Friday, February 27, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 430: fatale


Let us rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his friends that unjustly-obscure author Horace P. Sternwall and Ferdinand the talking fly, here on a wet August night in Greenwich Village, sometime in the 1950s… 


(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode. Click here to return to the typically-modest and unassuming very first chapter of
Arnold Schnabel’s Gold View Award™-winning memoir Railroad Train to Heaven©.)

“How well I remember the first time I encountered the inimitable prose of Arnold Schnabel, when I idly picked up that first paperback-original edition of
Railroad Train to Heaven (an “Ace Double”, paired with Horace P. Sternwall’s Rummies of the Open Road), from a revolving rack in a Walgreen’s drug store in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, as I waited for my subscription for headache powder to be filled.” – Harold Bloom, in the Ladies’ Home Journal Literary Supplement.

“Boy, oh boy, oh boy,” whispered Ferdinand. “This is great. Don’t know about you guys, but I can die happily now.”

It was all so vivid, as if we were actually standing there on the sidewalk.

And then I realized: we actually were standing there on the sidewalk, here on MacDougal street, on a hot and humid night, the sidewalk and the street wet and gleaming with recently-fallen rain.


“Ferdinand, Horace –” I whispered, “we’re here!

“Of course we’re here, buddy,” said Horace, also in a whisper.

He couldn’t take his eyes off of the two girls kissing (and, yes, vigorously groping one another) in the shadowy entranceway of that tailor shop, just a few yards away from where we stood.



“No,” I whispered, “I mean we’re really here!”



“Well, where else would we be, buddy?” he whispered back.

“We’re inside the world of your novel,” I whispered. (I know it’s tedious to keep repeating “whispered”, but I can see no way to avoid it.)

Finally he forced his gaze away from the young women in the shadows and looked up and then down the street.

“Shit,” he said, in a low voice, not quite a whisper. “This is kind of weird, isn’t it?”



“Welcome to Arnie’s world,” said Ferdinand, also not quite whispering now. “This kind of shit happens to our boy all the time.”


“Oh, well,” said Horace, still speaking in a quiet voice, and back to staring at the girls, “I guess things could be worse.”



“Lots worse,” said Ferdinand.



I looked around. It was all very familiar. It was a fictional world perhaps, but it was a world I knew. To my right on the corner was the San Remo, the scene of so many of my past adventures. Up the street to my left I could see the neon sign of the Kettle of Fish, scene of yet more adventures. In a sense I was back on home turf. I turned around and looked across the not-quite flooded street.

And there it was, above the basement entrance to the Valhalla Bar: Philpot’s Rare Book Shop – and with a light showing in the front window.

“Oh, my God,” I said.

“Arnie,” whispered Horace, nudging me. “Not so loud.” And he gestured with his cigarette at the two girls embracing in the shadows of the tailor shop.

“Yeah,” whispered Ferdinand, zooming down and hovering by my ear. “You don’t want to get them upset and spoil the show.”

“But, Ferdinand,” I whispered, “and Horace, look, across the street.”



And I pointed to Philpot’s shop.

“Oh,” said Horace. “Philpot. That fucking gonif.”

I put my hand on his arm. People were always grabbing my arm – well, now it was my turn.

“We have to go there,” I whispered.

“Why?” he whispered right back. “Last time I went in there he buried me inside a book if you’ll recall.”

“Of course I recall,” I said. “But don’t you see, I think we might have made it back to – to –”

To what?

“To the world we were in before,” said Ferdinand. 


“Yes,” I said. “That other world.”

Horace took a drag on his cigarette. 
 
“I thought we were in the world of Slaves of Sappho,” he said, and he nodded his head in the direction of the two amorous young ladies.

“Well, I suppose we are,” I said, “but I’m hoping this is also that, um, other world.”

“Oh – you mean the real world?”

“Well, real world to you,” I said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean it’s still a fictional world to me,” I said. “But on the other hand it’s at least one world closer to my own world.” 


Horace stared at me.

“Let me ask you something, Arnie,” he said at last, “if I may.”

“Sure,” I said. 
 
“What is this supposed ‘real world’ you come from like, that is if you don’t mind my asking?”

This was not an easy question to answer, and I hesitated before attempting to do so.

“Um,” I said, by way of preface.

 
“I mean,” he went on, “is it like a science fiction or a fantasy world? Or, I know, maybe one of those regular guy caught in a deadly spiral of passion and despair kind of things, and the pressure drives him nuts? Just a little bit, you know, crazy?” 


“Well, uh –” I said.

 
“How about all of the above?” said Ferdinand.

“Okay, whatever,” said Horace, obviously already losing interest, and who could blame him, when something much more interesting than my life and my problems was occurring not far away at all in the entrance to that tailor’s shop.

 
“Oh, man!” said Ferdinand speaking quite loudly now, “look at ‘em go! I‘m about to throw a thrombo here!”

Suddenly the taller of the two girls in the entranceway, the one wearing a Panama hat – this would be Muriel, I recalled – turned and looked at us looking at her.

Men,” she said, with undisguised contempt, as if she were saying a dirty word. “I hope you creeps are enjoying the show!”

