Stony Hill, Florida, 1964
The security chief stood in the dark and wondered how his life had come to this. Not that it was a bad life, mind you, but he’d aspired to much more once, and everything had seemed so plane and certain in front of him once, with the strange logic of dreams it had all made sense. Then things had changed - he was never quite sure how - and his grand design for larger things got derailed. Now, here he was, an anonymous joe working an anonymous job, standing all alone in the dark. And it wasn’t even a permanent job at that, just a temp gig providing overflow security for the great big dedication cavalcade. He wondered - not for the first time - how his life might have gone differently if the breaks had gone slightly different for him.
He sneered at nothing in particular to clear his thoughts, and focus on the job as opposed to how much he resented the job. He kept coming back to this one point by the guard shack. He didn’t know why. Something was bugging him about it, but he didn’t know what, hadn’t even recognized that something was off yet. Not consciously, at any rate. The guard was there, and had reported nothing amiss, all of his men were accounted for, no one was missing, and yet…and yet…
‘eh, just opening night jitters,’ he thought. He decided to ignore it. It was too dark out here to make out any details anyway. He was just being paranoid. He got paid for being paranoid, he was good at it, but he was beginning to suspect that he was staring right at something that hadn’t quite worked it’s way in to a recognized pattern in his brain when someone started yelling at him, snapping him away from his not-quite-formed thoughts.
“Excuse me.” The voice said, “Excuse me, hey, Yank! Have you seen Pete?”
The security chief turned to look at the man addressing him. He was tallish, thinish, wearing dungarees, a stupid-looking coat sans lapels, and what could best be described as a communist Chinese cap of the kind Chairman Mao favored.
“I’m sorry?” The Security Chief said questioningly.
”Pete,” the man said in a British accent, “Have you seen - “ the man made binoculars of his fingers to sarcastically underscore what he was talking about “ - Pete?”
“Who’s Pete?” He asked.
“’S my drummer, mate. Tall guy, dark hair, had a bird on his arm, probably drunk.”
“Brit?” The security chief asked, “British like you?”
“British, yes, but not like me,” the man grudgingly allowed
“How’s he different,” the security chief asked, “And by the way, what are you doing here? This is a high security facility.” He wasn’t sure he liked this anemic-looking long-nosed person, who, he noted smelled faintly of marijuana.
“He gets laid a lot more than me, firstly. Secondly, he’s a drunk and a drummer, whereas *I* am a musician,” the foreigner said imperiously, “And thirdly, I’m with the band.” He fumbled around in a pocket and brought out a dog-eared backstage pass, “And fourthly this is a bloody airport. What’s so secure about that?”
“It’s an aero-SPACE port,” the Security Chief said, emphasizing the last half of the word, “and I’m beginning to think I don’t like you very much, sir. If Pete’s in the band he’ll be inside. If he’s not inside, then the security boys will bring him in, so either way, inside is the place you want to be. It’s for your own good.”
“Fascist,” the Brit said as he walked away.
“…and proud of it,” the Security Chief agreed loudly as the man entered the theater through a stage door., then turned to look back at the lights of the Tampa Skyline in the distance. ‘What a lucky town,’ he thought. It had been only a sleepy resort down until Boeing had decided to base it’s space exploration efforts there. Granted, it was only a publicity gimmick; there were a dozen equally likely candidates, but what better place for the Jules Verne Memorial Aerospaceport than the actual location Verne himself had selected nearly a century before? He grinned at the total lack of irony, and went inside.
Backstage was the typical nightmare he was coming to associate with crowd control at public events. Various members of various bands were milling about, a number of groupies had gotten backstage and were causing mayhem. The lighting crews were playing a three-dimensional version of tag in the rafters. ‘Good Lord,’ he thought, ‘what a mess.’
“Hey, Lighting crew!” he yelled, “Cut out that Marx Brothers crap!”
“Yesser, Mister P.” some of them answered. They didn’t actually stop, of course, nor did he expect them too, but their jumping around was a bit less gibbon-like once they’d been properly chastised.
Evans, the deputy chief of security came up and briefed him about the current state of crisis.
“On top of all that, Ron,” he said after listening to the rundown, “There’s a bunch of limey bugs running around outside. Three sheets to the wind. I sent him back inside, but I didn’t see him since I got back in myself.”
