SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig

Part Five
"You know what they say about men with big feet."

    For a long minute I just stare myself down in the mirror, trying to remember what I look like. I'm looking a bit grungy from the long flight over here but the worst of the mess was washed off in my hour-long shower at the hotel Crawford brought me to in Germany.. this morning? Yesterday? Hell if I know. I still think Crawford's confused about what time it is. Doesn't matter, I guess, but I'll keep an eye out. It never hurts to rack up "I told you so" points, especially against such a know-it-all weasel. Either way, I'm dirty, but not as bad as I used to be. I'm pretty sure I found mushrooms growing in a patch of dirt on one shoulder yesterday-or-today.

    "Damn, I'm hot," I declare.

    Nagi jingles on the other side of the curtain where Tot has taken him out of her backpack to play with him. I think I hear her giggle at my words and I finally point my gaze down at the clothes I'm trying on. In my superior judgment, I think it's a waste to spend the money Crawford gave me on clothes when the ones I have on aren't that bad. The only reason I'm actually going along with this whole thing is that Tot said Crawford gave her a card to spend on my wardrobe. She hasn't told me how much yet but she seems to have a mental tally going to make sure we don't go over it.

    Well… The other reason is that the saleslady blanched when she saw me start fingering the clean clothes on the racks. That was fun. I even sneezed on a shirt just for her. Of course, she ruined my fun shortly after by up and disappearing. I haven't seen her for a good half hour. Maybe she went on lunch break.

    I push the curtain aside to show off my magnificence to Tot. She beams and squishes Nagi up against her breasts and I think he must be one very happy plushie. "Okay!" she tells me. "Good, very good!" She switches Nagi to one hand and offers me a thumbs-up with the other one. "Okay, next phrase!" She rattles something off in Japanese- first at a What-the-fuck speed, then slower. I eye her from the doorway of the dressing room and she says it a third time, then smiles and waits. I spit it back at her as best I can and she squeals a little, rocking on her heels. "Good! Very good!"

    "What did I say?" I want to know.

    "You say- said-" she hesitates for a moment, making sure she fixed her grammar, "said 'Where is the nearest train station?'."

    "Train?" I echo.

    "You use subway!" is her easy answer. "Is very nice. When you are in city, you take subway to come home. Look!" She cradles Nagi in one arm and digs a map out of her pocket. I abandon the airplane-bathroom sized dressing stall to eye the jumbled mess of colored lines the braindead girl has to show me. She offers Nagi a mournful look before carefully setting him down on top of her backpack and then flattens the map against the abandoned sales counter.

    "Here," she says, pointing. "You remember this. Yes? This is Tokyo subway. You live here." She points to a spot on the map where there aren't any lines. "You are in city and want to come home, you take this." She points to the nearest colored line. "Can you say Odakyuu?"

    "Your spaghetti is giving me a migraine."

    "Spaghetti?" she asks, totally confused. "No, no. This is subway map. Odakyuu."

    "I'm not taking the subway."

    She stomps her foot. "Odakyuu!"


    "I will not buy your shirt!" she declares, planting her fists on her hips. "Not!"

    I scowl at her. "Odakyuu."

    Annoyance evaporates immediately into delight. "Yes! Good! You take Odakyuu to here. It stops. Last stop. You get off and walk. I will show you where it is! Now! Next clothes!" She rummages around in her backpack for a pen, finds one that's all green and sparkly, and circles the line and supposed last station. She scratches out notes in the corner in German and then something in Japanese.

    "I can't read that."

    "Is not for you," she answers sensibly. "I write it for station master. This piece says 'I do not speak Japanese'. You remember how to say? Say for me!" I scowl down at the mess and repeat the third phrase she taught me. It looks nothing at all like it sounds. She squeaks again and keeps pointing. "This says you need to get to Odakyuu. He will help. Yes? Next!"

