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Chapter 20

Emile did not put the stopper down and he left the water running at full blast so that its constant roar would drown out his sobbing even from himself. He sat naked in the tub with his arms around his knees and he wailed and heaved for his friend Lungsee.

Then he quit. He was done crying, and that was that. He clanked the stopper closed and the tub filled and felt as if he were back in some cocoon where everything in the world mattered and therefore nothing did. And it was in this razor-thin space that he wanted to be forever, but he knew he couldn’t, so he sat there and soaked and felt two distinct worlds coming together.

The truth is out there, he thought. But I’ll never know it. Because of my mind. My tales. My inheritance. My stories. The Story that leaves me hanging so I beg for the teller to continue and he smiles and says, Give me another a beer and I just might. And it’s too bad, he knew, because the only thing I can use to learn the truth is my mind. And the only thing my mind can do is make up stories about what the truth might be. Lungsee.

He got out of the tub and walked to his dressing parlor and got dressed. He put on khakis and a clean white shirt. The first time in months. He combed his thick brown hair to the side and when he saw himself in the mirror he reminded himself of a guy in prep school. A guy like himself. A guy he might like.

He walked to the kitchen and pulled down a small round glass and put ice in it and then popped the cork of the 12-year-old single malt scotch and poured some in. He took a little sip, and it was good.

His living room was a crime scene. The Rothko a witness. His couch an accomplice. He had let his friend go, into the noosphere where he liked to think he heard things, but the cushion was still there and the blood on it was real. Emile stood there and sipped and relaxed and thought the big guy himself would say nay to cleaning it up. Emile considered just leaving it, but he knew the couch had to go, and this is when he saw the cape peeking its way out from under a cushion far away from where his best friend ever was bludgeoned to death. He walked through the glass door to the pool and stood and looked down into the water. It was still and black. It looked cold, ancient and maybe the beast lived in water. Emile was as calm as he had ever been in his life. He dropped the cape on the water it floated like a lily. It spread itself out, as if by instinct, and made an almost round stage on which Emile felt he could perform. Or maybe a song-and-dance frog. The blood began to loosen and drift away like the cape itself was bleeding. He knelt and grabbed it with both hands and wrung and twisted and cleaned it like a tough-as-nails prairie boy washing his dead father’s shirt and knowing he would have to kill to survive in this forsaken world.

He hauled in the cape and dragged it to a lounger and spread it out. He sat next to it and looked up and the colors of the trees read a bit brighter, its sounds sharper; his senses heightened. All sensate. Senses be hailed.

Stories of stories, Lungsee had said. Lou. Emile thought back to Lou’s speech of family and loyalty and us and them. The speech he killed to defend. And it was then that Emile realized that that was all Lou had. An inheritance he couldn’t see past. The fullest extension of his reach in life. Any life. Passed-on stories about what it all meant. Who he was. Where he decided to go, why he felt he deserved to continue to be. All of us. The horseshit stories... Lou didn’t know what he was doing.

The wind blew and Emile watched a brilliant red cardinal fly out of a deep green magnolia, and he thought of the bird as a baby bird before it could fly. Growth. Learning. Change. Tomorrow. Life and death. What’s worth a fight? Lou had wanted his booze back. That’s it. That’s all. He loved those guys so much, was hurt by them so much that he wholly committed himself to getting that bottle back. As if it were his very soul. That’s what he thought. Lungsee was right. Life is a losing proposition. Regard! Lungsee was more fucking right than Emile could ever dream. But right doesn’t matter. Hell, it may well be the problem.

Emile’s feet rested on the cool brick. His left elbow sat on the black metal grated tabletop and he saw this sitting position as unremarkable and then he saw all things as unremarkable. Lungsee’s dead, I guess, he thought. I’m alive. Lou’s…

And then it hit him. He had an idea. A good one. A real good idea.

Emile tied the clean dry cape around his neck, slipped on a pair of newer old loafers, newer old khakis and called a taxi. Caesar’s Sedere Autem Ad Alterum Dixit Carrozza Service of Memphis. The translucent cab arrived and Emile said, Percutiesque! and off they sped. It was a warm afternoon with a more than a hint of iron cold war to come, and Emile rolled down his window and the air was novel and hilarious. The late summer sun hovered low over the distant buildings, and today, Friday, was to be different than tomorrow. And that’s a damn good story in itself. If it means anything. Emile liked the cape. It was good cover. Felt fine.

They rode fast on Poplar, into the west, past the golf course where he heard Lungsee’s story, past Highland, Prescott, Reese, Palisade and Holmes, and Emile started to pay attention as East High School levitated on by and he asked himself, What is an idea? and he knew the answer, and he looked out to his left and spied Lou dashing towards the front door of The Luau.

Whoa, whoa, right there, man. The Luau, said Emile sitting up to the seat back. Pull in there.

