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"Elvis lives." Harley Jean Davidson didn't really mean that, but what else could she say when her father was looking so expectant, waiting for her to comment nicely? "I'm sure he'd be pleased if he could see you dressed up like him," she added.
Yogi grinned and twirled so that his jeweled white cape flashed in a glitter of green, red, and blue stones her mother had carefully sewn into what looked like eight yards of satin. Sunlight coming through the front window gleamed off the stones, almost blinding her. Good Lord.
"This year, I've had to turn down gigs. I've been practicing." Yogi struck another pose, this time with one leg behind him, the other bent at the knee in a half-crouch, his arm flung out in front like he was trying to hail a taxi.
Harley barely kept from rolling her eyes. She dreaded Elvis Week. It came every year in August, the momentum building up to a climactic frenzy of Elvis-related activities downtown and at Graceland. Perhaps she wouldn't dread it so badly if Yogi hadn't made a habit of tugging on a white jumpsuit and impersonating The King, whom he still admired more than twenty years after Elvis's death. It'd been greatly humiliating when she was younger and more concerned with the opinion of her peers. Now it registered a lesser blip on her radar screen. Over the years, she'd learned there were far worse humiliations her parents could generate than an unnatural attachment to a long-dead celebrity.
When she looked over at Diva, her mother said to Yogi, "This is the year you'll be famous."
Strong accolade, considering Diva's uncannily accurate predictions. She might miss some of the details, but latelyshe'd been right more times than not. That should please Yogi.
"Of course," her mother added, "it won't be quite as you expect, but your name will be linked with Elvis's in a spectacular way."
That was a little unsettling. In light of the past few months of unwanted publicity, Harley would have preferred anything but spectacular. "Our family has been in the news quite enough, thank you verra much," she said, her accent on the last phrase a really bad imitation of Elvis. It made Yogi smile, as it always did.
"This is the year I'll win first prize," he said jubilantly. "Always a runner-up, but now I think I have a real shot at it. Preston Hughes dropped out."
Preston Hughes was Yogi's archrival in the Elvis impersonator contests. His rendition of Love Me Tender brought down the house every time. The judges loved him. While Yogi could imitate Elvis fairly well, he didn't have the vocal range Hughes did.
"I'll do what I can to be there," Harley said, "but August is our busiest month, you know. All those tourists wanting to do Graceland means we have every van full. It's still July, and I did eight runs yesterday in twelve hours. I'd take a load out there, drop them off, go back for another one, bring another group back, take another one. I don't know how Tootsie kept it all straight, who went where, and when, but he did. He's amazing."
Diva smiled. "The candlelight vigil this year will be interesting. Perhaps you should skip it, Harley."
Harley looked at her. "I'd love to, but that's our busiest night. All drivers are needed. Mr. Penney would fire me if I missed it. And I'm on shaky ground as it is after all that's happened."
"I know. But I have a feeling that you should miss it anyway."
"I wish you hadn't said that. I'm already committed. Tootsie would get into a snit if I tried to change on him now. I'd really like to keep my job"
"You seem very content these days. I'm glad."
"I am content. While I admit driving a tour bus isn't the best-paying job around, it does pay my bills. I like doing it. The hours are flexible, the people are usually nice, and when they aren't, I soon get rid of them and never have to see them again. Look in your crystal ball again. Are you sure that warning isn't meant for someone else? I'd hate to bail on Tootsie now."
"Whatever you think best, Harley."
Harley hated it when her mother said things like that. It always felt like she'd made a bad decision when Diva tranquilly agreed with her.
"Okay. I have to ask. Why do you think I shouldn't go?"
By now Diva was headed to the kitchen and Harley followed along behind her, something she could have done even in the dark since her mother liked wearing tiny bells sewn into her loose, flowing skirts. Diva still dressed much as she had in the late sixties and early seventies, with her pale blond hair long and down her back, tunic tops and skirts to her ankles, sandals and bracelets and necklaces that she made herself out of crystals and beads and leather. Diva and Yogi lived in their own era, and it didn't much matter to them that time had moved on.
Diva's reply drifted back over her shoulder. "It's your choice, Harley."
"Yes, I know it's my choice. That doesn't mean I'll make the right choice. Come on. Give me a clue here. You know something I don't, apparently."
"Rama and Ovid are concerned."
Harley couldn't help it. She rolled her eyes. "What do Rama and Ovid have to do with me? They're your spirit guides, not mine."
"What you do affects me. You're my daughter. But perhaps it's best that you do go. It will help your father feel so much better."
"Oh good Lord. That sounds ominous. I'm not going to have to get up on stage at one of his shows and throw my panties or anything like that, am I?"
Diva laughed. "I'm sure not. Oh, will you let King in? The pet door is broken."
