Life in the Donut Hole

by Revenant Wings

Episode 3: And Then There Were None

You know, for a princess, Celestia isn’t much.

I mean, all she’s got is an over-glorified gold necklace and horseshoes. Her wings seem to barely carry her more than a glide, and the only real bit of magic I’ve ever seen is her lift an éclair to her mouth. I imagine there’s a sort of checks-and-balances in play, so she’s supposed to have abilities from all three races but she’s probably not as powerful as any of them solo.

Even so, I’m supposed to be on my best behavior as she lifts the éclair to her mouth. Why we’ve been graced with the Princess’ presence, I have no idea. But she’s here and there’s little I can do about it.

It’s late at night, later than I’m normally at Donut Joe’s. Donut Joe is there, himself, talking up a storm about his éclairs. Cast Iron is also here, keeping the part-timers in line. Midnight’s come down to watch the show, and him and Amethyst are talking about another supposed deal. Finally, we have a rather tall and slender pale pink unicorn mare with a bright pink mane who’s supposed to be a model whose name I didn’t catch and whom the Princess is escorting this evening.

I walk over to Cast Iron, who is cleaning up in the kitchen. “So, mind telling me why royalty has suddenly decided to come down?”

“Despite the restaurant, Donut Joe’s one of the best bakers in the city,” Cast Iron says. “He rates among some of the highest-rated bakers, and ranks high in cross-Equestria baking competitions.”

“And what does that have to do with royalty and éclairs?”

“Celestia’s ordered a batch for a small party she’s having for some of the nobles tomorrow night. Donut Joe finally finished those after receiving the order at noon today, so he’s probably letting her taste one to see if it’s up to her specifications.”

I give a thoughtful hum and head back outside. I still haven’t figured out why I’m here. I should be at home by now, but Donut Joe gave me a call and told me to get down here as fast as I could. I did, but he didn’t put me to work. He just wants me there.

I could be doing better things. Midnight gave me a book on hypnotism and an epic fantasy novel that I wanted to start, and a shipment finally arrived from back home on Earth with three games for one of my systems. You’d be surprised how many protocols there are to cross the dimensions; I ordered those things two months ago on expedited and they’ve just passed inspection. Worth the money.

But no. I’m stuck looking at the Princess shove éclair after éclair into her mouth – seriously, I’m surprised she isn’t a fat ass if she eats like this normally – and drinking hot chocolate with Midnight. And since he’s talking business, I’m alone here.

The pink unicorn comes over to me. Poor bitch is probably as bored as I am. “…didn’t I see you at Hoity Toity’s studio not long ago?” she asks. On Earth, her accent is similar to French. Unlike the French, she doesn’t sound as haughty as I thought she would be, considering she is upper-class.

I have nothing better to do. “He’s my guardian,” I say. “I have to check in with him once a month.”

The unicorn nods. She extends a hoof to me. “Fleur-de-Lis. I work under Hoity Toity as a model.”

I look at the hoof for a moment. “You don’t think me a dirty commoner?”

“I trust Hoity Toity,” she says. “He’s rather picky about everything. He must have allowed you for a reason.”

I shrug. She actually has decent logic, though I don’t know why Hoity Toity could have picked me. I shake the hoof. “Matthew Rock.”

“And what do you do, Mister Rock? Are you a geologist?”

Oh, these ponies and their naiveté. “It’s a last name. I don’t have a cutie mark. I actually went to college to become a chef, and work here as a sous chef.”

“Oh, forgive me. I’ve seen humans before, but I’ve never talked to one.”

I fold my arms and rest my head on them on the table. “If you’re going to oogle me like a carnival attraction, I’d appreciate it if you fuck off.”

Fleur raises an eyebrow. “I’m not making fun of you.” And now it sounds like French haughtiness. “Do you always react to ponies trying to talk to you like this?”

“No,” I say dryly. “Just those who look at me like I’m a ruffian or like I should be on display behind a glass window.”

Fleur snorts. Like a regular horse snort, which makes me chuckle a little since horse behaviors are somewhat unusual here. “I’m surprised you keep your job with that sharp tongue.” She turns around. “I wonder how Hoity Toity manages you.” She walks away from me… somewhat gracefully, though obviously with disdain.

“Way to go.”

The voice is right next to my ear, but I hardly react to it. I don’t move but look over to see Midnight speaking next to me. “You think you would have handled it better?”

