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Carmine Gumshoe
by on October 18, 2020
The blood red sky loomed over the graveyard, the last quarter of the sun shining over the tombstone of Wolfe Sheepskin. Flowers and aluminum balloons scattered around the freshly dug mound of dirt. Standing solely at the foot of the grave was a mare, smiling sadly as the autumn wind swept her flowing cherry colored mane. Just three days ago, this was a simple patch of land, unfilled and unmoved, until Wolfe's untimely demise. A large tree branch fell on him during his bi-weekly walk through the park. Struck right on the head... a shame. The whole community was saddened by the loss, save for one soul...
Carmine saw her, standing atop the hill where Wolfe's final rest lay. What was supposed to be a relaxing trip visiting his younger sister, Skarlet, has turned into another omen. Every damn time... it didn't matter how quietly he made his visits, there always seemed to be some incident with him throwing himself in the center. As always, his intuition lead him to get to the bottom of this. Like the six foot hole in the dirt, it was only a false bottom, with the true hidden beneath an endless pile of dirt, clay and stone. "Evenin', Mrs. Boudica. How you feelin'?" She didn't stir or stutter when Carine announced himself. Her eyes remained focused on the grave. "Hello, Mr. Gumshoe. Come to pay my husband respects?"
Something like that. Her tone, her inability to meet his glance, it all summed up to one little feeling that he knew all too well: Guilt.
"Actually, I came to find you. There's something I wanted to talk to you about."
"And what may that be?" asked the mare. He didn't say at first... he was still finding the right spot beside her, his eyes at the grave. He saw them, the flowers, the baloons and ribbons, but he couldn't help but wonder. "It's beautiful. Tell me, which ones did you buy?" "The gladiolus. Right in the center," she said, pointing to a small cluster of wilting gladiolus right below the date of death. Carmine shook his head. "No, m'am. I asked which ones you bought, not the ones you brought from your kitchen-- and don't try to deny it. You probably didn't notice, but the leaf on that one right there's been folded in a way that most o' these flowers wouldn't, 'less they were hastily put in a vase. Same as the one I saw in your kitchen yesterday. Still the exact same number of petals missing from the flower up on the right, too.”
"Tell me what you want, Mr. Gumshoe. Can you not leave a freshly made widow alone? I was hoping to spend these moments with my husband quietly," the pegasus replied with a five-hundred degree glare in his direction. Carmine didn't budge, he still turned up that warm and pleasant smile. “I'll be out of your hair soon. Promise. Just answer me this... what kind of man was he?"
"What kind of question is that?"
"Just a question."
Boudica inhaled and looked to the sky. Nervously, she scratched her hoof... yet carefully, like there were certain spots she was trying to avoid on her brittle legs. "He... was a man. Kind-- anyone could tell you how kind he was. And his laugh... um. He was strong...” her mind drew a blank. A sigh signaled her withdrawal, followed by a shake of the head. “I'm sorry-- do I have to do this? I'd really just like to be left alone."
"See, I lost someone close to me. My fiance. He was as sweet as any saint could hope to be, with the patience of the a kindly teacher. Handsome, too. When I met him, I tried to pick a fight with him... some kinda school-yard way of getting him to notice me. I joke that the punch I threw was meant to ugly him down a little so he could talk to me without bein' embarrassed. 'Course, he fluttered his wing and flipped me right on the floor before it could connect."
"He sounded like a good man,” Boudica smiled.
"He was,” Carmine whimsically answered. A sliver of a smile grew on his lips at Valor’s memory. Standing in front of a decorated grave, the freshly disturbed dirt at his hooves, it all brought him back to that awful time. Focus, Carmine. Focus. He cleared his throat, shifted his eyes to the widow and said, “Your husband, though? I have my doubts."
She stuttered in her words and stomped a bruised hoof once. An immediate regret, from the seething on her face. "Why on earth would you have your doubts about him? Everyone says how-- how good of a man he was!"
"I know, everyone's sayin' it. Everyone, 'cept you. You don't smile when thinkin' about his memory... everything you've said about him, you're just parroting off of what someone else said. When Valor died, it genuinely almost killed me— yet you? You’re actin’ like there’s a distant relative in that dirt instead of your own husband... That ain’t how a doting wife usually behaves,” the detective quietly pondered aloud, his face now turned to study the widow for signs of distress.
