ELVIS HAS EXPOUNDED THE BUILDING © S.H. Gilbert © 1997

 

The kids always look so cute when they play alien invasion, putting up their Fisher-Price defense shields around their friends. You can look out over the neighborhood any nice day and see rows of domed shells dotting the lawns like antique pink flamingos. The kids are so involved that most don’t hear the plaintive, sometimes nasal entreaties to come in for lunch or dinner or bath time. And not one of them, almost certainly, heard the two top items of the news downloads that particular day.

The first item was about the crash of a van and a hearse. A sealed coffin, whose occupant was not heard to complain, and the driver, who was examined on the scene and released, occupied the hearse. The hearse was also unaffected, though suffered some structural damage. The van, however, carried a dozen patients from a nearby clinic, where they were being treated for Kornheiser’s Syndrome, and each of the passengers suffered a variety of contusions and abrasions. As a result of their viral infection, most didn’t even remember what it was like to be involved in a vehicle crash and most certainly wouldn’t recall the crash within forty-eight hours. Medical science had another term that clarified their physiological condition: Lucky Bastards.

The other item of interest was more like a theological ‘Where Are They Now?’ It concerned the disappearance of the corpse of the late twentieth century icon known as Elvis Presley from his shrine in Graceland. Much plaintive wailing was to be heard from his adepts, who were evenly divided between those who cursed the vanishing and those who were certain it was the beginning of the Resurrection of Saint El the OTB {Omniscient Teddy Bear}. Already the net broadcasts were beseeching the teeming multitudes that worshipped on line at the church to make sure their tithe cards were current and their accounts in order.

Of course those who saw a sinister conspiracy believed that there was more to this than met the eye. They saw the theft, if it was such, as a blatant attempt to undermine the Prophecies of Jesse.

These canons, channeled through an ancient Elvis Head lamp, prescribed that if His sanctified remains were to abide in the hands of the adepts, they must be preserved in a sealed tomb at any cost. The methods of removing His Holy Hipness could range from common theft (which the adepts considered unlikely, given the tight security at Graceland), to the ascribed though never verified ‘Miracle of Mother Gladys’. Once his artifacts left the hands of the faithful, they would, in the words of the canons, “Be not seen by any but the blissfully ignorant, uh-huh.” This inspired the Catechists of the church to suggest that any cost incurred could be paid as a monthly charge off the believer’s credit chips. Much more plaintive wailing was heard from the spouses and life partners of those in the church, who acutely felt the pinch of their loved one’s economic martyrdom.

Tim had left Julia due to her devotion to the church, having decided that the price of divorce was far cheaper in the long run than the investment in Saint El’s deification. He had his locksmith livelihood to provide barter and income, even though he was not a trained locksmith, per say. That is, he was not trained in the electronic systems that secured most entryways in this day and age. He preferred the old fashioned methods, like pure force. He might have thought of himself as a Luddite, except that he rarely exercised that portion of his anatomy involved in the cognitive process.

Tim had been contacted earlier that morning to open a locked door at 546 Fenway. Contacted so early as a matter of fact that he was still waking up when he took the call. He would be the first to state he was not to blame if he had been given the wrong address. He parked in front of 654 Fenway. Tim looked around; expecting to find the homeowner waiting for him, as he had been told would be the case. Cheez, he thought, some people can’t even be bothered to be on time to their own emergency. He walked around the house, thinking the residents were in the back yard. No such luck. He crossed back to the front of the house, looking along the street. He went back into his vehicle. Distracted, he opened his auto net link and listened to the news about the disappearance while he considered his options. He looked at the time. It was getting late and he had a birthday party to get to yet. His friend George, the rich old weasel, could always be counted on throw quite the bash. He ticked off the to do list in his head. Break in; then dash over to the bazaar to pick up a gift for George, and get to the party before the food was stale and the women all gone.

He looked again at the time, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. To hell with it, he decided. The owner probably went to the store. Would be right back. Yeah, he was sure they’d be right back. In the meantime, he’d open the door and that way he’d be ready to go as soon as they returned and paid him.