“Sorry, Boss,” These damn Brits are running me ragged. What did he look like?”
“Tall, skinny, polish nose. Stupid hat.”
“Oh, *Him*,” Evans said knowingly.
“Him?” the Chief questioned.
“Walked in on him in a second floor bathroom with some evil weed. I tried to catch him and bring him to you, but he loped out a window.”
“A second floor window?”
“I couldn’t believe it myself,” Evans agreed.
The chief sighed, “Just do the best you can.” He paused, then continued on a different tack: “Hey Ron, do me a favor, ok?”
“Name it, boss.”
“East gate guard shack. There’s something there that’s bugging me, but I can’t nail down what it is. The genie will not appear to my eyes, it seems. Send someone out there and have them take a good solid look at it, ok? Then report in what they find. Have ‘em be thorough.”
“Sure thing, Boss.”
“Oh, one more thing…” he asked hesitantly as Evans turned to leave.
“What room is ‘The Voice’ in?”
“Oh, Aaron,“ Evans said in an amused tone, “He’s in Dressing Room 17.”
They both left.
Outside Dressing Room 17, the Security Chief straightened his tie and smoothed out the wrinkles in his pants as best he could. He was nervous. Summoning up some of his famous resolve, however, he reminded himself that “The King of Rock and Roll” was a man just like any other, and knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” The King asked, in his unmistakable West Texas drawl.
“Pressley. Aaron Pressley. From Pinkertons. I’m in charge of security here tonight,” the chief said.
“Come in. Come on in,” the king said. Aaron took a deep breath, and did as he was told, and handed his ID over to the man for his perusal.
The king was not an imposing figure, rather short and a little goofy looking, slightly bug-eyed and hopelessly myopic, which he attempted to hide with sunglasses, whether indoors or out. He’d had some plastic surgery to fix his jug-ears, and dressed entirely in black. Even with his oddball looks, he was already the most popular musician of the twentieth century, and not yet thirty. This was the man who, along with Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Buddy Holly, had invented Rock and Roll a decade before, and in the years since had led the mad charge to transform it in to something newer, stronger, better, stranger and more operatic and glorious and strange and unique. He was a living legend, he was a genius, he was brilliant, and if he was kind of on the ugly side, so what? ‘It’s supposed to be about the music,’ Aaron thought, ‘Can you imagine what it would be like if the look was more important than the sound? What a travesty.’
Aaron had been around a lot of legends, of course, but for some reason the musical ones always made his head swim. He was a naturally musical guy.
The King looked at the ID, then handed it back to the Security Chief. “E. Aaron Pressley?“ He asked, “What’s the ‘E’ For?”
“Gah. It’s…well, it’s an embarrassing family name. I don’t use it.” he answered.
“Oh, we’ve got that in my family, too. I’m not even going to tell you about some of the unseemly names we’ve got ‘mongst my kin. Is that a Memphis accent I hear?”
“Sort of. I was born in Mississippi, but we moved there when I was young.”
“Well thank God you’re here,” The King said, “You know I was always told Florida was part of the south, but there’s so many Yankees around here I may as well be in Ohio or Canada. It’s nice to hear a voice from home.”
And just like that, Aaron was at ease again. He’d heard about The King being a class act, but he’d never realized just how smooth the man was. He had an idiot daydream of himself in circumstances like these, a life of ease and artistic talent - he’d been tolerable on guitar, and was a good singer in the church choir - but of course stupid ugly reality got in the way. Once again, he lamented his life, and wondered how he’d gotten so far without ever really feeling like he belonged. It was as if being around this man was a reminder of how off-track his own life had become. He mentally cursed at himself - now was not the time for such reveries, and spoke.
“Thank you, sir,” he said.
“So how can I help you, Mr. Presley?” The King asked, while crossing the room and sitting down on the couch.
“Actually, that’s what I wanted to ask you, Mr. Orbison, Sir.” Aaron said.
“Sorry…Roy…Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Oh, no, Claudette and I are quite happy, aren’t we, honey?”
“…yes…” came a distracted voice from the back room.
“Well, alright sir. I just wanted you to know that everything is under tight control tonight, and we aren’t expecting any problems.”
