• Published 6th Aug 2018
  • 1,097 Views, 73 Comments

Sugar and Spice - Pearple Prose



Saving the damsel in distress is less impressive when you're the one who ruined her life in the first place. Pony Joe is going to try anyway.

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Not Enough Crime? Try it One More Time!

It was the best night of Saffron Masala’s life. She felt like a daring adventurer. An Element of Harmony. A superspy-in-training.

She’d always loved stories. When she had been a little filly, cooking her favourite meals with her father over a roaring fire, he would regale her with stories of demons and monsters, spirits and gods, and heroes.

Saffron always liked the stories about the heroes the most. They came in all shapes and sizes – unicorns, earth ponies, pegasi – and from all backgrounds – rich ponies, poor ponies, kings and queens and farmers…

Restaurant owners.

She squealed.

“Don’t do that,” Joe whispered.

“I’m sorry,” Saffron whispered back. “I am just very excited.”

The two were crouched in a bush, at that exact moment. The night was dark, save for the dappled moonlight that lanced down through the branches of the exotic trees that populated the curved, marbled streets of High Canterlot.

Ahead of them, behind a pair of large, steel gates – decorated extravagantly with gold filigree that formed a bird-like crest in the centre – was Cuckoo Capone’s manor.

“Right,” said Joe. “The plan is simple: we sneak in, we find the ledger, and then we sneak out again.”

“That…” Saffron looked at Joe. Or, rather, the pony she knew only as Pony Joe. Ooh, this was so very exciting! “...is a very simple plan.”

“Yeah, it is. What, not a fan?”

“No, no! It’s just…”

“What?”

“Well, I was expecting something a bit more…” Saffron trailed off, trying to find the word.

Joe gave her a look. “...Convoluted?”

“Yes!”

“Ah, a rookie mistake.” Joe tapped the side of his snout knowingly. “The best plan is often the simplest plan.”

“That is true! Simple is best. There is a saying in my language, you see, that says no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy!”

Joe swallowed. “Uh, right.”

“But you are surely familiar with these things, yes?”

“Right.”

“Which is why you said we should use a simple plan, because it will surely fail, and it will be easier to adapt to something simple, yes? You are preparing in advance!

“We should stop talking.”

There was the rustle and clinking of Saffron’s saddlebags as she got ready to move. “Okay. I will follow your lead, brave stallion!” And she giggled quietly to herself.

Pony Joe swallowed, hard. “Alright. Let’s go.”

And so they went, the night air blowing gently through their manes.

As always, the High Canterlot weather was impeccable. Joe was reminded of this by the softness of the grass as he snuck through the undergrowth, just damp enough to muffle the sounds of his movements without giving him away with dry crunching. The gated fence loomed out of the darkness, slowly but steadily, as the two ponies drew nearer.

Joe led Saffron through the bushes that flanked the pristine pavestones of the main road until they could see a hint of the well-maintained finery of the property through the gaps in the grand gate.

He put a hoof to his lips, then pointed down at the ground. No following. Then he slunk up to the side of the gate and tried to peer through the gaps in the bars.

Saffron watched his expression – focused, intense. Professional. Now this was a pony that knew what he was doing. When Joe, after a moment or two, turned away from the gate and waved for her to follow, he paused upon looking at her expression.

“What? Something on my face?”

“Oh! No. No, it is fine.”

“Right. Okay, so, Cuckoo’s home, but probably asleep, ‘cause no-one’s watching out front, so we should make a move while we still can. They’ve probably taken a break to play cards or eat donuts or something.”

Saffron blinked. “Oh. I see. But how do we get inside?”

Joe pointed. “We can climb the fence.”


Joe could not climb the fence.

In his defence, though, working at a diner all day doesn’t quite give you the, y’know, immense athleticism that a superspy probably has. The fact that he made it this far without getting a stitch he considered overall a win.

So, Saffron went up first.

“Ow!”

