As it turns out, Callie's cousin Lovie--a 190-pound bombshell who's had more lovers than the King had hit records--turns out to be suspect #1. Callie knows she's innocent but to prove it, she and Lovie will have to find out who the real killer is. It's a mystery fit for a King, and with a little help from Callie's hunk-a-burnin' love ex Jack, and her talented hound dog Elvis--who's convinced he's the true reincarnation of the King--Callie and Lovie are determined to have the killer singing Jailhouse Rock. But they need to move fast and be ready for the killer's next move, because their chance may be now. . .or never!
"Another crazy, fast-paced mystery sure to leave cozy fans chuckling and waiting for the next adventure." --Booklist
"Webb's sly sense of humor and neatly plotted mystery is laugh-out-loud hilarious."
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ELVIS and the Grateful Dead
By Peggy Webb
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Peggy Webb
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHair Gel, Flat Notes, and the Rockabilly Corpse
Here comes Elvis looking so cute I don't have the heart to chastise him for slipping his leash.
"There you are, boy." I secure his leash and tighten the collar a notch, then give him some extra petting so he won't get miffed.
Not many people can say they're where they are because of a dog. But let me tell you, if it weren't for Elvis I'd be a free woman sitting on a beach somewhere with a man who has daddy potential. By the time I settle my dog-custody battle with Jack Jones, my eggs are going to be on life support.
But I'm not about to give up Elvis, even if he is the reason I'm legally tied to a man who went out to buy a baby cradle and came back with a Harley. If Jack thinks he can deprive me of progeny and have my dog, too, he has another think coming. I'd as soon give up Mama.
Elvis is part of my family. And family is the reason I'm dispensing hair gel and pompadours from a tent in a corner of the blocked-off section of downtown Tupelo instead of shoring up my finances at Hair.Net (my little beauty shop in Mooreville, population six hundred and fifty-and a half since Fayrene's niece got pregnant).
Uncle Charlie is on the Elvis Festival Committee. When he said we should all do our civic duty and help out with this year's festival, it might as well have been an edict from God. Not only does Uncle Charlie own and manage the most popular funeral home in northeast Mississippi (Eternal Rest), but he manages to keep the entire Valentine family sane (barely) and out of trouble (mostly). We think he walks on water.
As for my dog, Elvis considers it his birthright to be on display at the annual Elvis Festival. When I mentioned I might leave him home so he could use the doggie door to get inside and stay cool, he chewed the laces off my Reeboks, then deliberately heisted his leg on my prize petunias.
He's sporting his pink bow tie. Personally, I can see why my dog thinks he's Mississippi's most famous son reincarnated. The way he's swaggering while Brian Watson belts out "Don't Be Cruel," you can almost see the swivel-hipped King himself.
Brian has a hitch in his swivel. Elvis trots to the tent opening and shoots him a disdainful look before ambling over to sit at my feet. I bend down to scratch his ears.
"Are you about ready for the tour of the Birthplace, boy? Promise you won't go running off again." I take his grin as a yes. I swear my dog looks human when he smiles.
Brian is the last of today's competitors vying for tribute artist fame. As soon as the new American Idol winner takes the stage, Lovie and I will escort the impersonators on a tour of the famous Birthplace in east Tupelo.
I'm getting ready to shut down my on-site beauty salon when Lovie strolls in, hands me a glass of iced peach tea, and plops in front of the makeup mirror.
"If Brian's notes get any flatter, I may have to join Aunt Ruby Nell in a five o'clock toddy."
Mama always says a little libation is good for the spirit, and I guess she's right because she's one of the liveliest spirits I know.
"Pretty me up, Callie. Rocky's going to call."
"He can't see you over the telephone."
"If I feel sexy, I talk sexy. Work your magic."
I grab a comb and set to work.
Rocky Malone is her current heartthrob, and from the looks of things, her last. Thanks to the teddy-bear charm of the man we thought wanted to kill us over the Bubbles Malone caper, Lovie's likely to marry and end up in Las Vegas. Then what will I do?
