SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig

Part Seven
"If you tell me that there's any sort of seafood or condiment in here, I'm on the next plane."

    We get back to the guest house around two in the morning and I'm still hungry. I wait until the car has driven off and left us on the sidewalk before turning on Crawford to demand food, but a glimpse of the briefcase again leaves me torn as to whether I should demand food or money first. Crawford looks at both of us, waiting for our response to the night, but Farfarello's too busy staring off into the shadows across the street and I'm too busy looking at the briefcase.

    "Let's talk," Crawford says.

    "Feed me," I say, making up my mind.

    "We agree, then, that we should have celebratory snacks," Crawford returns with a nod. "Since I already know Farfarello's answer, it's decided. Let's go." He wanders off down the sidewalk in the opposite direction of the Yoshinoya and I trail along behind him. Farfarello catches up with me with just a few steps and I stuff my hands in my pockets, only to wince when I bang my knuckles against my gun. Up ahead of us Crawford is talking about tomorrow's weather and estimated wind speed and all that sort of junk, and I tune him out.

    "You spoke Japanese tonight," Farfarello points out.

    "You know how to use a gun," I send back easily.

    The conversation dies just like that. I count the points in my favor, feeling a bit superior that I knew what those men were saying tonight. Okay, I don't have the slightest clue what they said past "Hello" and "My name is", but still. Farfarello didn't even know that much. I don't offer to teach him my miniscule Japanese and he doesn't ask, and we walk in silence the rest of the way to the store.

    Crawford has brought us to a well-lit 7-11. Despite the hour there are two bikes parked out front and I can see two teenagers reading magazines through the giant storefront windows. The door slides open on a sensor and I follow Crawford past the register. The store isn't very big, just three aisles and a freezer section, but it's cram-packed full of food.

    The drawback is, of course, that I can't read a single damn label.

    I pluck up the nearest thing and show it to Crawford. "What is this?" I want to know.

    "Curry bread," he answers with just a glance.

    I throw it down in disgust and pluck up the next thing. "What is this?"

    "Bean paste bread."

    "What the fuck?" That gets chucked too and I turn my back on the bread to eye the rows of refrigerated boxes. I know sushi on sight just because there were Japanese restaurants in my city but I'm not feeling brave enough to try and eat any of it. The next aisle has bagged chips and cookies and the like and I hold a bag up over my head. "Crawford."

    "Mayonnaise and shrimp flavored," Crawford answers.

    "I hate Japan." I yank the bag open and toss it off to one side, watching chips spill across the slick floor. "Don't they have any real food?"

    "This is all real," Crawford points out, joining me in the aisle with a small box of sushi in his hands. He doesn't say anything about the spilled chips on the floor. Maybe he doesn't notice them. "The fake food is sold in other stores."

    "Shut up." I snatch up a box of cookies, turning it this way and that. They look like normal chocolate cookies, but then, the bread looked pretty safe too. I thrust the box out at the deranged American and tap a fingernail against the cardboard side. "Crawford, if you tell me that there's any sort of seafood or condiment in here, I'm on the next plane."

    "They're fine," he promises me.

    "I'll hold you to that." I try to leave him behind and go to the last row, but he follows me just the same. There are a lot of plastic bowls here with pictures of noodles on the front, and I'm almost tempted to try one until I see the happy-looking shrimp on one wrapper. That's enough that I give up and turn to the last thing before the register: the ice cream freezer. Farfarello's already here and rummaging around in it, and I watch as he pulls out random boxes to consider them. In the end we end up grabbing several in case one of them turns out to be Super Mayonnaise and Cheese flavored. This is Japan. I wouldn't put it past them.

    I'm sure we look like dumb foreigners walking up to the register of a 7-11 in the middle of the night carrying junk food, one box of sushi, and a briefcase full of an assload of drug money, but I don't care. I'm the first one there and I offer the cashier a sharp smile. "I'm Schuldig and I don't speak Japanese," I tell him in Japanese. It's enough to bring a polite smile to his face. I switch to German. "And you look like a retard. I bet you don't even speak German, you uneducated putz."

    "Manners, Schuldig," Crawford reminds me.

    "No." I'm distracted then by a small glass-covered case on the counter, and I lean in to eye the rows of white blobs inside. The bottom two racks have things that look like chicken nuggets and pomes frites and my stomach cries for joy at the sight of such familiar things. That just leaves the top things a mystery and I point at them. "What's this?" I want to know.

    "Nikuman," Crawford answers, setting his things down next to mine. I wonder if that means he's paying. "There's pork inside."

    "Buy for me," I order him.

    Crawford says something to the cashier, who pulls a few out, wraps them, and rings them up with the rest of our stuff. Crawford turns on Farfarello expectantly and the shorter man pulls out a wallet. I wonder who's really funding this trip, but I guess it doesn't matter. Twelve thousand dollars. Nice.