He got back out and walked around the house again, this time looking for some point of access. The windows weren’t any help. They were all too high to reach without a ladder of some sort. Besides which, Tim was afraid of heights. There was a back door, but Tim decided he didn’t need the hassle of some security drone pepper spraying him, or worse, juking him with some taser blast. Nope, he thought, it’s the good old front door for me. Easy in, quick and clean.

The front door, however, was as solid as a rock. The entry pad wasn’t going to help him out, either, even if by some miracle he could figure out how to fix it. It was one of those fiber optic gizmos tripped by the eyeprint of the owner. Tim looked at the pad quizzically. Why would they need me to open a locked door if all they need is their own two baby blues? He shrugged. They weren’t paying him to be a problem solver. He was being paid to open doors, and open them he would. Maestro, the crowbar.

He set at his job with gusto, easing the bar into the doorjamb, sensing for the weak spot. This door isn’t built like most, Tim thought. After a few minutes of ineffectual jabbing, it occurred to him that stronger measures were required. He spit on his hands, because his dad had spat when there was hard work to be done, as had his dad before him and his dad before that. The women in his family always checked twice before holding anybody’s hand. Out came the sledgehammer. The first ‘thud’ was very loud, and not effective at all in opening the door. Tim squinted in disbelief and examined the door. Only the slightest dent was observed. Must be stiff this morning, he concluded, and gave the door another good whack. The dent grew imperceptibly, as did the realization that the door was reinforced in some way. After tapping the door a few times with his knuckles, Tim became convinced that there was a metal plate behind the door.

“Now what fool would do that?” He asked out loud. He rubbed the dent, which was a bit more pronounced that he had realized with his fingers. No wonder they need me to open this door, he contemplated. ‘Puter sensor must be malfunctioning.

He went back to his work with what could be considered surgical precision, if you consider Jack the Ripper a surgeon. He believed the door was starting to give way when he noticed the hearse approaching from over the hill.

He knew from hard experience that it was better to let a vehicle pass rather than incur the pointed looks and sometimes raised weapons that sometimes accompanied these occurrences. To his dismay, the hearse slowed as it neared him. The vehicle stopped as it passed Tim, then backed up into the driveway of the house where Tim was working.

Tim felt the same flush of contrasting emotions that came upon him whenever a homeowner came upon him as he toiled. The mixture of feeling relieved at the owner finding him working and feeling dismay at the owner finding him attacking his front door. The observation that a hearse was involved did not bring cool ease to Tim’s brow, for some reason.

The driver got out of the hearse. He was preternaturally tall, over six feet six inches, and equipped with a hologarb emitter, which was set to mimic the traditional somber work suit of a mortician. Unfortunately it was malfunctioning, because the faux Hawaiian Shirt and Bermuda Shorts he was wearing underneath were clearly visible as the unit phased in and out. Tim noticed that the bumper and rear door of his hearse was severely dented. The rear window had crone’s fingertips of crannies rippling up from the bottom of the glass. Through that window Tim saw the coffin. From where he stood it looked like there was masking tape around the coffin going from top to bottom. The hearse driver unlocked the door to the house next door and entered, paying Tim no mind whatsoever as he closed the front door behind him.

Tim looked at the house next door and gave the door he was trying to open one more solid blow with the sledgehammer. Tim’s heart wasn’t in it, however, as obsessive curiosity seeded within his mind. Who was in that coffin anyway? Tim knew that he could clear a lot of rewarding bankstrips if the hearse contained Saint El. And if not, well - he just didn’t think that far ahead.

He set the sledgehammer on the ground, leaning its handle against the doorknob. He visually canvassed the streets quickly then moved toward the hearse. He peered into the rear window and saw it was not tape but twine that was binding the coffin. In the window’s reflection Tim’s sandy, curly hair seemed to be even more disheveled than usual, and his lean face, with its high cheekbones, appeared to him to be even slightly longer. He considered how he might open the hearse’s rear door.

Meanwhile, the labor that Tim had put into opening the door he started out with was starting to pay off. Slowly, silently, the door began to part. Tim was busy cupping his hands over the window, trying to see if there was a latch he could utilize. The door swung open about a foot and stopped. The door’s movement was caught by a pair of feet, which belonged to a male body lying prone on the floor. The body was restful, unmoving. He was apparently a young man, wearing an antique black leather ensemble. His hair was done up in a mid twentieth century hairstyle known as a ‘duck tail’, and was slick black. There was a sneer on his lips, which made him seem even more menacing.

