I Just Wanted Some Beer

I’d bought fake IDs before. 

One I got from the older brother of a friend with whom I shared a (very) passing resemblance. 

It was thrown in the cash register by the clerk at Currie Gas Station, never to be seen again.

Another I got from a senior at my school who claimed to do the best work in town. He didn’t.

That one was confiscated by the manager at Tobacco Outlet Plus.

Then there was the one I tried to make myself. I didn’t even get an opportunity to use that one.

It was taken by the police when the party I was at got busted.

You’d think an unlucky young man such as myself would just throw in the towel and wait the five years until I turned 21 since being able to walk confidently into a liquor store and out with a case of beer in my hand clearly wasn’t in the cards, right?

Well, my mom didn’t raise a quitter.

I was standing outside Sunrise Liquor & Gifts with my friend Luke, “Excuse me, sir”-ing (as in “Excuse me sir, I forgot my ID at home, could you possibly grab me and my also-over-21-year-old friend who coincidentally also does not have his ID on him a case of beer? I’ll pay you extra for your trouble”. It worked exactly as much as you’d expect). We were about ready to call the operation a bust when a man walked up to us from the alley behind the liquor store, dressed in a nice suit with a touch of silver in his hair and a toothpick in his mouth. 

“Sounds like you boys are having some trouble.” he said, his voice somehow simultaneously gruff and silky, almost like two people talking at once.

“Ha, yeah, you could say that.” I replied, looking at Luke, who kept his eyes trained on the man. “Is there any chance you–”

“I’d be happy to.” the man cut me off. “I can imagine being a kid just trying to have some fun. What’re you looking to get?”

“Just like…a 30 pack of Keystone?” I said, incidentally posing it as a question.

“I see you like the good stuff.” the man laughed. “Yeah, I gotcha.”

I began to thank the man as I reached into my pocket for the money, but he stopped me.

“Nah, you pay me when I get back out here with your stuff. Doin’ it your way will get you ripped off. I’ll be right back.”

The man disappeared into the liquor store. Luke remarked that there was something strange about the man, and he wasn’t wrong. He wasn’t outwardly threatening or anything, be it in personality or appearance, he was just…almost too nice, but not in a perverted way? It’s difficult to explain.

After a few minutes the man returned with our beer. He traded it to me for my cash, even going so far as to provide me with as close to the proper amount of change as he could make.

“Thanks a lot, man. We really appreciate it.” I said as Luke and I began to turn to walk the short distance to where he’d parked his car.

“I don’t know why you put yourself through this!” the man called out before we were too far away. We turned back around to hear him better. “Why don’t you just get a fake ID?”

Luke laughed, much to my embarrassment.

“I haven’t had the best luck with them.” I called back.

“Take down my number. When you can get the money together, you shoot me a text, we’ll get you set up.” he said, pointing his toothpick at me as if to add theatricality to his proposal.

And so I did. I was told the fake ID he would provide me with would cost $300, use my picture, and work if it were scanned by any store employee. On top of that, money wouldn’t change hands until I had a chance to see the final product.

I had a little money saved up, and the rest I got together from two paychecks from my shitty part-time job at Kohls. I rationalized the purchase by considering how I could effectively become the main distributor of alcohol for my school and recoup my money, something Luke agreed with.

A week and a half after we first met, I texted the man from the alley behind Sunrise. He instructed me to have a picture of me taken, and to do so following the same set of guidelines the DMV uses, which he provided me. Once I did that, Luke and I met him by Sunrise again and I gave him the picture. 

Upon arranging our final meeting, the man informed me that he would be asking me to leave my phone with him as collateral while I went in to use the ID as a test, and didn’t want to spring that condition on me when we met. He explained he’d been “burnt” before and while he trusted me, he had to think as a businessman. He said it gave people the choice between having a fake ID and $300 or a fake ID and a phone, which likely costs much more than $300 anyways.

He assured me that while he might be in an illegal business, “every word [he] ever said to [me] would be the truth.”

Two days following that quick meeting, I met the man there once again (this time alone as Luke was at work). This time, the man wasn’t in his typical well-tailored suit, but rather a red t-shirt and jeans, not identical but certainly similar to my own, joking that great minds think alike and that I “had a good sense of style”. Nevertheless, I was finally handed the most legitimate fake ID I’d ever seen.

The name on the ID was “Thomas Francis Woolery”, and the address was one on the other side of town from where I actually lived. It had all the necessary holograms and other security features, and seemed to be in perfect order.

“Take it for a spin!” the man in the suit and wide-brimmed hat invited. “It works, you pay me. It doesn’t, I’ll buy you whatever you need myself and get to work on finding a new career I’m actually good at.”

I agreed, but as I turned to walk into the store, he stopped me.

“Kid! Ah, I always feel like such a dick asking, but the phone?”

“Oh, right.” I was apprehensive, but everything up to that point had been on the level, and it really, honestly did make sense. I like to think that if I were in the business of selling new identities to children, I’d have a similar policy.

