Once, when Rainbow Dash was a filly, her mother had taken her to a watercolours exhibition at the Cloudsdale Art Museum. As anyone who had known her as a filly (and most who knew her as an adult) could have predicted, this proved to be a terrible decision for just about everyone involved.
She had meant well, Rainbow Dash’s mother, she really had. She’d recently read an article in one of her magazines about how an appreciation for the arts was important for the mind of a developing child, you see, and as she loved her developing child very dearly, she decided it was time for her daughter to be exposed to the world of high art.
Unfortunately, her daughter was Rainbow Dash, a mare whose childhood relationship with ‘high art’ could be described less by ‘oil and water’ and more by ‘oil and a pegasus who really, really doesn’t get why she can’t play with rainclouds around the watercolours’.
In Rainbow’s defense, putting an exhibit of watercolours in a building made entirely out of water vapor probably wasn’t the best idea to begin with.
Thus ended the last time Rainbow Dash had ever been allowed into a major artistic establishment. She’d spent the next six hours sitting in the office of the local police station while her mother had tried to convince a very irate curator not to press charges. She would become very, very acquainted with that office of over the years.
So when Rarity had called her over to the Boutique to show her her the newly minted office of Carousel Investigations, she had been expecting to see something similar: cluttered desk, walls of filing cabinets, corkboard covered with mugshots, etc.
“What do you think, darling?” Rarity asked, standing beside Rainbow. “Too much?”
Really, Rainbow reflected, she should have learned by now not to expect anything typical when it came to the fashionista.
“It’s, uh… It’s fine, I guess,” she said. “But it’s not really an office, is it?”
Indeed, it more resembled a sitting room. Three chairs stood in its center, upon a woven rug, a decorative coffee table between them. A sofa reclined against one wall, and a fireplace—it had to be fake, Rainbow decided, the boutique didn't have a chimney—had been set into the other, a variety of ornaments decorating its mantle. The walls were papered a light green, broken up every so often by a framed photograph or print.
It was cluttered, yes, but in a homely way. It looked as though someone had been living in it for a long time, even though Rainbow knew that just a week ago it had been used for extra storage.
But even so…
“Offices are supposed to be, y’know…” Rainbow said, twirling a hoof. “Busy. Intimidating. Desks and office supplies. This looks like my mom’s living room.”
“You’re thinking too traditionally, darling. An office is a state of mind.”
“No, I’m… pretty sure it’s just a room,” Rainbow said. She grabbed a picture frame off of a side-table and gave the picture of Opalescence inside a wary look. “And this ain’t it.”
Rarity rolled her eyes and plucked the photograph from Dash’s hooves.
“Well, I considered going for something more stereotypical,” she said, crossing the room to the fireplace, frame in tow. “Briefly. But I just couldn’t stand the thought of meeting clients in such a dreary environment.”
She set the picture frame down on the mantle and adjusted it until she was satisfied.
“A detective’s typical clientele is often not in the best of spirits to begin with. The least we can do is make them feel comfortable.”
“It’s still not an office, though,” Rainbow said, settling into one of the chairs. “Like, what if we need to intimidate a client? There’s no way you could do that here.”
“Why would we ever need to do that?” Rarity asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, I dunno. What if they did the crime?”
Rarity laughed. “Rainbow, that sort of thing only happens in dime-store paperbacks where the author couldn't come up with a better mystery. Why in Equestria would a criminal ever want to hire a detective?”
Rainbow didn’t have an answer to that, so instead she folded her hooves and cast another glance around the room. Her eyes landed on one spot in particular.
“Kinda empty over the mantle,” she remarked.
“Ah, yes,” Rarity said, smile turning to a grimace. “That. I haven’t quite decided what to put there yet.”
“I still have that sword from the Blueblood case,” Rainbow said. “Do you want that?”
“Oh, heavens no, darling,” Rarity said. “It looks so much better over yours.”
Her hoof rose to her chin. “No, I’m thinking something more along the lines of a photograph… or a—”
But she didn’t get to finish; the sound of the bell at the front of the shop cut her off.
“Sounds as though I have a customer,” Rarity remarked. “Excuse me for a moment.”
“No, I’ll come.” Rainbow hopped out of her chair. “It might be a client.”
There was only one pony standing behind the counter when they arrived, a pegasus who looked to be in her late thirties and wasn't much taller than Rainbow Dash. And given the look on her face, either Rainbow had been right, or she was there to make a return. Rarity, for one, was really hoping for the former.
"Welcome to the Carousel Boutique," Rarity said. "How can I help you today?"
The mare glanced down at a scrap of paper in her hoof, then back up at the two.
"Is there a 'Detective Rarity' here?" she asked. Definitely the former, then.
“Speaking,” Rarity said. “How can I help you?”
“I’m here at the request of my uncle,” she said. “He’s asked for your services.”
Rainbow quirked an eyebrow. “Your uncle? Why didn’t he come himself?”
“He’s been arrested for murder.”
"Not much of an office," the mare remarked, settling into one of the chairs (Rarity and Rainbow had already taken a seat in theirs). “Are you sure you’re real detectives?”
“Quite sure,” Rarity said, pointedly ignoring the Rainbow’s smirk. “But I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive us; normally it is our job to find a murderer, not to assist one.”
“I understand this may be unusual.”
“’Unusual’ is an understatement,” Rainbow said. “What does your uncle want from Rarity, anyway?”
“Perhaps it would be best if you took a look at his letter for yourselves,” the mare said, holding the paper out to them. Rarity’s magic engulfed the stationary and brought it over to where she and Rainbow could see it. It read as follows:
You’ll have to forgive your uncle for contacting you so abruptly, and in such a crude manner, but I am in desperate need of your assistance. A terrible crime has been committed, and I have been wrongly accused of perpetrating it. Alas, my claims of innocence have fallen on deaf ears. I have been arrested for a murder I did not commit. Furthermore, I am convinced that this is no accident: I have been framed, my dearest niece, and I do not know by whom.
What I ask of you is simple: I need you to find a detective. Her name is Rarity; she lives in the town of Ponyville. I am convinced that she may be my only recourse in this matter.
I am being held in the police department in Copseville; ask her to meet me there. Tell her I am prepared to pay any price she may ask for her services, as my fortune will do me no good if I am sent to the gallows.
I believe, after everything, you at least owe me this.
Yours sincerely, and forever your uncle,
“Moisi?” Rainbow remarked, pronouncing it like ‘noisy’. “What the heck kind of a name is Moisi?”
“Quite a famous one,” Rarity said, returning the letter to its owner. “That wouldn’t happen to be Moisi Râtelier, would it?”
“That’s correct,” the mare said.
“Then that would make you Swallow Breeze, would it not? I confess, I only know you through your work.”
The mare—Swallow Breeze—nodded. “Right again.”
“Then this is quite dire, indeed,” Rarity said. “We shall be on our way to him at once. She craned her neck over to look at Rainbow Dash. “If your agenda for the day is clear, of course.”
Rainbow snorted. “Rares, I don’t even own an agenda. Of course I’m coming.”
“Wonderful.” Rarity turned back to Swallow Breeze. “Will you be joining us?”
“Oh, no,” she said, shaking her head. “Frankly, whatever it is my uncle has gotten himself wrapped up in, I want no part in it.”
“Oh? Then why help him in the first place? Surely if you wanted to keep your hooves clean, you could have ignored his request entirely.”
“He’s still family,” Swallow Breeze said. “And as he said in his letter, I owed him.”
“I see,” Rarity said. “Well then, we must make preparations. If you would excuse us…”
“So the art dealer has been framed, hm?” Rarity said, once the mare was gone. “Quite an ironic turn of events, don’t you think?”
“Art dealer?” Rainbow asked, raising an eyebrow. “What art dealer?”
Rarity gasped. “Rainbow Dash, do not tell me that you have never heard of Moisi Râtelier!”
“Okay, I won’t,” Rainbow said. “Remind me who he is again?”
“Only one of the two most important people in the art world!” Rarity exclaimed. “Honestly, Rainbow, one of these days we must get you cultured.”
“I’d rather go blind,” Rainbow muttered. “So what makes him so important?”
“He’s the owner, patron, and dealer of the Atelier de Râtelier, one of the most prestigious artist’s workshops in all of Equestria.” She hopped off of her chair and headed for the coat stand by the door, upon which sat two very familiar articles of clothing. “And the mare we just had the honor of meeting is its distinguished former master!”
“Oh, so she was a painter?” Rainbow said, following her with a few flaps of her wings.
Rarity let out an exasperated sigh, even as she removed the trenchcoat from its rack. “Yes, Rainbow, she was a painter. Quite a famous one. Surely you’ve heard of Celestia in Blue?”
“Oh!” Rainbow exclaimed. “Yeah, even I know that one. That was her?”
Rarity smiled, her hat settling onto her head. “It seems there’s hope for you yet, Rainbow.”
She whirled around, now fully costumed in the clothes of her trade. Her devilish grin had returned.
“Now, let’s see if there’s still hope for Mr. Moisi, as well.”
“Rarity,” she said, “it’s the middle of the summer, right?”
“Well... not the middle, per say,” Rarity replied. “But yes.”
Rainbow nodded, satisfied.
“So why is the ground covered in snow?”
Indeed, the town that sprawled out before them lay blanketed in white. The Copseville train station stood at the top of a hill, with the rest of the town sloping down away from them, and from their vantage point Rainbow and Rarity could see all the way to the frosted treeline that bordered the town’s edge. The glare of the sun off the snow was almost blinding.
One of the stationworkers took notice of their confusion.
“Oh, there was a little accident with our weather deliveries,” he said. “We were supposed to get a bunch of rainclouds for this week, but someone in Cloudsdale mixed us up for Corpseville, and we ended up getting a bunch of snow instead.”
Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “So your weather team just decided to dump them anyway?”
“Yep. Didn’t want it to go to waste,” he said. “Besides, the foals love it. A real Hearthswarming in July!”
“Rookies,” Rainbow muttered.
Rarity chuckled, and adjusted the collar of her trenchcoat. “At least this time, it seems, I have dressed appropriately for the weather.”
Copseville, as it turned out, had only been a three-hour train ride away. It wasn’t a small village, by any means (it was certainly larger than meager Ponyville), but it had an atmosphere of being a lot smaller and close-knit than it should have been.
The claustrophobia of being surrounded by thick forest on three sides likely had something to do with that. Confinement does a lot for bringing a community together.
“Alright, so here’s what I don’t get,” Rainbow said as they made their way down the main street. “This Mosey guy—”
“Moisi,” Rarity corrected.
“Whatever. This guy’s a big-wig artist type, right? What’s he doing way out here?”
“I’m quite curious about that myself,” Rarity said, “though I have my suspicions.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Copseville is quite close to the other prominent artists’ workshop in Equestria,” Rarity said. “La Bottega di Piega. And if Moisi Râtelier is the primary suspect, then it’s a safe assumption that the victim will be its owner.”
“Why? Are they rivals or something?”
Rarity laughed. “You could say that, I suppose, although ‘bitter enemies’ might suit them better. Their mutual dislike of one another is legendary.”
“That’s not good.”
“Indeed.” Rarity drew to a stop. “Oh, but here’s the police station; we shall soon get some answers.”
