Chrome Contact


Alec considered that it might be some kind of holographic image projected onto the deserted patio—one of Monty’s secret projects. Montgomery J. Sturm, the owner, general proprietor, jovial host, bon vivant, raconteur extraordinaire, and resident inventor of the Centroid Café, was a long-time friend of his father’s. Since he was a kid, Alec had viewed Monty as an eccentric, fun uncle who always had a wacky device to demonstrate, or at least, a fast card trick or two up his sleeve. Naturally, Alec was a shoo-in for Special Grip and Roaming Housekeeper of the Café—Monty’s official name for the part-time janitor position in the summer.


The creature’s single, small central eye fixed intently on Alec. There was no malice or cunning emitted by the eye, and Alec felt emboldened to return the alien’s gaze with his own, piercing green eyes. Surrounding the alien’s eye, roughly oval, concentric rings of color shifted and flashed in bewildering patterns.


Sure, Monty was an odd, smart egg, but the behaviors of the apparatus and alien creature went far beyond what even old Monty could cook up. Besides, holograms don’t stop brooms, Alec reminded himself.

Alec’s initial skepticism evaporated in his growing excitement and curiosity. This had every earmark of becoming the Next Big Thing—and he was there at the beginning. Without taking his eyes off the chromatic apparition, Alec slowly backed away and began sidling toward the patio exit.

Giving the monkey thing a final, steady glance, Alec spun and almost fell down the stairs running to Monty’s office. The sight of the wild-eyed, breathless, stammering young man who had just rushed into his office amused Monty.

"Ahoy there, Alec. You look like you’ve been doing some hard patio duty."

"Monty, you…you…you have to come out to the patio right now." Immediately sensing Alec’s urgency and excitement, Monty climbed the steps to the patio as Alec raced ahead.

"You won’t believe your eyes when you see this Monty," Alec shouted as he burst through the patio door ahead.

The twinkle-eyed, ruddy-cheeked inn keeper, a lumberjack of a man, approached the sphere and gesticulating creature in wonder, without hesitation. Like Alec, he walked around the event, poked it with his finger in several places, and stared for several minutes at the shifting patters of color that swam across the face of the hairy little animal sitting improbably on top of shimmering blue air.

"Well Alec," Monty intoned in a slow pronouncement, "what we have here is a extramundane event if I ever saw one."

"I can’t believe my own eyes Monty. It just came flying onto the patio about ten minutes ago. And I have a real boffo vibe that it’s trying to communicate with us…or me…or someone here."

"Nothing wrong with your peepers kid," Monty assured, "but I wager that’s the strangest eye anyone in Hawkins Falls has ever seen!"

Monty called his Maitre d’ and Executive Chef to the patio. They gaped, squinted, rubbed their eyes, and refused to venture much beyond the patio door. Thirty minutes after it had first appeared, Monty’s lawyer arrived and formally certified that they had a "situation" on their hands.

Then Police Chief Cook arrived in his new, shiny black, turbo-charged cruiser. Then more police came. Then the County Sheriff, five more police cars, and a regional SWAT team arrived. Four hours later, in the early evening, two expressionless FBI agents appeared in silvered gray sedans that bristled with antennae. Soon after, the police set up barricades around the patio and posted guards at the stairs and all café entrances. Alec, Monty, and the other witnesses were sequestered in Monty’s office only after much stomping and shouting and colorful protestations from Monty about his rights to move freely in his own café.

About ten o’clock, after several cups of coffee and some hot ham and cheese sandwiches sent up from the kitchen, a mousy man who flashed a CIA badge and a buxom, toothy-grinned Army general glided into Monty’s office as if they owned it. Ceremoniously, they introduced themselves to the dispirited group as the "official situation commanders."

"I am General Gomez and this is my associate, Dr. Rand Crink, my big brain guy who..."

"Look here, you potentates," Monty exploded, "I have a café to run here and I don’t care if the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is sitting on my patio! It’s my patio and I’ll go there or anywhere else on these premises without leave from the government." Monty could have continued his invective and indignation much longer, but his lawyer leaned over and whispered in Monty’s ear. The usually voluble innkeeper fell silent and fumbled with his watch fob.

"Mr. Sturm, I understand your confusion and anger about this…umm, situation. I’m sure you understand that this…matter…is extremely sensitive, a matter of national security—shall we say, a highly confidential engagement."

General Cynthia Gomez smiled too much and continued. "As the Army commander responsible for…umm…special investigations, I could…how shall I say this…have you all boiled in oil if I believed that would be in the best interests of our great country. But actually, all we really need to do is have a bit of a chat with each of you individually and sign a little paperwork. Then we’ll set everything up so that the whole café can stay open—except the patio." Alec thought this all sounded reasonable. He envisioned preparing a large Swiss cheese and avocado omelet back at his apartment, and then calling his friends and parents with the incredible news of the day.

Monty started to protest again, but his lawyer gently took him by the arm and firmly nudged him over to a corner for some more private whisperings.

Gentlemen, You are Welcome.
Sit down at Your Ease.
Eat all you Want here
And drink what you Please.

"Very well then," Monty exclaimed in the general's direction, "for the time being, I will let you close the patio to regular visitors. But I insist that you remove the armed guards from the café entrance—my patrons must be free to come and go as they please." Monty pointed to the old wooden Gentlemen, You are Welcome pub sign hanging on his office wall. For Monty, the old sign summed up his philosophy of conviviality—it was the café’s unofficial motto. "And I don’t’ want you monkeys running around here with your big guns and cell phones stuck in your ears either."

"Excellent." the general murmured. "I am sure we can come to a fair agreement. Now let’s get moving so you can all get back to your homes soon. Please, just you all, umm, try to…relax here a bit longer until we can call you for a little interview. Then, you will be free to go. OK?" Without waiting for any response, the general and the CIA man pivoted almost simultaneously and left as abruptly as they had arrived.

Within minutes, two Army MPs escorted the Maitre d’, Executive Chef, and the lawyer out of Monty’s office.

"Monty, why do we have to sign any papers? What for?" Alec almost whispered when the door had closed.

"Darned if I know, Alec. But I’ll tell you this—I’m not signing anything that smells fishy. And this general and her spook friend already smell pretty fishy to me."

Alec was suddenly transported home, a large Pacific Northwest salmon filet with his mother’s secret dill sauce sat in front of him. He was just about to take a bite when he was clapped on the shoulder.

"Whatever their paperwork says, Alec," Monty said in a gruff but reassuring voice, "what we saw up on the patio was real and words won’t make it otherwise." Monty turned and walked to a small lacquered Chinese cabinet behind his desk. He was about to open it when the Army MPs entered briskly and declared that a Mr. Alec Booner was to follow them to the interview room.




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© 2000 Centroid Communications.

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