“Honey, a mare comes up and talks to you like that, you ought to be happy.” He turns around in his chair so that his back is leaning against the table. “Not my fault if you blow your load.”

“Uh-huh. And how does the gay stallion know so much about mares?”

“I assume it’s the same. Probably even a bit more touchy from colt-to-colt; some are rather sensitive upon bringing up the subject.”

“Alright, but what makes you figure I was interested in her in the first place?”

“Not to demean either of us since we’re in the same boat and apartment, but she’s a step up from most others around here. Comes from money.”

“And I’m not interested in going from human to horse. Might as well drop it now.”

Midnight smirks. “Wrong place for you, then. Too bad the adjustment time between here and Earth is one month.”

Should clarify that. In order for the body to normalize itself crossing the dimensions, it’s best not to go back and forth too fast. So when one steps across the barrier from Earth to Equestria or vice versa, they’ve found it takes about one month for the body to readjust. No terrible side effects from crossing initially, but crossing too many times in too short a period. Mice tested in rapid dimensional crossings got cancer or deep infections, atrophying, or osteoporosis. One month is the point where the body has stabilized itself to cross back over without anything major happening.

Or, what Midnight is insinuating, I can’t really date girls back on Earth. One month of constantly seeing each other then one month relying on extremely slow mail or extended Internet conversations in emails – PMs don’t go through – does not exactly make a relationship. Some people can. I would probably forget them after about a week or two.

Thankfully, Fleur does not tell Celestia that she’s been insulted. The Princess is too occupied with getting an éclair to go. When they finally leave, it’s 10:30 at night. Donut Joe takes the tray of éclairs and sets them in the large freezer under a glass tray.

“Alright, everyone,” he calls as he sets them down. “I’ll want you here at six o’clock tomorrow morning. All of you.”

“How come?” Cast Iron asks. “You said I don’t have to be in until eleven.”

“And I’m not supposed to be in for another hour,” I respond.

“Yes, but Princess Celestia has a gathering tomorrow. Now, not only did the princess ask me to make all these éclairs for her party” – he gestures to the giant stack in the fridge – “but she wants me to bring them there tomorrow. I’ll be making other donuts in the morning then heading out in the afternoon to personally deliver them.”

“That doesn’t explain much,” I say.

“Well, quit talking and I’ll get to it,” Donut Joe shoots back. “Matthew, I want you on the counter and as sous chef the whole day; no line cooking for you like normal. Cast Iron, since Matthew isn’t going to be in the kitchen, I want you in early. Same for you, part-timers. Orderly Service will have the front and wait tables.”

So a relatively easy day. No big parties, no special guests, just Donut Joe heading out for a while. “I think we can handle it,” I say. “Does OS know?”

“Already explained things to her. She’s coming in at six as well.”

With that, Donut Joe lets us leave.

“Fuck me, tomorrow’s gonna suck,” I say, walking along with Midnight.

“You just need to go to sleep, earlier,” Midnight replies. “Then you’ll be well-rested for an early morning.”

“It’s not that,” I say. “I just think Donut Joe’s going to be a huge pain in the ass with this special order.”

“Can’t be too bad. He’s leaving around one.”

“Well, let’s hope. God, I wish we had some whiskey. One shot of that and I might be able to relax enough to sleep early.”

“No Canterlot cream stout?”

“Not strong enough.”

“You could let me hypnotize you again.”

“Alright. But no kinky stuff this time; I know what goes through that head of yours. Damn ponies; thinking you’re all innocent and whatnot when you’re as fucked up as everyone else.”

“I wait for the day, and shall relish it when it comes.”

* * *

I wake up at four-forty five in the morning mostly refreshed after six hours even though it’s still dark outside. Surprisingly, I’m not ravaged and just feel a little tired as though I went straight from deep sleep to awake; Midnight must have placed some sort of trigger for me to wake.

I can also smell something cooking, which is unusual. I’m normally the cook in the house, making anything from chicken to lasagna to spaghetti with marinara to whatever we feel like. So waking up to something cooking is strange.

I get my clothes on and walk into the kitchen. Midnight has cooked us breakfast; scrambled eggs, leftover potatoes, toast and jam, and three links of sausage for me. There’s also coffee and chocolate milk.

“If I didn’t know better,” I tell Midnight, sitting at the counter looking pleased with himself, “I’d say you’re still flirting with me.”

“You’ll need it today if you’re there at six,” he says. “Now hurry up and eat; you stink of sweat and need a shower before you go.”

