short story    

BIOGRAPHY Logan Hill, 27, just quit working as a staff writer at New York magazine and followed his wife, Thuy, to her new job in Columbus, Ohio. Lately, Thuy's been paying most of the bills so Logan can work on fiction: a novel, in which "The Lost City Bar & Grille" is just the beginning, and a batch of short stories entitled "We Have Done Nothing Wrong." He's written for Wired, The Village Voice, The Nation and others, but this is the first fiction he's ever published. So, obviously, he'd like to thank Thuy.

The Lost City Bar & Grille

For the big seafloor show between the entrée and the desserts, Neptune's fifty Nereids do this high-kicking show-stopper, underwater of course, in the big tank, and at the end they kick off their fishtails and show off their legs—fishnet stockings, you know, real cute. Then Nancy, who plays Neptune's mermaid mistress, Larissa, gets captured by the giant octopus. That's when I come in. I'm playing Neptune for the first time because Eddie, who's the regular Neptune, called in sick when what really happened was he got an audition for Chippendales.

"Go, Neptune!" Jerry, my boss at Atlantis, is yelling in my headset. "Now!" But I can't. I usually just work in the kitchen, but now all the customers, sitting in their little Plexiglas dining bubbles, are watching me and I'm sure—absolutely sure—that I'm going to throw up in my scuba mask and drown on my own puke like some rock star, in the middle of all this water. Real ironic. Anyway, I just keep telling myself, I'm not gonna die. I'm not going to die. Just trying to breathe. I'm not gonna die. The Aoki Restaurant Corporation will never let me die. I calm down a little.

Then Jerry starts yelling again. "Get out there! Save Larissa!" You know, Nancy. "Shoot the thing!" So I kick my flippers and swim toward the middle of the tank.

I reach for my trident. It's this high-tech harpoon, built specially for the restaurant, but for some reason I can't undo the latch to take it out of its holster. I'm fumbling around thinking I must look like an idiot—like even more of an idiot than I already am, dressed in this costume. And Jerry's screaming, "Shoot! Shoot!" And I'm panicking again because that's what I do, you know: go from one freak-out to another. And finally the trident comes loose and I see the giant octopus holding Nancy.

"Shoot it!"

Now, I want to shoot it, I do. But I'm worried that I'll shoot the trident in the wrong direction and it will hit a wall and crack the watertight seal of the restaurant. I'm imagining the tank's water gushing through the hole and me, just sort of sucked out halfway, kind of wedged in this crack while all these millions of gallons of water and these anemones and mermaids and fish-o-the-day and whatnot just flush past me and out onto Fifth Avenue, all hating me. But Jerry's yelling. "Shoot! Just pull the stupid trigger!" So I do.

I feel this kick, then I see this ring of bubbles swirling out from the trident's tiny propeller, and I see that the trident's headed for this poor, sedated, de-fanged shark. Now, when I think about it, I know there's nothing to worry about. Rationally I know I can't miss, that nobody ever has, that the trident's radio-controlled, that the Lost City Bar & Grille would never just let somebody like me ruin everybody else's dinner like that, with a dead shark and all, but still.

Of course the trident misses the shark and goes right for the octopus's belly. It triggers this reaction and the hydraulic tentacles start thrashing, faster and faster, and these lights start flashing in its eyes until this cloud of black ink explodes from the monster's belly and everything goes quiet. For a minute I'm blind. I'm usually plating the desserts in the kitchen right now, so I really don't know what's happening. Then the ink clears up, real fast—I think it's disappearing ink. And then I look over and the spotlight's on Larissa, the mermaid. She's free and she swims over, all sexy, and kind of clinks her scuba mask against mine like she's giving me a kiss. Then one of the octopus's tentacles gives this last twitch, and everybody flinches, just like in the movies. It's over.

I look around. All the guests have probably seen this before. We get a lot of regulars, but they all clap anyway, and cheer, in their little dining bubbles. In spite of myself, I sort of pump a scaly fist through the water like some jock on a slo-mo replay. And I feel great. I mean, I know all I had to do was just swim out and pull the trigger. I know that, and I know the whole thing's ridiculous, too. That octopi don't have ink sacks and all that. But I did it. I swam out there, I pulled the trigger. That's something.

Anyway, the customers are toasting me with nautical cocktails and I guess it just sort of goes to my head. I swim up toward the ceiling to get a better view, and I bash my crown against this fake coral reef thing up there. And I just tread water for a while up there, waving at everybody, looking down on my kingdom. Watching the kids press their greasy faces against the Plexiglas and their parents pull them away. The tourists snapping flash photos, even though it's against the rules. And Jerry shouts, "Neptune! Get back to the galley!" But I just stay up there, watching, until everybody turns away and sits down and gets ready for the cheesecake.

That's when Jerry starts yelling at me like he means it and I try to swim back down, but I can't. My crown's stuck in the coral stuff on the ceiling, I can't pry it loose.

I spend the next three hours trying to conserve my oxygen, listening to Jerry yell at me through that stupid headset and waving at kids, acting like everything's okay or I'm fired. When the last customer leaves Jerry finally sends in Nate, the headwaiter, with a hacksaw, and he cuts me loose. Everybody still jokes about it, but I don't mind. I mean, at least it was something different. The Chippendales thing didn't work out, so Eddie came back to work the next day. And I went back to shucking clams in the kitchen.

Bold Type

Bold Type
Bold Type
    Copyright © 2003 by Logan Hill