# The Muffins of Madness Chapter 1 Chapter 1 My office is at the end of a reasonably shabby corridor in a reasonably shabby building that might have been new back when Star Swirl the Bearded wore short pants. Did Star Swirl ever wear short pants? Did he ever wear pants at all? I have no idea. Well, never mind about that. I do pretty good business out here, believe it or not. I could afford a better office in a better building. But if a man like me gets too accustomed to living posh, he starts to forget what line of work he's in, and for a man like me that's no good. So I stay right where I am, in my shabby little office in my shabby little building in shabby little downtown Applewood. The story of how I came to be living in a land of magic and colorful talking horses is long and complicated, and it's nowhere near as interesting as it sounds. I'm not the only human around, but I'm the only one around here. Took some getting used to at first, but I get by. At this point I'd probably get jumpy if something tried to talk to me that didn't walk on four legs. A city is a city, and whatever city you're in, people are the same: full of secrets and lies and duplicity and malice. Why should a city full of talking magical ponies be any different? Well, never mind about that. On the day she walked into my office, it was hotter than Celestia's...well, never mind about that either. The sun was high and the sky was cloudless; would have been a beautiful day if I didn't have to spend it on the inside of an oven. I was sitting behind my desk, moving a pen around on the blotter and trying to forget that I was slowly being roasted alive. I looked up when I heard the door rattling. "It's locked," I called out. "Try the other door." I heard hooves tapping on the tile floor outside, and a moment later the buzzer went off in the next room. I got up and went through the inside door that separates my office from the reception area. The mare was a pegasus, grey coat and a mane like a haystack. Cutie mark was a bunch of bubbles; who even knew what that was supposed to mean. Some cruel prank of nature had made her cross-eyed, except her eyes pointed up and down instead of at each other. They were pretty eyes, though. Golden yellow, like a sunset in L.A. smog. She'd never be beautiful, but she was sure cute, and she sure knew how to make it work for her. Maybe that's why I didn't think I smelled any trouble. Beautiful can be trouble, sure, but it's the kind of trouble you can spot from a mile off. Cute's different. Cute can bring a subtle kind of trouble with it, the kind you don't even catch a whiff of until you're already up to your neck. "Dinky!" she called out behind her. A little purple-coated filly trotted in, and after that the mare let the door close. Now I was curious. The kid was definitely hers: that straw-colored mane was a dead ringer. But it was her wings that struck me, or rather, her lack of them. And the horn growing out of her forehead. Pegasus mare with a unicorn daughter, father nowhere to be seen. There was a story here, and I was starting to have my suspicions about how it might go. The filly immediately began running in circles around the room, laughing and ducking around the legs of my waiting-room chairs. Meanwhile, her mother fixed me with that goofy, intoxicating stare of hers and smiled graciously. "Excuse me," she said. "Are you Philip Marlowe?" I gestured towards the pebbled glass door she'd just come through, lettered on the other side with flaked black paint, in that weird half-backwards script the horses use. "That's what it says on the door," I answered. "Unless we're both in the wrong office." "Um...what?" That seemed to confuse her more than it had any right to. I was starting to get the impression that this one wasn't all that bright. Somehow, though, she made that work for her too. She stood there pawing nervously at the ground with her front hoof, hemming and hawing. I noticed she had some sort of basket slung across her back, covered with a cloth napkin. There was an appetizing smell wafting up from it, and I remembered that I hadn't eaten lunch yet. "Sorry," I said. "Guess I didn't miss my calling as a comedian. Yeah, I'm Marlowe." Her expression brightened, and she seemed relieved. I glanced at the kid, who looked like she was playing a game of hide-and-seek with her shadow underneath one of my chairs. I jerked a thumb at the room behind me. "Kid should be fine out here, if you don't mind leaving her. Meanwhile, let's you and I step into my oven, and we can talk about whatever's on your mind." The mare smiled. The sunshine beaming out of those criss-cross googly eyes was so bright I almost couldn't look at it. "Okay." She turned and called out to the rugrat under the chair. "Dinky, you stay here, sweetheart. I'm going to go and talk to the man." Dinky gave an affirmative nod, and went back to chasing her shadow. Her mother returned her attention to me. "Is there anything in here she shouldn't play with?" "She shouldn't play with anything at all in here," I replied. "In fact, tell her there's a bottle of Everfree Mist in the cabinet, and I know exactly how much is in it." The mare giggled, and followed me into the office. I sat down behind my desk. She hopped up onto the chair in front of it with a graceful flap of her wings. Almost in the same motion, she set down the basket she