We left our hero Arnold Schnabel just as he was getting into a pink 1955 Cadillac “60 Special”, stolen by his friend the noted author Horace P. Sternwall…
(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you have way more idle time on your hands than you know what to do with you may click here to return to the very first chapter of this 73-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)
“The question is not if Arnold Schnabel deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with Melville, with James, or even with Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy or Proust; the real question is, do the aforementioned worthies deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with Arnold Schnabel?” – Harold Bloom, in the Boys’ Life Literary Quarterly.
I pulled the door shut and sank back with a strange resignation into the passenger seat, which felt soothing, soft, and rich.
Horace slapped my thigh.
“That’s my Arnie boy,” he said, his face glowing in the electric lights of the car’s dashboard. ”What do ya think of this baby?”
“It’s nice, Horace,” I said.
“Just look at this upholstery, man! This is genuine leather, not that plastic shit. Feel it!”
I put my hand on the ribbed leather of the seat, which was pink, but a paler pink than the pink of the outside of the car, and bordered by a pink which was a darker pink than that of the outside of the car.
“What’s it feel like?” said Horace.
“It feels like the way an angel’s skin must feel,” I said. “Cool, and very soft, yet firm and strong, and – yes – sacred.”
I didn’t know where all that came from, but it just came out.
Horace stared at me. He took a puff on his cigar, and then said:
“Can I use that line too, in one of my stories or novels?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Because you really are a fucking poet, Arnold. We should stop somewhere, I can pick up a little notebook and a pencil and start writing down all this brilliant shit you say. You don’t mind, do you?”
“No, not at all, Horace.”
“Try to keep ‘em comin’,” he said.
“I’ll do my best,” I said.
“Great,” he said. “Hey, check the glove compartment, will ya?”
“The glove compartment?”
“Yeah, see what he’s got in there.”
The dashboard was the same dark pink as the leather trim of the seats, except for the parts which were gleaming polished chrome or glass, and I pressed the little button on the lid of the glove compartment; it opened silently.
Horace didn’t wait for me but reached over, stuck his hand in, and felt around in there.
“Bingo,” he said, and he brought out a brown leather-encased whiskey flask. He shook it. “Feels full too.”
He laid the flask next to him on the seat, and put his hand into the compartment again, rummaged through some papers and maps, and this time brought out a couple of enormous cigars. He looked at the labels.
“Montecristos. Cubans! Yeah, these are Laughing Lou’s wheels all right. Big fat duplicitous slob.”
He put the cigars in his shirt pocket, then reached his hand into the glove compartment one more time, as the Cadillac’s engine hummed quietly.
“Come, on Laughing Lou,” said Horace. “Work with me, fat man! Give me something. Oh, wait, here we go.”
He brought out a fat hand-rolled cigarette, twisted at its ends. He showed it to me, then ran it under his nose, smiled and nodded.
“Thank you, Laughing Lou!” he said. He held the reefer out to me. “We smoke it now or later?”
“Well,” I said, “considering we’re in the process of stealing someone’s car, it might be better to save it for later.”
“Ha!” he said. “Another classic Arnie bon mot!”
He stuck the reefer into his shirt pocket, then shut the glove compartment and clapped me on the thigh again.
“Okay,” he said. He took a puff of that old cigar of his, and gunned the engine, and then he pointed to two pink and black plush dice which were hanging from the rear view mirror. He flicked one with his finger. “Fuzzy dice. You just know this is old Lou’s Caddy!”
But then he pointed to an apparently magnetized pink and white statuette of the Blessed Mother on top of dashboard.
“But that’s weird,” he said. “I wouldn’t have taken Lou for a religious man. Would you, Arnie?”
“Maybe he just likes to cover as many bases as possible,” I said.
Horace stared at me.
“There you go again,” he said. “I really gotta get a copybook, notebook or something, I can write all this shit down.”
He paused for a moment, then remembered the flask on the seat next to him. He picked it up, unscrewed its hinged cap, and took a sniff.
“Scotch,” he said. “I’m a bourbon man myself, but any port in a storm. You want a snort, Arnie?”
“No thanks, Horace, but, listen, do you think it’s a good idea for you to drink anymore if you’re driving?”
“One little snort, pal,” he said, and he lifted the flask and took a few gulps. “Ah,” he said, finally. “That’s some good shit, even if it is scotch.”
He screwed the cap back onto the flask, and shoved the flask inside his jacket.
“Okay, Arnie,” he said. “You be the navigator. Which way.”
“I was thinking to the left,” I said.
“The left,” he said. He gunned the engine again. “Okay, left it is!” He put his cigar in his mouth and put his hand on the gear shift. “Oh, shit,” he said. He was looking into the rear view mirror. “Look who’s coming,” he said.
I turned around and looked back.
Laughing Lou had just lumbered around the corner of the road house. He had a pistol in his hand.
“Motherfuckers!” he yelled across the yard. “I’ll fucking kill you both!”
Still lumbering, he extended his arm with the pistol in his fat hand, and the pistol seemed to be pointing straight at me. I ducked my head behind the seat-back, and I heard what was either a gunshot or a car’s backfire but which was undoubtedly the former, and then the Cadillac’s motor roared and I fell back against the dashboard as Horace yelled something like the war cry of a proud young Comanche warrior. I was thrust back against the seat again as the car lurched to the left and two more loud shots rang out in the night amidst the roaring of the car’s engine and the screeching of its tires and then one more shot, less loud, and after thirty seconds of no shots and no more screeching of tires but just the strong solid hum of the motor I sat up into the cool air streaming through the open windows, and then the sound of Horace shouting, “Ha ha! I knew that fat bastard wouldn’t shoot at his own car! I knew it! He’s too fucking cheap to shoot at his own car!”