    I take the bag before the others can and I'm digging through it before we're even out the door. The other two don't ask me to pass them anything of theirs, which is good, because I'm too busy chowing down on my ice cream to bother with them. I've finished it before we make it back to the guest house and I follow Crawford up the path, already reaching in and looking for the next thing to eat. I end up finding one of the mushroom/dumpling looking things and turn it this way and that, trying to figure out how to unwrap it in the dark.

    The house is quiet as we make our way up to our apartment and Crawford lets us in. I remember the step this time and tuck my shoes under one arm before stepping up into the apartment. Farfarello gets the lights that Crawford and I both ignored and Crawford plucks a low table up from the corner and sets it down in the middle of the room with the straw flooring. I have to stop off in my room to hide my shoes under my bed and then join them in the other room. I've already got half of the meat bun thing in my mouth by the time Crawford has the table ready, and when my tongue tells me that it tastes good, I start poking the rest of it in with my fingers.

    "You're going to choke," Farfarello says from where he's watching me.

    I don't bother to answer him but keep jabbing, flexing my throat and cheeks to help fill in every corner. I can't close my mouth over it but that doesn't seem to be the biggest problem. The biggest is that I can't chew. Guess I just get to sit here and let it dissolve, then. I think I feel drool trickle down my lips and I scrub at it with the side of one hand. Farfarello looks faintly disgusted.

    Crawford doesn't notice anything out of place and sits down in front of the table to set the briefcase on it. A squeeze against the latches has it popping open and he lifts the lid the rest of the way to show us rows of yen. I try to ask Crawford how I'm supposed to know if I really get twelve thousand when this money doesn't work the same way, but the question can't really form when my mouth and throat are full of dough and pork. I plant one hand on the top of my head and the other beneath my chin and push up against my jaw, trying to force myself to chew. Farfarello rubs at his temples and I decide to write it off as a tension headache from the late hour.

    "We did well tonight," Crawford informs us. I can't say anything, so I offer him a thumbs-up and go back to chewing. "We have a few days off before they'll need us for something else. It will give us enough time to get over our jet lag."

    "They approve of us, then?" Farfarello asks.

    "I knew they would," Crawford answers. "They know to get in early with a team as powerful as us."

    "As powerful…" Farfarello trails off and gives Crawford a hard look. "You told them."

    "Of course I didn't," Crawford says. "I'm not stupid."

    Shit. There's a perfectly good opening right there and I can't take it because I'm too busy choking on dough. Yet another sign that there is no God.

    Crawford starts counting out wrapped stacks of bills. He sets five down in front of Farfarello and puts another ten on the corner of the table closest to me. I finally manage to get the bun down my throat to an overly excited stomach and plop down heavily near my cash. It takes just seconds to rip the paper off and I start counting out the bills.

    "How do I know it's twelve thousand?" I want to know.

    Crawford taps his fingernails against the five stacks still in the briefcase. "Because you trust me," he answers easily.

    "I trust you to be a psych ward reject."

    "Good enough."

    I count the money just the same and think about the number Tot spent on clothes for me earlier today. This is a hell of a lot more than that, so I guess I almost don't care if it's twelve thousand or not. It's the most money I've ever had before. I feel rich.

    …So what am I supposed to do with all this money, anyway?

    "Do you have a driver's license?" Crawford asks me.

    "What do you think, know-it-all?"

    "No," Crawford answers confidently.

    "Then why'd you ask?"

    Crawford lifts one shoulder in a shrug. "So you would feel like we were having an actual conversation."

    I dig around in the grocery bag for another meat bun. "What makes you think I'd have a license? You have any idea how much it costs to get one?"

    "We will have to get you one."


    "I can't drive us everywhere," Crawford explains patiently.

    "You can't drive us anywhere," I remind him. "We don't have a car."

    "We will get one."

    "Then you'd have to bribe someone into giving you a license."

    "Oh, I already have one. So does Nagi."

    "This sounds like a good stopping point for the night." I push myself to my feet and hold the bun between my teeth, freeing up my hands to gather up my cash. I wander out of there without another word and split my money up between my bags of clothes. I'll have to find a safer place to hide them in the morning, but for now… I find my sleeping pants in the third bag I check and change into them, hiding my discarded clothes under the bed against the wall.

    I climb into a bed that was bought just for me for the first time in my life and for a long time, all I can do is lay there, sprawled out on my stomach, as I try to understand just what that means. The mattress is mildly more comfortable than a park bench or the prison beds I slept in now and then, and just that small difference makes it perfect and a little earth-shattering. It doesn't matter if the hotel bed I slept in when I followed Crawford and Farfarello away from the diner was worlds softer and thicker. This bed was bought for me. I am the first person to put this bed together and climb into it and sleep in it, and I'm never going to be sharing it. The hairs all along my arm are standing on end at the notion.

