McCammon: The Night I Killed the King

The Night I Killed The King

by Robert R. McCammon

An unfinished original short story
Copyright © 1989, Robert R. McCammon. All rights reserved.

Ten o'clock on a Friday night. Nasty rain comin' down, like silver needles. Miralee and me were sittin' in the parkin' lot of the Kentucky Fried Chicken place in Eustace, Arkansas, our windows rolled up and steam on the glass. "Oh Lord!" she said suddenly. "Oh Lord, that's him! Look at the way he walks!" She sat up straight, and I picked the gun up from the floorboard.

Me and Elvis, we were one of a kind.

I always got mistook for him, even before Miralee dyed my hair black and froze it in the pompadour and I started wearin' the Elvis outfits. I'm talkin' about the real Elvis, of course, when he was somebody worth lookin' at and he hadn't lost the Tupelo snarl, not when he was big as a whale's belly and—God forgive me—all used up. I weigh about a hundred and fifty pounds soakin' wet, so my Elvis is the King of Dreams, back before he made them dog-ass movies and carried his soul in his wallet.

I'm not knockin' money now, hear? Money is the green grease that runs this world, and you gotta have a wad of it to get by in this day and age. I used to do all sorts of things; I've been a truck driver, a mechanic, a coffin polisher in a funeral home, a used-car salesman, and a bartender in a country-western joint. You do what you have to do to get by, am I right? And nobody ever said Dwayne Pressley wasn't one to grab hold of an opportunity when it come a'knockin'. That's why I started wearin' the Elvis outfits, doin' the makeup and all, and Miralee and me went into the soul-channelin' business.

Templin is a quiet town. Hell, Arkansas is a quiet state. Miralee, my girlfriend goin' on six years, works at the Sophisticated Lady Beauty Shoppe on Central Street in Templin. She can tell you right off: people in Templin have been starved for entertainment for years. Last entertainer who passed this way was Joey Heatherton, and her bus was lost on the way to the National Guard Armory in Eustace, forty miles south of us. Anyway, Miralee knew about my Elvis impressions. When you kinda look like the King and your last name is Pressley, you go with the flow, know what I mean? I can sing some, and it ain't hard to find somebody who can play a guitar. Miralee got the band together for me. She's a smart little lady, and ambitious to boot. She went right out and bought some Elvis tapes for the VCR, and I started studyin' 'em. This was right after I got fired from the Templin Tap Room for sellin' liquor to minors under the table. Man's got to make a profit, don't he? Hell, that's the American way! So, anyhow, I had plenty of time to lay in bed and study ol' Elvis in them concert videos. There were tapes of him just talkin', too, about his life and everythin', so I could get the twang of his accent Memphis-perfect. Then I started practicin' with the band. You know the songs: "Hound Dog," "Burnin' Love," "In the Ghetto," "Jailhouse Rock," all those tunes that make the memories glow like barbecue coals on a summer night. I was better at the motions than I was at the singin', but then again you might have to say the same thing about the King, too.

Miralee got the costumes for me, all them black leather and high-collared jobs covered with rhinestones. She talked Mr. Riggston at the Tap Room into lettin' us do a show there on a Saturday night, and if I said I wasn't sweatin' bullets I'd be a damn liar. The first few numbers were pretty bad, and I split my tight britches, but I just kept on goin' cause some woman screamed "ELVIS!" and it kinda fired me up. I found out later that Miralee gave her five dollars to do it. But we did good. So good Mr. Riggston wanted us back the next weekend, and he even put an ad in the Templin Journal. About a month after that, you couldn't stir the folks in the Tap Room with a thin stick. Like I say, people were starved for entertainment.

"Ain't no way!" I told Miralee, as I watched the fella go into the Kentucky Fried Chicken place. I was wearin' a cap to hide my pompadour, and I didn't have my Elvis makeup on. I put the pistol down again. "That can't be him. Fella's as big as a barn door."

"I say it is him!" Her eyes, blue as Christmas, locked on me in that way she has that'd make a pit bull turn tail. "You saw the way he walked!"

"Hell, he's a big fat guy. All big fat fellers waddle like that."

