Chapter 1.5: Garnet

One night the following week, Garnet met Troubadour at a dive bar on the outskirts of Misty Hollow.

“I knew Inky’s little girl wouldn’t let me down,” the teal stallion said with a leer as Garnet hoofed over the necklace. “Can I interest you in dinner?”

Ugh, what a sleaze! Nothing she couldn’t handle, though. “Our business is done. Now scram!” Garnet spat.

With a chuckle, the stallion ambled off into the shadows.

Garnet looked after him with pursed lips. This job, a favor to her father’s old friend, had been laughably easy. She was skilled in laying her hooves on things that didn’t belong to her, and there were plenty of ponies willing to pay for her assistance in acquiring certain rarities. Garnet did feel bad for stealing the necklace from Fern, who seemed wholly inoffensive; but this is what Garnet did, after all. She wasn’t a con artist so that she could showcase her immense compassion.

Ignoring the annoying nagging sense of injustice–what had been so important about the necklace that Troubadour wanted it, anyway? There had to be more to it than the sentimental value it held for Fern–Garnet turned and made her way to the casino a few blocks away, where her shift in the accounting office was starting soon.

She didn’t know how long she would stay in Misty Hollow. She was still getting the lay of the land, conducting a sort of cost-benefit analysis of various schemes before determining where to invest her energy. Anything was possible at this point, but the amount of money that passed through the casino was intriguing to Garnet.

On her way inside the bustling, brightly-lit building, Garnet ran into Chocolate Chip, her boss’s girlfriend whom she had strategically befriended. “Hey,” she said good-naturedly.

“Garnet, hi!” said Chocolate Chip, coming to a stop. “The place is hopping tonight.” She shifted her backpack. “I just stopped by for dinner with Birchbark. He’s looking for you, has some questions about the ledger.”

“I’ll set him straight,” said Garnet with a smug look. 

“I’m sure you will,” said Chocolate Chip, smiling. “Hey, should we do movie night this Friday? We can invite Fern.”

Garnet felt a twinge of guilt at hearing Fern’s name. She hadn’t intended to continue her association with the mare, but Chocolate Chip had taken a liking to her. Aloud she said, “Sure, sounds good.”

“I think she’s still bummed about losing her grandmother’s necklace,” Chocolate Chip continued glibly. “It’s a real shame no one turned it in. Well, I gotta get to my chemistry study group. See ya!” and she continued on her way. 

* * *

Despite keeping up a friendship with Garnet, Fern harbored secret suspicions about the overlap of her necklace’s disappearance and the entrance of Garnet into her life… 

Maybe she was wrong, that the necklace had fallen off on its own, and she was suspecting a good-hearted mare for no reason, Fern thought with a pang of guilt. But her misgivings prompted her to ask some questions. Her searches for a local pawn shop led to a place called Butch’s. As she stepped inside and looked around at the relics that surrounded her, she realized that the shop catered to an earlier time period than her necklace was from. Maybe this was all for nothing.

“I, uh, I’m not sure you can help,” Fern said, cautiously walking up the counter in the back of the store and addressing the blue stallion at the cash register. “I’m looking for a particular necklace I lost. Do you buy jewelry? Like a pawn shop?”

“Occasionally,” he said guardedly. “What can you tell me about this necklace?”

Fern promptly presented a sketch she had made from memory.

The stallion considered it, then pushed the paper away, shaking his head. “Nope, haven’t seen anything like that.”

“Oh,” said Fern, reclaiming the sketch, disappointed that the exchange had ended without any leads. “What about a red mare? All red. Darker mane and tail.”

At that, the stallion started. “I mighta seen this mare,” he admitted. “She came by with some pretty trinkets, but nothing like your necklace.”

“Really! Can you tell me anything else?” Fern leaned forward eagerly.

“I don’t keep tabs on all my clients,” he said laconically. “You think she took your necklace?”

Stole it!” Fern said resentfully, then sighed. “I don’t have any evidence,” she admitted, “just a feeling.”

He tilted his head, studying her. Fern thought he might feel a little bit sorry for her. “It’s valuable?”

“I don’t think its financial worth is all that much. It’s mostly sentimental value,” Fern said thoughtfully.

He gave her a shrewd look. “Would it hold value for anyone else?”

“There’s Granny’s sister and her husband, but they already have the whole of the estate,” Fern considered, desperate enough to spill the whole of her life story to this stranger. “Why would they want to take this last reminder I have? Are they really that full of spite?”

“Maybe it’s a key to something larger,” he suggested.

“A hidden treasure?” Fern’s mouth turned slightly upwards at the whimsical thought that her grandmother had left behind a mystery. A shrewd businesspony, Granny would have made sure things were all ship-shape and above-board. “I don’t think Granny’s the type.”

“You never know.”

“Well, thank you, Mr. Butch. You’ve given me some things to think about.”

* * *

Fern continued to muse about the situation, and she met Chocolate Chip one day later that week for lunch. She wondered if the dedicated college student could be an ally… or was she working with Garnet? But Fern had no one else to turn to, so she had to hope for the best.

“How long have you known Garnet?” Fern asked, trying to sound casual.

“Since she’s been working at the casino,” Chocolate Chip said, unwrapping her sandwich. “Three months, I guess.”

“She doesn’t talk about her past,” Fern mused.

Chocolate Chip shrugged. “Sometimes there’s not much to say,” she said matter-of-factly.

“It’s just, my necklace, I can’t help but wonder…” Fern trailed off, letting Chocolate Chip fill in the words that were unsaid.

“Garnet? You think she was involved? No way,” Chocolate Chip protested. “She wouldn’t do that.”

“But what do we know about her, really?” Fern forged ahead. “What’s her background?”

“Well, I… I’m sure Birchbark has that information on her application,” said Chocolate Chip, a little uncertainly.

“Could you get your hooves on that?”

“You’re serious about this?” Chocolate Chip asked, still sounding incredulous, but also a tiny bit sympathetic. “Okay. Let me talk to him.”

* * *

“Fern thinks Garnet is up to something shady,” Chocolate Chip announced, dropping in on her boyfriend at work later that day. Since Birchbark was the owner of the casino, Chocolate Chip was allowed to take certain liberties that might be frowned upon in other work situations.

“Garnet?” Birchbark echoed, looking up from the official-looking forms on the desk in front of him. “Why does she think that?”

“Fern lost a necklace. It’s really important to her, and she thinks Garnet copped it.”

“Garnet’s very reliable,” Birchbark protested.

“I know,” Chocolate Chip agreed. “But I think it might make Fern feel better to get a sense of her background.”

“Her background?” echoed Birchbark, an uneasy look crossing his face.

“You know, where she’s from, where she’s worked in the past. Surely there are references that you followed up with from the application,” Chocolate Chip said cajolingly.

“We didn’t actually get references,” Birchbark admitted. “She interviewed really well, and, um,” he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, “we really needed to fill the position.”

Chocolate Chip’s demeanor changed. “So we don’t really know anything,” she said, gaping. “Fern could be right.”

“That’s a big leap,” Birchbark cautioned, rolling back his chair and reaching for a filing cabinet drawer. “I’m sure everything is fine. But let’s just take a look at her employment file if it will make you feel better.”

* * *

“Fern, I’m sorry that I dismissed your suspicions,” Chocolate Chip said, seeking the mare out later. “There’s some things about Garnet that don’t add up.”

“Really? Like what?” Fern had come to the conclusion that the final recipient of the necklace was likely her grand-uncle Troubadour, and that pursuing Garnet’s involvement was probably futile. Fern nonetheless felt a sense of relief at having someone to share her suspicions with.

“There were no references,” Chocolate Chip admitted. “She got the job solely on how she interviewed.”

“Interesting,” Fern murmured, glad to have Chocolate Chip on her side, but still facing all the unknowns surrounding what she should do next. It was beginning to look like she should take the bull by the horns, and call out her uncle on whatever nefarious counterfeit will he had produced. But for that, she would need legal assistance, and that required money.

“Oh, it’s getting late,” Chocolate Chip realized with a glance at the clock. “Come to supper with me at Strawberry’s.”

“Strawberry’s?” asked Fern, not being familiar with a restaurant by that name.

“The mare I board with,” Chocolate Chip explained. “She’s really nice.”

“Oh, I couldn’t intrude,” Fern protested.

“Strawberry won’t mind at all,” Chocolate Chip assured her.

* * *

“How lovely to meet you, Fern,” said the hostess with a smile upon being introduced to the mare. “Chocolate Chip’s friends are always welcome.” Strawberry stepped aside and allowed the two mares to enter the house. “Let me introduce you to my friends.”

Fern choked upon seeing the two unicorns further inside the house. Tabby was well-known as Toby’s ex-fiance, and she was accompanied tonight with the stallion who she had thrown Toby over for; Fern had never anticipated crossing paths like this. She couldn’t help but wonder about the mare who would toss the greatly idolized Dr. Collins aside… Lost in a haze of disbelief, Fern managed to muster the appropriate pleasantries. (The veterinarian seemed nice enough, but he was no Dr. Collins, thought Fern steadfastly.)

