"Contract With The King"
A Novel by Paul Pullen
Thanks to author Paul Pullen for allowing EIN to publish the first chapter of his upcoming Elvis novel, Contract With The King.
The book is due to be published shortly by AuthorHouse
From the author: I would like to thank the following individuals for their editorial assistance:
ELDORADO (a poem)
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.
But he grew old—
This knight so bold—
And o’er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—
“Shadow,” said he,
“Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?”
“Over the Mountains
Of the Moon
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,”
The shade replied—
“If you seek for Eldorado!”
Paul walked into Dave’s dark bedroom and paused, waiting for his tired eyes to adjust—tired from staring at the road and rearview all the way from Memphis. He stretched the stiff muscles in his back and neck then sat in an old armchair beside his roommate’s bed. A burnt-orange University of Texas curtain reached out from an open window. The faint smell of stale marijuana smoke ascended from a mound of dirty clothes between Dave’s bed and desk. A page in an open medical book fluttered. “Dave, wake up.”
Paul rubbed the goose bumps from his tanned arms then combed his fingers through his curly brown hair. The early morning breeze was unusually cool for Austin in March, but he knew it would not last. KLBJ had predicted a high of 86º. The alarm clock on Dave’s nightstand read 3 a.m. As Paul watched Dave sleep, he wished he, too, was snuggled in bed, drifting off to dreamland, but before he could even think of sleep, he had one more important task to complete. He shook Dave’s shoulder. “Dave, wake up.
Paul, Dave, Brooks, and Rob, the Four Musketeers, had met in third grade but had not become close friends until junior high and high school, a time when forever friendships are formed. While growing up, they had reveled in numerous exploits, from painting zebra stripes on the Buckholzs’ prize-winning bull, to setting the town dump on fire, but they were now 24-year-old college students, embarking on what might prove to be the greatest adventure of their lives. The others had already joined the game, and now it was time to invite Dave, the cautious one, the one Paul had wisely saved until last. “Dave, I did it. I got him.”
Dave stared at Paul’s blurred image through half-open eyes. He reached for his wire-rimmed glasses then peered at his alarm clock. He pushed himself up on one elbow, brushed back his sandy-brown hair, and stared at his friend.
“Paul, you’ve got to stop smoking that pot. We’ve both got to stop, or we’ll never get through this semester alive. I bet you smoked all the way from DeSoto.”
“Dave, you know I don’t smoke anymore, and I didn’t go to DeSoto. I went to Memphis. I pulled it off, Dave. I nabbed the King. We’ve got him hidden in Detox. Tara and Brooks are keeping the first watch. He’s not lookin’ too good, Dave. We’re going to need your help.”
Dave was used to his friends waking him up at all hours of the night, for the strangest reasons, and past experience had taught him to humor them if he ever wanted to get back to sleep. He fell back onto his pillow and stared up at the ceiling.
“Okay. Okay. I’ll play along with your little game, but this had better not take long. I have to be at work at ten, I’ve got classes all afternoon, and it’d be nice to get a full night’s sleep for a change.”
“Yes, it would,” Paul replied, watching Dave pluck a Longhorn T-shirt and pair of jeans from the top of the dirty laundry. While Dave dressed, Paul closed his eyes. Please, God, protect Dave during this one. Please protect all my friends.
Dave climbed into Paul’s old Malibu, noticing an expensive guitar in the back seat. “Where’d you get the guitar?”
“Graceland,” Paul answered.
Dave laughed. “Well, young man, I guess we can add theft to kidnapping.”
Dave often emulated his father by beginning sentences with “Well” or “Well, sir.”
“What else did you take?” Dave asked.
“That’s about it—except for an envelope full of pills—and of course, Elvis.”
Dave shook his head, leaned back in his seat, and closed his eyes. Paul glanced at the car’s speedometer, easing his foot off the accelerator. He did not relish the thought of Dave telling some cop they were just in a hurry to check on Elvis.
“How’d you get the King out of his castle?” Dave asked.
“It was easy, just like in the dream I told you about last summer. The side door was unlocked. Two guards, passed out in the living room. I ran upstairs and found him in pretty much the same condition as his guards. I shook him half-awake. I told him he had to eat, that I knew a place that served the best cheeseburgers in the world, but that we’d have to hurry or they’d be closed. I half-walked, half-carried him right out of his castle.”
