On knobby white knees and swollen fists, Lou Damiano looked down to the Graceland blueprint. Puzzled. He again snatched up his grandmother’s magnifying glass and zeroed in on a splotch of chalky squiggles. His red-veined eye ballooned, grotesque.
Horseshit. I can’t even tell if that’s upstairs or down, he said. Lou moved the glass to another area, but then gave up. That cocksucker does not know who he’s dealing with…
He’s dead boss, said Delly. He ain’t knowing much about nothing now. Delly, Lou’s bodyguard and driver, had entered the vast Tudor parlor and assumed his regular position, leaning on the walnut credenza by the paneled cherry door. He liked to rest his arm on it because the marble top was cool. He wore creased white trousers, a rough purple shirt and a brown, orange and yellow plaid blazer. His heavy black beard seemed to absorb the light his brown bald head bounced back to the world.
Not him. I’m talking about Jackie Dunlop, said Lou.
Lou reared back on his haunches and mauled his stiff splayed hair with both sets of fingers. His burnt pink face faded to soft rose and he had trouble with his right thigh. He punched it with the outside of his fist before rubbing it. He double-checked his robbery notes, a crinkled piece of paper that read ‘RUmbULLion’ across the top, against the blueprint, and he still couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it.
Why the fuck they use blue paper? Hell, I practically lived in that dump for three months and I can’t even find the downstairs shitter.
Lou was short, barrel-chested and naturally red skinned, like a dangerous wrestling robin. He labored up his 53-year-old joints and limped across the scratchy Oriental. He grabbed a fireplace poker. He gripped it and swung it like a three wood.
I ever tell you why I hired you? The real story?
What’s the story there, boss? Not because of that cat burglar?
Nope. His name was, well, I forget his name, but he was a titty bar owner out there on Winchester and we got to dealing over this land out there and then things go all to shit, and he puts a ferret in my mailbox.
A ferret? What’s a ferret, boss?
Bout yea big, squirrely, bites like a sum bitch. Anyway, the thing didn’t bite me cause he was dead. I didn’t check my mail for a few weeks, IRS complications, and he was setting in there stiff as a paddle and I pulled him out and dropped him the trash. But I didn’t appreciate the gesture, so I responded.
What’d you do, boss?
Put one of those faggity fuck rags in his mailbox. Graphic, god damn. You should have seen it…
No, I shouldn’t have, said Delly with an upraised hand to ward off the mental image. I do not believe that men-with-men is right.
I know, I know. Anyway, I put that magazine in his mailbox and that was the end of that. I mean, I never heard one peep again. Ever. I inquired about the land and the agent said he’d retracted his bid and everything. Just vanished. Well, I got paranoid as hell. Expected a counterattack strike any day.
That’s a fine story there, boss. I like how it answer the real questions. You know, fill in them empty spots.
That’s right, that’s right. But he must’ve fled. Never heard a peep.
Delly looked to the floor, noticed a smudge on his red and cream Stacey Adams loafer so he licked his thumb and bent and rubbed it out. Well, seems like that pornology done the trick.
Huh? Yeah. No. That’s not the point.
So, what’s the point, boss?
Reverse psychology? You mean like crying when you’s glad?
Lou didn’t answer as he carefully waggled the poker at the imaginary ball and tee. He swung and looked, his right heel poised and high off the floor, just like he was taught. I accidently struck upon his Achilles Heel, see, and Lou looked back down to his own. Found that weak point, and he backtracked a mile. Because if word got around he’s fag, well, there’s nothing worse than that. Hell, he’d rather get both his knees blasted off with a shotgun. I didn’t know he was fag, but he sure thought I did. That’s why he fled.
So you hired me because he’s got some bitch in him and you didn’t want the bitch coming after you?
No, I hired you because I didn’t need to hire you. See the reverse there?
When you know people, you see, you don’t have to fight ’em. You just point out their vice, their foible or whatnot, squeeze it and poke it and game over. But you have to know you know, which I did not. Know, that is.
