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Original Essays | June 20, 2014

Lauren Owen: IMG The Other Vampire

It's a wild and thundery night. Inside a ramshackle old manor house, a beautiful young girl lies asleep in bed. At the window, a figure watches... Continue »

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2 Remote Warehouse Mystery- A to Z
25 Remote Warehouse Mystery- A to Z

Little Elvises (Junior Bender Mysteries)


Little Elvises (Junior Bender Mysteries) Cover




The month’s motel was Marge ’n Ed’s North Pole at the north

end of North Hollywood. The advantage of staying at the North

Pole was that even the small number of people who knew I’d

lived in motels since my divorce from Kathy would never figure

I’d stoop that low. The disadvantage of staying at the North Pole

was everything else.

Generally speaking, motels have little to recommend them,

and the North Pole had less than most. But they made me a moving

target, and I could more or less control the extent to which

anyone knew where I was at any given time. I’d been divorced

almost three years, and the North Pole was my 34th motel, and

far and away the worst of the bunch.

I’d been put into Blitzen. In an explosion of creativity, Marge

’n Ed had decided not to number the rooms. Since Clement

Moore only named so many reindeer in “The Night Before

Christmas,” Marge ’n Ed had pressed Rudolph into service and

then come up with some names on their own. Thus, in addition

to the reindeer we all know and love, we had rooms named

Dydie, Witzel, Tinkie, and Doris.

Doris wasn’t actually being passed off as a reindeer. She was

Marge ’n Ed’s daughter. Marge, who grew confidential as the

evenings wore on and the level in the vodka bottle dropped, had

told me one night that Doris had fled the North Pole with someone

Marge referred to as Mr. Pinkie Ring, a pinkie ring being, in

Marge’s cosmology, the surest sign of a cad. And sure enough,

the cad had broken Doris’s heart, but would she come home?

Not Doris. Stubborn as her father, by whom I assumed Marge

meant Ed, whom I always thought of as ’n Ed. Ed was no longer

with us, having departed this vale of sorrows six years earlier. It

was probably either that or somehow orchestrate a global ban

on vodka, and death undoubtedly looked easier.

The string of Christmas lights that outlined the perimeter of

Blitzen’s front window blinked at me in no discernible sequence,

and I’d been trying to discern one for days. They sprang to life

whenever anyone turned on the ceiling light, which was the only

light in the room. I’d tried to pull the cord from the outlet, but

Marge ’n Ed had glued it in place.

“YouTube-dot-com,” Rina said on the phone. “Y-O-U-Tube,

spelled like tube. Aren’t you there yet?”

Something unpleasant happens even to the most agreeable of

adolescents when they talk to adults about technology. A certain

kind of grit comes into their voices, as though they’re expecting

to meet an impenetrable wall of stupidity and might have

to sand their way through it. Rina, who still, so far as I knew,

admired at least one or two aspects of my character, was no

exception. She sounded like her teeth had been wired together.

“Yes,” I said, hearing myself echo her tone. “I’ve managed

somehow to enter the wonderland of video detritus and I await

only the magical search term that will let me sift the chaff.”

Dad. Do you want help, or not?”

“I do,” I said, “but not in a tone of voice that says I’d better

talk really slowly or he’ll get his thumb stuck in his nostril


“Do I sound like that?”

“A little.”

“Sorry. Okay, the interview is called ‘Vincent DiGaudio

Interview.’ Have you got that?”

“Slow down,” I said. “Did you just ask me whether I can

follow the idea that the Vincent DiGaudio Interview is called

‘Vincent DiGaudio Interview’?”

“Oh.” She made a clucking noise I’ve never been able to

duplicate. “Sorry again.”

“Maybe I’m being touchy,” I said. “Thanks. Anything else?”

“Not on video. I’ll email you the links to the other stuff, the

written stuff. There’s not much of it. He doesn’t seem to have

wanted much publicity.”

“Wonder why,” I said. I figured there was no point in telling

her I was going to be getting involved with a mob guy. She might


She said, “But the FBI files are kind of interesting.”

“Excuse me?”