I know, I know. This sounds selfish. But Lovie's not only my first cousin, she's also my best friend, my confidant, and my cohort in crime. (Thank goodness, I'm not a criminal, but if you had been with us when we tried to steal a corpse and haul it across the desert in ninety-degree heat, you'd know what I'm talking about.)
I put the finishing touch on Lovie's flaming red mane. "What's Mama doing with a five o'clock toddy? It's only three."
"When has reason ever applied to Aunt Ruby Nell? She said she wanted to be ready for your party tonight."
Mama's farm in Mooreville is only a fifteen-minute drive from Tupelo and I know it doesn't take her four hours to get ready for a party. Something else is afoot. I just hope it doesn't involve Fayrene's back room at Gas, Grits, and Guts (Mooreville's one and only convenience store) and that jar of quarters Fayrene keeps on the table.
For the Coke machine, is what Mama always says, but don't let my cute shoes fool you; I'm nobody's dummy. I've seen the deck of cards Fayrene keeps stashed behind the Sweet N Low.
I don't have time to worry about such things because Jack Jones comes strolling in looking like something you'd want to eat with a spoon. I'm learning to resist. With my almost-ex, you always bite off more than you can chew.
"I was just passing through and thought I'd take Elvis off your hands."
Passing through, my foot. Jack was spying. Ever since we separated I can't go to the grocery store without discovering him lurking behind the Charmin. And believe me, it's not toilet tissue he's planning to squeeze.
"Whatever happened to hello?"
Major mistake. Jack stalks across the tent, pulls me hard against his chest, and kisses me senseless. Or at least, addled.
"Hello, Callie." He winks at Lovie.
I try to act like I don't want to take him to Reed's Department Store and pick out Egyptian cotton sheets and new dishes, but with my cheeks on fire that's hard to do.
"If you'll care to remember, Elvis has a particular love of this festival. Why don't you do us both a favor and get lost in a Brazilian jungle?"
"Then who would keep your cute buns out of trouble?"
"I would. That's who."
He walks out, laughing. I want to bop him with my blow-dryer.
"Of all the nerve. I ought to ... to date."
"Why don't you?" Lovie's not asking a question; she's issuing a challenge.
"Because ..." Jack still makes me want to cook gingerbread, wear his favorite perfume, and wash his socks. And that's the least of it. If I don't get him out of my head soon, I might as well sign up to announce my cracked-to-pieces love life on the Dr. Phil show. "Maybe I will date."
"Good." Lovie stands up and hugs me. "Let's get this tour over with so I can go home and get a chocolate fix. Beulah Jane Ball is driving me crazy."
"Shush, Lovie. Here she comes."
In her daisy print dress and sturdy support stockings, Beulah Jane looks like a little grandmother who's too timid to share her cookie recipe. Her appearance is misleading to say the least. She could run China. As president of the local Elvis Presley fan club, she's not only lording over the refreshment booth-which everybody knows is managed by Lovie-but also trying to run the whole show.
"Callie, Lovie, hurry along now. The tour bus is waiting." Beulah Jane shoos us out of the tent with a cardboard fan on a stick featuring the King as a shy, skinny boy on the cusp of fame. When she sees Elvis, she gives a little mock horror screech. "That dog's not coming, is he?"
"Yes. He's with me." I grab Elvis and board the bus behind Lovie. Furthermore, we take a front seat. Uncle Charlie put us in charge of this tour, and I'm not about to let Beulah Jane take over.
She clambers in behind us, along with the club's other top-ranking officers, Tewanda Hardy and Clytee Estes. Tewanda pauses beside us, pats her tight curls, glares at Elvis over the top of her wire-rim glasses, and sniffs. "Lord have mercy. Gladys Presley would roll over in her grave."
I guess it's her tacky hairdo that makes Tewanda so mean. Whoever put that blue rinse on her gray hair and then wound it on little bitty perm rods ought to be shot.