The police station was an old, well-worn brick building. As Rainbow and Rarity stepped inside, they were greeted by a tall, thin-faced stallion in uniform sitting behind the reception desk. A tall stack of forms sat in front of him.
“Hello, ma’am. Ma’am,” he said. “Can I help you with anything today?”
“I believe you can,” Rarity said. “My name is Rarity; this is Rainbow Dash. We’re here at the behest of Mr. Râtelier.”
“Oh, you’re here about that business, then,” he said. “Nasty stuff.”
“Nasty stuff is our specialty,” Rainbow said.
“Er... in a manner of speaking,” Rarity said. “Could we perhaps pay Mr. Râtelier a visit?”
“If you must,” the policeman said. “Are you lawyers? You don’t look the legal type.”
“I will take that as a compliment,” Rarity said. “We’re detectives.”
Immediately, his demeanor soured.
“Detectives, right. Well, if you’re here to try and get him off, then you’re wasting your time.”
“And why is that?” Rarity asked.
“Because there is absolutely no doubt that he is the murderer.”
“Mademoiselle Rarity, I presume?”
“Monsieur Râtelier,” Rarity said, taking a seat on a stool that had been left against the wall. “I must say, it is an honor to make your acquaintance.”
“If only it could be under better circumstances,” said the stallion himself. Moisi Râtelier was quite tall and gaunt, even for a unicorn. His mane was well-coiffed, and he wore a frighteningly sharp moustache .
He was also, presently, behind bars. The sorry state of his right eye, puffy and swollen shut, did little to help matters.
“Well, that is why we’re here,” Rarity said. “Oh, and this is Rainbow Dash, my assistant and confidant. You may trust her as you may trust me.”
“Charmed to make your acquaintance,” he said, then frowned. “Have we perhaps met before? You seem oddly familiar.”
Rarity raised an eyebrow, but Rainbow was quick to deny. “Must have been someone else,” she said, adding an awkward laugh for good measure.
“I suppose so,” he said, though he didn’t look like he believed it. He turned back to Rarity. “Did, erm… Did my niece come with you?”
“I’m afraid not.”
A pause in the conversation followed, but Rarity was quick to break it.
“Well then, Mr. Râtelier,” she said. “Let us get down to business. Could you describe to me, in as much detail as possible, the events leading up to your imprisonment here?”
“Of course,” he said. “It all began with the letter.
“Two nights ago, I received a letter from the Bottega, asking me to come to Copseville; the letter said that they had acquired something though they thought I would be interested in. It was signed by Prepuzio Piega.”
“Your supposed victim,” Rarity said. “You didn’t think that was strange at all, given your history?”
“We may have been rivals, but we’d done business before when our interests aligned,” he said. “Begrudgingly. And I knew they he had recently made a few new acquisitions. I didn’t think much of it.”
“You wouldn’t happen to still have this letter, would you? Or perhaps the police have it?”
“No, I’m afraid not. It was disposed of prior to coming here.”
Rarity nodded. “A shame. When did you arrive at the Bottega?”
“Yesterday morning,” he said. “I took the train from Oatland.”
“No, my secretary came along. I believe she is still at the Bottega, or at least she was when last I heard from him.”
“I see,” Rarity said. “And what happened after you arrived?”
“I was told Prepuzio was waiting to see me in his office. I instructed my assistant to wait for me in the foyer, while an employee of his saw me to his office.” Moisi sighed. “He was in high spirits, though that was not abnormal for him. He’d even gotten out a bottle of champagne for the occasion.”
“And what was the occasion?”
“As I said, he’d made a new acquisition. And I was very interested in it. We spent the next hour negotiating a price.”
“Could you say about when this occurred?”
“Oh, it must have been around ten o’clock in the morning, if I had to guess,” he said.
“I see,” Rarity said. “And then?”
His expression turned grim.
“We had just closed the deal,” he said, “when the unthinkable occurred.”
“Prepuzio was at his desk, drafting up the final terms of our arrangement, when suddenly there was a loud bang! The next thing I knew, he was face-down on his desk in a pool of his own blood.
“Horrified, I turned to the window, where the sound had come from. I caught a glimpse of someone moving—but in my state of shock, I could not make out who it was. I ran to get a better look, but then something was thrown through the window, and it distracted me. Without thinking, I picked it up to have a look at it.”
“And what was it, Mr. Râtelier?” Rarity asked.
“It was a revolver, Miss Rarity,” he said. “And it had just been fired.”
“Hang on,” Rainbow said. “A what?”
“A revolver,” Rarity explained. “It’s a firearm, a griffon invention—think of it like a cannon, only small enough to carry on your person. Recently, they’ve become the playthings of the noble class, though mostly just as a curiosity, or for target practice. Nothing like this.”
“Kind of dangerous for a toy,” Rainbow remarked.
“Says the mare with a sword hanging over her mantle.”
“So,” Rarity said, turning back to Mr. Râtelier. “I suppose that’s how they found you—holding the literal smoking gun.”
“Correct,” he said. “The police were called, and I was taken into custody without so much as a chance to explain myself.”
“And thus, the real killer gets away, and you are left to take the fall.”
“Well, Mr. Râtelier, I would very much like to take your case. There is, however, one small matter.”
She sat up.
“You see, Monsieur, I am only a detective when it suits me. And so, I must inquire about my payment.”
“As I said in the letter I sent to my niece, I am willing to pay any price in exchange for your services,” Râtelier said.
“Yes, but I would like to hear it from your own mouth,” Rarity said. “Are you, in fact, willing to part with anything—no matter how large or how small—that I may ask for as payment, should I succeed in uncovering the true killer?”
“Yes,” he said, now determined. “Name your fee.”
“I will do so,” she said, smiling, “after I am done.”
She stood up.
“Come along, Rainbow,” she said. “We have work to do.”
“What was that about him finding you familiar?” Rarity asked as they exited the jail area of the station. “It’s hard to imagine anyone could mistake meeting you.”
“It happens more often than you’d think,” Rainbow said, hurriedly. “Hey, random question: did Mr. Râtelier ever work at a museum?”
“Several, briefly, when he was much younger,” Rarity said. “Why do you ask?”
They rounded a corner, and found themselves back in the entrance to the police station. The officer that had greeted them earlier was still sitting at the desk. The stack of papers didn’t seem to have decreased in size since they’d left.
“So,” he said. “Do you agree with me now?”
“On the contrary,” Rarity replied. “I’ve taken his case.”
The officer let out a short, unpleasant burst of laughter.
“You cannot be serious, ma’am!” he said. “The stallion was found holding the murder weapon. This is the very definition of an open-and-shut case!”
“You will not mind, then, if we were to ask you some questions about your investigation, Mr. ...?”
“Picker,” he said, laying down his pen. “Lieutenant Picker.”
“Lieutenant Picker,” Rarity repeated. “By the way you speak of it, I presume you are familiar with the details of the case?”
“I was one of the officers who made the arrest, in fact.”
“Wonderful,” Rarity said. “When would you say you first received word of the murder?”
“Eleven twenty-three AM,” he said, with the conviction of someone who times their life down to the second. “It was the victim’s assistant who came calling.”
“And what did you find when you arrived at the Bottega?”
“Mr. Râtelier had been subdued by one of the residents,” he said. “And Mr. Piega had been shot.”
“And he was protesting his innocence, I presume?”
Picker snorted. “To anyone who would listen. Some ridiculous story about the weapon being thrown through the window. We ignored him, of course; a criminal will make up anything if he thinks it’ll keep him out of jail.”
“You didn’t feel it was necessary to investigate his claims any further, then.”
“Of course not,” he said. “We had eyewitness testimony placing him at the scene, and a clear-cut motive. Besides which, his story didn’t add up.”
“Oh?” Rarity said. “How so?”
“Well, I don’t suppose he would have told you this,” Lieutenant Picker said, obviously taking some satisfaction from it, “but the revolver that was used to kill Mr. Piega belonged to Mr. Piega—and it was kept in the same room in which he was murdered.”
“Ah,” Rarity said. “I see what you mean.”
Picker nodded. “I’m glad you agree.”
“I didn’t say I agreed,” Rarity replied. “Was there anything else of note?”
“Not that I could say.”
“Very well, then. We will be off to the Bottega.”
“Going to look at the crime scene?” Picker inquired.
“Yes, we are,” Rarity said. “Is there a problem?”
“Not with me,” he said, his smile an unpleasant one. “Good luck…”
“You’ve been awfully quiet, Rainbow. What do you make of all of this so far?” Rarity asked, as they made their way up the road to the Bottega. The building was situated just outside of Copseville, on the side of a hill, though not far enough away that it had been spared the anomalous summer snowfall.
Rainbow bit her lip.
“I think,” she said, after a time, “That you’d have to be pretty stupid to pick up a murder weapon if someone threw it at you through a window.”
Rarity let out a laugh. “I couldn’t agree more, darling! Of course, one makes strange decisions when one is in strange circumstances. And yet, it is awfully convenient for our murderer that he should make that particular decision, isn’t it?”
“So you think he’s lying?” Rainbow asked.
“Not for the moment,” Rarity replied. “One can never rule out stupidity. Besides which, we haven’t gathered all the details yet. The devil is in the details, darling, and in the details, we will find our devil! And speak of the devil, I think I can see the Bottega up ahead.”
From a distance, one might have thought that the Bottega was simply a large house, or perhaps a mansion (and certainly, at some point, it may have served that purpose). But as Rainbow and Rarity drew closer, signs of its true nature began to emerge. Sculptures and odd bits of metal littered the grounds, flanking the path on either side and casting long and strange shadows onto the snow. The path that ran through it curved past the entrance to the building and ended at a large loading door, which looked a lot newer than its surroundings. Someone had painted a mural of a bee and some flowers onto it, which seemed quite out of place in their wintery surroundings.
Of course, the biggest sign of all that this was their destination was the one above the door.
“La Bottega di Piega,” Rainbow read off, bungling the pronunciation in a way not fit to be reproduced here. “Artist’s residencies. Looks like we’re in the right place.”
“Strange,” Rarity said. “I would have expected to see at least some form of a police presence.”
“They must be pretty sure that Moisi’s their man.”
“Mm. We shall see about that.”
The first thing to greet them as they entered was the acrid stench of acetone and oil paint, slamming into their nostrils with the force of a small truck.
The second thing to greet them was a small, elderly unicorn, who was quick to apologize for the first.
“Occupational hazard of housing artists,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of painters this season. But you’ll get used to it quickly, I promise!”
“I, ahem, certainly hope so,” Rarity said, trying to disguise a cough as a polite one and failing quite spectacularly.
“How can I help you, dears?” the mare asked.
“We’re here to assist in the investigation into Mr. Prepuzio Piega’s death,” Rarity said. “My name is Rarity; this is my assistant, Rainbow Dash. And you are?”
“Wilted Willow,” she said. “I’m Mr. Piega’s caretaker—or, well, I was. Oh, but it’s just horrible, what happened, isn’t it? I’m so glad they were able to put his killer behind bars so quickly.”
“Erm, yes, well,” Rarity said. “You’re the caretaker of this place? Then you must have been here when the murder occurred.”
