"Ezra!" On third repetition, it came out sounding
more like a threat than a name.
If the undercover agent heard, he gave no sign. He continued staring out
over the sparkling lights of the Vegas Strip as if mesmerized.
Around the command center, the other members of the security detail yanked
off their headsets as the yell set off a piercing feedback whine.
"I hear you, Mr. Larabee," Ezra responded at last, turning his back on the
bright lights and blinking up at the surveillance camera like a man waking
from a beautiful dream.
"Pull yourself together. The..." Larabee grimaced. God he hated these stupid
Secret Service code names. "Flamingo
has landed at the airport and
is en route to our position."
"Check," Ezra murmured, his eyes straying back toward the alluring lights,
planning his evening. First the poker tables at the Bellagio, then perhaps
the Monte Carlo or... His thoughts broke off as a strange movement across
the street caught his eye.
He was supposed to be keeping an eye out for suspicious characters.
+ + + + + + +
"What the--?" Buck Wilmington leaned forward
in the front seat of the bulletproof limousine and gaped at the bizarre,
be-sequined crowd waiting to greet the Secretary of the Interior.
Elvis impersonators. At least a hundred of 'em. Young thin Elvises. Old fat
Elvises. Pompadoured, potbellied, polyester pantsuited Presleys, everywhere.
Stepping all over each other's blue suede shoes as they shouted, pouted and
gyrated their hips disapprovingly in the direction of the motorcade.
Buck's jaw dropped in speechless admiration.
With a sigh, Nathan Jackson pried the cell phone out of Buck's fingers and
called in for instructions. "Flamingo has arrived at the hotel. Should we
unload at the front door as planned?"
"Affirmative," Larabee's voice crackled over the line, nearly drowned out
by the crowd noise in the background. "There's twice as many Elvises blocking
the back exit."
+ + + + + + +
"Good evening to you, Mr. Secretary," Ezra shouted
over roar of the crowd, wrenching open the limousine door and drawing the
cringing cabinet secretary out with a firm tug on his elbow. "Lovely weather
we're having, don't you think? The conference organizers are waiting for
Still talking, Ezra ducked smoothly, pushing the Interior Secretary out of
the way as a placard-wielding Elvis broke through the police ranks and took
a swing at them with a sign that read, "Don't Be Cruel."
As Buck, Nathan and half a dozen police tackled the rogue Elvis, the rest
of the crowd broke out in an approving chorus of "thank you ... thankyouverymuch"
for the downed impersonator.
Ezra squired the politician through the door and into the waiting hands of
hotel security. His eyes drifted from the "Welcome National Association of
Snowmobile Manufacturers" sign down the plush hallway he knew led to the
main casino area.
"What the hell's going on outside?" a rumpled looking Chris Larabee materialized
out of nowhere. Buck and Nathan straggled through the front door. Nathan
was holding a handkerchief to his bleeding nose.
"Elvis," he shrugged, answering the unasked question. "Headbutted me."
"What'd this guy do to piss off Elvis?" Larabee asked.
Buck glowered darkly in the general direction of the Interior Secretary,
but it was Ezra who answered. "The esteemed cabinet secretary made the grave
error in judgment of announcing to a Senate subcommittee that if cuts must
be made in his budget, the funding for the historic preservation trust at
Graceland might be a good place to start."
"Ah," Larabee said.
"He went on to expound, at some length, on his disdain for the King of Rock
'n' Roll and to describe himself, under oath, as, and I quote, 'more of an
Engelbert Humperdink fan.'"
The four ATF agents digested the information in silence. They were protecting
+ + + + + + +
"There goes another one!" Nathan shouted, sprinting
down the lobby toward a potted ficus that was mysteriously edging its way
toward the conference room. At his yell, the plant shuddered and the Elvis
behind it broke cover and ran, with the agent hot on his heels.
Nathan slowed and stopped, satisfied, as Elvis left the building.
"Where the hell did our police detail go?" Larabee hissed, scowling through
the lobby doors at the impersonators circling outside.
"Heavyweight championship prize fight tonight," Nathan shrugged flopping
into a lobby chair and reapplying a cold pack to his swollen nose. "They
got every officer in the city pulled off to work crowd control."
"You tell 'em about our little crowd control problem here?"
