SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig

Part Eight
"It's one 'Get me the fuck outta here' after the other."

    By the fifth day I am resigned to meeting up with Tot every day. She's become a part of this messed up schedule, showing up like clockwork to drag me into the city. Farfarello doesn't approve of her but Crawford waves off his concerns with that know-it-all attitude of his and I don't really care what Farfarello thinks. I guess it's all right seeing her so often. She's not the brightest company but she speaks German and she can teach me Japanese. And, apparently, she knows exactly what we're doing here in Japan. I've decided not to tell Farfarello this.

    If anything, Tot is so stupid that I feel intelligent no matter what I say and she does nothing to squish that sense of self-importance. I ramble to her about anything I want and she listens to it all with wide-eyed interest before asking what I think of the newest sparkly trinket she's bought. It's a trade-off, I guess, and it's worth it.

    At least, it's worth it until she drags me bra shopping the fifth day. My stunning good looks make me a celebrity everywhere we go anyway, but a celebrity like me sitting outside the ladies' dressing room in the lingerie department raises more eyebrows than usual.

    "You will meet my friend!" Tot tells me, voice muffled through the curtain. "Tomorrow, yes? We will go tomorrow!"

    "Mmhmm," I answer her.

    The curtain pops open beside me and Tot offers me a pitiful little look. Her free hand points to her top, which sports a bra that leaves little to the imagination. I didn't know breasts came that size for pint-sized squirts like her, but hey, Tot's a learning experience in more ways than one. "It's too tight," she complains.

    I stare at the blue lace. "You think?"

    "Get me bigger one."

    "Uh, no."

    She waggles her fingers in front of her rack and points up at her face, and I look up from her happy melons to her best attempt at a pout. "Please?" she wheedles. "Do for me."

    "You get it. Everyone in the store can see 'em anyway with you standing on display like that. How big are those?"

    "Big enough!" is her cheerful response, and she must realize I'm not going to go digging through bras for her, because she waltzes on past me to find it herself. I was being serious, but I didn't think she'd go out there without at least stopping to get her shirt. The rest of the patrons are careful not to look at her and I just watch as she rummages through the hangers looking for something a size up. As she comes bouncing back- in more ways than one- I quirk an eyebrow up at her.

    "You're indecent," I say.

    She looks startled, then looks down at her breasts and back over her shoulder at the rest of the shop. She turns back on me with a small frown, the perfect picture of confusion. "You don't like?" she asks.

    "What do you think?"

    She leans right into me, planting her hands against my face, and offers me a pretty smile. "Those girls? They're scum! Tot doesn't care. Tot cares what you think!"

    I can't respond to that. It's hard to talk when one's jaw is on the floor, and mine fell there at the "scum" comment. I can't believe this ditzy fluff just said that, and with such a smile on her face. She giggles, amused, and then flounces back into the dressing room. I think she's trying to prove a point because she doesn't bother to close the curtain before unsnapping her bra and shrugging it off. I see no point in passing up a free show and she offers me a bright smile over her shoulder when she realizes I'm watching.

    This bra fits better and Tot pulls her shirt on over it. I follow her to the register and she pulls the price tag through her sleeve to have it rung up. Her old bra is tossed into a trash can to one side and she tucks the tag back inside her shirt so she can pay. We waltz out of there with her hanging off my arm and by the time we reach the sidewalk, I'm laughing so hard my sides hurt.

    "Schuldig?" Tot asks me, peering up at me.

    "You're such a dolt," I tell her.

    "Is this a good thing?" she wants to know.

    I think on that for a while and offer her a wolfish grin. "Yeah. Yeah, it is."

    "Good! I think Schuldig is a dolt, too."

    "Comes with the territory," I assure her.

    We eat dinner at Mosburger down the street and I point at her around big bites of bread, a questionable meat substance, and a half-pound of mayonnaise. "We're meeting the bosses tonight," I tell her. "Teach me something that will make me sound respectable. Something snazzy. They smiled when I introduced myself last time. Smiling is a good thing. It keeps me alive."

    She thinks on this as she rips her fish sandwich into bite sized chunks, then throws a string of Japanese at me. I listen to her repeat it and echo it back at her, and she giggles into her sandwich. I wonder if the giggling is a good thing. "What did I say?" I demand.

    "You say- said-" after five days of fussing at her, it seems she still has issues with those, "Schwarz is honored to do business with you!"

    "I'm not sure that's snazzy, but whatever." I repeat it again to make sure I have it right and she drops her fish kibbles 'n bits to clap for me. "Now look at me, dumbass. It's said, not say. Said. You already did it, so it's said. Stop mucking up my language."

    "I say it wrong again?"

    I mime shooting her. "SAID. You don't say 'I walk to the store yesterday', you say I walked. Why is it so hard for say and said?"

    She pouts at me, as if looking cute is going to save her from being fussed at. Like hell. Being cute never saved me, so it's not going to do much for her. "Next time you mess it up I'm going to kick you. Here I am learning your squiggly ass language and learning how to eat your food and eating with sticks. The least you could do is learn to speak German right."

    "Correctly," she says sweetly.

