“Feel like doing some shopping?” Kang asked.
“I always feel like shopping…” said Adrielle.
“How much time do you need?” the Orsimer asked Martine.
“Give me ten minutes.” She sounded pretty sure.
“…But what is the plan?” the Nord continued. “So we go in and confront this guy, he admits to things… Then you say you remove him from the equation, but what does that mean?”
Kang shrugged, unconcerned. “I won’t know until I talk to the man. But first I just want to give Martine time to go through the back rooms and offices to find some evidence. I’m pretty sure if the two of us walk in there we will draw everyone’s attention.” Martine nodded once, shrugged one strap of her pack off her shoulder, and started down the alley to the back of the building.
“Well, I’m glad to look at their wares in general,” said Adrielle. Then she crossed the street and entered the shop, with Kang tromping in behind her.
As they came in, the shopkeep looked up. He gave Kang a mildly concerned look before smiling at the Nord. “Welcome to the Copious Coinpurse. Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with.”
“Yes! Do you have these blue velvet shoes in a size ten?” Adrielle asked. In short order the shopkeep was distracted by shoppers, and she was happy to talk to him about clothes and ask for assistance in sizing. He directed her attention to a number of Altmer clothing items that appeared to be deeply discounted.
Behind the shop, Martine found a back door. It was, predictably, locked. Having expected that, she glanced around to make sure no one was in line of sight, then took a knee and fished her lockpicks from her readied pack. A couple of skilled moments later, she quietly opened the door and slipped inside.
The back room was apparently used for storage and office space. Martine noted a door that presumably led to the front of the shop, then approached a nearby desk in what appeared to serve as the office for the Coinpurse. Several books rested atop and around the desk, and it had a couple of locked drawers. The whole area was pretty fastidiously clean.
Keeping an eye on the door to the shop, the Breton swiftly and silently picked the locks on both drawers. She found sacks of septims, a couple of wooden chests containing gemstones, and a pair of hardbound ledgers. She skimmed through the ledgers, looking for any mention of Kang.
A whole section of one of the volumes appeared to cover transactions related to the Arena, but she found no reference to Kang. The only tenuous link she could fine was that the first entry was from about six months back – around the time that Kang had been arrested and tossed into the dungeon. She sighed, put the Arena ledger into her bag, took two sacks of loot and headed out the back door.
Closing it behind her, she sauntered back around to the front of the shop and casually strolled through the customer entrance. The shopkeep glanced over at Martine with a smile and said, “Ah, welcome, Miss. I’ll be with you in a moment.”
“Any luck?” Kang asked her in an undertone. She shook her head in the negative. The Orsimer cursed quietly. “We need to find Tristane.” Martine nodded helplessly, then made her way to Adrielle’s side.
The Nord was busy fawning over a gorgeous green gown. Beside her lay a tidy stack of clothing that the shopkeep was pleased to sell her. Martine glanced at the goods. “Find anything I have to buy for you?” she asked.
“If you’re offering,” Adrielle said with a smile. She waved at the shopkeep to gather her things, which he did, placing them on the counter. After polite and cursory haggling, Martine handed the merchant some of the money she’d pilfered from the office in exchange for the clothing.
Adrielle grabbed Martine up in a big bear-hug. “Thank you!” she exclaimed. Martine’s reply was mostly raw exhalation as she felt some ribs creak.
The shopkeep smiled broadly. “Is there anything else I can help you ladies with? Or you, sir?” He included Kang as an afterthought.
“Nah. I’m just keeping an eye on the ladies,” said the Orsimer, assuming the role of bodyguard and porter. The merchant nodded at him somewhat dismissively.
“Thank you too sir!” Adrielle said to the merchant as he bagged her garments and offered them to Kang. The Orsimer concealed his gritted teeth as he accepted them. The Nord hooked her arm in Martine’s and started to the door, half-dragging the Breton out into the street. Kang trailed behind them.
“Come again!” the shopkeep called after them.
Once they were outside, Martine took point, leading her companions away from the shop. “Did you learn anything at all?” Kang asked once they had stopped.
“There was a ledger of Arena payments that started about six months ago,” Martine said, reaching into her bag. “Nothing that mentioned you, though.”
“Let me see it. I might recognize some of the fighters at least.” He reviewed the section the Breton indicated. Most of the entries appeared to be bets, but some of them had names called out. Kang recognized some of them – lesser competitors for the most part, but some of the more recent ones were for higher amounts to better gladiators. The profits from the bets always seemed to be higher than the amounts apparently paid to the gladiators. The ledger painted a picture of someone meticulously rigging the Arena games and profiting from their slow game.
“Do either of you think you can go back in there and sweet talk the guy into telling you where Tristane is? Or where he lives?” Kang asked. “Tell him you are looking to buy a lot more and want to talk to the owner or something.”
Adrielle nodded. “I could try to talk to him, ask about Tristane.”
“Go for it. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go beat it out of him.”
She frowned. “Poor man, I’ll be glad to ask him.” She went back to the shop, Martine following her.
The shopkeep was pleased to see them return so soon. “Oh! Welcome back! Decide to get something you were wavering on. That high elf ball gown, perhaps? As I mentioned, we have a tailor I could recommend to make adjustments.”