“Well, that was smart,” Dave mused. “I would have never thought of that. You offered Elvis Presley a cheeseburger, and he just followed you right out of the gates of Graceland.”
“That’s pretty much the way it happened. Wait till you see him, Dave. It’s really sad.”
Dave studied Paul curiously then chuckled, as if reassuring himself it was all a joke, just a big joke.
Detox, short for the Detoxification and Drug Rehabilitation Unit, was located at the Austin State Hospital, one of the state’s oldest mental institutions. The hospital consisted of eight two-story, wood and brick units. Detox was one of the older structures, built during a time when Asylum for the Insane hung on the front gate. The unit housed Austin’s hard-core drug addicts. Seventy percent of its patients were court-committed, so the entire hospital was surrounded by a tall, chain-link fence.
Paul, Dave, and Brooks worked at Detox as part-time nurse’s aides. Their duties there consisted of distributing food, pillows, and blankets, observing patients’ behavior, and logging appropriate comments in the Progress Notes section of each patient’s file. Aides also took part in between-shift briefings and were sometimes called upon to restrain and lock up those individuals choosing a more physical means of expressing their displeasure with the unit.
The guard at the entrance recognized Paul’s car and waved them through.
“I bet security was happy to see the King?” Dave joked.
“I had him covered up in the back seat,” Paul replied.
Paul parked the car near the back entrance, unlocked the unit’s heavy steel door, and pulled. He slowly closed and locked the door behind them, hoping not to wake their patients. The smell of disinfectant filled their nostrils as they walked down a long hallway lined with sixteen tall lockup doors. Each door contained a small window, protected with a metal grid for safe observation. Each lockup contained one mattress and one pillow, sealed in plastic for easy cleanup. The lockups were cold, poorly ventilated, and usually vacant, except on those busy Friday and Saturday nights when Austin’s finest ran out of jail space for the city’s more violent drunks and addicts.
At the end of the hallway, a nurse’s station separated two twenty-bed dorms, one male and one female. Paul was glad to see the station empty and their patients apparently sound asleep. Besides Tara and Brooks, two other employees were normally scheduled to work the graveyard shift, but Tara had given both the night off so that she and Brooks would have the place to themselves. Paul led Dave down the steep basement stairs, unlocked the door, and relocked it behind them.
The basement was used primarily for storage but contained four additional lockups that could be used for emergencies. Brooks sat beside the only closed lockup door, feet crossed over a desk, arms crossed nonchalantly behind his head. He wore his usual short-sleeved, plaid shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes. His short, straight, black hair was parted to one side. A legal pad rested on his lap. Brooks’ full name was David Michael Brooks, but his friends called him Brooks, Brooksie, or Mr. Brooks. Brooks was the group’s journalism major, and Paul had pulled him into the venture by suggesting he keep a journal or write a book about the kidnapping.
“Good morning, Dave,” Brooks greeted.
“Is it?” Dave asked, giving his friend a cross look.
The lockup door opened and Tara Benoist, Detox’s head nurse, stepped out carrying a stethoscope, thermometer, keys, and several files. Paul studied the curves of her tall, slender body before focusing on her green eyes and bright-red lips. Tara wore a dark tan beneath her white nurse’s uniform, and at one time or another, every male in the unit had wondered exactly how far the tan went. At the sight of Dave and Paul, she pushed the door shut with her foot and dropped everything onto the desk.
“Good morning, Dave,” she greeted, giving him a big hug. “Sorry we had to pull you out of bed so early, but it was for a good cause.” She surprised Paul with a big hug, too. “Paul, you’re amazing. You pulled it off. You single-handedly nabbed the King of rock ’n’ roll. You’re truly amazing.”
“Thanks,” Paul, replied, elated by the feel and scent of Tara’s soft skin. During the long drive from Memphis, he had talked himself through long periods of fear, paranoia, and loneliness. On more than one occasion, he had questioned his own sanity. Tara’s warm hug and kind praise had instantly removed all traces of doubt and fear.
Unfortunately for Paul and Tara, their jubilation was cut short. Dave’s face had suddenly turned ash white. He rushed to the lockup and pressed his nose against the grid-protected window. Elvis was sound asleep, and long strands of black hair hid most of his bloated face, but there was no mistaking the sideburns, no mistaking that familiar curl of his upper lip.
