The Eiffel Tower Restaurant on the Las Vegas strip afforded a glittering panorama at night, a slurry of lights that could be seen all the way out in space. Seated by a window, Buddy and Spike enjoyed the excellent view of each other that their propinquity afforded. They held hands across their small and intimate table, touching one another's wedding bands. A split of Champagne frosted in a bucket at Buddy's elbow.
"How can we afford this?" Buddy asked, casting a quick glance at the three waitery dudes standing by, just looking at them. At his glance one of them stepped forward.
"Something you would like?"
"Yes," Spike said quickly, "how about some nice, plump strawberries with this fine Champagne?"
"Right away, madam. Sir." The attendant bowed away
The waiter approached, setting two plates of cheese puffs before them.
"Hors d'oeuvres," he expressed mildly. "May I get anything else right now?"
"No, we're good," Buddy replied.
He bit into a puff. "Uck, this tastes like liver flavored vomit!" Buddy turned away from the solicitous gawkers and removed the vile tidbit. He slipped it unobtrusively under the plate.
Spike laughed softly. "It's an acquired taste, Luv." She popped an entire puff in and masticated it. Her expression segued from amusement to bemusement in seconds. "Gawdawful," she agreed, choking it down. "I'll let you know when I acquire a taste for it, it's like a mud pancake."
She emptied her Champagne glass, and an attendant quickly filled it for her.
The strawberries came, and they laughingly cleared their palates of the taint of liver puff.
After they finished swapping tastes of their desserts, the bill came and Buddy read it.
"Four hundred-eighty-eight bucks," he whispered in alarm. "Spike, do we have to fight our way out of here?"
Spike leaned in with a serious look on her face. "I figured you'd want to enjoy the meal first but yes, you take the three standbys, I'll beat up the waiter and that bloke in the suit at the elevator."
Buddy looked around at them, and they all looked back. He smiled, and they smiled.
Spike was smiling, too.
"Aw, you're kidding."
"Yes, I am." Spike pulled out a credit card and set it on the tray.
On the street outside, they walked with their hands tucked in each other's back pockets. A continuous stream of people milled around them, going in and out of casinos and shops, restaurants and bars, nightclubs and souvenir stores.
Another couple walked by them, the girl's head nestled on the man's shoulder.
Spike tried to put her head on Buddy. "You're a bleedin' tall drink o' water, mate."
Buddy brought his hand onto Spike's shoulder and pulled her close. Her head fit into the crook of Buddy's arm, and lay on his chest.
"Good thing you got a big bazoombah," Spike sighed.
Buddy reached over and flicked her nose. "It's a pectoral muscle, you thug. You have the bazoombahs. By the way, where'd you get that credit card you paid for dinner with?"
"Ah, need we speak of money?"
"Yes, and unless your name is Marti Noxon, I suspect I'm harboring a fugitive."
"Let's cross here," Spike suggested, "go see the water dance at the Ballagio."
As they crossed, Buddy asked again.
"I nicked it," Spike explained, "when I saw this bird arguing with a cop one night, over a ticket for parking in a handicapped zone. She was tryin' every argument under the sun, even told the bull she forgot her underwear that day. While she was posin' for 'im, I glommed onto her wallet, just lifted it right from her purse."
"No, that's exactly what happened."
A collective whoo! lifted from the people packed around the Bellagio's fountains, and a huge wall of water rose in the gleam of multicolored lights. Music pumped from invisible loudspeakers, and Buddy and Spike turned to watch with the rest. A man sidled up too close to Spike, and Buddy shoved him. The guy's face took on belligerence, but at Buddy's warning glare he faded away.
For twenty minutes they were enchanted by the display.
"After something like that, there's only one place to go," Spike declared.
Back at the hotel they splashed into the heated pool, and Buddy lay back in the water as Spike held him, and they traversed the pool, the only ones present.
Buddy said, "Let's skinny-dip."
"What, starkers with all the eyes on us?"
"What eyes?" Buddy stood up and saw no one around.
"Spike nodded, and Buddy looked in the direction she indicated.
"There are cameras everywhere, Luv. Been like that since the 'seventies."
"How would you know?"
"Vegas was once me old stampin' grounds. I saw Elvis here, first time out."
"I've seen that. He wore black leather."
Spike shook her head, and water sprinkled off her hair. "Nineteen fifty-six, April."
"You saw him perform?"
Spike chuckled. "Yeah. Just not at singin'."
"Tell me what happened."
"Not much," Spike waved it off. "I just was in a card game with 'im, and he lost his shirt. Got mad at the mobster runnin' the game and offered to kick his arse. I saved Elvis from bein' killed.
"Now let's get to our room."
Upstairs Buddy sat and demanded satisfaction.
"I'm not going to sleep until I get it."
Spike tugged the drapes once more to make sure they wouldn't allow a shard of sunlight in the morning. She put out the Do Not Disturb sign and bolted the door.