"No! I mean how he moved his shoulders! You know what I'm talkin' about, you've seen it a hundret times in those videos! I say that's him, and don't you say different!"

When Miralee gets excited, she don't want nobody to slap a wet rag in her face. And God knows I wouldn't want to try. Miralee is a hundred pounds of dynamite with a two second fuse. I just shrugged. The fella I'd seen shamble into the Kentucky Fried Chicken joint had worn a raggedy brown overcoat and had on a cowboy hat that looked puke green with mildew. He'd weighed maybe near three hundred pounds, and the collar of his coat was up so you couldn't see even his profile. As far as I was concerned, it was just some big fat Eustace dude who wanted a bucketful of fried chicken at ten o'clock on a Friday night.

"I'm goin' in to see," Miralee said all of a sudden. She opened the door, slid out from under the Chevy's steerin' wheel, and stood in the rain. "Keep that damn gun ready," she told me, and before I could say yea or nay she was stridin' across the parkin' lot.

I watched her go in. I picked up the pistol again, a little snubnosed .38 with six bullets in it. I shook a bit; the night was chilly for mid-October. I watched the restaurant's front door, and my fingers played with the .38's bone-white grip. I was scared as hell, but my mind was made up. If the King showed up with a hankerin' for fried chicken on this rainy Friday night, I was gonna kill him.

We didn't stop with the shows at the Tap Room. We were packin' 'em in every Friday and Saturday night, and suddenly Mr. Riggston was my best buddy. But then Miralee started readin' a paperback book she'd bought at a garage sale, and she walked around the house with glassy eyes. When Miralee's thinkin', she's walkin'. Round and round the house, all night long, like a cat who hears a mouse but can't find the hole. I got a look at the book's cover: My Seven Selves, it was called. Written by some woman whose picture showed her in a long white robe starin' at a big crystal ball in her palm.

Miralee stopped her walkin'. One mornin' she looked at me and asked, in a quiet voice, "Dwayne? You ever hear of somethin' called channelin'?"

This was her drift: that some folks—and the lady in the white robe was one of 'em—could call back the souls of the dead and make 'em talk. Yessir, believe it! That these folks, channelers they were called, could let themselves be took over by the souls of dead people and the dead people would talk through 'em. "That's the most craziest thing I've ever heard in my—" I stopped what I was sayin', 'cause Miralee had a look on her face that makes silence golden.

"Crazy or not," Miralee said, "there's money in it."

My ears perked up like a hound dog's.

The road to riches is paved with suckers and that's God's honest truth. I started studyin' the Elvis tapes harder than ever, 'til I knew every twitch and sneer. I read that book by the white-robed woman, and though I didn't get the drift of all of it, I learned enough of the babble to get by. Mostly, I worked on my Elvis accent, 'cause Miralee said that soundin' like the King was gonna be real important. Then, when she thought I was ready, she called ads in to the newspapers in Little Rock, Memphis, Knoxville, Birmingham, and Atlanta. After that, we waited.

Wasn't two days before we got the first call, from a Tennessee woman. She wanted to know if her husband was messin' round on her, and since the ads said that Elvis knew everythin', just like God, she figured that he was the one to ask. She showed up at the house on a Tuesday afternoon—a little fireplug of a woman with a white beehive hairdo—and I was scared again like my first night on stage, but I gave her the show Miralee and I had worked out. I didn't pretend I was Elvis, see, but I pretended I was took over by his soul and channelin' him right there in the livin' room. I wore my Elvis outfit, of course, and I had my makeup on. Oh, I gave her a dandy show, fallin' down on one knee and gyratin' around and actin' up a storm. Then I took her hands and I said, "Darlin'," in the King's voice. She looked just about to faint. "Darlin'," I said, "your man's a good 'un. He knows he better not mess around on you, 'cause you'd leave his ass in a minute and find a young stud, wouldn't you?"

"I sure as hell would, Elvis!" she answered, in a choked-up voice.

"He best hold tight to you," I told her, "and you hold tight to him. You be a good wife to him, and he won't do no strayin'. That's what the King has to say to you, darlin'. And one more thing: you've been a mighty loyal fan and I sure do appreciate your love." Then I sang "Amazin' Grace" to her, real quiet-like, and she just about fell out of her chair. Tears ran down her cheeks. She held my hand to her face, and she kissed my ring that has the big E on it in false diamonds.