“Dave Turner—Elvis Presley,” Brooks joked. “Elvis Presley—Dave Turner.”
Dave’s face turned red as he whirled to face the others. “Are you crazy!”
Tara touched an index finger to her lips. “Shhh,” she said, pointing upstairs to where their other patients slept.
“Have you lost your minds!” Dave yelled, spinning to take another look. “This better be a joke! I hope to God this is a joke, because if that’s really Elvis Presley, y’all are in deep shit.”
Brooks whistled a few bars of “Suspicious Minds,” an Elvis tune about a man caught in a trap.
Dave spun to face Brooks. “Why are you doing this!”
“Because I’ve been awarded exclusive rights to the story and screenplay,” Brooks answered.”
“Story and screenplay!” Dave echoed. “Does the fact that you’ll be writing them from a cold, dark jail cell bother you at all!”
“I won’t be going to jail. Paul kidnapped him.”
“You’re holding him against his will!”
“Seventy percent of our patients here are being held against their will.”
“They’re court-committed! Like you’re going to be!”
“I don’t think so, Dave. I don’t think the King’s been a happy camper lately. Just look at him. Do you think it’s his will to be in this condition?”
Dave took another look through the window then faced Tara. “I won’t be a part of this.”
“You’re already a part of this,” Tara replied.
Dave could not believe his ears. And Tara was right. He was a part of this. He had suddenly stumbled right into the middle of a big trap and could easily feel the rope tightening around his legs. He closed his eyes and felt himself dangling upside down, blood rushing to his head, wind blowing through his hair, watching helplessly as his bright future passed away beneath him. There went his hopes for a medical degree. There went his successful career plans. There went his dreams of one day having a beautiful wife and family. His whole future was passing beneath him like so many rustling leaves—quite suddenly, way out of reach. He shook the image away and began pacing in front of the door, occasionally stopping to glare inside. Elvis looked like he’d been hanging upside down, too. In a meat locker. Dave faced his friends.
“What if he dies in there? Anyone think of that? What if he dies? Who do you think they’ll blame?”
Tara emptied the envelope full of pills that Paul had lifted from Graceland. Like agitated insects, the brightly-colored tablets and capsules scampered across the desk toward the King’s cell. “I’d say he has a far greater chance of dying in Memphis than in Austin.”
Dave glared at Tara, shook his head, then continued pacing. “This is just a bad dream,” he mumbled, more to himself than to the others. He stopped and faced his friends. “This is just a bad dream. And I can tell you this—it won’t have a happy ending.”
Tara leaned back against the desk, casually swinging her long, light-brown hair behind her while staring at the ceiling. “Dave, how many individuals do you think we help here? How many of our patients experience a complete recovery?”
“I don’t know. Forty percent? Thirty percent? Is this our punishment for not doing better? How many will we be able to help in prison?”
“Twenty percent,” Tara continued undaunted. “All these physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists—all these nurses, aides, and volunteers—all this time and energy spent, and 80 percent go right back to the street, to some other institution, or worse. We’re spinning our wheels here, Dave, and I can no longer be a part of it.”
Dave scanned the bleak basement before taking a deep breath. “Tara, I know this place is in desperate need of change. I know you’ve been working hard to make that change. And now you’re telling me you can no longer be a part of it. But what in God’s name does all that have to do with kidnapping Elvis Presley!”
“We prefer intervention,” Brooks corrected. “The experimental procedure is showing positive results in New York and California. The process gets everyone involved: courts, counselors, family members, employers . . .”
“I’m familiar with interventions!” Dave interrupted. “This is not an intervention! This is kidnapping!”
Tara nodded reflectively. “Yes, regardless of our honorable intention, the courts will certainly see it as such. All the more reason for us to make sure this kidnapping has a happy ending.” She opened Elvis’ file to make a few notes.
Dave watched her a moment, shook his head, and looked inside the lockup. “You kidnapped the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, drove him across state lines, and locked up in a state mental hospital. A state mental hospital! That, alone, should get you an extra twenty years.” He scanned their faces, waiting for some response, but none was given. He continued pacing. “Elvis Presley. Out of all the drugged-out rock stars, you picked Elvis Presley.”
“His celebrity status will, of course, present a few problems we’re not used to dealing with,” Brooks admitted.
