Passing into a new hour caused my alarm clock to screech. I gathered my senses and climbed out of bed. I showered and dressed into a suit, and then made my way through into the kitchen. It wasn't surprising to see that Viola was up. She was eating a sandwich and reading her book again. When I entered she smiled, putting the book down and leaping from her seat. Then, she wrapped her hooves around me.
"Dad!" she beamed. "Are you working all day again today?"
"Only for the morning, kiddo," I replied to the eager filly, hugging her back.
"Then you'll be able to play with us tonight?" she asked excitedly.
"Yeah, I will," I said.
"Promise. We'll get some dinner out as well."
She was happy. That made me happy.
"Grace will be wondering where you were last night," she said after a little while. "Last time I told her you were out fighting bad guys."
"Bad guys, huh?" I mumbled. "I'm a Superhero now, am I?"
"You must be," she nodded sagely. "We worked it out. You wouldn't need to be out late unless you were a Superhero!"
"You have an active imagination," I chuckled, letting her go and watching her trot back over to her book and breakfast. "What's the book you're reading there?"
"It's a book about dreams," she replied happily, munching on her food. "It's about chasing them."
I asked her to let me see the book. She nudged it across the table to me. I flipped it onto its back and scanned the blurb.
"'Earn your wings and take flight'," I quoted. "Sounds like an interesting story."
"It is, dad," she said. "Do you want to read it after me?"
"Sure, kiddo. I'll try and find some time."
"Thanks," she grinned.
"I need to head off for now, though. Are you and your sister going to be okay?" I asked. "What's the rule?"
"-Only open the door if I hear three knocks," she said, rolling her eyes. "I know, dad."
"I know," I smiled. "I'm just testing you."
I reached into my pocket and took out some golden bits, fumbling them into her outstretched hoof. "You can go down to the local shop if you get bored, as long as you go together and keep to the main street. Buy yourself one thing and your sister can buy herself something as well. Whatever change is left, bring it home, okay?"
"Okay, dad," she nodded, her nose back in her book.
"I won't be back too late," I said. "Be safe and be smart."
"I will, dad," she mewed.
"Oh, I forgot my watch in the bedroom. Could you go and fetch it for me, hun?"
She nodded and dropped from her seat, leaving the kitchen on quick hooves. I waited for her to leave the room and then quickly pushed a chair in front of the cupboard, climbing onto it and fumbling around with a desperate hoof. I touched the gun and slipped it cautiously into the left pocket of my suit. I left the knife. I climbed down and began to move the chair back just as she re-entered the room, looking a little flustered.
"Sorry, dad..." she said sadly. "I can't find it."
I put on a confused face, and then buried my hoof into my right suit pocket, pulling out the watch. "Oh, darn it," I said. "I had it all along. Isn't that just the silliest thing?"
She giggled and sat back in her chair, her snout pressed against the coarse pages of the book. Grace would sleep for some time still: she usually slept until the early afternoon during holidays off from school. Viola was a lot more punctual, and usually woke up to see me off. I kissed her softly on the top of her head and then left the apartment. I never normally took a gun home with me, but last night I hadn't had time to drop it off anywhere else. I needed it again for a new day of business, and so kept it close.
I set off towards the tram in the centre of the city, boarding it after a short wait. I took a seat between a bunch of high-flyers. One left a newspaper behind and I checked it out. The story had been run quickly: bodies had been discovered at the docks at 5:37 that morning. No witnesses and no leads, I saw. I put the newspaper down and spent the rest of the journey in silence, watching ponies and listening to conversations.
I got off of the tram near my employer's office block. I passed through the glass doors and walked up the pristine stairs, brushing between various workers along the way. At the top of the stairs was a clinically white corridor, which opened up into two more of equal cleanliness. I took the left corridor up to the potted green plant, tapping at the door on the other side of it. My eyes met the gold lettering upon it: 'Mr. Orange' it read, each letter polished and ordered perfectly. My employer's voice beckoned me to enter. I let myself in.
"Mr. Reyes," he spoke amiably. "It's so nice of you to stop on by. How can I help you?"
"I take it you saw the news story?" I asked, taking a seat opposite him.
