My boss, Danny, liked to brag that El Corazon was the best Tex-Mex restaurant just off the Vegas Strip. “Because of you, Bescha,” he’d say to me. “You keep the customers happy. You keep me out of trouble.”
I won’t say which part of my job was harder. I kept an eye on the help-wanted ads, in case something better came along.
by Fran Wilde
My boss, Danny, liked to brag that El Corazon was the best Tex-Mex
restaurant just off the Vegas Strip. “Because of you, Bescha,” he’d
say to me. “You keep the customers happy. You keep me out of trouble.”
I won’t say which part of my job was harder. I kept an eye on the
help-wanted ads, in case something better came along.
Two days before Cinco de Mayo – El Corazon’s biggest day of the year,
Danny texted ::EMERGENCY::, then called my cell. I signaled Victoria
to keep an eye on the tables and ducked behind the central bar so I
could hear him over the lunch crowd.
“Bescha, help.” His voice was gravelly like it got after closing. “I’m
in deep with the wrong people.”
My heart sank. He hadn’t done payroll yet this week.
“Things got out of hand. You’ve got to give these VIPs whatever they want.”
So much for payroll.
“How much do you owe them?” I imagined guys in sharkskin suits
bursting through our doors, demanding late-night margaritas and
grabbing the staff. I calculated how much cash we had on hand.
Right then, Marnie dropped a tray. Her third this week. Because of the
crash, I missed what Danny said next. Marnie looked at me like someone
had kicked her puppy.
“Hang on,” I said. The bussers swooped in before I asked them and
cleaned up the broken glass. I handed Marnie a new tower of dirty
plates and got her headed towards the dishies again. She didn’t drop a
“… so not the mob.” Danny had continued to talk. “Worse. They’re —
well, you’ll see in a couple of hours.”
“What was the bet? Where are you?” I hadn’t raised my voice at Danny
in the three years I’d worked for him. That’s why I was his favorite
manager: calm, reliable Bescha. But now my voice was loud enough that
Victoria leaned in to listen. So did Aaron, the bartender. I shooed
them away and watched the tricked-out low-rider bike with its gold and
neon frame and red mirrors spin slowly atop its pole at the center of
Danny was quiet for a moment. “They’re holding me until you guys pull
off this private party, like I said. They want the works – If you
can’t deliver….” His voice trailed off. “Bescha. I know you can do
The phone went dead and table 17 was mad because they got enchiladas
instead of flautas by mistake. One of the bar taps had air bubbles. I
dealt with 17 while Aaron fixed the tap. Victoria seated a table of
ten. Part of being a good manager was triage: Danny’s call was
something I could deal with after the rush. Then we’d figure out how
to get him back, so he could do payroll. If there was anything left
“Is he playing cards again?” Victoria asked as I circled El Corazon,
checking that drinks were full. She looked worried.
“He promised he wouldn’t.” Damn it, Danny. Of course he thought I
could handle this. Three years ago, my partner ditched both me and our
tab at booth 24. Then split for Tahoe with our car. I’d rolled up my
sleeves and started as a dishie that night, then worked my way up at
El Corazon, keeping it together no matter what happened. Danny’d given
me a place, and I worked hard to keep it. So now I focused on the
customers. Danny could stew for a bit. By the time the lunch rush
slowed, my feet ached and I’d almost forgotten what was coming.
At 1:45 there was a thud on the side of the building. The restaurant
shook. The low-rider rocked on its stand. I ran outside first, so I
was the only one to see what looked like a stainless steel aphid
clinging to the second story of El Corazon’s fake adobe wall. An aphid
the size of a delivery truck. It had landed right next to our neon
sign and lit up with our colors: El Corazon spelled out in wavy lines,
blue and purple across the aphid’s side. By the time everyone else
piled up on the sidewalk, the thing had gone transparent.
“Did you see?” I turned to Aaron, who’d been right behind me.
He shook his head. The beads in his pale dreadlocks clicked together.
“Vegas, man. I don’t see anything, ever. C’ept my paycheck.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, but he shrugged, patted my shoulder, and
went back inside.