“We all process grief differently, sir. Just who is the ‘doting wife’?” she snapped back.
Anger. The usual reaction to a backhanded accusation, though Carmine believed it might come from something else. Fear. Fear of being found out. "It was meant to be you. From what my own sis told me, you were the perfect housewife. Food was always cooked when he got home. House was spotless."
"Of course... it's the duty of a wife to keep the home while he works hard."
"Uh huh. 'Duty',” Carmine hummed... then stayed silent while he thought. After reflecting a moment, he let out a quiet half-laugh that bordered on a chuckle, “That's kind of a funny word, right? And not 'cause it sounds similar to a word pre-schoolers giggle at, but it's... like an obligation, right? Something you're meant to do, no matter what. But what if your heart says somethin' different? Do you follow your heart or do what you’re simply ‘meant’ to do?”
"I'm... afraid I don't understand what you mean,” each word in her sentence went down in volume as she dragged on, as did her dedication to maintaining eye contact with the detective.
"I'm just saying, Mrs. Boudica, that duty isn't always for the benefit of everyone. I saw your trophies. You were a good soccer player. What happened?"
Silence. The mare fully turned away while the large feathers in her wings curled and fluttered nervously. "Nothing. Nothing happened."
The detective clicked his tongue... the mare was full of tells, alarming for someone with so many secrets. He hypothesized that maybe she was intentionally poor at keeping things under wraps... perhaps as a cry for help. "Mmhmm. Well, you still keep the uniform. It must mean something to you. It's still pristine... like it hadn't been worn in years, all wrapped up in a nice plastic sleeve to protect it from moths and rot. My sister was on your team, she said you were good. Damn good. Coulda sent your team to nationals if you wanted. But then you slipped on the bridal dress and hung up the soccer slacks forever. Just like that... why?"
"I had a family to take care of,” spoke Boudica. “I had a home to make."
"A home to make?” echoed Carmine while he rubbed his chin. “Huh, I don't believe that's somethin' you came up with on your own, Mrs. Boudica. Your dream and skill, all thrown away just after you met Mr. Sheepskin. I can hardly call that a coincidence, ma'am."
"What are you implying?” the pegasus asked through a wavering quiver.
If this were a fishing analogy, the line would be taught as the fish would have well taken the bait. Time to snap that metaphorical hook and reel her in. Flatly, he asked, "What did he do when you thought about soccer, Mrs. Boudica?”
Her wings flapped once while her stance leaned away from him. These feigned, over-exaggerated movements were a surefire tell for compensating real emotion. Still, she continued with her charade, sputtering as she regained her stance. "Mr. Gumshoe-- you'd be more favorable if you were physically spitting on my husband's grave then besmirching his memory. He would never!"
No, she was wrong. Worst of all, she was lying. Carmine could paint the picture with the makeup he found in her dresser, hidden away in the bathroom cabinets for emergencies, as Carmine guessed. "Your makeup's all the same tone as your fur, yet I hardly see you wear any. Even for the funeral, you had to borrow some of Skarlet’s. You ain't unfit, but the way you carry your body is like four toothpicks trying to hold up a slab of meat. All your clothes are long-sleeved, puffy, covers a lot of area. If I knew any better, I might say you'd be hiding something.”
"...So? A lady doesn't need to-- to show herself off, especially when she's married. I was just being a good wife..."
"Was he a good husband?"
Boudica did not speak.
"...You know, I may be on the wrong track, here, but I got a good look at the branch that fell on your husband. Got a funny dent on it. Must've been a powerful kick that sent it tumbling down on him... Must’ve also hurt real bad when you brought it down on him.”
Again. Silence.
"I know what you're thinkin: Why on earth would you assume the branch was kicked? well, I'll tell you. It had to be something sudden, so as not to alert him while he passed under. A saw would’ve taken too long and made too much noise. A soccer player, though? If you weakened the branch ahead of time and delivered a heavy enough kick, you bet it would’ve fallen. Made it look like it snapped, too. You wore that woolen, black hoodie when you went out-- I know that, 'cause that's what you were reported to have been wearin' when the police came and informed you of your husband's passing. It wasn't a major hint at first, but then I saw where y'all lived: a barren, flat part of land without any trees, save for a crete myrtle that had a completely different leaf than what I found stuck to the armpit of your hoodie. That places you at the scene.”
