• Published 10th Sep 2012
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Red Right Hoof - Japko

Cutie Mark Crusader Crime Investigators, yay!

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Chapter Five: The Monster

Red Right Hoof

By Japko

Chapter Five: The Monster

The main office was as busy as always. Ponies scrambled together, barely avoiding collisions between each other in the endless rush of putting stacks of paper and binders from one place to another. The phones kept ringing like crazy, and barely anyone cared enough to pick them up. It wasn’t necessarily a sign of rush hours. That was how it looked every day, including Sundays. In this kind of work, there were no free days in the week, and agents had to be available most of the time. The world behind the curtain did not sleep, did not rest.

The pony hadn’t gone home for the night. He had to spend it in the office, lucky to have caught at least those three or four hours of sleep in the corner in his emergency sleeping bag. Now he was bringing himself back to life with a cup of hot coffee, trying not to realize that he was in the center of a buzzing hive. He leaned back in his armchair and laid his hooves on his desk, caressing a steaming cup of pitch-black beverage. Those were his morning fifteen minutes and no one could take them away from him.

“Agent.” A familiar, sandpaper-like voice brought him back to earth, and he almost sprayed coffee all over his desk and himself.

“Sir!” he almost yelled, nearly tripping over his own legs as he jumped off his chair.

“Easy, son,” The Boss barely held back a smile, as the pony tried to cool down his burned tongue. “I haven’t come down here in quite a while to see how you were doing. I suppose you will now try to tell me that usually you work yourself to the bone, and I just happened to have found you in this one moment when you are slacking off, huh?”

The pony tried to say something, but he changed his mind. He only clenched his teeth and tried not to look too guilty.

“Never mind,” The Boss said, quickly ending the awkward silence. “I’m here for a report on the situation. Do you have anything for me?”

“I…” the pony stuttered, “I’m sorry, sir, but I just woke up, and no one has given me anything yet. I promise I will notify you as soon as I hear about anything.”

“Hey, Jonquil, I’ve got some classified info for the big guy, and-” A young mare with a coat resembling dark chocolate entered the cubicle and froze mid-step. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, I will be back later, I’m sorry.”

“Wait,” The Boss said quickly as she started to back off. “I’m guessing it was me who you were referring to, so why don’t you hand it to me right now?”

The mare just gave a dossier to him and swiftly escaped.

The Boss ripped the CLASSIFIED seal off with a quick move and started reading. The contents consisted of only one sheet of paper. His face didn’t even twitch. Suddenly he threw it on the pony’s desk and smacked it with his hoof.

“Meet me at my office in an hour,” he barked and turned around. “Finish your coffee first. This will be a long day.”

“What do we do?” the pony asked before he could bite his tongue.

“It’s time to take some action,” replied The Boss, walking away.

The pony diffidently looked at the piece of paper on his desk. It contained some information that didn’t seem important, but the mark left by The Boss’ hoof underlined a single line typed in bolded font.

Connection found. Suspect 02 – Scootaloo, female, pegasus – parents: Dispel (father), Lilyscent (mother)

The pony cursed, not even trying to make it quiet. He knew what it meant.

* * *

I rarely showed it and I almost never said it, but I had always looked up to Scootaloo, and I probably always will.
It is a common thing to meet someone for the first time and be amazed by their personality, how differently they act compared to all the other ponies you know. They are like a random piece of chocolate in a batch of tasteless ice cream; everything is dull and boring until you stumble upon them and bite. Suddenly the world explodes into fountains of flavor. The sad thing is, the more you get to know them, you realize that under the coating they are just like every single one of us. They are still important to you, but the taste wears off and blends with the rest.

Scootaloo was the exact opposite. What originally attracted me to her was that she was just like me. We didn’t have our cutie marks. We were underachievers, fooling ourselves that our lack of discovered talent meant lots of potential and endless possibilities. But under the veil we were just lost fillies supporting and relying on each other in a never-ending struggle. We were almost hopeless, and we would be totally hopeless without each other.

