To most, he seems like an average college student with a close circle of friends, good grades on his report card, and ambitions for the future. But few know the dark side of this student named Sable–
Kyrene frowned at the line she had just typed. Did average college students get good grades? Oh well, she'd think about that later; and so she continued on from where she had left off.
But few know the dark side of this student named Sable. In reality he is a shady character who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals, even if it means crossing the law. Sable transferred to Pony Pride University in Dream Valley from Binks University in Rolling Hills earlier this year–
Kyrene's expression only turned more sour. Her writing didn't sound that good today. Frustrated, she slammed down on the "Backspace" key until everything was erased. Muttering, she started all over again from a different approach.
When Professor Giorgio transferred to Pony Pride University from Leonardo University in Vulcanopolis earlier this year, he was viewed as a respectable character around town. The citizens of Dream Valley have all been confident in his abilities to keep the math system running smoothly in their college. But the fact of the matter is that Giorgio is a cold-blooded criminal at heart–
Did selling math answer keys make someone cold-blooded? Kyrene wondered. Or is that only for murderers? Oh well...
The professor began this cheating scam several years ago on an exchange program to Binks University in Rolling Hills. By selling answer keys to his struggling students, he was able to have a second steady flow of income aside from that of his actual teaching. And it was from Binks University as well that Giorgio's right-hand pony originally studied. Sable was given the duty by his boss to sell some of these answer keys; and when Giorgio came to Dream Valley on another exchange he made sure Sable transferred along with him–
Kyrene nodded slowly. It was a little better. Now she could go on and discuss in more depth the stallion she had spent so much time with over the course of the past month-- or rather, how much time Chickpea had spent with him, she smiled to herself.
Sable is a confident young stallion who seems to enjoy pulling a fast one on the establishment. While still in high school, this enterprising student hacked into his school's computer to register acceptable grades in place of mediocre to failing marks. Having accomplished this, he was accepted into Binks upon graduation–
Kyrene's glance turned to the clock, and she decided it was time for a break; she started planning for the evening. Since Sable had not set anything up with "Chickpea", Kyrene had decided to go on to the next phase in her undercover operation. Tonight, Chickpea would pay a visit to Wigwam at his casino in town.
Thus far, Kyrene had been thoroughly enjoying her undercover assignment. Having uncovered news about a cheating scam at the local college, she had gotten in touch with her editor and had gained permission from him to go undercover to gain some interesting details from those involved in the whole operation. Sable had been her first target; and as the flirty southern belle Chickpea, Kyrene had been able to completely win him over. She had been able to get out of him all sorts of juicy details she could use for her article later on... but not all the info had to come from Sable. Kyrene thought she would try someone now who was working for the opposite side, the police. Wigwam would be her next target.
Kyrene giggled once again. This was the most fun she had been having yet in her whole newspaper career!
* * *
Kyrene, her hair freshly curled and decorated with ribbons, sat conspicuously at the refreshment counter in the gambling casino slowly sipping on her soda. In reality, however, her sharp eyes were darting around every which way while she waited for her prey to come into sight.
Wigwam, the owner of the casino, seemed to spend a lot of his time wandering around the establishment and mingling with his customers... unfortunately, he never seemed to come in Kyrene's direction. She mentally sent messages to him, willing him to turn towards the counter she was at.
Kyrene didn't generally think of herself as psychic, but it did feel rewarding when Wigwam finally ended his conversation with a mare at the slot machine and started walking up to the refreshment counter. Kyrene did some quick calculations in her head of when precisely to act; and when she felt the time was right, she discreetly pushed back on one ring of the stool she was sitting on and caused it– and herself– to topple to the ground.
The timing was perfect; Kyrene fell right at Wigwam's hooves. "Ah, mah hoof!" she cried pathetically, adapting her southern belle persona. "Help, ah won't somebody help!" She pretended to ignore the stallion standing before her.
Wigwam stared at the tangled filly on the floor in front of him; and though doubting that her fall had been genuine, he helped her to her hooves. "There, are you okay now?"
"Ah, kind sir!" Kyrene cried out. "Ah can't thank yah enough for helpin' me in mah dire predicament. But, oh, mah hoof– it hurts so bad!"
"Oh," Wigwam said skeptically.
"Ah think it may be sprained," Chickpea said, looking at him with wide eyes. "Do yah think you could at least help me over tah one o' those tables over yonder?"
"Sure," Wigwam shrugged.
"Ah think they might be safer than these here stools here," Kyrene prattled on. "Ah never was good on chairs with no backs, y'see."
"I see," Wigwam murmured.
"Do yah think yah could get me a glass ah water, too?" Kyrene looked at him imploringly after having been seated with his assistance. "Ah still feel a little weak."
Wigwam saw that there was no escaping this talkative filly, so he submitted himself to her will for the moment. He returned to the table with two glasses, figuring that if he stayed with her for a little while she might not continue to pester him in the future.
"Ah, I'm so obliged!" Kyrene said emphatically. "Ah can't thank yah enough, mister... what is your name, anyhow?"
"Wigwam," the orange stallion said simply. "And you?"
"Ah'm Chickpea," the aqua unicorn said brightly. "Wigwam... say, you're the owner of this joint, ain't yah?"
"Yes," Wigwam admitted. "I do own it, but Butch has taken over the managing of the place."
"And Wigwam... ain't that a Native Pony name?" Kyrene pondered.
"That's right," Wigwam said slowly. "My ancestors were Native Ponies in this land."
"What an excitin' family history you must have!" Kyrene exclaimed.
"As a matter of fact, I've been working on compiling a book of Native Pony tales over the years," Wigwam remarked. "I found a publisher this summer, and it's being officially released in several weeks."
Kyrene looked appropriately impressed. "What an accomplishment, Wigwam! Why, I'm sittin' here with a real live author! How wonderful! Ah can't believe it!"
"You can come to the book signing if you'd like," Wigwam invited.
"That would be simply grand!" Kyrene gushed. "Ah'd love to, Wigwam. Is this the first book you're doin' then?"
"Yes, but I've been collecting the stories for years," Wigwam explained. "And there are always more to be found. Who knows, maybe there will be a second volume someday."
"Ooh!" Kyrene nodded. "So did Native Ponies really live here once? I'd never thought of that before!"
"Well, not in this precise area," Wigwam admitted. "The Native Pony region is southwest of here. My family moved to Dream Valley when I was five."
"Ah'm from Magnolia myself, y'see," Kyrene went on. "Y'ever heard o' that place? It's down south, y'know. But I've come here for college. Did yah go to Pony Pride here? What do yah think ah the place?"
"Actually, I went to school out in New Pony."
"New Pony!" Kyrene said in awe. "Oh, they have good stores out there, don't they?"
"I didn't do much shopping while I was there," Wigwam corrected. "I spent most of my time studying, you know, for school."
"Oh," Kyrene nodded. "Did yah go for writin' an' stuff like that?"
Wigwam coughed, and wondered how much he should say. But, he figured, this girl might be nosey, but she's harmless. "Actually, I was studying in the field of police science."
Kyrene let out a gasp. "Yah mean you're a policeman too?"
"Well, I didn't exactly get a degree," Wigwam commented. "But I did learn quite a bit while I was there."
"Ah think you woulda made a really great policeman, Mr. Wigwam," Kyrene said earnestly. "How impressive! My, how much you've done in life!"
"Uh... yeah..." Wigwam glanced up at the clock. "Well... Chickpea, it was nice meeting you, but I have some things to attend to yet tonight."
"Oh, I've had a grand time with yah," Kyrene said energetically. "Ah hope to see yah again someday."
"Maybe at the book signing," Wigwam muttered as his parting comment.
Kyrene watched him go, nodding quietly to herself. He hadn't been as pliable as Sable was for her, but she had gotten enough out of him. Exiting the casino and pulling out her notepad, she quickly began scribbling down notes before she forgot.
* * *
"Mah poor baby! Oh, mah poor baby! She's dahing, ah just know she is!" Kyrene declared hysterically upon making her dramatic entrance at the vet clinic a few days after her encounter with Wigwam. She swung a delicate small animal cage in her hooves. "Oh, you've simply gotta help her! Ma'm, ma'm, can yah do anything for her?" She set the cage down on the main counter and looked at the pony behind it with frenzied eyes.
Sugarberry was a bit startled by this abrupt entrance and unsure of how to handle the frantic young mare before her. "What's wrong with it?" she asked tentatively, peering into the cage.
"She hasn't eaten for days," Kyrene practically sobbed. "And I know there's somethin' terrible wrong with her. She's on her last legs, can't yah see. Oh, can't yah do anythin' for her?"
"Well, you see..." Sugarberry stuttered.
"Ain't this supposed to be the vet place?" Kyrene demanded. "Won't yah even just look at her?"
