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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 16 — Glenn

November 20, 2013

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 4:  “Need a Lift to Happy Hour”


            The fish swam to the surface when Glenn walked over to Sidney’s tank.  They always did.  He changed the backlight to green—he liked to think the fish associated the color with feeding time.  Goldy the goldfish was always first.

“How long has she been in the bathroom?” Glenn asked, shaking out some fish food.

“Like fifteen minutes,” Geno said.  “Hey, make sure the little red one gets some.”

“I think she’s puking,” Scarlett said.

“She can hear you,” Caitlyn yelled through the door.

“Probably puking,” Geno agreed.

Glenn tapped out a little more food and tossed the shaker to Geno on the couch but Scarlett caught it.

“When I leave for Suriname in a month,” Glenn said, “you’re gonna have to—”

“So, you’re actually going?”  Geno sounded like he just heard it for the first time.

“Yes, I’m actually going.”

“What about the soup kitchen?” Scarlett asked.

“Molly could run that place by herself if she wanted,” Glenn said.  “I mostly get in her way.”

“And the building?  Your tenants always need something,” Geno said.

“You mean you always need something?  I’m not having this discussion again,” Glenn said, rubbing his forehead.  He sat down in the chair nearest the fish tank.  Goldy stayed close, following the glass walls.

The bathroom toilet flushed but no one came out.

“Can all of you just shut up?  You’re not helping,” Caitlyn said through the thin door.

The three of them sat quietly and Glenn tried not to glance at Scarlett’s legs—she was wearing a short skirt or kilt-thing that mocked the month of November.

Glenn checked his phone, whispering, “Sidney shoulda been back by now.”

“Look,” Geno said,  “I’ll stay with Caitlyn.  You two should go. You don’t need me, anyway.  You and Scarlett can do it.”

“Scarlett can do what?” Scarlett asked.

“Yeah, I guess.  It’ll be easy,” Glenn said.

“What’ll be easy?” she said, crossing her arms.

Geno bit his lip.  “Remember when I asked you to wear your work kilt?”

“That was only two hours ago,” Scarlett said.  “What’s going on?”

Glenn took the lead: “We’re gonna liberate some betta fish from the pet store.  It’s only a few blocks away.”

“We’re stealing fish?”  Scarlett eyed the now blue fish tank and the odd assortment of species it held.

“Well, I am,” Glenn said, grabbing his jacket and slipping it on.  “You’re distracting the guy at the register.  There’s only one dude working Tuesdays.  He’s single—I asked.”

Scarlett stared at Geno.  “This is why you asked me to wear this?”

Geno scooted further away on the couch.  ““Did you ever want to be an actress?”

“I’ll do it,” she said, standing up quickly.  She took her long coat from the rack near the door.  “But you have to give me one, Glenn.  One of the fish.  And cab fare home.”

Scarlett left without another glance at Geno and Glenn had to hurry to follow, yelling to Caitlyn that he’d be back later.

He caught up to her one flight down on the stairwell.

“How long has Caitlyn been tapering?” Scarlett said, buttoning up her coat.

“She’s been trying to cut back since Halloween,” Glenn said.  “I think she’s doing better, but I’d have to ask Sidney.”

“How about that dude at the party?  Drew—her boyfriend?”

“I don’t think she’s seen him,” Glenn said, holding the building’s door open for Scarlett.  “But who knows.”

The pet store was just a few brisk blocks away, nestled into a residential strip in Tortilla Flats.  It shared the ground floor of a building with a liquor store that charged too much for everything except adult magazines.

“Okay,” Glenn said, stopping halfway down the block.  “You’ll go in first so he won’t think we’re together.  When you hear me cough loudly, draw him away so he can’t see the entrance—and then really lay it on.”

“You do this a lot?” Scarlett asked.  She didn’t look happy but she was also unbuttoning her coat.  Only a tight-fitting long sleeved shirt was beneath.

“Just go,” Glenn said.

Scarlett took a few steps and hiked her kilt up a few inches and Glenn tried to not watch her swinging hips as she entered the store.  Whatever Geno was doing with this girl, Glenn figured, he was almost certainly screwing it up.

