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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 20 — Glenn [End of Season 1]

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 5:  “You Know I Cannot Lie”

Glenn

     Glenn got the call thirty minutes ago while he was packing for his trip to Suriname.  He should’ve been headed to the airport, but instead he was crossing the bridge toward South Harbor in a taxi.

He hadn’t expected the police to call because he hadn’t stolen any fish for weeks.

As Glenn’s cab slowed for traffic, he checked his phone.  There was a chance he could still make it.  And there were probably more flights.

“We’re calling because of your business card,” the Sergeant had said.  “This is Mr. Glenn F. Pierce, correct?  You work at a soup kitchen and own a building?”

“You see, we picked up a homeless man on the beach last night.  He was unconscious—not that rare, I know, but he had your card in his coat pocket.  When he came to at the hospital, he asked for you.  Joe did.  Mr. Pierce, do you know him?  Some people call him ‘Crazy Man Joe’.  Are you family?  He’s not doing too well.”

Glenn had said ‘no’—that they were friends.

“Can you come to St. Anthony’s?  He might, uh, well—we have a few questions.”

Honking made Glenn look around.  The taxi hadn’t moved for some time.

“Some kind of accident,” the driver said, shrugging.

Meter ticking.

It was another thirty minutes before they reached the hospital.  Glenn went right up to the two cops waiting beside the receptionist’s desk.  Before they could say anything, Glenn handed over his identification.

“What were you up to last night?” the Sergeant asked.

“Getting drunk and playing Mario Kart with my roommate and, well, his girlfriend,” Glenn said.

The Sergeant nodded.  “You’re fine,” he said, but his eyes narrowed.  “Joe gave us a description of the kids who did it—what he remembered.  We’ll find the little shitfucks.”

“We know you’re all right,” his partner said.  “Joe likes you, and we like Joe.  He keeps the homeless in line.”

The Sergeant turned to the receptionist, “What room again?”

“#11,” she said.  “Upstairs.”

The Sergeant jerked his thumb toward the elevator and the two cops left, and in another few minutes Glenn had a visitor’s badge and was standing outside the room.  The nurses told him that Joe was awake, for now.

Joe’s eyes were open but that was the only part of him that moved.  His body was sunk into the bed, more gaunt and withered than Glenn remembered.  He had lost most of his grey hair.  A thick bandage was wrapped around Joe’s head and several tubes snaked out from under the sheets.

Someone had propped his bamboo walking cane beside the bed, still sharpened to a point.

“Hey kid,” Joe said, “you came.  You came.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Don’t gimme that,” Joe said, coughing.

“Okay, the cops called me,” Glenn admitted.  He found a chair and pulled it closer.  “You had my card.”

“I know I did.”

“What happened?” Glenn asked.

“Got jumped—blindsided me,” Joe said, touching the bandage. “I was just waiting for sunrise.  Fuckers didn’t even take my money.”

“Money?”

“In my pillow case.  Take it,” Joe said.  “Can’t trust these doctors.”

Glenn checked and could tell what it was just by touch—a rubber banded stack of bills in a surprisingly clean sock.  He pocketed it immediately.

“I always mail her my pension,” Joe said, rotating the ring on his finger.  “All of it.  She has a kid—it might be mine.”

All of it?  You could’ve—”

“I hit her once.  I hit her good, and couldn’t stop,” Joe said.  “I don’t blame the war.  I was always screwed up.  I had to leave.”

“Maybe if—”

Joe shook his head.   “Not enough money for everything, with the kid.  But a man always has a job—when he loves someone.  Make sure you get that to her.”  He gave Glenn an address and he wrote it down.

“I’m awful tired, kid.  I’m sorry,” Joe said, closing his eyes.  “They say I should rest, but I know the truth.  This ain’t your fault.  This is how it should be.”

Joe’s breathing became even and Glenn stood up, realizing that there was a doctor standing behind him.

“It’s pneumonia,” the doctor said, shaking his head at Glenn’s look.  “On top of his—well, every man has a right to privacy.  But we got his blood work back.”

“He has a wife,” Glenn said.  “I have an address for you so you can—whatever it is you do.”  He handed the doctor his business card with the address written on the back.  “Find her.  And let me know if something needs to be paid.”

Glenn’s phone vibrated with a text and he excused himself from the room.  It was a group text sent to three people.

DREW:  “Caitlyn’s been admitted to St. Anthony’s.  Room #36.  She overdosed.  Doesn’t remember the last 48 hours.  Please come.”

Glenn flew up two flights of stairs, breathing hard when he got to the open doorway.

“Glenn,” Caitlyn said when she saw him.  Her voice was soft.

“How’d you get here so fast?” Drew asked, standing over the bed.

“Get out,” Glenn said, walking into the room.  He tightened his fists.  “You know I can get you fired?”

Drew glanced between the two of them.  “I’ll have another nurse check in later.”

“You shouldn’t be in this hospital when Sid gets here,” Glenn said before Drew closed the door behind him.

“Where is he?” Caitlyn asked.  “Where’s Sid?”

“The job interview,” Glenn answered.  “It’s right now—his phone’s off.”

“Don’t you have a flight?”

“No,” Glenn said.

Tears streamed down Caitlyn’s face.

“I texted Sidney,” Glenn said.  “He’ll come.”

“I’m gonna be okay,” Caitlyn said.

“Are you?”

“The nurses told me, I mean,” Caitlyn said.

“Drew—”

“It wasn’t his fault.  It was me.  It’s always me,” Caitlyn said.  “Using morphine, using friends, using you and Sid and everyone.  I’ve been terrible—empty—for so long and I’m so tired of it.”

“I want to show you something,” Glenn said, taking out his wallet.

“No.”  Caitlyn shook her head feebly.

Glenn took out a piece of paper that had been folded several times.

“Don’t think I didn’t also notice where you cut yourself,” Glenn said.  “You made me promise that if you ever tried this bullshit again, I’d show you.  It hasn’t always been this way.  It doesn’t have to be.”

“It’s time to stop doing what’s easy,” Glenn said, unfolding the note and laying it on Caitlyn’s chest.

Glenn had read it before.  After more than a year, curiosity became overwhelming.  He could visualize the handwriting as Caitlyn read aloud—the words got sloppier as it progressed.

The first real line looked like it was hastily scrawled last before she had passed out.

Cait—

            IF YOU WAKE UP AND SEE THIS GIVE IT TO GLENN IMMEDIATELY

            You won’t remember this.  That’s why I’m writing it.

            You mixed liquor and morphine again.

            I need to write what happened.  What I’m feeling.  What Sid feels.  This warmth—it’s always warm, but I feel it through him.  See it.  When I touch him I touch memory.  Every part of him is a moment.  Every part of me.  The scar on his thigh from when I pushed him off his bike in 7th grade—still bumpy.  He held my wrist and we were back on the beach in high school when he pulled me into the ocean.

            The beginning—you made Sid take morphine.

            I’m lying next to him right now and we’re both naked.

            You didn’t have sex.  You’re not pregnant.

            There are no covers.  Nothing to hide behind.  We don’t want to hide.  He’s breathing beside you as you write.  His chest rises with mine.

            When he first touched your side, your whole body tingled and that spot still does—that little dip below your ribs.  Sid slid his hands down your back and sunk his fingers deep into flesh.  Everything connected.  Everything made sense.  Makes sense.  We lay with our bodies as close as they possibly could be.  Arms, leg, fingers, and toes curled into each other.  You rolled on top of him and everything aligned.  Your eyes.  Your ankles.  Like corresponding puzzle pieces—like that Postal Service song.  Our faces are language.  He cupped my breasts in his hands and said they were mounds of clay that could be anything we wanted.

            Sensual.  Not arousal.  Being high makes that hard.  Or not hard.

            Sex furthest thing from our minds.

            It’s two kids figuring out what the human body truly is.  Not knowing that there are rules.

            You kissed and it’s another way of talking.

            He talked and it’s another way of feeling.

            He said that if this is what it’s always like, he knew why I was addicted. 

            I cried.

            It’s never like this.  I didn’t know this was possible.  I don’t know what to do.  Is this what normal people feel?

            He’ll forget this.

            I need to.

END OF EPISODE 5

END OF SEASON 1

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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 19 — Caitlyn

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 5: “You Know I Cannot Lie”

Caitlyn

(Note: This chapter comes in 1,613 words, making it the second chapter to break the 1,500 word limit.  Moving forward into Season 2, I might allow one chapter per episode to break this cap.  Potentially this would allow me to expand on particularly important moments.)

