Fear and Loathing in South Figaro Chapter 5
It must have been around four o'clock in the morning when Zen finally came out of his ether stupor. I had no choice but to fight off the exhaustion which came with the encroaching gloom of nightfall. I was stuck trying to come up with a story to tell Celes regarding that raving bathroom maniac. Besides, I had to keep a straight inventory of my senses. How the hell was I supposed to get any sleep when there was a knife-wielding psychopath just around the bend?
Pink and turquoise stained the aurora skies, casting an inquiring radiance about our poorly espoused suite. Ever so complacently I threw back a Blue Curacao, genuinely satisfied with the defense I had finally concocted. I'd just tell them that Zen was a devout Imperial, one which I had intended to use as a common frame of reference for the 'Celes Chere' interview. It'd work. Sure. After all, it's no surprise that animosity which exists amongst a shattered alliance is greater than that of any two opposing factions, greater even than that between Gestahl and Banon.
I was staring lovingly at the preternatural splendor of dawn when Zen lumbered out from the bathroom, ruining the heavenly ambience with his drunken, waterlogged demeanor. "Sleep well?" I asked rhetorically, and proceeded to refill my glass.
"Is it Monday yet?" he said, and plopped down in the chair directly adjacent from me, getting in the way of the sunlight.
"It's barely Saturday," I remarked, digging in to a leftover club sandwich. "Six hours and you still don't got your fuckin' head straight."
At the very least, his hallucinations were down to a tolerable level, although it made me very uncomfortable that he was still clutching that goddamn hunting knife in his left hand. With it, he proceeded to carve a grapefruit into halves - quarters, eights, sixteenths - until it was hewed to a fine, citric pulp. "Nice knife, aye?"
"Where'd ya get it?" I said, suddenly wishing I never pursued the conversation.
"Room service sent it up. I needed sumthin' to cut the limes."
"What limes?" I asked, scanning the table.
He paused, trying to salvage some cryptic detail from yesterday's storm. "Never had any," he finally said, hacking viciously into another helpless grapefruit, "they don't grow in Figaro."
The nagging suspicion plagued me that his ether binge was the result of something which had transpired at the conference. I was about to voice my suspicions when he grabbed his head and shot up from the table. "Ride the bastard out!" I said. "Fighting it only makes it worse!"
"No!" He flopped down on one of the mattresses. "Gotta get over their to the Falcon and find Edgar!"
"Why? So, we can go over there and blast him outta bed with the fire hose, man!"
"I think you should leave that poor bastard alone! He said he was gonna turn in early after the conference. He's got enough to worry about with his kingdom and all to go frettin' over some chocobo rancher with a head full of ether."
"You don't understand. He got a hold of my woman, man!"
"Who? You mean that green-haired filly with the Returner crew? Shit, man. You think he sodemized her?"
"That's right. Now, he's got her, man! He's got my baby, yeah!"
I remembered the girl. We had an altercation at the conference a few hours earlier: my assistant had made a fool of himself.
* * *
The conference itself was absolute madness. By and large, the inside of the mayor's manor was no more organized than the hippy mob outside. A row of tables lined the back wall where the Returners sat. There, they waited patiently to be questioned and prided on their great adventure. They received no mistreatment from the ever eager journalists and historic scholars in attendance, for bodyguards had been hired personally by the mayor himself to make the conference proceed more smoothly and efficiently.
Zen and I had considerable trouble getting to the Returners and asked the mayor whether or not it was possible if we could get more privacy with one Returner at a time in a separate chamber. It took much coaxing on our part, but he finally conceded. Sparing one Returner at a time in the guest room while the rest were subject to the three-ring media blitz downstairs made things a lot more convenient for the actual conference.
"I hope you'll manage to conclude each of your interviews after ten minutes," the mayor said to us. "There are, after all, other journalists and historians who wish to canvass them."
I assured him we would, adding, "As long as you can get us the monarchs for starters, things should go very smoothly. The others shouldn't be so hard to get to. We can interrogate them in town some time tonight."
He almost guaranteed sessions with Cyan Garamonde and Sabin Rene Figaro, for they were not immediate rulers, only loyalists to the kingdoms they were akin with. In the past, Edgar had proven to be a very difficult man to get a hold of. In addition to being labeled as a hero to humankind, he was also predisposed with such tasks as the flow of trade in Tzen and continuation of the corn harvests in Kohilegen. Fuck it, I thought, as long as we were able to question him and everyone else before leaving for Maranda on Tuesday. My editor and chief of staff back home insisted on total coverage for this conference. In order to hang onto this job, I could do no less.
"You seem a bit paranoid," I said to Zen once the mayor left the room. "Why don't you throw back a few tinctures and leave the rest to me?"
"Maybe I'll do just that." This was probably the juncture in which Zen was in the midst of contemplating whether or not he should go back to the livery. He still had a score to settle with the stableman, one which he failed to put behind him earlier that morning. "Gimme the kit bag."
I did. He produced a small ruby flask, a tincture, and threw it back. "Probably you should only take one of these," he told me.
I agreed. I couldn't let narcotics get in the way of whatever interviews were going to transpire here today. But the conference went surprisingly fast. There were times in which I was absolutely sure we would be able to finish all the interviewing in one day. From Cyan's heart-wrenching account of Doma's undoing (as well as that of his ill-fated wife and son) to Sabin's profoundly intriguing Lost Soul parable regarding his apprenticeship with the martial arts legend, Duncan, all of it was progress. All of it was gold. Nothing could stop me now.