“A few problems! You mean like the FBI? The CIA? The Texas Rangers? Those sorts of problems? I bet every cop from Memphis to Austin’s looking for him right now. And what about Memphis? What about his family, friends, girlfriends, bodyguards, managers, lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, gurus. What about them?”
“What about them?” Paul asked. “Judging from his present condition, they haven’t been doin’ a very good job.”
“And you’ll do better?” Dave scoffed. “A nurse and two nurse’s aides will miraculously save Elvis?”
“That’s three nurse’s aides, counting you,” Brooks corrected. “And Rob’s on the way, too.”
“Good, he can take my place,” Dave replied, looking toward the King’s cell. “I can’t believe you got him this far without gettin’ shot—or worse.”
“What’s worse than gettin’ shot?” Brooks asked.
“Gettin’ all of us shot,” Dave replied, glaring at Brooks. He faced Paul. “This isn’t about Tara and some noble search for a better form of treatment, is it? This is about you and your stupid dream. You saved Elvis in dreamland and saw it as some sort vision, some sort of green light.” He looked at Brooks and Tara. “And you two idiots followed blindly. You followed this—dreamer—into God knows where.” His eyes fell to the desk and a magazine displaying a picture of the Texas State Capitol. “What if he’d dreamed of the Governor? What if he’d dreamed of Congress?”
“Don’t be silly, Dave,” Brooks replied, “we don’t have enough lockups for Congress.”
Dave shook his head then scanned the windowless basement, searching for the quickest route of escape. His eyes fell on the locked basement door. “Take him back, Paul. I’ll help you. If we leave right now, we might can get him back before the whole world finds out.”
Paul closed his eyes and pictured himself loading Elvis into his car, driving him back to Memphis, pushing him out onto Beale Street, and pretending none of this ever happened. His eyes quickly opened. “Sorry, Dave, I can’t do that.” He looked toward the desk, focusing on a copy of Rolling Stone magazine. “Dave, Hendrix is dead. Janis, dead. Morrison, dead. You don’t have to look much further than that to see what’s going to happen to Elvis. What a waste. He’s forty-two years old. Only forty-two years old.”
“I was hoping to see forty-two, myself,” Dave replied, “and I’ll tell you exactly what’s going to happen. This whole thing is going to blow up right in your face?”
“We’ve discussed the risks, Dave,” Paul replied, “and we all have our fears. I fear we might be too late, that Elvis might be too far gone for us to help. I fear if we fail, our lives could be forever ruined. But more than that, I fear waking up one day discovering we missed a valuable opportunity to save the King.
Dave stared at Paul a moment before bowing his head.
“We saw no other way, Dave,” Tara said. “We felt we had at best, one chance, and all you have to do is look at him to see that this is very possibly his last chance.”
A loud cough echoed from behind the closed door, followed by the sound of phlegm splattering against the hard linoleum floor. Tara stepped to the widow and watched as Elvis rolled over and fell back to sleep. “Dave, you once told me you envisioned yourself becoming the type of doctor who might have to take chickens and eggs instead of cash, the type of doctor who’d never refuse an uninsured patient. Well, I’m telling you this man’s insurance has run out, and you’re turning your back on him. Why? Because his name’s Elvis Presley? Because it’s too risky? Because we might fail? Sorry, Dave, that’s not good enough. This man is extremely ill, he’s in urgent need of help, and we’re in a unique position to offer him that help.”
Dave opened his mouth to rebut but seemed at a loss for words.
“We’re going through with this, Dave,” Paul assured his friend. “We need your help. We want you with us. But whether you’re with us or not, we’re going through with this.”
Dave scanned the pills, files, keys, and magazines covering the desk, eyes pausing on a boating magazine. The ship had already set sail, with his best friends in all the world on board, and there he stood with his feet planted firmly on the dock, hands grasping the boat’s railing—body stretching, stretching, seconds from falling into the abyss.
Dave reluctantly reached out and picked up the file labeled EAP. “Rob’s really in this, too?”
“He said he wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Paul answered.
“Everyone’s in but you, Dave,” Brooks said, “and I have to admit, jail won’t be much fun without you.”
