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I had barely gotten any sleep, so my morning was somewhat slow and full of groans. I don’t know how Holmes can stay up late every night while still being up before me, but he refuses to share the secret, merely dismissing my queries with abstract suggestions such as “Don’t sleep, think. Always think.”
Regardless of his standard eccentricities, the morning was rather dull. Over breakfast, Holmes regaled me with a most fascinating retelling of one of his previous cases. I use the word ‘fascinating’ extremely loosely; most of the story was him making derogatory comments regarding the competence of the Trottingham police force (though he wasn’t very harsh on Lestrade, which I found unusual) and claiming that without his help the case would have gone unsolved.
I nodded in all the right places, chuckled at each mention of the bumbling officers, and gasped at every revelation. It was quite a convincing performance, if I say so myself, and by the end Holmes was in a rather jovial mood, as reliving one’s accomplishments tends to do.
In fact, his demeanour remained positive even as he revealed the day’s plans to me. Apparently, he was going to interview the dead colt’s parents and I was welcome to come along. My somewhat sarcastic response (that I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do more) was lost on him, and thus he thought I was happy to accompany him. Of course, I didn’t actually have anything else to do, so I suppose it’s good that he saved me from a day of boredom.
It’s rather peculiar, when I think about it. We met only a few days ago and already we are living together and I am playing the role of witness to Holmes’ crime solving activities. The only friends I had before him were made over years of spilt blood and battle-hardened trust. Compared to them, my flatmate is more of a passing acquaintance.
And yet, it doesn’t feel that way. I believe this to be a true friendship, albeit in its early stages. The overused term ‘fast friends’ comes to mind, but I will refrain from inflicting it upon my journal. Instead I shall opt for a more apt description of our relationship. ‘Partners’ seems to work well, for as I will reveal in this journal, my presence can actually be of help to the case, probably more so than anypony expected, including myself.
But enough reflection.
Despite the fact that there are several families with the name Feather, Holmes acquired the address from a phone book. I considered asking him if he was certain it was the correct one, but decided against it for obvious reasons. A mercifully quick carriage ride took us to the small, ugly flat. If Trottingham was a chessboard and the skyscrapers were aged wooden queens and bishops carved from ebony, this flat was a pawn made of tough oak, neither attractive aesthetically nor geographically.
In a way, the robust sturdiness of that dark grey building suited the neighbourhood perfectly. Everything was coated in the shadows of taller, prettier buildings that drew attention away from this place like a businessmare looking away from a homeless stallion.
Stepping out of the carriage, Holmes took a deep breath and looked around. “I love this type of neighbourhood,” he said, surprising me.
“You do? I thought you were more into high class locales.”
“This is the true city, Watson. All the glimmer from the glass-peaked buildings is meant to distract us from this: the blood and veins of Trottingham, the ugly organs and nervous system that nopony wants to acknowledge for fear of getting squeamish.” His grin was almost animalistic. “Didn’t Birdy tell you what I told her?”
I nodded, glancing in the direction I knew her diner lay. “The shadows are darker than the night, and the ponies glow to those who look close enough.”
“Oh, but that is just the start. There is so much more to this city. I saw the distasteful twinge at the corner of your mouth when you spotted our destination, how you brought your guard up as we exited the carriage as if expecting attack.”
“It seems an unsavoury part of town is all.”
We stepped onto the sidewalk but a hoof on my chest stopped me from proceeding to the door. It was Holmes, and he was looking me straight in the eyes, blue speckled with black boring into my mind. “Look around Watson. Truly observe and you will see why you are wrong.”
I did so, turning and casting my eyes across the street once more. Chipped paint and rusty gates only confirmed what I expected. Continuing to look but feeling increasingly silly, I wondered if perhaps Holmes was seeing something that could not be shared. When I made to tell him that, I felt his breath on my ear. “Look,” he hissed.
If you ask me why it was at that moment I noticed something, I cannot give you a satisfying answer. The sudden pressure, perhaps, or maybe my eyes just happened to focus in the correct area.
The object I spied was an innocent skipping rope lying not far down the path from us. How alien, I remember thinking as if it was an artefact not known to this land. But like a chain of dominos, it ignited a series of revelations within my mind.
