Hard Head fidgeted on the train as it made its way to Baltimare. He ground his teeth together and watched the countryside go by as the train neared its destination. He took a deep breath and looked at his fellow passengers. None of them paid him any heed, though one young filly spotted him and waved. He forced a smile onto his face and waved back before looking back out the window. His hoof touched the small saddlebag at his side. It felt like the paper within was burning a hole through it.
He quietly growled to himself. Princess Twilight was getting into his head. If she could see him now, she'd probably give him a severe lecture... or throw him into prison.
He didn't move from his position until the train pulled into the station several hours later. The ponies around him stood up and began walking out of the train, chattering among themselves and gathering their luggage. Hard Head didn't even notice until he glanced over and saw the empty train car. He took a deep breath and slowly stood up to leave the train.
Hard Head dragged his hooves as he trudged in the direction of the address. Perhaps this pony or these ponies were far more successful than he was. Maybe they were rolling in the bits that came from poor, unsuspecting ponies. Either that or they'd succeeded about as well as he had.
Either way, they probably didn't call up princesses.
After another quick glance at the address and some directions, Hard Head walked closer to his destination. After a short walk, he saw a large gray building in front of him. Well, there were several large buildings. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. In fact, if he hadn't been looking for it, he wouldn't have thought twice about it. It was a perfect place to hide a criminal enterprise.
He took a deep breath and walked through the single door in the front of the building. The entrance was just as gray and unassuming as the outside of the building. Hard Head vaguely wondered if he'd gone into the wrong building.
A secretary sat behind a brown desk and looked up when she noticed him with a smile. He didn't smile back as he walked up to her.
"Hello, sir. How can I help you today?"
"Uh, yeah, can I talk to a manager or owner or something like that?"
"Well I don't know. Do you have an appointment or something like that?" she asked. "Is he expecting you?"
"I really doubt it," Hard Head replied. "But let's just say I have some information that would be of interest to him. If I have the right address..." Hard Head took a deep breath. "I suppose I'd like to apply."
The mare frowned and tilted her head. "Apply? Hm." She picked up a phone headset and slipped it over her head. "Just one moment, sir." The secretary waited a few moments as she waited for somepony on the other end to answer. Hard Head heard a slight click and the secretary picked up. "Hello? Mister Talker? Yes, there's a stallion here to talk to you. He said something about applying." Silence. "Yes. Yes. Yes I'll let him know."
The secretary pressed the call end button and placed the headset back down. "Mister Talker will see you. Just go up the stairs to the third floor. Second door on your right."
Hard Head nodded and went in the direction ordered. After a short walk up the stairs, he came to a doorway with the name "Fast Talker" emblazoned on the door. He paused for a moment before raising his hoof, but he knocked.
Hard Head pushed the door open and walked into the room. A middle-aged brown earth pony with slicked back black hair and a business suit was sitting behind a desk. The pony, whom Hard assumed was Fast Talker, smiled at him in a way that vaguely reminded Hard Head of a used carriage salespony.
"Well, hello there, my good sir!" Fast Talker said. "Come in, come in!" Fast Talker motioned to a chair in front of the desk. "Sit down. Make yourself comfortable."
Hard Head nodded and sat down at one of the chairs. "Er... thank you."
"Not at all. Always nice to meet new ponies." Fast Talker steepled his hooves and leaned forward. "So, what can I do for you? You said something about an application?"
"Uh, yeah," Hard Head replied. "So, I got a call from your company. I mean, you didn't say it was you, but I figured it out."
Fast Talker frowned and tilted his head. "Really? Do you even know what we do here?"
"You call ponies pretending to be the Equestrian Revenue Service and inform them that they owe thousands of bits to the ERS. You tell them that you'll seize their property and money if they do not pay, then tell them to go to a local general store to give you payment card numbers."
Fast Talker froze. His mouth flopped up and down for a few moments before an uneasy smile formed on his face. "Eh. Eheh. That's quite a theory, Mister. It's quite a story. Yes indeed it is."
"A true one, though," Hard Head replied. "I received one such call today and I traced it back to you. I will say that it was clever that you bounced your signal through different countries. Did the same thing myself."
Hard Head nodded. "Yes. Let's just say that I'm familiar with the way you do things. Like I said, I did them myself."
Fast Talker didn't speak. He just leaned back in his chair and studied Hard Head for a second. Finally after a moment of awkward silence, a small smirk crossed his face. "Well. Well well well. It seems we've been found out. Well done, sir. Really well done. So you said you did all of this yourself? Tell me about that."
Hard Head paused for a moment. He had stories for Fast Talker. He certainly did. Stories that would either make him laugh or cringe. Either way, he'd probably have a dim view of Hard Head's attempts. Hard Head cleared his throat and put a confident smile on his face.
"Well, I mostly centered my efforts around Ponyville. Lot going on there. Backwater town. You know the type."
Fast Talker nodded. "I certainly do. We've made some calls to areas like that, but Appleloosa isn't a huge market for that type of thing. So, how much did you make from Ponyville?"
"A million bits."
Technically not a lie.
