• Published 19th Jun 2012
  • 1,757 Views, 155 Comments

Cutting Ties - fic Write Off

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It seemed that seven failed attempts at what the brothers referred to as “aggressive entrepreneurship” was one too many for the younger to bear. They had made their departure from Maretinsville in defeat but in high spirits, the familiar thrill of a crowd’s first enraptured reaction to the SSCS6K only as distant as the next town that happened to have an apple orchard. But as the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 made its way along a dilapidated cobblestone road to nowhere in particular, Flam faced a novel question from his brother.

“See here, brother of mine. What’re we going to do with this confounded contraption?”

Flam stared straight ahead. “Whatever do you mean, Flim? The SSCS6K is a top-class machine. Why, it’s positively state of the art!”

“Now don’t you try to pull the wool over my eyes, Flam. Ever since that quality control gizmo broke we haven’t had a hint of success with this thing.”

Flam turned to his brother and immediately took note of his unsettled brow. “Don’t you worry, Flim. We’ll make do. Nopony in all of Equestria can make cider faster than this here work of art.”

“But what good is super speedy if no one will pay for the cider squeezy, brother? Don’t you think we’ve carried this one on a little too long?”

Flam reached up and ran his hooves along either side of his mustache. “What else would you have us do, Flim? I’m all ears.”

“We aren’t colts anymore, Flam. What would be so bad about getting real salespony jobs?”

The contraption screeched to a halt. “What are you saying, brother?” asked Flam.

“I’m saying I mean to find another line of work.” The steel in Flim’s voice made the hairs on Flam’s neck stand on end. “I’m through selling this awful cider.”

Flam leaned towards his brother in his seat and crossed his front legs in front of his striped boating blazer. “You mean to tell me you’re putting the kibosh on the World-Famous Flim Flam Brothers? Just like that, Flim?”

“Just like that, Flam,” said Flim with no hesitation. “I’ve thought it through, and I’ve had enough.”

“You’re just going to leave your dear brother in the lurch, Flim?”

“You know, dear brother of mine, you could always find a real job yourself.”

“A ‘real’ job.” Flam snorted, ruffling his mustache. “And what, pray tell, do we have right now, Flim? Because from this traveling salespony’s perspective, you seem to be making the insinuation that we’ve just been wasting our time with the SSCS6K.”

“Oh, I’m not insinuating anything,” retorted Flim. “And I’m not just talking about this one, either. Remember that Neighjing Tea Scam, Flam? How about when we tried selling fake timeshares in Canterlot Castle? How many bits did we make with those harebrained schemes? Those were all your bright ideas.”

“Now you listen here,” Flam demanded, shaking his hoof in Flim’s face.

“Not to mention back in Ponyville. Doubling the power? Turning off the quality control gizmo?” Flim rolled his eyes. “Some job of taking us legit you did there.”

“Don’t you go blaming me for Ponyville, Flim! You could just as easily have stopped me! And how was I supposed to know it wouldn’t turn on again if we turned it off?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Flam, maybe because you were the one who designed this ridiculous doohickey in the first place!”

The blood rushed to Flam’s face. “Hey, I’m not keeping you hostage here! You want to go work for some big company, selling cutlery or model ships? Be my guest! All the more for me when I finally hit the big score, brother.”

Flim shook the pork-pie hat from his head. “You know what, Flam? That just might have been your best idea yet.” Then he took to his hooves and hopped out of the SSCS6K. His horn flared, and a pair of barber’s shears floated out from under his blazer, wedging one sharp end between his neck and its black bowtie before snapping shut and sending the neckwear streaking down to the cobblestone.

Flam watched his brother trot back towards Maretinsville with his mouth agape. He was by far the better poker player, and yet Flim—the younger of the two, if only by five minutes—had called his big brother’s big bluff.

“No matter, Flam,” he said to himself. “It may have been a bluff, but the reasoning was sound, old pal. All we need is one big score. Just one.” Flam fired a bolt of green energy at the SSCS6K’s antenna, and the machine jerked forward towards nowhere in particular at half speed.

The World-Famous Flim Flam Brothers were a classic duo: though born as identical twins, they were far from carbon-copies of one another. Each had their own strengths that complemented the other’s nicely. Flam was creative and inventive, and most of the pair’s schemes, harebrained or ingenious, sprang from his rapidly churning mind. But while Flam was a perfectly serviceable salespony, Flim’s skills of persuasion were truly nonpareil. His roguish charm and guile allowed him to draw even the most stubborn and curmudgeonly of ponies into friendly conversation when he wanted to. And by the time Flim fully engaged his mark, they were as good as stung.