I looked around at an increasingly sharp pace, searching for and finding more evidence to support the forthcoming conclusion. Roller skates lined up neatly just outside a doorway, faint chalk lines on the road that even the rain couldn’t remove, a single red crayon half-stomped into the ground by a passer-by. Toys. More than that, children’s toys. Little ponies had played in this street and I could almost see them skipping, laughing, and running around cheerfully. This was not a slum.
“This is a family neighbourhood,” I said softly. Oh, how my first impressions had been wrong. The weight of my mistake crashed down on my shoulders, reminding me once more why my companion places so much emphasis on observation. I had dismissed this street like so many others, but Holmes showed me the truth.
Perhaps you are wondering why this is such a big deal to me. When I was in the military, I had to trust every sense implicitly. There was no room for mistakes or guesses. My eyes had failed me once before and the consequences were fatal. I thought that I had learned from it, that the devastating result would prevent me from making the same mistake. Evidently not.
Holmes looked confused as I sank to the ground. “What is it?”
“Take my eyes, for I am blind,” I whispered.
“You were blind but now you see,” he corrected.
I looked up at him slowly. “Yes… Now I see.” And I did, truly. My mind seemed to reorganise itself at those words. There would be time to sort through my thoughts later, but we still had a goal at that moment. The parents, the murderer, the case. A case is similar to a mission, isn’t it? Perhaps that is why I stood up once more and did as I had always done: soldiered on.
“Are you alright?” asked Holmes. I smirked at his expression; he was clearly not accustomed to asking such things.
“Yes, I am fine. Forgive my momentary malaise of the mind.”
Accepting the response, he led the way to the door and paused before knocking. “Please refrain from using alliteration in all future conversations, Watson.”
Three firm pounds and four seconds later, the doorway cleared and revealed a stallion with pale yellow fur and a dark orange mane that barely reached his shoulders. He was well built, far more muscular than either Holmes or I, yet his expression was slightly pained, diminishing his imposing aura. “Yeah?” he grunted.
My partner stepped forward. “Hello, I am Detective Greystone and this is Private Teevee. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
I understood the need for fake names, but it still felt a little ridiculous knowing I would have to be ‘Private Teevee’, even for a few minutes.
The stallion looked suspiciously between us. “My house is small, y’know. I heard you talkin’ as you got to the door. Why’d you call him Watson if his name is Teevee?”
Holmes didn’t miss a beat. “Watson is his first name. As my partner, I often call him by his first name. May we enter?”
Shaking his head and muttering, the stallion stood aside and let us in. He wasn’t joking about how small his home was. As we entered the equivalent of a living room, we could see the kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms. A mare with similar fur to the stallion sat on the couch watching us curiously. Pushing past us, her husband sat beside her. “Hun, this is Detective Greystone and Private Watson Teevee.” Holmes made a short, choking noise but quickly regained his composure. “They… they want to ask us some questions.”
“Is it about my boy? The police have already talked to us,” the mare said quietly. Every aspect of her posture and voice was subdued as if weighed down by her son’s death. It was a sad sight.
“Yes. It will only take a few minutes of your time and it might help the case.”
“What good does the case do?” she spat. “My son is dead and nothing can change that.”
The father nuzzled his wife softly. “We want to find who did it, hun.”
She buried her head in his chest and wept quietly. I felt very awkward being witness to such a raw display of sorrow and being unable to do anything about it.
After a few minutes, she stopped crying but kept her face out of sight. “Alright,” she whispered, her voice slightly muffled, “Ask your questions.”
Holmes did not falter in the face of such humbling grief. “Do you know if your son had any enemies?”
“Enemies?” said the stallion.
“Ponies who didn’t like him. Teachers, children, neighbours.”
“No, Whippy was a kind boy.”
“Alright then. How did he get to school every day?”
The mother turned to face us again with a slight smile. “He walked there, ever since he could. He was so independent and strong, never asked us for carriage money or anything.”
“Did he take a particular route?”
“Yes. Every day for a week we walked with him so he would remember. Main roads all the way to school, nice and safe.”
When I saw Holmes’ lips twitch, I knew something had just been revealed. Alas, his tongue was faster than my mind. “Then how was he found in an alley far from the main roads?”
“Are you saying he went there on purpose? How dare you!” she pushed herself up from the couch on shaky legs so she could stare my companion in the eyes. The height difference was still considerable but she tried her best.
“I’m not saying that at all. It’s just curious, don’t you think?” I almost slammed my hoof into my face at his approach. We were quickly outstaying our welcome.
