Bitter 183

Britta pointed at Stan looking through the window and then pointed at the seat next to her. It was an invitation to join them. He stood up straighter, his mouth shrinking from suspicious scowl to calculating pout. He sidled along the window, towards the door.

“Who is he?” said Freddy, closely watching as Stan entered.

“This is Stan,” she said as he approached. “Stan, meet Freddy Garbolum.”

“Charmed, I’m sure,” said Stan. He sat down next to Britta. “I thought you were levelling up, but here you are having a cosy little chat with—” Stan stopped and did a double-take. “Wait, he’s not a player.”

“I do alright,” said Freddy, a little offended. “I’ve got some deals on the go.”

Britta smiled. That wasn’t the kind of player Stan had meant. “No. He’s a friend of mine.”

“Oh,” said Stan. “Oh! He’s one of them.”

Now Freddy was even more offended. “What does that mean? You looking for a bloody nose, are you?”

“What? No, no, sorry. It’s just that B. here has a habit of meeting interesting people who can help us.” He was being deliberately vague to hide what he meant, but it was obvious to Britta that Stan had figured out what kind of an NPC Freddy was. The kind no one but her got to meet. Her and her close associates.

Freddy’s belligerent attitude softened to a more uncertain, gloomy look. “You’re together then, the two of you?”

“No,” they both exclaimed together loudly.

“Nothing like that,” said Stan. “We’re more like business partners.”

“Business partners?” said Freddy. “What kind of business?”

“The kind that makes money. By whatever means necessary, if you get my drift.” Stan was getting all matey now, trying to ingratiate himself with the tough guy by acting tough himself. He wasn’t doing too bad a job of it.

“Freddy’s a member of the Garbolum family. Heard of them?”

Stan scrunched up his face. “Sounds familiar. Wait, isn’t that the crime family that runs this…” He looked at Freddy and then turned his head towards Britta. “What are you two up to?”

“You have heard of them, then?” said Britta. “Done any jobs for them?”

“You mean… yes, some quests—I mean jobs, yes. First time I came here with my other, erm, older cousin, I did a few minor tasks to help me get some experience. It was just delivering packages and avoiding the town guards. Not very interesting. It didn’t really lead to anything, I don’t think the… people behind it had worked out an ending, I mean the work sort of petered out.”

He was referring to a questline that involved the Garbolum family, a normal one designed by the game developers. From what Stan was saying, it sounded like the devs hadn’t got around to completing the storyline, which wasn’t the first time Britta had encountered that. Even if the game was still in beta, they should have finished what they started. In a starter town, the quests wouldn’t be very difficult, just a way to introduce characters to the world and give them some money and XP. Hardly a big commitment. The devs had probably got bored and moved onto other things.

“That was probably when the trouble started,” said Freddy. “Work dried up around then.”

“Trouble?” said Stan.

“The mayor and the Garbolums don’t get on,” said Britta. She leaned across. “He’s got some incriminating evidence on Freddy’s dad. If we can get hold of it and give it back, the boss would be very grateful. Right, Freddy?”

Freddy looked around like there might be someone listening in on their conversation. “Are you sure we can trust him?” He nodded his big, bald head at Stan.

“Definitely not,” said Britta. “He’s a liar and a cheat and will stab you in the back the first chance he gets.”

Stan’s mouth fell open. “Wha—?”

“Oh,” said Freddy. “Maybe I was wrong about you. Welcome to the team.” He put out a large, calloused hand.

Stan shook it, slightly confused. “What team? Are you planning on stealing something from the mayor? Have you seen his house? And the guards? We can’t just waltz in there, you know? And what exactly are we looking for? What’s he got on your dad?”

“I don’t know,” said Freddy.

“And where does he keep it?”

“Don’t know that either.”

“Great. Sounds like an awesome plan.”

“We’re still working out the details,” said Britta. She hadn’t expected him to be quite so negative about the whole thing. “We have to ask around, do some digging, case the joint. This isn’t some on-rails game.”

“Case the joint? You’re going to case the joint, are you?”

Britta ignored him and turned her attention back to Freddy. “Is there anything you know about this thing the mayor has? Any clue? Anything at all?”

Freddy shook his head.

“This is a waste of time,” said Stan.

“You don’t have to be here, you know?” Britta was starting to get irritated.

“I know. At least in the mines—”

“Oh, that’s right, it had something to do with the mines,” said Freddy.

Stan and Britta stopped bickering.

“The Korlath Mines?” said Britta. “The one full of kobolds?”

“Yeah, but this was before that, when it was owned by the dwarves. Dad was the one who sold it to the kobolds, said it was the best deal he ever got away with. That’s what made our family rich in the first place.” He smiled wistfully.

Stan looked at Freddy and then turned to Britta. “Right, looks like we’ve got some casing of joints to do.”

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