Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Shooting Elvis

by Robert Eversz

“Whip smart . . . Best described as punk noir, it takes the sardonic bite of Raymond Chandler and sets it to the mosh-pit madness of Green Day. An exciting and daringly original book.” –Boston Globe

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date May 21, 1997
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3501-8
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $12.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date December 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9636-1
  • US List Price $12.00

About The Book

Thelma & Louise meet Pulp Fiction in this pop-noir thriller.

Shooting Elvis is a highly charged, action-packed thriller about a California good Girl gone bad. Cute, blond Mary Alice Baker delivers a briefcase to a stranger at LAX for her Harley-driving boyfriend. When it explodes and levels a terminal, Mary becomes an instant terrorist and quickly transforms herself into Nina Zero-punk fugitive, thief, private eye, and new darling of the shock-hungry media. Her quest to discover what all the cash and blood are about drive this fiercely intense narrative to its explosive ending.

Praise

“Whip smart . . . Best described as punk noir, it takes the sardonic bite of Raymond Chandler and sets it to the mosh-pit madness of Green Day. An exciting and daringly original book.” –Boston Globe

“An often funny, often violent, ripping roller-coaster ride laced with black humor, acid wit, and dead-on observations about life, fame and fortune in the late 1990s.” –The Independent

“A stylish, hilariously cynical, high-action, pop-noir thriller . . . It’s not often you find a novel that combines good old hard-boiled smart talk with feisty feminism, punk fashion and references to Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. What a blast.” –Booklist

Shooting Elvis is first-rate. . . . Eversz does everything right. . . .And the writing gleams.” –Richmond Times

“Eversz’s novel reads like The Catcher in the Rye with high explosives.” –The Daily Telegraph (London)

“Eversz, a master of plot and one-liners, has turned the old Raymond Chandler tradition on its ear with his terrifically resourceful heroine. He is also a devastatingly funny social critic.” –New City Lit

Shooting Elvis is so hard-boiled it bounces.” –David Lawton

Shooting Elvis sets a new standard for hip and dangerous storytelling.” –Wendy Hornsby

Excerpt

1

I don’t have any experience writing stuff down. I like to take photographs. That’s how I see things. Don’t know how to go about telling my life story. Most days I spend staring at photographs taped to the walls, thinking about the way things turned out. Some of the photographs are self-portraits I took my last month on the outside, when everything started to change. The way I looked, how I thought, everything. There’s a picture of my friend Cass, then one of my mom, took it the last time I had dinner home. A couple newspaper and magazine clippings are up there too. They remind me how infamous I’ve become, how a nice girl like me wound up in a place like this.

The first picture on the wall, I look like I’m about seventeen years old going to a Halloween party. I took it one day at Hansel & Gretel’s Baby Photo Studio, where I used to work.

The owner, who was kind of deranged, called Hansel & Gretel’s the first theme-park baby photo studio, had little rooms built to look like the fairy tale and equipped each with a camera and minimum-wage kid dressed up like Hansel or Gretel. I was one of the Gretels. His idea was make the kids want to smile, do volume business at the same time. He used to say to us, You smile the kid smiles, the kid smiles the parent smiles, you’re not just taking baby photos, you’re in the smiling business.

In the photograph, my blond hair is in pigtails, I have red rouge shaped like big dots on my cheeks, wear a green jumper, a little yellow Gretel hat. My arms are akimbo and I’m smiling. I look like one of those wooden dolls on strings, only you can’t see who’s holding the strings, making me dance. I worked there three years, got as high as assistant manager, made nine dollars seventy-five cents an hour, minus tax. More money than I ever thought I’d make.

The last day I worked there, July it was, a customer came into the studio with his little boy. The boy was about three years old, had dark brown eyes, a wild spray of hair at the crown of his head. The customer gripped the boy by his wrist, carried him into the shop that way. The boy’s shoes flailed two inches above the ground like he was hung on a rope. He slung the boy onto the desk, told him to shut up. The kid hadn’t said a word. I listened to the customer tell me what he wanted, smiled, pretended I hadn’t heard it all a million times before. The kind of guy thinks smacking his kid around teaches him to be a man, that was him.