The true challenge of going solo, therefore, hadn’t made itself known in the planning phase of Flam’s big score, and he rode into Fillydelphia, on a broken-down, half-powered machine loaded with barrels of apple tree slop, with all of his confidence intact. It had been a long time since Flam tried his hand at actually dragging in the marks himself—he usually left that for Flim to do. But he felt very good about his plan. Fantastic, even.

Flam brought the SSCS6K to a halt along a street of extravagant high-rise apartment buildings, just as their wealthy inhabitants were coming home from work. He hopped onto his back hooves and stood on the seat of his vehicle, and cleared his throat loudly enough to turn a few heads.

“Flam’s Fantastic Holistic Health Harvest Smoothies! Good for the mind, body, and soul!” A few more heads turned, and as he made eye contact with each of them they slowed their pace. It was a little trick he learned from watching his brother, and his ability to execute it himself only served to embolden the salespony further.

“Too busy to get your three square healthy meals of wholesome fruits and veggies? Get ’em all in one convenient potable and feel fit as a fiddle all day! Fresh from organic farms all across Equestria!”

Flam counted 17 ponies headed directly towards him and his cider, and a genuine smile crept upon him as he drew himself up to full height and took a deep breath.

“Half off for today only! This is concentrated stuff, fillies and gentlecolts; five bits for a grande cup is an absolute steal! Why, at this price, I’m actually losing money here!”

An onlooker lazed his rarified hoof into the air. “Why would you possibly sell that for less than it cost you to make it?”

“Ah, I’m glad you brought that up, my good stallion.” Flam hopped down from the SSCS6K and leaned forward into the crowd, which very subtly leaned towards him in response. He struggled to suppress a chuckle.

“Between you and me,” he began in a stage whisper to the crowd, “it wasn’t two weeks ago that I was selling these here smoothies to the fashionable citizens of Manehattan. I sold out faster than I’d ever imagined. So I’m convinced that you’ll feel the results of this drink on day one, and I just know you’ll come back when this offer expires tomorrow, my friends.”

Flam threw his front leg around the closest mare. “You look like you’ve a discerning mouth, dear.” The stallion next to her frowned. “Would you care for a tall cup of Flam’s Fantastic Holistic Health Harvest Smoothie, absolutely free?

The mare started to answer, but before she managed to choke out “yes!” Flam had already primed the tap and filled a cup, presenting it to the pony with a courteous bow and a magical tip of his hat. The mare sat back and took a sip. And as Flam fully expected, her face began to sour.

The salespony sprung into action. “Isn’t that just swell, my dear? All the fashionable Manehattan mares love the stuff, so I knew a mare of refined taste such as yourself would love it as well.”

The mare’s eyes shot open and darted around to her fellow not-quite-as-fashionable Fillydelphians. “M— mm...” she forced out. “I-It’s... marvelous...”

Flam’s smile threatened to expand beyond the boundaries of his face. “Can’t you just feel those holistic, organic ingredients massaging your delicate taste buds?”

The mare nodded.

“Well, there you have it, folks,” said Flam with a wave of his hoof. “Straight from the horse’s mouth. Please form a li—”

“Oh, look!” shouted the mare, springing to her hooves. “It’s my nutritionist!”

“Y-Your what?” Tiny beads of sweat began to form just above his shirt collar. “Oh, there’s no need to bother her.”

“I’m sure she’d be delighted to hear of such a healthy and fashionable new product being sold on the streets of Fillydelphia,” said the mare. “Oh, Leafy Green!” she called in a sing-song voice. “Leafy Green!”

Flam made a show of looking out towards the setting sun. “Well, would you look at the time, fillies and gentlecolts? I really must be on my way.”

The rarified hoof returned. “I say, something here isn’t right, salespony.” A soft murmur rose from the previously rapt audience. “A nutritionist is called for, and suddenly you make a hasty retreat?”

“Well, that is awfully suspicious...” said another.

Flam fired a bolt of magic at the contraption’s antenna, and the vehicle began to sputter and shake. “Fillies and gentlecolts,” he said, holding his front hooves up. “I mean only to produce more cider in light of this unprecedented demand!”

Flam’s smile was no longer genuine. He recognized his mistake as soon as he made it. Flim was an expert at cooling off the marks; his skill at calming the fears of suspicious ponies underwrote the duo’s audacious style. Flam had forgotten to account for this. But more importantly, he forgot what he was supposed to be selling.

