• Published 30th Oct 2018
  • 1,192 Views, 582 Comments

Ponyville Noire: Kriegspiel—Black, White, and Scarlet - PonyJosiah13



War has come to Ponyville. As a criminal mastermind, a cruel pirate, and a mare with mysterious motives fight for control, Daring Do and Phillip Finder are put to the test with new cases and new foes.

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Case Seven, Chapter Two: Faint Trail

Deco Line lived in a small condo on Jetsam Street, near the border of the Dockside and Industrial Districts, to the south of Ponyville. The house was immediately recognizable from all of its other neighbors: the walls were painted in a loud purple color, complemented with splotches of yellow and green coloring spattered across the boards and accenting the windows.

“How do you think he got that job as a curator when he’s colorblind?” Daring commented as they descended to the street below.

“Maybe his coltfriend decorated it,” Phillip suggested, allowing Daring to drop him off in front of the curb. The two of them crunched through the snow-covered walkway and Phillip knocked at the door.

The door unlatched and Rough Sketch opened the door, eyeing them warily. His slightly glassy eyes were faintly red, the bags underneath indicating that he had suffered through a long, sleepless night. The ring around his horn, a simple golden band, was covered in streaks, as though he had repeatedly taken it off and turned it over and over in his hooves. “Yes?” he asked in a slightly scratchy voice.

“Rough Sketch, I’m Detective Finder, and my partner, Detective Do. We’re with the police,” Phillip introduced themselves. “May we come in?”

“Oh! Uh, yes. Yes, of course,” Rough Sketch nodded, stepping aside to allow them entry. They proceeded into the sitting room of the condo, which featured a set of purple and green sofas with overstuffed cushions. Charcoal and pencil sketches of nature scenes, street corners, and portraits were hung up on the walls; an easel stood next to the bay windows with a sheet of thick paper and a collection of pencils and erasers already set on it, ready to capture any scene outside.

“Um, coffee?” Rough Sketch offered, bustling into the attached kitchen.

“No, thanks,” Phillip said, sitting down.

“Black with three sugars, please,” Daring answered, sitting down as well.

Phillip flipped his notebook open. “Where were you last night?”

“Here all night, waiting for Deco to come home,” Rough Sketch replied, pouring both himself and Daring a cup from a steaming carafe. “When he hadn’t arrived come morning, I called the police.”

“He’s never been late before?” Phillip asked.

“Never,” Rough Sketch shook his head. “Maybe if I’d called sooner…”

“This is not your fault,” Phillip reassured him. “We learned that Deco was working on the new exhibit at the gallery.”

“Yes, the works of Artiste Fou,” Rough Sketch said, nodding. “Deco was obsessed with the paintings; could barely get him to talk about anything else. A couple days ago, he said he’d found something big. He wouldn’t say what: all he’d tell me was ‘the legends are true.’”

Phillip and Daring exchanged glances. “What legends?” Daring asked, blowing at her cup.

Sketch shrugged. “I dunno. Artists that have been dead for a hundred years aren’t that interesting to me. But like I said, he was obsessed with it.”

“What do you know about Scarlet Letter?” Daring asked, spitting the name out with barely-hidden venom in her voice.

“I know that she’s a pretty famous author, and she’s donated a lot of money to charities and stuff,” Sketch said, shrugging again. “I also know that she donated the paintings to the gallery. I’ve never met her, but Deco has.”

Daring looked like she wanted to say more, but gulped down some more coffee instead, scowling at the cup as though it had offended her.

“Does he have an office or a workroom here?” Phillip asked.

“Yes, it’s this way,” Sketch said, standing. He led them down a short hallway and opened up a doorway. Inside was a small room with a single window. A maple desk had been stuffed into the room, overflowing with papers, pencils, a mounted magnifying glass, paintbrushes, and books.

“Start in here,” Phillip instructed Daring, already stooping to check the drawers in the desk. “We’ll see if we can find anything useful.”

