Another day of bed rest and I’d be ordering up Blades of Glory on pay-per-view. So I ratcheted myself to a standing position and let Jillian drive me to the police station to make my statement. Then we went to the Smithsonian with Larry and Elvis and Ginger, a bodyguard named Warren from a security firm Ginger had hired, and a bottle of Advil.
“Might as well give ol’ Dave a clear field,” I said, “let him plant his bugs in peace. Though I think he was kind of into the massage, once he got over the initial shock.”
Ginger drove a Mercedes, but it was a tight squeeze with the two big men in the car, and my back took immediate umbrage. I shifted so that my back was pinned against Warren’s steel-hard torso, and felt better.
“So, Ginger, are you my agent or is Hank my agent?” Elvis wanted to know. “I have received several offers to do product endorsements, and I think I’m supposed to refer them to my agent.”
“I’ll take a look at them,” she said. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea, if it projected the right image. Especially if you gave away the fees to child cancer victims or some cause like that.”
“Defender Security wants me to wear a cape, like Superman,” Elvis said, screwing his head around so that he could look at me. “Wouldn’t that be awesome, Hank? The King sometimes wore a cape when he was performing in Las Vegas. This one would have the Defender Security logo on it, in sequence.”
“Sequins,” I corrected.
We didn’t want to arouse suspicion by going straight to the exhibit we were most interested in, so we ambled past a lot of 18th- and 19th-century agricultural artifacts, First Ladies’ ball gowns, Roman coins, and Chinese vases before making our way to the Air and Space Museum and its permanent exhibit, “Visitors from Outer Space.” It was mostly photographic, but they did have scale models of two spaceships, a flying saucer and a cigar-shaped silver one that looked like a roadside diner. The control panels inside the models looked not unlike the one inside Larry and Elvis’s ship, but without the paddleball. The exhibit also featured several “life-size” models of extraterrestrials as they were depicted in popular culture. These included, in addition to the generic bald ghost with big eyes, James Arness as a rampaging carrot in The Thing, Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still, E.T., and a whole set from the Star Wars movies. They ran continuous audio of the 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds.
“Earth people have some funny ideas about people from other planets, Hank,” Elvis mused. “Why do they always think we are trying to invade?”
I glanced around and motioned for him to lower his voice. “Probably because they can’t translate ‘klaptok zisto.’”
“This one makes me sad,” he said, moving closer to inspect The Thing. “The Air Force ignored the scientist and burned the alien alive in the end.”
I admired his resistance to all the narrative cues intended to tell moviegoers whom to root for. Moviegoers in the fifties were not supposed to feel sad when the carrot bought it in the final reel.
“But I would still like to have my picture taken with him,” Elvis said, handing me his cell phone, “so I can post it to Facebook.” He slung one arm around the carrot’s shoulders, if that’s what they are, and grinned while I took his picture.
There were two banks of interactive question-and-answer games. I aced the ones on fifties sci-fi movies.
“Wow, you are really smart,” Elvis said.
“It’s called ‘dissertation avoidance,’ big guy.” I did not ace the questions based on the official government reports on UFOs—Project Sign, Project Grudge, Project Bluebook and all the rest. I remembered that there’d been a rise in UFO sightings in the late forties and early fifties, and accepted the theory that these were based on cold war paranoia. But when I said so to Larry, he shook his head.
“Earth was a popular tourist destination for Meloxxans from the XXantu Galaxy in those days,” he said. “Some of them were very careless.”
Elvis nodded. “The Meloxxans were attracted to your square dancing, Hank. They are a very mathematical people, and the geometry of the dances appealed to them. They are also, of course, a very long-lived people, and so they have time to cruise the galaxies. They have opposed the destruction of Earth in intergalactic councils, even though they do not come here often anymore.”
“They now go dancing in the Erlinalarian Galaxy,” Larry said.
This gave me so much to ponder that I fell silent for a while.
Elvis was studying the replica of Gort. “Is that what they mean by ‘heavy metal,’ Hank?” he said with a playful smile. Then he lowered his voice. “That suit is so lame! I would be seriously embarrassed to show up on Earth dressed like that. But I liked that movie. The spacemen in that movie were a lot like Larry and me, but not so friendly. They tried to warn the Earth, too, but I suppose they were not taken seriously because they were in a movie.”
The artifacts were sparse. For example, there was a broken tubular object, said to have been found in Colorado.
“What was it?” I asked Larry in a low voice. “Do you know?”
“A high-powered telescope,” Larry said. “It’s just a children’s toy in our culture, but since we don’t generally have a high estimation of Earthling sophistication, many tourists bring them for gifts. We have a closet full of them on the ship. Where I come from, they cost about the same as a flashlight here on Earth.”
