Taking the girl along had been a mistake, but I would have to report it to my employer in the morning: that night I had work to do. There's no rest for the wicked. I took the carriage back to an Orange-owned depot in Manehattan, arriving sometime around midnight. The city didn't slow down for a second: bright lights kept it alive even when the sky went black. Avoiding others where I was going wasn't a problem, though. Prostitution was beginning to become a thing of the past and soon laws would be passed to make it illegal. The whore-houses would be closed down soon enough. That was a good decision by the Mayor whose time in office was coming to an end: I didn't want my daughters growing up anywhere near whores and brothels.
I'd told them that their old man would be out late that night. They'd made me promise to take a souvenir back to them: greedy kids. They wouldn't be seeing me until morning. I had plenty of time to get a gift. I bought some tobacco for myself from a local vendor and loaded my pipe. And then, reaching my left hoof down to my side, I tapped the body of the firearm concealed in my jacket pocket. The vendor said nothing. He was the only one I bought from in Manehattan; not because he was a friend, but because he kept his mouth shut. I checked the big old clock tower in the centre of the shopping district: it was half-past midnight.
I moved only through back-alleys towards Old Manehattan. There was a common entrance that most used to get into the poor district that fed off from the wealthier part of the city. I wouldn't be taking that route. I entered the dusty streets of the old city from the rear entrance. It was closer to the whore-house and less ponies would be around. I could hear a dog barking a way off in the distance. After a few barks an angry stallion shouted from a window for the hound to shut up. That started an argument between the stallion and the owner of the dog, which continued for longer than I was around to hear it.
I took the third left turn: the old street with the faded-out sign and the pile of broken, green glass bottles littered everywhere. After several minutes I passed the sewer pipe, which had the usual graffiti slapped onto the side of it: 'Death From Below'. It was one of those faux-political messages written by a disenfranchised Old Manehattanite who wanted revenge on the wealthy elite. They wanted to challenge the system but did so only by littering the pipes in their own part of the city. A greater message would be to write it in blood in the wealthy district all over the walls. That would get ponies talking.
Slightly after one in the morning I arrived at the whore-house. It was one of those brothels with polished brass signs on the outside and crimson satin carpets lining the floor on the inside: the kind of sordid place that pretended to be a respectable joint. There were a good few in Old Manehattan, but this was one of the most well-known. The Seedy Pack, it was called.
I entered, inescapably brushing the curtains at the front door with my side. Inside it was dimly lit. There was a counter and a bar, and three sofas with padded cushions. Two of the sofas were occupied with patrons: half-drugged stallions who had mares clinging to them through a mixture of sweat, lust and occupational obligation. The mare behind the counter, the head-bitch, noticed me and looked concerned. I walked right on up to her and removed my hat a black bowler with a white stripe around the circumference placing it on the desk.
"I'm here to see Dreadfuls," I said.
"We ain't got anypony here who goes by that name," she grunted, showing her yellow teeth.
"Making me wait only serves to annoy me," I sighed. "Where is he?"
I expected him to be in one of the back-rooms getting his dick sucked by an under-aged mare. I saw her eyes flick for a moment to one of the ponies sitting back in one of the sofas, though, which told me everything that I needed to know.
"Thanks, darlin'," I said, turning to face the pony. It was hard to see him, as two mares one blonde-maned and the other a brunette were fawning over him, sucking at his neck and fondling between his legs. I walked up to them, gripping them both by the manes, and then pulled them off of him, throwing them to the side. They squealed and ran to the other side of the room, hiding under tables.
"Dreadfuls!" I announced. "It's good to see you. What has it been now? Three, maybe four months?"
The pony cowering there was my guy: a grey-coated stallion whose most recognisable feature was a feathery earring in his right ear that he always seemed to wear. He was an unassuming guy, which was one of the reasons why it had taken me so long to find the fucker. His name was Penny Dreadfuls, a sneaky little shit involved in various bootlegging businesses, the biggest of which was the knock-off dress business. He was one of the biggest players in the black-market, which caused problems for my employer. The little bastard was shitting himself when he saw me. He looked around, thinking about making a run for it, but I pinned him down with a front hoof, applying pressure to his rib cage.
