It was another cold morning. The wind was low, and spirits were high, and by eleven o’clock we were well upon our way to the old Pegasus capital. Pones had been buried in the morning papers for almost the entire journey – even as basket of the balloon rose into the air he continued to read. I myself was quite familiar with flight and the journey, having treated several citizens of the floating city in my career, but all the same I held a steady hoof against the side of the basket, and willed myself to not look down. The pilot pulled hard on the flame, and with a steady hiss of gas we rose higher into the brisk morning air.
It was not until we had risen far above the city of Canterlot that Pones threw the papers down and began to admire the scenery. It was an ideal day - a light blue sky, flecked with little fleecy white clouds drifting across from west to east. The sun was shining quite brightly, and yet there was a savage nip in the air that reminded me that it was still close to winter. I dared a peek over the side of the basket, and the little red and grey roofs of the farms peeped out from amid the light green of the fields and grass far below.
“Gorgeous!” I cried with enthusiasm. Compared to the murky, misty Baker Street, it was a welcome change, but nevertheless Pones shook his head gravely.
“Do you know, Trotson,” said he, “that it is one of the curses of a mind like mine that I must look at everything so very analytically? You look down at these farm-houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought that comes to me is a feeling of their isolation, and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.”
“Who would associate crime with these quaint little homesteads?”
“It is my belief, Trotson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleyways of Canterlot do not hold a candle to the sin in the smiling countryside."
“Quite so. The pressure of the public can do in the city what the law cannot accomplish. There is nowhere in Canterlot where the scream of a tortured foal or the thud of a drunkard’s blow is not heard by a kindly neighbour. And from there, the whole justice system is ever so close that a simple complaint can set it going. But look at these lonely houses… filled, for the most part, with poor, ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and nopony would be the wiser.”
My heart fell a little. Even the bitter winter air that left me short of breath had failed to dampen my spirits, but Pones had done so with the merest statement. I could see that he too was in a discerning mood, though whether or not his point was said out of his malice for injustice, or simply because he was irate, I could not say. He then looked up at me and smiled, and I convinced myself that it was the former, and not the latter.
“Fear not, Trotson, there is plenty time yet for us to nab many a fiend between us,” he said happily, as if the idea of his work made him smile.
I agreed, though my attitude did not change until we reached Cloudsdale.
It was an old place, and I had seen it many times before. Those of you that are Pegasus will need no further introduction, but I assume that somepony might not have been to the city before, so I will describe it as best I can.
Cloudsdale is a city in the sky, built entirely on a base of very solid cloud. Do not ask me of the particular mechanics as to how the city stayed afloat, for I am not an engineer – but the impression it left upon first glance was most intriguing. The cloud base looked frail, as if the city might perilously fall through at any moment, and indeed walking on this special cloud was a feeling akin to treading on cotton wool. Nevertheless, it was quite strong, and the buildings in Cloudsdale were tall and grand, and much in the same design as Canterlot, though more crowded (if that was possible) due to the limited space. At a distance, it resembled a hive of many multi-coloured bees as Pegasus tore hither and thither. Below, there was a street for those who preferred walking, and I found that as I disembarked from the basket onto the pavement, that it was very solid. It was always a relief to note how firm the ground was underneath one’s hooves after having flown, I thought.
We stood in front of an immense white marble archway that acted as a gateway into the city’s main thoroughfare. I waited until Pones had disembarked, and then he and I made our way to the local constabulary, strolling through the marble entryway and into a bustling road, set on either side by shops and market-places.
“Are we to have the pleasure of consulting Lestrade on the matter?” I inquired.
“We might, we might,” my friend replied meditatively. “More likely it is his Pegasus counterpart Bradsteed that we might see around, but remember. We are not here at the behest of the police. It is therefore most advisable to keep our noses away from places where we might attract too much unwanted attention.”
I thought about his words, and they struck me as rather glaring and obvious. Though Cloudsdale was not bare of land-dwellers, two strangely-dressed earth ponies in a city full of Pegasus still stuck out more than usual.
“Do you think we are expected?”
“I do not think anything just yet, but it never hurts to throw a pinch of caution to the wind, as it were.”
The idea made sense to me, and I inquired whether or not removing our jackets would have the better effect. Pones hesitated.
“No. You should stay as you are for now, and I will change out of these stuffy clothes.”
