“Mr. Banek, I trust everything is to your liking.”
I approached Banek and his men the moment the large party arrived on the casino floor. He was the Mondion who managed the Pulsar dance club here on the Thodos III space station. As a result, he had enough credits to his name to be treated like a VIP guest when he came to the Black Star Casino to get up to some less respectable activities.
Even if he didn’t, he was also an old ally who had fought beside the Vinduthi in the Battle of Bauxwell. That would have made him a VIP in my eyes, regardless of his reckless spending habits at the casino.
“As impeccable as always, Laux,” Banek mused, already chomping on a cigar. I always found it amusing how many species, had taken to the human invention. The leader of our syndicate, Alkard favored cigars as well, though I had never understood the appeal. Now tequila, that I could appreciate. The smell, the burn, the slow intoxication. But cigars? Just never saw the draw.
“Your usual booth is waiting for you in the back. Can I get anything sent over to you while you get settled?” I offered. As pit boss at the casino, this wasn’t technically my job, but keeping the big spenders happy wasn’t a bad idea for anyone. A happy high roller meant happy bosses which meant happy me.
“How about a round of thump shots for the lot of us?” As his entourage shouted in agreement, he made his way to his booth and I headed to the bar.
My attention was already on the next task as I reached it. Even as I shouted the order over the counter, I scanned the room for the next high roller that might need my help. I knew them all by name, what games they liked, which waitresses they found attractive. In my line of work, those details were more precious than latinum.
“Nine shots of thump shots for booth 27. Top row stuff only for this guest. And don’t get smart. He can tell the difference. Send Queegan to deliver them, he really likes –”
I turned my head to make sure the bartender was listening to me and briefly lost my train of thought. Standing on the other side of the bar was a human, but not just any human. This was the most strikingly beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
Typically, their women hadn’t done much for me. Even though a few had made my friends turn their lives upside down, I couldn’t see the appeal.
But this one was different. She immediately gave me pause. Her shoulder length blonde hair seemed to glow in the lowlights of the casino. Her pale blue eyes shone through the smoky haze of the room like a beacon warning starships of asteroids.
Her curvy build was on full display under her bartender’s uniform. We dressed the bartenders much more simply so customers would keep their eyes on the sexy cocktail waitresses and not notice how much they were being charged at the bar. But this human’s body didn’t get the memo, and she looked incredible. What were we doing hiding her behind the bar? She should’ve been one of the cocktail waitresses. Though perhaps that was for the best – I didn’t need the distraction of other men staring at her all night.
“You’re new…” I finally said after collecting my thoughts. My voice came out lower than I expected.
“Yes, sir, started a few days ago.” She grabbed a top-quality bottle of thump and started pouring shots. Her hands moved swiftly and precisely. “Queegan, table 27.” So, she had been listening. She was already leagues ahead of her direct supervisor, Gwak. That idiot couldn’t pour a shot to save his life.
“Why haven’t I seen you before?” I asked. Queegan, one of our waitresses with long legs and huge…assets took the tray of shots away. Her skimpy outfit barely containing her figure. Once I would have gladly watched her walk across the casino floor. Now my eyes couldn’t leave the bartender in front of me.
“They’ve been training me during the quiet hours. This is my first time on the busy shift.” She barely looked at me as she typed the order in an electronic bill pad behind the counter. With a ding, I heard her send it to the device Queegan carried. Then Banek would swipe his percomm to instantly transfer the credits to pay the tab from the comfort of his booth. Efficiency like that was rare in new hires.
“I assume you know who I am?”
“Of course, I’ve heard… stories about you.” She continued to barely look at me as she made drinks for waiting customers. Her fingers nimbly slicing fruits and pouring mixes. Each movement precise and efficient. Who was this woman?
“All terrible things, I imagine.” Vinduthi were referred to by the rest of the station as both grimfangs and space vampires. Neither term was used with affection. Luckily, the Vinduthi didn’t care for affection as a general rule, so it was of no concern to us. I’d rather be feared than liked, so I had no objection.
At least, until faced with this pretty human before me. Now her, perhaps, I didn’t want to inspire fear in. I hadn’t made up my mind yet.
“Only the worst.” She flashed me a polite smile as she said it before returning her attention back to her work. That brief glimpse of a smile made my chest tighten.
“Well, don’t worry. You keep working here, you’ll have terrible stories about me of your own to share…” I leaned in to read her name tag. “Lila.” Her name felt sweet on my tongue.
“Oh, I bet I will.” She laughed. The sound sent a tingle down my spine. Focus Laux, you have work to do.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted another high roller entering the casino floor. “This is the jerk that owns the Glimmering Moon,” I told her quietly. “Everything there is overpriced. You can give him the bottom shelf shit and charge full price for it. He wouldn’t know quality if it bit him in the ass.”
With that, I had to pull myself away from the bar and her.
Lila. Something deep inside me wanted nothing more than to stay next to her at the bar. To listen to the musical tone of her voice and watch her hands as she worked.
It was strange. Most employees would cower and get nervous when I started to talk to them. For good reason – I didn’t take any bullshit. Not during work hours, not ever. I liked it that way, but with Lila, I could already tell I was toning it down. I wanted something different from her, though I couldn’t put my finger on just what.
She just nodded in my direction and kept doing her job, barely giving me the minimum of attention, while still executing every task perfectly. No one ever acted that way towards me. Certainly not my workers, especially not the human ones. Even more so, never the new ones.
She was so intriguing. A mystery I wanted to uncover.
But as much as I’d like to keep talking to her, I still had a job to do. Without me, this place would crumble to the ground.
“Mallip, we’re so pleased that you’ve chosen the Black Star Casino this evening,” I declared while approaching our latest guest. “We have booth seven waiting for you. First drink is on the house, I’ll have our best girls bring it over to you.” Only fair to give the first round free, since he’s going to be paying three times what it’s worth every other round. But if you’re too stupid to know the difference…
I turned back to the bar, pretending that I needed to micromanage this drink order any further than I already had. Normally, this would be far below my payscale, but I needed to learn more about Lila. I pulled the same move I did the last time, reaching the bar and turning my back to it and nonchalantly scanning the room as I gave my order.
“He’s in booth seven. Send Kyler and…” I turned my head and noticed that the bar manager, Gwak, a guy we only hired because of his extremely powerful father, was the one I was addressing. “Gwak? Where the fuck is Lila?”
“I sent her into the back, sir, we need more tomit fruit slices for –”
“Shut up, Gwak.”
“Yes, sir.” He paused. “Should I go get her?”
“No, you fucking idiot, get the drinks for booth seven. Bottom shelf, and this one is on the house.” I stormed away from the bar. Of course, Gwak of all people was getting in my way. Fucking Gwak didn’t know his horns from his ass, as far as I could tell. Probably sent her away on purpose just to piss me off.
But that wasn’t the end of it. It was madness, but everything I did that night was just an excuse to get back to Lila.
The draw I felt towards her was too strong. I couldn’t ignore it. I was also the pit boss around there, and I could do whatever the fuck I wanted. The only person who could tell me differently was Draven, and that was because I let him. Vinduthi had an unshakeable loyalty to each other, if no one else.
I moved around the booths and weaved between the tables on the game floor, just looking for a reason to head back to the bar. It really wasn’t difficult to do. When in doubt, I claimed it was for guest satisfaction, though I’m sure more than one employee noticed I had never been quite so concerned with everyone’s satisfaction before. This shit was normally Thelev’s job. He was good at it, but I didn’t have the patience on most days.
A famous comet ball player needed a refill at the rolt-jack table? I was on it. That tech entrepreneur wanted something to toast with? I knew just the thing. Banek needed some more cigars? I’d go to the bar and yell at Gwak to get them from the storage room.
Each trip back to the bar gifted me another small interaction with Lila before I’d be dragged away by my responsibilities to the casino. For the first time ever, I was wishing we had a slow night. The small but frequent talks didn’t reveal much other than confirming her resistance towards my usual intimidation. She met each of my quips with her own quick wit. I couldn’t seem to catch her off guard.
“Get someone to bring a lump ale for the gentleman at the thomball table. Immediately.” I barked the order, glancing at her reaction.
“Yes, sir,” Lila responded, continuing to work at the exact same pace she was when I arrived. Something about the way she said sir stirred something within me. I pictured her on her knees, calling me sir.
I swallowed hard, willing the image from my mind. Focus, Laux.
“Sir!” Another employee raced up to me. “Mr. Kraig is getting too… rambunctious on the game floor again.”
“Again? Fine, I’ll handle it.” Throwing assholes out of the casino was my specialty. Maybe roughing him up a little and sending him on his way would be a good use for my increasing frustration.
Later in the night, I finally did something that seemed to catch her attention.
“A mug of whatever is on tap, human,” some young Zequinid slurred out, slamming into the bar. “Quickly, hurry up!” His antennae twitching drunkenly. What an entitled little prick.
I watched the interaction from the side, waiting for a new problem to arise for me to solve, and it looked like one just arrived. Lila rolled her eyes and started pouring the drink. The Zequinid began waving his percomm around drunkenly and impatiently.
“Here you go,” Lila slid the mug to him. “That’ll be –”
“Here,” he said with a belch, shoving the device rudely at her. His lack of manners infuriated me. I would teach him a lesson.
“Everything good here?” I approached, standing to my full height.
“No problems,” Lila said, her face stiff. I could tell his behavior annoyed her as much as me.
“I’m having a lovely time.” The drunken slob slurred.
“Oh, that’s wonderful…” I leaned in close to the Zequinid, grabbing tightly onto one of his insectoid limbs. I whispered with a hint of anger, “Don’t forget the tip.”
Fear sunk into his eyes as I squeezed his arm tighter. Let him get a taste of pain. He seemed to sober up instantly, straightening up to politely close out his tab. Then he rushed away so fast he almost forgot his drink. Good. Now he knew not to disrespect my staff.
Before I returned to making my rounds around the casino, Lila flashed me a wary smile but nothing more. I lived for those brief smiles. Someday I would get more from her.
It was fascinating. The more I tried to talk to her, the more she pulled away. At first, I thought I’d have to give her a little time to get used to me, but I was beginning to think she was actively resisting the opportunity. What employee would pass up a chance to be on their boss’s good side?
Somehow, every aloof reaction only drew me towards her more. I’ll figure her out. I was no longer just interested in her, now I wanted her. And I was going to get her.
The night began to wind down, and the casino started to clear out. It should’ve meant more time talking to Lila. But as my obligations to the casino faded, my obligations to my friends and business partners began.
At the end of busy nights like those, we had a tradition of all hanging out in the casino at the end of the shift, celebrating another successful day and analyzing what could be improved. Usually, I’d enjoy knocking back a few drinks with my crew. But tonight my mind wouldn’t leave Lila.
“Laux!” I heard the call cut through the game floor as I was making my way to the bar and Lila yet again. It was Draven. “I already got the drinks, get over here!”
I paused, not wanting to walk away from the bar. But I had no choice. I’d been through war with that crew. I’d do anything for them, and they’d do anything for me. We were Vinduthi. Loyalty above all else. I couldn’t disrespect them by ignoring this tradition.
With a last lingering look at Lila, I turned and headed to the booth.
“To another successful night at the Black Star Casino,” Draven said as I took a shot glass from him. We all drank the shots in one smooth motion. The alcohol burned down my throat. “Okay, everyone, give me a rundown of what went on tonight.” Draven, as the head of our group and the casino, liked to know everything. Information was power.
Sakkar, our security specialist, leaped into some rant about the upgrades to the security system, while I zoned out. Sakkar was a good guy, but his tech shit bored me to tears.
Instead, my eyes fell on Lila across the room as she wiped down the bar. Her golden hair fell in her eyes as she worked. Her lithe body stretched to reach every part of the surface. I couldn’t peel my eyes away.
From that angle, I had a good look at her curves. She was incredible. I still couldn’t believe we had her as just a bartender.
No. I was glad. I didn’t want other people ogling her all night. The fire inside me burned hotter at the thought of someone else touching her. She was mine, even if she didn’t know it yet.
A deep urge started to grow. I wanted to walk over to her. To stop wasting time and just take her in my arms. Consequences be damned.
“Laux?” I was brought back to reality and noticed the whole crew staring at me with smirks on their faces.
“What?” I growled.
“What… or who were you staring at?” asked Thelev, the VIP host of the casino, trying to hold in a laugh. His job was to handle the ridiculous requests of the high rollers, and he was used to accommodating anything they desired. Yet at that moment, he couldn’t keep a straight face.
“No one… Nothing… Fuck off.” After all the times that I’d teased those guys for similar actions, I could never let them know about my thing for the new bartender. They’d never let me hear the end of it.
As I walked away, I could still hear them holding back laughter. But even with their eyes watching me, I was drawn right back to Lila, and I decided I didn’t even care if they knew it. She was a drug and I was addicted after only one day.