"What news story would that be?" he questioned in a low voice.
"The one that says that four bodies were found around the Manehattan docks last night," I said.
"Ah, yes, that story," he nodded. "It's a terrible tragedy. We must make sure that our streets are properly guarded when the new Mayor is elected."
"What if I were to tell you that the dead ponies were suppliers? And, what if I were to also tell you that both the suppliers and recipients had been identified?" I asked.
"That information would be useful in catching the criminal who did this," he smiled.
"Lusitano Dorimant of Canterlot was supplying Friesian Cross of Manehattan," I said.
"-That's quite an unusual thing to hear," he replied. I noticed that he was frowning. "The dead stallions who did they work for?"
"All of them worked for Dorimant," I said. "One of them was his cousin, Fratello."
"I'm very sad to hear that," Mr. Orange said. "I shall offer my condolences to his family at our next meeting. Right now, I have another meeting to attend to. Would you accompany me?"
I nodded, watching him pick up his bowler hat from a nearby stand and slip it on. He took the lead through the corridors, down the stairs and when passing through the glass doors. Only when outside in Manehattan's bustling city did we walk at the same pace. We approached his private carriage. I entered, and he instructed the driver on where to take us in a low voice. Then, he joined me inside.
"Gidrán," he said. "You did good work. Are you sure of your findings?"
"I got it straight from the horse's mouth," I said. "-Right before I planted a bullet between his eyes, anyway."
"What were they planning?" he asked.
"Some sort of double assault against you, boss. I checked the crates: inside were Canterlot dresses. If Cross was buying them in, he clearly wants to take you on. My guess is that he's trying to beat your 'Rarity Range' with Dorimant's designs," I speculated.
"Then he's a bigger fool than I thought," Mr. Orange said calmly.
"Who was your informant in Canterlot, boss?" I asked, changing the subject slightly. "Whoever it was, they were right about the shipment."
"I still have at least one friend in Canterlot, Gidrán," he grinned. "I learned long ago that the richer a pony becomes, the more money that they crave. There are still those in Canterlot who can have their loyalties bought."
"For a fair price, I hope," I shrugged. "So where is this carriage heading?"
"Cross' home in the suburbs," he said.
"Is that wise?" I asked. "Won't it appear suspicious if right after the killings you go bashing at his door?"
"Yes," Mr. Orange replied, "and that's precisely why we're doing it."
"You want to make him nervous?"
"Right now he's on thin ice," he commented. "His daughter is in my custody; his wife has been burned alive; and now he knows that we are not to be trifled with. He has nothing left his power has diminished."
"He has that election coming up," I shrugged. "I heard that Cross isn't doing too badly in the polls. Fifth place out of thirteen. Clearly, ponies don't care that he's a potential child and wife killer."
"Manehattan cares little for such matters," he said. "Cross is popular, but without the majority vote he has nothing. He is no threat."
"And after making him sweat, what then?" I asked.
"He'll do the wise thing and stay out of my territory," Mr. Orange said. "Then we'll move the girl into the factory and start pushing this business model. How did that discussion go? When is she moving in?"
"Bit of bad news there, boss," I said. "Our mysterious friend wants a couple of days to convince her. Sounds as if she's thinking twice."
"I'm not paying her to think," Mr. Orange said. "See to it that Cross' daughter reaches the factory unharmed and as soon as possible."
"Understood," I nodded.
"What of Dreadfuls?" he questioned. "Did you send that odious creature a message?"
"-I cut his ear off, if that's what you mean," I replied gruffly. "If that doesn't stop him, I don't know what will."
Mr. Orange seemed pleased, and he sat a while in thought.
"Are you expecting things to get ugly with Cross?" I asked. "You don't usually ask me to come with you to these things."
"I want you to be there to see how Friesian is coping," he chuckled, "and I want him to see the stallion responsible for cutting his little plan short. Interesting idea of yours to leave the scene before finishing his drivers off, by the way. I thought I instructed you to deal with them as well?"