I smile at him, though, and eat. It’s actually really good. “You ever take any cooking classes?”

“Nope,” Midnight says as he passes me a bottle of ketchup and the butter. “I cooked for myself before you came along.”

“Not bad. A few classes to hone your skills and you could almost pass for a line chef.”

“I’d do mediocre. It’s not my cutie mark talent.” He raises his glass of chocolate milk at me and winks. “Besides, with you, it’s not like I need to much lately.”

I smile at him. “You’re not getting breakfast in bed no matter what you do.”

Midnight and I leave at about five forty, once breakfast is over and I’ve showered. Morning in Canterlot is surprisingly sedate as Midnight and I walk to Donut Joe’s. One or two guards roam the streets and check entryways of all the businesses to make sure nothing’s wrong. A few early risers do early morning jogs or open businesses. The sun is barely rising and a cool breeze comes through courtesy of a few pegasi.

Donut Joe’s is open, but unlike the peaceful scene outside, the place looks like a wreck; chairs are strewn all over, the kitchen and counter look like an absolute mess. Three ponies are standing inside the doorway and staring at the scene in surprise: Cast Iron, Fleur-de-Lis, and Amethyst Star.

I head inside ahead of Midnight and look at the carnage in front of me. I ask the first question that comes to mind: “Did we have a break-in?”

Cast Iron shakes her head. “No. Donut Joe came in not too long ago and checked on the éclair tray in the fridge, only to find them almost gone. Fifty éclairs taken down to five when he went to check on them this morning.”

“Sounds like a break-in,” I asked.

“That’s the thing,” Cast Iron continues. “Donut Joe’s torn the place apart. Nothing’s gone except those forty five éclairs.”

I look to Fleur-de-Lis and Amethyst. “How come you two are here?”

“I thought about getting an early breakfast before a photo shoot this morning,” Fleur-de-Lis replies. She scans me over. “Though I might choose otherwise.”

“I was going to see about getting some breakfast myself before calling Midnight to see if he could talk some more about his pendant,” Amethyst said.

Donut Joe comes out from the kitchens looking extremely harried. His mane is more ruffled than normal and his apron matches it. “…what could have happened to forty five pastries?” he asks. “There’s nothing around here to show evidence of them leaving.”

“Joe, no one enters a donut shop to steal éclairs,” I say. “They come in for money, or something expensive.”

“Those weren’t just any éclairs,” Donut Joe replies. “They’re for Princess Celestia. Heck, they might be the most valuable éclairs anywhere at the moment. Someone might have taken them to sabotage me.”

“Joe… you’re a one-star restaurant. Hardly among the elite. Who would suspect you’re going to be asked by the princess to do some shit like this?”

Donut Joe paces back and forth outside of the counter. “There’s only one thing that I can surmise.” He points a hoof at us rather dramatically. “One of you all took them!”

I just look at him in disbelief. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“Really?” Fleur-de-Lis says. “You think one of us took them? No one’s been here since last night.”

“But let’s think about this logically,” Donut Joe says, resuming his pacing. “You all were here last night. You all saw me put away the éclairs. You all know why I had all those éclairs. One of you must have taken them.”

“You don’t know that!” Amethyst said. “Really, what reason do we all have to be here when the shop’s closed?”

“Especially when some of us don’t have access to it,” Midnight pipes up.

Donut Joe takes a moment to think things over. “Amethyst, leave.”

“What? Why?”

“You have the least reason to be here,” Donut Joe says. “I know you didn’t do it. I’ll just kick out anyone I think doesn’t have anything to do with the missing éclairs and that will leave the one remaining as the perpetrator. Amethyst; you’re only here for Midnight. Please leave and come back in a little bit.”

Amethyst seems dejected. “Wait, can’t I help you?”

“Wait outside and see if someone else tries coming in,” Donut Joe says. “Until then, we’ve got to see about who might try and do it.”

Amethyst nods and leaves the restaurant through the doors. Donut Joe goes back in and leaves me, Midnight, Fleur-de-Lis, and Cast Iron outside in the main restaurant.

“Well,” I turn to Cast Iron. “We might as well fix the front.”

Cast Iron nods. Midnight comes to help while Fleur-de-Lis sits off to the side, but soon relents and uses her magic to help us all out. Within a few minutes the tables and chairs are back in their positions.