So I handed him my phone, walked into Sunrise Liquor with a hope and a prayer and a fake ID, and walked out with a 30-pack of Keystone. I returned to the man, who stood in the alley with a warm smile.

“Are we good?” he asked in his most chipper tone yet.

“Yeah, man. Worked perfectly! Thank you, I really appreciate it.” I set the beer down and dug in my back pocket for half the money, and each sock for the total of the remaining half and handed it over. “Sorry if it’s sweaty. I just figured I had to be careful t–”

“It could smell like dog shit and baby shit had a baby of their own and I’d take it, even smelly money spends!” he laughed as he gave me back my phone.

I was put off by the odd comment for a moment, but it quickly passed.

“Alright, well if any of your buddies need a fake, you know who to call.” the man said.

“For sure, I’ll definitely let you know. Thanks again.”

“Have fun with your new life.” It was the last thing he said to me before he turned around to walk away.

At that same moment, something happened. 

I can’t really explain what it was. Imagine how long it takes to blink your eye, now divide that by a thousand. I honestly don’t even know how I noticed it – were it not for what followed, I likely wouldn’t have noticed it at all. 

As the man walked away, I called out to him, saying I’d never gotten his name (considering I was unsure of him and he likely of me, I felt it more appropriate to let him remain anonymous, but after our successful transaction, I felt confident in asking). Instead of answering me, he just slightly turned his head and let out a nearly-inaudible “ha” through his nose.

I figuratively shrugged my shoulders, picked up my beer, and started making my way to Luke’s to wait for him to get off work. Because I was such a regular presence, I’d been given my own key and permission to be in the house when Luke, or anybody, wasn’t home. That day, however, as I turned the corner to his street, I saw Luke’s mom’s car sitting in the driveway. This was a welcome circumstance, as being in their house when no one else was there always made me a little uncomfortable.

I walked through the front door and made my way down the hallway and into the kitchen, wherein sat the door to the basement, which had been redone as Luke’s bedroom once we made our way into high school. 

But as I entered the kitchen, Luke’s mom turned around, and in an instant, the typical warm smile I was always greeted with fell into a look of pure fear.

“Oh my god. P–please don’t hurt me, take whatever you want.” she said as tears welled up in her eyes.

“I–wha…I–” I didn’t know what to say.

Luke’s mom kept her eyes trained on me while her right hand frantically traversed the countertop behind her, all while I stood there in shock, completely unsure of what was happening. Then her hand found a knife. She held it out in front of her, trembling.

“I–what–Mrs. Olson! What th–what are you doing?!” I pleaded.

“GET OUT!!” she screamed so loud it caused me to drop the case of beer. She then took a few short, shaky, terrified steps to her left and used her other hand to pick her cell phone from the counter, all while staring figurative daggers into me and pointing the literal one. “I’M CALLING THE POLICE! Don’t you come any closer, I will fucking KILLYOUGETOUTOFMYHOUSE!!”

“Jesus fuck–okay!” in my shock I forgot the beer and rushed out of my best friend’s house. As I hurried down the street towards my own house a few blocks away, I pulled out my phone and called Luke.

“Hello?” he said after a few rings.

“Dude, your mom just fuckin’ FREAKED out on me. She pulled a fucking knife on me and basically chased me out of your house!”

There was a short silence.

“Who is this…?” he asked, seemingly genuinely confused.

“What the–what do you mean ‘who is this’, it’s Nick! Your mom just pulled a fucking knife on me!”

“…yeahhh either Nick’s balls dropped another level or you got the wrong number. Good luck though, sounds fucked up!” Luke laughed, then hung up the phone.

“WHAT THE FUCK?!” I shouted through clenched teeth, then texted Luke expressing the same exasperation. 

After a short walk I found myself walking up to my front door. I entered the home I’d lived in since I was born and made my way to my room. I sat down on my bed and waited for Luke to text me back. I meant to tap messages, but the tremble in my hands made me accidentally tap the phone icon, bringing up my contact list, at the very top of which should have said “Nick [Last Name] – My Card”, but it didn’t. It said a different name. A name I would come to be very familiar with.

Ben Hallman. I would come to learn that my SIM card had been switched with that of Ben Hallman’s.

Before I had a chance to investigate further my door opened, and everything started spinning. I was standing across the small room from myself, looking exactly as I had not 30 minutes prior. There was no standoff, no argument, nothing. The other me simply pulled a toothpick from his lips, winked at me, screamed “DAD!! DAD HELP!!” and violently smashed his forehead into the doorframe, immediately sending blood pouring from the wound as he laid on the floor between my room and the hallway.

What happened next was a blur. I remember my dad screaming in terror as he saw his “son” on the floor with a pool of blood forming around him. I remember my dad’s footsteps coming down the hall, but I don’t remember seeing him come into the room. I remember his fists, though. I remember him pummelling me into my bedroom floor until I was unconscious, something I think I let just…happen, because I was frozen. I remember the ambulance, and I remember the handcuffs.