“Shhh!” Joe looked around, heart pounding in his chest, at the street around them. No curtains were twitching. No sounds of voices. So far, so good.

“Why is this fence so sharp?”

“Probably... to stop us from doing this.”

“Well, it is very rude of them!”

“Saffron... Could you please climb faster?” Joe chanced an upwards glance and got an eyeful of Saffron’s cutie mark, and quickly averted his gaze, cheeks red. “It’s getting… hard to hold you up like this…”

The weight of the hooves pressing down on his back lifted, gradually, and then all at once as Saffron grunted quietly. Joe winced at the dull pain in his back, then looked up.

Saffron clung to the other side of the fence, looking back over her shoulder at the lawn below her with an anxious expression. Then she looked back at Joe, and it diffused into a smile. “Okay. Are you ready, Joe?”

Joe took a deep breath. He hoped, fervently, that he wouldn’t make an embarrassment of himself.

Then he jumped up and grabbed ahold of Saffron’s offered hoof.


Saffron wheezed.

Joe groaned.

It is very fortunate, Saffron thought, that there were no ponies around to witness them. That would have been a lot worse than just getting caught, for it would also be quite, quite embarrassing.

The two of them lay tangled in a heap in the bushes on Cuckoo Capone’s estate. Honestly, it’d all been going very smoothly until Saffron learned, very quickly, that Donut Joe is exactly as… girthy as his name would imply.

Not that there was anything wrong with that, Saffron quickly amended. Superspies had to stay true to their personas, yes?

Huff. Okay. Huff.” Joe got to his hooves, looked down at his rumpled tuxedo with a vague sadness, and then looked at Saffron with concern. “Are you okay? Sorry, we probably could have, like… done that better.”

Saffron hurriedly got to her hooves. “No, no! It was very smooth. I barely even felt the fall,” she said, smiling very widely in spite of the pain in her leg.

Joe visibly relaxed. “Phew. Alright. Now, c’mon, gotta keep moving.”

The two began to canter hurriedly across the estate towards the manor.

Saffron knew that Joe had said that there was nopony watching on the estate, but she had nonetheless been incredibly uncomfortable with just running for the door, even under the cover of darkness. But that was what Joe was doing, and he seemed entirely confident, so she did not argue.

“It seems as if this plan would not work if there were ponies here. This is so very clever of you, Joe!”

Joe stumbled a little bit. “Uh. Yeah, haha. I’ve been scouting this place out for weeks. Know all their schedules like the back of my hoof.”

The door to Cuckoo Capone’s manor was no less audacious than the gate – tall, thick, and made from polished dark wood, with an enormous golden knocker in the centre. The knocker was, naturally, an enormous golden bird’s head with a ring threaded through its open beak.

The pair nestled in the porch, glancing around anxiously. Joe turned to Saffron and said, “You keep watch, alright? Just in case they come back early.”

She gave him a cheery salute. “Yessir!” Then she turned and stared out into the darkness.

Saffron was not an evening pony – she went to bed early, as her Father had always held a strict curfew, and therefore she always woke up feeling fresh and ready to face the day.

Thus, Saffron couldn’t remember the last time she had sat outside, in the dusk, and witnessed the night sky at its deepest and most glorious. When the stars spun themselves into exotic patterns, and when the moon shone softly and ever-so-sweetly, and when Ursas Minor and Major snuggled up like a family of bears.

Wait.

Saffron blinked. She wasn’t the most astronomically aware of ponies – Father swore by the power of the stars and their prophecies, but to her they’d always looked like a bunch of little lights in the sky instead of the wells of knowledge they were purported to be.

But here she was, waiting for Pony Joe – international superspy – to break into Cuckoo Capone’s manor, watching two collections of stars that looked very much like a pair of giant bears cuddling up in the cosmos.

For a second, she swore one of them gave her a wink.

There was a soft click from behind her. Saffron blinked, turned, and saw Joe pushing the front door open. She gasped in delight. “You have succeeded?”

