Weiss Kreuz Nachspiel
We do not know very much of the future
Except that from generation to generation
The same things happen again and again.
Men learn little from others' experience.
But in the life of one man, never
The same time returns. Sever
The cord, shed the scale. Only
The fool, fixed in his folly, may think
He can turn the wheel on which he turns.
-From T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral
"I'm not asking you for much," he says, knocking a cigarette out of its pack. He taps it against the tabletop idly before bringing it to his lips. He takes his lighter out from underneath his pillow. The thing is old and somewhat misshapen. At some point in its cheap, plastic life it must have been burned or half-melted, for the material is frozen mid-drip, a bead of glassy sweat curved on one side. It takes a few tries to get a light but he's patient with it. Finally the flint catches and the tip of his cigarette glows with heat. He cups his fingers around it, breathes life into it, sucks the first gasps of smoke into his mouth. They stream out his nose moments later. He closes his eyes. A sigh of smoker's delight. "I was just wondering."
"You've been a sick man," Manx tells him. "And I'm getting too old for this." He laughs. Manx, he thinks, couldn't look old if she tried to. Likewise she couldn't get old even if she felt it. He looks her up and down and she knows what he's thinking. "You shouldn't be smoking," she says pointedly. She gestures to the sign above his bed. Kinen. He laughs softly, takes another long drag just to steady himself before he crushes the cigarette out in an old bowl of hospital jell-O from that afternoon's hospital lunch. "This is when you tell me I'm not too old, I'm never too old, and I tell you I haven't heard from any of them in four months," Manx continues. "Fujimiya Aya and Tomoe Sakura look after the flower shop now. Fujimiya lives in the basement. It has a kitchen." Manx smiles wryly.
"No sign of Weiss," he says. Stating the obvious. Itching for another cigarette, a real long smoke. He's polite to the nurses and listens to the doctors and all he wants is one cigarette, one complete cigarette. It's a luxury no one gets in a hospital.
"I saw them drown," Manx says. She fishes a pack of cigarettes out of her pocketbook, lights one with her own lighter, and puts it between his lips. He closes his eyes, grateful.
"Ah," he says. He smokes for a while before he answers. "A lot of people saw me die. Shot full of bullets, lit on fire. It doesn't mean I did."
"You were lucky. Kritiker was close by."
"Cats," he says, "have nine lives, and I only have one. Against all odds I shouldn't be here right now, stealing one of your cigarettes in such an illicit fashion. I feel very illegal. Thank you." Manx fixes him with a look. He shifts, uncomfortable but grinning. "Shouldn't you be going?" he asks. "Can't be an accomplice to petty crimes anymore; you're getting too old for this, after all."
"I suppose." Manx touches the back of his left hand for a brief, cool moment. She is a beautiful woman who has suffered too much, he thinks. He wonders where she will go, what she will become. There is something immutable about her beauty, ageless and strong, but still as fragile as porcelain. He admires her in this moment, as she looks down at him. "You're getting ash on the sheets," she says. "Take care of yourself, Botan."
She leaves the room to its familiar, unbearable whiteness, and Botan never sees her again.
Schuldig has for the time being, on Crawford's insistence, let his hair grow out. It is now a light brown color, jagged at the edges from having cut it himself a while back. He pauses before the reflection of himself in a glass storefront. His t-shirt is yellow, his jeans faded, his sneakers scuffed in the heal. His face, pale, changes with the shift of clouds over the sun.
Earlier, he thought they might go to France. He thought they might travel to Germany and visit Rosenkreuz's order-abandoned halls. He thought they might leave on a private plane for America. He thought they might at least have chosen to see the world in order to leave Japan but instead they have moved into the largest suite offered in a gloriously expensive hotel and for four months they have done nothing. Crawford and Nagi spent a week deleting them completely from existence. Schuldig received a certificate of death on his twenty-third birthday. One of Crawford's jokes, which don't ever have a punchline like normal people's jokes have a punchline. Sometimes Crawford's jokes involve punching but that, Schuldig thinks wryly, is very different.
So Schuldig keeps a copy of his death certificate on him because he finds it amusing. It's a little morbid but when the time comes he'll be ready for it.