The Roman-nosed cabbie looked, traffic parted, and he slowed and wheeled a u-turn and stopped behind Lou’s wide Lincoln. Emile paid and got out and said, Gratius ago, flipping Lungsee’s cape over his shoulders. He walked past Lou’s car and looked in. Empty, save a Gucci shoebox on the seat.

The Luau. The whole enterprise was little more than a feeble excuse to get drunk in an exotic culture. To eat a hamburger with a slice of bacon-wrapped pineapple on it. To down a pastel-colored drink that supposedly had a heritage. To be in a space where cute waitresses wore different skimpy outfits than the ones at Pancho’s down the street. A twenty-foot tall Rapa Nui-like stone head stood long-faced at the door and looked out over The Luau’s humble lot and sad patch of sidewalk.

Emile flung open the flimsy bamboo-paneled door and entered the dimly lit garden dining room. Fountains, banana trees and gigantic mutant flowers separated and connected everything. Small bars with thatched roofs and bamboo stools stood in front of waterfall walls. Wide green fronds arched and hung over the tables. The ceiling itself was blocked from view but the impression of sky above was strong. Glen Campbell’s ‘Southern Nights’ played. Happy hour indeed.

Emile scanned for Lou and found him huddled in the corner by the far back bar. He made his way across the floor, through the maze of tables, never losing sight of Lou’s broad hunched back. He half expected a Niam-niam parrot to swoop and alight upon his shoulder. Cigarette smoke hung like fog, and his cape helped him slice through it. Emile walked up to Lou and stood next to him. Lou didn’t notice. He fiddled with a small plastic cocktail sword.

Hello, Lou.

Ho shit, Lou blurted as he jigged back a step. Fuck me. The hell you want? he said looking to the front of the restaurant as if Emile brought the cops. Or Jackie Dunlop. Sneaking up on me like that. Fuck.

Got an idea for you.

God damn. How’d you find me? Hey, uh listen, no hard feelings about your friend, there, huh? Get a few stitches did he? He’s alright, right? I didn’t get him too bad…

I’m pretty sure he’s dead.

Ho, god, Lou said with a convulsion. He drained the straight vodka in his highball glass and then shoved it under the beer tap and filled it and downed that. He wiped his mouth and poured himself another. So, uh, this idea got anything to do with, prison?

I don’t know. Didn’t really think about prison. But maybe.

Look, I just got carried away. He, uh, you know insulted me, and I, uh, well, I, uh, just went a bit, bonkers. I’m sure I can make some financial, uh, offer, settlement, condolence stipend or fund or transfer to his family or, if he is, uh, without kin or whatnot, then, well maybe a friend, such as as yourself… Here, lookie here… he said patting himself down like a con-man looking for his checkbook but knowing it’s not there.

Money? No, I don’t want any money. And you’re right, he didn’t have any family. But I’m not here about him, Lou. I’m here about you.

A barmaid emerged from the kitchen through the bamboo swinging doors with a stack of three Styrofoam take-out containers. She plopped them on the bar and said, There you go, Mr Damiano. See you next time. Can I get you something, darlin? she said to Emile. Her coconut bra mesmerized.

Crazy Monkey, Emile said. Put it on Mr. Damiano’s tab. We’ll take it over there, he said pointing to a table.

One Crazy Monkey. I’ll bring it over, she said.

Emile motioned to Lou and Lou obeyed. He put his go-boxes on the table and sat in a chair. Emile sat in the other. She was quick with the Crazy Monkey and Emile wondered just what kind of place has Crazy Monkeys ready-made. She left after winking and saying she liked the cape. Emile stirred and sipped. Lou drank his beer and groused about not ordering a Lobster Cantonese while she was there.

Come Sail Away by Styx came on, and Lou closed his eyes tight and earnestly mouthed along and then said mournfully, God, I love this song… as if to convey that his heart was a hurt one and he needed to simply, well, sail away.

So, you were friends with Elvis? Emile said.

Damn straight.

Good friends?

Very close, very close. Yes. Lou had now taken the posture of super compliance, as if he were talking to detectives or a reporter of a crime he’d nothing to do with.

So you know he used to rent out Liberty Land, that old amusement park down there on the Parkway for him and his friends.

Hell, yeah! I was there, man. Course I remember. But it wasn’t called Liberty Land then. It was called…

You know, I kind of feel sorry for someone who has to live like that. No privacy. Everybody wants a piece of you, can’t go anywhere without police escorts and mobs of fans and girls.

It was a burden on him. Burdensome. On all of us, that’s for sure.

He did the same with movies, you know. Rent out The Memphian some nights.

That’s right, that’s right, of course I know. Saw plenty of, uh, westerns with him. In fact, one time I said to him, I said…

And then he died.

Huh? Yeah, right, he died, Lou conceded.

Emile adjusted his cape. Man, you see the throngs of mourners out there at Graceland’s gates?

