“Listen, Josh,” I said. “Let’s just try to slip out quietly.”
“Slip out quietly? You want me to run? Run from him?”
“Well, I don’t mean run, exactly --”
“Oh, I know what you mean.”
“But, Josh, he’s -- he’s always around, isn’t he?”
“Well, sure, in a manner of speaking.”
“So he’ll be around later,” I said.
“So I should just avoid a confrontation. When he’s obviously trying to bait me. He must know I’m in town. He probably knows I’m in this place.”
“Well -- do you want to play into his hands?” I asked.
“Play into his hands?”
“His -- his scheme.”
“His fiendish scheme, huh?”
“I’m not afraid of him, Arnold.”
“Josh, can I say something?”
“Of course.” He took his cigarettes out of his shirt pocket, gave the pack a shake so that exactly one popped up. I guess he saw me looking at the pack. “I’m sorry, would you like one?” he asked.
I was very tempted.
“Or maybe I shouldn’t ask,” he said. “I keep forgetting you’re trying to quit.”
What the heck, I thought, I’d gone a whole day. One won’t kill me now. But before I could say okay, he said, “You’re right, I shouldn’t ask you. You don’t mind if I have one more, do you?”
“No, go ahead,” I said, stifling a sigh.
He went ahead, and I watched as he lit himself up with his Ronson, watched as he looked fondly at the cigarette as he exhaled that first fine lungful of smoke.
A raucous instrumental song was playing on the jukebox now. Although the song had no words it sounded like an ode to cigarettes and cheap whiskey, and possibly also to extra-marital concupiscence.
“So, what is it?” said Josh. The cigarette did seem to be calming him down.
“What is what?” I said.
“You were going to tell me something. Or so you said.”
“Oh. Right. It’s just that you’ve been drinking, Josh. Quite a bit. And you’ve been very sick. And then you passed out. So I wonder if it’s such a good idea that you, uh, confront, um --”
“That guy out there,” said Josh.
“Yes,” I said.
“In my weakened condition.”
He paused, smoking. He leaned around and forward again, to peek down to the end of the bar where they all were.
“Still there,” he said. “Looks like he’s drinking a Manhattan. They’re all drinking Manhattans.”
“It could really get ugly, Josh,” I said.
“Especially with those other idiots there,” he said.
“That Miss Evans,” he said. “What’s her deal with you, Arnold?”
“What is she,” he asked. “Obsessed?”
“She likes me.”
“Not that that’s so strange,” he said. “That she likes you.”
“It seems strange to me,” I said. “But then life seems strange to me.”
“And those other two,” said Josh. “The DeBores?”
“DeVore,” I said.
“What’s their raison d'être?”
“I have no idea, but they won’t leave me alone either.”
“There’s a place in hell for people like those two,” he said.
“Maybe,” I said.
“No, I’m being serious. There really is a place in hell for people like them.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Their punishment is that they have to spend eternity with people who are just as boring as they are. If not more so.”
“Let’s just slip out quietly,” I said.
He bent forward again, looking down the bar.
“Our boy’s really chatting up the Evans woman. Hope he knows what he’s in for with her.”
“Come on, Josh,” I said. “While they’re distracted, we’ll just walk right through the bar and out.”
“You’re really afraid, aren’t you?”
“I just think it might be better if you get a good sleep first. If he’s around tomorrow --”
“Oh, I’m sure he will be.”
“Deal with him tomorrow then,” I said. “After you’ve had a good breakfast.”
“Breakfast,” he said. “You’ve just reminded me. I said I’d have breakfast with this Magda girl.”
“Yes,” I said.
“I’m going to need to be rested to deal with her.”
“You’re probably right.”
“If I’m battling that guy --” he tossed his head in the direction of where that dark man presumably still stood, drinking a Manhattan, “-- all night, I’m going to be in no shape to face Magda.”
“No shape at all,” I said.
“Okay, then. For once I’ll follow your advice. But this is not a retreat.”
“No, of course not.”
“More of a tactical maneuver.”
“Exactly,” I said.
“Like don’t send in your infantry until your artillery is in place.”
“All right, let’s go.”
“Right, let’s go,” I said, and I led the way, out the hallway and past the stage and the near end of the bar, not even looking to my right to where the Devil and the other ones, the damned ones, were. I made it through the the table area and to the front door, I opened it and went through, turned and held the door open. Josh was a few paces behind me, walking slowly, smoking his cigarette and looking back over his shoulder at the bar. Our so-called friends were all facing away, all except for the tall dark man, who was looking this way, holding his sparkling Manhattan, looking through the smoky bar at Josh, and then at me, and smiling, then nodding slightly while raising his drink to us.
“Come on, Josh,” I said.
I took his arm, and pulled him out the door, closing it behind him.
“That motherf**ker,” he said.
“Josh,” I said. “Let it go.”
“Pardon my language,” he said.
“Okay, let’s get you home,” I said, and I led him down the steps to the sidewalk.
It suddenly occurred to me that his home was not on this planet.
(Continued here, and for who knows how long now, since the good people of the Arnold Schnabel Society have just informed me that a whole new trove of Arnold’s memoirs have just been discovered beneath a pile of old issues of the Catholic Standard & Times in a coal box in the basement of Arnold’s mother’s house at B and Nedro. Please turn to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Buy your tickets now for The Olney Art Players’ production of the new musical Arnold! at the Fern Rock Theatre, featuring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in a special limited-run engagement.)