Glenn took out his phone and refreshed the website he had open—flight prices to South America were still dropping.  He knew the housing project needed volunteers around New Years so he could wait a little bit longer.

He entered the store a few minutes after Scarlett, nodding to the man behind the counter and making for the back of the store where the betta fish were.  In that glance, he saw Scarlett leaning over the counter and the worker struggling to keep eye contact.  Glenn pretended to examine a few somewhat cute hamsters for a minute, hearing part of their conversation.

Scarlett: “You run this store all by yourself?”

Worker:  “Um, most days, yeah.”

Scarlett:  “Ever have to fight a robber?  You look pretty strong.”

Worker:  “No, I mean, not really.  There have been a few angry kitties though.  I mean cats.”

The poor guy had no chance, Glenn thought.  He quickly forgot about them though when he saw the betta fish.  He had heard rumors and seen pictures of how betta fish were shipped around the world and delivered to pet stores—housed in tiny containers with stale water.  They were often sold to owners who had no basic knowledge of the species, like that putting two betta fish of any gender together likely results in the death of one.  Or both.

This pet store had five fish on display in depressingly-small plastic containers.  There might have been more elsewhere.  The fish could barely move and most didn’t, like they were in some kind of frozen stasis.  The ‘bowls’ were small enough that Glenn could easily grab two of them, holding one in each hand.

He listened for a second and still heard conversation at the register.  Coughing as loud as he could, Glenn grabbed and held two fish close to his chest.  Tall rows of animal food shielded him as he walked quietly back to the front.  He peeked around the corner—the worker’s back was to him as Scarlett asked about some birds at that end of the store.

Scarlett: “I get lonely sometimes.  What kind of bird would you recommend?”

Worker:  “Well . . . um, I mean.  This one here can be very friendly.”

Scarlett:  “Would you help me bring it home?  It would be perfect next to my bed.”

Right as Glenn slipped out, he nearly ruined it by laughing.  He walked past the liquor store and leaned against the brick wall, trying to assume the pose of someone who didn’t just commit a crime.

“Well, how was I?” Scarlett asked a minute later as she buttoned her coat up again.  They started walking back toward Sidney’s place.

“Great,” Glenn said, smiling.  “I’ve been scouting that store—no video cameras or anything.  Hey, I know you wanted cab fare, but lemme get Sidney’s other tank up and running, and then how bout I help you set up yours?  I can get you a good sized one.  Super cheap.”

Scarlett nodded.  “Fine.”

“Were you trying to avoid Geno tonight?” Glenn asked.  He held one fish up to check it out—it kept turning in quick, excited circles.  “What’s the deal with you two?  Are you—?”

“No,” she said.

“Have you two—?”

“No, and how is it your business?” she said.  “You and Geno didn’t have some, like, gay relationship in the past did you?”

“No,” Glenn said.  “I just don’t want to see him get hurt.”

Scarlett didn’t say anything.

“Listen, the last real girlfriend Geno had was in high school,” he said.  “It didn’t end well.  It’s why he doesn’t date.”

“What happened?” she asked.

“Jenny McAllister happened,” Glenn said.  “They were together for two years and she cheated, but not just that—she screwed this dude in Geno’s car.”


“Yeah, and I mean, it was an 80s Volvo,” Glenn said.  “They’re barely comfortable to even drive.  Couldn’t she have found—?”

“Hey, guys!” someone yelled—Sidney was crossing the street toward them.  “Hey Glenn, I passed by Crazy Man Joe’s spot—across from the Pupuseria.  He wasn’t there again.  I hope he’s all right.”

“You’re late,” Glenn said.

Sidney shrugged.  “Had a meeting with Mrs. Robinson that took forever.   She’s got more work for me, though.  You stole more fish, huh?”

“We did,” Scarlett said.  “I’m keeping one.”

Sidney sighed.  “Were you even going to ask me if I wanted to keep another one of your fish?”

“No,” Glenn said.






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