Delly thought about this. He popped a toothpick in his big mouth and shot it back and forth like a lie detector needle. So, you know Jackie Dunlop?
No. That’s the fucking problem. Lou brought the poker up from a golf shot to a baseball stance and swung it and nipped an ecru lampshade and spun it like a top. They watched it and then watched each other. Lou rested the poker against the coffee table.
Fuck it. I think it best for you to be some kind of food boy. Deliverer or some shit. They’ll buzz you right up. If you’re in a Kroger’s van or something, tell ’em you got a tray full of deli cold cuts and pickles and ice cream, and they’ll buzz you right on up. Hell, Piggly-Wiggly, I don’t care, and then you can get in there and get the...
Bad idee, boss.
God damn it, Delly! How many times have you said bad idée, boss? A million?
Yeah, well, how many of ’em were actually bad idees? Huh?
Exactly. Jesus, man, you just don’t get it. A bad idee is in the eye of the beholder. And you never know what the hell you’re beholding. You don’t even know what the fucking idee is and you sit there like some judge and jury and hangman and go off and decide in a microsecond what’s a good god damn idee and what’s not!
Shit, man. I’m just kicking around idees. Nothing’s set in stone. Just let me think. Nothing in stone, man. Lou picked up and drained his scotch and made another. He drank not like a fish, but like an alcoholic fish, and his intake had spiked since the incident, the incident he told Delly about but was then sorry for it.
Not six weeks ago, Lou and Jackie and the boys were hanging out by the racquetball court behind Graceland when Tiffany Stucky got dropped off by her grandmother. Seventeen and splendiferous, Tiffany was lust exploding. All blonde and abloom, her body pulsated jail time, yet she seemed capable of securing the future for all mankind.
Elvis had had many women and some of these many had children who liked to appear wily nily and scamper to and from mansions and Cadillacs. Young Tiffany materialized soon after the strange disappearance of a knockout hairstylist named Crystal Stuckheimer.
And when it came to these royal children, their details, pedigrees and any state issued certificates were of no one’s business. So, no one dared ask. No one dared even think. And no one ever told Lou. Having been giddy and in the Memphis Mafia only a few months and never having seen Tiffany, Lou stood agape and watched her pulsate out of the deVille and across the pavement and disappear inside the mansion’s open kitchen door.
Lou stood stunned, and said, Wow. Right in the ass, eh fellas?
One of the boys accidently discharged his sidearm. Another gasped. Jackie Dunlop scowled. And that was it. Lou was out. Banished. For life.
Lou drained his fresh scotch and stood wondering what if. He stared into the empty fireplace, as if searching for an ember of the past that might just reignite and light his way down a different road. To a different today. But he knew that was dreaming, so he could only blabber about what he’d been obsessing on ever since that day.
I was family, man. Family. His voice wobbled. He was my brother, my brother. The King and me, we, we were kin, and now there’s nothing. Nothing. I have nothing, he whimpered. He tried to swallow, but it didn’t work, so he gulped scotch.
Look, boss, I know I done said it before, but this here’s a bad idee. You ain’t got nothing…
I just said that, Lou mewled.
Huh? No, man, I mean, you ain’t ain’t got nothing.
You got the big nice house, the cars, the money, the freedom, and you want to risk all that on one ole bottle of rum? You got how many left downstairs? Seventy?
Sixty-nine. Lou scratched his crotch, got a scowl and turned prickly. You telling me how to run my life? You saying if I have sixty-nine precious children and one gets lost in the sewer then I should just say okay? Good luck, little one? Bon adieu! Is that what you want?
Well, you could, I guess, but it ain’t no child. It’s a bottle of rum, boss. Is it worth all the risk just to get it back? If they catch you…
Us. If they catch us, and it comes back as premedicated… well, shit, that’s penal farm offense, boss.
Penal farm, peanut farm. Some things are larger than life, Delly. Lou moved to an end table by the sofa and grabbed a tan and white Ole Miss football off its wooden stand. It was covered in signatures, the most prominent being Archie Manning’s. He squeezed it hard at his chest, grimaced a clinched-teeth smile, closed his eyes tight, and yowled, I was family!
