SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig

Part Two
"This might just be me, but don't you think the world would be a safer place if he was locked up somewhere?"

    We end up not going far, just to a small diner down the street, but I have no complaints. A full stomach always wins over an empty stomach and I haven't been picky about food in about a year. Sandwiches from a chef beat out sandwiches found in a dumpster somewhere. There's less chance of the meat having some sort of growth that way. I have no interest in contracting a fungus colony in my stomach. Ughh, the mental image is enough to make my gag reflex go off. I can already taste the fuzz sprouting in my esophagus.

    "Problems?" Farfarello asks from behind me.

    It's hard to speak through a mouthful of imaginary mold, so I just wave a hand at him in answer and follow Crawford through the front door. The so-called precognitive goes straight for the counter but ignores the cashier's polite welcome. Instead he fixes his stare on the menu hanging above his head, and I join him in contemplating the list. The delicious smells in here are enough to turn the mold into drool and I have to swallow several times before I drown on my own hunger.

    "That," Crawford says, looking back at Farfarello. I'm not really sure what 'that' is referring to, but I'm hoping it encompasses the entire menu. "We both want that."

    "We who?" I ask him, because I haven't decided yet. I was hoping for a choice in this, though I wonder if I can even make a choice. "I'm still looking."

    "Take your time," Crawford says easily, and he heads off for a booth. There is an empty one in the far corner by the window and he props himself against the glass, shaking his little toy. Half of the tables in here are full of chatting customers but I can still hear the peach-turtle jingling merrily along. Jingle bells, jingle bells… Ah, too late, I guess. Or too early? Hell, it's March. I don't know which way March goes in regards to the Christmas countdown.

    "For you?" Farfarello asks, drawing my attention back to more interesting things. I stare up at the menu again and finally point out something from the combination section. As long as I get to eat and I don't have to pay for it, I want the biggest thing they have to offer. Farfarello accepts the decision in silence and moves up to the cash register to order. I make a note of which pocket he pulls his wallet out of and glance back across the room towards Crawford. Last I checked, that whacko was paying. Somehow it's not as satisfying to have this guy fork over the money.

    Wait. Free food. Hell yes it's satisfying.

    I prop myself against the counter out of the way of any other arriving customers and Farfarello comes to stand by me. I eye him as he gazes across the counter towards the cooks, studying his strange coloring. "Farfarello, huh?" I say at last. "Is that even a real name?"

    "Who knows?" he answers. "Crawford gave it to me."

    "I see he makes a habit of keeping the cool names for himself." Farfarello lifts one shoulder in a shrug. I debate whether or not to accept that as an answer before deciding that my words weren't a question, anyway, and decide not to pursue it further. Instead I follow his gaze towards the bit of kitchen we can see from our spots and rock back and forth on the balls of my feet, impatient for my promised food.

    "I would advise you not to take seriously anything he says," Farfarello tells me without glancing my way.

    "You mean you've noticed that he's a nut job?" I feign surprise.

    "He's going to keep rambling at you, if he insisted we bring you here. Just turn him down if you know what's good for you," Farfarello advises me.

    A cook wanders our way and sets down two trays of food. I beat Farfarello to the counter and look from one to the other, searching for the one that best fits the description of what I ordered. Neither does, but then the cook returns with a third tray. I take it from him so fast that my drink shakes on the tray, and the cook sends me a startled look. Surprise gives way to offense but I'm already turning away, and Farfarello moves around me to get the other two.

    I lead the way over to Crawford's booth and sit across from him. Crawford scoots out of his seat and stands off to one side to let Farfarello take the spot by the window. Farfarello slides across the plastic seat and sets the trays down, and Crawford and his toy reseat themselves with a jingle. The plush is arranged on the table in front of Crawford's tray and I almost forget my food in favor of watching the way he moves the two orders about so that his toy can get to one serving.

    "We will now commence conversing in Japanese," Crawford says when everything is settled the way he wants it to be.

    "What makes you think I speak Japanese?" I ask him, tearing my gaze away from his toy and digging into my food. Farfarello is neatly peeling back the foil wrapper around his own sandwich but he pauses to watch me shovel as much as I can into my mouth. I ignore his stare, more intent on stopping my stomach from eating itself. He can stare all he likes, and then he can go to hell. He'd even match the scenery with his hair and eye that color.

    "Of course you can speak Japanese," Crawford assures me. "You can't fool me."

    "Mrr mhff mrr mrggr," I tell him around a mouthful of beef and mayonnaise.

    "I tell him that all the time," Farfarello says, folding up his discarded foil and setting it off to one side. "It doesn't seem to work."

    "All joking aside," Crawford says, and I almost choke on my sandwich at the sound of such words coming out of his mouth, "we are here to offer you a job."

    I think he's waiting for a response, but I'm too busy trying to figure out how to swallow what I've crammed into every crevice of my mouth. I think the bread has molded itself to the roof of my mouth and I can't get enough room around the beef to pry it off with my tongue. Farfarello gives me an odd look as I contort my face to try and shift the mouthful around but Crawford doesn't seem to notice. Maybe he understands from past experience. I don't really care. Either way, he continues on with his proposal.