Cider? I thought these were holistic health smoothies!”

“Who does this salespony think he is?”

“He’ll be hearing from my lawyer!”

“Mine, too!”

“Next town,” Flam whispered to himself. He shot another bolt at the antenna, and the SSCS6K jerked foward before rolling slowly away from the crowd. “Farewell, Fillydelphia!” he shouted, climbing atop his vehicle and turning to wave at the furious crowd of ponies shouting and waving their hooves in the air behind him as he pulled away.

He felt it before he saw it. The ground began to rumble underneath him, and it nearly shook him down from his perch on the contraption. Then, squinting against the sunset, Flam saw a small dust cloud on the horizon, growing rapidly in size. Heads with slicked-back manes emerged, followed by suits and ties. A legal stampede.

“Somepony said lawyer!” shouted one. “Somepony with money said lawyer!” They were gaining fast.

“Mr. Flam Flimflam, sir! Is that your real name? Where is your food vendor’s license?”

Flam rapid-fired bolts of magic into the vehicle’s antenna, forcing it into short-lived bursts of speed that sent barrels of apple mulch flying out of the machine. The lawyers leaped over them easily. “Come on, you old piece of junk!”

“On what test results do you base your claims that your product is good for the soul?”

The fastest of the lawyers made a dive for the SSCS6K and managed to latch onto a pipe with his teeth.

“Abandon ship!” cried Flam. He ran to the front of the vehicle, dove off into a somersault, and galloped as hard as he could, long after the lawyers had given up their chase in favor of easier, less athletic prey.

Wheezing and coughing, Flam stopped and fell to the ground. Above him sat a sign, which informed him that he was about to officially cross from the outskirts of Fillydelphia into a town called “Coltsville”. His mind, free from having to ignore the pain shooting through his legs and lungs, set upon assessing his latest failure.

The game was simply too big, he decided. Much as it pained him to admit it, without Flim there was no guarantee he would be able to get himself out of those sticky situations involving throngs of wealthy ponies and the resources they had available to them. Not everypony was as forgiving as Ponyvillians: of this he was reminded as much by the burning sensation in his chest as by the loss of his favorite invention.

Of course, a big score requires a big risk. And Flam was nothing if not determined. If he could not get his big score done without Flim’s skills, then it was a mere matter of developing Flim’s skills.

Flam’s mind continued its unending churn as he finally pulled himself to his hooves and started into the sleepy town, ignoring the sideways looks from the townsfolk, undoubtedly unused to unannounced visitors, much less those arriving on-foot in the evening, donning striped blazers and pork-pie hats. Off in the distance, the distinct outline of a train station lay at the end of the town’s main drag, and he trotted towards it.

To learn how to persuade and evade like his brother, he needed to find himself some sort of training ground. He needed a new kind of place, where the law wasn’t fully settled yet and where the safest place for your bits was in a pouch on the belt loop closest to the leg you bucked the hardest with. He needed a place like...

“Appleloosa!” called the conductor of the Friendship Express’s Western line. “All aboard that’s comin’ aboard!”

“That’ll do nicely,” said Flam, and as the conductor turned to sneeze, he crept onto the train and made his way towards the caboose.

Flam could hardly imagine a better place to get some practice in than The Salt Block, an old-timey saloon with swing doors, bad lighting, and an astonishing number of potential marks. There were no better ponies to try a few of his brother’s more advanced techniques than those woozy and preoccupied with their salt lick. The bartender looked like a no-nonsense character with his monocle and impressive mustache, but he clearly had his hands full serving a full house. And while the town was on the small side, nopony seemed to pay him any mind, despite his outsider status.

He settled on a mark—a toothless stallion with salt-flecked lips—and took a seat at the bar next to him. For nearly ten minutes, Flam did nothing more than sit and observe. He had on a well-worn vest, with a tell-tale lump on its lower left-hand side that belied the presence of a good amount of bits. And he was completely transfixed by his tiny portion of salt lick.

When the stallion had finished the last of it, Flam banged his hoof on the table. “Get this pony another salt cube, on me.”

“Gee, that’sh... awful kinda’ya, shtranger,” said the stallion. “Name’s... Salty.”

Flam rubbed his hooves together below the counter and grinned. “What a fitting name, my good stallion. My name’s Jam. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Shhwhat’re ya... doin’... in Appleboloosa?” asked Salty between licks.

