Let’s return to old Greenwich Village, on a hot wet night on MacDougal Street, as our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companions are approached by none other than the prince of darkness himself…
(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you really need another new way to fill up your precious time then you may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume memoir.)
“Among about a million other things, what the self-told saga of Arnold Schnabel is all about is one man’s battle with the Devil. Is or was this ‘prince of darkness’ real? Suffice it to say that for Arnold Schnabel the answer to that question is an unequivocal yes.” – Harold Bloom, in the Journal of Theological Studies.
“What the fuck,” said Ferdinand, right in my ear. “This fucking guy again? I thought you took care of him, Arnie.”
I realized that Ferdinand was communicating telepathically and so I thought rather than spoke, “Apparently not.”
“Like a goddam bad penny,” said, or thought, my winged friend.
“Tell me about it,” I said, thought.
Nicky was getting closer, smiling that bright smile, with those teeth that seemed to glow in the light from the streetlamp.
Horace and Missy were still holding onto my arms, and they and Muriel were all looking at Nicky, approaching, with his confident stride, his gleaming black hair, his perfectly pressed shimmering grey suit, his cigarette in its jet-black holder, and his wide glowing smile.
“Who’s the dude?” said Muriel.
“I don’t like his looks,” said Missy in a low voice.
“You know this guy, Arnie?” said Horace.
“Listen,” I said, aloud this time, “why don’t you all go into the bar, and I’ll join you in a minute.”
“You sure?” said Horace.
“Yeah,” I said.
“I don’t know,” said Horace.
“No, it’s okay,” I said.
And then Nicky was there, having floated with no apparent effort over the small river of water in the gutter, and he was standing right in front of me.
“Well, hello, old buddy,” he said, smiling, still smiling. “Having trouble standing up?”
As well-groomed as he was he nonetheless gave off a distinct odor – of sewage, of decay, of death and feces.
“Listen, Horace, Missy,” I said, choosing not to respond to Nicky’s snide question, “you can let go of me now, I won’t fall down.”
“You sure?” said Horace, again.
“Positive,” I said. I gave my shoulders a sort of shrug, and Horace and Missy took their hands away, and I didn’t fall down, even though I could barely feel my own feet thanks to all that bourbon-laced laudanum I had drunk. “Now really, Horace, why don’t you and the ladies go inside, and I’ll be there in just a minute.”
“You’re sure?” said Horace, for the third time.
“Yes, positive,” I said. “In fact, order me a beer.”
Everything was happening very slowly, or, rather, my perception of reality, of this reality, had slowed down, and I wondered in the back of my cavernous echoing mind if I’d best savor these slowed-down moments, as they might well be my last, or at least my last not spent in an eternity of hellfire.
“Just a beer?” said Horace.
“What?” I said. “Oh, yes – just a beer is fine.”
“Any kind in particular?”
“The cold kind,” I said, so I still had my sense of humor, such as it was.
“Heh heh. Maybe a little whiskey on the side?”
“Sure,” I said, “I’ll take a shot.”
“Great,” I said. “Old Forester is fine.”
“Porter’s not picky,” said Nicky, smiling, holding his cigarette holder in an elegant sort of way that I would never be able to pull off, not that I would ever dream of using a cigarette holder, even if I did go back to smoking two or three packs of Pall Malls a day, supposing that is I survived the next few minutes. “Not picky at all, are you, Porter?”
“Hey, I thought your name was Arnold,” said Muriel. “Why’s he calling you Porter?”
“It’s a long story,” I said. “I’ll explain it all when I come inside.”
“It’s a very, very long story,” said Nicky, smiling away.
“I don’t like the looks of this fancy Dan,” said Muriel.
“Mr. Schnipfel,” said Missy, and she gave my filthy damp and wrinkled seersucker jacket a tug on its sleeve. “Why don’t you come inside with us?”
“I will,” I said. “I just want to have a word, with, uh –”
“Porter,” said Nicky, Lucky, the prince of darkness, “where are your manners, old boy? Not even introducing me to your friends.”
“Oh,” I said. And then, just to get it over with: “Muriel, Missy, Horace, this is, uh – well –”
“Nicky,” said Nicky. “Nicky Boskins. I’m Porter’s public-relations man.”
“You have a public-relations man?” said Horace to me.
“Well, yeah,” I said, probably not sounding very convincing.