“Oh, a bit more than that, dearie,” Willow said. “I was about thirty seconds shy of being a witness! I was the first one to the scene!”
Rarity smiled. “Would you mind if we asked you some questions, then? It could be vital to our investigation.”
“Oh, certainly, dear,” Wilted Willow said. “But you’ll want to look at the scene of the crime as well, won’t you? Why don’t I take you there, and you can ask me your questions on the way.”
They set off.
“So, how did you discover the murder?” Rarity asked.
“Well, I was cleaning one of the offices down the hall,” she said. “Mr. Books’s room, our accountant—oh, he does like to make a mess, that one. He’s on vacation right now, though. Most of the staff is.”
“I heard a loud bang,” she said. “Like an explosion! It nearly scared the life out of me. Well, of course I ran to see what had happened. I checked in the other rooms first, as I passed, but they were all empty, have been for months. And then when I got to Mr. Piega’s room—well, you can imagine.”
“I can imagine,” Rarity said. “But could you describe it anyway?”
“Well, when I opened the door—”
“The door was closed when you arrived?”
“Yes, Mr. Piega always closed it when he was in a meeting,” Willow said. “He kept it unlocked, though, so I had no troubles getting in. And I have a key, anywho.”
“And once you’d opened the door, you saw...?”
“Well, the first thing I saw was that dastardly Mr. Râtelier, with that horrible weapon floating next to him. And then I noticed Mr. Piega’s body, and—ooh, I nearly fainted at the sight of it! If Palette Knife hadn’t come running, I very well might have, and then who knows what that fiend might have done to me!”
“Who’s Palette Knife?” Rainbow asked.
“Oh, he’s one of our artists-in-residence,” Willow explained. “He’s been with us on and off for a few years, now. A good stallion, he is. Put me back on my feet and immediately set about restraining the criminal while I sent Thimble to fetch the police.” She nodded. “Why, I might owe him my life!”
“Well, we’ll have to have a chat with him later,” Rarity said. “Tell me, Willow, did you notice anything out of place in the office when you arrived? Anything at all?”
“Well, I’d have thought a dead body would be plenty out of place already!”
The mare thought for a moment.
“Well, there was one thing,” she said. “The window was open.”
“What’s so strange about that?” Rainbow asked.
“Well, because I’d closed it earlier in the morning,” she said. “What with the snow and all. Of course, it had already stopped by then, but it was still quite chilly out. I can’t think what would have possessed Mr. Piega to open it.”
The painter’s miasma seemed to fade the closer they got to the office portion of the building, and by the time they’d reached them, it had all but disappeared.
Standing in front of one of the doors was a stallion that seemed the opposite of the one they’d met at the station: short and round, perennially red in the face, and with a few stray strands of a combover poking out from under his cap. He stood up straighter as they approached.
“Well, here we are,” Willow said, gesturing towards him, and to the door behind him. “Lieutenant Stickler, I trust you’re doing well?”
“Just fine, ma’am,” he said, though perhaps it would be more accurate to say he sputtered; every utterance that came from his mouth was strained, as if the stallion’s uniform were cutting off his airways. Which perhaps it was, considering it had been buttoned up to the collar. “Is everything alright?”
“Oh, just fine,” Willow said. “I was just bringing these two to meet you. They’d like a look at the crime scene.”
“Rarity and Rainbow Dash, of Carousel Investigations,” Rarity supplied. “We’re here on the behalf of—”
She cast a sideways glance at their escort.
“—well, it isn’t important,” she finished. “We’re looking into the murder of Mr. Prepuzio Piega.”
“I see,” he sputtered. “Very commendable of you!”
“Yes, well,” Rarity said. “As you can understand, we’d quite like to look at the crime scene...”
“I understand completely!”
He didn’t move.
Rarity stared at him blankly for a few moments. He continued to block the door.
“So if you could...” she waved her hoof in the direction of the door.
“Could what, ma’am?”
“Let us in to the crime scene!” Rainbow said, growing a touch red in the face herself.
“Ah!” he said. “I can’t do that.”
“I cannot let civilians into an active crime scene,” he said. His cheeks grew an even brighter red with every word he spoke. “It’s against regulations!”
“He wouldn’t let me in to clean up this morning, either,” Willow added. “Oh, the master wouldn’t have been happy!”
“But surely it’s not still an active crime scene,” Rarity offered. “After all, you’ve already made an arrest.”
Stickler shook his head. “No ma’am! I’m not authorized to release the crime scene to the public until the requisite paperwork is filed by my partner down at the station!”
“But we aren’t the public,” Rainbow said. “We’re private detectives! It even has ‘private’ in the name!”
“How long will it take to get the paperwork done?” Rarity asked.
“Anywhere from four to six hours by my estimate, ma’am!”
Rainbow groaned. “Really?”
“Very sorry, ma’am,” Stickler said. “But it’s—”
“Against regulations, you’ve said as much,” Rarity interrupted. “Very well; we shall just have to come back later.”
She spun about, the tails of her coat swinging around as well, and began to walk back the way they’d come. Rainbow, agape, stared after her for a moment, then flew after her.
“Rares, you can’t be serious!” Rainbow said, once she’d caught up. “We can’t do anything without looking at the scene of the crime! You’re just going to let him keep us out?”
“Well, it’s painfully obvious the lieutenant won’t be budging, physically or metaphorically,” Rarity said. “I’m afraid there’s not much else we can do.”
“Well, can’t you, I dunno, bribe him or something?”
“Rainbow Dash!” Rarity gasped. “I cannot believe you would suggest such a thing. Bribing a police officer, why, it’s simply deplorable! You should be ashamed of yourself! Besides, I don’t think our Lieutenant Stickler is the type to take bribes, anyway.”
“Well, what’s your plan, then?”
“To break in through the window, of course.”
The snow crunched under Rarity’s hooves as they made their way around the side of the Bottega. She had taken the lead; Rainbow had elected to hover just overhead.
“It shouldn’t be too much farther,” Rarity said.
“This can’t be legal,” Rainbow Dash said.
“What, having an innocent walk around the grounds of a building we’ve already been invited into?” Rarity asked, a smile on her face. “I see nothing criminal about that.”
Rainbow crossed her hooves. “You know what I’m talking about.”
“Well, I won’t tell if you don’t.”
They rounded the corner of the building. Suddenly, Rarity gasped, drawing to a halt.
“Look,” she said. “Under the windowsill!”
Rainbow looked, and immediately spotted what Rarity had noticed: the snow under the windowsill had been disturbed.
Rarity ran over to the errant patch of snow, Rainbow flying along after her. She knelt down to take a closer look.
“Any hoofprints?” Rainbow asked.
“Not as such, no,” Rarity replied, as she continued to scan the ground. “But someone clearly stood here. The snow hasn’t been crushed evenly, and—ah, here, look.”
She pointed to a circular impression in the snow, about the diameter of a hoof, but smooth on the bottom.
“Whoever it was may have been wearing boots of some sort,” she said, but she was frowning. “Though I can’t say I’ve ever heard of a boot that didn’t have a pattern on its sole...”
Rainbow glanced up at the window they were huddled under.
“Is that the...?”
“The window to Mr. Piega’s office? I believe so,” Rarity said. “This certainly lends some credence to Mr. Râtelier’s story, doesn’t it?”
She stood up, and took another look at the scene at large.
“Rainbow,” she asked. “Do you notice anything odd about the snow around here?”
“Huh?” She glanced around. “I don’t see anything.”
“Precisely, darling,” Rarity said. “Other than mine, there are no other hoofprints to be found anywhere. The snow is undisturbed everywhere except for this one spot.”
Rainbow took another look. “Hey, yeah, you’re right!” she said. “So that means that whoever was standing here was a—”
“Let us not jump to conclusions,” Rarity said, but her eyes were sparkling. From the patch of disturbed snow, one would have a direct line-of-sight through the window—and into the office, where part of a desk was visible.
With the obvious taken care of, Rarity turned her attention to the window itself. It was located about a meter and a half off the ground, and presently closed; Rarity tried to pull it open with her magic, but to no avail.
“Guess we won’t be breaking in after all,” Rainbow said.
“I don’t think that would have been a possibility even if it were open,” Rarity replied. “It’s too thin for either of us to fit through.”
Rainbow sized it up. “I dunno,” she said. “I’m pretty flexible.”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. “Darling, really. Need I remind you what happened the last time you attempted to force your way through a window?”
“I said I was sorry!”
“You still owe me the money for the windowsill, darling.”
“I told you, I’m waiting for my royalties to come in.”
“And I’m waiting for a new windowsill.”
“Alright!” Rainbow snapped. “I get it. No reverse defenestration today.”
“Good,” Rarity said. “Now, be a dear and tell me what you can see from up there. The view from the ground is less than stellar.”
Grumbling, Rainbow flew over to the window. She raised a forelimb over her eyes and peered inside.
“What do you see?” Rarity hissed.
“Let me look first!” Rainbow hissed back. “Alright, there’s a painting on an easel in the middle of the room. Looks like a landscape. Most of it’s covered by a sheet, though.”
“But you can see some of it?”
“Yeah. The sheet’s not on straight. It’s not very clean, either.”
“Noted,” Rarity said. “What else is there?”
Rainbow craned her neck to the left.
“There’s a weird metal thingy on the left wall,” she said.
“A ‘weird metal thingy’,” Rarity repeated, dryly.
“Well, I don’t know what else to call it,” Rainbow said. “It’s weird, it’s metal, and it’s a thingy. Weird metal thingy.”
“Could you perhaps attempt to describe this ‘weird metal thingy’?”
“Fine,” Rainbow said, rolling her eyes. “Don’t get your trenchcoat in a bunch. It’s like a metal tube, attached to a bigger tube, with more metal bits sticking out of the top and bottom of it. There’s a... I guess it’s a handle? A handle sticking out of the back.”
Rarity thought for a moment—and then her eyes widened.
“Rainbow!” she exclaimed “I think you’ve just described the murder weapon!”
“What, really? That’s what you were talking about?”
Rainbow peered at it.
“That’s the thing that killed Mr. Piega? It’s so small!”
“Well, it’s not the size that matters,” Rarity said. “But it may not be the same one that was used in Mr. Piega’s execution—I doubt they would put it back on its mountings if it were. Tell me, is there a hook or something similar beside the one on the wall?”
“Looks like it, yeah.”
“Then it may be one in a pair,” Rarity said. “In which case, it’s probably the other revolver that killed Mr. Piega. Can you see it anywhere?”
Rainbow scanned the room again, then shook her head. “No sign of it. The police must have taken it already.”
“Not much chance of us getting a look at it, then.” Rarity sighed. “At least, not if our friend in there has anything to say about it. Anything else catch that eagle eye of yours?”
“There’s a desk—”
“What’s on the desk?”
“There’s a bucket... it’s got a bottle in it, and something else, but I can’t tell what it is.”
“That’ll be the bottle of champagne Mr. Râtelier mentioned,” Rarity said. “It’s a wonder no one’s taken it yet. What else?”
“Some papers, some pens, a typewriter, a paperweight—you know, normal boring desk stuff.” She swallowed. “And blood. Lots and lots of blood.”
“What about his body?” Rarity asked. “It should still be behind the desk, yes?”