"I decided to leave a few ponies alive to actually discover the bodies. Killing Cross' workers as well could have looked like some sort of dispute between Dorimant and Cross. By leaving Cross' workers alive, he knows that we're responsible, while Dorimant might suspect that Cross turned against him. It's the best end result."
"And what of the crates?" he asked. "Do you suspect that Cross took them?"
"I read a newspaper this morning that said that the bodies were discovered at 5:37. I was out of there easily by 3:30. Dorimant's stallions Fratello and all that were convinced that Cross' workers were going to be picking up the crates without much of a wait. Unless they were running extremely late which I doubt considering that he's a hard-ass and he's dealing with undercover trading I have to wonder what they were doing between 3:30 and 5:30ish before reporting the bodies."
"So you assume that they spent those two hours moving the crates?"
"They'd be stupid if they did," I scoffed. "Their hoof-prints would be all over those crates. It'd just take one crate to be located not difficult considering that all exports are carefully documented from whatever dock they were dispatched from near Canterlot and Cross' stallions would be incriminated faster than a two-bit jewel thief in the royal treasury."
"Documents are always signed when leaving most docks, to ensure that nothing dangerous gets shipped," he said in agreement. "You have to carefully list what you're delivering and in what quantity...and to where. You do not, however, need to list who the recipient will be; only the estimated time that the item will be picked up. Exportation is a lot easier to categorise than importation."
"So, if they did take the crates," I said, "and we really wanted to bust Cross' ass about it, we could contact the dock they dispatched from, find out the quantity that was checked, and then chase up the product now that it's in Manehattan. The police would see the hoof-prints and assume that Cross' guys killed Dorimant's for the crates."
"A good plan, to be sure, unless they lied on the documents," Mr. Orange said.
"I highly doubt it," I speculated, shaking my head. "Dorimant isn't the illegal-means type. He's a well-respected Canterlot stallion who wouldn't risk damaging his reputation. He would lie to you, like he did, and try and put you out of business, but he wouldn't do anything illegal, like dispatching from an unofficial location or neglecting to fill out vital paperwork."
"Good," he said, smiling. "Then let us hope that Cross' workers did take the crates. It's doubtful that they would avoid picking them up: they'd face Friesian's wrath if they returned home empty-hoofed."
We arrived at Cross' property half an hour later. I was the first to leave the carriage, followed by Mr. Orange, who took it upon himself to take the lead. I followed a short distance behind, my hooves crunching on the gravel path leading up to the door. The boss tapped the knocker against the door three times in quick succession. I stayed a little way back. It took longer than it should have, but Mr. Orange was greeted by Cross, who looked as if he hadn't received much sleep, judging by his narrow, slit-like eyes. I was beckoned inside by the boss, although Cross would have preferred it if I stayed out.
We were taken through into a living room, where two other stallions were standing. Their postures were strict and obedient: they were employees, like me. Mr. Orange took a seat on a long chair-thing and Cross stood in front of him. He offered the boss a drink gin which he took without question. I wasn't offered anything, but I didn't want it anyway: alcohol blurred my vision and slowed my reaction time.
"Are you ill, Friesian?" Mr. Orange pondered. "You look terrible!"
Cross glanced to his employees. "-I have a lot on my mind," he grumbled.
"Still looking for your poor daughter?" Mr. Orange inquired sympathetically. "Has nothing turned up?"
"Nothing," he replied sorrowfully.
"-And who are these fine gentlecolts?" Mr. Orange asked, changing the subject. "I recognise one of them: the one on the left is your carriage-driver, isn't he?"
Mr. Cross grimaced. "Yes, that's Kansas," he said. "What of it?"
"Oh, nothing," the boss smiled. "Say, did you hear of the ghastly news at the docks last night? Or, rather, this morning, I should say."
"It turns out that Lusitano Dorimant was shipping his dresses into the city," Mr. Orange frowned. "How odd of him to attempt to do so, given that he lacks a distributor here."
Mr. Cross seemed alarmed. "You said that you were going into business with him," he said from beneath his grand moustache. "Are you not the distributor?"
"No," Mr. Orange said. "I said nothing in our agreement about him bringing his vacuous dresses into Manehattan; our agreement was that he would distribute my dresses in Canterlot in return for a cut of the profits. Is Dorimant an oath-breaker?"
