ALL CROOK’D UP • by Lee Hammerschmidt

“Well, it’s now or never, Sparks,” Renee Tormé, the bar manager, said as she handed me a pint of Hamm’s. “Ha! Get it? Now or Never?”

“Got it,” I said, taking a gulp of beer. It was now or never. One song between me and a gold lamé jacket.

I had reached the finals of the annual Elvis Impersonator contest at Tiki Frank’s Lounge on the island of Cordoba Cay for the first time in the four years I had entered. I had done it by going against the grain. My competitors had all been the jumpsuit clad versions of E. I had taken the early Rockabilly/movie soundtrack path. And it had worked. The redundancies of interchangeable overweight guys in polyester belting out Suspicious Minds were no match for my enthusiastic versions of Treat Me Nice and Marie’s the Name.

But I may have met my match in my co-finalist… Gustav Yaakk, the Swedish Elvis, the number-four-rated Elvis tribute artist in Scandinavia.

He’d come out swinging with a soaring version of Can’t Help Falling in Love, putting the female members of the audience into a swoon. I’d counter-punched with She’s Not You, going for the same demographic, but not getting it. My applause meter numbers were way short.

Gustav came out strong again in round two, working the crowd into frenzy with Burnin’ Love. But I’d taken advantage of the rowdy crowd momentum with a smokin’ Viva Las Vegas, driving the meter way past Gustav’s number and putting us in a virtual tie. Here we go.

Taking the tropical environment into consideration, Gustav began round three by buying the house a round of Mai Tais and launching into Blue Hawaii. That cheating bastard! The crowd went wild!

But his move backfired. I grabbed my ukulele and tore into a sizzlin’ version of Rock-A-Hula Baby, getting the hooched-up crowd dancing on tables and chairs, singing along with gusto. The needle on the meter buried itself to the right. Victory was mine.

Or so I thought. As I headed toward Renee to receive my jacket, Gustav bolted past me. He grabbed Renee around the waist and planted a passionate lip-lock on her. No! Just walk away, Renee! She put the jacket on him and raised his arm above her head in front of the disbelieving crowd.

“What the hell!” I yelled as I stormed towards Gustav. “I won! Give me that…”

Before I could reach Gustav, I was grabbed by two local policemen. Their boss, Captain Rodrigo, stuck a document in my face.

“Sorry, Sparks,” Rodrigo said. “But according to our records, you don’t have the proper work permit and visa to compete in local talent contests. We have no choice but to deport you and declare Gustav the winner. Boys, take him to the airport.”

As I was being dragged out the door, I looked back to see Renee running her fingers through Gustav’s high priced Elvis toupee (the show-off couldn’t get his wigs at Party City like the rest of us?) as they continued their enthusiastic make out session, pushing the hairpiece askew on his head. And that’s where I saw it… wrapped around his ear like a Bluetooth.

I broke free from my escort and charged the stage just as Gustav was handing Rodrigo an envelope. I knocked Rodrigo aside and jumped on Gustav’s back, my arm around his neck in a sleeper hold as I stripped the device from his head, almost taking his ear with it.

“Freeze, Sparks!” Rodrigo yelled, his gun drawn and aimed at my chest. “You’re just making things worse. Nobody likes a sore loser.”

“Loser my ass,” I said. This contest is rigged. Take a listen to this.”

I held up the device and hit the small play button. The opening lines about fools and wise men, delivered by E in the original classic, came roaring out of the tiny speaker.

“And how about this,” I said, hitting the Forward button. Lord almighty, the King’s temperature was soarin’ skyward. Another original version from the hunk o’ burnin’ love himself.

“Holy shit!” Renee yelped as she grabbed the device from my hand. “It’s a miniature digital music player. Gustav was LIP SYNCHING his whole performance!”

The crowd gasped in horror and began milling toward the stage, and Gustav, in a restless manner.

“Whoa, I… I can explain,” Gustav stammered. “I… I… well, it’s just that I…”

“Enough!” Rodrigo barked, his heater now trained on Gustav. “I’m shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, to discover this gross misconduct in our nationally treasured contest. Boys, take this Nordic nincompoop to the airport instead. It looks likes Sparks is the true winner. Providing he can complete the proper paperwork and come up with the required, uh, fees, that is.”

“First thing in the AM,” I said.

“Hey, what about MY fees?” Gustav snarled. “We had a deal, Rodrigo, I want my money back!”

“Evidence,” Rodrigo said. “Along with the music player. It will be used in your trial on fraud and attempted bribery charges should you ever try to return. Now, off you go.”

As Rodrigo’s men hauled a profanity-spewing (I assume it was profanity — it was in Swedish, you know) Gustav out of the bar, Renee came over and helped me into my new jacket as the crowd roared its approval.

“Sorry about the misunderstanding, Sparks,” Renee said. “I was always hoping you would win. You were obviously the best Elvis in the room.”

“Well thank ya,” I said. “Thank ya, very much.”

Lee Hammerschmidt is a Graphic Designer/Writer/Songwriter/Troubadour who lives on the fringe of Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Big Pulp, Gumshoe Review, 10Flash, Stealing Time, Crimson Streets, Page Forty-Seven, Short-Story.Me, Strange Mysteries, Chicken Soup For the Soul, and more. Check out his hit parade on YouTube!

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