Instead of passing along some styling advice, I mind my own business (a point of pride with me considering I run the kind of shop that makes my clients feel free to talk). Sitting back, I watch the impersonators board. The first is Brian Watson, a waiter at the Longhorn Steak House in Huntsville, Alabama, who looks the part but lacks the pipes. Next is Dick Gerard, a postman and local celebrity who rose to impersonator fame at the Tupelo Luncheon Civitan Club when he ate too much fried chicken and split the seat right out of his tight pink jumpsuit.
The third contest hopeful to board is a woman. From Australia, of all places. Elisha Stevens, though she prefers to be called Eli. Her black slick-backed hair is real. I know because I styled it. Her imitation of the King is on target, too. Only her sideburns and her southern accent are fake.
Behind her are the tribute artists from Japan and Italy, who both wanted to take me out to dinner. If Jack Jones keeps acting like the guardian from you-know-where, I might just say yes. To both of them.
Right now, though, I have a civic duty to perform. After the last contestant boards, Beulah Jane, Tewanda, and Clytee pass around cookies and peach tea. I tap the driver on the shoulder, and we set off down Main Street on the first leg of our Elvis pilgrimage.
Picking up the bus' microphone, I start my spiel. "On the left you'll see Tupelo Hardware Store where Gladys took her son to buy a present for his tenth birthday. He wanted a bicycle, but she couldn't afford that. His second choice was a BB gun, but Gladys didn't believe in weapons, so Elvis Presley ended up with his first guitar."
When Beulah Jane pops up and says, "Tell the price," Lovie grabs the microphone and says, "She was getting to that."
Holy cow. If I don't get these two separated, we're going to make festival history. I can see the headlines now. Fan Club President Beat to Death with Baseball Bat. Lovie's weapon of choice.
Not that she could get it in her purse, but with Lovie, you never know. Her rainbow-colored peasant skirt is big enough to slipcover Texas. She might have the bat strapped to her leg.
To top it off, Elvis, who's nosing around scavenging for cookie crumbs, is eyeing Beulah Jane's Easy Spirits with wicked intent. I wouldn't be caught dead in those shoes, but I don't want my dog peeing on them. Whipping a Pup-Peroni stick out of my purse, I say, "Come here, boy."
Food always brings him running. With my dog safely stowed, I point out City Hall with its dancing water fountain, built on the old Mississippi/ Alabama fairgrounds, which was the site of Elvis' famous 1956 homecoming concert.
"Elvis left Tupelo a thirteen-year-old kid from the wrong side of the tracks without much future and returned a recording star with a parade in his honor," I tell the busload of impersonators, who swivel to look at the old fairgrounds. "Every high school marching band played Elvis songs; the local merchants had Elvis displays in the window, and the Rex Plaza served up Love Me Tender Steak, Hound Dogs with Sauerkraut, Rock 'N' Roll Stew, and Oobie Doobie Cake with Tutti-Frutti Sauce."
Everybody swivels to look at the dancing waters. Even Beulah Jane is mollified, though her satisfaction would be short-lived if she knew Elvis was still pointing her shoes.
The minute we get to the Birthplace, I'm putting him on a leash ... and buying chocolate to calm Lovie.
* * *
With impersonators swarming all over the gift shop, the museum, the chapel, and the shotgun house where the King was born, Lovie and I are sitting beside the fountain taking a breather and eating Hershey's bars.
"I know this is going straight to my hips." Lovie pats her ample thighs. "Fortunately Rocky likes his women round."
"I wish it would go to mine." I look like a swizzle stick. Especially beside Lovie. And especially since Jack left and my appetite went down the drain. All arms and coltish-looking legs and big brown eyes. Chest flat as a flitter.
Mama has the classy movie star looks of a past-her-prime Katharine Hepburn while Lovie has the glamour and lush beauty of Rita Hayworth. Even Uncle Charlie can still turn heads. At sixty-three, no less. But the good looks fairy passed me by. My two best features are my clear olive skin and my thick brown hair. Which, thanks to my expertise, always looks like it ought to be featured on the pages of Glamour.
