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Up on the promenade we both took a look back, but no one was following us.
“We’re probably okay,” said Josh. “That was pretty strong weed I gave them.”
“Let’s keep moving though,” I said.
We went over to the steps to the street. The two kids were down there, waiting for the light to change. They glanced up at us, and I looked away, I think Josh did also; neither of us wanted to embarrass them further.
Josh took out his cigarettes and offered me the pack.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said at once. “I forgot, you’re trying to quit."
I had actually raised my hand to take one, because I had once again forgotten all about quitting, but now I lowered my hand, reluctantly I admit. I was only human, which was more (or less) than Josh could say, who shook one up and put it in his mouth.
“So, what do you think?” he said. “One more drink for the road?”
“I thought you said that last one was going to be the last one,” I said.
“That’s true,” he said, lighting up. “But I wasn’t counting on being hijacked by a pack of lunatics before we could enjoy a drink together.”
“Do you know you sigh a lot?” said Josh.
“Yes,” I said. “I was born sighing.”
The light changed. The guilty young couple hurried across the Beach Drive.
“So odd,” said Josh, obviously enjoying his smoke. “This concept of shame. They were only doing what comes natural after all.”
“Maybe shame is natural,” I said.
“Come on,” he said, “let’s go, before the lunatics realize we’ve flown the coop.”
We went down the steps and across the road.
“Well, I understand if you just want to turn in,” said Josh.
“It’s just it’s been a really long day,” I said.
“No, I understand, really, Arnold. I’m being selfish.”
We headed up Perry Street, we were only a few blocks from my aunts’ house.
But then I suddenly realized what a stick-in-the-mud I was being. Here I was being invited for a nightcap by the son of God, and I was playing hard to get. What was my problem? It wasn’t as if one more drink was going to kill me.
“Okay,” I said. “One more.”
“Yeah, why not.”
“Great. The bars are going to close soon anyway, right?”
To tell the truth, most of the Cape May joints stayed open till three, but I didn’t mention that.
“Where should we go?” asked Josh. “Back to the Mug?”
“No,” I said. “Steve and Miss Rathbone might still be there. And Larry.”
“Oh, right. It wouldn’t exactly be a quiet drink then, would it?”
“No,” I said.
“What about that Negro bar? Pete’s?”
“I think I might have some friends there, too.”
“You and your friends.”
“A week or so ago I had no friends.”
“So where should we go?”
“Let’s try the Pilot House,” I said.
We turned up Carpenter’s Lane. I realized then that Josh was swaying and staggering slightly.
“Josh, are you okay?”
“Sure,” he said, although he continued to walk in anything but a straight line. “Oh, how’s your leg by the way?”
My leg would have been a lot better if people wouldn’t keep reminding me of it.
“Not so bad,” I said, although as soon as I said this of course a shot of pain ran up from my ankle to my knee and then remained there.
“Hold on a second,” he said.
“Just stand still.”
I stood still.
“Okay,” he said. He looked all around. No one was nearby.
“All right, I really shouldn’t do this, but I do have certain privileges.”
He hunkered down in a squatting position before me.
“Just hold still. Get your mind out of the gutter, Arnold.”
He put his cigarette in his mouth, and then placed both his hands on my sore leg, running them lightly down from my knee to the top of my Keds. Then he removed his hands and looked up.
“All right,” he said. “Take a couple of steps.”
I stepped around him, walked a few paces and then back to where he still squatted there, smoking his cigarette.
“How’s it feel?” he asked.
“Feels good,” I said. “A little numb.”
“But it doesn’t hurt.”
“No. Just a little numb, like a shot of Novocain, I guess.”
“The numbness should wear off.”
“Great, thanks, Josh.”
He started to rise up, but he lost his balance and fell back, landing on his backside.
“Ow,” he said.
I went over, extended a hand, helped him up.
“Okay, I guess I am a little drunk,” he said. “I’m not really used to alcohol.”
“Maybe we should skip the drink, Josh.”
“Oh, no, just one beer.”
“One beer. I promise.”
“All right. One beer.”
He brushed off the seat of his khakis and we continued on our way.
It was true, my leg didn’t hurt any more, although I had to be careful of my step because of the numbness.
“Oh, wait, you know what we should do?” he said.
“Re-light one of these babies.”
And he took his stubbed-out reefer out of his shirt pocket.
“Josh,” I said. “We can’t do that.”
“There’s nobody around.”
Actually a quick glance around confirmed that there were indeed a few pedestrians coming now from both directions on the block.
“What if a cop drives by?” I said.
“He won’t know what it is.”
He tossed his cigarette away, put the reefer between his lips, took out his lighter and lit it up.
We continued our walk.
“You want some?” he asked.
“No thanks,” I said.
“No one’s going to know, Arnold.”
He held it right out in front of me. It did smell enticing.
“Well -- all right.”
I took it and had a few drags. Not that I was any expert, but it seemed like good stuff.
“The thing is,” said Josh. “It gets a little boring up in my father’s house. I like it down here. What do you think?”
“About the world.”
“It’s okay,” I said.
He took the reefer from my fingers.
“It’s okay as long as you’re not sick, or in pain,” I said.
“But you’re not in pain now, right?”
“Not currently, no. But --”
“A lot of other people are,” I said. “At any given moment.”
“Well, that’s true,” he said, puffing away. “That is a basic flaw in the set-up I suppose.”
He took one more good drag, then handed the reefer back to me.
He let out the smoke in a great redolent cloud.
“This is why all these religions believe in heaven, in paradise,” he said. “People really want to believe they’ll wind up in a place where they’ll be happy and not ever be in pain.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said.
I took a drag.
It occurred to me that even if we did get stopped by a cop, that Josh would probably be able to get us out of it.
But then it also occurred to me that he hadn’t been able to get himself out of the jam when the police came to arrest him in Gethsemane.
“If only they knew,” he said, holding out his hand for the reefer, which I passed to him.
“Knew what?” I said.
“Just what it’s really like, up there.”
“Yeah,” I said, remembering all those empty hallways and empty rooms in his father’s house. The waxed floors, the empty vases.
“Oh, good, the Pilot House,” he said, because suddenly we were now outside it. He started up the steps to the entrance.
“Wait, Josh,” I said.
“You’d better put that out.”
He put out what was left of it on the railing, then dropped the stub back into his shirt pocket.
“Okay, let’s go have a beer.”
“Just one,” I said.
“Just one, buddy.”
(Continued here, unless we are legally enjoined to cease and desist. Please look to the right hand column of this page to find what purports to be an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Soon to be adapted as a 120-part “telenovela” on Telemundo, Tren De Ferrocarril Al Cielo, starring Antonio Banderas as Arnold and Javier Bardem as “Josh”; produced and directed by Larry Winchester.)