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.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"They Call Him Cad"


























“So, Babs,” said Myrtle, after they had both taken their first appreciative sips of their bone-dry martinis, “how are things out on Sunnyville Manor Road?”

“Oh, fine,” said Babs, lighting up another cigarette. Fine, she thought. My husband is addicted to Dexedrine, my eight-year-old daughter insists on wearing a Davy Crockett costume everywhere, and my ten-year-old son wears a beret and affects an English accent. “Everything’s just dandy, Myrt.”

“Yeah, I’m sure, but don’t you ever just miss the old days, Babs, in the WAVES?”

“Well, sometimes, I suppose,” said Babs. Right, she thought, sleeping in a barracks with a pack of gossiping man-crazy girls, typing up orders and memoranda all day while the fellows got to sail the seven seas and fight the Japs and Germans, sure, what jolly fun.

“Tell me, what do you miss about those days the most, Babsy?”

Never a good sign when Myrtle started calling her Babsy, but Babs considered the question for a few seconds and could honestly think of only one thing:

“I miss the uniforms,” she said. “It was nice not having to choose a new outfit every day.”

“Oh, Babsy, you’re such an absolute scream, but listen, doll, don’t turn around and don’t you dare look but there’s a fat fellow in a grey suit at the far end of the bar over there and he looks oddly familiar to me and I can’t quite place him but he’s looking quite blatantly at you, my dear.”

“What?”

Babs turned around and looked.

“Babs!” said Myrtle, “I told you not to look!”

“Oh, do shut up, Myrt,” said Babs.

It took her a moment and then it all came back. He was older of course, and he had grown quite fat, and his hair had gone grey. But it could only be him. He raised his glass to her.

“Oh, dear,” said Babs.

“What?” whispered Myrtle. “What? Who is he?”

“Oh my,” said Babs.

He had gotten up off his barstool, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and now he was lumbering towards their table, smiling broadly.

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Myrtle, “that’s not --”

“Uh-huh.”

“Cad the Cad!” said Myrtle.

“Yeah, it’s Cad all right,” said Babs.

Tom “Cad” Cadwallader.

The man who had taken her virginity fourteen years ago one hot humid night at the Norfolk Naval Station.

Cad the Cad.

Her first love.

The bastard.


They Call Him Cad, by "Harriet P. Saint-Clair" (Horace P. Sternwall); a Popular Library paperback original, 1959.

(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 238: with intent

August, 1963: a rainy Sunday noon in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, and our memoirist Arnold Schnabel has just completed a mysterious transaction at Wally’s cigar shop and pool room...

(Go here to read our immediately preceding chapter; advanced students of abnormal psychology may click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 73-volume autobiography.)

“Horace P. Sternwall, Larry Winchester, and Arnold Schnabel comprise the Holy Trinity of post-post-modern American Literature.” -- Harold Bloom, in Capper’s.


I took the quarter and the tin canister and put them both in my trousers pocket. Please don’t ask me why I took the tin...Oh, hold on, I know why, I took it because it was easier than not taking it. Why make an enemy of Wally? This was a small town. The last thing I needed was another enemy, another person to avoid at all costs. So I put the tin in my pocket with the quarter, said good day to Wally, and Kevin and I left the shop.

“Open my umbrella for me, Cousin Arnold. I don’t want to take a chance on dropping any of my comics.”

The rain had continued to fall, it drummed down on the awning over our heads as the wooden Indian stared at man and boy with disdain.

I gave Kevin my umbrella to hold while I took his, and, after only a minute or so, I got it open. I handed it back to him and he handed me my umbrella.

“You’d better hurry now,” he said. “You’re probably already late for mass.”

“Yes,” I said. “And you go right home.”

“Where else do I have to go?” he asked.

And without another word he hurried off, a small boy under a black umbrella in the pouring rain, holding his comics tightly under one arm.

I did my best to ignore the wooden Indian’s gaze as I unfastened and opened my own umbrella, and then I set off toward the church, crossing Decatur Street, making my way up the block.

I suddenly realized that I was approaching Mr. Arbuthnot’s Whatnot Shoppe.

I stopped dead, standing there under my umbrella in front of Dellas’s 5&10.

Unfortunately for me in order to get to the church I would have to pass directly in front of Mr. Arbuthnot’s shop.

I considered turning back, making a right on Decatur and then going the long way around on Lyle Lane to approach the church from the rear. But this laborious flanking movement would make me even later than I undoubtedly already was. Then I thought that maybe I should just jaywalk across the street and quickly walk up Washington on the other side, then cross back at the Ocean Street corner. I was about to attempt this maneuver when a police car came down the street, slowly. The car stopped. The policeman at the wheel leaned over the passenger seat and yelled though the partially closed window.

“You okay, buddy?”

“Sure, officer,” I said, leaning down toward him.

No surprise, this was the same cop who had come upon me talking to an invisible-to-him Jesus the other night.

“Why you just standing there you don’t mind my asking.”

“I, uh, I’m on my way to mass.”

We were both practically shouting through the noise of the rain and the wind.

“Okay,” said the cop. “But why are you just standing there? In the rain.”

“Oh,” I said. “I, uh, I was just wondering, if, uh, if I had, uh, remembered to bring some change for the collection?”

“The collection.”

