You Can't Go Home Again
written by Sugarberry
“It looks good,” the stallion said, tossing his head to get the black mane off his face.
“Good is an understatement,” replied the deep-lilac mare next to him. “It looks better than it did when we lived here.” She set her backpack down and stretched her aching muscles. “Who would have thought Bubbling Springs was this far from Dream Valley!”
“Yeah. I know what ya mean,” the stallion concurred, dropping his backpack as well. “It’s been awhile since we’ve been in this part of the country.”
Blackcap Lamplight and his wife, Sassy, had made the unplanned journey to the ancestral home after bidding farewell to their daughter, Garnet, following a reunion at her home in Dream Valley. On parting, Garnet was under the impression that her parents were headed to New Pony where they currently made their home. She would not have been pleased to know that they were now in Bubbling Springs where her unsuspecting aunts lived a peaceful life as caretakers for the museum that had once been the Lamplight family home.
Standing at the base of the hill that served as a stage for the lovely Victorian mansion known as Lamplight, Blackcap and Sassy studied the stately structure where they had lived after they were first married and where their first foal had been born. Many years had passed since they had left the area; and they had never returned, except for one brief pass-by of Blackcap’s. Not all the memories of their tenure there were pleasant.
The house was of white clapboards, a fitting home for one of the early influential ponies of the once struggling town of Bubbling Springs. It boasted a large turret off the left-hoof corner, rising a floor above the main body of the house and dominating the architectural design of the dwelling, giving it a castle-like appearance. The wide front porch with square-cut column supports framed the welcoming front door with a full-length oval glass center and was flanked on either side by long narrow accent windows.
A black wrought-iron fence hemmed in the property, outlining the acreage effectively against the snowy background. To their backs, river water was gurgling its way down the meandering stream that snaked past Bubbling Springs, its icy edges giving way to flowing water at the center.
“It looks really nice the way the paint’s not pealing,” Sassy said, a hint of wistfulness in her voice; she and Blackcap had never had the money or the initiative to keep up the property as it deserved.
Blackcap was no longer looking at the house. His gaze was riveted to a cluster of lilac bushes, bare in the winter weather. He was remembering his last days at Lamplight when the tunnel that opened out on the hillside over the river and which had proved an effective cover for his smuggling operation had been discovered by the local police and had led them to press charges against Blackcap for his covert activities.
The spread of lilacs that had screened the tunnel had been cut down at that time, the tunnel was sealed on both the outside entrance and the nearly invisible access in the Lamplight basement and- before court proceedings could convene- Blackcap and Sassy had disappeared.
Now, however, new growth had returned to the hillside to mark the spot of the once secret tunnel as the lilacs had fought against their annihilation and had returned to life like the phoenix. That brought a bit of hope into Blackcap’s thoughts; anything was possible.
“Let’s go up the hill; there’s some kind of sign up there,” he muttered.
“But we can’t be seen... not here,” Sassy pleaded. “There are too many ponies around who could recognize us.” Her words, however, were ignored as Blackcap set his tread away from her, following the line of the fence. Quickly, Sassy scooped up the two backpacks and followed him.
Reaching the gate that fed onto the front walkway, Blackcap scowled, his already surly expression reaching disagreeable proportions. “Lamplight Museum?” he muttered. “What have they gone and done with the place?”
“A museum!” exclaimed Sassy. “What a wonderful idea!”
“This was our home!” exclaimed Blackcap.
“Was being the operative word,” Sassy reminded her husband.
Opening the gate, Blackcap was halfway through before Sassy stopped him. “We can’t just walk in there like we’re coming home.”
“Why not? It’s a public museum after all,” Blackcap said sarcastically.
“What if someone we know works there?” worried the mare.
“We have just as much right to go through the house as strangers do.”
“But, Blackcap, the ponies around here aren’t going to be too friendly to us.”
The stallion kept moving, however, and was soon at the front porch; Sassy apprehensively joined him. Both ponies stood staring at the inviting front door, wanting to go inside but dreading any confrontation that might be forced upon them.
“Well, come on,” Blackcap urged, taking his wife’s hoof in his and pulling her with him up the steps to the door. Taking a deep breath, he rang the bell as a small sign near the door bade him to do. The chimes could be heard faintly in the bowels of the structure, and soon the door was opened.
“Good afternoon,” a young silver grey stallion smiled. “Welcome to Lamplight. I’m Willy, the curator.” He gestured for the pair to come in and closed the door behind them. “I imagine you’d like a tour of the house?”
Blackcap, his attention captured by a surfeit of memories of a boyhood in this place, did not answer; he was lost to an earlier time. Sassy, rather overcome herself, found voice to murmur, “Yes... no... I mean, could we just look around on our own?”