"You don't respond to my letters, you keep moving around Equestria, and you missed my eldest daughter's birthday, Dreadfuls," I sighed, shaking my head. "What am I supposed to do with you, 'eh?"
"Gidrán, I can explain!" he stammered. "I-uh, I've been y'know...busy, y'see, and every time you sent a letter it got lost in the mail, I bet, y'know, and- huh, it was Viola's birthday, was it? How o-old is she now?"
"Nine," I said. "She wanted a present. A big birthday cake with candles the size of your leg. Instead, she had to make do with a small cake with an upside-down six used for the nine, and one candle in the middle for her to make a wish on. I wasn't happy."
"I'll buy her a big cake, yeah?" he stuttered. "The biggest I can find!"
"Nah," I smiled. "You're only nine once. You only live once, as well."
"D-Don't do anything hasty!" Dreadfuls groaned, raising his hoof and coughing three times. I'd been in the business long enough to know a signal when I saw and heard one. I stepped to the side, avoiding the strike of the head-bitch. She had approached me from behind with a bottle, trying to smash it over my head when Dreadfuls gave the signal.
"That wasn't a very smart idea," I said, reaching out and grabbing her by the hoof. I twisted it back to the point that it almost snapped. She was forced to drop the bottle to the floor, where it smashed. Dreadfuls saw his mistake and began to wince. I let the mare go, throwing her back against the front desk. She wouldn't be trying that again.
"Dreadfuls, you little piece of shit," I growled. "Do you know what pisses me off more than you trying to get one of your little whores here to bash me over the head with a bottle?"
"-When you keep me from seeing my daughters by forcing me to drag my ass to this smelly fucking hell-hole in the middle of the worst place in the world."
"-I'm sorry! I'll stop-!"
"You've been asked nicely by my employer to stop peddling your fucking knock-off products. When that didn't work we told you to stop. And now I find that you're selling purple sequinned dresses as part of the 'Rarity Range', which belongs to my employer. And he's pissed, Dreadfuls, I ain't gonna lie."
"I'll seriously stop!" he cowered. "Please! Just...y'know...I mean...I'd need a bit of time to stop it, but..."
"Well, if you need time, why didn't you just say so?" I said, removing my hoof from his chest. He took a deep intake of oxygen, now able to breathe properly again. He looked up to me, thanking me by clasping his hooves together in a praying position. I smiled and took a step back, touching briefly against a table, causing a decorative vase in the centre of it to wobble. He gathered himself up, brushing his jacket down.
"How long do you need?" I asked.
"A few weeks," he replied. "Y'know, just enough time to tell my staff to stop making dresses, and then to talk to my contacts and explain the situation...and then to close the stores...I guess I might need a few months."
"Why not take a few years?" I chuckled. "Hell, why not just keep on producing and forget the whole thing?"
"W-Well! If you insist!" he smiled in surprise. I nodded, turned slightly, and then lifted up the vase, bringing it down on Dreadful's head with the force of a fucked-off bull. It smashed and knocked him to the floor. The other ponies within the brothel shouted out in alarm, but they were powerless to do anything to help him. I seized him by his jacket and pulled him up, battering him across the face with my hoof. Blood spewed against the wall and floor from his broken snout, but I continued to wreck his face. He cried for help but none would come.
"You've had all the time you need, you little prick!" I cursed. "No more excuses!"
With that, I reached into my jacket pocket and produced a flip-knife. I extended the blade and pressed it to Dreadful's right ear. The patrons had all fled to the streets, leaving him alone to meet with his fate. The wounded stallion looked up at me through a half-closed, bruised and battered eye. There was still life in his solitary vision, even though he could barely see. He was gurgling some sort of apology, begging for me to reconsider my next action. Fuck it: I began to carve into his ear with the knife, slicing through flesh and fur, severing tissue and cartilage. It was like felling a tree with an axe, hacking away small chunks at a time. By the time I'd finished he was howling, and his ear, and the feather earring that still hung from it, flopped to the ground.