When we’re done, Donut Joe comes back out and looks at us. “I’ve checked the fridge and we’re all stocked up for today. There are still five éclairs left. We’re all good.”

“You have a bathroom I can use?” Midnight says. “I’ve really got to take a leak.”

Donut Joe nods. “Go through the kitchens, to your left.”

Midnight nods and leave me, Fleur-de-Lis, and Cast Iron in the main kitchen. Donut Joe heads back to his room and starts making some more donuts. Cast Iron heads inside to the kitchens and I head behind the counter. Fleur-de-Lis is left to sit around aimlessly for a while before she comes over to the counter and sits on a stool.

“You want something while we’re waiting?” I ask.

Fleur nods. “I guess I’ll take a cup of coffee and a croissant with butter and honey.”

I turn on the coffee maker and the pot immediately starts brewing. I warm up a croissant and get a small block of butter and a cup of honey and present it to Fleur and give her the coffee, creamer, and a small glass of milk. She accepts it and pulls out a few bits.

“Sorry about last night,” she says. “It was a long day.”

“No,” I tell her. “I just am that much of a prick sometimes.”

Fleur-de-Lis shoots me a dirty look. “Really, where do you learn that awful language?”

“Earth.” I’m sarcastic right now. “We’re all assholes in one way or another.”

Fleur looks at me scornfully. “I wouldn’t doubt it. I’m surprised there’s still more of you around.”

“We’re actually not all that way,” I tell her seriously. “Depends on where you go. I’m probably worse than most.”

Fleur sips her coffee thoughtfully. “Why are you that way?”

“Hell if I know. I’m just that way because I like swearing and being sarcastic. Helps when you ponies all overcomplicate issues that honestly could be solved rather simply.”

Fleur-de-Lis looks up from her coffee. “You mean like the whole éclair business?”

I smile at her. “Yeah. Just bake a new batch and realize it wasn’t someone here.”

For once, Fleur offers up a small smile. “I’m surprised I wasn’t entirely alone on that one.”

“Really?” I say, leaning over the counter. “So you’re more cynical than you let on yourself. Imagine the pot calling the kettle black.”

Fleur goes back to her disapproving look and just sips her coffee in silence.

Midnight comes out from the kitchen doors with a relieved sigh. “Been holding that one in for a while,” he says. “You take so long in the bathroom I hardly got a chance.”

“At least I’m not styling my hair. I just took a shower and a shit; what’s to get mad at?”

Fleur-de-Lis scoffs. “And your partner is almost the same. Perhaps he’s the source of your problem.”

Midnight comes over to her and gently takes her hoof. “Madame, if I may, I am a guard psychologist. It is I who takes care of him. Yet habits gained on Earth for twenty-four years aren’t so easy to break.”

Fleur seems astonished by the gesture and blushes.

“Don’t get too flattered,” I tell her. “He’s not what you think. Not of the normal persuasion.”

Fleur’s look changes to shock, though she doesn’t take her hoof away. “You mean you’re…!?”

“One hundred percent. I’ll take your hoof and lead you across the crowded street, but don’t expect me to get in bed with you.”

Fleur takes her hoof away in disgust. “Oh! Well, you might be a coltcuddler, but at least I can expect some decent behavior from you.”

Donut Joe walks past us and heads into the kitchens. Likely to check and make sure the éclairs are still in the fridge, whatever happens to be left of them.

Fleur-de-Lis looks at me. “And are you his companion?”

“No. We just share an apartment together. Figured it’d be easier on the cost, and I didn’t mind if he was gay.”

Fleur rolls her eyes. “You are as crazy as he is, then.”

I turn to Midnight. “‘Coltcuddler’?” I ask him.

“Derogatory slang,” Midnight says. “We’re few and far between. Since we’re matriarchal, it’s a bit grating on the females. There are worse.”

Donut Joe suddenly screams. “Another’s gone!”

We walk into the kitchens. Sure enough, only four éclairs sit inside the glass case that supposedly protect the pastries from being stolen. There’s crumbs from where it once sat, but the total count remains minus one from last time.

“Someone must have eaten it!” Joe says. “And it must have been one of you! Who passed this area in the last ten minutes?”

Midnight raises a hoof. “I went to the bathroom. But, if you don’t mind, that tray doesn’t look moved.”

“Come again?” Donut Joe asks.

“The glass case appears undisturbed. And I can’t lift it with a hoof.”

“Prove it.”