I didn't like it when she cried. I don't know; it made my heart hurt, kinda. I stood up and gave a few half-assed twists and shakes, and Miralee told the woman it was the King goin' back to Rock 'n Roll Heaven. Then Miralee told her it would be fifty dollars. The woman didn't flinch, but I did. I put on my sunglasses, and I watched the woman take bills out of her purse and scratch up some change. She only had forty-one dollars. We took it.

But by God if that woman didn't leave smilin' and happy. Miralee said, "Tell your friends about the King's comeback!" and that Tennessee woman answered, "I will, I will, you better believe I will, oh mercy I'm still shakin' like a schoolgirl!"

I went to the bathroom, took off my shades and looked at my face—the King's face—in the mirror. Lord, lord; what a world this has turned out to be.

The telephone rang. Fella from a little town in Georgia wanted to know if he should open up a bowlin' alley or not. Miralee said Elvis didn't give advice over long-distance. The fella said he'd be there to see us on Thursday night. And that was just the beginnin' of it.

People are lonely. They want to believe, more than anythin'. They want to connect with somethin', they want to see into the future. Listenin' to those people, and seein' 'em look at me like I was really Elvis ... well, the world's just one big Heartbreak Hotel, and all of a sudden I had the room keys in my fist. At fifty dollars a pop, ten or twelve "fans" a week, you'd better believe Miralee and I were standin' hip-deep in high cotton.

I watched the Kentucky Fried Chicken place, the pistol in my hand and rain runnin' down the windshield. The door came open, and Miralee walked out. Walkin' fast, too. My heart started hammerin'. She was comin' back to the car. I didn't want to hear what she was gonna tell me, not really. I wasn't ready for it. But then she slid back under the steerin' wheel, her black hair drenched, and she looked at me and said, "It's him. I swear to God it is." Her voice was steady, not nervous at all. She was ready, even if I wasn't. "He's buyin' two buckets of chicken, and he'll be out in a minute or two. Lord, he's gotten so fat!"

"It's not him," I said. "No way."

"I heard his voice. He tried to disguise it, and he sounds like he's been garglin' with glass, but I'd know that voice anywhere." She nodded, her mind made up. "It's him, all right. When he comes out the door, you go get him." She turned the key, and the noise of the engine firin' made me jump. "Can you believe it?" Miralee asked me, her knuckles bleachin' white as she gripped the wheel. "That sumbitch pretends to be dead for goin' on ten years, and he shows up just when our business is gettin' good!" She revved the engine, and the Chevy shook like a bull about to charge.

And that was the point, of course. That was why we were sittin' out there in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken place, and me with a gun in my hand. We'd been hauntin' that parkin' lot for over a week, waitin' for the King to show up. Stalkin' him, I guess you might say. We had to kill him. Had to. See, we were makin' almost a thousand scoots a week soul-channelin' the King into our livin' room, and then all of a sudden the Midnite Tattler reports that a Zippy Mart clerk in Eustace says Elvis walked in at three o'clock in the mornin' and bought an armload of Little Debbie cakes and a six-pack of Dr. Pepper, and that he winked at her and left hummin' "My Way." She said he'd changed a lot, of course, but she was an Elvis fan and could see it was him right off. Not long after that, a fella says he was huntin' squirrels in the woods north of Eustace when he comes face-to-face with the King pissin' in the bushes. Said Elvis squawled and took off like Bigfoot, and that he moved mighty fast for a man his size. Well, it wasn't long before other folks said they'd seen Elvis too, and by God if some agent fella from New York didn't go on a TV show and tell the world he'd been communicatin' with Elvis over the phone for the last two months, that the King had been hidin' out and now he wanted to get back into show business, write a book, and star in a movie of his life and all.

You can guess what happened to our business. How can you soul-channel Elvis if he's still alive? Folks wanted their money back, and some of 'em even said they were gonna put the law on us. And while all that was goin' on, the reporters were swarmin' all over Eustace tryin' to hunt the King down. Miralee and me both knew a stone-cold fact: if the reporters found Elvis, we were fit to be flushed.

