ZVSM

by Michael Collins


The on-air light came on above Rodney’s head. “Today’s meteor forecast is brought to you by Mackadoo’s Septic Service,” he said into the ancient microphone. “We know there are only three guarantees in life: number one, taxes; number two, waste; and number three, death. Mackadoo’s Septic Service would like to help you take care of number two.”

The sound of a flushing toilet served as an audible transition between advertisement and forecast. “Sector Four will experience light-to-medium showers tomorrow morning before clearing up Friday afternoon. Stay tuned, we’ll have a classic from 2154 right after this.” Mackadoo’s jingle filled the airwaves: Nobody does doo quite like Mackadoo’s.

Rodney pulled one of the headphone earpieces away from his head. “Hank, I need you to find out where Mark is. He’s shown up late every day this week.”

“He just called,” Hank’s voice echoed from the intercom. “He said he’d be here in a few minutes.”

“A few minutes? I don’t have time for this crap. Look; as soon as we get this next song started I’m leaving.”

“According to company policy, it is unacceptable for a deejay to leave the studios unattended.”

“Hey, I wrote that policy. And by the way, are we overlooking the section that states each employee should arrive at least fifteen minutes before his or her shift?”

“I understand what you are saying, but you can’t just leave me here alone — stand by, we’re coming up on ten seconds.”

Rodney replaced the earpiece and waited for his cue. “Ninety-seven point five, ZVSM. It’s five fifty-six and Mark Pearson will take over the microphone in just a bit, but first here’s a classic from Desperate Rage called ‘Razorblade’.”

The airwaves screeched with synthesized guitars as Rodney stretched his legs. “I’ll give him five more minutes, Hank, but that’s it.”

“Thank you, Rodney; as a digital producer, I am capable of serving many functions in the control room, but lacking a physical body poses a problem when faced with maintaining the station alone.”

“Hey, at least you’re never late.”

“I’m afraid my programming prevents that. Oh, by the way, you have a call on line three.”

Rodney picked up the handset and trapped it between his shoulder and cheek. “Hello?”

“Rodney Kaplan?” the tinny voice asked.

“That’s me.”

“Mister Kaplan, my name is Frank Wilburn; I own the Star-Struck Talent Agency, from Sector 19. I wonder if I could take a few minutes of your time.”

“You’ve got four minutes. What can I do for you?”

“Well, to be honest, I have something huge in the making, but I need some help pulling it off. Since you program the number one radio station in the largest market, I think you and I could make a lot of money.”

“Sounds big. Who’s the talent?”

“I should probably give you those details in person.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but you haven’t given enough details to justify a meeting.”

“All right, I’ll tell you, but you have to keep this quiet.”

“Consider it quiet.”

After a few seconds of silence, the man cleared his throat. “I’ve signed Elvis Presley for the biggest comeback tour in history.”

Rodney rolled his eyes. “Look, I really don’t have time for—”

“I’m serious; this is why I wanted to discuss the details with you face-to-face.”

“Dude, Elvis died in 1977.”

“I’m aware of that, and I’ll explain everything when we meet. Now, where and when would you like that to be?”

“Look, if you’re wasting my time, I’ll find out who you are and —”

“Just tell me where and when and I promise your skepticism will disappear.”

A frustrated sigh escaped Rodney’s lips. “Meet me at the Monticello in thirty minutes.”

* * *

It was a large crowd for a Wednesday night at the restaurant. Rodney’s forehead beaded with nervous perspiration. “I can’t believe I came here,” he said to himself. “This guy is not going to show up.”

“Table for one?” the maitre d’ asked.

“I’m expecting a friend, I think.”

“You wouldn’t happen to be Rodney Kaplan, would you?”

“Why, yes I am,” Rodney said, thinking the man had recognized his voice.

“If you’ll follow me, please, Mister Wilburn is expecting you.”

The maitre d’ led him through a maze of bustling tables and chairs before finally reaching the far corner booth, where an elderly man stood to greet them.

“Mister Kaplan, it’s a pleasure meeting you face-to-face.” The men shook hands before settling into their seats. “I like your on-air philosophy,” the old man said with a smile. “Real human voices and the antique equipment seem to work well.”

Rodney picked up a menu and fixed his eyes to its pages. “Computers are great, but they lack human warmth,” he said without looking up.

“You probably think I’m some nut-job contacting radio stations with the latest Elvis sighting.”

“I’m not sure what to think at this point.”

Frank Wilburn smiled. “I understand,” he said with a laugh. “I felt the same way when first approached with the proposition.”

