• Published 30th Oct 2018
  • 1,181 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 Seven: The Painter

The scent of coffee pulled Phillip from sleep like the song of sirens calling to a distant sailor. As consciousness returned, he repressed the urge to retreat back into the cocoon of warmth that surrounded him and blearily opened his eyes. Two familiar-looking blurs stood in front of him, and the tantalizing odor seemed to be coming from them.

“Finally,” the red blur on the right said. “I was starting to think he was gonna sleep all day.”

Phillip blinked and managed to focus enough to recognize the blurs as Trace Evidence and Red Herring, and spotted the steaming paper cup being held in Trace’s magic. He sat up and snatched at it, only to miss, prompting stifled laughter from both stallions. He scowled and managed to grab the coffee cup on his next try, guzzling down the contents.

“What time is it?” he asked, shaking his head to clear out the last of the cobwebs. He grunted and clutched at his side, where bandages covered the mostly healed bullet wound.

“Almost eleven,” Trace answered. “We figured we should let you rest.”

It suddenly occurred to Phillip that he was the only occupant of the cot. “Where’s Daring?”

“She woke up hours ago,” Trace explained. “She decided to let you sleep in and helped us search and clear out the Poacher’s hideout.” A shudder ran down his spine. “Those trophies are gonna haunt my dreams for months.”

“Least the little fuck’s in a box now where he belongs,” Red grunted. “Oh, by the way: you might need these.” He held up a box. Inside was a familiar green vest and gray trilby.

Phillip grinned and climbed off the cot. “Thanks, mates,” he said, donning his gear. The weight and jingling of the vest’s pockets told him that all of his gear was present and accounted for.

“Now that you’re awake, we do have one last thing to do,” Trace explained as Phillip strapped on the shoulder holster. “We’ve been looking into leads on finding out who made the fake painting. One thing we tried was checking the frame.”

“Suunkii took a look at it and figured out that it was actually just a regular frame from a shop, but it had been dunked in a potion to make it look older,” Red said. “We managed to track down a list of recent purchases and cross-referenced it with a list of museum employees. We think we’ve got a likely suspect.” He pulled out a folder and handed it to Phillip. Inside the folder was a small sheaf of papers—a rap sheet—with a mug shot of a dark purple unicorn stallion with mussy red and brown hair, staring surlily at the camera. A close-up of his flank showed a cutie mark of a paintbrush across a wheel of vibrant colors.

“Color Wheel,” Red Herring stated. “Independent artist, recently did a three-year stretch for counterfeiting and forgery. He’s been working at the Gallery as a custodian for a few moons now; we’ve been told he’s been hanging around Deco Line’s cubicle and the new exhibit a lot.”

“Just need to wait on Suunkii and we can check out his apartment,” Trace said.

As if on cue, Doctor Suunkii walked in carrying a clear flask with a slightly bubbling green liquid inside. “Phillip,” he breathed as soon as he saw Phil. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” Phillip nodded. “Thanks, Suun.”

Suunkii swallowed, his eyes shining briefly, then nodded. “I am glad to hear that.” He turned to Trace and handed him the flask. “This potion contains the elements of the potion that was used to artificially age the frame. It will begin to glow and steam in the presence of those elements. It will confirm if your suspect is the perpetrator that you are looking for.”

“Thanks, doc,” Trace said, accepting the flask. “You coming, Phil?”

“Bloody right I am,” Phillip nodded.

“Right, he’s got an apartment in the Industrial District. Let’s go.”

Trace pulled his Commander to the curb and just barely managed to squeeze the car in between two other vans, allowing the trio of stallions to disembark from the vehicle. The sun was bright and warm, hanging in the clear blue sky, and the partially melted snow whispered beneath their hooves as they crossed the street and proceeded to their target. Red, Trace, and Phillip looked up at the five-story brick building before them, dripping icicles clinging to its windows.

“Wheel lives in 206,” Trace declared, heading towards the door. Finding the front door locked, he tried one of the buzzers set into the wall next to it. A small crystal over the rows of buttons began to glow, allowing the occupant of 101 to see the visitors.

Trace held his badge up to the crystal. “Police. Open up, please,” he said.

The crystal immediately switched off and the door unlocked with a sharp clack. Trace pushed the door open and the stallions proceeded inside, leaving wet hoofprints on the carpet as they headed upstairs. They reached the second landing and proceeded down the hallway to apartment 206.

