P.O.D --- Payment on Delivery

Five: Mastermind
" Hate to tell you this, but you know some fucked up people."

   The last customer of the day happened to be Farfarello's blue haired maybe-or-maybe-not lover. There were three girls in the shop when she pushed open the door to the Koneko no Sumu Ie but she sent them a cold look that had them edging for the door. She stopped in the middle of the shop to wait, hands on her hips, following the girls with her gaze until they finally ducked out. Schuldich was nibbling on the end of an unlit cigarette, blue eyes watching as the clock ticked away the last few minutes of the shift, and he spared the girl only a glance when she entered. Ken and Yohji exchanged quick looks, however, as the girl had never sought them out during the day.

    "Is this about the rent?" Ken wanted to know. "He said I could have an extension and it's not due til tomorrow, anyway."

    "We want flowers," she said, lifting one hand from her hip to point at the counter. "Find some for us?"

    "Farfarello doesn't seem much the flower kind of guy," Ken said, surprised.

    "Not for him," she corrected him. "She wants them. Something pretty."

    "She?" Ken asked, but Yohji nudged him and shook his head in a warning to be quiet. "Uhh... Okay. Something small for a windowsill or something in a pot? Any preferences?"

    "Something pretty. Anything will do."

    Ken nodded and walked over to the counter, looking for something in a small pot that a girl might like. The girl turned to Schuldich, moving across the shop to stand beside his stool, and gave him a considering look. Schuldich plucked the cigarette from his lips and arched an eyebrow at her. "Nice hair," he said.

    "Yours is prettier," she said, holding out her hand for him. It took Ken a moment to realize what she wanted; while he knew that foreigners preferred shaking hands to bowing at each other, her hand was tilted at the wrong angle. Schuldich seemed to understand, though, and an amused smirk pulled at his mouth as he took her hand and obediently kissed the back of it. "Hibino Nanami."

    "Hibino-san, hm?"


    Ken forced himself to pay attention to finding a plant and pulled his gaze away from them, making a mental note to memorize the girl's name. He and Yohji were always forgetting. He finally found a little blue pot and picked it up, turning to get the girl's approval, but the words died on his tongue. The girl had climbed up the stool to seat herself in Schuldich's lap and she was sprawled backwards against him, hands buried in his pants pockets. She offered Ken a bored look at the surprise on his face. "He makes a comfortable chair," she decided.

    "Uhh... Right. How about this?" Ken wanted to know, holding the pot out for her to see.

    "Does it have a scent?" she wanted to know, and Ken gave the small blossoms a sniff. When he nodded, she tilted her head back to press a small kiss to the underside of Schuldich's jaw. "How much did they pay for you?" she asked.

    "Ask the one that paid," Schuldich said, apparently not at all bothered to have a lapful of female. "I'm not supposed to give out that sort of information."

    "Perhaps." She pulled one hand free, taking hold of the counter so she could turn on his lap. It was a wonder she managed to do it without knocking one or both of them off the stool, and Ken was pretty sure Schuldich got an eyeful as she maneuvered one leg between their chests. At last she settled down again, hands in her own pockets this time, and let her legs dangle to either side of Schuldich as she considered his face. "Pretty," she decided, looking over at Yohji. "He has a good face."

    "I'm sure you're more thrilled than we are by the purchase," was Yohji's dry answer.

    She just shrugged. "Maybe," she said, and slid off of Schuldich's lap to follow Ken to the counter. She dropped a handful of coins by the register and didn't wait for him to count it before plucking up the pot and starting for the door.

    "Wait," Ken called, hurrying to count the coins. "Your change..."

    "Keep it," she said. "You need it more than we do."

    Ken frowned at her back, insulted, but she didn't look back and stepped out into the sunlight. She took two steps away from the front door and spread her hands, letting the pot fall to crash and shatter on the ground, and she started off down the sidewalk. Silence hung between the three men in the shop for a long minute in her wake as they considered her short, strange visit. Schuldich was the first to move and he looked over at Ken, arching an eyebrow at him.

    "And that was...?" he asked.

    "Hell if I know," Ken answered. "She's kind of on the weird side as it is."

    "She's another tenant at the apartment?" Schuldich guessed. "She was there last night."

    "She's more like the landlord's girl," Yohji said. "I *told* you he was fucking her, Ken."

    "There's no proof that they're actually sleeping together," Ken sent back as he went to fetch the broom and dustpan for the mess out front. "Just because she was there last night doesn't mean anything. They could have just been talking. They're probably just good friends."

    "Since Farfarello is obviously good enough with people skills to have friends," Yohji said, rolling his eyes.

    Schuldich sent them a startled look. "Farfarello?" he echoed. "His name is Farfarello?"

    "Yeah, supposedly. I don't know what his real name is; I don't think anyone does. I sure didn't ask, though." Yohji shrugged.