“Oh, you wouldn’t want to hear about my troubles.”

“Pssh,” he said, his eyes never straying from his tiny block of salt. “I’m... really... inshterhishted.”

And after straightening his mustache, Flam turned to his mark and crafted a story entirely on-the-fly. There had been no planning of the story he was to tell, not even a general outline. He drew inspiration from the ponies around him, from his experiences in Fillydelphia, and from his time watching his brother at work, and melded them together into an enthralling tale of love and betrayal, of battles won and lost, of the riches of an entire nation just barely within the grasp of a salt-addled stallion with a pocketful of bits.

“...And that’s why the Neighgerian prince needs this money up-front. So, whaddya say, Salts, old buddy old pal?”

Salty’s left eyelid fell just far enough to cover his pupil before snapping open again. “Wha?”

Flam put his hoof on Salty’s shoulder. “Just give me 30 bits, my friend, and you’ll get a lot of money soon.”

“Oh, hey! Thatshshouds like a b— good bargain! Why dinn...dn’t I think’a that?”

“You did, Salty, you did!

“Now just you wait one minute, you city-slicker,” said the monocled bartender, leaning against the counter and drying a mug he held in one hoof with a rag draped over the other. “How can Salty be sure that he’ll get what’s due to him?”

“Yeah, shlitty-sickler! How... how... how can I, be sure that you, will get what I, gave you?”

Flam smiled and reached into his blazer. “I’m glad you brought that up, my fine stallion. I happen to have here a check for 500,000 bits, signed and ready to go, with the exception of its intended recipient.” Salty was staring at the ceiling, and Flam nudged him with his elbow. “That, my friend, would be you,” he said, and the pony’s ears perked up.

Flam slapped the check down dramatically onto the counter and a pen floated out from underneath his blazer. “Pay to the order of... Salty,” he said, scribbling the flabbergasted pony’s name into the blank space of the check. Then he scooped it up with one hoof and presented it to Salty. “Now, Salty, I do request that you wait two days before cashing this check, as I’ll need to move around some funds after the transfer from Neighgeria.”

Salty snatched the check into his hoof and stared back at the salespony.

“Did you hear that, Sa—”

“Monkeybagsh,” Salty said abruptly, turning to the bartender, “chouldja do... uh... whateverthish pony said?”

Flam felt familiar beads of sweat at his collar. “What now, Salty?”

“I apologize for my brash behavior earlier, sir,” said the bartender, extending a hoof towards the salespony. Flam reached out and bumped it, all his energies focused on not allowing his leg to shake as he returned the gesture. “Name’s Moneybags: I own this bar, and my new Appleloosan bank opens in a few days.”

“Bank owner, you sa—”

Flam knew he was rusty. But not even Flim would have been able to escape his fate at that moment. Without so much as a single demand to explain himself, Moneybags had swung over the counter and connected squarely with Flam’s right cheek, sprawling the salespony out on the floor of the establishment.

Moneybags swung open the false part of the counter and stepped out from behind it. He halted just above Flam’s head and looked down through his monocle. “We don’t take too kindly to forgeries ’round these parts. You’ve got quite the nerve, carpetbagger, coming into our town and fixin’ a swindle one of ours,” nodding towards Salty, who was passed out with his head resting on the counter.

With one hoof, the mustachioed banker pulled Flam back to his feat. “I’m going to give you a one-minute head start, friend. And then I reckon I’ll call the sheriff, and I’ll recommend he get out the bloodhounds.” The banker grabbed Flam’s mane and put his mouth to Flam’s perked-up ear. “So you best get to stepping, boy. ’Cause I reckon they just might be the very last steps you take.”

The banker threw Flam by his mane towards the door, and the roughed-up pony carried the momentum, speeding through the door and galloping alongside the train tracks straight out of Appleloosa.

Flam trudged down the tracks with his blazer draped over his head, counting the cactus as he went and forcing himself to keep moving. He had no way of knowing whether the banker’s threat to go to the sheriff was legitimate or not and little interest in finding out.

After hours of marching through the desert’s blistering heat, Flam saw the shadow of something large flying overhead. “I say, are you buzzards circling already?” he shouted. “Foul, foul birds!”

“Birds? There are no birds out here, Mr. Flimflam!”

Flam whipped the blazer off of his head, and shielded his eyes with the pork-pie hat beneath it. A pegasus was hovering just above him, with a happy smile on her face and a letter clasped between her two front hooves.