The boy fidgeted like all kids do, thought better, stopped, stared ahead. I caught his eye, gave him the bright flash of teeth we called the portrait smile, because it usually makes the kid smile back and you can take the picture with him looking happy. This convinces Grandma and Grandpa and all the aunts and uncles that the kid is the darlingest angel on earth, even if he is in the middle of developing neuroses going to torment him the rest of his life. The boy lit up seeing me smile. I lifted my hand to give him a reassuring pat. Normal enough thing to do to a kid. But the boy jerked away. It wasn’t just shyness. I saw the change come over his eyes. He was afraid. Thought I was going to hit him. I’d seen it before. A kid gets slapped around all the time, any sudden movement at his face and he flinches.

I led the boy down the gingerbread path, didn’t stop at the Black Forest, the Gingerbread House, the Witch’s Kitchen, we went straight into the studio outfitted like Hansel’s Toyshop. I hoped the toys might bring him out. Hansel’s Toyshop had three standard shots. Kid on rocking horse, kid on tricycle, kid with giant stuffed tiger. The boy gave the rocking horse a push, watched the carved wooden head bob up and down. His father coaxed him, slapped the saddle a couple times. The boy’s eyes wandered, saw the giant tiger, looked up at me. I gave an encouraging nod. He went after the tiger in that quick scrambling way little kids can move. His dad stood up, walked over, jerked the boy by his arm, sat him down on the rocking horse. The boy let out a shriek went through me like a bullet.

The picture of my mom, she was standing in the kitchen, by the sink. I had a roll of high-speed black-and-white film in my camera. The look is big-grained, jagged, dark. Mom was turning toward me when I took the exposure. The movement blurs the vertical black and white stripes of her apron. She holds a stainless-steel saucepan in a dishrag under her right arm, cradles it with all the tenderness of a mother and child. The kitchen light shines above and to the left of her head. The light glances white hot across the side of her face, drops into deep shadow where the slope of her forehead crests. The eye nearest the light is trapped by the washed-out brightness of her skin. The other eye is completely lost to darkness.

I took the picture before a dinner of pork chops, applesauce, mashed potatoes, and buttered green beans. Pop was there. So was my oldest brother, Ray. Pop and Ray are machinists together in the same factory. Pop walked into the kitchen about six P.M., still in his work clothes, snapped a bottle of Bud out of the fridge, sat at the kitchen table. Mom and I were peeling potatoes, talking just to talk. We shut up when he came through the door. He turned the kitchen chair around so he could prop up his elbow while he drank, coiled an arm around the rungs on the back of the chair for balance. The muscles of his arms flexed below rolled-up sleeves, made the tattoo wolf on his biceps strut. In between slugs, he tapped the base of the beer bottle against the back of the chair, the rhythm slow, like the drumbeat of a slave galley.

I’m his youngest child. I’m not sure he really ever liked me much, but I could get away with things the others couldn’t. My sister, she wound up being not much good, up in Washington State somewhere drinking her life away. My other two brothers have problems too, don’t come around anymore. I was the normal one. I was the one without problems. I was the one who tried to sweet-talk Pop out of his angrys. That was my role. I walked up behind, kissed him on the cheek. He wiped at the spot like I left some lipstick behind, wanted to rub it out. I messed his hair a little. He pushed me away, gave me a hard stare., said, “The way you come begging around the house, worse than a cat rubbing for table scraps.”

“I was invited.”

“Who invited you?”

“You did.”

“I musta been drunk.”

He was. A couple minutes after he said I should come again for dinner, he passed out on the kitchen table. He called that falling asleep after work. But I didn’t say anything about it. I was a good girl. Talked like one. Looked like one. Long blond hair, pink lipstick, matching nails, just a trace of eyeliner, matching heart earrings, pink cotton blouse, knee-length skirt, espadrilles.

Pop said, ‘maybe if you knew how to cook for yourself, you’d find a man, not come pestering us all the time.”

I answered, “Not my fault there’s no men out there like you.”

Pop put the beer bottle to his lips, said, “Goddamn right.”

