Sideburns and Suspicions
One year ago, happily married Glory Harper’s perfect suburban life shattered right before her eyes. The suspicious handling of her husband’s murder investigation has her doubting the police efforts and heading slowly toward obsession.
Hoping to create a distraction, Glory’s daughter concocts a plan to celebrate her grandmother’s birthday at Elvis’ Graceland and the three embark on the mother of all road trips. When a hotel guest mysteriously disappears during their tour of the mansion, the trio finds themselves thrown into the middle of a mystery. Will Glory’s drive for “a little less conversation; a little more action” get them into trouble with the local detective? Is a road trip and a mystery just what Glory needs to shake the blues?
This is a prequel novella to the Sweetwater Springs Southern Mystery series.
Release date: November 23, 2020
Print pages: 62
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Sideburns and Suspicions
I wasn’t sure how I let myself get talked into this. With Texas in my rearview mirror, the sun peeked over the horizon as I drove east toward Memphis. This girls’ road trip was the brainchild of my daughter, Macy. Still on winter break from college in Alabama, she planned to swing through my hometown of Sweetwater Springs, about an hour north of Tuscaloosa where she was in school and pick up my momma for what Macy was convinced would be the mother of all road trips to Graceland. Momma shared her January 8th birthday with the King of Rock and Roll and spent her teenage years swooning along with the rest of the female population. Macy had the grand idea to give Momma a trip to Graceland for a birthday present this year. I was meeting them in Memphis where Macy had booked us a suite at a gorgeous, new luxury hotel in the Graceland complex called The Guest House at Graceland. From the pictures online, it promised to be an amazing place.
My phone buzzed a call from Macy. I answered and immediately put her on speaker. “Hi, Macy! Have you left Tuscaloosa yet?”
“Hi, Mom. I just picked up Nana and we are on the road to Memphis. It took us a few minutes to get her loaded in the car. She brought enough luggage for two people.” I heard a yelp as Momma must have given her a swat on the arm.
“I did not!” Momma yelled. “I had to pack my costume for the King’s Birthday Bash. And you know we might need to dress up a little for a swanky restaurant in the hotel.”
I could hear them laughing. “I’m sure we can do a little shopping if there’s anything we need. I’m coming through Arkansas now, so I’ll see you both at the hotel in a few hours. Talk to you soon.” I could hear more giggling as I clicked off the call. I loved spending time with my family, but I’d found it harder and harder to get excited about anything these days. I exhaled a long breath and tried to shake off the dark cloud of apathy that had been looming over me since my husband Dave Harper had been murdered. It had been two years and there were still so many unanswered questions about what really happened. The police were dragging their feet, but I was determined not to give up. The problem was, I stayed so emotionally overwhelmed and obsessed with finding answers, I had lost interest in most other things in my life and then I felt guilty about not caring. It was a merry-go-round I knew I needed to get off. I just couldn’t figure out how.
Driving always gave me some quiet time to think and pray and that’s just what I began doing. A verse came to my mind and I was reassured I wasn’t meant to carry all this stress alone.
“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me.” Psalm 138:7
I also knew in my heart I could trust the Lord to take care of the situation but convincing my anxious mind to let go was easier said than done. I was desperate to feel like myself again and determined to give it my best shot. I missed Dave terribly, but I reminded myself that Macy missed him too. She didn’t need a mom who was so focused on one thing that she neglected everything else.
I stopped at a quick mart and got out to stretch my legs. With a bag of chips and a diet coke, I jumped back in the car and hit the road again. To get into the mood, I tuned my radio to a station playing Elvis hits, and pretty soon I found myself singing along with that hunk’a burning love. Macy and Momma might be right. Maybe this was just what I needed. Look out, Memphis. Ready or not, here we come.
I exited the interstate and drove deep into the heart of the city, finally arriving at those iconic gates. The waves of white and green wrought iron in the shape of music staffs and the silhouette of the King himself welcomed fans from all over the world. When Macy suggested this little adventure, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d only been to Memphis once when I was a kid, and I didn’t remember much about the city. According to the Graceland website, Elvis’ “birthday week” traditionally saw the highest numbers through those gates with the exception of course, being Elvis Week in August when throngs of fans descended for the candlelight vigil to pay their respects to the memory of the legend.