“So, Elvis is alive?”

“Yes, he is.”

“Seriously, what’s the gimmick?”

“There is no gimmick; I’m talking about Elvis Presley in the flesh.”

“See, the problem is this: the composer’s flesh you’re talking about has been decomposing for over a hundred and seventy years. So, either we’re talking about an impersonator or some kind of computer generated hologram.”

“Actually, we’re talking about cryogenics,” Frank Wilburn said. “After a few months of suffering heart disease, Elvis decided to fake his death and freeze his body until science could catch up.”

“That rumor has been around forever.”

“It’s no rumor. A few years ago, doctors revived and treated Elvis for several ailments.”

“So when can I meet him?”

“You’ll have your chance,” Frank Wilburn said. “But first, we need to talk business.”

* * *

“Rodney, you have a call on line two,” Hank’s voice rang from the intercom.

“Hello?”

“Yes sir, is this Rodney Kaplan?”

“Yes it is.”

“Rodney, I’m not sure if you remember me, but I recently sent you a demo of our rock band Green Crayon.”

“How could I forget you? You’ve called three times in the past two weeks.”

“Well, I don’t mean to bother you, but I was wondering if you’ve had a chance to listen to the disc?”

“I appreciate you sending the stuff, but as I’ve mentioned before, we can’t play it.”

“Why not?”

“Well, to be honest, it lacks quality.”

“What are you talking about? It’s as good as anything you play!”

“Look, I’ve tried to be nice, but you’re obviously too stupid to realize your band sucks.” Before the caller had a chance to respond, Rodney hung up the receiver.

“Is everything all right?” Hank’s voice asked.

“Oh, this god-awful rock band keeps sending music expecting air play, and the guy keeps calling and calling. He’s driving me nuts.”

“Don’t forget your appointment coming up at—”

“Aw man,” Rodney said, glancing at his watch. “I didn’t realize what time it was.” He grabbed his plasma phone and headed for the door. “Call me if anything comes up.”

* * *

Although his XUV was to land next, Rodney still worried about running late. After dropping past the no-fly zone, he landed the vehicle in the parking building before rushing to the elevator.

“What level, please?” a pleasant computerized voice queried.

“Forty-two.”

“Thank you, please stand by.”

When the elevator reopened, Rodney stepped into a corridor where three office doors lined the right-hand wall. A small flat-panel screen on the first door displayed morphing images from the Star-Struck Talent Agency. He had no more pressed the doorbell when Frank Wilburn’s image appeared on the screen.

“Mister Kaplan,” the old man’s voice barked from a speaker. “Please, come in.”

Autographed publicity stills covered the foyer walls--each promoting well-known celebrities of movies, music and sports. This man has represented everyone, Rodney thought.

“Come in, come in,” Frank Wilburn said with a grandfatherly smile.

“Can I get you something to drink?”

“No, I’m fine, thank you.”

“Well, come on back to the office. Elvis is in the restroom and should be out any minute.” He turned, leaning close to Rodney’s face. “I have never seen anyone go as much as that man.”

Rodney fought back a grin. “That’s a little more information than I needed to know.”

“Come on over and have a seat. Are you sure I can’t get you something to drink?”

“I’m positive, thank you.”

The distant rumble of a flushing commode preceded rhythmic footfalls in the hallway. Thud-clack, thud-clack, thud-clack. Rodney wondered if he should stand, sit or bow down.

The King of Rock ‘n Roll strutted into the room sporting a bell-bottomed jumpsuit and rhinestone eyeglasses.

“Rodney, this is Elvis Presley. Elvis, meet Rodney Kaplan.”

“This is an honor,” Rodney said, shaking the wet hand of the music legend. Oh jeez, I hope that’s from washing up, he thought.

“I’m a big fan,” Elvis said with a snarled lip. “You’ve got a good show there, man.”

Rodney beamed an idiotic grin while stealthily wiping his hand down the pant-leg of his jeans. “So, are you ready to rock a new era?”

“Oh yeah, I’ve already hired the new band and backup singers.”

“You wouldn’t believe the trouble we went through trying to hire a gospel quartet,” Frank added. “I never would have dreamed it to be such a chore.”

“Hey man, you can’t just pick anybody,” Elvis replied. “They have to be the best.”

“Don’t let him fool you, Rodney, the only singers we auditioned were those with tuned vocal chords.”

“Tuned vocal chords,” Elvis said in disgust. “Whatever happened to talent?”

“Oh, by the way, there will be a dress rehearsal tomorrow night,” Frank said to Rodney. “If you’d like to drop by, we could introduce you to everyone.”