Recognizing she wasn't going to learn anything else until her mother chose to tell her, Harley went to the back door and opened it. King, her father's black and white Border Collie named for Elvis, trotted inside. His paws were muddy, and seeing as how there'd been no rain lately, that no doubt meant he'd been up to mischief again.
"I thought the higher fence Yogi put up kept King from getting out," she said as she gave the dog a pat on the head that promptly elicited an ecstatic wiggle of his entire body.
"It does. Why?"
"His feet are wet. I'll bet he's been fishing in Mrs. Erland's pond again."
"Perhaps he's just been in the garden. Yogi hooked up a watering system. King likes to go back there and sample tomatoes on occasion."
That explained the glazed look in King's eyes. Yogi's illegal tobacco grew right next to the tomato plants, and the crop of both had a relaxing effect on those who indulged. Since King couldn't roll his own and smoke, he'd obviously found eating the tomatoes a nice substitution. Well, whatever kept him from being the neighborhood scourge had to be an improvement.
"He seems much better behaved now," she remarked. "Maybe he's settling down."
"The obedience classes helped, I think. How kind of the Border Collie Rescue to help out."
"They just didn't want to get stuck with him. But I'm grateful for anything that keeps me from having to go looking for him at three in the morning."
"You have an affinity for animals, Harley. I don't know why you resist it. That's a lovely talent to have."
"Right. If you don't mind pet hair over all your clothes, on the floor, on the furniture, in your food--"
"So how is Sam?"
Harley sighed. "He's fine. I can't believe I let Cami talk me into keeping that cat. I had to pay Mr. Lancaster a pet deposit. A hundred dollars, just so I can clean out a litter box and pay good money for a scratching post and toys that I use more than he does. He looks at me like I'm crazy when I try to get him to play with them. I think I've been had."
"We don't often choose animals. They choose us. They're on a higher spiritual plane than we are and can sense people with good hearts."
"Which explains why Sam is so picky about who pets him, I suppose. It's rather nice having a cat that's smarter than people."
"He's not necessarily smarter, just isn't burdened with preconceived ideas about how things are supposed to be. He sees with all his senses. Just like King."
While Diva smiled at the dog, who seemed to know good things were being said about him and wagged his tail so hard it should have flown across the room, Harley reflected on the simple truth that animals had some kind of pipeline to objectivity. They never let anything like concern about their next meal interfere with behavior patterns that bordered on criminal. If it wasn't for the cuteness factor, dogs would never have been allowed into that first cave. And she wasn't at all sure they were domesticated. Cats were definitely still undomesticated, despite the popular belief that they were house pets. They weren't. They just had good PR agents.
"Listen to this," Yogi said from the kitchen doorway, and Harley turned, wincing a little at the sight of him still in his Elvis getup. At least his pot belly had shrunk, and with his long sideburns, once he got his annual haircut he'd resemble Elvis pretty closely--if closely included cherubic cheeks and a nose that was a bit short, lips that were a little too thin, and height a couple of inches below six feet. The Elvis contest was the only time he ever cut his hair; the rest of the time he kept it in a ponytail.
"We're listening," Harley said as her father hit a few chords on his guitar.
Yogi launched into a pretty good imitation of Elvis singing Suspicious Minds. He really wasn't bad. Even his guitar playing had improved.
"I've been taking guitar lessons from Eric," he said when she complimented him on how good he sounded. "This is the year I'll win. I just know it."
Harley couldn't help a big smile. Yogi was always so certain he'd win, and when he lost, always so determined to win the next time. "I'll just bet you do win this year."
He did another Elvis stance. "Thank you. Thank you verra much."
Time to go. Harley left after the usual farewell rituals and stood on the front porch a minute before heading to her car parked at the curb. Huge oaks hung over the street on both sides, shading it save for a few patches of sunlight.
Her parents' house was only a few blocks from the University of Memphis--formerly known as Memphis State, and before that, Normal State, the latter no doubt changed when it became obvious it was a more hopeful than realistic name. The Normal neighborhood had gone through many transitions over the years. In the thirties up to the fifties it'd been full of young families, then older families. In the sixties, college kids and hippies painted flowers everywhere, grew pot in closets with sophisticated lighting, then melded like chameleons into yuppies and left it all in a shabby air of neglect. In the past decade or so, the transition had started all over again. Some of the older families like hers had stuck it out, but some of the houses were divided into rented rooms for university students. Now younger families had started buying and renovating the older homes in the area. Most of the families at this end of Douglass Street were older. On the other end, swing sets and kids' toys littered yards like some kind of plastic nuclear blast.
A wide front porch ran the length of her parents' bungalow-style house. In summer it held chairs, in winter it held hardy plants. Now it held Harley's younger brother. Eric was just coming up the steps onto the porch. Tall, thin, and nearly always dressed in black, he smiled when he saw her.
"Hey, cool chick."