“Just a helicopter from the hospital,” I said, making sure my voice
carried. “A free round of chips and salsa for all the tables.” No way
was I going to lose our customers. Our remaining lunch crowd, two
construction guys in shorts and t-shirts, a six-top celebrating a
local office birthday, and four retirees bored with the Strip, cheered
and went back inside.
When I was alone, I stared again at the side of the building. “Who’s there?”
At my elbow, a perky voice chirped, “I’ve come to help with tonight’s
event. Danny told me to ask for Bescha. He said you’re the best.”
I looked down. When Danny had said “Much worse than the mob,” he
wasn’t kidding. My boss had lost a bet to a waif of a thing with
bright orange skin, six arms, and eight multifaceted eyes. I squealed
and jumped back.
Vegas. Right. I don’t see anything.
“Help coordinate,” I mumbled.
“Yes, for the party tonight. Danny said El Corazon could handle the
glorious celebration of the Rovers’ third universal circumnavigation
no problem. This is optimal, since no place on the Strip is willing to
attempt it again.”
“And what,” I asked slowly, even as my manager-brain kicked in and
started making private-party checklists, “does the celebration
“Well, a full bar and a custom cocktail, obviously,” the creature snorted.
“And you are?” I smiled at the orange bug-thing. Its eyes were a nice
shade of purple. It – she, I guessed, wore a gold-metallic Miu Miu
dress that was way beyond my pay grade.
“Name’s Xlot. I arrange parties for the Rovers.” When she smiled back,
I could see how sharp her teeth were.
“And ‘Rovers’ are…”
“About fifty of them, total. Another twenty of their entourage.”
My phone buzzed in my pocket.
“Are you a Rover?” I asked Xlot as I reached for the phone.
The text window lit up. ::MARNIE BROKE 10 GLASSES::
“Not remotely. Most are…” Xlot paused and searched for a
description. “Bigger. You’ll be fine. I’ll help.”
This was worse than when Danny bet the bikers from Colorado he could
out-race them to the canyon. I’d kept El Corazon open late, serving
bottomless margaritas the night before that race. Danny’d won the
low-rider, then promoted me from bartender and given me a raise. Told
me I’d be the world’s best manager. I’d hired Aaron the next day.
When we got Danny back, he was going to give me more than a raise, or
I’d find another job. I’d seen an ad on VegasList just that morning:
“Wanted: worlds’ best restaurant manager.” I’d look into that after we
got Danny back, and everyone at El Corazon got paid.
“Your boss said we could special-order local delicacies. I’ve brought
you menu suggestions.” Xlot held out a piece of clear plastic with
dark amber symbols on it.
“I can’t read that,” I said, wondering what Xlot and her Rovers would
consider a local delicacy.
“Right.” She hit the side of the plastic and the characters changed to
English. At least, the words were in English. They still didn’t make
~ Local Delicacies, First Course ~
– Eagle’s Tongue Tostadas
– Squid sucker flanlets
– Baby cheeks a la —
“Hang on,” I interrupted. “We don’t serve babies. Ever. Seriously. Not cool.”
Xlot looked disappointed, but scratched the item off the list.
– Donkey-stuffed Elephant Rolls
– Fire-roasted Corn on the Cob
– Baby tears over comet ice
– Tequila infused with apple pie, mom, and Betsy Ross
“Apple Pie only,” I said. Xlot nodded.
– Mining runoff soup
– Grass-fed spotted owl
“Hang on,” I said again. “Where are we going to get these ingredients?”
Xlot pointed to where the aphid-truck was still –probably– hooked
onto the building. “I’ve got it all covered. Don’t worry about a
thing. I can be your supplier – you just need to manage.”
Manage a huge party for a bunch of aliens in three hours? I’d have to
be the world’s best manager. I thought about it.
Sure, I got that.
So Xlot got the supplies (I didn’t ask how), and I talked to Tosh, the
head chef, about prep.
“If anyone finds out,” he began. His bald scalp wrinkled with concern.
“No one will find out. I’ve already closed us to customers.” I’d done
more than that; I’d cancelled our reservations and sent out vouchers
for a later date. More money down the drain. Thanks, Danny.