Red rapped at the door. “Color Wheel! Police!” he barked. “We’ve got a warrant!”

There was no answer. A clicking caught Phillip’s attention; he turned to see an eye peeping out from behind the cracked-open door to 201 before disappearing. A figure with a blonde mane and tail wearing a long dark green trenchcoat and a dark gray derby clomped down the stairs and disappeared.

“Can’t say we didn’t warn him,” Red shrugged, stepping aside and drawing his service pistol. Trace lit up his horn and fired a concussive spell at the door, nearly blasting it off the hinges. Red and Trace proceeded inside, with Phillip following close behind.

The apartment was a small, single-bedroom ensemble. There was a small combination living and dining room with a wooden table, three chairs, and a sofa, a kitchen with a steaming kettle and a plate in the sink that carried the remnants of an egg salad breakfast, and a bedroom with a closet, a work table cluttered with art supplies, and an easel; there was no sign of Color Wheel, or anypony else.

Walking into the bedroom, Trace pulled the flask out of his pocket and held it near the work table. Instantly, the liquid inside began to glow faintly and started bubbling frantically, as if he had just placed it over an open flame.

“Well, that confirms our theory,” Trace commented, replacing the flask in his coat.

“But where the fuck did he go?” Red asked, scowling at the still steaming kettle on the stove as if it was deliberately hiding the truth from them. “He can’t have been gone long.”

Phillip walked over to a window, his eyes on the floor; atop the old brown throw rug was a dropped glass. Tea was spilled all over the floor. Phil looked out the window and easily spotted Trace’s Commander parked on the street outside.

“He saw us coming,” he mused. He began to circle around the apartment, scanning the walls, furniture, ceiling, and floor. He spotted an ashtray on the wooden table and leaned in to scrutinize the ashes, sniffing at them. “Emerald River brand. Chain smoker,” he muttered. He proceeded into the bathroom and quickly studied the bottles inside the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. “Blonde mane and tail dye,” he mused, studying the two bottles in the cabinet before setting them aside and moving on.

He then walked into the bedroom and started looking through the closet. Several coats, each a different color to form a miniature rainbow display, were hanging from the rack; a trilby, a flop hat, and a Ponyville Manticores baseball cap sat on the shelf above.

“Why does one pony need so many coats?” Red asked, staring at the display incredulously.

“Maybe they reflect his moods or something,” Trace commented.

Phillip’s focus was on the sole bare hangar in the closet. Pulling out his magnifying glass, he peered at the hangar, plucking at a lone fiber clinging to the wooden material. “Green,” he muttered, his eyes widening. He glanced at the shelf of hats, noticing a round space that was clear of any dust, then turned and sprinted out the door.

“Hey, wait! Where are you going?!” Trace shouted as he and Red chased after him.

“We missed him,” Phillip explained, hurrying down the stairs. “He saw us coming. Put on coat and hat. Hid on third-floor landing, walked out when we were busy.” He shouldered his way through the front door and reemerged back onto the sidewalk. There were only a few ponies trotting up and down the sidewalk, but there was no sign of any blonde-maned ponies in green trenchcoats and derby hats.

Spotting a donkey with a salt and pepper beard manning a hot dog and hot chocolate cart, Phillip raced over. “Did you see a blonde unicorn with a derby and a green trenchcoat come out of that door a couple minutes ago?” he asked.

The vendor thought for a moment. “I did,” he nodded. “He went down that way, and turned up Oak Leaf Street.”

“Thanks,” Phillip nodded and hurried down the street, rounding the corner. Oak Leaf Street was a wide paved road with apartments and stores packed onto both sides of the street. Clusters of pedestrians walked up and down, but none wore the requisite green.

“Trace, can you get a tracking spell?” Red asked.

“There are too many tracks, and it doesn’t work very well in snow: something about the magic being dispersed too much in the water,” Trace said. “It wouldn’t work.”

“I’ll check from the skies,” Red grunted, taking off.

“He could’ve gotten a cab or something,” Trace pointed out as Phillip walked forward, his head panning from side to side. “He could be miles away by now.”

“Or he could still be here,” Phillip said. “Now quiet. Need to focus.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath in, then released it slowly. He forgot the sounds of the street, the voices and clopping of dozens of hooves. He forgot the feel of the slush beneath his hooves, the cold air kissing the back of his neck and his ears. He forgot the smells of car exhaust and cheap vendor food, the taste of winter and asphalt.