WHAM! A sudden impact noise turned our heads. It was Mom. She was tenderizing the meat. The pork chops were spread out on wax paper. She had a wooden mallet in her hand, was laying into the pork chops like driving railroad spikes. I wondered what she thought about every time she raised the mallet and brought it down.

Pop nudged Ray, who sat the next chair over, quiet as a mirror image. He said, “The girls nowadays, they all gotta be career girls.”

Ray was thirty-eight and a bachelor, which Pop didn’t think was right. To Pop’s way of thinking, Ray should be married, and would be if the present generation of women was any damn good. But Ray was a strong worker and his own man, so Pop never pressed him much. Ray hardly ever answered Pop directly. A grunt or shrug was about as vocal as he got. It avoided argument. I think that was the secret to his sticking around so long.

Pop said, “The girls nowadays, they got no time for men, unless it’s time to screw. Isn’t that right?”

He stared straight at me when he said this, dared me to talk back. I just wanted to stay out of trouble. I chopped the green beans for Mom, slivered some almonds to mix with the beans later. Pop got another beer from the fridge, sat back down. I felt his eyes on my back as I lit the gas and dropped the butter into the pan, to mix with the green beans. Mom and I glanced at each other, wondered if it was safe to talk. Talk was important to us. The subject didn’t matter as much as the talking. It was the second Thursday in the month, when she always went to the hairdresser, so I said her hair looked great. She gave the bouffant a reassuring pat, asked, “You have a good day at work today?”

I didn’t tell her about the boy, what happened in the studio. I didn’t tell her I didn’t like working there anymore but didn’t know what else to do. It’s never any fun listening to somebody complain about what a rotten job they have. When I talked about work, I tried to make it sound exciting, because I think Mom was proud that I was a professional photographer, no matter how low on pay and prestige.

Pop said, “You two keep gabbing, we’re never gonna get to eat.”

WHAM! Mom went back to pounding the pork chops.

Pop half-shouted across the kitchen, “Hey! You still going out with that bum, what’s-his-name?”

“Which particular bum you talking about?”

“You know which one. The kid with the motorcycle. The one looks like he was born out of a pig’s asshole.”

Pop meant Wrex. Wrex was sort of my boyfriend. I say sort of because we’d only been going together for two months, and Wrex wasn’t too dependable. He probably had other girls besides me, even if I never caught him with one. Pop knew about him because he saw us together once on Wrex’s bike. Pop couldn’t really do anything because I was twenty-four, had my own apartment. But if he’d ever caught me with a guy like Wrex when I was seventeen, I’d have got the crap beat out of me.

I said, ‘me and Wrex are just friends.”

I lied a lot around my family, to make things go easier.

Pop said, “I should hope to hell so. I should hope to hell you still got a little common sense left.”

Ray grunted. That was his way of agreeing. Ray looks just like Pop. Dresses like him. Wears his hair like him. Except he doesn’t talk as much, doesn’t get the same case of angrys Pop gets. The big difference in our ages meant he wasn’t around much when I was growing up. He joined the navy when I was just a baby. Did four tours of duty, then quit to join Pop at the machine shop, turning out custom parts as a subcontractor for Northrop during the boom-boom years of defense spending, when the government was throwing dollars at everything that promised to gun down, run over, spy on and blow up the Soviets.

There was something about the way Pop and Ray were sitting that I wanted to hold in my hand and study. I went to get my camera bag. I knew Pop would get angry if I brought out my camera, because he didn’t like me taking pictures. He couldn’t understand it was an obsession for me. He thought a camera was something you took out when somebody had a birthday or came to visit. The idea I took photos to understand things about the world and myself made him suspicious, like maybe I was too stupid to understand that the world is a straightforward place where you have to work hard and support yourself and your family and then relax a little after, and art is for people who don’t have to work for a living and unnecessary to guys like him, unless you consider television or action pictures art. Once, when I was about sixteen, I tried showing him some photos I took. He looked at them for half a minute, said I shouldn’t waste my time. It used to hurt me. Now I’ve accepted it’s just the way he is, and when I started to work at Hansel & Gretel’s, photography suddenly became more okay with him, because I was making some money at it. He could understand working for money, where he couldn’t understand working to be something you weren’t but wanted to be.