“Somebody used the Freedom of Information Act,” said my

thirteen-year-old daughter, “to file for release of a stack of FBI

files on the outfit’s influence in the Philadelphia music scene. Since

DiGaudio’s still alive and since he never got charged, his name is

blacked out, but it’s easy to tell it’s him because a lot of the memos

are about Giorgio. The files are on the FBI’s site, but I’ll send you

the link so you don’t have to waste time poking around.”

“The FBI site?” I said. “Giorgio?”

“Wake up, Dad. Everything’s online.”

Was I, a career criminal, going to log onto the FBI site?

“Who’s Giorgio?”

“The most pathetic of DiGaudio’s little Elvises. Really pretty,

I mean fruit-salad pretty, but he couldn’t do anything. Tone deaf.

He stood on the stage like his feet were nailed to the floor. But

really, really pretty.”

 “I don’t remember him in the paper you wrote.” I was taking

a chance here, because I hadn’t actually read all of it.

“I didn’t talk about him much. He was so awful that he kind

of stood alone. He wasn’t an imitation anything, really. He was

an original void.”

“But pretty.”

“Yum yum yum.”

“Thanks, sweetie. I’ll check it out.”

“You can look at Giorgio on YouTube, too,” she said.

“Although you might want to turn the volume way, way down.”

“Let me guess,” I said. “It’s under ‘Giorgio.’”

“Try ‘Giorgio Lucky Star.’ That was the name of his first hit.

‘Lucky Star,’ I mean. Little irony there, huh? If there was ever a

lucky star, it was Giorgio. If it hadn’t been for Elvis, he’d have

been delivering mail. Not that it did him much good in the long

run, poor kid. Anyway, search for ‘Giorgio Lucky Star.’ Otherwise

you’re going to spend the whole evening looking at Giorgio


“Is your mom around?”

A pause I’d have probably missed if I weren’t her father.

“Um, out with Bill.”

“Remember what I told you,” I said. “Whatever you do,

don’t laugh at Bill’s nose.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Bill’s nose.”

“Just, whatever happens, next time you see Bill’s nose, don’t

laugh at it.”

“Daddy,” she said. “You’re terrible.” She made a kiss noise

and hung up.

It was okay that I was terrible. She only called me Daddy

when she liked me.

I’ve had more opportunity than most people to do things I’d

regret later, and I’ve taken advantage of a great many of those

opportunities. But there was nothing I regretted more than not

being able to live in the same house as my daughter.


I’d wanted to stay in Donder, but it was taken.

“Donder” is a convincing name for a reindeer. “Blitzen”

sounds to me like the name of some Danish Nazi collaborator,

someone who committed high treason in deep snow. But Donder

was occupied, so I was stuck with either Blitzen or Dydie. I

chose Blitzen because it was on the second floor, which I prefer,

and it had a connecting door with Prancer, which was unoccupied,

so I could rent them both but leave the light off in one of

them, giving me a second room to duck into in an emergency, a

configuration I insist on. This little escape hatch that has probably

saved me from a couple of broken legs, broken legs being a

standard method of getting someone’s attention in the world of

low-IQ crime. And as much as I didn’t like the name “Blitzen,”

there was no way I was going to stay in Prancer. It would affect

the way I thought about myself.

Blitzen was a small, airless rectangle with dusty tinsel

fringing the tops of the doors, cut-outs of snowflakes dangling

from the ceiling, and fluffs of cotton glued to the top of

the medicine cabinet. A pyramid of glass Christmas-tree ornaments

had been glued together, and then the whole assemblage

had been glued to a red-and-green platter, which in turn

had been glued to the top of the dresser. Marge ’n Ed went

through a lot of glue. The carpet had been a snowy white

fifteen or twenty years ago, but was now the precise color

of guilt, a brownish gray like a dusty spiderweb, interrupted

here and there by horrific blotches of darkness, as though

aliens with pitch in their veins had bled out on it. The first

time I saw it, it struck me as a perfect picture of a guilty conscience

at 3 a.m.: you’re floating along in a sort of pasteurized

colorlessness, and wham, here comes a black spot that has

you bolt upright and sweating in the dark.

I have a nodding acquaintance with guilty consciences.

When Andy Warhol predicted that everyone in the future

would be famous for fifteen minutes, he was probably thinking

about something like YouTube. What a concept: hundreds of

thousands of deservedly anonymous people made shaky, blurry

videotapes of their pets and their feet and each other lip-synching

to horrible music, and somebody bought it for a trillion dollars.

