With a client in the shapely form of a gorgeous dame, a musclebound assistant, an alien with an attitude, and fish called Algernon, Brent uncovers a galactic conspiracy.

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Chapter 1
Brent Bolster opened his eyes and reached for the gun beneath his pillow. His bedroom, normally lit only by the intermittent scarlet glare from the neon barroom sign below his window, was bathed in an eerie green glow. The alarm clock? Brent’s fingers closed around the polished steel butt of his old-fashioned pulse pistol. Something isn’t right. For a start, he didn’t have an alarm clock. He’d owned such a thing at one time, but now there was only a hunk of molten plastic on his nightstand. He’d had a difference of opinion with the device over the intricacies of the daylight saving system, and the clock hadn’t glowed for a while; not since the flames went out anyhow. Brent closed his eyes. Green glow—so what? It was probably just one of his electronic devices letting him know it was still switched on, or maybe his handset needed recharging. The damned thing ate through carbon credits like they were going out of fashion. He let go of his pistol and rolled over onto his back, trying not to think about his next carbon bill. And someone cleared their throat.
Brent sat up straight, one hand sliding under the pillow. Where the hell was his pistol? He’d had it just one second ago. How could it be gone?
The alien standing beside his bed coughed politely. “Excuse me, but are you looking for something?”
“What the hell does it look like I’m doing?” Brent demanded. “Ah, what’s the use?” He stopped searching and eyed the alien. The creature was a typical Gloabon: tall, at least six feet four, and humanoid with the usual complement of arms and legs. Its head was roughly egg-shaped, the bald dome of its smooth skull catching the glow from the computer tablet the creature held in its hand. But at least this alien was fully clothed: decked out in a pristine blue flight suit, the tight material emphasizing its angular body. Brent hated it when the Gloabons showed up naked; it was enough to put him off chorizo for life. “So, what do you mean by busting in here in the middle of the goddamned night? What do you want?”
The alien grinned, its pale lips pulling tight to reveal a row of pointed white teeth. “Honored Earthling, my name is Rawlgeeb, and I’m pleased to say that tonight, I shall be your abductor.”
Brent groaned. “Not again.” He patted his hand across the cluttered surface of his nightstand, receiving only a small electric shock from the ruins of his digital clock, but then his fingers closed on his wallet. He flipped it open and held it up for the alien to see. “Take a peek at that, asshole, then get the hell out of my apartment and don’t come back.”
Rawlgeeb leaned forward, craning his neck, the wrinkled skin growing tighter as his neck extended. “Yes, that’s very impressive. Keep it up and you’ll soon be able to claim a free hot beverage of your choice.”
“What?” Brent rifled through his wallet, flipping through its array of plastic pockets. “Wrong damned card.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Rawlgeeb offered, retracting his neck. “I was quite impressed. You only need six more stamps and then you’ll have your reward. Just think of it—cappuccino, latte, flat white. The choice is endless.” He rubbed his hands together. “I’m rather fond of a double ristretto.”
Brent gave him a side-eye. “I thought you, erm, beings, couldn’t drink coffee.”
“Technically we’re not supposed to,” Rawlgeeb said, a hint of sadness in his voice. “I mean, the caffeine is, well, it’s a potent hallucinogen for us, but it’s the taste that I can’t resist. And the aroma. Ah, the scent of freshly roasted Arabica—there’s nothing like it.” He shrugged. “It’s a shame it drives me out of my mind. The last time I had a Starbucks I was convinced I was being chased by an enormous dog. I’ve never run so fast in my life. Three days solid. By the time the coffee wore off, I was in the place they used to call Nebraska.”
Brett grunted. “Same thing happened to me.”
“Sure, except substitute coffee for bathtub bourbon, and Nebraska for a Norwegian fishing boat en route to the Newfoundland colonies.”
“And the dog? What creature did you imagine was chasing you?”
“The hound was real, all right. A three-headed German shepherd. And on the other end of its leash was a nasty piece of work from the Irradiated Zone who’d somehow got the impression that I’d stolen his wife.”
“And had you?”
Brent shrugged. “How the hell would I know? Weren’t you listening when I told you about the bathtub gin?”
“Bourbon,” Rawlgeeb corrected, sounding affronted.
“Bourbon, gin, how the hell would I remember what color it was? It was three days before I could feel my teeth again.”
“Yes, it’s a fair point I suppose.” Rawlgeeb hesitated, mashing his lips together as if chewing back his words. But it wasn’t long before his tongue won the battle. “Dammit though, the details are important. You see, I was listening. Listening very hard in point of fact. Local languages are a skill of mine. Not everyone picks up on Earth-based idioms, but I’ve made a study of them. I’m on the second year of the advanced soap opera course. And I was the highest in my cohort when we went through the level three sitcoms.”
“Bazinga,” Brent drawled.
Rawlgeeb raised his eyebrows. “We covered The Big Bang Theory in kindergarten. I’m afraid I never really enjoyed it.”
“You and half the western hemisphere,” Brent said distractedly. “Ah, here’s the damned thing. It got stuck down behind my drivers’ license.” He pulled a plastic card from the wallet and brandished it triumphantly. “Read it and weep, my friend.” He leaned forward, extending his arm. “Just don’t do that thing with your neck again, all right? Gives me the creeps.”

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