“I don’t reckon so,” Orbison said, “but I figure the audience is giving you Pinkertons boys fits.”
“Between you and me, I’d rather provide security at a riot,” Aaron said.
Orbison laughed politely, surprising Aaron.
“Is the president actually here?” He asked.
“Nixon? Yes sir, Aaron replied, “In fact he requested you for the entertainment you know.”
“Yep. So I heard. Actually, I doubt he’s that big of a fan. I think he’s just trying to look hip.”
“Probably.” There was an awkward moment of silence.
“Uhm….” Aaron volunteered, “I was talking to Captain Reynolds a little while ago - he asked if there was any way I could arrange a meeting with you afterwards…”
“I didn’t realize he was gonna’ be here! Mercy! Tell him that I asked *you* if you could arrange a meeting with him!” he said excitedly. Aaron laughed, while The King went on, “I don’t get to meet the first man in space every day! Man, I’d love to discuss aeronautics with him!”
“Yeah, I always wanted to be a pilot but…you know, with my eyes…it was music or the oil fields. Still, I love planes…”
While talking, Roy started to scribble something down on a large sheet of paper, and handed it to Aaron.
“Autograph. You looked like you lost the nerve to ask for one.”
“Thank you! Thank you sir!”
Aaron met Evans back at the security shack.
“Did you meet The Voice?” He asked.
“What was he like?”
“Class act all around. So what have you got for me out here?”
Evans took Aaron around to the side of the guard shack, and pointed out some spatters on it that someone had hastily tried to wipe up, but done a bad job of.
“Blood?” Aaron asked.
“I’m afraid so, Boss. Given how dark it is here, and the weird lighting, it’d be easy to mistake it for mud or a grease spatter.”
“I hate it when my subconscious is right.” Aaron said, ”Probably it was somebody trying to clean it up that made me even notice it in the first place. Just a plain ‘ol mess wouldn‘t have tripped my switch.”
“There’s a slightly-less-dusty patch heading off in this direction, and if we follow it along…” - they did so - “…we find an actual pool of blood behind these tires. Whoever our murderer is, they’re not too strong, couldn’t haul the body away all by themselves in one go.”
“And look at this,” Aaron said. He pointed to the unmistakable outline of a bootprint leading through the pool of blood, towards the shack. He began to feel overwhelmed.
Aaron left Evans to find more clues, and immediately reported in to Base Security. There was the typical pissing match going on between the Secret Service, the Boeing Goons, and the Pinkertons folks brought in to handle civilian affairs, so, as usual, no one was happy to see him. Curiously, he found Captain Reynolds there, chatting with Tom, the head of Boeing security. Tom looked a bit incongruous in his tuxedo around all the uniformed security types, but he was always a bit offputting.
It was widely thought that Boeing had recruited Reynolds more for his good looks and his charm than for his flying ability. He was well over the maximum height limit for pilots, and in fact when von Braun had recruited him, he’d been flying helicopters rather than anything more exotic. Even if the rumor was true - and of course it was - no one complained much. Burt was undeniably dashing and charming and instantly likeable, and a very good face for the emerging space industry to use as their poster boy. ‘Now here, looks matter,’ Aaron thought, ‘Can you imagine what a public relations nightmare it would be if they’d used wiry little test pilots or bland pencil-necked scientists as spokesmen for the space program? No one would ever be interested in it. Hell, they might as well just have left the whole thing to the government if they were gonna’ go that route…’
“Oh, Hiya, Aaron,” Burt said.
“Captain,” Aaron said amiably.
Presley explained the situation to security, but the Boeing Security Cheif refused to lock down the base, citing the lack of a body. “There’s thousands of people here, Presley, we can’t go shutting down the base every time someone gets an unreported nosebleed.”
“But me no buts, boy, find me a body or go away.”
Aaron sighed and left. Burt walked with him.
“Damn Yankees,” the Captain said.
“Tell me about it,” Aaron agreed, “oh, I met The King!”
“How’d that go?”
“Before I even had a chance to ask him your question, he asked me if he could meet you, personally,” Aaron lied.
“Really? Hot damn!” Burt laughed in that distinctive, high-pitched cackle he had. It was incongruous, coming out of such a heroic, burly frame.