Daring took the opposite drawer and pulled it open. This drawer contained nothing but stencils and other drawing equipment, and she quickly moved on to the next one. This one just had slightly crumpled sketches inside. But in the third drawer, she found a small plastic bag with what looked like paint flakes inside it. Written on the bag in permanent marker was “Treachery of Images!!!” A set of jeweler’s glasses was in the drawer next to it.

The title of the book in Deco’s cubicle flashed into Daring’s mind. She plucked the bag out and showed it to Phillip. “Maybe this is what he was so excited about.”

Phillip nodded. “Treachery of Images is one of Fou’s paintings. Good thinking.” He pocketed the bag. They concluded their search without finding anything else of note.

“Does Deco usually take the trolley from the gallery?” Phillip asked.

“Yes, he gets off at the end of the road,” Sketch nodded, pointing towards the north.

“One other thing,” Phillip said. “He has a limp on his right foreleg, right?”

Sketch blinked in surprise. “Yes, he broke his foreleg taking a tumble down the stairs last moon and had to have surgery to put in a metal rod. How did you know?”

“Thank you,” Phillip nodded. “If you think of anything else, give us a call.” He pulled a business card out of his vest pocket and handed it to Sketch. Sketch grasped Phillip’s hoof as he took the card.

“Please find him,” Rough whispered, his eyes carrying the desperation of a pony lost in the woods at night. “He just proposed to me two weeks ago. He’s...he’s my world, detective.”

Phillip squeezed Rough’s hoof back, the smaller limb cold and trembling in his grip. “We will,” he promised and slowly let go.

“We’ll be back,” Daring reassured him as they exited. “Thanks for the coffee.” With a final nod, the two of them departed into the snow.

“What now?” Daring asked as they walked back to the sidewalk.

“We look for clues,” Phillip said, walking onto the street and turning to head northward, scanning the sidewalk next to him. “Good. There was a freeze last night and not much snowfall since. At least some tracks will be left behind.”

Taking flight a couple feet over the ground, Daring scanned the sidewalk, which was a mess of hoofprints and tracks, overlapping one another. “You serious?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Too right,” Phillip commented. “There’s not enough tracks that I can’t distinguish between each.” He looked up and down the street. “No surveillance crystals.” He grunted, then continued to walk north up the road.

“Okay, Daring,” he said. “We know that Deco got on the trolley south to home. That trolley stops at the end of this road. What does that tell us?”

Daring looked around. The snow-covered street was quiet, the houses on either side of them in various states of repair; a few small businesses, cafes and mom and pop stores, stood amongst the suburban homes. The midmorning street was quiet; every front door was locked and most of the lights were out. A middle-aged griffon, her feathers faded with age, sat on the porch of her home, watching two young chicks having a snowball fight in the front yard; across the street, a young stallion shoveled snow off his walkway. Both of them eyed the newcomers warily.

“It means that he was likely abducted while walking home,” Daring said.

“Good,” Phillip nodded. “Keep going.”

Daring thought some more. “Which means that whoever kidnapped him must’ve studied him, known that he’d be coming this way and at what time. And this is a small neighborhood; an outsider would be noticed, so he’s somepony who blends in easily, who looks like they belong there.”

“Maybe a mailpony or construction worker or something similar,” Phillip nodded, not looking up from the sidewalk. “Very good.”

The end of the street was about a half mile north. A trolley stop sign stood on the corner, still and silent. Lines of hoof and pawprints, overlapping one another in a frozen mess, marred the snow before them. Phillip bent down and studied the tracks in silence for several minutes.

“There it is,” he finally declared and pointed to a set of hoofprints, barely distinguishable from all of the other indistinct tracks atop it. His hoof slowly followed the trail back down the sidewalk. “Tracks for the right foreleg much shallower than left, right hoof twisted to the outside a bit,” Phillip muttered. “That’s him.”

“How’d you know he had a limp?” Daring asked, staring at the barely distinguishable trail.