They’re still there! Lou said.

Thousands of them. And it’s been weeks.

Hell, there was this one guy from Sweden or some shit, a Swede, I guess, and this son-of-a-bitch could not speak a lick of English, yet he knew every Elvis song by heart and could sing ’em perfect. Perfect. And did you hear about the suicides? These ladies over in France I guess, and they got all depressed or whatnot and then they decided to drink the poison and they died. A poison pact of some sort. Did it just for him. The psychiatrists over there said…

It’s amazing. It truly is amazing. But it’s too bad, because he’s dead.

What? Right. We established that fact. Jesus son, that’s the second time… I know. I get it.

You hear about the grave robbers?

Yes. Yes, yes, I heard about the fucking grave robbers... Lou was getting irked. He picked up the little dancing-hula-girl saltshaker and slammed it down a few centimeters from where it had been. God damn, I need a drink, he said as he looked for the waitress, any waitress, but there was none.

You know what those grave robbers were doing, Lou?

Robbing the grave!? Have you had a brain X-Ray check-up lately son, cause if not…

Wrong, said Emile. They weren’t robbing the grave. Hell, that casket weighed five thousand pounds and those fools didn’t have tool one or even a pickup truck. Bullshit they were robbing the grave.

Well, what were they doing then, Ein-Stein?

They were out there crafting a story, said Emile. To start a story about The King being vulnerable, vulnerable to thieves and how we couldn’t afford to lose such a national treasure, an icon, how it would be a shame if anything happened to him and how all these potential threats to humanity could be solved if you, the city, would just bend your little zoning laws and let The King return home to be laid to rest there.

Whoa. Really? Lou said.

That’s right. Home. Safe with momma. He loved his momma, you know.

Yeah, yeah, right. Jesus. That’s smart.

It is smart.

And hell, it might just work.

It will work. Emile leaned in over the table and nodded for Lou to meet him. Lou did. And you know what that’s called? Emile said.

What what’s called?

Having as much power in death as in life.

Uh… protracted posthumous popularity?

Resonance. It’s called resonance, Lou, and it’s a powerful thing.

Resonance. Yeah, yeah, that’s it. That’s it exactly.

And now I give my gift to you, Lou.

What? What is it? What’s the gift?

Open up the house.

Huh? Open? What house?

Graceland. Open it to the public. Make it a museum. They’ll come by the millions. Zero overhead. Charge five bucks per. Give them a little tour, show ’em the cars and capes and pots and pans, and here Emile shook the side of his cape like a Matador, show ’em the gold albums, the closets, all the shit. An inside look, you know. Make ’em part of the story, part of the family, his story, his family, cause they were, you know? Just not as close as you were, as it were. You make them part of the story, and they’ll make you a killing.

Lou sat stunned. He leaned back in his chair, his eyes wide and his mouth wider. He knew with all his soul this was it, the big one, his one shot at true guaranteed greatness, to be the man in the middle, the middle man, the one to whom all would be in awe, the mac-daddy who fucking thought of it, built it and ruled from it.

My gift to you, Lou. Emile smiled and stood and walked out. He had never had been so light of step. He floated by the happy tables of happy people getting wasted and inhaling bacon-wrapped pineapples.

The potentials and upsides and grosses and nets and everything played through Lou’s mind as if he were dying happy. The color of the profit was written in thick brilliant black and he saw it there dancing in the air among The Luau’s plastic palms and wooden parrots. The son-of-a-bitch was right. People would pay five dollars to just glimpse one of the cars. Put a cape in a case, that’s another draw. Downstairs, upstairs. The bathroom where he… If I could just get that damn toilet back! And the grave! Next to his momma! Oh, sweet fucking Jesus…

Lou stood shakily and moved to the bar and said, Give me the phone. This is important… and a Crazy Monkey. Now! Right now!

The barmaid handed over the phone and Lou took a deep breath to calm the rush that told him this was not untrue. Not too good to be true. He began to dial the kitchen number, the one Jackie always called and answered, and then he stopped. He looked over his shoulder and watched Emile about to exit. Lou’s face fell.

The best idee the capitalist world has known since prostitution and it was suicide. Pure suicide. Unadulterated. He thought about everything for a moment, thought about what he was doing, what it would do to him. What Jackie would do to him. What he was doing to himself. Fuck it.

He mashed the rest of the numbers with his finger and the muffled ring at the other end droned and he waited for Jackie to pick up. To pick up and just listen, damn it.

Emile shoved on the studded leather inside of The Luau’s front bamboo door and walked out. Without hesitation. The multi-colored lights of The Luau’s happy-hour spilled out and collided with the afternoon’s glorious sunlight and then the door shut itself and that was that. He stood next to the Rapa Nui head and looked up at it and saw what all the world’s people wanted. In lieu of what you’ve got, make something up.

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