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The Next Generations
Diamond Manor. Once the home to the wealthy and affluent Diamond family, founders and owners of Barnyard Bargains, the former cornerstone of retail in Ponyville, it was now a rotting and decrepitating monument to the fallen first family of the booming town. The outside walls had dulled in colour and brightness and roots and foliage were growing upwards against them, making it look like the earth itself was trying to engulf and consume the estate and bury it in the past where it belonged. More than a couple of the windows had been smashed, the gates had turned almost completely brown with rust and the gargoyles had mostly either been desecrated by vandals or naturally decayed from lack of tending to them. Just by looking at it, you could tell right away the entire place was a sad relic from a fading past.
The inside was not much to behold, either. Much of the furniture had long since vanished, and most the remainder were covered in tarps, leaving the house mostly hallow with a creepy echo to boot. A thick layer of dust covered the floors, the walls, the banisters and all the remaining furniture, tarp covered or otherwise. The framed photographs and paintings still remained on the walls, but a lot of them had been slashed, even some partially, leaving the image of one mare unscathed. Most of the rooms were now vacant, locked up and left only to further gather dust, but some were still very much active. If you stood outside the estate late at nights, you could easily spot the lights coming from a window at the left-hand corner on the second floor. This was when and where Diamond Tiara would be having her meetings, discussing issues related to her 'business'.
Snips and Snails walked slowly down the hallway on the second floor to this very room, both dressed in snazzy suits, Snip's black and Snails' a greyish blue. They were due at this meeting that very moment, and picked up the pace when Snips checked his watch. Snips knew most of all how Diamond hated it when ponies were late.
"You'd think with all her money, she'd get this place cleaned up," The brilliant amber Unicorn commented, holding a brown briefcase and taking note of the thick coats of dust everywhere. "…just a bit."
"Now look, Snails, I know you're new to this, but be cool," Snips told him as they passed one of the larger slashed up portraits and came nearer to the door. "You're dealing with the big boss of Ponyville herself. The Mayor ain't the one really running the show around here, she is, and whatever she wants, she gets. Those're the two things you need to remember."
"We all went to school together, Snips. I think I can-"
"No, you can't."
"Because you're an idiot," he declared plainly, stopping him when they were right in front of the door, from which a light was shining through the crack. He took the briefcase off him and set it down, then grabbed his lapel and brought him in closer and spoke to him seriously in a quieter voice, "Listen, when we go in there, you do not speak to her unless she speaks to you, and when we get onto the case, you only say what I told you to say, got it?" Snails nodded. "You don't speak to her, you don't bring up her parents, and you don't stare! You got that, you miserable piece of cow dung?" Snails nodded again, this time slower and Snips smirked and adjusted their ties. "Good boy."
The stallion straightened himself up, picked up the briefcase to give to Snails and opened the door, letting more of the light pour into the hallway.
"He did what? "WHAAAT?"
Snips looked back at Snails and muttered, "Oh great. She's pissed off."
They entered the lighted room, which was revealed to be a furnished office best suited for their line of work, or more specifically, the top mare. The soft cream shag carpeting, black draperies and scarlet painted walls all accumulated a business-like aura that circulated around the large black desk in the middle of the room. In comparison to the rest of the rooms in the house, this one was the most cared for. The furniture, the windows, the floors, it all came across as a place that was under routine maid care. But of course Diamond Tiara would want to keep this room in good shape. After all, it was her father's, originally.
Diamond Tiara was sitting at her father's large desk in his black leather chair, using his stationary and drinking his wine, which was perched with a glass on one corner and a thin A4 book in the centre of the desk. A stallion was sitting down in one of the two chairs in front of the desk, appearing utterly miserable the more the mare visibly grew with anger. Oddly enough, from Snails' viewpoint, she sitting so that only one half of her face was seen to everypony else.
She looked a lot like she did when she was younger. She sported the same coat of pink fur and icy blue eyes, but her mane now had more of a fringe to it and her namesake had long since vanished from on top of her head. She was dressed in a slick black female's suit with shoulder pads and bell-bottom trousers and underneath a dark green button-shirt, unbuttoned at the collar to show off a golden necklace.
Positioned all around the room were a total of five tall, strapping stallions dressed in sharp black suits, each of whom stood silently like statues. They actually stood so perfectly still, you might justifiably have thought they were statues. Snails felt a chill run up and down his spine when passing by them. Each one of them looked like they easily kill him with a single punch, and it was likely true. Stallions like these could smell fear and right now, Snails was reeking of it.
"The deal went south, ma'am," the stallion explained, though from his tone he already knew this would do little to calm her down. "He must've thought it his big chance to get rich quick. This guy always has been an opportunist."
"I don't want you to tell me what kinda pony he is! I already know what kinda pony he is!" Diamond Tiara snapped, holding onto the foreleg rests like she was about to tear them off. "My concern here is the damn money! Do you know how much was riding on this deal?"
