Carrot Top sighed and went back to her table. Applejack was probably going to tell all the other ponies in the village how Carrot Top was trying to take money out of their town’s pocket. That would probably put a dip in her sales, which in turn would mean she’d no longer be on track to save up enough to overhaul her irrigation system by the end of the year like she’d been hoping. Well, she could just keep using her old well, it at least worked and could provide enough water…
The doorbell rang.
“What?” Carrot Top went back to the door. “I’m sorry, but I’m kind of busy, right now. Could you come back--”
“Oh, don’t’ worry about that!” The voice was completely unfamiliar. “For we have exactly what you need!”
“Unless what you have is advice on how to win a farming competition, I--”
“Perfect! That is exactly what we have!”
Puzzled, Carrot Top opened the door to see two tan ponies with striped shirts, hats, and goofy smiles. The one on the right had a thick red mustache.
“Who are you?”
The two smiled.
“We’re the world-famous Flim Flam brothers!”
“…what?” asked Carrot Top.
“And we’re traveling consultant ponies nonpareil!”
Carrot Top had cleared off part of her table and given Flim and Flam seats. They had both accepted her offer of carrot juice and had then begun inspecting the recipes that she’d left on the other end of the table.
“Yes, consultants! Experts who can give you all the information you need to win your farming competition and take home first prize!” said Flim.
“Trained and experienced gurus with an intimate knowledge of everything from the newest cooking techniques straight from Canterlot to which spices will make the judges stand up and cheer!” continued Flam.
“Every year we go through the farm competition entrants and look for the farms that show the most promise and just need that little spark to push them over the top!”
“And we decided that our first candidate, this year, is you! You have great produce and enormous potential!”
The two began to speak in unison. “So, will you let us help you win the grand prize!”
“First of all,” said Carrot Top, who was unmoved by the flattery and somewhat offended by the offer, “I don’t need help. My carrots can stack up just fine against any other pony’s produce.”
“But good ingredients alone won’t get you a victory!” said Flim. “The recipes must also be perfect!”
“And the cooking techniques sublime,” added Flam.
“My recipes and my cooking skills are both fine,” said Carrot Top, now thoroughly annoyed. While her food didn’t sell nearly as well as that of the Apple family, she did still sell a decent amount of prepared products such as carrot cakes, carrot juice, and the carrot-and-raisin salads that Green Grape had recommended. According to her customers, she was doing a great job.
Flim and Flam looked at each other, and then Flam took a photo album out of his saddlebag. “Why don’t we look through a few of the winning entrees from last year?”
Intrigued despite herself, Carrot Top leaned forward to look.
The first dish looked more like an intricate sculpture than something edible. “This one was relatively simple,” said Flam. “It was made by the United Cucumber Growers, as you can probably tell. They slow roasted the cucumbers, peeled the skins, and mixed the skins into a delicate glaze.”
“That glaze contained fifteen ingredients,” commented Flim. “Each and every one of them absolutely crucial.”
“Fifteen?” Carrot Top didn’t think she made anything with fifteen ingredients, let alone fifteen just in the sauce.
“They also made a cucumber-radish foam on the side there.”
“Wait, what? Cucumber foam?” Carrot Top wasn’t even sure that was a real thing.
Flam ignored her and continued. “Now the next one here is a little more characteristic of winning dishes.” It was a riot of colors, looking kind of like a farmer’s market had exploded on a plate. “The Onion League did this one. Each one of those vegetables, and there’s at least twelve in the dish, had to be cooked separately in its own particular way and then added together to make the final product.”
“Furthermore,” said Flim, “Each one had to be cooked in a just slightly deficient way, to let the onions show through. The carrots, as I remember, were a touch too sweet, and needed the onion’s bite. The mushrooms were too tender and needed the crunch.”
“But… but that doesn’t make sense. Wouldn’t that make the dish taste worse?”
“In less experienced hands, but the dish was plated so perfectly that the onions practically stuck to the other vegetables. You had to be trying in order to take a bite without an onion correcting the other ingredients. Every single mouthful was thus a testament to how great and powerful the onion was and how necessary it was to fix the other vegetables. Incredible victory.”