"-How do you know that Lusitano is to blame?" Cross asked anxiously. "The papers said nothing of the identity of those on board the ship."
"Oh, but I have it on good authority that the dead stallions were hired by Dorimant," Mr. Orange grinned. "After all, his cousin, Fratello Dorimant, was among the dead."
"Fratello?" Mr. Cross gasped. "Fratello Dorimant is dead? How do you know this?!"
"My associate here shot him."
All eyes within the room turned to me. I nodded slowly, keeping my mouth shut. Mr. Cross looked appalled, and his body began to shake. His two workers seemed ready to draw their weapons I could see that they were concealing guns beneath their coats but they wouldn't attack without an order.
"Why...did you shoot him?" Cross asked me angrily.
"It was a business strategy," I replied. "The boss doesn't like it when he gets fucked with."
"-Indeed," the boss agreed, "and when I am 'fucked with', I take extreme measures to protect my business interests."
"The one thing that we can't work out," I said, staring at Cross, "is who Lusitano Dorimant was supplying. Because he sure as shit wasn't supplying us."
"-So who could he have been delivering his product to?" Mr. Orange asked fanatically. "I started to wonder. I know of a few important names, and I have a couple of targets on the black market, but none of those would know an upstanding gentlecolt like Lusitano Dorimant. He wouldn't bother dealing with small fish in a big pond; he would go for the catch of the day."
Friesian was edging back closer to his employees, a look of uncertainty on his face.
"-And then I recalled, Friesian, that you know Lusitano Dorimant better than anyone. So I thought that I'd come and visit and ask you personally who you think it was that 'fucked with' me any ideas?"
Friesian cleared his throat, knowing that the boss had caught onto his plan. "Orange, it's just business," he explained. "These things happen. It's a harsh game that we all play. Someone has to establish a monopoly."
"I already have the fucking monopoly," Mr. Orange said. "Manehattan is mine, and the only reason I let you continue living here is so that every day you wake up, you see my dominion over everything here, and my complete and utter control over you."
"When I become Mayor, that will not be the case," Friesian objected.
"You won't be Mayor, you fool!" Mr. Orange laughed. "You lie with a whore during the night and you lie and cheat during the day. Without your daughter, nobody knows what you might be capable of."
"-Why are you here, Orange?" Friesian retorted. "To threaten me? Is that it? Is that why you brought this murderer here with you?"
"I came here to tell you that if you did have any intention of attempting to undermine me, you will stop it at once. Whatever you are planning with Lusitano Dorimant, it will end here, Friesian."
"You don't own the world, Orange," he said. "You don't control as much as you think."
The boss glared at Friesian momentarily. His expression became softer, however, and soon he was smiling in his usual, composed manner. "You have heard my ultimatum, Friesian," he said. "Stay out of the fashion game and I will consider your lapse of reason yesterday to be a slight blip in an otherwise great friendship."
"I'll continue to pursue whatever business agenda I wish, Orange," Friesian growled, "and if you think to attempt to limit me, I will be forced to take the same drastic actions that you have. My employees are, if you haven't noticed, just as well-armed as yours."
I looked to Mr. Orange. "If that is your decision," he eventually spoke, "then at least we're on the same page now. Good luck with your election, Friesian."
I followed the boss to the door and stepped outside. "-Oh, and watch your back," he commented, taking the lead towards the carriage. Mr. Cross slammed the door shut, and I heard him shouting something, although it was muffled. I approached the carriage although didn't board: the boss turned to face me, expecting me to speak. I did.
"Was it necessary to tell him that I was the shooter?" I sighed. "I made sure to avoid there being any witnesses. Now there are three."
"Calm yourself," he said. "Tonight you will follow Cross' stallions and dispose of them as well."
"Tonight, boss? I promised my daughters that I'd be around tonight."
"Feel free not to," he said. "Of course, you risk them going to the police and accusing you of murder if you don't deal with this today. Not to mention that we didn't find out what happened to those crates."
"So because you needed to make Friesian Cross squirm, I now have to pick up the pieces?"