    "We would like you to join Schwarz," he tells me. "We are a team of men with psychic powers. Nagi is our resident telekinetic. I am the precognitive and the leader of this team. Farfarello is the man shielding us from detection by those who would abuse our powers or kill us. We want you to be our telepath. As I told you at the jail, we are on our way to Japan to seek out a place where our powers can be put to better use. I already told you that I would be covering all expenses for transport and living, and I'm offering you a fourth of whatever our employers pay us."

    I manage to swallow enough of my mouthful that I can finally dislodge the bread from my upper jaw and I choke down the rest. Farfarello is still staring at me as I wash down whatever's stuck between my teeth with a few hefty swallows of my drink. I wonder if he's planning on eating his own order; he seems to be too intent on watching me to remember he has food. Maybe the "What's that over there?!" trick will be enough to distract him so I can snitch it.

    "Any questions so far?" Crawford asks.

    "Do you really think you should be saying such things in a public place?" I ask him. "I'm not really sure what part of your brain thinks that this is a good idea, but you're going to get all of us thrown in a mental ward."

    "No worries," Crawford reassures me. "No one around us can speak Japanese."

    I just look at him. "And what part of what you're saying is in Japanese?"

    "He has a sense of humor," Crawford tells his plush. "That's what you wanted, right?"

    "That's really creepy," I inform him. "Don't do it ever again."

    "He has a say in what's going on," Crawford tells me, reproach in his tone. "He is part of the team. He's the one who suggested we seek a telepath to add to our numbers. I haven't introduced you, have I? This is Nagi, Schuldig. His codename is Prodigy."

    I really don't think there's an intelligent- or unintelligent- response for that.

    "Crawford, your food is getting cold," Farfarello reminds him.

    It's enough to distract the other man, and Crawford peels open his sandwich. I turn on Farfarello, who just gives me an "I told you so" sort of look. I can't really argue with that so I start stuffing my face again. Leaving sounds like a good idea, but I'm not leaving until my food is finished. I think it'd be suspicious if I excused myself "to the toilet" but took my tray with me, so it looks like I'll just have to scarf and run.

    "We've already got our first job lined up," Crawford tells me. "Your cut would be six thousand."

    I choke on my sandwich. The initial response to choking is, of course, the intelligent method of shoveling food back out of one's mouth to relieve the choking. I'm not dumb enough to think I'm intelligent, however, and there's no way I'm going to spit my food out just to have to eat it again when it's partially chewed. Instead I force myself to chew and swallow through the urge to cough. Farfarello pushes himself up out of his seat enough to give me a thump between the shoulder blades when I finally have the freedom to cough and I drain most of my cup to clear my throat.

    "Six thousand," I rasp out when I can breathe again.

    "If you go," Crawford agrees. "If you do the job with us. We get half of the pay at the start and half upon a successful completion."

    I can just stare at him for a long minute and then I switch my gaze to Farfarello. The redhead has slouched against the window, a look of resignation stamped on his features. "Tell me that this is just another figment of his imagination," I say to him.

    "It's not," Farfarello answers. "We already have the contract signed."

    I stare at him for another minute, trying to come up with something to say, and then stab my finger at Crawford. He doesn't notice; he's busy feeding onion peels to Nagi and chatting quietly about the quality of the food. "Don't tell me someone was actually stupid enough to hire him."

    "Don't ask me how he did it," is all Farfarello says.

    "They are intimidated by Schwarz already," Crawford speaks up.

    "They're intimidated?" I echo. "I'm the one that's intimidated. It terrifies me to think that there are people that stupid out there. Whatever happened to Darwin?"

    "Darwin?" Farfarello asks.

    "The other telepathic candidate," Crawford explains neatly. "See? His powers are formidable."

    "Fuck almighty." I rub at my temples, food forgotten as I reel under the path this conversation has taken. "Let me get this straight, because either this is a horrible joke or I'm missing out on something crucial. You want me to work for you and go to Japan and get paid to be a telepath, barring the fact that I don't know how to read minds, that you can't really see the future, and that your third teammate is a eight inch tall jingling plush toy."

    Crawford frowns at Farfarello. "I don't think he's taking this seriously."

    "Didn't you see my incredulity coming?" I send at him.

    Crawford motions imperiously to Farfarello. "You convince him," he says. "I am going to will it to rain. We need it to rain tonight instead of tomorrow or our plane will not be able to take off on time." With that, he pushes himself up from his spot. "Keep an eye on Nagi and Schuldig. I will be back momentarily."

    "You're a prescient, not a meteorologist," Farfarello reminds him, sounding bored, but Crawford dismisses such inane words with a flick of his fingers. I lean out of my seat to watch him as he heads for the front door, and through the glass windows that line the front, I can see him stop at the curb to stare up at the clouds. I straighten in my seat and arch an eyebrow at Farfarello, who has the look of the long-suffering martyr as he empties his mug of coffee.

    "This might just be me, but don't you think the world would be a safer place if he was locked up somewhere?"