"I'm only the receptionist," Sugarberry explained patiently. "But if you could wait just a little while I'm sure one of the veterinarians can get to you shortly and attend to your... your..."
"Spunky," Kyrene said breathlessly. "She's a little ol' Russian hamstah. But ah don't think she's gonna hold out for much longer."
Sugarberry peered more intently through the bars and made out a patch of brownish-blackish fur. The creature turned its face towards her; to Sugarberry it only looked as if the hamster was in a sour mood from being woken up and nothing more. "I think she can hold on for a little while longer," she said carefully.
"Ah hope you're right," Kyrene said anxiously.
Sugarberry moved to her computer screen. "Have you ever had your hamster in before, Miss... ah..."
"Chickpea," Kyrene said quickly. "No, mah little Spunky's always been in such good health she's never had to see a doctor in her life."
"I see." Sugarberry keyed some words into the computer. "Your name was Chickpea?"
"Yes," Kyrene verified fretfully. "Oh, but is it gonna be much longah?"
"Can I be of assistance here?" a quiet voice asked from behind. Both Sugarberry and Kyrene had been so wrapped-up in the unicorn's faked drama that they had failed to notice Elaine's dismissal of her previous patient. "What seems to be the problem?"
Kyrene only broke into tears again. "It's mah poor li'l Spunky, y'see! She's dahing, and you've gotta save her!"
Sugarberry looked at Elaine and shrugged. Seeing "Chickpea's" frazzled state, Elaine figured that it would be best to do the inspection alone, and so she took the cage and left Sugarberry to deal with the mare again.
"Why don't you have a seat?" Sugarberry invited. "I'm sure Elaine will be able to handle everything."
"Ah do hope so," Kyrene said nervously. "Ah don't know what ah'd do if anything happened to that li'l hamstah o' mine."
"Have you had her long?" Sugarberry queried, hoping to keep the mare's mind occupied with conversation. She didn't relish the idea of having a caterwauling client in the waiting room.
"A few years," Kyrene sniffled. "She's been such a friend to me. Yah have any hamstahs of your own? They are such consolin' creatures."
Sugarberry shook her head. "No, I just have two cats."
Kyrene nodded. "Cats are good. Mah li'l sistah back home did love 'em so. Only two, yah say?"
"Well, one of my boarders actually has one of her own as well."
"Oh? You run a boardin' house?" Kyrene pounced on the opportunity.
Sugarberry let out a small laugh. "Not exactly, but I am housing a brother and sister who are attending the college here. Friends of the family, you might say."
Kyrene mentally calculated the amount of time it would take to bandage a hamster bite before continuing. "Oh, what a coincidence," she said brightly. "I'm applyin' at the university here, too. Who are your boarders? Ah've met some a the students around campus; maybe ah saw them, too."
Sugarberry smiled. "Their names are Chocolate Chip and Wishbone."
"Hmm," Kyrene considered this. "Ah can't say that ah've heard o' a Chocolate Chip, but Wishbone... say, that's right! Silly me! He's mah Sable's friend, ain't he?" She looked at Sugarberry expectantly.
"He does hang out with a Sable," Sugarberry admitted. "So you've met Wishbone?"
"Ah have at that!" Kyrene said brightly. "He's a nice boy, he and Sable. Is he from around these parts?"
"No, he and his sister are from Neighberry."
"Ah hear they got a nice university here, so that's why I came, y'see," Kyrene prattled. "So Wishbone and... Chocolate Chip, did you say? Are they doin' good here?"
"Wishbone has had a few problems in math, but he's doing much better now," Sugarberry said guardedly.
"Mah Sable's a real natural at math," Kyrene gushed. "He gets straight A's, y'know. I'm hopin' ah'll be able to learn some stuff from him when I start."
Sugarberry glanced discreetly at the clock, wondering what was taking Elaine so long to check over a hamster that clearly was not anywhere near death's door. "Well, what's your best subject, Kyrene?" she asked politely.
"English." Kyrene let out a short giggle. "Ah always had a thing with words."
I can see that, Sugarberry mused wryly to herself, thinking of the mare's prying nature.
"And how 'bout you?" Kyrene smiled brightly.
"I would probably say English as well. I'm an author too, you see."
Kyrene let out a gasp. "Oh my! Another author! I was over at the casino the other night and met a stallion who was just gettin' his own book published– Wigwam, I think he was. You know him?"