Willy hesitated. The dark-haired stallion had a menacing look about him, almost wild-eyed. Willy was sure he had never seen him before, yet something about him seemed familiar.
“We don’t usually...” he began, but the mare smiled at him with violet eyes that seemed to cast a spell on him. He found himself wondering where he had seen eyes like those before and, caught in their appeal, he smiled. “I’m sure that I can make an exception in your case. You can start with the library.” He indicated a room to the left of the main entrance. “I’ll be in my office if you have any questions.”
“Thank you,” Sassy said
“Look, Blackcap, at all the old books,” the mare said on entering the room The plentiful shelves were not nearly as full as they had been in the days of Edwin Lamplight, Blackcap’s father, but the efforts of the museum staff to replace as many of the books as possible was bearing fruit.
Blackcap went down the line of titles. How his father had wanted his son to glory in the wealth of wisdom in these tomes, and how Blackcap had turned his back to them! He did the same now and walked out of the room.
Sassy followed her husband to the parlor that had always been one of her favorite rooms when she had been living here. Her exclamations of pleasure on the decorating were well-founded. Every inch of the house had been lovingly restored to its former grandeur once it had been rescued from demolition by the town of Bubbling Springs after the house had stood empty for too many years and had begun to show the signs of disuse. Period furniture was once again in place, wall coverings were bright and pleasing to the eye, window treatments were refined, pictures were in place...
On the wall hung a walnut-framed portrait of a family of ponies: a distinguished looking group of mother; father; two younger mares, obviously sisters; and one lone stallion not much above the age of eighteen but already with the look of obstinance that still marked Blackcap’s face.
“It’s you and your family!” exclaimed Sassy. She moved up close to the portrait and studied the faces of the ponies pictured there. “This must have been done shortly before... before you lost your parents.”
“That was a long time ago. I don’t remember,” the stallion responded huskily. He turned away from the portrait and walked to the window to gaze out at the view.
Sassy continued her perusal of the furnishings. “Whoever did this decorating really knew what they were doing,” she cooed. “It’s perfect.”
“It looks good enough, I suppose,” Blackcap responded looking around and noting several small pillows on the sofa done in a crazy quilt pattern criss-crossed with intricate, decorative stitches that reminded him of fancy work his older sisters were wont to do when they all lived as family with their parents in this home. He had teased them over this tedious work, but his father had upbraided him in turn. Born ten years after his closest sister, Blackcap had been a sore trial to his parents; they had found the task of raising an unruly colt almost too much for their advancing years.
Sassy noted what had caught his eye and understood his fascination with the work of art portrayed in the neat stitches. “I wonder where Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl are these days?” She was referring to Blackcap’s sisters, the two maidenly mares in the portrait.
“Probably snug in some retirement village plugging away at more of those blasted quilts,” he said, turning to leave the room, moved by memories that were not pleasant... and of his own making. He stalked into the next room, the dining room, elegant in its heavy walnut furniture and ornamental draperies, then continued through the rest of the main floor rooms as if hunted; he chose to access the upper floor by the back stairs.
It was not until he and Sassy reached the largest bedroom on the second floor, the one with the turret, that he came to a standstill and took stock of his surroundings with any show of interest.
Sassy, too, was affected.
“This is where you brought me when we first came back to live here after we’d run off and gotten married,” she reminisced. “It had been your parents bedroom until... until they were gone. Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl hated to see us take over Lamplight. They knew that your father had wanted them to live here.”
“Just as he always wanted everything for them and nothing for me,” Blackcap muttered.
“I didn’t know your parents,” Sassy said softly. “And I didn’t like your sisters; they were so far above me with their polite talk and their fancy ribbons and their perfect manners that I resented them for trying to help me fit in here. The more they tried to mold me into someone they could tolerate, the deeper I dug in my hooves to thwart them. Sometimes, Blackcap, I wish I had tried harder to do as they wished.”
“They’d have never approved of either of us, Sassy.”
“But we all lost Lamplight in the end.”
“All because Thorne betrayed me!” roared Blackcap.
Knowing when to keep silent, Sassy set a reassuring hoof on her husband’s shoulder for a moment, then went to enjoy the view from the second floor windows. The turret was impressive and allowed a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, especially with the house on top of the hill as it was. The river’s course could be easily followed, and the neighborhood beyond the gates of Lamplight studied.
Coming to stand next to his wife, Blackcap surveyed the view, pointing out the homes of colts he used to run with and wondering what had become of them. Sassy laughed at the exploits he told of their pranks and games which always infuriated the proper Edwin and the retiring Cora. Blackcap had constantly been a thorn in his parents’ sides while Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl had been the perfect angels who could do no wrong. That still rankled with the stallion, just as it had when he was growing up and when it came time to make life decisions of his own.