“If the Health Inspector comes in here while we’re serving some of
this stuff,” Tosh started again.
“Not gonna happen. Glenn Vauch was in three weeks ago. We aced the
inspection. Won’t be back until next month.”
“Except for the dishies.”
“Right.” One dishwasher had been caught with an open cup of coffee
near the sink. The Inspector had ticked a violation on his clipboard.
But we’d managed. He’d erased it when I slipped him some cash. Vauch
pushed the money deep in his pants pocket while leering at me. I
shuddered at the memory.
“I can’t deal with some of these recipes,” Tosh said weakly. “What
temperature do you cook eagle tongues at?” I knew I had him.
“This is your opportunity to be a star chef, Tosh. Make like Bourdain.”
He laughed. We were gold.
That lasted for all of thirty seconds. Then Xlot popped her orange,
fuzzy head into the kitchen. “How’s it going?” She waved a radio just
like mine, but gold to match her dress. “I’m in the system!”
Tosh’s eyes bulged.
I hustled Xlot out of the kitchen and to the bar fast. “Problem.
There’s no way we can infuse ten gallons of tequila by tonight.”
Xlot’s orange skin faded to beige. “For the infusion, give me what
tequila you’ve got. I’ll put it through the matter compiler on the
ship.” She watched Aaron start prepping glasses and shrieked, waiving
four of her hands. “Rovers can’t have salt.”
Food allergy. I got that. El Corazon prided itself on its alternative
menu. We had gluten-free, dairy-free, lo-carb, all the stuff that was
impossible to get at the buffets on the Strip. But salt-free? In a
Tex-Mex place. Great.
I pointed to the margarita rim-trays. “So only sugar on these?” Xlot’s
eight purple eyes got big as she nodded.
Fine. She’d made drink prep easier at least.
4 pm. The Rovers were due in an hour. I looked around the restaurant.
Bar was set up. The gold low-rider gleamed atop a new pyramid of
tequila and mezcal bottles. Two more low-riders, one red and one blue,
held pitchers of margaritas next to the bar. Aaron’s bartenders were
going over the ingredients for the other drinks Xlot had suggested.
Aaron passed us samples, smiling. I pretended to sip one.
“That’s not bad!” Xlot’s eyes glistened with success. “Local Delicacy!”
El Corazon’s entrance was blocked by a huge “closed” sign, with “join
us Friday for Cinco de Mayo!” scrawled on the sides. Three club kids
had already tried to talk their way past the hostesses as being with
the event, but Xlot shook her head no way.
“If we knew what the Rovers looked like, we could let them in when
they arrive,” Victoria said. I looked around for Xlot to ask again,
but she’d disappeared.
::KITCHEN:: Tosh said over the radio.
When I got there, Xlot was pulling something in through the service
door. Having a tough time of it too. She turned to look at me and
beamed. “I have a surprise!”
She yanked and finally pulled the surprise into the kitchen. A baby
stroller. The baby inside was wailing, its mother gripping the other
end of the stroller with one hand and trying to open her phone with
“Fresh baby’s tears! Get them while they’re wet!” Xlot crowed.
“No can do!” I hustled mother and baby out of the kitchen and
apologized until both of them calmed down. I poured the mom a glass of
water and gave her a years’ worth of vouchers. She glared at Xlot, but
took the vouchers.
Xlot, unperturbed, seated herself at table 21, and was working her
tablet. “Do you think we could get whale? Albatross?”
If this kept up, the city, the Feds, and PETA would want us shut down,
even if we did manage to rescue Danny.
Aaron and his crew finished carrying the restaurant’s tables and
chairs upstairs, so that only the velvet banquette seats and booths
remained. “Rovers like to dance,” Xlot explained. “Plus, you won’t
have as big a drycleaning bill.”
“What do you mean?”
She waved her hand.