"Two million! Two million bits shot right to Tartarus! And who's money is that?"
The chair spun around so Diamond Tiara could look him in the eye and Snails could see now why Snips told him not to stare, and was finding it difficult. There was a long, jagged scar running down one side of her face, running down from the top of her ear to near her chin. It was unsightly, to say the least, and there was an unsuccessful attempt to cover it up with makeup, which unintentionally made it stand out more
"My money! Mine!" She yelled and banged her hoof on the desk, shaking everything on the surface, but steadied the wine. "This score was gonna be one of the big ones! A game changer! And now that little punk thinks he can just run off with my bits and laugh in my face!" She looked like she was about to flip the desk over and go into a violent temper tantrum, but somehow managed to calm herself down and pouted. She waited a few moments before speaking again in a deeper, darker tone, "This pony is dead. Take care of him and get my money." Diamond addressed one of the goons without doing as much as glance at him, "Desoto, escort him out."
One of the stallions finally moved from his place and gruffly grabbed the panicking one sitting in the chair by the mane and yanked him off the chair, knocking the latter over. He dragged him off passed the blasse Snips and the stunned Snails towards the door.
"Make sure you drive the message home, Desoto," she added coldly, before the two vanished into the hallway and the door slammed shut.
A deadly silence followed, broken only by the sound of another goon going over to the turned over chair and setting it up right, before returning to his groove in the carpet. Snips and Snails now just stood there in the middle of the room, watching Diamond Tiara whip out a cigarette, complete with pink cigarette holder and a silver Zippo lighter and lit herself one. They said nothing, a lot like the motionless goons in the room with them, making them almost blend in if not for the clear differences in frame and stature.
"Well? What're you waiting for? Take a seat, the both of you."
They sat down in the two seats in front of the task, neither saying a word, but Snails was still having trouble keeping his eyes off the left side of her face, the scarred side. Diamond Tiara continued to smoke in silence, creating a thin grey wisp hanging overhead, until she rolled her eyes onto the greyish opal stallion.
"You're both late," she hissed, checking her own gold watch. "I expected you in my office two minutes ago, exactly."
Snips held his hoof up to Snails when he opened his mouth to silence him, and answered for them both, "We ran into a bit of trouble on the way here. Some punk was showing us some major disrespect and we couldn't sit back and take that, couldn't we, Snails?" He finished with a question to his comrade, who shook his head.
"Whatever. Give me the specs on tonight's shipment."
"Yes, boss," Snips cleared his throat and took a folded sheet of paper out from his breast pocket, unfolded it and read it out, "It's ten cases of assorted 'fakes', all from Diamond Dogs, along with ten cases of burners from our friends in Clawdor, all designed for equine use."
"What kinds?" Diamond Tiara stood up and walked across to one end of the desk, showing her scar still to Snails' unease.
"A variety. As this is a still relatively new and emerging market, we've got all kinds: revolvers, berettas, desert eagles, shot guns. We'll best be able to find the flavour in the market through this." Snips checked the specs again and added hastily, "It's all bought and paid for, so this is strictly a delivery, not a buy."
She took her cigarette holder from her pursed lips and blew a stream of smoke. "Fine. Just as long as it goes off without a hitch, otherwise, it's your horn…" Diamond said that last part slowly, for her attention had turned to Snails. She glared at him. "You. New guy."
"Ma'am," Snails said, putting up a more professional composure as Diamond Tiara walked around the desk and stood right in front of him.
"Don't be nervous, Snails. We went to school together." The stallion was calmed by this recognition, but this was quickly replaced by fear when Diamond Tiara moved her face right into his and she hissed with a voice overflowing with venom. "But if you keep staring at my face like that...I'm gonna rip that bucking horn off your bucking head."
His eyes darted away and, probably not knowing where else to look, focused to his left. Although Diamond Tiara recoiled, she pulled back her hoof and punched him square on his large, prominent muzzle, sending him and the chair to the floor, yelling in pain. Snips shook his head and a few of the goons grinned.
Acting like nothing had happened, Diamond Tiara whisked her mane and went back and sat down at her desk. She put out her cigarette in a glass ash tray, which was already filled with ash and cigarette butts. The pink Earth pony peered over the desk and asked contemptuously, "So are you gonna tell me what's in that briefcase, or are one of my boys gonna have to take you outside?" She motioned to the remaining four thug stallions, and all of them swivelled their heads so they faced the scrawny stallion on the floor.
Snails groaned and held his bloodied muzzle, but got up, regardless of the pain searing across his face. The last thing he wanted was for one Diamond Tiara's goons to get his hooves on him.
"Yes, ma'am," he picked up the briefcase and opened it on his lap. He took out a brown file folder and laid it out open on the desk. "We went out and did our research on this Mister Cobbletrot, just like you told us."