Tim, at the back of the hearse, saw none of this, though he heard the door of the house the mortician entered opening and tried to jump away from the vehicle before he was spotted. His gaze met that of the mortician, who let a brief frown cross his face.

Tim turned away, trying to be nonchalant and let his eyes wander around the yard and finally back to the door he had opened, whereupon he saw the body on the floor. The mortician was moving toward Tim too quickly for Tim to get to the front door and close it before the mortician met him. Unsure if the body was there as a result of his slamming the door he decided to keep its existence to himself for the time being. As the mortician approached him, he met him at the hearse and positioned himself so that the mortician would be less likely to see the body through the doorway. The mortician walked toward him unhurriedly, giving the hearse only a cursory glance.

“Howdy.” The mortician was affable. “You look a little too healthy to be interested in taking this ride.”

Tim laughed; hoping it didn’t sound too forced. “Not me. I - umm – was just curious as to who your – ahh – passenger was.”

“Well, suppose I could show you. Don’t think he’ll get too riled up about it.”

Tim blinked. He couldn’t easily turn down the offer, and he had some prurient interest in seeing what a dead body looked like. Still, he didn’t want this guy to see the body in the doorway. He might want to compare notes.

“Well – that’s a tempting offer, but I’m on the clock here.” As soon as Tim said the words, he regretted them. If he was on the clock, what then was he doing peeping in a hearse? “Just was finishing my lunch and now I have to get back to work.” He said this slowly, as if emphasis on each word would add to their truthfulness.

“Oh yeah? What is it you do?” The mortician seemed truly interested in his vocation.

“I’m a locksmith. I’m working on the house here, trying to get in for the owners.”

“Hah – ain’t that something? Here I thought you were one of the owners all along. Worried me for a second you might object to me leaving the hearse in your driveway. I keep such odd hours that I never seen ‘em. Say - maybe you could show me a few smithy tricks.”

The mortician started to turn toward the house. Tim did the only thing that he could think of doing.

“You know, come to think about it, I am awfully interested in seeing your . . . rider. You mind if I have myself a look?”

The mortician turned to face him and seemed quite pleased that someone was showing curiosity in his profession. He beamed a broad smile and set about opening the back of the hearse.

“Had me a little accident this morning. Some dag-nabbed van not paying attention in the fog ran right into me. Good thing Junior back there wasn’t in a complainin’ mood. The folks in the van were okay, I guess. Didn’t hear them complain. They got that Kornheiser’s thing. Gave them something to forget, I bet.” The mortician guffawed nasally, and Tim smiled politely, hoping to get this thing over with.

The mortician, now in the back of the rig, took off the twine sealing the casket. He lifted the lid enough so that Tim could see the corpse within, who was dressed in a white cowboy suit.

Tim had never seen a real cowboy suit, as it was much easier to hologarb one’s self in whatever attire one desired.

“Those are real clothes?” Tim asked, somewhat incredulously.

“You betcha they are. Heirlooms, I heard. Think it’s the first time I ever buried anyone like this. You wanna touch them?”

Tim was tempted, though decided against it. Even though he might not have another chance to touch a cowboy suit. He had his own carcass to think about. He wanted to check on whoever it was and get to George’s birthday, hopefully without getting arrested.

“Well, I’d like to, I really would; but I wouldn’t want you to get in any trouble. I’m sure there’s places he’s got to be.”

The mortician closed the casket and climbed out from the hearse. He looked disappointed.

“If you say so. Most folks would pay a weeks worth of bankstrips to have this chance, though if you’d rather not . . ..”

The mortician let his voice trail off, as if expecting a self-serving protest, or at the least a reconsideration. When none was forthcoming, he got in the driver’s seat, started the hearse up, and slowly pulled out of the driveway.

Tim returned to the body inside the door. There was a slight odor once he leaned over the body. It was a slightly musty smell, reminiscent of formaldehyde. In Tim’s mind this alerted him to the fact that this guy probably didn’t get this way on his account.