I pulled my little Honda up to the entrance portico of the spectacular hotel that screamed glitz and glamour in the middle of the small, otherwise ordinary neighborhood that was once home to one of the world’s most famous rock and rollers. Still decorated for Christmas, brightly colored wreaths hung at the top of each archway across the front of the hotel. I grabbed my one small suitcase and my coat out of the back seat and handed my keys off to a valet. The lobby was a masterpiece of decadence with the focal point being an enormous Christmas tree reaching up into the center of the mirrored medallion on the ceiling. Even with a mass of people milling about in the lobby, I recognized a voice above the din.
“Glory! Yoohoo! Glory Harper!” Momma yelled at the top of her lungs.
I scanned the sea of heads in the direction of the voice and saw her waving wildly, bouncing on her tiptoes. I weaved my way over to where she stood guarding a stack of way too much luggage.
“Macy’s over there checking us in,” she said, pointing toward a long line at the reception desk. “Isn’t this just fabulous? I can’t wait to see our suite!”
“It really is, Momma. I don’t know what all Macy has planned, but this is way beyond what I was expecting.”
“Oh, look! Here she comes!” Momma picked up her bags. “Let’s get this party started!”
Macy handed me an extra key card and we made our way to the elevators and on to the deluxe suite Macy had arranged. The room was beautiful and spacious with a great view overlooking the courtyard. It was still afternoon, but I couldn’t wait to see it all in lights.
Over supper at one of the hotel’s restaurants, we went over our schedule for the next day.
“We’ll have breakfast here at the hotel.” Macy crunched on a big bite of salad and read from her official birthday bash schedule. “Then we’ll head over to the mansion to start our tour.”
“Remember our first trip to Graceland?” Momma grinned at me.
“You didn’t tell me you’d been here before!” Macy exclaimed, looking wide-eyed at both of us.
“Yes.” I couldn’t help but smile. “That’s one of my favorite memories. Momma brought a bunch of teenage girls to Memphis for a church conference in 1976, and we drove past Graceland just to say we’d seen it. Of course, Elvis was still alive, then, so there were no tours.” This was one of my favorite stories to tell and I could see Macy was hanging on every word.
“So, you just drove by? You didn’t even stop and try to look through the gates?” she asked.
“Oh, we stopped, alright,” Momma said. “You don’t think I’d be that close to the King and not at least try to get a glimpse.”
“Momma parked and we walked to the gates, and someone had the bright idea to walk around the perimeter of the fenced property. When we got to the back, we could hear children laughing on the other side of the fence, so I climbed up in a tree and out onto a limb that hung over into the backyard.”
“Oh, Mom, you didn’t! You actually climbed a tree?” She giggled.
“Well, I was only seven, so the older girls talked me into it. Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie, was about my age. She was riding around the back yard in her baby blue golf cart with some cousins. She came over and started talking to me. She asked if we’d like an autograph and went inside to get it for us. When she came back out, she told us her daddy was asleep on the sofa and she wasn’t allowed to wake him up.”
“Oh, man! How cool would that have been?” Macy squealed.
“We were disappointed, but she did go to his car and find an empty cola bottle. She filled it up with water from the swimming pool and stood on the seat of the golf cart to hand it to me. We divided the water into small bottles so everyone could get some, then flipped a coin for the bottle.”
“Did you win it?”
I shook my head. “Nope. But Momma still has that little bottle of pool water. It even had a dead ant in it. Of course, it’s a skeleton by now.” I laughed.
“Yep. It’s on a bookshelf in my bedroom,” Momma said proudly. “One of my most treasured possessions.”
“Let’s get back to the schedule for tomorrow,” I suggested. “How long does the tour last?”
“I booked us for the VIP package! Wait till you hear everything we get to see,” Macy said excitedly. “We get the tour of the mansion plus access to a VIP-only exhibit. Then we see his planes and cars and finish up with the museum. It has a lot of his concert outfits and movie memorabilia!”
Momma bounced up and down in her chair. “I can’t wait! See, Glory, aren’t you glad you came now?”
I smiled at both of them. “There’s no place I’d rather be. Thank y’all for pushing me to do this.” I felt a wave of emotion rise in my chest. “I know I’ve let Dave’s death weigh me down. I’m sorry if I’ve seemed closed off.” I swiped at a tear and shook my head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring down the mood.”
“Nonsense!” Momma patted my hand. “We’ve all needed this. It’s gonna be the start of a new adventure. I can feel it. Now, let’s finish up and head upstairs. We have a big day tomorrow!”
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