    I abandon her to her map and tuck myself back in the dressing room with my new headache. In exchange for taking me shopping and buying these clothes, Tot insists on keeping up her deal with Crawford and teaching me Japanese. For everything I try on, she has a new phrase for me to learn, whether it's a bit of introduction, asking for prices or the bathroom, or- apparently- how to get 'home'. As annoying as she is, I guess I'm glad for the lessons. It sounds better than wandering around looking for someone who speaks German, anyway.

    My mouth moves over the newest question she's taught me and I shrug before pulling off the clothes. There's only one outfit left and it gets Tot's cheerful stamp of approval. She takes all of the clothes up to the register while I change back into what I wore here, and by the time I step out of the dressing room, she's managed to find our missing saleslady. I watch as the woman rings everything up and Tot settles Nagi in her backpack again before digging out her card. The number on the register makes my stomach hurt.

    We're given four bags and we carry them down the street to a shoe store. Tot sits me down in the men's section before going to find something for herself. The nearest salesperson is careful not to meet my eyes and I make faces in his general direction before wrestling with the shoes. They're all pathetically small no matter what size I find and I'm chewing on the shoelaces to some particularly expensive looking shoes by the time Tot comes to find me again.

    "What are you doing?" she asks, wide-eyed.

    "I'm feeling spiteful," I answer. "These shoes suck."

    "Mine are nice. See?" She shows me the box she picked up and then points to my chewed-on shoes. "Those are nice."

    "These are too small," I tell her. "They're all too small."

    She plops down on the ground next to my stool and pushes her foot against mine, considering the difference in size. "Big!" she declares.

    "You know what they say about men with big feet."

    "What?" she asks brightly.

    I just eye her. Her stupidity takes the fun out of it and at last I heave an annoyed sigh. "Nothing."

    "Oh." She thinks on that for a few moments and then lights up again. "Crawford has big feet!"

    "…We're leaving."


    By the time I head back to the boarding house thingie I have to admit that Crawford was right about what time it was. I've been out for hours, long enough that the sun should be setting, but it's high up in the sky as if it's the afternoon. It's confusing, and even more so because I'm already tired. I shift my grip on my bags and continue on, looking around at the houses I'm passing. Tot brought me back to the last turn before the boarding house and then left to meet with some friends in the city. Even though she told me twice that it's a straight shot to the house from where she left me, I still don't like wandering on my own. I do recognize several of the houses the landlady pointed out earlier, though.

    I almost miss the house just because there's a truck out in front when I get there. Two guys are unloading a box onto the sidewalk and I move past them to get through the gate. The landlady passes me on her way out to greet them and babbles cheerfully at me.

    "I don't speak Japanese," I tell her, showing off my amazing progress in Japanese since I last saw her. I realize belatedly that I didn't get Tot to teach me how to say 'Teach me English', but I think the old bat finally understood what I was demanding of her earlier. I'll have to double check later.

    She seems impressed by my words and gives my arm a kindly pat. I rub her cooties off as soon as she continues on down the sidewalk and go inside, taking the stairs up to our apartment. I realize two very important things then: one, I don't have a free hand to get to the door, and two, I don't have a key to open it anyway. I'm about to kick it in a summons when it opens for me, and Crawford blinks at me where he's slipping into his shoes.

    "Coincidence," I tell him.

    "Your bed is here," he answers, stepping out of the way. "Did you have fun today?"

    I just shake my head as I squeeze my way past him. "I don't know where you dig these people up, but if your supposed clients are as insane as-" I slam my foot into the step, forgetting all about it in favor of ranting about the day and unable to see it past the bags that weigh me down. My other foot moves forward instinctively, trying to stop me from stumbling, but it just hits the wood as well and I'm already falling forward with a yip.

    An arm around my waist catches me before even my heavy bags can touch the ground and a second arm joins the first just a breath later to help steady me. Crawford is almost leaning against me from the hips up to support my weight and I let my bags fall off to the sides, staring down at where his feet are braced against the ground. I reach for the ground but can't brush it, so instead curl my fingers around Crawford's wrists. He straightens after a moment and I move back with him closer towards the door until there's room for me to find my footing again.