          Cait opened her eyes in darkness.  She was in bed.  Her tongue felt around a dry, chalky mouth and a metallic taste rose in the a back of her throat—her whole body clenched, muscles locking up as she forced it back down.  She threw off a damp sheet, vaguely aware of the sleeping body beside her.  This wasn’t her apartment.  Through the blinds, Cait could make out city lights far below.

The metallic taste seeped into her mouth again and Cait found the closest door, fumbling for the light—towel rack, toothbrush holder, cabinet—she gave up, but the white porcelain shone in the dark.  She retched and dry heaved—again, again—the vile flavor coating her mouth.  Cait spit into the toilet, reaching for the sink tap.  She pulled herself over the running water and splashed her face, cupping her hands and rinsing until the taste was gone.  Water dripped down her face and chest and she shivered on the cold tile.  Cait could only see the outline of her pale, naked form in the bathroom mirror.

Something hung from the towel rack—some kind of necklace.  Her hand reached out, this time finding the light, and her eyes focused on the object.  It was a hospital nametag for CRNA Blanks.

Cait’s eyes took in the immaculate bathroom—the cleaned electric razor, no loose hairs anywhere, no toothpaste stains.  It was like a hotel.

“Drew,” she said.

She heard only shallow snoring.

“Drew, is it morning?” she said louder.

“Wh—what?”

“It’s morning, right?”  Cait forced saliva into her mouth.  “Not nighttime?”

Drew checked his phone.  “Morning—Caitlyn, it’s morning.  Jesus, my shift is in two hours.”

“I shouldn’t be here,” Cait said to herself, turning the light off.  She leaned against the doorframe.  “Did I call you last night?”  She repeated the question, louder, when there was no answer.

Drew groped for the bedside light and flicked it on.  He sat up, eyes red and bleary.  “No.  No, you just came over without saying anything.”

The lamp cast light on the table on Cait’s side—crumbs of crushed morphine tabs littered the top.

Drew saw her look.  “It was your idea,” he said, squinting at her.  “Christ, have you been eating?”

Cait wrapped her arms around her stomach.  Something old was on Drew’s face, something from the hospital when they first met.  Not the lust from last night or the jealous desire from parties.

“Caitlyn, what happened?”  Drew pointed.

This was Nurse Blanks—an examination without the anonymity.

Cait glanced at her forearm.

She had wanted to see if it was the same.  If it felt like it used to.  The little cut was only an inch long.  It wouldn’t scar.

“Did you do that?” Drew asked.

Cait nodded and covered the cut with her palm, feeling suddenly ashamed of her naked body.

Drew was out of bed in an instant and at her side.

“No,” Cait said when Drew tired to hold her.   “I can’t do this anymore.”

She was standing on her long-sleeved shirt and picked it up, slipping it over her head—she hadn’t even bothered with a bra yesterday.  It felt like she had been shrinking for weeks.  Something moved in the corner of her eye and Cait caught a glimpse of herself in Drew’s full length mirror.   Her bare legs dropped from narrow hips like a spindly puppet’s, ready to collapse under the slight weight when the strings were let go.  Cait’s skin, soft and shaved, was part of the costume of a loving girlfriend, a role she had played for nearly a year.

Addicts are predictable—they’ll do anything to maintain the status quo, as long as the status quo includes getting high.

“I used you,” Cait said, pushing past Drew and finding her jeans with her underwear still inside.

It felt good to say it.

Drew looked so defenseless as he stood in just his briefs.

“What we had,” Cait said, speaking words that had been in the back of her mind for months, “it was never real.”

“You never felt anything for me?” Drew asked.

Cait shrugged.  “Maybe at one point—something.   I don’t really know anymore.”

Drew looked away as Cait struggled into her jeans.  They were loose on her waist.

“I always thought it was just the drugs,” Drew said.  “How distant you are.”  He made a gesture between the two of them. “This was all just to get high?”

Cait thought for a moment.  “Almost all of it.”

“Do you ever feel anything, at all?”  Drew asked, sitting down on the bed.

Cait slipped her shoes and sweatshirt on.

“I liked fucking,” she said, walking to the bedroom door.  “I won’t be back.”

Drew hadn’t even raised his voice.  The worst part was that he didn’t get angry or swear or break something or throw anything.  He didn’t follow Cait through the large loft or to the elevator.  For each floor that she dropped, Cait tried to imagine Drew’s face receding further away.  His stupid, patient, and disappointed face.

By the time Cait got outside, his face was the only thing she was thinking about.

Cait walked east for blocks, the sun climbing in front of her, and gradually the face in her head changed into another’s.  The only person who could answer Drew’s question.

It was another couple of blocks, on the outskirts of downtown, before Cait found a pay phone.  She dug through the contents of her pockets, fingers closing around some change in one hand and six tabs of morphine in the other.

Drew was useful one last time.

As she inserted the quarters, she broke one tab in half and swallowed it.  She dialed, Sid’s number burned into memory.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hey, Cait, shit—where are you?”

“Sid . . . have I ever—am I cold?”

“What?”

“Tell me,” Cait said.  “Do you think I’m cold?”

“Are you on your way back?  We’ve been worried.  My interview’s in two days.”

“Drew said—”

“Fuck Drew.”

“—that I don’t feel anything.”  Cait swallowed and ran a hand through her hair, breaking a few knots.

“Where are you?  I’ll come get you.”

“Sidney.  Have I ever loved something?  Have I always been this way?  Before . . . when I was young?”

She only heard his breathing.

“No,” Sid finally said.  “You were different.  Before.”

With just a few words, Sid would come find her and bring her home.  And Glenn and Geno would help take care of her, forgetting whatever else they had to do.  They had in the past and would in the future.  Cait depended on them.

She used them, she realized.

Cait let the phone drop and swing, and the world around her gradually returned.  She reached for her sunglasses but they weren’t there, instead pulling out the other half of the tab and quickly chewing it.  She walked with no destination in mind, legs growing heavier, and nearly ran into a young couple headed out of a squat building.  It was a cheap hotel—the kind where rooms could be rented by the hour.

It was perfect.

Cait stepped inside the dim lobby.  There was a fat, balding man sitting behind the counter flipping through a dirty magazine.  Mesh wire separated him from customers and the cash register looked like it was from the 1950s.

“I need a room,” Cait said.

“Now?”  The man checked his watch.  “It won’t be clean.”

“Whatever,” Cait said, pulling out her wallet.  “Just gimme five hours.”

The man put his magazine down and leered at Cait in open appraisal.

“Maybe we can work out a discount, you know if—”  The man stopped talking when he saw the disgusted sneer on Cait’s face as she threw down some cash.  He slid the key through a small gap.  “#21.”

The room was only a little larger than the bed—space for a small desk and chair.  The sheets were a mess and Cait chose to not check the contents of the waste basket.  Enough light came through the yellowed curtains to see.

An ashtray with a few crushed butts explained the smell.

Cait was methodical as she got everything ready.

First she filled a glass with water from the bathroom and placed it next to the bed.  She adjusted the heat so it was comfortably warm and emptied her pockets on the bedside table—wallet, coins, and morphine.      She opened the only drawer in the room and found the Gideon bible, using it to crush one tab.  With her debit card, she arranged the white powder into an organized line.

That would be the kicker.

Cait popped another tab in her mouth and chewed it immediately, washing it down with water.

She couldn’t remember how many she had taken today.

Laying back, Cait felt the familiar warmth spread to her toes.  The muted colors of the drab hotel room faded further.  Stretching out, she thought about taking her jeans off but the pervy man downstairs would probably be the first to find her.

Cait thought about all the people she had used over the years, everyone who came into her life and exited when she no longer needed them.  None of them would cry over her.  She wouldn’t for them.  She couldn’t even remember the last time she cried.

Probably some stupid, drunk fight with Sid.

He’d cry, Cait knew.

She slipped another tab beneath her tongue.

Sid deserved to know why.

In her mind, Cait composed a fond farewell that no one would ever read.  She wanted to get up and find a pad and paper but her limbs had grown very heavy.

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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 18 — Geno

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 5:  “You Know I Cannot Lie”

Geno

Someone was knocking on the door on the day after Christmas and Geno wasn’t expecting any late packages.

“Door!” he yelled from his bed.

