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Fresh Off The Boat [Complete]

Conrad Krause

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#21
If Willard was an assassin, he was without doubt a master of disguise, presenting to the world (and to Linette) a flawless facade of a simple sailor with lax hygiene and even laxer morals, who readily swallowed her insinuation that she was a prostitute retained for his pleasure by a friend. Only briefly did he seem to flirt with something resembling awareness in taking note of Conrad's presence.

Linette provided a breezy explanation, however, tipping Conrad a quick wink that he gave no sign of noticing (he even reached back and scratched his ass for good effect ... and because it itched), and Willard readily returned to what could ostensibly – if one were not too picky or sober – be described as flirting with Linette. Nothing in his tone or posture indicated that he suspected anything amiss.

As they moved away from the ship, Conrad stirred himself in the manner of one caught woolgathering and ambled in their wake.
 

Linette Botten

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#22
And they were off. The docks were not Linette’s favorite part of Denerim; safe to say, they were her least favorite area of town. That did not mean, however, she was unfamiliar with the layout of the seaport. Not far from the Grouper, there were a series of alleyways backed up against warehouses used to store goods brought into port for trade. It was to one of those alleyways that Linette lead both Willard and Conrad. Privacy would be key to sussing out the truth of Willard’s statements the night before.

In some other area of town, people might have looked upon a trio of individuals venturing into one of the alleys with a bit of suspicion especially given the late morning hour. This was not so much the case at the docks. Sailors were always slipping into alleyways for a quickie or some other less then moral activity. Willard was all smiles thinking that was the fun that awaited him. Poor Willard. Life just wasn’t fair.

Once the trio were sufficiently deep in the alley and Lin had positioned things so that Willard was stuck between Conrad and herself making any type of escape not impossible but difficult, her manner changed from flirty to, well, Linette. Her head canted to the side and she gave the man a hard stare. She was so done with his shit, smells and all. “Just to get things clear, we aren’t fucking.” Might as well start with the obvious.

She hooked a thumb at Conrad. “And if you try to run before I get my questions answered, you’ll have to answer to him.”

Willard scratched at the back of his neck and looked between the pair standing before him. Dark eyes narrowed and he looked as if he might bolt. One more look at Conrad though and a bit of the puff left his sails. “What ya want to know?”

Was it really going to be this easy?

“The other night at the Musty Mug you were bragging about killing, as you put it, a ‘knife-eared’ bitch.” No use in dancing around the subject. With each passing minute, Willard rotted a bit more and Lin was reaching the end of her tolerance for the stench. “Who was she?"

Willard had one of those wet laughs, all choky and gurgly. He chortled at the question and shook his head, "That is what you want? Bah, sweets. What you care about some kinfe-ear?"
 

Conrad Krause

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#23
Linette moved with confidence away from the ship, Willard following with equal confidence. Between the rows of warehouses that stored the goods brought and taken by the ships lay numerous alleys: some wide, some narrow; some cluttered, some empty; all of them isolated and poorly lit.

The first two they passed were already in use by sailors and their companions, and Willard's smile grew broader, his steps more energized, as Linette turned down a third, weaving to and fro between stacks of crates that would make it easier to block any attempts at escape. The sailor glanced back with a frown as Conrad followed them into the alley instead of standing guard at the mouth, but before he could comment, Linette turned to face him, the flirty demeanor gone.

“Just to get things clear, we aren’t fucking,” she informed Willard flatly, jabbing a thumb toward Conrad as she went on. “And if you try to run before I get my questions answered, you’ll have to answer to him.”

Conrad said nothing, but he let his posture shift from indifference to attention, drawing himself to his full height, his single eye fixed on Willard. The sailor tensed briefly, considering fight or flight, then apparently thought better of it.

“What ya want to know?” No outrage at the deception. No confusion as to why two strangers would lure him into an alley. No fear.

“The other night at the Musty Mug you were bragging about killing, as you put it, a ‘knife-eared’ bitch,” Linette answered with deliberate bluntness. “Who was she?"

Willard laughed unpleasantly, and Conrad felt his hands tighten into fists. "That is what you want? Bah, sweets. What you care about some knife-ear?"

“Enough to bring you here alone,”
Conrad spoke for the first time. Most of the time, he took care to modulate his voice to keep from intimidating folk, but not now. The man's casual dismissal of the worth of a life was one he had heard time and again from murderers seeking to justify their crimes.

“He was just a knife-ear.”

“She was nothing but a whore.”

“He was a filthy beggar. Ought to pay me for cleanin' up the streets.”

