The last thing I wanted was another night on the town, but Elvis told me just to wear sneakers and jeans. Simon produced a black Spartan Security tee shirt for me to wear. Elvis put on his Hoya sweats, a Bob Marley tee-shirt he’d picked up on the street in Adams Morgan, and his own mammoth high-tops. There was a changing of the guard while I was dressing, so when we headed out in the Spartan security SUV, the Samoan brothers, Joe and Paul, were sitting up front. Larry was in the back with us, wearing khakis and a pullover. Everybody seemed to know where we were going except me.
It was already dark by the time we reached Georgetown, and Joe parked on the street. Paul took a gym bag out of the back. We turned onto the Georgetown campus and headed for a large building that looked like a fieldhouse. I followed the others inside, where the distinctive bouquet of sweat, fermented gym socks, dust, disinfectant, and floor wax confirmed my guess. The gorgeous Lydia was leaning up against a cinderblock wall with a basketball under her arm. The last time I’d seen her, she’d been salsa dancing in a sexy dress; now, she and the other people around her were all wearing shorts, tee shirts, and gym shoes. There were two other women and four men. Lydia was almost as tall as the tallest of the men, but not as tall, of course, as Elvis. When she spotted us, she launched herself off the wall like a released spring.
Elvis turned to me and grinned. “Surprise!” he said. “We are going to play basketball, Hank, like you do at home.”
To tell you the truth, something swelled in my throat. This activity had clearly been planned by Elvis as a pleasurable surprise for me—a gift. He had taken into account my tastes, but also my possible homesickness, not to mention my newly single status. He was beaming at me, ready to take delight in my happiness.
My back let out a yelp of protest. “Shut up,” I said to it under my breath. I grinned at Elvis. “Cool!” I said, rubbing my hands together. “Let’s do it.”
We played basketball. It wasn’t quite the way I played at home, because although my regular game was pretty intense, it was the intensity of non-athletes whose day-to-day exercise ran largely to turning pages, hefting small cylinders of chalk, and tapping keyboards. These people were good. It didn’t take long to figure out that some of them might actually be retired college players. Then there was the Elvis factor. It was a whole different game with a seven-foot center under the basket. He was easy to pass to, and putting the ball in the basket was no effort for him. But like most of us, he wasn’t content to play to his strengths. No, he was dying to dribble. And given his height and the quickness of his opponents, every time he put the ball on the floor, he lost it. Well, okay, not every time; his opponents, caught up in his enthusiasm, were cutting him a little slack. For his part, Elvis was clearly playing a more cautious game than he might have had he been surrounded by other indestructible seven-foot, metal-skinned players. He was quick to apologize if he thought he’d injured someone, though there was plenty of blame to go around.
Sitting out to catch my breath, I fell into conversation with a couple of tall onlookers dressed in Hoyas sweats.
“Big dude got game,” one of them said, nodding at Elvis.
I filed this remark away, knowing that it would please Elvis when he heard it.
Elvis called a foul on himself, and the other onlooker said, “Where he learn to play?”
I couldn’t tell whether or not they’d identified him as an alien visitor. If he sprouted an extra head, I had a feeling that it wouldn’t disrupt their cool, unemotional contemplation of his movement.
“I think mostly he learned from watching television,” I said.
One of the players threw an elbow in his direction and Elvis lost his balance. To avoid falling on someone else, he executed an undulating roll that ended in a hop that righted him.
“Which channel he watch?” said the second onlooker.
But when the game-ending injury happened, Elvis was nowhere near the injured player. This guy was the second tallest player on the court—a slender but muscular man with a head thick with blond curls like a big blond peony. His name was Sam. He moved in to take a charge, and went down hard. Somebody stepped on his ankle, and he yowled. Sitting on the floor, he shouted obscenities between clenched teeth as he reached for his ankle. All the color drained from his face.
Elvis looked around guiltily. Larry, who’d been sitting on the sidelines watching the game, got up and moved across the court. The onlookers and I followed.
Several players were crouched in a circle near Sam. Larry joined the circle of crouchers and reached out for the ankle.
“Don’t touch it, man,” Sam said. “It hurts like hell.”
“I’ll be very gentle,” Larry said in a calm voice. “Okay?”
Sam looked at him, then nodded.
Larry first positioned his hands on either side of the injured ankle, but very close. He left them there for a few minutes as we all stared at his hands. Then, very slowly, he wrapped them around the ankle and held it. Time passed. Eventually, he looked up at Sam. “Better?” he asked. Sam nodded.
“Can we take him to the hospital now?” Lydia asked.