Feeling a little light-headed, she realized that the circle she found herself in was far more influential than any she had ever been exposed to previously, and that doors could open for her if she played her cards right tonight. She prepared to be her most charming self.

“Are you from the area, Fern?” Strawberry inquired when they were seated.

“I grew up near Bushley with my grandmother.”

“She must miss you,” said Strawberry, always very sensitive to loss.

“She passed away last year,” Fern said softly.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Strawberry commiserated. “Tabby, would you pass the rolls, please?”

“Here you go,” said Tabby, passing the bread basket across the table.

Fern stole speculative glances at the enigmatic heiress, who chattered easily enough with the others, but refrained from exchanging words with Fern. How could Fern get on her good side?

“Are you a student, Fern?” Dr. Fairfax asked conversationally.

“I’m taking some online courses in office administration,” Fern said. “I work in admin at the hospital.”

“That’s a growing field,” he noted.

Fern noted Tabby’s glazed-over expression indicating boredom at this turn in conversation. Fern mustered up her brightest smile and addressed the pink unicorn: “Tabby, I heard you collect My Little People.” This was a well-known quirk of the heiress, and often spoken of in hospital gossip disparagingly.

But at that question, a change came over Tabby’s countenance, her face brightening. “I have all the Mestruna releases, except for Kaitlyn, but I have a lead on tracking her down,” she said with enthusiasm. “Well, and I don’t have all the Petite People, but I don’t really count that scale as the main focus of my collection, you know. Same thing with the Beautiful Dreamers; they’re on a larger scale. I count the standard dolls and others that are scale with them–baby people, merpeople, fairy people, that sort of thing.”

“That’s very interesting,” said Fern politely. Though her own awareness of dolls didn’t extend past the hoofful she had played with as a foal, she nonetheless found Tabby’s spirited discourse somewhat endearing. “Who is your favorite?”

“Oh, um,” and here Tabby looked rather perplexed, “well, there are a lot of them that I really like, but if I had to choose one, it would probably be Cornelia. She has purple glitter hair.”

“I had one… I think her name was… Penelope.”

“Ahh, that would be Year 3, from the Secret Fairy Surprise collection,” Tabby said with authority.

“Yes, I remember the fairy wings,” said Fern with a smile.

That kept the conversation going for the remainder of the meal, with everyone sharing reminisces of foalhood toys. After dessert was served, Fern knew that she could not politely extend her visit indefinitely, and though she had managed to draw Tabby out, still hadn’t come around to the business she had in mind.

When Tabby and Dr. Fairfax were heading for the door, Fern made her move. “Tabby, could I speak to you for a moment?” asked Fern, trying not to sound desperate.

The pink unicorn exchanged a quizzical look with her date, then looked back at Fern inquiringly. “What is it?”

“I know we’ve only just met, and this is an imposition, but I’m desperate and have nowhere to turn,” Fern spoke in a rush. “I’ve been cheated out of my inheritance, and I need a lawyer to contest the will.”

“Oh. Well,” said Tabby, clearly confused. “That sounds terrible and all, but I don’t see how I’m a qualified pony to help.”

“I was hoping you might know someone?” Fern asked hopefully. She had a vague notion that affluent ponies were all friends with lawyers.

“I mean, if you were having medical problems, or issues with a supernatural entity, I could probably figure something out for you,” Tabby said slowly. “But I don’t really have any contacts that could do anything about a forged will.”

Fern had put Dr. Fairfax’s presence in the back of her mind during this exchange, so she was somewhat startled when he spoke: “I have a friend who works for an estate lawyer.”

“Dusty Rose? Really?” said Tabby, wrinkling her nose.

Dr. Fairfax ignored the snide remark, and continued talking to Fern. “I’m sure she’d be willing to look over the details of your case and bring it to Mr. Brambleburr’s attention.”

“Really? That would be great!” Fern said, finding her opinion of the veterinarian rising. “I don’t have a lot of money, though,” she confessed. That seemed to be a sticking point with the law offices she had approached.

“They work pro bono cases,” Dr. Fairfax assured her. “I think Dusty Rose would be happy to take up your cause. I’ll give her a call right now.”

“Obviously, she’s always available to talk to you,” said Tabby, rolling her eyes. 

“Thank you! Both of you” said Fern fervently. “Tabby, I always thought you were kind of out there, but… now I think I see what Dr. Collins saw in you.” Tabby started at the mention of that name, and Fern blushed at being so forward and bringing up unwanted connections. “I mean, thank you! From the bottom of my heart!”