"Hey, dude." Standard greetings over, she asked him about his art classes the coming year at the University of Memphis, the heavy metal rock band he was in, and if he'd be going to the big Elvis finals competition with their parents. Provided Yogi made it that far.
He shook his head, and afternoon light glittered off the earring in one ear. "Not this time. We've got a gig that night. Thank God."
Harley completely understood. "Yeah, I have to work. I hope. What color do you call that on your head? It looks pink."
He brushed a hand over the gelled hair standing four inches high on his scalp. "Fuschia. It didn't turn out quite like I wanted."
"That's a relief. I'd hate to think you were going for that look."
"I'm thinking of shaving my head and tattooing the hair on."
"Now there's a look guaranteed to break a mother's heart. I'll be glad when you grow out of this difficult stage. Think it'll be any time soon?"
Eric just grinned. "Maybe. Maybe not."
That was the thing about her family. They just drifted along at their own speed, heedless of convention or opinions, happy to just exist. Why couldn't she be like that? No, she had to be in this phase where she questioned everything about her life: her job, her direction, why she was still unmarried at nearly thirty, and even if she ever wanted to get married.
Not that she did without male companionship. While she refused to think of it as a bona fide relationship, she certainly enjoyed all the perks of keeping company with Mike Morgan, the hottest undercover cop in Memphis. Three months, and things just got hotter. She liked to tell acquaintances that they'd met over murder. It was certainly a conversational icebreaker. And very nearly true.
So what if the beginning of their relationship had been a little rocky? It'd smoothed out. Perseverance and tolerance helped. Given his line of work, the sharp edges were understandable, if not always desirable. While most of the time, she saw only a killer bod, electric blue eyes, dark hair that was usually a little shaggy around the edges, and a grin that made her stomach do funny flips, he had another side that she wouldn't want to confront in a dark alley. Or even at high noon in the middle of the street. That side was feral and gave her shivers of the uh-oh kind. She'd only caught a glimpse of it a few times, and wasn't especially eager to see it again. She liked him much better when he was agreeable, even if a little intolerant about her stumbling over corpses.
Later that evening, Morgan reminded her about his intolerance of her new direction in life. "Over two months without you finding a body or two lying around." He blew into her ear and she shivered. "I'm glad to see you've reformed."
"I like to think of it as keeping better company, thank you."
"No jewelry thieves, no smugglers--what do you do with all your spare time?"
She slanted her eyes at him. "When I'm not being asked annoying questions by a naked man in my bed, I knit scarves for the homeless and hang out on street corners. It's not like I tried to find bodies, you know."
"So you say. Baroni must be delirious with relief."
"Bobby," she said, "is a jerk."
"That's not a nice thing to say about an old friend. How would he feel if he heard you?"
"He's already heard it and didn't seem too bothered. We're not speaking at the moment. Sometimes we do that."
Mike laughed softly. "Do I want to know what happened?"
"Probably, but I'm not going to tell you."
He rolled over on top of her and pinned her arms back to the pillows. "I have ways of making you talk, y'know."
She looked up with a smile and whispered, "Do your worst, copper."
"How about," he whispered back as he moved over her in a most intriguing way, "I do my best instead?"
"I'm up for it."
He smiled. "So am I."
Tootsie looked a bit frayed when Harley showed up for work a little earlier than usual the next morning. The phone was ringing, and paperwork had piled up on his desk.
"You look like you had a bad night," she said, plopping the leather backpack she used as a purse down atop his desk. "Want me to help out?"
"Grab the phone. Take a name and number and tell them we'll call back." He looked up at her, frustration in his eyes. "This time of year is always a bitch."
"Isn't it?" She answered the phone for a few minutes, and when it finally stopped ringing, blew out a breath of relief. "I don't know how you do it. Some of these people are downright rude if they don't hear what they want to hear."
Tootsie batted his eyelashes. "I use my Southern charm. Works every time."
She grinned. "Must be why I'm not very good at it. I failed that class."
"You just spent too much time in California. It was all that commune living as a child. Southern charm is usually a requirement here."
"Not for everyone. You do recall my Aunt Darcy and cousins?"
"Ah yes. There are those who don't show up for class. What's up?"
She got up from the chair and perched on the edge of his desk while he got back to the computer. "I don't suppose you'd schedule me for airport runs during the candlelight vigil? Or taking tourists to Beale Street? Or Victorian Village? Or AutoZone, or--"
"I'd be happy to, but Charlsie already put in for the airport, and Jake got Beale Street, and Sharon took Victorian Village. Since your time off, they have seniority. I did have a Dixon Art Gallery run, but you're still banned from there so I sent Lydia. Sorry, baby."
Harley sighed. "I understand. I don't like it, but I understand. Of course, if any of them get sick, I get first chance at their run. Deal?"
"Deal." Tootsie laughed. "Just don't get any ideas."