Then, Terra and Edgar strolled in and ruined everything.
My assistant must have been on his eleventh tincture by that time and was giving an incoherent ramble regarding the various books on the varnish-lacquered shelves: "Golden chocobo. . .man, that's deep. . .Golbez fucked the Emperor. . .never gonna settle. . .shit, I was born. . .born? No fault of mine. . .get the espers outta here. . .orders from Captain Zeep!"
Terra and Edgar exchanged nervous glances, as if to say 'What have we gotten ourselves into?'. I organized the stories of the others as best I could before slapping the fool on the back of the head. "We got company," I told him, gesturing to the monarch and the esper girl. "So, sit down and behave yourself."
He seemed to understand, despite the glazed look in his eyes. So, we all took our seats at either of the four corners of the table and got right down to business. Amazing. As hard as it was for one to actually get their hands on Edgar Roni Figaro, here he was. For some mysterious reason, he wanted to be present for Terra's interview, as if he was her consort. Which was fine! Two lovebirds with one stone. Made my job a whole lot easier.
I was halfway into recording Terra Branford's anecdote of esper manipulation when the tinctures began to take a hold of Zen. In the brief pocket of time it took me to flip to a fresh page, Zen had become part of the interview. What a time for Terra to make small talk with the goon. "You're a rider, aren't you?" she said, smiling sweetly at the rancher.
I nudged my associate, for he seemed to be lost in his own hallucinogenic world. "She's speaking to you," I said.
He looked up to face her. "Huh?"
"What class are you into?" she said.
"Class? The fuck do you mean?"
"What class of chocobos," she said, tucking an emerald ringlet behind her ear. "You see, there's going to be a big race in Figaro desert tomorrow evening and the rest of us were just wondering what class of chocobos to place a few bets on."
I dismissed the fact that this seemingly virtuous woman was talking about making bets on a race. I was far more worried as to how the half-warped chocobo rancher was going to approach this situation. Zen's grin had since grown five times its normal size and was just about ready to crack his face. "Oh! So, you want my expert opinion. . .MY expert opinion!"
Mother of God, I thought. Here it comes!
"Well, you know, ya gotta go for the big fuckers. The red ones are thoroughbreds but they'll get trampled to shit in no time."
She nodded but her royal associate didn't sound very convinced. "The Vincent Black Shadows," I added, "my assistant's a Master Breeder."
"Really?" she exclaimed.
"Bullshit," the king proclaimed silently to himself.
I knew our peace was about to be shattered. I very gradually averted my eyes as Zen shot up from the table and approached the king of Figaro. "I think there's a pretty bold bastard in this room," he muttered, "some fucker who can't keep his mouth shut."
He produced a cigar from his breast pocket, asking Terra if she had a light. "Sorry," she said ever so timidly, "I don't smoke."
He nodded, then turned back to Edgar. "You don't trust me, do you?"
The esper girl's eyes were suddenly turgid with fear as my cohort produced the hunting knife from his back pocket. I could feel the entropy of the room weighing down heavily upon us all, but we were powerless to act upon it. Terra's prim and porcelain face was now hopelessly contorted to facilitate her unparalleled fear of the situation. Edgar, whose face was pouring sweat, was now beginning to wish he said something different to the rancher. It was evident now that this interview wasn't going to go any further and when a knock came from the door, I panicked.
Without warning, the mayor poked his head in. "Is everything. . ."
When, his eyes caught sight of the gleaming blade, he disappeared just as quickly. It was time, I felt, for an unindicted absence of the whole scene. "Zen, look!" I waved the kit bag out in front of him. "Tinctures! I got tinctures for ya! Tinctures!"
Grunting, he gave Terra a quick kiss on her wrist and took off after me. I could see from the looks on their faces prior to booting it out the door that they had begun to wonder if they had made the right choice. Granted, they had saved the world from people like Kefka, but who was going to save the world from people like us?
* * *
The urge to flee South Figaro came suddenly. How I had managed to get any sleep at all last night was an absolute mystery but in waking up, I could tell that the damage we had done was total, as though our room had been hit by the Light of Judgement itself. Zen was nowhere to be found. I sensed as much. He always was the kind of man who would scam out on the room service tabs which, I quickly realized, had been running somewhere between twenty-nine and thirty-six gold pieces per hour, for twenty-four consecutive hours.
Be calm. Be calm. I'm a fairly respectable citizen. Multiple felon perhaps, but certainly not dangerous. After all, I was still the professional journalist in this town. As long as I could get a hold of the remaining Returners without the others being aware of it, I should be able to finish the story and not have to concern myself with that rotten assistant of mine. I sighed happily, comported my tunic and beret as best I could, then made for the eastern flank of Figaro, where their airship was sure to be situated.
But the Falcon was long gone.
There had to have been a law against such panic, but I was out of luck there too. Here I was, alone in South Figaro, completely twisted on drugs, no cash, no assistant, no story for the magazine, and on top of everything else, a gigantic goddamn hotel bill to deal with. To make matters worse, when I finally pulled myself together and opted to scam out on the bill as well, I found that my chocobo, thanks to Zen's confrontation, was no longer travel worthy.
So, what now?
What comes next?
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