Carrot Top blinked. “Uh.”
“A carrot dish won last year too. See, they braised the carrots in a sweet broth which included persimmons and jackfruit, glazed them in a maple-honey reduction, and then gently cooked them until they were almost ready to fall apart. Melt-in-your-mouth quality, there.”
“Another group tried to do the same thing, but the carrots fell apart. They had to withdraw from the competition.” Flim sighed. “Sad, really. But then again, there’s only a few ponies in all Equestria who can cook like this”
Carrot Top looked at the photo, which showed a quartet of carrots that almost glowed from their sweet glazes. They looked so incredibly delicious that she was tempted to lick the photo itself. And then she looked at her carrot-and-raisin salad recipe, which also had a photo, of the carrots, raisins, and salad haphazardly dumped into a bowl together.
I don’t have a chance. I thought it was just about the produce, but if everypony else is doing all these crazy fancy recipes…
“It’s not that you’re a bad cook,” said Flam, smiling widely, “But you just haven’t had experience in this type of thing!”
“Fortunately, we have. We know quite a bit about fine dining, and we’re prepared to sell you our knowledge!”
Despite her shock at seeing what she’d have to compete against, Carrot Top was a better businesspony than to just blindly trust two total strangers who showed up from nowhere offering a solution to all her problems. “Okay, let’s say I’m interested. I need more details. First of all, how much would your help cost?”
“We’ll just split your winnings seventy-five, twenty-five,” said Flim. “It’s an incredible deal!”
“Wait, who gets the seventy-five?”
“You, of course,” answered Flam. “After all, you’ll be doing all the cooking and competing! But in exchange for our giving you the knowledge and training you need to win, a fourth of the pot is really quite reasonable”
A fourth of the grand prize was a very large sum of money. Then again, three-fourths was even larger. “And, if I don’t win anything—“
“Then there’d be no charge, of course, since you wouldn’t have benefited from our advice,” said Flam. “But why worry about that? We can practically guarantee you a placement in the top five, which means a nice bag of bits to take home.”
Assuming they were telling the truth, that was one issue solved, but Carrot Top still had another concern with the offer. “Okay, that sounds fair, but how do I know you’ve really got the skills you’re talking about? I’ve never seen you cook, and, no offense, but--”
“A perfectly reasonable question, my mare!” said Flim.
“We couldn’t very well ask you to just trust us,” said Flam. “Why, for all you know we might be scam artists!”
“Or agents of the Apples, sent here to give you bad advice!”
“Well, I don’t think they’d go quite that far,” said Carrot Top. Applejack was a jerk, but she wasn’t a cheater.
“So here’s a special deal we’ll make with you!” said Flam, as if he hadn’t heard her. “We’ll give you one day of training absolutely free! You like what you learn, you’ll agree to our terms. If not, we’ll leave. No hard feelings.”
It sounded like a fair deal – a reasonable price with a free trial period. That just left one final question. “Then I guess what I’m wondering is, why me?” Carrot Top paused. “You have to know the Apples could pay you more.”
“Ah, but the Apples don’t need us. They place every year,” said Flim. “We’d rather make a little less money and help a struggling, smaller farm, than make more helping a rich farm who doesn’t need our help… or the prize money either.”
“We’re not greedy,” finished Flam. “We support the small farmer, the common pony.”
Okay, that has to be a naked attempt to manipulate me, thought Carrot Top. It was too obviously geared towards winning her sympathy to be anything else. But then again, Carrot Top was annoyed when other ponies assumed that her generosity just masked some hidden motive. If the Flim Flam brothers really were just who they said they were, and really did honestly want to help a smaller farm win, it would be incredibly rude to try to pick apart their motives.
“And… this wouldn’t be against the competition rules, would it? I mean, you’re not actually part of my farm. I’m not sure I can take your help.”
“No other team has a problem with it,” said Flim. “Look at the Apple Trust.”
“They’re always hiring help. They hire scouts to learn everything there is to know about the judges.”
“They hire chefs from Canterlot to train them in preparing the latest dishes.”
“Don’t forget when they paid that unicorn two years ago to enchant their apples to be even sweeter than they usually are. They say it was the best apple pie anypony had ever tasted!” Flam sighed. “I heard that Princess Luna herself ordered three helpings.”
Carrot Top scowled. She knew the Apple Trust had money to burn, but at some point it was just ridiculous.
“Yes, it really is unfair!” said Flim, seeming to notice her expression. “We’d be evening the odds for you.”
Carrot Top didn’t know what to do. It seemed like a perfectly fair business deal, and she was now realizing that she really would need help from somepony to have a hope of competing against food that was foamed or flambed or deconstructed, whatever the Hay that meant. But it still felt just a bit too good to be true. Besides, the unicorns seemed so… eager. Realistically, if Carrot Top said ‘no,’ the Flim Flam brothers would be able to go to another small farm in the competition and try again. But they seemed to be fixated on getting her specifically to hire them.
Then again, maybe she was just being paranoid. Maybe she really had lucked into a couple of helpful advisors who would support her and teach her what she needed to know. It wasn’t impossible, and it would be horribly wrong to throw them out if they were indeed telling the truth.
“I guess… I guess we can start with that ‘first day free’ thing,” said Carrot Top, projecting a note of confidence into her voice.
“Splendid!” Flim leapt to his hooves and withdrew a small bag of bits from his saddlebag. “If you’ll just sell us a few carrots, we can whip up a dish or two and show you what we’ve got tomorrow. I think you’ll love them.”
“I know you will,” added Flam.
“Oh, and take this,” said Flim, producing a large binder. “Recipes and notes on the judges. Again, just a small sample of what we can teach you!”
Carrot Top set the binder down and made the carrot sale. “Here you go.”
“See you tomorrow, then,” called Flim, as they both began to head for the door.
“Have a good night’s sleep!” said Flam.
“And get ready to be a winner!” they both cried as they exited.
The rest of Carrot Top’s evening was relatively uneventful.
Trixie wasn’t home, so Carrot Top left a message with Pokey Pierce to look into the Flim Flam brothers, just in case they were known scam artists or something like that. She also asked that Trixie come see her tomorrow. If she was serious about helping her with this competition, they needed to figure out what she could actually do. The showmare’s default ways of ‘helping’ were usually to use magic or sarcasm, and neither of those were likely to impress the judges.
She then visited the bank to withdraw enough money to ship a batch of carrots to Canterlot for the spa contract, and then a few other shops to get some supplies she’d need for the week. As usual, she ran out of money just before reaching the end of her list.
I still don’t know if I trust those stallions, but honestly, I could really use that reward money… and to get it, I think I need their help.
Back to the farm to complete the chores for the day – harvesting, watering, and a little bit of basic maintenance while she still had the energy. The irrigation system was falling apart due to not having been serviced in far too long, so she wrenched a half hour out of other tasks and tried to fix one of the collapsed pipes. She managed to get a trickle of water flowing, which was at least progress, but not nearly enough for what she needed. She also fixed a few new fence posts into the gap in her fence. It didn’t entirely plug the gap, but it at least began to close it. That was something.
And then the day was over, and Carrot Top was lying on her couch. She looked up at the ceiling.
I need a vacation.
She sighed, wondering bitterly how the Apples were spending their evening. They had enough farmhands and money that they could enjoy a happy, warm dinner together. They weren’t so pressed for time that they had to just scarf a couple of raw carrots in the field before resuming chores, after all. And now that dinner was over, Applejack was probably reading Apple Bloom a story while Big Macintosh rested by the fireplace, and maybe later they’d have a campout in the apple orchards with marshmallows and s’mores. Meanwhile, Carrot Top would be lucky if she found the strength to drag herself to bed.
Her gaze fell upon her table and the binder that the Flim Flam brothers had left her. She reached out and managed to grab it. If nothing else, it would probably be interesting to read.
“Chapter 1,” she read, opening the book. “Competition format.”
Well, a refresher on that would probably be a good idea, no matter what else happened. Carrot Top propped herself up and began to read.
“Huh?” Carrot Top yawned and opened her eyes. “What happened?”
She was still on her couch, which confused her for a moment, before she realized that she’d fallen asleep reading. The binder was lying on her chest, open to a recipe for something called carrot foam, which was apparently all the rage in Canterlot.
“That doesn’t look bad, actually,” mused Carrot Top. She wasn’t much for really fancy food, especially as she could never afford it, but if she understood the recipe correctly, the carrot foam seemed like it could be a useful ingredient. Something light and fluffy, tasting of carrot but without the crunch, to accompany dishes with a pronounced texture but no carrot taste.
The recipes had fascinated Carrot Top – things like foams and gels and aerosols, and also more traditional dishes using ridiculous techniques, or unusual ingredients that she only knew about from her extensive knowledge of Equestria’s flora. Persimmons from Neighpon, sumac from Chenneigh, even a special tea leaf from Trottingham that was used to make a sweet carrot soup.
“Infuse the broth with two teaspoons of Trottingham Special Herb Tea and allow to simmer for one-half hour,” the book had said. “The resulting broth will make for a spectacular carrot soup with an aroma and sweetness far superior to conventional methods.”
And then there were the sections on the judges. Flim and Flam hadn’t been lying when they said their knowledge would be useful; the book was practically a guidebook for how to win the competition. The first round of judging, for instance, used fifty ponies, and each dish was judged by three of the fifty. Of those judges, thirty loved foams and aerosols. Twenty liked when carrots were paired with sweeter fruits. Forty always rejected any dish involving deep frying. Carrot Top could hardly imagine more useful information.
The doorbell rang, startling Carrot Top from her thoughts. “Hello? Who’s there?”
“It’s us!” It was Flim’s voice. “Ready to start the day? We’ve got lots to do!”
Carrot Top rolled off the couch and bumped her head on the table. Groaning, she managed to get over to the door. “Lots to do?” she repeated, letting the unicorns inside.
Flam pushed a large wagon through the door. “Indeed! If you’re going to win this thing, you need to know how to use all kinds of incredible ingredients to highlight the carrots of your farm!”
“Spectacular spices to bring out the best aroma and flavor!”
“Sublime sides to accentuate the weight and texture!”
Carrot Top’s eyes widened as the two unicorns began to unpack the wagon. Most of the ingredients she’d only seen in books or in the binder, and a few she’d never seen at all. “Where are these from?” she managed, looking at a small and spiky red fruit.
“The rambutan? Oh, those are from the eastern provinces,” said Flim.
“That jackfruit’s from just outside Neighjon.”
“Well, I think the first step is to see what you can do,” said Flam. “Right, brother of mine?”
“Just what I was thinking! Cook us a dish or two! Show us what you’ve got, Carrot Top!”
“Wait.” Carrot Top frowned as she looked through the ingredients. “Where in Equestria did you get all these ingredients?” She wondered if she was going to get stuck with the bill.
For a moment, Carrot Top thought that the two unicorns looked unsure But then Flam said, “We’re very familiar with the fine dining world. We have connections! If we ask an old friend or comrade for a half-dozen rambutans or a couple jars of spice, they can deliver.” The two smiled widely.
“Really, you should get going. We only have seven days, counting today, and every minute counts if you’re going to overtake the Trust,” said Flim.
They had a point. She needed their help to win, she knew that now, and she would need to actually start if she was going to benefit from their advice.
She grabbed the binder, turned to the first page of the foam recipe, and began.
Carrot Top had a blast.
Her first foam attempt was a disaster, but then Flam began to coach her, and she improved very quickly. He had a remarkably easy-to-understand style of teaching, and after a few tries, she could produce a good carrot foam. And after the foam came other recipes and techniques, each one showing off a new way to make carrots taste great.
They also worked on utilizing rare and exotic ingredients, even those normally thought of as dangerous or weeds. Take Farmslayer, for example. This was a small red and blue flower that could drain the flavor out of any edible plant. The resulting produce would look perfect, but would taste of nothingness. Carrot Top knew how to cure a Farmslayer infestation, thanks to having read an ancient herbology book a while back, but she hadn’t thought of how to use them in cooking. Flam showed her, though, how Farmslayer could drain the taste of one ingredient with a good texture (like a cracker), and then another ingredient with great text but no texture (like a spread or jam) could be added to it. The possible combinations allowed for many novel and delicious dishes, and Carrot Top wouldn’t have thought of one of them without the Flim Flam brothers.
And the study was all so fulfilling! Carrot Top was learning all kinds of ideas for new ways to make carrots taste delicious. Her customers would be thrilled when she began incorporating these techniques into the snacks they bought. Even Trixie, with notoriously eclectic tastes, would delight in Carrot Top’s new products. And maybe, just maybe, she could start taking a bite out of the Apples’ monopoly on Ponyville produce. What could an apple pie do against a honey-maple-persimmon glazed carrot?
“You guys were a huge help,” she said, as she and the brothers relaxed with large glasses of carrot juice. “I wouldn’t even have known any of those dishes existed without you.”
“Splendid,” said Flam. “Does that mean you’d like us to work under the conditions we agreed on yesterday?”
“One week of training for one-fourth of your winnings,” said Flim. “No strings attached.”
Carrot Top smiled. How could she turn them down now? She’d been skeptical, but they’d proven themselves all day. She’d gladly hire them. “I—“
Somepony began pounding on her door.
“Carrot Top! Carrot Top, open up!” It was Trixie. “Got something really urgent to tell you!”
“I’ll be right back,” said Carrot Top, hurrying to the door. She opened it. “Trixie, what’s going on?”
Trixie was smirking. Carrot Top felt her stomach sink; that was never a good sign. “Pokey did give me your message.”
“About… oh, the consultants? I was overreacting. Sorry to bother you—“
“No, you weren’t.” She grinned as she entered. “I did some digging. As it turns out, they bought donuts at the Sugar Cube today! And they paid with this!”
Trixie held out what looked like a perfectly ordinary bit.
Carrot Top examined it. “Uh—“
“Ah, I see you see it too!”
Carrot Top stared at her blankly. Trixie, moving so that Carrot Top was standing between her and the two stallions, quickly winked at her. Carrot Top frowned, but decided to play along, if only to figure out what Trixie was getting at. Besides, they had all doubted Trixie the last time she’d acted like this, and their friend Lyra had almost suffered horribly for it. “…yes. Yes, I see it.”
“What’s going on?” demanded Flam. “What are you talking about?”
“Every bit minted in Equestria is stamped with the mint location,” said Trixie. “Now, most bits in Ponyville come from one of the two Canterlot mints. But the money they spent at the Cube doesn’t have the stamps from either of those mints.”
Carrot Top examined the bit closely. ‘CAN 1,’ was printed at the bottom. What was Trixie talking about? Was this some sort of bluff?
Trixie leapt on top of Carrot Top’s counter, scattering a few papers. “It comes… from the mint located at Duke Greengrass’s fiefdom! They’re working for him!”
Carrot Top gasped. Greengrass was a young and ambitious member of the Night Court who was trying to force the Elements into his service. He had already tried to get Lyra, the Element of Loyalty, and had only barely failed. If he was back, that was a big problem.
“That’s absurd!” said Flam. “I’ve never heard of this ‘Greengrass’!”
“That bit could have wound up in our change in hundreds of ways,” said Flim. “We just came from Canterlot. Bits from all over Equestria circulate there. We probably got that one as change!”
“True,” said Trixie. “I guess that’s possible. Well, then, if you’d be so kind as to show me your bit bag?”
“What?” the two stallions asked together.