The shorter girl – Missy – also stared at us, but said nothing.

“I beg your pardon, ladies!” called Horace.  

“Why don’t you and your pal just move along,” said Muriel. “Perverts.”

“Perverts!” said Ferdinand. “You got a lot of nerve, lady!”

“Who said that?” said Muriel.

Ferdinand flew over to her and stopped, hovering about a foot away from her.

“It was I,” he said. “Ferdinand, the talking fly, at your service, miss!”



“Oh, my God!” said Missy, clutching Muriel’s waist with both hands. “Muriel, have I lost my mind?”

“Don’t worry, doll,” said Muriel. “Must just be those bennies we took, on top of the weed we smoked, and all those Tom Collinses. And that pink champagne.”

“You girls have weed?” said Ferdinand.

“What?” said Muriel. “A pot-head talking fly?”

“I have been known to indulge in some fine Panama red on occasion, yes,” said Ferdinand.

“He’s real, Muriel!” said Missy, squeezing her friend even tighter.

“Tell me somethin’, little fella,” said Muriel. “You get your kicks scarin’ poor defenseless little girls?”

“You don’t look too defenseless to me, baby,” he said.

“I wasn’t talkin’ about me,” said Muriel.

She gently disengaged Missy’s arms from her waist, and then picked up her large brown leather bag, which, just as Horace had described it in Slaves of Sappho, did indeed look like an army officer’s map case. Stepping out of the shadows of the entranceway, she hooked the bag’s strap over her shoulder, which was bare and palely gleaming in the light from the street lamp, and then she opened the bag and fished around in it, finally bringing out a pack of cigarettes. She shook one out and put it between her lips.

Horace quickly stepped over to her, shoving his hand into his jacket pocket.

“Please permit me to ignite your cigarette,” he said, bringing out a book of matches.

Muriel allowed him to do this, and, after inhaling and then exhaling a great cloud of smoke, she said:

“You and your buddy with the talking fly?”

“We are indeed,” said Horace, waving the match out and then tossing it away for someone else to sweep up. “We are what you might call a team of adventurers, a merry band, a sort of three musketeers for this modern age if you will.”

“You two look like a couple of stumblebums and a fly to me,” she said.

Missy crept up beside her friend and tugged on her black silk blouse. “Muriel,” she whispered. “Let’s go. I’m afraid.”

“No need to be afraid, miss,” said Horace. “We are quite harmless. We are – that is, my quiet friend over there and I – we are merely carefree bohemian scribes, in the tradition of the great François Villon.”

“Scribes, huh?” said Muriel. “And what about the fly?”

“I have a name you know, doll,” said Ferdinand. “It’s Ferdinand. And, no, I am not what my friend Horace calls a scribe. I am merely a talking fly. That is my occupation, and, I daresay, my distinction.”

“And quite a distinction it is,” said Horace. “But you know, old friend, you do yourself a disservice, because you are really so much more than a talking fly. You are a wit, and a philosopher to boot. And, perhaps even more important, you are a bon vivant and a stout companion.” Horace now turned and looked at me, who was still standing in the same spot a couple of yards away on the sidewalk. “Is he not, Arnold?”



“Um,” I said.

“Oh, but I did not introduce myself,” said Horace. “My name is Sternwall, Horace P. Sternwall. And the shy fellow over there is my friend Arnold, uh, Schn-, Schn-”

“Schnabel,” I said, helping him out.

“Arnold Schnabel,” said Horace. He held out his hand to Muriel, but she ignored it.



“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Sternwall,” she said, “and thanks for the light. And now, if you will excuse us. Pick up your purse, Missy.”

Missy obediently bent over and picked up her black plastic purse from the pavement, and as she did Ferdinand zoomed lower, I suppose to get a better look.

“Perhaps you ladies would allow us the pleasure of buying you a cocktail?” said Horace.

“No, thanks,” said Muriel. “As you probably noticed we are not out looking to get picked up by men. Or by talking flies.”

“Ouch that hurts,” said Ferdinand. “But, say, Muriel, you mentioned weed? You holding any?”

“Hey, how did you know my name?” she said.

“Ah ha,” said Ferdinand, “we, my friends and I, know not only your name, Muriel, but Missy’s too!”



“This is just weird,” said Missy. “Come on, Muriel.” She tugged on her friend’s arm. “Let’s go.”

“Hold on, doll,” said Muriel.



She reached into her big leather bag again, but this time she brought out a gun, a small automatic. She racked its slide and then pointed the barrel at Horace.


“All right, smart guy. Spill. Why are you tailing us?”

“But, but, but –” said Horace, holding up his hands.

“Oh, shit,” said Ferdinand.

Missy said nothing, but held both her hands, joined as if in prayer, over her mouth.

Muriel swiveled the pistol so that it was pointed towards me.

“You, Mr. Seersucker,” she said. “Come on over here, and keep your hands where I can see ‘em.”



I should have expected something like this. After all, like it or not, we apparently were still in a Horace P. Sternwall novel, and possibly not even major characters.



So I did what she told me to do.