He forgot everything save for the faint taste of smoke that itched at the back of his tongue, accompanied by an artificial scent that was meant to imitate the heavy, wet, green, woodsy odor of a forest in the rain. His natural earth pony senses and connection to the world around him, honed by years of focus and practice, guided him forward step by step, following the breath of an Emerald River brand smoker, until he reached the door of a small cafe. He pushed the door open and he and Trace stepped inside.

The cafe was a small establishment, with a few ponies sitting atop stools at the raised counter and others lingering in the small booths. The two detectives paused in the doorway and scanned the room; both their gazes quickly fell upon a unicorn in the back of the cafe, face hidden behind a menu, a green trenchcoat clinging to his form and blonde hair parted around his dark purple horn.

Phillip and Trace both stepped forward, hoofsteps echoing in the suddenly silent diner, and the pony looked up. Even with the thick blonde beard, the face of Color Wheel was instantly recognizable.

Color Wheel leaped up from his seat as though launched by a spring and raced for the back door. Trace and Phillip sprinted after him, Trace pushing the door open with his magic. They emerged in a t-shaped alleyway, pausing momentarily to get their bearings.

“That way!” Phillip shouted, pointing at a retreating figure to their right. They set off in pursuit, closing the gap with every step. Panting and huffing, Color Wheel used his magic to push a dumpster into his pursuers’ path. In a flowing movement, Phillip vaulted onto the top of the dumpster and leaped off, performing a front flip in midair and landing in a tuck and roll to pop back to his hooves and keep running; Trace slowed briefly to push the dumpster aside with a concussion spell before resuming the chase.

Color Wheel turned a sharp corner, stumbling as he did so, but a red limb extended itself from around the corner and clotheslined him. Color Wheel’s legs shot out from under him and he sprawled onto his back with a grunt, all of the wind exploding from his lungs. Red Herring calmly cuffed the unicorn as Trace and Phillip caught up.

“Nice work, Red,” Trace panted, hauling Color Wheel to his hooves.

“You’re lucky I saw you two chasing this guy,” Red said. “Your slow asses would’ve never caught up with him.”

Phillip trotted up to glare at Color Wheel, who flinched away. “Who hired you to make the fake painting?” he growled.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Color Wheel cried, his words spilling out of his throat.

A lie. He could hear the lie in every syllable, and it made the already boiling anger beneath his skin flare white hot. This pony was part of it, part of the conspiracy that had hired the Poacher. Complicit in the near-murder of Deco Line. Connected to what had almost been his own death. The bullet wound in his side flared in agony, causing him to grit his teeth, and Color Wheel quailed, flinching in terror. Phillip’s right hoof trembled, almost reaching up for the pocket that held his baton, and he focused on the most vulnerable parts of the criminal’s body: the knees, the throat, the floating ribs, break him, crush him, make him bleed, make him pay…

He turned away and closed his eyes, forcing himself to breathe deeply, in through his nostrils and out through his mouth. Slowly, the drumming beat of his heart against his ribs faded away and he turned back. “We’ll figure it out one way or another,” he stated, the anger still in his voice, but no longer with the same thunderous rumbling that covered every syllable. “Might as well make it easy on yourself and admit it.”

Color Wheel’s eyes darted about as Red and Trace dragged him out of the alley and onto the street, as if looking for a concealed threat or an escape route. “Okay,” he finally blurted out. “Okay, listen, maybe if we can make a deal—”

“We can talk deal after you tell us what you know,” Red grunted, not looking at his captive.

“All right, all right!” Color Wheel nodded rapidly. “I don’t know any of their names, but they contacted me: said they’d pay good coin if I could fake that painting with the ship. I painted it and helped them plan out getting into the museum, but I swear I didn’t have anything to do with—”

A sharp crack resounded through the city air and the back of Color Wheel’s head exploded outwards, sending blood and brain matter flying. Trace, Red, and Phillip all immediately ducked into the nearest cover behind parked cars and alley corners as ponies around them screamed and ran.

“Where are they?!” Red shouted, drawing his sidearm.

Phillip looked over at a rundown tenement building across the way, most of its windows broken or boarded up and the doors blocked by a chain and padlock. He spotted a flicker of movement and a glimmer of light reflecting off a scope in the third floor. “There, third floor!” he shouted, pointing.

