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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 9 — Sidney

September 17, 2013

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 3:  “Drought at the Fountain of Youth”

Sidney

            If they had to spy on someone, Sid was glad they could do it from an outdoor café with good iced coffee.

An hour had passed since the girl called S left an office building downtown, and Sid figured that he and Geno had been breaking some law for at least as long.  The small girl was easy to follow—innocent people don’t often check to see if someone is tailing them.  And she didn’t walk particularly fast.  But when the two of them boarded her crowded bus that ran west through South Harbor, Sid realized his friend might get them both arrested.

There was something wrong with what they were doing, but after the first thirty minutes it was like an M. Night Shyamalan film—Sid just wanted to see how it ended.

Geno shook his head when Sid opened his mouth to speak, and pointed with one finger across the street.  The girl was chatting with the cashier at a gourmet bagel shop.  Maybe they were friends.

All that Sid knew about the girl—all that Geno had told him—was that she was stealing work from him, and he needed to find out where she lived.  If she lived on this side of the harbor though, she couldn’t with just part-time work.

The afternoon was sunny, but most of the light was blocked by the high-rise residential and commercial buildings of South Harbor.  If the breeze came at the right angle, Sid could almost smell the water a few blocks away.  Jefferson Ave. was sterile—clean sidewalks, clean streets, and a trashcan every thirty feet.  Not a homeless person in sight.  The lazy Monday crowd was thin, and those who weren’t passing through had a choice of a liquor store, rare book shop, Jewish deli, café, and a fancy bagel place on this block.

Sid checked his phone: he still had an hour until his only appointment that day.  At least they were going in the right direction.

Geno hadn’t taken his eyes off the girl—she wore a baseball cap with only a little hair falling out.

Sid whispered over his drink: “What are you gonna do to her?”

“Do to her?” Geno repeated, glancing away from the bagel shop for a moment.

“I mean—”

“She’s moving,” Geno said, standing up.

“You know,” Sid said, tossing away his drink and picking up his backpack—he peered across the street, “you didn’t tell me that she’s kinda cute.”

“She’s evil,” Geno said.

“She’s a Destroyers fan, too?”  Sid whistled.

“Shut up.”

Sid tilted his head.  “Man, she has—”

“Just follow me,” Geno said, already walking away from the table in the same direction as the girl.

Sid caught up to his friend and they melded into the sparse crowd as best as they could, giving the girl a twenty foot lead.  She had slipped white earbuds on and didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry.

The commercial strip of Jefferson Ave. ended after a few blocks, and the street became a quieter stretch of apartment complexes and parking garages.  They were getting close to The Point, and Sid started to really wonder who this girl was.

The only people who lived on the tip of New Portsmouth, at the mouth of the harbor, were the city’s elite—a waterside park ringed by condos and hotels, The Point was a magnet for wealth that made the regular rich of South Harbor drool.

The girl turned a corner and they followed her down the street that separated the two neighborhoods.  Halfway down the block she entered a large, ubiquitous apartment building and the two of them stopped on the other side.  Her building was old and had maybe ten or fifteen floors.

“Well?” Sid said.

Geno was scrutinizing the building like he could see through the walls.  “It’s only a matter of time, now.”

Sid stifled a laugh and checked his phone, touching his friend’s arm to get his attention.  “I gotta go meet my kid.”

Geno nodded.  “What’s up tonight?”

“You aren’t gonna be busy with her?” Sid asked.

“I just—” Geno ran a hand through his hair.  “I just wanted to see where she lived.”

“And then?”

“Christ, I don’t know!” Geno said.  “Would it be weird . . . would it be weird to try and talk to her?  She’s killing me—she’s taken a third of my work.  Did you know she also plays piano?  She gives lessons.

“So?” Sid said.  “Don’t you play the horn or something?”

“That’s not the point.  She’s younger than—”

“Whatever, anyway,” Sid interrupted, “I’m having dinner with Cait later.  Probably just a normal Netflix night.  I gotta go.”

Sid left his friend, and he hoped the next phone call he got wasn’t from jail.

He understood Geno’s problem.  Maybe too well.  The two of them—all four of them, really—were only getting older, and it felt like each day was taking them further away from where they wanted to be.  Or maybe that was just Sid.  It had been almost a month since a new job came in, like the well of writing work had dried up, but just for him

At least there was one other thing that he was good at.

His client lived a few blocks away, on the 19th floor of some highrise with a French name that Sid couldn’t pronounce.  The old man at the reception desk looked him over like this was the most exciting thing to happen today.  The man wore a suit and tie and had turned his job into an exact science.

The receptionist’s fingers hovered over the keyboard.  “Name?”

“Sidney.”

His forehead creased.  “Full name.”

“Sidney Jay Nolan.”

“The J?”

“It’s Jay,” Sid said.  “My father’s name.”

Click-Click-Click

“Unit number?” the receptionist asked.

“19-36,” Sid said.

The old man rang the unit and, after a few quiet words, he nodded and jerked a thumb toward the elevator bank.  When the doors opened on the 19th floor Sid walked slowly down the carpeted hallway and admired the framed, generic artwork on the walls.  He wondered how much they cost—how much the artist made.  Every single one was either a flower or a plant.

He knocked on the door to #1936.  After a few seconds, a 10 year old boy answered.

“Hi,” Sid said.  “Are you James?”

The boy nodded.  “My mom will be back soon.  She said it’s okay for us to start.”

“Okay, cool.”

The boy hadn’t moved from the doorway.

“She said you had good references,” James said.  “You do this a lot?”

Sid smiled.  “Back in college I used to tutor kids all the time.”

“In math?” James asked.

“Yeah, sometimes.”

The boy let Sid inside and he closed the door.

The apartment was small, but modern with wood floors—directly inside was an efficiently designed, clean kitchen that was closed on three sides by a long countertop.  Beyond that, the living area had its furniture arranged in a blocky formation around a table and faced a large television.

James walked over to the table where a notebook, pencils, and a textbook were already waiting.

Sid put his backpack down and started to open it when he saw something on the wall.  He stared.  “Why is there—why do you have a framed copy of Chrono Trigger’s box on your wall?”

“My mom,” James said, opening his math notebook.  “She did some work for Square, and someone gave it to her.  A birthday present or something.”

“Really?”  Sid squinted at it.  It wasn’t what he remembered how the Super Nintendo release looked.  He walked over and saw that there was Japanese written beside the game name—it wasn’t the English version.  A signature he couldn’t read was written in black ink.

“I have the most trouble with math,” James said.  “Our first test is next week.”

Sid tore his eyes away from the box.  “When did you say your mom gets back?”

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