Ginseng and Sassafras Tea: Chapter Fourteen
written by Sugarberry

Hood walked to the front of the shop and saw Dreamy sitting all alone in the otherwise empty room. He noted the coffee mug in front of her and grabbed the carafe and another mug from the counter as he passed. He mentally noted that Rosy Bells had foreseen just that action.

Coming up to Dreamy’s table, Hood simply said hi and refilled her mug. Then he seated himself across from her and filled his own cup, leaning back with a sigh as he finished. Neither of the ponies said a word until Dreamy spoke up. “I guess I jumped to an untrue conclusion about you and... that mare.”

“Uh-huh,” was all Hood allowed himself to say.

“You could have spoken up, Hood.”

“I tried, but you were too busy cutting me down to pay attention,” Hood reminded her. “You talk better than you listen, Dreamy.”

Dreamy quickly came back. “That doesn’t explain the lovey-dovey act when I came across you, her, and Chief Checker the other night.”

Smiling unconsciously at the recollection, Hood defended himself. “I had nothing to do with that; it was all Buttercup’s idea. She said you deserved it for making a hasty deduction that way.”

“I always thought she was a little too young for you, Hood.”

Hood ignored the remark, and surprising even himself, instead asked Dreamy if she had heard any news on the green stallion the police were searching for. He hadn’t heard a thing since this morning and his curiosity was getting the best of him.

“Checker has been very tight-lipped all day. That’s why I came here tonight, hoping he’d have come in to confide in his brother-in-law,” admitted Dreamy.

“Hmm,” frowned Hood. “That would indicate that they haven’t found him yet.”

“I’m not surprised,” Dreamy began, then seemed to think better of it. After a pause, she continued in a new vein. “Hood, let’s start over again-- put the past behind us.”

“Something tells me that won’t be easy.”

“Maybe not, but it will be more fun than antagonizing one another.”

Hood was silent as he recalled how much he had disliked her unwanted attention in high school, and how angry he had been with her as Free Lance.

Taking his silence for a refusal, Dreamy pushed her coffee mug away from her across the table, and stood up. “Well, I’ve kept you late enough. Goodnight, Hood.” She turned, and walked to the door.

“Dreamy! Wait!” Hood rose from his chair. With her hoof on the door, Dreamy turned to look back. “Give me a chance to clear this table and I’ll walk you home,” Hood offered.

“I don’t need...” Dreamy’s sharp voice trailed off as she realized it wasn’t the best way to patch up this friendship. “Thanks, Hood, I’d like that,” she finished amiably.

In a matter of minutes, Hood had the dishes rinsed and the shop ready for closing. Dreamy had leaned against the counter and quizzed him as he worked. “Do you enjoy being the owner of an ice cream parlor?... Why’d you move to Woodlawn when you had a successful coffee house in Grayton?... Do you really not read the newspaper?...”

Hood’s monosyllabic answers didn’t deter Dreamy, and the questions continued as the pair left the shop and walked the silent streets to Dreamy’s white house across town from Hood’s own home.

Standing in her open doorway under the porch light, Dreamy cocked her head, her orange curls framing her face, a smile lighting her face. “I’m glad we’re going to be friends, Hood. Woodlawn will seem a little more like home now.”

Time will tell, Hood thought to himself. But Dreamy had made an effort to straighten things out between them, and she did look very lovely when she wasn’t angry with him. “How about dinner at Cedar Woods tomorrow night?” Hood heard himself ask.

“I’d like that, Hood,” Dreamy responded.

“I’ll come by at seven then,” Hood smiled. “Goodnight, Dreamy.”

“‘Night, Hood.”

Walking home, Hood’s thoughts swirled through highs and lows as harbored resentments fought against anticipated harmony with Dreamy. Could such a stormy background produce a peaceful future? Hood had his doubts.

And then there was Flame. His thoughts became more confused as he remembered the look the slim red mare had flashed him. “I need to talk to Stardrift and Moonglow,” the perplexed stallion mumbled to himself.

That train of thoughts reminded him of problems closer to his heart. Moonglow simply had to have a safe delivery. Checker had to solve this puzzle involving the green stallion known only as Victor. Life had to return to normal.

Reaching his house, Hood went around to the back door and withdrew a key from under the welcome mat. His recent run-ins with Sparky caused him to look over his shoulder to make sure the new recruit wasn’t lurking in the bushes. It was then that something caught Hood’s eye.

He stared across the yard, and knew something was amiss; but what it was, he couldn’t quite place. He took a few tentative steps down the back walk, and stared at a dark patch in the grass. The street light sent only a weak glow to this corner of the lawn, and Hood approached cautiously.

It was only when he got to within a few feet of the area in question that he realized what was wrong. His prized blue spruce was gone; all that remained was a circle of black dirt where it had been planted. Hood stared in disbelief. Was this the work of Checker’s suspect? Was this Victor brazen enough to come into town even with his description now public knowledge? Hood stood in silent contemplation for several minutes before retracing his steps to the back door and unlocking it.

Turning on the light as he entered the house caused Hood to blink from the brightness, but he went straight to his telephone and dialed the police station’s number.

“Woodlawn Police,” the official-sounding voice said.

“Is Chief Checker still in?” Hood asked, although he hoped Checker had been able to spend this night at home.

“No, he isn’t,” the voice replied. “May I help you?”

Hood relayed the purpose of his call to the dispatcher, who told Hood to wait for the arrival of a deputy. It wasn’t long before Sparky was on the scene.

“So the perpetrator found you, Hood,” Sparky flouted. “Or is this just a play on your part to throw suspicion off yourself?” Grinning, he guided the beam from his flashlight over the scene searching for any clues. But nothing was out of place except for the missing tree. The lawn showed no prints, and the dirt was evenly raked smooth.

“He’s still quite efficient in his efforts,” muttered Hood.

“He’s a bold one, all right,” Sparky agreed. “You were away when this happened?” Sparky directed at Hood. “It’s kind of late for you, isn’t it?”

“Had a problem at the shop, so I didn’t get home until one o’clock,” Hood stretched the truth only a little.

“You didn’t see anyone?”

“Nope. The streets were deserted.”

“Anything else tampered with?”

“Not that I can see in the dark. But as this Victor only goes for produce and growing things, I think I’m safe. The tree is all I had.” He wondered what Lacewing and Laser would have to say about the disappearance of the tree they’d helped him to plant.

“I guess I’m finished here,” decided Sparky. “Let us know if you discover anything else.” He shut down the flashlight and plunged the two stallions into comparative darkness.

“Say, Sparky, what did Checker find out about this Sassafras and Meadow Minder?” Hood asked in a low voice.

He could feel more than see Sparky’s sharp look at him. “How much has the chief told you?”

“Just what he knew this morning.”

“Well, it’s not my place to gossip over police business,” Sparky replied disapprovingly. “All I’ll say is that our investigation is proceeding satisfactorily. Goodnight, Hood.”

“Yeah. Thanks,” Hood scowled.

He watched as Sparky left his yard, and then Hood returned to his house. It was two in the morning now, and he gratefully fell into bed. He craved sleep, simply to escape the unanswered questions that still swamped his mind. But he tossed and turned for hours before sleep overpowered him, and he fell into a deep but disturbed slumber.

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