Tim also became aware of a nagging voice in his head that told him this was Saint El. Tim, who was still stumped as to what to get George, had a revelation as to the perfect gift, what to give the man who has everything: his own saint. Quickly, Tim threw the body over his shoulder and carried him to the van. The body was surprisingly supple, not at all stiff, and Tim got him in without any problems and even better, without any witnesses. He briefly considered letting him ride in the passenger seat, then decided against it. He didn’t need some zealous police officer thinking the sneer was meant as an insult. He sat him on the floor of the van behind the driver’s seat, where he fit quite snugly. Tim sat the sledge hammer on the Saint’s lap to hold him in place, and his sneer seemed even more justified because of this action.

He started the vehicle and set off, feeling not only work efficient but downright gleeful as well. As he passed a house a few blocks away, the couple standing in front began waving their arms and trying to chase after him. They’ll just have to find another locksmith, Tim thought. I’m going to a party. Funny coincidence, though, their address being 546 Fenway.

When Tim arrived at the party he was grateful it was still going in full swing. Nothing he liked less than a party that was winding up as he got there. He looked around for George and saw him standing in the middle of a group of people. As he approached the group he could hear George’s resonant voice.

“So she asked me why I’d want to go to Long Beach for a vacation. I told her: ‘the same reason some people go to Key West – it was there and I was here.”

Everyone laughed heartily at this; most everyone tended to enjoy George’s talents as a raconteur. He stood a solid six feet, with curly black hair and blazing blue eyes. Despite, or perhaps because of, his wealth, he had a wide variety of friends and acquaintances, from a disparate group of humanity. George had one arm around Lowe, a News Imager George had known for years, and the other arm around his mother’s shoulder.

Mae was a vibrant woman, still very youthful at seventy. Rumors abounded as the source of her vim and vigor. Most gossip had the echo of envy about it, attributing her good looks to chemical or surgical means. George maintained that it was just ‘good genes’. Considering George himself looked near thirty though was nearer forty-five, no one questioned it, at least in front of George or Mae. She was currently black and white, having undergone the latest in trendy fashion accessories; a treatment that, when complete, made the wearer look as if they had stepped out from one of the halftone films from the previous century. When done well, as it had been where George’s mother was concerned, the effect was startling at first glance. She was dressed in a stunning outfit that Tim was almost certain was real clothing; after all, she could afford the best. Mae wore a long dark torso dress and was adorned with a rope of pearls that stretched from her neck to her navel. Her still dark hair was in a high bun, a pompadour, Tim heard her refer to it as to another guest who was fawning over and complimenting her.

Tim paid his respects to the birthday boy and to the humans draped under his arms, kissing Mae’s hand. Tim stared for a long moment at the contrast between his hand, tinged in skin pigmentation, and Mae’s hand, which was a starkly, stately gray.

Mae smiled warmly at Tim, pleased by his manners and George seemed genuinely pleased that Tim could make it, which only confirmed to Tim that he had done the right thing in his choice of a present.

“You’ll never guess what your present is.”

“My own sledgehammer?’ George was a bit in the bag, and enjoying it.

“ A new hologarber.” Lowe piped in, though Tim would rather he hadn’t.

Tim gestured for George to approach him. George disengaged himself from Lowe and his mom and leaned over to hear Tim.

“I brought you your own Saint.”

George looked quizzically at Tim. Behind them Lowe was approaching. Being naturally nosy, and in the news gathering business, Lowe had developed his instincts to a fine hone.

“I ran across something I knew you didn’t have, and I brought it with me.” Tim was trying to be coy. As far as George was concerned he was just being irritating.

“Tim, I can’t imagine what it is.”

Tim appeared somewhat crestfallen, as he had hoped to make a longer party game out of this.

“I didn’t give you enough clues, is that it?”

“Tim, you haven’t given me any clues. Just tell me what you got me.”

“I found Saint El. He’s in the van.”

Lowe, who overheard Tim’s comment, immediately began to look around to see if anyone else had heard Tim’s statement. Tim noticed Lowe slyly pull out his imager, his predatory news instincts coming to the forefront. This Tim expected from Lowe. On the other hand, George’s response was not what Tim expected.

“Are you insane? Do you know how many different security forces are looking for Saint El? What are trying to do – put me in a institution for the rest of my life?”