I hadn’t come this far just to be shot by a fictional lesbian femme fatale. And even if she was fictional, that gun in her hand looked all too real.


(To be continued, because Arnold still has a long way to go.)



(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find what one hopes to be a current listing of links to all other legally-available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Take advantage of our extended Presidents Day sale and order some of our few remaining Railroad Train to Heaven© “action figures” – sorry, we all out of “Arnolds”, but we still have several “Horace P. Sternwalls” and even a few “Ferdinands”!)




Friday, February 20, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 429: divine


Our hero Arnold Schnabel’s companion that sadly forgotten giant of literature Horace P. Sternwall (Big Gun for a Little Lady, The Young and the Damned, etc.) has been reading aloud from his oddly-obscure classic of forbidden passion, Slaves of Sappho… 


(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; go here to return to the first chapter of Slaves
of Sappho. The idly curious may click here to return to the far-off misty beginnings of Arnold Schnabel’s Gold View Award™-winning memoir Railroad Train to Heaven©.)

“To enter the world of Arnold Schnabel is to step into a world that contains infinite worlds, and, yes, worlds within those worlds. And so on.” – Harold Bloom, in the
AARP Literary Quarterly.


And what a night it was! The Lobster Thermidor was as delicious in its own way as the oysters, although somehow not quite so – what was the word? Transgressive? One of those words everyone had used with great abandon at Barnard but which Missy had heard not once after she graduated and entered the awful and humdrum so-called “real” world…

And after the lobster and haricots verts (with bacon bits! what a marvelous idea!) had come Cherries Jubilee, another first for Missy, and all of it washed down with the genuine French pink champagne, something Chad had never bought for her, the big cheapskate.

And then there was the matter of Muriel’s foot, her bare foot with its probing toes, at intervals sliding up between Missy’s legs and eventually going to a place that no one had ever gone before in Missy’s twenty-two years, excepting the gynecologist.

She knew it was wrong, technically wrong anyway, to allow Muriel to do what she was doing, what her toes were doing. But – here was the thing – wrong or not, it felt good! It felt divine in fact. How could anything which felt so divine be wrong?

The only thing was the moisture produced. That was a little embarrassing. But there again, why should she be embarrassed? No one could see anything. At least she hoped nothing would be visible when she stood up. But just to be on the safe side, she opened her little black purse and took out her handkerchief, pretended to dab her nose with it, and then surreptitiously placed it beneath her private parts, where it could absorb any dampness that might have made its way to the material of her month’s-wages-even-with-her-staff-discount lovely Chanel work dress.

After the cherries she suddenly felt extremely sleepy, even though Muriel had ordered coffee with the dessert.

“Oh, gosh, Muriel,” she said. “This has been so much fun, but I’m so sleepy! I think I’m going to have to go home to bed!”

“You can always stay over with me here in the hotel,” said Muriel. “I have an extra-big bed. An eiderdown featherbed. It’s ever so soft and comfortable.”

“But I don’t have a nightgown, or anything,” said Muriel.

“You can borrow a pair of my pajamas,” said Muriel. “Of course they’ll be a little big for you, but, you know, roll up the cuffs and the sleeves, you’ll be fine.”

“I’d hate to impose.”

“No imposition, really. Love to have you.”

“My flatmates will wonder what happened to me.”

“Phone them up.”

“We don’t have a telephone.”

“Are you telling me none of those girls ever fails to come home at night?”

Missy thought about this.

“You know something, Muriel, they always stay out all night, I mean, not always, but quite often!”

“Well, there you go,” said Muriel. “So now it’s your turn, darlin’.”

“You know something, Muriel, you’re right! It is my turn! Oh, but wait.”

“Now what?”

“I don’t have a toothbrush!”

“Newsstand out in the lobby, they have toothbrushes.”

“They do?”

“This is a hotel, Missy. A very respectable hotel, but still.”

“But you’re really sure I won’t be intruding?”

“Not at all. It will be our own little slumber party.”

“We used to have those at Barnard!”

“I’m sure you did, honey.”

“They were so much fun,” said Missy, and then, after a pause, “sort of.”

“Only sort of?”

“Well, the thing is, the girls invariably always got so – so tedious –”

“Oh, really. In what way?”

“Oh, you know – talking about boys, men, boys – and these were educated girls, Barnard women!”

“Well, what are you gonna do, honey? Women are women, even if they do read Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. You know what?”

“What?”

“Sometimes I wished I was a man.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Just so’s I could have the freedom, y’know?”

“I do! I do, Muriel! I wish I could be free like a man!”

“Men don’t give a damn. Do what they please, and the devil take the hindmost.”

“I know! Whereas we women, everyone always says, oh, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, that’s not ladylike – and then you go to a good college –”

“Barnard –”

“Yes, you go on scholarship to Barnard, get a degree in French literature – and all you can do is work at the stupid cosmetics counter at Macy’s.”

“The economy’s tough, honey. Or so they tell me.”

“I’m hoping I can get a job teaching French at a high school, but it’s hard to get in –”

“Oh, dear God.”

“What?”

“Teaching high school? Doesn’t that sound dreadful?”

Missy thought about it a moment.