“Yes,” I said. I was still bending down awkwardly under my umbrella so that I could look into the car. “You know,” I said, “I usually like to give at least a quarter. Heh heh. Just so the usher won’t stand there rattling the collection basket under my nose. Heh heh. Not that I ever did that. When I was an usher.”

“You were a church usher.”

“Oh, yes, for many years.”

“Really. How many years.”

“Oh, gee, ever since I got out of the army, so that was ’45, I guess, so --”

“You were in the army.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“I’m surprised to hear that.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, ‘cause I know, you know, you gotta pass them tests and all. You know.”

“Yes. I, uh, I guess I passed them --”

“So, getting back to why you were standing here.”

“Yes.”

“Did you remember.”

“Remember.”

“Did you remember to bring a quarter.”

“Oh,” I said. “Uh.” I moved my umbrella from my right hand to my left, and put my right hand into my trousers pocket. I brought out a quarter and the little tin canister that Wally had given me, and showed them to the officer. “Yep,” I said, “got a quarter.”

“What’s that other thing.”

“Oh.”

“That tin thing.”


“The tin thing?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s, it’s -- medicine?”

“Medicine.”

“Yes. Headache pills --”

“Headache pills.”

“Yes, I’m, uh, prone to headaches.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

This was a bald-faced lie. I never get headaches. I get hungover a lot, sure, but I don’t get headaches. Cops in the novels I read always seem to know when people are lying. I only hoped that the physical distance between this cop and me, and the pouring rain, would make my duplicity less obvious than it would have been had we been standing face to face on a fine clear day.

The policeman stared at me as these thoughts lumbered through my brain.

Then:

“You’re Arnold Schnabel, right?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Nephew of the Schneider sisters, over on North Street.”

“Yes.”

Trying to look casual, I put the quarter and the tin back into my pocket.

“Spending the summer here, huh?”

“Yes.”

“Wish I could take a whole summer off.”

I said nothing to this.

“I don’t have that luxury,” he said. “I got kids. You don’t have kids, do you?”

“No,” I said. “I’m not married.”

The cop stared at me, through the rain.

Was he finished with me?

No.

“So -- Arnold -- what do you do with yourself all day?”

“Well, uh, I write,” I said.

“You write? Like what? Journalism?”

“No --”

The floodgates were open now. I should have given him only my name, rank and serial number.

“So what do you write?”

“Poems?”

“Poems? Like, what, Joyce Kilmer?”

“Sort of,” I said.

“Poems.”

“Yeah.”

“And do you like get these poems published?”

I had him there.

“Yes,” I said.

“Really? Where?”

Or maybe he had me.

The Olney Times,” I said.

“The what?”

“It’s my neighborhood newspaper, back in Olney.”

“Olney.”

“It’s a neighborhood, in Philadelphia.”

“And this paper publishes your poems?”

“Yes. They’ve published one of my poems every week since I was eighteen.”

“So they must be good your poems.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Most of them are rubbish I’m afraid.”

“I don’t like poems myself.”

“Yeah, me neither really,” I said.

The cop stared at me.

“Yeah, so --” I said.

And then I said nothing, and the policeman continued to stare at me.

“Hey, listen,” I said finally, “I’m already late for mass I think, so --”

“Yeah, sure. You can go.”

“Great,” I said.

And I started to straighten up.

“Wait,” said the cop.

I bent down and forward again.

“How you doin’, anyway?” asked the cop.

“Okay,” I said.

“I mean mentally you don’t mind my asking.”

“Never better.”

He paused. Another car had stopped behind him. The cop turned and waved to the driver to go around him and the driver did.

The policeman leaned over toward me again.

“Never better, huh?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. You’re gonna be late for church.”

“Yes,” I said. “Good day.”

He looked at me again and then pulled out, slowly, very slowly.

I couldn’t very well jaywalk now, the cop was probably watching my every move through his rearview mirror, ready to make a screeching U-turn at the slightest sign of irregularity on my part, so I resumed my progress along the pavement, being careful not to break out into the Watusi or a spirited cakewalk or any other form of capering or leaping about which might attract unwanted attention. And it now dawned on me that I had not intended to go to mass at all, that I had meant to visit Elektra, and I also remembered that I was two hours late for my meeting with Larry Winchester. But, again, if I turned back, the cop might see me. More questions would be asked. More lies would be told. I might even be hauled in for further grilling as a dubious character seen limping and loitering with suspicious intent. I continued walking, or limping, and as I approached Mr. Arbuthnot’s shop I quickened my pace to a hobbling double-time march, all the while keeping my eyes to that sidewalk all splattered and streaming with rain...

“Where’s the fire, buddy?”

I stopped. I was directly in front of the entrance to Arbuthnot’s shop, and there in the open doorway he stood, smiling, and smoking his little Meerschaum pipe.


(Continued here, and indefinitely, in accordance with my plea-bargaining agreement.)

(Please look to the right hand column of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode brought to you by Uneeda™ crackers. “Feeling the economic pinch? Try Uneeda™ crackers with just a smear of margarine and a sprinkling of sugar for breakfast -- the kids will love it!”)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Female Residence"


“Ah, gee, Betsy,” said Thad. “I wish I could come up for a while. Just for a cup of coffee.”

“You know Mrs. Jamieson doesn’t permit us to bring gentleman visitors to our rooms.”

“Yeah, I know, Betsy, but gee.”

“Anyway I never drink coffee this late at night.”

“We wouldn’t have to drink coffee,” said Thad.