Geno rolled over and looked at his phone—11:37 AM.  He hadn’t missed any texts or calls.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

He had no responsibilities this day and nobody was expecting anything of him.   His gifting was finished.  He bought Sidney an original Super Scope 6 a week ago and Caitlyn never wanted anything.  Glenn would pick out a charity that Geno could donate to, or maybe they’d “volunteer” together somewhere.

“Door!” Geno tried again.  He groped the bed-stand for a glass of water but it wasn’t there.  “Where the fuck is Glenn?”

The two of them had walked home from the bar last night.

That’s when Geno’s memories stopped.

KNOCK KNOCK, KNOCK KNOCK

Whoever was out there was intent on ruining this day.

Geno tossed his covers off, found the undershirt that he wore yesterday, and stumbled through the living room in his pajamas.

KNOCK KNOCK—

“Okay!” Geno yelled, throwing open his apartment door.

It was like looking into a distorted mirror—a shorter, pudgier, and slightly more sad version of Geno stood there.  The man wore a wrinkled suit that nevertheless fit him perfectly.  With a few buttons undone and a missing tie though, and a gym bag thrown over one shoulder, Geno’s dad didn’t look like a practicing lawyer.

“Why?” Geno said, rubbing his eyes.

“Can I come in?”

“You didn’t even call this time,” Geno said.  “How did you get here?”

“I took the train,” his dad said.

Geno waved him inside and closed the door.

“I thought it’d be a good idea to spend time with you,” his dad said.  He dropped his gym bag beside the couch.

“What happened?” Geno asked.  “Did you get fired?”

“No, of course not,” his dad said.

“Then go back to work.”

“No,” his dad said.

“Then go back to Mom.”

“Are those my two choices?”

Geno tried to flatten his hair as he walked into the kitchen.  “Did you get kicked out of the house?”  He flipped a switch on the coffee maker and couldn’t remember how old the grounds were.  There was a note written on the fridge in Glenn’s handwriting.

“I was asked to leave for a bit,” his dad said.  “It’ll be fine in a couple days.”

Geno squinted at the note—“Crazy Man Joe was spotted across the harbor, gonna see if I can find him.”

The coffee maker gurgled to life.

“I hope I’m not in the way,” his dad said, sitting on the edge of the couch.  He kicked a pair of jeans on the ground.  “Still living with Glenn—not seeing anyone?  How is he?”

Geno processed the questions.  “Glenn’s the same.  No, I’m not seeing—well, sort of.”

“Do you think I can stay here?” his dad asked.  He started testing the firmness of the pillows on the couch.

Geno spilled the coffee as he poured.  It dripped, dripped, dripped while he carried it to his dad.  Geno grabbed a second mug when someone knocked on the door.

He decided he was imaging it.

He just needed coffee then everything would make sense.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK   

Geno gripped his mug tightly.

The coffee machine choked out again.

“Wait in the kitchen,” Geno said to his dad while walking to the door.

After a breath, Geno opened it and blinked at the short girl, feeling a cold draft in the hallway.  Scarlett wore a long coat—the kind female lawyers wore on Law & Order in the winter.  The neck of her coat was open to two bare scoops of flesh that met, pale against grey fabric, and curved out of sight no matter how far Geno leaned.

“Is that my present?” Scarlett asked when Geno didn’t say anything.   She grinned and stepped forward, one finger pointing.  “You guessed my size.”

Geno glanced down and quickly turned around, fumbling with the buttons on the fly to his pajamas.

“You’re, uh, here too?” Geno said.  “What’s going on?”

She raised her eyebrows and Geno tried to stop his gaze from drifting.

He needed to find his pants.

“Merry Christmas to you,” Scarlett said.  “Is someone else—?”

“Did we make plans?  No, forget it—let’s get out of here.”

“Who is it?” Geno’s dad called.  “I can make breakfast.”

Geno turned and yelled, “Stay in the kitchen!”

Scarlett folded her arms.  “Who the fuck is that?”

“Nobody,” Geno said.  He spotted his jeans next to the couch.  “We are literally the only two people here.”

“You look like shit,” Scarlett said, watching Geno hop and try to jam his pajama’d legs into his jeans.

“Listen, I need to get out of here,” Geno said, pushing Scarlett out the door.  “Like, now.”             He ducked back inside: “I’ll be back later.  You can—don’t break anything, Dad!”

“Your dad’s here?” Scarlett put her hands on her hips.  “Wear a jacket at least.”

Geno reached inside to grab the first coat off the rack and slipped it on.  It was army surplus jacket that some homeless person probably died in.

“What’s the deal with your dad?” Scarlett asked.  She followed Geno down the stairs.  “You’re just gonna ignore him?”

“I can stay at your place,” Geno said.

“You can stay at my place?”

“Can I stay at your place?”

“I don’t let every guy who flashes his cock stay over,” Scarlett said, buttoning her coat up a little higher.

They stepped outside just as a bus rolled past.

“Taxi,” Geno said.  “Let’s get coffee—across the water.”

He grabbed Scarlett’s hand and led her to the corner.  They didn’t have to wait long before a taxi stopped and Scarlett joined him in the back of the cab.

“Over the harbor,” Geno said, and their driver headed for the bridge without a word.

He glanced at Scarlett and found himself hating the last button that she’d done up.  The coat was cinched tight at the waist making it seem like parts of her wanted to burst out.

When Geno had to change how he sat to be comfortable, he knew what he had to do.  At least it would shut Sidney up.  Geno told himself that he’d done this countless times—in bars, concerts, bookstores, and once at a Destroyers game.

“Listen, S.  Scarlett, what if . . . I mean,” Geno stuttered and stopped and Sidney’s stupid, encouraging face hung in his mind.   “Fuck it, why don’t we just go for it?”

“What are you even talking about?” she said.

Geno caught a glimpse of the driver shaking his head in the mirror.
“Are you asking me out?”  Scarlett smirked and leaned closer to catch Geno’s answer.  “Or are you afraid of girls, like Sidney says?”

“I’m not afraid—”

“Yeah, okay, he never actually said that,” Scarlett admitted.

“Let’s date,” Geno said.

“What?”

“Let’s date—like, be official.  Facebook status.  Implied plans on weekends.  Everything.”

Scarlett looked out the window and ran a hand through her short hair—it was getting longer.  Long enough to pull.

Geno swallowed, and their eyes met in the window’s reflection—she was blushing.

“Fine, all right,” Scarlett said, still turned away.

“Are you—?”  Geno forgot that thought when his phone vibrated once and he checked the text.

SIDNEY: “Cait’s gone.  She left her phone.  Think she’s with Drew.  Halfway done with game—gonna look for her tonight.”

“Shit,” Geno said.  He showed Scarlett the text.

“Do you know where Drew lives?” she asked.

“Caitlyn’s a big girl,” Geno said.  “Sometimes she needs space.”  But it didn’t feel right.  Like an outdoor cat, Caitlyn would disappear for days and sleep wherever, but she had stayed home the past ten nights.

He sent back a quick reply—“Lemme know if you need me”.

Scarlett crossed her legs and the bottom of her coat rode up.  She wasn’t wearing any stockings.  “Aren’t you freezing?” Geno touched her calf and she pressed against his fingers, and his hand slid up to her knee.

Geno glanced at the driver’s mirror.

His hand trailed further, down her thigh until he hit lace.  “Are you not—?”

Scarlett shook her head.

Geno felt her side, trying to determine how much fabric was under her coat but Scarlett pushed his hand away.

“How’d you know I was going to ask you out?” Geno said, taking out his phone.

“If you didn’t, I decided I was just gonna jump you,” Scarlett said.  “You know I haven’t been with—what’re you doing?”

“Texting my dad,” Geno said.  “Telling him I’ll be late for dinner.”

The cab suddenly stopped—Geno realized they’d crossed the bridge without him noticing.

“Where abouts?” the driver asked.

Scarlett quickly gave her address.

The cab made an illegal U-Turn and sped through a light just as it turned, the driver whistling an upbeat tune that Geno didn’t recognize.

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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 17 — Sidney

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 5:  “You Know I Cannot Lie”

Sidney

Sid pressed pause and checked how long he’d been playing Sins of Our Fathers—3 hours, 23 minutes, and 17 seconds.  Mrs. Robinson had said game testers took around 45 hours to finish the main story of the RPG, and Sid had nine days to do that and write up a critique of the game.  He flipped through the settings of the pause menu while recallin the conversation he last had with Mrs. Robinson.


“This is your shot,”
she had said, sliding a game disc in a paper envelope across the table.  “I mentioned you to some friends of mine.”