Joe looked over his shoulder at her and smiled. “You know it.”

“Was it a difficult lock to pick? Oh, you must show me how it is done, someday!”

Joe paused. He chuckled, cheeks red, and held up a key in his magical grip. “It’s easy when you know where they keep the spare key.”

Saffron blinked. “Oh. Where–”

“Under the doormat. They should probably hide it better, honestly. Anyway! Follow my lead, and watch out for the birds.”

And he pushed open the door.


Stupid birds.

“Joe,” a soft voice whispered from behind Joe’s back. “I do not understand what you’re doing.”

Joe didn’t look away from the birds, nor did he stop clucking softly under his breath. “What does it cluck cluck look like I’m cluck cluck doing?”

“Feeding doughnuts to cuckoo birds.”

Joe levitated another doughnut out of his saddlebags and began crumbling it up into pieces. “I know it looks weird, Saffron, but trust me.”

“But there is some birdseed just over

Trust me.

Traditional Capone Brand Birdseed was, Joe was certain, as high a quality of birdseed as any other on the market – but Cuckoo Capone’s birds were no ordinary birds. Back when Joe had first been ‘invited’ to the manor, the cuckoo birds in Capone’s study often burst into a wild ruckus of rustling feathers and screeching.

Then, at some point, one of Cuckoo’s boys fed the birds one of Joe’s doughnuts, and they were soothed. Since then, Cuckoo had asked for a steady stream of them as part of their arrangement, and his infrequent ‘invitations’ got at least somewhat more bearable as a result.

The strange affection that Cuckoo Capone’s cuckoos held for Joe’s doughnuts was a genuine point of pride for the baker in him, which said a lot more about Joe’s pride than anything else.

“Okay.” Joe shot a look in Saffron’s general direction, and picked out the edge of a concerned eye in the moonlit darkness. “Cluck cluck I think I’ve got these cluck cluck birds under control, so go cluck cluck find the ledger cluck quick cluck quick.”

Saffron didn’t say anything then – Joe listened to the quick clicking of horseshoes on the wooden floor of the study as she went about her investigation.

Joe stared at the rows and rows of bird cages, doughnuts clutched in his hooves and eyes wide with terror, as if he’d been caught putting cookies back in the cookie jar. They seemed as if they were falling back asleep again, so Joe relaxed just a tiny bit. He noticed, dimly, dark feathers covering the floor around the cage-wall. They had a habit of building up over time if Cuckoo or his boys didn’t make an effort to clean them up.

It was quiet in the study for one moment, save for the soft sounds of birds gobbling up crumbled doughnuts and the tick-tock of a grandfather clock counting off the seconds in the corner.

Then that one moment stretched into several.

Then, “Saffron?”

There was a pause, and from behind the desk there came a muffled: “Yes?”

“You don’t know what you’re doing, do you.”

“Ah, no.”

“Check the bottom-right drawer. And be careful when you open it ‘cause it can get stu–”

There was a sharp creak as the heavy wooden drawer came open all at once. Joe dropped his nearly-empty box of doughnuts as his heart started pounding even harder in his chest.

Saffron made a noise that sounded vaguely like a foreign curse. “Oh, no, I’m so so sor–”

“Saffron,” Joe interrupted, tone extremely calm. “Stop apologising and get the ledger. Red with gold edges.”

Paper started rustling as a pair of hooves dug through the desk. The sound got more and more erratic as the seconds passed. Joe could no longer distinguish the sharp clicking of the grandfather clock from the beating of his heart.

“Joe?” There was an edge of barely contained panic to Saffron’s voice. “The ledger.”

“What?” Joe turned away from the sleeping birds and stepped towards the desk. “Did you find it?”

“It is not here.”

A pause. Joe ran over to the desk, saw Saffron staring down into the open drawer, pushed her aside so he could see.

The ledger wasn’t there.