“What do you mean by that.”

“Well, we could drink soda pop.”

“Goodnight, Thad.”

“Goodnight, Betsy. What about tomorrow night? There’s that new Cocteau film at the Thalia. It’s supposed to be quite artistic. What do you think?”

“Pardon me?”

“Tomorrow night?”

“Yes?”

“Cocteau film? At the Thalia?”

“What about it?”

“I was just asking if you, uh --”

Betsy yawned, deeply.

“Oh, excuse me,” she said. “I’m just all in. Goodnight, Brad.”

“Thad.”

“Thad I mean. Goodnight.”

Thad swiftly got the door and opened it for her.

“Goodnight, Betsy!”

Yawning again, patting her mouth with her white-gloved hand, Betsy walked through the door and into the lobby.

“I’ll ring you tomorrow,” called Thad, hopefully, as the door closed.

Mrs. Slivotitz was behind the desk, and a slender girl in grey sat with her legs crossed on the most comfy armchair, smoking a cigarette and reading a movie magazine. As Betsy walked past her on the way to the elevator the girl spoke without looking up from her magazine.

“What a drip!”

“Pardon me?” said Betsy, stopping, trying to stifle another yawn.

“I said what a drip,” said the girl, looking up from her magazine.

“Who?”

“Your boyfriend out there.”

“Oh,” said Betsy, and she held in yet another yawn, blinking her thick dark eyelashes. “Brad.”


Female Residence, by “Horatia P. Stevenson” (Horace P. Sternwall); a Pyramid paperback original, 1952.

(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"The Burglar and the Babe"



Willie “The Bat” Jones slipped through the window and came down silently onto the floor in a crouch. He wore tight black leather gloves, and in his left hand he carried the leather case containing his tools and the carefully-folded nylon loot sack. His right hand he held straight out before him in the darkness, fingers outspread and slightly quivering, like antennae. The house would most likely be completely unoccupied for at least two more hours, but nevertheless (and as was his usual modus operandi) Willie did not risk using even a penlight. Instead he closed his eyes, breathing slowly and regularly, and waited patiently for one full minute. When he opened his eyes again his vision had adjusted to the darkness, and now he continued the doing of his business, his trade, his art.

After cleaning out the safe in the study and then collecting the two antique Purdey shotguns from the library along with several rare first editions of Pope, Swift, and Smollett, but before going into the master bedroom, he went into the daughter’s room and headed immediately for the Harry Winston jewelry box he knew to be on the dresser in there.

The light next to the bed switched on, revealing a very pretty young woman sitting up in the bed.  She wore a nightgown that revealed more of her breasts than it concealed.

“Have you come here to kill me?” she asked.

“No,” said Willy. “I came here to rob you.”

She reached over to the night table and took a cigarette from an engraved silver case which Willy's practiced eye identified as Bailey, Banks & Biddle, worth a grand if it was worth a dime. She lighted the cigarette (with a Tiffany lighter, 18-karat yellow gold) and slowly exhaled smoke in Willy's direction.

"How would you like to make some real money?" she asked.


The Burglar and the Babe, by Horace P. Sternwall; an Ajax paperback original, 1954; republished as The Burgled and the Damned, by “Harrison P. Shockley”, in paperback, by The Faber Workman’s Library (UK), 1956.

(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 237: forbidden

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his young cousin Kevin on a rainy noon in that momentous August of 1963 as they slosh along Washington Street in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey...

(Please click here to read our previous episode; in case you’ve recently become an invalid and are facing many months lying on the couch, feel free to go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 62-volume memoir.)

“I would no sooner go a day without reading Arnold Schnabel than I would go for a day without partaking of my afternoon mug of Fox’s U-bet™ hot chocolate.” -- Harold Bloom, in
Stag.


We passed Jackson Street. The rain fell unabated, and if anything it picked up a bit, as did an ocean wind which sneakily blew the rain under the protection of our umbrellas. The pains in my legs by now had become only a vaguely actual annoyance, like the annoyance of waking up and realizing again that one is oneself and not Cary Grant, or even Rory Calhoun. As we made our way along this block (near the end of which was Kevin's El Dorado, viz., Wally’s cigar store and pool room) the boy grew blatantly more excited, hopping up and down, weaving from side to side like a vastly underaged drunkard, occasionally stepping off the sidewalk entirely to splash his Keds methodically in the streaming rainwater gurgling in the gutter.

“Kevin,” I said, with all the firmness I could muster, “calm down. We’re almost there.”

I can’t calm down!” he cried, stamping his foot with even greater force into the gutter stream. “And I won’t calm down until I have those comics!

I kept my mouth shut at this. After all, what did I care that he acted like a tiny maniac? I was not his father, not even his uncle, merely his much older former mental-patient cousin.

Finally we passed the Negro dry-cleaning place, came abreast of the Savoy Bar and Liquor Store (a joint so sinister-looking that even I had never entered it), and there, under a faded tattered black and greyish-yellow awning, was that morose Indian made of wood standing guard in front of Wally’s place.

Kevin tried to get through the open doorway with his umbrella still open, but I reached down and grabbed his stick-like arm.

“Close your umbrella, Kevin,” I said.

“Oh, all right! Sheesh! Always tellin’ me what to do! What about you? Comin’ in with me?”

“Yeah, I guess I’d better,” I said.

“You don’t have to, Cousin Arnold.” We both had our umbrellas closed up and furled, and now we each dealt with the hard part, getting that little black band wrapped around and buttoned properly. “Just give me the money,” said Kevin in an off-handed manner.

“Yeah, I guess I could do that,” I said, hesitating.

“Sure,” said Kevin. He had gotten his umbrella secured first while I was still fumbling with mine. He held out his small white hand. “Just give me the money. I’ll be fine. You go on to church.”

Leaving my umbrella unfastened, I reached into my back pocket for my wallet, but then I left it there.

“Hey, wait a minute,” I said. “I’m supposed to make sure you head right back home after you get your comics.”

“I will.” He made spider-like grasping movements with his outstretched hand. “Just give me the money.”

“My mother doesn’t want you spending the whole afternoon in this place.”

“I won’t.”

The little up-raised hand opened and closed, opened and closed, like a fleshy hungry venus flytrap.

“I’d better go in with you,” I said. “And make sure you go right home.”

I returned to my fumbling with the umbrella.

“You’ll be late for mass,” said Kevin.

“Not if you hurry.”

“I don’t want to be rushed!”

“We’re wasting time talking about it.” Finally I succeeded in getting the umbrella buttoned up. “Go in,” I said.

“Oh, all right! Sheesh! You’re such a big bully, Cousin Arnold!”

He went into the dark shop, and I followed him. Without another word he scurried right over to the comic book rack.

Wally stood behind his counter, a cigar in his mouth, his thick glasses on his nose, his bald head gleaming like a cue ball in the dim light that filtered in through his smoke-colored shop window.

“You again,” he said to me, without taking the cigar out of his mouth.

“Hello,” I said.

“Pall Malls, right? Carton?”

“No thanks,” I said.

In the back part of the place four young guys were shooting pool amid barely shifting clouds of smoke. The light over the pool table was the only light on in the place. I suppose Wally likes to conserve electricity.

“How about a pack then?” said Wally.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’m just accompanying Kevin there, to get some comics.”

Kevin was making a high-pitched purring humming noise as he picked through the comic books, his umbrella lying on the floor at his feet.

“For you I’ll let you have a pack for thirty cents,” said Wally, plopping a pack of Pall Malls on the glass counter. Under the counter were many open boxes of cigars, and row upon row of cigarettes, not only all the usual ones but ones with foreign names and labels.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I quit smoking.”

Wally took his cigar out of his mouth.

“You what?”

“I quit smoking, I’m afraid,” I said. “Yesterday.”

“Quit smoking?”

“Yeah -- I just got tired of coughing my lungs out every morning, and --”

“You tryin’ a put me out of business?”

“No, no, not at all, it’s just, you know -- a health thing --”

“A health thing.”

“Yeah, I mean, like yesterday was tough, I really wanted a smoke all day long, but today I woke up and I didn’t cough, and I really haven’t had a craving --”

“Get out of my shop.”

“Hey --”

“You’re gonna stand there and put me out of business, and then tell me how great you feel now that you quit smoking? What are you, a homo?”

“No, really, it was just a health decision, I mean, didn’t you hear about that surgeon general’s report --”

“Bullshit. Bunch of pussies, pansies. Let me tell you, pal, a man ain’t a man if he don’t smoke. I don’t give a shit what he smokes -- cigarettes, pipe, cigars -- me, I’m a cigar man -- in fact it’s even okay if he chews tobacco in my book -- hey, wait, yeah, how about a nice plug of chewing tobacco, buddy? I got a dozen different kinds.”

“Oh, no, no thanks, I really don’t want to replace one bad habit with --”

“Christ almighty. All right, hey -- snuff. You like snuff?” He reached into the display case and then clapped a tin canister on the counter. “Here ya go -- Wilsons. The good stuff, from England. For you -- and I’m losing money on this but I’m hoping you’ll like it and come back for more -- for you, fifty cents.”

“No,” I said. “Thanks, and I appreciate it, but I know me, I’ll get completely addicted in about two hours, and then next thing you know I’ll be going through at least a tin of that every day --”

“But that’s the whole idea!”

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. Look, if it makes you feel better, I’m going to be giving my cigarette money to the kid there every day, so he’ll be buying lots of comics from you.”

“Oh. Yeah?”

“Yeah,” I said, “it’s a little deal we made.”

“Hey, you’re a good father.”

“Well, actually, Kevin is --”

“Name’s Kevin, huh?”

He jerked his thumb at the boy. Kevin was squatting down, turning the pages of a comic in the smoky half-light. He had several other comics under his arm.

“Yeah,” I said. “Kevin --”

“Kevin?”

“Yes.”

“Kevin. Nice name. Irish?”

“Well, half-Irish.”

“Nice kid. You brought him up right.”

“Well, um, actually, he’s my cousin --”

“Yeah, whatever, look, you don’t want snuff. You don’t want chaw. You don’t want nothing to smoke.”


“Yes,” I said.

“Oh. So you do?”

His eyes flashed through the lenses of his glasses.

“No, I mean, yes, I do. Not want. Um --”

“You words say one thing but your demeanor says another.”

“It does?”

For a moment he just looked at me. His eyes behind their glasses were like blobs of dark protozoa seen through a badly focused microscope.

From the back part of the place came the sound of pocking billiard balls, low muttering and cursing.

Suddenly Wally reached way down below the back of the display case and I heard him opening a drawer. Then I heard a scrabbling noise and then the sound of a drawer closing.

He came up again and this time he laid another little canister on the glass counter top.

It seemed to be made of tin, it was round and dull-colored with no printing on it, it was about one quarter the size of the Wilsons snuff tin.

“Try this,” he said. “Just dip your finger in and rub a little on your gum.”

“What is it.”

“Or put a little on your knuckle and like sniff it.”

“What is it again?”

“Some people just put a little on the end of their cigarette and smoke it, or mix it with their favorite pipe tobacco.”

“Uh --”

“I take it with my coffee. You like coffee?”

“Yes,” I said.

“How you like it?”

“Oh, black usually.”

“Black, like your women, huh? Heh heh. Just kidding. Here, take it.”

He shoved the little tin towards me.

“No thanks,” I said.

“Take it.”

“Why doesn’t it have a label?”

“It’s special made for me.”

“Oh.”

“Take it. This one’s on me. You like it, you can buy some more. I’m the only place on the Jersey coast you can get this stuff.”

“Really?”

“Practically only place on the East Coast.”

“Um --”

“One little shop up in Brooklyn you can get it, out by the Naval Yard there. Acquaintance of mine. But I don’t trust him. I think he cuts it with sorghum syrup or something.”

“I, uh --”

“Go ahead. On me.”

He reached over and shoved the tin all the way over toward me, practically right up to the edge of the counter. I think I stepped back just a little bit.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“You gonna insult me?”

“No, no, not at all --”

Kevin came over just then with the handle of his umbrella hooked over his arm and a stack of comic book in both hands. He laid the comics on the counter, right next to the little canister.

“You didn’t bring me no comics to trade in?” said Wally to Kevin.

“No,” said Kevin. “Maybe later. I’m just buying new comics today.”

“Alla these?”

Kevin tugged on the sleeve of my jacket.

“Can I have them, Cousin Arnold? Can I?”

“That looks like more than thirty-five cents’ worth, Kevin,” I said.

“Tomorrow we can start with the thirty-five cents. Please can I have them. I promise not to tell anyone about the fly.”

“What fly?” said Wally.

“Nothing,” I said.

“’Cause we got The Fly comics. I got plenty of Fly comics. I got more in the back I think. Not one of my more popular titles, but, hey, each to his own I always say --”

“How much are these comics here?” I asked.

Wally put his cigar in his mouth, then ran his fingers over the comic book covers, and for a moment I thought I heard a whirring noise emanating from his faintly glowing bald skull. He took the cigar out of his mouth again and exhaled a cloud of smoke before answering my question.

“Eighty-four cents,” he said.

“All right, take a few away, Kevin,” I said.

No!” yelled Kevin.

“Christ, pal, give the poor kid a break,” said Wally.

“But I don’t want to spoil him.”

“No kid never got spoiled by reading. Reading expands the mind.”

“What,” I said, touching the top comic at its title, “Forbidden Worlds?” I slid the comic aside and put my finger on the title of the next comic. “House of Secrets?”

“What are you,” asked Wally, “a literary critic? Lionel Trilling?”

I wasn’t quite sure who Lionel Trilling was, but I didn’t admit this.

“Tell ya what,” said Wally. “I’ll let ya have the bunch of‘em for six bits.”

“How much is that?”

“Seventy-five cents,” said Kevin.

“A bargain,” said Wally. “And if he don’t mess ‘em up too much I’ll take ‘em back for trade-in.”

“Well --”

“Please, Cousin Arnold,” said Kevin.

“Oh, all right,” I said.

I reached for my wallet and Kevin grabbed up the comic books.

Wally put his cigar back in his mouth, took the dollar bill I gave him, rang it in on his cash register, put the bill in the drawer, took out a quarter, slammed the drawer shut and then placed the quarter on top of the little tin canister on the counter.

“Don’t forget your stuff,” he said.


(Continued here, at our author’s customary stately pace.)

(Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Sponsored in part by Fox’s U-bet™ chocolate syrup. “The official chocolate syrup of the Arnold Schnabel Society™!”)

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Talk to the Six-Gun!"


“Any last words, pardner, ‘fore we whup this horse you stole out from under ya and send ya down to the fiery pits o’ hell?”

“Last words? Why, no,” I said. “Not really. I admit it, I stole this handsome palomino, and I know that’s a hanging offense here in the fine territory of New Mexico.”

“Okay,” said the big man, and he raised his riding crop.

“However,” I said.

“Yes?” said the man, keeping the crop raised.

“However, you might be interested in knowing why I stole this fine animal.”

“Not in the least,” said the man, and he raised the crop higher.

“What if I told you that I was trying to make my getaway from robbing the Yuma train out in Arizona.”

“Ain’t no business of ourn what you done in Arizona.”

“Very true. However, what if I told you that after my horse broke his leg up in the San Andreas mountains here in New Mexico that I buried the loot under a rock up there, up in the mountains, in a very secluded spot. What if I told you that after stealing this palomino I was on my way back to that hidden loot when you good fellows captured me. What if I told you I was willing to share this loot with you fine gentlemen of this posse. Provided of course you don’t hang me.”

The big man lowered his riding crop.

“How much loot we talkin’ about here?” he asked.

“Forty-two thousand,” I said. “Forty-two thousand two hundred and fifty-three to be exact. US dollars. In gold coin.”

