Alien Quest

an excerpt



One

"I'm trying to have a lifestyle here."

"He's straight."

"No man whose pants fit that tight in the ass could possibly be straight."

Mike Carlson examined the bartender-in-question's butt. "You're right about the pants, Hugo, but cheap, tawdry gossip says he's totally hetero."

Meganvilia, the drag queen at the hostess desk, said, "He's had a different woman pick him up each night this week. He may be cute, but straight or gay, he is a slut." Meganvilia wore a canary-yellow dress with a red feather boa draped around her three-hundred-pound-plus frame.

At the far end of the bar, the man in question was filling a large drink order. He wore a leather vest over his bare chest and broad shoulders. Tight leather pants clung to his slender hips. Mike was not about to tell Hugo, the most vicious gossip who worked at Oscar and Alfred's restaurant, that the night the bartender started working, Mike had asked the guy for a date and been unpleasantly rejected.

Mike poked Hugo's elbow again. "What I was trying to tell you, before you were so rude, is that, if you can tear your eyes away long enough from Mr. Unattainable, I think table twenty has stiffed you for their bill."

Hugo wrenched his eyes from his lustful musings and gazed at the very vacant table twenty.

"And," Mike added, "Table three wants you. They told me they asked for Cardassian wine quite a while ago."

"Merde, merde, merde," Hugo muttered, hurrying over to hunt for his missing customers. Hugo wore clothes that fit well about fifteen pounds ago. He had an over-stuffed sausage look, and his smile never quite lost its trace of vinegary sneer.

"Isn't Cardassian wine from Star Trek?" Meganvilia asked.

"Yes, but Hugo doesn't know that."

"Hugo told me he is still annoyed with you for not introducing him to the humpy number at table seven."

Mike surreptitiously inspected the gentleman and table Meganvilia mentioned. Mike had noticed that both men and women occasionally cast glances at the man. "I don't know him. I don't even know his name. If Hugo wants to meet him that badly, he can introduce himself to the guy."

"Hugo claims he's shy."

"Like a drag queen on a television talk show, he's shy."

"I wouldn't mind meeting the mystery man at table seven," Meganvilia said. "He looks just like a gymnast I dated for a few years back in the seventies. That build is divine."

"You could introduce yourself."

"I'm married to a truck driver who is extremely jealous. Maybe in another life."

Mike glanced at his watch. It was 10:00 P.M., and they would be closing the doors of Oscar and Alfred's in a few moments. The trendiest restaurant in Chicago didn't take reservations. At least half an hour before it opened, every day of the week in every kind of weather, a line formed waiting to get in. People often sat at the bar for over two hours before they got a table. Diners who arrived before ten would be seated eventually. After ten they were out of luck.

Hugo glanced up from the conversation he'd been having with four gentlemen in tuxedos at table three. He shot Mike a withering glance.

Hugo could be one annoying, dizzy queen, and Mike usually avoided confrontations with him.

It wasn't the job he wanted to have for the rest of his life, but Mike did enjoy being a waiter at Oscar and Alfred's. You didn't stop moving from the time they opened the doors, but the pay was better than most, the tips were great, and the food was fabulous. He saw that table eight's dinners were ready. He hurried to serve the pastas covered with artichokes, octopus, or asparagus that each of them had ordered. As he finished serving, he felt a light tap on his shoulder from the man at table seven.

For three nights running, the mystery man had been sitting alone at this prized position. From its place on a raised platform at the front window, you could gaze into the passing street or over all the customers in the restaurant. Mike didn't mind singles as so many of the wait-staff did, and this guy was an attractive man.

So far the stranger had been impervious to friendliness and pleasant chatter. He had simply come in each night and waited without complaining for the table he desired. As far as Mike could see, the man spent the entire time before and after being seated, either gazing placidly into the mirror behind the bar or staring calmly at the passersby out the window. He had evinced no particular interest in Mike or any of the patrons. Meganvilia reported that the customer insisted on that table in Mike's section each night.

The man had large shoulders and a narrow waist. He'd worn the same long-sleeve sweatshirt and tight, faded blue jeans every night against the early autumn chill. His black and white Nike running shoes showed only a few tiny scrapes and smudges. With his gold wire-rim glasses, blond hair clipped short, and a hint of five o'clock shadow, he looked like a university professor in his middle twenties. Mike admitted to himself that he wouldn't mind spending a great deal of time with this man naked in bed next to him.

Each evening at table seven, he'd ordered a completely different dinner including appetizer, soup, salad, entree, dessert, and cappuccino. Obviously the guy wasn't worried about pouring in the calories.

Mike realized that some people came to a restaurant and asked for the same waiter for any number of reasons. Not too many did so because they knew their waiter would leave them alone, but that seemed to be the case with this guy.

The biggest oddity Mike had noticed so far was that the man always brought his own flatware to eat with. Mike hadn't been able to examine it up close. Casual glances had given the impression that the outer surface was some sort of bright, almost flowing, mother-of-pearl. Maybe the guy was a clean-and-germ freak. He tipped well, and he was no trouble, so Mike was prepared to overlook a great deal of odd behavior.

Mike made excellent tips because of his willingness to go out of his way for diners' eccentricities, and leaving someone alone was exceedingly simple.

The hunk at table seven motioned him closer. "If you're wearing white briefs, I'll buy them from you for twenty dollars."

Mike did a double take worthy of Groucho Marx. "I beg your pardon?"

Occasionally patrons hit on Mike. His mom often told him he had a handsome face. He ran along the lakefront three days a week and worked out often as well. He was in good shape, and he had a pleasant smile and an easy but very efficient manner with customers. He was always polite with those who came on to him, but he always said, "No." He didn't mix work with relationships.

The single at table seven let his soft brown eyes gaze wistfully into Mike's. "I'd really like to purchase them."

"What is this crap?" Mike asked.

The man smiled and said, "You turn me on."

"I don't know you," Mike said and hurried off.

Other than slapping his check down when the guy's face was turned the other way, Mike ignored him for the rest of the meal.

At one thirty, as Mike was counting his tips, Meganvilia spread the word that a six-foot, red-haired woman called on the bartender just after closing. The red-head and the bartender had sauntered out the door, gotten into her Porsche, and roared off into the early morning darkness. Hugo sullenly slapped the dollar bills he was counting onto the slightly damp top of the bar. He whined at Mike, "I could be convinced to forgive your earlier frivolity, if you would introduce me to the gorgeous guy at table seven."

"I don't know him," Mike said. He avoided adding details about the guy's unorthodox style of coming on.

"I saw him talking to you," Hugo insisted.

"He's just another customer."

"And the first trip to the moon was just another walk in the country."

Quickly Mike finished his nightly tally and slipped out the rear exit of the restaurant. He understood but had little patience with Hugo's soap-opera style of conducting relationships. He'd long since ceased to be amused by the soaring highs and depressed lows mixed with a continuous supply of sniveling gossip.

Behind the restaurant, the back alley was well lit, and the guys from the valet parking were always around. At the moment, one of them was gently pulling a red Lexus out of a parking space. A fine mist wafted along a cool late September breeze. The temperature was in the fifties but on its way down.

Mike pulled his down-lined jacket closer and hurried the half block to the street. As he neared the four-plus-one apartment house at the end of the alley, he heard a soft moan. He glanced around. No one else was in sight. He kept a small vial of pepper spray on the end of his key chain. He yanked it out of his pocket, flipped the safety cap off, and held the spray ready to fire.