Sid remembered staring at the XBOX disc—‘Sins of our Fathers’ written in Sharpie on one side of the beta version.

“The game launches in three months,” Mrs. Robinson had told him.  “If you can get me your response by the end of the year, I can get you an interview with the developer.”

Sid heard a wracking cough behind him and watched Cait roll over in his bed.  Her pillow was soaked with sweat, only a thin sheet laying over her.  She had promised to keep Sid company while he marathon’d the game, but she had been clean for forty eight hours and asleep for the last three.  Yesterday she flushed the last of her morphine, saying she had tapered long enough but Sid had no way to know.

It was nearly 2:00 in the afternoon and Sid got up to stretch.  He was far enough into the game that the intro was almost done with the real adventure about to begin.  Sid grabbed some ice from the kitchen and refreshed the glass beside his bed before sitting on the floor to play.

Set up like a traditional Japanese RPG, Sins of Our Fathers was modeled after Super Nintendo games like Zelda: Link to the Past, but streamlined with modern graphics.  Taking place in a small village in late medieval times, the hero had learned that his father was not the good man who had raised him, but someone else—someone mysterious and, judging by the title, someone probably evil.  The hero had just met his first potential companion—a young, boisterous woman—when someone knocked quietly on Sid’s door.

Geno let himself in and glanced around the room, eyes adjusting to the dim sunlight coming through the blinds.

“Hey,” Geno said.  “How’s the game?  Caitlyn texted me about your maybe-interview and I thought I’d check it out.  Glenn might come by later.”

“It’s fine,” Sid said.  “Kinda typical so far.  I’m not sure what the selling point is.”

Geno sat on the hardwood floor just inside the door and nodded toward the bed.  “She’s okay?”

“Just tired, I hope,” Sid said. “Where’s Scar?”

Geno frowned at the nickname.  “She’s practicing.  Next week Scarlett performs for the application committee, or whatever.  The smug assholes who sit there and judge her while she plays piano.  They like her application on paper, but—you don’t really care about this, do you?”

Sid had unpaused the game to read more lines of dialogue—the female character was explaining her back story.  It was exposition without any attempt to hide it.

“I hope she gets in.  She’s fun, you know,” Sid said, glancing sideways at his friend.  “You two, uh, get along well.”

“Scarlett throws herself at everything,” Geno said, shaking his head.  “Everything she does.  And she doesn’t care when she fails.”

Sid was pretty sure he knew what was going on, but he had to be careful.  Memories of Geno’s heartbroken high school self and how annoying he was quickly came to mind.

“You seeing her tonight?” Sid asked.

“No, tomorrow,” Geno said.  “Glenn mentioned having dinner later, by the way.  Some new Thai place on the water.”

Sid stared at the blinking cursor next to a box of dialogue on the screen that he had read three times.  Press ‘A’ to continue.

“Why—why don’t you just ask her out already?” Sid said.  “I mean, dude, you haven’t been with anyone since you met, right?  You’re practically dating.”

Geno was quiet for a moment.

“I’m thinking about it,” he admitted.  “Maybe—”

Whatever Geno was about to say was never said—his phone vibrated and he stood up.  He slipped out of the room, saying that he had to take the call, and Sid resumed the game.

After the dialogue was finished, Sid was struck with a choice, and for the first time the game departed from what he expected.  Instead of forcing the hero to journey with this new character, the player decided whether to take the girl along or leave her behind.  The girl was an orphan who was full of energy and was looking for help on her own quest: finding her real parents.

Sid wondered how long it would be before another person would ask to join the hero’s party—how much more of the game he’d have to play alone.  He chose to travel with her and played for a few more hours before another hesitant knock sounded on his door.  It was dark outside.

When Glenn came in and Sid paused the game, the hero was in a new village with another decision to make.

Glenn gestured at Cait’s motionless form on the bed.

“Sleeping,” Sid said.  Or maybe she was faking it—her breathing was quiet and uneven.

Glenn sat and leaned against the bed.  “Going to dinner in a bit.  You in?”

“Pass,” Sid said.

“That good of a game?”  Glenn squinted at the screen.

“Just starting to get into it,” Sid said.  “Have you booked your flight yet?”

“No.”

“Don’t you leave for Uraguay after New Years?”

“Suriname,” Glenn said, frowning.  “And yeah.  But, did you hear the news in Colombia?”

“I doubt it,” Sid said.

“The housing I helped coordinate,” Glenn said, patting his pockets for cigarettes, “all the construction we did last time—the village was taken over by the traffickers.”

“And the locals?”

Glenn shook his head.  “I’m not sure what I really accomplish when I go down there.”

“You don’t think you help?” Sid asked.

“I mean,” Glenn said, “did you know that New Portsmouth has the highest rate of homelessness per capita?  In this whole stupid country?”

“You can’t fix everything, everywhere.”

The two of them sat quietly for a moment—an unlit cigarette hanging from Glenn’s mouth—until his phone vibrated with a text.

“Well,” Glenn said, guessing who it was and standing up, “I gotta meet Geno.  I’ll bring back a box of panang for Caitlyn.”

“I’ll walk to you out,” Sid said.

When he sat back down again in front of the TV, Sid recalled the decision that the hero had to make: his party could continue on their quest, or they could stay in this village and help the locals defend themselves.  He chose to stay.

After a few more hours and several slices of cold pizza, Sid went into the kitchen for fresh ice.  Cait was sitting up in bed when Sid came back.  Clumpy hair hid half of Cait’s face and the loose sheet covered her legs.  She wore one of Sid’s t-shirts, too large on her thin frame.

“How long have you been awake?” Sid asked.

“Was fading in and out,” she said, yawning.  “Glenn was here?”

Sid nodded and sat down on the bed, dropping the ice into the glass.

“And Geno earlier,” he said.

Cait held the glass to her forehead before taking a long drink.  She smiled her ‘thanks’.  “How’s the game?  Have you been playing—what time is it?”

“Almost midnight,” Sid said.

“Jesus.”

“You hungry?” Sid asked.  “There’s a take-out box with your name on it in the fridge—smells like curry.  I mean, Glenn literally wrote your name on it.”

“I think I can eat a little.”  Cait held the glass halfway to her lips.  “Sorry.  I was supposed to keep you company.”

Sid shrugged.  After a moment, he turned off the TV.  “Are you still thinking about getting high?”

“Do you want me to lie?”

“No,” Sid said.

“Less,” Cait said.  “I still—I still want it.”

“But—”

“I’m an addict.”  Cait let a small laugh free, her smile staying a little longer.  “It doesn’t just go away.  That’s what normals—sober people don’t get.  It’s always there.”

“You still think about Drew?”

“Want me to lie?”

“Yes,” Sid said.

“No,” Cait answered.  “I don’t think about him at all.”

The humming fan of the old game console was the only sound in the room.

“I hope you get the interview,” Cait said.  “Isn’t this the chance you’ve wanted?”

The TV was off, but the hero and his party were waiting in front of a door that would lead to the first major boss fight.  The last save point was two hours back—if he lost this fight, he’d have to do it all over again.

Sid made a mental note to remind someone of this bad design.

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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 16 — Glenn

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 4:  “Need a Lift to Happy Hour”

Glenn

            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.”

“Christ.”

“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.

END OF EPISODE 4

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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 15 — Caitlyn (Special Halloween Edition)

What is Distilled Spirits?

Note: This chapter is 2,300 words, the first break from the 1,500 cap.  These deviations will be rare.

Episode 4:  “Need a Lift to Happy Hour”

Caitlyn

            Cait had carefully designed the playlist for the Halloween party.  It started with unobjectionable music—Beatles, Cake, 90s hip hop, and mostly stuff that was on the radio twenty years ago.  By the time many people had left, her computer would play what Sid and Cait wanted to hear.  And when it came time to get people to leave, an alternating loop of November Rain and Hollaback Girl would finish the job.

Help! was playing when the doorbell rang, and Cait left Drew at the makeshift bar to pour drinks for people he didn’t know.

The door opened by itself—a pirate was leaning against the frame with a plastic sword in one hand, and an opened handle of Captain Morgan in the other.  His pants were tight enough that Cait could see . . . too much, and his billowy pirate shirt was open down to his stomach.

Cait squeezed her eyes shut.  “What the fuck are you wearing, Geno?”

“I’m a pirate,” Geno said.  “You know, from the porno movie.  The one that cost a million bucks to make.  Pirates XXX.”