“Uh... Rares?” she said. “There’s no body in there.”
“Of course there’s nobody in there,” Rarity said. “That policeman won’t let anyone in the room.”
Rainbow shook her head.
“No, Rares, I mean Mr. Piega’s body—it’s gone!”
The Magnificent Miracle of the Meticulous Mortician
Rarity stormed into the office block, a death glare on her face. The crimson folds of her coat billowed out behind her. The devil herself had walked into the room, wreathed in fire, and she’d brought her very best fashion sense.
And her prismatic assistant, of course, who came flying in shortly after.
“M-ma’am!” Lieutenant Stickler stammered, looking even smaller than usual. “I told you before, I cannot let you—”
“Where is Mr. Piega’s body!?” Rarity demanded.
“Mr. Piega’s body,” she repeated. “It is not in that room. Where is it?”
“A-at the funeral parlor!” he said. “How could you have possibly known—”
“Never mind that,” Rarity said. “The funeral parlor? Then he is being prepared for a ceremony? Already?”
“Better be a closed-casket one,” Rainbow muttered.
“Erm... not quite, ma’am.” Stickler said. “His will requested that he be cremated. He wanted his ashes scattered off of the edge of Canter—”
“Cremated!” Rarity exclaimed. “You cannot be serious!”
“Now, ma’am,” Lieutenant Stickler said. “While it might not be universally accepted by all religions, cremation after death is entirely ethical, and ultimately it was his choice—”
“Not that!” Rarity said. “If his body is burned, then we won’t be able to examine it!”
She spun about and ran for the exit.
“Hurry, Rainbow Dash!” she cried. “Before we’re too late!”
They were too late.
Rarity watched with dismay as the table was pulled from the brick-lined oven, covered with ash in rough outline of a pony.
She really, really didn’t want to think about the smell.
“I’m very sorry,” the funeral technician said, as she retrieved a dustpan and brush and began to sweep what remained of their victim into a neat little pile. “If I’d known that you wanted to take a look at him, I would have held off.”
“It’s...” Rarity swallowed. “It’s alright. You couldn’t have known.”
In truth, though, it was far from alright, and she knew it. First no crime scene, now no body. Today was not going well for Detective Rarity.
“I assume you, at least, got a good look at him before...?”
The technician nodded. “That I did. A bit too good of a look, if I’m being honest. I’ve never had a gunshot victim in here before, and I can say with all honesty I never want to see another one.”
“So he was definitely shot, then?”
“Well... see for yourself.”
The technician fished something out of the ash pile and held it up. It glinted in the light. Rarity’s horn lit and brought it closer, but she already knew what it was.
“This is the bullet, then,” she said, turning the lump of metal over in her magic.
The technician nodded. “Must have stayed in his skull.”
“So he was shot in the head?”
“Oh yes,” the technician said, sweeping the last of the ashes into an urn. “Right through the left temple. Would have gone straight into his brain, I’m guessing. He would have died almost instantly.”
She blushed. “Er, well, I think anyway. I’m no doctor.”
“Still, that’s very helpful to know,” Rarity said. “Thank you.”
She cast a glance to the side, at a folded pile of fabric on one of the countertops.
“Were these Mr. Piega’s clothes?” she asked.
“Oh—yes,” the technician said, blushing again. “We’re supposed to burn those too, technically, but it just seemed such a waste...”
“Oh, I quite agree,” Rarity said, approaching them. Delicately, she lifted up the top article—a grey lounge jacket—and inspected it. “This is an Ariamaspi original, pure wool! Burning it would be a crime against fashion.”
She cast a glance back at the technician.“Would you mind if I took a look at these?” she asked.
“Knock yourself out.”
The technician returned to her tasks. Rarity began going over the jacket in detail, examining every inch with the experienced eyes of a tailor. Rainbow, who had kept quiet up to this point, decided to ask the obvious.
“Do you really think we’re going to get anything from the guy’s clothes?” she asked. “I mean, without a body, we’re pretty much sunk, right?”
“Not necessarily,” Rarity replied, examining the jacket’s sleeve. “I’ve always said that one can learn a lot about a pony by the way they dress. Hopefully, in this case, they can tell us something about how one died.”
She quickly examined the other sleeve, unfurling both cuffs, then moved on to the shoulders. There was quite a bit of blood, here, particularly on the left shoulder and down the front. Rarity stifled a gag; whether this was due to the blood or the desecration of such a fine article of clothing was anyone’s guess.
Rarity raised the suit’s collar, and her eyebrows raised with it. There was a bloodstain under the lapel—quite distinct from the messy splatter on the outside of the jacket. This one was in the shape of two parallel lines, both on the inside of the fold, marking its entire length. What’s more, on closer inspection, a crease in the fabric became clearly visible, marking a third line running between the other two.
“It seems it has something to say after all,” she murmured.
Continuing on, she began looking through the jacket’s pockets. The outer ones yielded nothing, but the inner one...
“Hel-lo,” Rarity said. “What have we here?”
She carefully turned the thing inside out. The inside of the pocket bore several odd, off-colour stains—bizarrely so, as apart from the bloodstains, the rest of the jacket was impeccable. Lowering her muzzle, Rarity gave it a quick (but dignified) sniff.
“Machine oil,” she declared. “And recently stained, too. With the number of times I’ve had to chastise Pinkie for getting it on her dresses, I’d recognize it anywhere.”
“What’s Pinkie doing with machine oil?”
“I hope I never find out.”
Rarity proceeded to examine the other articles of clothing with the same keen eye, but besides proving that Mr. Piega had been a snappy dresser, they yielded nothing out of the ordinary. They thanked the technician for her time, and then they were on their way again.
“There is one other thing about our client I feel I should mention,” Rarity said. They were on their way back up to the mansion, along the same path they’d taken twice earlier.
Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “How come you didn’t bring it up before, then?”
“Because it’s hardly the type of thing one would talk about in polite company,” Rarity said. “Still, it may be relevant.”
“Alright,” Rainbow said. “Lay it on me.”
“Mr. Râtelier supposedly suffers from a rare form of impotency,” she said.
“...O-kay, starting to see why you didn’t bring it up.”
Rarity scoffed. “Magical impotence. Really, Rainbow, you must get your mind out of the gutter.”
“You did that on purpose.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, darling,” Rarity said, smiling with all the innocence of a newborn car salesman. “Regardless, his magic is perfectly normal, but the range at which he can cast spells is woefully small—not much more than a meter, or so I’ve been told.”
“So he has trouble getting his horn up,” Rainbow said. “What’s this got to do with the case?”
“Well, it occurs to me,” Rarity said, “that it would be somewhat difficult to pull a revolver off the wall from the other side of the room if you cannot lift things from more than a leg’s-length away. And if Mr. Piega was shot in the side of the head while at his desk, which faces the wall that the revolver was supposedly mounted upon...”
“Then it’s impossible for Mr. Râtelier to be the killer,” Rainbow finished. “Piega would have been shot from the front!”
“Well, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible,” Rarity admitted. “But it does seem unlikely that Mr. Piega would turn his head towards a bare wall if our client had a gun pointed at him.”
“We’ve gotta tell the Lieutenant!” Rainbow said. “We can wrap up this case right now!”
“Let’s not be too hasty,” Rarity said. “For now, I think it’s about time we tracked down Mr. Râtelier’s assistant.”
“I understand you worked for Mr. Râtelier,” Rarity said, settling into her chair. They’d taken another one of the offices as their interview room. This one was much closer to Rainbow Dash’s foalhood memories. She approved.
“That’s correct,” the mare sitting on the other side of the desk replied. She pushed her glasses—thin, wire-framed things—further up her muzzle with her magic. She’d introduced herself as Rubinda Rose, and it was easy to see where she’d gotten her name: her coat was a striking crimson.
“In what capacity?” Rarity asked.
“Would that include sorting his mail?”
“Mr. Râtelier claims he received a letter from Mr. Piega two days ago, inviting him to come to the Bottega,” Rarity said. “Can you confirm that?”
“Dark grey envelope, hand-written address,” Rose said, giving a curt nod. “I remember it clearly. Mr. Râtelier doesn’t usually receive mail from this part of Equestria.”
“And the contents of the letter?” Rarity asked.
“I do not know,” she said. “I don’t get paid to read my employer’s private mail.”
“But you are in the habit of joining him on trips to the countryside, it seems.”
“Only in a business capacity, I assure you.”
“Fine, then,” Rarity said. She leaned forwards and propped her hooves up on the desk. “What were you doing at the time of the murder?”
“I was waiting for Mr. Râtelier in the entrance hall of the Bottega,” Rose said. “As he had instructed.”
“Mr. Râtelier said he met with Mr. Piega for almost an hour,” Rarity said. “You were there the entire time?”
“I do not get paid to wander off on the job, Miss Rarity.”
“Did you see anyone while you were there?”
“Two ponies,” Rose said. “The first was a stallion, on his way out. He seemed to be in a hurry. Not long after, I heard the gunshot, and shortly after that a mare ran past. I asked her what was happening, but she didn’t seem to notice me. She returned a minute later, and it was from her that I learned what had happened.”
“And then what did you do?” Rarity asked.
“I went to see if she was telling the truth. She was.”
“So you visited the crime scene, then.”
“Not for very long. The smell of blood makes me nauseous.”
Rarity nodded. “I see.”
She leaned back in her chair and steepled her hooves. “Tell me, what do you know about your employer’s feud with Mr. Piega? I confess, I’m a bit short on the exact details. Perhaps you could shed some light on the circumstances of their rivalry?”
“I don’t know much about it,” Ruby said, pushing up her glasses again. “I wasn’t in Mr. Râtelier’s employ at the time.”
“Oh, come now. Surely you’ve at least heard rumors?”
“I… may have heard the older staff discussing it, once or twice.”
“All I know is that Mr. Piega loaned Mr. Râtelier several pieces for an exhibition on good faith,” she said, “and that those pieces were never returned. Something about a ‘Démone Arc-en-ciel’, if that means anything to you. It doesn’t to me.”
Rainbow coughed. Rarity cast her an odd glance, but said nothing. Instead, she turned back to their interviewee.
“One last question?”
“If you must.”
“Were you aware that it was Mr. Râtelier who sent for our services?” Rarity asked.
This seemed to catch the mare off guard. For a split second, her lips, which had remained up to this point persistently pursed, loosened into an O.
But she regained her composure just as quickly. “No, I was not aware of that,” she said.
“Really?” Rarity said, leaning back in her chair. “You would be just as surprised as I was, then, that he sent his niece to our office to request my assistance?”
“I... yes,” she said. “I am. Is there a point to any of this, Detective?”
“I’m just surprised he would send an estranged relative to run this particular errand, rather than his own assistant,” Rarity said. “Surely you would have been the more convenient choice, if not also the more reliable.”
She fixed Rose with a measured stare.
“So why didn’t he send you?”
“I have no idea,” Rose said. “How should I know what goes on in the mind of a murderer? I don’t get paid to—”
“Yeah, I think we get the idea,” Rainbow said.
“The mind of a murderer?” Rarity remarked. “So you think he’s guilty, then?”
Rose glared at her.
“I understand you were the second person to make their way to the scene of the murder?” Rarity said.