He drove on, smiling broadly, then he turned to me, suddenly looking serious, or at least not smiling.
“You’re okay, right, Arnie boy? He didn’t get you, did he?”
For an awful moment I thought maybe I had been shot but hadn’t noticed it, but a quick glance down at my seersucker jacket and plaid work shirt and grey tie allayed my anxiety.
“No, I’m okay I think,” I said.
“Knew it,” he said. “But there ya go, y’know, Arnold? That just proves he was up to no good. Why else did he come back out packing a .45, you tell me? Huh? Why was that?”
“Maybe he was afraid we’d try to steal his car?” I said.
“’Maybe he –’” Horace stopped what he saying and looked at me. “See, there ya go, Arnie, coming out with all these good lines! I really gotta get a notebook, copybook, something –”
“Horace,” I said, “please keep your eyes on the road.”
“What? Oh. Okay,” he said, and he turned his face back to the road just in time to twist the wheel so we wouldn't run off at a curve to crash into the bordering dark thick woods.
He gave out with another young Comanche’s war cry, and stared away at the road ahead, the headlights illuminating only the dark asphalt and those thick woods whipping past us on either side. It was a two lane road, or at least there was room for two cars to drive abreast just barely, but there was no white line painted down the middle, and there were no lights at the sides of the road, just those dark thick woods that grew to just a yard or so of the road on each side.
“Hey, y’know what this looks like?” said Horace.
“Hell?” I said.
He shook his head, smiling.
“No, not Hell, Arnie. Try again.”
“The road to Hell?” I said.
He nodded his head, still smiling.
“Definitely gotta get that notebook, write down all these good lines of yours. No, Arnie, ya know what this looks like? Ya know what it looks like?”
He turned and looked at me again.
“Please keep your eyes on the road, Horace,” I said. “And tell me what it looks like.”
He put his eyes back on the road, then made a gesture with his right hand.
“It looks like the Pine Barrens,” he said. “The Jersey Pine Barrens. See. Those are pine trees.”
I looked out the windscreen to the trees zipping by in the headlights. True, they were some sort of evergreen trees.
“You think so?” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “That means we’re in the state of New Jersey. And that’s something we can work with, Arnie.”
I admit I felt an sudden intimation of hope.
Horace took one last puff on that wet ragged stub of his cigar, the same cigar he had been smoking ever since I met him, and then he flicked it out his window.
“Just look at that dashboard, Arnold,” said Horace. “A thing of beauty.”
This was true, the lights and dials and the chromium and the shiny switches and the deep pink leather – this was a form of beauty. Horace turned the radio switch on and fiddled with the dials until he came to “The Twelfth of Never” by Johnny Mathis, and he left that on. Then he punched in the knob of the automatic cigarette lighter. Then he took the reefer out of his pocket and ran it under his nose again.
“Another thing New Jersey means,” he said, although he hadn’t mentioned anything that it meant, per se. He turned and looked at me again. “You know what New Jersey means, don’t you, Arnie?”
I pondered before answering.
“It means it’s not the old Jersey?” I said.
“No, Arnie,” he said, and he smiled, and to my relief he at least glanced back to the road before continuing, “but that’s another good one. No, my friend, New Jersey means,” and now he was staring straight at me again, “diners.”
“Diners. Best diners in the country, and all-night diners too. How does that sound, Arnie boy?”
“It sounds good, Horace,” I said. “But if you don’t keep your eyes on the road we’ll crash and we’ll never make it to a diner, unless they have diners in hell.”
“Diners in hell!” he cried. And then more softly. “Diners in hell. You kill me, Arnie. You slay me.”
He put the reefer into his mouth.
The knob of the automatic lighter popped out of the dashboard.
Horace pulled out the lighter, and put its glowing red end to the end of his reefer, and lit it, taking in the smoke deeply with several deep sucking breaths.
Then he proffered the lit reefer to me.
Keeping the smoke in his lungs, he said, in a constricted voice:
“Here you mad bastard. Take a hit.”
I took the reefer.
I felt I had nothing to lose by doing so.
I took a drag, a deep one, held it in as the dark pine trees (if that’s what they were) in the Cadillac’s headlights streamed past us on either side and as we soared ahead into the darkness ahead.
The marijuana almost immediately suffused me with a feeling of relaxation.
My stomach seemed to call to me from a distance, reminding me that it wanted to be fed.
I took another drag and held the smoke in.
“Relax,” I told my stomach; at the rate Horace was driving we were bound to be out of these woods before long, which meant we must reach a diner before I starved to death.
I exhaled the smoke, and felt even more relaxed.
Maybe some creamed chipped beef on toast, I thought, or perhaps a western omelette, with hash browns, and ham with red eye gravy?
“Until the twelfth of never,” sang Johnny Mathis, “and that’s a long, long time…”
Then I heard a siren, the unmistakeable sound of a police siren.
And I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the flashing red lights of a police car.
“Oh, shit,” said Horace.
(To be continued; only roughly ten thousand more of Arnold’s marble copybooks left to transcribe.)
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