Ginseng and Sassafras Tea: Chapter Nine
written by Sugarberry

Shining brightly in the night sky, the nearly full moon made for pleasant walking conditions. Hood thought back to Grayton nights, where the streets were best not to set hoof upon alone after dark. That was one more reason why he was grateful that his sisters had convinced him to follow them to Woodlawn after they had left the big city for this quiet rural town to raise their families and live life at a slower, more agreeable pace.

But now, some of the mistrust of Grayton had latched on to Woodlawn, casting its dark shadow over the lives of the inhabitants. Someone was upsetting the comfortable, safe atmosphere. Hood knew even now that the thief could be somewhere in the town, perpetrating yet another foul deed. He peered in all directions, but could see nothing unusual... except...

As he was nearing the edge of the residential district, he caught a flash of light off to his right. Continuing along the sidewalk so as not to arouse interest, Hood kept his senses alert. Turning the corner, he stopped beside a large elm tree, and waited to see what might happen. After a few minutes with no one showing up, Hood stealthily backtracked to the corner, and looked off in the direction of the glimmer of light.

Suddenly, Hood became aware of someone behind him; twirling about, he came face to face with Sparky. At the same time, another stallion from the police force came from the opposite direction. Hood had seen him once before when Sparky had called for backup for the breaking and entering incident. This particular stallion stood out in a crowd; larger than most, he also had a distinctive overall pattern on his white body-- pumpkins and their green vines entwining across his sides, with his orange mane accented by one dark green streak.

Sparky directed the beam of a flashlight into Hood’s face. “Oh, it’s you again.” He sounded disappointed.

“Sparky, I commend you on your vigilance, but why do you always have to pick on me?”

“It’s your irresponsible nature, I guess,” Sparky grinned. “I thought the stallion coming up the path was acting in a suspicious manner just now, especially when he hid himself behind that tree.” Sparky nodded in the direction of the elm.

“I saw a light flash over behind the stone house down the block,” Hood explained. “I was hoping to catch sight of the produce picker.”

“No such luck. That would have just been Pumpkin Patch.” Sparky looked to his partner, who gave Hood an informal salute. “You needn’t worry about doing our job for us, Hood. As you can see, we are patrolling the streets of Woodlawn to ensure your safety. You’re free to go now.”

“Thanks!” Hood snapped at the obvious dismissal, and moved away down the street. He continued in the direction of his shop, his eyes and ears on guard to any sound or motion out of the ordinary, but his journey was uneventful. By the time he got to the shop, Rosy Bells was already out the door. She jumped as Hood approached her.

“Oh, you frightened me! Everyone was discussing the robberies all evening; now I’m a bundle of nerves.”

“I didn’t mean to alarm you. Trust me, I know how that feels.” Hood put his hoof to his heart, remembering how hard it had pumped when Sparky startled him.

“I never used to mind walking home after locking the place up; now I cringe at the thought.”

“”Want some company?”

“Oh, Hood, would you come with me? I know I’m being foalish, but I’d feel so much better if I wasn’t alone.”

“No problem. And it’s a great night to be out and about.” Hood didn’t mention the fact that he wanted the chance to talk with her. As they walked through the deserted streets, Hood used the opportunity to question Rosy Bells about something she’d said earlier in connection with the stallion who’d mowed her lawn. “You insinuated before that the lawn care service wasn’t to your satisfaction-- something about the stallion could have been sleeping?”

“What I meant is that he accomplished the same amount of work, but it took him longer to do it.”

“You and Dewdrop had gone shopping. How did you know how long he was there?”

“Nosey tonight, aren’t you, Hood!” Rosy Bells teased. “It was easy enough... we pay the service by the hour, and the bill this stallion left was for half an hour more than the usual pony accrues. Why do you ask?” queried Rosy Bells as Hood digested that information in silence.

“Don’t you find it curious that in the time period the robbery occurred, the stallion across the street from it was absent from his machine and slow in getting the job done?”

“You’re right!” Rosy Bells exclaimed. “He might have been involved in it somehow!”

They were nearing Rosy Bell’s home; it was dark except for the glow of the street light. Her husband, Cumulus, had probably fallen asleep watching television, and Dewdrop would have already gone to bed. Hood walked Rosy Bells to the back door where the kitchen light remained lit, shining its welcome beacon down the walk.

“Call Checker first thing in the morning. He was going to talk to the lawn service ponies again tomorrow, and he should be aware of your facts before he questions them again.”

“I’ll certainly do that! I hope it helps him resolve this mess. We need our peaceful town back.”

“That’s a fact,” agreed Hood as he waved goodnight and headed down the sidewalk towards home. A glance across the street at his sister’s house allayed any fears of Hood’s concerning Moonglow as the home was already closed up in sleep.

Suddenly feeling very tired himself, Hood quickened his gait to get home as soon as possible. Maybe by tomorrow, the riddle of the robberies would be solved.

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