"Yes, actually, he's a friend of mine."
Kyrene tried to veer the subject back onto Wishbone. "So yah said you were a friend of Wishbone's family. How'd the acquaintance start, with them over in Neighberry?"
Sugarberry was beginning to tire of answering these questions and starting to worry that maybe there was something wrong with the hamster after all. "I got to know Chocolate Chip when she first arrived in Dream Valley last year. Her brother came to college earlier this year, and I met their father then."
"What's your impression of the family?" Kyrene asked eagerly.
"It's sad, actually. Her mother never cared much about Chocolate Chip, because she wasn't as... bright as she would have liked. Chocky was all alone in life when she came here."
"Oh," Kyrene sympathized. "Ah wasn't the best in my studies either."
It was Sugarberry's turn to smile. "Chocky is smart enough, you see... but her physical coloration wasn't pleasing to her mother."
"Well, what did they think of Wishbone? He must surely be bright enough for his parents' expectations."
"I suppose he wasn't as prejudiced against as his sister," Sugarberry said softly.
It was then that Elaine re-emerged, cutting short their conversation. "Your hamster..." she started quietly.
"Oh, you've healed him!" Kyrene broke out sobbing immediately, this time from gladness. "Oh, mah dear Spunky! How'm ah evah gonna repay yah for what yah've done here, doctah? You've fixed hah, yah really have!"
"Well actually I didn't find anything wrong with her at all," Elaine fit-in quickly, presenting the cage back to Kyrene. "The only problem I had was when she bit me," she added, glancing down at her now-bandaged hoof.
"Oh Spunky dear, I'm so glad to have yah back!" Kyrene rejoiced. "Now how much do I owe yah for saving mah dear pet's life?"
After that was taken care of and Elaine and Sugarberry finally managed to get "Chickpea" to take her hamster and leave, Kyrene trotted triumphantly home. "Good job, Spunky," she said affectionately to the rodent. "You're good at buying me some time with those fangs of yours."
* * *
Let's take a look at the life of another student who was dragged into this cheating ring. Wishbone, who lived in a split family in Neighberry...
It was several weeks later and, having gathered sufficient information, Kyrene was working feverishly on finishing her article so it would be complete and in its final form by the time the police finally moved in and publicized the whole case. Kyrene was confident that Deadline would be proud of her work– there was no way their rival newspaper office in Dream Valley would have anything better on the ring than what she was writing!
She jumped a little when the phone next to her computer rang. "Hallo?" she answered promptly. She had gotten into the habit of using her southern belle voice for answered the phone, in the case that it was Sable or someone else "Chickpea" was communicating with.
"Yeah, Chickpea." It was a familiar voice to her on the other end, only he sounded a little nervous about something. "It's Sable. I was wonderin' if you'd like to come over to my place."
"Why, certainly! Ah'd love that!" Kyrene wondered if anything had happened to Sable; he didn't sound as cool and collected as he had in the past. "When? Right now?"
"Sure. If you could," Sable mumbled. Kyrene could hear his hooves scuffing the floor.
"Ah'll be right over, Sable-honey!" Kyrene promised, and she meant it. It felt like something exciting was going to happen soon.
* * *
"Why yah so nervous, Sable?" Kyrene asked of the stallion pacing the living room floor of his modest apartment. "You're actin' like a cat in a room full o' rockin' chairs!"
"Oh, it's nothing," Sable replied.
Kyrene knew better. "Now, now. Don't yah go and hide things from little ol' Chickpea."
Sable stopped his restless walking and came to sit beside Kyrene on the sofa. "It's just that I got an e-mail from Giorgio..."
"Professor Giorgio? But ain't he over there in Vulcanopolis or someplace foreign like that?"
"I can receive e-mails from anywhere, Chickpea," Sable countered impatiently.
"Oh, silly me, why I guess yah can at that, Sable-honey. So what did Giorgio's e-mail have ta tell yah?"
"Not much, but that's what has me worried." He looked Kyrene in the eyes, weighing her sincerity, before continuing. "All his message said was, The operation is being dismantled. You're on your own."
"And what operation might that a been being?"
Sable jumped up to resume the agitated pacing. "Nothing. Just forget that I said anything. Let's talk about something else."
Not wanting to press the stallion too hard, Kyrene backed off and began relating light-hearted stories of her days back in Magnolia-- and for am imaginative pony like Kyrene, her make-believe past sounded highly credible.