“Yeah, he said he wants to talk about aeronautics with you!”
“Hot damn!” Burt said, before going off to do astronaut things.
Backstage, Aaron found Ron and appraised him of the situation. As they were walking along, Aaron became distracted, then stopped abruptly, and backed up. Ron followed him, but by the time he got to where the security chief was standing, the chief had bolted forward twenty feet down the hall, then froze again, and backtracked more slowly.
“you see that?” he asked.
“There’s an irregular pattern on the floor,” Aaron said, pointing it out, a little chevron on the ground.
“It’s just an imperfection in the terrazzo, maybe?”
“No, it’s about every four feet or so, only on the left-hand side.”
“A smudge or something?” Ron asked.
“Probably,” Aaron said bending down, and scraping his nail over it. He stood back up, holding his finger out to Evans: “Blood. And dirt. Mostly dirt, but definitely blood.”
“If it was a snake, it’d’ve bit me,” Evans said. Without saying it, they both concluded it must belong to the track that went through the puddle outside, and they followed it to the commissary. It was the normal riot of activity, with musicians and groupies and stage hands and tuxedoed orchestra types milling about. The orchestra was a total F.O.B.A.R.: An unexpected bout of spoiled chicken had laid low half the Miami Orchestra, so additional musicians had been flown in from a half dozen cities on the spur of the moment. It was a security nightmare clearing and verifying all those people, not to mention the logistics of getting them all housed and fed. And right in the middle of all this, the bloody footprint led to….
…the annoying British guy from earlier! He was sitting at a table with Roy Orbison, yammering on, “I dare you!”
“Why would I take the dare?” Roy asked politely.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. I dare you to go up on stage and play the worst song you ever wrote, I dare you! If you’ve got any bollocks, you’ll do it.”
“Ok, I will. But you have to play *your* worst song, too.”
“We’re the opening act! If we play our worst song, what guarantee is there that you’ll still play yours?”
“Who hasn’t got any balls now, my friend?” Roy asked, smiling behind his sunglasses.
“Hey, you!” Aaron shouted. Ron ran towards the Brit, who screamed a profanity, and bolted from the table. Aaron ran towards him from the other side, but the man did a little almost-dance-step managing to avoid both of them, and scooted out the door before either of them could do anything.
“Well, there goes our prime suspect,” Evans said.
Back in his dressing room, Aaron questioned Orbison again, but there wasn’t much information to be had.
“The British band has been sort of a nuisance to you, haven’t they, Sir?”
“Sorry, Roy,” Aaron agreed.
“No, up until the incident in the commissary, I’d only met one of them - George - he seemed nice enough, came in and talked to me about God for a bit. I tuned his guitar for him. I’ve already told you about the other one that I was eating with. So what’s going on?”
“We’ve got a security problem, and the guy you were sharing a table with is kind of our only suspect at the moment. You’ll tell us if he contacts you again?”
“Thanks, Roy.” There was a silence that went on just a beat too long, and even behind the sunglasses, Aaron could sense Roy was thinking about something.
“Can I ask you a question? You’re good at your job, all these people clearly adore you, but you don’t seem comfortable with it, Aaron. You don’t seem like a man who feels like he fits in. How did you end up doing this?”
“Uhm…how is this relevant to the case?” Aaron asked.
“It’s not. I just find I like you for some reason, and I’m curious. You don’t have to tell me anything.”
Aaron sighed, “Long, long story. I actually wanted to be a musician when I was a kid. I even recorded a song for my mama one, but, well, the session went badly. My daddy told me to give up my pipe dreams and knuckle down, so I drove trucks to put myself through college, got a degree in criminology, and went to work for Pinkertons.”
“Only a few million, but, you know, life…” he trailed off, suddenly uncomfortable.
“You want to in my place,” Roy said. It wasn’t a particularly trenchant insight: He was rich, he was famous, he was uniquely talented, he was not only the King of Rock and Roll, but more-or-less the inventor of it as well. *Everyone* wanted to be in his place. He was used to this kind of thing. Aaron went poker-faced and stared.
“Let’s assume you could make a deal with the devil, and go back in time and change your life so you’re in my place, what makes you think you’d fit in to my life any better than your own?”
“Huh?” Said Aaron, who was completely unprepared for this level of intimacy with a total stranger. A famous total stranger.
