Owlowiscious’ eyes struggled to adjust to the bright spotlight focussed on him. He squinted hard to see the shapes that moved around in the darkness.
“I was told you’re the kinda guy who stays up in the night. Heck, maybe even in the early morning.”
He looked in the direction of the voice, trying to see who had spoken.
“So maybe you’re the kinda guy who sees things. Suspicious things. Maybe you’re the kind of guy who’d tell us these things.”
By now, Owlowiscious’ eyes had adjusted and he could see the entire room in perfect owlish clarity. The figure speaking to him was Applejack’s little yellow sibling. Two paler fillies were poking their head out of the far window with binoculars in their hooves. The remaining filly, the orange one, stared him down from the corner of the wooden shack.
“So maybe you’d be about this morning, around the crack of dawn?” asked the yellow one. She leaned in close. “Tell us everything you know about the cake thief.”
“Who?” he said.
She groaned. “This morning, forty cakes were stolen from Mrs Cake’s bakery.”
“The baker. Runs Sugarcube Corner. Looks after Pinkie P-”
Owlowiscious smiled inwardly.
The orange one marched forward. “This isn’t getting us anywhere!” she shouted, slamming her hooves down on the table.
Owlowiscious jumped, and decided it was high time he was out of there.
“No no no no no!” shouted Apple Bloom, as she watched the flustered owl make a beeline for the window and fly out into the night. She turned on her friend. “Scootaloo! That was our only lead!”
“No, he wasn’t. We haven’t been investigating all day just to finish with some old Abellboot and Coltstello sketch.”
“Guys! Come see this!” squeaked Sweetie Belle from her position at the window.
Apple Bloom and Scootaloo perched themselves between her and Twist, taking the proffered binoculars.
“Thee? Right there, by thothe treeth!”
Apple Bloom focussed her binoculars to where Sweetie Belle and Twist were pointing feverishly. Sure enough, a hooded figure was marching slowly but determinedly towards Ponyville.
“Is that… Zecora?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but we’re gonna find out!” Scootaloo grabbed a flashlight and shone it in the direction of the hooded mare. “Hey! Zecora! How’s it going?!”
Two lamplike eyes shone out of the figure’s hood and narrowed at them. Then, the pony turned and fled towards the town, her hood flapping as she galloped.
“Oh no she doesn’t!” said Apple Bloom, and as one the four fillies darted to Scootaloo’s scooter and the attached wagon. Within seconds they were quick on the heels of the escaping pony, snaking through the streets of Ponyville, hot on her tail.
“Scootaloo! Can’t you make this thing go any faster?”
“I’m going as fast as I – whoah!”
The perp dodged down an alleyway. Scootaloo skidded to a halt, quickly righting the scooter’s path and following her. She was a good distance from them now.
“Come on!” squealed Sweetie Belle excitedly. “Faster!”
“There!” said Twist, pointing past Scootaloo to an incongruous pile of cardboard boxes.
Instinctively following her order, Scootaloo plowed their vehicle through the cardboard stack: the boxes toppled in all directions, and unfortunately so did the amateur investigators.
“Twist? What the hay was that all about?” Apple Bloom berated her.
Twist jumped to attention. “Don’t tell me you’ve never wanted to crathh through a pile of boxeth!”
Apple Bloom brought her hoof to her face, and not for the first time that day.
Soon, the four fillies emerged out into Stirrup Street. The only light was coming from a number of torches dotted around, where families of fireflies were settling down for the night. Aside from the crusaders, the street was entirely empty. The suspect was nowhere in sight.
“Oh nooooo! We lost her?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“Looks like it. Well, back to bed,” said Scootaloo.
“No,” repeated Apple Bloom. “We started this case today, and we’re gonna finish it today. But instead of running around and asking all the wrong questions and waiting for the thief to outsmart us, we’re gonna do some detective work. What do we know about the thief so far? Quickly!” she added, when no answers came.
“She stole some cakes?” said Sweetie Belle.
“Good. She stole forty cakes. If she was hungry, maybe she’d steal one or two. Or maybe she was really hungry. But you don’t steal forty cakes without planning what you’re gonna do with ‘em. What else?”
“Thhe thtole thome thweetth!”
“Right. So she’s got a sweet tooth. But she stole nearly half the shop. Again, you don’t steal that much candy without… Hmm. What else?”
“She’s somewhere on this street.”
“Yes! So she’s got forty cakes, several jars of candy, and she’s somewhere on this street. Cakes and candy… sounds like she’s planning a party. And what else do you need for a party?” Apple Bloom started pacing backwards and forwards down the street. “I’ve got it!” she shouted suddenly, dashing towards a particular shop. “She’s in here!”
The hooded figure jolted as the door slammed shut behind her. A large cargo net descended from the ceiling, trapping her to the spot, and a bright spotlight beamed its light onto her from the corner of the shop floor.