"-Are you challenging me, Gidrán?"
"...No, sir," I said. "So you want me to wait outside the house and then follow them when they leave?"
"Do whatever you must do to protect yourself, and your children," the boss said, opening the carriage door. I got on with him so that it would look as if we had both left the scene. A few yards down the road, though, I was instructed to get off.
"Do this, Gidrán, and then tomorrow you can have the day off. You can spend the whole entire day with those pretty daughters of yours."
He closed the door. I was left standing by the roadside. I sighed and headed back towards Cross' home. Opposite his house were a series of hedges. I sat behind one of them and waited. I half-expected to be approached by whoever owned the hedges, but I found that they were just part of the scenery of the area, probably paid for by the local council. I waited, looking through the bushes every few minutes for any sign of movement from Cross' home. There was nothing, and I soon found myself staring at the photograph of Viola and Grace again. I brushed the image with my hoof, letting out a disgruntled groan. I hadn't spoken to Grace for two days now; I didn't want to make it a third.
But the boss was right: now that Cross' employees knew about my involvement in the crime, they had to go. Cross wouldn't personally say anything he was too much of a suspect in the disappearance of his daughter to report someone else but I didn't trust that his employees would keep their mouths shut. I would have handled the situation back at Cross' home differently, but the boss made all of the big decisions.
I must have sat there for six, maybe seven hours. I was used to waiting it came with the job but even I was getting pissed by the end. It was only when I heard voices from Cross' home across the road that I checked my watch again: it was 18:27. I sighed, listening in to as much as I could hear:
"Wait...tomorrow...file...against...lives locally...won't...difficult...arrested...murderer. Shooter...gun...police...murderer...murderer."
I waited until the door had closed, and the stallions had turned a corner at the end of the street, before giving chase. I was used to tailing others, and kept a safe distance from the stallions. They turned down another street, eventually disappearing down a back-alley. I followed, staying in the shadows. I came to a carriage parking lot, where three carriages were parked in spaces. I couldn't see anyone else around, save for Cross' two employees, who were saddling themselves up to Cross' carriage. One of them must have kept it at home with him.
I emerged from the shadows and took out my revolver. I walked towards the carriage quickly. As they were attached to the front of the carriage, they were unable to see directly behind them, and so I approached where their vision would not allow them to see. I pressed myself up against the back of the carriage until I felt the wheels begin to move as they attempted to reverse the vehicle. I moved to the left first, taking a few forward steps and firing a bullet through the unlucky stallion's brain. The second attempted to unshackle himself from the carriage, but it was futile. I pressed the barrel of the revolver against his forehead and he stopped struggling.
"Please...don't kill me..." he whined. "Y-You're Orange's guy! I won't say or do anything, I swear!"
"What did you do with the crates?"
"The crates at the docks. What did you do with them?"
"There were no crates!" he shouted. "W-We thought that Orange took them when he sent his guys!"
"Guy," I corrected him. "One guy. Me. And you better stop lying."
"I'm n-not lying!" he cried. "We showed up at...m-maybe...4:20...we were running late because we took a few wrong turns. We weren't sure which platform we were meant to be picking up from. When we g-got there, we found three bodies in the water around the boat and pier...and one was floating in the water a little further out against the wall. My p-partner spotted him...but there were no crates. I promise."
"What did you say?"
"I-I said I promise..." he persisted. "I-I hate to break promises. I wouldn't...I couldn't! T-There were no crates!"
"Then why did it take you just over an hour longer to report it?"
"We didn't know what to do..." he said. "We went to Mr. Cross and he said we should go to the police...so we did."
"You're telling me that there were no crates when you showed up at that boat?"
"You're going to kill me anyway...I wouldn't even bother...trying to lie," he sobbed.
I believed him. Mr. Cross had already been threatened, and this driver Kansas, I think the boss had said his name was had just watched his friend die. He wasn't in any position to lie. I almost felt bad about killing him, but I couldn't let him go, especially not after killing his partner. I thanked him for his honesty, at least, before pulling the trigger between his eyes. He flopped over, blood flooding out of his skull, and I stepped back, angry that I'd had to kill another two ponies within a 24-hour period. In a residential area, I didn't want to take my chances that two shots would remain unheard. I left the scene quickly, galloping in a different direction, sticking to back-alleys, and successfully avoiding just about anyone who may have been around.
