The Red Mare
written by Sugarberry and Tabby

"You're late again."

The young red mare only grinned. "You know I work twice as efficiently as anyone else around here; you're still getting your jangles worth."

The orange stallion could not deny the truth of her statement, but he was the boss. "It would look better if you'd arrive on time."

"Whatever you say, Wigwam," the mare retorted with a flip of her mane, but both of them knew she would continue to be late as usual. She moved toward the casino office.

"Oh, and Garland," Wigwam called after her, "I'm promoting you to office manager."

Garland did not look back, but she did respond. "It's about time." If Wigwam could have seen her face, however, he would have seen a pleased smile on her lips and an added sparkle in her eyes.

* * *

"Hi, Fern," Garland greeted the pony behind the counter at Lemon Treat's Boutique.

"Garland! I found what you were looking for." She rummaged under the counter, eventually reappearing with a floppy jersey hat.

"That's exactly what I wanted! Where did you come across it?"

"Lemon Treats has some outdated stuff in the back room; I rummage through it once in awhile to see what's still there."

"How much will it cost me?"

"Lemon Treats said she will be glad to be rid of it."

"You mean she's giving it to me?"

"Sure. Now we have more space for something that will sell."

"This is awfully nice of both of you."

"That's what friends are for," Fern smiled.

"What time do you get off today?"

"Not until five."

"I'll be at the casino by then; I was hoping I could treat you to lunch."

"You're off tomorrow night; how about joining Toby and I at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe?" Fern asked quickly as more customers came into the shop.

"What time?" Garland queried, and they soon had their plans made. Leaving Fern to her duties, Garland next stopped at Bushwoolie Bargain Books to touch base with Chocolate Chip. "Any new thrillers on the shelves?" she asked of the slender, brown pony.

"Several," Chocolate Chip verified. "And Sugarberry's latest mystery just came in."

"Have you read it?"

"When it was still in the manuscript stage. It's good, even though she was working on it through the time of her wedding-- it got a bit on the romantic side."

"Nothing wrong with a little romance," argued Garland.

"Speaking of which, do you have any particular stallion in mind?"

"No, and I'm not looking for one, either."

"If you change your mind, there are any number of available... and cute... stallions at Pony Pride."

"Your brother attends classes there, right?"

Chocolate Chip grinned. "Yes, as does Petal."

"I was just curious," Garland avowed, seeing the look of amusement settle across Chocolate Chip's face.

"Wishbone met Petal at Sugarberry and Vanguard's wedding last summer, and he's been sappy ever since. Not that I'm complaining; he's really a great brother to have."

"I wouldn't know about that."

"No brothers of your own?" Chocolate Chip asked, but was interrupted with a customer's question before she got an answer from Garland, for which Garland was relieved. She slipped off to the side until Chocolate Chip had a free moment, then mentioned the engagement with Fern and Toby at the ice cream shop.

"Wigwam and I'll be there, too," Chocolate Chip informed her, "and probably half of the town."

"Sounds like fun."

Garland left the mall mulling over Chocolate Chip's question: No brothers of your own? She did not want to admit that her brothers were in no way in the same league as Wishbone.

* * *

Garland had recently settled in Dream Valley and had responded to an ad for help at Wigwam's Casino in the paper that she had picked up while lunching at the Cafe Carousel. She was looking for work, and the atmosphere of the casino had appealed to her outgoing nature. She knew she could do well there, and Wigwam had obviously agreed. He hired her on the spot.

Working at the casino had introduced Garland to many of the inhabitants of Dream Valley, and she found them to be a friendly and caring bunch. Chocolate Chip often visited Wigwam at work, and she and Garland were becoming good friends. Wishbone and Petal had also taken a liking to this well-traveled and good-natured pony; more than once, Wishbone had found himself watching the attractive red mare as she went about her business, and he admitted to his sister that he had a strange and elusive feeling that he had met her somewhere before.

The next evening when Butch was in charge of the casino, Wigwam and Chocolate Chip gathered with Garland, Wishbone, Petal, Fern, and Toby at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe. The ice cream parlor was crowded with ponies: Tabby and Thomas along with the little Faline were sharing the day's events with Elaine, Sugarberry, and Vanguard. Tex was there with Gingerbread, Quarterback with Merry Moments. Clever Clover and Morning Glory were at a corner table; Friendly, Spike, Cheery, and Baby Noddins were arguing over the latest Superspritz toy collection.

Garland listened to the talk around her; she had always held off from making close friends, but she found this group to be irresistible. They were straightforward and interested in her life and concerns, and she found that she rather enjoyed the camaraderie. She looked up now from her sundae to find Wishbone's eyes on her. She smiled at the rose-red stallion with the golden hair.

"Garland, I hear that Wigwam and Butch have finally realized your true potential."

With a wink at Wigwam, Garland concurred. "They're learning, anyway."

"Wigwam's just glad he doesn't have to balance the books," Chocolate Chip added.

"What does he do over there?" Toby asked. "Every time I've been at the casino, he's just wandering around talking to the patrons."

"That's very important," defended Wigwam. "It instills customer confidence. You should try it with your patients."

"He won my confidence, now, didn't he?" observed Fern.

"Some ponies are gullible," shot back Wigwam with a smile.

Petal turned to Wishbone. "I've got to get a message to Vanguard and Sugarberry from my mom. I'll be right back." The light-pink pony left the table.

"Does anybody need anything from the counter?" asked Chocolate Chip, taking advantage of the break in conversation.

"More coffee. How about you, Fern?" Toby asked.

"It think I'd like one of those warm brownies covered in chocolate gooey stuff," Fern replied, pushing back her chair. "You should try one, too."

"I know what that would do to a body," responded Toby.

"Sounds good," Wigwam grinned.

As it turned out, Wishbone and Garland were left at the table alone; Wishbone switched chairs to sit next to the scarlet beauty. "Chocolate Chip tells me you have an idea for a winning costume for the Halloween party."

"An idea, yes. The problem is finding the right components. It's catch as catch can, but I'll manage." Wishbone looked at Garland curiously. "What did I say?" the mare asked, feeling suddenly self-conscious under this scrutinizing gaze.

" 'Catch as catch can'," Wishbone repeated her earlier words. "I've only heard that phrase once before, by a stallion I used to know." He looked long into her violet eyes, remembering the dark-coated Sable who had befriended him for all the wrong reasons. What was there about this filly that brought those days back to mind?

"Petal's trying to get your attention," Garland broke through Wishbone's thoughts; he tore his eyes from the violet ones unwillingly.

* * *

The gathering was breaking up, and ponies were saying their goodnights outside the ice cream shop. Faline was fast asleep in her father's safe embrace; Tabby was telling Sugarberry and Elaine about an experience earlier that day: "Shelby told me to walk the plank! Isn't that hilarious?" Clever Clover was expounding on the dig in the Dark Forest to an interested group.

Chocolate Chip, Wishbone, Petal, Fern, and Garland were together under the new neon sign that Scoops had added to her shop front... a brightly colored ice cream sundae with a red cherry on top. The young ponies were making plans for a Halloween get-together, and they were deep into their discussion.

Wigwam, looking toward the exuberant bunch, sought out Chocolate Chip but found his attention arrested by Garland. The glow of the neon light played across her side and for an instant revealed the subtle outline of a design under the holly wreath symbol that decorated her red body. The hidden symbol flashed into Wigwam's memory with startling clarity; and his heart sank, for it was the symbol of a mare whose file he had seen at the police chief's office earlier in the year.

The ponies had moved away from the neon light, and Garland's holly was the only thing visible after that brief and unexpected chance circumstance of the play of light falling in such a manner as to highlight the concealed design; and Wigwam wished he had not looked her way in that moment. Garland had settled into her life in Dream Valley to the delight of all who met her; uncovering her secret could only bring grief now to all concerned.

* * *

It was late before Wigwam had a chance to talk to Chocolate Chip alone; they were on the front porch of Sugarberry and Vanguard's house where both Chocolate Chip and Wishbone were resident boarders. It was time to say goodnight, but Wigwam procrastinated; and Chocolate Chip realized that something was bothering him.

"What's wrong?" she inquired.

The stallion did not answer immediately; he led the mare to the porch swing and waited until they were both seated before he began. Brittle leaves swirled around their hooves as the wind crossed the porch. "It was a year ago that the cheating scam was building up."

"I remember." It was a personal catastrophe, causing her to lose her sense of trust in the stallion she had learned to love and leading to many months of estrangement between the two of them before the issue was resolved.

"I'm going to be up-front with you on something that may lead to a similar scenario."

Chocolate Chip stiffened. "This can't involve Wishbone."

"No, but possibly someone else that you've come to consider as a friend."

"Who?" whispered Chocolate Chip, wishing that she would not have to hear the answer. But Wigwam had learned his lesson and would hold nothing back. "Garland."

Chocolate Chip stared at him. "No."

"I hope you are right. But I have my suspicions, and I have to go to Tawny with them."

"What kind of suspicions?"

Wigwam took a deep breath. "There was a theft last spring in the Binksville museum which involved a red mare..."

"There are any number of red mares in Ponyland."

"... a red mare with red mane and tail..."

"And Garland's hair is forest green! It couldn't have been her!"

"... and a precious stone, most likely a garnet, as a symbol."

"That's not Garland."

"You're right; it's a mare named Garnet, a mare who is not above taking things that don't belong to her."

"So what's your point?" Chocolate Chip asked bluntly.

"My point is that a mare can dye her hair any color she wants and change her symbol if she needs to badly enough."

"You're jumping to conclusions here, Wigwam. Garland wouldn't steal; she just wouldn't." Garland had proven herself as a trustworthy employee at the casino even is she did ignore her scheduled starting time. Beyond that, she had become a cherished friend; Garland and Fern, along with Chocolate Chip, shared a certain closeness engendered by the bad times that had marked their lives. Chocolate Chip would not willingly let go of that friendship.

"Listen to me." Wigwam's voice commanded her attention. "Tonight outside the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, the light hit Garland's symbol in such a way as to reveal another symbol beneath it. It was a gem, a garnet."

"You were imagining things!"

"I don't think so; I have to talk to Tawny about it."

Chocolate Chip left the swing and paced the wooden porch before coming back to Wigwam. "You have to do what you have to do, but I don't agree with you that Garland has done anything wrong, ever."

Wigwam stood to face her smoldering anger. "There's something else you need to know. Garnet-- that's her real name--- is Sable's sister."

Chocolate Chip's anger faded to disbelief. "Sable? The one who led Wishbone into cheating on his exams?"

"The very one."

Sitting down once more, the chocolate brown pony considered the facts. "Wishbone told me there is something about Garland that seems familiar to him." She raised her eyes to meet Wigwam's. "That could explain it, if she and Sable are siblings."

* * *

The next morning found Wigwam in Chief Tawny's office, both stallions mulling over the information provided by Binksville's police chief, Bastian. "Change the green hair to red, and Garland becomes Garnet," Tawny was saying.

"Under the lighting outside Scoop's shop, she had the right symbol."

"There's no lack of confidence in this one," Tawny mused. "She has a lot of nerve to pick the town where her brother has already left a negative impression."

"Maybe she doesn't even know about Sable's time here; it could be coincidence that she ended up in Dream Valley."

Tawny snorted. "It's more feasible that she saw your casino as a profitable mark."

"I would agree, but she's been here long enough to have done something, if that was her plan."

"She's just biding her time for the biggest payoff."

Wigwam pushed back from the desk. "I'm not so sure."

But Tawny was. Shuffling through the papers before him, he asked, "Where is this Garnet? I'll talk to her right now," while at the same time beckoning one of his deputies to him.

Wigwam interfered. "She'll be coming in to work soon, but can't you hold off until her shift is done? I'm short-hooved as it is."

"Who knows what may happen by tonight; Bastian wants her brought in for questioning, and so do I."

"She's not going to go anywhere, Tawny. And by closing time, there won't be so many ponies around to see your intervention in her life."

"Hey! Don't make me out to be the bad pony. Garnet is the one who helps herself to other ponies' property."

"I just would prefer that she not be taken into custody like a common criminal; she has too much pride for that."

Tawny scoffed, but he relented. "All right then. Strider, Quizzer, and I will be at the casino later; just make sure that our suspect is still there."

