When the Curtain Falls

by JohnPerry

Chapter 2: In Bronclyn We Go Hard

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Octavia rubbed her eyes with her forehooves as she sat on the bench of a subway car, blinking as her eyes readjusted to the harsh light. It wasn’t enough that they had stayed up late walking around Midtown the night before; Octavia hadn’t been able to get much sleep after heading to bed, given all the noise outside her window. The cellist groaned, wondering how the locals put up with it, although the advertisements for sleep medication currently above her head and the abundance of coffee shops on the surface gave her some clues.

However, it wasn’t just the lack of sleep that was weighing Octavia down. So far they had spoken to two different themerse ponies working in Little Tartarus who were mentioned in New Wave’s journal. Both had heard about New Wave’s death, but didn’t seem to know anything more beyond that. The knowledge that she had been poisoned hadn’t been passed on to the press, so neither of the ponies they spoke to seemed to catch on that they were being interviewed as potential suspects. They both spoke rather indifferently about New Wave: “Shame to hear about that, really.” “I haven’t talked to her in years.” “What can I say? I barely knew the mare.” They were more interested in getting back to their production than talking about a mare from their past. As Octavia looked down the long list of ponies New Wave had maintained a grudge towards, she was beginning to see the futility of the task.

Watt Sun and Sharp Eye had split off to interview more ponies in the theaters of Little Tartarus, while Vinyl and Octavia decided to find a pony named Curtain Call, a former assistant of New Wave who had an entire chapter devoted to her “betrayal” in the journal. New Wave wrote frequently of the alleged sins of those she met, but her relationship with Curtain Call must have been very close to earn such wrath. If anypony seemed a potential suspect, it was her, but finding her required a long trip to the adjacent city of Bronclyn, across the Beast River from Manehattan.

“I’m telling you, that’s her!” Octavia’s ears perked up when she overheard the whisper of somepony else in the subway car. She glanced up to see a trio of teenaged fillies sitting at the other end of the car, staring in her direction. Her skill with classical instruments had given her a practiced ear for picking out the subtlest of sounds, which made it easy for her to pick up individual noises. However, that ability had been dulled by the loud rattling and screeching of the subway trains. She wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or horrified that her hearing was becoming accustomed to the cacophony under the streets of Manehattan.

“No way, girl,” another of the teenagers muttered, though she sounded unsure. Now that Octavia looked, she noticed that the teenagers had spiked manes and tails dyed in garish colors, neon-colored bracelets around their fetlocks, and bizarre clothing adorned with phrases like “REBEL BASS” or “Broncz Bomberz.” Octavia looked curiously from them to Vinyl, who was sitting on her other side. The DJ was quietly relaxing with her head resting against the window and her goggles covering her eyes, but Octavia could have sworn she saw the ghost of a smile on her face.

Octavia stared at the names of the stations they stopped at, counting down on their way downtown. 42nd Street. 34th Street. 23rd. 14th. 4th. Hoofston. Canal. Chambers. At last, they got off and made their way up to the surface, emerging in the middle of downtown Manehattan. Downtown was bustling, but lacked that certain frantic, almost maniacal energy that characterized Midtown. Cold, sterile-looking office buildings of glass and steel stood next to stately old brick and stone structures. Office workers dressed in suits and ties crowded the narrow streets, walking swiftly down the sidewalk, grabbing a bite to eat at one of the food carts lining the street, or stepping into taxi carriages.

Octavia and Vinyl walked past the majestic city hall building, joining a large crowd of equines moving east. They were slowly funneled onto a narrow walkway in the middle of a busy roadway that climbed above the streets of downtown towards the Beast River. Directly ahead of them was a massive, towering structure made of huge slabs of grey stone, standing like a mountain of granite in the midst of the river: the Bronclyn Bridge. A mesh of steel cables fanned out from the tower, holding the bridge above the streets and waters below. As they continued east, the buildings and streets below fell away to reveal docks lining the shore of the river, bustling with ships.

The walkway was crowded with tourists snapping pictures of the bridge, the view over the river and the many ships below, the skyline of Manehattan, or the distant sight of the Statue of Harmony far out in the harbor. Behind them were the imposing skyscrapers of downtown Manehattan, jutting out of the harbor like jagged cliffs, while ahead were the humbler brick structures of Bronclyn, rising up like a gentle hill over the river. Removed from the shelter of downtown’s buildings, they were exposed to the chilly salt air sweeping in from the sea. The air was filled with the excited chatter of equines mingled with the squawks of seagulls overhead, barely audible over the clatter of carriages and trolley cars rolling across the bridge.

“I must admit, I’ve never been to Bronclyn,” Octavia said. “Is it very different from Manehattan?”

“It’s... different, yeah,” Vinyl replied. “It’s, uh, more—”

Hey!” The two agents turned to see a stallion in the roadway pulling a taxi towards Bronclyn, yelling at a pair of mares in front of him. Both mares were pulling a large wooden cart laden down with garbage. They were moving slowly across the bridge side-by-side, effectively blocking the taxi driver from moving any faster. The taxi driver was having none of it. “Outta my way, ya bums!”

“Who ya callin’ a bum?!” one of the mares screamed back.

“Yeah, put a sock in it, ya joik!” the other mare shouted.

“Same to youz! Same to youz!” the taxi driver hollered. Octavia was aghast at this crass display and turned to face Vinyl, who merely shrugged in response.

“Welcome to Bronclyn.”

Beyond the colorful language, Bronclyn was different from Manehattan in many other ways, some obvious and some subtle. Where Manehattan was defined by towering skyscrapers that spoke to equine ingenuity and a mad pursuit of the sky, Bronclyn was made up of humbler buildings built for practicality rather than prestige. Brick rowhouses and apartment buildings stood beside warehouses facing cobblestone streets. Ponies crowded the streets, dodging the trolley cars that rattled past. It was busy, but lacked the manic pace that defined Manehattan.

And it wasn’t just the physical attributes that made Bronclyn different. There was a grittier feel to this city, not unlike that of Little Tartarus. But at the same time there was a more diverse crowd here: factory and office workers, couples, families with children, and tourists shared the streets with unkempt-looking equines wearing hoodies, scarves, plaid shirts, goatees, or thick-rimmed glasses. Dive bars and graffiti sat next to bookstores, fancy tea and coffee shops, and fashion stores with names like “Urban Outfarriers” or “Apple Crumble & Hitch.” Even though it was right across the river from Equestria’s largest city, everything about Bronclyn seemed to want to scream how un-Manehattan it was.

The address they had for Curtain Call lead them to a gritty section of Bronclyn sitting in the shadow of the huge Bronclyn and Manehattan Bridges. Massive stone piers supporting the bridges towered over dilapidated brick warehouses and industrial buildings-turned-housing advertising their proximity to downtown and excellent views of the river and the Manehattan skyline. Octavia couldn’t imagine anypony wanting to living here; between the grimy buildings, the noise of the trolleys and ponies on the streets, and the ever-present roar of traffic on the bridges overhead, it seemed like a thoroughly unpleasant environment to live in.

Their address led them to an old brick apartment building several stories tall. Metal fire escapes hung off the dirty facade, which was tagged with graffiti. A pile of trash bags sat on the gum-stained sidewalk in front, awaiting pickup, while a group of teenaged equines sat on the curb, sharing a sugarette. Its pungent aroma wafted over the two mares as they approached an elderly stallion standing outside the front door of the apartment building, sweeping the stoop.

“Excuse me, sir, are you the caretaker of this building?” Octavia inquired. The stallion looked up.

“I’m da landlord, if dat’s what ya mean,” he replied in a heavy Bronclyn accent, raising an eyebrow at the cellist. Vinyl smirked.

“Is this where Curtain Call lives?” the DJ asked.

The stallion looked back with a confused expression. “Coitain Call?” Suddenly, his face lit up. “Oh yeah! Young gal, unicoin, blue coat, dat who ya thinking of?”

“Maybe?” Vinyl replied uncertainly.