But the more I looked at her, the more I tasted her personality, the more intriguing she became to me. The deeper I dug, the more I found. The most inspiring thing about her was how, well, free she was, so to speak. She was the master of her own destiny, and the impression was so strong that I often wondered whether her lack of an image on her flank was actually a cutie mark in being utterly flexible, and therefore showing nothing. A cutie mark superposition.

As I have already mentioned, Scootaloo had never had parents. She spent her youngest years in some orphanage, and she never cared enough to look up which one or even in which town. Obviously it wasn’t Ponyville, because there had never been an orphanage here. She didn’t care. When she was big enough to go to school, for some reason they just moved her to Ponyville, to a tiny dorm where only a few foals lived. She hadn’t had anyone to take care of her other than two elderly mares that ran the dorm. She wasn’t loved by anyone, she wasn’t raised by anyone. The social service only took care of her enough so she was able to stay alive, and that was it.

And yet, she still had all the strength in her, all the smiles and cheerfulness she not only showed, but infected everyone around with. It was all so genuine and beautiful. How could she do that? How could someone that was never loved as a child have grown into someone like her? Or maybe that was the reason? Maybe having nothing was the price of being free? I knew I could never leave my family. She was devoid of such problems. If she wanted, she was able to do anything, be anyone, with nopony to tie her down. Even us, Sweetie and myself. Even after all those years, not once did she get interested in who her parents were. She didn’t need them, and she had proven it.

Could I be happy in a situation like her? I, for the thousandth time, asked myself. What if I suddenly lost Applejack or Big Macintosh? It was tempting to fantasize about what-ifs, even dark scenarios, but that idea also scared me to death. Without them I wouldn’t be able to keep on living. They were a part of my world that would fall to pieces if even one of them disappeared. We were the tripod holding Sweet Apple Acres up. With even one of us gone, it would collapse to dust. For a brief moment, I wanted to run back and simply tell AJ how much I loved her and hug her until she, like always, would pretend to suffocate in my embrace. I wanted to see one of the smiles only she could share, taught by our Granny Smith’s rule, ‘Smile like there ain’t no tomorrow.’

But I couldn’t turn back again. We had to hurry, because there was no time to lose.

Soarin was in town. Could it be a coincidence or was it too much for it? If he was a conscious part of the scheme, why would he risk exposing himself by showing up in Ponyville just after his teammate had been murdered? But if not, what would he be doing here? I haven’t heard of any Wonderbolts visiting our town, other than that one time when one of them visited to coordinate the water feeding procedure for Cloudsdale. Come to think of it, that could have been Spitfire.

“Are you sure… it was him?” I panted, trying not to stay behind.

“Yes, I recognized him.”

“You couldn’t… recognize… Spitfire!”

“Well, you’ve seen her face, right?” She grimaced. “Besides, I had never seen her without her uniform. And guess what, Soarin isn’t here incognito. He is wearing the Wonderbolt uniform.”

“I have no idea whether I should consider it more or less suspicious that way anymore,” I replied. “Should we tell Sweetie?”

“No time for it, I’m afraid. I’m not sure if dropping by for you was the best idea either. We could lose him.”

“Do you at least know where he went?”

“You’ll never guess.” She waited a few seconds for me to try and guess, but I had no idea. “He went to Diamond Tiara’s house.”

I stopped. “Are you sure? Why would he go there?”

“I have an idea, but come on, there is no time to lose. I’ll explain when we’re there.”

Diamond Tiara’s house wasn’t hard to find. It was situated near Ponyville’s center, and it was huge, well, at least relatively, considering the rest of the architecture around. If there was a building in our town that could be called a villa, that would be it. I always hated it. In the middle of the rustic buildings Ponyville consisted of, it grew between them like a tumor, screaming, ‘look at me!’ pompous and kitschy. Or maybe I got such an impression because of who lived there. It’s funny how we can perceive things differently depending on our relationships with ponies connected to them.

Diamond Tiara was, along with her sidekick, Silver Spoon, the worst pony I’ve ever met. She was the only child in a rich family, and she adored showing it on every single step. She basically looked down on everyone she met and believed that the world revolved around her. She was always a bitch, but she became absolutely obnoxious when she got her cutie mark. She was one of the last foals in our school to get it, but once the image showed up on her flank, she started to ridicule me, and later Scoot and Sweetie as well, because we didn’t have ours. Like we wanted to have a cutie mark like that. What did it even mean – a tiara? It sure matched her name, but it also said that the only thing she was good at was being a spoiled brat.