“That’s correct,” the stallion replied.
Her interviewee this time went by the name of Palette Knife. He was a tall stallion, muscular and lean, and though he lacked a mane or tail, his coat was immaculately groomed. It was easy to see how he could have restrained their client—he looked more like a fitness guru than an artist.
“You were nearby, then?”
“I was working in my studio,” he said. “It’s the first one past the offices.”
“Actually, yeah, I don’t get this whole ‘Bottega’ thing.” Rainbow cut in. “ So he pays you to paint in his workshop? What’s up with that?”
“The Bottega offers a place to work in peace, surrounded by like-minded ponies,” Palette Knife explained. “And all the tools and facilities one may need to pursue one’s passions. It’s... freeing. Many ponies would pay a small fortune to spend time here. Fortunately, Mr. Piega was willing to pay us for the privilege instead.”
“And in exchange, Mr. Piega gets full distribution rights to anything created on the premises,” Rarity said. “Quite a lucrative little scheme, as it turns out.”
“Well, I, for one, was grateful for his services,” Palette Knife said, indignation creeping into his voice. “Money be damned. Mr. Piega was a good stallion, before that monster—your client—murdered him in cold blood.”
“Yes, and let’s get back to talking about that monster, shall we?” Rarity said, smoothly. “What sent you running to the office in the first place?”
“The gunshot, of course.”
“How did you know it was a gunshot?”
“I recognized the sound,” he said. “After all, I was the one who gave Mr. Piega those pistols in the first place.”
A moment of silence, then:
“You what?” Rainbow Dash blurted out.
“They were a birthday gift.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s the first thing I think of when buying birthday presents for my friends,” Rainbow said. “Hey, Rares, your birthday’s coming up. How about I get you a shiny new guillotine? That’ll get ponies’ heads turning!”
“They are all the rage in Prance,” Rarity mused. “But I believe we’ve gotten a bit off track, darling.”
She turned back to Palette Knife. “I presume, then, that you are an enthusiast for this sort of thing?”
“I’m a collector, yes.”
“Then, as an earth pony, you must have a firing brace, yes? Could you bring it here?”
He nodded, and stood up. As he left the office, Rainbow leaned over.
“What’s a firing brace?” she asked.
“It’s a special tool that lets earth ponies and pegasi use griffon firearms,” Rarity explained. “They’re designed for talons, not hooves, so it’s a bit difficult to use them as a non-unicorn.”
“This all seems kinda complicated,” Rainbow said.
“Well, what did you expect, darling? Ponies to hold them in their mouths?” She chuckled. “If that were the case, it’d make our job a lot easier—we’d just have to look for anyone missing half their teeth!”
Palette Knife returned shortly, carrying a wooden box on his back. He deposited it on the desk, then retrieved a keyring from one of his pockets.
“You keep this locked?” Rarity asked.
“Always,” he said. “I had to get it custom-made by an expert in Prance. I’d rather not have to replace it.”
The lock snapped open with a click, and he pulled the lid open. Inside the case, surrounded by velvet lining, sat an elaborate contraption of straps, brass, and cord. A series of pulleys guided a string to a little lever that sat where a trigger might have been.
Rarity lifted the brace from the box and examined it, turning it over and over in her magical grip.
“And the key to this box,” she said. “You had it with you on the day of the murder?”
She gave the brace one more looking-over, but it yielded nothing of note. Delicately, she lowered it back into its box and closed the lid.
“Tell me, what did you do, once you’d arrived at the office and found Mr. Piega dead? I presume it was you who gave our client that horrid black eye?”
“There... may have been a quick scuffle.”
“Miss Willow told us you restrained him.”
“I dragged him out of the office and tied him to a chair, yes.”
“And I presume you waited with him until the police arrived?” Rarity asked. “And neither of you re-entered the office until afterwards?”
He nodded. “And Miss Willow can support that.”
“Very interesting,” Rarity said. “Thank you. You may go.”
“Things just seem to get stranger by the minute, don’t they?” Rarity remarked, once Palette Knife had left.
Movement in her peripheral caught Rarity’s attention; she turned just in time to watch the caretaker walk past their door.
“Ah, Miss Willow!” Rarity called out, standing up. “A moment, if you would?”
The two of them stepped out into the hall to speak with her.
“You said you were cleaning Mr. Piega’s office just before Mr. Râtelier arrived, yes?” Rarity said. “Those two revolvers that were mounted on the wall—how long had they been there?”
“Oh, several months, now,” Willow said.
“And were they both in their mountings that morning?”
She blinked. “Well, now that you mention it, no, they weren’t.”
“One of them was missing,” Willow said. “I thought it was strange—but I asked Mr. Piega, and he said not to worry about it, so it slipped my mind. Oh, you don’t think—”
Rarity nodded, grimly. “One more question? You were nearby at the time of the murder, yes? Did you have a clear view of the hallway?”
“I did,” Willow said.
“Did you see anyone else going into, or towards, Mr. Pieta’s office?”
“Not a soul,” she said. “Well, apart from Thimble, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Rarity raised an eyebrow.
“Mr. Pieta’s secretary,” Willow explained. “Well, he was supposed to be, anyway! Mr. Piega treated him more like a servant. It’s left him very high-strung.”
“And what exactly was he doing in the hall?” Rarity asked.
“Well, he passed through a couple of times,” Willow said. “The first time, he was carrying a bucket of ice and a bottle of champagne—this wasn’t long after Mr. Piega and that dastardly Mr. Râtelier went into the office. Then, a while later, Mr. Piega called for him, and after that he left in a hurry.”
“Then this ‘Thimble’ may have been the last person to see Mr. Piega alive,” Rarity mused. “Apart from Mr. Râtelier, of course.”
“Well, we’d better talk to him, then,” Rainbow said. “Any clue where he is?”
“He’s right behind you, actually,” Willow said, pointing. “Trying to sneak into one of the studios.”
Rainbow and Rarity turned around. There was, indeed, a stallion there, frozen halfway through one of the doorways.
Rarity stared at him.
“W-well,” he said. “Phooey.”
“So,” Rarity asked. “Mr. Thimble. What were you doing at the time of the murder?”
Thimble swallowed. He was only a colt (on the older side of his mid-teens, perhaps), but he was tall for his age, and scrawny. Some might have said that he looked like the proverbial mouse who’d just been cornered by the proverbial cat, but given how little meat was on his bones, it’s unlikely the proverbial cat would have bothered.
“I-I was running an errand,” he said.
“An errand,” Rarity repeated.
“There’s a rope, i-in Mr. Piega’s office,” Thimble said. “It rings a bell in the hall—it’s how he usually calls me when he needs help with something. He called for me, just a few minutes before t-the... the incident.”
“And what did Mr. Piega need help with?”
Thimble fluttered his wings, in that way that all pegasi do when they get flighty. Being a close friend of Ponyville’s resident anxiety attack on wings, Rarity recognized it instantly. So did Rainbow.
“See?” she whispered, patting the desk and leaning over so Thimble couldn’t hear. “Look how intimidated he is!”
“Well, it wasn’t Mr. Piega who needed help,” Thimble said. “It was the pony he was meeting with—Mr. Râtelier—who answered the door.”
“Really?” Rarity asked, leaning forwards. “And what did he want?”
“He asked me to go out to his carriage and get a bag for him,” Thimble said. “He said he’d forgotten to bring it in.”
“And you didn’t see Mr. Piega at all?” Rarity asked.
“I see,” Rarity said. “And then?”
“I went out to get his bag,” Thimble said. “I was halfway down the drive when I heard the gunshot.”
His wings quivered again. “I thought it was some kind of firework, at first. But then Miss Willow came running out, and she said that—said that—”
“And then you went to fetch the police, yes?”
He nodded. His eyes had begun to tear up, and his bottom lip was quivering.
“I don’t suppose anyone else was out there with you?” Rarity asked, in as gentle a tone as she could muster.
N-no,” he stammered. “It was cold out; everyone else was inside.”
“I see.” Rarity nodded. “Tell me, had you ever encountered Mr. Râtelier before?”
“No, never,” Thimble said. “I met him briefly when he first arrived, but I’d never seen him before. I didn’t even know who he was until h-he introduced himself! And right afterwards, Mr. Piega sent me to fetch a bottle of champagne for them—I barely spoke more than a few words to Mr. Râtelier, I swear!”
He seemed to be in quite the panic, now. Rarity, ever the tactful one, leaned back in her seat, content to wait for him to calm himself down a bit before embarking on a new line of questioning.
Rainbow, ever the blunt one, decided it was time to throw tact out the window.
“Alright,” she said, rearing up and slamming her hooves on the desk; the impact made Thimble flinch. “What are you so nervous about, huh? And why’d you try and run away from us earlier?”
“I-I had nothing to do with it!” he said. “I promise!”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Rainbow said. “Spill it!”
“I-I didn’t do anything!”
Rarity laid a hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder.
“That’s enough, darling,” she said, gently pulling her back into her chair.
“Mr. Thimble,” she said, speaking calmly. “While I do not necessarily agree with my assistant’s methods, I must admit, I am also quite curious what it is you’re so afraid of. To put it in a manner as blunt as she typically is—”
“—you are acting extremely suspiciously.”
She fixed Thimble with a wary gaze.
“It would be in your best interests, I think,” she said, “to come clean. I am here solely on the business of Mr. Piega’s murder. If whatever it is you don’t want to tell me isn’t related to that, then you have nothing to fear from me.”
Thimble looked at her. He looked at Rainbow Dash. He looked back at her.
“Of course, if you don’t ‘spill it’, as my friend so adequately put it,” Rarity added, “I will have no choice but to spill what I know to the police...”
“I guess there’s no point,” he said, hanging his head.
“Good,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “That’s a relief. Given the general competency of the policemen in this town, I rather doubt that would have gone well for either of us.”
“So, what is it?” Rainbow asked, getting impatient. “We don’t have all day, y’know!”
“Well, technically we do,” Rarity said. “But that’s besides the point. Now, what is it you were so afraid we’d find out about?”
Thimble sighed again. “I’m...”
He squeezed his eyes shut.
“I’m a runaway,” he said.
“I ran away from home a year ago.”
“Really?” Rarity said. “And why was that?”
“I wanted to be a painter,” he said. “It’s... it’s all I’ve wanted to do since I was little.”
He snorted. “But my parents, well... my dad’s the proud owner of a chicken farm. And when I say proud, I mean very proud. Like, eggs-three-meals-a-day proud. Roll-of-chicken-wire-for-your-birthday proud.”
Rarity winced. “Proud is... certainly one way you could describe that.”
Thimble rubbed the back of his neck with a shoe-clad hoof.
“As you can imagine, he w-wasn’t very happy when I told him I didn’t want to take over the family business.”
“So you needed to get away from your parents,” Rainbow said. “I can, uh, sympathize with that.”
“As can I, to an extent,” Rarity added. “So, you came to the Bottega after you, ahem, flew the coop?”
Thimble nodded. “So I could, y’know... paint.”
“But that isn’t what happened, is it?” Rarity asked.
“No, it isn’t,” he said. “Mr. Piega wouldn’t take me as an artist—it was only after I told him I’d run away from home that he offered to let me be his assistant, so I could get some experience in the art world. Of course, I was willing to take whatever I could get.”