Cait squinted at her friend’s chest.  “Did you start working out just for Halloween?”

“Sorry we’re late,” Scarlett said, looking Geno up and down as well.  She was almost hidden behind him.  “We got distracted and—”

“No details,” Cait said.

The small girl that Cait had only met a few times was barely recognizable as Scarlett—she wore a long blond wig with flowers in her hair and a flowing dress of multiple, faded colors.  Some kind of Indian braid was tied around her forehead and a peace symbol hung from her neck.

The joint behind her ear was probably not part of the costume.

“Thank you for this party,” Scarlett said.  “I’m sensing positive energy from your aura right now.  The moon blesses us this evening.”

Cait thought about closing the door but Geno offered up the bottle and Cait grabbed it, leading the two inside.

The open layout of the apartment was perfect for hosting a party.  It was easy to gather in the ‘living area’ around the couch, chairs, and fish tank in front of the wide windows, or in the ‘kitchen area’ with its table lined with booze and counter covered in food.

Cait put Geno’s bottle with the other rum and started rearranging the alcohol so that everything was properly grouped.

“Where did this come from?” someone asked, handing her a bottle.  It was Sid, standing beside her.  The clear bottle had Korean characters written across it.

“No clue,” Cait said, glancing at Sid and his blue, button-up coat with maroon tie and white undershirt—hair slicked back at pointy angles.  “I still think you coulda pulled off Spike Spiegel.”

“Objection!” Sid yelled.  “Being a fictional lawyer will be way more fun.”

“If you yell that all night—”

“Did he come here already drunk?” Sid asked, picking up a paring knife and a few key limes.  “And does he know that she’s a lesbian?”

Cait looked—Drew was talking with Molly and another girl from Glenn’s soup kitchen.  Flirting with them.

“Wait,” Cait said, “Molly’s a lesbian?”

“Yup, Glenn told me.”

“That explains why he didn’t go for her,” Cait said, reexamining the tall woman—taller than Drew, like Cait was.  Molly was dressed in all back like usual.  No costume—she had said she didn’t believe in Halloween, whatever that meant, but came to a Halloween party anyway.  She had brought two bottles so no one seemed to care.

“Oh he tried—in the awkward way that Glenn tries,” Sid said.  “Where is he?”

“Smoking on the fire escape.  What about Eri?  She coming?”

“She can’t,” Sid said, slicing limes in half and plopping one in his own gin and tonic that smelled short on tonic.  “Some kind of test tomorrow.”

“Are you guys still together?”

“I think so.”

Cait smiled.  “Why didn’t you invite that videogame cougar of yours?  Mrs. Robinson?”

“Objection!” Sid said.  “I’m not talking about work tonight.  Tabasco shot?”

“No way.”

“Why not?  I haven’t done one with you since college,” Sid said, already pouring the vodka and uncapping the Tabasco.  “As your lawyer, it’s my duty to make sure the hosts have a better time than our guests.  Now—gimme your hand.”

Sid carefully dripped Tabasco on the back of her hand, did the same for himself, and handed Cait her shot.   He grinned like a freshman

“Down the hatch,” he said.

They tipped theirs back together, and an impulse made Cait grab Sid’s hand and quickly lick the Tabasco off, holding her hand up for him to do the same.

“Remember,” Cait said, trying to stop from laughing.  She had to inhale deeply a few times and wiped her hand on her pants.  The taste of the shot was gone.  “Remember how we used to freak people out with that?  Oh, Christ.  When we pretended that we just met?”

Sid steadied himself with a hand on the table, wearing a huge grin. “That poor pizza delivery guy—when we asked him to join us.”

Cait caught a glimpse of Geno again—his pirate shirt was now completely undone.  He and Scarlett were the center of an impromptu dance party near the fish tank that was backlit with orange.  By the looks of it, Scarlett learned ‘dance’ from a girl named Candy or Dawn.  It was hard to believe Geno when he said the two of them weren’t sleeping together.

“Now,” Sid said, “as your lawyer—”

“You know you’re not a real lawyer, right?” Drew said, suddenly beside them and smiling over a tall drink.  There was a slight slur to his words.  “Is that what you actually wanted to be as a kid?”

Sid looked down at his blue coat and puffed it out.  “Yeah, I wish I was Phoenix Wright.  That’d be awesome.  Does your outfit even count as a costume?”

Drew twirled his stethoscope.  “It’s a real doctor’s uniform from St. Anthony’s.  Borrowed it.”

Sid eyed the last two sips in his glass and finished it.  “Is that what you actually wanted to be as a kid—a doctor?  When did you decide on nurse?  What test did you fail?”

“At least I have a real job,” Drew said.

“At least—” Sid finally caught the look on Cait’s face, and he swallowed.  “Excuse me, I think I see a new client.”  With a small bow, Sid loosened his collar and headed for the bathroom.

“Don’t be an ass,” Cait said, taking Drew’s arm and leading him away from the bar.

“Why is Sidney always like that to me?” Drew asked.  “Your other friends like me.”

Cait bit her lip.  “You see that guy dressed as Rocky?  I mean, the flying squirrel?  He’s starting med school.  Why don’t you give him some advice?”  She gently pushed Drew in that direction and that was enough to keep him going.

The playlist churned out hits.  Cait talked with a dead dinosaur, a burlesque Darth Vader, and a couple dressed as Bill and Ted.  She entertained a friend of a friend who was new in town, talked with Geno who had ‘lost’ his shirt but not his sword, and managed to catch Molly and Scarlett on the fire escape with a few others.  Molly was one of the few women Cait had ever met who didn’t mind silence.

A Built to Spill song faded when they climbed back inside and the unmistakable opening chords of Interpol sounded.  Phase II of the playlist was in full swing.

“I’ll lay down my glasses

I’ll lay down in houses

If things come alive”

“Oh, no,” Scarlett said, glancing at Cait.

Round II between the boys at the bar had also begun.  This time Drew was lecturing at Sid and Geno while others looked on—Geno enunciated a point with his sword and Sid gripped his drink tight enough to turn his knuckles white.

“I promise to commit no acts of violence

Neither physical or otherwise

If things come alive.”

“Just admit it!” Drew was saying.  “You never liked me.”

“Okay,” Sid said with a shrug.  “I give up.  You’re a shitty person.  To take advantage of Cait when you met—”

Geno’s mouth gaped.  “He did what?

“That’s—that’s between me and her,” Drew said.

“It never was,” Sid said.  “And you’ve had enough time to prove that you weren’t an asshole.”

“You’re just jealous,” Drew said, “jealous because you don’t get to fuck—”

“Get out of here,” Geno said, pointing his sword at Drew’s neck.

Drew looked to Cait who had been watching from the fish tank.  “Why aren’t you backing me up?  This failed, shitstain writer—”

“Get the fuck out,” Cait said quietly.

“Hey, I—”

“Get the fuck out of my apartment!” Cait pointed at the door.  “Right now.”

Drew finally seemed to judge the atmosphere.  The dancing had stopped.  The fish were in a frenzy.  And he was alone in a crowd.  He nodded to himself a few times, picked up his coat from beneath the table, and walked to the door, pausing for a second just outside.  Drew considered something while looking directly at Cait.  “I don’t know why I put up with your crazy shit and your friends.  You aren’t even that great of a screw.  You—”

Sid’s glass sailed an inch above Drew’s head and smashed against the hallway wall, and a plastic pirate’s sword hit Drew in the chest before he slammed the door closed.

“I’m subtle like a lion’s cage

Such a cautious display.”

“Jesus, that guy.”  Sid yanked his tie off.

“You!” Cait got in his face with a finger on Sid’s chest.

“Objection!” Sid yelled.  “The fuck did I do?”

Cait glared between Geno and Sid.  She clenched her fists, and then saw Glenn out on the fire escape again, watching this all happen.  She walked over to the window.  “Just—leave me alone tonight.”

Sid picked up a bottle of Jim Beam and held it up to the light, eying how much was left.  “Geno!”

“Yes?”

“Mario Kart until we pass out,” Sid said.  “My room—now.  And find your shirt.”

Geno spoke a few quick words to Scarlett but she just nodded, waving him along.

“Remember take hold of your time here

Give some meanings to your means

To your end.”

Cait crawled out the window and shut out the music.  It was cold but the wind wasn’t blowing, and Glenn looked warm in his winter Sherlock Holmes outfit.

Cait held out her hand and Glenn handed her a cigarette, lighting it for her.