“Special delivery!” she said, slipping the letter into his hat’s ribbon and taking off again, her flightpath into the distance following a pattern of slowly veering left or right before a quick correction, only to again veer off-course.

Flam ripped the letter open with his teeth and levitated it in front of his face. He gnashed his teeth, only stopping to read aloud those passages from the paper that he found especially offensive.

“Whinnyapolis... straight and narrow... real-estate... Real estate? Dear Celestia, Flim, have you left no sense of decency?” He flipped the letter over. “Happy... secure... visit... Oh, ponyfeathers!” he cried, tearing the letter into as many pieces as he was able. He flung the mocking confetti into the air and its pieces were scattered by a hot wind from the east.

Flam gave his head a hard shake and slammed his hoof into the sand. “All right, old pal, whaddya say? Are you going to let yourself get outhustled by your kid brother?”

Flam looked against the wind, and then down at the tracks that he’d been following. He hadn’t bothered before to figure out where he was headed, but if he knew his trains, then he was sure they led to Canterlot. “Not without a fight, I’m not,” he said, poking at his fresh black eye with a hoof.

Flam had arrived in Canterlot having fully convinced himself of his inevitable success. There was little chance of Good Samaritanship in a bustling city such as Canterlot, he told himself, and the steady influx of tourists would ensure a neverending supply of well-heeled marks. The anonymity afforded by the sheer size of the city was only an added bonus.

But Canterlot’s residents were all far too experienced to fall for any Flim-style confidence tricks, leaving Flam with nowhere to practice. And tourists were so much more easily identified by swindlers native to Canterlot that by the time Flam had identified a mark, they’d already gained a healthy level of experience, too.

Worse still, in a city crawling with perfectly legitimate—though no less heinous—bits and bobs and diets and get-rich-quick schemes, there was little in the way of excess supply for the more creative and inventive Flam-scams. And no matter how hard he tried, the only ideas of his with a hint of novelty to them in a town like Canterlot demanded Flim’s ability to get even the most jaded city-dwellers excited over something new.

“Find the Lady, here, Find the Lady! Chase the Ace!”

Flam sat on the cold, dirty sidewalk behind a cardboard box. On top of the box were three bent playing cards, and he shuffled them clumsily back and forth with his magic. “Double your money, fillies and gentlecolts, double yo—”

He turned abrubtly towards the wall, and pulled a scrap of paper from his fraying jacket, tucking in his chin and pretending to write.

“Brother of mine? Brother, is that you?”

Flam sighed through gritted teeth, then, turning to Flim, forced his lips into a genuine smile. “Brother, what a surprise! Put ’er there, Flim!” he said, extending a hoof.

Flim tugged at the lapels of his red blazer and met Flam’s hoof with his own. “What are you doing out here, Flam?”

“Oh, this? I, uh, do this for fun! I’ve got a great business selling health drinks now. It’s going just swell.” He ran his hooves along his mustache. “But I could ask you the same thing, Flim. Leaving Whinnydelphia already?”

“Oh, no, Flam, I’m just checking out a new property we’ve got for sale here in Canterlot. Prime real estate up here, you know.” Flim surveyed the flimsy cardboard box and the bent cards on top. “You... sure you’re doing all right, Flam?”

“Never been better, I...” But somewhere deep within the traveling salespony, a dissonant chord snapped. By now he knew that he would never live up to his own hype: the big score was a dream that Fillydelphia and Appleloosa and Canterlot had killed. Even false bravado requires a sliver of true self-confidence, and seeing his brother successful and happy had killed that as well.

Flam threw himself at his brother’s hooves. “Oh, Flim, it’s been horrible out here! Awful, I say! I’ve been chased by lawyers and beaten up by bankers and outhustled left and right in this Celestia-forsaken city and I don’t know what I’m doing anymore!”

Flim stared down at his older brother. “Flam...” he began, and Flam could see a great sadness in his eyes. “I’m glad you brought that up, brother.”

Flam scrambled to his hooves. “What’re you saying?”

“I’m saying that I can’t stand this company stallion life! All these rules and regulations and standards and bosses and paperwork: it’s just so boring! I miss our chase for the big score, brother! I’m saying... that its about time the World-Famous Flim Flam Brothers got back together.”

Flim turned his red blazer inside out to reveal blue and white stripes, and slipped it back on. Out of an inside pocket flew a bowtie that promptly tied itself around his neck. “So whaddya say, brother of mine? Next town?”

Flam wiped away the few tears he’d allowed to coat his lower eyelid. “Next town,” he sang.

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