“Let’s see your bits. If the rest were minted in Canterlot, then you just got that one as change. But if they’re all from the Duke’s territory…”
“We don’t have to show you our money!” said Flam. “This is absurd!”
Carrot Top thought as quickly as she could. Trixie probably had information from somewhere, and while she could be paranoid, she’d been right the last time. Besides, Trixie was her friend, and Carrot Top was generous. She could give the showmare a little trust. “Would it really hurt to just look at a hoofful?” she asked. “It would set my mind at ease.”
“Uh,” said Flim, looking very much like a foal with a hoof in the cookie jar. “Do we have to?”
“We have nothing to hide, and… and…” but Flam noticed that Flim seemed to have gone an odd shade of white. He sighed, giving up the bluff. “Flim, you idiot!”
“So you are with the Duke,” said Carrot Top.
“Now, wait a minute,” said Flam, recovering some of his peppy attitude. “Maybe we’ve talked a little with Greengrass, but that doesn’t mean anything we told you was untrue!”
“We help you win for a quarter of the winnings. No need to sign on with anypony you don’t want to,” said Flim.
“But all this stuff,” said Carrot Top, pointing at the ingredients. “That was his money, right?”
“Uh…” they said as one.
Carrot Top shook her head.
“Hang on,” said Flim. “Don’t you want to win? You know you can’t beat the Apple Trust alone. Whatever you want to say about our motives, you have to see how useful we can be.”
“You don’t have the money to hire an expert to tutor you, and we know far more about this kind of thing than any of your friends. Our knowledge is literally irreplaceable,” added Flam.
“Besides, the Apples would do it, if your places were reversed. Why give them an advantage that they wouldn’t give you?”
“And, if you want to sign on with Greengrass later, great, but it’s not required at all!” Flam grinned. “Like we said, you can just walk away at the end.”
“So what do you say?” they both asked. “Willing to let us train you and help you win?”
Carrot Top paused for just a moment. She did want to win; she wanted it badly. She wanted to beat the Trust. She wanted official tasting judges to declare to the world that her food was delicious, not just something to eat if the Apples sold out of food for the day. She wanted the prize money because it would help her out so badly. She needed it, and not in the sense that the Apple Trust needed to increase their third-quarter profits. She actually needed it. And Flim and Flam could help her get it. Whatever their motives, they knew how to cook.
But Greengrass had tried to hurt Lyra. He had hurt Lyra, by corrupting her mentor and friend. Carrot Top couldn’t support him, no matter what.
It doesn’t matter that the Apples would take their help, she thought, I’m not an Apple. I couldn’t win knowing I’d worked with the stallion who tried to ruin my friends’ lives. It’s not who I am.
“No,” said Carrot Top. “You can take your recipes and ingredients and all that stuff away. I won’t accept help from Duke Greengrass.”
“We’d be ashamed to win with his help,” added Trixie. “Go on, get out of here.”
The two unicorns looked at each other, paused, and then cast a spell together. The ingredients and recipe binder floated into the wagon. Flim and Flam grabbed it and began to leave, but Flam paused as he passed through the door. “You know, we could help some other team. We could ensure your loss instead of your victory.”
“I could ensure your being bucked into the Everfree if you don’t get out,” snapped Trixie, and the stallions left in a hurry
Once they were gone, Trixie chuckled. “Heh. They actually believed that story about the money. As if Greengrass would be dumb enough to give them money that could be linked back to him.” She smiled. “Fortunately, those two aren’t that bright.”
“How’d you really find out about them?”
“Source from Canterlot,” said Trixie.
Carrot Top figured that Trixie wouldn’t tell her more. Besides, she had more important things to think about. “It’s too bad. For a moment there I thought I had a chance.” She chuckled ruefully. “The Apples probably have half a dozen experts helping them by now. Sometimes I think I’m too generous. I just gave away my hope of winning this thing...”
Trixie missed the pain in her voice. “Those idiots probably wouldn’t have been much help anyway. What would a couple of political hacks like them know about cooking?”