Before I could question his motives, he zipped left into an alleyway. Hardly a few seconds had passed before he reappeared; bearing quite the different figure to the capped, jacketed figure that had left Baker Street that morning. He had removed the jacket entirely, and his undershirt was rolled up at the sleeves so that it came up to his upper forelegs. His face was seemingly very different – brighter perhaps - and I had no idea how he had managed the transformation with just a simple removal of his chequered Deerstalker. He stuffed the clothes into my forehooves, and I carried the garments over my back for the remainder of the journey to the station.
It was not very far from the landing to the station, and we entered swiftly through the stone door. Being a police station, it also doubled as the local jail, and as such was structured somewhat like a fortress, though clearly separated into two parts – the part where the officers worked, and the cells that were dug into the underground below. We steered ourselves through the gates, and I hung Pones’ garments up on a wooden rack as we entered through the stone doorway of the station. We were shown quickly to Bradsteed’s office.
“So what is our plan of action?” I inquired. “To ascertain some knowledge from Bradsteed before viewing the scene with our own eyes?”
Pones nodded his approval.
“Yes, though hold off on your questions for now, Doctor. More may be revealed to you by listening to Bradsteed.”
I was surprised, for I had entertained the fancy that Pones thought all of the law’s officers to be clueless. I was about to inquire after Bradsteed when the stallion himself appeared from out of his office.
He looked in his mid-thirties, but the sun and wind had taken its toll upon his face. I have never been to the mid-west, but I hear ponies over there suffer similarly – years of toil in extreme weather, rain or shine, tends to give one a rather aged appearance. He appeared well built for toil too, and boasted quite a muscular physique, with a tight-fitting blue coat bound around his upper body and bulky forearms. His coat was very tanned, a deep, dark shade of maple-leaf brown, and his eyes were a keen and bright shade of green. He spotted Pones, and beckoned to him, holding the door open as we strode in.
“Pones, you old devil,” he said fondly. He shut the door behind us with a soft click, and took his seat in a comfortable leather chair, placed behind a rather regal looking oak desk. “What’s the misfortune that’s dragged you up here to-day?”
I had not expected Bradsteed to address my friend so casually. So revered was he by other members of the police, and in particular Lestrade, that I had been taken quite aback by his greeting. Pones did not seem to mind, though, and took the warm reception with a smile.
“I’ve been hired by a certain gentlepony to inspect the circumstances regarding the murder of Peregrine Feathers,” he replied. Bradsteed groaned a little, and I saw his great shoulders fall a little in either irritation or surrender.
“I’m not at my wits end with it, though I grow tired of hearing about it. It seems to be a very simple thing, at least to me, anyway.” He reached down out of sight and rummaged in one of the drawers of his desk.
“Farrier, Falkirk… Ah, Feathers.” He produced a small file. “Just got the coroner’s report yesterday,” he added, licking his hoof before flipping it open on his desk. He read of the details briefly, and then looked up at Pones, his eyebrows raised in an inquisitive and earnest manner.
“No doubt you have something else to say about her evident guilt.”
“What kind of detective would I be if I did not?” Pones replied. Bradsteed shrugged. I gathered that he was used to Pones, and had worked with him on more than one occasion.
“Well, as always, you have my assistance if you need it,” he said, sliding the open file towards us. “Here is our report.”
I reached out a hoof to pull it towards me, but a nagging thought held me back.
“I didn’t think it was legal to see police records,” I said cautiously.
“It is if I show them to you,” Bradsteed replied curtly. “I am the officer in charge of the investigation, and I am obligated to assist justice.”
I was not wholly convinced by his words, and he saw it, for he leaned forward and gazed at me very earnestly.
“Between you two and I, the prosecutor’s office wants a conviction. I believe that we should be more interested in ascertaining the truth,” he said.
“So you cannot come to any conclusion other than Miss Dash’s guilt?” I asked. He chuckled a little and raised his forehooves in surrender.
“The evidence points to her in a very strong way,” he replied honestly. “And her arrest did not go well either.”
“What do you mean?”
He gestured to the file with a flick of his head.
“It’s all in there, but I’ll save you the trouble of reading it.” He cleared his throat and began to speak. “At around 2am one of our chaps was down on the beat in Wyndham street. Spotted the door open, and the lights on, stuck his head in and there he was, face-down on the parlour floor.” He shook his head, as if the issue was one that caused him great disappointment. “Coroner said the time of death had been less than an hour before he arrived. But anyway, we did not look into Miss Dash until after we had the coroner’s report.”
“For what reason?” I inquired.
“Well, the two had been known to fight,” he replied. “Now, usually we don’t pay attention to that kind of thing, but perhaps fight is the wrong word for it.”