    "Ah... Right. I'm going to make a phone call." Schuldich slid off the stool and started towards the door, and Ken followed behind him with the broom. Schuldich glanced back as Ken joined him but said nothing, patting at his pockets to try and remember which one he'd put his cell phone in. Ken tried to politely mind his own business, crouching by the mess to sweep some of the dirt and shards into the dust pan. He was standing back up when Schuldich grabbed at his arm, and Ken yelped as he spilled everything back onto the sidewalk. Annoyed teal eyes bounced up to Schuldich's face and found himself the target of a flat look. "Where's my phone?" Schuldich demanded.

    Yohji pushed open the door, wondering at the telepath's obvious anger, and Schuldich turned on him. "That bitch took my phone!"

    Yohji gave him a dry grin, reaching up to brush his bangs out of his face. "I'm not surprised," he said. "She's not exactly a good little citizen or she wouldn't be hanging around Farfarello, you know. She's a little," and he wiggled his finger by his head to indicate insanity. "Multiple personality disorder, to start the list. Nanami's her dominant personality, luckily. I don't know how much of her you'll see this week since you're attached to Ken's side, but when she starts referring to herself as a single person, it's time to beat a hasty retreat. Her other personality is kind of a freak."

    Schuldich just stared at him. His fingers had relaxed on Ken's shirt and Ken took advantage of that to pull free. The movement had Schuldich looking back at him, and the German grimaced. "Hate to tell you this, but you know some fucked up people."

    Ken just shrugged and went back to sweeping. "Well, what can I do about it? Like I said last night, Yohji's the one that found the apartment for me."

    Yohji just shrugged. "Asuka was fond of her."

    Schuldich shook his head, staring off down the sidewalk. "I don't believe this," the German muttered. "She took my *phone*."

    "I'll talk to Farfarello about getting it back," Ken offered, "but I can't just yet. I have to leave really soon to make it to Shinjuku on time and get clocked in at Arabian Sea. Don't worry, she's not going to pawn it off or anything, and I doubt she'll use it." Schuldich frowned and Ken stood, careful not to spill the dust pan a second time. "There's a pay phone just down from the restaurant," he offered. "Want to call from there?"

    "I want my goddamned phone back before she goes through it. There's confidential client information in there."

    "Well..." Ken started uncertainly.

    "Here," Yohji said, digging through his pocket. He pulled out his cell phone and flipped it open. "Tell me your phone number and I'll dial it." Schuldich read him the numbers and Yohji lifted it to his ear, listening. After a few moments he grimaced and hung up. "She turned it off." Schuldich swore and Yohji waved at him to calm down. "I have Farfarello's number in here somewhere. Just wait a sec..." He dialed again and Ken and Schuldich watched expectantly. "Hey, Farfarello, it's Yohji. Uh, right. Of course you have caller ID. Um, look. Your girl Hibino was just at the shop and she walked off with Schuldich's cell phone. I need you to call her and tell her to bring it back. ... Yeah, he's right here. Okay. Sure, that's fine." He hung up and gave his phone a small shake. "Goodbye to you, too."

    "Well?" Schuldich demanded.

    Yohji held the phone out towards him. "He said he'll call back for you in just a moment on this phone. I guess he's going to call her and talk to her."

    Schuldich muttered something unintelligible and took the phone away just as it started ringing. He took one look at the number on the screen and went still, staring down at it. Ken started to lean forward to see and Schuldich moved it away, answering on the third ring.

    "Do you have a fucking explanation for this?" he demanded into the phone, and Ken winced, hoping Farfarello wouldn't evict him for his companion's behavior. Schuldich twisted, staring down the sidewalk in the direction Hibino had wandered off in. "Well, excuse me for not noticing the bitch was picking my pockets. She looks like she's two; how was I supposed to know any better?" He fell silent, scowling, and Ken could hear the rumble of another voice on the other end of the line.

    Ken glanced down at his watch, trying to be discrete, and carried the dust pan over to the trash can on the corner to dump it out. "Whatever," Schuldich said, "but you and I are going to have a very long talk later, do you hear me?"

    He snapped the phone closed, scowling, and practically shoved it into Yohji's hand. "Let's go, Ken."

    "Where are we going?" Ken asked, and Schuldich flicked him a cool look.

    "Shinjuku," was the response. "Farfarello's going to stop by the Arabian Sea and give me my phone back."

    "Oh," Ken said. "That's good of him."

    Schuldich pulled out a flash card and covered up the first two words with his fingers, leaving just the "Fuck you" visible. Ken sighed and bid Yohji farewell before leading his unhappy companion down the street towards the train station.