“Alright, that’s enough from you two!” roared Whippy’s father as he stood up and shoved Holmes back a few paces. His wife soon joined the yelling, perhaps encouraged by the show of strength.
“What kind of detective would say things like that?!”
Backing away, Holmes muttered to me under the commotion, “Watson, I think we should take our leave.”
“You think?” I sarcastically replied as we quickly departed the flat, chased by the hollering of emotional parents.
It is disturbing how my mind wondered if I should refer to them as ‘ex-parents’ as I write this. Perhaps Holmes’ nature is rubbing off on me.
Once outside and with a thick door between us and the couple, I rounded on my companion. “What the hay was that?”
“Hm?” he was looking around the street as I had done before entering.
“They were grieving! How could you be so… so callous?”
His reply was swift and immovable. “Watson, since you clearly haven’t realised, let me spell it out for you. Regarding serious emotions, I am extremely reserved. I was not thinking of their feelings, I was thinking of their knowledge and how I can use it to catch their son’s killer. I have been called a freak, a sociopath, a heartless monster, yet I still solve crimes, save lives, and stop criminals.” He raised his head high and looked me square in the eyes. “In fact, the only effects I have ever seen from strong emotions have been negative ones. More often than not, they caused the crime. Lust, anger and jealousy kill more ponies than they save. Can you truly blame me for attempting to rid myself of them?”
My mouth was open but I didn’t speak. I knew I couldn't blame him because he made complete sense, and I hated him for it. “But,” I croaked, quickly wetting my lips, “But you laugh at things, you show frustration! Is everything you do a lie?”
“You heard but you did not listen. I said strong emotions. Humour and mild annoyance are weaker than rage and fear, but no less genuine.”
"What of pity? It is a weak emotion, especially in comparison to rage and lust."
"Wrong. Pity and compassion can cloud the mind and affect judgement just as much. It's an influence on your behaviour, only more subtle. I must distance myself from it if I want to retain logical thought progression."
"If that is the case, why do you let yourself feel any emotion at all? Every feeling could sway your mind in a particular direction."
He sighed. “Because despite myself, I am still a pony. I can never truly be free of emotion, so I simply moderate it.”
It was an odd few seconds as our conversation sank in. His last words seemed like an island in a calm sea, or an oasis in a silent desert. Simply knowing that Holmes could feel, that he wasn’t joking and laughing with a mask, was enough to restore some hope for our odd partnership.
What happened next still shocks me just thinking about it.
“Watson… I’m sorry.” I looked at him and his expression was conflicted, expelling each word like spitting gum that had gone sour. “I’ve worked alone for a very long time and the… simplicities of basic pony interaction were never my strong point.”
“You don’t say.”
“What I am attempting to divulge is that… I know that I am difficult to work with, and I thank you for persevering despite that. I do value your company.” He awkwardly raised a hoof, hesitated, and then placed it on my shoulder. The act was so oddly executed that he was probably trying to emulate somepony he had seen doing the same thing.
My tensions were eased significantly and I smiled. A more genuine smile I have never shown. Holmes returned it, his face regaining the normal, calm expression that suited him so well.
“You can take your hoof away now,” I said.
“Thank Celestia.” He pulled it back and wiped it on his coat a few times.
“Well, Holmes, I believe we have a case to solve.”
Seemingly grateful for the re-focusing statement, he nodded. “Indeed we do, Watson. And I know where the next clue is.” He set off, crossing the street and following the footpath. I trotted to catch up. As we walked, Holmes regaled me with yet another tale. However, rather than a stylised version of a past case, it was of his childhood.
Do not take that to mean Holmes had changed intrinsically due to our bond-strengthening conversation. The story was very relatable to the situation and served as an easy-to-understand method of explaining his thoughts.
“I walked to school every day, just like Whippy. However, I was a rather suspicious colt and I decided to take a different route to school every day to throw off any ponies tailing me.”
“What kind of colt thinks about that sort of thing?” I was amused but not really surprised. It was hard enough imagining a little Fetlock Holmes.
Ignoring me, he continued. “I was very thorough. No two routes were the same. Eventually, my travel time started increasing exponentially as I was forced to take longer and more complicated paths. By the third month, I was taking over seven hours to get to school.” I couldn’t help but laugh at that. He smiled in an almost sheepish manner. “Of course, this affected my performance in class. I could not get good marks if I was not present to complete the work, could I?”
“I’m guessing your teachers and parents finally stepped in?”
