“We were celebrating. At a bar near the centre of town. I think it was called the Rosy Mare.”
“What was the occasion?” I inquired.
“Oh, no real reason. We’d… just finished our trials for the wonderbolts for the year, and he asked me if I’d like to have a drink with him, and I couldn’t think of any reason not to.”
My eyebrows raised at this statement.
“He asked you to the bar, then?”
“I suppose that punctures a fair enough sized hole in any theory that suggests you got him drunk.”
“We weren’t drunk,” she insisted. “We were just having a good time.”
“But you left at around twelve?” Interrupted Pones.
“Um, I think the landlady had thought we’d had enough.”
“And where did you go thereafter?”
“Well, we walked around for a while, and then…” she appeared apprehensive.
“He did something dumb. It wasn’t like him. I guess he was drunk,” she said, pausing. I wondered if she had reconsidered telling us all, but I was wrong, for it was not long before she began to speak again. “Well, we reached his street, and we’d been talking about some stuff for a while, and then he kinda drunk-kissed me.”
“Drunk-kissed? What does that mean?”
“Well… He took me by surprise, and just kissed me before I could do anything. He was drunk, after all,” she said quickly. “He wasn’t really into me. Not… Like that.”
I changed the subject quickly for her benefit.
“And what happened then?”
“Well, um, I hit him.”
“Ah. I see.”
“No, no, I mean, not hard or anything, just… y’know,” she said, fidgeting uncomfortably. “Just a friendly whack.”
“I told him that I wasn’t into him. And then… I think I just left him there. I went home,” she said, shaking her head so that her rainbow-coloured mane swayed a little.
“What was his reaction?”
“I… Don’t think he was expecting to get rejected.”
“He was put out?’
“Well, I don’t really remember what his face looked like, but he didn’t say anything.”
She ended on that rather poor note, and looked at me once more, as if her explanation had proved her innocence.
“So you see? I couldn’t have killed him. I wasn’t even there.”
“Did you see anypony on the way home?”
“No, and I wasn’t looking either.” She smiled a little. “Other things to think about. You know how it is.”
I must confess that I knew precisely what she spoke of, but I neglected to say as much. Pones was busily at work, frozen stiff on his chair, his hoof touching his lip in his classic meditative pose.
“Did you do anything between the time that you left Peregrine and the time you got home?” He inquired.
“No, I just went to bed. Didn’t even try to drink some water, I just went to bed. I was dog-tired, anyway.”
“Tell me, what time did you sleep to?”
She seemed a little surprised by the odd question, but responded anyway.
“Um, about twelve the next day. And I had a hangover, too,” she added thoughtfully.
My companion stood, and circled the table to stand beside her.
“Here now, could you stand up for me?”
The aquamarine filly shot a confused glance at me. I shrugged, and she accommodated his strange request, standing. She was not overly tall, I noticed, and drew level with about Pones’ chin.
“What about on two legs?” he inquired. Dash reared a little, with an effort – she had no wings to balance herself – and held the position for a few seconds. In this way, she was about equal to his height. I wondered what on earth he could have wanted from her, but he appeared to be satisfied one he had examined her standing for a couple of seconds.
“And finally,” he said, holding out a hoof, “Please watch here.”
She looked down expectantly, and immediately turned a paler shade of aqua.
“You’re bleeding!” she said, slumping back into her chair with surprise.
“So I am. But, thank you. That will do for now,” he replied, and with this he wiped his hoof against his flank, swiftly turned and made for the door.
“I am just going to get a copy of that file from Bradsteed, and then we shall be off,” he said quickly. Dash and I were rather alarmed at his strange mannerisms, though I was more used to it than she. He had hardly left the two of us together before she voiced her confusion.
“What’s he doing?” she said.
“Learning,” I replied, drawing myself up onto all fours again. “Trust me when I say that everything he does is for a reason. No doubt it will be made clear to us as soon as he has discerned any hint of truth.”
“Are you going?” She asked, puzzled.
“Yes – did you mishear?”
“Well, no, it’s just…” she gave another bitter look to her side again. “I was enjoying the company.”
I smiled and reached forward, taking a hoof in one of my own. I was closer to her than ever before, and I could see behind the tired features and devout stubbornness the pretty face that I had seen in the photo.
“We might be back. Until then, you must remain positive.”
She smiled weakly.
“I’ll try,” she said halfheartedly. I was not convinced of her optimism.
“Come on, now! A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition,” I said.
“You know I’m a weather pony, right? I make the clouds go away.”
“Then make them go away up here,” I said, gesturing to my own forehead.
She nodded, and I could see a glint of resolution in those strange pink eyes that satisfied me.
We then left the station. Pones was still lost deep in thought, and I chose only to ask one question.
“What have you gathered so far?”
He appeared unbothered by my question, though I knew all too well that such trivial questions bothered him.
