Bitter 190

Britta and Stan looked at each other, then ran after Freddy. They caught up with him just before he got to the dwarf player, took one arm each, and veered him away.

“Hey, what are you doing?” protested Freddy. The dwarf, who had been tapping the air in front of him, probably using his status screen, glanced at the three of them, arms linked together, and then went back to his status screen.

Freddy was bigger than both of them, but he didn’t use his superior strength to break free. He did, however, keep up a constant barrage of complaints.

They managed to get him off the main street and into an alley. Britta realised it was the alley where she always met Freddy, although those encounters were very different to this one.

“Come on, he’s right there, just a couple of slaps.” Freddy anxiously paced back and forth, peering past them like he was afraid the dwarf might slip away. “He’s a dwarf,” he pointed out in case anyone hadn’t noticed.

“Yes, yes,” said Stan, letting go of Freddy’s arm. “He’s a dwarf, but he isn’t the dwarf we’re looking for.”

“Course he is,” said Freddy. “They’re all the same. They all know each other.”

It was hard to tell if this was some kind of fantasy world racism, or if Freddy was informing them of genuine racial traits. Computer games tended to strongly emphasise stereotypes, mainly because it was a lot easier to program the same thing multiple times rather than crafting a unique personality for every NPC.

This particular dwarf, though, had not been created by the devs or the game, it was someone called Crystal Meh, according to the tag over his head, who had decided to utilise the additional strength and constitution bonuses offered by the dwarf race. Either that or he had a thing for dwarves.

“You can’t talk to the dwarf or you’ll give the game away,” said Britta, trying her best to sound like she knew what she was talking about.

Freddy stopped fidgeting and looked at Britta. “What game? What are you talking about?”

“If the dwarves are involved—”

“They’re definitely involved. They killed my uncle.”

“Okay, but if they did it, they think they got away with it. No one’s said anything for years. As far as they’re concerned, they’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“Yes…” said Freddy.

Britta had his attention, but she needed to convince him not to assault random players who might have chosen to play dwarves. It would create quite a stir in the community if NPCs began randomly attacking players and demanding answers about a murder they knew nothing about.

“This is the perfect time to do some snooping, while they’ve got their guard down. If you grab one off the street, they’re going to hear about it. They all know each other, right? Word will get round, and then they’ll clam up, hide the evidence, shut up shop.” She was making it up as she went, but a lot of what she was saying did sound like it might be true.

“I see,” said Freddy, his tone much more thoughtful now. “We want to make them think we’re not onto them, make them think we don’t know nothing about no murder, and then, when they ain’t expecting it, BAM!” He slammed a fist into the wall, knocking out a chunk of masonry.

“Here’s what you should do,” said Stan. “That dwarf, follow him. Stay out of sight. Find out where he goes, who he talks to.”

Freddy nodded enthusiastically. “Right, right. I can do that. Follow him, subtle-like.”

“Exactly,” said Stan. “Subtle, that’s you all over, Freddy. You’re perfect for this job. But, if he does spot you or confronts you, don’t get into a fight, tell him you like dwarves, big fan. Make him your friend, offer to show him around.”

Freddy’s eyes lit up. “That is sneaky. Oh, that is so, so sneaky. You’re a good man, Stan. You got it up here, where it counts.” Freddy tapped the side of his big, bald head with a sausage-like finger. “You, you’re a smart one. We’ll meet tomorrow and I’ll let you know what I found out.”

Freddy left the alley with his back sliding against the wall. He couldn’t have looked more suspicious if he’d tried.

“Are you sure about this?” asked Britta. “What’s the point of sending him after a player?”

Stan shrugged. “Keep him busy. He’d only get himself into trouble if we left him with nothing to do.”

He was probably right. “We’ll have to go back into the mine if we really want to talk to the dwarves.”

“Do you really think they’re the ones who killed Roman?” asked Stan.

“Could be. They might have got upset with him for selling their mine. I think the whole deal was a bit fishy. But the top suspect is probably Freddy’s dad.”

“That’s what I think, too. Brings Roman into the family, marries him to his sister, convinces him to help sell the mine to the kobolds for a lot of money, and when he doesn’t need him anymore…”

“Has him killed and dumped in the mines,” said Britta. “Gabriel Garbolum, the dwarves and the mayor. Those three all probably know something.”

“Shame we can’t just ask Roman,” said Stan. “He probably knows who did it. Where do you want to start?”

Britta checked the clock on her screen. Her time was up. “Tomorrow,” said Britta. “I’ve got to go to bed.”

She logged out.

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