“Photograph in his cubicle,” Phillip said, continuing to follow the trail. “The rings were both fresh, so he recently proposed. Probably that day. Surgical scars on Deco’s foreleg from getting the rod in and the foreleg was twisted a little. That, and the bottle of painkillers in his desk drawer. Reasonable to assume that he had a limp.”

“Didn’t see that,” Daring muttered.

“You’ll learn,” Phillip said, his voice curt but kind. “‘Til then, that’s what I’m here for.”

“Right,” Daring commented. “And I’m here to fuck up shit.”

“Which you do spectacularly,” Phillip grinned. “Wait here.” He paused next to the sidewalk, studying the tracks. Daring observed that here, the trail of hoofprints, which had before been in a straight line, began to weave back and forth in a drunken manner. A few feet onwards, there was a large depression in the snow, vaguely shaped like a pony.

“Something happened to him here,” Phillip said, his eyes panning back and forth over the snow.

An odd dark shape in the blanket of white attracted Daring’s gaze. She bent low and gently brushed away some snow to reveal an inch-long black thorn with small dark blue feathers attached to the end, its pointed tip discolored red.

“Careful with that,” Phillip warned, pulling a set of tweezers out of his vest. He plucked the dart off the ground and deposited it into a plastic bag that he extracted from his vest.

“Relax, I was only gonna test it on you,” Daring commented. “Just a little scratch.”

Phillip shot her an unamused glance before turning his attention back to the sidewalk. Lines scored into the snow led away from the patch of snow down an alleyway, where the snow turned into a gray slush. Phillip stopped at the mouth of the alleyway, bending down low. His eyes swept over the scene, taking in everything, and he proceeded inside, choosing every step with care.

“The abductor lay down here; his body heat melted the snow,” he said, pointing at a large patch of partially melted slush. “Tracks here.” He pulled out a small tape measure from his pocket and measured the distance between the slushy hoofprints. “Can’t get a good measure on his gait with the slush, but I’d guess...at least three and a half feet. After Deco went down, he dragged him into the alleyway…” His hoof followed the drag marks down the alleyway to a side door in the building to the south. The door was a solid gray construction, the handle and keyhole both tinged with rust. The building itself was a two-story brick building; the first floor was occupied by a small jewelry store while the top floors appeared to be apartments.

Phillip studied the door with the aid of his magnifying glass. “No sign of tampering,” he mused, examining the lock.

“That’s a good lock,” Daring commented, peering at the brand name. “Pickproof charm, and attached to a burglar alarm on the inside; you tamper with the charm or try to force the lock, the alarm goes off. I’d have trouble getting past this.”

“How would you get past this?” Phillip asked.

“I’d either get a key—an original key with the enchantments on it—or I’d get someone on the inside to open the door for me,” Daring replied. Phillip let out a contemplative grunt, studying the door.

“Take a butcher’s here,” he said, pointing. A small scrap of white, wispy fabric clung to the doorjamb two feet off the ground. Phillip extracted his tweezers and a fresh bag from his vest and plucked the cloth from its perch, tucking it into a bag.

“We’ll have to search this building,” Phillip commented. “Question everypony who lives or works here.”

The sound of tires splashing through the snow caused them to look up. A police cruiser was pulling up to the front of the building, with a police motorcycle bearing a familiar pegasus right behind. The vehicles halted and Prowl, Bumblebee, and Flash Sentry all disembarked.

“Hi!” Bumblebee chirped as they approached. “Detectives Herring and Evidence said they thought you could use some help.”

“We could,” Phillip nodded. “Everypony who lives or works in this building needs to be questioned.”

“All of them?” Flash asked, his eyes widening slightly as he looked up and down the edifice.

“All of them,” Phillip nodded, already proceeding towards the wooden door. He opened it up, a bell jingling over his head to announce his entry.

