The ice cream shop was buzzing with voices of ponies enjoying a quick lunch break.
Hood had a
selective menu of hearty sandwiches offered from eleven in the morning until one-thirty in the
afternoon which drew in
the working crowd. He and Drumstick were kept busy while staying informed of local
William had come in early, filling his regular spot at the counter. He usually waited until
the shop was
quieter, thereby commanding more of Hood's attention to his stories and reminiscences. But on
this day, the elderly
stallion had almost appeared to be waiting for the shop to open when Hood showed up after his
groceries had been
stored away at home.
"What did you think of the headlines, Hood?" William's green eyes shone with
"What headlines, William? You know I avoid the newspaper as much as
"This headline," William snapped open the fresh newsprint upon which ran the top news
Chief Bungles Business. Hood stared at the words, then grabbed the paper from William's hooves
Last evening, Police Chief Checker was as red in the face as the tomatoes missing
from his garden.
The Woodlawn Robber struck the chief's own crop in broad daylight, rifling several bushels of
tomatoes from under
the chief's nose. This reporter, in an interview with Deputy Sparky after the incident, learned that
the department is
sorely lacking in any clues, not to mention material evidence, that might lead to resolution of this
Checker himself refused comment.
And where was Chief Checker at the time of the crime? He was counseling juvenile
were guilty of such offences as littering and painting graffiti. When will the police force realize
that the real outrage
has been several months of unsolved thefts that are increasing in scope and number? Is anyone
safe from the grip of
this menace that has snared Woodlawn? It is time for the citizens of Woodlawn to stand up
against this evasive thief
and step down on any further pillaging in this illustrious community.
Hood's anger rose higher and higher as he read through the scandalous article. The
byline was credited
to a reporter named Free Lance. In his present mood, Hood wanted to strangle him.
He pounded his hoof on the counter so violently that even William was taken by surprise.
"This police chief is your brother-in-law, right?" William goaded.
"Yes, he is, and he is a mighty good one, too, on both counts. This Free Lance had no
right to make him
Realizing that every pony in the shop was looking at him, Hood lowered his voice.
"What does he think
Checker's to do, patrol every house every second of the day and night?"
"Well," the pony next to William joined in, "there has been plenty of opportunity to
perpetrator in the act." This dapper stallion was Marquee, the manager of Woodlawn's movie
theater, and Hood silently
vowed to never watch a show there again.
"Not one of the homeowners hit by this crook has ever seen anything," Hood defended.
"If the ponies
on the scene can't spot him, how are the police supposed to do it?"
"I'm only saying that if the force was doing its job, they'd have some evidence by
"If the culprit left any evidence, Checker would have found it," declared Hood
abruptly turned his attention to a new customer who had just come in, and the diners returned to
their lunches. But
everyone was discussing the mystery, and it seemed an even split between those who thought the
police were doing their
best, and those who shared the reporter's doubts as to Checker's ability to protect the town.
Hood refused to be drawn into any more arguments with William or anyone else; but
underneath, he was
fuming. The nerve of that guy, making Checker out to be incompetent. The entire force had been
surveillance, yet the thief had never once been sighted; no sign of any evidence was ever left
behind; hoofprints were
always concealed or covered. Whoever was at the bottom of this robbery was a genius at
When business slowed down, Hood called to Drumstick, "You're in charge here. I'm
going out for
"No problem," the competent helper replied. "Just see if you can come back in better
"That all depends on if I find who I'm looking for." Hood strode determinedly from the
Once on the street, he had to think for a second where the newspaper office was
located. He realized he
had never had any contact with the place since coming to Woodlawn, as Drumstick was in charge
of advertising. "All
I've done is sign the checks," he reflected.
Clouds were moving in from the west, he noted. "Good. We can use some rain." The
day had gotten
hot and humid, and the walk a long one. He contemplated what he'd say when he was face to face
with the reporter.
The further he walked, the harsher became his ideas.
The newspaper building was a sleek, modern-looking affair with the newspaper's name,
Ponderings, in large dark blue letters on the front wall. As everywhere in Woodlawn,
lavish flower beds
blanketed the area between the sidewalk and the building. A sprinkler was shooting sprays of
water over the blossoms,
but Hood realized that some of the moisture was now coming out of the dark clouds that had
slipped in overhead. He
ducked in the doorway just as a heavy downpour let loose.
The reception area of the Ponderings was immaculate in blue and white decor.
seating was available; potted plants lent a homey atmosphere. As Hood approached the front
desk, a tremendous burst
of lightening and the accompanying crash of thunder caused the lights to flicker.
The receptionist looked up with a bright smile. "Oh, dear. The paper forecast a sunny
day today. We'll
get lots of complaints over that."
The unsmiling face of the stallion before her caused her to take a more professional
may I help you, sir?"
"I'd like to speak with one of your reporters-- the one called Free Lance."
"I'm sorry, but Free Lance is in a meeting right now. It should be over shortly, if you'd
like to wait."
She gestured to the sofa and an array of glossy magazines.
"I'll wait," Hood stated, and went to stare out the window at the pouring rain. Several
ponies had come
into the building simply to find shelter from the downpour. They stood gossiping inside the front
Hood watched the raindrops cascade down the window for several minutes. Then, as
quickly as it had
begun, the storm moved on. The black clouds continued their journey eastward, swept away by
the advancing blue sky.
Before long, the sun was blazing again.
Watching the sparkle of the raindrops on the flower petals soothed Hood's raw nerves,
and he slowly
began to relax. He thought of his encounter with Dreamy, and remembered that she had told him
she worked for the
newspaper. There were two in town; she hadn't mentioned which one. Hood wondered what her
recalling her charm and poise, he imagined her setting up the fashion page.
His reflections were interrupted by the voice of the receptionist. Flame, the
nameplate on the
desk said, Hood noticed.
"Free Lance is available now, sir. I'll show you the way."
Hood followed Flame to the rear of the reception area and down a corridor lined with
office doors. At
number three, she stopped and rapped gently at the open door. "Gentleman to see you."
Flame slipped away quietly, and Hood entered the office. The anger he felt toward Free
Lance turned to
surprise, then to utter consternation. "Dreamy? What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing." The mare stayed seated in her office chair behind the
"I asked to see Free Lance."
"That's my pen name," Dreamy explained, tossing her orange curls back from her face.
"What did you
want to see me about? It's obviously not about dinner since you seemed taken aback to see me
here. By the way, how's
Hood ignored her remark. Noticing a copy of the newspaper on her desk, he placed his
hoof on the
headline. "This is what I'm here about."
"Is this a confession, or what?" Dreamy leaned back in her chair and rested her elbows
on the arms of it
as if she was in for a long disclosure.
"What gives you the right to trash the reputations of the members of the police force in
"It's called freedom of the press, Hood. Read the constitution."
"What about responsibility and accountability..."
Dreamy interrupted. "You could ask that question of Chief Checker."
"You haven't lived here long enough to know the characters of the ponies involved.. of
and commitment to Woodlawn."
"Why are you so upset over this? You'd think it was a personal..." Dreamy suddenly
"That's it! The police chief's wife! I thought I should have known her from somewhere! She's
your sister, isn't
"Yes, Moonglow is Checker's wife; so, of course, I take this attack personally. But
you've got to admit,
Dreamy, that your article went beyond unbiased reporting."
Dreamy laughed. "I was hired by Ponderings to increase circulation... at any
"At any cost? That sounds cold and calculating."
"I'm good at what I do. That's why I got the job." Dreamy smugly leaned back into her
"Anything else I can do for you, Hood?"
Feeling like he'd just run headfirst into a brick wall, Hood refrained from continuing the
"No, Dreamy, you see it your way; I see it mine."
Standing now, Dreamy extended her hoof. "Come again some time."
Hood wanted to lash out at this emotionless mare, but he held his temper and briefly
hoofshake. He turned to go, but at the door turned back. Dreamy had already begun keying on
her computer. "You
were right about one thing this morning, Dreamy. Some things never change."
As Hood passed through the reception area, he saw Marquee sitting comfortably in the
thumbing through a finance magazine. He threw it down when he noticed Hood. "Let me guess.
You just gave this
Free Lance guy a piece of your mind."
"You might say that."
"Well, buddy, I'm going to tell him to keep up the good work."
Flame approached Marquee at that moment. "Free Lance can see you now." As she led
Flame turned and flashed Hood a dazzling smile. "Have a nice day!"