At Queries nightclub, people on the prowl packed the place from the bouncer's station to the bathroom doors, so it took Harrison Hotdeals some time to work his way toward his reserved barstool. Lucky, the cocktail-slinger/wannbe screenplay writer behind the bar, served up a frozen strawberry Margarita and a cheeky grin.
"Haven't seen you around here lately, big guy," Lucky said. "Spending all your time at the negotiating tables?"
"You know it." Harry scanned the crowd. "God, what a mob. Everyone's dressed like extras from The Matrix. What is it, Sci-fi Saturday?"
Lucky shook his head. "New Genre Trend Night. Everyone's heavy on the Future Gothwear. Happy Wallpaper Historical Hour starts in about ten minutes, though. Two for one Virgin Mary Sues."
"You're HotWheels Harry, aren't you?" a shrill young thang shouted into Harry's right ear as she moved into the empty space next to his barstool.
They never got his name right. "Harrison Hotdeals," Harry said politely. "And you are. . . ?"
"The next Laurell K. Hamilton." She dropped an eight-pound manuscript on the bar in front of him. "I'm going to do you a huge personal favor and tell you all about my baby. It's erotic, fresh, hip, now, and the best thing you'll ever put your hands on for the rest of your life. Maybe, if you're really nice to me, I might even let you, you know." She winked. "Personally rep me."
As she blathered on, Harry quickly emptied his Margarita glass. When Lucky glanced his way, he pointed to the glass and held up one finger.
"Hey." Shrill young thang elbowed him. "I just told you about the greatest rubber diaper love scene in the history of fiction, and you don't say anything nice or buy me a drink? What kind of guy are you?"
"Excuse me." A pale man dressed in cyberpunk black grabbed the next Laurell K. Hamilton by her dark curly hair extensions and yanked her out of his way. He picked up her manuscript and heaved it over his shoulder. "Mr. Hotdeals, I'm Dr. B. Famous Nofaultleroy the Third. You can call me Famous."
"Uh-huh." Harry accepted his second drink from Lucky and watched the shrill young thang scrambling to gather her manuscript pages before they were trampled.
"I'm a member of SFWA, MWA, HWA and currently Assistant Minutes Secretary of the Lord of the Wrongs speculative fiction critters online," the man told him, pointed to several enamelled pins gleaming on the spray-glittered bike tire he'd wrapped diagonally over his black Tolkien Sucks Heinlein T-shirt. "I've figured out what the singularity will be, you know, but I don't want to publish my findings and embarrass Vinge."
Harry smothered a yawn. "How many novels have you published?"
"Three critically-acclaimed short stories in very important speculative fiction magazines," Famous said. "I'm looking for someone intelligent enough to rep my first novel, which will be called the first and greatest masterpiece of the new weirdsteamurbanpunklit movement."
"Is that right." Harry eyed him and decided to cut things short. "What's the title?"
"Nightlife at Starship NecroTroopers Station." A hand clapped over his mouth. "Oh, God, I can't believe you tricked me like that. I know how you sleazebags operate. Now you'll tell someone else who is published and they'll steal it from me for their novel." As his cell phone rang, playing the theme music to Babylon Five, he glared at Harry. "I have to take this in private. I just want you to know that my cousin is a very successful personal injury attorney, and if you dare mention my title to anyone, he will have you in court in a heartbeat." He whipped a finger up under Harry's nose. "A heartbeat, Mr. Hotdeals."
Lucky came over to watch the skiffy writer stalk off. "He tell you the real title of his book?"
"Poor bastard." Lucky gestured for one of the waitresses and handed her a pink lemonade and vodka. "Tell Famous it's on the house, and mention that Harry happens to suffer from short-term memory loss."
"Got it." The waitress whisked away the drink.
"So tell me something, Luck," Harry said, trying not to watch as the shrill young thang handed over a stack of bills and went out on the dance floor with a scam artist posing as an author's rep. "Why haven't you ever hit me with a proposal?"
"You want the truth?" When Harry nodded, Lucky said, "I don't really write screenplays. I just say I do. It's like eyebrow scars and hot cars -- deeply impresses the chicks, you know?" He grinned. "So why do you keep coming here? I figure, nice guy like you should be checking out the ladies at the foodie stores and love churches."
"Homecooking chefs and inspirational chick-lit?" Harry suppressed a shudder. "No thanks."
"Then what are you looking for, big guy?"
"My ideal?" He thought about it for a minute. "Someone with an attractive, confident and marketable story. You know, articulate without being wordy, exciting without being vulgar, artistic without needing conflict injections or character peels."
Lucky chuckled. "Who writes that kind of stuff these days?"
Harry thought of the few who had gotten away. "A beautiful dreamer. One who writes like a tire factory fire burns."
"Wow." Lucky rested his chin on his hand and sighed. "If you ever meet someone like that, find out if they have a sister who writes erotica."