“Forty-two thousand?” said the man.

“Forty-two thousand,” I repeated. “In gold.”


What a bunch of greedy saps. I left them behind that very same night, and this time I took an even better horse, a pretty roan mare I named Polly.


Talk to the Six-Gun! by Horace P. Sternwall; an E-Z Original, paperback, 1955; serialized in abridged form in Savage Adventures for Men, Oct. to Dec. 1957, as I’ll Let My Six-Gun Do the Talking! by “Howard P. Stone”.

(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"A Desperate Man"


After another hard day in the city Mr. Peter Willoughby pulled his sensible grey sedan into the garage of his suburban splitlevel home, and he considered his choices: either duct-tape one end of the garden hose to the exhaust-pipe of his car and secure the other end through the driver’s-side window and put an end to his unhappy life, or turn off the ignition and go into dinner.
In fact Peter was famished – because of that extra work on the Throckmorton account he had only had a vending-machine cheese sandwich for lunch – and so, with a sigh, he decided to go in to dinner.


A Desperate Man, by Horace P. Sternwall; an “Ace Double” paperback original, published in tandem with Housewife From Hell, by Helen P. Stevens (believed to be a nom de plume for Sternwall), 1953.


(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"The God’s Honest Truth"
























“Sure, Lieutenant, I’m a drunk, and a two-bit grifter, I’m a defrocked priest and a disgraced cop, I’m a deserter and a coward and a traitor, I’m a hop-head and a three-card monte artist and a race-horse juicer – but I’m tellin’ ya and it’s the God’s honest truth – I didn’t bump Kincaid and I don’t know who did!”

“You forgot one little thing,” said Stein, and he blew cigar smoke into my face.

“Oh,” I said, blinking. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he said.

He tapped his cigar ash onto my lap. I had just had this suit dry-cleaned at the Chinaman’s not a month before, too.

“One little thing,” he said again.

I would’ve brushed the ash off my lap except my hands were handcuffed behind my back.

“One tiny little thing,” he said.

“Just one little thing, Lieutenant?”

He blew on the lit end of the cigar and it glowed ruby red.

“Yeah,” he said. “One thing.”

Some guys’ll keep it up all night unless you feed them their cues. I didn’t feel like having that stogie stubbed out on my arm so I gave him his goddam cue.

“What’s that thing, Lieutenant? I mean if you don’t mind my asking.”

“You forgot to mention you’re a goddam liar, Molloy, a compulsive liar, a habitual liar. A liar.”

“Oh,” I said. “Yeah. I forgot. You’re right. I’m a liar. And that’s the God’s honest truth, too, Lieutenant.”

The God’s Honest Truth, by Horace P. Sternwall ; an Atlas paperback original, 1949; republished as A Most Mendacious Fellow, by “Hank P. Sterne”, a Panther paperback “original” (UK), 1952.

(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)

"The Magic Pen Wiper"


Big Ben Blagwell had whored and boozed and brawled his way through every two-bit dive in the South Seas, but he hadn’t really hit rock bottom until that day he strolled into a little place down Baguio way on the isle of Luzon, a little joint called the Magic Pen Wiper.

The Magic Pen Wiper, by Horace P. Sternwall; a Popular Library paperback original, 1952 (republished as Port of Passion, by "Hank Peter Savage", a “Perma Book Original”, 1954).

(Painting by Mort Kunstler. Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

"The Penultimate Hit"


























Brock was almost out of ammo for his Tommy gun; but what he wasn't almost out of was guts; what he wasn't almost out of was heart; what he wasn't almost out of was blood-lust; and, most importantly of all, what he wasn't almost out of was hand grenades.

The Penultimate Hit, by Horace P. Sternwall; a Monarch paperback original, 1954.

(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)

"Trouble on Exxon-B"















Flight Captain Throckmorton shifted his space-fighter into overdrive with one hand and with the other lit up the last of his stock of Centaurian Churchill cigars, famed throughout the western reaches of the galaxy not only for their rich flavor and aroma but for the outlandish dreams they engendered; by the time his stogie was finished he would be approaching Exxon-B, also known as The Pleasure Planet, where Throckmorton had a hot date with a sultry robot by the name of Angstra.

Trouble on Exxon-B, by Horace P. Sternwall; an Acme paperback original, 1951.


(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 236: fixed

Let us return to the month of August, 1963, to a rainy Sunday forenoon in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, and to a certain ramshackle Victorian boarding house on North Street, where a certain Arnold Schnabel, 42, a poet and former railroad brakeman, is about to set off into a brand new day...

(Go here to read our previous chapter; the curious scholar may click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 43-volume masterpiece of the autobiographical art.)

“Some mornings I just call in sick, and all I do is stay in bed, drink Fox’s U-bet hot chocolate, smoke pot, and read Arnold Schnabel all day long.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Christian Science Monitor.


Again doing my best not to limp or shuffle in pain too obviously I followed my mother down the main hallway, then through the passage to the kitchen, through the kitchen and the dining room and finally into the living room, where Kevin sat on the couch staring at Gene Autry shooting at some outlaws with his sixgun. My three aunts also sat about the room, rosaries in their hands, probably only waiting for Kevin to leave so that they could switch the channel to Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.

“Finally,” said Kevin, rising as if wearily from the couch.

He wore his standard little boy’s uniform of polo shirt, shorts, and Keds with no socks, which come to think of it was not markedly different from my own daily uniform.