Where to look was the problem. I remembered somethin' from one of the tapes. Elvis was a young fella, sharp and lean as a blade, and he was about to go over to Europe in the Army. Reporter asked him what he was gonna miss most, and he drawled it with a sneer: "Southern fried chicken."

We knew that sooner or later, if the King was anywhere near Eustace, he'd make a late-night run on the only Kentucky Fried Chicken place in twenty miles.

But with that pistol in my hand and murder on my mind, I hoped I'd been wrong. I hoped Miralee was wrong too, but she's got a good eye. She sure as hell would know Elvis if she saw him, even if he did weigh near three hundred pounds.

The Kentucky Fried Chicken's front door opened, and the King waddled out into the rain with his booty of buckets.

I saw it, then. The way he walked. Movin' his shoulders. Somethin' you just can't explain. Somethin' ... kingly. Like he owned the world, and everybody else was just rentin' space. Seein' him in the flesh, even that big and all, froze me. I said, "Miralee, that's not him," because I didn't want it to be.

She said, "Go get him," and she gave me a shove.

He was headin' to a beat-up rust-bucket of a brown Cadillac. The rain was fallin' harder, and when I got out of the Chevy the rain pelted my shoulders. I had the pistol clenched in my hand, and I started walkin' toward the King.

"Hurry!" Miralee urged.

Elvis must've heard. He stopped dead, holdin' onto his buckets. He looked at me, his face hidden under the mildewed cowboy hat. I could tell he had three or four chins. I lifted the gun, and I said, "Into the car and get come on."

"Huh?" That voice. Oh lord, that voice.

I got my tongue untangled on the next try. "Come on and get into the car!" I motioned toward the Chevy.

"I ain't nobody!" he said, clingin' to his buckets so hard they were startin' to bust open at the seams and fried chicken pieces were squeezin' out. "You don't know me! I ain't nobody!"

"I know who you are," I said, and I meant it.

The bottom popped out of one of his buckets, and chicken wings fell out.

I pulled the hammer back. "Let's go," I told him. My hand was shakin' so hard I'm surprised the gun didn't go off right then and there. The King lifted his thick arms and dropped the buckets, and he walked over fried chicken toward Miralee and the Chevy. I opened the back door for him and he squeezed in, then I climbed in right after him. Miralee hit the gas as soon as the door was closed, and we headed out of the parkin' lot.

"We got him!" Miralee said, merrily. "We got that big sumbitch, didn't we!" She drove us over a curb and I heard the King's teeth click together. "We got him, sure did!"

"We got him!" I answered, half about to laugh and half about to cry. "Right here in the car he sits!" I poked him in the belly with the gun's barrel, just to make sure he was real, and my arm almost sank wrist-deep in flab. Elvis smelled like a pigpen, and he had a gray beard that didn't hide his triple chins. His clothes—blue jeans, a red checked shirt and that brown overcoat—were blotched with food stains. He breathed like a bellows, and I swear he made the whole car tilt slightly to one side.

"I ain't nobody," Elvis said. "I ain't nobody at all, mister."

"You're Elvis Presley and I got a damn gun in your belly!" I hollered at him. "You been hidin' and pretendin' you're dead and I got a good soul-channelin' business goin' and then you decide to come back to life so where does that leave me, huh?"

"Where does that leave us?" Miralee corrected, driving through the rain. The wipers were sluggish, and they made a skreeking sound across the glass. We'd been plannin' on buyin' us a new BMW when we had thirty thousand dollars saved up.

"I ain't no—" He stopped, 'cause he must've known it was no use. He just sat starin' at nothin', his head titled forward. "I knew it couldn't be forever," he said, quiet-like. He shook his head. "Knew it couldn't be." He looked at me; I couldn't see his eyes under that hat, but I knew they must still be keen. I knew his stare could still strip the bark off a tree; I felt its power, directed right at me. Elvis said, "What're ya'll plannin' on doin' with me?"

"We're gonna kill you," Miralee told him, as brightly as you please. "Take you out to the woods and kill you. Bury you deep, too." I flinched a little, because I was thinkin' of how big the hole would have to be. We had a pickaxe and a shovel in the trunk. "You wanted to be dead, didn't you?" she asked. "Well, we're gonna help you out."

