he wanted to be distracted. The ghosts had unnerved him more than just a little– and that couldn’t be said about too many things.
After a deep breath, Blasing steeled himself and ascended the stairs, running his hand along the ornate balustrade. Angela was waiting at the large double doors. Hanging above her was an elegant crystal chandelier. “We’re actually on the second floor, but they call it the first. The bedrock prevented much digging.” Angela took his arm, guiding him inside. “This is the Pacific Overlook, but I call it the Cathedral to the Coast for obvious reasons.”
“Impressive,” Blasing said. It was almost as if he hadn’t stepped inside. The mammoth chamber was airy, the ceiling over three stories tall with arched windows stretching toward a bright, domed skylight. The second and third story walls were mirrored, adding depth and space by reflecting the sea and sky framed by the large bayview window across the room atop the stairs.
To their left, three sets of double doors stood between pairs of fluted golden lamps, and the dark wood furnishings were situated as though small talk, backgammon or cards were required. None of the furniture looked very comfortable– more to be looked at than sat in. “The furniture is from the late 1800’s, most of it Victorian, and was part of Peter’s attempt to capture the mood of the past.”
“And half of this is mine?” Blasing asked, sounding amazed.
“Yes, but don’t be surprised if Mr. Heller contests the will,” Angela replied. “The signed copy of the final will never reached my office, and oddly enough, it wasn’t found among Peter’s effects, either. We’ll just have to deal with it. Earlier versions are signed, and I don’t foresee a serious problem. A delay at worst.
“The Pacific Crest restaurant and the Clifftop Bar are this way. Come on.” She finally released his arm and headed for the steps and ramp. Murmuring voices, some light laughter, and the clinking of glasses and silverware drifted down toward them. As they ascended the stairs, they passed a descending security guard.
“Quite a place,” Blasing said. The bar was part tea room and part arboretum, full of potted trees and plants surrounding dark tables and comfortable-looking armchairs that might have been removed from a favorite uncle’s lavish study. A massive set of windows faced westward, ready to capture a Pacific sunset and the migration of any whales.
The lounge was busy but not crowded, the
In contrast, the copper-topped and horseshoe-shaped bar was very crowded near the coastal windows. Hustling about, a short, amber-haired young man was busy mixing and blending drinks. Bright sunlight glinted off the mirrors behind him and splayed through the haze. Near the apex of the horseshoe, the restaurant could be seen through an archway.
“Come on,” Angela laughed, “there’s someone I want you to meet.” With the ease and familiarity of a couple who had been together a long time, Angela took his arm and led him toward the quiet end of the bar. She was surprised at the girlish tingle of excitement she felt and told herself to get a grip.
The bar was made of a rich, dark wood, but the footrail and countertop were polished copper. Suspended above the bar and bending around the horseshoe into the restaurant were racks of glasses. The pillars behind the bar were chainsaw-cut wooden bears that held a low shelf of liquor bottles. Above them were three mirrors etched with scenes of the ocean– one at sunset, another during fog, and the last at night under a full moon.
Blasing took a moment to check his reflection; he looked tired and frazzled. He glanced at Angela. She was quite striking– seemingly windblown and wanton but somehow composed at the same time. “What would you like?” she asked.
“Something stiff. A B&B, I think.”
“And a glass of merlot,” Angela said to no one in particular.
At the far end of the bar, the bartender was working feverishly in an attempt to keep up with the laughing and yet demanding crowd. There were over a dozen patrons, with nearly an equal number of men and women of varied nationalities. Except for a few brilliant ties and a couple of strikingly short skirts, they were dressed in conservative business attire and smoking like dragons with serious indigestion. Drinks rarely sat idle, either rapidly consumed or sloshed with every gesture.
From what Blasing could overhear, the group had the air of wheedling street merchants. “I’ll have another Tequila and Grape.” “Come on bud, step up to the pump. I bought the last round.” “Isn’t it your round?” “Can I borrow fifty bucks? I’ll pay you Friday.”
Angela noticed where Blasing was looking and said, “They remind me of salespeople.”
Before Blasing could ask his question, a brandy snifter and a wine glass drifted from the glasses rack. He felt the hair on the back of his neck rise as he watched a brown, genie-looking bottle float from a nearby shelf. The cap spun off, then the bottle inverted to pour.
“Cannon, please show yourself. Mr. Madera is looking skittish,” Angela teased, trying to relax Blasing. It didn’t work. “Please, Cannon.”
The air behind the bar wavered as if above hot asphalt, then a gray mist appeared, coalescing into a very large ghost. Cannon was a broad, bull of a woman. Her hair was short, her nose crooked, and her double chin added creases to her dimples. Cannon was dressed in a white cotton shirt, bow tie and dark pants. Laughing, the ghost said, “I can see why ya wouldn’t want this one ta run off, Angie!” Her smile was mammoth, extending from ear to ear.
Angela blushed but said coolly, “Unnerving a person is not an appropriate greeting, especially for Peter’s heir apparent. Liberty Cannon, meet Blasing Madera, nephew of Peter MacGuire. Blasing, meet the Ghostal Shores spirit bartender extraordinaire.”
“Alchemist, I say. Not bartender. Not mixologist. Alchemist! My drinks are as much magic as
“An heir,” Angela said, rolling her eyes. “Peter left his half of Ghostal Shores to Blasing.”
“Did ya say new owner?” Cannon asked. Angela nodded. “Praise the Lord!” She threw her ethereal arms into the air. The glasses in the rack jumped, performing a quick jig in celebration. Suddenly, Cannon grew serious, scrutinizing Blasing as if sizing him up.
“Pleased to meet you, uh, Liberty,” Blasing managed. Under her stare, he felt pierced to his soul, as though the ghost had pushed aside the veil of flesh to reveal his true spirit. Curious about what would happen, he offered to shake hands.
Liberty Cannon looked at his hand, then his face, then blew him a kiss. She “tsked” him twice, then in an accusing voice said, “Ya know the rules.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Angela said. “He was just informed about Peter’s death last night. We just drove in from Tahoe.”
The other bartender stopped behind Cannon, whispering something. She nodded and he left, heading toward the restaurant. “The rules?” Blasing asked.
A pair of bright yellow rubber gloves floated to Cannon and she slipped them on. With a smile, she shook his hand. “None of the ghosts are allowed ta touch a guest flesh ta flesh, so ta speak. It ain’t proper, nor easy. Not like moving things around, though that takes lots of practice, too. And touching people… feels strange, does something ta both the ghost and the person being touched. I did it while at the Goldfield once or twice. Anywho, blame the rule on Fawn.”
“Fawn? Who is she?” Blasing asked, looking from the ghost bartender to Angela, who appeared disgusted.
“Hey, Cannon,” someone at the end of the bar yelled, “the Blues for everybody.”
Cannon didn’t look at him, or at any of the others crammed around that end of the bar. “I used ta do this at the Goldfield late at night when it was busy and the customers were really drunk.” Suddenly, a large glass, a steel shaker and a bunch of ice jumped together. Somewhere below the bar top, a refrigerator opened and a dark bottle flew out. It inverted as it drifted over the shaker, then the top fell off letting schnapps slowly drain out. At first the liquid flowed normally, then it changed, spiralling before finally performing loops as though pumped through an invisible tube. The shaker snapped together and rattled about.
“And what are the other rules?” Blasing managed.
Suddenly, the glass half of the shaker popped off, and the concoction surged back and forth over a few feet, never spilling a drop. “If any of the ghosts are caught stealing, harming a guest, or anything else they’d prosecute the normal staff for under the law, that ghost will be cleaned out.” She appeared perturbed.
“Cleaned out? How?” Blasing asked.
“They call in a psychic or a priest, then they try ta exorcise ya,” Cannon replied. “Not that they need ta call anyone anymore. We have one on staff now.”
“You do?” Angela asked. “Who?”
“A Madame Zanadane from Vancouver. She used to be a frequent visitor.”
“I know her. She was always asking Peter for a job. Why did Mr. Heller hire her?”
“Hellraiser doesn’t confide in me, but I think it’s ta keep us in line. Not that its needed. Fact is, the rest of the ghosts might do the cleaning first, kicking out the offending party. But there’s never been any trouble. We like it here, I’ll say, and the others agree. I sure miss Mr. MacGuire, though. I sure do.”
“Me too,” Blasing said, suddenly feeling low about not staying in better contact with Mac. If these spirits and Angela cared for him that much, he must have changed. “Why Cannon, instead of Liberty?”
Cannon laughed raucously. “I’ll say times have changed, that’s fer sure.
With a loud smack, the shakers clamped back together. Leaping out from a stack on the back counter, a group of rocks glasses air-danced, then lined-up with military precision. A strainer joined the shaker and the pouring began. “Sure ya don’t want to hear?”
“I get the feeling that’s not a good idea, Cannon,” Blasing replied.
The ghost winked at him. “Ya can call me Liberty, if ya want.”
“Uh,” there was some stifled laughter from behind Blasing, “excuse me. Mr. Madera, Ms. Starborne. You’re in Suite 351.”
They turned to look at Anthony. “That’s Peter’s suite,” Angela said. Then realized, “You mean we’ll be staying together?”
Anthony quickly grew serious, apologizing as he hastily explained about the booking problem. “Besides, where else would you want to stay? Mr. MacGuire’s suite is fantastic, with a huge lounge and two bedrooms with their own baths. It’s loaded like no place else with a TV, stereo and bar.” His excitement faded as he remembered why the suite was available. He told them their luggage had been delivered, and if they had questions to ask Mr. Cash– the assistant manager. Then he handed them each a card key.