had with her on the desk, and yanked off the napkin with her teeth. "I brought you some muffins," she said. My stomach grumbled at me again, cranky that I'd locked myself in an oven all day without even a suckling pig to keep me company. "Muffins, huh? Well, that's a new one on me. Hope you don't mind?" "No, they're for you! Help yourself." I took one and bit into it, and it was heaven. Forget the Everfree Mist; she could let her kid drink herself silly on it so long as she kept these little things coming. The mare beamed at me. "Are they good?" I swallowed. "They're delicious. But I'm guessing you didn't come all this way just to bring me a basket of muffins, Miss..." "Hooves. Derpy Hooves." "Derpy Hooves." Some dim part of me wondered how rotten someone had to be in a past life to get stuck with an appelation like that, but I didn't pay it any mind. I'd lived in Equestria long enough that the wacky names these horses gave their offspring didn't even faze me anymore. "So, Miss Hooves," I went on. "Forgive me for saying so, but you don't look like you're from around here. Where do you hail from?" "I'm from Ponyville." "Ponyville, huh? That's a bit of a journey. What brings you to Applewood?" "Um, well...I'm trying to find somepony." "Somepony named Philip Marlowe?" "Well, yes..." "Great. You've found him; case closed. That was the easiest basket of muffins I ever earned." "No! Um, I mean, well, I'm trying to find somepony else, too. I need you to help me look for him." "Oh, I see. I knew there had to be a catch somewhere." I swallowed the last bite of my muffin. "And by any chance, does this somepony you're looking for have anything to do with your little ball of sunshine out there?" Derpy blushed. "Well, yes," she said. Then she added softly: "It's her father." I nodded. You could try and color me surprised, but you'd have your work cut out for you. I lit a cigarette. "And this mystery stallion, does he live in Applewood too?" She shook her head. "No, he lives in Canterlot." "I see. That's also a bit of a journey." I exhaled. A puff of smoke went up in the air, spun around the ceiling fan a few times, and then drifted out the open window. "So why come all the way from Ponyville to Applewood, just to hire a detective to find a guy in Canterlot? Don't they have any dicks out there?" Derpy blushed again, much deeper this time, and her eyes went wide. She began to stammer. "Um, well, they do, but what kind of question..." Her reaction threw me, but then I caught myself. Lingo, Marlowe; lingo. It's different everywhere you go. I rephrased my question. "What I mean is, wouldn't it make more sense to just go straight to Canterlot and hire a P.I. who lives there? Seems like you're spending an awful lot on train fare." "Oh, I see." she giggled again. "Well, the train fare isn't really a problem." She lifted her wings. "Ah, I see. That makes sense enough." "I had to make a delivery out here," she explained. "My friend in Ponyville told me that Philip Marlowe in Applewood is the best detective in Equestria. So I decided to look you up while I was in town." I nodded slowly. "You're a mail pegasus?" She went red again. "What? No! I'm a girl..." I cupped my forehead in my free hand and rubbed my temples with my thumb and forefinger. It was way too hot out to be stuck in here doing this Abbot and Costello bit. "I mean, you're a delivery mare? You work for Pegasus Mail?" "Oh!" she immediately started laughing. "Yes, yes I am..." I wanted to be annoyed with her, but somehow I just couldn't manage it. I wasn't sure if this ditzy-doo routine was an act or not, but either way she was damn lucky to be as cute as she was. I couldn't help it, though; I started laughing, too. I put out the last of my cigarette and reached for a second muffin. "So," I began again. "You're a delivery mare, and you're in Applewood to make a delivery." "That's right." "And you just decided to pop into my office while you were here." "Yes." "What happened to your uniform?" "I took it off." "Ah. Well, I guess that's another mystery we can close the book on. What about the kid? You always bring your daughter with you on deliveries?" That one caught her off guard. I'd suspected that it would. "Oh, um, well..." I chewed another bit of muffin and let her stammer for a bit. She wasn't being straight with me, I could tell that much, but then again that was nothing new. They're almost never straight with me. I could never understand why, since it just means more work for me and a bigger bill for them. Maybe they just want to make sure I'm earning my daily bread. Or my daily muffin, in this case. At any rate, I decided to let it slide for now. "Forget it," I said. "It's probably none of my business. So what about this mystery stallion in Canterlot? Does he have a name?" "His name is..." she hesitated. I raised an eyebrow. "Whoever it was told you I'm the best detective in Equestria wasn't lying," I said, "But I'm not so good that I can find someone without at least knowing their name. You have to give me something, doll." She looked away. Or at least I think she was looking away; it was hard to tell with those eyes. "His name is.........Prince Blueblood." "A prince, huh? Or is that just what he told you?" Her eyes were glued to the floor now. She sunk a little deeper into the chair. "He's...a real prince. At least, I'm pretty sure he is." I