SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig

Part Eleven
"You hit him over the head and I'll stuff him in the trunk."

    Crawford waits until we're all safely back at the boarding house before showing us the newspaper he stole from his parents' place. The front article has a picture of a fat man attached to it and Crawford points at it, looking triumphant. "Takatori Reiji," he announces. "He's a politician. We're going to be working for him from now on."

    I eye him over my third nikuman. "And…?"

    "And," Crawford agrees.

    'And' is better than 'but', but it makes about as much sense. I stare at Crawford for a long minute. "And?" I demand again, and he frowns at me, confused. "What did your parents have to do with any of this?"

    "Oh," Crawford says, and he considers the article. "I knew our next client would be near their bodies. I didn't need them; I just needed to find the name. Now we have it." He sounds pleased and flips the page to consider the other articles it has to offer. "I will talk to him tonight. It will go well, of course."

    I cram the nikuman into my mouth so I don't have to think of a clever response to that. I think about the long ride out there and the smell of death and the police chase, just so Crawford could steal a newspaper from a kitchen. Farfarello doesn't seem to know what to make of it either, and if even he is at a loss for words, it means we're really fucked. We sit in silence for a minute as Farfarello debates the pros and cons of strangling Crawford and I work on eating my nikuman.

    "Stocks are up," Crawford comments as I swallow the last bite, and he holds the page out to me. "Maybe we should buy some."

    I don't see anything about stocks on that page. I don't even see the Japanese that's printed across it. The only thing I see is a fat brown spider skittering its way across the sheet, fangs bared and dripping drool all over the place. I throw myself back from the newspaper as hard as I can, clocking Farfarello with my elbow as I go.

    "Get it away from me!!"

    Farfarello is swearing where I knocked him back against the wall, scrubbing a hand across his mouth to wipe the blood off. I crawl over him as the spider falls from the newspaper to the rice paper floor and Crawford's on his feet already, trying to figure out what's wrong.

    "What the hell-" Farfarello starts, but it's hard to speak when you've taken a knee to the diaphragm. I'm crouching up on top of the futon cabinet in just another second, fingernails digging into the wood. Blue eyes rake the floor but I've lost it, and I can feel my gag reflex going off at the thought that thing is in this room.

    It occurs to me then that it could have jumped on my foot during my escape and I leap to my feet, slapping at my shirt and pants. "Get it off get it off get it off!!" Crawford is at my side, grabbing at me, and I plant my hand against his face and shove. "You brought that thing into this room! Arghhhhh get it offffff."

    "Schuldig, you have to calm down," Crawford tries, but then I see the ugly cretin where it's crawling up my pants leg. I kick my leg out with a sharp jerk, sending it flying, but the snap has me falling off the cabinet. Crawford catches me and I'm content to wrap myself around him, staring over his shoulder at the matted floor. I can feel his heart racing against my hands where they're digging into his back and then I realize it's my own pulse.

    "Where did it go?" I ask, latching my legs tighter around Crawford's waist. "Where did it go?"

    "Where did what go?" Farfarello demands.

    "Shit shit shit!" I almost knock us both over when I stab my finger in its direction. "It's going for Nagi! Farfarello, kill it!"

    Farfarello looks where I'm pointing. I latch onto Crawford again and Farfarello starts that direction, leaning over as he finally spots the monster. "A spider?" he asks, sounding incredulous. "You're freaking out over a spider?"

    "Kill it before it kills Nagi!"

    "Farfarello," Crawford says, sounding strained. I wonder if he's scared, too, and then I realize I'm probably choking him. I don't loosen my grip.

    Farfarello reaches over and picks it up with his bare fingers, and I bury my face against Crawford's shoulder as my skin erupts in creepy-crawlies. "Ughhhhh kill it nowww."

    I hear Farfarello's footsteps as he leaves the room, and a few moments later, the toilet flushes. I don't budge until Farfarello comes back into the room. Crawford turns where he can see our third teammate and then loosens his grip a little where he has to hold onto my waist to keep me up. "It's gone, Schuldig," he promises me. "Farfarello took care of it."

