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How Do I Get to Mount Julep?
About the Author: Ken Derry's fiction credits include HAD, Danse Macabre, and The Carolina Quarterly.

I had been trying to find my way out of the business and for a week or so I wondered if my ship had come in, but then one hot morning I got the call I had come to dread. On the other end was a woman I didn’t know speaking on behalf of my new employer, someone I knew only as Big Puss, sibling of the slain Fancy Mike. See, last week my former boss Fancy Mike was murdered. I was his security. My hope was that a change in leadership would facilitate a new business model that would allow me to, you know, show myself out. But you know how family businesses go. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. By the end of the call, I had my answer in the form of a name, an address, and a task: Find out who killed Fancy Mike—and bury him.

This was a job for a younger buck. Me, I’m old. I got a compressed disc in my upper spine, a knee that clicks, and a list of other mystery ailments that only the middle aged can identify. No workman’s comp claims to be filed here. Just the telltale signs of a guy past his prime.

See, Fancy Mike was the man, and I was his protection. But a bubble slipped into the vein, snaked to the brain and burst. Not like I let it happen, but happen it did and the buck stops with me. This was my mess. My job was to find out who the bubble was—better yet, where the bubble came from. Then squeeze that thing till it popped.

Still, I was shook. You want to get the guy who took out the largest credit card scamming ring in the county? You need real muscle. Best I can do is consult.

And yet.

And yet I found the place lickety split and found the seat at the bar that had a view into the manager’s office. Looked like there was a name on the door and wouldn’t you know the office was at the end of the hall where the pisser was. And a payphone too. An indicator he could be old just like me. Could be I was the right man for the job.

So I made like I had to take a leak and as I opened the door to the men’s room I saw in engraved plastic the name of the fella I needed. When I was done I came out and lingered by the payphone and picked up the receiver. But there was no tone. A prop. Wall art. And somehow this attracted the attention of everyone in the bar, which is to say the bartender, the three dancers, and the ten or so slugs looking up at them.

That’s how they spot the new guys, I guess. Ten minutes in and I bet I’m already made. Too old for this. I shouldn’t be here.

Oh they had a laugh all right. A couple of chirps about my gray hair. About getting with the times. About getting myself a cellphone, old man. I pulled my phone from my back pocket and flashed it around which in retrospect wasn’t such a smart move. But I guess it was a rite of passage of sorts because the bartender bought me a couple of rounds and so did a few of the guys next to me at the bar. I don’t drink anymore but they were trying to make me feel comfortable, welcome, so what the hell. Knocking back a few wouldn’t hurt. So I went with it.

Finally I really did need to piss and when I was done I wandered back to the office and took a gander. Guy was sitting at his desk like he was waiting for me.

Come in, he said. He offered one of the chairs facing him. Offered a drink and smoke. I accepted both.

Tell me, he said. Why are you here?

I like fishing.

These waters are empty, my friend.

Thing is, pal, the people I work for aren’t so quick to trust. They may have me come back and drain the lake. Just to be sure.

I know who you work for. My condolences. Fancy Mike. That clown.

Then you know what I’m fishing for. I’m told you know where the fish are.

He had a laptop open on his desk. He wheeled the monitor around where I saw four quadrants of surveillance video. The top right quadrant was the bar right where I had been sitting.

You’re sloppy, he said. Saw you a mile away. Old man with a limp at a no name strip club. It’s either gross or suspicious. So I been watching you since you got here. If I did have information, and I’m not saying one way or the other that I do, but if I did I can’t trust you to keep it safe. You stick out like a you know what.

Sore thumb.

See? You say what ought not to be said. You don’t think I know the expression?

This story appears in our NOV 2023 Issue
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