My head spun with details, but it looked like Tosh and Aaron had the
bar and kitchen under control. The table staff, everyone I could call
in, awaited my instructions by El Corazon’s photo booth – something
I’d convinced Danny to buy. The customers loved it. Behind them, a
wall of grainy black and white photo strips marked all the nights I’d
spent in Danny’s restaurant. There were more photos of me there than
on the walls of my tiny apartment upstairs.
I took a deep breath. “We need to rock this one. Danny is counting on
us. Keep drinks flowing, make sure the guests are happy, and let me
know of problems. Text or radio.” I tapped my headset and held up my
“And let me just say,” Xlot piped up. A lot of staff hadn’t noticed
her yet, but now their eyes widened. “You’ll be the first restaurant
in Vegas to successfully host a Rovers celebratory gathering! Wishing
you the best of luck and please stay out of the Rovers’ reach,
especially the big ones.” Xlot gave what I can only describe as a very
toothy grin, and my text messages lit up.
::CAN’T WORK TONIGHT, HAVE FLU::
“Ben you do not have flu. You look fine,” I said. “Guys, this is for
Danny – we pull this off, we’ll be rockstars. Come on, who’s with me?”
After a long beat, Victoria and Marnie stepped forward. I whistled
with relief. Then Lou. Ben had it bad for Lou; I’d caught them making
out in the beer walk-in yesterday. After that, everyone was on board.
They went to the kitchen for trays of canapés and the bartenders began
prepping a round of shots as directed (and tested by) Xlot.
Which was good timing because the building rattled again. Louder this
time, as if whatever was landing was doing so inside the restaurant.
Then there was a lot of light and the Rovers appeared. From everywhere
“Welcome, welcome!” Xlot said, following up with some glottal clicks
and a slurping noise. She said something else that ended with, “Local
“Yes, welcome,” I beamed with my best manager smile. The Rovers were
slugs. Giant, shimmering, speckled slugs gliding their lower bodies
across the (formerly) clean slate tiles of El Corazon, their upper
bodies wobbling and extending pseudopods to grasp drinks and food from
terrified staff and pour all of it, including the dishes, down
impossibly wide mouths.
I heard a squeak. Saw Victoria trying to hide behind the bar, her arm
grasped by a Rover pseudopod, dripping slime. “Xlot!” I shouted into
Xlot was on it in a flash. “That is not on the menu!”
Victoria, released, ran for the kitchen in tears.
Around us, slurping and smacking sounds grew as the Rovers guzzled and
snacked everything that wasn’t nailed down or off limits.
::HOW LONG TIL WE CLOSE?::
I hadn’t thought to ask, but by the look of things, until we ran out
of food, or things to serve the food on.
Messages began to come in from all over El Corazon.
::DRUNK SLUGS IN THE BATHROOM PLAYING WITH THE AUTOMATIC TOWEL DISPENSERS::
::ROVERS GONE WILD IN THE PHOTO BOOTH (SEE ATTACHED)::
I looked over to see the photo booth flash go off again and again,
strobe lighting the back of El Corazon.
::86 BABIES TEARS, SEARED MARMOT, AND EAGLE::
That I could handle. ::PLATE THE SQUID NOW.::
In the midst of the party rush, Xlot grabbed me. “Some man is at the
door, demanding to come in.”
I peered past the private-party sign and saw the leer first.
::HEALTH INSPECTOR:: I radioed Victoria.
“We’re going to get shut down,” Victoria said as she emerged from the
kitchen. She meant the slime trails on the floor, the smashed dishes
ground into the upholstery, and the dish of offal I was taking to
“Is that legal?”
I didn’t answer. I handed her the plate and messaged the whole staff
::TWO MINUTE DRILL::.
Bussers and foodrunners swept the floor, picked food off velvet. I
heard shouts from the kitchen.
Marnie drew the heavy velvet curtain across the private party room.
“Xlot, we’ve got to get them in there for a minute.”
“Can do!” Xlot said in her perky voice. “I’m a natural at this! I’ve
got entertainment coming. Surprise!”
And she did. The restaurant strobed with light. More aliens. Dancer
aliens. But it did get the Rovers moving.
Vauch rattled the door of El Corazon.