“Nigh on close to doing each other some serious harm,” Bradsteed said. “You might imagine that she couldn’t hold her own, but she could alright. We had words with friends of Feathers and some other Pegasus from the wonderbolts, and we found out that they were both competing for the same spot in the wonderbolt's flight academy.”
“Surely this is not enough to prove murder?” I said incredulously.
“You'd be surprised what murderers will do. We searched her house in Arrow Plaza.”
“And did you find anything of interest?”
“More than just ‘of interest’,” Bradsteed said sadly. “We found the knife that was used in the murder. Big old serrated thing. There was a hint of his blood on the handle, but the blade looked like it had been cleaned. It matched the coroner’s report as to the murder weapon.”
He gritted his teeth and hissed a little, as if the matter caused him great pain to discuss.
“So, we detained her. Poor girl. Pretty young filly. She was devastated when I put the cuffs on her, and she just sat there in shock for about a minute, but then she got a little upset.” Here, he gestured with a hoof to his chin, and I saw that there was a small cut there.
“I said she could hold her own, and I wasn’t simply using it as an expression. She screamed blue murder until we bundled her into the police cart, but then she quietened down.”
“Does she plead innocent?”
“It does not bode well for her, then,” I replied morosely.
“Quite so, and it becomes more ill by the day,” Bradsteed replied. “As much as I would entertain the fancy that a young filly could never do such a thing, I learned yesterday that she was the last to be seen with the deceased.”
“How do you mean?”
“The two left a bar together at around midnight. They were celebrating, according to a witness.”
“Celebrating? That does not sound like something a pony with intent to murder would do.”
“The barkeep tells me that they were… erm…” He paused, narrowing his eyes as he searched thoughtfully for the right word.
“Soused,” my friend said, looking up from the report.
“Legless,” I said simultaneously.
“Err… Yes, quite,” Bradsteed looked at us both, unsure of whom to address. “I do not know why they were celebrating, but I don’t believe that such an act would be beyond a murderer.”
“You mean to say that she got him drunk on purpose so as to lower his guard?” I said, horrified.
“It is a possibility,” the inspector replied grimly.
Pones had been slumped into the seat next to me, watching the conversation bounce back and forth with that ever-familiar gaze. At this lull, he took the opportunity to speak.
“She did not kill him.”
Bradsteed was not surprised by his conjecture, and neither was I. Presumably we were both used to such wild conclusions being plucked from thin air. He cast a sideways glance at me, and smiled.
“Quite the piece of guesswork,” he said, though I think he understood that Pones’ conclusions were something more than just educated guesses. “Will you lend the good Doctor and I a hoof in understanding?”
I looked over at Pones, and was surprised. His good humour had vanished. It was not at what Bradsteed had said – indeed, the comment had appeared to miss him altogether. He was staring down at a large picture of the crime scene, his eyes fixated on a winged body in the centre. I recognised it to belong to Peregrine.
“Not right now,” he murmured. The inspector and I exchanged glances again, though this time they were of a more apprehensive nature.
“I’ll give you directions to the crime scene,” Bradsteed said, reaching into his desk once more and producing a quill and ink pot. Pones nodded.
“Very good, Bradsteed, but first I think I should like a word with this filly.”
Bradsteed was not surprised, but a little taken aback by Pones’ decision.
“You don’t want to examine the body and room first? As I recall, that is where you often see things that elude us all.”
I sat, waiting for him to elaborate. His brow was furrowed, and a hoof was on his chin, and at that instant he was in every respect the incredible mind that he appeared to be in his more intense moments. He spoke no further though, and it was not until Bradsteed rose from his chair that the uncanny silence within the dusty office was broken.
“Well, I will take you to her, then.”
We rose solemnly as a trio and left the detective’s office, departing by the door by which we had come. I did not take Pones’ things with me, and a brief explanation to Bradsteed had him in approval of the idea that Pones should try to avoid sticking out, if not donning a disguise altogether.
“I am quite sure he is capable of that,” I said as we marched across a wide courtyard towards the holding cells. “I have seen his capacity to disguise himself before.”
“And I, too, Doctor,” he replied. “By the way – I do not believe we were ever introduced proper, for I knew who you were before you arrived, and undoubtedly Pones has told you something of me.”
I dismissed the social faux pas as a mistake, and we exchanged greetings as we entered through the jailhouse door. Here, there was a small reception room. There was very little in it barring the windows, and a large desk guarded by two very heavy-set Pegasus, similar in stature and nature to the Royal guards that I had seen before in Canterlot, except that these Pegasus were lounging around. When they saw Bradsteed, though, they snapped to attention smartly.
