She put her twig of an arm through my right arm, and began walking past me and around me, turning my body so that it faced away from the barroom. Freddy kept his own hand on my left arm throughout this maneuver, they moved efficiently but gently, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers forced to work with some big clumsy oaf like Jack Carson, and now I found myself being frog-marched by these two elderly elves back into the hallway from which I had just emerged.
“Wait,” I said, “what about my friend?”
“Your friend is a big boy,” said Ursula.
“But he’ll wonder where I am.”
Suddenly I felt someone tugging on the “tennis tails” of my polo shirt. I twisted around and saw that it was Mr. Jones hanging onto me, and next to him was Mr. Arbuthnot. They had both re-donned their straw hats.
“Arnold, where are these degenerate fogies taking you?” said Jones.
I stopped, but Freddy and Ursula continued to pull on my arms. They were like two little children trying to drag their father into a ice cream shop.
“Yeah, we got a fresh Manhattan waiting for you back there, fella,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.
“Hello, Ursula,” said Mr. Jones, talking past me. He was still holding onto the back of my shirt.
“Hello, Jonesie,” said Ursula. “How’s tricks? Still dealing them from the bottom of a marked-up deck?”
“Heh-heh,” said Mr. Jones. “You are -- if Freddy here will forgive me -- hello, Freddy --”
“Hello, Jonesie,” said Freddy, not relinquishing his own firm hold on my forearm.
“You are,” said Mr. Jones, addressing Ursula again, “a firecracker, madam! Don’t you agree, Arbuthnot?”
“Ursula is indeed,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “and always has been an exceedingly explosive as well as an extraordinarily handsome woman.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” said Ursula. “Except into my knickers. And now if you will excuse us, gentlemen.”
“But where are you taking our Mr. Schnabel?” said Mr. Arbuthnot.
“To our den of iniquity,” said Freddy, smiling.
“You’ve rarely invited me up to your rooms,” said Mr. Jones.
“And there is a reason for that, dear Jonesie,” said Ursula. “No, I’m wrong. What I mean to say is that there is a multitude of reasons.”
“What about me?” asked Mr. Arbuthnot. “What am I if not respectable?”
“A disreputable old pervert,” said Ursula.
“Let us come up,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “We’ll behave.”
“No,” said Ursula.
“Okay, here’s the thing,” said Freddy, in a low voice. “We’re going upstairs to --” he made a surreptitious and quick smoking gesture --”blow some gage. How much do you have, Arnold?”
“Oh, just the one,” I said, I was turning my head back and forth to keep up with all of this, these two warring camps of senior midgets to the back and to the front of me.
“Just the one doobie, fellas, sorry. If we had more we’d invite you.”
“Oh, wait,” said Arbuthnot. “I’ve got hashish!”
“You do?” said Freddy.
"Opiated hashish," said Mr. Arbuthnot, "from Morocco, the finest quality!"
“Well, come on up then, fellows!” said Freddy.
“Sure, glad to have you, chaps,” said Ursula.
I knew right then that I must take immediate and decisive action.
“Listen,” I said.
“We’ll talk upstairs,” said Ursula. “Come on. Times a-wasting.”
I felt myself borne along down into the hallway -- Freddy and Ursula each pulling an arm and with Mr. Jones and Mr. Abuthnot pushing me from behind. I felt like Gulliver being carried away by the Lilliputians.
I’ve never been much of a one for tavern-brawls, especially ones involving packs of homunculi already on the very verge of the grave, but I nonetheless now determined, if necessary, to use main force and perhaps even a couple of hand-to-hand combat tricks I might recall from that twenty year’s distant army basic training. I gave them one last chance.
“Wait a minute,” I said, trying to brake my feet.
“Save it for upstairs, Arnold,” said Freddy, only barely smiling now, “we’ve gotta go on again in fifteen minutes.”
“But, but --”
Freddy pushed open a door marked “Private. Do Not Enter.”
I could see a narrow winding ascending staircase.
“Arnold, what’s going on?”
It was Josh, coming out of the men’s room just down the hallway.
His dark blond hair hung lank, as if it had been dipped in a vat of oil, and his normally burnished skin was now the color and looked like the texture of the belly of a dead flounder.
His shirt was sopping with grey moisture, his khakis were wet and stained at the knees. His eyes were red, and weary.
“Who’s the hobo?” said Mr. Jones.
“He’s not a hobo,” I said. “He’s my friend.”
“We were just going up to our flat,” said Freddy. “Would you care to join us, Arnold’s friend?”
(Continued here and for only Arnold knows how long. Please check the right hand side of this page for a quite possibly up-to-date listing of links to all other extant chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. And don’t forget: sign up now for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Arnold Schnabel Cape May Walking Tour. A few places are still available. No minors allowed.)