    "Fucking spider eating retard," I mutter against his shoulder, needing another second before I peek at Farfarello. The pale man is just staring at me with a funny look on his face that's something between bewilderment and something decidedly unfriendly. "You killed it?"

    "It was a spider," Farfarello says.

    "I think I noticed that," I tell him icily.

    "You demand to have a bed and you freak out over spiders," Farfarello says, and it sounds accusing. "What sort of street rat are you supposed to be?"

    I'm stung enough that I don't think twice before dropping my feet to the ground. "I'm not a street rat," I snap back at him. "I was only on the streets for a year and a half before you weed heads showed up in Germany. I had a home growing up."

    "But no bed," Crawford adds. I bite him for that because my hands aren't ready to unknot themselves from his shirt. My teeth are quite ready to do the talking for me, though, and his neck is right there. "Ouch," he complains, and I sneer up at him.

    "Maybe you should have seen it coming."

    "I did," he says, reaching up and rubbing at his neck. "I thought it might be fun."

    That's enough encouragement to let go of him and I shove at him to get him away from me. I end up only shoving myself several feet back and I scratch at my arms, trying to get rid of the lingering heebie-jeebies. "Either way, my life? Not your god-damned concern. Why's a hippy college student know how to fire a gun, anyway? Try answering that question. Why were you so mad that Crawford could speak Japanese? Why were you so mad about the drugs?"

    "You were mad about the drugs," he reminds me, not an answer at all.

    "Not like you were." I spit back at him the same thing he said to Crawford last night, matching his hateful tone exactly. "What does that mean, Crawford? What did he say to you?"

    Crawford opens his mouth to answer, but Farfarello bites something out in English. Crawford answers and Farfarello says something again. I stomp against the ground so hard I hurt my foot. "Shut up! Shut up! Stop using English! This is not an English speaking household!"

    There's a knock at the door and I can hear our landlady's worried query. "Go the fuck away!" I yell at the door, and I spin on Crawford. "Tell me how to say that in Japanese!"

    Crawford calls something cheerful in Japanese instead. The three of us stand silent as she goes away, staring each other down, but it's kind of hard to glare at two people at the same time. Finally I just wash my hands of both of them and storm out of the room. My bed is waiting for me and I climb on, extinguishing the world around me by pulling my blanket over my head.

    Today is just- too much.

    The drugs last night, the smell of death, the police chase, the spider, and Crawford-

    'I started it, but.'

    My hands, pushing him down against the mattress. My mouth, slanting against his. Hot skin and blankets beneath me and I wish I remembered it the other way around. I can only be grateful that I don't remember all of it, but Crawford's words to me on the bus were enough to jar a bit more than I wanted to deal with.

    'I started it, but you finished it.'

    'You fucked me.'

    Oh say can you see-

    How could drugs ever have been enough for me to fuck Brad Crawford?


    By that evening things have settled down a little bit around the so-called Schwarz household, which is good because we have to go meet our potential client. Crawford spent half an hour on the phone with some of this Takatori guy's representatives and now we get to go meet him somewhere. I'm bringing my last nikuman with me just in case I get hungry, even though it's sort of crushed from being in my pocket while I slept. A little lint never hurt anyone.

    I end up changing because my clothes are all wrinkled from sleeping, but my thoughts are running a thousand directions as I dig through my bags. I find a clean tee-shirt with a freaky looking cat on it and tug it on over my jeans. I've turned to go find the others when Crawford steps through the doorway.

    Crawford is wearing a suit.

    For a heartbeat he doesn't look like a plush-wielding maniac at all. His face is schooled into that calm look he wore for the drug dealers and he's dressed head to toe in a cream business suit. He looks respectable and normal, and I can just stare at him.

    He ruins it when he smiles. "Ready?" he wants to know.

    "…Almost," I say, and he leaves again. I stare at the empty doorway for a minute and look down at my own tee and jeans. In the end I dig through my bags again, searching for some sort of jacket. I find a green one in the back and shrug into it, buttoning it shut to hide the design on my shirt. Another glance down and I decide blue jeans look horrible underneath it, so I trade them out for khakis. I have to pry my nikuman out of the denim and stuff it in my new pocket and I wander to the bathroom to eye my reflection.