“Take umbrellas from the porch,” my mother said.

I assured her we would, but still she stood inside the screen door after Kevin and I had gone out, just to make sure we would obey her and not idiotically march off unprotected from the pouring rain.

I picked up a black umbrella that was leaning there against the glider with four or five other black and roughly identical umbrellas. Kevin however spent a minute or so in deliberation, weighing each umbrella in turn, judging its balance and heft, even making thrusting and parrying movements as if with a sword. After testing the facility of the opening and closing mechanisms of two or three he finally chose one umbrella, leaving the abandoned other ones lying on the floor for anyone to trip over possibly to suffer a broken arm or hip. As he headed down the steps I picked up these other umbrellas and stacked them against the glider again.

I was about to follow Kevin down the steps when my mother called to me through the screen.

“Are you coming home after mass, Arnold?”

This question gave me pause.

I remembered my appointment to meet Larry Winchester today, to work on our screenplay. When had we agreed to meet?

Then it came to me, like a flashing mental snippet from a movie one has not seen for years, Larry in that booth at the Ugly Mug last night: “Ten a.m. tomorrow morning! Mrs. Biddle’s back yard! Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed! We’ll dive into that second act!” So I was already almost two hours late. But then -- but then he had been rather intoxicated the previous evening, beer and tequila and those strange mushrooms and God knows what else...perhaps he had overslept...

“Arnold?” said my mother.

“Uh, no, Mother, I just remembered, I’m supposed to meet a friend today.”

“A ‘friend’?” she said, as if I had just announced that I was going to have lunch with the Pope himself. (But to give her her due the prospect of me being meant to “meet a friend” would certainly have seemed highly improbable if not laughable up to a mere week or so ago.)

“Yes,” I said. “A ‘friend’.”

“Will you be home for dinner?”

And Elektra. I really wanted to see Elektra today. I felt as if I hadn’t seen her in many months or even years, that is unless you counted the younger version of herself I had passed some pleasant time with when I was trapped in Miss Evans’s novel.

“Arnold?”

Also I could not forget and would do well not to forget that I had somehow agreed to meet Miss Evans at Pete’s Tavern, at six-ish.

My mother stared at me through the screen. She had that look on her face I knew so well, her “worried” look. But what could I do?

“You know, Mother, I might not be able to make it home for dinner tonight.”

“But you will eat something?”

“I promise,” I said.

“Cousin Arnold!” yelled Kevin, who was standing in the middle of the pathway under his umbrella, the rain rattling down on it. He stamped his foot. “Let’s go!”


“Yes, you’d better go,” said my mother. “You’ll be late for mass.”

Behind her I heard the dulcet soothing tones of Bishop Sheen.

“Jesus wants to be our friend,” he said. “But the question we each must ask ourselves is, 'Am I worthy to be His friend?'

“C’mon, Cousin Arnold, shake a leg!” yelled Kevin.

Opening my umbrella, I hurried down the steps into the deluge.

Kevin was silent till we came to the corner of Perry Street, and there, as we waited for a slow grey Hupmobile to pass by through the torrent like a bored small whale, he looked up at me.

“Why are you limping, Cousin Arnold?”

I had gotten so distracted that I had forgotten to try to disguise my limp.

“I, uh, fell last night,” I said.

“You were drunk, weren’t you?”

I took a broad and somewhat painful stride over a turbulent small river and into North Street; Kevin blithely splashed with both feet through the same stream, what did he care?

“You were drunk!” he yelled. “Drunk as a skunk!”

“Well, okay, I was slightly drunk,” I said.

I wasn’t about to tell him that I had been flying and that I had crashed into a streetlamp pole and fallen seven or eight feet like a sack of potatoes to the pavement.

“Ha, slightly,” he said. “You’re not a good liar, Cousin Arnold.”

I said nothing, which is one good way not to lie. We walked, or rather Kevin plopped along like a miniature madman while I hobbled and limped, we went along a few more yards and then Kevin tilted his umbrella back and looked up at me.

“Why are you doing this, Cousin Arnold?”

“What, going to mass? I’m going because it’s my duty as a Catholic --”

“Cut the crap. You know what I mean. Why are you taking me to Wally’s for comic books.”

I said nothing. I knew he would see through my lies.

“Why?” he demanded again.

“Can’t I do something nice?”

“Sure, but why?”

“It’s -- it’s difficult to explain,” I said.

“Try,” he said. “And don’t lie.”

We were walking up Perry Street on the right hand side, approaching Washington. The rain fell unabated. Kevin and I both nearly had to shout to be heard.

“I’ve made friends with a fly,” I said.

“What? A fly?”

“Yes, a talking fly.”

“Flies can really talk?”

“Normally, no. But this one can. Anyway, I didn’t want him to come along into breakfast with me, because I knew the aunts and my mother would have, would have --”

“They would have murdered him.”

“Yes. So I suggested he go into your room and help himself to your leftover Baby Ruth wrappers and whatever other sweets you might’ve had lying around.”

“I know, because I’m a slob and I’m lazy.”

“I never said that.”

“Aunt Edith once told me I’m the laziest white boy she knows.”

“Well, uh --”

“I asked her how many black boys she knows, and she told me to go out and play.” He blew a short dismissive farting noise through his lips. “I should’ve just kept my trap shut.”

“Well, you really shouldn’t talk back to your elders.”

