Saturday, February 26, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 239: besieged

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel on a rainy day in August of 1963 in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey...

(Click here to read our previous episode; the morbidly curious may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 47-volume memoir.)

“Marcel Proust went in search of lost time, but Arnold Schnabel conquered time.” -- Harold Bloom, in Mademoiselle.


“Judging by the pace at which you were hobbling along there, Mr. Schnabel, I would venture to guess you either have to take a wicked micturition or are late for an appointment with what the boys down at the faro parlour used to call a ‘right jolly Jane’.”

I glanced to my left, and I saw the cop car turn right on Decatur.

“Or perhaps you have a hellhound on your trail?” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“No,” I said. “not that I know of. Although I wouldn’t discount the possibility.”

“Ha ha, I love your absolutely dessicated sense of humor, Mr. Schnabel. But seriously, what’s the big rush?”

I stepped under the shelter of his awning.

“May I be honest, Mr. Arbuthnot?”

“What if I said no, Mr. Schnabel?”

“Then I would tell a lie,” I said.

“And do you lie well?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“And you say that most convincingly.”

“Thank you?”

“However perhaps you are indeed a very good liar, thus enabling you to say that you are not a good liar with utter -- what’s the word -- convincingness?”

I mentally parsed the previous sentence for perhaps half a minute while Mr. Arbuthnot gazed at me through his rimless glasses and smoked his pipe.

“This is possible,” I then said.

“But not probable,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “So, please, speak freely.”

“I’ve totally forgotten what I was going to say.”

“I asked you why you were hobbling so furiously along the pavement. You asked me if you might speak honestly. I hereby adjure you to do so.”

I lowered my umbrella, closed it up, gave it a little shake, laid its rubber-tipped ferrule on the pavement.

“I was hurrying,” I said, at last, “because I wanted to get past your shop as quickly as I could, because I was afraid.”

“Oh,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Because of that business last night. The world almost being destroyed.”

“Yes,” I said, “that, and other things.”

“You would hold all that against me?”

“Well, Mr. Arbuthnot, it was your cat after all who almost destoyed the universe.”

“It wouldn’t have been the entire universe. It would only probably have been our own small quadrant of this particular space-and-time continuum.”

“I don’t know what that means but I still suspect it would have been pretty bad.”

“Oh, the destruction of the entire galaxy, and some very nasty repercussions in dozens of other galaxies and dimensions, yes, yes, and for untold eons to come, yes, I’m afraid so.”

“So,” I said.

“Oh, but my dear Mr. Schnabel, you really must learn to let bygones be bygones. And after all I did give you a pen and ink, didn’t I?”

“Yes,” I admitted.

“And I wonder, have this pen and ink perhaps already proven useful to you?”

“Well, yeah. You’re right,” I said. “Oh, no.”

“What?”

I had glanced to my right, up the street. It was the cop car, making the turn onto Washington from Ocean Street.

“It’s this cop,” I said.

“A copper? Quick then, come inside.”

What could I do, the cop was heading down the street.

Mr. Arbuthnot stood with his back to the door jamb, waving me in with one hand. I went past him into the dim shop, and quickly he closed the door behind me, the little bell at its top tinkling. A sign reading CLOSED hung in the window of the door; Mr. Arbuthnot flipped it over to the side that said OPEN.

“Stand back,” he said, waving with an underhanded motion. I ducked back away from the door and the windows, and crouched in the shadows behind a tailor’s dummy with a black beaded ball gown hanging on it. The only artificial light in the shop came from an old-fashioned tasseled table lamp next to the cash register. Mr. Arbuthnot stood to the side of the doorway, peeking through the glass.

I saw the cop car pass, slowly, in the rain.

“Okay,” I said.

“Quiet,” whispered Mr. Arbuthnot, “and stay back.”

“What’s going on?”

“Quiet, damn it, man!”

“Sorry,” I whispered.

“Hush!”

I hushed, crouching, watching the door.

Outside on the street I saw the rear of the police car backing into view, then the middle of the car was visible, then it stopped.

After half a minute I saw the policeman trotting from the sidewalk into the entrance area of the shop. I ducked all the way behind the tailor’s dummy, staring at the floor, holding my wet furled umbrella in the present arms position.

I heard the sound of the door opening and then Mr. Arbuthnot’s voice:

“May I help you, officer?”

“I was just wondering why you were closed, Mr. Arbuthnot. When I drove down the street just a little while ago you were standing here in the open doorway, smoking your pipe.”

“As I still am, you see. Smoking my pipe that is.”

“Yeah, just wondering why you were closing up all of a sudden.”

“You are familiar I take it with the concept of luncheon, officer?”

“Luncheon? Oh, yeah, that makes sense.”

“It is luncheon time, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Would you care to join me for a bite? I’m only having cold sandwiches, but you’re welcome to share my humble repast.”

“What kind of sandwiches?”

“Limburger I think. And head cheese. On pumpernickel slathered with horseradish and clotted cream, with thick slices of raw red onion.”

“Nah, no thanks, I’ll grab a burger at the diner.”

Bon appetit, then.”

“What?”

“Enjoy your luncheon.”

“Oh, okay, you too Mr. Arbuthnot. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay.”

“Everything is dandy. Or at least will be once I dig my dentures into that Limburger and head cheese, heh heh.”