* * *

Wigwam worked his way across the gaming room to where Garland was conversing with Salty. At his approach, Salty grinned at the stallion. "If you're not careful, you're going to find this mare running the place instead of you."

"She's definitely capable," Wigwam agreed. "But what pointed that fact out to you?"

"One of your machines jammed, and Garland here was able to get it functioning again in no time. You would have just put an 'Out of Order' sign on it and left it for Butch to fix."

"Butch knows what he's doing."

"Maybe so, but Garland is a lot prettier." With a wink at the crimson mare, Salty went his way.

"Keep this up, and the patrons will mandate you another promotion," Wigwam smiled at Garland.

The mare shook her hair back, dislodging the one curly lock that tended to hang across her forehead. "I'm happy with what I'm doing; I'm not going to usurp the system."

"You're doing a great job around here; I appreciate your conscientious work"

"You'll get your money's worth."

* * *

The last two left at the casino, Wigwam and Garland were going over business tallies. Wigwam felt like a traitor knowing that Garland's well-planned cover was going to be unveiled in a short time under the persistent questioning of Tawny; he was not looking forward to being an accomplice to her downfall when she had been such a valuable help at the casino.

Garland was at Wigwam's desk with papers spread before her busily entering numbers in the proper columns and checking for accuracy, but she must have felt his steady gaze for she looked up from her work and smiled. "You could help, you know."

"Sorry. With a gem like you around, I thought I wasn't needed." He sat down in an available chair at the side of the desk and picked up one of the sheets filled with figures. But the question he asked had nothing to do with the business at hoof. "Your color... what would you call it... garnet red?"

"Garland looked at him curiously. "Just plain red."

"Have you been to college?

"I prefer making my own way."

"That's funny. I keep getting the feeling that I should know who you are; I thought maybe I saw you out in Binksville when I visited the university there."

Looking at him more closely now, Garland was ruffled but quickly regained her confident self. "Whoever it was, it wasn't me."

"Maybe a sister?"

"My sister at a university? I don't think so."

"Maybe it was the museum; there is a rather quaint museum there, I believe-- jewelry and such."

"I'll have to visit it sometime."

"Do you have any other family, Gar... land... a sable brother, perhaps?"

Garland dropped the pen from her hoof and it rolled to the floor; as she reached to pick it up, her face was hidden from Wigwam's searching eyes, but he could guess the effect it had on her. "I'm a loner all the way," she said in a cold voice. "And as you don't seem to have anything better to do, I'll leave the rest of the paperwork to you." She stood up and walked out of the room.

Wigwam watched her departure with a sober face. As her friend, he had felt obligated to warn her of trouble ahead and hoped that she would take advantage of it to slip away before the police showed up. He did not follow Garland, not wanting to know until Tawny arrived if she had eluded him or not. He threw himself into finishing up the rest of the tallies.

* * *

The red mare had reached the back entrance when she remembered that her paycheck was still sitting in her locker in the employee's lounge. She quickly went to recover it and her backpack and then continued on her way. Turning the corner near the door, she caught a glimpse of someone entering the casino. Immediately halting her forward motion, she hid herself from the trespasser, hoping that he would not come in her direction.

As she waited for the unknown, Garland did some thinking. Wigwam had not mentioned that he was expecting anyone to show up at this late hour of the night; and how had anyone gotten in when the doors were locked? And who was this creature, anyway? Garland closed her eyes to recollect him more clearly; what she saw was a fairly good-sized lava man, and he didn't look like a regular customer.

Taking a cautious glimpse around the corner, Garland found the entryway clear. Which way did he go? she mentally asked herself and then noticed some burn marks in the carpeting. Following them, she caught an orange glow at the far end of the gaming room; whoever it was, he seemed to be checking the place over. Or, Garland realized, he was not sure where to find the office.

Leaning against the wall, Garland sorted through the facts available to her. Wigwam was still in his office; and some large, menacing lava creature was lurking in the casino. She was sure from his questions that Wigwam had somehow learned of her past, and she felt threatened by that knowledge. But she could not just walk out knowing that Wigwam might be in trouble. With a wry grimace, Garland retraced her steps in the direction of the main office.

