Visiting the Tupelo morgue was not an intended itinerary item for the four Elvis fans. But it was necessary.
At least one of them had to positively identify the body of the late Nigel Farnsworth.
“I don’t deal well with death,” said Irma, letting her fellow travelers know she was not interested in being the one to gawk.
Detective George Sonot, a 20-year veteran of the local police department, shuffled his feet restlessly as he waited for a volunteer. He didn’t care which tourist offered to help, he just needed it done soon. It was nearly noon and he was hungry.
“I’ll do it.” It was Bennett who finally agreed to enter the cool darkness to identify his fallen friend while Irma, Adam and Greta waited outside the hospital in the summer sun.
A half hour later with total assurance Nigel was dead, Bennett joined his friends. He carried a gallon-sized, recloseable plastic bag.
“What’s in the bag?” Irma said.
“Nigel’s personal effects,” Bennett answered.
Irma stepped toward Bennett and reached for the bag, but Bennett held it tightly.
“Let’s wait until we can sit down somewhere and go through his things,” he said.
“I’m hungry,” Adam said. “Let’s go sit down and eat.”
Adam Chandler was always hungry. Evidently, he’d been blessed with the metabolism of a hummingbird, a fact that did not set well with Irma and Greta.
The four piled into their rented Pontiac and rode to Johnny’s Drive-In. Once inside, they grabbed the booth where Elvis was said to have eaten many a hamburger in his formative years.
Bennett ordered an all-meat burger; Adam two dough burgers; and Greta, a pimiento cheese connoisseur, decided to give it a try.
Irma grumbled about the menu choices, then ordered a salad with Thousand Island dressing.
As soon as the server wandered off to the kitchen, Bennett emptied the contents of the plastic bag onto the table.
At first blush, nothing about the items seemed out of the ordinary: Nigel’s cell phone, a bit battered and battery dead; a silver money clip holding $73; a handful of change; and a key to a Tupelo hotel room.
Situated in a corner of the plastic bag was a perfectly square white envelope containing a single Ernie Ball guitar string – the low E string.
Bennett chuckled as he fingered the package. On one of the group’s first trips to town, Nigel had purchased a guitar at Tupelo Hardware, convinced that to truly study the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and All Things Cool, he should learn to play guitar.Ginna Parsons 7/10/09; do you play guitar or the guitar?
Nigel had failed miserably in the attempt. He never even mastered tuning the guitar, always tightening the strings until they broke.
“There’s really nothing here that sheds any light,” Greta said. “I need a nap.”
Bennett dropped his three passengers off at the Hilton Garden Inn.
“I’ve got to run an errand or two,” he told them. “Let’s meet in the lobby at 6 p.m. for dinner. I’m sure Adam will be hungry again by then.”
As Bennett watched his three friends disappear in his rearview mirror, he reached inside his left-hand jeans pocket and pulled out the items he’d removed from Nigel’s belongings while still in the morgue.
He set the new library card in the center console and unfolded an ink-stained index card. In Nigel’s stilted hieroglyphic-like handwriting were the name and author of a book – “Last Train to Memphis” by Peter Guralnick.
It was not a book with which Bennett was familiar, but he pointed the Pontiac in the direction of the Lee County Library. He’d learn more about the book.
Inside the coolness of the library, Bennett went directly to the card catalog. Then he stood in front of the shelf where the book should have been, but he was unable to find it.
Bennett suddenly realized he was no longer looking alone, but was standing shoulder to shoulder with a bespectacled young man who smelled of mothballs and mints.
“Could I help you find something?” said the young man, John Wiggins, director of the library.
“Yes, please. I’m looking for this book,” Bennett answered, showing the director the index card.
“Follow me,” John Wiggins ordered.
Downstairs at the help desk, Wiggins reached under the counter and presented “Last Train to Memphis.”
“Your are the third person in as many days to request this book,” Wiggins said. “I just found it last night before closing. It had been misshelved. Would you like to check it out?”
“Yes,” Bennett said, presenting Nigel’s library card.
Wiggins took the card, glanced at it and then studied the face of Bennett for several seconds before completing the process.
“Due back in two weeks,” he said, handing the book to Bennett, who mumbled his thanks and headed for the parking lot.
As he unlocked the rental car, Bennett noticed John Wiggins had followed him out and was standing nearby.
Wiggins was handing something to the driver of an American-made SUV, who took the package and drove away from the library.
Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal