I'm up front with Dash, both of us pulling her sky-wagon towards Fillydelphia. Trixie and that librarian - Twilight I think - are sat in the wagon proper. The purple mare looks bashful. Trixie is seething.
“Gilda, please remind Trixie why we are bringing a stuntmare and a librarian along to a very important job that I worked very hard to get us? It seems a little, what’s the word - stupid.”
I laugh. “You did not work ‘very hard’ to get us that job, you flirted with Brickbat and brought him a shot of whiskey at O’Brayens; I know how you operate Trixie.”
“I had to do more-” she begins to say.
I cut her off before she goes into full umbrage mode. “And whatever you did was much appreciated. Dash is here because she’s ex special forces and wants to make sure nothing bad happens on our first job after getting kicked out. She’s also the only one of us with good links to legitimate law enforcement, intelligence and military personnel.”
“Damn straight,” says Dash, “and Twilight is here because she managed to put surveillance on the entire Tarandroland royal palace, convince her enemies that she was an evil sorceress of limitless power, learn a new language and ferret out a rogue spy in Princess Luna’s entourage all within her first week of intelligence work.”
“DASH! That’s all classified as restricted information! And she’s a griffon spy!” says Twilight with a look of panic.
“Was a griffon spy, thank you very much. Besides, the Kingdom and Equestria are allies and I’m usually working with EIS support. I’ve got clearance for any Equestrian materials classified as confidential or less, I’ll show you when we get to Filly, ‘kay?” She looks calmer. “So is all that stuff true?” I ask.
Twilight blushes heavily. “Well, I didn’t set up the surveillance, I just misappropriated their existing system so we could look at whatever we wanted and hide anything we needed hidden. They thought I was an evil sorceress before I turned up, don’t ask, and language learning is pretty simple if you have the right spells.” Trixie had mentioned as much a while back.
“But I did find that spy, and there was a LOT of analyst’s work I had to do for the Princess. So yeah, I guess you could say I’m a bit of a ‘spy-brarian’ -*snerk*” she says, snorting and giggling at her pun.
Trixie looks unimpressed. “So why did you decide to come along? Did you get bored of shelving books and decide playing spy for a few days would take your mind off it?” she says sweetly.
“Actually, Dash asked me along and we were going to head to Filly soon anyway,” Twilight says, “Plus, when I was in Tarandroland we were woefully underprepared for a lot of the spook stuff, so I collected and built a few things in case I ever got involved in this stuff again.” She taps a front hoof on a large briefcase next to her.
“Oh? A pair of pocket binoculars, a ‘Listen In On Your Friends!’ foals microphone, some invisible ink and an Andy McNeigh paperback I’m assuming, lets have a look,” says Trixie, levitating the briefcase towards her and opening it up. “Ah yes, you’ve got.... Wait, a portable hole? Single use teleportation devices? In-ear headsets with a two kilothaum signal booster? Where could you - I mean where could you get-” She levitated a vial of liquid from the case. “Is this refined thaumic somniate?” asks Trixie, staring at Twilight.
“Er, yes it is,” says Twilight nervously, “I was trying to think of ways to get information from ponies without resorting to highly unreliable so-called truth potions and without letting them know they’ve been interrogated. It wasn’t my idea, Princess Luna mentioned dream based information retrieval and I did some research into it.”
“Princess Luna taught you how to prepare and use somniate?” asks Trixie. She sounds stunned.
“No, the chemicals are actually from this article I read in the Journal of Applied Pony Psychotropics. The author didn’t explicitly say it could be used for interrogations, but it was a pretty clear subtext. I can’t remember the article title, but I think it was by Beatrice von Cantrip-”
“That’s me! That’s the name I publish under!” Trixie squeals, “You’ve read my work?”
Now Twilight is stunned. “You’re Beatrice von Cantrip? I LOVE your work! I was working almost entirely off your articles in the JAPP and Journal of Thaumatic Psychology. I can’t believe you’re a scientist too, this is amazing!”
Oh Four Winds, now Trixie is having her ego eaten out. She’s going to be more insufferable than usual.
“The Great and Powerful Trixie is a mare of many talents from dazzling feats of illusion to lucid works of science, not to mention fine grooming, surveillance and countersurveillance, sleight-of-hoof, sensuous massage-”
“Running from bears” cuts in Dash. Trixie doesn’t even notice.
“-disguise, thaumatic engineering and many other things. Are there any questions you would like to ask Beatrice von Cantrip about her work?” she says, batting her eyelids.
“Actually there is, I’ve been working with our resident apothecary Zecora on a timed stimulant drip that would cause an in-dream rush of excitement or fear at certain points but there are a few issues we’re stuck with that we need to get sorted before we send it in for peer review, I think I have a copy in my luggage somewhere. Princess, I can’t believe you wrote the seminal article in the field. I’m impressed, Trixie!” Twilight is now rummaging around in the back, rump in the air.
Trixie is floating in contentment. “You’re a lucky mare, Sparkle. Hah, and I was worried we would have a boring ride today. I don’t suppose you had a chance to test Trixie’s variable dosage hypothesis?”
“Oh, we did actually! We had some success, but all participants had to have matched proportional dosages of somnium or the dream would become unstable and the participants would wake up....” is all I take in before I tune out the science talk.
Dash looks at me and raises her eyebrows. “What was it you said about all my friends being lame?”
We were in Fillydelphia by early afternoon. I like Filly. It’s full of accountants and lawyers who don’t blink twice as you rifle through their company’s files as long as you’re wearing thick glasses and a poorly fitted Hoity-Toity suit, even if you are a griffon surrounded by ponies. The nightlife consists of dimly lit pubs that are quiet enough to talk in but loud enough not to be overheard. Fillydelphia lawyers have the most fragile egos of any pony in existence and can be played like a piano if you know how to get them riled, and an accountant will bring you her husband’s balls on a plate if you pretend to be a Securities Exchange Agency official and bark at her to bring you them.
Me and Trixie had to meet Brickbat and retrieve our equipment, so Dash and Twilight went off to see that pink idiot and find a room with her. Then we would meet up at La Tige Peu d'Herbe for dinner. Getting the equipment was the first order of business, which is why I'm skulking around in an abandoned section of the Fillydelphia sewers with Trixie.
See, much of the equipment I use is either valuable or illegal and frequently both. You don’t want to store it with anypony you’re known to associate with, you don’t want it stored where people know you’re staying and you also don’t want it stored so far away you can’t access it when you need it. A set of historical blueprints from the city planning office lets you find all the unused areas of the sewer system that won’t flood, aren’t used for maintenance and have easy access from the city streets.
I count my steps as I walk along the passage. I find what I'm looking for, a brick in the wall with a small triangle etched into it. Under my feet is a loose slab of concrete, and under that will be my equipment, packed neatly in two vacuum-packed saddlebags. I stick my claws under the grooves I’d left, and start to move it.
“Hey Trixie” I say, “what happened to Daddy Cane?”
“When I asked about Daddy Cane you winced and changed the subject. Did a job go wrong or something?” I ask.
Trixie sighs, and says “I guess you could say that. Remember about two and a half years ago when we had to bribe two Equestria Royal Treasury officials and weren’t allowed to fund it with EIS bits?”
“Oh yeah, that. I broke thirty legs, killed two ponies and stole five kilos of moon dust to make up my share. Fun times.”
“Well, Trixie had some other important projects on the burner that she needed time for, so she couldn’t spend all her hours getting money together. I knew from my student days that there were rich stallions who would pay a thousand bits an hour for the company of a sufficiently beautiful and magically talented young unicorn, so I contacted Daddy Cane.
“We were only working together a week, and he got me generous set of clients, but then he started making... insinuations. I was still running my highly successful magic show at the time, and he’d gotten it into his head that it had fallen through and that I’d been forced into making a living through companionship. Trixie told him in no uncertain terms that everything was going fine and she merely needed to raise funds quickly; but he was adamant that it was all falling apart,” says Trixie.
“I’m starting to see where this is going,” I say, lifting up the large slab and pushing it to the side.
“At the end of the week, Trixie had gotten her bits and he’d gotten his share, but he was very insistent that The Great and Powerful Trixie drop the act and work for him full time as a companion-for-hire. I told him no and went to leave, so he pinned me to the floor and told me, what was it, that he’d ‘do me until I couldn’t walk straight and rent me out to the crew at three bits an hour’ until I was more reasonable. That simply wouldn’t do of course,” she says flatly.