Midnight nods and steps into the freezer. He places a hoof on the glass case, tugs… and nothing happens. He tries again, and the heavy, thick glass barely moves. He tries again and once more nothing happens. Exhausted, he pulls his hoof away and shrugs at Donut Joe.

“Alright. I believe you didn’t do it. Go ahead and leave; you can come back later when this is all sorted out.”

Midnight looks to me, Fleur-de-Lis, and Cast Iron. “Have fun…” he says ominously. Then he turns to me. “See you back home, honey.” Only then does he leave.

Fleur-de-Lis looks at me, and I’m dreading what she might say because I’m pretty sure my face is bright red. She says nothing, however, and simply goes back outside after a few seconds, where I hear her take her position at the counter again.

Cast Iron goes back to making sure the kitchen is ready and I head back out to the counter. It’s six-thirty now, and the shop has been opened for half-an-hour. A few white pegasus guards come in as the first customers of the day and I serve them a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll each. They’re a rather joyful bunch while on break, and talk and laugh with each other heartily.

Then, one turns to me. “Hey,” he responds in a gruff voice. “Aren’t you Matthew Rock? The chef that actually managed to impress Blueblood?”

“Well, yeah,” I say. “But he’s kind of an asshole about it anyways.”

“Take what ya can, bud,” the other guard says. “Very few come to Blueblood’s expectations. Be proud about it.”

“I’d come here more often for that cooking if guard practice wasn’t such a pain in the butt,” the first guard says.

“Tell me about it,” his companion replies. “Place is worth more than two and a half stars, I’ll tell you that.” They finish their cinnamon rolls and coffee and leave, leaving me to wash their cups in the front sink.

When I turn back around, Fleur-de-Lis is looking at me interestingly. “I remember seeing that review in ‘Better Stables and Gardens’ last month.”

“Sure. Nearly lost it, though. He almost ordered his favorite sandwich and we didn’t have hay bacon.”

Fleur looks around, seemingly astonished. “Can I… can I have a menu?”

I pull one out for her and give it to her. “Take your time. I’m running counter all of today; I won’t be cooking it.”

“I don’t care.” She looks over it rather quickly. “Scrambled eggs, potatoes with onion and pepper, and two pieces of wheat toast with a side of fruit.”

I grab a notepad, write down the order, and send it back to Cast Iron. She reads the template and heads off about her business. I turn back to Fleur-de-Lis and the counter and refill her cup of coffee. She manages a small smile and sips it a little more graciously.

“How come you came here, instead of staying on Earth?” Fleur asks me.

“Not enough jobs,” I say simply. “Chefs aren’t in high demand. I got lucky here; I only barely got this job after working a stupid hayburger cart for five months. It was better with my finance degree, but still couldn’t find anything.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to work at a high-class, five star restaurant. Even better, I want to manage or own one. Maybe I’d start with something small, like a fancy steakhouse, then head on up to more food and better service.”

Fleur laughs, but it’s not demeaning. “You’d be better off in Griffonstone,” she says. “They eat meat there.”

“Well, I don’t have the money and this is where my job is. I can cook vegan, but that was the closest thing I could think of at the time.”

Fleur laughs again. “I get what you mean. But you still might want to watch your tongue; the higher-end restaurants and citizens don’t normally care for it.”

“You’re one to talk. You’ve been returning it as much as I’ve been given it.”

The smile disappears. “One learns to return it after dealing with it time and again.”

It takes a minute for that to sink in. I’ve washed another few cups and served a few more donuts and Fleur’s eggs and potatoes before it finally hits me. I thought this place was all cutesy but apparently I’m not the first to deal such sarcasm.

It almost makes me feel insignificant. So few humans with biting commentary and I’m already not the first.

But Donut Joe is suddenly yelling at Cast Iron. “Another éclair has gone!”

“I swear to you I didn’t take it!” Cast Iron is almost pleading to Donut Joe. “I just went into the fridge to get the eggs and fruit for a customer’s meal! I swear I didn’t do anything!”

I go to look in the fridge. Sure enough, three éclairs are in there and another one’s gone, and once more the crumbs remained. I check the tray. “Joe, she’s innocent,” I say. “The tray still hasn’t moved from twenty minutes ago.”

Cast Iron looks to me in relief. “Yeah! And besides, I have more important things to do than to grab an éclair in my free time!”

Donut Joe looks at us both disapprovingly and huffs. “Alright. You two switch places. Cast Iron, you take the counter. Matthew, you take the kitchen.”