“I’m guessing Mr. Piega didn’t pay you much, either,” Rarity said. Thimble nodded.
“Three bits a week,” he said. “That was our arrangement. I was desperate...”
He looked up at them with pleading eyes.
“Please don’t tell the police about me!” he begged. “They’ll send me back to my parents, I know they will!”
“I understand completely, darling,” Rarity said. “Rest assured, your secret is safe with us.”
“T-thank you,” Thimble stammered. “Can I...?”
“You may go.”
Thimble nodded appreciatively, and headed for the door. It fell closed behind him with a soft click. The clicking of his shoes faded slowly into the distance.
Rarity turned to Rainbow Dash.
“And that, darling,” she said, “is why I don’t need a desk.”
“So, what now?” Rainbow asked. “Do we keep interviewing ponies?”
“We’ve interviewed everyone who was directly related to the murder,” Rarity said. “Hopefully that will be enough, for now.”
“Phew!” Rainbow hopped out of her chair and stretched like a cat, arching her back and spreading her wings wide. “I was starting to worry we were gonna have to interview every artist in this place. I dunno how many more of these artsy types I can sit through.”
“You seem to forget that I am also one of these ‘artsy types’,” Rarity said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah, but you’re, like, cool n’ stuff.”
“What a wonderful compliment, darling,” Rarity said, dryly. “I shall treasure it forever.”
“Yeah, you do that,” Rainbow said. “So, you figure out who framed Mr. Pencil-Stache yet?”
Rarity bit her lip.
“I... have my suspicions,” she said, “but I also have a lot of doubts.”
“Well, then I guess I have you beat this time!” Rainbow said.
Rarity raised her other eyebrow.
“Come again, darling?”
Rainbow puffed out her chest. “I already figured out who killed Mr. Râtelier.”
“Oh, did you, now?”
Rarity stared at her for a few seconds.
“Well?” she said. “Are you going to tell me who it was or not?”
“No way!” Rainbow said. “You never tell me who it is when you figure it out.” She stuck her tongue out. “You’ll just have to wait.”
“Turnabout is fair play, I suppose,” Rarity said, sighing. “Very well.”
Her frown turned to a smile.
“How about a little wager, then?”
Rainbow, who was never one to turn away from a competition, perked her ears up.
“I didn’t know you were a gambling mare.”
“You’d be surprised,” Rarity said. “When the time comes, we shall both announce our theories. If I am correct and you are not, then you never get to complain about my choice of decor ever again.”
“Fine,” Rainbow said. She grinned back. “But if I’m right and you’re wrong, then you have to remodel!”
Rarity nodded. “Of course, if we both get it right, it’s a draw.”
“What if neither of us is right?”
“Oh, darling,” Rarity said, chuckling. “I think between the two of us, there’s hardly any chance of that. Do we have a deal?”
They shook on it.
“Still,” Rarity said. “I’m quite surprised that you’d be so confident in your answer, given everything we know.”
“Well, I dunno, it seems pretty obvious who did it to me,” Rainbow said. “There’s only one pony it could have been!”
“Yes, it does seem obvious...” Rarity said. “And yet, there’s one little detail that simply doesn’t fit with the others.”
She steepled her hooves, her gaze focused somewhere off in the distance.
“Just one little detail...”
Rainbow waited for her to speak again for approximately twenty seconds (ten more than she would have given most ponies), then gave up and wandered off.
When she returned some twenty minutes later, Rarity was still in the chair, but her gaze was fixed firmly in the foreground.
“Oh good, you’re back,” Rarity said. “How well do you remember what you saw of Mr. Piega’s office?”
Rainbow blinked. “Uh... pretty well, I guess. Why?”
“The painting, on the easel,” she said. “Could you see a signature on it?”
Rainbow thought about it for a moment.
“Yeah,” she said. “It was just initials, though. ‘S.B.’”
“Was it a large painting, then?”
“Yeah,” Rainbow said. “Maybe... a meter wide?”
“And the sheet that was draped over it,” Rarity said. “You said it was stained?”
Rainbow blinked. “Well, uh... a few different colours. Blues and greens and browns. But it was light—not like it had been painted on.”
Rarity nodded. “And the paperweight—the one on the desk. Could you describe it for me?”
“It was one of those glass ones,” Rainbow said. “Y’know, the round ones, with the wavy patterns inside?”
“And how big was it?”
“I dunno,” Rainbow said. “About the size of my hoof?”
Abruptly, Rarity leapt from her chair. There was a shine in her eye, and she was wearing that grin, that famous grin, that I-know-something-you-don’t-know grin that always seemed to make Rainbow’s heart beat just a little bit faster.
She stood tall, and she grinned that grin, and she looked at Rainbow with those sparkling eyes, and she said, “Rainbow?”
“I believe that I have found our devil.”
The Persuasive Premonitions of the Prismatic Pegasus
Rarity folded the paper into quarters and handed it back to the Lieutenant. Her smile was smaller, more mischievous than Rainbow’s.
“Yes,” she said, “I believe it does.”
“What’s going on here?” came a voice from down the hall. Rarity turned to look; it was Lieutenant Picker who’d spoken, and following closely behind him was Miss Willow.
Stickler quickly composed himself.
“Nothing at all, Lieutenant Picker,” he said. “Just guarding the crime scene, as per regulations.”
“Well, you can stop that now,” Picker said, joining their little group around the door. “I’ve just finished filing the necessary paperwork at the station. This crime scene is hereby decommissioned.”
Stickler looked at him suspiciously.
“You’re sure you filled out all the forms this time, Lieutenant Picker?”
“Well, all the important ones.”
“I hate to interrupt,” Rarity interrupted, “but does this mean we can enter the office, now?”
“He’s been keeping you out, has he?” Picker said.
“Yes,” Rainbow said, glaring at the lieutenant. “He has.”
“Well, it’s all yours now, ma’am.”
“Wonderful,” Willow said. “I can finally finish cleaning. Oh, I bet it’s just filthy in there!”
But Rarity shook her head. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to hold off on that, Miss Willow.”
“Oh?” Willow said. “And why’s that?”
“Probably so she can finally get a look at the crime scene, eh?” Picker said.
Rarity smiled. “Not quite. You see, I find that it’s best to explain who committed a crime from the scene of the crime itself. It aids in explaining things.”
“And it’s more dramatic!” Rainbow added.
“Wait just a moment, ma’am!” Stickler cried. “We already know who committed the crime—Mr. Moisi Râtelier!”
“And how do you know that exactly?”
“Well, he’s been arrested for it, hasn’t he?” Stickler said. “Only criminals get arrested!”
“You’re the one who arrested him,” Rainbow said, squinting at him.
“I fail to see how that’s relevant.”
“Regardless,” Rarity said, holding up a hoof, “I would like to go over the crime one more time. You may find that things are not quite as cut and dry as you assumed.”
“B-but this is preposterous!” Stickler said, his face now leaving ‘tomato’ and approaching beetroot. “It’s a mockery of the legal system! I—”
Lieutenant Picker laid a hoof on Stickler’s shoulder.
“Relax, Lieutenant,” he said. “I want to hear what they have to say. It’ll only take a minute.”
“If you tell me it’s against regulations, I’ll take your badge.”
“...You can’t do that.”
“Watch me,” Picker said. He turned back to Rarity.
“We’ll hear you out,” he said. “It should be at least a little bit amusing.”
“Wonderful. Go on in, then.”
The two policemen filed into the office. Rarity turned to the housekeeper.
“You as well, Miss Willow, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to miss this,” Willow said with a chuckle. “This is the most excitement we’ve had around here in ages!”
They assembled in the office, taking up positions around the room’s perimeter. For how large the room had seemed when peering at it through the window, with five ponies inside, it was surprisingly cramped.
“Alright,” Lieutenant Picker said, once they’d all settled in. “So who exactly is it you think is behind this?”
“In due time, officer,” Rarity said. “But you see, we’ve made a little wager—”
“—the nature of which is not important, but which requires my assistant to share her thoughts on the case first. Rainbow?”
She took a step back and gestured for Rainbow to take center stage, which the pegasus did with enthusiasm.
“Alright!” Rainbow said. “Let’s go over the crime, first.”
“We already know about the crime,” Lieutenant Picker said. “We were the ones who arrested the murderer, remember?”
“Well, I don’t,” Willow said. “I was only there for the end of it.”
Rainbow nodded. “See? She doesn’t. Anyway...”
“Mr. Râtelier arrived here this morning,” she began. “He met Mr. Piega in the main hall, and followed him to his office, where we are now. An hour passed, and then”—she mimed an explosion with her hooves—“Bang! Mr. Piega was shot with his own revolver.”
“Everyone assumed that Mr. Râtelier was the murderer because he was the one holding the gun—but you were wrong!”
Lieutenant Picker was unamused. “And how do you figure that, exactly?”
“Simple,” Rainbow said, her chest puffed out like a songbird’s. “There are two pieces of evidence that prove that it wasn’t Mr. Râtelier. The first is the gun.”
She gestured towards the mount on the wall, where one of the two revolvers still hung.
“You thought that the revolver that killed Mr. Piega was in the room with them, right?” Rainbow said.
“That’s right,” Stickler said.
“Well it wasn’t!” Rainbow said. “That revolver went missing that morning—before Mr. Râtelier even got here!”
Lieutenant Picker’s eyes narrowed. “Says who?”
“Says her!” Rainbow exclaimed, brandishing a hoof in the direction of Miss Willow.
“Oh, yes,” Willow said. “It was missing when I came to tidy the office that morning.”
Stickler blanched. “And you didn’t think to tell us this!?” he sputtered.
“Well, you never asked.”
“So obviously,” Rainbow said, “Mr. Râtelier couldn’t have shot him.”
“That doesn’t prove that it wasn’t in the room, though,” Picker said. “Or that Mr. Râtelier didn’t pick it up somewhere. It could have been hidden in the room ahead of time. Technically, all you’ve proven is that it wasn’t on the wall.”
Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Seriously, dude?”
The lieutenant nodded. “Quite serious. Your argument is getting flimsier by the second, ma’am.”
“W-well, I did say that that was only the first piece of evidence,” Rainbow said. “And the second is right outside that window!”
She moved to stand beside the thin pane of glass.
“Obviously you all know about Copseville’s weird weather situation,” she said. “Like, how could you not? It’s kinda hard to miss when it snows in August.”
“You’re talking about the snow shipment,” Picker said. “The one that was supposed to go to Corpseville.”
“Where is Corpseville, anyway?” Stickler asked.
Picker shrugged. “Probably somewhere cold.”
“Well,” Rainbow said, “the snow fell the day before the murder.” She gestured at the white wasteland outside the window. “And obviously it was still there when the crime happened. Hey Lieutenant—what happens when a pony walks through snow?”
“...They get cold?” Stickler said.
“What—no!” Rainbow said. “I mean, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about!”
“Then what are you talking about, dear?” Willow asked.
“Hoofprints!” Rainbow declared. “Hoofprints, like the ones me and Rarity found below this very window!”
“Below the window!?” Stickler cried. “But that would mean that Mr. Râtelier was telling the truth!”