* * *

Wigwam had the safe open and was depositing a hefty amount of jangles in its dark depths when he became conscious of a smouldering smell. His first reaction was that a fire had started somewhere on the premises, and he turned to check things out. What he saw caused him to stop in his tracks.

A loud, evil laugh reverberated throughout the room. "Get out of my way, little pony!" The orange lava man brandished a heavy staff in one hand and a canvas bag in the other.

"You!" he exclaimed. "Laban! I've seen your posters at the police office!"

Another evil laugh was emitted from the creature. "Since my lava demons have deserted me, I've resorted to perpetrating my own petty crimes. I need enough money to buy myself a computer and Internet connection. Maybe I can hook up with some hot babe, or at least surf eBay."

Wigwam looked at the creature peculiarly. "So why bother stealing the jangles; go to the mall and rob the computer store."

He roared with laughter. "Hah-hah-hah! Don't question me, little pony! Give me the jangles!"

Wigwam brushed a hoof across his forehead. Was he dreaming? No, the sense of helplessness that he felt was real and so was the monster standing across the room from him. Where is Tawny? Wigwam wondered. The police chief should have been here by now. But there was no time to figure out what to do without Tawny's help, for Laban was becoming impatient. He raised the staff over his head threateningly and ordered Wigwam to comply to his request.

* * *

Moving quietly down the hallway with a slender red metal canister in her hoof, Garland could tell by the orange glow emanating from Wigwam's office that the... whatever it was... had already found what he was looking for. She warily approached the door and slowly peered around the corner. A weaker spirit would have collapsed on the spot, but Garland was made of sterner stuff. She assessed the situation immediately and reacted accordingly.

Wigwam was not cooperating with the villain's request which only infuriated Laban. With a vicious roar, the mass of lava lunged at Wigwam with his heavy staff flailing. "You fool! I nearly became ruler of Ponyland once, and you dare to defy me?!?!?!" Laban howled.

At the same moment, Garland crashed into the room yelling "Stop" at the top of her lungs. It offset Laban enough that his rod missed the full impact on its target, preventing serious damage to Wigwam. As it was, the end of the staff grazed along Wigwam's shoulder deeply enough to cause his orange coat to mingle with red.

"Hah-hah-hah!! Now the Internet connection will be mine!!" Laban shouted, tramping toward the safe.

Garland darted across the room to the desk and punched a code into a monitor and, to Laban's utter dismay, the safe door automatically dropped into place, closing off the jangles that had been within such easy reach just seconds before.

A menacing growl-like sound rose from Laban's throat as he turned to face the two little ponies, pinning Wigwam against the wall with the staff; Garland, however, was not through yet. Still clutching the fire extinguisher she had grabbed on her way to protect Wigwam, she now turned the nozzle toward Laban and had just begun spraying him down when Tawny appeared in the doorway backed by Quizzer and Strider.

"What's goin' on?" he gasped, seeing more than he had expected to find. The red mare who he had come to question was standing between Wigwam and the lava man, showering the orange creature with a fine white powder from the fire extinguisher in her hooves.

Tawny and his deputies surrounded Laban, with Quizzer relieving Garland of her sprayer and dousing the villain into an angry submission. Even at that, Laban was a hoof full for the three officers, and they were kept fully occupied in their efforts to restrain him.

With Tawny now in charge, Garland turned her attention to the wounded Wigwam where he had slumped into a chair. "How badly are you hurt?" she asked, while surveying the damage for herself and finding a need to stem the flow.

"I've been better," he said. "That slimy oaf packs quite a punch."

From her backpack, Garland pulled the hat that Fern had given her and used it to bind the wound effectively. Tawny, in the meantime, had Strider and Quizzer remove Laban to the hallway. "We've put in a call for medical assistance," he advised the two. "Do you need any help before they arrive?" His eyes moved from Wigwam to Garland and back again.

"I'll be fine," Wigwam said. "Just keep that... that brute... out of my casino."

Tawny punched the stallion on his good shoulder. "We'll do our best," he grinned.

Alone in the room, Wigwam fixed his gaze on Garland in open admiration. "You saved me from worse injury. Thanks."