“He most certainly does, Horace,” said Nicky, with that smile that wouldn’t quit, with those purple-black eyes that seemed to lead to an abyss with no bottom, no borders, no end. “But I also like to think I’m Porter’s –” he paused, and then he said, “’friend’,” but he said it like that, as if the word were in quotes, and italicized
“You don’t look like his friend,” said Muriel. “You don’t look like anybody’s friend.”
For just a moment Nicky’s smile faltered, but only for a moment.
“Perhaps I could be your friend, Muriel,” he said. “And Missy’s too.” He looked from one girl to the other as he said these words, and now he looked at Horace. “And yours as well, Horace. Horace P. Sternwall, isn’t it? The eminent author?”
“Gee, you’ve heard of me?” said Horace. “Recognized me from some of my book covers I guess? What’s your favorite of my books?”
“I thought Port of Shame was excellent,” said Nicky. “And The God’s Honest Truth was just, what’s the word? Stunning. Riveting. Also, how shall I put it? Deeply moving. But perhaps my favorite of yours was The Young and the Damned. Thought that one was just searing. Blistering even.”
“No kidding,” said Horace.
“Oh, I never kid about such matters,” said Nicky. “You know, a writer of your talent, you should have your own public relations representative.”
“Oh, heh heh,” said Horace, “thanks, that means a lot to me, but the publishers I work for, well, they don’t really have a budget for, you know –”
“I would be glad to take you on as a client, gratis, and then after your career really takes off, after say you get a book on the New York Times bestseller list, perhaps then we could draw up a contract.”
“New York Times?” said Horace. “Bestseller list? But all my books are, you know, just paperback originals. They don’t really get on any sort of lists. Or reviewed. Or go into a second printing –”
“All that could change,” said Nicky. “With your talent, and with my promotional skills, I daresay all that will most certainly change.”
“Gee,” said Horace. “Then we should talk. I mean, you know, if you would like to –”
“Oh, I most assuredly would like to,” said Nicky.
“Wow, that’s just great,” said Horace. “Jeeze, thanks, Mister –”
“Nicky. Call me Nicky.”
“Thanks, Nicky. Hey, maybe you would care to stop into the Kettle with us –”
“Horace,” I said.
“Yeah, Arnie? Or do you really prefer Porter?”
“I prefer Arnold,” I said. “But, look, take the ladies inside, would you?”
“But why don’t we all go inside? I mean, Nicky too, if he would like to. I mean unless you’ve got somewhere else to go, Nicky –”
“Listen, Horace,” I said, “really, take the young ladies inside, will you? I want to talk with uh –”
“Nicky,” said Nicky.
“Yeah,” I said. “Alone for a minute. Okay?”
“Well, if you insist,” said Horace.
“Hmmph,” was the sound that Muriel made right then.
“Pardon me?” said Horace.
“You heard me,” she said. “I said ‘Hmmph.’”
“I don’t understand,” said Horace.
“That’s because you’re not anything but a damn fool idiot, my friend.”
“Heh heh,” said Horace. “I, uh –”
“Can’t you see this fancy Dan is playin’ you like a fiddle?”
“Well, really, Muriel,” Horace said, “heh heh, I think you’re possibly being just a teeny bit harsh on Mister, uh –”
“Nicky,” said Nicky.
“On Nicky,” said Horace.
“Can’t you smell the evil on him?” she said. “The effluvia of pure bottled-in-bond barrel-proof evil?”
“Now really,” said Horace. “Heh heh?”
“Take a deep breath, you silly jackanapes. Get over your blind cupidity and your lust for fame and just take a sniff off him, this so-called ‘Nicky’.”
“A sniff?” said Horace.
“I can smell it,” said Missy. “It’s like sulfur, and – and - garbage, and, and – I don’t want to say it –”
“I’ll say it,” said Muriel. “Shit. He smells like shit. You smell like shit, mister,” she said, addressing Nicky of course.
Nicky had stopped smiling.
The street had gotten very quiet. The band that had been playing in the Kettle of Fish must have gone on break, because the only sound coming from the entrance of the bar was a faint babel of people’s laughing voices.
“Okay,” I said. “So, Horace, you and the ladies go in, see if you can grab a table, and I’ll –”
“He does smell like shit,” said Ferdinand, aloud this time. “And I know what shit smells like, believe me.”
“Who said that?” said Nicky, and his face, which was normally very pale, turned paler.
“Me, asshole,” said Ferdinand, and he darted toward Nicky’s face and pulling up just shy of hitting him on the nose, described a perfect Immelman turn and a double loop-de-loop and then stopped in mid-air and hovered about a foot away from Nicky’s eyes. “Yes, you smell like shit, and all the cheap cologne in the world can’t hide the stench.”
“Cheap cologne?” was the best comeback Nicky could come up with. “Why, I’ll have you know I’m wearing Floris Special No.127 eau de toilette, and it is decidedly not cheap –”
“Eau de toilette is right,” said Ferdinand, “like straight out of a backed-up full-of-wino’s-shit crapper in some flophouse down on the Bowery.”
“Oh. Okay,” said Nicky. “So this is the way it is, is it? I’m going to stand here and be insulted by a fucking fly –”
“That’s the way it is, pal,” said Ferdinand.
“Ferdinand,” said Horace, “please, you’re really being quite, how shall I put it –”
“Rude?” said Ferdinand.
“Well, yes,” said Horace.
“Horace, my friend,” said Ferdinand, and he flew over to near Horace’s face. “You’re gonna tell me you don’t smell that stench comin’ offa this guy?”
“Well,” said Horace, “I think what you’re smelling, Ferdinand, is just the sewers backing up, from the rain, I mean you can see all the rainwater in the gutters –”
“Bullshit,” said Ferdinand. “It’s this fuckin’ creep. He reeks. And you know why?”
“’Cause he’s full of shit?” said Muriel.
“Oh, my gosh, Muriel!” said Missy, putting her hand over her mouth and giggling.
“Well, it’s true,” said Muriel. “Smells worse than a hog that’s been rollin’ in hog shit.”
“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand. “Hog rolling in hog shit! Exactly, except like ten times worse, right?”
“Twenty times, more like it,” said Muriel.
“Okay,” said Nicky, and he seemed to be forcing himself to try to smile, and not quite succeeding. “See? This behavior right here is why everybody hates human beings.”
“What about flies, asshole?” said Ferdinand.
“And flies,” said Nicky, not smiling, “flies and human beings. They both suck dick.”
“I don’t,” said Muriel, “as a matter of fact.”
“Nor I,” said Ferdinand. “So your entire argument falls.”
“Fuck you, fly.”
“Oh, brilliant riposte,” said Ferdinand. “Just brilliant. Well, how’s this for a counter-riposte to your lame-ass riposte: fuck you.”
“Okay,” said Nicky, and he managed to smile again now, but it looked very forced, and I could see his lower lip trembling. “You know what? I’m going to fix all of you. All of you.”
“But I didn’t do anything,” said Horace. “Or say anything. Really, why don’t we all just –”
“No,” said Nicky. “Fuck you, too, Horace P. Sternwall, and you know what? Your books are trash, simple-minded lurid trash, fit only for morons to read.”
“Wow,” said Horace.
“Yeah,” said Nicky, “wow is right, you hack. Like wow, how bad can writing possibly be? Oh, I know, how about Horace P. Sternwall bad?”
“That’s not very nice,” said Horace.
“You know what else is not very nice?” said Nicky. “How about getting cast screaming down into the flaming pits of hell?”
“That’s – really weird,” said Horace.
“Oh, it’s weird all right, my friend, really weird –”
“Nicky,” I said.
He turned and looked at me, not smiling now.
I had just suddenly remembered that I had a revolver in my jacket pocket, the snubnose that Lily had given me back at her roadhouse.
I took the pistol out and I pointed it at Nicky’s heart, or at least where his heart would have been if he had one.
(To be continued, until the last marble copybook filled with Arnold’s neat if cramped handwriting has been transcribed – and yet another cache of them has only recently been discovered in a cardboard box under a pile of The Catholic Standard & Times newspapers in a broom closet of Arnold’s great aunts’ guesthouse in Cape May, New Jersey.)
(Please scroll down the right hand column of this page to find a quite possibly up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. A few tickets are still available to the Arnold Schnabel Society’s “Easter Social” at the Raymond T. Osmond VFW Post at Chew and Lawrence, in Arnold’s old Philadelphia neighborhood of Olney, featuring your master of ceremonies Horace P. Sternwall and live musical entertainment from Gabriel and his Swinging Seraphim. Tix are $20 a head, which includes all the draft Ortlieb’s you can drink and unlimited access to our kielbasa 'n' kraut steam table and salad bar. All profits in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Youth Literacy Project©.)