He had found it easier to continue in his wayward pursuits than to attempt to refine his attitudes to meet his father’s expectations. Edwin had never approved of his son’s contrary actions nor had he ever discovered a way to reach his son’s inner needs and desires. Blackcap had proved to be too much to handle for Edwin who was used to being obeyed and respected by his wife and his two daughters; they had never made waves or expected freedom like the later foal who seemed determined to create havoc in whatever he did. Blackcap made his own friends and carved his own path.
“Onyx was born in this room,” Sassy voiced softly. “He’ll be thirty-three this year.”
Their firstborn, Onyx was a deep purple, almost black, stallion with a blood red mane- the color of dried blood, his siblings had teased him- who was presently contentedly employed as a chef in Hayton. He, along with his other brother and two sisters, had not kept in touch with their parents, which was how Blackcap and Sassy had wanted it... until recently when family had begun to seem more important than it once had.
“And Ebony... what age is she coming up on?” queried Blackcap.
“Five years younger than Onyx... twenty-eight.”
“Sable must be in his mid-twenties now, and Garnet... didn’t she say she was twenty now?”
“Yup. Where have the years gone?”
“Yeah. I know what you mean. Being back here really makes the time fall away, doesn’t it?”
“We were just kids ourselves when we were married and came to Lamplight thinking we would rule the world... or at least Bubbling Springs.” She giggled. “We didn’t know anything.”
“I told you, Sassy; it was all because of Thorne.”
“Yes, dear,” the mare patted his hoof. “Let’s go downstairs.” Then she grinned. “Can we leave by the front stairs?”
“Let’s live dangerously,” the stallion responded with a grin of his own.
The curving stairs off the entry were a masterpiece of an earlier day, and Blackcap and Sassy took their time walking down the stairway, their hooves caressing the rich wooden banister and their eyes feasting on the ornately carved spindles. They had almost reached the bottom step when the front door opened, and two mares stepped into the foyer.
Blue Pearl, blue with pearly white hair, and Burgundy Lace, burgundy with an ecru mane, were in the middle of a lively conversation as they looked to see who the visitors were coming down the stairs; their voices fell silent and their eyes lit up with anger as they recognized these ponies from the past.
Blackcap and Sassy only stared.
“How dare you come back here!” Burgundy Lace said accusingly upon finding her voice.
“And what right do you two have to be here?” gruffly returned Blackcap.
“We belong here,” quietly said Blue Pearl, her face pale from the shock of meeting a brother she had not seen for nearly thirty-five years. Seeing him now on the stairway was akin to seeing a ghost.
“No more than I!” Blackcap angrily retorted.
Willy, coming out of his office because of the sound of sparring voices, surveyed the group and asked, “Is there a problem here?”
Turning on Willy, Burgundy Lace accosted him. “How did these two get in here? You were asking for trouble to let them in.”
A confused curator stuttered. “I... I don’t understand.”
Burgundy Lace marched across the entry to the door of the parlor. Pointing to the portrait that claimed a place of honor on the wall, she intoned, “It’s him, the traitor that threw Lamplight away... and his sisters along with it.”
With a dawning of understanding, Willy breathed, “You’re Blackcap then... and Sassy.” No wonder the stallion had looked familiar- this was an older version of the one in the picture. And Sassy... it was those violet eyes that could mesmerize a pony, just as Garnet was able to do.
“And just who are you?” Blackcap barked.
“I’m the curator for Lamplight,” Willy explained once more.
“Well, be that as it may, this was my home before you were born, you young whippersnapper!”
“Maybe we should all just sit down and discuss...” began Sassy.
Burgundy Lace cut her off. “You stay out of this, Sassy. This is between Blue Pearl, Blackcap, and myself.”
Blackcap glared at the two mares, then asked, “How did you get Lamplight back?”
“We didn’t, exactly,” Blue Pearl volunteered. “We were simply invited to assist in the restoration and the upkeep of our old home as a historical site.”
“Who owns it, then?”
“The town does, Blackcap, and legally, too,” Burgundy Lace informed her brother menacingly.
“That doesn’t negate the fact that this place is as much my legacy as it is yours.”
Burgundy Lace spluttered. “You legacy, huh? And what became of Lamplight with you at the helm?”
With a sideways glance at Sassy, Blackcap defended himself. “Do you realize the expenses involved with a place this size?”
“I can give you a jangle by jangle account,” Burgundy Lace threw back at him. She frowned at him a moment, then continued. “You are an abomination, Blackcap Lamplight. How anyone like you could engender an angel like Garnet is beyond my comprehension.”
“How do you know Garnet?” Blackcap growled.
Blue Pearl answered. “She came to us, having learned that she had other kin in this world other than you two.”
“You’ve been turning her against us, haven’t you? No wonder she wanted to get rid of us.”