“Caitlyn, what, what do you even see in—?”

“Let’s not talk about it,” she said.

They smoked in silence.

“He . . . Drew takes, and gets what he wants.”  Cait found herself speaking.  “He has this power—it’s not just confidence.  That’s why I didn’t dress up tonight.  I was going to be Misty, you know, from Pokemon?  He told me not to.

“Sexy Misty?”

“Forget it,” Cait said.  “Whatever.  We’re over now, I guess.”

“We’ll see,” Glenn said.  “Sorry—I mean, I guess you care about him.”

“Who?”

Glenn finished his own cigarette, stuffing it back in the pack.  “You were thinking of Sidney, just then, weren’t you?”

Cait stared at her friend.   He had a knack for being somewhere at the right time.

“You were there,” Cait said.  “You were in the living room the whole time the night that Sid and I took M together.”

Glenn winced, and nodded.  “He asked me to stay in case things got weird.  He wanted someone sober there for his first time.  Well, we were all a bit drunk.  You really don’t remember that night, do you?”

“I remember parts,” Cait said.  “He remembers less.”

“When it started, you and Sid held hands and went into your room with huge smiles.  Without one fucking word spoken.  Freaked me out a bit.”  Glenn glanced at Cait’s face.

Words were caught in her throat.  She opened her mouth and closed it.

“I looked in on you guys a bit later,” Glenn said.  “You know, that was my job, right?  That’s what Sidney asked me to do.”

“What did you see?”

“You wanna know?” Glenn asked.

“N—no,” Cait said, rubbing her arms.

“You gave me a note that night,” Glenn said.  “Told me to hold onto it.”

“Stop.”

“I always have it in my wallet, you know,” Glenn said, patting his pocket.  “You told me—you said to give it back to you, Caitlyn, if you ever tried to hurt yourself again.”

Cait stopped clenching her fists and glanced down between the cracks of the old fire escape, down to the street below.

“You staying over?” Cait asked.

“If the couch is free,” Glenn said, standing up.  He opened the window and climbed through.

“I’ll be in soon,” Cait said.

She looked down her quiet, residential street, a few blocks off of Canal St.  Another apartment party was happening across the way, still going strong, and she heard some people on the roof of her building.  An ambulance siren rang, maybe on the opposite side of the canal—toward some drunken mistake or carrying the results of one.

A bottle smashed against the sidewalk below, thrown or dropped from the roof.

Cait thought about how many people jumped off the city’s bridge every year—how many were never reported and never even became a statistic.  How many people just disappeared, with all of their loved ones left to wonder what happened until they, too, died.

That final rush, final fear, before hitting the water—there had to be a better way for them to do it, Cait figured.  She couldn’t understand why anyone would choose jumping off a bridge over anything else.

The cigarette felt warm in her fingertips and she flicked it through the bars of the fire escape.

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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 14 — Geno

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 4: “Need a Lift to Happy Hour”

Geno

            “I’ll walk you out,” Geno said, watching Scarlett gather her brushes and coloring pencils and shoulder her backpack.  Geno picked up the paint-splotched newspapers and threw them in the trash, checking his clothes.  “I think you got some white paint on your, uh, back.”

Scarlett frowned and touched her jeans but the paint had dried.  “You mean my ass?  Did you check any other places?”

Geno rolled his eyes and slipped a coat on, opening his apartment door.  “Maybe next week I can show you some pottery techniques?”

“Yeah, no thanks Patrick Swayze,” Scarlett said, walking out with him.  “That’s not happening.”

The building’s only elevator was at the end of the hall and the lights flickered for a moment—Geno made a mental note to remind Glenn about it.  Living with the building’s landlord as a roommate sometimes made Geno feel like his friend’s personal secretary.

He called the elevator and the loud gear started turning.

“When the hell was this place built?” Scarlett asked.

“Before the war,” Geno said,

“Which one?”

Geno just smiled for an answer and they stepped inside when the elevator finally arrived.

“Do the doors close?” Scarlet muttered and pressed ‘L’ again.

“Sometimes you gotta really press it,” Geno said.  He pushed the button and held it down.  “Three seconds usually works.  Gotta tell the elevator that you’re serious.”

“Are you screwing—”

The doors promptly closed and they descended one floor before the elevator stopped again.

Scarlett crossed her arms and stared at Geno when nothing happened.  She was waiting for him to do something but this wasn’t normal.  The doors didn’t open and the elevator didn’t budge.

He pressed and held the button down again.  This time for five seconds.

“I’m sure it’ll work itself out,” Geno said.

Again for ten seconds.

“Yeah, ummm,” Geno thought, “this isn’t good.”

“This can’t be fucking happening,” Scarlett said, looking around the inside of the elevator.  It was large enough for maybe six or seven people.  “We need to start moving.”

“It’s fine,” Geno said, this time leaning on the ‘Open Doors’ button.  “The building just has some, uh, character to it.”

Scarlett took her backpack off and pressed every button on the panel, lighting them all up.  She hit the alarm with her palm and nothing happened.  She kept hitting it.

“Hey,” Geno said, lightly touching her arm, “that one never work—”

She slapped his hand away and was biting her lip.  She hit the button again.

“Wait a second,” Geno said, “you’re not claus—”

“Don’t say it,” she said, pushing Geno against the wall.  She stepped into the corner opposite of him.  “Don’t say it.  You stay over there.”

“I can’t believe—you of all people.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”  she said, staring at the ceiling.  “Why’s there no trap door?”

“Huh?”

“Like in the movies,” Scarlett said.  When she spoke it was quickly, like she was on her fourth cup of coffee.  “And TV shows.  When people are in an elevator, they always escape through the ceiling.”

“We don’t need to escape,” Geno said.  “There’s no fire or monster or T-1000 trying to get us.”

“There’s no phone, either,” she said, pointing at the panel.  “Isn’t there always one to call firefighters?”

Geno took out his own phone.  “I don’t have any service.  You?”

Scarlett shook her head and started pacing between two corners.  “No one’s going to find us.”

“We’re not buried alive.  Stop thinking about it,” Geno said.  He looked around the small space but there wasn’t anything to talk about.  He sat down in his corner.  “Think about anything else.  What are you doing for Halloween?”

She stopped suddenly and pointed a finger at Geno’s chest.  “Were you going to invite me?”

“Invite you?”

“Yeah,” she said, “to Sidney’s party.  You got a text from him when you were in the bathroom.  Don’t give me that look—I didn’t go through your phone.  You got a text and I looked at it.”

Geno sighed and was pretty sure that she probably did go through his phone.  “Well, do you want to come?”

“As a date?”

“Christ, you tell me.”

Scarlett bit her lip.  “I don’t know.  My last relationship took a lot of work, and I—”

“Whoa whoa, wait,” Geno said, putting his hands up, “Wait.  Who said anything about a relationship?  I don’t do that.”

“Don’t do what?”

“Date seriously,” he said.  “Something always goes wrong, or someone gets hurt.  Sit down, will you?  Your making my neck hurt.”

“Than what’s the point?” Scarlett asked, sitting across from him and stretching her legs out.  “Just sex?”

“No, I mean, there’s other stuff, sometimes—like restaurants and Netflix.  You never do anything . . . casually?”

Scarlett pushed the alarm button with her foot. “I don’t like it.  If I’m gonna put effort into something—and dudes take effort—I’d like it to go somewhere.”  She thought for a second.  “If you planned this—if you thought you could get me in here and fuck—”
“Jesus,” Geno said, “give me a little credit.”

“I’m just saying—”

“Do you want to come to the goddamned party or not?” Geno said.  “You’ll have to dress up.”

“Okay,” Scarlett answered, “I’ll come.  You know, I’m starting to figure you out.”

“Please please please tell me,” Geno said, “that you’ve never had a job as a psychologist.”

“You can’t commit,” she said.  “The jobs.  The girls.  What are you afraid of?”

“Nothing, mom,” Geno mumbled.  He squinted at his phone and then held it above his head.  He stood up suddenly and held his phone as high as he could, watching the signal strength.

“What are you doing?” Scarlett asked.

For a split second, Geno thought he saw a bar appear.

“I have an idea,” he said, reaching a hand down to her.

Scarlett took his hand reflexively and stood up, then frowned like she had been tricked.

Geno made a quick guess at Scarlett’s weight that he kept to himself.  “You’re gonna have to get on my shoulders.”

“This isn’t going to work.”

“Do you have a better idea?  Take my phone,” Geno said, kneeling down.

