(Click here to go to our previous chapter, or here to read the beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning memoir, which, in the words of the noted scholar Harold Bloom “wreaks havoc with all our notions of time and space and sanity, but in a possibly beneficial way”.)
I turned and continued toward the door and through the minutes and the hours, his shouting and cursing voice fading into the past behind me.
Before pulling open that door I took a last deep breath of that close men’s room air, its stench of scorched flesh; and, closing my eyes, I tried to concentrate on the time I wanted to be in.
Opening my eyes I opened the door, and glancing back just one more time at the now empty lavatory, I went out into the hall.
There was Josh at the end of the bar, hunched over his drink, a cigarette between two fingers of his right hand. A lot of other people were still in the bar but Marootha and Bethimba were gone, and so also were myself and Dick Ridpath down at the other end of the bar.
I went over and sat down next to Josh, who jerked his head up suddenly. I think he had been dozing.
“Oh, hi, Arnold. I was beginning to wonder what was taking you so long. I ordered just one more Old Fashioned, hope you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t mind,” I said. I took a sip of the drink I’d left at my spot. It had gotten considerably diluted from the melted ice, but that was okay. “So, the ladies left,” I said.
“What ladies?” said Josh.
“The two ladies who were just sitting there next to you.”
In their place were sitting two dapper young men in summer suits.
“Ladies,” said Josh.
“Yes," I said.
"What kind of ladies?"
“Arnold," said Josh, "there weren’t any ladies sitting next to me. I’m not that drunk. It’s just been these two fellows,” he said, in a quieter voice, so they couldn’t hear.
“Oh,” I said. “Uh, let me ask you a question, did we see me and my friend Dick Ridpath down at the end of the bar there?”
“What the bloody hell are you talking about?”
I took another sip of the watered-down drink.
He stared at me.
“All right, Arnold, what happened? In the parlance of our Miss Magda: the beans. Spill them.”
Briefly I filled him in on what had occurred since we had entered the bar not ten minutes ago, or, depending on how you looked at it, two nights ago.
“Amazing,” he said, finally. He stubbed out his Pall Mall. “So you just left him there. Lucifer.”
“Or Mr. Lucky,” I said.
“Man of a thousand names. Stuck two days in the past.”
“Let’s hope so,” I said.
“This is slightly disturbing,” he said.
“That’s one way of putting it,” I said.
“No, I mean it’s really disturbing from my point of view. I’m starting to feel less omniscient and omnipotent by the second.”
“Unless I’m just imagining it all.”
“There’s one way to find out. What’s the bartender’s name again? Larry?”
“Jerry,” I said.
Josh turned away toward the bar, but Jerry was already standing there.
“May I help you, Josh?” he asked.
“Yes. Jerry, this might seem like an odd question, but were my friend and I in here two nights ago?”
“Of course, sir.”
He said this smiling, but with a question in his voice, as if worried that somehow he had unknowingly done something wrong.
“We were,” said Josh.
“Yes, sir. You were sitting in these same two seats.”
“Okay,” said Josh. “And were there two ladies sitting next to us?”
“Yes, I believe there were, Josh. In fact, well, I suppose perhaps you fellows did have a slight overabundance of Old Fashioneds if you don’t remember --”
“Well, you and your friend -- Arthur?”
“Arnold,” corrected Josh.
“You and Arnold left with these ladies. Heh heh.”
Josh took a drink of his Old Fashioned, then shook the ice around in his glass.
“Blondes?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. Quite handsome ladies they were, too.”
“Oh. Okay.” Josh drank some more of his drink. “Now this one’s a long shot -- Jerry?”
“Jerry, do you also happen to remember a couple of other guys sitting down at the other end of the bar there, and one of them looked like my friend Arnold here?”
“Now that you mention it there was a gentleman who bore a certain resemblance, although I didn’t notice it at the time. Quiet fellow. A little --”
“A little nondescript.” Well, thanks a lot, Jerry, I thought. “Would you like another drink, Josh?” he asked.
“I’m fine, Jerry, thanks.”
I wanted to ask Jerry for that large seltzer water I had never gotten, but he was already walking away. Josh waited till he was out of earshot, and then turned to me.
“This is really flipping my lid, Arnold.”