I remember bits and pieces of telling everyone the truth, of what had really happened, of how I’d gone to a liquor store as a 16-year-old and left it as a man in his early 40’s with silver in his hair, and I remember everyone looking at me like I was an idiot. I can’t say I blame them.

I remember looking in the mirror and seeing me, the true, 16-year-old me, but asking several people to describe me, and getting the exact description of the man from the liquor store. I remember getting so fed up and frustrated that I threw up.

I remember the entire court process, which was really over before it even began. But most of all I remember the day of sentencing. I was painted as a dangerous man who assaulted a 16-year-old child, and it was determined that I wasn’t simply “crazy” as Luke had testified, truthfully, that he and “Nick” had met “me” at the liquor store three times, and it was posited that after one of these encounters, “I” had followed them back to Luke’s house, and upon realizing “Nick” didn’t live there, I went to “his” house to attack him.

As if to add insult to injury, “my” wife testified that in the weeks leading up to the incident, “I” had been acting strange. That I’d been spending an excessive amount of money, and that I had had such an extreme increase in sex drive that she was worried for her safety.

The worst part of it all happened when “Nick” took the stand before the judge passed the sentence down. When “he” was up there, he spoke to the court, pleading for mercy on behalf of his attacker – that this was a situation he “just wanted to put behind [him]” and that he didn’t want it to “ruin [my] life completely”. 

But while he spoke to the court, he had a different conversation with me simultaneously. Words in my voice projected from his mouth, but the voice that I’d spoken to those times at the liquor store materialized in my head for our own personal tête-à-tête.

“This is fun, isn’t it? It’s my second favorite part. Watching you lose all hope that you’ll get out of this. Knowing that these stupid bastards aren’t going to give a shit about what I’m telling them right now. They hate you. And they should, you’re an asshole. It wasn’t enough to contribute to the delinquency of a minor, you had to crack their grapefruit open, too? For shame, sir!” he laughed.

“But you know what my favorite part is? I’ll tell you. It’s fantastic. My favorite part about all of this is that it’s not even close to over. I’m going to run around as you for a little while, sure. I mean, I have to assume there’s some lookers at your school. Now that you’ve got this scar on your noggin, sympathy sex should be a cinch.

“But I figure I’ll get tired of that at some point, right? Eventually I’ll want to do the no-pants-dance with someone a little more experienced. If and when that time comes, I’ll figure out a way to swap spots with your dad, and when I do, ‘you’ – he – will suddenly have an accident. Uh oh! I mean, I won’t give a shit, but your mom is gonna grieve, and let me tell you kid, grief is a powerful aphrodisiac. Listen to me when I tell you this, okay? When I’m your dad, the shit I’m gonna do to your mom would give your nightmares nightmares.”

I clenched my teeth so hard I thought they might shatter inside my mouth.

“And then, when she’s just a beat down, used up shell of her former self, she’ll commit a good-old fashioned murder-suicide! The possibilities are endless, my boy. Might even just have your dad take a header and take your mom on a tour of all the truck stops and back alleys on this side of the country!

“Whew! This really has been some of my best work, kid, seriously. So I mean…it sucks, or whatever, but imagine being the one who handed Michaelangelo his paint brushes while he worked on the Sistine Chapel! You–”

“FUCK YOU YOU FUCKIN’ PIECE OF SHIT!!” I sprang up from my chair despite my wrists being cuffed to the table and my ankles to the floor.  “I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU DO YOU HEAR ME?! I’LL RIP YOUR FUCKING HEAD OFF!!”

I bombarded the courtroom with these and similar obscenities and threats while the bailiff and other policemen further restrained me. On the stand, the fake me looked terrified. Tears were in his eyes and his lip trembled. But in my head, this couldn’t have been farther from his demeanor.

“Hahah! You idiot. You absolute moron. I can’t believe that worked. So easy.”

I seethed as the authorities led me away.

“But hey, one last thing, do you remember what I told you? Every word I ever say to you will be the truth. Have fun. Maybe I’ll come visit you sometime. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll just let you wonder if every night is gonna be the night someone comes into your cell to have some fun. And maybe every time you get out I’ll switch you again and get you back in there, make you a frequent flyer, the guys in there could use a friend!” His laugh was infuriating. 

He clicked his tongue twice in my head.

“Bye, kid.”

And it was over.

I was sentenced to 9 years in prison, 7 of which I served. The man from the liquor store never came to “visit” me, but I have to assume that it’s only because he was busy making good on all of his plans he relayed to me in that courtroom. 

As a stipulation of my sentence was that I not contact “my” victims in any way, I left prison and came to learn that the worst of what he’d promised me he’d do paled in comparison to what he actually did. He certainly told the truth…he did all of those things, but he did so…so much more.

And now I live life as a man of 50ish with a felony record, mourning a family I’m not legally allowed to have anything to do with, the knowledge that I’ll never have any kind of revenge, and the knowledge that it could have been avoided so…so easily.

I just wanted some beer.

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