Rainbow stepped out of the way. “See for yourselves!”
The two policemen clambered over to the window. Sure enough, there, fully visible, were the prints from earlier.
“Ridiculous,” Lieutenant Picker said. “Those look nothing like hoofprints.”
Rainbow blinked. “What? Yeah they do!”
“No, they don’t!” Picker said. “Hoofprints look like—well, hooves. They have a very distinct shape!”
He flailed a hoof at the window. “Those prints are smooth, and circular. Nothing like hoofprints at all.”
Rainbow stared at him.
“Lieutenant Picker,” Rarity interrupted. “Do you by any chance have a first name?”
“I do,” he said.
“It wouldn’t happen to be ‘Nit’, would it?”
“It is indeed, ma’am.”
“So you’re Lieutenant Nit Picker,” Rarity said.
“That’s correct, ma’am.”
Rarity nodded. “That explains quite a bit.”
“I guess that’d make you ‘Rules Stickler’, then, huh?” Rainbow remarked, nudging the portly policeman in the side.
“Eugene, actually,” he replied. “My parents wanted something exotic.”
“Well, even if they aren’t hoof-shaped,” Rainbow said, getting back on topic. “They’re still hoofprints. All that means is that they were wearing shoes.”
“And here’s the kicker,” Rainbow continued. “Those footprints outside? There aren’t any leading towards or away from them, they’re just under the window. Which means—”
“So you’re saying they must have been a pegasus,” Stickler said.
Rainbow nodded, gleeful.
“So if Pencil-Stash was telling the truth, and there was a pony outside the window, and that pony was the one who shot Mr. Piega, then the murderer must have been a pegasus who was wearing flat shoes, and who would have had access to this office, so they could steal the gun that morning.
“And there’s only one pegasus here who wears flat shoes, could get into the office without raising suspicion, and who had a grudge against Mr. Piega, and who was seen going outside right before the murder! And that pony is—”
She paused, for dramatic effect.
“—his assistant, Thimble!”
The two lieutenants just looked confused.
“Who in Celestia’s name is ‘Thimble’?” Picker asked.
Rainbow squinted at them.
“Did you two do any policework when you were here?” she asked, incredulous.
“We looked around a bit,” Picker said.
“I stood in front of a door!”
Rainbow facehoofed. “Ugh. Thimble is Mr. Piega’s personal assistant. Piega was shortchanging him. He obviously took it personally once he found out.”
“But—Thimble?” Willow said. “He was always such a darling—that poor boy would never do something like this!”
“Well, obviously he did,” Rainbow said. “And here’s even more proof!”
She slapped a piece of paper down on the desk. The others crowded around to see.
“Hey!” Stickler said. “That’s the paper the detective told me to retrieve from the wastepaper basket!”
Rainbow nodded. “And it’s also the last nail in Thimble’s coffin.”
The note was typewritten, plain—but its contents was anything but. It was a resignation letter, citing a long and passionate list of grievances, and at the bottom...
“Thimble wrote this?” Willow said. “I—I had no idea he was so angry!”
Rainbow nodded. “Obviously, Mr. Piega didn’t accept his resignation—which is why this note was found crumpled up in his trash can! And so, when Thimble found out that Mr. Râtelier would be coming to the Bottega, he seized his chance to use him as the perfect scrapegoat.”
“That’s what I said.”
Lieutenant Picker nodded, slowly.
“Though it pains me to admit it,” he said, his right eye twitching just slightly, “what you’ve proposed... has merit, even if it isn’t conclusive. Perhaps we were too hasty in our judgment on this case.”
“But,” Lieutenant Stickler sputtered, “but we followed regulations—!”
“Shut up, Stickler. The adults are talking.”
Rainbow turned to Rarity, a smug smile settled on her face.
“See?” she said. “I told you I knew who the murderer was. Looks like you’re going to have some redecorating to do!”
“You did well, darling” Rarity said. “But I have just one question.”
"As a pegasus... how exactly do you think Thimble fired the gun?"
Rainbow blinked. "Uh... with one of those fancy brace things, like Pallette knife had?"
"Really?" Rarity said. "You mean one of those firing braces? The ones that are typically custom-made, and have to be commissioned overseas?"
The smile faded from Rainbow's face.
"The kind that are typically very expensive, far outside the price range of a young assistant working for a pittance? The kind that have to be manufactured extremely carefully, in order to be at all accurate?"
Rainbow cast a glance at the revolver still mounted on the wall, with its tiny guarded trigger and itty-bitty hammer.
She began to sweat.
“Really, darling,” Rarity said, rolling her eyes. “You must learn to think things through.”
"...Maybe he stole Pallette's?" Rainbow said, grinning hopefully, but she didn't sound too convinced of it herself.
"Even if he could have, it wouldn't have fit him," Rarity said. "He's half his size."
"Hold on a minute," Picker said. "What are you two going on about?"
Rarity sighed, and stepped forward. “It’s this exact ignorance that the killer was relying on. Allow me to explain." She lit her horn. The second revolver came floating down from its mount.
“Firearms of this type were invented by griffons, and thus built for griffon talons. This makes them difficult to use for ponies," she said, showing the gun around. "The trigger, you see, offers too much resistance to be pulled with a feather, and the grip is not designed to be held by hooves; the recoil would send it flying.”
She flicked the cylinder in and out. It was visibly not loaded.
“It’s feasible that one could hold it in their mouth if they were so inclined.” She grimaced. “But the taste would be terrible, and firing it—just imagine what it would do to your teeth!”
She pointed the gun at the empty space behind the desk.
“If our Mr. Thimble had fired it in such a way, why, he wouldn’t be able to open his mouth, let alone speak!”
She pulled the trigger. The revolver’s click made Rainbow flinch.
"The only way for an earth pony or a pegasus to use a firearm like this one is to use a special type of brace," she continued, "which is both very expensive and very hard to get one's hooves on. There is a reason this sort of thing is primarily a unicorn sport. Thimble, who was being paid a mere three bits a week for his services, could not have afforded one—and the only one here at the Bottega was under lock and key the entire time. And there are other details that further cast doubt on Thimble's involvement, which I shall explain in a moment.”
“Therefore,” Rarity declared, “the odds that Thimble could have committed the crime are slim to none!”
“Great,” Lieutenant Picker said, crossing his hooves. “So you’ve just been wasting all of our time.”
“Oh, that was hardly a waste of time, Lieutenant,” Rarity said. She placed the revolver on the desk. “My assistant has laid out the facts of this case rather well—and you’ll find her deductions quite relevant, just as soon as I reveal the killer’s true intentions.”
“No, Mr. Thimble did not commit this crime,” she continued, as her audience listened on with bated, and not so bated, breath. “But you were right about one thing, darling, and that is that our client, Mr. Râtelier, did not shoot Mr. Prepuzio Piega dead."
“Mr. Râtelier’s magic cannot extend more than a few feet from his body,” Rarity continued. “This will become important later. Secondly, the location of the gun at the time of the murder.”
“Hey, I told them that!” Rainbow said. “The revolver wasn’t in the room, remember?”
“Ah,” Rarity said, smiling. “But as the good Lieutenant said, darling, Willow’s account only proves that it wasn’t on the wall. And there’s something else.”
“You see,” Rarity continued, “Willow did, in fact, tell us that the gun was missing on the morning of the murder—but she also told us something else: that when she asked Mr. Piega about its absence, he was utterly unconcerned.
“This, of course, indicates that Mr. Piega knew where the gun was—and I do too.”
“Well?” Lieutenant Picker asked. “Where was it, then?”
“It was in his own coat pocket!
“You see, when Rainbow and I went down to the funeral parlor, hoping to get a look at Mr. Piega’s body, we arrived too late—his body had already been turned to ash. His clothes, on the other hand, had been saved by a very astute funeral technician—and upon inspecting them, I discovered several useful things.
“The first of these,” she said, “was the presence of fresh oil stains in the left front inside pocket of his suit jacket, indicating that he had been carrying a metallic device of some sort in it—a mechanical device like, perhaps, a revolver.
“With this, and Miss Willow’s account,” she said, “we can safely conclude that the weapon was on his person up until the time of the murder!”
“What!?” Rainbow cried. “But—but that makes no sense!”
“I must agree with your assistant,” Lieutenant Picker said. “You cannot seriously be suggesting that he shot himself?”
But Rarity shook her head. “No, that isn’t what I’m suggesting at all. What I am suggesting is, in fact, the final fact of the case—one that even I almost didn’t pick up on. It is, in fact, the central deception of this entire affair!”
“Well, spit it out already!” Lieutenant Picker spat.
“That fact,” Rarity said, grinning like a madmare, “is that the revolver wasn’t the murder weapon!”
Another moment of complete awed silence, broken at last by Lieutenant Stickler’s strangled cry:
“Then what was!?”
Rarity gestured towards the desk. “Lieutenant Picker, if you would be so kind to look in the bucket behind you, I think everything will become quite clear.”
Picker quirked an eyebrow at her, but nonetheless turned around and approached the ice bucket sitting atop Mr. Piega’s desk. He peered inside—and his eyes grew wide.
His horn lit, and he withdrew something from within the melted icewater. Facing forward, he held it up so everyone could see.
“An ice pick!?” Rainbow cried.
Rarity smiled. “Indeed.” She took the tool from Picker’s grasp and twirled it around. “This is the weapon that was used to kill Mr. Piega!
“You see, Mr. Piega wasn’t shot—not at first, anyway. He was stabbed. Right through the temple.”
“And what proof do you have of that?” Picker demanded.
“A bloodstain,” Rarity replied, “on the inside of Mr. Piega’s lapel. Two perfectly parallel streaks of blood, as if something had been wiped off on it. The killer probably assumed that it would be obscured once the blood on the outside soaked through, but he didn’t factor the jacket’s material into his equation. Mr. Piega was wearing wool, which, despite being a natural fiber, is surprisingly water-resistant—or, in this case, blood-resistant!”
She laid the ice pick down on the desk, beside the revolver.
“Then, afterwards, the killer shot him from medium range, aiming for the stab wound. The wound was so small, the bullet completely obliterated it. Perhaps a mortician who was experienced with gunshot wounds would have noticed something off, but I doubt there is anyone with that sort of expertise here in Copseville—and the killer was banking on the same thing.”
“But why would anyone do that, though?” Willow asked. “Either way, they’d still be the one with the murder weapon! How does that help them?”
“Two reasons,” Rarity said. “The first goes into why this crime was committed.”
“You see,” she continued, “the motive to this crime is vitally important. It reveals certain truths about the way the murder was committed, and how. And the motive for that crime is—in fact—standing right behind you, Miss Willow!”
Willow blinked, and turned around to face—
“The painting?” Rainbow said. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“It has to do with everything, darling,” Rarity said. Her horn lit, and the sheet that had obscured the work lifted—revealing a beautiful mountain landscape of greens and blues, rendered in delicate watercolour.
“You will note,” she said, “that the artist’s signature is a pair of initials—S.B.” She turned to address Rainbow Dash. “Care to take a guess at whose those might be, darling?”
“How should I know?” Rainbow asked.
Rarity tisk-tisked her. “Really, darling? You met the mare earlier today!”