    If a maniac can look respectable, can I?

    No. It's a waste of time for someone like me to look respectable, because it's not something I've ever wanted to be. I stare at orange hair and blue eyes and green and tilt my head to one side, wondering. At length I offer the mirror a wicked smirk, the look I had to use to keep other street mongers away from me, and on the mirror glass I finally see what I've been wanting to.

    Something crazy, something dangerous, something that has a place and name.

    "Trying to impress someone?" Farfarello asks from the doorway. I look back to see he's still in the day's vest and pants.

    I shrug. "He's a politician."

    "He's the prime minister hopeful," Crawford chips in from somewhere behind Farfarello, and I just stare at the Irishman for a moment before shoving past him. "Oh, you changed," Crawford observes.

    "The prime minister hopeful?" I echo. "You want this ragged group to work for someone like that? We just brought drugs into the country!"

    "I don't think he'll mind." Crawford starts for the door. I look back at Farfarello, who just shrugs, and follow after him. What a sight we must be walking down the hall, Crawford looking like a businessman, me like a maniac, and Farfarello like a bouncer with that red coloring and lazy outfit. We pass the landlady on the first floor and have to stop for her inspection. She fixes Crawford's tie, adjusts my hair, and straightens Farfarello's shirt a bit. Once we've gotten her blessing, we're out the door.

    Crawford leads us down the street to a parking lot and digs a keychain out of his pocket. The press of a button has the headlights on a car flashing at us and I catch at Crawford's elbow as he starts heading that way. "We're stealing a car?"

    "No, that's our car," Crawford assures me, patting my head. "I bought it for us."

    "Wait, what?"

    "When?" Farfarello wants to know.

    "Yesterday," Crawford says, sounding pleased with himself. "You were out and Schuldig was with Tot. I wanted it to be a surprise. Surprise." He continues towards it and I prop myself against Farfarello for support. "I thought it would be easier to take the train to Tsukuba, but now we can use it to get to Takatori's offices. I know where that is."

    He stops by the driver's door and looks back, noticing that we're making no move to follow him. "You're upset," he decides wisely.

    "I fear more for my life now than I did when we met Joe Kanazawa."

    "Do not be afraid of Takatori," Crawford reassures me. "Schwarz is stronger than he will ever be."

    "I'm not afraid of your tinsel town prime minister," I send back. "I'm afraid of your driving."

    "Would you like to drive?" he offers, holding out the keys.

    "You know I don't know how."

    "You will have to learn," Crawford tells me. "There will come a time when you need to drive." He considers the keys and nods at me. "I will drive tonight," he offers. "I will take you out driving tomorrow. We are leaving."

    I look at Farfarello. "You hit him over the head and I'll stuff him in the trunk."

    Farfarello just shakes his head at me. "He knows how to drive," he says.

    "Are you siding with him or speaking from personal experience?" I want to know.

    "Yes," he answers blandly.

    "Then you're just mad he bought a car," I decide, straightening and pointing a finger at his face. "You don't like surprises. Seems kind of backwards for a man who hates to be surprised to just abandon college and follow a maniac across the world. How can you want adventure and not like surprises?"

    "I'm particular," he answers, starting towards the car.

    "What were you studying at college?" I ask.

    "Hm?" He glances over his shoulder at me. "Does it matter?"

    "I'm a nosey street rat."

    "Business," Farfarello answers, but Crawford speaks at the same time.

    "Theology," he says, and I don't miss the cold look Farfarello turns on him. "Farfarello wanted to attend seminary. When he was younger, anyway. When things were simpler and Farfarello still believed in a gracious God. Right, Farfarello?"

    I stare, snort, and then double over with laughter I can't stop. The idea is just so ridiculous- first, that God ever existed and knew what the word 'gracious' meant, and second, that this gun-wielding college tater tot wanted to be a priest. "Ow," I gasp out, because my side is giving sharp spasms. "Ow, ow. I can't breathe."

    "It's nothing to laugh about," Farfarello says sourly.

    I wave a hand in dismissal and crane my neck to one side to peer up at him, offering him a wicked grin. "Just trying to picture it," I tell him, not at all repentant. "Don't tell me you actually believed in all that God BS."

