When the Pony Everypony Should Know is found shot in a back alley, it's up to Beckett and Castle to solve the case.
Amidst the filth of the desolate impasse, a white unicorn lay upon the heaps of waste, clothed in a gorgeous red dress. Although her indigo mane and attire were disfigured, she still seemed royal, almost like an Alicorn princess—if not for the two gaping holes in her chest and the darkened blood smeared on her legs and hooves.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic/Castle crossover; set in Season 3 of both shows.
Stepping out the rusty doorframe, the grey-coated stallion found himself in a cramped back alley. ‘What a night’, he thought, looking up at the slim stripe of pale blue morning sky visible between the jagged tops of Manehattan’s shabbiest facades. He stumbled a few steps over the yet-dark paving while delicate clouds drifted over his head, then stopped, cursing as he stepped into a puddle of some sort. The stallion raised his hoof to his eyes, and despite the dividing image, clearly noticed the slight red decolouration. A menacing premonition hit his intoxicated brain as he strained his vision to see what caused this unwanted stain. His pupils followed the trace of red fluid evidently flowing from a nearby stack of rubbish bags. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know where it was coming from, and the instincts he had slowly acquired on Manehattan’s streets were telling him to get out of this place as quickly as possible—but he went on nonetheless.
Amidst the filth of the desolate impasse, a white unicorn lay upon the heaps of waste, clothed in a gorgeous red dress. Although her indigo mane and attire were disfigured, she still seemed royal, almost like an Alicorn princess—if not for the two gaping holes in her chest and the darkened blood smeared on her legs and hooves.
Castle pressed a button on the elevator’s dial with his left hoof, while balancing a bottle cage containing two paper cups filled with deliciously smelling, freshly brewed coffee in his muzzle. Surely, he could be levitating it instead, but magic had never really been Castle’s thing. In fact, the only activity he ever used his horn’s powers for (other than trivial levitation of items under 500 gram) was writing; it was the one thing he considered worth learning and he felt truly bad for all the struggling Earth pony novelists out there who needed several years to finish a book, simply due to their physical limitations. Castle realised that this attitude towards magic was frowned upon in the high society to which he undoubtedly belonged, but, quite frankly, he didn’t care, as long as he still landed on the Manehattan Times’ Top 10 Most Desirable Bachelors list.
The lift’s door opened. Castle stepped out into the place he grew most familiar with over the last couple of years, other than his own apartment, that is: the 12th Precinct of the EQPD (which was, curiously, the official acronym of the Manehattan Police Department, as it was the first one to be officially founded in all of Equestria—you may guess why), home of the ponycide division and thus Beckett’s team. Speaking of Becket—Castle saw her sitting on her regular spot, finishing up a call. He walked up to her as she replaced the receiver on its counterpart on her desk.
“Morning, Beckett,” he said, after placing the bottle cage on the floor.
“Hey, Castle,” the cobalt blue earth pony answered. “Thank you,” she added before taking her cup and having a mouthful of coffee from the straw.
“Anything new on the case?”
“Our suspect confessed. He didn’t really have an alternative; murder weapon in his apartment, alibi busted… Ryan and Esposito are rounding up on a few formalities, which leaves me with just”—she took a deep breath—“paperwork.”
“Nothing else for me to do, then,” the writer said with a disappointed expression. “I’m afraid I’ll have to stay here nonetheless: my lovely mother is hosting another one of her acting school’s rehearsals tonight.” Seeing that Beckett did not catch the meaning of this statement, he clarified: “In my living room.”
“It’s okay, Castle. I’m sure there are more dead bodies out there just waiting to be discovered,” the detective replied, yet with a hint of compassion. Just when Castle opened his mouth to say something, Beckett’s phone rang. Their eyes met, exchanging the thought that involuntarily crossed both of their minds.
“Beckett.” Castle couldn’t hear what the pony on the line was saying, so he stared at her, waiting for a hint. She raised her eyes to him once again. “It’s a corpse.”
Beckett and Castle turned the corner into the alley. Trying to ignore the unpleasant smell coming from heaps of waste along the drab walls, the writer noted that the setting was almost too stereotypical to actually be a crime scene; the dilapidated buildings and sloppily mounted window bars simply screamed bad neighbourhood. It was difficult to imagine somepony lingering here, unless he had gang protection—or a death wish. The area seemed completely dead, except for a dozen CSU ponies canvassing the area and the rest of the police staff involved. In these parts, seeing a uniform meant running, running fast.
It didn’t take long to spot the reason they were here to begin with: At the very end of the cul-de-sac, a familiar turquoise unicorn was kneeling next to a stretcher with the dead body. Her horn, sticking out of her long, yellow mane, was glowing, as were some instruments around her.
“Hey, Lanie, what do you got?” Beckett asked, as the two partners approached.
“Female, unicorn, in her twenties. Two GSW to the chest, judging by body temperature and lividity, she was shot yesterday somewhere from 8 to 10 PM,” Lanie listed, in her monotonous work-voice.
“Could be a mugging gone wrong,” Castle commented.
“Sure looks like it,” the pathologist replied. “Her hoofbag is missing, we have no wallet or phone, and there’s nothing else left on her that could be valuable.” After a short pause, she added: “Except for some tiny gems on the glamorous dress, that is.”
“Does anything indicate another purpose of the crime?” Beckett asked, eyeing the victim.
“No signs of sexual assault, though there are some bruises around her hooves that do not look like signs of struggle, and she definitely got them while she was still alive. I’d have to take her to the lab before I can tell you anything else, and I’ll also send you the dental prints for ID.”
“What would an obviously upper class pony with clothes like these be doing here?” Beckett muttered, stepping away from the stretcher while CSU ponies carried it off. Adjusting her wavy, brown mane with deep blue streaks that had become slightly disordered since she had been looking down at the corpse, she added: “Especially this late.”
“Well, a rich unicorn, tired of the trivial glamour in her everyday routine, decided to taste the adventurous life of the shady and sinister undercity of Manehattan and ends up dead in the gutter. I suppose the folks here gave her a shot,” Castle speculated, with an amused smirk.
“We need to know who she is before we can make any assumptions, Castle.”
“How far are we on our anonymous caller?”
“Tech traced the call and are currently locating. Uniforms will pick him up and take him downtown as soon as they get a fix on him.”
“On the subject of getting a fix on something”—Castle paused for a moment—“where are Ryan and Esposito?”
“Speak of the devil,” Beckett replied, pointing her hoof at a dust cloud rushing down the alley. The cloud dissipated, revealing two pegasi, moving towards them at a colossal speed, who both tried to brake by stemming their hooves against the ground. Every muscle in Castle’s body tensed up, he squinted his eyes, prepared for a fatal collision—except, it failed to occur. Opening his left eye just a little, in case anything bad did happen, he saw that Ryan and Esposito managed to stop inches before crashing into their team leader and civilian consultant, and were now giving each other a hoof bump. Amused by the effect their appearance had on Castle, Beckett inquired:
“What took you so long?”
“We got a little… tied up with some of the witnesses,” Ryan, a white stallion with a short, peach coloured mane, explained.
“Yeah, they didn’t cooperate,” Esposito continued, uncomfortably covering a developing bruise of questionable origin on his deep red flank with his wing as inconspicuously as he could.
“Well, you’re just on time to do your work. Ryan, find out if somepony knows what happened here last night. If anypony has seen or heard anything, I want to know. These figures won’t talk to CSU so you should try and be casual. And Esposito, our victim’s cutie mark is three gems. Check missing pony reports and see if anything pops, if not, we need to call every jeweller and fashion boutique in the city and see who’s missing.”
“Beckett, now I’m not sure if you noticed, but this is Manehattan we’re talking about. The one thing that this place abounds more excessively in than criminals and drug addicts is boutiques. We need more clues than that,” was the ex-Wonderbolt’s slightly exasperated response.
“While we do not have any further clues, you go and do your job the traditional way.” Seeing that Beckett remained adamant, Esposito stomped away, shaking his head in annoyance.
“You know, he has a point,” Castle commented when the pegasus was out of hearing range.
“Maybe we get lucky.” Beckett’s mobile phone rang. She answered the call by tapping her jacket’s pocket where the device was contained, activating the pin in her ear. “Beckett. Bring him in, we’ll be right there.” After ending the exchange, she explained: “It’s the caller.”
Beckett opened the door to the interrogation room. Stepping in, she asked:
“So you are… Mr. Wooden Nickel?” Through the one-way-mirror between the observation and the interrogation chambers, Castle saw the grey earth pony sitting on the opposite side of the desk turning his ears.
“Aye, that’s me,” he replied, with a dash of resentment in his tone.
“I’m detective Beckett and I’m investigating this case. Now would you mind telling me why you decided to be so cryptic about your call this morning?”
“Oh, I can tell you alright. So I come out to catch some fresh air after a good night of work”—behind the one way mirror Castle wondered what sort of ‘work’ this could have been; then he decided it might better that he’d never find out—“and I see a dead body lying at my feet. If I call now, I know you folks will be lookin’ at me. I know my record Miss, you cops wouldn’t look a step further!”
“I have no interest in convicting you for a crime you didn’t commit,” Beckett said with no particular interest, keeping her tone as calm and professional as possible. “If you cooperate now, all potential obstruction of justice charges will be dropped. Is there anything or anyone you saw at the crime scene that you did not report when you called?”
“Nah, it was just the unicorn lady and lotsa blood.”
“What were you doing that night?” Castle sighed; he would find out.
“Aw nuthin’, just some partying,” the pony replied with a grin.
“Well let’s hope that’s all that it was. And had you heard or seen anything during the night, especially between 8 and 10 in the evening?” Nickel leaned back and closed his eyes, indicating he strained his poorly functioning brain.
“Now that you say, miss, I think I actually did,” he finally spoke. “I stuck my head out the window somewhere around… 9:30, it must’ve been, and I see this carriage leaving the alley. Not the scrappy wooden ones that you usually see, it was a nice one, with all sorts of fancy doodads and a nice black finish…”
“Did you catch the plate number?” Nickel shook his head vehemently. Beckett, who had clearly been hoping for a more informative conversation, stepped towards the door, sighing.
“You’re free to go.”
After leaving the room, she took a few steps towards her desk before Esposito ran up to her.
“Hey Beckett, looks like I won’t have to go through every single boutique in town after all. Just checked missing pony reports; this one came in this morning.” He pointed at a file on top of a batch of papers on his desk. It was flipped open; from a picture on the document a white unicorn, their victim, was glancing at Beckett. “Name’s Rarity; she’s owns a tailor shop in Ponyville.”
“Ponyville? Isn’t that rustic no-pony’s-land somewhere at the end of the world?” Castle asked, emerging from the observation room.
“Pretty much. Been there once; Place’s zero infrastructure. A real dump.” The pegasus paused to regain concentration. “The report has been filed by a Miss Twilight Sparkle, who apparently was a close friend of our victim and expected a call from her this morning, which she never made.”
“Alright, Esposito, you contact the next of kin and call Sparkle to find out what other close friends our victim had, and I want them all here ASAP. And when you're done with that, run her financials for anomalies,” Beckett commanded. With a word of acknowledgement, the pegasus sat down in front of his desk and started dialling a number. Castle was about to settle down on his usual place next to Beckett's table, when he saw Ryan coming out of the elevator door.
“Yo, I just went through the whole street, twice, and the bar Nickel was in, and guess what”—Beckett raised an eyebrow at Ryan's dramatic pause—“there was nothin'. I knocked at every single door, nopony saw a thing. As for that club, it's a shady place, but the owner installed a security camera covering a part of the room as well as the back door; Nickel's alibi checks, he was in the picture and, er, occupied at all times.”
“Did anypony make use of the back door?”
“Nopony whatsoever, except for Nickel at 5:48. His call came in a minute later.”
“If he’s off the suspect list, we have no leads at all until our victim’s family and friends get here and shed some light upon what the hay she was doing here in Manehattan,” Castle commented.
“Hey, I got sumthin’,” Esposito called from the opposite side of the room. He continued when his three teammates came closer: “Just pulled Rarity's financials; she was deep under water. Overdraft’s maxed, there's a one month old loan from the Equestria Bank which she hasn't paid her instalments on, but that's not it yet: there's also a 25 thousand bit cash infusion from a private investor dated back around half a year; I wouldn't be surprised if it was due. And guess who that money is coming from? This Applejack character who Sparkle listed as one of her closest friends to me, which means she's on her way here and we can ask her about it personally. There is also a transaction made to a cab service around 4 PM the day she was killed; I’ll have someone find out where she was going.” After a moment of reconsideration in the face of these new insights, Beckett spoke:
“Alright, here's the plan: as soon as Sparkle and the rest arrive from Ponyville on the train, you guys will question them, make sure Applejack is last and try to find out about her relationship with the victim. I want her in the interrogation room once we have enough information. Don't forget checking Rarity’s landline number's records. Castle and I will take care of the family.”
Beckett and Castle sat silently on the couch in the only cosily equipped room on the second floor of the 12th Precinct — if it could even be called a room at all. It was a small corner, accessible through two doors and easy to monitor through the glass panels, which the EQPD and especially the ponycide division used to interview witnesses who weren’t explicitly suspected of committing the respective felony. After being notified that the victim’s parents arrived from Fillydelphia and identified the body, the two partners prepared to meet them. To Beckett, or rather, to any cop who had ever worked ponycide, this was the toughest part of the entire investigation: Talking to the parents, or any family of the victim for that matter, and trying to console them, though they knew too well that the pain they were going through was literally inconsolable. Every time the elevator opened up, Castle expected to see the couple stepping out, ready to gauge the degree of their grief.
At last the door slid open once more, revealing two unicorns, late 40s, and their second daughter, whom the writer estimated to be between eight and ten years old. He sighed, seeing that all three looked utterly devastated. After a uniformed pony escorted the family into the room where the investigators were sitting (the filly stayed outside), Beckett got up to introduce herself. After she had finished with the formalities, she began:
“I know this is hard for you, but you need to tell us everything you know so we can find out who did this to your daughter. When was the last time you spoke with her?”
“She used to call every week, to tell us how things were going for her and Sweetie,” Cookie Crumbles, a purple unicorn mare and Rarity's mother, replied, wiping a tear from her cheek with her hoof. “Calling Ponyville was difficult, her phone bills were ridiculous,” she added, trailing off. “She called last Friday and she said everything was okay, she even told me something about getting a contract...”
“Do you know what that could have been about?”
“Oh yes, she did not really have a steady income off of her shop, so she depended on commissions from fashion celebrities.”
“Did she mention she would have to go to Manehattan for this?”
“She didn't say anything like that at all, but it would make sense if that's why she was here...”
“Was there someone she could stay with around here, or some frequent customers that you know of?” This time it was Castle asking the question.
“We were never involved in Rarity's work,” her father replied, without even raising his eyes from the floor that he had been staring at for the past minute. “But now it seems like we should have been.”
“Whatever happened to your daughter, it is not your fault; it's the pony's who shot her. Keep that in mind.” After a short pause, Beckett continued: “Did she have any enemies or utter any worries about anything lately?”
“Enemies? Oh no, nothing like that,” Crumbles exclaimed, her eyes filling up with tears once again. “Her work was a competitive business, but not to this extent!”
“We'll see about that,” Castle commented, earning a disapproving glance from his partner. “What about her acquaintances from Ponyville?”
“Her friends? They were some of the nicest ponies we've met, right Hondo? They loved her. Sweetie was raving about them whenever she was with us.”
“One last thing,” Beckett hesitated a second, “you said your other daughter was staying with her sister most of the time; could we have a word with her?”
“Only if it's absolutely necessary,” Flanks replied protectively. Castle could clearly see why; the filly was sitting on the floor outside the room with reddened eyes, sobbing into a soaking wet tissue. He cringed, imagining young Alexis in such condition.
“We'll give her some time,” Beckett stated.
“That was not exactly the most informative conversation we had,” she declared, once they were out of the room.
“Oh, we did get some insight,” Castle replied, with more enthusiasm. “A daughter who conceals a journey from a village to Manehattan from everyone, even her parents, and then gets shot mysteriously? You can't possibly think that isn't interesting.”
“Not everyone,” Ryan interrupted, coming around the corner. “Her friends stated they knew precisely why she was leaving, namely because she received a contract for large amount of decorations and costumes but she'd have to go to Manehattan to confirm. What she did not say is who made the offer.”
“Also Castle, she did not willingly withhold information from her parents, she just didn't explicitly tell,” Beckett added. Castle rolled his eyes in return.
“Did you finish up on the friends yet, Ryan?”
“Yes we did, here's what we found out: they all stated that they were close friends, and though there have been some clashes between individuals, including Rarity and Applejack, every single one stated that suspecting her of the murder would be obscene.”
“They could be covering for each other. Anything else?”
“Well, there’s this,” he pointed at his desk. There were two folders in the centre; one was rather flat, however the other’s size made up for this. “That’s all we have on them in our database: Twilight Sparkle’s record”—he put his hoof on the thin folder—“and this second one, which belongs an individual called Rainbow Dash. Sparkle just had one major property damage allegation some fifteen years ago; charges had been dropped after the Princess herself covered the reparation costs.” Castle whistled in surprise.
“That’s where our tax money goes, gentlecolts,” Beckett noted.
“Dash however is quite a different case. This mare has countless charges in vandalism, disruption of peace, flying under influence, speeding in populated areas, property damage and resisting arrest on her, and yet, she didn’t spend a single day in jail.”
“Sounds like me in my teens,” Castle commented.
“That’s the point, Castle. She might be a scallywag—”
“Nice usage of the word,” the novelist interrupted.
“Thanks Castle, but what I was saying, there are no accusations of violence or assault in there, so I don’t think there’s any connection to our case.”
“Are you sure?”
“Uh, yes. Because they also have solid alibis.”
“I suppose it still won't do any harm to pressure Applejack just a little; who knows, maybe she can tell us something interesting.“
“So, Miss Applejack, we found out you had provided Rarity some financial aid in the difficult times she had been going through...”
“Darn right Ah did. 25 thousand bit on tha hoof,” the orange-coated Earth pony answered with a proud smile.
“Too bad your generosity hasn't been rewarded, which you realised when she told you she couldn't pay. Thus you decided to resort to more extreme measures, when things unfortunately went south.”
“Whoa wait, what are you gettin' at?”
“We're getting at, why'd you kill her?” Castle, who had been participating in the interrogation this time, sitting right at the desk, replied. Applejack smashed her hooves against the wood and narrowed her eyes down to slits.
“Listen up, city boy,” she hissed. “Ah don' know how ya treat yer friends round 'ere, but where Ah come from, we don' murder ‘em. Yes, Ah gave 'er money, 'cos we 'ad a great harvest on tha farm this year and tha poor gal needed cash.” Applejack leaned back against the wall and crossed her front legs in front of her chest (a rather peculiar way to sit, as Castle noted). “Don'tcha think Ah'd at least ratified a real contract if Ah really cared to get it back so much?” Castle and Beckett exchanged glances. “Now, lookie here, pardner,” she said, “if ya don’ catch tha piece o’ dirt who did this to ‘er, ya’ll will ‘ave plen’y time filin’ murder charges on me. For yer murders!”
“Wasn’t her,” the writer stated, as they settled in front of the murder board.
“Do you have any better suspects, Castle?” Beckett replied, rolling her eyes. Noticing his thoughtful silence, she added: “We’ll keep her in mind then, if you don’t object.”
“Seeing as we went through everypony who might have been interested in her financial situation, we should proceed to checking her professional environment.”
“Think we already did that for ya,” they heard Esposito say, coming from the elevator. “Just got a call from the guy who checked the cab service, he found the driver. He said he brought Rarity downtown to this address.” The pegasus pinned a sheet to the massive whiteboard. Castle’s jaw dropped slightly, as he read the printed letters.
“What in Equestria would she be doing there? The apartments on this street are home to the crème de la crème of Manehattan!” he exclaimed. Ryan, who had accompanied his partner before and spent the last minute taking a call, joined the group in front of the board.
“I think I can answer that. I showed Sparkle the list of inhabitants of the building Rarity went to, and she identified one as a frequent employer of our victim,” he paused, for dramatic effect, “Sapphire Shores.” This time, Castle’s jaw’s drop was significantly more noticeable.
“Did I hear you right, Sapphire Shores?”
“What Castle, are you afraid that one of your idols is going to be besmirched by our investigations again?” Beckett riled.
“Not my idol, more like my daughter’s. She is the Pony of Pop after all!”
“Yeah right,” Esposito chuckled.
“I suggest we go and ask her a few questions, regardless of the success of her musical career,” Beckett stated, stepping away from the desk she was leaning against. “Let’s go.”
Manehattan’s afternoon traffic stalled investigations as much the bureaucracy concerning getting warrants. Although the 12th Precinct was located centrally, only ten blocks away from the apartment building where the ponycide division was headed, it took Beckett and Castle a good third of an hour to reach it, leaving Ryan and Esposito, who preferred their wings as a mean of locomotion instead, with a large head start on their canvassing. This way, the two pegasi already awaited their teammates in the lobby of the rather pretentious edifice.
“So, what’d you find out?” Beckett asked when Castle was done complaining about how their carriage had waited on one single red light for ten minutes.
“Uh, yeah… Doorpony confirmed that Rarity was here the day she was killed; she came around 4 PM as we thought and left two hours later, that’s still outside of our killzone. Shores didn’t leave the building at all that day, her assistant, who spends a lot of time in Shores’ apartment, didn’t leave until after 11. The two of them worked a lot, often late into the night, so there was nothing unusual about this particular day.”
“Nice work. Where is Shores now?”
“Upstairs. 9th floor. Assistant’s with her. We left them for you.”
“Good. While we’re doing that, make sure to get your hooves on the footage from the security cameras around the outside of the building, I want to know where Rarity went after she left Shores.”
“Copy that,” Esposito replied and dashed towards the door.
Beckett and Castle stepped inside the lift. The novelist couldn’t help admiring the sheer value of the adornments.
“I don’t believe it. This elevator’s interior design alone is probably more expensive than my entire flat,” Castle sighed.
“And you’re not the city’s poorest pony either,” Beckett added, eying the crystal ornaments along the walls, as they moved upwards. The door opened with a soft hiss.
“You think I can get Alexis an autograph?”
“Well, if she wants an autograph of a potential murder suspect,” Beckett replied, stepping out and trotting towards Shores’ door.
“I thought Ryan just told us it couldn’t have been her.”
“They could have bribed the doorpony or something. Nopony’s off my suspect list before more than one statement confirms their innocence.”
“That’s crazy,” Castle commented, quickening his trot to catch up with his partner, as she walked down the hallway. “Why would anypony of Shores’ calibre even bother murdering a designer? From Ponyville?”
“I don’t know, Castle. I’m sure you can come up with some theory to explain it,” she stated, ringing the bell to Shores’ apartment. The comparatively massive door shortly sheened in a yellow light, and, some clicking noises later, opened. A white unicorn mare with a mane of similar yellow colour to the shimmer on the door welcomed them with a smile brighter than the visual effects of her magic.
“Hello, my name is Window Gleam, what can I do for you?”
“Hello, I’m detective Beckett, EQPD, this is Richard Castle.” The grin on the mare’s face was replaced by an expression of uttermost wonder. “We’d like to have a word with Miss Shores. I assume you’re her assistant?”
“Uh, yes, that’s me. Come in, of course.” The two investigators entered the suite, which—the two partners wouldn’t have deemed it possible—was furnished even more glamorously than the rest of the building. Castle saw Sapphire Shores resting on a luxurious cotton couch in what appeared to be a living room. A designer coffee table and an enormous flatscreen across the room caught the writer’s attention. The singer looked up from her notebook, evidently surprised to see the visitors.
“These are detective Beckett and Mister Castle. They’re from the police.”
“Yes,” Beckett took over. “We came to talk to you about the murder of Miss Rarity.”
Shores’ eyes widened. “Rarity is… dead?” The singer dropped her notebook entirely.
“Unfortunately, that’s true. We know that she was here the day of her murder and we have to know about the nature of her visit and what you had been talking about.”
“Oh, these are truly horrible news…” Shores murmured and stared down at the table while, as Castle assumed, she was gathering the confidence to proceed. “She already worked for me in the past; I was always deeply satisfied with her creations… I was planning another tour for next year and I needed some more costumes and stage designs, so I invited her to come to Manehattan and display some ideas for me. I was ready to sign a contract with her to seal the deal.”
“And did you?”
“Of course! Her presentation convinced me beyond any doubt. She was such a talented mare.”
“Could we see that paper, by any means?” Castle asked.
“I’m afraid that isn’t possible. She took it with her.”
“Did you notice something strange about how she behaved during her stay? Did she seem agitated?”
“Well, she was very nervous. How could she not be, this was the opportunity of a lifetime! But I can assure you Rarity left the building happier than ever before, with that paper in her purse. How tragic, that something so terrible happened on such a promising day.”
“Alright, thank you for your help. Make sure to contact us if you remember anything else.”
“I hate interviewing these show business ponies,” Beckett complained, while they were taking the elevator down. “How can you interrogate someone who lies for a living?”
“Well, this particular show business pony is a singer, in case that had escaped your notice,” Castle replied. „But I get your point.” As the door slid open, they found Ryan and Esposito waiting for them in the lobby.
“CSU called. They found the victim’s purse and valuables in a dumpster two blocks from crime scene. They’re being analysed at the lab right now. Techies are checking her cell, and we traced what hotel she was staying in.”
“Did the report mention a contract with Shores concerning decorations and costumes for her next tour in the purse?”
“Yeah, I suppose she told you about it?”
“Indeed she did. Guess that ultimately disproves money as a motive for the murder; her fee for this would have been high enough to pay back all her debts, and more.”
“That would explain why none of our previous suspects’ financials revealed anything resembling a payment to a professional killer,” Castle uttered his speculations.
“But that’s not it yet,” Ryan added. “I just asked around in that café across the street, the staff said they saw Rarity talking to another pony quarter past six the day she was killed.”
“You got a description out of them?”
“Even better,” the pegasus replied with a grin. “I got a name. It was a supermodel called Fleur De Lis that a waitress recognised. She didn’t notice anything suspicious, but as far as our timeline goes Fleur might very well be the last pony that Rarity talked to.”
“You guys go and pick her up, make sure not to forget Rarity’s hotel room, Castle and I will check on Lanie in the meantime.”
“So Lanie, found out anything?” Beckett spoke, as the two partners walked up to the operation table on which the victim’s corpse was located, mostly covered by a blanket. The turquoise unicorn was filling in some papers next to it.
“I found out something alright. The shots were fired from close range, but rather inaccurately. Cause of death was asphyxiation as the blood filled her lungs.”
“That definitely sounds like the MO of a mugging, except it contradicts the purse in the dumpster,” Castle noted.
“I haven’t finished yet, darling. Whoever did this, wanted you to believe that.” She pointed at several small bruises along the legs of the body. “These aren’t signs of struggle; they are purely self-inflicted, like she was banging herself against a wall. And this is where it gets interesting.” The unicorn levitated a paper with an enhanced image printed out on it over the corpse. „There was chloroform in her system that I determined her to inhale somewhere around half past five before her murder. Then, there’s this injection on her back. Corresponds with a non-lethal dose of ketamine in the blood.”
Beckett raised an eyebrow. “Are you telling us that she was sedated, held captive, sedated yet again with a different chemical, then brought somewhere else and shot?”
“That’s not even it yet.” Lanie used her magic again to pull up the cloth, exposing a reddened spot on Rarity’s shoulder. “This is a second injection, which I dated before the ketamine sedation. Guess what they drugged her with.”
“Neither. Sodium thiopental.”
“Shut the front door,” Castle mumbled.
As it often happened during investigations like these, the group assembled around the murder board. After Beckett and Castle filled in their teammates on the information they received at the morgue it was their turn to listen.
“As for Fleur De Lis, you’re correct; she was definitely the last pony to talk to our victim. Apparently she’s from Canterlot and only came here for professional reasons, so they ran into each other by accident. The lack of entries in her calendar confirms this. Exchanged a little bit of news while drinking coffee, but that’s really it for the conversation. However, De Lis observed how after parting ways at the entrance she saw Rarity getting into a black carriage from afar.”
“That’s specific,” Castle commented sarcastically. “But, that corresponds with what this thug we interviewed earlier witnessed, it’s the carriage she was brought to our crime scene in.”
“Exactly. Unfortunately, black is easily the most common colour for those things around here.”
“Actually, that might not be entirely true. I was looking to change the paintjob on mine and apparently, white is much more popular this season, because… you… don’t care, right? I’ll just… be quiet,” he said, trailing off.
“Either way,” Ryan continued, with his judging stare still fixed on the writer, „there’s no security footage of that street so De Lis’ word is really all that we’ve got.”
“We have literally zero leads on this…” Beckett stated, shaking her head, still staring at the photograph of Rarity in the middle of the whiteboard and the text surrounding it.
“The hotel room was an absolute bust, too. There was nothing out of the ordinary,” Esposito complained. “Castle, we could use one of your stories now.”
“I…” Castle hesitated for a moment. “I got nothin’. At this point, the murder doesn’t seem related to either her job or her money, which means she must have been involved in something else that got her killed, and until we find out whatever that was, we can’t proceed.”
“Are there still any CSU or tech reports pending?”
“I think the purse that they found is still at the lab, I doubt that is going to be any help though,” Ryan replied. Before anyone could answer, the door to Montgomery’s office opened. The dark blue unicorn stepped outside, looking surprisingly worried, and, after spotting his ponycide division, walked towards them.
“Detectives, Castle. I just got a call.”
“From the mayor?” Castle inquired.
“Come on bro, he wouldn’t be looking like that if it was just the mayor,” Esposito replied in Montgomery’s stead.
“No, Castle,” the Captain finally replied, having waited for the rest of the team to settle down. “It wasn’t the mayor. This call came straight from the Princess’ office in Canterlot. She wants this case solved; it is a matter of national security. I’m not sure how, but this mare’s death will bear great consequences for all of Equestria, and the least we can do is find out why she had to die.”
“That gives us a whole new lead for the investi—”
“Forget about it, Castle,” Montgomery interrupted. „I got clear instructions not to meddle in that. So…” He lowered his voice. “Do what you have to, detectives. But if the Princess has reasons to think that we shouldn’t be interfering with this, it’s probably something serious. Try to remain conventional while you can.”
A gentle notification noise coming from Ryan's computer interrupted the captain; the Pegasus instantly leaped over to his desk and, after having glanced at the first paragraph of the mail he received, looked up at his fellow investigators, raising his brow.
“It's the report on the purse. Looks like I've been wrong; this is rather interesting.” He noticed the others' questioning expressions and continued: “They found cocaine residue on the purse.”
“Looks like our victim was involved in something mundane after all,” Beckett commented.
“Alright, colts. Let's find out how this coke got on her purse and see if that opens a new view on the information we had before. We need to solve this case.” Montgomery made himself clear before heading back to his usual working place. When he was gone, Castle shook his head.
“That still leaves us with no suspects, and opens up new questions rather than answering any. I still think we should have a look at why Rarity was so relevant on a national leve—”
“Montgomery said ‘no’, Castle,” Esposito cut him off. “There's enough we have to worry about without having that on our hooves either.”
“This reminds me...” Ryan mumbled, still looking at the report that he had already printed out. “They say here the cocaine sample matches others already in the system that we had captured from dealers all over the East Coast. It's imported, that's for sure. I think I know with whom this case might be connected with.” This statement caught the others' attention. “Look, back when I was in Narcotics, we always had problems with this drug network resident in Manehattan who we usually called the East Cartel. They only ever imported their substances and we never caught anypony other than some lower-end dealers. Funny thing is, not even resident gangs know who these guys are. We tried everything, trust me. However, judging by the variety of locations that their drugs ended up in, we assumed that they distributed cocaine, heroin and more in all major East coast cities. I'm sure that however that powder ended up on Rarity's purse, it came either from a dealer or a distributer. Now I'm not sure which one would be the more fortunate case.”
“But that doesn't make any sense, none of the previous suspects or other ponies involved ever had any charges with heavy drugs like that,” Castle noted, uttering his doubts. “Maybe Rarity just contacted the stuff wherever she went before her visit at Shores’,” he speculated. The rest of the team withheld their enthusiasm concerning this idea.
“Castle, care telling us why you're so opposed to the fact that the coke might have had something to do with her murder?” Ryan asked the question they all seemed to have on their mind.
“Oh, he just wants us to discard the possibility so he can cling to the governmental conspiracy theory that he just came up with,” Beckett suggested, before the Castle could say a word to his defence.
“That's—not... true,” the writer started, raising a hoof to underline his objection, however he quickly trailed off. “Okay, partially. But you have to admit that would be significantly more interesting than some lame dealer shooting her.”
“Can't be too lame of a dealer, if he has truth serum lying around,” Esposito noted.
“Listen, how about we call it a night?” Beckett proposed. “We'll recheck everyone on possible connections with the cartel in the morning. Maybe Lanie can trace the drugs in Rarity’s system back to some shipments, I’ll contact Narcotics and Customs for some help. In the meantime, you guys have some R&R. As for me, I have some plans for the evening.” Beckett didn’t even give Castle an opportunity to indirectly express his displeasure before she walked off to the elevator.
“Don't, Castle,” Esposito advised, symbolically holding the writer back with one hoof. “Gotta be discreet.”
“Oh, and you're really the one to tell me. I'm...“ The writer paused and sighed. “I'll just get going now. I have deadlines and all that.”
“You go do that,” Ryan encouraged him, nodding despite the notion that his writing wasn’t what Castle was truly worrying about. Silently cursing his mother's acting class, his publisher and especially this Josh character Beckett had been seeing lately Castle made his way home.
When Castle finally arrived at his apartment, he decided to do his best to sneak into his office past his mother to ensure that she wouldn't come up with any ideas of involving him in her class, and lock himself up for the rest of the evening to work on the chapter of the upcoming Nikki Heat novel he was expected to hoof in. It was rather early; he generally tended to stay at the Precinct late, depending on how intense the investigation was, but that day he managed to be home even before Alexis, who was still out with a couple of friends. It was to his great annoyance when the first step of this plan failed.
“Oh, Richard,” the writer's ever vigilant parent exclaimed upon his entrance, despite being occupied with the class.
“Mother, may I ask you why this needs to happen in my living room again? Especially at such ungodly times,” he complained, slightly frowning.
“This performance calls for something personal,” she replied, “plus, who knew you were going be to home this early.”
“Early, mother? It's 7 PM, the least one would expect is some peace and quiet in one's very own home.”
“Why are you here, anyway? Easy case?” At this point, the two were surrounded by a dozen other ponies who were staring at Castle. He wasn't one to be dismayed by attention, but right now, it was getting the better of him.
“Let's just say that some of us had other plans for tonight instead of working ponycide,” he stated rather formally. It didn't take his mother long to catch the hidden message.
“I'm so sorry, darling,” she said, with genuine compassion in her tone.
“It's okay. Now if I could proceed...” With these words, he shoved a (rather pretty, but that is beside the point) purple coated mare aside and marched to his own personal working place. He slammed the door behind him and took a moment to appreciate how he didn't have to review Martha's class' art. Then the novelist layed down on his comfortable couch and, sinking into the soft cotton, levitated his laptop upon the desk in front of him, happy to finally commence typing.
Or rather, he intended to do so. The words just wouldn’t appear in his mind, that is, nothing he considered worthy of noting down. Castle admitted to himself that he didn’t even truly feel like trying right now, thus he trailed off into deeper thoughts, about the case, Beckett and other similarly existential topics. It was when the screen somewhere in the corner of his vision started flashing with the sequence of words he hated the most, “You should be writing”, a screensaver he regretted establishing every time it deployed, that he completely gave up on the idea of creating anything productive this evening. ‘How very ironic,’ he thought, commending himself on the flawless use of the word. Surrendering his mind to a natural stream of contemplation, his weariness, which accumulated throughout the day, took over. Not even relocating himself somewhere off the couch, the writer finally gave in to his desire to suspend his tired consciousness.
Castle opened his eyes. At first, everything appeared to be just as black as it was before, then he suddenly began to recognise the shapes of familiar objects. It was now that he noticed that it was explosive gusts of icy wind that woke him up. The writer cringed. What inconvenient circumstances to rise from his well-deserved nap. His trusty couch was located in the middle of a dark alley in the shady districts of Manehattan, one that seemed vaguely familiar at that. As if all that wasn't enough to displease Castle, large raindrops began falling from the black skies. There was no light except the pale glow that a huge, rising moon, wrapped in gentle blue mists, radiated.
Castle was taken by surprise by the sounds of hooves pacing down the pavement. The unicorn raised an ear, trying to place the strange noises that the steps were accompanied by and it dawned on him that whatever pony was headed towards him was pulling a carriage. There it appeared, a huge dark bulk, at the other end of the alley, blocking most of the scarce light. The writer cowered upon the cotton surface, hoping with all his mind and praying to Celestia not be noticed — and it worked: the black clad pony, as well as the carriage, passed him by, almost touching his hooves, and stopped just a few metres further, at the end of the impasse. Now that the noise from the movement was finally silenced, he seemed to filter a different source of sound out of the night: faint music and voices from the windowless facade on the opposite side of the alley.
Castle focused upon the carriage again. The vehicle wasn’t inexpensive; the reflections in the obsidian varnish indicated that somepony was rather concerned about taking care of their ride. The side door opened, another black clad pony stepped out, but they were dragging something behind them — or rather, somepony.
Castle felt a massive urge to jump up from his point of observation and scream, do something, as he saw the numb body of the gorgeous, white unicorn being pulled out of the carriage similar to the rubbish bags that it was placed among, but he couldn’t. One of the ponies raised a gun in their mouth and pulled the trigger. Twice. Only a quiet noise, almost swallowed by the wall of sound from the opposing building, was heard. The silencer did its work. Seconds later, the carriage was already on its way out of the dead end, soon to disappear around the corner and never to be seen again.
In his desperation Castle didn't even consider examining the victim of the murder he just witnessed. He finally jumped up, and he ran for the light — in this case, it meant the end of the alley. Reaching it, the writer stopped, panting, and gazed up to the moon. Something was changing about its surface: its thin, foggy veil seemed to create a picture, a mare's head, as Castle identified it.
As his gaze finally loosened from this lunar image, he noticed surroundings that he had not previously perceived at all. The alley behind him seemed all black now; instead, he stood on an empty street, one side of which was facing the river, the other dead facades. There, by the only street light, on the other side of the road, he saw someone sitting on a bench. Castle stumbled a few steps towards it, then finally sat down besides the mysterious mare. Her jacket's raised collar and fedora did a good job at concealing her identity. The mare must have noticed that Castle was staring at her, because her hat magically floated up and relocated, releasing her dark blue, sparkly mane to flow into the cold wind and exposing her face.
“Princess Luna?!” The intricate construct of emotions he had been experiencing until now was entirely replaced by uttermost surprise.
“It's nice to meet you, too, Mr Castle,” she replied with a grin.
“I'm sorry, Princess, I just... wasn't expecting this,” he stuttered. Luna sighed in return.
“Whatever I do, my subjects still keep forgetting about me, don't they. I am the Princess of the Night; It is my duty to watch over dreams.”
“Does that mean this is a dream?” He paused. “I'm legitimately having a Princess appear in my very own dream, how cool is that!” He cleared his throat, noticing Luna's silently judging glance. “Excuse me, Princess.”
“Oh, call me Luna,” she replied, “this is a rather personal environment after all, isn't it?” The writer nodded in acknowledgement, then another idea hit his mind.
“I read somewhere that upon realising that you're dreaming while in a dream, it automatically becomes lucid. Does that mean that if I imagine the rain to stop and a hot coffee...”
“Don't bother, Castle,” the Princess replied with a smile. “I'm the only one who has admin rights here, but I think your requests are manageable.” The rain did miraculously cease and two paper cups with steaming coffee, glowing with a pale blue from being levitated with Luna's magic, materialised in front of them. In addition, Castle's clothes suddenly felt dry again.
“You are too generous, Luna,” he noted, thanking her. At this point, his curiosity regarding as to why this was happening finally took over. “But, may I ask just why you decided to visit me in particular? There must have been some reason.”
“No, why, I just felt like chatting with somepony,” she answered, taking a sip from the coffee cup. “These nights can be so long and lonely at times, it's simply awful. And the folks at the Canterlot Castle are so dull, especially those morons from the Royal Guard who are the only ones up at this time of day.” The writer was still rather perplexed, having a hard time believing this explanation.
“But surely I’m not the most interesting person you could think of, now am I? Somepony as regal as you...”
“You're the Manehattan Times' Most Desirable Bachelor #7, you can't be too boring,” the Princess replied. “The other ones were all rather witless I confess, but if your books give any insight on your personality, this might be rather... fun!” she then added, with a genuinely amused smile.
“Just, let me clarify this for a second: you went through the entire list?”
“Oh, I see I'm being judged,” she replied, switching to a theatrically sulking pose.
“It's not that,” Castle said, slowly, “but I almost hoped you could help me with something...”
“Anything, for a well-mannered young stallion like you,” the deep blue Alicorn replied, finally tossing aside the paper cup.
“You see, before you appeared, I dreamt about a murder I'm currently working on.”
“Oh, I saw that. Very fascinating! I even tried matching my attire, but I'm not sure if I can pull off the 40's PI look,” she said, looking down at her jacket and flapping her wings a few times to adjust the clothes.
“That compliments you perfectly, by the way,” the writer noted.
“You're too sweet,” she smirked.
“The thing is,” he continued, “that it's about a Miss Rarity. Your sister thinks that she was vital for homeland security.” Luna's eyes widened at first, then she looked away.
“I didn’t realise you were working this case. Yes, I knew Rarity. Pretty, smart girl. But I'm afraid I mustn't tell you just why she is so important. It really kills the romantic moment, I know.”
“There's something else you could do, though,” Castle said, praying that the Princess would agree to do him this favour. “Whoever killed her, or was differently involved, might still be haunted by the experience in their dreams. Knowing just what those dreams are about could provide vital information to the case.”
“That's really the least I can do for her, isn't it,” Luna replied. “I'll just disregard the fact this is warrantless and unauthorised abuse of state resources and invasion of privacy.” She disappeared with a flash, only to rematerialise a few metres away seconds later.
“Did you catch something?” Castle's anticipation peaked.
“Even better, dear, I can get you a visual.”
A flash of light later, Castle found himself in a dark alley once again. This time, he was cowering behind a dumpster. Princess Luna was right beside him.
“This is someone else's dream, I'm leaving it unaltered,” Luna whispered, seemingly reading Castle's thoughts on how a change of scenery would be rather welcome. “Look there!”
Castle saw three figures walk along the street, one of which seemed to be carrying a rather large bag. The faces were entirely concealed by a variety of hoods and scarves.
“What is this, an exchange of some sort?”
“I don't have a slightest idea. But I'd love to get a glance of who these ponies are.” Castle soon found out that no movement on his part was necessary. He saw the bag being given from one pony to another. Then a lot of things happened all at once.
The ground seemed to tilt by some 50 degrees, the ponies were somehow struggling, he saw one of them gallop past, in a way that threw the hood of his head, shots were fired. Then, a black void took place of everything surrounding Caste and the Princess.
“He woke up,” Luna explained.
“That's perfectly fine,” Castle said, with a content grin, “because I saw who that pony was who tried running off.”
“Well, glad to see I was any help,” the Princess said, not without a note of melancholy in her voice, “you guys go get whoever did that. In the meantime,” she lowered her head and shook off the hat and jacket, “I'll just leave I suppose.” Castle caught the fedora, which was now aimlessly floating through space, and placed it back on Luna's head.
“Since you helped me out so much, the least I can do is offer you a drink inside a dream, right?”
Castle didn’t remember ever being at the precinct this early after having slept a whole night at home. Surely there had been times when he didn’t leave it at all, like when he and Beckett were locked up in a refrigerator for several hours by terrorists who wanted to blow a dirty bomb in the very centre of Manehattan, but that was quite different: Back then he was forced to remain by the ongoing investigation, unlike today. In addition, he felt surprisingly refreshed, despite his mind being rather lucid most of the night. He concluded that it must have been another side effect of Luna’s magic.
The writer leaped up from the steps he was resting on as he saw Beckett approach in a cab. Even as the mare jumped off the carriage and paid the driver, he had already greeted her.
“What’s into you today, Castle,” the detective questioned, eying him sceptically.
“It’s nothing, never mind that,” he said, “we need to check on Hondo Flanks.” Beckett raised an eyebrow. "You know, Rarity’s, our victim’s father.”
“Oh, that guy. What makes you think he has anything to do with the case?”
“Writer’s instinct. I swear if we run checks on him something will pop, I know it will,” Castle insisted, as they entered the elevator and ascended to the 2nd floor.
“It’s okay, I promise pulling his financials will be the first thing I’ll do. Happy now?”
“What about his record?”
“Ryan and Esposito already looked into that, I’d know if there was anything interesting.” Beckett settled down in front of her table and switched on the computer. “You didn’t even get us coffee today,” she noted. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Never better, rest assured.” The computer’s screen lit up, the operating system welcomed the investigators. Beckett, who didn’t quite share Castle’s enthusiasm, inconspicuously shoved him away from her. Ryan and Esposito, who started their working day on time, just like their team leader, now appeared out of the elevator as well.
“So I called up my buddy Discharge from Narcotics and mailed him the report on the cocaine samples; He says they're a match with intercepted shipments, just like I suspected,” the white Pegasus spoke.
“What’s with him?” his partner asked him, nodding at the writer. Castle rolled his eyes.
“Am I really that unreliable of a pony to make it a real miracle that I’m actually here—“ He stopped due to the detectives’ nods. “Okay, I get it. But this is a legitimate lead!” He turned back to the screen to see Beckett type ‘Hondo Flanks’ into the programme the EQPD used for financial tracking. The progress bar filled painstakingly slowly, then the application’s window froze for a second, and finally displayed the results.
“HA, I told you!” Castle slapped the desk with his hoof at the ridiculously high cash deposit that the tracker indicated, dated three minutes ago. The rest of his team were still gazing at the numbers.
“The guy sold his house?” Esposito asked the obvious question. Loosening her eyes from the computer Beckett finally turned around.
“Ryan, get an APB out on Hondo, make sure FDPD gets it first. Espo, go back to the files you went through earlier and see if you missed something.” With the two Pegasi jetting off to their respective tables, Beckett sunk back into her contemplations.
“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Castle asked, carefully.
“This pony was into something, and if we don’t ask him personally, I don’t think we’ll know what it is. Our previous checks were rather thorough, after all.”
“Got him!” Ryan exclaimed. “Uniforms intercepted Flanks on the street a block away from the bank where he made his deposit.”
“Perfect. I want him here in Manehattan ASAP, in the meantime, get a hold on the rest of his family.”
“They have a car on the way to his address, but I assume they won’t be there anymore if he sold the house on the black market.”
“Then we’ll have to find out where they’re staying ourselves once he gets here,” his partner suggested, having abandoned his research.
“This better happen quickly. Ryan, make sure they fly him in or something. Whatever he needed that money for, there might be more lives on the line.”
The door to the interrogation room opened. The Pegasi from Fillydelphian police department flew Hondo Flanks in a record time, now he was sitting on the floor of the room, leaned against the white tiles on the wall. In his time as consultant at the EQPD Castle grew to distinguish types of people at interrogations; whereas it might not be always accurate to determine whether or not they’re guilty, but one could certainly derive the correct approach from this observation. As he and Beckett passed into the chamber, he determined Flanks as the emotional, yet sealed off kind. Medium difficulty. He sat down on one of the chairs; his partner remained standing.
“So, Mister Flanks, you deposited 150 thousand bit this morning and stated that you have sold your house when you were asked at the bank. Surely there must have been some reason why you only demanded such a low price for it, because our experts put it at at least 250 grand.”
“Listen, I can explain.”
“We sure hope so,” Castle interrupted him. “Because the evidence clearly indicates that you are involved in your daughter’s murder.”
“It’s all my fault… I should have never agreed to this,” he began. The two investigators exchanged glances, then fixed their eyes upon Flanks’ face. After a deep sigh, he continued talking: “When my wife and I moved to the city I thought we’d live off my shop. But things didn’t go all that smoothly, apparently those ponies aren’t so much into sports after all. I suppose we’ve been living over our standards for too long, banks wouldn’t give us money, so I had to get the cash somewhere else. I started hanging around these shady places and this fellow walks up to me, asks me what I need. Says I can get any amount I need straight on the hoof, I just need to pay it back. I took the offer; there wasn’t much of another choice.” The unicorn shifted his body weight a little, his front legs now flat on the desk. “I couldn’t pay the money, so I paid in a slightly different fashion.”
“And why did you not explain this to us yesterday?”
“I know you’d try and get involved. I didn’t want that to happen to the rest of my family.”
“If you had come to the police earlier, your daughter would be still alive. We have teams that specialise in cases like that.” Hondo didn’t reply. “I need to know any contact information you have on these people.”
“I haven’t got anything; it settled the deal for them to know where I am.”
“Why did you deposit the money from the house?”
“I wasn’t going to drop it in cash. They wanted it on the bank and I should have hooved over the account information.”
‘Very clever,’ Castle noted silently. ‘If one doesn’t get caught, that is.’
“We’re done for now. But you’ll stay here in holding for some time, you can be sure of that.”
After closing the door and reuniting with the rest of the ponycide division, including Montgomery who had been quickly updated on the case, Beckett decided to discuss the following steps of their procedure.
“We should hoof him over to Organised Crime for the moment, they’ll know better what to do than us.” She noticed the others’ rather confused glances. “Don’t worry, of course we’ll still follow every step of his.”
“The fella’s probably feeling real gruesome right now,” Ryan commented, with a worried look back at Flanks, who was being led out of the chamber.
“He shouldn’t have thought he’d be smarter than both the mob and us,” Esposito replied.
“Well, the upside is that this explains quite some of our previous clues,” Castle stated. “He got loan from ‘the mob’, as he called it, right? That means we know where the cocaine on the purse came from.”
“Hang on there, Castle,” Ryan raised a hoof. “The Easties aren't particularly known for deals like that, but if we can prove a connection, that means we have a new lead on one of their ponies. Finally catching one of them would be huge.”
“Well, for now we don't have a lot other than the word of one rather desperate pony,” Montgomery summed up, to get his teammates back on the floor. “However, if we can get a sketch out of Flanks and then find this pony via APB, then we'll be talking. What about the real estate dealer and Flanks' family, do we have anything on them yet?”
“The dealer was a bust,” Esposito replied, rearranging some files. “FDPD mailed me the interrogation report, the fella had no idea about what Flanks was involved in or why he was selling the house, and he didn't ask because it was a good deal. Supposedly, Flanks gave him a first key as reassurance this morning as he got the money, but he kept the second one until a meeting that they had arranged for later today, telling him he still needed to clean out some junk. They're still holding him on fraud charges, though. As for the family, they were staying in some motel outside of town for the while. Uniforms were supposedly on their way last time I called those guys up.”
“Alright,” the captain said. “I want the exchange operation to be flawless for dropping the account information, we need to get our hooves on this pony.”
After the head of the ponycide division returned to his office, Beckett reached for the phone. A short conversation later, she addressed her team:
“Organised Crime want Flanks in another precinct for investigation purposes, Castle and I will go with him. Ryan, Javi, you follow up on the rest of the leads that we still have open.”
“Gotcha,” the deep red Pegasus replied, already typing something into his computer.
“You know,” Castle said, simply sitting next to Beckett's desk, “this story still doesn't cover up everything. If all they wanted was to pressure Hondo Flanks, why drug Rarity before they kill her?”
“I guess we'll have to ask that personally, once we have those freaks safe with their hooves in the air,” was her rather anticlimactic response.
“No, if I wrote it, I'd have...”
“No time for that, Castle,” his partner replied, pointing at her bleeping mobile. “Uniforms are already waiting for us downstairs with Fla-” Before Beckett could finish the sentence, she was interrupted by a deafening clap. She looked into the void in front of her for a minute moment, then her and Castle simultaneously murmured:
“That was a shot.”
They both dashed to the window, looking down at a street.
“Oh sweet Celestia.”
“Tell me that wasn’t Flanks.”
Uniformed ponies were scurrying all over the road, a car alarm had gone off, traffic stalled. An ominous red fluid was splattered on the ground. Montgomery came crashing through his office's door and joined Ryan and Esposito, who took a second to get out from behind their desks.
“What the hay was that?!” the captain inquired.
“I'm… I’m afraid that was our witness being shot, Sir,” Beckett answered.
His face instantly darkened even more, if that was at all possible, as his fears were confirmed. “Get Special Ops to seal off the area. I want Flanks at a hospital right away if there's any hope for the pony at all and witness protection on the rest of his family. NOW.” He turned around to leave, as a barrage of phone calls was sure to come in any second. Hesitating, he added: “Detectives, I know I can count on you. We should keep our folks in our own custody.”
With Montgomery gone, Beckett found herself in command once again.
“You heard what the captain said, Ryan, Espo, get out there and find that bucker.”
Without a word, the two Pegasi jetted off through an open window. An incoming call from Ryan a couple of minutes later interrupted Beckett in her work.
“Flanks is dead; he took the shot straight to the back of his head, but we have the direction it must have been fired from on witness reports. Esposito is already onto that with a Spec Ops team.”
“Let's hope we'll get there quickly enough. The shooter had way too much time to escape already.” She ended the call.
“You know, this has to be about so much more than just a lower middle class unicorn's loan. How much could he have owed them, a hundred grand? Maybe two? No, that's not something you snipe a guy for, especially on the street like that.”
“You're right, except we've got nothing to prove that so far.”
“What if...” Castle started, hesitating a little bit as he formulated the rest of his hypothetical story, “Flanks didn't have a loan at all. I don't recall him having any traces of it in his financials, suspicious phone calls etc.” Some hasty research later, Beckett could officially agree with this statement.
“But that doesn't make any sense,” she contemplated. “Why would Flanks feed us a decoy story? Aside from wanting to hide the fact he was probably deeper into this than he wanted us to know.”
“I know, it's just... he didn't seem like the type. I thought him to be the family guy,” the writer commented.
“He could have been acting, Castle.”
“No, I think we need to look at the clues from a different angle, I'm... just not sure what this angle could be yet.”
“Well, maybe his family knows what he was up to; he couldn't have convinced them that he needs to sell the house without naming a reason.” Castle's face brightened up.
“The house! Look, there are two reasons why ponies sell houses: Either they need money quickly or move somewhere else.”
“Hondo Flanks might have wanted to disappear instead of paying back a supposed loan,” Castle concluded.
“You know, we could actually go and have a look ourselves. I'm sure he'd have some more evidence at home directing us towards that if this was indeed the case. Maybe he didn’t keep the key to remove some of his beloved furniture.” Castle's muzzle broadened into a smile.
“Does that mean road trip time?”
“Sure,” Beckett replied with a smirk.
“This gotta be it,” Beckett declared, having finally spotted the desired number next to the door of a small bungalow. The rugged, dark grey stallion who had been pulling her and Castle's cab tipped his cap with a hoof as she slid her card through the reader and continued his journey onward to find new customers. Castle levitated the key—they had received it at a Fillydelphian precinct they had stopped by—in front of him. The two carefully made their way towards the door, trying to observe anything that was out of the ordinary. Only two metres away from it Beckett suddenly raised a hoof; Castle stopped in his tracks, dropping the key. His partner hissed at the quiet noise.
“The lock's broken,” she whispered. “Someone was here before us.”
Pulling her gun out of its front leg mounted holster, she leaned against the door, pressing her ear into it. Not a sound could be heard, except for a few birds on the front lawn. Castle put the key back into the pocket of his cotton jacket, dismayed by how his impressive feat of magic was left unappreciated, and followed Beckett as she nudged the door slightly and entered the domicile. Inside, she found a modest vestibule, furnished according to the humble financial situation of the residing family. Except, poor interior design was not the only thing wrong about it. All the furniture seemed to have been moved around, every single drawer was opened, there were random items and papers scattered on the floor as well as every other open space.
“This place has been tossed,” Castle mumbled, looking from behind his partner. She signalled him to stay silent and put, as she advanced. The detective soon confirmed her premonition that not only the entryway had suffered this fate. Instead, the entire house was in this condition. Beckett scanned every room with her barrel, to find that whoever was responsible was no longer present.
“All clear,” she declared, giving Castle the permission to enter. After calling CSU, the two investigators agreed to look through all the rooms in a joint effort to spot at least some clue of what Hondo Flanks was up to.
“Beckett, I found something,” the novelist exclaimed, as he extracted three deep red booklets from dishes and similar unrelated gear while shoving random household property off the kitchen desk.
“Equestrian passports?” his partner asked, as she came from the bathroom she had been examining.
“I think it isn't just that,” he answered, levitating and opening one. “‘Magnum’? That is not his real name,” he pointed out, seeing as the picture clearly depicted Flanks. Putting it aside, he proceeded to check the other two. “There's also one for his wife,” he magically slapped it onto Flanks' passport, “and for their younger daughter,” he finally concluded, displaying the photograph of Sweetie Belle next to a fake name to his partner. Rather proud of his work, the writer arranged the three booklets into a neat batch.
“Looks like you've been correct about him wanting to flee after all,” Beckett admitted, “but why?”
“Well, there's quite a clear view of what Flanks' intentions were at this point. We have all the rights to assume that his daughter is killed for additional pressure, he doesn't comply nonetheless and wants to leave altogether, with new IDs and all, but what is unclear is what his connection to the mob was that caused all this. Maybe he stole something from them to sell it, but they wanted it back.”
“Seems unlikely, judging by the effort this must be taking. It's probably files rather than valuables.”
“And I'm afraid they have them now,” Castle noted. They heard the sound of a couple of carriages pulling up in front of the house.
“That's gotta be CSU,” Beckett speculated, lifting an ear. “Maybe somepony saw who broke into here, we could really use a sketch at this point.”
It was in the middle of a conversation with a Fillydelphian CSU pony that Beckett's phone rang. Excusing herself, she checked the cell, spotting Ryan's name on the lockscreen.
“Hey, you found something?”
“Yeah, I think you should see this,” the Pegasus replied. “So since nothing had popped in the recent data, I dug a little bit deeper into Hondo Flanks financials, and he has been making rather large cash deposits in the hundreds every week, admittedly on different days, but still consistently over almost a year until he suddenly stopped, starting from November 14th last year. Judging by the pattern, I think he might have been dealing. Would be a possible connection to the mob.”
“Good work. Do you have anything to explain that?”
“Not yet, but I'm looking into it. I'll see what I can find out about that day. Oh, and I'll route you over to Javi real quick, he's been doing some work as well.”
“So the entire operation after Flanks was shot proved absolutely redundant,” Esposito begun, as soon as he was on the line. “Spec Ops didn't catch jack; we did end up finding the place where the sniper fired from, but there’s no shell casing, no DNA, nothin'. CSU hasn't got anypony who even saw our shooter, it's like he landed on top of the building. Also, the slug that we pulled out of Flanks' skull was military grade sniper rifle ammunition, and the guy aimed almost perfectly, so he's likely a pro. What about you, got something?”
“Flanks' house has been completely trashed, but we found a couple of fake passports for the three remaining members of his family.” Esposito whistled in surprise.
“It's just two now. Members. Of the family,” Beckett heard Ryan correct her in the background. Apparently, Esposito had the call on speaker.
“On the subject of family,” the ex-Wonderbolt started, “uniforms will bring in Cookie Crumbles and Sweetie Belle any second now. You might wanna have a word with them, especially now that we know they had been accounted for in Flanks' escape plan and most likely knew.”
“We'll get there as soon as possible,” the cobalt mare replied. Castle, who had been listening to the conversation, was less enthusiastic about this decision.
“That is rather daunting. I was actually looking forward to visit Creamy's Delight, as Mr Creamy himself invited me to come by any time and have an extra-large cup of his most ambrosial coffee. Surely we could order up two of those.” Then, after a short pause, he whispered: “It's the best one in all of Filly!”
“Is that Creamy character another one of your acquaintances for research purposes?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. As an early draft for a Derrick Storm novel I had something about smuggling heroin with coffee shipments in mind, and Mr Creamy's connections would prove helpful for some rather valuable information. I scrapped the idea later, but his beverages are stellar.”
“Connections to what,” his partner inquired with a smirk. “Something makes me think you're not talking about his bean suppliers.”
“I'll repay Creamy for his help with the favour of not going into detail about this,” the writer replied.
“Well, as tempting as that sounds, we're on duty.”
“Wrong, you're on duty,” Castle grinned. “Though I should probably comply if I don't want to get mangled,” he added, noticing Beckett's death stare. “And I also should probably get in the carriage.”
It was getting rather late when Castle and Beckett arrived back at the 12th Precinct. They found out Cookie Crumbles and Sweetie Belle were brought there in an escorted, armoured chariot and were currently staying in holding for additional security. Upon Beckett’s request Crumbles was relocated into the interrogation room where Castle and her hoped to finally shed some light on the nature of Flanks’ connection to the Eastern cartel that eventually caused two deaths. Their two Pegasus teammates as well as Montgomery were already behind the one-way-mirror in the observation chamber.
The display of grief the two partners faced as they entered the room was beyond even Crumbles' own sorrow upon her daughter's death the day before. In fact, Castle was seriously questioning her competency in such state of condition. Beckett however was resolved to pull the interrogation through no matter what.
“Hello again, Mrs Crumbles. I assume you know why you're here?” The pale purple unicorn nodded frantically.
“It's—it's because of Hondo, isn't it?” she said wiping tears off her cheeks with a hoof.
“Your husband has been doing many yet unexplainable things in the past time, and we need you to tell us everything you know.”
“Well,” she began, though she continued sobbing, “he came to me yesterday after we returned home, a-and he said we weren’t s-safe anymore.”
“… and?” Castle raised a brow, seeing Crumbles sink back into her thoughts and forget to continue.
“H-h-he just left for most of the n-night.”
“That’s probably when he got the passports and rustled up that real estate dealer,” Beckett noted for protocol. “Do you know why exactly he thought you weren’t safe?”
Crumbles shook her head. “He w-wouldn’t tell.”
“What can you tell us about his behaviour, was there any time span when he was nervous or agitated?”
“Nothing that I c-can think of.”
Castle leaned forward. “Could you elaborate on your financial situation? Has there been any particular trouble lately?”
“The shop has never really run well,” she said. “B-but it was even tougher this year. Hondo,” she sobbed upon mentioning the name, “used t-to be out a lot while I was l-looking after the shop. He was looking for additional work u-until he gave up a couple of months ago, then everything j-just went downhill.”
Beckett and Castle exchanged glances. “Do you remember anything specific about when he stopped going out like that?”
She shook her head again, still rather vehemently. “It was sometime late last year. I thought he just didn’t to stay out in the evenings like that b-because it was getting cold.”
“Does the date November 14th last year ring a bell?” Castle inquired.
Crumbles looked up from the table she had been staring at all this time. “I-I’m not sure. I think we went to P-Ponyville on the train to visit Rarity and Sweetie that day. But… w-what does that have to d-do with anything?”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Castle replied evasively, but internally he confessed to being quite puzzled.
“That’s it for now,” Beckett announced. “You’ll stay in holding for the moment until we find a more comfortable yet safe alternative, seeing as you might still be the target of whoever is responsible the shooting of your husband.”
“This is starting to be very interesting,“ Castle stated, leaning against Beckett's desk with his face to the murder board, as Esposito was finishing noting down their newly acquired information on it. The Pegasus spat out the marker he had been drawing with. Castle, undistracted by him, started pacing to and fro in front of the board. “Let me summarise: Hondo Flanks, owner of a sports gear store in Fillydelphia, has trouble paying his bills. He seeks additional work or a different way out of his misery, which is offered to him by a representative of the anonymous Manehattan drug cartel. He accepts it, and successfully sells drugs of various sorts and shapes thus managing to keep his business afloat, all that while making his wife Cookie Crumbles believe that he was gone looking for another job. Then suddenly, he ceases his illicit activities sometime around the 14th of November. Coincidentally, or maybe not so, he spends this and following days in Ponyville with his family, which also consists of his two daughters Rarity and Sweetie Belle. Then almost half a year of hiatus ensues, during which Flanks' financials are undoubtedly tumbling down as his primary income source depleted. Suddenly, for seemingly no reason, Rarity is kidnapped and killed in Manehattan while she is on a business journey. Flanks decides he is not safe anymore and tries to make a run for it by quickly selling his house and even rustling up some fake IDs for the remainder of his family. Then he is unfortunately shot on the street by a sniper.“ The novelist paused. “There are two questions we currently need to worry about. Question #1: What happened on the 14th of November, or slightly earlier?“ He levitated Esposito's marker, used it to draw a fat circle around the dot that signified November 14th on their timeline, then added “What Happened?“ in large letters. “Question #2: What was Flanks involved in that made our mob risk two deaths, one being a very indiscreet operation?“ Ryan, who had been watching Castle's presentation with a file in his teeth, came forward. He deposited on his desk.
“I think I can shed some light on that first question. I ran checks on Crumbles' story about the Ponyville trip: it's legit. They purchased tickets with her card late in the evening on the 14th, then withdrew a couple hundred bit and finally got tickets back six days later.”
“Wait, what did they withdraw the money for?” Beckett inquired.
“Told you it's a dump, if you want to buy a thing in that place, you gotta pay cash,” Esposito explained.
“Nothing suspicious about any of that, then,” she sighed.
“So while you were still on your way here I tried digging deeper into that date, and there was literally nothing. No cases, nothing. I even tried comparing his family's birthdays to it. But just a second ago, I found that.” He pointed at the file with a hoof. “It's the testimony of one of Flanks' neighbours who reported a break-in at our victim's place while he was away in Ponyville. However, Flanks never filed a case so it was discarded.”
“Yeah, but that just confirms that Flanks had something in his possession that was so valuable to the mob, it doesn’t explain what it was,” Beckett complained.
“There's more, but it really isn't helpful either. On the 13th and 14th, he has made several calls to a number that he used to call every week before. I ran it: it's a burner cell with no registered owner. He probably contacted whoever gave him those drugs he was dealing.”
“We need to expand our search radius,” Beckett proclaimed, yawning. Glancing at her watch, she hesitated. “Actually... let's make that the first thing we'll do in the morning, because my brain needs some rest.” The rest of the team nodded, finishing whatever they had been doing to wrap up the day.
The next day Castle took the liberty of turning up at an (in his opinion) more reasonable time, despite the fact the he was rather intrigued by how the case was developing. As always he provided steaming hot coffee for Beckett and himself before inquiring about possible progress on the case.
“Well, Ryan is still running out mystery date in Fillydelphian databases, I suppose he’ll start with Manehattan’s rather soon. Esposito is on the line with Ponyville trying to find out anything about Flanks and Crumbles’ visit last year and I’m just going through CSU reports to see if we missed anything,” Beckett replied. “And, actually, you can help me with that,” she said, shoving a couple of folders towards Castle’s side of the desk. The writer creased his face into a frown.
“You wouldn’t want to waste my talent on this, would you?”
“It’s more useful that you telling us ghosts stories, that’s for sure.”
“I haven’t done that in days,” Castle retorted.
“Yeah, because this case hasn’t given you an opportunity.” He gasped theatrically.
“You doubt my helpfulness. That is seriously offending me right now.” A blaring noise from behind made the two partners cringe. The writer turned his head to see Ryan standing in front of his table, his stool lying next to him on the floor and some paper slowly floating the floor. Esposito was chuckling behind his computer. The white Pegasus caught a paper out of the air, noticing how every single pony in the room was staring at him.
“I… I got it!” he exclaimed, excitedly.
“If he couldn’t stick to sitting, it really must’ve been huge,” Castle commented, only for Beckett to hear. The team grouped behind Ryan’s table, staring at the screen.
“Right there. There was a shooting on November 13th last year, in Manehattan. The victim was a Mr Con Corde, except that apparently, his first name applied to his personality more than his last did. The guy was a scammer but as the investigators found out, he also dealt drugs, with samples matching the Easties’ stuff; same as what we found on Rarity. There were no witnesses, and the case has never been closed, but it had been put off as gang violence so Organised Crime worked on it.” Esposito slapped Ryan’s neck with his hoof. He twitched from the impact.
“Good job bro.”
“That’s gotta be the murder that Luna sh — I mean, it all makes sense,” Castle whispered excitedly. “Flanks witnessed the crime!”
“Look, Flanks witnesses the murder. He wants out, and he sees the opportunity to protect himself and his family with his knowledge, saying that if anything happens he’ll testify. That explains why he went to Ponyville to share this information with Rarity who lived far enough from the mobsters to be safe.”
“That does make a surprising amount of sense,” Ryan noted.
“So the two break-ins were to make sure he has no physical document with a testimony,” Beckett concluded.
“Exactly. Whoever’s behind this found out about Rarity’s connection, hence the drugs to find out how much she knows and what Flanks is up to. That’s why they went for the rather bold murders, because they needed them both gone.”
“We need to tell Montgomery right away.” Beckett rose from her seat, trotted over to his office and stepped inside. Castle followed her hastily, while Ryan and Esposito remained standing in the doorway. The head of the ponycide division looked up from his papers and gently put them back on the desk. He raised an eyebrow, looking rather surprised to see his detectives that early.
“Captain, we found something on the Rarity case.”
“Well, let me hear,” Montgomery replied with his calm, deep voice.
“Ryan managed to dig up a case file from the 13th of November last year. A dealer was shot in the streets of Manehattan. The case has never been closed because literally nothing led to the killer. We believe that witnessing this might be what caused a radical change in Flanks actions, and that would also explain what the mob had been looking for.”
“That's a probable story,” he nodded, “but at this point, that's all it is, right? We don't have any proof that this is what happened, nor do we have an idea who these mobsters are.”
“According to my theory there are two people who could tell us,” Castle clarified, “except they also happen to be the two victims of our case.”
“We need to find a lead on these ponies. Detectives, I know this is repetitive and grinding work, but we need some lead, be it a DNA sample or a shadow in an alley, something that we can start working with. Maybe if you go back to the crime scene you'll find something irregular, that CSU didn't notice.”
“Yessir,” Esposito responded and walked off. Ryan followed him, though hesitantly, doubting the effectivity of this measure.
“The things I would give for having Flanks around now,” Montgomery muttered, as Beckett and Castle were already getting up to leave the room. A rather loud thud made them stop in their tracks and turn around. Castle's eyelid twitched upon seeing a cross-eyed, grey Pegasus mare butting the outside glass of a window with her yellow-maned head repeatedly. He made out the deep blue uniform cap she was wearing when she finally stopped and simply squished her face against the window. Beckett dashed forward to open it. To her amazement, the mare simply crashed through as though she didn't expect the glass to give in, landed on her back and yet held up the envelope she had been clinging to, balancing it on one hoof.
“For the desk of Captain Roy Montgomery, delivered by the Ponyville Express Mail Service,” she announced. Shaking his head in disbelief, the Captain levitated the A4 sized brown envelope and opened it in mid-air. In the meantime, the Pegasus opened her eyes, and, though she still didn't dare to move, curiously examined the room. Castle realised that the peculiar arrangement of her eyes he noticed through the window before had not been purely due to the impact, since they still looked the same.
“This is impossible,” Montgomery mumbled, having extracted a document from the envelope.
“What is it, Captain?” Beckett inquired.
“See for yourself.” He turned around the front page for Castle and his partner to see. Large letters on it stated: ‘Testimony of Hondo Flanks’. Their jaws legitimately dropped. “There's also a note: ‘You will receive this shortly after my death’,” he recited the important part.
“He must have been using somepony as a dead man's trigger to send this file,” Castle suggested, when his brain had fully processed this new information. Montgomery nodded.
“I know the spell that he most probably employed. Many unicorns on duty resort to it to notify their teammates if anything happens to them.”
“Since he died yesterday, that was when the file was sent, which takes Rarity out of the equation. There must have been a third pony involved, somepony else Flanks visited when they went to Ponyville shortly after the murder,” Beckett speculated.
“The one thing that throws me off is... Isn't express mail supposed to arrive, uhm, quickly? Flanks was shot yesterday in the early afternoon.”
The mailmare, who was still lying on the floor, shrugged.
“It's Ponyville, what did you expect?” Montgomery argued. “I remember working a case that required some collaboration of the PVPD, those guys took a week to send me a forensic report.”
“You have a point.” Castle saw Esposito, who originally had been preparing to leave, stick his head back into the office as he walked by.
“I thought this was done, what's the commotion abou—” His eyes narrowed down to slits as he spotted the grey Pegasus. “DERPY!” He leaped at the mailmare, pressing her against the floor she was already lying on.
“Javi...?” Ryan started, who saw his partner entering the room.
“I told you I don't want to see your face ever again!”
Derpy's eyes widened. “I swear it was an accident!” she shrieked.
“Javier Esposito, what the hay are you doing?!” Montgomery shouted, rising from his stool. Esposito paused, got up slowly and knocked the dust off his jacket. Clearing his throat, he said:
“Back in my Wonderbolt days, this freak made half a building collapse on top of me at the Equestria Games qualifying. I couldn't fly for six months, Celestia forbid actually participating in the Games!”
“Be a dear and don't assault civilians out of old grudges, will you?” The deep-red Pegasus rolled his eyes. “I suggest we safely escort Miss...?” His glance at the mailmare conveyed an obvious question.
“Hooves, Sir. Derpy Hooves,” she answered, now with a proud smile on her cross-eyed face.
“... Miss Hooves out and actually read this testimony, shall we?” He nodded at Ryan, who instantly understood what he was expected to do.
“Derpy, are you coming?” She nodded furiously and hovered out the room with just three wing beats, immediately followed by the detective. Ignoring the faint crashing noises coming from outside the office (Castle cringed at the prospect of being involved in the tidying up operations afterwards) Montgomery cleared his throat, opened the file and started reading. To the writer's great disappointment it wasn't out loud.
Castle attentively watched the captain slowly creasing his forehead as he advanced further into the script. He finally looked up, eying Beckett, Castle and Esposito separately.
“I'll cut to the interesting part. Flanks claims that the drugs he and fellow dealers have sold were distributed by the same individual who shot Corde: Window Gleam.” The three detectives' eyes seemed to double in size.
“W-Window Gleam?! That's Shores' assistant!”
Montgomery nodded. “Esposito, grab Ryan and get on her apartment with Special Operations. I'll see to an APB. Castle, Beckett, question Shores once again, I swear she must know something—unless she's Gleam's accomplice, or worse.”
The door was blasted out of its hinges.
“EQPD, HOOVES IN THE AIR!” Esposito shouted, the light cone from the sub-barrel spot on his shoulder-mounted assault rifle clearly visible in the stirred up dust. Upon breaching the entrance, he, Ryan and several other Spec Ops ponies, all wearing black PASGTs, charged into the unlit apartment and split up, scanning room after room. After hearing a couple of ‘all-clears’ the two detectives eased their posture. Ryan adjusted his protective helmet with a free hoof, leaning on a glass cabinet in Gleam’s living room.
“Wait, are you feeling this?” he suddenly asked, forehead creasing worriedly.
“Yeah, this cold draught,” his partner supported him, twitching an ear.
“It’s coming from the kitchen.” The two Pegasi darted towards the door. For a second, they browsed the room with their eyes before simultaneously spotting an open window. Ryan, closer to it, glanced out. He found himself look down into a backyard 11 floors down.
“Hang in a second,” Esposito called. “Someone just opened this thing. See this?” He pointed at some soil on the window sill. “If she got out here, which I assume happened a couple of minutes ago judging by the cup of hot coffee over there on the table, then it was a two-pony-job, which means she has a Pegasus or high level unicorn partner who could fly or levitate her out there, because she couldn’t have done it herself, assuming her file is still up to date. We can check databases for the latter, but if our mystery second pony was a Pegasus, he might have left saliva traces on the outside.”
Ryan nodded. “I’m impressed, Javi. I’ll guess I’ll just call CSU.” He turned around, taking out his mobile phone and stopped, suddenly. “What do we got here…” The white Pegasus stretched out a hoof, pointing at a ring with just a single key attached to it that lay on the floor. “Looks like our fugitive wasn’t careful enough after all.”
“You know, I’m getting exceedingly worried about the fact that Shores might be involved in this drug business,” Castle stated, while in the elevator with Beckett. “Seeing how close the two were, it’s hard to believe she couldn’t have guessed.”
“Well, just because Gleam shot a guy doesn’t mean she was a leading executive in the business. There are ways to stay discreet while making notable cash,” she argued.
“Can you even fathom the extent of the scandal this will evoke?” Castle exclaimed.
“Well, it's not really my job to. I'm just here to catch the bad guys.”
This time, Sapphire Shores opened the door herself, doubtlessly surprised to see the investigators.
“Good morning,” she greeted them. “I hope you have some news on poor Rarity, knowing just why this had to happen would provide some consolation.”
“We're actually here to talk to you about that,” Beckett replied.
“We believe that your assistant is a key pony in this. The murder on Rarity is a part of a cover-up operation on a crime she committed half a year ago,” Castle explained, trying to sound as calm and professional as possible. He noticed Shores examining both his and Beckett's faces, as if to determine whether they were serious or not.
“Surely this is some kind of joke,” she said, sounding slightly hysterical. “Win was nothing like that!”
“I'm afraid you’re mistaken,” Beckett stated coldly. “We have solid evidence. At this point, we need you to re-evaluate all of her behaviour that possibly appeared suspicious to you in the past years, taking in consideration this new insight.”
The singer took a deep breath, then shook her head. “I don't think there's anything I can help you with, I'm quite frankly shocked by this monstrous notion.”
“Actually, here's a very specific question. On the day of Rarity's death, that is four days ago, when did Gleam leave your apartment? We heard that you often worked late into the night,” Castle inquired, motioning for Beckett not to interfere for a second.
“Oh yes, we did,” Shores replied. “Not that day, though. I spent the entire day in the vocal booth and I was too exhausted to work any further. I believe she was already gone around 8 PM.”
“Eh, excuse us for a second,” the writer announced and pulled Beckett towards the door.
“The doorman said she hasn't left until 11 PM, he must have been lying,” she recalled.
“Not necessarily. She could have got out through a window and then returned the same way in order to leave through the lobby, so the doorman registers her.” He magically opened the door, wishing farewell to a rather stunned Shores as he and Beckett left the apartment.
“Maybe we should ask her where Gleam was when Flanks was shot,” Beckett suggested.
“That won't be needed, she wasn’t the shooter,” the writer replied, levitating his phone and selecting Esposito's number.
“You see, she couldn't have pulled this through on her own. She's a low level unicorn, there's no way she can cast self-levitation spells. Remember how nopony saw a thing when Flanks was shot? That's because the shooter didn't ascend using stairs or the elevator, he came from the roof. It's the same pony who helped her get out through this window.” Castle's call finally connected. He instantly switched it on speaker. „Javier, my friend, did you get anything?”
“We got plenty,” the detective’s slightly distorted voice sounded from the cell. “Gleam escaped through the window of her flat literally minutes before we arrived, with the help of a Pegasus. Thankfully he happened to drool at the shutters when he was adjusting them so Lanie is currently pulling the DNA. Tech’s also looking into security footage around the area, maybe we can find something. But, more importantly,” the Pegasus raised his voice, “we have a key our suspect dropped on her escape that seems to belong to some storage unit. We’ll proceed to canvass all facilities that rent those things as soon as we get back downtown.”
“Now that’s interesting. We’re on our way,” Castle replied, placing his phone back in his jacket’s pocket.
“What about Shores?!” Beckett called, as he was already trotting towards the elevator. “We still need to ask her about Gleam’s personal life; I’m sure whoever that Pegasus is, they must be pretty close.” The writer stopped, then turned around slowly.
“Point taken. Let’s go back in.”
Back at the precinct the group finally reassembled. The information Castle and Beckett shared confirmed the existence of a winged partner.
“And apparently, she had a special somepony of some sort who just happened to be a dark green Pegasus and tended to pick her up after work sometimes.”
“Well that’s not a very specific description,” Ryan noted.
“Guess we’ll have to wait for the lab results to come in, should be any second now. Let’s hope he’s in our database,” Esposito encouraged him.
“What about the storage unit? Did you check those already?” The ex-Wonderbolt nodded.
“Every single one in a radius of twenty blocks from her apartment. Nothing registered for a Window Gleam at all, they haven’t even heard of the name before. If there’s something related to her secret business in there, which I’m sure of, it might also belong to our mystery Pegasus.”
“… or any other pony who’s involved in this mess. We need to find this unit.” Beckett nervously fixed her mane. “What about her carriage?”
“It’s still right in front of her apartment building. Custom-made, expensive sapphire decorations all over… wonder where she’s got that kind of money from,” Esposito answered sarcastically.
“Yo guys, I got something useful,” Ryan called from behind his computer screen. “Lanie’s done extracting the DNA, so I got the sample in a compatible format right here. We can start looking for a match.” He slapped the ‘Enter’ key with a hoof and leaned back, as the progress bar began filling. It just touched 30% as the infamous pre-result freeze occurred, finally revealing the secret that could potentially lead to the ultimate uncovering of the East shore drug business. The ID the programme displayed belonged to a police officer, namely Mr Discharge of Narcotics.
“Hah, that's probably some sort of mistake,” Ryan commented, with a dry laugh. “They might have taken the wrong sample or Celestia knows what-“
“Green coated coltfriend huh,” Esposito wondered out loud. “Well guess who's also dark green. ” Ryan raised a brow.
“Guys, you don't seriously think he's—”
“Where is this Discharge now?” Beckett asked, setting a task rather than demanding an immediate answer.
“Getting an APB out,” Esposito replied, reaching for the phone. While Castle and Beckett waited for their colleague to receive some information, Ryan simply crumpled upon his stool.
“I don't believe it. I went into active meth labs with this guy, back to back, believing that I could trust him, that he'd have me in case something would happen.” He shook his head violently. Castle slapped him on the back, trying to appear encouraging. In the meantime Esposito finished his call.
“So, he showed up for work today, but he went AWOL about 80 minutes ago when we decided to go for Gleam's apartment. That explains how he got there faster and warned her. His carriage, which happens to be polished black, however is still at the respective precinct, and he’s also not at home according to CCTV. Tech tried tracing both of their cell phones, but they're just in the dumpster next to Gleam's apartment building.”
“That is just great,” Beckett moaned. “Means we can sit around doing nothing until somepony sees one of those buckers somewhere,” she added, before reaching for her ringing phone. In moments like these when so many different types of clues were processed, it seemed like all of Manehattan was calling all at once. Just seconds later her face brightened significantly.
“Thanks,” she slapped the receiver back on the base station, “I think we have our storage unit. Solar Imperial Drive 7; five blocks away from the crime scene, registered for Discharge. And, two ponies are currently accessing it.”
“Then we have no time to waste.” The two Pegasi strapped their protective helmets back on, which they hadn’t bothered returning to Spec Ops. Despite looking rather uncomfortable for the last few minutes, Ryan now resolutely adjusted the harness on his bulletproof vest, bringing in position the bracket which his partner helped him slot the assault rifle into. A moment of cogitation after dropping a secondary hoofgun in the front leg holster, he finally suggested:
“Let's fly, Javi.”
“Hang in a second,” Beckett stopped him. “Are you sure you don't want to wait for the cavalry?”
“So they can get away one more bucking time?” Ryan rebutted. “We need to corner them in the unit, without it, we hardly even have enough evidence to put him in holding for 24 hours.”
“Till the wheels fall off, bro.” Esposito slapped a hoof on his partner's shoulder to demonstrate active support. Their team leader sighed.
“Okay, you guys go. We'll be right behind you.” With a hoof bump, the two Pegasi opened a large window. Castle watched them blast off, leaving behind respectively coloured trails.
“Friendship really is magic,” he noted, as the patterns dissipated into thin air.
“You should stop staring and get running, Castle,” Beckett suggested, tossing him his custom ‘writer’ vest.
“We're not taking a carriage, are we,” the stallion asked, losing all traces of enthusiasm.
“Well, our colts might need cover sooner than in an hour, so that's no,” Beckett replied, ready to take pursuit. Castle, regretting his large lunch, followed her on the way to the elevator.
The two Pegasi aimed their landing approach for the small parking lot that lay before the entrance to a rather large building complex, which consisted of several large, seemingly poorly isolated containers. Scanning his surroundings as they touched down on the concrete, Ryan noticed a group of ponies waiting a couple of metres away from the rather unremarkable door. He flipped the safety switch on his weapon, ready to infiltrate, when Esposito confirmed that the ponies in question were indeed the renting company’s personnel.
“Beckett messaged me the number of the unit,” Esposito said after they slipped inside through the half open door, “it’s 139.” His partner looked around the room, finding a map that depicted the complex to ease orientation for customers.
“That’s this way,” Ryan replied, pointing at one of the hallways that lead out of the plain lobby, after he analysed the sketch. He hesitated. “He happened to be very interested in this case before, so I told him pretty much all that I knew...”
“We’ll be fine. Let’s go.”
Thus they advanced further down the corridor. The building was eerily silent, with nothing to hear but the hum of the white electric light illuminating monotonously grey overhead doors, positioned in short intervals on either wall. With their barrels pointing in front of them at head level, the two detectives pressed on past two digit numbers towards the junction that would lead them to the unit that they were heading to. Despite their expectations there was no empty hallway awaiting them behind this turn . Half way through it, at unit #76, a dark silhouette of a Pegasus stood out from the bright background.
Ryan and Esposito drew a bead on him instantly.
“Hooves up where I can see them!” the red Pegasus shouted, spreading his wings and covering the last stretch of the distance in a leap, placing himself in five metres away from Discharge. Ryan followed his lead. The dark green stallion turned his head, seemingly surprised to see the two detectives.
“Good day, colleagues,” he said, his voice sounding unimpressed. “What leads you here on—“
“Hooves the buck up, I said,” Esposito repeated, twitching his rifle to demonstrate his intention to fire in case Discharge decided not to follow his command. With a sigh, the Pegasus complied.
“Well, if that’s what I need to do not to be shot by fellow officers.”
“Dirtbags like you dishonour the badge,” Ryan said, spitting on the floor. “The cleared storages, distributers not showing up to places at times when the dealers we caught swore they would, that was all you.”
“Now that’s a very likely story mate, but I’m afraid the juries might not be interested in fairytales. What do you got on me, some lowlife seeing a common carriage picking up this village filly? DNA on the window? What if I told you I was simply onto Gleam?”
“Certainly shooting Flanks was part of your precious investigation, too,” Ryan retorted.
“You have absolutely no proof I was involved in that.” With a provocative grin, Discharge replied slowly, as though he enjoyed pronouncing every single word.
“The hell we don’t,” Esposito retorted. “It’s all in that unit of yours.”
“Well, this might hypothetically be the case,” the rogue officer smiled mockingly, “but you might want to consider the option that somepony is covering the place with plastic explosives this very second.”
“I’m sure your marefriend will testify regardless,” Ryan commented, trying to disregard the fact that Discharge’s statement did alert him.
“I might also have hypothetically fiddled with the detonators.” He winked, then glanced at his watch. “You know, it’s been fun and all, but I really should be going.”
“Don’t you dare move—“ Esposito never finished. Space itself seemed to be ruptured in a moment of deafening cataclysm, as a shockwave, followed by a wall of blazing inferno, tore down the building from the inside. Discharge used this moment of the detectives’ total paralysis to let the blast carry him into Esposito and wrench the gun from him. He accelerated towards the end of the hallway and breached through the thin corrugated iron wall.
Having recovered from the initial shock, Ryan cowered next to Esposito who was dragged to the ground by Discharge’s attack. “You alright?”
The red Pegasus nodded, getting up amidst the flames. They haven’t been in the lethal radius of the explosion as it went off, but the fire was definitely closing in on them now.
“You go follow this bucker, I’ll see if I can save anything out of there,” he said, back on his hooves.
“Don’t you die on me,” Ryan said, before rocketing off out of the blaze to hunt down the enemy.
Castle galloped down the street, following his partner towards the container building.
“I think that’s it.” He stopped, panting. “I really should work out more, shouldn’t I?”
Walking the last couple of metres together, they examined the edifice as they came closer. Except for an irregularly large group of ponies around the entrance, nothing about it seemed suspicious.
“Looks like Ryan and Espo are doing a good job of handling the problem,” the writer noted. Beckett wasn’t as convinced.
“We’re here to provide backup, remember? It doesn’t matter if they caught the scrubs or not. Let’s go.” She stepped through the gate in the fence that enclosed the compound. Or rather, she tried. Instead, the mare froze in awe as a fountain of fire burst through the roof of the complex. The roaring noise from the detonation and the building collapsing swallowed the screams of the civilians around. Black smoke rose from the blaze while ashes and burning debris rained down upon the two partners.
“Oh Celestia,” Beckett whispered, as soon as she recuperated from her initial consternation. “Ryan and Esposito are still in there.” Not paying attention to anything, she darted towards the entrance.
“Kate, no!” Castle called, in vain, as he feared. Pulling himself together, he proceeded to follow her.
As much as it pained Ryan to leave his partner behind, he relied on him to remain safe in his efforts, realising there was nothing he could do for him now. At this point, catching up with Discharge was top priority; escaping pursuit as a Pegasus was way too easy and the rogue officer already had too much of a head start.
Taking a second to regain orientation, Ryan noticed a faint dark green trace leading towards the city centre. Soaring to pick up the trail before it dispersed entirely, he cursed the fact that Discharge probably knew his way around the city and could go to ground instantly if he wanted to. His only chance was to keep up with him in the air, which he resolutely planned to do at all costs.
Upon gaining height, he spotted Discharge flying toward the city centre and jetted off to follow him, flapping his wings with all the strength available to him. There were a couple hundred metres between them; too far to reliably fire, especially when both of them were moving as such speed. Thankfully, the detective felt like he was shortening the distance. Discharge seemed to have noticed that, as he slowed down to counter Ryan using a slightly different method.
The dark green Pegasus unloaded a shower of projectiles upon him. He clenched his teeth as purposefully evading the barrage was impossible, instead, he prayed that bullet spread would do him a favour as the lead whizzed past him. Folding his wings, he engaged in a dive while remaining as horizontal as possible to minimise possible impact area and simultaneously gaining speed, which would make up for any altitude lost during this stunt. The two Pegasi sped on, closing in on Manehattan’s skyline. Finally holding fire, Discharge seemed to have decided that he had emptied his magazine just enough and launched an evasive manoeuvre around a skyscraper to reload safely. Ryan spread his wings once more, circling around the building in the opposite direction. This time he took his opportunity to pull the trigger, shooting several rounds in Discharge’s direction. Despite being immersed in the struggle, he waited for the green stallion to be at an angle of about 30° higher than himself, to decrease the chance of one of his stray bullets finding its own unlucky target inside the metropolis and hoping devoutly that his efforts would not prove vain. Discharge himself wasn’t dealing with such issues. After the series of shots he fired in return Ryan heard glass break and car alarms go off, along with terrified screams of innocent ponies, tens of metres below. He cringed at the notion, feeling like shouting something to make Discharge finally come to his senses, but he dropped the idea, realising his enemy would neither hear nor listen.
With neither of them having connected a single shot as of yet, Ryan landed on the roof out of Discharge’s sight to reload. Some fiddling with the mag and a couple of short breaths later, he took off once more, discovering that his opponent had gone for the same move to recover from the intense flying. Upon seeing the detective, he instantly cast his rifle back up and unloaded several rounds at him, which Ryan almost failed to dodge.
‘Too close for comfort. Definitely too close.’
Discharge used this moment of his distraction to soar up and try leaving him behind once again, but he didn’t expect him to recover as quickly. Ryan engaged in his desperate pursuit again, but the rogue officer had a backup plan: Discharge suddenly unfolded his wings to their full extent in an instant, positioning them perpendicularly to the direction of flight — thus deploying a massive airbrake. In a matter of milliseconds, before Ryan had any chance to react, Discharge already levelled out with him and grasped for the straps of his protective vest. Yelping at the surprise attack, he attempted shaking his opponent off, but the stallion clinging to him made it completely impossible to flap his wings: they quickly started losing altitude ever more rapidly, until they found themselves plummeting straight down past tens of the surrounding buildings' floors. Frantically trying to evade the punches aimed straight for his head, Ryan replied by firmly headbutting the enemy Pegasus with his helmet. The latter didn’t let go, but the detective freed himself just enough to avert them from their collision course with the tarmac beneath. Instead, he made them turn off into some uncontrollable direction; for a moment, everything but the shattering glass all around them ceased to exist. They crashed through a window into an empty office floor of one of Manehattan’s skyscrapers. Neatly distributed desks with shiny computers, potted plants: nothing too spectacular, but sufficient for some cover.
Landing on top of each other, amidst glass shards and blood, Ryan, who had suffered severely from the impact due to his unlucky positioning, found himself receiving another hoofblow to the face. Retaliating as quickly as possible, he kicked Discharge off of him and he rolled to the side, aligning his assault rifle’s sights with his body. He pulled the trigger.
Too late. Discharge had already leaped away sideways as the bullets shredded the furniture. Ryan remained motionless for a moment, trying to concentrate through the piercing pain of the massive amounts of cuts on his skin. Spitting out a tooth Discharge had smashed out, he raised his head over the edge of a nearby desk to scan the room. His enemy was nowhere to be seen, yet his hopes skyrocketed as he spotted Discharge’s weapon lying amidst the glass. If he could get his hooves on that, he’d win the duel. Gathering his remaining strength, he decided to go for the dash towards the rifle. Finally engaging in the desperate dive, he noticed something large, dark green rush towards him out of the corner of his eye.
Blood shot to his eyes from landing upon the shards once more. Being thrown off his original path during the collision with his opponent and pressed even harder into the remnants of the shattered window, he had difficulties holding on to his consciousness, let alone making it to the gun first. Raising his eyes from the floor, he saw Discharge grabbing the weapon, taking a second to position the stock and pointing the barrel at him. As a final, instinctive move to his own protection, Ryan held his own weapon in front of him like a shield...
Though his initial reaction was yelling out in agony, he found that his stunt had accomplished its purpose, to his own surprise. His vision blacked out for a millisecond as his left front leg was struck by infernal pain, as the third and last round still in the magazine ruptured it. Immensely hot metal splinters rained down on his skin from the virtually melting assault rifle, but despite the point blank range from which the shots have been fired from, it withstood or deflected them.
Ryan instantly used Discharge’s surprise to his advantage. Kicking the gun from his hooves out of the broken window, he jumped back up as quickly his ruined leg allowed it. His blood loss wasn’t critical just yet and he remained adamant about wrapping up his task.
“Still want to resume the fun?” Discharge inquired, ostentatiously knocking the dust off battered jacket.
“I’m not gonna stop till I have you on the ground with cuffs on your hooves and lead in your chest,” Ryan groaned. The green Pegasus shrugged.
“Sure, if you say so.” Without any move to indicate his intention, he darted out the hole in the glass. Instead of attempting to retrieve the assault rifle, he simply soared up out of sight. Ryan reached out to get a hold of him before he managed to escape, but he was already too weak for instant reactions.
‘Pull yourself together, Kevin,’ Ryan thought, moaning silently through clenched teeth and remembering all that was dear to him in a desperate search for anything to draw strength from. Cursing having ever applied to the EQPD at all, he dragged himself closer towards the window. He was suddenly overwhelmed by dizziness as he glanced at the street below where police carriages started gathering. Shaking his head, he stumbled closer to the edge and took off. The first few flaps that took him across the chasm between the office floor and the next building were agonising, but the pain receded as he covered more distance. Discharge was easy to spot; the rogue officer was floating through the air at a comfortable cruising speed, seemingly not intent to flee at all.
Just when he thought he’d be able to pick up the pace again, he found himself plunging downwards. Hysterically trying to sustain altitude, he realised his wings no longer obeyed him. Unable to steer, he crashed face-first into a building’s flat roof and remained motionless, helpless, as the force of his fall dragged him several metres across the concrete. Discharge circled around his enemy, like a vulture waiting its dying prey’s last breath. Except, he wouldn’t linger that long. He’d end his opponents’ life himself.
Initiating a final run-up, the Pegasus began gliding down towards the injured detective to serve the killing strike.
‘Not if I can help it…’
Rolling sideways, Ryan pulled the automatic hoofgun out of his front leg holster. Pointing it in the general direction of the opposing Pegasus, he pressed the trigger for several seconds, hardly focusing on the target, until the magazine depleted entirely. Deafened by the pistol’s immediate reports, he glanced up at the descending shadow. The shots had connected.
Two bullets had torn through Discharge’s left wing, another one hit him square in the chest. Before he had the chance to conclude his attack, the Pegasus instantly lost control of his approach in mid-air. Ryan had hit the third lucky round; acute stress reaction handled the rest. Discharge lifelessly crashed into the concrete.
Confident that his enemy wouldn't recover from such a fall and, more importantly, such a shot too quickly Ryan couldn't be bothered to get up and check on him. Dropping the hoofgun out of his jaws with a sigh of relief, he sank to the ground entirely. Finding it futile to attempt staying awake now, he closed his eyes before his vision started fading away. Hearing faint police sirens, the detective finally found a position to lie in that was painless enough to voluntarily remain in it while he’d wait for either his rescue or his death by haemorrhage. As he lay there, bewildered by his own apathy regarding the latter prospect, the suspension of mind eventually established itself. The last thing his senses registered was a loud, roaring noise drawing nearer from above…
As soon as Ryan had left the complex, Esposito dedicated all his thoughts to figuring out how to accomplish his part of the mission. He drew his hoofgun, fired a couple of shots into the roof to ease breaching through and soared up before he was engulfed by flames. Though visibility was still overall dismal, the Pegasus could easily spot the epicentre of the explosion from above the building.
Only now that he beheld it from above could Esposito fathom the entire extent of the detonation. The shockwave tore down the building’s walls in a twenty metre radius, flames were consuming the remaining debris alarmingly quickly while continuously spreading outward. Glancing down, Esposito saw the place where he was just standing seconds ago was now covered by a sea of fire. And as if that wasn’t enough, his vision was obstructed by dense columns of smoke rising from the ruins.
Cussing vocally, Esposito ripped a piece of cloth from his jacket and tied around his face as a primitive respirator. Gathering all his resolution and recalling the justice at stake, he dived toward the supposed location of the unit. Desperately fighting back a cough attack and trying to withstand the immense heat of the wall of fire, he maintained control of his flight, floating as safely as the circumstances allowed just above a pile of rubble that appeared to have been one of the unit’s walls. He wouldn’t risk actually landing on it, as it appeared scorching hot.
The detective tried to guess if anything was left to salvage from the flames. He found himself instinctively holding his breath to save his lungs from exposure to not only the smoke, but also the foul stench of burnt flesh that filled the sweltering air. Straining his eyes just resulted in them tearing up further from the pestilential smog as he hovered further into the blazes.
Fortunately, the main front of flames had already moved on from its origin for lack of nourishment; this allowed the Pegasus to distinguish the outlines of the unit. Scanning the area, he suddenly yelped in excitement: on the opposite side of the room’s remains he spotted the outlines of something dark amidst the sizzling fire. He inched closer.
‘Thank Celestia someone was very concerned about the prosperity of their gear,’ he thought, identifying the objects as armoured suitcases. But when he was just a leg’s length away, he made a more unsettling discovery.
Between fuliginous rubble he saw a partially incinerated corpse. Esposito winced back; sure, looking at corpses was part of his job, but scorched bodies were never a pretty sight. Fighting against another coughing fit, he shoved the debris as well as Window Gleam’s mortal remains off the chests.
‘Buck knows how long these will hold till they melt,’ he noted, pulling out his hoofgun. He had to remove the bonds around his face for this, which intensified his choking bout. Focusing all his strength on clenching his jaws around the gun’s grip, he blew the locks open on four of the suitcases. Spitting the gun out on the floor, he stemmed his hooves against the torrid lid of the closest crate, trying to disregard that he was searing his skin (as well as one can possibly do so). An endless moment of agony later, the lid finally gave in. Almost flinging himself into the fire, he indiscriminately grabbed items out of the chest, trying to store them somehow in order to safely fly them out of the flames. Analysing the items as he went, he registered several hoofguns and a large arsenal of black street clothes. No sniper rifle.
Cussing, he moved on the next crate. The lower edges seemed almost liquid at this point; odds were the insides were long burnt.
The second crate wouldn’t give in at all due to deformations around the frame. Furiously, he tossed it aside.
‘No time for this…’
Seeing as the previous chest was a bust, Esposito applied double the force to fracture the following one. The lid’s hinges shattered. The red Pegasus’ eyes widened, beholding the neatly packaged kilogrammes of high end drugs stashed inside the protected suitcase. After short cogitation, he started stuffing as many of the small bags in his pockets as he could.
He now had one more reason to hurry. Small flames already started licking the uncovered hallucinogenics; it was a matter of time till they would finally start releasing the operative vapours. Starting to realise there was no way he could actually scan every single chest as the stench and the heat grew more and more excruciating by the second, Esposito frantically reconsidered his strategy. Desisting from searching the crates any further, he paused.
‘Think. The gun Flanks was shot with was definitely a military grade sniper rifle. No way it would fit in any of these cases. Would Discharge want to disassemble it every time? No, it would be too inefficient. Hiding it in there wouldn’t save him at all once anyone actually got in here; means it would be in some sort of case outside the crates.’ He eyed the remains of the room once again. It seemed to him that his entire body was dissolving into sweat, only to evaporate instantaneously.
“It’s gonna be somewhere!” he shouted in frustration, regretting the unwise decision soon after. The breeze was shifting. Soon, the fire would start moving back at him, consuming all that he laid open.
‘Time for a change of strats,’ the Pegasus concluded mentally before expeditiously starting to frisk the area for the rifle, or at least its remains. Rushing off towards the former locations of the unit’s other walls, he closely examined the rubble piece after piece. Trying to concentrate despite the harrowing headache that was increasingly taking the better of him, he continued his search. Suddenly, as his vision divided into inconclusive images, something caught his attention. Something like a long rod seemed to stick out of the rest of the detritus. Recklessly he rocketed towards it, grabbing the blistering bar with a piece of his jacket.
He pulled the sniper rifle out of the waste. The bag that had contained it was all burnt, the stock was half molten, the barrel was bent in the middle at almost 50 degrees, but it would do. All Esposito wanted at this point was out. Out of the building, out of the heat, out of the inferno. The survival drive kicked in, overriding all else that was on his mind.
“Ryan, Esposito, are you in there?!” A familiar voice was calling from somewhere nearby. Slightly shifting his path towards it, he darted through the flames, leaving behind the smoke and the blazes, and collapsed, his feathers singed beyond flight. He hadn’t let go of the weapon in his hooves. He won.
“Sweet Celestia,” a mare whispered over him. Esposito couldn’t see anything, despite having his eyes open, but apparently his ears still functioned.
“Javi, can you hear me? Are you awake?” somepony else said, his voice somewhere between despair and panic.
“What the hay are you waiting for?! Get the bucking meds!” Hoofsteps. “Please don’t tell me Ryan didn’t make it…”
As the door opened to Montgomery’s office and he stepped out, he found Castle sitting in front of the murder board.
“Any news on Ryan and Esposito?” the writer asked as soon as he spotted him. He nodded.
“They’ll both make it, thankfully. Esposito is still unconscious, but doctors expecting a full recovery. If we’re lucky, we can talk to them tomorrow.” He paused. “Where’s Beckett?”
“She’s picking up a report on Gleam at the morgue,” Castle explained. “Should be coming in any second now.”
“Good, because I got the forensic reports in on the stuff Esposito retrieved from the wreckage, and you two ought to see this. Half of Manehattan has been working on this material, it’s been processed surprisingly fast. We’re extremely lucky Gleam decided to plant the C4 first and open the suitcases later.” As soon as the elevator opened and the cobalt mare walked through the metal door, he beckoned her over with a quick gesture.
The captain briefly repeated what he had already told Castle earlier. “So apparently,” he continued, “ballistics fixed the rifle up to take tests and they’re a definite match. The rest of the junk was badly damaged, but there’s hoofguns of the same model that shot both Rarity and Corde, drugs are a match to shipments etc. But here’s the interesting part: Esposito salvaged several sets of clothing, which are designed to look different, but they are only in two sizes, identified as Gleam’s and Discharge’s. I passed this information over to Narcotics, and they’re saying that there are no signs either of those two contacting anypony else regarding the drug business, including on the burner cells found in their apartments.”
This clearly left Castle and Beckett perplexed. “Are you saying they have been running the entire mob all by themselves?”
“Well, that would explain many things,” Castle attempted to integrate the newly obtained information into their previous theory. “While every cop in Manehattan is looking for an intricate system of mobsters they can hide right under our noses without being suspected. It just makes the information that Flanks possessed all the more deadly.”
“Looks like we’ve not only caught our killers, we also shut down the entire drug distribution network over the East coast of Equestria.” The writer raised a hoof while Montgomery talked. “Yes, Castle?”
“I don’t want to ruin the mood or anything, but…” He hesitated, noticing the other two ponies’ stares. “I’ve been thinking…”
“Well, that’s a new one.”
“See, Discharge and Gleam didn’t really have a reason to kill Rarity,” he continued, ignoring his partner’s derogative comment.
“What now, are you telling me they weren’t our murderers? Castle, the evidence is rock solid. If the bucker makes it through the night, there’s probable cause enough to put Discharge away for 50 years minimum.”
“No, I didn’t doubt that,” he replied, shaking his head. “What I’m saying is that we were missing something. Why murder Rarity if you could exchange her for Flanks? We know she wasn’t briefed about the Corde’s shooting, so why not take her hostage instead? That would mean that they could dispose of Hondo quietly in some place where nopony would ever find him.”
“Seeing how diligent they have been all this time running the cartel alone, it really seems like too sloppy of an operation,” Beckett acknowledged.
“Exactly. So I figured: something must have compelled Gleam and Discharge to change their plans rather acutely, and I went through the entire timeline to check on when they could have possibly received new information shortly before the murder.”
“It’s gotta be when they drugged Rarity with the Pentothal,” the cobalt coated mare mumbled thoughtfully, leaning on her table.
“… which means, Rarity must have been in there deeper than we thought she was, and she must have known something that unsettled our dearest Easties.”
“And how exactly was she involved in this? She’s a village pony, for buck’s sake.” Montgomery raised a brow.
“I wondered too, and then I tried looking for a connection. If Rarity hadn’t come to Manehattan, Gleam wouldn’t have had the chance to try pressuring Flanks, she would still be alive, the drug mob would still be running and Hondo Flanks would keep quiet out of fear for his family.”
“Are you implying that whoever sent her here was orchestrating the entire thing to shut down the East mob?” Beckett raised an eyebrow. Castle nodded. “That’s… absurd.”
“I thought you weren't opposed to the idea of Shores being involved in this?” Castle poked his partner verbally.
“Castle, I know you’ve helped us close cases before and I’m really thankful to have you around, since you’re thinking out of the box like that… but this really is a wild claim,” Montgomery stated carefully.
“It would be, if I didn't have evidence.”
“Implying you do,” Beckett stated, vocally expressing her doubt.
“Oh yes,” he replied with a smug smile. “I do.” He got up from his sitting position and started pacing to and fro. “Surely you remember the loan that Rarity had taken from the Equestria Bank?” Beckett nodded.
“Let me guess, there was something wrong with it,” the captain speculated.
“More than just wrong,” Castle replied. “I took the liberty of borrowing Ryan's gear while you were occupied thinking that maybe there was more reasoning behind it than just Rarity's financial trouble. Apparently, I was correct. I called the bank to ask for it, and guess what: they have never granted such a loan and they have never even heard of it. The money came from a closed account on the Caymare Islands that belonged to a fake ID and was wired through the Equestria Bank. Later, somepony actually bothered hacking into the database and altering the origin and purpose of the transfer to cover their tracks. Now, my assumption is that Shores not only invited Rarity to Manehattan, she somehow hired her to do something that would definitely arouse Gleam's attention. Why would she want that? Easy, Rarity's death was the linchpin to the breakdown of the East mob, which would allow their competition some serious expansion.” He finished with a wide grin on his face.
“Just when I thought this case might finally be over,” Beckett commented with a moan. “What are we going to do, sir?” she inquired, addressing Montgomery. With a sigh, the captain got up.
“I’ll get an APB out on Shores and send Spec Ops over. You have no idea how much this case costs the city…”
“Actually, I’m rather confident we won’t find Shores in her apartment now,” Castle called him back. “With how perfectly the rest of this operation was planned, she's probably on her safe way to the Westies' quarters somewhere in Las Pegasus by now.”
“I think making sure won’t harm,” he replied, before he marched off towards his office.
“Captain, wait!” Beckett exclaimed. “What about us?” The unicorn stopped for a moment, then turned around.
“Listen, Beckett, Castle, you’ve done an excellent job on the case. But with Ryan and Esposito down, I don’t want you to continue investigating. We caught our guys; Shores might be involved in this, but she’s not a killer. I’ll pass all the case files to the DEA and have them do whatever they like with them.” Brooking no dissent with what he had uttered, he closed the door. Beckett groaned theatrically.
“You know, this might be the right choice,” Castle said cautiously. The cobalt mare sunk to the floor.
“I know. It’s just, having seen what this did to Rarity’s family, I’d hate to see somepony screw it up.”
“Though, I confess, this would be an excellent pretence to visit some old mates on the West coast,” the writer added, to lighten the mood. “Going anywhere to investigate usually turns out fun.”
“What, you’re still sad that we didn’t get the chance to show up at the Canterlot Castle with a search warrant?” she smirked.
“You know, it might be for the better that this never happened,” he replied in a slightly confound tone. Not bothering to find out just what might have caused such distraction, Beckett got up to the murder board.
“Time to pin these off, I guess. Montgomery will want all the stuff together by the time DEA gets here.” After a short pause, she added: “You could help me with that, you know.”
“Actually, I have some very important business to attend to,” Castle declared. “It’s a royal dinner date,” he whispered demonstratively. Disregarding Beckett’s speechless expression, he trotted towards the elevator.
Going through the past days’ events in his mind, Castle stopped a cab, which he happened to spot an instant after he left the precinct and found himself on the street, alit with the evening sun’s final rays. Taking a moment to appreciate Manehattan’s occasional beauty, the writer stated his destination’s address to the driver, got in the carriage and fiddled with the radio controls.
“… are now switching to the live stream. Enjoy!” he heard the announcer pony speak, as the sound system finally received control voltage input. He sunk into the soft seat as clamorous cheering faded in along with a faint, yet increasingly dominant synth riff.
Somewhere else, a white unicorn set hoof onto his stage. Stepping behind his gear, he levitated a pair of headphones upon his ears that stuck out of the short, blonde mane, and adjusting his red jacket, lifted a hoof to greet the crowd. As the light show kicked in overhead, the stallion finally took over the controls and the soundboards started rendering his set’s first track. His mouth broadening to a smile at the unbelievable sensation that the audience’s applause evoked at every gig he played, reminding him of why he even produced music.
I think I’m in need of a quiet walk home… And as we step forward we would rather be alone…
Esposito opened his eyes. Taking a moment to regain his orientation, he leaned back into his bed as he found himself in the hospital. Hardly remembering being brought here, he was still greatly relieved by the fact that he spotted Ryan, his assigned roommate during their stay, both alive and awake, lying on the adjacent bed, tweaking the volume of a radio that stood on a desk next to his bed. The Pegasus didn’t try moving as he didn’t want to bother with the pain this would undoubtedly cause, so he simply remained lying and soaked up the sounds.
So make some noise while you’ve got time, Take this poison for your mind, Who knows, you could be gone by this time tomorrow.
Sweetie Belle turned around on the couch she had been lying on while she awaited her mother’s return from the precinct. Music coming from the open balcony door made her rise, leaving behind the wet spot she had been pressing her face into. As she trotted towards the window of the dark Manehattan hotel room, she saw a TV through a window on the other side of the street. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she distinguished the footage from a concert on the tiny screen. The amplitude of the sound sufficed for her to perceive the intensification of the electronics as the build-up edged closer to its conclusion.
Another drop of salty liquid fell on the floor, leaving behind a tiny dark dot as the carpet soaked it up. It would be her final one—for now. She couldn’t promise for the future; but this very moment was the time to cope.
I don’t know where we’re going, And I take pride in not knowing…
Kate Beckett stared out on the street through the glass. The soothing sounds seemingly snuck into the poorly lit precinct though the half open window, as she pulled the ring she was wearing around her neck on a chain out of her shirt and examined it. She didn’t try hiding the pain that this item undoubtedly evoked, but that wasn’t the reason why she decided to bring it out: instead, to remind her of the rift between the past and the present, of how she could carry on despite not forgetting, of how she shouldn’t let opportunities slip.
… and you say I will be the one to let this go!
On the last word, the white unicorn threw his hooves in the air, dropping it for the first time at this show, as lasers shot into the hall from the projectors above. The smile didn’t leave his face.