I composed the picture in my head before I took the camera from my bag. I wanted to take the shot looking up at Pop’s pit-bull profile. I wanted him to look powerful, legs sprawled, right elbow resting on the chair back, hand cupped around a beer as he watched Mom off camera. Ray I placed in the right background, his clothes, hairstyle and posture an exact echo of Pop’s, down to the way they held their beer bottles with the label facing the palm. I set the f-stop and shutter speed inside my bag, like I was rummaging for something. Then I lifted the camera, framed, pulled the trigger.

It was the shot I wanted, but then something more interesting happened. Pop’s head snapped around. His eyes raged cinder-black, like I just slapped him. I took the second shot when the motion of Ray’s head toward the camera changed his face to a confused blur. I pulled the trigger a third time. In the photograph, Pop’s face streaks away and Ray stares at the camera, his pain and fear sharply etched upon the film. After I developed the roll, I couldn’t decide which shot I liked best, so I printed them together, as a triptych. It expresses a lot about how I feel toward my father.

The dinner didn’t go very well after I took out the camera. Pop didn’t say much, Ray didn’t talk at all. When Mom or I said anything, Pop glared. It shut us up. I couldn’t eat, watched him polish off two, three pork chops.

Pop said, “What’re you looking at?”

I said, “Nothing.”

Pop said, “You think I’m some kind of animal in a zoo?”

I said, “No sir.”

Pop said, “Then stop looking at me and eat.”

I said, “Yes sir.”

I lifted my fork, speared a single green bean, chewed it around.

Pop said, “I don’t want you taking pictures in the house anymore.”

I didn’t say anything, hoped if I didn’t move, didn’t breathe, he’d go away.

“Did you hear what I said, Mary?”

His saying my name was a sign of trouble. It was the kind of situation I used to clown my way out of, put on a little girl’s voice to make him smile, say, “You jus’ a gwumpy owld baar, Poppykins, gwowlin an” bein” scary, but you can’t foo me.” I didn’t say it this time, and he knew I wasn’t saying it.

He said, “You got something to say to me, say it.”

I didn’t say it. I didn’t look in his eye, because when Pop was angry you never looked in his eye.

“You got nothing to say? Then pass the pork chops.”

I said, “Get the pork chops yourself.”

He dropped his fork on the plate. It sounded like a gunshot.

“You do what I goddamn tell you to do or you’ll get out of the goddamn house.”

I backed my chair away, stood and said, “You want me out? Fine.”

Pop reached across the table, grabbed my arm, squeezed hard, stared hard. Mom looked down at her plate. Ray sat still as a snapshot, a rough wedge of pork chop suspended between his plate and mouth. My arm burned, I could feel the muscles crush and bleed, the bones snap.

Pop said, ‘sit. Down.”

I wished I had a camera in my hands to pull the trigger on him, so I could look at the images after, try to figure out where his anger came from. It didn’t make any sense, his anger. It didn’t come from us, his family. We were all terrified of him. It came from someplace else, deep inside like a beast roaring and clawing to get out of his chest.

I sat down.

He said, “Now. Apologize.”

I said, “I . . . I . . . I . . . I,” like I was some kinda stuck record.

Mom said, “Please dear, she’s crying.”

“I don’t give a good goddamn what she’s doing, she’s gonna apologize or she’s gonna sit here all night.”

I said, “I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted. Now pass me the pork chops.”

I passed him the pork chops, stared at my plate, listened to the sound of meat cut, chewed and swallowed. I asked, “Can I please be excused?”

Pop said, “No. Eat.”

Mom said, “Please, you see she’s upset.”

“You taking her side now?”

Nobody said anything. Pop slammed his palm flat on the table. The dishes, glasses jumped. I jumped.

Pop said, “Okay, go on. You’re excused.”

I ran out of the house.

Like I said before, I have the photograph of Mom up on the wall here. The photograph is about many things to me, but now it talks mostly about disappearing. Because the person in my mom seems to be erased by the light on the left side of her face and swallowed by shadow on the right. The film has trapped her in the act of vanishing. I notice now that the vertical black and white stripes on her apron are like the bars that surround me. I’ve stared at the photograph for over a year now, and I still find something new.