The jewelry store was a modest establishment, with only five glass cases to display the shop’s wares and a low counter towards the back of the room. A grey-haired burro stood behind the counter, helping the sole customer, a young female griffon, with a purchase of a pair of earrings. Two young stallions were in the back of the store, sweeping the floors. The griffon looked up and her eyes locked on Phillip and Daring. With a soft gasp, she hurriedly finished up her purchase and hastily exited the store.

“Can I help you?” the burro asked, eyeing the group nervously.

“Detectives Finder and—” Phillip started to say.

“I know who you are,” the burro interrupted. “You two have been pretty famous since you took down Silvertongue. You have this neighborhood’s thanks for that, by the way.”

“She’s got a funny way of showing it,” Daring muttered, jerking her head at the door.

The burro gave her a look over his eyeglasses. “You’ve also got a reputation,” he added. “And not a good one. So, how can I help you?”

“What’s your name, sir?” Phillip asked.

“Douglas Fancy,” the burro nodded. “I’ve owned and run this store for the past thirty years.”

“We need a list of your employees,” Phillip said. “Daring, you take Prowl and Bee and check the apartments.”

“Got it,” Daring nodded, walking over to a doorway to the side and opening it to reveal a set of stairs. She proceeded up these with Prowl and Bumblebee behind her.

“May I ask what this is about?” Fancy said, writing down a list of names on a pad of paper.

“We believe that somepony who lives or works here might have been involved in an abduction,” Phillip explained, giving the two young stallions in the back a glance; neither of them moved, still clinging slackly to their brooms. “Do you know Deco Line?”

“He lives in this neighborhood,” Douglas shrugged. “I don’t know him personally.”

“Where were you last night around nine PM?” Phillip asked.

“At home with my wife and son,” Fancy said. “If you wish to interview them, I know they’ll tell you the same.”

Phillip took the short list and looked it over with a grunt. “Flash, interview these mates here,” he said, nodding to the stallions in the back. “Do you mind if I look around?”

“I have nothing to hide,” Fancy shrugged.

Phillip proceeded to a back door, glancing over his shoulder as Flash pulled one of the two stallions aside to begin interviewing him. He opened the back door and found himself in a small storeroom. Boxes of jewelry were stacked up to his shoulders, with shelves of paint and cleaning supplies shoved into the back.

He scanned the room carefully before entering it: ceiling to eye level, eye level to knees, then knees to floor. Then he proceeded inside, moving slowly and deliberately, searching for anything that didn’t belong. The floor needed a good sweeping, his every step was marked by a faint trail of hoofprints in the thin layer of dust.

Apparently, those two blokes up front aren’t earning their pay, he thought to himself as he walked past a small stack of boxes that appeared to contain jewelry. He suddenly paused, his eyes snapping to a small discoloration on the ground. A small line of bright red dust stood out against the floor. A very familiar bright red slightly grainy dust that he quickly discovered smelt of flowers.

“Poppydust,” he whispered, bending down and looking around. Some of the dust clung to the stack of boxes next to him and he began to sort through them. One of the boxes near the top of the stack was slightly frayed, as though it had been opened and shut several times before. He opened it up to find a collection of bracelets on a foam layer. A faint scent of flowers clung to the box. He pulled the foam layer out.

Beneath lay several small clear plastic packets, each only about the size of a tea bag. All of them were stuffed full with red poppydust. Scowling, Phillip took the box back to the front room. Flash was standing near the door, speaking to Fancy while the other two stallions stood to the side.

“Flash, keep them all here,” Phillip said, sliding him the box with the poppydust. Flash’s eyes widened when he saw the contents, then he quickly moved to block the door as he half-drew his sidearm.

“What?” Fancy cried, staring at the drugs in shock. “How...how did those…?”

“Save it for the precinct,” Phillip advised him, rushing upstairs to get the others.

Author's Note:

Things might be going slowly at the moment, but that's the price of detective work at times. But is this a good trail or a red herring?

"What?"

No, not you.

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