“Take Johnny Cash - I’ve never seen a man so eaten up with his own demons. They’d still be there if he was singin’ or pickin’ cotton. He’s a great guy, he’s my best friend, but he’s never known peace and he never will this side of the grave. It’s just his nature. Sometimes the thing we really want isn’t good for us, sometimes its disastrous. Claudette and I have had more than our share of troubles, owing entirely to the fame and the money and the temptation…but I can handle it because I’m kind of *built* to handle it. I’m longsuffering. But this kind of life could easily kill or destroy someone who wasn’t suited for it, you know?”
Aaron wasn‘t sure if this was friendly advice, or an insult.
“I have to go talk to Tom, excuse me,” he quickly excused himself.
“Not to mention,” Roy yelled after him as he left, “That if you took over my life, I’d have to do something else, and that doesn’t seem fair. I mean there’s not really anything else I’m fit for…”
Once again, Tom refused to lock down the base. It could be anything, it could just be that he had a pocket full of loco weed and didn’t want to get busted. Aaron had to agree, he didn’t really have the burden of proof at this point. Besides, no one had reported anyone missing or otherwise unaccounted for, everyone was where they were supposed to be. It was a quandary. Aaron had to reluctantly agree, and left.
“It’s still nagging at you, though, isn’t it,” Evans asked.
“Yeah. Well, eyes and ears open for our limey friend, and we’ll grab him when he comes to sound check.”
As it happened, it didn’t even take them that long. The West Gate called in that one of the musicians was trying to leave without a pass, so they quickly apprehended him, and dragged him back to Aaron’s temporary office. He screamed and fought and pissed and moaned, and was surprisingly tough, but in the end he gave in. Everyone was exhausted by then.
“Who did you kill?” Ron demanded.
“Who did you kill?”
“No, you’re going about this all wrong, mate,” the man said, “If you’re tryin’ to nab me for something, you don’t want to admit that you don’t know what it is I did.” Aaron silently admitted to himself that it was a good point.
“We know you killed someone,” said Ron, “So who was it?”
“Well, if you don’t know who it was, then you don’t have a body, right? And if you don’t have a body, then you clearly don’t know I did it, ‘cuz, there’s no evidence.” ‘Damn,’ thought Aaron, ‘he’s a lot smarter than his silly hat would lead you to expect.’
Evans continued to use the hard sell on him, but Aaron just sat back and watched it. After about ten minutes, the Englishman didn’t crack, so he simply said “He didn’t do it, Ron. You can go, sir, sorry for the inconvenience.”
“You’re bleedin’ well right you’re gonna’ be sorry for the inconvenience! This is wrongful imprisonment, I’m gonna’ sue you…”
“No, wrongful arrest. Wrongful imprisonment is something else. If we’d tied you to the chair, that would have been wrongful imprisonment, but we just wrongfully arrested you. And as we’re private detectives paid for by Boeing, you were never charged with anything formally, so it’ll be hard to make it stick. I’ll be happy to recommend a lawyer for you, if you like though. Ron, call Susan and have her pick out some lawyers for Mister Le….”
“All right, all right,” the Brit cut him off. “So what’s going on?”
Aaron sized him up for a moment, then said, “We think - thought - that there’s been a murder somewhere…”
“Boss, no!” Evans exclaimed!
Aaron continued without pausing, “…on the base, but as you and the head of Boeing security point out, no body: no crime,” then shot his sidekick a cold stare.
“He’s our chief suspect!” Evans exclaimed.
“Oh, he is not. He didn’t do it.”
“you don’t know that,” Ron said.
“Yes I do, and you do too. Just look at him. Did you kill anyone, son?”
“No sir,” the Brit said, “no, I could never kill anyone….life is too sacred, All you need is…”
“Then why did he run?” Evans demanded.
“Probably because we chased him,” Aaron offered.
“’S right, mate! Human nature!” The Brit said.
“Again, I’m sorry for all the fuss, sir. I do ask that if you see anything suspicious here, you please let Mr. Evans or myself know, ok?”
“Gear!” And he walked away.
When he was out of site, Evans said, “You want me to tail him?”
“Oh, hell yeah!” said Aaron.