The trace of a smile appeared on Dave’s face. As his mind raced back and forth between staying and leaving, his smile vanished. Both choices left him cold, but deep down he knew there was only one way out of this mess, for himself and his friends. He had to climb aboard this ship of fools and help them save Elvis. “Unbelievable,” he said, shaking his head. He opened the file, scanned the first page, then looked up at his friends. “Anyone got the name of a good lawyer?”
“Yes!” Paul and Tara replied.
“All for one and one for all,” Brooks said excitedly.
“You won’t regret it,” Tara said, giving Dave another big hug.
“I already regret it,” Dave replied.
Paul’s heart leaped as he stepped inside the lockup to check on Elvis. The last piece of the puzzle had just fallen into place, and it was a very big piece. Paul could not imagine taking on a venture of this magnitude without Dave’s help. He watched Elvis’ chest rise and fall a moment before rejoining his friends.
“Now might be a good time to start our first briefing,” Paul said. “Dave, I bet you have a ton of questions.”
“Where are the cops?” Dave asked.
“I think I nabbed him without sounding any alarms,” Paul answered. “His guards might not even know he’s gone yet, and when they make that unpleasant discovery, they’ll be slow to call the cops.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because his drug use, mood swings, gun play, and between-concert disappearances haven’t exactly been good publicity,” Paul answered. “And judging from the contents of his coffee table, his guards were mixin’ cocaine and Jack Daniel’s before crashing for the night.”
“His Memphis Mafia has had quite a bit of experience covering for him,” Tara said. “We think they’ll try to cover up their own negligence, clean out all the illegal drugs, look for notes and clues, and perhaps use a private security firm to help them search for the King as quietly as possible—before calling the police. All this will take time, however, and during that time, I’ll be working hard to convince Elvis to stay.”
“We’re hoping he’ll be dried out enough in a few days to make an intelligent decision,” Paul said. “If he elects to stay, we’ll ask him to call his family and friends to tell them he’s okay and that for health reasons, he’s decided to take an extended leave of absence.”
Dave studied his friends a moment. “Sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you.”
Tara smiled. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Dave looked up at the basement ceiling. “How long can we expect to keep him hidden down here?”
“We’re hoping for three or four days,” Paul answered, “depending on his behavior.”
“Then what?” Dave asked.
Paul looked at Brooks.
“I found this old, five-bedroom ranch house about an hour from here,” Brooks replied, “just past Lake Travis. Tara named it The Vineyard because of the dried-up grapevines out back. It’s very secluded. The closest neighbors are a mile away.” He glanced toward Elvis’ cell. “Perfect for anyone wanting a little anonymity. Rent will cost us $300.00 a month. I’ve already paid the security deposit, and our landlord’s letting us rent it month to month. So, if Elvis decides not to accept our little invitation, we can get our deposit back and forget the whole thing.”
“What’s in his system right now?” Dave asked.
“We won’t know for sure until we have his blood and urine tested,” Tara answered. “Based on our research, he goes down with a strong mixture of sedatives, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills—his bedtime snack.” She used the envelope to scoop the scattered pills into a large pile. “This is his breakfast in bed—basically, a strong mixture of amphetamines, antidepressants, and appetite suppressants.” She held up a bright yellow capsule. “This one is a synthetic form of heroin. Highly addictive.” She returned the pills to their envelope. “You can bet, at some point during the next few days, he’ll contemplate killing to get this envelope.”
“Vital signs?” Dave asked.
Tara opened the file and read. “Blood pressure—160 over 90. Temperature—98.7. Weight—260. He’s pretty congested, either from a cold, sinus infection, or allergies. I have a friend, a retired physician named Dr. Smith, who has 20 years’ experience helping drug-abuse patients. He owes me a favor, and I’ve called it in. He’ll examine Elvis today, complete with blood and urine analysis. He’s also agreed to be on call the next few months, if needed.”
“Must have been a big favor,” Dave commented.
“It was,” Tara replied.
“Next?” Paul asked.
“How long do you plan on keeping him at the ranch house?” Dave asked.
“Five months,” Paul answered. “Through mid-August. We think he deserves at least that much time to get his life back together.”
“Five months is an awfully long time,” Dave said. “What about his friends and family members? What about his music, his concert schedule? What about his daughter?”
“He’s used to spending months at a time away from his family,” Paul replied. “As for his concerts.” He looked at Tara.