“Yeah, sure, but get back to the fly, Cousin Arnold.”

“Well, I took him to your room, or at least to the entrance to your room, and -- um, I didn’t hear her coming and my mother caught me talking to him there, near your open door --”

“The fly.”

“Yes. And I had to think up some reason why I would be -- uh --”

“Lurking around my room?”

“Looking into your room,” I said, “so I told her I wanted to ask you if you wanted me to take you to Wally’s, to get some comics.”

“Just glossing over the fact that you were talking to a fly.”

“I told her I was talking to myself.”

“Ha ha. Well, that’s a little less crazy than talking to a fly, ain’t it?”

“Ha ha. Yeah.”

“So anyway, now you were trapped in a lie, and you had to take me to Wally’s.”

“Pretty much,” I conceded.

“All because you couldn’t admit to her that you were talking to a fly about eating the leftover candy crumbs in my room.”

“Yes.”

“Because then she’d really think you were crazy.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I see,” he said. “Well, whether you’re crazy or not, I still make out, don’t I?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I suppose you do.”

We crossed Perry Street and started along Washington. Normally at this time on a Sunday in August the street would be crowded with people, but with yet another rainstorm spoiling everyone’s vacation the street was relatively quiet.

“I’ll keep your secret about the fly, Cousin Arnold.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“All I ask in return is that you keep buying me comics.”

“Well, within reason,” I said.

“Look, you say you’ve given up cigarettes,” he said.

“Yes.”

“And you smoked, what, two packs a day?”

“Oh, rarely two packs.”

“But always at least one pack.”

“Well, yeah --”

“At least.”

“Okay, at least.”

“Sometimes two packs.”

“Well, maybe on a weekend --”

“And what did you pay for a pack?”

“Um, usually thirty-five cents -- but why?”

“Cousin Arnold, I know for a fact you smoked well more than a pack a day.”

“Yeah, but not always. Since I’ve been swimming I’ve --”

“Over a pack a day. But let’s say for argument’s sake you only bought one pack. That’s thirty-five cents a day you’re no longer spending.” Kevin had stopped under the awning of Smith’s Book Shoppe. He held his hand in a salute over his eyes and bent forward to stare at the provocative covers in a display of Carter Brown paperbacks. “I -- how shall I put this,” he said, without looking up, “-- I propose -- and I think this is fair -- I propose that you spend this thirty-five cents a day you’re saving on comic books for me.”

“You’re blackmailing me,” I said.

“Don’t call it blackmail. Call it -- call it --”

“Blackmail.”

Finally he looked up from that display of comely, half-dressed women.

“I wouldn’t call it that,” he said.

“But you’ll tell my mother about the fly if I don’t buy you comics.”

“I never said that.” He took one last look at Carter Brown’s vixens arrayed in a beckoning rank of lust and mystery, and then his small solemn face looked up at me again. “I never said that, Cousin Arnold. I merely pointed out that you now have a surplus of at least -- at least, mind you -- thirty-five cents a day. All I’m suggesting is why not use this surplus to make a small lonely boy happy. Shall we continue our walk? You’ll be late for mass.”

“You’re the one who stopped,” I said.

We continued on in the rain. A miserable-looking family group passed us by, presumably a father and mother, along with several children. The woman and man carried umbrellas while the children slogged along in small yellow raincoats and rain hats, looking like a squad of dwarf traffic policemen.

“Oh, all right,” I said.

“All right what,” said Kevin.

“I’ll buy you the comics,” I said. “But only thirty-five cents’ worth a day.”

“That’s all I ask. With the money the aunts and your mother give me I’ll be pretty well fixed.”

“I guess so.”

“Do you know what this means, Cousin Arnold?”

“No, what does it mean?”

He stopped, so I did I. He looked up at me and his normally rather dull blue eyes now sparkled through the falling silvery rain.

“It means,” he said, “that I no longer have to read only used or leftover old comic books. I can buy a couple of new ones each day. Or I could buy one new regular comic and one of the big twenty-five cent annuals!”

“That’s swell.”

“And I’ll let you read them, too.”

“Thank you.”

“This will work out well for both of us.”

“Yes, you’re right.”

“Plus maybe now you don’t get lung cancer.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“And also, no one has to know about the fly.”

“Yes, that’s good,” I said.

“I wonder though,” he said.

“Yes?”

“Do you think you could buy -- not for me, but for yourself -- some of those Carter Brown books that were in the window of the bookshop back there and then lend them to me.”

“Those books aren’t for little boys.”

“Just to borrow.”

“No. Absolutely not.”

“Not even to look at?”

“No, and that’s final.”

“Oh, all right. I suppose I should be happy about the comic books.”

“Yes,” I said, “you should be happy. And you shouldn’t be greedy.”

“Why not?”

He had me there.

We continued our walk.


(Continued here, and on and on, as longs as blood still courses in our veins.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Be sure to pick up a copy of A Child’s Garden of Arnold Schnabel: Selected Verses for Young People; edited by Edmund Wilson, with an introduction by Bennett Cerf; a Dell Gold Medal Paperback Original, 35¢, sold exclusively at John's Bargain Stores, on the table in the back of the store, in between the towels and the plastic plates. )

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Calling all Schnabelians!

This just in from our friend Kathleen Maher.

(Venue to be named later, but we think it's gonna be the 92nd Street Y.)