    I kick her under the table. She shrieks loud enough to draw everyone's eyes to us and I point at her food as if it's the culprit. It's questionable whether anyone falls for it, but hey. Not my problem. It effectively kills our conversation for the rest of dinner, but Tot bounces back as we're leaving the shop. She bounces and hums all the way to the train station and I offer the illegible station name a skeptical look as we go downstairs. She taught me how to buy a train pass and it's enough to get me through the wicket right behind her, and then she points up at the signs above our head.

    "Two lines!" she tells me. "Mine and yours! We go our own ways. You have map, yes?"

    I dig it out of my pocket and show it to her. She unfolds it and points at the dot. You are Here type of thing. "You want this!" she says, tracing one of the colored lines down. "Today you have real test! You change lines here. You change at Hibiya. Okay? Where to?"

    I point at the green line. "Odakyuu."

    She holds up four fingers. "Fourth stop. Hibiya."

    I show her four fingers. She counts them just to make sure. "Hibiya."


    "I'm going to get lost."

    "You do fine! Nagi will help." She shrugs out of her backpack, all bright smiles and floof, and digs the long-absent plush out. "Crawford is lonely. It is hard being Crawford."

    "Ignorance is bliss. I don't think he has it that hard."

    "Take Nagi."

    "I'm not carrying that ugly plush on the train where people can see me. You give him to me and I'll throw him away at Hibiya."

    Tot looks positively crushed and smashes Nagi up against her chest. I wonder if he can feel the blue lace through her shirt. Life is good for the turtle-peach these days. "No," Tot says, sounding tearful. Apparently it's not a trick- her big eyes are actually watering. "You take Nagi to Crawford. Okay? Crawford needs him."

    "Crawford is a deeply troubled man. He needs a lot of things and that ugly waste of cotton isn't one of them."

    Tot's lower lip starts trembling. "I bought Nagi," she says quietly. "For Crawford. Nagi is very important."

    "You have bad taste."

    Tot says nothing to that, then looks down at Nagi. "I will go," she decides, minus the usual exclamation point. "To Odakyuu."

    It takes me a moment to realize that she's being serious, that she'll go all the way across the city with me just to make sure the toy gets back to Crawford safely. She pulls her backpack back on and starts for the escalators, still holding Nagi close to her. I hear the bell go off beneath us to announce the coming train and scowl at Tot's bag, annoyed and resigned all at once.

    "Fine," I say, and Tot whirls back around to face me. I hold a hand out in a demand for the toy but she doesn't pass him over yet. "I'll take Ugly there back to his retarded master."

    "Safe?" Tot presses.

    "Safe," I tell her.

    I get better at lying every day.

    Tot goes from sad to cheerful in the time it takes me to blink and she offers Nagi a loud kiss before handing him over. He jingles as I take him. I tell myself it's in alarm that he's being passed over to someone like me but I give Tot my best version of a reassuring smile. She skips ahead of me to the escalators and we ride them down. There's a hall to get to her train line but she waits with me at mine as the train pulls up, and she offers us both a cheery farewell.

    The train is packed tighter than a whorehouse during a two-for-one sale and I get smashed up against the far wall. Nagi is a nice barricade between me and the businessmen around me, protecting me with his cottony goodness. He's probably going to come out of this several inches flatter, but hell, it'd do his round ass some good.

    I count the stops to Hibiya and the doors open on my side. I fall out more than anything else and stumble a few steps before I can get my balance again. The crowd pushes me along and I stare at the signs as I pass on the off-chance that one of them will say Odakyuu in German. My luck sucks today. Maybe tomorrow will be better. I find the right color on one of the signs, though, and follow a long hall all the way down to another platform. There are more signs here and I flatten my map against one, looking from the characters on the sign to the characters on my map.

    "Damn, I'm good," I tell Nagi. He stares back, and I offer him an unfriendly scowl.

    The platform is filling up quickly and I slide down the wall, looking for a less crowded spot. I find something just as important as breathing room halfway down: a trash can. I tuck my map back inside my pocket and offer Nagi a smirk and pat on the head. "Someone's got to have worse luck than me," I tell him. "Tough luck."

    He jingles as I chuck him in and I stick myself on the end of a nearby line. I shove my hands in my pockets, glad to be free of that embarrassing thing, and watch as the train comes to the far platform, heading back into the city. I turn my new Japanese sentence over in my head, listening to the way it sounds against my German thoughts, and watch the crowd as it swells around me.

    Mother, grandmother, businessmen, school children… I wonder who they are when they go home. I wonder who they are when the lights go out. I probably look like a damn tourist but tonight I'm going to meet up with the guys who brought the drugs into the country several days ago. Tonight, drugs, tomorrow, Tot and shopping and Tokyo. I think of my clothes and gun and twelve thousand under my bed. I still don't know what I'm going to do with the money. Crawford still seems fixated on buying a car. He's been looking at ads for both driving school and auto makers. Farfarello ignores him whenever he starts on about it, tired of arguing with him about the idiocy of such a thing. I think it's more out of a fear of Crawford behind the wheel.

