Behold, the fifth and final chapter of my epic short story, “Flux.” This entry is a bit longer than the others so let’s get right to it. Click the “Short Stories” tab in the menu above or the “Continue Reading” link below.
Be sure to catch up on Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.
Tucson Hop Shop – Tucson, AZ
Located at 3230 N Dodge Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85716
Open Mon-Thurs 2p-9p; Fri & Sat 12p-11p; Sun 12p-8p
Darkness fell over the town of Tucson as my team and I arrived at The Metal Arts Village. The lot was home to several buildings with rusted brown exteriors that housed a bunch of art studios…and one craft beer bar called Tucson Hop Shop. The owners, David and Jessie Zugerman, were huge supporters of Tucson’s bicycling scene and they chose the location in part because it was near some, like, fucking bike trail or whatever. I don’t know, I hadn’t been on a bicycle in almost a decade.
Mallozzi had been transported to the hospital after losing a life-threatening amount of blood from his whole body, except for his boner because that part of him just wouldn’t quit…(ladies!) I arrived at Hop Shop along with Andy & Mike from Flux Brewing, Fran & Selena from Girls’ Pint Out and the Eastern European Uber driver who kept trying to use Google Translate to figure out how to tell Fran to stop drunkenly vomiting in the back seat of his Nissan Versa. Mike Figueira was carrying a keg of the Flux beer he and Andy had made.
“The rest of my Girls’ Pint Out army is on its way here, Classy,” Selena said as she fed handfuls of soggy chalupas into Fran’s mouth from the Taco Bell bag she was holding. Fran made the Uber driver stop at Taco Bell on the way ’cause she threatened to slice his throat open with her ninja star if he didn’t.
David Zugerman stood outside the front door of the Hop Shop as we walked over. I was about to say hello when he punched me in the stomach hard enough to knock me on the ground.
“Shit! Watch out everybody!” I yelled. “David Zugerman is under Rosario’s control again!”
“No I’m not, you dick. I’m just pissed at you for stealing my car last week and driving it across the border.”
“Oh, right, I did do that. In my defense, I stole it so I could smuggle Cousin Chico back into the country.”
“I know that. The only reason I’m not kicking your ass any worse is ’cause I love Cousin Chico.”
“Yes. Everybody loves Cousin Chico. I get it! David, we need your help to defeat Rosario and save Tucson’s craft beer scene. Are you with us?”
“Fuck that noise! I can’t risk her using her mind control powers on me a second time. You remember when she cast that spell on me five years ago and made me karaoke ‘Baby Got Back’ at that church barbecue? I can’t put myself through that again. I’m outta here.”
“Don’t bail on us you coward!”
“Suck a D, Classy!” David Zugerman yelled as he dove into his SUV and peeled out of the Metal Arts Village parking lot.
“Damn. I hope he doesn’t get pulled over. Cousin Chico left a shitload of drugs in the back of that car.”
My team and I walked into the Hop Shop taproom. We admired the impressive taplist of ninteen beers and a nitro tap of Presta coldbrew coffee. There were also several styles of wine available by the glass. Like Tap & Bottle and Casa Film Bar this place had several fridges with hundreds of bottles available to drink on site or take home.
I told Mike and Andy to go into the refrigerator where the kegs were stored and find the device that was going to destroy all of the beer on tap.
“I don’t know where Rosario is or what she has planned but if all the beer gets ruined then we’re gonna need your keg to be the only craft brew on tap at this place. At least then Hop Shop can have something to pour.”
The Flux partners headed to the walk-in fridge right as Stefania and Eliza from Girls’ Pint Out came in the door.
“Ugh. Hello, Classy,” Stefania said, all passive-aggressive-like and shit. “I see you somehow convinced my Girls’ Pint Out soldiers that the dudes from Flux Brewing Company aren’t the bad guys.”
“How typically reductive of you to categorize my fellow beer warriors in such terms,” a strange voice echoed through the taproom.