I have to say, I thought it was pretty disrespectful puttin' it this way to the King. I mean, I was ready to kill him and all, but ... I was still respectful. The King was fat and he smelled like a goat, but he was still the King. Until I got around to killin' him, I mean.

Elvis just sat there, and didn't say a word.

Miralee suddenly hollered and swerved the wheel, 'cause a van with ABC NEWS on the side came out of the rain and almost knocked us off the road. A few seconds later, a car with CBS NEWS and a blue blinker on it swept past us, movin' fast. Like I said, the reporters were crawlin' all over Eustace, tryin' to hunt Elvis down. We were headin' out of town to find a good spot in the woods, but a red light caught us before we got more than a mile away from the Kentucky Fried Chicken joint. Miralee pulled up beside a white station wagon that had somethin' written on the passenger door. I saw what it was: THE GERALDO RIVERA SHOW.

The King saw it too, and in the next second he moved like he had lightning in his pants. He whipped that door open and bellowed, "I'm Elvis Presley! They're gonna kill me!" and by that time I had an arm around his neck tryin' to keep him from gettin' out. He got stuck in the door, and Miralee was screamin', "Don't let him out! Don't let him out!" I jabbed the gun's barrel into his back, but he kept on thrashin'.

Fella got out of the station wagon. I saw who it was. That fella who went to Chicago to dig up Al Capone's vault. He reached out for Elvis, and Elvis strained to grip his hand. That was when the light changed, and Miralee stomped her foot down on the pedal. The Chevy laid rubber, Elvis still tryin' to squeeze through the open door, and that TV fella gave a shout and jumped back into the station wagon's passenger side. His driver gave it the gas too, and started after us. Miralee shouted, "Get that door shut, Dwayne!" The King's blue sneakers were shreddin' on the pavement. I don't believe he wanted to jump, with the engine revvin' up toward fifty. He pulled himself back into the car with a big whuff of breath, and I reached over his belly and slammed the door shut. The station wagon with that TV fella in it was right on our tail, comin' up fast so they could read the license plate. Well, there was just one thing to do about that, wasn't there? I cranked the window on my side down, leaned out into the wind and rain, and shot at the station wagon's tires. My cap flew off my head, my pompadour whippin' around like a scalded poodle. My third bullet knocked out one of the wagon's headlights, and then the driver didn't feel so nosy; he hit the brakes, and the wagon skidded off the road into a tangle of kudzu vines.

We were out beyond the town limits by now. I cranked the window up and sat there shakin', realizin' I could've killed either one of those two fellas. Only one I wanted to kill was the King, and to tell the truth I was feelin' a bit queasy about the whole business. Miralee was still flyin' us along that rain-slick highway, but I said, "Don't want a trooper pullin' us over, babe," and she cut the speed some.

I felt Elvis starin' at me again. He said, in his raspy, old man's voice, "I've got money. I'll give you all of it."

"Don't say that," I told him. I just couldn't stand it if the King started to beg. "You sit there and be quiet, all right?"

Miralee's head had cocked. "Money? How much money?"

"We're supposed to kill him, not rob him!" I complained, but she shot me a hard glance in the rearview mirror and I buttoned my lip.

"How much money?" she asked Elvis.

"A lot. A whole lot, darlin'." I winced when he used that word. "My place is six, seven miles from here. I'll show you. You don't really want to kill me, do you?"

Miralee didn't say nothin'. I didn't either. My throat was so dry I probably couldn't have said anythin'. I mean, it's one thing to plan on killin' somebody and another to do it. I guess it was the sound of the shots that got to me, or the way the gun smelled. Maybe it was the fact that the King was sittin' beside me, livin' and breathin'. No, no! I had to quit thinkin' like that! If I didn't kill him, our business was washed up! I had to go through with this, if I liked it or not!

Miralee said, "Show us where you live." Her voice was silky; it was the way she asked me to go down in the basement and clean out the spiders.

Read the winning conclusion by Paul Schulz.

© 2019 Robert McCammon Last updated 22-APR-2019 12:30:26.23 Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha