What does investigator Anon do with his free time? He gets roped in to playing 'detectives' with Applebloom.
This will be a collection of short stories I'll be writing between drafts of The Grey Arbiter, where Anon and Applebloom brush up on their detective skills. They take place before the events of the aforementioned story (I guess that makes them prequels?). I omitted most of the other tags that go with The Grey Arbiter (i.e. Dark, Human, Romance), as these will be purely lighthearted (and comedic, hopefully), where human Anon is not a plot device.
“Close, but no, you didn't get everything.” I said. She was close. Really close. I fought the urge to let my jaw drop.
Between Applebloom and I rested a plethora of items. Plastic bags containing the most inconsequential of items, photographs of objects you wouldn't spare two glances at, if you even spared one glance. Exactly the kind of things left at crime scenes.
“Aww.” she said. A solitary sigh accompanied her despondence. “What'd ah miss?”
We were playing the same game we always played whenever I happened to be at Sweet Apple Acres. Today, Applejack needed an extra pair of hoofs to hold some beams in place while she fixed up the barn; a request I was happy to oblige. I told myself I did it out of the goodness of my heart, but really, it was because I couldn't get enough of her cooking. After dinner, Applebloom pounced me, demanding we play at 'detectives'.
It was a game where I'd take a selection of things: stray hairs, crumbs of food and bits of mud among other things, and place them in a room, so as to resemble a crime scene. I'd then watch Applebloom as she walked the grid, giving her hints as she went along, letting her photograph the bits of planted physical evidence and bag them. When she was satisfied that she'd found everything of interest, we'd sit together in the lounge, and she'd try to reconstruct the make-believe scene.
This time, I'd upped the ante. I'd deliberately made our first few games easy. Obvious things like fat, muddy hoofprints. She solved those ones with ease, perfectly placing who had been there based on the physical evidence.
Now I'd made the clues a little more subtle, and it had defeated her, if only barely.
“Let me tell you what you got right, first.” I said. I spied the bag nearest to me, picking it up with my mouth. Inside were red hairs. “You placed Big Mac in the room, that was right.”
A faint smile shot across her face, but it disappeared quickly. “That one were easy though.”
“Don't beat yourself up. I made this one a little harder than the others.” I said, putting the bag down again. “You also placed Granny Smith there, that was right too.”
“The smell, right? Only she uses that shampoo.”
“Yep. I swabbed her hair while she was asleep and dabbed it all around the room.” I said. She snorted a laugh.
Only a little bit creepy.
Her chortling was so infectious that I was soon guffawing along with her. Applejack must have heard the ruckus and got curious.
“Playin' detectives again?” Applejack asked, leaning against the doorframe.
“Yeah!” Applebloom said. “Mean ol' Anon made this one real tough though.”
“It's no fun if you get it right every time.” I said. I turned to Applejack. “She's getting better though. If I'm not careful, soon it'll be her that ponies ask to solve their mysteries.”
“Now wouldn't that be somethin'.” Applejack said. We both looked at Applebloom, who was grinning from ear to ear. She might've burst if her ego got any more inflated.
“You hear? He went and combed Granny Smith's hair while she were sleepin'!” she said.
Applejack balked at the notion and tried stifling a snigger. “Now that's just weird. Worse than weird, it's downright creepy.”
“You won't like what's coming next then. Promise you won't hit me.” I said. Applejack raised a hoof to her forehead and rubbed her face.
“Can't do that Anon.” she said.
“I, er, I might've... swabbed you as well.” I said.
“What?!” she said. If she had been drinking, she probably would have done a spit-take.
“That's one of the things you missed, Applebloom. There was a second scent in the room. I applied AJ's sweat to one of the bedposts.” I said.
Applebloom didn't seem to care that she missed it. She was lying against the sofa, immobilised by a particularly hearty bout of laughter. Her eyes were red from rubbing away the tears. She was probably imagining me creeping up on Applejack in a sneak suit, cotton bud in mouth, dabbing at her armpits. Not far from the truth.
Someone will go one of two ways after being embarrassed like that. They'll either lash out in frustration, or run away, tail between legs. Applejack chose the former, if her hoof suddenly connecting with my ribs was a worthy way of determining. Laugher is a good painkiller though. Sure, I was probably going to be sore in the morning, but Applejack would have to live the rest of her life with the knowledge that I violated her. Even if it was in the most platonic way possible.
“Ugh. Just ugh. Do I gotta take out a restrainin' order on y'all now?” she said, shaking her hooves as though they were wet. “Ah feel like I need a shower or somethin' now. I'll get ya back fer this. Y'all can be sure a' that.”
“Do what you must.” I said, through a veil of jovial tears. “I've already won.”
I didn't notice Applejack leaving, but when Applebloom and I had finished laughing, she was notably absent. Big Mac'll find that hilarious, I thought.
“Aaagh... that hurts.” I said, rubbing where Applejack had kicked me. “Worth it though.”
“This's been the best one yet Anon!” Applebloom said. “Sis' won't forget that in a hurry.”
“For my sake, I hope she does.” I said. “Right, where were we... oh yeah, the other things you missed.”
I held up the bag of hairs again and passed it to Applebloom. She looked between me and the bag for a few seconds with her brow furrowed.
“Ah thought you said ah got that one right?” she said.
I smiled. “There's two types of hair in this bag. You didn't notice, but they're slightly different colours and thickness. Who else do you know that has red hairs?”
She scratched her mane for a bit while I held back another bout of laugher. She scratched for so long that a small bundle of her hairs came out with her hoof when she stopped. She looked at her hoof.
“Ah'm so dumb.” she said. “Ah was the other pony in that room?”
“See, you did know.” I said. “The more you practice, the less you make those kind of mistakes. Believe me.”
“But it takes so long ter get better.” she said.
I sighed. “Y'know, even I used to make mistakes like that.”
Her eyes lit up for a moment. “Fer real?”
“Yeah.” I said. “I remember I once fluffed a job because I trampled over some hoof marks without knowing it. When I found them, I thought they were left by someone else. I spent a whole day chasing myself without realising it. When I eventually found out I was following my own hoofprints, I felt dumb too. So y'see Applebloom? Nobody's perfect. Especially not me.”
She pondered for a moment. “Not even Princess Celestia or Princess Luna?”
“Nope. Everyone slips up eventually. Even the princesses.”
Her crestfallen attitude gradually lifted like a veil. “Ya should've worn them hoof-covers.”
“Yep. I should've.” I said, matter-of-factually. Even if it was advice from a filly, it was correct. If things continued like this, by the end of the season, she'd be better at preserving crime scenes than the morons at Ponyville PD. “Which brings us neatly to the last bit you missed. Let me show you, come on.”
She followed me up the stairs and into her room. On the floor rested various tidbits. Adhesive photo rulers mostly. The floor concealed another clue, however, one that I hoped she would find the second time around.
“Bear in mind what I said earlier.” I said. “I said it had to do with hoofprints.”
I watched her secure hoof-covers around her legs with rubber bands. I thought the action came a little too naturally to her, almost like she was tying her bow or brushing her teeth. Just another thing that needs doing before starting the day.
She walked the grid, slower this time. Up and down, left and right, taking one set of steps before stopping and examining the floor. She made a very long stop next to the wardrobe.
She looked to me. “There's somethin' here. Looks like...dust? Ah can't make out the shape, it's almost the same colour as th' floor?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?” I said.
“Tellin' ya.” she said, in a firmer tone.
To my surprise, she walked away from the planted hoofprints. The planted clue were my own horseshoes, which I had stomped around in some sawdust from the barn construction before transferring them to the mock-scene. One clue for everyone in the household.
She walked up to her dresser, where a few pieces of school apparatus were stored neatly in little desk-tidies. I thought she'd take a pencil and try to trace the outline of the dust.
Instead, she took the glass of water, also on the table, and poured it next to the hoofprints. The tiny wood shavings absorbed the trickles of water, causing them to darken. Now they stood out clearly against the floor.
If I hadn't been sitting down, I might have fallen on my ass for the shock. I hadn't thought of doing that. If I were a teacher, I'd have been slapping gold stars all over her workbook, and when I ran out of those, I'd draw smiley faces until the pen ran dry.
“Ohh, they're horseshoes.” she said, not realising that I'd almost had a stroke. She went back to the dresser and took a pen and paper. Placing the paper over the wet woodshavings, she began tracing.
When she was finished, she took her drawing and held it up to the light, like she was examining an x-ray. She came over to me.
“Hoof please.” she said.
I couldn't help but grin as I lifted my hoof and she placed the tracing against it. They matched perfectly.
“You caught me, Detective Applebloom.” I said. “I still win though, since I had to help.”
“That ain't fair! Ya didn't help much!” she said.
I chuckled. “Alright, you can have that one. Y'know what this means though?”
“It means I'm gonna make it tougher next time.” I said. “Much tougher.”
“Nurse Redheart?” asked Snips, hoof raised. It struck Cheerilee as odd that Snips should be the first one to ask her a question, even if it was likely to be an inane one. His most ridiculous question so far had been directed at Mayor Mare, who had also volunteered to speak at the careers seminar. He asked her if paper made from Everfree trees was evil. They say there are no stupid questions, but Cheerilee was beginning to have doubts.
“Yes? What's your name?” Nurse Redheart asked.
“Okay Snips, what's your question?”
“What's a bacteria?” he asked.
Bacterium, you mean bacterium, thought Cheerilee. However, it was a minor transgression, one Cheerilee was willing to overlook given that Snips had, perhaps for the first time in his entire school career, asked a sensible question.
“Good question. One moment please.”
Nurse Redheart took a piece of chalk and began to draw a rough sketch of a typical bacterium on the board, complete with stylised flagellae and other organelles.
“A bacterium, is a single celled organism.” she said as she drew. “It's not much to look at, but the way it responds to the environment is actually fiendishly complex. Tell me Snips, have you ever been ill?”
Snips nodded absently. Already he was regretting ever putting his hoof up.
“Many illnesses are caused by bacteria when they enter your body and start multiplying. The reason you start having fevers and just feel ill is because your body is battling the bacteria. Symptoms aren't directly caused by the bacterium, it's part of the body's immune response to-”
Nurse Redheart saw Cheerilee in the back corner of the room signalling to her that her allotted speaking time was coming to an end, and not a moment too soon. Nobody in the room was particularly interested in listening to a crash course in immunology, nor was Nurse Redheart too eager to provide one.
“I think our time is up. Thank you very much for listening.” the nurse said, moving to leave.
Cheerilee moved to the front of the room. “Everyone thank Nurse Redheart for coming today.”
The room echoed with superficial thanks.
“Okay then.” Cheerilee said, looking over a list of speakers. “Our next speaker is Anonymous, who I'm sure you've all heard of. He works as a private investigator. I don't know exactly what he does day-to-day, so I'll just let him explain.”
I took this as my cue to enter. When the opportunity to speak at the careers fayre arose, I was initially reluctant, since it would raise my profile a little higher than I was comfortable with. I reconsidered after I thought it might be a good way to dispel the accruing rumours that my work is less than savoury. I might even inspire some foals to become police detectives themselves, God knows that Equestria could do with some better ones.
I also didn't want to disappoint Applebloom by not speaking, because if I made her sad, then not even Celestia herself could protect me from the wrath of her sister and brother.
Cheerilee gave a genuine smile as I entered, which took me by surprise. Maybe it was because I perpetually wore a slight frown, or because I always wear a coat, but most ponies seemed naturally discomforted in my presence even if I'd never met them before. I came to attribute it to the notion that perhaps, on a very basic, subconscious level, they knew I wasn't one of their own.
I cleared my throat. “You can just call me Anon, or 'Nonny' or whatever by the way, everyone else does. Before we start though, I've got a question for all of you.” I said. “Where did I eat lunch today?”
As expected, I was met with a large number of blank stares, even from Cheerilee. They looked as though I just asked them how many bricks were used to make the school. One filly stood out in the sea of confused faces. She was smelling the air, and squinting at me.
Come on Applebloom, I know you can do it.
After about ten seconds of boggled silence, Applebloom raised her hoof.
“Yes, the filly the in the back.” I said, pointing to her.
“Sugarcube Corner?” Applebloom said.
“Are you asking me or telling me?” I said. She was right, and if the smug expression on her face was anything to go by, she knew it as well, but I always reminded her that she should be sure of herself. I wouldn't always be around to make a judgement call for her.
“Tellin' ya.” she said.
I looked at the rest of the class. “She's right.” I said.
The entire class looked at Applebloom simultaneously, confounded as to how she got that answer. Even Cheerilee lacked the power to keep her jaw from dropping slightly. Nobody spoke, and as the silence grew, so did their wonder.
“Okay then, would you mind telling the class how you knew?” I said.
Applebloom shuffled in her seat. “When ya walked in at the start, ya were smilin' a lot, so I figured you'd done and gone somewhere fun, that were my first clue. There were also a kinda faint sweet smell comin' off ya.” she said. “The main thing were how it kinda looked like ya were chewin' yer tongue, but ya were actually tryin' ta get somethin' sticky off yer teeth weren't ya, somethin' like a muffin?”
I hadn't noticed I was cleaning my teeth between sentences.
Mental note one: make conscious effort to keep control of your tongue when playing poker, it might come off as a tell.
Mental note two: never play poker with Applebloom. You'll lose everything.
The comment about smiling more was interesting. Maybe that's why Cheerilee offered a smile, because I was smiling right back at her. In any case, this was the first time I hadn't bothered to construct a make-believe scenario for Applebloom to solve. No physical evidence was planted. This was all her. I was simultaneously chuffed to bits, and a little scared at how quickly she picked up the key concepts of detective work.
“Applebloom, wherever did you learn to think like that?” asked Cheerilee, who had found the strength to form coherent sentences.
“From playin' detectives!” Applebloom said. “It's the best game ever miss.”
I stepped forward slightly. “What she just displayed is called inductive reasoning. Being able to make logical and strong connections between things from the evidence. You can also call it informed guesswork. That is what I do, and I use it to solve problems for ponies.”
“What kind of problems do you solve mister Anon?” someone asked.
“Almost anything, is the answer. Sometimes I'm asked to find lost ponies, sometimes I'm asked to investigate someone's spending habits. Some ponies say what I do is rude, but really, I just do as I'm told by whoever hires me.”
“So,” I said. “Since I'm here to talk about the job, how do you be an investigator? What do you need to know? Firstly, you need to be able to do inductive reasoning, like how Applebloom did a few moments ago, that's the most important part. If you can do that, you're already well on your way to becoming a police detective, an ECMB agent, or even a private investigator like myself. You know the best part? You can practise inductive reasoning for free, at any time.”
“How?” asked someone.
“Okay, the easiest way is to look at another pony, and ask yourself 'where were they an hour ago?'. Sounds hard, right? I'm telling you it's not. You just need to use your senses a bit more.”
I looked around the room for an example. Cheerilee was closest, and since she was nice to me, I thought I'd use this opportunity as a roundabout way of giving her a compliment.
“Take Miss Cheerilee, for example. I can tell you that yesterday, she had a hooficure, and bought a new perfume, which she is wearing today.” I said, I looked at her. “You smell lovely, by the way.”
Blood rushed to her cheeks. Apparently, she didn't know whether to act surprised or flattered, and formed an expression that was a weird combination of the two. The entire class erupted into a horrific ballad of wolf-whistles and cooing.
“How did I know? Well, I didn't, did I? You can never be 100 percent certain with inductive reasoning, but if Miss Cheerilee's reaction is anything to go by, I guessed right.” I said.
Cheerilee composed herself. “Okay then you big show-off. How did you know?”
“I smelt the perfume come from two places: on your arm and neck.” I said. God bless pony olfactory power. “What's the first thing you do with a new perfume? You spray a little on your arm first to see how it smells, and then you spray it on your neck. If it was a perfume you'd already used, you wouldn't bother to spray it on your arm first, because you already know how it smells, right? So, it had to be new.”
“And the hooficure part?” she asked.
I smiled. “That should be obvious. Your hooves are immaculate Miss Cheerilee. Barely a day's wear on them.”
The class bellowed more wolf-whistles and cheers of approval. Apparently Cheerilee was single.
“So you see? It's easy. You've just got to make an effort to actually see things.”
Applebloom raised her hoof. She had an extremely wide grin, almost malevolent.
“Yes?” I asked.
Applebloom did her shuffling thing again. Apparently it was an embarrassing question.
“You're single, right?” she asked.
“I, er, what?” I said.
“Applebloom! That is not polite!” Cheerilee said.
“And Miss Cheerilee is real nice...” she said, seemingly ignoring her teacher's cries.
Jesus Christ, how did this happen?
“I agree.” I said. I was reminded of a song by Eminem. The one about looking calm on the surface but shaking like a leaf inside. Lose Yourself or something. I feared I was about to do just that.
“So why don'cha... y'know.” she said.
I hate you, Applebloom.
If I could read Cheerilee's thoughts, I imagined I would see us thinking the same thing.
A colt at the front erupted. “Cheerilee loves Anon!” he chanted.
That was it. In seconds, the whole class was chanting right along with him, alternating 'Cheerilee loves Anon' with 'Anon loves Cheerilee' like it was the school anthem. I didn't know what to do, so I treated it like resistance to interrogation. Don't speak. Take away their power by smiling and laughing. Cheerilee had turned traffic-light red, only increasing in intensity as she tried to get the class back under control.
I glanced at my watch amidst the chaos. My allotted time was up, and not a moment too soon.
“Alright, settle down.” I said. Surprisingly, they wound down from their outburst when I asked them. I guess you do have to give an inch to get a yard sometimes, even if that inch comes at the expense of Cheerilee and myself.
“I think my time is up now. I'll close this out by saying this: investigation, or detective work, is not for the faint hearted. There'll be times when you can't make connections, and you'll get annoyed, maybe you'll lose self-confidence. Don't give up. Never give up. You'll find a way if you look hard enough. Always. Thanks for listening.”
I nodded my thanks to Cheerilee for having me and left. Outside, I opened my diary and flicked to today's date, adding a new entry.
12:00 – Careers fayre
13:00 – Speak to Rarity, coat repairs
16:00 – Apologise to Cheerilee, think of way to make it up - dinner?
Bare. That's the first word that came to Applebloom when she thought of Cheerilee's office. So bare as to be kind of threatening. Cheerilee could have used the 'Ten-items-or-fewer' checkout when buying her own furnishings for the office. Sounds, once made, lingered as they bounced around the room. Few objects existed to halt their echoing. A desk, two chairs, two filing cabinets, a picture of a generic landscape hung lopsided on the wall. Spartan in many senses.
Applebloom occupied one of those chairs, the smaller one in front of the desk. It's purpose was to make whoever sat in it feel inferior to the one on the other side of the desk. At that moment, it happened to be Cheerilee herself in the other chair, playing with a drinking bird. If she was pleased, she hid it well.
“I don't know whether to write you a distinction or put you in detention.” Cheerilee said. “It's a tough choice.”
Applebloom didn't say anything. It wasn't time to comment, not yet. She would wait until all the chips are down, until Cheerilee had shown her cards.
Cheerilee pursed her lips. “I might have to do both, but first, I want an apology.”
Applebloom rubbed her hoofs together. She hadn't expected Cheerilee to react the way she did, turning red as a cherry, losing control. Maybe it's you that should be apologising, Cheerilee, for losing control of yourself, Applebloom thought. She didn't dare say it. Extended time in Anon's company had made Applebloom better at reasoning, but had it come at a cost? A cost to her empathy, to gauge the feelings of others in pursuit of the truth? Perhaps. There was no denying, however, that it was funny to see Cheerilee so flustered.
“Ah'm sorry Miss Cheerilee.” Applebloom said.
Cheerilee arched an eyebrow. “What for?”
Don't say it don't say it don't say it.
“Fer makin' yer all embarrassed an' all. But, ah wasn't tryin' ter be mean! Anon really is a-”
Cheerilee held up a hoof. “-I'm sure he is. Applebloom, you can't go around pairing up ponies. You'll hurt someone's feelings eventually.”
Applebloom recalled the time she and her wayward, mark-less friends tried to set Big Mac up with Cheerilee. In many ways, that was a greater transgression than her spontaneous attempt at pairing Anon and Cheerilee. She got off without so much as a severe talking-to. Unfair, she thought, that she could earn a trip to Cheerilee's imposing office just by commenting on the connection that already existed between them. A relationship that might only need a gentle push in the right direction to make it blossom.
“Ah'm real sorry miss.” Applebloom said, her chin pressed against her chest, as though she were talking to her own legs. Cheerilee was silent for a time, absorbed in her thoughts.
“I'm impressed though, Applebloom. Seems like you have a knack for deduction. Remember that there's a time and a place for it though.”
“Which is why you're going to write me an essay about it.” she said. Applebloom shouted the worst curse she could imagine in her head, many times over. “You have one week, and the title is 'How to do inductive reasoning'.”
“Ah'm not in detention?”
Cheerilee thought for a bit. “No.”
“And about that distinction?”
“I'm still thinking about it.”
The chips were down now, and the cards shown. Applebloom, however, never played a fair game in her life, an ace always hidden up a figurative sleeve. Today was no different.
“So, I guess you are goin' out fer dinner with Anon?” she said.
Cheerilee, who had taken to playing with an executives toy during the lull in conversation, had never looked so colourless. The drinking bird creaked amidst the heavy silence that descended with Applebloom's last comment. Hoofsteps echoed in the corridor. Applebloom's skin prickled with delight, Cheerilee's with shock.
“How'd you-” she began. Detention, for sure, thought Applebloom. Maybe multiple detentions, and another essay. Worth it. Oh, it was so worth it.
“-Did anything I say sink in, Applebloom?”
“Who goes fer two hooficures in the same week? Or changes their perfume twice in one week?”
“-Also there's still brush marks in yer mane. How many times have yer done gone brushed it today? Five? Six?”
“Alright fine! Yes I am. He wanted to apologise for embarrassing me yesterday and suggested dinner.”
Applebloom wanted to grin. To laugh even, but she recognised that she'd gone too far. It's much too easy to get swept up in the heat of the moment, like there's another pony that takes command.
Cheerilee rested her elbows on the desk and buried her face in her hooves, groaning as she went. If this is what Applebloom could do to her, she didn't want to even think about the conclusions that Anon would make. She imagined he could tell how many hours a pony had slept from something as innocuous as a stray mane hair. Fortunate, she thought, that Anon wasn't the stallion counterpart to Rarity the gossip queen. If he was, there wouldn't be a single secret in town.
Applebloom, following her power high, experienced the come-down. Changelings from every corner of the continent could probably taste the guilt.
“Ah-” she said. “Ah guess ah'm in detention now?”
“Yep.” Cheerilee said through her hooves.
“More than one?”
“You gonna write a letter home?”
Cheerliee let go a solitary laugh. “Go on, get out. You'll be hearing from me later.”
Applejack stood outside the front gate, in that weird way that makes it look as though she'd fall over in a breeze. Even from a distance, she could see that Applebloom had done something bad. A slight change in gait, head hung a little low, a small change in facial expression. Her perceptiveness was legendary.
“What'cha done now?” Applejack asked as her sister came within talking distance.
There's no point lying to the element of honesty. Not only is it wrong, it also doesn't work.
“Ah, er, ah said some mean things ter miss Cheerilee.” Applebloom said, walking as she talked. Applejack walked beside her.
“What kinda things?”
“Well, ah went n' figured out she had dinner plans, but ah was kinda rude about doin' it.”
“Her private life ain't none a' yer business. Ah hope y'all apologised?”
“Yeah.” she said. “She set me this real hard essay and she's gonna go put me in detention.”
“Ah hope ya learned yer lesson.”
The walk back to Sweet Apple Acres passed in silence, broken by a little small talk. Between conversation, Applebloom thought more about Anon. In five months, he never mentioned a marefriend to her, nor had she seen him talking with a mare more than once or twice, if you discount Applejack and shop-owners. She supposed that uncovering private lives of others was not her business, like Applejack said. That didn't mean she couldn't ask, though.
On the approach to the farm, the sisters could hear heavy grunting from the barn. A two-pony saw stood in the open barn door, around which floated flecks of sawdust. The familiar smell of fresh-cut wood and sweat lingered in the air. A loud thud rung across the fields.
“Come on Anon, y'all can lift that!” shouted Big Mac.
“Manual labour isn't my thing!”
“Y'all wasted away after yer left the farm!”
“No, unless I can use the axe.”
The sisters peered through the door. On the ground was a large crossbeam, me at one end, Big Mac at the other. I had propped myself up against the flat end where we cut the beam earlier, panting and sweating buckets.
“Y'all still doin' this?” Applejack asked, walking in.
I nodded, but Big Mac Spoke. “Ah reckon a breezie could lift more than him.”
“Fffffff-” I began, preparing to unleash blue murder, until Applebloom appeared from behind her sister. “-ffffocus! I need to focus.”
Big Mac and Applejack laughed while Applebloom approached me, oblivious to the torrent of profanity I was about to start.
“Yer not plannin' on goin' out smellin' like that are ya?” she asked.
“You-” I coughed. “-you what?”
“Miss Cheerilee's made a real effort ya know. Y'all should do the same.”
I didn't know whether to faint or laugh. The choice was faint from exhaustion, or laugh because she'd somehow worked out my plans for the evening. The result was a strange mixture of delirium and glee, like ecstasy.
“Okay miss, how'd you know?”
“Cheerilee were all spruced up. Ya know, she changed her perfume again the day after ya came to talk?”
“Yeah. She got all flustered and dropped yer name.”
I laughed. “That's one of the best ways to learn things, keep annoying them until they get mad and say more than they meant to. Seems like you figured that out all by yourself.”
A short silence passed. Applejack spoke to Big Mac at the other end of the crossbeam, their conversation inaudible. I glanced at my watch; it was quarter-to-five. I would meet Cheerilee at seven. I was aware that unwritten and unspoken rules existed for dinner dates, adherence to which make for a successful night. I didn't know any of them, but I imagined a shower would be a good start. This meant I'd need to leave soon.
“Anon?” Applebloom asked. She was waving her hoof in front of my face. It seemed I was miles away.
“Sorry, I was in my own little world for a moment there. What is it?”
Applebloom is bad at hiding her tells. Shifting her weight around, rubbing the floor with one hoof. Her actions speak so loud that I'm convinced she and her sister can have a conversation through body language alone.
“Just say it Applebloom.” I said.
“Do ya like miss Cheerilee?” she said, at Pinkie Pie speed.
I searched for a diplomatic answer. “I think she's nice.”
Applebloom shook her head. “Nuh-uh I mean, like, y'know, do ya 'like-like' her?”
“You've got it all wrong Applebloom. This is just my way of apologising to her, since I did have a hoof in embarrassing her after all.”
“Yes! What is this, the Spaneighsh Inquisition?”
Applebloom relented. That foal can be scary when she wants to be, I thought.
I got up and walked to Big Mac and Applejack, explaining my plans for the evening and that I had to leave now if I didn't want to turn up smelling of creosote and sweat. I was only a few paces outside the barn when Applebloom pounced me with more questions.
“Who then?” she asked.
“Y'all must like someone. Who?”
I stopped walking for a moment. Applebloom walked into my back legs. I turned to her and brought my face down to hers. I could hear her breathing, feel her breath on my face, we were that close.
“You're the detective.” I said. “You tell me.”
I turned again and started walking, proud of myself for talking down a filly. Those final words became my worst mistake that week.