“So what happened?” I ask.
“I Hoofdini’d him. The last gentlecolt to see me had been into bondage, and Daddy Cane forgot how good I was with rope.” Trixie smiles.
“That’s all?” I say.
“What do you mean?”
“He threatens to have you raped indefinitely and all that ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie’ does is Hoofdini him?” I asked. It's a fair question, Trixie is not a model of restraint when she’s bucked off.
“I found that two organisations had hits out on him. Trixie might have sent them each an ear and collected on the bits,” she says. She had taken out a pocket mirror and starts checking her mane in it.
“And?” I pull out the two saddlebags from the hole, and cover it with the slab.
“What do you mean, and?” she says with an annoyed look.
“Are you saying there’s not an and?” I ask.
“Oh fine. I knew he had a lot of money hidden, and I knew his daughter Coco Cane had access to it, so I sent her one of his fetlocks on ice and told her to bring me one hundred thousand bits, along with a list of places he kept his funds, before it was too late to reattach the hoof. Messing with Trixie is expensive.”
“And?” I put my saddlebag on and pass Trixie hers.
“And wha- Oh fine,” she says, seeing my look, “I could hardly have Coco Cane coming after me for revenge, especially since she’d just taken over her daddy’s crew. I Hoofdini’d her too when she handed over the bits. Happy?” says Trixie, with an exasperated expression.
“Oh Trixie” I say as she puts on her saddlebag, “Never change.”
“Well feck me in the ears, it’s Gilda the Griffon and the Sweet and Lovely Trixie. You two are a sight for sore eyes I tell ya!”
We're in the back room of O’Brayens pub, sat across the desk from Brickbat Maginty, a donkey crime boss who had only recently grown out of his ‘breaking legs with a brickbat’ years.
“It’s good to see you too, Brickbat,” I say “How’s business?”
“Ah, same old shite Gilda. Most of business is keeping a steady supply of moon-dust up the noses of the lawyers and call fillies in the bedrooms of accountants. There’s enough people want to keep it that way that business runs pretty smoothly. Hardest part of business is keeping down the thick cunts who try to make a little extra by mugging businessponies or murdering dealers for turf, but break a few dozen legs and everypony gets the message quickly enough.” Brickbat is the same as ever. Still gregarious, still pragmatic, still drunk by two past midday. He takes a green bottle out from under his desk and pours out three glasses of whiskey.
“You told Trixie you had a job on offer, is this still the case?” Trixie asks, levitating her glass over and taking a sip.
“Certainly is my dear. Oh, and a million thanks for taking care of that mess last week. Maker’s Mark that would have turned out badly.” Brickbat turns to me, “Some bucket o’cunts partner in one of the top city law firms started beating a call filly pretty bad. Her bouncer walked in and kicked the guy to death. That body would have caused us a lot of problems if not for this wonderful lass” he says, pointing to Trixie.
‘Trixie is glad she was able to help” she says, beaming.
“Anyway, down to business,” says Brickbat “I’ve got someone who wants to sell a case full of very valuable documents. He’s set up the meet, but doesn’t fancy being anywhere near it for security reasons, so he’s asked me to arrange the hoof off. There’s this young feller I’ve been planning to bring up the ranks, he’s not a muppet but he might be a tosser. This is where you two come in. I give the feller the package to deliver, you watch him to make sure he don’t feck up, and if he do feck up you retrieve the package and bring it back to me, savvy?”
He takes out a manila folder from under the desk. “The feller’s name is Fourleaf, his photo, favorite haunts and stuff like that are in there. The location of the meet is the Sunny Skies office building downtown, and it’s happening in four days at midday, you’d do well to scout the place out beforehand. Don't be seen, I want to see that he behaves without this grouchy old donkey breathing down his neck. There’s a check for a thousand bits in that folder for expenses. Pay minus expenses is sixteen thousand bits.”
I whistle. “That’s quite some expensive help you’re hiring.”
Brickbat throws his head back and does something between a bray and a belly laugh.
“Well, Gilda" he says, "It’s quite an expensive case. We've got a deal you two?”
I look at Trixie. She nods, and lifts the folder into her saddlebags.
I smile a beaky smile. "We'll see what we can do."