“During the past five years, Elvis has been operating under an extremely grueling concert schedule,” Tara replied. “One year alone, he gave 165 live performances, a daunting task for even a young, healthy Elvis. For five years, he’s been sacrificing his physical and mental health so the show could go on. For the next five months, the show will not be going on.” Tara thought about Lisa Marie. “I am a little concerned about the length of time he’ll be spending away from his daughter. After he’s through withdrawal and well into recovery, we can discuss flying her out for a visit.”
Paul noticed Dave’s concerned expression. “The first few months will be hectic, all right, because of our classes and work schedules. But Rob should be able to take over a lot of the watches during April and May, since he won’t be working or taking classes this spring. None of us planned to take summer classes, so if we can just make it until June, things should get a lot easier.”=
Dave closed his eyes, recalling Elvis’ lifeless body sprawled across the plastic-covered mattress. “He’ll be under a lot of stress.”
Brooks looked up from his legal pad. “Dave, you’re beginning to rain on our parade.”
“No, he’s not,” Tara defended. “He’s asking important questions, and I seem to recall you having similar concerns.”
“Yes, well, that was before . . .”
“Before you saw a golden opportunity to write a best seller?” Tara joked.
“Well, well,” Dave scoffed, “that should come as as no surprise to anyone. Brooksie’s just in this for the money, the root of all evil.”
“Let’s just say I became more enthusiastic once my own role was clarified,” Brooks replied.
“Getting back to your concerns,” Tara said to Dave. “Yes, withdrawal and recovery will be difficult for Elvis—the process is difficult for all our patients. Are you afraid he won’t be up to the challenge?”
“I just want a glimpse of the big picture—the worst-case, best-case scenarios.”
Tara looked at Paul.
“Worst-case,” Paul replied, “something happens to him during the next few days, before he’s made his decision to stay, before he’s contacted Memphis. We all go to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.00.”
The basement walls began slowly closing in on Elvis’ kidnappers.
“And the best-case scenario?” Dave asked.
Paul looked at Tara.
“Elvis gets his life back,” Tara replied, standing. The walls stopped. “He experiences health, happiness, and a future that he in large part, controls himself.” The walls moved back as Tara walked to the lockup to look inside. “In a nutshell, he gets everything he’s not getting now.”
“We’re hoping for the best-case scenario,” Paul said. “To this end, our short-term goal will be to keep him safe, secluded, and far away from drugs. Because Tara has a lot more experience helping addicts than the rest of us, she’ll be calling the shots. Any other questions?”
Dave thought for a second. “I’m sure I’ll have more later, but I can’t think of any now.”
“I had better check on our other patients,” Tara replied. “If they’re sleeping soundly, I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll go with you and check on our male patients,” Brooks said, accompanying Tara.
Paul watched the basement door shut then listened for the sound of footsteps ascending the staircase before speaking. “Dave, I might have one more, small reason for kidnapping Elvis, which I might have neglected to tell the others.”
“Finally, we get to the bottom of this insanity,” Dave replied.
Paul took a deep breath. “Remember Miss Jamison, our high school counselor?”
“Sure, how could I forget her? Every boy at DeSoto High had the hots for that woman, myself included. She moved to New York after our sophomore year. I heard she’s become a successful psychologist.”
“Yes, she has, I got a card from her last Christmas. Anyway, after one of my high school fisticuffs, she informed me that sixteen was a little old to be fighting over ones childhood idol. She said most young men do good to handle one emotion and that when it came to Elvis, I seemed to be juggling quite a few. She described it as a big weight on my shoulders, a weight that could grow heavier if it wasn’t addressed and resolved. She suggested counseling. I suggested she mind her own business. Like any teenager with half a brain, I completely blew her off. I wasn’t crazy. I didn’t need counseling.”
Dave chuckled. “Miss Jamison thought everyone needed counseling. I wish she’d called me in for a few sessions. If she’d worn her dresses any shorter she would’ve had to counsel me for trying to jump her bones.”
Paul grinned. “Yes, but with me, I think she might have been on to something. I’ve matured a little since high school. I’m majoring in psychology, myself. And during the long drive back from Memphis, I kept wondering if what I was really doing was some sort of attempt to resolve this matter the only way I knew how.”
Dave leaned back, struck a reflective pose, then burst out laughing. He stood and peered through the window at Elvis. “Well, sir, I’ll say this for you. If that’s what this is really all about, you certainly have taken the bull by the horns.” The two friends were still laughing when Tara and Brooks returned to the basement.
