Story and drawings by Legs McNeil.
Originally published in the Nov 78 issue of Hit Parader
“Ah, summer in New York,” I sighed, swatting giant flies that were dive bombing my head as I sat sipping my first beer of the day at Manny’s pool hall. It was a scorcher of a day, temperatures rising to about 102 and it was so humid you had to cut the air with a chain saw in order to get a hunk to breathe. It was so hot, Manny, owner and proprietor of the dive pool hall across from my private detective office, a big black Jamaican, had a block of ice perched on his fat stomach. He grunted. It was an explanatory grunt. He explained that he keeps the ice on his stomach to keep the case or so of beer he’d already consumed this morning cold in his stomach while he was waiting to digest it.
I opened another beer thinking what a primitive genius Manny was, when just then a short male, Caucasian, about 30 or 35, bursts into the pool hall exposing piercing sunlight into the dimly lit bar. The intruder sort of resembled a rat and talked just as fast. “Where’s Leg’s McNeil? Is he in here, huh? Come on, I don’t got all day, what uh?” the mystery man shot out with a cockney accent. I tried to answer but he wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise.
He continued his fury of words as he began insulting Manny, summer, New York, the putrid odor that was a special feature of the pool hall and my good looks. Finally, the lug stopped to catch his breath and I answered his original question. “I’m Legs McNeil, whatta you want?” I shot out as I finished my beer and started on another. “I’m Jake Riviera and I got a job that needs doing.” I knew that name. It took me a minute to put it together but I finally remembered where I heard Jake Riviera’s name before.
“Of course,” I said, “You’re Elvis Costello’s manager!” “It took you long enough” Jake shot back and began to unleash another barrage of insults, declarations primitive philosophies. When I stopped him. “What do you want with me?!” I yelled over his voice. He stopped and grew pensive for a moment, looking down at the floor as if he were struggling for the words, an uncommon phenomenon for such a man. Finally, Jake looked up with tears in his eyes and said “It’s about Elvis, he’s diss … DISAPPEARED!”
I looked at the big time rock manager and thought; this looks like my kind of case. I filled my pockets with bottles of Budweiser and took Jake up to my office to talk.
Jake plopped down in my chair and put his feet up on the desk. I was left to stand. “What’s the story?” I asked lighting up a smoke. “It happened last night. I went to his room at 8:30 to get Elvis ready for the press conference at 9:00, the autograph signing at 9:30, the television interview at 10:00, the rehearsal at 10:20, the photo session with the Australian press at 11:00, and the dinner with our booking agent at 11:30. But when I went to the hotel room he was gone and I found this; Jake said as he handed me a crummy note. It read, “Goodbye, I’m sorry I just can’t go on. Thanx for everything but I’ve gone to join the circus and live a free life under the big top, Love Elvis.”
I handed the note back to Jake.
“Do you think you can help?” Jake asked emotionally.
“It looks like my kind of case,” I answered.
“How much will it cost?”
“Fifty a day plus expenses,” I replied.
Jake thought a moment. “25” he said.
“45” I said.
“30,” Jake said.
“Well, That’s a little low,” I growled, mustering all my pride, but at the same time playing with my last two quarters in my pocket. “Well then, it looks like I’ll just have to go elsewhere,” Jake said as he got up to leave.
He had the door open and was just about to exit when I said “OK 35.”
He turned and smiled, “35 it is.”
“Plus expenses,” I reminded him.
“Plus expenses,” Jake nodded, and walked out the door.
I finished off my beer and at the same time plopped down behind my desk. “A case at last,” I thought in ecstasy as I eyed a cockroach scurrying across the latest issue of Penthouse sprawled across the top of the desk. The cockroach stopped, and I, stalking it like a big game hunter, slowly pulled out my .45 from the top desk drawer. The tension was fierce. I pulled back the hammer. Click! Just then the cockroach started moving across the nude body of the centrefold girl. The heater exploded. Baboom. The smoke cleared and I found Miss July with a charred bullet hole cut neatly through her forehead. A solitary cockroach wing fluttered in the air and landed on Miss July’s left you know what, as if trying to cover it.
A smile turned up the corners of my mouth. Just as I opened another beer I heard a loud banging overhead. “You goddamn nut! You fire any more guns off downstairs and I’m calling the cops!” “Ah shut up,” I mumbled to myself as I put another notch in my belt. It was the fourth cockroach I had blown away this week. One more and I’d be an ace. I gulped down the Budweiser thinking about how I might make a better exterminator than detective, when it hit me. “How the hell am I gonna find Elvis?” I pondered to myself, “there must be a million circuses in this country and Costello could’ve joined up with any one of them.” I grew cold and pensive and put the .45 back in the drawer.
“Besides,” I mumbled out loud to Miss July still staring up at me with a bullet in her head, “all those English rock stars look alike to me.” I pondered my situation for a moment and after 15 minutes of turning up nothing but a big goose egg I decided to go get the daily paper. “When in doubt, read Ann Landers.” That’s what I always say.
I returned a few minutes later with a fresh six-pack and a copy of the Daily News. I plopped back down at my desk and quickly opened the News to Ann Landers in the back of the paper in the amusement section. It certainly was the most amusing part of my day. I began reading.
I am the 14 year old who wrote you about my father being a homo and my mother being a drug addict who wanted to go live with my Aunt in another city because I get laughed at by all my friends. Well Ann, I took your advice and went to talk to my guidance counsellor to see if he could help me. Well he didn’t do me much good. After extensive therapy sessions in his apartment I am now pregnant. My question to you is do you know a good abortionist in the Minneapolis area? Sign me
I finished my beer and couldn’t stop laughing.