I turned around and saw Christian Cortes walking toward us. He was the bottle shop manager at this place; a young, slender, physically fit Latino man with a chin beard who was a DJ on the side when he wasn’t stocking the Hop Shop keg fridges. I had met him a few times while I was drunk at beer events and ignored him every time he tried to explain to me the benefits of yoga and tell me about his love of techno or EDM or dubstep or whatever the hell kind of music he liked. I was always more of a Coldplay guy.
The red glow in his eyes got stronger as he came closer. He was clearly under Rosario’s control.
“Hello again, Christian. I know I was kind of a dick to you last time I saw you and you asked if you could DJ at my wedding. I’m sorry. If it makes you feel any better the marriage didn’t work out because Mrs. Classy lied to me and she didn’t actually have any inheritance to leave behind when she died. So I basically wasted three months of my life and a shitload of money on Bengay. But you have to know that Rosario is just using you against me.”
“You don’t even understand the meaning of the word ‘use,’ Classy. I’m on a different plane of serenity than you could possibly fathom. I used to passively soak up the energy from my surroundings. I was an open funnel to the universe and waited for enlightenment to wash over me. But Rosario taught me to eschew passivity. She taught me how to tear the power from every living thing and element around me!”
“Shut up, Christian,” Stefania said as she drew her samurai sword. “We don’t have time for your shit.”
She dropped her sword down toward his head. But Christian caught the blade in midair with his bare hand. A single drop of blood fell from his palm onto the ground.
“Ahhhh, Stefania! You are brave and strong; a true hero. I will take great pleasure in assimilating those qualities into my essence.”
Christian Cortes pressed his palm onto Stefania’s forehead and started stealing the life force out of her. She began convulsing and her eyes rolled into the back of her head. Her sword turned to ash in Christian’s hand as she fell onto the ground, unconscious. He snapped his fingers and a painfully loud EDM song started blaring from the Hop Shop speakers. I covered my ears but could still feel the beat pounding on the inside of my eyeballs. The lights in the taproom flickered in tune with the music on Christian’s command.
Eliza launched an arrow at his chest but Christian slapped it away with his bare hand before it touched him. Selena tried to hit him with her steel batons but he blocked the attack and broke the weapons in half with his forearm. Fran sat at a table a few feet away stuffing her drunk face with Taco Bell Crunch Wrap Supremes while she texted her ex-husband and told him she just wanted to see her kids again.
Andy and Mike came out of the Hop Shop refrigerator. Andy tried to use his sonic laugh power but Christian absorbed the sound and left him without a voice. He could only make barely audible squeaking noises. Mike swung at Christian’s face…but Christian caught his fist in midair and knocked him out with only one punch. The oppressive music got louder and louder as he sucked the life force out of my fallen teammates. I felt like my brain was about to bleed out of my ears.
“Sick beats!” Christian roared. “Sick beats EVERYWHERE!”
He grabbed me by the throat and lifted me off of my feet. The music somehow became visible and I saw waves of bright colors bouncing off the walls and bathing Christian with immense power.
“You really though you could defeat me and Rosario, didn’t you Classy? I have to say, I admire that about you. I’ve soaked up the intellect, heroism and resolve from Girls’ Pint Out and Flux Brewing tonight. But there’s something I have yet to truly experience. It’s your shamelessness. You have a unique ability to not give a fuck what anyone thinks about you. You write dumb dick joke stories on a blog no one reads or cares about while you keep drunk stalking your ex-girlfriends, no matter how many restraining orders they whip out on you. I have no idea where this unmerited, exaggerated confidence comes from. But I must have it.”
Christian placed his palm on my chest. I could feel him sucking the energy out of my body. My heart was about to burst out through my ribs and my vision began to blur. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small remote control with a single button. He clicked it, activating the device that injected Rosario’s chemical compound into every single one of Tucson Hop Shop’s kegs. All the beer started dripping out of the taps and became a neon green sludge.
“Now that I own your drive and lack of shame I will be unstoppable. I shall help Rosario destroy every craft beer in this town…and in the world!”
All of a sudden the lights inside the Hop Shop taproom went out and the dance music was silenced.
“You’re forgetting one thing,” a voice said behind us. “You’re in MY fucking bar!”
David Zugerman was standing by the door holding an extension cord that he unplugged from the wall. He had cut the power to the entire building.