“I have gathered a few things, though they are merely disjointed at this time. I might say that it is highly unlikely that she killed him, for a number of reasons. Some of those were evident in the coroner’s report, and some in what she has told me. Indeed, what she said confirmed a few things in my own mind, as well as presenting a new avenue down which we must direct our thoughts.”
“And that avenue is?”
He halted, and turned his fiercely bright brown eyes to me.
“If Rainbow Dash did not kill him, then who did?”
“Well, I cannot say – does Peregrine have any known enemies?” I inquired back.
“The file says none, other than her, to which almost everypony questioned raised her first and foremost. How interesting that he may have longed for her, then? You would not expect vitriol to give way to deeper feelings.”
“Ah, but you do not consider the fact that both were still young, and that it was a childish crush. It was not true hate that they harboured for each other, just a small amount of frustration at the other. Not dissimilar to your prior relationship with your fiancé, I might add.”
“Teasing, gentle poking, prodding, halfhearted jokes, sometimes fighting,” he replied. “Anger is just another expression of frustration. Frustration, sexual or otherwise, is a key catalyst to the feeling of longing after somepony, particularly at a young age where embarrassment or pride might keep them from being more direct.”
I coughed politely at his last statement. His comment about the nature of my own relationship was correct (it was fairly childish, at least on my part), and I admitted that some of what she had said rang true to me.
“But,” I added, “Do you construe the ‘brawls’ that the detective described with just vague fancies?”
“She was fiery enough to explain such dust ups as nothing more than a way for her to get rid of her spare energy. And often, ponies exaggerate the nature of simple quarrels.”
“So, it was all playfighting, then?”
“I believe so,” he replied. “At any rate, it is not a key point, more one of interest. Their relationship has nothing to do with the murder other than providing a good reason for her to leave him at the corner of the street where he lived, instead of following him home.”
I nodded to show that I understood, and we then caught a hansom cab up-town to where Peregrine had once lived.
The suburb where Peregrine's house was called Pilot’s row. It was close to the arena which the wonderbolts called their home stadium, and where the famous Cloudsdale Derby was run yearly. The house that he lived in was small and modest - perfectly acceptable for a young bachelor, and was in every way an idyllic slice of Cloudsdale, barring the yellow police-tape that had been stretched across the garden gate, and the police wagon that was parked outside. The garden itself was bordered by a three foot brick wall with a fringe of wood rails upon the top, and against this wall was the tall driver of the wagon, surrounded by a few loafers, who peered around in hope of catching a glimpse within. The driver saw us and gestured with a hoof over his shoulder, and Pones and I nodded our hellos.
We opened the garden front gate and took a few steps down a cobbled pathway. We were not halfway to the open door when a constable emerged from the front door and hailed us.
“Hullo!” he cried as we approached. “You must be the detectives that Inspector Bradstreet has given us advance notice of.”
“That we are,” my friend replied before I could object to my new occupation.
“Right this way, sirs,” he said, leading us inside the home.
Passing between two stained glass windows and through the oaken doorway, we walked a little down a carpeted passage before coming to another room. It too was open, and looked out onto the front garden – thus solving the mystery of how the constable saw us coming. Pones walked in, and I followed him with that subdued feeling at the bottom of my stomach that only death can inspire.
It was a large square room, semicircular at the garden’s side by the addition of a half-circle extension. In the extra space that was created, there was a long, similarly shaped couch of velvet. There was a soft wallpaper of cool blue, and, opposite the door where we had entered, a modest fireplace with a marble mantelpiece. Upon it were placed the many trophies of the renowned flier to whom they belonged.
All these details I observed afterwards. At present, my attention lay upon the single, grim, frozen body that lay before us, his wings stretched out, face-down on the floor. He was twenty, as I later discovered, and I could see that he was middleish in his size, but very broad shouldered and muscled. He was dressed in a heavy black frock coat, though on his back, the coat’s dark features were made darker still by the spread of blood, deep and crimson. I recongised the liquid by its smell more than by its colour – that was not something one forgot quickly, working in a hospital. His hooves were clenched, and his back was arched a little, but his lower limbs were not contorted as though his death had been prolonged. There was a single, horizontal cut in his coat, and as this was where the stain of blood was most heavily concentrated, I assumed it to be the killing blow.
I looked at his face. In my years working at the hospital, I often tried to avoid doing that. Stallions and mares, dead or alive, gained personality when I looked into their eyes, and on an occasion like this, where the person had died an ugly death, my revulsion of death becomes very vivid, as their eyes tend to express their pain in death. His face was strained, but not twisted in pain, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Suffering, past or present, was not something I could abide by, and it gave me some relief to know that he had at least died swiftly.
The policepony that had shown us in was standing by the doorway.
“Death by knife in the back, sir,” he said swiftly.
My companion had stooped low over the body, and was examining it closely.
“A grim end,” he murmured, reaching down with a hoof and spreading apart the fabric in Peregrine’s coat.
“Indeed, sir. It beats a lot of things I’ve seen, and I’m a five-year veteran in the force, sir.”
“What is your name?”