    Schuldich was given a table in the corner of the Arabian Sea and a drink to nurse until the Irishman arrived. Ken left him there with a few awkward words before vanishing, and Schuldich sat slouched low in the booth, his feet propped up on the bench across from him. He drummed his fingernails on the tabletop, blue eyes flicking around as he watched for Farfarello to make an appearance. It didn't take the other man long to show up and he didn't slow as he passed the hostess. Waiters and customers alike fell back out of his way, trying not to run each other over in their hurry to move. Only one or two tried to be subtle about it and one child actually spoke up a "What is that?" before its mother clamped a hand down over its mouth.

    Farfarello helped himself into the seat across from Schuldich and the German drew his legs back, sitting up a little straighter in his chair. The two studied each other in silence for several long minutes, sizing each other up. Schuldich knew Farfarello by reputation only and found it a strange stroke of luck that he'd actually met the other man. Whether the luck was good or bad had yet to be seen, and he was wondering how to go about this. It had been Crawford on the phone earlier saying that Farfarello had just left his office and wanted to meet with him at Ken's second workplace and Schuldich wanted this meeting over with so he could go out front and call the American. Crawford had warned him not to call until after Farfarello left.

    "So," Schuldich said, but Farfarello ignored the prompt.

    A waitress stopped by their table and left again with a drink order for the shorter man. Schuldich's gaze followed her as she went and he saw Ken across the restaurant, leaning over the counter to call orders to one of the bartenders. "One wonders what the infamous Farfarello would want with my cell phone," Schuldich said, looking back at Farfarello.

    The man offered him the barest of smiles and he reached out, setting the stolen phone in the middle of the table. "One wonders what Crawford's Mastermind is doing screwing around with one of my tenants," he sent back easily, and Schuldich's hand froze halfway to his cell phone. Blue eyes were sharp as his gaze bounced up to Farfarello's face, and Farfarello's smile widened.

    "Okay," he said after a few moments. "You've got my attention."

    Farfarello slouched down a little in his chair, sliding down the back cushion, and lifted his hands to lace his fingers together on top of the table. "I heard Crawford's wife is leaving him."

    "That has nothing to do with me," Schuldich sent back, arching an eyebrow at him.

    "Of course it does," Farfarello answered. "She can't be that stupid, Mastermind."

    "Don't use that name here," Schuldich bit out.

    Farfarello ignored the interruption. "Most everyone on the outside thinks that Crawford is exactly what he claims to be, the mediocre CEO of a little company called Choice Enterprises. But he drives a very nice car and he lives in a very nice house, and some of us know that it's not his company paying for that."

    "Check the numbers in the magazines; they list his salary there. Maybe he cuts it a little close sometimes but who's to tell him how to spend his money?"

    "And what's your salary, one wonders...?" Farfarello said, tilting his head to one side.

    "I find that a rude question to ask on our second meeting," Schuldich sent back.

    "Don't fuck around with me," Farfarello told him. It was said in a conversational tone of voice but Schuldich recognized it as a warning. The waitress returned with a drink and Farfarello waved her off when she asked if he'd like something to eat. At the counter Ken had noticed them in a brief lull between tables and Schuldich could feel the boy's curious eyes on them. "I know what pies he has his fingers in and I know what he's capable of doing. I also know that his foothold is only as strong as it is today because of a certain acquaintance on his side, one man that everyone in the underground is looking for but no one has been able to find. He has a name but no one knows what he looks like so no one can find him. I hear they call him Mastermind."

    Schuldich said nothing. Farfarello wasn't bothered by the silence. "I know who you are and I know what you're capable of doing. What I don't know is what you're doing in my territory screwing around with one of my tenants." He lifted his hand, pointing a finger in Ken's direction. "Fill in the pieces for me. He said that he banged up Crawford's car and it's obvious you're not one of the Choice Enterprise's employees. They have a section for foreigners in their catalogues for those whose tastes run that way but they know better than to ever import someone who looks like you. So you're here on Crawford's orders."

    Schuldich just stared at him for a long moment, fighting a brief internal debate, and at last shrugged his shoulders. "Personal favor for Crawford. Like you said, he dinged Crawford's 'very nice car'." When Farfarello continued to stare at him, Schuldich scowled. "It's nothing to do with business. That kid over there couldn't do anything for anyone. If he's your tenant then you know he's a bleeding heart and completely useless. So what, you want me to back off of him?"

    "No," Farfarello said, giving a slight shrug. "I don't care what you do to him."

    "Then what's the point of this conversation?" Schuldich demanded.

    "The point is this," Farfarello said, picking up Schuldich's cell phone and flicking it open. A press of a few buttons turned it on and pulled up a menu, and the Irishman turned it to face his companion. Schuldich's stomach sank when he saw he was looking at his contact list. "Rather dangerous of you to leave this in a phone when someone can take it away so easily. This is enough proof to pin the name on you and then half of Tokyo's underworld will be ready to slit your throat in your sleep. You've fucked over enough people that they'd piss themselves in joy at the chance."