Tara stepped inside Elvis’ lockup and soon returned, leaving the door wide-open. “What did you say he had to eat last night?” she asked Paul.
“Cheeseburgers, fries and a soda,” Paul answered, grinning at Dave.
“If you men wouldn’t mind, there’s half-digested cheeseburgers, fries, and soda all over the floor in there.”
Paul’s grin quickly vanished, causing Dave to laugh.
While the others cleaned up the mess, Tara asked Elvis a series of health-related questions, but his responses were unintelligible, and he quickly fell back to sleep.
“I can’t keep my eyes open either,” Paul said. “I think I’ll take a nap in one of the lockups.”
“Paul, you should really go home and get some sleep,” Tara replied. “We can handle things here.”
“What about you, Dave?” Paul asked. “I robbed you of a good night’s sleep.”
“I got more than you, and how can I possibly sleep now? I’ll keep watch until my shift starts upstairs.”
“Thanks, Dave,” Paul replied.
“Does this phone work?” Dave asked.
“Yes,” Tara answered.
“I’ll call the nurse’s station when he wakes up. He’ll probably want to use the toilet, and I have a feeling that’ll be a real chore.”
“I can be back at ten,” Paul said, glancing at his watch. “That’ll give me six hours sleep. I’ll keep the phone by my bed in case something happens.”
“Nothing will happen,” Brooks said. “Get some sleep. We’ll brief you at ten.”
Paul stood to leave then paused. “What if someone tries to come down here?”
Tara smiled at her exhausted friend. “We’ve discussed the possibility countless times, but for Dave’s benefit, we should probably discuss it once more. The basement’s off limits to all our patients. Staff only comes down here for supplies, and I’ve just supplied the nurse’s station, both dorms, and all three restrooms. We’ve also installed a new lock on the basement door, and we’re the only ones with keys.” Tara removed two keys from her chain and handed them to Dave. “One’s to the basement door, and the other’s to the lockup.”
“Thanks,” Dave replied.
“I’ll be in the nurse’s station if anyone needs me,” Brooks said, picking up his pen and pad. “Dave, I’ll smuggle you down some breakfast after our upstairs briefing.”
“Thanks,” Dave said.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” Tara said to Paul. “I could use some fresh air.”
Tara held Paul’s arm as they climbed the basement stairs, knowing he had mixed emotions about leaving. She also knew he needed sleep—a big day lay ahead. As they stepped outside into a cool breeze, goose bumps formed on her bare arms. She pulled Paul closer. “When this is over, I’d like to visit the coast for a few days. Perhaps Corpus.”
Paul closed his eyes to picture Tara walking along a white, sandy beach, half-nude, her bare feet stepping just where the waves were bestowing their treasures. He visualized an aqua-green ocean complimenting her jade-green eyes as one of her breasts slid out from beneath the strands of her long hair. He shook the image away as Tara waited patiently for some reply. Paul’s tired mind, however, was somewhat confused by the remark. Was she asking him to go with her to Corpus, or does she want him to check her mail and water her houseplants like last time?
“Corpus sounds like a good idea,” Paul replied. “Perhaps we’ll get some time off for good behavior.”
Tara laughed, studying her partner in crime. “You did a good job with Dave.”
“Thanks, so did you.”
“And you and Mr. Brooks were right to save him until last.”
“We know the conscious of the Musketeers pretty well. Right now, his main motivation for helping is a strong desire to keep us all out of jail.”
Tara smiled, but as her thoughts turned to Elvis, her face saddened. “It was a shock seeing him like this. I pretty much knew what to expect, but it was still a shock.”
“Be careful, Tara,” Paul said, as they reached his car. “Looks can be deceiving. When those drugs wear off . . .”
“Thanks, but I can handle myself.”
“I know you can—but if something were to happen to you—I—I.”
Tara blushed then impulsively kissed her friend on the lips. “Don’t worry, honey. I’ll be fine. Now you go home and get some sleep.”
As Tara spun to walk away, Paul could feel the sudden burst of heat rushing to his face. Although he had imagined it often, they had never kissed, and she had never called him honey. He watched until she was safely inside the building, his face beaming. Wow. And all he had to do was kidnap the King.