Everybody has to have something to brag about, and I guess with me, it's my sleek, stylish hair.
Lovie's cell phone rings and when she sees the number pop up, she tells me, "Rocky."
I've never seen her like this-her blue eyes shining and her voice dreamy.
"Hey, baby." She never calls anybody baby, not even Elvis, whom she adores. This is a Lovie I don't even know.
I'm happy for her, really I am. But a little scared, too. As I leave the fountain and walk my dog toward the statue of a barefoot, teenaged Elvis wearing overalls and carrying his cherished guitar, I say a little prayer that my cousin, who has never, ever been in love, doesn't lose herself in this new territory.
I also say a little prayer for myself. Jack and I used to call each other pet names. The sound of his voice used to make me misty-eyed. (Sometimes it still does, but I'm not going there.) If I thought I'd never have that kind of love again, I'd chop off my hair and join a nunnery.
Of course, that's a little extreme, especially since I'd have to give up cute designer shoes. Maybe I'd just leave Mooreville and go somewhere exotic. Or at least, someplace where Jack is not.
Impersonators are lined up to get their pictures made with the bronze image of their icon, so I volunteer as cameraman. When they find out my dog is named Elvis, they invite him to be in the pictures.
Naturally he tries to steal the show. And I'll have to say he's succeeding. Next year maybe I'll have him a little sequined doggie jumpsuit made.
Elvis puts on his best smile-tongue lolling out, lower lips pulled back-till Beulah Jane walks by clapping her hands.
"Listen up, Elvises! It's time to load the bus! Chop, chop, everybody!"
As he makes a beeline for her bony ankle, I grab Elvis' leash. "Don't even think about it."
The impersonators nab cameras and bulging bags from the gift shop, then rush after Beulah Jane.
Lovie strolls up wearing a big grin. "What's the one-woman hostility committee up to now?"
"Herding the tribute artists to the bus."
Lovie consults her watch. "We have fifteen minutes. What's her hurry?"
"Never mind. Let her enjoy being in charge. Tell me about Rocky."
"He's coming to Tupelo."
"In a few days. He's flying with a friend in a private plane."
"That's good news, Lovie."
"Good, my foot. You can hear my vagina shouting hallelujah all the way to the state line."
Now, that's the Lovie I know and adore. I link my arm through hers and we head to the bus.
Beulah Jane is standing up front, her lips moving as she counts heads.
"We seem to be one Elvis short," she tells me.
"Who's missing?" As I scan the crowd, it doesn't take me long to realize our missing impersonator is the waiter from Huntsville. "Has anybody seen Brian?"
Eli, the lone female artist, stands up at the back. "I saw him in the chapel about five minutes ago."
"Everybody stay put. Lovie and I will check."
Even if Brian is not in the chapel, he can't be far. The Birthplace is very small with all the buildings clustered in an area little more than a city block. Grabbing Elvis, we trudge across the parking lot, past the gift shop, and up the hill toward the small 'seventies-style chapel. I don't dare leave him unattended on the same bus with Beulah Jane.
"Listen, Lovie. Is that music?"
"If that's music, I'm a hot buttered biscuit."
Elvis, who obviously agrees with Lovie, hoists his leg on a native hibiscus bush.
I recognize the flat tenor notes wafting from the chapel. It's Brian, all right, playing the piano and wailing, "I once was lost but now am found ..."
Suddenly there's a discordant crash and "Amazing Grace" comes to a halt. I have the sick feeling you'd get if you were standing on the deck of the Titanic and felt it tilting under your feet.
"Hurry." Grabbing Lovie's arm, I half drag her and Elvis up the last stretch and through the chapel doors. It's dim in here and it takes a minute for my eyes to adjust.
Then I see our missing impersonator-slumped over the keyboard of the upright piano.
Excerpted from ELVIS and the Grateful Dead by Peggy Webb Copyright © 2009 by Peggy Webb. Excerpted by permission.
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