(Fiction) Storybook Epic Fail

Tran Nguyen

For eight and a half heady weeks, Kell worked as a sales rep for a liquor distributor, which was arguably the best job she ever had and probably ever could have. It was definitely the only job she was qualified for. I’m sure there was more to it than this, but the way she described it, she basically got paid to bar hop. Her boss straight up asked her to spend her nights hanging out in random bars drinking and getting to know the bartenders, and of course occasionally plugging her company’s business. He understood, I think, that one distributor was pretty much like another. What he was offering these guys were regular chances to hang out with a pretty girl while on the clock. It should’ve been a slam dunk for her and an easy route to credit card bills, overdue utility payments, and overpriced rent in a share house way out on Long Island. Alas.

I’d love to say she ended up getting fired for some storybook epic fail—crashing an ice cream truck full of stolen whiskey into a daycare center while fleeing the police with her accomplices: a disgraced Mafia hitman, four flamboyant strippers of uncertain gender, and a tattooed donkey named Manuel whose skin bore a map to treasure buried in the deserts of Mexico by Sancho Panza himself. Really though it was because all she did was party and never ended up selling anything. Toward the end of her first month, she panicked. To keep her boss from finding out, and give herself one more chance, she used her ample feminine wiles to convince a couple of the bartenders she’d met to put in big orders and then avail themselves of the company’s cancellation policy a few days later, after the month had closed, making it look—for a few weeks anyway—like she was at least minimally competent.

She didn’t wait around to get fired after the second month. She just stopped showing up. For a few weeks after that, she shacked up with one of the bartenders, Shandra. That, too, should’ve been a sweet deal. Shandra wasn’t just a bartender, she was a bassist in a moderately successful local band, and she really liked Kell and probably would have let her stay indefinitely if she hadn’t come home late from a gig where Kell failed to show and found her on the couch riding this six-foot-two guy named Yantos, who she hooked up with from time to time. Dude looked like Frank Zappa if Frank Zappa had played in the NFL. I’m reliably informed he had a very large penis. Shandra didn’t kick Kell out right away. After all, her and Kell weren’t officially an item. But according to Kell it was hella awkward after that, and once it was clear that, as far as Shandra was concerned, there was no going back to how things had been, Kell moved on again.

Naturally, in my shotgun attempt to find her, I reached out to all those people, as well as quite a few more, which felt completely like sailing in the wake of an oil tanker. Kell had cut a path through all those people’s lives—and churned them to froth. Most had yet to fully recover and went from being happy that she was in trouble to hopeful that it might somehow bring them back to her. It was a little distressing, though, how few of them had heard of me. Kell was apparently very skilled at compartmentalizing her life. I learned real quick that referring to myself as her best friend did not, as I had hoped, encourage anyone to open up to me. It only invited suspicion. By the time I found Yantos selling stolen bric-a-brac on a blanket near St. Mark’s Place, my story was that her grandmother had died and left her some stuff and her parents had called me in a desperate attempt to track her down. Most people knew Kell had problems with her parents, especially her dad, but who doesn’t like dear old grandma?

By the second day of that, I’d had enough. I did the friend bit, I decided. It wasn’t my fault she was playing Jimmy Hoffa. Enough people knew that I was looking for her that I figured whenever she finally came up for air, one of them was bound to steer her my way. Truth is, I was feeling guilty about the whole thing. More than once, I caught myself dreaming on the train about what I would do with my share of the money—if for some stupid reason it turned out not to be a scam—and that made me sick. That’s how they do it. Rich people. That’s how they get everyone to go happily along with all their shit. I wanted a do-over. I wanted to go back to Lykke’s house and throw that heavy stack of money in his face. Or better yet, make him eat it. I had no idea how I would possibly do that, but dreaming about all the various ways he might meet a vile end was better than dreaming about all the ways I was up for sale.

rough cut from my forthcoming occult mystery, FEAST OF SHADOWS.

cover image by Tran Nguyen