    The train pulls up and I follow the crowd on, finding a pole to latch onto. The crowd's bad here but not thick enough that I can't see down the car. One girl is crying before the doors have even closed and her mother pulls her into her lap to try and calm her. The train jerks and we all sway obediently in time, and I watch the girl's terrified face as she stares around at everyone around her. It's a train full of grown-ups and strangers, big people that do big people things. Neighbors, teachers, businessmen, the token Schwarz assassin, and her mind can't wrap around any of it.

    "That's life," I say, drawing a few startled glances for my random German observation. I ignore them. They're scum, as Tot said. What do I give a damn what they think? "It's one 'Get me the fuck outta here' after the other."

    The girl is clinging to her mother, wishing desperately to be anywhere but here, and her mother digs a stuffed bear out of one of their shopping bags. The girl switches her death grip from her mother to the bear and the waterworks stop instantly. Her face is calmer as she stares out but her eyes are still wide, still focused on her own fear and incomprehension. Her mom doesn't see it; she just wipes her forehead in relief that her daughter has calmed down. Blind-ass dumbass.

    We reach the next station. Her mother offers her a few encouraging words and the daughter smiles back over her toy, wanting to be as brave as her mother thinks she is but giving away her terror in the way her arms tighten on her bear.

    Liar. Liar liar liar.

    I give the wall beside the door a vicious kick. "Fuck!"

    People flinch all around me and I turn my scowl on them, daring them to look at me. Their gazes are quick to jump away and the mother covers her daughter's eyes, turning her head away from me. I kick the doors because they're not opening fast enough and as soon as they're open enough to squeeze through, I'm out on the platform and running. The blare of a train horn says the train is arriving at the next platform, and I take the stairs two at a time up to get to the far stairwell. I almost fall coming down the last three on the other side but I make it, and I plant myself beside the doors as they close again.

    Nagi is right where I left him, one station over, and I dust him off with a dirty look on my face. I can't do much about the new stain on his head that looks something like coffee, but maybe Crawford won't notice. "You're a pain in the ass," I tell him, stuffing him under one arm and heading to the same line I chose last time. Nagi doesn't have a response to that, neither chiding nor relieved, but of course he wouldn't. He's just a damn toy, just an ugly plush that belongs to a guy who's standing two steps out of tune with reality. It's really stupid that that girl made me think of Crawford, because she's scared of the world around her and Crawford's happy to be lost. I'm pissed off that the mental connection formed, but more than that, I'm pissed off that I actually came back.

    "Your master is a spider-eating retard," I tell Nagi. "He's a flipping maniac who somehow got released from his medical ward and dragged me and Farfarello to Japan. He thinks he can see things and he somehow thinks you're Schwarz number four. I should just leave you in the trash can, but I have the feeling he'd come running halfway across the city to save you."

    I'm attracting stares for my spiel and I go quiet, squishing Nagi harder against my side. He jingles a bit. The train comes by a minute later and I climb on. It's a little less crowded than the one before this and I even get a seat on the bench. I plop Nagi down in my lap, deciding against stuffing him behind me at the last minute. He stares up at me with black eyes that glisten and I poke them, feeling the cool plastic against my fingertip.

    "One 'get me the fuck outta here' after the other," I mutter. "What happens when you hit one that's okay, even if it's really fucked up?"

    He doesn't answer, so I shake him to make him jingle. People are staring again and I'm about to shut up when Tot's words come to mind again: "They're scum." I look up from Nagi to consider the other passengers, watching as their eyes flick away before I catch them staring. I consider their suits, their school uniforms, their conservative little shawls, and think of Germany and jail cells and park benches.

    I look down at Nagi and think of Crawford and Farfarello. Guns and drugs and powers and crime lords that are supposedly intimidated by Crawford's version of reality. Twelve thousand dollars and a bed and brand new clothes all my own.

    "Somehow," I tell him, "somehow I'm starting to think I like Crawford's world better." I jingle him again. "Oh, fuck it. Whatever. Four's a better number than three, anyhow. I'm Schuldig, Schwarz's telepath. I'd say nice to meet you, but you already know that's a lie. Crawford gave me your cut of the last job, by the way." He doesn't complain. That's kind of nice. I slouch a little lower in my seat, getting comfortable for the ride out to the last stop. "So, about Tot's gozangas…"

    Crawford and Farfarello are waiting for me back at the apartment when I show up with Nagi. I hold the plush out to Crawford, putting on my best disgruntled face. "Your dumb toy," I say.

    Crawford takes him from me carefully, turning him this way and that as if checking him for damage. I guess the coffee stain gives it away. I'm annoyed and offended at his complete lack of trust, but my retort dies on my tongue when Crawford holds his plush close and looks back at me. I forget what I was about to say and scowl instead, shifting my gaze somewhere else. It's common sense not to confess when you haven't been accused of anything yet, and smart not to confess unless they've got some serious proof, but somehow, I can't stop myself.

    "I went back for him," I mutter.

    At length he smiles. "I knew you would be good friends."

    I can't really find it in me to tell him that his "I know everything" is older than old after hearing it so many times. Maybe next time, then.

Part 9
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