“Check the others,” said Joe, voice low and sharp. He lit up his horn and yanked hard on another drawer, ignored its creaking complaints and began rifling through the contents. Distantly, he heard the birds tweet softly as some of them were prematurely awoken, but he blocked them from his mind.

Saffron followed suit without another word. Paperwork. Stationery. Photographs of Cuckoo, photographs of his father, photographs of his mother, photographs of ponies Joe didn’t recognise. An old pipe. Tobacco. No ledger.

They spread out around the study: scanned the spines of the books in an artful little shelf in the corner, looked over the mantelpiece of the smouldering fireplace, glanced over and under tables and chairs, tapped the walls for hollow compartments, searched for hidden safes, poked through the pockets of the coats that hung from a hat stand by the door.

Nothing.

Saffron was staring at Joe, eyes twin pinpricks even in the dark. “What do we do?”

Joe tapped the sides of his head. Pony Joe was no good here, and Con Mane had made himself scarce, the sly dog.

But Donut Joe knew what to do. Maybe.

Without thinking, he went back to the ruffled birds and began feeding them his last doughnut. “Okay. It’s not in the study. So that means it’s...” He paused. “Somewhere else.”

“Yes. Of course,” said Saffron nodding along, eyes still wide.

“So if it’s somewhere else then we have to look somewhere else. We have to search the manor.”

Saffron somehow managed to look more surprised. “Search the manor?”

“Yeah.”

“The whole building?”

“Yes.”

“It is a very big building, Joe.”

“I know, I know, I know.” Joe spun around and held Saffron by the shoulders, hysteria bleeding into his tone despite his best efforts. “We don’t have much time. But we need that ledger, Saffron. We can’t leave without it.”

Saffron blinked once. Twice. Clamped her eyes shut and shook her head. Then she looked at Joe, mouth compressed into a tight line. “Right. Yes.” Then she stopped, as if a thought had occurred to her. “But… When do Cuckoo’s men get ba–”

Then they heard the distant sounds of rough, mustachioed, suit-wearing voices.

“Yep. Mhm.” Joe started shaking his head. “Nope. Change of plans. Yep. We gotta start moving quickly, now, c’mon c’mon c’mon.”

He started moving towards the door, but Saffron grabbed his arm and shhh’d him.

They stared at a crack in the door. The sounds of conversation grew slightly louder, and louder, and then there was the creak of an opening door. After another few seconds, Joe glimpsed the silhouette of a head wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

They were in the hallway. Between them and the front door, loitering around the stairs.

Saffron tugged Joe off to the side, next to the door. They glanced at each other, then at the study around them.

“We are trapped?” Saffron asked, rather redundantly.

Joe swallowed. “Seems that way.”

“Maybe if we h-hide,” Saffron suggested, voice cracking ever-so-slightly, “they won’t find us?”

Joe felt something tickle the back of his head as he pressed himself back behind the door, and he reached up behind him with a hoof and felt the wooden frame of the coat-and-hat stand. He tugged on the thing touching the back of his head and it came free, and he looked down at it.

It was a black, wide-brimmed hat – soft, finely made, probably quite expensive.

Something occurred to Joe. His eyes slid up the floor and over to the bird cages, and the pile of feathers that had fallen to the floor.

“Celestia have mercy,” Joe breathed.

“What? What is it?” Saffron looked at the hat and glanced up at Joe’s rapturous expression.

“Saffron,” Joe said, striding over to the bird cages with purpose. “Do you have anything sticky in your saddlebags?”

Saffron blinked. “Um. I. Yes, I can try to mix something up. Why?”

Joe picked up a pair of feathers from the ground. Yes. Yes, these would do. Hopefully.

He shot Saffron a look that might be called a winning smile but mostly just looked desperate. “Looks like the plan just got convoluted.”

He flipped the black hat onto his head.


“D’you ever wonda if da Princess goes to the bathroom?”

Micky paused, pool cue pulled back, cue ball right in the centre of his vision. He’d had the perfect shot, or at least he thought he did, but then Johnny just had to go and open his big ol’ mouth again.