“Bring me Miss Dash, and gently, if you don’t mind - Put her through the back of room one.” he said to one of the two Pegasus. Immediately the two departed to fulfill his wishes, and Bradsteed addressed us.
“We’ll have use of one of the interrogation rooms,” he remarked, walking up to the desk. Here there sat a female Pegasus with deep black hair.
“Just need to borrow room one real quick, love.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“Not ‘Miss Keys’ today?”
He winked at her.
“No, just love.”
She fawned over his warm remark for a moment, before reaching behind her and drawing a set of iron keys off a wallrack. She led us through a door behind the desk and into a very narrow and brightly-lit corridor, with several bulky iron doors. We stopped at the first, and the receptionist unlocked the door and let us in.
“After you,” she said, turning to Bradsteed with a sweet smile.
“Thank you, Miss Keys, but it will just be these two gentlemen going in today,” the inspector replied.
I took a few tentative steps into the room. I had not seen the inside of an interrogation room or a jail cell before, and I became immediately aware of how sterile and cold the room was. It was made entirely of a dark, smooth stone, with lights powered by magic rather than gas sparkling overhead, giving the room an alien-like blue glaze. It was perfectly square in shape, with all four walls save one made of a dark, smooth stone. The wall that was an exception had a large, rectangular glass panel in it – presumably an observation room from which proceedings might be observed. The room had two doors – one on the other side of the room that led to someplace else, and one that led back to the light and warmth of the reception area. There were a few chairs in the middle, set next to a polished steel table that was bolted into the floor. The other thing that I noted was that it was cold as ice – no doubt the room’s walls were thick and well insulted, and, being below a metre or so of stone, chilled for extra discomfort of the prisoner. It was a horrible place, and I would rather not go back anytime soon.
The door clanked shut behind us, and I felt my heart give an uncomfortable lurch. Pones strode forth (he did not appear to be bothered by the place) and drew himself a seat on one side of the table. I joined him, and no sooner had I done so then the door opposite us opened with a creak, and in stepped one of the two guards we had seen before. Behind him was his fellow, and in between them, almost dwarfed by their sheer size, was the cyan filly that was to be our client.
She looked rather similar to the photo that Colonel Flash had shown us, though her features were far more sullen in person, doubtless an unavoidable effect of her circumstances. Her youthful face was weary, and her pale rose eyes that appeared to spark with life and energy in the photo were dulled, with dark rings of tiredness underneath. Her mane, despite its natural untidiness, was incredibly out of place. She appeared to sway a little as she walked, and her wing-feathers were ruffled out of place on one side. I must admit I had some reservations at first as to whether such a feral looking child was not capable of the deed which she had been accused.
When she spoke, though, my rationality ebbed away and was replaced by pity. So afraid and quiet was she that I could hear the fear in her voice.
“W-who are you?” She stammered, her squeaky voice echoing out in the box-like room. Pones made a gesture for the guards to leave, and waited until they had done so before responding.
“My name is Sherclop Pones, and this is my associate, John Trotson.”
Her nervous eyes flitted from my companion to me. We must have presented a strange and fearsome sight to her, and my companion’s next observation did little to settle her nerves.
“Flash tells me that you’re good at heart, Dash.”
“How do you know who I am?” She said quickly. “Are you with the police?”
“No,” I replied with my warmest smile. The two rose points shot over and locked on me as if I presented some great threat, and I felt that even my most sincere and polite attempt at bedside manner was lost upon her. Nevertheless, I continued, in some vain hope that my words might cause her to be less fearful.
“I am a doctor, and he is a private detective. We were hired by your instructor to investigate the rather unfortunate mess you’ve got yourself into.”
She paled a little at the mention of her dilemma, and continued to eye me with some suspicion for a while thereafter. Pones was examining her in his curious manner, looking her up and down, and occasionally offering her a small smile when she glanced his way.
After about ten seconds of exchanged scrutiny between her and my companion, she became convinced that we were friendly.
“D-doctor?” she said, stammering again.
“I think my wing is broken. Can you look at it please?”
I rose from the table and walked round it, immediately arriving on her right side, which I had observed as ruffled earlier. A brief and ginger inspection of the wing revealed that it was indeed broken, though in what manner I could not have guessed. She flinched a little to the touch, and I was forcibly reminded of Twilight Sparkle when she did so. Such a reflex was the result of something having upset the fragile balance of her mind. In Twilight Sparkle’s case, it had been the hooves of her lover Riesling, but in Miss Dash’s case, the delicate equilibrium was a psychological problem. Claustrophobia was a particularly prevalent problem for Pegasus. They were used to flight, you see, and in her case, something or somepony had brought such horror to her that she could not bear to be held.