“Dude, why would you do that? Do you not like me? I mean, I like you and I really wanted you to think my beer-apocalypse plan was awesome. I shoudn’t have done this, right? I should’ve fought harder against Rosario. Fuck, why’d I let her get to me? I’m an idiot. I’m dumb. I should’ve known better. Damn, I suck. Do I suck? I think I suck. Why would I be so worried about whether or not I suck? I’m really sad right now but also angry but not at anyone but myself and I kinda hate being alive. Should I text my ex-girlfriend?…WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING TO ME?!?!?!”
“Sorry Christian,” I said. “But you can’t pick and choose. You wanted to absorb my overconfidence? Well that comes with a huge dose of self-loathing that I’ve been living with for decades. I’ve learned to balance them both out. But you clearly can’t handle it.”
I reached into my suit jacket pocket and grabbed the syringe full of the concentrated chemical compound. I only had one left after I used two of them at the end of Chapter 4. I popped the cap off.
“How do you do this to yourself, dude? I used to like myself. A lot!”
“You and me both, brother.”
David held Christian’s arms behind his back as I stuck the needle into his neck and injected the full compound into him. The red glow in his eyes dissipated and he immediately started getting fat. His slender, yoga-fit body began to flab and his chin beard crawled up on his face until it rearranged itself into a creepy, pencil thin moustache. Mallozzi told me the concentrated chemical in the syringe would balance out the weaker elements in a host and make them more prominent. I could see it happening to Christian right away as he grew a trucker hat out of nowhere and started yelling for a bartender to pour him a PBR.
“Goddamot, what kinda bar don’t have any PBR or Thunderbird malt liquor? That’s fucked up!” he said. I could see the energy that he had stolen from the Flux guys and the Girls’ Pint Out crew start to leave his body and return to their original hosts. “Sheeeeeit, I’m about get all kinds of Pizza Hut delivered up in dis bitch. Imma stuff some crust with ALL the cheese. Anybody know if they still got them corn dog crust pizzas with the wieners up in ‘em? That shit looks delish, bro!”
“Yo, Christian!” Fran yelled at him. “You wanna have some Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos with me? They put salty ground beef inside a Dorito! If that ain’t science then I don’t know what is!”
I left the taproom and headed to the Hop Shop patio in the back. It was a rainy fall evening in Tucson. I recognized Rosario immediately. She was facing away from me but her lower back tattoo was glowing in the dark because she paid extra cigarettes so her tattoo artist in prison would make it glow in the dark. She turned around and locked eyes with me. My tears were mixing seamlessly with the raindrops on my face. She ran toward me and punched me in the head.
“You’re such a fucking ASSHOLE, Classy! You’ve been a total pain in my ass for so long! It was bad enough when you and your little girlfriend got in the middle of that diamond heist in Cottonwood. I was the one planning to buy those diamonds! But then you and your Button pal had to stop that $imon guy that I hired to blow up all of the state’s craft beer kegs. Why can’t you just go away?”
“Why are you doing this, Rosario? Why are you trying to destroy Arizona’s craft beer scene?”
“Oh, you don’t get it. I’m gonna destroy everything. I’m just destroying this first.”
An arrow flew past my head and lodged itself into Rosario’s left knee.
“Sonofabitch, that’s my real leg!” The other one was a hollow wooden peg that she used to smuggle cocaine inside of. I turned to see Eliza about to shoot an arrow at my chest again.
“Wait!” Stefania jumped in. “His eyes aren’t glowing red. He’s not under Rosario’s control yet.”
“He never was! Classy was the only man I couldn’t ever control with my power for some reason.”
“What the hell is she talking about?” David Zugerman asked. “I saw what you were like when the two of you were dating years ago, Classy. She had you wrapped around her little finger and you did everything she told you to do. Remember all those times you lied to the cops for her? Or when you spent all your money buying her that mobile home so she could build her meth lab in it? Or when you bought her that second mobile home ‘cause the first one was lost in a meth lab explosion?”
“I know. But I was never under her spell. I chose to do all those things. I did them because I loved her.”
Stefania grabbed a knife stashed in her boot and headed toward Rosario. I got in between the two of them.