Luckily, she moved out as soon as she had finished school. She went to a private university in Canterlot, created specifically for spoiled kids from rich families like herself. I wondered if a change of environment could help her become less of a jerk, but I didn’t count on that.

“Do you think he’s still here?” I asked, trying to spot any movement inside the house, but its front faced east and it was impossible to see anything with the morning sun reflecting in the windows.

“What I am sure of is that he entered this house, cause I wouldn’t have mistaken it with any other. I suppose he could have left when I went for you, though I don’t think he would have visited for less than twenty minutes.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Despite having had a long run, I had still just been dragged out of bed, and I still had problems thinking straight. I had no idea what action we could take to work anything out of this situation, so I decided to rely on Scootaloo.

“I don’t know. The most important thing is to get as close as possible without raising suspicion and hope that we’ll see or hear something useful.” She bit her lip.

With our options rather limited, we had no better plan than to just split up and “accidentally” bump into each other by the mansion’s front window and hope for it to be the right one so we could do some eavesdropping. If we missed, we had no backup plan. It was Ponyville, a small town, and everypony knew each other. We couldn’t pretend to be plumbers or anything like that.

One of the things that I absolutely couldn’t handle were forced casual chats, and Scoot neither, apparently. We had never had problems with just talking before, but now we both realized that we were devoid of any topics whatsoever when the situation needed that. Suddenly, when I had to come up with something to cover up the fact that I wanted to spy on someone, I found my head totally, absolutely empty.

So we met at the right spot, greeted each other cheerfully and… that was it. For a few extremely long seconds, all we were able to do was to sheepishly stare at each other in awkward silence and hope that the other one would come up with something quick.

The rescue came from someone that we would have never expected to ever help us in any way. Well, the word ‘help’ probably wouldn’t be the best thing to call it either.

“Well, well, well.” We both knew that high-pitched, mocking voice too well. It always meant trouble. “Look what the cat dragged in.”

I flinched inadvertently upon hearing the voice. The times when I was scared of school bullies were long gone, but the old habits died hard, as they say.

Diamond Tiara, our arch-nemesis from school times, slowly approached us. She wore huge sunglasses in thick frames with the letters UoC engraved in the middle. All she carried was a pair of light saddlebags, but behind her I could barely see a colt, about our age, bending under the weight of countless heavy bags and suitcases. It seemed that not only Sweetie Belle managed to have finished her exams this summer earlier than expected.

“What a lovely view to see in the morning. Two blank-flanked beggars at my house’s doorstep. If you want some bits, just say it. I can spare a few if you dance for me.”

Scootaloo instinctively ruffled up her wings. “Go to hell you stupid who- ow! What was that for?”

I kicked my friend in her shin, maybe even a bit too hard. But I needed her to shut up before she said something we would both regret later. A sudden idea sparked in my brain, and for that moment it looked too promising for me to let it slip away.

“Come on, Diamond Tiara. Do we really need to keep on going like this?” I put on a tired, bored tone. “Don’t you think we are too old for that?”

I could not see her eyes behind those huge shades, but I would bet my rump that she furrowed her brow. It was the first time I had talked to her in quite some time, and it was the first time that I did it without the impression of being inferior, without fear or awkwardness. It must have completely baffled her little brain.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” she replied, trying to maintain her haughty posture, but a little note of confusion could be heard in her voice. “How else would I talk to a blank flank like you?”

“I just thought that, you know, we were all adults here,” I said with my voice perfectly calm. “Adults tend to at least pretend to tolerate and respect each other all the time. Can’t we try and do the same? Maybe…” I hung my voice. That was risky. “Maybe you don’t consider yourself grown up enough to do it, huh?”

I stepped on thin ice, and I was fully aware of that. She wasn’t the most clever pony I knew, but even she was capable of seeing through such obvious provocation. Either way, I had to do it, and I hoped her impenetrable wall of thoughtless disdain would be helpful for once.

