"You as well, old friend. I came as soon as I heard."
Orange had come to visit me at one of my smaller homes in the Manehattan suburbs. He was one of many visitors over the last six days. Clemency had disobeyed me, going to the police about my daughter: now the search was on to bring her back, and the news had hit the streets of Manehattan as a tidal wave strikes the shore. It could not have come at a more inconvenient time. I would have found her myself, given time; but now I was forced to deal with the backlash of the mainstream media. It was just one thing after another at the moment.
I greeted him and removed his coat, hanging it on a nearby stand. I invited him into the living room, where he stretched out upon the crimson chaise longue. "Drink?" I asked, and he nodded. I dropped four cubes of ice into a glass, added three goes of gin and a lemon slice, and let a ten-ounce tonic void build up. In foaming gulps I swallowed it, and then made up the same mixture for Orange; he took it and drank it in a more reserved manner than I.
"Ghastly business with young Farleigh," he said with a worried frown. "I offer my sympathies. If there is anything that I can do to help, I will provide all the resources in my power, old friend."
"I thank you, old friend," I replied. "Farleigh is a smart girl. I am sure that she is quite safe."
"I have no doubt," Orange said, stretching his legs out upon the chaise longue. I sighed, making myself up another drink.
"Do you have any idea where she might have gone?" he questioned.
"Even if I did, right now it's out of my hooves," I replied. "The police are looking into it. They've been barking at my doors for almost a week now."
"Surely they just wish to help you find her?" Orange asked.
"When they are not suspecting me of murdering her," I replied coldly, which alarmed Orange. He always did have a weak stomach. "-With my chance absence during the night that Florence was killed, and now with the sudden disappearance of Farleigh, I am a prime suspect in the case."
"I imagine that taking this long to report her absence to the police only served to make them more suspicious?" he asked matter-of-factly.
"Yes..." I sighed.
"Why did it take you so long to report it, old friend?" he questioned. "If I had a daughter which, as you know, I don't I imagine that I would have wished to bring her back right away."
I took a seat opposite him with a third drink, having finished my second. I took out my pipe and tapped the bowl. "-Do you mind if I smoke?" I asked, and Orange invited me to go ahead. I offered him a pipe, but he declined; he explained that he wished to keep a level head, which was admirable, I suppose.
"The election is coming up," I said. "The position of Mayor of Manehattan is at stake."
"Ah, yes; the election," Orange mused. "I had forgotten all about it."
"I would never be elected with a missing daughter. My opponents would accuse me of being too pre-occupied with finding her to be able to run the city."
"And now your opponents think you to be a child-killer and a wife-burner?"
His words took me by surprise. He was never one to give graphic details about anything, being a composed and cordial individual. But the ferocity of his words then troubled me, as I had never heard him speak in such a blatantly flippant way before.
"Unless Farleigh is found and proves my innocence, I risk far more than losing the election," I admitted. "Now that the news has come out, I pray that they find her quickly."
"How did the news come out?" he asked me. "Did Gazette sell you down the river?"
"No, not Gazette," I grumbled. "I haven't been in contact with him for a while."
"Since the Rarity affair?"
"Since the Rarity affair."
"Goodness me. That feels like such a long time ago," Orange commented, and I agreed.
"It was Clemency who went to them," I explained.
"Clemency?" he asked curiously, thinking to himself. I remained quiet as he contemplated, until I could see the root of a thought implanting itself in his head. "Oh, yes! Is she the gorgeous blonde one?"
"No," I said, "you're thinking of Harmony. Clemency is an entirely different sort of creature."
"Say no more," Orange chuckled. "Mares have a habit of complicating things."
"I explicitly told her not to go to the authorities about it. I said that I had everything under control," I admonished.
"Did you scold her for disobeying you?" Orange asked. "You should always punish insubordination and disrespect."
"She was punished," I said. "She won't be walking again properly for a few days."
"Limping, is she?"
"You could say that," I smiled. "Before I did it she told me that she missed Farleigh so much that she couldn't wait to bring her back. That was why she went to the authorities, apparently."
"How touching," Orange said.
"How untrue," I replied. "Clemency loathes that my attention is divided between her and Farleigh. She wants me all to herself, and when we moved in together I imagine that she believed I would be entirely focused on her. She hadn't taken into consideration that Farleigh would be with me."
"Why do you think that Farleigh ran away?" he questioned.
"She's been through a lot recently," I sighed. "I heard from the fire department who tended to the manor on the night of the fire that Farleigh pulled her mother from the wreckage. When they arrived, Florence was already dead, and yet Farleigh refused to leave her: she pounded at her chest and attempted to resuscitate her as if a mad fever had overcome her. She was deranged. It is a huge tragedy to befall a young mare. Add to that the fact that she dislikes Clemency, and Clemency dislikes her, and you cannot blame her for wishing to get out."
"I see," he said simply.