The opening act sucked. What made them worse, Aaron thought, was the elements of their songs were actually kind of good, but they just didn’t work in relationship to each other. Their Everly Brothers-styled harmonies were very nice and very tight, and their drummer was very, very good, but he kept launching in to Gene Krupa-like drum leads that completely overshadowed everything else. The lead guitarist - the one who’d been talking to Orbison about God earlier - was technically very good, but hadn’t developed any particular style or flash of his own, and he and the bassist were clearly at odds with each other musically. And that bassist - that bassist was just the worst thing Aaron had ever seen. Lord, he was terrible. Aaron had a thing for music, and when the music press had described the bassist as a ‘brilliant deconstructionist,’ He’d been interested to see them play live just so he could figure out what that phrase meant. Turns out it meant playing one note on one string for an entire song, then playing the same note on the same string for the next entire song, and so on, for the whole set. Terrible. John, Paul, George, Pete, and Stu might be the fab five of England, but it was pretty clear that The Silver Beatles were never going to amount to anything in the ‘States.
In the security booth, watching the closed circuit TVs, Aaron saw that the president looked a bit confused. He applauded. A featureless secret service goon whispered in to his ear. Nixon’s confusion apparently cleared, and he stopped clapping.
Evans, sitting to Aarons’ right, ventured an opinion: “I imagine he thought those Brits were Orbison.”
“I imagine so,” agreed Aaron. “ Roy - Mister Orbison - told me earlier that he doubted Nixon was actually a fan, just wanted to look cool.”
“What the hell was that stupid ‘No Pakistani’ song about?”
“I don’t - did you see that?”
“Monitor Five, orchestra pit.”
“I didn’t see anything,” Evans said, “What about it?”
“Drums. Who’s assigned to the pit?”
“Call him.” Evans did, but there was no answer.
“I’m going down there to check it out, Aaron said. You stay here, you’re in charge until I get back,” and he tore out the door.
Burt Reynolds was like royalty in Florida. He was born there - depending on who was telling the story - was a football hero, graduated from one of its state universities, and, in 1959, he’d become the first man in space. He’d been approached by a consortium headed by Boeing and supervised by Dr. Werner von Braun. The German had actually been one of Reynold’s college professors at U.F. When the time came to strap a person to the nose of a souped-up ICBM, he remembered the young Air Force Lieutenant. In relative secrecy he was officially shanghaied away from the Air Force and became - as he himself deprecatingly put it - “America’s answer to a Russian dog in space.”
The ovation when he came out on stage was deafening. Even President Nixon, who’d broken his ankle during a state trip to Cuba last week, stood.
Aaron Presley was in the orchestra pit, heading towards the drums, confident that whatever was going on had finally revealed himself. There was a nervous-looking timpanist by his kettle drums, sweaty and panicked. Aaron made him instantly as the most likely one to be behind whatever was going on. He came up behind him, out of the drummer’s line of site, and with one hand on his pistol in his pocket, he brought his left hand down on the man’s shoulder. The man startled, and at just that moment Aaron felt a hand coming down on his own shoulder, startling him as well.
“What the hell?” Aaron whipped around in shock, pulling the gun out. On stage, Burt was telling homey anecdotes about how he’d done work as a stunt man to make ends meet in college.
It was West, “Whoa, whoa, what’s going on, Chief?” he asked, his hands flying out in front of him in an ‘I surrender’ posture.
“Why didn’t you check in?” Aaron demanded.
“The drummer here…” - he indicated the nervous man - “…took a bad fall, went ass-over teakettle a few minutes ago. It’s too late for a replacement, no time to go to the infirmary, so I got him a bag full of ice for his leg.” He proffered the bag. The drummer, embarrassedly strapped it on the swollen limb with duct tape.
Was that it? Was that what had happened? A drummer falling off a riser? And still no body?
He thought it through.
Yes, despite his nagging feeling that something was going on, he had exactly no proof. Everything that happened could be explained in some other means - Lennon walking through the pool of blood unseen when he slipped out to smoke a joint, the clumsy drummer, even the blood could have been caused by a bunch of different causes. Hell, it really could be just a nosebleed. I mean, no one was missing from any of the various security teams running around at the ceremony. He was just being paranoid. Time to get over it, he ruminated as he walked out of the orchestra pit. He’d have to report in to Tom about this to be safe, but…‘oh, hey, there’s Tommmy now!’ he thought as he caught sight of him out of the corner of his eye, and headed towards him.
