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Days To Go - a novel of exotica, cough syrup, and the dotcom meltdown
excerpt two

Here's where some of the Exotica comes in

Pebbles, snails & starfish in tide

"You are going to go nuts over this place, guaranteed," Gina told Carmen. "The best thing, though, is this waterfall lagoon area."

"How big is the lagoon?" Carmen asked, forgetting her joint for the moment. She was picturing koi lazily swimming around in the water, or perhaps a saltwater scene, with starfish and anemones flowing like wet chysanthemums.

"Well, it ain't huge- those things are expensive to upkeep- about the size of the jungle room at Graceland." Gina had been there twice, and told Annie at the time that she had a bad feeling the place wasn't going to make it-- just not enough business, enough publicity. A place that cool should make it. It was a medium sized room, with a low stage at one end. Not a big one- sometimes they'd have acoustic night or poetry slam night to drum up business, which didn't require a big stage- but enough for a band to play on, if they were careful and didn't have an elaborate horn section or keyboard player. The coolest feature, to Annie, was the Polynesian decor. Not quite Trader Vic's; the walls were a light blue and the lights weren't as low- but it still made her smile to just remember. Fishing nets and old-fashioned colored glass balls adorned the walls,with a starfish or shell stuck in once in a while, and even a crab (though she felt bad for them). A huge swordfish that looked pretty damn real hung on the back wall.

Mounted at the very center of the wall behind the bar was a square glass case that displayed a preserved bird eating spider or tropical tarantula of some sort; the thing was roughly the size of a dinner plate, so it better damn well have been tropical, or found on another continent. Hell, the thing was so huge that it could have come from another *planet.* Gina and Annie had decided after their first visit to tell themselves it was made out of plastic.

The Polynesian was already packed when they arrived, with perhaps 75 people. Carmen began walking around, taking in the Polynesian theme in awe, especially the painted mural of a volcano spewing lava over a Hawaiian village on one wall. Her eyes shining more brightly than her brilliant slip dress, taking in the wonderful decor in; plenty of bamboo everywhere. "Where has this place been all my life?"she murmured so quietly that no-one heard but herself.

As they approached the bar, Gina turned to wonder aloud to Carmen how pricey drinks would be, and saw she was talking to the air. She turned around and saw Carmen still as a statue a couple yards behind her, eyes large,mouth hanging open slightly. Gina followed her gaze to the display case with the spider over the bar, and quickly stepped back to Carmen and tapped her arm gently.

"Hey," she told Carmen, whose gaze darted immediately back to Gina as soon as she spoke. "Don't worry, that thing's fake, made out of plastic, so don't be scared." Carmen looked unconvinced. "I think the owner told Annie it was a leftover prop from Arachnophobia," Gina improvised easily. "No big deal, definitely nothing to get freaked out about."

"Right. I'm just gonna look over here," Carmen said, studying the mural on the wall behind them.

There was a bartender on duty; one was all Annie and Dave could afford. Pretty cute guy, actually; his only flaw was his long, straight, parted-in-the-middle early 90's grunge hair. "Hey, that bartender?" Gina told Carmen while they waited. "What do you think? I'm in kind of a flirty mood."

Carmen shrugged. "He's OK. I like to see a guy's eyes. No piercings on his face, either."

"Me too, but that hairstyle doesn't do it for me. I'm still not sure if he's--" before she could finish, it was their turn. "Hey!" Gina greeted him, and ordered. She tried to gauge how old he was while she paid; hard to tell. His hair was pulled back and tied at the back of his neck. As he was getting napkins for them, she asked on impulse, "Were you... do you do other catered events?"

"Yeah, usually in Belltown." He had an open, friendly face.

"I thought you looked familiar," she lied, then quickly changed the subject, kept things moving. "I got a question for you about something." She moved closer and spoke in a more confidential tone. "My friend --" Gina turned to indicate Carmen and saw she had stepped away again. "My friend, over there, is terrified of that spider in the case." She smiled, looked into his eyes. "Please humor us and tell us it's fake."

He raised his eyebrows, politely puzzled, so she pointed over his head to the display case above the bar. He turned around, looked up, and recoiled so quickly and violently that his elbow knocked over a stack of empty cups. "Shit!" he said in a high, shaky voice. "What is that thing? It looks like it should be in a zoo!"

Gina tried to keep a fairly straight face. "I was hoping you could tell me."

He bent to pick up the cups and set them aside, then risked one more glance over his shoulder. "Oh shit, man." He moved closer to her and farther away from the thing. "I never saw that before. First time I've been here, they just hired me out. That thing is friggin' scary." He looked as though he were worried it might fall on him.

"Well, the rumor is it's a movie prop," she told him, and placed an extra dollar in the tip jar. Gina felt guilty for traumatizing him when she was attempting to make conversation.

"At least I don't have to look at it all night." The bartender shook himself, apologized, handed Gina two plastic flutes of champagne with slightly shaky hands. She thanked him, turned and walked off, heard him repeat, "Shit!" one more time behind her.

Rio coastline

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