"Told 'em. They said Elvises are nothing. Said we should see it when the
Shriners come to town."
Larabee threw up his hands and stalked back toward the front entrance, where
Ezra stood vigil, staring out over the crowd, communing with the casino lights.
"I can't believe Vin, JD 'n' Josiah get to work the presidential protection
detail while we're stuck with the damn Flamingo!" Buck burst out, shoving
himself out of his chair and pacing the small command center the agents had
set up just off the main hotel lobby. The hotel security guards had long
since wandered away. "This is the Secret Service's job, not ours!"
"We've been over this, Buck," Chris sighed, leaning against the wall and
staring hard at the conference room door as if he could will the secretary
to wrap up his visit and leave. "Half the Vegas Secret Service office is
down with the president in Houston. The rest're off at their annual training
week in Virginia."
Buck groaned. "Can't believe we're wasting an exciting night in Vegas like
this. It's almost midnight! What say after the Flamingo flies outta here
we all take in a show ... maybe take in a few showgirls
" He stopped
suddenly. "Uh oh."
The other agents looked up in time to see a whole swarm of Elvii making a
break for the conference room door.
As one, Chris and Ezra moved to intercept the fast moving jumpsuits. Too
late, they realized their mistake.
"Thankyou ... thankyouverymuch
uh huh huh huh
" The Elvises burst
through the unguarded front doors, sweeping around and over them in a crashing
"BUCK!" Larabee yelped, curling up as somebody's platform shoes caught him
in the diaphragm. "The secretary! Get him out of here!"
On the floor beside him, Ezra rolled to avoid the herd and lashed out with
one foot. He knocked the legs out from under one of the lead Elvises, toppling
the man and setting off a chain reaction of slip-and-falls that created an
ugly Elvis pile-up -- on top of the southerner.
Buck watched Chris and Ezra disappear under the stampede and went for his
gun, but couldn't bring himself to draw on a bunch of unarmed Elvises. With
a last fleeting glance at the spot where Larabee and Standish had gone under,
he grabbed Nathan and hauled him into the conference room, slamming and locking
the door behind them.
+ + + + + + +
the close ties that flourish between your
industry and my office... " The Interior Secretary's droning speech came
to an abrupt end as the conference hall doors slammed shut with a bang. The
glassy-eyed industry executives turned gratefully toward the interruption.
The two agents offered the room a weak smile, then scrambled between the
tables to the podium. Nathan grabbed the secretary and began tugging him
toward the fire exit. Buck grabbed the microphone and gave the audience the
smile he usually reserved for women worried that their husbands were about
to come home.
"Um. If you'll all keep to your seats, the secretary's just gonna step out
of the room for a minute. Nothing to worry about! Everybody just stay
A great, crashing bang filled the conference room and the locked doors shuddered
as something heavy rammed into them. The sound brought the industry executives
to their feet in alarm. A second bang, accompanied by the ominous groan of
splintering wood, sent them stampeding toward the back exit.
Buck shouted a few futile instructions at the mob, then gave up and joined
Nathan, who was trying to pry the Flamingo's reluctant fingers off the podium.
Together, they manhandled the protesting man off the dais and shoved him
toward the exit, just as the doors to the lobby gave way with a crash.
"Whoa, mama! There he goes!" hollered the first Elvis through the door, pointing
the way for the rest.
The two agents hauled their charge down a narrow service hallway, looking
for the exit to the street. They burst through the first door they came to
-- and froze, staring.
This couldn't be good.
+ + + + + + +
Chris fought his way to his feet, turned and
buffeted by the polyester tide. Staggering sideways, he groped through the
press of bodies for the only other person in the room wearing a tie.
Standish surfaced, bobbing like a cork between two particularly fat Fat Elvises.
Larabee dove after him, carried along with the crowd as it swept through
the battered and flattened conference room doors. For a moment, the impersonators
milled around in confusion, stymied by the empty ballroom. Then someone spotted
a flash of pinstripes. The cry went up and the pack took off in pursuit,
sweeping Chris and Ezra along with them.
After another futile attempt to snag Ezra's collar, Larabee fished out his
cell phone and hit speed dial.
+ + + + + + +
Vin Tanner groaned pitifully, trying to ignore
the shrill ringing noise coming from somewhere much too close to his head.