Behind the broken window on the third floor, a scowling dark red unicorn mare folded up the bipod on her rifle, slung her weapon over her shoulder, and disappeared in a flash of orange light.

“You think they’re still there?!” Red shouted, peeping over the top of the car.

“Stay behind me, we’re gonna try and get in close,” Trace said. Taking a breath, he ignited his horn, creating a shield in front of himself and popped out from behind cover. Phillip drew his revolver and fell in step behind Trace, with Red bringing up the rear. They moved fast and low, their eyes on the building before them; civilians around them hid behind whatever cover was available.

No rounds were fired at them as they crossed the road. Trace blasted the locked door open with a concussive wave and they entered what had been a lobby, the floorboards having long rotted through and the only furniture remaining was a table with three legs and some mold-eaten chairs. They proceeded up a flight of stairs, every step creaking beneath their hooves, and reached the third floor. They swept through the floor, searching every room, but found nothing but dust bunnies and empty cider bottles.

“Damn,” Trace muttered, holstering his pistol. “We’d best get back down to the scene.”

They retreated back down the stairs and outside to where Color Wheel lay. A curious crowd had been drawn to the body and stood in a circle around it, staring in morbid fascination. Red quickly dispersed the crowd with his usual charm as approaching sirens sounded from afar.

Phillip crouched next to the thing that had once been a living pony. Color Wheel’s eyes were dim, staring at nothing, a red hole burrowed into his forehead. He sighed and shook his head. “You had no idea what you were getting into, did you?” he asked.

Phillip sat across from the modest desk in the center of the grand office. In front of him, Cold Case sat with her elbows on the desk, chin on her hooves, expression pensive. Behind her, the floor to ceiling windows, painted in frost and icicles, displayed the main square of Ponyville, dense droves of cars driving through the snow. The flags of Ponyville and Equestria hung limply from their flagpoles.

“Here’s what I figure,” Phillip stated. “Whoever was behind this wanted the original Artiste Fou painting. They commissioned Color Wheel to make a fake of it and help them plan the break-in. Once it was done being restored and ready to be put on display, they’d break in and replace it.

“But Deco Line saw the secret writing underneath the painting, and that threw their plans off. They had to get the fake in place early, and they had to keep Deco quiet. That’s where the Poacher came in.”

“And kidnapping you?” Cold Case asked.

“Once Deco escaped and told us everything, there was no point trying to kill him anymore,” Phillip stated. “I was a threat to be taken care of. Once the Poacher was done with me, he’d probably come after Daring.”

Cold nodded. “And now that Big Game and Color Wheel are dead, the only question left is, who hired them?”

“Most likely suspect is Scarlet Letter,” Phillip stated. “She’s the one that Deco wrote about the secret.”

Cold nodded. “We’ll bring her in for questioning. And we’ll speak to Deco Line again. In the meantime, I’ll have Trace and Red keep looking into the break-in. You and Daring need to go home and get some rest.”

“Right,” Phillip nodded. He started to stand up but grimaced and clutched his side. Cold Case stood up as well, concern flashing in her eyes.

“You should change your bandages when you get home,” she advised.

“I will. Thanks,” Phillip nodded. “AJ tells me you’ve been seeing her and Rara.”

Cold looked down for a moment, then made a very small nod. “Sober for two months now.”

“Aces,” Phillip smiled. “See you later.” He exited the office, proceeded down to the bottom floor via the elevator, and exited the precinct. Daring was waiting outside the front door, puffing on a cigarette. She turned and tossed the fag away.

“So?” she asked.

“They’ll bring Scarlet in for questioning,” Phillip stated. “For the moment, our work is done. They can handle it from here.”

“You sure?” Daring asked.

“I’m sure,” Phillip nodded. “‘Sides, the Apple Pie is waiting.”

A grin spread across Daring’s face. “You always know just what to say,” she purred. “Let’s skip the cab.”

Phillip’s eyes widened and he started to back away. “Wait! Wounded pony! You wouldn’t—”

With a swoop of wings, Daring snatched him up and rocketed up into the sky, leaving behind a fading scream of “Daaaarrrrrriiiiiiinnnnng!”

Author's Note:

We all know that no criminal likes loose ends. But do you recognize our shooter?

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