“A lot, actually. Recipes, and tips on impressing the judges… they even brought in a bunch of ingredients. I mean, all I have is carrots. What chance do I have against these teams that can buy all this exotic stuff?”
“We can go to Canterlot. Get some supplies to bring back.”
“I don’t have the money for it. All my bits are tied up in business stuff right now.” Carrot Top paused. “If this were happening in a month, I’d probably be able to do that, but what with this new business deal I’ve got going…”
“So get a loan.”
“No bank is going to give me money that I can only pay back if I win a competition.”
“Okay, then ask the other farmers for a loan. They know you’re good, right? So they know you have a shot at winning.”
“They don’t have that many bits on hoof either.”
Carrot Top and Trixie fell silent. Carrot Top sighed. She’d like to get the other farmers involved, but they didn’t have the money to help her buy ingredients. Even if she settled for just having local ingredients to incorporate into her dishes -- forgetting the exotic and rare stuff -- she couldn’t even pay the other farmers for their produce.
Wait a minute. What if…
“Trixie, that’s it! That’s a brilliant idea!”
“My only kind,” chuckled Trixie. “But… uh… what idea, exactly?”
“Can you help me contact the other farmers in town – except for the Apples – and have them meet me at the town hall in, say, two hours?”
“Uh, sure, and I can get Ditzy and Lyra on that too, but why—“
“Awesome. I know what we can do. I’ll beat the Apples and win this thing!” Carrot Top smiled. She knew it was a somewhat desperate plan, but she didn’t let that reach her voice. It was more of a plan than she’d had thirty seconds ago., at least “Let’s get going!”
“Congratulations,” hissed Flim. “What a brilliant plan. Truly remarkable. Going swimmingly, isn’t it?”
“Oh, shut up.”
The two were sitting outside of town, trying to figure out a new strategy. Neither had come up with anything.
“Greengrass does not tolerate failure. I told you this at least three times before we spoke with him,” griped Flim. “And now we’ve failed. I vote we spend the next week running as far as we can.”
“No. We’re the Flim Flam brothers. Two of the greatest grifters ever to grace this land. We aren’t going to run from a hick farmer and her idiot Night Court friend!” Flam scowled. “There’s got to be some way we can get her to sign on with Greengrass.”
“There had better be. We’ve spent too much of his money to come back empty-hooved.”
Flam ignored his brother. An idea had occurred to him. “Guilt didn’t work. How about shame and fear?”
Flam grinned. “Yes, that’s it! I know how we can get that hick.”
“Mind filling me in?”
“Later, later. Right now we’ve too much to do. Which, incidentally, means we need to get started as soon as we can. The plants we need won’t pick themselves.”
He began to trot towards the train station. Flim followed.
“Aren’t ya comin’ in?” called Apple Bloom. “It’s getting’ late, an’ ya promised ya’d read ma a story.”
Applejack stared out at her field. “Gimme a sec, Apple Bloom. Ah gotta figure somethin’ out.”
“Just makin’ sure we got a strategy. Nothin’ ya need ta worry over.”
“Alright, sis. See ya in a few.”
Applejack nodded, but kept staring at her orchards for another few minutes. And when she turned to go inside, it was with a single stream of thoughts.
I just don't understand it. She has to know she can't win. She has to know that all she can do is hurt us. And, I know it's just business, but after all the work we've put into the town, I'd have hoped she wouldn't just strike at us like some whiny foal. How can she not understand how important our work is, or how much the town needs us? The rest of the farmers get it. They know how much we've helped them. How many disasters we've helped clean up or prevent, how many lean years we made survivable with our crops. They know how much they owe us, even if I'd never actually call in that debt.
But then again... she'd thought that Carrot Top had 'gotten it' too. What if some of the others hadn't? What if they would work with Carrot Top to help her in the competition and hurt the Trust?
"Aw, come on. They're not gonna do that," she muttered. "They know they rely on us; they wouldn't hurt us."
But in business, it often paid to be cautious. After Apple Bloom’s story, it might be wise to check on the other farmers and see if Carrot Top had tried to recruit them. Just in case.