The place: Sid’s Tavern (“Had enough of the hot crowded beach? Come across the street and enjoy one of our quart-size frosted mugs of ice-cold Ortlieb’s beer!”), in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey.
Bob DeVore: an average clod.
Mrs. (unknown first name) DeVore: Bob’s wife.
Gertrude Evans: author of the bestseller (“Shocking.” -- J.J. Hunsecker) Ye Cannot Quench.
Jack Scratch: second-tier demon.
St. Thomas Becket: martyr.
“Josh”: son of God.
Arnold Schnabel: son of man
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We headed back down through the crowd. The “Sugar Shack” song was playing now, and Thomas and Jack forged ahead of us, both of them staggering a bit, bumping into other people and each other.
Josh put his hand on my shoulder and leaned close in as we walked.
“Arnold, have you really finally taken complete leave of your senses?”
“Oh. Great. And what do we do about these other nitwits?”
He meant of course Miss Evans and the DeVores, whom we were quickly approaching.
“Just follow my lead,” I said.
In a matter of seconds our little group met up with the above-mentioned three, who once again formed a defensive wedge in our path, with Miss Evans on point.
“Well, Arnold,” she said, holding up in a somewhat martial fashion what looked like a brand-new martini, “and who are your friends, pray tell.”
“Oh, Miss Evans,” I said, “this is, uh, Tom, and this is Jack.”
“Very pleased to meet you, lovely lady,” said Jack.
She had not offered her hand, but he grabbed it up anyway and planted a kiss on her knuckles. She quickly pulled her hand away and rubbed the area he had kissed on the shiny material covering her thigh.
“And Mr. and Mrs. DeVore,” I said. “Meet Jack and Tom.”
“Call me Bob,” said DeVore, and he thrust out his hand toward Jack, who paid no mind to it but took a step toward Mrs. DeVore.
“And what is your Christian name, Mrs. DeVore?” said Jack, taking a puff on his pipe. “Provided you are a member of that proud spiritual tradition.”
“Pardon me?” she said.
“He wants to know your first name,” said Thomas. DeVore had shifted his outstretched hand over toward him, but Thomas ignored it just as Jack had done. “I wouldn’t tell him it if I were you.”
“Why not?” she asked, seeming frightened, as well she should have been.
“Pish, posh and paddle,” said Jack. “Loved your last book by the way,” he said, turning to Miss Evans.
“Oh, did you? So you know who I am?”
“But yes, of course, although I must say your dust-jacket photo does you a grave injustice, Miss Evans.”
“Do you think so?”
“I do indeed.”
So far so good.
“We were just going to step outside for a minute,” I said.
“Oh, really,” said Miss Evans. “Why?”
Jack performed an exaggerated dumbshow of pretending to smoke a cigarette and holding in the smoke.
“You’re already smoking a pipe,” said Miss Evans. “Why do you need to go outside to smoke.”
Jack stepped even closer to her, he was so much shorter than her that his nose was almost between her breasts. Looking up, he whispered, smiling, “Gage, sweetheart. Wacky tobaccy. The good stuff. Spade tea, baby.”
She turned to me.
“You never fail to surprise me, Arnold.”
“What are they talking about, honey?” said Mrs. DeVore to Mr. DeVore.
“Wow,” he said, in a loud voice. “You guys are really gonna smoke mari--?”
“Shhh,” went Thomas. “Discretion, old man.”
“Oh, sorry,” said DeVore.
Josh had kept quiet through all this. He lifted his great mug, polished it off and put it down on the bar. Like magic the bartender was there again.
“Another one, sir?”
“No thanks. What do I owe you? For my friend Arnold, too, and, uh, for this lady.”
“Oh, on the house!”
Josh reached into his pocket, came out with a twenty-dollar bill that looked like it had come fresh from the mint, tossed it on the bar.
“Oh, thank you, sir!”
“They do like you here, Joshua,” said Miss Evans.
“Yeah, well --”
“I wonder,” she said, “if I may join you gentlemen outside.”
“Can we come too, fellas?” said DeVore. “I’ve always wanted to try mari-”
“Shhh!” said Thomas. “Be cool, man.”
“Wait, go where?” said Mrs. DeVore.
“You don’t have to come, Gladys,” said Miss Evans.
“My name’s not --”
“Oh, but we want to come!” said Bob DeVore.
“The more the merrier,” said Jack. “Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?” said Mrs. DeVore.
“Just across the street,” said Jack. “To the beach.”
“To the beach? At night? Why?”
“Shhh,” said DeVore, “be cool, honey.”
“Let’s split,” said Jack. “Finish your drink, Miss Evans.”
She lifted her martini and polished it off in two gulps. Jack took the glass out of her hand and put it on the bar.
“Great,” he said. “Allons-y!” He took Miss Evans’s arm. “Brains and beauty! My kind of gal!”
She picked her shiny black purse up off of the bar top.
“Don’t get any ideas,” she said.
“Oh no, of course not!”
“I still don’t know why we’re going to the beach,” said Mrs. DeVore.
“All will be revealed,” said Thomas. “May I take your lovely wife’s arm, Bob?”
“Uh, yeah, sure, Tom,” said DeVore.
“Cheers,” said Thomas, and putting his arm in Mrs. DeVore’s he started pulling her toward the door.
Jack was yanking on Miss Evans’s arm, but she held her ground and addressed me.
“You are coming, aren’t you, Arnold?”
“Oh, sure,” I said. I took one last drink from my mug and then put it down even though it wasn’t empty.
Jack pulled Miss Evans along after Thomas and Mrs. DeVore.
“Hey, wait up,” said DeVore, and he followed.
Josh turned to me.
“I hope you know what the hell you’re doing, pal,” he said.
(Continued here, and until someone or some thing stops us. Please go to the right hand side of this page to find a possibly up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. A J. Arthur Rank Production.)