Such vile sentiments had always angered him, and they angered him now, but he had learned long ago not to allow his own emotions to rule his reactions. His use of his voice was a considered one, intended to impress upon Willard just how precarious his situation was, and it deepened further as he went on: the rumble of an oncoming avalanche. “Enough to leave you here. Alone.”

He had no intention of killing – or even harming – the man before him, but Willard did not know this, and his own twisted imagination would likely imagine more painful scenarios than Conrad could contrive. But for the first time, the possibility that the man might actually be guilty of the crime he was accused of had raised itself in earnest, and Conrad wondered uneasily just what Linette intended to do if he was.
 

Linette Botten

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#24
“Enough to bring you here alone,” Conrad piped up like one of those loud-ass organs inside Chantry. All loud and booming and vibraty. “Enough to leave you here. Alone.”

Linette nodded at Conrad’s warning, lips pressed together in some kind of I warned you face. “Real quiet that one,” she hooked her thumb once again at Conrad. “Until you get him angry. Should probably tell you that he’s real sweet on a girl over in the alienage. Doesn’t take too kindly to certain insults.” None of that was true but Willard didn’t know could only help Linette, right?

“So, going to share with the class now or does my buddy, Elmer need to help you with your learning?”
Lin pressed her hands against her hips and waited on Willard’s answer.

The man sputtered, all the attitude shown moments ago puddled at his feet. Conrad scared the piss right out of the man. “Ain’t no girl. I made it up. I swear,” he squeaked.

Lin narrowed her eyes and tried to read old Willard’s body language to note any sign that he was lying. Nothing seemed to imply a fib. And honestly, he didn’t look the like the killing type. Talk a big game but when it came down to do the deed, Lin imagined Willard was more the throw up type than the throw down sort.

A tut-tut clicked against the roof of her mouth as she shook her head. “Oh Willard. I believe you. You don’t have the stones to actually kill someone.” Speaking of balls. There was only one punishment suitable for someone like Willard. “Take off your pants.”

Willard’s brows rose, shock freezing his features. “Uhhhhh,” he started. “What?”

“You heard me. Take off your pants,” Linette repeated. “Then you are going to walk out of this alley and show everyone on the docks what a limp-dicked little weasel you are.”
 

Conrad Krause

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#25
Having given his warning, Conrad went back to looming as Linette casually spun a totally fictitious history and name for him, telling her tale with an ease that strengthened his suspicion that a good part of her own history had been spent on the wrong side of the law.

The sudden, acrid odor of piss announced just how effective the combined technique had been, but Conrad took no satisfaction in it, even though it meant that his frantic words denying any murder had even taken place were most likely true. He had met very few men willing to piss themselves to sell a story.

Linette had evidently come to the same conclusion. “Oh Willard. I believe you. You don’t have the stones to actually kill someone.” She shook her head, looking him over like a pile of shit that someone had dropped in her path. “Take off your pants.”

Conrad blinked, unsure he had heard her correctly. Willard seemed similarly confused. “Uhhhhh. What?”

“You heard me. Take off your pants,” Linette ordered in the manner of one who expected obedience. “Then you are going to walk out of this alley and show everyone on the docks what a limp-dicked little weasel you are.”

Conrad barely held back the snort, keeping his expression forbidding when Willard cast an appealing look back at him. It wasn't the stocks, but it might make him think twice before bragging of crimes he had never committed, and hopefully convince him that the penalty for actually committing those crimes was not worth risking.
 

Linette Botten

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#26
The imploring look Willard threw over her shoulder presumably at Conrad was not going to do. Not one bit. “Don’t look at him. He’s not going to help you,” Linette barked, her impatience starting to show in the tap of her foot upon the ground.

Willard’s shoulders sunk. He was on the precipice of a decision every bit of his body language showed he didn’t want to make. His hands fidgeted with one another and his breathing became anxious. He looked every bit the cornered turd that he was. Not wishing to be a smashed turd, though, he eventually moved his hands to the dirty rope ties keeping his pants up.

“You’re a sailor and you call that a knot?”
Lin asked, berating Willard as he struggled with the tie. If she hadn’t known better, she would have sworn he was being irritating on purpose.

Willard did get the knot undone and down went the pants. Lin’s brows rose unimpressed with what she saw. His wiry legs were still moist from Willard’s earlier urine-letting. And then there was the star, or not so shining star, of the show. She could readily tell why he told the lie about killing an elf. He was overcompensating.

She shook her head and let out an irritated huff. “Next time you need to prove your manhood, get into a bar fight like a self-respecting piece of shit.” Her hand flitted, shooing Willard away. “No go on. Off with you.”

Willard bent as if to retrieve his pants to take with him only to be tutted by Linette. Defeated, he rose and left his dirty trousers on the floor of the alley. The view from behind was no better than from the front but at least the stench started to fade with each step he took toward the exit of the alley.

With his departure, she turned around to look at her big helper. “Quite the stander you are,” she quipped.
 

Conrad Krause

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#27
Mercilessly prodded by Linette, Willard dropped his damp trousers and stepped out of them. He made a halfhearted attempt to retrieve them, but obeyed meekly when she ordered him on his way. Conrad stepped aside to let him pass, holding his breath until the ripeness receded along with his bare ass.

“Quite the stander you are,” Linette congratulated him with a smirk as whoops and jeers broke out from the direction Willard had gone.

He shrugged. “It worked. Quite the liar you are.” Spoken not without a certain respect. She had gotten the information from her target without using violence, after all. “But what is an alienage?” The context suggested something to do with elves, but the word was unfamiliar to him.
 

Linette Botten

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#28
Elmer rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “It worked. Quite the liar you are.” There didn’t appear to be any jibe there so Linette took the compliment for what it was worth and nodded her head just once.

"Girl has to have her talents." She was a great liar. Some might even say she was born to lie. Spinning the truth came natural to her.

“But what is an alienage?” Conrad asked.

Lin furrowed her brow. Did they not have those in the Anderfels? Apparently not or they had a different type of name. “An alienage is kind of a slum area of town. Most of the elves live there. Some by choice, some…” She shrugged. “Has a huge tree in the center of it.” There was more to the alienage than that, but Lin wasn’t in a lesson giving mood.

She crooked her head toward the mouth of the alley and the hoots and hollers coming from outside. “We should go. Wouldn’t mind getting a view of old Willard’s walk of shame. Not sure about you.”

Linette didn’t wait on Conrad to answer before she picked up her feet and started her jaunt back to the pier.
 

Conrad Krause

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#29
His question about alienages got Conrad another of Linette's apparently endless supply of odd looks, but she answered him, albeit in the manner of one trying to put words to something that was so commonly known that it was not often spoken of. “An alienage is kind of a slum area of town. Most of the elves live there. Some by choice, some…” Her shrug made clear what was left unsaid. “Has a huge tree in the center of it.”

Conrad simply nodded. The few elves in and around Hossberg had not lived in any one location, but with the exception of those who served in noble households, most were impoverished. But then, the same could be said of the human population.

Linette tipped her head in the direction of the noise that marked Willard's passage. “We should go. Wouldn’t mind getting a view of old Willard’s walk of shame. Not sure about you.”

While not particularly interested in another glimpse of the sailor's backside – or front side, for that matter, Conrad kept pace with her. “What did this man lying about killing an elf have to do with the death of the Teyrn's wife?” he inquired. He still was not certain that he believed the story she had told him about working for this Teyrn. Maybe she just liked making strange men take their pants off.
 

Linette Botten

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#30
Conrad fell into an easy walk along Linette’s side. “What did this man lying about killing an elf have to do with the death of the Teyrn's wife?” he asked.

Linette scratched at the back of her neck, everything suddenly starting to itch. A long hot bath was so going to be in order after dealing with Willard. She gave Conrad a curious cant of the head at his question. He didn’t know about the great Lene scandal? Must not have been that great outside of Ferelden. Oh how that would have hurt Lene’s one feeling. Her great love of Fergus was the stuff of legend…in her mind.

Even Lin had to admonish herself for that one. Thinking ill of the dead probably wasn’t that great a thing to do. She wasn’t a religious girl but she also wasn’t reckless (most of the time). No reason to tempt the fates lest she find some Lene shaped ghost tripping her so that she fell face first in a pile of dog shit or something.

“Lene was her name, the teyrn’s wife. She was an elf and was poisoned shortly after giving birth.” The pair emerged from the alley way. Poor Willard stood in front of the gangplank and was not being granted entry onto the ship. His fellow sailors were far too busy laughing and mocking him to allow him his escape. Lesson fucking learned, Lin hoped.

She looked back to Conrad. “I have to follow all leads no matter how much I think they aren’t going to pan out. That’s where old,” she hooked a thumb in the direction of the Grouper, “Willard came in."
 

Conrad Krause

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#31
“Lene was her name, the teyrn’s wife,” Linette responded to Conrad's question without breaking stride, still quite focused on witnessing Willard's humiliation. “She was an elf and was poisoned shortly after giving birth.”