He curled into an even tighter ball on the back seat of Josiah's Suburban,
Someone's hand groped across the jacket draped over his face, patting gently
across his nose and chin before locating the pocket with the cell phone behind
his shoulder. Vin made a vague gargling noise of protest.
"Hello?" JD's cheery voice penetrated Vin's aching skull like a drill bit.
"Hi Chris! Yeah, it's me. Nah, Vin can't come to the phone right now. Where
are we? Um, south Nevada someplace. We wrapped things up in Houston early--
What? Vin? He's not feeling too good."
Josiah's chuckle rumbled through the vehicle. Vin groaned, resolving to be
a little less worried about his aim the next time he threw up.
JD chattered happily on. "We thought we'd hook up with the rest of you in
Vegas on our way home. Guarding the president was kind of boring. Not that
you want a lot of excitement when you're guarding the president, I suppose,
but we -- what? Did you say 'Elvis?'"
Even from the back seat, covered with a coat, Vin could hear Larabee shouting
into the phone. JD gave a pained yelp. "Uh, Josiah? Chris wants to talk to
"Hello, brother. Elvis, you say? Mm hm. Hundreds? In full costume? I see.
And you've called the police? Ah. And the others? I see. The secretary? Oh
dear. What's that I hear in the background? Huh. Thought I recognized the
The Suburban accelerated with a lurch, barreling along the dark desert highway.
"We can be there in less than two hours. What's that? Vin? Don't worry about
him. He just had a slight disagreement back in Tascosa with the owner of
Eli Joe's House of Chicken-Fried Steak over the true definition of
'All-You-Can-Eat.' Right. See you soon."
There was the soft beep of a phone disconnecting and a brief silence.
And then Josiah started to laugh in great, braying, hysterical whoops.
+ + + + + + +
Elvis was everywhere. On the walls, on the display
tables, on life-sized cardboard cutouts placed strategically around the room,
beneath a huge crepe banner that welcomed the International Elvis Appreciation
Association to its annual convention.
"They're staying in this hotel?" Nathan squawked, shoving the Elvis-hating
Interior Secretary into the convention room and dragging a display table
over to block the exit to the corridor. "Who the hell did the advance work
for this trip?" No wonder hotel security hadn't seemed unduly concerned by
the presence of so many Elvis impersonators.
Buck snorted, then hurried to the front of the conference room to peer out
the main doors. Not an Elvis in sight. He waved an all-clear to Nathan, who
finished barricading the back door and turned to collect the Flamingo.
Their charge was weaving between the display tables in a horrified daze.
He stopped to sneer at a cut-out of Young Elvis. "Elvis stole this look,
you know," he said, pointing at the King accusingly. "Engelbert Humperdink
had the idea for the sideburns and the leather jumpsuit first."
"Uh huh," Nathan grunted skeptically, wondering how the man could see anything
through the cloud of rum fumes that surrounded him. He fanned surreptitiously
at his nose as he shoved the secretary toward the front of the room. Nothing
sadder than a grown man who couldn't handle his mai-tais.
"Whadaya think? Make a break for it?" Buck asked, wincing as fists began
pounding at the fire exit.
"Elvis sucks!" the secretary announced to the barricaded doors, breaking
into a rendition of what they could only assume was a Humperdink mega-hit.
"Quando quando quandooooooo!!"
Howls of outrage from the hallway were punctuated by louder thumps and a
rival medley of Elvis tunes.
"Y'all cut that out, now!" Nathan scolded the mob. "Ought to be ashamed of
yourselves, running around, making a ruckus and busting up private property!
That's not the way decent folk behave!"
The agents paused in surprise as the pounding stopped. Buck grinned. "Think
you're on to something here, Nate. You get the Flamingo
"Hate that code name," the secretary grumbled. "Sissy bird. Why can't I be
the Condor? Or the Hawk?"
"You get him away while I keep Elvis occupied."
Nathan nodded reluctantly. "Be careful. I'll be back with some backup, quick
as I can. C'mon, sir." He grabbed the cabinet secretary by the collar and
hauled him away.
the Falcon ... the Emu ... the Great Spotted Owl..." the Flamingo's
complaints cut off as Buck slammed the conference room door and threw the
+ + + + + + +
"You let us in, now! We got a few things to say
to that Interior Man! You know he ain't nothin' but a hound dog!" An Elvis
decked out in a splendid cape-and-jumpsuit ensemble kicked at the conference
room door for emphasis.