“You’ve seen Garnet yourselves?” Burgundy Lace boiled. “If I find out that you’ve tried to corrupt her or stand in her way to happiness, I’ll find a way to scourge you, Blackcap!”
“She’s my daughter, for Pete’s sake, Lacey! Why would I want to hurt her?”
“Past history, for one thing.” This was said with a slight lessening of harshness, for the use of her pet name, Lacey, had brought back some memories that were not so unpleasant.
“Even Garnet gave us the benefit of the doubt, for a day or two at least. And Blackcap is your brother,” observed Sassy.
Eyeing Sassy with distaste, Burgundy Lace held back no punches. “You’re no better than he is.”
Rolling her own eyes, Sassy sat down on the stair step, giving up on trying to make amends.
Blackcap, however, was not about to see his wife humiliated. “Don’t bring Sassy into this parley; she’s been a good wife to me, and I won’t stand here and listen to you malign her.”
Blue Pearl seemed to agree. “Garnet does favor her mother.” Then swinging her gaze full force on her brother, she added, “She certainly couldn’t have inherited any of her goodness from you.”
“Now listen here, Miss Holier Than Thou....”
Just then the doorbell rang, indicating that someone was interested in a tour of the museum. Burgundy Lace nodded toward the door that led to her and Blue Pearl’s private rooms. “We’ll continue this discussion among ourselves.”
With a frown at Willy, she led the way out; and Willy scurried to meet the visitors with a composed, if not harried, face.
Once in the mares’ apartment, the ponies stood uncertainly until Blue Pearl, out of force of habit, began to fix tea and arrange cakes for company to eat. Sassy joined in helping Blue Pearl while Burgundy Lace and Blackcap continued to glare at one another across the room.
When Blue Pearl indicated that everyone was to sit down, Blackcap grated a chair away from the table and plopped himself down before the mares had a chance to sit. His glowering countenance gave a seething atmosphere to the otherwise peaceful-looking scene of an afternoon tea party.
“You forged that will that you had your lawyer present to the courts all those years ago, Blackcap. Everyone knows that you did.”
“Then why didn’t anyone prove it?”
“I’ll have to give you credit for that; you made sure there were no loose ends, no loop holes, for anyone to contest. And as it was written later than the one our father left with Blue Pearl and me, the courts had to honor it.”
Blackcap, unable to keep a smug look off his face, smirked. “Is it so hard to believe that Dad wanted me to have Lamplight?”
“Yes!” emphatically chorused Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace. Even Sassy unknowingly nodded her head.
Burgundy Lace was outraged anew. “Father and Mother always planned for us to have Lamplight; they assured us that we would always have a home here. They knew what road you were headed down... make no mistake about that!” The mare shook her hoof at her brother.
“Well, all’s well that ends well,” huffed Blackcap, not wanting to continue that avenue of discussion. “You two have a home here, after all.”
“No thanks to you!”
“Give me a break!” exploded Blackcap. “What’s done is done! And you, Lacey, if you hadn’t been so highfalutin in your younger days, you’d have been married and provided for by that stallion, Pinto, who wanted to marry you. But Dad didn’t approve, so you bowed down and let Pinto get away.”
“How dare you bring that up at a time like this?” raved Burgundy Lace. “Pinto and I would never have been happy together.”
“You seemed happy with him from what I remember,” Blackcap sneered. He had not been adverse to spying on his older sisters’ activities.
“How dare you?” Burgundy Lace said again, at a loss for anything further to say, her face paling to a sickly color.
“Admit it, Lacey. You were head over heals in love with the stallion, yet you let Dad run your life for you. Blue Pearl I wouldn’t have been surprised at, but you, Lacey? You always knew what you wanted, but you buckled under when your very happiness was at stake.”
“My happiness, Blackcap, revolved around Lamplight. You took that away.”
“Maybe I did it for your own good; you and Blue Pearl would never have come out of the cocoon that Lamplight had become for you. Now, can you tell me that you two haven’t lived satisfying lives?”
Burgundy Lace scoffed. “You call scrimping and scraping every jangle satisfying?”
“It’s better than stagnating away from the real world!” Blackcap thundered, quieting his sisters rather effectively. There was a deathly silence that hung heavily upon them.
Suddenly, Blue Pearl giggled. “Remember the time the three of us filched all the eggs from the chicken house and used them to bombard the raccoon that was trying to get them and the hens?” She smiled, thinking back over the years. “We couldn’t do any baking that day.”
“‘What do you three think you’re trying to prove?’ Dad roared when he caught us in the act. He was quick to point out that all we’d accomplished is saving the raccoon from having to raid the nests himself,” Blackcap chuckled.
“And the raccoon just sat waiting for the next egg to be thrown so he could lap it up,” Blue Pearl added.
“I don’t remember being a party to such goings-on,” sniffed Burgundy Lace.