He did break stride, coming to a brief but full stop. A teyrn had married an elf? Such a marriage would have been unthinkable in the Anderfels. And poisoned after childbirth? The brief vapor-lock broken, he caught up with his companion in hurried steps as she glanced back at him.

“I have to follow all leads no matter how much I think they aren’t going to pan out,” she informed him. "That’s where old Willard came in."

Conrad spared the briefest of glances to where the half naked sailor was pleading – unsuccessfully with his crewmates to be allowed back on the ship. His mind turned over the information that he had. A high ranking noble had married an elf, but elves in Ferelden stayed in these 'alienages', which did not sound like pleasant places, and she had been murdered with poison.

It was said by some that poison was a woman's weapon, but Conrad's experience had not supported this. It could be a coward's weapon, used by one who lacked the courage to face their victim. Or it could be the weapon of a canny killer who wanted distance between themselves and the murder to increase their chances of getting away with it. That seemed to be the case here … and it had evidently been successful.

“Leads must be sparse, if that -” he tipped his head toward the hapless man, “- was considered a possibility.” Highever had a port, if his memory of the maps he'd seen served him, so the involvement of a sailor was not out of the question, but the man they had questioned would never have been able to gain close enough access to a noble house to administer poison. “Is it possible that the Teyrn did it himself?” More than one regretted marriage had been ended in such a fashion. If she was working for the man, she hopefully did not believe it, but Conrad was curious what her reaction might be.
 

Linette Botten

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#32
“Leads must be sparse, if that -” Conrad canted his head toward old Willard, “- was considered a possibility.”

Sparse was one way to put it. Drought was another. Whoever did the deed on old Lene didn’t want the world to find out. They were damn good at covering their tracks. She knew when she followed the Willard lead it was probably going to pan out badly. It was really starting to feel like whoever killed Lene had money and or connections. Some asshole from the docks wasn’t going to be nearly crafty enough to pull off such a murder and not get caught quick.

Bad news for the guilty party, though. Linette was damn good at finding tracks when she set her mind to it. And dammit, her mind was set in fucking stone on the matter. Sure she didn’t like Lene, but she didn’t want to let Fergus down. For him and him alone, she would find out the culprits behind the murder.

“Is it possible that the Teyrn did it himself?” Conrad asked eliciting a shocked look from Linette, all eyebrows and wide eyes.

“You wouldn’t ask that if you had met the man.”
Linette shook her head as if that would wash away the disbelief of someone even half-ass accusing Fergus of killing Lene. “He called a whole Landsmeet so that he could marry her. No doubt in my mind, he didn’t do it.” Fergus was in no way a killer, not in the way Conrad implied.

Anticipating the next question, she gave Conrad a little lesson in government. “A Landsmeet is when all the hoy polloy nobles of Ferelden meet and vote on shit like letting teyrns marry elves."
 

Conrad Krause

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#33
Unexpected questions elicited the most honest responses, and as cynical as Linette appeared to be about nearly everything else, the question of her employer's guilt or innocence was apparently an exception. Her eyes widened, and her eyebrows shot up on her forehead in an expression of unfeigned astonishment.

“You wouldn’t ask that if you had met the man,” she responded without hesitation, shaking her head with more emotion than Conrad had yet seen her display in their admittedly short acquaintance. “He called a whole Landsmeet so that he could marry her. No doubt in my mind, he didn’t do it.”

“Fair enough,” Conrad conceded. Privately, he still thought the notion at least plausible, but there was nothing to be gained by pressing the matter.

Correctly anticipating his next question, she went on, “A Landsmeet is when all the hoy polloy nobles of Ferelden meet and vote on shit like letting teyrns marry elves."

“Vote?” Conrad felt his own eyebrows lifting. “Ferelden has a king, yes? Does he not rule over the nobles? What if he does not agree with their vote?” The concept was a bizarre one, and seemed fraught with the potential for corruption, with one noble buying, bribing or blackmailing the desired votes from others.

But back to the subject at hand. “Which nobles voted against the marriage?” he asked her. One of them would have had motive, and considerably more access to both means and opportunity than a sailor. “I assume they have been considered? She must have been an exceptional woman, to inspire such devotion,” he mused. Willing to defy social norms that had stood for centuries. For love, or to advance her own fortunes, or those of her people? Whatever her reasons had been, such boldness would have been guaranteed to inspire enmity in some, elf and human alike.
 

Linette Botten

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#34
“Vote?” Conrad arched a brow. “Ferelden has a king, yes? Does he not rule over the nobles? What if he does not agree with their vote?”