“Neither. My brother did, on their behalf.”
“You have a brother?”
“Yes. He told me that he had been observing my routes and that I was being very predictable. To demonstrate, he skipped school one day and waited in the middle of a footpath for several hours until I reached him. After that, I listened to him. He… explained the flaws in my logic. Flaws that I could not ignore. It was at this point that he alerted our mother and forced me to walk with him. So, thoroughly beaten, I devised a new plan. Knowing that our mother watched me from the front window every single morning, I waited until we passed out of sight before ducking into an alleyway and taking a series of complex turns. My brother chased me, but he soon realised what I was doing. By using the intricate little alleyways instead of the streets, I was still able to vary my routes using a new formula that allowed for the same route to be used more than once by randomly decided the days I used particular routes on. In essence, every morning a route was calculated and there was no possible way to know which one I would take in advance. I wasn’t late for school and I was safe from my imaginary stalkers.”
“Don’t get me wrong, that was actually rather interesting, but what does it have to do with Whippy?”
We rounded the street corner and he patiently explained. “This is the most likely path that Whippy’s mother would make him take. It’s a main road and leads in the general direction of the school. However, once around this corner, he would be out of sight from his house. Clearly he didn’t take the route his parents made him take. Why is that?”
He knew, but this was like a pop quiz in highschool. Holmes was checking if I was turned on, if my mind was sharp and focused. It was. “Well, we already know he was a bully. But when we spoke to his mother, she thought of him as a kind little colt. It’s fair to say that he was a very different pony when not under his mother’s eye.” Holmes was nodding, encouraging me to continue. “So as soon as he rounded this corner, he would take whatever route caught his fancy. That’s how he ended up in an alley.”
I was panting slightly but grinning widely. It was an incredible feeling, seeing everything come together in your mind as you speak. My companion was smiling too, and he chuckled at my expression. “Excellent work, my dear Watson. Another piece of the puzzle slides into place.”
“It doesn’t really help us though, does it? We know why he was in the alley, not why he was killed.”
“But we can eliminate the possibility that he was forced into the alley, which opens up an entirely new perspective I have to consider.” After a pause for thought, he nodded resolutely. “I need to see the crime scene again.”
“Alright, I’ll pay for the carriage this time.”
“No. We can find it on foot.” I looked at him questioningly and he gestured further down the street at a sweets shop. “You are a colt with some lunch money on your way to school. Which path do you take, the most efficient one or the one with a candy shop?”
I chuckled at the simplicity of it and we quickly reach the store. It was closed, but that didn’t deter my partner. From where we stood, I could see three obvious routes. Two were ordinary, but one had a very colourful daycare centre beside it.
Once again, Holmes changed our perspective. “You are a bully with candy on your way to school. Which path do you take, one of the normal ones or the one with little foals that you can tease? In addition, you are a little colt. The most colourful and exciting option would capture your attention more than any other.”
We trotted across another street and came to the mouth of an alley hidden behind the daycare. “Alright Holmes, let’s hear it. There’s nothing even remotely interesting in the alley or further down the street.”
He grinned. “Ah, but this is not a leisurely walk, is it? You are going to school; you have a goal. This alley leads in the general direction of the school.”
I wasn’t so certain, but as we exited the alley into the next street I could see one of the taller, more distinctive skyscrapers over the rooftops. My sense of direction reasserted itself and I realised Holmes was correct. “I stand corrected. Where to from here?” I saw two possible routes.
“You see that street and alley and as you approach you wonder which one to take. They both lead to the exact same place in a parallel road so the decision is made based on the environment. In between the two paths is a gym. On the street side are windows that view the mare’s section. On the alley side, the stallion section awaits. Your thoughts?”
“I take the street side,” I said instantly.
“Because that’s where the mares are?” I trailed off as he shook his head.
“You are a little colt. You and your friends find the opposite gender disgusting.”
“But what if he just acts like that around them? This little pony has two faces, why not three?” I asked.
“Perhaps. There’s no biological reason for little colts to hate fillies; it’s a social construct. But you are alone and walking to school, so which path do you take?”
A separate issue popped into my mind. “But what if I’m gay?” My face reddened from embarrassment. “I mean, what if Whippy was gay?”
Thankfully, Holmes didn’t take advantage of my slip up. “He was far too young to know his sexuality. That’s a non-issue.”
My train of thought hit a brick wall. “I don’t know then. Which path did he take?”