“Why don’t you start cooking another batch of éclairs?” Cast Iron asks. “It’s almost seven. You can get another one done in four hours, can’t you?”

Donut Joe seems snapped into awareness. “Alright. But we still need to find out who is sabotaging the éclairs because it’s not supposed to be there until four o’clock this afternoon. There’s still the need to keep whoever is stealing them out of that tray until that time.”

I nod. “Let me finish up with Fleur-de-Lis, then I’ll come back here.”

Donut Joe nods. “Make it quick.”

I nod and head outside again.

“You’ve been ejected?” Fleur asks.

“No. Cast Iron and I are switching places. I’m in the kitchen.”

Fleur sighs and bonks her head on the counter. “Are you kidding me? This is kind of stupid.”

“Don’t you have a modelling session to go to or something?”

“Admittedly, not until nine. But yes. All I wanted was an early breakfast before I got there a little early. I hope we’re done with this sooner rather than later; my boss will be so angry with me…”

I pick up Fleur’s used plates, wash them, and return to the kitchens without really responding to her and leaving her ranting.

Half an hour passes. I cook a few plates, enter the fridge for ingredients, and periodically give Donut Joe updates on the éclairs. There’s only three left now, and I try picking up the glass cover of the tray myself, wondering why unicorns would put a ball-shaped handle on the top of a tray when they have magic. It barely budges under my weight, and I tell Donut Joe I tried picking it up to no avail.

“Probably better that you weren’t able to,” he said. “Makes me feel a little more secure.”

“So how’s anyone supposed to open it?” I motion to it. “You have the handle on top, but it’s so heavy. How could anyone lift it up?”

Donut Joe’s horn glows tan and lifts up the glass cover with ease. “Magic,” he says. “Anyone can pick it up so long as they’ve mastered the basic levitation spells. It’s how I’m able to handle those bread and donut trays with ease.”

“Well, that limits who could be taking them. If pegasi or earth ponies can’t get a grip and someone like me can’t lift it, that means a unicorn ought to be taking it.”

“Yes, indeed.” Donut Joe ponders that for a little bit. “…do you think it’s possible that someone could have taken them from outside?”

“No. I’d think you’d have to know where they are, wouldn’t you? So who’d know you put them in the freezer.”

“Cast Iron did, but her hooves are off. That means there’s really only one other unicorn who might have known…” Donut Joe turned around to look at the glass case. “AIEEEE!”

As Donut Joe galloped out of the freezer, I saw what he saw: only two éclairs remained. Without us noticing, one of the remainders had vanished. I followed Donut Joe to the counter, where he was standing in front of Fleur-de-Lis.

“This is absurd!” the mare was saying. “How dare you accuse me like such!”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Donut Joe replies. “But Cast Iron has been out there and I don’t think she’s been able to use her magic to make one disappear like that at all.”

“And what makes you think that I was the one who stole the éclair? I have nothing to carry them out with and haven’t left this building for the past hour or so.”

“You have chocolate and cream marks around your mouth!”

Sure enough, she did. But I saw the remainder of a cream-filled donut, fat and round instead of long and thin, sitting on a napkin in front of her.

“I gave her a cream donut!” Cast Iron argued. “How come you’re so quick to accuse us, huh? I get they’re a special order, but you’re making another batch! And who else would know? You’re being paranoid!”

“All the same, I would like to ask that you leave my restaurant, Miss Fleur.”

“And you think that would prevent a unicorn like myself from being unable to?”

“Better chance of you not being it.”

Fleur picked up her donut in her magic and got up from the counter with a huff. “I swear, your employees are smarter than you!” And she stormed out of the restaurant.

Thankfully it’s still only seven-thirty. The only pony in here, a regular who comes by for a cup of coffee and to read the paper, didn’t pay much attention and the breakfast rush doesn’t normally start until eight. Donut Joe returns to the kitchen and I follow him.

There’s only one éclair left.

“Are you kidding me?” I say. “How’d it disappear so dang quick!?”

Donut Joe looks over to me. “You! You’re the one who stole them!”

“What!?” I am completely dumbfounded. “Are you fucking kidding me!? I was out there with you!”

“You’ve been an accomplice! You helped them all!”

“I can’t get the case open!”

“No, but you’ve distracted me and others long enough for Fleur-de-Lis to lift up the case and take them, one for each!”

“You are absolutely insane!”