"...so then I looked at him and said, 'Well, honey, if it ain't yours, then whose is it?' " Kyrene laughed uproariously at her own retelling. "Ain't that the funniest thing, Sable-honey?"
"Yeah," Sable admitted, although still a bit on edge. "Reminds me of the time I got in trouble with my neighbor for borrowing some of his gardening tools. My buddies and I were going to scuff up the school grounds, so then..." He suddenly paused.
"What happened?" Kyrene leaned forward and looked at him intently. "Hey, is somethin' wrong, Sable-honey?"
"Nah... I just thought I heard something. But I guess not." Sable tried to shove the worry from his mind and went on with his tale. "So anyway, we did our work at the school, and the next morning–"
Sable was abruptly cut off as the door to his apartment flew open. Two police officers in the company of Wigwam suddenly swarmed into the place. "You're under arrest, scum!" one of them decreed.
Sable bolted from the living room, disappearing into the bedroom and banging the door shut behind him. Kyrene held a hoof to her heart, so happy that she was here when the bust happened. She decided to keep up her charade for the moment. "Oh, Sable-honey!" she cried in a frightened tone. "Sable-honey, what's goin' on? What're you all doin' here? Sable–"
Kyrene was jostled out of the way by the officers, who went in search of their victim who had vanished from the room. "The door's locked," called Strider, the older of the two officers.
"Then let's knock it down!" replied Wigwam, rushing the barricade aggressively and sending the door crashing into the bedroom wall. He was followed into the room by Strider and the young officer, Granite.
Kyrene looked on expectantly, waiting for the moment they would emerge with Chickpea's "Sable-honey", hoof-cuffed and submissive. But as it was, it never happened.
"He's disappeared!" Granite lamented.
"Where is the scoundrel?" Strider grumbled.
"You, girl! Where'd your friend go?" Wigwam directed at Kyrene.
Kyrene let out a short laugh. "To tell you the truth, I haven't got a clue," she said, dropping her whole Chickpea charade and emerging as the devious Kyrene Cicero she truly was. "I'll leave that up to you guys. I'm only here as an undercover reporter," she went on to explain serenely. She wouldn't need to act as Chickpea any more, and it would be easier to justify herself now than later.
Wigwam eyed her suspiciously but didn't bother to ask her anything else for the moment, and Kyrene joined them in searching for Sable. The shady stallion had indeed strangely vanished. The only door was the front one through which the police had entered; the few windows didn't show signs of having been opened in a long time, and they led to a sheer drop-off of several floors anyway. Sable was neither a unicorn nor a pegasus, so flying or winking was out of the question.
Kyrene was eventually ushered out of the apartment as Tawny and Quizzer arrived on the scene, and she was taken to the ground floor where she explained her whole story to those who questioned her. Of course, they didn't need to know the truth about how she had really found out about the cheating scam in the first place– no, she had accidently overheard a secretive discussion at the university and had decided to looked into it following her editor's suggestion.
But still Sable had not been found, even with authorities swarming over the whole of the apartment complex. Kyrene wasn't sure whether to be happy or disappointed by this development; it certainly made her whole adventure more intriguing.
Kyrene couldn't wait to get a few more last-minute details and then rush her finished article over to the office. The police had left her alone for the moment, so she took the opportunity to do a little more prodding before slipping away quietly.
She sidled over to Granite who was standing on the sidelines and didn't appear to be doing much. "So, do you think you could fill me in one some of the details of the case?" she said demurely, taking his foreleg in hers companionably.
And so ended the dominating rule of the infamous cheating ring at Pony Pride University. Everyone involved was apprehended that day... everyone but Sable. It was a busy day both in Dream Valley and Vulcanopolis as the evils in their midst were done away with. Life would be able to continue as normal again for many citizens who had long been oppressed by the tyrannical cheating ring– all the citizens who weren't apprehended, that is. Theirs was a sadder story yet as they would work out their days of community service.
But as Kyrene chatted amiably with Granite, someone was watching them with sharp, intent eyes. It was someone who had been tricked, someone who had been taken in by a pretty face and flirtatious manner. The stallion's heart hardened as he watched Kyrene... someone whom he had once believed to be one of his few real friends. But the Chickpea he had known had only been a facade over this young and scheming reporter. He did not like being fooled, and the reporter would pay for what she had done... for what she had made him falsely believe.
Yes, the stallion vowed. I will get her someday... someday... and then she'll regret that she ever messed with me.
So plotted the mind of a young stallion named Sable.