"You know me so well." She smiled. Thomas "Tootsie" Rowell was really one of her best friends. He'd hired her immediately when she'd answered the ad in the paper, and they'd gotten along famously ever since. She even attended his shows at times, where he dressed up like Cher or Madonna or Liza Minnelli, or whoever caught his fancy. Hard to admit, but Tootsie was more gorgeous as a woman than most women. He wasn't much taller than she, only about five seven to her five six, and borrowed her dresses from her corporate days of wining and dining. She hated to admit he looked better in them than she ever had. But then, she was much more comfortable in jeans and a tee shirt anyway. Evening dresses had never been her style, and it probably showed every time she wore one.
She'd been at Memphis Tour Tyme for a year now, and most of the time liked her job as a tour driver and occasional taxi service. That depended on where she was needed most, since the company had recently branched out into offering short runs as well as the regular tours. It'd taken a while to get the licensing and regulations straight, and required more training for the drivers so everyone could get their piece of the financial pie. But more vehicles were added to the fleet and all the drivers qualified. It wasn't like her former job in corporate banking. If she disliked the clients, she got rid of them at the end of the day, where before she'd had to deal with them on a regular basis. Not to mention several tiers of former bosses, some of whom were nice but most of whom were stereotypical jerks. Maybe she should have finished college, but at the time it hadn't seemed nearly as important as it did now. Ah, her shallow youth was behind her. She was now entering the halls of maturity. Things could be worse.
Tootsie snapped his fingers in front of her face. "Hello? You in there?"
"Sorry. Just thinking how lucky I am to still have a job."
"Baby, you just don't know."
"Sure I do. You went to bat for me. I'm convinced you've got something on the ogre. If you didn't, I'd have been out the door back in May."
"Don't get too comfortable. And for pity's sake, don't go around finding any more dead bodies."
"Which makes me wonder--is there such a thing as finding live bodies?"
Tootsie rolled his eyes. "Sometimes you act so blonde."
"I am a blonde."
"I know. But you're usually a smart blonde. There's a run you can take this afternoon. I know it's one you'll like. Elvis impersonators."
"A taxi run? I thought I was scheduled for Tupelo."
"They cancelled at the last minute. Fortunately for you, we have this one."
She sighed. "I'm in hell."
"Not until two o'clock, baby."
By two-thirty, Harley was rethinking the entire tour guide thing. Just getting around town was a feat of luck and persistence. But now her ears hurt as well. All the Elvises sang at the same time--is the plural of Elvis called Elvi? she wondered, then winced at a particularly loud mix of Blue Christmas, Hound Dog, Don't Be Cruel, and Kentucky Rain. Normally--and separately--she liked those songs. All at the same time, however, they made her want to ram the van into the nearest telephone pole. As soon as she dropped these guys off at the hotel for their contest, she intended to go to the nearest drug store and buy ear plugs.
When she pulled into the covered parking area to unload her passengers, she managed a smile as she told them she'd be back for them at eight, and reminded them that if their schedule changed they were to call her cell phone or the offices at Memphis Tour Tyme.
A rather portly Elvis paused in the door and said, "Thank you, thank you verra much" as he got out. If she had a nickel for every time she'd heard that or would hear that in the coming month, she could retire.
However, she just said, "You're welcome, Elvis. Good luck."
As always, she glanced back to make sure everyone was out before she left, and only one guy remained in the van. He was in the very back on the last seat.
"Hey," she called, "last stop for all Elvi. This is it, sir. Sir?"
He didn't respond, just remained in his seat staring out the window. Maybe he'd gotten cold feet. She didn't blame him. Grown men dressed up like Elvis and sweating on a stage had to be daunting. She should know. After all, Yogi went every year. It was his only brand of religion, other than his government conspiracy theories. The last she understood, but the first she found inexplicable.
"Sir? Hey, Elvis?"
He still sat there staring out the window, and with a sigh, Harley got out of the van and went around. She'd get him out with a can opener if she had to, but dammit, he was getting out. She deserved someplace quiet for a while before she had to deal with the ride back to their hotels.
"Hey, buddy," she said when she reached his seat, "we're here. Time to go on stage and sing your heart out. Knock 'em dead."
When he still didn't respond, Harley put a hand on his shoulder to give him a slight shake out of his trance. He slumped forward, his head hit the back of the seat in front of him, and she jumped into the aisle. The hilt of a knife protruded from his back. She froze. This couldn't be happening. Not to him, not to her.
Maybe it was a mistake. A bizarre, cruel joke. She leaned closer, and the rusty smell of blood made her stomach lurch. Backing slowly away, she fumbled at her waist for the cell phone that she now kept tethered to her with a chain, and hit speed dial. They answered quickly.
"Nine-one-one?" she said in a voice that sounded a lot calmer than she felt. "We have another dead Elvis.