"No problem. I'm just glad I was here to help you."

Wigwam's gaze next fastened on the safe. "You knew the combination; only Butch and I are supposed to have that information."

It was an enigmatic smile that Garland flashed at the stallion. "Maybe your security isn't as invulnerable as you think."

As Garland got him a glass of water from the bubbler in the corner, Wigwam did some heavy thinking. This mare who had a history of robbery behind her had somehow learned the safe's combination in the short time she had been on his staff; she had not used that knowledge against the casino, but would she have done so in the future?

Accepting the cold drink, Wigwam asked the mare the question on his mind. "Did you have a plan similar to Laban's?"

Garland replied with honesty. "At the beginning, yes, I suppose I did."

"But no longer?"

"Not since I found such good friends here."

A roar from the hallway interrupted the conversation. "Nooo!! You'll never keep me behind bars!" Laban shouted angrily, tugging at his handcuffs. The officers ignored him as they led him out of the building and turned him over to the deputies with the waiting police cart. His mad rants continued to fill the air, however. "I was once the most powerful creature in Ponyland, before those imbecilic Bush-- NO! YOU WON'T GET AWAY WITH LOCKING ME UP!!! YOU'LL LIVE TO REGRET THIS!! YOU HAVEN'T HEARD THE LAST OF--" As the cart pulled out onto the street, though, the noise gradually faded away.

Wigwam's original concern for Garland returned, and he wished that she would not have to get caught up in Tawny's questioning for he was sure it would not go well for her. He looked at her as she waited patiently for whatever was to come out of this crazy night.

"You should go home, Garnet; your shift ended ages ago."

The mare smiled at the use of her real name. "I think Tawny will want to talk to me."

"Just get out of here."

Garnet fastened her gaze on Wigwam's face, trying to decipher his intentions. He knew full well that she had information that could only point to her as a suspect herself, but he was telling her to leave-- leave temporarily... or for good?

Wigwam turned his eyes to the doorway through which he could see Tawny tying up some loose ends with Strider, then looked back at Garnet. "Get away from here and straighten out your life; you'll have a job waiting at the casino whenever you're free of your past."

"You're serious?"

Wigwam rolled his eyes. "Go already!"

With one last smile, Garnet bid her boss farewell and slipped out the doorway just as the paramedics were arriving. In the ensuing confusion, Tawny did not notice that the red mare was no longer there.

* * *

Used to traveling light, Garnet spent very little time at her apartment gathering her things together, but she did stop long enough to make a phone call. In response to the answer on the other end, she said, "Wishbone, it's me, Garland."

"Garland! It's good to hear your voice, but Chocolate Chip's gone to bed already."

"Well, wake her up. There was an attempted robbery at the casino tonight, and Wigwam may want her soft, warm shoulder to lean on."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes, I'm serious. Just get your sister over to the casino so she can see for herself that Wigwam's all right before she hears inflated versions of the story through the town gossips."

"I'll do it, and thanks for calling, Garland."

Garnet hung up the phone and took a deep breath. Did Chocolate Chip know how fortunate she was to have a brother who cared about her and would be there for her at a moment's notice? Garnet did not even know where Sable was, and any links with the rest of her family were elusive, at best. What would it have been like if she could have settled in Dream Valley without her past catching up with her! With a final glance around her rental, she threw a dark veil over her hair and hoisted the backpack over her shoulder and headed out the door.

* * *

It was only after the medical ponies had cleaned and covered the laceration that Tawny realized that the red mare was no longer hovering over Wigwam. "Where's the girl?" he barked.

Wigwam looked at him blankly. "Both paramedics were stallions, Tawny."

With a gruff voice, Tawny growled, "You know who I mean... Garland or Garnet-- or whatever her name is."

"I sent her on her way."

"You what?" Tawny looked at him with disbelief. "With all the hullabaloo around here tonight, she's going to turn tail and run, too!" He motioned for Strider, but Wigwam intervened.

"She could have run away from Laban tonight but she didn't; she put her own safety on the line by helping me."

"For that, I'm grateful; but it doesn't change the fact that the mare is wanted by the law."

"She may have made a mistake in the past, but that doesn't mean that she can't change."