gave a low whistle. "So little Dinky out there is royalty, eh?" Derpy continued to stare at the floor, and she didn't answer. The subject clearly embarrassed her, so I didn't push it any further. I cleared my throat. "Guys whose names begin with 'Prince' usually aren't all that difficult to locate," I said, "They just tend to be difficult to get a hold of. And they're even more difficult to get a hold of when they owe you money over something delicate. So I'm guessing you don't want me to track this guy down for you so much as shake him down." Derpy didn't answer. I lit another cigarette, inhaled, and exhaled. "So this Prince Blueblood shows you a good time one night, runs off, and never calls again. Left you on your own with a little muffin in the oven. He's royalty, and I'm assuming he's got plenty of dough. So you think he should provide something for his daughter, even if it's not a home. You try to call him up, and his lackeys give you the runaround. So one day when you're on a delivery, you decide to pay me a visit, because you think I might have better luck. Story sound good so far?" Derpy sniffed, and then nodded. She looked like she was going to cry, and she still wasn't looking at me. I tried to soften my tone a little. "Look, Miss Hooves," I began, "I'm on your side here. I think your instincts are right on the money. This guy's a cad, and he should pay, assuming he did what you say he did. I'm a cad myself, and it takes one to know one." She looked at me hopefully. "...but, this job isn't for me." The twinkle of hope in her eye was gone, and she sank back down into her chair. It almost killed me to see that look on her face. Damn it, Marlowe! Get a hold of yourself. "I don't do out-of-town jobs," I continued, in as gentle a voice as a cad like me can muster. "I'm strictly local. And even if I wasn't, I don't take these kinds of jobs anyway. Divorce, paternity, nothing like that. It's usually messy, and it's just not in my line." "I see," said Derpy softly, looking sadly at the floor again. "I'm sorry I wasted your time." That killed me too, but I held strong. "Don't be," I said. "I'm sorry I accepted muffins under false pretenses. I feel bad about it. Tell you what, since this place is an oven anyway, it probably wouldn't be too hard to bake some more in here. Come on, let's go buy the ingredients, my treat." I was hoping to at least make her laugh a little, but instead she took my quip at face value. She burst into tears and started wailing: "No! The muffins are for you! I want you to have them..." Damn it, Marlowe. You really are a cad. What could I do in that situation? What could any fellow do? Tougher guys than me would have probably folded. "All right, all right. Can the waterworks, already. This isn't something I would normally do, but I'm going to take your job anyway." The showers came to a sudden suspicious halt and the clouds blew away, and suddenly Miss Hooves was all sunshine again. This mare was a lot craftier than she looked, and suddenly I realized that she had played me like a sentimental tune on a sad old ukelele. But it was too late. The jaws of the trap were already closed. You're caught, Marlowe, time to admit defeat. "My fee is a hundred bits per day," I said. "That's double what I normally charge, because I have to leave town and I won't be able to take any other jobs until yours is finished. That fee is on top of any travel and expenses I might incur, it doesn't include them. Since this boyfriend of yours we're going after is loaded I'm assuming that won't be any trouble." Derpy shook her head happily. "No trouble at all!" "Fine. I also get a hundred-bit retainer, due immediately and before any work begins. You can subtract the muffins from that if you like. Do we have a deal?" We had a deal. Derpy extended her hoof, I shook it, and I wrote her up a receipt. Five minutes later she and her filly were gone. Meanwhile, I sat alone at my desk, staring at a warm basket of muffins and wondering what it was that I'd just gotten myself mixed up in. The job itself didn't seem so bad. I figured this Blueblood guy would rather pay up than risk the embarrassment of having his affair made public, so in theory it should be an easy payday. I might even want to draw things out a little, I thought, so long as the Prince is picking up the tab. Could even think of it as a nice little vacation; a chance to get out of the office for a few days. What was the weather in Canterlot supposed to be like this weekend? I checked the paper; about twenty degrees cooler than here. Certainly nothing to gripe about. But like I said, these types of jobs could get messy, which is why I usally don't take them. And somewhere in the back of my mind an alarm bell was going off, a bell that I'd been ignoring ever since that sly pegasus first turned her sunshine beams on me. And I had a feeling that I was going to keep on ignoring that alarm right up until it would be too late to do anything about it. About an hour later, I got a special delivery by Pegasus Mail: an envelope containing a note for eighty-eight bits. Different delivery mare, but there was no question about who it came from. So that was that. A quick stop at the bank, a quick stop home to pack a suitcase, and then off to the train station. Off to rescue another cross-eyed damsel in distress. Damn it, Marlowe. You never learn, do you?