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It had seemed like a good idea at the time.Author's Notes
Sromaffo surveyed the wreckage of his eatery and concluded that he'd had better ideas. It had seemed so simple, so elegant, so innocuous.
All he wanted was a way to spice up the variety of his offerings. He couldn't afford a liquor license. When he lamented that to his wife, she pointed out that the liquor license referred to alcoholic beverages. It did not cover flavor essences or other foodstuffs that contained alcohol, so long as those things were not made alcoholic by the addition of beverage liquor.
Intrigued by this line of argument, and bolstered by his wife's uncle's family recipe, Sromaffo had obtained a large barrel and packed it with two bushels of diced fruit, a whole sack of sugar, a bowl of spices, a cup of yeast, and enough plain water to cover the fruit. Two weeks later, he sampled the result and pronounced it a success.
The new dish was a hit with the clientele. They were very happy customers. Then they were very inebriated customers ... and Sromaffo had no experience in dealing with drunks. Before long, his "hit dish" had led to actual hitting.
Sromaffo sighed. His gaze roved over what remained of his domain. Half the chairs were smashed. Two of the tables were also broken. With luck, he might salvage enough wood to repair a few of the chairs. The floor was littered with broken crockery and glazed with fruit syrup. Everything reeked of alcohol.
A brisk knock summoned him to the door.
Things crunched and squelched under Sromaffo's shoes as he hurried to answer. He'd been expecting someone from the Monitor House to show up. If he offered them a sample of the offending merchandise -- for "official analysis," of course -- then he might just escape this fiasco with his restaurant license intact.
Sromaffo shined up his smile and opened the door. Stared. "Why, License Master Baison! Wh-what brings you here?"
"Restaurant Owner Sromaffo," said Baison with a fractional nod, "I am here to investigate why a drunken brawl broke out in an eatery not licensed to sell alcoholic beverages."
"Oh, well, I wouldn't call a brawl," Sromaffo demurred.
A piece of syrup-coated fruit chose that moment to detach from the ceiling and land with unerring precision on the toe of the License Master's left boot. Baison's gaze tracked its progress as it slid slowly onto the sticky floor, leaving behind a snail-like trail on the impeccable leather.
"You wouldn't?" Baison said dryly.
"I'm terribly sorry about that," Sromaffo said, his voice choked down to a horrified whisper. "I'll fetch a cloth at once..."
"Don't trouble yourself," said Baison. "I won't be here long."
"There's a shoeshine stand on the corner," Sromaffo suggested.
"I am waiting," said Baison, "for an explanation of this incident." He waved a hand at the surrounding wreckage.
"How in the fine fractured world should I know that?" Sromaffo said. "I was in the kitchen when the fight broke out! My servers hid when it happened."
"Restaurant Owner Sromaffo, the license laws are there for a reason," Baison said severely. "If you had applied for a liquor license as is proper, you would have received training in the proper management of inebriated customers along with necessary safety protocols."
"All I wanted was to make the food here a little more interesting, so it would stand out from the competition!" Sromaffo wailed.
Baison raised his eyebrows. "Are you claiming that you did not, in fact, serve alcoholic beverages without a license? How then do you explain the condition of the crowd seen emerging from your establishment? A crowd which, I might add, nearly trampled my brother Rai, who was not expecting a horde of drunken revelers in this vicinity."
Sromaffo stared at his shoes, which were slowly adhering to the floor as the syrup beneath them soaked into the leather soles. "It was fruit compote." He did not offer a sample: everyone knew that License Master Baison was a stickler for rules. There was no chance of bribery saving the day.
Baison crouched to examine the errant chunk of fruit that had besmirched his boot. "Hmm..." he murmured. Then he strolled around the room, hands clasped lightly behind his back, examining everything but touching nothing. At last he returned to the door and faced Sromaffo.
Silence lengthened. Sromaffo cleared his throat and ventured, "D-do you need to see the k-kitchen too?"
"I have seen enough," said Baison. "I have concluded..." He sighed and shook his head. "I have concluded that the license laws are in need of further refinement. You seem to have violated the spirit but obeyed the letter. I cannot find grounds for revoking your license to run this establishment."
"Oh, thank you!"
"Do not thank me yet. You are required to purchase a liquor license and complete the training, whether or not you plan to serve anything alcoholic ever again, before you are allowed to reopen this establishment. Have I made myself clear?" Baison said sternly.
"Yes, License Master. Perfectly clear," Sromaffo whispered. He watched Baison open the door to let himself out. The License master peered at his hand, touching fingers to thumb, and frowned at the doorknob. Then he turned back to Sromaffo.
"And for the love of all that is licensed ... clean up this mess!"
This story came from the February 9, 2010 Muse Fusion. It was inspired by prompts from Comtessa, Jolantru, Wyld_dandelyon, and Padparadscha. It's a cautionary tale about the importance of licenses, revealing Southern attitudes about the system.