Well, Billy James, the whole thing started about four months ago. Earl and me had just read in the paper how--are you sittin' comfortably, Billy James? That's good, we take pride in our hospitality. Anyhow, we was sittin' at the breakfast table, and Earl had just finished his salt pork and eggs, when he spits coffee all over the newspaper. I says, "Earl, what on earth has possessed you to do such a disgustin' thing. And on a Sunday, too!" And he just looks at me with these grim eyes, and holds up the newspaper.
There it was, just as big as life and twice as ugly. Jerry Sparkle, our most favorite Elvis imitator in the whole wide world, had got hisself murdered. Oh, it was a shocking thing. They found him split open like a spring lamb. His insides was out, and outsides was in none too pretty shape neither. It was purely horrible.
Needless to say, we was both heartbroken. We barely had the get-up to drive ourselves here, but somehow we managed. Billy James, you know the Elvis Is Our King Boutique is our very lives. But we barely managed to open up this place of beauty on that terrible morning. We was both slumped behind the counter, limp as chickens on a hot day. We put on the King's Moody Blue record, on account of us bein' so blue ourselves. Also, we thought it was kinda respectful.
When Millie June come in to see if we'd gotten in her Hound Dog salt-and-pepper shakers yet--oh, they're so cute, Billy James, they got little bouffant hairdos just like the King himself! Anyhow, she come in to see, and normally we woulda been thrilled to death. We woulda put Hound Dog on the record machine and hidden them shakers under one of these official Elvis wigs for her to find, like an Easter egg hunt. But we was so dejected that we just plopped `em on the counter like they was hamburger patties.
Millie June knew right off there was something wrong. Earl just looked at her with those big, sad eyes of his, and held up the newspaper. Well, she started a-squeakin' and a-gaspin'. We had to give her smellin' salts and a belt a' Southern Comfort.
When she could breathe, Millie June started cryin'. "Oh Earl, oh Effie," she was moanin'. "It's terrible. Just terrible. A cryin' shame." And cryin' she was. It was a regular flood. It got me and Earl goin' all over again, there we was, all wailin' away and clutchin' that soggy newspaper to our bosoms.
Right about then, Millie June gave a big snort. "And to think," she says, "That I had come here not only for my Hound Dog salt-and-pepper shakers, but to tell you that Bob Aaron King is comin' to the Celebrity Theatre this Friday."
"Bob Aaron King!" We both hollered. Now, I know he wasn't nigh as good as Jerry Sparkle, but he was a pretty fair Elvis imitator anyhow. That cheered us up a bit.
But all of a sudden, Earl got this terrible scowl on his face. "Mille June," he says, "How come we didn't hear about this before? This is awful sudden notice."
Well, Mille June looked all perplexed. Pretty soon, she comes out with, "I don't rightly know, Earl. They just announced it today, all sudden-like."
Now, Billy James, you know Earl is a mighty smart feller. So he gets that look like he gets when he's thinkin' real hard. You know, with his forehead all scrunched up, and makin' those little grunts and all. Me and Millie June just sat back and watched, respectful-like.
After awhile, Earl says, "Maybe...maybe, someone's been killin' other Elvis imitators, you know, in the Big City. Maybe Bob Aaron King was afraid to publicize hisself."
Me and Millie gasped, all horrified, but to tell you the truth, we shouldn'ta been surprised. All sorts of things happen in the Big City. Phoenix is a terrible place, Billy James. Anyhow, we don't hear much about what goes on there, 'cause we only get the Tuba City Star, not any fancy papers like the Mesa Tribune.
So, we all thought about it real good, but we decided to go see Bob Aaron King anyway. Us and Millie June said our goodbyes, and Earl and me went back to tendin' the shop and mournin'.
The next day we wasn't near over the shock, but Earl decided to do some detective snoopin'. He drove across town to his cousin Freddy Jack's house, and spent the whole day lookin' through his back issues of the Phoenix Gazette. That meant I had to watch the Boutique myself, but I didn't really mind. Besides, I was expectin' a shipment of official Elvis towels, monogrammed with E. A. P. and scented like the King's own sweat. I was pretty excited.
By the end of the day, though, I had gotten pretty cranky. My shipment didn't come, and Earl was late. He finally walked through the door, and I was about to scold him somethin' fierce, but then I saw the look on his face. I was stopped short like a pole-axed puma.
"I was right," he says, his eyes all wild and bulgy like Billy Graham's. "I was right. There has been two other Elvises killed. Butchered like pigs, Effie."
