Sunday, May 31, 2020

Crisis at Six Forks

What was this, a sporting goods emporium or a theme park? Bud Randolph, CEO of Six Forks Palladium, didn't like what he saw. Country tunes  set the theme elsewhere, but this corner basked in some kind of new age fairy music. An overhead bar read "Now playing: Aldebaran by Enya".

While it was true this had once been an aquatics park, no one had expected the mermaid gig to catch on like it did. The original skylight illumined a new waterfall that churned up a sparkling mist. Crowds thronged the plexiglass barrier that arced around a deep, curved lake. White paint brightened the depths, including semicircular steps emerging onto a fanciful island, where a treasure chest rested beneath a fake palm.

As Bud watched, a green mermaid with red hair surfaced to empty a bucket of coins into the chest. He caught the name "Ellie". He drew closer, noting a man with a scuba tank filming at the bottom. How much was that costing him?--not to mention all the toys. A blonde in white sailed a submarine across the lake to a waiting brunette in blue. Two pirate ships bobbed at anchor next to a pile of cannon balls. This was the "battleship" game in which two players lobbed balls to sink the opponent. Was that a turtle? No, just a realistic copy flippering along in the current.

He'd already decided to pull the plug when things got even worse. A custodian collected money for a lively video trade. Two dollars bought your phone a tour in a waterproof case. Bud edged close to a pair of black ladies who delighted at the results. Their name cards said Joyce, about seventy, and Rachel, maybe fifty.

Rachel's video followed a sedate course along waterways branching from the lake. The view flowed beneath pedestrian bridges, looked up at watery faces peering down, then passed close to a blue mermaid passing the opposite way. A funny one, this one, as her hand briefly blocked the camera.

The music changed tempo to feature "In the Amber Room by Faith and the Muse". Now the mood was somber and medieval.

Joyce's video cruised along the surface toward the waterfall, suddenly dived beneath to look straight up into a maelstrom of bubbles. A neutral-buoyancy octopus whirled past. The view skated along submerged steps toward the green mermaid, who scooped coins with a shovel. A hand reached out to smack the green rump. When the redhead turned round eyes about, blue flukes waggled in her face.

Joyce and Rachel laughed like kids, when they should be checking out grills or fishing gear.

The view next wound into a curved tunnel, surfaced inside the Mermaid Palace. Food machines and lockers lined either side of brick tiles the ladies sat on when taking a break. Until now, no one had seen this inner sanctum. The journey passed an undulating sea horse out in the lake, then surfaced in a sheeting of water. Joyce's smiling face beamed above her arm reaching down for the phone.

"Use the blue mermaid next time," Joyce advised. "That girl crazy!"

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Binia, the blonde in white, made it her business to know all the bigwigs, and wasn't fooled by the CEO's casual Friday spiel. Seated next to the other two, she divided attention between him and a whimsical card game (2.95 at the gift shop). She didn't even notice when a small frog man with paddling legs bumped against her fin.

Sirtis, aka the blue mermaid, tossed down a pair of starfish cards. "All I needed was that other starfish, Ellie. I think you skanked me out of it."

"Whoa, missy, wash your mouth out!" Ellie retorted.

Hardly paying attention, Binia motioned to the visiting cameraman. His obscure cable channel planned a series on promotional themes like theirs. He surfaced and raised his goggles. "Al, check out the guy in jeans and sweatshirt. Did you know he's our CEO?"

"No fooling?"

"I don't like the vibes," Sirtis said. "He's not a happy caballero."

Binia conferred briefly with Al, who rose dripping, his camera still shouldered.

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Al maneuvered through self conscious folks who didn't feel up to being filmed, confronting a surprised Randolph. Now if he could remember what Binia told him to say. "Mr Randolph, isn't it? I understand you have two stores here on the east coast, and have an eye on the midwest."

"We're kicking it around," Randolph said in careful politician mode.

"My cable channel is based out there. We're doing a series on store themes. So far, yours is the best, even if your other one doesn't yet have a theme. Think of it--a different theme for each store. You could become known for it."

Randolph looked like a man with gears spinning upstairs. "Tell you what--how'd you like to interview some of my customers?"

Like Binia said, the free advertising angle never failed. Al returned her salute. Since the skylight admitted the noon sun straight down, it was time for the trio's water dance, this time set to the pulsing Goth of Collide's "Lucky Thirteen". Apparently it was Sirtis' turn to pick a tune.

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