The mention of that name made Diamond Tiara's face contort. Having now regretted putting out her last cigarette, she lit another and asked, glaring at the folder Snails, "And…?" Was he honestly expecting her to read all this crap herself?
He stammered and pulled the file towards himself and started reading it out, "W-well, this…this stallion, a Mister Pipsqueak Cobbletrot, he's been-"
"What did you say his first name was?"
Diamond Tiara's mood swung, and she was now pressing her hooves so hard against her desk that any harder, she would make cracks it. Her teeth were clenched so hard the cigarette holder was shaking in place.
"P…Pipsqueak, ma'am. I think he was in school with us back in the day, as well. Well, actually, it says here he's often referred to as 'Pip', nowadays, but I dunno if you wanna-"
"WHO DOES THAT LITTLE BUCKER THINK HE IS?" Diamond Tiara suddenly screamed furiously, jumping up from her chair and throwing her hooves in the air, scaring the hay out of the stunned Snails, whilst Snips and the other goons remained calm and silent. "What? I mean-WHAT? I thought this guy was one of the other older brothers! Not THAT little piece of…gimme his picture." Snails took the black and white profile picture and hoofed it to her. She stared at it a second and her temper spiked again. "It is! It is that RUNT! WHAT THE BUCK?" She raised her forelegs and swept her stationary, mostly pens and papers off her desk, sending them landing lamely on the shag carpet. She then looked over at one of the goons, the shortest of the four. "You. Hold still..."
The goon knew what was about to happen and silently accepted it like he did every other time. He breathed in, kept still, closed his eyes and braced for impact when Diamond Tiara ran up to him and plunged her hoof into him. He bore the brunt of the raw pain that followed and did not dither from the spot, nor even whinny when the boss pulled back and punched again and again and again.
Taking her anger out of this pony punching bag pacified Diamond Tiara enough for her to bark over her shoulder to Snails, "Well? I didn't tell you to stop reading! What business is the little bucker in?"
"Ever since he's been back in Ponyville, he's taken up his old stallion's reins at the Bloody Hooves. Hear it's doing very well under him. And, of course, other family members are taking care of businesses for him. His brother is overseeing something to do with boxing, and-"
"No shit, Sherlock! I was talking about his REAL money! What's his damn racket!"
Sweat was now rolling down Snail's face like bullets. "F-From what we've gathered, he's picking up his old stallion's mantle, creating a bit of a buzz in underground gambling, protection, and I hear he's already getting a hoof-hold into the firearms racket. No matter how you slice it, he's not setting out to be some small time player."
Diamond Tiara's face was now so scrunched up that Snails could swear it was going to tear right off, exposing the red underneath. She was prepared to give the goon another blow, but decided 'screw it' and trudged back to her chair, a sense of depression growing inside her like a bad case of heart burn.
She pinched her sinuses (as best she could with hooves) and muttered things one might decipher as "Why me?" and "This can't be happening to me," for a minute or two.
None of the stallions uttered a word, until Snails mustered the courage to offer, though meekly, "Well...maybe we're jumping the gun here. I mean, we don't really know for sure if he's a threat just yet. Who knows? Maybe we could do businesses with him." He honestly did not know what prompted him to come out with this. Maybe his brain went on autopilot, or maybe he just yearned for his ideas to be heard and rewarded so badly, he subconsciously went 'what the hay' and blurted.
But the goons in the office did not seem impressed, judging by how a couple ran their hooves down their faces and how Snips audibly slapped his hoof against his forehead. But what really sealed it was when Diamond Tiara nonchalantly picked up her glass ashtray, weighed it in her hoof and hurled it straight into Snails' head. It did not break, but it left a bleeding gash on his forehead and painted his suit with ash and cigarette butts. This time, the stallion flapped his hoof over his forehead, threw back his head and let out a loud shriek of pain.
Diamond Tiara remained unfazed by this and told him in a voice that contrasted with her previous violent action, "Listen up, Snails, you are not a lion, you are a lamb. You're a lamb now, you're always gonna be a lamb, and I'll rip you a new one if you ever try and make yourself out to be anything higher. Understood?"
Snails still held his forehead and held back his pain induced tears and bit his tongue, seething through a clenched jaw, "Yes, ma'am. Crystal."
"Good boy. But getting back to Cobblepot-"
"Cobbletrot, boss," Snips quickly corrected her.
"Right, whatever. I want him watched 'round the clock. I wanna know every deal he makes, every bit he gets his little hooves on, and everything from what he eats to where he sleeps. Get your boys to monitor everything."
"Couldn't we just go up and shoot 'em?" Snails clearly had not learned a thing from his last two beat downs.
"Snips, hit him," Diamond Tiara deadpanned. "And hit him really hard."
The greyish opal stallion socked his colleague up the head without hesitation. He was feeling pretty pissed at him, too. They had only been in this meeting for a few minutes and he had already done everything Snips had told him not to do.
"If you want, boss, I can undertake this for ya. I'll get my best ponies working on it, right away."
This sudden offer made the big boss blink, but she accepted it. "Just make sure I get a full update every week..." There was one last period of silence before she then ordered the four goons and Snails, "Okay, all of you get the hay out of here, 'cept you, Snips. I wanna talk with you in private."
Slowly, the goons shuffled out the door, trailed behind by Snails, who was now tending to both wounds on his face. He was the last one out and shut the door, leaving Diamond Tiara and Snips alone together. He may have been none the wiser or was too preoccupied with his face bleeding to think about it, but the others knew the score and it was written on the
Diamond Tiara smiled slyly and got up from the chair, running her hoof gently along the desk surface's edge. Her mood had once again swung, this time to a more calm state, but unlike those last times, it was not forced. She genuinely looked rather cheerful and uplifted, and that was saying something when one considered she was beating the living hay out of one of her goons just minutes before.
"You certainly need to keep on training that circus monkey of yours, Snips," she smirked and giggled gently. "I wasted a perfectly good ashtray there."
"It won't happen again, boss," said Snips plainly, seemingly not taking notice of the way she was walking or how she was looking at him. He kept his eyes forward and relaxed into his chair. "I'll beat some respect into 'im. He's an idiot, sure, but he can be trained a few tricks, don't worry about it."
"Of course I won't worry. Why would I?" She perched her flank on the desk edge, and began refilling her glass of red wine. "I mean, you are my number one stallion, right? Why else would you carry out the most important jobs?"
"Sure thing, boss."
The pink Earth pony continued her warm smile and shook her head gently, chuckling, "Oh, come on, Snips! Number one stallion, remember? You can call me Diamond Tiara, or just Tiara, if you'd like." She downed her glass in an instant and slightly jolted.
"Wine?" Diamond Tiara asked, having already refilled the glass halfway.
Snips cocked an eyebrow. "Only see one glass."
Diamond Tiara smirk grew, but covered it up by holding the glass close to her lips. "I don't mind sharing, number one stallion."
He was not an idiot. Right away, when she asked him to stay behind, he knew what her intentions were, but knew it best not to accuse her of it. He said nothing at first, but then sighed with a small grin, "Tiara, you know I've already got a thing going on with this other mare."
Her face hardened, but her smile remained and she replied simply, "Yeah...but I'm your boss."
"Can't argue with that," Snips sniggered, shrugging and taking the glass from Diamond Tiara. He had himself a drink, and a second, and then a third, as did she. Realizing they had sucked up every last drop, she brought out a second, taller bottle and they polished that one off quick. It was not long before the wine tightened its grip on Snips' head and he found himself enjoying Diamond Tiara's company more. He noticed her slender legs, her rounded flank and that head of luxurious violet and white mane he just wanted to reach out and stroke, which he did. He didn't even mind it when she sat down on his lap, wrapping her forelegs around his thick neck and let fell her locks over him.
When you're Diamond Tiara's number one stallion, you're entitled to certain...privileges.
Outside on the steps of Diamond Manor, Snails was growing impatient. A light shower was starting over Ponyville and the stallion was feeling the chill, he wrapped himself tight in his black trench coat and stepped to shield himself under the short door canopy. Snails had been in Diamond Tiara's office for a while now, nearly twenty minutes. What the hay where they talking about, up there? And why couldn't he be there, even if just to listen in silence?
The front door open, nearly making fall back and he turned to see Snips standing there, dressed up in his black trench coat and smoothing out his hair and adjusting his tie. He looked a little flushed, which did not make sense to Snails, considering how it was pretty mild inside the house.
"Took ya long enough," he complained, giving him an irritable glare. "I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about me."
"Shuddup," he said gruffly, shoving past him and leading the way down the cobblestone pathway, placing his fedora on top of his fat head while Snails adjusted his own.
"What were you and the boss talking about?"
"None of your damn business!" Snails snapped over his shoulder and raised his coat's collar. "Now hurry up, we got dates with two fine mares at, remember?" The two had booked a dinner at one of Ponyville's many swanky four star restaurants, treating their girls to a good night out.
Snails shook his head. "We're gonna be late, dude. You were so long up there, it'll take a miracle to get there in time."
This did not bother Snips, who waved it off, sneering, "We'll just use the 'some punk' excuse. Sweetie Belle and Twist'll buy it." He opened the rustic gates and let Snails go through first. "After all, the boss did. Ha-ha!"
The Bloody Hooves was not just another nightclub. It was the nightclub; pretty much the first one to spring up in Ponyville and as such, was well revered by all partying ponies of the town and anypony visiting town, be it businesses or pleasure. The two-story, 12,800-square-foot establishment, situated deep within the town's wood and concrete maze, catered to all kinds, acting as a restaurant, lounge and even as a place to do a bit of gambling. It had something for everypony there.
It all started with a tough, burly stallion by the name of Alfie Cobbletrot from the East End of Trottingham who moved to Ponyville many years prior to the Great Gallop Forward. He opened the Bloody Hooves initially as a Trottingham-style bar, or 'pub' as it was called in his home city. Its surge in popularity was unprecedented and in no time, the Bloody Hooves was packed nearly every night, booming with loud music and drunken roars and guaranteeing not a wink of sleep for anypony living in the surrounding area. The popularity led to greater revenue and as a result, the pub expanded and eventually rose to the status of a nightclub and finally, around the time of his smoking-induced death, the institution it was to this day, with its name lit up in red neon lights.
At the front half of the Bloody Hooves, the part most viewed by the public eyewas its sophisticated front. The overall theme of the place was a clash between the slick, suave modern and a throwback to Trottingham culture, including tapestries, paintings and relics dedicated to its rich history and a muted colour scheme to try and give an air of modesty. Whilst in the hooves of an amateur this could have been a hideous mess, the Bloody Hooves pulled it off just right. What really completed this set was the stage at the far end, where talented performers would entertain the guests and provide the smooth, laidback mood tjat was accustomed to the nightclub. This legitimate front was frequented not just by Ponyville's finest, but Equestria's finest, including such names as Fancy Pants and Jet Set, and brought to its owner a substantial level of status and prestige.
However, beyond all that glitz and glamour, the Bloody Hooves had its darker side, too. Officially, a lot of back half of the building, which faced an alleyway and a few dull and mostly abandoned buildings was mostly either being disused or used for office space. That was what was typed on paper. Yet the reality was most different. It was true there were back offices, but the back part of the Bloody Hooves was also where the "real" money was made through more, to put it mildly, illegitimate means. As a result of its coexistence with its popular other half, it earned an unimaginative but honest nickname on the streets; 'the real Bloody Hooves'.
Applejack was standing outside the back entrance of the Bloody Hooves in the dingy alleyway behind the building. The stench of the place – weeks old rubbish, rain soaked mud and urine - running up her nostrils was enough to make her shudder and wretch. The aging mare was carrying a satchel over her shoulder which weighed heavily and put strain on her already bad back.
The back entrance was a large black door upon a few steps and beneath a semi-circular sign that read the nightclub's name in dark green letters. Applejack knocked the door a third time, her patience and tolerance of the alleyway's conditions running thin. A slot on the door finally opened and AJ saw a pair of menacing eyes making contact with hers.
"Password?" A deep gruff voice came from behind the door.
"Password?" She asked, sounding baffled and scratched her head. "What dang password?"
The pair of eyes rolled irritably and replied as if stating the absolute obvious, "The one you're supposed to say to get in this side. Thos're the rules, I'm afraid, love."
"Ah wasn't told 'bout no password. Look, ah'm here to see Mr. Cobbletrot."
The pair of eyes widened, before they squinted shut and a loud, mocking laugh erupted beyond the door. He then calmed down and glared at her and the voice asked in a more serious tone, "Are you 'avin' a laugh? Nopony just sees Mr. Cobbletrot!"
"Ah have an appointment."
He did not seem at all convinced. "Oh, is that right? What's ya name?"
The slot slid shut and Applejack was once again alone in the putrid alleyway. Roughly three minutes later, the sound of locks coming undone could be heard and the black door creaked open, just enough for Applejack to squeeze through.
Inside the back of the Bloody Hooves, the smell of the place hit the mare like a bat against the back of her head. Cigar smoke, velvet and from she could gather, the stench of some highly illegal substances. The place was incredibly dark, shrouding a lot of the walls and the furniture, despite the multi-coloured lights (mostly different hues of purple and pink) flashing at every second, which were being partly distorted by thick overhanging cloud of cigar and drug smoke. She naturally did not notice it at first, but this part of the Bloody Hooves was originally part of the pub the whole place started as. It must have been, for Applejack could not shake the feeling that she had been here before.
The doorpony, a seedy-looking and heavyset stallion wearing a black zip up jacket, pointed his hoof down the dark room in the direction in front of him and told Applejack gruffly, "Mr. Cobbletrot's down there. He's sittin' in a big red booth, you can't miss it."
Applejack tried her best to drown out the loud music as she made her way deeper into the enormous room, thinking about how it was possible that nopony at the front could hear this. Of course, she had only managed to get into the front of the Bloody Hooves with her friends in a group a hooffull of times as long as it had been a nightclub (times which she know deeply regretted), but she did not recall any complaints of loud noise.
Her thoughts broke from this when she narrowly avoided bumping into a pair of mares chatting up a stallion at one of the bars with cigarettes and cocktails in hooves. She recognized them as Surf and Turf, a couple of true valley girls whom Applejack, in all honesty, did not have much love for. Simply looking at them made this dislike grow further; they both had foals to bring up and were still wildly partying every night like they were still spoiled bratty teenagers. If it weren't for their parents' money, they would have starved to death long ago, or at least that was how Applejack saw it.
She tried to keep focus on the task at hoof; make the drop off to Cobbletrot and get out. But she was finding it hard to find the red booth the doorpony told her about. The more she looked about, the more she got used to the surroundings and made out more of this large room. There were many bars, tables and chairs (many of which were made from leather), open doors leading into other rooms. What really struck her was a striking difference to the front, besides the obvious, that whilst the front was more organised, with its services more divided, the back was more jumbled. Bars, gambling tables, spots for ponies to sit down on a bean chair and smoke a fine hookah pipe; it was all meshed together, producing something pretty ugly.
Finally, she found it. The big red semi-circular booth was on top a short platform surrounded by red velvet rope and under a dim light. A group of ponies and a diamond dog were sat there, drinking from large glasses and smoking from a tall, ornate silver plated hookah pipe. From where she was standing, Applejack could definitely make one of these out to be Pipsqueak Cobbletrot.
She stepped closer and hesitantly reached to undo the rope, but another pony appeared almost out nowhere in front of her, glaring daggers at her.
"And what's all this about?"
'Ugh! Not again!' Applejack thought bitterly, feeling she was in a reply from minutes before. "It's me, Applejack. Ah'm here ta see ya boss!"
The pony's expression changed to a softer one, saying, "Oh, alright then." He then called over his shoulder to the booth, "Oi, Mr. Cobbletrot! Apple's 'ere to see ya!"
"Send 'er up!"
He undid the velvet rope and politely stood aside to let Applejack in, to which she nodded in appreciation and entered the cut-off slice of the room. She ascended the platform and approached the booth with caution, where she could make out more the ponies and diamond dog sitting there.
There were two young gorgeous mares, dressed in tightfitting, brightly coloured clothes, near enough either drunk or drugged out of their minds, probably both, and whom were giggling nonsensically nonstop. A portly light greyish young stallion, dressed up in a white suit and shirt, a black waistcoat and a red tie was sat at the right-hand end, tucking into a large bowl of fruits, mostly oranges and pears. A second stallion of a similar age, dirt brown in coat and taller and well-built in comparison to his companion, was wearing an all back attire (suit, tie and shirt) and plainly taking breath puffs from the hookah hose. The diamond dog, sitting at the end of the left, was an enormous monster of a white bullterrier, wearing a tight blue denim jacket, the sleeves of which had been torn off a long time ago. He was preoccupied with chugging a stein of beer down his throat in loud, boorish gulps.
Smack-dab in the middle of the booth was the young Mr. Pipsqueak Cobbletrot himself, current owner of the Bloody Hooves. He looked a lot like he was as a colt, not just because of his same white and brown pinto pattern coat, but mostly in the sense that for a stallion his age, he was still very short. If you did not know any better, you might have made the seriously fatal error of mistaking him for still a colt. Little Pip was all wrapped up in a black leather coat lined with smooth black fur, possibly a sheepskin, over a white shirt, tight grey waistcoat and a gaudy black jabot with white polka dots. The two voluptuous mares were busy fawning over him, clinging onto his shoulders and running their hooves up down his chest.
They were all having multiple conversations at once. What caught Applejack's attention, however, was not the conversation itself (which included some of the most offensive vulgarities she had grown accustomed to in establishments like these in Ponyville) but the way they talked. The majority of them shared the same peculiar accent that was not native to Ponyville. It was one that was found within the rough parts of Trottingham, in particular the East End and amongst some clans of Diamond Dogs. She believed it was called 'cockney'.
Pipsqueak Cobbletrot did not seem fazed at seeing the farm pony standing in front of his private booth. He took the big, thick stogie he was puffing out from between his lips and addressed Applejack in a much deeper, raspier voice than one might think he would possess, caused by his love for cheap, large cigars, "'ave a seat. And take ya hat off."
She did as she was told and sat down next to the portly stallion, who edged up a bit and took his bowl of fruit with him. Applejack was glad. She hated pears.
"A mighty nice place ya'll got here," she complimented and took off her hat, trying to create a good mood.
"Yeah…and I think you got me some bread and honey, am I right?" He pointed his stogie at the satchel she still had on her person.
"Bread and honey?"
The portly stallion answered her, his mouth half full of pear, "Money. Bits, love."
Applejack sighed out through her muzzle and took the satchel off her shoulders and set it open on the table, remarking, "Ah don't see why ya'll couldn't have sent some of ya boys ta pick it up."
"Business sometimes makes that difficult, Mrs. A. Besides, I often enjoy meetin' my clients up close. Makes thing a lot less…" he struggled for the right word for a moment. "Impersonal, that's it."
Cobbletrot motioned the fat pony to take the satchel, and he did and started rummaging through its contents, counting the thick wads of bit notes. Just a precautionary step to make sure Applejack did not pull one over on them.
