CHAPTER 7: A 'Hunka, Hunka' Trouble

The story so far
Five tourists who have come to Tupelo is search of the “Truth” about Elvis are dying off at an alarming rate. First, it was Nigel Farnsworth, killed in a hit-and-run. Then Greta Klaus was found dead in her hotel room, and Adam Chandler was stabbed to death in Fairpark. Now it’s up to the two remaining friends to find out who’s doing the killing, and why – and even they are suspects.
– Editor’s note: This 10-chapter serial began Sunday with Chapters 1 and 2 and concludes with the final two chapters on Sunday, Aug. 16, the 32nd anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death.

By Galen Holley
Daily Journal
Adam twitched and gurgled, then went still as his life spilled out onto the concrete. People jostled each other, scrambling in all directions.
Bennett waited a few beats, then moved past the statue of Piomingo and picked his way through the lawn chairs toward the center of the commotion.
Robert Salts, the Daily Journal reporter, approached from the opposite direction, moving through the playground equipment like someone accustomed to crowds and hysteria.
Blue lights moved across the lawn and three officers leaped from their cruisers and began herding people. Bennett tried to explain that he was the victim’s friend but the officers pushed him back, alongside the reporter.
“Cops,” Salts said derisively, hunching his shoulders and cupping his hands over the flame of his lighter. Detective George Sonot waddled toward them, dabbing his bulldog jowls with a cloth. When he spotted Bennett he pointed and growled, “Don’t go anywhere.”
“The world is crashing down,” Bennett whispered to Salts. The reporter didn’t look at him, just exhaled and nodded.

***

Earlier that afternoon Salts had taken a call from Bennett. “Call me back on my cell,” Salts said. He walked outside to smoke.
Bennett watched out his hotel window as men made preparations for the evening’s concert on the lawn of City Hall. Bennett explained that he was one of the people at the center of the recent events. He told the reporter that he’d seen his name scribbled on one of the pages of “Last Train to Memphis.”
“A girl came by earlier this afternoon, a friend of yours,” Salts said. “Said she’d read my stories on the Web. Said I was a bad boy and that she smelled whiskey on my breath and promised to punish me if I met her later tonight.”
Bennett bit his tongue. “What’s going on here?” he asked.
“Listen man,” Salts said. “I wrote for the Commercial Appeal. There’s always some nut who thinks he’s Elvis. In Memphis I just hung up on them. They’re crazy, and nothing they do surprises me – well, murder surprises me. By the way, you came all the way from New Mexico so you must be a little nutty, too.”
Bennett held his tongue.
“Who would want to slaughter my friends?” he asked. He could hear wind and passing cars as Salts seemed to be searching for an answer.
“You read the Bible much?” Salts asked.
“Not regularly.”
“Well, I do. I’ve always believed the more scandalous a story, the truer it is. What do you think?”
“I suppose,” Bennett said. He was beginning to think that everyone in this town possessed the same combination of gruffness and sanctimony.
“Early in that book, the one you saw my name in, there’s a story about Elvis’ father and how people thought he was a deadbeat.”
“I don’t follow,” Bennett said.
“It’s like that story about Jesus getting angry and flipping over the money changers’ tables in temple. Kind of out of character, don’t you think? Must be true. It’s embarrassing.”
Bennett could hear Salts exhaling smoke through the phone receiver.
“I’ve seen enough jumpsuits and glue-on sideburns to last a lifetime,” Salts said. “All these fools, these – these – infidels, playing Halloween, they’re clueless. The proof is always on the wet, underside of the rock, hey brother?”
Salts dropped his cigarette on the concrete and smashed it with his boot. “Got to go, brother. Deadlines. Look both ways before you cross the street, you hear?”

***

In her room at the Hilton Garden Inn, Irma Jones was crying. She tried to concentrate on the brush pulling through the wet strands of hair but it was no use. She threw it against the wall and rested her forehead in her hands.
Outside, the joyful sound of the music – the music she so loved – had been replaced by sirens and shouting. All the death was too much. This was not the trip she’d bargained for.
She dialed Adam but only let it ring once. She dialed Bennett but got no answer.
She raked the tears from her eyes and whispered, “I’m caught in a trap. I can’t walk out.”
***

Once Adam’s body was taken away, Bennett said good-bye to Robert Salts and drifted through the thinning crowd toward his rental car. He wanted to grab his satchel and the book before meeting Sonot in the hotel lobby like he’d promised.
In the parking lot of the Hilton Garden Inn, Bennett noticed a long, shallow scratch on the driver’s door, just above the lock. He tilted the seat forward and by the light of the street light he saw there, wrapped in a copy of the Daily Journal, was a butcher knife, smeared with blood. He looked nervously at the police still milling about the crime scene.

Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal