Food Fight!
4
 Mar 27, 2016
Rules


Food Fight!

Avast ye swabbies! Time to be casting a yarn about a shared meal! Write a tale about a place where communal meals are served (restaurant, mess hall, diner, cafeteria, dining hall, etc.).
Any genre is acceptable: drama, romance, mystery, action, comedy, even sci-fi.

Pie fight optional, but should there be Rum involved… things will happen.


Contest Rules
* Entry Fee: Free
* Prize: Trophy
* Level: Advanced (All members may enter, but judging will follow 'advanced' criteria.)
* Word Limits: 1500 - 2500
* Submit period: 14 days
* Voting period: 3 days
* All regular Writing Deck Rules apply.
* Multiple entries are allowed in this contest, however, any entry not meeting 'advanced' standards will be disqualified.So take your time, proofread carefully, and make your entry count.

Good Luck!


Thanks to Diogenese for the Theme Pic.
...
1st place
  7.333

When I came back to work after my vacation, I found most of the regulars in the break room (sounds better than hanging around the water cooler, which is in the Break room). Luckily, Fred was not one of those present. Almost in unison, they all asked how it had been.

“For the most part,” I started off, “it was pretty good. We did everything we had planned, saw all the sights, took a ton of pictures…”

“I’ll bet it was expensive though, huh?” Blurted Jim, whereupon everybody looked at him and groaned. You see Jim never went anywhere on his vacations, and his wife was happy to just stay home, rather than listen to him grumble all the time about how much everything cost.

“I have to admit,” I said, “that the most expensive thing on the whole trip, was the restaurant recommended by Fred.” The looks they all gave, told me I better relate the whole story:
. . . .

Remember that I asked if anyone knew of any good places to eat? Especially for steak? And Fred almost shouted out how great this Simone’s was? Fantastic food and entertainment, and not that expensive? Well…

Our plane got in early, and there was hardly any traffic on the way to the hotel, so we were finished unpacking in time for lunch, so we decided to go ahead and try out this Simone’s. We got in a taxi outside the hotel and told the driver (his name was Tom) where we wanted to go. “Do you have reservations?” he asked, looking us up and down.

“No. A friend just told us that when we got here we should try it out,” I told him, and he laughed. “You need reservations to get in Simone’s, and they have a coat and tie dress code. I can take you there and wait outside while you make reservations, but it would be a lot cheaper for you just to call them.”

We thanked the driver and went back into the hotel, figuring to call and see if we could get reservations for dinner that night, and if we could, we’d just grab a light lunch while shopping for dress clothes that we had not packed – thank you Fred.

Well, the earliest we could get reservations for was dinner on Thursday. At least that gave us plenty of time, so we had a bite to eat at the hotel and started on the other things we wanted to do. We didn’t even look for dress clothes until Thursday morning. If we had given it any thought as to how expensive that would turn out to be, we would have probably said ‘forget it’ and canceled our reservation.

Like I said, it was very expensive, getting dinner clothes there. Most of the shops were for basic necessities, or tourism; you know, those cheap nick-knacks you bring back and wind up gathering dust in the attic, if you don’t just toss them out. But for formal wear, you’d think we had gone back to ‘Rodeo Drive.’ They were the type place that if you looked for a price tag, you didn’t belong.

It would have been nice if they had a rental place, but no such luck. Our clothes cost us almost as much as our plane tickets. Oh and I haven’t finished with them either; but let me get back to our “adventure.”

After shopping, we returned to our hotel, and showered and changed. When we got down to the taxi line, Tom was there. “Ah ha, I bet you got reservations for Simone’s, yes?”

“That’s right,” I answered him. “Ready to take us there?”

“You bet,” he said, smiling like the proverbial cat that ate the fish, as he opened the door to let us in his cab.

He continued to talk all the way to the restaurant, but the only thing that I remember sticking in my mind, was something about how reservations only got you in the door, and there was no honored time for being seated.

Sure enough when he dropped us off at Simone’s, we could see people mulling about outside, and when we entered and the maitre d’ asked if we had reservations, and I said yes and gave our names, he seemed to take forever looking over the guest book.

Sally finally whispered in my ear: “I believe he is waiting for you to tip him.”

“Forget that,” I said back. “I’m not paying for nothing.”

Well the maitre d’ must have good hearing or something, because he said: “Yes your name is here. If you would just wait outside, we will seat you when your table is ready.”

So it turns out that all those people mulling around outside where of a like mind as me, and all were waiting for ‘their tables’ to be cleared as well. The maitre d’ did however come out and ask for people by name to enter, though he sure didn’t seem happy about it.

We waited outside for over an hour, with people finally entering and more arriving, before he finally asked for us to enter. “Finally,” I said.

I spoke too soon. “You’re table will be ready shortly,” he said, “and would we wait in the lounge, where we could have a drink while waiting?”

Sure enough there were some of the familiar faces from outside, sitting at tiny tables or the bar, nursing drinks that were not complimentary. The bartender said that if we were eating dinner, the price would just be added to the bill. If we were not eating, we must pay him. I didn’t want to think of how much more it would cost to have them added to our bill (maybe with an overly high tip included for the bartender?), so I ordered us a couple martinis and told him I would pay now. Another person in this establishment that seemed to lose their friendly demeanor.

That might have been for the better though, because maybe the bartender didn’t want people that payed up front around. Maybe because they couldn’t pad the bill? At any rate, we were told our table was ready before many that had come in before us.

The maitre d’ asked if I would like the wine list, as soon as he had helped Sally with her seat (the first sign of politeness he had shown). I said sure, and he handed it to me, and stood back as if to wait for my selection.

I looked over the list, noticing right off that there were no prices listed with the wines. I could recognize only a few of the brands, and those I knew were way out of my budget. You should have seen his face, when I told the maitre d’ that we would just settle for the house red! And believe me, that turned out to be extremely over-priced as well.

Anyway, he left us with menus while saying he would return with our wine. Sally found it hard to keep from laughing out loud. When I opened the menu, all I could say was: “What next?” And Sally understood as soon as she opened hers. The menus were not in English. That is except for the prices, which were astronomical. So we just sat there looking at each other, shaking our heads and groaning, until the maitre d’ returned with our wine.

“Are you ready to order?” He asked.

“Yes,” I said. “We’d like English menus.”

“Oh, I am so sorry,” he said. “I just assumed you understood our language.” He went and got us new menus, and said he would give us a little time to look them over and then return.

“Looking over the menus in English wasn’t much help, but at least they spelled enough of the words so that it was understandable (I thought). Thanks to Fred, we already knew what we wanted though. Remember he said they had the best filet mignon in the world? Well there is was, right on the top of the menu, and also with the largest price. “Oh well,” I told Sally, “in for a pound…”

The maitre d’ returned, and when I placed our order, he finally gave a rare smile. Maybe too many customers thought the price too exorbitant and went with cheaper items.

We got around to tasting the wine then, and knew we would just be drinking water with our meal. That stuff was unpalatable, and I was not about to shell out more money for some brand name wine that I did not know.

When the maitre d’ returned with two waiters carrying our food, I thought, “Well I guess this is more like it.” The waiters placed covered dishes in front of us, and then with a “viola.” The maitre d’ uncovered them with great flourish.

There in front of us was the smallest helpings of food I had ever seen. The filet must have been at least two inches in diameter and an inch high. The garnishing was pretty, but looked no more than an additional mouthful. “Enjoy,” boasted the maitre d’ as he turned and walked away.

Sally and I looked at each other, shaking our heads again. There really wasn’t enough to warrant it, but I used my knife and fork to cut a piece of the meat. I do have to admit that it was very tasty, but for the price, one should get more than two bites.

When the maitre d’ returned and asked if we would like desert, it took all my willpower to say no thanks and ask for the check. Remember how expensive I said the clothes were? Well… At least I think I tried to keep my jaw from dropping as I read the bill, but I did make sure to get a copy of it, because no one would believe it otherwise.

Oh, and remember how I said I wasn’t finished with our clothes yet? Well when he returned with my receipt, the maitre d’ accidentally knocked over the untouched wine glass near Sally, and it splashed all over her nice new dress.

He apologized of course, but said “if madam had finished her drink this surely would not have happened.” It took everything I had to keep from hitting the jerk. I could just imagine our next stop being to the local jail, rather than the fast food joint we needed to hit to ease our grumbling stomachs.
. . . .

“Here’s the receipt I saved,” I said as I pulled it out of my wallet to show them.

Just then Fred happened to arrive…

Wayne Hayes closed the door behind him as he left the principal's office, then silently mouthed 'yes!' and pumped his fist in the air. He recomposed himself and glanced toward the secretary. Good. She was busy at the filing cabinets and hadn't seen his display. When he crossed the room she looked up, so he spoke.

“I got it! I got the job!”

“Congratulations,” she said without enthusiasm. “You know, we don't normally hire teachers right out of college. It's just we're in a bind.”

“Oh? What happened?”

“Our seventh grade teacher was in a bad car accident last month. And this close to the start of school the experienced teachers have already found placements. So we didn't have much choice.”

Wayne felt her attitude was unfair. He had a degree even if this was his first job. Perhaps she was just jealous since in school hierarchies even a beginning teacher has more status than a secretary, no matter how long she's been there.

“I've worked hard to become a professional. It's not like I'm a janitor or a secretary. You don't need to worry if I can do the job. So, when can I see my classroom?”

“Come in tomorrow morning at 8:00 and I'll have your contract ready. You'll then get your keys and room assignment.”

Wayne was still humming to himself as he whipped his small car into the parking space for his apartment. He paused outside his door for a moment to watch the sunset. What a beautiful end to a great day!

Once inside he removed his necktie and laid it across a folding chair. He then began going through the cardboard moving boxes in the middle of the floor and placing the contents around the sparsely furnished efficiency apartment. Clothes in the bedroom, books in the living room, dishes in the kitchen. It didn't take long though since there weren't many of each item.

He opened the refrigerator, frowned at the empty shelves, and shut it again. He looked at his watch, then glanced out the window at the darkness. Finally, with a look of purpose he exited the apartment.


* * *


Clifford Payne slammed shut the diner's walk-in freezer and uttered a swear word. “Janet!” he called loud enough to be heard in the dining area. A moment later a frazzled waitress entered the kitchen.

“Yeah? What is it?” Janet asked.

“Tell the customer to order something else. We're out of pork chops.”

“Damn it, Cliff! I can't keep doing this. Out of steaks, out of chicken, now out of pork chops! There's nothing left for them to order. Just face it, it's time to admit --”

“NO! I can still pull this out. I just need a few good days, then I'll be able to pay the suppliers and get deliveries again.”

“Cliff, you know there's not enough stock left to do that. Well I know it, even if you don't. And the other waitresses and cooks knew it too. Damn it, I should have quit when they did.”

“Janet, please, I need you. I'll be able to pay your back wages, plus a big bonus if you'll just stay with it a little longer,”

Janet shook her head as she shoved open the kitchen door and exited. Cliff smiled as he recognized she had accepted his argument again.


* * *


Wayne cruised slowly down the dimly-lit street of the small business district, his eyes sweeping right and left for an open store. At length the promising glow of red and white neon caught his attention. The end unit in a strip plaza had a sign which read, Cliff's Diner, and a few cars in front showed it was still open. Wayne's stomach growled to say this wasn't the time to be picky.

He stood just inside the door wondering if he should seat himself. There were about twenty tables and booths, but only three held customers. Even a quick glance revealed none were happy with their meals.

One couple was complaining loudly to each other with words like “inedible” and “revolting.” Another couple had pushed their plates to the edge of the table and were looking around for the waitress. The man sitting alone continued to eat what he had but his expression told of displeasure.

Wayne was about to leave when the waitress came from the kitchen and said he could sit anywhere. She then went to deal with the other customers. Feeling himself already committed he sat in the booth nearest the door and took the menu from between the condiments at the side of the table.

Before long the waitress came up behind him and said, “Don't bother with that. It's almost closing time and the kitchen has already started shutting down. But we can still make a sandwich if you'd like.”

“Okay, I guess that'll be fine. But I didn't see sandwiches on the menu. What do you have?”

“Um, let's see... Cheese. We could make a cheese sandwich.”

Wayne's nose wrinkled a bit. “Cheese?”

“Yes, a nice grilled cheese sandwich and a side of potato salad.”

“Well, if that's all you can do.”

“What to drink?”

“Sprite, please.”

“It'll be right up.”

The wait was longer than Wayne felt a sandwich should take. The other patrons left in turn, so by the time his meal came he was the only one there. He quickly learned what the others knew.

“Miss? Oh, miss!”

“Yes?”

“This potato salad is sour.”

“You mean like mustard? The cook uses that to make --”

“No. It's a tangy taste like it's going bad.”

The waitress picked up the small dish. “Sorry, sir. I'll remove it from your bill.”

“Wait. And this soda is nothing but carbonated water. It doesn't have any drink syrup at all.”

“Oh, we've been having trouble with that machine for a while, but the repairman still hasn't come. How about a nice cup of hot coffee? On the house.”

Wayne ate the cheese sandwich as he listened to the raised voices in the kitchen. When the waitress finally returned her red face kept him from saying anything more.

She used a little too much force setting the coffee down and the cup tipped over in its saucer. The steaming hot liquid rushed across the table and into Wayne's lap.

“Oh, I'm so sorry! Let me get a dish towel.”

The waitress rushed to the kitchen, but Wayne didn't wait. Instead he ran to the bathroom.

He locked the door, kicked off his shoes, and pulled off his pants. He soaked a handful of paper towels with cold water and pressed them to his thighs. Ahh, that's better. He lifted the makeshift compress to examine the bright red skin and breathed a sigh of relief. Whew! His vital organs hadn't been burned.

He reapplied the cold compress and sat on the edge of the toilet while the coolness soothed the burning. He smiled as he recalled his thoughts upon first entering the diner. I should have run when I had the chance. Ah well, it's all part of the adventure. I'll laugh about it someday.

Eventually the pain lessened. He picked up his pants from the floor, took the wallet from the back pocket and set it on the toilet tank. He then turned the pants and pulled his cell phone from the front pocket. No! NO! The phone was dead. The coffee must have got in it. He grabbed a fresh paper towel and dried the phone carefully, but still the power button did nothing. So he set the phone beside his wallet, then took the pants to the sink.

He rinsed away the coffee stains as best he could, then squeezed out the water. Luckily this bathroom had a hot air hand dryer, so he held the pants under the blower until they were dry enough to wear. He then dressed and exited.

The restaurant was completely dark. The dining area and kitchen lights were off. Even the Cliff's Diner sign was off. He called out “hello” several times, but no answer came.

He checked the front door, but it was locked with a deadbolt that needs a key for the inside as well as the outside. He walked through the kitchen and found the back door, but it too was locked with a double-keyed deadbolt.

Wayne tried his cell phone again but still no luck. He then went behind the cashier's counter and saw a telephone on the lower shelf. He picked up the handset but there was no dial tone, or any sound at all. What kind of restaurant doesn't have a working phone?

He looked out the front door again hoping to signal someone for help, but everywhere was deserted. He'd just have to stay here until the place opened again.

He went to the booth where he'd sat before and pulled the table into the aisle. He then slid the first bench until it was pressed against the next one. That could be a bed, and a bundle of napkins could be a pillow. He was set for the night.

Wayne awoke early the next morning since the accommodations were far from comfortable. After a stop at the bathroom he went to the kitchen and searched until he found the makings for a pot of coffee. While that was brewing he fixed some scrambled eggs and a couple of pieces of toast. He had finished eating breakfast and was lingering over a third cup of coffee when he heard the front door unlock.


* * *


Clifford Payne stopped short when he saw the intruder. He pulled out the derringer he kept in his pants and leveled it at the man. “Don't move or I'll kill you.”

“But I was --”

“Shut up! Don't even speak till the cops get here. Just keep sitting, or else.”

With his free hand Clifford took his cell phone from his waistband and dialed 9-1-1. After completing the call he sidled over to the cashier's counter. He took a key from his pocket and opened the cash register. Relief filled his face.

“You're just lucky the money's still there or I'd shoot you before the cops get here.”

“But I didn't --”

“SHUT UP!”

A short time later, Clifford had told Officer Rodriguez what had happened, and the burglar was sitting handcuffed in the backseat of the police car. Clifford stood close while the officer questioned the man because the policeman seemed inclined to let him go and call it a civil matter. If that happened this could take years. Somebody had to pay for his losses, and pay now!

Officer Rodriguez explained to Clifford that although he'd made the perpetrator repeat his story three times, it had remained consistent, so it was likely true. But Clifford insisted he wanted to press charges on every count possible. Becoming exasperated the officer said he'd just let a judge sort it out. So the young man was arrested.

Wayne didn't have enough funds to post bail for the full list of charges against him, so he was stuck in jail a day and a half before he could finally present his case to an arraignment judge.


* * *


Judge Edward Stone glared at Clifford for a long moment, his mouth opened as if to speak but closed again. He turned toward Officer Rodriguez, his forehead creased and his face reddened, but still he said nothing. Both men squirmed beneath his heated gaze.

Finally the judge turned to Wayne. “All charges are dismissed. As to breaking and entering, burglary, and trespass, the defendant didn't break in, he was unwillingly locked in. As to non-payment for a meal, he didn't leave without paying. He was still in the restaurant and able to pay for what he'd eaten, had he been given the opportunity. As to property damage, the table and benches weren't damaged and were easily moved back into place. This business owner should never have pressed such a frivolous claim, and this police officer should have known better than to file such ridiculous charges.”

Wayne smiled with relief. “Thank you, your honor.”

The judge nodded at him. “If there's nothing else, you're free to go.”

“Actually, there is something, sir. I've suffered a great deal of loss as a result of this and I'd like to know what can be done about it.”

“What kind of loss?”

“I lost my job because of this. I'm a school teacher so I have to keep a clean record. But now that I've been arrested on a half-dozen charges I've been told my employment contract is cancelled.”

“I see. That is a substantial loss. However, this is a criminal court so if you wish to pursue damages, you'll have to file suit in civil court.”

“Your honor,” called out Clifford Payne, his face pale. “Don't advise him to file a lawsuit. Now that you've dropped the charges he can get his job back.”

“No sir,” said Wayne. “The arrests remain on file even though they've been dismissed.”

Clifford saw the judge nodding so he tried again. “But your honor, can't you just sponge his record?”

Both the judge and Wayne shook their heads, but it was Wayne who spoke. “That won't work because expunging a record doesn't erase the arrest, it merely hides it from the public. But schools are exceptions. They're allowed to see even sealed records when checking a teacher's background. I don't think I can ever get another teaching job now. How would you feel to lose your livelihood?”

Clifford expressed the feeling that Wayne was exaggerating his loss of future employability, but the judge confirmed what Wayne had said. Only then did Clifford begin to comprehend the consequence of his hotheaded action and its irreversibility.

With a distressed voice Wayne extrapolated still further. “Not only have I lost a job and a career, but also my years of study and the expense this degree. If I hope to stay a professional I'll have to return to college and spend more years pursuing a new degree. On top of that are the costs I incurred to relocate here, and now I have to move again. Oh god, there's no end to my losses!”

Judge Stone spoke again. “Young man, I can't give advice from the bench. But I can recommend you seek legal counsel to explore your options. I can also say that if such a case came before me in my court, the injured party would leave with millions! This world has people very eager to teach others lessons. I just wonder if they're also able to learn them. I wish you well. Court adjourned.”


* * *


The next day Wayne telephoned the school secretary to ask about the return of his credentials. “Your papers will be waiting for you at the front desk,” she said. “By the way, we still have an opening for a janitor, if you're interested.”

Rosie and Sara arrived at their new home & combined business premises just after midnight and so were spared the full visual impact of what they were going to have to deal with. If the sisters had arrived during daylight hours they might have been tempted to pick up their cases and make a run for the Spanish hills. In the stark light of day the rosy picture that the estate agents had painted was revealed to be the usual tissue of lies.

Two months previously, on a dismal day in south London, Sara had decided that buying and running a little bar/cafe somewhere sunny would be just the thing to bring a bit of excitement into her life. It took some persuading to convince her more sensible sister to join her but once they'd looked online at just how much their money could buy in Spain, it was all systems go. With the money from the sale of their little flat and having recently come into a small inheritance, they were in a position to invest in a nice property on the edge of the idyllic, whitewashed village of Mijas. It was just a 20 minute drive uphill from Fuengirola, the holiday destination for many thousands of northern Europeans in search of guaranteed sunshine and cheap booze.

Rosie, being the eldest by one whole year, ended up dealing with all the difficult stuff that her kid sister found too boring to trouble herself with. That's how it had always been but now, looking at all the hard work that she'd let herself in for, Sara was beginning to have some regrets. It would take too long to list the problems that they were faced with… let's just say that the place was a dump. To be fair to Rosie, she wasn't the first to have been duped by salespeople and she certainly won't be the last.

They soon settled in and took stock of the situation. Looking on the positive side, the property was in a prime location with the ground floor consisting of a fully equipped bar-restaurant and kitchen along with all the usual facilities; there was a storeroom in the cellar and upstairs was a nice 3 bed apartment. A spacious roof terrace with great sea views completed the picture and all for little more than the price of a teensy-weensy flat in a grotty part of London. That was the good bit. Unfortunately the whole place was in dire need of a thorough makeover and for the business side of things to succeed they would have to create a shiny new image and find competent staff to work alongside them.

Lacking any experience of catering for the holiday trade and without having the least grasp of basic Spanish would have been enough to deter most people, but it didn't worry the sisters at all. This was down to a mixture of youthful optimism and more money than sense. Back home, with the aid of Google Earth, they'd explored the locality and so felt pretty confident when they set off to make a thorough 'real life' exploration and a quick check on the competition. Hours of research using the miracle of the internet had equipped Rosie with plenty of information regarding wholesale suppliers but nothing beats the helping hand that a friendly neighbour can offer. Fortunately the girls had a few things in their favour; enough cash to pay for the extensive renovation work, bags of energy and stunning good looks. They were going to need all the help that they could get. Luckily for them there was a thriving community of ex-pat tradesmen in the area and it didn't take long before word got around, so the pair of beauties soon had plenty of useful advice and offers of practical help. Plans were drawn up, adverts for staff were posted and work on the décor commenced. Rosie put up a sign in the window announcing that the place was 'Under New Management' and would be opening shortly.

One morning, while the girls waited for the job applicants to turn up, their attention was caught by a large figure silhouetted in the doorway. He moved towards them a little unsteadily and introduced himself in a rather grand manner.

“Hola señoritas, my name is Manuel Pablo Rodriguez de Ayala. I am known to my many friends as Manolo and I was the chef in this sorry establishment that you have so recently been unlucky enough to have purchased. I would be honoured to be of service to you lovely young ladies.”

It wasn't the most promising start but it was better than nothing and at least he knew his way around. Whilst Sara was delighted with this turn of events, Rosie could hear alarm bells ringing loud and clear. She had every confidence in her first impressions being accurate ...well, about men generally and ones smelling of strong drink in particular. Nevertheless, they interviewed him for the position of chef as he was armed with some glowing references and seemed very experienced. As far as Sara was concerned, the job was already his. Reading through his C.V. Rosie noted that previous employers were full of praise concerning his outstanding culinary abilities, honesty and popularity with both the customers and staff alike; they were all sorry to loose him and offered any future employers their heartfelt best wishes.

“Sara, I'm worried about taking Manolo on without first checking out these references of his.”

“Good grief Rosie, why must you always be so suspicious? I'm just glad to have one less problem to worry about.”

“Doesn't it bother you that he's had so many jobs? And how come no-one mentions his reliability? And what do they mean by 'heartfelt best wishes' ? And what about him reeking of booze?”

“ Get over yourself Rosie and let's give the man a break. I reckon that Manolo will be just great.”

So Manolo and, pretty quickly, several more staff were taken on and would return when the refurbishments were complete. The work was going to plan, more or less, (this is Spain we're talking about ... mañana and all that) and Spanish language lessons were begun. Sara was quite smitten with their teacher and also with several of the tradesmen and one or two local guardias. Also, both girls were more than happy to find that their nearest rival was not only drop dead gorgeous but specialized in seafood fine dining … and so wasn't really in competition at all. They had seen him going to and fro over the first few weeks but he always seemed to be very preoccupied and failed to notice them at all. Of course they were mistaken about not being noticed. The sisters were the talk of the town but he was not keen on joining the queue of admirers competing for their attention. He had his pride but he also had eyes in his head. And he had particularly liked the look of the less flighty one; the thoughtful girl who seemed to do all the work, the one who had a patient way of dealing with people and with a smile that made his heart skip a beat.

After lots of hard work the day finally arrived for the opening of “Las Dos Hermanas Inglés” (The Two English Sisters). It was a low key affair and when the girls finally opened their doors to both tourists and newly acquired local friends, these easy going people were not disappointed with what they found. Sara's idea to go for a glamorous décor with a touch of added bling had been gently but firmly sidelined by Rosie in favour of a more traditional look. Whitewashed walls, dark polished wood and fragrant flowers complemented the delicious aromas coming from Manolo's kitchen. The menu was a typical mix of Spanish, English and the obligatory 'international cuisine.' It was the kind of place that catered for all ages and nationalities without costing an arm and a leg. The emphasis was on comfort rather than exclusivity and as such could appeal to the widest selection of people … and as long as Manolo was kept off the sauce, the girls were set to succeed with their new place in the sun.


If fine dining was called for then next door had it in spades. 'Restaurante Sergio' specialized in seafood and the proprietor was Rosie's secret admirer. His establishment was all silver service and crystal glasses with a sophisticated menu and wine list; the attentive waiters all knew their stuff and the chef was exceptional. It was the kind of place where if you had to ask for the price of something then you probably couldn't afford it. Consequently it was never crowded. It had been Sergio's ambition to bring a touch of class to his hometown. Long ago when there were few ways to get by other than to scratch a living from the arid land or take your chances on the open sea, Sergio's forbears had little choice other than to become fishermen. As the years passed by and the holidaymakers descended in their millions on the Costa del Sol, other opportunities presented themselves to the locals.

Tourism had utterly transformed the former village in the space of one generation. Unlike his father before him, Sergio was able to make his living in a truly civilized atmosphere. He preferred to close his eyes to the vulgarity that prevailed just a few miles downhill on the coast and concentrate on his little area of elegance and good taste. His restaurant served the finest food in the whole region and his customers expected nothing but the best. They were a different class of people from the ones that the English sisters catered for but Sergio had to admit that sometimes the behaviour of his wealthy 'clientèle' left a lot to be desired. Rosie called them 'Hooray Henrys.' He had taken to calling on Rosie for a quiet mid-morning chat over coffee and churros and was impressed with not just their easy friendship but also with how well the sisters had turned the place around. Even Manolo, whose past was well known to Sergio, seemed like a new man ... he hoped for everyone's sake that it would last.


As the summer season wore on and the long hours began to take their toll, Rosie, Sara and even their old veteran, Manolo, began to flag. Every evening they were rushed off their feet and every morning it started all over again. Sara spoke up after a particularly hectic day.

“I don't think that I can keep this pace up for much longer, sis, I really need a break. I'm going to get Maria to cover for me tomorrow night. That nice looking feller Pablo...the one that delivers the fruit and veg has asked me to go next door for a fine dining special treat. Apparently he's the chef's twin brother so we should be in for something truly memorable. It's their birthday and Pablo's hoping that it will be his lucky night”

“That's O.K. by me, but if you find yourself staying out half the night, remember we've got the usual stuff to deal with first thing in the morning. And another thing, please don't do anything embarrassing. Try not to flirt with the waiters or start any trouble with the other diners. Sergio has much higher standards to maintain than we do.”

“What on earth do you take me for? I can act like a lady when it suits me. Anyone might suspect that you're just the tiniest bit jealous. By the way, how are things with you and lover boy? No, don't tell me , I know, he's a very busy man, what with his classy customers and his macho man attitude. Don't worry about me causing any trouble … you just keep an eye on Manolo.”

Sisters, what are they like? Well, these two had an understanding, insofar as Sara did whatever she liked and if she got into a spot of bother, Rosie picked up the pieces. The following evening Sara went off happily with her date and big sister kept her fingers crossed. On the way out Manolo gave Pablo a knowing wink and a bottle of something special for his brother saying that after all it was his birthday too. Rosie reassured herself that Sara could come to no harm in Sergio's lovely restaurant with Pablo by her side and she would manage perfectly well on her own ... with Manolo by her side. Oh dear !

At 'The English Sisters', as the place had become known, the evening was passing in the customary pleasant way when Manolo heard an almighty hullabaloo coming from next door. He called out to Rosie, who was on the scene pronto. It had all kicked off when Sergio's chef took exception to the way that his brother Pablo complained about the 'Zarzuela Pescado'. Sara had been on her best behaviour and was secretly amused by the way that things had turned out in this so called 'classy' place next door. There had been a lot of shouting and the sound of breaking glass, followed by screams as expensive seafood was thrown around splattering several unlucky diners, who turned it into a right old free for all. The customers seemed to be enjoying this opportunity to behave like a bunch of spoilt 5yr. old kids. It was total mayhem.

Rosie looked on helplessly and wondered if this was memorable enough for her sister. By the time the police arrived things had taken a nasty turn with Sara's date throwing his weight around … along with the contents of another serving dish. The chef lost control and, egged on by the crowd, he lunged towards his brother brandishing a kitchen knife. Fortunately for Pablo, his would be assailant, (being the worse for drink), tripped and fell. Eventually, when the chaos had died down a little, the upmarket clientèle were treated to the sight of Sergio's fancy chef and his brother Pablo, being carted away by some of Sara's other admirers from the local Guardia Civil. The customers that remained cheered them on with great enthusiasm and demanded drinks on the house. Sergio was covered in fish stew (not a good look) and he was not a happy man. So much for fine dining. Rosie's heart went out to him.

Meanwhile, next door at the cheap and cheerful end, Manolo smiled to himself as he held the fort for the sisters with his shaky but capable hands. It was a good job someone reliable had called for the law.

“0lé!”

“One would expect a Michelin Five-Nova restaurant to be a bit more… tastefully appointed.” Olivia Quakenbush proclaimed sniffing at the décor of the establishment they had just entered. If she had ever entered a 1950’s Intergalactic House of Pancakes she would have recognized the surroundings, though that had been 3,000 years ago and Olivia was not a historical enthusiast.

“Quite my dear,” Roger Plumph-Frobisher III, her fiancé, remarked, looking none too pleased to have been dragged here.

“Oh come now, it’s rather quaint don’t you think? In an alien sort of way anyway,” Alfred Beezenmaster retorted. “Besides, you were the ones who insisted on following a 10 year old copy of a galactic guidebook anyway.”

Olivia sniffed again, and looked suspiciously at a nearby chair before decided to daintily sit upon it.

“I don’t think I’d do that…,” Alfred started, gazing warily at a sign that proclaimed “Please Wait to be Seated,” before Olivia hushed him.

“Alfred, I’ll thank you to keep your thinking to yourse…. AAIIIEEE!!” she finished as the chair suddenly spouted teeth and snapped at her approaching derriere. Olivia more or less finished the move by gracefully, if a tad exuberantly, leaping into Roger, nearly knocking him over.

The hostess arrived at the podium and looked at them disdainfully. She was an odd looking green creature, with leaves where most animals have hair. “Human’s,” she thought, “just what I didn’t need tonight.” She managed something that would pass as a smile, at least at a distance and in the dark, and said “The signs are there for your protection, please obey them. Do you have reservations?”

“Quite a few reservations I should think,” Alfred said. “Sorry to have bothered you, I think we will eat elsewhere.”

The hostess tilted her head as if listening to something nobody else could hear, and then smiled at the group, much as a great white shark would smile at a school of fish. “Oh please stay, we would love to get a human’s review of our restaurant. We see so few of you. Your meals will be complimentary.”

Roger thought about it and replied to the group “Well, we’re already here, we’re hungry, and it’s on the house. I say we do it for the adventure!”

“That’s the spirit! If you will follow me then, and don’t pass to close to the tables,” the hostess said, grabbing three menus, and starting down an aisle.

Olivia looked uncertain, but Alfred had already started down the aisle, Roger was following, and she didn’t feel like being left alone with the chair, which appeared to be starting to stalk her, salivating, so she followed suit.

The hostess wasn’t lying; they couldn’t see another human in the place, and half the other guests didn’t even seem to have the courtesy to appear even half-humanoid.

The hostess finally seated them at a table between what looked to be two large stalks of broccoli with fangs, and a small gnome-like creature getting ready to drink a huge, half-full glass of water.

As they took seats at the table, Olivia a bit fearfully, Alfred asked the hostess, “I though the guidebook warned us not to drink the water here?”

“You don’t,” the hostess agreed, “The water drinks you.”

Olivia stared at the gnome, who appeared to be in a trance as he picked up the glass and drank the water. When he had finished draining it, he placed it back on the table. His form began to waiver and liquefy, pouring down into a grate that had appeared in the floor beneath his chair. The grate in the floor disappeared about the same time a faucet materialized above the glass, and a clear liquid emerged from it, filling the glass before the faucet disappeared.

A couple of moments a waitress walked up to the table. “Did you enjoy your meal tonight?” she asked the glass, which vibrated. “That’s wonderful,” she said, “May I bring you anything else tonight?” The glass vibrated again. “Very well sir, here’s your check, I’ll pick it up when you’re ready.”

She then turned her attention to the table of humans. “Hello, I’m Beatrice, I’ll be your waitress tonight.”

Beatrice, like the hostess, was humanoid, green and leafy, which made her rustle a bit when she moved.

“Um, um…” Roger stammered. “The water was the customer?”

“Well yes sir, it’s a regular here. It’s not really water of course, just a being with a clear liquid form.”

“But its food… wasn’t it sentient?”

The waitress looked puzzled. “Of course, it is a minor species on its home planet. Don’t you eat sentient beings?”

“Of course not!” Roger said, scandalized.

“Hmm… careful Roger, as I recall someone had steak last night, and chicken the night before,” Alfred reminded him.

“But those aren’t…”

“Sentient, of course they are,” Alfred finished for him.

“But they’re… food animals,” Roger finished weakly.

“So, apparently are those gnome-like things on this planet,” Alfred observed.

“But do they think?” Olivia protested.

“They might. Gnome-like thoughts anyway. There don’t appear to be any around to ask at the moment,” Alfred pointed out.

“Would you two kindly find something less morbid to discuss?” Olivia requested.

“Suits me,” Roger replied. “What’s the special tonight?” he asked their waitress who was still politely standing by their table.

The waitress smiled at him greenly, and replied “For your species, we would suggest the Chilled Grapefruit and Sea Urchin tossed with Sizzling Mock-Duck Sandwich.”

Roger and Olivia looked at each other. “Any other suggestions?” Roger requested.

“Why yes sir, how about our renowned Mustard and Peanut Stroganoff with Roast Igopogo and Tamarind Omelette.”

“What’s an Igopopo?” Roger asked.

“It’s a medium sized pink rabbit-like being from loitune,” the waitress replied.

“Sounds good, I’ll have that,” Roger said.

“I’ll have an order of that too.” Olivia agreed.

“And you sir?” the waitress addressed Alfred.

Alfred considered. “That first special, are any of the ingredient’s sentient?”

“No sir, that’s an item from our non-sentientivore menu.”

“Good, I’ll have that then; and a glass of something that will not eat me.”

“Very good sir,” said the waitress who turned to leave.

“You do have some very peculiar dietary habits you know,” Roger said to Alfred after the waitress left.

Alfred replied thoughtfully. “I have always wondered why the creator didn’t make all the beings on our planet with chlorophyll.”

“I don’t follow you,” Roger said.

“Like the serving staff here, if all the animals could use photosynthesis for energy, there would have been no need for food chains; everything would have produced its own food.”
“Well, that’s not the way it happened,” Olivia said.

“No, it’s not. And it’s not on a lot of planets. I was just curious, if this was all organized by a higher power, why not?”

Roger shrugged. “It’s not, what can you say?”

“Yes, but on this planet it was. And I am further curious, If you are a race of self-sufficient intelligent beings, what it would feel like to be around a bunch of creatures who aren’t self-sufficient, and will eat anything that doesn’t eat them because that’s their nature?”

“I haven’t the foggiest, nor do I care,” Roger said. “So that’s why you’re a vegan?”

“I wouldn’t put it that way; I won’t eat sentient plant life either. I can’t help the fact I can’t produce my own food. I just refuse to eat anything that is aware of its own existence.”

“So you’re not a sentientivore, doesn’t that make you special!” Olivia sniffed.

Alfred shrugged. “In the end you have to be true to yourself. It’s really all that matters.”

The waitress returned with their meals. She put Olivia’s and Roger’s dinners in front of them, and smiled when she gave Alfred his. “There you are sir, I hope you enjoy it!”

“I’m sure I will,” said Alfred.

As they ate, Alfred looked around the room, and saw a table nearby of medium sized pink rabbit-like beings scowling at Olivia and Roger who were happily eating their dinners oblivious to it.

Their waitress returned when they were almost done with their meals. “Is everything OK?” she asked.

“This is delicious, my compliments to the chef,” Roger replied.

“Yes, this is quite good,” Olivia agreed.

“And you sir?” the waitress asked, turning to Alfred.

“Quite fine, thanks. I was curious though; with all the alien species about, how does the restaurant determine who is a customer from who is a food item?”

The waitress smiled at him. “Well that’s easy sir, the sentientivore customers can pay for their food.”

“I see, and non-sentientivore customers?”

“We never charge them. We’re happy to see them come.”

“I mean, how do you determine if they’re food or not?”

The waitress visibly shook. “Oh sir, what a thought, we would never use them as food! It would be immoral!”

“I see, well thank you for the information,” Alfred said, finishing his meal, and wiping his mouth with a napkin.

As the waitress left again, Roger remarked to Alfred “Quite a question session you had there. Did you learn anything interesting?”

“As a matter of fact I did. I quite like this place; I will be coming back again.”

“I won’t,” sniffed Olivia. “The food is OK, but the atmosphere leaves a lot to be desired.”

“You know, back in ancient times, there was something called an ‘Internet’,” Alfred said.

“Oh dear, not another one of your dreary history lessons,” Olivia complained.

“Just one more I promise. Anyway, the story goes that quite a few services on this ‘Internet’ were free, while others were paid for.”

“Get to the point man; you’re boring us to tears!” Roger griped.

“I am, I am, well the saying at the time was, if you’re using a product on the Internet, and it’s free, you’re the product. They’re making money off of you.”

“So how is that relevant?” Olivia asked, bored.

“The way they decide between customers and food here is customers pay. Your food was free.”

“So was yours!” Roger pointed out, suddenly getting nervous.

“Yes, but that was the second question I asked. The one about non-sentientivores,” Alfred said as he turned to leave.

This was about the time Olivia and Roger found out that their chairs had teeth.