There had to be some kind of rule against asking stupid questions when your opponent was trying to take a shot. There probably was, for all that Micky knew, in some pool handbook on a shelf somewhere, but Micky didn’t know how to read, so whoop-de-doo for that idea.

“Johnny,” he muttered, “I swear on Celestia’s throne, I’mma punch you in dat stupid mouth of yours if you do that again.”

“Do what?” Johnny asked. He was making a show of chalking up his cue but he had a big, dumb smirk on his face. “Dunno whatcha talkin’ about, Mick. Ya gonna take your shot or what?”

Micky shot him a glare, then fell back down from where he was leaning over the table to roll his shoulders. He breathed, took in the battlefield. Micky had been winning handily from the get-go – five stripes potted to just one of Johnny’s spots – but now Johnny was doing that thing that Tim did literally every game to get Micky to slip up, and now he was beginning to catch up. Micky didn’t play with Tim anymore because of this, which was probably why Tim told Johnny about it. Johnny was fun but dumb and liked feeling superior, probably because he was the least competent of the three of them.

Micky shook his head. Focus on the game, Micky, he told himself. He pulled himself up onto his hind legs and leaned forward, shut an eye and lined up the shot. If he got the right angle, he could probably pot both of his balls in one clean–

“So d’you think that it’s actually made’a gold? The Princess’s potty, I mean.”

The shot slid out at a rough angle and the cue ball spun off to one side, ricocheted off one of the edges and hit Micky on the nose. He bit back a pained howl. Johnny guffawed, hoof pressed right up to his big, ugly muzzle.

“You’re a real piece a’work, you know that, Johnny?” Micky glowered at him, rubbing his nose. He stamped over to him and stamped him in his beefy chest, voice rising in volume slowly. “Timmy ain’t even here, thank Celestia, and yet you still gotta get on my nerves just like–”

A deep voice cut off Micky’s rant. “Hey, what’s the freakin’ ruckus in here?”

Johnny and Micky turned to look towards the source. A large stallion, not quite as chunky as Johnny but getting there, stood in the darkness of the study door. He was wearing a black tux and his face was obscured by the creeping shadows and a wide-brimmed hat. As the stallion stepped into the room, study door swinging shut behind him, Micky realised he had a thick, black moustache on his upper lip.

The stallion spoke again, in a thick Manehattan accent. “Oh, it’s you bozos. Was wonderin’ when you would get here. Where ya been?”

Johnny narrowed his eyes. “What’s it t’you, buddy? Whatchoo doin’ back there?”

The stallion brushed some crumbs off his lapel with a hoof, and smirked. “The boss wanted me to feed his lil’ birds. Got a problem with ‘at, wise guy?”

Micky flinched, shot Johnny a look over his shoulder and saw his own expression reflected back at him. Cuckoo Capone was infamously protective over his birds. Not just any of his boys were allowed to feed ‘em.

This guy didn’t just look like he meant business, it seems.

“H-Huh.” Micky swallowed, and tried for a smile. “Fair’s fair. You, uh, you play pool?”

“You betcha scrawny little flank I do.” The stallion glanced at the table, wandered around the darkest edge of the hallway. He walked with a confidence to his stride that made Micky feel like a chump. After a pause, he sat down at a table in the corner, and casually pointed a hoof at Micky. “What’s your name, bucko?”

“Name’s Micky, sir. Micky the Drink.”

The stallion turned his hoof towards Johnny. “And what’s yours, little guy?

Johnny’s bulbous form began to sweat. “I, uh, I’m Little John, boss. Just call me Johnny.”

The stallion smiled. “Fantastic. My name’s Big Jim, and you two are gonna go make me some coffee. Chop chop. Got all night, folks.”


Saffron almost didn’t notice whose room she had snuck into until it was too late.