“I also took the liberty,” Anthony suddenly chuckled, “of bringing you these.” He handed Blasing a bottle of ibuprofen. “If you need anything else, just ring. Anthony at your service.”
Before he could move, Blasing tipped him again. “The room will be fine. I don’t bite,” he said, glancing at Angela.
Anthony gave her the information about the Ferrari driver, then said, “I also took the liberty….” He chuckled again, barely able to finish, “of telling Broderick that you were here.”
Blasing could feel his hackles rise when Cannon leaned over the bar. “Ya’d better get outta here before ya become a ghost bell boy, Antonio,” Cannon said in a low voice filled with menace. “Remember, I’m not meek and kindly like most of my fellow spirits!” The bellboy quickly thanked Blasing again, then quickly departed.
“Cannon,” Blasing started.
“Call me Liberty,” she said.
“Would you remember I was talking to you if I did?”
Cannon blinked quickly several times, then laughed loudly and said, “Ya’re a quick one, I’ll say. Liberty, dear, bring me a beer!” Tears came to her eyes. “I’d say probably not! I might think I had a relative of Patrick Henry’s at my bar! Cannon it is!” The large ghost nodded then wiped at apparent tears.
Blasing glanced at Angela. She appeared surprised as though she’d never seen Cannon cry before. If he touched her tears, would they be wet, Blasing wondered”Good, he might be able to answer some questions.”
“He can if ya can tolerate his British superiority.”
Blasing sighed. “Have you seen any new ghosts around? Somebody who might’ve just come in on a stagecoach?” Cannon shook her head. “You’re sure? Big man with a bony face and a scar. Or a bearded man with a shot gun? Even a beautiful woman in a frilly dress.”
“A stage ya say? That’s odd. Don’t know the gents, but the filly might have been Charity, or one of the other ladies of the evening. They’re all pretty. If it wasn’t, this might be fun. I haven’t met any new spirits in a while.”
“Not even Mac’s?”
“Nope, and we searched, I’ll tell ya. New ghosts just don’t come to Ghostal Shores by stagecoach or horse.”
“How do new ghosts arrive?” Blasing asked.
“This ain’t no old folks home for wandering ghosts, you know! We don’t want no vagabonds! We got a good crew, I’ll say. Toe the line, ya know. Besides, ghosts don’t just wander around. We’re tied ta something– a person or a place. I died of a heart attack while bartending at the Goldfield. Anyway, so ya see a stagecoach from Gold Hills or Virginia City don’t just pull up.”
“Two just did,” Angela and Blasing said simultaneously.
“I believe ya! It’s just that we ghosts are usually bound where we died, someplace very familiar, or near somebody for some reason. I could never think of anyone I wanted ta be around that long, ya know.” She winked at Angela.
“So there’s never any new ghosts?”
“That’s not what I said,” she sounded exasperated. “We picked up about a half-dozen newcomers from Aurora when they built the south wing.” Before either Angela or Blasing could say anything, Cannon continued, “And none new from the north wing yet. It’s probably not even haunted. S’okay. Plenty of us already. And we all get along together, nice and family like. Well, except fer Marsh, as ya know.” She shrugged.
“So there aren’t any scarred or beautiful green-eyed ghosts at Ghostal Shores?” Blasing asked, wanting a definitive answer.
“Not unless they’re newcomers.”
“I’ve got a headache.” Blasing popped the top off the bottle, took two pills, then gave the container to Angela. As Blasing glanced through Cannon at the mirror, he said, “I’ll be back in a minute, I’m going to clean up. Where are the bathrooms?” The ghost pointed back to the left. “Thanks.”
Angela watched him go, then in a resigned tone muttered, “And I’m going to call the doctor, then the front desk about our rooms.” Cannon laughed heartily.
Blasing passed a loitering security guard, then rounded the corner into the hall. He spotted a house phone and remembered he’d forgotten to call Patrick and Kelly. Blasing dialed the front desk, billed the call to his room and spoke to Mrs. Wilson and his kids.
When Blasing hung up the phone, he felt a tingling sensation as the hair stood on his neck. Scraping sounds, like boots across planks, came from the hallway. He warily turned to face the noise.
Standing against the wall and between the bathroom doors was a ghost from the stage. He was clad in a starkly white leather jacket that hung to his knees and a black cowboy hat with a red band. His face was shaded darker than night, leaving little visible but the spirit’s blocky jaw, the outline of a bony face, and bright yellow eyes like flames deep within dark pits. Again Blasing felt as if something terrible were going to happen.
“Can I help you?” Blasing asked, managing his fear.
The ghost pointed at him, made an hourglass gesture with both hands, pointed again, then slashed its finger across its throat in a slitting gesture. Suddenly, its head rolled free, falling through the floor. As the headless body turned around and disappeared into the wall, there was the fading sound of laughter.