AN OPEN BAR attracts losers like corpses attract maggots. Carl had heard the stomach-turning assertion from his father at every wedding and holiday party he’d attended throughout his life.
When Carl’s boss told him the banquet celebrating his promotion would feature an open bar, Carl couldn’t get the image of writhing maggots out of his head.
The lobby of the Cummins Hotel was filled with potted plants that failed to create the lush atmosphere they were shooting for. Marly pointed this out the moment she and Carl walked through the revolving doors. “I can’t put my finger on why,” she said.
“They cut corners,” Carl said. “If they want a tropical look there needs to be a lot more. A lot more. This way, it just looks sad. Part of the point of tropical climates is the over-abundance of greenery.” He hoped this wasn’t indicative of corners cut on his promotion party. Except for the open bar, and its attraction for losers, this was an average hotel with average decor, hosting average parties for average people.
Marly squeezed his bicep. “Don’t get upset about it, I just noticed the plants because it’s only thirteen days now until we land on Maui.” She leaned her head against him, pressed closer, nearly tripping him with her affection. “Everything even remotely tropical makes me think about it. I’ve wanted . . .”
He patted her arm. “I know, hon. You’ve never been to a tropical place and you’ve wanted to go all your life.” He really needed to talk to her about that. About Maui. But now was not the time. He glanced down and saw that all that squeezing against him had pushed her dress lower, exposing a more dramatic view of her breasts. Somehow it looked pathetic, like the potted plants. He glanced to his left and quickened his pace. She let go of his arm.
They cut through the carpeted sitting area and went down the hallway to the Sea View room. Carl had been allowed to invite twenty colleagues and ten people from outside. Outside — as if his family and close friends were aliens. Maybe they were. He chuckled to himself.
“What’s so funny?”
Marly dropped his hand and glided across the room to the three couples from their group of friends who had shown up. The seven of them huddled together, not unlike a high school clique, while his co-workers and boss staked out the opposite side of the room.
As Carl had expected, Alan — the other possible choice for the plum VP position that Carl now occupied — was leaning on the bar sipping a dark gold liquid on the rocks. The losers and maggots resurfaced in Carl’s mind. There was no way Alan had been under serious consideration, yet even now, with the promotion finalized, Carl worried Alan would try to do something to sabotage it. The look on Alan’s face was that of a thug in a bar on a street lined with bars so dark and so full of the odor of mildew they threatened to sink into a rotting pit.
Alan was an all or nothing guy. The type to go out with what he would consider a blaze of glory, destroying his own career, taking Carl with him.
Ever since the announcement, Carl had been waiting, almost holding his breath. Alan was the guy who tried to get everyone hooked up with escorts who supplied additional favors when they traveled to visit customers in Shanghai. Alan was the guy who suggested they fabricate three additional members of the customer group to cover exorbitant bills that included high end wine at company dinners. And Alan was the guy who asked Carl on every business trip — So what does your wife do when you’re on the road? Getting a little entertainment of her own, I imagine.
It pissed him off. If he told Alan to shut up, Alan laughed. If Carl ignored him, Alan repeated his question ad nauseam.
Carl ordered a gin and tonic.
“Do I finally get to meet your gorgeous wife?” Alan said.
“She’s here.” Carl kept his voice low, muttering.
As if his dismissive answer had queued her appearance, Marly was suddenly standing just behind him. “I’ll have champagne,” she said.
Carl introduced Marly and Alan, then looked around the room for the easiest escape.
“So, Marly,” Alan said. “Too bad about your trip to Hawaii.”
“Hmmm?” Marly put the glass to her mouth. She had a way of drinking cocktails that made her lips wet but you were never sure she was actually consuming liquid.
“Carl has to go to Malaysia. Big meeting with a petroleum customer. Hawaii is off. I guess he’s happy about it. He’s always bitching about how he’s sweated through enough tropical climates to last the rest of his life.”
“Dammit, Alan,” Carl put his drink on the bar.
Marly’s eyes were blank. Thankfully she wasn’t crying. Yet. What an ass. Carl knew the guy would do something, but he hadn’t foreseen this. And he should have.
Carl put his arm around her. “Marly, it’s . . .”
“You think I’m stupid?” She wasn’t looking at him. “I knew it would never happen.”
Alan grinned at her breasts. “I’d be happy to entertain you in the tropics.”
“I just might take you up on that.” Marly sipped her champagne and her gaze shifted from nothing in particular to the center of Alan’s face.
Carl gulped the rest of his drink. He lifted his finger to order another, now more appreciative of the open bar.