Lowe heard this, as did most of those assembled, and slid his imager back into a pocket.

“Well, why don’t you have a look at him before you decide.” Tim offered, trying to be helpful.

By now, the other guests were paying more attention to George and Tim’s conversation than to their own. Mae positioned herself between George and Tim, looping their arms within each of her elbows. The guests began to causally meander off one by one to search for the location of Saint El.

“Darling, let’s not make a fuss here. Your guests don’t want their wonderful time spoiled, after all.”

“And I don’t want my wonderful time spoiled by Soldiers of El swarming in and grabbing me for conspiracy.”

“I’m sure no one would do that.”

“Mom, you don’t understand. Saint –“

Mae drew herself up sharply and addressed her favorite only child.

I don’t understand? I give regularly to the Church of Elvology. I think I have a unique understanding of the dynamics here. What I don’t understand is how I raised a son with such poor manners that he’s unwilling to show a little appreciation to a dear friend who’s gone to a lot of trouble for a one of a kind present.” She glared at George, who did not back down.

“You’re not the one who’d be sent to Indoctrination Camp. You’re not the one who’d forfeit his holdings to the Church. Tim, I like you, even though you’re a little absent-minded, but this is beyond the pale. Maybe I should turn you over to the El Guard. How would you like that, huh?”

Tim was crestfallen. He had never been threatened by George before, and certainly not with incarceration. He looked around to see if anyone had heard his dressing down. He was relieved to observe that only Claude, whom he had never liked much anyway, was near enough to pay attention.

Claude, who as usual was standing all by himself, felt particularly sorry for Tim as George was berating him. He knew all too sharply what it was like to have people yell a lot. He thought of himself as the token screw-up, and those that knew him, or knew of him, would have agreed with that assessment. He stood by the large pile of George’s birthday gifts, prepared to tell anyone who asked what he was doing there that he was guarding the pile. After all, he reasoned, there were a lot of very expensive presents there, and anyone could walk into the party and walk off with any one of them; the bioneural ‘puter, for example, or the ‘Band in a Can’ or even the molecular vaporizer, a very popular gift for the holidays. He turned his attention to George, whose voice was rising in irritability, glad that for once, he was not the focus of someone’s anger.

“Tim, I am not gonna even look at it – what were you thinking in bringing Saint El here in your van in the first place?”

The guests, who had given up their search and returned to stand near George, began murmuring among themselves, then with those around them, building a cacophony of question and confirmation that culminated in a consensus to go to Tim’s vehicle to see the Saint for themselves.

To get to the van, they had to pass Claude, who was noticeably nervous at the crush of humanity approaching. He picked up the vaporizer, not really intending to use it, just to brandish it so that the mob would find another route to go to get to Tim’s vehicle. Flourishing the weapon had no effect on the crowd, who was following the ancient adage of straight lines being the shortest routes between two points. Without realizing it, his finger played along the triggering mechanism.

As the swarm of people came nearer, George tried to head them off so as to allow Tim the chance to leave and take the corpse back wherever he had found it. In the process, the crowd ended up carrying him on the curl of their movement straight into Claude, who accidentally triggered the vaporizer, hitting George, who slowly sandblasted out of sight, looking very perturbed at Claude as he vanished.

Now the partygoers had something new to be upset about. Growing cries of “What have you done?”, and “Bring George back!” began to spread among the guests like a storm wind. Mae, seeing her son dematerialize, ran over to Claude, with Lowe just ahead of her.

Lowe, who had given the vaporizer to George and had read the directions, took the vaporizer from Claude’s trembling hands. Resetting the device to ‘Rematerialize’, he triggered the vaporizer. While he was setting the device, he had pointed the vaporizer a good dozen feet in the air, which is where George rematerialized, and since he was not wearing a zero gravity pack, he fell hard to the ground. The crowd as one yelled “Huzzah!” Mae, who was horrified to see George’s lovely party atmosphere disintegrate, along with her son, rushed to his side and began cooing over him as George picked himself up, slowly and somewhat painfully, though none the worse for wear. Lowe turned off the vaporizer, turned to Claude, and spoke very seriously indeed to him.

“Never pick up the vaporizer again.”

Claude, who was still numbed by his faux pas, was not listening.