“Yes,” Larry said. “The bone is broken, so he’ll need treatment. Just make sure he doesn’t put any weight on it.”
So we all ended our evening at the hospital, minus a few players who had to go to work or go home to study. Seven of us sat in the waiting room at the Emergency Department, where a broken ankle was a low priority. They gave Sam an ice bag and pointed him to a roomful of plastic chairs.
“Man, I don’t know what you did,” he said to Larry, “but it was like you drained the pain right out of it.”
Larry just smiled.
On the way over from the fieldhouse, a worried Elvis had asked whether the injury was his fault. I’d patted his shoulder. “No, big guy, you had nothing to do with it.”
You could feel the recognition circle the waiting room like an electric current. It happened more slowly than it might have if we’d been hanging out in a place where people weren’t so distracted by their own problems, but eventually, everybody in the room had noticed the seven-foot guy in Hoyas sweats who looked like Elvis Presley. Everybody except maybe a young couple at the far end of the room who seemed too wrapped up in their misery.
Two little girls approached, holding hands. They were all skin and bones with little pot bellies and wispy light-brown hair, fragile as baby birds. The older one waited to be acknowledged, but the younger one pointed at Elvis and asked, “Are you the spaceman?”
“Yes, that’s me,” he said, fluttering his fingertips against his chest.
The older one gave Larry an apologetic look, and said, “Our mom said we could come over and say hi.”
Larry smiled and offered his hand. “My name is Larry, and my friend’s name is Elvis. What’s your name?”
We hadn’t noticed the young couple’s disappearance, but their return disrupted the exchange of pleasantries between Larry and the sisters. The woman’s sobs seemed to demand a respectful silence. The two little girls turned to watch her, big-eyed. The man had his arm around her, and was speaking softly, but he, too, was crying. They headed straight for us.
She stopped a few feet away. She was a sturdy young woman deflated by grief. She swiped a hand across her cheek and said to Larry, “I know who you are. You’re the spaceman that came a long time ago. They said on T.V. that they shot you and you were dead and now you’re back. My baby—.” She faltered, then made a visible effort to control her grief. “They told me that my baby was dead, but she can’t be dead. She’s only two. If you could see her—she’s just the sweetest little girl, so bright and lively and she loves everybody. Can’t you please bring her back to me? Can’t you?”
She made her request and stopped. Everything stopped. Her sobs hung suspended in the air around us.
Larry’s eyes were soft with pity. I expected him to explain to her, gently, that he couldn’t bring back the dead. But a glance at Elvis gave me pause, and I looked back at Larry with renewed interest.
Larry was taking his time, with good reason. The success of his mission might depend on his answer. If he couldn’t do anything, he had to find the right words to tell these grieving parents so. If he could, and if he became known as a miracle worker—well, I didn’t have time to sort through all the possible ramifications, but I knew that they would be immense. Right here, right now, he had to weigh them against two broken hearts and the life of a little girl who had existed in the universe for less than the blink of an eye.
“I will help if I can,” he said at last, very softly. “But you must understand that only the Almighty Spirit has the power of life and death. If the Spirit wishes me to succeed, I will.”
I glanced around. In spite of the silence, most of the other people in the waiting room had not been close enough to hear the exchange—one of the advantages of traveling in large groups. When Larry rose and followed the woman and her husband through the automatic doors onto the ward, I asked Elvis, “Can he do it?”
Elvis shrugged one shoulder. “It depends,” he said.
“Chuktok?” I said softly.
He nodded. “The Almighty Spirit must wish it, and the little girl must wish it, too. And there are other considerations.”
To the others, I said in a low voice, “Okay, guys, listen up. If he pulls this off, you have to keep quiet about it, okay? He’s got a mission here, and it doesn’t involve healing the human race, one person at a time. Got that?”
Sam was called shortly afterward, and disappeared through the automatic doors. When Larry returned, alone, his expression was so serious that we all assumed he’d failed. We took leave of our new friends. Elvis and I were invited to play anytime, while we were in town.
Outside, I put a hand on Larry’s shoulder. “I’m sorry you failed, man,” I said. “At least you tried.”
He looked up. “I didn’t fail,” he said.
“You didn’t?” I said.
“No,” he said. “The life force was very strong in that little girl. She revived.”
We all exchanged looks of surprise, except for Elvis, who looked as somber as Larry.
“Then why the long face?” I said. “I mean, why aren’t you happy?”
“It is a serious thing,” he said, “a sacred thing, to be permitted to heal in that way. And besides, I am trying to figure out how I’m going to tell Ginger what I’ve been up to.”