“And now, Mister President, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Burt was saying, “It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you The King of Rock and Roll, Mister Roy Orbison!” The crowd went nuts.
“Tom, I don’t know what you’re doing down h…” he started to say, but instantly recognized his error - it wasn’t the head of Boeing security at all, but one of the Orchestra musicians who looked inordinately like him, only with shorter, blonder hair. “I’m sorry,” Aaron said, “I mistook you for someone else.”
“Happens all the time, man” the blonde man said in a nervous voice, sweat on his upper lip. ‘Well, hell, who wouldn’t be nervous in a place like this? Lots of pressure on,’ Aaron thought as he left.
“Thank you very much, mercy,” Orbison said on stage. “You know, I got in a stupid little bet tonight to see whether I’d dare to play the worst song I ever wrote and risk looking like a fool in front of all you fine people. And I’m kind of a sucker for a dare, so here it is: with my apologies, the worst song I ever wrote…”
The band launched in to Ooby Dooby, and again, the crowd went wild.
He was wrong. Nothing was up, he was just being paranoid, and yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was up. He wandered around aimlessly through the theater complex for most of Orbison’s set, unable to concentrate. Eventually, he wandered backstage. No sooner there again, when Lennon the Brit came up to him.
“How the hell did I come to this,” he said out loud without realizing it.
“Life is what happens while you’re waiting for a bus,” the Brit said.
“What?” Aaron asked, confused.
“Hey, Presley, you wanted me to tell you if I saw anything unusual?”
“Well take a look at this,” he led him on a winding course through the ropes and counterweights attached to the curtains, eventually coming to a large cask that had evidently fallen from the rafters.
“Some of those apes in the catwalks knocked this loose earlier. I noticed it, thought it might be beer, and, well…it isn’t beer, mate, but it is leaking.”
Aaron put his hand in the stain spreading from the broken boards. It was thick and sticky and cold, obviously blood, but whomever it had belonged to had been dead a while. He kicked at the lid until it came loose, and a bald middle-aged man in a tuxedo spilled out. The two of them wrestled the body out of the barrel, and Aaron quickly went through the pockets for ID. There was none, but the tux gave it all away.
“That’s why no one reported any missing security…it wasn’t one of the guards…”
“It was someone in the orchestra” Lennon said, “But wait - wouldn’t they all notice an imposter?”
“No, the Miami Orchestra came down with a case of bad clams or something. Half of these people are replacements who’ve never met before. Lennon, you need to get up to Evans in the security booth, you know where it is? Good. Tell him it’s someone in the orchestra, and we’ve got to prevent the President from going on stage, ok? Go! Now! Run!”
John Lennon ran from the back stage area while Elvis Aaron Pressley hauled ass for the pit.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Burt was saying, “Please stand for The President of United States.”
“Oh, hell,” Aaron thought as he tore around the corner and across the floor. Everyone stood in unison, making it much harder for him to get through. He tripped twice, knocking over a fat man and his even fatter wife. The Orchestra launched in to ‘Hail to the Chief’ as he finally made it past the stairs and in to the pit. But where was the assassin? Without trying to attract too much attention, he drew his pistol and wove along the back wall. It was a very long rendition of ‘Chief’, since the president had his foot in a cast, and was taking forever to hobble out to the microphone. Were the basses a bit off? The music washed over him as Aaron was almost paralyzed with fear. He couldn’t figure out why the music should keep mattering to him at a time like this, but it kept coming back to the bass….and…
He knew. It all clicked in his head. He ran towards the stage at the front of the pit. By the time he got there, the man with the blonde hair had already pulled the front off of his upright bass, and was pulling out a rifle. No time to get there, no one else had noticed yet. Aaron Tennessee-rolled himself up on to the stage and took off at a sprint, yelling “West, Basses! Shooter! Get him!”
