The Inerzan merchant looked a little sinister though it wasn't his fault. A black scarf covered his lower face. red locks framed his dark face and intense green eyes. He gestured angrily at Mayor Burns but his voice was more controlled.
"So you honor, respectfully, I want my loving money back!" he concluded.
Mayor Burns looked at him from across a truly massive desk of the local stone wood. He steepled his fingers thoughtfully and then called on his intercom. "Jorge, please bring in Mr. Prigo."
Jorge Pierre Guttman ushered the local in. The merchant noted the young man's hair and complexion, so similar to his own and frowned slightly at his unmasked face. A handsome fellow to be so unsanitary. On Inerze a new virus broke out every few weeks in the crowded arcologies.
Steen Prigo sat down haevily and the Mayor bristled at him, "I ain't told you to sit. We're ending this little scam right now. No need to take a load off. Get up!" Prigo sprung to his feet.
"Okay, speak to me. What's your side of this?"
Prigo began sweating, "Yer honor, I run a clean joint and a honest establishment. Mr. Xibalboa here comes in with his crew to eat up and throw a few credits around ... we got a special: berry pie for a quarter credit a slice ..."
"Can the commercial."
"Right. Well they're sitting around and talking with the locals and this guy ... Mr. Xibalboa asks to see the owner. I come out ask what's what and it turns out everything is fine. He's watching my customers all throwing coins in slots and pulling our pot roast and chicken and dumpling and ... sorry. He's watching them all pay and pull the entrees out the little compartments and he says he wants to invest in the place. Me ... I want to put in a salad bar but sneeze guards cost ya ..."
"So you made a deal and took his money?"
"Natch ... er yes. That was yesterday, I dunno what his beef is today! Incidentally: beef ribs on speci ..."
"Clamp it Prigo. All right Mr. Xibalboa ... what seems to be the nature of your complaint?"
The Inerzan took a deep breath. "I was misinformed! Lied to!"
"I ain't lied to you! You wanted to know what we took in and I showed you the books! You quoted the number and I agreed! Ya grim reaper wannabee!" Prigo hollered.
"All right! Mr. Xibalboa ... what was the problem?"
"Mayor Burns ... you note my face mask? My gloves? My people pride themselves on the sanitary habits."
"Ya could use a roll on ... with the rest of your crew!"
"Aaaah, ya get a banjo with that outfit?"
"Well ... wait ... what?"
"QUIET!" the Mayor bellowed. "Mr. Xibalboa ... I try to extend every courtesy to our offworld merchants and the clients for our various services. We pride ourselves on being patient and understanding with other cultures ... but spill it awreddy! What's your complaint?!"
"Well the little windows, the coin operated meals ... I thought the place was ..." Xibalboa's answer trailed off and was muffled by his scarf. The Mayor fixed a stare on him until the tall ginger offworlder spoke in a rush.
"I thought the food was all prepped and served by robotics behind the walls! I had no idea people did all that work in a kitchen! The idea of eating food prepared by human hands ... no thank you. My gorge rises. It is not a fit enterprise for me. My reputation ... This man tried to make me think the place was run by robots! Even the name: automat! Implies robotics! I thought it amazing this little backwater had robots."
"We got a whole gang of them, the Clank Tanks ..." Prigo was going to mention the Clank Tank gang's last daring bank job but a look from the Mayor silenced him.
"Give him back the money."
"I spent it on the sneeze guard!"
"All of it?"
"Well the sneeze guard and salad. High end ingredients," Prigo explained. Xibalboa shuddered at the mention of sneeze guard.
Mayor Burns rubbed his eyes. "All right Mr. Xibalboa ... I'm going to give you your money back from city funds. Then Mr. Prigo, you and I are going to work out a payment plan for your salad bar."
"Thank you, your honor. May I return to my ship?"
"Please do. I'll send the check to you ... oh all right, the cash to you within the hour."
The tall Inerzan rose, and departed with a stiff bow. The Mayor regarded the budding restauranteur sourly. "You ... better get to the starport and find another offworlder to invest and pay me back. Fast. I'm giving you two months."
"Yes your honor. Thanks your honor!"
"And city employees get ten percent knocked off!"
"Sure your honor! What about the Tech Knights?
"I said city employees. When did that bunch ever do a day's work? Besides they can strongarm their own deals. And send up one of those berry pies!" the Mayor added.
"On the house yer honor," Prigo said retreating expeditiously.
"He thought we had robots ... almost a sin to leave offworlders' money in their pockets," the Mayor muttered.