Fast Talker let out an impressed whistle. "Wow, that's quite something. How did you manage that? Surely a town of that size doesn't have a pony that rich, other than maybe Princess Sparkle."
Hard Head shrugged. "There were some successes here and there, but one of the ponies there owned a Barnyard Bargains. It was one big score."
"Well, I am impressed. Very impressed indeed." Fast Talker leaned forward on his desk again. "So I guess the ultimate question is what you are after. Why did you spend all of this time and effort to get here?"
"It's simple: I want to join forces with you. Your operation combined with my... experience and tenacity could make a wonderful team."
Fast Talker perked up instantly. "Why, sure, my boy, sure! I think that would be a wonderful idea. When can you start?"
Hard Head shrugged. "Right now."
"Excellent! We're always in the market for new talent, and you seem like just the stallion!" Fast Talker stood up from his chair and beckoned Hard Head to follow him. "As I'm sure you can guess, our operation is on a larger scale than the one you ran. I'm excited about your success, but now that you're working with us you can fully utilize your skills!"
"I certainly hope so."
"I'm confident in the matter. Now..." Fast Talker opened up a doorway at the end of the hallway they had been walking down and stepped aside so that Hard Head could enter first. Once he was inside the room, he saw a line of cubicles filling the room. Around a dozen ponies were sitting at them, all with headsets on and talking to somepony. Hard Head could only just make out what a few of them were saying as they talked.
"--payment cards. If you want to..."
"--warrant for your arrest. Failure to..."
"--it will cost five hundred and ninety bits for a lifetime warranty..."
"Wow." Hard Head turned to Fast Talker with an approving nod. "You're doing well for yourself."
"We'd like to think so," Fast Talker said with a grin. "In all honesty, I'm actually surprised that you managed to get any money out of Ponyville. Between Princess Sparkle and the other heroes, I'd think that they'd let the ponies there fall for it."
"Well, uh..." Hard Head forced a smile on his face. "It's all about tenacity. You just have to find the right pony. It doesn't matter if you fail ten times if on the eleventh you get that big score."
"Absolutely correct," Fast Talker said, clapping Hard Head on the back. "It's going to be nice to have somepony around here who actually knows what they're doing. We don't even have to train you. Now..." Fast Talker walked down the row of cubicles until he reached one at the other side of the room. "You'll be here."
Hard Head reached the cubicle. It wasn't anything special. Just the three gray walls, simple brown desk, a phone, a stack of papers that looked like a script, a basic computer, and a notepad. He turned to Fast Talker with a raised eyebrow.
"Sure is," Fast Talker replied. "Obviously you can decorate it how you want. Pictures of the family or something like that. You see the script there that we tend to use. Pages one through eight are ERS, eight through fifteen are tech support, and the rest is all refund stuff. I'm sure you know your way around all of it."
"I do," Hard Head said as he sat down at the desk. "Seems pretty similar to the setup that I had back in Ponyville."
"Well, then I think you'll do fine. I'm expecting a lot of big things from you. For the moment..." Fast Talker motioned to the phone. "Show me what you got. That button there is the robodial. We've programmed it so that you won't get the same numbers as your colleagues. So... let's see what you can do."
Hard Head slid the headset over his head and cracked his neck. In an odd way it felt good to be going back to this. It would certainly be more dignified and rewarding than being a cashier at Burger Princess. He smiled, took a deep breath, and pressed the dial button. He glanced back and nodded to Fast Talker as the phone started ringing. This would be good.
The voice on the other end sounded like a middle-aged stallion. Not the easiest mark, but nothing impossible.
"Yes hello, my name is Legit Collector from the Equestrian Revenue Service. I am calling because our records indicate that you have not paid your income tax for the years of two-thousand and fifteen to two-thousand and nineteen."
"Uh... that doesn't make a lot of sense. I go through a tax company every year and they do my taxes."
"Regardless, our records indicate otherwise."
"Then why the heck have I been getting my tax returns?"
"Sir, I need you to listen to me: you owe the ERS two-thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine bits. Failure to pay will result in the ERS seizing all of your property, bank accounts, passports and anything else we need to pay off your debt to the ERS. On top of that, you shall spend no less than five years in an Equestrian penitentiary."
"You are a natural at this," Fast Talker muttered with a smile.
"Well, hang on, how do I know you aren't a scammer?"
"My ERS identification number is nine-three-one-zero-C-eight-five-two. Scammers do not have ERS identification numbers."
The stallion on the other end grunted. "Yeah. Right. So since I've obviously messed up on my taxes, I should come straight to your office, right? Or maybe I can take my money and shove it up your plot. You're an idiot, and you probably have a tiny dick that couldn't pleasure a mare with the aid of magic. Goodbye. Bozo."
Hard Head grimaced and looked back to Fast Talker who shrugged. "Can't get 'em all, I'm afraid. You just keep at it. I can already tell you know what to do. Read the script if you have any trouble, and let me know if you need anything. I'll see you at lunch at one."
With that, Fast Talker went back in the direction of his office, leaving Hard Head alone. Hard Head took a deep breath and pressed the button.