April 24, 2013 11:11:20 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
Somehow, a dust-choked fragment of a memory of childhood has staggered forth from the dark recesses of my mind.
It is a recollection of a black-and-white TV show, perhaps it was an episode of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
The story was about a group of people who are caught up in some sort of dramatic event, the details of which are lost to my memory. Near the end of the program, you suddenly realize that these people aren't really involved in something that is actually happening; instead, they are actors performing a play. The kicker is that, through some sort of unexplained phenomenon, the actors are not aware that they are actors: They think they actually are the characters they are playing and that the plot of the play is real life. When the director steps in to inform them that the play has ended, the actors begin to protest. But suddenly, they find they have no words. They don't know what to say or what to do because they have no script.
I suspect the idea for this story comes from Shakespeare's "As You Like It," ("All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players.") with a nod to the writing profession (without a writer, a play is just a bunch actors bumping into things).
I wonder why that dusty relic of a memory has emerged now. I suspect it may have something to do with what's going on in my hometown of Tupelo these days.
Somehow, I believe Tupelo's a stage and all the men and women merely players. I am not sure how this happened. Perhaps some cataclysmic event occurred that shook the world to the degree that reality has somehow been altered, like electing a black president, maybe.
In any event, this epic tale set in a town that actually used to exist has captured both my attention and my imagination and I would very much like to meet the writer and perhaps induce him to reveal to me where the story proceeds from here.
So far, it's a doozy, a top-shelf mystery, a real whodunnit.
The author obviously knows his subject. Clearly, any story set in Tupelo must include some sort of homage to Elvis. It is an important, if predictable, element. What I did not expect was the circus elephant, which is a wonderful literary flourish.
We are introduced early on to the story's protagonist, a middle-aged Elvis impersonator/janitor by the name of Kevin Curtis. The story opens with Curtis being arrested for mailing ricin-laced letters to a local judge, a U.S. Senator and The President of the United States.
Curtis' arrest comes at a time when the city is on edge after the recent drive-by shooting of a circus elephant, which at first does not seem particularly relevant, other than to alert the audience to the fact that people in Tupelo are pretty dang fed up with criminals and people who might be criminals. The idea that the elephant shooter could be your neighbor has created a climate of deep distrust in the otherwise tight-knit community.
So it is that the whole world seems to be aligned against Curtis, even his family, who suggest that Curtis has some serious mental issues apart from dressing up like Elvis.
This seriously undermines Curtis' assertion that he is the target of a massive conspiracy. A few years earlier, while working as a janitor at the hospital in Tupelo, our hero discovered that the hospital is deeply involved in limb and organ trafficking. Our hero frantically tries to alert the proper authorities, writing letters to the aforementioned U.S. Senator and turning to Facebook to get the word out.
But apparently, the organ-peddling hospital has friends in high places, including Washington, D.C. and the FBI.
To silence him, a crime is staged and Curtis is framed as the culprit.
It certainly looks like an open and shut case.
But in this darkest hour, a new character emerges in the form of a young, relatively unknown, female attorney named Christi (with an i) McCoy. I believe this to be a nod from the author to another Mississippian, the novelist John Grisham. Another nice touch.
Through brilliant legal maneuvering and, perhaps, surviving some dangerous confrontations with government agents (I am speculating at this point, mainly because that's how I would have written it.), the young lawyer gets all the charges dropped.
"It was divine intervention when this blue-eyed angel came to my cell," the now freed Curtis tells reporters on the courthouse steps. He goes on to note that in addition to be a janitor and Elvis impersonator he is also a "licensed reflexologist" and would soon be giving his attorney a foot massage. I see a romantic story-line developing here.
Curtis also said he intended to perform 100,000 hours of community service by giving foot massages to the women of Tupelo.
That aside, it was heart-warming scene at the courthouse, as Curtis talked about how he had once missed his son's performance as a bumblebee in a play because he was in jail at the time. He was relieved to discover that his dog, Moo Cow, had been found and is safe.
The suspicion has fallen on a man named J. Everett Dutschke (an awesome name for a character, by the way), who we discover has been Curtis' nemesis for many years. The enmity between the two men began over a bitter disagreement over Mixed Martial Arts. (As they say in Tupelo, the three things you never talk about over dinner are God, politics and MMA). As so often is the case, a dispute over who is the best MMA fighter takes a tragic turn.
J. Everett Dutschke maintains his innocence. By now, given our rush to judgment with Curtis, we are not entirely convinced that J. Everett is the real villain in this story. The plot thickens.
OK. I am totally hooked. I find myself distracted both at work and at home. My sleep is interrupted by thoughts of what will happen next.
Is Curtis really off the hook?
Is J. Everett Dutschke just another patsy in this vast fried-chicken wing conspiracy?
Will Curtis and McCoy fall in love?
What happened to Moo Cow the dog while Curtis was in custody?
As for giving foot massages to random women: Just how creepy is that?
And, of course, the biggest question of them all: What does the elephant know?
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]