Don’t give up kid, before you do anything drastic there’s always a good clergyman, psychiatrist, analyst, or rabbi.
I lit up a smoke and kept on reading.
I am a successful rock and roll star who can’t take the pressures of this sleazy business any longer. My time is not my own. I can’t spend time with the people I like, it’s always touring, touring, touring, photo sessions, photo sessions, photo sessions, records, records, records. I’m going nuts. I’ve finally decided to run away and live the free life exploring my hidden talents under the big top. I know my manager will kill me if he learns my plans, but I don’t care. I just CAN’T TAKE IT!
Dear CAN’T TAKE IT!
Boy, oh boy, you sound like a real sickee to me. What’s the matter? Too many groupies, too many orgies backstage, too much drugs and sex? You selfish bum. All you rock and roll stars do is think about yourself. What about all the people starving in China? Do you ever think about them, huh, do you? You guys make me sick. What if everyone just decided to quit? We’d have anarchy and chaos. Is that what you want you pinko commie faggot!!!???
I couldn’t believe my own eyes. It was Elvis’ story all over. I reread the article four times in disbelief. I opened another beer. “This sounds more serious than I thought,” I said to Miss July. She was still staring up at me with a big seductive smile and a bullet hole in her head. I glanced at Ann’s column again trying to get some sort of clue in Elvis’ anonymous letter when all the sudden I spotted it. At the bottom of the paper, underneath the crossword puzzle that read, “Tonight Only Straight From London England the Royal Bungling Brothers Razzmatazz Circus. Madison Square Garden. Showtime 8:30.”
“Of course,” I shouted, “this has to be it. It only makes sense that Elvis would join up with a troupe with his own fellow countrymen.” I glanced out the window at the clock tower towards midtown. It read quarter to eight. I grew cold and pensive for a moment and then pulled out my .45 and shouldered it up. Before I knew it I was in a cab heading for the Garden.
I fondled my piece, checking the chamber to see if the lead bees were ready for action. They were. I finished off my beer as the yellow chariot bumped over the potholes as we sped uptown. I wondered just what hidden talents Elvis Costello had that made him a circus performer. Mental images of Elvis as a clown, trapeze artist, lion tamer, wildman, and even the less important position of cleaning up after the elephants appeared on the big screen in my head. “Maybe the circus wouldn’t even take him,” I mumbled out loud, fearing the very thought. No he had to be there.
The cab screeched to a halt and I threw the cabbie some change and ran up the steps of Madison Square Garden. As I waited in line a huge poster caught my eye. It read, “Tonight only, Special Guest Star Elvis the Human Cannonball.” I almost fainted, “Oh no! This can’t be. I’ve got to do something!” I pushed my way up to the head of the line and dropped to my knees. I looked up at the lady in the box office and ordered one children’s ticket. She was a platinum blonde with horn rimmed glasses and chewed gum at about 20,000 r.p.m.s. “You couldn’t fool a blind mute,” she spit out at me. I felt the warm flush of embarrassment on my cheeks as I got up on my feet. I paid full price. “The noive of some people,” the box lady grumbled, as she handed me my ticket. “Can I have a receipt?” I asked meekly. She threw it at me and I high tailed it inside.
I got there not a minute too soon. The lights went down and the thundering applause of a full house shook the foundations. A lone spotlight found the ringleader in the middle of the ring and his voice boomed over the loudspeaker. “And now, for the first time ever, the Bungling Brothers Royal Razzmatazz Circus presents that death defying wonder, that fearless flyer of fire, Elvis the Human Cannonball.” Another spotlight opened up at a backstage door and lo and behold Elvis Costello, that rock and roll sensation, leader of that hit rock combo the Attractions, came walking out in nothing more than swimming trunks.Another spot opened up on a huge cannon at the end of the ring. The audience collectively gasped as they realized the seriousness of the situation. The second spotlight followed Elvis as he walked to the cannon. A drum roll boomed over the loudspeakers as Elvis walked on. The tension mounted. I felt my stomach erupt with uneasiness. I thought for a moment it was all over. Elvis mounted the stand by the cannon as a circus attendant opened the hatch leading into the cannon. Quickly I ran down to the front of the bleachers. But I was too late. Elvis had climbed into the Cannon. What the hell could I do.
Just then I remembered that Jake Riveria’s management company, Riveria Global, had an office up the next block on 35th Street. If I could only somehow effect the cannon’s position I might be able to get Elvis to land right in Jake’s lap. The circus attendant lit the fuse. It was a long shot but I didn’t have any other choice. I grew cold and pensive as I pulled out my .45 and took careful aim at the cannon’s control board. If I could only hit the button to make the cannon go straight up. “Baboom,” my gun roared as the spectators around me gasped in fear. The cannon shot straight up in the air. He came down just as fast and landed somewhere off 35th Street. I had done all I could. With my hands shaking I returned my heat to its holster and entered the first bar I came to.
The next morning I awoke with a horrendous hangover. Manny delivered the morning paper with a fresh six of Bud. I gulped down a beer, lit up a smoke and glanced at the headlines of the New York Post, New York City’s most sensational daily. It read, “Rock Singer Elvis Costello Happily Reunited with Manager After Harrowing Brush with DEATH!” A big picture of Elvis and Jake shaking hands adorned the giant Headline. The first paragraph told how Elvis landed right in Jake’s office coming straight through the skylight. I let loose with a sigh of relief. I finished the beer and called Jake to get my money.
Just then I remembered that I had no way of proving that I had successfully accomplished my mission. The receptionist picked up the phone, “Riveria Global,” she said. “Sorry, wrong number,” I mumbled as I hung up the phone. Manny opened me another beer.