“Oh, cut line, Lacey. You were always the ringleader until I grew up enough to take over the reins. One of your best plots was that deal with the white sheets on the clothesline on Halloween. You convinced old Betsy that they were ghosts, and the poor thing almost quit her job on the spot.”
“And she would have, too,” said Blue Pearl, “if the moon hadn’t come out just then and lit up the yard a bit. She called us a bunch of hooligans and made us go out to fetch in the bedclothes.”
“And you were scared to death,” joined in Burgundy Lace, glancing at her sister. “Blackcap donned a sheet and pretended to be a real ghost; you screamed and screamed until both Mother and Father came running.”
“And I,” Blackcap picked up the story again, “with no way to see, had the misfortune to run smack dab into Dad, who in no uncertain terms told me I was never to pull that kind of stunt again.” He grinned at Blue Pearl, seeing her again as the quiet, gentle older sister who had often backed him against his father’s wrath.
“And I had to sit at Blue Pearl’s bedside all night so that she could sleep; she was sure that some phantasm was waiting in the darkness,” appended Burgundy Lace, who, as the oldest child in the family, had been expected to maintain a certain amount of order and dignity. But Blue Pearl, two years younger, had proven to be temptingly gullible; and the little brother who had enlivened their family some ten years after Blue Pearl’s birth had been the perfect accomplice at anything his big sister had suggested.
“Well, Betsy stayed on as cook anyway,” chuckled Blackcap. “It would have been a disaster if she’d have gone; those apple dumplings she fed us were the best.”
“She would have done anything for us,” said Blue Pearl, growing serious again. “When Mother and Father got sick, she did everything she could to make them comfortable; and when they died, it broke her heart.”
“Nonsense, Blue Pearl,” chastised Burgundy Lace. “She contracted the same illness they did. And it was all for the best, really; she’d have suffered so to leave Lamplight when... when you, Blackcap, had us all turned out.”
The light-hearted talk regressed once more as less pleasant memories washed over the ponies afresh.
“You brought Sassy here,” continued Burgundy Lace, “and sent us off as if we were last winter’s castaways. How could you, Blackcap? How could you?” Her voice became a moan as if the memories were overwhelming her.
Getting to his hooves so suddenly that he sent his chair scritching across the floor, Blackcap had no answer. Instead, he dragged his wife from her chair and puller her across the room to the outside door, picking up their backpacks in the process; he opened the door... and found the exit blocked by Bramble, the Bubbling Spring’s city manager, Convoy, the police chief, and Bobby, his deputy.
“Blackcap Lamplight?” Convoy asked.
“You were a rookie on the force thirty-some years ago,” Blackcap retorted, recognizing the stallion as one of those who had been responsible for uncovering his smuggling operation. “And I believe there is such a thing as a statute of limitations.”
“There are some questions I’d like to ask you, Blackcap,” Convoy said. He looked at the mares watching. “We can do it here, or down at the station.”
“Questions about what?”
“Questions concerning the robbery of a restaurant called The Wharf in Riverside.”
“What the...” Blackcap was saying when Sassy abruptly put a hoof on his foreleg, then with a ragged intake of breath, collapsed onto the floor at Convoy’s and Bramble’s hooves.
Both of those stallions immediately turned their attention to the lifeless form of Sassy; Convoy began to bark orders to those around him for a cold, wet cloth and plenty of fresh air while Bramble went to lend his support to Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace, who both seemed near the same fate as Sassy; and Bobby, being a new recruit, stood looking dumbly on the scene.
Before anyone realized what was happening, Blackcap was on his way down the sidewalk that led from the entrance of his sister’s apartment within Lamplight to a back gate in the fence. His hoof had made contact with the gate when suddenly he was grabbed from behind and taken down by another officer stationed near the bushes in the backyard waiting for just such a contingency.
“Good job!” commented Convoy, coming up to offer his assistance in hoof-cuffing the angry stallion. “And just so you know, Blackcap, your wife made a speedy recovery from her ‘fainting spell’ once she realized that you hadn’t made it to freedom.” To Roper, the officer who had tackled Blackcap, he issued an order. “Take him down to the station.” Turning to Bobby, he added, “And you... bring the mare, too.” Then the police chief stalked off to leave his underlings with the suspects in tow.
* * *
“Bramble, can they do that?” wailed Blue Pearl as her brother and sister-in-law were marched away.
“They’re only going to question them,” Bramble stated, although not too reassuringly.
“What exactly happened in Riverside?” queried Burgundy Lace.
“It seems some nightclub there held a fund-raiser last night and brought in a lot of jangles for a building project at the local high school. The money was put in the vault at the club at 2AM this morning; when the manager came in at nine this morning, the vault was open and empty.”
“But why suspect Blackcap and Sassy? It’s been a long time since they’ve been... active.”