“Why, it most certainly is,” I said calmly, not letting on that I had concluded so much from a simple touch. “How did this happen? Does it hurt?”
“N-no…” she said. “I didn’t notice it until I came here. I think I broke it on the way in.”
“Into prison, you mean?’
She nodded a wordless reply.
“You poor girl,” I said. I was not even close to her elder, and had no right to be calling her ‘girl’ at all – Pones had staked her at about nineteen or twenty, after all, and I myself was only a few years older than that, but I knew the value of such words to an aggrieved mind. I laid my hands upon the wing again and pressed in a few places, checking for other injuries, and the location of the break. As I laid my hooves upon a certain spot, she flinched harder than she had at my first touch, and whimpered a little in pain.
“A break between the third and fourth flights of feathers,” I said to Pones. “It is just a fracture, but it needs to be splinted.”
The aquamarine Pony seemed a little upset by my conclusion, and carefully tested both of her wings. I saw her pupils shrink in adrenaline as another lightning bolt of pain struck through her again, and immediately she tensed, pulling both wings back in and close to her body, causing her to yelp in pain.
“Now stop that!” I chided, holding the wing slightly loose as she tried to tense. “You’ll only do yourself more injury."
It took a while before she could control her breathing, but once she had, she passed me a weak smile.
“You don’t have to call me doctor.”
Soon afterwards, Bradsteed entered carrying a few medical supplies. I splinted her wing, and she seemed a good deal more comfortable thereafter – now, at least, she knew that we were here in her best interests.
“So, Coach Flash asked you to help me?” she asked as I re-took my seat. Her voice had regained some of its boldness, and it was not unpleasant. Grainy would be the best word to describe it, though I’m not sure if that was because she was a little hoarse at the time.
“Yes,” my companion replied. “I am a Private Detective for him.”
“Does that mean he believes that I didn’t do it?” she pressed. I could see her eyes light up with excitement at the possibility that somepony believed her.
She breathed a heavy sigh of relief. It must have been a feeling to rival the most powerful happiness in the world to know that somepony believes in you, even in your darkest hour.
“Thank Celestia,” she sighed.
“…But, the evidence is quite overwhelming, if I do say so myself.”
Rainbow Dash arced up, her happy dream having being shattered. “What?”
“They found the knife in your apartment, Miss Dash.”
“I don’t know what knife that is! I mean – I’ve never even seen it before!”
Pones’ expression changed from one of intense observation to pure curiosity. This was as close to ‘surprised’ as he ever came – never fazed, he simply basked in the astonishing and the unbelievable, making sense of it all with all the precision and finesse that his honed mind would allow.
“It is not yours?” He inquired.
“NO!” she repeated more urgently. “I’ve never ever ever owned any knife before!”
“Fascinating,” he said nonchalantly. “So you are just a schoolfilly, correct?”
“No, I finished school a while ago.”
“And you have trained for the wonderbolts ever since.”
“Yes,” she replied. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
“So you were never in the army?”
“Not even for a second.”
Her words did not seem to bother him, and he instead broke off on another tangent altogether.
“And what is your relationship to Feathers?”
She opened her mouth to say something immediately, but faltered and closed it again. Tears began to well up in her great rose-coloured eyes.
“I didn’t do it,” she repeated weakly.
“Rivals, the Colonel tells me. Combatants, the inspector who runs this case says.”
I was a little taken aback. She was clearly upset over the demise of what had been drawn out to me to be her mortal enemy. The fact that she labelled him as a friend was even more interesting.
“Friends?” I repeated. She nodded.
“Yeah, we were good buds…” her voice trailed off. “You know, until he…”
Pones did not leave the conversation hanging on the poor filly.
“Your behaviour would not suggest you were friends at all,” he said. I think he knew perfectly well that he was wrong, and was merely testing the water. He was scalded, though, as Dash flared her wings, her voice escalating to a high-pitched yell.
“No way! I’d never kill him! Never!” she bellowed at us. Her angry blaze left us in a stunned silence, and she retreated meekly into her seat, perhaps aware of the impression she had given off. She looked more miserable than ever, and she slumped forward onto the table, burying her face in her forehooves.
“You were the last pony seen with him,” I said quietly. “If you didn’t kill him, then tell us what you saw.”
She sniffed a little, and wiped a tear away from the corner of her eye with a dragging hoof.
“Ok, I’ll tell you everything I know.”