From the fifty-thousand watt giant of the desert southwest, KDSW, it's the Jerry Lang show! To get on Jerry's wavelength, dial toll free, 1-800-555-3545. And now, the man who fights for what's right and stays up all night...your host...Jerry Lang!
"Welcome good people, it's just you and me until the rooster crows. I've some things to lay on the table this morning that may stick in your craw, get under your skin, and, in some cases, make you want to lean your head out the window and PUKE--if I may use such an indelicate term--ah well, that's the world we live in my friend. But first, I'd like to hear what's on your mind--line one...Steve from Deming, New Mexico, you're on the air."
"Hey Jerry, I heard your show last night and like, I really agree with you about these violent kids being the fault of the schools--our young folks just ain't gettin' no decent education no more."
"And you can trace that directly back to the permissiveness of the sixties, Steve--when our schools said to hell with fundamentals and high standards. Oh my GOD, what would happen to poor Johnny's psyche if we don't pass him along with the rest of the class, even though he can't spell his own NAME! No, it was more IMPORTANT that Johnny become well rounded. It was more IMPORTANT that, as parents, we listened to some Mr. Spock, er...Doctor Spock crap--you've got to BABY your baby--oh goodness, don't dare lay a hand on him, he'll learn to get what he wants through intimidation. He'll learn that might makes right--ha! "
Jerry sucks in a breath, raises his voice an octave and spits into the microphone. "I'll show you intimidation. INTIMIDATION is staring into the barrel of a semi-automatic pointed at you by some TEN year old--that's intimidation...and who's to blame? WELFARE MOTHERS!"
All his life he has been someone's target. First, his abusive father. Then it was dodging bullets in that far away jungle. Now he's the most conspicuous quarry of all: Aging white man dodging pot-shots from all the have-nots of society who see him as the root cause of everything from slavery to urban blight. But Jerry Lang can fire back, with fifty-thousand watts of buckshot peppering the minds of late night AM radio listeners in fourteen states--and recently, worldwide on the internet.
"One of my kids steps out of line, Jerry, he knows he's gonna get a good whacking when I get home."
"And well he should, Steve."
"Whack 'em good!"
Jerry segues into a spot for a hemorrhoid preparation, then peers through the glass into the adjacent room where Scott, his call screener, is laughing and giving the thumbs up sign. His assistant has a thin stripe of beard and a pale complexion. For a college boy, he's alright. He motions the kid into the control room, cues up more spots to play, and lights another Marlboro. "You hungry, man?" he asks, running a hand through his hair. "I've got a craving for pizza."
"I could be tempted...Jesus, yeah."
"Papa Tony's should still be open. Blast down there and get us a large one with the works."
"Uh...you sure you wanna handle the phones by yourself?" Grotesque facial contortions. "There's a full moon out tonight, master."
Jerry tosses a couple of bills at the kid. "That's alright," he says, "I'm a big boy."
Scott feigns a limp and drags himself through the door, then turns and squashes his nose flat as road-kill against the control room glass. Jerry pretends to throw a coffee cup at him.
He chain smokes. The butts, neglected after the first few puffs, burn to long fingers of ash in the plastic tray beside him. A haze fills the softly lit room. He delights in ignoring the smoking ban decreed by management. This is my ship, he tells himself, and the captain will do as he damn well pleases. Sometimes he surveys the control board in front of him, with its rows of knobs and switches, and can almost see himself at them helm of some interplanetary space probe on a mission to save the human race.
"Line two, you're on the air."
"Er...that you, Jerry?"
"You're speaking to the man."
"Why, you big gasbag-"
Line three, it's YOUR turn."
"Yeah, it's Bob in Tacoma. I say let's put up a fence around the entire Yoo-nited States--Mexico, Canada, you name it, Jerry. Keep 'em ALL out! They ain't got no right to be here--takin' jobs away from hard workin' Americans. DAMN, how's a man 'sposed to get a job in this economy with them aliens over running us like a bunch of wild-"
"You have a fence around your property, Bob?"