“You think so?”

“Well, each to his own.”

“But – what else could I do?”

“Let me see.” Muriel tapped the ash of her Herbert Tareyton into the ashtray. She must have smoked at least ten of them so far this evening, and had even sent the not-so-old waiter, who was named Felix, over to the bar to get her a fresh pack. “Oh, I know,” she said. “How about translating?”

“Gee,” said Missy, “that must be really hard to get into. Don’t you have to know someone, or –”

“I have some contacts in publishing,” said Muriel.

“You do?”

“Friend of mine publishes paperback translations of French novels.”

“Oh, boy.”

“Specialized French novels.”

“Specialized in what way?”

“I’ll be honest with you, Missy. Some might call it pornography.”

“They would?”

“Certain prudes would, yes.”

“Gee, I don’t know.”

“I’ll give my publisher pal a ring.”

“Do you think he would hire me?”

“It’s a she.”

“She would hire me?”

“You read French, right?”

“Yes.”

“She’ll hire you, especially if you work cheap.”

“I’ll work cheap. Anything has to be better than selling lipstick and foundation and mascara all day.”

“Consider it settled then. I’ll give her a buzz tomorrow, set up an appointment for you.”

“Aw, gee, why are you so nice to me, Muriel?”

“Because I think you’re sweet, honey. You want to go up and hit the hay now?”

“It’s funny, but now I feel so wide awake all of a sudden! I don’t think I could get to sleep. Do you have a Monopoly board, or Scrabble? Or if you have a radio we could listen to some music. Do you like classical?”

“Sure. But you know what? It’s early yet. Let’s blow this joint and hit another dive.”



“Oh, but I couldn’t drink anymore. Maybe we could just walk around and look in the shop windows.”

“Sure, we could do that,” said Muriel, and she looked away, towards the bandstand, where Lily LaRue was singing “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis”.



“Or we could go to a bar,” said Missy. Muriel turned and looked at her. “I mean, if that’s what you would like to do, Muriel.”

Yoo hoo, Felix!” called Muriel abruptly, waving her hand at the not-quite-elderly waiter named Felix who was staggering by with a tray of drinks. “Could we have the check over here?”



First they went to the Minetta Tavern, then to the White Horse Tavern, then to the Village Vanguard, where Muriel introduced Missy to a Negro pianist apparently named “Felonious”, and then to the San Remo, where Muriel said, “Okay, one more stop.”

“One more stop?” said Missy. She was wide awake now because at the Village Vanguard Muriel had come back from the ladies’ room with a couple of pink pills in the palm of her hand and had told Missy to take one while she took the other one, and they had, washing them down with gulps of Tom Collinses, and after that Missy had felt as wide awake as she had ever felt in her life.

“One more stop,” said Muriel. “We’ll hit the Kettle of Fish up the street, one and done, and then head home.”

“I’m having such a great time,” said Missy.

Muriel gave her a little kiss on the cheek.

They left the bar, it was at the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal, and they turned up MacDougal, walking arm in arm. It had been raining off and on all evening, and the sidewalk and the street were wet, almost flooded.

“I just love it when it rains in the city,” said Muriel. “Don’t you?”

“Gee, I don’t know, I always thought I didn’t like the rain,” said Missy. “Because your shoes get ruined, and it makes my hair frizzy, and you have to remember to carry an umbrella, or wear a raincoat –”

“But look at that,” said Muriel, and pulling Missy to an abrupt halt, she turned and made a backhanded wave at the gutter with her free hand, the one that held a Herbert Tareyton almost smoked down to its cork tip.

“What?” said Missy.

“Look at that rainwater, just coursing along the gutter there, with all the colors gleamin’ in it, reflecting the street lights. That there is beauty.”

A crushed Old Golds cigarette packet came floating by.



“Oh, my God, Muriel, you’re right,” said Missy. “It is beautiful!”

“Yeah,” said Muriel. She took one last drag off her Herbert Tareyton, and then flicked it down into the gutter water, where it fizzled out and then drifted away. “You know what else is beautiful?” she said.

“The gleaming wet street, and the sidewalks?”

“Well, that, but you know what else?”

“To be young, and alive?”

“You’re getting warm, but that’s not what I was thinkin’ of.”

Muriel looked up and down the street, and then without a word she pulled Missy into the dark entranceway of a nearby tailor shop. 

“What is it?” said Missy.

Muriel had her great big leather bag hanging on her shoulder, but now she let it drop to the pavement. She took her arm away from Missy’s, but then put both her arms around her waist.

“It’s you,” said Muriel. “You’re beautiful, darlin’.”

“Aw, gee, do you really think so, Muriel?”

“I know so,” said Muriel, and she pulled Missy closer.

“Gee,” said Missy. “I wish Chad would have held me this way.”

“Forget about that little ol’ pansy.”

“You’re right, Muriel. I should –”

“Now kiss me.”

“Kiss you?”

“That’s right, darlin’.”

“You mean as if you were a boy?”

“Now you’ve got the idea.”



“But, Muriel, I’m not a – a –”

“A lesbian?”

“Yes. I mean, no. I’m not one. A lesbian.”