    "Hello, bed," I murmur against the pillow, keeping it down because I can hear the rumbling of Crawford and Farfarello's voices in the other room. "My name is Schuldig. You can call me Mastermind. I'm a telepath for Schwarz." I grimace a little at the absurdity of such a thing, but it doesn't take long for my expression to smooth out again. If this is what that insane bat wants to play, then I'll play. I got on the plane and came here to be his telepath, so I'll be it. No matter what it takes, I'll be it.

    I make a note to have Farfarello teach me how to use a gun.


    I'm the first awake the next morning. If I didn't have to pee, I'd just stay put and soak up more of My Bed. As it is, I stay there until it hurts too much from holding it and then hobble into the bathroom. Coming out of it, I see my supposed teammates where they're still asleep on the floor with a healthy distance between them. They look pretty much dead to the world so I wander in, looking for the bag of groceries from last night. I find my box of cookies and retreat back to my room with them.

    The apartment is annoyingly quiet, so at last I change into some of my new clothes, pull my hair back out of my face, and head downstairs to the communal kitchen with my breakfast in tow. Our apartment has a small kitchen but it's basically a microwave and a sink. All the rest of the stuff is downstairs and I find two other people and the landlady there already.

    One of the two tries to greet me in English. I ignore his ass and plop down at the far end of the long table with my cookies. Our landlady says something to the two and I hear that word again that she used yesterday: "Doitsujin". I'll have to ask later what it means. Either way, the two don't bother me again. It takes the landlady a few minutes to extricate herself from them and come sit across from me, and somehow, I'm not surprised that she's come to bother me.

    She says something that sounds chiding when she realizes what I'm eating and gives my hand a pat before getting up again. I watch her as she wanders over to the counter with two cookies hanging from my mouth and three in each hand and she serves something onto a plate from a few pots on the stove. She carries it back with her and sets it down in front of me. Rice for breakfast? What? Out of the pocket on her apron she pulls out two long sticks and offers them to me. I scowl at her around my cookies and end up losing them to the table.

    "What are those supposed to be?"

    She sets them down on my plate and I look down at them before looking over at the other foreigners. They're watching us, the rude bastards, and I see that they're both using the sticks to eat. They make exaggerated gestures to show me what to do and I ignore them in favor of the landlady. "A fork," I tell her. "I'm not eating with these toothpicks. Even Yoshinoya knew enough to give me a plastic fork."

    She points at the sticks. I reach for the rice with my cookie and she plucks the sticks up and shoves them into my hand. "My name is Moriyama," she tells me in Japanese. "Moriyama."

    I recognize the name- Crawford used it when we first showed up here. He said she knew we were coming. I eye her for a moment before picking my cookie up and nibbling on it again. "My name is Schuldig," I tell her in Japanese, and then have to switch right back to German because I don't have the right vocabulary for what I want to say. "And if you don't get these sticks away from me, I'll poke them through your fat mouth."

    "Manners, Schuldig," Crawford says from right behind me.

    "She wants me to eat breakfast with sticks," I tell him as he sits down beside me.

    "They're chopsticks," Crawford explains. "Asian people use them as silverware."

    "That's because they're mental."

    Moriyama excuses herself to get another plate of food for Crawford and he reaches over, pushing the sticks into my hand again and curving his fingers over mine to force them into the right grip. "You should learn," he tells me. "Our clients will be much happier thinking we respect their culture."

    I think about the smiles on their faces last night and how much of a good idea it is to stay on their good side. I stop fighting Crawford's hold and watch our hands instead as he scoops rice up for me. "Why were they smiling at me last night?"

    "You spoke Japanese," he answers easily. "In our contract I said you couldn't. They knew you were trying." He thinks on that for a moment and then offers me a smile. "And they like your hair." We poke rice into my mouth as a joint effort as Moriyama gives Crawford his breakfast and she beams approvingly when I show her my mouthful of rice. Crawford lets go of me. "Now you try," he encourages me. It's a rather sloppy couple of tries before I can get repeat that success and Moriyama and the foreigners further down all clap for me.

    "Farfarello?" I ask Crawford as I poke at more rice.

    "He is showering," Crawford answers. "You'll be gone by the time he comes downstairs."

    "Gone?" I ask.

    "Schuldig!! Good! Morning!" Tot comes bouncing into the room and sits heavily in the seat to my left. "Today we're going to walk! I want to show you Tokyo! It's very big. You'll like it. Yes? Yay!"

    "Shoot me," I beg Crawford.

    He offers me a wounded look. "Never."

    Tot and Moriyama keep up a lightning fast conversation, catching up on the morning gossip, as Crawford and I work on our breakfasts. I can only eat half of it because the other half tastes weird, so I make sure to grab up my cookies when Tot starts pulling on my arm impatiently.

    "If only one of us comes back, it's because I killed her," I tell Crawford. "Then she'll really be Tot."

    "You're so funny!" Tot giggles approvingly.

    "Play nice," Crawford encourages us cheerfully, and Tot drags me towards the door and out into the morning sun.

    And so starts day two in Japan.

Part 8
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