    "I don't just think it, I know it," is the redhead's calm answer. Farfarello sets his mug off to one side and reaches up to push his eye patch further up on his forehead. I blink at the sight of a pale yellow-brown eye and he blinks down at his plate as he tries to adjust to having a second eye again. He rubs at his previously covered eye and then returns to eating. "I'm pretty sure he was locked up at some point, judging by the way he rambles sometimes about a place called Rosenkreuz. He seems pretty intent on not letting them find him anymore."

    "I see," I say.

    Farfarello glances up, noticing the way I'm staring at his face. He gestures to his eye. "This?" he guesses. "Crawford gave me the patch after I lost my eye in an automobile accident."

    "It looks to me like you still have it."

    "Try telling Crawford that," he answers.

    "Your eyes are different colors," I tell him, as if he hasn't noticed.

    He taps his cheek beneath his red eye. "Contacts," he answers. "But I only bother to wear them in one since I've always got the other one covered, anyway. They're expensive as hell, so I guess it works out if I only have to get enough for the one eye. A box lasts longer this way."


    He just offers me a slight shrug and eats a few more bites of his sandwich. I return to my own food and I finish first. Another glance towards the front of the shop shows Crawford is still staring at the sky. "If you'd like to leave," Farfarello tells me, "I can distract him until you're a safe distance away. Our flight is in the morning, so he won't have long to look for you."

    I consider that, but instead ask, "How did you get caught up in this?"

    "The idiot was wandering across my campus advertising the downfall of the world," he answers. "He was disturbing people and we didn't want to wait on the campus police to shoo him off. Unfortunately, I happened to be the one that decided to try and drag him away. He latched on immediately and started spouting this same nonsense about Schwarz and psychic talents."

    "You don't believe him, do you?" He gives me a look for that, and it's my turn to shrug. "Well, you've followed him this far, haven't you?"

    Farfarello considers that in silence, gazing out the window he's resting against. "It's contagious," he says at last. I tilt my head in a question, but he's too lost in thoughts to notice. I reach across the table and steal a few onion peels from Nagi's tray. Farfarello doesn't seem to care, but at last he continues. "Life is so dull, isn't it? I was a freshman at a university and already disillusioned with higher education. It wasn't what I wanted. I wanted to see the world; I wanted something unnatural and exciting. He offered that, in a way. He offered me madness."

    "Most people don't go looking for madness," I tell him.

    "Maybe not," Farfarello answers, "but within a few days of meeting me, he'd already found us a contract in Japan. It was stay and study at university or go overseas with him and work for real money. What do you think I picked?"

    I think about that and Farfarello draws his gaze away from the window. "Maybe it's a lie," he tells me, reaching up to tug his eye patch down into place. "Maybe it's all madness. But that's all right. I'll babysit his insanity and be blind in one eye if that's what he sees, as long as he can take me away from a life I don't want to live."

    My gaze travels to the smiling turtle-peach plush as I turn his words over in my head. "Maybe you're not entirely sane," I decide, and I think I see him wave that off out of the corner of my eye. I can't look up from Nagi, and at length I reach over and steal more of the toy's food. As I'm stuffing the peels in my mouth I hear thunder rumble loudly overhead, and the lights in the diner flicker. Farfarello and I both glance up at the bulb hanging above us before looking out the window. Rain has started to fall in a vicious downpour, beating against the glass and sidewalk. I can see pedestrians running every which way for shelter and I look back at Farfarello, taking in the distant look on his face.

    "He didn't do that," I tell him, because I need to hear him agree with me.

    "The weather channel said it was going to rain tonight," Farfarello assures me. "Either way, he is going to be insufferably pleased with himself."

    The bell above the door jangles as Crawford reenters, and I gaze down the aisle towards his sopping wet form as he starts back towards us. He is indeed smiling as he makes his way to our booth and he sits down next to Farfarello, ignoring the way he's dripping all over the place. "Things are proceeding exactly as planned," he tells us.

    "Except for the fact that we lacked the foresight to bring umbrellas," Farfarello points out.

    Crawford thinks that over, then looks at Nagi for advice. The plush smiles back. "Well," Crawford says, reassured by Nagi's wholehearted support. "No matter. This is still perfect, and a little rain never killed anyone."

    "A little rain," I echo, looking at the torrent outside. The lights flicker again as lightning sizzles across the sky and I look back at Crawford.

    He just smiles. "Have you been convinced yet?" he asks.

    The little dredge of my mind that is somewhat intelligent tells me to walk away from this, because as tempting as the offer of a job is, it's obvious that this guy needs some serious psychiatric help. The rest of me is thinking about a job and a place to stay after a year and a half on the streets, and as I stare back at Crawford, I wonder if I can accept his madness in exchange for all of that. Can I play along with this insanity for the sake of staying alive?

    That's a "Duh" question if I ever heard one.

    I point at him. "If I go along with you, I demand a cool codename," I tell him. "I refuse to let you keep all the good ones."

    "That is easily taken care of," he agrees with a sage nod. "We will refer to you as Mastermind when our clients are near."

    Mastermind. It has a nice ring to it.

    My mouth curves into a wide smirk. "I guess you've got your telepath, then."

Part 3
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