Well, I darn near fainted. It seemed that one Elvis was found dead in the back room of the Velvet Pelvis lounge right after his act, and the other was spread all over the back seat of his pink `58 Cadillac. All me and Earl could do was sit and shake our heads awhile. We had always planned to go to the Velvet Pelvis someday, and now our dream was soiled.
The followin' week was like a wakin' nightmare. The joy seemed to have gone out of our lives. When them Elvis towels finally showed up, it was all we could do to crack a smile. I had been stitchin' on the hand of my lifesize Elvis soft sculpture, but my sewin' machine was silent that week. Billy James, you know I been workin' on that sculpture for the past seven years. It will be my masterpiece, and my immortality when I'm nothin' but dust. But I couldn't bear to work on it. It was so limp and still, it made me think of Jerry Sparkle and all them other poor devils. I took to eatin' moon pies instead.
Then Friday rolled around, and we started to feel a mite better. We was carpoolin' with Millie June to Phoenix, on account of she's got a big old Nash Rambler and all we got is our Elvis Memorial Pickup. We closed up the shop early, went to Piggly Wiggly for Yoo Hoo and beef jerky, and hit the open road.
We wasn't the first ones in line, but pretty near. We got glorious seats. You know what they say, about every seat bein' a good one at the Celebrity Theatre on account of the stage rotating, but let me tell you, some seats are better than others. We was right up front.
Bob Aaron King's show was just beautiful. If you squinted a little, he looked so much like Elvis it made you wanna cry. While he was singin' "In the Ghetto," he kept gettin' closer and closer to me and Mille June. And then -- oh, Billy James, I can barely say it 'cause my breath is comin' so quick-- and then, durin' "Love Me Tender," he came right up to us. He blew Mille June a kiss, but he put his scarf around my neck and sang right in my face. I nearly died of pleasure.
Earl was a mite jealous, but he tried not to show it. "I don't blame you", he told me. "What woman in her right mind could resist him." Darn right, says I.
Anyhow, after the show was over, me and Millie June dried our tears and prepared ourselves for the long ride home. All of a sudden, Mille June gets this wild look in her eye. "Effie," she says, "Let's see if we can get backstage for a peek at Bobbie."
I thought it was a tad silly, women of our age and social position sneakin' backstage like a couple a' bobby soxers. But Earl thought it was a fine idea, because he was determined to see if Bob Aaron King's chest hair was real or not. To tell you the truth, Billy James, I think he was a bit envious.
So sneak we did. It wasn't terribly hard. The bouncers was all in the bar out front, gogglin' at that strumpet Madonna struttin' around the TV in her grandma's underwear.
Bobbie had a star on his dressing room, just like in Hollywood. My heart was poundin' somethin' fierce. We knocked, quiet as mice. "Mr. King?" Millie June called. "Bobbie, honey, are you in there?" But there was no answer atall.
After knockin' awhile longer, Earl gets this cross look on his face and says, "That fella thinks he's just too good for the likes of us. I got nothin' to say to him." and he turns to leave. But Mille June's havin' none of it.
"Maybe he's just not there yet," she says, her eyes gleamin' like a weasel in the chicken house. "Let's just go on in and wait for him."
Well, I thought that was a dandy idea. Earl just snorted. Together, me and Millie June opened the door.
I will never forget what I saw there that night. Bob Aaron King was lyin' on his back in the middle of the floor. His chest hair was unglued and throwed up over his face, and he was cut open like a catfish. There was innards everywhere. You could hardly see an inch of white on his rhinestone jumpsuit for all the blood.
Earl was busy throwin' up his Yoo Hoo and beef jerky, and Mille June was leanin' up against the wall a-wheezin', and her eyes bulgin' like Blanche Jeter's poodle. That's when I noticed it.
Bob Aaron King's Elvis wig was gone.
Suddenly, in the corner of the room, I seen one of the shadows start to move.
Needless to say, we hightailed it out of there like the devil hisself was behind us. I had to drive, 'cause Earl kept throwin' up and Mille June was purely useless. Now, I know you're pry thinkin' we should have called the police or somethin', Billy James. But you gotta understand, we was in shock.
On that long stretch back to Tuba, I did some thinkin'. I wondered if all the other Elvises had their wigs stole too, and I wondered why the papers hadn't said nothin' about that. I reckon it was just too terrible to mention. I had trouble thinkin' clearly though, 'cause of all the retchin' and wailin' and what-not. Pretty soon I just gave up. It was an awful trip home.
