“I know Jacques!” you manage to squeak out just before the heavy chain begins its downward trajectory.
After a moment of stunned silence, your shoulders feel the thwacks of meaty hands as you are greeted, good-naturedly, by this suddenly jovial assembly of thugs.
“Well, shucks, why dinya say so? Hey, boys, it’s the courier Jacques told us about!”
“Say, it’s good to meet ya!” hollered one or two of the more vocal toughs, continuing to batter you about the shoulders in a jolly way.
The beauty queen at the counter, suddenly attentive, sashays over to dangle a room key in front of your face. “Honey, we givin’ you the DE-LUXE cabin,” she chuckles, batting her eyelashes. “It’s got a indoor terlet!”
Victoriously, the group rushes you out to the lot with the friendly intention of “inspecting your hog.” Their eyes widen first in shock, then in amusement when you walk up to Kathy and pat her on the seat.
“Say, uh… you ridin’ to Memphis on that thing?!” exclaims the leader.
“That ain’t nothin’ but a toy!” guffaws one of the roughnecks, but he clams up quickly at a glare from the older man.
“Any courier brave enough to do that, why, he deserves our respect,” was the reverent reply. “In fact, we should let ‘em inter the club and give ‘em a honorary tattoo.”
You swallow in an audible gulp. It’s going to be a long night.
“All right, calm down now,” shouts the leader before the situation takes a more worrisome turn. Although, how that would be possible is hard to imagine. You are at the tender mercies of a bloodthirsty motorcycle gang with a fifth-grade vocabulary to share amongst the lot of them.
“First, we’re takin’ him to Ole Hoss to get his paper. Then, heh heh, we party!”
Amid the whoops and hollers of your companions you are steered to an isolated cabin on the far reaches of the Inn’s property. In the glare of a fading fire, a sharp-eyed old man relaxes on a folding chair, feeding pieces of lumber into the flames. He straightens with purpose at your approach.
“That the courier, Dwayne?” he queries of the club leader.
“Yep, Hoss, and he’s just as everlovin’ crazy as them Frenchmen.”
“Hmm, just as well. You can leave em here.”
“Yes, Sir!” Dwayne replies, gesturing to the others. “Come on. We’ll get the needles inked up!”
“Woo, yeah! Tattoos!”
The bikers troop away noisily into the night air.
Ole Hoss eyes you thoughtfully as you seat yourself politely next to him and wait to hear him speak.
“I guess you’re here for this,” he begins, pulling a crumpled manila envelope from his jacket pocket and handing it to you. “This here’s the combination to the King’s most private safe, in the sub-basement at Graceland.”
You must look taken aback, because Hoss chuckles at you. “Where else would the Secret to rock ‘n roll be kept? The White House? Come on!” and he laughs at his own joke until overcome by coughing.
“Yup, there’s an artifact in there that I’ve only heard whispered about. It’ll fetch a fine price, and a big cut of that will be comin’ right back to me!”
“But how did you get the combination?” you finally ask, when the envelope is securely tucked into your pocket.
“Used to work at Graceland. I was a maintenance man for years and years. The King trusted me with his secrets… all except this one, mind. But after he died, things changed. Under new management, shall we say? Heh, heh. They didn’t fancy an old rascal like me who knew what was hidin’ under every gold toilet lid, I reckon. But Elvis… he was good to me. Some folks, he gave em Cadillacs and diamonds. But to me, why, he just left this little string of numbers followed by the words, “You know where, Ole Hoss.”
He laughs again, shutting his eyes to the dancing firelight.
“Mmm, hmm, I know where, that’s certain. I used to store some… personal items for him in that sub-basement, so I know just what he meant, he he!!”
“But why sell the Secret of rock ‘n roll? Isn’t it kind of insulting to your old boss?”
“Why would he care? He left it to me, and I need the money,” shrugs Ole Hoss, gazing into the fire once more. “Now git!”
You take as much time as possible to make your way over to the party carrying on at the other side of the property. You’ve got zero desire to have an unconsidered bit of flash-art applied to your body, especially considering the unlikelihood that any of these jokers actually knows how to Autoclave a needle.
You needn’t have worried: the entire group has forgotten you completely, due to the arrival of a Lynrd Skynrd cover band. They are pulling monitors, guitar cases, drums and mics out of a huge van emblazoned with rebel flags and another one of those upset-looking eagles; meanwhile the bikers are all passing the items up to a wooden stage like firefighters in a bucket brigade.
You realize that you are free to go, if you move quickly. The raucous crowd won’t be able to hear Kathy’s engine over their own cheers and the mic-tests that are starting up. It’s imperative for your own sanity that you get out before the band starts up. As an afterthought, you realize as you disengage the kickstand and edge Kathy stealthily toward the front gate, the real courier might show up any minute. That might actually make for worse outcome than any Lynrd Skynrd cover band could inflict. And the two men you saw conversing at Bubba’s earlier? Surely they’re a threat also.
It’s really too bad that you couldn’t use the DE-LUXE cabin with indoor terlet, because you’ve really got to go. With a sigh, you toss the key over your shoulder and hit the ignition. Nobody looks up to see your headlight bobbing away into the night.
When you’re safe distance away, you give in to the temptation to open the envelope and look inside. A single sheet of paper is all it contains. You puzzle over what is typed on it:
3 Clockwise to 12.
5 Counterclockwise to 4.
1 Clockwise to 13.
Pry under K. strs
Afterward, you slide the paper back into the envelope and secure it in your overnight bag. Memphis seems so far away, but you’re not tired at all.