“Surprise, dearie!” said Mrs Cake on her self-assigned queue. “I bet you never guessed that we were throwing this special surprise party, just for you!” Mrs Cake gave a nod to her to two acolytes, and they escorted the culprit to a chair in the centre of the room. “Make sure you make our special guest comfortable.” On that, they secured the thief to the chair with ribbons.
“Oh yes,” continued Mrs Cake, responding to the thief despite her silence. “You’re our special guest. We made this lovely feast all for you, dearie!” She whipped the covers from the table behind her, revealing the spread of delicious-looking cakes and treats. “Yes, they’re all yours.” She grabbed a nearby muffin from a tray and started hovering it towards her squirming guest’s mouth. “Open wiiiiiiide…”
“Stop right there!” yelled Apple Bloom, bucking the door open. She and her filly companions struck a dramatic pose in the doorway. Then: “Mrs Cake? What the hay are you doin’?”
“Apple Bloom, dearie, why are you wearing all that make-up?”
“Don’t change the subject!” she replied, making a half-hearted attempt to smear it from her face.
“We’re… just having a nice little party, that’s all.”
“A party where the special guest is tied to a chair and is being force-fed?”
“…Yes,” quavered Mrs Cake.
Mrs Cake dropped to her haunches, trembling. “Because I’ve lost control of my lii-iii-iiiife!” she whined, and she burst into tears.
As one, the crusaders dashed to the fallen mare, enveloping her into a group hug.
There was a shrill intake of breath from under the thief’s hood. “Me toooooo!” The figure flipped back her brown hood, flouncing her cotton candy hair and sending tears cascading. Pinkie Pie slipped effortlessly up through her bonds and knocked the crusaders aside to scoop Mrs Cake into a tight hug. “And I’m sooooo sorry!”
“Pinkie Pie?!” said the Cutie Mark Crusader Crime Scene Investigators as one.
Scootaloo produced the brown scrap of material they’d found caught on the candy shop’s windowsill and held it against a torn patch on the hem Pinkie Pie’s abandoned cloak. “It’s a match.”
Mrs Cake was too stunned to even continue crying. “But Pinkie Pie, why would you do these horrible, horrible things?”
Pinkie relinquished the hug. Her tears abated too, and she took a deep breath again. “Weeeeeeell… Early this morning I was heading off to Partycon in Fillydelphia for the week because I’m Ponyville’s premier party pony and that totally sounds like a thing I’d go off and do, but I’d got halfway to Fillydelpha when suddenly I realised oh snap! I forgot to bake any cakes! and you absolutely always definitely need cakes to throw a party, especially at Partycon, but because I was really running late at this point I had to come all the way back to Sugarcube Corner and I didn’t really have time to explain so I just took the cakes from the oven and I was just making it to the outskirts of town when I realised I was super duper hot and that’s why I took a dive into your water tower and that’s where all the water went!” She took the opportunity to take in some heavy breaths.
Mrs Cake frowned.
“You mean… that’s why there wasn’t any water for the shower this mornin’?” Apple Bloom ventured tentatively.
“I didn’t even know that was a clue!” piped up Sweetie Belle.
“But by then I had gone too far!!” shouted Pinkie suddenly. She looked around expectantly, but meeting only blank faces, she continued her explanation. “So I was setting up in the dealer room, right, putting out all my popular Pinkie Pie paraphernalia when it came to me that oh snap! I forgot to bring any candy! and with the dealer room already open I had no time to waste so the only thing I could do was come back here and steal some candy from Candyrocks’ candy emporium and I knew it was wrong and I knew I’d been clumsy and knocked over more than a few jars but I had to get back as soon as I could because how could I deal otherwise and once you’ve stolen forty cakes and a load of water then it just keeps getting easier and easier to take things!”
“But you were going to steal from me, right?” The slate blue unicorn stallion – the owner of the shop they were in – stepped forward. The assembled crowd of children and confectionary makers had all forgotten he was there. “That’s why you were here tonight?”
“I promise I was going to buy from you, I Pinkie promise it,” the pink pony responded. “I only came in here because the door was open and you guys were inside.”
Mrs Cake said, “And we were only in here because we figured—”
“We figured it too!” interrupted Scootaloo. “Uh, didn’t we?”
“Sure as sugar,” said Apple Bloom. “Three key ingredients of a party. Cakes-” she waved a hoof at Mrs Cake, before pointing it at Candyrocks. “Candy… and balloons.”
“And you’re the number one supplier of balloons in Ponyville, Mr Pinprick,” added Mrs Cake.
Grumbling, Pinprick accepted the explanation begrudgingly.
“Tho what wath with the cloak routine?” Twist asked Pinkie Pie.
“I couldn’t show my face any more! I thought…” she trailed off. Her eyes dampened once again as she looked at Mrs Cake. “I thought you would disown me.”
“Pinkie… oh, Pinkie…” Mrs Cake held Pinkie tightly. “You’re like the daughter I never had. I’d never disown you.” She stroked Pinkie’s soft hair with her forehoof as she sobbed onto her shoulder. “You are in a state…”
“Honey? What’s going on?” Mr Cake’s voice drifted from the shop doorway. He had bags under his eyes and was wearing an old-fashioned sleeping cap.
Mrs Cake removed her elaborate hat and dropped it to the floor. “Everything’s fine, dearie. Pinkie Pie was responsible, and I can tell she’s truly sorry.”
“I really am!”
As Mrs Cake explained the situation to her husband, Apple Bloom eagerly took the opportunity to check her flank – but there was still no cutie mark there.
“I guess crime scene investigation isn’t our special talent after all. I’m sure there’re other things,” said Sweetie Belle comfortingly.
“Maybe,” said Apple Bloom. “Or maybe we just need to finish this all off. Uh, Pinkie Pie, do you mind if we take you down to the station? And by station I mean clubhouse?”
Pinkie Pie chortled and thrust her forelegs out. “Take me away!”
Sweetie Belle was by the chair, reading their pail. “I’m confiscating your cloak for evidence!” She grabbed the hood with her teeth and pulled hard – and an improbably large amount of cakes and sweets and treats of all kind clattered from inside it.
“Oh oh oh!” started Pinkie Pie excitedly. “I forgot to mention the best part!” She jumped upright and began spreading the confectionaries out on one of the long tables. “The thing about the dealer room at Partycon is that it’s like a trading post too! I met all sorts of bakers and cakers and yummy sweetmakers while manning my booth and we swapped a couple recipes and contact details, and there was Honey Pie from Appleloosa and Donut Joe from Canterlot and Cinnamon Swirl from Trottingham and… well, I was thinking! With your permissions of course, Mr and Mrs Cake, I could go ahead and talk to my cool new friends and see aboooouuuut… franchising~!” She scooped some chocolate tart from the table and stuffed it into her mouth. “Sugarcube Corners in all corners of Equestria!”
“Wow, that’s…” Mr Cake trailed off.
“That’s amazing!” said Mrs Cake.
“I know, right?!” Pinkie Pie grinned, but her face froze. “If you’ll just… please may I be excused for a moment please thanks!” She darted from the room.
Mrs Cake shouted, “Oh my word! The prunes!”
“What did we learn?” Apple Bloom frowned at Twilight from her beanbag chair on the floor of the library.
“We definitely didn’t learn anything about detective work,” sighed Scootaloo.
“Or getting our cutie marks,” added Sweetie Belle.
Twilight smiled at them, still holding her quill ready to the parchment in front of her. “Well, did you learn anything about friendship?” she ventured.
“Come on, Apple Bloom,” coaxed Twist, like a teacher leading a child to an answer, “Think about what I thaid at the thleepover.”
Apple Bloom said, “Well, I learned that sometimes it’s important to treat your friends right and take it easy once in a while!”
“Very good,” said Twilight, beginning to draft out a report to Princess Celestia.
“And I learned that interrogation is an ineffective means of getting information!” interjected Scootaloo.
“Uh… that’s also true, I suppose.” Twilight scrawled a line through her current draft.
“I learned that prunes are a natural laxative!” squeaked Sweetie Belle.
“I’m not writing that in a letter to Prince-”
“Ooh! I learned that I can steal anything and not face any consequences provided what I bring back is more than or equal to what I take!”
“Pinkie!” barked Twilight. “There are kids here! That’s not remotely moral.”
Pinkie stopped contentedly rocking back and forth and thought for a moment. She soon added, “Well, stealing is wrong, even if you think you have a good reason. And if I’d taken the time to tell anyone what I was doing, then Mrs Cake wouldn’t have been out for revenge, and Candyrocks wouldn’t be devastated, and Pinprick would have less cleaning up to do, and I’d have nothing to feel really really re-hee-heally bad about.”
“I can work with that,” said Twilight, flourishing her quill against the paper.
“Mrs Cake didn’t give you a punishment?” asked Apple Bloom.
“She’s asking me to work extra shifts and do tons more legwork around Sugarcube corner, but since I enjoy doing that anyway, everybody’s happy! I’m helping Candyrocks clean up her shop too! Let me tell ya – I could do with being in two places at once sometimes!”
Pinkie Pie sprang away, leaving the four fillies sat together on their own.
“I wath thinking about helping Candyrockth out,” said Twist. “You know, like an apprentithe or thomething. We do have the thame thpethial talent.”
Apple Bloom said, “Yeah… we could help too, I guess. And at Sugarcube Corner. They’re all been through a lot.”
Apple Bloom frowned and looked at Scootaloo. Scootaloo frowned and looked at Sweetie Belle. Sweetie Belle just frowned.
“Girls,” said Apple Bloom, “are you thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”
The three blank flanks bounced into the air with a cry:
“CUTIE MARK CRUSADER CONFECTIONARY MAKERS!”