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Distilled Spirits: [Season 2] Ch. 25 — Glenn

April 12, 2014

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 2:  “Maybe Today”

Glenn

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The city inspector flicked the broken light switch up and down. His back was to Glenn.

Of course the inspector had to pick that specific switch in the whole building, Glenn thought. He watched the inspector jot down conspiratorial somethings in his notebook and Glenn moved a trashcan with his foot to block some exposed wiring.

“That can be fixed easily,” the inspector said. He moved slowly down the hallway, probably headed toward the ground floor bathroom. Trailing his fingers along the wall, he stopped occasionally to examine something that would only be a violation in some dystopian novel.

Glenn had only known the man for less than an hour and had thought up nine was to kill him, but just two to hide the body.

The inspector tsk’d at something, scrawling more notes.

“You a Destroyers fan?” Glenn asked. “You’re wearing blue under your shirt.”

“No,” the inspector said, forgetting about his notes for a second, “my family’s from New York—I’m a Yankees fan.”

“Is that so?” Glenn said. It would be a crime of passion, he thought—a New PT jury would understand.

The inspector hesitated in front of the men’s bathroom and opened the door with his pen. Glenn waited outside—he had been told that most public buildings were passed or failed by their bathrooms.

The inspector cleared his throat. “Will you come in here? What is this?”

Thinking one of Glenn’s laborers had taken a shit in the sink or left a bottle in the trashcan, he went in and looked up where the inspector was pointing.

“What’s that?” the inspector repeated.

“Oh.” Glenn smiled. It was his favorite part of the bathrooms. “It’s a speaker wired to the receptionist’s desk.   Everyone likes to listen to some music or baseball while they do their business.”

The inspector laughed, something Glenn thought impossible a minute ago, and made a cursory glance around the bathroom, flushing the toilet but not checking to see if the water even went down. He ushered Glenn out.

In the hallway, the inspector ran down an unseen checklist before looking up. “Listen, Mr. Pierce, you’re building failed but it’s not that bad. Most of it can be fixed real quick.”

Glenn had always wanted to try this—he took out his wallet. “Is there anything that I can, like, do to take care of this today?”

The inspector closed his notebook, glancing at some of the bills sticking out of Glenn’s wallet. “Put that away—that’s like fifteen dollars. Listen, I shouldn’t do this, but my dad was homeless for a few months. He used to talk about it some nights. It isn’t easy.” The inspector fidgeted with his pen before putting it away. “I’m going to go have lunch and grab a long, slow coffee. And then maybe I’ll check out a bookstore—and then I’m coming back. If everything’s fixed then, you’ll get all the stamps and signatures you need.”

“Really? What about—”

The inspector waved Glenn off. “It’ll be fine.”

Glenn forgot about all the ways there are to kill a man as the two of them walked outside. He aimed the inspector toward a great Russian deli a few blocks down and was headed back inside when a quiet voice called his name.

“Glenn—you’re Glenn right? Guy named Chuck said I could find you here.”

“Chuck? He’s all right?”  Glenn sized up the short Hispanic man talking to him. The short, Hispanic, homeless man, though he might’ve been new to the streets.

“Yeah, Chuck’s fine, man. He told me about your soup kitchen—I wanna come by. He told me about this place, too.” The man shifted a sturdy-looking sack from shoulder to shoulder, eyes flicking over Glenn’s building every few words. A pair of thick boots and cleanish corduroy pants without holes meant the man might just be poor, but Glenn could usually tell the difference.

“Is what they say true?” the man asked.

“What?”

“That you’re turning this place into a home,” the man said. “Like, a shelter.”

“People are talking about it?” Glenn smiled, following the man’s eyes and taking in the clean windows, washed away graffiti, and fancy locks with a buzzer that his tenants had asked for a year ago. Glenn had ordered a sign to hang above the entry but it hadn’t arrived.

“What’s your name?” Glenn asked.

“If Chuck likes you, you can all me whatever, man. Name’s Alejandro. Alex is fine.”