Donut Joe crouches down. “I don’t want to fire you, Matthew. In all respects, you are the best chef I have. But you have got to pay for this somehow…”

I don’t know why I’m not running away. “…Joe, what the hell are you doing?”

“I’m gonna get the truth out of you!”

And he pounces on me. God damn, he is heavy. I fall backwards and feel all the air rush out of me and I’m stuck there for a second just trying to catch my breath while Donut Joe stands over me.

“Who did it!?” Donut Joe yells at me. “Who did you use as your accomplice!”

“Get off of me!” I yell when I get my breath back. “I haven’t done shit!”

“Yeah, that’s what you want me to think, isn’t it?” He grabs me by the collar.

I give him a full, open-handed slap to the face. “Pull yourself together! You’re getting worse!”

“AAAAARGH!” Donut Joe lifts me up and slaps me a few times. I hit him back, and soon we’re rolling around the floor between the kitchen and the fridge hitting each other. He’s strong but blinded by rage and uncoordinated, and I find myself able to defend his blows and hit him enough to keep him off me.

“Matthew!” I hear Cast Iron enter and come across us. “Joe! Both of you, please!”

“No time, Cast Iron!” “He’s gone crazy!” “I’m teaching him a lesson!” “Get him off of me!”

“No! Both of you need to look at the éclair!”

That makes Donut Joe stop and we both look at the tray. I’m facing it upside down and Joe’s facing right-side up. I see the éclair become surrounded by a sparkling white aura. The éclair gets lifted down off the tray from my view and hits the glass cover a few times. It just sits there for a while before it suddenly gets sucked through an invisible portal and disappears.

Donut Joe is flabbergasted.

“That aura doesn’t look like anyone’s been here,” I say from my spot on the floor. “Fleur-de-Lis had a pink one when picking up her food.”

“And I’ve got a yellow one,” Cast Iron said. “That belongs to no one here.”

Donut Joe gets up with a sigh. “Wow… all this time and it isn’t even anyone we know here today.”

“Yeah, good. You’ve finally figured it out. Whoopee. Mind helping me up here?”

Dount Joe gets up off me and lifts me up with his own aura. I brush myself off and sigh. “So, what are you going to do now, Joe?”

“I guess we resume our original positions,” Donut Joe says, defeated. “I’ll keep working on the next batch. Cast Iron, you take over the kitchen. Matthew, you get the counter. And no, I’m not punishing you this time.”

And so I head back outside to the front. I wash my hands in the sink and clean off the counters like nothing happened. I’m working for a little while when a beige pegasus with a shock of a red mane comes in wearing the blue uniform of Equestria’s postal service. He’s a regular, and someone I’ve met through Midnight. No, I don’t know if he’s gay, and I don’t think so.

“Hey, Care Package,” I say to the pegasus as he takes a seat at the counter. “Coffee and a chocolate bar?”

“Yep, I’ll take it.” He hands me the bits and I give him a cup of coffee and a chocolate donut. He takes a bite, relishing it a bit before swallowing to speak. “How are you?”

“Good. Just had a bit of a problem with a tray of éclairs that kept disappearing.”

He’s just about to put the chocolate donut in his mouth when suddenly his eyes grow wide. “Oh, that’s right!” He puts the donut down and shuffles through his mail bag. When he finds what he’s looking for, his whole head goes inside the bag and he delicately pulls a piece of mail out with his teeth. “Dis is for you.”

I take the letter from the pegasus’ mouth – I will never get used to that – and open it up right then and there, reading the contents of the letter.

“I meant for Donut Joe and the restaurant,” Care Package says. “Sorry; should have clarified that.”

“No problem. Let me go and read this; they’ll want to know anyways.”

I went to the back and get Cast Iron and Donut Joe together and read them the letter.

Donut Joe:

I would like to apologize. I thought the éclairs you made last night were so good I just wanted more. I’m afraid I might have been pilfering from the supply you’ve made as a result, snacking on them through the night with my sister, who also rather enjoys them. I will pay you for another batch when you get here.

Princess Celestia.

Donut Joe’s mouth drops and his eyes go almost blank. I’m afraid he’s frozen with shock like Cast Iron before he finally manages to sputter out something. “…eh, wha…?”

“Princess Celestia has been eating the éclairs from the castle and teleporting them there to eat.”

I am almost proud when Donut Joe drops to his back hooves, looks up at the ceiling, and screams out as loud as he possibly can.

Are you fucking kidding me!?