She grinned sarcastically in response. “Only when they have a hidden agenda in such behavior. And what do the two of you have that I would ever consider valuable?”

“Indeed,” I sighed and looked down at my hooves. “The thing is… I don’t even know how to say it. We actually came here hoping to see you. We would like you to give us some advice.”

“Wh- oh! Yes, that.” Scootaloo almost blew it, but she realized in time that I had a reason to say such heresy. She wasn’t an idiot. Diamond Tiara was, and her stupidity was my hope.

“Advice, she says,” she mused slowly. As predicted, her pride and self-admiration were even stronger than her contempt towards us. After all, what’s more flattering than being asked for advice? Oh Diamond Tiara, if only I had known before how easy it was to manipulate hot air balloons like you.

“And what would you want to know?” She smiled condescendingly.

“Well, what do you think?” I replied slowly, carefully picking words. “Look at our blank flanks. We have to make a few good life choices, or else we are doomed. We really need someone to show us the right way.”

“I knew it,” she chuckled. Jackpot. Now there was just one more thing.

Diamond Tiara sighed theatrically with excessive imperiousness. “If it’s that important to you, I can’t say no. Even you aren’t worth being left without helpful advice. I’ll let you into my house, because it’s not something to be discussed outside. But remember to behave, because it is not a barn.”

She turned around and whistled at the colt carrying her luggage.

As they were looking away, I looked at Scootaloo and winked. She winked back.

We were in.

Diamond Tiara took my words about pretended respect more seriously than I had expected her to, maybe even treated them as a challenge. She was briefly greeted by her father, who emerged from a corridor for only a short while, not even seeing us there. Then she went looking for the housekeeper, who, as it turned out, had a free day on Saturday. She showed us the way to the living room, mumbled something about hot beverages and left, looking for the kitchen. I figured she wasn’t an expert in doing anything by herself, and even brewing a pot of tea could turn out to be a problematic issue here. Her awkwardness was my advantage; there was hope she would be gone for a while longer than she would normally be.

Still, I did not want to waste any time.

“Cover for me,” I told Scootaloo and went into the direction I had seen Mr. Filthy Rich disappearing into.
I seemed to be having a lucky day. His office turned out to be the second room I checked, and the door wasn’t even closed properly. I could clearly hear two voices talking with freedom like they were gossiping over a cup of tea. But the topic didn’t seem to be casual at all.

“You do realize what happens if we ever get caught with this, right?” said one voice.

“We have discussed this already a few times,” replied the other voice. I knew this one belonged to Filthy Rich. I knew no one else who spoke in such a manner. His voice was always calm and still, but at the same time, it was strong and domineering. Unlike his daughter’s, his wasn’t soaking with sarcasm and venomous condescendence. This stallion had no insecurities that needed to be hidden under a despiteful mask. He was aware of his value and the power of his personality. He also made sure that everyone else was aware too. The voice that would not tolerate the word ‘no’. “You clearly said that you were into the deal, therefore it must be assumed that you agreed to all the terms, which, might I remind you, were explained to you more than once. There is no turning back now, Mister Soarin.”

A loud smack of a hoof could be heard. “I know, damn it! Did I say anything about backing off? I know the plan well enough, thank you very much. And let me remind you that it was my idea. I want to make sure you know that one false step, one bad decision, may cost us very much. And no contacts, neither yours nor mine, would help us.”

“So far we don’t have to worry about any loose ends. Everything is going according to plan. And if we are diligent and careful, everything will go smoothly. I have everything under control.”

A long silence had fallen, and I was getting ready to back off quickly if I heard any hoofsteps approaching the door.

“What about Spitfire then?” Filthy Rich asked eventually. My heart skipped a bit.

“I…” Soaring hung his voice for a while. “I have taken care of her. It is done.”

I felt a shiver going down my spine. Maybe it was just my imagination, but the way he said that terrified me. Maybe it was just the knowledge that he referred to murder, but those words felt ice-cold, and they tore into my brain, echoing between my temples like a black magic spell.

“Good,” Filthy Rich replied emotionlessly. “If she interfered, we could be in trouble. No loose ends.”

“Where is Applebloom?” I almost jumped. I totally forgot about Diamond Tiara. Fighting down panic, I carefully stepped away from the door.

“She, uh…” Scootaloo hesitated. “She went there, looking for a bathroom.”

“But there is no bathroom in that corridor.”

“Yeah, I noticed.” I put every last bit of my inner strength into my voice to make it sound casual, and I forced myself to smile. “Darn, Diamond Tiara, the last time I was here, you know those few years ago, on your cute-ceañera, this house didn’t feel as huge.”

* * *

As I predicted, spying on Filthy Rich and Soarin was the easier part. Surviving Diamond Tiara’s lecture was way more difficult. At first she tried to stick to the niceness code and kept her manners, but it seemed they got quickly washed away by the tea she brewed for us, which, by the way, was awful. With every passing word she controlled herself less and less, and eventually she gave up completely and got back to her normal, obnoxious state. But no matter how terrible she was, it was already worth it. I couldn’t wait to leave this place and share the news with Scootaloo, but I couldn’t take the risk of just going out. We had to keep our cover.

I had never seen Diamond Tiara so happy before. It was the scene of her dreams. She could offend us as much as she pleased, and all we did was nod and pretend we listened carefully, even learned from her wisdom. Aside from comments about our uselessness, she babbled a lot about herself, sometimes getting into digressions about how college life was ‘smashing’ and how it was too bad that we would never be able to find out about its wonders.

I was on the verge of drifting away into my own world completely, when I heard hoofsteps. Somewhere in the corridor a door opened, and a while later I saw Diamond Tiara’s father accompanied by a blue-coated pony in a Wonderbolt sport uniform; that had to be Soarin. As they walked by the living room, Filthy Rich’s eyes rested on me for a short while. There was something strange in the way he looked at me, and when he saw Scootaloo, I could swear he slowed a tiny bit and slightly furrowed his brow. It lasted only a split second, and he instantly looked away like he hadn’t seen anything interesting. Once again I felt uneasy. Did he somehow know I had been spying on him? Was it some kind of a clever trap we walked into, like little foals? Was there a chance that he knew we had taken Spitfire’s body away?

“That was the worst thing that happened to me in my entire life!” Scootaloo yelled at me when we finally managed to free ourselves from Diamond Tiara’s hooves and were in a safe distance from her invasive aura. “You are so going to pay for my therapy, Applebloom. This horror left permanent scars on my psyche.”

“Not only on yours,” I replied, looking around. My paranoia switched on again.

“Was it at least worth it in the tiniest bit?”

“You have no idea,” I murmured, not sure if to her or to myself. “Now shut up and follow me. I need something I could actually call tea. That thing Tiara made for us was disgusting. I am sure it was expensive and fancy. No one buys something that awful unless it costs ridiculous amounts of money.”

I had my favorite café near the town square, just by the town hall. It wasn’t big, but it usually had a few tables outside, where I often sat by myself, relaxing, watching ponies and their daily lives. And it was a much better place to talk than Sugarcube Corner, where every wall, table and chair had ears, Pinkie’s ears.

Scootaloo listened to my news with her mouth wide open.

“Wow…” she commented eventually. “That is huge, Applebloom. That’s amazing! I can’t believe it. You’ve managed to find out our culprit. Are you sure he said that?”

“Absolutely sure.” I nodded. “And there was this weird way he said those words. So cold, emotionless. I don’t think it’s the first time he killed somepony. He scared me, Scoot.”

None of us spoke for a while. We all watched leaves of green tea slowly, one by one, falling down to the bottom of a glass pot.

“Well, and that’s all,” I picked up. “I couldn’t eavesdrop more, because Diamond Tiara got back and I had to go. So now we know who, but we don’t know why.”

“This reminds me.” Scootaloo leaned towards me over the table. “When we ran, I told you that I had an idea about a possible connection, something that might explain why those two stallions met. It may be far-fetched, but it’s better than nothing.

“Since you have almost nothing to do with the Weather Patrol, you probably don’t know it, but for since I work there, it’s common knowledge for me. That guy you just spied on, Filthy Rich, is one of the most important ponies when it comes to the Weather Team in this region. You see, this whole company is a state business. It’s funded from public budget. However, since it grew constantly, covering more and more of Equestria, Princess Celestia decreed more freedom for private investments into the company. And Filthy Rich is a participator, who owns over twenty percent of our shares, making him the most influential person in the business for this area. He is the guy my bosses answer to.

“And that’s the supposed link. It’s not much, like I said, but who knows. From what you said a moment ago I can tell that this isn’t just murder. This murder was just a part of the bigger plan, cutting a loose end. And since Dash is kind of his employee, maybe there actually is a connection here.”

“Another piece falling in its place,” I mused, “but we still can’t see anything in the picture.”

“There you are!” an accusing voice from behind me brought me back to the ground. I turned around and saw Sweetie Belle slowly shaking her head. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“Oh, hi, Hweetie,” said Scootaloo indistinctly, munching on a biscuit. “Sit down, we have news to tell you.”

“News? Don’t tell me you have been working on the case since morning. I thought I was the only one.”

“Oh. So you’ve found something helpful for us?” I asked.

“Yeah, kind of, but not really.” Sweetie pulled a chair and fell on it heavily. She looked very tired, like she hadn’t caught much sleep last night. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she actually hadn’t. That’s another thing she shared with her big sister. What’s the point in resting when there is a job to be done? I considered myself a pretty hard-working pony, but I was nothing compared to those two. As I wondered about Sweetie’s career at the university, I usually pictured her in my mind as one of the best students. I could easily imagine her pulling many all-nighters with books piled up and cups of coffee slowly growing cold, even if she was falling on her face. Sleep was for the weak, work was for the achievers.

“I almost didn’t sleep last night”- told you -“because of the endless streams of thoughts stirring inside my head. I wriggled in my bed for hours, but I couldn’t come up with anything that made sense. A triple espresso please,” she said to the waiter that was just passing by our table. “So as soon as I saw the sun rising, I took a chance and went to Twilight’s library, hoping that it might be already open. Or still open, because I know how she likes to stay up all night, reading. I was lucky. It turned out the first option was correct, and she was up very early.

“I went looking for something that could help us in the investigation,” she sighed, “but I couldn’t find anything interesting. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know where to begin. I found only useless scraps of information about the intelligence agencies and read a few things about The Wonderbolts. Their structure, their history, and their current leaders: Fiery Star, Cloudbreaker Junior and Freefaller, real names of respectively Spitfire, Soarin and Fleetfoot. Frankly, I didn’t know they used nicknames. I also hoped to find any records about Dash in recent newspapers, but there was nothing interesting. So I’m stuck.” She yawned and rubbed her eyes. “But you say you have some news. What’s up?”

Before I could even open my mouth, Scootaloo exploded in excitement and started to tell her our story. She did it so loud that I had to kick her under the table so she remembered herself. She embellished it in a few spots, because she wouldn’t be herself if she didn’t do that. She never told the facts exactly the way they were, and she always had to add something from herself. For every story Scoot heard there was an alternate version that she told later. Those often included dangerous monsters that made Everfree Forest beasts look like puppies, significant amounts of explosions and ponies running for their lives. Luckily even she knew that our situation was too serious for her to play with her excessive creativity.

Sweetie Belle’s sleepiness dissipated instantly. “Are you absolutely sure the conversation went like this?” she whispered, staring at us with a mixture of shock, disbelief and triumph.

“That’s what I asked her!” Scootaloo laughed and leaned back in her chair. “Anyway, we have our killer. Our job is technically done.”

“Done?!” Sweetie and I shouted in unison, both realizing that we managed to get the attention of all the café’s customers.

“What are you talking about?” I hissed to Scoot. “This is only the beginning. Only a few moments ago we both agreed that this looks like something much bigger.”

Suddenly, she snorted and burst into laughter. Sweetie and I stared at each other, confused, as she kept on laughing.

“Look at you two,” she said, chuckling. “Miss I-don’t-know-if-it’s-a-good-idea and Miss Are-you-out-of-your-mind. Look how dedicated you’ve both become. Of course I’m not a moron. I know we’re nowhere near the end yet, but seeing you two appalled by the idea of leaving the investigation was just priceless.”