In her defence, it looked almost exactly like all the other bedrooms she’d stumbled into on the second floor as she searched desperately for Cuckoo’s ledger – lofty ceiling, varnished wooden floor, a luxurious rug by the fireplace, four-poster bed covered in thick woollen blankets that nearly entirely obscured the form of the old pegasus sleeping in–

That was when Saffron’s eyes went wide and she froze in place, hoof rifling through Cuckoo’s sock drawer while the entirety of her attention focused on the stallion himself, sleeping soundly in his bed.

Cuckoo Capone was a very quiet sleeper, apparently.

Saffron breathed in, then out, working through the constant flow of adrenaline that had been coursing through her veins for the last… hour? Or had it been two? She didn’t know anymore. Time was passing by in a panicked blur.

After a long moment of staring, Saffron turned back to the drawer (Canterlotians wore socks? Strange ponies, indeed), decided it was, indeed, just full of socks, and closed it. Then, slowly, she circled around to the other side of the bed.

As Saffron had explored the manor, even through the malaise of adrenaline, a small part of her catalogued every expensive piece of art, every extra unnecessary room that was as needlessly well-furnished as the last, every sign of exorbitant luxury – even now, she noticed the glint of a golden watch on Cuckoo’s wrist.

And that small part of her bristled. It bristled with indignation, and anger, because that small part of her remembered the cold, tiny, windowless house that she had shared with her whole family back in her homeland. It remembered the days of her youth where hunger clutched at an unfed belly, for they had been trying times, and her country had not always been so fortunate as it was becoming in more recent years.

Despite it all, though, it became hard to reconcile any of it, either the injustice of Cuckoo’s wealth or his crimes against everypony in Canterlot, with the fragile old pony that lay sleeping softly in his bed.

Saffron let her eyes linger on Cuckoo for a second before turning her attention towards something surprisingly small and ramshackle, considering its grandiose surroundings – a writing desk, an old one, and a fraction of the size of the one in Cuckoo’s study.

She crept over to it, intrigued. The surface of the old wood was worn and weathered and chipped in places, and here and there Saffron could see pockmarks of black ink that occasionally resembled little drawings or letters, scratched in with a pen’s nib. It was like a foal’s school-desk, she realised.

The realisation was immediately overtaken by another one: much like a school-desk, the top looked like it could fold back.

Saffron’s horn lit up with purple sparks for a bare moment before she remembered her surroundings, and so instead she took a nervous step towards the old desk and – ever-so-gently – pushed up on the lid.

As expected, there was an immediate creak of a rusted old hinge and creaking wood that so very nearly made Saffron let go of the thing on reflex, if she hadn’t already experienced a near-desk-disaster downstairs. As it was, she pushed the lid back until it rested against the wall.

There was a noise from the bed. Saffron froze again.

“...Mmmm. Shhh, Coucal, go back to sleep…” Cuckoo mumbled in his creaky old voice, before turning over in his sleep and exhaling.

There was a long moment where Saffron did not move, heart jackhammering in her chest. Then, hooves shaking, she reached into the desk and withdrew a battered brown book.

It wasn’t the ledger. It took her a moment to realise this – Joe had said the ledger was red and gold, right? And this was also quite a small tome, really. The disappointment nearly made her audibly sigh, but she controlled herself. She stared at the book for a while, thinking about nothing, and in lieu of any other immediate goal she flipped it open.

The pages were rustled and creased and covered in ink – Saffron caught glimpses of messy, scattered mouthwriting in the earlier pages that slowly became more and more legible as it went. She flipped through and immediately noticed that there was a bookmark of some sort slipped inside.

It was a photograph, clipped to one of the middle pages with what looked like a hairpin (which had a little insignia of a bird on it). The photograph was quite old – Twenty years? Thirty? – and Saffron immediately recognised Cuckoo Capone, even in his youth. He was missing a lot of wrinkles and gray hairs, but it was certainly him. He wore a floppy black hat and a fancy looking dinner jacket with a cuckoo insignia on the lapel, all of which Saffron recognised from his study downstairs.