It was awful late when we got back, but Millie June just wouldn't leave. She was scairt clean out of her wits. She wouldn't let neither of us out of her sight. Earl started to run down the hall, and she was on him like a duck on a June bug 'til he 'splained to her that he had to go upchuck again. I couldn't imagine him havin' anything left in his stomach, but he clearly did.
Well, the upshot of it all was that Millie June spent the whole weekend with us, which was kinda horrible, 'cause she snores and is prone to havin' wind. But we all lived through it, and like they say, life goes on.
We put our minds to forgettin' what we saw, although Earl went to Freddy Jack's house and cut the article out of the paper when it come out. He kept it under the drawer of the cash register, for some unknown reason.
Days went by, and then weeks. Our life was not the same as it was. How could it be, after a thing like that? But we survived, and so did the Elvis is Our King Boutique.
The day finally came. January 8th, Elvis Aaron Presley's birthday. Of course, we always keep the Boutique open 'til midnight on that wonderful day, 'cause folks around here get sentimental. Just think about it, Billy James. You're sittin' up late, watchin' a tribute to the King and drinkin' mint julips in his honor, when suddenly a powerful need comes over you. We sell more Gyrating Elvis dolls on that night than we do durin' the whole rest of the year.
Well, it come to our attention that the Tuba City Chamber of Commerce was givin' a We Love Elvis parade that night, complete with a float shaped like Graceland and a young Elvis imitator named Jamie Sequin. At first we was kinda sad that we'd miss it, 'cause of course we'd never dream of leavin' our posts at the Boutique. We have a duty to this town, Billy James. Then we got to thinkin' about the last Elvis imitator we saw, and suddenly we was just as glad to stay in. I know it's a blasphemy, but we couldn't wait 'til that night was over.
Oh, we did well. We was busy most of the day, and the whole of the evening. We made enough money for a week's vacation in Tucson, but to tell you the truth, all we could think about was goin' home and goin' to bed.
I just finished totalin' the day's receipts, and Earl finished puttin' the watch tarantulas in the windows, so he switched off the lights.
Just then we heard this Godawful, unearthly sound comin' down the street toward us. It sounded like a cross between a police siren and a cat in heat. I shrieked and called for Earl, and he ran to my side. We throwed our arms around each other and waited, our eyes bulgin' in fear.
It was Millie June. She come runnin' in the Boutique, wailin' like a fire engine. Her hair was stickin' out every whichaway, and her eyes were wild as a colt's in spring.
"He's daid!" she shrieked. "They kilt him! Oh, he's daid, he's daid." When Millie June gets upset, her West Virginia accent gets real strong. I usually correct her real polite, remindin' her that she sounds like a peckerwood. But I was so taken aback that I just gaped at her.
"Didn't you hear me?" she bellered. "Jamie Sequin is daid. He's murdered, Effie! Poor, poor little feller. Some evil thing pulled him into the Graceland float and popped him like a tick."
Suddenly, she went all stiff, and started a-groanin' and a-droolin'. "He's cooooming," she moaned. "He's almost heeeere!" and then she turned tail and run out into the night.
I nearly collapsed of nerves. Earl began cussin' and rummagin' under the counter for Grandpa Juke's old shotgun. We didn't know who it was Millie June was talkin' about, but we didn't aim to find out.
It was too late.
An unnatural cold wind blowed in through the door, knockin' over the rack of Baby Elvis postcards. And all of a sudden, there was a dark figure standin' by the King Koffee Kups.
I started squeakin' like a rabbit, and Earl froze like a jacklighted deer. The figure laughed, low and mean. He jingled the Elvis Head medallions, and then started toward us.
It was the King. He was beautiful, Billy James, beautiful and terrible. He was young and skinny, wearin' a black leather motorcycle jacket and tight bluejeans. His chest was bare 'cept for a silver necklace shaped like a skull.
Then I saw his hands, and I nearly got the vapors. They was all bloody, and the arms of his jacket too. He was wearin' this big wide belt with a Harley Davidson buckle, and hung all around it was Elvis wigs of all shapes and sizes. I like to died. He had that sneer on his face, and he swaggered as he walked at us.
He come right up and put his bloody hands on the counter. "Hi," he says.
"Hi," says me and Earl, grinnin' like dogs caught grazin' in the stable. We darn near wet our Levi's.
"I'm pleased to make your acquaintance," says the King, like a perfect Southern gentleman. His voice was sweet as summer magnolias, and he smiled that little-boy smile that always broke my heart.