"If you live after this," I said, throwing him down beside his ear, "don't even think about fucking with my employer again. Next time, it'll be your throat."
I wiped the knife on his jacket and then slipped it back into my pocket. I approached the desk, picking up my hat and placing it neatly on my head. Dreadfuls was clutching at the bloodied stump that was once his ear, almost ready to vomit.
"Get yourself cleaned up, Dreadfuls," I called to him. "I expect to see you at Viola's tenth birthday with a big cake and plenty of candles. Just make sure to wear a hat."
I left the whore-house. There was a chance that the police would show up, but it was unlikely; the authorities preferred to leave Old Manehattan to its own designs, especially when prostitution dens were concerned. It wasn't unusual for ponies to get stabbed in those places. I walked away from the scene, following a different route this time. It was a poor idea to leave any crime scene the way that you entered. There's more potential for ponies to recognise you on a second passing, which would look out-of-place to most.
On the way back to the city I stopped off at a fountain near an old, abandoned graveyard. Ponies had been buried there in rows according to when they died; the latest had popped their clogs thirty years ago, and even that gravestone was overgrown with weeds. The fountain still held water, though, even if it was full of algae. I dipped my hooves into the water, rubbing them together. They were covered in blood, which I needed to get rid of. I continued to rub them together until the blood had left my flesh. The water was already murky, and so there was no risk of the blood being traced or even noticed.
I sighed, returning to the main part of the city, after which time my hooves had dried. The hands upon the clock tower told me that it was approaching two in the morning. By the time I made it to the Manehattan docks, it was nearing twenty-past. I found the pier that the boat shipment would allegedly be docking at labelled 3B and waited a little way off, sitting behind some barrels. I'd arrived early, and gave a quick look around the area, in case anybody else had had the same idea as my employer. As far as I could see, nobody had.
The air was cool and moist, and I began to shiver. I pulled my jacket closer to my body, taking the firearm out of my pocket. It was a .22 Magnum Revolver. I didn't feel comfortable walking around Manehattan with anything bigger on me. I'd loaded it before coming: six bullets, and with me I had another twelve. I never usually needed that many, but it never hurt to be prepared. I rested against a sack of hay behind the barrels and took out my wallet, opening it up and staring at the photograph of myself, Viola and Grace. The photograph had been taken just over a year ago at Dodge Junction; Viola had been wearing a cowgirl hat, and while Grace had tried to do the same, her head had been too small for it to fit on her. I bet if we went again now, she'd be able to wear one as well: she'd grown so much in the last year.
I kept my eyes fixed on the photograph until I saw movement a way off. I poked my head between the barrels. The boat was coming in to land. I gathered up my wallet and kept my revolver close, watching every movement that the ship's crew made as the boat docked. I made out four stallions on the deck. One jumped from the boat and began to moor it with the rope. Another joined him on the pier, although he ended up just standing around idly as tying the boat was a one-pony job. The other two set about passing crates down. The crates had no markings on them; whoever had sent them was a clever one to take measures to avoid being identified.
"How many more are there?" one of the stallions who had disembarked the boat questioned after several minutes. "My back is killing me!"
"About twelve," came the response.
"I don't see why we have to do this shit, anyway," the stallion with the bad back objected. "How suspicious do we have to be? We could just bring them in on carriages during the daytime and nobody would suspect a thing!"
"And then we'd risk being found out by Orange," the pony on the boat replied.
"Lusitano better be paying us well for this," the whining pony remarked.
"My cousin will pay us all well, I guarantee," he responded.