“W-What?”

Lowe slapped him upside the head.

“Never pick up the vaporizer again. What did I say?”

“Never pick up the vaporizer.” Claude replied glumly.

“Very good.”

The other partygoers, upset with Claude for nearly spoiling the festivities, each lined up to castigate Claude and reinforce the instructions not to pick up the vaporizer ever again. At the end of the line was George himself, who really wanted Claude to internalize the message, and so whacked him with particular emphasis.

George then turned his attention back to Tim, who wasn’t sure if George was going to strike him next.

“Tim, you can’t leave Saint El here. I appreciate the thought, but I have no inclination to put up with the problems his presence raises.”

Tim thought very hard.

“I can’t take him back where I found him. I don’t want to leave him by the side of the road.”

Lowe approached George and whispered in his ear. Mae, who was still with George, listened in. Their muttering voices could be heard, and occasionally part of the discussion made it out of their huddle.

“Why don’t we . . .”

“We already have the grand . . .”

“Yes, but what a wonderful . . .”

“And it would get it off your . . .”

For the first time since George had been told about his gift, he smiled broadly and nodded. He motioned over two burly helpers, hired to help out during the party entertainment, and whispered in their ears as well. They grunted and left, headed in the general direction of Tim’s vehicle. George turned to Tim.

“Since it’s my gift, are you saying I can do whatever I want with him?”

“Use him as a hat rack for all I care. Just as long as you get some use from him.”

George turned and addressed the group.

“Friends, as you know, every year, as the high point for my birthday bash, I host a reenactment of one of my favorite forms of nostalgic entertainment.”

The crowd, who had been waiting for this, signaled their approval by whooping it up.

“I’m ready to start it if you are!”

Again the guests ranted in approbation.

“Alright, then, let’s all go into the auditorium!”

The party moved into a large auditorium and sat patiently. George disappeared from view behind the curtain. The lights over the audience faded. The sound of the stage curtain opening could be heard. Suddenly the left and center of the stage was awash in light. On the left of the stage were three podiums, with a traditional LED indicator on each one. In the center of the stage, on the floor, was a large, round cavity which was in darkness, and one the side of the stage opposite the podiums were a number of items which were in shadows and could not be clearly made out. George’s voice came over speakers placed around the auditorium.

“Missy, come on down!”

Missy, a very attractive woman in her twenties, bounced down the aisle and up the stairs to the stage, where she continued bouncing and squealing in delight behind one of the podiums. George also called Lowe and Claude to the stage. Lowe mounted the stage with much panache, while Claude clasped his hands over his head in joyous victory at having been forgiven by George. Again George’s voice boomed over the audience.

“It’s time to play . . .”

With one voice the audience yelled out.

“Wheel of Fortune!”

The lights went up on the rest of the stage. The objects hidden in shadow turned out to be a late twentieth century washer and dryer, along with other household appliances more suited to a museum than a house. George, now dressed in a business suit, bounded out on stage and stood by the cavity. The light that illuminated him also lit up the wheel recessed into the cavity on the floor.

“Our contestants each have the chance to win these fabulous prizes, and one lucky person will take home our grand prize!”

With the loud joyful sound of the contest buzzer the games commenced, and to everyone’s surprise, at the end of the contest, Elvis left the building with the one person no one would have ever expected to win such a prize.

George continued to throw wonderful parties, though he would never match that unusual birthday ever again. As time went on he appreciated more and more the gift Tim had presented him, and when Mae finally passed through the veil, he had her preserved after the fashion of Saint El, giving her a special place of respect in his foyer. He made it a point to invite Tim to every one of his birthday parties, where they would reminisce about Mae and wonder what ever happened to Claude.

After leaving the party, Claude was never seen again. As his unfortunate luck would have it, shortly after he arrived at his home, Claude contracted Kornheiser’s Syndrome, forgetting even where he had acquired the nattily dressed stuffed mannequin wearing a sneer on his lips. No one ever realized that Saint El was in the little bungalow that Claude called home. The neighborhood children, playful as ever, erected a series of defense domes around Claude’s house, and left them there, where they keep would be onlookers away. And here Saint El rests comfortably to this day, protected by Fisher-Price.

 

 

FINIS