Nu Pulp – “Sage Advice” by Ben MacConnell

Longer than the first one. Here we meet perhaps another recurring character. What do you do when you need pro tips? Call upon the wisdom and experience of a veteran, of course!

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“See something you like, son?”

The neophyte averted his eyes down to his drink, taken aback by the blunt question. He managed to say, “Sorry, but you are…Manfred Deerburg, right? Some guys downtown said you hang here.”

“Depends. You a cop?” dodged Deerburg, nursing a shot of brandy.

“No! No!” said the neophyte. “I’m…in the same business as you…I guess…”

“Hmm…” mused Deerburg, eying the new blood. “Unbutton your shirt. Now.”

Momentarily taken aback, the neophyte turned towards Deerburg and began to comply. He looked around to see who was looking.

“That’s enough, if you had a wire you wouldn’t be so eager to comply,” interrupted the experienced professional. “What do want, kid?” He polished off his glass, motioning for the bartender for a refill.

When the tender had done his duty and walked away, the neophyte began in hushed tones, “I just got into…this business…got a hit tomorrow…”

“Shh,” said Deerburg, finger to his lips. “Discretion is paramount. That’s a lesson I’ll give for free.” He sipped more brandy, motioning for the new blood to continue.

“…I’ve heard a lot about your work,” began the neophyte again, deeply gulping a splash of beer. “Wanted to get advice…the stuff they say you’ve done. The counts you’ve racked up.”

“They say a lot about me, some of which could be construed as true,” said Deerburg, fishing something from his jacket pocket. In the dim light of the bar it couldn’t be distinguished. “Any in particular you want to learn?”

The neophyte stared a hole through his beverage and out the bottom of the glass. “…I’m…k-kinda scared, if you want to know.” He swallowed hard of another gulp of sweet, sweet nectar.

This got the veteran’s full attention. “First job?”

“No…I had a few…jobs before…but this one’s bigger” said the neophyte slowly, “more guys to go through to get to…the target.”

“Ah, of course,” replied Deerburg, gazing momentarily into his own glass.

“It’s just…I can’t shake this fear,” said the neophyte, his hands shaking. “Not sure I can do it. Might lose my skin. How do you do it?”

The question set Deerburg at pause a second. Another sip, then, “Your assumption is that I, being a professional, don’t have fear. Is that safe to say?”

“…y-yes…I suppose…”

“I’ll let you in on a little secret, kid,” said Manfred Deerburg. “The truth is…when I’m out there, doing the job, I’m not some cool cucumber. I’m scared shitless.”

“Really?” said the neophyte, stunned.

“Yep. It’s always a possibility that some dumb guard, some two-bit security drone, will plug me when I’m not looking. Blindside me,” said Deerburg.

“How do you get through all those guys then?”

“One at a time.”

“Huh?”

Mandred swigged, then said, “I’ve found the best mindset to bring into the job is not ‘I have to get through these twenty mooks’”. He adjusted his wide brimmed hat. “It’s thinking, ‘I only have have to get through these twenty mooks, and the job can proceed.’ It’s about seeing it as items on a checklist that need to be accounted for. And slowly crossing them off as need be.

“Of course,” he continued, shifting on the bar stool. “It’s always preferable to avoid eliminating unnecessary opposition. Bodies on the floor and discharges, however moved or muted, attract attention. That do it for you?”

“Yes! Thank you, Mr Deerburg!” said the neophyte.

“No problem, kid,” responded Deerburg dryly, patting the neophyte on the back.

It was a second before the neophyte realized he’d been stung. He choked a sharp intake of air in surprise.

“It’s just too bad you came around before learning a vital piece of advice for surviving in this field,” mused Manfred Deerburg, Chalk Wasp. “Never trust anyone claiming to be a hit man.” He polished off his glass, then stood up, returning the needle to his pocket. “If you head to the hospital now, you might just make it after an uncomfortable time. If you do make it, find another line of work.

“It’s not for guys like you.” With that, the Chalk Wasp walked out, leaving the new blood clawing the air, trying to illicit aid from the bar patrons as his throat began to swell.

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