A little boy stared at Elvis and pointed. “Mommy, look at that really, really tall guy! Is he a spaceman?”
The mother smiled apologetically as she seized the pointing hand. “He’s having a really hard time with the line between fact and fiction,” she said to Elvis, who flashed her his lopsided grin.
“Aren’t we all,” I muttered.
Ginger had already snagged his elbow.
“We’re going shopping?” he said.
She shook her head as she rushed him out. “Too much work to do.”
We followed in her wake like baby ducklings.
Larry was silent in the car as Ginger talked to Howard and Anna on her cell phone and Elvis chattered on about the exhibit. Then Elvis’s attention snagged on something and he turned his head to look as we drove past.
“Ginger, can we drive through a car wash?” he said. “I have never done that.”
I could tell that Ginger was on the verge of making her usual excuse about work, but she glanced at his eager face, and caught herself. “Sure,” she said. “Why not? There’s one two blocks up on the right.”
Elvis had called shotgun, and since that was the only seat in the car that could accommodate his frame, nobody had objected. As we inched along the car wash track, he leaned close to the windshield.
“Wow,” he said. “Far out! Look at the design the water makes on our window. Isn’t that way cool, Larry?”
But Larry didn’t respond.
“Larry is bummed because he doesn’t think humans will be able to understand our message,” Elvis told us. “He thinks you’re more interested in what aliens look like than in what we have to say. He thinks humans are easily distracted. It is like Hank’s semenotics, isn’t it? Earth people are more interested in the packaging than in the product. Lighten up, dude,” he said to Larry. “We can make sure they get it right.” Elvis’s speech was becoming a conglomeration of influences, from fifties expressions and Bobbie’s sixties slang to Pedro’s and George’s more contemporary patter to the language he heard on television and read on the Web.
“How?” Larry said.
“We have Ginger,” Elvis said. “Ginger will make sure they get it right.”
“What, exactly, do you expect them to get wrong?” Jillian asked. I was glad she was the one to ask, because I didn’t want to seem ignorant.
“Earth people are like people who live on an island, surrounded by water,” Elvis said. “They believe that they are by themselves because they can’t see anyone else around them. They lack imagination. It is like in New Mexico. They saw that we were different, and so they believed that we were communists. We don’t even know what communists are. Or it is like the pod people in that movie. Do you know the one I mean, Hank?”
“Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” I said.
“Why would we want to live inside the bodies of Earth people?” he said. “Why would anybody? That is just gross.” He shuddered.
“We fear that Earth governments might want to involve us in their petty squabbles,” Larry said.
Elvis nodded. “Immature minds, like Mr. Overstreet wrote about. They will want us to create world peace.”
“It would make us seem like local law enforcement,” Larry said.
“We don’t care about world peace at all,” Elvis said. “It’s interplanetary and intergalactic peace we care about.”
“We don’t care what you do with your own planet,” Larry said. “Much as we would hate to see it destroyed, it is your planet and therefore your responsibility.”
“You could fight each other until your species became extinct and we wouldn’t stop you,” Elvis agreed. “It’s only when you threaten other planets that we have to intervene.”
“Well, don’t worry, guys,” Ginger said, rejoining the conversation. “We’ll make sure they get it right. We start tomorrow, at a press conference in front of the Air and Space Museum. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m sure it’s the right venue.”
“I think the weather forecaster said it might snow tomorrow,” said Jillian in a small voice.
“Doesn’t matter,” Ginger said. “If we have to, we can hover the damned spaceship over us to keep the snow off, right, boys?”
“But will I be able to speak to all of the nations at once?” Larry said.
“A Washington press conference is the closest thing,” Ginger said. “And anyway, that’s just for openers. Elvis, Howard will be at the hotel in an hour to help you launch your blog. I’ll be working with Larry on his statement. Anna will be laying the groundwork for appearances in major television markets. Jillian will float. Oh, and get back to that screenwriter about a YouTube script. Hank, you’ll—.” She paused.
“I’m not seaworthy,” I said. “I’ll sink like an anchor.” I wasn’t fully upright yet, and my back was grateful that our tour had been cut short.
“You’ll consult,” she said.
“We should appear on the CBS television network, Ginger,” Elvis said. “It’s the most watched network. And CNN—that one is the most trusted name in news.”
“We’ll hit all of them,” she assured him.
“But first we’ll eat lunch, right, Ginger?” he said, as we blew past a McDonald’s and he turned to watch it recede from view.
“Lunch?” she said.
