It's an exciting week for me with the release of my Elvis time travel fantasy romance from Champagne Books, Long Live The King.
April (the present), Las Vegas, Nevada, Desert Queen El Rancho Motel, The Strip
Stretched out beside the small, kidney-shaped pool with the relentless heat of a Nevada sun baking her skin brown as homemade biscuits, Lacie lacked energy to move or summon enthusiasm for anything else.
“It’s hot,” she griped to Silver, current best friend and co-worker.
“It’s a desert, Lacie, what did you expect?” Silver muttered from her lounge chair as she basked in the sun, with her usual sarcasm. “You want cool breezes, go home to Mississippi.”
Lacie, who was really Linda Mae Logan, age twenty one, from Greenville, Mississippi, laughed.
“It’s not cool in the Delta.” Thinking of home summoned up memories of humidity and sweat. At least the desert heat was dry. “I bet, though, it was cool in Vegas back in the 1950s, back when this was all new.”
Silver sat up, kicked off her sandals, and jumped into the pool, something Lacie would not do because the water always had a fine scum on the surface.
“I don’t think it was any cooler fifty years or more ago,” Silver said, spitting water in a wide arc that sparkled with rainbow colors in the sun.
Lacie laughed but there was bitterness in her mouth, like old peanuts or tomatoes past their prime.
“I wasn’t thinking about the temperature, now,” she said, turning over so that the sun fell on her face. “I meant cool, as in awesome.”
“I don’t know, maybe so.”
Silver sounded bored so Lacie gave up. They shared nothing in common except their occupation as “independent escorts,” which Lacie knew Brother Billy back home at the Full Gospel Baptist Church would call being a whore. Thinking of the big brick church with oak pews made her both nostalgic and nervous. If she shut her eyes, she could summon up clear images of Sunday services. The multi-colored stained glass windows always caught her interest and she used to make up stories about the people depicted there instead of listening to the sermon. Thinking about Brother Billy made her nervous and caused her skin to itch with creepy-crawlies because it stirred up latent guilt about her occupation but it hurt less than thinking about her parents, whose opinion would not stray far from the pastor’s. So she blocked her mind from home thoughts and replaced her memories with images of early Vegas. Those recalled Gran-Nanna, which soothed her like a peppermint candy in a dry mouth.
Back when Vegas Vic smoked his never-ending neon cigarette down on Fremont Street and Glitter Gulch still rivaled the Strip for action, life must have been simpler, even for a working girl like Lacie. Although most of the old stuff was gone, imploded, exploded, or torn down, some of the bigger hotels displayed pictures from the past in poster-size frames. The New Frontier, the Sands, Dunes, Pink Flamingo all had a different style about them, something she liked better than the current mega glitz. Granddaddy of them all, the El Rancho, vanished long before she was even born but her grandmother, who once made a car trip cross country to visit Las Vegas with her best friend’s family during the 1950’s, told her it had been a wonder.
“They had the first all-you-can-eat buffet that I ever heard of, anywhere,” Gran-Nanna liked to tell. “The El Rancho is where I ate my first Veal Parmesan. And they even had a swan, carved out of ice, on the buffet. Did I ever tell you that I saw Elvis Presley there?”
Lacie smiled, eyes shut against the glare of the sun, as she remembered. Gran-Nanna told her about Elvis so many times she couldn’t count them and Lacie recalled seeing his young face in many pictures. Gran-Nanna’s trip happened in 1956 when she was a twenty-one-year old college girl invited along on her roommate’s family vacation during spring break. It must have been heady for the girl from a rural Delta cotton farm to see the fabulous Las Vegas, Lacie mused, but she came home afterward, dropped out from school, and married PaPa Ed.
Her grandfather wasn’t anything like Elvis and she knew how much Gran-Nanna loved him but Gran-Nanna never quite got over the King either. Her mobile home, tucked beneath a few tall old gum trees for shade, looked like an Elvis shrine. Her grandmother’s home featured framed pictures of Elvis including a big 11-by-14 print that sat on top of the vintage television set, velvet wall hangings featuring the young King of Rock and Roll, coffee mugs with Elvis’ image, and every little piece of Presley memorabilia anyone could imagine. On the shelves beneath the old-fashioned but pristine record player from the mid-1960’s, Gran-Nanna kept every album Elvis ever recorded and beside them, she had all his single 45rpm records in a little wire rack. Lacie wasn’t even born when Elvis died on a hot August day back in 1977 but she read all the news clipping that Gran-Nanna kept in a special scrapbook.
Since Gran-Nanna and Papa Ed lived just behind her mama and daddy’s neat ranch-style house, Lacie spent many of her childhood hours with her grandparents. Gran-Nanna was her first babysitter and until she started school, Lacie reckoned she spent more of her waking hours with Gran-Nanna than with her own Mama.
Thinking of Mama hurt; when her mother and father showed up in Las Vegas for a surprise visit, they didn’t expect to find her living in a cheap, flea pit motel or working as a professional escort. They might be Southern but they were far from stupid. When they realized what she really did to make a living, they scolded her, raged, and all but disowned her. Since then, she had heard from them twice--a card at Christmas with a $50 bill tucked inside and another card on her birthday. No one said she couldn’t go home but Lacie had a sinking feeling the welcome mat wasn’t on the porch for her.
Gran-Nanna would have been different, she thought, but it didn’t matter since she was gone. All she had left to cling to from her childhood were those good times at Gran-Nanna’s place and Elvis Presley.
Lacie loved Elvis; she grew up on his music, probably because Gran-Nanna played it over her baby crib and every day since birth, until it created a musical soundtrack of sorts for their lives. Elvis was one of the many reasons she came to Vegas in the first place; the King loved it here, by all accounts, but at the time that Gran-Nanna saw him, he may have liked Vegas but Las Vegas hadn’t become enthralled with Elvis, not yet. Gran-Nanna was, though, from the moment she saw him across the crowded dining room at the El Rancho buffet. Swooning was long out of fashion by the Fifties but Gran-Nanna swore by all that was holy she wanted to faint at the sight of the young Elvis.
“He was just so good looking,” her grandmother would remember, hands paused as she snapped green beans from PaPa Ed’s garden or mended his britches. “And I think that despite everything that happened to him, he stayed good inside.”
Eyes shut, Lacie’s mind drifted back to the Delta and her childhood. Those times were simpler than her complicated life and she missed them. She savored some old memories that included cocoa from an Elvis mug and some Oreo cookies as she watched King Creole or Flaming Star or Love Me Tender with Gran-Nanna. That evoked such sweet contentment she failed to hear Silver when she called her name, rousing only after her friend raised her voice.
“Hey, Lacie, wake up,” Silver said, dripping water onto her bare belly.
“I’m not asleep.”
“It’s almost time to get ready for our first date. We can’t be late.”
What they called “dates” for want of a better term were really work but dates sounded much nicer, Lacie thought, as she headed into the dim motel room she called home.
Link to Manic Readers Review