I knew of only one male cousin to Lusitano Dorimant: an obedient dog called Fratello. I'd never seen him before, but this stallion's brown coat and black mane definitely made him a Dorimant. My employer's information had been correct: Lusitano was importing something into Manehattan that he didn't want my employer to see. This negated the deal they'd made three days ago to be completely honest and straight with each other. It wasn't hard to guess who they were giving the crates to instead.
I'd been told of a shipment arriving for Mr. Friesian Cross, although my employer hadn't known who the supplier was going to be. The information that he received could only go so far. However, now that I had proof that Lusitano Dorimant was the one supplying Cross, I had probable cause to carry out the next stage of my employer's task for me. I remained perfectly still, planning my movements, until all of the crates were off of the ship. I could see Lusitano's men from my vantage point, but they had yet to detect me. Firing a shot would alert them, and so I had to be quick in disposing of them. They didn't have weapons out, but, judging by the bulges in their clothing, they were definitely armed.
"Where's the carriage to take the crates?" the pessimistic stallion asked. "Don't tell me that he ain't showing up!"
"Relax," Fratello said, jumping off of the ship. "He'll be here. Cross is sending some top stallions over. Just be patient."
"I'm going to go and wait by the road," the frustrated stallion replied. "I can tell them we've arrived when they show up."
Fratello shrugged and his co-worker walked towards me; he had to pass the barrels in order to reach the steps leading up to the road. I waited until he passed the barrels, his back to me as he approached the stairs, and then fired my first shot. The bullet thudded into his stomach and he fell down, clutching at the open wound. The other three, Fratello included, began to shout and took out their own guns. Fratello started firing blindly with a pistol. They had no idea where the bullet had come from, and I was just fortunate that they didn't think to shoot at the barrels. My eyes were fixed on Fratello; I slipped the gun through the small gap in the barrels, aimed at the despairing pony, and then pulled the trigger. The bullet thudded through his skull and into his brain. He slumped against the pier, dead and drooling.
The other two started to panic more than before; the larger one leapt into the water, while the skinnier one did his best to pull himself back up onto the boat. I fired three shots at the latter one missing and two of them hitting him in the spine and head respectively, causing him to let go of the side of the boat and fall back onto the pier and then moved towards the the edge of the walkway. The large stallion was doing his best to swim away, but, after looking back over his shoulder, he realised that it was futile.
"L-Listen, man!" he shouted desperately. "I'm just hired to move crates! I don't know any of these ponies!"
I silenced him with a bullet to the mouth, leaving his dead carcass floating in the water. My revolver was empty, and so I took my time in loading the next six bullets into it. I clicked the cylinder into place and then approached the first stallion I had shot: he was groaning as blood flowed from his penetrated stomach.
"You're going to tell me something, or I'm going to leave you here dying," I said, towering above the pony. On closer inspection, he wasn't very old. He breathed through his teeth and hissed through the pain, nodding weakly.
"Nod again if you were sent by Lusitano Dorimant," I instructed, watching him nod and then gasp in agony.
"-Now nod again if you were delivering these crates to Friesian Cross."
"-Now tell me what's in the crates," I said. "Why was Mr. Orange being excluded from this transaction?"
He continued to moan in pain. I sighed, nudging him with the bottom of my hoof. "I didn't shoot to kill you straight away," I said. "You have a few more hours left in you, so stop being a baby. Tell me what I want to know."
"D-Dresses," he stuttered. "-Fratello said that...Cross and...his cousin...are gonna put Orange out of...business..."
There was my proof of Lusitano's cousin's involvement. My assumption about his identity had been correct.
"Mr. Orange and Mr. Dorimant signed a deal three days ago. What was that all about?" I asked.
"It's...a backstabbing game..." he grimaced. "D-Dorimant is trying to...make Orange...trust him...but he's working with Cross...they're going to work together to...get Orange...out of the picture. T-They mentioned...getting rid of him for good."
That was all I required from him.
"Please...take me to the hospital..." he pleaded. "I told you what you wanted to know..."