"She's an expert at subterfuge, Wigwam. Don't tell me she's bamboozled you, too."

"Her heart's in the right place."

Looking at his friend closely, Tawny asked, "And what would you know about her heart?"

"All I'm saying is that she's been a model employee since she came here, and Chocolate Chip and I both value her friendship." He nearly glared at the police chief. "You've studied her file; you know that she was raised in an environment of deceit and stealth; if she had adopted the ways of her parents and siblings, she would have taken the money out of the vault long ago."

Tawny did not miss the innuendo, but he let it slide; he was grateful that Garnet had intervened in Laban's plan; and if she had the know-how to enter the casino safe but did not take advantage of it, then that was surely on her side as well. He backed off on his questions and offered an apology instead. "Hey, I'm sorry if I upset you, but it's my job to catch the bad guys; if you're right, then tonight was a success-- we've got Laban where he belongs."

"Just keep him there; I don't want to run into him again anytime soon." Wigwam turned his head and patted the gauze strips along his shoulder.

"How's that feeling?"

"Not bad; those paramedics really know what they're doing." He stood up gingerly nonetheless.

"Wigwam!" Chocolate Chip and Wishbone had just arrived and were ushered in by Strider. The brown mare sped across the room to where Wigwam stood. "Oh, Wigwam, what happened to you?" She looked at him with dismay and concern.

"Nothing much... I just had an encounter with a lava monster."

"So that's where the putrid smell comes from," Wishbone said. "It reminds me of the time Chocolate Chip tried to bake bread."

"You look pale," Chocolate Chip fretted. She turned to Tawny. "Shouldn't he be at the hospital or something?"

"The paramedics were here; he's fine."

"Well, he doesn't look fine. You will let him go home now, won't you?"

"Sure. Anymore questions can wait until tomorrow."

"Then lets get out of here," Chocolate Chip ordered. "Does it hurt when you walk?"

Wigwam took a step or two and groaned miserably. "You might have to help me out here," he said to the mare while winking at Tawny and Wishbone. "Maybe give me your foreleg for support?"

The accommodating mare offered her aid and guided the suddenly very weak stallion out of the office. Tawny snickered to Wishbone. "The wound wasn't bothering him until someone showed up to offer him her sympathy. Go figure."

Wishbone laughed. "I'll make sure they both get home safely. By the way, where's Garland? She called us about the robbery, but I haven't seen her here." He looked genuinely disappointed.

"Garland? I guess she's gone home, too."

"Oh. Okay. I'll catch her tomorrow."

* * *

Wigwam dropped into his favorite easy chair with a sigh of relief; he had found by the time he neared home that his aggravated body really did hurt. "You two were a big help," he smiled at Chocolate Chip and her brother. "Thanks a lot."

"Is there anything I can get you?" Chocolate Chip asked.

"Maybe a blanket and a pillow; I thing I'll spend the rest of the night right here."

Chocolate Chip scampered off to get the requested items, and Wishbone took this opportunity to ask about Garland. "Was Garland with you when the attack occurred?"

"I'll say she was there; I'd be in worse shape than this if she hadn't come on the scene when she did."

"Is she okay?"

"She's fine. But I think it showed her that the casino is not the place for her; she may even leave Dream Valley."

"She was happy here; she wouldn't just run off like that."

Chocolate Chip had returned with a fluffy pillow and a warm blanket and stood next to her brother. She looked at Wigwam, waiting for him to reveal Garland's true story.

"There's something you don't know about Garland. Her real name is Garnet, and she was involved in a robbery last spring in Binksville."

"Garnet? A robbery?"

"She's been escaping the law by changing her appearance-- her true hair color is red and her symbol is a garnet gem."

Wishbone looked at his sister. "You knew about this?"

"Just since last night. And there is something more. Garland-- or Garnet-- is Sable's sister."

"Sable? No!" Disbelief clouded the stallion's face, but his own experience of trying to figure out what there was about the mare that had seemed familiar to him bore out the truth: The attractive red mare and the deceitful deep-grey stallion were siblings. He had been more than happy to be rid of Sable, but the loss of the mare tore at him with unexpected sorrow.

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