He thought it was going to be in the water. He thought he saw Crawford's eyes widen in shock but it was just the shock of the floor moving beneath them that widened his own eyes. He saw Crawford nod to Nagi and when they fell they did so slowly, dipping halfway beneath the surface of the water, for a long moment submerged, before Nagi again pulled them out. Planned, Schuldig realized, and when the fuck was Crawford planning on telling him? Nagi's big, invisible hands held him firm and then plunged all four of them deep below, pockets of air around them – enough to breathe, for the time being. Debris floated by. Dead people. Schuldig watched them sink with a lingering satisfaction. The old woman's mangled body, bloodless and beginning to bloat, danced past them in the roiling water. Deep in the water, Schuldig counted the seconds on his fingers, practicing his Greek, until Crawford gave the signal, and, unseen by any agent eyes, they emerged above the surface four miles from where they had been submerged.
Now, Nagi takes the initiative while Crawford sits in his office, waiting for an unexplained signal. Nagi tells Schuldig to take out the last of the Kritiker agents still looking into Estet's disappearance, and Schuldig loads up his Ruger and takes out the last of the Kritiker agents still looking into Estet's disappearance. It keeps him busy and in shape and Hell, who's he kidding, it's fun. He hunts them through the streets, into houses and coffee shops and churches, into train stations and movie theaters and bookstores, and he kills them after he lets them think they're going to escape. So far he's killed seven, which is a lucky number he intends to double, maybe even triple. He does things his way, without much interference. He blows up a house and blames it on a gas leak. He burns down a house and blames it on faulty electricity. He fills a house with carbon monoxide and it looks like an accident. After each he smokes a cigarette two doors down and watches, and listens. He's having one hell of a time. You could even say he's dead and loving it.
The absurdity is fabulous.
He smokes outside the store, still looking at himself, liking what he sees more today than others. Then, he crushes the cigarette beneath the scuffed heel of his old left sneaker. He walks three blocks, checks the hospital address with the one Nagi gave him. The guy at the clerk gets some vague story about visiting a sick uncle and he points him in the right direction. Sometimes, Schuldig thinks, the people trying to keep him out do nothing more than point him in the right direction. It's like they're inviting him in.
At the onslaught of sterility Schuldig wonders, a pang of fire and hunger, if he could burn this place down. It would be like putting the sick out of their misery, the terminally ill out of their white-walled Hell. He listens to people remember their homes, the color of their homes. He listens to the shuffling of feet over the too-clean floors. He listens to the beep, beep, beep of machinery. If Schuldig had all day he'd go around to the coma patients and sit next to them, soak up their nothingness, and then turn them off.
Instead he turns down one hall and into the recovery wing. This place has more permanence to it. Convalescent patients talk with friends, family; they move through the halls in hospital gowns and robes with fuzzy slippers on their bony feet; they talk with their doctors about when they can go home, what changes they can make to ease the pain, what their medicinal schedules should be when they're on their own. One day, Schuldig wants to spend a day here with Crawford. Schuldig will tell Crawford what each patient is thinking, or not thinking, as the case may be. Crawford will tell Schuldig when each of them will die.
Schuldig laughs, thinking about it. As he walks he watches the numbers on the doors. He notes the names and the doctors, too. He's looking for a Tanaka, whose doctor has a blurred name so illegible it would be more useful if it weren't even there.
The last room at the end of the long hall is the one he's looking for. He leans against the wall just next to the door, listens to the sounds of the man inside. Tanaka is sitting up in bed, drinking a carton of milk and watching television with the sound off and the subtitles on. He puts the milk down, and begins to fold his napkin into an airplane. He is nearing the end of his thirties. Thirty-eight? Schuldig confirms the age. Thirty-eight. He has blue eyes and dark hair and a blunt-featured but attractive face. There is an old scar running down the side of his left cheek. He has been in the hospital for a long time, and would resent the immobility more if he were less understanding a person. He almost died. He recognizes how lucky he is, considering, and so he has eaten every last bite of the meal the nurses set out for him fourteen minutes ago. His only violation of hospital rules is that he smokes in the bathroom, or out the window, when the nurses aren't around. Schuldig grins. People love to kill themselves, and never mind the circumstances.