Larabee rolled his eyes, cursing Elvis Presley roundly for writing so many
damn songs and leaving his faithful with an endless supply of cliches.
Negotiations were going to take forever. He scowled at the handcuffs anchoring
him to one of the hallway's brass railings. Why the Elvis in the leather
jumpsuit had been carrying handcuffs, he preferred not to speculate.
"Whoa there, buddy," Buck Wilmington's voice warned through the door. "Wise
men say, only fools rush in! You bang on that door one more time and I'm
gonna start busting stuff. You got some real interesting displays in here..."
"Not the 8-tracks!"
"Not the commemorative plates!"
"Not the towel once used by Elvis himself!"
"You can't smash our things! That's illegal!"
"So's assaulting a federal agent!" Buck shot back.
The Elvises fell back to confer. A few, bored already by the negotiations,
broke into a rousing chorus of Heartbreak Hotel.
Larabee took advantage of the distraction. "Ezra!" he whispered, nudging
the agent who sat listlessly beside him. Standish raised his head slowly,
blinking at him in confusion. Larabee eyed the purpling heel-shaped bruise
on Standish's temple and sighed. "Don't suppose you could do something about
Ezra's eyes drifted out over the sea of Elvises then wandered back to focus
on his boss. Cuffs? Yes indeed. Cuffs. He tugged at his own bound wrist
experimentally. All he needed to do was to fish out his hidden lockpick set
and ... oooh, sparkly...
Larabee sighed as Standish's unfocused gaze fixed on an Elvis so fat and
sequined he looked like a disco ball. He patted the dazed man's shoulder
with his free hand. "Never mind, Ezra." He'd lost his gun in the stampede,
but he knew Standish still had at least two on him. Chris glared out at the
milling crowd, wishing he could bring himself to draw on Elvis.
"HEY!" he raised his voice to flag down an Elvis. "I've got an injured man
over here! And unless you want me to sling your polyester asses in jail until
you meet Elvis personally, you'll let us go or get him some medical attention!"
"Chris?" Buck called out, concerned. Larabee could almost see him reaching
toward the door latch.
"Don't you open that door, Buck! I'll take care of things on this side!"
"Now boys, that ain't right!" Buck settled for scolding through the door.
"You know the King had nothing but respect for law enforcement! You got to
ask yourself: What Would Elvis Do?"
Several Elvii bent solicitously over the injured agent. Leather Elvis unlocked
A voice came out of the herd. "Vijay, you're a doctor, ain't you?"
A small bronzed Elvis in a jumpsuit topped off with a saffron turban appeared
before them. "I'm a proctologist. I don't do my best work with this end,"
he warned, reaching for Ezra's head. Standish's eyes widened in alarm and
he lurched sideways, crawling over Larabee's pinned frame in an effort to
escape Proctologist Elvis.
Suddenly, a familiar voice broke in. "Wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me
take a look at him."
+ + + + + + +
Nathan Jackson hauled the Interior Secretary
through the deserted hotel corridors. The secretary had arrived in town with
an entourage of at least a dozen aides and staffers. Where had they all gone?
He slowed for a moment and consulted one of the laminated maps on the wall.
The casino? Or maybe...
He burst into the hotel bar and stalked up to a corner table crowded with
suits, all craning their necks to watch the big fight on one of the bar's
big screens. "Here you go," he slung the Flamingo toward his staff. "He's
all yours. And if you know what's good for you, you'll get him back to the
airport before Elvis catches up to you."
He turned on his heel, gratified by the sound of chairs being shoved back
from the table and a still-complaining secretary being hustled away. Jackson
elbowed his way over to the bar, where a knot of hotel security guards watched
the prizefight with single-minded intensity.
"A little help here?" Nathan shoved his badge under a few noses.
One of the guards flicked a brief glance at the ATF identification before
turning back to the fight. "This about the Elvises? Told ya rowdy Elvises
ain't nothing to worry about."
"Get your sad, rent-a-cop behinds off those barstools and come give me a
hand! They got my partner pinned down!"
The rent-a-cops snickered at the image that brought to mind, but refused
Nathan stomped away, muttering threats under his breath. He passed the hotel
gift shop and paused.