Well, then he slicks back the sides of his D. A., and looks right at me and grins. It occurred to me that he just greased his hair with blood, but I wasn't about to say nothin. I just grinned like a fool my own self. "I'm always delighted to meet those folks who've kept the faith," he says. "I'm truly grateful to y'all."
"Thank you," I says back in a tiny voice. Earl was just standin there, eyes as big as pie tins.
"You folks are my immortality," he says. "My high priests and priestesses." He wipes his hands up and down the thighs of his jeans, real slow and sexy-like. There was red streaks when he got done.
"I know you love me," says the King. "But sometimes love isn't enough." His grin got wider and wider, 'til I thought it would wrap around his head. "What do you know about theology?" he asks.
Billy James, to be perfectly honest, he just about lost me there. I'll do my best to recall what he said, but it was pretty odd, and you know me. I ain't the brightest light in the outhouse.
Well anyhow, he asks me this question. "Not much," says I. I could barely get them words out of my mouth.
"Let me teach you," says Elvis. He swaggers right to the middle of the Boutique, then spins around like he was startin' a performance. I could just about see the guitar in his hands.
"The birth of a religion," he says, "is a mighty strange thing. Catholicism meets the Cult of Damballah, and boom! Instant voodoo." I squinted, tryin' to understand him. He was standin' perfectly still, starin' right at me and Earl. I thought I would either melt or burn to ashes under the weight a' them eyes. "Do you know the name Kuan Yin?" he asks all of a sudden.
We both stood there a sec, and then Earl says, real timid, "Ain't he the feller who works nights at Kwiki Mart?"
The King don't even bother to look at him. He just kinda chuckles, and says "Kuan Yin is a Chinese goddess. She's the protector of mothers and children. Isn't that sweet, Effie?"
I nearly threw a piston when he said my name. "Awful sweet," I says, all meek.
So he scratches his chest and says, "She didn't start out that way, Effie. Kuan Yin was a man, who lived a long, long time ago. Then he died, and he became a god. Over time, the stories changed, and then he was a goddess.'"
I didn't know what the hell he was talkin' about.
He just kept on. "The ancient Egyptians had more gods than Graceland has lawyers. One of them was named Horus. He was a pretty important fella. He started out bein' the god of the sky, then he was the god of wisdom. He kept changin', and eventually, he was seven different gods at the same time."
Earl's face was all screwed up, and I heard them little grunts, so I knew he was tryin' his darndest to take it all in. I was feelin' pretty stupid. But then the King smiles at me, as if to say, "You can do it, Effie!" And you know what, Billy James? I started feelin' like I could.
Elvis nodded at me, grinnin'. "Ever hear the name Kali?" he says.
I smiled back. "Bud Rollins has a collie dog," I says.
"I don't mean Lassie, woman!" he bellered, in a voice like summer thunder. Chills went up and down my spine.
But he never stopped smilin'. "Not collie," he says. "Kali. The Hindu death goddess. At one time, that was the most feared name in all India. A whole tribe called the Thuggs worshipped her, and so did a lot of other folks besides."
The King stepped into the shadows, so he was just a big black shape. His voice sounded like it was right by my ear when he started speakin' again.
"They sacrificed people to her out in the desert. They'd dig the graves first, then go out and find somebody." I could hear Elvis breathin'. "They'd end up with their throat cut ear to ear."
There was this big long pause. I was shakin' like a chihuahua. Earl had stopped his gruntin' and was whindelin' under his breath instead. Finally, the King spoke. "No one's scared of her anymore," he says. "Heck, she even showed up in a Beatle movie, back when Johnny was still mortal. Gods change, Effie. But they don't always go from fierce to funny. Sometimes it happens in just the opposite fashion."
He was suddenly right in front of me. He pointed at the jumbo-sized poster of himself on the powder room door. It was the one I used to like so well, with Elvis in his white karate suit and sweat all over his sideburns.
The King had this big old sneer on his face.
"That," he says, "Is dead. I left it on the toilet at Graceland." He reached out and touched my face, Billy James. His skin was hot as fire. "That's dead," he said. "But I will never die."
That poster suddenly burst into flames, and so did Elvis himself. Then, just like that, he was gone. Vanished like a sucklin' pig at Easter. There was nothin' left of the poster but ashes. As they floated to the floor, real easy-like, I realized I understood everything he said.
It took Earl a mite longer, but he got it after a fashion.
Billy James, when I saw your show at the Golden Oldies Saloon, the buttons near to popped off my shirt with pride. My very own nephew, up there on the stage singin' "Teddy Bear." I do love you, boy. I hope you understand this is for the best.
Fetch the meat cleaver, Earl.