"Now then, for your listening pleasure, I'll tell you that Elvis was a terrible card player. He kept winning for the first six hours." She flopped onto the bed and rolled over to the pillows.
"I think that means he plays well, Spike. You see, the object of poker is to win money, not lose it."
Spike pulled a pillow out and hugged it. "At this game, the object was to win and stay alive. I recognized the game had loaded decks, and decided to play my usual way."
"To just stay in the game until I lost everything, then take the lot and eat the players."
"You're a regular Cincinnati Kid."
"You laugh, but I took my share of pots. This game was with a bloke name of Nino 'The Scar' Scarpino, he'd been planning this high stakes game for weeks. I'd been winning straight out, so I was invited. The buy-in was fifty grand, a lot for back then.
"Elvis was upset because he was singin', and getting' ignored, also got booed a little. It was an adult crowd, not the teeny boppers who loved him then, though by the late 'sixties those same teens would be there in Sin City, cheerin' him on.
"Anyways, he was so brassed off, he had a few stiff ones at the bar, then demanded to be let into this high stakes game he'd been hearin' about. None of the staff wanted to let on they knew what he was talking about, but he got louder with each drink, and Nino's son heard him refer to 'the greaseball who owns this joint', so he says let 'im in.
"When I say he won for six hours, I don't mean every hand. He folded, he bet low, and those hands he usually lost. It was the big ones, the gutsy hands he won. I had a Full House, kings over, an' he bet the farm. So I folded, and that geezer laid down a Royal Flush, and I knew the cheat was on."
Buddy shook his head. "How did that tell you?"
"One of my kings was a heart, and his flush was hearts. The godfather wanted to load him up, then bleed him dry, so he was pitching him winners."
"Right, if I'd stayed in, it would've been awkward. Someone slipped up, and they would have accused me of cheating.
"But the hands went on, and Elvis kept winnin' the big ones, and drinking too much. Then came the long-awaited big bad hand. I knew it because I got a pair of deuces, so they didn't want me in. It came down to Elvis and Nino, and Elvis kept raising the ante, so I knew he had another great hand. Nino kept raising him, and finally Elvis was tapped. He signed to a loan, and called Nino's final raise. It was a three hundred thousand-dollar pot."
Buddy was leaning forward, very interested. "What happened?"
Spike tossed him the pillow. "I'll tell you tomorrow." She shifted hastily and began snoring.
Buddy tossed the pillow back. "You'll be a pile of dust by tomorrow if you don't tell me the rest." He leapt on the bed next to her.
Spike's eyes shot open. "Just wanted to make sure I wasn't boring you. Elvis slapped down his hand and got up, started swivelin' his hips and singing 'Money Honey', really rubbing it in. Nino the Scar just takes a drag on his cigar, calm as a corpse, and blows the smoke at Elvis. He lays down a Royal Flush in spades, and Elvis' was in diamonds.
"Elvis pointed at Nino, said, I'll never forget this, he said: 'Fat man, you done gone an' riled me up, cheating thataway.'"
Buddy chortled, grabbed Spike's arm and shook it. "You do a great Elvis, that sounds just like him."
Spike laughed. "It's a gift."
"So what did fat Tony do?"
"It was Nino the Scar, not fat Tony."
"Sorry. The Simpsons."
"Yeah, I get it. Fat Tony's funny. Joe Mantegna does a great—"
"Okay, so Elvis said this, and looked like he wanted a fight. Nino said, 'Sit down, little canary, if you ever want to sing again.' Elvis pushed his winnings at Fat Ton—er, Nino-see, you have me doing it now—he pushed the chips at Nino and said, 'Cash me out fat man, or I'll get the fuzz on you for a crooked game.'"
Buddy psshed airily. "I can't believe he lived."
"I figured his minutes were counting down. I just sat there impressed that, even lubricated with bourbon, this kid had so much moxie. Nino didn't miss a trick, he just shrugged and told his man to cash the kid out. He said the game's over. The other players and I took whatever we had left, and I didn't have much, and we started out."
"But you were going to rob the game."
"I wanted to see what would happen. I figured the world would lose one more Rock 'N' Roll singer, but I wasn't sure I wanted to see it go down that way.
"I pretended to leave, but because they didn't have surveillance cameras then, it was easy to speed back behind some gaudy stuff they had for decoration. I saw Elvis come out, lookin' like the cat that ate the canary, and Nino came out with him, his hand on his shoulder like they were mates. 'Congratulations Elvis,' he said, real loud, and there were plenty of players who looked over and saw this. He wasn't playing there, but across the street at The New Frontier."
"He was making an alibi."
"Of course,' Spike agreed. She hopped from bed and picked up her coat. "I need a cigarette."
Buddy looked glum.
"Can't you stop that nasty habit?"
"My lungs can't be harmed."