In the chaos that followed, lunch did appear, courtesy of room service and Jillian. So did an entire rack of men’s suits, a box of men’s ties, two printers and a fax machine, a sound crew, a voice coach, and a half-dozen consultants. After Elvis had collected all the new bugs, we set them under a stack of metal plate covers and put the tray in the hall. I spent the afternoon on the couch, giving away my opinion whenever anyone asked for it, and shifting the ice pack on my back.
“Yo, Hank, what do you think? Elvis wants to open his first blog, ‘Greetings, Earthlings,’ but I think too many people would miss the humor. What do you think?”
“Tone it down, big guy,” I said. “A lot of humorless people, including intelligence types, will be reading it.”
“Hank, we’ve narrowed it down to the brown or the gray.” Anna had a pencil stuck behind her ear and a hung suit in each hand. “What do you think?”
“Well, the brown’s warmer, friendlier, but the gray is more trustworthy and serious, I think,” I said. “I’d go with the gray.”
“Hank.” It was Ginger’s turn. “Is it ‘if I was the person in charge’ or ‘if I were the person in charge’?”
“If he was never in charge, it’s ‘were,’” I said. “Contrary to fact, so subjunctive mood.”
“I can never figure that out,” she said, and went back into the bedroom where she was holed up with Larry.
“Guys!” Anna called. “Jay Leno or David Letterman first?”
“If we want to be taken seriously, I say Letterman,” I said.
“Second,” said Jillian.
“Third,” said Ginger from the bedroom, “unless it’s going to be a guest host.”
“Good point,” said Jillian.
“If it’s going to be a guest host, find out who it’s likely to be,” Ginger said. “Ditto with Leno.”
At this point, Jillian was sitting on the couch with me, looking at some kind of media contacts list.
“What’s she doing?” I asked, worried. “Calling up Letterman and asking if they’d like to host an extraterrestrial?”
“No, she’s just making preliminary inquiries, leaving her phone number, that kind of thing,” she said. “She’ll never get through to anyone who matters with a story about an overgrown Elvis impersonator who saved two D.C. mugging victims. Not today, anyway. Tomorrow, they’ll find her phone number fast enough.”
“Hank, do you think it will hurt my image if I say that I hate easy listening and New Age music?” Elvis said.
“No, I think you’re allowed to have preferences,” I said.
“But not in Indiana during playoffs,” he said.
“Right. I also think you should be prepared to be inundated with samples of easy listening and New Age from enthusiasts who want to convert you. In fact, I think that Alex and the hotel staff need to know what they’re in for.”
“I think Ginger said that we’d brief Alex tonight before he leaves,” Jillian said.
“That’ll give him a good night’s sleep,” I said.
Swayed as much by Larry’s refusal to give up his parking place as by Jillian’s weather report, Ginger had decided that the press conference should be indoors after all. She had called the director of the Air and Space Museum and explained what we needed. He did some calling around to check up on Ginger’s reputation, and became convinced that she at least believed what she was saying, though he didn’t really seem to believe that the spaceship was parked in Rock Creek Park. The Secretary of the Smithsonian didn’t believe any of it. At some point that afternoon Larry, Ginger, and one of the security guards met up with the two men in Rock Creek to take them on a tour of the spaceship. They were suitably impressed and put the full resources of the museum at our disposal. The director didn’t even waste time rebuking Ginger for contacting him at the last minute. I was beginning to appreciate that folks in Washington were used to crisis. The press conference would be in front of the Air and Space Museum’s “Visitors from Outer Space” exhibit. We didn’t object to giving the Smithsonian a little free publicity.
I took it upon myself to call Jeremy, the stylist. “We need you to come up some time before noon tomorrow and change Larry back into himself again.”
“You guys are fun,” Jeremy said. “Kinky, but fun.”
At around five, Dave the masseur followed a consultant in from the hall. He was still wearing a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase. His smile looked a little uncertain.
“My man,” I said, and shook his hand. “The man with the magic hands.”
“You think so?” He looked pleased. “I came to see how you were doing, and if you wanted me to work on you some more.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Things are kind of busy around here today.”
Ginger appeared, her eyes on a legal pad. “Hank, is it ‘Larry and Elvis’s mission’ or ‘Larry’s and Elvis’s mission’?”
“The first one, if they have a joint mission that belongs to both of them,” I said. It felt good to be needed for a change—that is, it felt good to be able to contribute what few skills I possessed.
“And ‘Elvis’ just gets an apostrophe, right?” She looked up, then started when she saw Dave.
“No, it’s singular, so it gets apostrophe ess even though it ends in ess,” I said. “Now, if he’d picked the name ‘Jesus’ or ‘Moses’ or ‘Mister Rogers,’ I wouldn’t know what to tell you. The originals are exceptions to the rule, but I don’t know about their namesakes. Last I heard, Elvis hadn’t yet been promoted to their status.” I waved a hand at Dave. “Ginger, this is my massage therapist, Dave. Dave, our publicist, Ginger.”