"Damn right. And I got a sign that says trespassers will be shot!"
"We put up a whole lot of signs like that along our border fence, Bob--and be ready to follow through on it--and I think our immigration problem will be solved."
"Jerry Lang for president!"
"Just telling the truth as I see it, Bob. Just telling the truth as I see it. Let's move on to line three."
"Th-They're coming to take our guns away, ain't they Jerry."
The radio host emits a sigh, pauses for added effect, then says, "I believe that gun control is the first step toward the eventual confiscation, by the government, of all firearms held by private citizens."
"We'll be sitting ducks."
"I will say two words to you, my friend...Tiananmen Square."
"I-I'll take my weapons and head for the hills before that happens, and lots of my buddies will do the same. No telling how long we could hold out."
"I'll be right behind you my friend. Let's go back to line one--good morning."
A brief silence...then a guttural voice says," I'm going to get you, Jerry. I'm coming down there to kick your ass...TONIGHT!"
"Who is this?"
"Judge, jury, and executioner. You have been found guilty of offending the sensibilities of rational humanity--a capital crime."
"Yeah? Well come on then. I'm waiting for ya, you lousy lunatic freak."
With customary bravado, he dumps the caller and segues into a spot break. He's fielded plenty of crank calls during his years behind the mic, but there is something different about this one. The voice sounds...almost familiar...like maybe someone out there from his past with an old score to settle. Sudden realization floods through him as he remembers the letter, and a simultaneous chill creeps along the hairs on the back of his neck. The envelope, posted locally, had contained a death threat.
He fumbles for the cigarette pack in his shirt pocket. For a moment he sits staring at the VU meter as its needle sways from side to side like a metronome ticking away the seconds of his life. No one knew about the letter--hell, these things were fairly common in the business after all, and it would not be consistent with his image to run crying to the authorities every time some looney with a grisly sense of humor and too much time on his hands made a threat. Then again, there was no more way of discerning what lay waiting out in the vast wilderness of radio land than there was of knowing what lurks in the dark recesses of the mind...until it leaped right in your face.
He bolts out of the chair and into the production room where the "Best of Jerry Lang" tapes the station plays on weekends are stored. Grabbing one of the reels, he scrambles back to the control room and threads the tape onto the Otari. When the spots finish, he presses the play button and the Jerry Lang show goes from live to Memorex.
Reaching underneath the console, he grasps the handle of his brown leather briefcase, brings it to his lap, and retrieves the key from his pants pocket. He opens the case and removes his .38 Special. The weapon feels good in his hand. Rock solid.
He looks up, startled, to see the shape of someone standing in the doorway. Squinting through the smoky haze, his first thought is that Scott has returned. The shadowy figure moves closer.
"Sweet Jesus!" he cries. There is no mistaking that hair. Those sideburns. Those lips.
It is Elvis.
"Wait now...hold on just a goddam minute...how can this be? Is...is it you? Is it really The King?"
"Ah'm terribly sorry to drop in on you this way, but ah thought you might need my help," the intruder says politely.
"Get outta here--you're...an impersonator."
"Don't be cruel now, Jerry. Ah'm sure you can tell the difference--though ah will admit there's a couple of those ol' boys that've got me down pretty good."
"But you...you're so young...and, uh, TRIM."
The intruder smiles. "Well, we all like to put our best face on things, and ah kinda like that postage stamp of me they came out with, so ah figured ah'd come back lookin' that way."
Jerry shakes his head, closes his eyes and slowly reopens them, as though this act could somehow reset whatever part of his brain that has short-circuited and is now playing tricks on him.
The King is still there.
"So the sightings...they're real?"
One side of Elvis' mouth turns up in that trademark sneer. "You gotta keep promoting yourself, Jerry--you oughta know that--say, lemme see that cannon there."
Jerry hands him the gun.
"Ah heard that ol' boy threaten you on the radio tonight. " He walks around and stands next to the astonished host, who is still seated behind the controls. "Guess you remember what ah used to do when somethin' on the TV rubbed me the wrong way." He raises the weapon with both hands, taking dead aim at the control board.