“Chuck’s a good guy,” Glenn said. “He looks out for people.”

“Chuck’s the shit,” Alex said. “Guy got me these boots. Didn’t even let me pay. I didn’t know anyone here until him.”

“Where are you coming from?” Glenn asked.

“North Dakota,” Alex said.

“I’ve never met . . . ,” Glenn trailed off.

“A Mexican from North Dakota? I move around a lot,” Alex said with a grin. “And I’m Salvadoran.”

Glenn checked his phone, wondering if he was racist for assuming the homeless man was Mexican. Glenn figured he had three or four hours before the inspector would come back. “Hey, Alex, you wanna make a couple bucks and have a hot meal? I could use a quick hand with some stuff inside.”

“Sounds good, boss,” Alex said, rolling his shoulders under the sack’s weight.

There wasn’t too much to do: a second floor toilet had overflowed and the whole bathroom had to be bleach-cleaned, one showerhead rattled ominously when the hot water came on, and some excess building materials were blocking one emergency exit. Small things that the two of them could handle without hurrying.

Last was the light switch.

Alex was telling a story of one of his first nights in the city. Where most homeless in new PT were shy, Alex liked to talk.

“Shouldn’t you wear gloves, or something?” Alex had taken a seat at the receptionist’s desk to watch.

“It’s just a light switch,” Glenn said. The plastic case had come off easily with two screws—two more were holding the switch housing to the wall with a mess of wires running behind it. “So, what happened that night?” Glenn asked, choosing a screw driver that might fit best.

“I was just trying to find a place to sleep. Most the good benches were taken and I was wandering around—a pretty warm night. I heard this shouting, like some old man anger. When I get there I see this street kid trying to sleep on this nice bench—Chuck said it gets shade in the morning and is close to the bathrooms. This old guy, right, he was yelling at him, really screaming.”

Glenn unscrewed the switch house and tried to wiggle it free—a tingle shot up his arm and he let go, shaking his hand. A few seconds later it faded.

“You all right?” Alex stood up. “Shouldn’t you turn the power off first?”

“Forget it,” Glenn said, rubbing his hand. “So, what, you got physical with this old guy?”

“Nah, man, I just told him to shut the fuck up,” Alex said, laughing. “That’s how I met Chuck—he thought it was funny.”

Glenn thought through the troubleshooting steps—he didn’t have time to call an electrician. He walked over to the desk and grabbed a package of light bulbs from one drawer and dragged a lobby chair beneath the light. A few quick turns had the fixture off and when the new bulb was halfway in it came on, blinding him for a moment.

“Don’t say anything,” Glenn said, kicking the chair back in place.

Alex rolled his shoulders in a slow shrug—it seemed a practiced motion. “Chuck and I stuck around for a bit, drinking, and the kid got the nice bench for the night. He better watch out, though, you know.”

Glenn starting screwing the cover back in place, and then stopped. “Wait, so this was a kid on the street? Did anyone know him?”

“Yeah, man, a kid,” Alex said, “Chuck had never seen him—no.”

“Was his name Harry?” Glenn asked. “Did anyone call him Harry?”

“Might’ve been—I was kinda fuzzy, sorry,” Alex said. “I just met Chuck and he shared a bottle, and I don’t really drink.”

How long would it take a kid to get here from Cleveland, Glenn wondered. There were some kids on the street, he knew, and this could be any one of them.

“If you ever see this kid,” Glenn said, reaching into his pocket. He wrapped a twenty dollar bill around his business card. “Call this number.”

Alex slipped the bundle into his pocket. “I don’t have a phone, man, I can’t—”

“Doesn’t matter,” Glenn said. “Find a phone—any phone. And call me when you see him. Tell Chuck the same—okay?”

“Yeah, sure boss.”

Glenn checked the time. “So, there’s a decent taqueria a few blocks down. You hungry?”

Alex laughed. “Sure, I haven’t had good Mexican since I left New York.”

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