"I suppose it's one of the reasons why I didn't try and get her back sooner," I said. "I didn't want to force her to stay in an environment that she clearly detested. Going off on your own and clearing your head of all thoughts can be healthy. For a bright and fearless girl like her, I knew that keeping her contained was a bad idea. She's a great kid, and nobody would hurt a Cross, at any rate. I am sure of that."
"I hope for the safety of your daughter," Orange said, passing his glass over to me.
"Would you like another drink?" I asked, but Orange declined. I decided against another myself, at least for a while, and set about puffing at my pipe. Realising that conversation had been dominated by me, I questioned him on his state of affairs. It was always interesting to hear of his business escapades, and it was wise of me to keep up-to-date with his dealings. We may have been old friends, but Orange was still a rival of mine. "What have you been up to?" I asked. "How is business?"
"Business is as usual," he answered quickly. "Same old, really."
"What about the wife?" I questioned.
"Ex-wife," he said. "She's suing me for every penny that I have. Luckily, I have a legal team that will destroy any case that she thinks she has. I may have also made her sign a contract a long time ago entitling her to nothing should our relationship turn sour."
"Clever," I smiled, "and a little devious, might I add."
"You can't take any chances in this world, Friesian," Orange shrugged. He was right there.
"Got any little pieces on the side?" I asked him in a slightly quieter voice. "Clemency has some friends, if you're interested."
"You know me," he shrugged, waving a hoof. "I'm not one to kiss and tell."
"You never tell anything; that's your problem," I jested. "You'd need a map and a compass in order to even attempt to navigate your mind, old friend."
"Oh, I do have some news, actually," he said rather suddenly. "I have been working closely with Mr. Lusitano Dorimant. His friends in Canterlot seem to be a good bunch to befriend."
"They are," I replied.
Lusitano Dorimant was a wealthy Trottingham-born stallion, although he had many friends in high places in Canterlot as well, where he currently lived and operated. He was a close friend of mine, and he had always bought jewellery for his wife a mare of fine tastes from my stores. His many daughters seven, I believe were also big fans of my Glass House range. I was disappointed to hear that Lusitano had been doing business with Orange, however; I had rather hoped that he knew better than that.
"What work have you been doing together?" I queried.
"He's interested in teaming up for a little project of mine. I may know all there is to know about Manehattanite fashion, but I still have much to learn when it comes to Canterlot. He can help me there," Orange said. "I forgot to tell you: I'm getting back into the dress-making business."
"Didn't you learn your lesson with that Rarity mare?" I asked dubiously.
"Now, now, Friesian; we may have come to blows about that whole business, but I have an entirely new strategy this time."
"You found another dress-maker?"
"Certainly," he replied with a grin. "She's just starting out, but she'll be ready for the big leagues in no time."
"What's her name?"
"Old friend," he laughed, "you should know better than to ask such questions. I would be a very poor businesspony if I gave away the secret identities of my workers. A lesser pony might think that you would attempt to steal their expertise."
I had, perhaps, been overly optimistic in attempting to get anything truly meaningful out of Orange. No doubt his new dress-maker was some sort of bloated Manehattanite fashion designer with a silly accent. She would hardly pose a threat, especially as I was currently out of the dress-making game.
"You should watch out for Lusitano," I said. "He doesn't like sharing, and his dress range is well-established. Do you mean to compete with him?"
"Eventually," Orange shrugged. "But for now, I occupy a policy of keeping friends close-"
"-And enemies closer?"
"Precisely," he smiled.
I finished smoking my pipe and left it to rest on a silver tray beside the bottle of gin. Orange sat up, glancing towards the front door. "It must be terrible, living in this small home, when you once lived in a large manor," he said snidely. "At least the view is nice."
"This is only a temporary living arrangement. Once I bounce back from all of this and become Mayor, things will change," I retorted. "You should see my plans for Old Manehattan. That cesspool will be wiped off the map, and in its place will be rows of industrial buildings. Manehattan is one of the three biggest cities of production in Equestria: I wish to make it the industry capital of the world. And I'll be there, Orange: sitting on top of it all, victorious and grand."
"It will remain a pipe-dream unless you find your daughter, old friend," he said. I found his words to be conclusive, and with that arose from my chair and bid him farewell.
"Good luck to you finding her," Orange said. "I will let you know if any information arises, of course. We can't have innocent youngsters roaming the streets. It would look bad if the Mayor couldn't keep the youth of today in line."
"Quite so," I said. "I look forward to your next visit, Orange."
"It will be at the exact same time, whenever I choose to visit again," he said, slipping back into his coat and taking his leave. I waited until he had left the building entirely before moving. I had work to do. I fetched a quill and a pot of ink. I set about writing a letter to my good friend, Lusitano Dorimant. I had no time to lose. After quickly scribbling the letter and adding my signet at the end, I read back over it:
Orange has been at my home speaking of business negotiations between the both of you. I know that you would never do business with him under regular means, and so I have to ask what in Equestria you are thinking. Our families have long been friends; do not risk tarnishing such a fruitful friendship by working with Orange. I see through his game easily enough. And now, in order to maintain my popularity in Manehattan, I feel obliged to step back into this fashion game. Whatever transaction you have arranged with Orange, cancel it: I will be your representative in Manehattan. Orange will only stab you in the back.