Aaron finished mopping slug trails off the floor as I ushered Vauch
inside. Victoria and I walked the Health Inspector straight back to
“What’s that smell? You guys change your menu?” He said, talking to
me, but never taking his eyes off Victoria’s chest.
“Look, Vauch, can I offer you a drink? Some food? To go?” I said.
He grinned. “Private party eh? Anything I should look into?”
“No, they’re very private. VVIPs.”
That was exactly the wrong thing to say to Vauch. I tried to fix it.
“You’re a health inspector. You can’t interfere with the customers.” I
didn’t know if that was true, exactly. But Vauch relented when I
slipped him three twenties. The dishies had passed this time. They’d
gotten rid of whatever they were drinking, and Vauch didn’t notice
that, by this time, most of the rest of the staff was drinking
something. Vauch seemed satisfied when he didn’t find anything, but he
lingered, picking up the sound of music – sort of a bollywood-infused
jazz – coming from behind the curtain.
“Maybe I’ll stay for a while,” he said and went to pull the curtain aside.
“NO!” I shouted, but it was too late.
Vauch stood transfixed before a roomful of giant slugs, praying
mantises wearing jeweled go-go shorts, and Xlot, who was MC-ing the
weirdest burlesque ever. Xlot stopped and stared for a minute then
shouted into her mic, “More entertainment!” And the slugs grabbed
Vauch and pulled him to the stage.
Vauch was apoplectic, his face looking like it would burst. “I’ll have
you all shut down!” he shouted from the stage.
“That’s right folks,” said Xlot, “A real American Bureaucrat, for your
“There are no permits for this, nothing on file!” Vauch ranted to the
increasing laughter and cheers of his audience.
::BRING MORE DRINKS:: I texted the staff.
::WATCH FOR THE DARK GREY ROVER, IT’S GRABBY.::
::DANG ORANGEY IS AMAZING ON THE TURNTABLE::
“You can’t do this, it’s illegal!” Vauch shouted. The crowd roared.
I stepped outside the curtain and caught my breath.
My phone rang and I retreated to the relative calm of the bar to answer it.
“Bescha, how is it going?” Danny said. He sounded very far away.
“Great! They love El Corazon! We’re saving you!” I said.
There was a long pause.
“Problem is, they love it too much,” Danny finally replied. “They’re
talking about taking El Corazon with them on their ship. The
restaurant, me, and the staff too. You have to fix this, Bescha.”
I heard a strange sound above me. The low rider, creaking, because a
slug sat astride it, making ‘zoom zoom’ noises. Slime dripped down the
“What do I do?” I asked Danny.
“Convince them that they don’t want the restaurant!”
“How?” But the call dropped again.
I ran for the kitchen, grabbing bartenders and food runners as I went.
Rovers emerged from behind the curtain, and headed for the tables.
The thought of them squishing down on the velvet made me shiver. We
weren’t going to survive this, much less open for Cinco de Mayo.
Xlot caught my arm before I got to the swinging doors. “This
restaurant gig is easy! I knew I could do it!” I swept her aside and
skidded into the kitchen.
When I reached him, Tosh was covered in soot from an exploding owl. “I
can’t cook with these materials,” he shouted.
“Change of plan,” I said. And I laid out exactly what I wanted them to do.
~ Dessert ~
– Schadenfreude pie
– Dark chocolate empanadas with deep fried crickets
– Mexican escargot in honey
– Manager’s Special: house margaritas el nove de sel
I looked around the restaurant. Two mantis-creatures jumped from
velvet banquette to velvet banquette, their go-go shorts making
jingling sounds. The drinks they carried splashed everywhere. Slugs
gathered by the bar, most of them bouncing up and down and making
enthusiastic slurping noises while the guy on the low rider tried to
figure out the gears. The bike’s wheels spun, throwing off sparks and
dust – no one had turned that thing on since Danny won it.
If my plan didn’t work, the life I’d built from nothing in Vegas was
done. I wouldn’t be the best restaurant manager off the Strip anymore.