“We’re not sure, actually,” Octavia explained. “But we need to ask her a few questions, if that would be alright.”

“Oh shore, shore...” the landlord said, leading them inside the building. The interior was dirty, with peeling wallpaper, stains running down the walls, and floorboards that creaked loudly when stepped on. A musty smell filled the air and a ceiling fan clinked loudly overhead. The landlord led the two mares up a narrow stairwell that spiraled upward to the top floor, where they emerged in a hallway lined with doors, each one the entrance into a different apartment. He trotted up to one marked “410” and rapped a hoof against the door.

“Coitain Call?” he called out. “Ya got some visitors!”

There was no response, just silence for a few moments. “Huh,” the landlord murmured, looking thoughtfully at the door. “Ya know, now dat I think of it, I haven’t seen dat mare in days.”

Vinyl and Octavia shared an uneasy look before the cellist knocked on the door herself. “Ms. Curtain Call, are you there? My name is Octavia and I’m from the Pinkieton Detective Agency. I wanted to ask you about a pony named New Wave.”

There was a clatter from inside the apartment, like something falling to the ground. Octavia pressed her ear to the door before they suddenly heard a bloodcurdling scream that shook all of them to their core. A splatter of liquid and more clattering was heard as the stallion yelped and reached for his keys. Octavia promptly shoved him out of the way and spun around, planting her forelegs on the floor and bucking the door in with a loud crash. She and Vinyl dashed inside only to freeze at what they saw within.

A young mare was lying motionless on the wooden floor. She had a deep blue coat and a long, flowing turquoise mane and tail, stained red with blood. A long knife protruded from the back of her neck and blood seeped out from the wound, pooling around the mare’s body. The color had drained from her face and though her mouth hung open, she wasn’t breathing. The mare was clearly dead.

There!” Vinyl yelled, pointing at a doorway across the room. The trail of a cloak vanishing into the next room caught Octavia’s eye and she raced after it, emerging into the bedroom of the apartment to see a pony cloaked in black galloping for the window, whipping a set of curtains out of the way. The murderous pony glanced back at Octavia to reveal a dark mask concealing its face before the pony leapt out the window, disappearing through the curtains.

Octavia dashed to the window, throwing aside the curtains to see a fire escape outside the window. She leapt out over the windowsill and onto the iron grating of the fire escape, glancing up to see the trail of the pony’s cloak vanishing over the edge of the roof. The agent reared up on her hind legs and jumped, grasping the bottom rung of the ladder above with her forelegs before climbing onto the ladder and scrambling up to the top. She grabbed the edge of the roof, pulling herself over the ledge to see...

Nothing. There was no sign of the murderous pony anywhere, only a bare roof with a few utility boxes and antennas. Octavia clambered onto the roof and galloped over to the other side, expecting to see the cloaked figure making its way down the other side, but nopony was there. She couldn’t find any trace of the murderer anywhere, be it on the roof, the surrounding streets, or up in the air. Octavia frantically looked around, but it was becoming painfully obvious that the murderous pony had gotten away.

“It was moider, I tells ya! Moider!” the landlord cried out hysterically.

“Yes, you’ve made that perfectly clear, sir,” a police officer replied in a flat tone.

The Bronclyn Police Department had been quick to respond to the landlord’s call. Within minutes, a contingent had secured the building and swarmed the apartment, carefully examining the body of the dead mare before draping a sheet over her and investigating the crime scene. Vinyl, Octavia, and the landlord were pulled aside for questioning.

“Did you know the victim well, sir?” the officer asked the landlord.

“She was a nice enough gal,” he answered. “Didn’t see her dat much, I don’t think she left da building very often.”

“She didn’t have a job?”

“I think she mentioned inheriting some money from her parents. I dunno, I don’t go sticking my nose into other ponies’ business.”

“Alright, you can leave if you like,” the officer said before turning to Vinyl and Octavia. “You two stay here. We still have some questions for you.” He led the landlord out while the DJ let out an exasperated sigh.