She turned to the caretaker. “Miss Willow, do you happen to recall if a ‘Swallow Breeze’ ever took a stay at the Bottega?”
“Oh, yes, of course,” she said. “The dear was with us for several months—she only left last week. But what does she have to do with any of this?”
“Swallow Breeze,” Rarity said, “Was Mr. Râtelier’s niece—and the former master of his Atelier.”
“Really?” Willow gasped. “I had no idea!”
Rarity nodded. “Indeed. I do not know how, but somehow Mr. Piega was able to attract the flesh and blood, the pride and joy, of his greatest rival to his Bottega.
“This is the real reason Mr. Piega invited Mr. Râtelier to come here,” Rarity said. “To show him that his own kin had betrayed him for his rival!
“Mr. Râtelier, of course, didn’t take this very well. And it’s here that another fact of the case becomes important—you will recall that I mentioned Mr. Râtelier’s troubles with magic earlier.”
“His magical impotency,” Picker said.
Rarity nodded. “Precisely. You see, this was a crime of passion—Mr. Râtelier’s rage at the betrayal of his niece obscured his judgment, and in that rage, he grabbed for the closest weapon within reach—the ice pick. Within moments, he would have driven it deep into Mr. Piega’s skull—killing him before he even had the chance to pull out the weapon he had himself prepared, in case of this very scenario.”
“You’re saying Mr. Piega had the revolver on him because he was afraid Mr. Râtelier was going to kill him?” Rainbow asked.
“Precisely, darling!” Rarity replied. “Well, perhaps he wasn’t expecting to be murdered—but he certainly took the precaution. This is also why that revolver was loaded, when this revolver—” she tapped the one on the desk “—was not.
“Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t able to avert his own death—but I suspect he had the revolver out of his pocket before the end. It would have clattered to the ground...”
She stepped around the desk and examined the floor.
“Ah, and here’s your proof!” she cried. “A dent, in the wood of the floor, right where the revolver would have fallen. Quite convenient for Mr. Râtelier that that happened; otherwise, had he not known about the revolver, he wouldn’t have been able to disguise his crime.”
“Disguise his crime?” Willow asked. “But... he shot him right afterwards! How is that ‘disguising his crime’?”
“It’s quite simple,” Rarity said. “You see, once the deed had been done, there was no escape for Mr. Râtelier. The window was too small to escape through, and he couldn’t have left through the door—you would have seen him yourself, Miss Willow. He was trapped, which left him only one recourse: he needed to do something to take suspicion off of himself.”
“Something,” she said, “like pinning the blame on someone else, under the guise that they were trying to pin it on him—a frame-by-frame, if you will.”
Rainbow’s eyes widened.
“So... Thimble—” she began.
“Was a red herring!” Rarity finished. “And, darling, the exact deduction you made earlier is precisely the one Mr. Râtelier wanted the police to make!”
“But—how?” Picker choked. “How could he have fabricated all of that?”
“Easily,” Rarity said. “Getting Thimble outside was as easy as summoning him with that bell over there and sending him out on a fool’s errand. The hoofprints under the window would have been harder, especially given his magical inadequacies, but...”
She lit her horn; the sheet that had covered the painting drifted over to her, as did the glass paperweight that had resided on the desk. She wrapped the latter in the former, forming a sling of about a meter long.
“...by doing this, he would have had no trouble.” She lifted it up so they could see the bottom of the sling. “Note the colourful stains in the fabric. These are off of that painting—the sheet would have been damp, you see, where it had touched the snow.”
“As for the note, well,” Rarity said, “I think with a quick bit of comparison you’ll find that it was written using this.” She patted the typewriter at the desk.
“But... but how could he have had time for all of this?” Picker said. His face had turned almost the same shade as Stickler’s—but then it turned white as sheet. “The revolver...”
“I see you’ve reached the same conclusion I have,” Rarity said. “You see, the revolver served a dual purpose. Firstly, it allowed for the murderer to have killed Mr. Piega from outside the room. But firearms also have a property that is unique to them, in the world of weapons—they are quite loud! Firing one was sure to bring everyone running—and of course, one would expect a gunshot victim to have died when the shot was fired.
“Had Mr. Piega actually been shot, there would only have been a matter of seconds between the murder and the murderer’s apprehension, nowhere near enough time for them to tamper with the crime scene. But in reality, Mr. Piega wasn’t shot—he was stabbed! And, in fact, he was stabbed long before the revolver was ever fired, thus giving Mr. Râtelier all the time he needed to frame Thimble!”
“And this,” Rarity cried, that maniacally triumphant grin once more taking over her face, “was the second purpose of the revolver! To disguise the time of death!”
She stood there, panting and grinning like a madmare while her stunned audience looked on, for a few more moments.
Then, coughing, she recomposed herself.
“And that,” she said, “is how the crime was committed.”
It was Lieutenant Stickler who broke the silence.
“So we were right, then!”
“What do you mean, ‘we were right’?” Rainbow asked, frowning.
“About Mr. Râtelier,” Stickler said. “We arrested the right pony after all!”
“Yes, I suppose you were right,” Rarity said. “In much the same way as a broken clock.”
“Twice a day?”
“No,” Rarity said. “Completely by accident. And now that you know the full story of what happened, there might actually be a chance that your good luck will hold up in court.”
“Alright, but here’s what I don’t get,” Rainbow said. “If Mr. Râtelier did the crime, then—”
“Why on earth did he call for a detective?” Willow finished for her.
“That should be obvious, at this point,” Rarity said. “It’s because the one thing in his plan that he failed to account for was the utter incompetence of the police. Isn’t that right, Lieutenant Picker?”
“We never investigated,” the Lieutenant murmured. “So we never found any of his fake evidence...”
“And so his trap backfired,” Rarity concluded. “He needed someone else to look into the crime in order to exonerate him, and my name was the first to come to mind.
“But while he may have overestimated your abilities, Lieutenant,” she said with a flourish, “he most certainly underestimated those of the great Detective Rarity!”
“...And so,” Rarity said, “here we are.”
Meetings with clients can be awkward in any line of work.
Moisi Râtelier nodded. “Here we are,” he echoed.
Meetings with clients you just doomed to a lifetime in prison are even worse.
Moisi smiled. “I suppose I owe you an apology, Madame Rarity. I had assumed that the Duchess’ claims about you were exaggerated; it appears that was never the case.”
“No need to apologize, Monsieur,” Rarity replied, smiling back. “You almost had me.”
“I will take that as a compliment.”
“Wait, so...” Rainbow cocked her head to the side. “You aren’t angry?”
“Oh, I am,” he said. “At myself. If I hadn’t lost my temper, none of this would have happened. Framing Prepuzio’s assistant was my last hope, but I knew justice would come for me eventually. One way or another.”
His teeth clenched, and his brow furrowed. “That bastard... using my own family to get to me...”
“Yeah, about that,” Rainbow said. “There’s something that’s been bothering me.”
“How come you sent Swallow Breeze to us, instead of your assistant, or anyone else?” Rainbow asked. “Like, you knew she’d betrayed you—why would you trust her not to do it again?”
“I suspect it’s because he wanted to ask her why,” Rarity said. Moisi nodded.
“Once again, you are correct, Miss Rarity. It seems nothing gets by you. I was hoping she would come with you to Copseville, or at least understand that I bore her no ill will. Perhaps a foolish hope, but a hope nonetheless.”
“Relations between myself and Swallow have always been... strained,” he said. “But she is still family.”
“Funny,” Rarity said. “She said the same thing about you.”
Moisi’s eyes widened, just a fraction. The corner of his lips twitched upwards.
“Now then,” Rarity said. “Regarding my payment...”
He looked at her with amusement.
“Really, you still expect me to pay you? Even after all of this?”
“You are a businessman, Monsieur Râtelier,” Rarity said. “And we had an arrangement. Besides, I think you’ll quite like what I have in mind.”
“Oh?” Moisi said, one of his thin eyebrows quirking with curiosity.
Rarity nodded. She leaned in and whispered something through the bars.
Râtelier nodded, and drew back as she finished.
“Yes,” he said, grinning. “I think I can arrange that.”
Rarity stood up from her stool, its wooden legs complaining loudly as they scraped against the stone floor of the prison.
“Well, we’d best be off, then,” she said. “I think we’ve earned a bit of a rest. It was a pleasure, Monsieur.”
“No, Detective,” Râtelier said. “The pleasure was all mine.”
Rarity headed for the door. Rainbow cast one last glance back at the prisoner.
“Later, Pencil-Stashe!” she said, before following after her boss.
“Pencil... Stashe? Only one pony has ever...”
His eyes widened.
“It was you!” he cried, throwing himself against the bars. “La Démone Arc-en-ciel! IT WAS YOU!”
But they were already gone.
A month passed. Several cases came and went during that time, though they were all small ones, and not very notable.
It was just after the latest of these cases that Rarity received a package, wrapped in brown paper, and tied with twine.
“Alright, I’ve gotta admit,” Rainbow said, flopping onto one of the sofas. “This is waaaaay better to come back to than a normal office.”
“You see, darling?” Rarity said. “I knew you’d come around.”
She took her own seat in one of the chairs, and set the package down on the coffee table.
Rainbow glanced over. “Hey, what’s that?”
“It’s a package, darling.”
“Yeah, I don’t have to be a genius detective to see that,” Rainbow said, rolling her eyes. “Who’s it from?”
“The Attleier d’ Râtelier,” Rarity said. A letter opener floated over to her; she neatly cut away the bindings of the package. “The name should ring a bell.”
“Oh, yeah!” Rainbow said. “The art case!”
“Precisely, darling,” Rarity said. “And I believe this is our payment.”
The brown paper fell away, revealing a framed canvas—and on it, a spectacularly rendered portrait of the two of them, Rarity in her trenchcoat and hat, Rainbow standing nobly beside her with her wings spread.
Rainbow whistled. “Dang. Even I can tell that’s good.”
“It is indeed,” Rarity said, beaming. “And there’s a note.”
Dear Detective Rarity (and her assistant),
I hope this letter finds you as well as I am. Life at the Atelier is everything I could have ever dreamed of! I’ve been apprenticed under Master Scuro. He’s tough on me, but I’ve learned a lot already, and I know one day I’ll make him proud. And best of all? He’s allergic to eggs!
I cannot thank you enough for everything you have done for me, but enclosed is a token of my appreciation. If you should ever need more, you know who to ask.
Forever in your debt,
Rainbow looked up from the letter. “So the favor you asked from Mr. Râtelier was...?”
“To arrange an invitation to study at his Atelier for our young friend,” Rarity said. Taking hold of the painting, she crossed the room to the mantle. “It was only fair, after he tried to frame Thimble for his crime.”
She hung the painting by a nail above the mantle and stepped back. It fit the space perfectly.
“What do you think, darling?”
“It’s a bit narcissistic to hang a picture of yourself in your office, isn’t it?”
Rarity pouted. “So that’s a ‘no’, then?”
“What? No way!” Rainbow said. “It’s perfect.”
“Wonderful!” Rarity said. “Now, then. On to the next case!”
Said Rainbow to Rarity, on the train ride home from Copseville:
“So. Dime store paperback, huh?”
Said Rarity to Rainbow:
“Impossible, darling. We’re worth at least two bits.”