    Schuldich glowered at him. "You can tell *Tot* to kiss my ass."

    Farfarello just smirked and set the phone back down, and Schuldich plucked it up and set it on the bench beside him. He considered himself rather unlucky to run into both Farfarello and Tot on the same day. As soon as Kudou had connected the girl to Farfarello and started rattling away about her mental conditions it had been a little too easy to put reputation and name together. Kudou had referred to Nanami Hibino as the dominant personality; Schuldich only knew of Tot, a mindless assassin rumored to be Farfarello's new right hand after his "Neu" chic had vanished a few years ago. He hadn't expected her to be that young.

    "So what do you want from me?" Schuldich wanted to know.

    "As long as you're going to be hanging around, I have a job I want you to do," Farfarello said. "It's very simple, really, for someone with your talents: identity theft, grand larceny, hacking..."

    "I've read my own wanted posters, thanks," Schuldich said. "I don't need it recited to me."

    Farfarello just lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "I have a job for you to run," he said again. "I pay very well, and I've promised Crawford I would take care of a few strings on the side. You'll take care of this for me, and you can keep your precious anonymity."

    Schuldich sipped at his drink to stall. "And the kid?" he said.

    "Like I said, I don't care what you do with him. Maybe you can take him along for the ride and attempt to make something a little more amusing and useful out of him."

    Schuldich gave a quiet snort at the thought. "That's not likely."

    "Also," Farfarello added, "there's going to be a car accident tomorrow."

    Schuldich paused. "Oh?"

    "Kitada Hanae's going to look down from the road to change a CD out and run right off the road. I hear these sorts of things happen all the time." Farfarello clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth and sipped at his own drink. Schuldich just stared at him and the pale man offered him the hints of a dark smile. "She knows a little too much," he said. "She knows just as I do who you are. She didn't care before because she could twist that knowledge against Crawford and blackmail him into things, but now that there's a child involved she's finally starting to think of someone else. As soon as she's clear of him she'll start blowing whistles. For anyone else, I wouldn't care, but I have a feeling you two are going to be a profitable investment."

    "You're going to kill her," Schuldich said disbelievingly.

    "Mm," Farfarello said. "It's a hobby of mine. Keep that in mind." He tipped his head back, emptying the rest of his drink, and set the glass down on the table. "You can think it over," he said, pushing himself up, and he left without a backwards glance. Schuldich stared after him as he crossed the room towards the door, turning the conversation over in his head. He slowly looked down at his phone, tapping a button to light up the screen again. In the list of contacts Farfarello had added his own number, and Schuldich offered his phone a slight scowl.

    "Think it over," he muttered. It wasn't like there was much to think about. Farfarello was right; once word got out just who he was, he wouldn't live through the night. He'd pissed off one too many people with his little games.

    "How did it go?" a voice spoke up at his elbow, and Schuldich almost jumped out of his skin. Blue eyes bounced up to see Ken standing there, balancing two trays in his hands. "Get your phone back?"

    Schuldich waggled it at him. "I said it before," he said, "and I'll say it again. You know some fucked up people. Crawford doesn't pay me enough for this sort of work."

    Ken smiled. "I doubt they'll bother you again," he said. "I don't see much of either of them, so I don't think you will, either." He lowered one of the trays to the table. "Here," he said. "I hope you like this. It's one of the restaurant favorites, so I thought maybe it'd be a safe choice." Schuldich just nodded, unloading the tray so Ken could take it back. "I'll try and bring you dessert or something later on in my shift. We're going to Yohji's after this if you're feeling up to it, and you might want something else to put the alcohol on."

    "I'll skip the dessert," Schuldich said. "Tonight sounds like a good night to get wasted."

    Ken just shrugged, plucked up the tray, and headed off. Schuldich was left to stare at his pasta meal for several minutes before he could draw himself up enough out of his thoughts to reach for his fork. He had just picked it up when he set it back down again and he dialed Crawford's number.

    Idly he wondered if Farfarello was serious about bumping off Kitada, and whether or not Crawford knew about it. In the end he decided not to ask the man. 'So, I just had a talk with one of the most feared lords of the underworld and it went okay, but he said he's going to kill your wife tomorrow and by the way, this pasta looks damn good. How was your day?' It wasn't his idea of a good conversation and if Crawford knew anything about it, it was up to the American to bring it up. He'd stick to talk of business, though there wasn't much to talk about. It looked like he was pretty much forced to do what Farfarello wanted him to do, and if he could smother his resentment over someone finding out who he was, he could almost feel a small thrill of anticipation over running a job for such a man. Farfarello had some of the best people out there, so if they couldn't handle this, it was bound to be fun. And he was still allowed to keep Ken for a little longer, which meant he could play two games at once.


    Schuldich really did hope he was serious about Kitada, though.

Part 6
Back to Mami's Fics