+ + + + + + +
Larabee's jaw dropped as Jackson elbowed through
the crowd like he belonged. The agent crouched down before them and winked,
adjusting the pompadour wig that was slipping over one eye.
Standish, still sprawled halfway across Chris, froze; staring at what he
devoutly hoped was a hallucination. Nathan smoothed the creases in the white
jumpsuit and grinned, before manhandling Ezra back into a sitting position
against the wall.
"Doesn't look like a concussion. Probably just stunned," he said, prodding
the bruise and holding up a finger for Ezra to follow with his eyes. He glanced
up at the other Elvises peering over his shoulder and translated. "His hands
are shaky and his knees are weak. He can't seem to stand on his own two feet."
"Ah," the Elvises said, nodding their understanding. "All Shook Up. Uh huh
Ezra made another attempt to crawl away. Larabee wished he could follow.
Suddenly, a small band of Elvises, cigarettes dangling from their mouths,
ran up. "He got away! The Interior Man! We just saw him hop a cab!"
"Heard him say something about wanting to pay a visit to the Liberace Museum,"
Nathan called out helpfully.
One minute later, the ATF agents had the lobby to themselves.
+ + + + + + +
"FREEZE! ATF!" Josiah and JD burst into the hotel,
looking around wildly for signs of trouble. Vin followed slowly behind, one
arm wrapped protectively over his stomach.
The agents sprawled around the lobby broke into a small round of applause.
"Aw geez, Josiah," JD grumbled. "You said they needed rescuing."
"Somehow, I expected more Elvises," Josiah murmured, blinking as his eyes
fell on Nathan.
"Nice outfit, Nate," Vin said, slapping Ezra's leg until he scooted grudgingly
over and made room on a narrow lobby couch. "Been thinking about gettin'
one of them myself. Maybe y'all can bury me in it. Soon."
Nathan loftily ignored the crack, poking at the sharpshooter's distended
belly with an unsympathetic finger. "Who told you to eat all that chicken-fried
"You guys should have seen it!" JD said, whistling appreciatively at Ezra's
shiner. "That steak was the size of the tabletop and just SWIMMING in grease!
Restaurant owner promised $500 to anyone who could eat the whole thing --
but he didn't mention that that included the bone too. Josiah wouldn't let
Vin try to swallow the bone on top of everything else."
"So they threw us out and they banned us from Eli Joe's House of Chicken-Fried
Steak forever," JD continued. "One of these days, we gotta go back to Tascosa
and clear Vin's name--"
Larabee cleared his throat, rattling the wrist that was still cuffed to the
"Ahem. But enough about our day," Josiah said, fishing in his pockets for
a handcuff key. "I'm looking forward to reading your reports, brothers."
He fiddled with the tiny lock for a second, then shrugged apologetically,
unable to open the non-regulation cuffs.
"There aren't going to BE any reports," Larabee hissed, glaring first at
Josiah then around at the rest of the group.
"No reports," Ezra echoed as he slid slowly from the vertical to the diagonal.
"Cardinal rule of Sin City," he mumbled into the upholstery. "What happens
in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
Nathan nodded fervently, pompadour teetering.
"Ta-da!" Buck burst into the lobby, waving a pair of bolt cutters and modeling
his own Elvis jumpsuit, fresh from the gift shop. "Hey boys! When'd you get
in?" He bustled past the new arrivals and freed Larabee's wrist with one
"Let's get the hell out of here," Larabee said, rising to his feet with a
stretch and a groan. "What was that you were saying before Buck? About taking
in a few showgirls?"
Buck's grin lit up the room. He threw an arm around Ezra and tugged him to
his feet. "Know just the place, boys. Sure to cure what ails you." Ezra said
nothing, mesmerized by the sequins on Buck's costume. Sparkly.
The others exchanged a look, then shrugged and fell in line behind Elvis
Wilmington. Ezra clutched his head as Buck broke into song, off key and off
"Bright light city gonna set my soul
Gonna set my soul on fire
Got a whole lot of money that's ready to burn
So get those stakes up higher
There's a thousand pretty women waitin' out there
And they're all livin' devil may care
And I'm just the devil with love to spare
Viva Las Vegas!
Viva Las Vegas!"