The ticking of a cuckoo clock on the wall hammered home the passing seconds. Saffron slid the book into her saddlebags – what was a little extra theft on top of the trespassing? – and returned to her quietly frantic search.

Not on the bookshelf. Not on the liquor cabinet. Knocked on the walls – no hidden cubbyholes as far as she could tell. Not in the vanity suite. Dared a peek under the bed – found nothing. Out of desperation, checked the sock drawer again.

Nothing.

Saffron breathed out through clenched teeth. The closest she’d gotten besides the odd little diary had been a golden pocket watch, the size of her hoof, that she’d found in a velvet-lined protective case.

What use did a pony have for two watches? Sanity fraying, Saffron glowered at Cuckoo’s sleeping form and muttered a curse under her breath.

Then stopped.

Cuckoo wasn’t wearing a watch.

Saffron stepped closer to the bed. Frustration rose up into brief ecstasy before plummeting into deep, deep despair.

In his hooves, cradled like a beloved teddy bear, Cuckoo was clutching a red-and-gold ledger.


Joe watched Micky the Drink and Little John eye each other across the green velvet pool table and tried not to let the tension crumble him like soggy pastry.

Before his arrival, the two gangsters had been bickering and snickering the whole house down. Now, with Joe looking on in with his bizarrely compelling presence, they felt they had something to prove.

Micky eyed John warily from beneath the brim of his hat. Without warning, he snapped his forearm forward, and the pool cue shot forward with tight precision. The white ball ricocheted once, twice, three times, nimbly skirted the edges of a clustered knot of the enemy stripes before colliding with its target. The spotted ball rolled, gently, across the centre of the table and plopped beautifully into a pocket, as if it belonged there.

Micky hadn’t broken eye contact with John for the length of the shot.

John glanced down at the pocket before snapping his eyes back up to stare at his opponent. He nodded, once, and said nothing.

Micky stepped back. John stepped forward, raising his cue, loading up the wooden revolver for another perfect shot. It was going to be a close game.

Joe could feel the sweat trickling down his upper lip. It tickled. He was suddenly all too aware of the strange, smelly, spicy, sticky stuff that Saffron had lathered around his snout for his disguise.

His feather-moustache twitched.

Don’t sneeze Joe, he thought to himself. You sneeze, you wheeze.

“Hey, boss.”

Joe twitched violently. John mirrored him with a flinch, fearfully. “What?” Joe snapped, voice cracking just a tiny bit.

“Uh, Mick and I were wondering if’n, uh,” John rubbed his leg awkwardly, “If you wanted to break?” He pointed at the table.

Joe followed his hoof, confused, and watched Micky as he dropped the pool balls into a wooden triangle and rolled it around.

Then the penny dropped. “Oh! Uh. Sure. I mean,” Joe shook his head and relaxed, tried for a cocky grin. “Nah, you boys can break for me. You can tell a lot about a stallion from how he breaks a…” Joe waved a hoof at the triangle thingy. “Yeah.”

Little John blinked. Shared a look with Mick. “Whoa,” he mumbled. “I never even thought’a it like that.”

Micky looked at Joe with something approaching awe. “You’re a wise man, Mr Big Jim sir.”

“Damn right I am, boys.”

Tonight somehow just kept getting stupider.

Joe should know. He had no idea how to play pool.


Saffron had never stolen a book from a sleeping pensioner before. She wondered if it was anything like taking candy from a baby. At a guess, it seemed pretty much the same – except, if you were too grabby, you got murdered by gangsters.

She stopped wondering about it, then, and got back to doing it.

The first obstacle she’d found: Cuckoo Capone was very rich, and as such he had a very big bed. It was lucky for Saffron, then, that she was a unicorn.

The book glowed with the soft purple of Saffron’s magic, and lightly tugged at Cuckoo’s grip. Saffron poked her tongue out of the side of her mouth as she concentrated – this ledger was heavy, intended to sit on a desk or in a drawer for the rest of its days. It was not intended to be carried around in a unicorn’s aura for an extended period of time.