“What am I supposed to do?” she said, standing behind him.  “Mount your head?”

“Look, I swear to god this isn’t some scheme.  Just—just wrap your, uh, self around my head.”

Scarlett didn’t weigh much at all, and Geno held onto her thighs with both hands, slowly standing up.

“If your hands move an inch,” she said, tugging his hair.  “I’ll kill you.”

“Can I just say that you have really nice legs.”

“Listen if you—I got service!  Two bars!” she yelled, bouncing on his shoulders.

“Open contacts.  Text Glenn before we lose service,” Geno said.  “Tell him we’re trapped in the elevator.  Keep holding that high.”

“Done,” she said, after a moment

As they waited, Geno readjusted his grip on her legs and Scarlett used the top of his head for a table.  He felt his head vibrate with Glenn’s answer.  “What did he say?”

“He’s on his way,” Scarlett said as Geno knelt down to let her off.  “He said he’ll be here in thirty minutes and—his words here—‘the camera’s still broken, too’.”  She crossed her arms.  “Why would he tell us that the elevator camera is broken?”

Geno tried to think up a plausible lie but nothing came to him.

“That’s interesting,” Scarlett said.  She handed Geno back his phone and then lightly pushed him against the wall, keeping her hand on his chest.  “It’s pretty convenient, don’t you think?  You know what would really occupy my mind?”  She let her fingers trail down to his belt, and she tugged him closer, licking her lips.

“Too bad you don’t do relationships,” Scarlett said, letting go and taking a step back.  She glanced down.   “It looks like we coulda had some fun.”_________________________________________________________________________________

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Distilled Notes: Halloween, Thursdays, and the End of a Season

         Now that I’m finished with Part One of California’s CSET exam, I have one less excuse for not posting as often as I’ve wanted to.  Well–with the holidays on their way, I’m sure I can find one more.

The first, Halloween, falls on a Thursday this year, and I’ve been planning a Caitlyn chapter (Ch. 15) around this day for some time.  Accordingly, instead of regular Monday postings of Distilled Spirits, I’ll be switching to a less-constrained, one-chapter-per-calender-week plan.  Geno’s Chapter 14 can be expected this Thursday–following that, I’ll be aiming for Thursdays more often than not, breaking this format when something has to happen on a certain date.

Well, really this is Sidney and Caitlyn’s plan more than mine–the two are hosting the annual Halloween party this year and with essentially ever character invited and undoubtedly far from sober, it promises to be memorable.

         I’ve posted before regarding the structure of this web serial and I have some more information to pass along.  This season of Distilled Spirits will conclude following Episode 5, (Chapter 20).  Marking 5 months of writing, 5 months of city-building, and 5 months in the lives of these four friends, Episode 5 will close major plot arcs for each character.

Tentatively titled “Where you headed?“, the episode will focus on the choices that determine what course their lives will take.

For now, Episode 4 continues with Geno’s chapter on Thursday.  Need a Lift to Happy Hour centers on a theme of help–that there are small things we can do for each other that aren’t actually small at all.

Distilled Spirits: Ch. 13 — Sidney

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 4:  “Need a Lift to Happy Hour”

Sidney

Sid checked his phone—6:56.  Four more minutes.  No one is ever expected to work during their last five minutes on the job.

“I don’t understand the rabbits,” James said, sipping his pomegranate juice on the other side of the dining room table.  “What do they mean?”

Unfortunately, Sid’s ‘boss’ was a precocious10-year old assigned Of Mice and Men in 6th grade, probably by a teacher tired of being prodded by him or his mom.

“Why not chickens?” James asked.  His highlighter was an inch above the page.  “My teacher said the rabbits might be a symbol for . . .”

Sid stopped listening and glanced over the kid’s shoulder, out the bay window of the South Harbor high-rise.  The sun was still holding out against winter and Sid thought he was a green light across the water on the shipping piers.

“Why do the rabbits have to mean anything?” Sid said, rubbing his eyes.

“Huh?”  James looked like 2 + 2 no longer made 4.

“Why can’t they just be rabbits?” Sid asked.

He heard a laugh from behind him in the kitchen.  The kid’s mom had come home without Sid noticing.  Cupboards opened and closed, loudly now—she was putting groceries away, and Sid stopped himself from checking his phone again.

He recalled part of a thesis to a paper he once wrote for a friend who paid him $50.

“Forget about the actual rabbits,” Sid said.  “They could be anything.  They could be chickens, and nothing would change.  It’s the idea, the promise—that farm that Lennie and George are after, but never reach.  The thought that their happiness—their safety from Steinbeck’s America—is out there somewhere.  If only a few breaks go their way.  If only someone gave them a hand, everything might turn out okay.”

“But, but what if my teacher asks me what the rabbits symbolize?”  James chewed on the end of his highlighter.

“Tell her—tell her Steinbeck was a sex-addict.”

“Okay, that’s enough for today,” James’s mom said, walking into the dining room.  The tall woman had a long winter jacket draped over her arm and she smiled at the two of them, trying not to look tired.

“Evening, Mrs. Robinson,” Sid said, standing up.

“Hey Mom—do I have time before dinner?” James started shoving books in his backpack.  They had already worked through his math homework that he actually needed help with.

“One hour,” she said.  “Go play.”

The kid’s door closed a moment later, shutting out whatever 10-year old kids did these days, and his mom waved Sid into the kitchen.

“Please.  Please don’t call me that.  I told you,” Laura said, leaning against the counter.  One paper grocery bag hadn’t been emptied and two short glasses sat beside it.  “Top shelf this week.  You’ll stay for a minute, right?”  She slid a bottle out of the bag—it was some kind of bourbon that Sid had never seen before.  “I’m too young to be divorced and drinking alone.”  Her smile changed subtly but Sid ignored it.  She liked to play her games, but she paid very well for Sid to tutor an already bright child.

“One drink,” Sid said.   “I’m expected back for dinner.”

“Girlfriend?” she asked, licking her lips.

Sid shook his head.  “A friend.”

“You know,” Laura said, opening and sniffing the bottle, ”Steinbeck wasn’t a sex-addict.”

“Well, now your kid has something new to Google,” he said, trying to keep a straight face.

Laura paused with the bottle over one glass, and then poured.  “You’re good with kids.”

“I’m good with American Lit,” Sid said, taking his drink.  “Less so with math.”  He looked around the spacious kitchen that must get professionally cleaned.  “I never knew video game consulting could pay so well.”

Laura laughed and added another splash to her glass.  “Not as much as I’d like—Greg left me this condo for James.  He’s much nicer as an ex-husband.”

“I’m sorry,” Sid said.

“Don’t be,” she insisted.  “Sometimes two people work better apart.”  She frowned, crossing her arms.  “Why don’t you ever talk about yourself?”  Her drink hovered beneath her mouth.  “You have a cute girlfriend?”

“I, uh . . .” Sid trailed off.  “I think so.”

“One of those relationships, huh?” Laura said, shaking her head.  “Take some advice—”

“Mrs. Robinson—“

Laura’s eyes narrowed.  “Career advice. If it happens to apply to . . . well, here it is—take what’s within reach, Sidney.  And don’t let go.”

“Career advice?” Sid wondered aloud.  “How can that help me—”

“You never told me you were in the business,” Laura sad, indicting the framed Chrono Trigger artwork on the wall with her glass.

“I’m not.  I haven’t worked in two months.”

“And you haven’t once asked me for a job.  For anything,” she said, biting her lip.  “You’re either stupid, or the most genuine person left in this city.”  Out of her jacket’s inner pocket, she pulled out a rolled-up collection of papers, bound with a  rubber band.  She tapped it against her palm.  “James talks about you sometimes—he likes you.  He made me curious.”

Sid took a long sip.

“I looked up some of your games,” Laura said.  “They’re hard to find.”

“They’re not entirely my games,” Sid said.  “I just write—well, except for Toothpick Saga on STEAM.  I made that in college.”

“A $3.00 game,” Laura said.  “I hope you didn’t spend it all in one place.”  She slid the paper bundle across the counter and Sid picked it up.

“What’s this?”

“That,” she said, “is an early script to an indie-dev RPG.  Decent budget.  It borrows from the Japanese and—well, the gameplay doesn’t matter.  I want you to look it over.”

“You want me to—”

“Read it.  You’ll tell me what you think after James’ session on Thursday.  I can’t pay you,” she said, “and this is actually illegal.  But I might be able to find real work for you.  Just read it.”  She opened a cupboard and took out a box of pasta, glancing at Sid while turning on the cold water tap.  “Feel free to leave now—I have to get dinner going.”

Sid left his empty glass on the counter and slipped the bundle of papers into his briefcase.  He thanked Mrs. Robinson before leaving, but she was already studying a cook book.

The elevator ride down seemed to take forever and the old man working behind the receptionist’s desk gave Sid a knowing look–when he couldn’t have known anything.  Except how many people visit Mrs. Robinson’s condo.

Sid stepped into the night air and flipped his phone’s airplane mode ‘off’, reminding himself that he hadn’t written anything substantial in months.  That this job could be Lennie and George’s farm.

He had a text and a voice mail waiting for him.  He read the message first:

ERI:  I don’t know.  Why do we have to define what we are?  Why can’t we just keep doing what we’re doing?

He closed the text.  Every immediate response sounded stupid in his head.

The voicemail was from Cait:

Hey Sid, I bet you don’t even listen to this message . . . ummmmm . . . Don’t forget—you said you’d handle the food and drinks if I did the decorations for the Halloween party.  My vote is for cheap food and good booze, but, uh, yeah, haha, you knew that.  You’re home for dinner tonight, right?  Drew’s at a conference for a few days .  . .  We can talk about Eri.  You’re screwing it up, aren’t you?  I said I’d help you with her—she’s really easy.  I mean, simple—she’s easy to figure out.  Ummmm, text if you’re late.

Sid walked to the bus stop that would take him home, scrolling through his music library–looking for a certain Beatles song.  He hummed the chorus, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

Friends, and a flirtatious 40-something divorcee.

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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 12 — Glenn

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 3:  “Drought at the Fountain of Youth”

Glenn

          Glenn’s favorite taco truck sat near an alley off Canal St.  The generator was running and tinny Mexican music played from somewhere inside—maybe it set the beat for Victor and his brother to throw together the fastest and cheapest tacos on this side of the harbor.  Every other week they crossed the bridge and charged double.

“How are you still hungry?  Jesus,” Geno said.  “We had dinner and you ate all my popcorn.”

“Just wait,” Glenn said, walking up to the truck.  There was no one in line.  “Taco—carne asada.”

“God, what a shit movie that was,” Geno said.

“Wasn’t that the point?” Sidney spoke while looking up and down the sidewalk.  The neighborhood theater was a few blocks away and it was near midnight, but Canal St. never truly died down.  “I mean, Plan 9 from Outer Space—what did you expect?  Hey, Geno—run a screen, will you?”  Sidney walked down the alley with his hands in his pockets.  “I’m gonna piss behind this dumpster.”

Geno nodded and took his position—blocking any view of Sidney—he checked e-mails on his phone.  “Who’s your team for the World Series?”

“Damnit, don’t talk to me,” Sidney muttered.  “Concentrating here.”

It was a regular night in Tortilla Flats—most people had work the next day and they all were trying to forget it.

Out of one bar, televised football sounds spilled onto the street with a drunk college student getting tossed.  Next to that, an erotic bookstore / coffee shop was still open, followed by a Mexican bar with the same playlist as the taco truck.  The opposite, west side of the Canal was made up of trendy restaurants, wine bars, and crepe trucks, but the later the night got, the more the clientele on both banks intermingled until they were just a milling mass of loud people with full stomachs and heavy eyelids.

Monday’s are the denial stage of the week in New Portsmouth, Glenn had always figured.  Nobody wants to admit that the weekend is over.  That fourth day is when weekends turn into benders, when cause meets effect, and when the decisions of Friday can finally be fairly judged.

“I heard you went out with Scar on Friday?” Sidney asked.

“Are you finished back there?” Geno said.  “Jesus, how’d you make it through the movie?”

Sidney came out from behind the dumpster, still zipping up.  “So?  You met her on Friday?”

“Wait,” Glenn said, taking the last bite of his taco and using the small paper plate as a napkin.  He bit his lime and tossed it in the trash.  “We are calling her Scar?  You told me—”

“We’re not calling her Scar,” Geno said, starting down the street.  “Let’s go.”

“Not calling her that to her face?” Sidney asked.

“At all.  It’s Scarlett.”

“When are you seeing her again?” Glenn asked with a grin.

“We’re not dating,” Geno said.

“But you are going to see—?”  Glenn had to dodge behind a parking meter to get out of reach.

Geno glanced between the two of them and sighed.  “She’s showing me some tricks on the piano this week.  And I’m—I’m helping with her application to music school.”

A block from 15th St—the cross street that Sidney lived on—a bacon-wrapped hotdog cart was up and running.  The smells drifted for blocks and somehow the cart hadn’t run out of ingredients yet.  Glenn eyed the sizzling meat and then glanced across the street: a man was shuffling down the sidewalk.  He recognized the figure hunched over his cane—a grocery bag of what looked like street litter clutched in the man’s hand.

“No way,” Sidney said.  “You can’t possibly eat more.”

“Did they feed you in Colombia?” Geno asked.  “What about Suriname?”

Glenn ordered a hotdog and the small woman quickly put one together on a bun.

“You read my mail now, huh?”  Glenn said, handing the woman a few bills.

“What do you mean ‘now’?” Geno said.  “So it’s true?  You really leaving in two months—you’re going to Suriname?  What the fuck is in Suriname?  That’s still South America?”

“What’s this about?” Sidney asked.

Glenn wrapped the tinfoil around his bacon hotdog to keep the cold out and slipped it inside his jacket’s pocket.   “A new housing project I’m helping with,” he said.  “And good weather.  Hey, guys, I gotta take care of something tonight.  I can’t stay over.”

“Geno brought the N64 over,” Sidney said.  “Thought I was hosting the Tri-Gameathon this month?”

“Save it for the Halloween party,” Glenn said.  “You and Caitlyn are doing it this year, right?  I’m still finding candy corn in the weirdest places.”

“Yeah, we’re doing it,” Sidney.  “Sure you can’t stay out?”

Glenn shook his head and watched his friends turn down 15th street.  They would probably practice Star Fox all night—that was the one game Glenn could consistently beat them at.

The shuffling man—Crazy Man Joe—rounded the corner and Glenn quickly caught up.

“Hey, hey—Joe!  Wait up a sec.”

Joe stopped, straightening his back.  He grasped his bamboo cane with two hands, just below the point.  His beard had grown out more and was greyer than Glenn remembered.  “I’ve seen you ‘round the kitchens,” Joe said, coughing  “The shelters, too.  I remember the beer you got me, kid, if that’s what you wanna know.”

“No,” Glenn said, “that’s not it.”

The homeless man looked back blankly.

Glenn didn’t know what to say.  He took out the bacon-wrapped hotdog and forced it into Joe’s hands.

The homeless man laughed.  “I haven’t had one of these in . . .”  He put his nose close and sniffed.  “Smells spicy.  Fresh.”

“Listen,” Glenn said, walking beside him.  “I know some people at St. Anthony’s.  I have—I can help you out.  I’d like to.”

Joe started unwrapping the hotdog.  “You help plenty of people.  I’ve seen it.  People know you.  You don’t need to do nothing.”

“How have you been feeling?” Glenn asked.

“Kid, I had a mother,” Joe said, taking a big bite and swallowing.  “I had a wife too.  Don’t need to be watched over.”

“What happened, then?”

Joe paused before taking another bite, then wrapped the tin foil around the hot dog again, pocketing it.  “Leave me alone okay?  I don’t want your help.  Hear me?  You don’t know when to quit.”

Glenn stepped in front of the man’s path.  “What happened with your wife?”

Joe leveled his bamboo cane at Glenn’s chest, pressing it against him.  The point poked through his jacket but it didn’t hurt.  “You’re a different one all right—I’ll say that.  But I don’t need this at my age.  And you don’t need it at yours.”

“I can—I can get you medicine, you know.”  Glenn took a step back but the cane stayed.   “I can get a doctor to see you.  I know a few.”

“Special treatment, huh?”  Joe reached for the pocket containing the hotdog but stopped himself.  “The shelter’s give me what I need.  Don’t need nothing else.”

Glenn pulled at the hair on the back of his head but couldn’t find any words.

“Don’t follow me, kid.  Don’t follow me,” Joe growled.

Joe started shuffling past and Glenn stepped out of his way.  The man’s cane rapped the sidewalk every other step, the sound growing quieter and quieter until it couldn’t be heard at all.

END OF EPISODE 3

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