“Tell me something.”

“Okay.”

“Does this feel good?” And Muriel did something with her hand that no one had ever done to Missy before in her life, not even herself. Two minutes later Muriel asked again: “Feel good?”

“It feels divine,” whispered Missy.

“Now kiss me.”

“Gee, do you really think we should?”

“Never been more sure of anything in my life.”



And Muriel lowered her lips to Missy’s, and Missy rose up on her toes, dropping her little black purse and putting her own arms around Muriel’s thin but muscular waist.
Two men stood not far away on the sidewalk, watching the two girls kissing in the shadows. The one man was about forty, wearing an old grey fedora, a worn brown leather jacket and rumpled work trousers. The other man was about a dozen years younger, and he wore a soiled and wrinkled seersucker jacket over a plaid work shirt and faded blue jeans. Both men wore scuffed work shoes, but they didn’t look like workmen. The older man was smoking a cigarette. A fly buzzed lazily around just above their heads

“Wow,” whispered the older man. “You checking out this action, Arnold?”

“Yes,” I said.

(Continued here; the end is still nowhere in sight.)



(Please look to the right hand column of this page to find a purportedly up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. By the way, we still have a very limited number of Railroad Train to Heaven© “action figures” left over from the holiday season, so order now while supplies last and take advantage of our one-week-only ‘5-for-1’ special one-time-only sales event!)

Friday, February 13, 2015

“Dearest Pippi”


“Dearest Pippi”

by Horace P. Sternwall





Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Mid-20th Century American Literature, Olney Community College; editor of “Ham and Eggers Need Not Apply”: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 3; the Olney Community College Press.

Original illustrations by rhoda penmarq.




Dearest Pippi,

I just want you to know I am so sorry about you getting pinched and I also want you to know that I am truly appreciative of you keeping mum and not turning squealer on an old pal. I knew you were a stand-up girl from the moment I first laid eyes on you back at John T. Hoffman grammar school.

Please do not worry about this penny ante rap they are trying to hang on you. I have contacted my Auntie’s lawyer and we had a good chat about your case. He will be in touch with you soon, probably on the morrow as you read this, but as for now he is “greasing some palms” as he puts it behind the scenes and the less you know about that he says the better for you. I have given him a retainer from our “stash” but we still have a pretty good pile left over plus there are still those watches and bracelets and rings and whatnot that I have secreted in a locked box inside one of my Auntie’s hatboxes at the bottom of her closet where no one will ever find it, which I will take to Mr. G-----’s’s shop on M------ Street just as soon as the dust settles a little bit and the heat dies down.

Our lawyer says he can probably spring you inside of a month, and if not the worst you will get will be a year in reform school, and he says he can pull some strings and grease some more palms as long as we can come up with the do-re-mi and he can get you in at Rozenzweig’s Home For Girls up in the Catskills which he says is just like a high-tone summer camp except it’s year round and in the winter you can even go sledding. So if worse comes to worse, look on it this way you get a year’s vacation up in the mountains in the fresh brisk clean air and away from all the fetid stench of the city and that frankly somewhat unsavory building you live in.

I am sorry I have not visited you but my lawyer says that would not be a good idea. So I will see you when you get sprung, which as I say should be within a month and at most a year tops and in the fresh clean mountain air.



Everything is fine out here. I have been laying low. The girls and teachers at Miss --------’s are still for the most part hopelessly dull, although I have my eye on a couple of girls who might help make up the nucleus of a new gang. They will need a lot of training though I fear, not like you, my dear.



I have sent an anonymous note to your mother telling her not to worry and that your chums are looking out for you and have retained a good lawyer, whom my Auntie assures me is a square guy and the best for his price in the city. More than that I do not think it prudent for me to tell her, nor to have any personal contact with her either, alas. 

If you want any books or movie magazines which I know you like please feel free to give a list to our lawyer Mr. Z----------g who as I say should be visiting you on the morrow.

At school we are reading King Lear by William Shakespeare which I find quite amusing. What an old fool that King Lear was, and I hate to say it but he got what he deserved, and if you ask me Cordelia was too good for him although she was a bit of a drip too if you ask me.

My Auntie’s friend S---- said I should read some Russian literature and so he is teaching me Russian and reading me some very clever stories by this man named Gogol and we read them in Russian and S---- helps me to understand them. As you know I am quite fluent in French and Italian and not bad in German so it will be nice to get Russian under my belt as well. You never know when knowing the lingo can stand you in good stead, that’s what my Auntie M****** always says.

So just keep mum to the coppers honey and I will be in touch again soon.

I hope you enjoy the cheesecake this note came in. It is from Lindy’s your favorite.


I remain your faithful pal,

G--------



PS don’t worry any money left over after the lawyer’s fees, including all the dough from the sale of the swag I haven’t fenced off yet will be saved for you until you get sprung. A 50/50 split just like always.



PPS if you like I can put some or all of the above-mentioned gelt “out on the street” for you as they say so as you could earn some good interest on it while you are “upstate”, but I will not do so unless I get the okay direct from you through Mr. Z----------g.

I had a very enlightening pow-wow with this business acquaintance of my Auntie’s named Tommy S-------- who is stopping here at the hotel and he says you could maybe make 20% on your investment in a year, possibly 25% but then nothing is certain in this life as I am sure you know.



PPPS when you get sprung I hope we can work together profitably again although I think maybe we have burnt the town down with the preaching and dipping routine. I have some new ideas but more on them later.


I really must close now and fly lest I am late for school again and detention is such a bore. Keep a stiff upper lip and for that matter both lips zipped because all will be taken care of.

Ta for now.

G--------

(This story originally appeared, lavishly illustrated by rhoda penmarq, in New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian.)



(Arnold Schnabel will return next week with an all new and very special post-St. Valentine’s Day episode of Railroad Train to Heaven!)


Saturday, February 7, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 428: first night


Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel’s friend that unaccountably-obscure literary titan Horace P. Sternwall (A Gal Named Elizabeth; A Broad Named Maude, etc.) continues to read aloud from his sadly out-of-print classic of twilight love and lust, Slaves of Sappho

(Please click here to read our previous episode; go here to return to the first chapter of
Slaves of Sappho. New recruits may click here to return to the very beginning of Arnold Schnabel’s Gold View Award™-winning masterwork Railroad Train to Heaven©.)

“Surely no other autobiography in the history of mankind has so magnificently recreated a world – or should one rather say ‘created a whole new world’, a world inclusive of whole other new worlds including yet other worlds, and all of them full of wonder and strange beauty.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Boys’ Life Literary Quarterly.


Somehow Muriel had summoned an elderly man who must have been the maître d', at any rate the man had appeared, smiling and bowing slightly, and after exchanging a few words with Muriel he led them to a table right in front of the bandstand. 

The old man laid down two leather-bound menus he had been carrying under his arm, and just as Missy was about to seat herself he glided around her, and, bowing slightly, moved her chair back a few inches. This was something Chad used to do sometimes, although she had never quite gotten used to it, but she plunged ahead and lowered her small body in the direction of the chair and miraculously the chair met her bottom without incident while simultaneously somehow moving closer to the table. Quickly the old man floated to the other side of the table and performed the same magic with Muriel’s chair.

When Muriel had been safely seated the old fellow then gracefully picked up the folded napkin at her place, gave it a flick and allowed it to settle upon her lap. Knowing that she would be next Missy leaned back in her chair as the man came over and then performed the same feat with her napkin.



He then turned and faced Muriel, again bowing slightly.

“Thank you ever so much, Anatole,” said Muriel, “and listen,” she gestured with her Herbert Tareyton at the menus on the table, “take those things away if you please. You all have the Lobster Thermidor tonight?”

“We do, Miss Armitage,” said the old man, quickly scooping up the menus.

“Good,” said Muriel. “Nice and fresh?”

“We still have several nice lobsters swimming merrily in their tank in the kitchen, miss.”

“Oblivious to their impending doom,” said Muriel. “Well, we’ll take two of the Lobster Thermidor then, with the haricots verts? And those itty bacon bits? You know how I like 'em.”



“I do indeed, miss. Crispy.”

“But not burnt,” said Muriel. “You remember that one time when the bacon bits were burnt black as coal?”

“I do indeed, miss.”

“It’s a fine line, isn’t it, Anatole? Between crispy and burnt.”

“A fine line I assure you Chef will never cross again, Miss Armitage.”


“We can only hope and pray,” said Muriel. “But, oh, wait, tell me something, Anatole – how are the oysters today? Alive and kickin’?”

“Very much so, miss,” said the ancient man named Anatole.

“Better bring us a couple dozen of those little critters then to start off – oh, and just so we get all our vitamins, bring out a couple of tomato salads with ‘em, with Thousand Island dressing. You like Thousand Island dressing, Missy?”

“Gee, I guess so,” said Missy, having some trouble making the words come out of her mouth, as if they were made of rubber, or Jell-O.

“Thousand Island dressing, Anatole,” said Muriel, “and, look, if we’re having the oysters and the lobster I guess we’re just gonna have to go ahead and have some bubbly. You still got some of that pink Veuve Cliquot?”

“Miss Armitage, I always keep at least a few bottles set aside just for you.”

“Ah, you’re so sweet, sir. Well, we’ll start with one bottle then. Now run along before we simply die of thirst!”

“Right away, Miss Armitage,” said Anatole, and he drifted away through the tables.

It was all happening too quickly for Missy to take in, and then there was the music, Lily LaRue singing “Strike Up the Band”, and Muriel sitting back in her chair, taking a drag on her Herbert Tareyton, and gazing at her, at Missy, from under the brim of her Panama hat.

 
Missy felt awkward with Muriel gazing at her like that, and so she looked at the table, with its two place-settings and bread plates, a white tablecloth, only slightly worn and faded, and with a small blue-glass pitcher, with only one crack in it, with one red rose protruding from it. There was also a clear glass ashtray with the words painted on it, in black: THE ST CRISPIAN HOTEL WHERE THE SERVICE IS SWELL.

“I do hope you like oysters and champagne,” said Muriel. “I didn’t think to ask.”