“Sergeant Colt,” he replied.
“Ah, I remember you from that case – the missing jewels of Lady Bellevue, if I am not much mistaken.”
The sergeant appeared pleased that he had been remembered.
“Quite right, sir. I daresay this’ll make as much of a stir when the presses catch a whiff of it.”
Pones paused in his rather mechanical examination of the body and glanced up at him. “Pray tell,” he inquired, “Where is Bradsteed?”
“He has some other business to attend to, so we have requisitioned Inspector Manes Gregson from Canterlot.”
“Ah! Gregson,” Pones replied. “The most earnest of the lot.”
I believe that I had heard the name mentioned once before, but that was an afterthought. I was still standing beside the body, looking down at it, my mind distracted by the cruelty of the crime rather than the details.
“He was involved in the same case as you and I, was he not?” the Sergeant inquired from the door.
“Yes, he was. A most singular and interesting case, as I recall,” he said. As he spoke, his hooves were touching various points on the dead Pegasus body, lifting up his wings and lowering them, inspecting the wound itself, all the while the vague, glazed look that was often confused by others as disinterest upon his face. He ran a hoof around the Pegasus’ neck, and drew up a shimmering ring of dog-tags.
“Corporal Peregrine Feathers, 3rd Battalion, Light Fliers,” he said. “He was in the air force, then.”
He released the silver tags and stood, taking a few steps back.
“Has he been moved at all?”
“No, he was found that way.”
Pones squatted behind the body, holding out a hoof in-line with the way that it lay. He drew it upwards for some time, following up the walls, until he came upon what he sought, and gave a small murmur of satisfaction.
“Stabbed in the back, certainly, and that is the only way that he died,” Pones said. “There is nothing else to suggest otherwise.” He reached reflexively into his coat-pocket, but realised that he lacked his journal, and I tossed him mine instead. He scribbled into it briefly before tossing it back.
“That is all for me,” he said.
“What, so soon?” Inquired the Sergeant. He had been watching the whole process with considerable intrigue, but failed to appreciate the fact that Sherclop Pones’ smallest actions were all directed towards an end.
“Yes. We may learn nothing more of him, and you may take him to the mortuary now.”
“So what do you think of it?” He inquired.
“I think,” my companion began to say, but something gave him pause. I watched him intently while he deliberated on what to say. “I think that it is time for lunch.”
He beamed. I sighed. The sergeant laughed.
“Very good, sir,” the police pony replied. “Do you want me to leave a message for Gregson?”
“Yes, I do. Would you be so good as to write it down for me, Trotson?”
I took my book back out once more and wrote the following very hastily:
I’ve combed the room. There was nothing here that was out of the ordinary. The dog-tags interest me the most.
I ripped the note off, and handed it to the sergeant. He tipped his hat and left us, ducking out of the doorway.
“What now?” I said, turning my head back to Pones. As he re-entered my vision, though, I was surprised. I had not known Pones to smile so happily.
“Now, we must go and free Miss Dash, because the facts are quite singular enough to do just that.”
No sooner had he uttered the words then the pounding of hoofsteps reached our ears. They were fast-paced, and with a clatter the Sergeant re-appeared at the door, a look of horror on his face.
“There’s been another killing, sir.”
I looked back at Pones. The smile that had occupied his features not moments before had vanished, and had been replaced by a look of wide-eyed intensity. He did not reply, and the Sergeant continued uninterrupted.
“I have just received a message from Gregson. He was intercepted by Bradsteed at the station, who gave him the news, and he went there instead. A neighbour gave the alarm to his death around twenty minutes ago. He calls for you.”
Pones wasted no time in formalities.
“Name of the victim?”
“Flight Captain James Fletcher, 3rd Battalion, Light Fliers.”
I jumped in alarm.
“Why, Pones, they are from the same regiment!”
“What was the manner of death?” I inquired to the Sergeant. He swallowed, and replied.
“Single blow, back of the neck. Serrated knife.”
“And the murder weapon is missing?” Added Pones.
“Correct,” Colt replied.
“This is no coincidence, surely!” I cried.
“You are right,” said Pones, springing to life from his meditative mood. “I must see this body with my own eyes, Sergeant!”
“Here is the address,” Colt said, reaching into his breast pocket and withdrawing a slip of paper. “Give it to Swifthoof outside, and he’ll soon have you there.”
Pones swiftly strode and seized it from him. He turned to me with a glimmer in his eye. It was not a merry expression that his face bore, and I knew better than to ask more details of him now.
“Come, old boy! We have no time to spare.”
We burst out of the house. The crowd of visitors had dissipated somewhat, but those who remained watched, alarmed, as Pones hailed the tall cart-puller from afar. The puller, noting that something was wrong, opened the gate in anticipation, but he soon realised the urgency of the situation when he read the note shoved into his hooves.
Immediately, then, we set off at a cracking pace. Swifthoof pulled the cart with the greatest of ease, and we thundered down the cobbled road.