    I see Farfarello's hand start to move and I realize he's going to hit me right as Crawford catches his wrist. I don't know when the maniac came back from the car but he's there just in time and he offers Farfarello a chiding look. "He doesn't mean it," he says.

    "Yes I do," I offer up helpfully. Farfarello grinds the heel of his palm into his eye patch and wrenches free of Crawford. Crawford and I watch him stalk towards the car and I use Crawford's arm to pull myself upright. "I can't see it," I tell Crawford. "But I'm glad someone talked him out of it. Talk about a waste."

    Crawford gives a sage nod. "He is better off in Schwarz with us."

    "Somehow both ideas come across as a bit whacked in the head, but hey." I follow him to the car and take the backseat. Farfarello is sitting low in the passenger seat and Crawford buckles before turning the key in the ignition. I decide to buckle, too, because I've just trusted Crawford to drive us wherever it is we need to go. I watch the buildings and street lamps blur by as we slide through traffic and it takes me ten minutes to admit that Crawford does know what he's doing. It makes me wonder when they let someone like him learn, and I think about that.

    I look over at Farfarello, then at Crawford, and decide I have more questions for Tot to translate into Japanese for me. Then again… Tot might know the answers, if she knows Crawford so well. For now I'm feeling a rare burst of patience and I keep my mouth shut.

    We pull up in front of an enormous building just a few minutes later. There's a man standing on the curb and Crawford gives him the keys, letting him take the car elsewhere to park it. That's kind of nice, and I arch an eyebrow at Crawford. He smiles and then presses a finger to his face, forcing his mouth back into a smooth line.

    "Remember to stick to Japanese upstairs," he advises us. "We will lose any chance of him trusting us if he hears something foreign. I will do most of the talking."

    "You do that."

    "I will," he assures me, and he leads us towards the door.

    The night secretary gestures to the elevators with a few words and Crawford presses the closest 'up' button. The doors open as soon as he does and we ride them up to the seventeenth floor. A man is waiting there to guide us down the hall to an obscenely large office and a more obscenely large man. He looked smaller in the newspaper picture and I can't help but wonder if someone tweaked it a bit for his sake. My mouth is already open to comment on his girth when Crawford speaks, and the interruption reminds me to keep my mouth shut.

    The big man, Takatori Reiji, sends the guide away. The doors are closed behind us and then there are just the four of us there. Five, I guess, because Nagi's here in cottony spirit. I only go ahead and count him because I know Crawford's going to sit down with him later and tell him everything that happened here.

    Takatori points to the spot in front of his desk and Crawford leads us over there. He growls something at us in Japanese and Crawford says something back, and they go back and forth for a while, each one giving longer and longer spiels. I'm completely lost, though I think I hear a mangled version of "Schwarz" in there several times. I catch random words like "Japan" and "is", but that's as much of it as I can follow. I'm still doing better than Farfarello, though.

    After twenty minutes of this I'm bored to tears and it's all I can do not to fidget. I want to go look out the window and see the view but I can't catch Crawford's eye to see if it's okay. This guy wants to be prime minister and Crawford dressed up into a suit to come see him. I don't think I'm allowed to misbehave here.

    There's only so long I can behave, though, and luckily Crawford chooses my snapping point to wrap things up. He bows to Takatori and starts for the door. Farfarello and I skip the bow and follow after him. I give Crawford until we're in the elevators again before speaking.

    "Well?" I want to know.

    "He's impressed," Crawford answers. "He's agreed to hire us."

    "Just like that?" Farfarello asks.

    "Just like that," Crawford agrees.

    "No trial run or anything?" I want to know.

    "We have connections," Crawford assures me. "They will vouch for us."

    Farfarello accepts that in silence and we step out onto the curb. The man leaves to go get our car from wherever he stuck it and I look over at Crawford. "I get Nagi's cut," I tell him. "Nagi said I could have it because we're such good friends and all."

    "Oh?" Crawford nods, seemingly pleased with the idea. "I'm glad."

    Farfarello just eyes us, and we both smile back at him.

Part 12
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