“Well, this is just great,” Vinyl muttered. “Found at the site of a murder. Do you know what this means?”

“It means you were right, Vinyl,” Octavia replied. “Your suspicions about New Wave’s death were correct. We’re obviously dealing with something much larger than we had thought.”

“Oh, yeah, that. I was thinking more that the cops are gonna be all over us for this.”

“Well, you got that right,” a raspy voice muttered. The two mares looked up to see a stallion wearing a police badge approaching them. Unlike the other police officers in the room, he wasn’t wearing a hat. The stallion had a weary look about him, hunched over with dark circles under his eyes. His coat was dull and looked like it had seen better days, a sharp contrast to the gleaming copper badge on his chest. “Name’s Gum Shoe, detective for the BPD. Are you two the ponies who found the victim?”

Octavia nodded. “We’re with the Pinkieton Detective Agency. We came here to—”

“Pinkietons?!” Gum Shoe exclaimed. “Oh Celestia, you aren’t going to tell me this is tied to some prince or the mayor or something big like that, are you?”

Octavia turned to Vinyl, giving the DJ a small grin. “Our reputation precedes us.”

“‘Scuse me, Gum Shoe,” a police officer said, approaching the detective. “There’s a couple of ponies downstairs who say that they’re with the Pinkietons.”

“That’s our friends!” Vinyl spoke up. “Watt Sun and Sharp Eye, right?”

“That’s right,” the officer confirmed.

“Alright,” the detective said, “you can escort them up.” The officer nodded and left the apartment. “Now then, what were you two doing here?”

Vinyl was the one to answer. “We came here to look into the death of this stage pony I knew. Curtain Call here was an old friend of our victim.”

“And you found her just as she was murdered?” the detective replied, raising an eyebrow at the DJ. “Forgive me if that sounds like an awfully big coincidence.”

“Believe it,” Vinyl said. “The landlord will vouch for us.”

“Excuse me, detective.” Another officer approached Gum Shoe. “We’ve got a couple reporters outside. What should we tell them?”

“Nothing,” Gum Shoe quickly answered. “Until we know exactly what we’re dealing with here, I don’t want anything getting out to the press, especially if we’re dealing with some sort of revenge killing. The last thing we need is some lunatic getting recognition in the papers.”

“So what do I tell the reporters?”

“For now, just that we found a mare dead in her apartment. And that we’re still trying to determine the cause of death. Keep it vague.”

Gum Shoe began leading the officer out the apartment door, but just as they were about to step through they had to dodge out of the way as Sharp Eye and Watt Sun bolted inside, looking around frantically before spotting Vinyl and Octavia.

“There you are! What the hay happened?!” Sharp Eye exclaimed, panting heavily.

“We got here as fast as we could,” Watt Sun added. “Are you two alright?”

“We’re fine, but our victim here wasn’t so lucky,” Octavia responded, gesturing to the covered body of Curtain Call. “Somepony apparently got to her before we could.”

Watt Sun and Sharp Eye cautiously approached the body, gently lifting the sheet to peek underneath before laying it back on. The two Pinkietons glanced at each other before turning back to Vinyl and Octavia.

“So... what does this mean?” Sharp Eye murmured in a hushed tone.

“It means that Curtain Call knew something about New Wave’s killer,” Octavia said. “Something our killer wanted to make sure she couldn’t tell anypony.”

“But if that’s true,” Watt Sun began, “then what could Curtain Call have possibly known that was so dangerous?”

“Well, we’d better find out,” Vinyl said darkly. “Because for all we know, there might be more themerse ponies in danger.”

“But to what possible end?” Octavia inquired, placing a hoof on her chin and staring at the sheet covering Curtain Call.

“Okay, bag that body,” Gum Shoe ordered as he reentered the room. “Send it to the morgue, I think we’ve got all the evidence we’re gonna get off her. And you four,” he added, pointing at the Pinkietons, “you’re coming down to the station with us and explaining to me exactly what’s going on here.”

“Oh, joy,” Vinyl muttered under her breath.

Next Chapter: Play With Fire Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 57 Minutes
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