“Is it?” wondered Bramble. “The motel owner said he rented a room to a deep blue stallion with black hair; he had a violet mare with him. They checked out real early this morning.”
“Isn’t that circumstantial evidence or something?” asked Burgundy Lace while Blue Pearl began to weep softly into a hanky.
“They have to follow through on the lead,” rationalized Bramble. “Just because they’re being questioned doesn’t mean they’re guilty.”
Burgundy Lace faced Bramble. “But you think they’re guilty, don’t you?”
“We all know what Blackcap and Sassy are capable of; it doesn’t look good.”
Burgundy Lace slumped in a chair next to her sister. “Will that stallion never learn?”
“Wait and see what Convoy uncovers. Do you two want to go down to the station and wait there?”
Taking one look at Blue Pearl, Burgundy Lace shook her head. “I think I’d better stay here and look after Blue Pearl. Would you check on things and let us know?”
“Sure, Burgundy Lace.” He turned to go, but pivoted back as he reached the door. “Don’t worry about a thing; whatever happens with Blackcap and Sassy, you two are invaluable to us here at Lamplight.”
Allowing a tight smile, Burgundy Lace only nodded.
* * *
In the police chief’s office, Blackcap was offered a glass of water as Convoy leaned against his desk in front of the stallion. Blackcap waved off the water, glaring at Convoy the entire time.
“What have you done with my wife?” he demanded.
“She’s in the office next door, talking to Roper. Don’t worry about her. You have enough explaining to do for yourself.” Picking up a fax off his desk, Convoy continued. “We need some information as to your whereabouts last night, Blackcap. Would you mind telling me where you and Sassy spent the night?”
“Yes, I’d mind.”
“You don’t have a choice in the matter. Save us some time by answering now.”
Blackcap ran a hoof through his mane. “We put up at a motel southwest of here; we wanted to see Lamplight in the daylight.”
“Riverside is southwest of here. Was the motel in Riverside?”
“Could have been... I don’t remember.”
Convoy picked up another paper off his desk. “Does the name, Hoof It Lodge, mean anything to you?”
“Maybe... maybe not.”
“Hoof It Lodge is the motel in Riverside; their desk entry has a record of a Mr. and Mrs. Black registering there late last night and checking out very early this morning. Their description matched you and your wife.”
“Did you go to a restaurant in Riverside called The Wharf?”
Convoy made a note on the paper, then asked, “Did Sassy go to The Wharf ?”
Studying the stallion, Convoy next asked, “What time did you and Sassy leave Riverside this morning?”
“I don’t remember saying that we were anywhere near Riverside last night.”
There was a knock at the office door, and Bobby poked his head in. “We’ve been through their backpacks, chief.”
“They’re carrying enough jangles to see themselves through quite a long trip,” the rookie revealed.
“They each had one thousand jangles.”
“Okay, Bobby, that’s enough.”
When the door was closed and Blackcap and Convoy were alone, Convoy walked behind his desk and sat down. “Do you always travel with that many jangles, Blackcap?”
“So why now?”
Blackcap was slow in answering. “We had some luck at a casino.”
“You were at Fargo?”
“That’s the only town with a casino in this part of Ponyland.”
“Sassy and I just came from the south, over the Black Mountains.”
“Which casino, Blackcap?”
“Wigwam’s Casino in Dream Valley.”
After jotting down this information, Convoy leaned back and sat chewing on the eraser of his pencil. “It won’t take us long to check on that information. In the meantime, I’ll grant you and Sassy some time together, with a guard on hoof at all times.”
Convoy stood up in dismissal and called for Bobby. When that stallion appeared at the door, he gave him his orders and watched as Blackcap left the office. When the door closed behind them, Convoy got on the phone.
* * *
In his office at Wigwam’s Casino, Wigwam took the call that came in from the Bubbling Springs police. Although he was able to assure Convoy that Blackcap and Sassy Lamplight had indisputably been visitors at the casino and had walked off with an impressive win, he remained seated at his desk pondering the necessity for such a call to be made for several minutes after he had set down the receiver.
His interaction with Garnet as a friend and as a business associate made him conscious of the ties she had to Bubbling Springs. Wigwam, unofficially connected to the Dream Valley Police Department, was also aware of Blackcap and Sassy’s history and their relationship with Garnet. Why the Bubbling Springs authorities were interested in Blackcap and Sassy at this point in time ate at Wigwam’s mind until he could stand it no longer. Leaving a vague message for Garnet, he slipped out to learn what he could from Tawny, Dream Valley’s Chief of Police.
Wigwam found Tawny suitably occupied but not too busy to stop and chat. Once they had covered the weather, local sports, and mutual acquaintances, Wigwam got down to the reason for his visit.
“Tawny, what do you know about any suspicious activity in the Bubbling Springs area?”