When a suitable distance away I boarded a tram they ran 24-hours a day and headed back towards my home. There were only two others on the tram; one was an old stallion who had fallen asleep, and the other was a refined Manehattan mare wearing an odd green and gold dress and sitting on a pillow. She was a bit younger than me.
"Hey, lady?" I called over to her. "That dress you're wearing: could I ask you where you got it?"
"Why yes, you can," she said proudly. "My husband bought it for me today. It's a rare Canterlot dress. He's sleeping now, as you can see."
"-Canterlot dress?" I mouthed.
"Indeed," she grinned. "My husband got it from the 'black' market. I was rather shocked that he would approach such ruffians, but he heard on good authority that of Lady Regatta Rutherford - that they received a fresh shipment this very morning. I have never before considered adopting the Canterlot style in Manehattan, but I rather like it. Alas, I did hear that the shipment was a one-off."
I thanked her, falling silent. She left the tram soon after having woken her elderly husband up but I couldn't stop thinking of what she had said. The black market had somehow come into the possession of the dresses, suggesting that between me dealing with Dorimant's guys and Cross' guys showing up, some rat-faced thief had got his claws on the crates.
"Dreadfuls, you fucker," I cursed under my breath. I couldn't think of anyone else who could have been responsible. I would have to report my findings to the boss soon. That evening, though, I had an apology to make to my daughters.
It was nearing 20:00 when I eventually arrived back home. I had the bloody gun with me again. I hated bringing it home into an environment where my children were, but I promised myself that I would dispose of it the following day. I walked through into the kitchen and living room; Viola was sitting at the table reading her book, although I could see that she had gotten through a large amount of pages since that morning.
"Hey," I said. "I'm really sorry that I'm late." I kept my hoof closely on the revolver in my pocket, making sure that it remained there.
"It's okay..." she said softly. "You were working...again."
"Fighting bad guys, right?" I joked, although she didn't laugh. "-Are you hungry?"
"No, thanks," she said. "We went to the shops and bought some food earlier...enough to last us for lunch and dinner."
"Good," I nodded, hovering on the spot.
"Grace put the change in the kitchen drawer," she said, looking up to me from her book, "and while she was doing that, she saw that you bought us a souvenir back last night after all."
"I did?" I questioned dubiously.
"There was this pretty pendant in there with a stag on it," she said. "I'd never seen it before, and neither had Grace. You bought it for us, right?"
I couldn't tell her otherwise: I felt as if it was the last faith that she had in me. She was used to being let down by her father; at least I could make up for the almost-broken promise I made to her the day before. I smiled, and Viola pointed to her neck: she was wearing the pendant, and I hadn't even realised.
"Yeah, hun," I said. "It's for you and your sister. You'll have to share it, though."
"We already did: she's going to wear it while it's light outside, and then when it goes dark I'm going to wear it."
"It looks good on you," I smiled. "I take it that your sister is asleep?"
"She went to bed at seven," Viola said. "I'm going to go to bed soon as well...I just wanted to make sure that you came home first..." Her voice cracked on the last word. I wrapped my hooves around her.
"Listen, we've talked about this, Viola. I'm not going anywhere," I insisted. "I promise."
"But you don't keep many of your promises, dad..." she said, pulling away from me and dropping from her chair. She left her book on the table and walked towards her bedroom door. I wanted to call after her, but the words didn't want to come. She slipped inside and closed the door after her. I cursed, hitting my hoof against the table. I took a few minutes to calm down and then hid the gun on top of the cupboard again, next to the knife. I'd have to take the pendant away from her soon: I couldn't risk her wearing a Dorimant Family insignia around the city. For that night, though, she could have it; I had the following day to make things up to them both.
I sat and opened the book that Viola had been reading about chasing dreams. I was about to start reading it, but then I felt a craving and put the book down. Next thing I knew, I was smoking my pipe, lost in a grey and uncertain fog.