It was too late, the blonde man already had his weapon up and sighted. Aaron lunged himself through the air, just as the blonde man shouted “Power to the People!” and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore through the air at supersonic speed, leaving the barrel just an instant before West tackled the guy low and hard from behind, breaking the assailant’s spine. The shooter went down without a sickening snap that only West could hear, and which would haunt his dreams for the rest of his life. The two of them tumbled through the string section, knocking instruments, chairs, and musicians everywhere.
An instant before, however, the bullet had found a target, but not the one the shooter had intended. Aaron’s mad dive through the air had intercepted the slug before it could hit Nixon. He screamed in pain and was instantly unconscious from shock before he even hit the ground. A dozen Secret Service goons stormed the stage and dog piled atop the president and Presley, not quite realizing what was going on. A near riot broke out with panicked members of the audience stampeding for the doors.
Evans’ voice came over the PA, “Please remain calm. The President is OK. There is no cause for alarm.”
In the booth, Evans hollered for Tom to call out Boeing security to contain this panicking crowd before it turned in to a riot, but there was no reply. He turned to look, but the man was gone.
Aaron woke in a hospital room, with Roy Orbison, John Lennon, and Burt Reynolds sitting around staring at him. It was a bit disconcerting. Worse still, Orbison and Reynolds weren’t even paying attention to him, they were in the corner engrossed in a discussion about something called “Laminar Flow.” Lennon was reading a book.
He tried to say something funny, like “That was undeniably the worst concert I’ve ever been to,” but all he was able to do was cough a bit. Lennon called the nurses, who fussed over him for some time. Then a doctor came in and fussed over him for a bit longer, but they already knew he’d be fine or they wouldn’t have let guests in, even ones as prestigious as these. After all the preamble was out of the way, they inclined his bed somewhat so he could see the others eye to eye, and then left him to talk to his new friends.
“So what the hell happened?” Aaron asked.
“You took a bullet for the president, you foiled an assassination attempt, you’re a national hero,” Burt said.
“Women may even come to find you attractive,” Lennon said. Aaron laughed at that, but instantly regretted it. His sides hurt badly from the surgery.
“Yeah, but what was it all about…who was that guy?”
Evans came in, as if on cue, “His name was ‘Dick Smothers,’ Boss. He had his CP-USA card on him when West took him down.”
“Wait, he took his Communist Party ID with him to an assassination attempt? That seems uncommonly stupid,” Orbison said.
“We don’t think he was planning on escaping, Roy,” Evans replied, “But we don’t know much more than that. He died about an hour ago without ever recovering consciousness.”
“Wait - Smothers? His name was Smothers?” Aaron asked.
“Way ahead of you, Boss,” Evans said, “His brother Tom Smothers was the head of Boeing security. They must have planned this all out years in advance.”
“Which explains why he refused to lock down the base,” Said Aaron. Perhaps it was just the painkillers or the shock, but he felt strangely calm. A little too calm, he thought absently. ‘I’ll have to keep an eye on that. I seem to like drugs a little bit too much.’
“I never did like that little prick,” said Burt.
“Did we get him?” Aaron asked.
“No, but I doubt he can hide long. We’ll get him. Or the Secret Service will. Boeing is horribly red-faced over all this, as you can imagine. The rumor is, after Nixon pins a medal on you, they’re going to offer you the head-of-security gig for the Aerospaceport.”
“Really?” Drugs or no drugs, he felt…accomplished. Like he’d done something that mattered. He looked at the luminaries in the room. They all liked him, they accepted him even though he clearly wasn’t on their level of success. Or was he? He did just save the president, after all. And suddenly it didn’t seem to matter so much any more. The dreams of his youth suddenly seemed pale and stupid compared to the deep and ominous colors of actual history, now that he’d actually done something worth doing.
“I dunno, but it’s up in the air,” Ron said, “They’re definitely talking about it. I‘d say you‘d found your calling, Boss. ”
“Not bad for a truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi,” he said to no one in particular.
‘no,’ he thought happily, ‘this is not a bad way to spend one’s life after all’
And he lived - honest to God - happily ever after. Much happier than he could have any other way.
Copyright 2009, 2011, Republibot 3.0
This story, and several others by the same author, have been compiled in an anthology called "Ice Cream and Venom." It is available on Amazon for only 99 cents. If you enjoyed the story, you can purchase a copy here http://www.amazon.com/Ice-Cream-Venom-ebook/dp/B004XNLU8Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=...