“I wondered when you’d get down to the nitty-gritty,” Tawny grinned. He threw a communication across his desk. “Read it.”
“Hmm..a robbery in Riverside with Blackcap and Sassy passing through.” Wigwam shook his head. “It doesn’t look good.” He told Tawny of the call he had received from Convoy.
“Convoy’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’ll take care of things.”
“Are you aware that Blackcap and Sassy were in Dream Valley this past week?”
“Yes. I heard about it after the fact. There’s nothing currently on the books concerning them.”
“It doesn’t make sense; Blackcap is smart enough not to hang out after pulling something as big as this robbery was.”
“Unless the draw of being back in home territory was too much for him.”
“How’s Garnet taking this?”
“I haven’t said anything yet; I wanted to have my facts straight.”
“The latest information I have is that they’re being held in Bubbling Springs yet. The jangles found on them are going to work against them, but you were able to verify the truth of their story. It will be up to Convoy to prove that Blackcap and Sassy were the two who did break into the vault at the restaurant.”
“How do you read it, Tawny?”
Tawny shrugged. “It’s certainly something Blackcap is capable of.” He tapped his hoof on the desk, thinking. “Yet there’s something now quite right about it; it’s too neat. One thing I’ve learned is that if a case is handed to you on a silver platter, you’d better look for tarnish around the edges.”
“Well, one thing’s for certain. Garnet’s going to want to rush off there as soon as she learns what’s going on.”
“And you’re going to accompany her,” Tawny said with a grin, getting to his hooves. “Good luck.”
* * *
Both prophecies turned out correct. When Wigwam broke the news to Garnet, she sat in total silence for a moment, then asked for several days off. Wigwam soberly granted that request, then announced that he would accompany her.
“No,” Garnet rebuffed him. “I’ve got to handle this on my own.”
“You don’t know what you’ll be facing once you get there. You can back up your parents, but Convoy might be more inclined to listen to me when it comes to police matters.”
“Wishbone can take some days off,” she began, then realized what she was asking. “He’s got some important tests at school tomorrow; I can’t ask him to drop everything.”
“I’d say your biggest problem is to convince him not to come along; but you’re right- he needs to stay here with his classes and his job.” He picked up the phone. “I’ll get some help lined up for Hawkley; you take care of any personal things that you need to square away before we leave. We can be out of here in an hour.”
“Thanks, Wigwam. I’ll feel better knowing I have backup.”
“We’re not going into battle.”
Garnet grimaced. “You don’t know my dad.”
* * *
Setting out was a relief for Garnet as Wishbone had not taken it well when she had informed him that she would not allow him to miss his commitments in Dream Valley to accompany her to Bubbling Springs. He had argued that her family was soon going to be his as well, and it was his right and his responsibility to be with her through whatever lay ahead. She could agree with the thought, but she would not be responsible for jeopardizing his studies or his job and had remained adamant that he stay behind.
The rose-red stallion had remained sulky until they had parted; when he had whispered, “I love you, Garnet,” that simple message had gone a long way to ease her worries that the stallion would have second thoughts about aligning himself with a family of such ill-repute.
The road to the northern country was a long one and took some time, but they eventually arrived at Riverside where Wigwam checked in at the police station to find out if any new developments had occurred while he and Garnet were on the road; there had been none. Wigwam did learn, however, that after the theft had been discovered and reported to the police, the office had received an anonymous phone call alerting them to the fact that two suspicious looking ponies had been seen leaving the local motel very early that morning. It had not taken the police long to determine from the motel owner that those ponies were none other than Blackcap and Sassy Lamplight. With that information, the solution to the case became clear.
From Riverside, the road to Bubbling Springs headed due north. As night was deepening, Garnet placed a quick call to Birdsong, the bed-and-breakfast that lay outside the town of Riverside but in the direction the two were taking; here the countryside was gently rolling unlike the Flatlands they had crossed. She had last visited Birdsong this past summer and had been well-received regardless of some past association with the family that had not been something to be proud of on Garnet’s part.
Buck, the oldest of three Birdsong brothers and the one who had learned the hard way of Garnet’s devious ways- this at a time prior to her arriving at Dream Valley and adopting a more conservative manner of making a living- had been on his honeymoon at that time of her last visit. Garnet was aware that he taught at the Riverside High School for which the fund-raiser had taken place; what he would think of her now when her parents were accused of the theft was a nerve-wracking speculation for Garnet.
The mare was unwilling to talk as she and Wigwam made their way to the Birdsong home, which like Lamplight, was on top of one of the many hills in the area. Their walk there, even in the darkness of night, was not as bleak as it might have been as the snow cover of white reflected the starlight overhead enough to show Wigwam why Vanguard and Sugarberry had such positive memories of this place. The land was a mix of valleys and hills that harbored many natural beauty spots.