"Elvis wait--uh, you don't want to do that--now, you know you're number one with me since way back but...God, in the old days I played your records till-"
"Simple matter of self-defense, ain't it Jerry?"
A nervous laugh. "Yeah...I guess that's right. I mean, plenty of witnesses out there heard him.'
"Alright then. Ah'll just hang onto the rod. That way your hands are clean."
Jerry turns and faces the window that looks out over the street beneath his second floor studio. The traffic signal on the corner shifts from green to yellow to red...and back to green again--the way reality can sometimes change in the flick of an eye. There are no cars to heed the signal's commands; no pedestrians waiting patiently for the neon walk sign. He wonders if this is how it will be when the end comes, when the clouds rain indiscriminate death upon the world--lone beacons of light cycling endlessly like a dancer rehearsing the two-step in an empty ballroom.
In The Still of The Night. Good song. Funny how your mind picks up on these things. He hums a few bars to himself, then, like a tuner scanning the dial, fixes on the sound of his own voice lecturing from the wall-mounted speakers: They want to take the guns away from law-abiding citizens, while armed madmen are out there on the loose...
He swings around to look at Elvis, who is testing his aim on various objects around the room. He glances up at the clock. With silent indifference, the second hand goes about its appointed rounds. Smoke curls and rises in the air.
The sound of footsteps down the hall. A sudden rush of adrenalin. The same guttural voice he heard on the phone barks, "Your ass is mine now, suckah!"
"Get ready, Elvis--get ready," Jerry whispers.
A form darts into the doorway. A flash from the exploding weapon, followed by the flash of recognition that comes too late. The grin on the youthful face fades and is replaced, in slow motion, by a look of incredulous horror. Scott, arms outstretched in a see-it's-only-me gesture, pizza box in one hand, gazes down at the crimson hole in his chest as he slumps to the floor.
"Something to drink, Detective Greer?"
"No thanks, I'm fine," says the officer, a young man dressed in civilian clothes.
"I'm perfectly willing to answer any more questions, if you have them--and by the way, I do appreciate you making the trip out here to my home...it makes things, well, a lot less traumatic for me."
"No problem, Mr. Lang. A man of your stature and reputation--we naturally want to help you avoid any undue speculation and publicity about this matter. Just a couple more things..." He looks down at his notebook and studies it for a moment. "Now, you described Mr. Scott Johansen, the victim, as somewhat of a practical joker."
"Yeah, he was a crazy kid. A good kid, but always up to something. It made the over night hours go a little easier on both of us. "
"And Mr. Johansen was unaware that you carried a weapon in your briefcase for personal protection?"
"I didn't go around advertising it."
Detective Greer flips the page and scribbles something into his notebook. "There is one inconsistency I must bring up regarding the earlier statement you gave us. You said there was another person in the station with you at the time of the shooting, and that he was the one who actually pulled the trigger; however, the only prints found on the gun were yours."
"I-I really don't know how to explain that, detective...except to say that truth is not always as it sometimes may appear."
"You stated the individual was a casual acquaintance from some years back--someone known to you on a first name basis whom you hadn't seen since, until the night in question, correct?"
"Yes...but you hear things and, well, he had a reputation for being careless with firearms."
"And the individual vacated the premises before our officers arrived?"
"Yes, that's right, he did. You might say he...ah...he left the building."
It is just after midnight and Jerry Lang is snoozing soundly--thanks to the prescription sleep aid prescribed by his doctor. The pills will serve him well over the next two weeks of his leave of absence from the radio station--though the side effects of the medication will give him headaches, diarrhea, and dyspepsia. Back at the studio, one of the Best of Jerry Lang tapes is playing over the air. The show must go on.
Down in the street, an SUV, its chassis jacked high above four oversize tires, has pulled up to the traffic light. The windows are rolled down, and the Jerry Lang show is booming from the vehicle's stereo. The disembodied voice reverberates off of nearby storefront walls, and echoes through the adjoining streets: My cold, dead hands...they will pry it...from my...cold...dead...hands...