“Step aside, Classy. Rosario has to pay for her crimes against Tucson’s craft beer scene.”
“No, you can’t do this. Rosario isn’t beyond saving.”
“Yes I am!”
“Shut up, Rosario! Do you want to die?!? Anyway, she’ll answer for what she’s done today. But not on your terms.”
“Andy, Mike, David, are you really going to let The Classy Alcoholic protect this woman? She took control over you. She tried to ruin your reputations and your businesses!”
“That’s true,” Mike said. “But at the end of the day The Classy Alcoholic saved every last one of us. And we’re not gonna get in his way.”
“Very well.” Stefania sheathed her knife. “We’ll turn Rosario over to the proper authorities.”
“Do what you want with me. But know that there hasn’t been a prison or tool shed in the backyard of my stepfather’s house in the world that could ever hold Rosario Vargas. I’ll be out again soon and you’ll be sorry. I’ll come for all of you.”
“And we’ll be ready,” I said. “We’ll stop you then just like we stopped you today.”
“Okay, whatevs. So you down for some more conjugal visits or what?”
“Fuck yeah! I’m in!”
ONE HOUR LATER
I watched Rosario be taken away by the cops in her Hannibal Lecter lower-face mask as I sipped a pint of the mildly sour Kentucky common beer that Andy and Mike had brewed. It was that only keg that survived the attack that night. I went up to the Flux Brewing partners to tell them how great their beer was.
“So what are y’all up to next? Where are your Gypsy brewer adventures gonna take you?”
“That’s what were just talking about,” Mike said. “This whole day was insane. And it’s really made us start thinking about the next chapter in our lives. We’ve decided we’re not going to be Gypsy brewers anymore. We’re gonna rent a space and set up our own brewing operation as soon as possible.”
“Yeah, and we’re talking about changing the company name too. ‘Flux’ is associated with some really great beers but if we’re gonna settle down and carve out our own spot in the Tucson beer community then we want to start fresh. Just like our beers.”
I couldn’t help but smile at Andy’s stupid pun. I needed that after a day like this. I clinked glasses with the two guys and was about to leave when I saw David Zugerman mopping up the green sludge that was left over on the ground.
“Sorry I called you a coward, David. I’m glad you came back. I couldn’t have saved the day without you. And I’m sorry you lost so much beer today.”
“No worries, Classy. We took a bad hit tonight. But I know it would’ve been worse if you hadn’t stopped Rosario. Hell, we might not even have craft beer in Tucson at all if it weren’t for you.”
“Eh, it was a team effort.”
“Sure. But there’s no one who can bring a team together like you can. Because it doesn’t matter if people love you or hate you, we can all agree that you’re kind of an arrogant prick and find common ground there. The point is that, for better or worse, you inspire people. You’ve done so much for our beer community in this town. The Girls’ Pint Out ladies put the word out about what happened and a bunch of Tucson breweries are sending kegs over so we can restock and reopen for business as soon as possible.”
“I’ve stolen a bunch of kegs from Borderlands over the years without Mallozzi realizing it. I’ll send some over as well so you can rebuild.”
“Thank you, Classy. We’re eternally grateful to you. You’re welcome here any time.”
“And I can drink for free?”
“Of course not, you fucking asshole.”
“Right. So what’s gonna happen to him?” I pointed over to Christian Cortes who was still fat and recreating the spaghetti scene from ‘Lady & The Tramp’ with Fran except instead of spaghetti they were biting onto opposite ends of a Taco Bell Beefy Nacho Griller burrito.
“He’ll be fine. We’ll help him do some cardio and get him back into yoga. We’ll reintroduce him to good beer little by little and mend him back to his former self. Beer people in Tucson take good care of each other. I’m more curious about what’s gonna happen to you. Are you thinking of settling down like Andy and Mike? Maybe stick around Tucson for a while?”
“No, I don’t think so. It’s been a crazy year but the last thing I need to do now is slow down. Mike and Andy may have the name…but I’m the one who’s always in flux.”
“Wow. I can’t believe how incredibly cheesy that line was.”
“Oh em GEEEEE, did someone say CHEESY?????”