Sensing the mare’s hesitation as they finally reached the front door of Birdsong, Wigwam settled a supporting hoof on her foreleg. “Sugarberry assured me that these ponies are your friends, Garnet. Now, forget about the problems we’ll face tomorrow at Bubbling Springs, and put on a happy face.”
Garnet managed a small smile which had disappeared by the time the door opened; but she was pulled into a welcoming hug by Lilac, the mistress of the house. Garnet introduced Wigwam, and Lilac assured them both that they were quite welcome even at this late hour and proceeded to direct them to the kitchen where they could talk while Lilac rounded up a fortifying bedtime snack.
Garnet had no sooner gotten herself settled down at the table when a young stallion walked into the kitchen. His eyes flew immediately to Garnet’s, and the mare got to her hooves to meet him. “I’m sorry for what happened, Buck. I don’t understand it, but I’m sorry.”
“Did you send your parents here because your past experience proved we’re easily duped?” the stallion asked, his eyes angry.
“Is that what you think... that I’m somehow a part of this?”
“All I know is that when anything bad happens, there’s a Lamplight nearby.”
“And I thought you were someone special!”
“If this is how you treat your friends...”
Wigwam got to his hooves, but it was Lilac who cut in.
“Buck Birdsong,” Lilac snapped. “You will not talk to a guest in my house that way! I’d appreciate it if you apologized to Garnet.”
“When the jangles are back in the safe, I’ll apologize,” Buck said, glaring at Garnet. He turned and stalked out of the room, nearly colliding with a pale yellow mare coming in with a jar of home-preserved peaches in her hooves. He barely looked at her as he continued on his way. The mare watched his departure with open-mouthed astonishment.
“I’ve never seen him angry like that,” she said; then becoming conscious of the ponies in the kitchen, she blushed. “I’m sorry. Buck has been upset since the robbery. Garnet, it’s nice to see you again; you remember me, don’t you... Columbine, Buck’s wife now.” Her blush deepened as she remembered the jealousy she had felt when Garnet had made her first visit to Birdsong several years back.
“Of course I remember you, Columbine. And this is Wigwam.”
“Nice to meet you,” Columbine smiled. Then she set the peaches on the counter for Lilac. “If you don’t need me, I’d like to go and talk with Buck.”
“You go ahead, Columbine. If anyone can talk some sense into that boy of mine, it’ll be you.”
When Columbine was gone, Lilac came to Garnet and patted her hoof. “Don’t pay any mind to Buck right now. He likes to think that he can control his world single-hoovedly; and when things go wrong, he takes it personally.”
At that moment, three other stallions came into the kitchen, freshly washed up from chores in the barn: Trendy, Lilac’s husband; Tramples, the middle brother; and Licorice, the youngest son. Wigwam was made known to them and Lilac soon had food before them and conversation flowed as if the confrontation with Buck had never occurred.
But Garnet could not forget it. She had respected the stallion for his high ideals; his kindness and his ability to forgive her for the unconscionable mess she had gotten him into had been part of the reason that she had begun to despise her deceitful way of living. Having then been befriended by the ponies of Dream Valley had solidified her resolve to put that past behind her and begin anew; Wishbone’s love had capped that determination.
Now Buck had turned against her and not because of something she personally had done but because of something her parents were accused of doing. She shuddered to think that they actually might have robbed The Wharf. Well, she would learn the answer to that tomorrow; for tonight, she could only hope that they had not stooped so low. She sighed and turned her attention back to the talk going on around her.
* * *
It was hours later and Birdsong was deep in sleep when Garnet made her way stealthily down the stairs and back to the kitchen. She could not sleep, not with all the worries racing around and around in her mind, and had finally decided that if she was going to be awake she might as well be doing something; so she had come down to raid the cookie jar. Nothing could speak to a troubled mind better than a home-baked chocolate chip cookie.
Turning up the light just enough so that she could make out where everything was located, she crossed to the counter; she had no sooner picked up the lid and reached her hoof into the cookie jar when she heard hoofsteps behind her; twirling around, she found Buck standing in the doorway eyeing her.
“So this is what you do as soon as everyone is asleep,” he drawled, coming to her and taking the lid of the jar out of her hoof.
It was not bright enough in the kitchen to see the stallion’s eyes, but Garnet was sure that the anger that had been visible earlier had only been intensified.
“It’s not a crime; we’re paying guests; but just to be on the up-and-up, I won’t take one.” She turned to leave.
“Not so fast, Garnet,” the stallion’s voice came from behind her. She turned to face him, ready for battle. Buck smiled. “I’m sorry for the way I reacted to you earlier; I said some stupid things that I shouldn’t have.”
“Yes, you did,” Garnet agreed cooly. “But I’ll accept your apology.” She once more prepared to depart.