Still. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Saffron would really appreciate it if Cuckoo would let go of the blasted thing, though.

Cuckoo squirmed a little bit in his sleep as he was pulled softly across the mattress by the glowing ledger. Saffron’s heart hammered in her chest with a combination of nervous energy and magical strain. As the book drew tantalisingly close, Saffron reached out with a hoof, leaned forward closer and closer until, just barely, she could touch it…

And then Cuckoo Capone, stirring gently, readjusted his grip and pulled Saffron partly onto the bed. He rubbed his head sleepily into Saffron’s arm and fell still.

Saffron sighed. A sigh is often understood as being a very dramatic exhale of breath. So Saffron very dramatically exhaled into Cuckoo’s face and woke him up.

Whoops.

“Who… Who are you?” Cuckoo mumbled, eyelids flickering sleepily.

“I’m. Uh.” Saffron thought but didn’t really have time to think so she just said, “I’m the book launderer. I’m here to launder your book.”

“What.”

“The book launderer. ”

“...A laundry of books?”

“Yes. They are sheets of paper after all, sir.”

Cuckoo’s tried to lift his head off of his pillow and failed. “Right, right…”

The weight pinning Saffron to the bed released just enough for her to stumble back, book in hoof. “Oof. Thank you, sir. Oh look, you’ve gotten ink all over it.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay. Have a nice day, sir, love the hat.”

Cuckoo mumbled something again but this time Saffron couldn’t hear it because it was very quiet and also because she was already out the door running really quickly because he was about to wake up and oh gods where the heck was J–


Pool cues were not intended to be used with pony hooves. Joe was coming to this conclusion only now, after he tried to pick up a pool cue and failed. Literally – he swiped at it, and it clattered to the ground, sharply, much like Joe’s self-esteem.

He’d stared at it for a few seconds, felt the other ponies in the room stare at him as he stared at it, and then he stomped on the thicker end – or the “butt”, or whatever it was supposed to be called – and it flew up into the crook of his arm, beautifully, as if it belonged there.

Mick and John cooed and stomped their hooves at him. Joe smirked.

Then he tried to play pool with the pool cue, and stopped smirking.

First he tried to stand up on his hind-legs, like he saw the gangsters doing, while also keeping a tenuous hold of the pool cue – which, really, is just a varnished wooden stick when you thought about it – with his armpit. He vaguely succeeded, in that he was stood on his back legs with his front legs on the table and the pool cue was just sort of leaning against his side while he tried hard to keep his balance. So, yeah, almost there.

Joe was really sweating now, though. If he was an earth pony like the others, he wouldn’t have his magic around to grab things off of high shelves, or whatever else it was that earth ponies got up on their hind-legs for, and so he would be much more in-shape. Being a unicorn was hard, too, in a privileged way.

Making incredibly fattening pastries for a job probably didn’t help much, though.

It was at this point that Joe remembered that, yes, he was a unicorn and that, yes, he could have probably just lifted the cue in his magic. But his brain had gone off on a tangent about unicorn privilege and he’d felt a bit too awkward about changing his tactics halfway through looking like an idiot and oh Celestia now he was just splayed out across the table with that dumb stick poking into his face and everyone is staring and

Then Saffron ran down the stairs, into the hall, around the table, and out the door, ledger floating in her magic–

“JOOOOE RUUUUN AHHHHH–”

–acreaming the entire time.

Joe watched her go. He looked down at himself, saw the feathers glued to his face with curry fall off and twirl delicately to the ground. He looked back up at Micky the Drink and Little John, who both looked as if they’d seen a ghost.

Distantly, through an open door, he saw Cuckoo Capone lurch into frame, night-hat flapping across his beaky old face. He shrieked, “Stop playing pool and get that damn leeedgeeeer–”

So Pony Joe hit Little John over the head with his pool cue and ran away.