“I’ve – I’ve never had oysters,” said Missy. “Or champagne.”

Now Muriel leaned forward, putting her elbows on the table. Smoke drifted out of her nostrils, and her eyes felt to Missy as if they were entering her own eyes.

“I have a feeling you’re gonna do more than one thing you’ve never done tonight, Missy.”

Missy didn’t know what Muriel meant. She didn’t know what any of this meant. She wanted to say something, but she didn’t know what it was she wanted to say. But still she felt she had to say something, with Muriel sitting there, leaning forward over the table, her dark eyes somehow flowing into hers.

“Gee,” she said, “all this must be terribly expensive, Muriel.”

“Expensive is just a matter of relativity, darlin’,” said Missy. “You’ve heard of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?”

“Yes, of course – we studied it at Barnard, it’s the theory that –”

“Well, you want to hear Muriel’s Theory of Relativity?”

“Muriel’s?”

“That’s me – Muriel.”

“Oh, yes! Of course –”

“Muriel’s Theory of Relativity is a poor man’s penny is the same as a rich man’s dollar. It also means what’s good for the gander is not always good for the goose, but sometimes it is. And a hot dog is as good as a T-bone steak if that’s what you’ve got a hankerin’ for.”

“I see,” said Muriel, trying very hard to concentrate. “So you’re saying it all, uh, depends - on, uh – circumstances –”

Exactement, as the French say,” said Muriel.

“But still – champagne, and oysters and, and lobster –”

“Don’t worry about it, honey, I got it all covered.”

“Gosh, Muriel, you must have a, a terribly well-paying job!”

“Who said I have a job?”

“But, but –”

“What did I tell you about buts?”

“That they’re what your Herbert Tareyton will be when you finish smoking it?”

“You’ve been paying attention!”

“Oh, yes –”



“You see, honey,” said Muriel, and she tapped the ash of her Herbert Tareyton into the ashtray, “I may not have what most people look on as a job per se, but I am by way of being on a sort of salary from my grandfather. The Judge.”



“Your grandfather’s a judge?”

“Among his other qualifications and titles, yes, he has been on the county bench back home in Collardsville for, oh gosh, must be twenty-five years now.”

“Collardsville?”

“Collardsville, Georgia, seat of the ancestral estate of the Armitages.”

“So – I don’t understand,” said Missy, “do you, um, do some sort of work for your grandfather, or –”

“Nope.”

“But, I mean, sorry, not ‘but’, but – I don’t understand –”

“What I do for the Judge,” said Muriel, “is never to set foot in Collardsville, Georgia, again, with the grudging exception of Christmas and perhaps the occasional funeral.”



“You man he pays you to – to stay away?”

“Yes,” said Muriel. “Do you believe that old fool? Payin’ me to stay away? When just between you and me and the wall he’d have to pay me to stay down there in that godforsaken backwater, and a whole heck of a lot more than he’s paying me now, that’s for sure.”



“Gee,” was all that Missy could think to say, but she was spared the immediate obligation to say anything further, as the elderly man Anatole had returned with a bucket with a bottle in it, along with another not-quite so elderly man who carried a three-legged stand in one hand and a tray with two long-stemmed glasses on it in his other hand, and the next minute was dominated by a ceremony in which the not-so-old man placed the glasses on the table, then set up the stand next to the table, Anatole putting the bucket into the stand, then taking the bottle, which was wrapped in a napkin, out of the bucket, twisting foil and wire from the top of the bottle, wresting a cork from it, and then pouring a small amount of pink bubbly liquid from it into the glass that was closest to Muriel. 

Muriel picked up the glass and drank the little bit of pink bubbly liquid down.

“Not half bad, Anatole – now pour away, if you please.”

Anatole filled the glass in front of Missy and then Muriel’s, put the bottle back in the bucket, which Missy noticed had ice in it, and then he and the other man floated away again.

“Cheers, big ears,” said Muriel, holding up her glass, and smiling in a way that seemed friendly.

Missy picked up her glass, and she knew what she was supposed to do now, so she held it out and touched it to Muriel’s.

Muriel drank down a good long gulp of the pink sparkling liquid, and so Missy did the same.

“And what do you think of the bubbly?” said Muriel, and she took another drag of her Herbert Tareyton.

“I think it’s the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted,” said Missy, quite honestly.

“Better even than a Tom Collins?”

“Oh, yes,” said Missy. “I mean the Tom Collinses were swell, but this is like, it’s like –”

“Like little bits of heaven, dancing a jitterbug in your mouth?”

“Yes!” said Missy.

“Want some more?”

“Maybe just a little bit,” said Missy.



Muriel picked the bottle up out of its bucket and topped off their glasses with the magical pink liquid.

“Muriel,” said Missy, after she had taken another but much smaller swallow, and it was as if the bubbles were pushing the words out of her lips, “would you mind if I asked you a personal question?”

“Sure, doll,” said Muriel. “Heck, land knows I’ve been asking you enough of them!”

“Why does your grandfather pay you to stay away from home?”