"'Eh, there's no saving you now, kid," I shrugged. "Best I can do is make it go quicker for you and shoot you between the eyes."
I did just that, kicking his body over the edge and into the water. I then hurried over to Fratello and searched him, although found little more than a pendant with a stag on the end that he'd been wearing around his neck. In his pockets were no notes or anything to incriminate him. Why Lusitano would have sent his own cousin was a mystery at that point, but I could look into that another day. I kicked him over the side and into the water with his other fallen comrades, as well as the skinny one who had tried to climb away. I slipped the pendant into my pocket, along with my gun. I thought about setting fire to the crates and ship, but it didn't seem necessary: Cross would find out that playing this game was dangerous after discovering the bodies, and he'd realise that he should leave my employer's business alone.
I checked the crates before leaving: inside was Canterlot clothing. Obviously, Lusitano Dorimant planned on drawing attention away from my employer's dress range to focus on pushing his own product into Manehattan. With the help of Cross, his plan was a good one. Lusitano hadn't counted, however, on my employer's informants passing information relating to this shipment on to him, or the violent response that he received upon docking.
I had a lot to fill my employer in on, but nothing that couldn't wait until morning. I'd never let him down on a task assigned to me before, and so he no longer needed to check if I'd done what he asked. I would see him tomorrow: for now, I had earned some sleep. I left the docks a different way to avoid the roads, in case Cross' workers showed up. Killing them would leave no witnesses left alive; my employer would want to see Mr. Cross cowering, and this was the best way of doing it.
At three in the morning, fewer ponies were out in the city. It was unlikely that the gun shots had been heard at the docks, as they were relatively isolated to the rest of the city and dock-workers returned home hours before. Even if they had been, there was no proof that I had any involvement. By the time that I arrived back at my apartment it was almost four in the morning. I would be up at seven, and so could at least get a few hours of sleep.
I didn't like leaving my daughters alone, but as long as they stayed indoors they'd be safe in Manehattan. We lived in a five-room apartment: there were two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a small sitting place. We lived on the third floor of the building, and as I walked up the stairs I felt a little queasy and lost my balance a bit. After slipping the key into the door, though, I could smell the familiar scent of home, and everything felt better.
I turned the light on. Viola was lying stretched-out on the couch with a book over her face. She'd fallen asleep reading again. I poked my head into the girl's room; at least Grace was in her bed. I took the gun from my pocket and placed it on top of the kitchen cupboard, high up and out of sight. I did the same with the knife, and placed the pendant into one of the kitchen drawers. I then walked over to my daughter, lifting the book off of her. She made a small noise and opened her sleepy eyes. I looked at the cover of the book, reading the title: it was called 'All The Way and Back Again', and it had an image of a white bird flying towards a sunset on the front.
"Dad?" Viola asked in a daze. "You're home?"
"Yeah, sweetie," I said, placing the book down on the coffee table next to the sofa. "Daddy had to work late tonight, but he's back now."
"What time is it?" she questioned.
"It's very late, honey," I explained, scooping her up and lifting her onto my back. She flopped out over me, giggling, but I warned her that I didn't have time to play. "Go back to sleep, sweetie. I'm going to put you in your bed. No more sleeping on the couch, okay?"
"Mhmm..." she mumbled softly. I walked quietly into the girl's room and laid her down on her bed. Luckily, Grace was a deep sleeper, and so I didn't expect her to wake by the movements of me and her sister.
"Sleep tight," I said, leaning in to kiss Viola on the forehead. I caught some of her wavy brown mane against my snout, but managed to plant the kiss before turning to leave.
"Dad...?" she whispered.
"Is everything okay?"
"Everything is fine," I replied.
"And no more late nights?"
"No more late nights. I promise."
With that, I whispered that I loved her and her sister, and then left the room, closing the door gently behind me. I drifted into my own room and collapsed onto the bed. My clock informed me that I would be getting at least a couple of hours of sleep that night.
I hated breaking promises.