"A leaf? You're basing your assumptions on a leaf?"
"Not just a leaf. The leaf, plus what I know about you. You're a disgruntled, possibly abused housewife who was forced into a lifestyle you wanted nothing to do with. He hurt you... he broke you down. I don’t know if something major happened, or if you simply couldn’t take it anymore, but that night you followed quietly behind on his walk. You grew up here, so you know where his path would intersect with the trees... and you delivered a mighty kick to an already rickety branch, sending it straight to Mr. Skeepskin. Under the cover of night, you were able to fly home without incident, just in time to take out the pie you set in the oven before you left to establish an alibi."
Boudica stayed silent for a good, long while. Her eyes danced along the words of the grave, though she did not read them. The man who hurt her so long ago lay in the dirt, only six feet of soil separated them, but she knew he could not rise from the grave and exact revenge. She knew that... she did everything right, she thought.
"...Fine,” the pegasus replied. The tears started to trickle down while she carried the weight of what she had done. “So I did it, then. I killed him. When we met, he was willing to compromise-- to cook and clean when I wasn't at practice, but after we married he wanted full control. No games, no practice, I wasn’t even allowed to see my teammates outside of games. Didn’t want me— I guess he didn’t want me to be tempted to follow them back to the field. Any time I tried to change it up, or even hint about longing to put the uniform back on, he'd... he'd... I-- I can't say."
Carmine bowed his head, a silent acknowledgement of her tribulations. "...I understand. He made you give up your dreams. The punishment was... severe, wasn't it?"
"It was.” the widow said through the forming bile in her throat. “So... what now? Are you going to turn me in, or do you expect me to do that myself?"
Just as Carmine was about to answer, he hears a call from behind. His sister, Skarlet, waved and yoohoo’d from the window of a taxi carriage. “Carmine! You’re gonna be late for your train, come on!” He waved back, and shouted, “Be there in a sec!”
Then, he turned back to Boudica. She still refused to meet his gaze, but he could see the poor widow was trying her damndest to keep it together. Like a Minotaur in a pony’s jacket, she was bursting at the seams, but still held back. "...No. No, I think I’m going to leave that up to you, ma’am. This time, this... decision is too heavy for me to bare. If you’d left, he’d just have found you. If he were alive... well, I don’t know what you would’ve done.” He signed and sniffed the crisp air. “I dunno. Regardless of what you decide, I’d suggest you take your time and visit the soccer field again. Give yourself a little taste of what life was like. Until then, you know my sister. Call her if you need me.”
The mare said nothing, her whole body turned away to avoid him. If she didn’t see him, then he simply wasn’t there. If he wasn’t there, she could still trick herself into being a mourning wife. Tears fell, a mingle of despair and joy. The half-sad mare remained, while Carmine stepped into the taxi.
His sister scooted aside, keeping her bright red purse tightly clutches to her chest. With a curious tilt of the head, she watched as her older brother settled down. “You were up there a while... what did you talk about?”
Carmine leaned back as far as the seat would allow and let out a loud, whining yawn while he mulled over the means to answer. After smacking his lips he finally decided.
“Oh, just expressing my condolences. It’s not every day you meet someone who shares the same experiences, so... I figured I’d lend an ear.”
“That’s sweet of you, Carm. I’ll be sure to talk to her, too. The whole town’s gonna take care of her, so you shouldn’t need to worry.”
As his sister spoke, he glanced out the window. Boudica was gone, leaving a single feather to fall from the sky and land far, far away from Wolfe’s grave and drifted toward the soccer field across the street.
Carmine couldn’t help but smile.
Carmine Gumshoe
hi, just a long-ass snippet. :eyes: also, tried to dance around the “subject” in the story so as to comply with site rules. i was told that the rule is referring to detailed scenes of abuse not just mentions, so hOPEFULLY i did it right. if that’s wrong and this it still no bueno, just lmk and i’l...View More
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