“Sounds great.”

As if on cue, Elvis picked up a glittered jacket and adjusted his collar. “Well fellas, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve got a sweet young thang waitin’ for me at the condo.”

“It was an honor to meet you,” Rodney said.

“Same here, man. Hope to see you tomorrow night.”

“Thanks. I wouldn’t miss it for the universe.”

* * *

“Hello?” the familiar voice of Frank Wilburn echoed from the radio station’s lobby.

“In here,” Rodney shouted.

Frank stepped into the control room red-faced and out of breath. “You’re not going to believe what has happened,” he said between gasps.

“Are you all right? Come over and sit down.”

“Someone has kidnapped Elvis!”

Rodney’s eyebrows rallied at the bridge of his nose. “What? Are you kidding me?”

“I’m afraid not.” Frank handed him a note. “Read this.”

To: Star-Struck Talent Agency. From: Green Crayon Rock Band.

This is to inform you that we have kidnapped Elvis Presley. We promise to treat him well and release him when our demands have been met.

After repeated submissions to radio station ZVSM, we feel cheated by the program director’s refusal to air our music, while continuing to add inferior songs to the play-list.

We believe our music has mega-hit potential, and all we ask is a fair chance for people to hear it. Therefore, if ZVSM will air one of our songs in heavy rotation for the next three days, we will release Mister Presley unharmed.

Alerting the authorities would be a terrible mistake. We’re listening. Green Crayon

“Do you think we should call the police?” Rodney asked.

“They wouldn’t believe us,” said Frank. “Besides, I don’t want to find out what they mean by a terrible mistake.

“This is crazy! What are they going to do, kill him?”

“What have they got to lose? Even if they did, no one would ever know — remember, as far as the public knows, Elvis has been dead for decades.”

“I’m not airing that crap,” Rodney said, pointing at the note. “I’ll lose listeners.”

“Rodney, you have to play it! Don’t you understand? If not, you’ll be signing the death warrant for the greatest music star of all time! Do you want to live with that on your conscience for the rest of your life?”

Rodney sat staring at a blank wall. “I guess I have no choice.”

* * *

Rodney sat alone in his office staring at the weekly play-list report. “What is it about this song?” he asked aloud. “It’s total crap, yet we get more requests for it than anything.”

“You seem disappointed, Rodney.”

“I’m more confused than disappointed, Hank. I just can’t figure it out.”

“You have always stressed that something different is nearly always short-lived.”

“I know, but at least something different has always stood out with quality.”

“A wise programmer once said, ‘Quality is in the ear of the listener.’”

“Then most of our listeners are missing ears.”

Rodney stood, stretching his arms straight over his head. “Come on, call already.” he said to the telephone.

“Will they release Mister Presley today?”

“They should; it’s been three days.”

“Hold on, line one is for you.”

Rodney’s face showed signs of relief. “Hello?”

“Rodney, Frank Wilburn here. Can you drop by the office? I don’t want to risk any information over the telephone.”

“Sure, is everything all right?”

“Just come on by and I’ll fill you in.”

* * *

Muffled music came from behind the Star-Struck Agency door as Rodney approached. He pressed the doorbell three times before Frank appeared on-screen.

“Come in, come in!” Frank Wilburn’s voice carried from the speaker.

He met Rodney in the foyer as the music blared from the back-office. “Come on in and join the party!” he shouted over the noise.

“What’s going on? Did they release Elvis?”

“What are you talking about? Elvis is dead.”

“What? But we played their music and —”

“Get out of the past, Rodney; you know how long Elvis has been dead.”

Rodney looked at Frank as though the old man had just poked him with a sharp object. “I’m not sure I’m following you.”

“Come on back to the office, I want to introduce you to someone.”

Rodney found himself surrounded by a small crowd in the back. “What’s going on?” he asked. “Who are all these people?”

“They’re here to thank you,” Frank replied.

“Thank me? For what?”

“For our first number one hit,” said a young man with a familiar voice.

Rodney squinted toward the stranger. “Who are you?”

“I’m the group’s lead singer.”

“What group?”

“Green Crayon,” Frank said, “I’m their agent.”

Rodney studied the old man’s face. “Wait a minute, what happened to Elvis?”

“Lemme tell ya sumpin,” the King of Rock ’n Roll’s voice came from the lead singer as he adjusted his vocal-tuner. The young man donned a biologically altered Elvis mask and struck the famous Elvis karate pose. “Elvis is dead but Green Crayon is here to stay.”


Copyright © 2005 by Michael Collins

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