"Yeah, what about mine?"
"You're not smoking."
Spike snorted. "That's a myth," she said.
"Oh, like vampires, uh?"
She dropped the pack. "You win there."
Picking up a brush, Spike sat on the bed and brushed her hair out.
"I followed Elvis," she continued, "outside to the parking lot. Even though he was rooming across the street, he still drove this pink Cadillac, what a burk, poofin' around in that thing.
"He got to the Caddy and of course there's four guys there, leaning on other cars and smoking, just passing the time, all innocence. Elvis walked to the Caddy and opened the door. It was a convertible, not even locked up. He began to hop in when the blokes rushed him. He turned and socked the first with a good little pitch, a right hand that put him on his back. But then the other three got 'im, and they worked him over good.
"I ducked down between cars an'—"
"Damn, Spike. You have to save Elvis. You let him get beat up, what're you doing?"
Spike gripped Buddy by his shoulders. "Elvis survived, you have to believe that."
Buddy laughed. "I know, but this is like - like it's happening now."
"It seems like just yesterday. The three crime-niks hustled him away, and the fourth one got in his car and drove it out of there. I followed Elvis.
"They put him in the back of a black sedan, ominous and hackneyed as that is. I had a motorcycle, and I started her and kept me lights off, and shadowed them on the side of the road. They drove north, and back in those days, one minute in any direction got you out of town.
"They drove for half an hour, so I knew they didn't want to be interrupted, or have this kid found. They turned on a dirt road and drove another twenty minutes, and I ate dust the whole way. Lucky for Elvis, it was still early in the wees.
"They pulled him out, bloody and bedraggled already, and one sod gets a hammer from the trunk. While the other bastards are holding Elvis, he makes out to smash him in the face."
Buddy let out a primal yell.
"Yep, I finally stepped in."
"I grabbed the hammer right out from his hand, said 'Hello boys, I'll lay ten to one on me.'
"They stare for just a second, shocked I figured, then one of them pulled out a gun and blasted me in the chest.
"Don't look like that, you know that was nothing at all. I snatched the gun away then didn't I, and I said, 'Okay, you're down to eight to five.'"
"That's really awful."
"I've worked on my wisecracks. We can't all be Spiderman.
"The other two went for their guns. Elvis grabbed one of them and pummeled the geezer's face with both fists. He had a lot of spunk left after the beating he took. I snatched the gun out of that guy's hand, and I pointed both at them. I said—"
"Their odds were down even more," Buddy guessed.
"Yeah right, I said 'even odds, boys'. Then I shot out their knees."
"Right. I didn't want my snacks to get away. Elvis nearly killed his bloke, and I pulled 'im off. He dropped down and passed out then, and I'm standin' there with four men down, my cycle and the sedan.
"So I fed on the gunsels."
"Old word, out of use. Pistoleros, torpedoes, ramrods, bullet-heads, whatever you want to call them, they were rank with garlic. I even thought about cleansing my palate on Elvis."
"It was a passing thought. Imagine if you ate all those liver puffs and no strawberries or Champagne around."
Buddy considered. Hmm," he muttered, "I guess Elvis would've left that building."
Spike nodded and dropped the brush on the night table. "But I restrained myself, mainly 'cause the lad had guts. I used a shovel the mob boys brought, and buried them Then I loaded my motorcycle into the trunk, what would fit of it, and drove Elvis back.
"I brought him to my hotel room, laid 'im out and gave him a little brandy, and …"
"Well, let me skip."
"It's Drusilla, isn't it?"
"Well Luv, she was there."
Buddy waved his hand. "I'm not jealous."
"Good. 'Cause you're my one and only. I'm Missus Buddy Morrison."
She twisted her ring on her finger.
Buddy grabbed her and pulled her down onto him. "So you saved Elvis' life."
"I saved his career, too."
Buddy wrinkled his forehead.
"Well, I saved his engagement. He had two more shows the next day."
"He was in no shape. While Dru tended him, I blackened my hair and went on for him."
"You've gotta be lying."
"No," Spike answered smugly. "Our voices were similar—well, when I wanted them to be, so I went on. I did the two shows, and sent the boy on his way. He gave me his Cadillac.
"One more interesting thing, though. Nino sent some guys to get me, as 'Elvis' after the last show. I left them laying there, didn't much feel like more snacks. I visited Nino, and he would've been quite a meal. Couldn't bring myself to bite that blubbery neck, so I just broke his knees and warned him. Didn't get as much money as I hoped, either. Just thirty grand or so. I got lots more in other heists."
"How many other heists?"
Spike yawned. "My darling, I will be glad to regale you with every adventure of my long and fabled life. But these are tales for another time."
"Time for sleep, huh?
"You sleep if you want to," Spike answered, and turned off the light.
"What was your favorite Elvis song that you sang?"
"Mmm, no question," she whispered.