"You should be glad, Apple," said Cobbletrot in reference to Applejack's downcast expression, and who took a drink from a tall, frothy mug one of his girls hooved to him. "I think you're the only pony who's actually reached her last debt repayment."
"Ah'm a mare of mah word. Ah told ya you can trust me."
A toothy grin pulled on Cobbletrot's face and regailed, twirling his cigar in his hoof, "Like I 'aven't 'eard that one before. The last poor chap who said that was, unfortunately, a liar and if there's one thing I 'ate, it's liars. So my lad 'ere, Bull's-eye…" He nudged his head over at the diamond dog, who was still drinking indifferently to anypony else. "He took 'im back inta 'ere and he decided ta make sure he never lied again. You wanna know how?"
"Simple. He got his dirty little tongue out! Huahahahahaha!" The pinto stallion threw back his head and let out an uproarious cackle, chorused by his girls. The diamond dog, Bull's-eye sniggered maliciously and even the stoic looking stallion next to him cracked a grin. Applejack was not entirely sure how to react to that other than chuckle quietly and uneasily.
By the time the laughter stopped, the portly stallion had finished counting the money and nodded at Cobbletrot, saying in a wheezy voice, "It's all 'ere, Pip."
"Well, then…you're all paid up, Mrs. A. Good for you." Cobbletrot chopped back into his stogie and took another few puffs. "I take it then that I won't be seeing you lurking around the Bloody Hooves any time soon, then?"
"Ah think not," she replied calmly, looking relieved in contrast to when she entered the nightclub and holding up her hat, about to put it on. "Ah think ah've learnt my lesson about getting in deep. Besides, ah've gotta head home. Doc says ah need more rest."
But when Applejack made the move to get up, she found herself halted by Bull's-eye, who stood up first and held his paw up to her, sternly signalling her to keep her flank where it was.
"Not so fast," Cobbletrot cautioned with a sly smile. "We got other business to talk about, Mrs. A."
The farmer pony could not believe her ears and a nervous composure took hold of her. She began stuttering, "W-w-what're ya talkin' about? Ya said this was mah last debt. I-"
He put his hooves up to tell her to calm down and stifled a chuckle. "Relax, relax, it is, it is. I'm talkin' about something else." Cobbletrot then proceeded to talk with a tone of voice that despite his short stature, fully managed to made him come across as somepony to be taken seriously. "Ya see…I consider myself a big-time player. There're only so many bits you can squeeze out of pony's 'ooves with a place like this. I'm tryin' to move beyond inta more…prosperous areas of business. I need the help of hardworking ponies like you, Mrs. A."
"Oh, no, ah don't wanna get involved in anythin' illegal!"
Cobbletrot and his merry band howled again with laughter at the very notion. He assured the mare as he went on to explain his proposition, "No, no, no, nothing like you're thinking. Maybe I used the wrong word. I don't mean 'help' as much as I mean 'cooperation'. To put it bluntly, all I want from you is to go about your daily business, sellin' your apples as usual, but at the end of week, I want you to kick up a nice, thick slice of the profits to me." There was a wicked gleam to his eyes accompanying the grin that showed off his long set of tobacco stained teeth.
She gasped, holding her hoof to her mouth, "You're extortin' me?"
"Now did I say that?" He asked her, but then directed the question to his companions. "Girls, did I say that?" They obediently shook their heads. "Porker, Sikes, Bull's-eye, did I ever use that word?" Neither of the three said "yes" and either shook their heads of mutter something along the lines of "no". "Thought not. Mrs. A, my dear, what I'm offering you is, in exchange for this slice, top-notch protection from my boys and I. They're rough 'round the edges, sure, but they can keep you, your business and your family nice and safe."
"But ah can't afford it!" She protested, though the futility of it was glaringly obvious. "Ah'm already paying up to Diamond. Ah've barely been able to scrap a living with both mah debts to you and paying for her 'protection'. How am ah supposed ta give ya both a cut?"
Cobbletrot's face scrunched up and he snarled, "Eh? Buck Diamond Tiara! She's a nopony. Thing is, you ain't payin' to 'er, anymore. The only pony you're paying to from now on is me!"
"She won't like that."
"I know, and I'm glad. But 'ere's the beauty part: not only do you get protection from 'accidents', but equally effective protection from Diamond Tiara's clowns, as well," he explained, sounding pretty confident, before taking notice of how his stogie was nearly used up and flicked it away. One of the mares pulled out another cigar and the other a lighter and set him up. "Now is all this made clear or do I need to repeat myself at all? Because, keep this in mind, I'm not askin' you to pay up to me, I'm straight up tellin' ya."
"Yeah, ah understand...guess ah don't have much say in the matter, do ah?" She got a simple headshake in response and she anxiously tapped her hooves against the table and bit her lip. She gulped and asked the dreaded question, "How much ya want?"