But then all this idea-free content developed a kind of mass that

attracted a million or so clips that actually had some interest

value, especially to those of us who occasionally like to lift a corner

of the social fabric and peer beneath it.

Vincent DiGaudio Interview popped onto my screen in the

oddly saturated color, heavy toward the carrot end of the spectrum,

that identifies TV film from the seventies. Since I was going

to meet DiGaudio in about forty minutes, I took a good look at

him. In 1975, he’d been a beefy, ethnic-looking guy with a couple

of chins and a third on the way, and a plump little mouth that he

kept pursing as though he had Tourette’s Syndrome and was fighting

an outbreak of profanity. His eyes were the most interesting

things in his face. They were long, with heavy, almost immobile

lids that sloped down toward the outer corners at about a thirtydegree

angle, the angle of a roof. His gaze bounced nervously

between the interviewer and the camera lens.

Vincent DiGaudio had a liar’s eyes.

As the clip began, the camera was on the interviewer, a famished

woman with a tangerine-colored face, blond hair bobbed

so brutally it looked like it had been cut with a broken bottle,

and so much gold hanging around her neck she wouldn’t have

floated in the Great Salt Lake. “. . . define your talent?” she was

saying when the editor cut in.

 “I don’t know if it was a talent,” DiGaudio said, and then

smiled in a way that suggested that it was, indeed, a talent, and

he was a deeply modest man. “I seen a vacuum, that’s all. I

always think that’s the main thing, seeing in between the stuff

that’s already there, like it’s a dotted line, and figuring out what

could fill in the blanks, you know?” He held his hands up, about

two feet apart, presumably indicating a blank. “So you had Elvis

and the other one, uh, Jerry Lee Lewis, and then you had Little

Richard, and they were all like on one end, you know? Too raw,

too downtown for nice kids. And then you had over on the other

end, you had Pat Boone, and he was like Mr. Good Tooth, you

know, like in a kids’ dental hygiene movie, there’s always this

tooth that’s so white you gotta squint at it. So he was way over

there. And in the middle, I seen a lot of room for kids who were

handsome like Elvis but not so, you know, so . . .”

“Talented?” the interviewer asked.

“That’s funny,” DiGaudio said solemnly. “Not so dangerous.

Good-looking kids, but kids the girls could take home to meet

Mom. Kids who look like they went to church.”

“Elvis went to church,” the interviewer said.

DiGaudio’s smile this time made the interviewer sit back a

couple of inches. “My kids went to a white church. Probably

Catholic, since they were all Italian, but, you know, might have

been some Episcopalians in there. And they didn’t sing about a

man on a fuzzy tree or all that shorthand about getting—can I

say getting laid?”

“You just did.”

“Yeah, well that. My kids sang about first kisses and lucky

stars, and if they sang about a sweater it was a sweater with a

high school letter on it, not a sweater stretched over a big pair

of—of—inappropriate body parts.” He sat back and let his right

knee jiggle up and down, body language that suggested he’d

16 timothy hallinan

rather be anywhere else in the world. “It’s all in the book,” he

said. “My book. Remember my book?”

“Of course.” The interviewer held it up for the camera. “The

Philly Miracle,” she said.

“And the rest of it?” Di Gaudio demanded.

“Sorry. The Philly Miracle: How Vincent DiGaudio Reinvented

Rock and Roll.

“Bet your ass,” DiGaudio said. “Whoops.”

“So your—your discoveries—were sort of Elvis with mayo?”

“We’re not getting along much, are we? My kids weren’t animals.

I mean lookit what Elvis was doing on the stage. All that

stuff with his, you know, his—getting the little girls all crazy.”

The interviewer shook her head. “They screamed for your

boys, too.”

He made her wait a second while he stared at her. “And? I

mean, what’s your point? Girls been screaming and fainting at

singers since forever. But you knew if a girl fainted around one

of my kids he wouldn’t take advantage of it. He’d just keep singing,

or maybe get first aid or something.”

She rapped her knuckles on the book’s cover. “There were a

lot of them, weren’t there?”

DiGaudio’s face darkened. “Lot of what?”