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes. “And you still think this is a game. Anyway, if we may get back to the point, we can’t say we’ve got our killer. Not really. Not yet.”

“What do you mean?” Scootaloo leaned back towards us. “You heard what they had said there. Applebloom, you heard it with your own ears.”

“Until we have proof, he is nothing but a suspect,” Sweetie explained. “We can’t use the words that Applebloom heard by spying on them, because these are just words. Besides, what is the voice of three fillies against a powerful businesspony and a celebrity? If we went to the police now and accused them, we would get laughed at. We need solid proof. But at least we know where to look for it now.”

“Also,” I cut in, “if you analyze their words, you’ll notice that they do not admit to the murder. Having taken care of someone is a vague expression. The more I think about it, the more fishy it feels to me. Why did they leave the door open? Why did they use such indirect words? Did they expect to be eavesdropped? Maybe it’s a provocation?”

“No.” Sweetie Belle shook her head. “You are digging too deep now. There’s too many variables and it was blind luck that you managed to be there at that time. It’s definitely not a provocation. They have to be a bit paranoid too. It’s not easy to use direct words for murder, even if you’re sure no one is listening.”

We all pondered for a while.

“There’s also the suitcase issue,” I sighed.

“Not only the suitcase,” Sweetie replied. “Before we start looking for proof, we need to find a motive. Why did they do that? How was Spitfire interfering with their plan, and why was it so serious that they killed her?” She stood up. “Well, there’s no point in sitting around doing nothing. We need to do some research. Let’s go.”

Scootaloo winced. “Please don’t say-”

“To the library!”

* * *

As weird as it may sound to the ponies from big cities, our town square’s most active hours of the week occurred on Saturday mornings. We didn’t have your fancy-shmancy supermarkets where you can buy whatever you want whenever you want. Ponyville was a small town of small businesses, and we only had a few stores where you could buy necessities from Monday to Friday (except Quills and Sofas. No one knew what was up with that store). If you wanted to purchase less usual stuff, you had to wait for the Saturday morning and our weekly fair. Of course you could find a merchant or two basically every day, but during the fair hours you had everything in one place. It was the time when the square turned into a hive, buzzing with countless ponies yelling their offers and customers fighting over merchandise that they rarely needed anyway.

Scootaloo was lucky to have a pair of wings, so she didn’t have to squeeze through the crowd like us, but instead she could fly above our heads, not having to worry about being trodden to the ground by endless streams of ponies. For a moment I wanted to turn and check on AJ’s stand and see how the sales were doing this morning, but Sweetie kept pulling me towards library – which was perfectly across the square from the café – and I had to follow her.

“Oops, sorry!” I heard her voice and saw a few carrots rolling on the ground. She immediately stooped to pick them up and save them from being squashed by ponies who didn’t look under their hooves.

“Sweetie Belle?” said a deep male voice. It was the pony she bumped into.

“Huh?” She turned away from the carrots, and her eyes widened as she saw the stallion’s face. “Wait, what?”

“What are you doing here?” the pony asked, looking no less surprised than her. He was an earth pony in the age that was difficult to specify. He seemed middle-aged, but his voice sounded younger, and the red checkered vest he was wearing didn’t fit a middle-aged pony, or actually any pony that had any sense of good taste. Though the thing that might make him look older were the eyes, tired and with dark circles around them. They left the impression of somepony that was old, at least mentally.

“Well, this is my hometown,” Sweetie replied with a wide smile. Who was that pony, and why was she so happy to see him? “I should ask you what you are doing here.”

“Heey, what’s going on?” Scootaloo did the Scootaloo entry, which was, of course, heavy landing without any care about anyone that she could crash into. Luckily, the ponies inside her landing zone saw her in time and escaped before she could collide with them.

“Oh, by the way, these are my best friends that I told you so much about: Applebloom and Scootaloo.” Sweetie turned towards us. “Scoot, AB, this is Doctor Feint. My teacher, a criminal law specialist, and after hours, a huge cryptology enthusiast.”