    "You're supposed to take your shoes off," Crawford reminds me, tut-tutting a little. A hand on my shoulder turns me to face him and he inspects me, checking for damage. "Are you all right?"

    "…Yeah. Thanks," I say grudgingly, peering up at him. He somehow manages to look both concerned and amused in the same breath. I say again: totally messed up in the head. Someone put a 60-watt bulb in where a 20-watt should be and the light's not staying on. Gee, I wonder why.

    He lifts his hand, pressing two fingers against my throat. I bat his hand away and he lets me, smile flickering a little wider. "Your heart is pounding."

    The buzzer beside us goes off then, doing nothing at all for my heart rate, and I leap away from Crawford like a startled cat. He snags me by my shirt. "Shoes, Schuldig," he sing-songs at me, and then he turns to answer the call. The landlady's voice comes through the speaker and Crawford answers her. I toe my shoes off and tuck them into one of my bags, then gather the bags up and wander further into the apartment.

    Farfarello is sprawled out under the blankets on the bedroom floor but his eye is open and he watches as I set my things down in my safe spot. The border is a little too small for all of them so I mentally redraw the lines. Satisfied that they'll be all right, I look around.

    "He lied," I note. "My bed isn't here."

    "What time is it?" Farfarello asks.

    "Hell if I know," I answer with a shrug. He mutters something I can't understand and pulls the blanket up over his head. I eye his lumpy form. "That can't be comfortable."

    "Mmf," he sends back.

    There's chatter at the door and I look to see the men from downstairs have shown up with the box. Crawford points out a spot and watches as they prop it against the wall there. He has to sign some papers and then they're gone, taking the landlady with them. Crawford shuts the door and takes his shoes off again before joining me in eyeing the box.

    "Your bed," he announces. "It will have to go in another room."

    "Why?" I want to know, following after him as he pads across the floor. This apartment thing has two rooms and a bathroom and Crawford points into the room that has the kitchen. Rather, he points at its floor. The bedroom has that straw mess of a floor but the kitchen has something more like linoleum. "This is a kitchen," I tell him, as if he hasn't noticed. "Why would a bed go in here?"

    "I'm not putting a bed on tatami mats," Crawford tells me.

    I ignore the part I don't understand. "Where will the table go?"

    He looks surprised. "The table is in the other room. It is put away."

    I decide not to ask how one puts a table away because I'm not sure I want to know. I eye the room again, looking from the fridge to the stovetop to the TV and small entertainment center. Hm, food and a TV and a bed, all in one room. Sounds good to me- really good. After a year and a half of having nothing but what I could steal from other people, I suddenly have a bed and a place to stay and a lot of new clothes. It's… really weird. Almost as weird as Crawford, if that's at all possible. "Right," I say. "It'll do."

    They left the box in the hall near the bathroom, so it's not too far to get it into the kitchen. With two people working on it, it doesn't take too long to get it put together, even when the instructions are all in Japanese. It comes with a thin mattress that's folded into thirds in the box but I'm not going to complain. Beds have been a rare treat for me ever since I left home; it seems I only get to sleep in one when I do something stupid. For example, getting caught by the police or following a batshit-insane man halfway around the world to a country that has no concept of a real alphabet or shoe sizes.

    "You should shower and then sleep," Crawford tells me. "We have a meeting tonight with our employer." He thinks that over and then smiles brightly. "Can you use a gun?"

    I just stare at him. "…What?"

    "A gun," he says again. "There are times when your telepathy will not be enough."

    "What exactly do you think we're going to be doing?" I demand.

    "Oh," Crawford says, looking a little dismayed. "I didn't tell you?"

    "You left it out somewhere between 'I see things' and 'Your bed is here'."