They shook hands, and she left.
“What’s going on around here, anyway?” Dave asked, looking around. “You guys have a publicist?”
“Don’t ask me, I just work here,” I said.
“I thought your friends were trying to avoid publicity, not generate it,” Dave said. His eyes strayed to the list of media contacts Jillian had left on the coffee table.
“These days, Dave, you have to manage publicity,” I said, “or so they tell me. Having a publicist is like having a personal trainer.”
Elvis appeared. “Hank, would you like to read my first blog?”
He stopped short when he saw Dave, but from the way his eyes dropped to the briefcase, I got the impression he was seeing more than I was seeing.
I introduced them, and they shook hands.
“Listen, Dave,” I said, “thanks for stopping by to check on me. I appreciate it. But we are pretty busy today, so maybe you could come back another time.”
“Sure,” he said. “If I could just use your bathroom before I go—.”
“I think Jillian’s in there,” I said. “Sorry.”
He accepted defeat and left. Elvis looked at me. “Why does he want to bug the bathroom, Hank? That craps me out.”
“Creeps you out,” I corrected. “It creeps me out, too. I think he just doesn’t want to admit that his operation has been a total failure.”
I read Elvis’s first blog entry.
Hi, Everybody! it said.
My friends Ginger and Howard wanted me to start this blog so that you could learn something about me, so I said okay.
The first thing that people notice about me is that I’m tall and look like my favorite Earth person, Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley is my idol, and I was very sad when I returned to Earth and found out that he had died. We flew over Graceland once, but I want to go back and scatter sikshik flowers over his grave, which is what we do back home to show respect for someone who’s died. We don’t have live sikshik flowers, only dried ones because I forgot to water them, but those will work just as well if the feeling in my heart is true.
I would like to be a rock and roll singer like Elvis Presley, and my friend Robbie is going to teach me to play the guitar. We don’t have guitars where I come from, only kyztars, which are kind of like your harps, and brgmos, which are kind of like your flutes. Where I come from, people love to sing and dance, just like Earth people, except that everybody does it. Nobody worries about how good they look doing it. My partner Larry is a very good dancer. He says that he is not so good at singing, but he sounds okay to me. Sometimes we sing along with The Ed Sullivan Show to pass the time in outer space. Also, we can sing “Babaloo.”
Since we came back to Earth, I have learned about many other rock and roll singers, like Bill Haley and Sam Phillips and Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and Little Richie and Big Joe Turner, and also about the blues. I like salsa music, too, and I have been salsa dancing once. I have discovered that I like most kinds of Earth music, except easy listening and New Age.
Well, Howard says I should keep this short, so I will wait until tomorrow to tell you about more of the things I like about Earth culture. Peace out, Elvis.
I looked up to see Elvis watching me anxiously.
“Do you think it’s okay?” he asked.
“Terrific,” I said. “Nice, reader-friendly voice, lots of concrete examples.”
“Howard made me take out the part where I said that it would be a shame if Earth were destroyed after it had produced so much gravy music.”
Alex showed up around six, and we sat him down—Ginger and Larry and I— and told him what we’d announce to the world the next day.
“Outer space,” he said. “That’s where you’re from, you and Mr. Preston. And you’ve come to warn us about the possibility of total annihilation. I see.” He pinched the crease in his trousers.
“You’re taking this pretty calmly,” I said.
He shrugged. “It’s Washington. If I reacted to every threat of total annihilation that came down the pike, I wouldn’t last long here.” He turned to Larry. “Thanks for telling me. I’ll take appropriate measures to insure your security.”
He stood and shook hands. I put a hand on his shoulder. “And Alex, one more thing. I can’t tell you what to do, of course. You have to follow your own conscience. But we’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell Dave or any of your other intelligence contacts before the press conference tomorrow. We’d just as soon avoid a strong military presence. Wouldn’t be good publicity for the Marriott.”
“I think we’ll make this our little secret,” he said, “as long as you can give me your word that you don’t intend any kind of attack tomorrow.”
“Certainly not.” Larry was shocked.
We went to Citronelle in Georgetown for dinner, all of us plus Robbie and his girlfriend Eileen and a new Spartan Security bodyguard named Max. We spent an amount that approximated my annual salary, and I sat in a corner with a pillow behind my back. We toasted the success of our mission the next day, and when Eileen asked what that was, we told her and Max that we were holding a press conference. Everybody holds press conferences in D.C.—they are common as congressional pork—but neither Eileen nor Max objected to toasting one.