In addition, no doubt the news has arrived in Canterlot of my daughter's missing state. I ask that you inform me right away should any information from Canterlot arise as to her whereabouts. I must find her, you understand, and I cannot afford to linger. I ask also that, should you know any pony with the capacity for it, you monitor the actions of Orange carefully. I know that you would never work with him unless there was some greater plan behind it. Please, enlighten me as to what you are planning.
I slipped the letter into an envelope and sealed it. I then locked up the house and took my leave, deciding that it was about time that I returned to Clemency at the apartment that we still shared. On the way I posted the letter with a first-class stamp; I needed Lusitano to receive this information quickly. After sending it off, I let out a sigh: it was time to punish Clemency again. Back at the apartment I let myself in; Clemency was nowhere to be found at first, and I wondered if she had gone out. However, I found her in the bedroom, curled up between the sheets, writing something onto a pad of paper. She set the pencil and pad down on the bedside table when she noticed me, sitting up in bed.
"I didn't hear you come in," she said quietly. "Had I known, I would have made myself look more presentable. You like me like that, don't you?"
"Save your words, woman," I said, removing my suit and placing it over a chair. I unbuttoned my collar and tie, removing them as well, and then slipped my shoes off. Clemency watched my movements nervously, gulping with each item of clothing that I discarded.
"Are you going to fuck me again?" she asked, pretending to be her usual confident self. "You bruised me last time."
I said nothing, removing the last of what I was wearing and then climbing onto the bed. She recoiled a little, but realised that there was nowhere she could go.
"You know, Friesian," she said, her pace of talking quickening when she realised that I wasn't going to hold back. "You can be gentle if you like. You don't have to hurt me. I was thinking only of Farleigh when I went to the police-"
"I-I'm sorry," she panicked. "I apologise again! You know how sorry I am! I would never want to hurt you! I would do anything to please you!"
"Friesian!" she exclaimed, but I moved my hoof in front of her mouth, jamming it inside to silence her. She bit her teeth into my hoof as hard as she could, but I kept it there, applying greater force as I prevented her from objecting. I pulled her back by the mane and entered her where I shouldn't have, which caused her entire body to grow stiff and tense. She was sobbing now, but she would be wailing by the time I had finished with her. Disobedience had to be punished, and Clemency's actions had cost me the election, forced my daughter to run away, and incriminated me in the eyes of the law. I could lose everything because of this whore. Marriage material, she had wanted to be; she was disgusting and depraved, and good for only one thing to me. I fucked her, hard and fast, hurting her more with each thrust, and when I had finally finished and she thought she would be released, I set about hurting her again in all kinds of ways.
When she found breathing easier again I had removed my hoof from near-enough choking her she fell against the pillow, motionless and silent. She was facing me, but her eyes were empty.
"What do you say to your master, Clemency?" I asked bitterly. "What do you say to me?"
She lifted her head weakly, barely able to support herself on her hooves. I had done more damage this time than the last, and I was fearful that she wouldn't respond. She settled cold eyes upon me, frowning as water formed in them. "T-Thank you...master..." she spoke in no more than a whisper. "I really am sorry..."
"You will be punished no longer," I said. "A lesson has been learned here. But you will never disrespect me again, Clemency. You live upon my order and do as I tell you."
"I will," she said without any semblance of expression. "Thank you for forgiving me."
I nodded and she curled up, turning to face away from me. I assumed at first that she fell asleep, or maybe she just fell silent. Hearing her talking irritated me, and so I was content to avoid the sound of her speech. And yet part of me felt guilty for inflicting so much pain upon her, and I set about brushing her back with the tip of my hoof. "Clemency," I grumbled. "I believe that I may have taken your punishment too far."
I heard her crying into her pillow. "What is done is done," I sighed. "We both made mistakes. I was frustrated and I took it out on you. I will do my best to avoid letting it happen again."
She continued to cry. I stroked her back in softer motions, doing my best to silence her bawling. As she began to fall into a lull, I looked across to what she had been writing. I picked up the pad and scanned it. It appeared to be a poem of sorts, and she had titled it 'Cross'. She quite often busied herself writing poetry. I thought poetry to be nonsense-words jumbled together in no particular order, but it obviously made her happy to add rhyme and reason to things.
"This will cheer you up," I instructed. "I will read out this poem of yours."
She rolled over to face me, staring up with beautiful eyes; life was returning to those crystalline orbs once more. I cleared my throat and began:
"A decent chap, a real good sort,
Straight as a die, one of the best,
A brick, a trump, a proper sport,
Head and shoulders above the rest;
How many lives would have been duller
Had he not been here below?
Here's to the whitest stallion I know."
I smiled at her compliments. However, beneath the seventh line was an eighth that had been crossed out with a line through it. I narrowed my eyes and turned up the light on the bedside table to read it. I grew angry when I read the final line, and Clemency knew it; she began to tremble once again.