"So," Tanaka, whose name is not Tanaka, says. "Are you going to come in or are you going to stand out there all day?" Schuldig tears down the fake, blurred slip of paper, an unreadable doctor who doesn't exist. He puts it in his pocket, and steps inside.
For a moment, Schuldig indulges himself. He sees himself through the mirror of this man's blue eyes. Just a teenager, the man thinks, just a kid, so what the hell is he doing here? A certain amount of latent anger in his eyes, the ponytail he wears not indicative of current fashions. What a color for a shirt.
"I like yellow," Schuldig says. He doesn't ask if he can sit down. He pulls up an uncomfortable plastic chair and sits. "I like green better but today's laundry day. Least I'm not wearing a paper dress." He grins. His gun is tucked in the front pocket of his jacket, fleece-lined corduroy. Tanaka looks him over again. For a moment, Tanaka is taken aback. He recovers himself well, continues to fold his napkin into a paper plate.
"Who sent you?" he asks. "It was only a matter of time."
"I sent me," Schuldig answers. It's half true. "Kritiker could have done better than Tanaka."
"Kritiker could have done better than a lot of things."
"Damn right." Schuldig scratches his cheek.
"I've been held up here for a long time, so I don't know anything," Tanaka says, resignedly. "That's no reason not to kill me, of course, but I just thought you shouldn't waste your time. You're young, probably want to go out and have a good time as soon as you get this over with."
"Oh," Schuldig grins, "you don't get it: this is my good time." Tanaka lifts a brow. He gives Schuldig another look-over.
"German," he says. Thoughtful. "Older than I thought you were. Huh. Who sent you?"
"I told you that already. Someone shoot you in the fucking head?"
"I think so," Tanaka answers honestly. "I don't really remember."
"Someone sets you on fire and that's mostly what you tend to carry with you."
"Your name," Schuldig says, "is Botan. Right? Not this Tanaka shit." Tanaka – Botan – nods. "Can I call you Tanaka? It's more fun that way." Botan nods a second time. "All right, Tanaka. Someone shot you full of holes with a machine gun, lit you on fire, and blew you up, right?" Botan nods again. "And you're still here, feeling fanfuckingtastic, even if you are making your napkin a paper plane." Botan shrugs. Schuldig thinks for a minute. "You know, I really want to shoot your head open," Schuldig says.
"Be my guest," Botan says.
"But I don't think I'm going to," Schuldig continues.
"Just here to make my day more surreal?"
"Something like that."
"How do you know so much about me?"
"A guy I know keeps real good track of boring shit," Schuldig says. "Let's keep it at that. The point here is, you knew Weiss."
Schuldig sees the light in his own eyes, green and jewel-cut, through Botan's perspective. Botan wonders if he should be worried. Botan thinks he's had enough of being set on fire for one lifetime. Botan wants to know what this crazy guy in front of him knows about Weiss or has to do with Weiss or wants from him about Weiss. An image passes through Botan's thoughts, a familiar one. Pale skin, red hair, unpleasantly sullen eyes so angry and so purple sometimes they were like bruises; sometimes, like amethyst. Violent, violet eyes.
"I knew Weiss," Botan says. It means more than he puts into his words.
"I don't think Abyssinian's dead," Schuldig says. The hunt flares like fire in his belly. "And where his sister is he can't be too far behind. Right?"
Botan eyes him, warily. He says nothing.
"So, tell me, Tanaka," Schuldig goes on, "how fucking sick are you?"
"Funny you should ask that question," Botan says. He finishes the paper plane. When he holds it up, it's limp and misshapen. After all, he made it out of a napkin. "I was supposed to be released on Wednesday."
Two days from now.
"Great," Schuldig says. "This is your lucky day, Tanaka. You're going to get out two whole days early." He pulls his gun out and his eyes say, I'm not gonna kill you, and when he brings the butt of the gun down against the back of Botan's head the look in the man's pale blue eyes is hardly one of much relief.