“Your kids, your singers. Some people called it the production


“Yeah, well, some people can bite me. People who talk like

that, they don’t know, they don’t know kids. These were crushes,

not love affairs. The girls weren’t going to marry my guys, they

were going to buy magazines with their pictures on the front and

write the guys’ names all over everything, and fifteen minutes later

they were going to get a crush on the next one. So there had to

be a next one. Like junior high, but with better looking boys. Girl

that age, she’s a crush machine, or at least they were back then.

These days, who knows? Not much innocence around now, but

that’s what my kids were. They were innocence. They were, like,

dreams. They were never gonna knock the girls up, or marry them

and drink too much and kick them around, or turn out to be as

gay as a lamb chop, or anything like guys do in real life. They

were dreams, you know? They came out, they looked great, they

sang for two and a half minutes, and then they went away.”

“And they did go away. Most of them vanished without a

trace. Are you still in touch with any of them?”

It didn’t seem like a rough question, but DiGaudio’s eyes

bounced all over the room. He filled his cheeks with air and

blew it out in an exasperated puff. “That ain’t true. Some of

them, they’re still working. Frankie does lounges in Vegas. Eddie

and Fabio, they tour all over the place with a pickup band, call

themselves Faces of the Fifties or something like that. They’re

around, some of them.”

“And Bobby? Bobby Angel?”

“Nobody knows what happened to Bobby. Somebody must

of told you that, even if you didn’t bother to read the book.

Bobby disappeared.”

“Do you ever think about Giorgio?”

The fat little mouth pulled in until it was as round as a carnation.

“Giorgio,” he finally said. He sounded like he wanted to

spit. “Giorgio was different. He didn’t like it, you know? Even

when he was a big star. Didn’t think he belonged up there.”

“A lot of people agreed with him.”

DiGaudio leaned forward. “What is this, the Cheap Shot

Hour? Even somebody like you, after what happened to that

poor kid, even someone like you ought to think a couple times

before piling on. Who are you, anyway? Some local talent on a

TV station in some two-gas-station market. I mean, look at this

set, looks like a bunch of second graders colored it—”

“This is obviously a touchy topic for—”

“You know, I came on this show to talk about a book, to tell

a story about music and Philadelphia, about when your audience

was young, about a different kind of time, and what do

I get? Miss Snide of 1927, with your bleeping jack-o’-lantern

makeup and that lawn-mower hair—”

“So, if I can get an answer, what are your thoughts about


DiGaudio reached out and covered the camera lens with his

hand. There were a couple of heavily bleeped remarks, and then

the screen went to black.

“My, my,” I said. “Touchy guy.” I glanced at my watch.

DiGaudio lived in Studio City, way south of Ventura Boulevard,

in the richest, whitest part of the Valley. I had another thirty-five

minutes, and the trip would only take fifteen. I typed in Giorgio

Lucky Star.

And found myself looking at fifties black-and-white, the

fuzzy kinescope that’s all we have of so much early television,

just a movie camera aimed at a TV screen, the crude archival

footage that the cameraman’s union insisted on. Without that

clause in their contract, almost all the live television of the fifties

would be radiating out into space, the laugh tracks of the longdead

provoking slack-jawed amazement among aliens sixty light

years away, but completely lost here on earth.

Even viewed through pixels the size of thumbtacks, Giorgio

was a beautiful kid. And Rina was right: he couldn’t do anything.

He stood there as though he’d been told he’d be shot if

he moved, and mouthed his way through two minutes of prerecorded

early sixties crap-rock. Since the face was everything

and he wasn’t doing anything with the rest of himself anyway,

the cameras pretty much stayed in closeups, just fading from

one shot to another. No matter where they put the camera, he

looked good. He had the same classical beauty as Presley. Like

Presley, if you’d covered his face in white greasepaint and taken

a still closeup, you’d have had a classical statue, a cousin of

Michelangelo’s David.

But unlike the sculpted David, who stares into his future with

the calm certainty of someone who knows that God is holding

his team’s pom-poms on the sidelines, Giorgio had the look you

see in a crooked politician who’s just been asked the one question

he’d been promised he wouldn’t be asked, in the athlete

who’s been told he has to take the drug test he knows he’s going

to fail.

Giorgio was terrified.

Product Details

Hallinan, Timothy
Soho Crime
Mystery-A to Z
Mystery & Detective - General
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
7.49 x 5 x 0.97 in 0.58 lb

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