By now, Pipsqueak seemingly had lost interest in the Earth pony and was relaxing himself into the soft backrest and enjoying the company of his mares more. He jabbed his stogie at the portly stallion, murmuring, "Porker...show 'er."
Porker, the fat stallion sitting next to her, took something out from his inner breast pocket and gave it to Applejack. It was small white card with something written on one side. She read it, expecting the worst, but she then went wide-eyed and looked genuinely surprised.
"Are ya'll serious? Ah mean...really?" Applejack was so baffled that her vocabulary had been cut down to only a page or two.
"A lot better than those rat scraps Diamond leaves you, right, right?"
"Sure. It's mighty...generous."
"Glad you see it that way," Cobbletrot said proudly and took a swig of high priced alcohol. "Bull's-eye, escort Mrs. A out. Unless she wants ta stick around an' play some cards, that is. Who knows? We just might be able ta shake whatever bits she's got left from her! Huahahahahahahaha!" This was followed by another uproarous bellow of laughter with his boys and minxes.
The diamond dog begrudgingly set his stein down and did as his boss told him to. Under his guide, Applejack was quickly led out of the Bloody Hooves back door and back into the wreaking alley with the door slamming hard behind her.
Applejack just stood there in the alley again for what must have been at least five minutes. What had only just transpired within the course of some minutes left the farmer pony so mixed in her feelings that she did not really know how to respond to it. On one hoof, she had paid off her gambling debts, all without anypony within her family finding out she even had gambling debts to begin with. But on the other hoof, she found herself still under Cobbletrot's hoof and paying "protection" as they put it to him. Yet even as an upside to that, at least it would no longer be going towards Diamond Tiara, of all ponies, anymore and the split Cobbletrot was offering – no, 'telling' – her was far more beneficial for her and her family. But why would Cobbletrot make such an offer? She knew it best not to dwell on it. You don't question the pony who can send ponies to your house. Bad ponies. Bad ponies with guns. At least her current predicament with the chickens would not be made any worse by this. In fact, it probably made it easier. Keeping a hoofhold in the market was not the only reason she needed those blasted creatures, despite what she told her son earlier that day.
Trotting down the street, passing by all the neon lights that lit Ponyville up like the Los Pegasus Strip, Applejack's mind returned to how she ended up in a tricky financial situation such as this to begin with. She never reckoned herself a gambler, but like with hundreds of other ponies, she was lured in with the enticing promise of achieving great wealth by a simple game of chance. Do not take that as Applejack having abandoned her values of hard work. She truly found the prospect winning a few extra bits worth the risk, especially by how she could use them: replacing Granny Smith's false hip with one that would actually last and pay for some much needed fixing-up of the farm buildings. Unfortunately for her, neither was she that good at it, but she also found it horrifyingly addictive. As the debt mounted up and brushing off the pleas and reasoning of her friends, Applejack went on until she had not a bit left to wager at the end of her sixth visit to the Bloody Hooves. The full realization of what she had done made her feel less than a pimple on a flea and from that last poker game forward, she swore to work extra hard to pay back her debts, that and make sure nopony in her family ever found out what she had been doing.
A scream in the dark. Applejack spun her head in its direction, and although she could see it, she could tell where it was coming from; a nearby alleyway. The sound of the screams and pleading and a continuous thudding made her realize a pony was being mugged or worse. Years ago, she would have jumped right into action, but the weight in her lower abdomen stopped her from taking a single step forward. What could she do? She could not see it happening and if she tried something daring, or stupid, she could end up with hot lead or a cold blade inside her. She could put her unborn foal in danger. So Applejack did the only remotely useful thing and galloped as fast as she could to the nearest phone booth and called the police.
Her walk home felt as long as it did before. The police arrived a while after the perpetrator had fled and soon discovered the crime scene and the victim; a young mare in a tight red dress who had taken a serious beat down, judging the hoof-marks and large bruises on her person. She was alive but needed to get to a hospital and luckily, she survived the attack. The cops later deducted she was a hooker and the pony who had beaten her up and fled before they arrived was her boss. Applejack did not know whether to be disgusted with the mare for her job or feel sorry for being brutally attacked,, though she was certainly bemused when one of the police officers told her that in hind-sight, she probably should have called an ambulance instead of them, due to how unlikely they would be able to catch the attacker. The only thing she kept thinking to herself, even as she approached Sweet Apple Acre's gates was how something like this would never have happened ten years ago, but still, there was a sinking guilt she could not ignore. What happened back there, coupled with being extorted by a stallion more than ten years her junior made her feel so...useless and old.
Applejack returned to the house, washed up and went to bed, being careful not to wake up everypony else. She crawled into bed and slumped her heavy head against her pillow, curling up to her husband, Caramel and shared their body warmth. She scrunched her face up at accidentally inhaling some of his breath. He had been drinking whisky tonight, again.
She laid there in her bed, wide awake for an hour, until she at last went to sleep, wishing how all her problems would disappear by tomorrow morning.