Lou screamed and drop-kicked the football. It careened around two walls and the ceiling before shanking off the iron chandelier and bouncing down a dark brown hallway towards the kitchen. They watched it go.
Seven seconds, said Lou.
Delly dropped his head, rubbed his eyes and reshifted his weight against the credenza. He knew well what this meant. Want me to fix you a sandwich there, boss?
My daddy always said seven seconds, Delly, seven seconds to know what to do in any situation. He would sit there at the head of the table and reprimand my momma for not making a decision in seven seconds. It was beautiful. You just know, he would say. You just know…
Delly silently counted to seven with Mississippis in between. When he finished, he said, Okay, so what’s your decision, boss?
You know I’ve always struggled with the seven-second rule. Doesn’t come as natural to me as it did to him. It’s only been two seconds since I punted my ball there…
Lou sauntered across the parlor, under its mighty dark oak beams, between is white and brown walls and over three tattered Turkish rugs. He sauntered slowly to lengthen his remaining seconds. He approached the long walnut beech table in front of the room’s lone broad wall. Oil paintings of a misty Eisenhower Pine at Augusta National, Hemingway Stadium in Oxford and his robed father, Judge Vincent Damiano, hung over the table. Lou planted his palms on it and looked down to the brown ski mask, the fat black revolver, the Johnny Vaught spatula and the stained Chinese delivery menus.
Underneath a soggy carton of Kung Pao pork sat a photograph of a girl. Lou picked it up. A ballerina. In the fifth position, but on her toes, her arms making an oval with her head the centerpiece. Her dead gaze and smileless lips looked up and away, as if at a bird in a tree. The week-old Kung Pao stank, and since her picture sat under it, Lou had forgotten it. But he’d specifically brought this picture out because to see it was to remind him of a triumphant seven-second moment. Because he knew the delicate mission of retrieving his rum from the ungrateful bastards out at Graceland would be a trying dangerous operation rife with the need for precise, rapid-fire judgments.
Me Laddy, he bleated with a faint Glasgow lilt, the last syllable trudging off into an Inverness brogue as he looked down on the yellowed black and white picture. New Year’s Eve 1966, Lou and the ballerina, Gretchen Ladbroke, a Brit from Braintree, Massachusetts, cuddled and kissed and play-wrestled like Tchaikovsky Sugar Plum Fairies on the divan in front of the fire in this very parlor. Things got hot, progressed to a turning point and then, out of the hazy blue cigar smoke, she refused anal. Coy. Kittenish. Lou couldn’t blame her, didn’t blame her, but he wanted what he wanted, so he thought of his father barking at the head of the table and it was right around the seven-second mark when Lou said to Laddy, Okay, I’ll build you your studio. Shocked at his performance, he snuffed and smiled and knew his dad would have beamed. Laddy looked at him with electrified eyes, smiled, turned on her side and presented. So in August of ’67, Lou sat at the head table at the Memphis Ballet Foundation’s banquet to dedicate its new state of the art rehearsal studio. Lou wondered if her ass was worth 10,000, even with the write-off. But at least he had the decency to suspect the banquet was for her and not her ass, and by Labor Day, Gretchen Ladbroke had pirouetted away. Me Laddy!
Lou dropped her picture onto the ski mask and said to Delly, Okay, you work for the army. You drive up in a jeep and you tell the gate boys that you’re there to explain the death benefits the family’s entitled to…
Oh, boss. I forgot. This come special delivery today, said Delly. He pulled out a small manila envelope and handed it over.
Lou opened it and read the note. Jesus Christ. They’re going to LA. Holy shit. This is dig, Belly, real, real dig...
What’s it mean, boss?
It means time. A window. A time window is what it means.
Time window? Like something you can jump out and land in another day?
Lou thought about this. Kind of, kind of… It means Jackie and the boys’ll be gone, and that means you don’t have to play act, so forget about that jeep and the army and the Kroger cold cuts and shit. You can just be a regular ole thief.
But I ain’t no regular ole thief.
Well, they don’t know that.