Nigel Farnsworth liked the way the humidity combined with the Mississippi heat.
He liked the sweat pooling under his arms and dripping down his back.
And he loved that he couldn’t understand half of what the locals said. They didn’t speak the Queen’s English, but they spoke the King’s, and that’s what mattered.
This was Nigel’s sixth trip to Tupelo, the birthplace of the great Elvis Presley. He was happy to walk where his idol must’ve walked. According to his research, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll and All Things Cool made regular trips to Tupelo up until his supposed death.
He could be walking around here now, Nigel thought. He glanced around to see a woman pushing a jogging stroller and a businessman jaywalking across Main Street. The only black pompadour he saw was the one reflected in a Tupelo Hardware window.
Funny, he thought, his hairstyle fit better in Liverpool than it did in Mississippi. He’d seen one other dyed-black job at the Elvis Presley Birthplace, and he’d compared grooming tips with the fan from Japan.
Nigel combed his hair and wondered how many pompadours he’d find in Tokyo. Maybe Elvis was there, eating sushi and saying, “Domo arigato. Domo arigato gozaimasu. Uh-huh.”
He didn’t know where Elvis was, but he knew in his gut that Tupelo’s favorite son wasn’t buried in a Memphis crypt.
Nigel had come to Northeast Mississippi to find the truth with a capital “T.” He believed he’d found it, so he didn’t mind the brilliant August heat.
With “Heartbreak Hotel” playing on the magic jukebox inside his head, Nigel waited for a streetlight to turn, then looked right, when he should’ve looked left.
The last thing Nigel Farnsworth saw was the grill of an American-made SUV. The last thing he heard was the crunch of his own skull as it collided with the pavement. The last thing he thought was, “I get so lonely ….”
“We should leave. Nigel organized this trip,” Irma Jones said. “It doesn’t feel right to stay without him.”
She’d claimed the only chair in her hotel room.
Adam Chandler and Greta Klaus sat on the edge of the bed with their hands almost touching.
Bennett Stone sat on the floor with his back against the wall and one of his cowboy boots pushed against a table leg.
“That makes sense, right?” Adam said. “There’s a killer on the loose, right?”
“It was an accident, a tragic accident,” Greta said, pulling her hand away from Adam’s. “The police said witnesses saw Nigel look the wrong way and step in front of that truck. He forgot he wasn’t in England.”
“But the driver didn’t stop,” Irma said.
“Like I said, a killer’s on the loose,” Adam said.
“Why would anybody want to kill Nigel?” Greta said.
The five had met in 2004 during Elvis Week in Memphis. They were bunched together outside Graceland, holding candles on the 27th anniversary of Elvis’ death, when Nigel said something that resonated with them all: “You know, I can’t bloody well tell why we’re doing this. It’s not like the ol’ chap’s really kicked the bucket. He’s probably up in the big house laughing at us.”
On the next day, they gathered for brunch at Brother Juniper’s College Inn, and made their plans to solve what they all believed was the great hoax of the age.
That was five years ago. Five years of research, phone calls and false leads. There were trips to Memphis, Las Vegas, Bloomington, Ind., and an ill-advised stop in Juneau, Alaska.
Now, the clues brought them to Tupelo.
And Nigel Farnsworth was dead.
Bennett stood up and pulled a cell phone out of his pocket.
“We all got Nigel’s text,” Bennett said. It’d come a few hours before Nigel’s death: “KRRATC livs! Pruf! Tup!”
“We know what it means,” Bennett continued. “The King of Rock ’n’ Roll and All Things Cool is alive.”
“’All Things Cool,’” Greta repeated with a sad smile. “Poor Nigel.”
“He found what we’ve been looking for,” Bennett said. “Here, in this town.”
“He thought he found proof, you mean,” Irma said.
“Do what you think is best,” Bennett said. “I don’t have to be back in Sante Fe for another week, and I need to know what Nigel knew.”
“Even if it gets you killed, too?” Adam said.
“I’ve never been a fair-weather fan,” Bennett said. “Until a few moments ago, I thought I could say the same about everyone in this room. Who’s with me?”
Bennett raised his hand. Greta followed, then Irma. They waited for Adam, who sighed, slowly raised his hand and said, “Let’s solve a mystery.”
M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal