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Glug, Glug, Glug

Doesn't matter if you're a shopkeeper sinking under water or an alcoholic banker hustling to stay afloat. In the end, we all have our tipping points...


Glug, Glug, Glug by Chris Rhatigan


That morning, Harry told the two college boys who stocked the shelves and worked the register that he was “letting them go.” He didn’t like the way that sounded, insincere and corporate. But he couldn’t look them in the eye, couldn’t tell them straight that they were done, and he sure as fuck couldn’t keep paying them out of his personal checking account.

He had already taken a machete to expenditures—temp in the coolers was downright balmy, opening pushed back from ten to noon. None of it mattered. Real problem was there were no customers. Sure, people came in. Shoplifters, thugs, “friends” who wanted yet another favor.

They were parasites. And Harry was the host.

So when Martin Weed walked in that night, decked out in a Dustin Pedroia jersey and whistling “Smoke on the Water,” Harry saw a leech ready to feed.

Martin pretended to browse, glancing at the green apple Pucker, down the aisle to the single-malt scotch. He stroked his grayish stubble, tapped his nose. Like Martin actually gave this decision any consideration.

Then, with the inane inevitability of a Julia Roberts flick, Martin chose a handle of Bombay Sapphire, sauntered to the counter, set down the booze. Harry’s dinner, a meatball grinder, made an encore appearance, garlic and parmesan cheese clawing his rib cage.

Martin flashed a goofy smile. “Harry. How ya been?”

“Still kicking. Haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Out on the Cape with Sheila and the boys.” The goofy smile faded to gloom real quick. “Probably our last time. We’re gonna have to sell the place.”

Like he should give a fuck that Martin lost his beach house. The guy got laid off from a six-figure gig he never should have had in the first place. Lucky assholes like him took severance packages and cashed out their 401Ks. What would Harry get if he closed the store? A big bucket of shit.

“That’s too bad, Martin. Really is.”

Punk with a mustache like a stroke of black ink strutted in, headed for the walk-in cooler, cracking his knuckles to a beat only he could hear.

Harry rung up the Bombay. “Thirty-four dollars and fifty-two cents.”

“I don’t got that today,” Martin said. “But you know, I’m one of your best customers—”

“No, you were one of my best customers.” Harry tried to keep an eye on Knuckle Cracker but he must’ve been behind the towers of thirty-packs. “You want to see your tab?”

Harry pulled the spiral-bound notebook from under the counter, flipped through the hundreds of names, thousands in debts. Stomach acid torched his throat.

“This is the last time, I swear," Martin said. "Watching the Sox and G & Ts—that’s all I got left.”

Harry stabbed Martin’s name with a finger. “Five hundred and eighty-six dollars and ninety-two cents.”

Knuckle Cracker grooved out of the cooler with a forty in each hand. Harry sensed exactly where this was going. He reached under the counter and found the semi-automatic he’d picked up at a police auction.

Knuckle Cracker neared the exit when Harry said, “I’d stop.”

Kid was smooth. Eyes like drained swimming pools. “Or what? You shoot me over a couple of forties?”

“Or you stay there while I call the cops. Your choice.”

Knuckle Cracker rolled his eyes. “Let’s be serious, pops.”

He took a step toward the exit.

Martin, of course, couldn’t keep his fucking mouth shut. “What are you doing, Harry?”

Harry squeezed the trigger and released.

Click.

Never kept that thing loaded.

Knuckle Cracker blew him a kiss goodbye. Harry thought he might scare a shoplifter straight, but apparently not.

“Jesus Christ,” Martin said. “What the fuck was that?”

“You know, why would I go after a kid who’s only stolen a few bucks worth of shit from me? Why not one of the many who have taken much, much more?”

Martin backed up, hands in the air. “Hey, I don’t like what you’re implying here.”

Harry jumped the counter. Clobbered Martin with the butt of his gun. Dropped the gun on the counter and unsealed the bottle of Bombay.

Martin was on all fours, screaming like a newborn. Harry grabbed his forearm and twisted hard until he collapsed. Flipped him on his back.

“I’m just giving you what you want,” Harry said. “Free booze, buddy. Won’t even put this one on your tab.”

He squeezed Martin’s cheeks together. Shoved the bottle in between his spit-coated lips.

Tipped it until it went glug, glug, glug.

Chris Rhatigan is the editor of All Due Respect and co-editor of Pulp Ink and the upcoming Pulp Ink 2. This story also appeared in a collection of his work, Watch You Drown. He talks short fiction at his blog, Death by Killing.