Sighing, Holmes led the way into the alley. “Again, you hear but you do not listen. I said that both paths lead to the exact same place on a parallel road. It doesn’t matter which way he took.”
“Now you’re just messing with me.” Admittedly, I did feel quite disappointed in the answer.
“You are thinking too narrowly, Watson. By considering only the most complicated possibilities, you missed the simple truth,” replied my companion. He wasn’t being condescending or mocking me, just offering simple criticisms.
Grudgingly, I saw his point and resolved to try and broaden my considerations. I was tested at three more diverging routes, and managed to get two of them correct. As we trotted down an alley, I mentally prepared myself for the next part, ready to observe and listen to the best of my ability. That was until we reached an alley intersection and I realised we had reached our goal.
Not the school, which I had taken to thinking of as our destination, but the crime scene. We approached the spot where the chalk outline had been. Holmes looked almost frantic, eyes darting around and seeing things behind the lens of the knowledge we had gathered. I could only watch and envy his lightning-fast mind, no doubt piecing together-
-rain thundered from the sky, pounding against bins and drains. In the noise, the pony was silent. They saw him, the one they sought, and crept closer. Not a single ray of light pierced the heavens, and not a single shred of mercy pierced their heart. Closing quickly, the pony slammed into him, throwing him against a bin. Two quick slams of their hooves and the first drop of blood flew from his muzzle-
-the scene in his mind using a deductive process I could only dream of. He dove to each little dark splatter almost desperately, hungrily, fulfilling the need for information and carving the puzzle pieces. Almost-
-he cried but the pony didn’t care. The pathetic gasps and whines as he tried to breathe through a broken nose meant nothing to them. But it wasn’t finished. The pony stepped forward and brought a hoof up. He was weakened and only watched with wide eyes as the hoof rushed towards him. Smash, smash, smash, crunch! Satisfaction. The pony lowers their bloody hoof to the ground as he crumples. He stares but he sees nothing. The pony brings something out from their side. It’s small and insect-like. The pony places it gently on his eye. They leave, walking calmly. The rain washes the blood from their-
-seventeen seconds after reaching the scene, Holmes declared that he was done. He panted heavily and his eyes were wide but focused.
“What have you found?” I asked reasonably. After a display like that, there wasn’t really any other question to ask.
“This was planned,” he said with a dark smile. “Premeditated. Whippy was hunted through the streets. You thought I was strange for taking precautions when I was little?” Holmes thrust a hoof at the biggest bloodstain. “Look what happens when you don’t.”
“How do you know it was planned?”
“The blood splatters. The killer must have been following him for a while and saw this alley as the optimal place to do the deed. They rushed at him from behind, threw him around a bit, and finished the job quickly. Then he went back the way he came!” A hoarse laugh escaped Holmes’ lips. “Don’t you see? Everything about this scene screams purpose! Motivation! The will to follow through!”
He was truly excited, almost euphoric at this discovery, breathing quickly and laughing every few seconds. To other eyes, he would seem a madpony. To mine, he was Fetlock Holmes at his finest. “What does that say about the killer?” I said, for once being the one to do the prompting.
“They are cold-hearted, merciless, and complete their goals with unstoppable determination! They are-“
“You?” I said quietly. His laughter broke, his grin shattered. I saw his ecstasy drain like blood in the rain. Head lowered, he stood silently, panting in the wake of his excitement.
“You’re right,” he whispered. “They are everything I try to be.”
I stepped closer to him and put a hoof on his shoulder. “You can’t be like that. Being who you are, right now, is the only way to stop the killer. You might think emotions are a disadvantage, a weakness. But that murderer has no emotions, and look at what he has done. A trail of clues and mistakes that only you could notice. Without emotions, the killer is far from perfect. All they are doing is denying their very nature, and that will be their downfall.”
Holmes raised his head slowly and looked into my eyes. The black specks seemed dwarfed by an ocean of steadily-strengthening blue as my reassuring words hit home.
“We’re dealing with a very dangerous pony, Watson.”
Even as I sit here and write, those words send a shiver down my spine. From any other pony, I would consider them redundant. Of course a murderer is dangerous, right?
But from Holmes, a stallion whose words had brought criminals to justice countless times before and who remained stoic in the face of even the most extreme adversity, they scared me.
I think we’re both scared.
I think we're uneasy and frightened.
But I know we're going to catch the killer.
Doctor Jog Watson