Adrielle smiled at him. “I’m so sorry to be a bother sir, but I kept thinking about these Altmer dresses that are heavily discounted. Are you the head proprietor Tristane?”
The shopkeep chuckled politely. “No, my dear. I simply run this establishment on Master Aurilie’s behalf. As for the discounts, well.” He looked a bit abashed. “Well, since the declaration of war with the Aldmeri Dominion, I’m afraid such garments immediately fell out of fashion in the Empire.”
Adrielle and Martine exchanged a glance when mentioned the war, but that gave the Nord an idea. “Would I perhaps be able to find him or set up a meeting with him? I may be able to help him get a better price on these wares if he were interested.”
The shopkeep’s expression turned skeptical, and in a cautious tone he says, “We … are trying to get out of the business of Altmer goods as quickly as possible to avoid a loss of reputation.”
“Oh, but considering the state of things, and as you said, he is trying to get out of the business, wouldn’t it do him better to sell it in large quantities and make a bit better coin that the paltry prices he is selling it for? It’s a win-win situation if you ask me, but I understand some keepers prefer to do things their own way I don’t wish to upset his business practices.”
“You represent another vendor, then? One with the capability to unload such tainted goods?” He sounded mildly suspicious.
“Oh, I have friends with the means to buy such goods. Cloth is still cloth and just because its form is that of an Altmer dress doesn’t mean that it can’t serve as the means of keeping a displaced refugee warm at night. But as I said, all I am asking is to speak with the owner Tristane, if he dislikes the idea then so be it.”
“I take your point, but…” the shopkeep said. “Well, never mind. It’s not for me to decide the master’s business arrangements. I could tell him you’d like to schedule an appointment, though I’m afraid he’s booked up for the rest of the week.”
“That may work in our favor,” said Martine. “It’ll give us time to attend to that other matter.”
The shopkeep gave her a blank look. “If you’d like, I can check his schedule for certain. I’ll just have to step into the back for a moment.”
“Very good, I’m glad to make such an arrangement,” said Adrielle.
Martine elbowed the Nord in the ribs, concerned that he might discover the burglary from the office and figure out that she had been the burglar. ”Or … perhaps we should come back once we’ve had a look at our own schedule,” she said.
“Oh, yes,” said Adrielle, trying to hide her confusion. “I suppose we should return. Our friend has been waiting with our goods outside and he gets very cranky. I’m sorry, we need to go check on him. Thank you!”
Martine nodded. “Just so. Good day!” Now she was the one half-dragging Adrielle out the door.
“As you like,” the shopkeep said, a little mystified.
Once they’d made it back to Kang, Adrielle asked, “What? Why? You wanted me to get an appointment!”
Martine whispered, “He’ll notice that the – the ledger is missing.”
“This is why we need a better plan!”
“What plan? I’m making this up as I go.”
“I know.” Adrielle sighed and then smiled. “It’s more exciting this way, I guess.”
Kang raised one big, bushy eyebrow. “I take it things didn’t go smoothly.”
“He isn’t Tristane,” said Martine. “We got that far.”
“He wanted to check the schedule to help us set up an appointment with Tristane, but the schedule and ledger locations were trouble I guess?” Adrielle added with a shrug.
“I could put it back?” the Breton offered, meekly.
“Oh, I’m not saying that,” said Adrielle. “I just didn’t think about it.” She offered Martine a reassuring smile.
“We are leaving soon,” said Kang. “There’s no time for an appointment. Time to do it my way.” With that, he stormed off toward the shop
Martine stood still, shocked. “Well, shite.”
“Oh, crap,” Adrielle agreed. “He’s a bit of a hot-head isn’t he? He’s going to get us arrested again.”
“Meet you back at the barracks if this all goes south?”
“Well, if it goes south, and he hurts that man, we are responsible to help him… Kang is somewhat our responsibility.”
“True. He might not be the type to cut and run.”
Kang’s violent entrance sent the shop bell flying across the room. “I beg your pardon, sir!” the shopkeep protested. “This is most improper!”
“TRISTANE! WHERE IS HE? NOW!” Kang demanded. He rounded the counter, grabbed the shopkeep, and pinned him up in the air against the wall with one hand.
Eyes wide with fright, the shopkeeper said, “I don’t know where he is minute to minute, sir. But he can usually be found at the Merchants’ Inn for supper most evenings.” His voice almost didn’t crack.
Kang released the shopkeep, who shakily smoothed the front of his tunic as he tried to summon his dignity. “Will that be all, sir?”
“Great,” said Kang. “You’re a smart guy. But I recommend you don’t get any smarter. You are going to finish your day in the shop without attempting to reach Tristane. If I find out otherwise I’ll be back.” Without another word, he turned and left.
6 PM, Merchants’ Inn
The unit sat at a table picking at a tray of snacks and nursing their drinks while they waited. They had spoken with a couple of the other patrons to get some more details about Tristane. He was a Breton in his late twenties or early thirties, with dark hair and a haughty disposition. He was notably not part of the Merchant Consortium, but that apparently didn’t stop him from frequenting the establishment.
They looked up as the front door opened and the man they’d been waiting for strolled in.
Martine recognized him from a former life.