“Don’t feel bad, Josh,” I said. “You had had quite a lot to drink that night.”
“But that night was this night.”
“Oh, right,” I said.
“Oh my God.”
“What if I did something with one of those women?”
“Maybe you did too.”
“I doubt that,” I said.
“I wasn’t that drunk, Josh.”
“Oh my God, were they that bad?”
“Not in the physical sense,” I said.
“Not that I’m anyone to be critical,” I said.
He finished off the last of his Old Fashioned, and put down the stubby glass.
Up to then it had been me doing all the deep sighing, but now Josh sighed, deeply.
“You know, Arnold,” he said, “I really think I need to go to bed.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” I said.
“Oh, but you hardly touched your drink,” he said.
“That’s okay, Josh, I really didn’t want it. Let’s get you to bed.”
I stood up and patted him on the shoulder.
Josh got off his stool and swayed backward, but since my hand was already on his shoulder I was able to steady him.
“Woops. Oh, wait, let me pay for these,” he said.
He reached his hand into his pocket.
Jerry was magically standing there again.
“What do I owe you, Harry, I mean Jerry?”
“Oh, on the house, Josh.”
“Jerry,” said Josh. He had pulled out a wad of his seemingly inexhaustible crisp new twenties, he peeled one off and laid it on the bar. “Thanks for taking care of us, Jerry.”
“Oh, sir --” Jerry pushed the twenty toward Josh. “That’s way too much.”
“Buy your kids some treats,” said Josh. “Let’s go, Arnold.”
He staggered away toward the exit.
I looked at Jerry and shrugged.
“Good night, sir,” he said, taking the twenty and folding it.
“Good night,” I said.
I confess I wondered if I would get free drinks myself if I came in here without Josh.
I caught up with him in the lobby.
“I’m good from here, Arnold. You go home.”
“I’ll just see you safely to your room, Josh.”
“Oh, a chair. I think I’ll just sit a while.”
He was referring to a rather comfortable-looking wicker armchair with a green corduroy seat cushion.
I grabbed his arm.
“No, Josh, let’s get you to bed.”
This wasn’t entirely easy, and I won’t bore myself or the scholars of the future with the details, just suffice it to say about five minutes later I had Josh outside his room on the second floor. He got his key out, dropped it to the floor. I picked it up and unlocked the door, opened it, and let Josh step through. I followed him, then turned and closed the door.
Josh had left all the lights on. The way this night was going I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a palatial suite of rooms, but Josh’s accommodations proved to be reasonably modest, although still not what one would have expected at an old “family” sort of place like the Chalfonte. There was a living room, with a wooden TV-and-Hi-Fi console, a brown leather couch, a glass-topped coffee table with some magazines and newspapers on it, a few wicker arm chairs. Off to one side was a dining table, and beyond that a kitchenette with a little bar and some high stools. There were paintings of what looked like jazz musicians on the walls, the players in elongated black silhouettes against backgrounds of blue and green and red, with black musical notations flying around the musicians like birds.
French windows were opened onto a balcony, looking out toward the ocean a few blocks away, and translucent white curtains stirred in the soft warm breeze that smelled of seashells.
The door to a bedroom was open, and the lights were on in there also. I could see a big four-poster bed, unmade, with some clothes strewn on it.
I heard a soft sort of sound. I turned, and Josh was lying sprawled out prone on the couch, his face turned toward the back of the couch, one arm trailing to the floor.
I walked over.
“Josh? Hey, buddy, let’s get you to bed.”
He was out cold, breathing deeply through his mouth.
Oh, well, he seemed to be comfortable enough.
I had done enough for one night.
Then I heard another sound behind me, that of a key in a lock. I turned. A Negro man had opened the door.
“Oh, hello,” he said. “I was wondering why the door wasn’t locked.”
He pocketed his key. Under one arm he had a black musical-instrument case.
“You must be Arnold,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
He closed the door. He wore a sharkskin suit, a porkpie hat.
“I was just down at the Ugly Mug, jamming with those cats. How’s Josh doing?”
“Sound asleep,” I said.
“Good old Josh.”
He came over, extending a hand.
(Kindly refer to the right hand side of this page for a list of links to all other available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, recently short-listed for the Regis & Kelly Book Club.)