*“A smoother, less irritating smoke.”
We went downstairs. Her living room looked much the same, that is as if William Powell or Carole Lombard might walk in at any second, except now everything was bright and new and polished. Again though, everything was in black or white or shades of grey. It was still only late afternoon, but the windows were almost dark with that thick crashing rain outside.
Tommy came in from the porch just as we reached the middle of the living room. He closed his glistening umbrella and stuck it in an ivy-patterned vase in the shallow foyer.
“If it’s any consolation, death must have been instantaneous,” he said.
“The poor man,” said Mrs. Biddle.
“May I get you a drink, Mrs. Biddle?” said Tommy.
“Oh, Tommy, look at you, your trousers are ruined.”
“Don’t worry about my trousers now.”
“And your shoes. Your lovely white shoes.”
“I’m going to make you a drink,” he said. “Why don’t you sit down. You’ve had a shock.”
“I don’t think I can sit.”
“Mr. Schnabel --” said Tommy. He was heading toward the drinks cabinet.
He made a movement with his head, but I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by it, if anything.
He stopped, and pointed to the larger of the two sofas. Then he pointed to Mrs. Biddle, and then back to the sofa.
“Oh,” I said. “Oh. Mrs. Biddle, come on, sit down.”
“Will you sit with me?”
I sort of guided her over to the sofa, although God knows she knew where it was, and she sat down. I sat next to her, to her left. She put her hand on mine.
“Will you have a cocktail, Mr. Schnabel?” asked Tommy.
“Okay,” I said.
To tell the truth I really felt like I could use one at this point.
“Whiskey and soda?”
“Ice? I can go get some from the ice box.”
“I’ll just have it the way Mrs. Biddle is having it.”
“No ice then.”
Tommy went to work preparing three drinks, using a quart of Old Forester and a large glass soda syphon. Outside the rain drummed down, like a million tiny bongo drums played by a million tiny madmen.
“Should we get the boys to bring him in?” said Mrs. Biddle, her voice breaking slightly.
“Not until the police get here,” said Tommy over his shoulder.
“The police?” she said. “Will that be necessary?”
“It would probably be for the best in the long run."
“I suppose you’re right,” said Mrs. Biddle. “I hate to think of him lying out there in that mud.”
“Can’t be helped,” said Tommy. “Oh. Does anyone want a little something extra?” he asked.
He turned and held up a small brown bottle, taking the cork from it as he did so.
“Yes, Tommy,” said Mrs. Biddle. “For my nerves, thank you.”
“Mr. Schnabel? It’s only a light solution of laudanum.”
“Well, just a little,” I said.
I wasn’t quite sure if any of this was really happening, so I saw no harm.
“Will you ring the police, Tommy?” asked Mrs. Biddle. “I don’t think I could bear it.”
“Certainly. But may I make a suggestion?” he said, bringing three tall drinks over to us on a silver tray.
“Of course,” said Mrs. Biddle.
“Let me telephone Dr. Rodriguez. I’ll tell him the situation, and we’ll let him handle it.”
“Do you think that’s best?” she asked.
Tommy laid the tray on the coffee table in front of us.
“Yes, I think so,” he said. “Bottoms up now.”
We all took a glass. Tommy didn’t sit, but stood with his drink on the other side of the table.
“To Jimmy,” he said.
We all drank.
“Well, I must say I needed that,” said Tommy. “I’ll telephone Rodriguez now.”
He took his drink over to a side table on which a white telephone sat.
“Light me a cigarette, Arnold,” said Mrs. Biddle. “One of those in that box there.”
The box was the engraved wooden one I had seen here before. The table lighter in the shape of the fat Buddha was also there. I opened the box and offered it to her, she took out a cigarette, and I gave her a light with the smiling philospher.
“Won’t you have one, Arnold?” she said, in a soft voice.
I think I actually sighed, because I really did want one. But I had gotten this far today without one, I had gone through so much, somehow I felt like holding out, whether any of this was real or not. I have to say I think the spiked highball was a factor in my being able to abstain.
“Hello,” said Tommy, speaking in a loud voice into the telephone receiver. “Hola. May I speak to Dr. Rodriguez, please. Tell him it’s Tommy, from the Biddle plantation.” He put his hand over the phone, and looked to us. “He’ll be right on.”
“Tell him to hurry, Tommy,” said Mrs. Biddle.
“I will,” said Tommy. “Oh. Dr. Rodriguez, Tommy here. Yes, how are you? Listen, there’s been an accident, and Mrs. Biddle asks that you come right over. Yes. It’s Mr. Biddle. Jimmy, yes, he fell, and, well, he broke his neck I’m afraid. Yes, he’s dead I’m sorry to say.” He listened for a few moments and then put his hand over the mouthpiece again and looked toward Mrs. Biddle. “He wants to know how it happened.”
“He stumbled and fell off the second floor veranda,” said Mrs. Biddle.
Tommy repeated this down the telephone line.
There was a pause, and then he said, “Yes, he had been drinking I fear. Yes. Yes. Very sad. Yes. Listen, Dr. Rodriguez, do you think you could, um, deal with the police concerning this. Yes. Yes. Thank you. Muchas gracias, doctor, adiós.”
He hung up the phone.
“Well, that’s done,” said Tommy. “He said he’ll drive right over, and after he has, uh, assessed the situation, he’ll call the appropriate person in the police.”
“Oh good,” said Mrs. Biddle.
Tommy started to walk over toward us with his drink.
“Oh wait,” said Mrs. Biddle.
"April,” said Mrs. Biddle.
“Oh, right,” said Tommy.
She turned to me.
“My daughter,” she said.
“Oh,” I said.
“Tommy --” she said.
“I’ll take care of it,” said Tommy. “I’ll call. Shall I -- shall I tell her?”
“Yes," said Mrs. Biddle. "Or, no. I’ll tell her. But dial the number for me, will you please, Tommy?”
Tommy went back to the telephone.
“May I make another suggestion, though?” he said. He held his drink in his left hand, and with his right hand he draped the telephone cord over his left wrist.
“Of course,” said Mrs. Biddle.
With his right hand Tommy picked up the telephone and brought it over to us.
“Let her stay at her little friend's house for a few hours. At least until they take the -- until they take Jimmy away.”
“Of course,” she said. “I wouldn’t have thought of that. Thank you, Tommy. You’re a brick.”
He laid his drink down on the table, and, still standing, he dialed a number on the white telephone.
“You’re a brick, too, Arnold,” said Mrs. Biddle, patting my hand. “I want to thank you so much.”
“For what?” I said.
Tommy, cradling the receiver to his ear, reached down with his left hand to take a cigarette from the box.
“Just for everything,” Mrs. Biddle said.
Tommy, waiting for someone to answer on the other end, picked up the fat smiling Buddha and gave himself a light.
(Continued here. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of all other possible episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, a Merv Griffin Production.)
By popular demand, Françoise Hardy: “Comment te dire adieu?”