If Xlot and the giant slugs had their way, I would have to be the best
restaurant manager in the universe. Ugh. The thought of my staff
getting sucked into a Rover ship made me grind my teeth. No way was
::HORROR IN THE PHOTOBOOTH::
::FIVE SLUG ORGY IN THE STAFF ROOM::
And then the bike took off, launching overhead and through the door of
El Corazon. The crash of glass echoed louder than the music. Passers
by on the street peered in through the hole in the door.
A club kid, still camped outside, spat out his neon pacifier and
yelled, “Wicked Cosplay!” He rushed through the hole in the door, six
friends in spandex and studs close on his heels. They began dancing
with the slugs.
Yes. My life was over. The slugs had best just beam up the restaurant
or whatever they were going to do.
But then Victoria, Ben, Lou, and even Marnie started bringing out
dessert. I realized Marnie hadn’t dropped a thing all night.
“Local Delicacies!” shouted Xlot.
The slugs and the preying mantises roared. The club kids whooped. Xlot
glowed in their attention. She started handing out dessert.
They ate it up. All the schadenfreude pie I could serve, thick with
molasses. Then Aaron passed out margaritas. The slugs opened their
mouths wide and guzzled the drinks and ate the salt-rimmed glasses.
The kids kept dancing.
The noises those slugs made as they frothed and rolled was drowned out
by the base beat one of the mantises was cranking on the DJ equipment.
But everyone saw the smoke. Then four slugs groaned and slumped, their
“OOOPS!” I shouted. “Aaron, use the sugar, not the salt!”
“Oh no! This is horrible,” said Xlot, holding her head with two of her arms.
I turned to her and nodded sadly. “We are so sorry. Accidents happen
all the time in restaurants.”
Then Victoria lit the shot glasses around the bar on fire and all the
slugs tried to back away but found their bellies too heavy to move.
Some got scorched. One screamed. A big taupe slug moaned to Xlot.
“What did you put in those pies?”
“I didn’t — they did!”
“You said we’d have a great time eating local delicacies!”
“But it’s not my fault!” Xlot panicked.
“This is your restaurant!”
“Not yet!” she sounded crazed. “Not ever!”
She turned to me, her eight eyes wide. A splat of guacamole marred
her gold dress. “Restaurants are hard, Bescha! I don’t know how you
Most days, I didn’t either. But I knew why I tried. El Corazon was my place.
The bright light filled the restaurant, and my staff covered their
eyes. With a fast strobe brighter than the photo booth, the slugs
disappeared. Only Xlot remained. The club kid with the pacifier took
over the turntable and yelled “dance like a Rover!” The remaining
“They left me here,” Xlot said. Her voice wobbled.
“They left us here too,” I said. I turned to see Danny step through
the hole in the door. He looked hangdog hungover and he was covered
head to toe in slug slime.
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand how hard it would be when I made the
bet,” Xlot said. “I’ll help clean up.”
She had been pretty good serving customers. And six arms would be
helpful behind the bar. Plus, Danny still owed her for the bet. He
owed all of us.
“What was the bet, exactly?”
Xlot brightened, “That El Corazon was the best party off the Strip. He
bet the restaurant on it.” She thought for a few seconds. The perk
returned to her voice. “You lost, Danny.”
“So the restaurant is yours?” I asked her.
“But I don’t want to deal with all the headaches,” Xlot said. She
turned to me. “Do you want it?”
El Corazon was the best restaurant off the Vegas Strip. And I wasn’t
about to gamble it away. I looked at my staff. Victoria gave me a
thumbs up. Aaron nodded yes. Marnie cheered, and bobbled her tray,
then caught it. I started making plans. Danny was going to spend a lot
of time as a dishie. And everyone was going to get paid. “Yes. I want
Xlot looked thoughtful. “It was fun DJ-ing.”
I smiled. “Can you follow instructions? And stay away from babies? And
help us matter-compile a new door?”
“We need a DJ for Cinco de Mayo. We’ll see how you do.”
Danny’s hangdog look deepened, but I owned things now. He’d have to
“Really?” Xlot beamed.
“Totally. Just…” I paused. “What happened to the Health Inspector?”
Xlot blanched. “Local delicacy…” she whispered.