Lin stuffed her hands in her pockets and rolled a shrug. A non-answer at best. Politics was something she never really bothered to learn much about because, frankly, for the common gutter rat, they didn’t mean shit. Most of the nobles of Ferelden treated hers and her kind with little regard. They were the folks that cleaned their fancy houses, made their fancy food, and were beneath them. To Lin, most nobles were just overly perfumed and over-inflated windbags.

Conrad asked a follow-up question, “Which nobles voted against the marriage? I assume they have been considered? She must have been an exceptional woman, to inspire such devotion.”

Linette was extremely talented at hiding her person when she wished to. There was hardly a shadow she could not bend to her advantage. She was not, however, quite so gifted in disguising her emotions, not when she felt strongly about something or someone. And Lene? There were strong enough feelings there to elicit a wry snort at Conrad’s comment.

“Lene was… I’m not sure exceptional is the word I would use,” Lin said, shaking her head. Exceptional woman? Exceptional shit more like. “She and I didn’t get along too well.” She nudged an elbow at Conrad’s side and winked at the man, “And no, I didn’t kill her.” If not liking Lene was enough motive to kill her, the list of possible murderers would pretty much be endless.

Conrad was right, though, Lin suspected for a while that one of the nobles that didn’t want an elf married to a teyrn was at fault. Wasn’t the first time folks went after Rae for similar reasons. Fucking Kali. “The Trestlebridges from Gwaren were against the marriage but they are about as subtle as Willard smells of roses and lilacs."
 

Conrad Krause

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#35
The shrug that met his question regarding the Landsmeet might have indicated a lack of knowledge or a lack of interest in the mechanics by which a monarch dealt with voting nobles … or, more than likely, a combination of the two, if Linette's indifferent expression was anything to go by.

Her reaction to his musing on the Teyrn's late wife was quite a bit less indifferent, the expressions rippling across her features too quickly to follow, then a snort that could have been disgust or amusement.

“Lene was… I’m not sure exceptional is the word I would use,” was the unusually restrained response. She respected the Teyrn, and so she would not speak ill of his wife. “She and I didn’t get along too well.” Again, she anticipated his next question, jabbing him in the ribs with an elbow. “And no, I didn’t kill her.”

He chuckled. “You must admit that searching for her killer would be an excellent cover,” he joked, “but I think that you would not have used poison.” Outspoken and to the point: she would have seen to it herself, rather than trust an indirect method.

“The Trestlebridges from Gwaren were against the marriage,” she went on, “but they are about as subtle as Willard smells of roses and lilacs."

“And whoever did this was obviously subtle … or lucky,” Conrad said thoughtfully, then caught himself. It was so easy to slip back into the habits of his old life, and so difficult to ignore the intriguing mystery being laid virtually at his feet. But ignore it he must, if he wished to make a new life here. “I wish you luck in finding the murderer,” he told Linette, “and I thank you again for recommending an inn. The Red Kettle is the name, yes?”
 

Linette Botten

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#36
“And whoever did this was obviously subtle … or lucky.” That was putting the finger on the nose right there and pretty much what Linette figured to be the case. For a tree from back-don’t-have-woods Anderfels, Conrad was pretty astute.

“I wish you luck in finding the murderer,” Conrad offered, preparing to go on his way, “and I thank you again for recommending an inn. The Red Kettle is the name, yes?”

Linette nodded, “Red Kettle.” Having Conrad along certainly did make her morning task a bit easier. She offered him one last bit of advice before turning to go off on her own. “Don’t tell them I sent you.” Lin had sent people to the Kettle before. And while they were more than happy to take her business and the business of people she sent there, her referrals didn’t always get the best treatment.

There had been that one time with Ferren and the bed bugs. Sure that could have had more to do with Ferren then Lin. Still, better safe than itchy, eh? “Thanks for the help, Conrad. See you around of something." She winked, a final offering in goodbye. "You being kind of hard to miss and all."
 

Conrad Krause

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#37
“Red Kettle,” Linette confirmed, adding after a moment of thought, “Don't tell them I sent you.”

Conrad nodded, not bothering to conceal his amusement. She quite plainly didn't care much for what others thought of her.

“Thanks for the help, Conrad. See you around of something,” she told him by way of farewell, adding with a cheeky wink, "You being kind of hard to miss and all."

“I am glad that I was able to help,” he replied. “If you need my assistance again, you have only to ask. Be well.” Turning, he made his way up the docks toward the city. An inn first, and a place to secure his belongings, and then he would see about a cloak that kept out this blasted wind.
 
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