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the cause of, and solution to, all life's problems
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"I really couldn't say. From what I've seen, mostly drinking."

She takes a heavy drag from the dying cigarette, burning it down to embers between her fingertips. Then she turns away, heading back to her room.

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Something stirs in you as she's about to leave. The need to interrogate, to dig deeper, to find the intersection between her warp and your weft. This is an opportunity to get your bearings, which you desperately need right now, and you've got to seize it with both hands before it disappears.

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You're a cop. Start asking questions.

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"Wait. The room you're staying in is close to mine. Did you hear anything last night?"

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She stops.

"Apart from the crickets, you mean? Music, for an hour or two. Singing. Crying. Loud impacts."

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"What kind of music?"

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"Lamentations, officer. These walls were too thick to hear all the lyrics, but the words to every sad song are the same no matter which one you're singing: heartbreak, futility, loneliness."

She pauses to lick the cigarette butt, extinguishing it with her tongue.

"Then you started hammering on the floor and breaking the furniture. The frame of the bed, I think, and perhaps the window too. It was quite loud. Someone outside on the street asked you to stop, though not in so many words, and you screamed that you were trying to but did not know how. There was a great deal of cursing after that, followed by more property damage. I listened to you weeping as I fell asleep."

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This woman is unperturbed as she describes your recent nervous breakdown in lurid detail. Her body language shows genuine interest now; the way she pauses between sentences suggests she's taking her time to review the memories and phrase them just right. She's not just making eye contact – she's watching you, observing your reaction.

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A quick word from your libido: she is your type, insofar as you have one, and she's clearly into you. Start setting up for the pass. You'll thank me later.

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What? No. Do not even attempt to sleep with someone who finds your suffering entertaining.

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Change the tenor from probing to flirtatious. Use her interest to keep her talking.

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"Did my performance do it for you last night?"

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She grins unabashedly.

"It was a nice change of pace. Every evening the usual crowd gets sloshed and wanders around the plaza, picking the same fights and singing the same songs about drinking and wenching. I had almost forgotten that drinking and wenching could have consequences."

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"I take it I'm not part of the usual crowd?"

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"Hardly. There's no city watch to speak of out here, only the provosts, and they're not exactly spendthrift drunks themselves. Something spectacular must have happened for them to ship you all the way out to Escadar."

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The hair on the back of your neck rises. A cold wind blows across the sea, swirling through the reeds in the shallow water, carrying whispers from distant shores.

You're a long way from home, stranger. How did you get here?

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That was a weird question and a weird reaction. She thinks you're weird now. If you want to salvage this you need to end the conversation on a high note and move on.

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"Spectacular is my middle name. Have a nice day, miss."

That was smooth, right?

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"Take care of yourself, officer."

The smoker waves goodbye and departs for Room №3.

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She ambles down the stairs, going slowly to avoid aggravating anything. Her guts aren't quite in open rebellion just yet, but they've started delivering threatening ultimatums to the local barons and forging surplus farm equipment, the kind with sharp bits that double as weaponry in a pinch. Appeasement is the order of the day.

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Having escaped the bedroom and surmounted the descent, you have now reached the tavern. It has certain distinctive elements, but they're distinct in the manner of snowflakes and fingerprints – you've seen too many taverns to find meaning in the details of this one. The scratches on the table surfaces and grooves worn in the floor tell a story that you have neither the time nor the inclination to read.

The young woman standing near the entrance is waiting for you. The barkeep notices your arrival but seems determined to ignore you.

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It's a bit disturbing that taverns are so familiar, especially since no other taverns are coming to mind for comparison. At least there's an obvious next course of action.

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The barkeep continues to ignore her, even though she is now standing directly in front of him and looking contemplatively at the row of uncorked bottles in the well. A true professional, he is fully absorbed in his work, heedless of potential customers.

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What are you waiting for, your preferred drink order? You know what, that's fair. It's gin served neat, most of the time, but if you're looking for a pick-me-up I suggest one part single-malt to one part mineral water – stirred, not shaken. We'll have you feeling right as rain in no time.

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The barrier to inebriation is insolvency, a fact which only occurred to her after it was too late to pretend she was doing anything other than buying a drink ten minutes after waking up. The hair of the dog that bit her will have to wait until she has enough pocket change to afford it.

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