    "Well, there was a lot of ground to cover," he says, waving that off and wandering into the next room. I follow after him and start gathering up my bags, ready to move them to a safe spot beneath my brand new bed. "For now, we are merely bodyguards. Our client is in charge of one of the drug routes into the country and we are to supervise the arrival of the newest shipment."

    My bags fall from limp fingers. "Drugs," I echo. "As in like… happy pill drugs. Sleeping pills."

    Crawford just blinks at me. "Cocaine, mostly."

    "What the fuck?!"

    Farfarello shifts and pushes the blankets back to eye us. I send a wild look his way but he doesn't seem overly concerned with what Crawford's just said. Maybe he's calling Crawford's bullshit? Or maybe he already knew… I look back at Crawford, who has a blank look on his face in the face of my startled anger. "You're lying," I accuse him. "You're lying."

    "It pays very well," Crawford tells me, beaming.

    "You brought me out of Germany to work with drugs? Fuck you! It's one thing to snick an apple or a wallet or beat some punk up in exchange for money, but drugs are something else entirely. You think I want to spend the rest of my life in jail? You're a fucking quack and I want a ticket back to Germany."

    Crawford waves his hands at me in a calming gesture that doesn't work at all. "We will not be caught," he assures me. "I have seen that we will have no problems."

    "Oh, right. That bloody gift of yours." I pinch the bridge of my nose and remind myself how to breathe. In-two, out-two. I feel dizzy but I refuse to sit down. "No wonder they hired you; they're probably so doped up on their own junk that they didn't realize there's something seriously wrong with you! Damn it!"

    "You don't approve," Crawford notes, sounding almost mournful.

    "What was your first clue?"

    "The look on your face," he answers helpfully.

    "Shut up. Farfarello-" I whirl on the Irishman, wanting some support from that corner. He's sitting up with his blankets tucked around him and the second I see the look on his face, I know he's not going to be any help. He looks faintly amused by my riled reaction. "You can't tell me you approve of this."

    "I told you it'd be better to walk away," he says.

    "Drugs, Farfarello. Drugs. If we get caught-"

    "We won't," Crawford insists.

    "Shut up."

    "If it was an easy job, it would be boring," Farfarello tells me.

    "If we get caught-"

    Crawford looks at the ceiling for patience. "We won't."

    "I said shut the fuck up."

    "Twelve thousand."

    I look back over at Crawford. "What?"

    "You can have Nagi's share for this job," Crawford tells me. "Twelve thousand." He counts off on his fingers. "A home, a bed, clothes, food, work, and money. That's all right, isn't it? Oh, and a good codename." He pokes a seventh finger into the air. I mime shooting him.

    "If we did get caught," Farfarello speaks up, "how would you be any worse off than how you were a week ago?"

    "I can't believe some college yuppie from Ireland is siding with this maniac. 'Unnatural and exciting'," I spit at him, mocking his assessment of a future with Crawford. Farfarello just shrugs and I look back at Crawford. "Why don't you just do us all a favor, get back on your prescription, and go back to Rosenkreuz. At least then-"

    As pissed off as I am, I know immediately that I've said something wrong. Dumbass Crawford has been replaced by that Other Crawford. The blank look on his face isn't one born of confusion and unhappiness over my rebellion but is instead that look he turned on me when I tried to strike our landlady. He just stares at me and through me for a few moments before slowly sliding his gaze towards Farfarello. I can't stop myself from clenching my hands in my shirt and I can feel my stomach shivering even through my skin and the dirty cloth.

    "Farfarello?" he asks, but the rest of what he says is in English. Farfarello answers back and whatever he says must be enough, because Crawford's expression lightens. He turns back to me with a smile. "Don't say that word again," he says, almost a request- almost, but not quite. I'm nodding without thinking and Crawford's smile widens. "Tonight will be fine, Schuldig. You'll see."

    "No," I send back at him snidely. "You'll see."

    That breaks the last bit of darkness out of his expression. "Yes," he agrees happily. "I already have."

Part 6
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