Muriel had been raising her glass to her lips when Missy asked the question, and she paused a moment before drinking, looking at Missy in a way that seemed impassive. Then she brought the glass the rest of the way to her lips, took a drink, emptying half of its contents this time, and put the glass down.

“He pays me to stay away,” she said, “because I have disgraced the Armitage name.”

“Oh, my goodness!” said Missy. “Listen, Muriel, I really didn’t mean to pry, so please, you don’t have to tell me any more.”

“I have nothing to hide, honey.”

“You – you don’t?”

“Nope. My conscience is clear. Clear as a summer’s day.”

“But – but – oh, I’m sorry, I said ‘but’ again.”

“That’s okay, child, you just say ‘but’ all you want. We’re friends.”

“But what did you do that your grandfather thought you, you know –”

“Disgraced the Armitage family name.”

“Yes. I mean if you want to tell me. I mean I really shouldn’t ask. It’s none of my business.”

“I don’t mind. You see, Missy, in the Judge’s way of thinking – and bear in mind this is a man who allows my father – a notorious drunkard and whoremonger, degenerate gambler and welcher of debts – who allows my father to live rent-free in the familial manse, along with my sainted mother, another world-famous gin-soak and paramour of stable boys and grooms, and not only white ones bear in mind, not to mention my brother, who has spent so many nights sleeping it off in the local hoosegow he’s got his very own goose-down bed there –”

“His own bed?”

“Would you believe it? Says he can’t get a good night’s or day’s as the case may be sleep in one of the regular hoosegow cots, so he had his own goose-down bed put in there and they keep it in a storeroom and bring it out just for him, you believe that?”

“Gee.”

“So you can see that disgracing the Armitage family name is something that takes a bit of doing.”

“But what did you do?” said Missy.

“I committed the sin that may not be spoken of.”

“No?”

“No. At least not in Collardsville, Georgia. But to you I will speak of it. Can you guess?”



Missy tried to think. A sin. A very bad sin. In Georgia.

“Oh, no,” she said.

“What, honey?”

“Did you get pregnant with a – a Negro?”

Muriel had been taking a drink, and now she made a sort of laughing snort.

She picked up her napkin and put it to her nose.

“Damn,” she said. “Hate it when the bubbly comes out my nostrils like that.”

“I’m sorry,” said Missy.

“Not your fault, honey. But no, I did not get in the family way with one of the Negro field hands. No. In the Judge’s mind I did something far worse.”

“You don’t have to tell me.”

“I want to tell you.”

“Okay.”



“Well, what it was, was – oh, look, hooray, the oysters are here!”

It was the silent not-so-old man again, with three plates balanced on his left arm and a fourth one in his right hand, and in a blur of efficiency he transferred all four plates to the table without breaking or spilling anything – two small bowl-like plates with cubed tomatoes and other things all dribbled over with a thick-looking pale-orange dressing, and two larger plates each holding a dozen oysters on the half shell, the shells nestled into indentations in the plate, with a small bowl of something red nestled in a larger indentation in the center of each plate, and with slices of bright lemons laid attractively near the borders of the plates, a tiny fork also on each plate.

Bon appétit, ladies,” said the man, and without being asked he deftly lifted the champagne bottle from its bucket and refilled their glasses. He then replaced the bottle in its bed of ice and silently floated away again.

“Here, I’ll show ya how it’s done honey,” said Muriel, and after taking one more drag of her Herbert Tareyton she stubbed it out, then picked up one of the lemon slices on her plate and squeezed some juice on her oysters. “Now you just use this little fork here, pick one out, dip it in the cocktail sauce, and then plump it in your mouth. Like so.”

Missy watched her new friend demonstrate the eating of an oyster.

Yum,” said Muriel. “Go ahead, try one.”

Missy picked up her little fork and looked at the strange glistening things on her plate. She squeezed a few drops of lemon juice on one, then poked it with her fork, lifted it out from its shell, and then dipped it in the cocktail sauce, just as Muriel had done.

“What were we talking about?” said Muriel, taking another drink of her pink champagne.



“The reason your grandfather pays you to stay away from home?” said Missy, looking at the thing on her fork.



“Oh, yes,” said Muriel, and she impaled another oyster on her own fork. “Reason being, I was shall we say committing the act of darkness with members of my own gender.”

Missy had the oyster in her mouth when Muriel said this. She didn’t know whether to chew it or just swallow it whole. She decided to chew it, and as she did the meaning of Muriel’s words belatedly made itself manifest in her brain.

She felt something on her foot, and she realized it was another foot, a bare foot, Muriel’s foot, and the foot slowly made its way up the inner side of her calf.

The oyster was surprisingly delicious, as was the feeling of Muriel’s foot creeping up the tender flesh of her leg, and she felt a thrill she had never known before, not even that time when Chad, after drinking two gin rickeys, had kissed her on the back of her neck – that one, that only time.

She looked into Muriel’s dark eyes, which were looking into hers, and as she felt that naked foot caressing her inner thigh she thought, yes, this was to be a night of first things – of many first things, and she swallowed the oyster.


(Continued here, and onward, until that last marble copybook filled with Arnold’s neat Palmer Method handwriting has been transcribed.)



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