“Yeah, heh heh. Just wanted to make sure ‘cause there’s this suspicious character I’m keeping my eye on.”

“No suspicious characters here. Present company excluded.”

“Heh heh. Okay. See ya later, Mr. Arbuthnot.”

“I look forward to our next conversation, officer. Au revoir then.”

I heard the door close, the sound of a key turning in a lock.

“Stay down, Mr. Schnabel,” whispered Mr. Arbuthnot.

I stayed down, staring at the floor, actually staring at an old carpet. Persian? I wouldn’t know.

Finally:

“All right, Mr. Schnabel. We’re in the clear, you can come out now.”

I stood up, limped around the tailor’s dummy over toward the doorway, where Mr. Arbuthnot was still gazing out the window, his head tilted to the side so that he could better see down the street.

He turned to me.

“Stupid bull. What’s he after you for, anyway? A tea beef? Hash?”

“What?”

“Come on, kid, you know I’m no square, you can level with me.”

“He’s not after me for anything,” I said.

“Then why did you just hide from him? Come on, daddy-o, you can trust me.”

“Well, he -- he just now sort of interrogated me --”

“Third degreee, huh?”

“No, he just asked me a lot of questions.”

“And why may I ask did he ask you a lot of questions?”

“I guess because I was just standing there on the sidewalk.”

“Standing there.”

“Yeah.”

“And he wanted to know why.”

“Yes,” I said.

“And may I ask why you were just standing on the sidewalk? You don’t have to tell me of course.”

“It was because I realized that I was approaching your shop, on my way to church, and I was afraid to walk past your shop.”

“Back to that again. May we please simply lay all that unpleasantness to rest, bury it, and move on with our lives?”

“Okay,” I said.

“You can see I’m a right guy.”



“Yes,” I said.

“I hid you from that copper, no questions asked.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’ve made my mistakes.”

Suddenly his black cat Shnooby appeared, and rubbed against my leg.

“As has Shnooby made mistakes,” Mr. Arbuthnot said. “See, he’s sorry about almost destroying the galaxy last night.”

“Yes,” I said.

“See, he likes you.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Were you really going to church?”

I sighed.

Knowing that he would see through my lies I told him the truth, as concisely as I could.

He listened, nodding his head, smoking his pipe. When I had finished he knocked his pipe empty into a standing ashtray near the doorway.

“So,” he said. “What you were really hoping to do was to shall we say 'visit' this lady friend of yours.”

“Yes,” I said.

He dropped his pipe into the side pocket of his suit jacket.

“You really are ensnaring yourself in a web of lies, aren’t you, my boy?”

“Yes,” I said.

“How’d you get that limp, anyway?”

“I was flying, and I didn’t watch where I was going and I rammed into a streetlamp pole and fell to the pavement.”

“Ha ha, you crack me up, dear boy.” He took his watch out of his vest pocket, clicked it open. “It’s already almost twenty past noon.” He clicked the watch shut, slipped it back into its pocket. “If you don’t want to take the chance of that cop bracing you again you should wait here until the mass lets out. When the churchgoers start walking past the shop-front you can slip out and join their number, just as if you had gone to mass with the lot of them. Then you can go visit your inamorata.”

“I wouldn’t want to impose on you,” I said.

“No imposition, my dear fellow, no imposition at all. I should be delighted to have your company. Well, and how shall we pass the time?”

To tell the truth I felt like taking a nap already, but I couldn’t very well say that.

“Perhaps a glass of sherry," said Mr. Arbuthnot. "If it’s not too early.”

I couldn’t see how I would be able to bear staying there for the next half hour or more without the help of alcohol, so I said yes, sherry sounded good.

“Splendid. Shove your bumbershoot into that priceless Ming vase there and let’s go up to my digs.”

I stuck my umbrella into the cracked and stained and dirty old vase he had indicated.

“You know the way, Mr. Schnabel -- after you, old boy.”

I knew I shouldn’t have. But I did.


(Continued here, at Arnold’s own sweet pace.)

(Kindly go to the right hand column of this page to find a current listing of links to hundreds of other chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, absolutely free, gratis, and for nothing, although donations will be accepted by your editor Dan Leo in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Literacy Project.)

3 comments:

Jason Gusmann said...

"a tea beef?" - i love it.

release the bats!

Dan Leo said...

Jason, I know -- I wonder if Mr. Arbuthnot escaped from an early draft of Jack Black's "You Can't Win" (1926) which (from Wikipedia) "...tells of his experiences in the hobo underworld, freight hopping around the still Wild West of the United States and Canada, becoming a burglar and member of the 'yegg' brotherhood, getting hooked on opium, doing stints in jail, and escaping, often with the assistance of crooked cops or judges..William S. Burroughs cited it as an extremely influential book in his life, and lifts the book's style and stories in his 1953 book 'Junkie'."

kathleenmaher said...

Mr. Arbuthnot lies so elegantly to the cop that even I might lose my fear over the cat incident.(And don't forget Clarissa; adorable yes, but scary.)
I'm missing something, though. While it long, long ago, I don't recall anyone like him in "Junkie" or "Naked Lunch," which I read right before attempting "The Soft Machine," which did me in. Perhaps I should try again. It's easy to overdose on any writer.